Was it the beginning? Or the end? For the three young people on one of the piers at Fisherman's Horizon, all that mattered was the present, the here and now. A lot had transpired in the last few days and these events changed the very being of the three.
Fujin and Raijin were having fun fishing and enjoying the sun and each other's company. Seifer Almasy, on the other hand, had secluded himself at the end of the pier, deep in thought. 'So what happens now? Nothing will ever be the same. What will become of me?'
All of the sudden, Raijin's deep voice sang, " I GOT ONE!! I GOT ONE!! IT'S HUGE!!"
Angrily, Seifer stood up, throwing down his fishing pole. 'Why doesn't anything ever go my way? I can't even catch a stupid fish!' he thought.
Fujin looked up at Seifer mischievously and kicked the dancing Raijin off the pier. As he landed with a big SPLASH, Seifer threw back his head and for the first time in so long, he laughed. Oh how wonderful it felt to laugh again!
He hadn't been angry over the fact that Raijin had caught a fish. It was the fact that his two friends were able to be carefree and know that they still had somewhere to belong. Fujin and Raijin had been accepted back into Garden, but Seifer knew that could never happen for him. He went too far.
Suddenly, Balamb Garden floated by throwing the pier into shadow. Seifer looked up and sighed, but allowed himself to smile. The only time he had ever been happy was on Garden. He complained and tried to act tough, but deep down, the only contentment he could ever remember was when he lived at Balamb.
Sitting down, he looked into the water. The man with no future. Bitterly, he said, "They would never forgive me."
"They forgave ME."
Seifer looked up to see a woman with long raven hair looking down at him.
"Matron," he acknowledged, standing up.
"Seifer, you need to come back to Balamb."
"I can't," he shook his head, "I went too far. I tried to kill them!"
Edea put her hand on his shoulder, "I did too, but they've accepted me back."
"But it's different with you. You raised them. They loved you."
"And you grew up with them and they loved YOU," she answered. "They may be angry, but I don't think they'd reject you." Seifer snorted. "There's going to be a celebration tonight welcoming the SeeDs home. Come, Seifer."
He looked up at her warily, "I don't think I can..."
"Try!" she said urgently.
He sat down again and began to look at his reflection once more, contemplating it. Edea joined him and the two sat in companionable silence.
"Irvine, what's wrong?" Selphie asked him.
Irvine began to shake the camera. "The battery ran out. And that little love scene on the balcony was just getting good!"
Quistis rolled her eyes, "Come on, just give them a little privacy. They've been through a lot. I think they deserve this time together." Selphie nodded in agreement.
Zell shook his head, "Nah, I'm with Irvine. Selphie, you have extra batteries for this thing in your room?"
Irvine laughed, "Well go get them before Squall & Rinoa decide to kiss!"
"Irvine! That's awful!" Quistis tried to scold him, but couldn't help but laugh at his antics.
"GO!" he pushed Selphie.
"Yes SIR!" she gave him a mock salute and ran out the ballroom door. As she was coming out, she slammed into a young, blond man.
"Oops. Sorry about that," she said, not really noticing who he was. She skipped down a length of hallway when she suddenly stopped. "Wait a minute...that couldn't have been...could it?" Thinking for a second, she shook her head, "Nah...there's no way!" She continued on towards her dorm room.
Seifer stood outside the ballroom door, clenching and unclenching his fists. It was a nervous habit of his. He could hear music and laughing coming from the inside. Could he really do this? Taking a deep breath, he tried to muster up strength. Heck, maybe they wouldn't notice him and he could just blend back in. After all, that little messenger girl ran right into him and didn't notice who he was.
"Well, here goes nothing..." he muttered to himself and stepped into the doorway.
"Where in the world is Selphie? They look like they're about to kiss!" Irvine looked around impatiently.
Zell laughed as he stared at Rinoa and Squall on the balcony, "If only we could hear what they were saying. Woah! Squall just smiled!"
Getting into the spirit of things, Quistis said, "Not Squall. Not in a million years!"
"Just look!" Zell insisted.
"Guys," Irvine started...
"Irvine, he's still smiling. You gotta look..."
"No, YOU'VE got to look over there." He pointed towards the doorway. Quistis gasped.
Zell asked, "What the heck is he doing here?"
Seifer stepped into the ballroom and looked around. One by one, faces turned towards him. The music died away and all he could see were faces full of anger or hurt. All he could hear were thousands of accusatory whispers. Gazing around the room, he found three of the people he was most afraid to face.
Zell Dincht. The chicken-wuss, or so he called him all these years. He never hated Zell. He had just always picked on him, even when they were children at Edea's orphanage. Yet, he made his life miserable, always trying to embarrass and humiliate him. In Zell's eyes, he saw resentment.
Irvine Kinneas. The cowboy from Galbadia. He had forced him into a situation where he was put against his own friends. Seifer knew how hard the Balamb- Galbadia Garden Battle must have been for him. Knowing that he had no choice but to fight the people he sat with in class day by day. In his eyes, he saw bitterness.
Quistis Trepe. The prodigy. The beautiful instructor that he had so much fun getting riled up. He knew that it killed her when they took away her instructor's license, yet he used that to inflict more pain, destroying her self-confidence. She had seemed to be the only one who had been on his side and he betrayed her as well. In her eyes, he saw animosity.
He had hurt them all very deeply. 'What am I even doing here?' he thought to himself, when he saw the one person who had the most right to hate him.
Squall and Rinoa stepped back into the ballroom, arm in arm, and laughing. Squall froze when he saw Seifer standing at the door. A cold anger rose in him, overtaking him before he even realized it.
Rinoa noticed him tense up, "Squall? What is it?"
"What are YOU doing here?" Squall glared at Seifer.
Defensively, Seifer retorted, "Well, if you would wait before you open your big trap, maybe you'd find out!"
"You haven't changed a bit. You'll never change." Squall said, coldly.
Edea stepped in, "Squall," she began...
"NO! Why is he here, Matron? He insulted us, he tortured me, he tried to kill us, he gave Rinoa to Adel...NO! He expects us to just welcome him back with open arms?"
"Squall, listen...this isn't like you!" Edea tried again.
This time, Seifer interrupted, "No, Matron, he's right. After all, he never made any mistakes. None of them did. It looks like you were wrong this time, Matron." He looked at them with scorn, "The saviors of the world. What would they ever have to do with a guy like me? I'm out of here. This was a mistake!"
"Seifer!" she called after him, but it was too late. He had run out of the door, running into Selphie on the way out.
"Seifer?" she asked, her green eyes widening, "It WAS you! Cool!"
Seifer just looked at her, looking for hurt, anger, resentment, anything! All he saw, though, was an open acceptance. Confused, his face crumbled and he pushed her away and ran out the door.
Edea ran to the hall, "Seifer!"
Selphie looked up at her, "Matron, what happened?"
Sadly, Edea put her arm around Selphie's shoulders and sighed, "I don't know, Selphie. I really don't know."
Edea stormed back into the ballroom and walked directly to the table where Quistis, Irvine, Zell, Squall, and Rinoa were sitting. Selphie trailed behind her. Most of the people at the party stood around shifting uncomfortably after the exchange between Squall and Seifer. Many began to leave.
"I want to talk to the 4 of you right now," she said pointing at the SeeDs. "Selphie, you and Rinoa can stay too, if you please."
Cid walked up and quietly said, "You should use my office, dear. I think I'm going to...umm...stay here and help clean up a little."
Edea nodded. "Yes, that would probably be best. We've had enough public outbursts for tonight." She crossed her arms and looked at Squall, coolly.
Irvine threw a wadded up napkin on the table and sighed, "We might as well...it looks like the party's over anyway." They all stood and followed Edea out the door, shoulders stooped, looking chagrined.
Selphie fell in beside Rinoa in the hall, "Rinn, what happened? I was in my room getting a battery for the camera. All I saw was Seifer running out."
Rinoa shook her head, "Seifer came in and when Squall saw him, he just lost it. He demanded to know why he had come back. Then, Seifer got defensive, of course..."
"But that doesn't sound like Squall at all. He seems more level-headed than that."
Rinoa smiled, thinking about the quiet young man, "True, but he's got so much anger inside of him. He has a lifetime of hurt welling up. It's got to come out sometime. He felt the betrayal of Seifer deeply...remember, he tortured Squall. He was so cold and uncaring. And he hadn't always been that way. Squall's the type of person to keep his emotions from everyone until they eventually eat him up. I don't know what to do, but just be there for him."
Selphie frowned, "But it doesn't seem fair to Seifer. I mean, he's been through a lot too. Can you imagine what it took to return to the people he betrayed?"
Rinoa just shrugged. The group finally reached Cid's office. They filed in and sat down, feeling very uncomfortable.
Edea paced for a few minutes with her arms crossed. "Squall, what WAS that?"
"Matron!" he protested, 'Don't you realize all he's done?"
"I realize that he humbled himself tonight."
Zell snickered, "Seifer Almasy doesn't have a humble bone in his body!"
Edea whirled around to face him, eyes flashing. "Zell Dincht! You don't know the full story. You weren't there. I was! You don't know how strong a power it was that encompassed us."
Quistis interjected, "He made his decision. He was NOT completely enchanted."
"Do you know what it's like, Quistis? It's like being in a fog, always trying to see the clear path, but never being able to. I talked to Seifer this afternoon. I asked him to return. I told him that you guys would never reject him."
Squall slammed his fist on Cid's desk. "Matron, Seifer tried to kill us! And look at what kind of person he is! He's always been arrogant and rude."
"And you, Squall, remind me of him so much right now," she snapped.
Squall's mouth opened, but Rinoa put her hand on his arm and stood up to face her friends. "She's right, you know. About being in a fog." She paused, "Why did you forgive me? Why did you forgive Matron? Whatever reason you can think of, I think you should forgive Seifer too."
Squall looked down at the floor, silent.
Irvine spoke up for the first time, "We didn't say anything, Matron. Zell, Quistis, and I...we kept silent."
Edea sighed and leaned against the wall. "Sometimes your expression says more than your words ever can. Seifer is so volatile. I wonder if we've lost him for good..."
Squall looked up, eyes burning, and turned and walked out.
"Squall!" Selphie cried, standing up.
"Let him go, Selphie." Edea said.
Seifer slammed drawers and pulled clothes, stuffing them in his old suitcase. "And THEN...he had the gall to demand why I had returned as if he hadn't insulted me enough already!"
Fujin and Raijin sat on the bed in the hotel room that Seifer had been renting. They looked at each other and Fujin raised her eyebrows.
Seifer threw an old pair of pants in the suitcase. "Matron said, 'Oh Seifer, they'll never reject you,' but I guess she was wrong now, wasn't she?" he ranted. "You should have seen the way they all stood there looking so important." He pulled his shoulders back and held his nose in the air. "I'm SICK of everyone talking about how Squall Leonhart saved us and how he's done this or that."
"Umm, Seifer? You know, umm..., well, so where are you going?" Raijin asked tentatively.
Seifer stopped and looked thoughtful. "Where am I going? To Esthar, of course."
"Esthar?" Fujin exclaimed. "But why?"
"Because. My family - the only family I knew - was taken away from me tonight." He sadly thought of the people he grew up with. Quistis, Zell, Irvine, Squall, Selphie...why did she react the way she did? He shook his head as if trying to clear his mind. "I'm going to get myself a new family."
"What are you talking about?" Raijin looked confused.
"Laguna Loire. Think how Squall will feel when he realizes that his archenemy has become like a son to his father. More of a son than he is."
Fujin stood up and started to pace. "It won't work. It's no secret that Squall dislikes Laguna."
Seifer laughed, "He may say that, but do you honestly think he won't be affected when he sees me by Laguna's side."
"So, you're basically going to use Laguna to hurt Squall." Fujin pointed out.
"And Ellone," Seifer replied matter-of-factly, closing the suitcase and snapping the latches.
Raijin stood up right in front of his buddy. "But is it worth it? Seifer, just go back to Garden and MAKE Squall and them hear you out. Edea's already made it clear that you'll be welcome, and that means Cid will be behind it too. You're set, you know? You've got me and Fu and..."
"NO!" Seifer roared. "Remember I already tried that! I refuse to degrade myself again!" He pushed Raijin aside and walked out the door, slamming it on his way out.
Fujin sighed mournfully looking at the suitcase Seifer had left on the bed, "But isn't that exactly what you're doing to yourself right now?"
Raijin simply hung his head.
Squall stared at his reflection in the mirror. "What's happening to me?" he wondered aloud. He had those two outbursts the other night. Matron was right. He was beginning to act like Seifer.
Seifer! Why did simply the thought of him make Squall seethe in anger? He had always been able to control his emotions, bottling them up inside. Even when fighting, he never let anger take over him. He was always the calm one. The quiet one.
He stepped away from the mirror and walked to his bed. He lied down and putting his hands behind his head, gazed at the ceiling, lost in thought. After a few minutes, he drifted into the comforting arms of sleep.
He was falling. Tumbling down a dark pit and he couldn't see the bottom. All around him, he could hear voices shouting. Many hands reached for him and brushed his body, but none could save him. He was falling and he knew he'd never reach the bottom. He opened his mouth and cried out in anguish. The voices stopped and a new sound emerged. A ringing. Frantically he looked around. What could all this mean? Suddenly he saw a face below him. Squinting, he tried to determine who it was...
Squall sat up, gasping and looked around. His telephone was ringing. He glanced over at the clock. 8:47 am. Wiping a drop of sweat from his brow, he reached for the phone.
"Oh hi, Squall. It's, umm, well, your Dad."
Squall cringed. He should have known. Laguna had gotten on this kick of calling him every other day. He said that he wanted to get to know him as a son. But Squall didn't know if he could ever consider Laguna a father. After all, wasn't he the first one to ever abandon him?
"Can I help you, Loire?"
This time, on the other end, Laguna cringed. Why did he insist on putting Squall through this day after day when it was blatantly obvious that he would never think of him in that way? Ellone kept encouraging him, saying that someday Squall would come around. Everyone needs family and he would realize that he needs to fill that void.
"I just, umm...wanted to see how everything was going."
Squall sighed. "The same as it was last time you called and the time before that. Listen, Laguna, I'd love to talk right now, but I'm afraid I have to be somewhere in about 10 minutes."
"OK," Laguna replied, resignedly. "Squall, I just want you to know again what you mean to me. Had I known I had a son all those years ago, I would have done everything in my power to find you."
"Yeah, OK. I know. I'll just talk to you later, alright?"
"Alright," Laguna said sadly. "Goodbye, son."
"Goodbye." Squall hung up the receiver and looked up in his mirror again. What did he see?
Critically, he said aloud, "I see someone who has been rejected and abandoned his whole life. I see someone who is tired of meeting up to everyone's expectations. I see someone who just wants to leave." Then, he added silently, 'Someone who still doesn't know what friendship or love means...and may never.'
Getting dressed, Squall realized that all the power and glory in the world didn't make him happier. He thought that when the whole Ultimecia affair was over, he was fine. But nothing had taken away his innermost demons. Not even Rinoa, though she certainly brought out the best in him.
'Someday,' he thought, 'I'll get away and find what I'm looking for. Whatever that is...'
Selphie was sitting in the cafeteria, buttering a piece of toast. She had woken up pretty early and tended to some errands before tending to her stomach. She spotted Quistis coming in and waved her over.
"What's up Quis?"
"Not much," the tired-looking blond replied. "I just thought I'd see what everyone was up to. The first place I thought to look was here."
Selphie munched on her toast and nodded, "I think the guys are still sleeping. You know how they are."
Quistis smiled and then suddenly looked at Selphie intently, "Can I ask you a question?"
"Name it." Selphie answered.
"Well, I overheard you talking to Rinoa the other night. Why did you stick up for Seifer? I mean, he tried to kill you too. He was involved in the Trabia bombing. How can you forgive everything he's done so quickly?"
Selphie swallowed and thought for a few seconds, "I figure he's been through enough. I think what he did to himself was much worse than anything he's done to us. Yes, he hurt us and a lot of my friends died at Trabia, but wouldn't you rather see him repent than continue to hurt himself and others?"
Quistis looked down at the table, so Selphie continued, "When he ran into me, I saw so much pain in his eyes. And then confusion. He looked like a lost little boy and it literally broke my heart."
"But why?" Quistis demanded. "Selphie, he was never nice to any of us!"
"That's not true," Selphie argued. "He wears his mask just like everyone else does. Irvine's is flirting. Squall's is acting like he doesn't need anyone. Mine is the way I always try to seem happy. Yours is the way you act mature."
"I AM mature."
"I'm not saying you're not. I'm just saying that everyone seems to cover up what's really going on. Seifer thinks that if he acts tough, no one will realize just how weak he really is."
Quistis smiled, "You always were the most accepting of all of us, Selph. You've always been about making people happy. Putting their needs ahead of your own."
Selphie gave a little bow, "I do what I can." She grinned. "Just think about it, Quistis. We need Seifer on our side. HE needs us."
"Are you sure there isn't any other reason why you're defending him?" She looked at Selphie slyly, raising an eyebrow.
"If you're suggesting I have feelings for him, then NO!" she declared.
Quistis shrugged, "If you say so. I'm gonna grab a bite."
Selphie took another bite of her toast and watched Quistis walk towards the breakfast buffet. 'No, I don't have any feelings for Seifer...I really don't, I swear,' she thought to herself. 'Do I?'
Laguna sat in his favorite chair, moping. Noticing him sitting there in silence, Ellone walked in the room, "What happened now?"
Not even looking at her, Laguna answered, "I just got off the phone with Squall. He'll never consider me a father. He's been hurt too much."
She sat down near him. "Just give him time. He just found out about you not very long ago! Of course, it will take time for him to adjust to the idea! It'll happen, though. I promise."
He sighed, "I guess you're right, Ellone. He has every right to be angry with me, though. Maybe I should just leave him alone for a bit."
"You didn't know!"
"Excuse me, Mister Loire," Laguna's new computerized security system's voice permeated the room. That was the good thing about living in Esthar. You could experience the new technology before anyone else. He had the system installed a few weeks back. It notified him when he had a visitor and was the most secure device on the market.
"You have a visitor."
"Let 'em in." Laguna answered, not bothering to look at the security screen. He turned around to see a young, blond man walk in. Why did he look so familiar?
"Hello, President Loire, Ellone. You may not remember me. I'm Seifer Almasy, an old friend of Squall's."
For a few minutes, all Laguna could do was gape at the young man who had just walked in the door. This is the one who has caused so much heartache, he thought to himself. Finally, Ellone broke the silence.
"Seifer! Oh my gosh, of course I remember you! How ARE you?"
Seifer shifted from foot to foot, "Truthfully, I've been better. Listen, I'll cut to the chase. And this isn't easy for me, you know. I've made many mistakes in my life. Especially lately. I don't know how, but I want to make things better - make things right. I felt compelled to come to you two and apologize for everything." He looked at them nervously.
Ellone glanced at Laguna who was still standing here dumbfounded. She smiled warmly at Seifer. She remembered him from the orphanage. Even when he was real young, it was evident that there was a certain fire in him. She would overhear Matron talking to Cid about how she was worried Seifer would get into something over his head someday. She asked, "Seifer, where are you staying?"
"Um, well...actually I have nowhere to stay right now."
"Why not here? Just stay for a few days at least. We have some catching up to do!"
Laguna finally snapped out of it, "Ellone..."
She turned towards Laguna and gave him a look. Laguna sighed. This girl could get away with murder where he was concerned. "Yes, Seifer. It would please us immensely if you were to stay with us." OK, he thought, maybe that was a little too much...
Seifer looked up, "Really?"
Laguna nodded. "Ellone, why don't you show him to a room?"
"Wonderful! My things are downstairs! Thank you so much, President!" Seifer followed Ellone out of the room. This is too easy, he thought. Too easy...
He was falling and it seemed there was no end. Voices were crying, shouting, "Seifer!" He reached for an outstretched hand, but failed to grasp it. He was falling and he knew he'd never reach the bottom. All he could see was an overwhelming blackness all over. What was this? Was it his soul, his very being? He opened his mouth and cried out in anguish. Suddenly he saw a face below him. Looking closely, he gasped! The face was...his own!
Seifer abruptly came out of his sleep with a cry. Frantically, he tugged the sheets off and jumped to his feet. What kind of dream was that? Why did it terrify him so much? He crept to the door and opened it as quietly as he could. Peeking from side to side, he slipped out and walked to the bathroom. Turning on the light and shutting the door, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. He hated what he saw. Huge, dark bags under his eyes and a tormented look on his face. He turned on the faucet and splashed a little cold water on his face. "You're losing it, Seifer, when a silly dream can do this to you!"
He slipped back to his room, careful not to wake anyone up. He laid back down, but was unable to go back to sleep. Looking at the ceiling, he began to think. He heard Raijin's voice, "But is it worth it? Seifer, just go back to Garden and MAKE Squall and them hear you out."
You don't know anything, Raijin. I don't want to go back, anyway. I hate them! ALL of them!
All of them?
Again, his mind wandered back to the night of his return and the look on Selphie's face. "Seifer? It WAS you! Cool!" she had said. He frowned. What had made her respond that way? All he could see now in his mind was her pretty green eyes, her sweet smile, that cute little flip in her...
SEIFER! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? Dreaming about that little messenger girl? Come on!
He had never really noticed her. He talked to her a bit on that first mission for the SeeD exam, but after that, everytime he met up with Squall and company, he never noticed the petite girl. He remembered Rinoa and Quistis. How could he ever forget the two of them? And of course Chicken-Wuss and Cowboy. Now those two were laughable. And of course Squall. He shook his head. He didn't even want to waste his thoughts on Squall right now.
But Selphie? Why had he never paid attention to her before? She wasn't even his type. Now Quistis or Rinoa...THEY were his type. But Selphie? Too perky. Too cheerful. Sweet. Kind. Accepting.
Yawning, he closed his eyes and pictured her smiling face. For the first time that night, he felt a little more peace and gradually began to drift into sleep once more...
"Seifer, come here. I need an opinion on something," Laguna looked up from his desk to where Seifer was sitting in the corner of the office, proofing a bill.
"What's up?" In the few weeks that he had been with Laguna and Ellone, he had won their trust. Seifer, old boy, you still have it in you, he had thought. He ate with them every night entertaining them with stories from when he was a student at Balamb Garden. One night at dinner, Laguna was complaining about a conflict they were having in Parliament. Seifer made a suggestion and when Laguna presented it the following day, he recieved enthusiastic support. Since then, he asked Seifer his opinions on pretty much everything.
"I have this proposal concerning Esthar's water supply. Tell me what you think..."
As Laguna started spouting off the information, Seifer cocked his head, contemplating it all.
Ellone, walking past the office, peeked in and saw the two sitting there, Laguna talking as usual and Seifer deep in thought. She smiled and stepped back out. What an amazing effect Seifer had on Laguna! He no longer brooded over Squall. He even mentioned to her one night how Seifer was just like the son he had always wanted. She didn't know how to feel about that. On one hand, she was glad that Laguna was happy, but on the other, she didn't want him to forget about Squall. And what about Seifer? He truly had changed or so it seemed. At times, she wondered if this was all an act. After all, Seifer had a flair for the dramatic.
"Shame on you, Ellone!" She chastised herself. "Seifer's making an effort to change his life for the better. If that means following after Laguna, then so be it. Besides, you're the one that welcomed him in the first place." She sighed. I just hope all this isn't at the expense of Squall.
Squall stared at the telephone. It had been almost three weeks since Laguna had called. Why was that? He didn't really enjoy talking to Laguna in the first place, but this was strange. Had he finally given up on him?
"Seifer? What are you still doing up?" Ellone had noticed the lamp burning in Seifer's room, so she tapped on the door.
"Come on in, Elle. I'm just going over Laguna's speech for tomorrow." He was sitting at his desk, hunched over a paper.
"But it's almost 2:00!"
Seifer set down his pencil, smiled, and raised an eyebrow, "Yes it is, isn't it? And may I ask why you are coming in so late, young lady?" He put on his most mature voice.
She laughed and plopped down on his bed. Leaning over to take her shoes off, she replied, "I kind of had a date tonight."
"A date, huh? Whoo-hoo! Go Elle."
"Oh Seifer, it's not that big a deal!"
"Was it with that ambassador guy?"
"Steven? Yeah. We had fun. He took me to..." she paused and then wrinkled her brow. "This is strange."
"Talking to you like this. Let's face it, Seifer. You're acting NOTHING like yourself."
"What do you mean by that?" he shifted his head to the side a little.
"Well, you never were...how do I put this delicately?" She looked at him slyly, "...nice?"
"Oh Elle!" he clutched his hand to his chest and pretended to fall out of his chair in pain, "That hurts!" Laughing, he sat down beside her on the bed and suddenly got serious. "I've changed, Elle. I've been through a lot. We all have. Maybe it just took longer for my eyes to open than for the rest of you."
She smiled and kissed him on the cheek like a brother. "Go to bed, Seifer. It's late. We'll talk more in the morning, all right? Besides, I feel like I'm about to fall over, I'm so exhausted!" She leaned over to fetch her shoes off the floor.
"Goodnight," he watched her shut the door quietly, giving him a quick wave before it closed. He walked back over to the desk and looked at Laguna's speech. So many things had changed in the last several weeks. He was almost, dare he say it...happy. What had begun as a vindication against Squall had managed to backfire. He had never planned to get attached to Laguna or Ellone, but now he found himself thinking of them as his family. Maybe he should just leave things alone. Forget about Squall and the rest of them. Maybe he should just look forward and take advantage of what he had now. Besides, he was actually pretty good at politics. He had the charm and could make promises just like the rest of them. He shook his head. Squall was an idiot! Here, he had the greatest people alive wanting him to accept them as family. Yet he rejected them. Not Ellone so much, but Seifer had learned in the time that they had spent together that Ellone took Squall's rejection of Laguna very personally.
"If you get hurt, Squall, it's your own fault!" Seifer muttered. He finished proofing the speech, but still wasn't tired. "Maybe I'll write a letter." Immediately Selphie popped to his mind. He pushed her out of his thoughts and decided to play it safe.
Dear Fujin & Raijin...
"May I have your attention, everyone..." Cid's voice rang out over the loudspeaker. "We have decided to reward everyone's hard work for the past few months. Due to the whole Ultimecia affair a few months back and with SeeD exams coming up in a month, Edea and I have decided that you all deserve a break. So two weeks from today will be the First Annual Balamb Garden Six-Day Spring Leave. During that time, you may go anywhere you choose - take a vacation, go home, you can even stay here at the Garden if you decide. The only condition is you must hand into me a written form detailing where you will be by next Friday if you want to leave Garden for the break. Also know that if any conflict arises, you may be asked to return immediately. If there are any questions, simply ask Xu, Edea, or me. Thank you."
Zell jumped out of his chair in the cafeteria and did a little dance. "Spring Leave? That's awesome! Hmm...maybe I'll head out to Balamb."
"To see your Mommy?" Irvine threw a dinner roll at him. Quistis, Rinoa, and Selphie giggled.
"NO!" Zell glared at Irvine. "To go to the beach, of course. I may see what Brenna's doing. Maybe she'd like to come too."
"How IS Brenna, anyway?" Quistis asked.
Zell glanced around and picked up the fallen dinner roll off the floor, "She's ok. They have her doing extra shifts at the library right now because one of the workers is training for the SeeD exam and needed a little extra time off." He shoved the dinner roll in his mouth.
"Zell!" Rinoa wrinkled her nose, "That was on the floor! It's filthy!"
Irvine laughed and stuck up for his buddy. "Thirty-second rule, don't ya'll know? I'm thinking of either going skiing near Trabia or maybe camping down in Centra. What about the rest of you. What'll ya'll do?"
Quistis leaned back and stretched her long legs. "I may just stay here and get caught up on things..."
"No way! You work too hard as it is! You're coming with me!" Irvine declared.
"Irvine, really, I can't. I-"
"Shhh!" he put his finger to her lips and leaned in seductively. "Come on, baby. You know you want to come with me."
She smacked his hand away and laughed, "Oh all right! But I get to choose where we go. Anyone want to join us?" She ignored Irvine's crestfallen look. She knew he wanted to get her alone with him. "Selphie?"
"I don't know. Maybe. I haven't really decided what I'm doing yet."
Rinoa leaned over to the petite girl. "Selphie, are you alright? Lately, you seem different."
Selphie smiled, "I just have a lot on my mind. I mean, I've been going over some schematics with Nida for a new ship prototype. I guess I've just been thinking about all those details lately. Don't worry. I'm fine...Anyway, that just leaves you and Squall. What do you think you two will do?"
Rinoa sat back and grinned. "I don't know, but I want it to be special, whatever it is. I'm glad Edea convinced Cid about this Spring Leave. I've been talking to her about Squall. I'm worried about him. He's always so busy - we rarely see him anymore! She suggested he take a break, but you know he'd never do that with everything that's going on around here. Well, this way, he can."
"So you mean Spring Leave is all for Squall?" Zell asked, his eyes widening.
Rinoa just shrugged, "Well, he IS important."
"Hmm..." Irvine thought aloud, "If Squall can motivate them to give everyone a vacation, maybe I can convince them to install coke machines across the hall from my room. I hate having to walk all the way to the cafeteria for a drink."
"Hey! I'M important too, you know!" Then he winked at the group and they started laughing again.
Selphie was humming to herself and walking briskly down the hall when she turned a corner sharply and ran into Raijin.
"Oh! Raijin! I'm sorry!" She smiled at the young man and then glanced at the girl who never seemed to leave his side. "Fujin..." she acknowledged. Fujin just glared at her.
"Hey, don't worry 'bout it, Selphie," Raijin said.
"Umm, have either of you heard from Seifer?"
Fujin said gruffly, "NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!"
"Aww, come on, Fu," Raijin whispered loudly. "Afterall, doesn't he want Squall to know? She's one of his friends. She'd tell him."
"RAIJIN!" Fujin scolded.
"Umm, Raijin? You might try whispering a little softer. I heard every word you said." Selphie laughed. "Come on, what's going on?"
"He's in Esthar with Laguna. We just got a letter from him and he said he-" Raijin started, but Fujin punched him in the side.
"IT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!" she shouted again at Selphie. She grabbed Raijin by the arm and pulled him away, leaving Selphie standing there dumbfounded.
"What was THAT about?" Quistis had seen the exchange and approached her friend.
Selphie looked at Quistis, her eyes wide. "Seifer's in Esthar with Laguna."
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know. I think Raijin was going to tell me what was going on, but Fujin stopped him. That's all I got out of him! Should we tell Squall?"
"Tell me what?"
Selphie and Quistis both whirled around to see the young man smiling at them. "SQUALL!" they shouted in unison.
"What's going on?"
"Maybe we should tell him. I mean, Laguna IS his dad," Selphie whispered to Quistis.
Squall looked at her impatiently, "What about Laguna? Selphie, you really don't know how to whisper."
Selphie smacked her forehead and said, "I don't know how to tell you this, but..." she looked at Quistis for help.
Quistis finished, "Raijin told her that Seifer was in Esthar with Laguna. But then, you probably already knew that. I mean, doesn't Laguna call you all the time?" They looked at him intently.
He stiffened, "He hasn't called in over a month." He hastily added, "But, why should that bother me? What he does is his business. I've got work to do." He quickly walked away.
"It bothers him," Quistis commented.
"Oh yeah," Selphie agreed.
Rinoa knocked on Squall's door. When he opened it, she burst, "Squall, I have the best idea for Spring Leave! We can-"
"I'm going to Winhill," he interrupted.
"OK," she said slowly. "Winhill sounds fun. There're a lot of little shops there that I can-"
Again he interrupted, "Rinoa, I have to go by myself." He looked in her eyes and saw them filling up with tears. He quickly grabbed her hands, "Oh, Rinn, don't cry. I just need to sort some things out about my family and that means I need to go to Winhill alone. This is something I have to do for myself. Please, just be there for me?"
She silently nodded. He kissed her on the forehead. "I love you, Rinn."
Selphie resolutely walked to Cid's office. Nida was just coming out. "Oh hey, Selphie! Are you turning in your Spring Leave sheet?" Not waiting for her response, he continued, "Yeah, I found out Quistis and Irvine were going camping at Centra, so I thought I'd go with them. I haven't been camping in forever. It's gonna be great! Well, see ya!" He walked away briskly. She tried to suppress a giggle. Poor Irvine. She could just picture him trying to cozy up to Quistis with Nida popping up between them talking his head off.
She walked to Cid and handed the sheet to him.
"Esthar? Ah, I see you have President Loire as your contact. That sounds like a nice trip. Have fun," Cid smiled warmly at her.
She nodded and walked out of the office, her heart thumping. In a week, she was going to see Seifer!
Squall trudged up a hill on the outskirts of Winhill. He knew his mother's grave was near, though he had never seen it. Scanning the area, he spotted a simple granite stone to his right. He knelt down at the grave and looked at the words "Raine Loire." His mother!
"Hi, umm...Mom. It feels strange saying that word. I've never had a reason to say it. Now I do. Anyway, it's me, Squall."
He paused and looked around, feeling a little strange speaking aloud. Then he shrugged off that feeling. He needed to do this.
"I've been doing well. I've made lots of friends at Balamb Garden. most of them were from the orphanage that Ellone and I were placed in when you, well...you know. Anyway, you would like them. Zell and Irvine are both really funny the way they play off each other. They'd make you laugh. Selphie's a lot of fun too. She could cheer up anybody. Quistis and I sometimes argue, but she's really a great person. She'll make someone very lucky someday. And then there's Rinoa..." he sat back and smoothed the grass around him. He laughed to himself at how he was talking. He could never be this way around the others.
He smiled at the thought of Rinoa, "Mom, Rinoa's wonderful! I thought she was something when I first met her, but I tried to keep from getting close to her. But somehow, things changed between us and now she's the best thing in my life. I don't know what I'd do without her. Maybe in a few years when we're a little older, I'll ask her to marry me. We're too young right now! Umm...Ellone's doing well. She's safe now living in Esthar with Laguna."
"Oh yeah, we saved the world from an evil sorceress. Bet that makes you proud, huh?"
His smile faded, "Who am I kidding? I'm not happy. I've lived my whole life feeling rejected, if you want to know the truth."
He stood up and shouted down at the gravestone, "First you left me! I know you couldn't help it, but why couldn't you have held on a little longer so I could have at least known you a little? Laguna never came back for me! He never cared! And Ellone even left..."
He collapsed to his knees once more, his eyes tearing up, "She was taken away. I understand that now, but for a little boy who had lost everyone in his life, it was hard. I didn't realize that people actually cared about me until I met Rinoa and the others. And by that time, I was so afraid to let people in because I just knew they'd leave. I've hurt Rinoa so much lately, I can't stand it. And I know I should forgive Laguna, but how can I? How do you just abandon your son? I don't believe when he says he didn't know! I hate him! He started it all!"
Wiping a tear away, he continued, "Mom, I've been hurt so much. Can you understand it? Did you feel that way when Laguna left you? There was another person...Seifer. I don't know if you'd like him. He was also at the orphanage, but he picked on everyone so I tried to stay away from him. Well, we went to Balamb together and had this kind of rivalry going on. Yet, even though we were rivals, we turned out to be friends. But he turned on us. Mom, do you know what it's like to feel electricity going through your body? It's agonizing! He did that to me! My old friend tortured me. He tried to kill us all - especially Rinoa. He tried to take away the one person I was getting close to. I don't think I'd ever have recovered if we hadn't won that day! Well, he's back and now he's with Laguna and Ellone. I don't know what's going on, but he's with them."
He looked up at the sky, "Mom, I want my father, but I think I've lost my ability to forgive..." The wind blew against his face and on the wind, he heard what sorrowfully sounded like his name, 'ssssqqqqquuuuaaaaallll..."
Selphie gave Quistis and Irvine a hug. "You guys have fun, ok?"
Nida rushed in and hugged her too, "We're going to have a blast Selphie! Too bad you're not coming!" Putting his arms around Quistis and Irvine, he exclaimed, "I thought we'd roast marshmallows, tell ghost stories, make fire by rubbing sticks together...I even brought some rope so we can practice making knots!"
"Get off me!" Irvine roared, pushing a stunned Nida's arm away.
Selphie and Quistis giggled and then turned when they heard a voice say, "You guys weren't going to leave without saying goodbye, were you?"
"Oh Rinoa! Come with us!" Quistis insisted, "It'll help you get your mind of Squall."
Rinoa shook her head, "Nah, I'm just going to stay in. For once, I'll get some hotdogs. You know, since Zell and Brenna have already left!" She smiled, "Don't worry about me, Quistis. I'm fine. Squall just needs to deal with this family stuff alone. I'll have fun here, I promise!"
"Well, OK," Quistis said reluctantly, picking up her bags. "We'll see you guys in six days!" Nida took her hand and they hurried off with Irvine trailing behind sullenly.
Rinoa turned to Selphie, "And you're going to Esthar! Wow, Selphie. I would never have thought...you and Seifer."
"WHAT??" Selphie exclaimed. "You know?"
"Of course I know! I'm a girl. I can sense these things. Seifer's a good guy, Selph. I know it hasn't seemed that way with everything that happened, but he's not the bad guy everyone makes him out to be. But, then I think you've realized that already."
"I don't know what I'm doing, Rinoa! This is crazy."
"And I think it will make him very happy," Rinoa hugged her friend. "You better get going..."
"Yep! I'll see you next week!" Selphie waved happily and picked up her bags. She was on her way!
Standing outside Laguna's home in Esthar, Selphie took a deep breath. She walked up to the door and lifted her hand to knock...paused...and then turned around and ran back down the steps.
No, Selphie! You can do this!
She turned back around, walked up the steps, raised her hand to knock...and turned around and ran back down right into someone.
"I'm so sorry! I'm such a clutz...I..." she looked up at the young man and whispered, "Seifer?"
He let out a big belly laugh, "Selphie, WHAT are you doing? I've been watching you run up and down the stairs for the last ten minutes!"
She hit him in the chest and pouted, "Then why didn't you say anything?"
"I was coming home and I saw someone who looked really familiar standing on my porch. It was a really cute little girl that I had known from school, but she looked so funny running up and down the steps, so I just had to sit back and watch for a little bit. Aww, Selph...what are you doing here?"
She looked down and kicked at the ground, "I...umm...did you say this is YOUR house?" she asked abruptly changing the subject.
"Yeah, I've been living with President Loire and Ellone for the past two months. Come inside. there're plenty of rooms. Are you planning on staying a while?" he ushered her into the grand lobby.
"Yeah," she smiled, suddenly feeling a bit calmer. "Cid gave us six days of Spring Leave and I thought I'd just come to Esthar. I hadn't been here in awhile." She decided to add, "I had NO idea you'd be here!"
He spread his arms apart and smiled, "Well, I guess you just can't away from me too long." He noticed her blushing. 'Why?' he thought. "Actually, it may suprise you, but I've been working alongside President Loire and I think politics may be my calling."
She burst out laughing. "You? A politician??"
"And why not? You can do a lot for people. And you get power, of course. I've just learned, though, that I'd rather use power the way Laguna does than the way I used to." He got quiet and looked down at the ground, "Selphie, I'm sorry for everything I've done to you. For Trabia and for attacking you and for..."
"Stop, Seifer. I forgave you a long time ago!" He looked up at her questioning. She continued, "I lied when I said I didn't know you were here. I knew. That's why I came. I wanted you to return to Balamb."
"Selphie, I'm actually happy here..."
"I know. I can see that now. I guess I just also wanted to let you know that we don't hate you."
He snickered, with some of his old cynical personality coming forward, "Yeah...ok...whatever, Selphie. I'm not that gullible!"
"No! Really!" she touched his arm. They both looked down at her hand and she quickly removed it, embarrassed. "At least, Rinoa, Quistis, and I. We've talked. We forgive you."
"Yeah, but look who pretty much runs the school. Old Squally-boy loathes me. He would make sure I was miserable should I ever return. And frankly, I don't like him much. I have NO sympathy for him! If he only knew what I had been through..."
"He's been through a lot too, though," Selphie stated.
Seifer frowned, "Did you just come here to rail on me, Selphie?"
"N-no! Of course not!" her eyes widened and her face fell.
Seifer immediately regretted his words, "I'm sorry, Selph. I'm afraid we got off to a bad start. I guess that happens often with me. Come upstairs. Let me show you to a room. Ellone's going to be thrilled to have you here."
He led her up the spiral staircase and paused, "And maybe, we can go do something tonight? Just the two of us. So that we can talk..."
She grinned, "Of course!"
The next morning, Selphie heard a knock on her door and a head peeked in.
"Ellone!" she squealed and hopped out of bed.
"Selphie! I'm so sorry I missed seeing you yesterday. I had to shuttle over to the Lunar Gate and I got in kind of late. How are you?"
"Yeah, Seifer told me you had come. He was so thrilled to see you."
"Really?" Selphie leaned forward, "What'd he say?"
Ellone laughed, "He said, 'I'm thrilled to see Selphie!'"
"Oh," Selphie laughed too.
Ellone suddenly got serious. "Selphie, I'm so sorry to bring this up, but how's Squall? I've been telling Laguna to call him, but he says he's just been so busy that he hasn't had a chance."
Selphie shook her head, "He's not doing too well. I think he's having to deal with a lot of personal issues with his family and everything. In fact, he went to Winhill by himself for Spring Leave."
"Rinoa didn't go with him?"
"She wanted to, but he insisted on going himself. I think it's kind of hurt him that Laguna hasn't called in so long, even though he always puts on a show like it's a chore to talk to him."
Ellone sat back and looked down.
"Oh Elle! I'm sorry! I shouldn't have said that!"
"No, it's ok, Selphie. I kind of figured that was his reaction. What about Seifer? Has he mentioned him at all?"
Selphie shook her head, "Not since the night he came back to Balamb. Squall refuses to talk about him and yesterday when Squall's name came up, Seifer reacted harshly as well. I just wish they could relate to each other because they're really so much alike! THAT'S IT!!" Selphie jumped up and started to pace.
"Uh oh..." Ellone started, "What's 'it'?"
"Ellone, you can use your power and put Seifer into Squall's mind and Squall into Seifer's mind. You know, show them things that the other's experienced so they can really begin to understand each other. That way, they'd HAVE to stop hating each other because they'd know!"
Ellone shook her head, "Selphie, I don't think so. Too many things could happen. Besides, I haven't done anything like that since you guys and I really...don't...know...oh stop looking at me like that! Fine, I'll do it!"
Selphie jumped up and down and clapped.
Ellone sighed, "Now I know why giving that look drives Laguna nuts! They're going to hate me for this, Selphie..."
Squall walked into the little pub in Winhill and looked around. 'My Mother ran this place,' he thought to himself. Sure, he had been here before, but it had never really meant anything like it did now. He sat down at one of the tables and inhaled the fresh scent of a vase of white flowers that had been placed there. A waitress noticed him and walked towards his table. As he saw her approaching, the room began to spin. The lights dimmed and he struggled to keep his eyes open. Oh no! Not again! With one last grimace before he succumbed to this overpowering sensation, he cried out, "Ellone!"
All was black. He gradually opened his eyes and looked at his surroundings. He was in a dingy shack and there was an angry looking man coming right for him. He looked down at his hands. The hands of a child. 'Ellone, what have you done?' he thought.
The large man grabbed him by the shoulders and began to shake him, "Shape up, Boy! I won't have any son of mine being the sniveling little brat you are!" he growled.
"Gunner, STOP IT! He's just a child!" A pretty blond woman rushed up to the large man and began to beat her fists on his back. Gunner turned around and hit her, knocking her on her back.
"I don't care! If he's ever gonna be a man, he's got to learn to be tough." He slapped the child so hard that tears sprang from his eyes. Seeing the tears made Gunner even angrier. "Toughen up! I hate crying! It sickens me!" he spat. The boy grimaced at the stench of alcohol on the man's breath. He looked up to see Gunner's hand reeled back ready to strike him and then all went black again.
When Squall finally came to, he felt incredibly sore. He looked around and noticed he was still in the dingy shack, but now in a new room. A bedroom, maybe? On the wall was a broken, dirty mirror. He sighed, "I might as well see what Elle's done to me..."
He jumped off the bed and walked to the mirror, wincing with each step he took and he gasped at what he saw. He was a little boy, around 4 years of age, with thick blond hair. What shocked him the most were the cuts and bruises that seemed to line his whole body. One eye was swollen to the point that it was almost shut. The door creaked open and he gasped and turned his head to see who the intruder was. It was the blond woman and she looked as bruised as he was.
"My sweet Seifer," she began.
Seifer? I'm Seifer?
"I'm so sorry, honey," she hugged him tightly to her chest, "I've got to get you out of here tonight. Trust Mommy, ok? I promise you'll be safe from now on."
She opened up his closet and took a few pieces of clothing, all worn out and shoved them into a little knapsack she was holding. She picked him up and stole quietly away, tiptoeing towards the front door.
Seifer looked around and saw the huge man, Gunner, lying on the floor. He began to stir, "Kristine..." he mumbled, lifting his head. Through bloodshot eyes, he saw the woman freeze in terror holding little Seifer. She quickly snapped out of it and ran towards the door, but Gunner seemed to regain his strength quickly as well. He roared and ran towards the woman. Swinging open the door, she rushed down the steps, but wasn't quick enough. Gunner ripped at her arms forcing her to drop Seifer.
"Run, Seifer! Go! Get out of here!" she cried.
In panic, the little boy began to run as fast as he could. He turned one more time to look at his mother and he saw her being beaten to a pulp. Tripping on a pothole, he fell and hit his head. Feeling tears springing to his eyes again, he choked them back and declared, "I gotta be tough!" He picked himself up and began to run once more and he kept running until the blackness enveloped him.
He awakened once more, but this time, the scenary was familiar. Edea's orphanage! He stepped out of bed and noticed a couple of kids staring at him.
"What?" he demanded.
The children snickered and looked at him with disdain. Looking down he saw he was still wearing the same old, dirty, torn clothes that he had on when he had escaped from home. His arms were covered with bruises, so he knew his face probably looked the same. He growled and reacted the same way his father would. He lunged at one of the children and started punching him. The other child screamed, "Matron!" and a woman with long, dark hair rushed in and pried the two boys apart.
"Zell! Seifer! Stop it! I'm ashamed of you! We'll have none of that here!"
"But he made fun of me!" Seifer declared pointing at the short, blond boy. Matron sighed, feeling sorry for the new young boy who had arrived. She took him by the hand and led him out of the room.
"Seifer, we don't use violence here. We solve our problems with our words, not our fists. I tell you what. You really need some new clothes. How about we go into town today and get you some things?"
He looked at her warily and nodded.
"OK. In the meantime, you can borrow one of Zell's shirts," she took him back to the room where Zell was glaring at him. He stuck his tongue out.
"Chicken-wuss," Seifer muttered.
"What? I'm using my words!" he exclaimed.
Matron tried to look serious, but couldn't help but laugh a little. This boy was going to be a handful.
When Squall opened his eyes next, he was in Balamb Garden. He recognized the dorms immediately. There was a knock on his door and when he opened it, a girl said, "Seifer, you have a visitor."
He nodded and the girl stepped aside and ushered a man in. She gave a short smile and turned and walked away. Seifer gasped when he saw a face he'd never forget, Gunner Almasy. Immediately, pain washed over him, followed by intense anger.
"Seifer," Gunner said. "Don't think I've forgotten about you. I've been looking for you ever since that night when your Mother shoved you out of the house. After all these years, it'd finally come to my attention that you'd enrolled into Balamb Garden."
"Why are you here?" Seifer asked through clenched teeth.
"To see if you'd really turned out as worthless as I always suspected you would."
"She's dead. She's been dead for years. I'm all the family you've got now." he shrugged and spread his arms apart.
"Get out!" Seifer began to shake. Gunner just looked at him in disgust.
"I should have known you'd turn out this way. I tried to raise you to be tough, but look at you. You're nothing but a sniveling little girl!"
Seifer raised his fist and threatened, "If you don't leave NOW..."
"Alright! I'm going, I'm going. I don't think I could stay here another minute anyway. You'll never be good at anything. You'll never be worth anything. You'll never find anyone to care about you because you aren't worth caring for. You're weak!" With that, he turned around and left, slamming the door.
Seifer collapsed to his bed, seething and shouted, "I'm NOT weak! You'll see...someday I'll be a SeeD, have a beautiful wife, and everyone will know my name!"
He was walking through the hall and stopped at a bulletin board and saw two names side by side under a sign-up sheet: Seifer Almasy and Squall Leonhart. They were scheduled to duel each other in practicing for the SeeD exam. Seifer nodded as he saw the other boy come up and they decided on a place to duel. Walking out, Seifer couldn't get his father's words out of his head.
You'll never be good at anything.
Watch me, Dad. Just watch me become a SeeD.
You'll never be worth anything.
When I'm a SeeD, everything will change. I'm not the helpless, poor, little boy I once was.
You'll never find anyone to care about you because you aren't worth caring for.
Someday, I'll be important to someone. I know it.
I'M NOT WEAK! He lunged towards Squall and the battle began. All of the sudden, in his mind, his opponent was no longer Squall, but his father. On and on they fought, the swords making sparks when they'd strike against each other. The whole time, Seifer was grinning. Just watch this, Dad! How do you feel about this? He beckoned towards his opponent and after a few more minutes of intense fighting, he brought his blade down on the man's forehead and blood splattered. Shocked, Seifer's head cleared a little and once again, he saw Squall looking at him dumbfoundedly and suddenly angry.
And he watched as Squall's blade crashed down on his forehead in the same place he had struck. Intense pain seared through his head...
The scene changed. Now Seifer was at the Balamb SeeD ball. He was standing in the shadows, scowling. He had tried to take initiative in the Dollet mission and everything backfired. Now, once again, he proved his father right. He couldn't even make SeeD. Looking up, he saw an attractive young woman.
He smiled as he recalled the summer they had spent together. Ha! See Dad? Someone DOES care about me, he thought, stepping forward to go greet the girl. Why else would she be here? He stopped in his tracks as he saw her run up to another boy. Squall, of all people. His face falling back into a scowl, "OK, so you're right again, Dad..."
Suddenly, Seifer was standing in front of some SeeDs with his gunblade to President Deling's throat. He looked down and saw dead Galbadian soldiers laying on the ground. How easy it was to kill. He just wanted another chance to prove himself worthy of SeeDship, but he looked at the angry faces around him. He heard the insults that were hurtled towards him. The air around him seemed to swirl. Everything grew hazy and he heard an enticing voice call to him.
"Poor, poor boy..."
Panicked, he shouted, ""Stay away from me!"
She continued. "Such a confused little boy. Are you going to step forward? Retreat? You have to decide."
His head started to pound and his vision blurred. "Stay back!"
"The boy in you is telling you to come. The adult in you is telling you to back off," the woman lulled him with her beautiful, soothing voice. "You can't make up your mind. You don't know the right answer. You want help, don't you? You want to be saved from this predicament."
Afterall, you're worthless. You got yourself into this stupid predicament. You aren't smart enough to get yourself out.
"Shut up!" Seifer cried both at the woman with the beautiful voice and at the voice of his father in his head.
"Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Besides, you're only a little boy."
"I'm not...Stop calling me a boy." Seifer cried. Father called me boy all the time.
"You don't want to be a boy anymore?" she asked.
"I am not a BOY!" he felt tears springing to his eyes. Pushing them back again, he chanted in his mind, be tough. Be tough.
"Come with me to a place of no return. Bid farewell to your childhood." The woman beckoned for him to come. His mind was jello by this time. Nothing seemed tangible except the woman. Everything around him was disappearing. Come to me...Prove your father wrong. You'll be my knight. You'll be important to me...Say goodbye to him and everyone. Find true happiness for once in your life...
Pushing the President to the side, he rushed forward to embrace the woman.
He was standing in a small chamber looking up at his enemy hanging from the wall. A voice ran through his mind...
This man hates you. He'd kill you if he could. He thinks he's better than you. He's just like your father.
No he's not, Seifer shook his head, trying to clear it once more.
HE'S JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER.
Once again, his vision blurred and he stepped forward, looking up angrily and pulled a lever and watched as electricity ran through Squall's body.
He felt a pain shoot through his being. What am I doing?
Prove you're worthy! Prove your father wrong!
His expression fell back into his trademark sneer.
Seifer was in the Lunatic Pandora looking on in disbelief as the two people who had ever stuck by his side, Fujin and Raijin, betrayed him.
"I thought we were a posse!"
See? You thought people cared for you. What did I tell you? No one will ever care for you because you're not worth caring for.
'My sorceresss cares for me!' he thought trying to banish his father's voice from his mind. He began to fight with Squall and watched in anger as the GF, Odin rushed forward.
"Oh, no you don't..." he struck the GF with all his might and watched it destroyed and then looked in horror as a new GF rushed forward to take it's place. He felt his whole body shudder in agony as Gilgamesh struck him with his sword.
"It's not over yet, Squall!"
Rinoa never loved you either. Just another rejection to add to the list.
'That's not true!' he countered. She did care for me.
NO ONE HAS EVER CARED FOR YOU!
Seifer grabbed his head in his hands. Please stop this torment, he whispered to himself...
Squall woke up abruptly, his body dripping with sweat. "Enough, Ellone!" he cried. He looked around. He was still in the pub and everyone was staring at him with puzzled expressions on their face. Standing up and feeling panicked, he knocked over his chair, rushing out of the pub to take in fresh air. He doubled over, gulping it in as if he was suffocating.
Seifer, I never knew...Here I am hating a father who is trying to love me and you had one all along who showed nothing but hate. Seifer, I never knew!
Ellone collapsed on the bed next to Selphie.
"Are you ok?" Selphie asked.
"Y-yeah," Ellone stammered. "It just takes a lot out of me. I may have to wait a bit before I get Seifer."
"Do you think it worked?"
"I hope so, Selphie. I hope so..."
Selphie and Ellone could hear Seifer down the hall in the bathroom whistling while he combed his hair.
"Now's the perfect time," Selphie urged, "Before he goes off to work!"
Ellone shut her eyes, took a deep breath, and began to concentrate.
"What the-" came the voice from the bathroom.
Seifer tried to keep his focus on his image in the mirror, but the room swirled around him and everything grew dark. Finally, he collapsed in a heap on the floor.
When Seifer opened his eyes, he was in a little stone building overlooking the sea. He jumped up and exclaimed, "Where am I?"
A beautiful woman with long, flowing, dark hair whom he recognized immediately as Edea laughed, "Silly! You're the same place you've been the last 6 months!"
Puzzled, he looked around once more and trudged outside and was greeted by the sound of children laughing and playing. He felt another set of thoughts colliding with his own.
Sis! I miss you, Sis! Why'd you go away? Don't you love me?
He tried to shake his head to clear his mind. Who the heck is Sis? However, the foreign thoughts penetrated his own. He ran down to the water's edge and peered in and jumped back in surprise. He was a little boy, he couldn't have been more than 4 or 5 years old. What was going on? As he leaned closer to the water, someone knocked him over and laughed. Wiping the water and wet sand off his face as he picked himself back up, he looked up and saw...himself! Or what he looked like when he was 4 or 5!
"Wimp!" little Seifer sneered at him and ran off to torment someone else.
'If that's me, then I must be..." he looked down at his reflection one last time and gasped, "SQUALL!"
He had heard Ellone talk of the dreamworld that she could induce. He had never experienced it, though. 'When I come out of this, Elle, you're dead! How could you put me in the body of someone I absolutely loathe?' Again, he felt Squall's emotions, but this time, rather than push them away, he resignedly embraced them.
****************************** He was standing outside with the rain falling down, pressing his hair to his face. He didn't bother to take cover, though. He maintained his vigil watching for his Sis. He began to speak to the wind, "Sis, the other kids were talking about mommies and daddies and some of them remembered theirs. I never had a mommy or daddy to love me. I only had you! And now you're gone, so there's no one to love me anymore! Why'd you go away? Am I THAT hard to love?"
Blinking back a tear, he continued, "But I'll be ok, Sis. I promise you! I'm all alone, but I'm doing my best." Suddenly, he felt a wad of cold mud hit his cheek. Looking up, he saw little Siefer grinning at him.
"Crybaby!" he shouted, running back into the building.
When Seifer next opened his eyes, he was facing himself in a dark area, he recognized at once as the place where he and Squall dueled right before the SeeD exam. Only, of course, this time, he wasn't himself at all, but Squall.
As the fighting began, he fought with all his might, but what he saw in his opponent's eyes frightened him. There was a cold, animal-like anger burning in them and he knew that that anger would not be quenched for a long time! He grunted as he fell backwards and dodged to miss Seifer's gunblade. He watched in horror as Seifer lifted his blade and slashed his forehead. He reached up and felt the wetness of blood and looked at Seifer with a look of confusion. He saw Seifer's eyes widen and he lashed out with his blade to return the favor.
At the SeeD ball, he was pulled onto the dance floor by a grinning, dark haired Rinoa. "Come on, I'll show you what to do," she said as she arranged his hands on her body in the dancing stance.
'Arrgh! I don't want to be out here! Everyone's staring! I look stupid! Why is this girl trying to embarass me?' he thought.
"One-two-three, one-two-three," she counted, guiding him through the moves.
'Please, someone rescue me from this girl!!!' he thought, silently rejoicing when the song ended and she ran off. He breathed a sigh of relief. Finally!
He was now in Deling City and he stared down at the float that carried Sorceress Edea and Seifer.
"Seifer?" he whispered. "Do I have to go through you to accomplish my mission?" I don't want to hurt you, he thought. 'Why does it have to turn out this way? I don't hate you and I certainly don't want you dead!'
Choking back his emotions, he whispered, "Forgive me, Seif," and ran ahead to face his enemy.
Strapped to the wall in this dark, cold prison, he looked down into the cold eyes of his nemesis. 'Don't, Seifer! This isn't you! They're controlling you!' he silently pleaded as Seifer reached over to the lever and looked up at him with his trademark, sneer. He pulled the lever back and thousands of volts of electricity flowed through Squall's body! Never before had he felt anything so agonizing. As his body spasmed under the torture, everything went black.
He watched as Seifer grabbed Rinoa and threw her to Adel. He had been fighting his emotions for the girl for a long time. But now, something seemed to boil up inside himself. First his parents were taken away, then his sister, and now the only person who had come to mean anything to him! Was he cursed? Was he destined to be alone, never feeling that anyone cared for him?
"NOOOOO!!!" he howled and rushed forward to fight.
Next, he found himself in Esthar facing Laguna.
"You wanted to see me, sir?"
"Yeah, Squall. I need to tell you something and, oh boy...I don't know how to tell you this."
Frowning, Squall sat and waited for the man to continue.
"I'm, well...I'm your...father," Laguna whispered hoarsely.
"My WHAT?" Squall demanded.
"I'm your father. Your mother was my wife, Raine. She died when you were little."
"You're my father and you never came to find me?" Squall found himself standing up.
"Squall, I never knew about you, I swear! I only just found out myself and believe me, had I known, I would have come for you!"
"You're lying!" Squall shouted and ran out of the room.
"Squall-" Laguna called after him, but his only answer was the door slamming.
Squall's head was racing. 'Laguna's my dad, but he never knew? That's crap! The truth is, he never cared about me. It was easiest to just leave me with others, so he wouldn't have to ever bother with me. I've always been alone and I'll always be alone!' He sat down and held his head in his hands.
Next was a night Seifer remembered well. There was lively music coming from inside. Squall was standing on the balcony with Rinoa. "Let's go back inside," she said. "I saw Irvine videotaping us. We can meet at the secret area later tonight and maybe we'll have a little more privacy than we're getting now."
He smiled, "Fine by me." Taking her hand in his, he turned to walk inside and the first thing he saw was...
"Squall? Are you ok?" Rinoa asked.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded when he saw Seifer standing in the doorway. It seemed as though time stopped as he stared at Seifer, thinking,'You betrayed me just like my so-called father did. You tortured me and then when you saw that there was one person who actually made me feel like I was cared for, you tried to take that away from me too. Everything you've ever done has been about trying to make me miserable and I don't understand why. I never did anything to you!'
Seifer gasped and looked around. He picked himself off the floor and turning on the faucet, splashed his face with cold water. His face! he looked in the mirror and rejoiced when he saw that it was his own.
"ELLONE!" he shouted as he turned and ran out of the bathroom. "ELLONE?"
"She's in here," Selphie called. Seifer ran into the room and saw Ellone lying wearily on the bed.
"She's weak," Selphie interrupted. "Don't get mad at her. It was MY idea. I thought if maybe you could experience what Squall felt and if he could experience what you'd been through, maybe you wouldn't hate each other so much. I convinced her..." she looked up at him meekly, expecting to see anger on his face. Instead, she saw remorse.
"Selphie, as much as I hate to admit it, I've been wrong all this time. I never knew Squall grew up feeling unloved," he said, adding silently, 'just as I did...'
"He never stole Rinoa from me like I thought. He didn't even like her much at first! And I can understand why he hates me so much. Selphie, even when we were kids, I picked on him! I threw mud in his face, for crying out loud!" Selphie laughed.
"I just never realized he just wanted the same things I did. You know, I heard his thoughts. Even when I turned on everyone, he still didn't want to hurt me," he looked down at his feet. "I just wish I could change things..."
"You can!" Selphie cried emphatically. "Come back to Balamb and tell him! He was inside your head too, so he'll probably understand!"
"Nope, I hurt him too much. Besides, I'm happy here..." his face fell as he remembered why he had originally come. He glanced over at Ellone, "Selphie, can I talk to you in private?"
"Sure," she said getting up and following him to his room.
"You're going to think even less of me after you hear what I've got to say," he began. "After I came back to Balamb and had that fight with Squall, I was determined to hurt him again. So I decided to come out here and try to take his place with his family. I figured, he had everything and I had nothing, so it was time I started taking things away from him one-by-one." He turned away from Selphie, ashamed. "But, I've really changed since I've been here. This is the first time I've had a family who cares about me - who doesn't put me down or rejoice when I fail. What started out as revenge ended up with..." he turned around to face her again, searching for the words to finish.
But, he didn't need to finish. She understood what he was trying to say and stepped forward and hugged him. He held the tiny young woman in his arms, amazed how something so simple as a hug could be so comforting...
The next day, one of Laguna's servants said, "Miss Selphie, you have a phone call."
Nodding, she raced to the phone and picked it up. "Hello?" she said, cheerfully.
"Selphie! You sound like you're having a good time over there!" a familiar voice said.
"Cid! What's up?"
"I'm afraid I have some bad news. Our agents over there in Esthar have caught wind of an assassination plot against President Loire. They believe it will be tomorrow morning as he's giving his "State of Esthar" address. Since you're already over there, I want you to join with the agents and try to stop this attack. I've already contacted Squall and I sent someone down to Centra to get Irvine, as well. He can take someone out from quite a distance with his gun. They should be arriving at the airstation by 5:00. Can I count on you?"
"Of course, sir!"
"I knew I could. Thanks, Selphie. Oh, and try to keep all this quiet. We don't want word getting out."
Standing at the airstation, Selphie began to jump up and down and wave as she spotted her two friends. They ran over to her. "Irvy! Squall! How was your Spring Leave?" She was hoping Squall would mention his experience.
"Fine..." was all he said, however.
Irvine, on the other hand complained, "It was too short, but in a way I was glad to get out of there early. Do you know how annoying Nida is? He talks and talks and he never stops talking! The stupid thing is, Quistis thinks he's funny! In fact, they're going to the Shumi village, just the two of them for the rest of the break. JUST THE TWO OF THEM! I can't believe I lost a girl to NIDA!"
"Aww, come on. Nida's not that bad," Selphie laughed. Squall and Irvine both gave her a look that said, 'You've got to be kidding...'
"Well, guys, this is Agent Canlon and Agent Starr. They'll brief you on tomorrow's event. I have to get back to Laguna's so I can keep an eye on him tonight and tomorrow morning before his speech."
"Does he know?" Irvine asked.
"Nope," Selphie answered. "Cid wants everything looking as natural as possible and he's afraid that Laguna may act differently if he knew. But, I better get back. We'll all meet tomorrow morning an hour before the address. Got that?"
The two young men nodded and grabbed their bags, walking off with the two agents. Selphie grabbed a shuttle back to Laguna's.
Seifer was especially thoughtful at dinner that night. Laguna noticed and asked, "Is everything ok, Seifer?"
"What? Oh, yeah. I was just, uh...thinking about the address tomorrow," he answered, giving Selphie a knowing look.
"Ah, it'll go off without a hitch. Trust me. I've done these plenty of times."
They sat there eating in companionable silence until Seifer spoke up again, "Um, Laguna?"
"You should call Squall."
Laguna set down his fork, puzzled.
"I mean, he IS your son."
"He hates me," Laguna answered.
"Nope. I think he's just afraid of losing you again. You should call him." Ellone and Selphie smiled at eachother, amazed at how the experience had affected Seifer.
"Hmm...maybe I will, then," Laguna answered.
The next morning, Laguna was pacing back and forth offstage, waiting to be announced. Selphie stood at the curtain, scanning the audience. She spotted Squall, Irvine, and the 18 Esthar Agents who had been assigned to the mission. They were evenly spread throughout the crowd.
"...President Laguna Loire..."
At the sound of thunderous clapping, Laguna walked on stage, followed by Seifer. Selphie watched Squall's face, but his expression didn't change even when he saw the young man.
"Ladies and gentlemen..." Laguna began. As he gave his address, Selphie began to get nervous. There were too many people here. What if someone got hurt? She continued to scan the crowd until her eyes stopped on a suspicious looking man who was reaching down into his pocket. She gasped as he drew out a gun and aimed. "Laguna!" she cried.
Startled, Laguna shifted to look at her right when the gun went off. He suddenly grabbed his shoulder and fell to the ground. The crowd went wild and began to panic. Squall ran on stage to help pull Laguna to safety. The agents rushed towards the man, who had taken up aim again, this time at Squall, who was carrying Laguna. Seifer saw him and pushed the two men out of the way as the man fired one last time before the agents pounced on him. Seifer collapsed to the ground.
Squall set Laguna down and ran to Seifer who was clutching his chest, "Seifer?" he asked anxiously. "We have to get you to a doctor!"
"Go...to...your father..." Seifer gasped, "He needs...you...right now." Puzzled, Squall looked at him and nodded walking over to his father, picking him again.
Selphie ran over to Seifer, weeping when she saw him, "Seifer!"
"Selph...don't cry..." he said, touching her cheek. "I've...finally...done the...right...thing. I just wish...we...had had...a little...more...time. Tell...Squall...everything I told...you...yesterday. Tell...him...I'm sorry...for everything..."
"Seifer?" she cried. He smiled and then shut his eyes.
"SEIFER!" she wailed, holding his body to her own. As everyone rushed around in the chaos, she sat there, cradling the poor, unfortunate man, feeling the life rush out of him.
Squall and Laguna stood at the gravesite side by side, each holding one white flower.
"Dad?" Squall said, softly.
Surprised, Laguna answered, "Yeah son?"
"I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry. I believe what you said about not knowing. I'm still carrying pain, but I think I can finally start moving past it."
"I'm sorry too."
"You don't have to apologize again," Squall shook his head. "You apologize every time we talk."
"Well, I mean, I'm sorry I haven't called in so long. When Seifer arrived and we developed the relationship that I had always wished for you and me, it seemed easier to avoid calling you. That was wrong of me. I realize I probably alienated you even more."
Squall looked up at his father. He looked into the face that was so similar to his own and for the first time, smiled. "Everything's going to be fine, Dad. All we can do now, is move ahead," he said, patting Laguna on the back. Laguna winced and pointed at his bandage. "Whoops," Squall said.
Squall thought for a second and then replied, "Let's just say, I began to see things through someone else's eyes. It changed my perspective."
They leaned over and placed the white flowers on the gravesite and walked away.
"Authorities say that the would-be assassin's name is Solaro Carver, a member of the terrorist group, the-"
Selphie snapped the TV off and looked down at the man lying in the hospital bed. "You have a visitor," she smiled.
"Who?" he asked, weakly.
"You'll see..." she replied enigmatically, walking out the door. At that moment, a young man walked in...
"Squall?" the man in the bed asked, incredulously.
"Seifer, we need to talk..."
Seifer sat up and nodded, "Squall..."
"No, let me go first. I don't know if you know this, but Ellone put me in your mind. I saw what you went through with your father and with his voice always telling you that you were worthless. I understand a little better and I was wrong to act the way I did when you came back. I've been wrong all along, especially where my father's concerned. I've been selfish."
Seifer protested, "I'm the one who's been wrong. Ellone did the same thing to me and I would have hated me too had I been you!" he smiled and then got a little more thoughtful, "But you didn't hate me. You never did. Squall, I don't know if Selphie told you, but i came to Esthar to steal Laguna and Ellone from you. I figured if I could take your place in their family, then I'd be happier because I'd be hurting you. They're good people, Squall, and Laguna loves you very much."
It was Squall's turn to smile, "We talked. Selphie told me everything. I don't hold it against you. You and me, Seifer, we're the same. We could almost be friends."
Seifer cocked an eyebrow at him.
"OK, maybe not friends, but we could at least respect each other."
Seifer grinned, "Deal! Oh, and Squall, if you tell anyone that I was mushy in here today, I'll deny it, and then come find you, and kick you!"
Squall laughed, "Same to you..." He walked out of the hospital room feeling a great pressure lifted off his shoulders.
After Squall walked out, Selphie ran back in, "Guess what??"
"I haven't a clue," Seifer answered.
"I talked to Cid and he agreed to let me train with the Esthar agents and end up working here."
Seifer frowned, "What about Balamb? You aren't leaving because of me?"
Selphie shrugged, "Well, I can't stay there forever, you know, and I guess I..." she blushed, silently berating herself for being stupid. Like Seifer would ever have feelings for her!
Seifer smiled and took her hand, "I think that's the best thing I've heard in months." He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it softly. "You rescued me, Selphie."
"No I didn't..."
"You helped me let go of things that have tormented me for years. I can't wait to see what happens next."
(The end! What'd you think? Gotta love those unconventional pairings.)