From a distance, Garden seemed an untouchable creature, its intimidating steel walls a dull gray, ugly, yet elegant in its own distended way. Some thought of it as monstrous, a hideous insult to the high art of architecture. He thought of it only as home.
The glowing warmth of the windows flickered, lights blossoming as students and SeeDs alike woke for another day. Of what? Tough training sessions? Endless paperwork? And for those lucky few, a mission to Winhill, perhaps, to gather data on chocobos and caterchillipars?
Why the hell am I coming back here again?
The wind snapped like anger against his cheeks, but he ignored it, strode onwards. His boots thudded in a mezmorizing rhythm, and he listened to it, for lack of anything better to do. Watched as the red dawn trembled on a distant horizon.
Not for the first time, thoughts of doubt invaded his mind.
What if all this was all a trap? The price put out on his head, the whole world out to get him, and still nobody had one inkling as to where he was. Maybe Commander fucking Leonhart and his groupies thought this up to finally snag the ever-elusive Seifer Almasy. Maybe Squall was just tired of waiting.
Hyne knew, there would be no one to jump to his defense if he was put on trial.
The article in the newspaper, a lie?
But then again, Squall wasnt the type to resort to cheap tricks to get what he wanted.
With Fuujin and Raijin behind him, he made his way to Gardens docking port. The bulbous structure floated serenely, only a few feet above calm waves, and the wide, gravelly path pulled at him, enticing. The silence thickened, and he suddenly found it hard to think clearly.
They reached the gates of Balamb Garden. There was more silence again, but this was a different sort of quiet.
Where the fuck are the posts?Seifer broke the nervous stillness.
There were no people, but that was to be expected. What was the surprise was the absence of guards. It was like a graveyard, silent and desolate.
Bad comparison, Seifer.
Quiet,Fujin whispered, and even that sound seemed echoed around the distant area.
With a mental shrug, Seifer gestured for them to follow.
Empty. That was the word. Empty of people, empty of accusations, empty of hate. There was no one. Somehow that bothered him more than if there had been a whole swarm of SeeD cadets milling around in their chatter and bustle.
Uh...Seifer? Whats the plan, man? Raijin looked around uneasily.
First...he pointed at the gates. We get pass that. And all that needs is a little screwing around with the security system.
It was pathetic, how easy it was to get in. Seifer would know. He had, after all, been the residential bad boy in Garden, and sneaking out past curfew was something that he had mastered his first year there.
You think they would change their password every once in a while, he muttered. He wasnt disappointed in Garden at all. Nah.
No guards. He couldnt figure out if that was a good thing or a bad thing. A nagging voice in the back of his head whispered terse warnings. It was a set-up, goddamnit. Everything that smelled of rot and reeked raw apples and buzzed like gnats inside his head was screaming, insisting he get out. But his feet slapped on the worn gray tiles, carrying him forward. He couldnt go back.
The gates opened with a mechanical clank. And together the three made their way into the quad.
Up the stairs.
Past the empty receptionist booth.
No one was up at this unholy hour, and that was exactly what Seifer had counted on.
He also was counting on Xu to be up at her desk, secretary Xu, always-right-on-time Xu, so he could (cordially) ask her for a meeting with Cid.
One foot at a time, he climbed the stairs towards the elevator, and his eyes saw so many little things, things he had seen as meaningless decorations before, taken for granted: the elegant statues of fish, each individual scale so lovingly carved, with water spouting from their mouths, and the potted miniature palms, the white and beige tiles.
The smooth elevator doors opened with their annoyingly perky ding, and they stepped inside. He watched the glowing numbers change, and his stomach gave an uneasy lurch as they were carried up towards the third floor.
The doors parted smoothly, and they were walking out. He took a turn left, then mentally counted the doors down. One...two...three. His heart beat in his throat, and he was surprised that he still remembered.
He had been up here too often not to.
Old habits won out as Seifer pushed the door open without knocking.
The precise, organized room, where he had always been sent after he had indulged in a particularly nasty scuffle or set an instructors beloved coat on fire, was the same: spacious, with its large mahogany desk, crowded bookshelves, and towering stacks of paperwork.
Except there was no Xu behind the threatening-to-collapse piles.
Damnit! he hissed.
WAIT,Fujin looked around, then seated herself in one of the (hand sewn from Shumi Village!) leather seats.
He paced, trying to find a release from the restless, nervous energy that roiled in his chest, threatening to choke him. Xu... he said. What do we know about her, besides its pretty damn likely that shes going to shoot first and ask questions later?
Surprisingly, Raijin shook his head. Xu is a pro, man. She invites you in for coffee and finds out what you want, and then she calls in the big guns, ya know what Im sayin?
Theres no way Xu would panic. After all, shes been running things for Garden for how long now?Fujin said, and the calm in her voice infuriated him.
Years, man,Raijin snorted. Hard to believe shes only twenty one.
The young and the responsible. The responsible and the young. Almost interchangeable here at Garden. Of course, there were always exceptions.
He slouched down into his own chair, and drew out Hyperion. Its sharp, silver lines gleamed, the edge so refined that it could cut down everythingsteel, flesh, bone.
Sawing, blood sprayed
Seifer, man, whats up?Raijin waved a hand in front of his face.
He had just opened his mouth to say somethingand the silence of Garden was shattered by harsh alarms. The shrieking noise tore into his ears like a starving T-rex would shred its prey.
Attention, all SeeDs! Repeat, attention, all SeeDs!
Xu. There was the tiniest hint of panic threaded into her usually calm, in-control voice.
All SeeDs commence in the Quad area! There has been an incident with a shipment of Island monsters that came in yesterday! Remember to junction, in case you need to defend yourself! Repeat, all SeeDs commence in the Quad area, now!
He cursed. Fear flooded into him with a mind-numbing intensity, but he refused to let it show. Instead, he slid to his feet, Hyperion loose and ready in his hand, muscles tensed.
An incident...?Raijin wondered.
Fujin paled, turning an even whiter color than her normally marble skin, and leapt to her feet. We have to get out of here! In a flash, she was out the door.
Fuj, wait! Seifer yelled, and loped after her.
They catch us, we get the blame, she hissed back at him.
For a moment, he froze, and the voices came back full force, screaming rats and fools and traps. Then the sight of Fujin sprinting away from him galvanized him into action, and he ran after her, the thud of boots echoing in the long hallway.
It became a race against time, the three of them trying to get the hell out of there before anyone found them out. The elevator ride down seemed to last an eternity (goddamn creaky machinery), and when it opened, they burst out, sprinting.
And skidded to a stop.
A full-grown hexadragon opened its giant jaws, and the roar that blast out shattered the early morning stillness. Even as they watched, a Marlboro, its arms waving agitatedly, slunk out of the training center, followed by an assortment of blue dragons, grendels, and a pair of twoT-rexasaurs.
Incident, my ass,Seifer muttered.
All three of them froze as the hexadragon turned its eight eyes their way. It began blundering towards the elevator, eight legs stomping, wreaths of fire streaming from its toothy jaws.
Lets just shoot it and run. Hows that for a plan? he breathed to Fujin and Raijin.
Yeah, and get attacked by the rest of the swarm? Good thinkin man,Raijin said with a certain bravado. Seifer detected a nervous undertone to his voice.
Lose-lose situation. No slow spell with us. You run, it attacks. You stay still, Leonhart finds you and locks you up.
Put it that way, Seifers priorities became clear. Count of three, we run.
The hexadragon roared again, the large, curved teeth gleaming a yellow ivory color in the fluorescent lights of Garden.
He heard the sound of SeeDs shouting as they discovered the monsters. He cursed. They sprinted towards the exit, and the mutated dragon spat fire and trashed its way through statues as it gave chase.
The rush of adrenaline screamed through his veins, and more than anything, he yearned to draw Hyperion and rush into battle. But there were the screams of shock, the sound of exploding firagas, the slight dip in temperature as someone summoned Shiva to their aid; everyone was awake, aware.
And if he didnt get out of there, all three of them would be thrown into jail.
Raijin and Fujin...they dont deserve it.
The thought was almost enough to bring a bitter laugh to his throat.
They were almost to the gates now, the road stretching ahead of them. On both sides there was nothing but air and freefall, as Garden hovered above ocean spray and lapping waves. And behind them, came the dragon, the sound of clicking claws echoing in his ears, closer and closer.
His breath came in harsh pants. Teach you to stay in shape, Almasy.
His boots slapped onto the cement, and each impact sent slivers of pain up his legs. He cursed silently, and there was a pain in his chest that had nothing to do with his exertion.
I dont want to run anymore.
He stopped, and spun around, grabbing the hilt of Hyperion. It slid out of its sheath like silk.
The sound felt right. It felt like coming home.
No more running, he forced out through gritted teeth, and attacked, bringing the gunblade down across leathery lizard skin.
No more hiding.
He ducked as the spiny tail arced his way, then slipped in, up close, Hyperion alive in his hands, singing as he sliced through the dragons hamstring. The layer of tough hide gave way first. He forced the metal through tendons and muscles, feeling a fine thrumming that vibrated up and down his arm as the blade cut deeper and deeper. Blood sprayed in a mist. The giant lizard collapsed onto one knee. It was injured, but still it brought down massive claws that Seifer barely evaded. Growling, he yanked the gunblade out, and tried to dodge at the same time, but its bulbous mass slammed into his body. He tumbled back, crashed into the gravel.
The chamrok spun in, whirling, its deadly spikes ripping into the monsters throat. He felt the dying roar of the dinosaur vibrate throughout his entire body. Then it fell, massive weight slumping onto the ground. Garden gave a distant shudder.
Seifer raised his hand to touch his face--
--and came away with blood and the scent of lilacs clinging to his hand.
Fujin and Raijin were eyeing him, as if they didnt know what to expect.
Theyre busy with the monsters. They wont come out here, Seifer said brusquely, turning away, using his shirt to wipe off Hyperion. The white cloth smeared a violent red and black, and it hurt his eyes to look at it.
Blood, guts, and other things I dont want to think about.
There came a tentative, Seifer... from Fuujin.
We should get going, man,Raijin, normally loud voice subdued, cautious.
No more running.
Is this all about pride?
Damn right it is.
And then he saw her.
Even at this distance, he could recognize her, the golden hair glinting, woven through with sunlight.
Except that she was...floating?
And there was a tattered red dress, hanging in strips around her slumped form.
Shes unconscious, and floating above the Garden wheels. How long will the magic last?
Hey, man, isnt that Instructor Trepe? Raijin said, with a note of worry in his voice.
Seifer ignored him. We need to get going, he said in a clipped voice. If they found them out here now, there would be hell to pay.
No one moved.
He swore, and his pulse beat like an out of control drummer.
There was a moment of indecision, where he couldnt think, where panic gripped his mind. But he was SeeD, had deserved to be SeeD, and his thoughts slipped into an autopilot, a crystalline inner stillness.
His posse came first. Hell, if Puberty Boy had kicked Ultimeicias ass, then a few island monsters couldnt be much, and SeeDs would be swarming all over Garden, looking for their scapegoats.
Few. More like a whole stampede.
Distantly, he knew that there would be death. He forced himself not to feel anything.
Some fifteen year old who got trampled by a T-rexasaur had nothing to do with him. Let his parents do the mourning. Let Garden. Seifer Almasy wasnt going to get involved.
His eyes refocused, and the magic shimmered, as it began to exhaust its sources. In time, it wouldnt be able to maintain itself. And then Quistis, she would fall, he supposed, into Gardens wheels, or if she chanced to miss the cutting edge blades, drown in the waters of the unforgiving ocean.
It was the same, damnit. All she was was an ex-instructor who had done nothing for him. He had failed the SeeD Exam, and she had given up hope for him, even if she was one of the last to do so. Wasting her time trying to rein him in, they said. Garden had condemned one of their own, and even they had admitted it. But they had thrown up their hands in frustration long before she did. And afterwards, she had turned to Puberty Boy with stars in her eyes. Maybe that had hurt more than anything else, that she could forget him so easily. Not Seifer Almasy. Not him.
He had seen it too many times to count. In class, in training, on the field. The battles, where the line between just doing your job and giving in to the primitive joy of killing was a thin one. She had watched out for him then too, continued to do so. Hell, even with Quistis, Squall came first. Trepe, cold, untouchable Quistis.
He tried to convince himself that she was just someone, one of them who had turned against him. Or rather, he had turned against her, against her and Squall and Rinoa...
He was fucking scared, but damn, he couldnt leave her out here.
He had always come first. If Seifer had ever believed in bullshit about the meaning of living and the path of life, he knew that that was what he would have faith in. When everything else trembled and fell and died, there was only himself he could rely one. His willingness to do anythingto survive.
But there had been too many deaths, a direct consequence of him,
all your fucking fault you bastard
and hell, no matter how stuck up or mediocre Quistis had been as his instructor, she didnt deserve to die.
When he spoke, it was with a feigned confidence in his voice. Fujin, you got anything I can use?
Float magic, she said, with an urgent edge to her voice. Hurry, Seifer. Bring her back, we have to run.
He felt the movement in the air, the magic, for lack of a better word, gathering, just a tiny look of concentration on Fujins face, and then the whispered, Float
He was six inches off the ground, before he knew it. The air felt soft, like a feather pillow, and Seifer knew that if he stepped too hard, the fall would be painful.
It was red. His heart jerked violently in his chest.
He cursed himself for being a fool.
Its blood, not some sort of dress.
There was a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, like he was going to spill his breakfast.
Unknowingly, he had started running, appalled at the sight of her. The air beneath him sunk under his weight and distantly, came the sound of Fujins voice: CAREFUL!
Hed seen enough of death to know that she was near it. Violent red gashes on what he remembered as flawless skin, gold hair clotted in red, sticky red, white silk shredded to pieces; a desecrated perfection. His stomach was roiling violently.
He dropped onto his knees next to her, ignoring the feeling of blood that ran in rivulets, flowing over the edge of the float spell like a unnatural waterfall, (warm, still warm) soaking into his pants. Carefully, gently, he checked for pulse.
His hands were red, slick.
How long had she been there? Bleeding out life in sticky red threads of blood?
It was still there under his fingertips. Barely there. Seifer hesitated, (need to get her to Fujin) then gently, picked up her slight form. Her head lolled to one side like a boneless thing, limp and unresponsive, and he knew that if she was awake, she would tear into him, and, being the politically correct SeeD she was, knee him right in the belt. How dare he pick her up like she was some damsel in distress
His stomach lurched, revolted.
He couldnt think about it, no
Death and violence was a SeeDs life. But this
This was personal.
His boots sank into the air, and it was like walking in a snowdrift, the cold, impersonal whiteness that caught and trapped and killed with the uncaring nature of an assassin. Struggling back to Fujin, his arms aching from the dead weight, he collapsed onto the ground, lowering Quistis down with him.
Her normally peaches and cream complexion was ashen white, and he sat back, tried to inspect the damage. Trying not to realize it was Quistis lying there like so much meat.
Cut on her arm hit a small vein.Seifer made his voice rough and uncaring.
Again, the feeling of energy gathering, and this time the look on Fuujins face was intense. He watched her concentration turn inward, watched as the pressure of the magic peaked, charging the air around them with tingling electricity. The curaga glowed an intense green, dancing on her fingertips, and she sent them dancing towards Quistis with a flicker of fingers.
He watched as the cuts on her arm mended, the skin closing together over gaping slashes, wounds reknitting, healing, until all that was left of the god awful encounter was the sticky scarlet all over her body, her dress, her...
Seifer felt the laughter bubbling up in his throat, and it spilled out, ripping through the silence like jagged glass. It was an out-of-control sound, desperation born of hopelessness, that he was forever pitted against fate, spiteful destiny. Never, in all his paranoid ideas of what couldve happened, had he imagined this.
Raijin squatted opposite of him, his dark face closed off. Seifer dropped his aching head into hands, cursed as the wet blood smeared on his cheeks.
They needed to go. Away from Garden. Far, far away, to some place where they would never find him, if he was lucky. But he couldnt find the energy to get back up, he was so exhausted.
Hyne, could this day get any worse?
Footsteps approached him, light and delicate.
He stopped his laughter long enough to tilt his head up and say, Fuj, Im perfectly fine, dont
The rest of the sentence froze in his throat.
Early morning sunlight gleamed off her hair, and her expression was one of contempt, anger, horror.
Take your hands off her, Almasy. Squall, never too far behind his angel, unsheathed Lionheart. His eyes were cold, but there was a slight thread of revulsion in his voice.
I just had to ask.
Danica Li's Fanfiction