The prison was gray, gloomy, and cold.
It wasnt actually a prison; Hyne knew, Balamb Garden would never mar their spotless reputation by doing something as barbaric as putting prisoners into dungeons. But it was gray. Very gray. A gray that hurt his head, and stabbed at his eyes like millions of enchanted needles given life by an insane sorceress who had nothing better to do. And it was a ten feet by ten feet enclosure. That was too small. It made him feel small. Or it was too small. Ow.
His head ached with what seemed to be a close relation to his former best friend, the killer hangover, and his thoughts ran together drunkenly. Small. Small small
He had never been claustrophobic before.
Hey assholes! I telling you I didnt do nothing! He yelled at the guards. He pounded on the door. He fucking roared. Not that any of it mattered.
It had looked so innocent up front: just a nondescript classroom, presumably unused, with unbreakable (he would know) glass windows and a heavy, bolted door. They had pushed him in here, none too gently, and he had sat, paced, cursed, and yelled, all to no avail. Six hours later, he was still stuck in this goddamn metal coffin.
And the fucking cold.
The frosty, air-conditioning penetrated his worn trench coat as easily as a hot knife through butterexcept this was anything but hot.
Think theyre trying to freeze you to death, Almasy.
The thought was so ridiculous, it brought a small smirk to his face. Oh, the irony. He could just see the headlines. Former War Criminal Found Dead by Air Conditioning. Death by air-conditioning. Now there was something he had never heard before.
Air conditioning wasnt important. He doubted Mister Leonhart would let them get rid of him that way. No, that would be too easy. Not when the same Almasy that tried to destroy the world at the whims of a crazy bitch had damn near killed Quistis Trepe. Child prodigy, savior of the world, Quistis Trepe. Yes, that Trepe. Death by air-conditioning would be far too merciful.
Serves you right. Come waltzing back here, expecting them to forgive and forget the traitor of Garden, and this is what you get stuck with. A truckload of Island monsters, an unconscious ex-instructor, and a fucking front row seat in my future trial. Seifer Almasy vs. Balamb Garden. Doesnt take a fucking genius to figure that one out.
Never mind that he hadnt actually done anything besides be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Garden needed a scapegoat for the entire fiasco, and by Hyne, they would get one.
Seifer Almasy, pardoned ex-war criminal.
Fuck, he growled, and crashed his fist into the metal desk in front of him. He grabbed onto a chair, and slammed it into the chalkboard, felt the painful rebound of vibrating steel all the way up his arms. His back tensed, quivered, strung out like a bow. He tried to relax, couldnt. Damnit. The chair sung a song of agonized, tortured metal as he brought it down. Any other time he wouldve used a punching bag to work himself out. Or maybe picked a fight with Squall.
Yeah. Sweat ran down his face, warm and sticky. It evaporated quickly in the frosty air. Trading punches with Squall always loosened him up.
I need to get out.
The previously small classroom seemed to close in even more on him, and there was a sudden lack of space that brought an overwhelming bitter taste up the front of his throat.
He forced his eyelids to close, and blindly tried to ignore the shudders of pain that clawed its way up from his hands. Grunted as he smashed it into the window; the shock that ran up his arms loosened his sweaty grasp on the metal legs. It crashed down onto the cold floor like something broken, cheap plastic bent out of shape.
He dropped down to one knee, breathing hard, trying to control the frustration that threatened to spill out of his aching fists. The view outside was beautiful; light and goodness and birds chirping (not that he could hear anything) and all that crap.
Funny how you take what you have for granted and you dont miss it until its gone. He didnt even know when he had started to miss ithis former life, Garden, hell, even Chicken Wuss and the instructor. It was a gradual thing, he guessed. Sort of like a fatal cancer that crept up on you, and when you finally realized it was there, it was too damn late, cause the sickness had already clawed its way up to your spine, your heart, your head, and you were just too far gone to realize that no, things werent peachy keen, and they wouldnt ever be again.
Yeah. That sounded like him, alright.
He never knew how much he had valued his freedom until that moment. All the time spent hiding himself so he wouldnt be recognized by someone, it was a limited freedom, but hell, he would take limited over none.
And now he was facing lockup for the rest of his life. That, or execution.
Raijin and Fujin. What about them?
The door gave an agonized creak of neglect. It sounded just like the chair had, a few minutes earlier.
He didnt bother to stand, just remained there on the ground, on his knee. The remains of the destroyed chair lay on the cold tiles next to him, looking forlorn. He mentally slapped himself. What was he thinking? How could a chair look forlorn?
Get up, Seifer.
For a moment, he actually considered grabbing the metal legs and smashing in Puberty Boys pretty face with it. But a telltale blue glow at the corner of his vision alerted him to the presence of Lionheart. What chance did a mangled chair have against one legendary gunblade?
He got to his feet slowly, dusted off his coat with an exaggerated slowness, then turned and saluted mockingly. Commander Leonhart, to what do I owe this pleasant surprise? he said sarcastically, and even he heard the frustration that simmered beneath the surface of his voice.
Tell me what happened, Squall said, flatly. Not a question, but a command.
Seifer ignored him. Raijin and Fujin first.
Theyre safe. Depending on you, they might or might not be charged of being accessories in attempted murder. Your move. Despite the cold eyes, Seifer thought he could hear a note of grudging respect in Squalls voice.
Surprised, Leonhart? We are a posse, after all.
A smirk went up automatically. Didnt try to do nothing, he said, leaning back against a desk. Poor fool that I am, I decided to stop and take a look.
Take a look, Squall repeated skeptically. What were you really trying to do?
I was trying to
Heal her? The sarcastic edge in Squalls voice indicated that he highly doubted it.
Smatter of fact, I was.
Seifer related the abridged version of that morning, minus the fact that they had been running away when they had spotted Quistis.
And then you and Rinoa came, and hauled me off to this place without even listening to what I had to say.
Squalls stare was unnervingly empty. You cant say anything to make us believe that you didnt do anything wrong. Its too much of a coincidence.
Youre right, it is.
Squalls eyes widened the tiniest fraction.
I cant. He paused, and played his bluff. But Quistis can.
Silence spread out between them like the ripples of a disturbed lake. Seifers breathing was soft, in control. He had long since learned the less he showed, the more the chance that when the shit hit the fan, he would be too far away to care anymore.
Youre right, Squall repeated softly. Quistis can, and she did.
I knew she wouldnt fail me, if only for her own morals.
There was another pause, and then Seifer spat out a laugh. Charging Raij and Fuj with attempted murder? What a crock of bullshit.
You would be surprised at the things you have to say as the Commander of B-Garden.
Getting tired of politics? He was half-tempted to ask if pencil pushing was anymore exciting than the actual rush of field command, then thought better of it. See, I have learned something in the past two years.
So now... Seifer trailed off.
He shrugged. Now its up to you.
Neutral. So neutral that Seifer wanted to punch him in the face, right where that perfectly sculpted nose met perfectly sculpted brows in an expression so frozen over it looked like one of Rinoas early era statues, crafted in highest quality marble and polished, those rip-off expensive antiques that had ten-carat sapphires for eyes and was inlaid with gold. Hyne, too bad Squall couldnt have been like that hunk of rock, but even Seifer would admit that Squall was good for more than just standing around and looking pretty.
Youre free to go, Seifer. Squall was looking at him, absolutely still. A stillness that might have hidden an explosive violence. Or not. But you came back here in the first place. Might as well stay, isnt that right, Squallie boy?
Seifer watched his eyes wander down to the chair, suppressed a small smile as Squall did the classic double take, but he recovered quickly, surprise hidden behind that GOD-cant-you-tell-I-want-to-be-alone expression. You stuck me in here for six hours. I had to do something, he said, in ways of explanation.
He frowned. Youre going to have to pay for this, Almasy
Yeah. Seifer gestured carelessly. Whatever. He said it mockingly, watched an unexpected flare of temper in Squalls eyes. His pale hand slid automatically to Lionheart. Natural reflexes. They were more alike than they thought. Which he didnt want to think about.
What now? Back to wandering aimlessly around FH, waiting for fishes that seem to enjoy avoiding my line, and my line only, to bite? Trapping? Dragging down Raijin and Fujin when they can do so much better? He glanced around the room, found his eyes drawn to the window. The world outside blurred through the thick prison of glass. Pissing the rest of my life away?
What did she say? he asked abruptly.
Squall looked surprised, then a little wary. She just said that she was attacked by a blue dragon outside the training center. Why?
Nothing. A pause. Blue dragon. A swarm of Island monsters. Where the fuck were your security guards?
Where do you think? They were the ones that checked the training center when they couldnt get the other patrol to respond. He turned away. Twelve dead, and some junior cadets. Three were just barely thirteen years old.
He heard Squall take a breath, watched the tense line of his back as he straightened his shoulders. His head was bowed, fists clenched at his sides.
You kill, Squall, through your precious Garden and your missions and your bullshit about being the elite mercenary force of the world. So have I. But at least I admit it.
Which one of us is worse, then? Which one of us is the murderer when you send out dozens of SeeDs to their death every year?
But it was apart of the rush, the danger, the knowledge that every battle could be his last. He knew, to some extent, that he was different. Different from all the other SeeDs. Did they welcome the challenge of treading the thin line between cold-blooded efficiency and uncontrolled savagery? Did they need the simple joy of metal clashing against metal, the mind-numbing thrill, the whispered magic that called forth death, burned through armor, charred flesh, turned bone into bitter ashes?
Soldier was woven so deeply through his veins that a life of fishing, of all things, could only serve the purpose of driving him completely insane with boredom. The last few months had been...peaceful. But it wasnt in him to find peaceful a good thing.
And before...it had all seemed so gloriously right.
Sometimes he forgot. Sometimes he woke up late at night, still reaching out for that elusive something. Someone. And then he would curse, stare blankly at his hands, seeing nothing at all, letting the oppressive darkness leech away at the emptiness. Sanity crept back slowly; he would only sit there, frozen, blankets twisted around him in puddles of darkness. And there was nothing he could do about it. No magical potion existed that it would chase the dreams away. It was a hopeless cause. He was a hopeless cause.
Not that anyone was going to prevent him from enjoying himself. A hopeless case always meant the absence of prying eyes. Why waste time over him? Somewhere inside himself, he had, and maybe still did, entertain fantasies of coming back, making SeeD, outshining all the rest of them again. He would rise from the ashes of his failures like a phoenix reborn, as Fujind said, with the traitorous gleam of hope in her eye and voice laced in liquor. Hed only snorted at her, and then they went back to their respective thoughts, Fujin probably dreaming of returning to Garden, and Seifer staring off into space, trying to think of nothing in particular.
If Rinoa, and Seifer thought he heard his tone soften, can forgive, then so can I. But if I find out I was wrong about you, Seifer, youre fucked.
Seifer gave a half-hearted sneer, more habit than anything else. Didnt Matron ever tell you that swearing makes your mouth sprout warts and your tongue grow boils?
Seifer, I have no time for your mind-games.
You had plenty of time last week. He laughed, cocked his head. Anger sparked through his voice. What was it, then? Who was that man tailing me with SEED all but tattooed onto his forehead? Hyne, if you have to send someone to follow me around, pick someone who isnt an incompetent ass. Its insulting.
Squall only looked back at him, cold and aloof, unmovable like an age-old glacier. Whatever the hell it was Quistis and Rinoa saw in those cold gray-blue eyes, Seifer couldnt find for the life of him.
There was something irritating about the way he stood, balanced and calm. So goddamn calm, like he had only offered Seifer a cup of tea, instead of threatened him with death
No. Not death, exactly. Lockup, most likely at the D-district prison. But it didnt make any difference, because a life sentence only meant a slower death. It might take weeks, maybe even months, if the warden had it his way. Jailers were always sadistic little fuckers like that.
Hell if he was going to rot the rest of his life away in some desert shithole.
Seifer made an exasperated sound. Use your head, oh great commander. Why the hell would I stop and save Quistis if I had just set all those Hell Beasties free? I aint fucking stupid.
Come with me, he gestured for Seifer to follow.
Do I get a tour now that Ive been reaccepted back into Garden? From the Commander himself? Seifer smirked, flicked back his hair with a brush of fingers. And tried not to shiver. Damn cold.
He glanced at him briefly.
No tour. Were visiting Matron.
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