"Seriously, Chickie, what's the deal?"

Practically jogging at my side, Zell glances at me and smiles a ridiculous grin which he usually saves for poker games.  "I told ya, man, it's just a get together.  It's been a while since the group of us had time off on the same day and everyone deserves a good drink or two."

I hum at the explanation, the words not ringing as a lie, but the energetic blond is definitely hiding something and I have a bad feeling that I'm not going to like it.

It has been four months since my return to Balamb Garden, a bizarre day when I unwittingly discovered that Squall's soul had been divided due to the Time Compression.  Worse, the piece that had been Rinoa's Knight was given the privilege of a body while the true Squall, my Squall was forced to exist in this world like a ghost.  Once I notified the other kiddies, we tried to find a solution to his dilemma, going as far to get the kook Dr Odine involved, but it was too late.  After a few weeks of pathetic and ultimately agonizing hope, Squall had disappeared before my eyes with an apology on his lips, an apology that should have come from me since I was the one to fail him.

I couldn't save him from the fate of a broken Knight.

For weeks, I had tried to cope with my changed world where the soul inhabiting Squall's body wasn't the man I loved.  Then, out of nowhere, I found a fledging guardian force who had snuck into my head and made a home for himself.  The damn idiot, he should've known better than to put himself in a position where I was given the power to either release him or keep him with me until my last breath.  One of these days, Squall is going to regret that decision.

Even now, while letting Zell escort me to the SeeD rec room, I can feel the GF stirring in my head and showing mild interest in something that seems like an obvious trap.  We haven't figured out direct communication between us yet, but we're getting closer with Squall better understanding the world around us.  Another week or so and I can honestly say that I have a voice in my head that tells me what to do.  The fact that I'll probably ignore that overly logical voice and do whatever I damn well please is beside the point.

Zell stops in front of the rec room door and motions his arm forward in the sign for me to go first.  Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I decide that it'll be easier to get this over with than let the kiddies think up more games to trap me.  For better or worse, they can be very creative when they want something done.

Punching the side button, I open up the door and step inside to find the whole crew present.  Irvine sits on the lonesome couch with a beer in one hand and Selphie braced by the other, the energetic brunette wearing the cowboy's hat while perched on his lap.  To their side, Raijin is deep into some story, the repeated use of 'ya know' indicating just how excited he is about the tale.  Even my favorite one-eye is here to betray me, Fuujin leaning against the wall closest to me with the apparent resolve to help Zell if I was ready to run.  The obvious ringleader stands at my arrival and adjusts her glasses to better study me with that pale-eyed gaze of hers.

"Seifer," Quistis intones such that everyone else quiets and looks my way.  "Thank you for coming."

"Quit it with the games, Quisty.  Why did you send the Chickie like your personal lapdog to fetch me?  You know he belongs to Fu, right?"

Zell mutters behind me, "Who do you think made me go?"

Quistis clears her throat, not allowing the situation to spin out of her control.  "This isn't a game, Seifer.  We, your friends, brought you here to speak with you and to help you through this hard time.  This isn't meant to be threatening, but a warm--"

I laugh at the blonde's noticeably practiced speech.  "Hyne, Quisty, it sounds like you're holding an intervention or something."

When Quistis seems uncertain how to answer, Fuujin simply replies, "SHE IS."

My laughter quickly trails off at that confirmation.  "Uh, an intervention for what, exactly?"

Sighing at her plans being ruined, Quistis wraps an arm around her waist, thereby proving that she isn't as comfortable with the discussion at hand as she'd like to believe.  "We know that losing Squall, our Squall, really hurt you.  While he was a good friend to all of us, Squall was always more... focused when it came to you.  And in retrospect, the only time you seemed to care about your classes and studies was whenever Squall was involved somehow.  But while it's fine to grieve for his loss, what you're doing right now isn't grieving.  First, you tried to destroy yourself with accepting any mission offered to Balamb Garden, which made sense no matter how much it worried us, but to use a guardian force to forget about Squall... That's not like you, Seifer," she insists strongly, earning sympathetic nods from Selphie and Raijin.

No less confused, I demand, "What the fuck are you talking about?"

"That weird 'Unwanted' GF of yours," Selphie supplies with a deep frown.  "None of the Gardens have records about it and it's too powerful to go unnoticed this long."

Quistis takes over to say, "More than that, you've never junctioned with guardian forces unless a SeeD exam required it, and even then you refused to use its powers.  You've always hated the 'parasites' as you call them, but suddenly, just when something happens that you'd rather forget, you willingly junction with an incredibly powerful guardian force.  Did you think that we'd never become suspicious?"

"What is this, some lame attempt of a joke?"  At the collection of blank stares, I persist, "Come on, didn't Dincht and Fu tell you about the guy?  Hell, I've summoned him, like, twenty times in the past week, and all of you think that you can play stupid like this?  Seriously, what's the scam?"

Zell glances at Fuujin, and when she offers a shrug, he says, "Sorry, man, but we don't know what we're supposed 'tell' about that GF of yours.  All I know is that it's a strange beast.  I've never seen a GF be that resistant to being drawn.  It's like it has a claw hold on you or something."

A growl escapes me at the idea that Zell had tried to steal Squall from me, but with that fact, it becomes very apparent that he's clueless about the GF's true identity.  More so, if Fu had known about the situation, she would have immediately informed Zell that touching what's mine would lead to a harsh amputation of whatever I got my hands on first.  Biting back a laugh, I realize that I have been living under the assumption that Zell and Fu had seen Squall's face during that first summon, and then immediately informed the rest of the kiddies.  Damn, I thought it was too easy to avoid that subject with this group of busybodies.  I should've known better, but that's what happens when I get preoccupied with a stormy-eyed beauty living in my head.


I look up at Quistis and smirk at her worried expression.  "Don't look like that, Madame Instructor.  It's not your fault that you got it completely wrong... Wait, no, it is your fault."

"Seifer," she scolds and looks perfectly prepared to launch into a lecture.

Like many times before, I turn my back on her in a blatant display that none of her preaching will ever change me.  When Zell blocks my path to the door, I tell him, "Get out of the way, Chickie.  We're all going on a field trip."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

My smirk broadens at his perpetual naivety.  "It means that I'm not stupid enough to summon a GF within an enclosed space."

~ > < ~

It took more than a few minutes to convince the kiddies that, no, I'm not trying to escape, and that, yes, the demonstration is completely necessary for them to understand the situation.  While the skepticism never quite left their eyes, they ultimately followed me to the training area outside of Balamb Garden.

A couple cadets stop their spar at the sight of the recognizable group of SeeDs, and when they look interested enough to stick around and watch, I chase them off with a glare that suggests staying would be bad for their health.  With our privacy insured, I don't bother with any type of announcement or warning, certain that the kiddies know what is coming with this exhibition.  I lift my hand to brush my lips against the bracelet that Squall had left for me, and then start into the words of summoning that I once hated with all of my being, but now... even I can hear the reverence in my voice for the words that create an opening for Squall to enter this physical world.

The summoning ends with his new name, and like many times before, the sky grows dark with the spirit's arrival.  A dark ball breaks out from the collection of clouds and plummets toward me, the GF not opening his wings until the last moment in a flutter of black feathers.  His human figure is covered in dark clothing, including a hood that hides his face from the world he no longer belongs to.  A sword hangs at his side, blue flames peaking out from the black sheath and demanding for blood, but the GF knows he wasn't summoned for battle.  At least not a battle of swords.

'Unwanted' settles on the ground directly at my side, teasing me with his closeness, but not looking my way.  Instead, he lifts a gloved hand and pulls back the hood from his face.

After allowing them their gasps of surprise and whispers of Squall's name, I ask a touch too bitterly, "Does everything make sense now?"

"But how...?" Quistis questions from behind a shaky hand raised to her mouth.

"Apparently it's the fate of Knights who spend too much time as divided souls.  According to Squall, all of the GF's were once Knights and that's why they're so damn willing to help in sorceress hunts."

Looking to the winged-man, Quistis whispers, "Oh, Squall, I'm so sorry.  We didn't know... but now we have more time!  We can find a way to return you to your body."

Squall frowns and glances at me, unable to communicate in this plane.

"It won't work, Quisty," I say regrettably.  "Squall's soul went through a lot of changes to take this form.  He's not human anymore and nothing can change him back."

Zell steps forward with a raised fist.  "Don't say that!  Odine never got a chance to examine Squall and figure something out.  Him being a GF makes it more complicated, but there has to be a solution.  Just 'cause you don't think something can be done, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try."

"You don't understand, Dincht.  Squall isn't..."  I look at the dark GF and smile slightly at the bright gleam to stormy eyes.  "Squall kept as much as he could of his previous self, but he lost a lot.  I didn't notice it at first, but he doesn't remember large pieces of the past.  He knows why he became a GF, but not the events that led to him becoming a Knight.  He knows all of you by name, but little else of who you are."  Wetting my lips, I purposefully leave out the fact that the only thing Squall truly remembers is me.  "More than that, there are times when he doesn't exactly think like a human.  It's easy to assume that his memories were replaced by knowledge that only guardian forces are allowed."

Quistis fails at stifling a sob.  "We failed him.  After everything he did for us, we failed him."

"Don't do that, doll face.  Sometimes shit happens and there's nothing you can do about it," I say in encouragement, though I know it's hard for me to believe my own words.

Squall moves then, his hand grasping my shoulder to say, ::It's enough to have you::

I don't have a chance to argue against his atypically senseless comment, the GF abruptly disappearing with a scatter of black feathers.  Snatching one of those feathers in my fist, I press my mouth against my hand and curse Fate for leading Squall and me to this point that will forever be so close, and yet too far from everything that we wanted.

A hand settles on my arm, the touch warm and solid compared to the GF's earlier grasp.  "IN PAIN?"

I look down at Fuujin for a long moment, uncertain if she's referring to me or Squall, but in the end, the answer is the same: "He's always been stronger than me."

Her good eye narrows in aversion for the reply, but she isn't allowed a word edgewise when a panicked demand comes from behind -

"What was that?"

I close my eyes at the identifiable voice and calm my instant desire to do something incredibly stupid.  Once in control, I turn around to face Rinoa and her Knight.  The raven-haired woman glares at me with dark brown eyes, a mixture of disgust and anger shining in the alluring depths.  Attached to her hip is the wrongful owner of Squall's gorgeous body, even if it's currently clothed in not-tight-enough jeans and a horrid pale blue shirt with a tropical design.  Even if Squall won't let me blame her for causing this entire situation, there should be some kind of punishment for poor fashion taste.

"Headmaster, Rinoa," Quistis addresses in her instructor voice.  "You weren't due back from your vacation until tomorrow."

"Couldn't keep it up for the whole week, Headmaster?" I mock, unable to tame my tongue.

Though the puppet glances my way, Rinoa speaks out first.  "Why does it matter, Quistis?  Is it because you were trying to hide that... that thing from Squall and me?"  When she doesn't get an immediate reply, Rinoa demands, "Why did it look like Squall?  What was that thing?!"

Knowing that no one else is better at boldface lying, I laugh at her questions as if she was an idiot for speaking them.  "Squall?  Hyne, Rinoa, it's just a saying to 'get your brains fucked out,' not something you're supposed to actually achieve."

A deep blush colors her cheeks.  "Stop avoiding the question, Seifer."

"I'm not avoiding anything.  Meanwhile, you're imagining things about a guardian force I've been using for months."  Smirking at her flustered state, I ask with fake concern, "Are you sure it was a good idea for you leave vacation so early?  I think the mercenary life is getting to you."

"No, you're lying," Rinoa insists.  "Squall, tell them you saw it, too."

My front doesn't falter at the reminder that both of them had seen Squall before his disappearance, but things don't look good when the puppet gazes directly at me.  Shit, I haven't seen that hint of icy intelligence to his eyes in a long while.

"I saw a guardian force, love.  Nothing more."

Dumbfounded at the lie, I can't break eye contact with the man who isn't Squall, but has still managed to surprise me like the beauty does time and time again.

"Wha...?" Rinoa says in a reflection of my own baffled thoughts.  "But you... you saw it, too.  I know you did."

"I saw the GF," her Knight agrees.  "It was dark thing with black wings, but the face wasn't mine.  Perhaps it uses illusion magic to make you see someone you think is safe."

Rinoa breathes a confused 'oh', her nose crinkling in thought.  "Then... who did you see?"

"Who else?" the brunet replies in a tone that makes me sick to my stomach.  "But this has obviously rattled you.  Why don't you go to our room and lie down for a while?  Leave the luggage to me."

Rinoa nods distractedly, and after a kiss to her lapdog's cheek, she heads for the entrance gates.

Though relieved, I ultimately have greater things to worry about than Rinoa's bothersome presence.  My focus settles on the Knight who achieved the impossible and was disloyal to his sorceress.  A normal person would be probably happy about that.  I, however, prefer to be paranoid.  "What's your game?"

The hissed question of 'what are you doing?' sounds from behind me, but I'm not interested in shutting my mouth when something bigger is happening here.

Not appearing the least bit offended, the dark-haired puppet smiles at my declaration.  "I'm not as clueless as you think."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

He doesn't answer immediately, but instead lifts his hand and stares at the two-month old ring that gleams like new.  "Rinoa needs a Knight, a man who is everything she needs to protect her and everything she wants to help her clutch onto sanity.  I am that Knight."

"You bastard," is my last clear thought before I launch forward with every intention to strangle the man, not caring that he has the face of the one person I love.  However, before I get further than two steps, my body is weighed down by the feel of heavy chains wrapped around my arms and legs.  Unable to move, I curse the echo of Squall's distress in my head, the guardian force apparently figuring out a cheap method to keep me from attacking the puppet who never deserved that wholly fuckable body.

When I hear shuffling behind me and the clink of weapons, I tell the others, "Don't do anything."

"But Seifer--"

Quisty, how far you've fallen.  "No, this is between him and me."

The puppet shakes his head.  "Don't play stupid, Seifer.  If you do anything to me, it will destabilize Rinoa and eventually lead to another war.  Is that what you want?"

"I want Squall back," I snarl in return.

"But I am him... though different from the man you knew.  Our break wasn't as clean as it should have been and I have aspects Rinoa didn't want."  When I scoff at the idea, he glares at me sharply.  "Think about it carefully before disregarding it entirely.  If I was everything she desired, do you think that I would have allowed you back into Balamb Garden?"

I stare at him, not liking the obvious reply to his question.

"I'm not the enemy, just a necessity," the Knight states quietly, his expression somber and serious.  "I don't understand why, but I can't let anything happen to you.  I suppose it's something that other part of me knew and kept with him when he became that guardian force of yours.  Whatever the case, my purpose is to prevent Rinoa from succumbing to the same insanity as Ultimecia did, but I need your cooperation."

I want to refuse and point out that I have better things to do than baby-sit a spoilt princess, but I know that Squall will convince me differently.  The damn prude was always more of a hero than I thought his rational personality should have allowed.  "Before I agree to anything, answer this first - did you know about Squall?  That he was following you for a fucking year while lost and in pain?"

The puppet frowns slightly before nodding.  "I knew he was close, but I couldn't see him.  Not like you could."

I bite back the rage that wants to sound and curse the bastard for leaving Squall to an existence worse than death.  ...However, he told the truth.  I don't know if that means I can trust him or even if I should, but it suggests that killing him now would be premature.  Helping him, on the other hand, is out of the question.  "I won't fight you," I promise through clenched teeth, "but that doesn't mean I'm going to take part in anything you plan."

"Hn, I think you will," the Knight says, and after a slight bow of his head, he turns and leaves for the entrance gates to return to his mistress' side.

One of these days, I'm going to do more than inflict a few scars to that stolen body.

Growling at the puppet's departure, Zell stomps at the ground.  "Fucking prick, he didn't even care that the rest of us were here.  All he wanted was Seifer."

"That's right!" Selphie agrees with her own style of energetic anger.  "He never did much for us, but when Seify came back, everything was prepared for him - his SeeD status, his room, and even his locker.  The guy actually fought with Rinoa over Seify staying for good."

"It makes sense," Quistis reasons with an adjustment of her glasses.  "Seifer was the most important person in Squall's life."

Selphie snickers at the statement.  "When you say it like that, it sounds like they were dating."

"We should've been," is my concise and irritated opinion on the matter.

Ignoring the surprised comments behind me and Quistis' knowing gaze, I focus inwardly and try to reach Squall for a source of guidance in this insanity.  Before, the puppet was an innocent and harmless victim in this mess, but now... I don't know what he is and I can't think straight when I want to throttle the Knight until he has an answer as to why any of this had to happen.  Diverting that murderous energy toward the effort of reaching Squall, I struggle to locate that ball of controlled emotions that tends to be obscured by my erratic thoughts and fiery passion.  But when I do find him, a rush of consoling energy flows through my body and helps me to breathe again.

"Squall," I whisper under my breath, not wanting the others to hear me.  "If you're going to figure out how to speak to me, now would be a great time."

For a long moment, I can only sense those alien emotions of the former Ice Princess, nothing understandable as words until a stray thought, clearly not my thought, comes to mind: ::Everything is as it should be::

"Bullshit," I hiss at the useless sentiment.  "You should be here."

::He's right - he can keep Rinoa in check where I would've driven her further down the path of a sorceress::

"You don't know that."

::I know she is happy, even though you're still alive::

My body tenses at Squall's blunt point, which may be more valid than I'd like to believe.  Rinoa has been a constant voice against my residence at Garden, not to mention being allowed to walk freely after everything I had done as Ultimecia's Knight.  And yet, every time she started to get riled over the subject, that damn puppet managed to soothe her and direct her emotions and volatile magic away from me.

"...-fer? ... Seifer."

Without looking at the prim and proper blond, I ask in an irritable growl, "What do you want, Quisty?"

Though a little put out by my tone, Quistis maintains her poise under pressure.  "While you obviously haven't bothered to listen to the rest of us, we want to know your opinion about what to do with this new information.  Should we help that Squall or fight him to possibly regain his body for our Squall?"

I turn around to look at the others, prepared for a debate of sorts, but instead I find myself the focus of their collective gazes with that same damn worshipping gleam to their eyes as when they fought side by side Squall.  Shit, they don't want my opinion - they want me to decide.  Of all of the fucking times for them to want a decision from me...

::You know what is right::

So few words, and yet they cause such a turmoil of emotions - I want to laugh at the insanity, to growl at the burdensome responsibility, and to scream at the overall injustice.  But once I take a breath and think about what to tell the others, I realize that there's no choice to be made.  Hyne damn it, I've been so focused on Squall being essentially shackled to me that I never noticed that, little by little, I was being wrapped in the chains of his goody-two-shoes morals and heroic compulsions to save everyone he can.

But that doesn't mean I can't do this my own way.

"We watch him," I state with the cold composure of someone who had made a distasteful decision.  "We play his game and analyze his every move until he does something we don't like."

Pounding a fist into the palm of his hand, Zell asks, "And when that happens?"

Noting the fighter's assumption of 'when' and not 'if', I smirk at the idea of enacting sweet revenge.  "Then, we get creative."

::That isn't exactly doing what's right,:: Squall comments dryly, but his viewpoint isn't shared by the rest of the kiddies eagerly nodding and tossing out ideas of the best methods to monitor the Knight and his sorceress.

"Maybe to you, Squally-boy," I say under my breath.  "But we're not as perfect as you."

::...Use me for the final blow::

After a moment's surprise, I recognize his rare childish desire to prove me wrong, but the honest words only serve to make me respect and love him all the more.  Thinking of the dark beauty defeating his unworthy shadow, I whisper with a smile, "Perfect.  No doubt about it."




Author's Whining -- Wahaha, I'm rather certain that I dashed a few hopes with this ficlet.  No, Squall isn't allowed to suddenly be changed back into a human after becoming a GF.  That would be way too easy for the boys and I rarely like taking the easy route.  Sorry that I didn't make it to the Wing!porn, Mercy_slays, but real life has been beating me down and it's hard to get into the writing mood.  I'm little bit surprised I managed this much, actually. =P  Hope you can forgive me!