Living Life
May 2003

 

[Part Six]

[Isan]

I've taken healthiness for granted, that's for certain.  Never in my memory have I been ill, though I think I've complained several times about not getting sick days like the other kids in primary school and then later in Garden.  Hyne knows how many times I've had to handle a whiney roommate begging for special attention.

Groaning, I clutch tighter at the messed sheets while such a simple thing as remembering the past makes the throbbing in my head intensify.  I've barely moved from this thin mattress, the only item in the dimly lit room aside from a toilet and sink.  I haven't even been able to locate the door in here, it seemingly opening from a different place every time someone has come in.  It's unreasonable to believe that, most likely an effect of the poison coursing through me, but at times it's impossible to sort reality from hallucinations.

Abruptly there is the whisper of an opening door, the sound motivating me to push up onto my elbows and look in the direction of a brightly lit doorway.  Wincing at the pain the glaring light causes me, I hold back a growl at the sight of the slim form clothed in a perfectly fitting white outfit.  I can only hope that I've learned how to maintain a believable neutral mask to hide all my emotion from the observant eyes.

He takes another step forward such that the door slides shut behind him, the walls once again appearing seamless.  A corner of his pale lips twists up into a scornful smile as redden eyes glare down at me.

"Pathetic."


"Hey, you.  Everything okay?"

Smoothly he moves up to a sitting position while a hand roughly massages the back of his neck.  The corner of his lip curling into a half-smile, he glances over at me.  "Everything is perfect."

My smile drops at a sudden feel of wrongness.  "Seveyn...?"

"Yes?" he half purrs, wrapping his arms around my neck.

Harder than necessary, I shove the white-haired man from me to then quickly move off the bed before I can reasonably think of what I was doing.  It burned.  There was no other description of what his touch had felt like.  Eyes wide and breath unsteady, I stare at Seveyn with the odd sensation that I can't feel his presence.  It makes no sense.

Though he originally attempts a hurt expression, it doesn't last as he stands up from the other side of the bed.  "Hmmm, perhaps there is something to you yet, Knight."

"What?"

Not bothering to reply, controlled water swirls around the smirking sorcerer before he lashes the attack at me.  I don't have it in me to even flinch with its approach, but the water strike doesn't reach me, suddenly splattering apart against a powerful shield placed shortly in front of me.  Standing in the middle of the bed, Carbuncle growls viciously at the long-haired man, the first time I've ever heard such a noise from the small creature.  Seveyn scowls at the protective guardian, a flood of energy surging through the young man as he readies for another attack.  Stupidly I launch forward to shield the godlike creature, the overdone electric attack flinging me back into the wall, and then leaving me limp on the floor.  The furry creature in my arms whimpers, a paw lightly scratching my chest in concern.  Just when my vision comes back into blurry focus, I notice the sorcerer casually moving around the bed, his sneer marring the lovely face.

"How pathetic."


The air thickens with the feel of electricity, invisible bonds burning the flesh of my arms as I'm lifted to a kneeling position and pressed back against the wall.  I don't bother resisting, already knowing how this session will go.  In a weird way, I feel like smiling at the ridiculousness of this all.  The room cools without warning, and I somehow manage not to yell out when a decently sized icicle pierces through my right shoulder and imbeds into the wall.  Looking at the furious face before me, I realize that I must have been smiling after all to piss off the sorcerer.  Unfortunately, I only feel like grinning wider at receiving a similar injury like my mother had in the past.  I wonder if it's in the bloodline.

The anger darkened face suddenly relaxes into the beauty I'm used to as he approaches with false sadness in his eyes.  "It hurts, doesn't it?  Why must you make this so difficult, my worthy Knight?"

The light touch of fingertips scald me like many times before, but I refuse to flinch at that touch.  Instead I stare coolly up at the man, proving to him that I won't fall for any of these obvious games.  He smiles almost sweetly at my defiance, though, as if replying that he knows how I could never hurt the body he has taken over.  A fact that has already been proven several times over.

"Seveyn--"  Electricity abruptly surges through me, my head getting yet another knock against a very solid wall.

"That isn't my name," he hisses out, the mask of calmness once again lost.  "And to you I am only your sorcerer, your master."

My mind feeling fuzzy, I only spit out a 'whatever'.

His hand drifts to my neck, fingernails pressing painfully against bruised skin.  "Ruined.  Those ordinary knights have ruined you.  All this power left to waste without the proper training.  You're hardly worth it to me."

"Don't bother on my account."

Redden eyes narrowed, the sorcerer abruptly releases his hold and turns with a wave of white.  "You are rightfully mine.  It's foolish for you to continue this meaningless resistance, Knight."

Numbly, I watch him walk to a corner of the room and place his hand against the white wall that easily slides open for him.  Not bothering to look back, he continues forward into the blinding light before that portal is closed to me once more.  The electric bonds around my wrists disappear with his exit, making me hiss in pain when I stay upright from the icicle still implanted through my shoulder.  I place a hand on the frozen spear with the vague hope to jerk it free of the wall and ultimately me, but it doesn't move.  Weakened from the poison that blocks me from calling upon faithful GFs, and the latest meeting with the sorcerer not being of any benefit, I give up on the attempt to yank myself free.  Instead, I try to find a decent position to keep the weight off of the injury until the ice can melt enough to be broken.

How long I've been here, I haven't a clue.  Sleep is a vague thing that happens between times of a hazy existence and occasion meetings with the controlled sorcerer.  Food typically appears during the times I sleep, myself rarely seeing anyone aside from the long-haired man.  Biting a cracked lip, I try not to let my thoughts dwell on Seveyn nor the question about whether or not I'll be able to recognize the true man if he ever reappears.  I can only hope that I will be as strong as Mom if I'm given a second chance to have the man I fell in love with at some point.  The man who would never harm me like this.

Eyes closed and a bitter smile on my lips, I suppress the ridiculous urge to call out for 'mommy', needing the comfort only he could offer me from darker thoughts.


[Seifer]

It's a cold bed that wakes me, forcing me to stumble into the darkness in search of the pain in the ass brunette.  It isn't too hard to locate the man, Squall standing on the front porch with eyes focused on the item in his raised hand and an arm resting comfortably on his heavily pregnant stomach.  After a time of studying the silent figure bathed in moonlight, I step up behind the man and wrap my arms beneath the proof of our second miracle.  Head on his shoulder, I look down at the chain link held in his hand, the dark leather of the necklace wound around his wrist.  So many things I could say, that Isan is fine, that he'll be back any day now, but if I can't find it in me to believe such simple words, Squall certainly wouldn't appreciate me speaking that nonsense.

"You should be in bed," I state too sleepily to be forceful.

"I had a dream."

Knowing how vivid his dreams tend to be during pregnancy, I hold him tighter.  "Tell me?"

He shivers and presses back into me.  "It was of the sorceress parade, only Isan was in my place.  He was falling with a spear of ice through his body and I couldn't reach him in time to save him from dropping into this dark void..."

"This isn't your fault.  He's a SeeD.  We all understand what that means."

"And we let him enter such a life."

"Come on, Squally-boy.  His life has been SeeD and Garden since he was barely a year old.  I'm amazed we kept a gunblade out of his hands until he was thirteen.  And that's forgetting all the GF and Ultimate Knight shit which would've led him down the same path eventually."

There's a pause of thought before he states, "Our daughter won't be a part of it."

"Fine by me.  Only basic training for self-defense and to drive off the pricks who look out for easy game."

He sighs, clutching onto Isan's necklace as he stares up into a cloudless night.  "Where is he?"

The frustration in his voice is apparent, reflecting the similar amount of irritation that I feel at being practically helpless in finding our son.  Squall has been surprisingly clearheaded about the whole matter, not even offering to help while in his current state.  Meanwhile, I had to make the decision of whether to traipse around the world in search of the missing boys, or else leave it to Quistis and the others while I could keep an eye on the moody brunette.  Neither decision was a simple one, but I could never leave Squall alone when he needs me, whether he'd admit it or not.

I echo his previous sigh, momentarily debating with myself before saying, "Squall.  It has been a month--"

"He's alive."

I pause at the firm tone before chuckling lightly.  "What, mother's intuition?"

Surprisingly, he nods without hesitation or the typical scowl at being referred to as a mother.  After all of these years, and still only Isan can get away with calling the man 'Mom' without any negative reaction.  It's simply natural between the two of them, but Hyne forbid if anyone else makes the same mother-son reference.

"Y'know, I've always been a bit jealous of what you two have."

Squall turns in my hold slightly to look at me with questioning clear in his eyes.

"No matter how much it bothers you, you always make certain to let him know how much you love him.  Sometimes... a lot of times, I think I've failed him in that area."  A beautiful self-pity fest is ruined when Squall flicks me between the eyes.  "Ow, that hurt, asshole.  Shouldn't you be filing down those claws?"

"Are you insane?"  He flicks me again harder.  Twice.

I grab the offending hand.  "Would you stop that?"

Eyes dark blue in the night glare at me.  "And how do you think I feel, seeing how he always goes to you for the good time?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Give me a break.  Who is it he always asks for a spar?  Who is it that he talks with so freely about his conquests in Garden?  Certainly not me."

More than a little taken aback, I stare at Squall.  "I... I didn't..."

He presses fingers lightly against my lips, a soft smile suddenly replacing his previous glare.  "We both have our roles in his life, and he can't help but to know how much we care for him.  Even if you have a god complex."

"And here I thought you enjoyed my godliness," I say, though I know perfectly well that he is referring to my unending issue with saying something as simple as 'love you'.  I can't help it that the words tend to catch in my throat, bringing unwanted images of the past.

He scoffs.  "Maybe when you were younger."

"Hey..."

"Don't think gods have wrinkles like yours."

"What the hell wrinkles are you talking about?"

"Or those white hairs, which certainly aren't platinum blonde."

"I'm only freaking 35, which I'll remind you is your age, Mr. Stretch Marks."

"And you're going to be 36 in another week, old man."

That unfortunately sobers the mood up quickly, reminding us that Isan may not be with us during the holidays for the first time in his sixteen years.  Without a word, Squall twists in my hold to face the dark sky once more.  Squeezing him tight, I bury my face in the longer than typical hair and breathe in the comforting scent of my lover and eventual husband, assuming that I'll get my way.  We stand like that for a long time, the night air cold but almost unnoticed as we have our own thoughts about the past and perhaps ahead into the frightening future.

"I just want him home," Squall states softly, a hand unconsciously rubbing the so-called bothersome lump of life.

"So do I, love.  So do I."


[Isan]

Turning off the faucet, I straighten from taking a long drink of the metallic tasting water and wipe a forearm across my mouth.  With a show of false effort, I move back to the thin mattress and sit heavily on the messed sheets.  Raking fingers back into my hair and burying my face into bent knees, I spare a private smirk.  I don't know if they forgot a dosing or what, but gradually I've been feeling stronger and more clearheaded with every day.  Unfortunately that also makes my frustration increase as I can just barely hear the whispers of the guardian forces.  It's too quiet for me to reach out and call for their power, but once again feeling their presence makes me complete in a way I never recognized.

A rush of approaching energy makes me look up sharply at the bare wall.  I force muscles to relax instead of the tense defensive stance my body reflexively wants to take.  It's easier to let the sorcerer believe I'm helpless against his power, but I know otherwise.  He wants me desperately as a knight that can best increase his focus and abilities.  He may leave me in a weakened state and push me around to show the current control he holds over my existence, but in the end, he can't break me or else loose much of the power that he craves.

The second the door slides open, I'm flung back to the familiar wall with my wrists and ankles burning at the encircling electricity of his magic.  Silently thanking my father for a thick skull, I blink away blurriness to stare uninterestedly into narrowed red eyes.  There's a flash of silver before a knife is held to my throat, warm liquid soon sliding down skin.

"Why do you fight me?"

I close my eyes, not even interested in whatever this man feels like ranting at me today.  With regaining clarity, I've also been able to sense the presence of Seveyn hiding within his controlled body.  It's so vague, even flinching away from me the few times I've bushed against that energy by chance.  In the past couple meetings, I've tried to somehow search more softly within that body, calling out to that faded presence with the hope to revive him.

Within moments, there is suddenly... whiteness hesitantly touching my own energy, no other word describing the sensation of that other power.  Cautiously it examines me, the warmth of that probing almost making me cry in relief, and the intensity of its typically hidden strength surprises me.  But the brief connection shatters apart when pain forces me back into reality.  Staring into dangerously narrowed eyes, I'm momentarily lost in the hatred residing there.

"Don't," he states simply as his warning.

Reflectively I look downward, barely able to see the dark redness on my cheek from the slice of his blade.  Aside from that first strike, it oddly doesn't hurt much, though I can feel the blood pooling from the wound.  My eyes meeting his once more, I smirk despite the ache it causes.

He sneers in return.  "You think you can reach him?  Makes no difference.  As you already know, he is very easy to handle.  He'll be back in his proper place before you can take the chance to fuck him."

"He's stronger than you," I say unaffected by his words, my voice hoarse from misuse.

His eyes go wide, almost purple in the added light.

"He's stronger than you, and you. know. it."

Never expected the blow to my temple, the handle of his bloodied knife making my vision snap to black temporarily.  It doesn't matter, though, my eyelids soon tightly shut as I try to handle the surge of electricity coursing through my body.  The magical attack continues for a much longer time than normal, driving unconscious whimpers from me that only make the energy's intensity increase.  There's a murmur in the room, most likely the sorcerer claiming his superiority, but I can't understand the words of his deluded declaration.  A part of me wishes for even more magic to be used against me, to end this unwanted situation for good, but unfortunately the rest of me is too damn stubborn to give up so easily.

Abruptly the power dies around me, my bonds disappearing such that I drop to my knees and slump backwards against the wall.  Breathing heavily with eyelids still tightly closed, I don't notice the person's approach until a cool hand presses lightly against my cheek.  Like a winter's breeze, healing energy flows through me and instantly calms quaking muscles.  Slowly I open my eyes, blurry focus still able to identify the lovely face now streaked with tears.

"Seveyn..."

He shushes me harshly.  "Don't speak.  I have to get you out of here."

Thank Hyne.  It's different.  The same body, the same voice, the same eyes, but somehow everything is different.  "Sev--"

He hushes me again, his hand moving to heal a knife wound I didn't even notice on my thigh.  "You have to warn your family.  He wishes to destroy Esthar."

I laugh breathily.  "One man--"

"No.  An army.  Ashur has been busy."

"Ashur?"

The white-haired beauty doesn't respond, placing an arm around my waist to lift me to my feet.  A black portal appears directly in front of us, my eyes widening slightly at Seveyn using a high level spell that I've seen Aunt Rinoa cast only once before.  I let him lead me through, the sickening sensation of being driven apart and then just as suddenly pulled back together forcing me to my knees.  With calming breaths, I stare down at the loose desert sand, barely keeping away the desire to laugh at gaining freedom so easily.  Slowly Seveyn slides his arm away, making me squint out the blinding light of day as I watch him stand.

"I'll try to delay him, but you have to hurry, Isan."

"What?  I'm not leaving you."

Redden eyes widen, and then narrow as he smiles weakly.  "I didn't know.  I swear that I didn't know he existed.  There were dreams, but I never imagined...  I've seen his some of his plans.  Please, warn your family and the Garden in Esthar.  And... kill me if you must."

"No."

Biting his lower lip, he turns sharply and forms another portal.

"Wait.  Seveyn."

He pauses, but doesn't look back.

"No matter what he says, know that I'll save you.  And know that I do love you."

Slowly he turns to face me, his expression one of surprise and deeply felt relief.  Shaking his head, he says with a rarely heard firm tone, "I won't listen to him again.  But you aren't allowed to say those words until I know for certain that I won't hurt you anymore."

Looking intently into his eyes, I say with confidence, "Seveyn, you are stronger than him."

A hand placed against his chest, he backs away into the portal.  "If so, it's only because of you."

I stare for a long moment at empty air from where the white-haired beauty had disappeared.  It actually hurt to see him vanish, leaving me with the unanswerable question if I'd ever see him again.  Though unneeded, I yell out my summon to Bahamut, releasing some trapped frustration and anger that has been pooling in me since day one of my imprisonment.  The blue dragon soon towers over me, obviously annoyed at finding no prey in sight, but the softly glowing gaze doesn't accuse me for wrongly calling upon his presence.

"Please.  Just take me home."

Dark wings flutter some, the large guardian force growling amused at the chance to fly a lengthy distance in this realm.

Smirking weakly, I shakily regain my footing in shifting sand.  "And no burning of random villages along the way."

The blue dragon snorts in a way that remains me of Dad when Mom ruins his fun.  Guardian forces.  Whoever declared their godlike status obviously never had to deal with their personalities.  I'm starting to believe that they listen to our summons only to have a bit of destructive fun in this plane of reality, letting us assume that we have any type of control over them.

After a single glance back at the spot of Seveyn's disappearance, I approach the large dragon to figure out how it may be possible to ride the GF safely.


[Squall]

Carrying a bowl of cold water and a fresh rag in hand, I walk slowly from the kitchen to the back bedroom.  It's been a long couple of days, sleep a hard thing to grasp onto with both worry and this damn weight on my bladder not allowing me much more than an hour at a stretch.  Reaching the partly closed door, I push it open quietly as I step inside.  After placing the bowl on the nightstand, I look down at my sleeping son, him looking far too old and far too young at the same moment.  With a sigh, I attempt to sit carefully on the mattress.  At the movement, startled green eyes are suddenly open, the sight making me smile softly.

"It's alright.  You're home now, Isan."

The slight panic ebbs away from his eyes, which then narrow in confusion.  "You're huge."

"Thanks for pointing that out."

As if finally awake, he struggles against the sheets and soreness while sitting up.  "No, that's not... I mean, you're..."

My smile widens slightly to show him I'm not offended in the least.  "Only three weeks left."

His head snaps up from looking at my very pregnant stomach, Isan frowning as he does quick math in his head and figures out how long he has been missing.  Nearly a month and half.  Funny, felt so much longer to me.  Slowly, his gaze lowers once more as he moves a hand closer to me.  Taking that hand in mine, I rest it a little to the right side of the huge mound, the unborn child's favorite place to make her presence known.  She seems to be sleeping for now, but I highly doubt that it will last for long.  Eyelids half-closed, Isan retreats into his thoughts while rubbing his thumb with gentle strokes.

After a time of silence, I can't stop myself from asking, "Where were you?"

He doesn't react to the question, holding the same distant expression.  "Don't know."

"You were injured."

"It wasn't him."

Before I can question the odd statement, my lovely daughter finally notices her brother and decides to kick in hello.  Isan smiles warmly at the feel, then eventually removes his hand to lean back against the headboard.  The smile fading, he looks up at me with somber eyes that reminds me too much of Seifer, the gaze filled with infinite trust in me.

"How did you handle being with Dad again, after all he did to you?"

"It wasn't him..."  I frown at my words, the words Isan had just told me.  "Seveyn did this to you."

The boy winces slightly.  "He's possessed or something.  Since he took me from the orphanage, I haven't felt his presence until he got me out of that place."  He looks up into my eyes, and almost pleadingly he says, "It wasn't him that hurt me."

Ignoring my mind's attempt to reason out this information, I hold out an arm in a simple offering.  Isan quickly accepts it, hugging me tightly while burying his face against my shoulder.  Resting my arm lightly along his back, I try to think of something, anything that I can tell him to make his pain go away.  But I know that it can't be that simple.  How many months did I have dreams about Seifer torturing me, despite the truth I knew concerning the man who got me chocolate ice cream and radishes at early morning hours.  It's unfair that another should have to feel this torment.

"I loved your father despite common sense.  My need to be with him was stronger than my fear of what happened during the war, but it never erased the pain I had felt."

Isan laughs bitterly, holding me tighter.  "There are no easy answers, are there?"

"Of course there are.  Yes or no: do you want Seveyn?"

"... Yes."

"Then get him back."

"Just like you'd save Dad if he was ever taken again?"

I scoff.  "If someone else wants him, they can keep him."

A truer laugh sounds at the words.  "Thanks, Mom."

I let Isan hold me as long as he needs, the boy eventually pulling back to sit against the headboard again.  Carefully I question him about what had happened, him not able to give much detail beyond the poison blurred memories.  I don't think he realized how long he had truly been gone.  The brief sessions with the sorcerer, though, interest me.  Reminds me of the short tortures I had suffered under Seifer during the days in that prison.

"He's fighting for control."

Isan looks up at my comment, reasonably confused at my random statement.

"I could be wrong, but just as Ultimecia kept Seifer away from too much contact with me, this sorcerer may not be able to control Seveyn while in your presence."

"Then, you think it's like Ultimecia?  Another sorcerer or sorceress from the future taking him over?"

Frowning without answer, I stand up from the bed and go to my room to retrieve my laptop and a forgotten disk.  In all ways this sounds familiar to the past, one of magical abilities turning to a darker nature because of a strong sorceress.  But something about this situation rings wrong.  This sorcerer knows too much about what is happening around him.  Ultimecia couldn't even retrieve the simple answer to her question of where Ellone had been hidden away, nor did she use our past with Matron against us.  The only thing I can think of is that something had been done to the boy during his lab days.  Perhaps a code phrase or time limit had occurred, triggering something hidden within the boy's mind.  But surely I would have found something as obvious as that the first time I had examined the files...

I glance at the phone in my bedroom, realizing that I should call both my father and Esthar Garden despite the early morning hour.  I'm not certain what to make of this unheard of army, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to have the necessary people on alert for such an event.  After leaving messages with a brief overview of the situation and the comment to call me, I return to Isan's room with my laptop, as well as a large glass of water for the recovering boy.  I find him speaking softly to the furry GF that apparently had waken to discover his master finally conscious.  Carbuncle had never really recovered in strength since he was brought here by Rinoa, but now seeing the creature comfortable in Isan's lap, I can already feel the sudden increase of power in the GF.  Not quite normal for the little one, but obviously stronger with his apparent depression soothed away by my son's careful hand.

After handing over the glass of water, I retake the chair I had used while watching over my son during the past couple of days.  Placing the laptop on short dresser, I set to work at skimming through familiar files.  Eventually Isan coaxes Carbuncle to return to his natural plane of existence, the boy then lying back down as he watches me silently, perhaps lost in his own thoughts. 

Several files later, I hear the front door swing open and close carefully along with the rustling of bags.  Glancing away from the screen, I tell Isan, "You might want to prepare yourself."

The boy sits up stiffly, the healing spells that Seveyn had used on him not able to remove soreness or exhaustion.  "For?"

I only smirk in reply while sitting back in my chair.

From the hallway, a deep voice calls out, "Alright, princess.  Got your tangerines and butterscotch sauce, though next time warn me when..."  He stops with one step into the room, his attention clearly focused on our son.

"Hey, Dad."

One moment to the next, my poor tangerines are scattered along the floor with the squeeze bottle of butterscotch while Seifer takes the dark haired teen into a breath stealing hug.  He mutters harshly to Isan, myself only catching the standard 'don't do that again' and 'couldn't find you anywhere' type phrases, of course with more crude terminology filling the gaps.  This goes on for a good deal of time, and I find myself with a hand clutching my stretched out shirt, hoping Seifer can find a similar amount of love for a second child.  Knowing the man, it's ridiculous for me to fear that he wouldn't, but it's hard to suppress such annoying worries.

Finally allowing the boy some air, Seifer pulls back and looks down at him.  "Listen, I know I don't say it a lot, but... you know I love you, right?"

Soft green eyes widen before Isan smiles broadly with a chuckle.  "Of course, Dad.  Never doubted it."

That causes another hug, far gentler than the first.  "Stupid kid.  Scared the shit out of me.  Where the hell were you, anyway?"

Not speaking myself, I listen as the story is retold and try to hear anything important that Isan had unintentionally left out earlier.  The words are smoother than when he spoke with me, the muted green eyes occasionally glancing my way whenever he mentions the more severe sessions in which the sorcerer demanded his allegiance.  A dangerous allegiance if it were to ever take place.  It reminds me of Rinoa once saying that she would be powerless without me as her 'knight'.  While I do nothing consciously, having that grounder enables the sorceress to use magic without it lashing back at her.  However, I can only ground so much.  Isan, on the other hand, could most likely handle far more, thus becoming desirable to this sorcerer aside from my son's barely tested link to the guardian forces.

Nearing the end of what he has already told me, I interrupt.  "Why did you say that?"

"What, to not listen to the guy?"

I nod.  "You assume they communicate even though the boy said he didn't know of this 'Ashur'."

He looks to his father, smirking lightly.  "You're the ladies' man, right?  What would you assume when the person you've been with for awhile starts asking questions out of nowhere?  The standard ones like why you'd want to stay with her or when you're planning to dump her?"

"You think your lab rat had a little birdie whispering in his ear about how evil your intentions were?"

Isan frowns.  "'Lab rat'?  How'd you come up with that one?"

"Uh... forget I mentioned it."

After a suspicious glance at his father, he turns back to me.  "Seveyn also had bad dreams all the time.  Heck, don't think I remember a night when he hadn't dreamed about something.  I'm guessing that they had their talks then."

And again that leads back to another sorcerer possessing the boy.  If so, Isan won't have an easy time saving him.  "Anything you make of this, Seifer?"

He eyes the screen of my laptop.  "Didn't those files mention something?"

"Not that I've seen."

Isan glares at the both of us.  "What the hell are these 'files' that you two keep talking about?"

"The files retrieved from your SeeD mission."  After a pause, I go on to say, "I won't tell you everything, but Seveyn is not a natural sorcerer.  Things were done to him that he has the right to never remember again."

At first bewildered by the information, he then closes his eyes and whispers, "The scars..."

Seifer abruptly snaps his fingers and points at the laptop.  "That's it.  The leash they were going to try."  When I stare at him blankly, he continues.  "Come on, you know Ultimecia wasn't stupid.  Crazy, but not stupid.  She would never give someone else power that could possibly top her own, unless she had a tight leash on that poor sap."

"And?"

With an annoyed sound, Seifer gets up from the bed, kicks a tangerine out of his path, and takes over the computer.  "One of the latter entries, like five days before the final note, the head doc mentioned something about... here it is - 'If time permits, the leash and collar designed by Kaler will be tested by the end of the week.'  Never mentions the damn things otherwise, though.  And you know how these daily reports end rather abruptly around that time."

"You think whatever it was backfired on them?"

Seifer shrugs.  "Fuck if I know, but it's something.  Maybe..."  He shivers slightly, then looks at me with narrowed eyes.  "Tell me that's Rinoa."

Before I can question him, there's a spike of magical energy in the room that is caused by an opening portal in front of the bed.  A shot is fired without warning, Isan falling to his side on the mattress just as a known figure steps from the dark hole with an odd gun in hand.  Seifer reacts instantly to the threat, launching at the white-haired boy whether to harm or capture I can't tell.  He barely gets close, a raised hand and muttered words dropping Seifer to the ground with a vague curse at cheap spells.

Shock helping to control my outward expression, I look into redden eyes that don't hold the same innocence I remember in the boy.  He also holds himself differently, Seveyn always appearing one happy to hide in the background while this one obviously wants to be known and feared.  Isan wasn't wrong - they are two different people.  Just as Edea was never Ultimecia.

With a vicious sneer that doesn't fit his face, he asks snidely, "You won't attack?"

I continue to glare, not amused in the least at his unspoken comment about my defenseless state.  If only I had thought to keep a small knife at hand, but of course I never imagined being left helpless and threatened like this.

Glancing around at his surroundings, he frowns slightly.  "This isn't Esthar."

A-ah, but it would've been Esthar, the president's building even, if things had gone as per schedule.  Instead I had convinced Seifer to let me stay just a few days longer in case Isan would look for us here.  Hell, Seifer stumbled across the unconscious boy just as he was placing some bags in the Roc for our trip to Esthar.  I should've guessed that Isan was being used as a type of homing device for the sorcerer, just as Rinoa needs me to transport to somewhere she is unfamiliar with.

"You were using Seveyn."

He focuses on me again, his amusement clear.  "Of course.  What else would I need him for except to fool trusting idiots?"

And yet there's something beyond that arrogance.  It took him two day to come here, certainly much longer than necessary.  I wonder if the boy is being more difficult than this sorcerer cares for.

Isan groans from the bed, pulling something from his throat and weakly throwing it to the floor.  Looking at the fallen dart, I curse silently at the realization that he has to suffer through this poisoning once again, his calls blocked from the guardians that serve him.  Returning my gaze to the sorcerer, I notice the disgust he holds for my son.  Or perhaps it's merely masked fear he holds for the one that strengthens the true owner of that body.

"Get up, Knight.  Carry this worthless thing through the portal," he says with a kick to Seifer.

Abruptly the armrest of my chair creaks before shattering in my unconsciously tightened hold, the sound causing both youths to stare at me - Isan looking with hope while the sorcerer gazes with amusement.

"You know that you can't do anything against me.  Not with your family helpless like this.  But perhaps," he says while taking a few steps closer, "our fragile mother-to-be deserves some rest."

I try to fight the darkness, afraid that if I gave in now, I may wake to find Seifer and Isan dead.  But the pull of the sleep spell is too strong, my last thought a curse at Seifer for starting that damn 'no sharp objects near Squally-boy' rule in the first place.

 

{Continued}

 

Author's Whining -- Um, yeah.  Nothing much to mention except that I'm obviously starting to rush things. ^_^;  Can't help it.  The ending is on the horizon (two or three more chapters) and never expected the story to go on for so long.  Thank you all for sticking with this ficcie to this point.