Grazhir :: Crossover :: Tempest :: 04 :: Almost Understanding

04 • Almost Understanding

Rising Emotions

Having been promoted into Squall’s position, Quistis was in the middle of dealing with a stack of paperwork when a knock sounded at her door. She thought for a moment, but could not remember any appointments having been scheduled. With a shrug she called out, “Come in.”

The door slid open to reveal Seifer, who walked in and nodded a greeting.

“What can I do for you, Seifer? And please, have a seat.”

“It’s nothing especially important, so I won’t take up too much of your time. I just wanted to check in and let you know how things were going.”

“All right. Please continue,” she said graciously, happy for a short break.

Twenty minutes later he was gone and she stared at the door a little wistfully before turning her attention back to the stack sitting on her desk.

*

Seifer strolled into the cafeteria and glanced around before he stopped in front of one of the lunch ladies and ordered his usual hamburger, fries, and a large soda. A few minutes later a tray was placed on the counter so he grabbed it and headed to a table near the back where Fujin and Raijin were just finishing up.

He slid into an empty seat as they looked up and placed his tray on the table.

Raijin pursed his lips in dismay. “Sorry, Seifer. We’re just about finished. We didn’t know you’d be delayed.”

He waved a hand in dismissal. “Not a problem. I was letting the Commander know how we’re getting along. I’ll be fine.”

They stood, Fujin placing a hand on his shoulder briefly, then turned and exited the room, leaving Seifer alone with his lunch. He had taken a bite from his burger and was reaching for a fry when Selphie bounced up to the table smiling brightly.

“May I?” she chirped.

Seifer nodded and bit the fry in half with his teeth, then wrinkled his nose as he realized he’d forgotten salt. She plunked her tray on the table and bounced into a seat opposite him. Even as she was reaching for her fork she launched into an excited explanation of the upcoming festival plans, pausing long enough to jump up and wave wildly to Irvine as he entered the cafeteria, then continuing on.

Seifer found himself nodding and interjecting agreeable noises as she chattered away; it was easier that way and some of it was even interesting. ‘I must have changed if I can stomach this while eating,’ he thought with a slight smile.

Footsteps signaled another arrival at the table and he looked up to see Irvine sliding into the seat to Selphie’s side with a nod for him and a quick pat on the hand for her. Irvine responded in much the same way as he had to Selphie’s endless chatter, though he tended to favor the girl with fond glances as he ate.

Seifer was happy enough to be there, but he felt like something was still missing. He was halfway through his meal when the staccato click of heels heralded the arrival of Quistis. She swept her gaze across the table, then sat down in the only empty seat, setting down her tray and favoring each person with a small smile. He thought that her smile lingered a little bit longer on him.

She was just as quiet as he and Irvine as she ate her meal. Selphie didn’t seem to mind; she just kept chattering away, barely touching her own food. Quistis finished first and quietly rose to leave, dropping her tray off at one of the stands, then heading toward the exit. Seifer watched her covertly, counting himself lucky that he’d sat down with his back to the wall, and cracked a slight smile as she looked back over her shoulder at his table before disappearing from view.

*

Odd little meetings like that kept occuring over the next few days, but the signs of interest were so subtle that Seifer was left wondering if he was simply imagining things. Or at least, he did until Fujin made vague mention of it. The accidental brushes against him, reaching for the salt, or walking past him in a corridor. Showing up in the Training Center while he was busy working out, or asking how his classes were going.

One of Seifer’s more lamentable traits was that he tended to react, rather than act, and when he did act it was usually without thinking first. This had slowly been changing though, and had not gone entirely unnoticed by the remaining members of the orphanage gang.

All of it made Seifer hypersensitive to her presence, and he often found himself hoping she’d be the one coming around the corner, or the owner of clicking heels that sounded behind him. Fujin seemed to be awfully smug these days, but she kept her own council; Seifer knew it would be useless to try and make her talk.

It wasn’t until Seifer started taking note of when that smug look would appear that he realized the connection; it only crossed her face when Quistis was around. After much introspection, something alien to Seifer’s nature prior to his experiences with the sorceress, he came to the likely conclusion that what was missing was Quistis, and that she seemed to have the same kind of feelings toward him. The question then foremost on his mind was . . . how to proceed?

Otherworld

Storm was sitting by the window, alternating between furiously scribbling in a notebook and gazing at the deepening dusk. He wasn’t quite sure where the words were coming from; it was a twisted melange of Squall, Seifer, and a dash of Rinoa he was jotting down, but each line written felt right in an off-beat way. He wasn’t particularly thinking about the consequences or the results should anyone from Garden hear the completed song. It was just something frantically pushing inside his head, wanting to be released.

The stars were twinkling when his muse was satisfied and he gratefully laid down his pen to watch them for a while. He was tired, but he stayed awake, transfixed by the gentle light show of the heavens and the dance of the moon as it slowly ascended. Engrossed enough was he that it took some time before he actively noticed the wispy tendrils of greenish light spiraling across the sky, like ghostly copies of the lifestream he’d seen in his dream of Cloud.

*

Cloud felt unbalanced, even though the tree he leaned against was sturdy and solid. The stars seemed to be whirling in the sky. For that matter, the ground kept rocking back and forth, as though indecisive. ‘What the hell is going on?’ he asked himself, trying to retain his balance.

Glowing filaments of green shot past him, swooping around and changing direction unexpectedly, charging through his hair and into his open mouth. The beginning of panic fluttered in his stomach when he realized his eyes refused to close. A burst of silver sparks nearby glittered with uncommon strength, floating slowly downward only to stop in midair.

Several minutes later they resolved into a figure of light with impossibly long, flowing hair. ‘Sephiroth?’ he thought. He felt, rather than saw, a smile form on the figure’s face, and one fuzzy hand raised itself to wave. “The world is dizzy,” Cloud slurred, the words barely intelligible and his panic fast forgotten, “and I’m too tilted to dance with her.”

The figure exploded soundlessly outward, then everything contracted into an archway hovering just above the slanting ground. The tree behind him heaved and Cloud fell forward, tumbling through the air, straight at the portal, and everything went black.

*

Storm bit back a squeak of surprise as the underlying rumble of thunder was interrupted by the deafening shriek of multiple lightning strikes. For those few endless moments the world outside his room was thrown into reverse image, like photographic negatives he’d once seen. They kept coming in rapid succession, making him glad he was safely inside.

The strange greenish light was increasing, but not outside. He retreated to the dubious safety of his bed as the tendrils wound into his room and danced in dizzying circles, before vanishing abruptly with a loud thud. Storm blinked and shook his head. The fury outside had vanished as well, leaving the room dark and quiet. That is, until someone groaned in pain.

Storm reached out unerringly to snap the light on so he could scan the room, his gaze stopping almost immediately on a figure curled on the floor. It had spiky blond hair. Storm pushed off the bed and cautiously approached the figure, his progress stilling as the figure groaned a second time and its head rolled back to reveal the face from his dream.

“Cloud?” he whispered.

The figure’s eyes fluttered open and gazed at him hazily. It was him; the blue eyes retained that strange glow, though it was much fainter now than it had been in the dream.

“Cloud?” he whispered again. “Are you—let me help you up, okay?”

Cloud gave a tiny nod.

Gathering Stars in the Night Sky

He was laying on Storm’s bed where he’d been carried to. How any of this was possible, he had no idea, but it must be due to Gaia. The dream had been so real, and now to find out that Storm was a real person was enough to make his head want to explode. Storm should be back soon, or so he’d said before leaving. Something about talking to the president.

The light was dim enough not to cause more pain, for which he was grateful. He was too tired to even cast, though his weapon and all his materia had come with him. He wasn’t even sure it would function here; it might now be nothing more than a collection of pretty spheres of unknown origin. The sound of the door opening made him turn his head gingerly to the side.

“Cloud? You awake?” came a whisper.

“Yeah.” His voice sounded raspy, like he’d not spoken in weeks.

Storm moved into his line of vision and knelt beside the bed, a slight smile curving his lips.

“Head still hurt?”

He nodded carefully; quick movement would be sure to cause a reaction he wouldn’t like.

Storm bowed his head, raising one hand. Cloud watched as gentle light welled up from nothing, then settled over him like mist. When Storm raised his head, Cloud realized the pain was gone completely. He blinked, making his friend chuckle softly.

“Come on. Let’s go so I can show you the wonders of Esthar. The storm that seems to have brought you here vanished when you appeared, so it’s a fine night out.”

Cloud sat up and brought his feet to the floor, then paused. “What exactly did you tell the president? Or more to the point, where are we?”

“In the presidential palace, naturally. I live here. Now come on, we can’t talk freely here.”

He supposed that explained why Storm kept speaking in hushed tones. He stood up and prepared to follow his friend.

*

Laguna, having been properly prepared, welcomed Cloud charmingly, though his friend merely looked bewildered. Storm managed not to laugh, but only because he bit his lip and refused to let go until the urge had passed. After a few minutes of purely social chit-chat, he led Cloud deeper into the labyrinth of rooms in his father’s section of the palace, ending up on a wide balcony that overlooked the city.

With a sweeping gesture he said, “This . . . is Esthar.”

Storm watched as his friend checked out the view, an uncharacteristically broad smile on his face. He got the distinct impression that Cloud had never seen a place like this in his life. Several minutes passed before he broke the silence. “I almost can’t believe you’re real.”

Cloud snorted and gave him a sidelong glance. “I could say the same, you know. The last thing I remember is feeling like I’d been drugged and the world was spinning under my feet. Then wham, I’m on your floor with a splitting headache.”

“But I’m glad.”

Cloud changed the subject, asking, “What did you look like before?”

Storm shrugged. “I could probably track down some pictures. Now that I’ve had a chance to get used to it, I prefer this.”

Cloud looked at him appraisingly. “I think I can see why. You look like an angel.”

Storm felt the heat rise in his face and looked away. Gentle fingers grasped his chin and coaxed him to look back. “I’m glad, too. I missed you.”

Sprouting

“So, I have Shiva, Griever, and Siren,” he explained. “Shiva I’ve had for as long as I can remember.” He frowned, thinking about the blank places in his mind that might never be regained. A nudge got him to continue. “Griever is special. Siren, though. . . . We get along all right, I guess, but it’s more like we tolerate each other than anything.”

Cloud angled his head. “It sounds awfully strange. A presence in your mind like that. If you don’t mesh that well with Siren, why do you still have her?”

He shrugged and scratched his head. “I just do. When I left, I didn’t think to remove the junction.”

“Why don’t you let me try her then?”

“Well . . . I suppose. But there’s something you need to be aware of.” A fleeting frown crossed his face.

“Which is. . . ?”

“GFs have a tendency to block memories,” he said, looking up. “There are a lot of things I can’t remember anymore, mostly from my childhood. So, it’s probably best to keep a journal of some kind . . . just in case. Maybe it only affects children, I don’t know. It’s only from a certain point back that I have problems recalling events, people, etc.”

Cloud nodded and ruffled his hair. “Not a problem. So, uh, how do you do this junctioning thing?”

He smirked and held his hand out, palm up, and concentrated. After a few moments, a sea-green sphere appeared in his hand, which he handed to Cloud, shivering slightly at the contact. “Focus on it. Call to her with your mind. Ask her to blend with you.”

He watched as Cloud’s brow furrowed, and slowly, far more slowly than it would have taken for a member of a Garden, the sphere turned translucent then disappeared, and Cloud’s eyes widened drastically.

“I think she likes me,” he said in an awed whisper. “And she has such interesting things to say about you,” he continued, staring directly into Storm’s eyes with a curious smile on his face.

*

Over the course of several weeks, Cloud had learned everything there was to know about Guardian Forces, drawing magic, and junctioning firsthand. Storm had needed to borrow a ship from Laguna in order to hunt down the correct creatures to get a good range of defensive and offensive spells, and was pleased at how well and how quickly Cloud adapted, not to mention seeing how exceptional of a fighter he was on a purely physical level.

Much like his own appearance, Cloud’s was deceptive. More interesting, however, was the discovery that Cloud’s materia still functioned, so the student turned teacher, and after Storm had very carefully modified Lionheart, he was taught how to use magic as Cloud had grown up accustomed to. As far as Storm was concerned, it was a very welcome discovery, since it meant their drawn magic could stay safely junctioned to bolster them, and they could cast without fear of gradually weakening their protections.

The next few weeks were spent writing songs, though Storm was also taking the time to put to paper an accounting of his life at Garden and his involvement in the Second Sorceress War. Much past that, he didn’t see any point in detailing, though he did plan to reveal some of his thoughts during the immediate post-war period.

He knew they were looking for him now; Laguna had informed him when the first contact had come from Garden, asking if he knew the whereabouts of their former Commander. Naturally, his father had professed to have no knowledge, much to his regret and dismay. Given that they’d known of Laguna’s intense desire to come to be a part of Squall’s life, his response to them ended that particular line of inquiry.

*

Storm looked up from his notepad and glanced out the window. He was almost done putting the finishing touches on another song. Ready for a break, he let his mind drift off down the now well-worn paths of his other obsession. Every time Cloud touched him to get his attention, he wanted to tremble. Each time Cloud placed a hand on Storm’s shoulder as he looked at what was being written, Storm wanted to lean back against him, cursing the chair back that separated them.

He shifted, turning in his chair so that he faced the room. Through half-lidded eyes he let his gaze drift even as his mind did, back to earlier days. Days when his shrouded eyes had automatically followed Seifer’s movements, when he’d almost mistaken it for more than just admiration. Still, it was magnetic seeing the prideful, self-assured young man stalk around, laugh, or just sit there and gaze at the sky.

But what about now? He was doing the same thing, his gaze following every moment of his friend, losing himself in those brilliant blue eyes, losing track of what he was saying in favor of watching those lips move, or the body flexing. He shook his head, unknowingly. He must have it bad. He must, because he was hallucinating Cloud’s entrance into the room, clad only in a towel loosely wrapped around his slim waist.

*

He held his face up to the stream of water and felt the warmth cascade down his body. There was nothing quite like a shower to wash things away. He stepped back and flipped the taps off, then shook his head vigorously, hearing the small projectiles of water dash themselves against the walls of the stall. Satisfied, he slid the door open and stepped out, grabbing a towel to wrap around his waist.

He stepped toward the door, intent on making it to his room for fresh clothing, and through it into the main room that he and Storm shared and worked in. He padded across the carpet without haste, almost stopping when he saw Storm watching with half-lidded eyes. Experimentally he changed direction and paused in front of the mirror secured above the fireplace, taking the time to run his fingers through his hair while he covertly watched the reflection of Storm shift in his chair and lick his lips.

He sighed, more for show than reason, and pivoted, letting one hand drop. The other he used to brushed away beads of water from his chest, watching Storm’s reaction from beneath his lashes. ‘So he does. . . .’ he thought, and smiled secretively, then continued on to his room, closing the door softly behind him.

The Stage is Set

It was over. All that hard work, study, and training, and it was over. Seifer threw himself on the couch and sighed. Fujin and Raijin spared him a look before settling on the other couch, hands clasped together.

“We need to get ready,” she said.

“The uniforms have already been delivered,” offered Raijin.

Seifer looked up with a small smile and waved his hand. “Yes, and we’ll all look stunningly gorgeous in them, won’t we.”

“ENOUGH,” barked Fuijin, then blushed and clapped a hand over her mouth.

Seifer smirked, then let loose a roar of laughter. “Fine, fine. I won’t say it.” He rose and walked into his room, noticing immediately the SeeD uniform laid out on his bed waiting for him. A few minutes later he was back in the main room waiting for his friends to finish changing.

They arrived, finally, and the trio began the journey to the ballroom.

*

People were dancing, and she was sitting at a table tucked away in the corner, sipping a glass of wine. She was still just as beautiful as ever, and just as wrapped in shielding, though now it seemed to take on more and more the mantle of fatigue. It bothered him to see it; she was too young to look that way. She’d always played to the role of a mother; whether she realized it or not was a different thing entirely.

She didn’t leave the table. She just sat there and sipped, or nibbled a dainty from her plate, as her eyes roamed the ballroom. She’d been like that for the past half hour; it reminded him in a way of Squall. But Squall wasn’t here, and she was, so he walked toward her, carrying his own glass of wine, and stopped a little off to the side.

After a moment she looked up, a slight flush staining her cheeks.

“May I?” he asked.

“O-of course. Please have a seat.”

Seifer pulled out a chair and sat down, keeping his eyes on her. He placed his wine on the table and leaned forward, resting his chin in the palm of his hand. She seemed nervous.

“Seifer—”

He straightened up immediately. “Quistis, I’ve come to ask for your hand—” He broke off momentarily at the furious blush that swept across her cheeks and down her neck. “—for the next dance. Will you say yes?” he asked coaxingly.