Grazhir :: Crossover :: Tempest :: 08 :: Choices

08 • Choices

A knock at the door came after breakfast. Storm knew it must be all right, as their guards would not have allowed anyone to get that close otherwise. Rising, he went to and opened the door, then ushered in Selphie a moment later.

“Hi!” she chirped. “Ready to go check out the quad and the ballroom?”

“Sure. Just let me go tell Kiros where we’re headed.” He wandered off and was back in a few minutes, and let her lead him and Cloud off to the quad, which Seifer had skipped on the previous day’s tour. Once there he made a show of looking around, much like Cloud was doing.

“Hm,” Cloud said after a bit. “This is kind of small, actually. From what I’ve seen there are plenty of kids here training. It’s not that we need room for a band—we can use recorded music—but I can’t see everyone who would want to watch jamming in here.”

“I tend to agree,” Storm added. “The ballroom is bigger?”

“Much bigger! Let’s go look!”

It was as Storm remembered it being, and he himself had no issue with using it. Apparently, neither did his lover.

“I think we forgot to ask about townies,” Cloud said. “Are they allowed at Garden festivals?”

“Sure are! If you guys play, though, I think we’ll draw in a lot more people than usual. But that’s great!” Selphie bounced in place cheerfully and beamed at them, then waved a hand wildly in the air and cried, “Oh, Rinoa!”

Storm checked his reflexive reaction, and instead lazily turned his head. Rinoa was striding purposefully toward them, an innocent smile on her face. “Hi, everyone. Are you enjoying your visit, gentlemen?”

“Garden is a beautiful structure,” said Cloud, “though I’m not sure I quite understand the obsession with hot dogs.”

Rinoa laughed a silvery little laugh and placed one hand on her hip. “What do you think?” she asked, waving her other hand at the room.

“We think it’ll be fine,” Storm replied, then turned to Selphie and said, “Where do you think we’d fit into the schedule?”

“Oh, I think last. The big ending! We could have you set up over by the service entrance so you could slip out easily afterward and avoid any overly enthusiastic fans.”

Storm grinned, thinking it might be more to the point to keep worrying about Rinoa and not fans. “That would be helpful, wouldn’t it, gorgeous.”

Cloud glanced over and nodded. “Definitely. Though, I think I’d be more worried about townies. I expect Garden members would practice restraint.”

Storm did not miss the frown that passed fleetingly over Rinoa’s face at the endearment he had used.

“They will if they know what’s good for them,” Rinoa said in a slightly stilted manner.

Storm smiled and asked casually, “Are you already a SeeD, or. . . ?”

She gave him a wide-eyed look, then said, “Uh, no. I’m . . . an attaché, you might say, from Galbadia. Deling, specifically. My father is a general, you see.”

“Interesting. I hadn’t realized Gardens housed liaisons, but I suppose it makes sense,” he said with a slight smile. “So you’re a civilian?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

Selphie, who had continued to bounce, cut back in and said, “I don’t think there’ll be any problems, and you’ll have Laguna’s men with you. Would you like to return to your suite and deal with the paperwork?”

“All right,” Cloud said. “Kiros can check things over before anything gets signed. We’ll probably leave shortly after that.”

“So soon?” Rinoa asked.

Cloud nodded. “Yeah. Actually, this is my first trip outside of Esthar, so all this is a bit nervewracking.”

“Well, let’s go take care of the boring details,” Selphie said, then added, “I’ll see you a bit later, Rinoa, okay?”

Glad that Selphie had neatly cut the other girl out of the equation, Storm twined his fingers with Cloud’s and followed Selphie out after nodding a farewell to Rinoa, who looked rather put out.

Several hours later they were boarding their ship. Storm held his tongue, though, until they were back in their suite in Esthar. “Wow,” he said. “Seifer seemed really. . . .”

“Yeah, he did. You’re thinking of writing to him, aren’t you.”

“Well, yes. He’s changed, loosened up a lot. He’s with Quistis!”

“You could. Nothing is stopping you, Storm. And you do think of him as a brother. I take it you think he won’t squeal?”

Storm nodded.

“One thing, though.”

“Hm?”

“If you send a letter too quickly, he might start making obscure connections.”

Storm opened his mouth, then shut it, frowning thoughtfully. “Maybe. But he might pass it off as coincidence. I’m more worried about the fact that he would want to write back. I was thinking of having it sent through prez, by courier. But, I guess I could set up an account as Squall and have it block everything incoming except for him.”

“More favors from an all too willing father that has no idea where his son is?”

Storm shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t think he’d mind.”

“If it means that much to you, angel, go ahead.” Cloud stepped in close and gave him a lingering kiss. “I think I know you well enough to realize this is going to nag you until you actually do it.”

Storm smiled sheepishly and nodded. “Then I will.”

*

Seifer was relaxing in front of the television, listening to MVC more than watching it, when a knock at the door had him rising to answer it. Outside was a young girl holding a slim package, which she held out with a smile.

“Delivery for you, sir.”

Seifer took it curiously and nodded, then said, “Thanks.”

“Certainly, sir.” She flashed him another smile, then turned smartly and sashayed off down the corridor.

Seifer shut the door and returned to the couch, fingering the package, then checked the front. The return was given as Laguna, which was very peculiar, so he opened it and tipped out the contents. The only thing it contained was an envelope with his name scrawled on the front.

Even more curious, Seifer opened it and pulled out a letter, which he began to read.

Seifer exhaled sharply as he noticed an email address in small print at the bottom of the page. Squall had not only got his father to play courier, but had arranged for an account through the palace network. No doubt he had a computer somewhere, wherever he was. He shook his head and read the letter over again several more times, not exactly sure of what it was he was feeling.

He had felt such jealousy, such envy, at the time. He had always been stronger, it seemed, but it was Squall who had managed to pull together everyone toward a common cause. It was him they had looked to for wisdom and orders, and followed him willingly, despite his taciturn nature. And it had been Squall who repeatedly had beat him, despite all his confidence and prowess.

Squall was correct, though. He had no intention of mentioning the letter to anyone, or the address. Squall was extending his trust and that was a rare thing. And again, he had managed to shock. Squall had depended on him? Squall was apologizing to him?

A shiver raced down his spine and he realized his hands were trembling. He had . . . a brother?

Several days later he sat down and composed an email reply.

Squall,

I admit, after I read your letter I realized I was somewhat in shock. Yes, I read both the letter with your resignation and your memoirs, but you managed to surprise me once again.

You’re also right that I returned because I wanted to. Fujin and Raijin also wanted to return, so I contacted Irvine to see what would happen. The most shocking thing about all of it, to start, was that you weren’t here when we arrived. But then they explained, and showed me the letter. As I understand it, Rinoa was also instrumental in assuring that I was given the second chance you asked for on my behalf.

I think it might shock you if I told you that Fujin actually speaks like a normal person these days. But, thank you for what you said about them. It shows me that you were not the only one to believe in me, even when I couldn’t believe in myself. Thank you.

I don’t think I’ve been all that good at expressing my feelings either, but I believe I’m getting better, more comfortable with the idea. It’s funny, though. Not so long ago I had a conversation with a pair of singers. They told me they use song to purge the issues of their pasts. I met them in Esthar, actually, at the palace. For people who evoke such disturbing thoughts through their lyrics, they seem to be inordinately cheerful.

Anyway, of course I forgive you. I would ask for yours, but I think you’ve already made it pretty clear on that score that there’s nothing to forgive. The whole world knows that now. I just never suspected, always so wrapped up in myself.

I did think that you were never coming back. The letter alone made me think that, but the memoirs capped it. You gave them what they thought they wanted—the truth. Being here and having them want to talk it to death would serve no purpose except to drive you back into a silent abyss.

I’ve told no one, as you wished, and I won’t. I am . . . touched, I guess would be the right word . . . that you chose to write to me specifically. Though you didn’t specify your other reasons, I think maybe I suspect. Since you mentioned them, though, I can say that everyone is doing fine. Quistis was made Commander, and I, Fujin, and Raijin have all passed the SeeD exam finally.

The only person who seems a little lost still is Rinoa, but I can see that she’s set her sights on other things, other people, fruitless as it may be. As much as I admire many qualities she possesses, she can be quite willfully blind in some respects. You might be amused to know that she’s been targeting those two singers I mentioned, and they are quite clearly gay.

On a related note, Quistis and I have come to an understanding. I’m actually happy. In the end, I cannot be entirely regretful for what I went through considering what I’ve gained from the experience. Needless to say, I hope it never happens again. Still, I’ve come to realize that I also depended on you, though not always for the right reasons. I also try to actually think before I act, which isn’t always easy.

I hope you continue to write. I would like to know that you remain all right.

Seifer

*

Months passed, with Storm and Cloud working on a new album, settling details. Before they were actually able to record all of them it was time to return to Garden for the festival and their mini-concert. During that time Storm sent several emails to Seifer and got ones in return. They contained nothing particularly deep, but they had become somewhat more relaxed in dealing with each other.

As it was, they planned to debut a from the new album at the concert as the capper for the evening, and as a test to see how it was received by the audience. They arrived the evening before the concert and were met again by Seifer and his posse, then led to the same suite they had used previously.

The concert went off without a hitch, despite the number of townies that had crowded into the ballroom and screamed like demented things, and they retired directly after to the suite surrounded by Laguna’s men. The next morning they awoke very early and boarded the ship to return to Esthar.

Therefore, it was something of a surprise when, several days later, the phone rang, and Storm picked it up to hear that Seifer was requesting to see them. He told the guard to pass him through, then hung up and shot Cloud a look. “Seifer is coming.”

“What? Now?”

Storm nodded, then turned sharply when a knock was heard. Seifer was admitted with a pleasant smile and waved to a seat.

“We’re kinda surprised to see you again so soon,” commented Cloud.

“Yes, well. I was hoping that you two would be amenable.” Seifer seemed almost wary.

“Are you just visiting, or was there something we could do for you?” asked Storm.

“You know him,” Seifer said bluntly.

“Sorry?”

“You know him,” Seifer repeated. “Squall.”

“Of course we know him. Doesn’t everyone?” asked Cloud.

“That isn’t what I mean, and I think you know that. You’ve met him, haven’t you,” Seifer said somewhat accusingly.

“What brings you to that conclusion?” Storm asked.

“Your music. I find it quite coincidental that almost everything you write can pertain directly to him and his feelings. Either you’ve met him personally, you derived a lot of inspiration from his memoirs, or you’ve both had some pretty shitty pasts yourselves. I get the distinct feeling that some of my letters to him amused him for reasons I wasn’t aware of at the time.”

“He contacted you?” Cloud asked. “That’s great.”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“We have had,” said Storm, “as you put it, pretty shitty pasts ourselves. Why are you just now deciding we know him? Besides, we already had an album cut before those memoirs were published, Seifer.”

Seifer ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “You’re avoiding the question, I notice. As for why, it’s the song you debued at Garden. It finally made me think that I wasn’t so crazy when all your music made me think of him, like it was him speaking through you.”

Storm and Cloud exchanged a glance, then Cloud said, “I don’t think that’s a question we should be answering.”

“That is an answer. He sent you to Laguna, didn’t he? Laguna probably said yes simply because Squall was asking, then came to realize you two had real talent. I wouldn’t be surprised if Squall talks to his father on a regular basis, like he does me. I’m starting to think I wasn’t so crazy in wondering if Squall has hidden himself somewhere in Esthar.”

Storm sent a sidelong glance at Cloud, who shrugged almost imperceptibly. “For the sake of theory, suppose we did know him. What of it? I think it would be a betrayal of trust, in that case, if we said much.”

Seifer slumped slightly and sighed. “I guess you’re right. It isn’t as though I told any of the gang—” He broke off and groaned softly.

“What you just told us?” offered Cloud helpfully.

“I thought I’d stopped being so reactionary,” Seifer mumbled.

“For what it’s worth, we won’t tell any of them,” Storm said.

Seifer shrugged. “Laguna trusts you. And, apparently, so does Squall. Well, it’s a little late to take back what I said. Sorry I barged in like this.”

“We don’t mind,” Cloud said easily. “It’s nice to have visitors on occasion. Well, ones we know aren’t going to treat us funny. It’s just about lunch—would you like to join us?”

“I—yeah, thanks. Afterward I’ll have to see if Laguna will put me up for the night so I can head back fresh.”

*

Seifer,

You are a clever fellow, aren’t you? Yes, I’m aware that you visited those men you spoke of. Are we getting suspicious? I will relieve your ignorance on this matter, then. They do know me, and I did send them to Laguna, and even recommended them to him. I wouldn’t bother asking either of them where I reside, though.

Apparently, that song really set a few gears into motion. I expect we were all wondering if it would, though you responded to it much faster than anyone could have anticipated. They were being truthful, though. Not everything has to do with me, but I am the source of some of their work. I think it amuses them to translate what I’ve said or written into song.

Given that, I have the feeling that the next album they release will have you wondering again. Just what are they saying, or I? Still, I think that you, out of everyone, would understand the best. At any rate, it’s a mystery solved for you. You can have fun interpreting the new lyrics.

You can trust them, Seifer, if you’re inclined to. They don’t care about names or fame. They compose and sing because they enjoy it, nothing more. They certainly didn’t care about who I was, or the role I played in things, so I know they aren’t affected by you, either. I imagine, though, that you’ve kept your silence with the rest of the gang.

Oh, for reference, I will confirm that Charm Attack was written with you in mind—the old you—but also about me. But, you might have seen that shading for yourself. You must have loosened Quistis up considerably given what I’ve heard about her reaction to it. I’m impressed.

There are some things I need to take care of, so I should go.

Squall

Seifer sat back and rolled his eyes, feeling like a bit of an ass. So, he had been right, and they had in turn told Squall of his suspicions. Squall was most definitely teasing him now. Of course, that didn’t get him any closer to finding out where Squall actually was hiding. But, did he simply want to know, or did he want to actually see him with his own eyes?

Familiar voices made his head snap up to look at the television. Tempest had released a new song, the one they had debued at the festival. He closed the email and signed off, then headed out for town, intent on purchasing the new CD. When he got back to his quarters he unwrapped the case and opened it so he could get at the liner notes.

The cover featured a different storm, though this time there was a symbol in the upper left corner: beta. Seifer shrugged and pulled out the insert, laying it on his desk, then removed the CD and slipped it into his player.

*

Storm heard the phone ring, but as the sound stopped almost immediately, he assumed that Cloud had answered it, so he continued to towel dry his hair, then wrapped it around his waist and headed out to see who had called. He stopped dead, however, when he realized that Seifer was present. His gaze shifted uneasily over to Cloud, who gave him an apologetic look, then back to Seifer.

“I should get dressed,” he said, then turned and disappeared into the bedroom. The second he was out of sight he brought a hand to his face and exhaled heavily. Had Seifer seen his scar? Did he even know enough to recognize it? After a deep breath he whipped off the towel and got dressed, then strolled back out and took a seat on the couch next to Cloud. The first words out of Seifer’s mouth made him feel as though someone had cast Doom on him.

“That’s a really interesting scar you have, Storm. I know someone who supposedly has one like it.” Seifer’s expression was quite blank.

Cloud piped up immediately with, “Really? That would make three of us, then.”

Seifer did kind of a double take and said, “What?”

“I’ve got one almost exactly like Storm’s. Weird, huh? It’s even in the same place. I swear, it had to be the most bizarre accident.” He grinned and toyed with one of his spikes.

“Accident?”

Storm relaxed slowly, hoping that Cloud was a very good liar, or at least embellisher of tales.

“Mm.” Cloud nodded and shrugged. “We did say we have pretty shitty pasts. It was”—he glanced at Storm—“a couple of years ago? It’s sort of hazy. One hella lightning storm, though, and us two stupid enough to be working out during it. Long story short, we got blinded by a lightning bolt that hit pretty close. Kinda stabbed each other in the process.”

Seifer winced and nodded, reaching up to scratch his forehead.

“So what’s up?” Storm asked.

“If I hadn’t already come to certain conclusions, this latest album most certainly would have done it.”

“Oh, that,” Cloud said, then grinned again. “Did you like it?”

Seifer gave him a look that spoke volumes. “Oddly enough, yes, though the material was. . . .”

Storm exchanged a look with Cloud, then said, “Painful.”

Seifer chuckled and shook his head. “Despite the actual content, though in some cases because of it, the music alone was often compelling. Either way, certainly not wasted money. Still, I gotta wonder sometimes just what the hell happened in your lives to—I know, some of it is Squall.”

“Some of it, yeah.”

“I won’t ask where he is, but do you actually see him at all, face to face?”

Cloud bounced to his feet and stretched, then said, “Occasionally. But you have to realize, being who we are, it’s kind of difficult.”

“You mean being recognized.”

Cloud nodded.

Seifer quirked up a brow in response. Then, “Interesting. That could mean either that people try to mob you here in Esthar, or wherever it is that he lives.”

“You saw how it was when we invited you out for exercise that one time,” Storm said. “And, I’m afraid neither one of us looks very good decked out in a trench coat and floppy hat.”

Seifer snorted in amusement. “That would rather clash with what people normally wear around here, as well. I suppose you’d stand out just as much, if not more.”

“Yep,” Cloud said cheerfully. “Hey, listen. Do you want to have lunch with us, then maybe go hit the plains? Laguna managed to arrange for vehicle access here at the palace. You know, so we can go get some exercise without a lot of fuss.”

“That’d be nice, thank you.”

Storm cocked his head to the side and gazed at him curiously. “Not that it’s any of my business, but how is it that you can just up and take off whenever you like from Garden? I admit I don’t much about them, but it seemed a little odd to me.” He was mildly surprised to see Seifer quite nearly squirm in his seat and look embarassed.

“Uh, well, Quistis seems to find my fascination with your music quite amusing, and since it isn’t as though Garden sees nearly as many contracts as before, she can afford to let me wander off on occasion.” Then he shook his head and said, “Which reminds me, sort of. Have you had any trouble with Rinoa at all?”

Storm glanced over at Cloud and quirked up a brow, then looked back at Seifer when he received a nod. “No, we haven’t, though she was here at one point to discuss a visit to Deling. Naturally, prez and Kiros were present. Actually, Kiros more or less ran that meeting. He’s become quite protective of us really. However, since you mentioned her, perhaps you’d like to hear a little something we have planned for the next album?”

Seifer sat up straighter in his chair. “That might be interesting.”

“I’m afraid you won’t get the whole effect. Obviously, it’s not as though we’ve recorded any music. Still, you might get some amusement from it,” Cloud said with a slightly smug expression, then crossed the room to retrieve a guitar.

Storm got up and moved over to the keyboard set up along one wall and sat back down, then tapped his foot several times before hitting the keys. What followed was a rendition of what they had titled ‘’, and Storm was subsequently entertained by watching Seifer’s reaction to the lyrics. By the time they finished up Seifer was chuckling and shaking his head.

“You know,” he said, “I get the feeling that one will go right over her head.”

Storm grinned and headed for the phone to call an order down to the kitchens.

*

Several hours later they were out on the plains, talking idly in between the creatures that would persist in attacking them—not that any of them stood a chance in hell of winning an encounter. They’d been there for perhaps ten minutes when Seifer glanced over and said, “Are you two just flashy, or do those spheres serve an actual purpose?”

“They are nice to look at,” responded Cloud ambiguously, though cheerfully. “We found them. I suppose you could say they’re an affectation of sorts.”

Seifer thought Cloud was being deliberately evasive, but let it go. Maybe in time he would find out. Instead he said, “I still don’t understand how you can possibly lift that sword.”

Cloud scanned the surrounding countryside, then offered, “Would you like to try?” He grinned, then added, “I promise not to laugh if you fail.”

Seifer chuckled and said, “Sure, why not?” He carefully stowed Hyperion in its sheath, then stepped up to Cloud to receive his sword, staggering under its weight directly Cloud’s hands left it. “Hyne!”

Cloud gripped it again, taking it back, then twirled it in one hand lazily. “Like I said, I’m a lot stronger than I appear.”

Seifer stared at him in disbelief. “I would not like to meet you in a dark alley anytime soon.”

Cloud chortled as Storm smiled indulgently. “I wouldn’t feel bad,” Storm said. “I can’t lift the damn thing, either. I sure as hell can’t fetch both our weapons, that’s for definite.”

“Does it have a name?” he asked curiously.

Cloud nodded. “Perhaps it sounds a bit silly, or even. . . .”

“Bigheaded,” supplied Storm with a grin.

Cloud made a face. “I call it Ultima Weapon.”

“I can certainly see why. Anyone else would have to prop that thing up and hope to hell the creatures were stupid enough to impale themselves.”

That set Cloud off again, and he had to lean against the car for support temporarily as he laughed.

“You might be interested to know we’ll be having another concert here in Esthar soon,” Storm said. “We’d be happy to arrange for tickets for any of you who’d like to come.” He paused, then added, “Though, I suppose we could swing around again in a year for another Garden Festival.”