Half-Sick of Shadows
Celeste

Though it’s been months since he’s been back, the way is as familiar and laden with memories as always it was. There’s the sand strewn beach where he’d tanned his skin a golden brown while Raijin fooled around in the surf and Fujin looked on in distaste, where he’d dropped a Fastitocalon fin down Trepe’s shirt. The week he’d spent in detention had been well worth it, just to hear her shriek. And ahead is the grove of trees where on a group assignment he’d lost Dincht to make out with a pretty red-haired martial artist, before they’d been surprised by a T-Rexaur and she’d nearly peed her pants. He’d lost interest after that. Just past that boulder is the path leading up the hillside to the rocky outcrop that was his favorite training ground.

He glances up at the sky despite himself, half-expecting to see storm clouds and hear a crash of thunder even though he can feel the heat of the sun beating down the back of his neck, a trickle of sweat beading its way between his shoulder blades. The smell in the air is of wet sea breeze and sun-scorched sand, not the humid crackle of lightning-charged rain.

Sure and steady steps hesitate for just an instant as he pauses before the turn, wondering if he would find bloodstained ground and fire-touched rocks, a deep gouge to mark a battle line drawn. But then he moves on, his steel-toed boots marking a heavy line in the soft earth.

People think that he shouldn’t walk so tall, that his shoulders should be bowed like an old man and his head held low. Maybe he should. They think he doesn’t deserve to look anyone in the eye. Maybe he doesn’t. At least then, if he went around so bent and broken, he’d look like he feels on the inside.

But he still stands with the same grace and the same arrogance he used to, a trench coat swirling around his ankles. His stride is just as long and leisurely as it always was, and he doesn’t hide. Because he’s Seifer Almasy, and that’s all he has. An illusion of the bravado he had in spades before his dreams came crashing down around him, before he collapsed into the failure everyone had always told him he would be.

Funny, he hasn’t come across any monsters on the path. He would’ve thought, since the Lunar Cry, that the place’d be crawling with ’em. Maybe it’s only like that in Esthar, or maybe it’s luck, or maybe the students have been training outside a lot. The weight of Hyperion is heavy across his back, and the weight’s not all physical.

He’s still not exactly sure what he’s doing here, what he hopes to find, hopes to do. He doesn’t know if they’ll take him back, but then, he doesn’t even think he wants them to. After everything he did… He supposes he doesn’t deserve to even set foot inside the Garden, and that’s okay.

There’s no way he’s about to come crawling back on his hands on knees begging for forgiveness from the very people who are the reason his life is so fucked up right now in the first place. And he’s definitely not about to ask for anything from Leonhart. Commander… yeah, right. Hell, he doesn’t want to be in Garden, anyway.

So what is he doing hovering outside the gates?

He doesn’t go in. Instead he leans against the trunk of a tree, melting back into the shadows, arms crossed over his chest. From here he can see the students and the SeeDs walking to and fro, and there seems to be an awful lot of activity going on between the entrance and the exterior. Maybe it’s the beginning of break, or a weekend. He notes idly that he doesn’t know what day it is, wonders if Fujin and Raijin have started looking for him yet. Fu’ll probably have his ass for not saying where he was going. But then, he couldn’t have told her when he left, since he didn’t even fully know where he was going.

A couple people have noticed him standing here and watching, but either they’re too busy to take note or they flat-out don’t recognize him. He can’t be sure whether he wishes they know his face or not.

In his dreams, people the world over knew every plane and angle of his face. But now, he realizes enough to know that even when he was commanding the Galbadian troops, it wasn’t really his face that meant everything, just hers. His power hadn’t actually been his own. How many times has he been called a lapdog since the sorceress was defeated? It’s sort of lost its sting since he started to refer to himself that way.

A slim, ebony-haired figure halts not five feet from his “hiding spot,” and he nearly falls over himself to get away. She doesn’t notice, as her attention is fixed on some point out of his line of sight. He curses, maybe at his lack of grace or maybe, probably, because the thought that she might have seen him scares him.

A knight, indeed.

Then it becomes clear why her focus is so beyond him, as she springs forward and tugs at the hand of a young man in black leather with a scar mirror image to his own. Ah, the irony. Of course the princess would never notice the evil-doer for her hero. That it is the evil-doer’s past lover and his always rival only adds to the effect.

A dry chuckle escapes past his lips, but there is not the slightest light of mirth in his jade eyes.

Unbidden that summer he spent with the young Miss Heartilly springs to mind. He thinks of her wide smile and gentle laughter, her pretty face and curvy figure that first caught his eye. That she was the daughter of the famous General Caraway only added to the intrigue. He remembers how she whispered into his ear that she loved him, and how when he searched her face and her innocent brown eyes he had almost believed it. But really she’d thought she could save him. He’d been the bad boy she’d gone around with to make her father angry, and he’d told her everything (almost everything) she’d wanted to hear.

By the end of the summer he wasn’t all that sorry to leave her. Yeah, she was gorgeous, but she was intolerably giggly and touchy-feely, and all her lovey-dovey bullshit had, quite frankly, made him want to hurl. Her voice was high bordering on shrill when she was excited and it gave him a headache, and the luster in their affair had definitely faded.

She couldn’t save him. Mostly because he hadn’t wanted to be saved.

He almost laughs again when he remembers her frantic tears and overblown declarations of love- and hatred- at the end of the summer and then the complete turn-around when she’d quite happily used him as nothing more than a connection to Cid, to get what she wanted. Hyne, but the girl was a spoiled, naďve twit.

Nevertheless, it had stung to see her dancing with Leonhart at the SeeD inauguration, to see her looking up at him with that wide-eyed gaze, full of admiration. Even though he hadn’t wanted her anymore, it had felt like a loss. Another loss to add to the ever-growing list of the ways Leonhart had triumphed over him.

Fucking hell but he hates Leonhart.

Perfect Leonhart, star of the Garden, Trepe’s favorite pupil. There’s still a deep gnawing inside of him to recall the day Leonhart had been made a SeeD while he himself had failed yet again (it fucking had to be a record). How Leonhart had been rewarded for following orders and taking care of the team that had supposed to have been his… He should’ve been a damned hero for going up to the communications tower, and instead he’d failed and wound up in the detention room.

And watched as Leonhart made SeeD. Clapped, too.

It was all because of the two of them that he’d gone to Timber in the first place. He’d been worried, actually worried, about Rinoa. Yeah, jealous over Leonhart getting an important assignment, but mostly worried. He’d never really given much thought to it, but he guesses that he cared about the girl more than he’d realized.

But then she’d come, the dark one, in the guise of his mother, power rolling off her in waves, sinisterly beautiful.

Come with me to a place of no return. Bid farewell to your childhood. Her voice had been like silk, rich and seductive and just what he’d wanted to hear. How easy it had been to ignore the underlying menace and think only of the fulfillment only she could give. So he’d gone with her, and he’d fallen into an abyss of his own making.

She’d whispered in his head of dreams and promises, of the masses bowing down before them. He’d lapped up the lies about how only he could be her knight and he’d been so taken he hadn’t noticed the icy fingers clinging inside till it was too late.

If he’d realized it… what would he have done differently? He knows what he should have done, but if he’s honest with himself, he thinks he wouldn’t have changed a thing. The lure was too strong and he was too arrogant, too sure that he couldn’t be defeated, that it all would go his way.

And too beholden to his mother. He knows now that it was never her, but that’s more than he could have seen back then. She was the only one ever to love him, to ever believe that he was meant for more than failure, that he could be someone, that he deserved more than hardship and pain in his life. How could he not have protected her?

Now all that’s left is the nightmares. He wakes in a cold sweat and sometimes he’s not even sleeping. The blood is all over his hands, thick and dark and sickly sweet, and it never washes clean. He hears screaming so loud it reverberates through his entire body before he even realizes that he’s screaming himself.

Missiles set off that destroyed an entire Garden in an instant, too many voices crying out and crushed in the blink of an eye to even fathom. A battle waged on a place that was his home for years. Prison torture of his childhood companions. Murdered Odin. Set loose that… that thing, in Esthar, and smiled while the Lunar Cry rained monsters down upon the world, because it was setting free his lady. That monstrous, hideous vessel for his lady…

Most of all he remembers throwing Rinoa to Adel. The shock of his posse’s desertion. He can picture her face full of terror and betrayal and eyes disbelieving, he can hear her anguished cries and her sobbing mixed with pleas stop Seifer please stop this isn’t you I know it’s not please don’t do it oh Hyne no Seifer pleasestoppleasestoppleasestop

And he threw her.

He can still see it, in his mind, lingering just behind his eyes, in the dark and in the light and everytime in between. He can see it like it wasn’t even him, like it was another man with flaxen hair and angry green eyes and a cruel sneer on his lips.

Except it was. It was him and he knows it, he can’t forget it as much as he aches to.

He looks at her now, face full of love and laughter again as it should be. When Rinoa grins, he can almost think fondly of better times and recall how she told him that he’d made her feel brave, like she could do something more with her life than be General Caraway’s daughter. He watches her with Leonhart, and he doesn’t feel the defeat he thought he would. When he sees Leonhart, he isn’t angry anymore. He doesn’t feel worthless. Instead he sees a rival and the person he can almost refer to as a childhood friend… on a good day, at least. If he’s feeling generous. He can see himself in the confident steps and the fluid grace, because he knows Leonhart would never have been half so great without all his pushing and testing.

Maybe it’s true, what they say. There’s a fine line between love and hate.

As they walk off into the distance, he steps away and feels the shadows fall from his frame. When he smiles, there’s a hint of the old smirk in the tilt of his lips. He’s Seifer Almasy, and that’s all he has left.

He’s pretty sure that’s enough, come what will.