Hello my lovely readers! So, chapter ten. Here we are, at the end of the road :') I will admit upfront, this chapter is entirely fluff. There weren't any loose ends to tie up, chapter eight took care of those. Chapter nine took care of the obligatory lemon. This chapter is, honest to god, just fluffy character interaction. It's an example of how a 'normal' night in a 'normal' life, that Seifer had always wanted, would be like. I wanted to end this story on a positive note and it was a lot of fun writing this.
Thank you so much to everyone who read this story and to my loyal reviewers: AllyTodd, DementoFantasy, Reibunriinta, and StormyMonday. Also, thank you to those who favorited and followed: Gura Kruor and Powwo. Lastly, I cannot thank Arenoptara enough, for being my beta (as well as StormyMonday for your help on revisions).
See y'all next time. ~LILYisatig3r
Six months later.
The piercing sound of the metal head of a hammer, as it slammed against brittle tile, rang through the meadow. The rhythmic beating echoed through Seifer's head, as the muscles of his bicep flexed each time he brought the tool down. His mind was clear, thinking of nothing else but the repetitive motions of manual labor. Sure, he could've hired someone to build the house for them, but he had plenty of time on his hands, and he didn't mind doing menial tasks himself.
The house they'd been working on during the past few months, was nearly finished. Seifer was currently working on laying some of the last roof shingles while Fujin was inside, painting the walls. Raijin's job was to bring all of their belongings over from the hotel, on the other end of town, and place everything in their respective rooms.
Seifer had been working on the shingles for the better part of the entire morning. The back of his neck was starting to sting, right on the edge of a true sunburn, and he figured a break was probably calling his name. Sweat dripped down his forehead, threatening to run into his eyes, so he swiped the back of his hand up to catch the droplet. He'd shrugged off his heavy coat a couple of hours ago, figuring it would hinder his mobility up on the roof and to avoid getting heatstroke. Apparently, it hadn't been enough; he didn't understand how his body could produce this much sweat.
He glanced up and spotted Raijin coming up over the crest of the hill with three large cardboard boxes in his arms. He trailed his hand through the hair in a pseudo-wave, even though Raijin wasn't able to return the gesture at the moment. Deciding that now was probably a good time to take a break, he set the hammer down gently on the pile of shingles, and crawled over to the ladder that was propped up on the side of the house. Instead of stepping down one rung at a time, Seifer simply propped his shoes up on the edges of the ladder, wrapped his hands around the side railings, and slid all the way down to the ground. When he turned around, a huge grin was on his face; how did people climb ladders normally?
His grin quickly sobered when he noticed Fujin standing right in front of him, her hands on her hips and a stern expression on her face. Seifer simply shrugged and she rolled her eye at his behavior.
"Yeah, I know. That's why I came down. He looks like he's struggling over there, heh," Seifer commented amusedly, as he watched Raijin try to make it the last stretch, before he reached the house.
Fujin smacked him on the arm with the side of her hand, and a piercing pain shot through his nerves. The girl could hit.
"Alright, alright!" he exclaimed, and jogged over to Raijin, grabbing the top box out of his friend's arms.
"Oh, thanks, ya know!"
"Yeah, I think Fuj would've beat me up more if I hadn't come help you."
Raijin chuckled and they trekked back to the house, chatting about what else there was to bring over from the hotel. According to Raijin, there were only a few boxes left and then they'd be completely moved in. Fujin was watching 'her boys' walk towards the house with an affectionate smile on her lips.
Since coming back from Garden, Seifer had been a changed man. He'd promised to leave his past behind and she truly believed that he had. If or when they ever spoke about Garden or anyone there, he didn't have a resentful look on his face anymore. In fact, often times he spoke about them fondly. He smiled more freely, which was something she could definitely get used to-he had a beautiful smile. He laughed more, with true emotion rather than the fake, superficial chuckles he'd given before.
When they reached the threshold, she moved aside to let them walk into the house, huffing at the dust that trailed in after them. Seifer glanced at her and she narrowed her eye at him; she ran a pretty tight household and that included keeping it at a military standard of neatness.
It was Seifer's turn to roll his eyes at her and he leaned in, quickly pressing his lips against hers in a chaste kiss. Fujin's cheeks turned bright pink and she turned her face away, hiding it in her neck. Seifer grinned at his successful attempt at distracting her, and turned to set the box down on the table behind him. Fujin sputtered in protest and Seifer faced her again, placing his hands on her shoulders gently.
"Fuu, it's just a kiss. Breathe with me…," he said, and started slowly inhaling and exhaling. For his teasing, he was rewarded with a swift jab to the abs and the breath he'd been holding, quickly whooshed out of his lungs.
"IDIOT," she exclaimed.
Two weeks later.
Crickets chirped around him, the sharp sound of their calls echoing throughout the night. The soft glow of the lights that were strung across their back patio illuminated the area around Seifer, in a hazy circle. Out on the edges of Balamb, the stars were easily visible and Seifer gazed upwards at them, lost in the neverending expanse of the night sky. The glass beer bottle in his hand slowly twirled around in a circle, as he lazily rotated his wrist.
A quiet sigh of content escaped his lips and they subsequently formed into a gentle smile. Life had never been easy for him-for any of them. His parents obviously hadn't wanted him and dropped him off at the orphanage that would come to change the rest of his fate. He barely even remembered his real parents, but the bitterness and hurt at being consciously left behind had taken years to fade. His original family had come to be replaced by his family at the orphanage.
Cid and Edea Kramer were the kindest people he knew, and that had been part of the reason he'd become Edea's Knight. He'd believed in her, believed in the only woman who had truly acted as his mother. In the end, things had obviously worked out differently than he'd anticipated because of Ultimecia. He understood though, that it hadn't been Edea's fault. After things had settled, she'd returned to being the Matron they'd all known and loved.
It was no one else's fault but his own that he'd chosen to betray his 'siblings', he knew that now. As much as he'd thought he was making the right decision when he'd chosen to stand by Edea's side and not his 'family', it had taken the destruction of Ultimecia for him to realize how wrong he'd been. It had stung his pride to apologize to all of them, but they'd deserved one, and he didn't regret having to embarrass himself. In all honesty, as Fujin had explained to him upon his return, it was something that had been necessary to begin patching up the broken threads of trust they'd had before.
To Seifer's surprise, it had worked. Once they'd finished building the house, somehow the gang back at Garden had caught wind of him setting down permanent roots. Selphie and Quistis had ventured out to visit the trio and apparently, were rather impressed at his dedication to construction work. When they'd returned, the rest of the gang had been informed and somehow, a barbecue date had been set. That date, was tonight.
Seifer rose from his chair and pulled open the sliding door that led into their kitchen. Fujin was at the counter, preparing loose ingredients for burgers and hot dogs-Chicken-wuss will be over the moon with joy-while Raijin was in the process of unpacking their grill. He watched them for a moment, affection and appreciation coursing through him. Though his life had been admittedly rough up until maybe a year or so ago, he had to admit that he'd been lucky to have friends like his.
He set his now empty beer bottle on the counter next to him, and quietly came up to stand behind Fujin, wrapping his arms around her waist. On reflex, she tensed instantly but relaxed when she realized it was Seifer. He nestled his face into her neck and she giggled at the ticklish sensation of his nose running along her skin.
"Why, do you really want me to?"
"Mmmhm, that's what I thought. Do you need any help?"
"NO. RAIJIN," she suggested.
Seifer lifted his head and glanced over at their burly friend, who was sitting on the floor in front of the box, scratching his head in confusion. He chuckled and detangled himself, strolling into the living room to plop down on the couch beside Raijin.
"You uh...need some help there?" he teased.
"I just don't understand, ya know?! Where the heck does this piece go?!"
Seifer reached a hand out for the manual and Raijin tossed it his way, as he proceeded to stick the metal part in multiple different places, hoping for the right outcome. As Seifer leafed through the instruction manual, the doorbell rang and Raijin all but jumped up and sprinted over to the door, anxious to get away from the grill that was tormenting him.
Jovial laughter and the light, airy voices of females drifted through the living room and Seifer glanced up, spotting Quistis' telltale flaxen hair and Selphie's flipped auburn locks. He waved to them lazily and Selphie sprinted over, flopping down onto the couch next to him.
He leaned away from her, holding the manual in front of his face so that she could see the cover, and she scrunched up her face at his behavior.
"You could've just said so," she mumbled.
"Yeah, but where would the fun be in that?" he teased.
"Ugh…," she muttered, and swiftly rose from the couch, wandering into the kitchen.
He chuckled under his breath. Selphie had always been so easy to tease. She reminded Seifer of Zell in that aspect. He'd never talked to her much in the past but now, after making amends, he could see why so many people were drawn to her. She was so easygoing, so easy to be near, that it felt comfortable to be himself around her.
He spotted Quistis slowly pacing around the room, tracing the edges of the furniture that was strewn about. Her eyes traveled upwards, to the exposed beam that ran across the length of the living room and she admired the handiwork of the trusses that were uncovered.
"Who did the woodwork?" she asked quietly.
Seifer sighed at the interruption and set the manual down in his lap. "Raijin and I did."
"It's...incredible," she breathed.
"Thanks. What, surprised that I'd have the discipline to actually finish a project this big?"
"Well...yes, actually," Quistis admitted, frankly.
Seifer scoffed, but it held no malice and he resumed reading the instruction manual. If he didn't get this grill put together sometime soon, none of them would be eating dinner. The soft sound of Quistis' footsteps approaching interrupted him again, and he peeked up, over the top of the manual, at her.
She held out her hand and he stared at it, unsure of what she wanted. When she gestured to the manual, he placed the glossy booklet in her palm and she perused it intently, her brilliant eyes lighting up at the prospect of solving a puzzle. As Quistis compared the instructions to their progress, she finally said, "Aha…," and bent down, tinkering with the grill. Seifer leaned over, watching her, and she straightened quickly, her eyes scanning the room for Raijin.
"Raijin! I need the part that you're holding," she called over to him.
A confused look drifted over Raijin's face and Quistis pointed to the metal spring and small rod in his hand. He walked over and held the part out to Quistis. She took it and kneeled down in front of the grill once more. With ease, she inserted the coil into the back of the grill's hinge and slid the pin home. She closed the grill and glanced up at Seifer triumphantly.
"There you go!" she said, and swiftly stood back up.
Seifer raised his eyebrows at her and applauded slowly. When he spoke, his voice dripped with sarcasm. "Very good job, Instructor."
Quistis mockingly bowed at the waist, and Seifer rose from the couch, stooping to pick up the grill. He carried it into the kitchen, placing it on the counter next to Fujin. Her grey eye swiveled up to gaze at Seifer and he quickly placed a peck on her lips again, before glancing over to Quistis.
The fact that Quistis hadn't snapped at him for being sarcastic, was a sure sign that things were truly different now than they had been only six months ago. He supposed that the fact that they were here, in his house, was also a clear indicator of different times.
He leaned on the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. His right ankle came up over his left one and he visibly relaxed into his position, watching Selphie and Quistis converse with Raijin. A smile teased at the corners of his lips and Fujin poked him in the ribs, to get his attention.
When he glanced down at her, she was holding out two plates, one in each hand. The one on the left had meat patties and hot dogs, and the one on the right had fish filets that Raijin had caught over the past weekend. She gestured to the newly finished grill and the back door and Seifer rolled his eyes, taking the plates from her.
Why do I have to be the one who does all the grilling?
Fujin slid open the back door for him and he stepped out onto the back patio. He placed the plates down and turned to head back inside to grab the grill, when she walked out with it in her hands. She passed it over to him and pointed at the bag of charcoal briquettes on the patio surface.
"Yeah, yeah. I guess I'll be out here for a while, then," he commented dryly.
She beamed up at him and ran her hand along his forearm, then turned and headed back inside, leaving the patio door open a sliver. He shook his head fondly, watching her mill around inside their house. The lid of the charcoal grill was heavier than he'd expected, so he had to wrench it open in order to place the briquettes inside. He sparked them with a light Fire spell and tossed the fish filets on first.
The sizzling sound of them cooking made Seifer's mouth water and he eyed them greedily. The edges of the filets slowly turned solid from transparent and he reached for tongs, so he could flip them over. As his fingers grasped air, he realized he'd forgotten them inside. He strode over to the patio door and as he was stepping over the threshold, he heard voices drifting back to him from the front door.
The drawer to the left of the sink held all of the cooking utensils, and as he pulled it open and grabbed the tongs, he glanced up towards the door. Squall and Rinoa had apparently arrived, and his former rival looked extremely tense. It was a stark contrast to how relaxed Rinoa seemed to be. She was carrying a box in her arms that she shyly handed over to Fujin. Squall caught his eye over Rinoa's shoulder and briskly nodded, once. Seifer returned the gesture and headed back outside, tongs in hand.
He lifted the lid of the grill again and quickly flipped the fish filets over. He'd left them just a few seconds too long and grill marks were now seared horizontally along the individual pieces. He shrugged and closed the lid again. If Fujin gave him the job of grilling, she had to be expecting some errors.
The sound of the patio door opening made him turn, and Rinoa stepped out to join him. She crossed her arms over her torso and wandered slowly over to him, her eyes concentrated on the grill.
"Wow, Seifer Almasy on grilling duty, huh?" she teased.
He rolled his eyes again and chuckled. "Yeah, Fujin seemed to think it would be a good idea. Don't blame me if the patties and fish filets are burnt."
She laughed lightly and pointed at the grill. "Except it would be your fault, wouldn't it?"
"You shut up. The secret stays with us," he jokingly threatened.
Her brown eyes swiveled up to his and the ray of light from the patio fixture caused them to appear as if they were glowing from within, as if they were a honey gold. Though others would've thought they were beautiful, Seifer found that his skin broke out in goosebumps. The eerie shade disappeared instantly when she looked away, but in that brief moment, she'd looked like the sorceress he knew she was.
He turned back to the grill and cleared his throat to break the awkward silence. "So what was in the box you guys brought?"
Rinoa glanced back over her shoulder at the patio door and replied, "Oh, Squall and I baked a cake for you guys as a housewarming present."
A single blonde eyebrow raised and he asked, "A cake? Aren't housewarming gifts supposed to be useful? Like, I don't know, a lawn mower or something?"
She rolled her eyes in response. "Only you would complain about receiving a gift. It's a pineapple coconut cream cake."
Now both of Seifer's eyebrows raised and he studied Rinoa intently for a moment, before he said, "That's...my favorite."
She clasped her hands behind her back and rocked back and forth on her heels. "I know, I remember. That's why we made it."
The image of Squall Leonhart in an apron, whisk in hand as he mixed cake batter, popped into Seifer's head and he nearly choked on his own spit, as he started laughing hysterically. "When you say we, you do mean that you made the cake, right?"
Rinoa's eyebrows furrowed defensively. "No, Squall did help."
He snickered and said, "I'm never going to let him live this down."
She pointed a finger at him and placed her other hand on her hip, in an attempt to look menacing which fell flat. "Don't you dare! It took a lot of convincing to get him to help me."
"Fine, fine," Seifer agreed, and opened the lid to the grill again, noticing that the fish was now finished cooking. He placed them on the same plate and handed it to Rinoa. "Make yourself useful, huh?"
Her eyes narrowed in annoyance at him, and she headed back inside with the plate in hand. Seifer tossed the meat patties onto the grill next and the scent of cooking meat permeated the air around him. He breathed in deeply, even more excited for the burgers than he had been for the fish. Fujin did a great job at seasoning both but he had a true weakness for meat.
After cooking the meat, Seifer plopped the cooked patties back onto the plate and headed back inside. Fujin turned when he stepped through the doorway and glared at him as she took the plate out of his hand. He raised an eyebrow at her and she said, "RAW."
He glanced at the plate again and realized he'd put cooked meat back onto the same plate she'd handed him the raw patties on.
"Oh...oops?" he offered as an apology, and she rolled her eyes in response.
Fujin began to set the table for everyone, placing the condiments and meat options in the center, on the table runner. Raijin grabbed beers from the fridge for everyone and once Selphie and Irvine arrived a few minutes later, they all sat down to eat. The happy sounds of laughter and friendly conversation circled around the room and Seifer gazed at his friends; no, his family, that surrounded him.
A year ago, he'd been under Ultimecia's influence, chasing his dream of becoming a Sorceress' Knight. That's all he'd wanted from life and he had been willing to make sacrifices to get there. Obviously, he'd discovered too late that things weren't what he'd thought they were, and he'd been tossed aside like yesterday's garbage. When the time compression had lifted and things had returned to normal, he'd struggled to find out where to go. He couldn't return to Garden, that much he known. So they'd traveled from one edge of the map to the other, trying to settle down in every major city, and backwater town, only to be immediately kicked out.
Then, they'd returned to Balamb. The irony of the fact that they'd returned to the very island he'd started at hadn't been lost on him. He'd been surprised that the inhabitants were the only ones in the entire world that had been willing to ignore his presence. Granted, Balamb hadn't sustained any damage during the 'war', but they had been threatened by the missiles that were meant for Garden. Whatever the reason, the lack of hostility dictated their decision to remain in town.
Now, fast forwarding to current times, he was in his own home in Balamb, surrounded by the people he'd tried to kill but had regardless, chosen to stick with him. He glanced over to Fujin and saw that she'd been watching him as he'd reflected on the past. She smiled softly at him and he reached his hand out to her, palm up. She gently placed her hand in his and he closed his fingers, intertwining them with hers. They gazed at each other, as the world around them seemed to fade out of existence. The light above the table reflected off of her eye, causing her gunmetal-grey iris to have lowlights of almost black, and highlights of silver. The chatter of their friends faded until it sounded like a low murmur to them. Raijin coughed suddenly and Seifer broke eye contact with Fujin, to glance over at him. Raijin's stare was fixated on the door and Seifer followed his eyes, sitting straight up in his chair when he realized what, or rather who, he'd been looking at.
Headmaster Cid and Edea-no, Matron- were standing just in front of the closed door, their expressions reserved and almost timid. Matron stepped forward hesitantly and Seifer and Fujin rose swiftly from their chairs, meeting her in the living room. She was dressed in her usual black one piece dress, with a dark grey shirt underneath for modesty. In her arms, she also held a box and when they approached, she held it out, a hopeful smile on her face.
Fujin reached her arms out and took it from her, expressing her thanks quietly. Matron nodded graciously and her eyes flitted to Seifer's, meeting his gaze. They stared at each other for a few moments before Matron raised her arms in an invitation. Seifer chuckled shortly and embraced her, the past forgotten for now. They returned to the dining room and pulled up two more chairs for their 'parents', and thus, the entire orphanage gang was together again under a single roof.
"Hey Chicken-wuss, we bought some hot dogs just for you."
"Aw yeah! I'll let the Chicken-wuss thing slide...if you pass me the plate…"
"Squall, do you want fish or a burger?" Rinoa asked, her voice melodic.
"Uh, I'll take fish."
"You know that boys who haven't gone through puberty would choose fish right? Real men eat meat," Seifer teased Squall.
"Hey, I have fish, ya know!"
"Calm down Raij, I was joking."
"Seifer, dear, do you have anything other than beer to drink?"
"Oh, yeah we do, E-Matron. Is...water okay?"
"That would be wonderful. Thank you sweetheart."
"Ooh, this fish is suuuuper good! Fujin, did you make it?!"
"You can't make fish, Sephy. You catch it," Irvine explained.
"Yeah, whatever. She knows what I meant!"
"He made it? I didn't know you could cook, Raijin!"
"No Selphie, she means Raijin caught it. It's Balamb Fish. Fujin seasoned it. I grilled it."
"Oh...is that why it's kinda burnt?"
The rest of the night passed, filled with laughter and smiles, and Seifer thanked whatever higher powers existed for giving him this 'normal' life. It was something that he never thought he'd have, and he was grateful. Not wanting to interrupt the conversations that were going on around him, he silently rose from his chair and wandered over to the back door, tossing his empty beer bottle into the recycling bin as he passed through the kitchen. After gazing out through the glass for a few seconds, he slid the door open and stepped outside, shutting it behind him.
His boots were quiet on the wooden deck as he walked over to the railing, and leaned his elbows on it. A content sigh escaped his lips and he tilted his head towards the sky, gazing up at the stars once again. The silence was comforting for once. His mind wasn't clouded with thoughts or worries of where to go next, or what he could've done differently. It was...blank, and that was incredibly blissful.
The patio door slid open and he turned to look over his shoulder. Fujin ambled over to him, her footsteps nearly silent. When she reached his side, she glanced up at him, trying to gauge his mood. He smiled gently to reassure her that he wasn't upset, and she returned the gesture, leaning her elbows on the railing next to his.
Seifer continued to watch her as she settled in beside him, admiring the way that the moonlight made her hair shine. The bright beam reflected off of her eye and in that moment, Seifer knew he'd never seen anything as beautiful as she was. He'd just been oblivious to it their entire lives.
He reached out and ran his gloved fingers through her hair and she turned at his touch, her gaze questioning. His finger looped through the strap of her eyepatch and he lifted it off slowly, the corners of his lips still raised in a smile. She glanced at the patio door and reflexively tried to cover her face but he stopped her, his fingers curling around her wrist.
Casually, he pulled the glove of his right hand off and gently traced the scar that ran from her left eyebrow to below her lash line. When he reached the bottom of it, he cupped her cheek and she closed her other eye, leaning into his palm.
"I have one too, remember?" he said softly, pointing to his face.
Her eye opened again and she smiled once more, her gaze focused on his. This time, she traced along the harsh edges of his scar with her finger, her touch far lighter than his. His skin tingled where her finger lingered and he reached up to grab her hand, intertwining their fingers as he lowered them.
Seifer leaned in then, lazily, and pressed his lips to hers. He could feel the corners of her lips curl up before she began to kiss him back. In the heat of the moment, he couldn't help but wrap his arms around her waist and pull her in, closer to him. He wanted to blur the lines of where he ended and she began. As he deepened the kiss, he cupped the back of her head, his fingers tangled in her hair.
Fujin broke away eventually, gasping slightly for air and he hid his face in the crook of her neck. She giggled quietly and Seifer asked, "What's so funny?"
He turned her body so that he could continue to hold her, and look at the patio door at the same time. Matron was in the kitchen, watching them with a fond smile on her face. When she met Seifer's gaze, she nodded slightly and turned away, walking back towards the dining table. Seifer stood up straight again, his hands now on Fujin's shoulders. She tugged slightly on his coat and he looked back down at her, his expression soft and his eyes tender.
He caressed her cheek with the back of his hand and nodded. "Yeah, you go in first. I'll be in soon."
As she walked through the doorway and slid the glass door shut, he watched her figure recede until she sat down at the table again, next to Raijin. He nudged her shoulder with his and she blushed, covering her face with her hands. Seifer chuckled at her shyness and his eyes flitted from his best friends to the people that made up his 'family'. Warmth spread through him, from the center of his being to the very tips of his toes and he realized belatedly, that it was love. He was surrounded by people who cared for him, even after everything he'd done, and he felt his throat close up at the knowledge.
He turned his face upwards, to look at the sky one last time. With the moon's visage filling his vision, surrounded by its ivory glow, he whispered, "I guess I am home."
A/N: For anyone who might be interested, my next WIP is a Seiftis fic. I've already started working on it and the first chapter will hopefully be uploaded within the next couple of weeks. If you're intrigued, feel free to follow me so you'll get a notification once I post it :) If you enjoyed The Journey Home, please leave a review! I love hearing what people thought. Thanks!