Written for The Successor Challenge . Arenoptara and I decided to co-author a Seifer x Selphie story for the challenge; I write from Seifer's POV, she writes from Selphie's. We're super excited to be finally collaborating on something, and are even more excited to be sharing it with you guys! Check out the challenge's page at [thesuccessorchallenge] dot [tumblr] dotcom.
Both prologues will be up today, but after this until the end of the month, our posting schedule will be Mondays and Fridays, alternating between Seifer and Selphie.
Cover art is from saekimchi on tumblr.
Fourteen days since the swirling void of time had spat him back out into the world like a discarded piece of trash. Flashes of the past few months were still coming back to him, staggering like a drunk in their lack of clarity. Fourteen days since she'd retracted her barbed claws from the depths of his soul, leaving jagged holes that seeped, not just his literal blood, but the very essence of who he'd been.
He still heard whispers of her voice; the rich, sultry timbre constantly echoed across the empty expanse of his mind, unforgiving and unrelenting. The remnants of her drove him to insanity. He saw her everywhere. She was in everything he touched, everything he heard; she was in the very air he breathed. He wasn't sure if he'd ever escape her presence.
What he wouldn't give to be free from her clutches. Or, barring that, what he wouldn't give to be back in the past, when he had power, a purpose, a life that had felt fulfilled. He may not have been in full control of his mind, but he'd had everything he'd ever wanted, and that seemed like a fair trade to him.
Or at least, it had at the time. Now, with the advantage of hindsight, he wasn't quite as sure.
No, instead of his ideal situation, he was back in Balamb. Back where everything began, only a few miles away from the place that he'd spent the majority of his life. Despite how badly he'd wanted to escape this Hyne-forsaken island and move on to bigger, better things, somehow he'd still ended up returning.
Life could be unforgivingly ironic, and the thought filled his mouth with a bitter taste.
It didn't help that, most nights, he never got more than three or four hours of sleep. Every second he was unconscious, his mind was riddled with the same haunting images—or were they more like memories?—that tormented him during his waking hours. After fourteen nights of absolute hell, he figured, why even bother anymore?
Restless and searching for a solution, he'd started walking along the beach just outside of town. There was something eerily calming about watching the ocean ebb and flow in the dark hours of the night. The inky blackness stretched on for miles until it disappeared into the horizon. Sometimes he'd stop and feel compelled to stare off into the distance for what felt like hours. Tonight, the moon was full, and the surface of the water glowed with an ethereal light. It was haunting.
Occasionally, he let himself ruminate over his thoughts. Other times he didn't. A blank, quiet mind was rare for him, but when it did occur, the sweet relief it offered was practically a miracle. If he'd ever been religious, he might've fallen to his knees and shouted his thanks to the sky above.
Like every night over the past two weeks, that's where he was now, trudging through the sand with his steel-toed boots. The almost inaudible shifting of the grains beneath his feet was swallowed entirely by the crashing of the waves against the shore slightly farther down. Aside from the cacophony of the tide, there were no other sounds.
About halfway down the beach, Seifer collapsed onto the sand. With a sigh, he stretched his long legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankles. Out of habit, he craned his neck back and stared up at the glittering field of stars above him. A brief moment of peace, of blissful silence, filtered through his mind, and he nearly smiled at the prospect of getting some sleep tonight if it remained. It would be the first night in fourteen days.
When the first tendrils of her presence crept into the edges of his thoughts, he squeezed his eyes shut with a grimace.
Not again, he pleaded, desperate even in his thoughts. Not yet.
She never listened to him—not then, and not now. Her voice increased in volume, and he leaned forward, pulling his knees close to his body as he pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes. It hurt, but if the pain worked to distract him from her, then it was worth it.
Poor . . . boy . . .
He ground his hands into his eyes even harder, and when the intensified pain still didn't help, he shot to his feet with a frustrated shout. His cry reverberated across the surface of the ocean, ghosting back to him in a sad, disturbing imitation of what was happening in his brain right at this very moment.
Damn it, not again!
Desperate for an escape, he rushed forward into the waves, wading farther into the cold depths. He barely even noticed the frigid temperature. His trenchcoat—which was already heavy under normal circumstances, let alone soaked through—dragged him under the surface as soon as his foot slipped off of the subaquatic precipice.
The second he was completely engulfed by the sea, everything went quiet. It was strange just how euphoric the complete absence of sound could be.
As he drifted downwards, he gazed up at the night sky, warped by the thin layer of ocean that separated him and his view. He hadn't made it far when a glowing ring of gold appeared in his peripheral. His eyes watched it move across his vision, mesmerized by the unnatural sight. When it floated a little farther, a vibrant turquoise and a soft, diffused illumination joined the gilded light, and he realized that Garden was flying overhead.
Unable to process the whys of it—why now; why in this direction; where were they going?—his mind, exhausted from the lack of any true rest the past two weeks, took this opportunity to shut itself down. As he sunk further beneath the surface, his eyes slid shut once more.
It wasn't so bad down here. There were no sounds, no voices; he didn't have people nagging him about how he was doing every minute of the day.
As much as he knew Fujin and Raijin meant well, it got on his nerves how they just wouldn't leave him alone. He was constantly under watch, and if they knew he left town and came all the way out to the beach every single night, they'd probably flay him alive.
Well, Fujin definitely would.
When he felt himself begin to lose consciousness, for some odd reason, his survival instinct didn't kick in. Instead of fighting to return to the surface, to be able to breath again, he thought, Just a little bit longer.
A little bit longer never came. A few seconds later, he fell into limbo—not quite conscious, yet not fully gone, either. The last thing he remembered feeling was pressure around his forearm in a few separate places—like fingers gripping him tightly—and then an uncomfortable tugging sensation.
And then the world fell away.
One week later.
"Seifer, I mean, you can talk to me about it, ya know?"
With his legs dangling over the edge of the pier, Seifer let out an exasperated sigh. He adjusted the length of his fishing line, trying to collect his thoughts before he replied, "I know, Rai. I just … I can't yet."
On the other side of the pier, behind and to the right of him, his friend shrugged his massive shoulders. "I get that. But . . . Fuu wasn't too happy when I told her about what happened, ya know? She thinks I'm not watchin' you enough."
Seifer ground his teeth and pulled his line all the way in. Pulling his legs up to stand, he exclaimed, "You two don't have to babysit me, damn it! I'm not a kid!"
Before Seifer could jump to his feet, Raijin laid a hand on his shoulder. Even through the thickness of his coat, he could feet the heat radiating from the larger man's palm. "Yo, I'm not tryin' to pry. I know I don't have the first clue about what you're goin' through, but we just wanna help you, ya know? We can't do that if you don't trust us."
"I don't think findin' you tryin' to drown yourself is fine, ya know?"
"I wasn't trying to drown myself! For the last time, I'm fine."
A beat passed. "Fuu and I are just worried about ya," Raijin said quietly.
At that, Seifer's sudden bout of anger quickly dissipated, and he slowly lowered his legs over the edge of the pier once more. Shame filled him for snapping at his friend when he knew that Raijin only meant well. He looked back at Raijin and nodded, unable to verbalise his thanks or the apology he felt he owed. Raijin tightened his grip on Seifer's shoulder briefly before letting go and facing the water again.
A few minutes passed before his friend noted, "You're gettin' better at this, ya know?"
"At what? Fishing?" Seifer asked, putting a new piece of bait on the end of his line before casting it out.
"Yeah! How many have you caught today?"
"Just the one from earlier."
"Oh . . . well, that's better than the last time you tried, right?"
Seifer let out a soft chuckle. "Yeah, I guess so." His friend's words took a second to register, but when they did, he looked over his shoulder. "Wait, how many have you caught?"
Raijin didn't respond, just shifted on the pier. Seifer glanced down at the crate beside Raijin, and when he saw three or four fish in the bin, he let out a frustrated growl. "What the hell?"
With a sympathetic look on his face, Raijin said, "You move too much, man. Makes the fish antsy. You gotta sit here and let 'em come to you."
He ran his hands through his hair, grabbing the longer-than-usual ends briefly before letting his hand fall back into his lap. "I can't help it. This shit takes forever."
"You don't gotta fish with me, ya know. We can do something else."
Yeah, and hear her again when I don't have you around to talk to me? No thanks. Instead of voicing his thoughts, he said, "Nah, I don't mind it. I'm just pissed that . . . I don't know. I'll get better."
Raijin laughed. "Everythin's a challenge to you."
Seifer shrugged, unapologetic. That was just how he was. He felt this driving need to be the best at everything he did. Handling his gunblade better than Squall handled his, being in charge, being the only student in history to fail the SeeD exam three times … being the only ex-student to try and take over the world with a crazy, evil sorceress.
Feeling uncharacteristically pathetic, Seifer shook his head in annoyance. Every time he let his thoughts run rampant, they always somehow came back to the same place. He was damn sick of it.
In a vain attempt at getting his mind to go elsewhere, he piped up and asked, "So how long's Fujin gonna be gone, anyway?"
Raijin let out a sigh. "I don't know, man. She said a few days, but last time it was a little longer."
"Where'd she go again?"
"Dollet? What the hell for?"
"She found some part-time job thing after we, uh . . . after the war. She has to go back to check in with her boss every few weeks."
"Huh. Never saw her as the working type."
Again, Raijin shrugged. "Not much else to do around here. She got restless."
Out of everything else that could've been a reason for Fujin, Seifer understood that the most. "You didn't wanna go with her?"
"Well, she said things might line up later on and maybe I could sign up, too. For now, though, fishing's workin' out just fine for me. 'Sides, I'm watchin' you."
Seifer almost rolled his eyes, but the action always reminded him of Rinoa when she didn't get her way, back when they'd been together. He resisted the urge and scoffed instead. "I'm not—"
"—a kid, I know." Raijin finished for him. "But I don't wanna leave you alone, ya know?"
"Yeah, sure, Rai. It's your call." Seifer reeled in his line again—sans fish—before packing up his rod and the tiny cooler that held all of his bait. He rose to his feet and said, "I think I'm done for the day."
"Oh, okay. I'll catch up with you later?"
He was already making his way back down the pier, so he waved his hand in the air in response. It wasn't that he didn't want to continue fishing, or even that he didn't want to spend time with Raijin, but every time his friend probed and asked questions about how he was doing today, or whether he'd gotten any sleep, he just got frustrated.
It was difficult not to snap at him, because it was incredibly annoying, but he knew Raijin meant well. He was self-aware enough to know he was an asshole, but he wasn't that big of an asshole. At least, he was trying not to be. He'd been there, done that, and he wasn't about to pull that move again.
Putting some distance between them was the next best alternative, so whenever Raijin's concern meter was close to maxing out, Seifer would go off and do something on his own for a few hours. After dropping off his fishing equipment at the little run-down house that Fujin and Raijin lived in—that he was also bumming at—he changed into lighter clothes and left town.
Now that his friend wasn't nearby to fill the silence with his chatter, Seifer's mind was inundated with his usual thoughts. He walked towards the beach at a brisk pace, trying to stem the tide of incoherent images and memories that threatened to flood his mind. When the grass beneath his feet transitioned into grains of sand, he let out a sigh of discontent. Quickly, he stretched his legs before pushing off into a run parallel to the shoreline.
He tried to focus on nothing else but the harsh, regular pattern of his breaths as they left him. The sand offered a level of resistance that pushed his workout further than he was used to, and he reveled in the intense pull of his muscles. It wasn't like the events of the past six months had left time to hit the gym.
An hour later, when the sun was mid-way towards dipping below the horizon, he reached the other end of the beach, chest heaving and lungs burning. Hunching over at the waist, he propped his hands on his thighs as he fought to catch his breath. When his heart stopped pounding and settled on a more regular beat, he straightened and made his way up the incline and back towards the Alcauld Plains.
As he headed for the walking path that led back to town, the air shifted from cool and mild, to thick and heated, and he glanced to his right in confusion. When the molten glow of the Fire Cavern caught his eye, he halted in mid-step. He hadn't realized that he'd run this far, or that he'd ended up so close.
He stared intently at the entrance of the Cavern, frozen by the sight of a place that had played such a large role in his journey. Despite what Quistis and the rest of his peers had thought, he had studied immensely for the field test. Acing the GF prep test had been a moment of true pride for him, and discovering his propensity for the element had been an added bonus. Since he hadn't passed the exam, he'd never gotten to junction a GF on a regular basis, but while using Ifrit during the mission in Dollet, he'd felt this strange, deep connection to the entity. Whether it was because they both burned from within due to some unidentifiable source, or because it had been the only GF he'd ever gained for himself, he wasn't sure. And now, he'd never get to find out.
Those thoughts threatened to spiral out of control, and rather than giving into his regrets and the past, he turned away from the Cavern and headed back towards town. He'd only made it a few steps when he realized that his peripheral view to the right was oddly empty. Again, he stopped.
It only took a second for him to figure out what had felt so off: Garden wasn't parked in its usual location. In its place was a giant crater, the ground splintered with clefts running from the epicenter in all directions. Though he knew the now-mobile structure had survived the missile assault, the sight left him feeling unsettled. If they hadn't somehow figured out how to get moving, he would've been seeing something else entirely—broken, scattered remnants of his childhood home, bodies littering the ground.
The way Trabia Garden must've looked.
The morbid vision came out of nowhere, and with it, so did her voice.
A job well done, my Knight. I have never been more proud, she had said to him, after he brought reports of Trabia's status. Her inhumanly cold hands had cupped his cheek, and like the pathetic child—the loyal lapdog—he had been, he'd leaned into her touch.
He sucked in a ragged breath as he shut her and the memory out, raising his mental walls in an attempt to regain his ground. Agitated, he ground the heels of his palms into his eyes again as he tried to control his breathing. In, out, even rhythm. It was harder than he thought it would be.
When he finally felt under control, he opened his eyes, his mouth set into a thin line. Refusing to fall under her spell again, even now, after she was gone, he broke out into another run. This time, he pushed himself even harder than he had before, desperate to escape her yet again. His speed propelled him towards town, and he flew under the archway that marked the entrance in just under an hour.
He'd been running faster than he usually did, and as a result, he didn't slow down near the entrance as per usual. As he was flying past a doorway, someone stepped out of their home and he collided with them.
"Holy Hyne! Watch where you're going, man!"
Lost in his thoughts, Seifer didn't even spare the guy a glance. He just lightly pushed them aside as he muttered a half-hearted apology and kept walking towards Fujin and Raijin's house. By now, Raijin was likely done fishing and was home preparing dinner. Usually, it was Fujin that cooked, seeing as how Raijin had a tendency to burn every single thing he put on the stove, but since she was gone, Raijin had taken up the role. Seifer thought about offering, but he knew it made his friend feel better to have a responsibility, something he could do to help, despite how much Seifer tried to insist that he didn't need it.
As he was passing the street that led to the train station, a piece of paper fluttering in the light breeze caught his attention. A small job board had been posted at the crossroads just after the war; the town's population had dwindled ever-so-slightly, due to the need for aid in other cities. Now that people were moving back home, the demand for jobs was on the rise.
He paused on his way past and yanked the paper out from under the pushpin. Before he had a chance to read the ad, the sound of someone grumbling rather loudly floated down the street. When he glanced up, he saw the person he'd run into pacing back and forth in front of their house, wringing their hands in the air exuberantly—he'd never seen anyone move that much, except for one person.
No. No fuckin' way. He squinted, trying to catch a glimpse of the person's face. They turned away from him, but when he saw the trademark, bright blonde spikes, he practically tripped over himself. Hyne-damn it! What the hell is he doin' here?
Pivoting on his heel, he scurried away from the train station, the forgotten advertisement clasped tightly in his hand. When he made it safely past the hotel, he slowed down and peeked around the corner. It didn't seem like he'd been spotted, and he let out a sigh of relief. Not that he was running away, of course not, but he didn't want to answer even more questions about his life—especially not from him.
With a grunt, he pushed himself off of the wall and continued on his way home. Finally remembering that he still held the ad in his hand, he lifted it to his face and read the tagline as he walked: "OPEN POSITION ON FISHING BOAT. LONG HOURS, GOOD PAY."
He scoffed in disinterest as he balled up the paper in his hand, ready to toss it over his shoulder. Just before he threw it, something stopped him, and he opened it back up to re-read the advertisement.
Fishing boat, huh? he mused, contemplating the idea.
He was still shit at fishing, but there were other tasks that needed to be done on a craft like that. Menial work, mostly, but those were usually things that kept people busy, and Seifer had to be busy. "Long hours" the paper said, which meant spending most of his time on the open water, surrounded by people who were less likely to recognize him or ask him invading questions. Hyne, he hated invading questions.
It also meant leaving this town behind. For the briefest of moments, he wondered whether that was really what he wanted; a new start, a new life somewhere else, as someone else. The fact that he'd seen someone he knew today meant that he may not have a choice. This job was potentially his ticket out.
He was still weighing the pros and cons when he pushed open the door to Fujin and Raijin's house. Immediately, his nostrils were violated by the raunchy scent of fish, and he wrinkled his nose in distaste.
"What the hell are you cookin', Raijin?" he called out.
His friend popped his head out of the kitchen with a wide grin on his face. "Balamb Fish, ya know? Right after you left, I caught one! It's gonna be the best dinner ever!"
Seifer suppressed a groan. Balamb Fish was his friend's favorite dish, but Hyne, how he hated the smell. He set the ad down on the table as he pulled off his sweat-soaked shirt and rolled it up in his hands. "I'm gonna go shower first."
Raijin nodded in acknowledgement. Before Seifer walked out of the room, Raijin jerked his head towards the table. "What's that?"
"Huh?" Seifer followed Raijin's gaze towards the paper. "Oh, nothing. Something I picked up on the way home."
"If it ain't important, you might wanna toss it, ya know? Fuu hates clutter, and if it's still there when she gets home, she's gonna throw a fit."
"Yeah, yeah," he replied, waving his hand in the air in dismissal as he headed for the bathroom.
Somehow, that little, incredibly brief conversation about the paper lying on their table pushed him to make a decision. Maybe a job wouldn't be so bad after all. He might not have to leave right away, but it would at least open a door to the possibility, one he foresaw himself taking advantage of in the future.
Maybe, just maybe, Fujin hadn't been so crazy when she'd decided to find a job.
Two months later.
Seifer sat in the corner of the u-shaped bench in the cramped cabin of the boat, his hands cradled around a mug of cold coffee. He'd never been good at waiting patiently, but he liked to think he masked it well. At least he was better than Chickenwuss and didn't jump around in the corner, or pace back and forth. Instead, he tapped his finger against the rim of the mug, occasionally letting his leg bounce before he clamped the urge down.
Eighteen, almost nineteen years of age, was far too young to be feeling this jaded and confused with life.
After a few minutes of staring off into space, he ran his hand through his hair—the ends were nearly to the base of his neck now. The fleeting thought of getting a haircut flitted across his mind, before he let out a deep sigh and downed the remnants of his drink. He slid to the end of the bench and rose to his feet, pushing the steel door to the hatch open with a squeal.
Across the bow, he spotted a figure leaning over the edge of the boat. A wisp of smoke was curling upwards into the air just in front of them, and Seifer made his way over to join them. When he approached, they turned at the sound of his footsteps and he saw that it was Marcus, the boat's skipper.
Marcus nodded in greeting and Seifer returned the gesture before leaning back against the hull. "Bum one off you?" he asked, gesturing towards the cigarette that was perched on Marcus' lip.
Without a word, Marcus pulled one out and handed it and his lighter over to Seifer. Once it was lit and he'd taken a drag, he handed the lighter back to Marcus before turning around and propping his elbows up on the railing.
They gazed out at the mist-covered ocean in amiable silence. Though Seifer wouldn't necessarily consider any of the men on this boat a friend, they'd built up a sense of camaraderie over the past couple of months. Out here, everyone had to know whether the rest of the crew had their backs, and in turn, had to show that they were willing to do their part as well. Without that sense of community, of trust, they'd all be at the bottom of the ocean by now.
He took another drag, relishing in the burn as it left a fiery trail down his throat. Before this job, he'd never smoked a day in his life. Being surrounded by the smell, and being the only person in the group who didn't smoke, had compelled him to give it a try. The added bonus of the chemicals relieving the chaos of his mind enough to let it rest for once was also nice.
A few minutes later, after he'd tossed the butt into the water, he straightened and faced Marcus, intending on asking him how much longer they had until they arrived. This was the first time he'd been on this route with the crew, and he wasn't intending on returning to Balamb with them when they departed.
Before he could get a word out, from the bridge the captain called out, "Destination ahead! Prepare to dock!"
Marcus raised his hand to Seifer in mock-salute before heading to his post. Seifer remained in place, staring ahead at the thick fog that still permeated the air. As if on cue, when the pointed tip of the prow pierced the veil, it dissipated, revealing the coast up ahead. The burnt, russet cliffs were so different from the lush, verdant plains of Balamb, that the sight almost confused him at first. Excitement replaced that confusion, and he tightened his grip on the railing.
Their destination was the cove just south of the only town on this side of the continent. Just past the beach, the rust-colored hills gave way to a small plain, the only sign of life aside from the town itself. It was isolated and quiet, and the inhabitants likely didn't care about what had gone on in the rest of the world over the past few months.
It was perfect.
When the captain barked at Seifer to help prepare for landing, he pushed away from the railing and joined the rest of the crew. About a half an hour later, they were anchored, and a ramp was propped over the edge of the boat. Every crew member carried a crate of product with them when they disembarked, and Seifer was no different. The only difference between he and them was that he had a bag that contained his entire life slung over his shoulder.
Per superstition, the captain was the last to step off the boat. Seifer waited until the rest of the crew headed up the path towards town before he faced the captain. Once the man locked eyes with Seifer, he crossed his arms and motioned for Seifer to speak.
Before Seifer said his goodbyes, he bent down and placed the crate on the sand. "I just wanted to . . . you know, for letting me on the boat and all."
The captain nodded, knowing what Seifer was trying to say. With a grunt and a matching nod, Seifer picked up the crate again and faced the town. Its homes, so vastly different from the ones in Balamb, greeted him with white facades and sepia roof tiles. Its streets, paved with stones that weren't unlike the ones in the city he'd left behind, waited for him to walk across them. He took a deep breath and headed up the path, keeping his eyes on his destination, his end goal.
Up ahead, his new life awaited.