When The Battle Is Over III

A new day dawned on the Garden of Balamb and for once the halls were quiet. The hushed voices of students created a profound silence over the Garden, yet no everybody noticed the change in atmosphere. Seifer, who had woke that morning to find Squall burning up with a high fever and curled up clinging tightly to the blonde's shirt in pain, did not notice, nor care about the change in atmosphere. Some things were just more important.

"Shhh, Squall, it's ok. Hang in there, ok?" Seifer gently combed his fingers through his lover's hair and reached with his other hand to grab the phone. He blindly punched the numbers he knew by heart and the phone rang. The Infirmary picked up immediately and Seifer tried to calm his voice. "Yes, I need Doctor Kadowaki, now!" The voice on the other side spoke reassurances and guaranteed the doctor would be to his room shortly. To Seifer it was the some of the longest minutes of his life. Squall was too far in pain to notice the passing of time, or even that Seifer's hands gently massaged tense muscles of his back. For Seifer, that was probably what made time pass even slower.

When the doctor arrived Squall had calmed down somewhat but still clung desperately to Seifer as pain wracked his body and mind. Seifer was trying desperately to keep himself together as small sobs of pain escaped from his lover's mouth. Sounds that were so filled with anguish that Seifer thought his heart might break right there if it had not been so used to such sounds over the past fortnight. The doctor began her work as quietly and gently as possible. She was done quite soon. There wasn't much that could be done now. Dr. Kadowaki administered what she could to relieve the pain temporarily. Eventually Squall stopped whimpering and relaxed against Seifer. "It will be a long hard day for him. For both of you. I'll be back in an hour, if you need anything before that call this number, it will reach me immediately. I'll let you get back to your rest."

Doctor Kadowaki exited the room as quickly as her professional mannerism would allow her. She had been close to tears when she had first walked into the room and saw the pain, both physical and emotional. She had known those boys since they were eight and this day would be hard on her as well. They were like sons to her and she cursed herself for feeling useless. As a doctor she could find no cure, or anything beyond a brief respite from the pain, as a mother figure she could offer no comfort without it being mistaken for pity. She shook her head as if to clear it of depressing thoughts and continued on her way to the infirmary.

Time moved on, as it often does, whether one wishes it to or not. The minutes faded away into hours and still the last threads of hope were clung to, the laboured breathing cherished, the moments of clarity between the fog worshipped. The day passed on like a blur for those who moved in and out of the headmaster's quarters.

Squall had been in and out of consciousness all day, which was something to be thankful for since the pain would have been immense, especially without the soothing presence of his beloved guardians. They were now residing grumpily inside of Seifer's head, longing to be back with their master and cringing whenever Squall's pain would make him call out. The orphanage gang and Squall's family had been silently entering and leaving the room all day but Seifer refused to leave, even to eat. He did not want to miss a moment, just in case the fog over those gray eyes would lift, if just for a second. He would be there for him. Laguna hovered as well but it pained his loving soul too much if he stayed inside the room too long with Seifer holding Squall and whispering tender words. Time was drawing short.

As the day drew close to dusk, the orphanage gang gathered in it's entirety for one last time and the veil over Squall's eyes lifted. He saw everybody gathered around him and managed a small smile. A smile that was once so rare and still treasured as a special gift. Tears were threatening to spill but they would refuse to shed them in front of such a proud man who had always demanded nothing but the best, both from himself and those around him.

"Seifer?" Squall's soft voice floated across the room. Seifer moved closer to Squall on the bed so that he could rest Squalls head on his lap.

"Right here, Squall, and so is everybody else." Seifer gently brushed the hair away from Squall's eyes as hazy blues roamed the faces in the room. He nodded his head in satisfaction and let out a shaky breath that was more like a sigh.

"Seif, tell me a story?" There was a muffled gasp in the room as Ellone covered her mouth and tears silently ran down her face. In the orphanage she had read to Squall and the other children all the time. Books were always Squall's favourite activity, even so many years later it could be seen in the bookshelves lining one wall of the room. Ellone and Squall had become close again since the war, but he always seemed to stop himself from fully getting attached and trusting her. Asking Seifer to tell him a story instead of Ellone made her sad, it was selfish really, but she had always enjoyed being the important to Squall, even if all that care had caused Squall more pain than comfort in the past.

"My Lion..." Seifer whispered as he looked up at Ellone and then continued on to look at the other faces. How was he supposed to say this goodbye to Squall in front of so many people, and now he wanted a story too. Seifer pushed down his pride, and he stopped himself from whining about wanting to keep Squall to himself. Although he loved Squall with all his heart he was not the only who cared about him. Everyone in the room could see Seifer battle it out with what he wanted and what Squall asked for him. There was no doubt in anyone's mind that if Squall had asked Seifer to leave the room and not come back, Seifer would have, there was no pain too great to make Squall happy. "What story would you like to hear?"

Squall mumbled something incoherent into Seifer's lap but the general idea was gotten across. There would be no other story that could be told at a time like this. So it was with unsteady hands that stroked Squall's back that he began his story. "This is a story about a man, who was once a boy and had many hard lessons to learn and mistakes to make before he could claim the title of knight he had always dreamed of being. Yup, this is the story of Sei-Sei, a sexy, intelligent, charming and great weapons master who was also a dreamer. Th-"

"You forgot beautiful." Squall interrupted in a shaky whisper. Seifer looked down at him with watery eyes and took one of his hands into his.

"That term is reserved for another one in the story." Squall hummed his approval and leaned heavily into Seifer's embrace. "Now, this dreamer, when he was young his parents were killed in the sorceress war, but he was too young to understand that, all he knew was that he ended up in a new house with a lovely matron and a bunch of bratty kids his age. Now this may be difficult for some to believe but our would-be-hero loved to read. What he loved most was stories that involved a knight who lived only for his princess. Sei-Sei decided he wanted to become a knight, but reasoned that he first needed a princess worthy of his protection. So he secretly kept an eye out for one. Time passed and the kids slowly left the orphanage. All except two. One blonde little boy, Sei-Sei, and another floppy haired brunet who Sei-Sei had started calling My Lion. Their first encounter was not what Sei-Sei was hoping for with the little brunet ignoring him and then growling at him as he more forcefully told Sei-Sei to leave him alone. Since that day Sei-Sei had watched the small boy and deemed him worthy of the term His Lion. Although nobody would know how true that saying was until years later." Seifer paused to collect his thoughts and to gently stroke Squall's hair.

"The two remaining boys were sent to a big Garden where they would learn many important lessons in life but to them the most important were learned outside the class. Sei-Sei kept up his fascination with becoming a knight thinking of how he could also be a knight to a beautiful sorceress if he didn't find his princess. He honed his skills with great dedication and passion and was even more inspired when he found he had a worthy partner to spar with. It turned out that his Lion could have his uses. For the time they had spent at the Garden had corroded the memories of their fragile friendship at the Orphanage leaving behind only the bitter remains. Yet it was not this that had driven their rivalry for so long. At least not on Sei-Sei's side, nobody could ever guess what motivations his Lion might have.

"Sei-Sei had always found his Lion to be worthy of his attention when it came to a decent spar but as adolescence hit he also started looking at his lion in a new way. A way that frightened Sei-Sei. If he was going to be a knight he needed to find a princess, not a prince. He was so shocked about this discovery that he spent the summer far away from his prince. While gone he searched and found someone suitable to be his princess. Better yet in Sei-Sei's mind she was a damsel in distress, and of course he was more then happy to assist her. When he returned to Garden he found that his Lion had become even more breath taking over the holidays. He tried to focus on his princess but to no avail. He was upset that all his dreams would go to waste because of one handsome male. Worse still he couldn't stop himself from becoming angry whenever anybody tried to befriend his Lion. Sadly while Sei-Sei was in training to be a knight he never quite got around to learning all the knightly behaviour. He challenged his Lion to a duel, if only to relieve the stress that was piling on him.

"Sei-Sei couldn't control himself and ended up hurting the object of his denied affections. He carried his Lion all the way back to the infirmary, reflecting on the matching set of scars. He decided he rather liked them, as they would always join the two rivals. Soon after Sei-Sei found an even better person to become a knight to than even his summer fling had been. Fortunately it wo-" Seifer broke off as there was a gentle sigh against his chest where Squall was propped. Seifer as well as rest of the group gathered seemed to hold their breath in unison waiting for Squall to inhale as their cue to continue to breathe... Time passed.

Seifer knew that his lion would never breathe against his skin again. With a deep breath he continued the story. Squall's final request. Although his voice shook slightly in a pained tone Seifer refused to falter. "Sei-Sei's sorceress would also take him far away from his Lion, the one person who could torment him with his presence alone.

"The rest of that story is now known across the world. About the evil knight who was beaten by the courageous hero. But Sei-Sei didn't see it that way. He only saw his Lion who refused to kill him and in the end saved him from a dream that had turned too quickly into a nightmare..." Seifer paused trying to find the strength to go on. A somber voiced cowboy who gently held Selphie in his arms saved him that task.

"Sei-Sei learned a lot through that war, most of which was that there is a price to power and that it will corrupt if you don't know how to use it. Power took a firm but gentle hand. A subtly and modesty that he did not yet possess. He saw how his Lion bravely led his followers into battles that resembled hell. His followers went with pride believing that the Lion of Balamb could bring them back again. Sei-Sei was a tactician but he still had much to learn on leading and be a friend. But learn he would."

As Irvine finished, Quistis picked up where he left off. "He also learned the importance of friendship. He had always had a posse that would back him up but never a true friend who would support him when he needed it and slapped him when he needed that too. He started off to make things right with his posse and then it was time to make amends with his friends he nearly forgot he had" As Quistis finished she absently rubbed a tear away that threatened to escape.

Zell shifted from foot to foot a few times before starting his part of the story, "So Sei-Sei sucked it up and returned to Garden, the only place where he could go to learn what he must and perfect being a knight. 'Cause being a knight was still very much his dream. He just had a new take on it"

"He no longer wanted to be a knight to a princess but to a beautiful prince instead. It was his goal to be better then he was so that his Lion could rely on him and trust in him. And with the very new life the Lion was leading after the war, he didn't refuse the extra support. Well, he did, but we all knew he was grateful for it anyway." Selphie smiled slightly at the memory of their stubborn commander buried under work and refusing the help but then smiling softly when the others aided him anyway. Her eyes sparkled with tears as she leaned into the comforting embrace of Irvine.

Despite the tears flowing silently down his cheeks Laguna managed to keep his voice calm. He knew what they were here for. Not to mourn the passing of a passionate man but to celebrate the life he lived and the way he touched people without knowing it. "At the end of the war the lion found his father, who turned out to be a king. So it came to be that the prince really was a prince. His father was also a hero and underwent many of his own adventures, but those are tales for another time, and while important events of themselves do not effect the outcome of our brave hero's story."

Ellone's quiet voice filled the room as the tale moved onwards. "So the knight had his prince, now he just had to find a way to make his Lion realize he belonged with nobody but him. Yet some things were easier said then done, because the prince was himself a Knight. A knight to a beautiful young sorceress whose father was a powerful man in the Galbadian Military. 'The perfect match' said anybody and everybody around the world."

The last voice rose up from the corner. The speaker was facing out the window but every word of the Orphange's matron was heard. "Yet something was not right with the sorceress, it would take too long to figure out her power had become corrupted. And soon it would be the once scourned knight's turn to save the world. And finally he would be able to protect his prince. And so they would live happily ever after with the knight finally fulfilling his dream of caring for his prince. But fairytales are never quite like reality, and a day would come when that blow would strike. But that is a story still in progress and best saved for another day." Matron's voice tapered off and silence only disturbed by contained sniffles filled the room. Slowly they came out of the trance of the story and back to the painful reality.

They all knew he was gone but nobody moved. Seifer still clung to him, his lips against the silky brown hair and eyes closed, as if he might be able to preserve this last moment. A little more time, a little more fight.

The funeral preparations were already in place. Had been in place for some time. The funeral would be held at the end of dusk and beginning of night. It would be tonight, but there was still time. Time to slowly withdraw from the room, to find solace in the embrace of a lover, or to find comfort in a glass of alcohol and shared tales of past days. Or for some, to try to accept the truth and perhaps gather together enough of one's shattered heart and soul to pull through.

"We should let Squall decide." Someone had said. And so they had asked him what he had wanted to do with his body when he passed on. It was one of the only times that his inevitable death was so openly spoken of that it had almost caught him off guard, almost. He took a moment to think through his answer and in the same manner in which he delivers all speeches he told his friends what his heart told him to say.
"I never want to be encased in the cold again. Seifer, Warm me like you always do, and give me the freedom my duty has kept from me in life." With a final nod of his head to reaffirm his decision he went back to reading his book. The group knew his wishes could not be questioned, would not be questioned. He had earned their unquestioning, confident respect in life, and he would not suffer the disgrace of losing it in death. So as dusk took over the sky the procession gathered on the calming shores of Balamb's beach.

Squall was laid out in a small boat filled with letters of gratitude from all the people he had helped in his life. Each one would go with Squall to wherever his journey may take him, reminding him that he is not alone and that he never will be unless by choice. Someone had dressed Squall in his SeeD uniform and with his hair softly blowing in the sea wind he looked closer to the way he did on the day he passed his exam then his true thirty odd years. The orphanage gang and friends gathered in a semi circle on the beach. Irvine near the water and prepared to give the boat the gentle push needed to help it start its journey.

Evening was drawing nearer but the circle was still not complete. Standing knee deep in water and clutching the side of the tiny boat was Seifer. No tears ran down his face although his eyes were still read and puffy from earlier. He stared at Squall as if he was only sleeping and would wake at any moment. "Seifer?" Laguna called from his post on the beach. Seifer looked up startled at hearing his name. "Come join us."

Seifer shook his head although he did start to make his way out of the water. "Why? It's not like I was ever fully accepted, just the black sheep of the gang. You only put up with me for so long because he expected you to." He pointed his finger accusingly at Squall, angry for being left behind, angry at the world.

"That's not true Seifer, and you know it." Quistis said sternly. "Yes, maybe we gave you a chance because Squall asked us to, but it was you who convinced us you were worth caring for."

"Ha, Squall doesn't even have that much faith in me. He's sending me around the world on a stupid quest instead of trusting me with his precious Garden. While I'm gone Zell will probably overthrow me as Headmaster and move the Garden so I'll never find it again... Not like I care." Seifer sunk to his knees, fingers grasping the sand in his anguish.

Laguna was about to step forward but Zell put a hand on his shoulder and walked up to Seifer. "You know full well that's not true." And with that he slapped Seifer. Not hard, but enough to make Seifer's head turn and for a loud crack to fill the air. "He asked you to free his guardians because he trusted you. Who else would he have trusted to let all that power go free instead of using it for their own. And he knows you Seifer, more than you know yourself. Without this task you'd fade away, you need the time away from Garden. I promise you; Garden and your position in it will still be here waiting for you when you get back, however long that will take. Now," Zell held out his hand for Seifer, and it was slowly accepted. "Let's get this started before night falls, ok?"

Zell led Seifer back to the circle and stood him between Laguna and himself. Laguna leaned over to Seifer and everybody around could hear the softly spoken words. "Please don't ever think I don't care for you, for years you have been like a second son to me. Never forget that."

After the brief traditional farewell speech Irvine gave the boat a gentle push. It was then Seifer's turn for the final request to Squall's funeral service. "Ifrit, I call upon you to do me a service, I am your master Seifer, and you will obey my command. Come forth, Ifrit!" With a swirl of fire and shake of the ground Ifrit appeared on the beach in the centre of the semi-circle. Ifrit looked to Seifer who nodded his head once. As Squall's boat drifted out onto the horizon it sparked and then lit ablaze in a blazing fire of reds, gold, and blue.

As the final flickers of fire faded and darkness took over the horizon those gathered on the beach slowly dispersed. As the gang broke apart the circle they were not surprised to see vague outlines of all the guardians that Squall has tamed over time. Overcoming their junctions to give their final respects. As their owners walked away they once again faded into the void where they existed until only one figure remained on the beach.

Seifer Almasy sat on the beach until the moon was high in the sky and Boco; Squall's trusted chocobo was fast asleep at his side. Still Seifer stared out into the darkness and tried vainly to make plans for a future without Squall. Member's of the orphanage gang came and went at different stages of the night trying to coax Seifer back into Garden, back into reality. Each went back empty handed. It wasn't until the first rays of light peeked over the horizon that Seifer stirred from his spot. It was then that he remembered his mission and promise to Squall, to set the GFs in his head free. Slowly he got stood up, shook the sand off his body and gently woke up Boco.

As the sun rose on the world's first day without one of its heroes, Squall Leonhart, another hero set on his journey, saddled on a chocobo and with a look of determination in his eyes.

~~~~~~~

Epilogue

POV: Seifer

Damn Guardian Forces, I swear to Hyne if they changed their mind one more time... For the past year I've been trodding around the world trying to find these pricks a place to call home. They would think of one spot, I'd get there and then pick another location only to decide that a third choice is in order or that they actually do prefer the first spot.

I'm not dumb; I know what they are doing. The longer I'm busy with them, the less time I have to pity myself and mourn my loss.

I still think of Squall constantly, and when all of his GFs were in my head it was hard not to. They had picked up his character traits and abused the power they had over me. I could tell them to shut up as much as I wanted but they would talk anyway... or not at all. There is only one left, and I have to admit I will miss her when I let her go. Out of all of them she was a constant source of reassurance. It was hard to find the motivation to get up in the morning, to eat, then to sleep. Yet Shiva wouldn't let me break my promise to Squall. She wouldn't let me betray him in that way. I'm thankful for that. I'm strong but I don't think I would have been strong enough to go on if it weren't for the GF's. I'm forever grateful for Squall's intelligence and foresight. He had faith in people, even me, and he knew that this little journey around the world would help pull me together.

I'll never be the way I was before my loss. Oh no. I'll always have moments where a smell drifting on the wind will make me think of Squall and bring a memory to surface. I will always have times where I will need to be alone with my thoughts, ones that are too private to share with others. But I will not die; I will not let Squall defeat me in death. We were lovers and much more in the end, but never doubt that we were still rivals. Although maybe just highly competitive would be more appropriate. To the end we challenged each other in different ways. If I wouldn't lie down and take Squall beating me before I certainly won't let him do it when he's not even here to let me see that small victory grin.

The point is, that after Shiva is released, I'm going to get on Boco and I'm going home. Back to Balamb where I belong. It's been over a year since I left and I'm sure chickenwuss is tired of doing my work for me. A headmaster can only take so much paid absence before he becomes a pain and I think I've passed that point several months ago. The pain will always be with me, and I'm sure it will be severe when I first return to his office, which will read Headmaster Almasy, and to our bedroom, which is now only mine. But it won't defeat me, the battle is over and this victory will always be the most bitter of them all.

~~~ Author's Notes ~~~

Whew! Finally finished. This chapter was hard to write. I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted it to feel but getting the right emotions across was difficult, not sure if I got what I was really thinking of, but I'm happy with how it turned out. I threw the epilogue in there just for a bit more closure. To show how Squall's task really worked and that Seifer will carry on. The ending line refers to many battles Seifer has had, the battle with Squall and what was killing him, the battle of Seifer over his grief, and a battle that actually happened before this story.

It's weird, but I wrote this story with their whole world in mind. I know exactly what happened to all of them for the last 15 years. But I didn't want to share that, I didn't want the back story to take away from the emotions of the death. I don't even mention what Squall is dying from only that it's painful and incurable. Although Seifer's story to Squall does give some hints about some things that happened in the past.

If I decide to write the prequel for this story it will explain What happened between Rinoa and Squall, and why she wasn't present for Squall's death/funeral. It will also answer why Seifer came back to Garden and how he rose in the ranks to become Commander. More importantly it shows how Squall got ill and how Seifer and him hooked up. Of course it will also mention what the other members of the gang were up to and such. So if you want to know, tell me and I'll put it on the to do list. It's probably going to be a long fic though. I don't want to cheat out details of the past leading up to this story just because I was lazy.

Oh yeah the book that inspired this was Juliet Marillier's The Seven Water's Trilogy, more specifically the second book the Son of the Shadows Chapter 11... that part gets me every time.

And if anyone wants to listen to a pretty and slightly sad song that just seems to fit Squall and Seifer listen to Richard Marx's Now and Forever. Zen suggested it and it was just so beautiful.

I'd like to thank all those who reviewed and encourage you to do it again, and those that have read but haven't reviewed, drop a line. Even if you are anonymous and all you say is "it was good." I appreciate it. And if you want to leave some constructive criticism that's more than welcome too!

Zencreation: Thanks for being my Beta! You're wonderful *huggles* Sorry that no miracles occurred. A person is allowed only so many miracles, and I'm afraid Squall and Seifer used all of theirs up in the events that happened before this. So I guess you'll be getting a visit from the Selphie muse.

Kursed Seed: I hope you got your fix of angst and suffering in this chapter, if not I'll just have to find some other way to torture the boys, actually I'm doing quite a good job of that in my new fic (shameless plug) The Cell Block Tango, it's still a work in progress but you can get a sneak peak on my site and I'm constantly adding tidbits on my LJ...

Mistal: Thanks for your reviews. I hope you enjoyed this chapter as well.

Starlit Hope: *hands over a tissue* Thank you, I didn't expect to make anyone so sad. I'm glad you think that Squall would say those things. He has grown a lot since the War fifteen years ago, but he's still a bit of the reluctant taciturn hero type. I'm glad you agreed with what he said. I was sort of nervous about some of the things.

Hopemia: Fanfiction is always screwing up the review thing, it's a pain, so no worries about not reviewing right away. You still reviewed and that's all that matters to me! Don't cry too much for Seifer, he may be sad, but he doesn't do well with pity and such, besides he pulled through ok. And Secretly he's a romantic who believes he'll be seeing Squall on the other side one day.

Myeerah: Hopefully that they aren't so out of character that you can't recognize who is who. But not only is Squall dying it's also 15 years since the end of the game, and I hope that 30 something old people act a bit different than angsty teenagers.... And I'm glad you liked Squall's request. The epilogue hopefully explained the reasoning behind the request a bit. Squall and his GF's were really close and he knew that they would take care of Seifer during his mourning and keep him busy and help him see that life goes on.