Epilogue: The Hunt
(A Recovering The Satellites short story.)
People ask me how I do it, and I say there's nothing to it
You just stand there looking cute
And when something moves, you shoot.
And there's ten stuffed heads in my trophy room right now,
Two game wardens, seven hunters, and a cow.
Tom Lehrer-The Hunting Song
"But you promised!"
Seifer scratched his head. Nearly ten years, and he still hadn't quite mastered this parenting thing. His teachers had always said he was a slow learner.
The blond and angel-faced child in front of him stuck her bottom lip out and folded her arms. "Please!"
"Quit that," Seifer said uncomfortably, "or I'll-"
Seifer, a man who had faced down several dragons and most of the current heads of state, was at a loss. "I'll tell your mother." He could deal with shouting and tantrums, but not with the guilt trips. There was something about the eyes.
Seifer and Quistis's oldest offspring sniffed and folded her arms. "You did, when you were my age." Her practice sword trembled in her hand.
"How'd you know that?"
"Somebody told me?" Lily said innocently. Seifer didn't trust her for a minute.
"Who -cause if it was Uncle Irvine, then there's some things I could tell his kids about him."
"Mum would let me."
"She would not. Seifer said, and watched Lily's eyes flicker. The kid was a good liar, but there were certain telltales that gave it away, that, and the knowledge that she was lying through her teeth.
Quistis would never have let Lil out on a hunting trip, no matter how many rare items she was hoping to pick up. The only reason Seifer was even considering it was because he knew she'd go ahead and do it anyway. He might have had more scars than he could count on both hands by the time he was eighteen, but he was going to make damn sure none of his kids went the same way.
Lily's eyes, if it was possibly, doubled in size. Her lower lip jutted out like a shelf. Like Quistis, she went very pale when she was upset or angry, and right now she could have blended in with the white plaster. "Where is Mum anyway?"
"She's on a mission." Seifer said, and hoped that he had a few years yet before she figured out it was a lie. They'd worked out a parenting deal, one day a month, spent as far away from the kids as they could get. He wasn't sure what Quistis was doing or where she was, but he hoped that she was having more fun than him. Their two youngest children were staying at Rinoa and Squall's place to play with their kids, but Lily was a handful at the best of times.
Lily fixed him with a snake-cold gaze. "I'll walk out the door."
Seifer met her glare with eyes exactly the same colour as his oldest daughter's. "I've locked it."
"I'll climb from the window."
"Same." Seifer said, and left her to it.
He found her in her bedroom five minutes later trying to undo the screws on the window locks with the point of a knife, though as soon as she noticed she tried to hide it. He'd trained her well.
The bedroom was as far from a typical girl's room as you could possibly get. Squall's daughter's bedroom at Balamb was decorated with pink frills, but Quistis was not a frilly person, and Seifer definitely wasn't. The posters on the wall were views of monsters and their stats, interspersed with stills from one of the more popular kids' cartoons, Super SeeD Stacey. Seifer had done his best to dissuade her from watching it, going as far to point out all the obvious historical and tactical flaws, but the kid clung to it like glue.
It could be worse, Seifer thought. There could be pop stars.
He was dreading the moment when Lily discovered boys. He'd have to beat them off with a stick and had already considered laying in a small stock of mantraps, suitable for every eventuality. Thankfully, there was no sign of it yet. Lily regarded boys as considerably less interesting than monsters.
Seifer just hoped it stayed that way.
Lily dropped the tiny knife carefully down the back of her bed. "There was a draught."
"I bet." Seifer bent down, hunted beneath the bed with one hand, and picked up the weapon. "What the hell do you think you were doing with this?"
Lily played the trump card of all small children; when thwarted, complain to the management. "Mum gave it me. She said I needed to practice. "
"It's the wrong size for such small screws." Seifer continued." You'll never get them open with that." He produced a screwdriver from his pocket, gave it to her and watched as she set to work.
Ten minutes later the window was open, Lily was red-faced and stray strands of her wavy blond hair stuck to her sweaty cheeks. She looked at the window, then at Seifer, who had sprawled on the sensible navy blue bedcovers. His head touched the headboard. His feet, knees crooked over the foot of the bed, reached the floor. The bed was almost too small for Lily, let alone for Seifer.
Seifer's daughter slammed the screwdriver onto the sill. "You're not going to let me go, are you?"
Seifer sat up. "Of course I'm not going to let you go. You're nine."
"Almost ten." Lily said indignantly.
"I'll come with you if you want, though."
"Really. We have to be finished in an hour, though."
Seifer forestalled his daughter in mid-moan. "We have to pick up Edie and Elli from Rinoa's house."
Lily brightened. She always liked visiting the Garden. She knelt down onto the rag rug at the bottom of her bed and started rummaging through the divan drawers, hunting for her training equipment. She pushed Seifer's legs matter-of-factly out the way as she searched.
"We'll drive half way and walk to rest of the way to the Garden." Seifer said thoughtfully. "That should be far enough."
The house was on the coast, between Garden and Balamb town, in a small group of ramshackle former fishermans' huts that Balamb had renovated for its senior staff. It was closer to Balamb than the town, and close enough for the noise of the sea to be heard in any quiet room.
"Dad! It's less than a mile!"
"It's enough." Seifer said, in a tone of voice that broken no argument. "Get kitted up. You remember how?" he asked, as if Lily hadn't spent two years practising sparring with her tiny steel-and adamantine sword. He'd made it himself, as a seventh birthday present.
Lily nodded, raking all the kit she needed together in a pile on the floor. Seifer excused himself, grabbed Hyperion from the wall above the fireplace and was already in the truck by the time she showed up. The truck started first time, which was a rarity. The salt air was hard on engines.
Garden floated to the north like a benevolent cloud as he pulled out of the driveway, the truck's worn tyres spitting gravel.
"I'll go there when I'm older." Lily said.
"Much older." Seifer said warningly.
The kids visited Garden often, although Quistis and Seifer discouraged it as much as possible, ostensibly on the basis that they'd get to spend more than enough time there as they grew older. The real reason was an attempt to keep the harsh realities of their parents' job away from the girls as much as possible, although, Seifer thought, they were meeting with limited success on that point. The kids were SeeD brats already, ferocious as Torama cubs and about as cuddly. And they loved visiting Garden.
Most of the SeeDs got on well with the girls-most, that was; excepting Xu, who had been known to refer to Seifer and Quistis' children as spawn (though not within Quistis's hearing). Seifer had heard rumours that Squall intended to resign before any of Seifer and Quistis's offspring made it through the doors, but he was pretty sure that Squall was joking. Same with Xu. Sort of.
Rinoa and Squall had a child of their own; Raine, and Selphie and Irvine had a whole herd. They'd taken them away to spend the summer on some of Irvine's relatives' Chocobo ranch, which at least had made the place quieter. Zell and his girlfriend had so far resisted the urge to breed, something Seifer was devoutly grateful for.
Lily bounced in her seat and pointed at the Garden. "You work there, right?"
"You know I do. Don't ask questions when you already know the answers."
"I want to." Lily said firmly. When this did not exactly meet with shouts of parental approval she pressed the issue. "I want to be like you."
"No you don't." Seifer said automatically. "You want to start off hunting monsters. "That's a good grounding."
"That's not what you do. I heard somebody say that you hunt threats to Garden's secure-idee. And then you eliminate them."
"Who told you that?"
Lily shrugged. "I forget. What does eliminate mean?"
Seifer brought the car to a halt, closer to Garden than he had originally intended. "It means talk, all right? Now get ready."
"Mum always says you're no good at nego-cee-ating."
"More dressing, less talking, Lil."
The first monster they found was a Bite bug. Seifer cast all the protective magic he could around Lily, his pockets heavy with Potions and Remedies, and gestured her forwards. He took the first swing at the monster, being careful to damage one of its wings, and watched with parental pride as Lily hacked at its body, her tongue wedged between her teeth.
He woke from nightmares sometimes that had absolutely nothing to do with Time Compression, of small blond bodies hacked and torn, and the thought filled him with more anger than he'd ever felt. He'd killed monsters for money and for obligation, but now he was truly doing it to make the world safe.
Lily missed a blow, and Seifer tensed. The Bite Bug fluttered its wings, and lunged.
The child's sword caught it across one eye, and the monster screamed.
He didn't see training the children as putting them in danger, or at least no more than was necessary. Seifer had grown up a soldier, and believed that the best way to deal with monsters, closet or otherwise, was to tell your child; this is what it is, and this is how you defeat it, then give the child a heavy stick and a box to stand on.
Lily wiped her sword on her trousers and began belabouring the monster about the head. It stilled finally when she thrust the sword through an eye into its brain, clear viscous fluid dripping from the wound.
"Good. Now what do you do?"
Lily wiped her sword along the grass. "Clean-your-weapon." she parroted.
Lily's brow furrowed. "Make-sure-it's-dead?"
"Right. Try for the heart, it's right here, behind the third and the fourth scales" He demonstrated.
Lily poised her rapier over the scales, wiggled its tip in between layers, and struck home.
Seifer was pleased to see that she cleaned her sword afterwards. They hacked up the monster together, saving a chunk of the meat to attract more monsters. Seifer let Lily keep the M-Stone piece she found, although he wiped it carefully with dead grass first.
They finished off another Bite Bug and a Grat before Seifer decided it was time to go.
"Mmm?" Seifer cast a surreptitious Cure on his daughter, just in case there were any pulled muscles she'd notice tomorrow.
"Why don't you use GFs?"
Seifer wondered how to explain his theory to a nine-year-old without using the words they fuck with your brain. "I just don't, okay?"
"Even if people agree about a lot of things, they don't always agree about everything. Such as this hunting trip. Don't tell your mother."
Lily barely looked up from stowing her sword in its specially-designed case in the truck's flat boot. "Oh, she knows."
Seifer nearly dropped his gunblade. "What?"
"She told me I should threaten to go off and hunt by myself. She said that was what you used to do when you were my age. She said it'd scare you shitless."
"I am going to…" Seifer paused. "..have words with your mother. You shouldn't know words like that."
Lily gave him a very old look and wiped Grat slime from her nose. "You do."
"That's not the point. You're nine."
Seifer slung Hyperion in the back of the truck. "Get in." He reached out a hand to help Lily climb up onto the high seat and then thought better of it. "First hunt, huh. You enjoy it?"
Lily wedged her hands in the deep creases between the seat and the upright backrest, pulling herself up onto the seat like a mountain climber conquering Gagazet for the first time. "I loved it."
"Huh. Maybe we'll have to do it again. You'd like that?"
Lily's response was enthusiastic. "Yeah!"
Seifer put his foot down hard on the accelerator and the truck leaped forwards, mowing down a Geezard feeding on the flesh of its comrades. Tyres skidding wildly on a lump of meat, it accelerated madly, crunching gravel as it raced towards Balamb Garden.
"What's sorceress night mean? Only somebody said you were one and I wondered…."
"Maybe another time." Seifer said. "When you're older."
Dedicated to Caroline, my worst critic, and my best friend.
And yes, one of Seifer's kids is called Edea.