Disclaimer: these guys don't belong to me; I'm just borrowing them. Thanks Squaresoft!

The Wolf and the Lion

By Ronin-ai

Seifer Almasy watched pensively as the shoreline of Balamb came into view. Standing at the wheel of his houseboat, with Fujin and Raijin standing silently by, he wondered again if this was a good idea. Balamb Garden is the only home I remember, he thought. I have to see if there's a chance I'll be accepted there ever again. In just a few months, I'll turn twenty, and there won't be a ghost of a chance of getting into SeeD then. I have to see if I can make it this time...even if Squall kills me for trying. The thought that if he did make it into SeeD Squall would be his commander, didn't sit too well with Seifer. He was a leader, not a follower, but he knew that he had to start at the bottom if there was ever any chance at all of regaining what he had foolishly thrown away.

Seifer had let things settle down, had even sincerely tried his hand at being a fisherman, but the gunblade he still carried proclaimed him to all what he really was: a fighter. He had tried freelance mercenary work, but for the most part, only the dregs of society found the need for a freelance mercenary of questionable repute. Seifer didn't like the jobs that had been offered, had felt dirtier and dirtier after each one, and after the last one, well... And piracy wasn't what he had thought it would be either. Besides, Seifer still believed in his ideals of knighthood, found it hard to give up what was the core of his essence. Knights defend the innocent and the weak; they don't attack them and rob them. They are not murderers or thieves. Once Seifer had come back to himself, after the defeat of Ultimecia, he realized just how far her control had extended. He had been very grateful for the support of his friends during that dark time, for he had seriously considered ending his own life simply out of shame for what he had brought onto the world. It was Fujin that had convinced him otherwise, by simply not allowing him to give in to it.

As Balamb Harbor's docks became more defined, Seifer had to suppress a feeling of apprehension. He had a secret fear that every SeeD in Garden would be out for his blood. He was under no illusions that he would be welcomed back with open arms, not after what he had done to them all. He just hoped he would be given a chance to prove himself before anyone tried to kill him. The only way that he could see to avoid that, or at least keep the challenges to a manageable level, was to go to the head of the SeeDs themselves, his longtime rival and at one time, sworn enemy, Squall Leonhart. If he could convince Squall to allow him one last chance to try for the SeeD, then he knew that the rest of the SeeDs and cadets would follow his lead.

He knew of only one way to do that, and that was to speak with Squall, face to face. He wasn't all that sure that Squall would even want to talk after he caught wind that Seifer was back in Balamb, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Seifer's former contempt for his rival was now tempered by respect for what the young man had accomplished and endured, mostly at his own hands, and darkened by a healthy dose of envy. Squall had achieved everything that Seifer had wanted for himself, seemingly without any effort on his part. It had been so the whole of their lives, Seifer wanting the attention that everyone gave to Squall, the little withdrawn orphan boy who didn't appear to want it, and needed it even more than Seifer did.

Even now, thinking about it, the old feelings of jealousy and anger began to simmer, and Seifer had to turn his thoughts away from wanting to take his rival down a peg for daring to show himself to be so much the better person than he had turned out to be. How is it possible that that little prick gets everything I ever wanted dropped into his lap, when he didn't even want the responsibility? Seifer shook his head. That kind of thinking would not help his case at all with Squall. His thoughts halted as he took in the beautiful sight of Balamb's quayside shining in the rose colored dawn, and he sighed. Fujin silently put her arm around his waist, and hugged him tightly, her good eye shining with quiet joy as she said the one word they had all been thinking.



Squall lay with his head pillowed in Rinoa's lap, sleeping. His normally stern, stony expression was relaxed and peaceful, and he looked adorable, Rinoa thought. She stroked his soft reddish-brown hair and sighed happily. I thought I'd never get him out here again, she thought. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, drinking in the smell of the wildflowers that carpeted the field next to Edea's house in Centra.

It was the same flower field where Squall had pledged himself to her as her knight, the same field where he had awoken in her arms after defeating Ultimecia. It was their field. Rinoa knew that nobody would disturb them there, if she could convince Squall to get away for a couple of days. Wonder of wonders, he finally agreed. She was glad, he had been much too stressed lately and his normally controlled temper had begun to fray. He had begun to look much too worn for a young man not even out of his teens yet. He had been overworking himself, and Rinoa couldn't for the life of her figure out why.

So she had finally ambushed him and told him firmly that he was coming with her, then she dragged him out to the Ragnarok. After giving her a tired smile, he had punched in the codes for the Ragnarok's autopilot to take them to Centra, and their flowerfield. Then she had sent a message to Balamb telling them that their Commander was taking a much-needed weekend off, and not to disturb them unless it was a dire emergency. Thus had Rinoa made certain that Squall would be hers for the duration. After putting up a token resistance, Squall had gone along with it, deciding that nothing was so pressing that he would have to give up quality time with Rinoa to handle it. She continued stroking his hair, and he began to stir, stretching his lean body like a big cat drowsing in the sun, and slowly opening his blue-green eyes. They're the same color as a tropical lagoon on a warm summer day, she thought, smiling at him. I love his eyes...

"Have a nice nap?" She asked him, stroking his face and feeling the roughness of stubble on his cheeks. He looks pretty sexy all rumpled and stubbly. She thought, smiling at him.

He smiled back and grabbed her hand, kissing the palm, saying "Mmmmmm." Then he sat up and, growling playfully, pounced on her. It degenerated into a tickle fight, with Squall and Rinoa both laughing like idiots, and ending up with Squall on top of her, supported on his elbows as he ran his fingers through her silky black hair. His playful look faded and he kissed her hungrily. Rinoa's hands softly roamed up his shoulders and into the hair at the nape of his neck, and it rocked Squall to the bottom of his being.

Breaking off the kiss, Squall gasped, "Damn, what you do to me.."

Rinoa smiled softly, "Its the same for me."

Squall's eyes widened, "Really?"

Rinoa nodded, and made a sound of agreement, "Mmmm-hmmm." Squall shook his head.

Then he grinned, "Its a good thing we both have strong hearts, isn't it?"

"Yes it is." Rinoa smiled wickedly, her fingers doing incredible things to Squall just by stroking the back of his neck. He had the sudden urge to purr, and he began to nuzzle the base of Rinoa's neck, kissing her softly up the side until he reached the sensitive point just below her earlobe.

"Maybe we should go back to the Ragnarok," He murmured, kissing his way to her lips.

Rinoa trembled and sighed softly, then said, "Uh-uh." She began working his jacket off, and Squall helped, still kissing her neck and working his way down to her shoulders. His nimble fingers began unbuttoning her top. Rinoa's breath came in short gasps as Squall lightly trailed his fingers down her chest, opening her shirt and stroking lightly over her breasts. Then he followed the path his fingers had taken with his lips.

"Why not?" He managed, between kisses. Rinoa worked her hands underneath his shirt and began to caress his muscled chest. Then her fingers trailed downward toward his belts. Squall's heart nearly stopped, then started racing and he had to take a deep breath before he lost it completely.

Rinoa, kissing him back softly, whispered, "I've always wanted to make love with you here..." Squall groaned and deepened his kiss, molding himself to her and tasting her sweetness. Thank God we brought the blanket...He thought muzzily.

Later, they watched the stars twinkling in the black velvet sky overhead wrapped up in the blanket and in each other's arms. Squall didn't want to move, didn't want to go back to the world. I wish I could stop time, stay in this moment forever... then he shuddered as a sudden chill took him, remembering the last time someone had tried to mess with time. Ultimecia. He shied away from that thought, and focused on the night sky above.

Rinoa lay with her head on his chest, watching the sky, and Squall's face, now relaxed and at peace. Suddenly he smiled and pointed out a shooting star, blazing across the sky. Just like the one they had both seen the night they met, over a year ago. The depth of his feelings for Rinoa frightened him at times, and sent him running to the training center or burying himself in his work, just to get some space. Rinoa seemed to understand this, although why and how she did was a mystery to him. He knew he didn't in any way deserve her love, but he was glad that he had it, and he had, for a change, given his heart to her completely, not holding anything back. With her, as with no one else, he made an effort to be completely open and unguarded, and he felt secure with her as he had never felt with anyone else. She was both his greatest weakness, and his greatest strength. To lose her would crush his soul.. Squall knew he should probably try to tell her how he felt, but verbalizing his feelings was not a skill he had had much practice with, although he did his best. At least it's getting easier to tell her I love her. I never even used to use the word, barely knew what it meant, until she showed me.. He smiled, remembering their first time together. Too bad it wasn't here, that would have made this place even more special.

Rinoa and he had snuck away during the celebration of Ultimecia's defeat, and wound up in the Balamb Hotel together. It had been the first time for the both of them, and Rinoa had actually been surprised when Squall had admitted it. Squall's fingers had shaken so badly when he tried to unbutton her shirt that he'd nearly given up, cursing in frustration and thinking that Rinoa must surely think him a fool. But they had managed together, helping each other undress, and then let nature take its course, although Squall had nearly panicked when Rinoa had gasped in pain and started to shake when he had entered her.

Seeing that he had somehow hurt her, and thinking that he'd maybe gotten it wrong or something, he began to withdraw, but she held him to her and whispered, "Its ok, it has to happen this way at first..just give me a minute." He simply gulped and froze in place, not sure what to do next, until her tremors subsided.

Stroking her softly he'd whispered, "I'm sorry.." She silenced him with a kiss and things had improved from there. I hope I never forget that night. He thought.

Rinoa, noticing Squall lost in his thoughts, whispered to him, "What are you thinking about?" He turned to her, and pulled her closer, then kissed her softly before tucking her head beneath his chin and stroking her hair.

Then he answered her, "I was remembering our first time together, in the Balamb Hotel." Rinoa stroked her hand up Squall's side before tightening it around him in a half hug. Then she laughed softly.

"We didn't do too badly for a pair of rank amateurs, did we?" She said, turning to kiss his smooth chest just below his pendant. Squall felt himself reacting to that, and was very glad he had remembered to grab some extra- supplies, just in case.

Suddenly finding it hard to breathe, he managed to say, "No, we didn't..." Rinoa continued kissing his chest and upper body, gradually working her way lower. It was pure torture for Squall, and he loved every minute of it.

"Well, you know what they say," Rinoa whispered.

Squall, desire roaring like a lion in his ears, could barely manage to ask, "What?" He couldn't think. She was killing him.

"Practice makes perfect."


Seifer and Raijin made their boat fast to the dock at Balamb, and then Seifer paused to consider his next course of action. Since they all lived on the boat, they wouldn't need to worry about getting a room at the hotel, but they were running low on supplies. Raijin would have been perfectly happy spending his days fishing for their supper, as he had done on the way over, but Seifer was getting really tired of fish. Looking at their pitiful stash of gil, Seifer sighed. I wonder if anyone needs any odd jobs done..? Heck, I'll even pull weeds for a few gil. Taking the last of their funds and handing it over to Fujin, Seifer told her to buy what she could with it.

Fujin, frowning, said, "NOT ENOUGH."

Seifer sighed, "I know, hopefully we can find something to do to earn some gil," Fujin held her hand up, stopping him. Then she went down into her cabin and began to rummage about, apparently looking for something. Seifer, curious, followed her. He knew they had accumulated some pretty rare items in their travels, some of which would be worth some gil, but a lot of the more valuable things had already been sold. There wasn't much left that they could sell, at least as far as Seifer knew. Finally, Fujin found what she had been looking for. It turned out to be a jeweled pin, with a fanciful design that Seifer had never seen before. That Fujin had never let on that she had had it either meant that she had been reserving it for some reason, or that it meant something to her. She stood, studying it for a moment, then put it in her pocket and turned around, startled to see Seifer watching her.

"I didn't know you had that, where did it come from Fujin?" Fujin's eye slid from his for a moment and she shrugged.


"You've kept it all this time, it must mean something to you." Seifer pressed. Fujin looked up at Seifer and he found that he couldn't move, seeing what looked like tears in her eye. Suddenly, he understood why she had been at his side for so long, a silent pillar of strength that he didn't even know he had needed.

Fujin swallowed, and said hoarsely, "SELL. FOR YOU."

"Fujin..." He began, and she reached out and put her fingers over his lips, stopping him. He took her wrist, gently, and kissed her fingertips. Her single eye said all that she couldn't say, and Seifer, amazed that he could see what she felt, silently pulled her into his arms and kissed her. This hell that we've all gone through has changed us all in so many ways. I never knew how she felt about me, not until I really LOOKED at her, instead of being so wrapped up in myself.. Fujin's arms tightened around him and Seifer felt something begin to heal, deep within him. Words would only spoil what they shared, so Seifer remained silent, simply holding her.

Stroking her soft silvery hair back from her face, Seifer asked her, "You're sure about this?" She nodded, and smiled gently at him. Then she left. Still somewhat dazed at what had happened, Seifer wandered up onto the deck and flopped into a deck chair. Through all of this crap, she's been there, waiting for me. And me, too blind to see her beyond my own quest for glory. Ah, Fuj, I'm sorry it took me so long... Lost in his thoughts for a moment, Seifer nearly jumped when Raijin came up and clapped his hand onto his shoulder.

"So whatta we do now, ya know?" Raijin asked.

Seifer blinked, then gave Raijin an annoyed look. "Fujin's going to get us some supplies."

Then Seifer glanced around the deck, noticing how untidy it was. "We need to get this boat shipshape. It's a mess. If I recall properly, it's your job to keep the decks clear."

Raijin's swarthy face reddened suddenly and he stammered, "B-but, we've had to fish so much.."

Seifer laughed, "I know Raijin, just givin' ya some grief. C'mon, I'll help."

Fujin walked through the town of Balamb, drinking in the sights. What she felt was indescribable, but chief among those feelings was pure joy. We're home, she thought. And Seifer...she couldn't put that into words, even in her own mind, but he had changed, no longer the selfish, self absorbed boy he had been, he was now a young man who had endured too much and had learned from a mistake that had nearly cost him all that he held dear. He deserves another chance. I know he will make it this time; he is too talented a soldier not to realize his mistakes and avoid repeating them. He at least has matured enough to swallow his pride in order to achieve his goal. He wouldn't even be here if he hadn't. If Squall doesn't see that, I will make sure that he does.

Fujin walked to the Balamb shop and took out the brooch that she had decided to sell. She would never tell Seifer that it was a family heirloom, and it had indeed meant a great deal to her, but Seifer meant more to her than a piece of jewelry, and she sold it for his sake without a second thought. Bundling her purchases together, she made her way back to the slip where they had docked their boat. It was still unnamed, neither Seifer, nor Raijin nor herself could agree on what would be appropriate for it, so for the moment it remained nameless. As were we, when we bought it. Nameless, houseless wanderers. Perhaps we will find a name for it here. And for ourselves as well.

Stepping up onto the boat, Fujin noticed that the untidy decks had been cleaned and all their gear stowed where it was supposed to be. Raijin sat astern, fishing as usual, and Seifer sprawled on a deckchair, drowsing in the sun. He had shed both his overcoat and his blue vest, baring his tanned chest to the warm afternoon sun, which had turned his short blonde hair into golden fire. Fujin continued into the galley where she stowed the supplies she had bought, and then went back up to the deck, waking Seifer who blinked sleepily at her and gave her a smile.

Fujin, smiling back, asked him, "NEXT?" Yawning, Seifer stretched and stood up, gazing pensively at Fujin for a moment with his pale, wolflike eyes.

"Next, we send a message to Balamb Garden, and let them know we're here." He said.

Fujin frowned, "SAFE?"

Seifer shrugged, and replied, "Dunno, won't find out until we try. Hopefully, they'll at least ask questions before they shoot." So saying, Seifer called Raijin away from his fishing, and handed him an envelope with Squall's name scrawled across the front.

As Raijin reluctantly left, Seifer gazed at Fujin again, thoughtfully, saying, "Now we wait."


Squall walked into the cockpit of the Ragnarok toweling off his wet hair and noticed the comm. light blinking on the instrument array. Not wanting reality to intrude upon the stolen time that he and Rinoa had managed, he decided to check the messages later, hoping that nothing extremely urgent had come up. Leaving the damp towel draped around his neck, Squall went into the stateroom that he shared with Rinoa in search of a clean shirt, his mind full of thoughts of Rinoa and the night they had spent together.

Slowly, but surely, Squall was coming to terms with the fact that Rinoa owned his heart and truth be told, his panic attacks over what he feared would be his Achilles heel were lessening somewhat. He and Rinoa had cuddled in each other's arms watching the stars, and had had a talk about that. Squall had finally, and with no little effort, told Rinoa of all his fears. That he would somehow be hurt again, emotionally. That she would be hurt because of him, and who he was. That he, because of his emotional vulnerability to her, would somehow hurt her himself. And finally he told her of his fear of letting go, completely, and allowing her to be the guardian of his weakness.

She told him that she understood his moody moments, and that she knew that he sometimes needed to take time out for himself to regain his equilibrium, his balance. Squall had never counted on that. He never believed that she would understand. Had hoped, but not believed. As he dressed, he realized that there was no way that he could ever let her go. There was only one way that he knew of to make their relationship permanent, official. Marriage.

For some reason, that thought didn't send a stab of fear through his heart like he thought it would. To be with her always, to wake up with her beside me every day...to have and hold and love nobody but her.. Squall knew that that was what he wanted for the rest of his life. But she is still so young, as am I, he thought. But I already know what I want. I don't want to wait. I don't want to waste any time. There's no telling what can happen in the future. Laguna -father, made me promise him not to do as he did and trust that there would be time enough for the future to take care of itself. I could go on another mission tomorrow and be killed. Rinoa, God forbid, could die also. There are no guarantees.

An idea began to form, and Squall knew that if he asked, his father would be more than happy to help out with whatever he wanted to do. The only problem that Squall could think of was getting his ring back from Rinoa without arousing her suspicion. I could always tell her I want to get it cleaned and sized for her or something.. Smelling something cooking..and burning, Squall dashed for the galley, his heart pounding in alarm. Damn, he thought. I told her I'd cook breakfast and teach her at the same time after I got out of the shower..

Helping Rinoa rescue her attempt at breakfast, Squall couldn't help but smile at her crestfallen expression as she apologetically said, "I'm sorry, I really thought that I could at least cook eggs and toast without having to be babysat."

Squall hugged her and gave her a kiss, saying, "And when, during all the adventures that you've had, would you have learned how to cook? And with no mother to teach you?"

Rinoa smiled ruefully and then asked, "And just how did you learn to cook? Its not like you've had a lot of opportunities either."

Squall gave her a smirk and said, "I learned out of self defense. It was either that or eat Zell's or Irvine's cooking when we were out on assignment together. Quistis usually takes galley duty if we happen to need it, but as they say, no knowledge is ever wasted." Kissing Rinoa again, he made them both some coffee and salvaged some of Rinoa's culinary efforts, making some more eggs and toast to add to it.

Rinoa grimaced as she began to eat, saying, "Maybe I should have gotten a bowl of cornflakes for you instead."

"Don't worry about it." Squall said, sipping at his coffee. Unbidden, the blinking message light came to mind and Squall knew he couldn't put off finding out what it was any longer. When they had finished, Rinoa asked what had had Squall so distracted while they had been eating.

Squall told her, "I saw the message light blinking after I got out of the shower. I need to find out what it is."

"I hope it isn't anything serious, " Rinoa said with a worried frown.

"Well, the only way to find out is to go check." So saying, Squall got up and gathered the dishes together, putting them in the sink to be washed later. Then he and Rinoa went up into the cockpit and he thumbed the button to play messages.

Xu's voice, sounding both puzzled and worried, came up on the speakers. "Squall, I know you and Rinoa are taking some time off, and I wouldn't bother you if I didn't think it was important, but a situation has come up that only you can handle. It isn't an emergency, and nobody's been hurt or anything like that, but we need you back at Garden as soon as possible. We've received a message addressed to you, from Seifer Almasy." The recording stopped and Squall and Rinoa stared at each other in the resulting silence.

"What could Seifer want?" Rinoa asked, crossing her arms over her stomach and grabbing her elbows, hugging herself.

Squall, trying hard to force down the bitter feelings of anger and resentment that always seemed to surface whenever he thought of Seifer, held Rinoa close and said flatly, "Whatever it is, if he even looks at you funny, I'll kill him."

Stroking his hands up and down her back, he kissed her and said regretfully, "I guess our stolen weekend is over, love. Let's go and find out what that message is all about."

Moments later, Squall was piloting the Ragnarok back to Balamb, where the Garden was currently stationed. Since becoming mobile, the Garden could go just about anywhere, but unless there was a mission requiring more than a small team of SeeDs or a field exam scheduled somewhere, the Garden remained stationary at Balamb. Currently there weren't any wars going on since the two most powerful nations in the world, Esthar and Galbadia, were at peace at the moment.

Most of the requests for SeeD assistance these days dealt mostly with monster problems, since the Lunar Cry had brought a whole new population of monsters down from the moon to plague the world, and most of those requests had come from Esthar, which had been ground zero for the Lunar Cry. Esthar was still fighting to recover from it, though the city itself was by now mostly free of monsters due to the tireless efforts of the Estharian army, assisted by teams of SeeD sent by Squall to assist his father Laguna restore order to the city.

Squall had been rather concerned to see his father fighting right alongside his men to drive the monsters out, machine gun in hand and a rakish grin on his face giving away the fact that being stuck behind a desk as president was rather boring at times for the former Galbadian soldier. That action further endeared Laguna to the people of Esthar though, and didn't hurt their morale for them to see it. Thinking about Laguna made Squall remember his idea, and he made a mental note to call his father as soon as he checked out that message that had Xu so worried. And she had sounded worried.

Bringing his attention back to the instrument panel, Squall noticed that they were nearing Balamb's coastline and he slowed the airship for its final approach, typing in the landing codes. The ship settled smoothly next to the Garden as Squall reached over and gently touched Rinoa's shoulder to wake her, as she had dozed off during the flight. Blinking and yawning, Rinoa unstrapped herself and stood up, stretching as Squall got up and did likewise, working out the kinks from being stationary for so long.

Taking her hand, Squall and Rinoa left the craft, with Squall saying, "We'll get our stuff later."

They headed straight to the bridge of the Garden, looking for Xu. She was waiting for them with a letter in her hands, and a worried frown on her face. Squall wordlessly took the letter and ripped it open, his face an expressionless mask. He silently read it, then handed it back to Xu who looked at it and turned back to Squall, who was staring out the window with his arms folded across his chest.

"I don't understand, he wants to talk?" Xu asked. Rinoa looked over at Squall, who seemed to be waging an inner battle. No one but Rinoa was sensitive enough to see the signs, but she could see his fists clenched in anger so tightly that his knuckles were white, and she saw the ridge of muscle flex in his jaw as he clenched his teeth.

"Squall.." she began, laying her hand on his stiffened arm.

"He wants to talk to me. Alone. On Duel Hill at dawn." Squall said, biting off each word and clenching his teeth again.

"Duel Hill?" Asked Rinoa.

Xu paled, and said, "It used to be the training grounds, but ever since Squall and Seifer scarred each other there, the cadets have taken to calling it Duel Hill. It's become a place for people to settle their differences.."

"Why?" Asked Rinoa.

Squall gave a tight shrug and said, "He didn't say. Maybe he wants a rematch. Maybe he wants to end our rivalry once and for all." Maybe that would be for the best, Squall thought. He couldn't get away from his shared past with Seifer. He certainly couldn't think about all that Seifer had done to him and to his friends without feeling a surge of white-hot rage, especially when he thought of what Rinoa had suffered at Seifer's hands.

First, being thrown to Adel like a lamb to the slaughter, then being abducted in Deling City..rationally, Squall knew Seifer hadn't been directly involved in that, but the fact that he'd been involved at all damned him in Squall's eyes. I should have killed that bastard when I had the chance.. He thought. He knew why he hadn't. It was back there, in the back of his mind where he didn't want to look. Didn't want to face and acknowledge it.

Seifer had grown up in the same orphanage with Squall and Quistis and the rest of his friends. They had a past history, which, even though Squall's memories of his childhood were fuzzy and dim, possibly due to being junctioned to GFs for so long, Squall did remember Seifer. They had been raised together as brothers, and should have been friends, but for some reason, Seifer wouldn't have it, and at the time, Squall didn't want it, or anyone. Would he kill Seifer this time, if the circumstances dictated it? Squall wasn't sure. The anger in his heart urged him to do just that. The cool, logical part of his mind told him to wait and see what it was Seifer wanted. No sense in killing someone for no reason, regardless of one's personal feelings on the matter. Knowing Seifer, however, he could (and most likely would) goad Squall into a killing rage without much effort on his part. Squall hated that. He hated that his rival knew him well enough to know which buttons to push to set him off and he hated that he always seemed to lose control of his temper around Seifer.

Sighing, Squall turned to Xu and asked her,"Who gave this to you?"

"One of the junior classmen. He said a tall, dark-haired man gave him a gil to get this note to you." She replied.

Squall nodded. "Raijin. Well, he and Fujin were never exiled; they simply left when Seifer did. Its a cinch that they'd be here as well if Seifer's here."

Rinoa looked at Squall's rigid posture with concern and asked him, "What are you going to do?" Squall turned to her and Xu and the coldness in his eyes chilled her.

Then he said, "I'll meet him on Duel Hill tomorrow morning and see what he wants." Rinoa gasped and rushed into his arms. He softened his stance for a moment and embraced her, tucking her head under his chin.

Rinoa snuggled into his chest and whispered, "Squall, be careful.." Squall continued to hold her, but Rinoa could tell he had retreated from her in his thoughts.

Her heart sank as he said flatly, "What are you afraid of Rinoa, that he'll kill me? Or that I'll kill him?" A shaft of pain went through her heart and she caught her breath, drawing away from him. She turned blindly away, hugging herself and trying to keep her pain and her fear inside.

She refused to let Squall see how that had hurt her, and had to swallow a couple of times until she was sure she had her voice under control, then said in a low voice, " I don't want either one of you to die. Seifer was my friend. But I love you. I want you to come back to me."

Squall's cold gaze softened for a moment, and he went over to Rinoa and stroked her cheek softly, saying, "I will. I promise."


At dawn the next morning, Squall sat on an outcropping of rock at the summit of Duel Hill, the site where he and Seifer had had their "training session" that had resulted in their scars. The morning breeze picked up and blew his auburn hair back from his face as Squall pensively watched the sunrise and waited for Seifer to show up. For once, the scarlet glory that he made it a point never to miss was lost on him. Whatever Seifer was up to, whatever his motivation for requesting this meeting; Squall knew it would end here, in the same place it had all started. Hearing a rock scuff across the ground, Squall stood and loosened his gunblade in its holster. He was ready. Squall watched impassively as Seifer approached from the opposite side of the flat-topped hill.

Seifer swaggered up to Squall with his superior smirk firmly in place and said, "Lovely morning, ain't it puberty boy? How's Rinoa treating you these days?" Squall didn't blink an eye at him and simply waited, his temper firmly in check. Damn! Thought Seifer. He's gotten even colder than I remember. How can Rinoa stand him? This is gonna be tough..

Squall folded his arms across his chest and said in a cold, flat voice, "What do you want Seifer?" Seifer took a moment to marshal his thoughts, and sized up his lifelong rival and sort-of brother. Still younger, still smaller, about a hand shorter and probably a good twenty or so pounds lighter, Squall still didn't look like a pushover. Never had. Seifer actually admired that about him. No matter what he'd thrown at Squall, he'd never backed down from a fight, even when he was way outclassed.

This is it Seifer, he thought. Time to make nice with the Commander and get him to let you come back to Balamb Garden and try to make SeeD one last time. Time to say it Seifer. Tell him why you're here. He tried. He opened his mouth to say it and couldn't. The words froze as he looked into Squall's cold eyes. Firming up his courage, he finally faced his rival, a young man whom he'd wronged so many times throughout both their lives and who had suffered so much at his hands. He almost wished Squall would simply kill him, as he no doubt wished to do, and end his pathetic life once and for all. No. I will not go down that road again..

Seifer's pale blue eyes narrowed, and he gave Squall a wolfish grin as he said, "I want to come back to Garden and try one last time to be a SeeD."

"And what makes you think I'll allow it? After what you've done to all of us, I'm surprised you even have the guts to come back here Seifer." Squall shot back in a hard voice. Seifer hid a grimace and tried not to let Squall see how much this meant to him.

"Look," he said in a reasonable tone. "I don't expect anyone to be thrilled to see me, or welcome me back with open arms. I don't expect any favors. And I'm fully aware that at least half of the SeeDs there in Garden want my head. I just want one last chance. I'll deal with the rest." Seifer watched Squall closely. He'd be damned if he was going to beg, but he'd make Squall let him back in, even if he had to fight him for the chance to rejoin Garden. He loosened his gunblade in its holster, noticing Squall's eyes catch the movement and narrow as they focused back onto his face.

He spread his hands wide and said, "All I'm asking for is a chance. I'll fight you for it if that's what you'd prefer, but I don't want to be responsible for your death, Squally-boy." Seifer smirked, as Squall's stony expression grew more rigid as he visibly clenched his teeth to reign in his anger. That's it Squall, get good and mad. Let's fight this one out. Seifer thought. Better that than try to talk to him. Seifer was afraid he would say something he'd regret. And you haven't already? Well, in for a lamb...

His eyes snapping with barely leashed rage, Squall hissed, "What makes you think I'd be the one to die Seifer?"

Seifer's arrogant smirk turned into a sneer as he put on his best I'm-better-than-you act which was guaranteed to get Squall's goat, and said contemptuously, "Because you've never been a match for me Squall. You had to have your friends there to back you up each time we faced off. You've always been a pathetic little angst-boy and you always will be. Now, are you gonna let me come back to Garden or do we fight for it?"

Squall took a deep breath and regained his control. I will NOT let him do this to me again. He's trying to piss me off, make me attack in anger so I won't be thinking, so I will simply be blindly attacking and wearing myself out while he sits back and waits for me to tire. Squall didn't turn a hair at his insults and was about to tell Seifer to go straight to hell when Seifer made one last comment.

"You know Squall," he said casually, watching Squall's reactions out of the corner of his eyes, "I've heard rumors about you and Rinoa. I've always wondered what she could possibly see in such a cold-hearted bastard like you, when she could have had me if she wanted. Tell me, is she as hot in the sack as I think she is?"

Seeing Squall's face color with rage, Seifer began to laugh scornfully, and then he continued, "I'll bet you can't even handle her Squally-boy! Tell Rinoa to come see me if she wants a real man in her bed." Seeing Squall literally vibrating in anger now, Seifer was pretty impressed at his control. That ought to do it, he thought in satisfaction. Let the games begin..

Squall held onto his temper with teeth and toenails. Forget the fucking gunblades, I'm gonna take him apart with my bare hands! Taking a deep breath to regain a little of his control, he thought I'm NOT going to let him do this to me again. He's not going to win this way. But if he wants a fight, he's got it. Seething in rage, just barely in control, Squall whirled and stalked to the other side of the hill, then thrust his Lionheart into the soft dirt as though he were ramming in into Seifer's heart.

"Alright Seifer." he snapped, "You leave Rinoa out of this. You want a chance? You've got it. If you live." Walking about five paces back from his gunblade, Squall turned back facing Seifer and said flatly, "Same rules as before. No magic. If you live you can come back."

Seifer nodded his agreement and walked to the other side of the hilltop, thrusting his gunblade into the soil as Squall had done, and asked him,"And what if I kill you?"

Squall replied coldly, "Then there won't be anywhere in this world where you can hide. Every SeeD in every garden will hunt you down like the dog you are." Seifer straightened and walked back from his gunblade the required five paces and turned to face his adversary.

"Fair enough." He said. My life would be worthless at that point anyway. He thought. They stood silent, glaring at each other for a moment. Squall's wide set, blue-green eyes burned intensely into Seifer's pale blue ones. His high cheekbones and pointed chin gave his face a feline cast, with the furred collar of his jacket completing the lion-like image. Seifer, on the other hand, had a more squared jawline and was taller and rangier of build, more like a wolf to Squall's lion. This is it. Seifer thought. The noble lion faces the cunning wolf.

Giving Squall a half serious salute, Seifer asked, "Ready?" Squall took a deep breath to calm himself and find his center. I can't be off balance. If I lose control of my temper, I lose the fight...and my life. When he felt more centered, and in control, he opened his eyes and nodded at Seifer to indicate that he was ready.


As one they both rushed to grab their gunblades and ran at each other, blades raised high. The force of both blades meeting, with all their weight and momentum behind them, sent cascades of fiery sparks flying as they traded blows. They parried and feinted, blocked and dodged with equal grace and speed, but Seifer noticed from the first moment that their blades met, that Squall was deadly serious. The force behind his attacks was enough to rock Seifer back and he realized that Squall was now not only his equal, but he had actually gotten better. He's gotten stronger, and he must have put on some muscle over the last few months.. Seifer grunted with effort as he blocked another one of Squall's attacks and came back with one of his own. He certainly isn't as frail looking as I remember him being, that's for sure. And he's gotten a LOT quicker. Seifer thought as he ducked, barely, a lightning quick riposte that would have taken his head off. Seifer was panting and sweat was starting to sting his eyes, and Squall, damn him, looked as cool as a cucumber. Cold as a blade of ice. They traded a heated flurry of blows and ended up face-to-face, blades locked, testing each other's strength.

"C'mon Squall," Seifer panted. "Is this all you've got? I bet Rinoa could do better. C'mon, wussy -boy, bring it!"

Squall eyed Seifer scornfully, his blade still locked with Seifer's, and said "I'm sure she could kick your butt at least. In fact, didn't she do just that in Deling City?" Seifer growled in anger and thrust Squall back, and followed with a series of attacks that backed Squall up a few paces. Then their blades locked again and Squall noticed Seifer blinking sweat out of his eyes. They both shook with strain as each tried to force the other back. They were both face to face; Seifer's face was contorted with strain and Squall's face looked as rigid as carved marble, only his tight lips betraying his effort.

Squall said through gritted teeth, "What's your problem Seifer, what did we ever do to you? You were always the bully and I could never see any reason for it."

Seifer snarled and thrust Squall back, coming back with an attack and saying as he brought his blade down, "It wasn't what you did."

CLASH! Seifer brought his blade around, and Squall, blinking, just barely brought his up to block it, then Seifer's blade sang for his blood again as Seifer continued, "It was who you were."

CLANG! Sparks flew as their blades clashed, and Squall backed toward the edge of the hill, still blocking Seifer's blows, as he continued with his diatribe, "You were always there. Every time I bothered Selphie or picked on that chicken-wuss Zell, you were always in the middle of it, playing the hero. When I turned on you after Sis left, Matron turned against me. All the attention I wanted, she gave to you. And you wonder why I hated you!" Seifer's anger gave his blows greater strength and Squall's arms were beginning to tire as he continued to block his blows.

Incensed, Seifer continued, "And when Matron wanted a stooge to be her knight, who did she look for? You? Cid's golden boy? Balamb Garden's top student? NO! She chose me! " Seifer growled.

Squall took the offensive this time, backing Seifer up with quick succession of blows then, locking their blades again, snarled, "It wasn't Matron, it was Ultimecia! Edea was being controlled by her!"

Seifer gave a breathless laugh to break the tension and said through gritted teeth, "You forgave her everything when you found that out, but you never even entertained the thought that Ultimecia had control of me too."

Squall hissed back at him, "If you hadn't thrown Rinoa to Adel I might have. She almost died because of you. I will never forgive you for that." Squall's lip twisted into a snarl and he brought his knee up into Seifer's groin, connecting painfully and sending Seifer stumbling backward, bent over and cursing.

Squall was on him like a lion pouncing on an antelope, and Seifer only just managed to parry the attack and evade another deadly strike. Taking deep breaths and trying to ignore the ache where Squall had kneed him, Seifer came back strongly in his next attack and sent Squall stumbling back as Seifer locked their blades again and smashed his fist into Squall's face. Then he followed up, attacking repeatedly. As Seifer pressed his advantage, Squall turned the tables on him again by ducking under his blade as he attempted a high attack, and dancing to the side, drawing his blade along Seifer's middle as he did. Seifer saw it at the last minute and leaped back, but still got a superficial cut just above his beltline. Seifer cursed as he felt the warm wetness of his blood begin to dampen his vest and the top of his pants.

"First blood's mine Seifer." Squall said calmly.

"The game isn't over yet Squall. Only heart's blood counts. Let's dance pretty boy." Seifer snarled as he charged again, putting his all into a series of blows that Squall blocked easily. Damn! I've been at sea too long. Stuck on that damn little boat, nowhere to practice..I've lost my edge, lost condition.. Meanwhile, being deskbound as Commander obviously hadn't caused Squall to go soft, though even he was panting with exertion now. Seifer refused, refused to listen to those niggling little thoughts in the back of his head telling him he couldn't win. A knight never gives up the fight, never surrenders. I'll fight until there's nothing left of me to fight with. Seifer thought grimly.

Then he swore again as one of Squall's blows slipped past his guard to score on his left arm, and he felt the warm blood soaking his sleeve. He flexed his arm to test it and felt the sting, but the injury was superficial and he fought on. He wasn't hindered by it -yet, so Seifer put all he had into his attack and thought he scored a solid hit in Squall's side, but his gunblade came up clean and Squall didn't even flinch, then came back with a series of blows that forced Seifer back almost to the edge of the hill, fighting desperately to hold him off, and getting a couple more minor cuts in the process.

Sobbing for breath and at just about the end of his strength, Seifer had one last option left: his limit break. Panting, sweating heavily and bleeding from several so far superficial cuts, gained from barely deflected blows which, Seifer knew, would have been fatal, had they landed squarely, Seifer disengaged from the attack for a moment to gain time to gather the last of his energy for his final limit break. Squall watched him as a white gold mist enveloped Seifer and coalesced along his gunblade, and they both began to glow with power. Then Seifer released the energy with the shouted words,
"Fire Cross!" and whirled at Squall with blinding speed, raining blow upon blow that Squall was hard-pressed to parry.

The cut that Seifer had unknowingly taken in Squall's side throbbed hot agony and stole his breath, and he could feel his blood soaking the tail of his shirt and his pants. But he had chosen to wear black that day, and the blood didn't show up too well on it, not unless one looked closely. Feeling his strength draining along with his blood, Squall readied for his own limit break. Golden-white light sprang up around Squall, and enveloped him and his gunblade, causing Lionheart's translucent blade to glow with a blue-white flame. With himself and his gunblade both glowing with his gathered energy, he unleashed its deadly power without a word, he simply ran at Seifer and rained blow after blow upon him, with Seifer desperately parrying each one.

Then Squall took a ready stance for his final move, and Seifer, wavering and exhausted, knew it was all over as the swirls of white-gold light danced around Squall as he prepared for his ultimate attack, the Lion Heart. Squall unleashed the full power of his magical blade upon his hapless opponent and Seifer, already reeling from Squall's previous attack, couldn't stand against it and went down, parrying each blow with grim determination and only just managing not to be cut to pieces. As it was, he gained more wounds, two of them serious, and he was covered in blood. Seifer fell back, unable to rise again and felt his life draining away along with his blood. He blinked his blurring eyes and squinted as he saw Squall stagger back and fall to his knees, panting heavily. Using his gunblade as a staff, Squall pulled himself back to his feet and began to walk, or rather, stagger, away.

Seifer couldn't catch his breath, and gasped in pain when he tried to move, but he managed a hoarse whisper, "Don't.."

He gasped and tried again, "Cure me," He managed, catching his breath, "or kill me. But don't just leave me here for dead." Seifer tried again to get to his feet and gasped in pain, holding the deep wound in his side as the edges of his vision began to darken. Blinking sweat out of his blurring eyes, he saw Squall turn around and gaze at him for a moment. Seifer thought he saw a dark stain on Squall's shirt, but he was sure that that blow hadn't landed.. Squall, his face impassive, panted for breath and fought the urge to clamp his hand to his side. He tried not to let Seifer see how much pain he was in, and how very close he was to collapsing himself. As Seifer's vision began to fog out, he thought, I guess this is it..at least I went down fighting, like a true knight..

" Just for the record Squall.." Seifer whispered, as he fought for consciousness, "I'm sorry...for everything.." As his consciousness faded, the last thing Seifer thought he saw was Squall, turning around and coming back toward him.

Seifer blinked his eyes open and fought back the darkness, determined to look Squall in the eye and meet his death like a warrior. Squall staggered back to where Seifer lay, then he took the hilt of his gunblade in both hands and lifted it, staring into Seifer's eyes the whole time. Seifer couldn't see anything reflected in those icy depths, they betrayed no emotion at all as Squall gazed at him. When Squall raised his gunblade, Seifer sighed and closed his eyes, only to snap them open a second later as the gunblade thudded into the dirt by his head. Squall, leaning heavily on the gunblade, made a gesture with his hand and Seifer saw the blue-green of healing energy flow around him and close his wounds, salving his pain.

Blinking in confusion, he simply stared as Squall said in a flat, emotionless voice, "Report to Xu tomorrow for your class assignments. The rest is up to you Seifer. Tell Fujin and Raijin that they're welcome to come back as well." With that, Squall dragged his gunblade from the ground where it was imbedded and slowly, painfully, holstered it. Then he turned, not bothering this time to try to hide his injury, his hand clamped over the throbbing and still bleeding wound, and slowly began to walk away.

Seifer levered himself to a sitting position, still staring at Squall in puzzlement. I lost. I know I did. He had me and he could have killed me. Why didn't he? Seifer knew that if he asked, Squall would never tell him. Staring at Squall's retreating back, Seifer could clearly see a trail of blood left by the wound in Squall's side, which was still bleeding freely. Without taking a moment to think about what he was doing, Seifer whispered a cure spell at Squall as he walked away.

As Squall looked over his shoulder at him, Seifer said, "We're even now."


Squall stood alone in the flowerfield near Edea's house where he and Rinoa had just spent the previous weekend. He lifted his face to meet the freshening breeze as he faced the setting sun that bathed the field, already a riot of color from the wildflowers growing there, in a rose-gold light. He smelled the sweetness of the wildflowers and wondered nervously if he should have worn his dress uniform. Rinoa would know something was up for sure if I had.. He felt the occasion was special enough for his very best, but instead of his dress uniform he was wearing a dark dress suit with a teal silk shirt.

As always, he had on his platinum necklace and pendant and the blue-green jewel earring that Rinoa had given him. In his breast pocket, he had a velvet-covered box from one of the most exclusive jewelers in Esthar City. Having the President of Esthar as your father can sometimes come in handy. Squall thought. He smiled slightly, remembering Laguna's boyish glee when Squall had called him, asking for advice and a little assistance with what he had planned. Getting his ring back from Rinoa had been a little trickier, but Squall had managed it without arousing too much suspicion on her part (he hoped), by telling her that he wanted to get it cleaned and sized for her.

Getting away was easier, he simply told Rinoa and Xu that he had to meet with Laguna over something and as he left, he told Nida to pilot the Garden to meet him at Edea's house. Only Laguna knew Squall's reasons for this. Typically, Squall had told no one else. Remembering Xu's reaction when Squall had told her he was re-admitting Seifer to Balamb Garden, Squall smiled as he recalled her look of utter shock. When she stammered out a query of why, Squall simply told her that Seifer had given him reason to think that he deserved another chance to become a SeeD.

The reason was Seifer's apology. For as long as I remember, Seifer has never apologized for anything. NEVER. Matron couldn't even make him do it. When Xu asked about his meeting with Seifer, Squall wouldn't comment. No one else knew of their private battle, and Squall was inclined to keep it that way, considering it a draw. Seifer also didn't mention it to Fujin and Raijin, or anyone else. He had enough on his plate, dealing with the hostility, both covert and open, of the SeeDs and SeeD candidates that he encountered. He had been right about one thing however. With Squall's grudging acceptance of Seifer's presence, the students and SeeDs accepted that their Commander knew what he was doing, so the hostility was at least manageable. But it was by no means easy for him, or for Squall and Rinoa, for that matter.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Squall walked over to the blanket he had spread on the ground. In the middle sat a crystal bud vase with a single, perfect red rose in it, and off to the side, a picnic basket with a bottle of champagne sitting in a bucket of ice next to it. Checking his watch nervously, Squall wondered if Rinoa would even show up. She'd seemed a little put off that he'd wanted his ring back, if only temporarily...

"Squall?" Turning around, Squall froze at the vision that confronted him. Rinoa was wearing a jewel blue dress that clung in all the right places. He half expected to see angel wings extending from her shoulders, she looked so ethereally beautiful. He stood still as a statue, gazing at her. All he wanted to do in that moment was to take her into his arms and never let her go. Later, he thought, his mouth dry with nerves. Hopefully, later and forever after..

"What is all this?" Rinoa asked, peering around Squall to see the picnic blanket. Regaining his senses, Squall blinked and cleared his throat, trying not to betray his nervousness as he said, "I…thought we'd have a picnic out here, like last weekend." Rinoa smiled and looked at Squall curiously, noticing subtle signs of nervousness that he couldn't hide. Squall unconsciously reached up and scratched at the back of his neck, and Rinoa bit back a laugh at how much he resembled his father, Laguna, in that one little quirk.

Remembering the aforementioned weekend, Rinoa walked up to Squall, saying, "As I recall, we didn't bring a picnic basket last time."

Squall reached out and gently took her hands, running his thumbs over the tops of her knuckles, feeling the delicate bones and silken skin, then slid his arms around her, saying with a smile, "Well, this time, I thought we'd have dinner first." Then he led her to the blanket and they both sat down. Looking over at him, Rinoa kept her lips firmly shut, afraid that Squall would see her literally drooling over how handsome he looked.

Taking a shaky breath, Rinoa said, "You know, I never even knew that you had anything other than your uniforms, or your leather outfit or jeans. You look really good in that." Rinoa indicated the suit he was wearing.

Feeling his fair cheeks coloring at her compliment, Squall ducked his head and ran his fingers through his hair in an attempt to cover his reaction. Then he cleared his throat and said, "Thank you. I got this in Esthar City after I met with my dad." Rinoa smiled, it's getting easier for Squall to refer to Laguna as his father. I'm glad. She knew that they had gradually grown closer over the last few months as Squall helped Laguna with Esthar's continuing monster problems.

Tilting her head at Squall and studying him, she asked, "I thought everyone there wore those robes. How'd you manage to get a suit like that there?"

Squall gave a slight laugh and said, "My father doesn't wear them. He introduced me to his tailor while I was there."

Rinoa laughed, then asked, "How is Laguna, and Kiros and Ward? I haven't heard anything about them in awhile."

Squall shrugged. "Same as always. Still fighting monsters and repairing the damage from the Lunar Cry. Esthar City is safe again though, and everything's pretty much back to normal there. He's just worrying about some of the outlying areas now."

Rinoa nodded and asked, "Does he still need any SeeD teams to help out?"

Squall shook his head. "Not right now. In fact, that's one of the reasons I was in Esthar. I was settling our contract with him."

Rinoa tilted her head with a small smile on her face and asked, "One of the reasons…?" Squall ignored the question and turned to the picnic basket, attempting to divert her attention.

"Are you hungry? I've got.."

"No." Rinoa cut him off, and kissed him.

"But.." Squall began.

"It'll keep." Rinoa answered, kissing him again.

Grinning, Squall pulled her down onto the blanket and kissed her senseless, saying, "So that's the way you want to play it, huh?"

Rinoa, her gentle fingers playing with the long forelock over his eyes, nodded with a small smile and said, "Yup."

As Squall moved in for another kiss, Rinoa put her fingers to his lips, stopping him, then asked. "You said one of the reasons. What was the other reason you were there?" That's my Rinoa, direct as always. Squall smiled down at her and playfully took one of her fingers into his mouth. As she caught her breath, Squall moved in for another kiss. As Rinoa struggled to regain her scattered wits, Squall reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the little velvet box and opened it.

"This." He said simply, showing it to her. Rinoa gasped and her eyes began to fill, and Squall felt a surge of panic at her expression. Uh-oh. He thought. Did I mess it up? Does she hate it?

"Oh. Squall. It's beautiful." Squall sighed with relief and with shaking hands, removed the ring from the box, praying that he wouldn't drop it. It was a perfect reproduction of his Griever ring, sized for Rinoa's slender finger, with one difference. A tiny, blue-green gem winked in the lion's eye. He gently slid it onto Rinoa's ring finger, relieved to see that it fit. Then he laced the fingers of his left hand through hers so she could see its match on his own finger.

He almost smiled wistfully at the similarity to another proposal, some eighteen or so years ago. Almost exactly like the way my father proposed to Raine, my mother.. Laguna had told him of it, tears gathering in his green eyes as he did, when Squall was there getting the rings made. It seemed right somehow, doing it like that, though that wasn't exactly how he had planned it.

Rinoa raised glistening eyes to his, and Squall gave her a soft, gentle kiss, whispering, "I love you. Forever. Marry me?" Rinoa smiled at his typically taciturn delivery. That's just like him to keep it so short and sweet. Who needs long-winded, flowery speeches anyway. Actions speak louder. At least he managed to get the words out.

As Squall was beginning to look worried at her silence, Rinoa stroked her fingers down his cheek and whispered, "Yes." Squall felt a surge of joy, and gathered Rinoa into his arms, nearly crushing her in an enthusiastic embrace. Then Squall kissed her until they both were drowning in the emotions washing over them. Love, pure and shining, was something so rare and precious, Squall counted himself extremely lucky that Rinoa had found him. He knew he hadn't made it easy for her to break through his shell, but he was glad that she hadn't given up on him. He didn't want to waste any time, wanted to seize the opportunity while he could. Fire raced through him as their kisses and caresses changed from sweet to passionate and Squall abandoned himself to passion's wave as they rode the crest together. We are stronger together than we will ever be separately. Together we are whole. Sorceress and Knight. Squall and Rinoa. Nothing else matters. Nothing else will ever matter to me but her. I can never let you go, Angelwing...I will always love you. As night fell, two young lovers lay in a fragrant field in each other's arms, watching the stars come out, the champagne and picnic basket forgotten.


Seifer trudged tiredly back to the houseboat that he shared with Fujin and Raijin, sighing. I knew it wouldn't be easy, I knew they would hate me and want me either dead or gone for good. He thought, in a mixture of both anger and frustration, with a hint of despair. Sometimes It's hard for me to remember just exactly why I'm here, what I'm putting myself through this for. He'd never considered what it would feel like to be the focus of all the snubs and outright hostility he encountered when he re-entered Garden. Sometimes he got so angry, it was all he could do not to lose his temper and do something he'd regret. He countered that by keeping firmly in mind what he had lost by his foolishness and he considered his current difficulties as a penance of a sort. He focused on his goal of being accepted into the ranks of SeeD, to be a part of the best military organization in the world. He only hoped that it would be worth it. At any rate, it was all he had left to hope for. It angered him, though; when he thought of how closely his instructors were watching him, just waiting for him to mess up.

What had surprised Seifer was the fact that Squall had flatly told the entire faculty to treat him just as they would any other student, and coldly stared down those who'd protested. Seifer hadn't counted on that. From that, Seifer knew that he could at least count on his rival to be fair, whatever else his personal feelings were. Seifer didn't miss the relieved looks, however, when he'd said he would continue living on the houseboat while the Garden was stationed in Balamb, and would only require temporary quarters if the Garden needed to go anywhere. Not terribly convenient, but definitely more comfortable for me at the moment. Maybe when things settle down into a routine and they get used to me being there again…but I don't want to give up the boat. It'll be a perfect retreat for when things get to be too much.

Seifer frowned as he approached the slip where the boat was docked. She was still nameless, and he decided then and there to give her a name. He had just turned around to head back into Balamb to buy himself a can of paint and a brush when he saw Fujin at the end of the dock, approaching him slowly. Seifer met her halfway, smiling, and pulled her into his arms for a kiss. As Fujin gifted Seifer with one of her rare smiles, he was again struck by how beautiful she was when she smiled. She looks so much older and harsher with that eye patch and her silver hair, but she's really no older than I am. Maybe someday she'll tell me what happened to her, to lose her an eye and turn her hair silver so young.

Caressing her white cheeks with his thumbs, Seifer said softly, "Hey baby, how's it goin'?"

Fujin shrugged as they turned to go back to the boat. "OK. YOU?" Seifer tucked her under his arm, holding her close to his side as they continued on to the boat.

Sighing, he said, "The usual bullshit."

He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration as he continued, "What really sucks is that if I so much as look at anyone cross-eyed, I'll get busted. They're just waiting for me to screw up so I can be kicked out for good."

Fujin frowned. "UNFAIR."

"Got that right. But let's forget about that stuff now. We've got a whole weekend ahead of us. Let's use it wisely." Continuing up the gangplank and onto the deck, Seifer noted that Raijin had been fishing again, and had, as usual, neglected to stow his tackle.

Grumbling to himself about sloppy roommates, Seifer reached down to grab the tackle box and put it up when Fujin grabbed his arm and pulled him away, leading him into the cabin that they now shared. Once inside, Fujin wordlessly attacked him and Seifer was kept too busy to worry about untidy decks or his unnamed boat.

Later, he lay awake with Fujin sleeping peacefully in his arms, thinking about the twists and turns his life had taken. First, I was one of the top students at Balamb Garden, with only Squall beating me out of being THE best. Then I was the Sorceress' Knight…Only, I was more like her puppet…her slave. I didn't know that Edea had been possessed by Ultimecia. To me, she was just Matron, the only mother I had ever known...and I was ...honored, to be chosen as her knight. Ultimecia saw my romantic fantasies and used them against me, to control me...Then I was a renegade mercenary, an assassin, and then finally a pirate. Now, I'm back at Balamb Garden, the only home I remember with the exception of Edea's orphanage. But I'm not the top student anymore. Now, I'm barely tolerated here.

Seifer stroked Fujin's silvery hair, admiring how it looked in the moonlight. With her pale skin and silver hair, she looked like a goddess carved of moonbeams. Seifer smiled at his fancy, and wondered what Fujin would do if he told her that. She constantly surprised him. Her tough exterior hid a heart more tender than Seifer would have believed, had he not caught a glimpse of it now and again. He'd never doubted her loyalty to him, even when she and Raijin had abandoned him at a crucial moment, and left him to face Squall alone in the Lunatic Pandora.

That action alone brought him to his senses, and made him realize how foolish he'd been. Her love, however, was something entirely new, and unexpected. Undeserved too, if truth be told. He sighed, feeling his tensions of the past week draining away. So many changes. We've all been through Hell and come out the other side, forever changed. Reflecting upon the as yet unnamed boat, Seifer considered and discarded a dozen different names and phrases that he thought should grace her stern. He wanted it to reflect who he and his posse were, maybe say something about what they'd been through together. Mulling over the possibilities, Seifer's fatigue caught up with him and he fell asleep.

The next morning, he, Fujin and Raijin discussed naming the boat, discarding name after name until Fujin said firmly, "FIRE CROSS." Raijin stopped, looked over at Fujin, and nodded his agreement.

Seifer looked over at the both of them, asking, "Are you sure? It's your boat too. I mean, we could call it 'Renegade', or 'Pandemona' or…"

Fujin shook her head and repeated, "FIRE CROSS"

Raijin laughed and said, "We outvote ya, ya know?"

Seifer frowned and demanded, "Since when were we a democracy!? Are you guys sure? It doesn't seem fair to just name it after my limit break." He stopped when he saw both Fujin and Raijin staring at him, nodding firmly.

Shrugging, Seifer said, "Ok. Fire Cross it is then. Got the paint Raijin?"

They set to work painting the name onto the stern, and Seifer went to the harbormaster's office to register his boat's name and ID# in the slip she was berthed at. Then he and his posse got some champagne and officially christened their boat, "The Fire Cross." Then they took her out into the harbor for an impromptu cruise. As they chugged around the island chain, Seifer felt that if he could keep his friends by his side, he could handle whatever life dished out for him. He felt much better knowing he had a chance to become a SeeD. Maybe, just maybe, people will forget the foolish boy who'd tried to help a sorceress destroy the world. Maybe they'll only see me as just another SeeD. Seifer decided that that would be ok with him. There was still always the chance for fame and fortune as a SeeD mercenary, but Seifer would not pursue that at all costs, like he had done before. He would simply do his job, and do it well. His merits, he decided, would speak for themselves.

Raising his glass of champagne to his friends, Seifer offered a toast. "To you, my posse. And to the Fire Cross. May she always take us safely home."


Author's Note: I've always thought Seifer a little misguided, rather than wholly evil. And I thought he and Fujin belonged together, after all they'd endured. I also wanted to see Squall and Seifer face off again and see what came of it. So here it is, the last of my fics for now. I may write others, there are a lot of things I haven't yet explored with these characters. However, I may simply take this as an exercise in creativity and move on to more uncharted realms within my own mind. I love these characters though, and feel a certain affinity for them, and I hope nobody minds that I have borrowed them. I do hope that I have remained true to them, and not caused them to behave in a way that wouldn't seem right for them or who they are. I don't usually add a note to any of my stories, thinking it better as a writer to stay completely out of it and let the story tell itself, rather than trying to explain any of it. If I have to do that, I feel I haven't done a good job of writing. I am, however, curious as to what you, the reader, thinks of what I have written so far. Please tell me. I know this is a sort of "happy" tale, certainly doesn't contain as much angst and misery as some I have read, but that is all to the good, I think. Besides, I like Squall, and want him and Rinoa to have a happy future together. Let's face it, reality isn't always so kind.