Seifer felt incredibly stupid.

He had actually taken the time to communicate with the various Guardian Forces Balamb Garden monitored, and the entire process took another three weeks. During those three weeks, his mental and physical state suffered quite a bit—he had refused to take enough breaks in between each session, and it didn't help that each G.F. had specific traits and thought processes that simply made Seifer tie himself up in knots. There were no solid answers; the closest "answer" he had received was the caution of a particular Guardian Force Diablos knew about.

Griever.

That made Seifer feel very stupid.

First of all, Griever didn't exist, anymore. Ultimecia probably took him down with her, even if Squall had absorbed some of its voodoo shit. There was no possibly way for that fat cat to survive after all the mayhem.

Second of all …

That is all I know, human.

Diablos was being a dick.

Clearly, he knew more. He was withdrawing information Seifer direly needed, but for what reason, he had no clue. He didn't understand why the G.F. was acting so vague—Diablos was known for being much too candid and aggressive, unable to hold back any thought he wanted to express. The two of them were playing this guessing game for far too long.

In the end, there was no solution.

No answers.

And no Squall.

Which made training with Lightning a living hell.

"You're stalling," he heard her cut, sharper than the blades they held. "Too slow."

The swift kick to his side hurt like a bitch, but Seifer merely grunted. "Judging by the way you're about to dish me up like duck meat, I'm guessing that you and Hope—"

"Shut. Up."

Yes, shut up, indeed. Shut up, shut up, shut up. That was all he wanted to say for the remainder of his time.

"You know what I'm going to say," she said later on, the both of them breathing heavily against the wall of the training center.

"Yeah. But, I can't help it." He couldn't—he needed answers. He had to keep digging, albeit his exposure to the Guardian Forces was too much at one time. His body and mind were taking a nosedive; but god, if that was what it took to get Squall back—

"He wouldn't be happy, you know." A breath. "To see you in such a sorry state."

Seifer laughed. "Well, that guy was never happy with my ass to begin with, so I'm entitled to do as I please."

"Seifer."

It was sad, really. The back of her hand rested against his forearm as the gesture that always made him smile, as the gesture that took him over three years to pull, as the gesture that made shit turn out to be okay, but he didn't really respond the way he should've. There was no relief, no quick laughs. Icicle and Retard were what they were mundanely, yet at the moment …

It was just really, really, really sad.

No poise, no decorum. It didn't even matter that they acted loosely as friends. These weekly visits to each other were strained.

Because Seifer being a dumbass downer, and Lightning had personal problems of her own to deal with.

Because, four hours later after she left, watching Squall fold their laundry, he was still contemplating another couple of hours in depth with Odin this time. He could understand why workaholics didn't bother justifying their reasons to keep a thousand things on their plates—exhaustion and anticipation were like drugs: They kept those certain people content with the feeling of accomplishing anything while everything else in their lives were shit. Becoming a sitting duck was the last thing Seifer wanted to be.

In retrospect, however, he was only ruining himself. The rush would never outweigh his sufferings. He hadn't felt like this since—

"Seifer."

Since—

"Seifer."

"What?"

"Seifer, don't be sad," he heard the other say. His head hurt from staring at the ceiling for too long, and his ass was tired of being glued to the couch, but he was alert, especially at the feeling of something light dropping onto his lap.

It was a sand dollar. Hexagonal, simple, and smooth.

"I found this at the beach today; it was the only perfect one I found."

"Didn't even know we had those things in Balamb."

"I was surprised, too." A pause. "It reminded me of you."

"Oh, yeah?"

So damn sad.

"Yeah."

Yeah. Yeah, an eight-year-old was basically telling him to straighten himself up; yeah, an eight-year-old was putting in the effort to prevent him from having another angst fest long into the night. He felt foolish: He felt as if he instead was the eight-year-old, not the kid in front of him who had the body of a man fifteen years his senior.

The sand dollar seemed to stare into him like an expectant captain, and Seifer bowed his head as he allowed Scruffy to pounce onto his arm. Strange as it was, the urge to snag a cigarette didn't manifest his mind that moment.

"It's not Christmas," he lamely stated. "Not in a couple of months."

"I know. But I just wanted to give that to you."

" … I don't have anything for you."

Apparently, he was wrong, because the next second, Squall shook his head, grabbed something obscure from his pocket, and held it up to his ear as he spoke. "No, you gave me this." A seashell—a seashell Seifer found the second day he encountered this particular version of Squall.

"Man, I didn't even know you still kept that thing."

"Listen, Seifer."

To what?

"Can you hear it?

Hear what?

"I can hear it, and so can you."

So could he.

The ocean. The breeze. The birds. Waking up at two a.m. to sneak up to Balamb Beach and greet the cold waters.

With Squall. Hesitant, unsure, sleepy. His hand would grab the other's as they pushed past the first tides and began to compete. Who would swim the most? Who would get scared first and turn back?

"Do you remember?"

He breathed. "Y-Yeah."

"I don't know what other people are saying, Seifer," the other began, looking at his eyes that were so confused. "I don't know why all of this happened.

"But I do know that Squall misses you as much as you miss him. All these different sides of Squall, even me: We are affected. We feel something funny, and sometimes, it hurts. We feel like someone locked the door, and we can't get out.

These days, my chest feels weird. It stings. I didn't know what it was, but I do know now that Squall is somewhere near—"

"He's what?"

Seifer was incredulous, snapping out of his reveries as he grasped the younger man's shoulders and gazed intensely into the wide eyes that looked pained. Those words: God, was there now a chance? Squall was near? Was this possible?

… But it … hurts?

"I can feel him. He needs help. It's hard to breathe sometimes when I feel that he misses you a lot, a lot, a lot."

"You can feel him?"

That nod nearly sent him reeling backwards. "Y-Yeah. At first, I thought it was because I was sick. But I think I hear his voice, now—I … I don't know. I just feel."

"You're … what about the others?"

"I don't know."

Seifer cursed: Of course, the multiple facets that he knew of were more content with destroying the shit out of this kid. They were merciless, and the little man in front of him practically had to have a bodyguard to actually go to the bathroom. If they ever saw him by himself, there'd be no way to say that Squall's childhood would even exist, and after hearing this miraculous piece of info, the need for him to be safe was top priority for Seifer. He had this raw suspicion that the different sides of Squall simply felt faint pangs of the real deal reaching out for him—they couldn't feel anything more than that, not like this kid.

The kid was, officially, the only link to the true Squall Leonhart.

"I hear these noises that are loud and annoying when I feel Squall try to talk to me. Well, at least I think he's trying to talk to me."

Hopefully, Squall was. But the problem was that the kid had physical consequences when Squall tried to do so, and Seifer felt frustrated. He wanted Squall to spam communication, but at the same time, he didn't want the latter to strangle his childhood and cause him misery.

"God, kid, what am I going to do with you?" he breathed, ruffling that stubborn hair he often teased Squall about. "What am I going to do?"

Squall folded the sand dollar into his hand, and closed it.

For now, he could only wait.