Chapter 12- Don't Be Afraid

Immediately after I opened the door, my eyes met with Squall's. His gunblade was already drawn, prepared for our inevitable battle. Any doubts I had of whether or not I could fight him were instantly replaced with my natural competitive desire. I lived for the battle with my lifelong rival, as if this was the destiny I couldn't escape from.

That brief moment we stared each other down seemed like an eternity, and then I was abruptly returned to reality as the door slammed against the wall. Almost instinctively, fighting words started pouring out of my mouth as I stepped inside the cabin.

"Well, well…Here we are, together again, but my, how the tables have turned! This is it, Squall! Nowhere to run for either of us! It all ends here!"

He said nothing in reply to me. In fact, he didn't even budge from his fighting stance. I pointed Hyperion at him and beckoned him to make the first strike, but he still didn't move. I smirked confidently and methodically drew closer to him.

"What's the matter? Aren't you glad to see me, Squall? This is a glorious occasion! Our last battle…I thought even you'd be excited to see this day." Even still, he didn't elicit the slightest response to my taunting, but I knew something that would rile him up for sure. "You're not gonna let me take Rinoa from you without a struggle, are you?"

The words had scarcely left my mouth when Squall powerfully swung his gunblade at my head. "Never!"

I was barely able to raise my gunblade to defend myself, and I almost lost my grip due to the sheer force of the attack. His emotional attachment to Rinoa was even stronger than I thought. As I was defenseless, he lunged at my chest to take advantage of the situation, but I quickly spun to my left to get out of the way. I allowed my momentum to turn me all the way around as I left my gunblade extended. Squall ducked as it harmlessly passed over his head.

As soon as I realized I had missed, I jumped backwards to avoid giving my rival another open shot at me. I had anticipated correctly as I saw his weapon slash through the empty air where I had been only a moment before. He silently glared at me as he slowly rose back up.

"Not bad, Squall! But we've only just begun!" I yelled, charging at him.

I wanted the upper hand this time, so I made sure to attack before he had a chance to retaliate. He blocked, but I leaned forward with all of my might to keep him locked in a defensive position. Squall never backed down though. As I pushed, he pushed back, and neither of us dared to even flinch. We tried to overpower each other, but I found myself gradually backtracking toward the door.

When my feet touched the grass, I had to take measures to save my pride. I reached my leg out and tripped him. He landed flat on his back, but his gunblade fell from his hands and slid behind him. Squall desperately reached around trying to grab it, but he refused to take his eyes off of me.

This was the moment I never thought would come. At least not this soon. My rival was helpless, and all I had to do was strike. I lifted Hyperion over my head, maintaining my façade of ever-present confidence while I was wracked with dilemma inside.

"This is it, Squall! So long!" I exclaimed.

However, I had a brief moment of hesitation, and my opponent was too good not to capitalize on that. He kicked the open door right into my face, and I briefly cried out in pain. My anguish quickly transformed into rage, and I ripped the door off of its hinges. My mind was blinded for that moment, and I was oblivious to the fact that I had let Squall recover his position.

Coming back to my senses, I let the door drop to the floor. I placed my hand over my nose in an attempt to stem the blood flow, but it was to no avail. I could still feel it profusely pouring down and off my face, so I removed my hand and glanced downward. I silently groaned as I saw the red stains on my trenchcoat. Squall had damaged my prized possession once again.

My adrenaline was still pumping as I narrowed my eyes and stared down my lifelong rival. I was breathing heavily out of my mouth and spitting out my own blood, but that was the only sounds I could hear. All other background distractions had been put out of my mind.

"Quick thinking, but you're only delaying the inevitable!" I boldly exclaimed.

"Your incessant babbling is boring me, Seifer. Do you always have to reassure yourself like that when you're losing?" Squall shot back nonchalantly.

I was stunned. I had never heard him talk smack before. Regaining my composure, I retorted, "Never would've expected to hear something like that outta you, Squall. But if you insist, no more talk! We'll just let our gunblades speak for us!"

I rushed at him and forced him to be on the defensive again. I incessantly attacked him to prevent giving him an opportunity to counter, but I had failed to foresee what could result from this. Abruptly, a bright yellow aura surrounded Squall and knocked me away from him. I knew what was coming; I only hoped I could stop it.

"Renzokuken!" he shouted, activating his limit break.

Then my instincts took over. It was as if Hyperion had taken control as I successfully parried every blow, but the intensity of his desperation attack drove me back to the entrance of the cabin. I had endured all of Squall's most powerful move, but I suddenly found myself stumbling backwards and landing on the grass outside.

I had tripped over the door that I had thrown to the ground in my fury. I quickly scrambled back to my feet, and I struggled to keep from screaming my lungs out in a mixture of frustration and embarrassment. (No matter what I do, I just can't beat him!)

I knew I couldn't win in my current state of mind, so I turned to the rest of my party. "Hey! You guys just gonna stand there or what! Get him!" I ordered, but nobody moved. "What did I just say! Get him!"

I walked away from the action without another word as I tried to calm down. I decided to watch from afar off, feeling the need to be alone. I glimpsed up at the sky and noticed that it was overcast. The wind started to blow, and it looked like a storm was approaching.

Selphie was the first to step up to the challenge. She exchanged a few words with Squall, but I didn't pay any attention to what was said. She appeared very timid at first, but the Little Messenger Girl soon picked up the pace. She actually took the early advantage and knocked my rival to the ground with a low sweep of her nunchaku.

It didn't take Squall very long to recover though. Selphie tried to swipe at him with her nunchaku, but it got wrapped around the gunblade. Squall then used his strength as he quickly jerked back with his weapon. She began to stumble and eventually fell to the ground as they untangled.

Both of them quickly got back on their feet, and the exuberant SeeD fully extended her weapon in defense, and the gunblade struck the steel chain. The former commander kicked at Selphie, but she used her raw agility to cartwheel far away from him. I had expected Squall to make short work of her, but the fact that she was able to hold her own earned her some respect in my book.

They both stood still for a moment, but then Selphie attacked him from long range, and he was helpless to do anything other than block with the broad side of his blade. He tried to grab the nunchaku, but she quickly pulled it back to her. Then my teammate began to whirl the nunchaku over her head at a rapid pace, and I wondered what she was trying to accomplish.

Then I saw Squall assume a familiar stance. He held out the gunblade with his right hand, leaving his left hand free. He was obviously preparing for what was about to happen and giving himself a better chance to counter. As soon as she swung at him, he parried and then snatched the end of her weapon an instant afterward. He slowly dragged her toward him, and Selphie refused to let him take her nunchaku.

(What is she thinking! She's gonna die if she doesn't let go!) I thought to myself.

Then out of nowhere, a whip cracked against Squall's wrist, forcing him to relinquish his grip on the nunchaku. Selphie fell to the ground, and then she quickly scurried back to the others as Quistis took her place.

"Sorry, but this is business," she said.

"Then let's get on with it," he replied coolly.

"I never expected that I would be forced to fight my best student."

(Hmph…What about me? Don't I get any credit?)

"That's the nature of being a SeeD. You can't choose your enemies," Squall stated.

(All too true. I know that better than just about anybody.)

In one smooth motion, my former instructor wrapped her whip around my rival's legs in one smooth motion. Then she yanked back and forced him to the ground. With a ruthless ferocity that I had never seen in her before, Quistis beat him repeatedly across the chest, leaving his white shirt in tattered, blood-stained shreds. I could see the lashes all over his now-exposed and once-smooth skin.

Driven by pure determination, Squall struggled to rise to his feet as she struck him across the back multiple times with a cruelty that a taskmaster would display toward a slave. He wildly slashed in her direction with his gunblade, and by a stroke of luck, the whip wrapped around the blade. He extracted it from Quistis's hands with a swift pull and then charged at her despite having difficulty maintaining his balance. Defenseless, she could do nothing but drop to the ground and wait for the end to come. She bowed her head and closed her eyes, unable to look at Squall as he stood over her, seemingly ready to finish her off.

Then my rival froze upon hearing the sound of a gun clicking behind him. Irvine's rifle was pointing at Squall's back, which was barely covered by the remains of his leather jacket. The stripes left by the popular instructor's whip zigzagged all over his body, and in time they would probably become scars. He had to be going through immense anguish at the moment, although his face didn't reflect it.

"Not so fast, buddy," the sharpshooter quipped. "Back away from Quistis and drop your weapon."

The former SeeD Commander slowly turned around to face him with his gunblade still held firmly in his hand.

"Don't make this harder than it has to be, Squall," the cowboy pleaded. "I don't want to shoot you."

"I won't let you take Rinoa from me! You'll have to kill me first!" he retorted defiantly.

Suddenly, the sound of the Blaster Edge firing behind Irvine forced him to divert his attention. He spun around and spotted the razor-sharp disk coming toward him. He evaded it and quickly attempted to face Squall again, but it was too late. He capitalized on the situation without hesitation. With a powerful downward slash, the gunblade broke his rifle in half, forcing the sharpshooter to back off hastily. He was obviously fatigued, but my rival was still holding his ground. None of the others dared to take him on again.

As for me, I was still viewing this spectacle from afar as I recuperated and regained my cool from round one. I knew I would have the advantage when we battled again. There was no way he could defeat me in his current condition. A brief image flashed in my mind, but it disappeared from thought so quickly that I couldn't figure out what it was. I shook my head as if trying to empty my mind from all distractions and prepared to re-enter the fray.

I heard a deafening crash of thunder, and I looked up at the ominously dark sky, overwhelmed by storm clouds. Not even a single trace of light could escape from their grasp. A torrential downpour ensued, accompanied by fierce winds which pelted my face with large drops of rain. My coattails began flapping uncontrollably and I had to brace myself to avoid losing my balance. I heard waves crashing on the shore behind me, meaning it was not only tough to see, but tough to hear as well.

Despite the adverse weather conditions, I noticed that Zell was trying to apprehend Rinoa. The sheer volume of the storm drowned out her cries for help, and her knight had his back to her while being distracted by the other three SeeDs. She repeatedly fired her Blaster Edge followed by casting low-level spells in an attempt to keep him at bay. It was apparent that she had no intention of harming him, and he was slowly but surely drawing nearer. She was a good fighter, but she stood no chance of beating a SeeD one-on-one, even if it was the Chicken-Wuss. If he could grab the sorceress, Squall would have no choice but to surrender.

I rushed to preoccupy him so that he would not be able to rescue his girlfriend. I moved directly in between Rinoa and him to make sure he got a good view of what was going on. I wanted to make sure he was as strong as he could be. This had the possibility of being our last fight, so I wanted it to be a good one. I wanted his adrenaline pumping. I wanted my rival to give his very best effort. Anything less could not be considered a true victory.

"Get out of my way!" he yelled upon seeing Rinoa. Even though he was in close proximity to me, I could barely hear him. The heavy rain had washed away the blood from his body, revealing the gruesome wounds that he had received from Quistis.

"You gotta go through me first!" I said with a smirk.

"If you insist!" Squall complied with a slice at my chest.

I parried, and then I began baiting him into coming after me. I led him toward the shore and away from Rinoa. For the time being, I was content to stay on the defensive, convinced that he didn't have enough left in him to beat me. Both of us were tentative due to the rain making for unsure footing. Neither of us was willing to risk slipping and leaving himself completely vulnerable. We fought back and forth across the edge of the island with the waves splashing at our feet. With four SeeD members after her now, the sorceress had probably already been captured, but I couldn't afford to stop fighting.

Squall continued to weaken as we fought, and eventually he just stopped attacking. He just didn't have the strength anymore. He looked like he was practically unconscious on his feet. I slashed at him, and he was barely able to raise his gunblade in defense. Somehow the force from the clashing blades shattered his weapon to pieces and knocked him to the ground. Squall was an easy target now, but I was reluctant to act. This wasn't how I had imagined my moment of glory at all. He was completely helpless, and winning like this would be so anti-climactic.

(It can't end like this…) I thought to myself.

Before I even had the chance to decide what I was going to do, we were struck by a large wave. I barely managed to stay on my feet, but before I could even open my eyes, we were hit by another one. The storm had reached a new level of intensity as the ocean mercilessly bombarded us and forced me to my knees. I struggled to breathe, and I could feel the water trying to drag me into its depths. After what seemed like an eternity, the tempest finally subsided and I ran back toward the center of the island, as far away from the sea as I could possibly go on this cay.

Then I stopped when I realized that Squall wasn't following me. I looked back toward the shore, but he was nowhere to be found.

(I guess he didn't have the energy to escape. Swallowed by a squall…how ironic.)