Chapter 1: Dishonor

I was bored, and Fujin was watching me. I scowled and kicked at the air a little. She wasn't even here and she was pissing me off. I could feel that knowing, almost-amused look from miles away. Goading me. Waiting.

This morning. I had woken up all at once and realized that convalescence was over. Ever have a morning like that? Where you rise out of sleep quickly and completely, ready to take action? No more quiet summer days and nights, content not to think about anything at all. No more drifting quietly, calm, letting the sun wash through me. No more damned fishing. I never caught anything anyway, no matter how silently I cursed the fish.

I kicked again, steel-toed boot swinging deadly sure through the air to connect solidly with nothing at all. How I'd like to kick her for once. She'd known the second I stalked into the living room of the house I had bought in Balamb, that look spreading across her face after just a single glance at mine. She read me like a book, and I smirked right back at her, damned if I was going to give her the pleasure of seeing how much it annoyed me. She knew anyway though. She always knew. Hell, sometimes I checked out her expression to see what kind of mood I was in.

I'd been sitting down here on the dock all morning, thinking. Fujin would say 'brooding', probably. She likes that word. But I wasn't. There weren't any dark thoughts running through me at all. Just this familiar restlessness, singing in my veins, trying to make me leap up and run screaming out of Balamb and straight into the world.

Shouldn't have bought the house. I should have seen this coming. Seifer Almasy cannot sit idle for very long. He needs to be in the thick of things. Ah well. We found so much money in my packs that ten houses wouldn't have made a dent. I had no idea where I'd picked it up, but hell. Use it. May as well buy a house, you can sell it again or leave it to rot. Doesn't matter.

What mattered was what I was going to do. My back stiffened as I again fought the urge to leap up, brandish Hyperion, bellow a bloodcurdling battle cry, and charge off to whatever random destination my subconscious had chosen. I chuckled. This was exactly the way I had felt in Detention, pacing back and forth, muttering profanities, my blood up and still rising. Right before I broke out and hijacked that train to Timber. I grinned at the memory; it was one of the very last clear ones I had before the dreams turned several months of my life into a dark, confused haze.

Well, I felt the way I had in Detention, with one exception. I wasn't angry. Annoyed with Fujin, yes, but that didn't count. That rage, which had colored the world crimson for me after Dollet, was gone. Or maybe it didn't start with Dollet. Maybe I had always been angry. I didn't know which, and I didn't really give a shit.

I forced myself to relax, and cast my mind about for the answer to this feeling welling insistently inside me. This time, I needed to know what I was doing before I did it. So many times before I had just run with the feeling, trusting my gut instincts and changing plans on a dime as the situation changed. In the end, that hadn't turned out so great. I needed to plan. In this new world where everyone knew who I was, knew what I had done, and wanted my head on a pike for it, planning was especially necessary. I could see it so easily; me trotting happily on my way to wherever and getting my head blown off by some little old lady who recognized my face and was pissed that Galbadian soldiers had trampled her flower garden. Alertness was necessary, and I wanted to be watching out for the unexpected instead of concentrating on deciphering that feeling inside me. So. I relaxed. There was plenty of time.

It was hot, and I took my coat off and folded it on the dock beside me. I turned my face to the sun, enjoying the heat, enjoying the feeling of my skin burning. I cleared my mind.

And finally, it came to me. It was inevitable, really.

 

I strode through the door of my house and threw my coat on the table. Apparently, I was unexpected.

Both members of my posse sat in the ugly orange armchair in one corner of the living room. Or rather, Raijin sat in the armchair and Fujin sat on his lap, sleeping in the circle of his arms, one leg slung over the arm of the chair, the other pulled up almost to her chest.

I crossed my arms and tapped the floor with my foot, feeling a lunatic grin spread across my face. Raijin woke up immediately, and looked at me shyly, a tentative smile on his face. Fujin, curled on his lap like some kind of feral kitten, continued sleeping. She looked so un-Fujin like with her war uniform and her eyepatch and her bare feet. Bare feet. I wrapped my arms around my sides and chuckled.

I'd known already, of course. This wasn't a surprise, not at all. I'd sensed intimacy in their voices and their silences and their looks. The affection in Fujin's kicks. I'd expected it. I knew what had happened in that field. The end to Fujin's worship of me. She'd seen me weak, and the image had shattered, her golden angel fallen. I knew before she did that she would turn to Raijin. Raijin, who worshiped both of us equally, though in different ways. Did it hurt? I wasn't sure. On one hand, I'd never seen either of them so happy. On the other, I knew I wasn't the prime focus in their lives any more. Was I relieved, or was I lost? Maybe a little of both.

At my laugh, Fujin raised her head from Raijin's chest and looked at me. Raijin might have been nervous that I would disapprove, but not Fujin. I knew she'd tell me to take a flying fuck if I so much as looked annoyed. She read my expression, and that gleam started up in her eye again, not annoying me now but fueling my anticipation. She pushed herself off of Raijin and padded to her room, returning moments later with her boots on and laced.

"We're going home," I said. Raijin grinned and stood up.

"What's the plan, boss?"

"I need you guys to go grab some dinner. Something decent for a change. And then I want you to go out. Hit the bars, get a room, I don't care. Just scram until midnight or so. Or tomorrow morning." I cocked an eyebrow at them. Raijin blushed, and Fujin looked like she wanted to bite my ears off and string them on a necklace. She settled for sticking her tongue out at me.

I pointed meaningfully at the door and picked up the phone. They got the hint, and I dialed as the door swung shut behind them.

"Headmaster's Office, this is Xu." Great. Xu. This would be fun.

"I'd like to speak to Edea, please."

"Who's speaking?" Still polite. She didn't know it was me.

"Seifer Almasy." I felt the chill silence ooze through the coils of the cord, and laughed. I doubted Xu even remembered why she hated me. Maybe she'd actually convinced herself that it was because I tried to destroy the world.

"What do you want?" Pure frost.

"Why so cold, Xu?" I laughed again. "As I recall, you used to like me very much indeed. This any way to treat an old friend?"

She didn't reply, and I heard a click as I was put on hold. Elevator music filled my ear and I joked to myself, "Argh, the agony! I submit! Your revenge is complete, Xu!"

After not too long a wait, I heard that click again and Edea's voice.

"Seifer?" No hate in her voice, at least.

"Matron," I said, and there was a longish silence.

"You remember."

"I need to talk to you." I spoke softly, all business now. I did need to talk to her, after all.

"I need to talk to you, too," she said, surprising me. What could she need to talk to me about?

"Can you come here? I don't think I should come to Garden."

"No, I'd agree. Yes, I can come. You're in Balamb?"

"Yeah." I gave her the address. "Can you come tonight? Come for dinner, and we can talk."

"Yes. I'll be there. 1900 hours." And she hung up.

 

A tap at the door woke me up. I'd dozed off on the couch, subdued by the summer heat and humidity. Raijin and Fujin had come and gone, depositing cartons of food from some restaurant on the table, but I'd barely registered it, already half-asleep.

"Come in, it's unlocked," I said, sitting up. I rubbed my eyes and heard the door open. I yawned and looked up.

Edea closed the door behind her and looked at me intently.

Looking back at her, my vision seemed to blur and I saw her face before me, looking up into mine. I saw the corners of mulberry stained lips twist up for only a moment before they vanished from my vision. I felt sharp teeth nipping at my neck and a pointed, gloved finger slide up under my vest to scrape gently at one nipple. I shook my head in confusion and my vision cleared. There was only Matron, looking at me, a strange expression on her face. She was nervous. I'd never seen that particular expression on her face before, not as a child and certainly not as Ultimecia.

"Matron," I said, and my hands clenched into fists. I realized suddenly that I was panicking. Had we...? I looked away from her face and frowned, concentrating. I had to remember. I had to. I closed my eyes.

I saw and heard nothing for a moment. Then, slowly, like the tide rising, whispers filled my head, all of them wearing my voice.

(my lady)

(going to fight me too?)

(as you wish)

(don't die on me yet)

(yes, my)

(gotten to know you better)

(favorite student)

(hunt down every one of your)

(yes, my lady)

(it's been fun)

(does not dishonor)

I took a great shuddering breath. The memory was close.

"A knight does not dishonor his lady's virtue." And I heard her laugh, saw her false moue of disappointment.

"Poor thing. I'm really your mother, I suppose. The closest thing you have to one. What's more revolting, I wonder? That, or the fact that you still want to?" And I felt her hand again, caressing me intimately. I trembled and knelt at her feet, removing myself from her range.

And I was back in Balamb, suddenly, trembling all over again with relief. I looked toward Edea and saw the question on her face. I exhaled slowly and advanced on her, capturing her in a fierce hug. She didn't struggle, even though I must have hurt her. She was so slender. I rested my cheek against her hair.

"No, we didn't. We didn't. Don't worry. It didn't happen. I told her that a knight doesn't dishonor his lady's virtue. We didn't." I held her for a few moments, and felt comfort seeping into me. Finally, I released her.

"Although I bet Squall has more than plundered Rinoa's virtue. Or the other way around." I grinned at her, feeling like myself again.

She narrowed her eyes at me, scolding, and then laughed softly.

"What did you want to talk about, Matron?" I asked.

"We already did," she said. "What do you want to talk about?"

And suddenly I wanted to tell her everything. I'd planned on glossing over the salient points, but looking at her face, seeing worry for me etched there, I fell apart. She was Matron. She'd been through the same thing I had, except she had lost all of her memory. She no doubt faced the same prejudices I did, though she deserved them far less. No doubt that little old lady with the flower garden would have blown Edea's head off too if she got the opportunity.

But I didn't know how to tell her. I'm Seifer Almasy, I never tell anyone anything personal about me. Not even Raijin and Fujin. Especially Raijin and Fujin.

She must have seen the confusion and hesitation on my face. She sat down in the middle of the living room floor, facing away from me.

"Remember?" she said over her shoulder. "When you were little and I asked you questions? You wouldn't talk unless I faced away from you."

"Yes," I said, and plunked down behind her, facing the opposite direction. We leaned back at the same moment, supporting each other.

And I told her everything.