*Warning* May Contain Spoilers For ITA

Beta: [Queen] Bebedora

Into The Darkness: The Seifer Almasy Trial

During his internment, Seifer did not have a single visitor outside his hired representation. And even he was doing his damnedest to stay away. If that was by Cid's order or personal choices, it was better left for Seifer not to consider. If he had lacked self-control on that front, then he would have been burdened by the knowledge that nothing could have prevented a sorceress from seeing him—if that was what she desired. Then he would be irrationally resentful.

And really, what good would that do him?

When word came that Raijin and Fujin only received two years in Garden's reformatory program, Seifer wept shamelessly with relief, giving zero fucks to the guards who witnessed it. He could stomach his future being a foregone conclusion, but not that of his crew. Fu and Raj were the steadfast anchors in his life—working to prevent riptides created by his promise in the future from claiming him now. The nature of what his friends had done, while legally responsible adults watched on, no less—was sobering. Those two were the tangible embodiments of solidarity, leaving no doubt in Seifer's mind it was he who had not lived up to his part. He was unworthy of them.

Granted, dying was a rather dramatic means of cutting them free from his failures, but if it meant they were free to fight another day, Seifer could instill a sense of victory from that. Hell, Garden was not about to make the world aware that it had neglectfully allowed two wards to run rogue during the war. Those records would be sealed. Unlike him, Fu and Raj would never turn their backs on each other, so whatever pushback might be in store for them at Garden— or from the world— Seifer knew they would thrive.

They just would have to do it without him.

On the morning of his tribunal hearing, Seifer found himself confounded when one of the SeeDs tasked with his arrangement handed him a bulletproof vest.

After affording a brisk laugh to cover the repulsion he felt, Seifer lifted the overpriced life jacket for closer examination. "I managed through the entire sorceress war without one of these, but now SeeD cares if I get shot at?"

The irony was certainly not lost on him. By this point, it would serve a more practical application in weighing him down after the White SeeDs threw his spent body overboard, so Seifer pitched it into the corner instead.

That minor subversion triggered the tightly wound SeeDs into taking him down with more force than what was ultimately necessary. When his head met the concrete floor, stars sparkled into the momentary black spots in front of his eyes. Seifer's laughter was low, like rolling thunder, as they chained his hands and feet. Yeah, it hurt like hell, but what can he say other than he got a sick thrill from the violence?

It was the first physical contact he had in weeks. Some things just had to be savored.

Then, for the first time since his voluntary surrender, Almasy was escorted out into the sun, which spoke volumes about how time lost its relevancy to him. He squinted his eyes reactively as the brightness washed out the world around him. A prickling sensation flashed over his exposed skin. Under normal circumstances, he'd be relishing in the heat, but being deprived for so long only caused it to feel like a violation. Once the blinding effects dissipated, Seifer searched for markers from which he could reorientate himself.

When reentering his timeline for the final time, the gentleness of spring had not yet surfaced in Balamb. Now, the aroma of the enduringly fragrant native flowers was strong enough to wash away the mixture of sweat and mildew that plagued his tiny cell. This could mean only one thing—summer was close to ending.

Had it really been that long?

While the brig was only a short walk from Garden's tribunal hall, Seifer had to set lingering hope for his stiff muscles aside when a black armored vehicle stopped in from him. As it shifted into park, his wardens wordlessly pulled on the chains, demanding compliance to step forward. When the passenger door opened, he found his self-effacing lawyer tensely pouring over unfamiliar procedure notes. It seemed the agreed-upon retainer fee hadn't been enough to cover a greeting.

Seifer was forcefully maneuvered next to him before having the door damn near slammed on his leg. However, it wouldn't take long for Seifer to reconcile why Garden felt obligated to increase its security measures. A portion of the route they were required to take was overrun with spectators roaring with colorful vocabulary to wish him well on his expected journey to hell.

If Seifer had the desire, he might have waved back out of spite. But seeing as though he could hardly raise his hands beyond his waist, all he could extend them was his pity. To imagine, they were wasting their precious moments here, all in the name of exploitation to suit Garden's benefit; there couldn't be a more worthless endeavor. Surely, this was designed so they could return to whatever hick town they spawned from, retelling the story of how SeeD ensured the big bad man got his moral desert.

Fucking, Cid. That rat-ass bastard weaved his manipulative nature into the narrative effortlessly— not that that came as a surprise.

Finally, as they managed to break through the crowds to enter a restricted path, the armored transport went up a steep incline. As the vehicle rounded a bend, it granted Seifer an extensive panorama of the ocean. Gently resting his forehead against the glass, he took in the tranquil turquoise water lapping against Balamb's rocky northern shoreline. That meant they were not all that far from where he and Squall had their final clash as students. That memory now felt ancient in his mind.

Long before humans or even Shumi took their first breaths, their dueling ground had been a molten crater, spilling basaltic lava into the ocean floor, forming the foundation from which life would arise. A foundation where Seifer would discover his unique affinity to fire and perfect his battle form. Fire and water forged his steel, much like the ocean and tectonics had built their world. It didn't take religion for a man to perceive sacred ground when he crossed it.

He cursed under his breath with longing as the waters began to vanish from view. Only now did Seifer realize how he had taken them for granted and frantically began trying to commit its receding imagery to memory.

The novel moment of sentimentality forced Seifer to mock himself. For fuck-sakes, what good was a memory when the house that contained them was bound for destruction?

Then again, desires rarely derive from logic, so an ache of regret grew in conjunction with the distance between them. His soul ran hot, like the magic he wielded. The lure of his natural opposite, his balance, felt both like an exposed weakness and hidden assurance. Seifer's battle to not think about the cooling tide only made the wish to submerge himself grow. Unwanted recollections of times he'd venture off alone into turbulent waters taunted him. He wanted nothing more at that moment to feel the weight of his body sink in the ocean's watery depths before emerging from the break of the waves, air-deprived, with salted water dripping from his face.

With his eyes tightly clenching closed, Seifer willed himself against the self-destructing pull, but it was a formable foe.

Hyne, why? What purpose could this longing possibly serve? Seifer was not interested in chasing absolution—there would never be any for him. Did that mean his desire laid in rebirth? If so, what fucking good would that do when he was closing in on death's heels?

An inner part of him, softened by that truth, forced Seifer to begrudgingly accept that had been a part of his motivation all along. In agreeing to assist Leonhart, Seifer defied the very nature of death and endeavored to break the vicious cycles of casualties and rebirths that beset them.

Seifer wanted his resurrection to be founded with immutability. Not temporary. Not contingent to an expiration date.

"Are you nervous?" His lawyer inquired out of habit rather than genuine care. This morning he opted to wear a generic cheap cologne scent to cover his excellent taste in scotch.

Seifer slowly opened his eyes, knowing the ocean had long disappeared from view. He struggled, but managed to swallow his emotions before producing a careless shrug. "Why should I be? It's not like I haven't done this before."

Seifer's correct choice in lawyers was once more confirmed when the reticent man looked up from his files to just stare wordlessly at his client.

Layla's Corner

Man, I lost my first version of this note. One of those days, I guess. This chapter kind of went in unexpected places so hopefully it goes over well. The next one is centered on the trial, so it's the longest and the only chapter that is left unfinished in this mini series. Obviously, it's kind of an important one, so I'll be taking some time to finish it.

Thank you to Queen Bebedora for looking this over for me. Also shout out to ramblingninny ,Chundercat, Alessia Heartilly, colobonema, and Angel-Wings Naya!

I don't know that I got to all of your guys reviews but know that they all mean a lot to me. Especially, right now with the world being as crazy as it is.