"The end of wisdom is to dream high enough to lose the dream in the seeking of it."
"What are we going to do now?" Seifer hissed venomously. "Idiots!"
He was beyond furious; he was extra furious.
All of my labors - wasted! he realized. The laborious planning it took. All the preconditions met. The sponsor -
"Calm down, Seifer," the voice of a middle-aged woman coaxed through the obfuscating hygienic curtains. They bore the same color as that kind of very unappetizing green which everyone who has been hospitalized has grown to hate.
From his mobile stretcher, Seifer looked up to see the face of Dr. Kadowaki peering through the transparent plastic porthole laced into the green screen. She looked anything but curious, as if she had expected him to devise some brilliant, laborious plot to get caught just to bother her. The expression on her face told the story of a once very promising individual who had settled into the numbing shoes of professionalism and so became bored and jaded without really knowing the cause. These types were often the most dangerous because no amount of internal soul-searching would be able to produce a remedy for their emotional hollowness. What they were badly missing could not be found within them, but in the outside world.
Seifer on principle would protest to any command that was given that he did not himself issue, and he would have done so already if he was so easily willed by a woman with a 12-inch hypodermic needle. Thus, he did as he was told and calmed down.
"I haven't seen you this banged up since you and Squall sparred during the week of the Dollet run field exam," she commented, leaving him to wonder if she expected a reply.
"But that was before he became a SeeD and you a terrorist," the doctor added.
All of this was back in the day, before Squall had been promoted to SeeD commander, before Seifer had served as Ultimecia's knight, and before Dr. Kadowaki had been reassigned to Nova Trabia Garden along with the rest of the crew.
Seifer ground his teeth together before asking, "How has your new sedan been treating you?"
Kadowaki didn't answer him as she checked his scrapes and bruises. The medic trainee had done a substandard job bandaging his cuts in the chaotic rush with which they had brought him into the infirmary.
When his subtler reference to her questionable use of Garden resources did not provoke a response, he prodded her further with, "Is your contact-lens-dealing side-business' motto still, 'You won't see what we see until we see your money'?"
She veered her eyes over to his and proceeded to look through him. In a moment like this, though, the link often works both ways, and he got to steal a glance at something that she had probably hidden for a reason. The vibes he got from her evoked a woman who had lost her dream, or a mother who had lost her child.
But it was only a faint glimmer, and the wall fell back into place as each backed off from the stare of the other.
"I hope you are not trying to goad me into paralyzing you," the good doctor warned with a courteous smile, "because I would hate to have to do that."
"But if you did that, you'd be obsolete," Seifer countered. "At least eighty percent of the wounded you take care of are sent here by me. I account for your patient roster and your work docket. In a society without me, there would be no you."
The doctor snorted but then gave a nod that carried with it the weight of a yearlong consideration, as if she had pondered this before. He was the disease that she could not afford to cure.
"I guess I just have to make you better and send you back into the field to introduce more new customers to my office," she concluded as she took his temperature.
Seifer nodded with a stoic expression.
"And make sure you send them here and not to the mortuary," Kadowaki reminded him.
"We understand each other," he replied, taking a split second to wonder where the rest of his posse was, not to mention his sword. They don't seem to be in this room at least. Haven't heard a peep out of either of them when they were groaning like there was no tomorrow just a few minutes ago. Maybe I've been isolated?
As if sensing that his delayed concern for his comrades was finally seeping into his lobes of consciousness, Kadowaki shook her head and gave him the brief update about Fuujin and Raijin's conditions. It was actually less than brief.
"She barely got out with half a life in her, and he will be lucky to walk again without a limp," was the succinct prognosis.
"What about my sword?" Almasy demanded impatiently as if she had wasted his time getting to the main point.
The doctor's brow darkened crossly and the woman stood up with a disgusted huff.
"And there you have it," she announced, her words unguent with criticism, "the true character of leadership in the flesh-"
Seifer's face reflected a frown and waited for her to finish the phrase she was hanging on.
"-I can't imagine why they follow you," Kadowaki ended her icy assessment.
"I guess you haven't been keeping up with the program," Seifer chided condescendingly. The latter half he snorted with a gusto that spoke of the utmost confidence that he had in himself: "Get one thing straight: Leadership means that I'm always right, no matter what happens." As if you had any right to assume the moral high ground and lecture me on integrity of character!
Kadowaki shook her head and headed for the door, her stiff body language and grim kinesics betraying her disappointment in herself for ever assuming that he could be reasoned with. The automatic door slid open with a pressurized hiss as her key card drew near the card reader along the door frame. After she had exited through it and stepped into the hall outside, she paused there for a second to say loud enough so that he hear but without looking back at him, "A true leader doesn't have to make the right decision every time, but he should always make his decisions for the right people. Maybe you've been so caught up the 'what' that you have forgotten about the 'for whom', Seifer. It's not all about you. Others are being mangled, crippled, and handicapped in pursuit of your goal, your dream. Had it been Headmaster Kramer or Headmistress Trepe out there today, even if the result had been no different, at least the intention would have been. The difference between you and Commander Leonhart comes down to-"
The infirmary door closed behind Kadowaki after she stepped out, cutting off the last of her words from Seifer's ears and driving home the point that he was lying prostrate and alone in lifeless white room that might as well have been a grand casket. The clamp of the lock on the other side of the door had sealed him inside his coffin.
Left to himself for the first time in a long time, Seifer fidgeted. He had been in constant company of his subordinates in the subterranean mine shaft for weeks, and even as far back as when he had been in the Disciplinary Committee, he was never seen in public without his right and left hands - the dextrous Fuujin and the gauche Raijin - flanking him. A coterie drew so much more attention in the Balamb Garden lobby than any solo stag performance he could have put on on his own. Perhaps the two of them were the key to making him appear larger than life, accounting for much of his reputation. In one manifestation they built up his reputation so that it could precede him, and in another they would precede him in battle, as if a prelude to the symphony that he would orchestrate alone on his podium of solitude. But so many times had this composer lost his cool. He had tried so hard to distance himself from everything, from the world, to render himself untouchable and otherworldly.
He was embarrassed now not because he had the pretension to presume that he had deliberately molded his image on a purely selfless agenda, but because he had lost sight of all the once unselfish motives behind it that he used to go refer back to to justify that he was in fact uncommon and above the rest. There had been some good in shutting the rest of the world out before he could stomp on it and climb to the top where it all would make sense. It was precisely because so little made sense sometimes and things happened for no apparent reason that the innocent were made to suffer; that sons were left fatherless and wives without their husbands. The order that was lacking had to be replaced, because without order, there could not be justice.
He wanted justice more than anything, even more than fame. Vindication from his defeat by the SeeDs during his service to the sorceress was important too, but still not as inveterate and high a priority as his long-seeded search for justice. If he could find out why his father died and who killed him, that would be the end-all to how everything began. Of course, taking justice into one's own hands was probably not the recommendation of the general will, but he felt he was the bearer of light in this case; he sought to illuminate the darkness and smoke that shrouded the unworthy, unrighteous massacre of General Shojora's hunting party. It was his duty to uncover the truth because he was personally involved and because no one else in the Galbadian government would. The military hierarchy had always worked that way, and that was how the lower echelons could continue to get promoted without any questions asked.
However, trying to shed light on history was like shining a flashlight in a well. After his being orphaned, he had fully assimilated his role as a mercenary-in-training way before he met Fuujin and Raijin. It was easy to be a stranger to everyone in Balamb Garden then, just starting out as a newcomer, and he hadn't expected any help from anyone for his cause, much less the help of a stranger.
So when one did approach him one evening during his summer recess on the curb of the most desolate street in Deling City, it was a rude awakening. The appearance of the passerby helper, as it turned out, was a rude shock.
"Are you okay?" a girl who looked no more than a year younger than him asked, bending down to where he was squatting on the sidewalk. Her voice contained a gentle tremor, but abounded in genuine concern. It carried with it the softness of Phoenix down, just like the sad and worried look in her eyes, but at the same time made him feel like a charity case for some zealot of public and humanitarian reform.
His stripling manhood somewhat impugned, Seifer looked up and snapped angrily, "What? Do I have a little angel on my shoulder pointing at my head and telling you to help me?"
"Not on your shoulder," she replied softly to smooth over his ruffled temper and with more poise than he thought a girl of her no doubt delicate constitution would be able to maintain under his gruff intimidation, "but in your eyes."
He relaxed his glower and looked back to the lapping waves. It was fascinating how the ripples would take turns sparkling under the last reaches of the setting sun.
"You don't know what a relief it is to know that no man will ever find you ugly," she chirped offhand, beaming as if she was well acquainted with the feeling. It was a change in the pace of the conversation designed to throw him off guard, like a feint in the opening of a chess game on the far side of the board, and it worked.
The remark was so contrary to her demure frame that Seifer wasn't sure if he had heard her correctly. So even smurfs can gloat. Deling City...it contains all sorts. I should have spent more time reading up on its indigenous population in the Balamb Garden Library's tour manuals.
"Isn't it a bit pretentious of you to say that out loud?" he checked her. He was becoming somewhat cross with himself for not checking the capital's demographics and statistics on Garden Net before he finalized his plans to come visit the city's planetarium and observatory. They were both closed for the duration of the summer for renovations, meaning that he had no reason to be there.
The young woman turned to him with a quizzical face.
"Are you implying that it's not true?" she murmured, somewhat embarrassed and growing unsure of herself.
Seifer tried to stifle a chuckle. Well...
"True or not, who do you think you are?" he parried. "I mean, short of winning the Miss Galbadia beauty pageant, there will probably never be enough qualification in one's lifetime to voice that statement."
The girl suddenly took his hand up and clasped it between both of hers. He lifted his eyebrow but did not pull away.
"You have to pinkie-swear that you won't fall in love with me," she stipulated without realizing the ludicrousness of her proposal. She also didn't mind leaving behind their latest exchange as if it had been a completely different conversation.
Seifer's first reaction was to think: I don't think you could handle it.
"Aren't you even going to tell me your name first?" he diverted. Wait, do I really want to know?
"Promise me!" she insisted, blatantly ignoring his protest.
"Why are you so insistent about this?" he inquired, careful to act not the least bit curious though he had his own suspicions. It's so like them to just center in on one minute, meaningless detail and dwell on it. Monomania is definitely a gender-linked disease.
"'Cause I just am; I'm a girl. So promise me!" she whined, shaking his arm.
Seifer paused, debating internally whether or not the excuse she had given him would have legitimately passed on front of a jury. What's in it for me?
"Pretty please?" she tried next.
Unconvinced, Seifer didn't budge. For some reason that eluded him at the present, this scene seemed awfully familiar to him. I think you're just wasting my time.
"While I have your hand, I want your word too," she pressed again when she saw that there was no change in his skeptical demeanor. She squeezed their interlocked fingers reassuringly.
"I'll know if you're lying too," she warned.
I care, Seifer thought with about as much sincerity as Irvine would have exercised in narrating his dating experience to an unsuspecting Garden trainee.
Adopting a more ominous tone, she added, "Humor me or I won't let go."
"Fine by me," he dismissed the thought with a shrug. "Your hand is smooth to my liking anyway."
The heavy blush that flashed over her face was testimony that she had not expected him to say that. As a reflex, she dropped his hand in shock and pushed him away.
"Believe me," Seifer said quickly, trying to bring her back into the conversation, "I really don't foresee that as being a problem."
The girl turned to look at him with an attractive gleam in her eyes and searched his for the answer they contained.
He looked back at her quietly for a moment, long enough to convince her that he was being earnest and she smiled. He then motioned for her move back closer to him so that they could complete the pinkie-swear pact that he fully intended to honor.
She giggled and then brushed her long hair back behind her ear as a blush suffused over her cheeks.
"My name is Yumey," she introduced herself ever so softly.
"Yumey?" he repeated thoughtfully before returning, "I'm Seifer."
"Yumey?" another female voice cut into the picture. "Who's Yumey?"
Though it was by no means an unpleasant voice, the surprise that its owner's undetected entry had taken Seifer by would render it more cacophonous to his ears than a bleating Mesmerize in nuptial heat. The startle was enough to take him from the regretfully irreversible scene with the angel whose wings he had deliberately clipped and dashed to the ground at Hodmimir's Forest two summers before back to the sterile enclosure of the Nova Trabia Garden Infirmary. The rare glimpse at the repressed past fell apart before he could recollect any of the pieces.
"Does this 'Yumey' have something to do with why you are here, or have you forgotten my name already?" his new addressor asked. She was standing about five feet away from him at his two o'clock.
How could I forget... Seifer mentally rolled his eyes, which remained physically closed from the intense pain of both the re-visitation of his nightmarish memory and its subsequent shattering.
"The rubble that landed on you must have been heavier than it looked," the girl commented with a tender, sympathetic expression.
...my dear Instructor Quisty?
Having stepped into the room and fully clear from the entryway, Quistis Trepe took a moment to study him as the automatic door closed behind her with a pressurized hiss.
"How long have you been standing there?" Seifer asked laying his head back on his pillow and staring at the ceiling. How much of my internal monologue did you hear me recite?
"I got a status report on your condition from Dr. Kadowaki outside as she was leaving and then came in," the Nova Trabia Garden Headmistress replied. "Looks like you'll be in good enough a condition to be discharged after two weeks of rest." Yumey? To Ifrit! I wish I'd gotten here earlier so that I could have caught something of what he was murmuring.
"No mayhem until then?" Seifer responded as if he felt sorry about news. "Then who will 'Puberty Boy' play with in the mean time?"
Quistis' glower was interrupted by the simultaneous activation of all three classes of emergency alarms ringing in the halls at decibel levels powerful enough to penetrate each room in the three-story Garden. Within seconds the corridors throughout the institution were filled with Garden students who had quitted their classrooms and were stampeding towards the elevators, atrium, and armory.
Seifer's first instinct was the reach for his sword. His second was to remember that it had been confiscated already and that the only alternative at hand was remote control to his automated bed incline mechanism.
"What's happening?" he asked in acute attentiveness.
But Quistis had dashed out of the room and disappeared into the organized stampede of uniformed passers-by without giving an answer, or perhaps not hearing him over the blaring roar of the alarum. In the briefest of moments, Seifer thought he saw a face in the crowd stare at him as it passed by the doorway with the rest of the herd of students. But the long hair was too silver, the eyes too pink, and the look on her face too gentle to be anyone he would recognize, and so he rubbed his eyes and tried again to decipher the cause of the chaos from the chaos itself. The regulated ring of the alarm seemed to synchronize with the mass of clambering footsteps. Were they running away from something or towards something?
"What's going on!?" he hollered again.
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