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Once In A Lifetime

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Seifer sent me two links. One to the song he thought described his life pretty well. I wasn't too sure about it. Seifer didn't win the Second Sorceress War, but then again, I don't think we won it either – particularly since the Sorceress who caused it is so far into either of our futures there's no way of being able to figure out whether closing the time loop actually counts as a win or a loss. I mean, Ultimecia is still out there, after all – and she'll still cause all the problems she's already caused for us, and the problems she going to cause for the SeeD of the future, and there's not really any way of getting around it. I figure the best we can hope for is a draw here and now, and maybe leave some records for SeeD of the future to find out what came before and why they need to be cautious.

My biggest problem with Seifer's song, to be honest, was it seemed to position him as the fool in the equation – a fool who decided one day to go out and start a life of crime for no good reason. And yeah, this's the common conception of how Seifer got involved in the whole Sorceress war in the first place. Just so happens the common conception is wrong.

There's only six of us know why Seifer was there in the studio in Timber (eight if he bothered to tell Fujin and Raijin; from what I remember of meeting them in Galbadia Garden, I don't think he ever did). He was there to try and protect us, to try and do something for Rinoa. Okay, the something he was doing was a stupid something, and the protection he was offering wasn't the protection we needed (what we actually needed was someone who'd thump some sense into Rinoa's head and get her thinking strategically rather than romantically).

He did the wrong thing, yes. But it was for the right reasons. Maybe I'm foolishly sentimental, but I think that should count for something.

To be honest, if I'd known ahead of time Zell was going to blurt out what he did (on camera as well – there's a reason Zell isn't allowed anywhere near the press when they come to visit these days, and it's called “operational security”) I wouldn't have had him anywhere near the place. He could have been on security detail or something, keeping an eye on the rest of the Forest Owls to make sure they weren't doing anything too daft. But I hadn't known, and things went off the rails.

Zell blurted out something about Garden, and I could almost see the “oh fuck” flash through Seifer's head. That's when everything went to hell, and he moved on from just threatening the President of Galbadia to actually kidnapping him. We chased him, of course, but we got there just in time to see Edea talking with him, offering him an option and an out. I wanted to intervene, but the spell she'd cast on us was too powerful. And Seifer knew it.

He chose to go with Edea, to become her Knight, as a way of protecting the rest of us. Again, it was the wrong thing, but it was for the right reasons. I still think it should count for something.

We had to protect Rinoa. She was our client. So we had to take her away from Timber, and flee to Galbadia Garden, and then everything really went to hell in a handbasket.

The next time we saw Seifer, it was after Ultimecia had used Edea to kill off the President of Galbadia, and we were supposed to kill her. The plan frankly sucked – I don't think Fury Caraway had any idea what the hell Ultimecia was capable of, much less what Edea's special area of sorcery was (if he had, he should have pressed for Seifer as the team leader: Seifer's more of a fire element lead, and Edea's abilities tend to ice, just like mine). Her husband is the headmaster of Balamb Garden, and while Cid may be a complete nuisance on the battlefield, and have the business sense of a concussed flea (why else would he have got into an arrangement with NORG?) he is actually a sound tactical thinker when he has time to plan. So Edea probably had enough sense to keep up a Wall spell pretty much constantly in public areas.

End result, everything went to hell. Again.

Then there was that episode in the prison. The one a lot of them can't stop blaming Seifer for. Having had a Sorceress bonded to me (and I'm still Rinoa's Knight, even if we're not romantic partners any more; she hasn't found a suitable replacement candidate, so I'm it), I know there's a link there which is pretty much under Her control. Just hers. Trust me, if it worked both ways, Rinoa and I probably would never have got together in the first place (yes, I know I hugged and kissed her up on the Ragnarok; we'd both escaped fairly certain death by asphyxiation and then the risk of death from those blasted Propogators. You tell me your adrenalin wouldn't have been running high after such an event.) because she would have discovered I wasn't the romantic hero she thought I was. I suspect Ultimecia was listening in... and she didn't know as much as she thought she did about SeeDs in the first place (Edea couldn't do much to keep her out, but somehow Matron managed to keep her memories her own). Unfortunately for her, while I got promoted up the ranks at high speed (and look, I was the senior SeeD on hand when we were attacked, and the only one with the requisite leadership hours who hadn't been on one side or the other in what certain idiots are calling the Balamb Garden Civil Brawl; there was actually a serious political explanation for “why me” which didn't involve the blasted time loop after all) at the time I was still the most junior SeeD officer of the lot, and all I knew about SeeD's purpose was what we'd been taught as cadets.

I don't hold Seifer responsible for the torture. And even if it had been his idea, rather than Ultimecia's, you have to admit, it worked out well for us. After all, it was enough to put Seifer rather firmly in at the head of the Galbadian military for the six months of the war – which meant we were fighting someone we knew. Fortunate for us, since it meant a bunch of new SeeDs weren't up against an experienced Galbadian general in the battle of the Gardens – we were up against someone who'd been taught from the same set of exercises we'd dealt with in classes.

Seifer was predictable. Too predictable, in a lot of ways.

It hurt, seeing how far he'd gone when he was fighting us back in the Master's office of Galbadia Garden. It was like he was high, or insane or something. It wasn't the Seifer we knew – our brother in all but name. We had to take Matron down, and to do so, we had to take Seifer down too. It hurt. I hated it. And it didn't damn well do the job anyway.

Everyone has their own reasons for why they joined in the fight against Ultimecia at the end of Time Compression. In my case, it was to get my brother back. Everyone else thinks I fought there because I'm Rinoa's Knight, and yeah, that was a part of it – I had to be there and protect her at that stage in our relationship. But a big part of it for me, particularly after I'd seen Seifer in the Lunatic Pandora, after I'd watched him drag Rinoa off and hand her over to Adel to become a living shield, was to get my brother back again from the crazy bitch who'd taken over his mind and made his life not his own.

Then everyone kept on treating him like he'd done all those things deliberately, like he'd chosen to be the arsehole Ultimecia made him into. Why else do you think I let him back in here when he came back? He likes to kid himself we just don't remember – he likes to pretend the forgiveness he's been granted is a result of the GF and not something he's earned, and yeah, I can see why he does it. But the truth is, I've always looked at what happened to him, and thought “well, there but for a twist of fate go I”.

So I don't think Seifer picked the right song for himself, but I can see why he chose it.

But I'm getting off track. The second song, he said, was one he thought summed me up. I didn't see it at first. It took me about three listens through the song before I stopped getting distracted by the complexity of the music, and started listening to the lyrics.

Once I'd heard the lyrics a couple of times, I could understand what Seifer was getting at. I don't really recall ever making deliberate choices to be where I am, even before the Guardian Forces started eating my memories. I wound up in Edea's orphanage through no choice of my own; I went to Balamb Garden because I was never adopted. I'll admit I chose to specialise in gunblades, but that was mainly because someone else said I showed promise with weapons and gunblades were the hardest type of weapon to master. Then they said I was too short to handle one.

That someone had to have been Seifer.

Which means I probably didn't actually make the choice to specialise in gunblades after all – I just let myself drift into it like I drifted into everything else.

I'd never really thought about it before, but yes, I do tend to just let the days go by. But then, I've never really known what it was I wanted to do anyway. I've known what other people expect me to do, and I've had a bit of an idea of what I didn't want to do. But I've never really known what I wanted. So it's always been a bit easier to drift, and let other people make the hard choices for me. I don't always get where I was expecting to be, but then, since I wasn't really expecting to be anywhere, I don't see how that's a negative.

These days, though, I'm having to make a lot more choices. I have to run the entire mission planning side of SeeD for a start, which is enough work for any three people. I chose to break things off with Rinoa, even though it looked like she was the one doing all the running there. But before the final tantrum, there was a long, quiet talk, where I basically explained to her why I wasn't ever going to be the Lionheart she wanted. I told her quite clearly, if she couldn't live with who I was, she should find someone else, because I wasn't going to give up SeeD for her. I certainly wasn't going to give up junctioning so she could feel secure in herself.

Rinoa knew I'd talked to the GF I junction. She knew I had at least some control over the sorts of memories they took. She couldn't trust me when I said I'd told them to leave memories of her intact. I could feel it through the link. I told her as much, and said if she couldn't trust me to do something so crucial to an ongoing relationship, then really... what were we building on?

It must have sunk in, because she threw her tantrum and left the following week. One of the things she threw at me in the tantrum was her feeling she never counted for anything – because I'd stopped drifting by then, and I was taking control of a few things in my life. I'd drifted into the relationship, but I chose not to drift out of it. Instead, I started to swim against the current, and I think it startled her.

I suspect it also hurt her, because this was one of the first times I'd done anything like it – and I'd put up with far worse things than a relationship with a pretty girl as a result of my habit of drifting from place to place in my life. Such as the aforementioned torture, which I hadn't told her about, but which she picked up from the link (sadly, I'm not good at keeping my memories to myself in the link – I suspect it's a result of having junctioned GF for so long. I should have asked Matron for lessons).

Those memories of torture were another point of conflict. Rinoa really couldn't understand why I was letting Seifer back into Balamb Garden after having done something she saw as unforgivable. For me, the unforgivable bit was when he took Rinoa and handed her over to Adel, but then, Ultimecia was pretty much dictating everything he did by that stage. He literally didn't have a choice in the matter.

Given I'd lived my life as though I didn't have choices up until then, who was I to throw rocks?

So Rinoa and I went our separate ways. She's back in Timber now, chivvying the locals into putting up a more organised resistance to the Galbadian forces, and actually using her contacts in the Galbadian army through her father to try and organise a peaceful transfer of power. Given Galbadia's in a bit of a mess at the moment, she might just succeed at snaring Timber's independence by stealth, which would be nice for her. About every third week she sends a message to SeeD, trying to get us to either supply her some forces on the cheap (I pass those to Xu; if we can ever afford it, we'll do it, but according to Xu, the earliest we're going to be able to afford this is after we've finished rebuilding Trabia Garden) or to honour our earlier contract – the one which had myself, Zell and Selphie there until the granting of Timber's independence – and finish the job. Those ones I tend to just ignore – that contract of Cid's was proof positive the man couldn't negotiate worth a damn. I checked with some of the legal scholars in Garden (Quistis, and surprisingly enough, Zell) and it turns out the wording of the contract was such that once Cid was removed as headmaster of Balamb Garden, the contract was no longer valid. So she can go whistle about it.

I'm still here in Garden, and rather than letting the days go by, I'm taking a bit more control of them, in little ways. I know Seifer thinks I let Xu walk all over me in matters of paperwork, but the truth is, I'd rather know what she's dealing with than lose track of things, and Xu may be good at some stuff, but she's damn lousy at giving concise reports in any fashion other than verbal. If I ask her for a written report, she gives me this twenty-page compendium listing each individual document she's dealt with over the course of the past however long, and if I ask her for a verbal report, it's “all satisfactory, Commander”. So I pick up chunks of her paperwork as a way of keeping track of what she's up to, and making sure she isn't abusing her access to Garden finances to try and feather her own nest.

Then I let Seifer catch me at it.

Anyway, I think I have a better song for Seifer. I've sent it off to him, and asked for his opinion. I also sent him one I think suits Rinoa.