Child In His Eyes

By Almasy

"At last, I say-
My fear is fading,
I can't speak it, or else you will dig my grave,
You fear them finding,
Always whining,
Take my hand now, be alive..."

Jonathan Davis, 'Forsaken'


-Pre-game, 2 months before SeeD field exam day.-

Sometimes I look at Squall Leonhart and wonder what the hell happened to the sunshine. It's easy for the others, who seem to have forgotten any time that existed when he wasn't frigid and sharp-tongued, but I can't seem to follow their lead. Those memories I have of the Orphanage, perhaps they are too precious, and I guess nobody else saw Squall the way I saw him then. They only scratched at the surface of the spirited, warm human being he was before. I was bathed in the sunbeam of his open heart, and I've been haunted by it ever since.

When he shut himself down, I lost any chance of recapturing those beautiful images. Squall smiling, laughing, splashing through the surf with me. Everything turned cold, and I was firmly shut outside the door. Maybe that's why I can't forget the way his eyes used to shine when he grinned, or the unselfconscious note of his laughter. I needed it after he became an icicle and refuse to laugh anymore. I needed it when I became no more than a sparring partner to him, and a part-time piece of casual affection if and when he required it.

It's not that I blame him, I suppose. It was losing Ellone that did it; the sudden shifting of the train tracks. Squall has never recovered well from sudden change, especially when he is particularly attached to the altered element. He likes everything to stay settled and predictable, and to be given fair warning if his life is to be upheaved. Shocks affect him greatly, and in a sense, Ellone leaving was the ultimate change in his life and thus, the most superior of shocks. He adored her, was almost in awe of her at one time. He used to follow her around everywhere when he was very young, as Matron told me later. Even though he could only crawl, he'd scurry along in her wake and try and catch her attention, a jealous rage following if she were to show favour to another child over him. In some ways, Matron said she was a mother figure to Squall. Someone who had been familiar to him his entire life, someone who protected him and showered him with praise and affection, and somewhat of a teacher and guide to him. He'd never seen Matron that way, that was for sure. It was always, always Ellone, and when he lost her, he lost more than a sister. His entire world as he knew it was shaken to the seams, and he found it extremely difficult to recover from.

In the end, I don't think he could live with the pain of it all. It just hurt him too much, and he found comfort in retreat. He drew back into himself and hid from emotion, attachment, support or love, choosing to live as a cold robot because it helped him to curb the pain. Reassuring himself that such heartache would now never again befall him made him feel safe, even if he couldn't convince himself that he wasn't dead to the world. And did it matter, anyway, if he was?

That doesn't mean I liked him that way, though. I understood him, as I always have, but I wasn't happy with what I saw. There was a long time where I thought I'd never reach him through those thick cavaties of ice. He didn't even smile for many, many years. It was a horrifying contrast to the Squall who'd been my playmate, my friend. It was as though he'd died, and I remember the exact feeling of hollowness that came with looking at him sitting so cold, so miserable and yet completely closed off. He'd brought about his own damnation, and in doing so, had blocked his heart from finding a way to escape it. And it still brings tears to my eyes to remember what he was before.

He had always been brave, in a subtle sort of way. Zell had a certain brazen bravado, but Squall was quietly courageous. We were out in the evening one day, I was 6, he a year younger. The sky was a ever-darkening shade of deep blue, embroidered with stormclouds. The wind was whipping sharply that night, and we could both smell a storm in the thickness of the air. We'd sneaked out of the bedroom, past Matron's watchful eye, all because of Squall's inherent fascination with storms. Perhaps it's in the name, I don't know. He was drawn to the thunderous waves, to the threatening sky and the howl of the wind, and I couldn't stop him from running out into it all. Not that I wanted to, particularly. We were young boys, united in our campaign to be wild and heroic, on a restless quest for adventure. We shared an insatiable hunger for excitement and neither of us were particularly morally aware back then. So, when he rushed down the dunes, kicking up sand as his feet sunk into the surface, and straight into the waves, I did nothing to stop him. Within an instant, I found myself joining him, gasping at the piercing sensation of the freezing waters around my waist. We weren't perfect swimmers, either of us. Matron had attempted to teach the group for our own safety, due to the fact we lived so near to water, but none of us were completely capable of keeping ourselves afloat. I guess it didn't matter at the time; I don't remember thinking about it. Squall didn't seem preoccupied with these little details either.

No, as I recall, he was happily spraying droplets of surf around himself and me and laughing that infectious, wonderful cackle he used to have. He looked at me with sparkling eyes as he threw water in my direction, his mirth only increasing as he soaked me. My retaliation didn't even seem to dishearten him, and soon there was a mighty aquatic battle taking place. The water raged all around us, though we couldn't have been that far out, but we kept on dealing out as much water as our little arms could handle, each waiting for the other to give up. The air was punctuated with ragged coughs and splutters as we swallowed the salty liquid, and before long, neither of us could breathe for laughing. Combined with the roar of the sea, our amusement was so loud that we failed to hear Matron running down to the seafront, until she began crying her lungs out for us to get out of there At Once.

Squall looked up before me, eyes suddenly becoming less animated and more frightened. I turned, and let out a disappointed groan. Our game had to end. It was a shame; the water had become warm and we had been having our childish fun. I suppose it was dangerous, but still. We hadn't drowned yet, had we? Another 15 minutes couldn't have hurt. Nonetheless, we trudged out reluctantly, dripping all over the dark sands and I realised that Squall was shivering. I suspected it was more than the cold, and subconsciously reached for his hand, a gesture he accepted gratefully. I was used to being bollocked, having a disobedient and disrespectful nature, but he was more of a free spirit. He didn't intend to hurt people and he wasn't keen on being reprimanded. He just liked following his heart, and he was always upset whenever Matron told him off. It happened rarely, but often enough for him to be scared of it. He looked up at her with fear-filled globes for eyes, and she sighed and scooped him up into her arms.

Despite his struggles, she carried him over one shoulder towards the Orphanage, dragging me behind her by the hand Squall had dropped. I could just see the look on his bemused face peeking over her shoulder, arms near strangling her neck, and I remember grinning at him in amusement. He stuck his tongue out and giggled, which brought on a sharp scolding from Matron, at which point he quietened. Not for a second did his gaze drop from me, however, though he seemed much less boisterous than he had been. Once inside, Matron soon had him stripped out of his sopping clothes, wrapped in a thick blanket and placed by the fire in the large living quarters. Me she left for longer, fussing over Squall as he was one of her favourites. We all knew that there were certain ones of us she had a special fondness for, and it wasn't a problem. Squall was a very easy child to love, and her affection made him happy. I didn't mind that she didn't like me as much, I didn't want her to. I wanted a mother in my life, then, not some woman who told me what to do. It was just rain washing off my back, her anger at me.

It did upset Squall, though. He was almost as unhappy about me getting bollocked as he was about suffering the same fate himself. She left him by the warmth of the fire as she took me through to the bathroom to towel me off. I remember the darkness in her eyes as she regarded me, this wicked devil who had corrupted her innocent Leonhart. He had never been so wild until we had become close. Before, he had been in control of his maverick spirit, but with me as his best friend, he surrendered to it completely. Matron didn't like that. She liked controllable children. Quistis was another of her favourites; calm, introspective and collected. Squall she loved because he was sweet and vulnerable. Zell she was slightly less keen on because of his bouncy enthusiasm, but she near hated me. I had single-handedly managed to rile up every other child in the Orphanage at some point or another, and was always causing trouble for her. I was loud, argumentative, undisciplined and angry. Violence was another attractive trait of mine. I hated her and told her so. I hated a lot of things back then, but I loved Squall and she knew it. She tended kept us apart sometimes as a punishment but eventually she had to give it up, due to the distress it caused Squall. I would lash out at things, breaking everything in sight, but he had a far more effective response. He used to howl the place down. It's strange now, because of his being so quiet, but then he would cry until he almost lost his voice. I still don't know why it hurt him so much, being seperated from me. It made me furious, yes, but it seemed to break his heart, and Matron always gave in to his wrenching sobs.

She hated me for all of it, though. I'd changed her Squall, and I wasn't doing myself any favours by glaring right back at her. She tapped the back of my knee with her hand as I narrowed my eyes in defiance to her demand to take my wet clothes off. I think I enjoyed seeing what I could get away with. By the end of our little 'discussion', I'd had more smacks than I care to remember. It was the same old reprimands; that I had to have more control over myself, and should stop encouraging Squall. Sure, I hadn't suggested tonight's activities, but I wasn't about to tell her so. It seemed logical that I didn't mind getting into trouble, so I should take the blame, rather than subject him to it when he would become very distressed. Yet on and on she rambled. He had potential, and she wouldn't let me ruin that for him by dragging him down to my level. I remember swearing at her, and I remember that she slapped my face. Bad language was one of the things she detested most, and I had a foul mouth back then. Still do, if I'm honest. I returned to Squall with mostly reddened skin, hair still dripping down my bare back. He looked up at me sympathetically with those wide blue eyes, Ellone's hands gently caressing the wet locks of his hair as she sat beside him, and she motioned to me to sit down with them. Ellone liked me, at least. She knew that my friendship with Squall made him happy, and she commented once that she admired my courage. She said she always wished she could be as self-assured and confident as I was. And oh, but how her eyes lit up as I leaned down to Squall's ear and whispered,

"Same time tomorrow?"

Of course, he agreed with a furtive, cheeky smile as the fire shone in his eyes.

Not long after that, it all ended. He became cold, someone I no longer knew. I'd slept in his bed for nearly all of our lives, and suddenly he wouldn't let me in. He closed off from me, wouldn't speak to me or go anywhere with me. I suppose Matron was happy, and in my darker days I sometimes believe she allowed Ellone to be taken because she had a feeling it would make Squall break away from me. I felt he'd forsaken me for a life spent in self-inflicted isolation. I was so angry at first, but even my deepest anger wouldn't stir him. He just kept to himself, only occasionally looking my way or saying the odd word. The pattern kept on until we were about 10 or so, his ignoring me, my rage turning into a deep self-hatred. I only became more violent, more lost in myself. I had done something. It was my fault he didn't love me anymore. What had I done? I loathed myself for whatever I'd done that had made him turn away. I couldn't understand it back then. I tried and tried to beg for forgiveness but he just turned away from me. I'd hear him crying at night and not be able to do anything about it because he wouldn't let me near him. We both hurt so badly without each other, yet neither of us could seem to repair the situation. He was too icily stubborn, I was too much me. I reminded him too much of feeling, that he couldn't let me near. The sight of me caused him such pain that he couldn't bear to be in the same room as me. I didn't understand it then, but by Hyne, I get it now.

It got a little easier, over time. I brought him less pain as he grew into his new shell, and could control his emotional responses, and even began to warm up to me a bit in the last few years. He'd pushed away memories of our time together, being in the sea, curled up together at night. He'd tried to forget the time we'd mixed our blood using a couple of kitchen knives, when he'd just turned 6. The scar still sat accusingly on his open palm, though. He couldn't forget, just as I couldn't. We were blood brothers, we were best friends, we were soul mates. Not even in his icy prison could Squall throw all of that away, and he sought me out again when he was 11, I a year older. We became friends once more, talking often and as deeply as he would let me. I saw glimpses of his soul, of the way he'd forced himself to be to cope with the pain. I wrapped my arms around him as we sat on the clifftops, trying to give him some reassurance and stability, just trying to cling on. Sometimes he'd cover my hands with his own. Often, we sat in silence, but it didn't matter. We were together, and nothing was going to change that. We weren't anywhere near as close as we had been, and would never be again unless he opened his heart once more, but it was a start. I'd lived through years of not being able to touch him, and this development felt like a blessing.

But sure enough, it changed again. Murphy's law, I suppose. I was moved to Balamb Garden the day I turned 13. Matron was desperate to get rid of me, so I would go whether I wanted to be a soldier or not. She probably knew I didn't have the discipline, just as I know I'm going to fail this year's exam, again. It didn't matter to her, though. She just wanted me off her hands, and I guess I can't blame her. I was a pain in the ass. Squall was unhappy about it, in his own unemotional way, but there was always the comfort that he was going to follow me in less than a year. He'd made me that promise the day I left, that he would come out to me before the year was up, whether Matron liked it or not.

He did, naturally. I gather that Matron was very upset, but Squall has enough of a firm tone to silence any objections. He'll make a great leader someday, and I know he'll get SeeD in two months or so. There's not even a doubt in my mind that he won't succeed, or that he won't be one of the greatest soldiers SeeD has ever had. It's just in his nature, he really does have one hell of a future ahead of him. Balamb Garden is like a home to him, and he embraced everything very quickly. He's a fast learner, and though quiet, he's so determined and intelligent. It's brought out the best in him, though he's remained almost as much of an icicle as he ever was. The same silent respect and affection lies between us both, but he's kept me at a distance from his heart as he ever did. And he is just as miserable for it. I know he misses the way we were; he's told me how much he regrets losing that easy time where he could just follow his heart and do as he liked. He loved life, then, and now he just feels hollow. It frightens him to death, but he doesn't know how to get back to where he was all those years ago. The mask is so infallible that he doesn't know who he is anymore, and that scares him. He's a frightened child, underneath it all. A strong leader on the outside, but he's shaking beyond that.

That's not the closest I've gotten to his innermost feelings. I know I can get to him, if I try. I have to, if I'm to take his pain away and help him back to the boy he used to be. Lead him back to his own happiness, as it were. Sure, we've changed. We both took up gunblade in our first year, so we're now fighting partners. We replaced the salty waters of the surf with the heavy clash of metal blades, but somewhere, two boys lie within our adult heads. It takes us both back, I think. We've changed as we've grown, been drawn apart and seperated, but there are times when we are the same children playing in the waves. Maybe that's why we find so much time to battle one another. Brings the memories back, I guess. It doesn't hurt Squall anymore to remember, as I know he does. Even the GFs haven't taken away all of it, yet. I think it makes him feel alive, nowadays.

We've considered becoming lovers. In the last few years, an attraction has grown between us with the sudden descent into adolescent hormones, but I'm holding back. I will not take that step until I can reconcile us as friends. I want us to have that connection again. I want that closeness. I want him to feel again, to bring him back to life for his own sake. I can't sit here and let him be miserable. I have to do something to make him feel warm again. Only after I've done that will I take him in my arms as a lover. It's not a question of triumphing over him, or taking on a challenge, but bringing back the child to Squall's heart. The one he misses so badly. The one he cries for at night, just as he did all those years ago. Only then will I take the next step.

There's no Matron now, to put an end to our happiness together. There's nothing now to stop us loving one another as did then and were punished for. No obstacle stands in our way of being soulmates again, and I would walk through the Fire Cavern naked if it meant I could obtain that for Squall. To make his heart beat again, to rise the fire back into his eyes. To the world we knew, of nothing but waves, thunderclouds, and love.


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