Chapter Two - Reflection
Squall gave him about a twenty-second head start before he fell right into step behind him, heading back toward the city. He hoped that Seifer didn’t think those few words would dissuade him in the least. However convincing he might have sounded, Squall was willing to bet his position in the Garden that Seifer was all alone here, with no immediate plans for the future. Judging by the edge in his voice, he probably didn’t imagine he even had a future.
Taking a firm grip on his own determination, Squall decided that he’d use whatever means necessary to bring him back. Goading him into a fight always seemed to work, so he’d resort to that, if necessary.
Focused so completely on his own plan of action, Squall didn’t realize that he was standing toe to toe with Seifer until it was too late to turn around.
“I told you to go home, Leonhart.” He repeated grimly. Squall shrugged.
“I don’t give up that easily.” He told him.
Seifer raised an eyebrow. “Could have fooled me.” He murmured and felt almost sorry that he’d said the words as he watched Squall flinch.
“I didn’t think you’d welcome me with open arms, Almasy. I came here prepared to persuade you.”
Seifer regarded him warily. “I don’t know if I like the sound of that.” He joked. And Squall simply stared, unblinkingly, as he realized that Seifer was teasing him. Seifer, joking? Poor guy must be even lonelier than I thought.
Seifer sighed wearily, his chest heaving with the effort and he gave Squall a direct look, one that had never failed to pin him right to the wall.
“Tell, me, Squall. What’s in it for you?”
“I don’t have any ulterior motives. I’ve told you why I’m here and I’m not going to repeat myself again.” He said stubbornly.
Seifer leaned against the side of a building, crossing his arms over his chest, the muscles in his forearms flexing involuntarily as he moved.
“You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.” He told him solemnly.
Squall shook his head and curbed the urge to smile. “Who would know better than me?” He asked.
Seifer looked away then, not really at anything in particular, simply taking in his surroundings. Needing somewhere to look other than at the boy who stood in front of him.
“If you were smart you’d have stayed at Garden. Forget about me, Squall, it’s over now. Whatever’s done is done and we can’t go back.”
“I’m not interested in going back.” Squall reminded him. “I’m interested in what’s ahead.”
Seifer furrowed his brow and glanced at Squall for the briefest of seconds before his gaze wandered again.
“There’s nothing ahead, not for me. The people of Balamb would never forget that you brought a traitor home, and you know it.”
“Everyone deserves a second chance, even you. You’re a son of Balamb, Seifer, above anything else.”
Seifer turned his unflinching emerald stare on Squall and held him in place with only those eyes.
“I’m no one’s son.”
Squall was unprepared for the pain that accompanied those casually delivered words. Because if Seifer was no one’s son, what did that make the rest of them?
Realizing that he was losing this battle, he stepped forward, crowding Seifer with his own presence, daring him not to see him, not to listen.
“Things will be different this time, I promise you. Give it a chance will you? What have you got to lose?” He asked.
Seifer stood stiffly, entirely too affected by Squall’s proximity to really consider the question he was being asked.
“Well?” Squall prompted, his eyes so silver in the moonlight that they appeared transparent.
“What have I got to lose? My self-respect, for one. My life, for another. Do you know how many people would pay for a chance to kill me?”
Squall shook his head, annoyed by Seifer’s single-mindedness. “It wouldn’t be like that, Seifer. You’d be a protected member of Balamb Garden, I would personally see to it.”
Seifer looked unconvinced, but at least he wasn’t arguing and Squall interpreted it as progress.
“Look. Give it six months. If you still feel the same way, I’ll help you get settled somewhere else, somewhere you feel comfortable.”
The familiar rage flickered through the emerald depths of Seifer’s eyes.
“I don’t need your pity, Leonhart. You think you’re some kind of Saint? Condescending to associate with me when the whole world despises me. I don’t need anything from you, or from anyone else.”
Squall resisted the urge to punch him. Seifer’s pride. He should’ve remembered to tread more carefully around it.
“I’m not doing this out of charity.” He told him.
Seifer straightened, abandoning his slouched position, which brought them even closer to one another. He could feel the same old sparks they’d always struck off of each other, and he was still just sick enough to get the tiniest thrill from it.
“Then why are you doing this?” He whispered in a voice that almost brought Squall right to his knees. He had no immunity to this man, never had, never would.
“Because I have no choice.” He ground out, knowing that he simply didn’t have it in him to elaborate further.
Not necessary, apparently. Seifer eased back as if satisfied with his answer and he smoothed down his vest as he watched the tension play across Squall’s face.
“All right.” He conceded. “What the hell? It’s not like I have anything else to do, right?”
The teasing tone was back in his voice and Squall breathed a sigh of relief. He’d done it, was all he could think. Never mind the battle to come, he’d won thisone. The most important one.
“That was almost too easy.” He said, still a little wary.
Seifer laughed, his old, arrogant laugh and he shoved Squall’s shoulder as he let Squall lead the way.
“I wanted to see how far you’d go to get me back.”
Squall stared at him, slack-jawed. He’d been taken in and hadn’t even realized it.
“You mean you were going to come back with me all along?” He demanded, indignation coloring his words.
Seifer didn’t even look at him as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his choker. Fastening it as they walked on, he glanced down at Squall.
“Hell, yeah. I hate this city.”
Squall laughed then, in spite of himself. “You really are an arrogant bastard, Almasy.”
Seifer grew serious as he considered Squall’s words. He had changed, drastically, since the last time they’d seen each other. But the changes he’d undergone were not the visible kind. Only time would tell the extent of his transformation and he didn’t intend to ruin the surprise for Squall right now. Fate had given him another chance, in the form of his archrival, and the irony wasn’t lost on Seifer.
“Yeah, well, Leonhart, the more things change the more they stay the same.”
“A cliché? Coming from you? Come on Almasy; let’s pay Laguna a little visit. We’ll rest there tonight.”
Seifer nodded slowly, thinking of the numerous times he’d stood outside the Presidential Palace wondering if perhaps Squall was inside.
“Ah, the Palace. It doesn’t hurt that your father turned out to be the President of Esthar does it?”
Squall shrugged. “Never really thought about it. It’s hard for me to really grasp the fact that he’s my father.”
Seifer didn’t question him further. He knew that while he’d been struggling with the day to day realities of life, Squall had been going through a few changes of his own. And he knew how badly Squall handled change. It was almost funny. Almost.
“You think he’ll let me stay?” Seifer hated the uncertainty in his voice and thankfully, Squall didn’t comment on it.
“We’re talking about Laguna.” He reminded him. “He welcomes everyone. He can’t help it.”
Seifer smiled slightly in the darkness, feeling his heart lift for the first time in a long while.
“Well, time will tell, right?” He asked, not really expecting an answer.
Squall’s voice warmed, although he didn’t meet Seifer’s eyes. “It has so far.”
Seifer remained more or less quiet as they were ushered into the Palace and directed toward an elaborately decorated sitting room. Leather sofas, oriental style glassware and vases, exotic plants and Persian rugs. Squall had never been in this room before and he couldn’t quite mask his initial reaction.
Seifer let out a long, low whistle. “It’s even nicer than I thought.” He admitted.
Squall didn’t respond, only took a firm hold on his impassivity. He didn’t want to admit he’d only been here the one time right before the war had ended. It almost made him seem even more uncaring than he usually did. But then he had to wonder why he suddenly gave a damn what Seifer thought of him. He didn’t like to admit, even to himself, that he’d always cared what Seifer thought of him. When they were growing up, all he’d ever wanted in the world was to have Seifer look up to him, just once. To have Seifer admire him would have brought him higher than anything he could imagine.
But they weren’t kids anymore, and things had certainly changed since then.
“So, is Laguna around?” Seifer asked him.
Squall shrugged as he sat uncomfortably on the forest green leather sofa. He didn’t like the sound his pants made when they came into contact with the furniture and he grimaced. Seifer barely concealed his amusement. Squall wasn’t any harder to read now than he ever was. He could never understand how so many others misinterpreted his silence for something else. Seifer could tell what Squall was feeling just by watching him; his emotions were all over his face for everyone to see; only everyone didn’t see them. Only he did. And right now, he could feel Squall’s apprehension about being here, as though he were unsure of how his Father would react to his presence. He had no idea how much Seifer knew about his life and the direction it had taken since they’d parted ways.
Squall was a hero. Everyone knew his name and Seifer knew how to listen. He’d heard Squall’s name bandied about in bars, on street corners, fishing docks, all over. Sometimes the desire to have it all back had gnawed at Seifer like a rabid animal. He got so homesick sometimes it was a physical ache and when he thought of Squall…the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach would threaten to overwhelm him.
Seifer had realized what his feelings for Squall Leonhart truly were the year he turned fifteen. After months of watching him, of trying to identify the unfamiliar urges he felt, one day he just knew. And it had hit him like a ton of bricks. They had been training outside of the Garden, something they were prohibited to do, and Squall had gotten the best of him for once. His face had lit up with surprise and undisguised pleasure as he’d plunged his gunblade into the dirt and flashed Seifer a boyish, euphoric grin.
Never one to gloat, Squall had simply basked in his own accomplishment after months and months of always conceding to Seifer, who was bigger and stronger. In that one moment, when he’d held his blade to Seifer’s throat, his eyes determined and smoldering, Seifer’s shock had been paramount. It was unthinkable that he would be bested by anyone, much less someone younger than himself.
But as Squall had lowered his weapon and his fierce expression had given way to an almost sublime happiness, Seifer found himself wishing that he’d allowed Squall to beat him a long time ago. Because the joy in his eyes and the way the sunlight arced across his beautiful face was worth, to Seifer, a thousand defeats. It was in that moment that he suddenly knew and he felt as though someone had punched in the stomach. He’d almost doubled over from the primitive rush he’d felt. He loved him. He was in love with Squall Leonhart.
It was the next day that the antagonistic behavior began. He knew Squall probably wondered what had wrought the sudden change in him, but he never asked. Seifer assumed that Squall attributed it to embarrassment on Seifer’s part. Anger that he’d been bested by someone else. Seifer didn’t particularly care what conclusion the younger boy had drawn from his actions, he only knew that as long as Squall despised him, he would never guess how Seifer truly felt. And by fostering the same feelings in Squall, he managed to conceal his desire. Just being next to Squall turned Seifer into the kind of person he despised. Weak. Indecisive. And worst of all, he lost control of his own mind. And so over the next two years they had fallen into a sort of routine. He antagonized Squall and Squall became more and more withdrawn. The only bonus was that he got to pick on Zell Dincht, which gave him no end of amusement. Deep down, he liked Zell, but it was just so easy to get a rise out of him that Seifer hadn’t been able to resist. And besides, it had taken his mind off of Squall for the briefest of seconds.
When he’d discovered that Squall had been linked romantically with Rinoa Heartilly, he thought he might go crazy. The thought of anyone touching Squall made him want to break something and so he’d done terrible things to all of them to salvage his own pride, even though no one was aware that it had been damaged, except himself.
Funny that Squall would wind up with the girl that Seifer himself had used to try to escape his feelings. He reasoned that if a girl like Rinoa couldn’t turn his thoughts in another direction, no woman would. And so he’d come to terms with the fact that he’d given his heart to Squall a long time ago and he would never again have the opportunity to offer it to anyone else.
He’d wondered many times if she’d taken up with Squall as a way to avenge her own bruised pride, but he couldn’t work up much feeling about it one way or another. The fact that Squall wasn’t his and would never be his was all he needed to know, everything else seemed insignificant. Although he had to question Squall’s taste. Rinoa was tempting, true, but if it were love he was looking for, he wondered why he never offered a chance to Quistis. She was everything that Rinoa was not. Quistis was the kind of woman that a man would be proud to call his own. Rinoa was the clingy, weak kind of woman that Seifer couldn’t stomach.
And then he had to laugh at himself for thinking of her as weak when he was sitting here mooning over Squall himself. Ridiculous.
Squall looked over at him oddly. “Is…something funny?” He asked hesitantly.
Seifer colored with embarrassment. “Uh, no. I’m just a little tired.” He offered lamely. Good answer, Almasy. Way to display that sterling wit.
Squall rose, glad for an excuse to get off that damn sofa.
“What have you been doing all this time?” He asked, and Seifer knew he’d been dying to ask that question since they’d first spoke earlier that evening.
Seifer shrugged. “Nothing much. Existing, I guess.”
Squall moved to his side, keeping a reasonable distance between them. Apparently, other people’s proximity still unsettled him. Seifer wasn’t surprised; it fit him well enough.
“But how have you lived? I mean, you have no home, no money. Or do you?” He questioned. Perhaps Seifer had resources he’d been unaware of. Seifer shook his head, his blonde bangs brushing his forehead. Squall swallowed, suddenly aware that his throat tightened up with every step he took in Seifer’s direction. He could even smell his skin and his heartbeat grew erratic.
“I haven’t really stayed anywhere. I’ve moved around a lot, never staying in one place too long. I sleep outside, I wander during the day.” Suddenly he realized how pathetic his nomadic existence must sound to Squall and he almost cringed. He didn’t want Squall feeling sorry for him.
“I sold Hyperion, lost my coat in a triad game. But I’ve been okay. I mean, I managed to feed myself and stay alive, right?” He tried to lighten the mood with a smile. Squall didn’t smile back.
“You’ve been through hell.” He murmured flatly, the guilt rising up again. You’ve lost everything and we weren’t here to help you.”
Seifer turned his aside, intensely aware of Squall’s presence, his body crowding him unconsciously.
“You’re not to blame for my situation. It’s my life; it’s the path I chose. The fault is mine alone.” He told him honestly. He turned his head back in Squall’s direction and almost forgot to breathe. Squall was standing so close to him that he could see the little flecks of dark blue in his steely eyes. Seifer could see the hurt in their depths and he felt the pull at his heart again. That Squall could feel pain for him astonished him. After all he’d done to him; he could manage to care so much. Perhaps he hadn’t killed the best in him, after all.
“It’s all in the past, now.” Squall told him vehemently. “From now on things are going to be different.” He promised. Seifer took a shaky breath and bit back the urge to pull him into his arms and show him just how different he wanted things to be. Wisely, he settled for a hesitant grin and said lightly, “It can’t get any worse, can it?”
Squall returned the smile and this time it reached his eyes.
“I doubt it.”
The silence stretched out then, creating a whole new kind of tension although Seifer was barely aware of it. All he could see was the transparent depths of Squall’s eyes and the way his tongue snaked out to touch the fullness of his lips. Seifer repressed a groan at the innocent gesture, for he knew that Squall was completely unaware of the turn his thoughts had taken.
As he took a deep breath, wondering if he’d ever find the courage to unburden his heart to Squall, the sitting room door swung open with a small creak and President Loire breezed into the room, tripping over the threshold in the process.
He paused and looked down, as though he was expecting to see something lying there that might have caused him to lose his footing. Then he looked up, undisguised joy on his face.
“Squall! I wasn’t expecting you, why didn’t you call to let me know you were coming?”
Squall shrugged, thrust one hip out and balanced his hand on it casually. Only Seifer knew that this was his defensive stance and he grinned. So predictable, Squall was.
“Well, in any case, I’m glad you’ve come! Did you…come for any particular reason?” He asked lightly, the hopeful tone of voice not lost on either boy. He wanted so badly for Squall to consider him his father and to treat him as such.
“I, uh, had a small mission to carry out and I was wondering if Seifer and I could stay here until morning.” He informed him briskly.
Laguna’s shoulder’s stooped a little. He’d known Squall’s reticence would take time to overcome, but he couldn’t help hoping that it would be sooner instead of later. And so he brightened considerably, vowing to make things comfortable between them if it killed him.
“Just tonight? Come, now, stay a couple of days to relax. I’m sure you boys have earned it.” He cajoled.
Squall glanced at Seifer, looking decidedly uncomfortable. Seifer knew he’d almost have preferred sleeping outside then being subjected to Laguna’s mother hen act.
“Well…I’m not sure, Laguna. We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we really need the rest.” He reminded him of the purpose of their visit.
Laguna appeared flustered. “Of course, of course. Come with me, I’ll get you boys settled somewhere more comfortable. Did you bring any bags with you? Anything you need carried up to your rooms?”
Squall shook his head. “No, it’s just us.”
Laguna nodded. “Very well, then, just you two. I’ll see that you’re settled in and we’ll talk tomorrow morning.”
Seifer smiled, wondering if perhaps Laguna hadn’t recognized him.
“Thanks, President Loire, we really appreciate it.” He said as he fell into step behind him, motioning to Squall to get moving.
Laguna motioned vaguely with his hand. “No problem, really. I’m glad you came here instead of going to a hotel.”
And then he launched into the trials and tribulations of his own travels and the meager accommodations he’d been subject to at times.
Squall covered his face with one gloved hand and Seifer smirked. It was going to be a long night.
Return to Archive | next | previous