Chapter 4 - Le Ciel
Iba was a true example of the smaller towns that had taken root and grown in more recent years. People felt safer now, and the area was experiencing a small population boom. In many ways it reminded Squall of a cross between Winhill and Balamb, but it also showed the influence of Esthar technology that was emerging as of late. Squall hadn't been here since his last visit to the old house. Amazing that Seifer had been here all this time and Squall had never known. A quip about searching for things that didn't want to be found flickered through his mind and departed just as rapidly as it arrived. A small restaurant was on what passed for the far side of town. It hadn't been built the last time Squall had visited. Pulling the car into a vacant space he put it into park and shut off the engine. He nudged the napping Seifer, who arched an eyebrow in questioning at the touch.
"Let's eat, Seif," Squall said.
"Seif?" Seifer replied sarcastically, voice half muffled in a yawn. "I'm twenty-seven, not seven, you know."
Squall folded his arms across his chest and smirked, vocalizing a snort of amusement. "Whatever."
Seifer found himself laughing openly at Squall. "Squall Leonhart's Greatest Hits, Volume One! Featuring the number one hit 'Whatever.'" He continued to chuckle as he got out of the car and made his way to the door of the restaurant.
"Yeah, yeah... just wait. I'll get revenge, I promise."
"Promise or idle threat? I'm betting idle threat!" Seifer smirked.
Squall narrowed his eyes and tried to keep a straight face as he gave Seifer a small push in the direction of a booth. "Sit down already. I'm starved!"
"Ever straight to the point, aren't you?" Wide smile, flash of humor in the green eyes.
Squall gave a brief nod and a smug look. They were interrupted by a young, perky waitress that talked incessantly as she brought their water and took their orders. She gave Squall a dazzling smile and turned sharply on her heel to take the ticket back to the cook's window.
"Wow, great shades of Selphie," Seifer murmured. "People that perky always make me suspicious. It's not natural I tell you."
"Oh, you'd be surprised to see her now. Motherhood's done wonders for the pep squad."
Seifer nearly choked on his water. "Did you say...?"
Squall nodded. "Yeah I did."
"Two years ago actually. A little girl, although I haven't seen them in about a year."
"So, her and the cowboy I'm assuming?"
"Yep. It was hilarious to watch, really it was. You'd think she was the first pregnant woman ever the way he carried on. Then again, maybe it's just a parental thing. That didn't make it any less amusing though."
"Amazing. Never quite thought of people our age having... kids... yet." Seifer got quiet. Life had really gone on without him. Not that he could even comprehend something calling him 'dad' at all. Things like that were for average people, not for someone like him. A sharp, unexpected feeling of melancholy descended and he gazed out the window to the street outside. The sky was bright and cloudless, the town's residents slow and unhurried. He felt like a spectator in life, not a participator. The nagging endless game of what if came taunting at the edges of his thought, tempting him and punishing him simultaneously.
"Hey..." Squall's voice softly pushed in on his thoughts. "Seifer?"
"Sorry. Just got lost there for a bit."
Squall knew better. One time master of the internal dialogue, he could almost sense the direction Seifer's thoughts had taken. They were carrying on as if they were the closest of friends, not rivals. As if the past nine years had only been a couple months in between visits. They were both ignoring the reality of the situation in order to keep the comfort. Squall wasn't about to go breaking it down, either. He had spent so many years on the opposite side of Seifer, had thought he knew him so well. They were both too stubborn, proud. Squall had changed in so many ways, but today just served to show him that he hadn't changed as much as he'd like to think.
Saved by the clatter of plates on the table, their orders were brought by the perky waitress and they commenced eating. The conversation turned to mundane topics, and the momentary awkwardness was pushed aside deliberately. A half hour passed as they chatted and ate, neither one really saying anything. The waitress brought their checks as she cleared the plates from the table. A pale blush crept up Squall's face as she walked off. Seifer looked at him and cocked an eyebrow.
"What is it?" he asked.
Squall tossed the bill in Seifer's direction. "Look for yourself."
Seifer's eyes grew wide and he held in a snicker. "You know Squall that could be considered cradle robbing."
"Shut up." He blushed a deeper shade or two. "Do you mind telling me," he paused briefly, "when the hell did teenagers get so young?"
"I don't know Squall. I've always felt older anyway."
"Heh... nobody ever warned me that twenty-six would feel so old."
They took care of the checks and walked outside. It was turning into a beautiful, if somewhat warm, day. Seifer's gaze scanned up and down the street, then he turned to meet Squall's eyes.
"You still need to run those errands, right?"
"Yeah. It shouldn't take too long, really. If you've got somewhere you have to...."
Squall interrupted, "I don't. Where do you need to head?"
"It's actually all quite close. I could walk it really."
"Well then, let's walk." Squall started to head toward the sidewalk.
"You don't have to..."
"Seifer. I want to."
Seifer's mind was approaching chaotic turmoil. Why was Squall being so nice? Seifer had been on the taking end of a lot of abuse over the years for the actions of his youth. Yet Squall was going past civil and straight to downright friendly. Seifer's mind tried to rationalize Squall's actions and wasn't coming up with anything that felt right. There had to be some motivation. What did Squall want from him? If only the truck hadn't broken down, he wouldn't be in this position now. The if only game had managed to slip past his defenses yet again. He mentally kicked himself. This defied all logic. He couldn't figure it out and it frustrated him. Didn't Squall remember? Seifer felt a wave of shame wash over him. Seifer remembered, even if Squall didn't.
"Okay, okay." Seifer acquiesced and headed toward a row of shops across the street. Squall lagged a step behind, on Seifer's heels. "This won't take long," Seifer said as they entered a small hobby store. Seifer blinked as his eyes adjusted to the difference in light level.
"Hey!" a voice called from behind the counter. "I figured you'd be in today. I got your shipment in a couple days ago. Just let me run in back, all right?"
"Sure thing, man." Seifer nodded. He lowered his voice and turned to Squall. "That's Tescha. He owns the shop."
Squall's eyes wandered around the shop. It looked like someone's attempt at organized chaos. There were bits and pieces and boxes and cards and parts to who knew what scattered amongst books and magazines and discs. Squall didn't see how a place like this stayed open, and said as much to Seifer.
"He's actually got it in order, believe it or not. He does a lot of worldwide shipping, actually. If there's something you need, he's probably the best guy you could get it from." Seifer walked toward the counter as Tescha brought out a small, well-secured package from the back.
"I checked the order over. Everything's there and it looks like they got the quality problem worked out from that last batch they sent. No bubbles and minimal flashing. These look very sharp. You'll like them, I promise," Tescha said.
"Great! I'll be finishing up the latest orders soon. I'm in the middle of some trouble with the truck right now, so I may need for you to come pick them up if it's not going to be too much hassle," Seifer said.
"Nah. Shouldn't be a problem that I can see. I may have a few more orders incoming in a week or so. I'll call and let you know when I get confirmation." Tescha nodded slightly and smiled.
"Talk to you then. Tell Mira I said hello!" Seifer said as he walked for the door. Tilting his head in Squall's direction he said, "All set."
"See you later kid!" Tescha's voice called as they walked out the door.
Squall's face showed genuine confusion as they walked out the door. "What was that all about?" he asked.
"I'll show you when we stop by my place later," Seifer said. He cringed. He hadn't meant to just assume that Squall would want to stop by. Never mind the fact that Squall would probably think this was one of the most pointless things he'd ever seen. It paid the bills though, and Seifer had a knack for it that made him one of the more talented people in his obscure line of work.
A couple more stops around town, and Seifer's errands were finished within the hour. He arranged for the local garage to bring the truck in to see what the problem was and they assured him that they'd leave word when they found out. Errands finished, they headed back to the car for the drive back. Seifer put the package securely between them on the front seat and buckled up.
"Just point the way," Squall said as they headed out of town.
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