Chapter 14 - Garnet

<no time like now>

By YuriNigasa

He was packed. It had taken him long enough to get up the courage to leave. He couldn't put it off any longer. Placing two suitcases in the back of the vehicle, he went back inside for one last look around the house. It looked lonely and dark. Checking everything one last time he grabbed his keys off the counter and locked the door, closing it behind him with an air of finality. He was unbelievably nervous.

An hour later he arrived at the train station and made arrangements for long term parking. Making his way to the platform he handed his ticket to the waiting attendant and boarded, opening the coded door and finding his bunk. He tossed his carry on bag in the compartment and sat down. Fifteen minutes later he felt the jarring motion as the train began to make headway. By the time they got to the next stop, it'd be too far to turn back.

Seifer was on his way to Balamb.

Seifer hadn't seen Squall since he'd left, but they had kept in regular contact. Eventually Squall had seen to it that word had gotten around to everyone about Seifer. Everyone was adamant that Seifer visit the next time they got together. It gave Seifer the distinct feeling he was on display. The only reason he'd agreed was because he'd be able to visit with Raijin and Fuujin in Stassen if he went to Balamb. He'd received letters from everyone, kindly notes filled with the distinct aura of avoiding the obvious. Just because he'd worked through things with Squall didn't mean he had even a remote idea of how to deal with the rest of them. Squall was different. That was Squall. They weren't Squall.

Gratefully they'd decided to come into town on different days so he wouldn't be subjected to everyone at once. He'd be meeting Squall at Fisherman's Horizon, and they'd head to Balamb Harbor together on a passenger ship. They were going from there to Zell's house in town. Most everyone was taking a room at the Balamb Hotel, but they'd be using Zell's place for the majority of the time. Zell just didn't have enough room to sleep everyone. Quistis was coming in the day after, then Matron and Cid, and finally Irvine, Selphie, and their daughter Lia.

Seifer remembered the look on Mira's face when he had told her of the invitation. She'd been a bit more excited than he had.

"Finally," she said. "It's about time you got to see him again."

"I wouldn't be just seeing him Mira. I'd be seeing all of them and nothing's changed. I'm not about to go make an idiot of myself," Seifer sighed in exasperation. "Why you're so hung up on this idea of him and me, I can't understand."

"You're such a guy," she retorted. "Is there not one romantic bone in your entire body?"

Seifer winced at her choice of words. "Romantic notions are for fools and those with vain expectations. It's not practical and it's degrading besides."

"Please, I'm not expecting you to act all willowy and senseless, Seifer, but you aren't even allowing yourself to consider anything."

"Mira, we aren't covering any new ground here."

She sighed. "I know. I just keep thinking that maybe I can get you to hope even just a little bit. I hate to see you so lonely."

"Then don't think of me as lonely. Think of me as," he paused thoughtfully, "a hermit?"

"Then where's your beard? That stubble doesn't count."

"A hermit that shaves then."

Seifer would have sworn Mira was almost pouting, but at least she had dropped the subject.

Squall paced nervously up and down the dock. Another fifteen minutes and Seifer was supposed to be in. It had actually been Quistis' idea that he meet Seifer here. He swore that she was more devious than she appeared. Conniving to her very core. She'd gotten this idea that there had to be some way to accomplish the impossible even without Squall's consent. With her guileless look she'd suggested that it would probably make Seifer more comfortable to arrive in Balamb with Squall rather than alone. He'd agreed that was probably true. The fact that they'd have to spend time alone was all the better, she had reasoned. That had made him glare daggers at her. He'd accused her of meddling and was wholeheartedly convinced that she was going to cause havoc. He insisted that she just drop the subject and leave him alone. Quistis had looked somewhat hurt. Squall knew she only had his best interest at heart, but he didn't want to risk it. Better to have a part than none at all, he reasoned.

The ship pulled in and people filed off haphazardly. Nearly half a head taller than his fellow passengers, Seifer was easy to spot. Squall lifted a hand and waved until he caught Seifer's attention. Smiling, he made his way over to help Seifer with his bags. They shook hands and embraced cordially, Squall bending over to pick up one of Seifer's suitcases as they made their way across the docks. They reached the next ship in comfortable silence. It wasn't scheduled to depart for another three hours, but that was no reason not to settle in. They had elected to share a double room to cut expenses, more for Seifer's benefit than Squall's. After getting everything set, they headed down to the dining room for some dinner.

"So when did you get in?" asked Seifer as they waited for their food to be brought.

"Last night," Squall replied shortly. He didn't intend to be like that with Seifer of all people but he was nervous. He was worried that in some unintentional way he was going to make a fool of himself.

"How was the trip?"


"Are we back to monosyllabic responses? I thought we grew out of that." Seifer was hurt. Squall had seemed happy enough to see him, and they hadn't had any disagreements at all. What was on his mind?

Squall sighed.

"What is it? Did something happen before you left?" Seifer sounded concerned, but he was also curious to know what was troubling Squall.

"It's nothing. You ever have something that's nagging you and you know because you can't do anything about it without making it worse that it's going to continue to nag you? Then other people insist on trying to fix it, when there's no fixing it because in reality it's not broken but they think it is?"

Seifer stared at Squall. "That was definitely not monosyllabic. It was vague as all hell and extremely confusing, but at least we're somewhat more social now."

Squall looked up and noted the humor in Seifer's eyes. It made them look brighter somehow, and Squall felt his mood lift. He put his issues with Quistis aside and concentrated on enjoying the time with his friend. Squall's lips twisted into a wry grin. "Where'd you get this misguided notion that I'm social? You're going to ruin a carefully constructed public persona if you keep that up."

"Fine. I'll keep the secret. If anyone asks me, I'll just tell them you're a closed-mouthed bastard. Would that suit you better?" Seifer's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Of course." Squall couldn't help but open up around Seifer. He'd finally learned that just because he was able to hold a conversation didn't mean he had to go spilling his inner thoughts to every waiting ear. If he felt comfortable, he'd found he could open up. He still had a tendency, however, to be more silent and stoic when in unfamiliar territory. Around those he considered close friends - Quistis, Zell, Seifer - he'd let his guard down because he felt safe with them, knowing they wouldn't deliberately hurt him.

They finished dinner and retired to their cabin. Laying on their respective beds, Seifer began to finish one of the new books he'd purchased for the trip, and Squall leafed through the latest Weapons Monthly that he'd gotten in the gift store before boarding for Fisherman's Horizon.

"Hey check this out," Squall called to Seifer.

Obligingly, Seifer set his book down and went to see what Squall was talking about. He leaned over Squall's shoulder and scanned the article. He snorted in distaste. "They're ruining a classic if they do that. You do that to a gunblade and it's going to throw the balance all off. I think it'd come off too light in the blade."

"No force to the swing," Squall nodded affirmatively. "Of course, there's going to be some idiot that will swear it's the greatest thing. It's almost like they're expecting the gun to compensate for the lack of damage from the blade."

"Not with standard rounds it won't."

Neither noticed that they were now sitting shoulder to shoulder, heads nearly touching, so intent were they on the topic at hand.

"It didn't say anything about it being nonstandard, but then again I guess there's always someone willing to try." Squall studiously eyed the specs on the new model.

"I'll let someone else try then. I prefer not to have things blow up in my face."

"Yeah, you just prefer to take the actual gunblade to the face," Squall chuckled deviously.

Seifer turned to face Squall and whatever retort he had planned died on his lips. His face was mere inches from Squall's and he suddenly forgot what it was he had wanted to say.

Squall's gaze melded with Seifer's as he looked intently at Seifer's features. He was suddenly aware of every minuscule movement, every breath, every glance.

Seifer felt his face grow warm and it seemed that singular moment was stretched out indefinitely. He would have sworn that Squall could read every thought from such a short distance.

Squall silently cursed Quistis for insisting he meet Seifer. He wasn't prepared for this. He felt lost.

They were too terrified of their own feelings to be aroused.

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