The Oath
( Some Bonds... Are Stronger Than Others)

Chapter 3

By YuriNigasa

Squall could do nothing more than stare at Seifer, dumbfounded.  A gnawing, sickly ache spread upward from the pit of Squall's stomach.  His heart was pounding in a syncopative rhythm; a wild unsteady beat that made him lightheaded.

"Please, don't go," said Seifer in a timid voice.

Squall did a double take.  He knew memory was one of the most subjective things, subject to the influences of the mind over time, but he could never remember Seifer sounding so young.  Even as a child, Seifer's tone had possessed a combination of belligerence and self-importance that defied his age.  As Seifer matured, it had developed into egocentric condescension, a tone that let everyone know where they stood with him, and for everyone, the position was the same - beneath him.  The tone was enough to give Squall pause for consideration, and to take three steps toward the bed where Seifer lay back again against the raised bed.

"Thank you."  Seifer sounded relieved.

Silence fell, and for Squall, who stood at the end of the bed, intentionally not trying to look at Seifer, yet not ignore him either, the silence became uncomfortable.  How, exactly, would he explain this to Quistis?  Sorry, Quis, just popped in for a look, and, the next thing I knew he was sitting up and asking quite politely if I would care to stay a bit longer?  He groaned softly.  Quisty would have his head.  Squall felt he should say something, but that moment of appropriate timing had passed.  If he said something now, it would seem like he was trying to make up for not saying anything earlier, which would come off as offensive.  Like he was making conversation because he had to, not because he wanted to, which, honestly, was the case.  Squall had no idea what to say, and so it simply grew more awkward with each passing moment.  He suddenly remembered why he had hated dealing with people.  He simply never knew what to say at the appropriate time, and so instead spent his time trying to find the correct thing to say, but by the time he found it, the time had passed and there wasn't any point in saying anything.  And, to top it off, he was conversing with himself again, a habit he had most vigorously endeavored to break himself of some years ago, which only further irritated him.  Frustrated, Squall grabbed the chair nearest the bed and sat down, scowling.

Poor Seifer didn't quite know what to do with this sullen and seemingly irrational behavior.  Perhaps this person didn't wish to be here.  Seifer felt guilty for asking him to stay.  It was just that somewhere in the back of his mind, he couldn't bear to see the man leave.  Wracking his brain, Seifer tried to dredge up the man's name.  Maybe that would cheer him up, if Seifer knew his name.  Frowning with intense concentration, and ignoring that little shot of pain through his left temple that indicated his brain would be much more content if Seifer didn't try to use it at this very moment, he dug through memories that played out like random scenes from the cutting room floor.  One image was persistent - the same man, only much younger, a child.  A house on a rocky beach with a lighthouse in the distance.  A row of beds, and on the bed farthest from the door a shabby, threadbare lion.  The whiskers bent at odd angles, the mane gone in several patches, and the tail missing the fuzzy end.  As a child, Seifer had thrown the lion off the cliff and into the ocean in a fit of rage, which had angered the man, who had then been a boy.  Perhaps this was why the man wasn't happy.  Thinking the situation through, Seifer decided it was best if he apologized, even if he wasn't quite sure when he had done such a thing.

"I'm sorry I threw your lion into the ocean," Seifer said quietly.

Squall looked up, and blinked, as if trying to put the words into a language he could comprehend.  If only his memory was as it once was, perhaps he could make sense of the apology.  As it stood, Seifer was apologizing for something Squall had, at least, consciously forgotten.  Why this particular incident, out of all the others, stood foremost in Seifer's mind was a mystery to Squall.  Squall could, offhandedly, think of a dozen other events that far more demanded apology than something that had occurred nearly two decades earlier.  Perhaps the incident with the Gunblade between his eyes?  Maybe joining up with a Sorceress and trying to take over the world?  Theoretically, even nearly blowing the SeeD exam for him and Zell.  Belatedly, Squall realized that, once again, he was ignoring the vital part of the issue in favor of the details, and, before he could over think it, Squall decided to answer.

"It's alright," Squall said as reassuringly as possible, even trying to turn up the corners of his mouth in approximation of a smile.

Relief flooded through Seifer.  He smiled back, showing gleaming teeth, a great beaming smile that lit his eyes with good humor and crinkled them around the edges.  He was quite proud of himself, and hoped his actions would go far toward creating goodwill between this man and himself, now that all that business with the lion was over with.  It bothered him greatly, however, that he still couldn't remember the man's name.  He wondered where the Quisty had gone.  He wished he could ask her the man's name and save himself some of that feeling that made his face feel warm and his stomach feel uncomfortable.  There had to be a word for that feeling, like there were words for everything, he just couldn't remember.  It upset him to know there was much that he had forgotten, to know that at some point he had most certainly not been like this.

Squall couldn't decide what to make of this Seifer.  He ran one hand through his hair, pushing at the vagrant locks to remove them, albeit temporarily, from his eyes.  Garden needed a class that taught mindless pleasantries, he decided.  It would make situations like this much easier, sitting across from a teenager, oh hell, he felt old.  Five years' difference and already he thought of Seifer as so much younger.  How much more imposing and important Seifer had been five years ago.  Half of the infamous Leonhart and Almasy rivalry, former head of the Disciplinary Committee, and perpetual bane of Squall's existence.  Now, Seifer was nothing more than an enigma with the IQ of a six-year-old.  For Hyne's sake, Seifer smiled at him, of all things.  Smiled!  Maybe his sneering mechanism had broken during his trip through Time Compression.  Squall berated himself inwardly for his lack of compassion, sensing that, somehow, he must have not come to grips with the issues that Seifer's disappearance had left unresolved, as he had somehow convinced himself he had done several years ago.

The door chirped outside and Squall heard it open.  Quistis called out.  She did not sound pleased.  Squall gave her points for being the epitome of calm reserve when the door to Seifer's room opened.  Wouldn't do to have the patient in the room when the doctor flew off the handle.  He gave out bonus points when she took in Seifer's consciousness with one rake of her eyes and didn't start in with a barrage of questions that neither he nor Seifer could possibly answer.  Squall met Quistis' eyes and for a moment, he swore he was reading her mind.

Quistis wasn't the least surprised that, despite the fact that she spent far more time in the Infirmary watching after the unusual patient, it was while Squall sat in his room that he awakened.  How many years had she watched them, growing up, going through the same ritual time and again?  Squall intentionally ignored Seifer, which infuriated Seifer, who tormented Squall to get a reaction, who deliberately ignored Seifer to make him upset, which...  A vicious loop, played out over the years, culminating in Seifer's final goad - joining Edea against Garden, more specifically, against Squall - a stance that Squall absolutely could not ignore.  For what?  Why?  Quistis shook her head imperceptibly.  There was no surprise to her that Seifer had reacted to Squall's presence in the room.  Something deep ran between them, more than rivals, it seemed to be part of their very makeup.  Polar opposites, each a force to be reckoned with, determined to side against each other for the sheer spite of it.  Things like this made her exceedingly grateful that she had chosen medicine over psychiatry.

Summoning up her best bedside manner, she smiled disarmingly at them both.  "Seifer, you're awake," she said with genuine cheer.

Seifer returned the smile.  The Quisty was back!  Maybe now he could ask her about the man.  He would need to be quiet about it, however.  Too loud and he would hear.  Beckoning shyly to her, she walked to his bedside and bent over to receive the urgent question.  She smiled at him, and laughed just a little, as if the question had amused her.  Tilting her head to the side just a little, a gesture that struck him as terribly familiar, she pressed her lips close to his ear and whispered quietly.

"His name is Squall," she said.

Seifer smiled in thanks, feeling a sense of relief spread through his body.  Squall, he repeated silently to himself.  The man's name was Squall.  In a whisper, he tried the name out on his lips, "Squall."

Hearing his name from Seifer's mouth, Squall's head lifted lightening quick.  In the past, to Seifer, his name wasn’t Squall, instead, on good days, it was Leonhart, and on worse days, well, such memories should stay buried.

"That's right," Squall said, "I'm Squall."  Better to keep it calm, keep it friendly, and above all, keep it simple.  It was like dealing with a child, something Squall, in all his glory, had never excelled at.  Perhaps the universe just had an exceedingly perverse sense of humor, throwing him into a situation like this.  Selfish thought, indeed, that he was important enough that the entire universe would conspire against him.  Things were as things were, and things like fate and destiny were better left to people with more imagination. 

"Seifer, I want to check some things very quickly," said Quistis softly.  "I'm going to ask Squall to wait outside, okay?"

Seifer nodded slowly.  "Okay."

Squall took his cue to leave with grace, and as the door shut behind him, he sank into the chair at Quistis' desk and put his head on the table.

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