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

Chapter 4

By YuriNigasa

The door shut soundlessly as Quistis walked out into the main office.  Squall's head was still on the desktop as he contemplated the blue-gray nylon carpeting of the floor.  Coming to a halt at the edge of the desk, Quistis regarded the top of Squall's head intently.  "Do you mind," she hissed softly, "telling me what in the hell you were thinking going in there alone?"  Slowly, Squall raised his head and looked up at Quistis with restless eyes.  She knew him well enough to know that as soon as he thought of one, he would answer.

Squall had no answer to give.  The things he could say weren't right, and the things that were right he couldn't say.  More than anything, he simply didn't know what had possessed him to walk in the room.  Quistis had every right to be upset with him, given the potential outcome of his little excursion into Seifer's room.  As it stood there was no harm, no foul, but he knew she didn't see it that way.  She was more upset over what could have been than what was.  Squall exhaled slowly, reading Quistis' expression for any hint, no matter how minor, that would indicate to him the manner in which he needed to react.  He searched her body posture for telltale signs of receptiveness or hesitancy or anger.  The moments ticked by and she stood; now outwardly calm, but Squall noted that the thumb on her right hand was tapping quickly against the thumb of her left hand.  She was still agitated with him.  Seifer's behavior unnerved him more than Quistis'.  She had been upset with him before, and, doubtless, would be so again many times over.  Squall's mind, though, would not let go of Seifer's one simple sentence - Don't leave me again.

Sighing audibly, Squall ran a hand through his hair, a gesture of nervous habit.  "I don't have an answer," he stated.  Quistis would undoubtedly fill in the blanks with conclusions born from years of dealing with Squall and his peculiar mode of behavior.

True enough, she looked at him a moment before speaking.  "If you knew this would happen, you wouldn't have gone in.  Obviously, once he woke up, you simply couldn't leave him there, alone."  Quistis reached up and idly toyed with a thin gold chain that hung about her slender neck.  She was speaking not only to rationalize Squall's behavior to herself, but also to him.  Quistis was presenting Squall with an opportunity to simply concur in order to resolve the situation.  He nodded, no words necessary, just blank agreement.  Quistis sighed and put a hand to her temple, brushing back a wayward strand of golden hair.  "He obviously seems content with your company.  How he knew you were in the room is anyone's guess, but he responded to you.  I shouldn't be surprised."

"I talked to him," Squall stated.  "That's how he knew."  He held a hand out to Quistis in a conciliatory gesture and she took his proffered hand, her fingers briefly entwining his.  He gave her hand a gentle squeeze and let go, his hand falling back to rest on the desk.

"Well, something about your voice must have called to him, wherever he went.  He never responded like that to me.  Hell, you were there.  Getting his attention was impossible for me, yet you... he just opened right up and that was that.  You accomplished in an hour what I've been unable to do in a week."  She sat down on the edge of the desk, legs crossed and dangling down, toes barely reaching the floor.  Logically, she knew that there was simply something within Seifer that always responded to Squall, and this was no exception.  In her heart, though, she felt as if she had failed in some way, as she was unable to elicit anything from Seifer in a week.  It was a feeling she struggled with, inferiority.  Factual or not, Quistis had always strived to excel, attempting to make up for what she perceived as her own shortcomings, that someway, somehow, she would mean something to someone.  Over the years, the feelings had lessened as she learned to deal with them, to recognize both the problem and the source, but, occasionally, it still caught her off guard.

Squall looked up at her, recognizing her expression as one of melancholy.  "Who's to say that what you did didn't simply pave the way for me?  You were the first person he saw when he woke up.  He seems quite comfortable with you, knew who you were.  If I was so important, why did he ask you who I was?"

"I don't know the answer to that.  Not even he may know the answer.  What did you two talk about?  I want to know what happened from the moment he woke up."  Quistis was curious for details.  Perhaps something would give her a clue as to how to proceed.

Squall swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry and his stomach a nervous flutter.  It was only logical that Quistis would want to know these things, but something within him wanted to guard that soft-spoken statement of Seifer's.  So, he edited the truth, giving her the highlights, telling her how Seifer had apologized for something that Squall didn't even remember.  "A stuffed lion?" Quistis asked.  "Did you ever have one?"

"I must have, at some point.  He attaches a lot more significance to the event than I do.  Of course, he remembers it and I don't.  That might help."  Squall shrugged, picking a pen up off the desk and tapping it idly against his thigh.

"Wait a minute," she said.  You couldn't have been older than five, maybe six, at the time.  I think... I think it was after Elle left.  Yes," she said, snapping her fingers, "I remember now.  It was the most hideous thing, all falling apart, but you had it as long as I can remember, until... until Elle left.  You and Seifer had a horrible fight, as close to knock-down-drag-out as kids can have.  Matron had to literally tear you off Seifer; you were absolutely pounding him into the dirt.  Seifer stood up so calmly and walked off.  You were shaking, fists clenched at your side.  Seifer walked in the house and came back with that lion, and you yelled.  He ran to the cliff and looked at you, holding it out and you just ran at him.  He threw it off and you would have thought he tried to kill you the way you screamed, but it was too late, it was gone."

Squall's mind continued to draw a blank on the experience, but something inside him responded to Quistis' rendition of events.  Something within Squall's subconscious recognized the truth when he heard it.  "But why," Squall said, "did Seifer attach so much importance to that?"  Squall gazed out, his eyes unfocused on the things in front of him, as if he sought to peer into the past.  "Damn it, how much have I forgotten because I had no choice, and how much have I forgotten because I wanted to?"

"Sometimes, there isn't much of a difference between the two," Quistis said gently, placing a hand on Squall's shoulder.  "I could tell you the basics of why the mind does things, but it all comes down to the same thing, and probably factors in to Seifer's state as well, to some extent.  Survival.  I can't tell you why the event is so important to him.  Perhaps it's one of the few things he can remember.  The mind has a wonderful mechanism for determining what it can and cannot handle.  The things that Seifer experienced five years ago may still be far too traumatic for him to deal with right now.  Quite possibly, he wouldn't be able to comprehend what occurred, even if he tried to.  This may be something that he can recognize, deal with, and atone for on the level he's currently operating on.  It's all conjecture though, pure theory on my part.  I'm far more adept at treating his wounds than reading his mind."

"I used to believe I knew him, knew his motivations back then," Squall said.  "When he left to join Matron, none of us understood why he did it.  He recognized her, even when we didn't.  How much more did he remember than he let on?  There are so many things we don't remember, that I don't remember.  I wonder..." Squall trailed off.

"Wonder what?" Quistis prompted, seeing a willingness in Squall to open up that she had rarely seen before.

"How many things have I done from motivation I didn't even understand, or realize that I had motivation to do?  How much of my life is the result of experiences I don't recall?  I thought I had a handle on things, that I had worked everything out, but I wasn't ready for him, Quistis."  Squall sighed, rolling his head back to stare at the ceiling.  His mind clamored with brooding thoughts; helplessness tugged at the edges of his emotions. 

"Listen," Quistis said, "you can't change the past; you know that.  I want you to do something for me, and for yourself.  Spend some time with Seifer, okay?  Get to know him as he is now, not as you remember him.  Maybe, in some way, you'll deal with issues you may not know you have.  Be patient with him, and with yourself.  He needs us right now, as much as we were never close and never dependent on each other before, he's depending on us now.  Today, the Seifer in that room is not the Seifer we knew before.  Maybe he'll end up the same way he was before.  If so, it can't be helped.  Perhaps, though, what we do now may alter the type of person he'll be in the future.  Either way, it won't be a waste of time."

"Give me a little time to think about it, alright?" Squall said, standing up.  He looked down at Quistis, his eyes reflecting a myriad of emotions, a little break in the barrier he kept up as much from habit as necessity.  He turned on his heel and walked out of the room, leaving Quistis staring at the closed door in a room filled with silence.

Her eyes focused on the door, Quistis sighed and gave a little shrug of her shoulders.  "Just don't think too much or too long," she said to the empty room.

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