The Redcrosse Knight

Part 6 - drain

By fyre byrd

Seifer works on Squall’s cloak with concentration. He works on it on and off for days and even stays inside a whole afternoon after the bandages have come off of his hand to focus on the fussy little stitches. Squall stays near him mostly, reading from books about knights and chivalry. Squall has always been a bit like a shadow of Seifer’s. He does most of what Seifer does, except he does it more quietly and seriously, the way a shadow’s actions acquire dignity and precision when thrown into relief on the wall beside you. Both of them are maybe preparing for the time when Seifer leaves because it is unspoken between them that he will.

Seifer stitches a careful edging around the work he has done and tries to think about being without Squall. He can’t think about it though. His mind teeters on the edge of a blank precipice when he tries to think of doing things without Squall around. Seifer lets his mind go blank and concentrates on stitches until he is finished. He loops silver thread around his needle and pulls it through the fabric one last time. Seifer reaches beneath his leg and searches for the scissors. He knows that he put them beside him on the bed when he used them last. He squints angrily at the bedclothes and disarranges the folds of his quilt, searching for the stupid things. Squall is sprawled across the other side of the bed, flipping pages.

"You’re making an awful racket, half-wit. What are you looking for?" Squall comments, not looking up from his book.

"The scissors, you utter penis. I know I put them down beside me on the bed the last time I . . ." Seifer looks up from his angry glare at the bed to see a pair of silver scissors dangling carelessly from one of Squall’s hands.

"The fucking hell?" Seifer grumbles, snatching the offending object from Squall’s grip.

"They were on the bedside table," Squall says, not even smiling. He is good at that deadpan delivery of statements that delight him. He may not show his amusement, but Seifer knows that Squall is deeply amused. It glitters in his gray eyes.

"Where you put them," Squall adds, the light in his eyes becoming more obvious.

Seifer cuts the thread, as violently as he can. Then he has to grit his teeth and cut it again, more carefully, closer to the cloth. He brushes some stray pieces of thread from the cloth then bundles it up and thrusts it hard into Squall’s chest.

"There, you ungrateful prick," Seifer says and thinks that maybe he could do without Squall’s smugness every now and again. But now Squall looks suitably awestruck. He unfurls the deep black fabric, spreading it across his knee. Squall strokes the needlework with the tips of his fingers in a way that makes Seifer’s insides heat and tingle with pride and something else. Seifer shudders and moves closer to Squall on the bed.

"It’s really brilliant," Squall comments, draping the cloak over his shoulders and tying the cord that Mrs. Kramer added around his neck. Squall stands up and lets the cloak swirl about him.

"Black, is really your colour, babe," Seifer says sarcastically, watching Squall pose shamelessly in the garment. Seifer would never dream of telling Squall that he does look a proper knight in it, never mind that Seifer knows his own needlework is far from perfect. Squall makes the cloak look better than it is because he wears it so well.

"Oh, shut up, you ass and let me enjoy this," Squall says boldly, whipping about so that the hem of the cloak catches Seifer in the eye. "Oops," he comments, watching Seifer’s eye tear up. "No need to get emotional now, Seifer," he says. "I do appreciate your wonderful work, you know, but . . ." Squall’s sentence trails off in a yelp as Seifer gets up and knocks Squall on the bed, pinning him there, breathless.

"Your prancing about did me an injury, jerk," Seifer mutters, trying hard to work up some anger. Really, he is too delighted that Squall likes the cloak so much and so he punches Squall in the shoulder halfheartedly and then allows Squall to struggle out of his grip and get up.

"We have to fight a duel," Squall says, eagerly.

"All right," Seifer replies. "A duel. It will be our first great battle," he continues, opening the door of their closet and pulling out his own cloak and wrapping it around his shoulders. "I’m protecting Mrs. Kramer from you. You’re trying to stop her from killing someone important." Seifer pauses as Squall hands him a sword which he’s pulled out from beneath Seifer’s bed.

"The President of Galbadia," Squall supplies, leaning down to tie the laces on his black boots.

"Okay, Galbadia is as good a place as any to start taking over the world I guess," Seifer says carelessly as he finishes putting on his own boots. Seifer and Squall walk together through the house, their boots making clunking noises on the hardwood floors. Mrs. Kramer is reading a book in the living room, her legs hooked over one arm of the couch. She looks up from the book as they walk past and smiles.

"You look wonderful, boys," she says. Seifer performs an elaborate bow for her and Mrs. Kramer giggles like a little kid.

Squall and Seifer sweep importantly out of the house. As they cross the small stretch of beach between the back door and the dueling rock, their cloaks fluttering impressively behind them in the breeze, Seifer and Squall collect an audience. Irvine and Zell come tumbling over a sand dune and fall into step behind them.

"Oh, Seifer," Irvine says in a wheedling tone, knowing who he will need to convince the most. "Can we . . ."

Seifer cuts him off before he can finish with a sweep of his arm. The fabric of the cloak follows this movement gracefully and Seifer feels a glow of satisfaction at the effect.

"I think we could use squires today. It will help to complete the image, don’t you think Squall?" Seifer asks loftily, weighing his sword across the palms of his hands.

"Sure," Squall replies, his eyes trained on the rock, his whole body focused down already to the bare essentials of movement. Seifer narrows his eyes and reflects that this is why Squall beats him so often. When it is time to fight Squall becomes even more concentrated than usual. Like a beam of light channeled through a magnifying glass, Squall burns with unwavering purpose.

Squall barely looks at Seifer as he steps up onto the flat shelf of rock and stands ready, his wooden sword gripped in both hands. Squall stands as still as if he is carved of stone and stares at Seifer. The sun is just beginning to set and the light burns Squall into sharp relief against the gray rock. Squall’s light brown hair shimmers gold and Seifer feels as though if he closed his eyes an afterimage of Squall would still be there, behind his eyelids, burned into his retinas.

Seifer steps up onto the rock himself and grips his sword in his left hand. He is determined not to lose this time. He bounces on the balls of his feet for a moment then rushes forward.

"Squall, you’re mine," Seifer mutters beneath his breath, his sword slicing downwards in an arc until it meets Squall’s blade. The impact shudders down Seifer’s arm and he uses the recoil to raise the sword back up in front of him as if his arm were a spring. Seifer moves quickly, slashing at Squall’s chest. He can feel his blood pumping through his body. Seifer can hear every shift of Squall’s feet on the stone. Squall’s eyes fill his vision. It is in the eyes that the opponent’s next move is signaled first, always the eyes.

The world narrows to Squall’s eyes, the rock beneath Seifer’s feet, the air in his lungs and the blood pounding in his ears. Everything speeds up with Seifer’s heartbeat so fast and fluttering, and then abruptly slows down so that even the slightest movement of Squall’s body becomes more momentous than the whole history of the Sorceress wars. Squall stabs at Seifer’s arm. Seifer deflects the blow easily, pushing Squall off balance. Squall’s eyes blaze like ash with a banked fire beneath. Seifer strikes and their swords rebound against each other. Both of them stumble backwards, losing sight of each other’s eyes. They come together again, their blades scraping against each other. Squall scores a hit on Seifer’s chest, his upper right-hand side.

Seifer collapses down to kneel on the rock, bruising his knees so that they will match the ache in his chest. He can’t feel his body yet, just this sensation in his chest. It feels like failure. Again, he has lost.

"Not a killing blow," Seifer says, as his breath comes fast and hard, heaving his whole body up and down a bit. Seifer feels the energy drain out of him abruptly. His senses come careening back: the sound of the waves, an awareness of Irvine, Zell, and Quistis and Selphie who have crept up while they were fighting to watch, the feel of the hard rock pressing into his flesh through his blue-jeans, the cool evening breeze against his sweaty forehead, the minute details of Squall’s scuffed boots with their fraying laces.

Squall reaches a hand down to Seifer and he takes it a little angrily and lets his weight depend on Squall’s grip as he stands up. Squall is always noble, but it is easy to be kind and dignified when you always win. Sometimes, Seifer hates him.

"Then we’ll fight again another day," Squall says, looking into Seifer’s eyes with some of the intensity of the fight still smoldering there.

"Yes," Seifer replies simply, defeated. Feeling the wind chill the film of sweat that covers his body, he shudders.

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