The Redcrosse Knight

Part 8 - barrier

By fyre byrd

Seifer has been aching all morning long. His chest feels tight, his eyes hurt and he feels like he wants to throw up besides. Squall has been following him around like a loyal pet since he woke up. Seifer scarcely slept at all himself, but he stayed in bed with his arms wrapped around Squall letting him sleep. For a minute, Seifer thought Squall was going to follow him into the bathroom while he took a leak. Seifer leans his head against the cool tiles on the wall for a minute while he washes his hands in the sink. He's wanted to shout at Squall a few times for trailing him around so much, but he knows better than to do that.

Seifer looks in the mirror and sees the purple shadows beneath his eyes. He and Squall stayed up all last night, talking restlessly, never moving so far away from each other that they weren't touching. They slept curled up in Seifer's bed, the way they sometimes do when one or the other of them has a nightmare. They never say that they are afraid, they just climb into bed with each other every now and again to stave off the darkness and the cold of sleeping alone. It was Squall who crept into the bed last night. Seifer couldn't sleep anyway, so he felt the blankets sweep back from his body. He kept his eyes closed for a minute while he felt Squall slide into the bed beside him, the warmth of his body pressed up against Seifer's side.

Seifer swipes wet fingers through his hair which has been cut short by Matron for the occasion. He closes his eyes briefly and knows what to do. When Seifer opens the door Squall is leaning against the wall, his shoulders sagging, his lower lip sticking out, his gray eyes wide and bruised looking.

"C'mere," Seifer mutters anxiously, grabbing Squall's arm. Seifer's eyes dart left and right as he drags Squall out of the house, closing the door gently behind them. Seifer jerks his head towards the lighthouse and Squall gets the hint at once, falling in behind Seifer as he moves stealthily. They dart along low to the ground, trying to hide behind sand dunes. Mrs. Kramer is helping the girls clean their room, so she could look out of the windows and see them if they're not careful. When they reach the lighthouse they both run up the stairs their bare feet slapping on the cold stones. They are laughing and out of breath by the time they have reached their haven, the walkway.

It's a chill day that smells like autumn, although it seems it should be much too early for that. Seifer and Squall in their short sleeved shirts sit huddled together by the door, their knees and shoulders touching. Seifer can feel Squall's shoulders heaving gently up and down as he still struggles to catch his breath. They aren't laughing anymore.

"So this is it," Squall says softly, tilting his head up and looking at Seifer. Squall's eyes are as deep as the sea today. Seifer aches so badly to touch him again the way he did just a few nights ago, but Squall has not mentioned it again and Seifer thinks that it isn't really right for him to want to do those things to Squall. Mrs. Kramer taught them about sex and kissing and all that stuff, and all the books she showed had a man and a woman in them. And all of the knights fell in love with the sorceresses, not with each other. Seifer figures there is probably a reason it's like that.

If only Seifer knew what Squall was thinking. If Squall thought it was okay for Seifer to kiss him then it wouldn't matter what the whole rest of the world thought, but he is desperate not to ruin things just before he leaves, knowing that he won't see Squall for a whole year at least. So he just keeps aching, but he wraps an arm around Squall's shoulder and Squall leans into him, pressing his forehead against Seifer's neck. Squall smells like the girly strawberry shampoo that Mrs. Kramer buys. Seifer wonders if Squall can hear his heart thudding faster.

"Promise?" Squall asks Seifer's neck, his lips brushing Seifer's collarbone. Seifer squeezes his shoulder, hurting inside, more than he's ever been hurt after a duel, from the soft pressure of those lips.

"I promise, Squall," Seifer says hoarsely, tipping Squall's chin up. Squall's eyes are shining a bit, but otherwise he looks okay, like he really believes that everything will be all right. Seifer needs to see that, because he is more afraid than Squall, although he'd rather be fed to dragons than admit it.

"I'm really going to miss you, jerk," Seifer says, stroking Squall's messy brown hair.

"I'll miss you too, loser," Squall replies, dashing at his eyes. A hand descends on Seifer's shoulder and he jumps and guiltily releases Squall from his embrace while Squall scrambles to his feet. Mrs. Kramer doesn't say anything, though, she just looks from one to the other of them.

"I knew I'd find you two here," she says, and smiles, a little sadly. "Time to go now Seifer. Want to come for a ride Squall?" Squall nods, twisting his hands in the hem of his t-shirt. Seifer wants to give him another hug, but figures he had better get used to the idea of not being able to.

"All right," Mrs. Kramer says. Her ink dark hair blows in her mouth and she brushes the strands away from her face. "You can help Seifer get his things and bring them to the truck. I'll be waiting, boys."

Seifer descends the stairs behind Mrs. Kramer and he hears Squall's shuffling footsteps behind him. They fall behind Mrs. Kramer as they cross the beach and head towards the house. Seifer isn't in a rush now. He shortens his strides to walk beside Squall and they march solemnly inside like a funeral procession. The wind has picked up and the sound of the surf is loud. Seifer closes the door on it, scraping his feet on the mat in the hall so that he doesn't track sand through the house. Squall is standing nearby, like an effigy, his face drained of all colour.

They walk to their room and Seifer pulls on his socks and boots, feeling sand grit between his toes, then picks up his big suitcase. Mrs. Kramer bought the luggage specifically for the trip. The suitcases have been sitting beneath Seifer's bed, making his throat hurt every time he sees them.

"Wait," Squall says. He climbs onto his bed and rummages beneath his pillow, coming

up with his rather mangy looking stuffed lion. Seifer blinks rapidly as Squall hurtles back across the room and shoves the stuffed creature into Seifer's arms. He keeps blinking, but he can't stop the tears from welling up in his eyes. Squall hugs the ridiculous creature to his chest every night while he sleeps, that's why its fur is all matted up. Squall doesn't say anything, just picks up the smaller suitcase and leaves the room. Seifer stands beside his bed, squeezing the stuffed lion between his hands and feeling his eyes prickle unpleasantly. He puts down the suitcase gently and goes to the bathroom to press a cool washcloth against his face and the tears pour down. It takes a few minutes for them to stop and then a few minutes more for his eyes to stop looking so puffy and red. When he feels like he looks presentable again, Seifer shuffles back to his room, shoves the lion into his suitcase and drags the heavy case out to the truck. The wheels of the suitcase get stuck on the stones of the front walk and Seifer has to tug hard, to get the suitcase to the truck.

The rest of the kids are weeping copiously and they begin clutching at Seifer while he still has the heavy suitcase in his hands. The wind is blowing harder, whipping their hair in their faces, the cool gray light sharpens the pathetic looking scene.

"Oh belt up," Seifer says, impatient with it all. He swings the suitcase up into the bed of the truck and slams the gate up in the back. Then he ruffles Irvine's hair, disarranging it from his ponytail which makes him scowl. He hugs Selphie and Quistis awkwardly. Zell is already gone. Just two days ago the paperwork went through and his adoptive mother came by to pick him up. Actually, the woman lives in Balamb, and Seifer can go and visit Zell when he has time off, if he ever wants to visit Zell. That is why the other kids are so emotional though. It's a bit much for them to be losing two of their number in the space of a week. Quistis is to be in charge while Seifer and Squall are gone. The children all stand beside the truck in a solemn row. Normally they'd be fighting about who got to go into town with Mrs. Kramer, jostling each other and making noise.

Seifer squeezes his eyes shut and feels sorry for Squall, as he sits down beside him on the cracked vinyl seat of the truck and slams the door shut. Squall will no doubt be stuck with twice the responsibility he used to have and he was always more responsible than Seifer ever was already. Mrs. Kramer pulls away from the house along the wheel ruts she's worn out herself from using this path every week. Squall's hands are folded in his lap and he's staring at them. Seifer places his hands over top of Squall's and he looks up, his face pale and distressed. Seifer smiles as best he can and pats Squall's hands again. Then he looks out the window and watches the trees go by.

It doesn't take very long to get to the train station just outside of Aegir. Seifer gets out and brings his suitcase onto the platform. Squall places the second suitcase beside it and hugs Seifer, hard. Mrs. Kramer kisses Seifer's cheek lightly and squeezes his shoulder.

"Take care, Seifer."

"You'll pick up my letters for Squall?"

"Of course," she nods. "Send one to me every now and again, will you?"

"Sure," he says. Mrs. Kramer and Squall stand together, a little way apart from Seifer. Already there is a barrier between them, before long it will stretch into a much greater distance. Seifer clenches the handle of his suitcase until his fingers hurt and his knuckles are pale with the strain.

When the train pulls up there's a man in uniform who helps Seifer with his other suitcase. Seifer waves at Squall and Mrs. Kramer and then goes and chooses a seat. There aren't many people on the train so he chooses one by the window and watches Squall and Mrs. Kramer wave at him through the glass. He twists his body in his seat as the train slowly pulls out of the station and continues to watch them. Seifer strain his eyes, his body twisted in his seat, until he can't see them anymore. They are waving the whole time.

Seifer feels queasy the whole trip. He doesn't know what to expect when he gets to the military school. He feels a little bit excited too, about being able to learn how to use weapons and stuff. But mostly he feels sick, probably because he doesn't really have anything to do on the train to take his mind off of things. He couldn't bring a book, because all of their books at the orphanage come from the library. So Seifer stares out the window and thinks of the story he and Squall were making up, which doesn't really make him feel any better. He keeps on thinking of fighting Squall until his thoughts spool out like fishing line into dreams and sleep.

When Seifer gets to the school everything is a blur. The building is huge and it looks stupid, like a giant sundial or something. There are lots of people in uniforms and everyone walks slowly and talks formally except for the other new students. They sort of scurry along, all hunched over with their things, looking terrified. Seifer realizes that he is doing it too and straightens out his spine and stares around haughtily instead. He learned how to do this from Squall.

The first thing that happens is they stand in an enormous atrium, looking around awestruck, some of them rubbing their damp eyes, others just looking scared. Seifer refuses to look around like that, just gets an impression of open space and sees the water running beneath the walkways and thinks how ostentatious this school is. A lot of rules get spouted at them by a fat guy in a cardigan. Seifer decides that he is a huge loser and he gapes when he realizes that this is the headmaster. He has messy brown hair and thick ugly glasses that make his eyes look bigger than they ought to be. His is short and his back stoops and he has broad lines alongside his mouth on each side that look like brackets. Why the hell did Mrs. Kramer ever marry him? She's a goddess and this guy resembles a caterchipillar, fat and squat and big-eyed.

After all of the rules have been expounded upon by the nervous headmaster, who likes to gesture rapidly with his hands, some of the instructors herd the large group of new students around the large center column in the building. Older students are standing around in groups giggling as the large group of newcomers travels through the school. The children in the group are all different ages since the school accepts new students from the ages of 10 to 13. The instructors take them to the dormitory and show all of them to their rooms. Seifer shares his room with a really big dark guy, whose name is Robert.

So many things happen in so short a space of time that Seifer feels completely overwhelmed. After dinner when he is unpacking he surreptitiously stuffs Squall's lion beneath his pillow, hoping that Robert doesn't see. But later that evening, when it is time for bed, Seifer pulls the lion out from beneath his pillow and clutches it tightly to his chest. The lion smells like Squall, the sea salt that is always on his hair unless Mrs. Kramer forces him to take a bath. Seifer buries his nose in the lion's mane and refuses to let himself cry.

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