The Redcrosse Knight

Part 5 - reflect

By fyre byrd

Thick clouds hurry across the sky. You cannot notice them moving unless you are still however. That seems strange to Squall. He sits on the railed walkway around the lighthouse watching the clouds travel rapidly. The hollow echo of footsteps resounds through the tall stone building. The steps are light and fast. Squall can tell by the sounds that Seifer climbs the stairs, not that any of the other children come here often and when they do they confine themselves mostly to the lower portions of the building. When the sounds even out and become softer, Squall, without turning his head says, "Mrs. Kramer let you out of captivity then?"

"My sentence was lightened for good behaviour I think." Seifer replies placing a hand on Squallís shoulder. "Budge over, would you? Youíre blocking the door with your bulk." Squall laughs, a short, breathy sound. Only Seifer makes him laugh.

"My bulk? Youíre the older, fatter one, arenít you?" Seifer takes a swing at Squallís head with his bandaged hand, but misses deliberately. Squall shuffles over a little to give him room and Seifer sinks elegantly down beside him, all loose-limbed and easy. He drapes his right arm around Squallís shoulder and squeezes it lightly with his undamaged hand.

"Youíre thinking too hard again, arenít you?" Seifer observes. He pulls a fall of black cloth from his shoulder. Bundled up in it is a spool of silver thread.

"You only say that because you never think," Squall responds, trying not to peer too eagerly at the beginnings of Seiferís pattern. "You finished yours?" he asks, jerking his head downwards to indicate the cloak.

"Yeah. I didnít have much else to do all afternoon, once Mrs. Kramer got home and while you were enjoying yourself outdoors." Seiferís voice wavers slightly as he says this and Squall peers at him sharply, but his head is lowered over his work, fingers working deftly with the thread. Seiferís eyes are hidden beneath his long sandy lashes while he works. Is he . . . upset? Squall gnaws at his lower lip. He is pretty sure Seifer is faking it, having fallen for this trick before, but he decides to try and be nice about it anyway.

"I didnít exactly enjoy myself without you, you know. Quistis bossed the other kids around and Irvine buried Zell in the sand up to his neck with all of his clothes on. Then Zell started to cry, as if he couldnít have escaped the whole time Irvine was filling in the sand. Then Mrs. Kramer got angry with me for letting him track sand into the house again, even though I wasnít even around at the time." Seifer laughs, in his usual deep vibrating tones. Seiferís laugh always sounds older than his voice. Itís strange.

"See, you do need me," Seifer says triumphantly, tugging at a thread. Squall rolls his eyes and realizes that this was what he was being set up for from the start. Seifer is oddly insistent about proving that heís important to Squall.

"All right, all right," Squall offers his upheld hands in defeat. "Sure I need you to keep me sane. There, are you happy, now?"

"Yes," Seifer replies with a smug grin, delicately picking out another x-shaped stitch. His face goes serious now. It isnít something Squall has seen before. Seifers lips turn down from their usual grin or the more common sneer. They look as soft and relaxed as when he is asleep. He stops working on the cloak, his hands hovering vaguely over the fabric. "Mrs. Kramer talked to me today about going to the military school." Seifer says looking into Squallís eyes intently.

"The one her husband runs?" Squall asks, biting his lower lip.

"Thatís the one. She says there isnít a lot of chance of someone adopting me because Iím too . . . Well . . ." Seifer bends his head to his work again, jabbing listlessly at the cloth. The needle stabs through, Seifer pulls the thread behind it.

"What, whatís wrong with you? Thereís nothing wrong with you. Well, youíre a bit ugly, true, but arenít people sensitive about that kind of thing?" Squall tries to do what Seifer does Ė to make light of things, get a laugh, get a rise out of him. Seifer smiles, but his eyes stay blank and empty, like he is staring through the cloth in his lap into the future Ė the way sorceresses used to stare into bowls of water and see time ripple and flow out from them.

"Well," he says lightly. "Itís up to me since I can only stay here until Iím 16. And Iíll be a mercenary. Itís something like a knight. Anyway, I donít have to decide for another month. Thatís when registration ends and in the meantime I can still push you around a bit more. Someone has to keep you from moping around all over the place."

And that is when Squall realizes that if Seifer goes he will be alone again. Well, Mrs. Kramer is all right, and the other kids are fine, but Seifer is Seifer. Squall doesnít know how else to say it to himself. It isnít that he needs Seifer. No, he doesnít need anyone, but he likes to have him around maybe. No one else is good at dueling. No one else has such good ideas as Seifer does. Squall wouldnít break the rules for anyone else. He does it for Seifer because he knows that in the end it will be worth it. Seifer understands him too. Seifer knows when Squall is angry and when he is tired and when wants a friendly cuff on the shoulder or a tussle or when he just wants someone to sit down beside with their shoulders touching, just for a little while. Why didnít Mrs. Kramer ask Squall if he wanted to go to this school too? Squall is sure he could do just as well as Seifer could. He could do better, couldnít he? Yeah, sure he could. They could train to be mercenaries together even if Squall doesnít know what exactly they would have to do for training. It would be all right if Seifer was there to do it with him.

Seifer nudges him several times in the ribs with his elbow. It hurts and it surprises Squall. Squall lashes out and hits him in the arm.

"Watch it," he says coldly.

"Hey, dickhead," Seifer says, frowning back at him, his green eyes cold and flat like the chips of frosted-over glass they find on the shore sometimes. "Iím supposed to keep you from moping, right? So stop moping. Youíll be fine without me. You donít really need me, right. Youíre tough. And next year sheíll probably ask you if you want to go. Weíre a lot alike, you know. She probably thinks no one would want you either."

Squall feels cold water trickling through his veins. It starts in his chest and tingles slowly outward until it reaches his fingertips. He doesnít have to listen to this. No, he doesnít, not from someone else who clearly doesnít want him. He gets up quickly, his shoulder jostling Seiferís as he gathers his feet beneath him.

"No, wait." Seifer tugs on the cuff of Squallís black corduroy pants, hard. Squall looks down and sees that Seifer has dropped needle and thread in his lap and the fingers of his right hand are pale and bent with holding onto him. His left hand is curled around Squallís ankle now, with as tight a grip as he can manage probably. It must hurt, Squall thinks. "Wait. Look, Iím in a pissy mood. Just ignore me, okay? But really. Did you think Iíd just leave and never contact you? Iíll write letters. Mrs. Kramer can get them in town with the library books." Squall stays stiff and he still feels the chill through him, but he stops leaning away from Seiferís touch, stops trying to get away and slumps back down.

"This is stupid," he says, punching the stone walk. Seifer winces in sympathy and opens and closes his left hand absently in his lap.

"Yeah, itís stupid, but I donít want to live here forever. Do you?" Squall thinks of the quiet and he doesnít mind that so much, and he looks at the sea and thinks that he wouldnít like to move somewhere that he couldnít watch it churning outside the windows, always just about to imitate his mood, whatever it may be at the moment. Then Squall thinks about the restlessness that creeps into his gut while he and Seifer are dueling or while they are reading history books.

"I guess not," he says drawing up his knees and wrapping his arms around them. Squall rests his left cheek on his knees and watches Seifer, whose face seems paler than it was before, gathering the needle carefully in his left hand and starting to make stitches again.

"Yeah, well, me either and this seems as good a way as any to get the hell out of here. Anyway I think Mrs. Kramer had this planned all along, but donít tell her I said so, okay?" He is serious. Squall can tell and he feels a little scared. Mrs. Kramer wanted to send them away all along? Squall feels something twisting in him and he swallows his spit. It tastes bitter, like he wants to throw up.

"Why do you think that?" Squall asks, watching Seiferís long pale fingers move.

"Sheís married to the headmaster, isnít she," Seifer says. It isnít a question. Squallís eyes follow the sharp angles of Seiferís face in profile, his hard uncompromising cheekbones, the planes of his chin. "So I think she knew all along that sheíd send us away there." Seifer turns and looks at Squall, his eyes narrowed a little. "Oh, donít take it so hard, Squall. She obviously didnít keep us from getting adopted on purpose. There arenít a lot of people who live around here and sheís managed to find a family to send Zell to pretty soon anyway. Besides, most of the people from around here end up in military schools anyway."

"Why is that?" Squall demands, biting his lip again. He doesnít want to admit that Seifer is right -that he was afraid for a minute that Mrs. Kramer was not who he thought she was. That she was an enemy and not a friend.

"Thereís not much else to do around here except fish," Seifer replies, "because itís all just puny little towns out here, like Aegir."

"Well, what did you mean then, when you said she must have known all along?" Squall asks. His lip is bleeding a little bit now on the inside. The blood tastes like metal and when he sucks on his lip it stings so little that it feels good instead of hurting. Squall shifts closer to Seifer, warily. He moves close enough so that he can feel the heat of Seiferís arm against his own. Seiferís eyes shift over to him as Squall touches him like that. Seifer smiles a little, but as if he is afraid to smile too much.

"I just meant that she probably gave us those books on knights so that we would get used to the idea a little. I donít think Mrs. Kramer likes the military schools very much. I think thatís why she doesnít live with Mr. Kramer and why she doesnít talk about him much."

"So are you going to go?" Squall asks, hugging his knees a little bit harder. He bites on another part of his lip, using his knuckle to press the flesh to his teeth. Squall isnít sure what he wants Seifer to say. If Seifer says yes, he will leave, which Squall doesnít want, but he also doesnít want Seifer to be afraid of leaving, because then Squall would have to be afraid too. Seifer looks at him. He pulls Squallís fist from his mouth and spreads Squallís fingers out against his own knee.

"Thatís a bad habit," he says, with a crooked grin, showing Squall his own fingernails which are ragged and bitten. Squall kicks him in the shin and raises an eyebrow. Every time Squall raises his eyebrow. Squall knows it pisses Seifer off because he canít do it. "I think Iíll go." Seifer says, sliding the tips of his fingers across the stitches he has made. "Weíve always wanted to fight, right? Now is my chance I guess." His eyes light up then and he bats his long pale eyelashes flirtatiously. "Will you miss me Squall?" Seifer asks, grabbing Squallís shoulders and pulling him closer and closer until they are nose to nose. Squallís eyes cross. He is smiling, but luckily, Seifer canít see it. It would only encourage him.

"Maybe," Squall says warily.

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