|Love Like Rockets
Author: Summoner Luna PM
He wonders what they're doing to him, but then, he wonders what they're doing to all of them. -SeiferxQuistis, pre-game. Everything is a battle, everything is a dance.-Rated: Fiction M - English - Seifer A. & Quistis T. - Chapters: 2 - Words: 7,260 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 11 - Updated: 06-30-12 - Published: 06-16-12 - id: 8224192
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Seifer is ten years old when he sees her for the first time.
He is leaving the training center with a group of four other cadets, and they are going to the cafeteria to try and claim back as much water and as many calories as possible. They take the long way, because their legs still feel like jelly and someone suggested that walking will help so their cramps aren't so bad after lunch.
She is on the bridge that leads to the infirmary, flanked by two Garden Faculty members, and she looks like a ghost. white-faced with hair as pale as morning sun on the marbled columns in Balamb, and an expression just as hard.
He is struck by three things.
One is the intensity of emotion that blindsides him before he's even had a chance to register she must be new, just recruited, and she is taking what they call the Final March that all students admitted after a certain age have to undergo. Seifer's been here for so long he never took that walk, and there are so many rumors about what happens nobody really knows the truth. All they know is that most new cadets come out of the infirmary with few memories of the lives they left behind.
The second, is anger. A wave swells up inside of him so fierce it's all he can do not to break from his group and fly at the two members of the Garden Faculty, because why are they doing this? Why her? She doesn't belong here. He wants to protect her, to pull her out, send her back into the world before the March is complete and who-knows-who will be left in place of this shell of a girl who already seems so hollow. And then, he's mad at her. Because he feels like she should know better. She should be better. That she should be taking this walk with pride, leading the Faculty instead of letting them drive her. That it's her own fault she is here. He dimly registers this might be a feeling of disappointment, but she is a stranger and why should he feel disappointment for some girl he'll probably be training with in a few weeks. He pictures sparring with her and doesn't know if he's more worried about hurting her, or about about her hurting him.
The third, is a feeling of deju vu so strong he actually has to pause for a minute in case he gets sick.
"Alright Almasy?" One of the other cadets asks.
"He's fine. First time against Rex, you know. He can't take the pressure."
"Blow me," Seifer snaps, and glares at the back of the girl as the doors whoosh closed behind her. Seifer feels something shut inside himself. Some lost secret that just went into Kadowaki's lair, to be drawn out and flushed away before he even had the chance to ask.
He doesn't see her again for almost six months. He stops looking for her a few weeks in, but he does not forget. He wonders if she cracked, if that line she so clearly walked being frailty and ferocity was thinner than he'd hoped, and they decided she wasn't right after all.
Anger. And disappointment. He decides she's weak, worthless. Whatever quality that caused him to look twice was in him, combat high, and wanting to look impressive to the new kid. He is not disappointed because he wanted to see her again. Not at all.
Then she's there, sitting in the front row of his Thursday afternoon geography class (they nickname it early politics-they learn more about the strategic uses of topography than anything else), notebook and pencil lined up perfectly on her desk, intently reading what Seifer assumes is the homework from last class.
He debates on sitting beside her, when someone enters the room behind him and she glances just over the top of her book and just smiles, and Seifer knows it's Leonhart without even looking because why wouldn't it be.
Except if Squall notices the reaction he caused he doesn't let on, just sloughs to his normal seat on the edge of the room, and pulls out his materials in an exact mirror to hers.
It's a lot more charming when she does it. If he were older, Seifer might wonder how two people can do the same thing and look so different while doing it. Instead he stands there, stupid, until their instructor walks in and asks him in a condescending voice if he won't please take his seat, unless he's planning on teaching today.
Seifer swears under his breath and drops into a chair exactly halfway between her and Leonhart, daring her to try and look back. She never does. She doesn't flinch, doesn't even notice as far as he can tell.
He spends the class staring at the back of her hair. It's beautiful. Garden tries to replicate beauty a lot, and he finds it annoying, and tries to vandalize it as much as possible. Their stupid fountains and topiaries are nothing compared to the sound of the ocean, or the play of light through the trees.
He appreciates true beauty, and he thinks everyone here might, except they're taught not to so nobody talks about it, and he feels certain they'll lose that wonderment entirely one of these days.
But her hair is beautiful.
When class is over she seems to linger. Seifer pretends he needs extra time rearranging his books, but feels the same knife-sick feeling when Leonhart, all elbows and limp hair, wanders oblivious out of the room and she deflates a fraction of an inch, and then leaves.
Neither of them like hand-to-hand combat, but Seifer challenges Squall one day anyway. The blond girl-he still doesn't know her name-is nowhere near the gym, and the Garden Faculty have left supervision to a group of new SeeDs. Those are Seifer's favorite days. The SeeDs are usually so upset about having to babysit they aren't as quick to enforce the rules. Better to let the maggots kill themselves.
At this age, Seifer is bigger, and faster. Squall is too skinny, too weighed down by whatever it is that keeps his eyes on the ground and his shoulders hunched. Seifer's heard rumors he cries himself to sleep some nights. Seifer wants to punch people when they say that, because so does he, but then the other boys laugh and he laughs with them, because it's easier to pick on someone than defend them, especially someone like Leonhart who never says a word to anyone, so who knows what's really true about him.
Still, it's not a bad fight, and they start to draw a crowd. Seifer feels a sense of pride, a taste of glory. So, he taunts, "What's the matter, Leonhart? Getting tired?"
Squall responds with a glare. Seifer charges towards him and Squall manages to dodge, but loses his balance in the process. A laugh catches somewhere in Seifer's throat, and he changes direction, swinging out a leg and hooking it deftly around Squall's ankle. Squall hits the ground and Seifer is on him before he has a chance to catch his breath.
He sits across Squall's abdomen, pinning both arms to the ground above his head, and leans down so close he can feel each of Squall's warm, hurried breaths hit his face.
"Who do you think you are, Leonhart?" Seifer snarls, pleased at the gutteral octave his voice takes.
Squall says nothing, just continues his restrained moans, fighting to keep his shoulders off the floor. Seifer delights in the amount of control he knows he has. "I asked you a question."
"If you want this win, take it," Squall's voice comes out like a hiss, a catch in it Seifer doesn't believe but is too proud to acknowledge.
"You're pathetic, Leonhart." Seifer is only vaguely aware that most of the gym has stopped what they were doing to watch. It's not the first time he's fought Squall. Loathe as he is to admit it, Leonhart is becoming the only decent partner he has in this place, the only other one willing to fight as dirty as he does. Where a win actually feels like a win. Squall's even beaten him, once, and it only made Seifer eager to go again. And it's not the first time they've drawn a crowd. But there's something else at stake here, and so Seifer lowers his voice, speaking directly into Squall's ear. "Whatever you think you're going to become, it's nothing anybody wants."
The sound of Seifer's nose breaking echos in the gym, drowned out by his sharp cry of pain when Squall's forehead slams straight into his face. Seifer reels, losing his edge and jerking back and to the side. He doesn't regain himself before Squall knocks him against the floor and straddles him, knees pressed against his arms and forcing his entire upper body flat against the deck. The crowd reacts appropriately, and if Squall wants to say anything he hides it in a twisted look Seifer can't entirely read.
"Oi!" One of the SeeDs shouts, while Seifer is choking on his own blood, wondering if there is a way to say 'nice fight' without sounding like you enjoyed it, and if Squall would even believe him anyway since he's currently staining the gym floor red and looking, he's sure, completely mad. "You're supposed to be training, not trying to kill each other."
Squall springs to a standing position, and reaches a hand down to help Seifer up. He takes it, pulling a little harder than necessary, and smirks at Squall's responding glare. "I knew I could get a good fight out of you."
On his way into the locker room he hears the dull thud and shaking chains of a punching bag, and sees the blond girl in the corner of the gym, pounding her full energy into-what? Seifer wonders if she saw their fight, and wonders still if he even wanted her to. But by the look on her face even if she'd been in there, she's doing her own fighting. He just doesn't know against what.
"Got a crush, Almasy?" A senior cadet stares at him and raises an eyebrow when Seifer looks up at her. She's been assigned to assist in a few of his weapons courses. Seifer can't remember her name, but he does remember her reputation for accuracy with a handgun. "Worried she just saw Leonhart mop the floor with you? Stare too long she might see you standing in a pool of your own blood."
"I could have taken him," is all he says.
"Could have, but didn't. She wasn't watching, anyway."
"Who?" This girl is in no way stupid enough to fall for his feigned innocence, but Seifer has his pride.
She watches him for minute, and Seifer takes a second to admire her under her scrutiny, even if he already thinks she's a bitch. She stands up so straight Seifer would swear she was a SeeD if she weren't dressed like a cadet, and he can see the raw power in her veins. She's junctioned, and it's as natural to her as breathing.
"Get lost, Almasy."
He opens his mouth to say something smart back to her, but silences himself when she walks off, and he hears her shout, "Quistis!" to the blond girl at the punching bag.
The names tears at something in his brain.
The next day they finally allow him to junction a second GF, and Quistis does not show up for geography.
She's been here for a year, when he meets Fujin.
He sees her before the Final March, when she is a ragged, feral thing on the grounds outside of Garden, screaming at the Garden Faculty to "FUCK OFF, FUCK OFF" until they wave a needle in front of her face and she shuts up and complies so fast Seifer looks around to see if someone actually shot her with something.
He is supposed to be studying, but finds it a lot more interesting to make miniature rockets out of match sticks and aluminum foil. They allow him to be junctioned at all times in the Training Center now, but he has to sign his GF back in before he leaves, so he's left to his own creativity out here.
He likes the fire spells the best.
In his distraction at watching this frightened little animal, Seifer forgets he is supposed to be studying, and one of the Garden Faculty snaps a finger at him and points inside. He takes his time gathering his books so he can walk behind the animal's entourage. She doesn't fight again. She leads herself down the main promenade. There is no March for her, Seifer decides.
He likes her.
They don't keep her hidden like they did with Quistis, and he sees her in the cafeteria barely a week after her arrival.
He sits next to her without hesitation, oblivious or indifferent to the giant bubble of "go to hell" vibes she has erected around herself.
"What." She demands.
"Saw you when you got her. You put up a good fight."
He starts eating, aware that she is staring daggers at him, and continues to ignore her.
She breaks first. Sort of. Reaches across the table and slaps him while he has a mouth full of eggs, which immediately fly out of his mouth and onto the table.
"Seifer. Complete sentences a problem for you?"
"So they say. You?"
"I'm training after lunch. Come with me."
She nods, and after a beat, they reach across the table in unison and shake hands. A pact has been formed, something Seifer feels to his core, but sure as hell can't understand.
He makes a hap-hazard attempt at cleaning up some of the half-chewed egg, and notices the Garden Faculty are watching them more closely than normal. Fujin stares around the cafeteria, and Seifer doesn't need her to say anything to know what she's thinking. About the junior cadets he used to run with who he's pretty sure are going to get themselves killed on the SeeD qualifying exam. Leonhart, standing in line alone. He stands up a little straighter than he did a few months ago. Seifer kind of wonders what they're doing to that kid, but he wonders what they're doing to all of them.
His eyes stop at a table near the windows, where Quistis is sitting with the dark haired senior cadet that bullied him that day in the gym. They look comfortable. A cross between jealousy and something almost sadistic tugs at him. He wants her to be that comfortable with him, but they never talk. And so he doesn't want her that comfortable with anyone.
Fujin raises the eyebrow over her good eye, and Seifer can hear her do it, because he feels it before he turns back to look at her.
"Fuck off," he mumbles.
The dark haired cadet is named Xu, and Seifer will never forget that again. She leads him and five others on a multi-night field training in Trabia, for no reason that Seifer can tell other than to torture her.
He is up for the challenge.
He will be twelve soon, finally old enough to start the advanced training reserved for SeeD candidates. This mission is, according to Garden, part of that training. If they think she succeeds, Xu will be permitted to take her qualifying exam for SeeD, and the junior cadets will start their training, which includes access to more advanced weaponry.
It is almost worth it to make her life easy because of what it means for him. Almost.
They have to call in aid on the first day, because one of the cadets was stupid enough to ignore the hours worth of instructions they got on how to dress for Trabia, and couldn't get halfway out before he collapsed. Xu slings him wordlessly over her shoulders and leads the rest of them for another two hours, to the first rock cluster they can find. She declares that their camp, and assigns one of the other boys who had shown interest in medicine to keep the dumbass cadet alive while she radios in for help. Another half an hour and their camp is set, just in time for Trabia to show up in their hovercraft and take the cadet away.
Night falls quickly this far north, and Xu permits them to light a fire. Finding wood is almost impossible, and they rely too heavily on magic. Xu gives little in the way of instruction, and Seifer has bitter thoughts about her failure as a guide being payback for being, as far as he can tell, the only person at Garden Quistis will permit the privilege of speech. When she isn't mooning over Leonhart at least, and oh does Seifer wish he was out here, out where the rules are so much thinner.
Dawn breaks and these thoughts deepen, and he uses what is becoming a severe hatred of Xu to keep himself warm, because nothing else is going to out here. They have no mission, as far as he can tell, except: don't die. It's wearying, and the other cadets start to fight.
On the third day, Seifer has had enough, and starts snapping at the others, ordering them to collect wood as they go so they can actually have some heat that night, breaking up the fights that occur through exhaustion and the constant threat of hypothermia. After a break, where he actually has to physically separate two of his bickering classmates, he sees what is almost a smile on Xu's face, but tells himself he imagined it, because it's easier to look at her as someone too inhuman to smile.
They stop early that day, and Seifer takes advantage to lead a party of two other cadets on a hunting mission to take down a mesmerize. He knows they're way too young but doesn't care. They are going to have a real fire tonight, and they deserve real meat.
Somehow they succeed.
Seifer is proud of himself, and looks for Xu, wanting to see her face as she realizes he's a better field leader than she is, but she is not around the fire, or anywhere that he can see.
Then one of the tents explodes, and in a moment of horror, Seifer realizes it's his.
The party is over, and Xu is still nowhere in sight. One of the cadets has the good sense to smother their fire in snow, and Seifer sees the brief, electric blue strobes in the eyes of each of his comrades as they check their junctions. He has kept his weapon on his belt; a small set of blades that travel well. He longs for the weight of the gunblade he's finally started practicing with, but Garden, so unwilling to give him a decent challenge, says it's a "difficult" weapon. He's not allowed to leave with one just yet, not unless he passes this test and starts his training.
But now he has these blades, and Seifer organizes his group and sets up guard stations around the perimeter of their camp, and volunteers to act as scout. This arctic camping trip is finally getting exciting.
What he finds, is not an enemy ambush, or even a monster, but Xu, holding a box of matches, and looking at him with a sly grin.
"Are you done?"
"Why? Worried you missed all the fun, with your disappearing act?" Seifer sees clearly that it was she who caused the explosion. He is less impressed with her stealth abilities as he is furious all his gear is gone.
"Quite the party you had. No chance of alerting anyone to your presence, either."
"I guess that's what happens when you leave a bunch of kids unsupervised."
"What are they doing now?"
"What the fuck do you think they're doing? We were under attack, we're in formation."
"And what if you were surrounded right now? Or a clan of blue dragons showed up?"
"Well, I guess we'd all be in trouble, since Garden doesn't seem interested in letting us properly equip ourselves and sends us out with a useless guide. I imagine they'd probably want you to explain why we got so out of hand in the first place."
"Then I guess it's a good thing someone took the time to secure the area, isn't it?"
Seifer stares at her for a second, doubtful. She's barely paid them any attention since the first kid had to be flown out, and now she's trying to cover herself?
"Who are you trying to impress out here, Almasy?"
"I'm sorry. Impress?" He crosses his arms, annoyed at whatever game she is trying to play.
"Your exploits in the gym are one thing when you have an audience, or when you're trying to prove yourself to someone, but what do you have out here? You think those boys will go back and talk about how great you are? How you showed them a good time? Or do you think they even care that you are here at all?"
"Maybe I just wanted an actual fire tonight so we didn't freeze to death. Or a chance to actually practice fighting something worth my time, since we never do that back home. You think it might be possible I wanted this, and that I don't give a shit what they write home about? I'm still waiting for you to explain why it's such a big deal now, when it wasn't the rest of the trip."
"Go back to camp. Pull them off guard, and make sure the fire is out. Your party is over, Almasy."
"Yes Ma'am." He spits out the words and turns, swearing under his breath, and working up the story he's going to tell. For whatever reason, she doesn't seem interested in calling him out in front of the others, and he won't question it. Not now at least.
He lies. Says he'd been carrying some gunpowder with him unauthorized, and he reckons a spark from the fire set it off. Nothing else is damaged. Put out the fire you idiots, that had to draw someone's attention.
He is summoned into the Headmaster's office the afternoon they get back, before he's even allowed to shower, and Xu is standing near the back at attention.
"Cadet Almasy," Headmaster Kramer starts. Seifer has mixed feelings about him. He seems okay most of the time, but Seifer is mostly glad they don't interact a whole lot, and feels like he resents him for something, though for what, he isn't sure.
"Sir," Seifer responds, defiant. There are two Garden Faculty members in the room with them. They don't look happy, and eye him with mistrust. He returns their look in kind.
"Xu has told me about the field mission, and I wanted to congratulate you personally on your success."
"On my-success, sir?"
"She says you demonstrated excellent leadership in the absence of a guide, and feels you are ready to begin your training for SeeD candidacy."
Seifer feels, above everything else, a flush of foolishness, for not realizing that must have been the goal of the mission the entire time. He nods, but Headmaster Kramer starts to speak again before he can respond.
"However, she also tells me that you have a certain disregard for protocol that could potentially harm you in your pursuits. Would you agree?"
He wants to snap back that they were abandoned in the Trabian wilderness for all intents and purposes and there wasn't even a protocol to follow. That he's twelve years old and led five boys his own age through the ice and kept them warm and fed and doesn't that count for something? To ask how can they hold him accountable for his behavior when he wasn't even told how he should have been behaving in the first place, but he doesn't. Maybe he would have to Xu, probably even to the faculty, but there is that thing with the Headmaster he can't get around that makes him hold his tongue, and say simply, "Yes, sir."
"However, your achievements are admirable, and you show a lot of promise. It is the recommendation of the Garden Faculty that we place you on the Disciplinary Committee, to show you the effect a disregard for the rules can have on the people who enforce them. Your post is effective immediately."
Part 1 of a giftfic for irishais.