The Best Of Enemies
(A.K.A. Fishing For A Common Ground)
When Xu had told him that Seifer was in Balamb, Squall hadn't honestly known what to think. It wasn't wholly incomprehensible that he might apply there for political asylum, but the idea of Seifer asking anyone--especially the government of his de facto hometown--to protect him was one that didn't sit quite well with the mental image of the Sorceress's Knight that had been developing over the past several weeks.
He had tried to prepare himself for a bit of a shock when he came to Balamb. He was ready to confront a Seifer who was bitter, or disillusioned, or vengeful, or even depressed--
--but he had nothing to say when he encountered a Seifer who was sitting calmly on the end of the Balamb docks, fishing.
Seifer must have heard his boots on the wooden slats, because as soon as he approached the erstwhile Knight laid down the fishing pole next to two others, stood up, and turned around. He crossed his arms, waiting for Squall to make the first move.
"...Seifer," Squall acknowledged.
"Hm." Seifer looked him up and down, frowning disapprovingly. "...never figured you for the gloating type, Squall."
Squall scowled, taking badly to Seifer's assumption. "I didn't come here to gloat."
"Well, then, let's get it over with," Seifer snapped. "There's a good dueling ground just outside the city--"
"Seifer." Squall was beginning to remember why he had thought this was such a stupendously bad idea.
"I didn't come here to fight you."
"Well, then what the hell did you come here for? Fund-raising for the Youth Hero's Association?"
He didn't quite spit, but he sounded as if he wanted to. Squall spent a moment deciding how he could retort, considered just snarling "Screw this" and walking away, thought about the response that might elicit from certain parties at Garden, and stood his ground instead. "You're still enrolled in Garden."
If Seifer was at all surprised by the non-answer, he didn't show it. "I didn't need you to tell me that, Leonhart. What, you want me to come back so they can kick me out formally?"
Again, Squall wasn't entirely sure how to answer that directly. "Cid thought you might have been mind-controlled," he stated bluntly, letting Seifer read what he would into it.
Instead of the response Squall would have expected--snide laughter, maybe, or outright anger--Seifer raised an eyebrow and shrugged. "Think whatever you want," he responded, as if he couldn't care less. He turned away, sitting back down and picking up the fishing pole.
Squall watched him carefully. "Were you?"
"You want the real answer, Leonhart, or you want me to lie to ease your conscience?" His voice was sharp, as if he had chosen that moment to take offense.
"The real answer."
"No. I wasn't." He drew the fishing pole back and cast, causing Squall to flinch as the hook went whistling past his ear. "You can go home and report that to whoever you want. Have them mail the notice of my expulsion to the Balamb Hotel."
Squall brought his hand up to his forehead in aggravation. Sometimes it seemed as if Cid and Xu sent him on these missions because they thought he needed more work hours, or something--if they had wanted someone to come and talk with Seifer, there were probably about a thousand people in Garden who would do a better job of it than he would. Of course, there had probably been that many who could have wrapped up the Timber mission more quickly, or assassinated Edea successfully, or fought Ultimecia more efficiently... but, no, it always seemed to come down to him.
After a moment, there was a noise from the end of the pier. He looked up, noticing that Seifer had risen again. "You're still here," his rival stated flatly.
Squall made an acknowledging gesture with his right hand.
Squall frowned. That was a very good question--and a difficult one to answer, even with another non-sequitur. "I don't know," he stated darkly.
"That must be a first."
"......." Squall grimaced. "Xu sent me."
Seifer heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Well, as long as you're here, you might as well fish."
Squall blinked, and immediately felt the need to verify what he had heard. "Fish."
Seifer pointed to the three fishing poles. "You take one of those, you hold the thick end, and you put the end of the line into the water." Seifer had a remarkable grasp of the full range of condescending vocal tones. "It's easy. You should be able to grasp it."
Squall didn't respond. Seifer bent down, picking up two of the poles and holding one out to him. Feeling ridiculous all the while, Squall took it.
Seifer promptly turned away and sat down, leaving Squall feeling even more like an idiot.
After a moment, Seifer glanced back. "You just going to stand there, or what?"
Squall shook off his reservations, and sat down on the edge of the pier with ill grace. Seifer acknowledged the action with a small snort, waiting for him to cast te hook into the water.
Several moments passed in absolute silence.
"So, that last fight in the Pandora." Seifer made an awkward gesture with one hand. "I noticed you used a Kessler street attack."
"So?" Discussing the finer points of gunblade technique, while an easier topic than some others that could have come up, was nonetheless not what he had come for.
...then again, neither was fishing, and yet.... "I taught you that," Seifer said, vindictively.
Once again, Squall failed to see the point. "So?"
"So I don't think you can really complain about people who fight dirty, like me."
"...what?" A brief review of the conversation to date revealed that he hadn't been complaining in any way that he recognized as such.
"The Dollet mission, genius," Seifer snorted. "Told you you'd thank me when the time came."
"Thank you for what?"
Seifer turned to look at him, as if he was being unspeakably daft. "For teaching you that the world is full of bastards, Squall. What, you think that Kessler attack is fair?"
Squall would have crossed his arms, but for the fishing pole still clenched firmly in his hands. "So, what are you saying? You think you're personally responsible for the victory over Ultimecia?"
Seifer rolled his eyes toward the heavens. "No, Squall," he said, with infinitely-strained patience. "I'm saying I taught you more about fighting than Instructor Trepe ever did. Thanks to me, you could take on anything." He smirked. "Even if they did fight dirty, like you."
There was a light tug at Squall's fishing pole, which he ignored. He was too busy staring at Seifer, trying to figure out what the hell was going on inside his mind. ...this was Seifer Almasy, or at least he thought it was--his classmate, rival, mentor?, team leader, torturer, enemy--
Seifer glanced over, seemingly unperturbed by Squall's analytic stare. After a moment, he glanced at the water. "You have a bite," he stated matter-of-factly.
"............." Squall turned to the fishing line, reeling it in slowly. "I'm glad to see that you feel in a position to forgive us," he said.
Seifer raised an eyebrow. "Who said I was forgiving anything?" he asked. "You're still all bastards. I just don't care."
"That we beat you."
"I thought you didn't come here to gloat."
Squall suddenly regretted putting the fishing pole down. If he had it in his hand, he could have thrown it down now. He had forgotten how impossible Seifer was to deal with--although part of that might have been due to the fact that he had always gone out of his way to avoid dealing with Seifer, if at all possible.
He had a feeling that getting up and leaving now would be something akin to admitting defeat.
"On the Field Exam," he said, heading off the subject from wherever it had been going.
"You mentioned your '...romantic dream.'"
Seifer groaned. "It didn't work out," he responded.
"Really." Seifer tugged at his line, then re-cast it. "What do you care?"
"Didn't seem like you," Squall answered.
"Glad to see you know me so well." He pressed a hand to his heart, mock-wounded.
Squall ignored it. "Was that all this was?" he asked.
This time, there was an unmistakably ironic edge to Seifer's voice. "You want the real answer, Leonhart, or you want me to lie to ease your conscience?"
"...the real answer."
Seifer stood up, taking his dropped fishing pole and grabbing the unused one as he did so. "What do you think?" he asked.
Before Squall could retort, Seifer was off back up the pier. He stood and followed, stopping when Seifer paused at the doorway to a small equipment-rental shop. Seifer turned, gesturing vaguely back toward the mainland. "Tell Xu that I might stop in sometime and visit. ...'til then."
Then he disappeared into the building, leaving Squall with that very clear dismissal. He waited a moment--debated going inside after him--
--and turned to head back toward Garden.