A/N: Just re-read one of my favorite books of all time, and decided Ender and Alai needed some more friendship moments, and Ender needed a little more humanity/explanation. Quick drabbley bit. I love Ender.
it was for them
The words sounded muted in the empty hallway, so suddenly vacated by all the other children. It seemed strange to call them children, now, Ender realized. They were soldiers, all of them were, and they hadn't been children for many long years.
Ender had maybe never been a child.
"Ho, Alai," he breathed softly.
It was late, nearly lights out, and the hallways were dim. It was after the time when Ender and Alai would have had an extra practice, back in the days when they had been carefree.
Now Ender was a commander, battling a million battles a day, it seemed, commanding an army of newly-made veterans, and his distance from Alai was greater than it had ever been before.
Alai approached him slowly, falling into step with Ender without asking. They headed for the showers together. It was a dangerous position, an exposed position, Ender found himself thinking. If Alai had been less than a friend, he would not have walked alone with him, to the bathroom in which a small boy could be easily cornered.
But then he chastised himself for thinking such thoughts. This was Alai, possibly the only person in all of battle school, maybe all of the world, who he could trust completely.
For now, a voice in his head told him. A chill ran up his spine, and it took Ender a moment to identify and categorize it. Fear. Fear of losing his friend, as he had lost Valentine. I won't lose Alai, Ender thought grimly to himself.
"It's almost lights out." Ender's voice surprised him, breaking the silence.
"I can find my way back," Alai replied, with the slightest emphasis on the I.
The wall that Ender had sensed in the encroaching months was suddenly between them with such force that its presence was almost tangible, like a translucent sheet between the two. Ender ached inside, longing with a force that was previously almost incomprehensible to him. He ached for the easy familiarity, for the comfort of a brotherly hug, a whispered word, a shared laugh.
He reached towards Alai, feeling his hand pass through the nonexistent barrier, to touch his arm. Alai's eyes flickered up, and Ender held out his hand, fingers spread apart, palm towards Alai. Alai extended his own hand, placing it against Ender's palm in the universal gesture of goodwill. Of peace, they both knew, but that part remained unspoken.
Ender's hand was smaller than Alai's, pale and delicate. Alai's hand was long and lean, the brown fingers stretching almost a complete joint higher than Ender's. But each finger originated from the same place, a callus-hardened palm, stretched flat, in order to spread them straight and wide. The knuckle joints were lined a wrinkled, the nails kept in short, clean half-moons.
Ender felt his lips creep towards a smile, at the convoluted reminder that, somewhere, everywhere, with everyone, there were base similarities that could not be eradicated. Between every human being, whether above the surface or below, there was a common bond. We are a race, he thought, and we share the good and the bad, together. It was a strange reminder, and one he was not necessarily thrilled to think of. Similarities meant that he was close to Peter. But it also meant that he was close to Valentine, and Alai, and Shen, and that a part of them resided in him too.
"We're not so very different." It was this, Ender decided, that in this great war supposedly impending, he would fight to protect. In later years and months, when he lay in the lake with mountains all around, on a raft he had built himself, in a world that was no longer familiar to him, that he would remember. When Valentine's words echoed around him, it was this moment that would remain, his hand, pressed gently but firmly against Alai's. The reminder that he was connected to them both, that he loved them both, that these two human beings were worth fighting for, dying for, or perhaps more relevantly, killing for.
Because when he asked himself that question, asked Graff that question "why?" it was not for humanity he fought, nor for Valentine alone, though it would always be her words that day, those words that never left his mind. It was for them, for them both.
"Underneath the surface, we really aren't," Alai said, and then he grinned. "But you know what they say about big hands?" He wiggled his fingers suggestively.
Ender allowed a smile to creep across his own face, as, for a single instant, he let himself forget that he was a commander, ignore the weight of the world, and fall completely into his friendship with this boy.
He laughed. "My hands are bigger than Bernard's," he volunteered, which only made Alai smile wider.
And for a moment, he was just a child, just a boy, joking with his best friend. The rest of the world was forgotten, as Alai continued to smirk, raising an eyebrow as he looked at their joined hands, and Ender shrugged.
It was enough.