It neared midnight, and the words spilling out of me had long since acquired a harsh flavor that had nothing to do with the story I was telling. My throat was dry, but I couldn't seem to stop talking. The words fell from my mouth wantonly, as if trying to fill the void of Edea's silence. Suddenly my voice cracked, soaring into an upper register that hadn't been heard from me since I was fourteen. I stopped, and coughed.
I heard Edea stand up. I did likewise, and stretched. I coughed again, a cough that seemed to wrack my whole body, and she glided into my kitchen and drew me a glass of water. She held it out to me, eyes shining. I accepted it and drank deeply, thinking. Was she going to cry for me? I didn't want her pity.
"Thank you," I said, and drained the glass.
"You're welcome," she replied gravely. "I think it's too late for any more talking. Can we finish this tomorrow evening?"
I nodded and she touched my arm. I looked down at her, and saw a tear escape her eye, carving a glittering track down one cheek. I looked away, uneasily recognizing the spark of anger the sight evoked, and felt her squeeze my arm before I heard the sound of the door, opening and then closing.
I sighed and rubbed my scar. I had a headache.
I looked to my coat, still on the table, and decided to leave it. I caught up my keys and headed out of the house. I wanted to sit on the pier and let the cool night air clear my head of all visions.
As it turned out, it took three evenings to cover the entire story. The second night Edea made as if to sit on the floor, and I stayed her movement.
"I'm not a child any more," I said, and we sat at the table and I looked her in the eye as I described the dreams she sent me.
The third night, I finished. I told her everything, waking in that field, the realization of tears, Fujin's rejection. And I asked her if I could return. And she looked at me for so long that I wondered if she would deny me even now, after all that I had shared with her, those things which I had shared with no other living being.
But she didn't. "If it were just me," she said, and shook her head. "I will see what I can do. I won't promise anything; I can't. But if I know my children...they forgive."
And that was that. Raijin and Fujin tiptoed around the house for days; not afraid of inciting my wrath, just unwilling to ask how things stood. They stayed out of my way, as if fearful that if they got too close to me, they would be forced to ask. I wandered down to the docks daily, and was not disturbed by anyone. Fortunately for them.
But finally, one midmorning after almost a week of silence, the phone rang.
"Come home," said Edea.
"All of us?" I asked.
"Yes. Here are your room assignments." She read off two different rooms. I scribbled the numbers on a handy sheet of paper. Raijin was to be my roommate. Better him than someone who wanted to kill me. I supposed. "Please get here as soon as possible. As soon as you've settled in, report to the Headmaster's office."
"Yes, Matron," said I, and hung up the phone. I grinned.
"All right. We're in. Get packed on the double, we're leaving in ten minutes." And we sprinted to our rooms to throw together our packs. None of us had much we wanted to bring. My biggest item was Hyperion, strapped in her sleek black case. Other than that, just clothing and money.
In just a few minutes we were on our way, and within an hour I was stepping off the elevator onto the third floor.
I walked toward the office doors, but they opened before I got close enough to do it myself. And who came running out but Xu? She wore one of the most irritated looks I'd ever seen on her face. She ran into me full tilt.
"Watch where you're going, doll," I growled at her, and topped it off with a sultry wink.
Her upper lip curled, and she stalked past me with nary a word. I chuckled after her, making damned sure she heard me. Served the bitch right.
I entered the office and closed the doors behind me. The desk was new, a double wide with room for two chairs. Matron sat in one, and Cid occupied the other. I folded my hands in front of me and waited.
"Ah, Seifer," said Cid, and smiled at me. "Good to have you back."
Right, I thought, but only raised an eyebrow at him. I didn't want to get kicked out again in my first five minutes back.
So I kept my peace and let his voice wash over me. He advised me of my situation and of the consequences of any unwanted behavior. I supposed it was fatherly advice, but I managed not to scowl or sneer or make any other unpleasant facial expressions. No matter how much I would have liked to.
Finally he stopped talking.
"Yes, sir," I said.
"Good! Then report to 2B tomorrow at 800 hours for class."
I nodded, and Matron flashed me a little smile. I bowed to her, and left quietly.
I could hear Raijin's soft snore emanating from the other room. I growled and pulled the pillow over my head. No use. I could still hear him. And I couldn't breathe. I removed the pillow and looked at the clock. 120 hours. I needed to sleep, dammit. But I knew I wouldn't, not for a while.
I disentangled myself from the sheets- too warm in this small room- and dressed. Maybe if I went to the Training Center I could blow off some steam.
Midnight in the Garden was a small, silent time. The lights were dimmed and I padded down the wide halls quietly, unwilling to disturb the unmoving shadows.
In the Training Center, however, the lights were bright, fluorescent. And it was hot. I felt sweat spring up through my pores almost instantly, and was glad I had left my coat draped across the stool in the main room of my quarters.
I wandered around for a while and swatted a few Grats, but it wasn't any effort. I wanted a T-Rex but I couldn't seem to find one. I made my way toward the deepest part of the Training Center, near the secret area, but stopped when I head someone muttering. Who was up this late? I pushed aside the branch that was blocking my vision, and stopped the startled sound that wanted to escape from my throat. That wouldn't do, not at all.
Squall Leonhart. He couldn't sleep either, I guessed. I watched in surprise as he leveled up the Grat facing him several times. And almost chuckled when he cast Blind on himself. The T-Rexaurs were eluding him too, apparently. I sat down on the soft dirt to watch. This might be interesting.
It wasn't. The weird plantlike monster wilted after just one hit, and I clearly heard Leonhart's rumble of disappointment. He threw his head back and squeezed drops into his eyes. I chuckled, and he turned to look at me.
"Something funny?" he asked in a neutral voice.
I shrugged. "I can't sleep either."
He continued to look at me, and I gazed back at him steadily, wondering if he wanted a fight. I hoped not; at his level, he could beat me bloody and not put a hair out of place. I paused, and tried to figure out whether this bothered me. Not really, I decided. I hadn't exactly had much opportunity to practice lately. And besides, I wasn't in any danger. Leonhart had too much honor to push his advantage on someone who couldn't stop him. I frowned at the thought.
I stood up and brushed myself off.
"You have class tomorrow," he said levelly. "You're going to need to sleep."
Like I didn't know that. But I didn't want my head lopped off, so I just said, "Yeah."
He continued to look at me, and I resisted the urge to snap at him.
"Listen," I began, and to my horror, I heard myself falter. Knock it off, idiot, I scolded, and continued. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. I don't know what Edea's told you, but..."
And he still didn't say anything. Just kept looking at me with those gray eyes. I felt my face heat, and I snarled inwardly. Seifer Almasy, blushing. What a fucking joke.
"I'm not here to cause trouble, Leonhart. It's over. I want a truce."
He just kept looking at me and I couldn't help myself. "Come on, can't you say something? I'm fucking trying here, Leonhart." It's always easier to screw things up than to fix them. I figured I would go for broke.
And just like that, he flashed a sharp smile at me. I stared in shock, completely taken aback.
"You apologize so charmingly," he said, and laughed quietly. Quick as heat lightning, I was furious. I did my damndest to put a patch on things, and he laughed at me.
Maybe he heard the creak of my glove on Hyperion's hilt. The laugh and the smile faded, and he waved a hand at me. "Don't. I wasn't making fun of you."
I glared at him but forced myself to relax my grip on Hyperion's hilt.
"A truce," he mused. "Yeah, I think that could work. Who knows? Maybe we'll end up friends." He smiled again, a smile small and sharp like a dagger, and I spun around and began to leave. I didn't trust myself not to do something stupid.
I halted but did not turn. And he continued quietly, seriously.
"I saved the world. But I never could have done it without you to push me. It's your honor too. Remember." And his voice held the ring of command.
I left. He was right, I had pushed him, farther than any teacher could have. But I knew it wasn't honor I deserved for the gift I gave him.