Chapter 4: Balm

The weeks passed. I settled into a routine quickly, spending my daylight hours in class, practice, or field trips in the company of Module Zeta. That was exhausting in and of itself. I often wondered how the hell Trepe did it; she was positively indefatigable, never put a hair out of place or even breathed hard after a workout. Raijin and Fujin put the cap on my days by accompanying me to the Training Center for two on one practice. They weren't bad at all, but neither of them was a challenge on their own. My posse might have minded being dragged out of their rooms every evening, but I didn't really care if they didn't like it, and they never said anything. I knew Fujin understood what was going on, but as usual she didn't comment. I was determined to become a SeeD, and somehow, I knew that to keep my focus I had to work as much as possible. I felt that if I let my mind stray for even a few hours from the course I had chosen that I would not be able to return to it. And I neither wished to mingle with the other students or sit in my room alone. Raijin and Fujin nicely filled the evening hours, increasing my strength and making me tired enough to sleep deeply without dreaming. I'd never been a very good sleeper, and my dreams made me uneasy.

Our module celebrated the halfway point of the class with an exam. Trepe gave us the afternoon before off, and I found myself at loose ends. Raijin and Fujin were in class, and would be studying for their own exam later. If they passed, they would graduate into the final module. The thought that we might all make SeeD together pleased me.

I was bored, polishing Hyperion in my room. I was used to working all day, every day. SeeD cadets in the final module did not get off-days. I needed to get out of the room. I put Hyperion away and decided to go down to the Library. I wasn't a big reader, more of an action type of guy, I liked to think, but sometimes books could be useful. Pass the time, maybe learn something. I left my room and strolled down to the library.

As I browsed through the shelves, a strategy book I hadn't read yet caught my eye. I slipped it out of its place and wandered back to the reading room, absently noticing a slim brunette bent over her own book.

I took a seat several desks away and flipped through the book. Interesting stuff, written by Nida somebody. Garden Warfare. I had a strange feeling for some reason. I flipped some more, frowning, and almost dropped the book when I saw my own face grinning out at me. I turned back a couple of pages, and scanned a dissection of my own strategy, the one I had used when I...attacked Balamb Garden with Galbadia Garden. I snapped the book shut. I had no desire to know what I had done while I was Ultimecia's knight. I never asked Raijin or Fujin to fill in those months. And any other people who might have wanted to remind me had mercifully stayed away. I liked the blanket that obscured my memory. I fought an urge to find this Nida person and strangle him for making me peek under it.

I leaned on my elbow and rubbed my forehead. I still felt strange. I looked up, and noticed the girl again. Why did she seem familiar? I had no desire to find out, and stood up, ready to leave.

She tossed her hair back, and I saw her face.

Rinoa. I froze.

What is she doing here, I wondered numbly. She should be in Timber, running her resistance. Galbadia was teetering, almost ready to fall. It was the perfect opportunity to rebel. I realized, with a growing sense of discomfort, that I had no idea what had happened to her while I was otherwise occupied with trying to snuff out the world. Suddenly I knew that I didn't want to know. Had I done something? I had the feeling that I had, and I did not want to know exactly what. I hated to admit it, but I cared too much about her to face her with that shadowed guilt.

I almost made my getaway. She looked up just as I was turning to leave, and her gaze drew me back. There wasn't any polite way I could leave without speaking to her.

"Seifer?"

"Hi Rin." She flinched at the nickname, and I nearly did too.

She looked embarrassed at her reaction. At least she didn't look frightened any more. I had seen it in her face, white dominating her complexion, eyes open wide. I didn't ever want to see that look on her face again. I ran my hand through my hair quickly, thinking.

"What are you doing here? I thought you'd be in Timber..." I trailed off, looking at her. So familiar. She really was an angel. Beautiful. I became aware of the fact that I had missed her. I am not inclined toward happiness, but Rinoa had always inspired peace in me, and I figured that peace was the closest I would ever get to happiness. I wondered if there was a chance...and then I noticed her blush. Why was she blushing? She shouldn't feel guilty about abandoning those idiots over in Timber.

"Seifer, I-I..." she stammered, and blushed even more. My lips twitched; she was so pretty when she blushed.

But then she started to cry.

I just stood there like an idiot, staring at her. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach, and I didn't know why. Something was wrong, and I was about to find out what it was.

"Seifer," she said in a very small voice. "I'm here because of Squall." She looked at me, begging me with her eyes.

I stared at her. She couldn't possibly be serious. The look on my face must have been terrible, because she stood up and moved toward me.

I stepped back.

"Seifer, please."

"Stop saying my name." The words tumbled out of me, harsh and dry.

"Seifer," she began, beginning to cry anew, reaching for me. To do what, I had no idea. I didn't intend to find out. I stepped back again.

"Don't ever say it again."

She took one more step, and I snapped. I raised my arm in reflex, out of control, and I felt more than saw her shy away. I threw the book in my hand as hard as I could. It slammed into the wall of the library, pages fluttering to the ground like feathers as the binding broke.

It was too late for a clean getaway, but I took the one that was offered in the silence of her shock.

 

By the time evening rolled around, I was feeling better. I had spent a good few hours in my room prying at the anger inside of me, trying to get it under control. I could easily have killed someone for uttering a simple hello when I made it back to my room. When I left it, I was calmer; now I'd probably only maim the random pedestrian who dared to speak to me. I walked through the darkened ballroom, skirting the tables and covered furniture, and stepped out onto the balcony. It was cold out here, so high up in the sky. At least it was outside. I'm not an indoor person.

I stood there, rubbing my head absently, and nearly jumped when someone spoke.

"Oh! I didn't mean to disturb you." I turned. I wondered all over again why the uniforms for women had such short skirts. Cid is a dirty old man, I thought. "I'm Lydera." The girl offered her hand, but I ignored it.

She cocked her head at me, smiling brightly. "Whatcha doing out here?"

Was she flirting with me?

"What do you want?" I growled. I wasn't exactly in the mood for company.

She smoothed her skirt and grinned at me unconcernedly.

It came to me then, what she wanted. And perhaps I was in the mood for company after all.

 

Twenty minutes later we were in my quarters, sweating, tangled in the sheets and in each other. I had to admit that it was a good balm for rejection.

The phone rang.

"Don't answer it," said Lydera.

I ignored her, getting up and padding across the room to my desk. I wondered idly if my priorities were skewed, but dismissed the thought. I didn't really care.

I picked up the receiver but dropped it when she snaked her arms around me, trailing her fingernails gently over my stomach.

I cleared my throat. "Yeah?"

Lydera chuckled softly. "You're so polite." And then she drew her tongue up the middle of my back. I squirmed, grimacing. I wondered she found the taste of my sweat arousing. It was a faintly disgusting thought.

"Been exercising?" Trepe's voice was cool, as always. Another errand. What would it be this time? Go to the beach and fill my boots with sand?

"Something like that." Get to the point, Trepe.

"Go down to the shop and bring me six chocolate bars and three sodas. No diet. If you're quick enough, I'll reimburse you." Oh nice. Make me pay for it too. Not that I couldn't afford it.

"Yes, Instructor," I said, and hung up. I shrugged the girl off of me and began to dress.

"I have to run an errand for class."

She plopped down on my bed and clasped her hands. "Will it take long?"

"I don't know," I said, suddenly seeing that this had been a mistake. I didn't want this girl in my room. I finished dressing, not bothering to put on a shirt, and grabbed soda from my fridge. I wasn't going to the shop.

"I think we're done here," I said evenly. She slowly drew one of my sheets to her chest and looked away from me, hurt and slightly confused. I'd meant my statement to hurt, but somehow seeing her reaction made me feel cold. I just wanted to get out of there at that point, and I went into Raijin's room and stole some candy from his desk before trotting down the corridor toward Trepe's room.

It didn't take long to get there; I knocked on her door just a couple of minutes after I shut mine. It opened and I looked down to see Selphie Tilmitt. She started to talk, but I ignored her like I always did and looked further into the room. I felt the cold deepen inside me. Trepe I had expected, but not Rinoa. I handed the bag to Selphie and turned to leave. But she grabbed me, and although I tried, I could not pull away. She was so tiny; how could she be that strong? She stuffed a bill into the waistband of my pants and patted my stomach. I wished that I had put on my vest; I did not feel like being touched.

I looked at Trepe. She looked stricken for a moment before that calm mask slammed down over her face. Oddly enough, the guilt written so plainly there eased that cold feeling. I no longer felt as though I would shatter if dropped.

"Very quick, cadet. Good. I'll see you tomorrow, bright and early. Dismissed." I left, and walked slowly down the corridor to my quarters. It had been a very long day.