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A fresh wave of salty air struck Squall's nostrils as he strode down a path in Balamb. He paused, casting a side glance at the Dincht's home. Suddenly there was the sound of an explosion, then down came Zell with a cascade of glass preceding him. Squall lunged forwards, his arms outstretched to catch Zell.
"Damn!" Zell cursed, leaping from Squall's arms to brush himself off. "Thanks, Squall! I owe you one." Zell flashed a smile back to Squall, his oversized canine glinting in the noontime sun, as well as flaunting his trademark thumbs-up pose before dashing back inside his house, shouting at some "poor little brat" to "never touch my damn hoverboard again!"
Squall then brushed himself off and, in noticing the other townsfolk staring at him, gave a weak shrug before continuing on his way. He walked casually, in no real hurry; in fact, the main reason he was doing this thing was to appease Rinoa. She told him it was for the best, but he had his doubts.
"C'mon, Squall! You've got to do this! Please? For me?" She had begged, tugging on both his arms and would eventually drag him halfway through Balamb Garden before he reluctantly agreed. God, he loved her. He had to love her, since there was no other way he might have been put to doing this thing. No other way, unless . . .
He perked his head up, peering over his shoulder to catch sight of Zell, who was now charging down the walkway towards him. Zell skidded to a halt, sending bits of glass flying from his single spike of hair and into the bushes nearby.
"Look, I'm sorry about that, uh, incident back there. My neighbor's little brother, the brat," he clenched his fist and stomped his foot into the ground, "thought it would be neat to barge into my room and meddle with my stuff while Ma and I were playing Triple Triad. I caught him right before he put the green wire to the red wire and BAM! Out the window I went. So, I--"
"I understand," Squall nodded, smiling weakly back to his friend as he proceeded to point to his scar. "Accidents happen."
"Oh, heh, yeah. Yeah, I know," Zell nodded, then took a step back and leaned against a nearby lightpost, one leg crossed in front of the other with both arms crossed behind his head. It was casual, but it was Zell's style. "So, what're you doin' back in Balamb so soon? I thought you and Rinoa would have some more time together. Maybe go on a vacation or something like that."
"We will," Squall folded his arms and bowed his head. "But she asked me to do something first."
"Oh? What's that?" Zell leaned forward, tilting his ear ever closer to Squall's mouth.
"Seifer. Have you seen him?" Squall nearly spat.
"Him?!" Zell exclaimed, so taken aback that he nearly fell into the bushes next to the lightpost. "Whaddya need to find him for?"
"We need to talk." Squall shrugged and unfolded his arms.
"I'll bet! Boy, if I were in your shoes--"
"Have you seen him?" Squall broke in, forcing his eyes on Zell. Squall's face was blank, cold as the first day when Zell and he had met.
"Yeah. He's out at the bay, fishing with Fujin and Raijin. They've been at it for a while now," Zell said, turning to watch Squall go. "Good luck."
Squall heard his friend's well-wishings, but neglected to say anything in return. It was a mean thing to do, and he knew it was, but at the moment he didn't care. All he could think about was Seifer. His relationship with the guy and how it had evolved ever since those fateful days following the Dollet mission. Where had it all gone wrong? Seifer had never been nice to anyone but Fujin and Raijin, if his treatment towards them could even be considered nice, but there was a line which separated Īmalicious' and Īpower-mad' which Seifer distinctly crossed.
Where had it been, though? God, why couldn't he remember? Was it the GFs again? Or was he just too preoccupied at the time when it all happened. That was about the same as when they were conducting the mission to kidnap President Deling. Was it Deling who started it, then? If Seifer could end up the leader of the Galbadians after Edea came to her senses, then Seifer must have had some prior leadership teaching. But those skills could have been learned just as easily while at Balamb Garden.
His thoughts broke as he found himself standing on the Balamb pier, just a few feet behind Seifer. Squall's rival had his back turned and was sitting at the end of the pier, legs over the side with the fishing pole at his lap. Suddenly the sun had become too bright, and the clothes Squall wore -- his typical black outfit -- were too hot, and his mouth went dry and his eyes burned.
Squall nearly laughed aloud at himself. He had managed to defeat quite possibly the most powerful Witch ever in existence, but he couldn't make amends with his rival. A rival with whom a feud ran only blood-deep, no more. Surely something had made Seifer snap, but the damages caused by Seifer's actions weren't irreversible.
"Squall." He could hear Rinoa's voice. "Just talk to him. If it comes to it, tell him that you forgive him. Even if he doesn't accept it, just know it in your heart that you do. He's not a bad person, he's just . . ."
Squall placed a hand at his forehead. All this thinking made his brain ache. But the knowledge that it would subside once he finished this task, this one little task, that was enough to keep him going. And, with teeth clenched to the point of grinding, Squall strode across the pier to stand behind his rival. His shadow extended beyond Seifer, drenching him as well as his fishing spot in darkness.
"Hey! Raijin, what's the de--?!" Seifer leapt to his feet, halting in midsentence as he realized Raijin was actually Squall. His eyes narrowed on Squall while the scar on his forehead, an exact opposite of Squall's, seemed to deepen in color. "What're you doing here?"
"I wanted to talk," Squall said cautiously. "We can talk . . . can't we?" He put his left hand out to his side, as though in a harmless gesture.
"I don't have anything to say," Seifer all but spat as he eased himself back down on the pier. He picked up his fishing pole and adjusted his grip on it. "If you've got something to say, make sure you do it without getting in my light."
Squall edged over a step, moving his shadow to the left of Seifer. He sighed and folded his arms, bowing his head in thought. Seifer didn't explode at him, but he wasn't that cooperative, either. Squall hadn't planned for this . . . this apathy. It was more of a "cooperate or don't" situation that he had been looking forward to.
"What's your problem?" Seifer muttered as he reeled his line in a bit. "Just say whatever the hell it is you have to say and go home."
"Damn it, Seifer!" Squall shouted and thrust his arms out in irritation. "Why have you always been like this?! It's not like I wanted to come down here! I hate what you've done! I hate that you've hurt so many people and that you haven't made the slightest attempt to fix everything you broke! I hate all the things that happened! They didn't have to. None of this had to happen."
There was another long silence. Squall had been expecting Seifer to jump to his feet and, just maybe, the two would duel again. A fight like that certainly wouldn't have made Rinoa happy, and Squall was beyond thankful when Seifer spoke, breaking the quiet with, surprisingly enough, a somewhat uncertain, almost timid voice.
"Yeah. Yeah, I guess I made a few mistakes," Seifer sighed, reeling in his line a little more. "But I wanted to do something. I really wanted to do something. It was clear Balamb wasn't getting me anywhere, and when I saw Edea . . . something came over me. It was as though the answer was right there in front of me. I had a choice, and I made my decision. It might not have been the right choice, but at least I made one . . . and I can't be blamed for that."
Squall eased back a few steps, his eyes focused on Seifer. All the things he had done. The duels they had, how Seifer had sided with Ultimecia, under the guise of Edea. When Seifer had tortured him in the desert prison, and caused Rinoa to be junctioned to Adel. Seifer was always a bully, but it's common knowledge that bullies never grow up, and it's also true that a person has to grow up before they can really accomplish something. The defeat of Ultimecia, the only hope he saw of achieving his "romantic dream," must have forced Seifer to grow up and, here he was, partially confessing to his crimes.
Squall nodded and turned, slowly striding away from the pier. Seifer hadn't blatantly admitted that he had become infatuated with the power Edea gave him, but Squall still saw his point. Seifer had made a decision; the choice which had changed everything . . . and Squall really couldn't blame him for it, because, after all, he himself hadn't been given the same options.
"I forgive you, Seifer."
Suddenly a howl broke the air, and Squall spun around to see Seifer on his feet, frantically reeling in on his fishing pole.
"I got one! I got one!" Seifer exclaimed, yanking back with such force that the pole dipped into a U-shape from the forces tugging on it. "Fujin! Raijin! Come here, bring me the net!"
Squall glanced back to the dockside only to see that Seifer's lackeys were nowhere to be found. Nearby, though, lay the net Seifer was raving for. Squall sighed and picked up the net, casually walking back to where Seifer continued to wrestle with the fish.
Squall had helped save Rinoa, Zell, Irvine, Selphie, Quistis, and even Matron. It was about time he lived up to his role as a Knight and do the right thing, even if it was just helping Seifer with what would undoubtedly be the smallest fish he had ever seen.
"C'mere, c'mere! I've almost got it!" Seifer called as he spied a shadow, someone's shadow, approaching from behind him. Squall edged to Seifer's side and offered up the net, but the shock that hit Seifer was nearly enough to cause him to lose his catch. His face tightened again, though, as he grew determined to reel in his fish. It was his first catch in years, and he wasn't about to lose it now.
A shadow lurked in the water. It was small at first, about the size of a Fastoticalon, which caused a smile to dawn on Squall's face, but the shape grew. Two times as large, then three times, then six times. Squall's smile faded as he began to worry if the net would even be big enough.
The water broke and, with a series of yanks and strains, Seifer hoisted the fish, which was revealed to be about half his own height, up and out of the water and into the net which Squall carefully held beneath it. The fish flapped about wildly, giving both Squall and Seifer plenty of trouble as Seifer carefully removed the hook.
"SEIFER!" Squall and Seifer turned to see Fujin and Raijin racing down the pier towards them. As they approached, Squall could see that Raijin possessed a mustard stain at his collar and Fujin had a small, disposable camera clutched in her hand.
"Wow! That's a big catch, ya know," Raijin nodded furiously.
"AMAZING," Fujin echoed, allowing her one eye to widen in surprise.
"We've got to put this up on the scale," Seifer said and motioned towards the fish display next to the pier. "Come on, Squall."
Fujin and Raijin did a double-take, just now noticing that the man who had once been their blood-rival was now helping their boss haul in perhaps the greatest catch in his entire life. Squall thought Fujin's last remaining eye would burst from her skull.
"We'll talk later," Seifer snapped before hurrying down the pier, leaving Squall surrounded by his lackeys. Squall merely shrugged, then chased after Seifer. It wasn't long after before Seifer's monster catch, a full three and a half feet in length, was strung up on the scale, dangling lifelessly before a growing crowd. Raijin kept the crowd back, entertaining the younger ones by flexing his pectoral muscles, while Fujin readied the camera.
"SAY ĪCHOCOBO,'" Fujin called as she made the motion for Squall and Seifer to move in closer to the fish.
Seifer playfully jabbed Squall in the ribs before nodding to him, a faint smile on his face which was mirrored by Squall. Seifer stood rigidly, planting a fist at his side while his other hand seemed to scope the enormous berth of the fish. Squall placed one hand on his side of the fish while he gave a thumb's up with his other hand. The camera snapped, capturing the moment forever.
The film would eventually be developed and, as the news gradually spread about Squall and Seifer's friendship being patched up, copy upon copy of the photo would be made and find itself in some of the most unusual places. One in particular, though, would be on the corner of Squall's dresser in Balamb Garden.
I hope you enjoyed the story. And though it seemed immensely cheesy, the pose Squall took during the photo at the end should appear at least mildly familiar to those of you who've played Chocobo Racing. Anyway, please send all comments/complaints/praise to email@example.com.
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