Waiting For You



Cradling a dark-furred cat in the crook of my arm, I offer the small thing a sympathetic smile for his injured leg wrapped in tight bandages.  God knows how the stray managed to run around with the handicap.  I scratch a finger beneath his chin, and once I'm certain that the feline is content and won't bolt out of skittishness, I reach into my back pocket to retrieve my apartment key.

The place is nothing special, a typical one-bedroom apartment that works for a single person and I haven't done much to make it more welcoming for my few visitors.  The dining room lacks a table, wholly unnecessary when all of my meals are spent at the kitchen counter; the living room has a large couch with oversized pillows, but no TV; the kitchen is stocked with the bare essentials, including an extensive assortment of tupperware; and the bedroom is crammed with a king-sized bed, there being just enough room to fit a dresser that holds an alarm clock and a framed photo.  Most people consider my apartment as unfinished, but I'm content with the way things are.

Leaving the front door open, I move inside and step directly to the open bedroom door, closing it to keep away curious cats and prying eyes.  From there, I go to the kitchen and to the fridge to find the leftover sashimi I had promised to the cat in my hold.  Perhaps seeing the fresh fish before me, the stray squirms and meows with vigor while pawing in the direction of the lower shelf.  After grabbing the plastic container, I let the cat hop onto the counter and open my unfinished lunch to set it in front of the impatient feline.

The sound of a cleared throat makes me look in the direction of the apartment entrance where a twenty-something man leans against the doorframe.  The attractive blond reminds me of a vampire at the moment, the man not crossing the threshold while waiting for permission to enter.  It's a strange courtesy given his previous carelessness to nearly crash into me, not to mention his subsequent action to rant crudely at the runaway cat.  His amused smirk and bright green eyes only adds to the illusion that he may not be incredibly trustworthy, but I'm not worried about the intimidating man who has the bad habit of feeling protective of the strays he takes in.

Seifer Almasy... It's pathetic how the mere thought of his name makes my chest tight with pain.

His smirks widens at gaining my attention.  "Did you forget about me?"

I scoff, and ignoring the thought that Seifer isn't an easy man to forget, I remind him, "I was the one to invite you here.  Why would I stop you at the door?"

"You had plenty of time to change your mind, and it's not like you mentioned much on the way over here," Seifer comments dryly, but still moves inside with a light step.  He closes the door behind him, and without hiding his intent, he scans the apartment with a sharp gleam to his eyes.  His gaze settles briefly on the closed bedroom door before he takes in the rest of the meager apartment.  "Interesting place you've got here."

I frown at the odd descriptor, most people usually choosing something more... generic about the apartment.

Ignoring my open confusion, Seifer continues his examination of the place and inevitably comes across the collection of mostly black and white photos that hang on the same wall as the front door.  His eyes shine at the sight and he steps directly in front of the framed photos, the first one to gain his attention showing the backs of a mother and child, the young boy reaching for the woman's hand without touching.  The other photos range in subject matter from sports related shots, to animals in various settings, and even a couple landscapes.  Overall, a good thirty or so frames hang on the wall in a nonsensical, not quite symmetric pattern.

"Are these yours?" Seifer asks, making a point to study one by one.

"They're on my wall, aren't they?"

He snorts at the defensive reply, but doesn't look away from a photo of a lion cub waiting for its turn within its pride to taste a fallen zebra.  "That's not what I meant and you know it.  I don't see any signatures or dates that would suggest someone else took them, but more importantly, for a guy who doesn't decorate otherwise, it seems strange for you to have all of these photos if they aren't ones you've taken."

I sigh at his observation and admit, "I freelance for several advertising agencies.  It's nothing of note, just a job that pays the rent."

Seifer breathes a laugh at my tone.  "If you're so apathetic about it, then why display them like this?"

"My sister framed and hung them as a birthday present a couple years back.  She gets upset whenever I try to take them down."

"But isn't this your home to dictate over?"

"She's family," I reply, unable to explain any further about the importance of that fact.

He hums thoughtfully at my response, and while glancing over the numerous photos, he asks, "Is she up here?  Maybe with the rest of your family?"

It would be easier to say 'no' and leave it at that, but I end up pointing at the upper right corner that has a couple colored photos.

"The one of the beach?" Seifer asks for confirmation, one he doesn't get, but it's not like there are any other pictures of young women in that part of the randomized collection.

Seifer smirks at my reluctance to be helpful, but he doesn't comment on it while looking at the simplistic photo.  Dressed in a pale blue bikini, a teenaged girl bends over in laughter at the antics of a man with long dark hair fighting against a shepherd-mix dog for ownership over a bright yellow frisbee.  In the background, a group of young boys in Hawaiian styled swim trunks eggs on the fight and the woman standing behind them smothers her laughter with the back of her hand.  Meanwhile, sunlight glints off the ocean waves and a single perfect glare streams in front of the raven-haired girl, creating the illusion that her joyous laughter was somehow caught on film.

"Looks like they're having fun," Seifer comments, but his tone is somber and doesn't reflect most people's reaction to the picture.  "It's a good photo, very steady.  Like you weren't laughing at all."

"... Are you suggesting something?"

As if startled by the question, Seifer blinks and glances my way.  "Ah, sorry, I overstepped my bounds, didn't I?  We've just met, but looking at this photo... well, looking at most of these photos, there's something lonely about them."

Fighting the instinct to glance at the pictures and verify his observation, I instead look down at the stray that had finished his meal and was showing his appreciation by rubbing his body against my arm.  As I pick up the cat, I inform the blond, "Rinoa was the one to choose those photos, so if that collection represents anything, it's her own mindset, not mine."

Seifer hums in acknowledgement of my statement, but doesn't seem agree with the assessment.  Instead, with a humoring grin, he returns his attention to the assortment of photos.  Since it's safer to ignore him, I move to the large couch and settle in my favored corner where the pillows have been flattened to nicely fit my form.  The cat hops from my arms and onto the plush cushions, and after a few turns, he finds a comfortable spot to rest with his bandaged leg sticking straight out.

"Hey, wait a minute, isn't this a photo of Highland Hills track team?" Seifer asks excitedly, encouraging me to glance over my shoulder and see him pointing at a color picture of a teenager dressed in a red track outfit and his head hung in exhaustion.  "No wonder I know you if we went to the same damn high school."

Hating how my heart burns at his easy assumption, I correct him, "I went to Western and did photos for the school newspaper.  That's a picture of us winning the regional track meet."

Seifer frowns at his theory being shot to hell, and then looks more closely at the photo to see that, indeed, there was also a group of four teens dressed in pale blue and hugging each other in obvious celebration, almost mocking the defeated runner in the foreground of the shot.  "Shit, I remember that year.  Western came out of nowhere to beat us and, boy, my friends on the track team were pissed about it."

I shrug, not really interested in the sports I was made to photograph.

"So what about wrestling matches?" Seifer asks while searching the wall.  "I was captain of the team back in the day and we could've run into each other at that point."

"... Perhaps."

First glancing at me for the non-response, Seifer shifts away from the wall of photos and moves toward the couch.  "Y'know, you said that earlier when I asked if I knew you from somewhere.  So either I'm getting closer to the answer or you're being frustrating on purpose."

"... ..."

Stepping behind the couch, he rests a large hand on a heavy pillow and leans over to smirk down at me.  His verdant gaze shines with the desire to discover the answer behind life's every mystery, and I feel vaguely guilty at the knowledge that it's easier to lure this man with silence than with words of truth.

"We didn't meet during a wrestling match, did we?"

Though it's a simple question to answer, I can't find my voice when Seifer bends down closer, his possible intention both enticing and worrisome.

"No, if we had met before, I wouldn't have been stupid enough to let you escape," he murmurs before closing the distance between us.

All sense of reason escapes me at the tentative touch of his lips brushing against the corner of my mouth and I automatically return the chaste kiss before Seifer can question his instincts about what exactly he wants from me.  He tastes sweeter than I expected, the sugary hint to his lips encouraging me to lap my tongue at the soft flesh.  An amused groan leaves Seifer before he parts his lips and twines his tongue with mine in a teasing fashion.  Needing and wanting more, I shift onto my knees to better reach Seifer, but I stupidly misjudge the available space on the couch.

The stray yowls at my leg resting on his already injured tail, and the moment I move back to relieve the pressure, the cat bolts from the couch.  He eventually trips in his mad dash and knocks against the bedroom door, revealing that I apparently hadn't pulled hard enough to completely close it.  Seifer curses when the cat slips into the bedroom, and before I can manage a word edgewise, he chases after the stray.

I stare dumbly at the wide open door, unable to think of what I should do, or more appropriately, what I should say.  And when Seifer's calls for the 'pain in my ass fleabag' fade into silence, I know that I don't have enough time to come up with something creative.  In short time, the large blond steps out from the bedroom with the irate stray hanging over his bent and scratched arm, but I hardly give the cat any notice while looking at the picture frame held in Seifer's other hand.

"I thought we didn't meet at a wrestling match," Seifer comments in an unreadable tone as he shows me the framed photo that he had taken off my dresser.

It was a black and white image of Seifer during an important statewide wrestling meet several years back.  The photos displays the teen with sweat-spiked hair and a twisted headgear held in his fisted hand.  His younger eyes narrowed in disbelief and fury, Seifer stares at a point beyond the shot and snarls at losing one of his preliminary matches.  To this day, I can't remember if he managed to place third or not, but it's not like I was particularly focused on the meet.  In the end, the photo had been a random shot during a dull sporting event, one I didn't even remember until I processed the film days later, but once I saw the print, I couldn't look away for several hours.  I cried for a good thirty minutes of that time.

"We didn't meet then," I say in a voice that is steadier than I hoped to achieve.

"So what, you're some kind of stalker or something?"

Despite his angry and betrayed voice, I manage to smirk when replying, "I thought about it."

Seifer stares at me with a startled look to his eyes, clearly out of his element with my honest response.  The cat manages to escape him at that point, once again running for my bedroom, but neither of us gives the stray a second glance.

Standing up from the couch, I step toward the large blond while explaining, "I took that picture by accident.  I didn't even notice the thing until it was developed, and by then, I had missed the easy chance to 'bump' into you since it was your last competition before college.  I was tempted to go to your school and look for you, but I wasn't certain of your name and I knew it would look strange to show your picture around.  In the end, I was a coward who was too afraid to see how you'd react to my appearance.

"And then, after all of these years, you were the one to run into me," I say with a breath of laughter.  "It makes me wonder if some greater force got bored while waiting for me to gain the courage to speak with you."

His expression one of frustrated confusion, Seifer says, "I don't understand.  You fell in love with a picture?"

I shake my head.  "I fell in love with memories."

"Memories?" Seifer scoffs.  "Sorry, but I don't have any memories of you, so I haven't a clue what memories you think you have of me."

My chest burns at the rejection I had feared from the blond, but I stand firm in front of Seifer while debating the one thing that may spark his memories.  Long ago, I found it odd that Seifer in person didn't make me remember anything, but the sight of his picture had instantly shed light onto that lost past.  It took time to realize that it wasn't the picture, but his expression that had brought the first memories, the memories of dying in his arms.  He had been furious and betrayed in those last moments, and though I thanked him for everything, he couldn't speak anything in return.  And starting from the end, everything else had slowly fallen into place.

Without saying anything more to the blond, I hook my fingers at the hem of my shirt and lift the material upward.

"Hey now, I don't know what you're thinking, but... I'm not... I'm... not..."  As his argument falls apart, Seifer's eyes widen at the sight of my torso and the dark birthmark that decorates my skin.  In my youth, my father liked to tell me that it was the exact image of my mother's favorite flower.  As I grew older, I thought it was just a birthmark like any other.  However, once I regained old memories, I realized in horror that it was the imprint of the knife wound that had killed me and the blood that had stained my skin.  I hated the thing for years, wondering why I was cursed with such a brutal reminder of the past.

I never considered that it wasn't for my benefit that the birthmark existed.

Without a visible breath or movement otherwise, Seifer stares at the dark skin for a tense minute before his free hand seems to move on its own and reaches for my body.  The touch of his fingertips at my skin makes my breath jump and my vision waver from sudden moisture.  I manage to hold back the tears I've already spilled once before, but Seifer isn't as prepared for the onslaught of emotions like I am.  Tears slip unnoticed from his eyes and trail down his cheeks in thin lines.

When the thought of words is too burdensome, I simply reach out and wipe the moisture from his cheek.

Seifer instantly jerks back at the touch, and while staring at me with a wild-eyed gaze, the picture frame slips from his hand.  It drops to the hardwood floor with the identifiable sound of breaking glass, startling the blond for a second time as he jumps back a pace.  He looks down at the broken frame and the black and white image that reflects the same emotions from our last memory together.

"...I can't..." Seifer chokes out.  "This... this isn't... I can't..."

Before I have an opportunity to say a word or grab his arm, Seifer bolts for the door and escapes from the apartment without a single glance backward.

Stunned at his reaction, I watch the front door for a long moment and mentally demand for the blond to reappear, but it's a futile effort.  Careful of broken glass, I move to slowly close the door, halting that last inch in hope of hearing his footsteps, but they don't come.  I lean back against the door and fight against the scream that wants to escape from my chest, and just when I'm at my limit, I'm surprised by the sound of a cautious mew.

"Don't touch that," I scold the curious cat and try to shoo him away.  Though he stops sniffing at the disaster, the stray doesn't move far as I kneel down to take care of the mess.  Sighing, I scratch behind a perked ear.  "And to think, I wanted to believe that you had brought Seifer back to me."

Unconcerned with my words, the stray purrs at the touch and lowers to his haunches in a satisfied sprawl.

I manage a weak smile at the wholly content feline.  "Hn, if it's that easy to lure a cat, it's no wonder he had me eating out of his hand."

With the stray watching my every move, I carefully pile the larger pieces of glass onto my palm and leave the smaller bits for my broom.  I push up from the ground and step to the kitchen to dump the glass into the trash.  The move, however, turns out to be a bad idea and one of the pieces twists on the way down to nick my thumb.  I wince at my skin being sliced, but I don't waste much of my attention on the cut and a fat droplet of blood.  Instead, I look up at the sound of faint knocking.

My hesitation surprises me, but I ultimately move to the door and crack it open enough to see Seifer's back, his face directed toward the end of the hallway.

"I couldn't cross the street," he says, his voice low and hoarse.  "I tried, but I couldn't..."

Not feeling overly patient, I remind him, "You didn't have any trouble running out of here."

Seifer doesn't defend himself, but says instead, "... I killed you..."

At the quiet admission, I nearly laugh at the realization that Seifer wasn't running from me, but from harsh memories.  Stupid noble fool.  "You did.  But only because I told you to."

Surprised, the blond looks back at me, his eyebrows furrowed in thought.  "No, I didn't stop... My blade was covered in your blood."

"Because I opened myself for your attack."

"No... that's not right..."

With a sympathetic smile, I open the door wider and say, "This is something we should discuss inside."

Seifer shows his reluctance to enter, but as he debates the issue, his gaze abruptly shifts to my hand and the bloody smear I unknowingly left on the door.  "What did you do?" he demands while grabbing my hand and pushing me inside to kick the door close behind him.

"It's nothing.  I was cleaning up the glass."

"Right, nothing," Seifer scoffs as he bends down to gently suck on my sliced thumb.  Once he realizes what he is doing, Seifer jerks back, but doesn't release my hand.  "Sorry, I shouldn't have done that."

"Why not?"

His eyes narrowed in frustration, Seifer squeezes my hand and says, "This isn't normal.  I keep picturing how I fought with you and made you bleed, but I feel like I want nothing more than to hold you and claim you as mine.  It's sick and wrong, but I can't leave..."

I lift my hand to his cheek and brush the tear-stained skin.  "Give it time.  You only remember the ending right now, but there's so much more."

"There's more...?" he whispers while leaning into my hand.  Seifer then stares at a point over my shoulder.  "Is that why you have that picture?  Because you remember more?"

I glance back at the photo left in its broken frame and smile weakly.  "It was the beginning of my memories, just like my birthmark was for you."

With my attention still diverted, Seifer reaches out and rests his free hand just below my chest.  Though startled, I don't move away from the touch and place my gaze on the large blond.  His eyes closed, Seifer says nothing while flexing his fingers along the birthmark hidden by my shirt.  It's hard to be patient and not ask what he sees, but I know better.  The memories can't be forced, the visions and dreams coming when they please, and nothing was as irritating as having a harsh memory sitting in my mind for days when I only wanted to know the better times.

Seifer's eyes open as confusion takes over his expression.  Looking at me, he asks warily, "You... weren't human."

"Half human, technically, the other half being a kind of panther.  It's rather confusing, but I can explain it to you whenever you're ready."

He breathes a laugh, something that grows louder in volume until he says, "God, this is crazy.  When I stepped into this place, I saw that couch of yours and watched you feeding the fleabag that sashimi, and my first thought was how the kitten had hit pay dirt.  And there's also that huge-ass bed of yours with all of those pillows... Tell me, are you still part cat?"

I shrug.  "In spirit, perhaps."

Smiling brightly for the first time since finding that photo, Seifer places a hand at my head and rakes his fingers through my dark hair.  The position of his hand makes me question if he's searching for hidden cat ears.  "The moment I saw you, I thought I had found something interesting.  And now... I'm afraid that if I leave for even a second, you'll disappear as if you were only a figment of my imagination."

"I don't remember telling you to leave."

Seifer stares at me with intense green eyes, looking conflicted about whether to thank me, to apologize, or perhaps to say something less innocent.  It's too hard to predict this man and I'm not about to waste my energy on such unproductive thoughts.

With the whisper words of "I've been waiting for you," I kiss Seifer and lock the door behind him.




Author's Whining -- Well, it was rather strange writing this bit for 'Judgment of Worth', which was the third story I ever wrote (if I remember right).  And wow, how far I've come in the last 7+ years.  Anywho, I hope you liked your request, Redrum!  It was fun revisiting this story and giving it a better ending... well, at least I hope it's a little bit better. ;)