Angel of the Morning
By Tenshi no Korin
"Just call me angel of the morning, baby-
Just touch my cheek before you leave me..."
The floor of Zell’s dorm room woke him abruptly, mostly by slamming itself against the side of his head. Zell disentangled himself from the sheets trussed around his wrists, ankles aching with remembered captivity. He climbed back in and folded into a ball on his rumpled bed, pillow clutched to his stomach, face pressed into the already damp pillowcase.
It was with some sort of cosmic irony that the only thing Zell really did quietly was weep. It had worried his mother when he was little; Zell had been something of a self-righteous child and was subject to frequent teasing. He would burst into tears at nearly the drop of a hat, but not for the sake of gaining attention. In fact he had hated to be seen crying, and got so good at hiding his misery that when he went missing or was overly quiet for long periods he was likely as not to be found in the smallest place he could tuck his body into, tears streaming silently down his cheeks. It was almost as if he didn’t want to be caught doing it; his mother assumed that one of the children in town was guilty of tormenting her child for his oversensitive nature. But none of them were likely suspects and Zell, quick to point out injustice, never placed the blame on any of his playmates. Mrs. Dincht wrote it off as a child’s idiosyncrasies, and as he got older the crying stopped almost altogether. He was still something of a loudmouth and a klutz but popular for his brutal honesty and sense of justice, and no one doubted that some training at the garden would be just the thing to offer the boy some direction in his life. They never expected him to become a SeeD, heavens no, not that Dincht boy, but his mother knew her son better than any of them. When Zell called to tell her he’d made it, she had said, "Of course you did, Dear. I never doubted you would for an instant. One thing every Dincht has is marvelous tenacity."
Zell hoped she was okay. He curled in tighter on himself, hating being such a mama’s boy in the first place but wishing wildly he was home, tucked in his own bed around familiar things. He’d only stayed a handful of nights in his new dorm single, but two nights of staring sleeplessly at the ceiling and he already had it memorized. This wasn’t really home, not yet, and the only other home he had was oceans away. Gods only knew what was going on in Balamb, or anywhere, for that matter. Irvine and Rinoa and Selphie could be right back in the prison they’d just gotten out of; the very thought made Zell’s stomach contract with nausea.
Maybe he should go see the Doc. His talkative bravado failed him at the very idea. He had no words to explain the events of the past week. He couldn’t even frame the concepts in his own mind, much less present them to someone outside the facts.
Quistis? He lifted his head slightly, sniffling. Quistis was a valid possibility, but one glance at his clock told Zell that she was on duty. Showing up on the bridge at this hour to speak to her privately would have the rumor mill churning out everything from mutiny to a wedding proposal. Talking to Quistis would have to wait.
Zell punched his pillow irritably. He sucked at waiting.
There really wasn’t any other choice, he reasoned. He’d known where he’d wind up; he’d just been nursing it with a kind of dread. He padded over to the tiny sink and splashed some water over his face, hoping to tone down the telltale splochiness of crying, and slipped into the darkened corridor outside his room.
He wasn’t sure how long he stood outside Squall’s door; it was the smallest hour of morning with no late students to mark him or early ones to whisper suspected motives behind his back. If the incident in the showers this morning was any measure of things, then Squall had been having even more nocturnal difficulties than Zell had. Zell didn’t know if he’d be waking Squall from hard-won slumber or distracting him from insomnia. One could earn him a cold shoulder of Blizzagan proportions, the other –just maybe- warm comfort of arms tangled with his. His heart jumped a little at the thought, nervously.
Provided Squall would even want company, if the incident in the training center-- less than a week ago?-- hadn’t been a one-shot deal. Zell pressed his palm against the door and leaned his head against it, lips almost touching the cool metal.
"Squall?" Loud enough to be heard if Squall were awake, hopefully enough to sleep through if he wasn’t.
For a moment there was only the muted hum of the Garden drifting slowly through dark water, then a rustling came from within and the door hissed open under his hand. Squall was fully dressed, even to boots and jacket, but his hair was more haphazard than usual and his grey eyes faded even paler, shadows smudged beneath them. He radiated weariness, but Zell knew Squall hadn’t been even close to asleep.
"Fight?" Squall asked, his voice rough with disuse. Only then did Zell notice the gunblade, gripped fiercely in one gloved hand.
Squall sagged against the doorframe as if his strings had been cut, combing fingers through his hair. "What do you need, Zell?"
Zell wondered if Squall knew how odd that sounded: the note of authoritative concern in his voice. Well he IS the leader, Zell thought. Even if it took the garden a long time to realize what Zell had known he would do since he was thirteen. He would follow Squall, to the Moon and back, if necessary.
Zell had come to ask for help, but found he couldn’t request anything of the young man in front of him. He was so burdened already, as if the life of every person in the Garden was his own intimate responsibility. In a way Zell supposed it was.
"I was just wonderin’ if... Well, I know you ain’t been resting too well and-" Zell exhaled at the floor, and forced it out. "Squall do you need me? I mean, just some company or... or anything cos I can’t sleep either and I’m... I just wanna help. "
Squall was silent a minute, gunblade trailing its proud tip on the floor, scarred forehead in hand, shielding his eyes as he either considered the offer or dozed off on his feet, Zell couldn’t tell.
Then Zell was pulled into a fierce embrace, one glove tight in his hair, engraved flat of a gunblade cold against his bare back. "Just for now, Zell."
Zell nodded, and the door sighed shut behind him. He didn’t dare kiss the collarbone under his cheek, just nuzzled into the warmth of it, feeling the tourniquet he’d secured around his emotions loosen just a little bit, achingly.
Squall drew back as if suddenly realizing what he was doing, and busied himself with settling the gunblade back in its case on the desk. Zell stepped up behind him and tugged on the collar of his jacket. "You’re not gonna get any sleep in this gear, that’s for damn sure." Zell smiled uncertainly. "Fur, in summer. You look like a BEAR."
Squall cocked his head in Zell’s direction. "I thought you said I was an iceberg. Now I’m a bear?"
Zell was thrilled Squall had even remembered, and beamed at him triumphantly. "Hey, that’s it! You’re a POLAR bear!"
Squall blew up at his bangs, impatiently. "Dincht-"
"Okay, okay, I’ll shuttup." Zell bit his lip, slinging the coat over the chair and now unable to ask Squall if he wanted the belts off too. Squall just stood there, gazing out the dark window, something warring behind the smoked glass of his irises. Zell took the risk and reached around him, undoing the complicated buckles blindly and feeling them drop free with a clank. He tugged an unprotesting Squall over to the tousled bed and sat him down on it, kneeling to undo the boots.
Squall’s lips tightened slightly. "I’m not a little kid."
Zell didn’t answer, tossing the second boot over his shoulder and shrugging.
Squall rolled his eyes. "For god’s sakes, Zell, you can talk. It’s fucking unnerving when you don’t."
"Sorry, just not feeling too talkative." Zell settled down behind Squall on the bed, hauling the T-shirt off ungracefully, ruffling soft brown hair. Zell reached out to touch it, sliding his hand into the soft strands at the base of Squall’s neck and working his way up. Squall leaned back with a noise of surrender, eyes sliding closed.
Zell’s fingertips brushed the curve of Squall’s ear, curiously fondling the small earring. Squall made a quiet sound in his throat and Zell started, feeling like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He sat back on his heels and cracked his knuckles, powerful hands working at the knots in the safer area of Squall’s back.
"You really should talk to somebody, you know Squall?"
Squall lifted one shoulder noncommittally. "Why? It doesn’t help."
Zell’s gold brows lowered. "It might?"
The silence stretched out uneasily, and Zell gave up on having an answer.
"I’m not used to talking," Squall admitted.
Zell stopped kneading for a moment, considering this. "Well, I’m not used to listening, so maybe we can work it out on our own before showing anybody else, huh?"
Squall didn’t reply, but his body shook with silent laughter under Zell’s hands.
Zell finished undoing knots but wasn’t sure what else to do, toying with the back of Squall’s necklace. The chain flashed up under his inspection, heavy silver undented and shining despite the trials Squall had endured. He let it settle back around Squall’s neck, and leaned in to kiss the spot where the links touched pale skin. It was a simple enough gesture, but Squall’s breath caught in his throat, his relaxed shoulders became suddenly tense against Zell’s chest.
Zell swallowed, offering tentatively. "Squall- anything you want it’s... It’s fine by me."
Forcing himself to consider what he was doing, Squall very quietly pulled one glove off, and frowned at his hand. The lion on his ring offered no answers, face contorted in a silent roar. It spoke to him though, an insidious whisper in his mind, echoing the poisoned lace of Seifer’s voice. --The way you forced me-
Better to do nothing at all than for Seifer to be right.
But damn Zell’s innocent persistence, hands sliding around Squall, fingertips kissing attentive nipples and stroking the warm silver chain of his necklace. His breath stirred the back of Squall’s neck, ticklishly.
"Squall, do you want me?"
The sound of water against the Garden seemed thunderously loud to Squall’s ears, the moonlight too bright as it turned his gunblade to a silver scar in its black velvet case. None of it was enough to drown out his confession, and though Seifer’s smug ‘I told you so’ smile ricocheted in the dark corners of his mind, he couldn’t lie in the face of Zell’s earnestness.
Whether he lay back or Zell lowered him down Squall was not sure of later, but his ungloved hand caught Zell’s and guided it to the heat aching between his legs. He closed his eyes as Zell’s powerful fingers found him, squeezing gently through the leather confines of his jeans. Squall stretched under the attention, cheek falling against his pillow, thighs parting to invite more.
Zell carefully peeled off the remaining glove, watching Squall’s hand appear as if it were the most marvelous magic trick in the world. He kissed the warm bare palm, cradling Squall’s hand in both his own as he tilted his head down and suckled affection on each strong tapering finger. Squall stirred restlessly; Zell’s tongue flickered on his fingertips as though trying to make them come.
He stopped too soon and lay down across Squall’s body, tattooed cheek pressed to imprisoned need. When the silence became too heavy Squall looked down in suspicion, only to find a pair of bright blue eyes regarding him intently.
Zell blinked once but his gaze didn’t waver. "What did Seifer do to you in that prison?"
Squall held Zell’s gaze for a second before letting his head fall back against his pillow, one arm flung up as if to cover his face. Zell could see the rise and fall of his throat as he swallowed.
"Nothing he hadn’t done before," Squall returned finally. "Innovation isn’t Seifer’s style."
"Don’t be so sure," Zell muttered, and shook his head when Squall half sat up, questions in his grey eyes. "Shh. Don’t ask me now." Zell concentrated on Squall’s lower half, exhaling in relief as Squall let the things unsaid remain that way. He unbuckled each strap on Squall’s right thigh, lovingly running his fingers over Squall’s exposed hipbones before hooking his thumbs into the waistband and letting the leather slither off Squall’s long legs. Squall was left in nothing but necklace and moonlight, eyes shut as if he were alone. Zell’s voice failed him, awed silent at the utter perfection spilled on the sheets before him.
Squall squinted up, bemused. "What are you waiting for? An order?"
Zell shook his head, honesty and wide eyes subtracting years from his face. "I’m afraid to touch you," he admitted.
Squall sat up, reaching to caress the blush blooming warm under Zell’s tattoo. "Why?"
Zell actually shied back, wrapping his arms around his knees. "I guess cos I’ve wanted to for so long."
"The training center-"
"That was different." Zell, who to Squall had always been representative of life and energy and strength, was suddenly less substantial than a soap bubble. "I don’t know how but-" He sighed himself quiet, and was motionlessly miserable.
Squall leaned back on his elbows, observing him. "Zell," he said, after a minute. "I’m cold."
Zell blinked in momentary confusion, not realizing he was hearing an invitation. The last thing Squall Leonhart was used to was having to ask, and he blew up at his bangs in frustration. "Zell are you a virgin?"
He expected a hot denial or embarrassed admission, but what he got was a puzzled blue gaze searching his, as if Squall was withholding the answer. "I don’t know anymore." Zell reached out a hesitant hand to touch where Squall so wanted him to, but instead his fingertip traced the soft skin on the inside of one spread thigh. "Maybe you could tell me. In the morning."
Squall’s hand caught Zell’s and urged it up higher; he moved to reach Zell’s lips and kiss away the uncertain, aching smile. "I’d rather tell you now."
It was all Zell needed as far as encouragement, Squall was suddenly flat on his back and drowning in greedy kisses far different from what he was used to. Zell’s loose pants were thin formality between the eager press of their bodies, heat from Squall’s body filtering through the flimsy fabric and diffusing in warm waves against Zell’s thigh.
"I never learned to be gentle," Squall cautioned, as Zell savored the warm metal taste Squall’s necklace left on his collarbone. He shook his head into Squall’s shoulder.
"Anything’s better than what I’m used to." Zell fumbled with the ties on his pants, avoiding Squall’s discerning gaze and trying without success to mask his unsteady hands. Squall brushed Zell’s fingers away, tugging on the cord with practiced ease and pulling the crumpled cotton free. Zell pressed back in the sheets, his eyes frantically trying to find a safe place to rest and settling for the uniform hanging beside the bed.
"You look like a cornered chocobo." Squall ruffled Zell’s crest of hair, and sank down over him. "You sure you want this?"
Zell nodded, fighting to keep his eyes open. Darkness of memory lurked in the shadow of his eyelids, and Zell concentrated on Squall’s face above his, tangling his fingers in the silver chain when he needed to be reassured of its reality. Squall shifted on top of him and with a kind of instinct Zell parted his legs for Squall to settle between them, sucking in a breath as the shared point of contact made sex kiss aching sex.
"Zell?" Squall wondered if Seifer could have been right, after all. He tried to read Zell’s face, but it might as well have been a language he didn’t understand. "Zell, if you-"
Zell sensed the fear and on impulse did what he barely believed he dared. He caught Squall’s face between his hands and kissed him, long and intense but without force, offering up everything he was. Squall leaned into it, too rough he knew but hungrily taking the surrender Zell offered. They parted only when the need for air was more desperate than their need for each other.
"Do it," Zell murmured into Squall’s open mouth, pushing his hips hard against Squall’s. "You need it. Use me."
"I don’t want to use you," Squall tried to protest, but he was catching his breath shallowly, his body already seeking entrance.
"I know you’re not him." Zell’s hand snaked between them, guiding Squall where he wanted him. "I know you never asked for it. I’m asking." Zell kissed the line between Squall’s eyebrows, his tongue hot on the sensitive scar as if trying to lick away the real wound it represented. Squall moaned softly under the assault, his warring ethics subdued by the begging need of the warrior writhing underneath him. "Squall." Zell whispered against wet skin. "Fuck me."
Squall bowed his head in surrender and one hand fumbled with the bedside table. "Hang on," He muttered, and swore as he dropped something with a clatter. Zell quelched a nervous giggle at Squall’s lack of grace, but then forgot to breathe as Squall sat back on his heels. His head was lowered, hair a ragged screen across his eyes so only his damp parted lips were visible as his hands flickered over his sex with a quiet wet sound of palms on slick skin. His shoulders tensed as he refused the temptation to give in to his own touch, and then the vision was gone and Squall was leaning over Zell like a lion, eyes glittering in the setting moonlight. His fingers were deft and steady between Zell’s legs but the martial artist flinched anyway, a little more tender from Seifer’s affections than he thought. Zell raised himself up for more, nimble strong legs spreading wider but trembling as Squall lifted them.
Squall folded Zell underneath him, hands firm on the back of Zell’s knees. His grey eyes were inches from Zell’s watercolor blue ones, his hair tickling Zell’s tattoo as he sheathed himself in slick constricting heat. Zell arched reflexively, one sharp sound his only admission to pain that was a kiss in the dark and gone, Squall holding still deep inside him and waiting.
Zell pushed uneven bangs away from Squall’s forehead, drinking in the sight of his face unarmed, pleasure written cleanly on his shut sooty eyelashes and the parted lips that Zell kissed fearlessly. He started to move then, slowly, and Zell fell back, no longer afraid of the dark. This could only be Squall inside him, quiet and urgent but careful, his thrusts not desecration but a seeking of sanctuary. His name in Squall’s voice was soft as ashes in the rain, and Zell wrapped his legs around him, arms tangling together.
"Please-" Squall breathed, hot against Zell’s ear. "Zell, please."
"Tell me." Zell managed, turning it into a growl as Squall’s naked fingers wrapped around his sex, pumping in mimicry of Zell’s greedily tightening body. "Tell me... anything, Squall."
"I don’t know the answers," Squall whispered into the gold warmth of Zell’s hair. "I don’t want anyone to die because I made the wrong decision." He began speaking faster, desperation in his voice matching the quickening pace of his body. "I’m so fucking tired I can’t sleep. I don’t know what’s happening anymore. I’m not in control of anything, but in charge of everything. I don’t want to care anymore, I just want to rest..."
Zell clung to Squall’s shoulders, accepting the wash of Squall’s confession, letting it sink into him like the increasingly violent push of Squall’s sex. Squall was holding him tight enough to hurt, their rhythm developing a kind of finality.
"Zell," Squall said, no more than a shaping of his gasps, "I’m afraid." And he came on the wings of his admission, heat of his release rushing into Zell who had nothing left anymore. He could only pant Squall’s name as he flowed into a gunblade-trained hand, pressing so close to the other warrior that the Greiver pendant branded a red lion head emblem over Zell’s heart.
They fell against the sheets and almost instantly into slumber, exhausted bodies shutting down, still twined together.
The sound of the thunderbolt reverberated off the tired stone cliffs of the Centra continent, rumbling distantly inside the solid, rough-hewn walls of the orphanage. Outside the ocean roared unhappily, the lighthouse casting its flashing yellow beam on the ragged water.
And Squall blinked in drowsy confusion at the shivering lump that had suddenly appeared next to him in his bunk.
"Hn?" He lifted up the worn patchwork quilt and peered under it, discovering a sheepish pair of bright blue eyes peering back at him.
"Ah-" Zell began, and then chewed his lip uncertainly.
Squall tipped his head to one side, considering. "You spooked?"
"Of course not!" Zell said, with suitable indignation. "It's just a thunderstorm. But ah, Furu doesn't like them." Zell displayed a small stuffed Mog, no bigger than his hand and with one ear missing. It was never out of his possession, usually occupying the front pocket of his overalls. "He wanted to come sleep with you."
Squall rolled his eyes. "Why me?"
"Cos Quisty doesn't like Furu and Sefie's just a baby and Irvy hogs all the blankets. And Seifer’s a meanie. He wanted to throw Furu in the well." Zell clutched his precious stuffed Mog in both small hands, squeezing it protectively.
Squall felt a twinge of sympathy, but was still debating when Zell's hopeful face was illuminated by a brief flash, and thunder rumbled ominously over the water. The other orphans slept on, undisturbed. Zell was practically in Squall's lap, unconsciously clutching the other boy. "Furu doesn't like thunderstorms AT ALL." He whispered, shakily, and Squall sighed as he relented.
"Alright. At least you're warm. But if you kick in your sleep you and your stup-"
Zell's lip trembled.
"-You and Furu are out, got it?"
Zell agreed to these terms without question, nodding and snuggling down into the warm nest Squall's body had made in the blankets. Squall curled up behind him and had nearly drifted off again when Zell batted the quilt away from his nose.
"Not getting 'nough oxyengen." He mumbled.
Squall made a face, and hoped that would be it for conversation.
No such luck.
"What is it, Zell?"
"Do you like me?"
Squall pondered this. Irvine just ignored him and Zell wasn't loud like Quistis or a baby like Selphie and even if he cried a lot he didn't push him around like Seifer, so all in all he supposed Zell was tolerable. "Yeah I guess so."
"You do?" Zell squirmed. "Quistis said you didn't like anybody cos you're-" Zell's nose wrinkled as he tried the word, "Antismocial."
"I guess I am," Squall sighed in that heavy childlike way, and yawned.
Zell thought hard for a minute. "Can I be antismocial too?"
"Sure," Squall muttered, halfway gone again already, the storm rumbling discontent as it died into rain.
"Thanks," Zell said to the top of Furu’s head, afraid to move for disturbing the small hot hand that had become wedged against the small of his back. "You aren’t scared of anything. I want to be just like you."
But Squall was asleep, and didn’t answer.
"Nnmm." Zell twitched in his sleep, and Squall, not awake either, grumbled unhappily.
"‘Nhold still, or the Mog’s history."
"Sorry," Zell responded, his voice small and rough still with dreamed childhood, and forgetting the fuzzy memory, they slept on.
Dawn was just starting to turn the light to fuzzy grey when the call button of Squall's door pierced the contented warm oblivion in Zell's mind. He blinked in momentary disorientation, then carefully wiggled out from under Squall's arm. The call chimed again and Squall rolled over. "Don't wake up," Zell mouthed in a silent prayer, hastily hauling on his pants and answering the door with them clutched to his waist rather than bothering with the ties.
Quistis obviously wasn't expecting this and her eyebrows threatened to vanish into her hairline, they went up so high. "Well," was all she managed.
"Whatever it is can it wait? He’s not slept for days and he only dropped off a few hours ago."
"I don’t know..." Quistis glanced over Zell’s shoulder at Squall sprawled asleep, breathing deeply. He still held shadows under his eyes and abrasions that Curagas couldn’t reverse completely were starkly visible on his pale skin. She shook her head slightly. "Anything is too much to ask of him, really. Xu and I are worried about the students. Morale seems awfully low; everyone’s anxious. We could wind up on Centra for all we know, we don’t know where we are or how long we’ll be drifting."
Zell nodded, slowly looping the ties of his pants into a knot. "Let me take care of it, Quistis. Everybody’d listen to Squall but they’re kinda spooked by him. Let me get some of the right rumors spread and-" He started out the door but Quistis’s leather-clad arm stopped him halfway, eyes narrowing in a suspicious way that they must give teachers special instruction on. Zell shifted nervously.
"Wait just a minute, young man. You have yet to explain to me what you’re doing in another student’s room this late after curfew. Just because you’re a SeeD doesn’t give you permission to start behaving in a manner not condoned by Garden. "
Zell, forgetting that Quistis wasn’t an instructor anymore and had no real rank over him, hung his head. "Yes Ma’am."
"As soon as things get back to normal you can be sure I’ll have to address this matter _personally_ BUT-" she held up a silencing finger as Zell opened his mouth to protest. "With things being as hectic as they are I am likely to forget. In any case, Cadet Dincht you are confined to quarters starting now."
Zell’s eyes flashed back to Squall still sleeping obliviously, one hand groping in the empty sheets, his brow creasing in a frown. Zell’s shoulders drooped sorrowfully. "Yes, Instructor." He tried to leave the room again, only to find Quistis’s glove square in the middle of his chest.
"What part of ‘confined to quarters’ do you not understand?" Quistis lifted an eyebrow, but the corner of her lip twitched slightly, attempting to smile.
Zell hesitated, then slowly pointed at the floor of Squall’s room. "Confined to-"
"Quarters." Quistis finished, answering Zell’s cautious grin with one of her own. "I’ll expect you to stay put until 1700 when you’re due for bridge duty. And keep it down in here. Is that clear?"
Zell snapped his heels together and saluted. "As crystal, Ma’am."
She saluted him back and winked, adding in her own voice, "Take care of him, Zell."
The door slid shut, and Zell crawled back into bed. The frown between Squall’s eyebrows vanished as he tucked his face against Zell’s back. Both of them were long since asleep by the time dawn poured golden ripple patterns on Squall’s ceiling, dancing like couples in a waltz.
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