Author's Note: Firstly, this is the revamped version of chapter one. Thanks to Devi-dear who gives the best C&C, I went back and fixed/changed some things in this part. So hopefully, it's not as shod as beforehand. I'm wonderfully inspired by Garbage's latest album, I looove ^_^ I just hope I don't lose my enthusiasm before I finish writing this ::prays very hard:: This is a very late kiriban (like all of them) for Cindy for being the 7000th hit to Noire Sensus. Arigato gozaimasu!

Feedback: Flames will be fed to my Stefi-chan and fanmail will earn you my love. ^_^

DISCLAIMER: Characters of Final Fantasy VIII are the property of Square and I claim no rights to them. The lyrics to the song 'Paranoid' aren't mine, they belong to the almighty and exalted Garbage and Mushroom Records (je crois). Buy their album Beautiful Garbage, it's worth it. Not mine, don't sue me, you'll waste more money on the process than you'll make outta me. I guarantee.

Bitter Suite

Chapter One

By Koorime

Love me like me
Go ahead and fight me
Please me tease me
Go ahead and leave me
Bend me break me
Any way you need me
As long as I want you, baby
It's all right

I think I'm paranoid
And complicated
I think I'm paranoid
Manipulated

- "Paranoid" - Garbage

 

I wonder if they knew. Probably not. Knowing them, they would most likely assume all that rivalry was simply for the sake of pride. For dominance. Well... I can't argue with that last statement, it's not far from the truth. Ever since we were small, it always seemed as if he was trying to outdo me. At everything. I didn't even notice. He was quite annoyed when I told him that. How silly. But he never let it pass, even when I told him to get over it; he didn't stop. Now that I think of it, he doubled his efforts. Not that he had to try very hard. Considering the fact that I didn't even bother to compete, with the exception of one stormy morning that ended in us branding each other, he did just fine. It turned out that my indifferent "look-upon-me-and-be-struck-down-by-my-ever-powerful-glare" attitude was apparently alluring. Quistis thought so, at least. As did Rinoa. Geez, women. They're insane.

Rinoa actually tried to change me, can you believe that? It even went as far as almost getting me "happy pills". Insert ever-powerful glare. I guess I wasn't so alluring that time. Screw her, I like my ever-sexy hardass attitude. It would be like asking Selphie not to be hyper. Or Irvine not to flirt. Or Quistis not to crack that damned whip and wipe that evil grin off her face. In other words, it's futile and stupid.

Truth be told, I don't like women. They scare me, in a weird way; they've got too many expectations. They're clingy, and stubborn, they're never satisfied and some of them are way too emotional. Uh... Am I digressing? What? No, I am not exaggerating! You want an example?

Rinoa: "Squall, it's Valentines Day in two weeks, you could at least show me that you care. I want you to show your emotions more, you're so pretty when you smile!"

Hmph. I'm pretty anyway; prettier than her, goddammit! I am allowed to whine, I've been dating her Lady-All-High-And-Mightiness for six months. It's getting painful. I really wish someone would have kicked me in the ass. Where's Seifer when I need him?

Seifer ran the comb through his wet hair a final time, grinning when that one stray lock flicked forth. It was the final touch, and he knew how good it looked. Turning from the mirror, he shrugged on his trenchcoat that branded the Cross Swords in crimson glory. As the door hissed shut, Seifer started down the hall, eyes searching for one person as he unconsciously adjusted his gloves. He grinned darkly at the wary looks on the faces of students at his approached. Ah, it was good to be back.

It hadn't been easy. At least Cid was forgiving and reasonable. But as much as he was like a father, he still executed discipline, and Seifer expected nothing less. He was still on probation for the next six months, and was currently studying for the theory SeeD entrance exam for the umpteenth time. The difference this time, was that he was actually committing himself to his studies. But he'd never tell anyone that, he had an image to upkeep. Not that he'd really care if anyone did find out. They wouldn't give him shit unless they wanted a gunblade shoved up their ass. Another thing he had grudgingly agreed to. He was no longer allowed to wield Hyperion unless surpervised by qualified Garden Staff on a trip to the Training Center. His hand felt so empty without his gunblade. He always found himself gripping his wrist as if measuring its size or strength. But he didn't need to prove or even doubt his strength; he was by far one of the best fighters that Garden had to offer. That is, if he was up to offer. If he were a SeeD.

Seifer narrowed his crystal gaze. This time he wouldn't fail. This time he would succeed and repay Cid for all his years of generosity; he'd show those damned Trepies what he was truly capable of. He could make a difference too.

Seifer broke his train of thought as he came to the hall's curve; that's right, he was looking for someone. His brow furrowed as he scanned the hall again.

Just where the hell was he?

Squall growled when his earphones were removed, shattering his reverie of screaming guitars and broken voices. He whirled in the steel chair, coming face-to-face with an all-too familiar blond. A fucking tall, arrogant blond who was swinging his headphones like a rope round his fingers, a triumphant grin plastered to his face.

The brunette scowled, making a grab for his property. The motion was half-hearted as if played in slow-motion during which that infamous scowl returned. Seifer refused Squall the earphones, seizing his MD and seating himself at the opposite end of the cafeteria table.

"And who is fortunate enough to bend the ear of Mr. Wall?" Seifer brought one earphone up to hear, gaze leaving Squall's as he concentrated to hear the lyrics. His expression was one of amusement as the woman's voice taunted in sultry, dulcet tones. Seifer chuckled, tossing Squall the small device. "I think that really is your song, Squall."

Squall ignored him, replacing the earphones and sitting back without a word.

Seifer watched him for a moment, he knew that look. "Oh, calamity!"

"..." Leave before Seifer Almasy becomes a synonym for Calamity.

"Don't even need three guesses," Seifer leaned over the table. "Does it begin with 'R'?"

His response was a deft shove back into his seat. You lessen my pain not, Seifer.

Seifer grinned, watching the light in those blue depths shift. "So what's up with Rinoa?"

Squall returned his attention to the other students around them. His eyes leaped wide, a small cry escaping him as Seifer's boot assaulted his shin. Motherf-!

He glared at Seifer who simply waited for a response. "Get a life," Squall growled, rubbing his ankle.

"His majesty speaks! You can bitch to me, and I'll pretend I care."

Squall grunted distastefully.

"I want to see if she's changed at all. Or if she's just as kick-worthy as ever."

Seifer caught the brief, ever-slight change in Squall's expression. Bitterness, exasperation. On closer inspection, he noticed the differences in Squall's form. He was slumped in more exhaustion than comfort, his eyes were heavy and very lightly rimmed red as if from lack of sleep. His hair was more disheveled than its usual "broken-glass" style, his white tanktop was on backwards. Most shocking of all, Seifer found that Squall wore only two of his six customary belts.

He couldn't keep the alarm from his voice. "She's really getting to you, isn't she?"

"..." In more ways than one. Death to the one that gave her my dorm code.

Seifer glanced at his watch. 10:07 AM. "When was the last time you slept?"

Squall sighed then, unfolding his arms and letting them fall to his lap. Sleep? What's that?

Seifer frowned. "Are things that bad with Rinoa?"

Squall's lids drooped heavily; it hurt to blink. "No, of course not," Squall's voice dripped with sarcasm. "Observe how I blush furiously when you mention her name," he droned.

Seifer stayed silent, knowing that there was more. He'd succeeded thus far in getting Squall to speak, a great feat for any person. Now Squall needed the silence he so readily offered to be returned. He would let Squall vent this. He knew how unbearable the Heartilly could be.

Squall massaged a cramp in his arm. "I think she wants to get married."

Seifer stifled a laugh. "What?!"

The other boy shrugged. "I don't know women all that well, but I'm not thick. She's been dropping anvil hints. Gushing over wedding dresses, asking me what I'd think of fatherhood and kids. The other day she was looking at rings for two hours, telling me the ones she liked."

Seifer watched as the brunette slumped over the table, forehead resting in the cradle of his arms. "I take it you're not having the time of your life?"

"I just want everyone to leave me alone so that I can think of a nice way of telling her to go away," Squall mumbled into his arms.

"You do it pretty well to me," Seifer smiled.

"Yeah, but you're not important."

Seifer snickered, leaning back in his chair. "She won't leave it alone unless you tell her now. I know her, take my word for it. You gotta paint it in bright red letters. In your case, the best thing you can do is use a really soft brush."

Squall raised his head slightly to stare at the blond. His expression said it all.

Seifer shrugged. "Say it in your nicest voice and you gotta be sincere. Drone less, suppress that glare."

Squall watched Seifer stand, fingering his wrist.

"And get some sleep, you look like shit," Seifer added, walking off.

Squall almost missed the tone of concern in his voice. He narrowed his gaze. "I'm still prettier than you," he mumbled.

I knew Seifer was right, as much as I hated to admit it. He stated the obvious; I guess I just needed to hear it. What a nice, proverbial kick in the ass. I made my decision to end my relationship with Rinoa. Oh joy to the sweet smell of freedom. I was gonna be free of her and that damned mutt that was always slobbering all over my shoes.

After I had a nap.

Spinning lights of crimson and cream brilliance, melting, merging... Gravity dispelled, it dragged along time and reality in dismissal.

Squall smiled, a soft curve of the lips that was only a hint to the utter contentment he felt as the light and air surrounded him. He let his head fall back and closed his eyes. He sighed contentedly, not moving even as he sensed the presence beside him.

Strong arms embraced him from behind, sliding over his skin. Squall leaned into the warmth of the stranger, revelling in the safety and comfort it brought. The person nuzzled in the crook of his neck, and Squall grinned as the hands over his skin moved further. One came up to cradle his jaw, the other slid lower, slipping beneath his loose jeans. He arched as the sensations that followed ripped through him, his cry swallowed by the light. He shifted his fuzzy vision to the tempest, catching the faintest glimpse of cream-coloured skin, gold highlights against the ubiquitous light. Squall reached up to touch their face, finding that he had to lift his own. The person turned their face to his... And dissolved into mist.

Squall bolted upright, sheets tangled about his waist.

Zell started, jumping back from the bedside.

Squall growled, turning his attention to the fallen martial artist on his floor.

Zell laughed nervously, trying not to notice the thin sheen of sweat that made Squall glow in the final rays of twilight. "Same dream, huh?"

Squall narrowed his gaze. "What do you want?"

"Rinoa sent me to come get you," Zell began. He straightened his black, sleeveless shirt, the dwindling shards of sunlight danced over the silver trimming in fleeting sparks. Reaching into the pocket of his loose, dark jeans, he pulled out his fighting gloves.

Squall rolled his eyes, already falling back on the bed.

"We're going out tonight," Zell told him. "Balamb, wanna come? Actually, my orders are to bring you whether you want to or not."

"Bugger off, I was sleeping," Squall muttered, arm covering his eyes. A thought struck him and he turned back to Zell. "You know the code to my room?"

Zell nodded slowly, not seeing the importance of Squall's inquiry.

Squall fell back on the pillows, shielding his eyes with one arm. At least I now know who let her in.

Zell stood, tilting his head to one side. "You were dreaming of that weird place again? With the funny lights?"

Squall let his arm drop, turning his attention to the blond punk. He frowned, noticing how Zell seemed to glow with a fire-toned halo, a play of light on behalf of the dying sun. However... his mind refused to dismiss the disjointed flashes of the person in that silent haven. Zell was the one person who knew about the recurring dream of the tempest that haunted the brunette. But all Squall had actually told Zell of, was the clouds of crimson and cream. He didn't need to know the rest.

Squall looked to Zell. "What time is it?"

Zell glanced at the clock. "It's almost six."

"PM?"

Zell nodded.

Seven hours. Not bad, considering the amount of sleep he'd been acheiving beforehand.

"Tell her I'm in a coma and won't be waking for the next five months," Squall informed his friend.

Zell rolled his eyes heavenward, opening his mouth to reply when the door hissed open.

"Yo, Leonhart! Your girl sent me to get your lazy ass out of bed," Seifer grinned. He noticed the stunned look on Zell's face at his entry. "Hey, Zell," he nodded at the boy.

Zell nearly fell over. Seifer had addressed him by name?!

Squall pursed his lips at the newcomer, unconsciously pulling the sheets to his chest. Does everyone know my bloody code?! "Get out of my room, both of you."

Seifer turned back to Zell. "Oh yeah, and Selphie's lookin' for ya. Said something about booze... Or book... Boo-something."

Zell nodded. "Booyaka?"

Seifer shrugged. "Prob'ly. She was dancing a lot, I didn't catch much before I left." More like ran.

The smaller blond bid the two goodbye, telling them to meet at the Garden's Main Entrance. Squall watched the entire scene unfold, eyes dark and moody. Seifer seated himself at the foot of Squall's bed, which Squall visibly frowned at.

"Why would Rinoa send you?"

"She didn't."

Squall scoffed. "Thought as much. Have you come to bug me with useless shit too?"

"Depends on your perspective. But I'm guessing you never got around to talking to Rinoa after this morning?"

Squall frowned. "I was tired."

Seifer shrugged. "Do it tonight then. They're going out somewhere in Balamb, it's the perfect chance! And since I'm such a nice guy, I'll come and be your moral support. And beer buddy and whatnot."

Squall glared back. He seemed to be doing a lot of that lately. "Fuck. Off."

"Then it's settled! We're off to Balamb," Seifer grinned, hauling Squall to his feet. Squall yelped, nearly dropping the blanket. His eyes shifted ten shades darker as he shot daggers at the other boy who gave him an odd look in turn.

"What? Aren't YOU wearing anything under that?" Seifer's tone was sceptical, a knowing grin crossing his features.

Bad joke. Bad, bad, old joke. Squall's reponse was to wrap the thin sheet in a rather tight knot around his waist.

Why am I not surprised? Seifer smiled. "Y'know, you ARE coming. Selphie's trying to be nice, so she's paying for everything. I am not getting stuck by myself with those hyperactive hedgehogs. Whether you go out there half-naked or leather-clad is your choice. But either way, you will leave this room in the next five minutes," Squall took a small step back as Seifer's grin turned dangerously joyful. "Even if I have to haul you over my shoulder."

Squall shot the taller boy his darkest look, but Seifer was relentless. There was no way he was going out there like this, though. The shorter man looked the other over, taking in Seifer's baggy white pants and black fishnet shirt, hood hanging back. He was pretty sure that he wore nothing underneath. If it got cold, he was going to freeze. He frowned as he noticed that Seifer also wore black wrist guards. Had he counted on Squall's fighting back to hold his own? Well, he frankly didn't have the energy right now.

Squall set his jaw, making himself as tall as possible. "Alright. But I'm warning you, if I end up in anyone's bed tomorrow with company... I'm gonna kick your ass. Cause you dragged me along."

Seifer snapped his fingers, his expression one of mock disappointment. "Damn, there goes that plan. And here I was planning to fuck you senseless in a threesome."

Squall shook his head. Turning on his heel, he stalked off to the bathroom.

"Seifer!"

Seifer forced a smile as a tiny brunette in a sunflower dress latched onto him. "Hey," he greeted, patting her head.

Selphie loosened her grip, but didn't let go. "I knew you'd come! Welcome to joy ride la Selphie! We shall be departing shortly." Her grin was a tad manic, and Seifer wandered if there were some other plan beside "plaster-me-happy" that she was conspiring. Selphie turned to motion Irvine to her side, the interaction that followed was as if they were all meeting for the first time. Selphie's infectious smile disbanded any tension they may have had. That is, until Seifer laid eyes on Rinoa. Her expression spoke of everything Selphie wasn't. Suspiscion, distrust. Maybe even hate danced in those dark eyes that locked with his, gaze unwavering as she addressed Zell.

"Where's Squall? Isn't he coming, Zell?" Rinoa's tone was impatient and leaning towards annoyance. So unlike the local "angel".

Zell shrugged, folding his arms over his chest.

Seifer looked back to find the space behind him empty. Detaching himself from Selphie's iron fist, he made his way up the short stairwell. Upon reaching the top, his right hand lashed out for something unseen. Seifer yanked Squall to him, the brunette giving a small cry of protest. Angry blue eyes met Seifer's smiling gaze as the taller man leaned forward.

"It's for your own good. Now or never right?" Seifer murmured. With that, he dragged the reluctant brunette down to the awaiting troup. Much to Squall's relief, Selphie didn't deal him the same greeting, mainly because Irvine was acting as a human straight-jacket cleverly disguised as a fond boyfriend merely dealing a hug.

Rinoa turned back to Seifer, dark eyes bright with that same shifting quality. "So, what are you doing here?"

He motioned to Selphie. "She invited me."

Selphie grinned hopping from foot to foot. "Of course! Ever since Fu and Raijin left for Esthar, Seifer looked sooo lonely. The Lone Fisherman look is just not you," she clasped her hands together. "All hot bishies should be happy!" she exclaimed, joyfully.

Still restraining his girlfriend, Irvine shook his head. "Err, yes. She is a very disturbed little girl."

Before anyone could catch her movements, Selphie had freed herself. She stood on her tiptoes, looking the sniper in the eye. "You dissing me, slave?"

Irvine whipped off his hat, bowing low. "It is an honour to serve, My Lady," he declared.

She lifted her chin, shaking her head. "I shall consider your apology. You may yet be an asset to my harem," she said.

Irvine knew this play well, as if this were a daily ritual. He straightened, towering over her. "Yo, don't forget who's in charge here, wench," he mocked, though unable to keep the stupid grin off his face.

Selphie yanked Zell to her from where he leaned against the wall, silent up till now. "You are no match for me and my knight!"

Zell turned to her. "Is that with or without Exeter?"

Quistis shook her head, inserting herself as a barrier to part the three. "Shall we now be moving, children?" She turned back to them, hands playing with the handle of Save the Queen. A very subtle hint.

Selphie promptly released the blond punk from her hold, falling in line behind the former Instructor. "Affirmative, Lady Mistress!"

Irvine watched the sudden changeover with amusement. "Well she's certainly quick to change her mind."

Zell joined the cowboy as they followed the two women. "Must be that whip."

"Yep, she's a sucker for punishment," Irvine grinned, slipping his hat back on.

Zell stared at the smug cowboy, before turning his attention forward. "I'm not going to ask."

All who remained were the SeeD Commander, the Sorceress, and the Ex-Sorceress' Knight. Squall expected something along the lines of Rinoa yanking his arm of its socket and jumping on board Selphie's joy train of which Quistis had seemed to have assumed control. She surprised him by casting him an unreadable look, crossed arms falling to her sides as she joined Selphie and Quistis.

Both gunbladers were silent as she departed, Squall sighed. "This is gonna be a long night."

Seifer looked at him, noting that look of dread that he wore. THIS is why alcohol was invented. Tightening his grip on Squall's wrist, Seifer started after Zell and Irvine. "C'mon, we gotta catch up or we'll miss all the "Selphie-Masochist" gossip," Seifer said, once again dragging Squall after him.

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