Author's Note: I'm back, by popular demand... This story starts four days after Darkened Sunrise. As yet, the smut level is hopelessly low. Consider it dedicated to the authors who got me hooked on FFVIII yaoi and shounen-ai (including Lady Tempest, Tenshi no Korin, Nakiko, Sodoshiin and Darksquall) and those who kept me hooked on it (including XIneko, Nightsdawne, Race Ulfson, Pixie518 and Jamaica). There's no way I can mention you all. You're wonderful.
I don't like starting long stories. The temptation to throw in lines that sound like, 'As you know, your father, the king...' is far too high. Please forgive the ones I couldn't edit out.
WARNING: Contains adult language and both heterosexual and homosexual romance. Further chapters will contain violent situations, and the fic may be rerated for graphic violence and sex.
DISCLAIMER: The characters and locations are Squaresoft's, not mine. This story was written for purposes of entertainment, not for profit. Please don't reproduce it without asking.
Chapter One - Sunrise
Half-step back, step forward, lunge, recover, parry and riposte to flank... "Yes!" Seifer yelled, punching the air in triumph. "I killed you!"
"Stop looking so pleased about it." Squall tossed his chestnut hair out of his face and scowled up at Seifer, ruining the effect of the glare by letting his eyes twinkle all the way to silver. It was a tiny hint of expression, but enough to brighten Seifer's life. "Anybody'd think you didn't like having me around."
"Hey, if you weren't here I might get some fun trying to lay the Chicken-Wuss - I didn't mean it," Seifer protested, jumping back on guard as Squall swiped at him absently like he'd forgotten he was holding his gunblade. "You've got no sense of humour."
"Sorry," Squall said quietly, looking away.
"Don't do that. Hyne, I'm not upset. I know you well enough, OK?"
Squall shrugged off the apology and got down and started doing stretches; Seifer retreated to the back of the training salle to towel off and loosen his gloves. His eyes never left Squall for a second. Part of that was simple appreciation of the perfect sculptured beauty lying on the floor mere feet away. The rest was something most people wouldn't have believed Seifer Almasy was capable of if they'd been shown the evidence a million times over. Concern.
Squall, never the most sociable person, had become almost completely withdrawn and reticent. For a few weeks, even a month, that kind of thing could have been brushed aside. 'Typical Squall', everyone had said when Seifer had returned to Garden nine months ago and had seen what Squall Leonhart had become. The others had watched his decline, never noticing that he was now nothing more than a shell of a human, a robot programmed to fight and command at Cid's whim. But when he crowned a year-long silence by blanking the President of Galbadia at a public press conference, even people as dense as Zell and Rinoa agreed it was getting beyond a joke.
It seemed like Seifer was the only person he spoke to outside of work these days. Isn't like he was ever Mr Personality anyway. But there was something there when we were younger. His eyes are blank all the time now, except when he's looking at me. What the hell's wrong with the boy?
Two bleeps rang through the room, just far enough apart in pitch to grate against Seifer's teeth. The gunbladers went for their cellphones in unison. "Shit," Squall groaned, as he read the text they'd evidently both received: MEET IN MY OFFICE IMMEDIATELY. CID. Despite Squall's choice of vocabulary Seifer gave himself a congratulatory pat on the back. He felt so satisfied when Squall actually got riled up enough to swear. It meant he'd noticed that there was an external world.
"Hey, we can make it up later," Seifer soothed.
"Just what are you talking about?" Squall sounded like he was trying to be coy. Two can play, baby.
"When I'm looking at something as beautiful as you, I don't know how many things I could be talking about." Squall coloured and looked down without a smile. Seifer cursed himself for trying too hard, and bundled up his towel and threw it onto Hyperion's case, staring out of the window at the rolling ocean while he changed his white shirt. On missions or on breaks, his life seemed to revolve around trying to persuade the Squall he knew in private to stop hiding from the world. It wasn't a task that would end any time soon. Not when Squall had metaphorically stuck his gunblade into the dirt so he could anchor himself to the ground and never move forward, never mature.
It hurt to watch the blithe child he knew so well, so shy and uncertain and eager to please, freeze over whenever anyone else was present. It was a hundred times worse when it was Seifer he froze for. But he didn't want to force him to open up. They'd been lovers for less than a week. Maybe Squall just needed time and TLC.
Behind him, Squall opened the door. He didn't ask Seifer to hurry, just waited there for him half-in, half-out of his SeeD jacket, radiating impatience. Seifer gave up on his musing, collected his kit and followed his boyfriend out of the duelling room. As soon as they left the tropically hot Training Centre he pulled on his trenchcoat. Cid had called for a SeeD, for a heartless professional killer, but he would get Seifer Almasy. Leonhart-obsession and all.
As they walked through the corridors, dappled with morning light, Seifer slipped his hand into Squall's. The younger man shook him off, uncomfortable with public displays of affection, and by the time they reached the elevator Seifer had stopped trying. He could just about accept that Squall was frightened of physical and emotional intimacy, but he'd barely worked out yet how to avoid scaring Squall off when inviting him to bed. The younger man had major hang-ups. Seifer was content to erode them slowly for now.
SeeD had prospered in the four years since time compression had threatened to end the world. (Since you fought against them.) The one remaining Garden had spawned another four, two replacing the lost facilities in Galbadia and Trabia and two providing extra cover in Esthar and the Galbadian Protectorates, the southern part of the continent that had separated from Galbadia proper. (New SeeDs to replace the ones you uprooted.) Business was good and casualties were down - an equation nobody had dreamed of before. But SeeD's reputation was so high that the forces' presence in a war zone often forced negotiations. (Thanks to him - the one you hurt; the one you now live to heal.)
Seifer closed his eyes and imagined he was aiming his most chilling gaze at the inward voice that delighted in reminding him of his failures. It worked a little; the voice subsided, but he half-imagined he could still hear it muttering away somewhere. Maybe Squall had a voice like that too; maybe he wasn't as good at intimidating his one as Seifer was. Maybe that was why he had withdrawn. Maybe his voice had told him nobody cared.
Seifer had made it his personal mission to care as soon as he realised Squall had lost his confidantes. He'd asked Irvine and Zell about it once, a month or so after he'd returned, when he'd had time to work out what was going wrong. They'd acted all surprised, like they hadn't even noticed Squall pulling away. Idiots. Seifer might not have been at Garden in the years immediately following Ultimecia's defeat, but he'd known about Squall's growth of trust in humanity. It was like all of that had eroded under the pressure of years spent sending his friends to bleed on foreign soil for money. And no-one had approached him to find out what was wrong. Not until Seifer had come back, and befriended him, and fallen in love with him.
As far as he was concerned, if SeeD was destroying Squall, so much the worse for SeeD. The war hero deserved better than being made to think he wasn't good enough because he couldn't cut out the pain.
Not that Squall complained; not that Squall talked about his problems at all, in fact. Seifer wanted to shake the truth out of him sometimes. He had put the whole giant-sized puzzle together by guesswork and there were still some pieces stuck to his socks.
Squall didn't know that restraining the Almasy temper hurt.
The lift doors slid shut behind them and Squall visibly relaxed. Seifer bit back his frustration; there was no reason the boy should be so scared of company. It wasn't like he had to hide as much as a pimple from other people. Even his scars enhanced his face. He was eye candy of the best sort. Androgynous in a way, pretty like very few men were. Right now he was covered in sweat and dressed in nothing more appealing than a baggy T-shirt, brown combat pants and his formal jacket, and he radiated sexuality more than ever. Seifer was very glad they both preferred men.
Squall met Seifer's eyes in the mirrored elevator wall. "Question?"
"You're talking like Fujin. What's up?"
"We pulled into harbour just after dawn to let a team disembark. I saw their launch leave. I don't know where that particular squad was heading. Do you?"
"Might, if you tell me who you saw."
"Quistis was at the helm."
"That means Deling City; she was all excited about it yesterday. Why?" The blue-grey eyes narrowed. "What's the matter?"
"Depending on what Cid's got to tell us, I might have to kill Xu," Squall said, the monotone that passed for his everyday voice slipping a little.
Hyne, not again. Not this. Not even nine a.m. and he's off already. Cid's redistribution of the Garden Faculty's duties among the senior SeeDs had been a good idea, but it had left Squall both in overall charge and with little control over which missions were accepted. He'd never liked the parsimonious Chief of Operations much anyway. And Xu was a Galbadian Esthar-hater, which didn't help. "What's she done now?"
"Broken the first principle of mercenary warfare."
"Don't fall for the client? Don't work for free?"
The lift's doors slid open. Squall strode out into the third floor corridor, not looking back at his lover. "Don't fight for both sides of any conflict at the same time."
Seifer thought about it for two seconds. "Shit," he muttered, and ran off after Squall.
(to be continued...)
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