Disclaimer: the characters and places contained herein do not belong to me and I make no claim or money from this. I can't even claim responsibility for most of the idea because it came from both Race Ulfson and the song "Hurt" covered by Johnny Cash.
With many thanks to Pixie, Rain and Astraea.
This fanfiction is dedicated in its entirety to Race Ulfson, also known as the beta babe who usually previews all my stuff and tells me where I've fucked up.
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here
Hurt – Johnny Cash.
He'd watched Squall sleep most of the morning and crawled into bed with him late in the afternoon. Squall had always slept fitfully, demons and monsters that haunted his sleep making him toss and turn violently, but he'd woken up four times throughout the day, heart pounding, sweating, almost crying with pain and fear. The look in his eyes every time, in those still waking moments when he was confused enough to let all the emotion well up behind storm cloud eyes and spill across his features was enough to chill Seifer to the bone.
Just what Squall had seen, just what could make even the ice princess of Balamb wake up with tears in his eyes and his hands clenched into fists so tightly that his nails left imprints in his palms, Seifer wasn't sure he wanted to know.
After the third time he'd been awoken by Squall crying out in his sleep, Seifer finally decided to face up to the fact that he just was not going to get any rest. He glanced at the clock, already nine pm and a whole day of playing guardian angel had slipped away as silently and unobserved as the dying of the light.
Behind him, Squall dreamed again, his voice a soft echoing plea for someone to just help him. It was heart breaking. To hear anyone else plead like that would be pathetic but something about the fear in Squall's voice and the words that were so unlike him moved Seifer.
Seifer rolled over, laying a hand on Squall's shoulder, murmuring his voice in an attempt to wake him, the skin still warm with fever and the ebbing of who knew what cocktail of drugs. No sooner had he laid a hand on Squall than the brunette's arm flew up, arced over his head to protect himself from blows, either real or imagined.
Startled, Seifer sat up, tugging the blankets up to Squall's shoulders, soothing gently. "Shhh, it's just me."
The prone figure seemed to calm a little at his voice, the arm returning to Squall's side slowly. The fear and anger displayed on the delicate features melted away slowly, and Squall opened his eyes. He turned his gaze to his blonde companion slowly and tentatively brushed his fingertips along Seifer's cheek bone, assuring himself that Seifer really was there, that he was real and not just a waking dream. The recognition and relief wavered visibly in Squall's eyes for a heart beat.
"Hey Leonhart." Seifer smiled. "Long time no see the crazy goth hair."
Squall let his head fall back onto the pillow with a whisper of a sound. "It is you..."
Lazily, Seifer propped his head on one hand and stretched out beside his former lover, just lounging with him. "'Course it's me. Who else would risk life and limb to save your ass?"
"A couple other idiots." Squall sighed softly and added almost reluctantly "Thank you."
The smile clung to Seifer's lips a few minutes longer, not quite reaching his eyes anymore. Eventually he rolled out of bed to fetch a cup of iced water from the pitcher he'd bought in earlier. "You've been asleep awhile, but only because of the sedatives I think. You need to drink a little water."
Carefully and slowly, Squall started to sit up, rolling his weight from his back to his good arm and back. He barely resisted the urge to wince every time he turned. "Maybe." He was half sat up when Seifer caught him moving.
"Hey, hold on a minute. I can help you sit up – they said not to let you move around too much." The blonde scolded gently.
"Whatever." Squall stopped, holding himself at the awkward angle, looking unhappy.
Seifer set the cup on the bedside table and leant down over Squall. "Hang onto my neck, let me move you."
Squall slid his good arm around Seifer's neck hesitantly, keeping his other arm between them. His shoulder throbbed harder as he was lifted carefully, and he clung to Seifer just a little harder than he really meant to. "It's not permanent."
"What, your pissy mood or your predicament?"
Slender fingers tangled into soft blonde locks and tugged, to demonstrate his annoyance and inform Seifer of the true subject of his words. "My crazy goth hair."
A soft, throaty chuckle echoed from Seifer's lips. "That's good to know." The hand that was still caught in his hair, fingers still tangled in golden locks, trembled like a newborn Mesmerize. His arm was a tense, hot mass against Seifer's neck. Settling the prone figure back against the rearranged pillows carefully, Seifer unwound Squall's arm from him and placed it against his chest, stroking his thumb over the inside of the too slender wrist gently. He ignored the raised, rough flesh of healing scars and burns that he traced. He could ask about that later, it had to wait a little longer.
"Here you go." Seifer's free hand retrieved the cup and folded it into Squall's fingers. "Sip this."
Squall drew the cup across his forehead and took a sip. "Well, at least it's back to just one of you now."
"Yeah, and I'm sorry about that." He grinned, just teasing. As much as it pained him, he ignored the more visible wounds and fresh scars along Squall's shoulders, peeking out from under the bandage and brace. He wanted to wrap Squall in the blankets, cover up the scars, so he wouldn't have to look and long and wonder.
"Hell, if there were two of me, one of me might get some sleep, right?" Seifer flopped down in the chair beside Squall's side of the bed.
Storm blue eyes flicked up, peeking at him guiltily from under dark lashes and dark bangs. "Sorry."
A faint gesture, a gentle wave, to dismiss the unnecessary apology. "Don't be. I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to."
Squall nodded faintly, his eyes fixed firmly on the thick white china mug his fingers were wrapped around. His stomach rolled incessantly, his head ached as though he'd managed to consume half of the whiskey in Galbadia and he felt so hot, so restless, he just longed to curl up and die.
Seifer propped his feet on the bed beside Squall and ruffled his own hair, messing the blonde locks up. He stretched as he watched his quiet charge, a smirk teasing at his expression unbidden. "It's like having a new puppy or something. At least you don't pee on my carpet."
"Or hump your leg?" Squall offered, the tiniest of smiles flickered across his mouth for just a split second.
"Nah, I'd let you do that." Storm blue eyes rolled at the grin that accompanied Seifer's words.
"You missed me Squallyboy, admit it."
Squall's gaze rose from the cup to the beautiful jade green eyes that examined him. He had missed Seifer more than he had words for. More than he liked to admit even in the quiet corners of his mind where GF's hadn't touched and he could still remember what it was like to sleep in the strong arms of a handsome blonde. Where he could still remember being jealous of whatever romantic dream Seifer had and where he could still pretend that Seifer had hurt him too much and he didn't want him any longer.
He wanted Seifer. He craved contact with him, with the heat of his golden skin, to feel the cool fire of his gaze. He hated himself for it, for allowing that incessant yearning for Seifer to become almost as strong as his need for his next fix, the hot weight in his heart that only Seifer could lift. Four years had passed since the second war had ended, and Squall was still as much in love with the former knight as the day the war had begun.
"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Squall asked softly. He wanted to fill his question with malice and force the blonde to back off and leave him alone but no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't.
"Yeah. Yeah I guess I would." Seifer tilted his head and just looked at Squall. His voice softened, quietened down. "I know I missed you."
"...It's not the same. Without you there."
The silence between them was thick enough to cut with a gunblade. The jade green gaze was filled with everything Seifer had ever felt for Squall, his emotions dredged up by being needed, by needing someone again. "...Thought about you every day, Leonhart."
No matter how hard Squall tried, the exhaustion that made his limbs feel like lead and the pain that made them ache with a dull but consistent throb prevented him from hiding everything securely behind the old mask. The anger, the pain and the loneliness seeped into his expression. The old mask was too cracked by time and repeated disappointments to hide everything these days anyway. "Alright, I missed you. Happy?"
Seifer stood and hugged Squall carefully, ignoring the way the smaller man tensed up and ignoring the pain that tension caused him. "Yeah." He pulled away before Squall had a chance to shrug him off, grabbing a bottle of strong painkillers from the dresser and tipping two into his palm. Embarrassed by the display of emotion he'd not been able to prevent, he kept his eyes averted from Squall. "You need to get back to sleep."
Squall watched as Seifer moved around the room, mouthing his name soundlessly. "...I don't want to sleep."
"I don't care what you want. It's what you need."
"Will....no..." He forced himself to push the question, the plea for companionship dead on his lips before he spoke it. He shrugged; one shouldered and drank from the cup again.
With a sigh, Seifer turned his head to look at Squall. He was determined not to lose his patience with Squall just because looking at that perfect, beautiful, sculpted face broke his heart just to look at it. "You want to watch TV. or somthin'?"
Returning to Squall's side of the bed, Seifer offered the medication. "I could... I dunno, read to you or something. Just til these kick in."
Squall's hand was shaking so badly he missed the pills on the first attempt at retrieving them. He steeled himself, ordered himself to get a grip and retrieved the tablets from Seifer's palm. "You still owe me a cigarette, you know."
A forced smile curled Seifer's lips in a way that looked almost painful. "Later. Much later."
"Get the lecture over with now while these start to work." Squall grimaced as he swallowed the pills, chasing them down with a long drink of water.
Seifer held his hands up in mock surrender. "Hey, no lecture." 'Not about smoking anyway.' He added silently, his eyes still fixed firmly on his former lover. Squall couldn't hide it any more, the way his hands trembled, the way his eyes darted away nervously whenever Seifer looked at him too long. He was falling apart at the seams.
"You're the only one who won't."
"I'm the only one who knows better than to lecture over dumb shit."
"What have you been doing?" Squall asked softly, his gaze slipping to Seifer's perfectly toned muscles. "Other than that."
"Working mostly. You know how it goes." Seifer smiled faintly.
Unfortunately, Squall didn't know how it went. Seifer was in the real world, and garden certainly didn't count in that respect. Assassinations, undercover work, magic, that wasn't exactly the same as a nine to five with weekends off. Or the same as doing whatever Seifer did. "Real life stuff."
"Yea, pretty much. I'm not going to ask what you've been doing. I already know you won't tell me."
"Getting my life fucked up by SeeD and Rinoa." Squall muttered flatly. It was the truth, which Seifer deserved, and he had no reason to deny it or lie about it. His relationship with Rinoa had ended abruptly and somewhat violently, partially his own fault. SeeD had fucked him over, time and time again.
"I can imagine both unfortunately."
"If I sleep... will you stay? Please?" The painkillers were being absorbed into his system and he was already feeling drowsy, the words left his lips before he had a chance to silence them. His voice was soft, strained and tired and he had to wipe an eye to be sure the pinpricks of tears that threatened to give away his weakness and fear weren't really falling.
Something gave inside him at the uncharacteristic entreaty and Seifer sat on the edge of the bed, brushing Squall's bangs aside gently. All that vulnerability and loneliness and the outright pain in Squall's eyes just made him want to take care of him all the more. "I'm not going anywhere. You're safe here, okay?"
"I'm tired of being alone. They took everything from me. Even Shiva." Squall's voice seemed so tired, so cold and ashamed when he spoke again, his fingers were wrapped around the cup so tightly Seifer feared it would break. His knuckles were white as freshly fallen snow.
Gently and carefully, Seifer peeled Squalls fingers from the cup and set it down. He couldn't help leaning in to kiss the scarred forehead just once. No matter what had happened between them, no matter how many fights they had or how many times they tried to kill one another, Seifer would never stop loving the little iceberg. "You got me for as long as you want me, okay?"
"What do you want in return?"
"Just let me take care of you, for once. Trust me." Seifer traced his fingertips over Squall's cheekbone lightly, unable to resist touching him when he was so close, so vulnerable.
"I trust you." The voice was barely above a whisper; Seifer had to strain to hear him.
Seifer slid an arm around the prone figure and hugged him carefully, avoiding his sore shoulder and trying not to aggravate the back injury. It felt so good to be able to hold and comfort Squall again he didn't want to let go. "Good. It'll be okay now. I promise."
Squall hid his face against Seifer's shoulder, relief at Seifer's words washing over him. He hated being alone. Even though he knew it would soon be over, and he would be on his way back to Balamb garden, he believed Seifer. "In the war, when they announced your sentence had been carried out, I thought you were dead." He punched Seifer's bicep lightly, it was easier to be angry than to let himself cry. "Bastard. Don't do that again."
"I won't." Seifer laughed softly and rubbed his lips against the soft skin just beneath Squall's ear.
Lifting his head, Squall eyed the muscle he'd punched. "Fuck, you have been working out."
"Kinda goes with the territory, I suppose. I have to look like I can take care of business at work, you know?" He released Squall slowly and fluffed the pillows, laying Squall back against them slowly.
"What do you do?"
"I'm a bouncer, in a bar across town. Tend bar some nights too." Seifer smiled.
Squall eyed the blonde critically. It was such an easy role to imagine Seifer filling, the way the shirt he was wearing stretched tight over his muscles, the faintly arrogant smile, the old commanding attitude. It was easier to imagine him like that than as a SeeD. "I can imagine it."
"When you're feeling better, I'll show you." Seifer turned off the light and stretched out beside Squall. He flipped on the TV, keeping the volume down low.
Illuminated by ever shifting light, Seifer's profile seemed more handsome than Squall had dared remember. Strong cheekbones, a strong jaw and full lips, mussed blonde locks now long enough to drape over his eyes. It was so easy to remember why he'd wanted him, why he'd loved him. It was so hard to deny that he still loved him.
Seifer looked over and gave him a sleepy smile. "Just so you know, you're going to eat when you wake up in the morning."
The smile grew wider. "That's my Squall."
"He's still in here. Somewhere." Squall admitted softly.
"I know he is. I really missed him." Seifer rolled to one side to face him, his face cast into shadow as he turned his back on the television. He folded his hand over Squall's gently, stroking his knuckles with his thumb.
"Think you can wait a little? Until I find him again?" A faint smile, shy and unsure curled the brunette's lips up.
"Like I said. I'm not going anywhere Squall, not this time." The blonde moved a little closer, just incase Squall needed him fast in the middle of the night. At least, that's what he kept telling himself.
"Everyone tells me that, and then they just leave anyway." Squall coaxed Seifer's hand onto his stomach, settling his head back against the pillows comfortably. He felt strangely contented like that, with Seifer's touch on his belly, and the heat of his body almost close enough to feel. It was like being a teenager again, and Squall cited the drowsiness induced by the painkillers as the reason.
"Try and get rid of me." Seifer yawned and scratched his belly sleepily. Looking after pissy brunette ice princesses could take a lot out of you.
"Gimme a few more days without a fix and you'll want to kick me out." The brunette muttered sleepily.
"You don't scare me, Leonhart. I'm here for keeps. Remember that." His eyes were already closing, cuddling against Squall's side for warmth instinctively as he drifted off to sleep.
Squall watched him drowsily and, releasing Seifer's hand, wrapped his good arm around the blonde hesitantly. "Whatever." He whispered into Seifer's hair and slipped slowly into the blissful darkness of a painless sleep.
For the first time in as long as he could remember, he slept peacefully, nightmares kept at bay by Seifer's nearness.
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