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, Acid 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.

Hurt

Chapter 4

By Darksquall

Never thought I'd have to retire
Never thought I'd have to abstain
Never thought all this could back fire
Close up the hole in my vein
Me and my valuable friend can fix all the pain away
So before I end my day, remember
My sweet prince

My Sweet Prince Placebo

 

Squall had been staring at the ceiling for almost an hour.

Seifer's body was a welcome heat against him, his warmth warding against the gooseflesh that littered the skin of the other side of his body. He still snored, a soft, alive sound that could almost take Squall back to being sixteen and listening to Seifer sleep. Seifer Almasy could sleep through an earthquake. He could sleep through one of Omega Weapon's attacks given the chance.

He'd always resented the fact his old lover could sleep like a log. Back when he'd lain beside the leggy blonde and mused over the previous day's classes, woken by a nightmare or just the faintest of sounds and suddenly alert and unable to return to the peace of slumber, he'd been jealous that Seifer could sleep so soundly. Not that slumber was all that peaceful for Squall, he never slept without dreaming unless he'd decided an early night with a bottle of good Galbadian whiskey for a bed mate. Even then, he half suspected he was too far-gone for the dreams to bother him much

That soft, annoyed murmur of starting to become aware that Seifer always made as he woke startled him from his reverie. He unwrapped his arm from around the blonde, stretching until the shoulder gave a satisfying pop, and settled it on his chest. He still cared for Seifer, still wanted him, and had encouraged the blonde to lay a friendly hand on his belly the previous night, but being caught demonstrating his feelings would leave him open and vulnerable and in his state, he couldn't do that to himself.

It took Seifer a few moments to orientate himself to his surroundings. He knew the silent warmth beside him was Squall Leonhart, he knew him by scent and touch better than Squall even knew himself, and he savoured the sensation. It took him a while to console himself to the fact that yes, he was awake, and yes, he did have to push away the sleep and get up. With a soft, 'I'm trying to wake up here' sound, he opened one sleepy green eye to look at his bedfellow. "Mmm, you're awake."

A half smile flirted with Squall's lips briefly, and he shrugged with his good arm. "I was always awake before you were."

Seifer slid his hand from where it rested on Squall's bare belly to wrap around his waist completely. Left unabashed by the lingering contentment and pleasure of his dreams, he cuddled against his former lover, luxuriating in the closeness, in the velvet of Squall's skin. "Did you stare at my manly visage while you waited for me to wake up?"

Squall tried not to feel too comforted by the familiar weight of Seifer's arm. Tired, nauseous and as confused as he felt, he couldn't risk letting himself get close to the blonde. Seifer was dangerous. He was dangerous. Being in love was dangerous. Hiding a tiny yawn, he murmured, "I'll say yes, if you keep your promise and get me some cigarettes."

"One." Seifer chuckled, rubbing his cheek on the pale shoulder. "I'll get you one cigarette."

"Please, Let me go through one withdrawal at a time." Squall sighed.

"I'm just messing with you Squall. I'll take care of you, don't worry." He felt guilty for teasing the injured brunette; it wasn't fair. Squall couldn't fight back, not that he had all that often. Awkwardly, still nervous and unsure of just what was left over between them; Seifer patted the pale, trembling hand. Then the gesture was over and the small intimacy was lost. "Hungry yet?"

Squall shook his head, slow and deliberate as though even that much took great effort. "Not really."

A languid stretch, a yawn and Seifer sat up. "I'm going to get you some juice, at least, okay?"

"Okay." Watching intently as his old lover slipped out of the bed, Squall longed to ask him to stay.

Seifer looked back over his shoulder, offering him a sweet, sleepy smile. It was so easy to forget the war and all the things that had happened between them and slipped away unnoticed, leaving only the love and the longing in its wake, when Seifer looked at him like that. "You know what?"

"What?" The brunette tipped his head curiously, a few strands of too dark hair tumbling down to curl over one cheek.

Seifer hated Squall's dyed hair. Black hair didn't suit him, it made him look washed out and pale, sickly even. "I slept really well last night." He hesitated for a moment, unsure about saying more before he added: "It's... nice having you with me again."

So softly Seifer could barely hear, so gently he could only be sure the brunette had actually said it by watching the movement of that perfect mouth, Squall admitted: "I missed you." At least this time it hadn't taken a team of trained Chocobo to drag it out of him.

Encouraged by Squall's words, Seifer returned to Squall's side of the bed and pressed a brief, tiny kiss to the corner of Squall's mouth. "You sit tight. I'll get you something to drink."

"Don't worry, I'm not going anywhere."

A strong, warm hand cupped Squall's cheek for a second, their eyes meeting and gaze locking together for a moment too long. The touch was more comfort than Squall felt he really deserved, the heat and texture of the soft palm too heartening, he'd be left alone and let down again and he didn't want that. Not any more.

Then the hand fell away, and Seifer headed for the kitchen, whistling brightly.

And Squall suddenly wanted the touch to return.

Distracting himself by stretching lightly and rubbing his back, Squall noted that he did feel a little better.

Seifer returned after a few minutes with a small tray, carrying a glass of orange juice and crushed ice, along with a small plate of crackers. "I know you're not hungry, but maybe you can try to eat a cracker or two?" He coaxed gently.

Eyeing the food rather doubtfully, Squall murmured "Maybe."

"It won't kill you to try. But if you feel sick, it's okay. I don't want you to puke on the duvet. I just washed it, like, six weeks ago." He nailed Squall's concern and he was completely unaware of the fact. Even looking at the food made his stomach roll dangerously, and he didn't want to show Seifer an even weaker side of himself.

"No wonder." He said absently.

"Huh? No wonder what?" Seifer patted his pockets as though he'd forgotten something, his expression very faintly confused.

"No wonder it's about as flexible as Adamantine." Pale fingers prodded the duvet thoughtfully, as he arched one delicate eyebrow at his old lover. No matter how much he complained, he liked the fact it smelt of Seifer, he found it comforting. Even if he was attempting to deny himself the contentment that came with that comfort.

Seifer attempted to look insulted and failed miserably. "Hey, that hurt."

"You are many things Seifer..." His voice trailed off as Seifer produced something from his pocket. Squall watched carefully as Seifer leant over the bed, over him, and offered him a cigarette. He was close enough for Squall to smell him, to feel his hot breath.

"Look what I found."

"I'm not going to finish what I was about to say because you won't give me that." Squall lifted his hand to Seifer's sliding along it gently until his trembling fingers found what he was looking for. He plucked the object of his attentions from Seifer's fingers gently.

A grin graced Seifer's full lips. "Need a light?"

"Please."

"Its gonna cost ya." Seifer held up a book of matches that had the name of the bar he worked at emblazoned on the front. With his thumb and forefinger, he plucked a match from the pack, the dry crack that accompanied the action almost deafening in the silence between them.

"I don't have my wallet on me." He responded dryly. "What do you want?" Seifer did not reply to his former lover, closing his eyes and pursing his lips expectantly. Squall looked at him in surprise for a moment, then rolled his eyes and pressed the softest of kisses to Seifer's waiting lips. Though it was only a brief gesture, his heart ached at the small, insignificant intimacy. He missed it so badly, and yet he didn't deserve such comfort. He was dirty, used and useless. Seifer needed better. "Sometimes I wonder about your grip on reality."

Jade green eyes focused on the prone figure, faintly amused. They were so close, almost touching. "I definitely got the better end of that deal."

"Whatever."

Seifer had known that was coming. You didn't have to be Hyne to see that word waiting to escape the quiet little brunette, hell you didn't even have to see. He ruffled Squall's hair and laughed, crossing to the closet as soon as he'd tossed the book of matches onto Squall's lap. "I gotta go out for a bit today, Squallyboy."

Turning the book of matches over and over in his fingers nervously, Squall sipped at his juice slowly. "Where?" He strived to sound nonchalant, succeeding briefly, until Seifer met his gaze.

"Meh, need to pick up food and stuff. Need to stop by work. I won't be gone long." Squall's relief at the assurance that Seifer wouldn't be away long was almost tangible. Sighing softly, he watched the blonde stripping discretely, choosing to dress in black warm up pants and a long sleeved tee-shirt in the deepest of sapphire shades. He looked good in blue. Always had, and he knew it. "I'll put the T.V. on while I'm gone."

"Thanks."

Cocking his head at the prone brunette, Seifer half smiled. "You'll be alright, yeah?"

"Do I have a choice?" Squall asked honestly, his eyes gliding over Seifer's body, taking in all the familiar details. He looked so good, but the thought remained unspoken. Seifer's ego was big enough as it was without him adding to it.

Folding strong arms across his chest, Seifer stared at Squall for a long time. "Yeah. You can tell me you want me to stay."

The storm grey eyes turned away from him slowly, teeth worrying at a pale lip. He tapped the cigarette between his fingers slowly, turning it from end to end in a never ending loop. No matter how much he wanted Seifer to stay, no matter how much he didn't want to be alone anymore, he couldn't voice those wants and needs, it wasn't fair to either of them. Seifer would be hurt, he would be hurt. "I'll be alright."

Seifer perched on the side of the bed to pull on a pair of shoes, glancing up at the pale brunette as he tugged the leather onto his feet angrily. "Is there anything you want?"

"Ashtray. Please."

"And that's all?" Seifer eyed him in a disbelieving manner.

"I don't think you'd like what else I want right now." Squall gave him a faint, humourless smile, one Seifer did not return.

"You're probably right."

Scratching nervously at the scars on the inside of his left wrist, his voice barely a whisper, Squall looked up and met Seifer's gaze determinedly. "The sooner you go, the sooner you can get back."

Seifer wanted to touch him so badly, wanted to offer some kind of comfort and reassurance but he wasn't sure how. No matter what he said, he knew it was going to come out wrong, that he was sure of. He was angry with the fragile little bastard. "You'll have dinner ready, right?"

Squall rolled his eyes. "Love to, if I could stand."

Seifer laughed aloud, both of them aware that he was stalling. "I really don't want to leave you alone... Swear that you'll stay in bed."

"Almasy..." Squall levelled a halfhearted glare on Seifer that softened at the sight of his expression. Somehow the tall blonde managed to look too cute to scold, a hopeful look in his eyes, his lips taking on a faint pout. With a heavy sigh, Squall admitted defeat. He was too tired and sore to argue any more than that. "Swear on my belts." He muttered. "Now go already."

Leaning over the bed until the tip of his nose brushed Squall's, Seifer gazed into the clouded blue-grey of his former lover's eyes. "Always bossing me around. At least some things never change."

No. Some things never changed, like how he hated being alone. Like how much he wanted to curl up with Seifer and forget the world existed. Like how much he hurt inside and how badly he wanted Seifer. He lifted his trembling hand to touch Seifer's cheek, tracing shaky fingers over the soft, lightly tanned flesh and cupping it carefully. "Whatever."

As he turned to kiss Squall's palm out of habit, Seifer realised that his feelings for Squall had never really changed. Now the fragile little lion was here and needed him, his love was only getting stronger. But he had changed. Squall had changed. Neither one of them were the unsure, but fully willing students sneaking around that they had once been.

He stood up too quickly, leaving Squall's hand in mid air and backed up towards the door. "...I'll hurry."

Then, with a slam of a door somewhere in the apartment, he was gone.

Squall sat in silence for a while, staring at the book of matches in his hand, rubbing his thumb over the laminated cover. Alone, in a strange apartment and feeling like death warmed over, he couldn't hold back the feelings that overwhelmed him.

Tears pricked at his eyes and he scrubbed at them like he had so many times when he'd been younger. Driving the doubt and the hurt back down for just a little while longer, locking it away with trembling walls. He was tired, and the demons in his blood calling for Nicotine and Rapture made him feel weak and worthless.

He lifted the cigarette to his lips, fingers discovering the match that Seifer had pulled from the pack and silenced at least one of the cravings for a while.

Seifer was gone for nearly an hour, definitely no more. From where he lay in bed with his eyes closed, Squall could just hear the door open and close, the rustle and clatter of the unpacking of bags.

Scratching at the scars on his arms nervously, Squall steeled himself in preparation for Seifer's reappearance. He had to be ready, he had to block out his feelings or he wasn't going to make it through this.

From the doorway, he heard Seifer's voice call softly "You awake?"

"Yeah." Squall swallowed thickly. Wishing he hadn't drunk all the juice already, he cracked one eye open to look at the handsome blonde.

"I was afraid the excitement had killed you." Seifer crossed to kneel beside the bed on his side, folding his arms on the mattress. The brunette opened both eyes to give Seifer a glare. Even though he knew it was probably what the blonde wanted and he shouldn't have allowed himself to be goaded into that, he couldn't help it.

The grin that curled Seifer's lips confirmed Squall's suspicions. He had wanted to see the old glare. "I know that look. That look means you missed me."

Squall rolled his eyes out of habit. "Did you get everything you needed to?"

"Yeah." Seifer stood and stretched out beside Squall on the bed, leaning his head on one hand so he could still watch the brunette. "Picked up some clothes for you too. For after your sponge bath."

"...Sponge bath?"

Seifer shrugged and crossed his ankles, rolling onto his back and folding his hands under his head. "C'mon, don't be a pain in the ass about this. There's no way you can stand up in the tub."

No matter how much he could still smell Priest and Brent on his body, their scent mingling with blood and sweat and sickening him whenever he breathed too deeply, he would not tolerate a sponge bath. The very thought was humiliating. No matter how dangerous it was, there was one option that he could think of that would save him the embarrassment of a sponge bath. "Yes I can. You can help me."

Blinking over at Squall, Seifer struggled for words for a moment. Getting naked was not part of the master plan. Being naked and wet with a wet and naked Squall could only be trouble. Sexy trouble but trouble none the less. "Uh... You sure about that?"

"Scared I'll jump you Almasy?" Squall arched an eyebrow. It was hardly likely, and hardly unappealing.

"What? Of course not." The faintest of flushes bled into Seifer's cheeks.

The blush startled Squall. He couldn't remember seeing Seifer Almasy embarrassed, it was shocking... it was endearing. "Hyne's balls..." He muttered, blinking at his former lover.

"What? What does that mean?"

"You're blushing..." Squall sounded more shocked than Seifer had ever heard. He'd never heard Squall sound so honestly emotional.

The thought of loosing his dignity before his old rival intensified Seifer's embarrassment, and he rolled over away from Squall with one last denial. "I am not!"

"Seifer... come here."

Glancing back over his shoulder, his cheeks aflame with his mortification, Seifer glowered at his former lover. "I'm right here."

In all their years as lovers, friends, or rivals, Squall had never thought of Seifer as 'cute'. Until, that is, the moment he looked over his shoulder, all huffy and pouting and blushing like a schoolgirl. The vision crept behind his defences and worked at making them crack a little, the honesty of his embarrassment melting Squall's heart. Just a little.

"Please, don't make me roll over. Or haul you over." Squall threatened to roll onto his side, starting to twist his body gently. "Come here, properly."

Seifer flopped over onto his other side, so he could see Squall better. "There." He scowled.

With his good arm at an awkward angle, Squall tugged on Seifer's tee shirt to draw him closer. Seifer edged closer, inch-by-inch until he was almost touching the brunette again. He felt confused and annoyed by Squall's actions, hiding most of his feelings behind an odd expression.

"Better?"

The last thing he expected was for Squall to turn his head and kiss him.

It took a few minutes for Seifer to find his voice, and even when he could speak again; it was only in a hushed tone. "Squall..."

"Thanks." Squall murmured, taking his own turn to blush, a perfect rose colour rising on the pale skin of his cheeks. "For taking care of me."

Entwining his fingers with Squall's, Seifer looked down at their joined hands. Squall's fingers were so long and slender he almost doubted for a moment that the slight brunette had ever even picked up a gunblade. They were artists fingers, made for creation and not destruction, the strength contained within them too hard to see with translucent skin and unerring trembling. "It's not like I had a choice." He lifted his gaze to Squall's face again, his eyes and reactions carefully guarded. "I can't love anybody but you, Squall."

The look in those storm blue eyes was heartbreakingly sad for a moment, Squall unable to hide that completely. "It's so hard to know what to say. After the war... after Edea..."

"I know. I shouldn't have told you that it wasn't fair." Seifer cuddled closer to the slight brunette, simply seeking his warmth, nothing more.

"That you didn't have a choice?"

Seifer shook his head. "No. That I still love you. That I never stopped."

"Seifer, I lied to you yesterday... When I said I loved you." His voice was so soft it was barely audible. Seifer closed his eyes, preparing himself for the inevitable. He could handle whatever it was. He could deal, he had before, he would survive again. When he opened them again to watch Squall, he found the brunette had closed his eyes too, his eyelashes trembling against his skin. "....I shouldn't have spoken in past tense."

Propping himself up again, Seifer brushed the ragged, too dark bangs aside, tracing his fingers lightly over the stark curve of his cheek bone. Somehow, the fragility only made Seifer love him more. Only made him want to protect his lover in ways he'd never been able to before. "Since the last time I saw you, I promised myself that if I ever got the chance, I'd show you how much you meant to me. I'm not letting you get away from me again."

Just why that sent a shiver of need through him, Squall could not say. Seifer's words shook his tentative control over the tumultuous mass of his emotions and forced him to accept what he felt, wanted, needed... "You're an idiot. Did I ever tell you that?"

He managed a small smile, despite the uncertainty in his heart. "Yeah, once or twice."

"You really want a drinking, smoking drug-addicted whore?"

"Hey." Seifer punched him playfully on the arm. "You're talking about my lover, pal. Watch it."

Squall rolled his eyes and slid his arm around Seifer's neck loosely. "Seif'. You're an idiot." He knew, deep down in the darkest, most repulsive corners of his soul that as soon as Seifer learned the truth, learned about the men, the drugs, the booze, that would change. Though, he allowed himself to pretend, even for a little while. So long as he remembered it would be over soon, he'd be fine.

The affectionate shortening of his name was heartening to Seifer. He hadn't heard it from Squall's lips in so long that he couldn't remember the last time it had been spoken. Nuzzling into the curve of Squall's neck, he smiled. "I'll get you through this, Squall. You're gonna let me help you this time."

Seifer's hair was so soft, and fell like spun gold through Squall's pale, trembling fingers. He couldn't resist rubbing his cheek against the soft mane, closing his eyes and whispering "okay."

Where before the silence had been his friend, now it simply allowed him too much time to think. And in the silence, the doubt and fear and pain crept up on him before he noticed and forced tears down his cheeks.

Seifer noticed them before he himself did, pressing the softest of kisses to his lips, and holding him carefully. The response was everything he needed, the gentle reassurance in Seifer's voice, and the comfort of the blonde's nearness, of his warmth.

"It's okay, Squall. It's okay, now."

And, if only for a while, Squall allowed himself to believe that.

"Help me shower."

Squall's soft voice startled Seifer, awakening him. It had been an hour, perhaps even two since the brunette had last spoken, his tears having faded quickly as he'd restrained his emotions again. It took him a moment to get his bearings, lifting his head to gaze into his lover's eyes. "Are you sure about this? I mean... your back is..."

"I can still... I can still smell them." Squall murmured, glancing away from Seifer briefly in shame.

With a tight nod, the blonde reined his temper in successfully. He wouldn't allow himself to be jealous or angry yet, not when Squall still looked like a beautiful ghost. "I'll hold you if I have to. I want you to really put your weight on me, though, got it?"

Squall shifted uncomfortably, his desire to be clean outweighing his annoyance at his temporary weakness. He nodded to accept Seifer's conditions. "I will. Just don't let go."

Gently, carefully, he climbed over Squall and off the bed, kissing the pale forehead gently as he passed. "No chance of that."

"You're going to ask..." Squall murmured softly. He was already dreading that, explaining every little burn, cut, bruise, every mark that Priest and Brent and their friends had left on his body. When he did, this would be over, Seifer wouldn't want him no matter what he said. He slid his hand over the heat of Seifer's arm, memorising the feel of his skin for when their time together was over, for when he would have to find solace in his own company, the bottom of a bottle and a hypodermic needle. There were no GF's to take it away this time.

"Ask?" Seifer was worryingly expressionless as he looked at Squall. Shaking his head, the brunette started to swing his legs over the side of the bed but was halted when his lover spoke again. "Stop. You're doing it already."

"Fine." Squall held up his good hand in surrender. "What are you going to do, carry me?"

Stripping back the blankets, Seifer smiled sweetly at the prone figure. "Yep." With an arm below Squall's knees and one behind his shoulders, Seifer lifted his lover slowly, careful to balance the weight. He thought Squall probably weighed about the same as his average pile of laundry, almost enough to make him yell at the slight brunette. "Gonna fatten you up some, too."

"Whatever."

"I do like toting you around, though. I could get used to this."

He sat on the edge of the tub with Squall in his lap as he started the water and set it to the right temperature. That done, he peeled the brace and bandage back from the pale skin gently, tossing them to the floor to be retrieved and replaced later.

The broken shoulder was a livid purple bruise by now, Seifer was so caught up in sympathising with and yet cursing the slender figure that he almost missed the soft murmur. "I sort of... like it."

For half a second, Seifer looked surprised, but managed to hide his shock with a faintly arrogant expression quickly. "Doesn't mean you won't bitch about it though, right?"

"You know me so well." A tiny smile brightened the brunette's features for and he rested his head against Seifer's shoulder. Seifer still wore the same aftershave, a spicy, hot scent that bought memories flooding back in ways that even a GF wouldn't have been able to prevent. Sneaking kisses in the training centre. Fucking in the showers. Sucking Seifer's cock in the library while no one was watching.

"It's not too hot. I'm going to set you down in the tub while I get undressed, okay?" Seifer didn't want to put Squall down. He didn't want to let go of the sweet, and perhaps more importantly, naked Squall any time soon.

Squall nodded. "Okay."

The taller man pulled aside the shower curtain and carefully sat Squall under the spray. "Don't move." He said threateningly. He wasn't entirely sure what he would do if Squall did move, but he hoped he wouldn't have to work that out.

The water turned a murky grey for a moment as the worst of the dye washed out from his hair. Squall hated his hair, how horribly fine it was, how no matter what he did to it, it always reverted back to the same messy state. Even dyes didn't last long unless they were permanent. He glanced up through heavy, wet, dark bangs as Seifer, mow naked and even more beautiful than he'd ever been pulled back the shower curtain and stepped into the tub behind him.

He was stupidly glad that the colour was only temporary as he knelt behind Squall. "Okay, baby, gonna pick you up again so don't try to turn around."

Squall nodded a slow, deliberate nod, purposefully designed not to jar his back or shoulder. "Should have warned you, I'm going to fuck your towels up."

Choking back a laugh, Seifer brushed his fingers through the heavy wet strands of dyed hair. It was typical of Squall to worry about something like that, but his towels weren't exactly the type to be found at the Deling Ritz. "I got plenty of black towels, no sweat."

Squall lifted his head to toss his hair, now a very dark, rich brown colour, out of his eyes.

"Hm... Let me wash your hair first. This doesn't hurt, does it?" The blonde brushed his fingertips lightly over the back of Squall's neck, resisting the urge to lap at a droplet of water that hung temptingly on the soft flesh of one earlobe.

"My shoulder aches. My back doesn't feel too bad at the moment."

"Lets do this quick then." Seifer grabbed the shampoo bottle, squeezing some onto his palm and rubbing it into the still too dark mane of hair. "Keep your eyes closed."

The suds smelt of almonds. Squall closed his eyes and breathed in the scent, allowing it to override the now dissipating smell of Brent and Priest's bodies on his. He felt... Relieved. Comforted by the gentleness of Seifer's fingers. "Okay."

Though he knew the brunette was only doing this because of his injuries, preventing him from carrying out the mundane little tasks, he allowed himself to enjoy the closeness. The silly need to be needed rearing it's head again as he rinsed the suds from the brown locks reminded him just how much he'd missed the brunette. There were more burns and scars over Squall's back that he tried not to notice as bubbles clung to rumpled skin and scarred tissue. "You gonna tell me eventually?" He asked softly when the urge to speak grew too much for him.

"Maybe."

And then it was silence between them again, as the request had been acknowledged and would be dealt with in due time, whenever Squall was ready. He passed the time by rubbing conditioner into the wet hair, kissing the pale shoulder, touching Squall in ways he hadn't been able to for so long.

"I need to finish this mission." Squall sighed.

"I know."

"Give me a few days to get my strength back... then will you help me get to a safe house?"

Climbing to his feet, and lifting Squall with him carefully, Seifer smiled humourlessly. Cradling the trembling, fragile body against his own, he wrapped an arm around Squall's waist, his palm splayed on the cool skin of Squall's lower belly as he forced himself to regain his composure. "I wish you didn't feel like you had to ask me." Had the brunette always been so small? Seifer doubted it but in his fragility, his time of need, Squall seemed like a doll in his grip.

"It would be rude not to." Squall half turned his head to look at Seifer out of the corner of his eye.

"I hate that you worry about being rude to me." Seifer rested his cheek against the back of his lover's neck gently, avoiding the storm grey gaze.

Squall rolled his eyes and sighed. "I didn't think you do it if I told you." He admitted quietly. The old Seifer had been a stubborn bastard at the best of times and he'd not seen anything to disprove that yet, even if this Seifer was a kinder, gentler model.

"Well... You're probably right. But that's not what I'm getting at. I'm going to help you finish whatever you need to finish."

Squall lifted his good arm carefully, pushing the heavy mass of his hair back out of his eyes. Able to see Seifer properly now, he felt reassured. Even if he knew it was Seifer, there was still a niggling doubt; a voice in his mind that reminded him Brent had liked to sneak up on him like that in the shower. "And? What then?"

Seifer kissed the pale curve of the smaller man's neck and nuzzled against his cheek. "Then I want to focus on you and me."

"I'm still stationed at Balamb."

Falling silent, the blonde decided that was something best ignored. He didn't want to discuss or consider it yet. "We have other things to think about right now."

Squall was good at denial. He could easily forget that he would soon be an ocean away from Seifer, especially since he believed that his lover would no longer want him as soon as he heard the full story of the scars. "Such as?"

"Your goddamned mission." Seifer offered him the body wash, a light blue bottle that smelt vaguely sweet, but not too feminine. "Here, hold this."

"Oh." Squall slid his fingers around the neck of the bottle and willed them to keep hold of it. "Alright."

Seifer held out a white body scrunchie, the kind of thing Rinoa had once filled his bathroom with. She'd had one of every colour at one time or another, and most of them in one go. "Put some of that stuff on this." He eyed Seifer, with the faintest of smiles in his eyes, and Seifer gave him the look for his troubles. "Not a word Leonhart."

"Am I allowed a snicker?"

"Hurry up and get it over with." Squall just smiled, squeezing some of the scented gel onto the item Seifer was holding. Though he couldn't see it, behind him Seifer smiled to himself.

He treated Squall as though he were made of glass as he began to wash him, avoiding the livid bruise of the broken shoulder and the worst of the wounds. To his credit, Squall did not even murmur in pain once, though how much of that was down to the quiet brunette's stubbornness and how much was down to his gentleness, Seifer was unsure.

"I swear I wasn't planning this when I picked you up the other day." Seifer whispered into his ear. It felt so surreal to hold the fragile brunette again, so be able to feel the heat of his skin.

"Your good deed for the day?" The thought of Seifer the Boy Scout was amusing.

"Yeah, something like that. I didn't know who you were."

Squall looked surprised briefly, looking at Seifer again, frowning faintly. "Have I changed that much?" He paused, looking pointedly at a strand of the dark hair that had fallen in front of his eyes. "...Stupid question."

"Well, that's part of it." Holding Squall gently as he washed lower, Seifer was very careful to keep his touching as non sexual as possible. "Mostly, though, running into you was just about the last thing I thought I'd do that night."

As the foaming scrunchie ghosted over his hips, Squall closed his eyes. He was thankful that the washing, while very thorough and tender, didn't get him hard. Not only was he incapable of being too active at the moment, he didn't want Seifer to touch him until he'd taken a remedy to remove any lingering effects of his mission from his body. Although he'd been as careful as possible, he wasn't absolutely sure that he was clean. "I didn't expect to be beaten up and saved by you."

The blonde kissed his lover's hair, pausing before he finally spoke again. "I wanted to kill them. I almost did."

Squall shifted a little to change the angle of pressure on his back. "You're welcome to."

"It's still my intention." He purposefully changed the subject as he eased Squall back under the main body of the spray, he didn't want to think about them, or what they'd done. He saw the pain in the marks on Squall's pale skin and he longed for his revenge, but wanted to cast them from his mind. "Okay, I'm going to turn you a little bit - rinse you off. Close your eyes again."

He did as he was asked without protest. "Back's starting to hurt."

"I know, almost done."

"Did I ever tell you that I loved you back then?"

Hooking the scrunchie back up, Seifer shifted his lover and his grip so he could turn the water off easily. He paused at Squall's voice, resting his head on the pale shoulder and brushing his lips over the tender flesh of Squall's throat. "No. But I didn't tell you either."

"Seifer."

He rubbed gentle fingertips on Squall's hip, a comforting gesture on one of the few unaffected parts of Squall's body. "Yeah?"

Squall turned his head to the blonde again. "Kiss me."

He did not need to be asked twice. He'd been holding himself back now for almost fifteen minutes and when the opportunity arose, he was very willing to take full advantage of it. He pressed his lips to squall's pale mouth and closed his eyes, kissing him reverently. "I can tell you now though." He breathed, his lips still close enough to Squalls for them to brush together.

"I think...." Squall began nervously and paused. When he spoke again, though his voice was faint, he sounded surer. "I wanted to."

They kissed again, still tender and gentle but not entirely shy. They knew each other too well for shyness now. Seifer rocked squall gently, just ever so slightly, keeping his arms comfortably snug around his lover. "I've loved you since I was nine years old Squall. I don't know how to love anybody else."

"You used to hold me like this a long time ago." The brunette's voice was dreamy, reminiscing about a time so long before he almost believed it a fantasy sometimes.

"You never used to fight me on it. I want that back."

"Alright." Squall said, but the smile that accompanied the word was just faintly sad.

"I love you. You're not going to run me off this time."

Squall made a soft 'yeah, right' noise and squeezed one of Seifer's hands with his good one. "I love you. Now will you take me back to bed? I feel dizzy."

Turning off the water first, Seifer reached for one of the towels. "You need some warm clothes and some painkillers."

He was stupidly relieved that the towels were black. He didn't want to leave a mess for Seifer to clean up anymore than necessary.

Seifer scrubbed at Squall's hair first, pleased at the new dark chocolate tone of it. It wasn't the coffee and whiskey swirl of colour that it once had been, but it was much better than the black. Squall looked better for the colour, and all the better for the shower. Patting Squall dry gingerly, he wrapped him in the towel and carried him to the bedroom before returning to the bathroom to wrap a towel around his own waist and collect the trappings of Galbadia general. When Squall was snugly fitted back into his back brace, he let the brunette sit against the nest of pillows. "I picked up some things for you to wear. I'll go grab some drugs for you too."

"I almost dread to ask."

Seifer disappeared off into the unknown depths of the apartment, and Squall folded his aching arm carefully against his body.

He returned with a plastic bag, fresh bandages and a cup. Handing Squall the medication, he dug a pair of grey flannel pyjamas out of the bag, looking a little bashful as he took the tags off them. "I just thought these would keep you warm."

He was genuinely surprised at how sweet Seifer could be. The blush, the consideration, it was a world away from the Seifer he remembered. But, he supposed, they were both older now, and maybe a little wiser. Certainly a lot more comfortable in each other's company but how long that would last when he was healed and a capable opponent again he wasn't exactly sure. "Thank you. You didn't have to buy me anything; I could have borrowed something until I got my clothes back."

"I know... you got cold last night, though."

"I did?" He frowned. He couldn't remember much at all, the sleep too deep even for dreams.

Seifer took his time over bandaging Squall's shoulder, ensuring it was immobile but not painfully tight. Smiling faintly at the brunette as he helped him into the soft top and then sling, Seifer nodded a little. "Yeah." Between them, they managed to get Squall dressed.

The brunette managed not to squirm too much when Seifer rolled a thick pair of socks onto his feet. Wrapped in the warm cocoon of his new clothes, cradled by the scent of almonds and Seifer and of being clean again, Squall didn't even offer to pull away when a comb was dragged through his drying locks. "Oh. Okay."

Soon, he was snuggled into the sheets again, relaxing back into the warmth and comfort.

"Hyne, you're a handful Leonhart." Seifer grinned at him. "Soon as you can get around, you got dish duty."

"I'd offer you other forms of payment, but I'm too tired even for that."

Seifer laughed at the adorable little pout that surfaced on Squall's features as he spoke. Whether he was annoyed by the lack of energy, or the lack of other "Payment" options, he wasn't sure but either way; the pout was so unlike him and so honest an expression that he just couldn't help laughing. At least some things made it through the ice these days. He switched off the overhead light, brushing the still damp strands from Squall's forehead and smiled. "I don't want that kind of payment."

Angry with himself for being so weak, tiring fast because of the painkillers that were even now easing the throbbing in his shoulder, Squall frowned. He wanted to stay awake, to enjoy the company and comfort Seifer offered while he still had the chance. "Are you going to try and make me eat again later?"

"Yeah, later. You need to rest for a while, though." He cupped the pale cheek; trying to be comforting and finding himself smiling as Squall turned his head to kiss Seifer's fingers. "Want me to stay? I'll read to you."

"I won't be able to sleep if you read to me."

"I'll sit with you a while."

"Wake me up in a couple of hours?" The brunette requested hopefully. "Or when you're asleep I'll be awake." 'And thinking of how good you feel against me, and how much I want you... and how much it's going to hurt when I say goodbye.' He added silently.

"Yeah." Seifer fussed over him like a mother hen one last time before perching in the chair beside the bed. "Yeah. By the time you wake up, you should be ready for a snack or something."

Unable to hold back his observations any longer, Squall murmured, "You've changed. A lot."

He could have sworn that was a wink as Seifer lifted his legs onto the bed, crossing them at the ankles.

"Glad you noticed."

"...Caring..." Was the only word Squall managed to give voice to as he drifted off into the dark, uncomfortable silence of sleep.

Seifer simply watched him. How long he couldn't say for sure, but as he watched, still unable to believe that he had been given one more chance to set things right he was thankful that things had turned out the way they had. Seeing how much his lover needed him, had always needed him, and filled him with a sense of contentment. Even if it had taken a broken shoulder and bad back to bring them back together, he almost thought it was worth it.

Who was he kidding? It was worth it.

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