Chapter Two: Bedside Manner
"--supposed to be a safe, monster-free beach! And yet, is it? Oh, unless you think it was the Chocobo that attacked him?"
"No, I didn't think so. Now I want you to take ten teams and scour that beach from end to end, killing everything that looks at you cross-eyed. Stay out there until there's nothing left moving that doesn't have your explicit permission to be doing it! Is that understood?"
"Well what are you waiting for? You think the monster's are just going to waltz up to Balamb and knock on the door? Think they're going to pay you a visit and say 'Oh please, Mr. Moronic Asshole, please come kill us!'? Now go!"
Squall kept his eyes closed throughout the entire exchange but could not help smiling at the anger in Seifer's voice. Seifer reacted to strong emotions with anger and violence. Love, fear, grief--he hid it all with hostility. Seifer's voice as he barked commands was shrill and higher than normal. He was afraid.
"Seifer," Squall said, wincing when his voice cracked a little. His throat was very dry. He opened his eyes to see Seifer rushing to his side. He thought that Seifer was going to touch him and he jerked back, thinking of how much pain he had been in when he lost consciousness.
Seifer's eyes narrowed, hurt. "Don't worry, we're alone."
Squall shook his head a little, realizing that Seifer had misinterpreted. "No, I didn't mean--"
Seifer cut him off with a wave of the hand. "Doesn't matter. How do you feel?"
Squall smirked and glanced down at his heavily bandaged body. He noticed a faint green aura hovering around his skin; healing spells still at work.
"Like a pincushion," he said wryly.
"Well, that's what you get for offering yourself up to every stray monster that happens along. I tell ya, Leonhart, you're too giving."
"Gods, shut up, Almasy," Squall groaned and closed his eyes, feeling too weak for Seifer's humor. The blond, seeming to sense that, fell quiet. Squall felt warmth on his chest and opened his eyes. Seifer was tracing a bandage on Squall's left breast, his expression intense.
"This one nicked your heart," Seifer said seriously.
Squall swallowed hard.
"I told that fool Caret to get his sorry ass out on that beach and to bring a couple hundred soldiers with him--"
"You know," Squall interrupted with a small smile, "he outranks you. You should be taking orders from him."
Seifer scowled and hooked a chair with his ankle, then pulled it beside Squall's infirmary bed. He sat. "Well, if someone taught him how to get his head out of his ass and give an order once in a while, maybe I would."
"Maybe?" Squall asked.
"I'd consider it."
"Ah, Seifer," Squall said with a laugh. "Everyone's ideal soldier."
Seifer laughed, too, but his smile flattened quickly. "Squall, what happened out there? What got you?"
Squall looked away, ashamed. "It was a monster."
Seifer lifted an eyebrow and spoke sarcastically. "Well, we know a monster, sweets, but what kind?"
Squall was silent, thinking of its hundred arms, its hundred claws, its tentacle wrapped tight around his throat. He said nothing.
"Well, what kind was it?"
Squall shrugged, ignoring the pain in his chest and arms. "I don't know. It's one I've never seen before."
Seifer's frown deepened. "Well, Quistis'll have Dr. Zhabedy pull up files on rare monsters and run them by you, see if you recognize any of them. Maybe one of the teams out there now will find one, maybe even kill it and bring one back--" He kept on talking, his knuckles cracking as he worked his fists.
"Seifer--" Squall cut him off.
"Dammit, Squall," Seifer cried, glaring into Squall's wide grey eyes. "You almost got yourself killed."
Squall swallowed and frowned. "But I didn't."
Seifer exhaled, his breath sweeping a lock of hair out of his eye. "But you didn't. That's great, Leonhart. I'll get them to put it on your tombstone."
Squall chuckled, not paying any attention to the pain. It was already better, and he could feel it fading. There was a powerful healing spell at work on him. Balamb Garden's new medical doctor, Dr. Grayne, was a magic healer. Their old medical staff had been entirely loyal to NORG, which was why they never alerted anyone to the dangers of using Guardian Forces. Dr. Kadowaki was the only doctor they had left from the pre-Ultimecia incident. Squall and Quistis had had to scramble to restaff the infirmary ward of the Garden when they took control of the academy.
Seifer was tracing the bandages on Squall's chest again, his forefinger following a maze of flesh around the cotton and tape. Squall gritted his teeth and reached up to catch Seifer's hand. He pulled it gently to his face, resting Seifer's gloved palm against his cheek. Seifer took his hand back long enough to pull off his glove before holding Squall's face again.
"Don't you fucking scare me like that again, damn you Leonhart," Seifer hissed, leaning close to Squall's face. He rested his forehead against Squall's, their noses bumping. Squall could feel his warm, tired sigh. Squall lifted his right hand and brushed the tips of his fingers against Seifer's jaw. He ran his fingers back through the golden swaths of hair that caught the light and gave his lover a halo.
"Damn," Seifer muttered and pressed his lips against Squall's.
Squall sighed into Seifer's mouth, feeling the last of the pain fade away as his every sense focused on their lips moving against one another. Seifer's hands seemed to be everywhere and his skin burned where it was touched. Squall arched his back, pressing his body up against Seifer as he leaned closer, almost lying in the bed beside Squall. The blond's long, gray customary trench coat tented to cover their bodies, blanketing the movement of their hands beneath the fabric. Squall let out a soft moan from the back of his throat and Seifer growled in return.
Suddenly footsteps down the hall jarred them both out of heat and plunged them into icy panic. Seifer grunted and threw himself away from Squall, pushing aside the chair and running quickly to the opposite corner of the room. Squall shoved his hair away from his face and wiped his mouth nervously before turning to face the door.
Dr. Grayne bustled in, muttering to himself and flipping through papers in a file folder. Quistis came hesitantly in behind him, and following her...was Rinoa.
"Squall," she mouthed, her eyes large and full. She walked over to his bedside and knelt on the floor beside him. He pinched his lips against a sigh and pretended that he couldn't feel Seifer's gaze on them from the other side of the room.
"Squall," she whispered, finding her voice as she softly stroked his face. "Oh, Gods, when I heard--when Seifer called me--"
Squall glanced sharply at Seifer before looking back at Rinoa. "Don't worry, I'm fine."
She laughed softly and poked him--though gently--in the center of his chest where there was a long bandage wrapped around his middle.
"Yes, well, about those," Dr. Grayne said, stepping forward. "I'd say that, yes, indeed, the Curagas we used have had time to work. So, well, yes, the bandages should be, I'd say, no longer necessary. Indeed, they can be removed at any time."
Squall sighed in relief and immediately started peeling the bandages off. He picked off the tape, ignoring the pain when he ripped it off his skin. In a few short minutes he had taken off all the bandages and fell back against his pillow again.
"Squall," Quistis said in a light voice, "you have no modesty, do you?"
Squall raised his eyebrows at her, then realized that he was wearing only a thin pair of long cotton pants provided by the infirmary. He remembered with chagrin that the jeans he had been wearing that morning had been destroyed by the monster's claws.
"Not really," Squall muttered and sat up, piling pillows behind him. Rinoa reached back to help and he leaned back against them.
"How do you feel?" Quistis asked, her expression intent.
"Fine, good," Squall said shortly. He jumped as he felt something touch his hand and looked down to see Rinoa taking his hand in hers. He squeezed her hand and smiled up at her, and she reached out to touch him on the cheek, once.
"Good," Quistis said, her eyes narrowing and her manner shifting as she switched gears. "Then tell us what got you, Squall."
He frowned and shrugged.
"He doesn't know what it was."
They all turned to Seifer, who had been making himself unobtrusive in the shadowed corner of the room. He leaned back on the wall, one foot flat against it, arms crossed and head tilted.
"Oh. Seifer, I didn't see you there--" Rinoa said, getting up. She went over to him and Squall could see Seifer tense. Rinoa hesitated, then put her arms around his waist and hugged him. "Thank you, Seifer. Thank you."
Seifer sighed and put his arms around her, lightly. "You're welcome, Rinoa," he said, and only Squall could hear the resignation in his voice.
Rinoa pulled back, rubbing her forehead and walked over to Squall's bedside again.
"Seifer found you, Squall," she said, pulling over the chair that Seifer had been using before and sitting.
Squall raised his eyebrows and looked over at Seifer, who was avoiding his gaze.
"I needed you for--something--to talk with, um, the Weapons Master, and, you weren't in your office and your secretary said you'd gone riding and I called you but you didn't answer," he rattled off. Squall watched with morbid fascination as Seifer stumbled through a lie he told to cover the fact that he had gone looking for Squall because he had known they could be alone.
"Anyway, I really needed to talk to you, so, I went out after you." He shrugged uncomfortably and scowled at Squall. "I found you."
"Encased in Shiva's ice and full of holes, yes," Dr. Grayne said, one eyebrow cocked disapprovingly. Squall thought that was distinctly unfair as he had not asked that monster to rip him apart.
"Thank you," Rinoa said again, earnestly.
"Yeah, thanks," Squall said quietly in a monotone.
Seifer merely shrugged in acknowledgment and stared at the floor hard enough to drill a hole.
"Squall, what does Seifer mean, you don't know what it was?" Quistis asked, her cool tone cutting in: the voice of reason.
Squall shrugged and swung his feet to the ground, letting go of Rinoa's hand and standing. On a table on the other side of his bed was a shirt that matched his pants. He pulled it on, not bothering to button it, and walked, barefoot, towards the door.
"Squall?" Quistis prompted, clearly annoyed.
He paused and looked back as Rinoa came to his side. "He means, I don't know what it was." He did not wait for her reply before walking out of the infirmary.
"Squall! Dammit!" Quistis shouted after him.
"Squall," Rinoa said, jogging to catch up to him as he strode away from the hospital wing of the Garden. Squall stopped to let her reach his side and took her hand.
"Squall, maybe you should have waited for Dr. Grayne or Dr. Kadowaki to check you out before you left," she said, though there was a hint of steel in her voice that it was more than just a polite suggestion.
"I'm fine. Grayne said that the Curagas had worked, didn't he? I feel fine. If Dr. Kadowaki had her way I would be lying around the infirmary until tomorrow morning, and I refuse to be laid up like that. Besides, what would it do for school morale if the Headmaster was in the hospital instead of running the Garden?"
"Flimsy excuse, Leonhart," Rinoa muttered, but seemed content to let it go. By then they had reached the main Hall. The corridors were bustling with students and SeeDs, racing to get to classes, hurrying down the stairs towards the Dorms, walking together in groups to go to the Cafeteria. Squall was drawing a lot of attention.
"Hey, Headmaster Leonhart!" called a male voice. Another student whistled.
"Looking good, Headmaster!" yelled a female voice and a group of people clapped approvingly.
Squall rolled his eyes and waved while Rinoa giggled.
"Aw," she said, squeezing his hand. "Your students love you."
Squall merely sighed and headed across the Hall towards an elevator leading down to the basement. After Quistis and he had taken over they had cleaned out any remnants of NORG and his followers, fixed up and rebuilt the basement. Now all the teachers' apartments were down there, as well as Squall's.
"I have to get changed and then get up to my office. I have to check in on those teams Seifer usurped and shoved out into the field." Squall glared at the walls of the elevator as he and Rinoa stepped into it. She pressed the down button and then turned to him, a scolding frown fixed on her lips.
"He only did it because he wanted to find whatever hurt you, Squall. He sounded really upset when he called me in Deling."
"Yeah, I bet," Squall said, then winced and wondered why he had said it. Seifer called Rinoa to tell her that Squall had been hurt?!
Rinoa looked like she would have liked to have smacked him, and would have if she were not still afraid that he was injured.
"Now what is that supposed to mean?" she asked, her frown deepening. Then, she proceeded to completely misinterpret his meaning. "If you're suddenly having second thoughts about Seifer's loyalties, might I remind you that it was he who came to you on his knees, begging to be let back into Garden, and it was he who led the teams that cleaned our strip of beach of monsters--"
"Oh, and that worked so well," Squall muttered, but Rinoa went on.
"--and it was he who came to you, asking for help in passing the SeeD exam, and it was you who appointed him Assistant Weapons Master because you said he had such expertise when it came to different kinds of weapons. And it was he who found you this morning, saving your life." She blew out an explosive breath, sending locks of hair flying from her face. She narrowed her eyes at Squall, then her face softened. "Oh, Squall. The rest of us trust him, now. I trust him now. I wish you would, too."
Squall stared at her, amazed at the irony of the situation. Rinoa, defending Seifer's loyalties to Squall. If Squall had had a sense of humor, he would have laughed out loud.
"Rinoa, I--I do trust him. I just--I was just surprised, that's all. That he called you. Did he--say why?" His voice wobbled slightly, but Rinoa did not seem to notice.
"He said that he wanted me to hear it from a friend, and not from just some SeeD soldier that didn't care."
Squall closed his eyes and turned his face away so Rinoa could not see the look of pain that crumpled his features for a moment.
"Squall? Are you okay? Does it hurt? Because we can just go back up to the--"
"No," he said quickly, turning back and forcing a smile. He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "I'm okay, really. And you're right, of course. Seifer is our friend, and I do trust him. I do, I promise."
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