Author's Notes: Kiriban 30,000 for Dream Kreuz, hope you enjoy. Sorry, I couldn't actually find anywhere to stick in that pool scene... -_-" The title must have changed at least four times and I finally settled on this... I just wanted a 'q' =P I was listening to funny music when typing this, so it might seem… strange.
DISCLAIMER: None of the characters of the game "Final Fantasy VIII" belong to me, they are property of NAMCO; I like to abuse what isn't mine :]
"I'm gonna get some coffee, you want something?"
Squall shook his head.
Irvine smiled and stood. "You’re sure? I'm payin’."
"I'm not hungry," the brunette answered quietly.
The cowboy placed one hand on his hip, head tilting to the side as he scrutinised the Commander. "Are you really sure? You're lookin' kinda pale to me."
Squall licked his lips and met his friend's eye. "I'm sure."
"... Okay." Irvine raised a slender eyebrow, but shrugged before heading for the counter. The brunette drew in a shallow breath and wrapped his arms around himself, leaning back in the rigid steel chair. Alone at last, not that he minded Irvine's company. The sharpshooter made good conversation, even if it was mostly one-sided. Squall still found it pleasant, offering the occasional smile or nod. There were times when he knew he should laugh, the jokes were amusing enough; he simply didn't have the energy.
He couldn't remember when this lethargy first set in. Maybe it wasn't the exhaustion that left him staring off into open space, lost in his own mind. The tired ache didn't account for the empty loss floating over him like an intangible cloud. He didn't even understand why he was feeling that way, couldn't remember when it had begun, but more specifically, how to get rid of it.
He wasn't sad, not entirely apathetic, but perhaps regressing into indifference. He rarely had an appetite on most days; his friends were beginning to notice. Squall didn't want them to worry over nothing. This strange feeling had no origin; he had no doubt it would eventually go away, most likely with as much notice as when it had first set in.
Two steaming mugs were set down before him with a gentle tinkle. Squall looked at his friend questioningly. Irvine beamed, taking his seat.
"C'mon, it's on me. I know ya love this stuff."
Squall felt the corner of his mouth curve upwards, but it probably looked as weak as it felt. He took a sip of the hot drink and the bittersweet fluid was just as he remembered. A good flavour, though at one time it had almost been phenomenal; the crucial start to the day. He set the mug down on its saucer, eyes fixing on its polished brim listlessly, not realizing that he was soon staring.
Irvine's brow furrowed in concern. "Are you okay, man?"
Squall didn't move. Was he even breathing?
The frown deepened, Irvine raised his voice half a notch. "Squall?"
Said man looked up at the call of his name. " … ?"
"Is something wrong?"
Squall shook his head, looking back at his drink. " ... "
"Are you sure?" Irvine pressed, leaning forward slightly and resting his elbows on the tabletop.
A nod of silent affirmation. It was the silence that worried him, that and the pale cheeks that lacked their usual (very subtle) blush; Squall's cheekbones were only slightly more prominent.
Irvine raised his mug to his lips, shrugging it off. So Squall had lost a little weight, it happened. The SeeD Commander had been training after all, though the cowboy couldn't remember the last time he had seen Squall eat more than a bread roll in his presence. Again, he forced himself to shrug it off. So Squall wasn't hungry much and it was showing. Many people thought Selphie was anorexic since she was incredibly slim and ate little in public. This rumour had been shattered when Irvine had acquainted himself with the bubbly girl and found that she could eat more than all of them put together, and still fit in dessert with plenty of snacks in between. She was a living testament to exquisite metabolism.
Maybe Squall was also like that. With a sigh, Irvine mentally admitted that he needed Seifer for this. Surely, he would know, there was little the local sorceress expert didn't know of the Commander's lifestyle. Not much made it past him, especially since they were now living together. If something was wrong, Seifer would have noticed.
Drinking deep, Irvine set down his empty mug, noting that Squall had barely touched his. Yep, he would ask Seifer.
"I’ve got no idea what you're talking about."
Irvine made no effort to mask his surprise. "You mean you haven't noticed?"
Seifer repositioned the guitar in his lap, one hand tuning the strings. "Noticed what?"
"Everythin' I just said!"
"Oh, sorry. I'm kinda distracted." Seifer experimentally plucked a string, ear trained to the correct frequency. Still a little too high.
Irvine held a hand over the guitar's neck. "This is Squall we're talking about. You’ll want to pay attention."
Seifer gave the cowboy a dark look that undoubtedly told him to remove his hand; Irvine didn’t move. After a few more seconds of silence, the blond musician capitulated, setting the guitar down on the bed beside him.
"Fine. I was listenin' before, you know…. "
"See this is why you haven't noticed. You don't even see what's happenin’ around you."
"There's nothing t'see, Squall was always slim," Seifer droned.
"Slim, yeah! Not thin," Irvine retorted.
Seifer frowned. "Maybe he lost a little weight, I haven't…. " That particular sentence died in his throat as Irvine's words rang true; he hadn't noticed. "He ain't thin."
"Oh yeah, he is." The sniper's tone brooked little room for argument.
Seifer scoffed. "So what 'm I supposed to do? Force-feed him?"
"Nah, man! You've gotta find out if there's somethin’ wrong with him!" Irvine stated, as though it were obvious.
"... No." Seifer frowned in thought, gaze falling to the floor. "If something was wrong he would’ve told me."
Irvine folded his arms over his chest, teeth gnawing at the inside of his cheek. "Not if he didn't want you to know."
The blond pursed his lips, not favouring the idea. "He knows that he can come to me if he's got trouble. If anything, it's prob’ly stress: Commanders don't get much leave, you know, even without the war. There's always paperwork."
The corner of the cowboy's mouth quirked upwards. "Yeah, it's hard as hell tearin’ him away from his office. I know he hates the work, but he's got a bad case of duty-bound bitch."
Seifer smirked. "Careful, Kinneas."
A sly grin crept to the cowboy's lips. "So who rides?"
Seifer rolled his eyes, rising from the made bed and picking up the guitar. "Touché."
"Oh, so you’re the bitch!" Irvine laughed. "Or is it switch?"
An exasperated groan. "Why the hell do you live next to me?"
"Ask your bitch; he put me there. But these quarters are high above the other SeeDs and cadets so I'm not complaining." A mischievous wink. "And the walls are pretty much soundproof. I mean, except for yours."
"Just what are you implyin', Kinneas?"
Irvine grinned. "Am I implyin’? I thought I was makin’ a statement."
"Keep talkin' and I'll give Dincht a few statements of my own," Seifer warned.
Irvine snickered, copper gold sifting around his face as he shook his head. "That’s cheap, real low. You know I'm gonna tell him eventually, I just haven't yet cos-"
"Because ya talk big, but you got no bite," Seifer finished for him.
A sneaky grin. "You don't know that."
"Ignorance is bliss."
Irvine smiled wryly. "Yeah, well, I want you to start paying attention. I'm not assuming anything, but gimmie the heads up if you notice anything with Squall, all right?"
Seifer waved a hand dismissively. "You just work on the chicken."
That smile twisted into a devious smirk. "Hey, I've gotta ask him out first."
The blond turned on his friend, expression incredulous. "Would you leave? Fuck, you're worse than I am!" He couldn't resist chuckling, as much as he fought vainly to remain serious.
Irvine moved for the door, light laughter trailing behind him. "Keep writing 'em scores, I'm still waiting on your next song. Remember what I said, keep an eye on him."
"Yeah, it's coming. And don't you make anythin' o'that!" the blond added quickly, just as Irvine opened his mouth to do so. A light shrug and then the door hissed shut behind the cowboy, promptly muffling his gentle laughter. Seifer shook his head, placing the guitar lovingly inside its case; he quickly zipped the side up and slung it over his shoulder. He would stay true to his word; maybe he would pay the Commander a visit.
Squall's eyes squeezed shut as his stomach lurched violently and he doubled over once again, emptying the scarce contents of his bowels into the toilet. One hand reached up to steady himself against the wall as the shudders subsided, the loud flush echoed off the cold tiles of the bathroom. Panting heavily, hot tears streamed from his eyes as he stumbled over to the sink, fumbling with the faucets until cool water rushed over his hands. He was shaking as he rinsed his mouth repeatedly of the choking taste of bile, after a few minutes he simply leaned against the white surface and took in deep breaths to calm the tremors.
His throat burned. He didn’t even want to think about his stomach. The latest attempt at a meal had seen him bent over retching, he couldn’t keep anything down. He had to be sick. It had to be a bug of some sort. A low groan and he pressed a hand to his stomach, sucking in deep breaths of cold air as another wave of nausea hit him.
Bip bip. Bip bip.
Squall looked back at his desk through the open door as the intercom beeped for attention; he swallowed hard. Stand… slowly. Taking shaky steps towards the desk, his fingers trembled slightly as he pushed the receiver button, clearing his throat before speaking.
The voice of his secretary came through; the secretary that was supposed to reduce his workload, but Squall only found himself buried in more. "Commander, there’s a Rinoa Heartilly here to see you. She says that it’s urgent."
Rinoa? What was she doing here? "Send her in."
Squall found a water bottle brought in only that morning already buried beneath a new stack of papers. Drinking deep, he sighed in relief at the delicious, clean refreshment. Only a second later the door opened and the familiar Sorceress stood in his doorway. Wait a minute…
Squall stared. "You cut your hair."
Rinoa grinned and set down her suitcases, stepping in. She rushed over, quickly wrapping those wiry arms around his neck as she hugged him tightly, giggling. "I missed you, too."
Squall settled a hand on her back to return the gesture of affection. "What are you doing back here? I thought you were staying with your dad now… "
She pulled away, nodding. "Daddy and I are still working through some things, but I’m here on official business." She fingered a small brooch on her collar. "See, we even have badges now."
Squall peered at the emblem. "The Timber Owls?"
She beamed. "Uh-huh!"
The brunette frowned, still rather confused. "But doesn’t your dad… ?"
She shrugged, still smiling. "That’s what we’re working through right now. I’m just on a mission and the Garden was on my way… so I thought that I’d stop by!"
He couldn’t resist, fingering the layered fringe that tickled her jaw and ended just above her shoulders. It was… short. "Well it’s certainly a surprise."
She planted hands on hips at the brim of her black jeans. "That’s the point, silly!"
He felt incredibly flustered. "Oh. Well, um… hi. Not that you’re not welcome…"
"But?" she prompted.
"My secretary said that you were here about something urgent," he reminded her.
She blinked. "Oh that." She never ceased to smile. "I just said that to get in here, she was being mean and wouldn’t let me in otherwise."
"This is an office, Rinoa."
"Oh, you’re not happy to see me?" she mocked, brushing at false tears. "Was I that much of a push-over?"
Squall couldn’t resist. "Yes."
Rinoa cried out indignantly, jumping several times on the spot as she playfully swatted his arm. "Ooh, you’re so mean!" But she was laughing as she hopped onto his desk, brushing various files out of the way so as not to damage them. "After all I do for you! I even got you a new boyfriend!"
He shook his head and smiled gently. "Always looking out for my wellbeing. I thought I was supposed to be the hero."
She grinned. "Oh, you are, honey! You saved us all and you smiled!" A delighted squeal. "Ooh, I love it when you smile! You’re so pretty!"
Squall rolled his eyes, making his way around the desk as a distraction. "Whatever."
Rinoa licked her lips and started rummaging through her small handbag. "But I don’t like in the least that you look as thin as me.”
His lips lifted in response to her joke, unprepared for when she continued.
“Are you on a diet?"
Squall paused in his reach for some random contract. "No."
She shuffled around to face him, now with her back to the door. "Hmm. Maybe it’s the light in here." Her dark eyes glittered as she leaned forward, observing his work. "So how is everyone?" She nudged insistently at his shoulder. "How’s Seifer?"
He felt the heat creeping in his cheeks; Squall ducked his head, pretending to search for something under the desk. "Fine and fine. How’s Angelo?"
The smile was evident in her voice. "He’s fine. I had to leave him in Delling though; Daddy didn’t like the idea of having me travel with animals. He thought it would cause too many problems with the travel agents." At this she pouted, but it was quickly shrugged off. She held out a small wrapped package, Squall looked at it with both curiosity and distrust.
"What is that?"
"It’s a powerful bangle that will manipulate you into falling in love with me so that I can have you all to myself!" She laughed at the droll look he gave her next. "It’s a present, Squall! Open it!"
Squall pursed his lips, weighing the gift in his palm. It was oddly-shaped and had little to no weight. "What is it?"
"Don’t ask me that! It'll ruin the surprise." She motioned for him to open his present, indicating the seal on the underside. Gloveless hands proved much easier in unraveling, Squall gasped at what lay beneath the folds of paper and twine. It was… a rock. Grey and streaked with black veins, it had been carved into a simple sphere; he knew this stone.
She beamed. "Do you like it?"
"Is this… Where did you get this?" he asked quietly.
"When we went to Matron’s orphanage that last time and we spoke in the flower field. Afterwards I took a chunk out of one of the walls, which was broken anyway," she added sheepishly. "I know it’s silly, but I kept it as a souvenir and when the war and everything ended, I thought you would like to have it. So that you know you don’t have anymore responsibility to me… But I didn’t have the chance until now to give it to you." She tapped the smooth surface. "I had it shaped; it’s nicer that way…"
Squall smiled, not noticing the sad joy gathering in his eyes. "Thank you, Rinoa. This is really… " Words failed him, but he looked up at her, the smile still in place. She leaned her head to one side, treasuring the rare display of emotion before her.
"Anything to make you smile, honey. You’re very pretty, but even prettier when you smile." There was a dramatic sigh as she held a hand over her heart. "And if being with Seifer is what really makes you happy, then I'm all for it."
Squall chuckled under his breath, squeezing the cold sphere into his palm; it fit snugly.
Rinoa pursed her lips, nose scrunching. "But now that I think about it, it feels weird. My last two boyfriends now go out with each other? Oh, I must look terrible!"
"I’ve known Seifer since the orphanage when we could barely even read. He’s been there as far back as I can remember." A secret smile passed Squall’s lips, but Rinoa noticed it and a pleasant grin swept her gentle features.
"Now I’m sure I’ve done the right thing."
He pocketed the sphere in his jacket and started looking around for his gloves. "What do you mean?"
She reached out, pinching his cheeks lightly. "He makes you very happy, I can see that. You’re glowing!" she squealed, giggles bubbling over as Squall blushed profusely and smacked her hands away. Rinoa could be terribly embarrassing, even when they were alone. Thankfully, he was saved by the intercom as it flashed red, chirping for attention once more. Rinoa was still laughing hard as he answered the call.
"Commander Leonhart, you have another visitor." His secretary sounded oddly perturbed.
Squall sighed, swatting Rinoa away with his free hand as she reached over to ruffle his hair. "Sure, whatever."
"Send them in," he rectified. These damned people and their anal orders, everything was so technical.
His door hissed open for the second time in under an hour and Squall was both surprised and relieved to see his new visitor. "Oh, thank Hyne it’s you."
Seifer settled his guitar down on the couch by the door, eyes flickering between the SeeD Commander and Rinoa. "Sounded like there was a party in here. You two gettin' it on without me?"
Rinoa leaped off the desk, racing around and she smothered the blond in a hug. "Oh, I haven’t seen you in forever!"
Seifer exchanged a bewildered look with his boyfriend who shrugged helplessly. "Uh… Hey, Rin. When did you get back?"
"Today!" She jumped back and suddenly stomped hard on his foot. "And that is for feeding me to Adel!”
The blond cringed and stumbled away. “Shit, are you gonna do that every time I see you?”
“I’m never going to forgive you for that! Do you have any idea how freaky it was being junctioned to that woman? I’m not even sure if she was a woman!" Her tone was forceful, but there was a smile on her sharp features; her constant shift in behaviour never failing to catch them off guard. He hobbled away quickly, favouring his sore foot even through the boot. He held Squall forward in defence.
"Here, you can have him, just don’t hurt me."
Squall’s jaw fell open and he glared back at the blond, swinging half-heartedly. Seifer caught the clumsy onslaught, laughing as he pulled the brunette into a tight, possessive embrace. "I’m just kidding, baby. No one can take you from me," he assured playfully, though held strong to every word. Squall’s age-old scowl had returned; Rinoa was laughing once again.
"Oh, pretty, pretty!" she clapped. "If you keep Squall happy then I might forgive you."
Seifer grinned, nuzzling into Squall’s neck. "Now that’s one order I don’t mind following."
Squall growled low, the scowl becoming a pout. "I am not happy."
Rinoa went back over to her handbag and reached in. "You were blushing so much earlier! Does that make you happy?"
Squall looked at her, horrified. "Rinoa!"
Seifer’s grin broadened, his teeth nipped lightly at the shell of Squall’s ear. "What were you blushing about?"
Squall leaned away, but the strong arms around him denied release. He refused to reply, unfortunately, Rinoa spoke for him.
"He doesn’t believe he’s pretty."
Seifer scoffed. "’Pretty’? You have to expand your vocab, Rin; that’s such an understatement. Try... hot damn."
Squall really wanted to sink into the floor at that moment. Instead he rolled his eyes and concentrated on something out the window. A small kiss was pressed to his neck, just below the ear. He glared up at the blond in all his lecherous intent, but only received a peck on the forehead for his efforts.
"I was sent to sweep you off to our room, but your desk is looking really good right now. It's within throwing distance for one." Seifer's chuckle was cut short by another sharp elbow to the ribs.
Rinoa stopped her search through her handbag, giving them an inquisitive look as she placed hands on hips. "… You mean to tell me that you’re sleeping together already?"
Seifer’s grin was utterly triumphant. "’Already’? More like… again."
"Seifer!" Squall snapped. He did not want to discuss this in front of or even less, with Rinoa.
"Again?" she echoed indignantly.
Squall shivered, the words purred in that sultry tone summoning memories and thoughts he would prefer to not have at that point in time. Especially with Rinoa in the room; he and the raven-haired girl had never proceeded past a warm cuddle with a timid kiss snuck in, attesting even more to their affection-based relationship as friends, and that it could be little more. Squall was comfortable with Rinoa at the level of a close friend, anything beyond that simply hadn’t seemed right. Seifer, on the other hand…
"Did you two ever… " She motioned openly, not wanting to state the obvious, "during the War?"
Ah, the one-million-dollar question.
"No," Squall snapped as Seifer simultaneously answered, "yes."
They stared at each other for a moment and then Squall frowned. "We did not."
"Sure we did!" the blond countered. "What about that time in the prison-"
Squall cut him off. "That doesn’t count!"
"Like hell it doesn’t!"
Rinoa glanced between them. "Um… How can you not both be sure if you did or didn’t? Isn’t it… a team effort?"
Seifer laughed, promptly interrupted once more as Squall tore free of his locked embrace, shoving at his shoulder for good measure.
"It didn’t go far enough to be classified as sex," Squall snapped, glaring at his lover.
Seifer rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, it was far enough!"
A subtle cough interrupted the dispute; Rinoa waved a hand for attention. "Well, I was just wondering how long this has been going on for. I don’t need… No, I don’t want details. But I can see where there could be confusion."
Seifer shook his head. "As if you can! Look, I’ll even give you a diagram to prove I’m right."
"Well I am!"
"We did not!"
Seifer couldn’t believe this. "When the hell does it become sex then?"
Squall ignored the flush of heat in his cheeks, meeting the accusing glare of his boyfriend. "You have to go in first, idiot!"
Rinoa’s hands flew to her cheeks, covering her own embarrassment. Too much information.
Her friends’ voices were rising; she had to find some form of mediation. Her eye caught the guitar case resting on the arm of the lounge, she hurried over to it. Seifer and Squall were notorious for their arguments, the most famous of which had elevated to a vicious battle that had left them scarred for life. She had the feeling that they were not the type to stop fighting simply because they were now in a relationship, it would always be an element that spurned them forward. As much as she appreciated a little motivation, she did not want to see this particular argument reach a level of violence; it did not help that she had sparked this discussion.
At their volume, Rinoa feared that the secretary would be coming in shortly.
"… So if I fuck you through the floor the proper way, would that make you happy?" Seifer snarled, voice dangerously close to a shout.
She quickly thrust the black-lacquered guitar towards him, summoning her brightest smile. "So I hear you play now, play something for me!" she piped quickly.
The two gunbladers looked at her in surprise, as though remembering that, yes, there was another person in the room with them. Squall’s expression was slightly hurt; Rinoa could see the faintest glimmer in his eye whereas Seifer looked positively infuriated.
"… What?" Seifer hadn’t quite heard what she’d said.
She lifted the guitar to him. "I know you’re that new guitarist everyone’s talking about. I recognized your pseudonym! I’ve heard some of your music on the radio, but I want you to play a song for me now!"
The blond looked confused. "You want me to play something for you?"
She nodded enthusiastically when he finally took the guitar. "Yeah, right now."
A strange calm washed over Seifer the moment the instrument was in his hands; this had been a gift from Squall almost a year back now. There had been no reason, it wasn’t any anniversary; the Commander had entered their dorm with a familiar-shaped case in one hand that had turned out to be a present for him. He wasn’t given any explanation, then again; perhaps Squall didn’t feel he needed one. Looking down at the brunette now, Seifer recognized that guarded expression and could almost hear the proverbial gates swinging down on any show of emotion. It hurt to think that Squall still felt he had to keep things behind a mask; that he didn’t trust Seifer enough.
The SeeD Commander looked away from the guitar, brushing past Seifer nonchalantly as he started shuffling papers on his desk. "Well, I have to work, so take that someplace else."
For a few moments, the only sound was the rustle of paper until Seifer spoke softly.
"Rin, could you give us a sec?"
She nodded, relieved to take her absence from the tense atmosphere as she stepped out quickly. The doors hissed shut behind her and for a few seconds more, there was silence. Seifer leaned a hip against the desk and set the guitar to the side; he stood right beside Squall, watching his face patiently. The brunette determinedly avoided him, instead organizing the scattered files into some haphazard order that didn’t require him to look up from his work. After some time had passed and Squall had still said nothing, Seifer touched his arm gently, wincing inwardly when the brunette immediately moved away from him.
Squall’s movements were jerky and rushed, indicating frustration, perhaps even anger. Either that or Seifer had hurt him. Personally, he preferred the first option.
He tried again. "Squall, talk to me."
The long, unruly tresses shielded Squall’s expression from him. Seifer held his shoulder tentatively when Squall began flicking through a rather thick stack of papers before him. The blond planted a hand on the stack, halting his distraction. "Stop it."
He heard the hard swallow, but Squall had stopped fussing. "Come on, talk to me."
" … "
Seifer sighed. "I guess we just have different opinions and that’s good, but I think you should-"
"That’s not it," Squall said in a low voice.
"What?" Seifer prompted.
Squall’s hands clenched in white-knuckled fists on the desk; he really wished for his gloves at that moment. "That’s not the problem."
"Are you angry at me?"
"Yes!" Squall snapped, finally meeting his eye. Seifer hadn't seem him so furious in a very long time. "Don't ever do that again," he hissed, grey eyes flashing. He threw the hand from his shoulder and planted himself in his seat. Sorting through various reports and files he worked his best to ignore the unmoving figure beside him. He knew that Seifer liked playing around, but there was a limit and it made his temper rise when the musician flaunted their relationship as though Squall was a trophy. It was disgusting.
That aside, Seifer seized every opportunity to embarrass him; more often than not it became very ugly. Squall hated it most when their friends witnessed their fights because one of them always came to him afterwards to offer a "friendly ear if he needed to talk". What he needed more than anything was time to cool off and if he couldn't get that then he could always go to the Training Center to vent some frustration.
It was no secret that Seifer and Squall fought, but the fights, though rare, were steadily getting worse.
"… You’re talking about the diagram thing?" Seifer asked quietly.
"For a start."
"That was just a joke."
"I'm tickled with laughter."
Seifer frowned. "Don't give me that shit, you said you weren't pissed about the sex issue so what is it?"
Squall sighed, a hand coming up to rub his brow; he could feel another headache coming on. He tried to turn away again, but the blond brought his chair round swiftly, leaning down and placing both hands on the armrests to bring them eye-to-eye. Stubborn defiance choked in his throat as he met the expectant aqua gaze. Glancing between the twin orbs, Squall suddenly wondered if they had become more green recently.
The minutes ticked by unnoticed until Seifer spoke, frowning lightly. "You lost weight, didn't you?" He brushed a thumb over Squall's cheek, tracing the high cheekbone before his hand was knocked away.
Squall's expression had settled to a steely calm, practiced and measured. That didn't stop Seifer from missing the annoyed glint in his eyes that had darkened to a soft gray. Pale hands wrapped around gloved wrists and pushed, Seifer let himself be ignored as Squall turned away again. The musician sighed and kneeled by the chair to look up into Squall's face.
"Shed me a little light here."
Squall didn't look up from his work. "I have deadlines to meet, if there's nothing else we can continue this after working hours."
Seifer could hardly believe it. Grasping the armrest he spun the chair forcefully to bring Squall's eyes back to him. "Cut the crap, Leonhart. You have a problem? Then tell me what it is, because I'd like to sleep at night without you glaring daggers at my back."
Squall's expression softened almost immediately. Bowing his head he grappled for the words, despite the delay before his response they still came out in a jumble. “Look, I-I don’t… Sometimes you just really… “
“What?” The ex-Knight prompted when Squall trailed off with a shake of the head.
“You can’t contain yourself, can you?”
It took Seifer a while to grasp the full meaning behind those words. "… You don’t trust me?"
Squall just looked down and away, suddenly seeming very tired. Trust was based fundamentally on respect; he didn’t feel that Seifer respected him. In truth, some of the things Seifer said managed to stab at something deep in his chest. It was moments like those when time slowed down and he always found it harder to breathe. He could feel that same weight in his chest again, but he simply shrugged in reply. " ... "
Seifer was dumbstruck. Two years and they were where? "Then just tell me to shut up!" Seifer insisted. "Kick me, punch me, it doesn’t matter. I say a lot of stupid things all the time, but I don’t mean even half of it!"
Squall stared hard at his hands and watched them shift the papers about. "It doesn’t seem that way."
"Well that’s the way it is. I don’t mean to hurt you. Ever." Seifer took his hand and leaned forward to catch his eyes, now turned away from him. "I can’t afford to, you see."
Squall shook his head. No, he didn’t see. Gentle fingers turned his head back and lowered to trace his jaw. Storm grey leveled with cool green before Seifer sighed, reaching for him with both arms. He fell into them with little resistance, feeling his frown deepen, but he hid it in the blond's shoulder as Seifer pulled him down onto his lap. Strong arms wound around him, drawing him into a protective embrace, but he knew that as safe as he could be in those arms, the person that held him could break him just as easily. Fingers threaded through his hair as lips pressed to his crown.
"I can’t afford to lose you. You might as well just kill me if you did leave; I’d be dead anyway."
“Whatever.” He mumbled into Seifer’s chest and felt the arms tighten around him. So warm… But the blond could be so cold at times. He ought to own the title of Ice Prince. A hand under his chin urged him to meet green eyes bright in both fear and concern.
You can trust me…
"… I know." Squall accepted the apology, but it didn’t dismiss his doubt. Even as Seifer bent to kiss him, arms cradling him gently, the doubt remained; and that doubt gave rise to fear.
He didn’t know if he would ever trust Seifer completely.
He hadn’t wanted to go to dinner. Seifer and Rinoa had persisted for a full ten minutes until finally accepting that the SeeD Commander would not change his mind. Squall had retired to his – no, their – room for the night and Seifer had quickly followed suit, not wanting to leave the brunette alone at this time. Rinoa had been set up in a room down the end of their hall next to Selphie. Squall suspected that his friends were reacquainting themselves, even at the late hours of the early morning as he could hear the faintest trickle of bass through the walls of their apartment.
Sleep did not come easily to the Commander, nor did ease. The ominous clench of his stomach woke him from a half-sleep. Swallowing hard, Squall deftly removed himself from Seifer’s arms and entered the bathroom, closing the door behind him quietly. He stood before the mirror in the shadows, waiting for the nausea to seize him. Cold blue-grey stared back at him when he regarded his reflection. Eyes narrowed as he gritted his teeth, a hand clenched at his side. His lips turned down in an angry scowl and he switched on the faucets; the basin filled with steaming water. Ignoring the defiant churn of his gullet, Squall plunged his hands into the scalding water, hissing as his skin screamed, overpowering the harsh sting at the back of his eyes.
He stayed his hands, willed them not to shake as he raised his gaze to his reflection once more. The blue-grey was now blurred by the rising steam; a grim smile. At least now he couldn't see his tears, but he could feel them leak as searing as the water that submerged his hands. Burning.
Squall hunched over, knees bending weakly as a pained scream threatened to erupt. He clenched hands into fists and held them beneath the water's surface. Eyes squeezed shut as he focused every specter of his will onto the pain, pushing past it; forcing himself to endure. But the rising protest in his throat kept pulling him back, crippling him.
Fight it. Bite it down...
Squall sank to his knees with a defeated whimper and huddled in on himself, the cool air was agony on his scalded skin. Holding his hands to his chest, he drew his knees up and leaned his forehead against them as the sickening lurch of his stomach drew more pain in his quivering form. Squall bit his tongue hard and inhaled deeply; he had spent countless hours retching since... he couldn't even remember. He seemed to be forgetting a lot of things as of late.
Morning disorientation was the worst: waking not knowing what day it was or what he had done the night before. The most severe case had been waking in a room that was not his own, his blond archrival draped over him in a possessive embrace. Five hysteria-filled minutes later, the past had come back to him. Squall was very relieved to later find that he hadn't broken Seifer's jaw, though, needless to say, the blond had been very disgruntled. A hard fist in the face was not the most pleasant wake-up call.
Squall resigned his head against the cabinet beneath the sink, eyes peering through the skylight at the glittering incessancy of the stars under their obsidian veil. He wouldn't sleep tonight. What little rest he did achieve spanned for fifteen minutes at best, why not just stop trying?
Ever so slowly, he eased the bathroom door open. The room was dark, no moon was out tonight. Reclining against the frame of the door, Squall watched Seifer sleep half-tucked under the white sheets. The grey duvet had been kicked off sometime during the night; Squall picked it from the floor. At first he almost dropped it when his sensitive skin brushed the material. On second trial he snatched the heavy blanket, ignored the grating pain in his hands and shook the heavy blanket before draping it over the still form of his lover. Stepping back, he kneeled to the floor, folding his arms on the bed and he rested his chin on them. He detected the faintest trace of a frown on Seifer's face turned towards him. His arm was outstretched, hand laid on Squall's pillow. Long fingers curled slightly, clutching the thin material of the pillowcase.
Squall looked down at his own hands. The angry red had faded to a subtler scarlet; they stung terribly, but he could see no permanent damage. He pulled the gloves from his nightstand and donned them quickly, fighting to ignore the harsh friction of leather against tender skin. The pain would serve him in the end; it would make him stronger.
He had to fight the urge to take Seifer's hand in his own, to brush his lips over the fine skin. The blond slept peacefully, he hadn't woken when Squall left his side. A wry smile touched the Commander's lips as Seifer's earlier words came back to him. Seifer would die if Squall left him? What silly babble, muttered in the heat of the moment, no doubt. Squall had every confidence that the blond could live without him; Seifer was strong.
So much stronger than he.
Squall stood, shivering as though finally acknowledging the biting chill of their apartment. He pulled on a large grey sweater thrown over his desk and sat down, looking over the stacks of paper he had brought from the office. They took up most of the space on his desk and this wasn't even half of it all.
A weary sigh escaped him. It didn't look like the paperwork would ever stop coming in, there was always some conflict that needed to be resolved, a structure that had to be rebuilt or renovated or contracts that had to be finalised in the war's aftermath, even two years after its end. Squall wasn't even sure if he was responsible for half of the documents streaming in, they didn't always seem particular to his field.
His gaze stopped on Rinoa's gift, he took the small stone sphere in hand and clutched it tightly.
Two years. Twenty-four months after time was restored and still... Trabia Garden had been fully rebuilt, featuring a memorial for the people who were killed in the attack. Seifer wouldn't set a foot in the place. Squall suspected that the blond still blamed himself; that he was the reason a memorial now stood in Trabia and headstones had been added to its graveyard. Squall would have comforted the blond, assured him that it wasn't his fault... If only he believed the words himself. In truth, he didn't know who was to blame, not even Ultimecia seemed to measure up. Perhaps it was no-one's fault or then again, maybe everyone’s?
Squall thought himself selfish. Being thrown forth to the front line of war with the possible fate of an entire planet in his hands; and all he could think about was finding Seifer. Somewhere along the way, he had lost perspective. Perhaps when he had met Rinoa? Or had it happened before that? Had Seifer joined the Sorceress' side by free will or under duress of coercive power?
Of all these questions, Squall found that he didn't care. None of it mattered. Only one thing drew his attention: Seifer had returned to him without explanation and with as much question as dust on the wind; Squall had pretty much welcomed him back. Two years later and Squall still didn't know why. Why Seifer had come back and why Squall had never questioned his motive, or his own reasons for not questioning the former Sorceress' Knight, for that matter. Things had started falling in to place the very first night the blond gunblader had returned and asked to speak with Squall, they had met at the Training Center, a popular venue after hours and the only one accessible. Seifer wasted no time with pleasantries and dove straight through the silence.
“I’m not going to apologize for what I did. Nobody would believe me, anyway and it would count for shit since everyone knows what I’ve done.”
That was fair enough; at least Seifer could accept the reality of his actions. Squall had said nothing, simply leaned against a looming palm and watched Seifer throw stones into the pond. It was then that he realized Seifer had come unarmed, while Lionheart stood embedded in the earth by his boot. He beheld his former rival with a new suspicion as the man stared into the waters, rolling small stones in his palm.
“I don’t care if they don’t forgive me… but I sort of wondered what you thought.”
“Don’t look for consolation in me, Seifer,” Squall replied curtly and the man had laughed.
“Not stupid enough for that, Leonhart.” He threw the remaining stones into the pond, breaking the surface with discordant ripples. Squall tilted his head to the side, watching them calm and eventually settle to its prior glassy state. Seifer’s hands hid in his pockets and he faced Squall who still stared down and past him. “You probably want revenge for Rinoa, don’t you?”
Squall almost snorted in snide amusement, arms folded over his chest as he glanced to the side. “She doesn’t need me for her vengeance, she’s already plotting.”
The corner of Seifer’s mouth quirked upwards. “I better watch out then.”
The brunette had shrugged a shoulder, knowing that anything Rinoa was planning would be lucky enough to dent the gunblader.
“Do you want to know why I came back?”
Seifer grinned. “Not even curious?”
“What if I’m still loyal to Ultimecia and I only came back to kill you?”
The SeeD Commander looked nothing short of bored. “Try it.”
And it had all gone downhill from there without too much complaint. He never doubted that Seifer could have returned for that very reason, to kill him, but Squall frankly didn’t care if he had. He was willing to fight and was more than able; he had, afterall, led the assault on Seifer's former mistress and succeeded. The SeeD Commander couldn't recall the moment he started to lose that confidence of sure strength.
As time went by the number of unknowns began to accumulate as life established a new rhythm and routine. Once the trials were over and Seifer had served an undisclosed sentence, things had remarkably taken a turn for the better. Cid had employed the former knight as Balamb Garden's own sorceress expert and helped his foster son build a new life. Somewhere along the way, Seifer established himself as a musician, but the scars of the Sorceress Wars were still fresh, so the blond fought hard to keep his identity a secret. Considering Rinoa had figured it out could be a cause for concern, but then, she had a personal insight to them, unlike the general public.
In the end, Seifer had never mentioned the Sorceress again, just as he had never uttered the words “I’m sorry”. To anyone but Squall, that was. The worst part was that now he found he wanted to trust the former knight, but he didn't even know if Seifer trusted him, didn't see why the blond should when he couldn't offer his own in return.
Squall sighed, looking dismally at the awaiting papers. They weren't very appealing at this hour or any other. He laid his head down on the cushion of his arms folded over the desk, concluding that he could afford to ignore them for just a few minutes. Fifteen, no doubt....
Sleep claimed him almost immediately, sweeping him into its blanket of soothing shadow. His gloved palm fell open and the sphere of stone slipped, rolled across the desk and was lost in the scatter of papers.
"Sei-fer! Hey, Seifer!"
The blond turned at the call of his name, spotting the short brunette sitting at a cafeteria table by one of the pillars with Rinoa. Seifer approached the two, pointing directly at Selphie who perked up at being singled out.
"We were just talking about you!" the pilot giggled.
Seifer spoke as though he were in a hurry. "An' I was actually looking for you guys, good that I found ya. Listen, I know it's short notice, but can ya tell Quistis that Squall won't be coming in today?"
"Ooh, why?" Rinoa asked, curiousity sparking while a knowing grin spread over Selphie's features.
Seifer rolled his eyes. "No, not that, you little... !"
Selphie giggled as he made a playful swipe at her, fingers only managing to reach her hair as she moved out of striking distance. "Well, Zell can't make it either... "
"Why not?" the gunblader asked.
Selphie glanced at Rinoa who blinked innocently. "We're sort of... stealing him." She held up her hands in defence. "Just for today."
Seifer poked the sunny brunette in the forehead. "Squall's actually got a legit reason, what's yours?"
Selphie smacked the offending hand aside, poking her tongue out. "You first!"
The blond tilted his head to one side. "He's exhausted and probably hasn't ever had a holiday, so I'm locking him up in our room to rest. And you?"
"We're going to get Irvine and Zell together," Selphie declared with a bright smile.
Rinoa stared at her. "We are?"
Rinoa gave her friend a funny look. "But I thought you liked Irvine?"
Selphie smiled, playing with the pockets on the front of her dress. "Well... He and I considered dating seriously, but then we decided we had way too much fun as friends, he's really cool," she shrugged. "And besides, I think he is absolutely gorgeous with Zell."
Seifer scoffed. "You can't just stick two people together because the idea gets you off, and expect it to work. These things don't work like that."
The weapons expert giggled, twiddling her thumbs together. "Why not? It worked for you!" She continued quickly before Seifer could voice his offence. "Have you really looked at them when they're together? There's definitely something there and Zell is so cute... I know Irvine would ask him out if Zelly swung that way. I mean... I think Zell has potential and he could even be, I dunno, considering it..." she dissolved into a fit of giggles; Seifer and Rinoa exchanged a glance of skepticism and general worry for their friend.
"Ten gil says the day ends and they're still single."
Selphie poked her tongue out at his challenge. "Just ten? Why not make it more if you’re so sure you’ll win?"
The musician sized up the woman before him and found the challenge most appealing. “Alright. A week’s pay and the loser does the other’s laundry.”
Rinoa leaned her chin in hand, murmuring to herself, “… Why is it always laundry?”
“Done.” Seifer held his hand out, which she briskly shook, grinning when both their grips tightened in an effort to crush the other. Eventually they pulled apart when Selphie squeaked and Seifer laughed.
"Stay outta trouble, kiddos," he called over his shoulder, departing.
Selphie turned to her other friend, who was still staring at her, dumbfounded. "What?"
Rinoa shook her head, brushing at Selphie's shoulder. "I'm sorry, it's just your little devil, it must be showing!" She shrugged as Selphie giggled, turning back to the prior topic. "Irvine and Zell... That's not the reason you didn't go out with Irvine though, is it?"
Selphie placed her hands on hips, contemplating the question. "Well... it was part of it. Zell and Irvy have so much going for them, I wouldn't wanna ruin it!"
Rinoa smiled at Selphie’s words. "I'm glad you're so happy for them. You're not planning to meddle in... Oh, Selphie!"
"Well, I usually plot with Quisty, but she's busy today so it's up to you and I! It's pure luck that you're here, Rinoa!" Selphie held out a small minidisc for Rinoa to see. "Now, I'm only encouraging them, Zell's on new ground here. At least I'm not planning their wedding, right?"
Rinoa's balked. "Wedding?!"
Selphie just laughed at which Rinoa sighed. The young Sorceress looked at the disc presented to her. "What's this?"
Selphie winked. "Our source material."
"I am not watching pornography, I don't like it when you-"
The brunette rolled her eyes. "It's not porn, silly. It's music! Everyone's coming down in a couple of minutes and we're gonna teach 'em how to get down." Selphie winked mischievously and her friend just groaned. Selphie was impossible sometimes, even worse when she wasn't making any sense.
Rinoa held up a hand. "Honey, I don't understand what you're saying!"
Selphie grinned. "Can you still dance?"
Rinoa gasped, offended. "Of course! I'll have you know that I was-"
"Yay! That's really great, cos you and Irvy are gonna teach Zell how to dance!" Selphie piped, bouncing up and down.
Oh, was that all? Rinoa nodded, smiling. "Okay."
It seemed as though only a moment after Squall closed his eyes, he was startled awake by a gentle tap on his shoulder. Jerking upright, he spun in his chair, blinking to clear his blurred vision.
Seifer frowned, holding a hand to Squall's neck. "Are you alright? You were up working late again, weren't you?"
"... ?" He looked to the balcony, seeing the pale blue-lit sky streaked with shards of gold. Uh-oh. "What time is it?"
Seifer gently massaged the knotted muscles in the brunette's neck, glancing at the bedside clock. "It's almost fourteen hundred hours."
Squall's eyes leaped wide. He had actually slept? Wait… fourteen hundred? "Oh, shit! I missed all my morning meetings.... !"
Seifer held him down when he tried to rise from the chair. "I called in for you and cancelled all your stuff for today."
Squall stared at him in horror. "... You can't do that! Why did you do that?" he screeched. "Why didn't you wake me?"
"Squall, I wanted you to take the day off."
Squall shook his head, trying to get up again. "No, I can't! I'm already behind and Quistis needs me because Zell said that he wouldn't be able to make it! I have to go, I'm already late-"
Seifer pushed him back down. "You have to rest! On most mornings, you're gone before I even wake up and at night you're always working. Keep this up and you'll make yourself sick."
Squall scowled. He was already sick, but it didn't matter. "Quistis needs me-"
"I'm sure she can do without you for one day."
"You have no idea of all the work that needs to be done!" Squall protested, voice rising.
"I know that Quistis won't want you stressing yourself out! You don't sleep enough, Squall!"
Squall's eyes narrowed and he shoved Seifer's hand away, standing. "I have work to do!" His knees buckled the moment he straightened, his hand shot out for the desk, but Seifer's arms were already around him.
"You have to rest," Seifer pleaded. "See, you can barely stand!"
Squall fumbled in the folds of the large sweater, lacking the strength to pull away. "Get off, it's only morning vertigo." Seifer was only going to make him later than he already was. True, he was feeling quite dizzy, the sense insinuating a discomforting twist in his abdomen; but he had been this way for a long while. Seifer sighed in his ear, but released him with much reluctance. Squall started for the bathroom with the intent on having a quick shower. However, after a few steps, he felt as though the ground gave way beneath him, his spine seemed to dissolve and a drowning dizziness swept over him; his hand caught the doorframe, but he was already falling. He never reached the ground. Instead, he seemed to float. Strange... some detached part of Squall's mind registered that floating wasn't quite normal when you fell.
What the.... ?
Seifer cradled the brunette to his chest, Squall's head lolled back with a soft groan and he felt his body go utterly lax. Seifer quickly laid Squall over their bed and drew the sheets up over him. The exhausted Commander sighed, curling in on himself as he grumbled under his breath, and blinked sleepily at the blond looming over him. Seifer frowned when he saw the gloved fists clutched to Squall's chest, kneeling at his side, he reached for Squall's hands and proceeded to remove the gloves. Squall's eyes widened suddenly, and he pulled his hands away, much to Seifer's surprise.
"Why do you want to sleep with your gloves on?" Seifer asked, confused. He knew from experience that they could be quite uncomfortable during sleep.
"I'm cold," Squall lied.
Seifer's expression softened and after a moment, he pulled back the sheets and crawled in next to Squall. Bringing the duvet up to their throats, Seifer kissed Squall's forehead, arms winding around him and he started to remove the gloves. Squall swallowed, but didn't stop him. As long as Seifer didn't see....
He buried his hands in the large folds of the sweater as Seifer turned to place the gloves on the nightstand. Preferring not to look the blond in the eye, Squall burrowed into Seifer's neck as the strong arms returned to hold him. A breath caught in his throat as Seifer's hands moved down his back, over his sides. The blond pulled away, frowning.
"You've lost a lot of weight," he murmured.
So? Everyone loses or gains weight. " ... "
"Did you eat anything after we got back last night?" Seifer asked quietly.
The frown deepened. "What did you eat?"
"Water and an apple." Okay, so that last one was a lie.
"Water's a drink and an apple's nowhere near enough!" Seifer started to push up the sweater. "Let me look at you."
Squall startled, his hands caught Seifer's. He instantly realised his mistake when the aqua gaze fixed on his hands; Seifer sat up, pulling back the blanket.
"What in the hell happened to your hands?" Seifer gasped, taking Squall's wrist. "They're all red, your wrists...!"
Squall shrank back, trying to pull his hand away, he stumbled for the first excuse that came to mind. "Curler iron."
Seifer looked him in the eye. "You don't use a curler iron."
Um... Crap. "It was Selphie's."
"These... burns weren't here yesterday, an' I know you didn't see Selphie after we got home." Seifer held Squall's hand in the clasp of his two, he searched the guarded depths of storm-grey. "Is everything alright? 'S there something-"
"No," the brunette interjected curtly, turning his back to Seifer. A hand on his shoulder quickly pulled him back, he was met with accusing eyes that had darkened to a striking jade.
"I wasn't done. Don't shut me out, Squall. I'm worried about you.... " Seifer's voice was low as he looped an arm over Squall's thin frame. "Why aren't you eating anything?"
"That's not true. I eat a lot of food." Squall looked at the ceiling, lips pursing. "It simply doesn't stay down."
"... You're sick?"
"I suppose so," he replied indifferently.
"Since when? Have you seen the Doc?" Seifer's hand rubbed warm circles over his abdomen; Squall closed his eyes and shook his head.
"I can't remember when it started. But I haven't seen Doctor Kadowaki because I know that this will pass eventually. There's no point in taking up her time for nothing."
"Nothing?" Seifer spat. "You're sick! You're not gonna get better by will alone, we gotta find out what the problem is. C'mon, I'll take you to see her now." The blond climbed out of the large bed as Squall rolled his eyes, throwing the covers over his head. Frowning, Seifer yanked them down, meeting the brunette's pouting gaze with resolute jade. "Don't even try arguing with me on this one."
"I thought you wanted me to stay in bed," Squall mocked.
"Uh-uh." Seifer raised a hand. "C'mon, get up." He waited until ever so slowly, Squall rose to his knees on the bed, the large duvet wrapped tightly around him. The sleeves of the grey sweater reached the brunette's fingertips; Seifer grinned.
"Damn, you look good in my clothes."
Squall mentally rolled his eyes. "I’m up now."
Seifer regarded him with skepticism. "You want to go dressed like that?"
The brunette shrugged carelessly, rising to his feet on the mattress, still holding the duvet about his shoulders.
Seifer frowned in disapproval. "Don't stand on the bed; you might break it."
Squall gave him a funny look. "I think we've established that this bed is quite durable, Seifer."
"It just hasn't broken yet," the blond retorted, motioning for his lover to move off the bed. Squall obligingly stepped towards the edge and was pulled down to his knees before the former Sorceress' Knight. Those strong arms wound over the duvet, trapping him in its cocoon and Seifer smiled warmly, quickly kissing the Commander. "Are you strong enough to walk?"
Squall thought about this. In light of his early morning stumbles, he wasn't too sure. "... I'll be alright."
Seifer grinned. "I'll carry you if I have to."
"My hero," the brunette drawled, at which his partner snickered.
"What would you do without me?" Seifer joked, stealing another kiss. When they parted, the standing gunblader cocked his head to one side, raising a slender eyebrow. Squall realised that he was still waiting for a reply. Quickly opening his mouth to eject something playfully derisive, the brunette paused and frowned, surprisingly unable to come up with anything. After a long moment, his frown deepened and he met Seifer's waiting gaze.
"I... " He honestly could not think of a dignified response to that one. Instead, he gave Seifer a half-shrug that could be interpreted in any one of various ways.
Seifer's hands slid up his back over the duvet and down its makeshift collar that bunched at Squall's neck. "I know what I'd do. I'd hunt you down and make you fall in love with me all over again." He sounded pleased, but his words made Squall frown. What did he mean, 'all over again'?
Any expression on the brunette's face faded. "... What if I were dead?"
Seifer leaned his forehead against Squall's. "You're not."
"But what if I was?" Squall persisted, intrigued by the alien look that flashed across the blond's gaze. It was quite a while before Seifer spoke again.
"Do you remember... the first time I fought you during the war? When we were in Delling, and Edea got you with her attack... " Seifer trailed off, instead tapping lightly at Squall's chest where the ice shard had pierced him. Squall nodded, remembering all too well. His curiosity peaked when he realised that Seifer seemed to be having difficulty continuing, musician fingers playing with the collar of the sweater.
"What?" Squall prompted finally.
"I actually thought you were going to die at the time," Seifer said quickly. "And I shoulda known that she'd just bring you back 'n make me torture you-"
"W-wait," Squall interrupted. "Did you say 'bring me back'?"
"Uh... yeah." Seifer quickly continued when he saw the mortified look on the brunette's face. "But I don't think you actually died, you just... almost died."
Squall's gaze narrowed suspiciously. "... But I never died?"
"No, I don't think so."
"You don't think so?" Squall echoed, tone full of skepticism.
Seifer's expression was re-written in indignant defence. "Hey, I was worried out of my fuckin' mind! I thought you were dead and the other guys had been taken into prison, she didn't tell me what was being done to them, what was I supposed to think?" His hands fell from where they clutched the duvet at Squall's shoulder and he stepped back. "I thought you were dead," he repeated, voice low. "Do you have any idea what that’s like?"
"... Yes." Memories of swirling through time compression with vivid scenarios of what could have been rising everywhere he looked... "When I was going through time compression, I thought I saw Rinoa dead in space." He lowered his eyes, trying not to remember the mind-numbing shock and grief at losing one of his friends. Even after learning that it had all been an illusion, the horror and fear of losing Rinoa still remained and Squall believed that it was those feelings that had also fed the duration of their relationship before its end.
Seifer's fist balled into a fist at his side. "Yeah, but did you love her? Did anyone tell you that she could very well die if you didn't obey their every fucking whim? Did you have to torture her once you found out that she was alive when that was the very opposite of what you wanted to do?" By now, Seifer's voice was shaking and Squall wasn't sure if it was in anger or....
"... You loved me?" Squall asked timidly, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer.
Seifer sighed, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, he ran a hand through his short hair and shook his head. "Yes and no; I love you now, but I also did then." A bitter smile found his lips. "Funny, ain't it? People can spout proverbs all the time, but half o'them don't make full sense until they come into effect; until they happen to you."
Squall had completely forgotten about his stomach. "But... how can you be sure that you... you know... " he almost stumbled getting the words out. "... Love me?"
Seifer stared at him. "Squall we've been together for almost two years! What in the hell do you think I'm still around for? The hotdogs? I could go to Balamb and get some o'the world's best seafood anytime I wanted! Or maybe it's the students; Hyne, I adore first year cadets with their heads full o'steam!"
Squall shrank back, guiltily. "I... I guess I never thought about it."
The blond looked incredulous. "You mean you never wondered why I came back? You really had no clue?"
Squall shook his head slowly, fingers tightening on the duvet as Seifer sputtered in disbelief.
"Squall, what have you been doing all this time? If you didn't... " Seifer suddenly looked sad, realising the full implications of Squall's ignorance. "Then why did you take me back?"
Squall bit his tongue, hating the pain he saw in Seifer's eyes. "... I missed you." The brunette sat back on his heels and watched his fingers on the duvet, unable to meet the blond's gaze. "I was allowed to miss you, right?"
Silence pervaded the room for an unsettlingly long time; Squall fidgeted with the duvet, at a loss for words. Seifer loved him... and he hadn't even noticed? How... ? Or maybe... ? Squall frowned, thinking back on the last two years.
Squall started in his chair at the desk as a pair of strong arms snaked around his waist and a long, dry kiss was pressed to his neck. "Get your ass to bed already," Seifer purred in his ear, undeterred even when ignored.
Like an affectionate puppy, yearning for affection and most of all attention; the war had truly changed Seifer Almasy. Could he have been telling the truth?
"Hey, c'mere." Shrugging off his long trenchcoat, Seifer quickly draped it over the shivering Commander's shoulders. Squall's teeth ground together to restrain from chattering as he stared hard at the dark horizon from their vantage in the Quad. Strong arms held him gently from behind and Squall felt lips press to his hair. "Leather's not enough to keep out the cold, Squall."
Did Seifer really love him?
"You might as well just kill me if you did leave; I’d be dead anyway."
As ridiculous as it sounded... Seifer was always there to hold him. Even in these last few days, which had been the hardest, Squall tried to push him away repeatedly, in fear of how he would look in the blond's eyes. He feared being weak. He feared his own weakness. But still, Seifer was there to hold him, literally catching him when he fell.
"Don't shut me out, Squall. I'm worried about you..."
Such a fool. Such a blind fool. Squall swallowed hard as he remembered the obvious pain in Seifer's eyes at the end of their most recent dispute....
"You don't trust me?"
Squall groaned, his head falling forwards onto the bed. He felt so stupid. But worst of all, he had hurt Seifer terribly. The brunette was surprised when he felt hands on his back, pulling him up and then he was faced with twin pools of aqua, wide in concern.
"Are you alright? Is it your stomach?" Seifer asked, hands on his shoulders. "Do you want me to send for the Doctor instead? I'm sure I can get her to come up, I think we have some painkillers in the bathroom cabinet..." Seifer said all this, quickly rising to his feet, but Squall murmured in protest, pulling him back down.
"No," he said, surprising the blond by hugging him tightly. "I think I'll be alright."
Seifer returned the embrace hesitantly, arms resting on either side of Squall's torso. "Are you sure?"
Squall didn't answer in words, instead covering the blond's lips with his own in a unique form of apology. Seifer was still in shock, but was soon coaxed into response by gentle insistence of the warm tongue skimming over his sealed lips. The kiss was slowly drawn out, hesitant as though testing new territory, but they quickly reacquainted themselves. Squall’s tension was clear in his hands that barely held Seifer to him, giving him the liberty to pull away at any time. Seifer snaked a hand beneath the duvet and wound an arm around the lithe form beneath him, introducing a little more urgency to their kiss. Relief was imminent when Squall slowly, but surely responded with equal fervor. It was more than a simple meeting of lips; it was an apology, an assurance and a promise for something else. When Seifer opened his eyes again and parted for oxygen, the young brunette brushed pale lips over his jaw, ascending until he reached Seifer's ear and kissed the lobe as the blond had done for him so many times.
Seifer's eyes widened at the shy confession murmured for him alone. He stared down at the SeeD Commander who looked up at him, blue eyes waiting apprehensively for his response.
"... Are you sure?" Seifer asked, voice barely above a whisper.
Squall looked positively adorable when nervous. "Do I have to say it again?" he asked in all seriousness, but his tone was also wary.
Seifer grinned broadly, leaning down. "Let's put that mouth of yours to better use."
Squall laughed against his lips, the sound was beautiful in its rarity. At that moment, Seifer decided his life's work from then on would be to elicit that laugh as often as possible.
“Alright, let me see.”
Squall tilted his chin up as Doctor Kadowaki withdrew the thermometer from his lips. Peering at it closely, she made a thoughtful sound before putting it aside on the tray by the bed.
“You’re a few degrees above average, nothing too serious. However, I’m prescribing plenty of sleep so that you will recover completely rather than become worse.”
Seifer frowned and glanced at the apathetic brunette perched on the cot. “That’s it? What about his stomach?”
The doctor lifted her pen from the clipboard and tapped the air as though suddenly remembering something. She left the room with the promise to return quickly, Squall looked to Seifer who was seated by the wall.
“You see? Nothing serious.”
Seifer rolled his eyes and looked to the door for the Doctor’s reappearance. “Don’t start with me.”
Squall’s head bowed as he rubbed tiredly at his scar. No, if anything, Seifer would be the end of him. Fighting back a yawn, the Commander looked at his hand and scowled at the skin that was still red; it must have burned, afterall. He glanced up as he heard Seifer’s sigh and watched the blond stand before starting towards him. Strong hands gently clasped his, dry and warm against the brunette’s tingling skin.
“You’re such a stubborn bastard,” Seifer muttered with a hint of smile, Squall felt the corner of his mouth quirk, but it vanished quickly when his stomach clenched.
“What is it?” Seifer prompted at Squall’s expression of discomfort.
One of Squall’s hands moved to his stomach. “Feel hungry.”
Seifer chuckled in relief and moved to sit beside him. “I’ll take you to dinner.”
The brunette shook his head. “No, it’s alright.”
“You don’t have a say in this, I’m taking you out to dinner.”
Squall shook his head in disbelief; who was stubborn? He was happily distracted from Seifer's triumphant grin when his transceiver beeped for attention. Removing it from his pocket, he opened the audio device and held it to his ear. "What?"
"I really have to teach you to kick that habit, it's really a rude way to answer your phone, you know? I mean it's so easy to say 'hello', or-"
The brunette sighed. "How can I help you, Selphie?"
"We're having a little celebration, so we're all going out to dinner tonight. Can you make it?"
"Dinner?" Squall frowned. "What are you celebrat-hey!"
He stared in disbelief at the man who had stolen his transceiver, but Seifer just held him at arm's length. "Seifer, give it back."
Seifer, however, kept him firmly away as he spoke to Selphie. "Hey, it's me. No, he's fine.... Of course I am! The restaurant by the docks? Yeah, sounds great, but what are you.... ?" He paused and a small frown found his expression, while looking mildly perplexed. "Oh... really? ... What do you mean 'you think'?" Seifer threw Squall an impatient look to cease his struggles; Squall just scowled and shoved his hand away, reassuming his all-purpose glare. The blond returned his attention back to the transceiver conversation. "Yeah yeah, you won, get over it. Yes, I remember. Alright, we'll be there soon. Bye. Bye... !" Seifer promptly ended the transmission and handed Squall back his device. "It's so hard to end a conversation with that woman."
Squall snatched the transceiver back and replaced it in his pocket. "What was that about?"
"Dinner is settled, we're meeting them after we finish up here."
"Seifer, my answer hasn't changed."
"So is mine, I'll carry you if I have to."
Seifer and all his carrying nonsense. It was Squall’s turn to roll his eyes. “I wouldn’t have good food wasted when I just throw it back up.”
“Then it’s a good thing you came to see me!” Seifer turned to the Doctor as she re-entered the small room, hands full with various items. “You’re the fifth case that has reported these symptoms, I would say there’s a nasty stomach bug going around – I don’t know how it’s being transmitted, nor how contagious it is.”
Seifer frowned, but Squall seemed to brighten. “Contagious?”
The Doctor nodded, settling the items on the bedside tray. “It’s possible.”
Squall’s expression became smug as he silently mouthed to Seifer “no fun for you tonight”. Blue-green eyes narrowed in challenge, but Squall’s attention was diverted as the Doctor handed him a small bottle of pills.
“Those are antibiotics, I’ll see you again in a week to check how you’re doing, but if you feel the need to make an earlier appointment – that is, if there is really no change or your situation becomes worse – do tell me.”
Squall nodded and pocketed the item before a white plastic jar was presented to him. “ … ?”
“This salve is for your hands,” she explained. “Apply it morning and night and those burns should heal in no time.” A playful smile graced her features as he took it. “Hopefully you’ll take care next time you use the stove.”
“The stove… cooking, right,” the Commander echoed, ignoring Seifer’s inquisitive frown. He waited as the Doctor paused and he expected she’d found more to drug him with.
“At the least, those pills should allow you to digest with better ease. I don’t like that you’ve lost so much weight,” she told him in that maternal voice.
“Not really,” Squall murmured, as he absently rubbed his arm and noted how thin it was; he’d need to be getting to the Training Center.
Kadowaki pointed that pen at him accusingly. “Eat. Doctor’s orders, alright, Seifer?”
The blond grinned. “Yes, ma’am!”
Squall sighed as they left the Infirmary. “You really will be the end of me, won’t you?”
Seifer smirked in satisfaction. “That’s right, so just make sure you enjoy the ride.” He glanced down at the brunette by his side and caught the traces of a smile that stole across marble features. The impulse to reach an arm around the shorter man was rather compelling. “It’s not over yet,” he continued and looked ahead to the open exit. “Not by a long shot.”
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