Author's Notes: The '*'s indicate a new chapter. This is a shounen-ai story, as in there's no graphic descriptions of intercourse, (No sex please, we're british!) but there's plenty of snogging.
The boat ride to Dollet took about 2 hours so it was dusk when they eventually arrived. Zell clutched himself and shivered.
"Man, it's really cold here huh," he grumbled, rubbing his arms. Quistis rubbed her hands and agreed. "I suppose you're used to it huh, ice-dude," he added, turning to Squall for some sort of reply. Squall's insides where being torn apart; apprehension, fear and longing all battling for supremacy in his head. Zell waved his hand in front of his eyes, almost hidden by the worried frown.
"Hellooo, come back Squally," Zell laughed making Squall start. "Where the hell where you?" The silence that followed was filled by the waves breaking gently on the side of the boat. Eventually Squall took a deep breath and nodded.
"I'm okay, I'm fine," he said, mostly trying to reassure himself. Nervous sweat dampened his fringe despite the bitter cold. The dock brought back bittersweet memories of their exam as well as their first kiss in Balamb. This raised his spirits slightly; after all it was a good memory if you cut it off at the right moment, so he strode toward the centre of the town, assuming his superiority over the task at hand.
"Right," he barked, Zell and Quistis automatically stood to attention. " Quistis head up North Street, check every inch, question everyone, Zell South Street ditto, I'll head down here." He pointed down the all too familiar street that led toward the beach. "We'll meet back here in 1 hour unless one of us finds him or anything important, if you do find him for Hyne's sake don't make him run away again, don't scorn him," he looked pointedly at Quistis, then Zell, "or take the piss. If he's not here we'll move on to Timber straight away." The two SeeD's nodded and ran off. Unfortunately, despite asking every person in the town, some a few times, all Squall could seem to obtain was the odd rumour that "Yea, he was here, I think, tall fellow. Maybe a while back, I dunno." Squall stormed out of the last bar in such frustration, bloody morons can't tell their fat arse from their elbow, he bumped straight into Zell.
"Dude, shut up," said Zell after Squall bombarded him with fifty questions at once. "I heard he's gone to Galbadia, the bar chick said he might have been escaping someone but she wouldn't say who, seemed afraid to say." Squall grinned, patting Zell's arm and radioed Quistis before running toward the car-hire centre. As twists of fate are often cruel however, this one was no exception. A shadow split from the alleyway just behind where Zell and Squall were talking and watched them till they drove away, a low menacing chuckle rising to an insane cackle. He smirked and licked his lips.
"How wonderful, so that's where you went my beautiful little plaything."
Zell's self-confessed 'flawless' navigating was unfortunately lacking that night so they didn't reach Galbadia till gone midnight, by which time Squall's gratitude toward Zell was severely tested. Once inside however they wasted no time asking everyone in sight if they had seen the man in the faded photograph which Squall shoved under their noses. Most were hesitant to say anything, the man looked ominously familiar, some obviously recognised him as Edea's ex lap-dog and refused point blank to talk to them. After a further hour and a half Zell stopped and leant on a bollard near the Galbadia hotel.
"Squall wait up I'm exhausted," he groaned. It was his mistake however as the hovering mass of fangirls converged on him waving autograph books and cameras in his face. Zell was too kind-hearted to disappoint them so proceeded to keep Quistis and a now very exasperated Squall waiting for 20 minutes while he signed every book, posed for every photo and answered every question. Squall rubbed his weary eyes irritably; the shadows underneath were purple from so many nights of insomnia and blood-shot from pouring over newspapers from every part of the world. The lines around his eyes and mouth had deepened in the last few months from worry, all this coupled with the incompetent imbeciles that surrounded him had worn his patience extremely thin.
"Zell!" he yelled, "fucking hurry up!" Zell grinned and excused himself from the remaining few girls that gazed at him in awe and wondered over sheepishly. He apologised to Squall, getting an icy glare in return, and stared at his feet.
"Maybe we should find somewhere for the night," chided Quistis, taking Squall's arm gently. "None of us have eaten much since this morning. Squall yanked his arm away with more force than was necessary and grimaced.
"Certainly not, we have to keep going. Where are you going? Get back here at once!" he growled in apoplexy watching a defiant Zell stride toward the hotel.
"Screw this, I know I said I'd help you but I ain't staying hungry for him or for you." He stopped, looking over his shoulder with rare animosity at a chuntering Squall. "Don't talk to me like that, I'm doing you a favour, you're not my superior anymore." Squall watched him walk inside the hotel, to rapturous welcome, and glanced at Quistis.
"What's that bloody look for," he snarled.
"Oh Squall, shut up," she replied most uncharacteristically. "Just come and eat would you? Everything's gotta be such a drama with you," she added as she wandered after Zell. Inside, Zell, being a very well known face, had drawn the cook and headwaiter from their mid-shift bottle and was seated at the best table. Latecomers waiting at the bar didn't mind him pushing in and were already whispering to eachother and gasping. Squall was impressed, so there was a use to the boy after all. Slightly embarrassed Squall sat down next to Zell who was waving to the people at the bar and trying to choose what to eat.
"Sorry," he mumbled, toying with his napkin. Zell laughed and slapped him on the back.
"No worries Squally, what's your poison," he said, picking up the wine list.
The headwaiter so passionately offered his undivided attention and services it was as though he was declaring undying love. Squall resisted the urge to glare at Zell for the use of his despised nickname and instead glanced at the menu, realising suddenly just how ravenous he was. He almost choked on his complimentary bread stick as he noticed the astronomical prices; he poked Quistis with his elbow.
"Can we put this on the Garden's budget?" he said.
"Non, non, non!" cried the eaves-dropping headwaiter suddenly making Squall jump. He then went into a flurry of whipping out napkins from glasses and laying them over the trios' laps and refilling water glasses to the brim while furiously insisting that, as a close friend of Monsieur Dincht, it would be absurd to expect him or his trếs gentil lady-friend to pay anything. Quistis grinned.
"Great! Not only do I get dinner with two gorgeous blokes, but I don't have to pay and," she played idly with her hair, "I get complimented on my beauty."
"Top night out!... Do you really think I'm gorgeous?" asked Zell, smirking saucily and making Quistis giggle and hide behind her menu. Suddenly a great cry erupted upstairs.
"Murderer!" exclaimed a quavering, shrill voice. "You murdered my two sons, you bastard!" As a comely receptionist comforted the woman, three burly security men began to bear down upon the accused man. Assuring him they didn't want any trouble, but cracking their knuckles none the less, they grabbed the man forcibly by the arms and headed toward the door.
"Get your fucking hands off me!" he yelled in vain. All three at the table froze, only one man they knew had that low, clipped arrogant drawl. The hair on Squall's neck stood on end as he leapt from his chair sending glasses and people flying. He heard the guards throwing the man into the street to much swearing and growling as he reached the top of the stairs. This time it was his mouth that dried up too much too talk, he watched the hulking figure shuffle away with his hands in his pockets. Finally he managed to cry out.
"Seifer!" For a split second everything stopped. Just like last time Seifer's heart froze. Slowly he turned around, a broad grin splitting his rather emaciated but still beautiful face for the first time in over a month. Squall noticed the shadows under his lapis-lazuli eyes were darker than his, his hair hang lank over the tops of his ears. The normal Seifer would never have let himself get in such a state he thought, sprinting past the bewildered guards, desperate to soothe the worries from his lovers' deeply lined brow. Seifer laughed uproariously as Squall threw himself upon him, nearly toppling them both. Squall buried his face into Seifer's neck, closing his eyes tight in an attempt to battle back the tears and mumbling softly.
"Oh god, Seifer, I thought you were dead, why the hell didn't you come back?! I've been so bloody worried about you, I love you I really do, I'm sorry for being such an ass-hole, I guess that's why you didn't get in touch, please come home, I need you to come back, please, please!" Seifer gently stroked his chestnut hair and waited patiently for him to run out of breath. When he did he took his shoulders and looked at his pale face, which was flushed from such an outburst.
"Slow down, babe, take a breathe." Squall gazed up at him, taking in the effects worry and pain had etched on his youthful face. There was something very different about him, other than the three days worth of blond stubble which he had been unable to tame. He must have lost half his body weight, he thought in anguish, although his arms still held him with the strength he remembered. A few weeks of stodgy canteen food would sort that out, but that wasn't it, something else wasn't right. It was as though he had lost something precious, something he could never get back. But as he pushed a lock of chocolate hair from his face and smiled down at him, he dismissed it for the time being and smiled warmly.
Seifer couldn't believe it. He had hoped beyond hope that Squall would come looking for him after the first week, after three weeks he began to lose faith, perhaps he could never forgive him for what he did, then after five weeks he gave up altogether. He was then caught of guard, as always, by the object of his undivided, undying affection dragging his feet in a sulk into the hotel. Of course, the security men didn't want him there, they knew exactly who he was, but Seifer would have killed to follow him. So it was with images of their first kiss swimming through his mind that he decided it would not be the last as well and tried for it anyway. Then that stupid bitch had to ruin it all. Funny how he got the blame for everyone's deaths and everyone's problems throughout the war while the soldiers that actually did it walked free. Because of you my share prices plummeted and now I'm in debt...And? Because of you my boyfriend went to fight and fell in love with someone else!...Good man, maybe if you weren't so ugly...Because of you my dog had a heart attack!...Did he die?...Well, no but...Then fuck off! It was constant. If he was ever allowed back into Garden he would never leave again! He would stop playing truant, get up early to train, even do the homework as long as he never had to hear from those petty morons again. Granted some were understandable.
"Murderer! You murdered my two sons, you bastard!" It was however greatly publicised that he was brain-washed throughout his position as the Sorceresses knight, it wasn't him doing those things. He remembered it vividly, like being in a tank that you couldn't control on a rampage through towns and cities you knew and loved, ruining innocent people's lives while you screamed inside, heard by no one. Being thrown out of every place he went into for something he didn't feel he did only threw his desperate insecurities into sharp relief. Seeing Squall had temporarily blocked out the glares of horror he often received giving him the confidence to stride into the hotel, landing hard on the cold concrete outside 30 seconds later brought him straight back down to earth. Who the hell was he kidding, like Squall was there to find him. He had probably heard, no doubt he recognised his voice and seeing him thrown out would make the justified judgment that he should be shunted and ignored for the rest of his life. He scolded himself for harbouring such a pointless, overly-romantic dream that Squall might just take him back. Then Seifer experienced one of the most erratic mood swings of his life; depressively suicidal one moment then, hearing the desperation in Squall's voice as he cried out his name and dive-bombed him, ecstatic joy. Seifer could hardly make out what it was Squall was saying, too overcome with emotion to take much in, but he could have sworn he heard something very important, why else would his heart jump into his throat. He had to confirm it, after all he had been waiting 24 years to hear it, he had to be sure.
"Okay, now, start again," he said softly.
"I'm sorry for being an ass-hole," Seifer nodded, Squall continued. "Please come back." Squall took a deep breath to calm the aviary in his stomach. "I...I love you." This sudden revelation that seemed to fit every aspect of his life brought with it such a wave of emotion that Squall wanted to cry, it was a few moments before he realised he was. This touched Seifer deeply, he couldn't speak for pride, this beautiful creature, so delicate yet masculine, was giving himself to him, to him! Softly he cupped Squall's face in his hands and opened his mouth to reply, Zell pre-empted him.
"Squall, to your right, look out!" Squall's lightening reflexes prevented the sword from slicing his jugular but as he fell to the ground from the impact, he heard his wrist snap. He cried out in pain, clutching his arm and gritting his teeth. He looked up at the man who attacked him, he was tall, fury was etched on his crimson, leering face so covered in hair you could hardly make out his features. His eyes bulged out as he looked down his large bumpy nose at Squall, his hands shaking with excitement and anger. Hands, Squall noticed with a pang, that held Seifer's beloved weapon.
"What the hell are you doing with Hyperion?!" he demanded with questionable conviction. The man moved his contemptuous gaze to Seifer who was shrinking against a car parked on the side of the road, terror had drained all colour from his face.
"Oh god, it's you," he stuttered. The man chuckled insanely and nodded.
"Thought you'd escape me huh?" He advanced on Seifer, swinging Hyperion beside him. "Haven't you explained the deal with this one?" Seifer, too shocked to speak, made silent protests as the man turned back to Squall. "It's 100 gil a go with this bitch, don't think you can have him for free, he owes me three grand." The horror of Seifer's face as his terrified eyes darted from the man to Squall made the revelation ring true. He knew the answer before he asked.
"What do you mean 100 gil a go?"
"He's my little whore," the man replied, Seifer let out an anguished moan. "And with this," he patted Hyperion, "there's nothing either of you can do about it." Seifer thought differently. The presence of Squall gave him the confidence to run at the man with a rage fuelled by shame and the thought of losing Squall again. Unfortunately Seifer wasn't any good at hand-to-hand combat and what might have been a vicious right hook missed. The man grabbed Seifers' outstretched arm and yanked him into his knee. He clutched his stomach in agony before being floored by the butt of his own gunblade. The man stood over him and gloated.
"That's the third time you've tried to stand up to me, you know full well you can't..." Zell, always one to see a vulnerable opening in battle, and the only one with his weapon, landed a devastating left hook which sent the man flying six feet backwards onto the cold hard tarmac. Ignoring the bellows of approval from the crowd in the hotel, he held out a hand to Seifer.
"You realise I'm not doing this for you," he mumbled, never taking his eyes off his stirring opponent. "I'm doing this because he broke Squall's arm, because neither of them had the sense to bring their weapon and," he added with a satisfied grin, "you suck at martial arts so you owe me nothing." With that he strutted toward the man and grabbed his collar, dragging his face to his. As the man was at least a good foot taller than Zell his feet still dragged on the floor, but this didn't faze him and he drew his right fist back slowly. Drowning out the now maniacally yelling crowds he became the picture of concentration, then began a string of jaw-breaking punches till blood was pouring from the man's nose, mouth and eyes. Then in a lightening quick succession of moves he kneed him in the stomach, then the face then leapt into the air slamming a wicked round-house kick that knocked him down and very firmly out. Zell picked up Hyperion and approached a gob-smacked Seifer.
"Bloody hell, that was good," he mumbled, putting a hand on the small man's shoulder. "Thanks." Zell shrugged dismissively but couldn't wipe the grin from his face. Deafening applause and girly screams drowned out his reply as the crowd, including people from neighbouring houses swarmed around him brandishing yet more pieces of paper and cameras. Seifer slipped through the hoards of fans, to whom Zell was happily obliging autographs, and collapsed on the curb next to Squall, who had cast a curaga on himself but still needed a cast. Seifer stared at his feet in the following silence, the crowd seemed miles away. Squall sighed and shook his head.
"I'm disappointed." Seifer winced.
"Yes," Squall turned to him and smiled warmly. "I wanted to be your first." Seifer had such a look of confusion on his face that Squall laughed and kissed him gently. Seifer cupped his face and kissed him back with such passion that Squall was pushed back onto the pavement laughing. He had finally broken the barrier between them.
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