Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VIII is property of Square Enix.
Betareader: Angel of Enigma
Warnings: Yaoi (boy love with the pairings Seifer x Squall), language, non-con (rape), self-abuse, angst, violence, fluff, AU (Alternate Universe).
Chapter Four - Hero
"I don't need a hero. I don't need anyone."
By Angry Angel
When your mind is heavy with thoughts and overflowing with memories that are nothing short of painful, running so quickly becomes hell. You no longer run to reach a goal; you don't run to win. You run merely for the sake of running away from the things that haunt you. You start to breathe differently, move your feet differently, and before you know it, you're exhausted. Your heart may pound or it may crawl, but your mind will spin like a carousel. As it spins, it will deceive you. And it will force you to remember, even as you fight to keep your pace; fight not to fall.
At least when your name is Seifer Almasy.
No other gym lesson had ever left him feeling so drained and so exhausted. His lungs were wheezing raspy as he sank down upon his bench in the changing rooms one hour after leaving Squall at the infirmary, and he was almost relieved that Jeff and his cronies had found no further interest in his person. He was no longer in the mood to fight. Instead, he utilized his energy to will Squall's image into the back of his mind, but still he could think of nothing else. He found himself wondering whether the brunette was alright, or whether his injury had been severe enough to justify surgery.
Dully, Seifer shook his head as he placed his shoes and gym clothes in his bag, standing barefoot in only his pants. Powerful muscles were gliding smoothly beneath tanned skin as he peeled his fresh t-shirt over his head, ruffling his carefully gelled back hair. His expression darkened.
He should have acted much sooner. In fact, he should have intervened the very moment that those dim-witted troublemakers had opened their foul mouths. It wasn't like he hadn't known any better, either. Perhaps he had felt like Squall had deserved a righteous lesson for his frigidity, but he had clearly missed the point at which the brunette's "lecture" had turned into punishment.
He hadn't wanted for this to happen.
Yes, he decided with a grim nod, he should have stepped up to the plate much earlier, even if Squall's behavior had suggested staying away entirely. Without a doubt, the dark haired youth was too repelling for his own good.
A frown crumpled Seifer's features, and he halted briefly in putting on his shoes. Squall had been so stiff in his embrace back at the track court, almost as if the brunette had been scared of the touch. Why would he be? Save for that one unlucky time, Seifer had been careful and treated Squall like fragile porcelain.
After all, Seifer had only wanted to help.
He resumed dressing, but shoved his jacket into his bag. It had become far too hot already, and perhaps it was also time to move on - time to leave his past behind for good. His face curled and he snorted disdainfully at the notion - thus far, he didn't exactly have anywhere (or anyone) to "move on" to.
Slowly, he raised up, and his emerald eyes lost focus somewhere on the brushed metal surface of his locker door. Was this the reason for his emotional distress? His past? Did it even have anything to do with Squall at all? He probably wasn't half as special as Seifer thought him. The blonde believed the roots for his anxiety to be buried somewhere else. Part of him was still nostalgically clinging to his past, to his never ceasing popularity - and Squall's repulsion was eating away at his self-assurance, which he had deemed untouchable.
... "Never ceasing popularity?"
A venomous frown dimmed his naturally lucid features, and it shadowed his eyes with the bitterness that was smoldering deep within him.
He hated the brunette; hated him for being the pure personification of the ill turn that Seifer's life had taken. Squall ignored him, made it clear how superfluous and resistible he was at length - likely, he even condemned him. Squall was everything that Seifer had wanted to leave behind when he had been banished to this town, with only one exception...
It may have sounded corny, and in Seifer's ears it did, but it was still as simple as that. Without a question, Squall was beautiful on the outside for all he was worth, but his inside remained a secret yet. Seifer had never been any good with secrets nor riddles; he liked for things to be clear-cut. And if he must ask a question, he at least wanted to receive a straight answer.
Squall, however, didn't seem to function that way.
Perhaps his chill had a reason; it definitely didn't seem to be funneled towards Seifer alone. More so, it appeared to be a general attitude that the brunette carried outward with almost disturbing perfection. He was, by far, the most unlikely person that Seifer could have ever devoted his attention to. Cold and untouchable - those were adjectives that Seifer had never before associated with objects of his interest, let alone desire.
Then again, maybe it was time for a change.
He sighed under his breath, smoothing a few stray tresses of golden hair behind his ears. This was getting him nowhere. In fact, he was just meddling, drowning himself deeper and deeper in a maze of thoughts that did nothing but confuse him even more. He wasn't the type of guy to be brooding over things; he rather acted upon them.
Unfortunately, it did take two to tango, and Squall seemed like a guy who hated nothing more than to dance.
Overall, Seifer had come to no conclusion as he finally exited the changing rooms and walked down the hallway, avoiding flocks of students on their lunch period. He passed the corner that rounded off to the infirmary, hesitating in his stride. He wasn't going to succumb to this. If they needed his help, if Squall needed it, they would surely call for his assistance. It was none of his business in the first place, and he already felt pathetic enough for even caring what had come to pass behind that white door after he had closed it over an hour ago.
As he was standing there in his dark grey khakis, heavy boots and the white t-shirt that was tight at the curves of his well-toned shoulders, gazing down the hallway in a blank, he suddenly felt someone prodding him into the side. His eyebrows knit together as he turned with a low-pitched grunt; he wasn't in the mood for silly games.
Amethyst eyes were beaming at him fondly, a strange sparkle whirling in their depths. Seifer cocked his head aside, easing his features into a less menacing expression.
"... Irvine?" he asked, his baritone voice sounding perplexed.
The cowboy skidded past him to look down the same hallway that Seifer had been fixing so attentively, but he seemed disappointed with what he saw - or rather, what he didn't see.
"What's so interesting down there?" he inquired, snickering with curiosity. "Thought you had spotted a babe."
Seifer resisted the urge to twist his eyes in a wicked pattern. Did this guy actually think about anything but girls? Truthfully, Seifer's mind too had been quite occupied with the thoughts of a certain brunette, but at least he deemed himself a bit more selective than the flirty cowboy. Considering those girls in their math class and the attention that the auburn haired teen had devoted to them, Irvine seemed to be after anything that breathed.
"Hmm, guess not then," Irvine said casually, before he turned to face Seifer. "Anyway, Zell and I are on our way to "Ward's" for lunch. Wanna come?"
As Irvine jabbed his finger over his right shoulder, Seifer finally noticed the short, spiky-haired blonde in the bright red skating attire roaming around somewhere behind the cowboy. It sort of looked like Zell was practicing martial arts moves, since he was found randomly punching the thin air; shadow boxing perhaps, but Seifer wasn't entirely sure. For all he knew, this Zell kid could be catching flies, and it looked nothing short of ridiculous.
"Zell," Irvine tried to snare the blonde's attention. "Hey man, give it a break! This is Seifer, the guy I told you about. Seifer, this is my buddy Zell."
Zell turned on the spot, his arms still angled before his chest as he bounced on the balls of his feet. Seifer snorted audibly. Just who did this guy think he was? Bruce "The Bleach Haired Hedgehog" Lee? His hair was so damned spiky someone could have plunged him head first into the ground and used him as a flagpole.
Apparently, Zell had noticed the jeer in Seifer's dark jade eyes, because his own baby blue ones narrowed ever so slightly and he puffed out his chest, trying to look intimidating. Granted, he was kind of cute with his boyish good looks, but Seifer didn't care all that much for blondes in general. After all, opposites attracted, or didn't they?
The only appealing thing that Seifer acknowledged about the short blonde was an intricate tribal tattoo that snaked across the greater part of Zell's left cheek and temple. It was one of those pieces of art that looked like their creation had caused mad pain and driven mothers to go into conniptions. Semi-consciously, Seifer made a mental note to himself to expand his own collection of tattoos. Thus far, the only ink gracing his skin was a black tribal band writhing around his right biceps, and the inside portion of it had hurt enough to last him for two lifetimes.
But, rest assured, his mother had gone into conniptions, and that alone had made it all worth his while.
The wannabe martial artist had finally lowered his hands, and Seifer noticed that he was wearing padded, fingerless gloves. Seifer resisted the urge to snort repetitively, if only because Zell was wiping one of those hands on his skater pants and offered it to him. With a faint look of disgust curling his chiseled features, the taller blonde accepted it, and he shook it awkwardly.
"Well, got that taken care of," Irvine announced contently, looking from one to the other with a cryptic grin. "So, you wanna come along or what, Seif?"
"... Sure," Seifer replied, rolling one of his shoulders in a supple shrug.
It wasn't like he had anything better to do, really. Forty minutes of lunch until his biology class was ample time to not be spending in awe over 'His Grouchiness' himself - also referred to as Squall Leonhart. These quirky kids looked like they'd provide for some well-needed distraction, and they seemed alright enough. Not the usual jock crowd he would hang with, but he had broken with them months ago and he wasn't dumb enough to rebound.
"Sweet. Let's ride then!" the cowboy suggested, ushering Seifer into a random hallway.
The blonde walked with them nonchalantly, his hands buried in the pockets of his loose cargo pants. He watched Zell's silly antics and listened to the teen's tales on his riot English class, somehow falling into a droning daze once they stepped out into the school court. The air was alive with a vast array of sounds and many colorful specks that were actually students who had laid out on the grass to consume their homemade lunches. His viridian eyes grazed the trees, cherrywood benches and the hoods of many cars that were glistening in the warm sunlight. Somewhere in the distance, a fountain was splashing water onto fine marble, and Seifer couldn't help but turn his head towards that serene sound.
Instinctively, he slowed in his stride as his eyes connected with a lone figure sitting at the edge of that spring. The scenery was enveloped by a group of beautiful old trees, which were shedding petals and leaves to dance on the currents of the quiet summer breeze. Seifer didn't have to look twice to recognize that head of tousled brown hair and the lithely limbed body that was resting so calmly on its pedestal, offering a true sight to behold. It was indeed none other than Squall, who was sitting sideways with one leg propped up before him, and the cool water was spluttering happily behind his back. His head was bowed, and he was focused on something in his hands that Seifer could not distinguish from the distance.
The blonde slowly continued walking, but he didn't tear his gaze away from Squall's image, quietly hoping that the brunette would once again sense his eyes upon him. But Squall was engrossed in whatever it was that he was doing, and his body was perfectly still.
'What is he doing out here...? He must be feeling better... I wonder if his ankle is alright?'
He had to adjust his focus once they had progressed further down the street, away from the school. His mind, however, would not adjust, and he found something tugging on him and his natural curiosity, urging him to go back for reasons that were still puzzling to him.
"-then she dropped it."
"No way, dude!"
"She did, too."
"Did she bend down to pick it up?"
As Zell's and Irvine's voices phased back into his conscience, he glanced at them sourly and his eyebrows kinked downwards. Suddenly, he had no desire whatsoever to eat lunch with them anymore, or to have lunch at all, for that matter. Throwing a curt look across his shoulder, he assured himself that Squall hadn't just vanished into thin air, before clearing his throat to divert the boys' attention.
"Erh... sorry guys, I forgot my wallet in my car," he lied, keeping an astoundingly straight face. "I gotta go back and get it."
They stopped in confusion, but he only grinned at them amicably. Little did they know that his wallet was stowed away in one of the pockets of his gym bag, together with the keys to his truck. It seemed like an excusable amendment of the truth, though, at least for the sake of grasping this chance to talk to Squall.
"That's alright," Irvine offered kindly. "I can foot the bill for ya and you pay me back later or something. And come to think of it, I could probably get the cute chick to give us a free meal..."
"Nah, you guys go ahead, I'll catch up with ya at the diner," Seifer quickly objected, slicing the air with his hand in a dismissive gesture.
"But you don't even know where it's at," Zell mused, scratching his chin. "You've never been, have ya?"
"I'll find it, no worries," the taller blonde said with a tiny snarl. "Meet ya there."
He didn't wait for their response, afraid to be running out of possible excuses for his retreat. They watched him walking away and exchanged confused glances, but then they simply shrugged and continued on their way. Seifer had witnessed all that from the very corner of his eyes, and he didn't actually steer for the fountain until he was assured that Irvine and Zell were well out of sight.
His powerful stride crumpled to a mere crawl as he approached the ethereal figure still sitting motionless on the brim of said fountain. Water droplets were flittering through the air, glistening in the golden sunlight like miniscule jewels. Squall didn't seem to notice any of it; he was focused on a stack of paper in his hands, and as Seifer stepped closer, he could see the cables of an MP-3 player trailing off into Squall's ears. The brunette had changed sometime after his infirmary visit, for he was wearing his biker boots, faded blue jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt, as well as his leather wristbands. His backpack was placed at the foot of the spring, and he held a black marker loosely in his hand.
Finally, Seifer stopped at an arm's length distance before the brunette. He looked down upon the shorter boy silently, not quite sure whether Squall was even aware of his presence. When the dark haired teen finally flicked up his gaze, however, Seifer could see no surprise mirroring in the blue grey orbits of his eyes, only mute and thinly masked annoyance.
"Well, well, well. Hello again," Seifer said awkwardly, and he raised his hand in a lazy greeting. "Guess you're out of the infirmary, huh?"
Squall regarded him with an air that suggested skepticism over the existence of a brain in Seifer's very skull. His features were rigid like stone, and Seifer wondered whether they were even capable of producing something as beautiful and careless like a smile. His eyes were hard like slate tinted glass, but his gaze didn't leave Seifer's face. It surprised the blonde, if only mildly so.
"As you see." Squall eventually replied flatly, before returning his attention to the notepad in his hands.
Seifer was a man of many traits and talents, and persistence ranked very high amongst their numbers. His brows twitched slightly at Squall's distinct reserve, but then he dropped his gym bag to the ground and let himself flop down upon the wide marble brim of the spring, right next to the brunette.
Sucking in a sharp breath as he felt Seifer slumping down at his side, Squall forced himself to keep staring at the paper before him. He had been working on finishing his math class sketch, but with this guy suddenly at hand, he just knew that it would turn out to be impossible. In his ears, Squall could hear Marilyn Manson screaming. The music was just quiet enough to where Squall had been able to understand Seifer, but the high-pitched voice of the singer suddenly irritated him, as did his lyrics, which Squall usually soaked up like a dry sponge absorbing water. Growling under his breath, he snatched the plugs from his ears and laced the cable connecting them around his neck.
Seifer, misinterpreting the gesture as a challenge to start a conversation, let his lips snap into a tight grin.
"So, how's your ankle doin'?" he asked, leaning into the brunette to cast a good look at his propped up foot.
He could see the muscles shifting beneath the thin fabric of Squall's shirt as he moved closer, and the brunette practically jumped out of his skin as he edged away, a flush creeping to his cheekbones.
"Fine," Squall mumbled aggressively, still staring at his sketchpad.
The brunette tried to steady himself. His skin was starting to feel uncomfortably hot. He didn't want this guy to be so unnaturally close to him; it reminded him of their earlier episode, and he really didn't like to think of that. The memory of it was heavy on his mind as it was, and the blonde's presence did little to change that. Seifer smelled so... profoundly; something like a brisk, mint ocean scent, and another tint to it that Squall couldn't quite figure out. It was overwhelming. He was suffocating, wanting to stand up and walk away from this.
Squall swallowed hard, and his features dragged in an attempt of chasing the obnoxious blonde away with a well-placed death glare.
It wasn't working.
"What did the doctor say?" Seifer asked him, oblivious to Squall's instable state of mind. "It looked like it was pretty swollen."
'Why are you asking? Why do you even care? Who asked you to care? This is none of your fucking business!'
As Squall's jaw set and the lines of his face hardened, Seifer could guess those thoughts to be crossing the brunette's mind. Part of him understood this and was willing to comply with Squall's antipathy, but at the same time, the greater part of him was reluctant to just give in. Of course, at this rate, he was never going to get anywhere. He even considered being flirty - being obvious. Squall didn't seem to pose much of a threat. He wasn't the type of guy that would parade around spreading the lukewarm gossip. Then again, Seifer also didn't have much of an idea concerning the type of guy that Squall was - and that was never a healthy basis for a chancy flirt.
Squall seemed like he wasn't interested in the people around him, or anything that went beyond the edges of his drawing pad, for that matter. He was serious to a fault, and "humor" was probably a word that he had burned out of his vocabulary with a flame thrower. Those characteristics of Squall were easy enough to figure out. Now, if Seifer could only find an explanation for that sketchy, almost scared flinch that was so common to his moves...
Well, it was worth a shot.
"Did you ice it at all?" he asked softly and brought his body closer to Squall's, testing the waters.
"Don't touch m--" the brunette snapped as he jerked away, but he fell silent the moment he realized that Seifer had by no means attempted to touch, let alone harm him.
Seifer furrowed his brows in bewilderment, but he did not retreat. The air had suddenly become very tense, and the pressure was rising. They were sitting next to each other like chicken on a rod, and neither their arms nor any other parts of their bodies were actually in any kind of contact. Squall let out an exasperated breath, and his fingers tightened around his marker, almost snapping it in half.
"Yes," he then ground out through his teeth, trying to cover up the fact that he had almost flipped over nothing at all.
The blonde regarded him with a long, intense look, and he was studying the brunette's perfectly chiseled profile with barely hidden interest. Squall let his head droop forward, knowing that the long, chunky strands of his dark brown hair would sway into his face and hide it from view. It was one of the few things in life that he could rely on.
"Alright... so you iced it, and then what?"
Squall looked up in frustration, and even if no sound escaped his lips, his face told a story of its own.
'Why can't you just shut the fuck up and leave...?'
Seifer was almost amused by the concept of being able to read any of the brunette's thoughts on the very surface of his gale grey eyes. They were sparking and glowering, almost like those clouds that delivered the most vicious of thunderstorms. Squall's annoyance was painfully evident, but Seifer was too much of a hard head and conqueror to act by what he saw.
"She bandaged it," Squall explained blandly, his voice barely more than a whisper.
'Leave... just leave...'
Squall exercised some quick, almost violent strokes upon his drawing, blackening the lines of the lion that had suddenly sprouted wings. Seifer regarded it with curiosity, his attention momentarily diverted from Squall's foot.
"A winged lion?" he asked neutrally.
Surprisingly enough, Squall's head whipped up from his sketch with a crack, and he glared at the blonde in something that bordered to hatred. Seifer immediately put on his most innocent and defensive expression, warily raising his hands.
"Hey, I was just asking," he mumbled. "No need to jump down my throat, Squall."
The brunette was mildly astounded that Seifer had actually remembered his name, and his frown smoothed out, if only by a little. Sighing, he returned his gaze to his drawing, regarding it with an expression that Seifer couldn't quite place. The brunette suddenly seemed doubtful. Squall was most likely very judgmental over his own work; he struck Seifer as being that kind of guy. Someone who was very harsh with himself, and very unforgiving. It seemed almost typical, though Seifer had never actually come across a person that was remotely like Squall.
Still, he felt like he knew the brunette better than he should have.
"I like it," Seifer stated soothingly. "You've got mad skills."
'Like you know jack shit about art. Why are you here, anyway? Don't you have some ditzy girls or brain dead jock friends to hang with? What do you want? Pretending to be all nice guy... you can't fool me. I know your kind. Idiot.'
Seifer grumbled inwardly. Squall appeared to be a great talker within the own walls of his head, judging by the colors and emotions journeying through his eyes like the tides, but he scarcely ever pried his teeth apart. It made conversing sort of... difficult, to be blatantly understating. Squall definitely had a temper, though, and attitudes always managed to erect Seifer's interest.
"I bet it hurts," the blonde tried vaguely.
Squall blinked at that statement, and he slowly raised his head to meet Seifer's gaze, his breath jarring in his throat. The blonde was smiling softly, but confusion meshed with the spunk in his eyes when they fell upon Squall's wry face. Why did the brunette suddenly look so thunderstruck?
Squall, on the other hand, could feel his heartbeat stilling in fear.
'Does he... he can't. There's no way that he'd kn-- shit, his eyes are green. How can anyone have eyes that color? That's almost hypnotizing. I wouldn't even know how to draw eyes like that...'
The brunette quickly shook his head from side to side, trying to banish those thoughts, and he focused on Seifer's forehead instead. Not as appealing of a sight, but a whole lot less distracting. Seifer tried to repress a snort of laughter at the cute image; he had no idea why Squall was shaking his head like a dog with fleas, but it sure was fucking adorable.
'Not good Almasy, not good.' the blonde thought to himself. 'This kid's gonna be a tough nut to crack. Sure you're up for this?'
"... What did you say?" Squall finally asked, his voice low.
"Um," Seifer muttered, already oblivious to his own question. "Oh. I meant your ankle. Does it hurt?"
Squall's gaze wandered to his own foot, and back to Seifer's face. The brunette teen relaxed visibly, his tight muscles unclenching one by one, and Seifer found that concept rather odd. What did Squall think that he had been talking about?
"No," Squall said demurely. "It doesn't."
"Are you gonna be able to ride your bike?" Seifer asked, trying to keep the brunette from recoiling into his shell.
Squall seemed disgruntled.
'Why are you asking so many weird questions? What do you want? Why did you help me earlier? Are you trying to make fun of me or something? I don't even know you. I don't want to know you, don't you get it? Who are you? And what do I have to do to get rid of you?'
"A penny for your thoughts," Seifer joked, crossing his arms at the crook of this neck as he leaned backwards and smirked down at the brunette.
Inwardly, he slouched.
This definitely wasn't easy at all. Was Squall still sore over their initial encounter? Why was he so grouchy? Seifer almost shook his head in a negative manner to that question. Probably not. Most likely, this was just the way that Squall always behaved himself. Seifer wondered whether that was a good or a bad thing, or perhaps, a little bit of both.
"I can give you a ride home, if you want," he offered generously, but not at all selfless, when Squall remained silent. "We can put your bike on the--"
"I'm already getting a ride," Squall severed his offer coldly.
Seifer arched a golden eyebrow in mute surprise. This was surely unexpected, and it piqued his curiosity. Who was giving the brunette a ride? Friend? Girl-friend? Boy-friend? Relative from 'Planet Grouch'? Something that was more akin to jealousy than he liked stirred within him, and his handsome face phased into a sarcastic frown. He pried his arms from behind his neck and leaned forward, studying Squall's face.
"Oh yeah? And who's taking you?" he asked, with more sting to the question than he had intended.
Squall eyed him sourly, barriers that had once disguised his antipathy now collapsing entirely, and it was obvious that he was weary of the conversation. This Seifer guy was like a sore - gifted with a nasty habit of appearing where you needed him the least, and all the while downright annoying.
"What do you want, anyway?" Squall inquired with a hiss of air, his voice now pure ice.
The question caught Seifer off-guard, and he immediately flipped into defensive mode. This guy knew well how to toss his switches, and he probably wasn't even aware of it.
Not that Seifer cared.
"I was just wondering how you were doing, grumpy ass," he snarled. "So sorry I bothered."
"No one asked you to bother me in the first place," Squall shot back, feeling the heat of his blood rise.
"Is that so?" Seifer sneered nastily. "Funny. You looked awfully like a princess in need of her hero back there. I merely answered the call."
It had been the wrong thing to say, and Seifer knew it, too. Somehow, their conversation had gone from ill to worse, and the blonde regretted his snide comment the moment it had rolled off his tongue. He had never been any good at controlling his temper, and he knew that he could be very hurtful without even trying too hard. He definitely had rubbed Squall the wrong way with this one. Roughly, the brunette jerked his sketchpad, marker and MP-3 player into his bag and jumped onto his feet, not minding the pain that surged through his left leg in the process.
Seifer was still sitting down, wrestling up the humility to apologize without knowing what to really say, when Squall's expression had already turned into one of concentrated venom and a minute shade of hurt.
"I don't need a fucking hero," the brunette spat scornfully, slapping his bag onto his shoulder. "I don't need anyone!"
And with that, he briskly whipped around, stomping away from Seifer as fast as he could, and there was no doubt at all in the blonde's mind that Squall would have run if his ankle would have permitted it.
Burying his face in his hands, Seifer let out an embryonic moan that echoed from the very depths of his chest - or his heart.
"Ahh fuck... smooth move, Almasy. Way to go."
He considered going after the brunette, but dispatched the idea as a bad one almost right away. If anything, Squall probably needed space now, and cornering him would only result in things becoming worse.
Seifer hissed rancorously.
"Wisdom struck you a little late, Einstein."
He stared in the direction that Squall had run off to, then tilted his head into his neck to stare at the distant, cerulean blue sky. The brightness caused his eyes to sting and water, and he rubbed at them lazily.
'What are you doing? Trying to punish yourself?'
Seifer heaved a deep, guttural sigh and tore his gaze away from the heavens. He wasn't one for self-chastisement, he never had been, but for just one moment he wanted to really, really thrust his head into a concrete wall.
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