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).

Whispered Screams

Chapter Six - Harpoons and Butterflies

"I'm not trying to hurt him. I just wanna get to know him."

By Angry Angel

The rest of Seifer's day had passed rather uneventful. Some sloppy canteen hot-dogs, some Biology and History, and a whole lot of boredom. Needless to say, he was glad when the final bell had rung and he was able to weave his way out of the crowded school building. He had run into neither Squall nor Irvine throughout the entire afternoon, but as he came trudging into the parking lot, subconsciously keeping watch for a certain black Honda, a familiar voice suddenly called out his name.

"Hey, man! Seifer! Wait up!"

Seifer turned around with his backpack already in his hand and his hair slightly ruffled by the afternoon breeze, and his jade green eyes clashed with Irvine's sparkling amethyst ones. The cowboy was jogging towards him lightly, one hand flat upon the top of his hat to keep it from flying off. His lips flashed that typical bright gigolo-smile, and a certain part of Seifer begun to wonder whether Irvine was truly all that straight - there was just something strange and fruity about him. For the second time that day, Seifer cursed his obvious absence of a "gaydar".

"What's the matter, Irv?" he finally asked, when his opposite had stopped short before him and remained awfully quiet.

"Ah, well... I was just wondering whether you'd wanna come to 'Ward's' with me," Irvine explained casually, but Seifer didn't miss the anxious undertone to the brunette's voice. "I'm on my way there for lunch and stuff..."

"... Stuff?" Seifer inquired with a kink of his eyebrow.

"Yah, you know... I'm still working on that girl's phone number, and I figured maybe you could talk 'ole Squall into helping me out."

Seifer's features writhed in confusion. What on earth made Irvine think that he had some sort of standing connection to Squall? Granted, they hadn't totally jumped down each other's throat that day, but Irvine obviously wouldn't know about that.

Or would he?

"You want me to talk to Squall?" the blonde asked skeptically. "Why me of all people? You seem to know him much better than I do."

Irvine shrugged innocently, and he folded his arms at the crook of his neck.

"Hehe. Actually, I heard that you and him hit it off quite well in art class today. He doesn't usually speak more than three non-consecutive words in one lesson, ya know... so considering his standards and what I've heard, he's been a real motor-mouth."

"Who the fuck told you that?"

"Ah, just some girl in your class that I know. Her name's Sue," he explained, waving his hand dismissively as if swatting away a fly. "Anyway, you up for it, or what?"

Quietly, Seifer weighed his options. The idea of seeing Squall again rang distinctly more enticing in his ears than the prospect of returning home to his trashed apartment. His "roommate" Shiva was well taken care of, so there really was no viable reason for him not to take part in Irvine's plan.

And thus, he agreed.

They each hopped into their own cars and met up again at the very exit of the parking lot, and Seifer wasn't surprised to see Irvine waving at him out of a bright red Mustang convertible. It was a chick magnet if he'd ever seen one. He gave the other youth a lazy thumbs-up through his rolled-down window, and then motioned him to go ahead and take the lead.

They didn't drive very far at all. Irvine had spoken true when he had claimed that "Ward's" was right across from their school; it was barely five minutes away. They pulled up at the side of the road right in front of it - a boxy, wood paneled building that was painted in a creamy white color and crowned by a blue rooftop. Despite the fact that most kids were already rushing to get home, there was still a fair crowd of cars clustered around the parking lot of the restaurant.

Seifer leapt out of his truck and slammed the door shut, and as he cast a quick look around, he spotted a familiar black bike that was parked only a few feet ahead of them, safely off to the side of the curb. For some reason, the mellow pace of Seifer's heartbeat sped up ever so slightly at the sight, and there was a strange sensation of butterflies exercising flips in the pit of his stomach.

Oh, he was definitely starting to feel like a fan girl.

He trained his gaze away from Squall's bike and to the building in front of him, if only to distract himself. And as he now took a more detailed assessment of "Ward's Diner", his eyes widened greatly in bewilderment.

The huge, stylized form of a harpoon graced the diner's blue roof. Yes, a harpoon indeed, and it just happened to take up about half of the building's length. It was painted black and carved out of sturdy wood; if it hadn't been, it probably would have managed to crash and demolish the entire complex. Seifer stared at it in childish awe and it took him a moment to notice the blue neon lights flashing across the entrance that spelled out the words "Ward's Diner".

"This is it," a voice next to him declared unnecessarily.

Seifer turned and blinked at Irvine, then back at the harpoon. With his lips curling, he jabbed his finger at the strange object.

"What the fuck is that?"

"That's a harpoon," Irvine chuckled.

"No shit, smartass! Why is it up there? I thought this was a diner and not a fucking fishing supply store."

"Well," the cowboy drawled, "Ward's actually a retired sailor. The entire diner is decked out with fishing supplies and other freaky shit. It's really cool though. Come on! You'll like it."

Reluctantly, Seifer hit the small remote control for his car alarm and followed Irvine up the wooden stairs to the door. The restaurant still didn't appeal to him at all; whoever had allowed this Ward fella to plant a 20-foot harpoon on top of his diner had to have been on crack. It didn't surprise him that the auburn haired cowboy was all over that place, though - Irvine, too, had some strange quirks to call his own. One day he'd probably open up a saloon right in the middle of town.

They pulled one of the swinging double doors open and stepped inside, and Seifer had to narrow his eyes against the dim light of the establishment that was so different from the brightness outside. He could make out a large shadow in front of him, and when he had fully adjusted his focus, the shadow phased into the tall, bulky outline of a dark haired teen that was about his age, but had at least 250 pounds to his name. The short-sleeved, dark blue waiter's shirt he was wearing stretched tightly over his massive shoulders and biceps, but his deeply tanned face seemed oddly na´ve as he glanced at them from behind a small, wooden reception desk. He looked like one of those guys that were really soft at heart, but way too strong for their own good.

Irvine stepped up to the desk with a blithe grin seemingly stitched onto his face, and he smoothly raised a hand in greeting.

"Yo, Rai, how's it going today?"

The other boy reciprocated the grin and slowly begun to scratch the back of his head with one of his huge hands.

"Ah, just busy, ya know," he answered in a deep, husky voice. "Now that school started again, ya know, it always is."

"Hehe, yeah, makes sense," Irvine agreed. "Hey, this is Seifer, he just transferred from Balamb High. I thought I'd bring him by for some of your Dad's famous burgers. Seif, this is Raijin. His father Ward owns this place."

Curiously, Raijin blinked past Irvine and laid his dark brown eyes on Seifer. The blonde smirked back at him lazily.

"'Sup?" Seifer grunted.

"Hoho... hello," Rai waved. "My Dad's from Balamb too, ya know."

"Cool," Seifer replied blankly, already feeling his attention seeping away.

This was cool and all, but hadn't they come to talk to Squall and that strange crush of Irvine's? Talking to some giant kid who was obviously gifted with a brain the size of a pea just struck him as a plain waste of time.

"Anyway," Irvine interrupted the blonde's musings, "There's only gonna be the two of us. And by the way, is Squall working today?"

Seifer's ears perked up again immediately, feeding on the sound of Squall's name, and he zeroed his lucid green gaze in on Raijin, who was nodding sheepishly.

"Yah. He works almost every day now, ya know."

"Sheesh. Just how can you stand his grumpy ass every day? Ah, whatever. What about Selphie? She workin' today, too?"

"Yah. She's here, too. Her school doesn't start again until next week, ya know."

Irvine's lips curled into a cunning smile.

"Sweeeeet... just put us in their sector then, 'kay?"

"Okay," Raijin replied with an oblivious shrug of his massive shoulders. "You can sit wherever you want, ya know."

Seifer took note of the happy spark smoldering in Irvine's eyes, and he could only hope that the cowboy hadn't seen something similar flaring up in jade green depths at the mentioning of Squall's name. Having a crush was a pretty embarrassing thing, really, and he'd prefer to keep it secret for as long as possible. After all, not everyone wore their heart on their sleeve like Irvine did.

Silently, they followed Raijin's lead to their table somewhere in the back, and Seifer was staggered by the strange array of fishing rods, harpoons, stuffed fish, fish paintings and other maritime oddities that lined the pale blue walls of the diner. Chairs, benches and tables were made of rough furniture wood and covered with squishy blue cushions that actually did look kind of comfortable. More than anything, though, Seifer was keeping watch for Squall's lean frame, but for the life of him, he couldn't spot the brunette anywhere. The place was pretty large and jam-packed, and there were several waiters and waitresses in dark blue shirts and little black aprons scurrying back and forth.

Suddenly, Irvine elbowed him into the side rather painfully, and Seifer growled under his breath at the gesture.

"That's her," the cowboy hissed excitedly, jabbing his finger somewhere to the right of them.

Seifer's eyes followed the brunette's trigger, and they fell upon a tiny, dark-blonde girl in a waitress uniform who was balancing a tray over-loaded with glasses and plates, her tongue stuck between her teeth in anxiety. She was looking both of them over with curious, large green eyes when she felt their gazes on herself, but she did not reciprocate Irvine's silly grin.

"Heya Selphie!" the cowboy shouted across the crowded room (and turned more than just one head in the process), which only resulted in the girl blushing a furious shade of crimson and quickly whirling around to run off into the opposite direction.

Seifer couldn't help but snicker, and he punched Irvine's shoulder amicably.

"Smooth move, Irv."

The dark haired teen gnawed down upon his teeth at Seifer's taunting, and he shoved his hands inside the pockets of his jeans while his lower lip jutted outwards.

"I'm getting her phone number, and if it's the last thing I do," he muttered, the urgency in his voice bordering to fanatism that was worthy of concern. "No woman can resist this charm! No way in hell!!"

Still chuckling, Seifer continued to follow Raijin, but he quickly swallowed the sneering sound from his tongue when he spotted a slender, dark-haired figure a little ways off in the distance. The boy had his back turned towards them as he was wiping a table, but even if Seifer wouldn't have remembered Squall's dark blue jeans, he'd have recognized the smooth curve of his legs, the way his toned shoulders tapered into a very slim waist and the fine strands of chocolate brown hair swaying rhythmically with the brunette's every movement from a mile afar.

Instinctively, the rhythm of his heartbeat jumped out of pace.

When Squall turned around, a yellow sponge in one hand and disinfectant spray in the other, his dark brows shifted downwards at the sight of Seifer and Irvine approaching his row of tables. Storm-torn, flickering eyes scanned over the older blonde's figure just briefly, their expression arcane, but then Squall snapped his head aside and strode off to resume his work at the other end of his sector, not giving Seifer even the whiff of a chance to mutter a quick greeting.

Inwardly, the blonde sighed with annoyance.

'Well... Guess we're on ignoring bases again.'

Raijin pointed them to the table that Squall had just wiped down, and they sank into benches across from each other. Seifer's back was turned to Squall, but he thought it safe to assume that the brunette wasn't heeding him with a single glance, anyway. There was a faint smell of apple soap in the air; an effigy of the same scent that clung to Squall's hair whenever he had washed it with his shampoo of choice. Sub-consciously, Seifer decided to go shopping for that same brand, even if he'd probably never end up using it.

On second thought, he wanted to punch his own forehead at the mere idea.

'Godammit, what the fuck is wrong with you?? To buy his shampoo just because it smells like him... dude, you're beyond any help.'

Angrily, he swiped the menu that Raijin was holding out to him out of the youth's large hands, and he begun to flip through the pages carelessly.

"Squall is gonna take your orders, ya know," Raijin explained. "I gotta go back."

"'Righty, Rai, see ya later," Irvine muttered absent-mindedly, his nose already buried in the colorful menu.

Seifer glanced at him irritably, and he tapped his index finger against his temple. To the cowboy's bad luck, he posed as a perfect valve for Seifer to vent his flaring frustration.

"Shouldn't you already know their menu by heart or something?" the blonde huffed.

Irvine looked up and smiled from beneath the shadow that was cast upon his face by the wide brim of his hat.

"Nah," he said. "Ward has owned this place for about four years now, but he changes the menu like, weekly. He's a good friend with Kiros Seagul, our gym teacher, and Ward always makes him sample his new creations. Eh... I just assume Kiros is the one chucking out half of them."

Seifer's face went blank at that explanation, and he quietly shook his head.

'Freaks. All of 'em.'

Then, something occurred to him.

"So why don't you just ask that guy for her phone number?"

"Huh? Oh, Raijin? Nah, I tried. He said he couldn't do it 'cause she works for them. Pity."

"Gotcha."

They fell quiet once more, and soon enough, Seifer had found something that seemed mildly appealing to him - Grilled Timber Burger with mushrooms and fries - and whatever the hell exactly it was, it sure sounded edible.

His head snapped upwards in search for Squall, and as if their stunning brunette waiter had sensed his cue, the younger teen was already walking up to their table from the opposite side of the room. Seifer watched him silently and in a (what he hoped to be) subtle manner, but deep within his chest, he could feel the strings of his heart being tucked softly once more.

'Fuck, this is no fun. Having a crush fucking sucks!'

Admittedly, Squall did look cute in his dark blue diner shirt and the simple black apron that washed casually halfway down his nicely toned thighs. From said apron the brunette produced a small notebook and a pen; not because he actually had any need for those basic accessories - his memory was what many would call impeccable - but because he felt the strange urge to have something to hold on to. Stylish brown leather bands yet again enveloped his thin wrists, but Seifer paid more attention to Squall's dark grey eyes (which were stubbornly refusing to collide with his own jade ones), than to such minor details.

'Why the fuck won't he look at me?' The blonde complained to himself. 'He's starting to piss me off.'

Seifer frowned as Squall halted next to them and trained his distant gaze on the blue and white-checkered tablecloth. His slender fingers were forced tightly around the red plastic pen, and his voice was monotonous when he spoke.

"What do you want to drink?"

Unfortunately (and to Squall's great dismay), neither Irvine nor Seifer were willing to place their orders just yet, though ready they might have been. Their minds were occupied with different, more important things. The cowboy leaned back and smirked hopefully up at the brunette, who finally looked back at him with a pained expression. The young waiter could already tell that this would turn out to be difficult.

Some days, Squall Leonhart truly hated his job.

Then again, he hated his life, too, so what difference did it really make?

He shoved the thought aside quickly. He needed this job, more than anything, and he'd rather force himself to be semi-friendly than take any risk whatsoever of losing it.

Still... he couldn't be bothered to actually be nice, could he? Straining his memory, he really couldn't recall meeting all that many nice waiters in his life, so he could hardly be expected to set new standards. He wasn't planning on it, anyway.

... Whatever.

"Heeey, Squall. What's up, man? How are y--"

"Spare me," the brunette hissed coldly before Irvine was even finished speaking. "I'm not getting you her phone number."

Seifer almost had to bite down a laugh at the severed look of defeat on Irvine's smug face. The blonde's features went painfully rigid, though, when Squall twisted around to glare at him instead.

"What do you want to drink?" the younger teen repeated mechanically.

Irritation was evident in the dark haired boy's voice when he spoke, and it caused Seifer to force his face into a most neutral expression.

If Squall really thought that his rudeness was going to make this any easier on either one of them, he was definitely mistaken. He wasn't going to be treated like thin air again.

"How about 'hi' for starters?" he suggested demurely, cocking one eyebrow.

At the other end of the table, Squall's eyes were radiating murder, and the pen was creaking dangerously in his hand. How he hated this. This stupid idiot was so fucking arrogant, and no matter how hard Squall tried to ignore him, he just wouldn't get the fuck lost, or at least stop bothering him. It was such a pain. Seifer Almasy's smirk was so damn self-assured and cocky, like the whole fucking world belonged to him and him alone.

Squall wanted to throw something at him.

"I don't have time for this bullshit," he snarled angrily. "Are you going to order or not?"

The blonde cast a long, lazy look around Squall's rather empty sector, indicating his doubt over the brunette's lack of time, then connected his gaze with Squall's tense face once more. The brunette narrowed his eyes, and chocolate brown wisps of hair flipped into his face when he lowered his head with a snap, thrusting his notebook and pen back into the pocket of his apron.

"Hey, hey, hold on now, hold on!" Irvine piped up quickly as Squall already turned to leave. "Sheesh. Yeah, we wanna order."

The cowboy sighed and blinked at the menu to recall his selection. Then, he shoved it across the table and in Squall's direction.

"I'll take a lemonade and the basket of breaded shrimp," he said sourly.

Wordlessly, Squall took the menu and turned to Seifer, his eyes demanding a response - and a quick one at that. Meanwhile, the blonde had brought one hand to his chin, and he was scratching it thoughtfully as he held Squall's mortifyingly cold gaze.

"Are you always this rude?" Seifer finally asked, his voice deliberately taunting. "Could be kinda bad for business."

Squall's eyes were now mere slits, and anger was clearly interlacing his voice when he spoke.

"Depends on the customer."

"Oh really? So just what did I do to deserve this?"

Surprisingly, the brunette seemed taken aback by that question, and his mouth moved softly, almost as if he was going to give some sort of reply, but then he sealed his lips together tightly and his pretty features curled.

'Asshole.' He snarled to himself. 'Whoever cares what you did or didn't do? Why can't you just mind your own fucking business?'

Seifer began to tap his fingers on the table complacently, pretending to hum a tune.

"I'm waiting," he declared lightly. "I don't have all day, ya know."

Squall growled furiously.

"Look, what do you want?!" he snapped. "Why the fuck are you here?!"

Irvine cast confused glances back and forth between the two youths that were glaring at each other competitively. He began to wonder; either Sue had been high on... something... earlier, or she had been talking about a different Seifer and Squall - because these two weren't getting along at all. Then again, he mused, he probably should have figured as much on his own. He had known Squall since kindergarten, and though the brunette's nature had been distinctly more cheerful back then, he had pretty much turned into a downright asshole the moment he had hit puberty.

Irvine sighed like a wounded animal. At this rate, he was never going to get Selphie's phone number.

Meanwhile, in the face of Squall's hostile outburst, Seifer merely smirked nastily and leaned back in his bench to get a better look of the brunette and the fury that writhed each and every one of his features. Part of him found that anger enticing, and another part told him to stop.

He didn't listen.

"I'm here to eat," he stated coolly. "Not more, not less. Got it?"

Squall, suddenly realizing that he had gone just a little too far (and not sensing the subtle lie in Seifer's words), shoved the hair out of his face blearily and pinched the back of his nose with a mute sigh.

"What do you want to order?" he asked flatly, his eyes focused on some random pattern on the tablecloth and his voice tight with strain.

"A Pepsi and a Timber Burger," Seifer replied with a feral snarl. "Please."

Seifer was angry; probably no less angry than Squall was. He had been hoping for some casual conversation, damn, perhaps even a friendly smile on Squall's side for once, and instead he got this. It was uncalled for, and it was unfair.

He watched silently how Squall's pale hand reached for his menu, and for a moment he felt the urge to stretch out his own fingers and run them across those smooth plains of ivory skin. They'd feel soft, probably, and yet so different from those of a girl. His throat tightened up at the thought, and his muscles started twitching in anticipation as he studied those lithe fingers.

Squall, however, had caught Seifer's eye and instantly yanked his hand back as if stung. Clutching the menu, he took a half-step back from the table and his breathing stilled. Confused by that jumpy gesture, Seifer flicked up his gaze and looked at him.

It was then when, for the very first time, Seifer thought that he saw something like fear or panic simmering in depths of smokiest grey. A raw edge, a painful bitterness and a shadow that swallowed all brightness from those eyes --- oh yes. Even an idiot could see that this was fear in all its purity.

Seifer blinked, his face immediately losing its harshness at this realization, and he opened his mouth to say something useless, but Squall had seized his chance all too rapidly and was already hurrying towards the diner's kitchen. His flight instincts functioned flawlessly, and Seifer could do little but gape.

"What the fuck..."

The blonde begun to mumble incoherently under his breath, still taken aback by what he had seen in Squall's eyes. Why would the other youth be afraid of him? Why would he be afraid of anyone, for that matter? He didn't understand.

Then, he reconsidered. He remembered Squall flinching at his touch in gym class, recalled his outburst at the school's spring the day before, and his incredibly strange behavior at the lavatory. Something about this just wasn't right, and although he ignored the reason why he cared, he knew very well that he did.

There was more to this secretive guy than initially met the eye - much, much more.

"Well, isn't he in a chipper mood today," the cowboy in front of him grimaced. "And I thought that he'd--"

Irvine broke off abruptly, and one second later, Seifer understood why. He suddenly felt someone's hands on his right arm, encircling it vigorously and giving it a fierce tug. Seifer turned his head to the side and looked up.

It was the girl, Selphie or whatever her name was - the one that Irvine was so fond of. She was standing next to him, slightly bent over, and her little hands were clasped around his biceps like vices. Her face was stern and focused onto his, and there was something feral in her deep green eyes that called Seifer's senses to flip to alert status.

What the fuck did she want?

Across from him, Irvine's jaw had dropped low enough to collide with the surface of the table. The cowboy weakly raised a hand as if to snare the girl's attention, his face still blank like a sheet of paper, but Selphie had her sights set on Seifer - for what reason ever.

"Se-Selph?" Irvine stuttered helplessly.

Her head snapped up and she glared at him, wordlessly sticking out her tongue. Then, she re-adjusted her focus on Seifer, and her pretty features twisted with the labor of trying to wrench the brawny blonde out of his seat.

"Hey, what the fuck... what do you want?" Seifer barked, and he swiped his arm out of her grasp effortlessly.

She frowned at him, fastening her hands around her hips.

"Come with me!" she finally commanded with a hiss, her voice leaving little room for argument.

"Bu-but--"

"Oh, shut up, Irvine!" Selphie snarled, and she was rolling her eyes in exasperation. "I need to talk to your friend here."

Seifer's eyebrows shifted, and he heeded her with a dangerous sneer. Just who the fuck did she think she was to come barging in like that, demanding his attention?

"And just why would I be interested in talking to you?" he hissed back banefully.

Once more, she glared at him, and her little nose crinkled.

"Oh, you are interested! Come on!"

She stomped off towards the lavatories, and Seifer reluctantly stood up to follow her, if only because her last statement had piqued his interest. He didn't have any idea what she wanted, much less why she was so aggravated, but maybe her reasons would intrigue him.

It was worth a try, anyhow.

He stopped short behind her in a separate hallway that led indeed to the diner's restrooms, and she finally faced him with an expression that prophesized doom and destruction.

"So!" she bit insinuatingly.

"So what?" he growled back.

Once more, she placed her hands on her hips and did her best to try and stare him down - which proved to be rather futile since she was about a foot shorter than he was. To her defense, though, he had to admit that said disadvantage didn't quench her efforts the least bit. For a little lady like that, she sure was a menace all right.

"What do you want from Squall?" she finally asked, clueing him in on her motives.

So that's what it was - she had some sort of interest in Squall. He wasn't surprised. He should have figured that he was butting into someone else's territory. And yet, Squall hadn't struck him as the kind of guy that kept fan girls or stalkers, or even a girlfriend for that matter.

Well, he'd figure out soon enough which category to sieve her into.

"Uh... what the fuck are you talking about?" he asked, pretending to know of nothing, and he shadowed his voice with a subtle note of warning.

"Oh, I'm not Irvine, you know," Selphie declared with a dismissive wave, and her curled-up hair was bouncing lightly in an echo of the motion. "I'm not that oblivious."

"Not sure what you're getting at," he bit tightly.

"I watched you guys talking."

He shrugged, his face deliberately cold and arrogant. Inwardly, however, he was starting to feel at least slightly uncomfortable. Hell, if she had really recognized his interest...

"And?" he asked, still trying to sound careless.

"Aaaaand I can tell that you have a crush on him!" she declared bluntly.

Seifer's face twisted immediately at that comment, and his eyes narrowed. Every muscle in his body tensed in revolt at being confronted with her "knowledge" so openly, and he snarled at her with thinly veiled hostility.

"Watch what you say," he hissed dangerously.

She snorted coolly.

"I don't care if you're gay, okay? But if you don't like people finding out, you might wanna try and be a little less obvious."

"You little--"

"Tch. I'm not scared of you," she shrugged her tiny shoulders, before her eyes lit up with fierce determination. "But you better be scared of me!"

Now that one was comment he hadn't expected, or much less been prepared for.

Just who the fuck did she think she was?

"... Uh, excuse me?" he scoffed. "You delirious or something?"

"Squall is my friend, and he's had it really rough, you know! He doesn't need a jerk like you in his life. I want you to leave him alone!"

"And just who are you to make a statement like that? Don't be so full of yourself."

"Hah! You're one to talk!"

They glared at each other mutely, anger and irritation clashing in a disturbing duel of emerald orbs, but then the words Selphie had thrown at him finally sank in, and Seifer relaxed visibly as his mind finally latched into the discussion.

Something she had said had definitely elicited his interest.

"What do you mean, 'he's had it rough'?" he asked, cocking his head aside.

At the sound of his loud voice softening, she finally seemed to calm down as well. Her green eyes searched his, and she crossed her arms before her chest.

"Well... the kids at his school aren't very nice to him, you know... and he works a lot to pay for his motorcycle and his stuff for school. I know he's kinda... touchy, but he's a really sweet guy once you get to know him! He can be so kind."

"... Do you have a crush on him or something?" Seifer inquired with a kink of his eyebrow.

Selphie's face flushed crimson at his words and she shook her head vehemently from side to side, causing her heavily hair spray treated tresses to slice the air like whiplashes.

"No, you jerk!! I don't!"

"... Hn. Just a thought. Then why the fuck are you telling me all this?"

"Because you seem like the kind of guy that enjoys hurting others."

He paused at that remark, and he had to admit that it stung... a lot. Perhaps because there was a great grain of truth hidden in those few, challenging words. Indeed, she was all too much on track - he had been one of the greatest jocks and bullies at his old high-school, but those days belonged to the past and he liked to believe that he had changed - at least by a little. Sure, he still talked out of his ass every now and then, but he usually hated himself for it afterwards. Olds habits simply died hard. Generally speaking, he didn't even mean anything by his rudeness.

"You're wrong," he finally said, the tone of his voice more hoarse than usual.

"Oh, am I?" she chirped. "I'm not so sure. You look mean."

"Oh, and judging someone by their looks is all that praiseworthy?"

The blush returned to her face, and she seemed at least slightly flustered by his surprisingly wise words.

"Well... no..." she huffed, "But my first impressions are usually correct!"

He studied her face for a long time, and she stared right back at him, defiance mirroring from the clear emerald surface of her eyes. Seifer tried to be mad at her, but for some reason, he couldn't manage. There was a certain type of sincerity about the way she had approached him, and she obviously cared quite a bit about Squall's well being. Maybe she was the missing link he had been searching for - someone who was close to Squall and knew what the hell was going on.

"Alright then..." he said, choosing his words very carefully. "What if I told you that you were wrong about me being a jerk, but right about the other thing?"

"The other thing? What do you mean?" she asked, curiously so.

He groaned. Should he really say this? After all, she was just some stranger, and a seemingly crackpot one at that. For some reason, though, he trusted her, if only because she was worried about Squall and he himself was just so damned interested in the grouchy brunette. Sadly, he was willing to do just about anything to find out more about Squall.

"I mean... if you were right about me being interested in him?" he pushed himself to say. "What then?"

"Then I'd tell you to stay away from him," she growled testily.

"For fuck's sake, I'm not trying to hurt him," he snapped back in exasperation. "I just wanna get to know him."

He leaned against the wall, and she watched him drawing a deep breath. Inevitably, her frown smoothed out at the sight. There was something honest and unguarded about Seifer's helplessness - something truthful about the frustration written all over his handsome face. She was surprised that he was even talking to her, because really, she had expected for him to punch her or do something else along those lines after she had confronted him about his crush. Guys like him had a habit of doing things like that.

Then again, maybe he wasn't the type of guy that she had originally taken him for.

"Well..." she started, shifting from one foot to the other and twirling her dark-blonde hair thoughtfully.

He glanced at her from his spot at the wall, his face gloomy.

"Well what?"

"I just don't want him to get hurt. He's really not doing so well these days..."

Seifer straightened up at her gingerly muttered words, his back still connected to the hard, wallpaper covered surface behind him.

Maybe she did know.

"Do you have any clue why he's not doing well?"

"No," she shrugged helplessly, crushing his hopes. "He's pretty nice to me now that we've been working together for almost a year, but he never talks about himself. I only know that he lives with his parents and little sister at the other end of town, and that he works here because he pays for all his stuff by himself. It's a bit... weeeeird, you know, 'cause his Dad is a lawyer, I think. He should have a loooot of money."

"Hmph."

That was a lot less information than Seifer had hoped for. After all, the girl was acting like she was Squall's fucking mother. She was strangely protective over the brunette, but didn't actually seem to know jack shit about him. It was kind of frustrating.

Suddenly, something else occurred to him.

"So... is Squall gay or what's the deal?"

Selphie reciprocated his attentive gaze quietly, screwing up her face. She knew that she should have been prepared for that question, and for the very first time, she regretted approaching the blonde. It was really none of this guy's business what Squall was or wasn't - but then again, was it really any of her business either?

"Uhm."

"Uhm what?" Seifer asked.

"I don't really know," she explained, thoughtfully tapping her nose with her right index finger. "As far as I know, he's never had a girlfriend. Then again, he's never had a boyfriend, either. People don't usually stick around him very long, because he's always so grumpy."

"Any idea then as to why he's such a grouch?"

"Nuh-uh. I have no idea. See, on some days he'll be very quiet and hardly say a word... then on others, he'll be like, really angry and hurtful! It's kind of confusing."

She stuck out her tongue again, and Seifer finally understood why Irvine liked her. She was cute, and obviously, she was also caring; both very desirable traits indeed.

The sudden thought of Irvine stirred a shadow of guilt inside him, and he cleared his throat.

"Eh... what about Irvine, by the way?"

Selphie blushed a violent shade of crimson, and she dropped her gaze to the floor under incoherent mumbles.

"Say what?" Seifer inquired, unable to decipher her babbling.

"I said... What about him?" she squeaked, the tone of her voice suddenly off by a few pitches.

"Well, he talks my ear off about getting your phone number. He really likes you."

"Humph," she frowned darkly, and her head whipped back up. "He's cute, but he needs to stop flirting with all those chicks! I heard about it from Squall, and I see him doing it here in the restaurant, too. He's not getting my phone number until he grows up!"

"Alright, fair enough."

They were silent for a few moments, both gazing at the tiled floor to their feet. The situation had become somewhat awkward, and Seifer was no longer sure whether it had been such a great idea to clue the girl in on his wants concerning Squall. Then again, he had never been one to cry over spilled milk - what was done was done, and he'd just have to make the best of it.

Somehow.

"I guess I should let you get back to Irvy," Selphie finally split the silence. "Your food should be there by now, too..."

"Hn," he voiced his assent with a low-pitched grunt.

"Hey, eh... listen, uhmm... err...?"

"The name's Seifer."

"Oh. Well, listen, Seif... I'm sorry for being a bit, ahem... blunt?"

He gave a rasp chuckle.

"No shit."

"Yaaaaah, you see, I really care for him! He's like a little brother to me!"

"... Little brother?" he drawled skeptically.

Selphie's cute face screwed into a frown, and she stuck out her tongue once more. Seifer couldn't help but smile at the gesture. He'd definitely have to let Irvine know not to flirt around too much anymore. This girl was too cute to pass by - well, as long as one didn't have their sights set on a certain brunette someone already, anyway.

"You know what I meeeean," she sighed at him. "Ahh. Well... I guess as long as you treat him nicely, I have no objections against you court-shipping him. But if I find out that you hurt him, I swear I'm gonna kick your ass, Seifer!"

He laughed loudly and good-naturedly at her threat and the way she was shaking her little fist at him, and he even ruffled her hair in a clumsy display of affection. It was somehow relieving to have her consent, even if he didn't quite know why he cared for a stranger's opinion in the first place. Had he been really honest with himself, he would have realized that she was the first person to ever approve of him being attracted to another male, and said little fact alone was enough to raise his sympathy towards Selphie to a whole new level.

"Gee, thanks Mistress," he smirked, feigning docility. "Lemme get back to court-shipping then."

"Alrighty. I'll make sure to tell Squally that you're actually pretty nice."

"Heh," Seifer grunted. "Thanks. Looks like I can use all the help I can get."

The blonde pushed himself off the wall and turned his back on her without heeding her with another glance. Languidly, he wove his way towards their table, where Irvine was already waiting anxiously. One of his hands was clutching a fork, the other a glass of lemonade, and he looked about ready to crush both of them, or drop face forward into his basket with breaded shrimp, for that matter.

"Where the fuck were you?!" he barked. "Where is she? What did she say? Does she like, like me??"

Seifer chuckled as he settled in his seat and screened hungrily over his burger. Across from him, his companion was breathing rather noisily. Finally, Seifer flicked up his gaze and met Irvine's blood-shot eyes with a smirk.

"Take it easy," he grunted, his voice rough and low. "I think she likes ya."

Irvine almost hurled his fork across the room at Seifer's nonchalant words, and his amethyst eyes flared to light like a dark night sky strewn with billions of sparkles. He leaned forward and into his blonde friend, who immediately edged back in his bench.

"Really??" Irvine cried hopefully. "You not pulling my leg or something?"

Thoughtfully (and also cruelly slow), Seifer picked a French fry from his plate and stuck it in his mouth, chewing placidly. He knew well enough that Irvine was on the verge of suffering a stroke, but after having been confronted about his own and thus far rather fruitless crush, Seifer wasn't feeling all too compassionate.

"Seifer!! For fuck's sake, tell me before I croak!!" the cowboy howled, wrenching one of his hands into his napkin.

Finally, Seifer's lips snapped into a sly smirk, and he smoothed back his hair with one hand.

"Alright already," he teased. "She said she'll give you her number if you stop flirting with anything that breathes."

"... Oh."

Looking oddly defeated, Irvine retreated to his side of the table. He began to fumble with his hat in thought, while Seifer was already wolfing down his burger and keeping out an eye for his favorite waiter. Unfortunately, Squall was nowhere to be seen, and neither was Selphie for that matter. Seifer wondered whether the girl had drug Squall into some dark corner for a lecture, too.

He doubted it.

"No more flirting, she said?" Irvine piped up in front of him. "None at all?"

"Yup."

The cowboy gave a strangled gasp. "... She's trying to kill me."

"Ya think?"

"Yeah! I'm not like the ice princess, you know! I need to converse! I need to flirt! Women are the air I breathe! Just what am I gonna do?!"

Seifer honestly had to resist the urge to drop to the floor and roll around with laughter. Irvine seemed truly devastated at the prospect of cutting down his flirting quota, and the little wheels behind his forehead were grinding in the hopes of finding a way out of his precarious situation.

It was almost cute.

As the blonde lazily continued to stuff his face with his last bits of hamburger, contemplating the few things that Selphie had told him, his ears perked up at the sound of rubber soles squeaking on stone tiles somewhere very close. Quickly swallowing down his food, he turned his head in anticipation.

Storm blue eyes clashed with his own, and their ill-tempered owner's jaw was hard, as if set into stone. The dark haired boy that had emerged out of nowhere looked so very cold and rigid, his resemblance to a statue much too striking. For a second, Seifer seriously considered grabbing the stoic brunette and placing a fierce kiss on those goddamned cold lips, if only to find out for once and for all whether Squall was gay or not. The moment passed, though, and Squall slapped a sheet of paper onto the table before Seifer. Doubtlessly, it was their check, and upon its delivery Squall spun around again without wasting any time in the blonde's presence.

Seifer hesitated but a second.

"Hey, wait!"

Squall froze on the spot when the blonde called out to him, but he still refused to turn around. Seifer stared at the brunette's motionless back, at the muscles that were shifting agitatedly beneath indigo fabric, and he didn't even notice Irvine's strange looks that were darted towards him from beneath a wide brimmed cowboy hat.

"Squall."

The urgency in Seifer's voice finally broke through the brunette's defenses. With his face wiped clean of expression, Squall reluctantly swiveled around to confront his "customer" again. Seifer was staring up at him almost pleadingly, and Squall furrowed his brows when he noted the rush of emotions in the blonde's hypnotic, dark green eyes. Inwardly, he heaved a sigh of exasperation.

Just what did that guy want?

"What?" he growled unwillingly, placing his right hand on his hip.

Seifer sucked a quick breath of air through his teeth, and he ignited the brightest of smiles upon his lips that he could possibly come up with. "Court-shipping", huh? It sounded so much less complicated in theory. Of course, Irvine's presence didn't exactly make things any easier, but most likely, it also didn't make a difference. One way or another, Squall seemed far from interested in so much as a conversation with him. In fact, the brunette was vehemently denying his mere presence.

Nonetheless, he had to give this a fair shot. If anything, he owed that much to his childish and all too masculine pride.

"I wanted to ask you a favor," Seifer started slowly, not quite yet sure himself where he was going with this.

Squall seemed less than appealed by the idea of doing anyone any favors, but at least he didn't stomp off right away. Sure, his cold, grey eyes darkened visibly and he crossed his arms before his chest in a very defensive manner, but by all means, at least he was listening.

It was more attention than most had ever received from Squall Leonhart.

"We got math again tomorrow," the blonde continued, his mind working on light speed, "And I, uh, kinda need some help going over the homework she gave us. I was wondering if you could help me out."

Seifer groaned silently to himself at the fake and static sound of his own words. This was rather lame, and without a question, Squall must have seen right through his act. He could have hardly been any more obvious. Strangely enough though, the brunette merely continued glaring at him and didn't collapse with laughter at his pathetic move.

"I'm not a teacher," Squall finally stated monotonously.

"No shit, smarty pants, I know that," Seifer frowned. "But you're still pretty good with that kinda stuff. I suck at math, and if I flunk it I'm gonna be in some deep shit. My Dad would kill me, literally."

Seifer hadn't placed much hope in his attempt of luring Squall into meeting up with him, but for some odd reason that last statement seemed to have stirred the dark haired boy's attention. Something in his face changed, though Seifer could by no means say what exactly it was. Squall looked infinitely softer, a bit insecure and a lot less uncaring, but most importantly, his frown gradually eased into an almost humane expression.

"Fine," Squall responded eventually, trying hard to sound annoyed. "I'll do it tomorrow before school. Meet me at the spring."

"No kidding? Sweet, alright!" Seifer smiled, and he had to force his heart to calm and keep from skipping. "I'll be there like a half hour before class, is that cool with ya?"

"Whatever."

Squall shrugged and turned on his heel in one fluid motion, his fine brown hair sweeping into his face as he walked away. Seifer could care less; he was absolutely elated by the idea of spending a whole half hour in Squall's sole presence. Frankly, the brunette had surprised him by accepting his plea for assistance, but Squall's reasons were of little importance to him at that point.

Still beaming like a lovesick schoolgirl, he spun around to face Irvine, who gave him a rather peculiar look.

"What?" Seifer muttered, shoving the last bite of hamburger into his mouth and trying hard to look serious.

"What was that just now?" Irvine mumbled, pointing vigorously in the direction where Squall had vanished.

"Whaddaya mean?"

"He was like... almost nice. I haven't seen him be that civil since kindergarten. And how come ya asked him for help and not me?"

Seifer swallowed hard. A dozen answers, none of them really useful, echoed inside his head. He really had to watch his "cover", he decided, or else he'd be in trouble.

"Well," he started, shrugging softly. "I thought it'd be a good chance to probe around in the whole Selphie affair."

'... "Probe around"? Did I just say that? Oh my god, Almasy, get your mind out of the fucking gutter.'

Irvine, however, seemed entirely satisfied with that answer. Nodding proudly, he grasped their check, took a brief look at it and slapped a $20 bill upon the table.

"Hey, I can get that," Seifer protested.

He always felt like a girl when someone treated him for a meal, granted that "someone" wasn't his family. The cowboy waved at him dismissively, then took a last sip of his lemonade and got up.

"Nah, this was your first time here, hence my treat."

"Alright," the blonde shrugged. "Thanks, man."

"Sure, sure."

As they filed out of the restaurant and bid Raijin a quick good-bye, jade green eyes were ever-searching for their storm grey counterpart, but once again, Squall was nowhere to be found. Seifer thought that he had seen a flash of Selphie's skirt somewhere, but he wasn't entirely sure and didn't care too much in the first place.

And as for Squall...

Well, at least he had something to look forward to.

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