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 Ten - One Step Closer To...

"How oblivious could you possible be?"

By Angry Angel

The inside of his car was much colder than Seifer had originally left it. The leather of his seat felt crisp against his bare arms, causing the hair on his skin to stand. They had been driving for a while now and he had cranked up the heater a long time ago, but even that didn't quite seem to help. The coldness was spreading within Seifer's body — not because of a chill in the air, but because of the shocking things that his eyes had endured to see.

He looked over to the guy sitting to his right, but Squall's distant gaze was pinned to the black dashboard before him. His bandaged wrists were resting slack on top of his thighs, their stark white color contrasting noticeably against the dark blue of his jeans.

He was so quiet.

Without saying a word, Seifer adjusted his view back to the road in front of him. Late night traffic was easing by as they progressed down the highway at moderate speed; the last thing that Seifer needed was a ticket for speeding and driving under the influence.

He had enough to deal with for the night.

As he watched a motorcycle passing him to the left, he turned his head to Squall once more, a sudden realization stirring in his mind even beneath all the directionless brooding.

"Hey... Squall," he started, his voice slightly disjointed and off pitch, "Did you leave your bike somewhere by the playground?"

Frankly, the thought hadn't even occurred to him until right then and there. Squall had obviously caught some sort of ride to the park, unless of course he actually resided in the expensive neighborhood that surrounded it. Considering the brunette's tremendous work load at "Ward's" however, Seifer thought that hardly possible.

"No," Squall finally replied monotonously, not moving his gaze from the dashboard by even an inch. "I didn't."

"Did you walk?" the blonde continued with a curious kink of his eyebrow. "Uh, I mean, do you like, live down in that area or what?"

"... Yeah."

Seifer kept glancing back and forth between Squall's desolate, emotionless face and the illuminated highway, but the brunette seemed less than willing to elaborate on the subject of his home any further. He had veered his head aside slightly, now staring at the dim lights of Deling City that were flittering all around them. His lips were little but a narrow, hard line, and Seifer thought that he saw Squall's fingers twitching nervously atop his legs.

The blonde eighteen year old had been in many awkward situations in his life, but not once before had he felt so confused, unsure and helpless. Taking Squall home with him had seemed like a great idea at first, but how much good would it really do? Granted, Seifer could properly clean and patch up his wounds, but he knew well enough that all the bandages in the world wouldn't mend Squall's real problems, whichever they might be. Seifer had never dealt with anyone suicidal before, nor had he ever bothered to spend much thought on the subject itself.

Now, everything was different.

He stared down the road in uncomfortable silence, mechanically shifting, braking and accelerating. He wanted to say something - to talk about Squall's injuries and ask about the reason for their existence - but he knew that he might as well try to strike a conversation with a brick wall. For the time being, he really couldn't do much of anything.

"... I'm sorry."

Seifer blinked and reeled his head aside slowly. Squall's voice had been flat and subdued, but those words of his had reached Seifer's ears all the same. The brunette wasn't looking at him, only glaring out the window and crushing his hands to taut fists that caused his knuckles to turn white.

"What?" Seifer asked hesitantly, perplexed to the core by this strange and unexpected apology. "Huh? Sorry? Sorry for what?"

He could see Squall's fine, dark brown brows shifting low over his eyes as the corners of his mouth were tightening. The younger boy drew a shallow breath that was bordering to an exasperate sigh.

"Sorry for ruining your night."

Again, Seifer blinked in confusion and moved his left hand from the steering wheel to the top of his head, scratching it blankly.

"Ruin my... heh?" he mumbled as he stared at Squall without the slightest hint of understanding dawning in his viridian eyes. "What the hell are you talkin' about?"

Squall crossed his arms before his chest, still vehemently refusing to heed the blonde with so much as a curt glimpse. His eyes narrowed even further when he spoke again.

"I heard you on the playground," he explained, a strange, choppy tone to his voice that Seifer couldn't quite decipher. "... You and Rinoa."

"Ohh..." Seifer breathed, finally grasping the direction that Squall's rather clumsy explanation was taking. "Right... About that... Uh... Well, guess I'd rather spend the night with you than with her."

The blonde smirked and shrugged carelessly, pretending that his gentle statement carried little or no deeper meaning at all, but he froze immediately when Squall turned around to look at him for the very first time since they had gotten into the car. Chocolate brown strands of hair were cascading wryly into the seventeen year old's face as he finally allowed his dark grey eyes to collide with Seifer's jade green ones, searching them aimlessly. Irritation had meshed with the brunette's fine features, screwing them questioningly as he uncrossed his arms.

"Why?" Squall asked eventually, skepticism evident in his tone. "I don't get it."

Squall's open display of confusion was adorable and perhaps a little out of place in their current situation, but Seifer responded to it instinctively all the same. He gave a low, husky chuckle that would have caused any girl to blush, but Squall merely kept glaring at him with a persistence that was almost disturbing.

"Oh? And why's that?" Seifer cooed softly.

The question seemed to catch Squall slightly off guard. Another frown creased his brows as he whisked his head aside once more and continued to stare out the window, but this time, he didn't remain silent.

"Because of the things you said this morning," he started slowly, the words oddly hard and calm as he performed a vague gesture with his hand. "And because of what I said. Because of... everything."

Seifer was genuinely surprised to hear the brunette bringing up that particular incident. Frankly, he himself had practically forgotten all about it when faced with Squall's injuries; his heartfelt concern had overwritten all his other, more bitter feelings with ease. Now, he remembered his nasty, hurtful words of their early morning encounter in the parking lot, and he also remembered how damn sorry he had been all day.

Suddenly, he felt untypically ashamed.

"That..." he murmured uneasily, now turning his head away as well, "I didn't really... mean any of that. I was just pissed off."

He couldn't tell whether Squall was pleased with that response or not, because the brunette had apparently decided to resume ignoring him. Perhaps it was better that way, the blonde mused. Perhaps it meant that he was forgiven for his harshness, at least partly. In any case, he decided that he would refrain from intentionally hurting his younger classmate again — obviously, Squall's life was already difficult enough without anyone adding to his pile of problems for the mere sake of causing him pain and making him feel inferior.

Squall deserved better than that.

Neither of them spoke any more for the rest of the trip. Seifer guided them through the scarce traffic and his suburban neighborhood, until he finally pulled into his parking lot and the one spot that the apartment complex had assigned to him. When they came to a complete halt and Seifer turned off the engine of his truck, the sudden silence that enveloped them like a thick, impenetrable cloak was strangely overwhelming. Next to the blonde, Squall wasn't moving so much as a single muscle, and his breathing was hardly audible as he gazed through the windows up the tall, snobbish looking apartment buildings.

"Well, this is it," Seifer explained unnecessarily as he unbuckled his seat belt. "Let's get out."

He opened his door and leaped onto the ground, glad to see that Squall was soon following his example. The brunette still refused to look at him; he stood next to the car, his hands slack at his sides and his eyes fixed upon the stucco fašade of the building in front of them. As Seifer stepped up to him, he could see a sort of fierce determination kindling with the indifference in Squall's pale face.

"Yep, this is where I live," Seifer answered the mute question that seemed to whirr within the dark haired boy's stern gaze. "Me and my crazy ass dog, that is."

Squall gave something like a very low-pitched grunt, but said nothing further. He was frowning, as usual, but Seifer had already gotten used to that sight even if he didn't particularly approve of it, either. Taking a deep breath, he hit the remote control button that locked his truck and slowly stepped around Squall's rigid figure.

"Let's go," he suggested, glancing at the brunette from over his shoulder. "I live on the second floor, so we gotta take the stairs. You gonna make it?"

Wordlessly, Squall shifted his weight onto his right foot and folded his arms across his chest. Seifer resisted the burning urge to roll his eyes at the brunette's childish display of pride and merely nodded curtly as he took the first few steps forward.

"Alright then, your royal goat-headedness. Follow me."

He walked slowly until Squall had finally caught up with him, the sound of their now synchronous footsteps swallowed by the concrete beneath the soles of their boots. It was quiet around them; so quiet that Seifer thought that he could sense Squall's flaring panic. He was almost certain that the brunette would try and make a break for it, but to his mild surprise, Squall did neither stop short nor make an attempt at running away.

When they reached the flight of stairs that led up to Seifer's small but expensive apartment, the blonde turned to his classmate once more.

"Up here," he said, jabbing his thumb heavenwards. "They're kinda steep. Sucks carrying your groceries up there, too, 'specially when it's raining. Not sure exactly what those assholes were thinking when they built this."

He was rambling and he knew it, too. Squall stood next to him, shivering only marginally against the cold wind that was whipping through the open stairway. Frankly, Seifer had no clue why all stairs and apartment entrances were located outside, leaving the renters at the mercy of the weather.

What were his parents paying those $1500 a month for again?

'Ah... Doesn't fuckin' matter. Not right now, anyway. I just gotta get him up there somehow without him falling over his own feet on the way.'

Smiling suggestively, Seifer took a mock bow and motioned Squall to go ahead.

"After you," he drawled.

The brunette was regarding him with a wary, narrow-eyed look, but eventually complied with Seifer's awkward invitation. For a split second, he wondered whether the blonde had wanted to walk behind him because he was worried over Squall's steadiness, but the seventeen year old pushed the thought aside almost frantically. He didn't care about Seifer's reasons, nor did he believe that they were of any noteworthy importance. If they were, he would have no idea whatsoever how to cope. Ignoring the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Seifer did truly care for him seemed like the easiest thing to do for the time being.

Shaking all questions out of his mind, Squall slowly ascended the staircase. Seifer was walking right behind him; he was so close that Squall could hear him breathing even through the soft howl of the night breeze, and the sound caused his heart to jump out of pace and his thoughts to go tumbling once more.

'What am I doing here of all places? Why did I get into the car with him? I don't even know him. I don't want to know him. It's none of his business what I do with my wrists or any other damn part of my body. I shouldn't have followed him, I'm such an idiot. Why is he trying to help me...? Why is he walking so close? Why is he... gah. Whatever. It doesn't matter why he's doing what he's doing. I don't need his pity. I just want him to leave me alone. I can take care of my own just fine. I don't need anyone. I'm not... I'm... I... I... I don't know. I don't know why I'm here. I don't know anything. This is bad. I should leave...'

When Squall abruptly stopped in his stride, his head low and his eyes fixed upon the stairs to his feet as his feelings threatened to overpower him, Seifer only barely managed to avoid a collision. Grunting, he stepped to the side and scooted around the brunette's motionless frame, studying Squall's blank face very attentively.

"Damn, get some brake lights or something if ya plan on stopping like this," he mumbled impatiently, before tilting his head in question. "What's up? Why'd you stop?"

Squall was avoiding his gaze carefully, but before Seifer had a chance to ask any further questions or haul the brunette up the stairs by brute force, the enigmatic boy in front of him quickly shook his head.

"... No reason."

With his view still nailed to the ground, Squall circled Seifer's figure and stoically continued walking. To hell with his useless fear and panic; he could do this. He wasn't afraid. He had been through much worse times than these in his life. Seifer could do nothing to him that others hadn't already done before him...

He had nothing to lose.

"There we go. To your left!"

Squall glanced at the white, solid wood door at the end of a small corridor that, apparently, seemed to lead to Seifer's apartment. Cautiously, he approached the entrance as he heard the blonde behind him fiddling with his key.

"Alright, now listen up," Seifer said sternly as he pushed past his brunette classmate, fixing Squall with a gaze that demanded attention. "My fuckin'dog, Shiva, can be kinda rowdy and she ain't small, either, so... if you want, I can lock her up in the bathroom before you come in."

To Seifer's astonishment, Squall did neither crumple in fear nor froze to the spot; instead, he mashed his eyebrows together and gave a cynical snort.

"I'm not scared," he spat abjectly as he stepped up to the door, demonstratively waiting for the blonde to go ahead and unlock it already.

"... So I see..." Seifer mumbled quietly, unable to suppress a hint of concern over Squall's boldness.

Seifer's canine companion was a three year old Alaskan malamute; beautiful to boot, but also no less powerful and headstrong. Usually, she would issue extremely vocal greetings whenever she heard him coming home, but on this particular night she was being awfully quiet. Seifer guessed that she was probably asleep, but his assumption was immediately proven wrong when he finally unlocked and opened his door...

There she was, all snow white and coal black fur and piercing blue eyes, waiting in the doorway like a perfect statue. Only her tail was wagging slowly as she displayed untypical calmness and looked both boys over with wisdom that seemed much too alien for a dog.

"Hey girl," Seifer greeted her with a friendly smirk as he bent down to scratch her ears. "Guess what... I brought a visitor."

He took a step aside to make room for Squall, close the door behind them and turn on the lights. They had walked right into his slightly unruly living room, but apparently, Seifer's guest seemed to care little about the blonde's tidiness, or rather the lack thereof. With his golden brows arching in incredulity as he turned back around, Seifer found Squall already down on one knee before Shiva, receiving sloppy wet "kisses" from the dog that normally refused to socialize with strangers. As a matter of fact, she had chased away a good number of Seifer's female and male visitors alike, something the blonde had never been quite happy about (except for a few, rare occasions).

Strangely enough, Shiva seemed to have no objections against Seifer's most recent acquaintance.

Shiva, however, wasn't the only one acting oddly. Squall was still kneeling before her, stroking her fur in a very calm and gentle manner, and for the very first time, Seifer thought that he could see a small smile playing at the corners of the brunette's lips.

"Damn," Seifer whistled in acknowledgement, jingling his keys as he approached the astonishing scene, "I honestly didn't think you two would hit it off like that. She usually bonds with people by tearing off their pant legs."

Now definitely smiling (and smiling beautifully at that, Seifer had to admit), Squall was massaging the back of Shiva's nose, and he chuckled softly as she begun to wag her tail in boundless canine delight.

"She's a good dog," he replied quietly.

The brunette was completely unaware of the effect that the sudden change in his facial expression had on Seifer. The older teen was towering next to him, staring mutely and with a pounding pulse at the two gorgeous creatures to his feet. He just couldn't believe that Squall was actually smiling — the mere concept had seemed practically impossible up until that very moment when Shiva had nonchalantly stuck her wet, smelly nose into the brunette's face.

"You're smiling," Seifer declared unsurely, his voice coarse with emotion. "I've never seen you smile before."

Squall attempted to swallow down his grin and keep a blush from creeping to his high cheekbones, but he couldn't quite manage. Forcing the dark frown back onto his face as best as he could, he tried dearly to sound careless.

"Whatever."

He continued to stroke Shiva and Seifer watched him, truly mesmerized by the other boy's simple actions, until a flash of white around the rim of Squall's sleeve reminded him painfully of why he had brought the brunette home with him in the first place.

'Hrmph. I guess it can't be helped.'

Clearing his throat noisily, he slowly approached Squall's crouching figure.

"Hey... Squall."

The dark haired boy cocked his head aside and gave him a long, watchful look, immediately alert by the serious tone that had carved itself into Seifer's strong voice. The tall blonde was gazing back at him for a moment, viridian green orbs issuing a mute apology.

"I gotta look at your wounds," Seifer finally explained, inaudibly sighing at the icy spark that flared up in Squall's storm blue eyes. "Trust me, I could watch you two snuggling on the floor all night, but unfortunately that won't make your wrists any better. C'mon, I promise it won't take long."

Equally confused and embarrassed by Seifer's declared interest in watching him cuddle with his dog, Squall quickly shot to his feet. His head was spinning nastily in protest against the abrupt movement, but he ignored it with coldly exercised familiarity. The older blonde was looking him over with an expression that suggested concern, but eventually, Seifer merely nodded and pointed to a spot behind Squall.

"Over there, in my bedroom."

He ushered the reluctant brunette through his living room, past the couch that was buried underneath untouched bags of clothes from his trip to the mall. Seifer possessed few, expensive pieces of furniture that, just like the rest of his apartment, he never bothered to keep clean; after all, he had someone come in twice a week to straighten up in his stead. He knew he was lazy, but when he saw Squall arching his eyebrows in quiet disapproval, he actually regretted that fact for the very first time in his life.

"Sorry 'bout the mess," he apologized with a muffled grunt, somewhat relieved that he had at least bothered to make his bed before he had taken off for the club that evening.

Frankly, he had planned on taking Rinoa home with him for some quick, distracting fun, but things had somehow turned out much differently than he had originally anticipated. And though he didn't much like the reason for Squall's late night visit, he was all the more excited to have the true object of his interest over at his house.

Late at night.

Alone.

Quickly shaking his head against the heat rising in all the wrong places of his body, he tried to stay focused.

'Man, pull yourself the fuck together! You've got more important things to worry about right now, dumbass. Like pretty boy almost bleeding dry on a playground, for instance. Really, you better get a grip right fuckin' now.'

Of course, such things were always much easier said than done.

"Uh, have a seat," he ordered gawkily as he closed the door behind them and picked some clothes off the floor on his way, carelessly tossing them into his laundry basket.

The brunette seemed hesitant at the concept of sitting down on Seifer's king sized bed, his face skeptic as it writhed into a scowl. He stared down at it as if it was his worst enemy, wrestling deeply ingrained fears that Seifer knew nothing about.

"Uh, Squall? You wanna sit down or what?"

Banishing the little voice that urged him to run away into the deep back of his mind, Squall edgily lowered himself onto the mattress. Beneath him, black satin sheets were rustling softly; it was a sound that reminded him of his childhood — of a past that he both loathed and longed for desperately. Images of his mother holding him tight and looking upon him with loving but sad cobalt blue eyes flashed before him, and he could feel his skin breaking into goose bumps as the memories resurfaced.

"Squall? Hey!"

Frowning, Seifer watched how the brunette's eyes snapped back into focus as he called out his name. Squall seemed confused, frightened almost, as if he had just realized where he was at. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, his feet planted firmly on the floor and his hands wrenched into the sheets as his gaze darted around the room aimlessly.

A deer in the headlights if Seifer had ever seen one.

'What is it with him? He totally spaced out on me just now. For fuck's sake, it's just a bed; don't tell me he's scared of furniture now.'

Sighing placidly, Seifer walked up to the dark haired boy that now seemed to be staring a hole into the wall before him and slowly went unto his knees. Naturally, that gesture managed to snare Squall's undivided attention in the matter of a heartbeat. The brunette adjusted his disjointed gaze to the blonde squatting by his feet, and the sight caused his eyebrows to arch towards his hairline while his skin acquired a rather lovely shade of crimson.

"W-what the hell are you doing...?!" he stammered uneasily, a flustered edge to his voice.

"Lemme see your wrists."

Squall watched Seifer moving closer to him, his pale face wiped clean of expression. The blonde across from him wasn't smiling, though his eyes looked kind. Still, he was too close; Squall's knees had involuntarily come into connection with Seifer's chest, and when the older teen reached for his hands, Squall instinctively wanted to yank them back.

"Hold still," Seifer ordered in a low, semi-growling voice as he took a firm hold of Squall's left wrist.

The brunette was squirming beneath his touch, too proud to back away completely and yet too panicky to simply endure the bodily contact. He was glaring at the other guy fiercely while trying to steady his breathing, but even for all his iciness and all his false bravado, Seifer knew that he was scared. The hand that he was cupping in his own larger one was trembling noticeably, and the blonde flicked up his gaze to study Squall's stark white face.

"What's up, Squall? What are you scared of?" he asked, the calmness of his tone taking the initial sting out of the question.

Squall scowled at him all the same.

"Nothing," he hissed as his eyes were flaring with anger.

"Right. 'Course not."

Silently, Seifer commenced to unwrap the first bandage. It had been stained crimson red, but he let it coil to the bedroom floor all the same; his carpet was the last thing that he was concerned about.

Squall's skin looked worse in the light of his room than it had in the darkness of the playground. The brunette's left wrist had been slit multiple times, and the horizontal lines that lacerated his flesh ran fairly deep. Despite the drying patches of blood, Seifer also discovered older, similar looking cuts which had turned into whitish scars that had faded into the porcelain color of Squall's skin.

They proved Seifer's assumptions of Squall's cutting habits only too correct.

The blonde's emerald eyes darkened in disapproval, but he said nothing; now wasn't the right time for holier-than-thou lectures or pointless accusations. Squall was miserable as it was, all frightened and ashamed like an innocent little kid. The blonde could always give him a piece of his mind later.

Not that he had any real idea of what to say.

Quietly, he went to unwrap Squall's other wrist as well. The brunette was still staring at some imaginary point to the left of them, his brows knitted low over his eyes and his lips pressed to a wry line. He looked angry, embarrassed, proud and scared — all at the very same time. Seifer didn't quite know how to help the brunette relax and erase his fears; Squall was almost too touchy for him to handle.

Well, he would try anyway — it was the least he could do.

"Okay," he said as both of the dark haired teen's wrists were uncovered and resting on his thighs. "I'm gonna wash my hands and grab some stuff from the bathroom. Be right back."

Squall turned his head to glance down at his wounds, but he remained silent.

"And don't move, got it?" Seifer ordered sharply through his teeth as he sashayed into the bathroom.

After the blonde had washed his hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap, he randomly pulled some bottles, bandages and sterile pads out of his medicine cabinet. He figured it best to take some wet washcloths and dry towels as well, and with utmost care he managed to balance everything back into the bedroom.

Squall was eyeing him full of mistrust; dark, choppy strands of hair obscured a good portion of his face as he quickly lowered his head out of sight, but Seifer knew well enough that he was scowling.

"Hey, man, what's with the frown," the blonde tried to joke as he knelt down before Squall and dropped his supplies onto the bed, "I mean c'mon, you've got Doc Almasy to take care of ya now! You better feel honored."

The brunette's gaze was cold and humorless behind coal black lashes, unmoved by Seifer's kindness, but there was also a trace of insecurity that he couldn't completely suppress. He had never allowed anyone to find out about his cut up wrists, let alone sat back and have them tend to his wounds, so this was entirely new territory for him. There was only one other person who knew of his cutting habits... probably the most unlikely one imaginable. That one, particular person cared little about the brunette's agony, but Squall had to admit that Seifer was, perhaps, different; at least he had neither mocked him nor called him disgusting.

Squall almost drowned in the maze of his thoughts, but a sudden sting of pain hurled him back into reality effortlessly. Hissing a random curse, he glared down at Seifer and the light blue washcloth he was using to clean his wounds. The blonde considered him with a small, lopsided smirk.

"Sorry," he murmured, feigning contriteness.

Judging by the older youth's content grin, however, Squall had all reason to assume that Seifer had actually hurt him on purpose. And indeed - annoyed and concerned over the fact that Squall had once again clammed up on him, Seifer had found startling the brunette a very acceptable means of recapturing his attention.

Sighing irritably, Squall decided to pay closer heed to what exactly it was that the other boy was doing to him. Shoving the hair out of his face bleakly with the one hand that Seifer wasn't doctoring with, he studied each of the blonde's movements with great vigilance.

Admittedly, Seifer did surprise him by turning out to be so gentle. It seemed unusual, especially when taking into consideration that Squall had initially mistaken him for just another cocky football jock with a brick for a brain. Apparently, however, there was more to the brawny blonde than his superficial arrogance and his stupid varsity jacket. He was cleaning Squall's wounds with great care and without even the slightest hint of repulsion slanting his handsome features.

... And handsome he certainly was, Squall had to hand it to him. No wonder all the girls in school were running their mouths about Seifer Almasy during class and flocking to him left and right during breaks. The brunette could hardly blame them; had he been a girl himself, he probably would have done the same thing.

Biting down upon the inside of his cheek, Squall quickly pitched his head into his neck and nailed his gaze to the chalk white ceiling, if only to prevent another blush from crossing his tense features. He wasn't sure why on earth he was having thoughts of such ridiculous, pubescent nature that were only fit for a lovesick school girl, but he definitely didn't want Seifer to find out.

He'd probably laugh, anyway.

"What do you usually put on there?"

Startled once more, Squall blinked down at the blonde before him. Seifer was looking back at him expectantly from between his knees, one hand fastened around his hip as he was squatting there on the floor.

Squall couldn't help but swallow laboriously at the sight.

'Why does he have to be down there of all places? This is weird. He shouldn't be sitting between my knees and I shouldn't have let him in the first place. And why the hell is he looking at me like that?'

"... What?" Squall stammered, taken aback by the amused glint that lit up the blonde's emerald green eyes.

"Your wrists," Seifer explained willingly. "What kinda stuff do you usually slap on them to keep 'em from getting infected? 'Cause this obviously isn't the first time you've butchered them like that."

With a fresh frown littering his pretty face, Squall first glared at Seifer, then at his wounds that were looking so much cleaner now.

"... Peroxide," he replied testily.

"Peroxide?!" Seifer spat with a surprised hiss. "You put peroxide on those?? What are you, nuts?"

Squall's face soured even further at the blonde's outrage.

"You asked."

"Yeah, but... fuck. Peroxide of all things? Why don't you go sprinkle some salt and Tabasco sauce on them and have yourself a real sting fest? I mean, might as well go all out."

"Whatever."

Grunting, Seifer grabbed one of the bottles that he had brought from the bathroom and shoved it right into Squall's dumbfounded face. The brunette tried to edge backwards, but the older teen was still holding on to one of his arms, disinclined to let go.

"There," Seifer drawled as he swung the bottle back and forth provocatively, "No sting Bactine. I know it 'prolly won't satisfy that masochistic side of your's, but it's all I got. So hold the fuck still!"

Still bristling against the touch, Squall watched reluctantly how Seifer swiped his wrists with sterile pads drenched in Bactine. Indeed, it hardly hurt at all, or at least the pain was marginal compared to that of a treatment with peroxide. Not that it mattered even the slightest bit at all — Squall wasn't afraid of pain. He wasn't afraid of anything, for that matter — or shouldn't have been, anyway. Didn't want to be...

And yet...

Why was his heart beating so fast?

"How's that?" Seifer asked, his green eyes boring like lucid flames into Squall's arcane storm grey ones.

The brunette swallowed again and ground his teeth together.

He hated it when Seifer looked at him like that — so very intently, like he was the only person worth looking at in this world; it made his breath hitch and his heart race with adrenaline.

He felt almost dumbly sentimental.

"... Whatever," he replied stoically and curled his hands to fists.

"I said 'hold still'," Seifer growled in exasperation as he wrenched Squall's fingers apart. "And seriously, you gotta work on your vocabulary."

"Whatev—"

"Yeah, yeah, never mind," the blonde groaned, rolling his eyes in mute annoyance. "I fuckin' got it."

Shaking his head, Seifer fished for the bandages on the bed. Squall was watching him full of suspicion, though he pretended that he didn't give so much as a rat's ass about what the other teen was doing to him. Seifer was peeling the plastic wrapper off one bandage noisily, before he carefully begun to wind it around Squall's left wrist, which he had covered with a sterile gauze pad.

He worked silently, focused almost entirely onto his task. Deep down, he couldn't thank his parents enough for forcing him to learn first aid and providing him with all the necessary and superfluous equipment one could possibly need.

One of these days, he'd probably have to call them and let them know.

Sighing, he continued to devote his attention to Squall's wounds, but at the same time, he couldn't quite forget about his and and the brunette's early morning encounter; as he enveloped the dark haired boy's wretched looking wrists, he got a painful feeling that he was at least partly to blame for this.

"Hrmph," he cleared his throat as he secured the first bandage with a clip and gave Squall a weak half-smirk. "About this morning, you know... in the parking lot... Uh... I know I'm not a nice guy or nothing, but... I really am sorry for what I said to you. I know I was a downright asshole. So... yeah... I'm sorry, Squall."

He dropped his gaze immediately, not waiting for an answer from Squall that he was probably never going to receive, anyway. The brunette, however, was thoughtfully glancing back and forth between his own, throbbing wrists and Seifer's upset face from beneath dark, half-lidded eyes, and before his defense mechanisms could have kicked in, he quietly raised his voice.

"... You're nicer than most," he breathed softly.

"Huh? You really think so?" the blonde replied in surprise, before he begun to wrap Squall's other wrist and smiled very vaguely. "That's only with you, though."

He could hear Squall sucking in a staggered breath as the brunette's features curled into a wry, confused grimace. Apparently, Squall had not expected to receive an answer of such... intimate nature, and this time his curiosity got the better of him.

"... What? What are you talking about?"

Again, Seifer gave him a sly but incredibly indistinct grin. The blonde knew that he was probably going too far or too fast, but the heart pounding in his chest had no sense for patience.

"You know, you're kinda cute when you're confused," he chuckled, but didn't meet Squall's eye.

"What kind of answer is that," the other teen snapped, the agitated tone of his voice erecting yet another snort of laughter from Seifer's end. "... What are you laughing at?!"

"You."

Squall growled irritably under his breath, his lips thinning dangerously.

The boy squatting by his feet merely smirked.

"I'm laughing, 'cause you of all people should know everything about giving vague or non-existent answers."

"Hnh... Whatever."

Seifer laughed quietly once more, but this time he said nothing. Squall was glowering at him balefully; obviously, there was much more curiosity hidden within his rigid form than met the eye. The dark haired youth seemed oddly frustrated at the concept of being played mind-games with, and though Seifer believed that he thoroughly deserved to be at the receiving end of such a treatment for a change, he was also softening at the sight of a very defeated looking brunette.

"Well," he drawled smugly, fully aware of the other boy's undivided attention, "You know... I lied when I said everyone was sick of you."

The dark haired teen slowly laced his eyebrows together at that remark, and the corners of his mouth curved downwards into a rancorous frown.

"No," he stated demurely, struggling to sound cynical and careless. "You were right on track."

"Uh, actually--"

"And I don't give a fuck, either."

The blonde couldn't help but chortle in amusement. Who was Squall trying to fool? Granted, the brunette probably cared less about his environment than the average high school student did, but Seifer knew that he also wasn't near as cold-hearted as he portrayed himself to be. He had seen emotions crossing those plains of storm blue — hurt, anxiety, anger, fear, helplessness — each of which had belied Squall's typical display of indifference with almost ridiculous ease.

"Oh, is that so, huh?" Seifer mocked the brunette's defiance cunningly. "Well, here's a newsflash for ya, ice princess: I am not sick of you."

He could watch Squall's angry, tight features snapping loose in surprise at those words.

It was a reaction that Seifer found all too interesting.

"What? Why...?"

"Why?" Seifer repeated the question while breathing another low-pitched chuckle. "Come on now. How oblivious could you possibly be?"

It had been a daring thing to say, but Squall didn't seem to catch on to it. Seifer hadn't really expected anything else, but when he saw Squall's gaze growing distant and out of focus, he did wonder.

How oblivious could Squall be?

Perhaps he had dropped just a few too many hints; did he really want the brunette to find out about his feelings? It probably wasn't the most reasonable idea that had ever crossed his mind, but then again, when had Seifer ever been reasonable in the first place? He liked Squall beyond any ordinary bond of friendship, and by all means, he couldn't help that - or at least he didn't want to. He wasn't sure how receptive the younger boy would be towards any kind of offensive approach, but he would try and blaze a trail for it all the same.

In the end, he didn't have much to lose, anyway.

Calmly, he continued to wrap the brunette's wrist. He studied the pale limb in his own, tanned hands, suddenly recalling the leather band that usually embraced it.

"So... Do you wear any bandages beneath those wrist bands you're usually strutting around with?" he asked, if only to breach the silence between them.

"No."

"Fuck - doesn't that hurt?"

"No."

"Liar."

He wondered why on earth the brunette was pretending to be so goddamn tough. His wounds looked painful enough. Why was he cutting himself, anyway? Hadn't his parents noticed yet? Somebody aside from him had to have realized that Squall was bagging some issues. What reason did he have to be all self-destructive like that? He was a good-looking guy, and smart to boot, too. Just what was going on in his life that made him feel so desperate?

Yet again, there were way too many questions and not near enough answers.

"... Why are you doing this?"

Seifer's head pitched back in surprise at Squall's brisk but unsure words. The brunette was glaring at him challengingly and his legs in the dark blue jeans were shifting, trying to keep Seifer at a distance.

"Doing what?" Seifer asked, arching his brows.

Growling, Squall lifted the wrist that Seifer was working on from the blonde's hands.

"This."

The older teen merely shrugged in response and quickly reclaimed Squall's limb.

"To stop it from bleeding?" he replied, a hint of sarcasm meshing with the usual, husky growl in his voice.

To his astonishment, Squall gave a sharp hiss and his eyes narrowed ominously, ice freezing them over in the matter of an instant.

Apparently, this wasn't quite the answer the brunette had been waiting for.

"That's not what I meant," the brunette snapped venomously and wanted to cross his arms before his chest, but Seifer held on to them tightly.

"Will you hold the fuck still already?" the older youth barked irritably as he wrestled Squall for his wrists. "Obstinate lil' prick."

When he realized that he couldn't possibly talk Squall into place, nor force him to stay put without risking to crush his forearms in the process, Seifer finally heaved a guttural, exasperate sigh.

Why couldn't things just be easy for once?

"Were you even listening to anything I said?" he groaned, while giving Squall a serious, still look out of spellbinding green eyes. "I care about you, dumbass."

Squall tried to edge back slowly, but Seifer was rooting him to the spot.

"I don't get it," the brunette bristled, mashing his eyebrows together. "Why? I haven't exactly been nice to you. So why?"

"I could ask you the same thing, really," Seifer stated neutrally. "Why is it that you're fucking trying to kill yourself?"

It was another one of the questions that Squall definitely didn't seem inclined to answer. Nonetheless, he bit down upon his lower lip and trained his gaze past Seifer upon one of the far walls, trying to stare it to pieces.

"... I'm not."

"You're not?" Seifer grunted, disbelief evident in each syllable. "Then just why the fuck are you butchering your wrists if not for that, huh?"

Squall flicked his dark grey gaze back to him defiantly.

"Maybe I like pain," he snarled.

Seifer couldn't keep from cackling with humorless laughter. He figured that this skinny little punk was probably into something, but pain sure the hell wasn't it. Every part of Squall seemed to crumble under the burden of whatever secret it was that was weighing on his shoulders, and he had been in blatant tears at the playground — not so very convincing at all.

"Yeah fuckin' right," he sneered, "You look like you're into pain about as much as I am into screwing three legged goats."

Ever so slowly, Squall kinked one of his brows as his gaze searched Seifer's face with openly displayed curiosity.

Three legged goats...?

"Hey," Seifer barked in half mock, half serious tone, "Don't look at me like that, alright?! I'm not into fucking goats! Sheesh. You're a lil' pervert, I swear."

Despite the initial seriousness of the situation, Squall found himself smiling weakly. He didn't know why, but this ornery blonde always had a way of making him forget about the darkness of his problems by cracking silly jokes or picking on him like only a little kid would. He still didn't understand why Seifer was so eager to help him, but the concept bothered him less and less by the minute.

Quietly, he lowered his head to watch Seifer attaching the clip that would hold the bandage around his right wrist together. After inspecting his work and nodding to himself in mute approval, the tall blonde teen edgily stood up and stretched out his aching knees. The younger brunette was still studying him from his hunched over position on the bed, though he tried his very best to conceal his subtle interest.

Thoughtfully, Seifer looked down upon him. Squall's forearms were resting on his thighs as the brunette slowly pulled down his sleeves to cover up his weakness. Despite the fact that the fabric of his shirt was black, Seifer noticed the dried specks of blood that littered it. Part of him wondered how many shirts Squall had dirtied like that, and when the hell it would finally stop.

Squall shifted uneasily under Seifer's calm, strangely infuriating look. Absent-mindedly, he brushed a few, stray wisps of hair behind his ear and begun to scratch his left elbow.

"... Thanks," he huffed reluctantly, avoiding the blonde's face with the stubbornness of a mule.

"Welcome."

Staring at the stretch of tan colored carpet before his feet, Squall tried to gulp down the uncomfortable lump in his throat. He didn't really know what to say or do, but he couldn't allow Seifer to keep piercing him with those intoxicatingly green eyes, either.

Somehow, those eyes made him feel like nothing else before ever had.

"I... I should get going," he murmured, his voice hoarse and raspy.

Before he could have pushed himself off the bed, however, he already felt Seifer's hand on his shoulder, rooting him to the spot with the steadiness of a metric ton of rocks.

"Hey, wait a sec," the blonde interrupted his flight brusquely, sounding annoyed. "What do you mean, 'get going'? You're spending the night."

When Squall's head shot up, Seifer could practically see the resentment flaring up in his blue grey eyes. Really, had he ever expected anything else? The idea of spending the night at someone else's place probably sounded as enticing to the jumpy brunette as rolling around in a heap of razor blades.

Then again...

He was Squall, after all. Razors seemed to scare him less than one would initially anticipate, but his voice was still filled with distress when he spoke.

"No!" the dark haired teen snapped impulsively, every fiber of his body bristling against Seifer's statement. "No, I'm not."

"'No'? Uhm, sorry to break this to ya, but it looks like you got little choice."

"I don't care," Squall bit back testily. "I can't."

"You can't? Why not?" Seifer asked slyly, folding his arms before his chest. "Forgot your jammies or what?"

"Because of my Mom," the brunette countered, his voice pure and unyielding like steel. "She doesn't know that I'm here. She'd worry herself sick."

To Squall's surprise, Seifer wordlessly turned his back on him and opened the door to leave the room. The brunette's features writhed into a mask of confusion at the unexpected act, but before long, Seifer had already returned with a phone in his hand.

"Here," the blonde said complacently, thrusting out his hand and dropping the phone in Squall's lap with an unreadable grin. "Go ahead."

Dumbfounded, Squall blinked at the sleek black object resting on his thighs. When he made no visual attempt at grasping it, Seifer heaved an impatient sigh and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling.

"It's called a phone," he snarled as he angled himself down to Squall and gave him a hearty poke in the chest. "Use it!"

"But--"

"I doubt your mom will have any objections against you staying over at a classmate's place. It's not like I'm a wicked chainsaw murderer or some shit like that. Give me some credit here!"

Screwing his pretty features into a nasty grimace that made him looked like a menace alright, Squall crossed his arms defensively.

"I can't."

"Right," Seifer cooed, sneering softly. "So you're telling me you wanna go home looking like this - bandaged wrists, bloody shirt and everything? Oh, and just to let ya know... I have a pretty loose mouth, especially around mothers."

"What the... No, I don't want to, but--"

"That settles it, then. 'Cause I ain't letting you sleep in the damned park, so you might as well forget about it right fuckin' now! Suck it up already — you ain't going anywhere tonight. You live too far away to be walking anyway, and I ain't driving you. Sorry, but you're shit out of luck, princess."

It might have been a cruel thing to say, and judging by Squall's upset scowl it probably had been, but Seifer had no intentions whatsoever to actually help the brunette in getting away. Frankly, he rather enjoyed Squall's frosty presence and the concept of having him sleep over sounded enticing in more ways than just one.

Opposite of him, Squall remained silent for a long time. Seifer could tell that he was stewing up a storm, but that he also realized how essentially correct the eighteen year old's words had been; Squall couldn't get back home without Seifer's help, or at least not without having to go through greater troubles than the thought of spending the night at the blonde's place suggested.

Really, it was kind of pointless to resist.

Just this one time he would do exactly what Seifer had ordered him to do — suck it up and get it over with as quickly as humanly possible. And all in all, Seifer had treated him pretty well, though that still didn't mean that Squall was interested in "bonding" with him in any way whatsoever. He was staying for the sake of necessity — nothing more, nothing less.

Or so he tried to make himself believe, anyway.

'... Whatever. I'm not interested in him. I don't even like him. I don't, alright? He's a dumb, annoying fuck. I'm staying 'cause I don't have a choice. That's all.'

With a frigid and somewhat defeated looking expression littering his face, Squall finally picked up the phone and quickly dialed a set of numbers that Seifer wasn't quite fortunate enough to catch. When the brunette raised the handset to his ear, Seifer plopped down on the bed next to him nonchalantly. The gesture only put him at the receiving end of yet another lethal glare, but Seifer shrugged it off with a charming smirk.

So far, this really wasn't going all that bad.

"Mom?"

Seifer's ears perked up; apparently, Squall's call had made it through.

"Yeah, it's me," the brunette said calmly, trying to sound casual. "I know. I'm sorry. ------- No. Not anymore. I'm at a... friend's house."

Blinking, Seifer glanced at Squall's finely featured profile. Had the untouchable ice princess really just called him a "friend"?

A friend?

'Be still my beating heart! Uh... maybe I should have checked his temperature. He's 'prolly coming down with a fever. After all, he looks like he wants to hurl the phone at me. Don't think "friends" generally do that sorta thing.'

Nonetheless, Seifer couldn't keep a content grin off his face. He was starting to like this - a lot.

"No. ------- No, his name's Seifer. Seifer Almasy. ------- No, you haven't. He just moved here from Balamb. ------- Yeah. ------- I'm going to spend the night at his place. Is that alright? ------- Up north, off of Centennial. He gave me a ride. ------- Yeah. It is. ------- Yeah. ------- Okay. ------- ... When? Tomorrow? ------- But why... Alright. Whatever. ------- Yeah, I will. ------- No, don't worry. ------- Okay, I'll see you tomorrow. Bye."

When Squall thumbed the button that ended his call, the room was plunged into silence once more. Thoughts and concerns were racing through Squall's head at nauseating speed, whereas his blonde companion's mind was quite fashionably blank - except for the occasional "Fuck yeah! Am I a genius or what?!".

Squall, however, seemed completely unaware of his host's bliss over the way the night was turning out.

He had more important things to cudgel his brain over.

'... Great. What now? This was a stupid idea. What the hell was I thinking? I should have caught a cab or something. Why did I agree to this? What's wrong with me? This is ridiculous. I don't want to sleep here... with him of all people. Fuck. But... Then... again... it might be better... than...'

Quickly, the brunette shook the thought out of his head.

'Let's just get this over with.'

Sighing, Squall decided to give his wobbly legs a fair try as he slowly pushed himself off the bed. Before he had any chance at taking so much as two steps, however, Seifer had already leaped onto his feet and halted him by the shoulder. Squall responded to the intrusive gesture with an irritated half-glance, and he fastened one hand around his hip.

"Where do you think you're going?" Seifer asked evenly.

Wordlessly, the brunette raised his hand that was holding the phone, but Seifer shook his head at him in disapproval.

"Nah, you stay here, I'll take care of that. Not like you have any idea where the station's at, anyway."

Snorting, Squall whisked around and thrust out his arm, motioning Seifer to take the phone from him. The blonde did exactly so, while fixing Squall with emerald green eyes that were smoldering with no longer concealed interest. He saw the brunette squirming under his attentive gaze and avoiding any kind of further confrontation as he sank back unto the mattress with his perfect features aslant in a cold frown.

"Don't frown so much," Seifer whistled as he turned around and walked out of the bedroom. "You're gonna wrinkle that pretty face of your's. That'd be a shame."

Dumbfounded, Squall studied the blonde's backside as he disappeared out of sight.

... "Pretty face"?

What kind of comment was that, anyway?

'Why the hell does he say things like that? Guys don't say that kinda stuff to each other. What is it with him, anyway? Is he gay or something? No... can't be. He likes Rinoa and she's a girl as far as I'm informed. But I guess... that doesn't really mean anything, either. I of all people should know that... Maybe he's bi? Does that mean he's... hitting on me...? Urgh. Why am I even thinking about this?! He's not gay, and even if he is, it's none of my concern. What do I care if he's trying to mack on me or not? I'm not interested. He'll get the hint soon enough, he can't be that thick. Well... on the other hand, he should have gotten it a long time ago... I've been mean enough to him. Why's he still so friendly then? 'Cause he's gay...?? Ngh. God. This is making my head hurt.'

Groaning, Squall rested his forehead in his palm. He couldn't keep his mind from spinning out of orbit, no matter how hard he tried. He didn't like to brood on stupid, childish, romantic issues like these — it wasn't something he usually occupied himself with. The idea of being close to anybody scared the hell out of him, for reasons that he had never and would never elaborate on.

To nobody.

And yet, despite everything, something about this new situation was unusually comforting. Seifer was obviously different from the people that Squall had encountered in his lifetime, if only because he hadn't walked away the moment he had crashed into the brunette's repellingly cold shell. Squall didn't know and didn't understand why Seifer behaved the way that he did, but the concept did stir an interest within him that he had believed to be non-existent.

One that he had wanted to be non-existent...

"... Ogh."

"Geez. I told ya to stop frowning, ice princess. They're gonna end up having to staple your skin to your temples 'cause within a year you'll be sporting wrinkles like a grandpa. I've seen how they do it, and trust me, it ain't a pretty sight."

Squall lifted his face from his hand to meet Seifer's, a scowl still furrowing his features.

Obviously, he was less concerned about his looks than his feisty blonde opposite.

"What the fuck ever," Squall bit back rudely, but before any other "niceties" could have rolled off his sharp tongue, he suddenly noticed the large glass of water that Seifer was holding out to him.

The blonde grinned at him and the way he was grimacing all confused and unsure — it was a warm, comfortable smile that lacked the sneering edge that it so often incorporated.

"Go ahead," Seifer ordered casually. "It's water, it doesn't bite."

Squall wanted to refuse, if only for the sake of being surly, but something dark and intense in the whirring depths of Seifer's hypnotizing eyes caused him to slowly extend his arm and accept the drink all the same. He felt like a fool for being so easy to manipulate, but when the older blonde looked at him like that, there was very little he could do to resist.

Out of the corner of his eyes, the glass raised to his lips, Squall suddenly noticed Shiva sashaying into the room and pushing her way past Seifer to bluntly butt her head into his knee, demanding attention.

In front of him, the blonde snarled with disapproval.

"Shiv, give him a break already," Seifer groaned as he reached for the dog's black collar, but somehow he ended up knocking his hand into Squall's instead.

The brunette's muscles tightened slightly at the bodily contact and a red hot singe of heat seemed to scour Squall's nerves, but his fingers remained in their spot, entwined with Shiva's fur, petting it lovingly.

"It's fine," he said calmly, a faint smile gracing his features once more. "I don't mind."

With a silent nod, Seifer retracted his arm and buried his hands inside his pockets, yet again spectator to a rather sweet and touching scene. The brunette had set down his glass and was fighting against Shiva trying to wrestle her way into his lap — much to Seifer's amusement. Squall was good with dogs; in fact, much better than he was with people — a thought that inevitably caused Seifer to chuckle.

"What's so funny?" Squall inquired sharply, and he glared up at the guy towering by his side.

"Nothing. You just got a way with animals, it seems. D'ya have a dog too, or what?"

The very moment that he had asked that question, Seifer already knew that he had better remained silent. Darkness seemed to pour into Squall's eyes, eradicating the blue that had shone there only seconds before. The smile died clean on his lips as he slowly turned his head aside and his hand stopped moving across Shiva's fur.

"... No."

Something within Seifer's heart stung at the sight of former happiness submitting to pain on the blank surface of Squall's eyes. Of course the brunette tried his best to hide it, but Seifer had seen enough to know that something was going on. Quietly, he sank down next to Squall on the bed, but his gaze remained with Shiva's beautiful form. He had gotten her as a pup for his fifteenth birthday, and though he didn't always have time for her, he loved her from the very bottom of his heart.

Whatever pain it was that was haunting Squall, Seifer could symphatize with it almost too easily.

Finally, he veered his head aside and studied Squall's rigid profile. The brunette had placed his hands on his knees and was staring straight ahead, caught in some sort of catatonic stupor and the remembrance of a past that he had probably rather forgotten.

"What happened?" Seifer asked gently.

At first, he was certain that he would not receive an answer from the stoic brunette, but apparently Squall thought the memory of whatever it was that had hurt him much too important to simply pretend that it didn't exist.

"He died," Squall said, his voice barely more than a whisper and grating with agony.

"He died...?" Seifer repeated softly, mildly surprised by his own and rather untypical patience. "Your dog died?"

Dark brown strands of hair were falling into Squall's face as he nodded, his fingers kneading the fabric of his jeans.

He looked so hurt.

"What was his name?"

"... Griever."

Seifer knew that he had heard or seen that name before, but he couldn't quite pin down the thought. For the time being, it didn't matter much, anyway — Squall looked miserable and Seifer wanted nothing more than to make him feel better. He wasn't sure whether or not it would help the brunette to talk about what had come to pass with his obviously very beloved pet, but he thought it safe to at least give it a try.

"What happened to him?" Seifer asked calmly. "Why did he die?"

"He was put down when I was sixteen," the brunette answered full of strain and bitterness, "On my birthday."

"Aw, shit, that's fucked up," Seifer bit with an outraged hiss. "I'm sorry, Squall... I really am."

Squall said nothing, but he did resume petting Shiva. He didn't like to tell about Griever and how very much his forced death had hurt him, but something about the soothing way that Seifer had spoken to him had eased his pain, at least by a little. He didn't know why he was talking to the blonde, why he was even in his apartment in the first place, but he no longer regretted his decision to stay.

"Yeah," he replied eventually. "Me, too."

They sat in silence for a long time, merely listening to the sound of Shiva panting. Outside, Seifer could hear rain pattering against the bedroom window and he was glad that Squall was no longer at the playground. In fact, he was downright thankful — for a lot of things.

"Hey," he piped up, happy that Squall was meeting his gaze. "Are you hungry or anything? I have some stuff in the fridge... Well, I think I do, anyway... lemme check."

Before Squall could have answered, Seifer was already out the door and in the kitchen, rumbling through his vacant refrigerator.

"Uh, I have beer," he shouted across the room, not all that mindful of his sleeping neighbors, "And, uh... some leftover Chinese take-out... not sure if that's still any good though, it smells kinda... yurgh. Yeah, never mind that. Hmph... how about some barbecue sauce?"

"No, thanks."

Seifer almost jumped about a foot's worth into the air, startled by the fact that Squall had suddenly turned up right behind him. The brunette held his arms crossed before his chest, but his features had a much friendlier look to them, even in the eerie light cast by the fridge. Apparently, he had set his water glass down upon the kitchen table, and Seifer smiled inwardly at the gesture. Someone had definitely taught that brat some manners — Seifer himself would have simply left the glass sitting on the floor and never wasted another thought on it.

"No, eh?" he chuckled, before closing the refrigerator and giving Squall a subtle look-over. "I'm hurt, Squall. You rejected my barbecue sauce."

Another small frown creased the brunette's brows, and Seifer couldn't help but stretch out his hand to ruffle the younger boy's hair playfully.

"Just messing with ya," he lilted, even more so amused by Squall snorting reluctantly as he slipped out of Seifer's reach. "Well, guess we might as well head to bed then."

'Head... bed... head... hmmm... hehehe... Ack! Pull yourself together, Almasy. I gotta take it slow with this one — at least try to.'

Smiling stupidly to himself, Seifer motioned the dark haired youth to return to the bedroom. Squall followed the wordless invitation, though not without looking at least slightly confused.

"Where do you want me to sleep?" the brunette asked carefully as they stood in front of the bed again and Seifer carelessly shoved his first aid supplies onto a nearby dresser.

"The bed of course?" Seifer replied, chuckling roughly. "What did you think?"

As Seifer had already expected, the brunette screwed up his face in question.

"... And where are you going to sleep?"

"In bed, silly. It's a king - there's plenty room for both of us."

It was quite obvious that Squall wasn't exactly ecstatic at the idea of sharing any less than a square kilometer of space with the blonde — or anyone, for that matter. His eyes narrowed as he glared at the bed, then at Seifer himself. The older youth could almost smell his insecurity, though Squall did a tremendous job at hiding it.

"I can sleep on the couch... or the floor," the brunette offered weakly, but Seifer merely laughed at him.

"You ain't sleeping on the floor, sorry kiddo," the blonde sneered with eyes so ferally green he looked nothing short of a predator. "And as for the couch... that thing's hard as a fuckin' rock. That, and you'd be subject to Shiva's nightly cuddle onslaughts — trust me, you wouldn't get to doze off for even a minute. Like I said, the bed's big enough for the two of us and we're both guys, so what's the issue?"

After another minute of Squall staring at Seifer as if he wanted to brick him to death, the brunette finally seemed ready to give in. Sighing, he turned away and rolled his shoulders in a supple shrug.

"There's none," he muttered, determined not to look like a complete moron.

He didn't trust Seifer — frankly, he trusted nobody — but he also didn't necessarily believe that the blonde would do anything to hurt him. Seifer was arrogant and thick-headed to a fault, he talked out of his ass a lot and he was annoyingly nosy, but Squall had meant what he had said earlier — the blonde was nicer than most people he had ever met.

Not that that was exactly saying an awful lot, either.

"Well, got that settled then," the blonde declared airily as he took a teasing half-bow in the brunette's direction. "Make yourself at home, princess. There's shit in the bathroom if you wanna brush your teeth, by the way."

"... Thanks."

Without losing another word, Squall practically hurled himself past Seifer and disappeared inside the bathroom, quickly shutting the door behind himself.

'Gee, think he's a bit on the prude side? Nah, couldn't possibly be.'

Chortling to himself, Seifer turned off all the lights in the house and locked a disappointed Shiva out of the bedroom. Then he slipped out of his pants and shirt and carelessly tossed them to his pile of other laundry, ultimately standing in nothing but a pair of silk blue boxer shorts. He could hear Squall running the water in the bathroom, and for the very first time in about a decade, Seifer felt a slight pang of nervousness.

'Okay... so it's me and the ice princess now. Who would've thought, huh? One way or another I sure didn't expect having him in my bed quite this quickly. Guess I'm irresistible at last! Hah hah... Yeah, what the fuck ever. I better get a grip before I end up jumping his bones the moment he walks through that door.'

Humming innocently and inspecting his nicely chiselled abs in his floor length mirror (for a lack of better and less vain things to do), Seifer paced pointless circles around the room. He closed the drop-down blinds of his bedroom window before he resumed his walkabout, randomly picking up things and putting them back down where they didn't belong, until finally, he heard Squall turning the knob of the bathroom door and slowly pushing it ajar. The blonde stopped dead in his tracks in front of his immensely oversized, walk-in closet, and despite his earlier, earnest resolutions it did take a lot of his self-control to refrain from throwing Squall down on the bed right then and there.

Strangely enough, the brunette wasn't even doing anything special. In fact, he merely stood there, wearing only a loose pair of black boxer shorts and an adorable blush that had snuck its way to his high, elegant cheekbones. His clothes were folded neatly and tucked beneath his right arm, and as he gracefully walked by Seifer to drop them onto a nearby chair and place his boots off to the side, he could practically feel the blonde's eyes burning into his backside.

"What?" he asked irritably as he turned around, trying not to stare at Seifer's sun bronzed and rather well-developed body - or anything but the walls and carpet, for that matter.

Just why on earth was he suddenly feeling so embarrassed? After all, they were both guys. There was nothing that he should have felt strange about... at least as long as he managed to repress the memories of what had been and pretended that no other male had ever done him any physical or emotional harm.

"Nothing," Seifer replied casually, though Squall noticed a glint in his eyes that hadn't been there before.

With a suggestive smirk curling his lips, the blonde went into the bathroom to gargle with mouthwash. He figured that Squall had done the same thing, since the brunette had smelled faintly of spearmint when he had walked past him, looking all enticing and what not. As Seifer looked at himself in the mirror, swishing Listerine through his teeth with a stupid grin on his angular face, he realized that he had no idea how he would ever manage to fall asleep that night.

When he spat out and flicked the light switch to dim the bathroom, he saw Squall standing by the edge of the bed, gazing at it in a bizarre blank. The brunette's arms were slack at his sides and only his shorts contrasted with the white of the bandages around his wrists. His skin was sickly pale, his body lithely muscled but almost too thin, and yet he was still the most gorgeous thing that Seifer had ever seen.

'This is going to be a long, looong night.'

Quickly, the eighteen year old cleared his throat.

"Squall? Did you snooze off like that or what?"

The brunette snapped out of his daze, his storm blue eyes wide like those of a child as he flinched visibly. The sight worried Seifer, somehow.

"Hey... you alright?" he asked slowly.

"Y-yeah," Squall stuttered unwillingly before he distanced himself from Seifer and circled the bed. "It's nothing."

"Whatever you say, space cadet," Seifer replied with distinguished skepticism. "Get in. I'm gonna shut off the light."

As soon as Squall had crawled beneath the black satin covers and dropped his tousle-haired head into the pillow, Seifer shut off even the last of lights. He had no problems tracing his way to the bed even in the pitch black darkness, if only because he could hear Squall breathing so harshly as if he had just run a thousand miles.

The sheets were rustling softly beneath him as he laid down and squished his pillow into a more accommodating shape. Squall, on the other hand, had stopped making sounds altogether; he was simply laying there, staring at what he believed to be the ceiling. He didn't know how close Seifer was to him, and frankly he didn't want to know, but he thought it safer to retreat to the far edge of the mattress.

"Damn. Sure is dark, huh? You scared of the dark, princess?"

Seifer's voice had sounded mildly amused when it ruptured the silence between them, for reasons that Squall couldn't fathom. He found nothing funny about this. The darkness of a nocturnal playground did little to unsettle him, but the darkness of a bedroom was an entirely different story.

The familiarity of the scene made his skin crawl with apprehension.

"You know," the blonde spoke up once more, his tone provoking, "I can hear what you're thinking over there."

"Whatever," Squall growled back testily, the word muffled by his pillow.

"No, really. Like right now, you're thinkin' to yourself: 'Damn, Seifer's got a fine ass body'!"

Seifer chuckled roughly when he heard Squall flipping onto his side and snorting derisively in response to that cocky comment — though Seifer hadn't even been essentially mistaken. As the blonde's eyes adjusted to the dim lighting of the room, he could see that Squall had turned his back on him, and with a sly smirk curling his lips, Seifer slowly scooted a bit closer.

"It's alright," he lilted as he propped himself up onto his left elbow, "You're not the first to be wooed by my irresistible looks."

"You're delirious," Squall huffed while rolling onto his stomach.

Somehow, he just couldn't lay still.

"Heh. Delirious with joy over your frosty presence, perhaps," the blonde sneered.

"Knock it off. I swear, you're mentally deranged."

"Mentally deranged? That's so cute, Squall."

Seifer wasn't exactly sure why he was suddenly feeling playful like a fourteen year old school girl, but he definitely did enjoy toying with the grumpy brunette. Really, Squall needed to loosen up anyway, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity — for a vast number of things.

"Aw, c'mon," he snickered, determined to receive a response. "You telling me you don't think I'm hot?"

"I thought you can hear what I'm thinking?" Squall bit back sarcastically.

"Well, yeah," Seifer replied lightly as he moved his right shoulder in a supple shrug. "Then again, your head's awfully thick..."

Despite the fact that Seifer could see reasonably well, he hadn't exactly been prepared for the pillow that Squall had launched at him to hit him right into the face. Grunting, he blinked at the brunette who had turned onto his right side and was glaring straight at him, his left middle finger flicked up unambiguously.

With a narrow, feral grin, Seifer nodded evenly.

"Ah, okay, I see," he taunted softly. "You wanna play, huh?"

"Kids play," Squall retorted coolly. "Contrary to some of us, I've been beyond that stage for years."

"Why, you just hit puberty. Do you even shave yet?"

This time, he saw Squall's arm flashing out at him as the brunette shot into an upright position and his hand tried to grab a hold of the pillow that was still in Seifer's keeping. The blonde continued to grin imperturbably as he pushed himself up as well, and while he rooted the pillow into the mattress with his left hand, he used his other to snap it around Squall's forearm.

Luckily, Seifer's fingers found a spot that wasn't slit up and enveloped by bandages, but Squall's muscles tightened at the touch all the same. Hissing a sharp curse, the dark haired youth tried to yank his arm back with every grain of force that he could muster, but he hadn't expected Seifer to follow along the abrupt movement.

With his breath collapsing in his lungs at the surprise, Squall found himself pinned back-down on his side of the bed. Seifer was hovering above him, smiling complacently as he still held on to Squall's arm like a vice; he had successfully trapped the brunette's other limb as well, victory alight in his eyes as he sneered down upon the younger teen.

"Now, that didn't work too well, did it?" he declared smugly while positioning his knees at both sides of Squall's waist for better leverage, firmly digging them into the mattress.

Naturally, Squall was less than thrilled by the idea of being straddled by the other youth. For a second, he couldn't do much but lay still and give the blonde a perplexed look out of dark, impossibly deep storm grey eyes, but he didn't stay that way for long.

"W-what the fuck?!" he snapped as he tried to throw himself around. "Get off!"

"'Fraid I can't do that," Seifer replied placidly, carefully moving the brunette's arms a little higher as he angled himself down to him in an image of silly pride and superiority. "Not before you admit that I'm irresistible!"

To his surprise, Squall didn't look the least bit amused. He wouldn't stop trying to buck Seifer off, and while the blonde was struggling to hold his position as upper hand, he noticed that Squall's eyes had dilated out of focus and were flaring white around the rim. The sight caused Seifer to sober up in the matter of a single heartbeat — one that had begun to speed up involuntarily.

"Squall," he said evenly as he edged back an inch or two, "Hey, I'm just messing with y--"

"No!" the brunette beneath him choked, anger and a hint of panic etched into his voice. "Get off!! Get the fuck off, Almasy!!"

"Alright, alright," Seifer tried soothingly as he released Squall's arms and dropped off the brunette's body, "Relax."

Squall's breath had started to come hard and fast, and Seifer didn't like it. He lay next to the dark haired boy without taking his eyes off him, monitoring how the brunette tried to force himself to calm down. Squall refused to look at him — instead, he stared at the empty space before him, seeing things that weren't really there.

"Squall...?"

Concern was streaking the way that Seifer murmured the unusual name. Squall heard it, fortunately, because it helped him to keep his mind from spiraling into insanity. The cold, stale stench of cigars and the sticky, suffocating heat that he had perceived only seconds before slowly faded into oblivion, finally and once more retreating to the dark corner of his mind that was laden with memories very few could ever bear.

Only very gradually did he start to calm down.

"You're shaking," the blonde next to him observed calmly, while draping the warming covers across the brunette's nearly naked body.

"I'm fine," Squall answered, his voice tight and acrid as he turned his head away.

Seifer said nothing, knowing well that Squall was anything but fine, before he started to search the bed for the younger boy's pillow. When he couldn't find it, he grabbed his own instead and rolled around to face the brunette once more.

"Lift your head for a sec," he ordered. "Please."

At first, Squall showed no sign of recognition. It took a while before he reluctantly whipped around and took the pillow from Seifer's hands to shove it beneath his head carelessly and resume ignoring the blonde once more.

Without having to think on it long, Seifer knew that the fragile bit of trust between them had evaporated.

"If I hurt you, I'm sorry," he finally stated quietly, sounding as sincere as anyone possibly could even though he was only talking to Squall's back. "I didn't mean to."

Without losing another word, the blonde turned over and retrieved the second pillow from the bedroom floor. He wasn't entirely sure how to handle this strange situation that had gone from a harmless joke to a downright angst fest. The brunette was still facing away from him, and Seifer studied his filigree, softly moving neck as he dropped his own head into the pillow that smelled very faintly of spice and apple.

He wanted to groan with frustration and longing.

'This isn't going well at all... What on earth is wrong with him? I don't get it. I was just joking... I didn't even do anything! He's definitely got some issues. First he's all playful, then he flips out. What the hell am I supposed to do? At least give me some sort of warning before you trip out on me. Fuck.'

He kept contemplating the issue silently within his mind, only grimacing wryly every now and then. Squall seemed to have calmed down some; at least he was pulling the covers more tightly around himself and his breathing had slowed to a more healthy rhythm.

"Are you feelin' okay now?"

Squall shifted uneasily at the sound of that question. He had hoped that Seifer was done talking to him for the night, although part of him was afraid that the blonde was done talking to him for good.

It was a strange combination, really.

"... I'm fine."

Behind him, Seifer heaved an exasperate sigh.

"Do you ever say anything but 'whatever' or 'I'm fine'?" the blonde grunted huskily as he rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. "Fuck, I mean, gimme a break."

"What do you want me to say?" Squall replied weakly, quickly growing tired of this conversation.

What was Seifer trying to achieve by this, anyway? What did he want? What was all this about? Squall had never met anyone in his life who would help a complete stranger for no reason — particularly one that had a habit of mutilating his skin with a razor blade. Seifer was so different from himself — he seemed so much brighter and stronger, almost glowing from within when Squall felt nothing short of hollow. Seifer could have spent the night with Rinoa Heartilly, doing things that admittedly made Squall feel resentful inside, and yet the blonde was here with him instead.

Part of Squall understood the meaning behind that decision, understood the spark in Seifer's hypnotic green eyes and the gentleness he exercised towards him, but he wanted to ignore it nonetheless.

..::: "I care about you, dumbass." :::..

'Why...? Why are you so nice to me? I'm not nice to you. So why? I don't get it and it's driving me crazy.'

"I don't know," Seifer interrupted Squall's brooding with a surprisingly vulnerable shrug that caused their blanket to shift. "I wish I knew what's going on with you. I wish I knew what you're thinking."

"... I'm not thinking anything."

"I guess not."

Squall wasn't relieved when he heard Seifer turning away from him, but he didn't object, either. The shock caused by Seifer straddling him had faded, maybe more quickly than he had anticipated, but the memories stayed with him. They elicited feelings that he always tried to suppress and banish for as long as he could — feelings that Seifer had torn to the surface without knowing.

Dangerous feelings.

His pulse was pounding in his veins as he tried to drown out the blunt pain in his head and concentrate on the sound of the blonde's breathing.

Somehow, the steadiness of it was oddly soothing and unnerving at the same time.

..::: "I wish I knew what's going on with you. I wish I knew what you're thinking." :::..

Squall scowled helplessly.

'No. You don't. And it's none of your business, either. It doesn't matter whether you like me or not... It doesn't matter whether I like you or not... It doesn't matter how much it hurts or how much I sometimes wish I could tell just one person... just one... I can't and I won't. I'm not going to put my feelings before her's. I'm not going to be selfish... she's done so much for me, it wouldn't be fair. I won't do this to her, for nobody's sake — not even my own. It would hurt her, much more than he could ever hurt me. I'll be... fine. I have to make it... just... a little bit... longer...'

The brunette clung to those thoughts with rising despair as he forced himself to stay calm and keep from catching Seifer's attention. Still, he couldn't prevent darkness from pouring into his mind, clawing for even the faintest of hopes or the smallest, purest spark of emotion that Squall had never thought himself capable of feeling.

Biting down violently upon his lower lip, he dug his finger nails into the white bandage around his right wrist so hard that it hurt.

Squall knew he had to hold on.

Somehow.

At least for a little while.

'It... hurts...'

But he just couldn't forget.

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