DISCLAIMER: Seifer may not be mine, but I own Zell! *bwa-ha's evilly* Really, I do. *nods* Yep, he's bait so I can catch Seifer. ^^ Oh, and just so you know, this is what's known as wishful thinking. ;_; Something me and every other fanfic writer falls prey to.

Warning: Shounen-ai, angst, OOC-ness (when do I ever write them in character? ^^'), slight language, and FLUFF! ^^ Fluff is good for you. And possibly confusing flashbacks. *preens* It's good to be the writer. ^^

Wilderness Pain

By Balinese no Neko

Another slash and then it was time to circle the Grat and look for another opening. Seifer snarled. He didn't want to wait for another opening. He wanted to finish this fight and go find something else a bit more to his taste than tame little Grats. He needed to fight something challenging, needed to find something to occupy himself with so he wouldn't remember . . . . He snarled again and unleashed No Mercy before wheeling and stalking off into the surrounding flora.

"You're . . . you're jus' messin' with me, aren'tcha?!"

Another snarl, another tree cut in half. The one time he tried to let someone in, however inadvertently, and he was mocked. Yeah, Zell, he thought bitterly, I was just "messin'" with you. He needed to stay angry. He could just dimly sense the pain the anger covered, a pain he should know better than to feel.

He'd known, after all, just what would happen if he opened his heart. He'd known and he'd done it anyway. And worse yet, he'd done it in the middle of the cafeteria at lunch time. Yep, he could sure pick his times. A quiet confession of love, perhaps in the Quad, where there would be far fewer witnesses, that would not have hurt so much. Or so he tried to fool himself into thinking. He ignored the small part of him that tried to tell him that no part of the pain and anger he felt was due to the rather public humiliation. Of course I was humiliated! No way in hell do I love that stupid Chicken-wuss that much! Another bush was angrily decapitated.

"Hey, there, Chicken-wuss."

"Push off, Seifer!" The shorter blond had vibrated with anger and frustration and he had hardly had to do anything.

Seifer had cocked his head to one side and let his smirk widen. "Now why would I do that?" he'd mused.

"Get off my case, Seifer, or I swear I'll . . . ."

He'd faked a shudder. "Oooo, scary . . . ." He'd straightened and stared down at the other man. "Or you'll what, Chicken-wuss?" Seifer had then straddled a chair at Zell's table and leaned forward casually to steal one of a mountain of hot dogs.

Zell's lip had curled. "Don't push me."

An expression of innocence had shown on Seifer's face. "I'm not pushing you," he had protested. He'd gestured to the table between them. "Why, I'm not even touching you. How can you accuse me of pushing you unless I'm actually touching you?" He'd demonstrated what he'd meant when he'd leaned over the table and shoved the unsuspecting Zell over.

"Seifer . . . ?" The hesitant voice snapped him out of his thoughts and he stared at the blond head in front of him, a peculiar feeling echoing through him.

"What?" he demanded, surly. "I don't have time to baby sit Chicken-wusses through the damned Training Center, you know."

Uncharacteristic hesitation coloured Zell's voice. "I was . . . I was—"

"You were?" Seifer mocked. "You were what?" He raised a hand and shook his head. "On second thought, don't tell me. I'm just a little busy right now, so you'll have to excuse me." He brushed past the other blond, ignoring every emotion within him except for the anger. The anger is what kept him moving, kept him alive. Without the anger . . . . He deliberately thought back to the day before, immersing himself in the memory in hopes of blotting out the pain.

Without the anger, he didn't know what he would do.

"Why the hell do you always do that?" Zell had sputtered from his position on the floor. Seifer had leaned over the table and laughed at him.

"Why the hell not?" he'd shot back. Indeed, why not? He'd taken the time to tally up the reasons mentally. One, it had been a challenge to him; could he knock over a martial artist? Two, Zell looked particularly delicious when his eyes were bright with anger and his movements precise and fluid and just so controlled. Three, admittedly, had been the saddest one. He wasn't ever going to be able to touch Zell like he wanted, so he'd settled for the next best thing: touch him however he could.

"You miserable shit, are you even listening to me?!" He'd blinked and returned his concentration to the matters at hand. Of course he'd been paying attention. Or he would have been if he'd thought Zell was going to be saying anything different than what he'd already heard too many times around Garden.

"All I heard was clucking," was what he had said, affecting innocent surprise. He'd then sneered and said, "Why would I listen to a Chicken-wuss, anyway?"


"Me!" he'd mocked.

A rustle in the bushes behind him alerted him to another's presence. His mood soured even further. It's probably Zell. What the hell does he want now, following me around like that? He didn't really care to find out at that moment, and certainly not deep into the Training Center. Swiftly, he slipped away, trying to move as silently as possible to avoid drawing the attention of both the monsters and of Zell.

"Back off, jerk!"

He'd faked a yawn. "Stop repeating yourself, Chicken-wuss. There's only so much clucking I'll take before I decide I'm hungry."

"Why the hell're you always bothering me?!"

Seifer had shrugged carelessly. "I dunno, maybe 'cause I like you?" He'd froze for a moment, realizing his mistake before he smirked cruelly. "Or maybe just because." He really hadn't meant to let that slip. He'd hoped Zell would just take it as further teasing on his part and leave him alone. His hopes had been crushed.

"Whaddya mean, you like me?" It had been Zell's turn to scowl and he had done very well for someone with so little practice.

Seifer had frowned. "I don't," had been his sharp reply. A little too sharp.

"Then why'd ya say it?"

The taller blond had protested, "I didn't mean—!" before falling silent. I didn't mean to. "I didn't mean it," he had ended lamely.

Zell had snorted. "That's all you can come up with?" he'd asked skeptically. "'I didn't mean it'? Gimme a break." He'd starting grinning. "Methinks someone's trying to hide something! So, what was it that drew you to me?" He'd waggled his eyebrows lewdly. "My body? My wonderful sense of humour? My great looks?"

Seifer had just sat there for a moment, shocked to stillness while anger and pain had grown within him. A lucky guess and now Zell knew, or at least suspected, how he felt about the younger man. And had immediately begun to make fun of him. He hadn't been able to take it and had stood up, leaning over to grab the other man and hoist him up to his level.

"You think this's funny?" he'd asked in a low, intense voice. "You think that maybe I like falling for a guy who has beaten my ass more times than I care to admit? That I like knowing that whatever happens, I can never tell him how I feel, because he'd do exactly what you're doing right now?" He'd taken a deep breath. "You think I enjoy knowing the guy I love thinks I hate his guts and hates mine in return? You think it's maybe fun that the only way I thought I could possibly get this guy to look at me, to notice me, is by goading him into an incoherent rage?" He'd released Zell, pushing slightly at the same time so the martial artist fell into a chair, gaping at him all the while. "Yeah, it's a Hyne-damned riot."

Zel''s mouth had open and shut repeatedly. "You're . . . you're jus' messin' with me, aren'tcha?!" he finally managed to blurt out.

Seifer had stilled suddenly. "Yeah, you're right," he'd said tightly, clenching his fists to hold himself in. "I told you all this just so I could embarrass the hell out of you." He'd brought a trembling fist up, but then had dropped it, letting both of his arms hang limp at his sides. "Hyne, I was such a fool." Such a fool. With that, he'd pivoted and stalked out of the cafeteria.

Seifer concentrated on the textbook in his lap with a peculiarly single-minded intensity, hoping to drown out the memories. He ignored the first knock on his door. Right now was not a good time for someone to try to be social with him. He didn't do "social" when he was seething. He also ignored the second knock. And the third. And when Zell called his name through the door, he only turned a page in the book.

"Seifer?" Zell called again. "I know you're in there."

Go away, Zell, he thought darkly, scowling even more into the book. Stay the hell away from me, you hear? He resolutely ignored the exasperated sigh that just made it through the heavy door. He didn't need this. What he needed was to re-memorize this book so he could ace the written exam, just as he'd always done before, and move onto the field exam. Really. Okay, so maybe he didn't really need to re-memorize it, but it just went to show how little he needed to be bothered by Zell, right? Right. He nodded firmly and re-doubled his attention on the words.

"Yo, Seifer, didn't you hear me?" He jumped and turned shocked eyes to the man staring quizzically at him. He quickly remembered himself and resumed his scowl.

"The hell d'you want, Chicken-wuss?" he growled.

Zell crouched down, to be on, more or less, the same level and rested his arms on his knees. "I wanted to talk to you," he said finally. "'Bout . . . the other day."

Oh, look, something I haven't completely memorized. Seifer returned his gaze to the book. "Good-bye, Zell."

The other blond frowned. "No, I wanna talk about it!" he insisted.

"Go away, Zell." The warning note in Seifer's voice had risen significantly. There was a small pause.

"Why're you acting like this?" the martial artist asked at last. "Like you don't even want to see me?" He honestly sounded puzzled, maybe even a little hurt.

"Gee. I wonder." Sarcasm had always been one of his strengths. "Why don't you just . . . run along like the good little chicken-wuss you are and leave me alone?" It had such a lot of benefits, too. He could hide his pain behind it and, if he used it enough, he could drive away the person who was causing him that pain. Not that it would actually stop the pain, but at least he wouldn't be having it thrust in his face like this. Maybe he could learn to live with it.

Zell frowned a bit more. "Why won't you talk about it?" he asked.

"Look. Zell. I'm trying to study here, okay? I'd rather not fail this time, all right? What part of that is so hard for you to understand?"

"The part where you said you loved me."

Seifer froze. He twisted around to snarl at Zell, his eyes showing, for a bare instant, a wild pain. "Leave. Me. Alone."

Zell's eyes narrowed. "Why didja tell me that?"

The older blond clenched his fists angrily for a moment before slumping down in his chair, defeated. "What do you want me to say?" he asked softly, staring down at the hands folded in his lap. "I didn't mean to tell you in the first place. Why won't you just leave me alone?" The anger had left him, giving the pain free reign over him. He felt . . . broken. He much preferred the anger.

Zell shifted a tiny bit closer. "Why do you want me to go?" he asked just as softly.

Seifer held his lips in a straight line, swallowing convulsively. "I love you," was the almost inaudible reply. "I love you so much it hurts and it hurts so bad when . . . when . . . ." Yep, anger wins hands down. Anger, here I come.


"When you rejected me . . . ." Any minute now. Really.

Zell blinked and sat back. "Seifer," he said slowly. "I didn't reject you."

Seifer let out a harsh bark of laughter, an oddly sad sneer crossing his face. "Go on, Zell," he muttered. "Tell me another one. We sure could use a laugh, right?"

"I'm not makin' this up!" Zell said indignantly. "It's just . . . . Well, you surprised me, ya big dummy! How would you feel if someone who's made it his life to torment you just suddenly turned around and said he loved you? 'Course I was suspicious!" He cautiously settled himself next to Seifer, almost touching the other man, and bit his lip nervously. "I . . . . I didn't mean to hurt you."

Another humourless laugh. "Funny thing, there. You did."

Zell winced and moved that little bit closer that would let him lean against the other blond. "I know," he said quietly, rubbing his cheek against Seifer's knee. "I'm sorry."

"You're sorry. That's rich." Seifer had to work hard at keeping his voice level and smooth. He folded his arms around himself, drawing inwards. He didn't want Zell to be this close to him, not like this. He wanted . . . . He tightened his grip. He wanted Zell to leave. He didn't want to be teased like this with what he didn't have. What he could never have.

Silence surrounded the two for several long moments.

"Why are you here?" Seifer asked finally. "What did you want to say?"

"You're not going to just throw me out?" Zell sounded a little surprised.

"Hell, no," was the tired reply. Seifer chuckled a bit. "You didn't throw me out, as I recall; I walked out. Only polite to return the favour, I guess." He felt the younger man cringe against his leg.

"You want me to tell you what I want to say and then leave, is that it?" Seifer told himself resolutely that any pain evident in Zell's voice was far, far less than what he'd been going through lately and he should have no problem leaving it there.

I really suck at convincing myself.

He took the time to consider his reply. Both yes and no created problems, mostly because he wasn't entirely sure of a certain blond chicken's motivations. "What did you want to say?" he asked at last, deciding that repeating his question was the best way to get it answered without tripping over his own, probably faulty, assumptions.

A hand curled around his ankle and he barely refrained from jerking away in surprise as it began to play with the cuff of his pants. "I've been thinkin'," Zell began in an unusually quiet voice. "'Bout what you said. 'Bout what I said. 'Bout maybe . . . trying out stuff." He looked up hesitantly. "What do you think?"

The older man's forehead wrinkled as he tried to work out just what Zell meant. The first sentence was good, as were the second and third. The fourth, however, completely lost him. And the fifth, he suspected he'd understand if he knew what the hell the fourth was referring to. "I think I'm lost," he admitted flatly.

Zell bit his lip. "I don't love you, Seifer, I think you know that." And how did he know it. Even so, the restating of it cause a fresh pain in his heart. "But . . . I think I might be able to. If you wanna try it out." Zell waited for an answer, but when none was forthcoming, he reluctantly got to his feet. "Yeah, I kinda guessed that would be your answer." Seifer could see him try to cover his own pain under a half-hearted smile. Before he could think about it, Seifer snagged the other's arm just before he turned to leave. Zell looked at him steadily, trying to keep his face clear. "What is it?"

Seifer licked his lips, trying to think of what he wanted to say now that he had Zell in front of him. He wasn't exactly having the best of luck; his mind was still frozen by Zell's revelation. "Are you . . . asking me out?" he asked hesitantly. He ignored the scolding voice within him reminding him of what had happened the last time he had shown Zell an opening.

A gentle smile tugged at one side of Zell's mouth. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

"Did . . . did you mean it?"

"Yeah, I meant it. You think I'd go around sayin' stuff like that if I didn't mean it?"

Seifer shook his head instantly. No, Zell wasn't the type to do something like this for a joke. Open his mouth without thinking, most definitely, but not jerk someone around. "No, no, I didn't think that. I just . . . I just . . . ."

Zell crouched beside him again. "You just . . . what, Seifer?" he asked gently. Seifer let go of Zell's arm and reached to touch the side of his face gently, running shaking fingers over the black tattoo. He brushed his hand further up, just barely touching the stiff surface of his incredibly gelled hair. He shook his head.

"I don't . . . know."

"Do you want me to leave?" Zell was being astonishingly patient with him. He looked ready to crouch there forever if he had to.

Seifer shook his head. "No."

"Do you want me to stay?"

Seifer hesitated. Yes, and Zell would stay. He might even have a chance at something with him. And he might also have a much, much bigger chance of pain. No, and Zell would leave. No chance at anything with Zell and the pain he felt would be with him for a long, long time. In addition, Zell would be in pain, just by being rejected. "I—I don't . . . ." He dropped his hand back to his lap. "Yes." He was rocked backwards when a suddenly hyperactive blond jumped into his arms. " . . . . Zell?"

"That's all I needed to know," a grinning Zell told him. He straddled the older man's lap easily, nestling in closer.

Seifer hesitantly wrapped his arms around Zell in return, still a little shocked at the events of the past—he sneaked a peek at his clock—ten minutes. "So now what?" he asked.

"Now we come up with some relationship rules," Zell said against his neck. He rolled his head to the side to look up at the other's face. "You know, so you know where we stand and all that. Don't want you getting cold feet or anything."

"Cold feet? Why you—!" Zell beat a hasty retreat to the bed, grinning all the while.

"Rule one!" Zell announced. "I will no longer answer to Chicken-wuss."

Seifer laughed. "But I like chicken," he protested. He eyed Zell up and down. "Tastes good." Zell turned bright red.

"You call me Chicken-wuss and I'll call you Cuddly-kins," Zell threatened. Seifer shrugged.

"Okay with me." Zell chose to ignore that and Seifer smirked.

"Rule two; holding hands and kissing is fine, but . . . ."

"But not in public?" Seifer asked, raising an eyebrow. He tried to hide his disappointment.

Zell gave him a strange look. "I was going to say sex is going to have to wait," the older blond was told. "But if you don't wanna do the couple thing in public, that's okay, too."

"No, it's not that, it's . . . ." Seifer hesitated.

The shorter blond eyed him. "Rule three," he said softly. "We have to talk to each other, okay?" He motioned for Seifer to come sit beside him, looking pleased when the other did. He looped an arm securely over his shoulder and held him close. "Now, what was it you were saying?"

Seifer bit his lip. "I didn't know that you'd want to do the—the couple thing in public," he told his hands, watching as Zell took them both in one of his, running his thumb soothingly up and down them.

"There, that wasn't so hard, was it?" Seifer glared at the slightly smug tone and gave a small push to the other man. Zell fell over backwards with a cry of, "Hey!" Seifer smirked again as he lay back beside him.

"Three rules?" he asked. "Is that it?" He felt Zell shrug against him before he turned over, cradling the smaller man against him.

"I dunno; isn't that enough?" Seifer let Zell push him over onto his back again so the younger man could rest his head properly against his chest.

"Rule one: I can call you Chicken-wuss and you can call me Cuddly-kins." He paused. "What would you call me if I called you, say, 'Chick' or something?"

"A dead man."

He grinned and continued. "Rule two: we can do couple stuff wherever we want to." He nodded. "Middle of class sound good to you?"

Zell smacked his chest lightly. "Within reason, you goof!"

"Rule three: I get to listen to you expound on the virtues of hot dogs and you get to listen to my bad poetry about your eyes." He nodded. "Yep, another good exchange." He thought Zell rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I guess three rules does cover just about everything," he said more quietly

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