Thank you, reviewers... More of that annoying exposition stuff. I promise we'll get on to the exciting bits soon. This chapter contains enough angsty self-pity to make Selphie contemplate suicide. Yes, we've finally started on our journey through the inside of Squall's head.

WARNING: Contains small amounts of swearing. Boys kiss other boys in this chapter: don't like = don't read. Further chapters will contain violence and the story may be rerated for yaoi sex scenes and graphic violence.

DISCLAIMER: Same as usual; FFVIII is Squaresoft's, not mine. I wrote this for the fun of torturing Squall, not for profit.

Darkened Sunrise

Chapter Three - Of the Despisers of the Body

By Persephone

Squall stared at the triple-encoded data set he'd just received from Esthar. He'd taught himself to read encrypt code almost as swiftly as regular text. So why in hell were the words jumping about on the page?

It wasn't like he didn't want to go to Esthar. Well, actually, he didn't really want to, but aside from the distinct lack of Seifer it was several times better than staying in Garden. No getting into arguments over stupid things that other people should sort out themselves. No chance I'll be sent off somewhere I don't want to go. Unless... no. I could talk my way out of that, if it ever happened.

That's as unethical as assigning Seifer to be my second. It's not my place to pick and choose my assignments. Come on, Squall. Think happy thoughts. Can't remember what a happy thought is anymore. Hyne, there's something wrong with me.

No, there isn't. I chose this. It's for the best. So long as I don't hurt Seifer I can manage just fine.

That was the problem, wasn't it? It wasn't like Squall hadn't seen Seifer nudging at him to open up to everyone else a little. Seifer would be upset, very upset, if he kept on with his persuasion and Squall completely failed to respond. He didn't want to drive Seifer away.

Sometimes he even caught Seifer treating him like a person. That wasn't what most people did. He was something that did work nobody else would touch, or something to fill a social role, not someone who wanted things. Who wanted to be liked. Who knew... but even to himself he had to whisper the frightening truth. That there was no reason why people should like him.

Someone who behaved the way he did shouldn't be liked. He couldn't imagine why Seifer had stuck around him all these months, much less why he'd cared enough to touch what was left of Squall's secret dreams and draw him into a proper relationship. One day he would leave, like Rinoa had left when he hadn't been able to touch her anymore. Then Squall would have nothing.

The Garden clock chimed the hour. Squall looked back at his report and bit his lip. By rights he should be anywhere but his office. The noon meal was starting and he had an appointment with Dr Kadowaki. An appointment he could do without keeping.

There was a definition of paranoia somewhere that included suspecting people of failing to believe his lies. The Garden's doctor had seen just about everything in her career as GP, surgeon and psychiatrist to SeeD, and she had a reputation for mind reading. She'd surely realised by now that Squall hadn't been taking the antidepressants and sleeping pills she'd prescribed him. There was no way she would understand they wouldn't do any good. He'd brought this on himself. Nothing that anybody could do would alleviate it.

The bad side of being a public figure was that everyone knew where to find him. Kadowaki would chase him up if he didn't go to see her, he knew. Sighing, he locked the data set in the top drawer of his desk and made his way to the lift. Time to get the charade over with for another month.

All the way downstairs he tried to keep his mind off things. By the time he stepped out of the elevator and started making his way round the Garden's hub to the infirmary he'd just about given up. It was too hard when other people were around. The sight of crowds of junior classmen, cadets and young SeeDs chasing each other through the building never failed to raise an ache in what passed for his heart.

He was on the outside, looking in through the window at the people who belonged. He didn't even feel human most of the time. He didn't know how other people could be so carefree, living in a world that crushed laughter so thoughtlessly. And he knew that everyone would be furious if they found out the truth about their hero. He wanted to run to his dorm and hide under the bed with his face buried in one of Seifer's sweaty shirts. Instead he forced himself to keep walking, all the way to the infirmary.

As soon as he walked through the door Kadowaki looked up from her report with a welcoming smile on her face. "Good afternoon, Squall. How's things?"

"OK," he answered, in the same controlled monotone he always used. Her smile slipped, just a little. He fought down the wave of panic. She's going to tell me Garden doesn't want me anymore...I might want to leave, but I can't afford to be thrown out!

"Squall," she said slowly, in the way she might tell someone they'd tested HIV positive, "I'm getting a little concerned that you aren't responding to the medications I've been giving you. It's been several months now since I changed your antidepressant, and we should have seen some reaction by now. I'm thinking we might have to try another one. Tell me, how are you finding the sleeping pills? Do they knock you out too much to use on a regular basis?"

At least I've got a good excuse this time. "Yeah. And also they don't work."

"They should. Your metabolism must be -"

"I mean, they send me to sleep. That's not the problem."

"If they make you sleep, why aren't you sleeping? Overactive love life? I should have thought you would have been the type to put work first."

Squall felt himself blushing. "I just sleep badly. Dreams. The pills stop me waking up when I want to. So I don't use them much."

"You're getting nightmares?" She looked like she didn't believe that that could possibly be a problem. She had a right to distrust him, surely. A veteran SeeD who had worked through more horrors than anyone else on the planet shouldn't be hindered by a few minutes of REM sleep a night. "Maybe we should talk about this; are the dreams often of the same situation? Is it something from a past mission affecting you?"

"Yes and yes."

"What, exactly?"

The red telephone on the desk began to ring. The doctor made an apologetic face and picked up the receiver in one hand and an emergency pack in the other. "Surgery, Dr Kadowaki speaking - slow down, please, I can't - I'm on my way. Raise the arm, try and staunch the bleeding with clean clothes, and don't move him. How many of there are you in the group? That's fine. I'll manage." She hung up. "Sorry about that. Accident in the training centre; a SeeD's down with a severed artery. Can you guide me in? They aren't very far inside, thank goodness. But there's only a couple of cadets with him and they're panicking."

"Of course I'll help." Anything to make you stop asking me questions.

The one thing Cure spells definitely couldn't do anything for was blood loss. By the time Squall and Dr Kadowaki reached the stricken SeeD the situation was critical. Squall managed to seal the artery with a Curaga and Kadowaki closed the wound's edges, then Squall and the frightened cadets carried the man back to the Infirmary where he could receive a transfusion. The doctor ordered Squall out of the way, with a passing admonishment to return the next morning. Squall instantly agreed. He would be in Esthar the next morning. It was a little too far to commute.

As he slowly walked to the Cafeteria, thoughts of how on earth he would get the bloodstains off his jacket became mingled with questions he didn't want to answer. Such as why he persistently lied to his doctor (because of the way she looked at you when you took the post-mission medical). Such as how he could feel ecstatically happy around Seifer and worse than ever five seconds later when the blond left the room (because there's no logical reason why he always comes back). Such as why he'd never told even Ellone the truth (because you should have told her from the first, and she'll just be hurt if you tell her now). Such as why none of his friends had even guessed (because they don't care).

He managed to avoid the others in the rush for lunch, taking a sandwich back to his desk rather than risking company. If anyone really wanted to see him for some miraculous reason, they would know where to find him. Not that it was unlikely that at least one of them would come after him. Someone always wanted something. Hyne, he got so tired sometimes. Tired of giving and not seeing what he got in return. Especially when he needed support as badly as he did.

But I never told them I wanted them. It's not their fault if they can't see it.

He ate half the sandwich without tasting it - nothing new; he couldn't remember when Garden food had last interested him - then threw the rest away and fished in his desk for the report he'd been trying to read. He found his place and started wading through the data columns. Hyne, this exhausted him. His eyes hurt and his mind kept wandering. Concentrate, you stupid fuck. Concentrate. Reading is easy. What's the matter with you?

It was so hard to take an interest in other people's problems. But he persevered, and before long he had an idea of the situation. Esthar Intelligence had sprung a leak. That being the case there was no way that anyone from the spy corps - all the way up to its director - could be asked to plug aforesaid leak. Diligent observation from Kiros and Ward had revealed far too many potential traitors and far too few leads. Squall was being called in to sort everything out.

Like I'm some sort of miracle worker. I can't even sort out the inside of my own head, let alone this. Oh, Hyne - I guess I'll have to make the best of the situation. I suppose I might find something. I'm a relative outsider so I haven't had time to get used to any strange routines that are really a cover for bad practice. Yeah - it actually makes sense to ask me to deal with this.

The door opened. Squall didn't look up. "Seifer, I'm working."

"Doesn't look like it to me."

"I'm thinking about work," he amended.

"You think too much." The blond man crossed the room and came round to Squall's side. "Anything two minds can work on better than one?"

"Probably. But I can't tell you. Esthar Official Secrets Act. I - I wish I could tell you. I want help. But I don't know if I'm authorised to bring anyone else in on it."

"I wish I could help you." His hands slid onto Squall's shoulders. "You got one of those headaches again?"


It wasn't quite true. 'Headache' was the only way he'd been able to describe it to Seifer, or to any of the very few people who knew. He got pains in his head and chest sometimes, when he was feeling particularly down. They weren't stabbing pains, nor did they feel like asthma or normal headaches. Just odd bits of hurt that didn't even come from anywhere. He hadn't told Kadowaki; why should he? It wasn't a medical thing. It was nothing but his stupid emotions getting at him. He was sure of that.

But Seifer could cure him. Always and forever. Squall shut his eyes, leant back into his lover's hands and ran through the breathing exercise that he'd learnt to keep away the tears. Tears didn't do anything. Experience had taught him that. But sometimes he was so glad to find himself on the verge of breaking down - it proved that he could still feel. One day he would go so far that he would no longer be able to feel anything, neither fear nor pain nor desire. Then not only would he not be a person, he wouldn't be truly alive. The few scraps of pleasure that remained on this stinking planet would be forever lost to him.

When little things are all I ask, is it still too much?

He turned round as quickly as he could and flung his arms round Seifer's neck, burying his face in the soft skin and pressing kisses to the collarbone beneath his mouth. Seifer chuckled. "Pushy little body, aren't you?"

The familiar rush of shame at his desires ran through him and he loosened his hold. But he couldn't bear to let go completely. Seifer nuzzled his ear. "What's up, lovely?"

He stiffened. "I - I really don't like pet names, Seif."

"OK. What's up, Squall?"

"I'm going to miss you while I'm in Esthar," he admitted.

"Feeling's mutual." He touched his lips to Squall's forehead. "Hey, you might get asked to bring someone else in. Who knows, you might decide I fit the bill..."

"That'd be dishonest, if you weren't really the best person for the job."

"I'll have to convince you my talents are appropriate, then," and Seifer sat down on the arm of Squall's chair and started thoroughly kissing him. Squall responded eagerly, revelling in the warm feeling that ran through him where Seifer's body touched his own. Here, he could just about feel that everything might be all right one day.

His hands gradually drifted down Seifer's body. Seifer gave a surprised little yelp when Squall first touched his groin, but soon recovered and started groping him right back. Squall came up for air; "Door," he panted before capturing Seifer's mouth again.

"Already locked it," Seifer managed to say round Squall's tongue.

"Mmm...oh, Seifer..."

Squall threw his head back and gasped as Seifer's mouth ranged down his neck to the collar of his shirt. The hand down his trousers started working at him with a little more purpose. He started to drift away, heading for the place where his body brought him pleasure rather than disgust. Where I hate myself was replaced by I love you. Where a touch could conquer fear. Squall's last coherent thought was to convince himself that he really hadn't locked his desk when he went down to see Kadowaki earlier. Then, he gave himself over to Seifer.


(to be continued...)

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