Author's Notes; Well, it's done. This chapter was a LONG time in coming, though after reading it I hope you have some idea why. It's so... long. *sigh* Anyway, I hope y'all enjoy it. Thanks to all who've reviewed. I very much appreciate it. ^_^ Oh, yeah... the "dots the 'i' in her name with her mouth' line is actually from an old Married with Children episode. I don't know why I decided to put that in there, but it seemed funny at the time.

Warning: This story contains yaoi/shounen-ai material. If you do not know what the terms 'yaoi' or 'shounen-ai' mean, then you probably have no business being here. If you are uncomfortable with boyxboy love, then you probably shouldn't be here. You have been warned. This story takes place after the game's end, so if you haven't finished it, you probably shouldn't read it as it does contain spoilers.

From the Beginning

Chapter Five - Ransack

By Antenora

"Have you seen a guy with tattoos on his arms?" Zell inquired lazily, leaning against the counter of a small shop with a nonchalance that seemed a strange contrast to his usually hyperactive nature.

The shop girl, a dark-haired girl of no more than seventeen, shook her head regretfully. "No... but I'm new around here."

Quistis sighed. She and Zell had been searching nearly all day, but hadn't found a single lead to Seifer's whereabouts. Squall hadn't been able to accompany them due to the interference of his loving father. Laguna had shown up early that morning to wake them and announced how much he wanted to have lunch with his 'favorite son' and his beautiful soon-to-be daughter-in law. Never mind the fact that Squall was his only son and thus his favorite son by default. And never mind the fact that his only and thus favorite son had gone deathly pale at Rinoa's buoyant reaction to be dubbed Laguna's 'soon to be daughter-in-law'. Laguna never was the most observant of men from what Quistis had learned of him.

But, regardless, Squall and Rinoa had gone off to lunch with Laguna. Selphie had dragged Irvine off somewhere to do who even knew what. And so, as they were left to their own devices, Quistis and Zell had taken the opportunity to sneak away to begin their search.

"Are you ready?" Quistis asked softly, turning towards the door as Zell nodded.

"Thanks for your help!" Zell called to the blushing shop girl as he turned and followed Quistis from the shop.

"This is almost sickening. You know that, right?"

"What? That we can't find anyone who's even seen him?"

"No. I'm talking about the fact that every single girl we've talked to today hit on you. Have they no shame? I could have been your girlfriend for all they knew. Plus, there must be a shortage of men in this town if they're willing to go for you."

"I was wonderin' when that complaint was going to turn into an insult." Zell grumbled, folding his arms behind his head as they continued down the street. "Besides, they probably knew a good-looking guy like me would never date an ugly girl like you."

Quistis grinned, "You're getting better. A month ago you would have just whined at me, now you're insulting me right back. I'm almost proud of you."

"Hey, a year ago you didn't even know how to joke around and insult people like this. I AM proud of you. By the way, Clarisse told me there's an item shop about two blocks down. From what she was telling me the guy who works there seems to know just about everyone in Esthar."

"Who's Clarisse?"

"That shop girl. I got her phone number too. Wanna see?"


"She dotted the 'i' in her name with her mouth. Are you SURE you don't wanna see?"

"No, I don't want to see. Did she happen to say anything else that I actually WANT to hear about?" Quistis responded, touching her fingers to her temples and rubbing gently.

"Nah. That was pretty much it."

"Fabulous. On to the item shop."

"You've really grown into a remarkable woman, Rinoa. You remind me so much of your mother." Laguna commented, smiling brightly.

"Oh, Dad..." Rinoa giggled, blushing prettily at Laguna's compliments. Squall had to swallow a strong urge to drown himself in his soup as the intelligent conversation at the table seemed to go on and on. Since they had sat down for lunch, two hours before, Laguna and Rinoa had been speaking non-stop. How it was they managed to eat between all that jabbering Squall couldn't even imagine. First they'd spoken of Laguna's health, then Rinoa's, then Squall's. All through that intoxicating conversation Squall had forced himself to nod when appropriate while he tried desperately to saw his hands off with a butter knife. If he'd succeeded, though it would have been extremely painful, at least he would have a good excuse to leave the table and that was all he really wanted out of life at the moment. To leave the table and escape the mindless prattle of his girlfriend and his father.

The table had fallen blissfully silent as soup and salads were served. Unfortunately the silence had only lasted for a few brief seconds before Rinoa was prattling on about a friend of hers who was getting married and how they had gone to look at wedding dresses together. Squall raised an eyebrow at this, but chose to remain silent on the matter, despite the fact that he was rather curious as to what friend she was talking about. No one at Garden was getting married and he had a sneaking suspicion Rinoa was trying to hint at something.

No sooner had he made this startling revelation then his father, oblivious as usual to his son's obvious distress, turned to Squall with a strange look on his handsome features. "Are you two planning something you haven't told your old man about yet?"

Rinoa giggled, oblivious as Laguna to Squall's distress. "Oh, we haven't really discussed it... but I hope we will."

Squall's grip on his butter knife beneath the table tightened as he glanced up at his father with an expression that would have sent a marlboro running for cover.

Laguna blinked, obviously confused by his son's death glare. Marlboros, though rather stupid creatures by nature, demonstrated a certain survival instinct which Laguna Loire seemed to lack. "Don't you like the soup?"

"The soup is fine." Squall growled, over-pronouncing the words and hoping Laguna would let the subject drop.

"O----kay." Laguna managed, turning back to his own soup with a grimace.

"Squall? Would you like the rest of my salad?" Rinoa offered softly, catching Squall's attention and smiling prettily.

"No." Squall murmured, turning his gaze back to his soup.

"Are you still feeling sick?" Rinoa asked, setting her fork down and scooting her chair closer to Squall's. "You were already asleep when I came in last night. Do you have a fever?" She reached across the distance between them to touch a hand to her boyfriend's forehead.

Squall shifted his head to the side to avoid the touch, "I'm fine."

"Are you sure? You don't look like you're feeling all that well..." Rinoa murmured and Squall could see the wheels turning behind her eyes as she began to ponder the source of Squall's irritation. "You aren't upset because we were talking about... marriage, are

you?""No." Squall muttered, turning his gaze towards his soup once more as if it would somehow save him from having to answer these questions.



"So... do you think..." Rinoa began, twisting her fingers nervously.

Squall stiffened, suddenly realizing where this conversation was leading. Where it had probably been leading all along. His entire body felt cold at the thought. He didn't like being manipulated. "This isn't the time, Rinoa." Squall answered, cutting Rinoa off sharply before she could actually ask him anything.

Rinoa turned quickly towards Squall her expression darkening, "Oh?"

He hated when she slipped into that tone of voice. He could feel the beginnings of a headache pounding in the back of his brain in anticipation of the argument. Why? Why hadn't it occurred to him that Rinoa might eventually want such an indefinite commitment? He should have seen that one coming a mile away, but he hadn't. Of course, this wasn't really the time to puzzle over his inability to see the obvious. He would have to act fast if he was going to defuse the Rinoa-bomb he'd just set off before it exploded in his

face.Strangely enough, the same man who got him in this situation ended up rescuing him before he even had a chance to open his mouth. "Hey, Squall... I... um... could go grab Kiros for me? I'm not really sure where he's at, but he should definitely be here

now."Squall almost sighed in relief, sending a thankful glance in his father's direction before standing and practically running from the room. He could feel Rinoa's stunned gaze on his back as he went, but that only made him more eager to leave the dining room behind.

"Thank you, ma'am, and have a nice day." Seifer murmured, handing a dark-haired woman her bag of books and watching with relief as she practically skipped from the bookshop. A quick glance at the clock told him that it was finally time to close up shop and he silently thanked whatever gods watched over miserable ex-sorceress' knights for that small favor.

To say he'd had a hard day was a gross understatement. To say he had a fucking horrible day would be a hell of a lot closer to the truth. It didn't help that his nerves were still on edge following the previous night's events. Damn if he didn't have to fight the urge to hide behind the counter every single time the bell over the door rang announcing a customer who could have been Squall. Just when he'd thought he'd had pretty much everything under control, HE had had to come to Esthar.

It wasn't just Squall's presence in the large city or even the chance meeting that bothered him most. It was the way he'd danced. The way his body had felt pressed against Seifer's own. The way his eyes seemed to change from blue to gray and occasionally settle somewhere in between. Then, of course, there had been the dream that had replaced his usual nightmare. The dream of Squall's warm mouth and callused hands. Desire twisted Seifer's stomach at that brief remembrance, forcing his mind back to the present.

"Damn you." Seifer growled as he used his keys to lock the front door. He closed his eyes against the old anguish, which whirled in his chest as he turned off the open sign. If he thought he'd been miserable before that chance meeting, he'd been horribly mistaken. This was far worse and far more confusing.

Sighing heavily, Seifer turned his back to the door and went about tidying up the small shop. He still had inventory to do before he would finally be able to return to the relative safety of his small apartment. Another long sigh escaped his lips, as he wondered why he hadn't just called in sick.

Seifer stomped towards the back room to search for the inventory sheets. He never saw the two blondes outside peer through the glass door, their eyes locking on his disappearing form for a long moment.

"It's really him." Quistis murmured her eyes wide with disbelief. "Oh my..."

"He doesn't look anything like I remember." Zell grumbled, the old dislike resurfacing as he gazed at Seifer's back. "But then again I can't remember ever seeing him in anything except that damn trenchcoat."

"Well, I'd know Seifer anywhere and THAT is Seifer." There was a note of smug satisfaction in Quistis' voice, which caused Zell to straighten and glance at her suspiciously.

"You're plotting something, aren't you?" Zell queried, hiking an eyebrow in the older blonde's direction.

Quistis straightened as well, smoothing her skirt and smiling widely at Zell's frown. "Well, I suppose I am, but it will be beneficial to all involved."

"I don't like the sound of that. What are you going to do?"

"You mean 'we' don't you?"

"Fine. We. What are we going to do?" Zell relented; sharing a conspiratorial smile with Quistis before the blond woman led him from the doorway, explaining her plan in whispered tones as they walked.

Squall Leonhart was lost. It hadn't started out that way, of course. He'd known perfectly well where he was when he started out. He'd been in the Presidential Palace having lunch with his father and girlfriend and then his father had given him an excuse to leave and away he'd gone.

In retrospect it was easy to determine exactly how he'd lost his way. He, quite simply, hadn't really been paying too much attention to exactly where he was going. His main concern had only been putting as much distance between himself and the Presidential Palace as possible, which he had done quite admirably. He couldn't even see the tall spires of the Palace's roof from where he stood in a narrow alleyway somewhere in the residential sector of Esthar. Or at least what he assumed was the residential sector. He hadn't actually seen any people, just narrow streets and endless rows of buildings with bolted gates.

Not that he was complaining, of course.

He'd never really been much for people, but if there were someone around he would at least have able to ask where he was and how he might get back to the Presidential Palace from here.

Not that he wanted to go back, of course, but if he didn't get back soon people might start to wonder.

Rinoa might start to wonder.

And a wondering Rinoa was usually not a happy Rinoa. In fact, a wondering Rinoa was usually just about as far from a happy Rinoa as one could get. There would be ranting, followed by questions, followed by sobbing and, if he was really lucky, the sobbing would be followed by a good old-fashioned tantrum. One of his favorite parts of his relationship with Rinoa, to be sure. Their relationship was many things, but whatever else it was, it was always predictable.

It hadn't always been that way. In the beginning he'd been happy. When their relationship was new and Rinoa had been sweet and kind and, well, perfect. He'd rescued her and she'd rescued him and it seemed to everyone, including himself, that they would have a fairy tale romance of sorts. Happily ever after. Not that he'd really ever been one to believe in such stupid, sentimental things, but it had been kind of a nice thought. Comforting in a way and utterly foolish.

The big problem was that they hadn't known each other really. Their relationship, their love, had built its foundations in the superficial. They hadn't really known each other's weaknesses or strengths. There just hadn't been time for that. Everything had happened so fast. Scars, Seifer, SeeD, Timber, Rinoa, Seifer, Sorceress Edea, Seifer's supposed death, the assassination attempt, the prison, the destruction of Trabia Garden, Ultimecia, Seifer, and the Time Compression. All in just a few short weeks. Squall reached a hand to touch the scar that marred his face, caressing the familiar mark with shaking fingers. It had all started with this. Seifer's hatred, Seifer's anger.

Funny how he hadn't seen either of those things in the Seifer's eyes in the club. Squall wondered vaguely how Zell and Quistis' search was going, if they'd found him. That was almost reason enough to return to the Palace.

Almost, but not quite.

Squall sighed; dropping his hand back to his side as he realized he was must look pretty stupid standing in the middle of the street fondling his face. Rinoa hated that scar. During an argument she'd once said that it reminded her of the pain Ultimicia had brought her. That had been annoying. As if she were the only one hurt by Ultimicia. What was even more annoying is he couldn't remember if he'd actually said anything back to her or not...


It was funny really. That he dreaded the thought of seeing her just now. He loved her, didn't he? Why not marry her if that's what she wants? If that would make her happy? He liked being with her... usually. It was just... theirs was a love that seemed to flounder in the mundane trappings of every day life. Not that he was unhappy with Rinoa, because he wasn't. But their relationship had lost something since the last battle with Ultimecia. Something important, though he couldn't put his finger on just what that was. However it was probably that missing something that had made him nearly choke at the thought of making a lifelong commitment to the woman he loved. Perhaps it had been missing all along and he just hadn't seen it until now.

Either way, he didn't want to go back to the Palace and face her just yet, so he just kept walking. It was the only thing he could do really. If he didn't go back to the Palace, there really wasn't anywhere else he could go.

Quistis Trepe was not a scary person by nature. She also was possessed of amazing patience and it took quite a lot to make her lose her temper. Which was probably the reason she'd made such an extraordinary instructor. However, when she did lose her temper it was a rare and frightening thing.

"What do you mean he's gone?" Quistis questioned her voice suspiciously calm despite that spark of anger in her gaze.

"Just that he's gone out for a walk." Laguna answered, taking a nervous step away from the questioning blond girl.

"For FOUR HOURS! No one goes out for a walk for FOUR HOURS!" Quistis exclaimed, brandishing her whip in Laguna's direction. "What in Hyne's name possessed you to just let him walk out of here when he was upset?!"

Laguna shuffled his feet, looking amazingly like a child being scolded by his mother. "I didn't know he was going to do that. I just sent him to get Kiros. How was I to know he'd just take off?"

"Hey, hey. Calm down. Let's just go find Squall, huh?" Zell interrupted, earning a grateful look from the beleaguered

president."You..." Quistis shook her whip menacingly at Laguna one last time before turning on her heel and marching out of the president's office.

Laguna starred after her for a long moment before turning his gaze to Zell; "I'm glad she's on our side."

"So am I and you haven't even seen her really angry yet." Zell responded, letting out a long breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"That wasn't angry?" Laguna questioned, his expression conveying his obvious disbelief.

"Ah, hell no! That was just concerned. There are about seven stages of Quisty anger and concerned is step three. You don't wanna see her when she's really pissed off." Zell flashed Laguna a grin before jogging after Quistis. "Don't worry, Laguna! We'll find him."

"Did I really make a mistake letting him walk out of that room, Kiros?" Laguna questioned softly, turning towards his partner.

The darker man shrugged, stepping away from the wall from which he'd been observing the unfolding events. "I don't know. Squall's his own man and is quite capable of taking care of himself. Don't worry, he'll be fine."

"Right." Laguna murmured, slipping his arms around his long-time friend and pulling him close. "I really didn't mean to upset him. I always seem to put my foot in my mouth somehow when he's around."

"I think what you mean to say is that you put your foot in your mouth all the time, even when he's not around, Laguna. But that's why I love you." Kiros whispered, pressing a gentle kiss to the top of the shorter man's head. "It'll work itself out. These things always do."

Even after nearly a year spent living in Esthar, Seifer still found the empty streets of dusk unnerving. For some reason, which he still didn't really understand, the streets of Esthar, which bustled with a never-ending swarm of activity throughout the day were abandoned as night approached. The sun still shone in the sky as he walked the sixty-seven steps back to his apartment, counting the entire way to keep his mind occupied and away from thoughts of Squall or the creepiness of the empty streets. "Fifty. Fifty-one. Fifty-two. Fifty-three. Fifty-f..."


Seifer started, jerking around to face the pair behind him and fighting the urge to run screaming. Quistis Trepe and Zell Dincht. As if his day had not been bad enough. They didn't really look surprised to see him. Had they been looking for him? Had Squall told them he was here? "What do you want?" He asked finally, watching the two suspiciously.

"It's nice to see you alive and well. I wish I had the time to exchange pleasantries with you, but we're in something of a hurry just now. I don't suppose you've seen Squall around here anywhere?" Quistis asked worriedly, taking a step towards the edgy blond.

A choked laugh escaped Seifer's throat at the question. The situation was just too surreal. "What?"

"Have. You. Seen. Squall?" Quistis repeated the words slowly, her expression slightly less amused. "Just answer the question, Seifer."

"No, I haven't seen him." Seifer responded finally, his laughter dying at the serious expression on Quistis' face. "Why?"

"Damn it." Quistis murmured, earning a strange look from Seifer. The Quistis he'd known never cursed. Of course, she'd also never looked overly concerned for anyone either, but both were mysteries he didn't really care to solve. "I assumed he'd come looking for you."

"Why?" Seifer questioned, taking a hesitant step backwards. He didn't like this turn of events one bit. Squall looking for him? That could only be bad.

"Because he was worried about you, you idiot." Zell growled, narrowing his eyes at Seifer's strange behavior. "Stop acting like we're plotting your demise."

"Aren't you, chicken?" Seifer replied, his tone containing a hollow echo of his old mocking tone.

"Don't call me that. Even if I wouldn't mind seeing you buried in a nice hole somewhere, Squall doesn't think that way. He's been worried sick about you since that whole Ultimicia mess. You just disappeared, man! You didn't even think about letting us at least know you were alive or something, ya stupid bastard." Zell spat, punching the air irritably.

"This is not the time, Zell." Quistis murmured, placing a hand on the shorter blonde's shoulder. "Seifer? I apologize for Zell's little outburst, but he's right. However, now is not the time to talk of such things. Squall is..."

"I'm right here."

Squall's voice startled the trio and they all turned to face the dark-haired man standing at the mouth of a nearby alley. He was observing them all with an emotionless expression, his gaze lingering on Seifer. "Seifer." It was more statement then question, containing no obvious emotion whatsoever.

"Squall." Seifer replied in much the same manner, too stunned to do more than stare at the man before him.

He hadn't been able to see him clearly in the club's dim lighting, but he could certainly see him clearly now as he crossed the distance between them. His steps were slow, measured, meant to allow Seifer the time to escape if he so desired. He paused a bare foot from the blond-haired man, tilting his head back to look up at him. "I thought you were dead." Squall murmured finally, his expression hinting of the turbulent emotions simmering just beneath the surface.

"I'm... sorry." Seifer said after a moment's silence. There was really nothing else to say, because he was sorry. Sorry for so many things that he couldn't express them with words. But Squall seemed to understand, for he gave a silent nod of acknowledgment. Seifer wasn't sure why Squall's understanding didn't surprise him, but it didn't. All this time, dreading this meeting and now that it had arrived at last he wasn't completely sure why it was that he'd been so afraid of it to begin with. Squall wasn't angry. Squall understood. But then again, Squall didn't know the truth. No one knew the truth. No one ever would.

"Squall? Seifer? Could we maybe take this somewhere that isn't quite so... standing out in the middle of the road while the neighbors peer at us through the closed blinds?" Zell asked, breaking the silence and earning strange looks from three seperate directions. "What?"

"Nothing." Quistis chuckled, shaking her head.

"My apartment's close." Seifer commented quietly, breaking away from Squall and walking off towards his apartment without bothering to wait and see if the others followed.

"Where have you been?" Quistis hissed as she fell into step beside Squall as the three friends followed Seifer to his small apartment.

"I don't know. I was just walking." Squall shrugged, apparently unconcerned with the worry he'd caused everyone.

"Don't just shrug like it's no big deal when you've been gone for four hours," Quistis grumbled. "Laguna explained what happened."

"I don't want to talk about that just now, Quistis. I've been thinking about it for four hours." Squall responded, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I'm tired of thinking about it."

Zell remained conspicuously quiet throughout the entire exchange, eyeing Squall and considering Quistis' proposed plan. It had seemed bizarre and impossible at first, but now that he'd seen Squall and Seifer together it was beginning to seem as if it might not be such an impossibility after all. Still, Rinoa was a problem. It was pretty unlikely that she would just give Squall up without a fight. And it would probably be a long, screaming, hair-pulling, slap-fest of a fight. He wasn't looking forward to THAT. Still, for Squall's happiness... for Squall's happiness it might be worth it. He'd really have to think about this some more.

The small group followed Seifer up an old staircase, which creaked and groaned, protesting against their weight. Seifer took a small set of keys from his pocket and unlocked the door at the top of the stairs and stepping into the apartment. "Lock the door after you." He called back to them as he disappeared into the apartment, leaving the door open behind him.

Squall, Quistis, and Zell all filed into the apartment in silence. As the last one in, Zell turned and obediently locked what he thought was a pretty excessive amount of locks into place. He turned back around to find Seifer no where in sight and Quistis and Squall serving the relatively bare apartment with critical gazes.

"I didn't imagine he'd live in a place like this." Quistis commented quietly.

"Yeah, it kind of feels like a hospital room, doesn't it?" Zell observed, coming to stand beside Quistis.

Squall made no comment, just continued to survey the room in silence. Seifer reappeared from the only other door in the apartment a moment later, having discarded his jacket and glasses. He seemed to have washed his face to for the scar which had been practically invisible before now stood our prominently against his lightly tanned skin. He folded his tattooed arms across his chest, returning the accessing glance Squall was now giving him. "Are you going to stand there starring at me all night?" Seifer asked finally, taking his gaze from Squall to look at Quistis and Zell.

Quistis blushed slightly, "Ah... no. It's... good to see you, Seifer."

Seifer waved her off, breaking his stance and heading off in the direction of the small kitchen. "Want something to drink? I've got water and beer, take your pick."

"Just water, will be fine." Quistis murmured, taking his offer as a sign that he wasn't going to kick them out anytime soon and sitting down on the worn green couch that seemed to take up about half of the living room area.

"I want a beer!" Zell commented grinning widely as he plopped down on the floor near the television which sat opposite the

couch."Tough. You ain't old enough." Seifer replied, sending a nasty smirk in Zell's direction.

"That's not fair! You said I could..." Zell began only to be cut off by Seifer's chuckle.

"Chickens don't drink beer."

"I told you not to call me that!" Zell shrieked punching the floor in frustration and starting in surprise as a beer came flying out of the kitchen and almost clocked him in the head. He managed to catch it just in time, grinning widely, his irritation at Seifer's teasing apparently forgotten as he opened the can and drank it greedily.

"I need a beer." Squall stated quietly, dropping on to the couch beside Quistis and earning a concerned glance from the blond

girl.Seifer emerged from the kitchen a moment later, two beer cans clutched in one hand and a glass of water in the other. He handed the glass to Quistis and the second beer to Squall before settling himself on the floor near Zell and popping open his own beer. "So what are you doing in Esthar?" Seifer asked finally, turning his gaze towards Quistis and Squall.

"We're here for the ceremony. Laguna invited us." Quistis replied easily, sipping at her water as she spoke. "Laguna is Squall's father. He wanted his son, the commander of Balamb Garden to be present for the ceremony."

Seifer gaze darted to Squall for long moment, "That was a hell of a lot to swallow all at once, Quistis." He muttered, taking a long drink from his beer before continuing. "That idiot's your father? I didn't even know your pop was still alive."

"Neither did I until after the time compression. It took a while to figure it all out." Squall muttered setting his empty beer can down next to the couch. "Can I have another?"

"Help yourself." Seifer shrugged, ignoring the chastising glare Quistis shot him. "He's a big boy, Quisty. You ain't his mother."

Squall nodded silently, disappearing into the kitchen in search of another beer. Quistis leaned forward the moment he was gone, leveling Seifer with a serious gaze. Seifer returned the gaze, his eyes narrowing slightly. "What?"

"Can he stay here tonight, Seifer?" Quistis whispered, sending a quick glance in the direction of the kitchen.

"What?" Seifer replied, sure he just hadn't heard her correctly. She couldn't possibly be asking...

"Can Squall stay with you tonight?" Quistis repeated, realizing Seifer's fears without a trace of hesitation. "He's had a rough

day.""I've had a rough fucking year. Forget it." Seifer growled softly, his gaze darting in the direction of the kitchen where Squall was still starring into the refrigerator. "Why the hell would he even want to stay here?"

"It's not the Palace." Quistis replied evenly, her gaze narrowing to match Seifer's. "He's not going to want to go back there tonight, I can tell."

"What are you two talking about?" Zell asked, leaning toward the pair of blond heads and earning himself a glare from them both.

"Good question," Squall commented, returning to the room at last with his beer in hand. "What are you two talking about?"

Seifer turned his glare on Squall as the brunette sat down on the couch. Squall could see something vaguely resembling panic in the blonde's aqua gaze. "Why the fuck were you out wondering the city at this time of night?" Seifer asked bluntly, leaning back away from Quistis.

Squall released a quiet laugh; "Quistis put you up to that?"

"Nah, I just wanna know." Seifer replied, dashing a hand back through his hair. "Call it idle curiosity."

"...Rinoa... wants to get married. She decided lunch with my Father was a good time to bring it up." Squall shrugged, finding it somehow easier to talk about it with Seifer than it had been to even think about talking about it with Quistis. Never mind that both Quistis and Zell were listening in eagerly. It was easy to pretend they weren't there.

"That's why you were walkin' around like that? 'Cause your girl wants to get married?" Seifer scoffed, taking a long swig of beer before continuing. "Big fucking deal. Just tell her that you don't wanna."

Squall blinked, vaguely surprised by Seifer's answer, which was so close to what he'd been thinking of the entire time he'd been walking around Esthar. Why couldn't he just do that? It seemed almost too simple. "I don't know," Squall answered truthfully, starring down at the beer in his hand for a long moment.

"You can stay here." Seifer said suddenly, pushing himself to his feet as he polished off his beer. "Until you know. Ain't no use goin' back there if you don't know what you're gonna say to her."

Squall watched Seifer in mute shock as the blond strolled easily to the kitchen, dropping his empty beer can in the trashcan. Stay here...? He turned towards Quistis and the blond girl raised a hand to silence him before the words passed his lips. "Don't worry about Rinoa. I'll take care of her. You just stay here and get some rest. Think about things. We have a couple of days until the ceremony, so just relax. Pretend you're on vacation, boss." Quistis smiled, patting Squall's cheek gently before setting her glass down on the small table that stood beside the couch and pushing herself to her feet. "Come on, Zell. We should get back and tell everyone that Squall's okay."

Zell frowned down at his barely touched beer with a mournful glance. "Can't we just...?"

"No. We have to go NOW." Quistis replied grabbing Zell's arm and yanking the lanky boy to his feet. Zell set the beer can down on the top of television, still frowning desperately as Quistis dragged him towards the door. "Goodbye, Seifer! We'll see you tomorrow!" Quistis called, unfastening the locks and zipping out the door before Zell could manage another protest.

Seifer came out of the kitchen, grinning widely as he re-locked the door. "Never would have figured those two for a couple."

"They're not. Zell's... otherwise engaged." Squall grimaced, remembering the previous night's conversation.

"Not that library chick?"


"Who then?"


"That the cowboy?" Seifer asked conversationally, leaning back against his front door. "Guess I can see that."

Squall nodded silently, earning himself a glare from Seifer. "You ain't much more talkative than I remember."

Squall shrugged, "Is it okay if I sleep on the couch?"

"Yeah. I'll go get y' some blankets or something." Seifer murmured, pushing away from the door and disappearing into his bedroom. A moment later he reemerged with a pile containing a couple ragged black blankets and two pillows. He dropped the pile next to Squall on the couch. "You going to sleep now?"

"I'm tired," Squall murmured, concentrating on unlacing his boots. "I'm glad... you're alive."

Seifer smirked, reaching down to tousle Squall's hair. The strands still felt like silk under his fingertips and he let his fingers run through the other man's hair a bit longer than he probably should have, noticing the way Squall's hands stilled in what they were doing. "I missed you," Squall whispered, his voice barely reaching Seifer's ears.

Seifer's smirk faded as he withdrew his hand slowly from Squall's hair; "I missed you, too. Get some sleep, huh? We'll talk or something in the morning." Seifer replied gruffly, retreating to his bedroom quickly and practically slamming the door behind him.

Squall sighed, returning to the act of undressing as he heard Seifer's television click on within the bedroom. The sound of strangers' voices did little to relieve the ache, which had begun in his chest. He folded his clothes into a neat pile once he was free of them, leaving only black boxers on as he sorted out the blankets and pillows and laid down on the couch. He didn't really want to think about why Seifer's fingers in his hair had unsettled him so much or why Seifer's gruff words made his chest ache. Better just to leave well enough alone and sleep it off. It was probably just the beer.

Within the confines of his room, Seifer starred blankly at the television, panic rising like a storm within him.


Fuck. What had he been thinking allowing Squall to stay here? This was insanely stupid. His heart was beating too fast, too hard against his chest. His breath coming in sudden panicked gasps now he was alone and he was shaking.

"Shit," Seifer murmured, moving to sit on the edge of his bed and dropping his face into his hands.

Hyne help him but he wanted Squall here. Was desperately glad he was here, despite the unsettling feelings swirling within him. It was just... too much. Squall was here and Squall didn't hate him. Squall wanted to be here... with him. Part of him wanted to go out into the living room and scream at Squall that he wasn't good enough to deserve forgiveness. That Squall could never possibly understand... could never understand the truth. Another part wanted to hurt Squall. Wanted desperately to hurt him until he saw the truth as Seifer saw it. And another part... another part wanted to kiss him. Kiss him until neither of them could breath or think

or...The next thing he knew, Seifer found himself bent over his bathroom toilet, starring down at the remains of his breakfast. "Fuck..." Seifer murmured, flushing the toilet with a grimace and slowly climbing to unsteady feet and leaning heavily against the bathroom counter. He starred at his reflection for a long time, stroking a finger across the familiar scar. This was insane. He was insane.

Seifer chuckled quietly, turning to the sink to wash out his mouth and splash water on his face. He was suddenly terribly tired, exhausted really. Still chuckling, Seifer flipped off the bathroom light and dragged himself to his bed, collapsing onto and falling almost instantly into a dreamless sleep.

"AFFIRMATIVE." Fujin replied, her eyes asking questions Seifer had no desire to answer as she offered a hand to him.

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