By Tenshi no Korin
"Well this is such a sad affair
I’ve opened up my eye oh so many times
But now it’s closed
Oh my dear
Every salted tear it brings bittersweet applause...
How rich in contrast love can be
sometimes I’m quite amused
to see it twist and turn
to taste both sweet and dry.
These vintage years!
lovers you consume, my friend, as others their wine..."
-bitter-sweet (velvet goldmine)
Sunlight turned the plain amber tiles of the F-level shower room to beaten copper gold, making the warm damp chamber glow like a treasure chest for one precious hour in summer. It was sheer perfection, unchanged despite the recent relocation of the garden to some unverified point in the middle of the ocean. Something about the quality of light melted protective ice, even theirs. On off days no one would be here so early as dawn; the rose-gold of steam warmed tile bloomed and faded without notice. Of course even the showers at Balamb were beautiful, the garden was designed to be seamless, even in something as functional as the lavatory, even lost and adrift at sea. But the memory was not of this mobile garden, this new side of his home that had become his command of all things. The summer that burned behind his shut eyelids was as distant as only the past can be.
He had matched it then so well, beauty unnoted, distant and still polished gold. Sixteen years old and nowhere near awkward, whip-thin, slender hipped and molded like marble, wet skin reflecting the glow of any light around him. His hands had been fragile and elegant without the black gloves Squall began wearing in imitation, as casual and unaware through his soft burr of hair as they were on the rest of him. Steam rose in tendrils from his hot-water flushed body, and Seifer simply glowed in a cloud of gilded illumination.
Small wonder that Squall had been lost. That one untarnished hour was theirs, their desire sticky sweet warm like the honey light that made Seifer into a wayward angel. Squall hadn’t been here at this hour for what felt to him like an eternity. But now he could see him, feel him like it was that sacred fifteenth summer again, before it began to decay in their hands like wildflowers, before they even knew it could.
Well, before Squall knew, anyway.
He jumped, startled into the present he didn’t want, where Seifer took and violated but still looked like a wayward angel. It made Squall wonder where the justice in the world was. He shoved dripping bangs out of his eyes, pulling his face from the shower stream.
"Oh, hey, sorry to bother ya, I thought you’d dozed off." Zell wore his grin uneasily, his blue eyes flicked to the water sluicing over Squall’s bare flank and then just as rapidly flashed away. He fidgeted with the knot on the standard Balamb-issue towel tied loosely around his hips and tried to be absorbed by the ceiling light fixtures, which were off.
"I should be so lucky," Squall sighed, almost smiling. Poor Zell, he probably hadn’t expected to happen upon his commander in the buff at 0530 hours. Squall coaxed some shampoo from the fretful wall dispenser and nodded at the showerhead next to his as he worked his fingers through the sleepless nighttime tangles in his hair. "You waiting for permission or something?"
"Huh? Uh- no. Guess not." Zell hesitated only briefly before snapping off the towel and wrenching the water on as cold as it would go- which wasn’t very since the waters they were drifting through were getting close to tropical. He submerged his head quickly as if to avoid the fact that Squall Leonhart was two feet away, unclad and dripping shampoo lather. He spent the next five minutes sneaking glances, trying his damnedest not to get turned on any more and pondering the best way to start up conversation with the butt-streaking naked glacier of his dreams. Unfortunately he forgot to breathe, and inhaled about a half-gallon of water.
"You okay?" Squall pounded his back as Zell clutched the shower knobs for support, and nodded.
"Yeah." ~Really smooth there, Dincht.~ Not to be daunted, he plunged ahead. "Hey, you always wear that necklace?" And ring too, Zell realized, noticing the silver band for the first time.
Squall quit scrutinizing some unidentified particle of crud under his left thumbnail and blinked at Zell. "What?" he obviously hadn’t expected this to turn into anything social. "Griever? Yeah I guess so." He straightened the chain unconsciously, then stuck his head under the flood of water to desudz.
Zell swore silently to the faucet. He’d hardly been able to talk to Squall since the prison, terrified and hoping that Squall might somehow figure out what had happened. It had made for a looong train ride from Galbadia, especially with Quistis seeming to know too much about everything and remaining stonily silent. He muddled through a few conversation topics, starting with "hey I haven’t been sleeping too good either" and winding up with "hey Leonhart ya wanna push me up against the tile and fuck me like a girl?" Neither looked particularly promising, and he burbled resignment, punching the shampoo dispenser. It staunchly refused to vent forth any substance and Zell scowled at it. "C’mon, damnit," he coaxed, prodding the button again, to no avail.
Zell started, not realizing Squall had been watching him. "Yeah, you know Balamb G, don’t matter if it malfunctions as long as it still looks good."
"Have some of mine if you want, it seems to be cooperating today." Squall yawned, into his second lather, hands in hair, nodding his head at the dispenser on the far side of his faucets.
"...Thanks." Zell sidled over, reaching across to get to it, but Squall showed no signs of surrendering his position under the showerhead. Which meant that Zell had to get rather cozy if he wanted any soap. "Uh, ‘scuse me..."
Squall, struggling with foam in his eyes, made a nonverbal sound in his throat. Zell had no choice but to squeeze past him, closing his eyes as if to ward off the intimacy of skin on slick skin.
Zell pulled back, shaken, trying to prevent the shampoo from escaping his fingers. Squall was unfazed, shaking water out of his hair. Zell didn’t trust his voice and silently sudzed up, taking more time about it than was strictly necessary. Don’t think about it, Zell, he ordered himself sternly. The memory of one hour in the training center had been replayed so much in his mind he’d worn it thin, and now it surfaced with distracting clarity. Don’t think about how beautiful he is or how perfect he feels or how he kissed...
"Did it work?" Squall squinted over at Zell, and promptly began making a sound that Zell had never heard emanate from him.
He was laughing.
Chuckling, really, an amused purr in the back of his throat, shoulders shaking. "Sorry, Zell. It’s just that I’ve never seen you with your hair all... normal."
Zell tossed long soapy blond bangs irritably out of his face. "If I can make Squall Leonhart laugh at me, I must look ridiculous. I didn’t think you knew how." He swept his hands over his head, plastering his hair back.
The ghost faint smile on Squall’s lips melted away. He returned silently to his ablutions, running efficient hands over his skin with an air of finality and shutting off the faucet.
"Hey- Hey I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you mad." Zell held out an apologetic hand, but kept if from touching Squall’s arm.
"I’m not mad." Squall toweled roughly at his hair, making it stick up oddly. "You just- reminded me of someone."
Zell frowned, tilting the angle of the showerhead so he could catch his reflection in it. With the unmarked side of his face mirrored back at him, eyebrows lowered to keep soap from running in his eyes, spiky blond hair flat against his head and most importantly without his usual grin, Zell realized who he might resemble, at a younger age perhaps, to someone who was thinking of it.
"I don’t look anything like Seifer," he announced indignantly, then bit his lip and shot a worried glance back at Squall. ~Me and my big mouth...~
He had only paused in the act of tying on his towel, but now resumed the action smoothly. "This place- time of day, time of year it-" he caught Zell staring at him, and looked away. "Nevermind."
"You used to meet him here, didn’t you. Few years back, wasn’t it? I remember." Zell let the water flush away the rest of the soap, and turned it off. He really didn’t expect Squall to still be there but he was, regarding him with a coldness that might have frozen the pipes.
"What do you know?"
"I found you once." Zell examined the embroidery on his towel. "The two of you looked like you just...belonged here, kinda golden in the light and- Seifer held your face as he kissed you." Zell slowly rubbed at his bangs, frowning at them as they dangled over the bridge of his nose. "He looked almost... gentle."
"People change," Squall said, wearily.
Zell dared a look; Squall was standing in the stall doorway, eyes hard on the tile by his feet. His cheekbones were stained slightly with blood and Zell envied him, sure he’d be crimson all over by now, not that faint appealing blush.
"Did you stay to watch?" Squall kept his tone perfectly neutral as only he could.
Zell snorted. "Of course not. What kinda creep do you think I am?" He scrubbed furiously at his hair, which was mostly dry. "I went back to the door and made sure nobody bugged you." Zell let the terry cloth crumple into his hands. "Stood guard every day that semester. I may be an idiot but I know destiny when I see it. Besides, I know how privacy is hard to come by around here."
Squall was silent a long moment. "You kept watch all that time? But you hated Seifer, even then. You could have called him in and-"
"Gotten you in trouble?" Zell wondered frantically if he was giving too much away, Squall was rumored to have as much power of observation as a gift-wrapped box of gravel but Zell knew better. "Nah. Besides. Seifer knew I saw him, knew all that time I could have called him in and didn’t. Drove him nuts but he couldn’t touch me. As long as he wasn’t doing anything unwanted I didn’t mind keeping a lookout."
Several things to say filtered through Squall’s mind, but at last he settled only on "thank you."
Zell wanted to wrap those words up and hold them to his heart until they melted on his skin, to hold Squall’s grateful, confused expression between his palms and kiss it the way Seifer had. It had been years ago and he’d only gotten a glimpse but that was enough, Seifer’s predatory lips tender on Squall’s parted mouth beneath his, Squall’s slender thighs winding around Seifer’s hips, towel slipping silently to the floor as Squall tossed his head back, taken without making a sound. Zell wanted nothing more in the world than to do that, be that, if even just for an instant.
You had your instant, pal, He told himself viciously. Training Center? You had him hot and willing in your mouth and between your legs for more than you ever expected, now don’t get fucking greedy.
Besides, we all know what a darling Seifer turned out to be, don’t we? The thought was more sobering than cold water, and Zell had a sudden strong urge to put on all his clothes as fast as possible, feeling raw and exposed. It wasn’t getting easier yet, to block the memory of a leather-gloved hand hard on his hipbone and swift invasive pain-
Zell blinked, shaking himself. Squall was closer, peering intently at the fighter who had gone suddenly, eerily still and silent, lovingly wringing the towel in his hands as if it were the neck of a favorite archenemy.
It was only then that Zell noticed the set of bruises, low on Squall’s back, on the wrong side for Zell to have seen them before. They had faded considerably, like the matching ones Zell had lost a day or so ago, his skin never keeping marks for long. But Squall was paler and the evidence of gripping fingerprints remained, at the right angle for holding someone still while forcing entrance into an unwilling body and kissing away the tears. There were other clues too, and Zell cursed internally for being too desire-distracted to notice them sooner: the dark shadows under Squall’s eyes, the weary set of his shoulders, his being up so early because he never went to bed in the first place...
"God," he murmured, as everything fell neatly into place, from Squall’s stiff motions that Zell had put off to just being tied up for three days to why Squall’s grey eyes were haunted with more than weariness.
"Something wrong?" Squall queried, oblivious. "You look like you just found a cockatrice in your sock drawer."
"It’s... It’s nothing. Just something I forgot to do." Zell tied his towel hastily, hands trembling with barely contained fury. ~I tried to protect you. I tried. Damn you, Seifer, we had a DEAL.~
Squall didn’t look quite convinced, he opened his mouth but got no further as the intercom chimed to life.
"Squall, please report to the bridge immediately."
Zell forced a grin, he was shot to hell if Squall ever found out what he’d bet and lost. "Morning noon and night, huh? Nida probably needs someone to tie his shoes."
Squall’s eyes narrowed with suspicion or a smile. "Yeah. You take care of yourself, okay? I need you." Squall appeared to realize how that might have sounded, and added belatedly, "you’re a better fighter than the rest of these kids put together."
Zell nodded perfunctorily as Squall exited towards the F-suite of rooms, and then put his fist cleanly through the nearest tiles, his whole body shaking with rage that he managed to swallow down, evening his breathing. So he’d failed. It was only once and Seifer wouldn’t have him again so easy, not while he was alive. Whatever it took to protect Squall was fine by Zell. He’d seen the look on Squall’s face that morning two summers back, with Seifer deep inside him and neither one caring if they were found. He hadn’t been there to stand guard against the faculty discovering them; He was there to protect Squall from Seifer if the older boy had ever pulled a cheap shot.
"But you wouldn’t do that, would you?" Zell snarled quietly, "No, not Seifer."
Zell closed his eyes, calming his anger into resolve. It was easier to do when it involved Squall. He didn’t have the time to waste on revenge, the whole world was on fire, and Seifer was holding the lighter. Revenge would come to him, all he had to do was wait. With a determined set to his features that made him almost unrecognizable, Zell strode back to his room, pupils dilating as he went from the now white light of day in the shower room to the subtly lit hallway.
The golden hour was gone.
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