DISCLAIMER: All the characters, places etc., are the property of Square, not me (::sniffs::). I'm just borrowing them for my own nefarious purposes. I promise they'll be tidied up, and sent home all clean an' sparkling.

(For summary, rating, etc., see previous chapters)

WARNING (Or maybe joyous announcement, depending on your point of view^_^):

**YAOI SMUT!!** Smut blended with a nice healthy dose o' angst!! YAY!! But like I said, maybe not the smut you were expecting…and why the hell have I started using the term `smut` anyways?!


Chapter Seven

By Seshat

"I don't give a shit about his frickin' emotional state, he could have gotten all of us killed!"

He cursed his choice of words, even before he finished speaking them. But he was still reeling from the fight, from Seifer's amazing irresponsibility, and damned if he was going to shut up before he said all the things that needed to be said. Even if he didn't understand any of them.


"But this ain't even about us! What about the students, huh? He didn't even stop to think what would happen to them if we hadn't stopped Rinoa. He didn't stop to think about anythin'! Nothing apart from himself!"

"That's not fair…" Quistis said, softly. "If these were normal circumstances, okay, I'd be the first to admit that he can be selfish. But we passed normal about a week ago, and in this instance he hasn't been thinking about himself, and you know it."

It wasn't late, barely even dark, but it already felt like the longest day in history. The others were still down in the Infirmary - Squall and Irvine as patients, Selphie as neurotic visitor, and Seifer probably telling Kadowaki how to do her job. Zell and Quistis had been shooed out earlier in the evening, in between the long suffering doctor reassuring Selphie for the fiftieth time, and trying to talk some sense into Seifer.

Tch. Good luck, baby.

He huffed silently to himself, dragging himself away from the bedroom window, currently sporting a huge jagged crack right down the centre. Every sensor in Garden had gone berserk when the Sorceress and her Knight heeded the Commander's call, most of them registering a massive shift in air pressure. Hence the fact that theirs was one of the few windows in the mobile building that hadn't required boarding up in lieu of curtains.

They'd closed off the quad, too, all of them reluctant to be the ones to instigate the necessary clean-up. Fuck, he was shivering at the thought of setting foot in the damn place again. It may not have been the first time they'd been forced to fight on home territory, but…

He didn't want to think, so went back to talking instead.

"Maybe not, but he acted like a fucking fool, Quis. He had no idea what he was doin', and he didn't give a fuck about the consequences. If he'd just waited, we could all have juncitoned up properly, gotten a decent stock of magic…"

"And she'd still have rendered us next to useless." Quistis shook her head, a comforting hand on his shoulder as he sat down on the edge of the bed. "Even if we'd all had a hundred life spells, they wouldn't have done us any good once she drew our GF's."

"Yeah, but…we might have had a chance. One of us might have…"

Saved her. Neither of them said it, but the words hung heavily in the air between them. It still felt unreal enough, that if no-one mentioned it, it didn't have to be true.

Even if the results were unconscious and seriously injured down in the Infirmary.

Even if the proof was peacefully locked away in one of the unused dorm rooms, waiting for General Caraway to journey down from Deling City to take her home.

"All things considered," Quistis sighed, "I think we were lucky. We could have lost all four, Zell."

"I know that. But we didn't have to lose anyone. Not if he'd have given us time to prepare properly. Evacuated the students, taken the battle somewhere it could have done a little less damage…" he glanced back at the shattered window.

"I guess I'll have to arrange the repairs in the morning. And I'm going to have to deal with Caraway, too. Try to explain to the poor man why we were forced to kill his only daughter." Her hand slipped from his shoulder, joining the one that covered her face. He wasn't sure, but he could have sworn that the muffled mumbled from behind her hands was a colourful suggestion of precisely what she'd like to do to Seifer right now.

Despite himself, he felt a grin tug at his lips. After all, he'd seen Quistis in action when she was angry at the Commander. Not a pretty sight. Hilarious, terrifying enough that he spared a little sympathy for the poor guy, but definitely not pretty…

"And if we're really lucky, maybe he won't send the entire Galbadian Army down here to do the same to Seifer."

"It was hardly his fault, Zell…and it wasn't as if he had much choice…"

"Maybe not, but it's just…" he shook his head.

"Yeah…" she sent him a small smile. "I know."

He pulled her closer, into a sweet, soft kiss. She rested her head on his chest when they broke apart, his fingers running absently through her hair. The moonlight glinted off the simple gold ring on his left hand, and he felt the anger rise again, unbidden.

Fuck it, Seifer, I could have lost this because of you…

He leant down to kiss her again, blue eyes locked on bluer.

"I love you, baby…" he whispered. "After today, I just…I really needed to tell you that, make sure that you knew…"

"Oh, Zell…" her arms wrapped around him tightly. "I know. And I love you too…Hyne, I don't know what I'd have done if anything…" she shook her head. "I don't know what I'd do without you…"

"Feelin's mutual sweetheart…believe me."

They listened to the silence for a while, just quietly revelling in the realisation that nothing had happened to either of them. Something that couldn't be said for any of the others.

"You think they're gonna be all right?"

"We're talking about three of the toughest, most stubborn men I've ever known." She grinned. "Present company excluded, of course."

"Very funny." He rolled his eyes.

"I honestly don't know about Squall. We have no idea what's been done to him, what the damage could be…but he is in the best possible care, and friends that won't rest until they know he'll be all right. As for the others, last I checked, Irvine was trying to charm Dr. Kadowaki into letting him out, and Seifer was marching around, barking orders as though half his blood wasn't still on the Quad floor. A little rest, and I'm sure they'll both be fine."

Fine, physically. But the events of the day had dredged up old wounds, and even older demons, and he wasn't sure how any of them would be able to deal with that.

"Rest?" he muttered. "Tch, as if either of them are gonna be doing that…"

Considering that the good doctor had always made a point of telling him that he never listened, she'd spent a hell of a long time talking at him. Armed with those inane, pointless comforts doctors must be taught at med school, like `There's nothing you can do for him, why don't you get some rest?`, `You'll be no use to him if you collapse from exhaustion`, `You'll be the first to know if there's any change`.

Rest. That was a fucking joke. Funny enough before, but now it was just ridiculous.

You made your choice. And his.

Maybe she'd been waiting for him to admit that he still felt like a piece of Grat crap, and that if he lifted his head too fast the room began to spin worse than a Confuse spell. But since sharing that information was as good as taking her frustratingly rational advice, he kept his mouth shut. Kadowaki finally left, in an exasperated `on your own head be it` hissy fit. And, all in all, he missed the distraction.

"Just you and me, huh baby?"

His only answer was the sterile silence, and the soft reassuring beep of the monitors. The infirmary lights had been dimmed, the only faint illumination came from the table lamp next to the bed. Not that it mattered. Could have been broad daylight, harsh fluorescent, or a million candles.

Squall Leonhart was still the most beautiful thing Seifer Almasy had ever seen.

Unlike Seifer and Irvine's obvious injuries, Kadowaki could find nothing wrong with Squall. He had been unconscious since the battle, and the doctor had more or less confessed that she had no idea how to help him. Had no idea what had done this to him in the first place.

Between the blood loss, the painkillers, and the circumstance, the past few hours still felt like just another surreal nightmare, bits of some terrifying, garish jigsaw puzzle that point blank refused to fit together. A part of his mind had shut down during the fight, and he was torn between waiting for it to switch back on, and praying to all known Gods that it never did.

He wanted to believe it was over, but none of them had been that naïve for a long time. And there were things that a simple Sorceress possession just didn't cover.

"I told you it'd work out…I told you I'd get you back…"

He reached across the crisp white sheet, his fingers closing around a cool, unresponsive hand.

"I got you back…" he whispered again. "Got her out of your head. Whatever it takes, right…?"


Too many questions. Always too many fucking questions.

"What the hell is going on, huh?" he raised Squall's hand to his lips. "You know, don't you? She said as much. Fuck, I just…I can't do this, baby. I tried to be…wanted to be strong for you, but I'm not, and…Hyne, talk to me goddamnit! Talk to me!"

Gods, even his thoughts were an incoherent mess.

Too many questions, and, he realised, not one damn answer. He had Squall back, but hardly back safe and well. He'd stopped Rinoa, but he still had no idea what had triggered her powers, what she wanted. He'd done what Adrasteia had told him to, prevented the Sorceress from assembling the Vessel, but he still didn't know what it was, where it was, what it did.

All he had was Squall in a coma, Zell understandably pissed off, Quistis disappointed in him, Selphie terrified, Rinoa dead and Irvine…

He probably should find Irvine, talk to him.

"Not that I'd know what to say…" he muttered aloud. "That's meant to be your role. Come on, Leonhart…I'm supposed to be the stubborn bastard, not you. You're supposed to sulk, and glare at me, and tell me how stupid I am…"

He had been stupid. Recklessly, dangerously, blindly stupid. He'd apparently had the power to commence that particular battle at any time, in any place he chose. So he'd chosen the middle of Garden, and without consulting or warning anyone.

"You want to know something, baby? You were right…you were so right…" he turned Squall's hand over, pressed a soft kiss to the upturned palm. "I am pathetic. I am nothing…But I did all this for you, you know that?" with trembling fingers, he brushed back an unruly lock of soft brown hair, his touch lingering on the faded scar that was a mirror image of his own. "All of it…I thought that if I worked my ass off, became the man you always said I could be if I just quit dreaming so damn much, and did something about it…" he hung his head, watching a tear splash onto the white cotton sheet. "I figured if I could be someone, I could be someone that mattered to you, and maybe you'd come back to me…"

He never told anyone, never wanted their awful pity, but he'd always wondered. Always wondered whether Squall left him because he just wasn't good enough. Whether his Lion had just gotten tired of waiting for Seifer to get his act together, live up to the potential he'd heard about all his life. Squall had never given any indication that he felt that way, never gave Seifer anything but unconditional encouragement, but…

He'd even had their romantic reconciliation scene worked out in his mind. The details were a little hazy now, and there had been a couple of variations, but the main feature was the moment when Squall showed up at the promotion ball, telling him he was so very proud, so very sorry that he hadn't had more faith in him.

He'd wanted it so badly, he'd spent that entire evening nursing a bottle of champagne and watching the door.

"Please, baby…don't let go." He stroked Squall's cheek gently. "Cause you're all I've ever been living for sweetheart, all I've ever fought for. To be worthy of you, to make you proud of me. I've lived my whole life for you Leonhart, and if you fucking give up now, then I won't have anything left that's worth a shit…" he leant forward, blinking past the tears as he placed a tender kiss against unmoving, unresponsive lips. "I love you, baby…I've never stopped loving you, and that's got to be worth all this…"

A rustle from the doorway startled him. His gaze snapped up, part embarrassed, part furious.

"The fuck do you want, cowboy?"

"I…I just wanted to see how he was doin'…"

Irvine took slow, tentative steps into the room, looking every inch the return ticket holder on the scenic round trip to hell, and still pulling it off with a nonchalant grace. He stopped on the other side of the Infirmary bed, staring down at its occupant with fear shining bright in his eyes.

"Yeah, well he's the same, you've seen him, now get the hell out." Seifer growled.

"Is…is there anythin' I can do…?"

Seifer watched with something akin to horror as Irvine reached a hand out towards Squall. Shaking aside the overwhelming rush of jealousy long enough to react, the blond caught the cowboy's wrist roughly, a fraction of a second before Irvine's fingers could ghost across Squall's skin.

"You've done enough." Seifer hissed, shoving Irvine back with enough force to make him stumble. "Get out."


"I said get the fuck out!" he yelled. "Before I finish the job he started!"

There was a tense moment of silent stand-off, before Irvine backed away, his eyes never leaving Seifer's until he reached the door.

"You know, you ain't the only one who cares, Seifer. And you sure as fuck ain't the only one who's scared."

The slamming door reverberated in his head for a good thirty seconds after Irvine had left.

Shit, shit, shit…that was a cheap shot, even for you Almasy…

Whatever he'd meant to say, that hadn't been it. While he doubted Irvine could actually forget that terrible moment earlier in the day, but he sure as hell didn't need Seifer reminding him.

"Fuck, I can see the way you'd be glaring at me right now…" he shook his head, glancing back at Squall. "That `are you gonna go after him or do I have to make you?` look." He stood, slowly, pressing a light kiss to that scarred forehead, before turning for the door. "But let's get one thing clear baby, I'm only apologising because it's what you'd want me to do."

He made it out into the main circular corridor, before he ran into Quistis.

"How is he?"

"The same." He shrugged, scanning the corridor for any sign of the cowboy. "Did you see where Irvine went?"

"Irvine?" she blinked. "No, sorry. Look, Seifer, there's something I need to speak to you about…"

"Can't it wait, Quistis?"

"No, I don't think it can." She frowned at his abruptness. "If, of course, you can tear yourself away from your own problems, there's something important you need to know."

"Sorry…" he ran a hand through his hair, sighing resignedly. "I just…never mind." he sat down on the low wall surrounding the fountain. At least if the argument began going in circles, one of them could drown the other. "What are you doing out here anyway? I thought the two of you had gone back to your quarters hours ago?"

"We did…" she perched on the wall next to him. "Zell's asleep, finally." She glanced up at him, with a tired, wry smile. "You're lucky he hasn't broken both your legs."

"He's got a right to be angry." He broke eye contact, staring instead at the tiled floor. "You all do. I fucked up, Quis. Badly. And you're welcome to lecture me, but can we do it some other time…"

"It's not a lecture." she shook her head. "Yes, you fucked up, but…you did what you thought was right, and you saw it through. Dealt with it in the only possible way. I'm not saying we should throw a party Seifer, but you don't have to beat yourself up over it. We all felt the same when we had to fight you and Matron…"

"Yeah, maybe." He interrupted, a little more brusquely than he'd intended. Her analogy was off beam in one, important way. He and Edea had survived their brush with SeeD. Being responsible for the death of some wacky future Sorceress none of them had known personally wasn't quite the same. "What did you need to speak to me about."

"I…" she watched him for a moment, no doubt wondering who she was speaking to right now; her friend or her boss. Squall's concerned lover or indifferent SeeD Commander. "I hadn't wanted to disturb you…But this kept running through my head, and I knew I couldn't rest until I let you know…"

If he'd honestly believed things could get any worse, he would have given in to that dark feeling of foreboding her words kicked up.

"Let me know, what?"

"When Rinoa…" she took a deep, shaky breath. "There was no power transfer."

Okay, let's rethink. Things could always - and usually did - get worse.

"Are you sure?" Dumb question. It was pretty unlikely that Quistis could just have missed something as significant as the acquisition of Sorceress powers.


"Then…where the fuck did they…" He stared up at her, eyes wide, heart pounding "You don't think…"

"I've already spoken to Selphie. Neither of us felt a thing, and I'm assuming that you didn't either. Zell and Irvine were too far away…" She sighed. "There was nowhere else for it to go…"

"Yeah, but…it's not possible!"

"It's not known, it doesn't mean it's not possible." Quistis shook her head. "I can't think of another explanation…he was the closest one to her, both physically and emotionally, and what he's suffering from now is incredibly similar to what Rinoa went through when she took on Edea's power…"


"And what about that…that, thing that left his body? I've never seen anything like that before. No-one's said a damn word about that, I was starting to think I'd imagined it…"

"You didn't…but that doesn't mean anything…"

"Maybe not. I hope it doesn't mean anything, but you weren't around to see it back then, and …it's uncanny. The collapse, the coma…" her voice trailed off.

"Okay, fine, but to my knowledge no-one's ever mentioned some fifty foot spectral crow leaving Rinoa's body when she took on Edea's powers." He frowned. "It's insane Quistis, Squall couldn't possibly have taken on those powers. He might look like a girl, but trust me, he isn't one…"

"I'll take your word for that…" she smiled weakly, a faint blush spreading across her cheeks. "Look, I just wanted you to know. For what my opinion's worth, whatever that thing was…what if it was to Rinoa, what Griever was to Ultimecia?"

Worse, and worse, and…

"You're suggesting it was a GF?" he stared at her. "Then why didn't it just junction itself to Squall?"

"I don't know…maybe they were just incompatible, maybe it couldn't survive without Rinoa…" an odd look crossed her face. "But it does tie in with her magic. Even if she couldn't control it to save her…" she looked away. "Sorry…"

"Don't be." he squeezed her hand briefly, tried to soothe with reassurances he didn't have.

"You know that if it had worked out that way, Squall would never have hesitated in doing the same with Matron. Even if it was killing him. He never admitted it, of course, but you could see that the confusion was eating away at him." She smiled a little, voice trembling. "But he would have. I have absolutely no doubt that he would have done what was necessary. Imagine the damage she could have done, Seifer…she may have looked the same, but she wasn't. You could see it in her eyes. She wasn't Rinoa anymore, she was…she was a Sorceress. And we're SeeD."

If he heard that one more time, he was probably going to start maiming. He appreciated that Quistis was only trying to lessen his guilt, but that was oversimplifying in the extreme. It wasn't life's natural order, it wasn't just another link on the food chain. It was a human life, and they didn't have the right to decide who was entitled to that privilege.

And in that moment when Hyperion was buried deep in her chest, she was just the same old Rinoa. The same trusting, innocent girl he'd known that faraway summer. He'd seen that in her eyes, too.

He frowned, searching his memory for something about that last conversation that he felt sure he was forgetting. Something she'd told him, asked him…It would probably come back to him. Hell, from the second he'd woken up from that odd dream, and fallen out of the Infirmary bed, there wasn't much he could clearly recall.

Only Squall. Only the fact that after too many long, hopeless years, he knew precisely where Squall was. And where he'd stay.

"Thanks, Quis. Now go on, get back to Zell. I have no intention on pissing him off any more than I already have…"

"He'll calm down, Seifer. And he'd not so much angry at what you did, just the way you did it."

"Yeah, I know…" he stood. "Tell him he's not the only one."

"I'll do that. And if I see Irvine, I'll tell him you're looking for him." She paused, watching him with concern. "Is everything all right between you two? I know things were tense back in Deling City, but…"

Well, it seemed the Chickenwuss had learnt discretion, even if the cowboy hadn't.

"Yeah, everything's fine." He lied. "I just need to talk to him, and, ah…apologise. He uh, came to see Squall and I wound up yelling at him…" he fixed his most contrite, sincere smile in place. "I just wanted to make sure he's okay."

"Right…" she nodded, too practised at seeing through his act. "Whatever he's really done, don't be too hard on him, all right? If it wasn't for him, we might not have been able to subdue Rinoa at all. And he hasn't been himself lately…"

"I know…" he frowned. "But I've got an idea what's bothering him. Listen, is Selphie doing anything right now?"

"Pacing around cursing Kadowaki's name." Quistis smiled. "You want her to stay with Squall?"

"I'm still not buying your theory. But…maybe it's a good idea not to leave him alone."

"Consider it done." She shrugged. "Hell, if the overwhelming need to shut her up won't snap him out of the coma, nothing will."

Thirty minutes, and one fine-tooth comb search later, he still hadn't found the Galbadian. Past curfew, there weren't many places even a senior SeeD could talk his way into. He wasn't in the room they'd assigned for him, wasn't back in the Infirmary, and even Irvine wouldn't have been stupid enough to venture into the Training Centre, alone, in his condition.

Seifer checked anyway, just in case. He even checked with Garden reception in case the cowboy had seen fit to leave.

Stumbling through the dark, disused ballroom - the last place he knew to look - he vowed that if he wasn't here, Seifer was going back to the Infirmary and Irvine could go to hell. Or at least, back to wherever he'd been hiding. He wasn't about to waste any more time, time he could spend, should spend with Squall. His footsteps echoed around the hollow room, in discordant tune with the patter of the drizzle on the domed glass ceiling.

He wasn't sure if he was relieved, or disappointed at the lanky silhouette standing out on the ballroom balcony, dressed only in old faded jeans and worn white shirt, and becoming steadily drenched in the light rain.

"For Hyne's sakes, are you trying to give Kadowaki another reason to hate me?" Seifer grumbled under his breath, pulling his trench coat around him tightly before stepping outside, the heavy glass door swinging shut behind him.

"What d'you want?"

"What do I…" Seifer blinked, rationale assaulted both by Irvine's casual audacity, and the fact that the rain was…warm. The sort of soft, tepid downpours that accompanied summer storms in Balamb. Which would have made sense if it was actually summer. "I've been running around all over this damn place looking for you, and you ask me that?"


"Because we have to talk…"

"Do we?"

"I know you didn't tell me everything back in Deling. And after what happened today…"

"I…I couldn't do it, Seifer…" Irvine shook his head. "Maybe I should've, but I just looked at him and…"

"I know. Neither could I."

"But he…he knew, he could see that we'd never…and he didn't care. He still left both of us for dead."

"It wasn't him." Seifer frowned. "You said as much yourself, when you…"

Irvine turned around to face him, and even in the darkness Seifer could see the tears mingling with the rain.

"I lied."

…and worse, and worse…

"How come that doesn't really surprise me?"

"Maybe you just know me too well, huh?" Irvine went back to leaning on the balcony rails, staring vacantly at nothing. "An' I guess it wasn't really lying. Just kinda…jugglin' the facts. When I found him in Deling, he was…okay. He was just Squall, y'know? Moody, quiet…but somethin' was botherin' him, even then. Course, he ain't gonna talk to me about it, so I didn't press, but…I kinda wish I had. If I'd known how things'd work out, I'd never…"

A tiny bit of the jigsaw suddenly clicked snugly into place.

"You told him, didn't you?"

"I…I couldn't keep lyin' to him Seif. Couldn't keep pretendin'. It came down to choosin' between playin' your game, or him, and I…"

"Chose him."

"I'm sorry Seifer, I…"

"You could have just told me. You could have called the whole thing off, you didn't have to just…fucking disappear."

"If I'da told you, you'd just have changed my mind. And it woulda been real easy… I knew it was a bad decision, but…"

There were dozens of questions he wanted to ask, but the answers to each would mean knowing more about the past two years than he was ready to accept. Instead, he stared blankly through the drizzle, in the vague direction of where he knew the lights of Balamb glittered beyond the gloom.

"Nothin' was goin' on." Irvine began nervously. "Between him and Rinny, I mean. Nothin' at all, an' I gotta tell you she didn't seem all that cut up about it. They weren't…"

But were you?

"So what were they doing? Why did they leave together?"

"He wouldn't tell me. I…I got the impression that he was tryin' to keep us out of danger. That they knew somethin', they were on to somethin' big, and…he never said it, but I just got the feelin' he left Garden to keep it safe."

"Or to keep something that's in here safe…" Seifer muttered. "How long were they in Deling?"

"Maybe…eighteen months."

"Eighteen months?" Seifer blinked. "Eighteen fucking months, and you never… who's idea was it, huh? His or yours?"

"Both, I guess…he wouldn't let me tell you. He'd get all panicked an' make me swear I'd never tell you where he was…" Irvine laughed softly. "And hell, I had no problem with that…"

"Ever the professional, huh Kinneas?"

"Hey hey, I wasn't technically on the payroll at the time. I figured my not gettin' in touch was as good as any resignation letter."

"Then why the fuck did you ever agree to it? If you knew all along you'd renege on me the second you found him…" Seifer shook his head. "Fuck, how the hell could I be so stupid…"


"I asked you because I honestly thought I could trust you. I though that you cared enough about him that you'd be able to handle it. You never had any intention of telling me, did you? Just use my resources, my information, my fucking Gil, just so you could get to him before I did!"

"No! Not…not exactly…" Irvine sighed. "When you first suggested it, I swear it never even crossed my mind. I was goin' through the same damn hell as you were Seifer. I know you don't believe me, but it broke my heart seein' what you were goin' through. I'da done anythin' to find him, bring him back. And I'da done anythin' to stop you hurtin' so much…"

"Please." Seifer scoffed. "All we ever were was a convenience, Kinneas. Kinda like getting Squall by proxy. You served your purpose, you don't have to pretend you ever cared about me."

"Like I said, believe what you like. But no-one else woulda taken your idea seriously. And it ain't as if you had many options when it comes to undercover stuff."

Unfortunately, that was pretty accurate. Aside from himself, there had been no-one else Seifer could have asked to accept the `mission` to locate and recover the missing pair. The skills Irvine had as a sniper really weren't all that different to that of a spy. He hadn't put much faith in the archetypal extrovert's aptitude for that kind of work, but he'd been pleasantly surprised. At least, after that violent argument about the haircut. And the one about the hat.

It had nothing at all to do with the strategic removal of temptation. Nothing at all…

"Fuck, it really hits a low when the best intelligence SeeD I have is a double-crossing whore who can't keep his mouth shut."

"That's a damn stupid thing to say, an' you know it." Irvine glared at him. "You know, I'm actually glad I didn't tell you 'bout him. You never deserved someone like him. I'll never understand why Squall admired you so much, but I always knew he was too fuckin' good for you."

"What, and you're good enough for him?"

"No. But then, I never claimed any different." Irvine shrugged. "Maybe the guy just prefers a little honesty, huh?"

In less than a heartbeat, Seifer had a fistful of Irvine's shirt, pinning the cowboy back against the leafy wall of the balcony, his voice low.

"No-one would ask any questions, you know. It'd just be a tragic accident. Wandering off alone after receiving an injury like that? Everyone heard Kadowaki warn you to take it easy. You know combat magic's a fickle thing. Curagas can only do so much Kinneas. It's hardly unheard of for newly healed scars to reopen later, and here you were, no-one else around to help you…"

"Don't fucking threaten me Almasy. This just goes to fuckin' prove it, you don't deserve him. You never did. You sure as hell don't deserve the way he cared about you. Do you have any idea how it feels, knowin' I'da done anythin' for him, fuck it I'da died for him today if I had to, all the damn time knowin' that he was still in love with you?"

The death grip on Irvine's shirt loosened a fraction.

"Do you have any idea…" Irvine went on, "what it's like pullin' him close in the middle of the night, listenin' to him whisperin' your name? Or what it's like havin' to leave him in Timber, knowin' what's gonna happen, and still promisin' I'll never bring you into this cause he wanted to protect you?"

"Timber? But…"

"They just up an' left Deling a few weeks back. I was tellin' the truth about that. I tracked them to Timber, but….it was already too late. They'd changed. Wasn't that bad at first, dunno 'bout her, but he still had a little control. He…" Irvine turned his face away, a tear sliding down his cheek. "He forced me to leave. Made me promise not to tell you. I…I told him you could help him, that we could find a way to stop it…and he said that it was too late, there was only one way to stop them, and he knew that if you saw each other again…that you wouldn't be able to do it. You wouldn't be able to kill them…"

"Oh, Gods…"

"Do you have any idea what it's like…" Irvine brought his gaze back to Seifer's, tears of horror and defiance spilling down his face. "To know I could have prevented all this? To know that she's dead, and he's lyin' in the Infirmary in Hyne knows what condition, all because of me? If anythin' happens to him Seifer, I…"

"That's why…" Seifer frowned, recalling the look in the cowboy's eyes when he yielded to Squall. "You didn't lose your nerve, did you? You wanted him to…"

"And he did." Irvine smiled sadly at him through his tears. "Because it's all I deserve, and he knew that. When they told me you brought me back, I didn't know whether to kill you or kiss you…"

"Hyne…you idiot!" he shook his head, releasing his hold on Irvine's rain-soaked shirt with a half-hearted shove. "You dumb, fucking idiot…"

"I'm sorry…" Irvine's wavering composure shattered. "I'm so sorry Seifer…I'm sorry I couldn't protect him for you…I couldn't keep him safe…"


As easily as falling into the well-rehearsed steps of an old dance, he drew Irvine into his arms and pulled him close. The cowboy hesitated for a moment, before his fingers curled tightly into the back of Seifer's coat, and he buried his face against the Commander's shoulder, sobbing quietly.

"It's not your fault…" he murmured against rain-darkened auburn hair.

"I shoulda told you…"

"Maybe. But if he'd made me promise to keep quiet, I wouldn't have told a soul either." Seifer sighed. "I don't think the little brat realises how much control he has over us…"

"But he could have…"

"Ssshh. He didn't. He's alive, he's safe, he's going to be fine." Hyne, he was glad Irvine couldn't see his eyes right now, couldn't see how hard he was working to make the lie sound convincing. "What we did, or didn't do, doesn't matter anymore. It's done." He pulled back slightly, staring down into red-rimmed violet eyes. "Besides, it wouldn't have made a difference. It's not your fault…" he repeated, brushing away a stray tear from Irvine's cheek. "And I don't want you to keep blaming yourself, do you understand?"

"But I…"

"Do you understand?" he asked again, softly.

Irvine just nodded, reaffirming his almost desperate hold on the grey trench coat, resting his head back on the blond's shoulder, his breath coming in soft, warm shudders against Seifer's neck.

Hyne, it felt good to have someone in his arms again. It had been too long, way too long, since the last time…

If he just closed his eyes, he could almost feel the clock spinning backwards, time unravelling to days when all he had to worry about was the next SeeD exam, dreaming up a new way to make Chickenwuss angry, and convincing Squall to cut class and head back to the dormitory just a little early…

He should have let that insane bitch compress time. Looking back, it was a pretty good idea.

He was jolted, disorientated, from his thoughts by the realisation that it wasn't just Irvine's breath against his throat anymore.

"Irvine…" his resistance consisted of just that weak mumble. Even as his mind was screaming at him to let go and walk away, a stronger, more primitive instinct wouldn't even allow him to break the embrace, or pull away from the gentle lips against his skin.

Need. Pure, simple, uncomplicated need.

"Sorry…" Irvine turned his head abruptly breaking the contact. "I didn't mean…Old habits, I guess."


Yet neither of them moved. Off the top of his head, Seifer could think of a hundred good reasons why they should, but…

One good reason why they shouldn't.

If he just closed his eyes…

"You don't have to pretend you ever cared…"

Irvine tensed momentarily in his arms, then melted into the kiss like liquid seduction, talented tongue demandingly familiar against Seifer's, tasting like rain, and tears, and hunger.

The kiss deepened as Seifer backed Irvine up against the wall again, the cowboy's hands sliding beneath the folds of his coat, warm fingers hooking into the waistband of Seifer's pants. He ran his hands down Irvine's back, feeling wiry muscle under thin damp fabric, and down over the subtle flare of a taut, denim-clad ass. Curling his hands beneath Irvine, Seifer lifted him, parting the cowboy's thighs with one of his own.

Irvine broke the kiss with a pained whimper, just as the added weight on his injured leg brought black spots dancing in Seifer's vision.

But battle wounds had never stopped either of them before. It wasn't as though their encounters had ever been painless. It just meant he couldn't be quite as rough as he'd intended, that's all…

Shrugging out of his trench coat, they followed it's path, dropping to their knees on the balcony floor. Seifer's fingers wound mercilessly in Irvine's hair, their lips more devouring than kissing, as the sniper's deft hands made short work of the Commander's belt, and zipper. One of those deft hands splayed against his chest, gentle pressure forcing him back, while the other purposefully closed around his hard shaft, and began moving in firm strokes.

Oh, sweet fucking Hyne…too long, too damn long…

His back arched, hips bucking almost uncontrollably into that teasing grip, the tepid rain cool on his feverish flesh. Electricity was already beginning to zing through Seifer's nerves, but the soft touch of Irvine's lips against the sensitive tip of his erection felt like being struck by an agonising bolt of sensual lightning. His head fell back, incoherent encouragement falling from his lips as the cowboy's mouth opened around his aching arousal, immediately taking him in deep with a series of knowing licks.

Breath coming in shallow gasps, Seifer opened his eyes, savouring the sweet, intimate touch, and the cleansing raindrops that stung his eyes, clung to his lashes, and trickled down his flushed face.

At least, he kept convincing himself it was just the rain…


Irvine let out a squeak of surprise as Seifer pulled away from that confident mouth, and unceremoniously tipped the cowboy onto his back. Schooling his hands to shop shaking, he peeled off those impossibly tight jeans, throwing the garment aside before kneeling between Irvine's legs.

He tried to ignore it, but they both noticed Seifer's gaze lingering on the long, angry jagged scar that crossed Irvine's belly, a few inches above his urgent, weeping erection.

Gods, amazing really that either of them were physically capable of this. He could just see them both passing out when what little blood they had left drained completely from their brains, and having to explain to whoever found them exactly what they'd been doing…

Assuming either of them were actually using their brains…

Shaking away that encroaching, sobering logic, Seifer roughly pushed Irvine's legs up, and further apart. Relying on the drying saliva and the drizzling rain to ease his path a little, he entered the inviting body beneath him with one hard thrust.

Oh, Gods…

Distantly, he heard Irvine gasp his name, felt the cowboy reach up for him, demanding an embrace to which Seifer couldn't yield. Eventually, the yearning fingers settled for gripping the blond's upper arms, as long legs crossed behind his back, pulling him even deeper inside.

But all that was happening on the periphery of his senses, felt almost superfluous. Head back, lips parted in a silent groan, eyes squeezed closed, all Seifer could concentrate on was the exquisite heat, and velvet tightness constricting in pulsating waves around him as he moved.

That, and the traitorous tear that slid from the corner of his eye, gliding down his cheek.

He bit back a sob as trembling fingers reached up and brushed the tear away, before the warm palm cupped the side of his face.

What weakening restraint he had snapped at that. He grabbed Irvine's wrists, pinning them ruthlessly to the floor as he continued to drive fiercely into the cowboy, ignoring the faint struggles and muffled protests. The increased friction between their rain-slick bodies elicited a soft moan from the sniper, his long, graceful frame arching up against Seifer, muscles clenching maddeningly tight. The blond thrust harder in response, pulse pounding like a freight train behind his eyes, as each brutal stroke sent the desperate, white-hot climax racing closer.

Irvine cried out, coming hard against the Commander's stomach in a hot, forceful rush. Seifer buried himself deep inside the cowboy with one final push, fingers biting savagely into delicate wrists as his orgasm hit, blinding and overwhelming and powerful and…


He couldn't be certain for a split second which one of them said it. Even though he could almost taste the word on his own lips.

When he was reasonably sure he could move without blacking out, he pulled away from Irvine, shuffling unsteadily to sit back against the balcony railings. Zipping up his pants, and trying to bring his ragged breathing under control, he felt the tortuously familiar guilt sinking it's claws into his heart.

"You're pathetic…you're nothing."

"A convenience…like getting Squall by proxy."

"You never deserved someone like him…I always knew he was too fuckin' good for you…maybe the guy just prefers a little honesty…"

Squall…Oh, Gods, Squall…I'm sorry, baby, I'm so sorry…

A soft, sad laugh dragged him back from the edge of that welcoming void. Irvine was still sprawled lazily on the balcony floor like some erotic centrefold, hands smoothing along the fabric of Seifer's discarded coat. Brought back to the all too real present, Seifer found himself having to face that suddenly awkward moment.

"Irvine, I…"

"Don't worry 'bout it darlin'…told you before, ain't like it's the first time one of you's done that." A half-lidded violet gaze blinked at him. "I guess it'd bother me if I was ever under any illusions that either of you ever wanted me. Actually, it's kinda romantic…but as far as goodbyes go, that one was pretty sweet Commander…"

"Goodbye?" Seifer frowned, retrieving Irvine's jeans from the corner into which they'd been thrown, and handing them to the cowboy. "You're not planning on disappearing again are you?"

"Hell no." Irvine shrugged. "You think I'd just fuck off an' leave at a time like this? An' I know you're not dumb enough to think this whole mess is over. If you're askin' me, you probably need all the qualified SeeDs you can get, right?" he stood, pulling on his jeans, and fixing Seifer with an uncharacteristically serious stare. "I was talkin' 'bout our…arrangement."


"I might not like it, but…no-one's ever been able to deny it, includin' me. The two of you belong together." Irvine turned back to stare into the night, elbows resting casually on the balcony rails, as though nothing had happened. As though it wasn't still raining, even heavier than before.

Seifer picked up his coat, draping it over his arm. He reached the door, hand hesitating on the ornate handle.

"Irvine, I never meant to…"

"Yeah, I know. Forget it…" the cowboy didn't turn around, just acknowledged Seifer with a dismissive wave of his hand. "So like, what are you waiting for? There's somewhere a lot more important you need to be right now…"

It occurred to him, halfway through the deserted ballroom that he hadn't even bothered to ask Irvine if he was okay. Considering the nature of the sniper's injury, there probably wasn't a humanly executable position that wouldn't have hurt, but…

He considered going back. Stood in the cavernous room for a long moment just watching the rain lash as the glass, before turning away, boots conspicuously loud in the empty corridors.

The Infirmary was dark, warm and quiet when he carefully slid the door open. Just the same faint glow from the dim lamplight by the bed. Selphie was curled up in the chair, knees tucked up to her chin, asleep. She jumped up as he patted her shoulder.

"Wha…?" she blinked. "I wasn't sleeping, I was just…"

"It's okay." He shook his head, forcing a smile. "Thanks for staying with him Sefie. Now go get some rest, okay?"

"No problem…" she yawned. "I guess I can't convince you to do the same, huh?"

"I wouldn't sleep anyway."

"Well, you know where I am if you need anything…" she shuffled sleepily towards the door, pausing long enough to lay a small, anxious hand on his arm. "He's gonna be fine, Seifer. He's a fighter, always has been. You'll see…he'll be all right."

"Thanks Selphie…" he whispered after she left, relieved that he'd been able to hold back the tears until she was gone.

Pulling the chair closer to the bed, he linked his fingers with Squall's cool, still ones, leant his head on to the barely moving chest, and wept.


To Be Continued…



Authors Notes:

Woo-hoo, Seshat's back from holiday, refreshed, revitalised and carrying around reams and reams of hand-written fics! Thought this should be the first thing I typed up though. Extra long chapter too, (a whoppin' 7500 words!) to make up for the delay. Hope you guys liked it. If anyone's interested, other stuff that just requires typing include a couple of short, angsty SeiferXSquall oneshots (one of which could read like the sequel to `Actions Speak Louder`), a slightly longer, no-less-angsty SeiferXIrvine fic, and…well, the last one's a surprise. Actually, I'm not even sure it's fit to post, being an utterly shameless, very *very* graphic PWP (very!).

Had fun with this chapter (not just for obvious reasons…:fans self: Seshat's got a real soft spot for SeiferXIrvine, can'tcha tell?!), I really wanted to put a little depth and clarification into various relationships. (And confuse the hell out of you all, naturally…) And before you all start threatening me, this *IS STILL* a SeiferXSquall. I *TOLD* you the smut might not be what you expected/wanted. And what kind of monster do you think I am?! Poor Squall's still unconscious!! That would just be, um…uh…well, ah…not for this chapter, anyway. Things probably take a turn for the disturbing after this chapter. I'm *so* not done with poor Irvy yet, or with character death (but possibly not in that order…).

As always, please review! Not as always (cause I tend to forget :blushes:…it's the GF's I tell ya!!!) a big **THANK YOU** to everyone who's already reviewed. Your encouragement and kind words really do make my day! :hugs:

Wow, the notes are longer than the fic!! 'Kay, I'm off to give Irvine a well-deserved…hug (hey, what did you think I was gonna say?!).

BTW, does anyone know if it's physically possible to scan doujinshis without mangling the book beyond all recognition? Jus' curious…

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