Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to the Final Fantasy series. They belong to Squaresoft.
Let Me Make It Alright
Chapter 35: The Fall of the Ice Prince
By Angry Angel
Startled, Seifer jumped and almost toppled head first out of his chair, as the voice that his musings had drowned out until then was cutting sharply into his conscience at last. Haphazardly raking together his senses, he whipped around and stared straight into the curiously furrowed faces of Doc Kadowaki and Quistis Trepe. Both stood slightly bent over next to him, eyeing him in what almost seemed like concern over his sanity.
"Are you awake?" the tall blonde girl asked intrigued, whilst looking at him as if he was some sort of weird insect.
Seifer rubbed the slightly dishevelled back of his head, while semi-consciously concealing the small piece of jewelry in the depths of his fist. Just how long had he been spacing out in the common room already? What time was it? What time had Rinoa interrupted him to begin with?
He was starting to develop a headache.
"Yeah," he grunted in exasperation.
"Didn't look like it."
He scowled at her, not really in the right mood for typical Quistis asperity. Next to her, the doctor had straightened up and was studying the young man with subtle interest.
"How are you feeling, Seifer?"
"Good. And how is Squall?"
Seifer could see how the expression on Quistis' face changed and something oddly similar to pain lit up in her eyes. Of course, he knew that the SeeD instructor had always been rather fond of the brunette war prodigy, even during their time as students. He had never been quite sure of how deep her interest ran, but judging by her slanted features, she was rather upset over Squall's condition. Then again, who wasn't?
"He's alright. He caught a cold last night, but other than that he's okay," Seifer shrugged.
The blonde saw no need in laying out to them exactly how bad the previous evening had been. That memory was between him and Squall and nobody else, until the brunette would decide to share it.
Unfortunately, though, Quistis appeared unwilling to content herself with as little information as that.
"What happened out there, Seifer? Why was he bleeding?"
He leaned back in his chair ever so slightly, a certain dominance mingled with a mute threat now flowing into his brilliantly green eyes.
"You were the one that paraded around with Rinoa and Squall's father at her hand; what do you think happened, Trepe?"
There was a calm menace about him, typical for predators and so intimidating that it unsettled even Quistis' cool.
"I... I didn't know... I mean, what was I supposed to..."
He stood up roughly, minding neither her nor the doctor having to scoot out of his way.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," he hissed contemptuously.
At the commanding sound of Kadowaki's voice, he turned around reluctantly.
"What happened there last night was very unfortunate. Nobody here was able to predict such developments in Laguna Loire's private life. All we can do now is help Squall recover and prevent any more damage."
"That's why," Quistis continued slightly more confident, "The President and Rinoa are going to leave tonight. They understand that their presence is not aiding Squall's recovery at the moment."
"Wisdom struck them a little late," Seifer snarled sarcastically.
"Yes, but better late than never," the doctor interrupted, "Seifer, do you still feel up to the task of helping Squall?"
The blonde shifted slightly.
What an entirely ridiculous question.
"Of course I do," he huffed.
"Good. I trust your medical capabilities concerning colds and basic flesh wounds, but I would like to see Squall nonetheless. Not tonight though, it's getting a little late, and since you assured us that he is doing well I think this can wait another day."
Judging by Quistis' face, Seifer knew immediately that the instructor was disappointed. She had probably been dying to see Squall and interrogate him about the night's events. He frowned. Why was everybody too dim to see that Squall didn't need people fussing and asking questions that only ended up troubling him even more?
Either way, it didn't matter. He had let them hurt Squall once, to an extent to where the fragile brunette had almost committed suicide. The like was not going to happen again, he was going to make sure of that, even if it involved having to hurl every single idiot out of their apartment by brute force. Squall needed peace, and Seifer was going to make sure that he'd get it... by any means necessary.
Suddenly, he remembered something else.
"My punishment," he started slowly, "What's going to happen?"
"I talked to Cid and Edea about that," Kadowaki answered, while throwing an implacable side glance at the scowling woman at her side, "The jeep that you took has been found outside the Garden facilities, and even though we very much disapprove of your means, we believe that Squall is only safe thanks to your quick actions. So... we decided to exempt you from any further punishment. You suffer with Squall more than any of us, and he needs you now."
Seifer nodded absent-mindedly, both relieved and taken aback at the same time. Had they even heard about him punching the president of Esthar? He was admittingly surprised that neither Quistis nor the doctor had mentioned it, but he'd be damned before bringing the subject up himself.
"Thank you," he mumbled under his breath.
Sybil Kadowaki smiled ever so slightly, before suddenly putting a hand on his shoulder. Confused, he lowered his gaze to the smaller woman. He had never quite noticed how very old and wise her eyes looked, yet all the while warm and comforting. For just the glimpse of a second, he wondered if that was the way a mother looked at her children.
He wouldn't know, either way.
"Seifer," she tore him out of his dark musings, "Take care of Squall, but don't forget about yourself, either, do you hear me? You look pale. I think you underestimate Squall's strength. He needs you, but he can do without your assistance for a few hours, too."
'Maybe you overestimate his strength.'
In his eyes, she saw how that thought crossed his mind, but she said nothing, and neither did Seifer. As she removed her hand, she nodded.
"Well, we have some more things to attend to. Call if you need anything, and tell Squall that I will be checking on his condition tomorrow."
"Good night, Seifer."
He grunted something that, with much imagination, you could probably identify as "Night." The sight of Quistis still enraged him, as she brought back memories of the things that Squall had had to endure, but he knew that he owed much to Doc Kadowaki, as deeply as that knowledge bothered him. He wasn't one to depend on others, he never had been, thus the mere idea of being in someone's debt caved his spirits distinctly. Just what kind of guy was he turning into?
Shaking off the unnerving thought, he pivoted into the direction of their apartment. It wasn't until then that he remembered the tiny piece of silver dug into the palm of his right hand. Unclenching his fingers and slowing just slightly in his stride, he flicked his jade gaze to that shiny object, examining it for at least the dozenth time ever since Rinoa had entrusted him with it. He wondered a bit, not for the first time, at Squall's obvious obsession with lions, an obsession that had had its grip on the brunette for as long as Seifer could remember.
'Leonhart... wherever did he get that name from, anyway?'
Snapping his fist shut around the ring again and filing his curiosity away for now, he picked up his pace, wondering if Squall was still asleep. He would have to wake him up if he wanted to get back inside their apartment, there was no way around that. And once again he'd be bringing a 'gift'; he was becoming rather good at that, amongst other things. Not ever had he thought that he would be capable of remaining calm and unperturbed by Squall Leonhart's enticing, if frigid, presence and his stunning hurricane-like moods.
Maybe he was growing up after all.
That thought amused him, to an extent, before his attention was recaptured by the shut door barring his path to the inside of their place. He did consider prowling around for just a while longer, but interrupting Squall's sleep would be just as inevitable before long. Better to get it over with quickly.
He thumbed the buzzer next to the door just once, unlike Rinoa, who had obviously found much pleasure in abusing the small button. Waiting patiently and staring bleakly at the sleekness of the object in front of him, he was almost startled when it slipped open without the smallest of sounds. Somehow, he had expected to be loitering in the hallway for maybe a tad bit longer than that.
Perish the thought, not that he minded.
Stepping into the living room, Seifer turned aside immediately, his eyes tracking his surroundings eagerly in search for his roommate. Then, when his gaze finally found Squall's figure, his breath stilled to perfection.
Squall was standing motionless, one bandaged hand still resting against the opening contactor of the door mechanism, while his other arm hung loosely at his side. There was a certain stiff wariness about his posture, an irritable glint in the turbulent drowning pools of his eyes, but even so, Squall did not manage to extinguish even a fraction of his exceptional cuteness.
He was still wearing Seifer's shirt, which fell much too large from his shoulders and almost completely hid his hands in the depths of its sleeves, while without a doubt keeping him comfortable and warm. His bare, pale legs contrasted not so much with his light grey shorts, but with the granite colored marble tiles to his naked feet. Seifer had let his gaze drop down that far, only to rise back up to the algid perfection of Squall's face, hidden partly behind unruly rich brown bangs that hung delicately against veils of dark lashes and mirrors to a soul that gave away nothing.
There was an awkward silence, and Seifer couldn't bring himself to stop staring, as he perfectly realized that he was. Squall merely fixed him with mild curiosity, finally releasing his hand from the door button and causing it to hiss close soundlessly. Not trusting his tongue to produce the most appropriate words, Seifer carefully said nothing at all and held Squall's gaze until the brunette winced away just as it was common for him, and as the blonde had already been expecting him to anyway.
'He did keep eye contact longer than I thought, though.'
Seifer smiled inwardly at the impression, before raising the corners of his mouth in a matching show case of his satisfaction. Squall seemed slightly confused at the gesture, insecurely contemplating the emotions that Seifer so openly displayed. The more time he spent with the blonde, the less he understood. Why was Seifer smiling when there was no reason and no foundation for his apparent cheerfulness? What was there to smile about?
As Squall's nose crinkled involuntarily, Seifer had no troubles reading the brunette's mind. Biting down a laugh, he cleared his throat and continued studying Squall's face with open interest.
"Sorry for waking you up, I kinda forgot my key card. How are you feeling, anyway?"
"Aren't you cold like that?"
Chewing on the corner of his bottom lip, the younger boy looked like he was dying to ask Seifer a question or two, but his pride eventually got the better of him, as usual. The blonde decided that it was definitely close season for stubborn SeeD commanders, so he willingly played along, making it all as easy and uncomplicated for Squall as was practically possible.
"I talked to Rinoa, and she told me to give this back to you."
The flinch rocking through Squall's body, the way he inhaled sharply and his gaze dropped to the floor like a stone, gave away enough of the SeeD's acute pain and throbbing heartache at the sound of Rinoa's name. Nevertheless, his attention had been snared by the mention of a familiar item in Seifer's keeping.
When the blonde carefully extended his arm and uncoiled his bandaged fist, Squall was absorbed in the unexpected sight of the entity that probably came closer to LionHeart's preciousness than any mere thing that he had ever owned. His eyes grew wide on their own accord, staring in disbelief and recklessly abandoned remoteness as his face shone almost translucent.
"There... it's yours, Squall."
He was radiating bliss over Squall's poorly hidden shock and joy, though contradictory they might have been in the beginning. When the brunette hesitantly reached out and almost reverently took the ring in trembling fingers, Seifer retracted his hand and brought it to his mouth in the vain attempt to stifle a content laugh, knowing only too well that Squall would probably highly disapprove in the wrong assumption of thinking that he was being laughed at.
Still, he couldn't help but smirk.
"Well, glad to see that-"
What came after that, he hadn't seen coming, and much less so, expected.
At first, Squall had only stared at the ring in his palm, puzzled and hypnotized at the same time. Then, however, his slate blue eyes had flicked upwards to snap themselves to Seifer's face, unable to quell the revealing glitter of wetness spangling in their very corners.
It was then that the blonde had wanted to finish his sentence, to somehow ease the pain that was always mingling with Squall's joy, when he was effectively cut short by a pair of slender arms suddenly flinging themselves around his body, causing him to take a surprised half-step backwards before robbing him from his breath with the force of unexpectedness. He didn't even know what exactly Squall was doing until he felt the brunette's frame pressing against his own, drowning entirely in the swirling vortex of his own shook up senses as the quivering boy dug his head into the nape of his neck and whispered ever so breathlessly against his skin.
Seifer stood frozen in awe with his heart thumping so heavily inside his chest that it hurt. Blinking, he stared down upon the top of Squall's head, or as much as he could see of it, anyway, as the brunette was crumpled against him. He knew better than to try and think, to try and understand and maybe risk breaking that dreamy moment, so he simply allowed his instincts to take control as his hands hesitantly travelled across the smaller guy's back, very gently encircling him before he dared to tighten the embrace.
"Squall..." he murmured softly, surprise still swaying in his voice.
And even though he reciprocated the hug more vigorously now by drawing Squall even closer into himself, the trembling body in his arms did not pull away. Squall was curled against him, desperately searching for support and comfort as his head was spinning in total pandemonium. His breath brushed against Seifer's neck, fast and flat and rasp with strain. Softly cooing, the blonde brought one hand up and dug it into Squall's hair, where he started running it through the brown feathery gentleness in vague circles, while never ceasing to steady the brunette with his other arm as he crushed them both together.
Soothing Squall had almost become a ritual, but never, not once, had Seifer anticipated the younger to seek comfort on his own accord. Yet there he was, drowning himself in an embrace that he had initiated solely on his own, probably for the very first time in his forever withdrawn life. Somehow, Seifer had urged him out of his self-defensive forlorn shell and successfully torn down those stubborn walls of loathe and fear and shame.
And for once, Squall was offering no resistance at all.
Seifer savored the moment much more than he had ever thought that he would. Squall spooned against him so effortlessly that he started to wonder whether they had both been created for that very embrace of their, on the surface, so different bodies. It was so perfectly natural, yet so incredibly extraordinary that it rocked both of them to the core.
As Squall closed his eyes, he could feel himself falling freely into an abyss of gentle nothingness, but he wasn't scared by that comprehension. He had never felt safer and more at peace than in those reassuring arms.
Seifer could hear Squall sigh softly, and not for the first time he found himself wondering how he had ever lived without being able to hold the brunette's frail frame as close as was physically possible without their bodies becoming one. Nothing had ever felt so good, and nothing had ever felt so right. He didn't know what was going on inside the younger's head and what exactly it was that he was seeking, but no matter what Squall could possibly be looking for, he was willing to give it to him.
They remained rooted to that spot for a long time, neither of them daring to break the contact, when suddenly, something inside Squall stirred. It was just a thought, a nag almost, but it was gaining power. Maybe this wasn't right after all, were they really supposed to be hugging each other like that? Granted, it felt good, but hadn't everything in his life that had ever felt good either disappeared or turned out to be a lie in the end? Could he really trust Seifer like that? Hyne, could he even trust himself? What did he know of feelings?
Those new and yet age old fears quickly quenched his excitement and the serenity in his heart, blending it with confusion and mistrust. There was no part of him that really wanted to break the calming embrace and shatter the illusion of safety, but he urged himself to be stronger than that. His psyche was muddled, he couldn't drop his defenses like that, he was a SeeD after all, a mercenary, and that part of his life gave shape to all the rest of him.
Somehow, though, forcing those things into his mind had become difficult.
Who was he fooling?
Seifer could feel the hands at his back clench to fists, and he immediately grew alert. Squall had fallen distinctly stiffer in his arms, which was always a bad sign.
It was time to act.
Deciding that it was better to let Squall go instead of having him pull away by force, Seifer moved his hands to the brunette's shoulders and eased their bodies apart. Suppressing a mournful sigh at the loss of contact was rough, but he was becoming somewhat good at giving in for the better cause.
Squall was staring up at him when he was torn out of his dark reflections, his eyes wide and almost helpless. Seifer smiled, a smile that assured "It's alright", showing that he wasn't upset. He could see how Squall was struggling with his inner demons, a fight so delicate that they were both bound to lose if either of them tried just a little too hard.
"Well," he broke their silence deliberately blithe, still cupping Squall's shoulders, "Didn't think you'd be quite that happy. I should really get you jewelry more often."
He winked, a flash of his typical charm and mild arrogance. It resulted in Squall blushing a furious shade of crimson and quickly casting his eyes down towards the ground. Once more, Seifer found himself fascinated by the brunette's incomparable cuteness. Just how much longer he would be able to contain his feelings he didn't know; it was becoming more arduous by the minute. He knew that sooner or later, he would crack, and then what? He couldn't imagine Squall to be able to handle more intimacy than a shy hug or a fleeting touch, but he was of course hoping to be proven wrong in the end.
For now, though, his attention was caught by a hoarse, painful cough tumbling from the very depths of Squall's chest. He frowned inevitably.
"You shouldn't be standing here like that, get your cute ass back into bed. You're sick."
Squall's blush deepened at the soft teasing and he frantically avoided Seifer's attentive gaze.
'Why is he so... so...'
The brunette frowned.
'Great, I don't even have words for it anymore. Why doesn't he make me angry like he used to? What... changed? Did anything change at all? I don't understand. I wish I could cast one glimpse inside his head and see what the hell he is thinking. This isn't the Seifer that I used to know. I mean... I liked him the way he was... I think. But now... I really don't know. I just know that I... I don't want him to leave.'
Startled by that sudden realization, Squall twitched and a hiss of breath escaped his lips. Still gasping, he returned his fathomless gaze to Seifer, and the blonde could see that the calm in those eyes had been shattered. Frowning, he leaned forward just slightly, focusing on that unnerved flicker rippling over the surface of those deep, storm torn seas of blue.
When he received no physical reaction, he folded his unbandaged hand against the brunette's forehead. It was still warm to the touch, but he didn't find it hot enough to be suggesting another fever. Still, the engrossed look in Squall's eyes belied that impression.
"Squall, hey! What's wrong?"
Finally, Squall snapped. Turning his focus outward, he was almost shocked to find Seifer's face so close to his own, a frown etched into the luminous golden features.
"Sei... I..." he stuttered, then stopped. "Nothing."
Seifer grunted angrily, even more so when Squall shrugged off his hands. It wasn't even so much that Squall felt uncomfortable or anything, but he was afraid to say things that he might regret a little further down the road. Even if it was true that he didn't want Seifer to leave him, he didn't have any inclination to let the other know. Not yet, anyway. Too new were those feelings, and too scary all along. He had no idea what it meant.
"I'm tired," he mumbled under his breath.
The other gunblader stood petrified, not for one second taking his eyes off the younger SeeD. Something had changed. He didn't know what it was and what exactly it entailed, but Squall seemed incredibly frightened. Even as Seifer strained the very abysms of his memory, he could not recall a single time that Squall Leonhart had looked so unbelievably terrified. What was he panicking over?
"You sure nothing's wrong?"
"Yeah. Just... tired," Squall muttered, avoiding any eye contact.
'You're a pathetic liar. You always have been. You're far too good at hiding things... but you couldn't lie to save your own life. You just don't have it in you.'
Those thoughts crossed Seifer's mind, but he didn't vocalize them of course. Whatever it was that troubled Squall, he obviously wasn't interested in sharing. As usual, the brunette chose martyrdom over cooperation and, Hyne forbid, anybody's help, no matter how freely it was being offered.
"If you say so."
Casting the other a last meaningful look, Seifer disappeared into the kitchen. Squall stood unsteady for a moment, before settling himself onto the edge of the mattress with a grave expression.
"Lay back down, Squall," Seifer rumbled from behind the counters, "Want some tea?"
"I... yeah. Please."
Seifer smothered a chuckle at the taut strain in Squall's voice as he had spluttered a quiet "please." The younger boy was far from impolite, he had been taught manners after all, but that particular little word was probably one of the least used in Squall's extensive vocabulary of monosyllables. The brunette avoided to ask for things at all cost, and when he did wrestle himself out of his shell just far enough to do it, he usually made sure to sound as cold and careless as even possible. Apparently, he was trying though, and that insight licked down Seifer's soul like warm honey.
Indeed, Squall was no longer the untouchable ice prince. He had displayed feelings and emotions, though fragile they might have been. For a moment, Seifer halted as he was putting tea bags into two large mugs and inflected upon that cognition.
'The ice prince is thawing up at last. Who would have thought.'
With his lips stretching into an almost silly smile, he poured hot water from a kettle and floated in the aromatic, soothing vapors of their herbal tea. He even added some lemon and sugar to Squall's, by then having caught up on the other's preferences... the ones concerning his drinks, anyway.
Hot and sweet.
Grinning, he grasped each cup with one hand and returned to the living room, where he froze immediately as his emerald gaze trailed to the bed.
Squall was lying on his side and dangerously close to the edge of the mattress. Sound asleep. His chest was raising gently, his eyes closed behind darkly rimmed lids as he was surrounded by an almost super-natural glow.
He was an angel, if Seifer had ever seen one.
Sighing, the blonde took a careful sip of his tea, before setting both of the mugs on their nightstand. He wasn't necessarily tired, but a sleeping Squall was just too hard to resist.
Scrambling across the lithe body wasn't difficult, and Squall didn't even wake up. Very gently, Seifer spooned him from behind, wrapping one arm tightly around the other and skillfully pulling him back to the middle of the bed.
"What am I gonna do with you..." he whispered soundlessly.
For the time being, he decided that curling up was definitely his best choice. He'd let himself be surprised by anything that would follow after that. After all, Squall was doing a much better job at conjuring up unexpected sweetness than Seifer would have ever imagined. And as he inhaled the scent of Squall's hair, their tea and the thick evening air, he was drifting off into a quiet slumber, long before he could notice that Squall was curling his arm across Seifer's sleepily, a content smile playing on his lips and no fear troubling his heart.
... until his conscience slipped off into that fathomless, plunging darkness of deep sleep, travelling to that dark, disturbing place where his soul was most vulnerable and defenseless against any attacks.
Where they were already waiting.
=To be continued!=
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