Chapter Six - Dancing with the Devil
~ When you dance with the devil, the devil don’t change. The devil changes you.
He stretched across the cold expanse of sheet beneath him, the absence of Squall’s warmth almost sharp in its perception. His scent lingered, but it was all that was left. Seifer’s eyes remained closed, unwilling to open them and admit that whatever sweetness he’d held through the night had been wrested from him in the harsh light of day.
He’d felt Squall’s reluctance, known it for his own, and yet he hadn’t asked him to stay.
Reaching blindly along the edge of the mattress, he welcomed the clarity that came with such cool crispness. It was too soon. Too soon to grasp his arm and order him back to bed. Too soon to release the tenuous hold he had on his temper and demand, just once, demand that Squall look at him. Forget his damned charity and really see Seifer Almasy. Whoever the hell he really was…It was getting to the point where Seifer didn’t recognize the cool emerald stare in the mirror anymore. So many months of holding it back, beating it down, it had wrought changes in him. Major changes.
He’d purposefully kept the truth from Squall. Where he’d been, what he’d been doing all this time. Maybe one day he’d tell him. Maybe. Right now the thought of reliving those early days had the power to send him further into himself. To a place he didn’t want to visit ever again. He had a feeling that Squall wouldn’t understand.
He rolled to his back, stretching his long body under the blankets, reveling in the simple feeling of completion. It had been a long while since he’d felt…content. He wasn’t going to give it up this time; he was going to hold on to some sense of normalcy if it killed him.
Reaching over his head, he let his hands curl under his pillow as he let his mind wander over the events of the previous night. Of course he’d known Squall was coming for him. He had his sources, after all, and news of the President’s son trying to slip unnoticed into town had spread like flames through a forest. The Estharian underground had more efficient ways of trading information than the most sophisticated government. Seifer had known the second he’d stepped across the city limits, belts jangling and hair blowing in the breeze. But he didn’t really need to be told. Seifer could feel him. In the subtle change of the wind, he’d felt him. And it was for that very reason that Seifer had accepted Squall’s shy kisses last night. It was time. Time for them to be what they should have been to one another since this whole thing started.
Whether he knew it or not, Squall Leonhart was his and his alone. He’d marked him for himself when they were just boys and it wasn’t something Seifer took lightly. Squall would understand it soon enough and until he was ready to accept what couldn’t be changed, Seifer would wait. It was what he was good at. He’d done it this long, hadn’t he?
Prepare yourself, Commander mine. The game is on.
Squall hesitated at the bottom of the stairs, listening to the rattle of plates and such. Laguna and Kiros were obviously having breakfast. Great. Mindless chatter. Just what he was looking forward to on a morning where he wanted nothing more than to crawl right back into bed.
Whose bed? The nagging little voice in the back of his mind asked him silkily. Squall frowned. He would not begin talking to himself. Being in this Palace was bad enough, he refused to give himself more reasons to relate to Laguna.
But, sanity aside, he couldn’t stop thinking of the way Seifer had looked when he’d left his bed this morning. So vulnerable. As if he was the one who needed protection for once. Squall had to admit that the image of Seifer Almasy, errant knight, had need of protection. And from the one person he’d sworn to fight unto his grave. Seifer hadn’t meant the things he’d said during the war, Squall knew that as well as he knew his own name. But he also knew that Seifer was capable of more than anyone had ever given him credit for. His stoicism would serve him well in times of need and self-preservation was indeed a virtue as far as Seifer was concerned.
Squall shook his head slightly, his hair falling into his eyes. Why was he standing here daydreaming of Seifer when he had Laguna to deal with? He wanted to pray for guidance, but he didn’t quite know how and so he figured he’d get through this the same way he got through everything else. Blind Luck.
Kiros rustled the paper slightly as Squall entered the room. Heads up Brother.
Laguna looked up, one long tendril of hair falling over his eye; the softly curling ends threatening to drag into his plate. Kiros smiled softly, wanting to smooth it over Laguna’s shoulder himself, but not about to get up to do it.
"Laguna?" He called in his soft voice. Laguna turned his attention away from his son.
"Huh?" He asked absently.
Kiros tugged lightly on his own locks and nodded in Laguna’s direction. Laguna looked down, landing his hair right on his bagel and then he lifted his head as he flipped the wayward sweep of hair behind his shoulder. He offered Kiros a sheepish grin and Kiros closed his eyes, shaking his head slightly.
Squall almost smiled himself. He would have been embarrassed by the obvious closeness displayed between the two men had he not felt it for himself just hours ago. And while the emotions that had coursed through him were new and not a little intimidating, they were not embarrassing.
"Hi there, Squall. Sleep well?" He almost cringed as soon as the words left his mouth. The last thing he wanted was for Squall to know that he’d entered his room to find it empty. He didn’t want to make Squall any more uncomfortable than he already was.
"Uh. Yeah. Well enough, I suppose." He answered, wondering why he couldn’t answer the question quickly and then just shut the hell up.
Kiros turned his attention back to his newspaper. Somehow he doubted Mr. Commander would appreciate being the source of Kiros’ amusement.
"Good, good." Laguna sat up straighter, moving plates around, nudging a chair for Squall to sit in.
"Here, have some breakfast. I suppose you two have a long drive today, huh?"
Squall looked up and forgot to guard his emotions for he found himself locking eyes with his Father. Forest green eyes met cobalt blue ones and Squall felt the jolt throughout his body. His Father. After so long, this was what it felt like. To know your origins, to accept that you could look upon the someone who was responsible for your ability to draw breath.
It was humbling. And it was freaky as hell. Not something Squall was ready to accept. He needed time to adjust.
"Well, uh, I don’t think we’ll really need a vehicle. We’ll manage on our own."
Laguna looked at him, eyebrows drawn together.
"C’mon Squall, think about it, it’s too long for you two to travel without some sort of protection. I wouldn’t feel right about that."
Kiros lay his paper down, deep, dark eyes settling right on Squall and not wavering.
"Well, I…" He began, not liking the scrutiny he suddenly found himself facing. The guilt he felt at leaving the Palace as suddenly as he’d come was beginning to rear its ugly head. He didn’t want to feel beholden to Laguna as well.
Seifer chose that moment to make his entrance and just the way he seemed to fill the doorway wiped Squall’s thoughts away. They stood silently observing each other, words not coming easily, as if they ever had and it was Laguna who broke the strained silence.
"Good morning, Seifer."
Seifer managed to tear his eyes away from Squall and an easy smile spread across his sharp, even features.
"Thanks, you too."
His voice was still husky from sleep. Squall didn’t think he’d ever heard Seifer’s voice sound that way. It gave him chills along his spine.
"C’mon, guys, sit down, please, eat." Laguna offered, motioning toward the array of pastries and breads that were arranged so perfectly on the table.
Seifer chose the seat across from Kiros and diagonal from Laguna. That put Squall at the other head of the table. Point. Match.
Seifer reached across his plate and lifted a danish off of a silver serving tray. It shone in the morning sunlight, as though it had recently been polished. It was heavy, elaborate and had little bunnies at each end it. Seifer grinned.
"Sweet little tray, Laguna." He observed dryly, and Laguna knew he was teasing him good-naturedly. He blushed and tucked his hair behind his ear as he continued to spread some sort of fruit puree over his toast.
"Yeah. I have a sort of…attachment to it, I suppose. Brought it with me from Winhill, couldn’t leave it behind."
His voice turned nostalgic toward the end of his sentence and Seifer felt a little guilty for asking. It must have been Raine’s. Laguna gave a little half smile and continued.
"Strange, though, how I managed to bring the craziest things with me while I left my ability to reason back in that cottage. I might not have complete recollection of my last few days there, but I have a really gaudy serving tray to show for my time spent."
He probably would have gone on, having always been the type of person who couldn’t stop the words from pouring out once the floodgates had been opened. Foolish as it sounded, he felt it was rude to give someone only part of a story, even if his heart were breaking with the telling of it.
Kiros stopped him from recounting things that were better left buried and he rested his eyes on Squall, who was settling into his chair hesitantly, his belts clinking against his gunblade as he moved.
"I assure you, Commander, there will be no outbreak of battle here at the table." He stared pointedly at Squall’s weapon. Squall shrugged.
"Never rule out the possibility." He advised quietly.
Kiros narrowed his eyes and Seifer knew what was coming. Kiros might look like nothing more than delicate skin stretched across fragile bones that belied his regal heritage, but his appearance was a façade. While he looked like he should be doing nothing more than raising blue-blooded horses, drinking only the finest Scots Whiskey and lounging most comfortably in a scarlet brocade smoking jacket, Kiros was a retired soldier, a trained killer. And a damned good one. Seifer knew this from first hand experience, although that was something Squall probably didn’t need to know.
"Trust me, little cub, no one is getting through that front door without me knowing about it hours in advance. I assure you, you may rest easy while you’re here."
Squall resisted the urge to sneer at him. Barely.
"Is that right? How do you explain my presence?" He asked smoothly, a tone that Squall seldom used. He didn’t make a habit of being a show off. Now, however, was an instance where his status got the better of him.
"Easily. I let you into this city. I’d had only to say the word and you would have bathed in your own blood at the city limits." Quietly spoken and deadly serious, Squall didn't know whether to be glad that such a man was guarding his father, or angry that he’d been made a fool of. He settled for his usual reaction. Bored indifference.
"Interesting." He managed. Seifer grinned. Kiros had a tongue like a whip; he’d felt its sting more than once. But then, he was almost certain that Kiros had been the one who’d cleared the road for his emergence from hell. The worst kind of hell he could ever have imagined.
He shook his head. He would not think about it. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow. It was time to bury the past.
Laguna’s brows were drawn together in tension, the deep green of his eyes assessing the situation before him; most probably he was trying to think of something to say that would lighten the mood. Seifer saved him.
"Those are some pretty beads you’re wearing today, Kiros. Those new?" He asked, voice light and teasing.
Squall turned to stare at him, recognizing that voice. It was the one he reserved for Zell. When he was about to torment him, of course. Did he and Kiros know each other?
Kiros’ expression didn’t change, although he didn’t appear to be angry. Laguna grinned and snorted in amusement.
"Good one, Almasy."
Squall cringed. Laguna’s laugh tinkled like wind chimes. It made him want to crawl under the rug and vanish.
"Y’know, I was with him when he got those, he couldn’t make up his mind whether or not they would hang right, or something like that and I said to him, I said, ‘Kiros, I don’t know about those beads, I mean, they’re kind of girly and you remember that guy who got the crap beat out of him…’"
Squall closed his eyes. Hyne deliver me.
Kiros was regarding him with his dark, calm gaze and he shook his head slightly.
"Laguna…" One word, meant as a warning, although not menacing. Laguna grinned at him and winked.
"Yeah, sorry pal. Anyway, the point is…" He paused, scratching his head and realizing too late that he’d scratched his head with the hand that still held his breakfast.
"Oh, no. Look what I did." He looked at Kiros. "I’m so clumsy. Excuse me guys, I’ll be right back."
He retreated with a bashful grin and Kiros watched him go, eyes soft and unfocused, until he disappeared around the corner, the sound of him tripping on that first step causing a smile to play over the curve of Kiros’ lips. But when Laguna’s footsteps faded out of hearing range, Kiros turned to Squall with the grace of a long, dark panther. His dark eyes hardened, his red beads swinging against his dusky skin.
Seifer braced himself for the coming storm.
"I’m only going to say this one time, little lion. I don’t care if you’re the Commander of every Garden on this planet; you will not come into this Palace and treat Laguna with anything other than civility and respect. I realize it’s asking too much for you to show him a little warmth since you don’t seem to possess any, but know this: Laguna has suffered endlessly. Enough. I won’t have you shredding what heart he has left. He’s your father, whether or not you want to admit it, he is. I don’t think it will kill you to offer him a kind word every so often just to keep that smile on his face. Do we understand each other?"
Squall sat, smoldering under Kiros and Seifer’s collective gazes. His thumb stroked over the trigger of his gunblade and there was murder in his eyes. Seifer had once thought that his pride eclipsed that of his comrades by leaps and bounds, but not so anymore. Leonhart was all grown up and Seifer recognized the look in his eyes. It was the same one he used to wear. And sometimes still did. Although not as often.
"Squall." He warned, low and insistent.
Squall didn’t take his eyes off of Kiros.
"How dare you threaten me." It came out as a growl, a sound that had sent grown men scurrying for the shadows. Kiros didn’t bat an eyelash.
"I dare whatever I want, little cub. You want respect you better earn it and so far you haven’t shown me anything. What our lost one here sees in you is beyond me."
Seifer’s eyes widened and Squall finally broke the contest of wills, his gaze sliding easily to Seifer.
"What have you told him?" It didn’t sound like a question; it sounded like an order. Seifer shrugged. Kiros grinned.
"He tells me nothing. He doesn’t have to. Your empty bed speaks for itself. Don’t turn this into something ugly, Leonhart. Accept it, accept him. Start over."
Squall eased his hand away from his weapon.
"If you were anyone else I’d kill you where you sat." He told him neutrally.
Kiros acknowledged his promise with a slight incline of his head.
"And if you were anyone else you wouldn’t even be here." And, as an afterthought.
"He loves you. Don’t turn your back on him." He rose regally, laying his napkin beside his plate. It had barely a crease. He turned to go, paused in the doorway.
"And I wasn’t referring to your golden knight." And then he was gone.
Squall made a small choking sound and closed his eyes, mortification winning out against his rage. He didn’t look at Seifer, nor did he speak, but when he opened his eyes, he heard his rival’s voice, soft and amused, coming from his right.
"So. We staying another night?"
Squall nodded, rising, eyes averted. "Let me make a phone call."
Seifer leaned back in his seat, not ready to leave the table, but definitely on his way to being full.
"And then what?"
Squall turned, met his gaze, the look in his eyes holding him captive.
"And then we head outside."
Seifer raised an eyebrow. "Why the hell would we do that?"
Squall curled his lips in what Seifer supposed was his rendition of a smile.
"We’re going to dance."
Seifer sat up then, indignant and quite put out. "But I don’t have a weapon."
Squall’s smile never wavered. "I know."
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