Chapter Nine - Come Out and Play
You gotta keep ‘em separated
Zell drew back his fist almost as though he was suspended in time. Irvine watched the graceful line of his body as he drove the punch home and vanquished the light in the creature’s eyes. When it had faded out of sight, Zell stepped back, fists still raised, chest heaving from exertion and throughout it all, that irresistible sparkle in his blue eyes. Irvine couldn’t tear his eyes away.
"Good hit, Zell." He offered softly, his slow, easy drawl crawling over Zell like honey. He grinned, flashing fangs and revealing his mischievous nature as he always did. Many men had been lulled into a false sense of security when facing Zell in battle. It was those eyes and that disarming little grin. It hid the power beneath it all, and hid it well. He looked like a Boy Scout to Irvine, and damn if he hadn’t always had a thing for those cute little uniforms.
"It was nothing, besides, I’ve been cooped up for two days and I’m ready to knock a hole through something." He grinned again and it almost induced Irvine to utter the illicit offer that was poised on the tip of his tongue. At the last second he thought better of it and simply nodded his understanding instead. Zell wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Squall yet, it was still too soon to reveal his intentions to him. But when the time came, when the Commander returned to Garden with his knight in tow, Irvine would make his move and he would finally make Zell his. His turquoise eyes narrowed and he licked his lips absently as he watched the light sheen of sweat glisten on Zell’s skin.
"Irvine?" Zell’s voice pulled him out of his reverie and he grinned at him, pushing his cowboy hat back from his face just a bit. Let him look into his eyes, just once, and he would know for certain, one way or another, whether or not Zell Dincht would ever be up for grabs. For him, anyway. The Commander had him now, lock, stock and cock and even though neither boy had declared any sort of commitment to the other, Irvine saw the look on Zell’s face anytime he came into contact with Squall Leonhart. He lost his ability to think, to reason and was left instead with this blank, staring, needing expression that told all his secrets without him ever saying a word.
Only problem was, Squall belonged to Seifer, always had, always would and once the formalities had been dispensed with, the shit was going to hit the fan. Zell would need a shoulder to cry on. Irvine planned to be there to offer his shoulder and anything else that Zell might require of him. It was only a matter of time…
"Hey man, I asked you if you were ready to go, I need a shower." He remarked, his nose wrinkling as he pulled his tank top over his head and began to wring it out. It actually dripped water. And Irvine felt as though his mouth were about to do the same. He gulped, inaudibly, but he’d done it. He felt like an untried schoolboy just looking at Zell. A shower? He’d almost prefer Chinese water torture. But then he gave a small shrug. What was the difference really? Torture was torture, and at least after the shower he’d have something else to add to his ever growing…daydream gallery.
He grinned back at Zell and pulled his hat off his head, shaking his honey tresses free of its band and letting them feather over his shoulders, frame his face. He watched the smile fade slowly from Zell’s face and he suddenly felt a little less burdened by the situation he was in. Zell was ogling his hair, which was good. Wait till he took his clothes off.
"I’m ready when you are, short stuff."
Laguna watched Seifer silently, his heart swelling with something that felt almost like pity, but not quite. Seifer would die before he allowed anyone to pity him, so Laguna decided not to try to name the unfamiliar emotion. Better for everyone involved, actually.
He held a small tray that boasted two glasses of lemonade and some sort of shortbread cookies. A strange combination, to say the least, but the chef swore that they were made to be consumed together and so Laguna had shrugged, took the tray and smiled his thanks. Polite and considerate to his servants, that was the President of Esthar. Too damn nice for his own good.
Seifer sat silently and still as a statue beneath the shade of a willow tree. Its branches seemed to rain leafy tears over the boy’s golden head and Laguna smiled at the sight that he presented. His somber mood was easily detected; he didn’t bother to hide it, which was something Laguna truly admired about Seifer. He never offered false emotions and he never bothered to cover up his own pain. It simply manifested itself in another guise and Laguna didn’t want to contemplate any of that. He tried not to dwell on Seifer’s past, although he was aware of it and accepted it as something that couldn’t be swept under the rug.
Seifer didn’t look up as Laguna approached him, he merely continued playing with a blade of grass that had been overlooked near the base of the tree. Laguna noticed the unsightly patch of grass and knew that he was really going to have to speak to the gardener about being a little more consistent…
"Squall’s not here." Seifer told him, his voice gruff but not unkind.
Laguna smiled and held a glass out to Seifer, who took it without looking up.
"Well, good, because I didn’t come here to talk to Squall." He said happily.
Seifer grinned but still didn’t raise his head.
"So you came out here to talk to me?" He asked, almost teasingly.
"No, I just wanted to enjoy the garden today."
Seifer almost grinned as he continued to speak to the ground.
"You wanted to enjoy your garden with two glasses of lemonade and a plateful of cookies?" Now he was teasing.
Laguna offered him that shy smile that he had miraculously managed to hold onto over the years and Seifer couldn’t help responding to it.
He snagged a cookie from the tray and bit into it, sending crumbs scattering to the ground.
"We just had breakfast, Laguna, how can you be hungry?" He asked around a mouthful of cookie.
Laguna shrugged. "I’m always hungry, and I know you and Squall were out here playing around and…"
Oh, way to go bigmouth! Laguna briefly contemplating smacking himself but decided to take the less obvious route. He didn’t want to put Seifer on his guard by making him wonder if he’d been spying on the two of them.
"You saw us fighting?" Seifer asked, finally looking up to meet Laguna’s eyes. Laguna shrugged.
"I saw you sparring, but I didn’t stay to see the grand finale. It looked…personal." Laguna looked away, the faintest of blushes tingeing his cheeks. Seifer suppressed a grin.
"It’s always personal with us, you know that." Seifer said, the discomfort in his voice apparent even to Laguna.
"Uh, yeah, so…are you guys…?" Laguna let his voice trail off, silently cursing himself for his lack of eloquence. Why couldn’t he carry on a conversation like a normal person? He closed his eyes, hiding them with his hand.
Seifer had to grin at the picture Laguna presented in that moment. He felt as though he were being treated to a glimpse of the future Squall. And then his smile faded. This was assuming he was going to be around to see it. He felt the tug at his heart when he imagined being without Squall for the rest of his life. No way. He’d fight hell before he let that happen. His lip curled in the shadow of a sneer as he imagined all the possibilities that could separate them. He’d die first. But Laguna was watching his face intently and he knew he was going to have to answer him.
"Yes." It was all he had to say. Laguna nodded once and reached for another cookie.
"I thought so." He said.
Seifer raised an eyebrow. "Is it that obvious?"
Laguna shook his head, cookie crumbs dropping onto his shirt when he moved.
"I went into Squall’s room this morning. His bed was empty."
Seifer tipped his glass up, swallowing the last of his lemonade. Laguna watched the line of his throat, so sleek and inviting and he suddenly understood his son’s attraction. Seifer Almasy was a beautiful boy. Man. He corrected himself. Seifer hadn’t been a boy even when he was younger. And he was a man now, a man who was running from demons that Laguna doubted Squall was even aware of. He hoped his son had the perseverance to see it through. The road would be a long one.
Seifer shot him a strange look, veiled and vaguely annoyed.
"It’s not what you think." And then he cringed as the words left his mouth. Did he really just say that?
Laguna smiled wistfully. "It’s none of my business anyway." He told Seifer, his voice a little sad.
Seifer grabbed another cookie from the plate and studied Laguna. He saw so much of Squall in him. He doubted if Squall ever saw the similarities.
"It is your business. He’s your son. That makes it your business."
Laguna’s eyes widened before his face settled into a relaxed sort of grin.
"Thank you." He said simply. Seifer eased back on one elbow, enjoying, for one of the few times of his life, the fact that he was free to just lie in the grass and…be.
"Squall and I have always been at each other’s throats. His knowing how I really feel about him only complicates matters." Seifer paused, as though he might say something else, but then he fell silent once more. Laguna considered his words for a long while, breaking the silence with a small sigh.
"So, you love him?" I cannot believe we’re having this conversation.
"Yes." Seifer met his eyes and Laguna was a bit dazed by the potency of his sharp emerald stare. His sincerity was touching. His emotions hovered so near to his surface that Laguna could almost feel his obsession. It awed him, to realize that such an emotion existed that could rival the love that he had felt for Raine. It was humbling.
"I’m sorry if I’m prying." Laguna told him. Seifer shook his head and lay back in the grass, hands beneath his head, as he contemplated the fine fucking mess he’d gotten himself into. In for a penny, right? He’d just told Squall’s daddy something that he was pretty sure made him feel just the teeniest bit awkward. Yet there he sat, munching on shortbread and smiling at the hummingbirds. This whole situation was a psychiatrist’s wet dream and didn’t it just figure that Seifer Almasy was right smack in the middle of it all? It made him wonder where Squall was. And when he was coming back.
"You sure about this?" Kiros asked him again, for about the tenth time since they’d left the palace. Squall scowled and contemplated murdering his father’s best friend.
"Yes." He muttered through gritted teeth. Kiros shrugged, sliding his blades back and forth within the sheathes that hung from his belt.
"Okay, little lion. Let’s go."
Squall halted Kiros’ advance with a hand on his arm.
"What, now?" Kiros demanded and Squall knew he was feeling rattled.
"Stop calling me that." Squall told him in his usual monotone.
Kiros rolled his eyes. "Fine, and Squall?"
Squall eased away and tightened his gunbelt. "Yeah?"
Kiros looked up, eyeing the iron gates that signified their entrance into Hell. Smug bastards.
"Don’t underestimate these men. They can hand your head to you on a silver platter before you even realize they’re upon you. Please be careful."
Squall squared his shoulders. "I didn’t get to be Commander of Balamb Garden by being careless. I know what I’m doing. I’ve killed before, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I remember, One hundred twenty seven. Your point?"
Squall grinned slyly. "You asked how many men I’d killed. You didn’t say anything about the men my guardian forces have killed."
A slow grin spread across Kiros’ face, lighting his ebony features like sunlight on marble. "I’ll choose my words more carefully next time, then."
"Good idea. I’m perfectly capable of dealing with these bastards." He told Kiros with grim determination.
"Let’s hope your reputation carries some weight, prettyboy."
Squall scoffed, pushing his sleeves up higher on his forearms. "Look who’s talking."
He stood blocking the entrance to the stone fortress, bare chested, low slung black pants hanging on his hips, black ink marring the alabaster perfection of his body, and in his right hand was the deadliest looking scimitar Squall had ever seen.
The boy was young. 16 or 17 and his beauty was enough to make a person lightheaded. His tousled blonde hair hung into his eyes, obscuring the color but not the long black lashes. His cheekbones were high and sculpted, his lips pink and looked misleadingly sweet. Squall knew they would whisper endearments even while he was burying his blade into someone’s back. Killing beauty. And then he spoke.
"What do you want?" Husky and low, the voice of an assassin. Someone who was used to working under the cover of darkness.
Kiros stepped up. "Hello there, Kato. We’re here to see Seb."
Kato grinned, his full lips pulling back into a sneer. His teeth were white, even, perfect.
"I don’t think so, Kiros. I remember what happened the last time you showed up here."
"I only did what I had to do, Kato. Seb could have handed the boy over and there would have been no blood shed."
Squall glanced at Kiros, surprised. So he had rescued Seifer.
"Doesn’t matter, Kiros, you broke the rules and if I let you in here he might kill me to make up for it."
"Don’t make me force my way in, Kato. You know me well enough to know that I’m not bluffing." Kiros grew still, his voice low. Squall understood the danger they could be facing at that moment. And he just couldn’t bring himself to care.
"Get the fuck out of my way or I’ll kill you." He growled, gunblade at the ready.
Kato turned his gaze to Squall slow, lazily.
"What have you brought me today, Kiros? A present?" Kato licked his lips as his gaze traveled the length of Squall’s body, his hair catching in his lashes as he blinked.
"Don’t think so." Squall warned. "Don’t try to stop me, I’m warning you."
Kato flashed Kiros an amused little grin. "Oh, this one has fire, Kiros, remind me to thank you later."
Squall’s grip on his gunblade tightened, and the assassin didn’t miss it.
"Watch yourself, sweet thing, I don’t want have to relieve you of that pretty little head."
Kiros lay a hand on Squall’s shoulder.
Kato’s eyes widened in appreciation and he swiped at his bangs so as to get a better look at the beautiful boy that stood before him, clad entirely in black.
"So, you’ve brought me the Commander. This is a treat." He smiled.
Kiros stepped forward once more.
"He is not a gift, Kato and he’s here to see Seb."
Kato paused for a moment before he threw back his head and laughed. His laugh sent a chill down Squall’s spine. Even in humor this boy was enticing. The scent of sex clung to him like mist on a rainy morning. Squall steeled himself against him. He’d come here for Seifer and Seifer only.
"Seb will kill him." Kato stated when he’d regained his composure.
Kiros grinned. "I don’t think so."
"He had no problem breaking Seifer Almasy. This sweet little thing will be even less of a challenge, I’ll warrant."
Before Kiros could warn him away, Squall was moving fast. Sweeping the boy’s weapon from beneath his leaning grip, Kiros watched it skitter aside and Squall pushed him back against the iron bars, his gloved hand grasping Kato’s neck tightly.
"I’m enough of a challenge for you, wouldn’t you say?"
Kato watched him easily, unmoving beneath Squall’s death grip with an almost sparkle in his eyes. They were blue. Bluer than the ocean, bluer than the sky. Bluer than Zell’s eyes. Dammit.
"I’m not Seb, pretty one. You could snap my neck in two seconds and it would be over. Seb would make you suffer. I don’t possess one tenth of his power."
Squall continued to hold the boy pinned to the bars and the heat of his body began to penetrate the shirt Squall wore. Kato raised his chin a notch and looked at Squall from beneath his bangs.
"He called for you, you know? In his sleep. He cried for you."
Squall stiffened. He wasn’t going to ask how the boy knew that. He had a sinking feeling the answer would be close to what he was already imagining.
"Don’t push me." Squall warned, his self-control perilously close to snapping. Kato shrugged.
"Release me. I’ll take you in." Kato murmured softly.
"I don’t trust you." Squall told him.
Kato grinned as he leaned closer to Squall until their noses were touching.
"Smart boy." And then he kissed him. Fast, hard, possessively. He kissed him. His pink tongue darted between Squall’s slack lips and swept through sweetly until reality blindsided Squall and he pushed him away, swiping at his lips furiously.
"You little bastard." He ground out.
Kato grinned. "Been called worse."
Squall lifted his blade from its holster. "I could kill you right now."
Kato shrugged, his bright eyes teasing. "It was worth it." And he winked. He had the audacity to wink at Squall after he’d forced a kiss on him.
Squall scowled. "Shut up and show me where that bastard is."
Kiros was watching, fascinated, as Squall took a firmer grip on his composure. He admired him. Being on the receiving end of that kiss must have been a little bit like dipping your finger into a bowl of cookie dough and getting one small taste before being told that you just couldn’t have anymore.
The little tease. Kiros couldn’t bring himself to be angry. Kato was something else. Exactly what, Kiros wasn’t sure yet.
"Come with me, gentleman. We’ll do it your way. It’s your lives on the line after all."
Kiros shook his head. "I thought you said Seb would kill you for letting us through."
Kato nodded. "He will. But if you guys walk out of here alive, then you’re taking me with you."
Kiros laughed loudly, unable to refrain. Squall shot him a dirty look.
"You’re a brat, Kato. An incorrigible little brat."
Kato flashed him a grin. "Well, then I’ll make good company ‘round the house, right?"
Squall rolled his eyes. No way was he letting this dirty little slut anywhere near Seifer. It was last thing he wanted.
"Just show us the way." Squall told him gruffly.
Kato turned, tossing Squall a casual glance before picking up his blade and sliding it into the sheath at his back.
"As you wish, Commander. Don’t say I didn’t warn you."
Squall flexed his forearms, the leather tightening around them familiarly.
"I won’t." He promised. "Now let’s go."
Kiros took a deep breath, ready to face the devil…again.
"We’re doing this for Seifer, Squall, remember that."
Squall shot him a disbelieving look. "As if I could ever forget. I’m not here just to raise a little hell, General."
Kiros grinned, his smile disarming as it always was, even when he was preparing to kill. "Too bad."
Kato chuckled. "Count me in. I never liked the bastard anyway."
Squall narrowed his eyes. "Enough. Let’s go."
Kato flashed his flirty grin. "Seifer always said you were an impatient one."
Kiros raised his eyes heavenward. "You don’t know the half of it…but we’ll get to that later"
Kato sobered suddenly. "If there is a later." He said softly, all teasing gone.
"Oh, there will be a later. I promise you that." Squall vowed.
Kato paused when they reached a heavy iron door. "Welcome to hell, Commander."
Squall lifted Lionheart from its cradle and looked directly at Kato.
"No need to welcome me. I’ve been there before."
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