Chapter Fiveteen - Nothing Else Matters
Trust I seek and I find in you
Every day for us something new
Open mind for a different view
…and nothing else matters
Zell stood at the window, one hand splayed against the glass, looking out but seeing nothing, really.
Quistis watched him, her heart aching for him, but unable to offer any consolation, for she, too, knew what he would have to endure over the next few days. She had no illusions when it came to Squall and Seifer, even when she was younger and fancied herself in love with the both of them. Deep in her heart, she knew that one day, they would realize what they felt for one another was the furthest thing from hate that existed.
And now, Zell, who had imagined that Squall would finally be his when Seifer had vanished, was going to have to come to terms with the fact that Seifer Almasy was coming home. And this time, Quistis doubted that Squall would let him go a second time.
"Zell." Quiet, knowing. She saw his shoulders lift in a silent sigh.
"Yeah." She heard the underlying sullenness in his voice, no matter how he fought to conceal it.
"Are you all right?" She asked, her tone solicitous, but careful.
He laughed, a short, self-deprecating sound.
"Never better, Instructor Trepe, never better…"
She moved over to his side, boots clicking sharply on the gleaming tile, and stood quite close to him, wanting to touch him in some way, but not wanting to intrude.
"I’m sorry, Zell. I know how you must feel." She tilted her head, one golden lock falling against her shoulder as she watched his hand slide down the glass.
"I know you do, Quis. I just…never thought we’d see him again, you know? And now, suddenly, he’s coming back and I don’t how I’m going to react to being next to him again."
She nodded, resting one hand lightly on Zell’s shoulder. She glanced down then, taking in the sight of Zell in his uniform.
"You look wonderful." She whispered, squeezing his shoulder slightly. He turned his head then, and smiled that bright, infectious smile that always reminded Quistis that no matter what happened, tomorrow carried the promise of a better day. Zell’s optimism, so bright and untarnished, would see him through the days to come. And so will I, she vowed silently.
"Thanks Quis. I just wish I didn’t feel so damned nervous…so apprehensive."
She nodded again, watching some of the lower classmen out on the field, playing soccer in the sun’s remaining light.
"I suppose it’s selfish to wish he’d just stayed away…" She conceded.
Zell turned to face her then, blinking and looking puzzled.
"I never really wanted him to stay away. I’m glad he’s alive. I’m glad he’s okay. Hells, I’m even glad he’s coming home. I worried about him too, you know…I only wish his return didn’t mean the end of whatever Squall felt for me."
Quistis reached out and brushed an imaginary speck of lint from the epaulettes at Zell’s shoulder.
"Your time will come Zell. You’re the best person I know, the most noble, giving…" She broke off then, smiling at the heated blush spreading up Zell’s neck and over the sweet angle of his cheekbones.
"Well," she continued, "What I mean to say is that eventually, probably when you expect it the least, you’re going to meet someone who will realize how wonderful you are. And this will all seem so insignificant to you then."
Zell smiled, still blushing slightly, and hugged Quistis tight.
"Thanks, Quisty. I appreciate that."
And when he released her, rubbing her back as he drew away slowly, he turned back to the window, sighing heavily.
"Gonna be hell convincing the rest of Garden that Seifer’s not going to kill them all while they sleep."
Quistis laughed softly, turning her gaze on one of the cadets as he streaked past a line of other players to make quite an impressive goal.
"I won’t know how to act around him either, if you must know. It will be strange…"
Zell grinned at her impishly. "Try to keep that whip under control, hm? It wouldn’t look good for the Sorceress’ Knight to be hauled off to the infirmary on his first day back."
Quistis managed to look affronted as she planted her fists on her hips.
"My self-control is infinite, Zell Dincht. Even around Seifer Almasy."
Zell laughed, stepping back a pace or two as he shook his finger at her in warning.
"And no kissing him, either. No matter how dashing he looks."
Quistis gasped then, slapping out at Zell playfully as he feinted left and ducked her hand, laughing and taunting as she chased him out into the hallway, ordering him back.
He fought the way he did everything in his life, precise and systematic. People were often fooled into thinking that Squall was the one with the driving purpose and the will of steel. But it wasn’t. It was Seifer. It had always been Seifer.
Squall watched him battle the Chimera with no apprehension whatsoever. Seifer’s attacks were methodical and well placed. The loose line of his shirt clung to him when he moved too suddenly or when he turned to face the breeze. Squall stood, immobile, and simply watched, content to watch him move, to be assured, once again, that Seifer was alive and he was his.
"One wonders why he doesn’t cast Holy on it, or perhaps even summon Alexander and be done with it."" Kiros’ low, cultured voice came from behind Squall, startling him slightly although he gave no outward appearance of it. Nor did he respond, for he knew Kiros wasn’t simply asking him a question. Kiros, Gods save him, was trying to Make A Point.
Taking Squall’s silence to mean that he was, in fact, listening, Kiros brought a long elegant cigarette to his lips and drew deeply, blowing the smoke from the corner of his mouth in that irritatingly elegant way of his.
"One might also wonder why he didn’t simply cast on Kato himself today while he held him, practically lifeless, in his arms. Does that not make you curious, young prince?"
Squall glanced at him then, his eyebrows drawn in irritation, before turning his attention back to Seifer, who was at that moment running toward the Chimera and swinging his gunblade upwards in a clean, sweeping arc.
"No, Kiros, it does not make me curious. Why wonder about anything when I have you to explain life’s mysteries to me?" He asked lightly, the sarcasm only thinly veiled.
Kiros smiled faintly, knowing he’d enjoy baiting Squall if the matter at hand were not a serious one.
"Besides," Squall went on, hating the way he felt it necessary to justify Seifer’s actions to someone else. Hating the fact that he had wondered exactly the same thing even as he’d cast Cura after Cura, layering the spells carefully so as not to shock Kato’s system with the unfamiliar healing magic. "He cast on me today, in the vehicle, while I cast Protect on the rest of you." He wanted to deliver that with the smugness that it deserved, but he just couldn’t ignore the tiny niggling doubt in the back of his own mind.
Kiros remained silent for the briefest of moments as he watched Seifer lean forward slightly, raise his gunblade, and catch his limit break. Squall’s breath caught as he watched the power swirl around Seifer, the fire spell hitting the Chimera, knocking it back several feet before he rushed it again, vanquishing it with an impressive swing of his gunblade. The beast shuddered once and its image began wavering even before the flames had completely faded. Kiros must have made some small noise of appreciation, because Squall glanced back at him, a small, prideful smile hovering on his beautiful mouth for the briefest of seconds before he’d turned his attention back to his lover, who was leaning on his gunblade to catch his breath.
"Magnificent." Kiros remarked, his tone purposefully neutral. Squall wrapped his arms around his lithe frame and smiled to himself, secretly sharing Kiros’ sentiments.
"His limit break…what’s it called?" Kiros inquired lightly.
"Fire cross." Squall breathed, even before Kiros had finished giving voice to his inquiry. Even after all that happened, and through all that had kept them apart, Seifer still had the power to inspire an awe in him that left him breathless.
"Interesting, though, that he has the power to hit his limit break when he can’t cast a simple Cura…don’t you think?" Kiros asked lightly, flicking his cigarette away and laying a hand on Squall’s shoulder. Squall resisted the urge to shake him off.
"Ignore me if you wish, little lion, but I know you’re questioning it, questioning him, even as you stand there with your little heart pounding against your ribs. Something’s not right with Seifer Almasy and you know it. I just don’t want you to find out what it is when the stakes are down and you need him the most."
Squall did shrug Kiros’ hand off then, and turned to face him, his eyes glittering and cold.
"I thought you were his champion, Kiros. Now here you are warning me away." His voice was low and urgent, his anger at odds with his incredible restraint.
"Not warning you away. Just warning you, period. His secrets could cost you…us…our lives. Tread carefully." And he turned then, disappearing under the awning of the small inn they’d been forced to take refuge at until the morning. Squall sighed, watching him go, most likely to check on Kato once more before retiring for the evening. While he hated to lend credence to the suspicions that Kiros had only seconded, Squall had to admit that the panic he’d seen in Seifer’s eyes when Kato had been unconscious and bleeding had thrown him. Why had he panicked? Why hadn’t he simply cast on Kato himself? What was he hiding?
Seifer’s arm wrapping around his waist and pulling him close brought him back to the here and now like nothing else could and he relaxed against him, leaning back against his lover’s sweat-dampened body. Seifer lowered his face to the curve of Squall’s neck and kissed him there, the lightest of caresses, before turning him around and grinning down at him, his green eyes still bright with victory.
"You were watching me?" A strange question, when he had to know the answer.
"Yes." Squall answered, swaying closer when Seifer leaned his gunblade against one of the inn’s columns and framed Squall’s face with his hands.
"I could feel you." He murmured before slowly lowering his head and brushing his lips softly over Squall’s.
Squall moaned, a soft, entreating sound as the heat and power of Seifer’s body rushed over him with the same suffocating humidity of the desert wind and he slid his hands up Seifer’s chest to twine around his neck. Seifer’s arms wound around Squall’s waist with a startling familiarity, and he lifted him up, further into the kiss.
"Squall…." He whispered, his voice no more than a whisper and Squall found himself responding in the most logical way he knew. With his body. His arms tightened around Seifer’s neck as he lifted his legs to wrap them loosely around the backs of Seifer’s thighs, earning him the pleasure of hearing Seifer breathing his name so reverently, Squall thought he might get down on his knees and worship him in truth.
"I want you." He breathed, the husky timbre of his voice combined with the altogether entrancing scent of his sweat-slick skin almost enough to sweep Squall’s mind free of any doubts he might harbor. Almost.
"Seifer." He spoke his name urgently, the shivery whisper of desire hiding behind the sharper bite of reason.
"Mmmhmm," Seifer murmured, nuzzling against the soft skin of Squall’s neck, his hands beginning their slow, searching exploration down the length of his back.
"No. Seifer." Sharper than he had intended, but effective nonetheless as Seifer was pulling back slightly, his eyes questioning, suspicious.
"What is it?" He practically whispered, that damned green gaze seeking and confused.
"I…want to ask you something." He said honestly, seeing no reason to launch a full-scale inquisition on a man who was, at that very moment, pressing his not-so-subtle erection into the softness of Squall’s thigh.
"Go ahead," He granted, his eyes sweeping the length of Squall’s body, "But make it quick."
Squall slid out of his grasp until he felt his feet touching solid ground again. Seifer stepped back, straightening his shirt and smoothing it down as he leaned against one spare column.
"What’s wrong, Squall?" He asked casually, his apparent calm not fooling Squall for a second; he heard the apprehension beneath his words clearly. Seifer blinked once and then tensed slightly.
"Is Kato all right?" He asked, concern tainting his words, quite ruining the casual pose he’d assumed. Squall nodded, quick to reassure him.
"He’s sleeping. Laguna fed him another chocolate and peanut butter sundae and tucked him into bed."
Seifer’s lips twitched, imagining the little heathen milking it for all it was worth. Hyne only knew what Laguna had had to do to get a sundae in this out of the way place, but he’d done it. And in so doing, had won him Kato’s eternal devotion. Well, at least, until someone brought him something even tastier and made him forget all about the declarations of undying worship he’d spouted previously.
"He was walking around earlier until Laguna shooed him back to bed." Squall paused, seeming pensive. "You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was only trying to garner sympathy."
Seifer laughed then, the deep, rich sound that had the ability to send shivers up Squall’s spine.
"You do know better. He’s going to ride this thing all the way to Balamb, you just wait and see." He shook his head, imagining what the trip across the sea would most likely entail.
"Speaking of which, our ship departs tomorrow morning at 0800 hours. We should get some rest while we can."
Seifer nodded. "Just needed to work off a little steam, that’s all. Was too hyped up to sleep."
Squall inclined his head, the smallest of acknowledgements, and moved to retrieve Seifer’s gunblade, hefting it easily and handing it over. Seifer grasped it with a small frown of confusion, resting it over his shoulder as he waited for Squall to get to the point.
"You let it wear you down to get your limit break." He stated, not phrasing it as a question.
Seifer shrugged, going for nonchalance. "Yeah, so? Like you’ve never done it?" He sounded defensive, and that never boded well.
Squall shook his head. "Done it plenty of times. But only when it was necessary to keep myself and my teammates alive. You did it just for the sheer pleasure of overkill. You toyed with it until you grew weary of the game. And then you bottomed out. Why?"
Seifer’s eyes narrowed, that flash of jade letting Squall know that he didn’t appreciate the interrogation. "You’d rather I let it kill me?" He spat.
Squall shrugged. "Why would it kill you? Couple of Holy spells and it would’ve been all over."
Seifer took a deep breath, knowing immediately where this was heading.
"You want to know why I didn’t cast." He stated, his stance relaxing slightly as he watched Squall’s eyes.
"Yes." Squall answered, knowing better than to mince words with Seifer Almasy.
"You also want to know why I didn’t cast on Kato when he was hit today."
Squall nodded. "The thought did cross my mind."
Seifer crossed his ankles, leaned his gunblade over his other shoulder and raised his eyebrows.
"Don’t you even want to guess first? You want me to just tell you?" Seifer asked, most probably stalling for time.
Squall moved toward him, then, one hand splayed over Seifer’s chest while he looked up at him, his features set in determination.
"This is me you’re talking to, Seifer. I deserve your honesty as I’ve given no less to you."
Seifer sighed, abandoning his arrogant stance and averting his eyes briefly as he watched the sands scatter across the dune.
"I can’t cast, Squall. At all. It’s gone." He sounded defeated and Squall sighed, wishing, for just a moment, that he’d let his suspicions pass. If he’d kept his mouth shut he’d most likely be, at that very moment, in bed with Seifer, pressed close to his body and content. But he hadn’t. And this is what he deserved for letting Kiros plant seeds of unrest in his mind.
"Gone?" He asked disbelieving, need more than that.
Seifer looked up then, his eyes hard and defensive, and Squall knew he’d opened the floodgates on an issue that should never have come to light, tonight, at least.
"I can’t cast, I can’t draw, I can’t junction. I’m empty, Squall. And it’s just that simple." And then he turned his back, the hostility radiating off of him, and stalked into the inn, leaving Squall standing behind him with his mind full of questions and his heart full of conflict.
"Better?" Laguna asked as he tucked the blankets up around Kato’s chin, smoothing his hair back as he smiled down at him.
Kato nodded rapidly, blinking innocently and watched Laguna practically melting. Never let it be said that Kato didn’t know how to win friends and influence people. Not to mention his uncanny ability to look incredibly pitiful.
"I think I’ll be all right, Laguna, after a few hours of rest." He practically whispered, emitting a strained cough in the process.
Laguna patted Kato’s hand and smiled indulgently at him. "If you need anything, anything at all…you just knock on the wall, okay? I’m right next door." He paused then, and, almost as an afterthought, "Perhaps I should just stay in here tonight."
Kato grinned, watching Laguna’s classic profile as he had another conversation with himself.
"I don’t think that will be necessary." Squall intoned, leaning against the doorframe, hand on his hip. Kato scowled. Laguna turned slightly, glancing up at Squall from his seat beside Kato’s bed.
"I’m afraid to leave him alone. What happens if he can’t reach the wall?"
Squall rolled his eyes. "Kato, stretch your arms over your head."
Kato, very slowly and dramatically, made a big show of carefully reaching over his head toward the wall. He pulled his arm back with a small grimace when he’d apparently reached too far and Laguna was immediately leaning over him, murmuring softly and running skilled fingers over Kato’s side.
Oh, for Hyne’s sake…
"Laguna. Seifer and I will check on him during the night, I promise. We all need to get some rest now, including Kato." Squall shot Kato a look that stated, unequivocally, that he knew what he was up to. Kato simply smiled sweetly, fluttering his eyelashes adorably.
Squall shook his head, unable to muster up much sympathy for the brat when there was nothing really wrong with him other than a couple of sore ribs and a serious case of hurt feelings. And while he was wasting time in here with Laguna and his newest stray, Seifer was most likely in their room, brooding and alone. Dammit.
Laguna moved Kato’s small pitcher of ice water nearer to the edge of his nightstand and smiled at him one more time, as though reassuring himself that the little sycophant wasn’t going to kick off in the middle of the night. Squall began to tap the toe of his boot against the floor, which was carpeted, so no one heard could really hear it. And that annoyed him, as well.
"Laguna." A warning. Laguna looked over at Squall, hunching his shoulders apologetically, and offering his son a sheepish smile as he rose from his place beside Kato and turned off the overhead light. The soft cast from the little night light beside the bed made Kato appear to be about twelve years old. Wait a minute…a night light? I’ve seen it all now…
"Try to sleep Kato. We still have some distance to travel tomorrow, and being tossed about on the sea probably won’t help matters much." Laguna spoke to him soothingly, quietly. Squall rolled his eyes again.
"I will, Laguna. Thank you for taking such wonderful care of me…" He sounded like a Boy Scout. Squall was perilously close to vomiting. He hadn’t seen such a fine display of acting since Selphie ate too much and greatly exaggerated her discomfort so Irvine would lie down with her and rub her belly until she fell asleep.
"Oh, honey, you’re welcome. Now, remember, just knock on the wall if you need me." He repeated and Kato nodded, his eyes widening as he caught his bottom lip between small, even teeth.
Laguna turned to face Squall, smiling at him, his expression slightly sappy. Kato waited until Laguna’s back was turned, glanced at Squall…and winked.
Squall stood outside the room he was to share with Seifer, making no move to open the door and just step inside. While he couldn’t be certain that Seifer had returned to the room after he’d walked away from him earlier, Squall reasoned that he really had nowhere else to go.
He pressed one gloved hand to the unyielding barrier and paused, exhaling slowly, wondering if he really had it in him to question Seifer further. It was getting late, Squall was getting tired, and he was as unsure of himself as he’d ever been of Seifer.
Bowing his head, bracing himself for the silence he was sure to get when he crossed the threshold, Squall turned the doorknob, found it unlocked, and opened the door.
It took him only a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, to locate Seifer. He sat next to the open window, the slight breeze stirring the blonde hairs that brushed his forehead, the evening’s fading light dancing over the brightness of his hair, doing nothing to conceal his loneliness, for Squall felt it immediately, an almost tangible thing.
He stepped inside, closing the door quietly behind him, leaned against the door, knowing that Seifer had heard him and had not bothered to turn and acknowledge his presence. Squall watched, riveted, as Seifer raised his head and the light of the full moon arced across his aristocratic features, bathing him in pale, white perfection. Squall’s breath hitched, his fists clenched, his belly tightened, all in response to Seifer’s parted lips, the graceful line of his throat.
My rival…my lover…my heart…Mine.
"Seifer." He breathed; knowing Seifer would hear him, although his voice was lost in the stirring breeze. Seifer’s eyes slid closed and he bowed his head again, slowly, before turning his shuttered gaze on Squall.
"I’m sorry." He said, whispered, actually. He still hadn’t moved.
"No." Squall interjected. "Don’t." Don’t apologize to me, Seifer. Not anymore.
Seifer glanced out the window, to the slight swaying of trees he could just barely make out in the distance, knowing the sea was lurking close behind them.
His lips turned up in a small, half-smile, his face partially hidden by shadow.
"It’s been so long. Since I’ve seen the sea." His voice was wistful, musing. Squall swallowed, knowing that whatever came next would not be comforting.
"Tomorrow." He promised, not knowing what else to say. Seifer wasn’t speaking to have his words confirmed. He didn’t require a response, not from Squall.
"I was telling you the truth, Squall. Earlier. It’s all gone."
Squall nodded, though Seifer wasn’t looking at him. He wanted to tell him that it didn’t matter, that there were things they could do, avenues they could explore…but Seifer wasn’t after reassurance. Not this time.
"I believe you."
Seifer turned then, moving out of the light, the intensity of his eyes obscured by shadow.
"I don’t know if I can get it back." Low, insistent…angry.
He stood then, clad only in his gray pants; the belt unbuckled and hanging open as his shadow fell across the bed. And then, so quietly as to almost have been imagined, a low, tortured whisper.
"Tell me it doesn’t matter." His eyes searched the darkness, seeking Squall’s gaze, his cognizance. Squall moved away from the door then, crossing the floor silently, fluidly, to stand before Seifer, inches apart, as he lifted his face to the light.
"It doesn’t matter."
Squall watched Seifer’s eyes slide closed again, in sweet relief or an even more unbearable pain, he couldn’t tell. He didn’t care. He would take it all away, whatever name he gave it.
Seifer reached for him then, drawing him into the protective circle of his embrace as he pulled him close and simply clung.
"Nothing else matters…nothing else but this." Squall whispered against Seifer’s chest, his lips moving against smooth skin, cool from the night air, his heart pounding beneath his ribs.
"I hope you’re right." He answered, and bent his head to Squall’s, the dread weighing heavily in the pit of his belly dissipating somewhat as he brushed his lips over Squall’s.
Squall wrapped his arms around Seifer’s waist, linking his fingers behind the solid wall of his back as Seifer’s hands tightened on Squall’s upper arms. His belt buckles pressed against Squall’s belly, digging into his skin through the thin barrier of his t-shirt. He moaned softly when Seifer’s tongue slid over his own and he moved one hand to whip the belt from the loops of his pants, savoring a small thrill of satisfaction when Seifer hissed softly.
He tugged impatiently at the buttons of Seifer’s pants, wanting him to be naked, wanting to be naked against him.
Seifer grasped his wrists gently, raising them over his head and then tugged his t-shirt off slowly, watching, entranced, as inch by inch, Squall’s skin was revealed to him. He brought the t-shirt to his lips briefly, closing his eyes and inhaling the warm, musky scent of Squall’s body and then opening his eyes again. He gazed down at Squall, riveted by his mouth, his pale, parted lips.
"Beautiful." He whispered, his words carrying the faintest hint of surprise, as though he hadn’t realized it before that moment. When, of course, he had.
Squall ducked his head, his cheeks flushed. Seifer hooked one finger beneath his chin and lifted it until Squall met his eyes again.
"You are. You always have been."
Squall reached up then, laying his palm against Seifer’s cheek, brushing his thumb over his cheekbone. Seifer’s eyes closed slowly and he sighed softly.
"I love you." Squall murmured, just loud enough for Seifer to hear him. He lay his hand over Squall’s and opened his eyes.
"Don’t ever stop." He whispered, entreating.
Squall wanted to tell him, in great detail, how he’d rather die than be without him again. How he’d sacrifice anything and everything to keep him close, keep him safe, but as he parted his lips to speak the words, Seifer lowered his head and pressed his lips to Squall’s. And everything else simply ceased to exist. He was lost…again.
Zell: *sighing* That waths thso moving, thSeifer…
Seifer: *manages to look unabashed* Well…it was mostly Squall’s doing. He’s very talented, you know.
Zell: *wicked grin(with fangs)* Yeths, I know.
Squall: *closes his eyes* I can’t take this much longer.
Kato: Uh, guys? Has anybody seen my Pikachu?
Azora ~ As you can see, the heathen is fine. Even if I’d killed him, I’d have had to bring him back…I can’t do without Brian and Justin ^_^
Darksquall ~ *blush* You flatter me! Keep doing it. :P Never fear, Nik, Kato’s still around. He hasn’t had Ashby and Raven at the same time yet.
DemonRyu ~ I hope I continue to live up to your expectations. And even if I don’t, I can always score brownie points with pointless Veggie smut. And there’s always Seifer/Selphie…o.O
PyroManiac ~ I just went to the store, Sammyface. And you know *exactly* what kind of ice cream I bought J Just for you. Now give some to poor neglected Kato. *snicker*
Saris ~ Thank you so much for the praise! I’m glad you’re enjoying it thus far. Laguna will eventually have to see the light, and as for who Zell ends up with…well…it’s a surprise…
Race ~ I’m glad you like my titles. Well, the ones that actually belong to me, anyway ^_^ And no way could I kill off Kato. *hugs Kato* I’d miss him! And you’re right, he does still have a beating coming to him. And worry not, he’ll have someone too…If it weren’t for yours and Rain’subtle hints, I probably wouldn’t have finished this chapter til December. Thanks for the snide remarks about slacking. I know you’re really talking about Xi. *whistles innocently*
Ryu Aka ~ Thanks for following along, makes me feel quite loved. And of course he lives! I couldn’t kill of my little angel! Sorry this took so long…I’ve been slacking.
Demon’s Gate ~ I can’t believe it! You went back just to review this chapter. *melts* Whatta pal. And Kato will be very bratty…er…bouncy…in the next chapter. Wheeee!
Title belongs to the Metallicats, boys belong to Square. Appearance of lisping Zell courtesy of Xineko. Dammit. I own nothing!
Kato and Seifer: *glare*
Pix: oh. Heh.
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