Chapter 16 - Zencho


By YuriNigasa

The dark, once a place to hide from his feelings, now became the place where they were liberated. Seifer's hand reached out to brush wayward strands of chestnut hair from Squall's eyes. For once he wasn't thinking about the 'what if'. Seifer was nervous and excited and unbelieving all at the same time. He swallowed, dropping his gaze from Squall's, feeling all at once too conspicuous. Squall furrowed his brow, tilting his head to the side to look calmly at Seifer. It amazed Squall that anyone that looked as Seifer did could ever seem so completely fragile as he did now. So vulnerable. Squall gave Seifer's hand a gentle squeeze, as if to reassure him, to let him know that he wasn't withdrawing. At that singular pressure Seifer looked up at Squall. Seifer inhaled as if to speak, and then exhaled as if thinking better of it. Instead, Seifer smiled at Squall, and even though he couldn't see well in the darkness, Squall could picture how Seifer's eyes would look. That deep jade green gaze, eyes so expressive when Seifer's guard was down.

All Seifer could think of was what had transpired. His thoughts were at once clear and chaotic, unable to think of anything to say. Somehow he knew that nothing needed to be said. He didn't know where things were heading, but for once, somehow it seemed right. Seifer looked at the dim light casting across the delicate features of Squall's face. He lifted his hand and traced a finger across Squall's nose and down his cheek, feeling the slight rise of the scar tissue. Seifer felt, more than saw, Squall's smile.

More passengers were making their way on-deck, enjoying the cool air in the hours after dinner. Seifer looked about, then stood up, pulling Squall to his feet after him. Seifer leaned back against the wall, refusing to let go of Squall's hand. It was if that slight connection was the only thing convincing Seifer that the whole thing was in fact, real. Squall stood comfortably next to Seifer, pulling Seifer's hand around his back, giving him a reason to lean closer, nearly in an embrace. Squall's shoulder rested neatly against Seifer's chest, and Squall didn't seem the least uncomfortable about it. Squall tilted his chin up to look sidelong at Seifer, and Seifer met his gaze.

"When?" asked Squall.

"I don't know," answered Seifer, knowing what Squall was asking without clarification. "Does it matter? I could ask the same thing of you and I don't think that either one of us could answer it. All I know is when you wouldn't give up on me… the only one who never did," he shrugged his shoulders, "I'd never felt anything like that in my life. From anyone or for anyone. Anyone else, that is."

Squall sighed. "I spent my whole life pushing away. I used to sit in my dorm room and think, knowing that there had to be so much more, but I never understood how to 'fix' it. I just couldn't trust anyone. I don't know when it changed. I think I just got tired of it. I worried a lot after… well…" Squall shrugged. "Where you had gone, what happened, those kinds of things. I think that was the first time I really thought unselfishly about anything."

"I think what I needed more than anything was to grow up. I had to find myself outside of whatever else I thought I was. I found that when I was alone, I didn't really like the company I was in. Going it alone for the first time in my life, it gave me perspective. Once I'd settled things with myself, I didn't have the courage to face anyone else," Seifer said softly.

"Would you have ever come around if we…" Squall hesitated, "you know, hadn't run into each other?"

"I don't know. I'm glad I don't have to know." Seifer replied. "All I know is that when you left, that was the first time I'd been lonely in years."

"I had to," Squall said. "I didn't see how being honest would do anything other than put our friendship at risk, and you had become too important to me to lose. You're someone I trust."

"I know. I… Just know that I'll never intentionally harm that friendship and trust." Seifer's arm drew Squall in closer, protectively.

"I was so worried when you ran off, thinking that I'd lost that forever. I'm just glad that things worked out." Squall rested his head on Seifer's shoulder.

"So much for age bringing wisdom," Seifer's chuckle echoed in Squall's ears.

"Yeah, I know, you'd think you'd be smarter by now," Squall retorted dryly.

Seifer quirked an eyebrow. "I'm smart enough, once something's been bashed across my head a few times. Which is more than I can say for others."

"Now, now," Squall chided, "Don't talk about my ex-wife like that. Even if it is true."

"At least she won't be there tomorrow. I feel like I'm going on display enough as it is. And what about… erm… this? This is a this, right?"

Squall tensed. After all the talking, did Seifer still not know what he wanted? Was Seifer second-guessing what Squall had said?

"Do you want it to be?" Squall asked.

"You have to ask?" Seifer replied.

"You asked first." Squall's tone was slightly defensive.

"I know I know. I'm just, overwhelmed, or something. Looking for reassurance, I guess." Seifer rested his chin on the top of Squall's head.

"We'll deal with it. All you'll get from Quisty is 'Finally.' I'll get 'I told you so.'" Squall laughed.

"I figured as much," Seifer broke the embrace and led Squall out to a bench near the railing. They sat together, Seifer with one knee drawn up, and Squall leaning back against the rails.

"And you wonder why I was in a bad mood earlier. You've never heard it until you've got Quistis in that headmistresses' mode of hers. She nags, which I will never admit to saying if you tell her," Squall said.

"You know how often I heard her nag? Come on, your memory can't be that bad. I call and she still treats me like a student, although," Seifer chuckled, "with all that's gone on tonight… it sure explains her behavior when we've talked. So, how do you think they'll react?"

Squall furrowed his brow and thought for a moment. "They're adults. Even Zell's one, theoretically. They'll deal with it. If it comes up, I'm not going to lie about anything, but I really think there's nothing to be concerned about. Everyone's been so anxious to see you again."

"Can't be more anxious than I am." Seifer put his knee down and leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees.

Squall sat up and placed a hand on Seifer's shoulder. "I know."

They sat, not talking, listening only to the waves break around the ship as it steamed toward Balamb Harbor. Seifer's hand reached up to take Squall's hand in his, feeling the calluses from years of gunblade training. Squall leaned over and placed a kiss on Seifer's temple, soft and quick.

"It will be all right," Squall said.

"The sooner I get this over with, the better I'll feel. I'm not ready."

"Yes, you are. I'll be there. Quisty will be there. Nobody's there to judge you, but I can't make you believe that. You'll just have to find out when we get there." Squall stood up and looked out over the dark waters. "We're your family, Seifer. We always have been. Always will be."

Seifer wrapped his arm around Squall's waist, hand splayed across the tight muscles of Squall's abdomen. Squall rested his arms around Seifer's shoulders as he felt Seifer relax. At that reassuring touch, Seifer ceased to be concerned about tomorrow, knowing that this moment alone made it all worthwhile.

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