By llamajoy

itís the weight below us, and our fate before us
like a rolling thunder, rolling up from under
like the years of silence, to the growing violence
see the rain... itís falling
but I wonít be leaving your side until
the storm is over
iíll wait
i will

It was the thunder that roused him from his sleep; the sharp rap on his door was a full five minutes later. But always he would remember that it was the knock that woke him that summer morning, the lightning rush of adrenaline that shot to his heart, fatalism trembling like a roll of thunder inside him.

What he had known had to happen, happening. It didnít matter whether or not he was ready.

He was to go to the Fire Cavern with Instructor Trepe that morning, rain or shine, and it was about that time...

But Squall knew it was not Quistis banging so impatiently at his door. This would be a different sort of test.

No use in hesitating.

Glad for once that heíd fallen asleep in his clothes, he stepped into his boots, buckled them swiftly. And with an impatience of his own, he drew open his door, just as Seifer had raised his hand to knock again.

Seifer was fully dressed and a little out of breath-- had he run all the way from his room? Or had he been up and training already? Squall doubted that; awfully early, for him. His short-cropped golden hair was slightly damp with sweat, the humid Garden air making his face looked flushed and more agitated than usual.

Squall felt oddly empty, just waiting for the challenge that he knew would come. He drew a breath, preparing himself for it, letting the quiet anger seething from his rival soak into him, define him.

He didnít seem inclined to break the awkward silence, glaring as if Squall had dared to knock on his door and wake him. Not for the first time, Squall wondered why Seifer kept associating with him, if he hated him so much.

He tilted his head, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. "Good morning, Seifer."

Standing in his doorway, Seifer drew off one of his gloves and slapped him with it, hard.

He did not wince at the stinging pain in his cheek, didnít close his eyes. Fucking archaic gesture, Almasy, he thought. Couldnít you come up with something more original than that? He swallowed the wry smile though; it would not do to belittle the challenge. Easy enough for Seiferís temper to flare.

Ignoring the rising soreness of his face, he met Seiferís glare evenly. "A duel?"

The light in Seiferís eyes changed, fierce satisfaction that his meaning was perceived so quickly. Less explanation necessary, when they understood each other so well.

Why now? Some part of Squallís mind fought it, seeking rationality where he knew he could find none. What have I done--

"Because itís a SeeD exam morning," Squall heard himself saying, and forgot to make it sound like a question. No wonder Seifer was on edge.

Seiferís mouth twitched. "Because you have to be ready to face death at all times, if youíre going into battle to fulfill your dream," he said, with remarkable calm.

"How... romantic," Squall said dryly.

Seifer smiled a belligerent smile, lifting the offending glove to smooth over the reddening welt that was already beginning to disappear. "You always were a quick learner, Leonhart," he all but purred. "Iíll remember that."

Squallís pulse tripped up a notch. The leather caressing his face smelled faintly of sex, and the bare hand that held the glove looked so-- exposed.

When was the last time was heíd seen Seifer without his gloves on? He couldnít remember, and that bothered him. Maybe in the morning showers, months and months ago, when Seifer was deliberately careless about where they would meet, alone with their frantic heartbeats against the slick tile shower-walls.

It was unsettling, remembering a younger lover, before his clamor for attention had turned desperate, before heíd started failing exam after exam.

"Where?" Squall had never been one to waste words.

And Seifer in the mood for conquest would only use his words as weapons. He narrowed his eyes, daring. "Outside."

Training outside was expressly forbidden in any kind of dangerous weather conditions, unless it was a special occasion, specific permission obtained and an instructor there to supervise. No way by the Island Closest to Hell would any Instructor grant such permission to either of them.

But they both knew that.

Squall would be late for his meeting with Instructor Trepe, and he was pretty sure that Seifer suspected that, as well.

Maybe it was because there was a thunderstorm brewing that Squall couldnít refuse the call to battle. Never mind that theyíd both get in trouble, never mind that fighting on that rocky Balamb shore was tricky enough when the footing wasnít slick with rainwater.

Maybe it was because Seifer had never been a morning person, not in all of their two years together, and Squall was itching with morbid fascination. What was going on, in his damn unstable thought-processes?

There was something haunted about his icepale eyes, and Squall thought of mornings, watching him sleep, seeing his face changing in dreaming. Hells. How many mornings had he stayed? He thought, with an unexpected sort of empathy, that Seifer must have had a very disturbing dream indeed, to wake him up so early.

Not that understanding made it any easier.

He nodded succintly. "Aa. Letís go then. Before the storm passes."

Seiferís face changed, for just an instant, and Squall, checking the barrel of his gunblade, missed it. By the time he lifted his weapon, eyes keen on his rival, the moment had passed-- the threat gleaming icy and familiar in Seiferís eyes was all there was to see.

They walked out of the Garden together, shoulder to shoulder, as if to fight some common enemy. Neither was really conscious of the way their strides matched, the set of their heads the same. But Squall did dimly realize that Seifer was letting him walk beside him... odd admission of equality.

It didnít really occur to him to wonder why.

The air beyond the Garden was charged, smelling of potential and rain and windblown electricity. Seiferís silver trenchcoat, flat grey in the odd light of the incoming storm, snapped behind him like a battle standard.

Squall pushed his hair out of his eyes, not waiting to be asked if he was ready. He flung his gunblade up, glittering wet metal as the thinnest fall of rain began. It spun mad as it skirled back down, landing with a solid thunk in the stony ground.

Battle-lines drawn.

The sky answered his challenge, lightning singing across their nerves, the rain falling in earnest.

Who moved first, neither could remember, falling so easily into the rhythm of attack and defense, feint and thrust and spin. They were both good at this, and they both enjoyed it. Squall felt that the knife-edge of his concentration was the safest place in the world; living where there was only breath and muscle and sharp steel. Perhaps it was easier to obey his blood in moments like these, but fighting with Seifer-- truly fighting, not that condescending sort of combat he subjected his inferiors to-- was almost more intimate than sex.

Seifer in battle was Seifer at his finest, all cold honed blade and hard sweet motion. His body was young and hot and greedy, beckoning Squall to join the dance--

But Squall had learned to see too much that was raw on his proud perfect face.

They fought like thunderstorms themselves, or clashing destiny, step and thrust and pivoting in the radiating bodyheat around each other. Swinging his blade till it felt an extension of his arm, Squall found himself at an advantage, pressing Seifer back against their boundaries--

And Squall was panting on the ground before he knew what happened, gunblade loose in numb fingers. The-- the fucking bastard had used magic on him. That was a blast of Fira still ringing in his ears. Heíd-- lost?

Seifer advanced, merciless, eyes hard on that vulnerable frown that Squall harbored between his eyebrows, the only concession he would make to this, his defeat.

Seeing the glittering descent of Hyperion through the storm-hazy air, Squall flinched, suddenly not at all certain that Seifer wouldnít kill him--

He wondered calmly if heíd bleed on him, lovers tainted with a brutal affection. Eyes open to the roiling sky, he realized that it had stopped raining, without either of them noticing.

But the storm wasnít over, and the slice across his face brought him to his feet.

Half-blind with dripping pain and more than half-mad with reflexive shame-- he was in motion before he could think. Gunblade sparking hot on the stone, he swung ferociously up, an arc born only of instinct, not of aim--

He dealt the same hand he was given. Not that he was vengeful, not even that Seifer deserved it. Just what his body told him to do, singing the hard clear notes of combat.

Fallen panting to one elbow on the uneven ground, Squall waited for the morning Garden patrol to find them. Seifer lay on his back, laughing up at the retreating clouds. Idly, Squall wondered what the hell was so funny. Both bleeding, neither moved to help the other, as if it were an unspoken agreement between them.

Squall couldnít bring himself to feel guilty-- not for missing his morning assignment, not for flagrantly breaking Garden rules, not even for wounding a partner in a spar. Especially not for that.

He-- heíd seen Seifer Almasy wince.

Seifer, too, had seen the approaching blade, had been afraid that his opponent wouldnít let him live.

As if the scars would not be enough.

Is this what they had been training towards? Squall felt time seem to slow as he watched the summerstorm sky pour overhead. Speechless and separate, without even the satisfaction of a victor, and evenly matched-- Waiting for the storm to pass.


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