By Scarlet Fever
“So, do you think you’ll be able to handle all this?”
Seifer looked at the large stack of papers, most of which were grossly unorganized. “I think so. By when?”
Mrs. Hsiao looked at him with a pitying look on her face. “Tomorrow, hopefully.”
Seifer nodded. “I can do it.”
“You’re not going to stay up all night to do it, are you?”
He smiled his most charming smile. “You worry too much.”
Mrs. Hsiao didn’t respond to his charms. “The dark circles under your eyes say you’ve stayed up one too many nights already.”
“You’re mothering me. Some people might get the wrong idea.”
She smiled. “I don’t think very many people would believe I had a boy toy.”
Seifer laughed. He had never thought of himself in that light before. He then looked at the pile of stuff he had to go through. He couldn’t think of a specific word to use for it. It was just a bunch of stuff piled together. “I better get to work.”
She nodded and opened the door for him. “Are you sure you’re going to be able to make it to your room?”
“If I take the elevator, which I was planning on, yes.”
She ‘tsked’ at him, closing the door. He walked to the elevator, balancing files in his long arms. He was glad there was nobody around, mainly because he probably looked like a moron, and he was afraid of bumping in to somebody.
Seifer got in the elevator, hitting the button for the third floor with his foot. He looked down, embarrassed, when someone walked by the elevator, giving him an odd look. He reached his floor, looking down at the shit he was carrying. He would be staying up all night. He never slept much anymore, anyway, and he had forgotten his sleeping pills. They were still in his medicine cabinet. Oh, well. He paused as he felt a few papers slip. An adjustment of his grip fixed it. The hall was empty and sounded dead, the thick ivory carpet absorbing Seifer’s footsteps. He wondered if the people behind the other doors were curled up in the dark, just sitting there, like he did. Probably not. They all were likely with loved ones, happier than Seifer could ever imagine being. He had to look at the door numbers to remember where he was. When he got his bearings, he turned left. The hall was like a well-lit labyrinth, each turn the same as the last, only the numbers on the doors pointing the way. There was an occasional janitor’s closet or alcove that held those machines where it costs too much to get old peanuts.
Seifer was too busy looking at the door numbers and fumbling in his pocket for his card key to see the person in front of him. He collided with the body, who was obviously in a hurry.
“Shit. I’m sorry!” The voice said. Male, tired. “Here, I’ll help you.”
“No, no, no. It was my fault…..it’s always my fault.” Seifer whispered as he kneeled down to pick up stray papers, concentrating on the floor, too embarrassed to meet this person’s eye. He would have smirked, thinking of Mrs. Hsiao saying ‘I told you so’, but he felt like too much of an idiot.
They both picked up papers without looking up, knowing the steps on how to be helpful but still be strangers. They reached for the last paper at the same time, their fingers brushing together. Seifer suddenly felt warm. He slowly looked up, meeting the eyes of the stranger. But stranger’s eyes they weren’t.
Squall dropped the pile of papers that he had gathered, speechless. Rippled waves of shock unsettled those oceanic eyes, mixed with something else. Shame, pain, fear.
“Squall…” Seifer barely whispered Squall’s name, his breath jagged.
Squall still couldn’t find his voice. He just stared. Finally, his throat opened. “I knew you were here.”
Seifer was surprised at this. “You did?”
“I saw you a couple of times, but I thought it was just my imagination…”
“You were going to say something else.”
Squall was going to add that he had felt Seifer, his presence like magic around him, but rather he studied Seifer, seeing more than just those endless eyes for the first time. The purplish rings under his eyes, the hollowed out cheekbones, carved away from the face dramatically, like he was severely sucking them in, the almost frail looking body that his tailored suit couldn’t hide. He still looked great, still possessed that sexual power, but he looked like he was wasting away.
Seifer looked behind him. “If anyone comes, we’ll be in the way.” He stood with the same cat-like grace he had always had.
Squall stood as well, handing Seifer the papers. Their hands touched, feather-like in its lightness. Squall had never been tanned, but Seifer’s paleness glowed next to his hand.
“You’re here for the press conference, aren’t you?”
Squall looked in Seifer’s eyes again, feeling lost. “Yeah. Rinoa wanted to come.”
“You two are still together?” Seifer’s voice sounded the same as it always had, but it had a new texture to it; softer, sadder. There was a slight pain in his eyes as he asked this question.
Squall said nothing.
He smiled. “You know me too well, Seifer.”
Now it was Seifer’s turn to say nothing.
“What are you doing here?” Squall stood to full height, which wasn’t very impressive compared to Seifer.
“I’m a researcher for the President’s office.”
Squall was surprised. “You’ve done good.” He just stared into those eyes, drowning, his lungs burning beautifully.
He smiled sadly. “Not really.” He hugged his body as if to hide it from Squall’s gaze, ashamed.
Squall so desperately wanted to reach out and touch Seifer, but was too afraid of rejection, of breaking that delicate body.
He looked like a trapped deer, beautiful and frightened. “I’ve taken up too much of your time. I’ll go.”
“Let me help you.”
Seifer shook his head, but his eyes said different.
“How are you going to open the door with your hands full?”
Seifer sighed. It was just a mere exhale of breath. His body remained stationary, tense. “Fine.”
They walked in silence to Seifer’s room, which was just down the hall from Squall’s. Happy coincidence. Seifer handed the card to Squall, waiting as he opened the door.
“You never said anything about Rinoa..” Seifer trailed off, entering his room.
Seifer’s room was a single, and much nicer than Squall, Zell and Quistis’s room. There was a small sitting area in the corner, consisting of a small couch and a chair, which was pulled up to a small round table where a laptop and a pair of eyeglasses sat. Seifer must have started wearing glasses, like Quistis. Squall tried to imagine him in the rectangular black frames. Seifer must have felt it, for he shied away, blushing. But it was hard to tell in the dim light. The bed was large and looked extremely comfortable. A brief flash of he and Seifer tangled in the dark green sheet flicked in Squall’s mind, causing him to feel hot all over.
“Yeah, I never mentioned Rinoa.” Squall said the last word quietly, failing to keep the seething tone out of his voice.
Seifer raised an eyebrow. “Trouble in paradise?”
“It hasn’t been paradise for a while.”
“Oh? I figured you guys were made for each other. True love…” He seemed to spit out the last part, like he had been burned. Squall hinted a note of disbelief in love that seemed to consume Seifer at this moment. And…jealousy?
“I detect some jealousy. Still have feelings for Rinoa? The way I feel now, you can have her.”
“I don’t want her.”
Squall’s heart flip-flopped, and he thought he was going to pass out.
“Listen, um…” Squall trailed off, not knowing what to say. He couldn’t say what he was really thinking. Seifer would probably think it odd if Squall screamed out ‘fuck me, please!’.
“Have you eaten yet? I know it’s late, but I’m hungry, and that way, we could, you know, catch up. I’m sure Quistis and Zell would like to see you.”
Seifer snorted. A snort even sounded sexy from him. “Yeah, I’m sure Zell would love to see me.”
“I bet he’s dying to get in some zingers, but he’s hung over. He’d be easy picking….”
Seifer bit his lip, smiling. “What about Rinoa?”
“Fuck her. No, wait. I can’t.”
“Ah, that’s the problem. She hasn’t changed.”
Squall suddenly became angry. Not with Seifer, but with Rinoa. He was already mad at her, but in the back of his mind, he thought ‘she touched him, kissed him.’
“What do you say?”
“I have work.”
“All work and no play makes Seifer a dull boy…”
“Alright, alright. If it will get you off my back, I’ll go. Can I change first?”
Squall was close to offering to take his clothes off for him, but held back. “I’ll go get Zell and Quistis. We’ll be back.”
Neither of them made a move. They just kind of stared at each other. Squall wasn’t sure what to do. Seifer seemed so different. Like he was dying, emotionally dying.
“Are you just going to stand there?”
Squall snapped back into reality. “Huh? Oh, I was just thinking….”
“You’re shocked by the way I look, aren’t you?”
“Actually, yeah…” Squall trailed off, feeling uncomfortable just standing there under Seifer’s steady gaze. “I’ll go now.”
Squall couldn’t leave fast enough. The room was getting too hot, the tension was as thick as soup. He walked back to his room in a daze, not sure how he actually knew which one was his. It surprised him greatly when he stepped through the right door.
“There you are.” Quistis looked at him with concern, the ‘big sister’ look on her face.
“Is Rinoa still here?”
Zell shook his head. “She was as pissed as you were.” Zell had had a shower, and now his light blonde hair was slicked back to his head, except for a few vagrant locks, which stuck up in various directions. He was wearing old jeans, his red sneakers and a gray T-shirt that said ‘Timber pub crawl 1982’ on it. Zell liked used clothes. He said they were more original.
“Where’d you go?”
“For a walk. Come on, we’re going to go eat.”
“Yes! I’m starving.” Zell paused. “What’s going on? You have an absent look on your face.”
“I’m not really that hungry…” Quistis began.
“You’re coming. No discussion. I have a surprise.”
Zell’s blue eyes lit up. “What is it? Aspirin?”
“I told you that you had drunk too much.”
“It must be something big. You look all spaced out, like you’ve just had a lobotomy or something…” Zell commented, trying to pat down the hair that was sticking up.
“Looking brainless is something you’d know a lot about, eh chicken-wuss?”
Quistis turned to see Seifer standing in the open doorway. He had changed into a pair of form fitting black leather pants. It was the type of leather that was soft enough to be butter. They were loose enough for him to move with ease and have the abilities to bend at the knees and walk without squeaking. He also had on black combat boots that were slightly scuffed with wear, and a blue button up shirt that a Galbadian Police Officer would wear, patches included. There was a pair of steel handcuffs linked in the belt loops. He looked like a cop from an erotic dream. All he needed was a baton.
“Don’t ever call me that again…” Zell trailed off, still not facing Seifer.
“If you like, I could call you pussy boy.” He laughed, a warm blanket of sound enveloping them. “Just kidding, Zell.”
Quistis just stared, as surprised with Seifer’s emaciated body as Squall had been.
“You know,” Zell turned to face Seifer, his balled fist reaching up and landing heavily with Seifer’s mouth. “I’ve been wanting to do that for years.”
“Zell!” Squall shot him a deadly look.
Seifer put up one hand, the other hand going to his mouth, where a small trail of blood began to seep from his lower lip. “It’s okay. I deserved it. I’ve deserved it for a very long time.”
For a moment, something passed through his eyes. Rage? It was gone before it could be detected, which made Squall wonder if it was really there at all.
Seifer slowly licked the blood away that pooled between his lip and his gums.
Zell really looked at Seifer for the first time. His skinny body, the dim eyes, pale, all too pale flesh. “My god…you look like shit.”
Seifer cracked a smile, his now split lip puffing up. It actually looked sexy. “So do you.” He turned to Quistis. “You look lovely, as usual.”
“Thank you…..but, what are you doing here?”
“I’m here for the press conference. I work for the President.” Seifer licked a drop of blood from his fingertip, causing Squall to think back to his dream, causing the sensation of drinking down that blood to flood his senses.
“Look, all this reminiscing is wonderful, but can we please go eat.” Zell made a melodramatic face, like if he didn’t eat, he would die.
“Glad to see some people never change. Always thinking with your stomach.” Seifer smirked again. Squall almost told him to stop it. He was being too desirable.
“By the looks of it, you don’t think with your stomach at all…” Zell went past him, out the door.
Quistis and Squall looked at each other, not sure how Seifer would react.
“Ha, ha, ha. Very funny, pussy boy. You know, I think I like this nickname a lot better.”
Quistis rolled her intelligent blue eyes. “Some things never change.”
“I have to hand it to you, Squall,” Zell was looking at him over his shoulder. “Your surprises are always big ones.”
Squall just shrugged. He was thinking about the dreams he had had. Did he have them because he could sense Seifer’s presence? Did they have some sort of connection?
When they reached the new restaurant, also part of the renovations, heads seemed to turn. Some of the eyes were looking at Zell’s tattoo, some were tracing Quistis’s curves, but most were on Seifer. It was hard to miss a 6’2” man who oozed sex appeal. There were women’s eyes full of desire, men looking at him out of jealousy, wonder and desire. Seifer slumped his frame, as if trying to curl into himself, avoiding the attention. The eyes went back to what they were looking at before, easing Seifer’s embarrassment. They chose a table in the far corner, away from the door and the bathroom. Zell sat beside the wall, a creeping plant beside his head, mimicking his tattoo. Seifer sat to his left, not wanting his back to the room. Squall sat across from Seifer, knowing that Zell would want to look at Quistis, and so he could do some appreciative looking all his own.
“So, what do you do for the President?” Quistis asked.
“I’m a researcher. Basically, I’m an overpaid librarian. But I’m not complaining. At least I don’t have to work at a fast food joint, like some people.”
Quistis looked at him, confused. This drew a smile of awe from Zell. Seifer looked at the display, raising an eyebrow knowingly. He replied, “Raijin works at a fast food place.”
Zell laughed. “I just pictured him in a paper hat!”
“I go bug him all the time. You know, ordering food I don’t want, taking his picture..”
“What about Fujin?” Squall took a drink of his water.
“Yeah, what about her? She was such a fox.”
Zell got odd looks from the rest of the table.
“She’s assistant manager at a book store. She has to talk normally now.”
“Do you live with them?” Zell asked, lighting up when the waiter arrived with their menus.
Seifer made a rude noise. “Fuck, no. I mean, they’re my friends and all, but no.” He opened his menu. “Besides, I’ve heard them doing it already. Once was enough.”
Squall started coughing as his water went down his trachea.
“Glad to see your sense of humor is intact.” Quistis smiled at him, concerned.
Seifer paused before replying, collecting his thoughts. “Look, I want to get something out of the way first, right off the bat.” He lay his hands on the table, as if showing his sincerity. “I want to apologize to all of you. For everything I’ve ever done. Anything fucked up and retarded I’ve ever done in my life seems to have negatively affected you three….”
Quistis stopped him. “If you’re talking about the Ultimecia thing, never mind. You were under her control. You couldn’t help it.”
He held up his hand to silence her. “I need to do this. Please?” He waited, then continued. “I may not have been in my right mind, but it was my fault for letting Matron and Ultimecia control me. I had a weak mind, and the whole thing has really made me re-evaluate myself as a person. I’ve been suck an asshole, and I wish someone had beat some sense into me before today.” His eyes shot to Zell.
“Ultimecia wasn’t controlling me whenever I made fun of you,” he looked at Zell, “or whenever I gave you a hard time because you were an authority figure,” the ocean of his eyes swept to Quistis. They finally landed on Squall. “Or when I would treat you so horribly when you didn’t do anything to me. I’ve looked at myself, and I found that during that time, I was pretending to be something I wasn’t. My megalomania was based on my low self-esteem, my lack of a positive self-image, and I was overcompensating, thinking that if I could pretend to have all this confidence, I would eventually believe the lie. It was stupid of me, and I hope that you can forgive me for, well, my life. You don’t have to, and if you don’t want to, I’ll totally understand….” Seifer trailed off, not knowing what to say.
“Have you decided?” The waiter’s high-toned voice startled them. None had realized that they had been sitting so quietly.
“Um, I’ll have five hot dogs.”
“Surprise, surprise,” Squall muttered under his breath. “I’ll have the spaghetti. And Bordeaux.”
Zell quietly groaned. “I’ll have water, too.”
The waiter poised his pen as Quistis decided. A snooty gesture.
“The Balamb Fish, and Chardonnay.”
“I’ll have the vegetable stir fry and a White Russian.”
The waiter bustled himself off in a condescending way. At least he had broken the tension.
Seifer just stared down at his napkin like it was the most interesting thing in the world.
“I forgive you.” Squall said quietly. “It takes a lot of strength to admit something like that about yourself.”
“You also ruined all our moods.” Zell replied sourly, taking a bite of a breadstick.
“I’m sorry, but I felt like it was something I had to do….”
“Look, let bygones be bygones. Alright?” Quistis patted Seifer’s hand in a motherly gesture, then cut the air with her hands, blowing away the dim air that hung over them. “Let’s talk about something else.”
“When’d you get that?” Zell pointed to the tattoo encirlcing Seifer’s now slender wrist.
“About eight months ago.” He looked across the table at Squall, whom he could feel watching him with those shrewd ice eyes. He had to look away. Why did everyone always look at him? It seemed that wherever he went, he was being watched by countless pair of eyes, scrutinizing him, judging him. He sighed and turned back to the conversation. For some reason, Zell was talking about prison.
Zell looked over, seeing Seifer looking confused. “Oh, about six months ago, I had to spend the night in the drunk tank.”
He smirked. “I’m not surprised. You never could hold your liquor. Remember that time where you got lost on the beach..”
Zell gasped. “Never speak of that again! And, no, I don’t remember.”
“Oh, well you have to tell us now.” Quistis propped her head up with her hands, her golden braids swaying.
Seifer smiled and opened his mouth, but closed it, a look of pain crossing his face.
“What?” Squall looked over to see Zell’s hand under the table.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Zell put his fork back on the table. “My hand slipped.”
Seifer stared at him, a look of pain and rage on his face.
“Are you alright?”
Seifer waved his long fingers. “Fine. You could have done it in my leg, you know…”
Squall squirmed in his seat when he realized where Zell had injured him.
“So,” Seifer regained his composure. “Why were you in the drunk tank?”
“I don’t know. I think it was police brutality. I wasn’t drunk.”
“But you always act drunk, so he was just being himself.” Quistis answered for him.
“That’s nothing.” There was a challenging note to Seifer’s smooth voice. “I was arrested for public nudity once.”
Zell laughed, but stopped so Seifer could continue.
“We, meaning me, Fujin and Raijin, were at this rave. This was about a month after we moved to Deling City, because I still didn’t have heat. Anyway, I got a little carried away with the acid, and was totally out of my tree. There was this chick there who I was convinced was my girlfriend, and it turns out she went to high school with Raijin, and she was fucked out of her mind too, so she thought I was Raijin, and I went to her place, and one thing led to another.”
“This is where it starts to get fuzzy. I guess Raijin and her used to go out or something, and he cheated on her, so she wanted to get him back, and thinking I was him, she stole my clothes and took off. I woke up, and thought it was my house. I got confused because it was different. There was a knock on the door, so I opened it, and I was facing, like, fifty cops. And I was stark naked.”
Zell started laughing. “She must have been really fucked if she thought that you were Raijin!” It was hard to make out what he was saying through all the giggles.
“That wasn’t even the worst part. I was just put in the general hold, and I was ‘claimed’ by a big scary biker named ‘Big Joe’. It was the worst day of my life, and all during that night, I plotted painful deaths for Raijin.” Seifer had a big grin on his face.
“Glad to see you can look back on it and smile.”
He shrugged at Quistis. “At the time, I was totally shitting my pants, but now I just find it amusing.”
“Okay, you win.” Zell sounded somewhat defeated, but his child-like face lit up when the snotty waiter brought their food.
“Don’t worry, Zell, I’m sure you’ll do many retarded things in your lifetime. You’ve already done enough retarded things for five people’s lifetimes.”
“Blah, blah, blah. Everyone loves to make fun of me, don’t they?” He started devouring his food.
Quistis was about to make a snide remark, when she saw Selphie come into the dining room. “Hey, there’s Selphie. What’s with her?”
They looked to the entryway, where Selphie was standing, somewhat morose looking. She wasn’t smiling as usual. She had changed from her childish jump-dress and was now wearing a pair of black capri pants that had red embroidered dragons on the bottoms. Her shirt was a red silk, which brought out her hair. It had a high mandarin collar and black frog closings.
Quistis waved to her, and she lit up when she saw a familiar face. Sadness never seemed to keep in those bright green eyes.
Selphie wandered over to their table, careful not to bump anyone. When she saw Seifer, a look of surprise flushed her girlish face. He stood, politely greeting her. She stopped in front of him, dwarfed by his one-foot height advantage over her.
“Hello, Selphie.” Seifer’s voice didn’t betray it, but he was unsure of himself, unsure of what her reaction would be to him.
Her response was to jump in place, wrapping her lanky arms around his slender waist. “Seifer! It’s so good to see you! How have you been?” She backed up, holding him out at arm’s length. Seifer was speechless.
Selphie took in his appearance. “Have you been sick?” She looked concerned.
Her range of emotions amazed Seifer. “Yeah, actually I have been.”
“That’s too bad. Mind if I pull up a chair?”
“Go ahead.” Quistis motioned with her hand. She took a chair from another table and plunked it down between Squall and Quistis.
After the obligatory explanation of Seifer’s whereabouts for the past year and such, Quistis cocked her head at Selphie. “Are you alright?”
“Blah! I guess so.” She put her chin on her hand, pouting slightly. So very child-like. “It’s Irvine.”
The others nodded knowingly, while Seifer raised his eyebrow, a small, but dramatic gesture. “I don’t know Irvine, so what?” He looked over at Selphie. “I don’t mean to pry, though.”
She waved her hand. “No, no, no. It’s not prying. He’s a jackass, that’s what. He knows I hate it when he stares at other women, but he does it anyway. It’s not like I mind him looking, but he does it all the time!” Her words came out in a rush.
“Where is he now?” Zell took a drink.
“Upstairs with Rinoa. I bet they’re having a relationship bitchfest.”
“Let them.” Squall scowled, causing Seifer to feel tightness throughout his entire body. He had to look down so they wouldn’t see him blushing. Why was he doing this to himself?
“You’re angry now, but both of you will get past these little spats, you always do…” Quistis was always the voice of reason.
“I guess so.” Selphie was suddenly very sullen. Seifer wondered if she had some sort of schizophrenia.
After various trivial conversations about shoes and why the restaurants in Balamb had bad service, Seifer looked at his watch. “Look guys, I’d love to continue debating the greatness of rubber compared to leather, but I actually do have work to do.”
“What time is it?” Squall asked.
“Ten.” Seifer began to stand.
“Oh, shit! I was supposed to see Laguna.” Squall rose quickly. “Maybe I can still catch him.”
“I’ll walk out with you.” Seifer offered, secretly giddy at the prospect of being alone with him. Giddy?
Seifer couldn’t escape without being trapped in another of Selphie’s vice-like embraces. “It was good seeing you. I mean that.”
He half smiled. “Thanks.” He waved at the others, and hurried to catch up to Squall.
“Okay,” Selphie turned to Zell and Quistis. “Now that he’s gone, we can talk about him behind his back.”
“He’s so…” Quistis trailed off, collecting her thoughts. “Different. But I guess he matured. He has been through a lot.”
“He must have been really sick.”
Zell and Quistis just looked at each other, neither sure if they bought that line.
“What?” The face that Selphie made was childish, even for her.
“Nothing.” They both replied in unison.
“I think a gust of wind could snap him in half.” Zell whispered.
“What was wrong with his lip?” Selphie took a drink of water.
“Zell punched him.” Quistis said this with mirth dripping in her silky voice.
He just shrugged. “Anyway, that’s just the way Irvine is.”
Selphie pouted. “Seems he enjoys Rinoa’s company more than mine…” She trailed off. “Well, if he wants it that way, fine.” A glint of mischief seemed to make her eyes glow.
“Head games don’t solve anything.”
“Why do you always have to be so rational, Quisty? Two can play his little game.”
Quistis sighed. “Just don’t. Tell Irvine how you feel. Or, if it bugs you so much, dump him.”
“Hmmmm,” Selphie seemed to ponder this. “I wonder if Seifer’s single.”
Zell chuckled under his breath. “I don’t think he’s your type.”
“Can you both please act mature for once?”
“Sure we can act.” Selphie replied.
Quistis just rolled her eyes as Selphie pointed out to Zell that leather was cruel to animals, and besides, it doesn’t last that long.
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