Disclaimer: Squaresoft and a whole bunch of other people I can't remember own the boys, while I'm just a harmless hentai ~_^

Battle Grounds: Stand Down

By BlackRose

You know that feeling, when you're coming down off an adrenaline high? The cold sweats and the fluttery heart and the hot rush, all giving way to the afterward shakes?

Take that, and magnify it by a factor of ten. Or a hundred. Because we'd been on that adrenaline high for *weeks*.

I tell you, if Sir Cid hadn't broken out bottles of stuff that was harder then champagne during that little congratulatory pat on the back party, we'd all have been basket cases. It was like a floodgate bursting, and I saw it in all of our eyes one after another that night as the realization hit - I'm sitting down. I'm sitting down, not rushing around... and that's *okay*.

Because I don't have anywhere to go. I don't have anything I have to do. My gun is not across my back, even though I can still feel the phantom weight from spending every waking and sleeping moment of the last weeks with that holster strapped on. I don't have to have a precise tally of every bullet and shell that I own, or every damn spell knocking around the back of my head. There is nothing attacking me. I'm not attacking anything. I'm sitting down, in a real chair, with real food...

...it was about that point when I abandoned the hor'deurves and champagne to go find something stronger. My nerves had been strung tight for so long I had no fucking idea what to do with myself when they didn't need to be.

I only meant to have one shotglass, but the realization that I'd be sleeping that night in a real honest to god Garden issue bed prompted me to chase it down with a matching sibling. The idea of having actual coffee in the morning, and breakfast, all made by someone else, forced me to down shot number three and the passing thought that I could requisition both clean clothes and a toothbrush from stores made me give up and just snag the whole damn bottle. Fuck it.

Oh, we had fun that night. Don't get me wrong. Food, friends, alcohol, music, cameras, high spirits - we had lots of fun. But one by one, as the evening wore on, those little realizations caught up to us. I found Quistis tucked in at a table in a shadowy corner with a friend, nursing a bottle of brandy between them. Selphie flitted from one place to another, restless as a butterfly on amphetamines, her mouth going a mile a minute with no connection to her brain. Squall and Rinoa had pulled a vanishing act earlier, though we'd glimpsed them out on the balcony, and I didn't know what the fuck to think about that. Too much to think all at once. Overload. Hyne.

We'd been through hell. Straight through hell, and back out again. Now what? Hyne, I'd only gotten SeeD rank earlier that afternoon, handed to me along with a medal - gods, that was a jolt. Oh yeah, I never did take the fucking field test, did I? Imagine that. Guess taking down a sorceress covered any class credits I was missing, because there it was - diploma and SeeD rank report, right along with the shiny pin for service above and beyond duty. Get me, I'm official.

What the fuck were we supposed to do *now*? How the hell was I supposed to sleep without a gun damn near glued to my hand? And no bets on whether I'd blow the alarm clean through the wall the first time it went off in the morning. Hell, I'd blow a fucking piece of dust away if made any kind of noise.

What the hell do people *do* when they're not chasing all over the fucking planet fighting for their damn lives? A few weeks before I'd have laughed at the idea of doing that. Now, I couldn't remember what I used to do on days off. Or even just normal class days.

Eventually I ended up looking for some nice, quiet, out of the way place where I could sit and hopefully pour enough whiskey down my throat to make sleep a possibility. Which is where I found out Quisty and I weren't the only ones with that idea.

He was tucked into one of the window casings, hip and one foot resting on the sill, a dark brown bottle dangling from his fingertips. His *bare* fingertips, and I think that hit me more then the incongruity of him being still or quiet - bare hands, pale in the dim light, uncovered by leather or metal. I'd seen his hands ungloved before, for a quick wash, or to set a bone, heal a cut, whatever... but never like this. Never bare just because there's no reason whatsoever to have his gloves on. Without them, he was a unarmed as I was.

Well... no. Not really. Zell can kill barehanded as easily as he can with combat gloves. Bare feet, too, for that matter. The only time he's ever really unarmed is if he's out cold. But the symbology was there, and unnerving.

Look. Crisis finished. Game over. Stand down, the war is done. We can go back to being *people* instead of soldiers.

Zell moved his foot without a word, letting me lean opposite him. "Do you realize," he said, conversationally, his eyes watching the moonlight on the waves outside, "that we get to sleep in tomorrow?"

I took a real moment to think about that. Sleep in. Until noon, if I wanted to, or even later. Unbroken *sleep*, as much as my body could handle, enough to chase away the fatigue that had been hounding me for so many days I'd forgotten what real sleep was.

I thought about it, and then I downed another good sized gulp from the bottle I'd been carrying around. Zell laughed, soft and tired and a little bit ragged, and did the same from whatever he was drinking and we sat together and looked out the window as the world slowly spun by. The light of the Garden's grav ring flickered by at slow, lazy intervals, bright against the black curve of tattoo on Zell's cheek.

It would be really fucking easy to blame what I did then on the alcohol. On too much whisky and too much nerves, on an overload of adrenaline and stress and the body's natural reaction to mortal danger. There's a shitload of things I could blame it on.

Know what? I'm not going to. I did it because I *wanted* to - because I'd been wanting to, because the chance was there, he was there, and because kissing him is a fucking addiction. Because he tasted so damn good, and he felt good, and maybe, yes, because I *was* just drunk enough that I didn't care if he hauled off and broke my jaw for it.

He didn't. He opened his mouth and it was tequila he'd been drinking, sharp and sour on his tongue, and I could have just crawled right into his lap and glued myself there, with his mouth hot and wet under mine and the tiny noises in his throat and those impossible bare hands tangled in my hair.

I hadn't really thought it out. At all, and his mouth chased any thought I might have had clean out of my head. When we broke I was gasping and his eyes had turned a sort of cloudy blue that made me vaugly wonder if I might get a few bones broken yet. "Irvine..."

I had to hastily shush him and the words came on their own, falling easy off my tongue. "Look, Zell... Isn't a marriage proposal, okay? Just... if you want to... tonight..."

He took a moment to think about it and then his hands were back in my hair, tugging me down, and I swear to gods his kisses just got better each time around. "Fuck, yes," he gasped, and neither of us cared if it was a really bad pun or not. His hands were working up under my vest, hot on my ribs, and I somehow fumbled the mostly empty bottles onto the windowsill while sliding us off of it, all without taking my mouth off of his.

Let's face it - there are *much* better ways to sleep them giving yourself a fucking hangover.

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