Disclaimer: Squaresoft owns everything! I'm a harmless hentai indulging a bad obsession. ^_^

Warning: This is SLASH! That's YAOI, m/m homosexual content. If you don't like that sort of thing, then don't read. You've been warned, and I just get a giggle out of flamers. Certainly doesn't make me stop writing. ~_^ If you've got real comments, though, I'd love to hear 'em!

This comes after "Looking for a Cure" and "The Art of War". Spoilers for Disk 3.

Battle Grounds: Tending Wounds

By BlackRose

There are times when being bent over the edge of a counter, the lip pressed cool into my hips and my trousers down around my knees, would be nothing to complain about. There are certainly times when the warm hand pressed firm to my waist wouldn't raise any objection from me. This just wasn't one of them.

"OW! Goddammit, Zell!"

"Sorry." The bastard didn't sound at all like he meant it. I'm going to wring his fucking neck.

There was a muted clatter on the counter and I chanced a look in time to see Zell toss down a spent cactuar thorn, the barbed end of it slickly red. I hastily averted my eyes again, the taste in the back of my throat bitter and sick, not wanting to know how much of my thigh had been torn out with it. Chunks, by the feel of it, raw and bloody on the end of each thorn.

I was going to be sicker than a dog if I kept thinking about it.

"Six more to go," Zell told me and he sounded disgustingly cheerful about it. "Just try to hold still, Irvine. It hurts less."

"Like hell it does..." I started, then sucked in a sharp breath, flinching, as a stab of bright pain through my hip told me Zell had grabbed onto the next thorn. /Hold still,/ I told myself firmly, biting down on the inside of my lip. /Just hold still.../

Zell yanked, thorn and flesh ripping out roughly, and I could either yelp with the pain of it or bite through my tongue. "Fucking SHIT!"

"Everything alright?"

Quistis' voice. Shit. I could feel the heat of the blood rushing straight to my face, leaving the rest of me cold. Did I mention there's a time and place for everything? And having Quisty get an eyeful of my bare ass when there's blood streaming down my thigh and a handful of those damn thorns sticking out of me isn't my idea of anything resembling the time and place a lady should be eyeing a guy's ass. Fuck.

"We're fine," Zell called loudly and I realized I hadn't heard the door open. Thank god for small favors. "I locked it," he told me in an undertone. "Didn't think you'd want Selphie in here." He paused, and I could hear the amusement in his voice. "Didn't think you could blush that far down, either."

"Fuck you," I snapped back. "Just get this the fuck over with!"

"You said it," he replied. It was all the warning I got and I put an impressive set of deep teethmarks in my forearm rather then yell again as he yanked out another thorn.

"Don't tense up," he told me. "Some of these are down in the muscle - tensing up isn't helping."

"You think this is easy?" I snarled back.

In answer Zell pushed his arm in front of my face. There, riddling his skin like pock marks, were the ragged pink blotches of fresh scars. I hissed through my teeth - the ones in my ass were bad enough, I didn't want to think about having my gun arm shot through with the damn things.

"Seventeen in that arm," he told me firmly. There was none of his usual energy or humour in his voice now. "The faster you do it, the faster it's over."

I would have bet my hat that Squall told him that. Probably while pulling the damn things out, same as Zell was doing to me. I bit my lip hard enough to taste blood as Zell pulled another two thorns out. "So we're comparing counts?" I gasped out in the pause as he wiped the blood off his hands to get a better grip on the last thorns. "How many did Squall have?"

"Don't know." Zell's reply was perfectly flat in tone, and that really should have been my first clue but I was in enough pain that it didn't register for a minute. "Rinoa's taking care of him."


OH. Fuck that shit.

Zell grabbed one more thorn and yanked it out. I yelled, then caught his hand. Damn. The boy's slender enough, but his wrists are like corded steel.

Zell wasn't having any of it and I didn't have anywhere near the strength to hold him. "Let go, Irvine. There's just one more."

"Wait just a fucking minute," I said. "If Rinoa's taking care of Squall, who did your arm?"

"I did," Zell replied, his tone flat again. "And as soon as we're done patching you up, you'll have to help me get the ones in my back. I can't reach that far."

My pain fogged mind was trying to make clean sense of this. "But... But you... he... I thought...."

I could feel the hand on my hip tense, fingers biting into my flesh. Zell's tone had dropped into an icy cold. "Irvine, do me a favor. Stop thinking and shut the fuck up. Will you let me get this last thorn out of your ass before you bleed yourself white and faint on me?"

He pulled his wrist out of my grasp - no hard task, I was cold and starting to shiver with a mix of pain and blood loss and I could barely make a fist. His hand against my hip pressed me against the counter, holding me there, and I tensed miserably as I felt his other hand jostle that last thorn.

A quick jerk, ripping one more muffled scream from me, and then it was over. Please, god, it had to be over, and I was sure half my leg was missing and the blood was pouring wetly down to my knee. Zell's hands shifted, pressing tight to the raw mess that had been my thigh.

Cure. Sweet god in heaven, I love that spell. It washed over me in a warm wave, sinking straight into the pain and cleansing it away. I made some incoherent noise, half gasp; Zell's arm caught me around the waist as the muscles in my leg crumpled, as weak and liquid as water.

My ears were ringing like a dozen beehives, the lights in the room darkened with swarms of little black dots that swirled in front of my eyes. Dimly I recognized the sensation as what came right before being unconscious and from a distance I heard Zell swear. Another wave of warmth sank into me, chasing the chill away, and the bees reluctantly faded and let me focus once more.

This, an irreverant portion of my mind declared fuzzily, was a bit more like it.

Zell's a hell of alot stronger then he looks, and not a bit of it junctioned in. Just pure muscle and hard work. His arm around my waist was holding me up, his palm curved warm around my hip and still radiating the soothing heat of a cure. My head was on his shoulder and I couldn't seem to find the muscles to lift it up. He shifted me slightly, his other hand brushing down my blood slicked thigh, but no flash of pain accompanied it. Whole and unhurt, and only the quick fading memory of the pain and a bit of dizziness to show for it.

If he ever gets tired of being SeeD, Zell would have a hell of a career in the medical field waiting for him.

The little room wasn't much better than a supply closet - no furniture, just a counter and some cupboards. Zell lowered me down to the floor, the deckplates icy cold under my bare thighs. I hissed, flinching, but the cold seemed to chase some of the cobwebs away from my head and I managed to sit up.

Zell crouched down beside me. He was white under the shock of his spiked hair, the dark tattoo down one blanched cheek standing out like a brand. "Alright?"

It took me two tries to find my voice and it came out in a sort of croak. "Yeah."

The blonde breathed a sigh and sat down all the way, legs stretched out in front of him. There was blood on his bare calf and more fresh scars dotting down the fleshy part of the muscle. And he'd pulled the damn things out himself? Fuck. I couldn't imagine it.

I wasn't bleeding any more but what there was had smeared halfway down my calf and was dripping on the floor. Making myself move was the hardest part - once I started moving it got easier. I yanked my boots off with clumsy jerks, tossing them aside, and wriggled the rest of the way out of my trousers. To hell with it - he'd seen it all already, and I wasn't going to ruin a good pair of pants any more then they already were if I could help it.

I turned back to him half expecting some comment - I knew damn well I probably looked rediculous sitting there bare arsed with nothing but an open vest and a hair tie that was half undone, my hair falling into my eyes - but Zell wasn't looking. He had his head down between his knees and he was starting to look green around the edges, eyes closed while he sucked in the classic 'I am not going to be sick' breaths through an open mouth.

Shit. He'd said he had more of the damn things in him, and now I was going to have to be the one yanking them out. I hate this, more then the battles themselves. It's one thing in the middle of an adrenaline rush, when you don't have time to think, but afterwards... I've seen enough blood to last a lifetime.

I pushed myself up, the muscles in my thigh protesting as new tissue was stretched. Gritting my teeth, I settled down on my knees beside him. "Where?"

One hand started to gesture at his shoulder but he winced and aborted the motion. "Gotta get the jacket off," he mumbled. There wasn't any color left in his lips.

I'll give him this - he's a damn sight tougher then any of us give him credit for. He didn't make a sound though I knew peeling that jacket off of him had to hurt. It, like my pants, had seen better days, but the real damage was underneath. The damn cactaur thorns had gone right through the material of the jacket; his shirt across his back was more red then it was white, the cotton soaked with blood, and a trail of thorn tips spiking a path across his shoulders and clustered over his ribs.

I must have gasped because Zell flinched slightly. "Didn't hit anything vital," he muttered. "Just hurts like hell."

"Shit, Zell..." Words failed me. And he'd had all of that stuck in his back the entire time he was taking care of me, and me bawling like a baby... Just... shit.

It took more then I liked to admit to grab onto one of those damn thorns. In the end I braced my free hand against the middle of his back, his shirt wet and sticky beneath my fingers, and closed my eyes before I yanked. It didn't come out easy and I could feel the flesh tear around the barbed tip before it finally popped free. Zell hissed sharply, but that was all the sound he made. I tossed the thorn aside quickly, feeling my stomach clench tight, and determinedly grabbed the next one. No wonder he'd wanted to get it over with fast.

Nine thorns, and by the last one my hands were covered in his blood, streaking up past my wrists, slick and making my grasp uncertain. Zell was hunched over, head down, but he didn't do any more then grunt slightly with each ripped out thorn. I was flinching more then he was. I threw the last one away, hearing it clatter against the floor, my fingers already peeling his soaked shirt up around his shoulders as I closed my eyes and let the heat of a healing spell flood my hands.

Zell made a sound, almost like a sob, his back arching into my hands. He was trembling under my palms, the muscles across his shoulders spasming as the flesh started knitting itself back together. I pressed hard, as though it might make the spell work faster, skimming my hands over each of the ragged holes.

"Fuck..." Zell whispered, his voice thready. He let his head fall back for a moment, resting against my shoulder the way I had leaned on his. "Thanks."

He was warm and compact against my chest, all sleek muscle and hard flesh. I slipped my arms around him, hands sliding under his shirt to press against his chest over the heavy beat of his heart and the movement of his labored breaths. A second spell eased both, letting him sigh as he relaxed, boneless, against me.

Kind of like the afterglow of sex, in a way, but you don't need to ask which one I like better. I don't mind a little rough play, but a man's got his limits.

I scooted back a few inches to rest my shoulder against the base of the counter, Zell collapsed against my chest. We stayed there for a few minutes, just breathing, both of us wrung out.

God, what I wouldn't give for a hot shower, a huge meal, and a few days in a big, soft bed.

"Shower," Zell muttered, echoing my thoughts, but he didn't open his eyes or make a move to get up. "...Fuck it."

"You wash my back, I'll wash yours," I offered, half jesting.

"Fine." But he still wasn't moving and I didn't know if I had enough strength to get me up, never mind moving him. So we stayed there, his back pressed up against my chest. There were definately times I wouldn't object to that arrangement, I thought. Hell, I wasn't objecting much now.

But that thought brought back the other one - like why the hell I was sitting here, instead of his erstwhile lover. If anybody had been left to tend their own wounds it should have been me, because I sure as hell wouldn't have asked Sephie for help. What the hell had Squall been thinking?

"Why do you care?" Zell snapped tiredly. I flushed - I hadn't meant that last bit to be out loud.

Might as well bite the bullet, though. At least Zell wasn't likely to beat the crap out of me for it just now - neither one of us wanted to move. "You and he... and he just goes off with Rinoa? What the hell?" If I let myself think about it much, I was going to get pissed on Zell's behalf. It was just a fucking shitty thing to do to anybody.

Zell twisted his head around, glaring up at me. "He and I what?" he demanded.

I gaped at him, my mouth open. Nothing had ever been flat out said, but I hadn't expected him to deny it. "You... I mean..." I fumbled, feeling the flush rise in my face and cursing my fair coloring. "He just dumped you for Rinoa? Just like that?"

Zell's expression was thunderous. "Fuck you," he growled, shoving himself up. His hand caught my stomach in passing, pushing me back against the counter breathlessly. "Fat lot you know about it. He didn't 'dump' me."

"Well, it's sure not a happy threesome," I gasped, struggling up.

"Shut up," Zell snapped back. "It's nothing. Never has been. I don't know what the hell you're thinking, but it's nothing."

I stared at him. I'd been so fucking sure! He was head over heels for Squall, it was obvious as anything. And even Squall couldn't be so oblivious as all of that. I blurted out the first thing that got to my tongue. "Is he fucking blind?"

For a minute I was sure I was about to have my nose broken. Zell tensed, fist clenched, and I flinched. But after a moment Zell slowly relaxed again, just looking at me. I couldn't read the expression on his face at all. He sighed, glancing away, and something like a wry smile twisted his lips. "What, you just figured that out?"

He couldn't be serious... then again, this was Squall we were talking about. Squall 'you don't need to know what I'm feeling and I don't give a fuck what you're feeling' Leonheart. "Did you tell him?"

"Hell, yes," Zell snorted. He leaned back on one arm, scrubbing the other hand across his face. "I made it real fucking clear. Didn't change a thing." Well, some people were like that. Sort of a shame, really - I've always figured playing both sides of the field just gives a guy more options. Zell kept speaking, though, and his next words caught me by surprise. "I feel sorry for Rinoa. She doesn't have a clue."

"Huh? Why?"

Zell glanced at me, looking honestly surprised. "Oh, come on... you gotta see it. The guy's obsessed. He's doesn't care any more about Rinoa then he does about me, and she doesn't have the faintest idea."

I settled back against the counter again. Without Zell draped over me my skin was starting to break out in chills, the drying blood on my leg cold and unpleasantly sticky. "There's somebody else?"

Zell made a rude sound. "You weren't with us at Balamb, but still... come on, Irvine, you're not some schoolgirl blinded with a crush. Think about it. Why the hell do you think Squall took up gunblade?"

"Because he's a bull headed bastard who always has to do things the hard way," I answered automatically, grinning.

It startled a laugh out of Zell. "Besides that," he said. "Who else do we know who uses a gunblade?"

Zell was just looking at me, waiting for the lightning to hit. I'm not that slow. I made a soundless sort of "oh" as the equation suddenly kicked into place. Zell's right - it's fucking obvious when you know what to look for. "Seifer."

"Right," Zell snapped out. "Ever since we were kids - anything one of 'em had, the other had to have too. And now... what does Seifer have that Squall doesn't?"

"The Galbadian army," I retorted sourly but Zell just shook his head. "And..." a thought occured to me, but I naively hoped I might be wrong. "And... a sorceress. He's the Sorceress' Knight."

Zell just met my eyes, unwavering. "And what's Rinoa?"

"Oh... shit."

"Yeah," Zell agreed humorlessly. "Like I said, I feel sorry for her."

"That's just... twisted." The more I thought about it, the more I felt a little bit sick. Squall's never been quite right in the head, I remember that from our shared childhood. But this... this was just really sick. Rinoa could be a pain, but she was basically a decent girl. And Zell was right - she wouldn't see it, she just didn't think like that. She wouldn't know she was being used in a game of one-up manship.

"He probably doesn't think it out like that," Zell added, conversationally. "But he's been obsessed about Seifer for so long... he probably doesn't think about it at all. He just reacts, and Seifer's been pulling his strings for years."

With Zell on the outside, and I knew there wasn't any love lost between him and Seifer. There hadn't ever been, not since they got in biting fights as toddlers. "What'd he do?" I asked. "When you told him?"

"Squall?" Zell shifted, wearily stripping the blood soaked remnant of his shirt off over his head and tossing it away. He started to lean back, then paused at the last moment, twisting to glance up at me. "You mind?"

"Hell no. You're warm." He was, and his weight against my chest and sprawled over my legs was nice. Zell closed his eyes again, relaxing.

"He didn't do anything. You really think he would?"

Well... no. Not really. He'd probably uttered his patented 'Whatever' and kept right on going. "But you made it really clear?" I pressed.

One clear blue eye slitted open to glance at me, his tone heavily sarcastic. "Gee, Irvine, I don't know. If a guy crowds you up against a wall and kisses you until you're blue, would you consider that 'clear'?"

Hell, there was a pretty mental picture. "Um... yeah. I'd call that pretty clear." Nice sounding, too. "And he didn't do anything?" I couldn't keep the note of disbelief out of my voice.

"Told me it was none of my business." Zell closed his eyes again, sighing. "Look, I don't really want to talk about it any more. Life sucks sometimes, y'know? Nothing to be done about it."

He sounded bone tired. I shut my mouth and left it that way. It wasn't the most comfortable position I'd ever been in, and the deck plating was leaving grooves in my ass, but Zell had the right idea - it'd be all too easy to just close my eyes and drop off for a bit.

His head was tucked against my shoulder, the fringe of his bangs brushing my neck. He looked younger like that, eyes closed, relaxed. His cheeks still had a childish sort of roundness to them, but all evidence of the child disappeared beneath his chin. Muscle and bone, stretched sleek across his shoulders and tapering down a pale chest to a slender waist. There were recent scars there, arcing across his chest and ribs in pale, whiter swatches of smooth skin, already fading. I touched one gently, tracing the path of it across his ribs and up into his sternum. Too many scars. We all had them, but still... shit. Sometimes, it was just too much.

The image of Zell just slamming Squall up against a wall and kissing him kept forming in my head. I wondered if he'd done it right there in the middle of the main hallway of Balamb Garden. If anyone would, it'd be Zell. He'd grown impulsive in his later years.

My hands flattened themselves against the warm flesh of his stomach. Dangerous ground, Kinneas. "None of your business" goes double for you. But damn it was nice to just hold him like that, all warm and solid. He's a real blonde, that's for sure - that bleached beachboy look is natural, and a light dusting of matching hair trailed down to his navel and disappeared beneath his belt.

I was a little surprised he didn't have any decoration... tattoos, piercings, something. After that tribal thing on his cheek you'd almost expect it. But there was nothing I could see, not even an earring... which didn't rule out things I couldn't see under his jeans, but I shut that thought down quickly.

He didn't need it, though. Not one bit. And Squall had turned this down... flat out turned it down, in favor of that icy aristocratic bastard with his fake airs. Leonhart was a fool.

And Zell was just... pettable. I swear. Like a cat curled up in your lap. I'd wondered once if he purred. Or gasped, maybe... he's so loud the rest of the time, I wouldn't be surprised if he's a screamer. Now there's a pleasant thought.

And I wasn't quite as tired as I thought I was, was I? Shit.

I shifted slightly to keep my worst thoughts more to myself and less in the middle of his back. This could get damned awkward in a hurry, and me without any fucking clothes on. Zell just shifted with me, his head turning to press his cheek to my shoulder. "...tired..." he mumbled.

Oh hell. I am such a soft hearted sucker for a pair of pretty blue eyes.

I slipped an arm around his shoulder, feeling him relax into me. He was worn out, and small wonder. The shit he does in a battle is a hell of alot more taxing then aiming a gun and firing it. Those muscles of his are all the weapon he needs.

Fuck, I wanted him. I might as well admit it. I really, really wanted him.

But he was curled up against me, and his breathing had tapered into soft little sighs, nice and slow. Impersonal as a kitten and twice as cute. I let my free arm slide around his waist and, bending, brushed my lips across his forehead where the stark lines of his tattoo tapered away. He tasted of sweat and dirt and a little of blood; we both needed a shower badly.

But I wasn't like hell going to wake him up. Not just yet. Settling my back more comfortably against the counter base, I leaned my head back and closed my own eyes. Nap first, shower later... and who knew, maybe I could sweet talk him into letting me wash his back.

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