A Christmas gift from me to the lovely folks who read my LiveJournal; and especially to Joy who encouraged it. Thanks should go also to Tenshi whose Silver and Gold inspired it (one line in particular). None of these characters are mine, and I'm not worth suing :D
The snow had a way of taking the edge off of the cold.
Squall Leonhart was not one to admit such sentimental observations to another, but standing alone outside in the down-soft scattering of white, even maudlin thoughts seemed safe. It had been so bitingly cold before that he'd felt it even through his heavy leather jacket, so cold that his pants had been stiff and creaking as he moved. He reached out a hand to catch a tuft of white in his palm; against the chilled black leather of his glove, it lingered, not melting. It occurred to him that if the snow stayed, if it piled up hip-deep as it had two winters past, he could practice movements in the deep drifts. Frustrating, exhausting, almost always leaving him feverish and aching from head to foot; and yet oddly satisfying. He'd enjoyed that winter, he had to admit.
He closed his hand over the snowflake, and headed towards the warmth of the Garden proper with more than a small sense of reluctance.
As he pushed past the turnstiles, his foot slipped in a puddle, and he was hard pressed to catch himself before anyone noticed. He realized upon looking up, however, that there hadn't been anyone to notice.
The lights in the Balamb Garden entrance-way had been dimmed, half of the banks turned off, to conserve energy or enhance the dancing colors strung over anything and everything. Squall groaned inwardly; before he had stepped out, the promenade had still been brightly lit, and it had been easy to ignore certain things. Strings of Christmas lights, for instance, or tinsel dangling from the oddest places and sprouting from the defenseless ornamental plants. It had been easy to ignore the lack of students, their numbers dwindling as the holiday grew nearer, until only a sorry handful were left. True, he was often alone, but even ignored, the activity around him was a part of normalcy that he found he wasn't comfortable without. In the dimmed lights and the winking colors, the emptiness seemed growingly oppressive.
He shook his head, as if to clear it of the disconcerting thoughts, and quickened his pace to the dormitory. Behind the closed door of his room, he might be able to ignore that there were no students in the adjoining hallways, chattering about the upcoming SeeD exam; he might even feel thankful that he could finally immerse himself in meticulously taking apart the barrel of his gunblade, and cleaning it. As if he didn't do that often enough waiting for the mornings so that training could resume. He quickened his pace.
Footsteps brought his head up quickly, and he was annoyed at the surge of eagerness he felt to be in another human presence. The Headmaster was rushing past, but he paused to grin and wink. "Not planning on missing dinner, are you, cadet?"
He bit back the instinctive urge to refuse attending, and shook his head once, quickly. He was expected to go, now that he'd been seen by the Headmaster. "... Of course not."
He watched the Headmaster disappear towards the cafeteria, whistling carols and stepping with an obvious bounce. Only when the man disappeared in the direction of the Cafeteria did he let his shoulders slump a little.
If he hated the emptiness of the Garden at Christmastime, he hated even more the Headmaster's attempts to provide them with the comforts of the homes they didn't have. The crowning glory of his Christmas at the Garden was his holiday "feast." A bare dozen students and instructors, stranded at the Garden for the holidays, all gathered around a small table, the awkwardness emphasized by the fact that few of them knew each other's names or had ever cared to during the course of the normal training year. Instructor Trepes, who also stayed over the long break, always found some excuse not to go; Seifer Almasy never bothered with excuses or his presence at the holiday dinner. Squall had blown his chance to follow in either of their intelligent examples.
He sighed, resigning himself to it. He wondered if there was any point in changing. The snow that had fallen in his hair and dusted his clothes had melted, leaving only their damp memory clinging in the fur around the collar of his jacket and in the clinging strands of his bangs. Maybe if he showed up in the state he was, he could get sent back to his room to change and never come back to the dinner. The prospect lent him the energy to head quickly towards the Cafeteria; the sooner he got there, the sooner this could be over with.
He later thought he should have not made an appearance regardless of what he'd told the Headmaster.
Instead, he found himself sitting next to Seifer Almasy, wondering why exactly the other boy was even at the dinner, and how he'd ended up next to him. That it had been the only vacant seat left never occurred to him- he could have made someone else move over, he supposed, even if it called attention to himself. It would have been better than having to sit next to Almasy.
"Decided to show up, didja, Leonhart?"
He could have asked the same, but he didn't. He only glowered at his empty plate. Cid seemed to take this as a not-so-subtle hint, and reached over to heap mashed potatoes onto the plain dish. "Now that everyone's here, dig in!"
"So, Trepes have to stalk you down?"
Squall pushed a fork violently through the lumpy potatoes, imagining it was Almasy's head. Quistis had probably had to stalk Seifer down, was more like it. He furtively stole a glance at the others at the table: the Instructor was, conspicuously, absent once again.
Seifer's arm reached across the field of his vision and snatched up a roll. At the other end of the table, two girls had caught the Headmaster's cheerfulness and were humming Christmas songs to each other and giggling. The student next to him jabbed him, unintentionally of course, with his elbow as he helped himself to the sweet potatoes.
Squall's appetite, already non-existent, reversed into an irritated twisting in his stomach. He pushed his plate away, determined to get up and leave, but Almasy caught him before he could go.
"Too good to eat with us, Leonhart?"
"... Just you, Almasy," he sniped back. He felt faintly guilty when Headmaster Cid shot him a reproving look.
"'Tis the season to be merry, Squall."
"Whatever." He picked at his food. "You never usually come to these stupid things anyways, Seifer."
Seifer cleared his plate and shrugged. "Feelin' generous, I suppose..." He flashed Squall a smile; the comment was clearly meant to provoke another reaction out of him. Maybe he should just punch Almasy's lights out and get kicked out of the room, so that he could get out of this dinner. He opened his mouth to reply in kind, but the Headmaster stopped him.
"That's enough out of both of you," he said, very quietly, and they both knew they'd pushed it far enough. Squall turned his focus to eating, chewing on a bit of the roast beef. It was the best way he knew to block them out: put his full attention into something that didn't involve other people, or involved them only minimally. Their cheerfulness grated him worse than any of Almasy's barbs.
By the time dessert was brought out, the awkwardness between the others seemed to have been dissolved. Being the only ones still at the Garden seemed to be enough excuse for them to bond over pumpkin pie and chocolate mousse. Squall felt the need to be somewhere else triple, even halfway standing before a look from the Headmaster caused him to sit again. Almasy, of course, sniggered at this.
It was then that he became aware that no one was talking to Seifer, either. And Seifer had made, of course, no attempt to talk to anyone else at the table. The girl next to him had even pulled her chair around to the other side of the table to flirt with the student across from her. Squall shook his head. Seifer must have been trapped into this as much as he had been; there was no other reason for him to make a showing, was there?
The table was finally cleared, and Squall let out the breath he'd been holding. He glanced at the Headmaster, but Cid shook his head. Squall's question was answered when one of the Instructors reappeared with an armful of gifts.
"What would Christmas be without gifts?" the Headmaster announced cheerily, and several of the students let out excited giggles.
Squall, however, had had enough. He pushed himself away from the table, and opened his mouth to protest.
Seifer beat him to it. "Thanks, but no thanks. I'm not big on charity. Have a merry fucking time, losers."
Squall's meager excuse died in his throat, and while the others stared in surprise at Almasy as he stalked out, he made his own escape quietly.
But he fled the room before the Headmaster could finish his question, and ducked into the roundabout.
Seifer was around the corner, as if he'd been waiting for him. "Cheerfulness too much for you, Leonhart?"
Squall narrowed his eyes suspiciously, without slowing his course towards the dormitory. His mouth settled into a line, corners turned distinctly down.
"Not much into Cid's little pity-party myself," Seifer said, falling in step with Squall. "Hyne, did you even taste that food? Worse than hotdogs, if ya ask me."
He hadn't, but he let it slide. He just wanted to be by himself. Being alone on Christmas eve was better than any company that was in the Garden tonight. And he definitely did not need Almasy trailing along, looking for sport because there was no other sport to be found in Balamb at the time.
"I'm not looking for a fight, Seifer."
"Who said I was looking for a fight?" Almasy put both hands up in the air, as if in surrender. "Christmas night, peace and goodwill and all that shit, isn't that right? Your favorite pansy ass holiday, isn't it, Leonhart?"
"Whatever." He sped up his pace, but Seifer, with his longer legs, didn't even blink as he matched his stride.
Laughter reached his ears, drifting from the group that had finally emerged from the Cafeteria behind him. Soft voices talked excitedly, admired gifts that others had received. Squall walked away from them as fast as he could.
"Lookit those losers. They got the spirit, eh Leonhart?"
He turned so sharply on his heel that the rubber sole made a loud squeaking on the tiled floor. Irritable as he was, he forced himself to keep his pace regular, brisk but not curiously so. Oh no. He was desperate to get Almasy away from him, but not *that* desperate.
When he arrived at the doorway to his room, he turned, scowling. Seifer was still there, his expression still taunting, but oddly expectant as well.
Squall frowned. "Don't you have somewhere better to go?"
Seifer's expression changed, not quite anger, but his mouth tightening and his eyes going flat. Squall blinked, thrown off his guard for a moment by the reaction, when Seifer's face and tone slipped back into the comfortably mocking.
"No. But do you?"
/No./ "Yes... I'm ... going outside."
Seifer laughed. "Out *there?* Didn't you just come in? You should know it's fucking freezing." But surprisingly, he stepped aside, as if to let Squall past, if that was really what he wanted. "You're a brave man, Leonhart."
Squall looked up, searching for derision in those words, but if it was there he had no ear for it. "The snow..." he started lamely, and then let it drop. He scowled and fixed his eyes on the table in the middle of the room, now emptied of the usual books and papers scattered over it during regular semester. Maybe Seifer would buy a hint and leave him alone.
"Always seems warmer when it's snowing," Seifer said, half to himself. He gestured at the door. "So you going, or what?"
Squall shrugged, wordlessly, and opened the door to his dorm room. Out his window he saw that the soft white falling had stopped, and the deep indigo of night stretched out past the reach of the Garden's bright grounds lighting.
"It looks cold," Seifer said behind him.
He shrugged again. "No more snow."
"Well... have fun." Seifer waved one arm barely in his direction, turning his back on Squall. "Maybe when they bring you back covered in ice I'll offer to chip you out. No promises, though..."
Squall watched him go, curiously almost, still unable to read what was going on in Almasy's head. He didn't go outside; he'd had enough of that tonight. He thumbed mindlessly through an issue of Weapons Monthly, and eventually stretched out on his back on the bed, staring out his window.
Sometime before midnight, his attention was snapped back into focus when there was a heavy thud at his dorm window. Sitting halfway up, he saw a splattered snowball, and beyond that he saw the group of students and instructors that he'd left in the Cafeteria, running around in the cold and laughing. Well-packed balls of snow flew through the air, and students chased each other with the glee of normal children their ages.
He frowned to think that they were packing down the drifts he'd been eyeing earlier in the day.
He frowned harder. He'd never even thought of /playing/ in the snow. Not since...
Something ached dully in his chest for a few breaths, until he forced it away in old habit. He got up, not knowing where he was going exactly, only wanting to get away from the people outside of his window.
He arrived at Almasy's door, not even really expecting him to be there. When it opened, he didn't have anything to say, wasn't even sure why he'd gone there. Seifer, surprisingly, had nothing to say either, only stepping back to let him in.
The door whooshed shut behind him, and a cold sunk so deep in his stomach that he stared out the window so that none of it would show on his face.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Seifer eyeballed him, and a slow smirk wiped away the unreadable expression he'd been wearing. "Must have been arctic out there. You're icy already."
"I didn't go outside."
"Chickened out, eh?"
"I hate Christmas."
To that, Seifer had no response. He finally shrugged. "You would, Leonhart."
Squall crossed his arms, clutched tensely at the wrinkles gathered at his elbows. "What? You like it?"
Seifer made a laugh that sounded slightly strangled.
"You don't have a family," Squall said flatly. "Fuujin and Raijin aren't even around for the break this year."
Seifer scowled at him. "If you changed your mind about fighting tonight--"
"Don't tell me... your favorite pansy ass holiday."
He expected Seifer to attack, to swing at him or to spit words at him. Instead, another smile crossed those thin lips. "You're fucking sadder than I thought, Leonhart."
Squall headed for the door. "Whatever."
An arm blocked his path. "You're so jealous of the other guys that you're green. You miss them, whoever abandoned you here so that you had to spend your pathetic Christmases with some sorry ass group of losers and one fat dude?"
"I didn't even know them."
"So what are you sulking for?"
He glowered at Seifer, hoping that the other boy would get the point and move. "You were the one following me around."
Seifer made a non-committal gesture, grinning. "What, can't I bring a little joy into the lives of my fellow students?"
"Is that your answer to every fucking thing, Leonhart?"
Seifer leaned against the door, crossing his arms and watching Squall. The grin didn't leave his face, but a line had formed between his brows. Equally stubborn, Squall planted his feet shoulder-width apart and stood firmly in front of the other boy.
Seifer's patience broke first. "Well?"
Squall cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Well you gonna stand there like an idiot for the rest of your Christmas eve? When the rest of Cid's little protégés are having snow fights and drinking hot chocolate?"
Squall didn't bother to reply.
"Don't tell me... This is better than your previous plans."
"Well shit, this is better than mine."
Squall wasn't sure if the last statement had been sarcastic or not. He looked at Seifer suspiciously, wondering if the cold had gone to his head. He looked doubly suspiciously at him when Seifer reached out one hand and casually rubbed Squall's upper arm.
"Still cold, eh Leonhart?"
"It's cold," he found himself agreeing, even though it was actually too hot in Seifer's room. But Seifer finally left his post in front of the door, crossing the tiny room to turn up the heat.
Squall could have left then and there, if he'd wanted to, but for some reason he didn't move. Instead he thought about the snow, and the many feet outside, tracking through it.
It was better being here than being in his room, watching the snow fights and the laughter and everything else he'd deliberately separated himself from. He'd thought anything was better than having to hang around with Almasy, but it seemed he was wrong. He'd thought he liked being alone...
He clutched together the front of his jacket, the fur collar snug against his neck, his gloved fingers creaking against the smooth leather. Against his chest he could feel the weight of his necklace, and on his tongue he could feel the weight of words he wouldn't say.
"You know," Seifer said, breaking the silence, causing him to turn and see that the blonde had shed his long trademark jacket. "It's a pretty fuckin' sorry state of affairs when the best company around is Mr. Silent and Brooding."
"I'm not enjoying myself exactly either," he sniped back, stepping in range of the door-sensors. The door swished back to leave him staring into the empty, dim hallway; but before he could step out of the room, fingers grabbed his wrist, clutching almost painfully. He stopped Seifer from slamming him into the nearest wall, but only just barely.
"Not warm enough in here for ya?" Seifer growled. Letting go of his wrist, Seifer caged him in with both arms.
Squall felt his hands fist, his muscles tense in preparation for a fight. These sorts of dealings with Seifer he could accept; he was used to. "Can't take being all alone on Christmas eve, Almasy?"
Seifer's mouth twitched. "Fuck you, Leonhart. You're the one who came in here like some lost puppy."
The muscles in Squall's arm jumped, but he kept it at his side. "Maybe I just wanted to know why you were following me around all evening."
"Ha, don't give me that shit. You're fucking lonely. And after all that acting like you're some 'lone wolf'..."
"Screw off, Seifer." But Almasy had caught him, and they both knew it. His only consolation was knowing that Seifer was as bad off as he was.
The odd, wary silence settled between them again, an uncomfortable momentary ceasefire. Seifer shifted his weight, but did not drop his arms. The scrape of his shoe against the floor was an empty dry noise in the deserted hallway. Blue eyes watched him, ice blue, chill as the night sky outside. Penetrating, questioning, /wanting/ something, and infinitely, achingly familiar in the hint of something repressed, just beneath the hardness. He glared back, unflinching, jaw set as stubbornly as Seifer's own. He could have taken a swing, shoved Seifer back, or otherwise forced him away; but as much as he resented the other's closeness, something resisted the impulse to fight back.
He noticed Almasy shiver, bared arms prickled all over with gooseflesh. He guessed that the black, open vest was not much protection against the chilly air, especially in contrast to the overwarmth of Seifer's room. Squall could feel, though, the warmth radiating from the arms stretched out beside his head, and the warmth of Seifer's breath. It was bizarrely ... comfortable.
And then the arms dropped, and there was only the chill atmosphere of the empty corridor biting at his cheeks. Seifer's words sounded like his own.
"Whatever." Seifer smoothed back his hair, straightened up nonchalantly. "I'm not standing around in the hallway all night freezing my nads off. I'm going to bed."
He had originally interpreted the surge of heat that went through him when Almasy turned away to be anger. He had only intended to ... what? Grab Seifer's shoulder maybe, turn him around, tell him off? But suddenly he had the other boy against the wall, mouth pressed to mouth, warding off the cold with another type of warmth entirely. He let go almost the instant he realized what he'd done, slamming down a neutral mask over his emotions, stepping back quickly. His mouth, his fingers, the spot against his chest where their bodies had met so briefly seemed to cool disappointingly quickly.
Seifer's mouth twisted, but it was unamused. "So that's why you came? A little friction to keep the cold away, Princess?"
He wanted to say no. Or yes. Out loud, he said neither. The thought of Seifer's mouth made his skin crawl and his stomach tighten hotly simultaneously.
"Think I'm that easy, Leonhart?" But Seifer's eyes said it all. He was suddenly predatory, looking at Squall with new interest, the distaste not entirely fled from his quirked lips. Squall could have him if he wanted, hated rival or not. None of it mattered, in the dark; maybe it would make the meetings of steel between them all the sweeter.
"Yes." The word, he thought, was cold, even for him.
Not quite anger colored the reply. "Fucker."
He could have escaped again, then and there, left this with his pride no worse for wear, and in fact, having scored a minor victory over Seifer to learn that he could run his tongue over Almasy's lip and have him waiting for more. But he thought about snow, about laughter, and holidays, and his empty dorm room, and the unornamented blackness of the winter sky, and he realized he couldn't leave. "I was counting on it," he said, and he couldn't make himself smile, but he met Seifer's ice-blue inquiry with a challenging look of his own.
And then Seifer's fists were knotted in the fur ruff of his jacket, spinning him around, knocking the breath out of him as he hit the wall again. He let Seifer play his dominance game, because he was getting what he wanted -- warmth, body heat, something other than the empty comfortless silence of his room. Their mouths met again, his bottom lip scraping against that bare hint of stubble, burning from that rough contact. He drew the tip of his tongue over the soft arch of Seifer's lip, tasted a memory of dinner and toothpaste and sweat, before teeth closed down quickly and nipped at him for his trouble. The aggression in him drained a little, and with it some of his energy; he let Seifer struggle to unfasten his multiple belts for a good five minutes before quickly and deftly divesting himself of them.
The thought flickered through his mind that they could probably fuck right here in the hallway, and no-one would disturb them. It should have been exciting. Instead it made his stomach wrench.
He broke their kiss just long enough to gasp, "Your room."
Seifer's smile misunderstood him. "The bed? Figures."
He didn't care as long as he was away from the emptiness.
They stumbled, clutching and groping, shedding clothing as they crossed Seifer's small room. When his back hit the firm standard-issue mattress, he gasped slightly at the touch of smooth sheets that were obviously not regulation. He recovered quickly, kicking out of his tight vinyl pants, the heated air not enough to prevent him from pulling Seifer down on top of him immediately.
At first he felt almost like laughing, if he ever laughed these days, at Seifer's almost desperate eagerness to touch him everywhere, to taste him, hands not enough, lips and tongue and teeth not enough. Every part of him-- toes to arms to a nose buried deep in Squall's hair, inhaling deeply-- wrapping around Squall, needily, reminiscent of that look he'd found so familiar-- reminiscent of himself.
Hungry for another. Hungry for body heat. Alone, and unwilling to be lonely.
He clutched at the golden hair pressed against his cheek, at the head buried against his neck, pressed it closer to him, never enough. The warm moistness of breath blossomed in the curve of his shoulder, against his ear; he clutched harder, craving more, eyes fluttering open to stare at the darkness looming outside.
He could still hear the laughter, happy children with gifts. As if to drive it out of his head, he pressed his body harder against Seifer's, and felt the answering pressure.
At some point there was fumbling and lotion and the confusion of theory meeting practice. And then he forgot the empty halls, the trodden snow, the forced company-- there was only heat and answering heat, motion and hands and friction and pleasure, one goal, attainable. Sweat on skin over muscle, calloused fingers slipping in the dampness, clinging harder, chewed-down fingernails useless in attaining any hold. Pain, sharp and bright and hot, brilliant and quick, confused with gasping breaths and fingers stroking places he'd never thought would feel good.
Their finish left him damp and gasping in Seifer's black silk sheets, vaguely... disappointed, even. Not that their shared performance had been anything less than a star pupil and the head of the Disciplinary Committee ought to have given; but something in him hated letting go, hated coming back down to the silent room and emptier halls.
But Seifer, who was practically snoring already, rolled over and surprised him. He curled himself around Squall, behind him, and his body heat suffused over Squall's back. He nestled a rough cheek against Squall's ear and muttered, "Merry fucking Christmas, loser." The sound of Seifer's breathing slowed, steadied, the lightest open-mouthed snore finishing off the end of each deep breath.
Squall lay there quietly, listening, almost too-warm in the tangle of arms and sheets and blankets. For a very brief moment, he thought that it would only be a few hours when those who'd gone home woke up to presents under gaudily decorated Christmas trees; whereas he and Seifer would most likely wake up to only scowl at each other, roll out of bed and pretend that nothing had been shared and nothing revealed. Somehow, though, that was enough for him-- he felt no regret. Something inside him seemed to have thawed out a little, the tension in his body eased a little.
As he drifted off to sleep, he noticed the snow was falling again.
- Christmas, 2001
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