Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VIII is property of Square Enix.

Betareader: Angel of Enigma

Warnings: Yaoi (boy love with the pairings Seifer x Squall), language, non-con (rape), self-abuse, angst, violence, fluff, AU (Alternate Universe).

Whispered Screams

Chapter Nine - Playground

"You sure are a strange guy, Squall Leonhart."

By Angry Angel

"I said 'no ice'!"

"Oh, right. My bad, dude."

"Yeah, yeah. Hope you'll at least manage not to mess up the daiquiri."

Scowling, Seifer leaned onto the booze-splashed bar counter before him. It was sticky and smelled accordingly disgusting, but the blonde was all too willing to accept that. He had finally managed to get away from Rinoa and Irvine, if only for a few minutes to buy a couple of drinks. He had to get drunk fast, or else he wouldn't make it through the night. Thankfully, he glanced upon the driver's license in his hand.

'At least I'm old enough to buy this crap.'

Heaving a mute sigh, he glanced around the jam-packed club. Disco lights were flittering from every wall and ceiling, causing the blonde to feel dangerously epileptic. The dance floor was crowded with kids that were getting down to some club music, but Seifer felt no urge to join them. Somehow, this day had been nothing short of a disaster. First his sleepless night, then his fight with Squall (which had been followed by waves of guilt) and now his splendid night out with Rinoa, Michelle, Irvine, some guy named Trey and another girl called Dari. Frankly, Seifer wasn't exactly fond of either of them. Well, not tonight anyway.

They had met up at the club, "7th Heaven", and Seifer had been extremely glad that Rinoa lived close and had decided to share a ride with her friend Michelle. At least that way Seifer didn't have to pick her up and spent time with her in the small, confined space of his pick-up truck. Just the mere idea sent shivers up his spine.

People were piling up along the bar left and right of him, pushing and shoving like the little kids that they were. Seifer glared at them warningly and thus ensured that they wouldn't dare to bump into him a second time. With an impatient groan, he turned back to the pimple-cheeked bartender.

"Do I have to mix those drinks myself, or what?" he scathed, waving the $20 bill in his hand languidly before his face.

"Uh, no man, you're all set. One margarita, one strawberry daiquiri and a beer."

"Took long enough."

As he slapped the money on the counter, not even minding that the drinks only added up to about $12, he did wonder why he was taking out his anger on every poor bastard in his immediate environment. After all, it wasn't this guy's fault that he had just blown all his chances of ever hooking up with dear little Leonhart.

The thought elicited a bitter taste in his mouth, but Seifer washed it out effectively by downing his margarita in one quick gulp. His throat was burning dryly, but he rather liked that feeling. Sighing, he flicked up his disturbingly green gaze to fix the bartender once more.

"On second thought," he cooed with a wry smirk, "Make that two margaritas."

The young man arched one eyebrow wearily, but quickly discarded his concerns over Seifer's eligibility at the sight of another $20 bill. The blonde was handing them out like candy.

About two minutes later, Seifer wove his way through the crowd of clubbers, balancing a fresh margarita, the daiquiri for Rinoa and the beer for Irvine in his large hands. He only cussed at the kids blocking his path about once or twice.

His group was located towards the back, in some dark, smoke laden corner. Surprisingly, Rinoa had turned out to be quite the chain smoker. Seifer didn't really give a fuck. First of all, he himself had quit only a few months ago, and secondly, he had no intentions whatsoever of coming anywhere near Rinoa's mouth - not in a sober state, anyway. Once he'd be drunk, he couldn't care less either way.

"Seifer! Over here!"

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes at Rinoa bouncing up and down, waving at him frantically while her breasts threatened to pop out of her baby blue tube top. Not that Irvine next to her seemed to mind the sight at all. Quite contrary, Seifer saw him checking the brunette girl out from beneath the brim of his cowboy hat.

"Here, Seifer!"

'I know you're over there, dumb bitch. I'd know even if you weren't jumping around like a playmate on crack.'

He quickly shoved the beer into Irvine's hands and the daiquiri into Rinoa's, only to take another large gulp of margarita.

"Thanks, sweets," Rinoa purred, smiling suggestively as she slurped in a mouthful of daiquiri through her curly straw.

"Sure," he mumbled in response, leaning against the wall between her and the cowboy to avoid catching an entire eyeful of her sucking skills.

For a lack of better things to do, he cast a long look around. Michelle was still working on her soda, while Trey and Dari were nowhere to be seen. Not that Seifer minded - Trey had looked like a full out jackass, and sure had behaved like one, too. Then again, he was now stuck with these three all on his own and that idea didn't appeal to him the slightest bit.

"What happened to Dari and Trey, anyway?" he asked lazily, cocking his head into his neck to take in the last of his drink.

"Probably making out somewhere," Rinoa explained with a shrug and placed her chin upon his shoulder, twirling her glass in her slender fingers. "They've had the hots for each other for a while now."

"Yeah, and here's poor me, 'not supposed to be flirting'," Irvine complained and let himself flop against the wall as well. "It's torture man, torture!"

"Who said you weren't supposed to be flirting? Your mom?" Michelle snickered invidiously, which of course erected a fit of giggles from her friend Rinoa.

"No, not his fucking mom. A chick he likes," Seifer could hear himself explaining - why, he didn't even know.

"Well, she sounds like a bitch!" Michelle retorted.

Seifer licked the salt from the margarita off his lips, but said nothing. He could have told Michelle that she wouldn't be able to tell a bitch from a smart girl even if she was slapped in her make-up smothered face with the difference, but he decided to just let it go. He didn't remember why he had agreed to this evening in the first place, but he was nonetheless determined to have a good time... somehow.

Unfortunately, Rinoa had suddenly decided to share her infinite wisdom with the crowd.

"'Chelle's so right," she declared, brushing some stray strands of hair behind her ear as she leaned against Seifer's arm. "We're young, we're supposed to be having fun, right? Now, how can you have fun when you're supposed to play all prude? That's like, so stupid. Just flirt with whoever you want, Irvy. It's not like she'll ever find out, anyway."

"You think?" Irvine asked stupidly, and Seifer wanted to bitch slap him for it.

'What a dumbass,' he groaned inwardly. 'This broad's got jelly for brains and he takes her words for pearls of wisdom.'

"Sure do," Rinoa sang and threw Seifer a suggestive look.

'Great. Just what I needed. Rinoa on a hormone and daiquiri high.'

"Talking about fun," the brunette girl continued slowly, her pink lips curving into a wicked smile, "Let's dance, Seif!"

"Don't you wanna finish your drink?" he tried weakly.

"Tch, no! Duh. I can do that later. Come on!"

Before he could have resisted, she had already taken the empty glass from his hands and placed it along with her own on a nearby table. As she began dragging him out onto the dance floor, he couldn't help but stare at the extremely short, white skirt she was wearing - or rather, the seemingly endless legs that she was flaunting so openly. She definitely wasn't hard to look at, he had to give her that. If only she'd shut the fuck up for once, she'd at least make a good lay. Lately, Seifer had found himself to be particularly fond of the "silent type."

He thrust a hiss of air through his teeth and twitched at the memory of Squall as he was being pulled through a crowd of wildly dancing teenagers.

If his thoughts kept propelling back to the brunette boy like that, it was a sure sign that he really needed to get drunk.

And thus Seifer did exactly that - drown his problems and guilt in a number of beers and margaritas that he soon lost count of. He ground up with both Rinoa and Michelle on the dance floor, finally releasing all his bottled up frustration to some fast techno beat. After a while, he didn't even mind the girls' annoying chattering anymore, nor was he bothered by Irvine's constant whining about Selphie; in fact, he didn't even hear any of it. He danced, drank and eventually kissed Rinoa between cigarettes in one of the many dark corners of the club - until the brunette girl suddenly declared that she needed fresh air.

By then, it was already past 11:00 p.m. and Seifer was definitely buzzed, but he didn't consider that a bad thing by any means. He wasn't drunk to a point where he couldn't walk straight anymore, but instead was feeling rather wired up and giddy inside. The night was pretty warm and clear, when him, Rinoa, Irvine and Michelle stepped outside of the club. The dark haired girl was clinging to his arm in desperate need for support, her heels scraping across the cement as she tried to keep from stumbling.

"Oh, this is sooo much better," she sighed and leaned her head against Seifer's shoulder, smiling as she took a deep breath.

The blonde grinned at her lazily and ran his hand across her enticing ass.

"Is it?" he asked lasciviously.

"Yes," she purred. "Let's go for a walk, there's a park right around the corner."

"You sure you can walk?" Irvine inquired, one of his hands intertwined with Michelle's.

Apparently, the cowboy's "prude" days had ceased before they had even begun.

"Yes, Irvy, I can!" Rinoa replied defiantly. "Just watch."

A bit wobbly on her legs and her high heels in particular, she slowly proceeded down the sidewalk. Seifer gave a curt snort of laughter and followed her, holding on to her waist as she led her three companions to the dimly lit park a few blocks down the road. The area was beautiful and appropriately snobbish looking for the exquisite neighborhood. Black, cast iron street lanterns lit a pebbled path that wound through perfectly trimmed rows of trees, bushes and exotic flowers. Rinoa was giggling at Seifer's side, while Irvine and Michelle were walking behind them and talking about something unimportant. The curly-haired blonde girl was the only one completely sober, though she didn't necessarily act like it, either.

"Pshh, Seifer," Rinoa suddenly murmured between fits of pointless laughter, "How about you and I go to your place when we're done here?"

"My place?" he asked dumbly, still trying to keep her from falling or twisting her ankle.

"Mm-hmm... I told my parents I might sleep over at 'Chelle's, so... they won't miss me."

"Hmm...what can I say? Sounds good to me," Seifer agreed, smirking inwardly with satisfaction.

Like he was going to turn down an offer like that.

"Oooh, there it is!"

He blinked in confusion at Rinoa's happy outcry and soon discovered the reason for it - a small playground, hidden in a glade that was surrounded by huge, seemingly ancient trees. A large sandbox was shimmering softly in the light shed by the lanterns, and a pair of swings was moving gently back and forth in the currents of the night breeze.

"I love this place, I always came here as a kid!" Rinoa declared with rapture, before she suddenly struggled free from Seifer's embrace and stumbled towards a fairly tall jungle gym.

The blonde watched her as she clumsily climbed up one of the many ladders, pulled herself up onto a wooden platform and ultimately waved at them from atop a dangerously swerving bridge, assuming something like an Amazon's pose as she thrust one fist into the air.

"Ha-ha, I made it! See? I'm up here!" she managed to shout, before she started to laugh again and almost fell over the thick rope that served as a railing for the plank bridge construction.

Seifer could hear Michelle and Irvine stepping up next to him, and they were staring at a drunk Rinoa with equally dumbfounded expressions on their faces.

"Uhm... what's she doing up there?" the cowboy inquired blankly while tipping his hat into his neck.

"She gets really silly when she's drunk," Michelle explained with a shrug. "You might wanna get her down though, Seifer. She's wearing really high heels tonight."

"Yeah... fine..." Seifer agreed in defeat. "I'll get her."

He walked up to the jungle gym, still smiling, and he could hear the sand grating beneath the soles of his boots. Rinoa was watching him with interest, somehow keeping herself up straight as she held onto the railing of the bridge.

"Hey, Rin," Seifer shouted, "Come back down. Let's go."

"Nuh-uh! You gotta catch me first!"

Laughing, she tripled over the bridge, sticking out her tongue at him as she did so. Seifer heaved a deep sigh. He was still feeling adventurous, but the cool air was starting to clear his head a bit. He wasn't really in the mood to chase Rinoa all over a fucking playground, but what choice did he have? She seemed determined enough to stay up there all night.

"Alright, I'm getting ya," he threatened.

"Go ahead and trrryyy!" Rinoa lilted happily.

Seifer walked up to the nearest ladder and curled his hands around the cold metal rungs to start climbing it, carefully placing one foot before the other - until he suddenly stopped and looked down, his face twitching with disgust.

"Ah, great."

His hands had slipped across something very gooey and sticky. Apparently, it had been smeared all over the sleek steps of the ladder and was now coating his fingertips. It felt gross enough, reminding Seifer immediately why he usually chose to stay way from places like this. He didn't necessarily want to know what exactly said nasty gunk was, but he raised his hand into the light of the nearest street lantern all the same. He expected slug slime, dog crap or dirt from the bottom of some runt's shoes, but what he found was something entirely different.

"What the..."

He stared blankly at the inside of his hand, not understanding why the sheen of liquid he found there was so violently red in color.

'Red...? Why red?'

He rubbed his fingers together slowly, blinking once or twice against the dimness of the light. He knew what he was seeing, but it didn't make any sense.


'Why blood...? On a playground? What the fuck's going on...? Did Rinoa hurt herself? No... can't be Rinoa's, I mean she used a different ladder. But then how...'

Finally, he raised his confused gaze to where the ladder split and trailed off towards the part of the jungle gym that Rinoa was occupying, and to a small, open-faced house that was just a little ways off to his upper right side. Carefully following his instincts, Seifer ascended the rungs until he was just high enough to catch a good view of the little hut's interior. He didn't even know what exactly he was looking for, but somehow he had a bad feeling about this.

This was definitely blood, and chances were it did not belong to an animal.

He glanced into the house, which was barely reached by the lantern's cone of light, but at first he did not see much anything. It was dark, and little else but that. When his eyes got used to the darkness, however, he almost lost hold of the ladder. Somebody was sitting inside the house, curled up to a ball and hidden between the shadows. Seifer gasped silently as the whole entity of that picture hit him.

There was a person hiding in that hut!

'What the fu--'

The wrapped up body seemed to be moving slightly, but Seifer wasn't entirely sure. He couldn't see much except for the back of the person's head, which was covered in a mess of dark hair, and something white... white shapes that stood out like beacons even in the shadows. Imprinted upon the figure's sweater, they were oddly shaped crosses that shifted as the person curled his arms more tightly around his knees.

'Crosses... white crosses... Wait a minute... I've seen this before, I--"

When he finally remembered, Seifer let go off the ladder.

He landed ass first on the ground with a thud, cursing at the hurt that seared through his tailbone at the rough contact with the sand pit. He forgot all about the pain, though, when he relived what he had just seen. His breathing stilled to a crawl as he stared up at the bottom of the hut in a frantic blank.

'Can't be. It can't be him. I gotta be hallucinating. This isn't--'

"Seifer, are you okay?"

"Hey man, you alright? What happened? Why'd you fall?"

Apparently, Rinoa had already descended from the jungle gym, because he found her crouching next to him, creasing her brows with concern as she stupidly checked him for broken bones. Irvine had walked up behind him and was readily helping him upon his feet.

The blonde's mind was working on light speed as he brushed the sand off his jeans and tried to stay calm. He could not believe what he had discovered up there. That was Squall's shirt he had seen, and Squall's hair, and Squall's...

He froze when he suddenly recalled the blood covering the palm of his hand. Quickly, he clenched it to a fist, hiding it behind his back. He didn't know what to do and his head was spinning painfully with the adrenaline and the alcohol, but he did know one thing: Rinoa and the others could not see Squall like this, hiding like a child on a playground. Seifer had to get rid of them somehow.

"Seifer, what--"

"Let's go," he ordered them sharply, before spinning around and trudging off towards the pebbled path.

The other three exchanged confused looks, but quickly followed Seifer's lead. The blonde was charging down the tree-lined trail, only barely restraining himself from falling into a sprint. His heart was pounding in his chest with every step that he took and his breathing had altered, taken on an erratic rhythm.

"Seifer! Seifer, wait!"

Rinoa was calling out to him, but the blonde slowed down only marginally. The shock had cleared his head from the buzz that had been fogging it, but he still couldn't manage to think one straight thought.

'Maybe it wasn't his blood. Maybe it wasn't even Squall. Maybe I'm making all of this up. But what if it is his blood? I should have stayed; maybe he's badly hurt. But he was moving... why would he be hurt, anyway? He wouldn't be hiding in the top hut of a jungle gym if he were. Unless he hurt himself while trying to get up there. But that's bullshit; it's a fucking playground. But then why... Fuck. I have to get rid of them so I can go back and check to make sure.'

They had reached the street, and Seifer was heading towards the parking lot where they had left their cars earlier that night. Somewhere behind him, Rinoa was screaming like a mad banshee, but he didn't pay her any mind until she and the others had actually managed to catch up with him and the brunette girl grabbed his arm.

"Why are you going so fast?!" she yelled at him, her cheeks flushed from the alcohol and anger.

"I'm going home," he stated evenly, avoiding her eyes. "Alone."

"W-what? But why? What's wrong all of a sudden?"

"I changed my mind, that's all."

"Why? Because I was playing around a bit? Come on, don't be such a--"

"Look, Rinoa, just go home, alright? Go with Michelle, or go with Irvine for all that I care. I'm not taking you."

"But you're drunk, you can't drive!" she exclaimed, her voice high and off pitch.

Snarling, he looked down upon her and swiped his arm out of her grasp. He couldn't believe that he had been making out with her only about a half hour ago. Just what had he been thinking?

"You didn't seem to mind that when you were still planning on coming with me," he replied coldly.

"Seriously man, why the sudden rush?" Irvine cut in.

"I gotta go home and fucking take care of something, alright?"

"But--" Rinoa piped up helplessly.

"No, Rinoa."

With that, he hit the remote lock for his truck, opened the door and hopped into his seat, starting the engine before he had even bothered to fully close the door again. Irvine, Rinoa and Michelle watched him dumbfounded as he pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road, quickly disappearing around the bend of the next corner.

By then, Seifer had already forgotten all about them. Of course he wasn't going home. He had to get back to that playground without the others noticing. Fortunately, most parks had more than just one entrance or exit, and so did this one. After driving around the area for a few minutes, carefully keeping watch for any sign of his friends' cars, he found another cast iron gate that obviously led into the park.

He stopped in a dimly lit alleyway, almost surprised by the sudden silence that surrounded him as he pushed his door ajar. An owl was hooting in a distant treetop and the wind was rustling through the leaves, but other than that, it was perfectly quiet.

With his heart beating almost into his throat, he roamed the backseat for his first aid case. He had never used it before, and he could only hope that it would stay that way even through the night.

Finally he found it, and he lost no more time after that. The idea of Squall possibly being hurt caused his skin to break out in goose bumps. Nothing of what he had told the brunette that morning had been true; he wasn't sick of him, nor did he think of him as a whiny little bitch. Somehow, he had just lost his nerves, and he was suddenly very afraid that he would have to pay for that mistake.

He locked his car and entered the enveloping darkness of the park, silently following the lead of the lanterns. He had no real idea where he had to go; he could merely make vague assumptions based on the direction where him and the others had first commenced their little walk. He was clutching the black, plastic case of the first aid kit tightly in one hand - the one that was still faintly streaked with drying blood.

The sound of his own footsteps was echoing in his ears, but he drowned it out instinctively as soon as he finally spotted the familiar clearing of trees with the playground set in its center. He sent a mute thank you to the black, star spangled sky, knowing full well that he could as well have searched the grounds all night and never found this spot again.

Quietly, he crossed from stones onto sand and approached the jungle gym, his mouth suddenly dry and coarse like sandpaper. He didn't know what he would find up in that little hut - whether he would find anything at all. The inside of his hand was growing clammy, and he almost dropped the case as he was trying to ascend the wooden ladder.

His breath was coming heavier with every rung that he conquered, until he had finally reached the end. Gulping, he pushed himself upwards, and he only barely managed not to tumble face first onto the floor.

The person was still there.

Mechanically, Seifer drug his body over the ledge of the hut and inside. The ground beneath him was of smoothly sanded wood, but even there the blonde quickly discovered a few, tiny speckles of blood.

Slowly, he leveled his gaze with the motionless figure that was sitting only an arm's length away from him. He doubtlessly remembered the black shirt, the white crosses, the dark blue jeans and the black leather boots from that morning.

That hair, he would have recognized anywhere.

"Squall...?" he asked tentatively, his voice unnaturally shaky.

The brunette was leaning against the wall, his legs drawn close to his chest and his arms wrapped around his knees. His face was turned away from Seifer, buried in the crook of his left elbow.

Silently, Seifer set his first aid case onto the ground.

"Squall... it's me. Seifer."

Hesitantly, the blonde pulled one of his own legs to his chest and skidded over the floor to sit across from the motionless figure. He laced his brows together in concern, unsure of what to do next.

'Maybe he fell asleep...? What if he's unconscious?'

"Squall?" he repeated, more urgently now. "Are you awake?"

When he again received no response, he hesitantly extended one arm. His fingers were steadily reaching for the brunette's leg, but...

"... Leave me alone."

He started at the sound of Squall's voice that shattered the silence, and he immediately withdrew his hand. Seifer suddenly realized that he had been holding his breath all this time, and he exhaled very gingerly as his hand clenched back into a fist. Squall still wouldn't even look at him.

Finally, the blonde cleared his throat and rubbed his thigh in distress. His palms had somehow become very sweaty.

"Uh... I... I was wondering if you were okay," he murmured, narrowing his eyes slightly. "There's blood everywhere."

"I don't care."

The blonde bit his lip in anxiety, not entirely sure what to make of that statement.

"Is that your blood?" he asked slowly.

Squall didn't answer him this time. Seifer could see that he was shifting in his seating position and was wrapping his arms tighter around his legs. The blonde didn't quite know or understand why, but somehow that nervous silence and those stiff movements were answer enough.

"Where are you bleeding?" he inquired calmly, willing his voice to remain steady.

"I'm not bleeding..."

"I don't believe you."

Another moment of silence ensued, rendering Seifer hesitant of as to what to do next. He wanted to approach Squall, but he didn't know how. He didn't want the brunette to flip again, not when he was possibly hurt. He had no idea where Squall was bleeding, or why he would be bleeding in the first place. Why wasn't he at home or at a doctor's if he was injured? Why was he hiding out there in the darkness? Why was he sitting like that, looking like a frightened little kid? Why--

'... Oh my god.'

Finally, it hit him.

Once more, Seifer extended his arm, but this time his hand trailed to the spot where the blonde presumed Squall's wrists to be. He didn't even have to search. As soon as he felt the brunette's cool skin against his own, he wrapped his fingers around the narrow limb and pulled it towards himself.

"No! Ow..."

Beneath his thumb, Seifer could feel the lacerated flesh and the warm sheen of blood covering every inch of it. Squall had winced and gone stiff at his touch, causing Seifer's breath to hitch.

"Ugh... let go..."

And Seifer did. He had gotten his answer, and he didn't like the outcome of it at all. In fact, he hated it from the very bottom of his heart.

Squall was curling up to a ball again, pressing both of his hurting wrists against his knees - there was no doubt in Seifer's mind that the other limb looked just as bad as the one he had just examined. He could merely stare at the brunette, too shook up to say or do anything. He couldn't believe it. Squall's skin had felt so... destroyed. Like someone had slashed into it multiple times with a butcher knife.

'No... Not someone. He did. This is what he's been hiding under those goddamned wristbands all this time. I'm such a fool.'

Slowly, Seifer pushed himself onto his knees and crawled over to the brunette until he was squatting right in front of him. Squall was breathing flatly and seemed to be trembling. Very gently, the blonde laid one hand on the other youth's shoulder as he bent over him, before using his other to take a hold of Squall's chin and carefully tilt it upwards.

The brunette's face scared Seifer much more than the blood and cut up skin had. Darkness had drowned out all the blue in Squall's eyes and slicked them with tears instead. Squall's skin was so pale that Seifer started to worry over the amount of blood that the brunette might have already lost. There wasn't much splattered about on the jungle gym, but who knew where Squall had been before.

Where he had done this to himself.

"Squall," Seifer said, his voice firm but gentle. "You need help."

"No," the brunette replied, the word weak and almost inaudible.

"Yes," the older objected unyieldingly. "I have a first aid kit here. I'm gonna stop the bleeding."

He pulled the black case closer, but never took his eyes off Squall. The brunette looked upset, but too frail to offer much resistance. Then again, it wasn't really defiance that Seifer read in his dark grey orbs - more like shame or fear.

"Don't worry," Seifer clumsily tried to efface his worries. "It's alright."

Of course, it was everything but all right. Seifer knew why people cut their wrists, or at least he thought that he did. People did this to commit suicide — they did it because they didn't want to live anymore. He figured that this wasn't the first time that Squall had hurt himself so dangerously, but that didn't make it any better. The entire concept of it scared the shit out of Seifer, and he wasn't even ashamed of admitting it.

'Don't panic... you found him in time. He'll be all right. He will be. I'll make fuckin' sure that he will be.'

With a few, swift movements he had opened the case and produced a couple of sterile bandages. For the first time in his life, he was genuinely thankful for the fact that both of his parents were doctors and had taught him all the necessary first aid basics as soon as he had started driving. He wrapped the brunette's wrists up nicely, ensuring to add an extra roll of bandage each for pressure. Considering that Squall had probably managed to hit all the major veins, it was certainly necessary.

Neither of them spoke a word while Seifer was funneling all his concentration to this task. He didn't care that he smeared blood all over his own hands, but Squall was watching the scene with a strange blankness in his eyes. The thought of struggling against what Seifer was doing didn't even occur to him. He simply stared at the blonde in awe, studying the serious expression that was dragging on his bronzed features and the gentleness of his touch.

"Okay," Seifer sighed eventually, examining his work. "This should help for now."

The two boys gazed at each other mutely, devoid of any further words. Suddenly, all the bitterness and anger that had echoed between them that morning was forgotten, and all that was left was silence. Seifer did want to say something, but he was still too confused and shocked to trust his voice to hold, and Squall felt too ashamed to try and explain his actions.

Not that there was any kind of explanation that Seifer would have ever understood.

Finally, Seifer managed to change his focus to something other than Squall's almost translucent face. Outside their hut, the night had grown even darker and colder, or perhaps he only imagined that. Either way, he suddenly had a distinct idea of what to do next.

"Let's go," he murmured, closing his first aid kit with a click.

"Go...?" Squall repeated, his voice swaying audibly as his brows slid low over his eyes.

"Yeah. You think I'm going to leave you here?"


"Come on. I'll help you down."

This time, Seifer managed to descend the ladder without landing square on his ass. Instead, he leaped lightly to the bottom, where he waited patiently and looked up to the hut, waiting for Squall to follow his example.

"Come on," he repeated, already preparing to climb the ladder once more.

But finally, the soles of Squall's boots appeared over the ledge and the brunette edgily lowered himself onto the ladder, his hands wrapping around its sides. The white bandages stood out against the darkness like headlights. Seifer immediately stepped up beneath Squall, ready to catch him in case he would slip or let go.

"I'm not gonna fall," the brunette suddenly stated weakly from up above, a faint trace of his usual stubbornness shining through the mesh of hurt.

"Of course not," Seifer replied calmly, but did not move an inch from his position.

He didn't know how much blood Squall had lost, but he didn't trust the brunette's steadiness one bit. He figured it best to get Squall to a hospital and have him checked out.

'But first he has to get down here.'

Seifer watched patiently how the dark haired boy was slowly descending the rungs, feigning strength that was no longer there. His wrists in its white wrappings were shaking noticeably.

His feet didn't slip until only about a meter and a half were separating him from the firm ground.

Squall's ankles hurt as they hit the sandpit at an acute angle and he almost bit off his tongue at the impact. Somehow, he had managed not to fall, but the simple reason for that occurred to him as soon as he felt Seifer's hands on the iron ladder beams, right beneath his own. In fact, even the blonde's arms and upper body were pasted against his like a protective guard, granting him the steadiness that his own muscles couldn't quite come up with anymore.

He stood frozen for a moment, feeling Seifer's chest rising and falling against his back, his mind eradicated of any kind of thought.

"Are you alright?" the blonde asked him, his breath hot and vibrant against Squall's cheek as he edged closer.

The shorter boy nodded slowly, heat flushing through his body as he stared at the sand to his feet. Seifer's scent seemed to envelope him like his arms already were. He smelled of alcohol, cigarettes and some flowery perfume... probably Rinoa's. He had heard both of them earlier on the playground, fooling around. Where was Rinoa now, anyway? Why had Seifer come back? After everything that had happened that morning, what did he even care?

The questions were causing Squall's head to spin violently and he groaned under the sensational overload.

'He's... too close...'

As if Seifer had guessed the brunette's feelings, he suddenly retreated from Squall's rigid form. He had dropped the first aid case when he had seen Squall falling and now bent down to pick it back up. All the while, he was watching the other youth from the corner of his eyes, but Squall seemed okay for the time being. Except, he was still holding on to that ladder...

"Squall?" Seifer asked calmly, one step bringing him back to the motionless body. "You sure you're alright?"


Frowning, the blonde looked over his shoulder into the darkness of the park that was only severed by the faint light of the lanterns. He seriously wondered whether the hurting brunette would make it.

"I didn't park very far from here," he explained quietly. "I can carry you there easily."

"No need..."

Squall slowly stepped away from the ladder, fighting against the droning sound in his head that threatened to throw off his equilibrium. He knew that Seifer was watching over his every move, and though the concept did anger him, he was also sort of... grateful. A strange, alien thankfulness for the fact that he wasn't alone out there anymore... that somebody actually cared. At the same time, it frightened him and he felt ashamed. There were so many different feelings and emotions struggling within him for recognition, he had no idea how to handle them or which one to devote his attention to.

"You sure?" Seifer inquired behind him. "You're light, it's really no big--"

"I can walk."

"... Alright."

Seifer attached himself to Squall's side as he led him off the playground, never letting him out of his arm's reach.

"It's this way," he said, pointing down one of the many narrow paths.

Squall said nothing, but continued walking. He was feeling light-headed from the blood loss - something he was all too used to. Perhaps he had gone a little too far this night, he wasn't sure. His aching wrists were accusing him of insanity, and they were probably right. In some twisted way that thought almost amused him.

"Not far anymore," Seifer informed him quietly.

The brunette didn't even know why he was following Seifer. Maybe because he knew he couldn't make it home on his own two legs anymore, or maybe because Seifer had looked at him so... genuinely shocked. It had been an understandable reaction, naturally, but Squall had certainly been surprised at the lack of disgust in Seifer's eyes when the blonde had found out the truth - when he had touched his mutilated wrists. Why hadn't Seifer freaked out? It was the least that Squall would have expected from him, or anyone for that matter. After all, he had once been told that the practice of cutting oneself was sickening.

Silently, he agreed.

Squall stopped brooding when Seifer finally ushered him out of the park gate and towards a familiar, bright red truck. For some strange reason, another thought suddenly stirred in Squall's mind, and he blamed it on his defense mechanisms that worked flawlessly even when his body did not.

"You want to drive...?" he asked, looking at Seifer for the first time since they had departed from the playground.

The blonde angled his head down to him, gazing at him out of those impossibly green eyes. Those emerald depths, paired with his already swerving mind, were enough to cause Squall's temples to spasm. Groaning, he rubbed at them in the faint hopes of easing the pressure.

"Yeah, I do. What about it?" Seifer asked, studying his twitching expression. "What's wrong? Feeling dizzy?"

"No..." Squall lied, biting down upon his teeth. "And you shouldn't drive... you're drunk..."

"Maybe I am, but you're about to reel over," Seifer stated with a soft shrug. "Guess we're shit out of luck."

"You smell like a liquor store... and I've seen you drive when you were sober."

"Alright then. Want me to carry you? It's either that or the truck."

Squall stopped massaging his forehead and glared daggers at Seifer instead. There was no humor in the blonde's eyes, though - apparently, he was dead serious. Sighing, the brunette dropped his hands to his sides.

"Fine. Drive."

"Good," Seifer nodded in satisfaction, "At least we got that out of the way. Now you just gotta tell me where the next hospital is."

Seifer hadn't quite expected for the younger boy to suddenly take a half step back from him, his eyes wide and flaring white around the rim.

"I'm not going to the hospital!" Squall thrust out, the hard and yet shaky tone of his voice leaving little room for arguments.

He was downright scared.

In an attempt of a soothing gesture, Seifer raised his hands, but he couldn't keep his face from crumpling to a disapproving frown.

"Alright, alright already! Don't freak out on me," he sighed. "... Why don't you want to go to the hospital?"

"Because I don't need to see a doctor," Squall explained reluctantly. "I'll be fine."

"Right. Of course. 'Cause you've done this before," Seifer stated dryly, but not without a hint of bitterness to his voice.

Apparently, the brunette could find no appropriate response to that, because he dropped his head in silence. His long, dark bangs fell smoothly into his face and hid it from view, and somehow, that picture quenched Seifer's frustration instantly.

"Where did you think I was going to take you...?" he finally asked gently.

"I don't know... home..."

"Home? You want to go home looking like this?" he inquired, the quietness in his tone taking the sting out of the question.

At the same time, he pointed at Squall's haphazardly bandaged wrists, though he knew well that the brunette couldn't see the gesture.

"... No..." Squall admitted wearily.

"Didn't think so, considering you were hiding out here in the darkness."

Squall fell silent again, but Seifer had already begun to think of a way to solve this problem. His list of options was running thin, and the one that appealed to him the most would probably cause the brunette to flip. Then again, he decided, it was at least worth a shot. One way or another, he had to do something, because he was certainly not willing to leave Squall out there in the darkness.

No way in hell.

"Alright," he started confidently, "Get in the car. I have an idea."

The other teen finally raised his head back up, meeting Seifer's enthusiastic gaze.

"Where are we going?"

"My place."

"Your--?" Squall started, his eyes widening once more.

"Yeah," Seifer nodded.

"I'm not go--"

"Alright, look. It's either the hospital, your place or my place. I'm not leaving you out here, period. So if you wanna avoid being asked a bunch of nosy questions over why your wrists are looking... the way they're looking... you might wanna come with me to my apartment and at least let me patch them up properly."

Before Squall could have shot down the idea entirely, Seifer simply stepped up to him and fixed him with a look that was burning with determination. The brunette remained silent, but stared back at Seifer with thinly veiled mistrust. He had to admit, however, that the blonde had made a valid point. Returning home at this hour would prove problematic, as his mother was probably still awake. He had told her that he would go to the club and party with some friends, but instead he had done this. If it hadn't been for the cutter he had found in his pockets, perhaps he... sighing, he narrowed his eyes. What did it matter? What was done was done and he'd just have to deal with the consequences.

Just like he always did.

Originally, he had planned on simply waiting until his mother had fallen asleep and sneak back into his room then, but Seifer would likely make him go home right now. Maybe hanging out at his place for a little while wasn't such a bad idea after all.

Then again...

"What about your parents?" he asked slowly.

Seifer merely smirked complacently.

"I live alone. There's no one at my place you'd have to be worried about except for my dog."

"... You have a dog?"

The blonde frowned a bit at the incredulity in Squall's voice, but he was also slightly perplexed by the sudden interest that his comment about his dog seemed to have elicited. Squall was chewing on the corner of his bottom lip, his arms crossed tightly before his chest, but there was definitely a spark of curiosity in his eyes that hadn't been there before.

"Yeah, I do," Seifer answered, then cocked his head aside. "Don't tell me you're afraid of dogs now."

"... No."

And to Seifer's great surprise, the brunette suddenly turned around and circled the truck, very slowly, eventually walking up to the passenger door. Then, he simply stood there, waiting for the blonde to shut off the alarm and unlock the car. Mechanically, Seifer complied with the mute order and hit the buttons of his remote control. Arching one eyebrow, he watched how Squall opened the door and wordlessly slid into his seat, not heeding the blonde out on the sidewalk with a single look.

Sighing to himself, Seifer slowly shook his head.

"... You sure are a strange guy, Squall Leonhart. Just what am I gonna do with you...?"

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