A fix, noun - A dose of a narcotic drug to which one is addicted, an experience of something from which one derives great pleasure or stimulation.
“Three hoorays for our favourite commander! Now, on three… one, two… HIP HIP HOORAY! HIP HIP HOORAY! HIP HIP HOORAY!”
The pub was filled to the brim and all but one person in it answered the call with varying levels of enthusiasm. The one spoilsport going by the name of Squall Leonhart pinched the bridge of his nose and wondered how such a small woman could contribute so much to the headaches of his life.
Selphie Tilmitt was standing on a table top in the middle of the room, one hand holding a pint of beer and one leg raised as if frozen in the middle of an awkward dance move. Her favoured yellow sundress was riding high enough for the people conveniently positioned to have a great view between her legs, which most likely was adding to the overall cheerful atmosphere.
“Look at them being so excited, and without even knowing about your finest traits,” a sultry purr whispered to Squall’s ear. “You think we could turn these things into annual orgies if we gave them something real to celebrate?”
Not allowing his amusement to show on his face, Squall pinched Seifer’s thigh as a silent rebuttal, which only served to make the blond grin wider. “So is that a yes or no?”
Ultimecia’s knight may have been a strange quest in a party celebrating her defeat, at least if it weren’t commander Leonhart himself comfortably nudged under his arm. Seifer agreed to partake in the blasphemy of it all only after the official ceremony with ‘placates and speeches and bullshit’ was over. The after party in the evening was fair game.
Squall slid discreetly little closer to Seifer’s warmth, trying to hide how uncomfortable he was while slipping water from a tall glass. It was difficult for anyone to manage to drag him to any social event as at all, even more so if it was guaranteed to be filled with loud, drunken people while he was stuck being the commander. And unless he deliberately his identity, he was always stuck being the commander.
Despite it being three years of the end of the second sorceress war, the annual festivities hadn’t slowed down, quite the opposite. The day gained more and more momentum in Balamb, and there had even been discussion upon making it an official holiday for the city-state. Xu claimed it was good publicity for the garden and had recommended Squall to channel more funds for the party preparations, a parade perhaps.
Selphie had been thrilled. Seifer had been amused. Squall had lost a little bit more of his faith to the masses.
His dark thoughts scattered when he felt Seifer’s strong finger on the back of his neck, expertly exorcising his stubborn headache with massaging motions. The disappearing tenseness left him feeling pleasantly drowsy. At least until a tall, familiar figure made his way into their table.
Even though Squall’s ever-present frown remained unchanged, it was obvious for Seifer that the commander was ready to call it a day. The brunette was coiled like a spring, ready to react instinctively and violently upon the next unpleasant surprise. Seifer was about to collect his coat and his lover and suggest they’d took the party to their bed when some stranger took it upon themselves to impose.
Seifer’s first thought was that the man had an aura of casual self-confidence rivalling his own, even if it came with cold indifference rather than confrontational challenger attitude. This was a man who expected absolute obedience from others without even saying a word. He was obviously trouble.
Seifer’s second thought was ‘what the hell is going on with that hair’.
Any amount of relaxation the blond had managed to lure into Squall’s shoulders returned with additional interest. “What are you doing here, Sephiroth?”
Seifer’s eyes narrowed in thought. He recognized the name, of course. General Sephiroth, no second name known or at least released for public, was an elusive character and the head of the Esthar military. After president Loire himself, he was the most influential person in Esthar, which was whole another category than the measly city states Centra had divided into. Sephiroth had the biggest funds, most advanced technology and largest manpower at his fingertips. Also the greatest mass of hair, apparently.
The man sat down as if Squall’s demanding question was a polite request to do so. “Just a social call, I’m not here on business tonight… official or unofficial. Although president Loire sends you both his personal and professional congratulations.” A brief pause of hesitation. “My duties took me to this general area and Cloud demanded I’d stop by and, I quote, ‘give Leon that massive hug he obviously needs’. I trust that the matter can be closed with this verbal exchange.”
Seifer’s eyes narrowed in thought, wondering what kind of duties would take an Estharian general to the Balamb territory. Squall smiled slightly, tension in his shoulders slightly lessening. “He will know you didn’t do it.”
“He always does. I look it as espionage training.“ Sephiroth, too, gave a little smile that was more of softening of his non-expression. It seemed like the two shared a few secrets, and the blond had no idea what was going on.
“Well, you can go tell Puff that Squall is being kept sufficiently cuddled, thanks for the concern.” People who could talk to Squall about non-work related things without being stonewalled were few and people who made him smile even fewer. Frankly, the whole thing pissed Seifer off.
Sephiroth turned his gaze to Seifer as if he was first acknowledging his presence and the arm still resting possessively on the back Balamb garden’s commander’s neck. Seifer did not lower or relent his gaze for a second during the uncomfortable scrutiny.
The non-expression returned to Sephirot’s face. “I see. I take this is a reason we haven’t had more private run-ins lately?”
For a moment Squall seemed torn upon answering politely and slipping back to ‘whatever’ –mode. In the end, he settled for a small nod.
“A pity, Cloud will surely miss you. “
“I, too, am sorry that he has to deal with your antics on his own.”
Sephiroth smiled for real this time. The expression had an edge of unnerving in it. As if most of his expressions were used for threatening purposes and this ‘happy smile’ was a new a mindboggling thing. “I’ll be sure to mention your worries. However, my objective here has been met, thus I must continue on my journey.”
Seifer stared after the man as he sauntered away. Journey? The objective had been met? He certainly was on a mission, at least in the little world inside his head. “So do you want to offer me a short or long version on how you know general Sephiroth personally?”
Squall took a small sip from his drink. “We used to be in a BDSM-themed relationship.”
Seifer stared at the brunet. Leave it to the commander to mention it like a side note in a casual conversation. “So do you want to offer me the long version on how you know general Sephiroth personally? I mean, how does that even…”
“I’ll tell you about it later.” Seeing as Seifer was about to protest, Squall smiled lightly and squeezed his hand under the table. “I’m not dodging the question or planning to lie to you, Seifer. I just want to tell you about it in a more private setting.
That certainly made sense. Even if discussions were hard to keep track of from the other tables, it was a sensitive subject and Seifer certainly did not want his lion’s past sexcapades to be common knowledge. It pissed Seifer off that there even had been sexcapades, if he was completely honest. “Alright, lead the way babe. And know that I’ll expect the mission report to be up to its usual standard.”
Squall gave him a dry look. “You do realise that I am the one that reads and evaluates the reports?”
“Not in this relationship.”
Later that evening, the commander was already seated at the table in their shared rooms, chin resting on his hands as he awaited for their late night snack to form. It had been a long day without a change for a proper supper, and Seifer insisted on ‘feeding him properly’.
The blond was stirring the pot with apparent carelessness that was actually hours upon hours spent perfecting the craft. Seifer was weirdly passionate about nutrition, which was one of his many quirks only Squall knew. Maybe there was a small part in him as well that delighted in owning and possessing, no matter how abstract form those thoughts took.
“So what’s the story?” Seifer’s voice dragged Squall from his musings. “Did you make and online profile wanting some real daddy discipline as yours is more into puppy eyes and rainbows? And then he just went for the wine and spank instead of the regular menu?”
Squall let the jabs roll off his shoulders. Seifer’s humour was always bordering between proper and improper, and it had been a long day for the both of them. “I met his partner first. He asked if I was interested. I was.” That was basically it, but Squall had to admit it was a little sparse retelling, even from him. “It wasn’t as much of a relationship as series of infrequent meetings, sometimes here, sometimes in Esthar. Usually in hotels or their private quarters.”
“And this all happened before we became an item?”
“Yes. I have never cheated on you.”
This seemed to be the main point for Seifer, his curiosity excluded. Squall understood the principle. Seifer had had his own share of flings in Garden. People tended to start enjoying finer thing of life early when there were no parental figures involved. He would have liked some background as well if some of Seifer’s previous squeezes game up for a friendly chat.
“And what did these meetings entail?”
“Sex, mostly. Roleplaying games. Nothing too unusual.”
“Why did he call you Leon?”
At that question, Squall had to force himself not to bite his lip. He had hoped Seifer wouldn’t have caught that. “It’s a code name of sorts. I didn’t want to be called by my real name when we were playing.”
“For my own reasons.”
Surprisingly enough, Seifer chose to let the issue slide. “Playing huh,” he mused. “I could do that too, you know,” Seifer said offhandedly. Fishing a spoonful of sauce from the pot, he turned around and held it to Squall’s lips. “Taste.”
Squall opened his mouth obediently and accepted the treat. The texture was thick and full, the taste spicy and strong. “It’s fine. You could do what, exactly?”
“Only fine? Dear, we are aiming for excellence here. It needs more pepper.” Seifer stirred the pot a few more times before putting it on low heat. “Smack you around a bit, if that’s what you’re into. I might even like it, actually.”
Squall’s body was suddenly very still. When Seifer turned to look at him, to observe what kind of sulking expression accompanied the sulking silence, he was surprised to see his brunets eyes filled with rage… and something resembling fear.
“Listen, asshole. It’s not about smacking me around. It’s about trust and knowing I won’t get hurt even if I bare my neck. If you hit me even once I’ll bite your fucking head off and leave you to die.”
“Wow, calm the fuck down, princess.” Seifer lifted his hands in defence. “Are you saying that you trust some shady as hell Mr. Hair Past My Asscrack more than me?” It was hard to ignore Squall’s voice was shaking but impossible to be nonchalant when what he said was plenty hurtful.
Squall’s knuckles were white when he pushed himself up. Legs of the chair made a pitiful screech. He cupped Seifer’s cheeks with his both hands. The blond winced, partly from the nails digging on his skin and partly from the cold glare accompanying the deceivingly affectionate gesture.
“I know fucking well what you are capable of and what you enjoy. I haven’t forgotten about the D-district prison. And I never will.”
“D-district prison? Damn sweetcakes, you can really bear a grudge.” Internally, Seifer’s mind was swirling for information, trying in vain to gather up and decipher memories. Everything concerning the war was patchy at best, completely false at worst. D-district prison was decidedly the latter, as he vaguely recalled Squall explaining a masterplan of filling the world with flowers.
Seifer’s attitude, unfortunately, did nothing to calm down his worked up boyfriend but managed to shut him up anyway. Squall sat down again, seemingly dismiss Seifer’s presence altogether as he stared at the tablecloth while looking somewhere else, gaze turned inwards. Seifer could handle the silence twenty seconds before he had to ask.
“What happened in D-district prison?”
“And you want this retelling why?” Squall scoffed. “Haven’t basked in your single moment of victory enough?”
“Great tales deserve great replays. Come up with a choreography while you’re at it, we’ll purchase the ballet dress later.”
“Go fuck yourself.” Ouch, full on poison now. No hanky-pankies for Seifer tonight.
Before Seifer could try anything to diffuse the situation, Squall had gotten up again and marched for the door. No matter how much it itched his hands to go and grab his troublesome lover to make him sit down calmly, Seifer knew better than that. Sometime the guy just needed the time alone.
The door was pressed shut. Determinedly, but not with quite enough force to make a bang.
Seifer sighed and packed the food away to be eaten later.
He would wait. And apologize if absolutely necessary.
Squall sat alone in the car, thanking all gods available for the cover of darkness. He had originally planned on driving around the town way too fast to blow off some steam but stubbornly falling tears clouded his vision to the point it would be more suicidal than intended. So he had gone for the most pathetic but still somewhat sensible option and climbed into the backseat to spend the night with liquor and self-deprecating thoughts.
He didn’t want them to see him cry. Especially not Seifer.
The annoying blond had been one and only constant in his entire life. His first crush. The prick that was impossible to get rid of even when he had successfully pushed everyone else away. His arrogant other half.
The tormentor of his nightmares. Smack you around a bit, if that’s what you’re into. The enemy, thriving upon his pain and humiliation. I might even enjoy it.
Seifer had always despised weakness and need to depend on others, and below the cold and sassy surface, Squall knew he was the epitome of both qualities. When the blond saw an opportunity to strike, he used it. The sentiment applied both in a battlefield and personal relationships. It was his nature. It was the reason why he had always tormented Zell and respected the strong and stoic, untouchable Squall. As much Seifer was capable of respecting anyone.
Squall’s heart couldn’t have picked a more unsuitable partner.
Being the commander of Balamb Garden had been terrible stressful from the start. He had just graduated as a SEED and had zero leading experience, coupled with his notorious lack of social skills and general disattachment to his peers. Cid just tossed everything on his lap, hoping that by some destiny based miracle shit he would make it through.
He had. But it didn’t stop there. Quite the opposite, the more he did, the more they expected of him. With each accomplishment, the stakes kept rising. He just needed a safe place to rest, a moment of peace to drop the façade.
First, it had been alcohol. Then, is some shady bar he had met Cloud, who had been kind to him and had looked distinctly like Seifer. He and Sephiroth had thought Squall a lot about himself and his needs.
You’re on my tough nut to crack list, Leonheart.
Squall stumbled upon to open the car door and abruptly vomited all over the asphalt.
Seifer was decidedly in a bad mood. Not only had he, due to unforeseen circumstances, forced to enjoy his semi-hangover meal alone, but he had also gone the whole night without Squally-boy snuggles and woken up in an empty bed. The day was approaching noon and there still was no sight of the commander anywhere in their shared apartment. As much as he hated to admit it, this was slightly worrisome.
Lunch hour came and went. It was almost three and when Seifer was pondering upon suitable men for a search party, a call to his work phone did nothing to appease the man. A quick check of caller ID revealed the perpetrator to be Irvine. “This better be good, cowboy, because my morning hasn’t been awesome and I’m looking forward to making someone pay for it.”
“It might or might not be good, depending on some details I would personally love to know”, the sniper drawled, not completely able to remove amused smugness from his voice. He and Seifer had never really been friends, in a way school bully and the sensitive, confident only on the surface artsy type rarely were friends. “A cat dragged something in. Our lovely commander nearly broke down my door at dawn this morning and demanded to sleep here. Trouble in paradise?”
Relief washed over Seifer. The redhead would stay away from his hit list yet another day. “Hell hath no fury like a princess scorned. Is he still there? I’ll come to collect him before he runs away again.”
Irvine laughed. “Make sure to bring the leash. Yeah, he is here, but asleep. He was in pretty bad shape yesterday. Who knew he couldn’t hold his liquor? Then again, in Selphie’s parties drinks always pack a punch.
"That's what he gets for being such a lightweight." Squall had been perfectly sober when he had left yesterday. What had happened the previous night? "Hey, cowboy, brace yourself for a random question."
“What do you remember about saving Squall from D-district prison.?”
A long, heavy silence on the other end.
“Why is this important now?”
I bet you have a pretty solid guess, assface. You are climbing on the hitlist. “Just answer the question.”
“If Squall won’t tell you, why should I?”
And he hits the nail on the head. Fuck it. Seifer hated being honest and sincere. "Because I can't help him and might accidentally make it worse if I step on emotional landmines that I didn't even know about."
“Hmm, a valid reason there. Unfortunately, it’s not my place to tell you anything.” Smirk appeared into previously grave voice. “Although I can hear the fangirls all over the world cooing at how sweet and loving you are to our little lion.”
Fuck the hitlist. Irvine Kinneas wanted, dead or alive. “Suck a dick, and I’m coming over.”
"Hate to disappoint, but my services are for ladies only." Irvine chuckled, but the impatient and hot-blooded ex-knight had already hung up.
Irvine took his customary hat off his head and spun it around in his fingers. He had (upon very venerable threats to his private parts) omitted the detail of Squall's tear-stricken face from last night. On his own accord, he hadn't told Seifer about the obvious signs of rape on Squall's body when they had found him in the interrogating room in D-district prison. The slender yet muscular body adorned with burn marks, severe wounds and bruises. A small pool of blood slowly but steadily forming under him. It was an image Irvine remembered very clearly, down to the empty eyes staring at nothing. They were the eyes of a man that had lost all hope.
Squall had snapped out of it. He had to, they all relied on him. But you don’t just recover from something like that by snapping your fingers and casting a simple cure.
Irvine thought about Selphie. His hyperactive little lady who had just that morning made him obscenely strong coffee, giggled silently at sleepy Squall on the couch and prompted Irvine to draw him a mustache. A tempting offer the gunman had strictly refused, has he highly preferred his family jewels were they were at the moment, thank you very much.
Selphie had spent countless nights by lying next to him in the darkness, whispering stories about her dead friends from Trabia. A lot of them were orphans, castaways and people rejected and disowned by their families. That's how many young ones ended up in Gardens. They were each other's only family, Selphie had told him. Now there were only a handful of people who even remembered they had ever existed, and the thought brought tears to Selphie's eyes every time she said it.
The war had scarred all of them, some worse than others. Luckily pain shared was pain halved. If only Mr Squall "I'm fine" Leonheart could see that.
Squall was laying on the couch, one arm covering his eyes. Being as still as possible kept nausea to a tolerable level. What kind of theatre spotlight did Irvine use in his apartment?
The front door opens. Muttering voices, one openly worried, one with worry carefully hidden under mockery and casual arrogance. A deafening screech of hinges, eagerly cutting his eardrums. "Damn Squall, I must admit, you have looked hotter in the past. Move your skinny ass, you're taking the whole couch."
Squall debated telling him to shut the lights, but decided against it. For both pride and safety reasons. Slowly he withdrew his legs enough for Seifer to sit down. He still was not ready to brave the lights, though. ”You want to cuddle now?”
"Always," Seifer smirked as he grabbed the brunet's legs and drew them on his laps. The manhandling didn't come as a surprise for the commander. The gentle, calming massage did. "I didn't realize you were that wasted last night. If I had known, I wouldn't have let you wander off like that."
It was as much of an apology as you could expect to have from Seifer. Squall smiled softly and caught one of the petting hands for a soft squeeze. He wondered if the blond knew or had guessed what had made him upset. It seemed unlikely, Seifer didn’t usually mince his words and hated playing guessing games. Although he really didn’t care either way. ”I’d like to go home, but the floor keeps swaying.”
Home. Where was home? The little flat he shared with Seifer. In Balamb Garden, which was his de facto kingdom he'd never wanted to rule. The workplace that had stricken its talons to him so deeply that they had merged into a single entity. Squall was Balamb Garden and Balamb Garden was Squall.
”Don’t worry, princess. In my arms, your highness will sail the hallways to the harbor of sober safety.” The blond said it with a straight face, yet his tone still managed to convey a shit eating grin.
”You have no regard for my dignity, do you?” Squall deadpanned.
"Never." True to his word, Seifer picked his lover up bridal style. "Yesterday was a party, no one is up and patrolling yet. If we do run into someone, I just tell them I fucked you into a coma. Cowboy!" he bellowed "Come save your door before I kick it open."
Yawning Irvine emerged from the kitchen and obediently held the door open for Seifer and his somewhat sulky, yet docile cargo. "If you fucked him into a coma, why would you be carrying him home from my apartment?"
"Because someone needed to show you how it's done. The messenger girl obviously recognized my superior abilities."
Irvine scowled. ”Fuck off. Do you let him get away with talking like that, Squall?”
”No,” stated the fearsome commander and proceeded to lie comfortably on Seifer’s arms.
The blond smirked and wiggled his eyebrows. ”Appropriate disciplinary measures will be taken.”
Irvine shut the door to their faces.
Seifer shrugged and fastened his grip on Squall, trying not to jostle him more than necessary. ”Well, it’s just the two of us now baby. Let’s set sail.”
Squall was on the edge of falling asleep again, his head buried in the crook of Seifer's shoulder. "You will put me down immediately at the first sight of anyone that might see us. And if you bang my head against walls or doorframes, I will throw up on you."
As tempting as riling up Squall for entertainment purposes could be, that was a venerable threat and Seifer decided to treat it as such. ”You’re the boss.”
Anyone who knew anything about Seifer Almasy also knew that he didn’t just let things slide. No, he waited, like a predator armed with both prawn and brain, waiting for his prey to lower their guard. It was one of his most defining qualities, along with arrogance and “general bastardness” as Squall put it.
So no, Seifer had not forgotten the confrontation he and Squall had at the aftermath of the annual party. Even if the Balamb lion had opted to act like nothing was out of the usual and the whole episode only a lapse in sanity, the blond had memorized the keywords.
D-district prison. What he was capable of.
The war was a subject they, he and Squall, never discussed. It was the one single taboo of their ‘fighting is a way of communication’ –relationship. After Ultimecia’s demise, Seifer had been dazed, as in a trance. No longer being able to tell dream and reality apart, he had wandered the desert under an endless grey sky, feeling as he was simultaneously surrounded by silence and white noise echoing from non-existent walls.
Gradually, the scenery became more and more normal. The grey mist solidified to streets, houses, even people. One day he realized he was in Fisherman’s Horizon. Judging from actions of both Raijin and Fuujin all three of them had been there for a while. If felt much more unreal than the desert had. The flying Balamb Garden that was led by his younger schoolmate only sealed the deal.
It wasn't like they had started dating right off the bat. At first, there had been something akin to a mutual arrangement of distrust. Seifer avoided Squall and the rest of the gang, wary of what they might think of the loser, Ultimecia's lapdog. Times had changed and even though some part of Seifer desperately yearned to cause trouble, he knew he couldn't afford it like before. Squall seemed to keep some strategic distance as well… although that was nothing new.
The blond still had his position as a cadet and soon made it to ranks of SEED – if the top brass had problems with it, he never heard about them. The skills he had gained as a war leader set him worlds apart from the other rookies and made him (admittedly, among the high death rate of older SEEDs he himself was partly guilty of) as a good candidate for fast career development.
For him, it was like the war had never happened.
Gradually he and Squall started dueling again. On one hand, it was like a breath of fresh air, familiarity and normalcy. On the other hand, the mock fights bore a distinct scent of memories about real defeat, the humiliation of being cut down again and again. Memories of being in the dark and controlled.
He had asked Squall why he was still alive, why they hadn't killed him when they had got so many chances. Incompetent fucks. The younger man had just stared at him as if willing him to understand something.
Oh, Seifer had many theories, which he was unafraid to share. They ranged from Zell needing a potty break or being homesick at every possible moment to Squall being afraid he’d accidentally turn Seifer into a vengeful ghost that would be twice as annoying as the living version. During the one in which he was simply too magnificent of a creature to get rid of, Squall rolled his eyes. When he got to the one in which Squally-poo was secretly gay with a huge crush on him, the brunet averted his gaze. Then the look of understand, idiot returned with more intensity than before.
Seifer had the weirdest feeling he was supposed to laugh. It was expected of his bully persona. Instead, he could only manage a somewhat feeble “Really?”
“We have known each other for a long time”, Squall stated simply.
“We have known Quistis for a long time. We have known that girl from the library for a long time. Hell, we have known Chickenwuss for a long time.”
Now the brunet managed to look slightly flustered. “That’s not what I mean.”
Yes, Seifer felt he understood. They had known each other. They weren’t just acquaintances or casual friends. Or even friends.
Squall sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose with one gloved hand, a gesture that might be as much headache as shyness or embarrassment. Seifer liked to believe the latter. “You have been the most constant thing in my life. The war made me realize it, how weird it was when you weren’t there.”
Seifer hoped he could have said the same. But it didn't matter when or how or where, because even if hadn't always had the name for the feeling, Squall had been his as long as he remembered. A constant, like the younger man had said. A lot later he had started lusting after him. Who wouldn't? But inside his shield blocking all the emotions other than occasional frustration and anger, Squall had been unapproachable. Unlike many flittering eyelashes and swirling hips halls of the Garden had to offer. He had never thought Squall would greet his embrace with anything else than an elbow to the ribs.
In the present time, the sleepy creature squirmed inside the circle of his arms as if wedging a complaint about Seifer's serious thoughts on a sleepy Sunday morning. Squall had not many days when he didn't work. Seifer kissed his commander's forehead lightly. It was no use spending their day off worrying.
I’ll take care of you, whether you like it or not.
After Seifer had lived upon his promise not to excessively damage any body parts while delivering the commander to their shared living quarters, he patronizingly put the brunet down for a nap.
On the afternoon Squall felt a bit more like a human being. Resetting his morning with Seifer's remarkably well-made coffee (the man was a sorcerer in the kitchen) certainly helped. The brunette communicated his forgiveness on previous night's happenings by pressing close to Seifer on the couch as they watched the afternoon news. The taller man had smiled and kissed him as a symbol of re-established peace, but Squall couldn't help but notice that some of the more aggravating ‘I told you so' – body language was missing.
Even though the Balamb Garden was still suffering from a collective hangover, the rest of the world didn't stop to honour its unfortunate fate and unfortunately he had a scheduled video call with Laguna. The dealings with the president of Esthar were always a bit problematic – neither party knew to what extent they should act upon protocol or talk freely, trying to get to know each other better. Although Laguna certainly leaned against the latter option. As neither man had much of spare time, the vast majority of their time together was about the relations of their respective institutions.
"Hi, Squall!" An image of the cheery man popped on to the monitor. He was making unnecessary waving hand gestures. "You don't look too well. Last night's party I suppose?"
"You could say that. However, I'm well enough to work." Never one for small talk, Squall was embarrassed that his state was so visible to the older man. "Have the negotiations for Esthar Garden been successful?"
Laguna scratched his head, looking a little sheepish. “I’m afraid not. In fact, I tried to bring it up on the senate meeting but the opposition was enormous. Looks like the Garden won’t be growing to this direction anytime soon.”
Squall sighed. Well, no matter – it had been a pipe dream from the start. The members of the Esthar senate were right to be against it. Unlike the fragmented city-states that made up Cetra, Esthar had strong central government and national army. The entry of SEED into the country would bring the more progressed Esthar technology into foreign hands and for return Esthar would only gain only potential spies and foreign military to its soil. Only an idiot would agree, but Squall had hoped Laguna's position as the beloved leader and saviour would sway the opinion to his favour.
“I see. Yesterday, it also came to my notice that Sephiroth was at the festivities. Is there something I should be aware of?” While Sephiroth had claimed not to be there on any work related matters, there was a chance it was a ruse, and if that was the case Squall hoped he could probe it out of the easily flustered president with a cold tone and a focused glare. It would be unprofessional not to mention one of the most prominent military figures in his Garden, as if they could walk right under his nose unnoticed whenever they pleased.
A small twinge of regret followed the calculated thoughts. It seemed that in his relationship with his father, even the most casual remarks were about struggles of power.
Laguna nodded. "Yes, he mentioned he would stop by. Officially he is on a leave, and actually, I believe Balamb is located on the route to where his spouse's family is from…. a small village in Cetra. Nibel something, I believe. "
Only officially on leave? Squall nodded his acceptance, not pressing further at the moment. While it was not the slip he had been prepared for, he doubted it was something Sephiroth would have liked to be common knowledge. A small town often meant weak defences and Sephiroth had plenty of enemies. Squall mentally stored the information for later use.
"Actually, about the Esthar Garden, I had a counterproposal, if you'd like to hear it." Laguna sounded strangely nervous.
“Of course.” Even though compared to previous information, it was unlikely to be anything exciting. Unless the man had actually managed to convince the senate and his previous comments on the subject had been a negotiation tactic…
Before Laguna had a chance to speak, a female voice spoke through a telecom. "Commander Leonhart, I'm sorry to interrupt, but miss Rinoa Heartilly wishes to meet you."
"Is it an emergency?" Rinoa was one of the people who didn't need an appointment to come into his office. Due to her sorceress status, even though it wasn't public knowledge, she had a lot of potential enemies and Squall had sworn personally to protect her.
“It doesn’t appear to be, sir.”
Squall was about to tell the secretary to advise Rinoa to wait in the lounge, but Laguna shook his head. “That’s fine, my proposal can wait. Actually, I’d prefer to collect my thoughts for a better presentation. Have a good day?”
Squall raised his eyebrows a bit, letting his surprise show on his face for once. It was hard to predict Laguna’s thoughts on the best of days, and never had Squall heard something from him that required ‘better presentation’. “Yes, take your time. Good day for you as well… father.”
Laguna gave him a small sunny smile before indulging a last set of excited goodbyes and ending the call. Squall shook his head. Such a strange man.
“Send her in,” he said to the secretary. This promised to be a very political day, and he hated those.
While most people hesitated in the doorway, carefully peering inside to make sure the commander was not too busy to heed to their worries, Rinoa tended to bust the door open like she was entering to a saloon. The woman was smiling, Squall noted, but with a small edge of worry on her otherwise cheery demeanour.
The war had not robbed Rinoa of her positive attitude towards the world and its inhabitants, humans and animals alike. The thought was somewhat morbid, but Squall had found himself often thinking that war had vastly improved Rinoa’s character. She had not given up on her dreams about Timber’s independence and many other similar things, but the tone of her goals had changed. The naivety with a rebellious edge transformed to an honest will to improve living conditions of several groups affected by recent unstable times. A fighter for the people, not so much for an abstract vision of justice. Rinoa standing in front of her today was more compromising and capable of negotiations than the girl he danced with at SEED ball years ago.
The young sorceress took a seat without being asked to do so. Noting the absence of pleasantries, she imitated his pose – elbows on the table, her chin now leaning against her crossed hands. “Is this how you treat all of your guests?”
"You may count yourself to be among the chosen ones." While Rinoa's good demeanor was, somewhat grudgingly, well-received Squall didn't respond well to interruptions without solid reasons. "Why are you here?"
A straight questions sobered the mood. Rinoa straightened. “A discussion with my father. I’m sorry to arrive here unannounced, but this includes you directly. I thought it would be better to come here as quickly as possible in case he decided to move quickly and contact you first. “
Squall raised his brows. What did the general of Galbadia want from him? Caraway had been quite docile the last years, only taking part in power struggles in his own city-state. Frankly, Squall had hoped that to be the new status quo.
“The truth is, he wants us to marry. I’m not sure what he plans to tell you, but my best guess is that it’s related to the knight thing.”
Squall tapped his fingers against the table. That was most likely correct. The knight institution was an archaic tradition in Cetra, not holding a practical meaning in modern times but still highly valued in romantic dreams and traditional circles. To be chosen for a protector of a noblewoman was considered both an honour and means of profit for many youngsters close to the old money families. While a knight was not synonymous for a spouse, the two roles were strongly connected. In practice it would be an inconvenient arrangement of three otherwise.
If Caraway had gotten to him first, he had most likely prattled on about his duties as a man and other elaborate court nonsense… only to drop a slight mention at the end how bad it would make him look like in many important circles to refuse such a proposition, especially as their close relations were already common knowledge. The most conservative factions would deem it a scandal, to deny the rights of ‘fair lady who had placed her trust and good name in his hands’. That would be a troublesome event.
“And what would you gain from this arrangement? And what would your father?” Although Squall had a theory considering his second question, the first was a genuine mystery.
Rinoa grimaced. “He promised to siege all of military action in his power in Timber. A complete independence after that would be a real chance, when the fight moves from an armed conflict to a political one. Timber doesn’t have a lot of resources but their ability to stand united makes them strong. As for himself, well… gossip goes, Laguna being your father and you being the commander of SEED… that’s a lot of power put together. You two could practically rule the world together, you know? The mainstream media has played it as a cute story of father and son reuniting, stop scowling at me you know it’s true, but some people are genuinely worried. My father, as horrible as it sounds, wants a piece of that.”
“You didn’t outright reject his offer.” Squall pointed out. A part of him wanted to vocalize his displeasure but another one understood. Rinoa had worked with those people for so long, seeing their goals come true would be a temptation for anyone. As incompetent as their resistance were from a SEED’s point of view, practically the better half of the city was somehow involved in it. They really wanted Galbadia of their soil.
Rinoa nodded. “I thought we could manage something. I don’t mean we have to marry for real,” she added hastily as Squall opened his mouth “I know you are with Seifer and I value my life. But maybe something like an engagement? To buy us time?”
Engagement might be enough to threaten your wellbeing. “We will figure something out. What are you planning to tell your father?”
“That I went to propose you, silly thing,” Rinoa chirped “that kind of thing has to happen in person! That’s why I came here instead of calling.”
Squall rolled his eyes. Yes, an authentic ruse indeed. And the fact she had her own luxurious chambers in the Garden as well as a notable collection of admirers certainly had nothing to do with that. She had the old Cid wrapped around her finger and if Squall had chosen not to reduce her benefits, well… it’s not like those room was acutely needed.
It was not that Sephiroth distrusted president Loire but, as he had heard senator Kiros diplomatically say, some people were more suitable handling the big picture rather than fine print. It just happened that sometimes awareness of the small details was essential in order to understand whether things were moving in right direction at all.
After explaining his plan to Sephiroth, president Loire had given his general the opportunity to do any preparations he saw fit in any manner he pleased. In practice this meant that Laguna had dropped the gloves and hoped someone else would take care of things. Delegations was, after all, one of the president’s finest skills, only rivalled by his ability to get lost in his own palace.
So far, Sephiroth had familiarised himself with the wildlife and monster populations of Balamb and some other parts of Cetra he deemed most relevant. This was a simple task. Balamb’s festivities had proved to be an amazing opportunity to covertly inspect the mechanisms of a Garden, although disappointingly little could be learned from the outside. He had taken some photographs of some details and technical solutions for mechanics in Esthar to analyse.
It would be far more complicated to him personally to be woven into the intricate patterns of Centra’s political system. The silent knowledge of which old families were powerful only on the surface, which in public unknown individuals were the puppet master behind the scenes… there was no manual for these things. An invitation for lunch by General Caraway was as worrisome as it was unexpected but also an opportunity Sephiroth couldn’t pass by.
Which led him to his current situation.
The restaurant Caraway had proposed for the meeting was certainly high-end, and also very different from what Sephiroth was used to. They were seated in a private corner of dimly lit room with no windows. General Caraway had chosen his clothing to match heavy furniture with gold and maroon detailing. The space had a feel like a pocket of closed, separate reality. Sephiroth had no doubt Caraway intended him to feel out of place.
“So, mister Sephiroth,” Caraway said conversationally as he cut a piece out of local delicacy that was apparently some kind of bird, “I heard that you have invested yourself into seeing more of Cetra in the few past weeks. An excellent choice, I must say. Has the weather been to your liking? It is not the usual season for vacation in Galbadia. I suppose you Estharians have a different perspective?” My spies are aware of your movements in the area and we know it’s business.
Sephiroth nodded, unruffled. “I certainly have no reason to complain, except perhaps for the unfortunately limited amount of challenging game in the area. I admit that I was more than ready to move into more cultured parts of my stay.” The small pests you and your pathetic army call monsters are hardly worth my time. Now, tell me why you have contacted me.
Caraway took a sip of his drink. “That’s quite understandable. Although I must warn you: for one coming from such a cultured County as Esthar, our dear Cetra won’t offer you many things of interest. Especially,” Caraway emphasized his words by looking Sephiroth directly “if were you to stay longer.”
It was Sephiroth's turn to buy some time by taking a bite of his food. How inconvenient. Galbadia was very proud of its military influence, secret services and intelligence operations included. Them having knowledge of the president’s decisions before his own staff was aware of them, was in any case a highly worrisome state of things. Then again, it was at least as possible that Caraway was bluffing, and the data he hinted to possess was actually an educated guess. "I'm sure you are selling your continent short, mister Caraway. From what I've seen, people have been very open-minded to all kinds of foreign influences.”
“Ah, you know how it his: each society has its own liberal, cultural fraction. But the deep rows of people are always resistant to change... as are those who have power. In that regard, Cetra is a very conservative place. To be completely honest, that is something I encourage in my own people. Traditions are the backbone of every society.”
“I see,” Sephiroth said coldly. “Then what is your advice?”
“Enjoy the rest of your vacation and return back to Esthar before the weather takes a turn for the worse." Caraway countered calmly. A sly smile crept on his face. "Or if you fancy, perhaps continue your stay in Nibelheim? I'm sure there are all sorts of interesting game for y-.”
Caraway couldn't finish his sentence before the figure seated across him had pulled him standing, hand around his throat. On the periphery of his vision, Sephiroth saw three men bursting through the doors, their weapons raised and aimed at him. The silver-haired general had his focus on Caraway's face that was slowly turning purple.
“I partake in your games when they amuse me,” he growled, “but there are mistakes that can cost menaces like you their lives. This time I stopped you from finishing that thought. Next time, I won’t be as merciful.”
He dropped Caraway to the floor where he stayed, coughing and holding his throat. Pushing back the flock of guards, he looked one last time over his shoulder. “Feel free to make this a public matter. I’ll surely enjoy going through your comments and their implications with president Loire… I’ll know he, too, will be thrilled to hear more about your sources of information.”
Leaving the building and entering the sunlight was a relief. The first lungful of fresh air was delicious. Sephiroth’s mind and body already yearned a fight to balance out the stuffy nonsense that was diplomacy. He took off to the direction off his private airship, ready to find some monsters.
Against the odds, the silver-haired general was quite satisfied of the events that had taken place. After all, the most important thing was to leave a lasting impression.
Caraway would be a very brave man if he were to threaten him or his lover again.
Squall read the lines over and over again. He didn’t know what he was looking for. It was a simple mission report, he understood its contents. The second reread didn’t add anything new to it, and neither did the third or fourth.
Two people had died.
It was a simple mission, or rather it was supposed to be simple. No fighting or any notable danger factor, just intelligence gathering for an ally. A target with no military presence. Infiltrate, hack a few devices, take pictures of documents. The secondary goal of setting up hidden cameras and microphones. Three man mission, two stealth specialists and one fighter to cover their escape in the worst case scenario.
Turned out the target had gotten info of the incoming operation, most likely a leak from their client's organisation. The security had been stricter than anticipated. They managed to gain the data. The fighter had died during the initial escape, managing to secure the safe escape of both the stealth specialists. One of them had died fleeing the area, as they had unluckily run into a marlboro. The survivor had filed in his mission report and the recovered data.
Mission successful despite casualties.
Squall had known both of them. A serious looking, a surprisingly sassy guy who wore glasses in civil only for fashion. A fiery girl, librarian's best friend who was on a never-ending war with the cafeteria for apparently fetishizing meat in the marketing of hot dogs.
The commander wished he hadn’t grown up in Garden. That way, he wouldn’t have all these memories, this sense of being involved personally. He also wished Garden wasn’t a school. That way, they wouldn’t be so young when he sent them out there.
Sometimes he couldn’t believe he was barely past twenty.
Later that night, he was lying next to Seifer in their bed. The high of sex that emptied his mind was fading. “How long do you think we will live, Seifer?”
“I don’t know, but you definitely need to work on your pillow talk.” The blond blew air into his partner’s ear, making him scowl in irritation. “You probably longer than me, anyway. Being the big boss and sitting in the office all day does that.”
It had a morsel of truth in it. Squall was a way too known figure to be sent on any mission requiring anonymity. Mostly he was paraded around as a Garden’s official poster boy and a war hero for special occasions, such as this or that baron’s birthday or memorials of historical events. Aside from training centre, he maintained his skills and physique by sparring with Seifer. “You are not allowed to die,” he reminded. You are not allowed to leave.
“Noted, I’ll make sure to file in a special permit before I do.” The blond quipped only to yelp in surprise as Squall sank his teeth into his shoulder. “Ow, fucking bitch.”
“I am serious,” Squall whispered into the not quite bleeding flesh. Should have bit harder. “Be careful out there.”
Seifer petted the brown locks. “No dying, I get it. For real though, what’s bothering you?”
"Selena is dead. And James." He wasn't supposed to talk about it before the official announcement. There wouldn't be a burial, there usually wasn't. The SEEDs celebrated only the living. Death was near enough for all of them without constant reminders. The dead just slid into non-existence in their minds, as if they were on a really, really long mission.
“Damn. James was a good guy. Irritating, but good.” A moment of silence. “Don’t remember anyone called Selena though.”
“A friend of Zell’s girlfriend. You used to bang her.”
"The girl had a good taste."
“She hated Zell and hotdogs.”
“An excellent taste.” Seifer expected another bite or at least a glare, but nothing happened. “So, what gives? It sucks but people die. It’s an occupational hazard.”
“It was supposed to be an easy mission.”
“Was there something you could have done differently?”
“I don’t know.” Squall wasn’t sure if he wanted to know. All the options seemed bad. Either he didn’t do enough and they died because of his miscalculations, or he had no real control whether the SEEDs under his command lived or died. The limbo of not knowing was similarly torturous.
Seifer pulled the smaller man against his chest, tucking him under his chin so that he could rest his head on the soft hair. He heard how Squall took deep breaths, trying to control the rising tide of unwelcome emotion. The blond squeezed his lover tighter and hoped it was enough because he didn't know what else he could do.
“Sir, the nest has been annihilated. Proposing return of the troops.”
Seifer raised his eyebrows. Secretly he was a little proud of the progress this group had made but they were nowhere near the level they could pull off killing the whole nest within minutes. "That was fast. Have you little maggots been getting some real skills when I wasn't looking? If you are trying to trick me, I'll find out and then you'll be teaching little ones beginner magic courses rest of the year."
“No, sir. I mean that that the nest had already been annihilated when we arrived.”
Seifer frowned. “Show me.”
After the few seconds it took the SEED to get the proper gear working, the blond was presented with a live feed of neatly sliced monster corpses. Since they were all the same species it was hard to tell for sure, but t they all seemed to be cut into five to ten parts each. Not a very effective way to kill things.
The event was recent enough as the monster meat had not yet attracted the scavengers. Only some flies were buzzing around the meat. Seifer estimated the carnage was an hour or two old at most. “Well, lucky you, something else has done your job. Proposition denied. Divide into two groups: one will document the state of the monster flesh, focus on the injuries and what killed them. The second group will search the immediate area. Look for prints, possible more monster parts, any sign of the thing that killed these. In case you run into it, do not engage. This is an information mission. Send me the results in half an hour.” Call it intuition, but Seifer already had a hunch of what they would find.
A muffled “boring ass shit,” came through the telecom. Seifer grinned. “And since Jenkins can’t appreciate the fine and versatile environment of field missions, he just signed up for bathroom cleaning duty. Enjoy the boring shit. Dismissed.”
His team shut the telecom, all the while laughing at unfortunate Jenkins. Seifer pondered what to do next. He could wait around and twiddle his thumbs while waiting for the data… or he could act now, playing it by the ear at hoping for the best.
It was not a dilemma, really. Seifer pocketed the telecom and headed into the forest.
“Your real mistake was showing up at the party, you know.”
Sephiroth knew he was the best fighter in all of Esthar. That was a fact. Taking Esthar's superior technology and strict military training, it was a high possibility that he was the best fighter in the entire world. He had been aware of the presence in his vicinity but had not anticipated a SEED, at least one so high up the ladder, to show up. And why Almasy had situated himself on a tree was a complete mystery.
The said blond hopped down and dusted leaves off his trench coat. "We found the previous monster den you had taken out. Clean cuts suggest sword, burn marks spells. Definitely a human. You are hard to track and made effort to cover your tracks, but as you are not from our Garden, a distance between the den and any plausible road suggest a small aircraft. Take that and the fact that flying over us would have been reported, this is an only plausible plot for you to land. And," even though the green eyes lacked the slit pupils, the intense stare reminded Sephiroth eerily of himself, "I just happened to know someone's mission has brought them into the nearby area."
The general was slightly impressed. "I see. I have, to my regret, underestimated SEED. I'll make sure to re-evaluate my opinions. May I assume that the commander expects an immediate report of reasons for this trespassing?"
Seifer waved his hand dismissingly. “Nah, I expect to know a reason you keep stealing my good boys and girls their experience you obviously don’t need. So why don’t you give me a lift on your fancy flying car and we solve this in Garden?”
Sephiroth was little appalled how casually the whole situation was taken. “I accept your terms,” he said, making sure to keep his tone as unreadable as possible. They made their way into the airship.
"Although there is an error in your intel, as I did not use any fire magic upon destroying the target," mused Sephiroth as he opened to hatch.
Seifer barrelled right past him, unaware or uncaring of any anti-thief merchandise often equipped in Estharian airships. He threw himself over one of the passenger seats, set on enjoying the ride with zero effort. A small device in his pocket beeped, and the blond fished it out of his pocket.
"So it seems, damn," the gunblader said, reluctantly impressed. It took a second from Sephiroth to decipher that the other had, indeed, heard his remark and was referring to it. The gunblader skimmed through what appeared to be a wall of text with some photographs attached. "Have a thing for taking them out without abusing their weaknesses? How noble. Well, you get results so I guess I can't judge."
Re-evaluation was certainly necessary. Sephiroth took notice that the blond hadn’t fastened his seatbelt, and made sure to accelerate as abruptly as possible.
Sephiroth expected to be escorted into a discreetly into a meeting area, a study or an office. Instead, after he had parked his aircraft into a designated area the blond hopped off his seat and headed towards the cafeteria.
It was after lunch, and as the majority of Balamb Garden occupants were students with classes to attend to, the area was mostly empty. An occasional SEED sipping coffee and reading a newspaper there, a young couple having a mix between independent study time and a date there. A few of them turned their heads and gave curious glances but soon turned back to their more immediate concerns. Not disinterested, just used to not asking unnecessary questions. Seifer ordered something that looked like an omelette made into a hamburger.
Sephiroth didn't remember the last time he had felt so out of place.
"Grab something if you like," Seifer said, as the hefty lady behind the counter put his meal into a brown paper bag "just don't expect me to pay for it." Apparently, they weren't eating in the cafeteria, which Sephiroth was absurdly grateful about. The general shook his head.
"Okay then – well, Squall is not available right now, so it's going to be just you and me. He will be notified later, though. I'll file an unexpected incident –report." Seifer took a large bite of his meal. There was no really a protocol to this situation, so he was winging it. "For that, you need to answer a few questions in the recorder room. It's up to you whether you'll be forthcoming or not. No reason to get worked up about a few beasts… even though you are a foreign general."
Seifer’s calm, easy manner turned visibly colder. “Do you have a reason to believe I give a fuck about your opinion?”
"I plan to be forthcoming of my reasons for this escapade," Sephiroth elaborated, "and for that reason, it is necessary to contact president Loire. As he is a busy man himself, I'm sure we have to wait a moment to gain a proper audience. In that time, I'm sure Squall can also wrap up whatever is taking his time."
Seifer had stiffened at the use of his lover's given name but seemed to seriously consider the proposal. After a tense moment, he shrugged, some f his natural devil-may-care attitude returning. "It's your life. If you want to make an incident, all the better. Can't wait for the blubbering fool of Esthar trying to explain your shit show." The blond grinned, already formulating hard questions in his head.
“Mind how you talk about the president of the greatest military force in the world,” Sephiroth regarded coolly. “If he so wished, the president Loire could destroy this place and everyone in it in a matter of minutes.”
"Perhaps, but his son is here, so he won't do it. Besides, the man asked me to call him dad for fuck's sake, as ‘we are all family' and all. 'Fool' is one of the mildest things I could call him and still get away with it. " Seifer stuffed the last of his food into his mouth, wiping his hand onto his trousers. "So I have to babysit you while we wait? That sucks. Even if you didn't have a stick up your ass, there is nothing fun you can do with suspects."
Sephiroth raised his eyebrows. “I am suspect of what, exactly?”
"I suspect you about a lot of things." The piercing glare was back. "What is your relation to Squall, exactly?"
Sephiroth wondered if that suspicion was the real reason Seifer not wanting the commander to be present. How petty. “If Squall has not informed you of such things, then why should I?”
“He has given me the broad outline, but he is not the most expressive person. I want more… details.” Seifer said the last word without a slight hesitation. Sephiroth suspected there was more to it than that.
“Usually I would not discuss such things, but as I suspect it might benefit the commander in the long run, I’ll make an exception. Although,” Sephiroth said dryly, “I intend to explain more than describe. The ‘details’, as you call them, are not mine to tell.”
Seifer huffed at that. "Stick up the ass, as I said."
Squall’s day had not been the best. The hours spent dealing with the press were always torturous. Their gossipy interest only made it worse. Rinoa’s arrival to Garden had not gone unnoticed and had sparked a lot of questions, speculation and controversy. People were still divided upon how to treat a sorceress that was not planning to take over the world.
Despite Squall calmly deflecting every inquiry about his love life with “no comment”, there had still been the ever favourite question on the date of his and Rinoa’s wedding. The situation being what it was, general Caraway watching intently their every move, he couldn’t shoot the idea down immediately. It was a delicate dance around the subject, trying to hint towards a state of things while not confirming anything. They were still stalling for time.
His day did not get any better when he was informed by the staff that general Sephiroth and Seifer were expecting him for an audience with president Loire. No briefing. No details. Nothing.
The career of commanding mercenary would be the death of him for all the wrong reasons.
Fully expecting soon to be informed about incoming missiles, Galbadia’s newest insane military project on his doorstep or an army of monsters falling from the moon, he stepped into his office and found Seifer playing solitaire. Sephiroth had dragged his chair up to the wall and had his eyes closed, either meditating or taking a nap. On the call screen was Laguna, looking more like a nervous schoolboy about to give his first presentation that a president of Esthar.
Seifer looked up and saw the commander standing in the doorway. He swiped his card into his pocket and gave his lover a welcome smirk before schooling his expression into something almost professional. "Good afternoon, commander," he saluted, to which Squall absentmindedly answered. "There was an unforeseen incident, but instead of writing the usual report I took the authority to listen to general Sephiroth's suggestion to discuss the issue with president Loire."
"I see," Squall said coolly, although a bit unsure whom should be the subject of his cold glare. He settled on Laguna, as Seifer would be unaffected and Sephiroth actually dangerous. "I hope you weren't kept waiting for too long. I would have come sooner… had I known this meeting was taking place, that is."
Laguna shrank just a bit under his gaze but didn't avert his eyes. "Well. Yes. This was a bit spontaneous, wasn't it? But I guess that's my fault. I should have told you sooner. And I tried, there just didn't seem to be the right time."
“And now it seems I need to be informed whether it’s a good time or not.” Squall stated, still calm. He sat down. It was awkward being the only one standing within a room of a seated people, it made him look just as caught unaware as he really was.
Laguna was silent for a moment, apparently gathering his thoughts. When he finally spoke, his voice was soft, almost gentle. "Squall," he started, "you are very young to be in the position you are in. Yet you have done an excellent job. You have surpassed all expectations, mine and Cid's. I'm very proud of you."
Squall frowned, but Laguna silenced him with a gesture. "I'm not speaking as a figurehead, I'm speaking as a father when I say I'm worried about you. I know better than anyone how taxing this work can be, and Esthar is much older with more stable institutions than Garden. We have a lot in common, Squall. I know you don't think that way, but I do. The rising tides of fate have taken us both to where we are now. "
"Don't you ever hope things were different? To be free of all those demands, to live as you want and do what you want, not what is expected?Further your education, maybe, or travel and enjoy the world you have saved from destruction and war? I want you to have all the opportunities available to you, Squall."
The opportunities you didn’t have, Squall noted. It stung a bit, to realise how Laguna saw him as a son, when he could never see the older man his father, not truly.
"And that is why I have asked general Sephiroth what he would think of a position of a commander of Balamb Garden. Only if you agree, of course, and all the other people necessary for the transition of power to succeed. I have given him permission to investigate the methods of making things possible. I'm sorry that I didn't tell you sooner."
Squall’s mind was assaulted with images of things he for a long time known to be impossible. Purchasing his mother’s bar in Winhill and having a simple day job, fighting an occasional monster only for excitement and fun. Or being a mere teacher in Garden, devoting himself to the life of raising the next generation of gunblade wielders.
Those were daydreams. He couldn’t. He didn’t know why exactly, but he was sure he never could.
"And when did you think to inform us? The day Sephiroth showed up at our doorstep and pronounce himself a new headmaster?" Seifer asked dryly.
Squall was shaken out of his thoughts. Seifer. Would the blond follow him if he left? Or stay with him, keep being his if Squall stopped being the leader and the war hero? The whole thing would have no point if he didn’t. All of his inane daydreams included the blond.
“No, of course not.” Laguna had the sense to sound bashful. “I was supposed to tell you earlier, it just… I didn’t, and I’m sorry. But I promise you know everything now! Or everything I know, at least. Sephiroth still hasn’t made his final report.”
“We will think about the implications of your proposal, president Loire,” Squall said with his most unreadable voice. Seifer shot him a surprised glance. “Our terms are that all data your agent gathers is disclosed on us as well. You will be informed when the final decision has been made.”’
“Yes! Of course!” Laguna seemed relieved. The whole thing had apparently gone better than he had predicted.
"Thank you. I hope this impromptu meeting didn't burden you unnecessarily. Have a good day, president Loire." Squall wasn't usually quite this formal in their discussions but now it felt necessary to balance out the other man's emotional vulnerability. Laguna needed to understand what he was asking, and not only of his son, of a well known and visible political character. The dark-haired president nodded several times before logging out, seeing Squall's dismissal for what it was.
Squall turned to face the other two people in the room with him. Seifer’s surprised expression had given way pensiveness. Sephiroth seemed neither surprised nor annoyed at being discovered and having been forced to reveal his cards. Squall was struck with an impression that this had been his intention all along, to be ‘caught’ by Garden and forcing Laguna to give them all his information. It would move the project along faster and also help Sephiroth with his efforts, as he was able to communicate with them directly instead of having to sneak around.
“And what do you get out of this?” The commander asked Sephiroth, hoping he managed in making it sound polite.
“I am following orders,” Sephiroth dismissed his question. “If it is president’s goal I command the Garden, it will be my goal as well.”
And it’s just convenient this place is closer to Nibelheim than Esthar, Squall thought. He stood up. It was not necessary to think through all the options at this very moment. He would sleep on it and ponder upon different scenarios. Either way, he couldn’t make any decisions without talking it through with Seifer first.
“I trust you to keep up whatever actions you think are necessary for your mission,” he said to Sephiroth. “Feel free to move around in the general area of Balamb without further questioning from us. If you wish to make further inspections of mechanics of garden or the content of lessons given to students, give us a heads up. If I or Seifer is not available, ask for Quistis Trepe. I will make sure she is informed. Do not talk or even hint about this to the rest of the staff. Naturally, you will not have any access to our mission data or any other confidential material."
“Understood,” Sephiroth answered.
“Also, do not include Seifer in any plans you may have. If I leave, he leaves.”
"Do not worry," the general said dryly as they all left the room, "I would not want him as my second in command, or in any potion of relative importance". Behind them, Seifer pressed his hand against his chest in mock heartbreak. They chose not to pay any attention to him. Squall nodded.
“A wise choice. He is an undisciplined brute. As a cadet, he failed our diplomacy class when he threw a table at our negotiation partner in a simulation.”
For whatever reason, Sephiroth chose not to comment.
Seifer’s first impression of Cloud was that, in literally any other circumstances, he would bully the hell out of this kid. Okay, he probably wasn’t any younger than Squall, but something about the other blond screamed ‘kid’ to him. The big blue eyes and overly spiky hear made the rest of his face look small in comparison.
Not what he had expected. At all.
“Do all of your friends call you chocobo? I’m very disappointed if they don’t.”
The smaller blond rolled his eyes. His hidden amusement wasn’t quite as well hidden as Squall’s, and not half as endearing. “I can tell that’s your best attempt at being civil, so I’ll let it slide for now.”
Seifer wondered if this guy was as sassy in person as he was through a video call. He was sitting on his laptop in his and Squall's quarters, and by the looks of it, Cloud was in some kind of inn or a bar. Sephiroth had promised to arrange this little coup d'etat earlier that week, when they had caught the general running about Balamb forests and merrily killing things.
“Squall told me about what you guys did. It seems… more complicated than I thought. I need to learn more about that.”
Sephiroth raised his eyebrows. "I didn't think you'd be incapable of researching the scene by yourself. Surely such thing as the internet is not beyond your grasp."
"Just say looking at porn. And you think I haven't? But like I said, it's not that simple. Squall doesn't trust people easily. For some reason, he trusted you. "
Sephiroth shook his head. “In that, I cannot help you.” Seifer tried to protest, but Sephiroth raised his hand. “I mean that I do not play the role I assume you see yourself in. That would be my partner, Cloud.”
And here they were, sizing each other up, both more or less judging. Seifer wondered if it was a usual thing, the silver general allowing someone to contact his lover. He didn’t actively follow the latest gossips, but he was pretty sure general’s lover’s name and face weren’t public knowledge. He would have asked Squall, but that would require telling him about this little plot way too early.
Seifer said the thing that most likely wasn’t smart to voice, but that had bothered him since the first second he had seen the smaller blond’s face and stature. “How can a small guy like you dominate someone like Sephiroth?”
Cloud smiled at him like he was that child in the science class who first voiced the most stupid misconception the teacher had heard millions of times. “I can see why he thought you might need help.”
Ouch. Burn received.
"So," the blue-eyed blond continued, "what exactly you need help with? Ropes and knots? Best Estharian sex toy brands? Obviously, you can wrestle him to carpet due to your bigger size." The comment was delivered with the slightest hint of poison, Seifer noted. The chocobo comment hadn't hit its mark, but pointing out his size did. Interesting.
“No,” against his first instinct the taller blond decided to answer seriously instead of just biting back. “I want to know why Squall would trust you and not me.”
Cloud's smile softened the slightest bit. "The same things I did may not work for you. But you are on the right track. Why do you think Squall doesn't trust you?"
Seifer spread his hands. “I know he has needs he won’t tell me about. He’d rather hide in his shell than open up to me when things are rough,” he hesitated, unsure how much Cloud already knew and how much he should reveal. “We have a history, and not all of it is sunshine and rainbows.”
Even Seifer himself didn’t know what that meant, exactly.
Cloud nodded. He didn’t seem surprised. “I take a jab in the dark in the dark and say all of those things could apply to you as well. They seem pretty commonplace. Do you think Squall doesn’t trust you?”
Seifer opened his mouth and then closed it. Needs, shell, their history. “It’s not the same.”
“Of course not. It’s never just the same, but the point stands. You want him to lay down and bare his neck for you but you won’t do the same for him. He has to surrender first and risk everything, even when he is the one who has suffered the most.”
The urge to snap was so great Seifer closed his eyes and counted to ten to calm down. And then cursed whoever had invented this stupid method because it didn’t work at all.
"That's what you wanted to happen, isn't it? For him to just one day kneel beside you with a pretty blush and beg for you to fulfil his secret desires? And you, the ever benevolent Great One would graciously agree to this great chore? For the price of his everlasting worship and gratitude, of course."
A part of him was disturbed by the sudden, hot wave of rage. Seifer knew he had a reputation of being a hothead, and while justified, it was never like this. Out in the field, he made quick and often unorthodox decisions, but they were the results of instinct and intuition. Unlike Squall, his way was of acting, not reacting.
He had never liked people meddling with his life. When they did, he could easily intimidate them with a well-placed threat or a joke. For him, those were often synonymous anyway.
“Hits home, doesn’t it?” the smaller blond was grinning at him on the screen.
Why am I already on your shit list?
“So what do I need to do, oh wise one?” A small tinge of sarcasm didn’t count as snapping or being controlled by emotions. Nope, Seifer was calmly winning this battle of wills and the little assface was not getting under his skin.
Cloud shrugged. “In short, grow up. But as you are a little special, I think I need to be a bit more specific.”
If Cloud’s body would be sliced into small enough pieces and mixed with grysahl greens, would chocobos eat him so he could finally truly be one with his brethren? Merely a scientific inquiry on Seifer’s part, of course.
“You want him to trust you? You need to show him that he can. Assure him that nothing bad will happen to him if he lets the last of his walls to crumble. You have to be the one to make the first step here, in this particular situation.”
Seifer sighed. This was going nowhere. “And again, this happens how?”
“There are many ways to invite trust, in theory. Sometimes people draw complicated contracts to assure only the things they want will be done. Or they can learn together, taking parts dominating. But before you get into that, remember two things. First, Squall has his reasons not to trust you. Those are not his fault or insults to you or your relationships. They are his real thoughts and feelings. Second, you are in this together. You can ask him to guide you and help you out.”
Those words were the moment something slotted in place inside Seifer’s head.
A part of him had all along expected to hear that Squall trusted him fully, to think otherwise would be silly. He’d just need to press a button for everything to fall into place.
He broke things and he fixed them himself. He protected what was important to him. He saw what needed to be done and did it. This passive creature who expected everything to be served to him on a silver platter was not him.
Cloud was still not done. “The whole point is that you need to see what he needs, not only what you want. If you can’t look at this from his point of view and just walk there thinking he will fall over in his hurry to impress you, you don’t deserve his submission or obedience.” The blue eyes sharpened a bit. “You will just be one of those people who think being bigger and badder gives you a right to violate others.”
“What if I am one of those people?” Seifer asked quietly.
Cloud seemed surprised, maybe that Seifer had said it out loud, or that he even had the capacity to voice such emotions. "I suppose knowing that will help the reign the bastard side in you. None of us are angels. Besides," Cloud smiled, a genuine expression without a hint of mockery "Squall will keep you in check if you give him a fair chance."
Seifer thought he had experienced more self-doubt in the past fifteen minutes than in the entirety of his life. It was exhausting. “Got it.” He leaned forward. “And now that the heavy talk is done, why don’t you tell me more about those Estharian technology sex toys.”
Chapter 6: Interlude I
How Squall met Cloud.
In his life, Cloud had spent a remarkable amount of time in bars. Nibelheim was a cold place, and in cold places, people tended to search warmth from a bottom of a bottle and thrill of a casual brawl. When he was a cadet aiming for the SOLDIER, team bonding was a synonym for team drinking. Besides, one of his best friends owned a bar.
Despite all that, drinking had never been on his list of favoured ways to pass the time. He was used to being the sober one, calling it quits after a few beers and spending the rest of night watching his choice of company getting more and more intoxicated.
That night was not a party night, he had simply stopped by to greet Tifa before setting off on the road again. They had been catching up on the more quiet hours of the evening, exchanging stories and the latest gossip. Tifa was adamant upon hearing news from Nibelheim and both of their respective families, but also other corners of the world. Cloud would recommend her to take a vacation and go see for herself, but he suspected the interrogation was a discreet method of making sure Cloud stayed out of trouble. The blond was not the best liar, and the barmaid would always know if he left something major out of the story. It felt like a bit like a mission reports back in the day, to be honest.
As the night progressed and more customers started to pour in, their chatter ceased as the dark-haired woman served her patrons. Cloud stayed in the corner, sipping his beer slowly and eyeing the bunch the night had dragged in. He had his very own bed reserved for him upstairs where he could stay on his Esthar visits when Sephiroth was on a mission. Life on wheels had that side effect: no real home anywhere, at least not in the meaning of a house bought and used by him exclusively.
The bar door opened, a bell attached to it giving a chime barely audible above the noise of several simultaneous conversations. Cloud heard Tifa's loud sigh only because she was standing right next to him, gathering empty glassed on to a tray.
“What’s wrong?” He asked. The night was a busy one, the crowd cheery but well-behaving.
“That guy always means trouble”, she said, nodding her head in the direction of the newcomer. “This is going to be a rough night with a chance of someone being stabbed with a broken bottle.”
Cloud turned to get a better look at the man. He was of a slight build, quite attractive to be honest. Dark brown hair fell over his face, making it hard to grasp his mood or expressions. The black leather coat gave him a bit of a biker look, but he didn't seem to be a part of a gang. The man took a seat at the other end of the counter. With a slight slouch of boredom, he didn't look like a guy picking up a fight. "Why not give him a ban, if he is a pain? A small guy like that, you could toss him to the next street. "
Tifa shook her head. "It's not like he is a bad guy… it's more like everyone else is a problem when he is present, and he is only happy to oblige them. It's hard to be mad at him when it's their fault too, you know? But if he keeps on fighting, I might have to ask him to find a new bar or I go bankrupt."
The stranger looked at them, and if he caught them staring he didn't seem to mind. He simply waved a few fingers at Tifa, indicating he wanted to order. During a brief eye contact, Cloud noted that his eyes were already a bit unfocused as if he's already had quite a few drinks. Or something else. The blond watched the barmaid go. Even if he didn't hear the actual order over all the noise, he noted it was served in a multitude of shot glasses. The man downed them all in one go.
After that Cloud focused on his own drink and let his attention to wander. He listened to pieces of conversation and arguments around him, thought about the following day and his plans with Sephiroth. Tifa returned to his side occasionally and the exchanged a few sentences. Tifa gave him a half-hearted offer of a refill on his drink she already knew would be turned down. It took half an hour before the trouble barista had anticipated started to brew.
A tall, dark man wearing sunglasses came behind the brown-haired man an attempted to tap him onto the shoulder to get his attention. Attempted, because the man in question grabbed his wrist and shoved it away without looking behind him. "Do not touch me," he said, the or else unspoken but heavily implied.
“Right back at you,” the man wearing sunglasses grumbled, rubbing his wrist.
A redhead from a table behind them snorted loudly. “C’mon Rude, are you trying to make friends again? We both already know it won’t work.” A blonde girl next to him laughed.
The tall man, Rude, seemed annoyed. “Look at me when I’m talking to you, asshole.”
The brown-haired man didn't do as asked. Instead, he signalled for Tifa. "One beer please, Galbadian style."
“Coming right up,” Tifa said cheerily. She uncorked a cheap brand of beer and a slid it a small distance on the countertop towards the stranger. “Here you g- “
The man grabbed the bottle and smashed it into the other guy’s head.
The people at the nearby table jumped up, the redhead reaching for his weapon. Tifa cursed under her breath and jumped over the counter.
The stranger blocked Rude's punch and retaliated by bringing knee into other's groin. As the man doubled over, his red-haired friend came from behind him, going for the stranger's neck with a quick thrust with his nightstick. Using the momentum to his advantage, the man grabbed the attacking arm pulled forward, sending the red-haired head first onto the counter. Stunned and dazed, the man fell to his knees, clutching his head. Empty shot glasses clattered to the floor around him.
The brown-haired man grabbed him from the back of his neck, lifting him up till they were almost at eye level. He bent his head backwards and headbutted the guy right between the eyes. Then he dropped him back down, this time unconscious.
At that point, Tifa had made it to the scene. “Knock it off!” she growled and moved physically in between the stranger and the blonde woman that had already grabbed a chair and was holding it in a striking position.
The brown-haired man gave in easily enough. "Whatever," he muttered and hopped back to his barstool. The woman made a wise decision and lowered the chair she was holding. Apparently she didn't have much gusto left after seeing how easily her two companions had been brought down.
Cloud kneeled down to check on the man lying on the floor. Lifting his head up, he gave the redhead a light slap to each cheek. The man murmured something unintelligible and opened his eyes slightly, only whites visible. Then he went limp again.
"Probably a concussion. Tifa, could you bring a phoenix down from the back?" Tifa nodded, and with one last glance to the chair girl and glare to the stranger she disappeared to the back room.
Rude was still crouched awkwardly, one hand clutching the counter for support. Damn, he had been kneed hard it seemed. Cloud gave him an encouraging pat on the back. “You’ll be alright, buddy. How about you and your pals head home for the night? I think you’ve seen enough action for tonight.” Rude nodded, apparently not trusting his voice enough yet.
After Tifa had returned and revived the redhead with a phoenix down and given Rude an icepack the trio set out into the night. The blonde was guiding the other two. The redhead seemed especially disgruntled, giving one last bad eye to the stranger and whining to the blonde woman. "Why didn't you shoot him, Elena? Where is your solidarity for fellow comrades? You'll never learn the art of bar fight like that."
“Are you kidding me? I won’t pop a shot because you are too hot headed to pretend to be civil for longer than three minutes. Besides, they were civilians. Besides, does the art of proper bar fighting include going home with your nuts busted and eyes looking at the back of your own head? If so, I don’t want to learn it.”
The door slid closed behind them and took their banter with it. Slowly, the bar patrons who had fallen into silence started their chatter again, first hesitantly and progressing to a normal level.
"Is it common for bars in Esthar to hold magical healing supplies in their backrooms?" The stranger asked quietly.
“We call it ‘Our special’,” Tifa commented dryly. “I’ve been tolerant and even now I don’t think you are really the worst of them. But there is only so much I can take. This is my final warning.”
“Whatever,” the stranger said, but obediently moved towards the exit, obviously knowing a dismissal when he heard one. Only he stumbled and almost hit his head to the doorframe.
“Where are you going to go?” Cloud asked. The other participants of the little tumble were in a group, they should be okay. But on top of having too much to drink, this guy was by himself.
“Who knows?” the man shrugged. “Sorry about the mess.” He added to Tifa, whose stern expression immediately softened a bit. A real sucker for men with manners, that one.
Cloud didn't view himself as the mother hen. That was Tifa's job. Still, only bad things could come out of letting this guy wander off by himself into the night. "There is both a bed and a couch in the room upstairs where I am sleeping if you are interested. You can pay the next morning."
The stranger stared at him long and hard. Behind his back, Tifa gave Cloud a small smile. She, too, had probably been a bit uncomfortable about sending the man fend for himself.
“I would like that,” he finally said softly. “My name is Leon.”
"Great, so that's settled. I'm ready to head in for the night." The brown-haired man nodded. Despite his earlier behaviour, Leon didn't seem to be an aggressive drunk, which was good news. Still, Cloud decided to play it safe and guide the man from behind as they made their way upstairs, keeping an arm's length of space between them.
“I’m not trying to pick a fight,” Leon mumbled. “But I hate it when they touch me without permission.”
“You were sitting right next to the coat rack. He was most likely trying to ask you to move so he could get his clothes.”
Leon came to a dead stop in front of him and whipped his head around. Only the combination of sudden movements broke his balance and he fell a few steps back and collided with Cloud, who by reflex brought his arms up to balance them both.
“Oh,” he said, and Cloud couldn’t tell if it was for his words or his touch.
In Cloud's room, Leon immediately threw himself on the bed and started undressing. "So, you want top or bottom? I'm good either way, but honestly," he crawled on the edge of the bed, annoyingly seductive, "I love being fucked."
It was at that point that Cloud realised his offer for ‘a night in the room upstairs’ could have been taken the wrong way.
“No one will be topping, as there won’t be any sex happening. You can take the bed, I’ll be sleeping on the couch.” The original plan was to keep his bed and toss Leon on the couch, but he really wasn’t in the mood to pick up the naked man and try to haul him across the room. He might take it as foreplay.
Leon looked confused, then irritated, then sad. "Why not?" he asked quietly. Belatedly self-conscious, he drew the blanket to cover his lap. It was difficult to connect this vulnerable creature to the leather-clad man smashing bottles into goons downstairs.
“Because you are wasted.” Cloud brought the man a glass of water. “Drink. Then sleep.”
Leon took a glass from him and stared at it as if it was an object from another dimension. “Usually, they don’t care about that.”
God, what had he gotten himself into?
"They should have. And I think you know that, too." Cloud sat on the couch and started removing his clothes, well aware of the curious eyes watching every inch of his body uncovered. The boxers stayed on. "Is that what you were looking for, instead of fight? People who don't care how drunk you are to fuck you?"
"Among other things. It keeps me occupied."
“There are other ways.”
Leon didn't rise to the bait. His eyes were looking at Cloud but at the same time, somewhere far away. "Can you come here to sleep? No sex. Just sleeping here."
“Are you sure?” The bed, even narrow, was much more tempting than the lumpy couch and a ratty, sorry version blanket that came with it. Leon nodded.
"Alright then." The day when he was grateful to be able to sleep in his own bed. How the mighty have fallen. The brown haired one was obviously a mighty foe, even Sephiroth couldn't pull off this particular brand of manipulating his feelings with unexpected fragility as well. He shut the lights and laid down.
“Thank you,” Leon said in the darkness. True to his word, he didn’t make a move to get closer to Cloud.
“You are welcome,” Cloud answered, “and don’t snore.”
Squall took a long sip of his third coffee that morning. The "Rinoa's problems that are also my problems" project as he called it was proceeding at a reasonable pace, even though it required a lot of background work and information gathering that was all adding to his already cramped working hours.
Thus far he had three piles of paper. The first contained history of the knight institution and various changes made to it during the years. The contents could be used to derail the conversation to the institution itself and away from the situation at hand if the public caught wind of it. He could publish them anonymously in both liberal and conservative papers along with appropriately tailored opinions. On one hand, nitpicking into "real and noble" form of knighthood last seen hundreds of years ago. On the other, pointing out the several inconsistencies and discontinuities in the tradition and claim that knighthood was nothing but silly, archaic habit, unsuitable for modern times.
The second pile had data on Caraway's political opponents and other people that assumedly held a grudge of some kind. Squall was quite certain that there were at least five people in there that would be absolutely terrified upon hearing about a chance of Caraway's daughter marrying a leader of a private military organization and would go to great lengths to stop that from happening. They could be notable allies, but he had to proceed with caution and only reveal his cards when he was sure they wouldn't leak the data onwards to the press or Caraway. It was also possible they might try to blackmail him later.
Who knows, perhaps he could inspire them all to make havoc and point out the unbalance of inner politics of Galbadia that would follow if the marriage took place. Then Squall would have to dramatically give up his destined lover for Rinoa for the sake of common good. That would make them look bad for a while but on the other hand, Squall would be in their debt.
The third pile, labelled last option, had dirt about the sons and daughters of notable conservative politicians of Galbadia. If the conservative faction decided to put pressure on him to follow through on their customs and traditions and make them seem pure and traditionalists in the process, he could threaten them with it.
Squall closed his eyes and bend backwards on his chair. He needed to go to the training centre and whack on T-Rexes before his head would explode.
When he made his way back into his and Seifer’s living quarters it was already dark, way past dinner time. Seifer would disapprove, as he always did when he caught Squall not caring for himself properly.
Whatever. He would live. He had survived so far.
Opening the door, Squall was faced with a scent of cooking stew and a sound of boiling. That was surprising. Despite his rebel appearance, Seifer was a creature of habit out of the two of them. Unless something came up, he would eat, sleep and exercise following a set up routine. Even during the time when they weren't a couple, it was often up to Seifer to remind the brunet that eating was not only necessary but also should be done on a daily basis.
Seifer peered around the kitchen corner. “And here comes my little lost lamb. You are late, but today that means just on time. Sit your ass down and prepare to be unsurprised, because the food will be heavenly as usual.”
Seifer ruffled his hair affectionately. The brunet smiled and leaned into the touch.
“Thanks for the food.” It was good to be home.
“You are welcome, squirt.”
The dinner was a usual affair, Seifer complaining about his men and their antics. It was all social talk though, Squall wasn't a commander on his own dinner table.
Even though it was fun sometimes, to freak out his fellow SEEDs by how much he knew about them. Kept them on their toes.
As Seifer started collecting the plates he said: "we need to talk."
Squall raised his eyebrows. "On TV, that's usually a very ominous line."
"I wouldn't know, there is only one person in this room that secretly watches soap operas. But for real. There is something I'd like to tell you and it's up to you where we go from there. You game? I'll give you a massage if you want."
"Alright. Lead the way." This was a bit more familiar ground. Seifer was good with his hands in many ways, and giving Squall full-body massages was tried and tested method to get him very horny or make him relax into a puddle of goo, depending on what Seifer had in mind.
They moved into the small living room so that Seifer was sitting on the couch and Squall was seated on the floor, leaning comfortably against the piece of furniture. Seifer’s hands treaded his shoulders expertly.
“You remember when Sephiroth busted the Sorceress war memorial –party? And the talk we had here after that?”
Squall felt his breath hitch at the words. His entire being collapsed inwards. He had known it would happen, eventually. Still, he wasn’t ready.
“What do you want,” he rasped, the cracked voice unrecognizable for him. You are a tough nut to crack, Leonheart.
Seifer's fingers prodded and dug and, and it when it became apparent that the source of stiffness was a matter of mind and not of body, simply caressed his skin gently. "Just to tell you something, for know. You don't have to agree or disagree or say anything at all if you don't feel like it. Just listen."
Squall didn’t answer. He tried to will his body to relax, to obey his orders. It didn’t work.
"I know we never talk about the war. The truth is that I couldn't even if I wanted to. Everything is hazy. I remember bits and pieces, like fighting with you and the others but… I also sort of thought it wasn't really you, that it was all a game of sorts? And in places that there are usually a lot of people there were only monsters or people who were sort of frozen in place or stuck doing the same thing over and over. I didn't find that weird at the time, though. My head starts to hurt when I think about it too much."
Squall stared the walls, seeing nothing. Ultimecia’s mind control. It went deeper and was more effective than he could have ever guessed. She might have damaged Seifer’s mind irreversibly. There was no precedent to make sure.
He had been too bitter about everything that happened to him to think, to stop and really think about what had happened to Seifer.
“The point is,” the blond continued, unaware of how the cogs of Squall head hand come to a screeching halt, “I really don’t know what happened in D-district prison. But judging on how you are tensing by me simply saying those words, it was something really bad. And I did it. For that, I’m sorry.”
A small shiver ran its course through Squall’s body. Seifer’s hands abandoned his shoulders and moved to comb through the locks of brown hair. “I was late to dinner today because I had a chat with Cloud.”
That was a surprise. In his confusion, Squall almost forgot the rising tide of anxiety. "You mean Sephiroth's Cloud."
"Yes, Cloud the chocobo." Squall smiled and felt himself relax the tiniest bit. Seifer continued. "Anyway, he gave a lot of things to think about. It seems like you have needs that haven't been addressed lately. I would like to do that to you if you let me. I don't claim to be best right away, but Cloud walked me through some basic concepts."
“Like what?” Squall challenged, unable to keep the bitter edge off his voice. “You already know how to tie people down and hit them.”
Seifer is not the enemy. Seifer is not the enemy. Stop being afraid, there is no reason to be afraid.
But Seifer didn't rise to the bait. "He told me to focus on trust. I should give you a reason to trust me. I thought that and realised how I always focus on me – what I want and how I can get it, and not on you and what you want to give. When you were afraid of me that night, it hurt me and I got defensive. But it's not like you are afraid just to hurt me, you have your reasons. I know you don't want to talk about it, and I don't ask. I hope you'll tell me someday when you're comfortable. But that's your business."
“Stop touching me,” Squall rasped. Seifer let go of him immediately.
"I'm going to take a shower," the brunet said and stood up. The small shivers threatened to grow into tremors, even if a small part of him still wanted to believe the trembling of his legs was just his tired muscles protesting their overuse. He paid particular attention to appear stable. Nice and slow. "I'm going to take a shower."
“Okay,” the blond answered, his voice still soft and agreeable. “How long are you gonna take?” How long before I need to get worried and barge in, locked doors be damned?
"Just fifteen minutes. I'll be right back. You can… you can make tea. Or something. " After a second of hesitation, he placed a quick peck on Seifer's cheek before turning and disappearing into the bathroom.
Even after the door had been pressed shut, Seifer stood still, watching and listening. After a short delay, the shower started running.
He went to make some tea.
Inside the shower stall, Squall let the water fall over him as he stared the walls. Lost in thought, he didn't pay any attention to actually cleaning himself. It would be unnecessary anyway, as he had already taken a shower in the changing room outside of the training centre.
Was it really true? Were Seifer's memories of the war so deeply distorted?
Being mind controlled for such a long time could have broken Seifer irreversibly. There was no precedent, at least to his knowledge. Maybe it had broken him. Maybe there were other things he didn’t know about, malicious traps and potholes even Seifer himself didn’t know of. Deep damage that would someday come to claim Seifer’s mind.
The water was scalding hot on his skin. Maybe you never really believed he was being controlled. Maybe you believed he had shown his true colours.
Squall had never really thought about those things. He had been so absorbed in his own problems, in his own scars, that he had pointedly overlooked any possibility of Seifer being hurt too.
That would have to change.
We will need rules", Squall announced the first thing as he sat down on the table. The calming scent of chamomile wafted on from the two cups on the table. Seifer had his with nothing in it. Squall's cup contained half a spoonful of honey. Seifer knew what he liked. Most of the time.
"Yeah, I figured." The blond said, sipping his beverage. He was laying back on his chair casually, one arm thrown over the backrest. The very image of relaxation. "You want to start working on those now or later?"
“We can add to them as things come up,” Squall said. “But yes, I’d like to establish one now.”
“Let’s hear it.”
The smaller man traced the rim of the cup with his finger. "I like the way we work," he started quietly, "as long as I remember we have fought and argued and bickered about everything. I literally do not remember the time when we weren't rivals of sorts. One of my earliest memories is beating you with a wooden stick. I know I don't have to pull any punches with you or act agreeable, like with everyone else. But", he hurried onwards before Seifer had any chance to comment, "there are things I haven't told you. And it looks like you haven't told me all the important thing, either. The sort of things that are like… a miscalculated defence, or a bad stance. You understand."
"Yes," Seifer confirmed, even if it hadn't really been a question.
“So we need a safe word for that. A conversational safe word. So I know I can tell you anything you won’t laugh or mock me, or use it against me later.”
“Alright,” the blond agreed, calm and easy. Squall’s heart hammered in his chest. He had feared Seifer would lash out at this point, demand explanation why Squall thought of him like that.
"Did you have something in mind? For a safe word?"
Squall hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. “I… not really. Maybe something like… ‘now, serious talk’?” It was kind of long, but it made sense.
“Okay. But we need another one, too.”
Squall blinked. “Another one?”
“To stop the serious talk. So I know when I can start mocking you again.”
Squall’s lip twitched. “Okay. How about, ‘now, end serious talk’?”
“That works. They sound like computer commands, but they work.”
“Okay.” Squall took a deep breath. “And one more thing. It works both ways. You can use it too.”
Seifer smiled at him. Not in his usual smirking sort of way, but warmly and genuinely. There were only a handful of people in existence that had seen that smile. “Thank you.”
“Alright,” Squall exhaled loudly. “Now, end serious talk.”
Seifer snorted. “It won’t work if you don’t start it first, dumbass.”
Squall smiled back at him. They would do fine.
If there was something Seifer simply did not do, it was admitting he was nervous. Apologies were known to happen, from time to time – the blond took a strange sort of pride in knowing when he had fucked up really bad. That, and it often was a good strategy in getting what he wanted.
But telling other people he didn’t know what he was doing and wasn’t one hundred percent confident in his plan? Never.
He and Squall had agreed to take their first round of play that evening. The safe words were discussed beforehand. Nothing fancy: red for stop and yellow to slow down. Squall had laid down the rule of not being tied down in a way that he couldn’t easily break free of if he wanted to. Other than that, the plans for the night were entirely up to Seifer.
The blond had managed to stop himself from restlessly pacing around their apartment, but was not above of double checking that everything was in place. And then checking one more time, for good measure. They had picked Saturday because neither of them had to get up too early on Sunday. Seifer's plans weren't so extreme that the precaution would actually be necessary, but still. First times were always a little special.
Seifer glanced at the clock. Given that any of the meetings weren't running late, Squall would be there any minutes. Seifer had instructed him to eat properly on lunch since dinner would be lighter than usual. He had suspected neither of them would be too focused on eating anyway. After all, there would be more amusing past times to be had.
The door opened and closed, followed by a screech of smaller hinges as Squall put his gunblade in its case resting by the entrance. It was a sure sign he hadn't actually used it that day. Otherwise, he would have taken it to the living room to be cleaned first. Seifer peeked at him behind the corner, as was his habit.
Unlike usually, Squall looked strangely startled at the action. His eyes were wide and he looked as nervous as Seifer felt. "They quit a bit earlier than usual," he said quietly. "Is that okay?"
Seifer felt his heart melt a little. This was just Squall, a little freak that was his to coddle and protect. He felt a strange urge to pinch his cheeks and mess up his hair but decided to leave annoying the brunet to a better moment. "Sure thing, small stuff. Come, there is a grilled sandwich that has your name on it."
Ever true to his word, Seifer had actually written ‘Squirt’ with mayonnaise on one of the sandwiches. Upon seeing it, Squall suddenly grabbed the other’s face and kissed him, briefly but full of passion. And added a good, vengeful bite to his lower lip for good measure.
Seifer had been correct in his prediction that neither of them would be too focused on eating. Still, his reasoning ended up being a bit off. Rather than nerves, both of them ended up filled with giddy excitement.
"I am planning to watch porn tonight", Seiger said nonchalantly as he put the plates to the sink. "You won't be, though. Go to the bedroom, take off your clothes and kneel on the bed." The blond poured some water on the dishes and rolled up his sleeves. Hearing no steps behind him, he looked back and saw Squall simply standing there, looking like he would really, really want to say something.
The larger man quirked his brow. “You have questions? Each is worth three slaps later.”
Squall licked his lips, pondering his options. Then he went to the bedroom, without asking any questions.
Seifer grinned and continued washing the dishes.
The blond whistled a cheery tune as he entered the bedroom. His orders had been obeyed to the letter. Squall was kneeling in the middle of the king sized bed, all his clothes folded neatly and put in the corner of the room. With his perfectly still pose, straight back and closed eyes, an odd onlooker might have thought this was simply a peculiar meditating preference. Seifer still spotted the thundering pulse on his neck, the only sign that the commander was not as calm as he presented himself.
“Well done,” the blond said softly, not an ounce of the usual teasing in his tone. He gave in to the urge and petted Squall’s hair lightly. “Keep your eyes closed and get on all fours.”
Squall did as he was told, somewhat unsure if he was expected to simply stay like that or raise his ass up in the air while leaning forward. He ended up doing the former, in order to minimize embarrassment in case he read Seifer’s intentions completely wrong.
While Squall debated himself internally and settled down comfortably, Seifer kept the one-sided conversation going as he searched for something in the closet. "I thought we should do something bit different today," he said. "Since you are usually such a spitfire, we should test how well you can control yourself."
Squall heard him place something on the bedside table, then an electrical whirl of an appliance being turned on. A laptop?
"This is one of my favourite porn vids. Almost shame you won't be seeing it, but audio is good too." A sound of some kind of fabric rustling. "I'll help you bit and remove the temptation to peek with this."
A cloth covered the brunet’s eyes. Squall tensed a little. Seifer smoothed his thumb over his lover’s cheek. “Do you remember your safe words? Say them.”
“Red for stop and yellow to slow down,” Squall answered. The blindfold wasn’t so bad, it had just surprised him. The blond gave him a chaste kiss on the forehead. “Good boy,” he praised.
Seifer gathered something else from the closet, Squall couldn't tell what, and sat down on the bed next to him. Apparently, the pornography Seifer had chosen for his amusement had started playing as well.
The doorbell rang, a sound of quick footsteps, cheery female voice saying "hi!"
“The start is just setting the atmosphere,” Seifer narrated. He pressed against Squall’s upper back with his other hand, forcing his chest to the sheets. Even after positioning the brunet, the hand kept wandering up and down on Squall’s torso, sometimes absentmindedly brushing his buttocks or back of his thighs. It wasn’t quite a position to enjoy a massage, but perhaps exactly because he couldn’t fully relax, his skin was keenly aware of every touch.
“That guy is a gym instructor,” Seifer told him, as a male voice started giving some sort of advice. “He is showing her some really nice stretches… the sort you have to bend over for. Guess what happens next?”
A breathless, feminine “oh”
“He takes her from behind?” Squall guessed. Seifer had started kneading his buttocks, rougher than before. Parting them slightly, his thumb was placing pressure to his hole but not breaching the rim. Squall couldn’t help the slight hitch to his breath. He pushed his body backwards, searching for more stimulation.
The attempt was not rewarded with pleasure. Seifer immediately stopped his ministrations. “Stay still. I said we are testing your control, didn’t I? And no, he spins her around and makes her suck his cock.”
Right on time, the sounds of muffled moaning played from the laptop, along with slurping sounds of fellatio. Squall felt his own cock twitch and press against his abdomen. He licked his lips. Next to him, Seifer zipped his fly open.
“Yeah, nice isn’t it? Although she is not very good at that, barely can lick the tip. And the guy is too much of a pussy to give that mouth a proper fucking.”
To Squall's surprise, he was not grabbed and placed accordingly. Seifer seemed to be content enough just stroking himself. Or so the brunet thought until he heard a small click. That sound he certainly recognized: it was a cap of a bottle of lube.
A slick finger teased his hole once more, this time going inside. The blond slowly fucked him with one finger, still masturbating with his other hand. The pace was painfully slow, at least compared to the heated audio. By the sound of it, the couple on screen was advancing a lot faster than they were. The contrast made Squall want to thrust back with his hips to relish any small amount of pleasure allowed to him. He felt his thighs tremble with the effort of staying still.
“Now they are getting to business, she is riding him on a very ugly couch,” Seifer reported. “You want some more? I guess one finger isn’t enough for you.” Seifer added another finger while simultaneously replacing his light thrusts with more forceful ones, aiming for Squall’s prostate.
The smaller man edged his legs further apart and arched his back, trying his very best to make Seifer proceed to fuck him without doing the forbidden and bucking against the touch. His intentions didn’t go unnoticed. Seifer pulled his fingers out and punished the indirect disobedience with a flick to the balls. Squall let out an undignified squeak.
“Thinking you can be sneaky? I can see your ploys miles away. Now I simply cannot let you get cock. Can’t have you thinking you can manipulate me, hmm?”
Desperate despite himself, Squall had only seconds worth of time to wonder if Seifer was actually changing his plans on the fly or if this had been his intention all along. Something was inserted inside of himself, a cool and smooth item sliding in without resistance. It’s width was slightly more than Seifer’s fingers, nowhere near an actual erect member. After the foreplay, it did very little in terms of friction.
Then Seifer pressed some kind of button and the thing started to vibrate.
A low whine, both pleasure and surprise, was forced from his throat. They had not used toys before, and the tickling, buzzing sensations almost but not quite against his prostate was a novel sensation. The bed shifted under him as Seifer positioned himself for a better view, stroking himself faster. The blond's breathing had gained a laboured note.
A stifled curse, desperate mewling, flesh slapping against flesh
The couple on the screen were fucking in earnest. Squall’s dick was begging to be touched, precum dripping down and pooling on the sheets.
“You look so fucking beautiful right now,” Seifer growled in his ear “do you want more? Let’s hear it.”
"Yes," Squall whispered, his voice shaking. Opening his mouth had been the first crack in the dam, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep all the voices of pleasure inside. "More, please," he begged, surprising even himself. He never begged. Never.
Seifer grabbed the blindfolded man's cock and stroked it, first slowly, the torturous pace from before. "Moan," he ordered, "make those sweet noises for me and you can fuck my fist as hard as you want."
The dam broke. Squall’s panting drowned out the voices of actors as he set a quick, fevered rhythm. The familiar callouses of Seifer’s palms rubbed against the sensitive skin as the blond closed his fist around him. With his other hand, the larger man was manhandling the vibrator so it occasionally hit his prostate directly.
Overwhelmed by the stimulation from both front and behind, the rhythm of his started to break. Finally, he spilt himself over Seifer's hand with a loud growl. His walls squeezed the buzzing toy, making the vibrations feel even more powerful against his oversensitive body.
Seifer pulled the out the toy abruptly. Still somewhat dazed, Squall could make out the frantic movements of the bed as Seifer tugged his own cock furiously, and then the slight wet splatter against his still raised backside.
As the afterglow faded, Seifer removed the blindfold from his lover’s eyes. Immediately the hazy, stormy gaze, focused on his own, searching an answer to an unasked question. The blind smiled gently at pulled the other on his lap. “You were lovely. Now, let’s get you cleaned up. Want to go with me or by yourself?”
Squall blinked slowly as if slowly registering his input would affect what would happen next. It was a process, coming back to himself from whatever place he had gone for a while. "By myself," he finally decided, "you can change the sheets while I'm gone."
“Sure thing, boss,” the blond saluted cheekily. An eye roll was his only response as the brunet retreated into the bathroom.
Seifer did as he was told and was just stretching the new linens over their bed as he heard the creak of the opening door once again. "I changed my mind," Squall called from the doorway. "Get over here."
What was there to say? "I live to please my master." Seifer shrugged off his clothes and added them to the laundry pile.
“Yes you do,” confirmed Squall’s voice from the bathroom, a purr of pleasure distinct in his voice.
Later that night, when the lion of Balamb had already fallen asleep, the blond thought of how it was possible to yearn something without knowing what it was.
He had been serious when he had told Squall earlier he wanted to try something different. Their usual coupling was fierce and passionate, neither of them having the patience for complicated foreplay rituals. It was fast, rough and fantastic. Sex as Seifer knew it was primal and animalistic, fucking that was made special by the fact that it was Squall, his Squall under him, on top of him, and beside him.
Their sex life had always satisfied his body. That night had tapped another part of him, the same one that had a lifetime ago made him abandon the SEED and follow Ultimecia. It was a sense of protection, but also ownership. To have someone he adored, but also respected for their strength and fortitude, look up to him and follow his lead when it mattered.
In the darkness, he held the other tightly and breathed in the scent if his hair. Squall was his only equal, the feared commander that led one of the world’s most notable military forces during the day. The rare moments the man had ever surrendered were to him and him only.
It made him feel invincible. Like a king, or a god.
Or a knight.
"You are such a stupid dog! Stupidest dog in the entire world! Who is an idiot? Who? You are, yes, you!" Rinoa scratched Angelo's fur as she sang her dubious praises. The dog stared up at her, canine eyes filled with adoration and tail whipping the air as if he was trying to learn how to use it to propel him into space instead of learning the fine art of fetch like he was supposed to.
Angelo could be useful in battle, but the concept of how to play fetch seemed to elude him. He could run after a thrown stick. He could find a thrown stick with ease. He could attack a defenceless stick ferociously. He even returned Rinoa’s side obediently, although only after she called out to him. He hadn’t figured out that he had to bring the stick with him.
"No treat for you, retarded dog," Rinoa said and kissed her companion's snout. The dog gave a loud bark as if it agreed with her. A bypassing group of cadets didn't even try to suppress their laughter.
The quad was a good place for Angelo to run around and get exercise safely while staying in Garden. Aside from the training centre, which was by its nature full of beasts, it was the only large open area. A running dog in the hallways would be considered dangerous. Especially for the dog. You simply didn’t ram into a trained mercenary with full speed and four legs and expect to walk away all limbs attached.
That, and having a cute friendly dog with you in a place meant for socializing was a good way to make new friends.
Rinoa knew that Squall and the rest of the gang thought it was a small miracle how quickly the Garden populace had warmed up to her despite her sorceress status. In reality, it had taken a lot of effort. A challenge she had been ready to face. It was natural for her to act friendly and spread some cheer. It was pleasant to spend time with people, getting to know them personally, bringing a smile to their face with her silly antics. A serious, grim-looking cadet boys blushed adorably when he showed interest in them as people, not just assessed their fighting prowess.
Still, both timing and placement were key elements to all interactions. This was common knowledge to everyone ever involved in politics. So there she was, sitting on the bench and lovingly cursing at her dog when her father came up and sat down next to her.
"You seem quite relaxed," he said pleasantly. "That is good. I had feared that a mercenary environment would cause you unnecessary stress."
Rinoa felt that her father had meant something else entirely than the words coming out of his mouth, but she quite couldn’t figure out what. She hated it, always had. Every time they talked it was like a game, a chess match, but no one ever bothered teaching her the rules. When Caraway was gone, she sometimes felt like a competent adult that could make reasonable, respectable decisions, play politics and make a difference. Then he came and suddenly all she had ever been was a stupid, wilful and rebellious teenager.
Why was the general here now? Did Squall know he was here? Rinoa decided to insist on good cheer and naivety. “Nope, everyone around here is super nice! SEEDs are really great. Did you come to visit me? Aww, you shouldn’t have.”
Being in the Garden was basically a vacation compared her usual dwelling in Timber and its ongoing frozen conflict. Not to mention the actual war years ago, in which she had certainly done her part. Still, even surrounded by fighters, it had been better to fight. In Timber, a constant shadow of conflict was present even in the joyful moments. It was a stifling brand of stagnation that slowly drained you of hope for things ever getting better.
Caraway waved his hand dismissively. “A work related things, nothing worthy of your attention. I suppose I could have sent a proxy, but it’s always more effective to negotiate and haggle in person… besides,” he smiled just so slightly, the wrinkles around his eyes always made him seem kinder. “It was a good excuse to come and see you, I admit. How are you doing?”
Rinoa shrugged. “It’s fine. A little boring, maybe, just playing and socializing all day every day. I mean, Balamb is really pretty, but you can only sightsee for so long.” The last thing she needed was Caraway knowing her actions had actually goal and purpose.
The general nodded patronizingly, like a parent who wants their child to believe their opinions really matter. "I see. How about your boyfriend, I hope he is not too busy to keep you entertained?"
And just like that, the sorceress froze. She frantically combed her memory, trying to recall if she had ever called Squall that in front of her father, or just implied it. Was this a test, did answering the question confirm or deny some unseen suspicion? She hadn't talked about Squall yet about how they would proceed with this, could something she said ruin his plans?
But at that moment, it was obvious which answer would by her time there and then. “Yeah, I mean, he is super busy all the time. He leads the Garden, obviously, and still takes time to train every day. Just the faculty and administration stuff is a fulltime job. I think he has some kind of side project going on top of all that.”
Rinoa bent forward a little, letting her brown hair fall and cascade over her face. She petted Angelo behind the ears slowly, as if it was her only friend. A perfect image of abandoned maiden true to her one love, patiently waiting for him to come and pay attention to her.
It was kind of romantic, actually. She could get used to playing this role.
To her surprise, Caraway's back straightened as if he had just gained a vital piece of information instead of a teenager's woes of love. "What kind of project? Is he still stationed at the Garden? Has he given any indication he has ambitions elsewhere?"
Rinoa stared at her father, at loss for what to stay next. She wasn't qualified to get any SEED mission data as she wasn't part of the Garden, and Squall wasn't the type that let important military information slip. She had made up the part about a project on the fly, partly a homage to her own situation and partly as an excuse why she and Squall hadn't made the sort of progress Caraway without a doubt expected. Besides, Squall really worked overtime all the time, so it wasn't even that big of a lie. "Um… not really?"
What had the general meant by 'ambitions elsewhere'?
“Rinoa,” her father said sternly. “You cannot simply stand by and let this run its course. You have to talk to him and emphasize how important his position as a commander is. It is an essential part of the relationship you two have.”
“Is it?” Rinoa asked quietly.
Caraway seemed to notice he had crossed a line. "I only want what is best for you, Rinoa, you know that," he backpedalled, but didn't quite manage to diminish the now calculating edge that had taken over his whole being. He didn't say it as a father but as a politician.
“Right.” It was impossible for her to meet his eyes. At their feet, Angelo whined, sensing the change in his her mood. Caraway reached over to give him a small absentminded pat on the head. The dog answered with a hesitant wag of his tail.
“Well, I’ll be continuing on with my business then. But promise me you will talk to Squall about this… project of his. It’s important for a couple to have similar plans for the future.
Do you have any idea what my plans are? Has it ever even crossed your mind? “Yes, I promise.”
That, at least, was a promise she intended to keep. Caraway made his way out of the quad, presumably to chase after whatever plot or scheme that had brought him here in the first place. Rinoa didn’t care.
After's his father's uniform clad figure had disappeared, she got down from a bench and wrapped her arms around Angelo. No matter how many times she told herself that Caraway's opinions didn't matter, that she didn't care about anything he had to say, seeing him face to face still made her sad. It was like a reopening wound or an undead monster that refused to stay down.
“You are not a stupid dog,” she whispered to Angelo’s fur. “You are the best dog in the entire world. I love you and that’s that.”
Angelo licked her face and drooled on her shirt.
“There is, of course, a very simple solution to your problem,” Sephiroth remarked, “you’ll accept the mission. Find them, and kill them.”
"That would be a waste of resources. Aside from this separate incident, it won't offer us any new opportunities. It might even alienate potential allies," Squall answered, equally calm and unreadable.
"It means tying up all the loose ends, commander. Letting them go free now will look weak in the face of the enemy. They will draw their own conclusions and act accordingly."
Squall decided to forego staring the Estharian in disbelief in lieu of massaging his throbbing temples. What enemy? Who are you talking about?
Earlier that day, Rinoa had once again used her privilege to schedule a meeting with Squall simply by walking into his office. She had then proceeded to give him a very detailed report about her father’s visit to Balamb Garden and, of all places in it, to the quad. While the vivid and opinionated description about the ‘unfashionable old man coat’ and ridiculousness of wearing so many medals on one’s person were time consuming, he was glad Rinoa decided to come to him immediately.
From what he could decipher of Rinoa’s explanation and his own intuition, it seemed that Caraway was very well aware of Laguna’s plans to install Sephiroth into the lead of Balamb Garden. Obviously, he wanted to warn both him and Rinoa that all the spoils promised for their union would not fall through if Squall wasn’t in his current position.
A fact that Caraway had access to that sort of information was in itself a bigger problem than any sanction he might use to bargain with Rinoa. Squall hated to admit it and would say it aloud in front of the sorceress, but in the grand scale of things, Timber was a very meaningless small town and Galbadia's presence on its soil very meaningless skirmish.
Ha had begun his hunt for clues by getting his hands on the mission request Caraway had filed in. Usually, Xu or another member of the higher administration would review the request and either dismiss it as unreasonable or, if it was in Garden’s best interest, make an estimation of manpower and other resources needed and a rough draft about a mission plan. Squall would then either accept or deny the plans and the funds, and the more detailed planning would take place among the SEED that qualified for the mission. Squall would then sign the final form and the starting date of the mission.
The brunet had snatched Caraway's original request from the gears of bureaucracy and reviewed it himself. It was a search and destroy mission: a private espionage company calling itself Strahl had been attacked and some of their clients', also Caraway's, information had been stolen. Now Strahl, perhaps in fear of further attempts to eradicate them completely or just in search of new markets, had evacuated their Galbadian headquarters. Caraway himself suspected they had been on their way to Trabia, but there was no way to know for sure. Naturally, the general offered all data on their movements prior to the incident to SEED in order to help the initial search.
"Your way of thinking is very similar to Caraway's," Squall pointed out to the other general, this one present in his office. "Is it impossible for past allies to part ways without anyone being wiped out?"
“There are several methods of co-operation, commander. The ones that involve sensitive information are the most volatile ones. As far as I’m concerned, Caraway’s request is sound.”
“Are you sure this is not just a conflict of interest?” Squall asked coolly.
They both knew why he had called Sephiroth to review the issue with him. The mission that had marked the downfall of Strahl had been carried out by SEED and ordered by Shinra. Not by Esthar as a country but Shinra itself.
Technically, it was well within their authorisation to react to perceived threats. But to go after such a small fry would mean they held very, very sensitive information.
The mission had been a success, even with unexpected difficulties. As was standard for information gathering missions, SEED did not look into any data recovered any more than was necessary. It was essential for them to remain a trustworthy partner.
However, in the light of the situation they were in, Squall had a pretty good idea of what that information was about.
“Are you sure this is not just a conflict of interest?” Squall asked coolly. “There is an important point that you may not be aware of, Sephiroth. I have been informed that Caraway knows about Laguna’s plans. There is a mole.”
The silver haired man quirked his eyebrow quizzically. "I assure you that I have no attachment to your current case. This is simply my opinion as your current consultant. There is no obvious reason to turn this mission down. The profit rate is good. Your organization also has presence in Trabia, which means fewer investments on the upkeep of manpower, as food and accommodation will be provided by them. This is all just common sense. Besides," The taller man tilted his head just slightly, "are you sure the mole isn't in Garden's end?"
Unless it’s you, I am. “There are few people in Garden who are privy to this information, and I can vouch for all of them personally.”
Sephiroth shrugged. “Perhaps you are right then. But that doesn’t change anything, does it?”
"What I want to know is, have you dealt with this issue or not?" Squall said, stressing every word carefully. "Is there, or is there not, someone in the upper levels of Shinra who is leaking data outside? Does the president know about it?"
Sephiroth looked the commander with a slight pity as if a commander of Garden was a naïve intern instead of a seasoned veteran himself. "I repeat once more: loose ends are dangerous. Eliminating them is a priority number one after securing a successful mission."
“And what does that mean to your allies?”
The general leaned forward in his chair. Just for a second, Squall swore the man's pupils were narrow, feline slits. "It means that absolute loyalty is a requirement in all things, Squall."
Chapter 10: Interlude II
How Squall met Sephiroth.
“Cloud”, Sephiroth asked, very slowly. “You are aware of who this is, are you not?”
When Cloud had called him and asked if it was okay to bring a friend for some much needed coffee to start the day, the silver general had expected yet another member of Cloud’s old gang.
Not the president's son.
"He told me his name is Leon," Cloud informed him, removing his shoes. He always left them where they happened to drop, which usually meant right in front of the entrance. "What, is he famous? From TV or business related? You know I don't really follow either."
“Neither, but the business was closer,” Sephiroth said dryly. The commander was notoriously hard to get in front of the camera, partly due to his usually busy schedule, partly resentment of appearing in public unless absolutely necessary.
Even paparazzi left him alone, which said something about his irritability. Paparazzi didn't leave Sephiroth alone. Then again, he admittedly had a bit more difficulty blending to the crowd.
Squall Leonheart, or apparently Leon, didn’t comment on the exchange. He followed Cloud inside but left less destruction on his wake, choosing to mimic the house occupants more orderly habits. The same attitude had not carried itself to his person. All of his clothes were rumpled, his hair sticking to all directions. He looked very much hungover. Upon being seated and asked whether he would prefer coffee or tea, he had just stared Sephiroth and nodded.
Sephiroth decided on coffee.
"So," Cloud started, pouring a hefty dosage of milk into his own drink, a perverse habit that was the only reason the general was forced to have said beverage at hand. "Whom have I had the pleasure to drag here since Leon apparently isn't his name?"
The man still didn't feel like introducing himself properly, choosing to look for the purpose of his existence from the swirls of his coffee. At least he drank it black.
"He is Squall Leonheart, the only son of the Esthar president," Sephiroth informed the blond, all the while trying to bury the nagging feeling he was ratting out a fellow student to the teacher. "We have attended the same public functions occasionally."
Cloud stared at the brunet in disbelief. “Really?” Obviously not a man of many words, the other only shrugged. “If this is some running away from home bullshit, I’m returning you to your father as soon as possible, kid.”
Squall snorted at that. “I’m not any younger than you are. Besides, those are harsh words to say to someone who spent the last night in your bed. I thought we had something special.”
It was the first time Sephiroth had heard him speak. His voice was surprisingly low compared to his effeminate features. Although his comment was obviously meant as some sort of humour, his facial expression revealed none of that. Sephiroth found himself having a hard time imagining his smile.
“We met at Tifa’s bar yesterday,” Cloud explained to his lover. “He was wasted, so I offered my room for him. And no, we didn’t have sex, despite his best efforts.”
"Cloud doesn't have sex with people under influence of any substance," Sephiroth said softly, aiming his words for the commander. Even to his own ears, he sounded like a proud parent telling about their child's excellence.
Brunet only nodded. “I figured that one out.” He seemed sad.
Cloud rolled his eyes and muttered something about common sense being rare in these parts of the world, but didn’t seem too keen on continuing that vein of conversation. “Leo- I mean Squall told me that he is not from around here but visits on occasion. I thought we could… play host for him, sometimes at least. If you have time.”
From the background information and Cloud's long, meaningful look, Sephiroth could construct the missing pieces of the puzzle. This young man irresponsibly escaped his duties to Esthar's nightlife, got irresponsibly drunk and had sex with strangers. He obviously wanted to keep everything secret, thus the false name. And for some unfathomable reason, Cloud wanted to take him under his wing. Accept him as a guest in their home – or Sephiroth's home actually, but whatever was his was also Cloud's – and in the long run, when they got to know each other, perhaps in their bedroom. If Sephiroth agreed to it.
Sephiroth looked at the commander, a stranger, who looked right back at him. His eyes were wary and calculating, most likely mirroring Sephiroth’s own expression. The game had changed for him too, the general realized. Cloud had most likely told him he would be introduced to the blond’s boyfriend, or whatever word the smaller man used of their relationship. The Lion of Balamb hadn’t counted on being recognized. From the start it had been clear that Sephiroth wouldn’t swallow the ‘you must confuse me with someone else’ or ‘funny, I get that a lot’ –lines.
Sephiroth pondered. He knew he could discreetly ask for time to think about it, to say ‘perhaps' or ‘I'll check my schedule' and Cloud would understand. It was the most reasonable path to take. Besides, the brunet obviously had issues. Did he really want those issues under his own roof?
Yet, he was curious. The man was attractive, that much was obvious. In his own silent, chilling way he was even a little bit charming. And more importantly, Sephiroth wanted to know more about this man who had captured Cloud's attention in a single night.
"Sure", he agreed readily, amused as Cloud's eyes widened slightly in surprise, and even Squall who knew nothing about him quirked an eyebrow. "Will you stay for breakfast? I don't have anything fancy but it's no more trouble to make scrambled eggs and toast for three than it is for one." Sephiroth's usual menu consisted of meals all sorts of lobbers bought for him, and nutrition bars. Today he felt like being a gracious host. After a nod from Cloud and indifferent shrug from Squall, he gathered all of their mugs and headed into the kitchen.
"Aren't you mad that I lied to you?" he heard the commander ask the blond. Cloud's answer was a loud snort. "I didn't believe you for a second. I mean, Leon? That is exactly what a shady man out of town would say as his name. It sounds like a professional assassin. Or a stripper."
"And you still brought me to see your boyfriend? What exactly were your plans for this little breakfast date?"
“Well, depending on which you really were, I had a few different scenarios in mind…”
The rest of their conversation was lost in loud sizzling of their breakfast to be. Sephiroth felt an odd twinge off jealousy in his chest. The two seemed the get along well. Perhaps his earlier assumption of the notorious Lion of Balamb being a closed off individual, always keeping his cards close to his chest, was inherently faulty. Apparently, he could keep up easy effortless social talk in a stranger's living room.
Sephiroth himself couldn’t talk like that with Cloud – he didn’t understand the jokes, didn’t have that ability to read the atmosphere that was apparently natural for most people. He could deal with the hidden agendas and intricate political games but something like teasing among friends was beyond his capabilities. He knew Cloud didn’t mind, and what they had was special in its own merits and shouldn’t be compared to others. Still, a small part of him was sad that there was something he could never offer to Cloud, and he had to look for it elsewhere.
There was no reason to feel insecure, he reminded himself. Cloud brought this new development to him to evaluate and judge instead of just sleeping with him on one of his many adventures, even though the handsome stranger had offered it himself. This was something Cloud wanted to share with him.
When he returned to the duo the conversation seemed to have taken a more serious turn at some point. Squall was deep in thought. Cloud was watching him intently, a look that Sephiroth knew from experience was caused by an effort to spot any sign of hesitation or discomfort on a very inexpressive person with a tendency to hide their feelings.
“You don’t have to decide anything right now,” the blond emphasized as the general set the table for the three of them, “and saying yes or no for the thing generally won’t sign you up for any specific act or mean you cannot change your mind later. For now, I just want you to know it’s an option. We can talk about the more detailed stuff later.”
Squall turned his eyes to Sephiroth who was spreading butter on his toast without even bothering to ask what they were talking about. “And is he okay with it?”
Cloud glanced at Sephirot for a final confirmation of what he already knew. The silver haired man only nodded curtly. "Yes, he is. But the same goes for him. He is allowed to change his mind."
Squall looked between the two lovers, Cloud whose attention was still on him and Sephiroth, who seemed content with whatever deal was negotiated over him. It seemed he was pleased with what he saw. “Yes. I want to do it.”
The blond rolled his eyes. “And why do I bother giving them time to get used to things, when they never use it?” he asked, apparently from any god that happened to be listening.
“Ability to make quick decisions is essential in the field,” Sephiroth pointed out as he cut his egg into even sized pieces. “It is a sign of a good leader… and a follower.”
Squall hummed his approval. “When all the relevant data is gathered, spending unnecessary time in doubting the obvious next step is a waste of time and can only worsen your position.”
"Okay, I have no idea how far you two are willing to go with the battle analogies, so let's just stop right now."
The rest of their impromptu breakfast date was simpler, pleasant chattering. For Sephiroth's surprise, the brunet was able to connect not only with Cloud but with him as well. In a way he was careful, following mostly Cloud's lead with only a little initiation of his own. Yet he did it with dry wit and alert poise, waiting for his chance to act out in a small rebel, a barbed word here and a slight challenge there. It was a very different dynamic compared to Sephirot's own position and preferences, which were mostly based on his desire to please Cloud. To have just that one person's acceptance and love whether he provided results or not.
After the meal commander was swiftly booted out of Sephiroth's apartment, more so of Cloud's than Sephiroths accord. The man seemed neither surprised nor hurt by that, he was due to return to his home town anyway, leaving the duo to enjoy their time together.
"I'm surprised how quickly you agreed," Cloud mused, absentmindedly playing with his lover's hair. "I had planned to just introducing you two, for now, to see if you would get along."
“I was curious,” Sephiroth answered truthfully. “I still am. What about him caught your attention?”
"He is so much like you… or how you used to be. Prideful, prickly and lonely in a way he doesn't know how to handle." The blond smiled, fond and nostalgic, before giving Sephiroth's hair one last tug before making himself useful and gathering up the dishes.
They didn't talk about Squall any more that day, but once the seed had been planted, Cloud's theory started to grow on to Sephiroth. He thought about his own past, the training with a single minded purpose, drifting away from his few friends, the sometimes suffocating weight of responsibility on his shoulders. The shame that suffocation brought with it, the feelings of forbidden weakness and powerlessness.
Perhaps Cloud was right, more so than he would ever know.
It was times like this Squall wished the Garden had enough resources to permanently place a mole or two in every corner of the world. As the commander of one of the world's most notable military forces, he had spent the better part of the day reading Estharian gossip magazines.
At the risk of being seen as secretive or spreading rumours, he had locked the door to his office and banned anyone from entering. Whatever they came up with couldn't be more humiliating than being seen engrossed in contents of ‘What Does Your Style Tell You about Your Love Life?' Or ‘See Which SOLDIER Hottie Is Your Perfect Match!' – article.
If Seifer ever got the wind of it, his pride would be ruined beyond recovery. Squall shuddered at the thought.
The temptation to use Rinoa or Selphie as a workforce was appealing – the two of them would love the idea of reading tabloids as work – but that would require him to explain the whole situation with Sephiroth, and why exactly was he looking for clues in changes of SOLDIER personnel in gossip magazines.
It was a bit farfetched, but if there was any similarity between the workings of SEED and SOLDIER, the ones at the top positions were the only ones privy to top intel. Luckily for Squall, the high ranking officers of SOLDIER were not only public figures but very popular idols in Esthar – some more willingly than others.
Genesis Rhapsodos obviously loved the fame and was very skilful in using to advance his agendas. He had no issue with letting the adoring public take a peek in his living room or wardrobe. More often than not he turned the course if the interview towards arts. While he had a soft spot for theatre, several independent artists and libraries open to the public enjoyed his outspoken support. If an artist was censored or their work seen as "too risky" for any reason, Genesis was the first to rally to their defence. He divided the opinions of many: on one hand, a cultured patron of the arts, on other, a temperamental man who took no hostages and was more interested in settling conflicts quickly rather than diplomatically.
Angeal Hewley had more appearances in serious news outlets and less on tabloids. He was a man of few words, and his interests seemed to lean more towards social issues, especially the living conditions of those in the slums. The articles about him where mostly this or that charity function where he had shown up personally in addition to donating a hefty sum. There were a lot of pictures of him shaking hands with an old lady or giving a child ride on his shoulders.
Naturally, there was also Sephiroth, who was always aloof and rarely commented on anything. Speculations about his character and paparazzi trying to break into his extremely guarded private life were a common theme, but those were of less interest to Squall.
There was no drop of SOLDIER related content in the media, although in the past three months there had been a shift away from Hewley and Rhapsodos. Sephiroth had taken more and more presence in the press, and alongside him had appeared a new lieutenant called Zack Fair. First, the articles of Hewley and Rhapsodos had become less personal and lengthy, gradually they had all but disappeared.
Even the most careful analysis of their interviews didn’t reveal a hint about plans to change careers or retire. Neither there was an official statement made by SOLDIER about their death or being missing in action. It was almost like papers were told to hush down the whole ordeal while the authorities were working on the most useful way to spin the story.
Or perhaps they didn’t know what had happened either and were desperately trying to solve it.
Of course, it might all be just a coincidence. Celebrities went in and out fashion, such was the nature of public interest. They could also be on a long mission of sensitive nature, which could explain both the absence and the secrecy.
Still, the timing was very convenient. If Sephiroth had taken care of the issue, as he claimed, one of these men was a very likely candidate to turn against SOLDIER. Both of them disappearing was somewhat suspicious. If Squall's deductions of their lacking presence in the media and taking out the mole in Esthar being collected, it would imply that the leak had not been a one man job, a single person working for their own opportunistic profits. If there had been at least two culprits, who said there weren't more?
And those weren’t the only questions. If his guess was anywhere near correct, what were Sephiroth and other military personnel doing? If the moles weren’t publicly shunned and denounced, they were in an extremely favourable position. The adoring public still trusting their authority, but the organization they had betrayed not able to watch their every move.
Assuming they weren’t dead or imprisoned. But if they were, the case would have been closed. There was something really fishy going on in Esthar. Or, it could be nothing, useless speculations based on nothing else than Squall’s own delusions and paranoia.
Absolute loyalty is a requirement in all things.
The commander put the papers down in lieu of massaging his throbbing temples. He was supposed to be a strategist. Always one step ahead of everyone else. In reality, he had no idea what was going on and no one to talk to. After Cid had retired and left him the Garden he had studied, worked and done everything imaginable to live up to the challenge. That was him, that's what he always did. Expect this time there wasn't a test at the end of it, no final mission report. There wasn't an end, day after day turned to year after year. Catastrophes, escalating conflicts and walls closing in on him.
People were depending on him. People were dying.
Maybe Laguna's idea to make Sephiroth a commander of Garden was because of his incompetence. Laguna saw him as a stupid child playing a mercenary. They pitied him. They saw through the charade. It was written on his face, stamped on his forehead like an irremovable mark of unworthiness.
It was only when the edges of his vision started to blur Squall realised he had stopped breathing. And when he tried to, he couldn’t.
Seifer woke up to something, or rather someone, shaking him by the shoulders.
The blond was instantly alert. It was an essential skill for any mercenary to get with the program in an ambush situation and fight, or flee if the odds were overwhelmingly against them. And considering the way his sleep had been disturbed it sure as hell seemed like ten behemoths would soon crawl out under the bed, berserk and hungry.
But instead of giving an explanation or barking orders to grab his weapon, his lover only stared at him, eyes wild yet empty. There was a slight sheen of sweat covering his brow.
“Fuck me,” he ordered curtly, already moving to straddle Seifer not that he was awake.
The blond slowly became more aware of what was going on. Once his mind had caught on that this wasn't a fight or flight situation, he recalled Squall had been having a late night at the office and said not to wait for him if it became too late. Now it was 2:30 a.m. and the very same brunet was sitting on him and rather forcefully announcing he had some fucking to do.
Usually, the confidently demanding Squall was quite a turn-on, but something was wrong here. Not only because it was ass o'clock. Squall's whole behaviour was off. This had never happened before, not like this.
The blond raised one of his eyebrows. “Did you hear someone trying to tell where to put my dick in my own house? No? Yeah, didn’t think so either, Squirt.”
Squall snorted. His urgency didn’t lessen a bit and when he spoke, his voice sounded both panicked and angry. “What do you want, do I have to chain myself onto a wall for you to get it up? Or is there not enough torture devices. Let’s go get your blade and so you can write ‘Seifer’s whore’ on my ass.”
Okay, what the actual fuck.
Seifer felt his patience slipping. This was getting out of control, and would not be solved with a friendly chat over a cup of tea.
“So that’s how we’re going to play it,” Seifer mused and lifted a hand to caress the other’s cheek. Squall leaned into the touch somewhat wearily, maybe expecting it to turn into a hair pulling or even a slap. Judging from the way his eyes widened as Seifer grabbed his throat, he didn’t expect the chokehold.
While the grasp was solid, it was not quite strangling. The blond put pressure on his lover’s windpipe, making his breathing laboured. A reminder that he could easily do more harm. Squall tensed, sensing that struggling would only make Seifer tighten the hold.
"Don't think you can get away with that," the larger man growled. He felt the pulse quicken beneath his fingers. Squall's empty eyes had gained some focus due to fear, and apparently, some level of arousal as was testified by his semi-erection. "Let's try this again. I'm gonna give you two options. Either you keep insisting this bossy charade you got going on and I will shut your mouth with my dick and then you wank alone in the shower. Or, if you will gain some manners, you can ask what you want nicely and I'll consider it. Now, speak."
Seifer loosened his grip that the other could talk unhindered, but Squall just stared at him, unable to follow the simple instructions. He was looking Seifer directly into the eyes but the blond didn’t know what he saw there.
“Do you remember your safe words?” Seifer asked, his voice softer than before. They hadn’t decided to play beforehand but he needed to give Squall an out, proof that he could always get away, trash talk or not. Seifer could be heavy handed sometimes, not a rapist.
“Yes.” Squall’s eyes were getting more and more normal by the moment, only tendrils of lust clouding them. “Red and yellow.”
“And do you want to use them?”
“I… yellow?” Squall said, but he sounded unsure of it himself.
Okay. Yellow meant continuing, but with less intensity. Seifer could work with that. He removed his hand from the other' throat and put his hand on the commander's cheek, this time delivering the caress. Squall rubbed his head against the hand, seemingly grateful. "Alright. We were middle of something here. What is it going to be?"
"I would like you to take me," Squall said quietly. For a brief moment, the blond wanted to keep playing the game, demand him to beg and plead, but discarded the thought. Maybe another time. For now, Squall was clearly in need of something physical rather than mind games.
“Good. That’s a lot better.” He kissed the brunet’s temple lightly, wanting to give more gentle contact after his forceful grip. “Since you are so full of energy, you will do the work. First, get me hard properly.”
Now with permission, Squall returned to his task of removing his lover's underwear. He took Seifer's cock into his mouth and with no preamble, started sucking and bobbing his head at a fast pace. He was more focused on getting the member hard quickly than giving maximized pleasure.
Seifer shivered. The brunet’s focused aura was definitely an additional turn on. Squall had never been the type to be self-conscious about his body or how he looked during sex, but now he seemed to be under a spell. Even with the rushed pace, his tongue was skilled, running over the familiar and teasing the sensitive spot with precision gained by experience.
"Okay. That's enough." Squall immediately stopped his movements. He looked at Seifer, waiting for further instructions.
Seifer smiled, the increasingly familiar mixture of pore rush and affection squeezing his chest. “Ride me. Do it like want to.”
Squall was more than eager to comply. Later Seifer would blame in on his just awakened state, but it didn’t occur to him until the tip of his cock was already stretching the tight entrance that he had not prepared the other properly.
The brunet took a deep breath and, before Seifer managed to come up with a command to stop, slammed his body down.
Seifer cursed behind his grit teeth. The tightness was sudden, the punishing hold close to painful. Squall was no less affected than he was. Above him, the brunet had stilled his movements, trying impatiently to get his body to adjust.
After regaining some control, Seifer ran his fingers along Squall’s body, sweeping over his hole where they were joined. There was no apparent tearing or blood. Good. He palmed his lover’s cock to make him ease up.
“Any day now, baby,” he teased and gave the commander’s ass a smack for good measure. “Ride that dick like you mean it.”
The brunet huffed at the crude words. After a few more moments of willing himself to relax, he started to move. First with slow, tentative motions, and then increasing vigour. He steadied his hands to the headboard and did just as Seifer had ordered.
The blond was satisfied with just laying back and enjoying himself, not truly contributing to Squall’s fevered race towards orgasm. This position was very high on his list of personal favourites. The visuals alone were amazing. Squall had his eyes closed, brow furrowing in concentration. His mouth was open just slightly, sharp exhales and inhales accented by infrequent moans. When he was too gone to care, a slight trail of saliva would escape and travel down his chin.
It wasn’t quite enough. Squall opened his eyes to look at him, not irritated or challenging like he often would when Seifer wasn’t doing his part, but asking. To check if he was doing what he was supposed to, ready to follow Seifer’s lead.
Without any warning, the blond grabbed Squall's hips and pistoned upwards. The thrusts went deep into brunet's body, the pace set even more merciless than before.
Squall took a sharp gasp of surprise and fell onwards to Seifer’s chest. The blonds grip on him moved slightly lower, but his thrusts didn’t cease.
Overwhelmed, there was nothing more for Squall to do than hold on. The shift in the position trapped the brunet's own cock between their bodies, giving the sensitive tip just a hint of friction from an occasional rub against Seifer's abs. It was soon too much for him and he came on to Seifer's chest. The blond growled as the tightness around him got even tighter and slammed himself all the way in, letting the quivering walls milk him to the last drop.
Seifer let his body purr in the afterglow of rushed, but still amazing sex. Squall collapsed on top of him, not minding the come he successfully squished between their bodies. The blond’s fingers were lazily rubbing circles on the skin of the other’s back when he realised the movement of the body he was holding was not simply Squall catching his breath or quivering muscles, but the other was actually shaking.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” Seifer eased out of the other’s body and moved aside to get a better look at Squall’s face. He reached out for the brunet’s chin, but he shied away from the touch.
"I'm sorry," Squall whispered, a few stray tears falling. "I did… I almost did… it wasn't supposed to happen like this, I'm sorry."
“Okay, you are not making any sense.” Seifer sighed. Only when he heard the staccato gasp did he realise the other was on a verge of hyperventilating. What was going on?
“Alright. Calm down. Breath with me. Together, in and out.”
The blond pulled Squall back into his embrace and resumed the calming touches. Slowly, Squall’s shaking ceased and breathing returned to normal.
“We will talk about this later. For now, sleep. We have to get up early.”
Seifer rolled his eyes. The bossy commander was back. “You make it sound like I made us lose sleep,” he muttered half-heartedly. He was too relieved that whatever fit had overcome Squall had passed.
“Less talking, more sleeping.”
“I can talk in my sleep.”
“You say it like it’s a good thing. You are just spiting me. Silence.”
Seifer hid his smile in Squall’s hair. It was good to know some things would never change. Whatever shit Squall was going through, they would solve it together.
WARNING. This chapter contains a torture scene. If you'd rather skip it, you can recognize it from the italics.
If Squall hated something with passion, it was losing his composure. It was one thing to give control to another person, but to lose it completely like he had the night before? Unacceptable. He had to work even harder, manage his self-restraint.
For now, he owed Seifer some answers. “I’d like to talk about last night.”
Like ripping away a band-aid.
Seifer blinked in surprise. "Well, that was surprisingly soon." He switched off the television, whatever soap opera he had been watching coming to an abrupt end. He pats at the empty spot beside him. "Let's hear it."
Squall pinched the bridge of his nose. This was harder than he thought. Before, he had told himself that he didn’t tell because he didn’t want to, and it wasn’t really Seifer’s business either way. “Just so that we are on the same page here… now, serious talk.”
The blond blinked. “Alright. You can tell me.”
“It’s…. something that happens, sometimes. When I’m really stressed. I just snap, somehow. I do things that I’d like to think are unlike me, or at least I’m very prone to do them.”
He didn’t need to articulate what ‘it’ was. Seifer’s eyes were calculating. “So it isn’t a new thing? What kinds of things have happened before?”
Squall shrugged. "Recklessly throwing myself to other people and having sex with them. Getting drunk on sketchy bars. Fights, sometimes drugs. Although," he felt it imperative to add, "while we have been together, I haven't slept with anyone else."
It was hard and bitter to admit. It had been hard to admit it to Cloud, and their relationship had been different. They had been more friends with benefits, even acquaintances, than lovers. The relationship between them had been almost professional, based on mutual benefits between parties. But this, this was in his own home, baring his innermost weakness to a person whose respect he was so afraid to lose, had always been.
“What about the other stuff? Are you still doing it?” Seifer pressed on.
"It has lessened." There had been beating the shit out of things in the training center perhaps longer and with fewer resources than recommended as well as getting shitfaced all by his lonesome. "Nothing that would interfere with my work."
“Are Seifer and Cloud connect to this.” Seifer mulled, not bothering to make it a question. He didn’t sound too shocked.
The blond had always been able to see connections. It didn’t surprise Squall that the other had figured it out. “They helped me, yes.”
The larger man was quiet processing the new bits of information. Squall waited patiently for more questions. It felt like an interrogation, but he had initiated it. He was ready, or as ready as he would ever be. Seifer had the right to know.
"And why," the blond finally inquired, "didn't I know about this before?"
Because you are part of my pain. I respect you, love you and sometimes fear you. "I didn't know how you'd react to it. It wasn't a problem for a while. You have helped too, in many ways." Squall searched the green eyes with his gaze, trying to deliver his sincerity with his entire presence when the words failed him. Seifer wouldn't meet his eyes, still deep in thought. The brunet continued. "I thought my problems wouldn't come to affect you like that. But they did, and I’m sorry.”
"No need," Seifer said, "it's not a chore to help you." Squall blinked, a bit unsure what that could mean. Usually, he would scoff it off as one of the Seifer's sleazy commentary, ‘it's my pleasure to fuck you' heavily implied, but the solemn tone the words were spoken didn't support that theory. Besides, he had honoured their agreement on serious talk. Before Squall got a chance to ask, Seifer spoke again.
“So here is what I got so far,” the blond summarised, “you have had these… fits, since the war. You said it’s related to stress. You have found some alternative stress relieving routes, like myself, which are somewhat effective. Now, with the whole situation of Sephiroth being here and what not, you have more on your plate than before and the fits have started again. Am I right?”
Irritated, Squall corrected him. “It has happened once or twice. That wouldn’t count for evidence of it becoming a regular thing now.”
“Who knows? Either way, it seems pretty clear to me that all this time you have been treating the symptoms and not the cause. It can’t go on like this forever, Squall.”
Squall didn’t want to show his hurt. “I realize it’s not your burden to bear. You do not have to help. Just forget that I said anything.”
Seifer shook his head. “You are not listening. I said I don’t mind helping you. I can take it, fighting or fucking. But it’s helping you only in the short term, not in the long run. You know we have programs for that kind of thing.”
Squall did know this. The rational part of him knew Seifer was right: he had just been reacting, not facing the problem head on. But still. “No one else from our group has gone to counselling. You haven’t gone. Why would I be any different?”
“How do you know they haven’t?” Seifer countered. “The medical bay has sealed records, even from you, unless they state patient unfit for duty. As for me, I don’t remember the most of it anyway.” The blond shrugged. “Guess that makes me lucky, in a way. Never thought of it that way.”
“But you don’t know,” Squall muttered to himself. “All this time, you really didn’t know. What you did. To them, and to me.”
The words were like sandpaper in his mouth. After this part, it would have to be everything. No more half-truths and hints. Why had he let it go on this far? It was one thing when he didn't know about Seifer's distorted memories. What excuses he had after that?
Would I want to know, if it were me?
Seifer frowned. “It was war. I know we fought. I mean, Rai and Fuu have told me things too. You know Fuu doesn’t sugarcoat anything.”
“They weren’t there.” Squall bit his lip. “It’s not like you have to know. It’s all in the past, anyway. Ancient past.”
“It doesn’t seem to be that ancient to you,” Seifer pointed out. “And since I will be the one to help you to deal with it, I think I have to right to know. If it’s my doing.”
“And now I’m dealing with it?”
“You are stalling, Squall.” Truth to be told, Seifer would have liked to stall too. He wasn’t blind. He could work out the connections. He wanted, for once, to be proved wrong.
I haven’t forgotten about the D-district prison.
Do I have to chain myself to a wall for you to get it up?
Squall took a deep breath, steeled himself, and told him.
Seifer hums absentmindedly, a tune Squall thinks he would recognize if his dazed mind was able to focus. His torturer’s fingers slide along his bruised jaw. The fingertips feel cool to the swollen flesh.
“What do you know that I don’t?” The blond wonders aloud. Like he was trying to remember where he put his keys. He doesn’t seem affected by any of this.
"Do you know what I'll do next? I'll hinge this pretty mouth open with pliers so you can't bite down, and then I'll fuck your face. That's all your mouth is good for, since apparently, you can't talk." He is still touching Squall's jaw, only now applying pressure. His grip tightens with every word he says.
Squall stays silent.
“Well, all the better for me.”
Seifer keeps his word. And when he comes, he tilts the restrained man’s head back and slams in as far as he can, forcing him to swallow all it.
“Such a good boy. If I had parents, I’d take you to meet them.”
"Fuck you. Just… fuck you." Squall manages when the equipment is removed. His voice is hoarse.
The blond smirks. It’s a familiar expression, filled with mischievous joy for the fact he has gotten under his skin. Squall hates that it’s now a part of his nightmare.
“Who, me? You got it all backwards. It’s you who is going to get fucked. But for I am nothing if not nice, I’ll let you choose. Will it be my dick? Or a dagger? Or perhaps… a hot poker?”
Squall grits his teeth. Warden electrocutes him. He doesn’t know if he screams or not, the blood thrumming in his ears drowns out everything else.
“You don’t want to pick? I guess that makes all of them. We will go with poker, dagger, dick. Blood is a good lubricant.”
“No,” Squall hears his own voice say. It is shaking. “I choose dick. Please.”
Seifer ruffles his hair in mock affection. “Good for you, Squally. And for asking so nicely, you’ll wish will be granted.”
Seifer picks up his blade and cuts through the chained man's belts, then slicing the leather of his pants. The garments fall on the floor, skin untouched. Even now, Seifer is flaunting his skills.
The blond pokes the exposed penis with his blade. Squall holds his breath. “Looks like our games haven’t made you excited. Why is that? Are you not into this, Squally?”
Squall hisses at him, the rising anger dulling the sharpest edge of fear. He spits on the other man’s face.
Ultimecia’s knight calmly wipes his face onto his sleeve. He moves the tip of his blade to the brunet’s entrance. “Careful there, Squally. You are this close to losing your dick privileges.”
Squall says nothing. The metal feels cold against the sensitive area, the high running adrenalin sharpening his senses and making the slightest press feel like cutting into flesh.
“Beg for it.” Squall hesitates. The blade presses on, the tip entering in his body and cutting the skin. Small streaks of blood run down his thighs. For the first time, tears of pain flow from his eyes. It feels more humiliating than any broken scream.
“I want you inside me.” He tries to make it sound deadpan, but he can’t. Inside his mind, something is slipping.
“I want your dick. I want it to ram inside me and make me come.” Squall no longer thinks about escaping our outwitting Seifer. He doesn’t care about winning, he would tell all the SEED secrets if there were any, he just wants it to end.
The blade is removed. “That’s better.” Seifer lines himself to the bleeding hole. Abruptly, he laughs. “You're on my 'tough-nut-to-crack' list.”
He pushes inside.
“Why are you letting me roam free?” Why are you letting me live?
Squall gave him a small smile that wasn’t really a smile at all. “You weren’t yourself. If it wasn’t you, it would have been someone else.”
“I don’t know if she had found anything as stupid as me,” Seifer grit his teeth. Sorceress’s knight, my ass. He stood up.
“I don’t blame you, Seifer.” Squall told him quietly. He sounded earnest.
The blond snorted. "And that's a lie. You think I'd forget that soon? The whole reason we are having this conversation is that your hatred shines through when you are angry or frustrated. You still blame me."
The commander bit his lip, frustrated. He wanted to tell the other it wasn’t true, and what he said when not in control of himself shouldn’t be held against him. “For the most part, I don’t. Usually I don’t. I’m sorry for what I said.”
"Yeah yeah, you apologized plenty. Consider yourself forgiven if it makes you happy." The blond headed towards the door. "I need some me-time. Over, serious talk."
Squall followed him to the exit. “Is the apology not enough for you? What more do you want?”
“Me-time means alone time, Squirt. Don’t tag along. Follow me like some lost mutt and you’ll get treated like one.”
Seifer shut the door as he left. Squall didn’t follow him.
The blond headed for the dock.
Even when the Garden was not on the move, the highest points were always windy. Combined with Balamb’s ever present view of the sea, it gave an illusion of being on a cruise.
Seifer leaned over the railing, letting his thoughts roam free. This was one of his favourite spots, even though he hadn’t been here for a while. It felt nostalgic. When he had still been a cadet, he had sneaked up here often, sometimes dragging Squall with him. They would look at the stars, Seifer indulging himself in his grandiose dreams about the future, as if already bragging about all the great things he would someday do.
He had tried to get Squall to talk about his own dreams and plans, but the brunet had always been tight lipped about such things. ‘I will work and then I’ll die’, he would say, half dry wit and half pessimistic-realistic outlook on life.
Seifer would then accuse the other of being a killjoy, and threaten to dangle him over the railing until he’d confess his deepest secrets. Squall would then dare him to try it, saying it would be a good excuse to haul the blond over and get rid of him for good. They would return inside, trading insults back and forth.
After the war, Seifer had come to his spot again, now always alone. In those times, it had been harder to look up at the stars and think of all the great things the world had in store for him. He had never been scared of heights but some voice in his head kept pointing out how easily a strong gust of wind could toss him over, or how one simple misstep would be enough to end everything. The sky, while real, was far away and unattainable. The ground beneath him was much closer.
Right now, in the present moment, it all seemed unreal. His surroundings, the old memories. Like he had just woken up or stepped out of an illusion. Or into it, perhaps.
He had known Ultimecia had controlled him and altered his mind. But to realize his very identity was false? It was beyond jarring.
Everyone thought Seifer was though. They had different words for it: Selphie would say he was a bully, Zell often called him a bastard. Squall knew better than anyone Seifer didn't back down from a fight. As a member of the disciplinary committee he had been a source of fear and reverence in a student body. No one fucked with him without consequences. Life was a game for him, and the winner was one with the quickest wit and steadiest hand.
For a few times, Seifer had had to make sure his threats were carried out. A beating there, a public humiliation there. He was a king, and it was important to make sure his peers understood that. Once they had been targets, they knew better than not to go against him. And while the blond was a devilish opponent he was also a valuable ally.
But like all games, there were rules. There were things that Seifer would never do. Shoving someone's head down to a toilet was one thing, torture and rape were another. He had always known the occupation of SEED required killing, but it was not a murder, it was destroying the enemy. A fight for a just cause.
Squall never thought it like that. He didn't care about justice or righteousness or even fame, he was just doing his job. A long time ago, Seifer used to call it lack of ambition or missing the bigger picture. Why the fight was important. Somewhere along the way, as an awkward side-effect of growing up, he had come to admire Squall's professionalism. That was the real reason that despite their near equal skill levels Squall had passed the SEED test and Seifer had not.
It was not like he’d forgotten everything, some things he remembered very vividly. Joining her for the first time, knowing he had a purpose. The thirst for glory. Himself standing on the dock of Galbadia Garden, knowing the ship and people in it were his and his alone to what he wanted. The power rush. A hand extended towards him, flickering between a human hand and something else, clawed and monstrous.
They don’t respect you. Come, and soon these maggots will fear you as they should.
Ultimecia may have manipulated him, but she had not changed him. There was lust for blood, torture and domination embedded in his very bones, now simply lying dormant and waiting for its chance to slip free.
Maybe she had sensed a kindred spirit.
Travelling to Timber by train always felt like leaving the real world behind and entering somewhere else, an isolated pocket of wilderness. In her daydreams, Rinoa liked to think the trip took her into a fairyland of sorts, a forest full of mythological creatures like centaurs and nymphs. Of course, it wasn't true: the forests were as monster infested as any similar isolated location, and the town itself was very much inhabited by human populace.
Still, it was a beautiful thought and made her happy. The sorceress had learned a long time ago that small things that bring you joy, no matter how silly they may seem to others, were an important source of strength. The world was grim enough without purposefully looking at things pessimistically. Besides, with the view outside, who could really blame her?
During this particular train ride though, she was too restless to properly concentrate on daydreaming. With a nervousness that is inevitable when knowing you soon will be center of everyone's attention, she recited the speech in her head for what felt like the hundredth time.
Rinoa still hadn't informed the resident of Timber about the offer Caraway had made. It was better to go and tell them in person. She shifted in her seat, trying to contain her excitement. Finally, there would be a stop to all fighting, hiding, guerrilla tactics and toll to everyone's daily life. When the train finally pulled to a stop, she exited with a bounce rivalling Selphie's.
There was still some time to kill before the meeting of Timber owls. They often left the bigger meetings to the night hours when the sun had already set. Rinoa had sent a message beforehand, telling she had very vital information to offer to the resistance. Tonight's gathering would be big indeed. She used the extra time to settle down at the inn, infecting the innkeeper with her good cheer. She, too, was a part of the resistance and tried discreetly fish for the big news, but the sorceress did not reveal a thing.
After the nightfall, the Timber Owls gathered to their usual spot. The small underground pub, already sporting a ‘closed’ –sign on the locked front door. The meeting spot was entered either by the back, where the pub keeper checked everyone for the password.
When it seemed that at least all the more notable members were present, Watts shushed the crowd or at least tried to. A particularly heated argument on one of the corner tables refused to be snuffed out.
Rinoa hopped from a barstool to sitting on the counter so everyone could see her. "Excuse me! I have some news for you all. It seems like everyone is here, and I'd like to get started as soon as possible so we can discuss more on our plans of action."
The entire room was immediately silent, the crowd's focus now solely on Rinoa. She took a deep breath and begun her speech.
"As I'm sure most of you are aware," she started, with a soft voice that was still audible throughout the room, "I am related to general Caraway who is, among other things, directly related to seizing Timber's independence. This brings me no pride, but a sense of personal responsibility for the state of things," a small grumble of disagreement and rebuttal spread through the crowd, but Rinoa raises her hand to silence it. "However, now that connection has given us a crucial opportunity."
"A few months ago general Caraway came to me with a proposition. If I would marry the commander of Balamb Garden, the general would make personally sure that Galbadia's military forces would leave the Timber soil. I have already made contact with the commander, and preparations in that end are being made."
She paused for the effect, letting the implications of what she was saying sink into her audience. Barely audible murmurs were voiced here and there. For the most part, the crowd stayed silent. She had their attention.
“It will be all over. We have won.”
After the ending notion, the noise broke out. And it was not the agreeable kind.
“Who gets to decide that? You?”
“I want nothing to do with this sort of deal!”
The young sorceress listened, flabbergasted, at the wave after wave of unanimous resistance spreading. This was not what she had expected. She had been so sure about making the right choice. One happiness in exchange for the freedom of so many. It was a logical decision.
It was what Squall would have done in her place.
Zone stood up to hush everyone.
"Rinoa," he said gently, "we are very grateful. But you can't make that decision for us. You are one of us, and we won't sell our own. We have fought long and hard to be seen as equal by them, to be heard on our own terms. We can't let anyone strike deals over our heads, not even you or the commander. That's what freedom means for us. Isn't that right, everyone?"
The crowd roared.
“We should respond to this, somehow,” a young woman with a scarred face mused. “Caraway has opened a conversation with us. It would be rude not to tell him our opinion, wouldn’t it?”
“Publicly or privately?” Her companion, perhaps her brother or boyfriend, pondered aloud. “He can debunk the whole thing as a rumour if we leak it to the press. Although it would give us some sweet, sweet time in the spotlight to talk shit about him”
“Yeah, but we can talk even more shit if we see him face to face. Like, more hardcore shit. Protest in front of his house?”
“Are there not more important goals than insult Caraway’s person?”
From that point, the discussion started spiralling and turning, taking the direction of what to do next. Outrageous plans were voiced one after the other, some realistic ones occasionally are thrown into the mix. The room was full of passion and excitement. They had something new, something to latch on to.
Rinoa slid down from the counter, unnoticed. She felt humbled. She had spent so much time in the Garden and even the social circles of Galbadia, that she had forgotten this. How it all worked. These people fought for the victory, but even more importantly, they fought for their cause. A Victory was victory only if it was reached in their own terms. There would be no dealing under the counter.
This was what had made her fall in love with the Timber resistance so long ago.
Eventually, they all agreed to a game plan. Rinoa had her own part to play in it, not decisive but still important. Slightly after midnight, the meeting ended, and the crowd slowly dispersed one by one. Some left through the backdoor, some through the front. Those heading for the main street pretend to be drunk, to not raise any suspicion. Well, at least some of them were pretending.
Watts patted Rinoa on the shoulder. “Good to have you back, princess,” before he, too, disappeared into the night.
Rinoa sneaked into her own room in the inn. Despite the late hour, she was filled with energy. A sensation that was quite not happiness, perhaps… belonging had taken a hold of her and filled and an undetected empty space inside of her. She set on to a task that meeting had not touched upon, but she knew had to be done. She pulled a pen and a piece of paper out of her still mostly unpacked luggage, and started writing.
Ever since the war, Squall had known that Rinoa had made a massive impact on her life. Years and years into the future when he would be an old man and sit down to ponder upon his life, Rinoa’s influence on it would be undeniable. She would force him to change when she was present, and inspire change when she was not. She came and disappeared from his life like a stroke of lightning or wisp of fire. A magical being that she, in fact, truly was.
Their undercover campaign against Caraway was progressing smoothly. The outcome was not given, it never was when the goal was to shepherd opinions of the public, but they were well prepared. It was time to see if Caraway was.
Some days ago Rinoa had left for Timber. She had insisted that she wanted to tell them in person. They were admittedly cautious folk, as well as old-fashioned, so Squall had agreed.
This morning, a letter had arrived from Timber, brought to him by a courier instead of Rinoa herself. He had decided to read it on his lunch break, a compromise between efficient time usage and the possibility of urgency. Even if he had a nagging feeling it was not urgent.
I’ve come to realize I owe you an apology. Although I probably shouldn’t start with that, it will make you confused and then pissed off because you are confused.
So, I'll start by saying that I talked with Timber Owls and told them about Caraway's plans. It didn't go as we had thought it would. They didn't want their fate to be decided by us. You know, you, me and Caraway. Looking back now I feel like I should have known… but I didn't, and that's that.
Do you remember that one time when you told me to stay put in my father's house while you and the others would face Ultimecia? During the carnival? And I went anyway, by myself? God, that feels like a lifetime ago. Still, I remember it very clearly. One of those moments when you have to just stop and think what you are doing, you know? If everything you have believed to be the right thing to do is a lie?
When you told me not to go, I was outraged. Important things were finally happening and I wasn’t allowed to be part of them. Maybe I knew it was stupid, but then I thought how heroic it would be and how everyone would praise me afterwards, and it sort of slipped from my mind.
And then, the reality. I crumbled, I wasn't strong enough, mentally or physically. You came to save me like real heroes do. It made me realize how small I am, how weak and insignificant. Later, I learned more: that even if I can't do everything by myself, I can still be a hero. As a part of a team that does miracles. I just have to be smarter about it, and more realistic.
Returning to these thoughts now, I don't think I learned that lesson very well after all. I've not been part of the hero team. Instead, I have pushed all my problems on to you and expected you to deal with them. I've forced you to be the lone hero when I couldn't. And I'm sorry about that.
I’ll stay in Timber for now. We are making plans to tell Caraway to sod off! He can’t just play with people’s lives like this! Don’t worry, we have it in the bag.
PS. Sorry about all the work! I’m sure it will be handy someday. Caraway is an asshat.
PPS. Tell Selphie I'm sorry I can't attent to the Garden festival. ): I'm sure it will be awesome as always, and I want a lot of pictures. Kisses to everyone!
Squall munched on his lunch, contemplative. All things considered, it was a very Rinoa like move. To face the battle head on, without any concrete plan or evaluation of its success. Most likely the situation of Timber would have to wait some more to be solved once and for all.
He felt like he should have seen this coming. Granted, it was a bit irksome to have worked a lot and then reap zero results, but as a commander, he had learned to appreciate the rare occurrences when situations simply solved themselves instead of turning into scandals or massive bloodbaths. Squall's frustration was less like the urge to flip tables and call it quits, and more the acute awareness of human incompetence he daily forced down by pinching the bridge of his nose.
At least Rinoa seemed happy, and Squall himself was out of the stage for now. Those could be considered victories.
Any politician worth the chair they were sitting on would milk this opportunity to last drop. They would negotiate with the other party behind the scenes and if, and only if, a suitable compromise wouldn’t present itself, deem the whole thing immoral and doomed from the start. Squall knew this, and he had no doubt Caraway knew it as well.
The general had counted on his daughter being that kind of politician. In his worldview, it may as well be the only feasible way to think. Most likely this was his own version of getting closer to Rinoa, at least partly. If there was a great opportunity to further his own influence and, at the same time, give Rinoa what she wanted without losing face it was all mutual gains, wasn’t it?
Squall sighed and put the letter on the table. In the end, he understood Caraway a lot more than he did Rinoa.
Mulling over the events of the past, Rinoa had made it seem like she had failed everyone by going against his instructions. Quistis' frustration and his own curt response back then had shaken the naïve rebellious girl down to her core, for it to surface now. And still. She didn't make an attempt to rationalize what she had done or make excuses for it. She simply apologized.
Why now? What use was it, to pull up a thing from the past where it belonged?
Squall read the letter again, this time focusing more on seeing things through Rinoa’s eyes than its actual contents.
She went over the war events, focusing on her mistakes. She apologised for those mistakes and the fact she had caused him trouble.
I’ve not been part of the hero team. She had relearned something she had thought she already knew. She had found a part of herself she hadn’t known she had lost.
Then it clicked.
She had changed. She had made a mistake, but she knew she had changed. And with that, the mistake belonged to the past and not the present.
The stream of his thoughts suddenly stilled. He was more aware of the sounds of footsteps coming from outside of his office, the still lingering scent of mayonnaise clinging to wrappers he had just thrown away. An epiphany. The connection between unrelated incidents, things falling into place.
Squall stood up and moved to the window. The view from Garden was quite nice, a constant that staff took for granted. It was a way to recognize new students from the old ones. The fresh blood tended to flock next to bigger panels of glass, or even braved themselves outside to balconies and other restricted areas. Just to stare and point at things.
Squall didn’t look at anything in particular, but he liked to rest his gaze on the horizon. Quistis had once told him that the farther his eyes seemed to gaze, the more inward he was actually looking.
Maybe he, too, had fallen into the same pit as Rinoa, he mused. Thinking someone else should take the brunt of his problems.
He sent his thought out to Caraway.
We will never understand them. But unlike you, I keep trying. I want to understand.
That’s what makes us different.
We need to talk.
About things. The purpose of this message is not to arise unnecessary trepidation. I simply have things I need to tell you. Make sure you will be home on time.
Seifer rolled his eyes as he pocketed his phone and returned his attention back on the training SEED candidates. Apparently, the commander had enough social skills to realize sending those particular words over a text message was a red flag of sorts. Still, not enough to reword them in a manner that would, as quoted, not raise trepidation.
The blond wasn't surprised. During the past few weeks, he had not acted like his usual self. He was known for his temper so no one dared to question it, but he was sure it had raised at least a few eyebrows. He had been second guessing his own decisions, keeping an eye on himself. What things could escalate beyond what he had originally intended? If they did, did he have abilities to set them on the right track again?
Would he even know what the right track was? Life was so complicated when you had no moral compass as your guide.
It was no use trying to figure out what Squall might want to say to him, so he didn’t. Still, if it was taking some distance, Seifer would respect that. He had promised to help Squall with his problems, and lately? He hadn’t been up to his usual game. Squall needed and deserved someone who didn’t hesitate, who knew what they were doing.
Right now, Seifer had no idea what was going on. Every morning he looked into the mirror and had this odd feeling of dissonance like he should know the face he was looking at, but he didn't. It reminded him of his time with Ultimecia. Breaking him apart from the inside. Divide and conquer, shatter and rule.
The blond regretted he had made Squall tell him. Maybe it was weak of him, to want to live in ignorance, but it sure as hell had been easier. Maybe it was right to make him suffer, but he had responsibilities to take care of. To his troops, who followed him without a question. To these little kiddies who were barely younger than they had been when the war had started, and who wanted to learn how to wield gunblade like their oh-so-cool commander.
To Squall, who had gone above and beyond baring his neck first.
“You seem lost in thought today.”
And yet? The people he owed fuck all were the ones nagging his ears off.
Seifer turned to look at Sephiroth. The man’s face and posture were unreadable as ever, a trait that reminded him of Squall. And like the commander, the silver general never started small talk with an acquaintance just to pass the time.
"Is that so? I was plotting how to dispose of the competition vying for my little lion's attention. Duel is too dramatic, poison is so passé. Any thoughts?"
Does he know all the things you have done? Does he know you are just talking shit?
Are you sure you are just talking shit?
If Sephiroth was threatened, he didn’t reveal it. “Do not kid yourself, you would not defeat me in battle. Besides, your implication that I spend a lot of time with your lover is false. He has made himself very scarce, which is the exact reason I chose to contact you instead.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
"I have tried to get an audience with him," Sephiroth explained patiently. "Naturally, making an appointment with his secretary is out of the question, as I cannot tell my reasons for the meeting in detail. At this point, making up excuses would be unwise."
Seifer raised his eyebrows, not impressed. “So I will haul him away from his office and place him into your lap?”
"That won't be necessary. All you need to do is carry a message. I have finished my mission, in the sense that I have gathered the necessary data about Garden's administration and physical structure as well as the local environment and relevant cultural facts. Plans for transmission of power are complete." Sephiroth looked at him as if he was waiting for a reaction. Seifer refused to give him one. "All that is left is that the commander gives his final approval to the president of Esthar, either personally or through me, and steps down."
"Fine, I will tell him." Seifer wondered what the other was thinking. He was doing as he was ordered without complaints. Did he care at all if it was Esthar's army or Balamb Garden he leads? Where were his roots, his responsibilities?
Sephiroth just nodded and walked away. A few of the cadets watched him leave, but Seifer’s annoyed barking snapped their attention back into training quickly.
Do not think.
Before, when Sephiroth had initially told them about Esthar's plans about placing the general to the lead of Balamb Garden, Seifer had thought about all the options that would be open for him. The world out there they had only experienced in times of war. The blond hadn't given much thought where he and Squall would go then, because why would he? The details didn't really matter, as long as the important things remained the same. Squall would probably want some other Important Position or Righteous Role, something he could channel his inner boyscout into. Seifer would tag along and make mischief.
Maybe he would hire himself as a bodyguard to the celebrity lion. Or maybe he could start up an illegal fighting ring in the basement of whatever Respectable Organization the brunet ended up working for. Who the fuck knew.
If Sephiroth took up managing the Garden and Squall no longer had any user for him… there was nowhere else for him to go.
Do not think.
“I want to prepare a scene for us.”
Apparently, Sephiroth’s news had to wait a little more to be delivered, since his messenger had been very effectively derailed at the door. “Sorry what?”
Squall glared at him. He hated being forced to repeat himself. "I want to plan and arrange a framework for an evening of sexual intercourse that utilises common themes and elements of roleplaying subgenre commonly referred to as BDSM. Was that clear enough?"
"No. Please describe ‘sexual intercourse'. In vivid detail, please." Behind the sass, Seifer's mind was doing mental gymnastics as it tried to be flexible enough to stay on top of the situation. Was this what Squall had wanted to talk about? It was definitely new. The way the brunet had just blurted it out before Seifer had even closed the door suggested he was nervous. Getting it over quickly, like ripping off a band-aid. "Am I allowed to know why?"
Squall didn’t seem to have a ready answer for that. Seifer wondered if he didn’t know it himself, or if he was just looking for the right words.
The silence stretched on.
“Can I tell you about it later?” Squall asked. The blond could tell it was not a rhetoric question, and not an attempt to stall either. If he would push now, he would most likely get the answers he wanted.
Seifer thought about it. "Is it revenge?" It might be for the best. It could null the bad blood between them. An eye for an eye.
"No," Squall said softly. "It's not revenge or any other sort of punishment."
Seifer shrugged. Sink or swim. “Okay then. Plot away and do your worst. If you can do it, I can do it.”
Squall’s eyes twinkled with fondness. The blond worded it like a taunt, ‘anything you can do I can do better’. It was still apparent from his stiffened shoulders that the thought of submitting, being at the receiving end both literally and figuratively had him on edge. And even though Squall had up front denied harbouring anything truly sinister, the possibility of pain still lurked at the corners of the other’s mind.
Doubts and guilt. It was something Squall understood well, even the manifestation of those feelings wasn't of the same root. The feelings of guilt the blond harboured were towards him as a person, rather than his regret of more general form in the face of his own inadequacy. His actions had hurt the one he cared about, the one who had been closest to him his entire life. Despite his crass mannerism, Seifer loved him. Of this Squall had no doubts.
“Remember that the safe words are there for you as well,” the commander reminded sternly. “Go outside for a few hours. I will arrange things the way I want to and write you a list of things you need to do when you get back.”
Seifer rolled his eyes. A list. Of course, there would be a list when Squall planned a scene. What a sex killer. "And what should I do until then, oh mighty master? You want me to swagger into town and play triple triad with Rai and Fuu until I run out of cards? It's not like I have any work left for the day."
“I was hoping you would say that,” Squall purred, “I left some paperwork for you in my office. You can return when you have finished it.”
Seifer stared at him. “Are you serious? No, don’t tell me. You are always serious.”
Squall gave him an affirmative peck on the cheek. “I love it that you know me so well.”
For a moment there, everything was like before.
Later that evening Seifer stumbled through the doorway as if he indeed had gone to downtown to make a gracious investment to Balamb’s bar section with his gang. Who knew paperwork could be so exhausting? While sitting down and applying himself fully to the tedious documents had never been the blond’s favourite hobby, today every sentence had felt like a cryptic message from an ancient civilization.
The fighter hoped Squall had been sensible enough to cherry-pick the pile. For all he knew, he might have just donated a fortune for a memorial statue of Norg and be none the wiser for it.
Seifer checked his watch. He had left the apartment a little less than two hours ago. That should have been a gracious amount of time for Squall to make any preparations he had deemed necessary. Seifer headed for the kitchen.
A first thing he noticed was that the room was a lot cleaner than it was when he had left. He doubted it had anything to do with their agenda for the night, but sometimes when Squall had a lot on his mind he would shine his blade, clean with unnecessarily high standard or rearrange items that didn't need rearranging.
Apparently, Squall had been nervous or had found himself with more time on his hand than he had originally anticipated. Probably both.
At the table lay the promised list. The lion himself was nowhere to be seen, and the apartment was eerily quiet. Seifer picked up his instructions.
We are going to play a game tonight. Your objective is to make me cry. If you manage that, you win. If you don’t, I win. You have half an hour, starting from the moment you open the bedroom door. Please do so immediately after reading this note.
I've been prepared for you sufficiently. You are not allowed to touch the restrictions. Other than that, you can do as you please.
Props are on the floor next to your bedside table. You are allowed to utilise any three, and only three, items as you see fit.
And that was it. Seifer glanced to the bedroom door, which was firmly shut. He had no idea what his props might be, or what exactly Squall had meant by restrictions. There was no plausible way to for a strategy beforehand, as the moment he opened the door the game would start.
The blond grinned. That little bastard. But he would always be up for the challenge.
So let the game begin.
Fix, verb - to repair, to mend
The door opened to a vision of Squall, stripped and tied to the bed frame. Although the blond had expected something of the sort, the vision still sopped him on his tracks. Both for the visual appeal and the extreme levels the other had chosen to take his confinement.
Squall was laying on his back, each limb tied to a different corner of the bed. He was spread open, nothing was left for the imagination. His eyes were covered with a blindfold and his ears plugged. In his mouth was a ball shaped gag.
The lion didn't struggle against his bonds or even shuffle restlessly. He made a still, almost an artistic image, calmly submitted to any fate his master had in mind for him. He might have been asleep, if not the hammering pulse on his neck and the slight sheen of sweat on his forehead. He was not aroused, In fact, it was like he didn't even know Seifer was in the room yet.
After studying his lover, Seifer moved his gaze to the bedside table where the promised items had been piled. And next to the table. There was a lot of them.
Although there were none strict lines, similar props had been placed next to each other. There seemed to be three categories. The first variety was different sex toys. A few dildos in different sizes, butt plugs and sleeves. The second category was weaponry and other items meant to cause pain, like a poker. Some were of fetish variety, but most were borrowed from SEED armoury.
Except for Seifer's own blade, which had been hauled to the bedroom from its usual storing place in the hallway. Hyperion was leaning onto the wall, too large to fit comfortably with the smaller blades. Seifer was slightly upset with himself for failing to notice it missing upon entering the apartment.
The rest of the props were completely random, everyday household items with little in common. There was a die, a shoehorn and a flashlight.
This is very weird. But at least it gave him some options.
The blond thought about it. He had been given almost unlimited access to do whatever he wanted. Squall couldn't currently communicate any preference or lack of it. It was all up to him.
So, what he wanted to do?
For the first time the commander's right hand man actually thought about it, realistically. It was not a hypothetical scenario any more. Squall was completely defenceless, at his mercy. It sent a familiar thrill down his spine, but it was a diluted version of the usual power rush. Having Squall offered to him like a sacrificial lamb was not his thing.
He wanted his only equal, the only one that could hold his own against him. The only one he could always count on to fight back.
Seifer grinned. His first choice was the pliers. He picked them up from the pile and manoeuvred them to remove Squall earplugs, one at the time.
Made aware of the other's presence in the room, the brunet startled at the unexpected form of touch. He made a noise equally questioning as it was dissatisfied, chiding Seifer for breaking the rules of the game.
"Oh my little naïve commander," the blond chuckled smugly. "After all these years, haven't you realized how crucial it is to phrase your orders right? Technically, I didn't touch the restraints." He snapped the pliers for emphasis. Judging from Squall's exasperated sigh, the brunet would be pinching the bridge of his nose if his bindings only allowed it.
"But what next? Just for offering you the pleasure of hearing my seductive voice, I'm down to two props to choose from. Hmm…" Seifer tapped the plier's against Squall's shoulder in mock thoughtfulness. "You know Squall, for all of your schemings, you have overlooked one tiny detail. There is no lube in your little fetish store."
It was true, in essence. They stored the lube in one of the drawers and while the blond had not checked yet, he was confident it had not been removed. Still, it had literally not been brought to the table.
No response. Squall didn't move or react in any way to his little taunt, no scowling or any indication things weren't going exactly as planned. The blond raised his eyebrows. Interesting.
"Well, we just have to improvise then, don't we?" He put the pliers down and chose his next prop, carefully so it wouldn't make any noise. He didn't want to let his prey to be aware of his plans. "This should do nicely. So, ready to cry, my love?"
The words had a visible effect on Squall like someone had poured cold water on his body. Simultaneously tensing and shivering, he tried to use all of his restrained senses to figure out what would be coming next. The brunet's body was stiff, prepared for the impact.
"On the other hand, I should probably undress first," Seifer mused and put down his chosen prop on the bed next to Squall. The mattress didn't bend under its weight. "Thinking about making you squirm has made me hard already."
The blond took off his clothes. He had not been lying, his cock was already half-mast. He let his pants drop to the floor, the buckle on the belt hitting the floor with a thud. "Now, where were we?"
Small droplets of sweat were forming in the hollow of Squall's throat. Seifer hit the bedframe next to Squall's head with the handle of his prop, making the other jump. "Focus. I'm gonna do my worst."
Squall gave a seething glare through the blindfold. He was jittery, yes, but not enough to be qualified as afraid.
Seifer ran the feather duster along his side. "Can I guess all of your ticklish spots, Squally boy? Let's find out."
The sides certainly did the trick. The commander bent like a crescent moon trying to avoid the torture. Light touches low on his stomach, right above his sex made him tense, abdominal muscles clenching and unclenching rhythmically. And yet Seifer's personal favourite was the neck. Just a hint of a feather against skin made Squall toss his head restlessly, a warning growl rising from his throat through the gag.
It reminded Seifer of how the other looked in throes of climax.
"Feel like crying yet?"
Squall scoffed. Not even close.
"I see." Seifer moved his weapon of choice between Squall's spread legs. The brunet didn't move away this time, not ticklish in those areas. Seifer had never tried to dust off his own dick, but he imagined the sensation wasn't entirely unpleasant.
"You have put me in a bit a nasty situation here," Seifer mused aloud, not pausing his ministrations. "With that gag on, I can't even fuck your mouth. So what, am I supposed to just poke you with things until you come? That doesn't sound like a fair game to me."
The blond's calloused fingers joined the duster in petting, soft a rough textures alternating and mingling pleasantly. Squall laid his head back, enjoying the experience. It was somewhat odd, to be turned on, and yet relaxed at the same time.
Meanwhile, Seifer considered his next move. The lacking lube would make penetrating Squall tedious, the old horny teenager trick of using spit not just doing it in the time frame given to him. He did have another idea, but it was just his luck that otherwise ridiculously vast amount of props wouldn't provide for that specific purpose.
How typical. What you needed was never there when you needed it. Even though just that morning-
Seifer grinned. He did have what he wanted.
"Enough of this," he growled and took Squalls member into his mouth.
The brunet cried out in surprise. As if to balance out the long foreplay, Seifer's fellatio went straight to the point with no teasing. He bobbed his head hard and fast and encourages the other with his hand to buck into his mouth.
After no more than a minute of frantic pleasuring, Seifer stopped as abruptly as he had started. Left teetering to the edge of his orgasm, Squall sank his teeth in the gag in frustration.
Without any lewd commentary, the blond stood up and rummaged around. There were distinctly familiar sounds, but the lion in his current predication couldn't place them. He did understand what it meant, though.
Seifer had chosen his third and final item for the night.
"See, I was just thinking you are missing something." The blond said conversationally. "All there ropes and chains and even a blindfold, but no cockring? Shame you Squally. Luckily, I'm here to fix it for you. Now the fantasy is complete."
Something touched Squall's penis again, a piece of leather and metal. ‘
Squall grunted as his lover fastened the new addition around him. It was tight, bordering on painful.
"No need to thank me."
The usual cocky talk was back, but Seifer sounded a little bit strained himself. After fastening the belt, his hands had retreated, presumably to take a good look at his handiwork. When the touch returned, it was still on the brunet, but different from before. The urgency of the movements had disappeared. He simply moved his clenched fist up and down leisurely on the brunet's shaft. Stroking it, smearing the precum over the tip with his thumb.
Then he moved over to straddle him and led Squall to his entrance.
The lowering was torturously slow. They usually didn't do it this way, and whatever preparation Seifer had done to himself was obviously scarce. Squall had enough presence of mind no to thrust upwards, despite how much his body wanted to.
Seifer was surprised to find himself enjoying the slight burning sensation, the stretching of his hole when Squall entered into his body. The last time had done this was long ago when they had still been new. Lying down and letting someone else climb atop of had felt wrong, going against some uncommunicated core of his self-image. This was entirely different.
Granted, he was still grateful for Squall's self-control.
The blond slid down, slowly and steadily. He didn't lower himself completely, the belt around Squall's shaft making it impossible anyway. The man under him was sinking his teeth into the gag, unsure what he should be doing or not doing.
"Don't move," Seifer ordered. He started testing different kinds of movements, how they felt and what reactions they caused in Squall. Raising his hips, rolling them and clenching his muscles. Squall swallowed and took a deep breath through his nose.
"This is kind of fun, I can see why you are into this. Would you like to do this more often, hmm?" Seider started gyrating his hips at a faster pace. The brunet made a noise that might have been agreement or just response to the stimulation. He was panting heavily, his quivering thighs betraying his efforts to obey and not to move.
As the initial pain of stretch faded, Seifer really started to see the fine points of this positioning not only for the power play but also his pleasure. He was teasing himself as much as he was teasing Squall. The other's cock was nearly grazing against his prostate, but not quite. "Are you close?" He rasped.
The brunet managed only to nod. He felt his own pulse against the leather, the tip of his member pleasured by Seifer's tightness. He needed to come soon. Beyond caring for his pride, he whimpered to showcase his desperation.
"Alright, then," Seifer reached behind himself to undo the buckle and removed the belt. "Fuck me."
Squall didn't need to be told twice.
With his hands still tied, he couldn't hold Seifer's hips in place. The blond steadied his knees in the mattress and matched his lover's thrusts. The rest of their coupling was frantic, with little pace and even less coherence.
Squall suspected his eyes might roll back but with a blindfold on and constantly seeing darkness, there was no way of knowing. The knowledge that he was indeed coming inside Seifer made the experience all the better, almost surreal. Cum splattered on his chest as Seifer brought himself to climax.
The commander could only lay still and listen when the other got off of him, accompanied with a steady stream ‘ouch shit god fuck', to undo his bindings. He blinked dazedly upon removal of the blindfold. It felt like it had been ages since he had last seen anything. At first, it was as if had awakened from a dream, the whole experience of having senses beyond Seifer's voice and touch felt odd. After freeing Squall. Seifer collapsed next to him on the bed unceremoniously and pulled the other in his embrace.
They lay there quietly, catching their breath.
"Thank you," Squall said quietly. He raised his head to the other's head, listening to slowly calming heartbeat.
Seifer hummed. "So, care to tell me what that was all about?"
Squall searched for the right words. He had known the question would come and had tried to prepare for it, but talking about feelings had never been his strong suit.
"I know you are different from back then. I wanted you to see it too." He paused. "I would have brought lube, but I didn't think you'd be that different."
"And turning our cleaning supplies into sex toys have proven this how?" Seifer had every right to be sceptical about the method Squall had crafted, but to the brunet, he didn't sound that sceptical. He just wanted to hear the words.
"You had both the opportunity and plausible excuse to hurt me. You didn't do it." Squall hesitated. Should he ask this? "Did you think about it?"
"Yes, I did." Seifer shrugged. No use in denying it. "I thought about how would feel like. And I didn't want to do it." I don't want to see you cry, not like that.
Squall hmm'd softly, nuzzling his head comfortably to other's chest. "You lost," he pointed out, in a voice that was Squall's version of cheery.
"Did I?" The blond made a show of inspecting the other's face and then proceeded to lick it. "My taste buds inform me that you are lying."
Squall tried to feel disgusted but didn't quite manage it. "That is sweat. And you even cheated."
"How did I cheat?"
"That belt wasn't there in the beginning. And the removal of my earplugs was teetering the line."
"Lies and slander. You can't remember the entirety of your fetish collection." Seifer paused. "How did you even tie yourself up like that?"
"I didn't. Zell did."
Seifer quirked an eyebrow, miffed. "You stripped down for the chicken-wuss? No taste. You should have picked at least Irvine." The sniper was in a stable relationship, despite being a little flighty.
"Maybe I have a thing for blonds." Squall smiled, his teasing only getting a ‘tsk' from the blond in his immediate presence. "But think of all the possibilities," he continued in a husky whisper.
Seifer shuddered. "Squall. We are not having a threesome with chickenwuss. This is where I draw the line."
The brunet rolled his eyes. "You always think everyone wants to fuck me. But no. I'm confident our tattooed friend is as straight as he is vanilla. I think he freaked out a little, seeing my little setup." He tapped the other's jaw, eyes alight with the mischievous fire Seifer knew and loved. "And he doesn't even know what happened."
"Oh." That indeed opened a lot of new doors. And behind each door, there was a path to new trauma for the chickenwuss. "It's moments like these when I remember how much I truly love you."
Saying it, even so casually, came surprisingly easy.
Squall kissed his cheek, chaste and sweet. "I know."