Into Esthar

BY : Chemotaxis
Category: Final Fantasy VIII > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 1011
Disclaimer: We do not own Final Fantasy or any of the characters in this story, nor do we profit from writing this story.


~ Chapter Fifteen - On Guard ~

[Outside Zayin House, Tiamat District, Tuesday, 21st of October, 11:57 am]

Gunblade cases in hand and bags slung over his shoulders, Calder pushed the trunk of his car shut. As he followed Seifer across the street, his eyes landed on the unconscious man in the blond's arms. Beneath plain black jeans, worn combat boots dangled against the blond's side. Apart from that one sign, the brunet looked like any other civilian.

As he crossed the run-down lobby, his attention was drawn by the weight in his hands. If the man in Seifer's arms was really the SeeD commander, then he was carrying legendary gunblades. He'd heard tales of the commander's weapon--that it left blue streaks of light in its wake when the man fought his opponents. Would he get to see it?

Following closely behind Seifer, he stepped into the lift. Neither of them said anything as the lift ascended. The blond adjusted his hold on the brunet, before green eyes fell to regard the man's face.

Watching Seifer lost to thought as he studied the man in his arms, Calder noticed the odd symmetry of the scars crossing the bridges of their noses. He'd always thought Seifer's scar to be peculiar, but he had never managed to get the back story, not even when the blond had been heavily incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

Stepping into the narrow hallway when the elevator came to a halt, Calder kicked a newspaper to the side and walked to the blond's apartment.

"The key's in my left pocket," Seifer said, maneuvering Squall in his arms so Calder would have better access.

Unlocking the door, Calder let the blond enter first. He placed the gunblade cases on the kitchen counter, his gaze lingering on the black leather marred with numerous scratches, before dumping the bags hanging off his shoulders to the floor. Looking over to where Seifer was lowering Squall to the couch, he raised an eyebrow. "Shouldn't he be in bed?"

"Need to clean it first," Seifer grumbled as he propped Squall's head up on a small pillow. He pressed the back of his hand against Squall's cheeks. "Still burning up." Straightening, he made his way over to the kitchen.

Grabbing the jacket he'd slung over one of the gunblade cases, Calder walked to hang it at the back of the front door. Turning around, he watched idly as Seifer poured some water before gently coaxing the brunet into drinking it all. He'd never seen the blond act with such care.

"What happened to him?" he asked tentatively.

Seifer glanced up briefly from his task. "You heard Rinoa. They broke their bond."

Calder didn't know what that meant. He didn't know anything about knights or bonds.

"I have to go out," Seifer said upon seeing the frown on Calder's brow, wanting to break the man's train of thought. "I need you to look after him."

Not having expected this turn of events, Calder eyed the blond carefully. "Where are you going?"

"Shopping. I'll need more groceries so I can hole up in here for a while," Seifer said, his gaze dropping to look at Squall again. His fridge was almost empty and he needed to buy new sheets. There was no way he'd waste time at a laundromat when Squall needed to be comfortable in bed.

"I can do that."

"It'll be quicker if I do it," Seifer said, standing from the couch. He wouldn't be able to collect his thoughts long enough to make a shopping list. He'd just grab whatever came to mind at the shop.

"I'll phone you if anything changes," Calder reassured.

Seifer nodded before walking to the counter and grabbing his keys. "I'll be back soon."

Nodding as well, Calder watched the door close behind the blond.

Standing still, he eyed the man on the couch, able to make out the brunet's fast-paced breathing. Two drops of sweat merged and ran down the man's temple. He couldn't believe this was the man he'd heard so many stories about.

Walking to the sink, he grabbed a small hand towel from one of the cupboards and held it under the cold tap. He wrung the cloth out and sat down at the edge of the couch. Pressing the damp fabric to the brunet's forehead, he studied the man's effeminate features. He had to be younger than Seifer and himself. He looked barely eighteen with sparse stubble on his cheeks and smooth skin. His frame seemed too small to belong to a mercenary. The large scar that ran across the man's brow was the only thing that betrayed any sort of fighting as far as he could see. His eyes drifted to the cases on the counter.

The man on the couch couldn't be the commander. Garden would have known about the man's absence. They would have sent SeeDs to find him. Seifer and Rinoa had to be fooling him.

He frowned, pushing himself up from the couch. One quick look would be enough.

Carefully undoing the clasps on the more worn of the two cases, Calder's eyes darted to the man on the couch. It felt wrong to be doing this, but he needed some kind of grasp of what was going on. He lifted the lid.

It was a Revolver. An outdated cylinder model, lower-to-mid range and two handed. A lion head emblem dangled from a short chain attached to the grip. He scrunched his brow. This didn't look like the weapon of a legend. Closing the case, he continued on to the next. The case held fewer scratches, and the clasps were harder to undo. Blue light spilled onto his fingers as he lifted the lid.

Staring at the blade in front of him, his heartbeat picked up. His eyes darted to the man on the couch. He'd never seen a blade like this. Translucent and azure with a soft glow, the barrel shaped like a winged lion, cast in shiny silver. How could the brunet even lift the thing? It looked heavier than any blade he'd ever seen.

He used to be my sparring partner.

Seifer had always been an exceptional gunblader. Why hadn't he questioned it more? Someone that good couldn't have been privately trained like he'd always told himself.

Closing the lid and returning the cases to where he'd originally put them, Calder turned his back to the blades. What the hell had he become part of?

He'd better get some answers when the blond returned.

Remaining in place, he thought back to everything that had happened that morning, from when he'd received Seifer's phone call until they'd brought the brunet back to Seifer's apartment. And then he recalled their conversation Sunday evening.

His mind kept going in circles. There was no way he could make any sense of it. Seifer fancied the SeeD commander. Seifer had been the SeeD commander's sparring partner. Seifer's ex was a sorceress.

Needing something to do, he cleared away Seifer's breakfast from where it had been left untouched on the counter. When the bowl and spoon had been washed and returned to their proper places, he looked around the room.

Deciding some sandwiches might help break the tension upon Seifer's return, he got out the ingredients. Halfway through buttering up the bread, a short buzz sounded. Then another one. He looked to the brunet on the couch, but the sound came from a different direction. Walking to the end of the counter, his eyes fell to the coat hanging behind Seifer's door. The commander's coat. It sounded like the buzz of a muted ring tone.

Frowning, he considered if he should answer as he walked over and took the phone in his hands, but the name that lit up on the display instantly had him think better of the idea. Putting away the phone, he shook his head and huffed. He tried to convince himself that Loire was a common surname and that he hadn't just almost answered a call from the President.

What the hell had he gotten himself into?

[Zayin House, Tiamat District, Tuesday, 21st of October, 1:09 pm]

It was moments like these Seifer hated: moments of waiting. Moments when he was forced into inertia because of the world around him. His posture was rigid as he waited for the elevator to slowly crawl to the ninth floor, jolting to a stop twice to accommodate other passengers. He'd left Squall in Calder's care less than an hour ago, but it felt like an eternity.

He'd checked his phone almost every other minute, but no one had called. He should have felt relaxed, but his nerves would hear none of it. At least once he returned he'd be able to stay at Squall's side for days if necessary.

When the elevator finally stopped at his floor, he squeezed his way through the still opening doors, his arms filled with plump grocery bags. Sidestepping the used bottles and other garbage that had been discarded on the floor, he rushed to his apartment. Fumbling with his keys, he struggled to get the right one without dropping anything.

Heading straight for the kitchen once inside, Seifer placed the shopping bags on the counter and looked in the direction of the couch. Squall was in exactly the same position as earlier.

Calder got up from where he'd been sitting at Seifer's work table at the other end of the room. "He's been like that since you left."

Seifer nodded. "Thanks." He started unloading the goods, only sparing the two sandwiches on the counter a brief glance before disregarding them. The sooner he did this, the sooner he could get Squall to bed.

"Need a hand with anything?" Calder asked, joining the blond in the kitchen.

Shaking his head, Seifer continued putting away the food, wishing he could just tell Calder to leave. He needed to be alone with Squall.

Calder watched the blond closely. The man looked preoccupied, but he couldn't stop himself from broaching the topic that had been on his mind all morning. "So... That's the great Squall Leonhart?"

Seifer's expression hardened. The phrasing of Calder's question stirred his temper, regardless of the answers he'd promised. Calder might not have meant any offense, but the way he'd used great and Squall's name in one sentence, with a slight hint of underlying disbelief... Seifer's hands clenched.

"I need to know what is going on here, what I've gotten involved in."

Seifer wordlessly put away some more food before stopping in place. He sighed. "I know." He turned around to face Calder. "But first, I have to take care of him," he added, nodding in Squall's direction.

"I can help."

"No." It was already bad enough he'd involved Calder as much as he had. "I need to be alone with him."

Calder frowned. "How come he's staying here?"

Seifer looked away, before grabbing some cans from one of the shopping bags. "It's the best option."

"If he's the SeeD Commander, then why not Garden?" Calder asked, his eyes involuntarily traveling to the gunblade case that held the azure blade.

"He's a stubborn fuck," Seifer said, looking at the unconscious brunet. "Garden doesn't know how to handle him."

Calder watched the blond carefully. "But you do?"

"I know him better than most." Even if years had separated them, he still knew how Squall worked. They'd spent so many hours together that they knew each other's ticks and tricks, every little habit and shortcoming.

Letting out a huff, Calder shook his head. "This is so surreal."

"I spent most of my time as a teenager pestering the guy," the blond admitted, a slight upwards curve appearing on his lips.

"Somehow that's easier to imagine," Calder commented, smiling as well. So this was why Seifer had never talked about his youth much. He'd never suspected the man capable of keeping such a huge secret. The blond bragging about it left and right seemed much more likely.

"Let me deal with him," Seifer said slowly. "And then come over for a drink later."

Considering Seifer's words, it was a moment before Calder relented. He supposed it would be easier over a drink or two, and Seifer was right, for now he was imposing. "All right. But even if he wakes up, I'm not letting you out of this."

Seifer chuckled softly at Calder's mock threat.

"And you owe me. Big time."

Nodding, Seifer smiled. "Got it."

"You better."

At the return of a relaxed atmosphere between them, Calder took a deep breath before walking over to his coat. As he shrugged it on, his eyes traveled to the brunet who still hadn't moved whatsoever.

"Call me if you need anything," he said as he walked over to grab one of the sandwiches he'd made earlier. "If I haven't heard from you by ten, bet your ass I'll be here."

Huffing, Seifer met Calder's gaze. "Make sure Nolan stays away."

"I'll think of something," Calder said even though he knew he'd have a hard time following up. He'd never been a great liar, and banning Nolan from Seifer's apartment was a surefire way of having the boy show up within the hour. He'd have to find some other excuse. Walking to the door, he rested his hand on the door knob. "I'll see you later," he said, taking one last look at Seifer as he opened the door.

"See you," Seifer repeated from behind Calder, watching as the man left. When the door closed, he returned his attention to Squall.

What a fucking mess.

He'd never looked after anyone before and now he had an unconscious Squall on his hands. He didn't know how to handle something like that; they'd have to take it one step at a time. At least Squall was here now, the frenzied search [for the man] over. He'd make sure Squall would be okay and get the man back on his feet as soon as possible. First, he needed to get the brunet comfortable in bed.

Walking into his bedroom with the last of the shopping, he dumped the bag on the rumpled bed. It still hadn't been cleaned since the night he'd spent with Squall, and without any time to take care of laundry, he'd bought clean sheets instead. Opening the window to let in some fresh air, he took a deep breath as it cut through the stale smell of the room.

Picking up the lube that had been left out in plain sight, he tossed it into the bedside drawer, before ridding the bed of the stained sheets. Dumping them in to the laundry basket, he slammed the lid shut.

When the bed was freshly made, he stared at it with crossed arms. What had happened was in the past. He had to let it go.

Letting out a huff, he returned to the living room. For a whole minute he remained in place before carefully hoisting Squall up into his arms. Bringing the man into the bedroom, he slowly lowered the brunet to the bed.

The man's forehead was still warm to the touch, and he gave no reaction at the contact. Seifer could feel moisture clinging to Squall's skin, just as he'd felt the dampness of his clothes when he'd carried the man. And Squall reeked.

The clothes would have to go. So would the smell. Squall was going to kill him for this.

Drawing up the white hem of Squall's shirt, Seifer slowly trailed the fabric upwards, his eyes drawn to the sight of firm abs and pecs before dipping down to the brunet's navel and the dark trail of curls leading to low cut jeans. His eyes jumped up to look at Squall's face, but the man's eyes remained shut. He hadn't moved an inch.

He'd hoped he would get through it without any straying thoughts, but he'd already been studying Squall far too closely. His gaze had lingered, just as he couldn't help the soft pressure of his fingers along Squall's skin as he removed the man's long sleeved shirt.

Bringing his hands lower, he unbuckled Squall's belt. He popped open the button of Squall's trousers next, but still no reaction.

Tugging at the zipper, Seifer stilled his movements. This was the point of no return. Any further and Squall definite would kill him if the man came to. And it didn't feel right to expose Squall like this--not when he knew how revolted Squall would be at the mere thought of Seifer ever seeing him naked again.

Curbing his thoughts, he undid the zipper the rest of the way and pulled down Squall's pants. He just needed to get it done. Unlacing the heavy combat boots, he let them drop to the floor along with the dark jeans, but as soon as they did, his eyes betrayed him. He catalogued every single dip, curve and hard edge to the man before him.

Stirring from his frozen pose, he got a bucket of warm water and some towels from the bathroom. Dipping one of the towels in the water and running it along Squall's chest, he watched as small beads of water formed trails against the man's skin and pooled between muscles. Drying the water off again, he continued the process until Squall's face and upper body were clean, careful to keep his thoughts empty. He halted for a moment before hooking his fingers underneath the waistband of Squall's boxers, the tight fabric not hiding much. Removing them, he raised an eyebrow at the bizarreness of what he was about to do. Washing down the rest of Squall quickly, he got the awkward task over with in record time.

Walking over to his dresser, he rifled through the drawers, searching for an old pair of boxers. They'd always been too tight and uncomfortable, making him a general pest to be around whenever he wore them. They weren't nearly as large as the ones he'd found Squall wearing upon his return to the apartment the previous Thursday. They'd suit the brunet perfectly.

Grabbing his favorite comfy shirt, the thing worn and the print faded, he returned to Squall's side and dressed the man. He had to grin when he was proved right; the pair of ball crushers fit perfectly. Satisfied he had done a decent job, he got Squall under the duvet and placed a soft pillow under brown locks.

He sat down at the edge of the bed. He'd never expected to be giving the brunet sponge baths, and in spite of getting to see Squall naked, he'd hated every moment of it. Squall had better wake up soon. Seeing the brunet this incapacitated was wrong on multiple levels, and it wasn't like he could take care of someone unconscious long term--no matter what he'd made plans for. Odine had to think Squall would come to soon. Otherwise the doctor would have ordered them to take Squall to a hospital or the lab.

Standing from the bed, he returned to the living room. Retrieving Squall's bags and gunblades, he placed them next to the window in the bedroom, in view of the bed. He leaned against the wall. Maybe a tiny part of him didn't look forward to Squall regaining consciousness, the part that didn't want to see Squall's dissatisfaction and contempt at having to stay with him.

He'd spent the better part of the day furious at Rinoa and worried about Squall, but now that Squall was safely within his reach, he felt angry at the brunet as well. What the hell had Squall been thinking, staying on his own after breaking the bond? The man must have expected there to be some risks; he couldn't have been as naive as to think he'd be perfectly fine. Seifer had told Squall just that Thursday how he'd been out of it for a month after his own bond had been torn. If only he'd known, then he could have bullied Squall into staying with him. Somehow. He could have kept an eye on the man.

It doesn't matter. He's here. He'll be fine.

As he watched the slow rise and fall of Squall's chest, he wondered how things had been for himself when he'd been out of it after the war. He had no memories of it, and Fujin and Raijin had never told him. Hyne, if he had to look after Squall for a month, he'd probably end up finishing the scrawny bugger off himself. Arc would have his ass if he didn't come in to work for that long, and he was close to broke as it was; he didn't even dare think of the amount of ass kissing he'd have to do to make it through if Squall remained stubbornly oblivious for long. Hell, the Ice Prince was probably enjoying it--a trip away from the world, from people.

In the end, none of it mattered. They'd have to take it day by day, and however reluctant he was to do so, Seifer had to put his faith in Odine and the pills. Maybe the fact that the bond had been broken willingly made a difference.

Stepping closer to the bed, he placed the back of his hand against Squall's forehead, then his cheek. He sighed. He'd let Squall rest for now and return in a while to check on him again. For the time being, he should get some work done on his designs. Closing the door quietly, he ignored the urge to turn right back around. He'd have to wait.

[Seifer Almasy's Apartment, Zayin House, Tuesday, 21st of October, 7:04 pm]

Sitting at his work desk, Seifer glared at the paper in front of him. According to the protractor, he'd made a mistake along the way. The angle of the curved blades protruding from the blaster edge were too small to allow them to cut into a target easily. Releasing a low grumble, he resisted the urge to crumble up the piece of paper. He'd spent over two hours on the damned thing and couldn't just throw it away. His stomach joined in on the grumbling. Glancing at the time on his cell, he realized it was dinner time. He hadn't had more than a mouthful of cereal that day.

Standing up from his position by the work desk, he looked in the direction of the bedroom. He'd checked on Squall a couple of times already, but so far there hadn't been any change. He'd have to get some kind of sustenance into the guy. And the pills. Sighing at the prospect, dreading the mess he was bound to make, he walked to the bedroom door. He'd check on the guy one more time before getting the pills and food.

Squall still hadn't moved from his earlier position. Apart from the slight rise and fall of his chest beneath the duvet, there was no sign that the man was even alive.

The bed dipped slightly as Seifer sat down at the edge. Checking the brunet's temperature, he couldn't help but grimace at the heat still burning pale skin. His hands stilled in place. A twitch--Squall's eyebrows had twitched. It had been almost imperceptible, but the accompanying change in Squall's breathing told him he hadn't just imagined it.

Another move, this time under the duvet.

"Squall," Seifer said in a low voice as he placed his hand on Squall's arm and shook it slightly.

Immediately, Squall's body went rigid and the man's eyes flew open to stare at the ceiling with a wide-eyed gaze, his breathing coming in hard and fast.

It was a few seconds before Seifer reacted. Keeping his hand in place, still resting it on Squall's arm, he spoke softly. "Take it easy," he said, keeping his voice steady. "You're all right." He watched the brunet cautiously. "You'll be all right."

Squall snapped his head in his direction. There was no recognition in the man's gaze, only a blankness that made chills run down Seifer's back. He didn't have a second to ponder what was happening when Squall launched out of the bed and backed away wildly towards the opposite side of the room. A loud thud filled the room when Squall impacted against the wall behind him. Gray-blue eyes darted around the room, until they finally fell upon Seifer again. The brunet looked almost blind as he stared in his direction, as if the man wasn't fully rooted in reality.

Standing slowly from the bed, Seifer raised his hands to show that he wasn't a threat, approaching the man much as he would a wild creature. "Easy," he said, dragging out the word.

Squall raised a hand to grasp at his forehead, his eyebrows scrunching up as if in pain. The brunet's other hand found the wall behind him in a steadying move. The man's breaths were ragged, still coming in far too rapidly.

Having seen enough, Seifer stilled his mind and slowed his breathing, before reaching out for the neglected bond in his mind for a second time that day. He heard a faint growl at the back of his mind as he coaxed Bahamut into junction, his muscles tensing with the fierce creature's strength.

Without wasting another moment, he cast Sleep on the brunet. As soon as the spell landed, he shunned the winged beast again, forcing him to the back of his mind. As blinding pain burst behind his eyes, he stumbled a step backwards, his eyes shutting in reflex. He hated using magic now.

When his vision returned, his eyes landed on Squall. The brunet was slumped against the wall at the other side of the room inelegantly, the man tense yet unmoving. He was still very much awake, but it looked like he was losing the fight. Squall's eyes were still directed at him, but they weren't as wide as before. There was a blink. Then another one.

Raising his hands once more, hoping Squall would still recognize the human gesture, Seifer closed the distance between them in slow, measured steps. As he lowered himself to kneel on the floor in front of the brunet, he kept his gaze unwavering. He placed a hand firmly against Squall's upper arm. When Squall's frown abated and gray-blue eyes slowly lost their wild glint, he took a deep breath.

Hooking his hands under the brunet's arms, he gently rose into a standing position and lifted Squall up with him. Taking all of the man's weight, feeling the brunet slump against him, he shuffled them back to the bed before laying Squall back down on the soft mattress. He gave the man a small smile when he saw gray-blue eyes still tracking his movements, and covered Squall with the duvet.

"Relax," he said softly, as he lowered himself to sit at the edge of the bed.

Watching as Squall's eyelids grew heavier and heavier, he didn't know what to make of what had just happened. Had he reacted like that after his bond with Ultimecia had been broken? He would kill Odine and Rinoa if it was permanent. He clenched his jaw as his eyes stayed locked with Squall's. He wanted to shake the man, to command him to snap out of it and recognize him.

Forcing the thought aside, he told himself to stay calm.

When gray-blue eyes fell shut, the man looking relaxed and undisturbed, Seifer waited in the quiet of the room, only leaving when he was absolutely certain Squall had fallen back to sleep.

As he stood in the other room, he wasn't sure what to do. Phoning Rinoa would be pointless; she wouldn't be any help, and she'd just freak out. He didn't have Odine's number, and even if he did, the doctor had already offered his insight. If Squall was going to return to normal, he would need rest, time for his mind to heal.

Seifer glanced back in the direction of the doorway leading to the bedroom. He'd have to keep Squall sedated for a little while longer for the guy to get better without injuring himself, which meant he needed sedatives unless he wanted to walk around with a permanent headache from using magic. He got out his cell.

"Hey," Calder greeted after the second ring.

"I need you to come over," Seifer said, not wasting any time on greetings.

"What happened?"

"Just come over and bring some sedatives. I'll explain when you get here."

Calder hesitated. "Okay."

Seifer hung up. There wasn't anything else to say. As soon as Calder got there, he'd try and get some pills, food, and water in Squall. Hopefully the Sleep spell would still be somewhat in effect by then, but there wasn't any way to predict that with how resilient Squall was to spells and how crappy his own magic had become.

As he waited for Calder to turn up, Seifer ate the sandwich Calder had made him earlier. His appetite was still nonexistent, but he needed the energy. Not paying attention to what he was doing, mostly staring into space, he started when a knock sounded at his door.

Making it to the door in a couple of seconds, he pushed it open wide.

"I got the pills," Calder said, holding out a small package for Seifer.

Taking the box from Calder's hand, Seifer nodded and walked over to the kitchen. He got out a glass and filled it with water.

"So, what's up?" Calder asked from behind him.

Seifer didn't answer as he looked through the medicine Odine had prescribed Squall, getting out the right number of pills from each small container. With a cup of yogurt in one hand and the glass of water and pills in the other, he spared Calder a brief glance. "Wait here," he said, turning around and heading towards the bedroom. "I'll be back in a minute."

Inside the bedroom, he was relieved to find Squall still asleep. As he placed the things he'd brought with him on the bedside table, he kept an eye out for the slightest movement, ready to react if Squall had another abrupt awakening. When it didn't come, he gently sat down at the edge of the bed, his hands held out, ready to grab onto Squall at any sudden movement. He didn't want Squall to back up into a wall and get hurt a second time around.

"Squall," he said, hoping Squall would still be mostly out of it. Just a little bit of consciousness would do.

A sound of displeasure left Squall as the man's eyebrows furrowed. The man looked like he was in pain.

"Come on, Squall, you gotta wake up," Seifer said as he leaned in over Squall. Placing a hand on Squall's right shoulder, he gently shook it.

This time hazy gray-blues slowly opened to look at him. They still weren't rooted in reality. "You have to sit up," Seifer tried, hoping Squall could understand what he was saying.

Squall's eyebrows scrunched up even further, and the man moved a hand to rub at his right temple.

"I've got some pills for that," Seifer said, nodding at where Squall's hand was kneading. He had a good inkling he wasn't the only one with a headache. "But you need to sit up first, all right?" He moved back a bit to give the brunet some space, but instead of moving into a sitting position Squall brought his hands up to cover his ears and turned to lie on his side, leaving his back to Seifer.

Seifer frowned. Sound was causing Squall pain.

Staying silent, he placed a couple of pillows against the wall. With a soft back rest in place, he grabbed the brunet and dragged him into a sitting position. Slowly letting go, unsure if Squall would be able to stay upright on his own, he watched as the brunet slumped against the pillows. The position was slightly precarious for a moment before Squall settled against the pillows properly.

Squall's eyes hadn't moved to look at him. Instead they were fixed on the wall at the opposite end of the bedroom. The Sleep spell had to be in effect to cause such a change from earlier, but the hollow look to Squall's eyes hadn't changed. It made Seifer's skin crawl. He took hold of the glass of water, needing to get this done as soon as possible.

As he brought the water to Squall's lips, he tilted the glass slowly and watched the water disappear little by little. Grabbing one of the pills, he placed it in Squall's mouth, pushing it in between pale lips. When the pill was swallowed along with a sip of water, he repeated the process until all the medicine and sedatives were gone.

Putting the glass back on the bedside table, he brought a spoonful of yogurt to Squall's lips. The process of spoon feeding someone was much slower than he would ever have imagined--much slower than he'd ever thought himself patient enough to sit through--but it felt good to finally get some sustenance in Squall.

For a couple of minutes he just sat there watching. It wouldn't be long before the sedatives would set in, and once they did, Squall would be out for the night. Even if Squall didn't recognize him, there was still some comfort in seeing the man awake and responding to the world around him, if only on the most basic of levels.

As he stood up again and moved Squall back into a sleeping position, he made the man as comfortable as possible. With a soft pillow placed back under Squall's head, he watched as Squall's eyes closed slowly once more. It was strange standing there, watching over a man he'd thought he'd never see again only the day before, but even stranger was the slow realization that it wasn't a desire to make up for the past that had made him accept the responsibility. He had wanted to help and would do anything to make sure Squall got better.

Reluctant to ponder the sentiment any further, he walked over to the window and opened it slightly in order to let in a light breeze. Turning off the light, he left the room and closed the door softly behind him.

Back in the living room, his eyes moved to where Calder waited on the couch, the man's eyes immediately meeting his gaze. Walking over to the couch, Seifer relaxed into it, feeling exhausted after a long day filled with one unpleasant surprise after another. Arching his head backwards, he closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.

The seconds ticked by slowly as Calder watched the blond. He wasn't sure if he could broach the questions that had been occupying his mind all afternoon. The blond looked so beat. He knew the situation was taking its toll on Seifer.

"He came to earlier," Seifer said, breaking the silence.

Calder raised an eyebrow. "That's good, right?" he asked, but without much enthusiasm--he could read Seifer well enough to know there hadn't been a big change in the commander's condition.

"He wasn't there," Seifer explained with a distant gaze. "Just a shell. Pure reaction to his environment, nothing else." After a pause, he continued, "He's in pain. Sounds hurt him." His left hand clenched where it was resting on the couch. "I've given him sedatives so he can stay out of it for a while longer."

He kept his gaze straight ahead. "He was my sparring partner for as long as I can remember."

Calder forced a small smile onto his lips. "I can't believe you didn't tell me you used to spar with the Seed Commander."

"Who he is doesn't matter," Seifer said in a tired voice.

Calder held back a sigh. "Maybe not, but who you are matters to me," he said, wanting to defend his words. "There's a lot you haven't told me."

As they both considered Calder's words, silence filled the room. Seifer had never imagined telling Calder anything about his past apart from the few inconsequential things he had already shared with the man. He still didn't want to tell the man anything, but knew it was too late to back out now. "I know," he resigned.

"Why?" Calder asked when no further words followed.

"I have my reasons."

The silence dragged on as Calder waited for the blond to continue.

"I was a cadet at Balamb Garden. I wanted to be a SeeD. Things changed," Seifer finally offered. He knew outright denying Calder an answer would cause a rift in their friendship.

It was what Calder had already suspected, but hearing Seifer say it made him consider the implications more fully. "What changed?"

Seifer frowned. He didn't need any reminders of that time. "I screwed up," he said, avoiding any details. "So I came here."

It sounded so simple when Seifer said it. Like it had been easy for the blond. Calder knew better than to assume as much. There had to be a reason why Seifer hadn't told him about the past, and he was certain it wasn't as uncomplicated as Seifer made it out to be. He knew not making SeeD would have taken Seifer's self-esteem down a notch, but that didn't explain the look in Seifer's eyes. Maybe some things were better left alone. For now.

"Do you still use magic?" he asked instead. The incident at the hotel had replayed in his mind countless times already. The only time he had seen humans use magic was during the clean-up effort after the Lunar Cry while he had worked side by side with SeeDs. When he'd learned about magic in his line of work, he'd only been taught which items to use to defend himself against it. None of his colleagues knew how to use magic either.

"Sometimes," Seifer replied. After the war he had only used magic sparsely. His spells hadn't been nearly as strong as before, and he was punished with headaches and nausea whenever he used them. Instead, he'd taken to bringing potions, antidotes, and the likes with him whenever there was a chance of encountering monsters.

"So you have one of those magical beings?" Calder said, remembering what little he'd been told about magic--that it was a connection to a magical entity that allowed one to cast spells.

"I have a couple," Seifer admitted. He huffed as Calder's eyes went wide. "Shiva is a Guardian Force."

"The thing you drew from him?" Calder asked as he tilted his head in the direction of the bedroom.

Seifer nodded. His eyes became distant as he remembered Shiva fighting Ultimecia. The guardian force had been breathtaking, her skin a pale glowing white, her eyes a deep blue as she transformed the world around her to ice. "She's beautiful. An ice goddess."

Calder had a hard time imagining what a magical being would look like, let alone how you could be connected to one. "How does it work?" The stories he'd heard about SeeDs selling their souls, trading away their personality and memories, for magical power had to be wrong.

"They just become part of you. If you can persuade one to join you," Seifer said, a shade of smugness curving his lips upwards.

"You'll have to show me," Calder insisted. He'd never seen such a being.

"Maybe," Seifer agreed halfheartedly after a second's pause. He almost never got Bahamut out to play anymore and knew he'd be punished for it if he did. Showing Calder wasn't an option even if he wished he could show the man the impressive creature. He loved watching Bahamut's wings unfold as the creature hovered in the air next to him, preparing to strike. But he didn't want anyone to see his weakness. Summoning hurt more than spells, and it was hard to fight when it felt like someone was sticking a giant needle into your brain, scrambling it around.

"Maybe?" Calder returned, somewhat incredulous. "I know you can hardly summon one of them in the middle of Esthar, but as soon as he--" there was another nod in the direction of the bedroom, "as soon as he's better, the two of us will have to take a trip out during the weekend. You can't get out of this one. You have to show me."

"Maybe you can get Squall to show you Shiva," Seifer said with a quirk to his lips as he imagined Squall's displeasure at having to humor Calder with showing the man his icy lover. Back at Garden Squall had never had patience for anyone expressing awe at such things.

"Was that a joke?" Calder asked after a couple of seconds, not really sure what to make out of the secretive smile on Seifer's lips.

"Squall doesn't play well with others," Seifer commented, feeling the heavy load on his shoulders lighten. Apparently thinking about Squall being his old annoying self helped ease his mood. There was another upwards pull at the corner of his lips as he considered how Squall and Calder would get along if they ever met; he couldn't see anything other than gray-blue eyes narrowing in scrutiny as they regarded the taller brunet.

Seeing the deep fondness in Seifer's eyes, Calder wasn't surprised, not after everything he'd witnessed the last couple of days. He couldn't help but wonder if things went the other way as well, if the SeeD commander shared this fondness for his ex-sparring partner. There had to be something there for the man to sleep with the blond, Avalanche or not. But where did that leave Rinoa?

Upon remembering the woman, his thoughts were effectively distracted. He still had so much trouble believing Rinoa was a sorceress. She had seemed kind, delicate--nothing like the pictures he'd seen of Adel.

"Is Rinoa really a sorceress?" he asked, meeting Seifer's gaze.

Pulled from his thoughts, Seifer nodded. "She wouldn't hurt a fly though."

A frown settled on Calder's brow. The truths he'd been told that day were too far-reaching for him to even hope to understand. He didn't know what being a sorceress entailed, and now he had to wonder how many more there were out there like Rinoa, walking around unseen by the public.

"But she doesn't look like one."

"They aren't all freaks like Adel."

"All?" Calder asked, unsure he'd heard that right. "You know more?"

"Knew," Seifer corrected.

Calder shook his head. He didn't know how much more he could take. "So there are lots of them?"

Seifer shrugged. "Hell if I know."

"What does being a sorceress entail?"

Leaning farther back in the couch, Seifer tried to relax. "Special powers--their own magic."

Calder nodded. That was the extent of his knowledge on the subject.

"What's a 'knight'?" he asked, remembering the term Rinoa had used to refer to Squall earlier that day.

With all the questions Calder was asking, Seifer should have seen this one coming, but it still caused him to tense up. "Someone that will do anything for his sorceress," he said after a brief pause, the answer coming to him easily.

"And a 'bond'?" Calder asked.

Sighing, Seifer considered how to explain it. At first it had simply been a way of communicating with his mistress. Later, he had no longer been sure of what exactly it had involved; he had no longer felt like a separate entity from Ultimecia.

"A connection between sorceress and knight," he said, bringing a hand up to massage at the back of his neck. "It allows them to share thoughts and emotions."

"And that's what Squall and Rinoa had?"

Seifer lowered his gaze to the floor. "It's how Rinoa knew we slept together."

There was a moment's pause as Calder considered Seifer's words. The full extent of the situation was finally becoming apparent to him. Rinoa had broken the bond with Squall after what had happened between the two men and Squall's current condition was the consequence. It was beginning to make sense why no one else had been involved. It had been a private matter. Something else occurred to him.

"Why did Rinoa ask me to leave? At the hotel," he asked, that part of the puzzle still eluding him. He almost regretted asking his question at the drawn expression it elicited on the blond's face. Neither of them said anything for long minutes. Just when Calder was about to give up, the blond ran a hand through his hair--a nervous move he knew all too well.

"...I know what he's going through."

Calder frowned. "You've known other knights?"

"No," Seifer said curtly before looking away, obscuring his expression from view.

Having a sinking feeling he was about to learn another truth about the blond's past, Calder steeled himself. "You used to be a knight?" he asked lowly.

The ensuing silence was all the admission he needed.

Seifer had been a knight.

That was why Rinoa had asked for privacy. She had known and hadn't wanted to expose Seifer. Calder's mind went blank.

"This is a lot to take in."

"...I wanted to forget," Seifer said after a long silence. "And I wanted a new start," he added, leaning forwards in his seat. "That's why I never told you." Without another word of explanation, he got up from the couch and headed to the kitchen counter. He didn't want to tell Calder more than that--he had already said much more than he'd intended to. He got out two tumblers and poured them some whiskey. The alcohol was way overdue.

At the thought that occurred to him, Calder's brow knitted into a frown. "Were you Rinoa's knight, too?" It was the only logical conclusion he could reach.

"... She wasn't a sorceress back then," Seifer relented.

Calder's frown deepened. He'd always assumed sorceresses were born that way. "Who was your sorceress then?"

Seifer locked his eyes on the counter. He couldn't tell Calder. Every part of him was opposed to it. If he told him, the man would never look at him the same. They'd never be able to go back.

"It doesn't matter," he said lowly, even though he knew it did. "It's in the past. I need it to stay that way," he added, raising his eyes to meet Calder's gaze.

"But you only ever told me about Fujin and Rinoa," Calder plowed on. "Don't tell me Fujin is a sorceress too?" he asked, half expecting Seifer to just come out and tell him it was all one big joke.

"She isn't," Seifer growled.

"Then who?" Calder repeated. "I mean, from the sound of it, it's an intimate thing and those are the only two--" Calder curbed his words as his eyes fell to Seifer's clenched fists.

I wanted to forget.

Calder took a deep breath and collected his thoughts. Seifer didn't want to tell him and most likely wouldn't, no matter how hard he pushed. Did it matter who she'd been? It couldn't have been Adel. Seifer hadn't been born yet when she'd been in control. And the blond had admitted to knowing other sorceresses.

"Why does it matter if I know?"

"Push more and you're leaving," Seifer said sternly.

Calder lowered his gaze. Maybe he could figure out things on his own.

"You don't have to tell me," he said as he leaned back in the couch, sighing.

Watching Calder carefully, Seifer took a sip of his whiskey. It seemed the man had caught on after all. Grabbing the glasses, he walked over and joined the man on the couch.

Taking the offered glass from Seifer's hold, Calder let his eyes travel the blond. "So, a Garden cadet," he commented, wanting to return to a safer topic. "What was it like?"

Allowing himself to think back to his time there before the war, Seifer fell silent. He'd loved Garden. He could've done without some of the more boring classes, but the focus on honing your skills in combat and executing missions had given him drive from an early age; a drive that he'd only recently learned to direct onto something else.

"Good," he said honestly. "But not for the weak." He met Calder's gaze. "You're forced to push yourself constantly. In the morning you have theoretical classes; in the afternoon, physical ones. In the evening you're expected to continue your training on your own or hit the books. Same goes for the weekends. Never a moment off."

"You think Nolan could've cut it?"

Seifer chuckled. "No. No way."

Calder's lips quirked upwards. "That bad?"

"You have to actually show up for classes in order to learn the shit."

"You saying you weren't a skiver?" Calder teased.

"This is going to hurt my reputation, isn't it?"

Calder chuckled.

"Nolan would love to hear all of this--to see your Guardian Forces."

Seifer's smile faltered. He shook his head. "You know why you can't tell him."

Calder sighed, but nodded. Nolan would never be able to keep a secret of that magnitude. He glanced at his wristwatch and let out a deep sigh, before rolling his eyes and leaning forwards in his seat. "I promised to pick him up at 8."

Checking the time, Seifer chuckled. "You'd better get going then."

"He can wait," Calder said, taking another sip of his whiskey, but the moment he swallowed the liquid, he felt his phone vibrate against his leg. Getting it out, he groaned at the name that greeted him on the display.

Listening as Nolan reamed out his older brother for being late, Seifer grinned, taking no little pride in the fact that he'd taught the boy at least half of the expletives that seemed to pour from the boy's mouth. It was Calder's own fault for being too soft.

When the call ended, Calder stood up from the couch and emptied his glass.

Seifer laughed. "You're such a pushover."

Calder rolled his eyes. "Don't complain. You exploit it just as badly."

Eyeing the man fondly, Seifer chuckled. He had been known to take advantage of Calder on more than one occasion.

Putting on his jacket, Calder hesitated. "Call me."

"I will."

"All right then. Keep me posted. I hope he gets better soon," he said, once again indicating the bedroom. Referring to the SeeD commander by his first name would be too odd, the formal title no good either.

"Me too," Seifer said, standing from the couch as well and walking Calder to the door.

"See you," Calder said, then turned to leave.

Closing the door behind Calder, Seifer walked over to refill his glass. He took a few sips of his glass as he went over their conversation in his head. The atmosphere had been almost back to normal at the end. Calder hadn't pushed.

Putting the glass down on the kitchen counter, he walked towards the bedroom. As he opened the door quietly, it was a moment before his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. It was dark outside the window, a faint blue hue the only light in the room.

Squall was still asleep on the bed. This time Seifer was actually relieved to see Squall hadn't moved an inch. He wouldn't have known what to do if the sedatives hadn't worked. He didn't want to watch Squall in pain, and the longer Squall rested, the more Seifer allowed himself to hope that the man would be all right.

He walked over to where Squall was lying and carefully sat down at the edge of the bed. Reaching over, he pressed the back of his fingers to Squall's forehead. It was still warm, but less so than earlier. He moved his hand and pressed it to Squall's cheek instead.

Sighing, he stood up from the bed. There wasn't anything to do but wait.

Turning his back to Squall, he grabbed a pair of boxers and entered the bathroom. Fifteen minutes later he was clean, shaved, and dressed.

Tired, he stood still as he considered what to do. He couldn't join Squall in bed. Squall could wake during the night and all hell would break loose that way, even if it was just as harmless as him wanting a place to sleep, and the couch was in the other room, far away from where he wanted to be.

Deciding to forgo sleep for the time being, he walked over to sit by the far wall. Slumping back against the hard surface, he watched as the white duvet rose and fell slowly in time with Squall's breathing.

Shiva seemed to have calmed down. He couldn't pinpoint when it had happened, but it was nice to be free of her aggrieved presence, her pining for Squall.

The image of Rinoa sitting next to Squall on the bed in the hotel room came to mind. There had been love and concern in her eyes. The girl's broken voice and the words "I love you" replayed in his thoughts; the words he'd heard in her voice message. Squall should never have heard it.

Her admission had surprised Seifer; that it had been five months since she and Squall had split up. The "why" of the break up still confused him. She'd said it had been because she hadn't wanted to wait for Squall to love her back any longer, but in spite of her take on events, Squall obviously cared for her a great deal. But love? He couldn't judge that. He'd never seen love, never experienced it. If he had to take a guess, then downing a bottle of alcohol because of having lost someone would probably be high up there though.

And really, what else could love be if not Squall's reaction to Rinoa's voice mail? The brunet's lack of composure after what had happened at the club and the way he had changed for her--it all showed exactly that.

Why had Rinoa failed to see that? And why punish Squall with breaking the bond? Even he could tell Squall hadn't been ready for that.

Back to the more familiar feeling of resentment towards Rinoa, he had to wonder what the hell Squall had seen in her. She'd always been lively and fun to be around, but that hardly fit with what he'd expect for Squall to look for in a girl. He'd sooner think her behavior would act like a repellent when it came to the reticent brunet.

He tried to empty his mind. The train of thought did little for his mood, but the stubborn part of him wouldn't let the topic go. He couldn't help but wonder what Rinoa and Squall had been like as a couple. He grimaced in distaste. Just thinking about the two together made his skin crawl.

Forcing his mind into a blank, he slowly steered it onto a different topic. What was the rest of Squall's life like? How many missions did the guy go on? Had his fighting style changed? Did he train students?

He couldn't see the gunblade cases from where he was sitting, but he had recognized Revolver's well enough. The other one had to be the blade Squall had used in his final battles against himself and Ultimecia. He hated to admit it, but those battles had been tough. Squall had always been the one to push him the hardest--during the war and before.

Would they ever get to spar again?

Their last conversation had been tense to say the least. Could they get past that?

More than likely, sharing his apartment with Squall would be awkward as hell. The part of him that wished Squall would just stay knocked out piped up again, but no matter how awkward things were going to become, he was looking forward to having Squall around as well. He'd always enjoyed riling Squall up, and when the man actually relented to a retort it was usually dry and snide. The kind of humor he could appreciate.

Quite possibly, he would just be ignored, but that was one thing he'd learned how to handle. Squall could never ignore him fully.

Arms and legs heavy with exhaustion, Seifer blinked. He angled his head more comfortably, slumping further against the wall.

...He'd close his eyes for a just few minutes, then get up and get a glass of water...

A/N: If people are still reading this, then thanks for sticking with us :) Hope you enjoyed the chapter - we'll try and get the next one out as soon as possible :) And many thanks to our lovely betas as usual - we love you Aera and Sway! :D (and sorry if any words are stuck together - FFN has a habit of doing that from time to time when we upload stuff O.o). And don't worry - next chapter will feature the return of a fully cognizant brunet ;)


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