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 Nineteen - Shifting Delusions ~

[Tiamat SCTA, Thursday, 23rd of October, 6:14 pm]

After a rushed drive and stop at Seifer's apartment to grab their gear, Squall tried his best to appear composed when they finally pulled up at the Tiamat SCTA. The blond had pushed the speed limit all the way there, and by the time they slammed the car doors closed behind them, the tension between them had risen to new heights. It was that old familiar anticipation, and having gone without it for over two years, he could admit to himself he used to live for those moments back when they were cadets. Everything else at Garden had been monotonous and routine, but never his sparring sessions with Seifer.

Squall looked up at the Tiamat building as they crossed the parking lot at a brisk pace, their gunblade cases and gear slung over their shoulders. He'd only ever seen the SCTA's Sphinxara division in the upper class part of Esthar. This building was older and smaller, but well maintained. A slow trickle of people entered and left the building, none of which Squall would have labeled as much of challenge to take on in battle. The casual greetings and sloppy postures were a far cry from Garden's sharp salutes and discipline. This felt more like a civilian school than anything.

His first impression was confirmed when they entered the foyer. Boisterous teenagers were sitting at either side of the large room, occupying tables and chatting loudly. There was no dress code or uniform that he could discern. There were also adults milling about with all kinds of melee weapons, but only a rare few of them sported any scars or signs of true battle.

Following Seifer to the reception desk, Squall raised an eyebrow when the blond introduced him to the receptionist as "Vargha," one of his favored codenames. He was certain he hadn't mentioned it to Seifer. The blond seemed to be on good terms with the receptionist, who rather dubiously granted Squall access to the training grounds with a lethal weapon, no credentials needed. All it had taken was Seifer vouching for him.

Squall started to wonder why the blond would need to attend any classes here. He doubted a facility like this could teach Seifer anything he hadn't already mastered years ago.

Nodding to the man at the reception desk, Squall let Seifer guide him to the left hallway. He could feel the receptionist's eyes on his back until they turned a corner, and wondered whether this was the first time Seifer had brought in a guest visitor.

Just outside the changing rooms, he wasn't sure he'd heard right when an exiting student greeted the blond as they entered. He didn't miss the perfunctory nod Seifer gave in return either.

"Sir?" Squall repeated dryly as the door closed behind them.

Seifer turned to face Squall with a smirk. "What can I say, the kids around here know how to show proper respect," he said, dumping his bag on a wooden bench. Squall rolled his eyes in response, just as expected.

As the man got out of his everyday wear and exposed pale skin, the true fighter was revealed: lean muscle and old scars. The worn black combat pants and white t-shirt Squall pulled out of his bag filled Seifer with anticipation—he knew exactly what Squall looked like in his usual training gear and it wasn't for the faint hearted. He'd lost count of the times he'd masturbated to that visual.

Suppressing the thrill at seeing Squall in his old gear, he grabbed his own bag and headed for the end of the room. "My locker's in here," he said, pushing open a door with a sign reading "Instructors only."

Squall halted in his steps, looking from the sign to Seifer. "You teach here?" It made more sense than the blond being a student here, but he'd sooner have expected Seifer to avoid all classrooms after Garden. Working on weapons seemed more in line with his temperament.

"Someone has to show the brats the right end of a blade," Seifer said with a smug smile.

Squall huffed at Seifer's arrogance. Taking the news in stride, Seifer's mention of a "class" made sense now. It also meant they wouldn't have to cut their spar short in order for the blond to hurry to some class at the other end of the city. A gunblade instructor. That definitely had to mean the blond hadn't let his skills slide.

When Seifer dropped his bag into his private locker and stepped aside for him to do the same, Squall noticed the uniforms folded relatively neatly on a small shelf. He looked pointedly from the uniforms to Seifer.

"You know what they say about a man in uniform," Seifer said as he wiggled an eyebrow.

Dropping his own bag into the locker, Squall snorted. This evening was getting more and more unlikely. Seifer—an instructor who actually wore his uniforms. The man wouldn't have been caught dead in his cadet garbs back in the day.

Closing the locker, Seifer leaned against it while waiting for it to lock up, his eyes dropping to Squall's hips. Letting them slowly travel to the brunet's eyes, he lowered his voice and spoke conspiratorially. "Speaking of which, when do I get to see you in yours?"

Squall blinked at the statement, blindsided by the sudden return of lewd remarks minutes before they would spar. Acute discomfort followed where Seifer's eyes had studied him in mock appreciation. Squall frowned. Apparently the novelty hadn't worn off yet for the idiot blond, and Squall knew his own reactions of embarrassment were to blame.

He refused to be an easy target like that. Hitching Revolver onto his shoulder, he returned Seifer's gaze evenly. "I'd worry about the fighter, not the uniform."

Still smirking, Seifer pretended to consider Squall's answer. "Mmm, you're right," he said, pushing away from his slouched position against the locker. "After all, the fun only happens after the uniform comes off, right?" he added, glancing over his shoulder and sending Squall a wink before exiting the locker room.

Squall's grip tightened on Revolver's hilt. What had become a stain in his memory, a source of self-consciousness and self-doubt like he hadn't experienced since his early teen years, had apparently been bland and inconsequential enough for Seifer to turn into a joke.

Following Seifer into the hallway, he let his anger fuel his intent. A reminder of just why he wasn't one to toy with was more than two years overdue.

Leading them out back to the monster training area, Seifer followed a path that would lead them to a secluded area away from any spectators. He didn't want any interruptions. Setting a timer on his watch, he glanced back at Squall. The brunet was following him in silence, a serious expression on his features.

He hadn't expected them to spar this soon, or for Squall to find out about his job as an instructor. He hadn't detected any bad vibes from the brunet after he found out—only slight disbelief. He'd always looked down on instructors himself, had always believed that if you were good at something, then you'd damn well do it and not spend your time teaching it.

He frowned. He would've preferred being out there, fighting monsters, doing missions. But for a second chance at making a life for himself, it wasn't half bad. At least he got to stay in shape this way. And boss brats around.

Nearing the clearing, he felt the adrenaline kicking in. It was always a rush to spar with Squall, and just like back at Garden, the fun started with the anticipation. He had no idea what Squall's moves would be like—it had been more than two years since their last spar. It'd be like a clean slate. All he knew for sure was that he'd definitely have a proper challenge. He stole a glimpse of Revolver. There was no way in hell he would be able to look at himself in the mirror if he didn't give Squall a proper fight. He'd quit his fucking job if it turned out he'd become what he'd always feared: a second rate gunblader that was only good for teaching kids.

With a grimace, he gestured towards the spot and moved back a bit before getting into his fighting stance. As Squall moved into place as well, he knew no more words would be spoken until one of them had been defeated. This was it. They'd find out if they were still on par.

Taking a few steps to the side, he tried to lure Squall into making the opening move. In the past he had been the one to plunge ahead without any reasoning or planning behind it. This time he wanted to see which opening move Squall would choose—it would speak volumes of the brunet's preferred fighting style.

Circling each other, neither taking the initiative, he watched as Squall narrowed his eyes. A huff followed seconds later and then before he could blink, their blades touched. They stood perfectly still as they watched each other over the crossed blades. He hadn't even seen the move, couldn't recall how Squall's blade had moved from its resting position to suddenly be pressing against Kronos. He grinned, excitement shooting through him. Taking a quick step back, he quickly launched himself forward again.

From the start, their dynamic was unpredictable. Once they got going and really gained momentum, Squall was a never-stopping blur of movement. Where the man had been reserved and cautious in the past, he now fought with an explosive energy that heeded no rules. Caught off guard, Seifer barely ducked in time to avoid a deep cut to his neck. Instead he felt a slight trickle of blood just above his collar bone.

Looking Squall's way, Seifer grinned and held his blade high. In the past, they'd learned to anticipate each other's moves so perfectly, they'd always trusted each other to dodge the more lethal attacks. No such certainty this time. That edge of danger sent his blood pumping faster.

No longer the hothead of his youth, Seifer circled and side-stepped, never leaving the increasingly frustrated brunet an opening. Squall hounded him, but he never gave an inch of ground, anchoring himself solidly. His parries and counters were met with flurries of attacks that left him perpetually on guard. A block, a low swing along Squall's blind side and the brunet jumped out of reach with a cut on his thigh. Eyes flashing dangerously, Squall swung Revolver deftly in his hands with a few fell swipes. The move was eager and showy, taunting Seifer in a way the man never had before. Bring it on.

After that there was no more time for thought or analysis, only instinct and pure reaction. In all his fights, he'd never fought anyone as quick as the Lion of Balamb. They fought relentlessly, until sweat dampened down their shirts and their breath ran ragged—there was no settling for less.

It was only when the alarm went off more than an hour later that the world around them registered again. Dodging a low cut, he stopped to end the high pitched noise coming from his phone, only to feel a blow to the back of his knees. Unable to grab hold of anything, he fell flat on his ass. Watching as Squall walked into view from behind him, Revolver already pressed to his neck, he let out a low laugh.

"Dirty suits you," he said as he nudged Revolver away from his jugular. Getting up from the ground, not bothering to dust off the soil that clung to his clothes, he smiled at Squall. It had been just as amazing as he remembered. The years spent apart had only added to their mix, had made what was already his favorite pastime new and even more exhilarating. Squall had become more daring and hadn't resisted using non-gunblade moves—moves the man had shunned as cheating in the past. The brunet had even thrown in a couple of one-handed lunges with his two-handed blade. Seifer had ended up with a couple of cuts thanks to that. He smirked. He'd managed to get a couple of cuts in as well. For the entire time they'd been perfectly matched. If the alarm hadn't gone off, they'd still be at it, until both of them collapsed from exhaustion.

He looked in the direction of the SCTA, his excitement quickly dissipating. He didn't want their spar to end. He didn't want to teach when he could be doing the real thing instead. He sighed before he met the brunet's gaze again.

"...I have to get going. I'm pretty sure Calder will be around here somewhere." He paused. "He could show you around if you don't mind staying until I finish class. He's a gunblader as well. My sparring partner. He'd probably jump at the chance to spar with you." He smirked as his eyes catalogued the sweat on the brunet's brow and the little nicks the man had acquired during their spar. "That's if you're not completely worn already, of course."

Too much in that dismissal irked Squall to ponder it all, but he cursed inwardly at the blunt honesty of his own mind when it singled in on three words. My sparring partner. The guy who'd seen him being carried out of a dingy hotel room, comatose and helpless.

A frown crinkled his brow. A spar induced high was still rushing through his veins, his muscles burning, and the thought of being dismissed and carted off to some second-rate gunblader after having fought Seifer left a bad taste.

"I'll sit in on your class."

Seifer blinked, unsure he'd heard Squall right. He couldn't imagine the brunet getting anything out of watching him teach. "... Okay," he agreed reluctantly, wishing he knew Squall's motivations. "Sure."

At the uncertain permission, Squall's impulsive decision not to be dismissed turned into genuine interest. The fact that Seifer didn't seem one hundred percent comfortable with him attending only made things that more peculiar. Seifer was nothing, if not confident. He couldn't imagine Seifer being any different as an instructor.

Lifting Revolver onto his shoulder, he waited for Seifer to lead the way. Whatever misgivings the blond had, the man didn't protest and walked them towards the main building. Halting in front of a set of double doors, Seifer nodded at the open doorway. "It's in here. I'll be back in a couple of minutes."

Squall nodded and refrained from voicing his surprise that the blond was actually going to change into a uniform. When Seifer disappeared behind a corner, he finally acknowledged his hunger and thirst. Sweat still clung to his skin from his spar with Seifer, his throat dry because of his ragged breathing earlier. Seifer hadn't cut him any slack because of his condition. After a quick draught from the drinking fountain, he retrieved an energy bar from the vending machine and wandered down the hallway.

He never would've imagined this job for Seifer—perhaps because of the blond's lack of patience; definitely because of the blond's lack of respect for authority. But now Seifer was the authority figure, which probably made all the difference. A smile threatened to tug at his lips at the thought of Seifer donned in a uniform of all things. The unlikely sight would be reason enough to stick around for the class.

Thinking back to their own gunblade training, he wondered what Seifer would do differently from their own instructors and what methods he would honor. Dumping the wrapper of his unsatisfying dinner into a nearby trashcan, he walked up to the classroom. Inside, there were about a dozen students already present, others still arriving. He ignored them as he entered, his attention immediately caught by the large glass cabinets lining the walls of the well equipped training room. Each cabinet held a range of gunblades, different types and models on display, but it was the cabinet across to the entrance, furthest to the left that drew his gaze.

Hyperion, its design sleek and its metal black, retired in a glass case.

He remembered his conversation with Seifer and the blond's halfhearted replies. This was the place where Seifer stored his gunblades, and these were "the kids" he had mentioned. His students. Squall frowned as he walked past the cabinets, his gaze lingering absently on the different models on display. It was clear Seifer hadn't meant him to ever come here, to see this much of his life.

He came to a halt in front of Hyperion, the sight stirring up many old memories. It seemed wrong for such a fine blade to never see battle again, but he could understand the need for a new start. He brought up a finger to trace the scar across his forehead. The more recent memories of Hyperion were painful, so he focused on the good ones. The distant past of their training days had somehow gained sharpness after their spar—it had become real and exciting again, instead of something lost.

Seifer could still push him, drive him to be better and never quit. Mere hours ago he'd been despairing, and although his prospects as a SeeD hadn't necessarily improved, he didn't feel as powerless anymore after their spar. Even if his magic was gone forever, his body's strength wasn't. He would handle what would come next, because the blond wouldn't give him any choice.

When he heard the students' muted conversation die out abruptly, he took his gaze from Hyperion's cabinet to see Seifer enter the classroom. The moment the tall blond closed the doors behind him, the atmosphere in the room changed.

"You know the drill, guys. Get sweating!" Seifer ordered, moving to the center of the room as his students started a warm-up routine. He looked fresh and alert in spite of the intense spar they'd just had. His slightly ruffled hair and the slight cut visible just above his uniform's collar were the only tells.

Squall leaned back against a wall in the back and settled in for the rest of the class. When Seifer walked over to the boy who'd been somewhat halfhearted about his warm-up, Squall suppressed a quirk to his lips when the blond proceeded to loom over the boy and stare down at him until the boy was doing his warm-up at top speed, dripping with sweat.

As the blond moved around the room, Squall tried to look at the students through Seifer's eyes—the weak ones, the strong ones, the ones with potential, the lazy ones. He quickly picked them out himself, but he could do no more than that. He couldn't bond with students and find the right words they needed to hear. He wouldn't even be able to feign interest in their progress, let alone encourage them down the right path. But Seifer kept moving among his students, giving immediate incentive to pick up the pace where needed. None of his curt orders went ignored.

After ten minutes of watching his students exercise rigorously, Seifer walked back to the center of the room.

"Okay," he said as he looked from student to student. "Today we're going to look at different ways to trick your opponent into leaving their left side exposed." He turned to one student in particular, one of the less brawny ones, the kid appearing instantly uncomfortable at the attention.

"Brennan, get your ass in here," he said, pointing to where colored paint demarcated a central fighting area. "Everyone else, stand back."

As he walked the students through the different techniques, he gave Brennan the opportunity to show off some good defensive techniques, the boy's demeanor completely different when the demonstration was over.

"Okay, Matt and Devin, you have the floor," Seifer said, dismissing the first student without a word of praise. "Devin you're on the attack. Repeat the attack I just used on Brennan."

Squall stood quietly impressed. The kid named Brennan now stood among his peers with a straighter back, his hand firmer on his blade. He hadn't needed any praise, only the trust of his instructor not to fuck up. Confidence—it had also been the principal lesson of his spars with Seifer.

As the two new students put everything into the fight, Seifer commented from the sideline and made them repeat their mistakes to show the others more fully what went wrong and how to improve. When the two students started to get sloppy and out of breath, he called in another pair to take over. It was a good way to keep the tension up and have no one slink to the background as a lazy spectator. Everyone came up at least once.

But Squall knew that more than solid teaching methods, it was the command of the classroom that mattered most. Without respect, you were lost. Seeing how every pupil, even the least impressive of all, went out of their way to gain Seifer's regard was more than telling. Under the blond's watchful eye, there was no mocking of the kids who messed up, nor any prideful boasting. Somehow Seifer had transformed a bunch of loud, obnoxious kids into cadets—a little bit of mercenary discipline.

Caught up in the class, Squall didn't notice the newcomer until the man came walking his way. He frowned and kept his gaze ahead, hoping to dishearten Seifer's friend out of conversation, but no such luck.

"You two don't waste much time, do you?" Calder asked as he moved to stand next to him. At the odd remark, Squall glanced sideways to follow the man's gaze to the cut on his arm. Seifer had put it there after a risky move on his own part.

Ignoring the undue familiarity in the man's tone of voice, he returned his attention to Seifer's class. He didn't feel like small talk, the man's easy smile putting him on edge.

"I'm surprised to see you here. After how worried Seifer was, I didn't think he'd let you leave the apartment for at least a week. Maybe longer, considering how stubborn he can be." He met Squall's gaze, that irksome smile still in place. "Guess the urge to fight his old sparring partner won out."

Bristling, Squall looked away. More assumptions. Seifer allowed him to leave the apartment. Seifer caved into granting his discarded sparring partner a fight. "I fight or leave when I want to," he replied evenly, ignoring the glaringly obvious reason for his irritation.

A first crack appeared in Calder's affable expression, his smile stiffening. "Ah, I guess you've become immune to his ways over the years then."

Recognizing the awkward words for the save it was meant to be, Squall was unable to come up with a reply. This was exactly the sort of situation where Rinoa would have nudged an admonishing elbow into his side. At the unbidden thought, he fought the urge to frown.

"So, how long have you known Seifer?" Calder asked after a moment of stretching silence.

Perhaps answering an innocent enough question would get the man off his back. "For as long as I can remember."

"You know, he never told me he used to be a student at Garden. Until a couple of days ago I didn't know anything about his past at all... I guess you still live there? At one of the Gardens?"

Or perhaps not. Brow crinkling into a frown, he hummed in vague confirmation and kept his eyes ahead on the class. He didn't like questions about his whereabouts, his identity, anything that could make it into a tabloid.

"But you visit Esthar often?"

About to tell Calder he wasn't interested in small talk, Squall straightened from his perch against the wall when Seifer walked their way. The blond had better get him out of this unwanted socializing. He had no desire to befriend Seifer's friends.

"Hey, you up for showing these kiddies how it's done?" Seifer asked, coming to a halt in front of Squall and Calder. He'd noticed Squall's annoyance grow from the moment Calder had entered the room.

"What do you have in mind?" Squall had already done a few demos for cadets at the training camps in G-garden, but those had never involved a partner. There were Seifer's students to consider, their esteem of their instructor's ability, but he wouldn't be kept on the receiving end of the demonstration.

"Just a couple of minutes of sparring," Seifer said, eager at the prospect of fighting Squall so soon again. "I'll work in the offensive moves I taught them earlier and you deal with them the best you can, but apart from that, I want our usual game." He smirked, considering the more unpredictable side Squall had shown in their earlier spar, the side that no longer adhered to the rules. "You'll have to contain your wild urges and stay within the designated area though. Think you can handle that?"

"If you can handle witnesses," Squall replied easily, fully planning on delivering his usual game.

Seifer chuckled at the sharp reply—just like old time. "I'll signal the end of the spar by moving into my usual stance." He turned and walked back towards the center of the room. "Hey guys! Listen up! We've got a bona fide SeeD with us here today," he said, looking around the class before settling his gaze back on Squall. "That's right. First class too. Most likely the finest gunblader you'll ever see."

"Vargha, if you'd care to join me," he said, holding his hand out towards the centre of the room in invitation, grinning at the unimpressed glare that now graced Squall's features. "You've all just learned that if executed correctly, the moves I showed you will leave an opponent vulnerable." He moved into his fighting position at one end of the colored square. "Now watch this," he said as Squall entered the fighting area as well, immediately launching into an attack.

The next minutes rushed by in a blur of movement as they fought to come out on top. Integrating the moves Seifer had taught his students earlier into their spar seamlessly, Seifer tried to drag the spar out as long as possible, but it was over far too soon. Moving back into his fighting stance mid move, he didn't doubt for a moment that Squall would be able to stop his blade in time. Breathing heavily, he felt a soft touch as the edge of Revolver hovered against the fabric of his right thigh. He smiled. Everything had gone exactly according to plan.

Seifer turned to face his class. "On most gunbladers out there the moves you just learned will work. In order to win against the remaining few, you'll have to be in a class of your own. The only way to get there is to practice again and again and again." His words were spoken with passion. "Perfect your moves and only then learn how to outsmart the moves. Know how you can tweak them to your advantage." He looked from student to student. "Unless you're blind, you will have spotted how I altered the moves slightly but even so, Vargha here managed to deflect each one of them perfectly. That's your aim. Know the moves. Know how to read them. Know how to tweak them." He paused. "On Monday I expect to see your own variations on each of these moves. I expect you to be able to see them coming." He gestured around the room with the tip of Kronos. "Now pair up and get back to practice. Show me you aren't complete imbeciles."

As Seifer returned his attention to the class, it cost Squall some effort to keep his equilibrium and not betray the thrum of excitement he felt after the too short fight. Walking back to his previous spot, he ignored Calder and leaned back against the wall.

"Good fight," Calder commented, his tone less chipper than before. "You seem well matched."

Trying not to seem smug, Squall hummed in agreement as he placed Revolver beside him to rest against the wall. When Seifer sent him a quick smile before resuming his teaching, he couldn't help the slight tug at his lips in answer. There was little that beat the thrill of meeting Seifer in battle. Even just five minutes of sparring with Seifer was enough to leave him winded, and he'd loved every second of it.

"I guess he learned from the best," Calder said amicably, apparently still fishing for factoids of Seifer's past.

Squall snorted at the ridiculously flawed assumption. Seifer had always been the one ahead of him, showing him how to really fight, shaping him in ways no instructor had. But that was nothing he felt like sharing with a stranger.

The lack of an immediate follow-up question had Squall hopeful that the man would finally leave. A silence this strained would usually have scared off most people already.

"So hey, did Seifer give you a proper tour of this place yet?" Calder asked instead, having found his toothpaste-add smile again. "If not, I could give you one now... It'll be at least another half an hour before they finish up here and as much as he wants to, I doubt Seifer will be able to sneak in another spar."

Squall didn't have to consider the offer for long. He was fine where he was, observing the class and noting all the different facets to Seifer's methods. He'd recognized the influence of the only good instructor they'd ever had: Peyton, an old grouch of an instructor who was still teaching annual training camps at G-Garden. "I'm fine just watching."

"... All right. I'll go hit the gym then," the man said, pushing away from the wall. "It was good seeing you again."

Squall watched with relief as Calder finally left, briefly wondering at the platitudes of social interaction. He hardly believed it truly had been good to see him again. Squall surely could've done without seeing him.

Shoulders relaxing at the man's absence, he let himself be drawn in again by the class at hand. It was a peculiar exercise to try and imagine Seifer as these kids saw him—imposing and strict, yet approachable. Who would've thought the blond would make a fine authority figure.

The rest of the lesson passed quickly without any unwanted distractions, and soon the students filed out of the classroom, their gunblades held with trembling arms and with far less attitude than when they'd entered. To create a good soldier, you first had to break them, before you could mold them. Arrogance should only ever come with skill, a rule Seifer had stood by all his life.

Pushing away from the wall, Squall walked over to wait by the door as the last students left the classroom. A few stragglers had gathered around Seifer, asking some last pointers and advice, which the blond answered with surprising patience.

When they were finally alone, Squall felt that same thrill he always did when it was just the two of them, their gunblades in hand. He was tired, his condition taking its toll, but if Seifer would challenge him, he wouldn't be able to say no.

"You're good. Just as good as I remember," Seifer said, walking closer. "But tomorrow, as soon as I finish work, your ass is mine. No more ties."

Squall's eyebrow twitched upward at the overly cocky announcement, his hands itching to take up Revolver and continue their spar right then and there. Exhilarated for the first time in a long while, he simply agreed, "No more ties."

His smile broadening, Seifer turned and left the room. They both remained quiet as they walked back to the changing rooms. Inside the instructor's changing area, he punched in the code for his locker. Grabbing his bag, he walked over to the couple of benches inside the room.

Unable to help himself, he glanced at Squall as they began to undress. They were the only people in the room, yet the brunet's moves seemed measured—no signs of hesitance. Seifer knew they'd been in similar situations countless times before, but this time it would be different. He wouldn't be able to look at Squall without remembering what they'd done during their night of Avalanche.

Letting the rest of his uniform fall to the floor, he hooked his fingers under his boxers and added them to the pile of discarded clothing. Shower cream and towel in hand, he walked to the shower stalls, not waiting for Squall to follow. He let the water heat up before stepping under the spray of water and closing his eyes. The warmth provided a welcome relief to the tension in his sore muscles.

Not far away, he heard another shower being turned on.

Focusing on the flow of hot water, he brought up a hand to comb through his hair. Squeezing out some shower cream, he lathered himself up, but it wasn't long before his gaze traveled to the naked figure by his side.

Brown locks clung to pale skin as water cascaded down the brunet's body. Nothing was left to the imagination as he let his gaze drop to settle between Squall's thighs. When they had changed into their training clothes earlier, Squall's boxers had obscured his view, but now everything was on display… Remembering how Squall's cock had felt when he'd run his tongue against it little over a week ago, how he had swallowed the man's come—

"Pass the soap."

Seifer forced his gaze up and let out the breath he'd been holding. Squall's eyes were still closed. As the brunet wiped wet bangs away from his eyes, Seifer held out the soap.

"Here," he said, handing it over. He kept his gaze unfocused as Squall squeezed out some soap and handed back the bottle.

Returning to his own shower, lathering up once more, he stole a couple of covert glances of Squall. The brunet seemed completely engrossed in his shower.

As his eyes lowered to where Squall's hands were sliding across a firm stomach and pecs, he briefly considered offering to help out, but the likelihood of a broken jaw in return stayed his tongue. Turning slightly so he could eye up Squall's backside instead, he felt the beginnings of arousal. Fuck it, if Squall wasn't the sexiest man he'd ever seen. He'd been one lucky fucker to ram his cock in deep between those firm buttocks—to hear Squall moan in ecstasy.

As Squall washed away the last of the suds, the feeling of eyes on him didn't disappear. Glimpsing sideways, unable to shake the unsettling feeling, Squall froze. Green eyes, slightly narrowed, were fixed on his body in a far too thorough study. Just as quick as the heat that twisted deeper into his gut, Seifer's gaze darted back to meet his eyes, before he looked the other way altogether. As if nothing odd had occurred, the blond stood facing the spray of water.

Squall blinked the water from his eyes and snapped his head back to stare at the white, tiled wall. Going through the motions of showering, his thoughts raced. If not imagining things, he had to be reading too much into things. Seifer's jokes and teasing had simply made him overly sensitive, agitated. Green eyes could just as easily have fallen to the floor or the drain. He'd often offended people himself by his supposed "stare," when they'd been the ones to stray in his line of sight while he was lost to thought.

Your ass didn't stray into his line of sight, his mind provided helpfully. His frown deepened.

During his younger cadet years, the approach to unwanted attention had been straightforward; ridicule was ignored, attempts to get at him physically were met with resistance and fists. This belonged to neither of the locker room situations he was used to.

Overly aware of the blond's proximity, Squall nearly jumped when Seifer turned to him brusquely, his expression steely.

"Okay, so here's the deal. I can't guarantee what just happened won't happen again. In fact, I can more or less guarantee that it will. With you being hot and me being gay, there's just no way to avoid it. So, if it makes you feel uncomfortable or, I dunno," Seifer's eyes darted to the side briefly as he scratched his neck, "...disgusts you," his eyes met Squall's again, "we'll just have to take turns showering... or I can use the student showers."

The matter-of-fact tone to Seifer's voice didn't come close to matching Squall's shock. As if it was a mere practical problem of who showered where. Seifer was still watching him, expecting an answer no doubt, but he found himself incapable of stringing together a single thought.

"...You're gay," he repeated dumbly. "...But the Avalanche. I thought..."

At Squall's unfocused gaze and frown, Seifer grit his teeth. Of course Squall was oblivious enough to have missed the fucking telltale signs.

"Fuck," he let out under his breath and took a step away, turning his side to the man. This was beyond ridiculous. He'd just outed himself to Squall in the fucking showers. There was no way the man could be so dense. Running a hand through his hair, he steeled himself before turning back around. Squall stood as if in a daze, lost to his own thoughts. Seifer shook his head. "Come on, let's deal with this somewhere else."

Squall looked up at the terse command. Seifer's expression seemed strained as the blond switched off the shower and headed back into the locker room. Blinking as he took in his surroundings again, their state of undress and the inappropriateness of their choice of locale caught up with Squall fast. Only now again feeling the drum of water on his shoulders, he numbly turned off the water before following after Seifer. A few more minutes of awkward exposure and they'd be dressed again, clothes suddenly seeming like a barrier he desperately needed to just think.

As he finally shrugged on his jacket, he felt a little more in control and a little less like he was being taken hostage by the situation. The slam of Seifer's locker drew his eyes to the blond who was already rushing ahead.

...or, I dunno...disgusts you...

Squall frowned at the words replaying in his mind. Things would've been infinitely easier if disgust was what he felt. Picking up his gunblade case, Squall tried to sort through the chaos of his thoughts and feelings. He followed Seifer without a word, and when the blond stopped in the lobby to strike a deal with the receptionist for Squall's membership card, he studied Seifer's back in silence.

In spite of their night spent on Avalanche, Squall would never have guessed Seifer to be gay. In retrospect he supposed the suspicion should at least have surfaced at some point, but then again, he'd carefully avoided to scrutinize his own behavior that night as well. It didn't mesh with the image he'd always had of Seifer. Back at B-Garden that same broad back had drawn the appreciative gazes of most girls, if not all of them. Even though there hadn't been any room for talk of love interests within their rivalry, he'd been sure the blond hadn't let such popularity go to waste.

Maybe he hadn't.

Disturbingly clear memories instantly reminded him of Seifer's skill. He hadn't lingered on it much, on the readiness and certainty that had underlined Seifer's every move and touch. After all, he'd surprised himself with his own reactions, but... It seemed obvious now, the reason Seifer had been able to manipulate his body's responses so effortlessly.

When Seifer pushed away from the reception desk, Squall quickly smoothed out his expression and took the access card from the blond's hand with what he hoped was composure. This was not an appropriate time to dwell on the specifics of Seifer's touch. Outside, the crisp cold of the evening air helped soothe the heat he feared was now showing on his cheeks. He tried again, from the start.

Seifer is gay.

Was it ironic? Seifer had never been bothered by other cadets the way he had been. Tall and strong, the blond had been indisputably accepted as an alpha male among his peers. Masculine, while he had ended up with labels like "feminine" and "weak." He knew not to judge in terms like that. He didn't.

Slipping into the passenger's seat, Squall stole a covert glimpse of Seifer and reality started to sink in. Really sink in. Just how much of Seifer's actions had been prompted by Avalanche?

...With you being hot...

Squall frowned. He couldn't really bring himself to consider those words. The only two to have ever commented favorably on his looks were Rinoa and Matron, both women, and he hardly thought Matron calling him "a handsome young man" at the age of eight counted.

To think that Seifer might not have been completely adverse to sex with him to begin with caused his thoughts to stagger in denial. He'd naively assumed that the drug could account for temporary lack of concern with the gender of one's bedmate, obscuring sexual preferences and able to make anyone seem appealing. That had been the go-to theory, giving him an excuse not to examine his own responses to a man's touch. Now all that had changed.

The sudden ring of Seifer's cell phone interrupted his disturbing train of thought.

"Seifer," the blond's gruff voice called in what was supposed to pass for a greeting. So Seifer was angry.

"Nothing," the man continued, his voice not easing up. "Why are you calling?" Seifer's annoyance was palpable as he listened to the reply. "Look, I don't have time to talk right now. I have to go in to work tonight."

"I'll talk to you later." Not giving the caller a chance to prolong the conversation, Seifer hung up and appeared to forget the phone call the moment it ended. It seemed Squall wasn't the only one preoccupied with what had happened in the shower.

Fixing his gaze outside the window, he couldn't fathom how the problems troubling him had changed so drastically since the first time Seifer had brought him home to his apartment. It was as if they were unable to coexist without this tension, these miscommunications. Inwardly, Squall snorted at himself. How were they supposed to understand each other, if he couldn't even figure himself out?

He now had reason to believe that Avalanche wasn't potent enough to change sexual orientation. But that was it. For all he knew, it could still cause people to sleep with someone against their better judgment, or tastes. Then what are my tastes?Squall's mind drew a blank at the thought. He'd only ever slept with two people and he really didn't want to compare them right now. Besides, could he even base any conclusions on such diametrically opposed experiences? He doubted pitting Rinoa against an evening on Avalanche was fair. But the question wouldn't leave him alone. Am I gay? He tried to consider it, but if anything, he'd been convinced he was asexual—generally disinterested.

At the abrupt stop of the car, Squall was pulled from his thoughts and was greeted with the reflection of his own scowl in the window. Seifer was already out of the car, making his way to a take away restaurant right across the curb. Right then, the horrible thought occurred to him that maybe it was just Seifer that did it for him.

Never had he suppressed a current of thought so quickly and acutely. It simply wasn't an option. At the rising tension knotting his stomach, he decided he was through with pondering his sexual orientation. For the moment it was irrelevant. He wasn't in a relationship and probably wouldn't be in one for a long time to come. He didn't want to be in one, so generally disinterested suited him just fine. Problem solved.

When Seifer reappeared, Squall released the death grip he had on his jacket just in time for the blond to shove a couple of hot containers into his hands. The appetizing smells wafting up from the takeaway boxes reminded him of his empty stomach, but the continued tension between them took away any hope for a relaxed dinner. Just as much as he'd regretted Seifer needing to prioritize work over him earlier, he was grateful for it now.

He glanced sideways, only to be met with Seifer's profile. Fixing his own gaze on the windshield as well, Squall's discomfort took on a new edge. All unwelcome trains of thought rejected, there was nothing left to distract him from the strained silence in the car and the blond's grave expression. Somewhere during his own panicked thoughts, Seifer had gone from angry to dead serious. Squall's frown grew. He hadn't given any reply to the blond's question whether this was going to be a problem—not the most elegant of reactions.

Was this going to be a problem? He snuck another sideway glance, when his eyes fell on a box of takeaway set aside on the dashboard: Seifer's preemptive measure against another awkward meal, no doubt. He turned his gaze back to the by now familiar streets as they entered Seifer's neighborhood, and ignored his sudden misgivings. He wanted the time to himself.

Passing the parking lot by the lift access point, Seifer continued around the block and pulled into a parking space across his apartment building. Squall turned to look at him, but the blond was still favoring the street view over meeting his gaze.

"I'll go to work now," Seifer said, needing time to figure out what the hell had been going on inside Squall's head all this time. He'd acted on the assumption that Squall knew he was gay from the moment they'd had sex. That's why he'd so openly apologized the morning after and why he hadn't even thought twice about flirting with the man. The inappropriate comments had been his way of messing with Squall and making light of the situation.

"Here's my key." He placed the small piece of metal on the dashboard between them.

Squall only now finding out the truth changed everything. Seifer had thought he'd already been forgiven for what had happened, but this would put their night together into a whole new perspective for the brunet. Squall would think he'd offered the man Avalanche purely because of his own selfish reasons. Squall would be disgusted.

"I won't blame you if you leave," he said as he kept his gaze fixed on the empty street outside.

Squall blinked in surprise. The single box of takeaway and Seifer's early retreat to his job started to take on a new meaning: a bow-out. Squall's mood darkened at the assumptions that must have led Seifer to this train of thought. He was not as small-minded as to be unable to share a roof with a gay man, but then he remembered he'd said nothing to that effect after Seifer's confession.

"I'm not leaving."

At the words the rigid set to Seifer's shoulders eased up. He didn't know why Squall would want to stay with him or how Squall could forgive him for what had happened, but he'd accepted it the first time around so he'd accept it again.

"Okay," he said, meeting Squall's gaze briefly. "For what it's worth, I really didn't think us taking Avalanche together would end up like it did." He paused. "I know I shouldn't have offered you Avalanche in the first place, but I thought after everything that had happened there'd be no way you would..." he trailed off, unable to actually say the actual words. "I didn't think the drugs could even do that." He looked out the side window, some of his annoyance with himself slipping into his voice. "And I really thought I'd be able to help myself. I really fucking tried," he added lowly.

"I—" At a loss for words, Squall turned to face the windshield. "…What happened, happened," he said, not sure what he even meant by the words. Apparently he still didn't understand just what exactly had happened.

Watching Squall's averted gaze, Seifer held back a sigh. He knew it wasn't the most pleasant of topics and Squall's discomfort was clear. At least the man seemed to want to look past it all.

"So we're fine?" he asked, hoping to return to a more relaxed atmosphere between them. He wanted to get back to him not having to tiptoe around his sexuality and it not being a big fucking deal—to how he'd wanted things to be between them in the first place.

"...Yes," Squall found himself saying. It seemed a small offering amidst all the tension and awkward moments, but he needed this confirmation. If he could deal with the war, then he could deal with this, one way or the other.

"Okay," Seifer said with a nod. "I should get going. I'll give you a call when I get back, so you can let me in," he added, not caring to prolong their conversation. Some time apart would hopefully relieve some of the tension between them.

Squall gave a slight nod. Balancing three boxes of takeaway food in one arm, he got out of the car and retrieved his things from the backseat.

"See you, Squall," the blond said as he closed the car door and drove off, leaving Squall more out of his depth than ever.

[Seifer Almasy's Apartment, Zayin House, Thursday, 23rd of October, 00:26 am]

Squall sighed and leaned away from his laptop. He nudged his work glasses up to rub at the bridge of his nose, his eyes stinging from all the fruitless staring at his screen. In dire need of distraction, he'd resorted to his backlog of administrative work, but he'd had little success in the way of putting Seifer out of his mind and even less in getting anything useful done.

As expected, his inbox had been swamped with "urgent" mails, more than half of them sent and forwarded by a very displeased Quistis. He'd plowed through the most important stuff, but his mood had quickly worsened as he'd had to reassign his own upcoming missions to other operatives, while still having to confirm his attendance at the next meeting concerning Esthar Garden. Diplomatic nonsense like that was only barely palatable when balanced out with the thrill of missions. The prospect of sparring and training with Seifer was the only thing that had kept his mood from plummeting completely.

Closing down his mail box and several sensitive SeeD files, he got up from the couch and started to clear the remainders of his takeaway meal from the coffee table. He'd had little appetite. Placing the unfinished containers into the fridge, he made quick work of washing the utensils and leaned back against the sink in thought.

He had no hope of getting any true work done, his mind constantly wandering. Considering the next day, he didn't know what to expect of the proposed "training." After the tests at the lab, he didn't feel very hopeful about quick results. The meds would have to be potent, if they were to fend off the worst of his symptoms. Merely a few spells into Odine's examination and he'd been worse off than when first learning magic. And that had been just him. Was it even advisable for Seifer to try without having been tested first? What if something happened and he would be too incapacitated to help the man?

He shook his head at how his thoughts kept returning to the blond. He was tired, his mind dulled and medicated to keep the migraines at bay. He didn't feel like resuming his administrative work at all. Had Seifer indicated a time of his return? Taking his cell phone from his pocket to check the hour, he noticed he'd received several missed calls and two texts from Rinoa.

- Message from Rinoa / 20:23 pm / Just off the phone with L. He explained about the tests and the treatment. I didn't like what he told me about the junction test. Be careful and let me know how things go, okay? Don't train alone. It's good you took Seifer along. L already likes him. -

- Message from Rinoa / 20:26 pm / And have that dinner with L. He came through for you today.

Squall scowled at his cell phone, before pressing the texts away. Loire wasn't his main problem—not after Seifer's confession. Just as before his mind was stuck in a loop, once again returning to what the blond had said. He knew he was missing vital information to come to any conclusions; even Seifer had seemed unsure.

I didn't think the drugs could even do that.

Sitting back down on the couch, he placed his hands on the keyboard of his laptop. A simple search for the drug Avalanche quickly flooded his screen with countless encyclopedic sites, forums, and dodgy seeming reviews on experimental drug usage.

Having browsed several of the most promising sites, he found no conclusive evidence that Avalanche could distort sexual orientation. More so, the effects listed on most sites seemed disturbingly consistent with his experience. He skimmed the list for the umpteenth time, the sinking feeling in his gut worsening with each read.

Some of the effects—such as diminished fear, euphoria or increased self-acceptance—were acceptable enough, but there were other, less innocent items listed.

Feelings of intimacy and even love for others. He'd thought the emotions he'd felt—the warmth and sense of belonging—were a travesty brought on by the drugs. This item on the list seemed to say he was right. But… If it was only the drugs, then those feelings were supposed to pass. In spite of their strained interaction, he found himself wanting to be around Seifer. He cared about Seifer, at least as much as he cared about Rinoa. What he'd felt on Avalanche certainly eclipsed what now seemed like half hearted sentiment for the girl.

An intensification of perception, particularly tactile sensation or touch, as well as hearing and vision. Every touch had been intense, the sight of Seifer naked and the sounds of his pleasure etched into Squall's memory. If that had just been the drugs, then why didn't he trust himself to really look at Seifer anymore? At the SCTA's showers, he had carefully kept his gaze at point blank, afraid of his own reactions in case he'd linger too long on the sight of Seifer naked. And in bed that morning he hadn't disliked the body heat emanating from the blond's body, or the soft sounds of his breathing.

Stimulation, arousal, and hypersexuality. Squall's frown deepened at that one. He still felt a thrill, a heightening of awareness, whenever Seifer stepped into the room…

Aphrodisiac effects. His eyes lingered on the tail-end of the list. Seifer had known this, but hadn't expected the outcome with someone he'd considered straight. And clearly the blond had experience.

Squall shut his laptop abruptly, disinclined to parse through yet another site that would tell him the exact same thing. Everything seemed to point in the direction of Avalanche enhancing experiences—not twisting them. It didn't say anywhere that the aftereffects lingered longer than a day. It was a week after the facts now.

It seemed that somehow his night with Seifer had affected him beyond Avalanche's capability. It had triggered something in him that he had no control over, which was more than alarming.

Squall slumped back in the couch, his heart tight in his throat. Nothing could come of these errant feelings, it had to pass. It would pass. He was confusing his contentedness to have Seifer back in his life with attraction. His body was merely remembering the pleasure of Avalanche, inappropriately so, and his mind was aching for someone to take Rinoa's place. That had to be why he was feeling this way.

It wasn't what he wanted. All he wanted was for things to go back to the way they used to be, to a time when difficult decisions amounted to nothing more than taking Seifer up on a challenge or not. To a time when he didn't need anybody.

He wouldn't let it affect him any longer. Whatever Seifer professed to—sexual orientation or otherwise—it had no bearing on him. They would proceed as training partners, and perhaps they could even become friends, but never again would he let someone so dangerously close as to let them have such power over him.

Mind made up, Squall laid back in the couch. The weight of the day came crashing down on him, every moment of stress and uncertainty paid for in tense muscles and a bone deep tiredness. He placed his reading glasses next to his laptop, and stretched out the kinks. He'd rest his eyes for a little while, until Seifer came back. No point in getting too comfortable when he'd still have to let the blond in. He wouldn't think beyond that moment for now.

[Seifer Almasy's Apartment, Zayin House, Thursday, 23rd of October, 03:22 am]

Seifer looked up at the building as he crossed the road. His eyes quickly found his bedroom window, but no lights were on. Squall hadn't said much before he'd left for work but it had been enough to know that the brunet wanted to stay, regardless of the lack of any real reaction to what Seifer had said in the shower.

He didn't know which conclusions Squall had come to. Only one thing was certain: everything was out in the open now. Squall knew how he felt about the war and that he wasn't a true fighter anymore. Squall also knew how fucked up his magic was, that he was gay, and that he used drugs to let loose. Nothing could come as a surprise anymore and the man just had to deal with it or get the fuck out. If Squall were to look down on him because of his sexuality or habits, then he'd tell the man where to shove it. The brunet didn't have much ground to stand on either with how quickly he'd succumbed to an all out gay fest after a single pill of Avalanche.

Watching the number on the display slowly increase, he waited for the lift to reach his floor while Squall's words repeated in his mind. ...But the Avalanche. I thought...

It meant Squall thought Avalanche had been enough to cause him to have sex with the brunet even though Squall thought Seifer was straight. An exact mirror of what he'd thought about Squall. If the brunet was straight then it made perfect sense to believe that to be the truth—it would explain the man's obliviousness.

But… he'd assumed the same about Squall even though he wasn't straight himself at all. And out of all the nights he'd been on Avalanche, no woman had ever managed to seduce him—and not for lack of trying. The thought of playing with breasts and pussies had remained just as repulsive to him then as it was when his head was clear. He frowned. Maybe Squall wasn't so innocent after all. Maybe he shouldn't have jumped to his own conclusions so quickly.

Standing in front of his door, he got out his phone and brought up the man's number.

"Hey," he said as a click signalled the line being picked up. "I'm just outside." Only receiving an acknowledging hum in reply, he hung up again. After a few moments, he heard Squall undo the lock and watched as the door opened. This should be interesting.

Stepping aside to let the blond in, Squall took in Seifer's grimy state with a raised eyebrow. The man looked as tired as he felt, his face dirtied with smudges of soot. Watching as the blond walked up to the kitchen counter to set down Kronos, he tried not to dwell on the scent of sweat that lingered in the blond's path or its effect on him.

Letting out a sigh, Squall tore his gaze away before the man would notice and returned to the couch. His mind was still fuzzy from sleep, half-remembered dream images of the blond luckily ebbing away.

Seifer's eyes drifted to the coffee table as he took off his jacket. A pair of glasses were lying next to a laptop with Garden's logo on it. "You been up late?"

Squall brought up a kneading hand to where his glasses had pressed into the bridge of his nose. "Catching up on work."

Unable to properly imagine Squall wearing glasses, Seifer walked over to join the brunet on the couch. The man seemed completely unruffled by their earlier conversation—back to his old self, apart from the visible tiredness.

"I finished the dagger I've been working on," he said at the lack of anything else coming to mind. He leaned farther back, relaxing into the cushions. "...You still up for practicing tomorrow morning?"

"If you have the time."

"Like I said, I don't have to be in until ten," Seifer said with a shrug. "If we get up at seven-thirty, we should have plenty of time." The prospect filled him with both excitement and trepidation. "We've managed worse."

Squall hummed in agreement, casting the blond a sideways glance as he got up and stored away his glasses and laptop. "Is the warehouse nearby?"

"15 minutes drive away," Seifer supplied easily, but then regarded Squall closely. "Guess we should be heading to bed."

Squall's eyes flicked to the bedroom, but he quickly looked back, aware of Seifer's scrutiny. He hadn't even considered the sleeping arrangements. The thought of joining Seifer in bed seemed far too intimate—nothing like the mere practical convenience Seifer made it out to be.

At the lack of reaction, the brunet stuck in place, Seifer nodded in the direction of the bedroom. "Scared?"

Reflexively irked at the implication he was a coward, Squall met Seifer's even gaze. "Should I be?"

Seifer huffed. "As far as I know being gay isn't contagious."

Aware the blond was testing him, Squall wasn't certain how to reassure the man without revealing his true reasons for avoiding the bed. "I don't care about that," he replied, hoping Seifer wouldn't call his bluff. "I was sick last night. I'm not now. I can take the couch."

"If you don't care, then there's no reason to break your back," Seifer retorted.

Squall groaned inwardly at the blond's obstinacy. "I've slept in worse places."

"Don't be a dick, Squall. I'm offering to share my bed here," Seifer said, pushing forward in his seat. "Believe me, I know what the couch is like."

Backed into a corner, Squall could no longer refuse without seeming like a blatant homophobe. "Fine."

Having won that round, Seifer got up and walked to the kitchen. "Want a shot of something before heading to bed?"

Squall raised an eyebrow, not about to imbibe right before joining the blond in bed. Even now, the taste and scent of Galbadian Bluewhistle reminded him of sex. He nodded at the brown bag of meds, from which he'd already taken his first helping.

"Better not."

Humming in agreement, Seifer helped himself to a large shot of one of his older whiskeys. He wasn't completely done with Squall yet. The man might have agreed to share a bed with him and thereby showed that he didn't have a problem with Seifer's sexuality, but that didn't mean the topic was closed. He had a question for Squall that he needed answered and the only way to get it was to give the man something in return. "You got any questions for me?" he asked, making an offer he'd never granted anyone else.

Squall frowned, uneasy at the thought of talking about any of it. "It's not my business."

"... Can I ask you something?" Seifer asked when Squall didn't take the bait.

"Within reason," Squall replied cautiously.

"It's not." Seifer poured himself another shot. "If you answer, I'll answer any of your questions—your business or not."

"Quit the sales pitch, Seifer. I don't need to know anything, and neither do you."

"You're such a killjoy, you know that?" Seifer said with a shake of his head. He couldn't believe there wasn't anything Squall wanted to know after finding out he was gay. If it had been the other way around, the questions would never have ceased, but apparently merely the fear of what Seifer might want to know in return was enough to scare the brunet off. "I'm just curious. What's the harm in telling me something?"

Squall rolled his eyes at the blond feigning harmlessness. "You already know more than enough about my private life."

"Alright, suit yourself," Seifer said, placing his empty shot glass on the counter. "All I wanted to know was whether or not you've had sex with other men."

Squall's mind ground to a halt at the bluntness of Seifer's words. "Why does that matter?" he said tersely, fearing the blond's conclusions either way. "Would it stroke your ego to hear me say no?"

"Perhaps," Seifer admitted, annoyed Squall's reaction hadn't given anything away. "I'm just trying to figure out what happened."

"How about we try to forget what happened," Squall suggested, cringing inwardly. Seifer meant he was trying to figure out why Squall had given in, and he wasn't about to tell the man. Wanting the evening and the discussion to end, he walked towards the bedroom.

Following Squall into the other room, Seifer watched the man closely. Trying to get the answer from Squall was a dead end and attempting to read the man wasn't helping much either. "Sure," he agreed reluctantly, deciding on another approach.

As Seifer started to casually undress a little distance away from him, after the day they'd just had, Squall felt ready to admit defeat and go stay with Loire. With all the self-control he could muster, he feigned composure and started to undress as well. One methodical move after the other, he got down to just his boxers and one of Seifer's shirts, as if nudity around the blond didn't matter. He fixed his eyes on his task and nothing else, not about to risk a repeat of the locker room incident.

With no reaction from Squall whatsoever to his impromptu strip down, Seifer got out a white t-shirt and walked into the bathroom. Deflated at not even catching a single glimpse sent his way, he finished his bedtime ritual in record time. His assumption of Squall being straight seemed the most likely at this point.

Back in the other room, Squall strode past him and entered the bathroom instead. Turning off the lights, he walked over to the bed and got in. Maybe it would be a bit weird to share after all. It'd probably mean he'd spend the first hour or two fantasizing about what they could be doing in bed instead of sleeping and even with the meagre amount of of blue light spilling in from the world outside, Squall would easily be able to see his excitement if he got carried away.

Forcing his mind into a blank when the door to the bathroom opened again, Seifer turned to lie on his side. "I've set the alarm," he said and closed his eyes, shutting the brunet out.

Humming his acknowledgment, Squall moved to settle in on the other side of the bed. It was beyond strange. At least the previous night he'd been too out of his mind to be aware of his bed partner most of the time. Now his actions had gained a feel of premeditation, as if his subconscious was hoping for more and was trying to trick him, regardless of his wishes or decisions.

Suppressing a sigh, he turned his back to Seifer and tried to get comfortable. The task seemed impossible, the warmth of the blond's body already seeping into the covers and spreading to Squall's side of the bed. Forcing his eyes closed, he wondered if perhaps he should've accepted that drink after all, side effects be damned.

Morning could not come soon enough.


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