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 Three - Improbable Odds ~



[Seifer Almasy's Apartment, Zayin House, Thursday, 16th of October, 12:52 am]

Back in his shower after a long evening of working with Arc, Seifer was getting rid of the smell of the workshop. Already thinking ahead to what he'd be doing back in bed with Calder just a few hours later, he thoroughly scrubbed down his skin. While a few men probably liked the scents of oil and metal, he knew Calder wasn't one of them.

Slicking his hair back into its usual style, he looked at himself in the mirror. His old choker was missing, the thing lost at some point during the war. Relieved he'd been able to keep in shape whilst on the road, he eyed the black tattoo of a cross sword that lined his right upper arm. It was one of the many marks on his body that still reminded him of the time before he'd come to Esthar, but at least that one had been of his own choosing.

Stopping his mind from venturing further along the downwards slope it was heading on, Seifer put on some aftershave and walked back into the bedroom. Grabbing a pair of black boxer briefs, he got dressed and put on some black pants and a matching shirt. Leaving the top buttons of the shirt undone, he ran a hand through his hair, the habit impossible to break.

Hair slightly mussed, he grabbed his cell phone from on top of his dresser and eyed the time before cursing under his breath. It was already five past one. He was going to be late. He didn't want to drive to Pulse and the walk usually took twenty minutes on its own. Add another five or so minutes to buy the Avalanche and make it to the Nexus and he knew he was screwed. Calder would not be in an accommodating mood after having waited around that long. Or maybe he would, considering the extra time it gave the man to drink. Sliding his phone open, Seifer tried reaching the guy, but was met with the man's voice mail. Leaving a message that said he'd be late, Seifer hurried out the door.

Seventeen minutes later he was waiting in line outside Pulse where he usually bought his Avalanche. Shivering, he couldn't wait to get inside, warm up a bit, and get the purchase over and done with. He'd forgotten how cold it was during autumn in Esthar, and the warm sun that had been out during the afternoon had not helped his memory one bit.

Finally making his way into the night club, Seifer ran a hand through his newly cut blond locks once more. He had been back in Esthar for less than a day, but impatience filled him as he scoured the crowd. As a teenager he had been too distracted to consider sex, the harsh guidelines at Garden not helping matters much. The few sexual experiences he'd ended up having hadn't left him wanting more and as such he'd forgotten about the whole ordeal until well after the war, more concerned about excelling and being the absolute best during his time as a cadet. Upon his reacquaintance with sex and coming to terms with his own sexuality, it had become somewhat of an addiction, however.

When he was at home in Esthar, not many nights went by where he was alone in bed. Usually he'd fuck Calder until neither of them could stand, but they weren't exclusive and it wasn't unheard of that they went out on the prowl together. That and he wouldn't say no to a quick fuck or blow job if someone came on to him. Life was just too short not to take advantage of such things. His trips out of Esthar were the exception, and thus he was way beyond his limit that night, three weeks of self imposed celibacy proving almost unbearable.

Going from freezing to almost too hot in the span of a minute as he made it inside, he quickly felt perspiration settle against his skin. It was dark in the club, the hot air stifling and the warm bodies around him almost overpowering in their intensity. He knew he should have had a drink before he left his apartment. Clubs were okay but never until he had some alcohol in his system.

As he pushed himself through the crowd, his eyes on the alert for his supplier, the outline of someone else, someone infinitely more familiar, registered out of the corner of his eyes. The determined grace to the man's moves brought his mind back to a place in the past and within a split second his eyes were glued to the man, the brunet only a short distance away stealing all of his attention, any and all other plans immediately forgotten.

Unable to believe his own eyes, Seifer stood stock still in his path and watched as the man roughly made his way through the crowd, the guy scanning the people around him as if he was looking for someone. The brunet looked to be in a foul mood, his brows furrowed and movements rigid as he elbowed his way through the crowd. A pair of dark gray denim pants hung low against the man's waist and a plain white tee clung to his firm upper body. The somewhat normal outfit made him stand out from the rest of the crowd, giving all the more credence to it being the Squall Leonhart, pansyboy and ice prince extraordinaire, that walked past him in a busy club in Esthar.

A strange sensation grew in Seifer's chest as he noted the man's slightly longer brown locks. Unable to pinpoint the feeling as either excitement or apprehension, he studied effeminate features, the younger man as pale as ever. Brought back to a time filled with regrets, Seifer's mind was quickly spinning out of control, bombarded with thoughts of the past. Entirely unprepared for ever running into the other man again, he was stuck in place, speechless, his eyes widening in surprise. However many times he had recalled the imagery of the man before him in the past, it was shocking how little justice those fleeting memories did to the striking reality. If there had ever been such a thing as perfection, Squall was certainly it.

As his mind returned farther back in time, back to a time before sorceresses and wars, to the countless nights he'd spent trying to outdo the brunet in all aspects and put the younger man in his place, an upwards tug pulled at the corner of his mouth. Soon, a fully fledged smirk graced his lips as a particularly fond memory played back in his mind. Keeping his gaze trained on Squall, unwilling and wholly unable to tear his eyes away, he could do nothing but watch.

Tired and worried, Squall's frustration quickly mounted at not finding Rinoa. Upon receiving the text from Rinoa saying she was at a club in the Tiamat district, he had driven there like a madman. He still couldn't help but worry if something had gone wrong after her appointment with Odine, even if her being at a club meant it was much more likely she'd just be drunk. He'd never forgive himself if something happened to her because of his neglect. Much preferring to nurse the girl through a particularly bad hangover to the other alternatives that played through his mind, he strongly hoped drunk would indeed be the case and that this would be the club where he'd find her.

'Hurry.'

The word that had ended Rinoa's last text message had wrapped around his brain with unforgiving urgency. She needed him. The heavy brick sitting in the pit of his stomach wouldn't go away until he had his sorceress with him, safe and unharmed. Pulse racing with an all too familiar kind of worry, reminiscent of the time just before their move to Esthar, Squall's frustration soon reached its boiling point. Angry at the dancing mass obstructing his path and angry at Rinoa for not leaving him any clearer location, Squall felt the last of his patience slipping away. He had already looked through one club without finding her.

As he roughly elbowed his way through sweating bodies with renewed vigor, he suddenly sensed intense eyes fixed on him, watching him. Noticing someone had stopped dead in his tracks in his peripheral vision, Squall turned to meet the other with a dissuading glare and found himself staring into vibrant green eyes.

Seifer. It was undeniably Seifer standing there, sizing him up. Utterly unprepared, Squall froze in place. Having found no resolution to what had happened during the war, the mere mention of the ex-knight's name at an unguarded moment was enough to send his chest clenching. The actual sight of his childhood rival, the man very real and just a few meters away, was far worse. Thoughts of Rinoa were effectively disrupted as Squall stood transfixed, his mind refusing to grapple with the highly unlikely encounter. Any past plans or notions on what he'd do when offered the chance to confront Seifer bled from him as his eyes raked the tall form in front of him. He didn't feel the expected rage or even relief. His legs wouldn't move. His hands didn't clench into fists. Instead Squall found himself cataloguing away every single change in the tall blond with a detached sort of attention for detail. Anything to keep his mind from derailing.

Apart from a deeper tan, the ex-knight hadn't changed much, his broad shoulders and muscled arms filling out his black dress shirt a telltale sign he hadn't let his shape slip in the slightest. Upon registering the absence of a gray trench coat, silver choker, and Hyperion, Squall couldn't help but find the resulting look strangely disparate from the image residing in his memory, but it seemed the essence had remained the same. The older man was as impressive as ever: his short blond hair slicked back, pose arrogant, green eyes intense, and that smirk. Pulled back in time, the sight reminded him of a simpler life, a time before that smirk changed into a dangerous grin, insane and void of mercy. Seeing Seifer looking so much like he used to caused painful regret to well up inside Squall--regret that he hadn't been able to stop things from going the way they had during the war and regret that he'd lost his sparring partner without ever knowing why.

The moment ended abruptly when he was pulled from his stupor by the incessant vibrating of his cell phone. Instantly remembering Rinoa and his purpose there, Squall forced his gaze away from Seifer to fish his cell out of his pocket. Worry setting back in, he gratefully took the sudden distraction for the saving grace that it was and quickly picked up, pale hands clamped over his ears in an attempt to block out the loud music.

At hearing Rinoa's indistinct voice, unable to make out much of her drunk bawling with the loud background noise, an angry frown returned to his brow. So drunk it is then. Far from being an isolated incident, the girl was putting his nerves to the test yet again. Catching a slurred "upstairs" from the string of unintelligible words, Squall remembered the set of stairs he passed on his way in.

Seifer would have to wait, he decided, ignoring the emotions surging inside him at encountering the blond. His sorceress would always be his priority, no matter what. Detaching himself from a possibly disastrous situation to tackle a merely stressful one, he spared Seifer one last glance before he abruptly turned his back to the blond and started walking in the other direction, phone still held to his ear in the hopes of getting more useful input out of the drunk woman. Concern driving him further, he didn't stop to consider the fact that he had stopped breathing for long seconds, the pressure lifting off his chest with every distancing step he took away from the ex-knight.

Only a few things could get Seifer's temper to flare within a split second--well, maybe not a few but quite a few--but one of them was without doubt, hands down, being ignored by pansyboy. Never in his wildest imagination had he predicted a chance encounter between them to play out like that. It had been anticlimactic to say the least. He would have preferred some kind of reaction, any kind of reaction, to Squall just utterly ignoring him. Hands clenched and mood impossibly dark, he swore under his breath as he stalked after the younger man. Speeding up, he got close enough to grab hold of one of Squall's shoulders. Strengthening his grip and stopping in place, he forced the younger man to turn around on the spot and face him.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" he spat angrily before he could help himself, eyes narrowed in venom.

Quelling his annoyance at the taller man pinning him in place, Squall fought the instinctual urge to strike back in retaliation. Slowly he lowered the hand holding the phone, ignoring the almost painful hold on his shoulder whilst steeling himself. With an inward curse at the horribly timed confrontation, he glared at the tall blond towering over him and pulled back slightly in distaste at the overwhelming smell of heavy aftershave surrounding the other man. The only scents he had ever associated with the man were those of metal, gunpowder, and sweat. And later blood. Hyne, he wasn't ready for this. He did not have time for this.

At Squall's distancing move and annoyed expression, Seifer felt the last of his composure faltering. He couldn't believe the brunet's nerve, that Squall wanted to simply ignore him after everything that had happened. What he'd done to Squall and the rest of the world during the war had been atrocious, not something to be discounted with the shrug of a shoulder. Or was that Squall's point, that he just couldn't care less about some inconsequential shit like Seifer? That he was just some measly, worthless piece of trash undeserving of the great Commander's attention? Regardless of the other man's reasoning, Seifer felt himself dangerously close to losing control, already imagining sending a fist connecting with pretty boy's face.

"Two fucking years and you just walk away?" he managed in blind fury, absolutely incredulous at the younger man's behavior.

Nearly flinching at the biting words, Squall realized Seifer wasn't planning on letting him go any time soon. A quick downward glance at the cold blue glow of his cell phone told him the call hadn't disconnected yet, his attention torn between his distraught sorceress on the other side of the connection and the man he had wanted to face ever since the war.

Clenching his free hand into a hard fist, Seifer knew it was only a matter of seconds before his self-control would take a dangerous turn for the worse. He knew outright assaulting Squall in the middle of the club was not the way to go, was far from the apology he'd always planned to make if he'd ever cross paths with the man, but Squall was pushing all the right buttons, each and every one of the man's moves making Seifer's already limited amount of self-restraint become next to void.

Pale features growing exasperated, Squall looked back up to meet Seifer's eyes, a sense of urgency present in gray-blue. He needed to find Rinoa, not drown in the past. Smothering the flare of emotion at having Seifer so close, he barely maintained an indifferent demeanor. "Not now, Almasy," he stated coldly, before he twisted out of Seifer's hold and made a beeline for the large set of stairs that led to the upper level of the club. With every purposeful stride, he tried hard to push away thoughts of the blond inhabiting his darker dreams, firmly focusing on his sorceress instead and vaguely imagining he could feel a slow trickle of her energy bleeding into their blurred bond.

Seething, Seifer stood rooted in place. Watching as Squall moved through the crowd, away from him, his clenched fists tightened, his grip becoming almost painful. His eyes were mere slits, his jaws clenched, his teeth gritted, and his posture rigid. He wanted nothing more than to stalk after the man, but he knew if he did, blood would spill. There was a moment of indecision, a moment where his body almost decided for him as it moved half a step in the other man's direction before he could stop it. How sweet it would feel to throw the other to the ground and let his fists do the talking.

Taking a deep breath, he forced his mind to still, forced his eyes away, but his anger didn't abate. He couldn't believe what had just happened. He couldn't believe Squall had just treated him with such disregard. Why the hell hadn't he punched Squall like he should have?

The poisonous yellow eyes of his mistress flashed before his eyes. The red of open wounds he'd caused on his teenage sparring partner and rival when they had been locked in a deadly battle. Their last battle. Throwing Squall against the harsh gray wall of a prison cell. Watching as the other's body convulsed in seizure under the hands of his torture.

It hurt. The memories of the war hurt, the passage of time not having dulled them in the least. They remained sharp and bitter; filled him with regret. What he had done had been inexcusable.

The anger slowly simmered away. He decided he would get what he had come for. He would find his dealer and then he would wait for Squall. There was no way he could leave with the knowledge that Squall was close by. He had to apologize for what he had done. Squall would just have to listen. Somehow he'd make him listen.

Relieved when he no longer felt the blond's looming presence, having been successful in deterring the man from his pursuit, Squall gratefully left the mass of dancing people behind him and managed to reach the flight of stairs. The feel of sweating bodies rubbing against him as he pushed past them left him repulsed and on edge. Everything about the place did: the pungent smells and stale smoke hanging in the humid air; the intoxicated people shamelessly grinding into each other; the appreciating glances brushing over his body. All of it made him want to get it over with as fast as possible. Why on earth did Rinoa like to frequent places like this? His steps faltered slightly as he started climbing upstairs. Why was he in this kind of place?

His gaze was drawn back to where the tall and fuming blond had been standing. Observing Seifer's trek across the dance floor towards a smartly dressed man, Seifer's expression no longer one of blind fury, Squall squinted to better make out the figure beckoning the blond, but before he could ponder his unprompted curiosity or reluctance to leave, renewed worry for Rinoa demanded his attention. Tearing his eyes away from the ex-knight, he briskly turned around with a growing scowl in place and continued his way up the stairs, hoping against hope that his retrieval of the drunk girl would go more smoothly than the rest of his day had.

Once upstairs, Squall's eyes immediately singled out the person he had been looking for, the sight temporarily dispelling all other thought. Pocketing his cell phone, he let out an unsteady sigh of relief, some of the tension that had built up in his muscles and crept into his posture starting to drain from him at finally locating his sorceress. With great effort he reined in the powerful urge to storm over to where she was sitting, instead keeping his steps short and measured as he wove a path through the crowd. The last thing he wanted was to draw unnecessary attention to himself.

Determinedly, he kept his eyes trained on Rinoa as he made his way over to her, the girl seemingly dazed and slumped down on one of the lounge chairs lining the farthest wall. She was unharmed as far as he could tell, her eyes a normal color and staring off into the distance as she clutched her cell phone. She seemed calm enough, no sign of powerful magic crackling in the air, the dried tear tracks running down her cheeks the only trace of her previous distress.

Relieved that his mad hunt was finally over, Squall didn't immediately notice the dark skinned man seated next to her, the man's arm draped intimately across her frail shoulders. Nearing the other side of the large room, bodies moving out of the way and clearing his view, Squall's unsuspecting gaze fell to the close press of the man's chest against the unresponsive girl's side. The man's tongue daringly traced the outline of her ear and nibbled at her playfully, whilst a coaxing hand urged her to get up from the chair.

Blinking just a few times, taking in the scene before him, Squall immediately felt his anger rise. Not that he didn't have a general idea of what Rinoa was up to when she left the apartment and stayed out for the night. What she did with whom was none of his business. Not after she broke up with him, he tersely told himself, almost believing he didn't care about his ex-girlfriend's promiscuity. But this. This was something different entirely. Mad with worry, he had driven across town, only to find her utterly drunk with some undeserving prick draped all over her. She had involved him in her nighttime outings, when he wanted no part of it. Being shitfaced when out partying didn't usually prompt her to call him in for assistance, a taxi just as able to get her home in one piece. Anger rising at her astounding lack of consideration, Squall cracked under the strain of all the emotions laying siege to his already tired mind.

Did she want him to see her flirting with men like that? And whatthe helldid the guy think he was doing, taking advantage of a drunk woman in such a way. She wasn't in her right mind. She needed the guy to get his hands off of her. Protective instincts kicking in, he sped up his steps with determined calculation and made for the couple sitting next to each other far too comfortably, before he pulled his sorceress out of the man's loose embrace.

"We're going," he bit out tersely, immediately turning around and dragging her along.

Starting from her daze at the rough treatment, Rinoa looked at him in confusion. Mindlessly she let herself be pulled across the room, before brown eyes widened, the young woman suddenly bursting into a fit of anger. "Let me go!"

Trying to free her arm from his iron grip, she kept cursing at him, the reek of alcohol on her breath making Squall's nose wrinkle in revulsion. People were starting to look up from their drinks, curiously following his struggle towards the stairs with the livid girl in tow. Looking over his shoulder, his gaze meeting Rinoa's eyes burning with resentment and tears, his mind buckled at his utter lack of understanding. A confused frown graced his brow, as he pointed out evenly, "You wanted me to come and pick you up."

Looking at him incredulously, Rinoa let the brunet's neutral statement sink in for a moment. "That's it? You-You see me here with another man and that's all you have to say?" Tears starting to stream freely down reddened cheeks, the young woman's features contorted as she snarled, "Fuck you, Squall! Let--me--go!"

So she had done it deliberately. To hurt him? To gauge his reaction? Unable to fathom her motives for humiliating him in such a way, Squall tried to keep his anger in check. What the hell did she want him to say? Ever since the day she broke off their relationship, there wasn't anything left to say.

"You're drunk. Stop making a scene and let's go," he commanded tersely, but still she dragged her feet along the floor in an attempt to stop his advancement. Her vicious words lashing out at him only waned his patience further. Feeling increasingly embarrassed at the looks they were getting, he tried to speed up, when suddenly Rinoa's wrist was yanked from his grip, followed by an angry voice booming in his direction. "The girl clearly doesn't want to leave, so where the fuck do you think you're taking her?"

Slowly turning around, he came face to face with the dark skinned man that had been sitting with Rinoa. The man was furious, eyes narrowed in anger and chin thrust out in arrogance. Groaning inwardly, Squall couldn't muster the patience to get rid of the guy tactfully. The night had already been far too taxing on his nerves and he desperately wanted to leave.

"Home," he replied calmly, before continuing in a voice that promised pain, if the man was unwise enough not to step out of his way. "Back. Off."

The man's face reddened in fury as he foolishly decided to swipe out a fist. Annoyed and secretly pleased at the chance to vent some of his pent up stress, Squall easily sidestepped the clumsy attack and hit the guy square in the face, channeling all of his frustration into the immensely satisfying act. Crashing to the floor, the man released a string of curses, but Squall didn't linger. Quickly making his way to the stairs, he hoped to avoid any further escalation of the situation, but by then Rinoa was effectively in hysterics, the girl putting up even more of a struggle.

When they had made it halfway down the staircase, angered shouts sounded from behind them, signaling the dark skinned man was in hot pursuit and seriously pissed off. In no mood for another confrontation, Squall ignored Rinoa's protests and kept his focus on reaching the exit. Making his way through the suffocating crowd, still feeling Rinoa's resistance to his rough steering, he briefly looked over his shoulder, when a sudden stinging slap to his cheek stopped him in his tracks. Stunned, he brought up a hand to heated skin, as he turned fully to regard his angered sorceress.

"Listen to me!" she hissed dangerously, opening the sluice gates of their connection and her power over him. A wild torrent of rage and hurt tore through their bond, demanding his undivided attention and rendering him speechless. Immobilized, he felt bile rise at the back of his throat at the unnatural manipulation. Mind reeling at the intensity of his sorceress, Rinoa's hand slipped from his grasp, as the man cradling a heavily bleeding nose caught up with them and forcefully pulled Rinoa to his side.

"This is just not working out anymore," Rinoa bit out, almost trembling. "I--I'm done waiting for something that will never happen. You just don't care about me," she added with accusing force, causing him actual physical pain.

Nauseated at the waves of unbridled anger accompanying each harsh word, the bewildered brunet looked at Rinoa in disbelief. "I don't care? You're the one that--" Quickly swallowing the rest of what was laying on his tongue, remembering they were far from alone, Squall felt increasingly ill at ease. He resolutely reined in his temper, needing to abate Rinoa's anger and put an end to the scene she was causing. "Just come home with me," he urged, battling the onslaught of magic gushing through their bond. "Let's talk there."

Snorting at Squall's request, Rinoa looked at him squarely. "No," she declared firmly, before continuing to disclose private details to all who could hear. "Did you ever stop to think why I broke up with you? You didn't even flinch when I did. You don't even care when I'm with other men." Pausing to guide as much persuasion into their connection as she could, she asked darkly, "Tell me honestly, Squall. Did you ever love me?"

Blinking at the absurdity of what Rinoa was insinuating, the overwhelming pressure of her hold over him caused the blood to drain from his face. Throughout their entire relationship he had done everything within his power to please her. But it hadn't been enough. When she broke up with him, he simply figured what he had to offer didn't suffice. And in a way he understood. It wasn't like he could change anything. Change himself. But he had always cared deeply for Rinoa. Even now. That's why he had stayed as her knight.

Not seeing the reason why Rinoa apparently found him deserving of public humiliation and unwilling to discuss such private matters in front of an audience, Squall just cast her a warning glare, barely managing the sign of defiance in the face of his seething sorceress. As silence stretched on, a hurt look entered deep brown eyes, causing his head to throb painfully at the renewed assault of raw emotion pounding away at the inside of his skull.

"I see..." she muttered in defeat. "When you look at me, all you see is responsibility. Someone to protect." Faltering briefly, Rinoa slammed their connection shut with resonating finality, the sudden lack of lashing and coiling magic almost stealing the air out of his lungs. An unreadable quality entered her gaze as she stated evenly, "Well, Squall. I relieve you from your duty."

"...What do you mean?" he managed uncertainly, horrid suspicion forming at the back of his mind.

"I want to cut our bond," Rinoa stated more bravely than her small trembling frame suggested. "It's why I agreed to come to Esthar in the first place. I don't need you anymore."

Feeling a detached sense of dread settle over him at Rinoa's poisonous words, Squall merely stood there, his features turning expressionless. He refused to accept what was happening. He'd always be her knight.

Looking increasingly defeated at the brunet's lack of response, dark bitterness entered Rinoa's voice as she whispered coldly, "...That's what I thought. To think I expected anything else... Goodbye Squall." Chin starting to tremble, she quickly turned around and allowed the dark skinned man to wrap a stabilizing arm around her waist as they walked out of the club together.

Vaguely aware of the abnormal disconnect between the severity of what Rinoa had just announced and his inability to act on it and pursue her, Squall released a trembling breath. She was serious. He had felt it. Stirring from his shock long seconds after Rinoa had disappeared into the crowd, his surroundings started to register with him again. Blaring music filtered back in, heedless of his distress. Voices of strangers buzzed around him loudly, varying from scandalized to amused. Escape foremost on his mind, he scowled darkly at the people gawking at him, as he convinced his limbs to move and plowed through the crowd once more, but the feeling of those eyes on him, the same as before, forced his gaze away from the exit.

Seifer was staring at him. Intently. He had forgotten all about the blond. Dark eyebrows lifting in undisguised surprise, he stood rooted into place, unable to deal with what the night was throwing his way. The sudden understanding dawned on him that the man had probably witnessed everything. He felt almost sick as acute shame knotted his stomach at being degraded in such a way. Running an unsteady hand through his bangs, he knew he couldn't avoid what came next. He had to deal with his past, had wanted to for so long. But he couldn't stand to stay there a second longer either. Weighed down by the importance of the moment and his decision, his train of thought was paralyzed.

Fully aware that Squall had spotted him, Seifer pushed away from the bar and headed in the direction of the brunet. It was time. He didn't know what to make of what he'd just witnessed between Squall and Rinoa, but it didn't matter. He hadn't even heard what had been said, only looked on as the scene had unfolded. Raijin and Fujin had told him the two had become an item shortly after the war, but that had been ages ago and his friends had lost contact with anyone from Garden since then, so things could easily have changed. Not that any of it mattered. Only one thing did.

Advancing upon the brunet, he kept his gaze firm. He wouldn't let Squall get away. He really hadn't expected to ever see Squall again. He had wondered about it, considered how he would make his apology for what he had put the man through during the war, but never expected it. With Squall being the SeeD Commander, he hadn't imagined them frequenting the same places and had been relieved by the thought. It was much easier to plan apologies when the likelihood of having to follow through were next to none.

Keeping his expression neutral and averting his eyes, he came to a stop next to the brunet. "Want to get out of here?" he asked, his voice loud enough to be heard without him having to lean in and upset the man's comfort zone.

Looking up at Seifer, the man's determined approach having decided his course of action for him, Squall was temporarily confused by the unexpected offer. He had been bracing himself for anger or derision, his public humiliation just moments ago providing the blond with perfect subject material. Instead Seifer seemed almost... considerate.

With an inward huff he dismissed the odd thought and let his gaze settle back on their gaping audience. Quickly sobering from his surprise, he gave a terse nod in reply. He was far from at ease and wanted to leave badly, even if it meant going along with the blond's suggestion. "I was going anyway," he deadpanned, not granting Seifer another look as he started toward the exit.

Following the brunet outside, Seifer didn't quite know what to make of the situation. He could imagine Squall being shaken up by what had just happened, unless the ice prince was still his good old self and nothing got to him. Realizing it most likely wasn't the wisest of times to engage Squall in conversation, not that such a time ever existed, he forced himself not to back down. Good time or not, it was the reality he had been dealt. Outside in the fresh air, he took a deep steadying breath before he let Squall take the lead, not knowing what to expect from the man.

Drawing his arms close to his body as the chill night air met clammy skin, Squall couldn't suppress a shiver from running down his spine. Hearing the blond's subdued footsteps follow him outside, he quickly kept walking, unable to look the other's way. He couldn't believe Seifer was trailing quietly behind him, the situation unlike anything he would've imagined. The man seemed to have forgotten about being ignored or at least wasn't angry anymore, which was unusual. Seifer didn't forget about unsettled scores, was never one to leave a retort unsaid or a debt unpaid. The thought left him cold inside. There was no way their reunion could play out peacefully.

He couldn't imagine Seifer wanting a civil talk, not with all the bad blood between them. Why had he offered to leave the club together? Why hadn't he beaten Squall within an inch of his life yet? Perhaps the taller man was waiting for a more opportune time and setting. A deserted back alley. There were plenty of those in the unsavory neighborhood they were passing through. Squall wasn't sure he'd be able to fight back. Not again. Not without answers.

As they walked side by side in silence, the flashy scenery of noisy clubs and daringly dressed people on the prowl grew more desolate and was slowly replaced by quiet streets and the occasional insomniac on a late night walk. Thoughts racing and confused, Squall couldn't decide what was more disturbing: his formal rival witnessing what had happened with Rinoa or the fact that the blond wasn't rubbing his nose in said fact. If not a head-on physical attack, then he at least would've expected to be the focus of some sort of verbal abuse. Considering the circumstances, the man was uncharacteristically silent.

Casting Seifer a sideway glance in an attempt at gauging the other's mood, Squall found nothing to clue him in to the blond's intentions. The sharply outlined profile of the taller man only managed to squirm his stomach into a tighter knot. Giving up on trying to make sense of the situation, he quickly turned his gaze away. He'd just have to come up with a plan once they reached his car.

Arriving at his car short minutes later, Squall stopped and slowly turned to face Seifer. No plan had dawned on him; no fitting words had presented themselves. Over two years of doubt and questions burned at the back of his mind, but when push came to shove, he couldn't voice any of them. He feared the truth more than the ex-knight's fist. A fight he would've understood. Rage he could've dealt with. But not this. All Squall could do was remain in place and keep uncertain eyes trained on the blond as he awaited the other's move.

Unable to suppress the frown growing on his features, Seifer was completely thrown off by Squall leading him to what he could only assume was the brunet's car. He knew Squall wasn't planning on taking him anywhere. Which meant this was it. Sensing gray-blue eyes studying him, he looked away, unable to meet the younger man's gaze as he brought up his hand to scratch at the back of his head, cursing the stupid move that easily betrayed his unease.

"I guess this is it then..." Seifer finally spoke in a low voice, not really knowing what else to say or how to start his awkward apology. "Look... I don't know what happened back there..." he began and shifted his gaze to the ground, his hands tucked into his pockets.

"And I know this is bad timing and all..." he continued as he moved his gaze to the stars, temporarily lost to contemplation, his features no longer able to mask his distress. Just thinking about what he'd done made him feel sick to his stomach. He could still see the flares of electricity pulling Squall's body tight on the metallic cross and hear the silent screams. "But for what it's worth, Squall," he said, finally gathering the courage to look at the younger man, green eyes utterly sincere, "I'm sorry."

After moments of silence he turned around and started walking back in the direction they had come from, his steps slow and measured.

Gray-blue eyes widened at the unprompted and out of context apology. Not at all having anticipated such an abrupt end to their short meeting, Squall stood shocked into place by the honesty in Seifer's eyes. His mind providing him with a bewildered What?, he was given no time to process the laden words as the other walked away from him. Something about the sight of Seifer's retreating back, more so than the man's words, struck a deep chord within his chest. As sudden urgency spurred him into action without intervention of rational thought, his feet carried him after the blond.

"... Wait!"



A/N: And thus the real story begins :) Thank you for reading so far - if you want to make our day, leave a review! :D And as always, thank you for betaing, Aera <3



 



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