Into Esthar

BY : Chemotaxis
Category: Final Fantasy VIII > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 999
Disclaimer: We do not own Final Fantasy or any of the characters in this story, nor do we profit from writing this story.

~ Chapter Four - Unexpected Turns ~

[A Backstreet in Esthar, Tiamat District, Thursday, 16th of October, 1:53 am]


The sudden shout rang loudly through the night, its tone not quite pleading but still betraying whatever emotion it was that had led Squall to put up with Seifer accompanying him that far in the first place. Turning around at the unexpected word, Seifer studied the younger man. Squall had moved a couple of steps in his direction, his dark eyebrows drawn together in confusion, as if he hadn't quite meant for the yell to escape him. Not sure what to make of the unexpected call, Seifer returned Squall's gaze tiredly. He didn't care to prolong their time together, already drained from remembering a past he'd rather forget.

Having prevented the blond's disappearance, at least for the time being, Squall's brain reluctantly caught up with his actions. Cringing inwardly, his unease was magnified tenfold as he realized an undoubtedly desperate edge had crept into his plea. He needed to get a grip, fast, but he also needed to understand what the hell Seifer had meant by the more than vague apology. Schooling his expression into a show of composure he didn't feel, he fixed the ex-knight in place with what he hoped was a serious gaze in demand of an explanation.

Met with the brunet's firm gaze, Seifer couldn't suppress his instinctual irritation at being studied so closely. Increasingly edgy, he let out an annoyed, "What?"

"Two years, and you just walk away?" Squall demanded, mimicking Seifer's earlier words in an attempt to stall their inevitable parting. He knew the repeated question was hardly fair but hoped it would at least manage to irk the blond and keep the man within his reach until he could think of the right thing to say.

With jade eyes still trained on him, his next words came more uncertainly. "Before I had to--I couldn't stay before, but maybe now we..." he tried, but the last of his words died away completely. Choking on the request he wasn't sure he wanted to make in the first place, he took a step back and began fumbling in his pockets in search of his car keys, looking at anything but Seifer.

Frowning at the uncharacteristic display of emotion, Seifer suppressed his confusion as he tried to understand what was happening. It seemed Squall wanted to talk, but that couldn't be right; the man had never wanted to talk before in his life.

When the brunet's hand emerged from his pockets and two successive beeps signaled the car being unlocked, Seifer found himself closing the space between them and taking hold of Squall's wrist as the man reached out to open the door to the driver's seat.

"I know a place close by... or if you want, I live five minutes from here by car," he said, keeping his eyes firm on Squall.

Uneasy at the other's close proximity and the hand confining his wrist, Squall shook off Seifer's hold. Surely he hadn't heard that right, the reluctant offer not at all normal behavior on the blond's part. But as he stared at the key fob held tightly in his hand, the man's inexplicable offer echoed in his mind. Somehow he had managed to convey his intent, he figured. Or he was walking into some kind of trap. Their past not offering any guiding precedent, he couldn't tell if he was being paranoid or if Seifer actually intended to be civil.

Contemplating the evils of the decision that had already formed in his mind, he quickly reached the conclusion that he needed closure. "Anywhere's fine. I... don't really... just somewhere we could talk," he managed quietly in indication of both his assent and disinterest in choice of setting.

Annoyed at Squall's dismissal of his grasp, Seifer's eyes narrowed. "Let's go then," he said, unable to hide his irritation as he moved to the other side of the car and waited for Squall to get in, wanting the brunet to make the final decision.

Squall hardly cared about the blond's annoyance with him, the reaction reassuringly familiar and easy to ignore. If anything, it meant some semblance of normality when everything else about their current interaction was decidedly abnormal. Before he could change his mind, he took Seifer's grumbled reply as his cue and slid into the driver's seat.

Don't think. Deconstructing the sound of the blond getting into his car into a soft click, the creaking of leather, and the muffled slam of the car door, it almost seemed unreal. But he couldn't filter out the strong reek of the blond's cologne, nor the feel of the man's eyes boring into him. Don't think. Just drive. Starting the engine with a slow turn of the key, he looked over at Seifer when he finally felt sufficiently in control of himself again and awaited further instructions.

Scolding himself inwardly for reacting so strongly to behavior he knew was typical for Squall, Seifer briefly studied the man. He greatly disliked the lack of emotions present on Squall's face, especially knowing he was the cause. Even though Squall's uncharacteristic display earlier had been eerie, the schooled expression of apathy always grated on his nerves. Ignoring the tension hanging heavy in the air, he leaned back in the cold seat and forced himself to relax.

"I live close to the lift access point on the corner of Gayla Street and Centra Avenue," he said, looking out the window. "You know where it is?"

A brief nod was Squall's only reply as the brunet fixed his gaze in front of him and pulled out of the parking space.

"Just use the parking lot by the lift access point," Seifer continued, keeping his hands on his knees and his face turned away from Squall in an effort to hide his edginess.

Cringing inwardly, Seifer became more and more aware of the fact that what was happening most likely, probably, really wasn't such a good idea. Never in his wildest imagination had he expected to be bringing Squall back to his apartment. So much for a night of sex.

Looking out of the car window, watching the trails of neon lights whiz by, the recent memory of a drunk Rinoa surfaced. Her appearance hadn't changed much, the girl still looking every bit as naive as when he'd first laid eyes on her years ago. He couldn't help but wonder what she had been doing at the club. It was obvious Squall had come there because of her and that she had been the reason Squall had ignored him. She had been with another guy. That much had been clear. Not understanding why Squall had just accepted the slap and let her leave, Seifer's brow furrowed. Were they still together? And if they were, then why did Squall just let her go like that? It didn't make any sense.

Neither did Squall wanting to talk to him. When had Squall ever wanted to talk to anyone? It was surreal and not just a little unsettling. It was going to be one hell of an awkward night, that much was certain. What did he have to say to a man he hadn't seen in years? The man he had tortured mercilessly and tried to kill at his mistress's bidding. The man he respected more than anyone else but knew he didn't deserve any respect from in return. Gritting his teeth at the stupid decision to bring Squall back to his apartment, he briefly considered the option of getting out of it whilst he still had the chance. All he had to do was mess up the precarious balance they had going and return to the nightlife that was waiting for him. It would be easy, but he had never cared for easy.

Unable to keep unwanted thoughts from emerging as the minutes melted together into one long awkward silence, Squall's hands clenched against the steering wheel. There was hardly enough traffic late at night to demand all of his attention. Even as he tore through the streets faster than was necessary, the blond's return to muteness blared louder in his ears than the low rumble of the car engine, the ex-knight's presence increasingly stifling.

As time lapsed, it became apparent that Seifer wouldn't instigate conversation of any kind, which left quite the unappealing alternative. Squall knew what he wanted to ask, what needed to be said, but no matter how many times he tried to work it out in his head, he couldn't think of a way to go about asking it. Uncertainty gnawed at him. Why had Seifer apologized? It was incriminating to say the least. Was the man next to him innocent or a murderer? Had he abandoned his childhood rival or had he been too weak to do what had needed to be done? How did one ask such questions? Thoughts descending into times of war, Squall's gaze darkened and the scenery sped by a little faster, his foot pressing down on the gas pedal with slightly more force.

He hadn't known what he was doing at all. He had been a mere teenager, inexperienced and forced to make decisions that could easily have turned out horribly wrong. Many had died. Many things could've been done better. He could've done better. Instead he had been strung along by higher powers, a puppet in their unfolding play. The dawning realization that perhaps it had been the same for Seifer, the blond a victim just like the rest of them, had plagued him ever since the end of the war. At the time all he had managed to find out was that Seifer had survived time compression. He had tried coming to terms with never finding out the truth and had sworn he'd never let such a thing happen again.

After the war he had pushed himself and striven to become a true commander worthy of the title and the responsibility that it represented, not the joke he had been during the war. Not because he had wanted to, but because there hadn't been anybody else. Because he had needed the distraction and it was his way to make up for past mistakes. In becoming a man of duty above all else, he thought he had managed to bury his insecurities and doubts. But here he was, seated next to the man he had never expected to meet again and not feeling a shred more competent as he pulled into the parking lot the blond had specified.

Torn from his thoughts as the car came to a halt, Seifer unbuckled his seat belt and got out without a single glance in the brunet's direction. Picking up his stride, he set a brisk pace towards his apartment, the corner of his lips sloping downwards. He didn't like where things were going. It really had been the mother of all stupid ideas to bring Squall home. It was his private haven and he really didn't like the idea of the guy setting foot in it. Squall was his past, his apartment his present; two different realities he didn't want to merge. He knew there wasn't much pride left after he'd been reduced to Ultimecia's bloodhound, but the thought of Squall's scrutinizing eyes upon his home, all he had managed to gather together since the war, made his skin crawl. There was no doubt the man would recognize the area as one of the cheapest in Esthar and from that infer just how low Seifer had sunk after the war.

Continuing in his stride, Seifer didn't look back to see if Squall was following, just placed his hands in his pockets as he felt the cold night air cut through the thin layers of his clothing and tried to empty his mind.

As they made their way down a side street to Centra Avenue, the buildings quickly lost their sophistication. They were still good examples of Estharian architecture, but it was easy to spot the advancing age of the materials. Some of the white arches and blue walls were losing their luminescence, their slight flickering blemishing the entire atmosphere of the place. Three large skyscrapers were lined up to their right, each one looking more run down than the last. Reaching the entrance of the second one, Seifer cast a brief glance over his shoulder to check if Squall was still there.

Squall merely stood there, no judgment or surprise apparent in his eyes as he looked up at the tall building in mild curiosity before following Seifer inside. During their drive there he hadn't really noticed that they had ventured into one of Esthar's more dilapidated neighborhoods, but now that he had, he tried to imagine how Seifer could've ended up there. He clearly remembered the blond cadet complaining about having to share cramped dorm rooms, each roommate more unworthy and stupid than the last, and declaring arrogantly that he'd find a place more befitting of someone of his ability. The apartment building hardly looked like it would house the lavish quarters his onetime rival had envisioned. Dismissing the useless train of thought, well aware that war changed everything, Squall softly shook his head. He couldn't care less whether Seifer lived in a villa or a motel room.

Inside the entrance hall the ceiling hung low, almost claustrophobically so, nothing at all like the skyscrapers of a more recent date with their grandiose lobbies. The floors were dirty and littered with discarded newspapers and other trash. Walking over to one of the many lifts that were the only other exits to the room, Seifer pushed a button to call it down.

As they waited for the lift, Seifer leant his shoulder against the wall, his hands still tucked into his pockets as he finally let himself study the brunet. It was strange seeing Squall in such plain clothes. He couldn't remember a time when Squall hadn't been obsessed with leather and belts. For years it had been yet another source of ammunition when teasing the guy. But after the war, after Seifer had realized his attraction towards men, he had become painfully aware of the style's appeal. Many of his fantasies had involved Squall's infamous belts, the thought of their removal and subsequent use downright irresistible.

When a ding signaled the lift's arrival, Seifer straightened up and walked inside, not waiting for Squall to enter. Pressing the number 9, he placed himself as far away from the other man as possible.

As Seifer left as much space between them as the confines of the elevator allowed, Squall frowned. One moment Seifer was boring his eyes into him, the next he was being utterly ignored. The uncharacteristic silence did little to ease his discomfort either. Seifer had never bothered avoiding him before, always eager to push his buttons. At the deep sigh following the elevator jerking into motion, he chanced a quick glance at the blond. Judging from the man's dark expession, Seifer was far from pleased about his presence, but then why had he extended an invitation in the first place? To his own place no less?

Quickly cutting off returning thoughts of a trap, Squall willed himself to remain composed, but slender fingers disobeyed and fidgeted almost unnoticeably. The air felt too heavy. Increasingly uneasy as stifling silence filled the small space, he absentmindedly brushed away some dark strands of hair clinging to his neck and tried to focus on the numbers that lit up one by one, signaling their ascent.

As the lift came to a halt, Seifer exited and took the lead down the narrow hallway. The similarity of the situation to other nights when he'd brought home one night stands didn't escape him, the surreal comparison leading him to snort in amusement at the absurdity of his mind.

Sliding his keys into the lock on his front door, he entered. "This is me."

The atmosphere inside his apartment was entirely different from the rest of the building, the place not rundown or shabby but kept in good condition. It had taken a while, but he'd managed to clean it up nicely. His living room held an en suite kitchen at one end and at the other end a work table that was covered in various weapon parts and accessories. It made the room smell of oil and metal, smells Seifer had always had a soft spot for.

A large couch was placed in the middle of the room. It was well-worn, but that just made it all the more comfortable. He didn't have space for a dining table, so the couch and adjacent coffee table worked as both a place of relaxation and a place for eating. Having used the table as a substitute for his work table on more than one occasion, it had ended up covered in various large stains. The far wall was covered with bookcases, the shelves littered with some of the strange objects he'd picked up on his travels as well as countless books.

There weren't any windows in the living room, a fact Seifer had never really grown used to but had learned to accept nonetheless because of the saved gil. Even though he had worked nonstop for the last couple of years, he still had trouble making ends meet and there was no way he could afford anything bigger.

Walking to the kitchen counter, he put down his keys before stealing a quick glance at Squall. "Make yourself comfortable," he said as he turned around and disappeared into the bedroom.

Standing by his bed, he rifled through his pockets and emptied their contents on the bedside table. Eyeing the Avalanche he had bought earlier that evening, he grimaced as he remembered Calder still waiting for him at the club. Grabbing his cell, he continued into the bathroom and sent the man a short message calling off their night out. He knew the message wasn't going to work wonders as far as placating the guy went, the words 'not coming' its sole content. Running a wet hand through his locks, he dismissed the thought and steeled himself for whatever the night might throw his way instead. Exiting the bathroom, he headed back to the living room. Stopping to stand in the doorway to take stock of the situation, his eyes were immediately drawn to Squall.

Squall was standing by his work desk, the man's fingers ghosting the wooden table and eyes brushing along the many pieces spread out in disarray. He seemed lost in thought, a slight frown in place as he chewed on his bottom lip absentmindedly.

Watching from his position at the other end of the room, a small smile tugged at Seifer's lips. Squall really hadn't changed much, still immediately drawn to anything to do with weapons. Brought back to countless afternoons spent in the brunet's company, the two of them looking through old Weapons Monthly magazines during their breaks, Seifer remembered the glint in the younger man's eyes whenever he had boasted about a new upgrade he'd gotten for Hyperion.

"Hey..." he said softly, wanting Squall's attention.

Startled from his inner musings, Squall turned away from the desk and faced the blond, an eyebrow rising at the slight smile on Seifer lips and the mussed state of usually slicked back hair. He would sooner have expected the blond to reappear with Hyperion in hand or to order him away from the desk. Blinking a few times to reassess the situation, he slowly allowed himself to relax as his former rival remained by the door, the man's stance much less forbidding than moments before. Gaze trailing back to the diverse weapon parts and sketches that had caught his attention before, he picked up a peculiar item he couldn't quite place and turned it in his hands to examine it. He couldn't remember the blond ever busying himself with weapon parts before and these most definitely didn't belong to a gunblade.

"What's all this for?" he asked reverently, genuine interest in his voice.

"Just trying out some modifications," Seifer replied as he walked farther into the room. Remaining close to the kitchen, he continued, "Do you want something to drink?"

Not waiting for an answer, he walked over to a cupboard and grabbed a slender bottle of Galbadian Bluewhistle; his preferred brand of whiskey. "I haven't got much to chose from, but tell me what you want... I'm sure you could use something..." He drew out the last sentence as he glanced over his shoulder to regard Squall.

Placing the shiny piece of metal back on the desk, a morose expression graced Squall's features as Seifer's comment brought fresh memories rushing back to him. Forgetting all about the weapon parts and the questions they raised, he briefly fought for composure. He didn't want to think of Rinoa or her cutting words. He couldn't deal with that and face Seifer at the same time.

Running a hand through chocolate bangs, he scrunched his eyes closed in an attempt to focus on the present and let a tired sigh escape him as he failed to do so. A drink might not be such a bad idea. Familiar with the numbing quality of alcohol, he supposed the circumstances justified an exception to his usual dislike of having his mind clouded. With a nod in the direction of the bottle Seifer was holding, he moved to take a seat on the couch.

"That's fine."

Surprised at the strange quality to Squall's voice, the brunet sounding both tired and upset, Seifer couldn't help but turn around to watch the man. There was something unnerving about the way Squall moved. At the man's sullen expression, he folded his arms across his chest and leaned back against the kitchen counter, the bottle of liquor forgotten for the time being. In all the years he'd known Squall he'd never seen the man behave in such a way, the brunet always reserved and composed, never one to let his feelings show. Something big must have happened between Squall and Rinoa at the club for Squall to act in such a way. Disliking that his one time rival was so strangely affected, Seifer wondered if there was some way he could help. Hyne knew he owed the man.

"I have something stronger if you want," he said, his gaze firm on Squall and his features serious. Moving his hands to rest on the kitchen counter, he continued, "Might be good for both of us."

Squall turned to look at Seifer in confusion. "What do you mean?" he asked warily.

Hesitating for a moment, Seifer didn't say anything, not sure whether he wanted to go through with the idea that had suddenly occurred to him or not. His original plan for the evening had been to lose himself to Avalanche; let his body experience nothing but bliss and relaxation. But sharing something like that with Squall would mean exposing himself and he already didn't like the cautious and skeptic qualities to Squall's reply.

Pushing away from the kitchen counter, he reminded himself that he really didn't care what Squall thought either way. Making his way into the bedroom, he walked over to where he had left the pills earlier. Grabbing the small plastic bag, he eyed the brightly colored pills inside and gave himself the briefest of moments to reconsider. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, he walked straight back out of the bedroom and made his way over to the coffee table. Stopping across from where Squall was sitting on the couch, he dropped the plastic bag onto the table without further ado.

"Avalanche," he informed as he gestured at the vibrantly colored pills. "Do you know it?"

Studying Squall's face for a reaction, he was unable to suppress his growing annoyance when no expression appeared to give the man away. He had always hated not knowing what went on inside Squall's head.

The moment Seifer had made his offer, Squall had known the blond hadn't simply meant a stronger liquor. But drugs? Instantly reminded of the fact that he should never underestimate the unpredictable man, he studied the bright pills in distrust. He'd never heard of Avalanche. Then again, he'd never taken any recreational drugs. For Seifer to suggest something along those lines, let alone reveal he owned a bag of the most likely illegal substance to a possible enemy, didn't make any sense. Feeling increasingly impatient eyes on him, he kept his expression unfazed as he looked up to regard the other.

"I don't, but I can make an educated guess," he said neutrally, breaking the silence.

Amused at Squall's reply, Seifer couldn't help himself. "Yeah?" he questioned teasingly, his green eyes dancing in mirth. "And what would that educated guess be then, Squally-boy?" he asked, his trademark smirk sliding into place. Sometimes riling up the brunette was just too easy and too much fun to let the opportunity pass by.

Fixing Seifer with a cold glare, Squall ignored the blond's question. Picking up the bag, he placed it in his palm and scrutinized the innocent looking pills inside.

"Drugs. What are you doing with these..." he trailed off and then suddenly his eyes widened in realization. "That man at the club. You got these from him, didn't you?"

Certain Squall's attention had been elsewhere at the time, Seifer was surprised to learn that Squall had watched him interact with his dealer. Eyes narrowing, not altogether endeared by Squall's astuteness, he bit out his retort. "What does it matter where I got them?"

Grabbing the plastic bag from Squall's hold, he turned around and walked back to the kitchen, his skin crawling at the sensation of being judged. "Nevermind. I'll pour you some of this instead," he said, slipping the bag of pills into a drawer in the kitchen. Taking hold of the bottle of liquor he'd left on the counter earlier, he wanted to dismiss the whole damned thing. Feeling resentful, he muttered out an irritated "Pussyheart" under his breath as he poured two glasses of the dark blue alcohol.

Thrown off by the abrupt change from teasing to affronted, Squall watched the drugs disappear into the drawer with a growing frown, wondering what he had said to earn such a strong reaction. But at the insult he could clearly make out, recognition struck him. This he knew. Challenges and bets had been their game. The blond had never taken no for an answer, but that had never really mattered, since Squall had never wanted to back down either. Every single time he had ended up in detention or suffered through tedious chores as punishment, it had begun with Seifer and a proposition spoken in challenge.

But, as his mind immediately pointed out, they weren't cadets anymore. To suddenly hear that hated yet familiar nickname again seemed entirely out of place given their circumstances. There was bad blood between them. For them to pretend like nothing had happened was impossible. For the blond to expect him to accept such a reckless offer was even more absurd.

Gaze dropping to the coffee table and fixing on the spot where the bag of pills had been sitting mere moments ago, Squall couldn't help but wonder how Seifer had gotten mixed up with such a thing. The man might be impulsive but he wasn't stupid, so there had to be something to it. Why else would a fighter, for whom health and strength were everything, take such risks?

Heading over to the couch, Seifer placed one of the two glasses he'd filled with the blue whiskey in front of the brunet. Taking a seat at the opposite end of the couch, he put his feet up on the coffee table and crossed his legs at his ankles. Disliking the feeling that was eating away at him, he frowned slightly. He felt the urge to explain himself, which irked him. He explained nothing to no one. And it wasn't like he gave a fuck about what Squall thought of him; in fact, he couldn't care less. They lived separate lives, would probably never see each other again. So what the hell did it matter?

Yet he knew he was fighting a losing battle. Narrowing his eyes, he stared at the glass in his hand. "I don't do it often. But it... makes you feel good," he said, his voice low and pensive. Taking a sip of his drink, he paused briefly before speaking again. "Everyone needs that."

At the unprompted justification, something he couldn't remember Seifer doing even once in the past, Squall only felt further confusion. For all the things that had remained the same in the blond, there seemed to be just as many things that had changed and clashed with what he knew. Still not looking at the ex-knight, he reached over and took his drink in hand, his thoughts running a mile a minute. He doubted it was a trap. Ironically enough, the blond wouldn't have behaved so suspiciously if that had been the case. It seemed Seifer didn't want a confrontation, the lack of accusations and hostility proof enough. Then maybe the offer had been an attempt at some kind of truce. Maybe it had been for courage, to deal with the rest of the night.

To feel good. Staring at the blue liquid and sloshing it around in the glass, Squall contemplated the words. Could Seifer's intention be that simple? The man had never bothered with how he felt before. He would've dismissed the ridiculous idea without another thought, if it wasn't for the blond's uncharacteristic behavior that evening.

Everyone needs that. Hyne, he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt untroubled, at ease. Though he always felt in his element when out in the field, adrenaline guiding his moves, he knew that wasn't what Seifer had in mind. The only thing close to a drug he had ever experienced had been the Hero shots he'd taken near the end of the war, the clandestine item developed specifically for battle purposes had dragged him back onto his feet more times than was advisable. But temporarily feeling invincible, no pain able to reach him and senses sharpened into deadly precision, hadn't meant he had felt good. Far from it.

The night was starting to take its toll on him. The dark blue alcohol in his glass swirled thickly, its strong scent promising numbed thoughts and nerve ends, but not the oblivion he needed. Frowning at where his thoughts were taking him, his grip tightened against cool glass. He had no idea what kind of effect those pills had, but the contemplative tone to Seifer's voice kept echoing in his mind along with what had happened at the club, the prospect of temporary relief withering his apprehension away. He wouldn't ask, he decided. Not knowing in advance seemed better; made the leap all the easier.

Pushing up from the couch, he stalked towards the kitchen without a word. Face drawn taut in determination, ignoring all rational thought, he pulled open the exact drawer in which Seifer had flung the plastic bag and fished out a bright green pill. Unfaltering, he popped it into his mouth and washed the thing down with a royal swig of bitter alcohol.

Slowly, he set down his glass and placed both hands on the counter to steady himself. There was no point in backing down now, the deed done, yet he couldn't help but let out a shaky breath as disbelief started to register with him at his own actions. Face paler than ever and suppressing a shiver, he closed his eyes and willed his breathing to calm down.

Looking up to regard Seifer's dumbstruck expression, his eyebrows furrowed into a slight crease as he pondered the question he could no longer put off. Almost managing an indifferent tone of voice, he asked, "...What do these do?"

A/N: Loved it? Hated it? Review and let us know! :) (and we'll love you forever ;)) Thank you to everyone who's reviewed so far! And a special thanks to our wonderful beta Aerawyn.


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