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 Eight - Waiting Game ~

[Seifer Almasy's Apartment, Zayin House, Thursday, 16th of October, 12:20 pm]

Squall's pulse rushed loudly in his ears as he stood in the dark, his injured fist clenching tightly around the hastily procured change of clothes. The room had no window; only a thin beam of faint light filtered through the crack beneath the bathroom door, but he didn't move to switch on the light. The darkness, along with the feel of cold tiles beneath his feet, helped distract him and take the edge of his anger, if only barely.

At the sound of movement in the other room, he stiffened, but all he could hear were muted noises, not the heavy footfalls he'd expected, hurrying towards him. Vaguely disappointed that Seifer wasn't following after him to return the favor and give him the more justified excuse of self-defense to vent his anger, he stopped listening out for indications of what the blond was doing. He had walked away, he reminded himself. He was in control. After a few calming breaths to refocus on the task he had set himself, needing to work towards a goal, he felt along the wall to locate the switch and blinked briefly as a cold halogen light flickered on.

The bathroom was small, the shower stall barely fitting in next to the sink and toilet. The edge of the sink was littered with shaving utilities, cologne, and other toiletries, the power cord of a hair trimmer dangling haphazardly to the floor. Irked by the sight, he ignored how the plug of the cord hung an inch away from a puddle of water splashed across the tiled floor and moved to place Seifer's shirt and boxers on the towel rack.

Opening the small cabinet beneath the sink to look for a towel, he felt strangely self-conscious about using things that weren't his. Seifer's things. It wasn't like he had much choice, but even this kind of dependence irritated him and fueled the simmer of his anger with the blond. After everything, he wasn't even granted the meager comfort of cleaning last night's evidence off his body in the comfort of familiar surroundings.

Frowning, he quickly straightened with a towel in hand and shut the cabinet more harshly than necessary, the brisk move instantly punished by a painful throb radiating through his backside. The towel fell to the floor as he gripped the edge of the sink with a low groan. Blind rage had dulled the pain before, but now it was starting to become impossible to ignore not because he couldn't handle the pain in itself, but because of what it meant. Jaws clenching, he wrenched his eyes closed, the urge to hit something rising as he registered everything that felt wrong in sick detail; from his sore ass to the throb of bruised skin along his neck and collarbones.

Grateful he hadn't inadvertently looked in the mirror yet, he kept his eyes closed as he sought out his ice goddess and pulled her into junction without warning, unable to muster much gentleness. Icy disapproval pricked at his mind, sharp and accusatory, but Shiva didn't deny him. Gracefully, she wove and tightened herself around the part of his consciousness that was reserved just for her with the kind of tender care that seemed to mock his loss of temper. A soothing chill swept through him, briefly relaying both her curiosity at the injuries she found on him and concern at his unusual distress, before she settled quietly in wait of his commands.

Bringing up a hand to pinch at the bridge of his nose, increasingly irritated with himself, he took a moment to organize his thoughts. About to extend an apology for junctioning her so abruptly and for such reasons, the thought was cut short by a soft nudge to his mind, telling him easily enough she had taken no offense. Quickly, he located a simple Cure spell and guided it through their junction. The bright glow of magic enveloped him and burned through his eyelids, the rapid healing bringing instant relief as it dispelled all soreness from his body.

Releasing a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, Squall straightened when the spell had run its course and opened his eyes to stare into the mirror. Silver eyes looked back at him, iridescent and flowing like mercury, before a gentle trickle of ice tickled the inside of his skull at his unvoiced gratitude. The unnatural silver bled from his eyes, the slight frost clinging to his breaths and the edges of the mirror fading as he unjunctioned her.

Alone with his thoughts once more, feeling calmer than before, he studied his reflection. His hair was a mess, the dark circles under his eyes testimony to his lack of sleep, but all things considered he looked like his usual self. As if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Taking in the lack of expression on his face, the sight entirely disproportionate to everything that had happened, he pushed away from the sink and his reflection in distaste. This was why people called him cold, but it was the way things had always worked for him; suppress or succumb, never a middle ground between the two extremes, and he refused to succumb.

Peeling off his jeans, the fabric stiff and uncomfortable at the crotch, he dropped the garment to the floor and stepped into shower stall. Twisting open the tap, he didn't cower from the brief spray of cold water as he waited for the heater to kick in and send hot water drumming down on his shoulders and back. Resolutely, he bit back feelings of shame and grabbed the shower gel, lathering a generous amount on his skin. He hesitated only briefly before he steeled himself and reached between his legs to scrub away the last traces of Seifer left on his body.

Moving methodically, he finished in quick minutes and stepped out of the shower. He toweled himself dry, put on a large t-shirt and boxers, and unavoidably ran out of things to demand his attention. For a while, he found himself staring at the bathroom door. As unappealing as the prospect of going out and facing Seifer was, he knew he couldn't stay in the bathroom indefinitely. Remembering why he'd left in the first place, he felt his composure waver.

Rinoa knew everything. Everything. Humiliation and anger mixing dangerously, he took a few deep breaths and reminded himself he shared in the blame. He had taken that pill. He was the one who hadn't even tried to resist, his behavior far from passive. Until last night, he would never even have believed himself capable of such things, drugs or no drugs. It seemed like Seifer always managed to bring out the worst in him; his judgment was never as poor as when around the aggravating blond. Blaming Seifer for Rinoa finding out was hypocritical when he shouldn't have let it happen in the first place. But looking through his cell phone... that was a different matter altogether.

Not enough to warrant breaking someone's jaw, his conscience supplied unhelpfully. He could still feel bone crack underneath his fist, see the surprise in green eyes before they briefly wrenched closed in pain. He hadn't felt a shred of satisfaction at the act. Attacking Seifer with the intent to injure left a bitter taste, and again he found himself wondering why Seifer hadn't chased after him to deal out some punches of his own.

Not much of what the blond had done and said since the previous night made sense. Confident Seifer hadn't been out for revenge, he had let his guard down. Even now, he had difficulty interpreting Seifer's offer of Avalanche and everything that had happened after as some strange form of payback, which begged the question why it had happened at all. His best bet, the only one he could wrap his head around, was the drugs having had some unexpected effect, the pills maybe of inferior quality or containing the wrong chemicals.

As things were, nothing had changed about his initial reason for following after Seifer. Things were still as unresolved as the evening before, if not more so. Confrontation was the only real option. He would ask about the Avalanche and more importantly, the war. He would not let memories of what had happened the previous night get in the way of getting the answers he needed. If anything, Seifer's continued lack of hostility meant it wasn't too late.

Decision made, he pushed open the door and stepped into an empty bedroom, no trace of the blond. He continued into the living area, his mind running a mile a minute, but when he was greeted with nothing but another empty room, he stopped in his tracks in disbelief. He couldn't have been in the bathroom for more than fifteen minutes, but in that time Seifer had apparently left the apartment.

Stunned out of his momentum and resolve, he quickly suppressed the irrational jolt of alarm he felt at the thought that he'd missed his chance and Seifer was now long gone. The living room and bedroom were as he'd last seen them, no signs of someone rushing to pack travel essentials. Besides, Seifer could easily have done so while he was out for the count. No. Seifer simply hadn't wanted to deal with the aftermath of his confession and had bailed the moment Squall turned his back, probably expecting him to take the hint and leave.

Cowardice wasn't a trait he usually associated with Seifer, but there it was. Squall would have much preferred for the blond to throttle him in a head-on collision; fists over words he could deal with easy enough. At least an honest fight was better than nothing, better than just running off. Renewed anger curled his hands into fists.

"The basic principle of hit 'n run, Squall. That's all there's to it."

The words of wisdom Irvine had imparted to him with an easy grin some time ago, concerning the man's strategy with women, surfaced in his thoughts uninvited, causing him to freeze in place at his twisted mind. Frustration mounting, he ran a hand through his bangs and pulled at the roots to snap himself out of his train of thought. Dropping his hand, he forcefully willed his composure to return and considered his next move, the answer coming to him easily.

He would wait, either until Seifer came back or until he needed to think out a new course of action. If the blond expected him gone upon his return, he'd do just the opposite. He would not back off; he'd get what he had come for.

Looking around, he decided to deal with his clothes before anything else. He'd have to leave the apartment at some point, and he'd rather do so in his own clothing than in borrowed oversized items of Seifer's; the boxers he was wearing were already sagging uncomfortably low against his hips. He hadn't spotted a washing machine anywhere, but maybe Seifer had some detergent he could use for a hand-wash. He doubted he'd be able to use a washing machine without ruining his clothes anyway.

But nowhere, not in a single cupboard, could he locate any detergent. He considered the possibility of the apartment building having a communal laundry room, but there was no way he would go and find out wearing what little he had on. Frowning at the vicious circle, his mood not improving one bit at the realization that he'd have to ask for Seifer's help, he pushed the issue from his mind and resigned himself to the black shirt and boxers for the time being. If push came to shove, he'd just have to leave as he had intended to do the night before: shirtless and commando in stained jeans. He had faced worse.

Nausea no longer twisting his gut, the next thing that needed attending to was his empty stomach. In his search for detergent, he'd found all the cupboards fully stocked, so Seifer would hardly notice if he helped himself to something. Unlike the penthouse cupboards, he didn't have to bypass stacks of high sucrose foods to find what he needed. Apart from a ridiculous selection of different coffees and cans of dog food, Rinoa never foresaw much more than her next sugar craving when out for groceries. Seifer's kitchen told a different story; the discovery of raw meat and vegetables in the fridge implied the man actually cooked. Frowning at the weird visual that put into his mind, he closed the fridge and pushed himself up onto the kitchen counter, armed with an apple, some cheese, and a few slices of bread.

As he took a bite of the apple, his gaze fell to his cell phone sitting on the other end of the kitchen counter, not far from the small bag of Avalanche. Eyes darkening at the sight, he looked away again.

There was no way to determine exactly what Seifer had looked through, no point in it either, and he didn't want to see Rinoa's name listed at the top of his contact list, heading every text message in his inbox. He didn't want to hear her crying voice as she failed to ask why he had hurt her in such a way. Saturday at 9 am. That was when he would deal with his sorceress. Not today.

Working through his meal on auto-pilot, his mind wandered back to the other person he had to deal with. Today. Apprehension tied a knot in his stomach, but he ignored it and instead studied the room more closely than he had the night before, more comfortable to do so without the blond's presence. Gaze drawn first by the work desk, the same thoughts emerged as before. Seifer hadn't really answered his question about the weapon parts, but he suspected it was work related, the detailed sketches too precise to just be a hobby. He remembered the sloppy and crumpled state of the class notes Seifer used to shove carelessly into the drawer of his standard Garden issue desk before dumping a big stack of Weapon Monthly's on top instead.

The bookshelves had been a surprise at first, but upon seeing most books were related to weapon materials and the fabrication of weapons, he realized he was probably right in his guess. Some of the strange artifacts displayed he could associate with a certain region or culture, some he couldn't, but their presence most likely meant Seifer traveled a good deal. Many times he had tried to imagine what kind of life the blond was living, and the realization that for the past half year he'd been only a short drive away from this place was surreal.

Sitting in Seifer's apartment, looking around, he was struck by the normalcy of it all. Not even a flashy trench coat on the hanger by the door. But somehow it was still Seifer: the practicality and optimal use of the space, the organized chaos of the work desk, the scent of metal and oil, even the stains on the coffee table. Now that he had seen it, he could not imagine any other setting, the image of Seifer leaning back in the worn couch materializing easily.

Eyes growing unfocused, he distantly regarded the couch, his mind quickly providing an overlapping view and reminding him of how they had sat there last night. How the blond had slumped back in relaxation, legs slightly spread and green eyes on him. At the time he hadn't thought anything of the situation, but now the scene screamed something of a sexual nature.

As he realized what he was thinking about, what he definitely should not be thinking about, he was appalled at where his mind had led him. The Avalanche was one hundred percent out of his system, so disgust the logical emotion he should feel. But it didn't come. Humiliation, anger, regret, self-loathing, yes, but not disgust. Afraid to probe his impressions of the previous night, he tentatively let himself recall some of it, but quickly stopped at the remembered feel of Seifer moving inside him.

Sobriety hadn't done a damn thing to change his recollection of the experience, the memory of being touched and taken by Seifer still... good. It had felt good and the thought caused the blood to drain from his face. He knew it was unrealistic to expect he'd suddenly remember pain or revulsion. He knew a repeat experience would most likely be horrible and nothing at all like the night before, but even so, he now had these memories of fake intimacy, of Seifer, that he didn't want. It complicated things in ways he wasn't prepared for. It meddled with the important memories, the real ones, the issues he had to address.

The Seifer he remembered from his childhood and cadet years had been arrogant and challenging, never considerate. The Seifer he remembered from the war hadn't been gentle but ruthless. Until he had his answers, the only touch he should remember was the point of Hyperion pressed to his chest. Anything else would distract him from his purpose. Clenching his fists against the cool stone of the counter, his half eaten apple falling out of his hand, he tried to close the sluice gate of his memories, an impossible thing to do.

This wasn't what was supposed to happen.

"It's okay... That's what the pills are supposed to do."

Eyes darkening in anger, he felt sick to his stomach. Seifer had known. He had known. But it didn't make any sense. Seifer couldn't have known. Seifer wouldn't have offered the pill if he knew what it would lead to. He must have misunderstood; misinterpreted... It had to be the pills. Yet the way Seifer had been so confident and had immediately followed it with...

He couldn't tell the difference anymore, his memory playing tricks on his mind. Anger shifting back and forth between self-directed and accusatory, his resentment at Seifer for leaving mounted to new heights.

A loud knock came from the front door, before someone pushed down the handle in an effort to open the door. The sound startled Squall out of his internal turmoil, his eyes staring at the door before narrowing. Frustrated with himself, Seifer, and the situation in general--finding himself in the blond's apartment wearing only boxers and a t-shirt when someone was at the door--he moved off the kitchen counter and contemplated what to do.

The knock sounded again, a bit louder this time. "I know you're in there, so just open up already. Arc said you weren't due in for another hour." The voice was sulky, the elevated pitch easily giving away details about the person on the other side of the door: a young male just reaching adolescence.

Already the unexpected visitor grated at his nerves, the boy not showing any indication of leaving. Resigning himself to deal with the situation, he walked to the front door with brisk footsteps and opened the door with a glare that warned the noisy teenager to proceed with caution.

At the other side of the entrance a lanky boy stood stunned into place. He didn't look to be more than fourteen years old, yet his height didn't match his young features, already at least a head taller than other boys of a similar age. His clothes were colorful; the shirt a bright yellow, pants blue and shoes red. Curious brown eyes peered at him, short fluffy dark bangs framing the boy's face.

"Who--where's Seifer?" the boy asked, confusion clear on his face, but the brown eyes regarding him in suspicion were not innocent by any stretch of the imagination.

"He's not in," Squall deadpanned in response as he scrutinized the gangly kid standing in the hallway, looking much as if a rainbow had vomited all over his outfit. Harmless appearance notwithstanding, the kid's attitude reeked of Seifer's influence. He hadn't even managed to finish the thought yet, when it was instantly confirmed by the boy pushing his way inside and ignoring his obvious irritation at the intrusion.

"Typical," the boy started talking to himself, his gaze searching Seifer's apartment in a way that told Squall the kid was familiar with the place. "Gets home yesterday and just ignores me." The boy walked over to the work desk and picked up a couple of items one by one to inspect them more closely, clearly unbothered by Squall's presence. "Didn't even meet up with Calder last night like he said he would." A few of the items made it into the boy's pocket.

Leaning against the doorway and not saying a word, Squall followed the boy's moves around the room, his eyes narrowing at the kid's abysmal attitude. Seifer's influence indeed. Briefly, he entertained the thought that maybe he should stop the boy from taking Seifer's things, but in the end decided it wasn't his problem if the blond liked to befriend a thieving teenager, as long as the kid left once he got what he wanted.

"Well, it's been real," the boy said as he turned to face Squall, an impish smirk on his face and colorful pockets bulging.

Hardly perturbed by the grin painted on boyish features, he merely met the kid with an unimpressed look. Without another word, mischievous expression still in place, the boy walked out of the apartment and left the front door open behind him in an unmistakable display of rebellion.

Staring at the open doorway, Squall frowned at the strange feeling of deja vu. It had been a long while since he'd been given such lip and attitude by a kid, the cadets at Balamb Garden mostly smart enough to address him with proper respect when face to face. It hadn't had anything to do with perceived incapability concerning his rank either, as was the case with most adult's reactions to him. The kid simply didn't seem to like him and he wasn't sure whether to find that annoying or strangely refreshing.

Shaking the useless thoughts, he contemplated what the boy had said instead. The sulky complaint when the kid had been knocking at the door told him Seifer would be going in for work in an hour or so, which meant he wasn't returning any time soon. It also meant the blond indeed had fled the apartment in order to avoid him. The thought fueled his anger and stubborn decision to stay like nothing else. Moving to close the front door, he prepared himself for long hours of waiting until Seifer returned.

[Alcauld Gardens, Thursday, 16th of October, 12:42 pm]

Eyes distant, Seifer sat in his car in silence. He heard nothing; saw nothing as he ran a finger across his cheek where Squall's fist had connected with his jaw less than half an hour earlier. The sensation in the area was still strange, slightly different to normal, phantom numbness following the slow move of his finger. He easily recalled how his teeth had been misaligned earlier, forced out of place by the brutal impact. Even the slightest movement of his jaws had made him want to punch something, just for the temporary distraction. The moment he'd been inside his car, he'd healed the injury. As always, the use of magic had caused a dull ache to cloud his thoughts, yet it was nothing compared to the excruciating pain it had replaced.

Functioning on autopilot, he'd made it to Alcauld Gardens at record speed, his mind preoccupied with replaying those last seconds spent in Squall's presence over and over again. He'd already been parked in front of the park for several minutes when he had finally noticed where his subconscious had taken him. He hadn't been surprised; it was where he usually went for a time out and to contemplate. The manmade haven was one of the few places in Esthar where everything wasn't just electric blue and silver. The walkways were still made out of the same translucent azure material that made up most other roads in the large capital, but the large gardens were filled with trees, plants, and fields of grass that stretched out into the distance.

Yet he didn't take in any of it. All he could see was the burning anger in gray-blues, eyes that were usually steely, reluctant or cold, sometimes narrowed in anger, but never blinded by fury.

He knew he had deserved it. That and more. It was what should have happened when he had first laid eyes on Squall back at the club. He'd had it coming for a long time.

He'd waited for someone to come for him after the war. He had assumed plenty would want to see him hang for his crimes, but no-one had ever come. He'd never hidden or tried to run, nor had he ever pretended to be someone else. If anyone had wanted to find him, then they easily could have. He sighed and fisted his left hand against his leg. Such thoughts were useless. He'd always sworn he'd take whatever punishment came his way; nothing had happened to change that resolution.

Yet he had run. He'd left his apartment in such a hurry he couldn't readily claim it being for any other reason than just getting the hell out of there. Thinking back on Squall's stark movements as the brunet had retreated to the bathroom, he could only try and excuse his own disappearance as a way of doing Squall a favor. The brunet obviously hadn't wanted to be in his company anymore. But he couldn't ignore the truth of the matter. When it came down to it, he had wanted only to avoid witnessing more of that unadulterated anger, that barely concealed hatred. Self-preservation had seized him in the end. It seemed when confronted like that, he wasn't able to take his punishment in the graceful manner he'd always imagined. Clenching his jaws, he pushed away the thoughts in an effort to empty his mind.

A flash of kiss-swollen lips turned upwards at the corners in a small smile and gray-blue eyes filled with rare tranquility made his chest constrict with a need to reclaim those moments. Clenching his hands once more, he felt anger at himself for even thinking of Squall like that. He couldn't remember those things. He just couldn't. He hadn't earned those memories. They weren't his.

Opening the door, he stepped outside and slammed it shut behind him. He needed fresh air. In long strides he entered the park, not taking in any of the greenery surrounding him nor noting where he was going. He continued forward aimlessly, focused on nothing but getting away from memories best left alone.

For a long time he carried on down one path and then the next. Passing people, mere shapes and obstacles in his peripheral vision, he kept going until he had been walking on green grass for several minutes, the city noises slowly receding into the background.

If only he'd been on time. If only he'd been at Pulse when he had planned on being there. Why did fate have to continuously deal him such a shitty hand? Just when he thought he had turned his life around, just when he had resigned himself to the fact that he'd never be the hero or great fighter he'd always dreamed of, he had been pulled straight back into the past and placed face to face with the one person who could undo it all.

He'd wanted to give Squall whatever he had wanted from him, but instead he'd returned to old patterns and had taken offense when Squall hadn't treated him exactly how he had wanted him to. He had reverted to the immature bully of his teenage years within the blink of an eye, easily forgetting that he owed the brunet everything. That he lived because the man had spared his life. And how had he repaid him? By seducing him and fulfilling one of his own fantasies without any care for what Squall wanted. Whatever he did, his egomania would always be at the center of it. Everybody had to bow down to the great Seifer Almasy. In the end, he hadn't learned a thing. He was still the same prideful, self-centered bastard he'd always been.

Running a hand through his hair, another side of him, a part of him that had thus fair remained silent, chimed in. Squall had been the one to suggest they talk then speak no more than a few words and refuse to talk about even the most mundane of things. Squall had also been the one to decide to accept the Avalanche; no one had forced the brunet to do anything. And yes, what had happened might have screwed up Squall's relationship with Rinoa, but maybe what they had going hadn't been all roses to begin with. Seifer couldn't have known Rinoa would find out. He couldn't have known the brunet would take the drug or would even respond to any of his advances. Why had Squall reacted like that? Had it purely been the drug's effects? Could Avalanche make you feel pleasure from something that disgusted you?

Confused, Seifer stopped in his tracks. Maybe Squall hadn't been completely averse to what had happened, but it had still been wrong on so many levels. In the end, he couldn't really blame anyone but himself. He'd known what the drug did and had still offered it to the brunet. He'd known he wouldn't be able to control himself. He'd known something was still going on between Squall and Rinoa.

Mind coming full circle, with no clearer idea of what to do, he sighed in resignation. He'd have to leave soon. Arc was expecting him at two and if he didn't want to be late, he'd have to start finding his way back to his car. Taking in his surroundings, he scanned the environment for a landmark that would lead him back to the parking lot.

[Arc Balios' Weapon Shop, Thursday, 16th of October, 8:13 pm]

Cursing, Seifer eyed the bright piece of heated metal in annoyance. About to snap, he strode over to the slack tub and forced the hot piece into the cold water, fed up with his inability to produce anything worthwhile. He'd already managed to get several slight burns and one very sore finger. Ignoring the piece he had been working on, he ran a gloved hand through his hair in frustration, not caring about traces of soot clinging to blond strands.

At least Arc wasn't there to witness his blunders anymore. When the older man had been working by his side earlier, it hadn't taken long for the man to pick up on his restless frame of mind. He had sensed appraising eyes following his every move. Within half an hour of arriving at the workshop, he had managed to spill oil on a blueprint, start work on a wrong weapon and bend the handle of a dagger into entirely the wrong shape. Things hadn't really picked up since then either. In fact, he was rather certain he'd managed to set Arc back at least a couple of days without producing anything substantial in return. And just as he thought he'd finally undone the mess he'd made of the dagger, he'd made another fucking blunder and accidentally used the wrong punch, effectively ruining the design that had been part of the order.

Grimacing, he took off his work gloves and placed them on one of the messy surfaces. He'd had enough. He would come in early and try to fix his mistakes tomorrow. All day, his mind had sorted through memories of the previous night, leaving him unable to focus on what he was supposed to. His frustration escalating steadily throughout the day, he could only think of one place to go. He needed to exercise and focus on nothing but his blade.

Closing up the work shop, he made sure everything was where it should be and switched off the light as he walked through the door at the far end of the room, leading to Arc's attached residence. Walking through the small utility room, he entered the kitchen. At the old wooden table propped up right next to a wall, Arc was eating his dinner whilst making notes on some schematics.

"Hey," Seifer greeted, his eyes meeting Arc's briefly, "I'm heading off."

The old man didn't say anything in reply, just kept studying the blond, his lined face locked in contemplation. After deliberating with himself for short seconds, he nodded in the direction of the two pots still placed on top of the stove and then to the seat across from him at the table.

Relaxing somewhat from his tense pose, Seifer walked over to a cupboard and got out a plate before helping himself to some of the leftovers. Sitting down at the table, he eyed the food for a long while before tucking in.

"This is the Valkyrie blaster edge I wanted you to do the finishing touches on. The buyer will be picking it up Tuesday afternoon. I've already finished the basics, but I need you to make sure it lives up to these specifications and looks exactly like this," the old man said as he pushed the schematics across the table for the blond to take a look at.

Turning the piece of paper around to study as he worked his way through his meal, Seifer didn't notice the old man's attention still on him. Halfway through, he nodded before swallowing. "Sure," he said as he noted the things he'd need to stay on top of. "Should be doable."

"Good," Arc remarked as he leaned back against the wall.

Looking up from the schematics, Seifer finally became aware of the other's gaze still upon him and met it with narrowed eyes, instantly annoyed at the close scrutiny.

The old man moved the technical drawing back to rest next to his empty plate without moving his eyes from Seifer's. "What's up, son?"

Green eyes narrowing further, Seifer averted his gaze as he focused on an old cut in the table, his brow scrunching up as he pondered the man's question. He didn't know what to tell Arc, nor could he promise everything would go back to normal anytime soon.

"Nothing," he said as he brought another spoonful of rice and sauce to his lips, chewing slowly on the bits of mixed in meat. He knew he couldn't fool Arc, but he also knew the man wouldn't pry. Having denied the man a proper answer, he quickly finished his meal, wanting to get out of there.

"I'll be here early tomorrow," he said as he got up from the table and placed his plate in the sink. Arc hummed from behind him in acknowledgement.

Not saying anything further, he moved to the entryway of the small house and exited into the brisk evening air. Making it to his pick up in quick strides, he got in the driver's seat and switched on the engine without any additional thought to the strained atmosphere he'd left behind. His mind was already preoccupied with the same thoughts that had plagued him the entire day.

Fifteen minutes later he pulled up in front of the SCTA, his frustration at the last twenty-four hours not abated in the slightest. As he got out of the car, he slammed the door shut, before walking over to the entrance of the training academy. He wasn't really in the mood to bump into any of his students or deal with any of the other teachers, but he needed the distraction of losing himself to physical exertion badly.

Inside, the foyer was almost empty, only a few students and Madden present in the room. Inwardly relieved he didn't recognize any of the students, he walked up to the reception and nodded at Madden. Continuing through the left hallway, he headed to men's changing rooms, quickly making his way past wooden benches and rows of lockers when he entered. At the other end of the large room, he pushed open another door labeled with an "Instructors Only" sign.

Stopping in front of a dark blue locker with his surname displayed on it, Seifer punched in his key code and waited for the sound of the hydraulic lock releasing. Quickly, he grabbed one of his uniforms and walked over to the changing area of the room.

Suited up with Kronos in hand, he stood leaning against the doorframe of the gunblade training room short minutes later. Healey's class was already well under way. Some of the students had noticed Seifer and whispers quickly made their way through the room like ripples, curious eyes shifting his way in a predictable pattern. Remaining silent, he didn't meet any of their gazes, instead kept his eyes trained on the couple sparring in the middle of the room, the two boys receiving running feedback from the substitute instructor.

Noticing the growing inattentiveness of his students, Healey turned around and upon spotting Seifer sent the man a curt nod before turning back around without as much as a word. They'd never gotten along well, their ways of teaching differing vastly and clashing whenever one had to take over from the other. Where Seifer seemed to be a proponent of tough love, Healey found the best results came from support and praise. He believed pointing out students' mistakes only disheartened them and made them lose confidence.

Watching for a long while as the lesson unfolded, Seifer noticed things weren't looking quite as bleak as he'd originally imagined. When the students were told to pair up and practice the techniques Healey had gone over at the beginning of the lesson, he was even halfway impressed. Of course, the students would have performed even better if he had taught them the moves himself, but for a mediocre gunblader teaching them, the results weren't half bad. If only the man would stop teaching them useless parries that looked good in theory but would never be anywhere near useful in the real world, then maybe they would get somewhere. That and actually grow some balls and tell the students when they fucked up. Moves that seemed like innocent mistakes in class could easily lead to death in the field.

Engrossed in scrutinizing his student's techniques, he almost didn't notice when another person stopped to lean against the door frame right next to him. Turning his head slightly in the direction of the other man, he wasn't surprised to see Calder at his side. Nodding in greeting, he returned his gaze to his favorite students, taking enjoyment in watching their confident moves. Vaguely wondering if any of the instructors back at Garden had ever watched himself and Squall spar and derived any satisfaction from such a sight, his eyes became distant.

"I knew you'd be here," Calder said in a low voice.

Seifer hummed in response, his eyes returning to the pair of fighters that were concentrated solely on each other. "Sorry about last night," he said as he pushed away from the door frame and turned to walk down the empty hallway, fully expecting Calder to follow him.

Even though he'd only been in Seifer's presence for less than a minute, Calder knew something was up, the reserved look to green eyes quickly clueing him in. "You'd better be," he spoke, attempting to make light of the situation, but he was no less concerned when the blond's eyes only narrowed further in thought. He looked the blond over more carefully. "What happened?" he asked as his brow scrunched up in disquiet.

"It doesn't matter," the blond said, dismissing Calder's inquiry. "You ready to spar?" he asked instead, his eyes moving to regard the simplistic gunblade held in the man's hand.

"Sure," Calder replied, his concern not diminishing at the way green eyes seemed to be avoiding him and eyed his blade almost vacantly. This was a new side to Seifer; one he'd never encountered before. The blond was always armed with a cocky or flirty remark, never silent or evasive.

"It's good to see you," Calder added, attempting to ease the tension that had settled between them, but was left puzzled when green eyes didn't seem to respond to his words.

Walking ahead, Seifer led them to the main training hall. He didn't know what to say, only knew he had to fight and focus on sparring and nothing else. He needed to be rid of the images that kept plaguing his mind. When the two of them finally reached an unused spot in the large training hall, he distanced himself and as soon as he was far enough away to gain enough force behind his attack, he lunged at Calder.

Their spar went by as usual with Seifer quickly gaining the upper hand. He was used to holding back just to prolong their fight. No one at the SCTA came close to his level. Calder was actually one of the better gunbladers there, but the man's skill was still a far cry from what he had been used to with Squall. The man's stamina, on the other hand, he couldn't complain about. They could go on for what felt like forever and even if he was left wanting on the fighting side, he'd always get a good workout.

Sweating profusely, hours later, he placed his uniform on one of the lower shelves of his locker. With a grimace, he grabbed hold of his clothes from earlier and put them on. He didn't like sweating them up, but he didn't have any other choice; bringing a towel had been the last thing on his mind when he'd left his apartment earlier that day.

After their spar, Calder had invited him to spend the night at the guy's place. He'd immediately refused, not needing any time to consider it. One way or another, he had to face everything that had happened. With a short shove to the door of his locker, he waited for it to lock up before leaving the instructors' changing room.

When he spotted Calder's gym bag and clothes strewn over one of the benches, he inadvertently cast a glance over his shoulder in the direction of the communal showers. Usually the two of them would walk out together, but he didn't have the patience to wait for Calder to finish up. Picking up his stride, without another look back, he left the changing rooms and with the barest of nods in Madden's direction as he passed the reception desk, he exited the SCTA.

Once inside his car, cold lingered around him, the last rays of sunlight lost beneath the stretch of the horizon hours ago. Placing his keys in the ignition, he hesitated as the image of gray-blue eyes glaring at him in unbridled fury appeared once more. The all too vivid memory had formed in his mind countless times already that day, and it seemed it wouldn't leave him alone. He couldn't help but wonder if a repeat would be likely in the near future, though his logic told him Squall would have left. There was no reason for Squall to stay. If Squall had wanted to cause him more harm, then the guy would have done so when he'd had the chance. With that in mind, he turned on the ignition and pulled out of the parking lot.

Temporarily distracted by traffic, he had a brief moment of respite before his thoughts once more drifted back to the brunet. Even if he never wanted to see Squall again, the thought also left him feeling strangely hollow. Cursing inwardly at himself for the unwanted sentiment, he frowned and tried to renew his focus on the electric lights whizzing by, but it was useless, his thoughts stuck in a vicious circle.

Though he'd never told the guy as much or let it show, he'd always enjoyed Squall's company--even if the guy could be a pissy anal bastard at times. The years he'd spent training with Squall, the two of them locked in constant rivalry, had by far been the best. But life had changed. He'd failed to become a SeeD even though he had felt he'd been on the right track and that he'd deserved a place in their ranks. But no one else had agreed. That was what had caused his first misstep of many. His first step away from Garden and Squall. Now they were mere strangers.

No. Squall wouldn't stay.

When he pulled in across from his apartment building, he remained sitting in the darkness of his car for long minutes. He knew the reality of returning home wasn't going to be pleasant. The thought of Squall being there, waiting for him left him with a feeling of dread, but the thought of his apartment being empty was just as unwelcome. Coming to the conclusion that he'd just have to deal with it either way, he got out of the driver's seat and made his way to his apartment.


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