Convergence [1]: Broken

BY : currie
Category: Final Fantasy VIII > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 752
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VIII, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

~ 11. Stand in the Middle ~


Ugh.

Zell twisted against Squall's side, wondering groggily whether he had spent the earlier part of the night eating clay or something else equally heavy and sickening. His tongue was plastered to the roof of his mouth with what seemed to be alcoholic glue, and within seconds of realizing this, the only urge he could pursue was finding something to quench his thirst. Had he ever been this thirsty in his life? He couldn't remember-- couldn't remember much at all, actually. Sparing some of his attention to make sure he didn't wake Squall as he moved, he slid from their covers and tugged his shoes back onto his feet.

He had already made it few steps into the night before he realized he also needed relieve himself. The touch of his own hand reminded him vaguely of another, and it took him a few groggy seconds to remember whose it had been. With a sigh, he finished and buttoned back up, relieved in more ways than one. He had forgiven Squall-- the brunette must have earned it to be able to do what he had out in the middle of nowhere, and then fall asleep beside him. Remembering his thirst, he rushed his way over to the tent, wary in the darkness. Damn, his head was still fuzzy. He staggered for a second, a hand pressed to fallen spikes of hair.

"Aw, you came to see me." With the words, a flashlight clicked on inside the tent.

Zell jumped back a step, but didn't say a word. Why couldn't he have found Seifer asleep? It didn't matter though, he just had to drink. He fell to his knees once inside and began to madly search their packpack without sparing the taller blond a glance.

"Looking for these?"

Zell looked up with a cringe to find Seifer leaning on an elbow and gesturing to the pair of canteens that lay between him and their flashlight, using the self-satisfied grin that befell his features far too often to regard him with some odd sort of interest. Still not speaking (and unsure he would be able to if he tried), Zell lunged for the nearest one and emptied it. With a rough wipe of his forearm across his lips, he managed to mutter his thanks.

"You look like hell." Right, of course. Zell rolled his eyes. Seifer just couldn't help commenting on his likely terrible appearance. He stood and readied himself to make his way outside to go back to sleep. His eyelids felt like lead along with the rest of his body, now. "I wasn't making fun of you. I'm suprised you don't look worse after all you drank."

Zell froze, eyes bulging as he suddenly felt much more awake. Shit. Damn it. Seifer knew already that he'd taken his liquor. The only thing that kept him from sprinting was the strange absence of anger in the man's voice.

Seifer chuckled as Zell turned slowly to look at him, a deer in the proverbial headlights, obviously terrified. "Stay. We can talk."

"... Talk?" Zell regarded him with pure confusion. ".... You don't want to... like... kick my ass?"

"I can't. I'd've thought Squall would tell you-- he forced me into a deal before mending my tongue back into one piece. I have to be nice to you today." He didn't really mind it, not when he could use Squall's influence as an excuse. Zell was... interesting. Many of the constant jeers that he aimed at the boisterous martial artist amused him, but they still came from a sense of obligation. This might be a nice change, for a day.

Zell blinked a few times, nodded as the memory hit him, along with a few others. He fell back onto his butt and crossed his legs, gazing absently out into the night. He'd been pissed. And then... he'd made a disgusting display in front of Squall. He closed his eyes as embarassment flooded him.

Seifer turned fully onto his side. "You're blushing. Flattered?"

"Not exactly." Zell turned his head away, hiding his reddened cheeks too late. His encounter with Squall was something he wasn't ready to share. "I'll replace the alcohol."

"Fuck that, you can't *buy* it."

"Well yeah, I know... that stuff was strong. Still thought I'd give you some money or somethin.'"

Seifer waved a dismissive hand. "Don't bother. The issue's not gil, it's opportunity. We're stuck in the desert, for Hynesakes, and you took every last drop. That's what pisses me off."

With a frown of thought, Zell pulled the front of his shirt from his chest and looked at it. "If you want it that bad, there's some on here. I'll let you suck it off as long as you don't mind a little B.O."

Seifer smiled and shook his head at the sarcastic offer, almost proud of him-- almost. "Shut your mouth, smartass. You're lucky I found my flask a whole hour ago when I went out there to get a midnight snack. Almost kicked you right the fuck out of bed for an interrogation before I remembered my little *promise* and came backherehere to fume."

"You really do keep promises, hey?"

"Damn right I do. Got a rep to uphold."

"Some rep. All the kids at Balamb-G are scared shitless of you, not to mention some of the profs..."

"Keeps 'em in line."

Zell shrugged. Long minutes passed in silence before Seifer spoke again. "I'm surprised *you* haven't tried to kick the crap out of *me.*"

A mussed blond head turned quickly. "Huh?"

"For fucking Squall without you. That's what's had your feathers ruffled, isn't it?"

Zell shrugged again and turned back around, finding a piece of thread at the hem of his jeans to pick at. "We worked it out," he replied quietly.

"That I've already assumed, as you were so adorably nestled against his side in your nest. My inquiry concerns you and I."

"As I told him already, it's what you do."

"Fuck him?" Seifer smiled, amusement raising his eyebrows. Yes, hopefully that would become a habit.

Zell mouthed a disgruntled "Idiot," beneath his breath before explaining. "You piss me off all the time. You like it. It wasn't a surprise."

"So you forgive me?" Seifer forced sweetness into his voice, still smiling. He knew he wasn't supposed to tease him, but the little guy's mere demeanor begged for it.

"I'm *used* to it. Forgiveness would start way too far back. That doesn't happen."

The grin dropped from Seifer's face. "Far back?"

"Gee, like maybe it's 'cause you've been an asshole to me since I was five," Zell replied in a mock-stupid tone, rolling his eyes hard even though Seifer couldn't see it. "You hate my guts. I accepted that a long time ago. But don't try to drag up 'forgiveness.'"

"Come on, you're damn fun to tease, that's all."

"Yeah, well, I'm not a toy. Not that I should be bothering talking to you about any of it."

"I think you spent too much time letting Squall rub his emo all over you earlier tonight." Seifer chuckled at his own words, then stopped as Zell whipped around on his bottom, hands pressed to the floor before him.

"Fuck you," he spat, "This is what you call 'nice?' Fuck you. Can't take anything seriously, not in your whole fucking life."

"I take plenty of things seriously, and it's no business of yours what they are," Seifer replied cooly, "but fine, I'm sorry, I'll try again."

Zell swallowed hard as he tried to pull the anger from his face and grabbed the other canteen, ripping off the cap ungracefully before filling his re-parched mouth again and swallowing immediately. "You never even apologize seriously."

"Well, I am now."

"Only 'cause Squall's making you."

"Oh, really? Last I checked he's still outside catching up on his beautysleep-- not in here with a blade against my side."

"You always keep your promises," Zell mocked dryly, a sarcastic quote.

"That's right, I do-- because I choose to, not because anyone forces me."

Zell shook his head to clear away the dizzying spiral their conversation had become. "So... what? What the hell, then?" he asked pointlessly, his confusion evident.

Seifer sighed. "Look, I don't hate you. I wanted to say that before. You don't want to know what I do to the people I hate."

"Well, I guess it must be something other than torture them for their entire lives, huh? You save that for the special ones like me, don'cha?"

"Hyne's dripping cunt, you're pissy tonight."

Zell scowled at the profanity. "Somes mes I wonder if your head's made of stone."

"Oh? Who's the one not being nice *now*?"

"*I* didn't promise Squall anything. And trust me, if he really wanted me to, I'd make him a promise to kiss your stinkin' boots and keep it." Zell caught a gasp in his throat-- what did he just say? He planted an imaginary palm across his face. Great job, revealing more weakness to Seifer. Damn damn.

"And I'd do the same to yours were our positions reversed," Seifer replied with surprising honesty. "Seems we agree on something, don't we?" Zell didn't answer him, so he pressed on. "Judging by those little nibbles, you regret saying that."

Zell self-consciously spat his bottom lip back out. "You'll use it later. I know it."

Seifer just shook his head sadly, unwilling to justify the near-quote with a reply, before brightening again. "When you think about it, we've both already done something like that for him-- kissed one another's metaphorical shoes, you might say. My liquor hasn't fogged your brain up enough to forget *that,* now has it?"

Zell scowled at the backs of his hands. He was blushing again. "No."

"Although... I *do* know you didn't participate solely for his benefit. Remember when I woke you up? You were bucking into my hand before you even knew I planned to involve him."

Zell nearly choked on the mouthful of water he had taken, eyes bulging wide as he worked it down his throat. "*Me*??" he gasped, "You kissed me, and you knew for damn sure he couldn't see it!"

Seifer shrugged, disguising his gulp in a smug pause. "A mistake in a moment of passion," he dismissed, finding his own tone unconvincing and hoping Zell wouldn't as well.

"And when you said my name, that was too?" Zell enjoyed this leverage. The coolness of Seifer's tone had cracked, if just for moment. Zell was gradually realizing that although he had given into an agressive touch, the one supposedly in control had really lost more of it than he had.

"Damn right it was." Shit, Zell was turning this back on him. Time to escape through the backdoor of button-pushing again. "What can I say? You've got a really tight little ass."

Zell didn't take the bait. He sat back, smugly crossing his arms as he basked in Seifer's scowl. "You're not the kinda guy that easily makes two mistakes within fifteen minutes. I drove you crazy. You weren't shitting me last night. You *do* want me."

Seifer met his eyes, half-shocked by the way he had almost backed away beneath the challenge. *Zell's* challenge. That would be the day. "And if I do?" he asked non-comitally, forcing indifference into his voice. Zell's lips were awfully pink after all that biting. Just like they had been before. He wondered if Zell knew it, and scoffed. Little bitch probably did.

"You can't have me, no way." Zell displayed his fangs, giddy. "No way, not ever again. That was a one-time deal."

Seifer lunged forward, his resemblance to a predator making Zell flinch, just as he had predicted. He made sure to keep their faces close without letting any part of their bodies touch. "Remember what I said, little one," he purred, "I even left those pretty hickies on your neck to remind you-- you're mine whether you want to be or not."

"And are you planning on keeping your gunblade in your hand when you try it?" Zell returned after recovering quickly from the threat in Seifer's surpentineses.ses. He leaned forward a little, hoping the further breach of personal space would have Seifer backing away. It didn't, and if Zell moved any closer, they would be kissing. "You're forgetting about my advantage. Hand-to-hand, I'll beat you down, and you know it." He balled up his hands, making sure Seifer would hear the rustle of his gloves as they tightened around his fists.

"One touch and you're putty, that's what I know. Skill doesn't matter too much when you lose the will to fight." Seifer fell back, hitting his sleeping bag with a chuckle.

"What, you think *I* want *you* now?" Zell asked, anger flaring up again as he leaned further forward.

Seifer glanced at the cieling, where a mosquito had trapped itself in the middle crease and buzzed frantically along it. "Of course."

"Hell with that," Zell spat, "Bastard."

"At least I can admit it." After a relaxing stretch, Seifer pillowed the back of his head in his hands. "How can you blame me for teasing you, anyway? Look at you, a couple words from me and it's like I cast a Berserk on you. Don't make it so easy. It gets boring."

Zell took a deep breath. "Good. I wanna bore you. Maybe then you'll leave me alone."

Seifer gestured to the slit in the side of the tent, where the flap had begun to shudder frantically about in a new wind. "You've been free to go all this time. I'm getting sleepy anyway." He yawned loudy to punctuate his words.

"Fine!" Zell stood and ducked in preparation to leave, "Fine, have a good nap, and don't bother trying to be 'nice' to me anymore."

"If that's what you'd like, so be it," Seifer replied.

"Woah!" A surprised Zell stumbled backwards and fell on the floor-- Squall had appeared at the entrance just as he was about to leave.

"Nobody's going anywhere." Squall rushed inside and quickly zipped up the flap that made their door.

"Geez, Squall, you scared the hell outta me!.... Hey wait, why not?"

"Sand storm. Just about to start up." Squall relaxed his arm, dropping the bundle of Zell's sleeping bag. He felt like he had just been attacked by a giant piece of sandpaper.

Zell sat up, rubbing the back of his head. "Good thing we came back, then."

Squall remained standing with a hand on his hip as he searched Zell's face, unsure how how well his memory was serving him. "You're flushed." He turned to Seifer. "Did you forget?"

Seifer knitted his eyebrows together in an attempt at looking pained. "Squall, I'm hurt. Please tell me you don't actually think I'd forget any of my conversations with you. Don't worry, Chickie and I were just talking."

Squall raised questioning eyebrows at Zell, sparing a moment of pity for Quistis. He felt all too much like a professor dealing with first-years. Recieving an affirming nod, he sat down. He cringed as a windblown rush of sand hissed against one wall--hopefully this wouldn't last long past sunrise. There was no way they could walk in it.

"Why hasn't anyone found us yet?"

Squall glanced at Zell to find him bent forward, picking cactus thorns out of his shoelaces. "It's only been three days since you lost the truck. It's a big search area. I'm sure they're doing all they can."

"Well, they'd better pick our asses up soon." Seifer added, "My snack earlier came from the last food pack."

"What?" Zell whipped his head around to glare at him, "What the hell? You ate the last one? Couldn't even save anything for us? You selfish b--"

"I'll have you know I had full rights to it."

Squall closed his eyes for a second to make a quick calculation. "He's right. I already ate tonight, as you did, right Zell?"

Zell hung his head. "No. My food's still out there, unless you picked it up."

"Sorry... I didn't see it."

"Prob'ly blown away by now. I was gonna eat... never got around to it." Zell muttered a curse, hands clenching his knees.

"Well!" Seifer clapped his hands and rubbed them together eagerly, "Good thing I'm not the selfish-- what was it?-- 'bastard,' probably-- that you wanted to call me." He lifted a flap of fabric from atop a foil package that rested behind him on the floor. "Feel free to garnish it with your words." With a quick toss the remainder of their food landed in the middle of the seated trio, right side up.

Zell peeked inside to find two of the original three shriveled pink things left. "They're yours," he grumbled over the betraying rumble of his stomach, "I don't want 'em."

"See, Squall? I'm *trying* to be nice to him. And this is how he thame.me."

"One of you just eat them. You're acting like children."

"You can have them then, Squall," Zell offered.

"Forget it. I'm the only one of us who's already had a whole meal tonight."

"You're sick."

"It wore off."

"You need 'em."

"I'm fine."

"Still--"

"Zell, you've already given me one--"

"Oh, hell." Seifer snatched the package back up and waved it about to get Zell's attention. "Last chance."

Zell squinted in a moment of deliberation, looking back and forth between Seifer's smirk and the foil in his hand. "Fine. I'll have *one.*"

"Good boy." Seifer took one, tossed the package back. Zell caught it and took out the other. "A toast?" Seifer suggested, raising it in the air, "To the life-sustaining abilities of the cactus, as that's all we'll be eating from now on."

"Shut up." Zell's minute grin peeked out from around a mouthful despite his moodiness. Seifer shrugged tos tossed the tubesteak back, barely chewing.

Squall couldn't help but frown at he watched. Seifer's comment, as sarcastic as he may have meant it, held sobering truth. They would likely go a few dayshouthout eating before getting desperate enough to try it, and he wasn't looking forward to it. They'd either thrive on whatever flesh the plants contained, or die from a reaction to them-- he didn't know anything of botany, and neither did the others. Maybe they would get lucky and find some sort of edible beast roaming about. It was getting more difficult hourly to hope that they'd be found before the issue fully presented itself.

"Shit, that was disgusting. Left film on the roof of my mouth."

"Quit yer whining, you baby." Zell went back to picking at the inch-long thorns tangled in his laces. "Must've tripped over one of 'em... stupid frickin' plant-cactus thingies..." he mumbled as he managed to remove one and place it on the floor, "Damn..."

"One? More like six," Seifer observed, "Where the hell did you go?"

"For a jog. That's all you've gotta know."

Seifer reached out, making a beckoning motion with his fingers. "Give me one."

Zell blinked at him. "What?"

With an annoyed sigh and an eyeroll of his own, Seifer took hold of Zell's nearest ankle. Zell initally jerked back, but relaxed as Seifer pulled his leg toward himself (turning Zell to face his direction in the process) and lay down on his belly. "Um... thanks..." Seifer dismissed Zell's shocked stutter with a wave before getting to work on the tangled mass in front of him.

Squall observed silently-- Zell haunched over one bent leg with the other stretched out, Seifer biting the tip of his tongue in concentration-- and allowed himself to smile for a moment. Admittedly, he was proud of his own quick thinking in Seifer's painful time of need, but he held more for the two of them. They had made more progress in the last half-hour or so than he had seen them make in their lives. Hopefully it would last. Maybe Seifer would see that it was easier not to b ass asshole... Squall immediately dismissed the thought. No, he wouldn't just 'change'-- to assume anyone would was to do no more than wish. Well, at least Zell was getting a break.

"Ah!" Squall was torn from his thoughts as Seifer sat up, his left index finger in his mouth.

"You alright?" Zell was unable to keep a grin from tarnishing his concern.

Seifer mumbled a curse as he tore the digit from his mouth and watched a bead of blood grow upon the tip. "I didn't think they'd be *that* sharp..."squesqueezed it and fought back a wince, hissing. "Why the fuck does it sting so much?"

"Wow, are you ever a wuss."

"Shut up, you. I know it's just a fucking pinprick but it's like my goddamn hand's on... fire... oh shit...."

Zell loudly echoed Seifer's last curse as he watched green eyes roll upwards. Seifer collapsed onto his side just as both Zell and Squall reached him. "Gah, what, it was poisonous?"

Squall nodded a confirmation as he searched his brain for memories of remedies for *actual* poison, rather than that of the magical kind. "I think... Zell, did you bring potions? Antidotes?"

Zell didn't get a chance to answer-- Seifer's unconscious form became taut, and started shaking with minor convulsions a moment later. His eyes flashed open, pure white. "Fuck, shit, he's seizing!" Guilt flashed through Zell's midsection and forced him up to press Seifer's shoulders down, turning him onto his back. "He'll choke on his fucking tongue!" he exclaimed as the jerking became more violent.

"No he won't." Squall reached for Seifer's legs and pressed down lightly. The effects of a childhood spent witnessing the injuries and deaths of his comrades forced a calm upon his system, and for the first time in a long while he was glad for his desensitization. Panic still fought him, of course-- this attack was so sudden, offering next to no time to think anything over. Seifer could die. They may already have been powerless to help him. He pushed down that dreadful rock as it tried to reach up and engulf his concentration. Self-control was all he had to depend on to get Seifer through this. "He'll be fine. Tell me where the antidotes are." Squall remembered it clearly now, from a lesson learned the hard way long ago by means of a nonfatal jellyfish sting. Kadowaki had explained it to him-- spells only cancelled out other magic, while antidotes covered both that and the real thing.

"There's... there's just one! In his coat, yeah, I remember, he took it from me and put it in his pocket.-- Seif, wake the hell up!" Zell lightly slapped at his face, to no avail. "It all my fault..."

"You can't just wake someone up from this," Squall replied as he climbed over Seifer to reach his folded trenchcoat. "Do you remember what pocket he put it in?"

"No! Fuck, I don't know! Wait yeah, I do... inside pocket, second from the top on the right side," Zell spouted, startling both of them with his efficiency.

"Impressive."

"Look at him... hurry up! Shit, I don't think he can breathe--"

"Calm down." Squall felt his face relax as his quivering fingers met the cool glass of a vial in the first pocket he checked. He leaned back, strattling Seifer's waist as he jerked about. "I found it. Hold him still for me."

"Um... um sure..." Zell very carefully tugged his shoes from his feet and tossed them into the tent's opposite corner, then shoved over and managed to pull Seifer's head into his lap. He held a palm against each cheek, curling the tip his his fingers beneath the edges of his jaw as he did his best to stay out of Squall's way. Squall's calm exterior began to influence him, allowing him to lower his voice. "Wait, no, he'll choke on it."

"He might," Squall admitted as he leaned forward, helping Zell keep Seifer still with his free haHe aHe accepted the risk because Seifer would as well. They didn't have another option. He pulled out the plastic stopper with his teeth and dropped it. Knowing he would be unable to open such tightly clenched jaws, he pulled at the side of Seifer's mouth with his thumb and poured it in there, then immediately covered his mouth with one hand. "Get him on his side," he urged, sliding off and back to the floor so he could help Zell follow his instructions.

For several more agonizing seconds, in which Squall silently mouthed a mantra of "c'mon" and Zell remained completely still, Seifer's body continued to twitch beneath their hands despite his eyelids already having relaxed and closed. As his muscles started to slow their panic, Squall removed his palm to find it stained with a line of blue. He wasn't surprised as a bit more trickled to the floor from Seifer's lips.

Zell clutched at Seifer's shoulder hard with a mix of hope and disbelief. "He didn't swallow it?"

"He swallowed enough," Squall assured, already relieved. Seifer's movements stopped abruptly then, allowing his lungs to suck in a deep gasp before he fell into a fit of coughs.

Habit made Zell rub his back and relief let his head loll forward. "Thank Hyne..." he breathed, his voice barely audible. Squall looked on silently, just as relieved as Zell, if not more so. He let it show in a light squeeze where his hand rested atop Seifer's thigh.

Seifer's eyes fluttered open, revealing normal-sized pupils. He blinked a few times, surprised to find his head resting on Zell's shin. "I don't think... we'll be eating--" cough "--any of them *now,* eh?"

"You shit," Zell said around a grin, "I can't believe you did that."

Seifer struggled to take in another breath and coughed more before languidly replying, "And what's it matter to you?"

"ou kou know what happened?" Squall asked, interrupting the argument before it could start. Seifer tilted his head to finally notice Squall's face holding a much softer expression than usual.

"I passed out, obviously." Seifer cleared his throat, but his voice remained hoarse. "And my mouth tastes like antidote, so--"

"The poison gave you a seizure. It's likely you would have died had Zell not remembered where to find the last vial."

"You've only got like six million pockets in that thing," Zell injected.

Seifer turned, struggling to push himself up with his hands. He couldn't believe how sore his arms were. "And you," he grunted, "use them to hold all your shit whenever we get stuck on missions together, so shut the fuck up."

"I would be thanking him, not starting a fight with him."

Seifer managed his way onto hands and knees, and took great pleasure in narrowing a cocky gaze at Zell. "Thanks," his obedience hissed before he climbed away from both sets of hands. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get some sleep before sunrise." A flop onto his side a few feet away had him coughing again, and he rolled to face the taut wall before his fit finished. "You just *had* to choke me too, didn't you."

Squall shot Zell a warning glance, all too familiar with the furious clenching and unclenching of his jaw. "No!" Zell replied to the look, "I won't leave him be, or whatever it is you're trying to tell me to do. This is bullshit! We saved your life, Seifer, you shithead!"

"It's all *your* fault, Zelly-boy. You're the one who brought those thorns in here to begin with."

"You said you wanted to sleep, so do it." Squall placed a warning hand on Zell's arm, hoping to relax his fists. "And Zell, please, don't aggravate him any more." Damn, was he ever sick of being their mediator. He was surprised they hadn't killed each other while he was incapacitated.

Remarkably, Squall's gesture worked. Zell fell away from him, abandoning his crouch as he sat. "Wounded pride," he mumbled, "That's what it is. He doesn't want us to know what a wuss he is, so he treats us like crap instead of showing us he hurts once in a while."

Squall stared, shocked. Zell was being remarkably intuitive, as unwise as it may have been in their situation. Seifer rolled back over faster than he should have and almost started coughing again. "Me, a wuss?" He managed a chuckle, "At least I *have* some pride left to wound. You, on the other hand, are worse than a Trepie." His volume grew as he laughed knowingly at Zell's confused expression. He didn't even see Squall shaking his head in desperate warning. "You follow Squall around like you're his most devoted fucking puppy. Started calling him 'master' yet, little pussy?"

Squall tried to stop Zell, even managed to get in front of him, but he was bulldozed beneath the force of his charge. Zell simply roared as he surged forward, rage dissolving his ability to form words. He didn't notice the odd look in Seifer's eyes before it was too late to come to a stop. His left fist connected with the centre of Seifer's chest, drawing an audible crack despite having been held back at the last minute. Seifer was thrust back into the floor beneath the force, eyes shining bright with pain and shock as he writhed, fighting to breathe. Zell's movement had thrown the flashlight into the corner, where it rolled until it faced the wall, turning the light in their makeshift room to a darkened haze

"Oh... oh fuck..." Zell stared at him, numb and frozen with guilt. He knew what had put that look on Seifer's face the moment he saw it, before he struck, despite having never seen it on him before.

Regret.

"You idiotSquaSquall hollered, shoving Zell off of him. He was immediately by Seifer's side, unfastening his vest, "A Cure spell can't fix a shattered fucking sternum! Your hands are weapons, dammit, they're not like everyone else's!" He lifted the fabric away and began carefully testing for give with the pads of his fingers, doing his best to consider Seifer's pitiful chokes of protest without letting them get to him. "You can't just ... just throw responsiblity out the window and hit people because they've struck a nerve, even if it's the deepest one you have!"

Zell's mouth opened and closed like that of a fish. "I... I..." He knew that. He knew everything Squall was telling him, and on top of it, knew he had become nothing more than a child in his reaction to the deepest jeer Seifer had ever used against him. Shock replaced blinding anger. How could Seifer have managed to hurt him enough to ignore everything he had been taught, the rule he stood for the most? How could Zell have *let* him do that?

"There aren't any hospitals in the middle of the desert, in case you were wondering. He can't travel like this. We are stuck here! Do you realize that? Stuck here!" Squall lifted his hands to turn around and stare at the object of his lecture, "You could have killed him. You could have punctured internal organs if your punch landed an inch or two to either side of where it did, and we wouldn't have been able to save him." He then turned back to Seifer and tried to steady the quiver of rage in his own hands. The look on Zell's face told him he knew what he had done. Now it was time to let him wallow in what he created.

"Squall..." Seifer's voice, an uneven mutter constricted by such shallow breaths, "... fix it already. Hurts like hell."

The volume of Squall's voice lowered as it was taken over by a pity he couldn't completely deny despite his frustration. "I don't know if n. Hn. Hold on."

"I'll do it myself--"

"Don't you dare," Squall threatened, fingertscatscattering across his chest in pursuit of any abnormailty. "You'll just make it worse."

Zell didn't move from where he knelt, palms and fanned fingers against the floor to keep his own shaking from knocking him over. "I'm... oh fuck no..." His lungs began racking him until he could barely breathe himself-- he was just shy of hyperventalating, but it didn't matter. He had just made the biggest mistake in dealing with Seifer's taunts that he ever had, one he had managed to avoid making every day since the moment his hands learned how to kill no matter how harsh and unrepentant Seifer's goads became. And this time, when he finally broke and hit him, Seifer's eyes had apologized. He ruined it, ruined everything just before Seifer was going to tell him he regretted his words, just before the man really decided to become an adult. "I'm so sorry..." Seifer didn't acknowledge him. He didn't even seem to hear him.

Time passed without words, counted by Seifer's laboured gasps as Squall continued to inspect his injuries. If Zell had been able to see past his own guilt, he would have noticed Squall's shaking cease as his shoulders gradually fell to their usual level.

"Not broken, not one," Squall observed soberingly after double- and triple-checking. "Bruised, cracked, but... you're still in one piece. I don't know how." He took a deep breath in preparation to cast magic, with no reason to delay now that he knew it wouldn't fuse bones back together in the wrong places. Seifer cried out softly as the shock of three successive Curagas entered his system, and remained still in their wake. "And you, Seifer... I wasn't going to get started on you with all the pain you were already in, but now... You know what? You're an idiot too."

Seifer didn't respond, his willingness to just lay and listen surprising Squall enough to melt the steel in his voice as he continued,f anf anyone knows how to commit verbal suicide, it's you. Bringing me into it was the lowest thing you could have done. You knew damn well what you were doing to him, but you ignored that because you always have to get revenge ten times more debilitating than whatever it is you're avenging." He paused to study Seifer's eyes, thoughtful as he found them closed and unrevealing aside from the minute sparkle beneath his lashes. "Maybe having him hurt you like this will be gfor for you." He wiped away the touch of blue that still remained in one corner of Seifer's lips, turning it into an affectionate caress to contradict his words. It made Seifer look at hand and he didn't avoid it. "Sometimes I wonder if you even know what it's like to be in pain."

Squall stood and headed for the door. Sand had stopped hissing against the tent's walls ages ago, and he thanked the stars for it. He didn't know what he would have done if unable to leave their presence. "I'm tired of babysitting you. You're both idiots. And you were both right about each other." With a quick unzip he was outside, leaving them to handle their own mistakes as he found a place to sit in the wind-smoothed sand twenty feet away. His gloves were buried somewhere out in that blackness-- he would never get them back. The slightest hint of eastern light told him the sun would be rising soon. He covered his ears, unsure of what he might hear, not that he really cared at all what the others did now.



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