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02 December 2008 @ 11:11 am
FIC: Reload, Chapter 13 - FFVIII  
To all the non-Psych readers of this journal: I'm so sorry!

I realized recently how very, very long it had been since last posting a part of Reload. God, I hate it when people abandon fics this way - I'm so terrible!

Anyway, here's the next part, about 6000 words. (Jesus, I suck.)

Previous Part

Irvine came to with his head hanging over the toilet, Squall urgently thumping his back. Seeing his eyes flutter, the other boy slumped with relief, sitting cross-legged on the cool tile. "Hyne. I thought you were dead."

Irvine spat weakly, vomit drying on his lips. "Wish I was," he muttered. He grimaced at the taste in his mouth and pushed himself upright. He saw Squall tense, prepared to catch him if he fell, but he wavered only slightly on his way to the sink. He cupped his hands under the faucet and drank, sighing with pleasure at the cold water.

"Sorry," Irvine muttered, after he'd gotten the foul taint of bile off his tongue.

Squall waved a hand, but looked slightly ill himself. "Just not used to people throwing up on me, I guess."

Irvine let out a short, stunned laugh. "Sorry," he repeated, going over to sit on the bench.

A long, direct look was his answer, but then his headache evaporated with a shivery tingle of magic. "Don't worry about it," Squall said. He looked down at the mess on his pants without expression, and shrugged. "Needed a new pair, anyway."

The young commander stood and planted his hands on his hips, cocking his head at Irvine. "Is that what your hangovers are normally like?"

The expected stiffness and discomfiture failed to appear. "Yeah," Irvine said, surprised at the easiness of the answer. "Well, sometimes. I don't usually get them with whiskey. It must have been the Trabian."

Squall nodded, his eyes softening slightly. He had a sudden flash of the night before, when Squall had carried him to this very bench, taking care of him. Irvine looked down at his hands, just noticing the crisscrossing web of fine scars covering his palms. He clenched his hands into fists, and the easy feeling drifted away.

Noticing his swallow, Squall took a step closer. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

He sensed rather than saw Squall open his mouth to question, but the commander didn't say anything for a moment. Unexpectedly, his question was, "Do you want to take a bath? You can test out the tub for me."

Irvine released the breath he'd been holding, not meeting the other's eyes. "Sure," he said, making sure his voice was calm and even.

"I'll bring you some clothes. See if you can figure out how to make the damned bathtub run, okay?"

_____

Squall shucked his stained trousers to a far corner of his bedroom, and rummaged through his closet for fresh clothes for himself and Irvine. 'I'm running out of clean pants, at this rate,' he thought ruefully. He settled on the edge of the large mattress, pulling on his last leather trousers and boots quickly, before venturing out into the main room again to knock on the bathroom door.

"Can I come in?"

He heard a faint splash. "Um, sure," Irvine replied.

Squall pressed open the door and blinked in shock at what was revealed. A very naked Irvine was sitting in the bathtub, hair soaked to a dark auburn and clinging to his shoulders and pectoral muscles. As Squall watched, he drew his knees up in front of himself, wrapping his arms around his legs. His cheeks were growing steadily pinker, the color staining his golden skin and making him look quite… pretty. Squall blinked again.

"Squall?" Irvine asked, voice tinted with uncertainty. Despite his height, he looked small in the huge, white tub.

The commander took a halting step forward, and stopped. "I…" Irvine leaned forward the slightest bit, reddening further. "I brought you clothes," Squall managed.

"Thanks."

Squall gathered himself with a shake of the head, and strode quickly over to the bench next to the bath. He dropped the small bundle and turned away in the same moment, going over to towel rack next to the shower. "Would you like a blue or white towel?" he asked abruptly, his back to the other boy.

Irvine let out a shaky laugh. "Blue, I guess."

Squall turned around slowly, eyes reluctantly rising from the patterned tile floor to train on Irvine, who was pushing his wet hair behind his ears with both hands. Squall felt his jaw slacken slightly, watching the lean muscles move under that golden skin. His long legs had slid forward a bit, knees falling below the steaming water line.

Irvine turned his head, saw Squall looking, and quickly brought his arms back around his legs. Squall moved over to the bench and placed the blue towel carefully next to the clothes. He was very close and kept his gaze resolutely high. Irvine met his eyes, and Squall was surprised to see the tiniest hint of fear there.

"Thanks," Irvine mumbled again, sloshing the water in the tub. His eyelashes were spiky with moisture, turning them nearly black.

Squall shook his head once more and backed away, towards the door. When he'd reached the safety of the doorway, he spoke again. "Anna is coming to see you again this afternoon."

"Oh." Irvine looked down, into the water. "Okay."

"I should tell her about last night."

Irvine's hands clenched and he closed his eyes. "No."

Squall sighed. "Irvine…"

"No, I meant – I'll do it." He lifted his head and gazed steadily at Squall. "It's time."

A smile tugged at the corners of Squall's mouth. "That's good," he murmured.

Irvine offered a minute smile in return, though the mote of fear in his eyes had spread. Squall's breath caught, unexpectedly. "I'll see you in a while, then," he said, clearing his throat. "Enjoy your bath."

Squall didn't miss the small nod Irvine gave as he closed the door.

The commander moved slowly over and sat on the couch, letting his head sink into his hands. "Oh, no," he muttered aloud. His mind filled with a flash of tanned flesh, and the small frisson of desire he felt was too terrible to contemplate. "How did this happen?" he whispered, shaking his head again.

He stood abruptly, going into the office. Jotting down a short note for Irvine, telling the other boy where he'd gone, he shrugged on his jacket and scooped up the Lionheart. 'Nothing like a few rounds in the Training Center to clear the mind.'

_____

"So… that's it, I guess," Irvine concluded the story of the night's events. Anna sat across from him, head bowed in thought. He hadn't told her the entire story – he'd left out the details of the dream he'd had, for one, and the strange turn his relationship with Squall was taking was too confusing to relate – but she knew about his accident with the liquor. The sniper found his hand slowly tangling into his russet ponytail, and hurriedly folded his hands in his lap.

A minute or two had passed before Anna spoke. "May I see your wounds?" she asked quietly. Her own hands rested calmly on the mahogany leather of the armchair she'd chosen, and her face was set in a mild expression.

Irvine pressed his lips together, considering. "Why do you need to?"

"Well, I don't. Not really. But I'd like to see."

He frowned briefly, surprised at her honesty. Not speaking, he unfolded his hands and spread them, palms up, for her inspection. The doctor leaned forward, examining the web of fine, white lines. When she reached out to touch his palm, Irvine flinched – only slightly, but enough to make Anna sit back in her chair and say, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have."

Irvine blinked, unbalanced. "That’s okay." They held each other's gaze for a moment before he asked, "What now?"

She smiled softly. "First, I congratulate you on telling me about what happened. Not many people are so forthcoming, so soon after something like that." He nodded self-consciously, and she continued. "I'm going to have to ask you some questions, Irvine. Now, I respect that you may be a bit uncomfortable after revealing something so personal, so I'll offer you this: I can give you another day before continuing, if you feel like you need it."

Irvine paused, thinking. "I don't think that's a good idea," he said slowly. "I'll answer your questions now. I just…" He sighed. "I just want to get it over with."

The doctor nodded. "Very well," she murmured. She drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair, looking at him speculatively. "Dr. Kadowaki told me that her examination of you revealed traces of alcohol in your bloodstream – that there was evidence you'd been drinking for a long time. Could you tell me when you started?"

Irvine stood, arms crossed over his chest, and began pacing. "It was…" He stopped, closing his eyes.

("Hey, check this out, Irvine!" The golden-haired boy strode into his room, a conspiratorial glint in his eye. Grinning widely, he brought his hands out from behind his back, showing his friend a tall bottle. "This chick gave me a whole fifth of Galbadian whiskey. You've got to have some, it's the best –")

"Irvine?"

He shook his head, resuming his walk. "It was Seifer," he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. "He turned me on to whiskey while he was staying at Galbadia Garden, before…" He trailed off, but she nodded, understanding.

"I wasn't a drunk, or anything," he continued. "I just liked the way it slid down my throat – it burns a little, you know?"

"Mm," she agreed.

Clearly, she was waiting for him to continue. "There was this girl at one of the liquor stores in Deling City who'd sell to any guy she thought was cute. Whiskey wasn't hard to come by – neither was anything else, for that matter."

Anna watched him pace, her clear blue eyes tracking his movements. "After he left, what made you keep drinking?"

"I – I couldn't sleep," Irvine said distantly. "He wouldn't…"

("Shut up!" Irvine yelled, slamming his fist into the wall. He could hear that cold laughter still – it wouldn't stop, wouldn't leave him alone. He pressed his forehead against the window, trying to ignore everything, to forget. But the welts and bruises on his back kept demanding attention, and his face felt sticky, broken, and he couldn't stand up or sit down without the nerves of his ass screaming… And the bastard kept laughing, and taunting, and then he saw the bottle.)

"It shut out the memory for the night," Irvine said. "And I couldn't go to a medic, so it helped dull the – the pain." He wandered back to the couch and fell onto it, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling.

"What were you going to say just then?"

"What?" he asked, looking back down at her.

Anna regarded him carefully. "You started to say, 'he wouldn't', but stopped. What did you mean? Seifer wouldn't, or someone else?"

He stared at her for a few moments before turning his face away. "I… kept hearing his voice, inside my head. I'd close my eyes and I'd be right there again. It wouldn't stop."

"So the drinking helped shut him out."

"Yeah, it did. It was the only thing I could do."

Anna nodded, somber. Leaning forward, she plucked her ever-present coffee mug from the low table, and took a long draft. "How long did this go on?" she asked once she'd finished, tracing her finger around the rim of the cup.

"After he left…" Irvine paused, trying to remember. "It was a month before I could sleep through the night." He recalled those hours of darkness with a shiver, shifting his gaze to the rear wall. He found it much easier to talk to the woman when he wasn't looking directly at her: her gaze was too penetrating.

"I see," the doctor murmured. She halted briefly; then, "When did you join Squall and the others?"

"Two weeks later, on the mission to assassinate Sorceress Edea."

She smoothed one silver-shot curl behind her ear, crossing her legs. "Do you happen to know why you were chosen for the mission?" she asked composedly.

He grinned a little, startling himself. "I am the best sniper in the Gardens," Irvine said, with a bit of his old cheek. His smile dimmed. "But also…" His eyes fell shut.

("Gods, Irvine. What the hell is the matter with you?" Martine demanded. The Galbadian headmaster looked around Irvine's tiny dormitory with distaste, taking in the dirty laundry, scattered papers, and the boy himself. Young Irvine Kinneas, who had always been so assured and well-kept, was now slipping toward the wrong side of cocky and looked a mess. Martine raised his eyebrows at the tattered jeans the boy wore, the waistband stained with reddish-brown.

"You'd better clean yourself up, Kinneas," the headmaster said, sighing at the defiant gleam in the teenager's eye.

"Yessir," the boy drawled, executing a lazy salute. His lip curled slightly, insolence etched in every line of his face. Martine frowned, then, patience drawn too thin. Clearly, it was long past time to stop coddling this boy.

"You would do well to address your superiors with a little more respect, cadet," he snapped. "Don't be surprised to find yourself sent on the very next mission that comes along. Perhaps once your pretty skin acquires a few scars you'll realize what discipline means.")

"Headmaster Martine wasn't happy with me. I think he sent me along as a punishment, for my behavior." Irvine glanced at the doctor, whose lips were curved into a moue of concentration.

To his surprise, she avoided the obvious question about his 'behavior', instead cocking her head and posing another: "Were your friends at Galbadia concerned that you had started drinking so heavily?"

"Yeah," Irvine muttered, frowning. "They weren't happy."

When he didn't elaborate, Anna took a deep breath. "You never told anyone what happened."

It was a statement, not a question, but Irvine answered it anyway. "No. I… no, I couldn't."

"Your friends must have been very confused at the change in your behavior." Her voice was unusually clinical.

"I couldn't tell them," Irvine repeated, feeling defensive. His fingers started coiling into his hair again.

Anna's tones softened. "Why not, Irvine?" She caught his eyes with a gentle look. "Were they untrustworthy?"

"No – no, it wasn't that," he said, with mounting uneasiness. His ponytail was growing snarled around his hand.

"Did you think they wouldn't have believed you?"

"I…" Irvine trailed off, his gaze darting around the room. Dimly, he noticed that he'd grabbed the edge of the couch cushion, and his knuckles were steadily whitening around the soft leather.

"Tell me why, Irvine."

("You were flirting with me, you little shit –")

Her voice gained the slightest steely edge. "Why couldn't you tell anyone?"

Irvine's breathing quickened as he struggled to maintain his composure. "I just…"

Anna uncrossed her legs and leaned forward, concerned.

("Whore. Gods, you're begging for it –")

"It was my fault!" Irvine shouted at her, leaping to his feet. "I – I wanted him so badly, and when Ultimecia took him she could see that – that I –"

He broke off with a strangled sound, roughly brushing away the sudden tears tracking down his cheeks. Anna shifted back in her chair, gazing up at him with a look of immense understanding. A tangle of emotion rose in his throat, nearly choking him. "It's all right, Irvine. Please, sit," she said, voice soft once more.

He complied, shaken. When he'd settled himself into the couch once more, the psychiatrist continued. "I'm sorry I did that – forcing you into that admission," she said. Irvine couldn't meet her eyes. "But it was vital, because I have to tell you something now.

"It was not your fault." Her tones were so compelling and rich with certainty Irvine was startled into looking up at her. "You are innocent of any blame. I know it. Whatever he may have told you – listen to me, Irvine," she instructed, seeing his uncertainty. "Whatever he may have told you, no matter what your feelings were: nothing gives anyone the right to use you like that. What was done to you was beyond criminal – it was evil," Anna stated flatly.

"Your situation is unusual, though, for you could not see your true attacker. I do not believe that the inclination to do you harm existed in Seifer Almasy at any time." Irvine blinked, feeling dazed. "It was the sorceress, and she alone who wanted to harm you – did she try to tell you that you weren't worth anything? That no one would want you?"

The sniper nodded mutely, and Anna shook her head in denial. "She was wrong," she said fiercely. "Look at your friends now: Squall, Miss Tilmitt, Rinoa. They are so worried about you, so saddened at your tragedy. Does it seem to you like Squall wants nothing to do with you?"

It's okay. I won't let anything happen. Irvine remembered the flashing determination in Squall's eyes, that iron conviction. If I had the choice between you or Seifer Almasy… "No," he breathed. There was a tension in his chest, one he'd become accustomed to. He felt it slowly loosening.

Anna tilted her head, considering him. "You have great worth. Your value extends beyond your skills as a sniper or SeeD: from all I've heard, you are a loyal friend, a compassionate man, and a good person. No one can take that away from you. Can you believe in that?"

Irvine swallowed. For two years he'd held himself away from intimacy, only allowing himself to skip along the surface of relationships, in fear that someone he loved would turn on him after finding out his secret. Only Selphie had ever neared the truth – by near-fatal accident, Irvine had thought.

He leaned into the couch and closed his eyes. As expected, the memory rose up in his mind – but it was now strangely blurred, quieter. The harshness of cold laughter was blunted by a new voice; the familiar ghost-feeling of rough hands bruising his skin had been overlaid with calloused fingers, holding him steady. The old shame was fading, replaced by a sense of calm safety. And the terrible eyes that blazed sea green and gold wavered into cool slate, surrounded by a fringe of long, dark lashes. I promise.

"Can you?" Anna watched him carefully; she was clearly prepared to jump to his defense should he need it. Irvine took a deep breath.

I promise.

"I… think I can."

_____

The secret area at the rear of the Training Center was nearly empty this early in the day. Rinoa squinted up into the sunlight of early afternoon, gazing idly at the massive main tower of the Garden. A few young cadets huddled in a circle to her right; they didn't acknowledge her presence, for which she was glad. The older students and SeeDs would barely look at her, much less engage in conversation. Her reputation as 'the Sorceress Rinoa' was too fresh in their minds, and many of them had even seen her exercise her otherworldly powers during the war. She was much more comfortable around the younger students, and they around her – if they even recognized her, they gave no indication of it.

She perched on the balcony's metal railing, swinging her legs back and forth over the empty air. Her usual hangout in the library had been usurped by a troupe of researching students: she'd heard them muttering about attack magic strategies and had made her escape before they saw her. Dr. Kadowaki was busy tending to a few SeeDs with broken bones; Quistis and Xu were holed up their respective offices; Zell and Selphie were nowhere to be found; and she had no wish to intrude on Squall and Irvine. At a loss, she'd wandered here.

The cadets strolled back into the Training Center, saying something about the cafeteria. Rinoa glanced up at the angle of the sun, trying to calculate the hour as Squall and the others always did. No luck – she'd never been able to do it. Skills like that seemed to be part of the basic SeeD training she'd never received.

Rinoa sighed, tossing her head irritably when silky strands of her black hair floated down into her eyes. Just her hair was proof enough of her separation from the people of Garden. The soft black strands fell to her shoulders, highlighted professionally with dark brown. It was hair that screamed 'expense', artfully disheveled by a perfect, horrendously costly cut. Compared to Quistis' simple ponytail, or Seifer's practical, short length, her hair was that of a spoiled rich girl.

When she was a little girl, just after her mother's death when she was five years old, she had played and scampered as easily as any child. Her father's mansion wasn't exactly child-friendly, but she lived better than most. At the same time, Squall and the others had been sent out of an orphanage, to be reared by mercenaries in the Gardens. While she was in a girls' school, reciting poetry and being bored out of her mind, Squall had been learning how to read coordinates and recognize raw magic springs.

'I don't belong with them,' she thought, a faint edge of sadness creeping into her thoughts. Squall, Zell, Irvine, Selphie, Quistis, and even Seifer – they were her greatest friends, and she loved them dearly. She wasn't a fighter, though. She couldn't comfortably stay behind while the rest of them went on missions, but her repugnance for battle had reached its peak during the war. And Squall, her knight, was hers no longer.

Her melancholy was interrupted by the door opening once more. She took a quick look and froze, not expecting to see Seifer standing in the entryway. He looked tired and frustrated, golden eyebrows pulled into a frown and eyes fixed on the floor. The hem of his grey coat rustled the leaves strewn over the plate metal floor as he stepped up to the balcony railing. He laid his gunblade, the Hyperion, carefully on the floor, and placed his hands on the warm metal rail.

Neither of them said anything for a moment. Rinoa watched as Seifer looked out at the Garden, eyes shadowed.

"You aren't going to leave?" Seifer asked, his normally brash voice quiet.

Rinoa matched his tone. "Should I?"

"Anyone else would." His mouth curled up at one corner. "Actually, that's not true. Zell would take the opportunity to try to beat the shit out of me. Selphie would yell. Squall would… well, it's hard to tell what Squall would do."

She smiled. "That is true." He met her eyes briefly, and she was startled at the depth of self-loathing she saw there. He turned back to the Garden view before she could think of something to say.

Silence settled over the two them again, and she kicked the rail a few times with one boot, thinking.

"Seifer," she started cautiously. "Do you remember dating me?"

He laughed huskily, though she could detect little real humor in it. "Of all the questions someone could ask, that's near the bottom of ones I'd expect."

"Sorry. It's only – this is the first time we've been alone since you came back." She swung one leg around, so she was straddling the wide rail and could look at him more easily. She spared a moment to be thankful she'd worn shorts under her skirt. "It's kind of important to me."

Seifer turned to face her directly, leaning one elbow on the railing. "Important," he repeated, raising an eyebrow. He crossed his ankles, eyeing her coolly. "I remember… that cream-colored dress you wore at the Inaugural Ball. Were we dating then?"

She felt a slight blush rising in her cheeks as he stared at her. "No. We met during the summer, when you were in Galbadia."

His expression closed off completely. "That's right." His focus shifted, the green eyes looking past her. "I don't remember much. You were hanging around the train station in Timber with those two dorks." He shook his head.

Rinoa compressed her lips, disappointment rising swiftly. If he couldn't remember dating her that summer, they must have met sometime after he was possessed. He may not have cared for her at all. "Thanks for telling me."

Seifer must have noticed the hurt in her voice, because he refocused on her and frowned. "Was it serious?"

She shrugged, leaning back against the wall supporting the railing. "I don't know. I was sixteen."

His expression darkened. "Sixteen. The same age as –"

He cut himself off, but Rinoa could see revulsion flicker in his eyes before he turned.

"It wasn't your fault." The sentence slipped out before she could catch it, and he glared at her. "It wasn't," she continued, dropping down to the floor of the balcony.

He took a step toward her. "I do remember some things," he said icily. "It's pretty easy to recall how scared Irvine was. I remember lots of little details. Like the way his lip split when I hit him, or how simple it was to hold him down. The way he asked me to stop, the feel of his skin under my hand," he said, flexing it. "You know what else? I fucking remember how good it felt."

Rinoa blinked, something akin to fear shifting under her skin. Seifer's gaze was piercing and direct, filled with violent emotion. Seeing him like this, it was easy to believe in his capacity to do harm. When she took an alarmed step back, he grimaced, and subsided. "It was so good," he murmured. He held her eyes, anger cooling. "How could I take pleasure in that?" He turned around abruptly, facing the Garden once more.

Rinoa came to his side, cautious, watching his angular profile. He flinched when she settled one hand on his grey sleeve. "It wasn't you," she murmured. A movement caught her eye: Squall stood in the open doorway, a drying smear of green blood running up his arm. He frowned at Seifer's back, but stayed silent, watching.

Seifer sighed, the breath leaving his lungs ragged, and crossed his arms over his chest. His eyes flickered restlessly across the Garden, and beyond, to the forested landscape. "It wasn't of my own volition, true," he said, voice tight. "But I think –" He swallowed, uncharacteristically tense-looking. "I wanted… that. Him. I've got this faint memory of talking to Kinneas and feeling really – I don't know – cheerful."

Rinoa noticed her slack jaw, and closed her mouth abruptly. She glanced at Squall, who seemed similarly surprised, inasmuch as his expression gave anything away. "But you didn't want to hurt him, did you?" she managed to ask.

He looked down at her. Just as he seemed about to answer, his eyes narrowed and he turned, looking at Squall.

"Commander," he said coolly, face going smoothly blank.

"Seifer," Squall replied, similarly expressionless. Rinoa marveled at just how similar they were as they entered an impromptu staring contest: the slanting scars between the eyes they'd given each other, the normal arrogant slouch of Seifer echoed in the way Squall carelessly slumped. Both were rather stubborn, but Squall's reticence had lessened over the past year, while Seifer had become slightly less conceited. Rinoa could see the way command had firmed Squall's shoulders, his back straight as he turned to her.

"Rin, could I speak with Seifer alone for a moment?"

It was phrased very politely – tact being another skill Squall had learned in his year as Commander – but the order was unmistakable: Leave. "Sure," she murmured. She touched Seifer's arm lightly, whispering, "Thanks for talking to me," and stepped out.

_____

Squall rested his hand on the Lionheart's handle, watching Seifer closely. Seifer rolled his eyes, seeing it.

"You're not scared of me, are you?" he asked derisively, making no move to pick up his own blade.

The commander cocked his head, studying the older man. Seifer's expression was set perfectly into a look of careless contempt, but his eyes were still. "No," Squall replied quietly. "No, I'm not."

The blond man was silent for a moment, watching him. "So, how long were you standing there?" he inquired, calm.

"Long enough, I think."

Squall watched as, once more, expression left Seifer's mien. "Do you really think you…?" Squall found himself at a loss for words. He was uncomfortable enough with his own emotions without digging into anyone else's. Seifer provided no help with his countenance blank and unreadable as stone.

Squall sighed. "This is hard," he muttered. He strode fully onto the hidden balcony, unsheathing the Lionheart and placing it to the side. He spread his empty hands under Seifer's surprised view, and slouched against the wall.

"She's right, you know. Rinoa," Squall said. Seifer met his gaze without compunction, leaning on the balcony railing once more. "It wasn't your fault. I don't think anyone really blames you for what happened."

"Oh?" Seifer replied sardonically. He raised one eyebrow at Squall, a humorless grin tugging at his mouth. "What about Irvine?"

The muscles in Squall's shoulders tensed, hearing the name from Seifer's mouth. "Honestly? I'm not sure."

"He should," Seifer said, turning a bleak look out on the Garden.

Squall pushed off the wall, frowning. "Why?" he asked.

Seifer went absolutely still for a moment, then pivoted on his heel, grinning maliciously at Squall, who startled. "Just how long were you standing there, Leonhart?" he asked, sneering. "Didn't you hear me tell your girlfriend?"

The commander didn't answer, shocked at the abrupt change in behavior. "Maybe Kinneas should be scared of me. See, Rinoa was quizzing me on how much I could remember." Seifer's wicked smile widened and he moved too close to Squall. "One of the most vivid things is how fucking tight the little cowboy was."

Squall inhaled sharply, then, and reacted without thinking. His punch caught Seifer on the jaw, taking him off his feet and dropping him to his back on the balcony floor. Squall followed swiftly, straddling Seifer's torso with the rivets of the metal flooring biting into his knees.

Keeping his fist loosely clenched, ready to deliver a beating if it seemed necessary, Squall watched the man under him. Having lost his wind, Seifer gasped shallowly, eyes shut tight. A giant red patch was already streaking across his jaw.

"I shouldn't have said that," Seifer breathed after a moment. He'd bitten his lip hard, and a line of blood was forming.

"No," Squall growled. A bubbling font of anger still raged in his breast. He struggled to keep it under control, focusing with difficulty on his rival's face. He seemed to be painstakingly reassembling his calm mask, but Squall saw something else, something he wouldn't have expected. A raw, rare glimpse of grief and self-hatred poured through Seifer's eyes when he opened them. Staring up at Squall, it was gone in an instant, but the commander's fist unclenched at the sight.

Squall stayed where he was, planting his hands on Seifer's shoulders and holding him in place. He stared down into Seifer's green eyes and wondered what Irvine had seen. He doubted it was anything like what he saw now: the lines of the blond man's body were tense, but he didn't struggle against Squall's grip. If anything, he had slumped against the floor, head resting inert against the cool metal. Squall noted with grim satisfaction that he couldn't quite keep emotion from his face.

"Why did you?" Squall asked quietly. When Seifer's head turned to one side, he felt each muscle strain to move under his fingers, revealing how tightly he held the fallen man. He didn't loosen his grip, though. Not yet.

A long, slow exhale shifted a few dried leaves. Seifer's voice was low when he answered, a twist of disgust tightening his features. "It was true," he said, wincing when Squall's hands clenched involuntarily. He glanced up, the shadow of a self-mocking grin hovering around his pale lips. "I shouldn’t have – but it's still true."

Squall took a deep breath, forcing himself to see that Seifer wasn't trying to goad him. Phantom revulsion still blanketed the other swordsman's face, and the red patch was darkening, a bruise spreading under the white skin purple-black.

"Have you told the doctor?"

A heavy trace of mockery entered Seifer's voice. "That's an excellent idea, Leonhart. Tell her I'm such a sick fuck that I enjoyed raping our sniper – when the memory of it leaves me half-hard? Sure, I'll get right on that."

Squall frowned, mild shock allowing his grip to ease somewhat on Seifer's shoulders. He could see that the ridicule wasn't aimed outward, not entirely. Not responding for a moment, he tried to reach outside himself, looking for understanding. It was easy to grasp that Seifer's emotions must be chaotic – he was obviously telling the truth, evinced in the way his face was still showing expression – but Squall couldn't understand why the man kept trying to provoke him.

"Why are you –?" he started, but cut himself off. He knew, of course. This was Seifer Almasy, who as a boy had been equal parts arrogant bully and condescending ally, who had never been exactly easy to get along with in all their long history, sorceress-possessed or not. Seifer Almasy wouldn't submit to questioning so easily, nor would he allow Squall to delve into his business with impunity. "You're not exactly helping, Seifer," he said tiredly.

It was getting later, Squall noted. The sun had sunk down to at least three hours past the zenith, and it glinted across Seifer's eyes when he chuckled dryly. "And I was trying so hard, too."

The dark amusement seemed to be genuine, and Squall found himself nearly smiling in response. When Seifer made an abortive motion to get up, though, Squall stopped him, the distraction fading. The brief respite from tension had helped, however, and he was reluctant to return to feelings of enmity.

"I'm sorry," Squall said abruptly. He knew Seifer wouldn't believe him easily, but he had to try. He swung his right leg over Seifer's hips, planting both knees to one side, and used his grip on the broad shoulders to pull Seifer to a sitting position. He locked their gazes, still clutching the other man. He took in the shock that Seifer couldn't hide and spoke quickly, before the surprise could change to skepticism. "For what happened to you. I am."

Seifer opened his mouth, and closed it. He searched Squall's face, a scowl threatening, but the commander kept his expression as open as he knew how and Seifer subsided. "It doesn't change anything," he said, meeting Squall's eyes.

But Squall was watching, and saw how a small tension in Seifer lessened. The line of his mouth softened, barely noticeable, but it relieved Squall, who replied frankly. "Nothing?"

Seifer rolled his eyes, and when he tugged away to stand, Squall let him. As the commander eased to his feet, Seifer scooped up the Hyperion, sliding it into its sheath beneath his coat. Just before he would have left the balcony, he turned and looked speculatively at Squall. "I've got an appointment with Dr. Lee later," he said.

Squall nodded. Their eyes met, once again, and Squall felt a small sense of understanding pass between them. He knew then that Seifer would try, no matter that he'd probably act the prick whilst doing so.

Seifer looked him up and down, frowning. "You look like shit, Leonhart," he said bluntly, though his tone was a fraction less harsh than usual.

"I didn't sleep much last night," Squall replied mildly; then he remembered why, and what part Seifer may have had in it.

Indeed, the tall blonde had blanched ever-so-slightly. "Is –" he started. He cleared his throat, but – to his credit – didn't look away. "Is he all right?"

Considering Seifer, then, Squall wondered what the best answer would be. He thought about the unexpected concern that hovered around the other's eyes, and the bouts of self-flagellation he seemed to be enduring. "Maybe you should ask him yourself," he said slowly.

"You're not serious," Seifer replied instantly.

Squall shrugged, tamping down on a faint smile that seemed bent on emerging. Seifer didn't seem like much of a danger anymore. He picked up the Lionheart. "I've got to go. Think about it."

When he stepped out, returning to the Training Center, he was confronted by irritating monsters almost immediately. He allowed the grin to bloom – or at least the half-smile he ever permitted. If the swaying, plantlike enemies noticed, they did not comment.

Next Part
 
 
Current Mood: headachy
Current Music: Cabron - Red Hot Chili Peppers
 
 
 
anonajn on December 3rd, 2008 02:32 am (UTC)
BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE AND HUGS.
ladyyasi on December 3rd, 2008 02:58 am (UTC)
Wow that was wonderful and i must say that my favorite part was the part about Irvine's new take on his memories but overall beautifuly writen can't wait for the next part.
Liz!: Matt Farrell!deadlybride on December 4th, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
Wow, thank you so much! I really like the idea that Squall is helping the memories fade, at least a little. I'll try not to wait like two months before posting the next part. :)
Seth: FF8 - Squall dark~madkool on December 3rd, 2008 11:57 am (UTC)
Wow, the exchange between Seifer and Squall was very raw and I have to admit, it left me a little teary in places.

No worries about the wait, this was well worth it!!
Liz!: lovelinessdeadlybride on December 4th, 2008 08:03 pm (UTC)
That's very sweet, thank you. :)
gracespradlin on December 28th, 2008 09:07 pm (UTC)
Great chapter. :) Can't wait to see how Irvine heals through all of this.
offdutylabmouse on January 16th, 2009 05:28 am (UTC)
POKEPOKEPOKEPOKEPOKE!!!

*sniffle*

I know you have more of this written! Please post!! PLEEEEEAAAAASSEE!!!! And 3rd Law too!! ^____^!