Wanderlust
By Darksquall and Race Ulfson



Disclaimer: The characters contained herein belong to SquareEnix and we aren't making any money from this.
Warnings: Eventual Yaoi, teenage boys being teenage boys. This is our epic, guys.
Rating: PG for now. We’ll get it to a mature rating eventuall

Summary: Seventeen, lost and alone, Squall Leonhart is on the run from his father and Esthar - he never expected to run straight into the arms of Seifer Almasy. This chance meeting gives them a chance to bury the hatchet (Seifer/Squall eventual).

Notes: Happy birthday Mangacat. Thank you for listening to me ramble about this fic so much, darksquall.



Chapter One.

“True friends stab you in the front.”
Oscar Wilde



March 17th


The corrugated steel wall of the bus terminal felt cold at his back.

He'd been working his way through a bottle of vodka, the warming liquid lighting a fire in his belly that reminded him of Ifrit's heat, a power he’d long since left behind. Along with his old life, and his trench coat, that power belonged to a time before; a time when he'd been someone, not just a shadow flitting between towns on a clapped out motorcycle, hoping that he wouldn't be recognized before he'd had time to refuel the bike and gather some supplies.


Seifer looked up at the boys who'd ordered him out of the bus station's bar. The glitter of the Garden insignia on their collars denoted them as students, from the ruined Trabia Garden in fact. If it had been Balamb, or even Galbadia, he'd have ignored them and carried on drinking but Trabia and what had happened lingered on Seifer’s conscience; he found he couldn't forgive himself for that episode of his service just yet. Too many lives lost, too many people hurt. Too many of his own kind, orphans with no parents to mourn them, namelessly lost to time.

"You shoulda died along with your bitch sorceress, Almasy," the leader of the boys sneered, drawing a sword from his junction point. The blade glittered dully in the last of the late evening light, dark steel that curved into three wicked barbs at the end, designed purely for tearing flesh. "The world woulda been better off."

Three, he could only see three but he could have sworn there were more inside. Really more than enough to take out one lone, broken knight, Seifer supposed. "Yeah, I agree. But so far Hyne has only sent little baby pussies like you guys to take me out, so.... I suffer on." He clutched his chest as though he had been wounded, thankful for the wall at his back to keep him upright as he played the victim for the crowd. Seifer was slightly surprised by the fact that he actually meant what he said.

The leader of the three boys - they couldn't be much more than a year younger than he was, when had Seifer started thinking of himself as old? It had crept up on him sometime after the war, that was for sure – smirked at him coldly.

Seifer almost snickered. He could smirk better than that in his sleep.

“We can fix that right here,” the leader of the three boys turned his sword slowly, just a small, slow movement that made the light follow the sweeping curve of the blade and flare on the barbs.

Out of the corner of his eye, Seifer could have sworn he saw a familiar flash of cerulean blue. He couldn’t place it, the colour was familiar but the source of that familiarity danced out of his grasp on alcohol and exhaustion fuelled wings. Besides, he didn’t care. Not any more.

The boy, cheered on by his two companions, lunged for him. The way his dark brown hair shifted as he darted forward, his bangs tumbling into his eyes, reminded him of Squall. He’d never understood how Squall could keep his hair so long.

He didn’t consciously choose to evade the strike. In fact, Seifer didn’t want to dodge it, but the reflexes he’d honed in battle, the years of training day in and day out, had better ideas and he dodged, twisting to the side quickly.

Not fast enough to avoid the bite of the wicked blade, however, and he hissed softly in pain, gritting his teeth as he clutched his bicep. Not serious, but noticeable, Seifer could feel the blood welling up and flowing through the press of his fingers.

Another flash of blue caught Seifer’s eye and he looked up. He didn’t care that the Trabian student was lifting his blade again, nor did he notice that the others had fallen silent. He could only watch, speechless for perhaps the first time in his life, as Squall Leonhart leapt from the low roof of the bus station behind him and landed, gunblade drawn and glittering an eerie blue.

“I wouldn’t, if I were you,” Squall said, his voice colder than diamond dust.

He could practically feel the anger radiating from Squall, even though they weren’t touching and Seifer wondered why Squall was facing the wrong way. Surely Leonhart had come to finish him off?

“C…commander,” one of the boys stammered and Seifer didn’t care which it had been.

Squall glanced over his shoulder, careful not to take his gaze off the students for more than a second. There was an almost mischievous light to those deep grey-blue eyes, the faintest ghost of a smile on Squall’s lips. The expression of light amusement was one that was geared solely towards pissing Seifer off, and making him fight.

Seifer knew that, but it still made him grit his teeth and scowl again.

“When’d you turn into such a wuss, Almasy?” his once rival almost chuckled – if Squall Leonhart ever could chuckle - before turning his attention back to the students. “I suggest you run,” he stated, not lowering his gunblade even a fraction of an inch as he waited for a response. “Or should I inform your headmaster that you were disobeying direct orders?”

The very nerve of Squall Leonhart, daring to speak up for him and calling him a wuss at the same time? “I could have taken them!” Seifer hissed indignantly, taking half a step forward before the head rush of the sudden movement made him sway. The jerk as he halted mid step made a fresh wave of blood flow over his fingers.

He caught the ‘yeah, right’ look that Squall threw over his shoulder and wished desperately for the gunblade junction he’d left back at his bike. He wanted to show Squall that despite whatever he may think, Seifer Almasy was still Seifer Almasy and he wasn’t about to let some jumped up little prick fight his battles for him, even if he was at a slight disadvantage due to a dangerously elevated blood alcohol level.

“Hey, I’m not even armed and I barely got a scratch!”

The students glanced at each other, but it seemed none of them had the heart to stand up now that the odds were a little closer to even and they turned and ran, their footsteps reverberating in the alleyway as they disappeared. Yeah, it was the odds, not the appearance of the Lion of Balamb that had bought them to their senses. Seifer would keep telling himself that until he believed it.

Only when the footsteps had faded into nothing did Squall finally lower his weapon, turning to look at Seifer once more. His eyes rested on the wound, the flow of blood beginning to slow again as Seifer’s fingers clamped down over it.

“Oh please,” Seifer sneered, waving his hand in an attempt to dismiss Squall’s concern – if it could even be termed that, he wasn’t sure why he wasn’t being killed already but he couldn’t help but push his luck – and only managing to drip on the damp concrete of the street below. “I’ve gotten worse shaving. And where the hells did you come from?”

“Does it matter?” Squall shrugged and rested the gunblade on his shoulder. “What were you going to do, let them kill you?”

“Maybe,” Seifer replied, his tone painfully defensive and sullen even to his own ears as just how stupid he’d been began to dawn on him. Which meant he was starting to sober up, and until Squall moved out of the way, he was not going to be able to remedy that. “Hadn’t decided yet. From T-Garden, you know?” he shook his head, as though that would explain everything.

“You just don’t have the balls to do it yourself,” Squall hissed. He was suddenly angry, angry enough for the emotion to reach beyond that frozen mask that he wore day in and day out. His expression tightened and the fading of the light turned Squall’s dark eyes into bottomless blue-black pools. Seifer was sure if he stared into them too long he would drown within them.

Shaking his head again to clear the sensation, Seifer steadied himself on the wall and glared right back. He hated letting Squall get the better of him. Even if he wasn’t quite at his best through the drink, he had to fight back. “When I’m not drunk, I don’t even want to!”

Seifer knew the word was coming before Squall even opened his mouth, the little dismissive flick of his hand, the familiar eye roll, the exasperated sigh. “Whatever,” he muttered.

“You want to try me, hot shot?”

Lionheart was at his throat before he could blink, cutting a blue arc through the air and leaving an after-image on Seifer’s retina. He’d gotten to Squall again, just like a thousand times before. He was the only one who could do that to Leonhart, the only one who had ever been able to get to him and he revelled in it. Even if it did mean a blade that could cut through the toughened plates of half of the Galbadian army's war machines was at his throat and starting to bite.

“You just said you’re not armed. And I’m not going to be a tool for your suicide,” Squall shot back, his hand so tight on the hilt of his blade that his leather gloves creaked a soft protest.

Seifer flashed his best sardonic grin and lifted his hand, showing the concentration of magic forming in his palm. He was always a little surprised that it didn’t hurt, as the flames of a fira spell began to flicker and grow in his hand. The dancing light cast dancing shadows on the walls of the alleyway and bought a little colour to Squall’s cheeks again. “I didn’t say I was defenceless!”

When Squall backed away, lifting his blade to a defensive position, Seifer almost felt good. “Try it, Almasy,” he said, his voice returning to that even, calm tone that meant he was regaining control of his emotions and forcing them deep inside himself again. Becoming the ice princess that Seifer had nicknamed him so many years before.

Seifer eyed Squall critically. Even in his drunken state, he could tell there was something wrong. The kid had always been pale but now he was even worse. He was sure that the Squall he’d fought time and time again had at least a little more meat on his bones. Watching the nervous shift of Squall’s stance, his eyes intent on Seifer’s own and not on the flames flickering in his hand, Seifer half wondered what had happened. “Something tells me lobbing fire spells this close to the bar would only enhance my evil rep,” he said at last, letting the fira dissipate and the magic return to his body.

“So you do have a brain in there. Imagine.”

“This from the little turd who only passed lit because I let him copy offa me,” Seifer rubbed a hand over his face and straightened, unaware he was now streaked with his own blood.

“Once!” The younger man slowly lowered and re-junctioned his blade, the light fizzling out as the blade was hidden again. “Now get out of here before they figure out I have no jurisdiction over them.”

That gave him pause, and Seifer leant closer to Squall as though he could determine the reason just by looking at the smaller man hard enough. When he realised that he couldn’t, he finally gave in and asked “Why not?”

The look that passed over Squall’s face, albeit so briefly that Seifer almost believed that he had imagined it, was one that Seifer had only seen a bare handful of times from the younger man. A mix of rage, anger and indignation that made him ball his hands into fists and shove them deep into his jacket pockets so he could hide how much whatever was going on was affecting him. “I’m not SeeD any more,” he said coldly.

“…Why not?” Seifer repeated, giving in to his own curiosity and stepping a little closer.

“I’m…, forget it. Will you move already?”

The sound of voices approaching interrupted them. Seifer didn’t care, too intoxicated and too concerned about why the hero of the hour was out of SeeD and in a bus station in Galbadia looking like he’d been run over half a dozen times. “Oh, c’mon. They come back with their entire punk class and I can take them.”

“And half the bar when they realise who you are?” Squall asked. He slipped into that old hip shot stance, his hand brushing against the junction sheath that hid his gunblade from casual view.

Blinking at Squall, Seifer sighed. Of course, Squall had to be the voice of logic. Squall had to be reasonable even though almost every fibre of Seifer’s being was screaming ‘Fight! Show him you still have what it takes!’ The little shit had to come along and throw a spanner in the works, just like every time before. “Those losers will take it out on you, for stepping in.”

With a small frown that managed to, somehow, make him look younger than his years despite the hardness in his eyes and the shadows smudged beneath them, Squall nodded. “And I don’t have any magic,” he admitted, hesitantly. As he spoke, he winced so faintly that it was barely there and yet the pain managed to show through the cracks in the old mask.

“Nice, Leonhart. You’ve pissed off the entire bar. I’m unarmed and you tell me you’re out of spells? Not to mention you look like you were scratched up by chicabos and cast out over jagged rocks and I’m… a bit under the weather -”

“Utterly tanked.”

The rumble of voices grew ever louder.

“This isn’t your fight,” Seifer gestured for Squall to make his escape. “You run, I’ll hold them off.”

That got a scathing look. Seifer almost laughed, until Squall said, “You run and I’ll hold them off.”

“Fuck it, we’ll both run.” Seifer grabbed Squall by the arm and half dragged, half led him in the direction of his motorbike, growling in frustration. His lovely buzz and the accompanying numbness was completely gone and now he was stuck with little stubborn ass. “I know you are going to explain what you meant about SeeD, right?” he hissed angrily, his fingers tight enough to bruise through the leather of his jacket.

“Only when you explain why you feel the need to have breath that could strip paint,” Squall hissed, turning his head away with a grimace of disgust. So Seifer had had a little more to drink than he’d first imagined. That didn’t give Squall any right to make pithy comments.

“I wasn’t planning on kissing anyone,” Seifer replied, slowing down as they drew closer to their goal to fumble in his pockets with his free hand, searching for the keys. “Get on the bike.”

The bike in question stood at the edge of the bus station’s meagre car park, illuminated by a pool of sickly yellow light from a lamp overhead. From somewhere under the frame an oil leak dripped slowly, forming a pool of darkness on the cracked and faded tarmac beneath its wheels, matching the dark red trail of blood Seifer was still leaving. It was only when they were close enough to see ghosts of reflections dancing in the dusty paintwork that Seifer released Squall’s arm and pushed him towards the motorcycle.

Squall glanced at the well used machine, any opinion aside from his ever present expression of boredom hidden successfully behind that mask. “Fine,” he spat, laying a hand on the tank, rubbing some of the dust that covered the blood cross symbol away. The deep red stylised cross cut down the middle of the tank, not stopping until it met the black leather seat and red stitching that had seen better days. “I’m driving.”

Squall’s face was set in that determined look. The look he got whenever he drew his blade, the look he got the first time he cast a spell or summoned a GF. The ‘I’m going to do this whether you like it or not’ look. He could be a stubborn little bastard sometimes.

Okay, so maybe Squall was a stubborn little bastard all of the time.

There was no time to argue. Behind them, half of the bar seemed to be pouring around the corner. All they needed was the flaming torches to complete the effect.

“Hyne on a cracker. Okay, fine.”

Seifer practically slammed the keys into Squall’s hand angrily as soon as he found them. Squall turned from him to push his backpack into one of the saddle bags, smirking as he threw one leg over the bike and started it up. The bike burbled into life, settling into a purr and Seifer absently wondered if Squall knew how to ride as he settled behind him.

It was too late to ask as Squall gunned the engine.

It was definitely too late to ask as they peeled out onto the road, leaving a cloud of dust, exhaust fumes and the smell of burning rubber in their wake, as though Diablos himself were right after them.

Seifer had, naturally, chosen that precise moment to lean back and demonstrate the proper one fingered salute. He almost tumbled off the back, and probably would have fallen if Squall hadn’t caught his arm and pulled it around his waist, forcing him close. Adrenalin made him whoop and call back, “So long, Losers!”

When they were finally out of sight of the Trabian students, and their new found friends, Seifer wrapped his other arm around Squall’s waist, resting his head on the younger man’s shoulder. He hung on for dear life, deciding that – if he lived long enough – he would show Squall just how it felt to be a passenger at such insane speeds as his little brother accelerated into the darkness of the night..

If he lived that long.

It was a big if.



********


They could have been on the road for five minutes. It could have been five hours too, but time didn’t seem to mean anything out in the middle of the desert at night. The sky was an incredibly deep blue-black, scattered with tiny points of light – so many more than they'd ever seen in Balamb and the cities of his travels in the war - that seemed to dance if Seifer stared at them long enough.

Of course, since Squall didn’t seem to know how to drive at any speed less than insane miles an hour, Seifer didn’t have his eyes open long enough for that to happen very often.

The night seemed to stretch on forever, a landscape made of shifting shadows and silky darkness. There was a bitter chill to the air that made Seifer cling to Squall all the more, as though he’d be able to wring some warmth out of that fragile little iceberg.

“Where the hell are we going?” he asked eventually, yelling to be heard over the roar of the engine and the sound of the tyres on the tarmac.

Fortunately, at the question, Squall began to slow down. Though the engine still burbled away happily, he was travelling slowly enough that he didn’t have to shout to be heard. “No idea. Next town?” he suggested, glancing at Seifer.

In the near darkness, Seifer could barely see Squall’s face. However, hanging onto him for dear life and still half afraid he’d fall; Seifer could feel how thin the younger man was. He’d been never been this thin, even as a kid when the little bastard had followed him at the slightest hint of adventure or danger, chubby little hand in his. “May as well,” he said finally. “Sleeping under the stars sucks with no camping gear.”

“Must be getting old, we used to do it all the time,” Squall shrugged, leaning back against Seifer as he shifted gears and began to speed up again. The bike roared into life once more, a throaty growl of power as he applied the throttle slowly and the countryside rushed by at an outrageous speed in the darkness. Seifer was sure the bike was doing it on purpose, behaving better for Squall than it ever had for him. Treacherous little bastard.

If Seifer hadn’t been holding onto Squall, hadn’t been able to feel the way his ribs jutted under his pale skin and lean body, he would have called Squall’s bluff and dared him to sleep out in the bitterly cold desert night air. He would have smirked at him when he’d bristle and rise to the challenge just to match Seifer step for step again. But suspecting that something was wrong, as well as knowing he was not in the best shape to sleep outside himself kept him from offering the little contest of wills. Just this once.

Seifer closed his eyes again, sure he was seeing the occasional rock or cactus red shift from the Doppler effect of their passing. He rested his head against Squall’s. At least without having to watch the shadows slipping by he could ignore some of the dizzying effects that the movement and the alcohol was having on his body. The sooner they stopped, the better. “It still sucked, Leonhart. Except when we were little enough that Matron bought us breakfast.”

“Whatever,” Squall muttered. The theme tune of his life.

They remained silent for a while, Seifer alternating between trying adamantly not to fall asleep or not to throw up. Or both. Just as he was about to fail in one or both, Squall’s voice jolted him from the meagre peace he’d been able to glean from the discomfort and constant roar of the engine.

“There,” the dark haired boy said, pointing out into the distance over the desert sands. Not too far away a smattering of lights shone in a small clutch, a town. “Think you can hold on ‘til we reach that?”

“What makes you think I’ll ever let you go?”

“You’ll have to sober up sooner or later,” Squall replied with the ominous tone of ‘and when you do, I’ll make you suffer’ edging behind it. Seifer had absolutely no doubt that Squall would attempt to make his life a misery just as soon as he woke up.

It was a good thing Seifer didn’t get a hang over after a night of drinking. Sadly he just felt like hell in the morning. “Sez you,” he slurred, squeezing Squall tightly again. Seifer grinned when Squall glanced over his shoulder to roll his eyes.

He’d just known Squall would do that.

With Seifer’s gleeful belly laugh ringing in his ears, Squall forced the bike to move as fast as it could.

********


"You can let go now."

"With the way you drive?" Seifer exclaimed. "Hells no."

"Seifer, we've stopped."

Slowly, Seifer opened one eye just to make sure that Squall wasn't lying. He hadn't noticed that the world had suddenly grown quiet with the silencing of the machine beneath them. Squall had switched the engine off, the only sound it made the soft ticking as it began to cool in the night air, so soft it barely registered over the rush of blood in his ears.

Glancing around at a world that seemed to swim in and out of focus as often as Rinoa changed her shoes, Seifer found they'd finally reached their destination. A small motel at the very edge of a town that could barely be termed even that. The neon sign that advertised vacancies buzzed and fizzled in and out of being overhead, giving the old white paint - where it had not peeled off - the faintest red-pink sheen.

The reception office was still open, and someone was around - Seifer saw a shadow move behind the blinds, blocking the light that spilled from between the slats briefly before it was gone again, fast enough to make him wonder if he'd imagined it. "Gonna need a little help here, Squirt," he mumbled, closing his eyes in a futile attempt to gather some strength again before opening them in the vain hope that the small action would be enough to stop the world spinning beneath his feet.

Squall sighed as he clambered off the bike and wrapped an arm around Seifer's waist. "Alright, let's go."

With the rush of adrenaline long gone, and the exhaustion that came with too much to drink was taking over, Seifer couldn’t quite coordinate his movements enough to clamber of the bike. However, with Squall lifting him and coaxing him to slide his leg over the bike though, he managed to find his feet again.

Squall pulled away, the yellow-orange street lamps illuminating his face properly for the first time that evening. Squall looked… sick. His face was thinner than Seifer remembered; shadows smudged under his eyes making him look tired and ill. The weirdest part was his hands - he was shaking, as he reached for his backpack where one strap peered out of the saddle bags.

People who used weapons like gunblades like Squall did weren’t supposed to shake like that. Squall had the steadiest hands, the sturdiest grip. Even if the little dumbass was always scared he'd let go of the damn gunblade. Had he ever even gotten over that little concern?

"You look like shit," Seifer said helpfully, swaying as he struggled to stay on his feet. Squall's hand caught his arm to steady him, his free arm snaking around Seifer's waist to coax him away from the bike and towards the shelter of the hotel.

"Don't make me drop you," Squall threatened halfheartedly, his cool hand catching the bare skin at the edge of Seifer's shirt just briefly enough to make Seifer start. "Besides, you don't look too hot yourself."

As a sudden wave of nausea hit him, Seifer peeled Squall's hand away from his side and pushed him away as gently as he could manage. With a few deep breaths and careful movements he managed to stave off the worst of it for a moment as he fished his wallet out of his pocket and tossed it to the younger man. "I'm going to puke in those bushes," he said, nodding just once at a stretch of half dead shrubs that stretched along one edge of the car park, barely clinging to life in the dry, hard soil. "You get us a room."

Squall disappeared into the shadows between street lights, presumably heading for the office but Seifer was long past caring. By the time he was done with killing the local flora he was ready to keel over into bed and be dead to the world for a good twelve hours at least.

"You okay, Almasy?" Squall's voice drifted from the darkness.

If he hadn't been so busy, Seifer would have smiled at the concern he heard in his voice. Echoes of the quiet little boy with haunted blue-grey eyes that had trailed after him like a puppy, even following him into gunblade training after they'd arrived at garden, threaded through that quiet, deep voice. Little bastard had always been there. Couldn't ever get away from him, even in the war. That was what made it so hard to accept that Squall had beaten him. Let alone that Squall had held back, pulled his punches, and worst of all let him live. "Peachy, grab the saddle bags."

"Room 102, get moving."

Squall hefted the bags, reinforced leather pouches that held more than enough gear for Seifer to live comfortably with for a week provided he was careful, off the back wheel and braced them on his shoulder. He staggered a few steps, waiting to catch his breath before he turned to head for the room, Seifer trailing along behind him. “Remind me to tell you how much of an idiot you are when you have a hang over tomorrow.”

“I never get hangovers,” Seifer lied with a shrug.

“Bastard.”

The word was soft, caught on the cooling desert breeze and almost diverted from his ears completely. Seifer decided to let the insult pass since it was as normal as taking a breath for the two of them to trade off insults without a second thought. Then, with a sigh, Squall opened the door and slipped inside, dumping the bags as Seifer headed straight for the bathroom.

Seifer himself wasn’t sure whether he particularly wanted to switch on the lights for a moment – at least in the darkness he could pretend that the place was clean, and bug free – but finally he succumbed to the desire for light and flicked the switch.

The bathroom was passable. Tiled walls to make it easier for just spraying the whole thing down, and nothing scattered when he turned on the light – that was a good sign. While the tub looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since Hyne’s days, the rest of the bathroom was a million miles from the worst he’d been in over the previous months of travelling. Seifer tried not to look too closely at anything in the room, at least not long enough to notice the worst of things.

By the time he was done soaking his head, cleaning up the blood from his fortunately clotting wound, and drinking enough water to drown Leviathan, Seifer felt a little more human and in control of his faculties. By then, Squall had already changed and had crawled into the double bed.

Squall was, in fact, half curled on his side, facing the door. His hyper-sheath was hooked over the corner of the old brass headboard, paranoia and fear driving Squall to make sure he was protected at all times, even in his sleep. Hyne only knew what the loss of SeeD could have done to his already tentative grip on reality. Behind him, the meagre light on the bedside table struggled to fight back the darkness, leaving long shadows stretching behind the battered chair and table in the corner.

“You hungry?” Seifer asked, motioning to the saddlebags where they sat beside the bed. “I have some travel grub.”

“I’m alright,” the dark haired lump in the covers said softly. His eyes were closed, one hand holding the sheets at shoulder height with a death grip and he looked just like the petrified kid who’d slept in the same bedroom as him too many years ago. Seifer had to stop drinking. Squall probably hated him for the war..., even if he did make a habit of jumping off bus station roofs to save him.

“Yeah. Sure. Fine,” Seifer rolled his eyes, pushing away from the bathroom door and making sure to shut it – just in case – before stripping down and climbing into bed after Squall. “Move over.”

With a dramatic sigh that Seifer himself would have been proud of, Squall shuffled even closer to the edge of the bed. By the time Seifer was settled and taking more than his fair share of space and covers – crowding Squall until he was as close to the edge as possible – Squall was facing him. “Do you still snore?”

“By request only,” Seifer grinned. “Good thing you asked.”

“I’ll just pull this pillow over my head now then.”

Seifer reached up to turn the light out, only to pause. He turned to look at Squall. With his eyes half closed, and his face relaxed on the verge of sleep, Squall looked so very young. His scowls, his frowns, all those attempts at driving people away were as distant as Seifer's cares. "Should I turn it off, or leave it on? Are you still scared of the dark?"

The scowl returned in full force as Squall lifted his head to glare at Seifer. It was no where near its usual intensity of course; Squall was either too amused or too tired to offer anything more than that. By the look of him, Seifer was guessing it would be too tired rather than the other option. "Seifer. That was twelve years ago."

"I'll take that as a no, then," he grinned. Of course it was just a dig at Squall, a way to prove that he was in fact the better man, older, stronger and more awesome than Squall. That he was the older brother. That the war hadn't really mattered no matter what those voices of doubt in the back of his head had to say.

"Turn it out.” Squall growled, adding, “Are you still scared of Geezards?"

With as much dignity as he could muster, his nose in the air and his head held as steadily as he could manage, Seifer replied: "I never was. I just don't like them." He spoke carefully to prevent the worst effects of the drink seeping into his voice. Fortunately, he didn't slur, Hyne only knew what it would take for Squall to forget that particular episode at the bar. Fourteen Gfs and his very own bottle of vodka sprang to mind.

At last he switched off the light and slumped back down in the hopefully clean sheets, returning to take as much of the bed up as he could, adding with a frown, "They shit unexpectedly."

Silence fell again. The curtains were drawn, only a sliver of that oddly coloured orange-yellow light stealing between them from the nearby street light. It felt as though suddenly they were the only ones in world, it was so very quiet and still.

It was too much to last.

"You really wanted to die?" Squall's voice broke the silence hesitantly. Seifer could feel the nervous shift of Squall's body beside him, feel the tense hold on the covers of Squall's hand every time he took a breath and felt the sheets stretch across his chest.

Even after everything that had happened, Seifer still hated to lie to Squall. Bullshit, tease, outright mock occasionally – well he would insist on wearing those damn tight leather pants and dumb fur collar. "I'm a morose drunk," he offered, shrugging to himself. So he was tired, angry at himself and his sorceress, not to mention feeling a bit of self pity at the same time. The alcohol only forced him to magnify all of those feelings and all of that inner turmoil, blowing it out of proportion until he could no longer ignore or control it. It also made him forget. Sometimes.

"Then don't drink, Dumbass," Squall hissed, punching Seifer lightly on the arm. The anger was so thinly hidden in his strained words that Seifer could feel it, feel Squall's frustration just as keenly as his own.

"Yeah, I guess I could try that," the older man offered, lifting a hand to ruffle Squall's hair lightly. "You gonna tell me what's the deal with you?"

Squall tensed, ducking his head away from Seifer's hand to drag his hand through his dark chocolate hair that had turned to ebony in the lack of light. He was just a shadow moving on a background of blackness, and Seifer could barely discern his movements as he settled down and sighed. "You heard about president Loire and me?"

Seifer wondered if there was anyone left in the world who hadn't heard. He'd seen the papers from Esthar - now that the country's boarders were open and information was once again being exchanged freely between the major cities of the world, newspapers had started showing up in the larger towns along the rail line. The Loire and Leonhart connection had managed to seep into every page of news, even making some of the Galbadian newspapers despite the resentment that lingered in some places toward both Esthar and Garden. He'd seen the blurred pictures, the carefully worded press releases and had wondered just what the Estharian president had been able to offer Squall to sway him into moving to Esthar. "Yeah, go you, Squirt. You have a past!"

With a scoff, Squall folded his arms over his chest. Seifer didn't need any light to tell him that Squall was pouting, still angry and resentful but now those emotions were directed at the long absent father. Much easier to deal with when he was tired than full on pissy little bitch mode aimed at him. "I always had a past. He removed me from Garden and forced me to stay in Esthar with him.”

All manner of shocking and downright disgusting mental images ran through Seifer’s mind. He could torture Squall at the whim of a sorceress, he could scar him and bully him but the dark haired little iceberg in leather was still his baby brother. Squall was still someone who – deep inside where the feelings could be buried if he had the time or energy to make the effort – he needed to protect. “…Like weird and kinky? Should I kill him?” Not an idle offer from someone trained like they were.

“What?” Squall exclaimed. In the darkness, Seifer could practically hear the gears in Squall’s head turning as he thought the question over. When the light dawned, it was almost enough to make the room bright again. “Seifer, he’s my father. No kinky. Killing’s a maybe.”

“Him being your father is what would make it weird and kinky, Squall.”

“I’m too tired for this conversation.” Squall reached over Seifer to switch the light back on, frowning down at him while he was still stretched over his body to reach it. “He has never implied he wants anything more than to ruin my life by being a father.”

With the light so close, the shadows under Squall’s eyes seemed too dark to be real. His eyes almost seemed fevered. Seifer made a half assed attempt at being soothing. “How bad can it be? I mean at least the food must be good, right?” Or maybe not, as skinny as the kid had gotten. Seifer hadn’t lost that much weight and he had days at a time where he wasn’t sure where his next meal would come from.

“It’s like he’s rubbing everything I missed over the last seventeen years in my face,” Squall sighed. His hand, where it rested on the table beside the bed, was clenched into a fist. It was rare to see such showings of emotion from the soft features and the slim frame, particularly in a situation as intimate as the one they’d found themselves in that night. Perhaps this was bigger than Seifer had suspected.

However, Seifer couldn’t pretend to understand what he was going through. Squall had always been so quiet, so withdrawn. He’d recoiled from anyone who’d tried to connect with him, hidden away whenever he could to pretend that he didn’t need anyone when out of all of the children he’d grown up with he was probably the most needy, the most impressionable. Yet Squall had been the one to follow him. The shadow to his light, the squire to the romantic knight. Good damn thing Squall hadn't followed him into the service of his sorceress, or they would have taken the entire world together. No one else would have stood a chance. “Like… giving you shit? A red wagon and a bicycle and stuff?”

“Perfect room, perfect food, perfect life for a stuck up prince. How’d we get swapped at birth if you’re older than me?”

“What, you think I’m the perfect prince? Hyne, you’re drunker than I am.”

“No, but you could act it better than I could,” Squall rolled his eyes.

Tucking his arms beneath his head, Seifer stared at the ceiling painted in that sickly shade of bought-in-bulk magnolia that all the quiet little out of the way motels seemed to adorn all flat surfaces with. One of these days he was going to find a motel where even the furniture was painted magnolia, he was sure of it. There was a large water stain on the ceiling that he examined thoughtfully, just so he wouldn’t have to look at Squall again just yet, to give him a moment to get it together. At least, he hoped it was a water stain. “Well duh. First, he’s not my dad so I could always just kick his ass. Second, since I have shit now, three squares and a photo op sounds pretty good.”

“I’d rather have shit than live as something I’m not,” Squall muttered softly. Lifting his hand again he returned the room to darkness, perhaps rather than have to look at Seifer and see his feelings about that. That way he could pretend Seifer's reaction had been whatever he'd been looking for, and not whatever Seifer was more than likely to say to throw a spanner in the works.

“So you ran away.”

“Decommissioned, debriefed, stripped of all magic and GF’s then dragged to Esthar by an armed guard.” Squall chuckled softly. The bitter sound was utterly alien in the darkness, an unreal noise that he didn’t expect from Squall - after all, Squall wasn’t supposed to have any sense of humour. Seifer certainly hadn’t seen much of it over the years, and he would have been the one to see it. “Wouldn’t you look on that as a challenge?”

“Fuck yeah.” That would feel like as much of a challenge as a slap with a glove, Seifer admitted. He’d hate to feel trapped just as much as Squall had, even if it was a world apart from what he had. “Wait… you mentioned that before, no magic? What about Shiva?”

“Xu took everything, Almasy. Even Shiva. She tried to take my blade as well.”

“That bitch,” Seifer spat. Squall without Shiva was almost unimaginable. They were as closely intertwined as Fujin and Pandemona, seemingly impossible to separate. To lose the guardian force that he’d identified with so completely, who Squall had treated with the respect and admiration he so very rarely gave to anyone else was beyond sick. It was downright cruel. It was Xu all over. “Hyne. You should sue or something, Shiva was yours, Quez too... Everyone knew that.”

“Quezacoatl is Zell’s now, and all guardian forces belong to garden,” Squall murmured. The cool tone of his voice did nothing to hide how much it had hurt him, and Seifer wasn’t sure how or whether he should even attempt to comfort him.

“Says who? Xu?” Seifer scoffed, rolling his eyes. “You are all fucked up or you would’ve fought her. It’s your Garden; hells your dad bankrolls it doesn’t he? Now that Norg is spooge?”

Quiet for a moment, Squall eventually shrugged, tugging what was left of the covers around himself just that little bit tighter. “I was removed before any deals were finalised and I tried to fight. They had three SeeD hold me down while they removed everything.”

Squall’s sudden shiver of revulsion was enough to make Seifer wonder how it had felt. Was it the pain or the humiliation of being treated like that by people who had once been his classmates or subordinates or both? Seifer knew the clawing invasive feel of someone drawing magic from your body that you were not willing to give – Squall and his team had drawn magic from him in the war, after all, but that was past now. And that was in battle when the adrenaline was pumping and there was no time to think. “I wish I’d been there, Squirt. Of course, if I were there, Xu would have been trying to kill me but…”

“Whatever… and thanks.”

Seifer reached out to Squall hesitantly. Squall was still the closest thing he had to family, brother and bother, and after the motorcycle ride and the way he'd felt, Seifer couldn't help the urge to comfort him. As though somehow that meagre comfort could make up for the indiscretions of the war. Gathering his courage, Seifer pulled Squall to him.

They'd spent a thousand nights or more like this. Back when Squall would crawl into his bed for company and comfort when the bad dreams had been too much for him. With the battered old stuffed lion that had constantly accompanied him during the hours of darkness at the orphanage trailing after him, Squall always tugged on Seifer's sleeve to gain permission to slide into bed with him. Of course he'd never turned the boy away, he was the big brother, and he would always be there for him.

Except when it was truly important, it seemed.

For a moment, Squall froze when he was pressed against Seifer's side. His heart thundered with fear and apprehension, Seifer could feel it against his skin, but again, it was just for a moment and slowly he began to relax once more. Squall was wise to be cautious, Seifer told himself, after all only six months ago that Seifer had been his sworn enemy, torturing him in D-District prison.

Still, that moment of fear hurt.

It had been so long since Seifer had held anyone, let alone Squall, that he was sure he wouldn't have let go even if Squall had fought him to pull away. "Bed's too small," he explained at last, long after Squall had settled his head on Seifer's shoulder and rested a hand on his chest.

"Either that, or you're too drunk."

Scoffing, Seifer waved the comment away in the darkness. "Never too drunk," he said, rolling his eyes. On Seifer's bare chest, Squall's hand flexed stretching. At least in the silence the years of training and battle had seemed to melt away and leave the fragile children they'd once been exposed and open to one another again. The relief that the years could be washed away so easily was incredible to both of them, Seifer was sure. Squall was too quiet, too still to not be thinking, and Seifer could only hope it was good things.

The hand on Seifer's chest curled into a fist slowly, and Squall yawned again. Every time he spoke he sounded more and more tired, more and more in need of a sleep spell or something to push him over the edge. "Been a while since we did this," he whispered. The knowledge that Squall could remember doing this even though he'd been so very young and even though he'd been junctioned for so many years was a relief – at least Squall wouldn't think it was too weird.

"Too long," Seifer mused. He had to apologise - there was no way of knowing if Squall would still be there in the morning light, or whether they would never have a moment like this again where Seifer could gather his courage and wits and find a way to make Squall know he was sorry. "Squall, about... Ulti and all that...."

"Was it your choice?" the younger man asked as soon as Seifer's voice trailed off. Still straight to the point, at least Seifer could get it out of the way and now he'd had his moment to hold someone he could admit it and let Squall run off if he needed to.

Seifer hoped he wouldn't need to.

"Yeah, at first. You know, in for a penny, in for a pound. Whatever the fuck that means."

Squall's fisted hand tightened even further. He started to speak several times before stopping again, trying to find just the right words for what he wanted to say. At a loss, he finally asked in a very soft, small voice "Even the torture?"

"I'm not going to be a puss and say it’s not my fault, Squall. She could take control to a point, after I let her that first time, but I gave her that control like a dumb shit so... I ...compromised a lot. D-District, I got the non-SeeDs out of there – Rin and Kinneas- and I thought you had Quez, that she'd protect you," he offered. Seifer hoped that the explanation didn't sound as hollow to Squall as it felt, the empty words bitter on his tongue despite being true. If he could take back one moment of the war, it would be that moment when he'd seen Squall tied to the wall of the D-District prison, electricity arcing through his body, the abhorrent smell of burning human flesh filling his senses.

Squall shrugged. At least he wasn't reaching for his pants, or the hyper sheath hooked over the corner of the bed. That was as good a sign as any. "You can make it up to me at least."

"I can do that. How?" he asked, tugging the sheets around Squall's shoulders, making sure the blankets were tucked around him. Damn bony shoulders and elbows, Squall seemed to be all corners and sharp angles now that were determined to dig into his side. Still it just made him want to keep the boy warm all the more. So much for any puppy fat that Seifer had noticed in those last few days before their exam. Now he was all corded muscle on an oddly skinny little frame.

"Give up the death wish. And breakfast in bed in the morning."

"I dunno if I can give up breakfast in bed, Squirt," Seifer mused, rubbing his chin with his free hand.

Squall’s fist turned to drum sharply enough on Seifer’s chest to make him wince. Obviously Squall still had no concept of humour despite his brief flirtations with it and Seifer’s –albeit meagre – attempt at a joke had not been appreciated. He should have been used to that by now. “I meant for me, idiot.”

Sighing in resignation, Seifer patted Squall’s thin shoulder and nodded his accession. “Okay, but you have to eat it.”

“I will.”

“And in the morning, we’ll hang out and plot how to fuck Xu up,” Seifer grinned into the darkness. He had the incredible urge to add the appropriately villainous laughter but it was too late, he was too drunk and Squall definitely wouldn’t appreciate it in the sleepy, apparently grumpy mood he was in. So he held off, at least this time. He’d be sure to run into Squall again, their paths seemed inexplicably intertwined and he was sure that they’d never be apart for long.

How else would they fight?

“Don’t mention Xu and fucking in the same sentence,” Squall grumbled. His voice was getting fainter now, closer to sleep as his breathing began to slow into an even rhythm. All traces of that tension had melted away and with the warmth of the blankets and Seifer’s body, Squall had no reason to stay awake.

“Good point,” Seifer nodded. Squall’s soft voice murmured something about nightmares as a truck chose that moment to pass the motel, headlights glaring through the crack in the curtains briefly to light the room as bright as day. The water stain on the ceiling seemed even darker, and it might have been Seifer’s imagination but it also seemed to be growing. He hoped it was just his imagination. “I’ll protect you from nightmares, Squirt. You still like eggs right?”

Squall didn’t answer. He nodded slowly as the light faded again, the truck driving onwards into the eternal night.

“We’re good then, go to sleep.”

For the first time since they’d first arrived at Balamb garden, Squall did as Seifer bade him.
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