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).








Chapter Three.
“Two great talkers will not travel far together.”
Spanish Proverb




The bus drew to a rather abrupt halt, kicking up clouds of red dust and diesel fumes again.

Squall sighed and glanced out of the window. The town they’d pulled into some four hours later was still a fair way from Deling and he really didn’t relish the thought of another journey on the bus. He’d half listened to the old women somewhere behind him discussing the Estharian prince and the fairytale that seemed to be spilling out across the world, unable to decide whether he should laugh or shake his head in disgust.

Usually he would have stayed right there, kept his head down and waited, but both his encounter with Seifer Almasy and the conversation he’d overheard made him restless and edgy. So, grabbing his bag, he rose from his seat and followed the rest of the people trudging off their mode of transport to stretch their legs and take a break.

As he reached the last step, he paused.

Seifer Almasy was leaning against the wall in an attempt to look cool, two bottles of soda held between the fingers of his left hand. He wore the holier-than-thou smirk, his head tilted as he watched Squall finally step down from the bus, his incredibly green eyes shining like a cat's.

Squall was tempted to walk straight past him and head into the terminal but after Seifer had streaked past the bus like a bat out of hell, he had to resist. At least Seifer had made some sort of effort to beat him to the next stop and that could only mean one of two things - that Seifer had realized they'd parted without duelling for the first time in their lives and that he hated to break a trend, or that he wanted something else from Squall.

Seifer offered him one of the bottles. It was still cold when Squall took it, condensation beading on the surface and he could barely resist the urge to draw it across his forehead. He had always disliked the heat - even before he'd begun to junction Shiva - and yet he'd still travelled across the Galbadian desert despite knowing this. It was harder to locate someone in the vast expanses of sand, especially if one moved off the main roads, the long curves of black tarmac cutting through the orange red sand like snake trails, and it had seemed his best bet of avoiding anyone who'd recognize him or anyone who worked for his father.

So far, the first had been disproved. Odds were the second would be proved wrong as well now, and Squall was at a loss for what to do. He had no choice but to stay on the main road until he located some reliable transportation and the chances of that before he reached Deling were slim to none.

Unless Seifer was hanging around the bus stop for what Squall assumed he was.

Turning his back to the wall and leaning next to Seifer, Squall twisted off the plastic bottle cap with a satisfying hiss of escaping carbon dioxide. The brown-black drink bubbled furiously for a moment, but did not reach the neck and Squall took a long, satisfying swig before he spoke. "Don't I know you from somewhere?" he asked, arching one delicate eyebrow at Seifer.

"Could be," Seifer nodded, his lips pursed in mock contemplation as he stretched. The soft crack of his shoulders as he held the position with his arms high over his head was only barely audible but it meant that he'd been waiting for a while. That proved that there was something on his mind and that it involved Squall - or he would have been long gone, a speck on the horizon. "I hang around bus terminals a lot."

"Sounds like a bad habit."

Grinning, the very epitome of bad habits and bad news, Seifer cocked his head to one side. He regarded Squall with a look that was pure smug control, waiting to ask his question, whatever that was. "I'm trying to quit."

Lowering his gaze to the bottle in his hand, Squall frowned. He eased his thumbnail under the corner of the label, wrinkling it and easing it away from the adhesive that left sticky lines across the plastic. "What are you doing here, Seifer?" he asked nonchalantly. He kept his feelings and opinions hidden, making sure that no hint of the hope he felt would creep into his words.

"Squall, listen. You are all over the news...," Seifer straightened suddenly, moving to block Squall from the view of the passers by. With his voice low and careful, in an almost dangerous tone, he continued. "And since we aren't going anywhere in particular, there is no reason not to go together. Save on bus fare. Split gas costs and... stuff."

"And stuff?" he almost chuckled at the phrase tacked hastily onto the end of the suggestion. The relief he felt was tangible, as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders and he was relieved to not be alone again. He'd been used to being on his own before the war, but now with no GF and absolutely nothing to keep his mind sharp and alert besides himself he didn't want to be alone any more. "You can be so eloquent at times."

Seifer knocked Squall's head lightly with the bottle he held. There was no menace or force behind it, just a quick movement to let Squall know that he did not appreciate the comment. Of course, he had to do something to show that he wasn't pleased with the comment, even if he didn't really care that much.

"I haven't seen the news lately," Squall said softly, ducking the plastic bottle. Glancing back at the bus, he wondered just how much had made it out from Esthar about his escape, and whether Laguna Loire had bothered telling the whole story. Of course he wouldn't do that, why tell your adoring public that you'd almost kidnapped your own son and now he'd run away to be free of your incessant talking and worrying. "But, alright. I'll come with you."

With a grin, Seifer held his free hand out to Squall expectantly. "Sell back your ticket, I'll pack your stuff," he ordered.

Sliding the backpack off his shoulder and setting the straps in Seifer's open hand, Squall looked up at him curiously. Seifer was still taller, and as far as he could tell, still growing. He seemed leaner than he'd been but still well built, muscular and handsome, and Squall already knew that he was still junctioned and carrying a stock of magic. "Why'd you change your mind?"

"Who says I did?" Seifer asked, a defensive air to his words. He moved closer to Squall and kept his voice soft, painfully aware that people were wandering past them constantly. People who if they managed to see past him to the dark haired youth, would realize that it was this missing prince from Esthar.

Squall shrugged. "You're here, aren't you?"

"Well we were going the same way and it seemed stupid to..." Seifer's voice trailed off and he shook his head. "Look, just take care of the ticket thing already, okay?"

"Right."

Squall sidestepped the taller, older man and turned to head into the terminal. Compared to the bright day outside, the building seemed too dark and it took a few moments for his eyes to get used to the change. A handful of others, mostly people who'd arrived on the same bus that he had, milled about, looking at schedules or simply stretching their legs. A small rack of newspapers and magazines, the majority of them dog-eared things that had been thumbed through by any and all passengers who'd just happened to get off at this stop to take a break stood in one corner.

He joined the short queue for the ticket counter, avoiding curious glances as much as he could.

Never had such a short queue taken so long to move. The woman behind the counter, a freckled thing with bleach blonde hair drawn back into a painfully tight ponytail and who couldn't be much older than thirty five rattled off intimate stories about her children and Hyne only knew what else to each person who had the unfortunate chance to talk to her. Squall listened, or rather he tried to but the drip of his brain out of his ear proved too distracting to listen through to the end.

When Squall finally reached the counter, thrusting the ticket through the small gap at the bottom of the window, he scowled at his reflection in her thick glasses. He'd seen thinner glass in the space station. In fact, he was sure she had most of the silicone in Galbadia perched on the end of her nose framed in pink plastic. Her eyebrows had been removed completely, replaced with a too high arc of brown pencil that didn't seem to be quite... right. Tipping his head, Squall realized it wasn't his eyes - she had drawn them on unevenly.

"Aw honey, ya changed yer mind about Deling? I un'erstand, I don't like them big city folks myself," she drawled, counting out his refund in the smallest bills she could manage just so it would take longer. "Y'all are better stayin' out here with us normal folk."

Glancing over his shoulder, Squall spotted Seifer standing in front of the rack of magazines, his arms folded across his chest. He was trying - and actually succeeding - to look menacing. He managed to turn away someone who dared to walk too close to the magazine rack with only the sinister glare that implied 'Yes, I am an asshole and no, I'm not going to move' and the gentlest shift of his arms. He was blocking the papers, his eyes strafing the room casually as he tried to take in everything at once.

Seifer tapped one foot restlessly. Squall could see the way he held himself ready, he didn't feel secure here and something had set him on edge, something had gotten to him.

Squall caught his eye at long last, tipping his head curiously and pointing at Seifer discretely. 'Are they looking for you?'

He shook his head and tapped his wrist in an attempt to hurry Squall up.

Something was definitely wrong. Though he wasn't sure what it was, Squall had to get out of the bus terminal as fast as possible, and he needed to get away from anyone who could recognize either of them.

Finally the woman pushed his money through the small slot with a bright smile. "Here y'are honey, thank ya fer..."

Squall snatched up the pile of bills and headed for the exit as quickly as he could without drawing further attention to himself. Keeping his head down, he stepped out onto the red dust of the Galbadian desert and marched for Seifer's bike.

Seifer caught him up quickly enough, his long legs matching Squall's pace easily. "Hyne's holy ass, what took so long? She engraving the gil herself?" he growled, his fist tightening on the paper he held enough to wrinkle the thin sheets.

"She wanted me to hear about her three kids, I think."

"But did you have to wait while she gave birth to each one? Get on the bike."

Scowling, Squall glanced back. The driver of the coach he'd rode in on lingered on the bottom step of his vehicle, watching them with a curious eye, glancing between them and the open doorway of the stop. He was frowning, lost in thought and seemed unsure of just what he should do next - Squall didn't want to give him a chance to decide.

"She wouldn't give me the money," he said, checking that his backpack had been stowed safely. It wasn't that he didn't trust Seifer to handle his belongings, but with the bag containing everything he had left of his previous life - aside from the bits and pieces he had left in Esthar that he would likely never again see - he wanted to double check that it was safe and sound in Seifer's saddlebag. It was, the straps anchored to the inside of the bag that contained it, and it's buckles firmly fastened. "What was on the newspapers?"

As soon as he straightened, Seifer smacked Squall in the chest with the rolled up paper he held. He didn't say a word, simply watching Squall for some reaction, some acknowledgement to his face being plastered all over the Galbadian newspapers, half a world away from the country that was so desperate to find him.
Feeling the colour drain away from his face, Squall sighed. The headlines 'Reward of 100,000 Gil for word of Missing Prince' sprawled across the paper, the article going on to reference half a dozen pages inside.

The picture was not a bad one by any means, clear enough to show his prominent scar. At least his hair had been pushed back out of his eyes, annoying him too much that evening to let it fall free - he could hide a little so long as the images inside hadn't been taken later in the evening. He'd been caught mid-glare at the press conference and, not for the first time, he cursed his father for ever setting up the interview.

"I wish I'd kept that camera," he scowled, recognizing the pose. It had been taken as he'd stalked off the stage, a reporter getting too close for comfort and yelling questions as he'd blinded Squall with the flashbulb from his camera.

"Just get on the bike," Seifer ordered. "Put my helmet on and let's get the fuck out of here."

"We need...," the younger man began as he pulled the baseball cap off and tucked it into one of the saddle bags and pulled the helmet on. "To head off the beaten track, I think."

“This track isn’t even bruised. We need to find some lost civilization.”

Squall was as lost in the desert as a Gayla would be. Without a map to check, he wasn’t even sure which way to head – and Seifer’s presence would not be appreciated in Deling city, not after his brief but busy stint as the sorceress’ knight. “Such as?” he asked, waiting for a suggestion in vain.

“Damned if I know. You drive,” Seifer replied.

Climbing on the bike, Squall waited until Seifer was seated safely behind him. His arm snaked around Squall’s waist, he took the paper again when Squall offered it, folding it up easily with just one hand. “I hate that picture,” he said, turning the key and starting the engine with a low, rumbling growl.

He could almost hear the grin in Seifer’s voice when he spoke again. “It’s not your good side,” he nodded – lifting the paper away from them both and from the bike as he summoned a fira spell into his hand. The flickering flames began to lick up along the folded tabloid, the pages quickly blackening before the whole thing was consumed in the dancing unnatural fire. Finally he tossed it aside, watching for a moment as the fire died away and the ashes were caught by the wind, stirred into the dancing dust of the desert in a tumble of fading red embers and black specks.

“You didn’t even get to see the six pages inside of me telling reporters what I thought of them,” Squall said absently, pulling the bike back onto the road slowly. Not that he’d had much to say that night in Esthar, but somehow the reporters had taken a few dozen words and turned it into several pages worth of gossip, trite information and worst of all downright lies about him. In the mirror, he caught a brief glimpse of those people who had been awake enough to notice the newspaper rack stare after the two of them.

“Six pages?” the older man laughed, resting his chin on Squall’s shoulder as the brunet began to build up speed. “What did they do, type whatever over and over in thirty-six point type?”

Squall smiled to himself faintly. “Something like that,” he murmured, turning down a less used track with a broken sign pointing to WinHill quite some distance away. There were other signs on the post, broken and worn by sun and sand, but the sight of that name had given him all the reason he’d needed to turn off the main road.


********


Okay, it was the newspapers that really gave me a reason to stop. Even if I didn’t see them until I reached the next stop for the bus that had just taken my little brother off into the distance. It wasn’t the fact that I was lonely or anything, nope.

I was kinda surprised that he even agreed to come with me. Dunno why, after all I am the best choice in any situation.

We’d stopped at some tiny little town for a late lunch and worked out how far we were from the next port of call. We were a long way from anywhere and I figured maybe it would be best if we spent a night under the stars. It was too far to make it to the next town in one night, and besides, if someone at the lousy bus station had put two and two together and figured out enough to contact his dad, it would do us good to avoid hotels for a couple of nights.

Stocking up on supplies in hick central was… awkward. To say the least. I remembered Squall being a fussy eater from when we were kids and I was half convinced that everyone who happened to glance his way either wanted to turn him in – hell, if I were less likely to get my own ass arrested I might have considered it myself – or do something wholly inappropriate to my little brother who also happened to be the prince of Esthar. It just wasn’t right for a guy to attract attention like he did.

I was getting tired, and he wasn’t holding onto me quite as tight as he had been, so I pulled over. We wound up finding a sheltered spot out in the desert, far away enough and well hidden enough to keep anyone from the road seeing our fire, but not so far as we wouldn’t be able to get back to it in the morning. It was getting cold too, and I was worried about him with how weird he was feeling against my back.

He climbed off the bike as soon as we stopped. The ground was dry and cracked under the tires as we pushed it along to the rocky out cropping that was going to be our shelter for the evening, but where the stones had protected the ground from the wind, the sand was still piled up. It’d be awkward and probably cold come morning, but it was better than sleeping on the harder stuff. Even if we’d both done it a hundred times before, it’s always difficult to get up the next morning.

Then again, it was pretty difficult to get off the bike too. “Okay, let's do this,” I said as soon as I was on my feet.

He gave me the look of pure confusion that had had girls fawning over him day after day when we were at garden. He was a pretty boy whether he liked it or not and for some insane reason that cold bastard thing made women fall over themselves to flirt with him. Not that he ever stopped thinking long enough to actually realise they were flirting with him, let alone actually do something about it. “Do what?”

“Spar!” I couldn't help giving a little huff of annoyance. It was me, what did he expect me to ask for? Every time we met up we ended up fighting, and we'd been together more than twenty four hours – overall, not including the few we'd lost while he'd been on the bus because I'd been an idiot – if we didn't spar soon the world was going to tumble off it's axis. I'd hate to do that by accident. On purpose was a different matter.

“Oh, Okay.”

That had me worried. Squall was always up for sparing and usually he was quiet but not so... bland about it. “Are you alright? The last time you didn't want to fight it was because you were running a fever and about to break out in spots,” I touched my hand to his forehead. He felt fine. Maybe a little warm but not like he'd been that morning.

As soon as I touched him he leant away from me and took a step back. “I've been on your bike long enough that I don't know if I can straighten my legs yet.”

“Okay, that's valid,” I ruffled his hair before he could get too far away. “However, I too am going to be using the rare hunched like a drunk who just got kicked in the balls stance, so deal.”

He stretched with his arms up over his head and his eyes closed. At least we could work out some of those kinks with some sparring. “Fine, if you're so determined.”

“Oh come on. It's going to the movies and not getting popcorn. We have to do it.”

“It's in the contract, hm?”

“Bred in the bone,” I grinned. It was so easy to get him to duel, too easy sometimes. It was the way we bonded, but it was dangerous. People didn't understand us and I think I preferred it that way. Since so many people wanted to be close to Squall, I loved being the only one who could see this side of him and live, the first lick of excitement crawling through his veins, that spark behind his eyes beginning to shine. I was pretty sure the people he'd killed had seen it, but hell they didn't count. I wondered if Xu had any idea what she'd let get away from her when she'd gotten rid of Squall. With the right motivation and a a year or two more experience he could be taking out half the Galbadian army on his own.

Of course, he pretty much had done that a few months back. Well, as he would say, whatever.

“Where would we be without your drama?” Squall rolled his eyes, his hand moving to his hyper-junction and curling around the handle of his weapon as it was drawn into our world. The blue flare of his blade coming to life again was a hell of a sight to behold. Any lesser man would have been a little afraid – I just thought it was cool.

I pulled Hyperion, swinging her to test her balance as though somehow when she was out of my sight something could have happened to her. As if. I rarely even left her hyper-junction alone unless I was drinking. Fortunately tonight I was a lot more sober, a lot more with it and more than ready to take on Squall Leonhart. My muscles were already aching for a fight. “In a colder, sadder place. Just for you, I won't use magic.”

“Until you're loosing,” Squall said coolly, resting the back of his blade on his shoulder. The glittering light of the adamantine blade gave him an oddly eerie halo, and I missed Shiva on his behalf. There'd always been a certain glow to his eyes when she was junctioned and it would have been very intimidating. For a lesser man. Me, well like the blade I just thought it looked cool.

I gave him my best grin. “You know me so well.”

“Just remember there's no infirmary here.”

“Well, I can cast Curaga and you can't hit me on a good day, so who cares?”

He arched one eyebrow at me, gave me a half smirk and echoed “Can't hit you on a good day?”

“Not even on your best day, Leonhart,” I shrugged, moving casually into a clear area and into a ready stance. Casually pissing each other off before a fight was a common preamble. It was like the lightning before the roll of thunder, like sniffing the wine before you tasted it. Couldn't get into a good duel without trading a few insults first.

“Looked in the mirror lately, Seifer?” he asked rather pointedly. He hadn't taken his eyes off me even for a second, and though his posture was relaxed, I knew in a heartbeat he could snap to a ready stance, or attack, or defend. Wouldn't waste my time on anyone who couldn't impress me just a little.

“No, my loveliness blinds me.”

“Well there's evidence of at least one hit right between your eyes,” he gestured at his own scar, the one he'd received barely moments before I'd gained mine.

“Nothing but a lucky hit,” I shrugged. “Anyway, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

“You have a really short memory,” Squall rolled his eyes, and I could already tell he was a little huffy at that particular battle supposedly slipping from my mind. Of course it hadn't, not even for a heartbeat. In my darkest, bitterest moments I'd glowered at that scar in the mirror and hated everything it stood for. Now... now it was just a fact like the sun rising and setting and the two of us needing coffee more than we needed air. “Tch. Blonds.”

“Yeah, I've stood here for so long I've forgotten what we were doing.”

“I'm waiting for an attack and you are living in high fantasy.”

“Oh you want me to go first? I thought we agreed the little shit always went first.”

“Yeah, that's why I'm waiting for you to attack.”

“I always have to do all the work,” I grumbled, just long enough to distract him before I charged at him. I bought my blade up in a sharp arc, aiming for his head. Unlike most people, Squall and I never sparred to miss, we were all about trying to kill each other from the moment we started fighting. It had been like that for years, just as soon as we'd out performed our instructors and frankly pretty poor older sparring partners. Best way to learn to kill is to actively try and kill the guy you're training against. Sure we were good enough to – should we need to – turn the blade at the last second for most blows but I couldn't remember the last time I'd needed to. Aside from the whole giving him a scar the morning or our exam thing.

He blocked me easily of course, and turned his blade to force me away so he could counter-attack just as quickly. The sparks flew from our blades as I blocked him again.

There wasn't as much power in his strikes as there had been – it was easy enough to blame his losing the Gfs for that, after all, both of us were junctioned to the hilt for strength and Hyne only knew what else almost the entire time we’d faced off against each other. Despite all that, he was just as fast as he had been, maybe even faster. As the Lionheart blade met mine, the blue glow of pulse ammunition flaring in his adamantine blade, I felt alive again for the first time. This was what I was meant to do, meant to be. Lost in the battle, proving which of us was the better man.

I forced him back with a few well placed strikes, and he got a lucky swipe in that would have trimmed a few hairs if I had as shaggy a mop on my head as he did.

Even with him unjunctioned we were pretty evenly matched. My skills were a little rusty and I was running low on all magic – my GF didn't junction for the things that half of my Garden Gfs had been able to but he was mine and only mine. Almost like the way Squall and Shiva were. Just another one of the reasons it pissed me off so much that someone had dared to take her away from him.

Eventually we locked blades. From somewhere that I've never seen, Squall pulled some crazy strength and forced me back a step or two, making me slide in the sand. He didn't let up for a minute either, following me and trying a thrust.

It was too wild and blind, I wasn't the only one who'd been knocked off balance for a second there.

It was the perfect opening for me to turn Hyperion and disarm him with her blade catcher, and I pulled the gunblade right out of his hands.

Which, apparently was the perfect moment for him to demonstrate a new move to me. As I tried to drop Lionheart and claim my victory, Squall dropped low and spun around to sweep my legs right out from under me, Hyperion and Lionheart both falling off to the side as I landed flat on my back, the air knocked right out of my lungs.

When I could get my breath back, I glared up at him and cursed. “You learned that from the chickenwuss, didn't you?”

“Yep,” he picked up his blade nonchalantly and stood over me, the faintest hint of smugness on his lips. That's my boy. I taught him everything he knew. Except the leg sweep, he was getting too good at the thinking outside the box thing, maybe a little too much like me.

“We'll call that a draw.”

He held his blade out at arms length, so the sharp tip just touched my throat. He could probably decapitate me with a flick of his wrist and for a horrible moment I wondered if he was considering it. Then he shrugged, shouldered the blade smoothly and nodded. “Okay.”

The little bastard was just claiming the win, even if he wasn't doing it verbally. “That was just grandstanding,” I smirked up at him. I should know – I taught him that too.

“Whatever, Almasy,” he said and offered me his free hand. I graciously let him help me up and he moved into his ready stance again as soon as he'd let my hand go. “Again?”

“No, I landed on what I hope is a cactus and not an overly friendly geezard.”

Squall looked behind me. “It's a geezard. In their terms, that means you are now married, congratulations.”

I wasn't sure if I liked the new, more outwardly sarcastic Squall Leonhart, but he was certainly a lot of fun to talk to. Maybe a little harder to piss off, unfortunately, but this was a new and different kind of fun. “I'll name our first born after you.”

“I'll be an uncle, great.”

“Since I'm in such a delicate condition, you go get some stones for the fire pit and I’ll unpack the gear,” I told him and to my surprise he actually did it. I couldn’t believe it, but he did. I should have ordered him around more often if he was going to obey without a second thought.

We built the fire together – We’d bought some basics back in town like charcoal to keep a fire going, a couple of blankets. Between the two of us and a Fira it didn’t take long to get it going, and I was kinda glad I’d bothered to keep him around. It was nice just being around someone again too. Just because I can be alone without going too stir crazy doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it.

“Here,” I said, tossing him the insulated tarp blanket that we needed to break in. “Throw this down. Keep the chill off our butts.”

Again, he did as he was told and I thanked Hyne for small mercies. I was still half expecting him to argue just because he could, and I knew it would start sooner or later.

“Throw me my bag too,” he said. He was kneeling on the tarp, tugging the gloves of his fingers one by one with his teeth. Sometimes I swear he’s doing that shit on purpose. If he were slightly more observant I’d say it he definitely was but people had always looked at him, even if he’d never been the type to really notice. “I’ll start some coffee.”

“Hyne, that sounds great.”

No matter who you are, where you’re from or how old you are, there is one thing you will take with you from garden when you leave it – a coffee addiction. And garden coffee is so awful you could probably kill a chocobo with it if you tried. Every morning we all trudged down to the cafeteria like good little caffeine zombies looking to feed our addiction and wake up. Nothing quite like mind control through java. Really I blame the early mornings and the very late nights at times but there’s always some part of me that will wonder just what they were putting in that brew to have us all so hooked.

Some days when Leonhart and I had a sparring match scheduled, I had to take him coffee just to get him onto words, let alone words with more than one syllable. He never really said "Whatever" until sometime after ten, when he was satisfactorily re-caffeinated.

So he made coffee in the one mug we had between the two of us while I got the ration fruit cups, sausages and buns we’d managed to pick up. He can take coffee any which way, I need cream and sugar to make it at least drinkable – fortunately he does plan ahead occasionally and he’d palmed a few of the little packets of sugar and pots of creamer from where we’d grabbed lunch.

He gave me this funny look as he handed me the mug. I was about to ask him what he was thinking in the vain hope of getting an answer besides whatever, so I’m an optimist, when he gave me this little half smile like he had when we were kids and said “We’re almost domestic.”

“But only almost,” I added, taking a swig of the java. He’d made it strong, but it was the best cup of coffee I’d had all day and I didn’t want to criticize it for fear of him never making a damn cup again. I knew he wouldn’t. Just to be a little bastard.

“Thank Hyne.”

I couldn’t help grinning at the relief in his voice. It was enough to make me wonder just what darling Rinny had done to the poor kid. Oh I loved her even before I was throwing her to insane sorceresses but Hyne, give me a woman with a backbone any day. Though they usually ended up more my friends than my lovers, just look at Fujin. “Yeah, I hate it when they tag your ear and stuff.”

“Or worse,” Squall shrugged.

“Not going there.”

I sat down beside him at last, bringing the couple of thick blankets that I knew weren’t going to be enough to keep the two of us warm unless we shared them and looked out across the rolling desert. The sun was just sinking below the horizon, the last gasp of light turning the sky yellow, red and orange and fading into the deepest blue black. The moon was already out, and the stars were beginning to litter the sky. Out in the desert it seemed that the sky just went on forever.

“It’s the first time I’ve really stopped to watch it,” Squall murmured so low I barely realised he’d spoken. He leant forward, checking the food and turning it so we wouldn’t get killed by something as lowly as a sausage, even if it was Zell’s greatest desire for his own end. I leant back against the rocks, they were cooling now that the light was fading and it seemed so quiet that we must have been the last two people in the world.

Part of me felt sorry for Squall, that he’d never had time to stop and watch the sunset, though we’d spent plenty of times together before watching it rise so we’d have light enough for one of our duels. “They say just before the sun goes, if the atmosphere is right, there’s a green flash.”

He looked at me over his shoulder, not knowing whether to believe me or not. I can’t lie for shit unless it’s a joke – matron instilled one good habit in me at least. His face was cast into shadow, faint flickers from the red glow of the sun and the coals of our camp fire catching just the edge of his face and lighting his hair a deep red brown. “Really?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. That alone was enough to have him believe me. There is some honour among gunblade specialists. Except when we’re duelling, then the gloves really come off. “I always look, but I’ve never seen it. I don’t know if you make a wish or your ass falls off when you do see one though.”

“I’ll make a wish,” he passed me a bun and a couple of the fire blackened sausages. “Your ass can fall off.”

There is nothing like eating out in the open. Usually I preferred to do it with Raijin, Fujin and enough beer to kill a whole herd of chocobo or – if we were feeling particularly desperate to wipe out a few braincells a bottle or two of vodka – but now they were married they weren’t as much fun. I suppose everyone has to settle down sooner or later. Leonhart was good enough company for the night though. “Wish for a million gil, dumb shit,” I took a bite of the sandwich. Needed ketchup. “My ass can fall off on it’s own. In fact, I was afraid it was going to before we found a place to camp. We need more padding on that seat.”

Squall sat back beside me as the sun finally slipped below the horizon, eyeing the food in his hands warily as though someone had hidden an Ochu tentacle in it. I swear I only did that to Zell once, hell he actually ate the damn thing, how was I to know he was an idiot?

Oh. Right. Stupid question.

“It’s better than the transporter we used on the day of our exam. Zell asking questions all the time…”

“Hyne, no where to nap and Xu’s fugly jaw ratcheting.” I shuddered and nudged him with my elbow. “I was waiting for you to throw up.”

He gave me a glare that made me grin. It was hard to get a rise out of him, true, but it was damned easy to get him to react so long as you knew what you were looking for. People thought he was cold as ice – me included sometimes – but so long as you actually took the time to look you’d be able to see those little signs, those little tell tale signals that he was human, that he did have a heart. “Zell bugs me, but he doesn’t make me vomit.”

“You were turning green,” I smirked. He had been looking a little peaky at the time but that could very well have been down to the fact that I’d damn near taken his head off that morning. I had to admire my handiwork. The scar between his eyes was kind of… right, there. “You never did like boats.”

He took a slow bite of his sandwich, chewing with a scowl. I’d already finished my own and I tried to brush the crumbs of too hard bread off my jacket and to the edge of the tarp – I’d already set encounter none because both of us needed the sleep if we were going to be able to ride in the morning.

Finally he spoke, keeping his voice calm and even deliberately. “I wouldn’t do that on a mission.”

“How was I to know? It was your first one.”

Scoffing softly, he gave me a look that would have reduced a lesser man to quivering jelly. In the light of the fire his eyes were as black as the night sky over our heads but hell, sometimes Leonhart could scare even me. He was just weird. “We’d been training for it for years. I wasn’t going to embarrass myself like that.”

Embarrass yourself, riiiight. That’s why Quistis was throwing up like it was in fashion on the morning of her exam. Maybe I’d never passed because I’d never been nervous. But if that was true, peebee would have failed too. Eh, whatever. “It’s kind of an involuntary thing,” I said, shaking my head.

I watched him pull his jacket tighter around himself, hugging his arms around his chest. I hadn’t seen him even acknowledge the weather for years so him feeling cold was kinda… new. The urge to make him feel better, or at least keep him warm was a new one on me, I hadn’t felt that since I was five and had to listen to him crying in the night. “Move over closer to the fire, I need to get something off the bike.”

He moved closer to the fire, skewering some more of the sausages. It wasn’t like we’d be able to keep them longer than today anyway, so we had to get rid of them somehow and I didn’t much fancy leaving meat out in the open when there would at least be rock Geezards around to make use of it. Meanwhile I dug a fisherman’s sweater – well it had been Rajin’s briefly when we’d passed through timber at Christmas and the daft bastard had been freezing, but I’d washed it half a dozen times since then – and found I’d still got some salt and pepper left.

“I forgot how cold it got without Shiva,” Squall said behind me. There was an edge to his voice that in my years of Squall watching I knew to mean that he missed the fuck out of her, and the big brother in me made a mental note to go back and fuck Xu up some whenever I got the chance. “Be quick about it, these won’t take long.”

So I dropped the sweater on his head. Whatever he chose to call me just after it had landed there, I fortunately did not hear as the sweater muffled everything but the “Seifmph” that started his very brief tirade. After winning the battle of ‘Get this fucking thing off me now’ he balled it up and tossed it at me. “I’m fine.”

Squall may be a hard ass. He may be a little bastard, and he may even be a hero, but if there’s one thing he isn’t, it’s fine. “Hey, you’ll get grease on it. Fuu made that for me. Well… she glared at a guy in a shop until he gave her a discount, anyway.”

“Just eat your dinner.”

“Put it on.”

It’s a testimony to how good my training skills are that he actually did as he was told and put the sweater on. Barely with him a day and I’d already got him acting like a human. I’m just that good. However, the sweater which was on the large side for me buried him. He was still shorter, thinner and Hyne’s balls if he didn’t look like a speck in the sea of wool. “Okay, if it makes you feel better, I think it used to belong to Raijin.”

He picked at it, scowling again. That was the expression I was much more used to. When he was bitching about stuff, he always wound up pouting and looking way too young for being seventeen years old. “I think we could both fit in this.”

“Think of it as our sleeping bag.”

“If I don’t drown in it first,” he muttered. He thought I hadn’t heard but I recognised how he was feeling. I’d sat next to him for two years; I knew when he was wound up, when he was tense, when he was going to snap. And right now, he looked like if I poked him he might explode.

Normally that would have been a challenge. But tonight I just wanted to sleep and I didn’t feel like doing it in a pile of smoking Squall bits and the remains of our single coffee cup. Reaching forward I plucked one of the more well done sausages from the stick by the fire and grinned at him. “Squall. Relax.”

“Relax?” he repeated. It took him a minute to actually figure out what I meant. When he finally worked it out, I’d already finished eating and was wiping my fingers on my jeans for lack of a better napkin. It was a good thing I had finished as when he said “I am relaxed!” I probably would’ve choked.

“Squall, if I bumped you, you would twang like a bow string. And launch that coffee cup to Balamb.”

Squall looked at the coffee cup he was holding. I swear to Hyne he was thinking about trying it just to prove whether I was right or wrong. “Maybe I could hit Xu.”

“I like that image,” I grinned at him. “There she is, relaxing after a hard day of flogging her co-workers bloody by shoving frozen limes up her whazzoo – that’s how she maintains that facial expression – and out of the blue her window shatters and she gets hit in the bean with a cup of camp coffee, which, due to re-entry, should be hot enough to burn through the frigidity and actually make her say ow.”

He looked away. That meant either I’d gotten to him and he was feeling guilty, or I’d gotten to him and he was smiling but didn’t want to admit to it. I suspected it was the second as Xu definitely deserved a cup of camp coffee to the bean. “Alright, so if I’m not relaxed, how do I relax?”

“Whacking off usually does it for me,” I told him and took the mug of coffee from him so I could get a drink.

He blinked at me, all big dark eyes. You know when you tell someone the truth and they still don’t believe you that you have achieved your goal. What that goal is I’m still not entirely sure but I’d done it. In fact, I took a celebratory swig of coffee…

“Myself or you?”

And promptly choked on it.

Now when I’d been at garden and Squall had be the quiet but content little student who sat at my side, glowered at the instructors and regularly did not make masturbation jokes. Either one of those little friends of his had been a bad influence on him or I was going to have to remind Rin that my little brother was not supposed to make whanking jokes. “Okay,” I grinned at him when I could breathe again. “how’s this? You take a deep breath, look around and think… What could go wrong?”

“I could be found by my father, you could pull a scene like last night, we could be eaten by Geezards.”

I shook my head. I’d bought us out here specifically so he wouldn’t have to worry about shit like that. Maybe not the geezard part though. As for the crack about last night, well, I may have gotten pissing people off down to a fine art but he had the rare talent of being able to actually piss me off in return. Fortunately I had logic on my side for the moment. “No, no, your dad won’t find us in the desert. Ditto my fanboys. Geezards could be a problem, but we’ve got Enc-None set up.”

“I’m not whacking off out here where you can hear me, so you’ll have to take me being wound up,” Squall sat back, rubbing his eye with the heel of his hand. He was tired enough to show it, so he would be passing out pretty soon. Little bastard would probably try and outlast me if I didn’t bother to give in and order him to get some rest. Any other time I’d go for the challenge just to see him lose but I was tired too.

It occurred to me that I was living the dream. I had gotten Squall Leonhart to admit he was human and had human urges. If things kept up like this I’d have him calling me his god by the time the week was out. “Oh, you’re noisy?” I asked, not really caring to know about his self relief habits. “I can wander around and sing.”

“I am not having this conversation with you.”

“I’ll go look for Geezards, you can whistle when you’re done.”

“They’ll never find your body out here, Almasy,” he said, glowering at me again. His hand didn’t move for his gunblade so I knew I hadn’t pissed him off too much yet. “Stop giving me a reason to feed the Geezards.”

“Ah, you’d have to catch me.”

“Or wait until you’re relaxing,” he said, his tone threatening. I thoroughly believed he actually would kill me in the middle of some - as Kadowaki termed it so eloquently – self abuse. One, I would be too distracted to hear him sneaking up on me and two, I’m sure as shit he’d get a kick out of the look that would be on my face when he finally finished me. Not that kind of finished, the murdery kind of finished.

“I’ll whistle to let you know when I’m done,” I told him, kicking back and tucking one hand under my head. Now I’d stopped the aches of spending almost an entire day on the bike were catching up with me. My shoulders complained about keeping the same position for so long and I was rethinking my decision to spend the next night in the desert, too. Hell I don’t think my back could take two nights in the desert running. Besides, Squall still looked like crap. A bed and somewhere warm again would probably do him the world of good.

“Just wait til I’m asleep.”

I grinned at him. “I’m doing it right now,” I said – a base lie but still enough to make him look down at my crotch. I always knew the little bastard was kinky. I laughed and smacked his arm. For looking.

He growled at me and folded his arms over his chest like a big kid. Most everything he does sooner or later reminds me of a kid, maybe because he was so incredibly fucked up. Cid, Edea, hell even garden did a number on him. It’d been my job to toughen him up. “Bastard.”

“Eat your dinner,” I ordered him, nodding to the remaining sausage at the fireside. Perhaps masturbation jokes were highly inappropriate when we were eating overcooked wieners. “Or you’ll be having it again for breakfast.”

“I don’t eat breakfast.”

I could already see things were going to get worse before they got better. “Okay, high tea.”

“Whatever,” he said, reaching for his sausage and unskewering it.

“Look, I love fighting with you,” I told him in an attempt to be reasonable. “But even I can’t do it twenty four – seven. Let’s limit the fights to the daylight hours only, okay? And not before eight for any reason.”

He frowned, looking thoughtful as he broke the meat into smaller pieces. I knew Squall was going to add his own stipulations to my proposal, just to make himself feel like he’d had a hand in our truce. Still, he made me wait until he’d eaten it before he answered.

“Can we make it not before the first cup of coffee?”

“That’s a given,” I grinned. Until I’d gotten the proper balance of caffeine to blood back into my veins, I was just cranky. The rest of the day I was quite happy to be a bastard of my own accord, but that first hour before I fed my addiction I was not at my best. It feels so hollow to snark at people without it being of your own accord.

“I’d shake your hand, but I know where it’s been.”

“Only with the things I love,” I nudged him on the chin and he pulled a face like a kitten getting wet. Like anyone was ever going to take him seriously when he could look like that.

“Just yourself and your weapon, naturally,” he said. Then he took one look at my grin and hastily added “Your gunblade.”

“Naturally.”

We were quiet for a while. Squall should never be permitted to be quiet for long as that fucked up little brain of his starts churning over information and drawing completely the wrong conclusions. I knew this, and yet I let him do it. Maybe I’m a sucker for an argument even despite our new and shiny rule that was going to be ignored as much as the garden regulations were. “Was it just for the money?” he asked finally, rubbing his eyes.

He’d lost me. I thought we were still joking about choking the chicken. Which was possibly my favourite slang for self love as it had often made Zell blush and slip when doing one of his little cheerleader routines. “If you could get paid for whacking off, no teenage boy would ever need another job.”

“Picking me up at the station, Seifer.”

I made the mistake of letting him get to me. I should have known that It was Squall’s fucked up side talking, and that he really couldn’t stand letting us sleep without at least one more argument. I’d seen enough proof of that before when we’d been on training missions together. “If it were just for the money,” I hissed, angry that he thought so little of me. “I’d turn your ass in for the huge Hyne be damned reward, dumb shit.”

“Abide by your own rule,” he told me, as if I’d been the one to start this stupid line of conversation. That was my other mistake, expecting conversation from Squall I know three words and all of them are whatever Leonhart. “No arguments.”

“Well what kind of fucking question is that?” I poked at the fire, pissed that he’d asked, pissed that I’d gotten pissed and pissed that I couldn’t smack the little bastard without breaking my rule again or hurting the little fuck. If he hadn’t looked so different to the kid I’d left back in Balamb a few months before, I’d have been wrestling with him and trying to beat the crap out of him for even deigning to think something so dumb. It made me think back to the war too, memories I’d really rather have left buried.

“I don’t know. Just… curiosity I guess.”

“No, it was just… stupid. We’ve known each other since we were babies.”

“Yeah,” he said, giving me this little smile that made me think maybe he wasn’t such a bastard after all. It was only small, but he was smiling. He was actually deigning to show me some human emotion… well I couldn’t really keep myself angry anyway. “And we’ve fought since we were at Garden.”

“So? It’s easier to fight when we are together.”

Giving me a look that I translated to ‘dear Hyne, you’re right!’ just for the sake of my own sanity and his remaining unbeaten and without black eyes, Squall shrugged. “We had better keep our big fights for when we don’t have an audience. Neither one of us wants to draw attention to ourselves.”

“We’ll be like bread and butter in public,” I told him. Just sharply enough to make it sound like he didn’t have a choice which really, he didn’t. Still, I didn’t really expect him to just go along with it as easy as he did.

“You be butter.”

“And spread?” I asked. He nodded. “Just for that, I will.”

For a second there, he looked honestly surprised. It was almost cute that he thought he really knew me well enough to judge me. Both of us had changed since that morning months back when we’d exchanged scars. Felt like years before every time I looked at him. “You? Following an order?”

“I really prefer to think of it as a suggestion,” I nodded, barely resisting the urge to wink at him. And then, I spread. I yawned, stretched and flopped down on the tarpaulin, dragging him down with me and deliberately took up as much space as I could, just so he’d have to stay closer to the fire.

“Where are we going?”

Squall’s bright, but the obvious defeats him. “…To bed.”

“I meant tomorrow,” Squall muttered, rolling onto his side to face the fire. At least he was starting to understand the whole I don’t want to argue after dark thing, or he would have kept facing me so we could keep arguing. Still he had to have a brain somewhere in that pretty head of his that actually did work. I suppose. He’d beaten me after all.

“Well, since it took all day to get here, going back the way we came would be futile. And there’s only one road. Eventually the road will end, and there will be a big body of water. We’ll go north or south along the coast until we decide to go some place else. Why, did you have a destination in mind?”

“I’m not used to not having somewhere to go,” he said. I knew that feeling well, I’d been lost when I’d first started out on my own, but it was weird to hear someone else admit to it.

Unfolding the blankets, I moved as close to him as I could so we could share. “The orphanage and the lighthouse. By the first snow.”

He turned his head to look at me when I covered him, clutching at the blankets with one hand. It was weird seeing him cold, he’d had Shiva for so long that I wondered how he’d been able to take her being removed from him. I’d always had a close bond with Ifrit as well as my other GF Helios, and losing one had been… difficult. At least I’d had Helios to fall back on, Squall had nothing. “We have a while then.”

“We can do whatever we want. That’s the point of running away from home, isn’t it?” I wanted to touch his hair. It was half hanging in his eyes and I couldn’t really see him, but I couldn’t afford to be too personal. It’d make him pull away even if we had known each other forever. As soon as he passed out, I’d curl up against his back so I could keep him warm.

“First time I’ve tried it.”

“You used to do it all the time when you were little.”

I could almost see him remembering. Back when we were both tiny, when he’d been so desperate to find Sis that he’d have done anything. I’d hated her on more than one occasion because she was more special to him than I was. Still, I’d been the one he’d come to for the important things in life. “I was looking for Elle,” he said, his voice distant.

“You crawled up into the postman’s truck one time. Cid and Matron were out on the beach, freaking. You were nearly to the docks before he noticed you and had to turn around,” I’d admired him that day. I thought he was brave to make it that far, even if I wasn’t stupid enough to follow him except when I had to bring him back when stuff went wrong. More than once I’d had to drag him back, his chubby little hand in mine, telling him what an idiot he was.

Then I’d take the blame and the scolding from Matron.

“I was a little monster. No wonder no one wanted me.”

He was confused. I remember Ma Dincht nearly took him with her the first time she turned up. Whenever someone tried to talk to him he’d hide behind me or out in the flower fields, especially after Sis left, and I wouldn’t go anywhere without him – I’d promised her I would stay with him. Should’ve remembered that when Ultimecia dragged me off. “You were great. And people wanted you, but you would freak and hide.”

He was quiet for a while again, not looking at me but through me, his thoughts elsewhere. “I didn’t want to leave you like Sis left us.”

Maybe there was a hope for his memories after all. “I know, but no one wanted me.” I laughed. I couldn’t help it. Not that I’d wanted to go with any of the people who’d come to stare at us like an exhibit in the zoo, why go with them when I had a great career as a knight ahead of me. If only I’d known.

“Someone did.”

I lifted myself on my elbow so I could look at him properly. He looked tired. He looked like a lost kid and for a second I wondered if maybe I should hand him over to his dad just so he wouldn’t be lost again. But Squall would just run away again and then there’d be no one to look after him this time. “He couldn’t support me in the manner to which I’d grown accustomed. At least, not when he was eighteen months old.”

He gave me a tired smile. It’d take some time to get used to him doing that. “He was older when he worked it out. You saved him from having to play house with Selphie.”

“Irvine’s job. Then, as it is now. Kismet.”

Smiling again, he yawned and curled back up on his side with the blankets pulled right up to his chin. “Goodnight, Seifer.”

“Goodnight, squirt.”

Shifting his arm like he was going to elbow me in the stomach for calling him squirt again, he stopped. “I’ll hit you for that one in the morning.”

I knew he was only arguing for the sake of it, that he argued to keep himself awake. His voice was softening, his hand relaxing on the blanket, it wouldn’t be long before he was out cold. “Just so long as it’s after coffee,” I told him and curled up against his back.

“During.”

“No,” I said as though I was talking to a kid. He just tempted me into it so he could wake up and bitch again, I knew that but still I wanted to do it so damned much. “After. Your rule, remember?”

“You break yours, I can break mine.”

The victor of the second sorceress war, Mister I eat trees and shit matches for breakfast acts like a kid when he’s tired. I wondered if those papers in Esthar knew what a child he could be. But then I knew they’d only sweeten any article to stay on his dad’s good side, there are advantages to being the son of the President. There’d have to be. “It’s dark. Don’t argue with me.”

Then he was asleep. I stayed awake a while longer just so I could keep an eye out for Geezards. I had Enc-None set up but I was nervous about them getting near the bike. The fire would keep them away, I hoped, and the cold. Then I was out too, one arm wrapped around Squall’s waist to keep him close to me, just so we could share body warmth.
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