Actions

Work Header

The True Story of the Butterfly and the Bumblebee

Work Text:

He didn't enjoy feeling like a moron.

Seifer wasn't a close personal friend of stupidity or obliviousness and he figured everyone had to have a weakness. Still, it grated a little that it was Raijin who clued him in. It was Raijin, for crying out loud, the man who had been tripping over his own tongue the past year after Fujin. It was the man that had the emotional sensitivity of brick and brought her dead flowers for her birthday. Then again, after that last one, maybe that was a sign he had an eye for the gruesome details.

Seifer just hadn't expected him to point out and be correct about this particular gruesome detail. He stared across the cafeteria table at Raijin.

"Excuse me?"

"I think this term you should make your move!" Raijin said around a muffin, blowing crumbs across the table.

"I heard that part," Seifer pointed out. "I was asking you to repeat the second."

"Oh, I said that Dincht won't wait forever." It was like he was talking about anything they normally discussed at breakfast, homework, problem students, or what they would be doing on Friday, now that Balamb had its first tiny club in the basement of one of the pubs.

"I don't—" but Seifer stopped, because he didn't make a habit of lying. It was eight months and four days of truth lying across the table between him and Raijin with the crumbs. He had thought he was being subtle. Subtle like a punch to the side of the mouth if Raijin had figured it out. That's what usually happened when he and Zell crossed paths, anyway, and they had been throwing a lot more in the last year.

The problem wasn't that Seifer thought he had been obvious. The problem was that eight months and four days ago he had been paired with Zell, charged with catching monsters around the island for the training center for the entire term. He had gone into it dragging his feet, because an entire semester of afternoons with Zell Dincht seemed less like SeeD training and more like Xu had it out for him. The problem was that instead of hating the kid, who had funny hair, a confrontational attitude, and a ridiculous tattoo, he had started to notice things he had no business noticing. Like the fact that when he was tired, the right side of his mouth turned down a little or when he was hungry he got headaches and stopped responding to Seifer's barbs at all. The crush had slid into his life while he was busying taunting the kid into a frenzy just to bring him back down with words or fists, arguing with him over proper field care for injuries and fighting with him in the training center.

It wasn't healthy.

It had stuck even after the term had ended; habits that they had made together stuck. Nightly boxing before Zell headed home, in the training center because their schedules still lined up. Happening to catch each other in the library doing homework and ending up working through most of it together, and hadn't that been the most idiotic idea he had ever had, to discover he could make Zell laugh with his commentary to the readings just as hard as he could make Zell knock him in the face over nasty words. He didn't have crushes. He took who he wanted as he wanted them. He didn't do the unrequited love dance. Of course, everything about Zell was wild and all over the place and one hundred miles an hour, so it made perfect sense to Seifer that Zell would be the person to destroy his claims of maturity, like he had personally ripped them all to shreds by just being himself.

"Don't talk about it so loud," Seifer said, but he wasn't really concerned with anyone overhearing them or making anything of it if they did. "Also, that's ridiculous."

Raijin gave Seifer his best who do you think you're fooling look and shrugged. "Whatever, you know? I just wanted to toss it out there that you'll never know unless you try."

Seifer resisted the urge to tilt his half-empty glass of milk over the table in Raijin's direction.

------------

The week before fall term started was so boring Seifer imagined that the staff of Garden made it that way as a control, to make them look forward to school just so they would have something to do to keep their mind occupied. He had never had a problem with it in all the years before; he knew how to entertain himself.

Of course, there was the fact that in years before he hadn't had a grossly inappropriate crush on a loud, clumsy kid. It made it that much harder to spend the week relaxing. Zell wasn't around at all and it was more distracting than having him fluttering in Seifer's personal space, but damn if he was going to go to his house in Balamb, knock on the door and ask Zell's mother if he could come out and play. That was too much, even for him.

An hour later when Seifer finally wandered into the town, he pointedly walked by Zell's house just to prove he could without caving. He went to the pub even though he had left all his money at Garden, and figured sitting in public, for god sakes, moping, was better than doing it in Garden where anyone could see him doing an excellent impression of Leonhart. Having a crush on Dincht was bearable, at least.

He hadn't counted on finding Zell in the pub with a girl he recognized from the library, sitting at a table together. Zell, as usual, was all talk talk talk with his hands and arms, legs bouncing of the rails of the stool. Seifer watched the muscles in his calves flex. Just great.

He sat at a table in the corner, sending the waitress away so he could sit and drive himself insane. It was easy to see that Zell interacted with everyone the same way. It was also easy to see Seifer had become completely pathetic, and he felt his stomach roll as Zell noticed him, getting a strange look on his face. He took a second to tell himself that this was all kinds of crazy and what the hell are you thinking before smirking back at him. It was a sick kind of joy Seifer felt as the girl's face melted into disappointment as Zell waved at her and stood up.

"Hey, man!" Zell plopped down across from him as if the last time they had been together, Zell hadn't shoved Seifer down over calling him a wuss.

"What do you want?"

"Just saying hi," Zell said. "You're the one who gave me that look! Like 'sure, Zell, maybe I want company!'"

"I didn't give you a look," Seifer said, and it didn't sound convincing to him but Zell bought it.

"Whatever you say! Why are you in town, anyway? Don't you have some super important committee things to do?" Zell tapped his fingers on the table. It said something about Seifer that he knew that it was Zell's energy causing it rather than boredom or disinterest.

He was screwed.

"We turned in our report when Fujin was visiting three weeks ago," he said, "and I told you about that. Memory problems already?"

Zell made a face at him. "Excuse me for having a life and not remembering everything about yours, Almasy!" And wasn't that the problem, Seifer thought as Zell suddenly went off on a tangent, speeding through it, hands waving, anger momentarily forgotten but still there in the flush on his face, ready to be called at any time.

"What?" Seifer said, snapping back to Zell's words. "What did you say?"

"Man, what is wrong with you these days?" Zell asked. "You're all forgetful and stuff and it's weirding me out!"

"I imagine it's too much time spent with whiny bitches," Seifer said as sweetly as he could, and he watched Zell's eyes flash. He interrupted him before he could explode into whatever rant he was going to. "What did you say?"

Zell blinked. "Oh! Um, I have a date. I think."

If that wasn't just as good to a kick in the gut, he didn't know what was. The feeling was strangely similar to the feeling had experienced two weeks ago in the training center when a grat had startled Zell from yet another angry rant in Seifer's direction, causing him to jump, knock them both down and knee Seifer in the groin. Nice.

"Only you could come out of a conversation unsure of whether or not you had a date," Seifer replied sarcastically. "How can you not know?"

Zell rubbed the back of his head. "Well, she asked if I would be in the library tomorrow. She has some shelving to do and I asked if she wanted company, you know? I was being polite—oh that's right, you don't know what that word means, do you?" Zell smirked at him. "Being polite means that you show considera—."

"I got it, Dincht, I'm the most inconsiderate person you've ever met," Seifer said. "Once again, you fail at subtle insults by spelling it out." He leaned back and crossed him arms. "So, let me get this straight. You just inadvertently asked that girl on a date."

"I guess?" Zell looked sheepish.

"Only you," he said. "Well, I'd give you advice on how to treat her but I'm sure you'd ignore it all, anyway."

Zell glared. "I know how to treat girls!"

"I see you stealing hot dogs from girls every day," Seifer said. "You don't steal their food, you definitely don't tell them that their hair looks like a grat brushed it—and by the way, you deserved that drink in your face for that one, it didn't look that bad—and you basically don't act like a moron." He snorted. "I can see how this would be a problem for you, though. Girls are hard to figure out and I decided a long time ago you must be illiterate when it comes to reading people."

Zell surprised him. "Why are you giving me advice on girls, Almasy?" He got a funny look on his face and then grinned. "I get it! You're trying to trick me!"

"Trick you?"

"Yes!" Zell slammed his fist on the table. "You're trying to make me feel inferior so I won't go on the date, or make me nervous so I'll screw up and she won't want to see me again!" He pointed, and Seifer's hands weren't shaking, but he pressed them against the tops of his thighs under the table just to be safe. "I have you totally figured out!"

"You think so?" Seifer's mind was a whirl of something he could say to piss Zell off so he would get distracted and angry and forget whatever conclusions he was drawing but it was like every sharp word or cutting phrase he had was gone, replaced with the bright, mischievous look on Zell's face.

"Yeah! I don't know why I didn't see it before, I mean, I figured you had to like someone and it's so obvious that Fujin and Raijin are going to get together this year, even if she does hit him an awful lot, so it can't be—" Zell stopped and took a breath, and then he was quiet, and Seifer was even more nervous. His palms were sweating.

"What?" He was thankful his voice was normal. Small favor.

Zell actually looked sympathetic, and that grated more than anything else. He didn't want pity for some moronic feelings that weren't returned, it wasn't a big deal, he knew how to handle rejection, but this was a fucking burn in his throat.

"You should go in my place!" Zell said suddenly.

It wasn't often he was dumbfounded, but this wasn't a normal situation, anyway. "What?"

Zell rolled his eyes. "Come on, don't be shy! You can tell me you like her!" He looked like he was preparing to bolt as he spoke next, "I mean, we're sort of friends, if we don't count the fact that you're an asshole and treat me like shit. I'm not that kind of guy! I won't make a move on her if you wanted her first! Geez, is it so hard for you to admit you want something?"

Zell sat across from him and looked frustrated as his heartbeat slowed. He was a jumble of emotions and everything Seifer hated about small children, and all he could do was laugh, startling Zell so much he jumped.

"Apparently it is," he said, and laughed harder.

------------

It was just the worst idea he had ever had. In fact, he told Raijin about it just so he could talk him out of it, but Raijin just blinked and nodded at him.

"That's probably a good idea! You need to know the competition!"

"That's not what you're supposed to say," Seifer pointed out, pausing with only one arm in his coat.

"I'm not discouraging you, you know?" Raijin said. "If you want'em, take'em, boss!"

"You're absolutely no help," Seifer said, and walked out of the room.

It was too easy to pretend he was walking anywhere else such as the cafeteria for a late lunch or the training center to pound some grats. Of course, he had eaten an hour ago and Hyperion was still in his room where he had left her.

"Fuck," he said, and shrugged off the whole feeling-like-a-stalker shroud and walked into the library. He was a student here and could sit in the library if he wanted. Of course, he sucked at lying to himself because he hated lies; they were tiny excuses that validated cowardly behavior. Again with Zell and these waste of time feelings making him do things he never would've done before. He thought back to their meeting at the pub, and how Zell had looked so worried about the date. So, even if he was a pathetic lovebird, he would at least get to see Zell make a fool of himself, and that was worth a lot more to him than his ego telling him to stop screwing around with the chicken-headed brat.

He found a table as far away from the new, empty shelves that the girl was currently stacking books on as he could get. She looked okay, nothing amazing, and Seifer knew amazing pretty well considering the past few summers. She was plain vanilla, and Seifer could see Zell getting bored entirely too quickly with her.

Zell bounced in a few minutes later and Seifer had a work to hold in a snort. He was sweaty and looked like he had just come in from outside or from training, his face and arms slick with it. He sobered when the girl didn't seem to mind at all, and led Zell over to the shelving, pointing out boxes. Seifer frowned and leaned back, and he couldn't hear the girl but Zell's voice carried. It was like every conversation he had ever had with Zell. It was fast paced and hard breathing because if he didn't get it out then he knew the other person would interrupt him and he would never get to share his amazing thoughts. Fighting strategies and fighting a monster on the beach that hadn't wanted to die and he could see the girl looking a little taken aback.

He smirked. He knew she had probably built Zell up in her mind a different way. He never understood it, the habit of people creating someone they could like and applying it to a person only to have to live through the disappointment when they found out none of their trappings fit the person at all.

He flipped through one of the magazines that had been left on the table half-heartedly, not really caring about fishing. He shot looks at Zell every now and then, watching for Zell to do something he could use to ridicule him over later.

What happened came as a surprise to him as when he was reading about the fishing off the coast of Esthar, a shadow fell over him.

"Almasy, what are you doing here?" Zell hissed across the table from him.

He smiled as sarcastically as he could and looked up. "I'm reading about fishing, Dincht. Oh, that's right, you wouldn't know. I forget about you not being able to read."

"Shut up!" Zell said. "You're here on purpose! You want this to go badly!"

Seifer saw several cadets turn around and stare out of the corner of his eye. Behind him, Zell's date was standing with her eyes narrowed. It was unfair that Zell was in front of him and distracting, skin shiny and eyes angry and he needed to get out of here now, before he warned everyone in the room off the boy in front of him out of greed for wanting him for himself.

"Actually, I'm just reading," Seifer said. "What are you doing?"

"You! You bastard, you know what I'm doing, I told you I accidentally made the date and you're here too and you're making me nervous over here all pretending to be reading!" Zell spat at him. "Almasy, you hate fishing! You told me yourself! Two weeks ago!"

Well, shit, Seifer thought.

"I'm rediscovering my love for the pastime," he said smoothly, shoving back his chair and standing up. The girl was gone, and Seifer realized that Zell hadn't been very quiet when he had screamed the word accident in his face. "Also, congratulations on making your date cry in under thirty minutes. Not even I'm that big of a jackass."

Zell spun and looked around frantically and Seifer used the chance to beat a hasty exit out of the library. He heard Zell's voice behind him, angry, as he definitely did not run out of the room.

"You liar! I knew you liked her!"

It almost made him stop, and he had never run away or backed down from Zell before, but not even heading back to his room like a coward could make him turn back into that library.

Raijin was at the table in their common area stacking Triple Triad cards. When Seifer entered he looked up and his card tower tumbled, but he didn't seem to care.

"That was quick, boss! So, does he like her? You think you got a better shot?"

"No," Seifer snapped. "He thinks I like her."

Raijin scratched his head. "Um. Well, if you don't mind my asking, why would you let him think that, when you want—"

"I'm not having this conversation," Seifer said, and for the first time in years went to hide his head under his pillow.

------------

If Seifer thought Zell loud and angry was bad, Zell as some sort of puffed up matchmaker was even worse.

"Psst!"

Seifer stopped in the middle of the hallway and looked around carefully. Being the head of the Disciplinary Committee was an exercise in patience he didn't have large stores of, anyway, dealing with some jerk cadet who hadn't liked being written up wasn't in his plans today.

"Psssssst!" Then the plant beside him shook and a little, and Seifer closed his eyes slowly.

"Dincht, get out from behind the stupid plant," he said. "I will write you up for every leaf you knock off."

Zell came tripping out from behind the greenery, already glaring. "She can't see me!"

"Who can't?"

Zell's shoulders dropped and his face had wow, you're a moron written all over it, but Seifer figured Zell had him beat by miles and miles and miles.

"You know who! She's right over there!" He nudged his head to a location behind Seifer's back. "Hey man, don't go looking, she'll know! You don't want to be obvious!"

Some days, putting up with Zell could end up with a lot of fun, some grappling, and Seifer didn't want to think about how much his enjoyment of the grappling had grown over the last few months at all. Today, though, he really wasn't in the mood.

"You have three seconds to get away from me before I punch you in the face," Seifer said.

"Nononono, wait! Listen, I have a great plan, just hear me out!"

"One," he said. Zell looked pained and then he did the eye thing, damn him all to hell, and Seifer didn't even think he knew he was doing anything and that just pissed him off more that it could be used against him.

"Tonight, at dinner, I'll tell her to meet me at the table in the corner, you know, the really romantic one where those bushes are? And then she'll be there and you can walk over to her and—"

"Two." He was getting a headache and it was only ten in the morning.

"If you'd stop interrupting, you ass! Anyway, then instead of me going over you could go over and tell her, shit, I don't know, tell her that I'm sick and that you didn't want her to be alone for dinner and offer to eat with her!" He finished, all of the pomp in a boisterous half-whisper.

He had really been itching to knock Zell aside, but now he was just lost. "Excuse me?"

"Isn't it great? Then you'll be able to wow her or whatever with your charm." Zell suddenly looked stricken. "Holy shit, you do have charm, right? I mean, you don't treat everyone like you treat me? Because you definitely can't hit her if she disagrees with you, man, I swear."

"I don't hit girls," Seifer replied automatically. "You're my only exception."

Zell puffed up and maybe he growled a little as he leaned in. "You're going to blow it!"

"Blow what?" Seifer asked and he was most certainly not turning red at the images that brought to mind. "I don't want to have dinner with her, Dincht, not now, not tomorrow and I imagine I will feel the same way about it next week."

"But!" Zell blinked at him. "Why are you being so difficult?!"

Seifer suddenly smirked. "Oh, you're completely right. I'm being so rude."

Zell leaned away. "Stop that! I hate that shit!"

"Only because you don't understand, and that's okay," Seifer said slowly. "Not everyone is smart." He dragged the word out, watching Zell flush darker every second. As he watched Zell slow boil, ready to burst into bubbles at any time, Seifer decided.

"Okay. You got me." Seifer held up a hand. "I'll go eat dinner with her."

Whatever no doubt weak poison was going to spill out of Zell's mouth was lost and he gaped at Seifer. "You will, serious?"

"You're going through all this trouble just to pair me with the girl I think is my soul mate." Seifer nodded. "I can't hide it from you anymore." It was all he could do not to burst into laughter.

Zell eyed him carefully and then grinned. "Finally! Took you long enough, damn! Okay, so I'll go make plans for tonight! Remember, at seven at that table!" He darted off toward the girl—and Seifer still didn't even know her name—and he chuckled all the way back to his room.

------------

Seifer was reading over his course schedule for the next term when his door alarm sounded later that night. Hoping it was Fujin back early, he hopped up to answer. He didn't expect to see Zell outside, red and angry and definitely didn't expect to be shoved back into his room, the door whooshing closed behind them.

Privacy, privacy, Seifer thought, and kept his hands firmly to himself, even though Zell really did deserve a sharp tap on the jaw for the shoving.

"What the hell, you can't barge into my room!" he said.

"You didn't show!" Zell said. "She was there! I watched! She waited and waited and waited and you never showed up!"

"Not my problem," Seifer said. "She didn't think the date was with me, now did she?"

Zell narrowed his eyes. "Man, we agreed and you stood there and told me you liked her and you couldn't keep hiding it from me! What the fuck happened, you just chickened out? You're such a coward!"

Seifer crossed his arms. "I didn't chicken out. I never planned to go."

Zell gaped at him. "What! Why would you do that, you jerk?! If it was me, okay, sure, because I can handle your childish bullshit"

"Childish?" Seifer asked, mildly offended, because Zell dished it out just as much as he did.

"Shut up!" Zell said. "I can handle it for me, but not for other people! You hurt her feelings!"

"No," Seifer corrected, "you hurt her feelings, because you stood her up."

Zell was shaking, fists clenched. "So, great, now she hates me, and I won't be able to help you get to know her at all!" He tossed up his hands. "Come on, I would've given you pointers! I know some stuff about her. You could've asked!" He stalked around in a tight circle, shooting dark glances at Seifer. "What's the good if she hates me and I can't set you both up!"

"I never wanted to be set up with her, you absolute moron," Seifer said. "Not ever. It was called sarcasm. You ran with it without thinking, and that shouldn't be such a big shock to you at this point in your life."

Zell flailed in front of him. "Why would you be jealous of me, then? Why would you try to talk me out of the—" Zell's eyes went huge, looking at Seifer in horror. "Oh, oh, no fucking way!"

Seifer rolled his eyes and didn't give a response. His throat was burning and he wanted to punch the wall, or maybe just Zell, since he was there and a convenient target. There was nothing he wanted to see on Zell's face. Abject horror didn't really do it for him.

"Get out of my room," he said quietly. Zell simply stood still, looking at Seifer with eyes that Seifer suddenly couldn't read, and fuck him if that wasn't the problem. He wanted too damn much.

"I mean it," he said again. "Get out."

Zell didn't say anything as he fled.

------------

As the head of the Disciplinary Committee, he knew how to tell when he was being avoided. What burned him up about it was Zell, clumsy as he was, was excellent at it. He managed to dodge Seifer up until the start of term, and then it was harder because they shared some of the same courses and the universe obviously hated him because they had been paired together again for service hours on the island. It was like some sort of cosmic joke being played on him. When the service hours sheet went out, he almost wanted to laugh as Zell shot him a terrified look from across the room and bolted as soon as the instructor dismissed the class.

Life didn't change much as far as school went, but it was definitely more boring. His predictions of Fujin finally taking pity on Raijin came through, and that was like a punch to the gut when he would see them together, talking and laughing even as Fujin would whap Raijin upside the head.

Life was generally unfair.

Training wasn't the same anymore, because Zell was never in the training center at any of his normal times. Seifer knew their schedules were extremely close together since they shared over two classes. He didn't think about it too closely, because it just ended up pissing him off. He rationalized it by accepting that Zell out of his life was better than Zell in his life pitying him over some worthless crush.

He didn't start getting pissed until Zell missed one service day and then two. They only had service hours on Friday and Saturday nights and Seifer knew that Zell was aware of the time, but he never showed up at their normal meeting place. By the time they had hit ten missed hours, two whole days, Seifer was pissed and he knew Xu would choose him to make an example of. He stalked into Balamb, because it couldn't continue.

He had to bang on the door for five minutes until it cracked open so Seifer could barely see Zell's eyes looking at him.

"What do you want, Almasy?" Zell's voice was muffled behind the door.

"Stop hiding like a wuss," Seifer said. "We have to talk."

"No, we don't!" Zell said quickly. "No talking necessary!"

"You've made us miss ten service hours. I really think it is."

Zell huffed at him and then came out onto the street and shut the door behind him. "Okay, okay, here I am. What?" He was tense and not moving, completely unnatural for him. Seifer hated him so much in that moment, but he hated himself more for even starting it with feelings in the first place.

"We have service hours," Seifer said. "You've been missing them. You keep doing it, I will kick your ass. Stop screwing around."

"I—" Zell started, hands flapping again. "What? What?"

Seifer stared at him. "Have you finally just lost every bit of sense you had? I realize it wasn't much to begin with, but you'd think you would hold on to it a little better."

Zell eyes flashed, and that was better. "Hey!"

Seifer snorted. "You're a pathetic coward, Dincht. Stop avoiding me like I've insulted your honor."

"But—" Zell said. "Almasy, do you know what you're saying?"

"Yes, I've known for months now that I have been acting like a complete idiot over another idiot," Seifer said. "I think we're even." He shook his head. "Be ready for the service hours next time, or I'll just see how much you like being manhandled." He was rewarded as Zell said something which came out more like a squeak and his face filled with color.

"Friday," Seifer said. "Be there, Dincht. I'm not going to molest you."

"Oh, for crying out loud!" Zell finally said. "Don't talk about it out loud!"

"Would you rather I make a Garden announcement?" Seifer asked, making his tone as sweet as possible. "Be there on Friday or I'll go tell Xu I can't work with you anymore because you've been sexually harassing me."

Zell gaped. "You wouldn't!"

"Try me," Seifer challenged, sourly. He gave Zell one last disgusted look before turning and heading back to Garden.

------------

Things went back to normal, or as far back to normal as they could go where Zell was concerned. He remained jumpy around Seifer for a few more days, until Seifer caught him in the training center one afternoon, stretching and talking to Squall, who, as always, looked utterly disinterested in anything Zell was rambling on about.

It was such a waste.

"So you decided to come crawling back to me, did you?" Seifer asked casually as he pulled on his gloves. He might as well have let Raijin stick a sign on his back that said loser, because he never came in the training center this early in the day.

Zell's eyes widened. "Hell, no!" He stopped and stared. "What do you even mean?"

"If you're working on with Leonhart, your skills will go skittering away," Seifer said. "He's not really that tough an opponent. I can't believe you've been standing me up to work out with him." He gave Zell his best hurt expression and got a kick out of the way Zell started vibrating. "At least you've come to your senses." He shot a look at Squall, who might as well have been a plant. "I'll take him off your hands, Squall. He really should have a real man teaching him."

Squall just rolled his eyes and stood, casting a glance at Zell and by god, Seifer could swear he saw emotion in his eyes. "Sure, whatever." He didn't even say goodbye, just pulled his gunblade up and walked away like he hadn't even been a part of the conversation.

"You're such a jerk!" Zell said. "Who says I want to work out with you, anyway?"

Seifer shrugged. "Remember class yesterday? That monster slapped you around like you were letting it."

"It did not!" Zell shouted. "Take that back!"

He shrugged. "I can only comment on what I see."

"You think you're so tough. You and that dumb sword."

That one stung, as Zell was normally always bouncing around wanting to hold Hyperion. He sometimes thought Zell would train up nicely on a lighter gunblade, but he'd lick a Malboro before he would admit that to anyone.

"As opposed to how moronic you look batting at things."

"I don't bat!" Zell said. He sounded scandalized. "Man, you know nothing about the art! There's no making you understand!"

"Show me." Seifer leaned his gunblade case against the wall.

Zell flushed. "Um, no, no, no, that's okay!"

"You offered to make me understand," Seifer said. "Let's go out and you can show me."

Zell suddenly laughed. "You?! In hand-to-hand? Almasy, you're fucking slow!"

Seifer would tell Xu later that the first punch was Zell's (lie number one) and no, he had no idea that Zell was screaming at him to let go (lie number two) and maybe if Zell wasn't a chicken he could back up his mouth with his fists once in awhile. It was pathetically easy, like the warm feeling he got when his gunblade sliced through something as he reached out to pop Zell in the jaw with his fist.

Zell stared at him for perhaps two seconds, and then they were at it, hands flying, hard breathing and fuck yes, this was what he had missed the last week, Zell flying around him like gravity didn't even apply, tough punches and quick jabs that Seifer took and dished right back out. He wasn't slow.

However, he wasn't immune to Zell's sudden attacks of oh-look-I-forgot-to-tie-my-shoe, either. When Zell twisted he didn't quite make it and he took them both down to the ground like deadweight. Seifer knew how to fall correctly, but Zell hadn't been allotted any of those skills so Seifer got rammed in the head with an elbow and a foot to his ankle as a gift for even bothering to come to training today.

He laid on the ground as the worst of the pain from various parts of his body faded, even though his ankle wouldn't stop throbbing. He lay full on his back as he tried to get some air. His hip hurt, he was lying in rocks and something wet and he was half on top of Zell. Of course, that was a brand new position that his body liked just fine, Zell wiggling under him, distracting even when Seifer wanted to cuff him. He wanted to laugh but he didn't think his chest would like it much.

"Almasy, get off of my leg," Zell said, pushing on Seifer's hip and that was just too much.

His hand shot out and circled Zell's wrist. "Stop that."

Zell blinked at him in horror. "Oh shit, oh, shit, please don't propo—propo—"

"Proposition," Seifer said, not even looking at him.

"Yeah, thanks," Zell said. "So, don't proposition me!"

"For what?"

Zell blinked at him and then hissed, "for sex, dumbass!"

"I wasn't going to, but if you're offering." Seifer rose up and it put him so close to Zell he could smell the leather he was wearing.

"Fuck no, I don't want to have sex with you!" Zell said, scrambling away awkwardly. Seifer missed the warmth immediately, but figured if Zell was swearing at him it couldn't be a bad sign.

"Okay," he said, standing. He brushed at his shirt and pants, frowning at the stains. Perfect.

"Um." Zell watched him warily from behind a small bush. "What?"

Seifer glared at him. "What, Dincht, do you think I'm a sexual predator? Please."

"That's it?" Zell looked incredulous.

"Was it supposed to be different?" Seifer asked, and suddenly he was tired. It had been a long day, anyway, and this just topped it off perfectly. "What, you wanted me to grab your ass and claim it?"

Zell gaped at him. "No! I just, I thought that maybe you don't know how to take no for answer! Excuse me if for the entire time I've known you you've ever listened when I said no, Almasy!"

He had a point. Seifer shrugged. "I like my partners willing, thanks, not screaming at me and calling me names."

Zell smirked and opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the arrival of two Garden Faculty, robes flowing out stern and we're here to suck all of the fun out of the entire situation.

As they were escorted out of the training center, Seifer couldn't resist. He leaned down a little. "Dincht, you have dirt all over your back."

Zell gave him a pained look and then jerked away so hard one of the Garden Faculty behind him stumbled.

"Stop looking at my ass, Almasy!" He was all shaking anger and upset and his eyes were bright. Mission accomplished. Seifer shrugged and smirked at him as they were taken up to Xu's office.

------------

As if a long lecture on the distinction between fighting and training wasn't bad enough, Xu had dismissed Zell before him to stare at him blankly and remind him about Garden code concerning sexual relationships.

Seifer hadn't reacted.

"Do you understand, Seifer?" Xu asked.

"Yes," he said, and wasn't that just wonderful, getting lectured on an inappropriate sexual relationship when he wasn't having sex in the first place and his prospects weren't look too good, either.

"Also, you need to make up your service hours," she said. "You and Zell can work that out between yourselves, but get it done before end of term."

He had nodded and was dismissed just as quickly as he had been dragged up to the office. He went to his room to clean up, hoping to see Zell on the way so he could break his nose or something equally fulfilling, but the kid had disappeared. Seifer figured he was in for more avoidance, and he thought about the service hours with a groan.

If anything, Fujin and Raijin found it funny when he told them about it at dinner, their smiles amused. Fujin was all quirked lips and secretive smiles at Raijin and that was something he didn't even want to think about, them talking about how lame it was that he couldn't bag Zell.

"Maybe you could catch him in the showers, you think?" Raijin asked.

Seifer stared. "Yes, because I'm sure all the other people in there at the time will appreciate me molesting a fellow cadet against the tiles."

Raijin shrugged. "I wouldn't care."

"Stealth," Fujin murmured, and then stole Raijin's cupcake.

Seifer didn't really understand her. He was worn out and he knew no feelings about anyone had the right to make him so tired.

Surprisingly, over the next few days things did go back to normal. Zell turned up at breakfast and tried to steal one of his muffins and then talked to him before class, even it was only a hissed asshole after Seifer bid him good morning with his much-hated nickname. Their old schedule fell back into place slowly after that. Seifer was shocked when the third night after the incident in the training center that Zell happened to show up in the library where Seifer was working, books in hand. After a few barbs he plopped down like he hadn't spent almost two weeks avoiding Seifer like he had a disease.

Of course, it didn't help he hadn't understood the homework in their classes at all. Seifer had to take time to go back over everything with him again, and that was an exercise in frustration. By the time he was through his head hurt and he was hungry so he slammed his books shut and stood.

"Where are you going?" Zell asked.

"Dinner," Seifer said. "Are you coming?" And it was as easy as that, like something snapped back in place and suddenly Zell was himself again. So maybe he knew about Seifer's feelings but he either didn't care anymore or, more likely, Seifer thought sarcastically to himself, he had forgotten them.

Things were the same as before, but yet somehow different. Seifer found himself doing things he wouldn't normally have done before out of fear Zell would pick up on something but it didn't matter anymore. He allowed himself to haul Zell off the ground in the training center, palms pressed to sweaty skin. He let himself look at Zell when he rattled about something, food, hover boards, a stupid essay, his mother, food, more food. Of course, when he started grabbing extra hot dogs at lunch so Zell wouldn't come in and be devastated Fujin gave him a look.

"Shut up," he said. "Everyone deserves them sometimes."

"Six days in a row?" Raijin had asked, and then Fujin had swiped at him. But his quips were outdone by the reaction Zell put out when Seifer shouted him over every day, and he looked at Seifer like he had just given back birthday gifts for his entire life. It took Seifer two days to get used to that look, and even though he was damning himself over and over again, he just couldn't bring himself to care. On his part, Zell didn't seem to mind that suddenly Seifer was mean twice as much to counter the mush. Food turned out to be the key to Zell's affections and Seifer exploited it even when Raijin and Fujin gave him amused looks.

Even he admitted that things were getting a little out of hand and that he was acting like a complete lovesick ass. One Saturday night after Seifer had showered from service hours, he went to the quad for a movie night with Raijin and Fujin. It wasn't too crowded so they grabbed some popcorn and found seats against a deserted piece of wall. They were fifteen minutes into a really bad film about knights when Zell bumbled in, looked around and spotted him. Seifer only had to raise his eyebrow and shake the bag of popcorn in his hand to have Zell climbing over legs and heads to get to him. He plopped down right beside Seifer and stole the entire bag of popcorn. Seifer ignored the raised eyebrow Fujin gave him and let Zell take it.

"What's this about?" Zell whispered, leaning closer, and Seifer's brain blanked as Zell spread out beside him, warm against his side as he leaned against the wall. Their shoulders pressed together and Seifer wanted to be pissed, because there was no reason for it because there was a good three feet of space on Zell's other side.

"Some flick about knights," Seifer said, and he decided to ignore it. It wasn't like Zell didn't know and who was he to argue? He had kept himself from just enjoying this for months, so now that it was out in the open between them he figured that if he kept lying to himself about having it, what the hell did it matter.

It was too easy to slide into the habit of Zell, all crackling energy, loud mouth, compact body and eyes that made Seifer want to say fuck it, throw caution to the wind and drag him somewhere where no one could hear him complaining, even if Seifer didn't think he would be complaining for long. He settled himself for purchasing Zell's attention with food, comments that always made Zell's attention hone in on him and him alone, touches that lasted just a little too long when training. It was awful and amazing at the same time, and Seifer was going crazy with it.

A month into the term and Seifer was close to going absolutely insane. He took some time away from Zell, putting off their service hours, and he refused to call it avoidance at all, because he just needed some time that didn't result in a constant state of arousal. He was surprised to open his door one night to see Zell standing outside, bouncing. It was odd because it was a Sunday and Zell was never in Garden on Sundays.

"Yeah?" Seeing Zell standing outside reminded him of the last time Zell had been in his room and he never wanted to repeat that again. He didn't like getting kicked around on home turf at all.

"It came!" Zell was all wide grins and happy eyes.

"What came?" He almost didn't have the patience for this, but Zell looked so happy, even if he was being needlessly vague.

"Oh, come on! You told me you liked them!" Zell huffed, and Seifer remembered a rainy afternoon in the forest collecting monsters where Zell had been positively livid with joy that his favorite band ever, in the entire, whole wide world was releasing a new single and it was coming out soon and he couldn't wait. Then he had tripped over a root, Seifer had laughed at him and Zell had punched him. Seifer looked back almost fondly.

But he didn't even know the band, and he cursed himself inwardly.

"So, I thought since you liked them and all you'd wanna listen?" Zell was almost tentative and then he didn't even give Seifer a chance to respond before he was bulldozing his way into the room, mouth moving so fast Seifer barely caught the words. He stood looking at the empty spot in the hallway that had been Zell for at least a few seconds.

"No, I wasn't busy," Seifer said politely to empty air. "Feel free to come in."

Zell snorted. "Oh, come on, whatever. You're not busy because remember we finished our homework together!"

"I could've had company," He knew as soon as the words were out he should've said anything but that, but Zell just rolled his eyes as if he had never considered the possibility even mildly plausible and walked right into Seifer's room like he had been invited. Of course, Zell had never waited for an invitation to do anything in Seifer's life, so he didn't know why he expected him to make exceptions of Seifer's personal space.

"Just don't flap around and break anything," Seifer said, and it was a strange feeling seeing Zell in space that was all his. It was a contrast between Zell, vibrant as he was, and the dullness of Seifer's everyday things. He swallowed hard and wanted to kick him straight out, because this was absolute suicide.

Zell was trying to figure out his player and Seifer rolled his eyes finally and took pity on him, shoving him back so he could stick the album in himself. When he turned, Zell had slid to the floor with his back against the bed and was looking at the stereo with glee that was a little alarming.

"That much?" Seifer asked.

"Are you kidding?!" Zell said. "I've only been waiting a year for a new album!"

Seifer joined him on the floor and he was an idiot because there was plenty of space and here he was, pushing his luck, bending the tentative truce he had with Zell as far as it could go. It was different when Zell did it. He just felt pushy as the song, with snappy lyrics and a solid beat filled the room.

"Wow," Zell said, and there was awe, and Seifer was so jealous he could have that amazed feeling over a song. He just didn't get it.

"Interesting," he said, and Zell bumped his shoulder.

"Thought you liked these guys."

"Maybe the older stuff is more my style." The lie slipped out easily.

Zell eyed him a little before going back to bopping along with the music. Seifer watched him, almost soft-hearted. The room was filled with music of a band he had never heard before and a boy he had never dreamed of caring about or wanting at all. He had slipped into Seifer's life and fit there perfectly, complimentary, and Seifer not only didn't mind but enjoyed the hell out of him, naïveté, obnoxious mouth, lack of grace and all.

Zell stared at him and said, "Man, you look like you just saw a huge fucking monster!" He frowned at the stereo. "I can turn it off it you don't like it, but what the hell! You said you did!" And he was flushing and getting upset and hot against Seifer's shoulder and it was too much, too much to handle, weeks of Zell in his space, taunting him and driving him crazy.

Seifer shifted a bit. "I had never heard of them before."

Zell didn't look shocked exactly, but he did look something that Seifer couldn't figure out at all, faced scrunched up. It shouldn't have been cute but it was. Seifer didn't do cute, except with Zell, nothing was definable by his own terms.

"Zell," he said, and that was easier than he had guessed, to say his name out loud instead of in his head.

"Wha? You've never what?" Zell looked confused, all brilliant eyes and warm skin he was touching now for real, sliding his hands around the back of Zell's neck.

Zell jerked hard and his mouth fell open. "Oh, holy shit, this was a lure, wasn't it? So you could kick my ass where no one would see!?" He wriggled a little which did nothing but get him closer to Seifer and well, Seifer wasn't going to complain.

He gave Zell the dirtiest look he could manage. "That's right, Dincht, I went through all the trouble of gaining your trust so I could pound on you in private. Newsflash: I would much rather do it in public so people could laugh at you. Also, you visited me, genius." His hands were linked now, and the hair on the back of Zell's neck was soft, soft. He wanted to let go and run his fingers into it. But he refused to let go.

"Then what are you doing?" Zell's voice was still panicked.

"Kissing you," Seifer said, and it wasn't exactly the smoothest move he had ever made, because Zell wasn't cooperating at all, tense and shaking and not responding so Seifer turned his head and it was like gravel to smooth pavement in an instant: wow and huh because it felt like he belonged here, his hands moving to tangle in soft blonde hair, his lips ghosting over Zell's and it was beautiful and amazing and words he had never used before because he wasn't a girl about it. Maybe, he thought, as he sucked Zell's bottom lip into his mouth and felt him tremble, it was because they had never applied quite like this.

It was one sharp movement and Zell was pushing him back and clamoring away and looking at him like he had two heads. He managed to get off the floor and he stood, shocked. Seifer just looked up at him and he had no words for Zell, besides come back here, I wasn't done, but he didn't think Zell would really listen.

"I! Almasy, what the hell! You—I! I can't, I can't!" and there was literal fear in his eyes as he bolted.

Seifer just fell back onto the floor as the song repeated, and didn't bother to follow.

------------

Raijin and Fujin didn't say anything to him about it the next morning when Zell was absent from his normal spot at the table, but he hadn't expected them to. Fujin was all careful smiles and Raijin soft words, managing to get through the entire meal without Fujin slamming him once. Seifer was mostly silent, because there was nothing to say. There was just a big empty spot where there had been something, something real and good and he hated the fact he had dragged his friends into it—they liked Zell.

Seifer sat when his arms resting on the table until the cafeteria was almost empty. Raijin took off for class, but he and Fujin remained.

"You failed at stealth," she said.

He looked at her. "I guess I did."

"A good effort." She touched his shoulder and was gone.

He spent the rest of the week moping, and he knew it was obvious and he hated it. He also knew he had brought it all on himself by screwing around with someone who wasn't interested. He had never done it before and this was his lesson over the art of control. He didn't bother Zell anymore, and he considered it the price he had to pay for being as dumb as Zell was half the time. Life didn't quite sparkle anymore, and he didn't laugh quite as much or sleep quite as well, but he figured not even he was immune to a smack to the ego.

Seifer would have never thought Zell Dincht would be the one to make the punch and actually connect, especially when no one else had managed it.

He refused to think about Friday and how they were going to handle that. He spent most of Friday after classes in the training center beating on monsters to make himself feel better, but even the comfortable weight of Hyperion in his hand couldn't cheer him up. When he headed back to the dorms for a shower, he knew he had well and truly screwed himself over.

Raijin was playing cards with Fujin when he came back. Raijin pointed to their message board. "Zell left you a message."

"He did?" And hell no, he wasn't going to act excited that Zell had stopped by.

"Um, yeah, something about having something to do tonight," Raijin said and then he was shouting as Fujin placed a card on the table. Seifer glared at the note pinned to the board and walked right past it. He wasn't interested in Zell's excuses. He would have to go to Xu and tell her they just couldn't work together anymore. Probably a write up for both of them, but he wasn't going to do the dance again. He had tried and he obviously couldn't cut it personally or professionally with Zell, so it was time to cut his losses.

He fell into bed, suddenly exhausted, and buried his head under his pillow. He dozed and finally fell asleep, and when he woke his door was shut—probably Fujin, she was considerate—but it still didn't block out the obnoxious sound of voices laughing. He heard Raijin yell even through his door and he was suddenly angry, at the noise, himself, he didn't know what. He grabbed the clock on the side of his table and chunked it at the door, hard.

"Shut up out there!" He glared at the door as if anyone could see him and the noises quieted. He sank back into bed gratefully.

When his door slid open, he didn't bother taking the pillow off his face. For all her exterior Fujin didn't like unnecessary displays of violence. Wasteful, she called it, but she had never said anything even when Seifer had been sneaking into the biggest honey pot of all wasteful violence, dabbling with Zell.

"Go away, Fu," he said. "I have turned into Leonhart. I might as well just slash my wrists now."

"Man, that'd be a waste."

He tensed, but he didn't move. "Dincht, what the hell are you doing in my room?" His voice sounded muffled even to his ears.

"Well, I left you a note, saying I had detention and all, and by the way it was totally unfair and I blame you completely, um, but it said I would be late." He heard Zell move and then his pillow was ripped away. His room was still dark, the door having slid closed. Zell was above him looking amused. "I guess you didn't even bother looking at it. That's lame, Almasy. You threaten me for missing service hours and then you do the same thing!" He bounced a little. "It's raining pretty badly, so we'll probably wanna do it another time, right?"

"Um," Seifer said stupidly. Then he frowned and rose up. "How was your getting detention my fault?"

Zell rolled his eyes and then it was like every single daydream Seifer had never ever had, because he wasn't that lame (except, okay, maybe a few times) and Zell was pouncing onto him, bed groaning with the weight of it as Zell literally wiggled in between his legs like he fucking belonged there.

Seifer gaped.

"Ha!" Zell said, and his hands were on Seifer's shoulders and he was shoving him down, trying to follow but just managed to land flat on top of him.

"What—" Seifer started, but Zell's hands were so fast he didn't know where they were going until they had already moved on, and he was being groped. Albeit a little sloppily, but groped nonetheless.

"Zell—" He sucked in a breath as Zell scooted up.

"You really are an asshole, you really are," Zell was saying between swipes at Seifer's mouth with his lips. Apparently he wasn't cooperating with Zell enough, because he found his head clamped between Zell's palms, being kissed a whole hell of a lot more thoroughly than he had managed in round one of this absolutely crazy idea.

Seifer jerked away to glare. "If this is some sort of pit—"

"Oh, get over yourself," Zell said, and for crying out—Seifer didn't know at what point Zell had unbuttoned his pants, but things were going a little faster than he had expected.

"Well, excuse me for thinking you'd rather be anywhere but here, you piece of shit," Seifer said even as he tugged Zell's shirt over his head. "Let's see, I wonder what could've given me the idea that you didn't want this." As Zell's head popped out of the shirt, he poked him in the stomach, and god, that was way too sentimental for him. Zell was doing something amazing with one hand to Seifer's neck and something that had blown way past amazing with his other, and it figured he'd be good with them in others ways besides flailing around.

"So I was slow," Zell said. "How was I supposed to know you were telling the truth, anyway?"

"When have I lied to you about something really important?" Seifer's voice was quiet and wow, he didn't like that much, all out there hurt where Zell could poke at it and ridicule him over it.

Zell actually stopped and looked at him, blinking. "Um." He shrugged after a few seconds. "That's debatable, I guess, but you know, maybe you'd like to learn a little tact!" He suddenly looked horrified. "Oh, god, you're not going to be like you normally are in bed, too? I really don't think I could handle running commentary on sexual positions, I've never done this before so you have to be ni—"

"Zell," he said, and wasn't it amazing he could actually make him stop mid-thought like that. He watched Zell's eyes darken and figured it had a lot more to do with just saying Zell's first name. They grinned at each other for another few seconds before Seifer pulled Zell back to him, and it was all finally and the way Zell felt pressed against him, licking his way into Seifer's mouth like he had been doing it forever.

Zell pulled back again and Seifer almost growled at him, but a hand clamped over his mouth before he could say anything.

"One more thing," Zell said, sounding smug and clear-headed even when Seifer had his hands down the back of Zell's pants. He took his hand away from Seifer's mouth carefully.

"Yes, yes, yes," Seifer said. "All hot dogs, every day. I'll never eat another hot dog again—" and then it was snorting and laughter, fast hands and sweat that didn't have anything to do with fighting. It was skin and touches that he had wanted for months and finally had, and it wasn't perfect because that would be boring and two or three elbows to the head and a bruise on his inner thigh he could live with. But when Zell nuzzled into him later, all sleepy soft warmth, and murmured his name as he fell asleep, Seifer thought it was as close as any one person could get.