He sees Squall for the first time in three years at a shitty bar, at Deling City in the Lower East. In the flesh, anyway — Seifer had never been able to avoid his face plastered across magazines and newspapers for the first year of relief that SeeD turned out to be useful for something. It had only followed from there, Squall's apathetic face appearing all around him every time someone at Garden took a shit, because the world thought the establishment was so fucking perfect.
Seifer knew better.
He was pleased, the sour, slimy feel of it a cold comfort when the tabloids sank their teeth into Squall's fairytale. Rinoa was no stranger to the life, had always seemed nonchalant about the press following her, sniffing around like she could throw them scraps. She hid herself from it better, the only time Seifer could remember where her face was cold, closed off, almost evil was when she was looking down the lens of camera.
Seifer doesn't know why Rinoa walks, but he watches it play out in bigger and bigger photos, more and more invasive, leaking from the tabloids to the legitimate papers like a virus, as if it matters who Squall is fucking. Or, in this case, not fucking any longer. The spiral doesn't stop after she's gone. Squall, stepping down as Commander. Squall, retiring outright. Squall, looking more and more like the pathetic kid who had had a chance to step out of his sinking ship. She waits, but Seifer could have informed Squall that she doesn't wait forever.
Seifer is harsh, but he's a hypocrite, too. They're matched in more ways than one: he couldn't keep her, either.
So when he sees Squall draped across the edge of the bar, back in the corner where there's barely any light and people go to get blown under the edge of the bar where no one else can see, he's intrigued.
It's no use lying to himself. Squall has always been under his skin, like the worse splinter he couldn't pry out, not with his blade, or his bravado; it's an annoying feeling, and he hates it. In return, Seifer has always wanted to bend Squall, see if he'll crack, brittle like old bones.
"Fancy meeting you here," he says, and sits down at the opposite corner. Squall's drink is almost empty, the mug dripping onto the scratched, overly shiny wood. Squall's jacket is dirty, the fur lining a dingy yellow and the leather starting to crack. He doesn't look up.
"I can't say I expected a warm welcome, but a sneer? A dirty look? Don't leave me hanging, Leonhart."
Squall's eyes flicker up. "What do you want?"
"Wondering why such an eligible bachelor as yourself is drinking alone on a weekend in a bar that's barely holding onto its liquor license. You're a hero, doesn't that mean you get VIP treatment at the bars where they don't water down the tap?"
"I'm not interested in this, Seifer."
"Oh, I see." Seifer takes a drink from his bottle, running his tongue around the rim. "Still heartbroken?"
"None of your business," Squall says. "Go away."
"But, Squall," Seifer says, a sigh in his voice. "You're so dreamy when you actually use full sentences. I feel, like, so special."
Seifer grew up watching Squall, goading him. He knows the way his jaw will tighten when he's annoyed, the thing he does with his lip when he's horny, which had been so fucking fun to learn, like ten birthdays all at once. Most people wouldn't frown for amusement, but Squall isn't most people. Squall is Squall, and he's scrambled eggs all day long. So when Squall frowns at him, Seifer smiles.
"Or stay," Squall says finally. "Whatever."
Seifer is surprised when Squll doesn't blow him off. He's surprised when Squall shows up the next night, and the next, and the night after that. It's not that Seifer enjoys his company, exactly, but he likes the way Squall watches him, silently, like he's trying to make a decision. It's the opposite of Garden, how Squall's eyes were always on the floor or the door, looking for a way to escape. He's sharper, now, alert and aware.
The television in their corner of the bar is snowy and covered in a layer of dust that makes it look even worse. There's no volume, and Seifer watches the Triad tournament go by, uninterested. "They finally get the ability to have television back, and they air card games," he says. "What a waste."
"Movie studios are still reopening." Squall twirls a peanut shell on the bar. It's the first thing he's said all night.
"He speaks!" Seifer leans forward. "Anything else you want to share before you clam up again?"
"There's no reason to talk all the time," Squall says, and he's angry, from zero to light-speed. "We don't have to talk every fucking second."
Seifer raises a brow. "Are you talking to me, or someone else?" When the flush seeps across Squall's sallow skin, Seifer pounces. "She did like to hear her own voice," he says, and carries on before Squall lashes out again. "She was interesting, and that's the problem, isn't it? You don't even realize you're getting tired of it until it's too late, and then you'll do anything for some damn silence."
Squall goes back to his peanut shell. "That sounds about right."
"Then you feel like you've kicked a little of puppies." Oh Seifer, knows. "But surprisingly, I don't think that's why she booted you."
Squall snorts. "Who said she did?"
"Please," Seifer says. "I knew her first." He lets it drip from his mouth, drawing out the consonants until Squall looks up at him. "I made all the mistakes and you fell in the craters I left behind."
"Cocky. Nothing's changed." Squall pauses. "You're still not exactly right." Squall looks like the picture of disinterest, but now, Seifer has him. If Squall is still in love with her, well then.
Common fucking ground.
Seifer doesn't have to resort to out and out blackmail to get Squall to leave the bar with him. Seifer doesn't know anything about Squall beyond the greasy walls, where he goes when he's not there, if he's in the city alone, if he's sleeping in gutters. It's a curiosity, and it's been a long time since Seifer had any sort of challenging puzzle. So when Seifer says, "let's get out of here," and Squall stands up without a fight, he's shocked. Pleased, even. In their long acquaintance, they've never hung out. They aren't friends.
"I hate this place," Squall says as they walk down the sidewalk. It's cool, fall sliding cunning fingers under the edge of summer.
"Then why do you come here?" Seifer steps over a dead rat.
"I can't get enough silence anywhere else," Squall says. "It's the only place big enough with enough people."
"Back to wanting to be invisible, are you?"
"I never wanted--" Squall stops himself, and his tone is familiar. Squall giving a shit, when he doesn't want to give a shit. Seifer could write a thesis on Squall's voice. The thought scrapes across his mind, and he realizes, with a jolt, that he could, sure, he could, but it would be incomplete. Heat pools in his belly.
"You never wanted what?"
"I don't want to be invisible," Squall says. "I just want to be left alone. I want to be able to choose. There's a difference."
Seifer shrugged. "Bad form saving the world, then."
They walk in silence, and Seifer leads. Squall follows as if he doesn't give a shit where they're going, and maybe he doesn't. He's not drunk, Squall doesn't do drunk, he does tipsy, just fuzzy enough to be able to bury annoying thoughts under the rug of his subconscious. Seifer stops a block away from his apartment, which isn't much on the lousy pay from washing dishes in posh restaurants he can't afford to eat in, but it's his and he earned it.
"I'm taking you home," Seifer says, mild, like he's disinterested.
Squall looks up at him. "Okay," he says. Then, "But no."
Seifer laughs. "Make up your mind."
Squall actually rolls his eyes. "I did. I'm just saying, not tonight."
Seifer has to admit, he's a little impressed with Squall's foresight, but then, Seifer wouldn't want to fuck anyone who didn't have at least the brains he did.
Knowing more changes everything. Seifer has three forms on Garden letterhead, three failures of an exam he was never meant to pass, that tell him so. The more knowledge you acquire, the more you screw yourself over. Knowing more and still being expected to form a line, to follow orders, to mind and behave and not fuck around do not mix.
Knowing that Squall sleeps, curled up in a ball, taking up almost no space changes things. Seifer isn't afraid of intimacy, he's just never had a need for it. The way Squall bends in on himself makes Seifer wonder how many times Squall has had it, and lost it. Before, Seifer would've fucked him and not cared, but knowing how the fuck he sleeps, like the whole world could tumble down on him, like he's expecting it to, changes everything.
It also pisses Seifer off. He might have pressed, the second night as they leave the bar, pushed Squall against the wall and convinced him, except for when he woke up that morning and found Squall in a tight semi-circle, back to Seifer. Seifer swears and gets up and goes to work and thinks about it, all damn day.
Squall is only the second person he's brought home, and the first one he's brought home that he didn't have sex with. If possible, it makes their nightly meetings at the bar even more awkward, makes Seifer quieter, and Squall more sullen. He could explain it away if it were sexual tension, but Squall has never been one to let that stuff hang out, and Seifer's not about to start looking pathetic and begging for it.
It doesn't break, the weird, roiling tension between them, until Rinoa pops back up.
Because it's Rinoa, and she's the sorceress, the world vacillates between so scared they're pissing in their pants or overjoyed that she's doing something kind, like helping at an animal farm with puppies instead of wiping them all out with some well-aimed Flare. When Seifer had heard about her powers, it didn't surprise him — Rinoa wasn't the sort to look a gift horse in the mouth, even if that horse was dragging two hundred carts of issues and misery with it. Timber wasn't a lark, after all.
Her face is plastered all over every paper, every tabloid, every screen across Deling, she and the president of Esthar at the groundbreaking for the beginning of the underground transoceanic train line that will open Esthar up to the entire world. Seifer wonders where Galbadia's president is, a whiny, wimpy dude that is constantly eclipsed by anyone who happens to open their mouth in front of him. He wonders why Rinoa is always stealing what should be his spotlight.
But then, Timber has been Rinoa's pet project for years. Maybe it stands to reason.
She looks happy, and he and Squall watch the recording of her over and over. Her eyes crinkle, and her mouth is red, and she doesn't look like she could kill you with a wave of her hand at all.
Seifer almost misses that Squall is talking. He tears his eyes away from the screen.
"...a couple months before she left."
Squall looks back at him, sharply. He doesn't like repeating himself, Seifer knows this. "She had learned to levitate things."
Seifer laughs. "How did she break that news to you?"
Squall taps his fingers on the bar. "She accidentally flung me into a wall during a fight."
Everything is quiet around them except the rush in Seifer's head. He tries to imagine that, but can't — Rinoa was never violent. He can't even get the picture of it in his head.
"She felt terrible, she..." Squall is wrecked. "I was angry, and she was angry and guilty and angry about feeling guilty and we weren't alone in our heads, ever, and it started then."
Knowledge changes everything. Seifer pushes, even know he knows he shouldn't. "What started?"
Squall glances at him, surprised. "That's when she started taking apart our bond."
Seifer is nothing if not an expert on sorceress-knight bonds. He's read all the research that's publically available, and some of the research that's not. He's read bits and pieces of Odine's, the abstracts of his papers that are only available within high security government databases in Esthar, research papers only meant for other scientists, not Garden cadets. He had his own fucked up bond, screwed by time and space, non-consensual and acidic and poison. He only really cares about two of those. It had been real while in use, for various values of real, but not real enough to matter once Ultimecia had gone away. It drove him fucking crazy, and there are huge chunks of his past he doesn't remember, huge chunks of the war he led he thinks he'll never get back, but he came out the other side.
He knows what a bond does to the knight that accepted it. The physical stuff, sure, but the mental benefits. Mild telepathy, the ability to access magic from the sorceress instead of needing draw points, being able to feel where the sorceress was and how she was — and vice versa. He knows. He wonders if Rinoa knew what the hell she was fucking with. He wonders if Edea had had the foresight to take her aside and spread that pretty fucking important piece of information.
He watches Squall as the excitement of the train news fades away over the next week, and with it Rinoa's face. He goes from looking a lot manic to just a little, and one night he tugs Squall off his stool and out of the bar. Squall's shitty apartment is in the opposite direction, so he pulls Squall along with him. "What are the side-effects?" he asks.
Squall's shoves his hands into his jacket pockets. "I don't touch magic anymore at all," he says. "I get sick."
"Did she know?"
Squall makes a noise. "Not until it was too late," he says. "She thought she was helping, she thought it would be better, and I wanted--" His breath skips. "I loved her, but I wanted to be alone inside my head, I wanted --"
"It's not a shitty thing to want some privacy," Seifer says. "Did she think about doing a little research before jacking things up? Did you?"
"No," Squall says. "She was so...you know. She thought she knew." His shoulder bumps Seifer's. "Zell looked into it when I started getting sick and told the others what the symptoms were."
"Yet they didn't run her out," Seifer says. "Of course they didn't."
"It's not — I don't blame her." Squall jerks to a stop on the sidewalk. "It was just a mistake."
"Let me guess. She says she can fix it."
"She did, yeah." Squall shakes his head. "Edea said no. She said she needed to train and practice before she messed with my head anymore." He laughs, but it's broken, destroyed. "I couldn't even touch her, before I left. I couldn't even touch her anymore."
This, Seifer understands. The Rinoa he remembers was touchable, tactile and warm and soft. She liked it, too, she was a loving person. It's this, more than anything, that breaks his anger into pieces. For all she is, she wouldn't deliberately create a world where someone she cared about couldn't touch her. Seifer knows that.
Except she had done the same to him, hadn't she. Or maybe he had forced her hand. Seifer doesn't know who to blame anymore.
They stare at each other. Around them, the faint noises from a city that never sleeps anymore fills the silence between them.
"Come home with me," Seifer says.
Squall bites his lip. "I already am."
It's so fucking stupid, and Seifer knows it, as they walk in silence to Seifer's apartment, not touching at all. There's too much between them, and her, like a goddamn ghost, and Seifer just doesn't care.
Once Seifer has the door closed and locked behind them, he presses Squall into the wall, licks into his mouth. He tastes like terrible beer and salt and he's burning up, hot under Seifer's hands like the beginning of a fire spell. Squall's lips are dry for a moment before everything gets slick and wet, and Seifer presses a leg between Squall's thighs and runs a tongue along his bottom lip, slow. Squall shudders against him and kisses back, almost biting, and it would almost be familiar if before it hadn't been with fists and blades and violence.
It's a flurry of shoes and coats as they move across the room. The bed whines under them when Seifer shoves Squall down, angry, abused wires grinding. Seifer ignores it to unhook Squall's belt, yank it out from under him and toss it. Squall arches up under him. It's almost too dark to see, crappy streetlight through the suicide-proof window, but it's enough for the light to catch the glint when Squall licks his lips, saliva shiny for a brief moment, and Seifer goes hard so fast it almost hurts.
"How long has it been?" he asks, pulling the buttons on Squall's ridiculous pants, tugging them over slim hips.
"Do we have to talk?" Squall groans, when Seifer cups him through well-worn underwear, the cotton thin and soft and already wet. It's answer enough. Seifer runs a thumb over the wet spot, listens to Squall's voice catch.
"I think so," Seifer says. "This is a big day for me. Don't you know how much I've been pining?"
He leans forward, kisses Squall again while he fumbles around on his side table. He comes back successful, and Squall catches his wrist, pulling away. "You are not fucking me, Seifer." He ruins it by grinding up against the rough material of Seifer's pants. "Take those off, but no, no."
"You're not making much sense, Squall." Seifer works his belt and everything else off, Squall's hands fumbling on waistbands and the skin of his hips. "Yes, no, yes, no, which is it?"
"You're not —" Squall's voice stutters when Seifer drags his underwear down. "Oh, god," he says, when Seifer licks his hand and wraps it around his cock. He practically goes liquid, and then he's thrusting into Seifer's hand with so much abandon that Seifer almost lets go.
"Who are you?" Seifer murmurs, and strokes up, listening to Squall whine and feeling him shake. "I would have fucked you into the ground years ago if I knew you would be like this."
"Seifer." Squall's voice is sharp. He tugs at the elastic of Seifer's underwear. "Come on."
"Oooh, Commander voice," Seifer says, and Squall laughs, breathlessly. "I'm not sure you can boss me around, but we can try that later." He pops open the bottle, and although Squall goes tense, he doesn't move away. "Relax," Seifer says. The liquid is cool against his fingers and when he touches Squall, his eyes go wide and he bucks up so hard he almost throws Seifer off the bed.
Squall whines as Seifer shifts forward, laughing.
"She never did this, I bet," Seifer said. "Not to you." Squall's eyes are blown wide, and Seifer can see him picturing it, mouth wet and open and eyes wide and startled into relaxation. It makes it easy to bend and kiss him, stroking their tongues together as he slides a fingers in. The angle is fucked up, but Squall is panting into his ear, tense and trembling, and when Seifer curls his finger Squall follows him, his cock hard and hot on Seifer's stomach.
"Did she really never?" Seifer asks, voice low, breath ghosting over Squall's collarbone. "Not even once? Because she did it to me and made me fucking fall apart." He adds a finger and Squall arches his neck, makes a low, keening sound and grinds into him. Seifer thinks if he keeps doing it, neither of them are going to last much longer. "She could take me apart with just her hands, just like this." He's outright fucking Squall with his fingers now, and he's sweaty and shaking and pushing back.
"Seifer." Squall's hands are pulling at the sheets and his voice is wrecked.
"Hmm?" Seifer asks. "What, you want something?"
"Fucking touch me already," Squall says, viciously. "I can't —" He groans when Seifer takes his fingers away, presses his arm up to his eyes.
"I guess you don't need to ask nicely." Seifer sucks at his jaw, rubbing his bottom lip over the stubble, and shifts so he can wrap his wet hand around them both, sliding their already slick cocks together in his fist. Squall chokes and rocks up, frantic and desperate. It's everything Seifer has always wanted to see, Squall lose his shit under him. When Squall comes all over both of them, one of his hands gripping Seifer's bicep like an anchor, Seifer lets himself go, too, shaking with it. He pretends that the name he hears Squall whine into the air is his.
When Seifer steps out the back door of the restaurant for his break, Squall is there.
"Stalking me, now," Seifer says, taking a seat on the top step.
"You left a note," Squall says. "It's not stalking if you tell me where you're going to be." The skin around his mouth is pink, rubbed raw. Seifer knew if he were to tug the fluffy white shit out of the way, he would see red marks all over Squall's skin. Seifer had marked him, but they would fade. The only mark Squall will keep from Seifer is already on his face, and even that is beneficial. Character, Seifer thinks bitterly. Seifer always gets erased.
His hands always feel weird after coming out of the gloves he wears to guard against scalding water. He rubs them together. "You could probably use the sleep."
Squall smiles — actually fucking smiles — and comes to sit near him, diagonal from him on the bottom step. He doesn't say anything, he just sits there until Seifer has to go back in, but he's there when Seifer finally checks out for the day, leaning against the brick, casual-like.
Intimacy is addicting, and Squall, well. Seifer knew enough about Rinoa to fill in the blanks, here. He spends hours opening Squall up, taking him apart, fucking him open, and he wasn't a goddamn moron, he had done it all using a girl neither of them had anymore. She built the roads; Seifer is just using them.
He keeps doing it, too. Spending all his free time with Squall. Fucking Squall against walls, licking him open, wet and filthy until he humped Seifer's bed, letting him curl up with his faced mashed into Seifer's neck. Waking up with Squall, eating dinner, acting like a couple. The problem remains — Squall is filling the hole Rinoa left and Seifer gets to be the damn dirt — he sure feels the part every time Squall whimpers her name, when Seifer is buried balls-deep inside him. He thought unraveling Squall would be enough, but it's not.
The moon is full and bright when Seifer and Squall head down the street, weeks into the surreal joke that Seifer's life has become. It's immaculate and nothing like the neighborhood they live in. All the houses, fucking huge houses, are dark around them, and the street lights have already dimmed to a soft glow. Rich people don't need street lights not to get mugged, and they can afford blackout curtains.
"Why are we here?" Squall slurs it a little. Seifer is more than a little drunk, pissed off about it, and even more pissed because he thought maybe for once Squall wouldn't follow him. But that's not happening anymore. Rinoa fucking broke him, and Seifer bought the merchandise, and here they are.
"Her house is there," he says, pointing ahead, and he doesn't bother with the question.
Seifer knows how to listen. He works in a nice place, and the owners either don't know who he is or are acting like they don't, and he gets along with them. No waves, no missed shifts, no problems, so they treat him like a nonentity, and he knows how to listen and watch. He's not sure how Rinoa managed to keep her visit to her father a secret. He's not sure how she got in to the city, stayed four whole days in her childhood home, and then got out again with not even a peep from the press. He wonders if she's done it before. He also wonders if she looked for Squall, since he was antsy and frenzied the whole time she was in the city, burning with something like a fever and desperate for Seifer to touch him. Seifer doesn't want to dwell on that.
He suspects some sort of fucked up sorceress magic, silencing the people she interacted with, if she's driving Squall bonkers being in the same city. It wouldn't be stranger than anything else.
Seifer stays away for a week, but now she's gone, back to Timber and the restoration, and he's going to see if she's changed.
He ducks down an alley at the end of the block, and it leads to a service access streets and high, locked gates to the gardens and showy patios. Seifer finds the right one, halfway down, and picks the padlock with ease. Squall is a ever-growing tension at his back.
It's like walking into his own house. Spare key: underneath the loose brick in the patio. Security code: same as it was during his wild summer with Rinoa, coming in at all hours.
"What are we doing?" Squall asks. "This is crazy."
"No crazier than me putting my tongue in your ass, shut up." Seifer likes how Squall flushes, a flash of heat at his back. For all that Squall imagines Rinoa when they fuck, he still reacts to Seifer's voice, like a puppet. That's another problem Seifer's not interested in exploring right now, if ever.
The house is silent around them, and Seifer knows how to get to Rinoa's rooms through the back stairs, knows each stair that creaks and every loose board that will groan under weight. It comes back to him, like he lives here. Squall follows his lead and says nothing until they're in Rinoa's room, door shut behind them.
Seifer doesn't turn on the light. Squall breathes heavily, back against the door. It smells like her here, the soft scent she uses that was her mother's. It reminds Seifer of ripe peaches, the kind that come out of Winhill in the summer.
"Did we come here to..." Squall pauses. "Are you punishing me? Is that what this is?"
Seifer grabs the chair from the desk. "No, although maybe I should." He lines it up with the vent at the top of the wall, and steps up. The screw is already loose, and Seifer smiles. Predictable. It's easy to twirl it with his fingers, slide the cover off, and reach inside. They notebooks are in layers, toward the back so no one could see them from the floor, and he feels around for the one on the top, closet to him.
When he steps down, Squall is next to him. "What is that?"
"Secrets of the Sorcesses," Seifer said. "I could probably embarrass her into combusting into a shower of fairies if I took these to the press. Sadly, she'd know who did it and come kill me with her brain, or something." He hands the notebook over. It's full — there's no ribbon marking the page.
"This is her journal," Squall says. He holds it like it's a bar of gold. "I've seen her write in these."
"And she still brings them back here when they're full," Seifer says. "Smart, really. She's political capital, yet she's still writing all her thoughts down. Caraway isn't someone you fuck with, so she hides them here, from everyone else in the world." Seifer leans against the wall. "Privacy, right? That thing she tried to give you, and fucked it up."
"Why are you showing me this?" Squall asks. His voice is whisper-light.
"Because when I fuck you, you say her name," Seifer says. "You come faster when I talk about shit she used to do to me, when I do it to you. You're in love with the girl, and I've never really been great at sharing." He gestures at the book. "This is closure, or maybe not closure. I don't care what she says. You probably do. So open it and get it over with."
Squall runs fingers across the cover and walks to the window. Rinoa's balcony is beyond, the sheer curtains drawn across the doors. Rinoa had joked that Caraway had given her that room as a taunt, since it would have been a great escape route, except for the thorny bushes he had put in. Rinoa had called him a bastard, but Seifer knew she admired it at least a little. She liked smart people.
Seifer doesn't watch Squall read the journal in the light from the window. He goes and stretches out across Rinoa's bed. Across the hall, Caraway is snoozing in his fucking king size, none the wiser. Rinoa's bed is better than his.
He dozes, a little, and blinks awake when Squall sits down on the edge of the bed.
"Done?" Seifer says. His voice is thick.
Squall nods, and then surprises the hell out of Seifer by stretching out beside him, pressing their mouths together. They're both still drunk enough for this to be a terrible idea, but Seifer doesn't care. Squall still lets Seifer turn him over, and they fuck in silence Rinoa's bed, on her perfect covers, and and when Seifer sucks Squall's cock down his throat as he comes, Seifer finally hears his name.
Seifer doesn't ask what was in the journal. They put things back in order, then leave the way they came, and they never talk about it.
Squall stops saying Rinoa's name. Seifer doesn't read anything into it, and they keep fucking, so why not. It's getting colder and he likes waking up in his frigid room with Squall plastered to him.
Even then, he's not surprised when he walks out of work one afternoon after the first snow and finds Irvine and Quistis waiting for him instead of Squall. He thinks back to the morning, how Squall blinked awake when Seifer sat up, and Seifer gave in and kissed him, sour breath and all, and told him to go back to sleep instead of walking him to work. He's somehow ridiculously glad he got that much.
"Come to take him home, eh?" He sits on the steps, which are fucking freezing. "She figured out how to fix him?"
"We think so," Quistis says. "We won't know for sure, but she's come to the city a few times in the last few weeks, and he hasn't been odd, right? She said he's felt normal."
Seifer snorts. "Why bother asking? You know already, right?" He tucks his hands into his armpits, and he tries to think back, remember any tails. He doesn't, but he's not surprised. "You've been watching him since the beginning."
Irvine shook his head. "No, we stopped once he took up with you. We figured he'd be safe enough."
"Whose genius idea was that?"
"Zell's, actually." Quistis's voice is cooler than ice, daring him to make a crack. "He got his hands on Odine's research. He suspected that what was done to you might actually help Squall from losing it. He said there's some research about knight-bonding that looked promising. We decided to trust him."
"How nice of you all to use me," Seifer says. "Did Squall know?"
Quistis and Irvine share a look. "He wasn't in much of a state to know," Quistis said. "He's the one who wanted to get away. We just chose the place."
"Rinoa is not happy about you letting Squall read her diary, by the way," Irvine says, and he sounds amused. "Or fucking him, but she says she doesn't really blame you."
"How magnanimous." He thinks about his life, the last few months of it. He maybe hasn't been happy, but it had been something. "Well, tell him to have a nice life, I guess. If that's all, it's fucking freezing and I'm going home." He heads off, but Quistis's voice makes him pause.
"He said he'll come back." Quistis stares at him hard. "He asked us to tell you."
Seifer meets her eyes. "If it works, he better not come back," he says. "It's one thing, when they're split, it's another, when it's pity." He grins. "I won't cry too much," he says, and he leaves them standing in the cold.
Knowledge changes everything. Seifer lives and he tries to forget. He's pretty good at it, except Quistis's words gnaw at him in the middle of the night when he's freezing and his heater has gone out again. He figures it out a week after Squall's been gone, and he's so lonely it hurts. He thinks to what she said: she said he's felt normal, and how they knew, they knew about the sex and the diary, and he'd been so fucking stupid.
Rinoa knows everything. She was with Squall the entire time, every single thing Seifer had that he thought was his, and his only, no more sharing. What's worse, is that Squall read the diary. Seifer imagines that he knew, too, and that's where all the fondness came from, Seifer's name torn from his mouth instead of Rinoa's. Permission granted from the boss. Seifer can't decide whether it's shame or lust or something else, but he strokes himself to it and comes so hard he sees white and it's ridiculous. He's pathetic and pissed off and he wishes he could get to her to throttle her.
Of course, he doesn't have to get to her. She comes to him.
He knows when she comes into the bar because the whole place goes so silent it's like they've also stopped breathing, and maybe they have. Seifer tosses back the last of his drink.
"Ah, two weeks, huh?" He doesn't turn around. "Figured it would be longer than that."
"Just as pleasant as ever," she says, and sits beside him. Her hair is longer, and her face sharper, older. "Are you miserable and lonely yet?"
Seifer meets her eyes. "Well, your genius bond researcher sent your broken knight to another broken knight, didn't he? Why don't you tell me how I'm feeling? You can do that by now, I assume."
Her smile is sneaky, but fond. "He does feel a little bad about it," she says. "But not too much."
"Let me guess, he laughed so hard he fell off something, and then rolled around, laughing." Seifer rolled his eyes. "He's laughing right now, too."
"Probably." Rinoa lays a hand on his shoulder. She's not dressed for the weather, at all, but then, all her bare arms and perfect, pale skin conceal so much magic she could probably power the entire city. Seifer feels like he's on fucking fire where her palm is, but also more relaxed than he's been in weeks. It feels like home, like it does when Squall is pressed against him, pliant and soft. "I am sorry. You didn't even ask for this. You didn't even know."
"What's a little non consensual bonding between ex-lovers?" He is suddenly trapped between wanting to laugh and cry. It's a strange feeling and he's not sure he likes it. "How's Squall feel about it?"
She doesn't answer at all, but instead pulls him forward. Her lips are cool on his cheek. He feels wrecked. It's different from the last time, though. Warmer. "Come home, Seifer," she says. "I'll let you have kinky sex with our boyfriend, promise."
He looks at her, tiny and small and gorgeous and full of magic that's already tangled up with his. He sighs, and says, "Oh, well. Why the hell not."