Judgment of Worth
May 2002 (revised Oct 2002)
I look up sharply at the baritone voice, more than just a bit startled by the sight of Seifer standing at the edge of the pond. What is he doing here of all places? He is nearly a day's travel away from his home, which seems a bit far to be out hunting since the forests closest to his home has plenty of game.
"Why are you here?"
"I should ask the same of you. But since you were first, I'm looking for a really big kitten."
"Yeah, a huge one. Been playing with him since you left a while back. You know, when you didn't bother saying anything to me."
Inside, I wince at the accusation. "I am sorry. I had to leave."
"Yes, I recall you saying something like that. But why?"
I don't reply. Rather, I can't reply. It is stupid of me, but the longer I spend time with him, the more I feel like I can't leave him. Seifer is a crude bastard who never holds back an opinion, but in the same sense he hides little of himself from me. That kind of honesty just makes my own deceits that more painful to bear, especially when he would shun me the moment my secrets would be revealed. The more I'm around him, the more I wish to be near him. But the more time I spend with him, the chance increases that he'll see the true me. This cannot end well between us unless I remain far from the blonde, and hopefully that ache will be easier to deal with than something further in the future.
After all this time of waiting for a response, Seifer sighs noisily and then starts removing his shirt.
"Wh, what are you doing?"
"You seem to be enjoying the water. Thought I'd join you."
"You cannot!" To my own ears it sounds like a pathetic whine.
He smirks at me. "Oh? And why not?"
I glare at him, but it only seems to make him grin wider. A quick look at the sky tells me it's almost the right time, the sun already set and the half moon on the rise. In other words, not enough time to get the stubborn blonde to leave.
"Fine. But do not disturb the water too much."
Still grinning, he removes his boots and pants, tossing them carelessly to the side. At least he follows my request and enters the pool of clear water without causing too many ripples. Unfortunately Seifer decides to come up right next to me, the water level just high enough to reach his waist. I've never felt my nakedness before this moment, but his light green eyes scanning me makes my skin shiver as if chilled. How can he do this to me?
"So why is it so horrible that I'm here?"
Focusing my attention on the water, I place a finger just barely piercing the surface. Amazingly, the blonde stays silent, but after some time his patience wears thin. As he shifts his footing without creating too much disturbance to the water, I can almost feel him ready to yell out something just to break the silence besides the small waterfall.
But before he does anything rash, a warm blue light appears near my fingertip just under the water line. I smile as a small, glowing arm breaks the surface and pulls lightly at my finger. Soon, the entire pixie crawls up my hand and stands to look into my eyes with her crystalline gaze. In the darkening evening, she glows a calming blue as her tiny wings flutter happily.
"Hello, Casa. It has been too long," I say softly to the tiny woman.
Rarely wishing to speak words, she instead greets me with a musical laugh.
The whispered word reminds me of the blonde's presence. A frown replacing her smile, Casa points at him.
"Casa, this is Seifer. He saved my life not too long ago."
Curious, she flies from my hand and directly in front of the blonde's face. I almost laugh at his crossed eyes focusing on the hovering pixie.
"Well, I must say you are the smallest and yet the most beautiful lady I've ever seen."
She leans back a touch at the words, but then bends forward to kiss him on the nose. Quickly, she flies back away from the blonde as if embarrassed.
"I never believed such lovelies actually existed," he whispers with awe.
"They like to hide."
He turns to me. "They?"
More blue lights appear under the water surface as at least ten more pixies decide to join Casa in play. Before he can prepare himself, Seifer is surrounded by several small, flying women who are extremely interested about the stranger. Of course a couple are instantly attracted to a shiny metal earring of his. They all recognize me and have yet been able to resist playing with my unkempt hair. My laughter can never be held in check when these ladies flutter about me.
"So you do know how to laugh."
I shrug at his comment. "There is rarely something to laugh about."
He scoffs. "Maybe you're just too serious for your own good."
Casa returns to my open hands and encircles a thumb in a mock hug.
"Un. You stay safe, too."
She looks up worriedly at me as if questioning the possibility of my return.
I smile weakly. "I will come back as soon as I can."
She pouts, obviously not appreciating the second meaning in my words. Turning around quickly, Casa dives back into the water, her soothing light soon disappearing within the depths of the water. I wish she hadn't left angry at me, but what else could I tell the small lady. Shortly after Casa, the other pixies follow her lead into the clear waters, a couple stealing kisses from Seifer before they leave.
"Hey, where are they all going?"
"They cannot stay long in the open air. Only for a small amount of time when the half moon reaching the full moon shines on the water."
"Hmm " I feel his eyes studying me. "Squall, is there something wrong?"
"No. I better head home. Thank you for being polite to them."
"You shouldn't think of walking around like that at this time of night. I'm going to build a fire, so why don't you at least dry off first."
Before I can refuse, he grabs my wrist and pulls me towards the shore. For the first time my eyes rest upon his naked back, the moon serving as a more than adequate light source. A large, strange design covers most of the pale skin, shifting as he wades forward through the water. With clear eyes, I can almost discern several faces from the mess of lines and circles. It's suddenly a little bit harder to breathe.
Out of the water, Seifer grabs his clothes with his free hand and continues to drag me further into the trees. We reach a flat area where he orders me to sit on his folded shirt, a command I follow while still partially stunned at the sight of his marking. In short time, he gets the fire started and then sits next to me, far too close according to my thoughts, but my bothersome emotions believe him not close enough. The flames drive some of the coldness from my body, and yet I still feel chills whenever the blonde bushes against me to add twigs to the fire.
"Seifer. That marking on your back were you born with it?"
"Yep. Like hell I'd get something so ugly on purpose. My father swore 'til his drunken death that it's connected to some ridiculous legend."
"Could you tell it to me?" Encircling arms around my legs, I rest my chin on knees to watch the tops of the flames.
"Only because you asked. Have you heard the story of the Judgment of Worth?"
I shake my head.
He sighs as if starting a story told once too often. "Basically, it says that all humans were once animals that had to earn the right to join the ranks of men. When the time of trial nears, one is born half-animal and half-human. In the actual trial, that one must fight the Arbiter, a human who bares the mark of the Spirits. If the mix wins, those animals gain the right to be human. If the Arbiter wins, the animals have to wait for another trial, which could happen in another hundred or thousand years. Perhaps never."
There is silence as the blonde throws a couple more twigs into the fire.
"You do not believe this? That you are the Arbiter?"
"Oh, please. It's a foolish myth."
"And I have pixies for friends."
A pause. "Alright, you have a point there, but I haven't had a vision or any shit like that concerning this trial. For all I know, I could have missed it. Or there's the logical solution that I'm not some Arbiter."
"Do you intend on shirking your duty?"
"A-a-ah, I'm tired of this discussion," Seifer declares as he lies down on his back. "So, why do you play with pixies?"
"Some merchant had Casa trapped in a glass cage filled with water. She was so weak that she could barely radiate any of her natural light. So, I stole her from him."
"The valiant knight saves his damsel in distress." I can hear the smirk in his voice.
Something warm touches the cold skin of my back, the contact making me inhale sharply.
"There aren't any scars," he whispers in part awe.
I place my hands on the ground with the intention of pushing myself up. "I had better--"
Strong arms encircle my shoulders and I'm pulled downwards. Before I can think to react, I'm lying on the ground with the larger man partially covering me with his body. His hands gripping my arms are too firm for me to consider escape. That is, if I had truly desired to leave his presence.
"I know I'm frightening, but that doesn't mean you have to run away."
His green eyes are speckled with yellow from the light of the fire, the intense gaze entrancing as it steals coherent thoughts from my mind.
"Do you hate me that much?"
" No, but I--"
Again I'm interrupted, but this time by his lips pressing against mine. The first time I've experienced its kind, the contact is strangely pleasurable. Wetness glides along my lower lip, my mouth opening slightly on its own in response. His tongue entering my mouth immediately alarms me. Why would someone do that? But then it brushes roughly against my own tongue. Warmth seems to build from that small point of contact and spreads throughout every part of my body. My disappointment at his eventual retreat shames me.
Seifer looks down at me with a lopsided grin, obviously expecting me to say something. Unfortunately, I can't seem to remember what I had intended on telling him before that... attack.
"You taste of spice bread."
He chuckles. "You're obsessed with that damn bread."
Before I can retort, he leans down again, but not to my lips as this time he nibbles on the sensitive flesh of my neck. While his tastes my skin, one of his hands travels in massaging motions down my side until it stops at my upper thigh. After a firm squeeze, the warmth of his hand leaves that spot and then finds a new place between my legs.
He lifts up his head with a smirk in place, his hand not leaving its position. "Yes?"
"What are you doing?"
"Don't tell me you've never pleasured yourself before?"
My cheeks burn a little from blushing. "I have, but why you "
"Because you're gorgeous." And then he continues to explore my skin with his mouth.
Soon there is nothing but Seifer's motions on my body. His teeth gently tug at delicate nipples, torturing each in turn. The rough skin on his palm rubs excited flesh while fingers massage underneath. Logically there should be the sound of the waterfall and usual noises of the night, but I can only hear the pounding of my heart and shuttering breaths from my lips. Something explodes in me.
Blinking nonexistent light from my eyes, I focus on the blonde smiling at me.
"Shall I take that at as sign that you enjoyed it?"
"Seifer " It's more so a breath than me saying his name.
"Good." He starts to get up. "Well, I need to take care of something and then I'll get some water to clean you up. If you move from this spot, I swear I'll hunt you down."
With him standing before me, I'm shocked to see that the blonde has an erection. I don't understand. He was the one giving me pleasure while I did nothing, so why did he get aroused? This man, he is a perpetual mystery to me. A curiosity to be understood.
I take a hold of the nearest leg before he can walk away. He tilts dangerously forward before regaining balance, then turns towards me such that the excited flesh a short distance in front of my face.
"Damn it, Squall. Why'd you do that?"
I barely hear him as I smell the strong scent of the blonde man. It fills my senses, giving me an impression of strength, safety, and comfort. The need to taste the origin of this scent overwhelms me as I lean forward to lick the stiff organ. Oddly, the penis twitches from the contact of my tongue at the same instant Seifer gasps in part shock, part something else.
"Spirits... you certain you want to do that?"
Though I ignore the actual words, the rough voice pleases me as I continue to lick the saltiness of his erection. Rationally, it isn't the best flavor I've tasted, but somehow it is sweeter because it belongs to my savior. No, more importantly this is the taste of my first and perhaps final love. The additional effect of bringing the man pleasure at my actions is an unintentional bonus.
A steady hand is placed on the back of my head, and with a gentle though insisting force, it directs me forward until I find the harden flesh sliding in and out of my mouth. The moan of satisfaction entices me to continue the motions despite the discomfort. Soon after, his hand grasps my hair painfully and I have thick liquid gushing into my mouth.
The blonde steps back quickly, essentially removing his cock for me.
After a quiet curse, Seifer looks to the side. "Sorry. I should've pulled out sooner."
Confused, I peer at him while licking the sticky fluid from the corners of my mouth. "Why?"
"People tend to not care for cum in their mouths. Making them regret..."
I rise to my feet but don't move closer to him. "Hmm. But I like tasting you."
He turns to face me and studies my eyes for a moment as if trying to read the thoughts lying beneath. His lips slowly form a relieved smile. "Well damn, I should know better than to stock you with normal people."
The comment bothers me a little, but I don't let it show within my expression.
"Let's go clean up, and maybe give those pixie friends of yours a real show," he adds with a wink.
I scowl at the remark, but the blonde seems to recognize it as a half-hearted attempt as he takes a hand and leads me back to the darkened waters. Spirits, what have I gotten myself into with this man?
One of the more annoying aspects of sleeping outdoors is how much easier the sunlight wakes you without walls and curtains to block the irritating rays of light from your eyes. It's especially worse when you've had a long, tiring night. In surrender I open my eyes fully, the glaring brunette being my first view of the suddenly gorgeous morning. I smile lazily at him with complete understanding of the reason behind his anger - my arms are firmly wrapped around his back and our legs are entangled, both strong holds making him my captive.
"Stop smiling and let go."
Barely a moment is spent to consider the order before I decide to kiss the lovely scowl instead. He struggles momentarily against the heat between us, but then surrenders to my invasion. Once satisfied, I pull back but don't release him.
"Did you think after last night I'd just let you scamper away?"
"That does not mean you have to crush me."
"Umm, but it may mean that I have to get a leash for you."
"I am not your pet."
"I wonder if I could get you to roll over for a treat."
"Seifer." Never realized how nice my name sounds with a growled inflection. "Off. Now."
With a sigh I roll to the side while releasing the brunette. Squalls gets up to his feet immediately and walks several steps before slowing to a stop. As if cold, he crosses his arms over his chest, his gaze in the direction of the waterfall. Early morning light caresses that perfect skin of his, the bronze hint to it creating the effect of a soft glow.
Guessing his thoughts, I regain my footing and walk behind the still figure. Placing arms loosely around his waist, I rest my cheek in his disheveled hair. This body seems so small within my hold, but inside there is such amazing strength of will that matches my own. As his mild scent intoxicates me, I wonder at this desperate craving I have for Squall. I know nothing about him, and yet I feel like I know everything that I need to and want to know about the quiet man. I won't have him escape for me as he plans.
"Come home with me."
He shakes his head in reply.
"Come with me. You can leave whenever you want as long as you promise to return to me."
His head slumps forward and I feel a drop of water on my hand. Glancing to the side of his face, I notice a trail of wetness left by the single tear.
"I would like that."
Extremely pleased by the reluctant words, I hug him tighter but don't dare to do anything else. There will be plenty of time for more at a later chance, but for this moment I wish only to hold him, to burn this feeling of his closeness into my memories so that I may have something for when he will inevitably disappear from me.
Not wishing to run across anyone of the village, I chose a barely worn game trail to follow as I sink into thought. Squall left in the night again. Probably didn't trust me to let him go. Hell, I'm not even sure I could have just let him walk off into the woods without me, so I can't really blame him. It's hard for me to believe that it hasn't been even a couple weeks with the sultry brunette, and yet it was somehow so natural that it felt like eternity we've been together.
Without clothes of his own, he wore mine despite the size difference. It was strangely pleasing to see him in my clothes. Even more fun to take them off. But those were the nights. During the day he'd calmly sit just outside of the cabin and watch the forest as if begging something to let him stay just a little longer. A few times we went hunting. Though he isn't able to use a bow or blade, Squall is the best tracker I've ever witnessed. Finding dinner had never been so easy.
He will be back. I made him swear at least five times a day that if he did choose to leave me, he would return as soon as possible. Every time he would smile that secretive smile of his, kiss me lightly, and then promise to return. I'm surprised he didn't get annoyed with the childish pleading.
Looking up from the dirt of the game trail, I see an old friend not too far away. The dark-haired cat stands in the path, blue eyes glowing in the shade of the trees.
"There you are, you damn kitten. I thought you fell in a hole somewhere. Wanna play?"
Abruptly the cat roars at me with large teeth bared, the action stopping me in place from surprise and only part fear. The beast had never really made sounds in our fights before except the occasional purr at receiving a treat. Could I have angered it somehow, or does the kitten just not recognize me?
"Hey, now. It's your fight buddy. Don't you recognize me?" I take a step forward.
It growls loudly and sprints directly at me. I barely notice this before a strange movement on my leg takes my attention. My focus shifts just in time to witness a brightly colored snake take a deep bite into my thigh. A second later, it is gone as the cat clamps down on the long body and jerks it away. The quick motion makes me unbalanced as I fall down onto my ass.
As the beast has its way with the snake, I quickly use my dagger to cut off the leg of my pants at mid-thigh. I then slice the fabric into two long strips. Checking the bite area, I pluck a slender fang from my flesh and toss it to the side. After tying the strips somewhat tightly above and below the bite, I lean in to use my mouth and try to draw out the venom from my blood. I do this for as long as I can and then lie on my back for a rest.
Returned from the now shredded reptile, the large cat mews at me worriedly as it places its head onto my arm.
"I'm fine. Just need a moment before going back to the village."
Gracefully the cat rises, its ears twitching almost frantically. A light growl in its throat, it steps over my stomach and straddles me. Before I can guess at the reason for the mood shift, three large cats jump out from the brush and pad up while baring their teeth. These beasties are a bit larger than my kitten, their fur lighter shades of brown. From else where, two more cats appear.
One of the newcomers attempts to paw my naked leg, but it's violently knocked aside by my apparent protector. I'm only able to lay there and watch the dark-haired cat guard me as best it can. Already my vision is starting to blur from the poison I apparently wasn't able to remove. With five to one odds and the one having a serious handicap, it's only a matter of time. This just doesn't seem to be my day.
Unexpectedly the fighting stops and the five move back a pace as another cat makes its appearance. Despite the touch of gray in its fur, it has the same coloring as the cat straddling me. Its blue-green eyes consider me briefly and then turn to my protector. It growls with threat to which my cat responds in kind. A weird kind of banter goes back and forth until my cat lashes out at the older feline. It dodges the attack easily and regains its stance slowly.
There is tense silence until the supposed leader roars loudly. The other cats jump where they stand and then bolt off. Only the two cats left, they stare at each other intently. With a mew sound, the older feline head butts my defender gently and then trots off into the forest.
My kitten doesn't move from its position for a long while until finally relaxing and stepping carefully off me. Directly, it starts pushing at my shoulder with its head. Getting up would be a good idea. Strike that, an excellent idea. Too bad I can't seem to feel my leg at the moment.
I rub the cat's neck in the attempt to stop it from shoving into me. "Thanks for your help, kitten, but looks like I wasted your time. Try to get those other cats to eat me. Hopefully I'll poison them."
The beast shakes off my hand angrily and resumes its pushing. With a sigh, I force it back from me.
"It's no good. Just scat already!"
It blinks at me and then turns quickly around to run off into the forest. With wide eyes, I watch the beast leave. Fuck me, it hurts that the kitten left so easily at my words, leaving me alone to die. Sighing, I close my eyes for blessed darkness. It had given me a headache to try on focus on what had been happening around me. If only I could go to sleep, maybe this wouldn't be so bad.
I'm drowning. I don't know exactly how I ended up in water, but like hell I'm staying there. Moving my arms to get some momentum, I hit something solid and loud.
"Damn it, Seifer!"
Opening my eyes and focusing, I get the amusing picture of Zell flat on his ass and red faced. Unfortunately I seem to be wet at the same time.
"What the hell "
It takes me a while to recognize this place as the healer's extra room. I haven't been here in years.
"Is this how you thank people for saving your life?" he asks standing up and then picking up a cup from my lap.
"Fuck, I thought I was drowning. Next time let someone smarter help me out."
"You weren't complaining in the past few days!"
"Judging by the noise in here, I suppose Seifer has awakened?" A plump woman enters the room with a slightly disapproving look. "Zell, you should know better than to aggravate a patient."
He looks at his shoes and apologizes.
"Damn right, Chicken--"
"As for you, Seifer, I can always put you back to sleep. It'd probably be more peaceful that way, so don't tempt me."
I mumble something I hope Healer Kadowaki assumes is an apology.
"Now, how do you feel?"
I blink at her, just now realizing that there should be a reason for me to be in the healer's home. When she pokes my leg gently, the details of the poisoning and cat fight return to me.
"How did I get here?"
"You'll have to ask the boys about that one." She looks at my face, opening my eyes wide with her fingers. "Yes, I'd say you're recovering just fine."
"I guess anything is better than dead."
Standing up straight, she points a finger at me. "Don't you dare scare us like that again. You may live a distance from the village, but you are still one of us. Remember that, and be more careful next time."
When she leaves the room, something flutters in front of my face and lands on the bed. Curious, I pick up the familiar hat that seems to have gained some holes.
"You owe me a new one."
I look to the corner noticing Irvine for the first time.
"I don't know, Irv. The girls may like you better without it. Anyway, why would I have to waste my coin on something so ridiculous?"
"It's your cat that ruined it."
Zell hops onto the bed, earning a glare from me for jarring the leg. "Isn't that cat your pet?"
"I don't keep pets, thank you. Now what are you blabbing about?"
"Irvine and I were fishing at the river when this huge cat comes right up to us, steals the hat, and runs off with it. We of course chased the thing and it lead us right to you. At first I thought it was gonna eat you, but it just pushed at your shoulder. You kept mumbling, 'don't bug me, kitten.' It sounded like you owned the thing."
I can't help laughing. I owe my life to a damn animal, now. How pathetic. "So, where is the beastie?"
"It followed us here. Healer Kadowaki even fed the thing some scraps. I haven't seen it around since yesterday morning, though. Probably got nervous with all the people about."
The blonde is probably right. It doesn't matter, though. I'm certain I'll get the chance to pay the kitten back.
Coming to the conclusion that the cat will find me when it wants to, I settle down at our first meeting spot. Placing the bag of dried meats and other treats aside, I lean back against a tree and enjoy the peaceful moment with my eyes closed. I'm like that a long while until a sudden chill in the breeze startles me. Perhaps I had fallen asleep at some point since opening my eyes again, the small forest clearing has been surrounded by a thick fog. Immediately my nerves go on edge. Forget that mist isn't present this late in the day or even during this season. How the hell is it circling this bit of forest, none apparent within the center?
Across the way, the mist stirs as a dark figure approaches. Before I fully regain my footing, the dark-haired cat trots through concealing fog.
"Well, hey there, kitten. What a time you've picked for an appearance."
The beast meets my gaze and then closes its eyes as the coat of fur on its back shivers. When the animal seems to go blurry, I close my own eyes and take a deep breath. Shit, is there still venom in my blood? After shaking my head in an attempt to clear the mess within, I look back to the cat.
"No No. I did not just see that. I did not just SEE THAT!"