Blue-gray eyes opened to view upon the almost serene sight of a quiet city bathed in the reddish light of the coming evening. But Squall wasn't fooled by the peaceful appearance, his gaze soon settling on the wide figure of a man who sat limply on a bench. Just behind him was a tall building with the entrance door holding painted images of a bed and some kind of cross. There was also thick lettering above the doorway, but Squall was uninterested in what he had no knowledge about. Instead, his gaze returned to the portly man and he focused on the circular markings along bluish skin.
::You are under our protection once more, lover::
Causally, the dark-haired man turned to face the owner of the melodic voice, her stolen body being one of young beauty if not for the puss yellow bumps encircled by dark red that covered the once fair skin. Blue eyes were cold, the faded color of death appearing more like a coating of frost as she examined the man before her.
::You weren't injured too greatly?::
Squall scoffed softly. "Nothing more than usual."
::But now you have the golden one to take care of you::
Not appreciating the suggestion that he needed anyone to help him, the seer scowled. "What had happened?"
Vague amusement left the woman's expression as she grew serious. ::We had grown too lax after so many years of the beldame believing you dead. And her student was unexpectedly bold for one of average powers::
"Don't mock me. Her powers were more than enough to threaten my life."
::And yet you live::
::Don't be so angry, my lover. She had not the strength to seal us for much longer than she did. Though we appear unnecessary with the hero at your side::
Squall frowned at her words. "What makes him the 'Hero', exactly?"
::His destiny:: she stated, as if it were obvious.
"Then, what is his destiny? What must he accomplish for a better future?"
A deep laugh sounded as a teenaged youth strode into view. ::All these years, and you ask now?::
Stormy eyes narrowed in irritation, but Squall didn't vocalize what he knew the voices wanted to hear. There wasn't a chance in hell that he'd give his tormentors any type of satisfaction that he was vaguely concerned about Seifer and his uncertain destiny. Especially when he was still conflicted about wanting to hate the bastard and yet finding no logical reason to warrant such hatred.
Smirking with arrogance, the young man marked by disease moved to the bench and kicked the bloated figure to the ground before he claimed the wooden seat as his own. ::What is his destiny? Why, to be a hero::
Teeth clenched, Squall said, "Stop playing games."
::To be a hero...:: an older voice repeated from behind, ::A man who would risk or even sacrifice his life for a courageous act and a noble purpose::
Not turning to face the source of the aged voice, the seer frowned. "Then... that sorceress spoke the truth. You want Seifer to sacrifice himself."
::It is why he was born::
"No... No... I haven't wasted my life... I haven't saved him time and time again to just let him die!"
A soft, melodic laughter sounded. ::Such a gentle lion, but do not worry yourself - your hero won't die::
Shaking his head, Squall glared at the woman. "You lie."
::Don't be so difficult. You know we speak only of truths::
"Truths," he scoffed. "Meaningless truths, half-truths, misleading truths... yes, that is all you offer me."
"Prove to me that you can speak the truth and answer me this - does Seifer have more than one destiny?"
Frosted eyes widened slightly before the marred face bowed in a vague sign of defeat. ::All humans have numerous destinies::
"And this destiny you want of him... no, demand of him, it may not be the destiny of his choosing?"
None of the voices answered his question as the gazes of the stolen bodies focused downward upon the dusty ground. After a brief moment to prepare himself, Squall turned to face the image of his father and forced his eyes to not look down along the spotted body that had already been partly feasted upon by animals. The green eyes dark without life met the sharp gaze of the seer.
::Through your own power, you see what happens if he chooses another path. Why must you oppose us?::
"This isn't my sight. This is the future you wish to show me," Squall replied.
The long-haired man shook his head. ::This is the echo of your visions which show the more distant future. As we have always told you, we have not the sight. But you do::
Slipping a foot back in retreat, Squall stared into the depths of green, hoping to find falsehood in the dead eyes. He had always believed it was the voices showing him this ruined world in the attempt to further motivate him to protect the so-called Hero, that it was a selected future of the worse possible outcomes. But for it to be a future selected by his own power...
Eyes closed, he dropped to the ground as his muscles went limp. Uncaring about the eyes watching over him, Squall cried.
Playing with the bottle of dark wine still unopened from the night previous, Seifer stared out the partly opened window of the rented room. His green eyes focused on the visible amount of sky that was slowly turning from dark blue to paler hues, and only the sound of the bottle rolling back and forth interrupted the peacefulness of early morning. Despite the overwhelming calmness, Seifer still held no desire for rest as his mind shifted through the numerous events of the past weeks and he tried to make sense of his changed world. But no matter how many times he examined what he knew, there were too many inconsistencies and unexplainable facts.
With a frustrated sigh, the fighter decided to shove the more taxing thoughts aside and looked down at the slowly waking city. Eyeing a few older merchants clutching coats tight to their bodies, Seifer realized that autumn was already fast approaching. He started to plan out items to buy that morning, but then stopped when he recognized that he was automatically figuring Squall into the math of what supplies were needed. As the mild surprise passed, his lips curled into a smirk while he thought about the coming fight of forcing the stubborn seer to accept the necessary clothes and supplies. It oddly sounded like fun.
His smirk still in place, Seifer looked towards the still body hidden beneath a layer of sheets. Even in sleep, the seer was relatively stiff as if letting himself relax would mean instant death. As the earliest rays of sunlight hit the sleeping face, Squall shifted away from the annoyance in an almost childlike move. Seifer smiled at the thought, but then amusement faded into concern when another movement by the seer revealed glimmering trails of wetness along pale cheeks.
After setting the bottle of wine upright on the small table, the fighter stood and quietly stepped over to the occupied bed. His eyes narrowed in their examination of the dark-haired man, the sharp green easily catching the vague shivers of the lithe body. After making the decision that Squall had gotten enough sleep, Seifer placed a hand gently along a moist cheek, the skin of his hand feeling rough against the cool softness.
Squall was instantly awake at the tender touch, him knocking aside the offending hand before then attempting to sit up in a defensive position.
"Fuck, it's just me, kitten. Or is that why you felt like attacking?" Seifer asked with an amused air, silently impressed by the reflexes of the seer.
Sightless eyes went wide before Squall covered his face with a shaky hand, ineffectively hiding the continued flow of tears.
"Hey, you all right?"
There was no reply, nor any other sound that usually accompanied such tears.
"Did you dream...?" Seifer wanted to ask if it was a dream of his father, but he felt it wasn't his right to mention the obviously sensitive subject.
The raised hand tensed before Squall spoke without inflection. "Leave me."
"If you want. I wouldn't mind going downstairs to order some breakfast."
"No," he said in the same dead tone. "Just... leave me."
"Don't tell me that we have to go through this again," Seifer said while sitting heavily on the mattress, the move making Squall wince. "Listen here, kitten - you aren't getting rid of me that easily. Life is just more interesting with you around."
"I'll lead you down the wrong path."
The fighter laughed. "That's assuming I'm on the right path to begin with, which I highly doubt considering my knack for poor decisions."
"Hn? Why what?"
The covering hand dropped to the mattress below as Squall looked forward with pained eyes. "Everything I've done... why has none of it been enough? Why is the future still the same?"
Seifer was momentarily stunned by the unguarded expression, but then straightened before replying. "Well, excuse me for thinking that saving my life is worth something."
Sighing, the fighter adjusted his seated position to better look at the dark-haired man. "Are you so certain of that?"
"Everyone's dead and nothing changes."
Pale eyebrows scrunched in thought. "Everyone's dead? In these dreams of yours, you mean?"
"Dreams of the future."
"Hn, you mentioned something like that before. Care to explain these dreams in more detail?"
There were no words for a time until Squall eventually bowed his head in an exhausted manner. "I once thought that my dreams were... maybe not false futures, but exaggerated. The worst possible case if you were to fail. I thought the voices were only trying to motivate me with fear."
The seer smiled without humor. "I hear voices. They tell me what I should do."
After a moment of staring at the man, Seifer barked out a laugh. "Sorry, kitten, but while I think you're insane, you aren't going to be able to convince me that you're crazy, too. So what's the truth about these voices?"
Disappointment crossed Squall's face before his expression became neutral once more. "I don't know for certain, but I think they are Spirits, demigods under Hyne."
"Hnn, you really hear voices? Shit, that could actually explain a couple things. Is that who you're talking to when you think you're alone?"
The seer looked up sharply at that. "You spy on me?"
Grinning, Seifer chuckled. "Nah, I just made a guess. But some times you do say odd things, as if I missed part of the conversation."
With an irritated shake of his head, Squall said, "They are too loud at times."
"You would think so. Anyway, what do they have to do with your dreams?"
"They are the ones who demand for me to guide you, and they are always annoying about it. In my dreams, they borrow bodies to speak with me and warn about the future... I thought it was another trick of theirs to make me want to help you."
Squall's hand moved to rub the branding on his wrist. "Last night, they told me... The dreams are mine, formed by my own power. All the death, all the destruction is a true future. Nothing has changed, despite everything..."
With a frown, Seifer asked, "How can you be certain of that? That nothing has changed."
Pale lips parted to respond, but then closed tight in silence.
"I mean, what do you see in these dreams? A house? A city? A whole country? Maybe there are plenty of changes beyond what you actually see. Or what if..." The fighter waved a hand in thought. "What if you're postponing things? Like if you hadn't saved my ass in Griese, maybe that future you keep seeing would be the present."
"Alright, so I know shit about any of this, but still... This just doesn't seem like you, Squall."
"... I'm tired of it."
"As you should be." Seifer stood from the bed with a stretch. "Well, I'm starved, and we have a long day ahead of us. I'm itching to get out of this city as soon as we can. More talk can come when we're on the road out of here."
"I'm taking you with me and there's no argument about the matter. Now, what did you want for breakfast?"
The seer bit his lip in silence, but after patient staring by the blond, Squall finally replied, "Fruit... would be nice."
Smirking, Seifer leaned down to cup his hand on a pale cheek and used his thumb to rub away the touch of moisture left on the soft skin. "That's a good kitten. And don't worry - I'll make the future nice and bright so that you can dream easier at night."
Sightless eyes slowly shifted up and an odd grin formed. "You are the Hero, capable of anything."
Looking into the stormy eyes, Seifer paused at the hint of hope hidden behind the sarcastic words. He studied the face trapped within his hold and tried to visibly make out the layers that made up the seer. The pale and smooth skin spoke of youthfulness, but the clouded eyes held the glint of knowledge owned by an experienced and aged man, a man who held the shadows of pain, sadness, and defeat. At that moment, Seifer was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the man, but it wasn't an attractiveness the fighter was used to with his giggling women of painted faces and powerful fragrances. This was a natural beauty shaped by a harsh life.
Blinking, he pulled back sharply from the seer. "Ah, right. Breakfast. I better go do that before they get too busy downstairs. I'll be back."
Though he could feel the confused silence of the man, Seifer didn't pause while he rushed to exit their room and head for the staircase. Clutching his hand that still felt damp with tears, the fighter sighed and wondered what the hell he was thinking to touch the dark-haired man as he had. Squall held the air of the untouchable sort, someone who was ice through and through. And yet... Seifer smiled vaguely at the idea that he hadn't known how soft ice could be.
The forest was as peaceful as it could be with its animal residents and the two intruders stepping along the ground littered with dried leaves and twigs. As he breathed deeply, the seer decided that the air felt cleaner than that of Hiels, even though they were only several hours out of the city. But in Squall's mind, they hadn't left soon enough. He held no love for the city, just as it held no love for him.
Pulling himself out deeper thoughts, Squall jerked his hand away from stroking the hem of his shirt, the material far softer than clothes in his recent past. He wasn't quite certain how the blond had manage to convince him to accept the new clothing, but with his older clothes now 'missing', he had no choice but to wear the somewhat costly clothes. Reluctantly, he had to admit that the new outfits would provide much more comfort during the coming rainy season.
Moving his hand to the shoulder strap of his pack, Squall felt awkward carrying supplies like this, and not only because of the unusual feel of weight at his back. For so many years he had relied on the voices to direct him to edible fruits of the forest and the occasional generous traveler. To know that a warm meal would be possible that night, it was almost a sinful pleasure. For certain, it made the idea of hiking through the forests less daunting. Smiling vaguely to himself, the seer wondered how he got so weak so quickly.
"Do you think she'll follow us?"
Squall lifted his gaze at the sudden question. "Who?"
"The queen and her group of dancing badgers. Who else would I be worried about? That is, unless you happen to include a certain manipulating witch who wanted you dead last night."
"I don't know for certain."
"But...?" Seifer prompted.
"But, I don't think they will come after you again so soon."
"They? Was there another person I wasn't aware of?"
"The sorceress who came was a student of the beldame, a woman you should truly fear."
Seifer chuckled. "Beldame? I have some old hag coming to get me with her broom?"
"Shiva calls the woman a 'beldame'. Don't let the term fool you."
"Shiva..." the fighter said with some thought. "She's one of the Spirits who speaks to you?"
Biting his lower lip, Squall silently cursed himself for mentioning the name of the demigod.
"A-aw, come on, kitten. You can tell me."
"I... I think so. They never told me, but... I feel like I know who they are."
Laughing, Seifer said, "Well, it's no surprise to me that the ice bitch would have a soft spot for you. Who else is invading that head of yours?"
The seer didn't reply immediately as he tried to judge the seriousness of the question. "... There are only three: Shiva, Griever, and Leviathan."
"Hnnn, is that so..."
Confused by the thoughtful tone, Squall frowned and wished he could figure out the sudden mood shifts of the blond. It was easier to believe the man simply hot-tempered, but in truth, everything about Seifer was unpredictable. It was the one thing Squall understood best about the man since it was also the one thing that made it so difficult to protect the fighter.
Seifer sighed loudly, breaking the moment of silence. "I just don't get it. You and the ice bitch are obviously worried about this beldame of yours, and I realize that dark magic has been used against me, but why then did that lovely last night bother to approach me with an offer to become allies?"
"A trick, perhaps. But she was only a student. By Shiva's tone, I think the young sorceress overestimated her ability to handle you."
"But why? Why would she want to 'handle' me when it's easier to hire an archer to kill me from afar?"
A small laugh escaped Squall. "Do you truly think you could be killed so simply?"
"No matter what your destiny crap says, I'm still just human."
"A human who can kill off a Worgein without the aid of an army."
"It wasn't that difficult to kill," Seifer muttered uncertainly.
"Whatever. In any case, the beldame hasn't known your location for several years." With a scolding tone, he added, "You've become too noticeable in these tournaments you enjoy."
"Ah, so that's why everything is happening now - they saw my glorious victory in that last tournament."
Ignoring the gloating of the blond, Squall said, "I don't believe the beldame was informed about her student's discovery. She would have come herself, otherwise."
Seifer stopped walking, the sudden halt making Squall bump into him. Instantly the blind man was overwhelmed by the scent of the other, a musk that should have been the offensive odor of a fighter. And yet, there was an odd sharpness, an almost spice like scent that Squall had mentally labeled as 'Seifer' at some point. Frowning at the knowledge that he had first gained knowledge of that scent after sharing a bed with the man, Squall tried to renew the distance between them. But then a warm hand was suddenly at his chin, forcing the blind man to look up when Seifer spoke.
"Just how much do you really know about all of this?"
"I want you to tell me everything."
"Everything is a lot to tell."
After an annoyed growl, Seifer asked, "Why are you hiding things from me? I thought you wanted to help, or are you playing me just like that sorceress wanted to?"
There was a quiet pause as the hold on Squall's chin tensed, but it then quickly loosened and Seifer lightly stroked his thumb along smooth skin. "You'd like me to think that, wouldn't you? No. For whatever reason, I still can't believe that you're out to use me, but damn it, why are you being so fucking cryptic about everything?"
"... When would you have believed me?"
"I have so far."
Squall shook his head as much as he could. "If I had spoken of sorceresses a week ago, or even two days ago, would you have believed me?"
"Of course I would have."
A dark eyebrow hitched up in disbelief at the immediate answer.
"Well... maybe I wouldn't have completely believed you, but after what I've seen so far, I certainly would have considered the possibility of them existing."
Sighing, Squall pulled out of the larger man's hold and stepped back. "To tell you everything I know would be pointless and may only dull your instincts."
"Fine. I'll admit that I can understand that on some level, but why didn't you warn me about that sorceress who attacked last night?"
"I didn't know about her. The vision only showed the danger of the wine, which would have weakened you. Obviously, she couldn't match your greater strength."
Squall said nothing more and waited for Seifer to make some inane statement in reply, but none came. Seeing no reason to speak, the dark-haired man remained silent for long moments, but gradually he grew anxious with the lack of anything from the fighter. Even the breaths of the man seemed to quiet into complete silence.
At his name, the larger man finally moved, the sound of his clothing almost loud in the quiet of the forest. "Yeah, I'm still here. It's just... Fuck, you know I tend to talk big. It's even more pathetic when I get drunk and start swapping stories with old soldiers. And you wouldn't believe what some ass kissers say for a free drink. But just now, hearing you say I'm strong... it scares me for some reason."
To himself, Squall was mildly impressed that Seifer unconsciously recognized the level of strength he had implied concerning the fighter's abilities, but out loud he spoke with a scoff, "Probably because I'd make you do something useful with your power."
"Hn, maybe that's it," Seifer replied, matching the seer's sarcastic tone. He then sighed, "Are you always going to hide things from me?"
Smirking lightly, Squall said, "Yes."
After a brief silence, laughter sounded. "Alright, I give up. For now. But aren't there some things you could tell me? Like this 'touched by shadows' crap. What does that mean?"
"You are kidding me, right?"
"But, surely you've read the Bukre du Hieghen."
"Well, I know some stuff from it, but come on, no one actually reads that thing aside from priests in the Church."
Pressing a hand over his eyes, Squall muttered, "No wonder you know nothing."
"Hey, I may not know a lot, but I wouldn't call it 'nothing'. And a sword will protect me better than a book any day, even if that book supposedly contains Hyne's words. But if you think it's necessary..." With a hand clutching the seer's upper arm, Seifer pulled him forward. "Come on. We have plenty of travel time left in the day, and you can start educating me as we walk. Sound good?"
"I don't speak well..."
Seifer chuckled. "What, afraid of saying more than three sentences at once? Don't worry, kitten. I have faith in your ability to teach a barbarian like me the goodly ways of Hyne."
After a moment of silent debate, Squall then asked, "Do you at least know about the fall of Altemehsia?"
"That's the demon guy, right?"
Grumbling an insult, the seer resigned himself to a very long lecture.
Frowning at the gray sky above the sparse covering of tree branches, Seifer licked his upper lip to remove some of the moisture clinging there. Autumn had apparently decided to come in quicker than usual, the constant rain of the past few days reminding the blond why he hated this time of the year. With a huff, he wondered how he could have possibly loved such weather as a child.
After adjusting his cloak to better protect his face from the drizzling rain, Seifer glanced back at how his traveling partner was fairing. The dark-haired man had his arms tight around himself as he walked on the well-worn path. Cloudy eyes were directed to the water slicked ground as Squall hid within his oversized cloak. It wasn't surprising that no complaint came from the blind man, but it made Seifer feel a bit frustrated since he wouldn't be able to bitch about the weather without appearing weaker than a blind man.
Smirking, Seifer returned his green eyes to the mountain trail in front of him while his thoughts remained on Squall. For over a week, the reluctant speaker had spent some of their mornings talking about the legends of his faith. Seifer had remembered some of the basic details from his youth, but what should have been a load of dull sermons was instead something intriguing when told by Squall. He didn't seem the typical believer of Hyne, a person who thought that everything written in the Bukre du Hieghen was fact. Instead, the seer had a more logical view point and a plainer way of speaking, somehow giving the unlikely legends a better sense of credibility. That, and it also made Seifer chuckle whenever the demigods residing within Squall would apparently disagree with a statement of his, forcing the man to find it necessary to argue back at the comments Seifer couldn't hear.
Of all the things mentioned, the fighter continually found himself thinking about the third morning when Squall had talked at length about Hyne's greatest sacrifice to humankind and the second 'death' of Altemehsia. It was the only time the seer had gone into great detail with his talk, and such amazing descriptions seemed something impossible for a blind man to speak about, but even the ever-present voices seemed to silence when Squall spoke without interruption. He had first described the dark times when Altemehsia, a once cherished child of Hyne, ruled over humans as one would troublesome pets - with harsh punishments and occasional scraps for good behavior. He then explained how during that desolate era, Hyne was conflicted for he greatly loved his child, a lovely goddess who had been warped after her first 'death' by a human. Given his reluctance to 'kill' Altemehsia once more, Hyne became divided in mind and then in body. Rain of silver had then fallen, the unusual showers granting previously unknown abilities to humans. Humankind thus empowered, Altemehsia was eventually defeated. However, unable to truly kill the goddess, the heroes of that age could only seal her away with the halfhearted blessing of Hyne.
Briefly closing his eyes, Seifer could almost picture the fallen goddess, a pale woman of unique beauty who had been twisted with madness after being resurrected from the quasi-death only a god could experience. But even clearer in his mind was the present day depiction of Hyne - a lovely human figure of neither gender who bared a single large wing to represent his divided strength. Envisioning cold metallic eyes shadowed by dark bluish hues, Seifer shivered and snapped open his eyes to rid himself of the too clear image.
Focused on the path before him, the fighter noticed the thick root of a tree poking out from the muddy ground of the trail. He called back a warning to the seer about the root and kicked it to give the blind man a focus point of what to avoid. Smiling to himself, Seifer thought about how badly Squall reacted when the blond had first tried to physically guide the man during their travels before reaching Hiels. While now almost common place, it was still awkward to trust the blind man to simply follow the sounds of his footsteps and use that to judge which steps were best to take. It was only the occasional larger obstacles Seifer would offer warnings about, but even those directions seemed unnecessary at times.
So when the sound of a foot knocking against wood was followed by a sharp inhale of breath, Seifer turned around in surprise to witness Squall dropping ungracefully to the water soaked ground.
"Hey, you all right there?" he asked while stepping to the fallen man.
Not responding, Squall slowly pushed himself up to a kneeling position.
Immediately suspicious of the sluggish reflexes, the fighter squatted to better examine the man for possible injuries. Seeing nothing obvious, Seifer placed a gloved hand beneath the man's chin and forced him to look up from the ground. Once noticing the flushed face, he then bit a fingertip of his glove to pull it off and place his bared hand at the man's forehead.
"Shit, you're actually warm. Why didn't you tell me you weren't feeling well?"
"I'm fine," Squall muttered, though he still vaguely leaned into the cooler touch.
"If you want to think so." Seifer pulled away his hand and sat back on his heels. "Fucking weather... There's no chance for me to get you warm and dry before we reach Drasberg, but we should be there by tomorrow evening. Think you can hold out?"
Sightless eyes widened vaguely.
"If you need help--"
"I can walk," Squall said sharply, pushing himself up from the ground with renewed energy. After attempting to brush off some mud, he then glared in the blond's general direction with the silent question of what they were waiting for.
Shaking his head, the fighter stood without hurry. "I know you can walk, but it's how steady your steps are that worries me. Certain you want another roll in the mud?"
"Just lead the way," the seer said, his offended frown appearing more of a pout to Seifer.
"Yes, sir," was the overly brisk reply while serious eyes looked over the dark-haired man. Smirking at the determined stance of the seer, Seifer found it hard to connect it with the defeated man he witnessed almost two week previous. "Then let's get moving. I know how much kittens hate water."
~ > < ~
After knocking at darkly colored wood, Seifer took a step back to stand next to the seer still hidden by the hood of his cloak. Green eyes studied the silent figure and the vaguely visible puffs of air that condensed in front of chapped lips. Forcing himself to be still, Seifer didn't give into his urge to wrap an arm around the lean body to support the sick man. Who knew how many bruises he already gained from attempting it at various points during the day.
Abruptly Squall turned to face behind them, and in short time, Seifer heard the wet steps that had alerted the blind man. Eyes narrowed into the rainy night, he tried to make out the phantom-like image of a person.
Hiding beneath a hat to drive away rain, the approaching man said, "If you're looking for a room, go to main entrance."
Seifer smirked at the drawled out voice. "Well, I was hoping to get a family discount."
The person paused at that, and then glanced up from the rim of his wide brimmed hat. "Well, I'll be damned. Seifer?"
"Got it in one, you thieving bastard."
The man chuckled. "Shit, I swear I used to be taller than you. And when did you get to be so damn big?"
"Careful, I might decide that you're flirting with me." At the sound of a soft sniffle, Seifer glanced over to the seer. "Hn, and while it's always the joy to hear you bitch, I'd like to get this guy dry sometime soon."
"It is a bit damp for traveling, isn't it. Well, if you would move your big ass out of the way..."
The fighter smirked with a vague glint of challenge in his green eyes, but he then stepped aside for the man without causing trouble. After scrapping off some mud from his boots on wooden steps, the man stepped up to the door and opened it wide for himself and the two guests. The wide brimmed hat came off first, revealing long auburn hair that was drenched where the hat hadn't covered. His lengthy coat was then removed as the man turned around and faced the other two with a bright smile.
"Kick off your shoes and leave your gear out here. The light of my life will murder me if you get any of that mud on her clean floors."
"What, you're a beaten puppy now?" Seifer asked after closing the door and dropping his pack to the floor.
"Same as when you left. I told you Selphie was the only one who could make an honest man out of me."
"Shit, that was over five years ago. Has she lost any of that energy?"
"Well..." The long-haired man trailed off as violet eyes shifted to the side and blinked in confusion. "Sorry, but do I know you from somewhere?"
Turning, Seifer looked at the seer who had removed his cloak to hang it up on a large wooden peg. Normally dark hair was nearly black from wetness, the color making the stormy eyes appear brighter as they gazed at nothing. Chapped lips were in a thin line, a clear sign that Squall had no intention to answer the long-haired man.
"His name is Squall," Seifer offered for him. "Squall, this is Irvine. He's practically family, so try to be civil and not bite him when he tries talking to you."
The seer frowned at the request, his serious look then quickly ruined by a sneeze.
Sighing, Seifer turned to the long-haired man. "Mind if I get him washed up and put to bed? He's most likely sicker than he wants to let on."
Irvine stared at the seer for a moment longer before meeting green eyes. "Not a problem for me. You know where everything is, so go ahead and take the Willow Room. Meanwhile, I'll go warn Selphie that you're back in town."
Chucking, Seifer placed a hand at Squall's upper arm. "Then we'll ignore any loud squeals. And thanks for taking us in."
"Don't even mention it, blondie. I'll just add this to your tab."
"You go ahead and try that," Seifer said while half-dragging the blind man towards a small staircase.
After two wrong turns and a mistake in rooms in the large inn, Seifer finally found the Willow Room and took a deep, relieved breath when he set eyes on the low twin beds and clean sheets. While he was above complaining about sleeping in the outdoors, nothing compared to a soft bed under a sturdy roof. But his gaze didn't linger on the tempting mattresses as his attention quickly shifted to a set of doors on the wall opposite of the beds.
"Hyne, how I missed this," Seifer muttered. He then quickly removed his heavy blade from his waist to set it aside before taking a hold of Squall's arm once more. "Come on, kitten."
Though frowning in confusion, the blind man didn't struggle against the firm hold and allowed Seifer to lead him.
The outer door slid open with barely a sound, and the fighter grinned widely at the revealed sight of a pool of steaming water. He stepped forward along smooth stone and directed Squall to sit on a narrow bench. Leaving him there, Seifer then retrieved a couple buckets and cloths from a side shelf. After filling the buckets, he returned to the bench.
"While you probably wouldn't care for a soak in hot water right now, we better be dirt-free before we use those beds tonight. Selphie would have my head otherwise. Anyway, do you think that you can manage removing your clothes without help?"
Squall tensed as his blue-gray eyes widened.
Scoffing, Seifer began to undo the lacings to his own damp clothing. "Nakedness doesn't automatically lead to sex, Squally-boy. Or do you always bathe in your clothes? I guess it would cut back on the laundry."
"Don't mock me," he hissed.
"And lose out on cheap entertainment? Fuck that." His shirt removed and tossed to a corner of the room, the fighter then turned his focus to the more difficult issue of slipping off wet pants. "Anyway, you'd have to be nuts to sleep like that when you have the option of being warm and dry. And if you feel up to it tomorrow, you'll have the chance to savor the renowned hot springs of Drasberg, which are best experienced without clothes in the way."
Squall gnawed lightly at his lip with indecision.
Holding back more teasing words, Seifer struggled briefly with his remaining clothes. Naked and chilled, he got to work at cleaning his body with soft soap and warm water. Weeks worth of mud was reluctant to be washed away, but the rough strokes of the thick cloth felt amazing after the long day of walking. It wasn't until he was nearly finished when Squall began to remove his own clothing, apparently gaining some confidence that Seifer was only interested in washing away travel filth. Wet clothes folded and set aside, Squall was then handed a cloth soaked in water and some soap. The pale hands thus occupied, Seifer used the opportunity to reach over and press the back of his hand against flushed cheeks.
"Hn, I think you're warmer than you were this morning." Sighing, the fighter brushed aside dark locks from the man's face. "Will you let me help you so that I can get you into bed sooner?"
Squall looked ready to argue, but then succumbed into a coughing fit. Once back under control of his breathing abilities, he glanced in the blond's direction with a silent request.
"Yes, sir," Seifer said in a low voice, and then smirked at the predictable scowl Squall gave him in reply.
Without too many issues, the fighter helped remove the sticky mud from disappointingly non-ticklish feet and calves. Knowing better than to dare explore the man's thighs and higher, Seifer stood and walked around the bench to face the bared back of the seer. He paused while watching Squall from that angle, the sight of faded scars making him hesitate in thought about possible causes of those aged wounds. That, of course, led to other questions about the man and his past, but everything was pushed aside with a small shake of the head. Placing a cloth at the pale back, Seifer smiled vaguely at the bare shivers caused by his touch.
Without truly thinking about it, the blond closed his eyes as he continued to clean the man's back. Focused on his other senses, Seifer was amazed by the difference it made to not rely on his sight. The air was heavy from the humidity of the hot spring, the scent of soap was almost overpowering, and the light drumming of continued rain from outside could be barely heard. But it wasn't those things he was most interested in as he moved his thumb from the covering the cloth and ran it along skin that held the odd bumps and smoothness of various scars.
The feel of soft skin was familiar to the fighter, but the harder muscle beneath and the different curves of the body were subtle reminders of the man under his caress. It wasn't unusual in his experience to notice two men together in the public baths, and he had received plenty of offers himself, but Seifer hadn't seen the appeal in being with a man when women were far lovelier and more pleasing to the touch. But he did vaguely remember some experimentation with Irvine in their youth, though it had done little for him and they never went far. And yet, here he was, wishing that he could try things that he knew wouldn't be well received by the blind man. Everything about Squall called to him, from the attractiveness of the man who was finally gaining some needed weight, his seemly unbreakable strength of will, and to the intelligence of the unexpectedly educated man. And, though he'd never admit it out loud, Seifer found some pleasure in being the 'damsel in distress' for a change, the seer saving him from death who knew how many times.
"What are you doing?" Squall asked, his voice rougher than usual.
Not opening his eyes, the blond smiled. "Just washing your back. Why?"
"Feels... strange," was the mumbled response, followed by a loud sniff.
Realizing that he had been considering to take advantage of a weakened man, Seifer opened green eyes and quickly finished rubbing down the pale backside. Eventually rinsed free of soap, Squall was ordered to remain on the bench while the blond fetched towels and warm robes from the side shelves.
In short time, Seifer led the seer to one of the beds and teasingly asked if Squall wished to be tucked in for the night. Apparently done with pretenses of being fine, the sick man only shook his head with an exhausted air. Stepping back to sit on the other mattress, Seifer watched as the seer immediately curled into the cool sheets of the bed and closed his eyes for sleep. For a long time, the blond sat there studying the young man as he waited for the occasional coughs to cease and the harsh breaths to even out into deep sleep. Unable to stop himself, Seifer reached out with extreme care and fingered a lock of dark hair that hung over closed eyelids.
Surprised that Squall didn't wake at the touch, Seifer spoke in a faint whisper, "What the fuck am I thinking?"
Author's Whining -- *whistle* I have other fics to finish? Really? Go figure. Nothing to whine about except that there are plenty of things which are coming background/setting-wise, so if things are confusing at the moment, try to bear with my slow pace. Thank you for your patience!