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mind Games - Seifer/Zell - chapter four

Title: Mind Games
Rating: R (for language... for now, at least.)
Pairings: Seifer/Zell (FFVIII)
Genre: humour, romance, action
Disclaimers: standard disclaimers apply, unfortunately.
Summary: It's been four years since the war, and friendships have dissipated. Yet, some have become even closer. A story about how Zell and Seifer cope with feelings they never had time to realize when they were young.
Word Count: 5,398/25,131 (chapter/total)
Notes: I'm just posting this here for archiving purposes. I've been posting it over at seiferzell for a few months now. I won't do it all at once, and spam up people's friend-pages.
one, two, three

Seifer managed a genuine smile as he stepped off the train in Esthar, blinded by the brilliant blue of the sky. Fuck, was it ever nice to be out of Garden - and, more importantly, far removed from four of the five people that annoyed him the most (who were, in respective order, Quistis, Zell, Rinoa, and Squall; the fifth on the list was Odine, but Seifer was clinging to the hope that, as his mission in Esthar was basically to pick up Fuujin and Raijin and escort them back home, he wouldn’t have to suffer seeing the creepy little man for any prolonged length of time.) There were only a handful of passengers descending from the train with him; for most of the others, this was only a pit stop on their way further north toward Trabia. It had only been a half dozen months since Esthar had opened up its station again and began running lines through, and people were still, frankly, quite wary of the strange, secluded nation, despite the president’s efforts to open his city to the world.

Hauling his duffel up over his shoulder, Seifer looked around the small platform to see who was there to pick him up, and he spotted three pleasantly familiar faces - Fuujin, Raijin, and Kiros, one of the president’s aides. Seifer rather liked Kiros, although they’d only met a few times; he was always very cool and collected and he always seemed to know exactly what needed to be done. The gunblader breathed a silent sigh of relief that Laguna himself hadn’t come out to pick him up - even with his two best friends there as a buffer, Seifer wasn’t sure he could tolerate the president’s company without wanting to slice something up. Not that he could - Squall kept Hyperion under lock and key unless Seifer needed it for a mission or training, damn him - but the urge would no doubt lead him to do something unseemly.

He crossed the platform to join the trio, ignoring Raijin’s loud, exuberant, and highly unnecessary shouts of his name - as if he couldn’t see them; Rai himself was large enough to be a beacon in the middle of any crowd, and against the backdrop of the glaringly deserted station, his massive frame stood out like a bruise. Fuujin was standing back and to one side, looking as though she could think of nothing that would give her more pleasure than punching Raijin in the back of his head just then, and if she hadn’t been representing Garden and acting ambassador in a foreign country that didn’t look kindly on violence - especially from people who still, from time to time, had to struggle to convince the world that they were reformed after the war - Seifer was sure she would have punished him duly. He knew what she was thinking - the last thing they wanted to do was to call any unneeded attention to him; being a representation of all things sorceress related as he was, the people of Esthar didn’t exactly welcome Seifer with open arms. Kiros, on the other hand, looked entirely at ease, possibly even amused, which led Seifer to believe that Fuu’s calm and collected air was a recent affectation, probably put on for his benefit, and he smiled. The lady was a viper marauding as a mouse; she was hardly fooling anybody, but Seifer wasn’t going to be the one to tell her that.

“Good to see some friendly faces,” He said dryly as he approached, and Fuujin graced him with a flash of a smile, turning her back to the other two men for the moment it took her to display it to him. Then she slipped her poker face back on like the well-fitting mask it was, offering him the standard-issue military greeting that befitted a representative of their institution, but for whose sake Seifer had no clue, since the station was empty save for the four of them, none of whom gave a shit about formalities when there was no one around to impress. Raijin didn’t bother with such decorum; taking a few lumbering steps toward Seifer, he engulfed the blonde in a bear hug fit to crush the very breath out of him, until Fuu intervened with a swift, discreet kick in the arse. It’s nice to know some things never change, Seifer thought to himself as he was grudgingly released, and he smirked as he righted himself, straightening the lapels of his coat.

“Seifer,” Kiros greeted him with a short bow, and Seifer returned the welcome with a somewhat haphazard salute. “It’s nice to have you back in Esthar.”

“You’re one of the few who would say that,” Seifer replied offhandedly. Fuujin, beside him, shot a glare up at him that suggested he keep his attitude in check, or he would be finding out just how little had changed when it came to the punishments she doled out. Clearing his throat, Seifer went on but slightly awkwardly, “What’ve you two been up to, then? How was the, err… conference?”

“Boring,” Raijin piped up, receiving for his efforts at wit a sharp elbow in the stomach.

“Interesting,” Fuu substituted, folding her hands behind her back and making a very good show of being demure, while her partner clutched his gut and wheezed for breath doubled over behind her. Despite himself, Seifer found a grin creeping up over his lips, a bubble of - could it be? Yes, it just might - happiness swelling up in his core; truth was, he could never hide himself from Fuujin and Raijin, and being separated for such lengths of time from the two of them, the only two people in the world who really knew him, had taken more of a toll on him than he ever thought if just seeing them for the first time in many months could inspire anything close to joy in him. Not that he felt the need to display those particular sentiments physically in the form of a great, big, sloppy hug, like some others; Fuu and Rai both knew how he felt toward them, and that was quite enough.

Fuujin was peering upward at him with one piercing, red eye. “And you? Keeping busy?” She asked in her usual placid tone of voice, which Seifer mentally translated as, “Is Squall finally letting you do some real work, or still just fucking you around with pissy little nowhere missions?” And as the only real reason he had been sent to Esthar had less to do with him accompanying his two friends on their trip back and more to do with Quistis and Squall being sick of having him lurking around Garden all the time, he decided on going with a very generic affirmative as his answer for the sake of not provoking any retaliation on her part - she wouldn’t admit to doing it, but if she got wind that Squall and his cronies were causing Seifer any distress, Hyne help whoever got caught in the path of her vengeance.

“You know me, always busy,” He offered with a smile. She clearly wasn’t satisfied with this bluff of an answer, but she seemed to realize that out in public was not the place for them to be discussing his gripes with a certain commander and let the comment slip by - for now, Seifer thought to himself. Kiros, standing off to the side, was looking between the two of them as if to inquire if they were through making small talk, and he stepped forward now, quietly clearing his throat.

“If you’re ready to head to the palace, the car is waiting,” He said mildly, gesturing behind him to the dark, shiny car that was idling just outside the entrance to the station. Seifer nodded and turned to confirm this assent with the other two, Fuujin still visually probing him as if she were trying to read his thoughts, and the small group exited the terminal and boarded the chauffer-driven car - a nice little luxury cruiser, too, Seifer noted with a measure of approval, not the type of car he would have expected that drip of a president to have - and they took off in the direction of the Presidential suite, Fuu and Rai joining him in the expansive back seat while Kiros rode shotgun. Seifer relaxed a little while they were on the road, stretching out his legs, expecting his two companions to bombard him with questions about how Garden was treating him now that they had a degree of privacy, separated from Kiros and the driver by a darkly-tinted partition that the president’s aide had slid shut shortly after they departed from the train station. But apparently, whatever Fuujin had to say to him, she wasn’t going to risk saying until they could be assured complete seclusion, because she wasn’t talking, merely staring at him as though trying to project her thoughts into his head, and Raijin wasn’t talking at all - hadn’t spoken once since Seifer arrived, he belatedly realized - which was fucking weird in itself… or perhaps not, considering the daggers Fuujin had been staring at him earlier; Seifer wouldn’t have been surprised if she threw a silence on him just to keep him from nattering away at her for the whole trip.

He didn’t question it, thought - not just yet. Instead he reclined, kicking his legs up on the bench seat opposite him (and ignoring the look of scathing disdain he received from Fuu at this glaring breach of etiquette,) and closed his eyes, deciding to enjoy the silence while he had the chance. Hyne knows it never lasted long.

Zell glanced over at the clock on the mantle above his bed for the seventh time in the past minute, probably the seven hundredth time in the last hour, and he didn’t even want to think about how many times it had been since he’d woken up at the crack of dawn, some three and a half hours before. He wondered for a stupid moment if the clock wasn’t broken, because he could swear he’d been sitting at his computer desk for at least two days now; but of course time was going to seem to pass much more slowly if he was looking at the clock every five seconds. It was nearing nine a.m. - the library had been open for a good fifty minutes now, but the question was, was Carmina going to be there? He chewed the end of his red pen, aimlessly shuffling the stack of papers he had meant to begin grading when he sat down but which remained as hopelessly ungraded as they had been for the whole of the week and would probably remain so for some time, if the state of turmoil his mind was currently in didn’t abate in the near future.

He knew she worked every Tuesday, but he didn’t know what hours she kept, and it was imperative that there should be as few people as possible around when he arrived, both to ensure that Carmina would have time to talk to him and that their conversation wouldn’t be overheard. Or was he being too overcautious? There had been a foreboding sense of paranoia lingering over him for the past week, and it seemed as though people were staring at him a good deal more than they normally did, especially whenever Seifer was around, but maybe it was all in his head. Of course, Seifer had left for Esthar just yesterday, and the thought that he had a whole week without having to worry about the gunblader popping up somewhere nearby - and he had been doing quite a lot of that over the last few days; randomly showing up in unexpected places almost as if specifically to catch Zell off guard - made Zell feel significantly better; the paranoia, however, still loitered around in the back of his mind somewhere, much in the same manner that Seifer himself loitered in the background wherever Zell went, not openly provoking him, but taunting him just by presence.

Maybe he was overthinking things - contrary to some people’s beliefs, it was something he did all too often. The only person, really, who had actually said anything about this supposed rumor going around was Nida, and that a whole week ago - it just seemed like there was something going on, that people were whispering, watching, waiting for him to give something away - which was certainly part of Quistis’ plan. Or maybe it was Seifer’s doing - trying to turn him against himself. Shit, I really do sound like a loony, He thought dismally to himself.

He stood up from the desk resolutely, throwing down his pen. It would have to be now or never - if he sat around much longer debating with himself whether or not people really believed he was sleeping with Seifer, he was going to lose his nerve. He tossed a hoodie over his head, ruffling the hair he hadn’t, for a rare once, bothered to style up, and at the last second on his way out the door, grabbed a random library book off the ever-growing stack of them next to his nightstand, just in case Carmina wasn’t there and he needed some excuse at hand for dropping by.

The corridors were quiet as he strolled through the unusually empty school - until he remembered that it was nine a.m. in the middle of the week; most of the students would be in class or training sessions. This brightened Zell’s spirits somewhat, and he made it across Garden to the library with minimal encounters, finding it - to his great pleasure - just about empty; there was a lone underclassman studying assiduously in the back, but no one else save for the young woman crouched behind the counter stacking returns… the young woman with a long, dark ponytail… Damn, Zell stopped in the doorway, wondering if it wasn’t too late to turn and bolt, because not only was Carmina nowhere in sight, but the very last person that he did want to talk to was - but, shit, too late now; Miri had just straightened up and looked right at him, flashing a cheery grin and waving him over, and over he did go, striving to emulate jollity, but he was hard put to paste a grin on his face. Miri, though certainly a nice girl, just didn’t possess that flair for cunning and deviltry that was what he had come to Carmina for.

“Good morning, Zell!” She chirped sunnily. “You’re here early…?”

He held up his borrowed book as an excuse, and Miri nodded understandingly as she took it from him and scanned it back into the system, tucking it neatly into the cart of returns she had been organizing when Zell came in. “Carmina says you were looking for me last weekend?” She said perkily as she turned back toward him, her question effectively shooting down Zell’s plan of retreating from the library just as quickly as he’d come. He leaned against the counter, trying to appear cool and casual.

“Yeah, I dropped in…” He paused, thinking fast. “…I was going to ask about a book. But she helped me out fine.”

“Oh, okay,” She replied, grinning so brightly Zell wished he’d been wearing sunglasses. “Sorry about that, then, I convinced her to pick up my hours so I could visit my boyfriend…”

Zell nodded, attempting not to look as completely uninterested in the subject of Miri’s boyfriend as he really was. “I didn’t know you were seeing anyone new,” He said after a short moment of silence, spurred on by the brunette’s obvious desire to tell him all about it, and not for the first time recently, Zell thought he was being too damn nice for his own good. Sure, it’s not like he and Miri had ever been particularly serious about their relationship, and they had managed to remain very good friends even after it went to pot, but that didn’t mean he wanted to hear all the grisly details about her new beau, and judging by the blissful and obliviously rapturous grin on her pretty face, she was gearing up for a nice, long speech on just that subject.

She gave a dreamy sort of sigh, managing to look both wicked and bashful in the same instant as she said, “Well… it’s a new development. Last weekend was our first date, actually, but it’s gone so well…”

“Mm-hmm,” Zell mumbled. Of course it was going well - everyone was happy and in love except him, natch. Miri went on, euphorically unaware of Zell’s discomfort with the subject.

“I wish we didn’t have to leave FH so soon,” She said with a small pout. “I caught Nida yesterday morning, and he said we’re headed for Timber next, and I guess we’re going to stay in that area for quite a while…”

“Right,” Zell said, cutting in while she took a pause for breath. “Hey, err, you wouldn’t happen to know where Carmina is today, would you…?”

A small frown creased Miri’s delicate brow at this unexpected change of subject. “No, I picked up her shift today since she let me have that afternoon off last week, but I don’t know where she’s at…” She gave a sly half-smile, cocking an eyebrow at Zell with an expression he couldn’t quite make out. She added, her tone the very model of deviousness, “Why, did you come all the way down here just looking for her?”

“It’s not like… no…” Zell sighed, ruffling his hair agitatedly as he leaned against the counter. “I just… needed her input on something… a girl’s opinion. Y’know.”

Miri scoffed, as if in shock at his declaration, gesturing disgruntledly at herself as though to say, “And what am I, a grat?” and Zell quickly backpedaled, shaking his head, elaborating, “No, that’s not what I meant… I just… I was looking for someone a little more, I dunno… evil… and Carmina, you know…”

The brunette looked even more affronted at this, as though she was seriously offended that Zell didn’t think she could be as conniving as her friend, and she leaned over the counter toward him, folding her arms resolutely over her chest as she stared him down in what was clearly a challenge, merely stating, “Try me.”

Zell didn’t speak for a few moments; he wasn’t entirely certain that he did want to try her. Then again, what could it really harm? Miri had proven many times over that she was more than trustworthy - she was, in fact, probably the only person that Zell trusted implicitly and he was confident that she would keep whatever he decided to spill to herself. That she might be able to produce a solution to his dilemma, however, Zell wasn’t so positive; however you put it, Miri was a sweet girl, and she just didn’t have the devious nature Carmina did. But maybe he was underestimating her. “It’s just… I’m having a bit of a problem with someone lately…”

“Oh, does this have to do with that rumor that’s been going around?” Miri trilled.

Zell sighed again, jaw clenched. He glanced around over his shoulder. “Here, can we go in the back, just…?” He said quietly, gesturing toward a secluded corner in the rear of the library, and Miri nodded understandingly and followed him over. They commandeered two plush chairs and sat secretively in the corner, and Zell pondered just how to phrase his quandary while she waited patiently.

“Okay, so, err…” He began, scratching his chin. “So exactly what is this rumor you’ve heard…?”

“I don’t know, it’s just… It’s been going around that you’re seeing somebody in Garden…” She hummed in a sing-song voice, her tone thick with curiosity. “I admit I’ve been wondering about it myself…”

“Well, damn,” Zell muttered gravely under his breath. He should have known - rumors went through Garden faster than the damn flu. At least, to his immense relief, she’d made no mention of Seifer in the same breath, which could only be a good sign.

“So… it’s just a rumor?” Miri prompted.

“You sound disappointed?”

“Well,” She shrugged, cocking her head to the side. “I guess… I was thinking it would be nice if you had found someone… if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“No, it’s fine,” Zell replied with a wave, too preoccupied with the rumor situation to be fully impressed by the sweetness of her sentiment. “It’s… alright, what happened was, this, this person, last weekend, got really drunk and ended up barging into my room and, y’know, staying. Not like, I mean, nothing happened, but this… someone else found out, and they think that something happened, and… now this. So.” He finished wearily, throwing his hands up in exasperation. Miri was staring.

“Okay, I think I’ve got it all,” She said uncertainly, looking thoughtful. “Seifer spent the night in your room, and someone thinks you’re fucking and now there’s rumors. That right?”

Zell was speechless, mouth agape. Miri laughed, a cheery tinkle, and continued, “Oh come on, Zell, it’s not like it was that hard to figure out. Whoever barged into your room had to have access to your room, and since guys’ and girls’ dorms are restricted, it had to be a guy, right? And last weekend was the big graduation banquet, and everyone knows the only person who gets shitfaced at those parties is Seifer. Please, do you think I’m stupid?”

“Well, fuck, who else knows about this?” He hissed, leaning forward close to her.

Miri shook her head, her ponytail swinging around her neck. “Everyone I know thinks you’re fucking Mina, so no worries there. I think Seifer’s the last person anyone would suspect you to be with.”

“But I’m not with anybody!” Zell cried, forgetting for a moment where he was - thankfully, the library was their own now; the one solitary cadet who had been studying in the far corner when he arrived had long since left, and Zell was eternally grateful for it. Lowering his voice, he went on, “Alright, I don’t really care about everyone else - Quistis is the one I need to convince I’m not fucking Seifer. How the hell do I do that?”

Miri gave a gentle sigh, shrugging again, reclining in her chair as she adopted a thoughtful expression. “Mina always says there’s two ways to defuse a rumor: either prove it true, or prove it false.”

“Well, how the fuck do I do either of those?!” Zell groaned in frustration, throwing his hands into the air. How did one go about proving a rumor like that false? Going around denying it would only make matters worse, and Zell was fairly certain that he would have no help whatsoever from Seifer on that ground - hell, the gunblader would likely try and make things worse just out of spite. Zell supposed he could try and find a girlfriend, but Quistis would only think it was a cover up (and it would be one, too.) There was still the chance that if he simply went to Quistis and explained the whole thing, she’d admit she was mistaken and that would be it - but it was true that Seifer was on the rocks with her and Squall lately, and if his drunken exploits turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, Zell was afraid he would carry out his threat to take the martial artist down with him… plus, there was the matter of the lying he’d already done to cover up Seifer’s presence in his room; and with his luck, Quistis would only be more convinced that he was trying to hide something between them. Going to her would have to be Plan B.

“Um,” Miri said, interrupting Zell’s whirling thoughts as she sat forward, a small grin playing her lips. “If you don’t mind… Is it really that bad?”

Zell shook his head. “Is what?”

“Quistis thinking… you know.” It took him a moment to realize what she meant, but he hardly had time to be horrified by the idea that people thinking him and Seifer were fucking was even remotely okay before Miri hurriedly added, “I mean, it’s not like… Seifer’s not really attractive, in his own way…”

“I don’t give a shit if he’s the fucking hottest guy in Garden, it’s Seifer!” Zell hissed, and heat flooded into his cheeks as he realized he’d just admitted he found Seifer hot - what the hell was wrong with him lately? - but Miri didn’t seem to have noticed it; she was looking somewhat apologetic, and appeared to have realized her mistake, shrugging sheepishly.

“I’m just saying. I don’t like the guy, I think he’s a total arsehole, but… I mean, given the chance, I wouldn’t say no.”

“Listen, I know what you mean,” Zell cut in, holding up a hand to silence her, his head spinning. Fuck, did I really just say I would do Seifer if given the chance? “If it was anybody else in the Garden, I wouldn’t really care. I’d just let the fuckin’ rumors die out. It’s just…”

He stopped, drawing a complete blank on how to continue. What was he even trying to say? The problem was not just that it was Seifer they were talking about, but he was a fellow SeeD, a fellow man… any one of the above, Garden administration might have been willing to overlook, but certainly not all three, especially from an instructor, someone who was supposed to be a role model… He groaned in vexation, rubbing his forehead tiredly. Miri was watching him with considerable concern, and when he looked up, she offered him her most reassuring smile - a good effort, but it hardly made him feel better at this point. Hell, short of Seifer spontaneously combusting or Quistis admitting that she was wrong about something - both occurrences that weren’t going to happen in a million years - nothing was going to make him feel better. He sighed.

“The problem is,” He began to explain, slumping down in his chair wearily. “Seifer’s on thin ice right now with administration, and if I tell them what really happened, they’re going to kick him out, and he’s made it clear that he’ll be dragging me down with him if that happens. Otherwise I would just go explain what really fucking happened, that he got trashed and passed out on my bathroom floor. And, I,” He gave a weak little laugh, rubbing his tired eyes, “I think, for some reason, he wants people to think we’re fucking. He wants to make this worse, fuck knows why. I’ve got no fuckin’ clue what to do…”

“Weeelll…” Miri started, but trailed off in defeat, clearly at as much of a loss as Zell himself was in the face of this information. Then, hesitantly, she proffered, “Are you sure you’re not overestimating Seifer?”

“What do you mean?”

The brunette paused again before speaking, giving a slight grimace, as though she was wary Zell wouldn’t like what she had to say, but after a moment she began, “It seems to me like… although he doesn’t like being here… I don’t think Seifer really wants to leave… so it stands to reason that he’d want to keep this whole thing quiet just as much as you do…” She tapered off again, and Zell prompted her on with a pointed stare, sitting up in his chair. Shaking her head, she finished, “Did you consider that he might just be bluffing?”

Zell thought about it for a minute. “But why? What’s the point?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he has some hidden agenda. Don’t ask me to try and explain Seifer’s mind,” She gave a short laugh, and then a heavy sigh. “It just seems like this is a lot of work for him to go through without having some kind of other motive.”

“Yeah… tormenting me,” Zell whimpered, falling back in his seat, defeated. For what other reason did Seifer ever do anything? The gunblader had been keeping a low profile for the past four years; he had to make a return to bullying sometime, and he’d chosen a damn fine to do it, too. What other motive could he have for being such a jackass?

A bell chimed in the distance, and Miri leaped to her feet. “Shit,” She exclaimed, grabbing her armchair and shoving it back under the desk she’d stolen it from. “I didn’t realize it was so late. Sorry, Zell, I’ve gotta get back to work,” She explained, shooing him out of his seat and across the library, hands aflutter. “Listen… if you come up with anything, be sure to let me know, alright sweetie?”

She flashed him a saccharine smile as she backed him into the doorway, and then promptly pushed him out into the throng of students surging down the corridor before he could even open his mouth to utter a reply. He fought for a moment against the tide before letting it sweep him away down the hall, and he wandered aimlessly through the current for a while as all the students milled their way to their next classes, his mind thick with thoughts. The talk with Miri hadn’t produced a solution of any kind to Zell’s predicament, but it had helped him to think a little clearer all the same - and given him some surprising insight into his own image of Seifer; he had never, for instance, even considered the idea that Seifer might have been bluffing or that he might have some other motive besides the obvious of making Zell suffer. That line of thought certainly deserved a little more deliberation, he decided, but not just now; some other time, when his mind was easier and he could spend some real time ruminating on it. Trying to attempt any serious thinking with the state his head was in right now just wasn’t going to pan out; he needed to get moving, to work out some of this restless energy first, and there was, of course, only one place to do that.

Still no plan, though, Zell thought grimly to himself as he redirected toward the training center, weaving through the thinning crowd of students to make his way around the campus. Oh well - he did still have a few days to prepare before Seifer returned from Esthar, and if worst came to worst and he was still drawing a blank by then, he supposed he could always fall back on his old standby, and beat the truth out of Seifer - although the repercussions that line of action promised were somewhat worrying, so that would have to be the last resort. In the meantime, he’d just have to do his best to stay out of Seifer’s way and not give the gunblader any ammunition that could end up backfiring on him later… sounded good in theory, but could he successfully pull it off? Well, no use worrying about it right now, he thought resolutely, just have to wait and see what happens...


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