AN: This fanfic was inspired by a very good fanfiction. The thing is, I can't recall for the life of me what it was about or what the fanfic's title was. It might have been Akare's Redeeming Features, but I'm not sure – the memory of it is vague in my mind. I just vividly remember loving the bittersweet idea of Seifer looking at Zell from afar but never daring to do something about his (shameful, from his point of view) crush for the younger man.

I know I already have an ungoing FFVIII fanfic to finish, but I felt like writing angst for once. Enjoy and leave comments.

English is not my native language, so I apologize for any mistakes you may run into.


Enduring it

The discreet sound of music and mild chatter filled the air as elegantly dressed ladies, important-looking middle-aged men and young cadets in their sharp Seed uniforms moved around the Balamb Garden University ballroom. The atmosphere was festive; young women in vaporous dresses glided over the spotless-clean white floor with their proud date and elegant waitresses poured champagne to bystanders who watched the show with indulgent smiles and chatted among each others. For most of the people standing in the room, this evening called for celebration. Hidden in a remote corner of the room behind a party of boring diplomats, Seifer Almasy was sipping a flute of champagne in resigned silence.

The Graduation ceremony and its ball… If the blond gunblader had his say about it, he wouldn't even have showed up. He despised these glamorous events where everybody pretended to be enjoying themselves when nobody really was. These syrupy and snob gatherings were just another occasion for ambitious young Seed to lick up to their higher ranking officers and for Garden officials to gauge its politic rivals and allies. No amount of champagne, luxurious decorations and soft classic music changed the fact that the room was filled with scheming, hypocritical social climbers, who were all shallow smiles and fake laughs. Seifer had a word for it: sickening. The only thing he hated more than these pretentious parties was being forced to attend to them. Considering his history, he thought he was fully justified to simply skip them. Who would mind his absence anyway? Certainly not the Seeds and guests who obviously despised him, and especially not Quistis, the babysitter Squall had appointed him to make sure he wasn't making a nuisance of himself - and who in turn frequently made sure to let him know she hadn't asked for the job. But the Almighty Commander Leonhart fancied him attending every official Seed event and had made it one of the conditions under which he was allowed to stay and work at the Garden, so he basically didn't have a choice. Seifer couldn't tell if his ex-rival was forcing this torture upon him because he honestly believed this "social rehabilitation" crap Rinoa kept on babbling about or because he knew it pissed him off to no end. He was inclined to believe it was the latter.

Seifer knew he was supposed to be thankful the BGU had decided to retrieve him and allow him to stay after the war but he couldn't bring himself to feel grateful for it. Sure, he had a place to stay, but the Garden had taken him back in out of a sense of duty and it was obvious that nobody – not even Rinoa - honestly wanted to have him around that much. His presence was merely tolerated, as he was clearly reminded on a weekly basis by either Quistis, Xu or Squall. How was he supposed to feel grateful to be treated like some kind of ugly blister that wouldn't go away? He didn't care for their pity and hadn't asked for their help. In fact, he rather wished he could be anywhere else than at the Garden, stuck with those pretentious cadet brats and their equally annoying teachers. But he knew that outside the BGU, almost every government of the planet wanted him trialed and executed for a reason or another. As much as he hated his life at Balamb Garden, he was quite aware he had nowhere else to go. The only thing he could do was to endure it.

So he grudgingly bore with his unofficial confinement inside the BGU walls. He ate the same disgusting cafeteria food everyday, lived in a room that could compare with a cadet's dormitory room in tininess and blandness and abided to the Garden's continuously expanding set of stupid rules dedicated to him. Not very enthusiastically, mind you, but it wasn't like they could kick him out for being grouchy, so he wasn't going to deny himself the pleasure of pissing them off by being extra unpleasant at every turn.

He also put up with his Training Center caretaker and gardener job, as belittling and unchallenging as it was. It had been Rinoa's idea, paying him to do some light cores around the campus to reintegrate him into the Garden community, or some similar sappy crap. At least shoveling grat droppings and trimming trees provided him with something to do with himself, which made his confinement somewhat more bearable. And the fact he was allowed to kill any threatening monster that crossed his path was an undeniable bonus, even if he would have more readily swallowed said dropping than admitted he did not dislike his job as much as he let on. He had a feeling if Squall found out he'd rather do this than be idle, he would find a way to force him to do it for free. Not that he cared much about the money, or rather the joke they had the nerve to call his salary, but he wasn't going to give the brooding bastard the satisfaction of taking that small advantage from him. And small certainly was the right word for it, since their ever-so benevolent commander had decided to take out of his already ridiculously low salary his housing fees, so what was left of what he earned was more akin to pocket money than anything else. Feel the irony? Better yet: if he took more than a week off a year (Holidays excluded), he actually owed the Garden money. If the blonde didn't know Squally-boy so well, he'd almost take it as a hint to leave. Almost.

When he was outside the Training center, Seifer also put up with the whispers constantly following him on his way, the hateful looks and the hostile attitude of the student and instructor corps. Though rather annoying, these weren't so bad. He had never been Mr Popularity even before the war broke off and didn't really care for what those morons thought of him. What was really eating at him, even if he would never admit so, was loneliness. Eating alone, spending his evenings fighting monsters in the training area or reading library-rented books and hoping for news of the only friends he had left, Raijin and Fuujin, who were making a living in Fisherman's Horizon, was his everyday reality. The first six months, he had been glad for it. But as months went by and his friends' letters became shorter and further apart, it started to gnaw at him.

Of course, he could have started to hang out with Squall and his cronies, but even if Selphie, Rinoa and Irvine tried to pretend he was somehow part of the gang, it was obvious they were only doing so because they felt they had to. They didn't want him around that much, and the others didn't even bother hiding they wished him million miles away. For the most part it was blatantly obvious Squall and Quistis were only barely willing to put up with him because they felt it would be hazardous to cast a ticking bomb like himself off into the nature. Because, you know, if left by himself, he would clearly embark on another quest to destroy the universe with the first willing sorceress in need of a puppet. Obviously.

So he honestly preferred being bored and lonely to hanging out with the lot of them. Unfortunately, it was not like they would instantly vanish because he didn't want to have them around. You'd think that given his lousy attitude and their own reluctance to associate with him, they would leave him be. Only they didn't. On the contrary, they seemed to be determined to ruin his attempts to get forgotten by the general populace by constantly butting into his life and by trying to force him to make friends in a Garden full of hostile teenager brats in some kind of twisted hope that this would instantly solve all their Seifer-related problems. And they thought HE was delusional. Go figure.

But then again, what could he do about it? Not much, not matter how much the situation sucked. So he bore with Selphie and Irvine's fake smiles and half-hearted attempts to convince themselves they had gotten over what had happened. He endured Quistis' constant probing and speeches about how he should be running what was left of his life. He grinded his teeth through his monthly meetings with Commander Leather and stomached silently the pointed glares he kept on receiving from the brunette on such occasions. He put up with Rinoa's phoney concern and pointless efforts to help him blending in and making some friends.

He also bore with his chronic insomnia and the nightmares that still plagued his sleep. Nobody knew about his sleeping issues and Seifer liked it that way. If they found out he was afraid of falling asleep every night and waking up in sweat, shaking and crying, her voice still resounding in his head and drowning the sound of his madly beating heart, he was sure they would ask even more questions. It was bad enough he had to deal with these pointless weekly therapy sessions with Dr Kadowaki, he didn't want to give them more reasons to think he was more fucked up in the head than they already thought he was. He would not put beyond Squall to have him nicely rot away in an asylum if he did, and those weeks he had spent at the Estharian psychiatric institute after the war were enough to convince him that if he was not insane before he entered the asylum, he would definitely be after a few months of confinement in one of their windowless white rooms. Besides, he didn't want to talk about it. Which in turn made those meetings with Kadowaki long and painful one-sided discussions that somehow always turned into a lecture on his problematic attitude.

He put up with all that shit, whishing deep down that one day his features would have changed enough and his memory become so vague in the mind of people that he would be able to escape this insufferable unofficial prison and find a small village to retire to and lead a somewhat recluse, normal life. In the meanwhile, he knew that all he could do was to endure it all. A depressing thought that left him bitter and glum most of the time.

It had already been nearly five years, or so he was told just recently. Yet in all these years, he hadn't managed to find a meaning to what had happened during the war, or to this new mockery of a life he was leading. The war still seemed to have ended only yesterday in his mind, and the wounds it had created were still fresh in his heart even after all those years. And it was no wonder. The end of the war had really woken him like a cold shower from the sorceress-induced euphoric delirium of grandeur he had been going trough. Realizing he had been wrong, used and thrown away by the one person he had trusted and believed into had dealt a huge blow to his –admittedly rather big – ego and brought upon him a sense of loss, a void nothing seemed to be able to fill. That day, all his dreams, all his certitudes had been taken away from him, leaving him only with the shame and the guilt of having committed the unspeakable and the bitterness and anger of having being tricked into it to fill the emptiness he felt inside.

And they thought attending Seed parties and taking a couple of pills would do the trick.

Considering the extent of the destruction he had caused, Seifer knew he ought to be repentant but it was not his nature to accept things so passively. He wanted to atone himself, to do something to make up for all the shit he had caused – his pride wouldn't let him move on until he had paid for what he'd done. But how could he do that? How could he possibly make amends for all the blood that had been spilled because of his arrogance and stupid mistakes? He simply couldn't. No matter how hard he wanted to make up for his faults, he knew he would never be able to, and that thought left him more or less constantly frustrated and bitter.

Yet the gunblade user couldn't help feeling annoyed at all those people who regarded him as little better than a wild dog that needed to be shot down. They didn't try to see past the "bad guy" label, all they cared about is that he had been on the sorceress' side and had lost. Who were they to judge him anyway? What did these jerks know?

But was there really anything to see beyond? He had been a villain, there was no denying that. He didn't want to make excuses for his actions; of course, she had been terribly enticing and had messed with his head alright – even the Galbadian shrinks who evaluated him after the war had reluctantly come to that conclusion. But he knew that it hadn't taken her much to get him into her nets– just a small push. His oversized ego and arrogance had done the rest. No matter how he looked at it, he had been weak and stupid, so stupid. And those damned so-called specialists and Rinoa and her hypocrite friends could say whatever they wanted to try to make him feel better about, he knew he had only himself and his weak nature to blame for what had happened.

Rinoa… Truth being said, if Rinoa's efforts had been so fruitless so far, it was a good deal because of his own attitude, as Quistis often reminded him. Contrary to what people imagined, he was quite aware of it – and didn't care for it. While he avoided being an ass not to give Leonhart a reason to kick him out, he didn't make any efforts to be friendly or to show people he regretted his actions and wanted to be forgiven. What would be the point? For mostly everyone on the face of Earth, he was a traitor and a maniac mass murderer. He didn't want friends, and he didn't want to be forgiven either. But Squall and his cronies with their idiotic rehabilitation ideas wouldn't just leave him be, even if they didn't want anything to do with him. They were intend to "fix him" so they could be rid of him and go on happily with their lives. They expected him to play along, to make it simple for them. And when their brilliant ideas and their therapy sessions didn't instantly turn him into a different, reformed person, they blamed him. Obviously, it was his fault. He was being difficult on purpose. Did they care if he was fixable? Did they care of what he wanted and how he felt? Did they care if the Balamb Military University in itself was a constant reminder of all the things that had gone wrong in his life? He was sure that it never even occurred to any of those dimwits that being stuck in the BGU doing some belittling job created for the only purpose of keeping him busy and being forced to witness everyday how everything had turned out so wonderfully for the rest of them could leave him even more bitter and dejected instead of being helpful.

Indeed, he was jealous. Big surprise. How was he supposed not to be? They had everything he had always whished for: recognition, prestige, respect, admiration, important responsibilities. And to top it off, they were happy. The Irvine and Selphie were sickeningly in love, Quistis was having her kicks being the Headmistress and running the puppet show, the chicken wuss was as enthusiast as always. And Squall and Rinoa were happily married, a children on the way.

How ironic; he even ended up with the girl. He – they - had won everything, leaving him with nothing but remorse and bitterness.

The blond man sipped his champagne silently. From his remote corner, he eyed the said loving couple, who was in the middle of a discussion with some important Estharian officials. They were probably talking about politics, if the way Rinoa seemed to dominate in the discussion was any indication. The dark-haired woman had a way of getting involved into things that really weren't her business –international negotiations, intergarden politics, garden internal management, mission parameters, his private life, and so on. In the background, Squall could be seen standing next to his obviously pregnant wife in silence, a slight frown on his pretty face – Seifer guessed the direction the young sorceress' latest unconsidered comments had taken was not to his liking. The blonde man really didn't understand how Squall could stand having his ditzy wife run the Garden around like she was the Commander, but then again, he didn't understand how his ex-rival could stand being married to her to start with.

He remembered finding out these two were dating after the end of the war had dealt him a hard blow. But the pain had dulled away with the years, along with his attachment for the young woman. He had been young back in the days he used to date her, and she had been a pretty, helpless girl in need of a hero. He had since realized he had been in love with the feeling of being her knight more than anything else. Seifer involuntarily snarled at his own chain of thoughts. No, he knew for sure it wouldn't have worked out between Rinoa and him. For starter, she was an insufferable, spoiled princess who kept on getting herself into trouble and then waited for everybody else to get her out of it – in itself it was a consolation for Seifer that she had ended up to be Squall's charge and not his. But that was not the main reason why it couldn't have worked out between the two of them, though he'd never admit so much to anyone, for he was not sure what was left of his pride would survive people finding out about it.

It was not like he had wanted things to turn this way. Quite the contrary. Hell, he even refused to accept it at first. Thinking back on it, he still couldn't quite remember when exactly he started to have those kind of thoughts. They just occasionally popped in out of the blue in his head, in such a non-assuming way that he had always brushed them off as meaningless without second thoughts. He couldn't quite remember either when or how he came to realize that these "thoughts" were far too common occurrences to pass off as irrelevant oddities. But he remembered the realization of what they implied had thoroughly freaked him out. For a time, he remembered he refused to believe it meant anything and actively denied it, but he had never been one to kid himself for very long. He then made a point to push those unwanted thoughts and feelings in the back of his mind and ignore them altogether. He had thought back then, and rightfully so, that he had enough identity issues as things were without starting to doubt the few certitudes he had left in his life. Ignore it and it'll go away eventually, that's what he told himself. But life being a twisted bitch taking pleasure in picking on him, of course it never did. In the end he had to face it: whether he liked it or not, he was gay.

To say the thought of being a queer quite upset him at first was a major understatement – he was Seifer Almasy, and Seifer Almasy may be an evil villain or a psychopath, but he sure as hell was no pansy. The mere thought was simply grotesque. Just think of what would happen to his reputation if the word went around? He simply couldn't bear the thought of it. Hell, he would have sooner asked to be sent back to the Estharian mental institute than even thinking about making a move on a guy. But as months went by, he had no choice but reluctantly accept it as just another one of those things he didn't have control upon in his fucked-up excuse of a life, no matter how he felt about it.

He was still unhappy about it as things were. Fancy him ever being totally okay with the thought of getting aroused by a guy. Not likely to happen any time soon. But over the years, he had come to see things with a certain degree of… relativity. Being homosexual was, all things considered, not so bad. Afterall, it was not like it changed a damned thing to his already quite pathetic little life. Preferring guys couldn't possibly make totally inexistent love and sex lives any harder, couldn't it? So what if he found himself eyeing nice-looking men instead of cute women when nobody was looking? What if in moments of loneliness, he wished to hold a strong, masculine body instead of a petite, curvy one? In a sense, he was almost better off that way – at least he knew he wasn't going to ever get his hopes up about anybody now that he was gay, for he was living in a military establishment, and while there were probably a couple of gay guys on the campus, they sure as hell didn't advertise it and didn't want to be identified as such, which made it easier for Seifer to just assume everybody was straight and don't get ideas about certain guys. And on the bright side, since people ignored him and tried to have as little contact with his as possible, chances were good nobody would ever notice he played for the other team and that way he would be able to preserve the little dignity he had left.

At least, being an outcast had its peaks.

Getting bored of watching his ex-girlfriend play garden, Seifer watched the people dancing on the dance floor with mild interest. His eyes surfed lazily through the room, a couple of familiar faces or good-looking men briefly catching his fleeting attention. Then, as his eyes were scanning the mass of people on his left, he thought he caught a glimpse of someone familiar. The tall blonde moved back a foot away or so to get a better view – his eyes had not deceived him, it was him. The young man in question was thirty-five feet away from him, listening to some girl, occasionally nodding to show he was listening, a polite smile on his face. But by the distant, glassy look in his blue eyes, Seifer could tell he wasn't listening to a word the ranting girl was saying.

Still hidden behind the group of aging politicians, the ex-knight eyed the man casually. Seifer's eyes traveled from the man's face to his neck and his partially exposed collarbone – he had carelessly forgotten to button his uniform all the way up again. His gaze then went to his powerful shoulders and arms and to his equally muscled torso, all fitting the Seed uniform perfectly and stretching it just enough to indicate the man was well-muscled, but not overly bulky. The gunblader's attention then went to the young man's nice waist and hips and to his strong tights and legs. Taking another sip of champagne, Seifer gave the young man an appreciative overall look. Though not very tall, he was not particularly short either, and while he could appear to have a rather lithe body because of the clothes he fancied wearing, anyone who gave him a closer look could see that he was very well-built indeed. When he wore his uniform, it was even more apparent - and God, was he hot in that damned uniform! It looked like it had been made for him. And the worst part was the guy was so clueless he probably didn't even notice how much more attention he was getting from the ladies when he was wearing it. Knowing him, he probably thought all the women who came on to him during those kind of events were interested in knowing him because he was one of the six heroes who saved the world. He was dumb like that.

For longer than Seifer cared to admit, his eyes had been drawn to him. It had started slowly and in the most harmless way; at first, it was just mild interest in another good-looking man, as there were dozens of others in the BGU. But as months passed by, he started to feel increasingly aware of his presence whenever they happened to be in the same room. Watching him slowly became something he did without thinking and much to his own annoyance, Seifer started to get very self-conscious – not nervous of course, self-conscious – on the rare occasions they interacted. And when they did, he usually spent the following days replaying in his head their short and usually stormy encounters and cursing himself for always ending up acting like an ass. After a while, he decided to spare himself undue anguish and limit interactions with the young man to a minimum, which was precisely what he did. So he took the habit to stay clear from the man, but that didn't stop him from watching him from afar when they found each other in the same room, even if it often left a bittersweet taste in his mouth.

At that point, Seifer had to admit to himself he was a little too obsessed with the man for it to be a simple matter of attraction. He didn't know how it happened or why, but somehow, he had developed a crush on Zell Dintch.

Life's got a pretty twisted sense of humour, doesn't it? Fuckin' hilarious, really. Seifer Almasy pinning after Zell Dintch. What an excellent joke.

Considering he'd spent a great deal of his younger years picking on the blonde when he was a whiny kid, he wondered what about the young energetic man was catching his eyes now. Apart from the fact that he was more than a little pleasing to the eyes, he guessed it was the kind of limitless confidence and assurance that started oozing out him in the years following the defeat of Ultimecia that attracted him so much. And that was about the only aspect of Zell Dintch's personality he liked; the guy was loud, had far too much energy and had a way of blurting stupid things out in the most inappropriate moments – in short he was annoying. Not that he was getting on Seifer's nerves per see because it took a lot to get on his nerves nowadays, but Seifer often found himself considering just how unnerving and annoying the blonde was in an attempt to rationalize his crush away. Not that it ever worked, but it was worth a try.

It didn't help that Zell was surprisingly a very secret person, which only managed to fuel Seifer's interest for him. He was blunt and loud, but he didn't talk a lot about himself - nobody around the campus quite knew what he did outside working hours and outside the Garden. Most people assumed his outside campus activities were limited to training and visiting his mother, but that didn't sound right to Seifer even given the young man's simple mind and tastes. He may be a mama's boy, but he had way too much energy to waste himself looking after his old mother everyday.

There was actually a lot of speculation going on in the Garden about the six heroes' lives, who were the object of a garden-wide cult for saving the world, and it was relatively easy for Seifer to overhear cadets exchanging information and rumours alike about his ex-childhood friends. He even sometimes managed to hear bits of the girls or the cowboy's discussions as they passed by his table in the cafeteria, the quad or the library, which was something the tall blonde had become quite an expert at doing in the past four years.

Yeah, yeah, so he liked to listen to Garden gossip and spy a tiny little bit on Squall and his cronies. What of it? Be a total antisocial outcast in a very public environment for a couple of years and you'll see how entertaining it gets to listen to crunchy details about Irvine and Selphie's latest minute breakup or hilariously impossible anecdotes about the campus-wide adulated Quistis and Squall – Seifer remembered quite clearly being entertained for a whole week by the mental image of the great commander Squall "Leather" Leonhart running into a bunch of skipper cadets while shopping with his ditzy wife for eatable underwear in a Balamb sex shop. At least it distracted him a bit from his morose thoughts, and after being stuck by himself in a hostile garden for so long, he had come to need those distractions.

Of course, he would more readily admit being gay than being interested in petty student rumours about Squall's sex life, but that was another story.

Anyway, as far as everybody seemed aware of, Zell Dintch was single, has been single for a couple of years and didn't seem to be having any romantic interest in anybody. He did go out with that library girl for a couple of weeks after the war, but it didn't hit off. Not that it mattered anyway; it wasn't like Seifer was even considering acting on this stupid crush. He didn't want people to know he was gay to start with and wasn't delusional enough to even hope he had a chance with the martial artist, who was by the look of it as straight as an arrow. And even if the younger man were gay, he was sure there was no way in hell he'd consider dating him – Zell publicly made it clear he preferred having to spend a week cleaning a grat and mosquito-infested swamp than spending an hour with him. With that in mind, Seifer contented himself with watching from afar the martial artist and waiting for this impossibly stupid and hopeless crush to eventually go away. In the meanwhile, he did the only thing he could do about a lot of things in his life: bear with it.

After a couple of seemingly very long minutes, the object of his attention finally managed to get rid of the ranting girl and went away, stopping to congratulate and talk to a couple more cadets and fellow Seeds on his way, and soon enough Seifer lost sight of him in the sea of people attending to the graduation party. With a sigh, the blonde lazily started to scan the ballroom with his eyes again. He was bored and wanted to leave badly, but it was too early to leave already. He knew from experience he was expected to stay until midnight, but they - they being the three great pests of his life, Squall, Quistis and Rinoa – only got moderately pissed if he left before eleven o'clock and really pissed if he left before ten thirty.

From the corner of his eyes, Seifer suddenly saw a pink dress coming into his field of vision and his eyes went to the elegant form of his former instructor Quistis Trepe, who seemed to be chatting with some wealthy business partners. Taking a few steps back to better conceal himself behind the boring diplomats, Seifer watched the blonde with cautious eyes – he always kept an eye on Quistis, usually to make sure she wasn't headed his way; he would rather avoid her speeches if he could. But before he could put some distance between himself and the Headmistress, Quistis' head turned his way and she spotted him. The gunblader looked away, hoping the discussion the woman was having was so interesting she wouldn't come to nag him. Sometimes he had that kind of luck; sometimes he even managed to get away before she could free herself and come after him. But not that night, Seifer realized with disappointment as he saw from the corner of his eyes a blob of pink getting closer. Great.

Casually grabbing a new champagne flute from a passing-by waitress and dumping on her tray his empty glass, Seifer turned around to face his ex-instructor. She stopped a three feet away from him and gave him an overall look, obviously looking for something wrong with his clothes. Apparently finding nothing to criticize – it was rather hard to criticize a black suit - she met his eyes and gave him a rather forced smile.

"Good evening, Seifer."

The blonde man nodded at her in response. There was a long, uneasy silence.

"It's a nice party, isn't it? I think the orchestra is better this year than it was last year." Quistis asked conversationally after a while and Seifer merely stared at her, not even bothering to try to keep the discussion going – he knew it pissed her off every time.

The young woman raised an eyebrow at his silence. "I'm trying to be nice to you. Would it kill you to at least TRY to be civil for a change?"

"I don't know. But I prefer to be of the safe side and don't take any chances," he answered with a stiff smile. Quistis let out a sigh of exasperation.

"Seifer, I don't understand why you insist on being so difficult all the time. The Seed graduation party is an important event for the Garden - perhaps the most important event of the year. You should be glad to be invited in the first place - and act accordingly. This is hardly the kind of behaviour we expect from you."

"Oh, excuse me? I'm attending you stupid snob party and I'm not making trouble. What more do you want?"

"You seem to have forgotten we want you to come to events like this one to get you accepted back into the Garden community. But you don't make any efforts at all to socialize. Worse, you go out of your way to keep everyone at bay. Besides, I don't see how hiding in a corner and drinking free champagne all evening long is supposed to be appropriate behaviour," she said sharply, eyeing his flute of champagne contemptuously. By way of an answer, Seifer stared at her unblinkingly and defiantly brought his champagne flute to his lips. The blonde woman looked positively irked.

"Funny, I thought you weren't allowed to drink alcohol with your current medication."

"And I thought the campus employees' health records were for the Commander's eyes only."

Seifer inwardly smirked when woman's eyes finally narrowed with irritation. The only thing little miss perfect Quistis Trepe hated more than people answered back was being found at fault. So the gunblader tried to do both as often as possible, preferably at the same time. He was rewarded by one of the blonde's renowned condescending teacher look. "I hope you realize your childish attitude is only penalizing yourself. Good evening, Seifer."

Obviously satisfied with having the last word, Quistis turned around and strode off, leaving an amused Seifer behind. That must have been one of his shortest discussions with the moralizing ex-instructor ever. Either he was getting better at getting rid of her or she was getting sick of serving him the same re-heated crap time after time. Either way was fine with him, as long as she wasn't pestering him. Who knew, he mused hopefully, perhaps she was finally starting to give up on him? Now, that would finally be something worth celebrating...!

Next to him, someone snickered and made a comment that pretty much followed Seifer's chain of thoughts.

"My, my. Gotten good at getting rid of her, haven't you?"

Seifer inwardly groaned when he heard that unmistakable voice. He didn't need to turn around to know to whom this heavy galbadian accent belonged – and sure enough, he suddenly found himself standing next to an amused-looking cowboy, who for the occasion had put on a gray suit and his stupid trademark cowboy hat. Quistis Trepe, and now Irvine Kinneas. Great. Two of them in less than a minute, that was just his luck, really. Life really had a fucked up sense of humor tonight.

If he were to be honest, Seifer would have to admit he didn't dislike Irvine as much as the others, mostly because the man usually minded his own business and left him be. But he knew from experience he wouldn't be able to get rid of Irvine as quickly as he did with any of the others though, for the smooth sharpshooter was impervious to cynicism, sarcasm, silence and glares - there really was no point wasting energy trying to make him leave when he felt like chatting. Fortunately enough, he didn't feel chatty with him too often, and he was not remotely as annoying as Quistis, Squall, Rinoa or his air-head girlfriend. He didn't go all moralizing on him and wasn't obsessed with making him open up, for starter, and didn't pester him with incessant questions or activities proposals, which usually made of him a marginally less irritating interlocutor than his any of his croonies. That, of course, did not mean he looked forward being forced to listen to the man's aimless babble yet again.

"I gotta say, you have a way of unnerving her. I wish I knew how you do it." The purple-eyed man gave Seifer a lazy smirk he did not return, preferring to fake interest in the party instead. Beside him, Irvine also turned his attention toward the ballroom. "Rather nice party, isn't it? A bit too stiff for my tastes, but a party's a party. I just wish they'd have real alcohol though. I'm not much of a champagne guy. Too snob for my tastes. But then again, this is what it's all about: showing off to potential clients. People feel like these graduation balls aren't a success if the Garden doesn't waste a disproportioned amount of money into them. I say you may serve the best champagne around, have the finest hors-d'oeuvres, the most glamorous crystal candlesticks or the most expensive orchids as table centerpieces, it doesn't mean you're in for a fun evening. I've always said they should host two graduation parties – one for the snob clients, and one for the new Seeds to actually celebrate. Because nobody ever has much fun at these parties, no matter how Quistis likes to think otherwise, and the Seeds should be given a chance to go loose once in a while. Have some fun. Don't you agree?"

"What do you want?" Seifer asked in a low grunt and the cowboy shrugged.

"I want tons of things. None of them are good for me, I'm afraid – of at least that's what Selphie says. And I abide to her words – I consider my life too precious not to."

"Go away."

"So you can go back to brooding in your corner, is that it?"

Seifer frowned at that last comment. "Tell me you're not going to get started on my so-called bad attitude too."

"What if I do? What are you gonna do? Glare at me to death? Lock yourself in your room and sulk? I know, I know, I usually mind my own business, but this is getting plain ridiculous. The war's been over for five years and you still mope around and clam up on everybody like it all happened yesterday. Squall's long given up on you, and Quistis' starting to as well. It's due time you get a grip of yourself and move on."

"Oh, so now that Quistis is about to throw in the towel, you've decided to take over her noble task at attempting to redeem the poor misunderstood villain? How admirable."

"Would you stop being a prick, I'm serious here. I know you can't be expected to pretend nothing happened... But your way of dealing with it is not right. I mean, you can't be happy spending your days away killing grats or locked up in your room doing God-knows-what. You certainly don't look happy. Hell, I know you don't give us much credit, but everybody's feeling concerned about you. I'm feeling concerned here."

Seifer bit back a spiteful retort, for he knew there was no point arguing with Irvine. The more he argued with the man, the longer he would have to withstand his presence – better leave him say what he had to say and wait until he decided to leave him alone. A small playful smile on his lips, the auburn-haired went on.

"You know what? I think your problem is you're feeling lonely. Spending all your time with grats, anybody would be. What you need is to meet people, and I don't mean cadets. Get out of this stifling military atmosphere and have some fun with real people for a change, it'd do you some good."


"Because I hope you don't mind me saying this, but God, you really need to unwind a little – you're so uptight it's alarming."


"You know, I could introduce you to a friend of mine. Actually, I know a couple of people who'd date you, it you were just ready to drop the surly air and be nice for a change. You'd be surprised how many people go for misunderstood bad boys – especially when they're hot, dark blonde hunks like you."


"I mean, I'm not into guys myself, so don't get me wrong! But I know a quite a few people who wouldn't pass up the opportunity of one night with you, even given your lousy attitude – and that's saying something."


"And don't worry, I wouldn't set you up with some insensitive sex fiend or ugly leech on a first date."

The blond ex-knight was starting to have a hard time refraining himself from strangling the man standing beside him. God, would the fucker ever shut up? And did he just wink at him?! What the hell was wrong with this man?

"How about we say Saturday night then? I'll tell my friend to come and pick you up at your dorm room around seven. How does that sound?"

Seifer stared at the smiling sharpshooter, incredulous. This guy was out of his head, no doubts about it. He was the most hated guy on the face of Earth, he'd get lynched on sight if he set a foot in anything that remotely looked like a city, and that dimwit wanted to set him on a date? To think they let this nutcase walk around freely, with a gun no less. It was appalling.

"Not interested. Now get lost."

"Are my ears deceiving me, or are you refusing a good chance to get laid? You've just had a five years-long dry spell and you're turning down sex? Geez, I guess Kadowaki's right. You DO need medical attention."

"For God's sake Kinneas, it's not because you think with your dick it means I do the same," Seifer growled. "Can't you just get the hint and go away?"

"I'm hurt, really, that you have such a poor opinion of me. But whatever you say, I know a guy who needs to get laid when I see one, and you, my friend, really need to get fucked out of your brains. More than once. See it as a therapy. It'd probably do you more good than all those hours spent with Kadowaki anyway."

"What part of 'no' don't you get? Just fuck off already!"

"Not before you've agreed to meet my friend."

"For the last time, dickhead, I'm not going to meet any girl of yours, got it?"

"A girl? I don't remember ever talking about a woman here."

Seifer froze on the spot. Though on the outside, he bore a guarded look, on the inside thoughts were spinning madly in his head. Did Irvine know anything? Or was he just trying to get a reaction out of him? It was impossible to tell when the cowboy had his pokerface on like this. But it had to be some kind of a joke… Wasn't it? How would he know? There was no way no one could have guessed...!

"What are you trying to say?" he asked tensely, eyeing warningly the sharpshooter. The younger man rolled his eyes, looked around for eavesdroppers and, finding none, bent forward him.

"Honestly Seifer," he whispered, "I'd have to be blind not to notice. You've gotta be the biggest frustrated closet case I've ever-"

The cowboy didn't have a chance to finish his sentence as Seifer roughly gripped his arm and dragged him further away from people and into a remote corner of the ballroom half-hidden by big, heavy crimson velvet curtains. Shoving the cowboy harshly against the wall, Seifer looked around for eavesdroppers nervously.

"You know, there was no need to be rough 'bout it. I mean, I know you've got some pent up energy, but I'm 'fraid to say I'm already taken, and I doubt Selphie would appreciate sharing."

Seifer spun around aggressively. "Shut up!" He hissed under his breath. "Shut up! Shut up! Shut UP!"

"You can get as pissed at me as you like, but that's not gonna make you less gay, you know."

"I'm NOT gay," Seifer protested in an angry whisper, eyeing the open ballroom and the people it contained warily, which brought a smirk to the cowboy's lips.

"God Seifer, you're so much in the closet it's not even funny."

"I said shut up!"

"I really don't understand what you're getting so worked over," the cowboy said with a shrug. "It's not like people give a crap about which way you swing the bat. And let's be honest, given the reputation you've got 'round here, I don't think you going public's gonna make a big difference on your popularity charts anyway."

Seifer didn't know what he wanted to do the most at that instant: punch the cowboy or get the fuck away before this discussion went downhill – he had a feeling it would. Leaving meant he wouldn't be getting into deep trouble with both Squall and Quistis for knocking off of their stupid friend and making a commotion at their idiotic party, but it meant he wouldn't have the intense satisfaction of shutting the man's trap, even if only for an instant. Because either way, his homosexuality would probably end up being the talk of the month in the Garden, which in turn really made him itch to pound the sharpshooter. Caught between two strong impulses, Seifer just glared at the slightly shorter man, his jaw and fists clenched so tightly they hurt.

"Hey, hey! No need to look so threatening," the auburn-haired man said with an anxious smile, raising his arms up in a defensive way. "Your little secret's safe with me. Honest! If I'd wanted to tell people 'bout it, I'd have done so ages ago. I've known for a while already."

"Have you?" Seifer growled, trying not to feel too relieved at the man's words.

"Of course. I mean, you've been eyeing Zell for over two years now – wasn't that hard to figure out. It's actually hard to believe I'm the only one who's noticed."

The gunblader felt all colour leave his face at the mention of the martial artist and could only gape at the sharpshooter, abashed. The auburn-haired man chuckled at his reaction – or lack thereof.

"Honestly, I didn't think you'd go for old Zelly-boy, of all people. So you're the kind that teases the one he fancies, aren't you?"

Feeling his cheeks heating up, Seifer roughly shoved the smirking cowboy into the nearby wall and glared anew.

"Fuck off! I'm not interested in Dincht! I wouldn't touch him with a five feet stick, you sick wacko!" His face mere inches from the auburn-haired man, Seifer glared hard at Irvine, who was starting to get nervous.

"We've know each other since we've been toddlers, Seifer. You really don't have to try to keep up the appearances with me. I've seen you eye Zell like he was some sort of yummy-looking pastry standing in the middle of a dessert bar full of strawberry jello for months. That kind of thing don't lie. There's no point pretending otherwise."

With a frustrated sigh, the blonde let go of the other man and pushed himself off him. Looking away, the Seifer swore heavily under his breath.

"Come on, Seifer. I've got only one word, you know. I'm not going to babble this to anyone, so don't look so upset. Beside, Zell's a good-looking guy in his own way, you've got to give him that. You sure wouldn't be the first person to have a look." Irvine sounded a bit apologetic, as if he was feeling a bit bad for Seifer and wanted to cheer him up. The blond shook his head, lips thinning with repressed anger.

"Fuck off already, Kinneas. Fuck off. I've never asked for your advice and I sure as hell don't want you to stick your nose in my life, nor do I want your pity or your charity. Just leave me the fuck alone already."

"Don't be so touchy, I'm honestly concerned. You've been pinning for a guy for two whole years and you still haven't pulled a move on him. Did you loose your balls or what? What happened to that old, confident Seifer who used to always get what he wanted?"

"Don't tell me you're going to blame me for not being arrogant anymore on top of being ungrateful, cynical and unfriendly?" Seifer shot back in a silent roar.

"Hey, I never said that. I'm just saying you should do something about it, that's all. You should either make a move or move on, that's what I say."

"Oh, and what do you want me to do?" the gunblade user barked. "Walk up to him and confess? Sorry, but I can think of a few more constructive ways to get a broken jaw." To Seifer's surprise, Irvine scoffed.

"Zell's twenty two, you know. He may look like one, but he ain't a naïve and innocent teen. Sounds to me like you're making up excuses to stay single." It was Seifer's turn to scoff at the other man's words.

"Don't be ridiculous. I'd probably have better chances with Commander Leather here."

"Commander Leather? You mean Squall?" Irvine blinked, then cracked up at the comparison. "Never heard that one. Selphie's gonna love it. I don't understand why you two don't get along better, you've got the same twisted sense of humor."

Fed up with it, Seifer ignored him, turned around and started to walk away. Before he could even blink, Irvine was by his side again.

"Even if you won't make a move on Zell, it doesn't mean you have to spend all your evenings brooding alone. If muscled blondes' your thing, I know a couple of guys who could do the thing."

"Why don't you mind your goddammed business?! Can't you just take a cue, get the fuck away and leave me alone?!"

The gunblader roared the last sentences with such venomous anger that the cowboy's smile finally faltered. "Well, of course I can, if that's what you really want."

With a final smile, Irvine saluted the man with his trademark cowboy hat and walked away nonchalantly, going back to the on-going party. Feeling rather stunned, Seifer stared at him as he slowly made his way toward the cold buffet table on the left part of the ballroom, where he was greeted back by his enthusiast girlfriend and Zell, who obviously had been in the middle of one of President Laguna Loire's famous rant. Seifer watched Zell smile and nod at his taller friend and go back to listening to Squall's idiot father's rant, feeling suddenly very left out. Irvine bent forward to whisper something into Zell's ear that obviously amused the short blond, who crossed his arms and eyed the oblivious spiky Selphie with a smile. The sight of such closeness made Seifer's heart ache and he had to swallow back the uneasy lump in his throat. Shaking his head angrily, Seifer turned around and walked away, trying to chase away this uneasy feeling. It was stupid of him to even consider this; it was never going to happen. Never.

People were chatting mildly and drinking champagne in fancy flutes. Soft, melodic dancing music was being played by a very correct live orchestra and sharply-dressed young men and women were waltzing elegantly on the polished dance floor, the soft ruffle of the ladies' long fancy dresses lost in the music and the sound of chatter. The party was obviously another great success, with no false note – except maybe for one tall sullen man who was walking around the edges of the room, trying to ignore the general celebration around him and looking for a good spot to hide away until he was allowed to go back to the nerve-breaking silence of his tiny bedroom, the only refuge he had left from the outside world and its judging eyes.

He just needed to endure it all. He knew that's what he had to do, but sometimes at night, when he was alone in his bed and that sleep wouldn't come, he caught himself wondering how much longer of this crappy sorry excuse of an existence he could withstand before loosing his nerve. But when the morning came, he always gritted his teeth and pushed to the back of his mind his darkest thoughts to face the day coming ahead.

Because there really was only one thing he could do.

Enduring it. One day at the time.

The end.

*Edit* I've written an alternative sequel to this oneshot, called "Of Love, Fear and Control", if anyone's interested.