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Chapter Sixteen:
Random Acts of…?

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October 11th 11:02am

The detective had no idea what that look on Squall's face meant. If the man was trying to hide his confusion, he'd failed. To Seifer, it didn't bode well that the agent could make it through an interrogation and most likely a poker game without so much as giving a glimpse of a tell, and yet stick him next to a girl and he instantly becomes a pathetic, flustered mess. The guy apparently really was sexually repressed and, all joking aside, Seifer wasn't about him to explore the joys of puberty anywhere near Rinoa. This made Seifer's job twice as difficult; he'd have to equally focus on protecting Rinoa from whoever killed her friends and the suit who acted more like an emo protagonist from one of those teeny-bopper movies. Seriously, if Squall sparkled in the sunlight, Seifer was going to stake him right then and there.

Putting a pin in that idea, calling it plan B, Seifer was breaking up this little love fest. The kicker was that neither of its participants actually knew they were involved in a love fest, awkwardly-cringe worthy as it was. Damn, he hated being the smartest person in the room, but it was his burden to bear. As with all Almasys, he'd accept his station in life graciously – and he'd personally add, quite handsomely.

Walking between the two beds, he brushed past Squall enough that he visible had to steady himself. Without so much as an apology, he extended his hand where Rinoa sat on the edge of the bed.

"Sorry you had to see that. Now, first things first, I'm helping you stand. I get it was a long night… I'm no stranger to long nights myself or feeling like shit in the morning, admittedly for entirely-different reasons. Moving sounds like a good idea in theory…but not so much in execution. I'm here to be that person to lean on – like my grandmother says after a two-day night on the town, 'sometimes your legs just feel wobblier than a one-legged Chocobo who got his beak into the moonshine.' In short, stop being your stubbornly self-sufficient self; you've done it long enough. Right now, I'm your knight and it's my duty to be there for you, m'lady."

She responded with a genuine smile, accepting his hand as he helped her to her feet. Maybe it was the pain or the severe lack of sleep, but she'd admit to feeling surprisingly woozy. It was quite the accomplishment just to become acclimated, every bone and muscle in her body simultaneously cried out in pain.

"Thank you, kind sir."

"Remember, it's my job to catch you if you fall – also keep you away from moonshine and Chocobos. Independently or together."

She giggled even though she was only able to pick up on part of his comment. "Your grandmother sounds like an interesting person."

"Yeah, let me tell you… there are stories, but I'll save those for later. Now let's get the princess to her new castle."

Squall was appalled.

…Plus, the phone on the nightstand was so close. He could've easily picked it up. Then, in an inexplicable, albeit tragic, 'accident,' a force of nature could've caused the phone to fly from his hands at an exorbitant rate of speed…just-so-happening to whack Seifer (repeatedly) in the process. Running that scenario through his head was as close as he'd get to that dream, but it at least offered a small amount of satisfaction. Thoughts like those would have him quickly failing a psych exam, although he wasn't aggressive by nature. He adhered to a strict code and violence was only a last resort. Still, it begged the question, when did Seifer last pass a psych exam? The agent found that Seifer's seemingly-instant hostility towards him was extremely disconcerting. And truthfully, it almost scared Squall how easily this guy could push is buttons. It wasn't normal.

That's why Squall walked away before he did something (else) stupid or, the more realistically, before he became physically ill from this damn love-festival these two had going on. He needed to focus and clean up his work area; he didn't spend years of dedication to have his career blown over these two and their mistakes.

Yes, he should've let it go, but after he got to the table, he felt this need to scoff. This whole 'knight' thing? It was a travesty of the job, but it was likely that Seifer was going to milk it for all it was worth. Probably as long as it took him to get in her pants - that is if Detective Asshole hadn't already last night. Yeah, he could do the nickname thing too, and the thought of thatof them – made him fucking sick; in fact, he had to grit his teeth in order to not go off on the guy. The only logical reason was because the hotel had been on his Gil. Squall rarely turned in expense reports, but he'd be damned if he'd foot the bill for their little tryst. Hell, he wasn't even going pay for their damn chocolate.

No, he wasn't proud of these thoughts, but he was still trying to make sense of everything, including why Cid had been so damn insistent that he had to be the one. Squall reasoned that even if Caraway had requested him on the case, his valuable wasn't in playing babysitter. And if there weren't enough questions, Squall had to ask himself what twenty-eight-year-old washout detective actually wants to be a knight in this day and age?

Seifer was deluded and so was Heartilly if she bought into this load of shit.

Mumbling, Squall started shoving his paperwork into his bag as a few choice curse words escaped his lips. It wasn't just Seifer rather than the whole case that made him inexplicably upset; it broke protocol on just about every level. Why Cid also refused to listen to reason was beyond him. Now his future revolved around sitting idly by as the princess and knight played footsy with one another.

Because he was so preoccupied with his anger, it allowed him to be caught off guard for the second time in eight hours as someone was standing next to him. He was better than this; he'd scold himself later for allowing his emotions – or whatever the hell these were – to get in the way.

But for now, he wanted to ask Seifer about all this extra hostility. Arms folded and jaw clenched, he looked at this joke of a local cop, one that nobody found funny. "Can you tell me what your problem is? I thought we'd come to an understanding about what's best for her."

He didn't say Rinoa. He'd count that as a win although it was obvious that he'd overemphasized the word 'her.'

"You." Seifer shot him an agitated look, taking a step closer. "You're my problem. You just don't get it. Worse yet, if I wrote it out or even spelled it out in macaroni letters, it wouldn't matter as you still won't get it. So, what's the point?"

"Whatever. I thought we were working together and-"

"We are working together," Seifer interrupted with a hiss, "What we're not doing is hurting people and that's what you're going to do."

"I have no fucking clue what you're going on about," Squall snapped back angrily, while trying to keep his voice down, "I thought we had some sort of understanding last night. You're all over the map today."

"Last night was different," Seifer conceded, his voice falling as he turned away. His choices were limited. Pointing out the truth to Squall would be the equivalent of showing a cloud to a Chocobo and then asking what shape he saw in it. That was, if you could get the stubborn bird to look at the sky in first place.

To put it in perspective, if the detective pointed to Rinoa, telling Squall not to hurt her, he'd respond saying, "he had no such intention" and then he'd add that "his job was to protect her." Squall wouldn't see because his mind couldn't comprehend. Chocobos can't see objects in clouds just like Squall couldn't see what was right in front of him. Unfortunately, Seifer saw everything like the way Squall and Rinoa acted around each other, looked at each, when neither had a clue. But the truth was painfully-clear, no matter how he tried to distract or misdirect them – it wouldn't last long.

Squall rested his laptop bag on the table, studying the man. He didn't seem to be lying underneath the layers of snark - there did appear to be something genuine about him.

"How was last night different?"

"Because you were leaving, all right? It was all supposed to be over and you'd be nothing more than a really nasty memory like eating a month-old spicy bean burrito with spoiled cream cheese."

"You are an asshole," Squall stated firmly, slinging his computer case over his shoulder. Why did he ever hold out any hope for a guy who twisted every sentence into a personal insult? "Detective Almasy, I actually believed that you wanted to save her life, but this is just about putting me down at every opportunity. I tried to leave, believe me, I pleased my case. Unfortunately, the bureau felt my usefulness was better served here. We both know it's not."

The detective tried to admit this wasn't going to work. While this approach was entertaining, it wasn't going to get them anywhere, plus it may end up backfiring on him if Rinoa took pity on the stiff. Seifer glanced towards the bathroom, making sure she was still inside. It was time for a new and rather novel approach for him - the truth.

"Fine you want the truth, how about what you just said? Start thinking about why were you trying so damn hard to get off this case. For a man who prides himself on being some all-knowing omnipotent fed, lording your fedness above all us mere mortals of-" Seifer stopped, catching himself going down that road again. They say that old habits die hard and whoever 'they' were, they certainly weren't kidding.

Seifer apologized with a smirk – or something along those lines. "My bad. That was an unproved jab at you. It seems that I can't just turn of the condescending sarcasm on and off like a light switch, especially when you're practically begging to-" he stopped for a second time, that had least gone a little better. The third time is a charm - or at least that's what 'they' say. Seriously, Seifer just added that to his list - to find out whoever 'they' were and kick their respective asses.

"Damn, this is hard. Okay, okay… Agent Leonhart, what I'm getting at is that even you probably don't why you were trying so hard to go home. I'm really not being snarky with this comment, but I know if I asked you to answer, you could sit down and create an entire spreadsheet of all the reasons you fought to get off this case. Sure, they all might be part of it, but you're too afraid to list the most important one… which is that you're afraid."

"I've done protective duties before, I'm not afraid."

Seifer laughed. "Oh you are, you just don't know it yet…again, I'm completely serious. The thing is, you damn well should be."

Although the bathroom door had opened, Seifer continued down the chivalrous route once more. It would've been easy to drop this right then and there, but he and Squall had to work at solving their differences. Seifer scoffed at the thought; he couldn't recall putting this much effort into an actual relationship. Damn, these epic bromances didn't come easily. Not to mention, Squall wasn't going to make that good of a wingman anyway. Maybe there'd be some hope for this Zell character.

"Look Leonhart, I can't promise miracles, but I'll work on dropping the attitude if you and I come to mutual agreement. Believe me, you will figure this out, but it'll be too late by then. So, once you get past the fear, the only thing there is left is pain. So the answer is simple – don't ever stop being afraid. Remember that and we're good."

Usually, Squall loved brain teasers and riddles, believing that they were great exercises for keeping his mind sharp, but this was the last thing he wanted today. Honestly, the most likely answer to all this was that there was no answer – Seifer was still just screwing with him. Still, the fact was if he agreed to this nonsense, he would possibly save himself some grief. He needed to come off as sincere or Seifer wouldn't go for it, but he also had to keep the charade credible by putting up a small fight.

"I have no idea what you just said. There are plenty of valid reasons for my return to Deling City, each of which would stand up on its own merits. Personally, I think you just enjoy screwing with my head, but whatever, if it helps us work together better, I'll agree. Honestly, the only thing to fear here is how far into the DEA this goes, but I'm willing to keep an open mind. So, whatever…I agree."

It was the truth; he hadn't been lying, except for the fact that during the course of his statement, he'd convinced himself that Almasy was full of utter BS. He'd ask Seifer more later when they were alone, but they had company right now. He looked over at Rinoa who was standing with her purse in one hand, plastic bag in the other. She had remained standing near the bed, most likely allowing the two guys to finish their private conversation.

He narrowed his eyes; she'd managed to cover up most of her scrapes with some kind of concealing makeup. Her long, dark hair was brushed around her face and, not only did it serve to frame it, it also worked to cover some of the abrasions on her neck. Also, like the robe last night, the dark color contrasted perfectly with the light makeup she'd put on. Rinoa looked… she looked like it was easier for her to walk out without much fuss. If it wasn't for the long gray 'talk to the paw' t-shirt that she still swam in, she'd look like she belonged among the hotel's clientele. Honestly, even dressed like that, he could take her to afternoon tea right now and not draw too much attention. Now that was a scary thought - he certainly wasn't tea drinker, although he could go for a few pots of coffee right now.

"Are we leaving or what?" Seifer snapped angrily as he walked over to Rinoa.

Oh yeah, that conversation had really sunk into Puberty-Fed's thick skull. On the positive, Seifer could rest assured that he'd at least gotten the Chocobo to look at the sky. Yes, it was very obvious that the stupid bird was checking out the sky.


Seifer hadn't left Rinoa's side; she actually thought it was rather sweet whereas Squall would consider it borderline creepy. Per the norm, his opinions didn't matter as the two walked side-by-side and he followed behind as the third wheel. Lagging behind was for the best, he much preferred the vantage point as he had a broader view of the surroundings.

They'd just left the hotel room, making their way into the main corridor toward the elevator but, as they turned a corner, three individuals appeared from the lift's door. Unlike the couple last night, it was obvious that these three weren't going to be too distracted in each other's company to remain oblivious to the world. Rinoa shuffled her feet, debating whether or not she should stop or run or…or maybe she'd somehow pull off that whole chameleon thing, self-camouflaging to blend into her surroundings. Since that seemed…unlikely, she hoped that either Seifer or Squall had a better plan. It also helped the elevator trio hadn't noticed them yet; it seemed that they knew each other and were exchanging a few final words.

"You're telegraphing – don't," Squall said, being only loud enough for her to hear. "Two maids the other direction, keep going."

Seifer had managed a quick read on the group before glancing to Rinoa. She had no idea what the agent meant about telegraphing, but the detective understood. Her indecision was showing as her movements showed she was unsure, telegraphing some degree of guilt. The detective's gut, which was usually spot-on about these things, said that these people weren't an immediate threat, but even seeing Rinoa's face could eventually make this all unravel. Being boxed in from the rear because of the maids, their best option was still making it to the elevator.

There was one quick option however. It wasn't a good one. It wasn't even a mediocre one. Seifer was going sooo going to blame his former girlfriend for this idea. She'd forced him to watch one too many chick-flicks and, like his bad burrito example from earlier, their hackneyed and worn-out plots tended to be something that stayed with you far longer than one could humanly hope. Seriously, besides his girlfriend, who keeps buying tickets for those recycled plots about bosses falling in love with secretaries, reluctant knights falling for the princess in a pre-arranged relationships, the prostitute falling for the person who hired them, the people that discover 'true love' during something as ridiculous like zombie apocalypse, or – the worst offender by far – that law enforcement agent that falls for someone he's changed with protecting.

Oh…yeah, scratch the last one. Rinoa and the suit – that's who is stupid enough to fall for recycled plots. If those two really wanted to become some clichéd trope, it would be over his dead body and, for that to happen, they'd have to merge scenarios with that zombie movie. On top of that, he'd be damned if he was resigned to play the court jester/sidekick. Seifer Almasy was starring material all the way – and he was going to prove his acting prowess now. If this was going to become some movie screenplay, him and Leggy-Fed were the stars and Agent Puberty would do well to remember that.

"Leonhart, it's either you or me…newsflash, it's not you. Go on," Seifer said quickly as he firmly reached for Rinoa's hand.

His words were lost not only on Squall, but Rinoa as well - until his next action, that was. The detective needed to be forceful because of the situation but remained mindful of her wounds. With the hand he held, he guided her to the nearest doorframe before lifting her arm above her head. Gently, he placed his body close to her.

"Sorry 'bout this. Grab the handle, maybe wrap a leg. Realism." He acted as her director, trying to counter her shock. She yelped in surprise as his free hand landed on her lower back as her body was crushed between Seifer's body and the doorway.

He could see they were getting closer, so he'd leaned down as if he was whispering something in her ear. "I won't make you do anything but, can I kiss you?"

She started to open her mouth but, similar to snapping out of her morning haze, formulating actual words went beyond the current skill level she possessed. Instead, she nodded her permission. Before she had time for any mental preparation that she really, really, really needed, Seifer's lips had crushed against hers.

Rinoa wasn't a stranger to the occasion romantic movie and she'd seen similar scenarios played out like this. In the films, it always seemed to work out for story-related purposes. Of course, this was usually a plot device, used as the precursor to some epic romance… which by the way, totally wasn't happening what-so-ever. The fact she was thinking about plot devices while being kissed, instead you know – thinking about how she was being kissed, showed exactly how not into this she was.

Squall on the other hand, had a quite the different experience over the last few seconds.

"What the fuck?" While the agent didn't find cussing for no apparent reason something he did often – in his book, it had been very, very warranted in this situation. In fact, he realized that he was literally standing in a hotel gawking as two people made out. Gathering his wits – and wishing for some more brain bleach - he continued walking ahead. He was 'going on' as Seifer instructed before he accosted Rinoa in the hallway… Damn it, Miss Heartilly, in the hallway. Right now he just wanted to get to the elevator without making everyone on the floor aware they were here.

…But two women were aware as they headed towards him. To add insult to injury, they weren't just walking, they were walking while boring their eyes-of-judgment directly through him. To edge up his creep factor, Squall accidentally made eye contact with one of the women. After cursing his existence, he moved past them with his head facing forward as he continued to play look out, while Rinoa and Seifer were playing something else entirely that he'd prefer not label.

"Pervert."

"Too bad, what a waste."

After he'd passed by, Squall heard the exchange between the women, obviously referring to him. Seriously, what type of depraved-ass slowed down to watch some 'random' make out session? Hell, at this point, he wouldn't even bother denying the fact that he was watching because, well… to repeat his earlier statement, what the fuck just happened?

Squall made it to the elevator just in time to catch the end of the show. He still had to be on the look out for anything else and, as the women passed the couple at the door, one turned back and looked at him in disgust. Yep. Perfect. Of course. There he was, standing with his back against the wall… again caught watching the hallway's main attraction. Whatever. Squall didn't care about the opinion of some random stranger; he only cared about having a job that was becoming increasingly-difficult to handle, unlike Heartilly and Almasy…they seemed to be handling each other quite easily.

He blinked…then blinked again. While he didn't have much of an imagination, but he'd like to think he would've come up with a plan that had more…class. It was like out of every bad movie his sister and father had forced him watch. It was all so unnecessary. It was almost as if Seifer was trying to shove their relationship in face.

Unbeknownst to Squall, he'd been right.

Yes, he was trying to shove it in Squall's face, but taking it to this extreme hadn't been his intention – just a case of perfectly-executed happenstance. Hopefully, this would make it click in the Fed's pea-sized head and he'd simply back off. If not, maybe he'd mentally place her as off limits. It was a win-win, plus the (assumed) utterly-appalled look and the (very real) random chastising by strangers – pure bonus. Christmas had come early this year.

"They're almost here. Fake it," Seifer managed in between kisses at the moment that Squall had made it down to the elevator.

To Rinoa, this discomfort brought back memories. This was wrong; everything about it felt wrong. She couldn't help but to equate it to the mistake she'd made with Zone; it probably hadn't helped matters any that she'd kept saying how much the detective reminded her of him either.

Rinoa had to force herself to think of anything besides how unpleasant this experience was – chiefly because as his hand traveled lower, her first instinct had been to gag. She noticed that he seemed to be a hell of a lot more comfortable with this than she was. It made sense; he'd probably done undercover work. Her thoughts drifted that direction…and to Squall. She recalled talking to him about something similar last night in the car. He'd admitted that it could be awkward, but stressed professionalism. Strangely that made her feel a lot better, knowing she had something in common with him now. She wanted to show him that she could do this too, so she fought against what felt right, even going that awkward-extra step, hooking her leg around Seifer.

"They're gone."

She pulled away immediately, realizing that her strained-efforts had come a little too lat. Before she could leave, Seifer grabbed her wrist. "…You've been crying. I'm sorry."

Wiping the tears she didn't know had been building, she looked at him as they began walking. "It's just…memories, but I wanted to do it. I mean, I didn't want to do that, I mean-"

"Stop. I know what you mean, you did great - you're like a pro."

She slapped him on the arm and chucked. "You'd better mean 'pro' as in undercover work."

"As opposed to someone who spends their life under covers?" Now it was his turn to laugh. "Don't worry, I meant that you did what had to be done, even if it was only acting. Trust me, I've done that and worse and I'm sure the suit has too… So, let's get you out of here. Plus, I'm sure Fed-Boy enjoyed the show."

She folded her arms, rubbing her shoulders as she looked directly at Squall. That whole conversation yesterday felt so real now. "I know it's important work and you have to do…things, but I'd still have a hard time. When I asked Agent Leonhart about something sorta along these lines, he basically came out and said that you'd have to be a very insecure person or an idiot to be jealous. Okay…paraphrasing a smidge, but still no matter how much I understood, I don't think I could handle it."

"Everyone's different. There isn't any right way to feel."

They'd met up with Agent Leonhart and, judging by the look his eyes, Seifer wondered if he should ask how 'insecure' he was feeling right about now. Yet inexplicably Seifer didn't feel like rubbing it in anymore. Outwardly, his only response came in the form of a knowing smirk. Inwardly, he was manically laughing at the guy's expense, however.

Apparently, that ivy-league degree of his could buy him anything… but a damned clue.

"Let's go." Squall ordered, avoiding eye contact with either of them as he got in the elevator.

As the doors closed, Seifer leaned towards Squall, doing a fake 'cough' into his hand. "Insecure."

Okay, so maybe he wasn't above rubbing it in.