final fantasy 8

1. Zell is always talking. Even in his sleep he mumbles and twitches, emitting a constant stream of noise. Normally Squall can ignore the useless prattle, letting the words washing over him in an almost soothing fashion but not right now because they're trying to bag a T-Rex and they'll never get it with Zell making more noise than a herd of Grats.

Squall thinks of several ways of making Zell shut up, but most of them involve violence or a spell and as confident as he is, Squall knows that he's not good enough yet to take on a T-Rex alone. So he leans over and kisses Zell instead, catching him in mid-word.

It's an oddly innocent kiss and more passionate than it has any right to be. It's almost as if some of the passion that Squall has kept locked away all his life has finally found an egress in this soft, gentle movement and is attempting to escape while it can.

Squall pulls away and the passion that made his lips tingle is once more safely hidden away. He looks at Zell, whose eyes are wide and blue, and then turns his attention back to hunting the T-Rex.

Zell watches his retreating back. For the first time in his life, he's speechless.

2. Squall Junctions Carbuncle and he can feel the GFs moving about in his mind, making room for the newcomer. He knows that they're stealing away more memories, more of what he was and how he became who he is, but he doesn't care. Maybe if he Junctions enough GFs, they'll take everything and leave him clean and blank and without the heavy pain that hangs around his heart without an explanation. What does he really have that he wants to remember? Just pain and rain and loss.

The memories are erased and he wouldn't even be aware of their going except that they leave brief, strange echoes behind. Broken images of blood and pale skin and cold eyes. The smell of lightening. The barest sensation of a kiss, warm lips on his own, slick from rain.

Then even those are gone.

Squall doesn't miss them.

How can he miss what he never had?

3. Squall peels the glove off Zell's hand. Beneath the blood soaked leather, Zell's palm is smooth and soft and pale. He holds Zell's hand, barely breathing, as if Zell were a frightened bird and a sudden movement would send him winging away. His own hand is soft too, protected from the rasp of his gunblade's hilt by the kid gloves he wears, and it's white, too; pale and clean and soft.

He stretches out his fingers and they're longer than Zell's; his hand is just a little larger. Zell just watches him, silent and still for once, breathing just as shallowly as Squall.

Squall stares at their hands, side-by-side, so different and yet so similar.

He wonders at their cleanliness. Wonders where all the blood they've spilled has gone.

4. Zell became a martial artist because he used to be bullied as a child and, back then, his only defense had been his fists. He took lessons because it turned out that fighting with his fists was something he was good at and it meant that he wasn't running around the house in a frenetic frenzy, crashing into walls and doorframes, which made his mother happy and Zell will always be a mama's boy.

He likes being a martial artist because it means that he always has his weapon with him. It means that he doesn't have to depend on something else to protect him. He doesn't have to worry about rust or broken blades or running out of ammo like the others and he figures that he'll be dead before he can suffer from arthritis or the ache of old, broken bones.

He's never been disarmed. He's always been able to fight back. He's never been beaten--not in the ways that really matter since he's always picked himself up and trained harder and fought back and never let anything or anyone stop him from being exactly who he wants to be.

But when Squall stares at him he turns to stone, to over cooked pasta.

He's been thoroughly thrashed, beaten down until he can't get up anymore--doesn't want to get up anymore.

He's always fought with his fists, mind and body working in perfect synchronization.

He's never had to fight with his heart.

5. Squall stares at the contract Rinoa handed him with slowly growing shock. He can't believe this and wonders first if this is Cid's method of punishing the three of them for following Seifer into that tower in Dollet. Then he takes a closer look at the shaky handwriting and he wonders instead just how much Cid had to drink when he wrote this out.

"'Till Timber regains it independence? Tch. That's going to take forever." Zell snorts and his brow is furrowed in annoyance. "Cid must've been drunk when he wrote that."

Squall almost starts and stares but catches himself in time. It wouldn't do to have the Captain appear shocked.

6. Another Galbadian soldier dead in the streets and if Zell didn't know that it was him or them he might have had time to feel sad. He does know that he prefers it when one of the GFs does the killing; then there's nothing left but a dark mark on the ground and burning ozone. He knows that he'll feel this later, after the adrenaline has worn off and he's thinking about more than just how many more times he can cast Cure or if Ifrit will come when he calls. He can feel Squall beside him, matching him perfectly, step for step, dancing around the enemies with more grace than he showed on the ballroom floor the other night.

Rinoa is barely hanging on and it's mostly luck that the soldiers are aiming for either him or Squall. It means more pain but he doubts that Cid would look kindly upon the death of a client.

Another one down, by Rinoa's hand this time, and Zell waits until she and Squall have moved ahead a bit before leaning down and placing a careful punch to the back of this guy's head. Rinoa is too tentative in battle, she leaves too many soldiers wounded and not out cold; too many soldiers that can cast Cure and come after them from behind. But what can Zell expect?

Rinoa's just a girl. She doesn't know how to fight and her steps falter in the dance.

She isn't a SeeD. And Zell doubts that she ever will be.