The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing
Final Fantasy VIII
"You're the best-looking guy here."
Squall paused, one hand still on the front braid of his dress uniform, one eyebrow arched. "Where," he said, "have I heard that before?"
Zell polished off his champagne, and eyed the uniformed crowd milling around the Garden ballroom. The glass atrium was ablaze with lights, and their glow was reflected distantly in low-hanging clouds. There would be snow covering the roof before the party was over. "Hell if I know. It's true. Maybe you've heard it a lot."
"Your opinion is biased, I think," Squall began, and then promptly stabbed himself on his insignia pin. "Ah! Dammit."
"And you're the one that gets trusted with a gunblade? Here. Let me." Zell batted Squall's bleeding hand away, and then pinned and re-pinned the braid with expert efficiency. "Put that finger in your mouth unless you want me to cast cure on it. You'll stain your cuffs."
"Yes, mom," Squall muttered (but around his finger).
"You know," Zell said, ignoring his commander's grumbling, "You really should be out there, instead of hanging back in the hallway here."
"I needed to fix my--oh, you've got it."
"It doesn't take twenty minutes to redo a braid-pin," Zell countered, but added, as Squall moodily squeezed a tiny red bead of blood out of his fingertip, "Not even for you."
"I've never been particularly good at formal affairs."
"True. The last one we had you wouldn't even shake my hand."
Squall looked off to the side. He remembered. It was remarkable, considering what he now would do to (and have done to him by) Zell on a regular basis. "You know how it was. I was dealing with a few issues."
"Only a few." Zell folded his arms in that way that Squall knew, by now, meant he was preparing for a full-on assault of some kind. "Maybe only a few more than the entire run of Timber Maniacs." He gave Squall a long, considering look. "Come on. You should go dance. Ellone's here somewhere, she'll dance with you."
"I am not," Squall said, in dangerous tones, "dancing with Ellone."
"You're perfectly good at it."
"That's not the point."
"Then what is the point?"
"The point is shut up, Zell."
Zell sighed. For a moment the sound of the orchestra and the murmur of more polite conversations filled the void between them. "Nobody cares that she's not here," he said, in somewhat gentler tones. "Really."
Squall's glance, while fleeting, was bitter. "Oh, nobody cares that the commander of Garden got dumped by his sorceress, so now he's dancing with his sister because he can't get anyone else? Great. Way to make me look incredibly pathetic."
"It's not pathetic," Zell snapped. "It's nice. Nobody is thinking about Rinoa tonight, Squall, except you. And you can get someone else, unless you hadn't noticed you were fucking me before you even got dumped."
Squall flinched. "I'm not-- I'm not ashamed of you, Zell."
"Come on. It's just... decorum, you know? You know what the old faculty would say if they were still here?"
"Well, they aren't here." Zell's face was drawn down in hard lines, his anger barely held in check. "And not to sound racist, but the old faculty was a bunch of hidebound, backwards, hoverboard-stealing assholes who got kicked out of a sparkly-rock obsessed Laguna fan club. Also, kinda traitors. So I don't think we should worry about what they'd think anymore. And I don't think you should worry about--"
"It's not me." Squall said, loud enough for a few cadets near the punch bowl to glance in their direction. Luckily, from the brightness of the floor and the darkness of the hallway, Squall didn't think they should be seen. He still lowered his voice accordingly. "Zell. I'm the commander of this Garden. I have to-- I mean, Caraway's out there, there's a certain amount of--of... of quit looking at me like that."
"Like what?" Zell said, not stopping by any means. "Like you'd look at a guy stuffing his entire foot in his mouth while simultaneously digging his own grave? It's worth looking at, believe me."
"I am not--"
"You're just scared."
That stopped Squall cold. Of all the-- he wasn't. Was he?
Zell closed his eyes, flapping one hand in the air. "Blah blah blah, I'm Garden Commander, I don't have feelings or girlfriends or boyfriends or emotions or a dick. I'm just a plaster saint that Nida can wheel around on a hand truck for formal occasions. Otherwise someone somewhere might think I'm not cool."
Squall's face crumpled with fury. Had he been thinking clearly, he would have known that there was nothing so foolish in all the world as trying to throw a sucker-punch at Zell Dincht.
Squall was not thinking clearly.
Zell was not there, of course. He moved out of range as though he had simply evaporated, and Squall's fist swooshed through empty air. Until it was caught. And held, with all the force of a thousand petrify spells.
"That," Zell said, directly into Squall's ear and in a deadly tone usually reserved for battlefields or the bedroom, "Was really, really stupid." And then he started walking, Squall's hand held implacably clamped to his side, towing his Commander helplessly along behind him.
"Let me go."
"Zell." The brightly-lit ballroom was inches away. Squall was starting to panic.
"You can either walk like you mean it or I can just drag you out on the floor, whatever you want."
Squall, about to lock his legs and force Zell to do just that, realized his tactical error immediately. Which would he rather? To walk arm-in-(albeit deadlocked)-arm with Zell out into the party, or to be hauled bodily after Zell like an unwilling toddler being forced to have his bath?
By the time they broke the outer ring of the crowd, their joined elbows looked almost deliberate.
"What are you doing?" Squall hissed, as much as he could without moving his mouth. "Why is everyone clapping?"
"Because they're glad to see you, stupid," Zell said, quite affably considering he was holding Squall captive. "You'll have to lead, I'm shorter."
"I am not doing this agai--"
Zell reversed his grip, and before Squall realized it, he was holding Zell in perfect starting form, just like they'd all learned in their infiltration and espionage classes. "No," Zell said with a steely smile, as the orchestra flared into full swell around them, "You're doing it for the first time."
It was not the Waltz for the Balamb Fish, proving perhaps that there was some measure of mercy in the hearts of whatever gods steered Squall Leonheart's fate. But it was still a waltz, though he couldn't remember, in his current state, if it was the Flower-Seller's Waltz or Maria and Ralse's Pas de Trois. He suspected it was the latter, because there was definitely a war on, and he and Zell were fighting it. Though he would insist he was not a strategist by any means, Zell had neatly maneuvered Squall into position, and there was only one thing Squall could do for his dignity, and that was to dance the goddamn dance. This was not like like it had been with Rinoa, when he could half-ass along and only co-operate when it pleased him. He was the commander of Garden, and every eye in the place was on him.
So he danced.
Angrily, at first, to be sure, though he fought to keep that out of his expression and gestures, maintaining only a rote precision of movement. (Hide your personal feelings, the instructors had said in the dance courses. You may find your partner unpleasant, but you must not show it, and endanger your mission.) Only Zell was not unpleasant. In fact his nearness was as dangerous as ever, even in the smoldering wreckage of Squall's pride. And his dancing was no less remarkable. Zell was right; it was nothing like dancing with Rinoa, or like dancing with a girl at all, in spite of Zell letting him lead. As anyone who used his whole body as his only weapon would be, Zell was downright lethal on the floor. His movements were crisp, powerful, controlled. Squall was challenged in spite of himself. Zell snapped back into Squall's arms like rebounding from a feint, and Squall moved in to meet him.
Later, he wasn't exactly sure when he stopped being angry and started enjoying himself. He suspected it started sooner than he would admit. Sometime before he realized the other couples had retreated back to watch, before he took note of how effortlessly Zell moved alongside him. And why wouldn't he? Fighting together through centuries of collapsed time, and then long hours after learning better ways to fit together. Squall swung back for the last turn and remembered, with vivid clarity, the emptiness of the end of time, a flash of a dance floor, and Zell's face, not Rinoa's. Here. This. Something shivered through him and he wondered if Zell had already seen it, had already known.
They came together as the music ended and applause erupted around them. Zell, laughing, gave his commander a playful little push and a bow, as though they'd finished a good bout.
"Told you," he said, soundlessly.
Squall tossed his hair out of his eyes as the circle around them collapsed, new partners forming for the next song. "...Whatever."
They were both still looking at each other when Ellone stepped up, clapping her hands lightly. "Wow, you were amazing! I had no idea you could dance like that, Squall! Can I have the next dance?"
Squall shrugged, as though it made not the least difference to him. "Oh, all righ--" he began, but got no further because Ellone had looped her arm through Zell's and pulled him off to an empty spot on the floor.
"Thanks, Squall, I've been trying to get him all night!"
Zell made a helpless gesture and Squall was left alone in the middle of the dance floor, again. His chance to storm off was thwarted, however, by a gloved hand on his shoulder.
"I don't remember you doing that well when I taught you," Quistis said, with a laugh. "Got anything else you're keeping up your sleeve?"
The music started up again, and Squall shook his head. "I don't know," he admitted, but took the hand she offered him, catching Zell's wink over Ellone's shoulder. "Let's find out."