My Orphanage

Chapter Three

By Scarlet Fever

Zell slowly woke up, smelling familiar detergent and something watery. When he opened his pale blue eyes, he expected to be in his bedroom in Balamb Town, but that wasn't the case. He also smelled something masculine in the sheets, other than himself. He looked across the bed, wondering if he'd fallen into a one-night stand with some random stranger, but he was alone. Then, he remembered the rain. It wasn't the oceans of Balamb that he was smelling. It was the heavy forest rains of Timber, and the masculine scent in the sheets was that of Seifer.

Zell sat up, the sheets pooling around his hips, wondering where Seifer was, exactly, wondering if the roads were better today. He slowly got up, feeling a little nervous about being in Seifer's house, in Seifer's bed, even though they hadn't shared it. He opened the door, poking his head out. But, he could only hear silence. So, he went into the bathroom, relieving himself and having a quick shower, hands pressed to the tiles as he let the hot water stream down his back, his mind thinking of all the times that Seifer would have also been in this shower. Zell willed himself not to think about that. This situation was already awkward enough, and Zell getting infatuated with Seifer would only make it worse.

He put a towel around his waist, going back into the bedroom as he ran his fingers through his wet blonde hair. He noticed a small pile of clothing on the dresser which hadn't been there last night. Seifer must have left it for him. Zell noticed that the pants were all shorts. Seeing as how Seifer was much taller than he was, pants fit for Seifer's long legs wouldn't fit Zell's smaller frame. The gesture struck Zell as very sweet and thoughtful, so unlike the Seifer that Zell had known so long ago. He started to dress in the clothes left for him, looking out the window casually, seeing the dense treetops, though there was cleared land around Seifer's house. The backyard had gardens off to the side. One had ferns and in the summer, would have had flowers. The other was a vegetable garden, though it looked a little barren now because of the cooler weather coming in. Soon there would be snow, for the autumn rains had already started.

As Zell pulled the T-shirt over his head, the smell of detergent and Seifer coming from the soft fabric, he saw the man himself outside in the backyard. Zell watched from behind the sheer curtains as Seifer fought invisible enemies, practiced and shadowboxed. Seifer had his gunblade out, the familiar Hyperion, and moved it as if it were merely an extension of his body, the way a true professional with the weapon used it. Seifer also moved with the fluidity of a trained martial artist, his fists and feet just as much a weapon as his blade. Zell watched Seifer move with knowledge, like he was watching one of his students back at Garden. Seifer was using a form of martial arts called Pi Qua Quan, known for its circular hand motions and lack of a fist. It was a very graceful school of martial arts, full of flexible movements that were elegant, and yet very strong and deadly. Seifer's long limbs just made it look all the more beautiful, and coupled with the use of his gunblade, Zell was transfixed. Over the years, Zell had a couple of students who wanted to learn the 'cutting hand', the 'windmill' movements of Pi Quan, but it was a difficult to master, and the students would have never been able to show as much grace and mastery as Seifer was showing. Even Zell himself found it a hard school because of his shorter limbs.

Zell also watched how Seifer used his weapon, how differently he used it compared to Squall. Squall always used his gunblade with two hands for a more powerful downward thrust, whereas Seifer was almost strictly one-handed. Zell noticed that both his hands would come together for a quick upward cut, but then he would go to a one-handed stance once more. Zell knew from picking up Squall's gunblade a couple times that it was a very heavy weapon, and the muscles of Seifer's forearm and his biceps showed strain in holding up that weight with just his wrist, and not only that, but using the heavy weapon so effortlessly. It made Zell think of something Seifer said last night, about Squall having no passion for the gunblade, and merely choosing it because it was a difficult weapon to master, and how Seifer had known always that it was for him. It showed in his movements.

The tattooed blonde became transfixed for another reason. Seifer stopped his movements like a cat, no forward stumbling or continuation of momentum, and he took a couple of breaths, lifting the hem of his T-shirt to mop his sweaty forehead. It gave Zell a glimpse from his voyeuristic position of Seifer's rock-hard abdomen, with its defined and rigid muscles. His track pants were also fitted on his hips, so the cut lines of his groin muscles were also displayed. A small trail of hair disappeared into his pants, showing he was not a real brunette. Seifer was also wearing his glasses, too. Zell had wondered if the spectacles were for disguise only, like the hair, but if Seifer wore them when he was alone, then he must have needed them. Seifer was splattered a little with mud from the wet, soggy ground, and Zell's mind went into overdrive with homoerotic fantasy. How graceful and masculine Seifer was, how sexy his face was when it was completely set with concentration, the way the muscles of his back moved under the thin black fabric of his T-shirt, the prowess with which he moved.

Seifer stopped, wiping at his brow again, his shirt going a little higher, Zell watching as Seifer's pectoral muscles glistened with sweat. Zell stared at Seifer's chest, at his nipples, as his navel. The tall man dropped his shirt once more, and Zell noticed that he put his hand to his back, and seemed to be under some strain. He winced, but kept going. Zell put on a pair of the baggy shorts, and went downstairs after he saw Seifer wince again. Was he okay?

When Zell went to the back door, which opened into a small sunroom off the kitchen. There were a lot of plants in here, probably brought inside with the cold nights. Zell went out onto the porch, finding it actually quite warm outside. Seifer was leaning his weight on his gunblade, hand on one hip, panting a little.

"You have good form," Zell said, crossing his arms, meaning it in terms of Seifer's martial arts skills, and more subtly about his body. "You've seemed to master Pi Quan."

Seifer hoisted Hyperion up on his shoulder. Something deep in him was thrilled by Zell wearing his T-shirt. "Praise for me coming from a Garden Instructor? I think that's a first."

"You seem to have gotten better with your gunblade, too."

Seifer shrugged, but was moved by the compliments. He hoped he wasn't blushing. "Well, I've had practice." He swung Hyperion down, pointing the tip at Zell's chin. "Wanna spar?"

"With your gunblade, don't you think that's a little unmatched?"

"Scared, Chicken-Wuss?" Seifer winked and gave a taunting smile.

Zell angrily pursed his lips. "You wish, fucker." Zell knocked the blade out of the way, and dashed towards his opponent, kicking at his wrist to get Seifer to drop his weapon. It worked, and Zell punched Seifer in the gut. He didn't want to give too many heavy blows, because they were only sparring, not a real fight. Seifer reeled backwards, but his left hand to slice down on Zell's shoulder, and then his left to cuff him under the chin. Zell started to fall backwards, but swept at Seifer's legs with his own. They both toppled down onto the muddy ground. Both men were up quickly, circling each other. Zell caught Seifer up in a quick combination of punches and kicks, which made Seifer fall to the ground. But, he didn't just lay there. He shoulder-rolled towards Hyperion, but Zell was quicker, stomping on Seifer's wrist, getting a hand around the other man's throat.

"You got me," Seifer grunted after a few moments of glaring at Zell. He then kicked out, his right leg kicking Zell's knee, his left pushing the smaller man backwards. He caught up his gunblade and pressed the blade to Zell's throat. "At least only briefly."

Zell snorted, wiping mud off his face. "Not bad," he admitted jerkily as Seifer pulled the blade away. "I got you, though." He touched his own nose.

Seifer reached up, his fingers coming back with a little blood. He wiped the blood away, offering a dirty, muddy hand to Zell.

Zell looked at the hand, but then took it as Seifer helped him to his feet. Their fingers lingered together for a moment, before Seifer wiped his hand on his shirt. "You're good," Seifer said lowly. "But, that's to be expected from a SeeD."

Zell snorted, wiping his own face with the hem of the now very dirty shirt. As Zell had watched Seifer's form before, Seifer was now the one doing the glimpsing. Though Zell was short and would be considered petite in stature, the chest and abdomen that was briefly flashed were... amazing. Seifer let out his breath shakily, trying to remember the last time his fingers had run over the hard muscles of another man's torso. "I'm a little rusty," Zell admitted ruefully. Seifer looked away, concentrating on cleaning his gunblade. "I haven't gotten to do much fighting lately, at least not outside teaching a bunch of dorky pre-teens how to kick each other in the nuts."

Seifer laughed. "Sounds like an ideal job, then. So, you don't go on missions that much anymore?"

"Try not at all." Zell frowned, putting his hands on his hips. "But, that's the way it goes."

Seifer frowned a little. "What's the good of being a SeeD if you're put on the shelf?" He shrugged. "I guess Headmaster Cid doesn't appreciate what he has in his arsenal."

Zell said nothing.

"So, are you hungry? I don't have any hot dogs, kiddo. You'll have to settle for something else."

"Have you heard what the roads are like?"

Seifer shook his head, going inside. He took off his dirty shirt, and put it in a basket near the door. Zell tried not to look, because he knew he would get aroused. "We can walk down there if you like." Seifer was about to shut the sunroom door, but stopped when he heard something. A squeaking noise. "Shit," he cursed under his breath.

"What?" Zell asked, cocking his head and looking outside. He then heard the noise too, and saw a small green thing outside near the gardens. "A cactuar?!" He asked, confused. Cactuars were native to deserts, definitely not Timber.

"That little bastard," Seifer hissed, going outside. He quietly slunk towards the cactuar that was doing its typical dance near some ferns, staring at Seifer with its perpetual look of surprise.

"What's a cactuar doing here?" Zell asked quietly, staying close to Seifer, keeping his voice as low as possible.

"Shhhh." Seifer took silent steps towards the small creature, getting within arm's reach of the thing. It made a squeaking noise, then jumped up in the air, making a noise that Zell guessed was angry. It shot out a few needles and took off into the dense trees.

"Dammit!" Seifer cursed. He'd tried to dodge the needles, but had failed. He carefully pulled them out of his skin, but instead of throwing them away, he kept them, going back into the house.

"What's a cactuar doing here?" Zell asked again as they went into the kitchen. Zell had just had a shower, but he needed another one. Seifer opened a door, and turned on a light. Zell saw a staircase.

"I was hunting monsters in the Galbadian desert about five months ago, and when I was unloading things from the back of my truck, that cactuar popped out and went into the woods. I've been trying to catch him ever since." Seifer went into a large basement, and Zell was amazed to see jars lined up on the shelves. It looked like a pantry, except that Items lined the shelves. Seifer found a jar with cactuar needles in them, and put the few he'd collected inside. "Cactuar needles are hard to come by, so if I caught that little shit, I could get more." He sighed, turning to face Zell.

"Wow," Zell said lowly, looking around. "You have a lot of items. Why so many here? Why aren't they at the store?"

"Because I have to research these ones." Seifer went back upstairs, waiting for Zell to join him before turning off the light and closing the door. "I have to keep learning about items and how they react to other items. I even created a computer program that helps it along."

"Really?" Zell asked, sitting at the kitchen's island as Seifer started to root through the cupboards, Zell's eyes intently on Seifer's bare back, on the male muscles there, how his skin was still splattered with dried mud....

"Well, I can make some chicken, but it has to thaw. You can have another shower and we can walk down to the highway and see what kind of shape it's in."

"What about you?" Zell asked, so distracted by Seifer's body that the Ragnarok could have landed in the kitchen, and he wouldn't have noticed. "You need a shower too."

"Haven't you ever heard of being a good host?" Seifer asked, pulling the chicken out of the freezer.

"Uh, well.... um, thanks." He went back upstairs and had a very fast shower, dressing in some more clothes that Seifer had left out for him. Seifer then had a fast shower, and he dressed quickly. He gave Zell one of his coats because even though it was getting closer to noon now, it was getting colder.

"Thanks," Zell said quietly, zipping the coat up. It was too big for him, but it was nice and warm, and it smelled like Seifer. Zell stared off into space, not wanting to look at the other man as they got ready to check out the road. He didn't want to look because spending this much time with Seifer was making him think sexual thoughts, and he just couldn't do that. There were just too many reasons why it would never work out, and even if it was a one-night stand, this was Seifer Almasy, someone that Zell couldn't just forget about.

"So, what's Garden like now?" Seifer asked as they started walking down the street. Seifer hadn't brought his gunblade, but he still had a pair of survival knives on him.

"The same," Zell muttered with a shrug. "Squall and Quistis help out a lot."

"Squall does Headmaster duties now?" Seifer asked, bitter. Shit, wasn't there anything that Squall couldn't fall ass-backwards into? He never strove to achieve any of the things he'd succeeded at, and yet... here he was, grooming to be Headmaster of Balamb Garden, controlling all of SeeD. He could see it of Quistis, since she had always been rather administrative, and worked hard. Seifer wondered if Quistis had the same bitterness growing in her towards Squall. Had she yet noticed how he just got everything handed to him on a silver platter, while everyone else around him had to work their asses off to get passed over for those very same things?

"You got pretty quiet," Zell noted. "Thinking about Squall again, huh?"

Seifer scowled, not liking that Zell had been able to know what he was thinking. "Not bad, Chicken-Wuss."

"Why do you have to be such an asshole?" He ground out, stamping his foot. He noticed that Seifer wasn't taking very long strides. "So, did you injure yourself?"


"When I saw you working out, you winced. Did you overdo it?"

"Hmmm? No. It's nothing."

"Come on. You don't have to be ashamed about pulling a muscle."

"It was from sleeping on the couch," Seifer admitted.

"The couch?"

Seifer grunted. "It's a nice couch, but it's not made for sleeping."

"You should have made me sleep on it," Zell stated. "I'm shorter than you are."

"Like I said, it would have been bad manners."

Zell rolled his eyes. "You're so weird, Seifer. Sometimes you're a total jerk, and then others.... you're really sweet."

Seifer looked away, not wanting to show that Zell's praise made him embarrassed. "Do you live at Garden, or do you commute?" Seifer asked after a while.

"I live at Garden."

"Oh. Well... I guess that means you get all the hot dogs you want."

"I don't eat hot dogs anymore," Zell admitted.

Seifer looked at the other man like he said he was Hyne reincarnated. "What?!"

Zell just shrugged. "I had a.... bad experience."

"What, did you get a taste of cock and find that hot dogs are a poor substitute?" Seifer asked with a chuckle. "The way you used to shovel those things in your mouth.... I'm surprised everyone didn't clue into your gayness."

Zell gave Seifer a raspberry and picked up an errant stick that was laying near his feet. Both men were walking in the middle of the road. It's not like any cars were coming, anyway. He started using it as a walking stick, jauntily swinging it. "About 8 years ago, I got a huge plate of hot dogs, and ate about...." Zell trailed off, closing one eye as he thought. "Oh, at least fifteen of them. No, wait... maybe it was twenty. So anyway, an hour or two later, I started to feel very sick. Wound up with food poisoning."

Seifer couldn't help but laugh.

"It's not funny!" Zell exclaimed angrily. "I was sick for like three weeks. I couldn't get out of bed, and I always seemed to have to make the choice of if I wanted to shit myself, or throw up on myself, because it was coming out both ends."

Seifer started laughing harder, holding his stomach.

"I lost 30 pounds!" Zell exclaimed. "And, cleaning up liquid shit isn't fun!"

Seifer completely lost it, laughing so hard that he couldn't breathe.

"Shut up, Seifer!" Zell whacked the other man in the butt with his makeshift walking stick.

"Ow, ow!" Seifer exclaimed, elbowing Zell in the ribs. He then stopped to catch his breath. "Ow, my side." He rubbed his hip, which had gotten sore with the violence of his laughter. "Only you, Zell." His laughter subsided.

"So, after that I haven't been able to eat them. It just brings up... ugly flashbacks."

Seifer pointed. "We can see the 118 good from over there." They went up a side road, that cut up the side of a hill, which was actually a cliff.

Zell saw with dismay that the 118 was washed out, and didn't look like it would open today. "Fuck."

"You can stay at my place as long as you need."

"Selphie's probably called out a search party," Zell muttered, putting his hands in the pockets of Seifer's coat.

"It should be better by tomorrow." Seifer cocked his head back to the road. "Want to head back now?"

"I guess." They started to walk back, going a little slower than they had before. "So, how long have you had Tiamat?" Zell asked.

"A while. I don't junction her all the time. Like, I don't have her now. I just use her when I'm going out to get items."

"Where do you go to get them?"


Zell sighed.

"Don't worry about the road," Seifer said.

"It's not that. Just that you get to go all over the world. You get to go to the Kashkabald Desert, and then the next day, you might be sailing Fisherman's Horizon's waters. You can see the old buildings of Dollet, and then the futurism of Esthar."

Seifer jerked a little. "I.... I haven't been to Esthar."

"You haven't?" Zell asked, a little surprised. "Why not?" He noticed that Seifer looked very disturbed. "Oh... because that's where Squall's dad is?"

The brunette snorted. "Laguna Loire has nothing to do with it. Actually... I'd really like to meet him." Seifer's voice lowered a little bit.

Zell cocked an eyebrow. "What, you have a thing for him or something?"

"No," said the other man, rolling his eyes. "I just admire him, that's all. He was in a lot of movies that I liked as a kid."

"Right, all those Sorceress movies...." Zell then noticed that Seifer visibly jerked at the mention of the word 'Sorceress'. "Oh... so, that's why you haven't gone to Esthar. Because it's the City of the Sorceress."

Seifer nodded stiffly.

"But, Esthar continent has a lot of good monsters for items."

"Oh, I've been to the continent. I just haven't set foot in the city."

"Have you been to Centra?" Zell asked. "I've always wanted to go and see the new towns sprouting there. Matron's had a lot to do with building it up."

Seifer jerked again, and Zell became concerned. "I know for a fact that you haven't contacted Matron. She asks about you once in a while."

"Yeah, well I don't want to see her!" Seifer snapped, starting to walk a little faster.

"Why not?" Zell asked.

"Why not?!" Seifer whirled around to look at the other man. "Why the fuck do you think? Maybe because I can still hear her voice at night. Maybe it's because of her that I had to change my name!"

"That wasn't Edea. That was Ultimecia."

Seifer looked as if Zell had slapped him, and his heart stopped in his chest. He got very close to Zell, and said in a hissing whisper. "Don't you ever mention that name to me again." He whirled around and started walking very quickly back towards his house.

"Seifer!" Zell called, but the other man didn't slow down. He started to jog to catch up, but stopped when he heard something rustling around in the woods. Out of the trees popped a cockatrice, something that Zell didn't concern himself over too much. It started to make a crowing noise, and he just kept going. After all, those things were weak as all sin. He heard Seifer's footsteps running down the gravel road, and then he was pushed off to the side as where he'd been standing was hit by a fierce bolt of lightning. It left an ashy smear on the road, a spot that was smoking. That could have killed Zell. He furrowed his brow, on his ass on the muddy road, looking up at Seifer with confusion.

Seifer pulled out his survival knives, watching as the cockatrice bobbed its head up and down, warbling. Seifer had to duck as it tried to do a stone attack, but then he moved forward, slashing at the bird. It dodged out of the way, but Seifer was still able to cut off its left wing. That injured it, but it also just made it angry. It hopped around, off balance because of its missing wing. It moved towards Zell, who was standing up, watching the bird with mild confusion. Seifer got the bird with a good kick, sending it sprawling into the mud. He hadn't junctioned Tiamat, so he was fucked as far as using magic went. "Zell, you have Ifrit?" He called.

"Y-yeah....?" Zell was still confused. Why was Seifer so worried about a small little cockatrice? And, how had it been able to call such a strong lightning spell...?

"Then, get in here and fucking help me!" Seifer ground angrily, slicing at the bird once more. But, it moved quickly, and Seifer missed. He hated cockatrices and their stupid high evasion. "You got haste on you?" He asked Zell as the shorter blonde punched at the bird a couple times. It crowed angrily, stumbling backwards. Good to know the gloves Seifer had made for Zell were proving to be effective. They fought together for the first time since that failure of a mission in Dollet, the mission that had rocketed Squall and the others into stardom, and had left Seifer as a total loser. As Zell stunned the bird with a good kick right in the beak, Seifer put his hands together, the blades of his survival knives flush, and he crouched down, slicing upwards. The knives went up into the bird's skull, and he quickly pulled away before he could cast stone on him as it died. The spell hit nothing but air, and the cockatrice died.

"Hyne, Zell!" Seifer shouted angrily, wiping the blood off his knives before re-sheathing them. "Are you fucking brain dead or something?!"

"Why was it so strong? It was only a cockatrice."

Seifer looked at the other man with disbelief. "You're serious, aren't you?"

"Yeah." Zell made an exasperated face. "I don't understand...." He trailed off as Seifer cupped the sides of his face and wiped some cockatrice blood of his cheeks.

"You're a SeeD, Zell.... you must be aware of how strong monsters are, right?"

"It's not something we've really looked at."

Seifer laughed in complete shock. "They've only gotten more powerful over the last ten years. God, what do SeeD do all day?!" He shook his head.

"We were aware of some of the more powerful monsters becoming too hard for people to deal with, but not casual monsters. Bite bugs are a little stronger on Balamb, but not like that cockatrice."

"Monsters around here have been getting a lot stronger in the past five years or so." Seifer kept Zell's face between his gloved hands, looking into Zell's pale eyes, and feeling very suddenly intimate with him. Fighting beside someone always did that to you. It was the adrenaline, the rush of the moment. Had Zell ever felt this close to Squall when they were fighting side-by-side? Had Zell ever thought of kissing Squall, like Seifer was thinking of kissing Zell now? It seemed kind of ironic that Seifer had said last night that just because they were both gay, they didn't have to fall into bed together, but that's exactly where his mind kept going. He wondered if Zell was thinking it too...

Indeed, Zell was thinking it. He was thinking of how long it had been since a man had touched him like this, and even though it was Seifer Almasy of all men, how good it felt. And, he also wondered how he'd never noticed how beautiful Seifer was, how his eyes were a perfect peridot green, how his hands felt flanking the sides of his face.... Seifer cleared his throat, purposely breaking the moment. He stepped back from Zell, looking at him. "I can't believe you weren't prepared for the monsters here, Zell. It shows great stupidity on Garden's part."

Zell sighed. "I have to agree."

"No arguing and stamping your foot?" Seifer asked with a pale eyebrow cocked.

"No," Zell answered stiffly. "I do agree with you. It was careless of me, but also careless of Squall, Quistis and Headmaster Cid."

Seifer gasped cruelly. "Someone second guessing Squall?! Never!"

Zell couldn't help but frown and roll his eyes. "Do you really think that Squall still gives a shit about your rivalry?!" He asked angrily, feeling he should defend his friend's name.

"I do," Seifer muttered, picking up the cockatrice's corpse, carrying it by the neck. "Do you think he would really forget that I was the one who gave Rinoa to Adel?"

Zell opened his mouth to protest as they walked back to Seifer's house. But, he knew it was true. That's not something Squall would ever forget, or forgive, even if Rinoa had both forgiven and forgotten. Seifer kept the body of the cockatrice at his side. Probably so he could take it apart and get items. It made Zell feel a little ashamed that Seifer had to save his butt. He was supposed to be a SeeD. It's not that he wasn't grateful to Seifer, but it made him feel inadequate. Though Seifer wasn't SeeD, he had been the more capable fighter. He'd always been a more than capable fighter, and it hadn't been his strength, fighting skills, or intelligence that had made him fail his SeeD exams. It had been his lack of ability to follow rules.

"Seifer....?" Zell asked quietly.

"What?" He replied, voice low.

"Are you... happy?"

Seifer cocked his head as they went down his road, their feet kicking up gravel. "I...." He shrugged. "I don't know. Nobody's ever asked me." They went up his driveway. "Are you?"

Zell thought for a long time. "No."

"Me, neither. I mean, I love my job, and the store is great. And, I have my own house that I built with my own hands... I'm proud of that."

"You built it?" Zell asked, agog.

"Yeah." Seifer smirked, liking catching Zell off-guard. "And, I like learning about items. But.... I couldn't be called happy." They got to the house, and took off shoes and coats. Seifer washed up, and started to unwrap the chicken he'd left on the counter to thaw.

"Because of having to be someone else?" Zell asked rhetorically. "Because you have to lie about your name?"

"Not only that," Seifer answered quietly.

"What, then?"

Seifer shrugged. "Nothin'. What about you. Why aren't you happy? You're a SeeD from Balamb Garden. You have everything."

"Sure, I have a cushy job and a measure of respect and power, but... that's not everything." Zell sat at the island, watching Seifer's back. "I'm.... I'm bored. I want to go on missions again. I want to travel again."

"You travelled here, didn't you?"

"Yeah, but it's the first time I've left Garden in a long time. I miss what it used to be like... chasing Sorceresses around the world, fighting everything that they could throw at us. It made me feel useful, and alive...." He stopped himself, sighing.

"There's more."

"I...." Zell looked up as Seifer turned around. "I'm lonely," Zell admitted, not knowing why he was saying this to the other man. Maybe because he also saw that sad burn of solitude in Seifer's eyes. It was like how Seifer said he'd been able to see the repressed homosexuality in Zell's eyes when they were students. Well, Zell could see similarities between them now. Both of them liars about something. Zell about his sexual preference, Seifer about his identity.

"Well, you have your mother and your friends," Seifer pointed out as he started up the stove. "You're not totally alone."

"It's not the same, and you know it."

Seifer turned around, and he and Zell shared a look of pure understanding. Understanding because Seifer knew exactly what Zell was saying. Seifer may have had Fujin in his life, and he loved her to death, but it wasn't the same. She could never be what Seifer really wanted, just like he was sure someone like Quistis or Selphie, or even Squall, couldn't be what Zell really wanted. Seifer broke their gaze first, because it was starting to feel a little too intimate. Even if Seifer's mind was being plagued with Zell's merits and images of what it would be like to have him in so many ways, he pushed them away. It may have felt nice to fantasize about Zell's body like this, and it may have felt nice to talk to him like this, but it could never happen. Zell was SeeD, and Seifer didn't want that part of himself to come crashing down again. He didn't want to face Squall again, didn't want to face Edea again. He hated himself for being so fucking cowardly, and yet that's what he was; a coward. He started putting the chicken into a stir-fry, his fists resting on the counter as hatred for himself washed over him. Seeing Zell again just brought up all that he was running from, all that he'd gone through after Time Compression....

Zell noticed that Seifer became very quiet, and almost looked like he was in pain. Had the cockatrice hurt him? He went closer to Seifer, hands hovering around the other man's shoulder, but not quite touching him. "Are you okay?" Zell finally asked, his voice barely a whisper. His hand gently came to rest on Seifer's shoulder.

Seifer jerked when Zell's hand touched him, and he looked down into the other man's eyes. In that instant, Zell knew that there was nothing physically wrong with Seifer, at least nothing he couldn't handle. It was all emotional baggage, and Zell was once again reminded that Seifer wasn't the one-dimensional figure of a bully that Zell had thought him as a child. He also wasn't the one-dimensional figure of murdering Sorceress's Knight that everyone else had thought him. How could he have felt this close to someone simply by looking into their eyes? They both looked away at the same time, feeling the tension in the air. Seifer concentrated on their lunch, whereas Zell went back to the island, sitting on his stool and stared at his hands. He would have to clean his new gloves, for they were stained with cockatrice blood. When the food was finished, they ate in complete and uncomfortable silence. Afterwards, Seifer went into the basement to take apart the cockatrice they'd killed, and Zell stayed upstairs, watching television. There was another rainstorm coming, harder than the one that had stranded him here. He just hoped the roads were fixed before then.

After a while of watching TV, reading and actually feeling quite comfortable and domestic here, Zell decided to go downstairs to see what Seifer was doing. There was a room beyond the large pantry where all the items were kept, and in the middle was a folding table that had a few stains on it. Though, it smelled like cleaning solutions. Seifer was sitting at a computer, the stereo playing some rock music lowly. There weren't many creature comforts in this room. It was purely for work. Beside the computer were many things lined up, and Seifer was examining them. There were various tools like scrapers and even a magnifying glass there.

"Can you really use any of that stuff?" Zell asked. He knew that Cockatrice Pinions were hot commodities for blacksmiths, but he didn't know if anything else was.

Seifer held up a flask of blood. "Their blood can make softs, and I've started to find that sometimes their bone marrow can make lightning gems. And, I'm trying to figure out if their beaks have any weapons properties right now."

"I guess you use every inch of the monster, huh?" Zell picked up a couple pinions, looking at them.

"I try. It would suck if I wound up throwing away something that could be really valuable."

Zell leaned against the computer desk. "So, with all of this stuff.... finding all these crazy items, you must be... rich."

Seifer raised his eyebrows, giving Zell an amused look. "Would that matter to you?"

"No," Zell answered.

"Well, why would it?" Seifer shrugged. "You're rich, anyway."

The tattooed blonde frowned. He didn't like when people brought up his family's wealth. After all, it was his mother that had the money, not him. Though, now that he was an Instructor and top-ranked SeeD, Zell was definitely what someone would call wealthy.

"No," Seifer answered. "I'm not rich. I make enough to be comfortable, but not rich. After all, I have to pay the rent and bills for the store, and the bills for this place. At least I don't have a mortgage. And, most of my spending money goes towards travelling to get items, and...." He trailed off, and Zell got the distinct feeling he was going to say something that was unpleasant to him, but the other man remained silent. "Well, it's better than poverty."

"I can't imagine being homeless..."

"Yeah, it's not fun." Seifer put the cockatrice pinions in a sack, along with the flask of blood.

"What are you doing with those?" Zell asked as they started to go back upstairs.

"I'm going to take them to the store. I don't need to deal much with them here. I know about cockatrice pinions, especially because they're so common around here."

"So, tell me something," Zell mused, flopping down on the couch. "Did you really kill the Ruby Dragons that gave the skin for my gloves all by yourself?"

Seifer sat on the other end of the couch, flipping through the TV channels. "Yeah. Well, it was only one."

"One is enough," Zell muttered. "It's been 10 years since I've seen one, though."

"They're a lot worse now."

"What if you.... died out there? I mean, you don't have anyone to back you up."

Seifer's face clouded. "I've thought about that. If it happens, it happens."

Zell frowned. He wondered if Seifer took such risks because there was part of him that was trying to get himself killed. After all, he'd changed his name and basically gone into hiding. Perhaps those things affected him more than Seifer cared to admit. But, he didn't breach the subject, since it seemed too delicate. So, instead they just started talking about current events in Timber as the news came on. Zell learned a lot about the mayoral race, as well as new anti-smoking laws in Timber, the weather, ratification bills about pollution from the industrial areas. Zell also talked about his mother, what she was doing, things like that. He'd started to talk about Squall and Rinoa's wedding when the subject of cake came up for some reason, but he stopped before that conversation even began, for Seifer's face had clouded at the mention of Squall, and not for jealousy that Rinoa hadn't married him instead.

"You know...." Zell trailed off after hours of talking and drinking a few beers. "I kind of find it funny that Rinoa even thought there was a relationship between you two. You're not exactly bashful about your sexuality."

"I was back then," Seifer admitted. "Hell, I didn't even like people knowing I wore glasses, let alone that I like giving rim jobs."

Zell flushed a little, thinking about what it would feel like for Seifer to do just that right here on his living room carpet.

"But, Rinoa was only 16.... she was still a naive little girl. She would have said she wasn't, but she was born into a rich household where her parents gave her everything."

"She wouldn't agree with that."

Seifer shrugged. "Rinoa put a lot of blame on General Caraway about her mother's death, even though he lost Julia just like she did. But, it was easier to blame her dad then to just accept that Julia's death had only been an accident."

"Yeah, but how could she not have seen that you weren't a couple."

"I don't think she thought we were a couple. I mean.... we never kissed, and I never gave her the impression that I was going to kiss her, but you know what it's like when you're a teenager. Your mind gives way to fantasy. And, I think because I paid attention to her. I found her conversations about Timber and the resistance factions interesting."

"Well, if she liked you because you paid attention to her, I wonder what drew her to Squall, since he barely looked her way."

Seifer thought for a moment. "She saw someone she could change. But, she also saw her father. You know that old saying.... girls marry their fathers."

"So, you think she liked Squall because he's like Caraway?"

"Well, it sure as hell wasn't for his conversation skills."

Zell laughed. "Yeah, that's true enough."

"So...." Seifer murmured after a while. "Is Squall... still the same?"

"Pretty much." Zell became serious. "You're the more changed of the two of you."

Seifer didn't say anything for a while, and he yawned. He'd been yawning on and off for the past half hour.

"You look tired," Zell mused, feeling sleepy himself.

"Yeah." Seifer stood up. "I'm going to bed." He started to go up the stairs. "Are you coming or not?" He called impatiently.

"Uh.....w-wh-what?" Zell became very flustered.

"I'm not sleeping on that fucking couch again," Seifer called from upstairs. "You can sleep down there if you want, but I don't recommend it."

Zell slowly climbed the stairs, shivering a little because he was so nervous. Were he and Seifer going to have sex....?

Seifer rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Oh, get that look off your face, Chicken-Wuss." He took his shirt off. "We aren't going to have sex."


"The bed is big enough for four people, and more than big enough for two." He took off his glasses and put them on the nightstand beside his alarm clock.

"....Oh." Zell sighed a little in relief, but maybe it was also a little in disappointment. But, then he became nervous again. After all, he had never really slept with a man before. Sure, he'd had sex with men, but they'd all been strangers, and he'd more or less just passed out in the bed with the guy, never willing making an effort to sleep next to him, and definitely never sleeping next to him without having sex first. And, when that man was Seifer... well, it just made things all the more complicated.

Seifer lay on one side of the bed, watching Zell with amusement. "Stop acting so retarded, Zell." He rolled on his side, as if it meant nothing to him that there was going to be another man sleeping next to him. But, it did mean something. When Seifer felt Zell move around on the other side of the bed, his heart fluttered. He was so lonely, and to have a man next to him in bed.... And, what made it even more intimate wasn't that he and Zell had fucked or even kissed, but because he and Zell had talked. Seifer hadn't talked to a man like this in a long time, not since before Raijin had started taking Blackball, and Raijin had never been a potential.... boyfriend.

Thinking about Raijin made Seifer relive all the painful moments of his last encounters with his former friend. Those thoughts turned into nightmares as he fell asleep. The pain of how Raijin had been wasting away, the pain of watching him become a different person. The pain of trying everything to help him, and the final, worst pain of Fujin and Seifer having to turn their backs on him. It still hurt so much, and it made Seifer feel like a failure. Just like when Ultimecia had so easily been able to control him, the physical and emotional pain her mere presence had caused him. How she'd turned his child-like dream into an awful nightmare, how she'd so thoroughly used him, and destroyed his life forever, even after she herself was just a memory-past or future. Seifer thought of the death threats, of how many times he'd been spit on, how many times he'd been physically assaulted, nearly to the point of death. How Fujin and Raijin had had to nurse him back to health every time, and how he hadn't been able to do the same for Raijin.

Seifer was shivering when he felt Zell's arms wrap around him for behind. He didn't know if he'd been woken up by it, or if he'd already been awake.

"You're having a nightmare," Zell whispered, holding Seifer tightly. He could only imagine what the nightmare was about. Seifer hadn't cried out, but Zell had noticed him visibly shivering, even though the room was rather warm, and he'd also been panting. "It's okay."

Seifer stilled in Zell's arms, which were very strong around him. If anyone had happened to walk in, it would have looked like a very sexual gesture, Zell spooning Seifer, stroking his bare arms and chest and whispering in his ear. But, there was nothing sexual about it at all. It was merely Zell comforting Seifer in his nightmare, and in turn.... Zell getting comfort himself. It soothed something in him to hold another man like this, to be completely free and unashamed about it, especially after spending so long being so secretive. Seifer's fingers subconsciously looped with his own as he also fell asleep, Seifer's shivers vanishing. Zell may have only known Seifer again for a couple of days, but he felt very close to him in these moments. Like that his former bully was now a fast friend.

Selphie stared out the window, her insides gnawed with worry. It was a sunny day in South Timber, and the worry over Zell was killing her. She hadn't seen him for two days, and he couldn't call because they had just gotten their telephone set up this morning. Selphie had already contacted Garden, though Squall hadn't seem that worried. 'Zell can take care of himself', is what he'd said. Rinoa hadn't had any luck so far on finding references to those strange languages that she'd heard. When she heard a door open and close though the door that connected Selphie's apartment to Zell's, her heart leapt in her throat. She ran into his apartment, and when she saw him, Selphie flung herself into Zell's arms.

"Whoa....!" He exclaimed as she hugged him tightly. A little too tightly, for she was sucking all the air out of him.

"Hyne, I was so worried!" Selphie exclaimed.

"'re choking... me!" Zell gasped.

"Oh!" She stood back. "Sorry!" She then looked at Zell. He looked like he'd just had a shower, and didn't look like he'd had to sleep outside or anything. She decked him in the shoulder, glaring at him. "Where the fuck were you? I was so worried!"

"I'm sorry," Zell apologized sincerely. "I would have called, but we didn't have a phone."

She sighed heavily. "I'm just glad you're okay. I even called Garden because I was so worried."

"I'm okay," Zell assured, taking off his shirt. It was actually one of Seifer's. "Really."

"That's good." Selphie crossed her arms. "So, um... where were you?"

"I got stranded because the rain washed out one of the highways."

"Which one?"

"Um, the 118," Zell muttered, starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Selphie was a master at asking a million questions, and while it made her seem just vaguely harmless and definitely annoying, she always seemed to get the answers she wanted.

"Wait.... isn't that like way outside the city? What were you doing there?"

"Just looking up on some stuff. I heard maybe there was a Blackball lab out there," he lied.

"A lab?" She echoed. "So, what....? You know how they make it now?"

"Probably like how they make crystal meth."

"Hmmm." She put a hand to her chin. "Well, at least that's something. So, where did you stay that whole time?"

"Someone was nice enough to let me crash with them."

"Someone?" Selphie echoed, knowing that Zell was definitely hiding something. "Who?"

"Just this guy. He runs a weapons store in Alraune."

"Oh? The same store that made your gloves?"

"Yeah," he muttered, putting on a clean, navy blue tennis shirt.

"Who is he?" Selphie asked, very interested. She wouldn't have been so nosy about it if it weren't for the fact that Zell was blushing a little, and he was obviously hiding something.

"His name's Raef. He's lived here for a while, and knows some about alchemy, so I've been asking him if he knows anything about Blackball." Zell hated lying to his friend, but after how he and Seifer had oddly bonded out in Beech River, Zell hated even more the idea of betraying him. Especially how it had felt waking up pressed next to him this morning, their arms wrapped around each other. It had almost been... hard to leave. No, not almost. It had been hard. Zell actually wouldn't have minded if they'd never fixed the road, aside from the fact that he hadn't had any of his own clothes.

"And, does he?" Selphie asked.

Zell shrugged. "A little. But, he doesn't know who's making it."

"Nobody seems to." She sat on the edge of Zell's bed. "So, tell me more about this Raef guy."

"What's to tell?" Zell asked rhetorically. "He's a blacksmith."

"Is he your friend?"

Zell shrugged. "I guess so."

"Boyfriend?" Selphie asked blankly.

"I guess so...." Zell started to change his socks, but stopped when he realized what Selphie had said. "What...?"

"I know that you're gay."

The colour drained from Zell's face, and Selphie wondered if this had been such a good idea. She's always wanted to breach the subject with Zell because they were friends, and she wanted him to know that she not only understood, but she was supportive. She understood why Zell was keeping it secret, but she also wanted him to know that he didn't have to lie to everyone. Friends didn't need to lie to each other.

"What?" He repeated, his voice very clipped.

"I know," she said quietly. "I know, Zell."

"Since when?"

"Just after Time Compression." She watched as Zell abruptly got up and started angrily pacing around. "Zell, it's my job to know what people are thinking, even when they don't want others to know what they're thinking. Especially when they don't want others to know." She reached out and grabbed his wrist. "Zell, please look at me."

He stared down at Selphie, seeing her typical earnestness and friendship. "Selphie..."

"I'm your friend, Zell." She entwined her fingers with his. "You don't have to lie to me."

Zell sighed heavily, slumping on the bed next to her. "I'm so tired."

"I can only imagine." She stroked his back, and it made Zell think of Seifer. "So, is this Raef guy your boyfriend?"

Zell looked at her, half-shrugging. "Nah. We're just friends."

"Can I meet him?" Selphie asked. "Someone who knows Timber, and even alchemy, would be helpful. Makes me wish I'd paid more attention to my own alchemy classes back at Trabia."

"Um, I'm not sure. He's pretty busy. But, I'll ask."

"Okay...." Selphie knew a brush-off when she heard one. "Look, Zell. I didn't mean to just jump on you like that, but I wanted to breach the subject, and I didn't think you would."

Zell smiled, and it was a genuine one. "No, it's okay. I'm actually kind of glad. It will be kind of nice not to have to lie to someone. Just... try to keep it under your hat."

"But, I'm not wearing a hat."

Zell laughed quietly.

"Don't worry. I won't betray you."

Zell pursed his lips, thinking of his promise to Seifer. He kissed the top of Selphie's head. "You're a good friend."

She smiled as he went into the bathroom. But, now she was more intrigued than ever. Zell was sending so many signals, and one of the biggest was that he was hiding something about this Raef fellow. Selphie slapped her knees and got up. She wasn't the kind of woman to be brushed away simply. She would meet Raef, no matter what. She cocked her head when she heard a knocking from somewhere.

"Who's at the door?" Zell asked. He looked a little scared. Selphie wondered if this was because Raef was supposed to show up. Hmmmm, this only made Selphie even more intrigued. The knock was coming from her door, so it made her all the more confused. She opened the door, and screamed right in Irvine's face.

"Ahhh!" He exclaimed, closing one eye as Selphie flung herself in his arms, legs wrapped around his waist. "You're going to make me deaf, woman!"

She planted dozens of butterfly kisses all over his face, his black cowboy hat getting knocked on the floor in the process. Irvine tried to shake her off, but that was impossible. He just wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back, hands squeezing her butt.

Zell came out into Selphie's apartment after he'd heard her shriek. He smiled when he saw Irvine and Selphie embracing, half in the apartment, half in the hallway. But, his smile and happiness for his friends wilted around the edges. Their passion in their reunion only hurt him in a way; it slammed home that he had nobody.

Why aren't you happy? Seifer's voice asked in Zell's memory. Would Zell ever have someone that he could assault so passionately like Selphie was to Irvine? Selphie may have known that Zell was gay, but he still had to deal with Garden rules, and what his family would say. But, none of that seemed really important when he thought of having someone in his life, and again... it was Seifer's face he pictured, it was Seifer's body that he pictured laying next to. It would have been fine if it were only sexual fantasies that he was having, but they weren't. After the way that he and Seifer had talked to each other, there was no way it could have been purely sexual. They'd made too much of a mental connection. Maybe in the past, the angry passion of their bullying relationship could have made an encounter purely sexual, but too much had changed.

Zell pushed his melancholy thoughts away as Irvine finally disentangled himself and came across the room. The cowboy, his hair now much shorter than it had been even the last time Zell had seen him, slapped Zell on the back, and then brought him in for a hug, very different than the way he and Seifer had held each other last night.

"Hey, man!" Irvine exclaimed, dropping a couple bags on the floor, flopping on the couch. "Whew. My train was soooo late!"

Selphie bounced onto the couch, winding up kneeing Irvine in the stomach. He huffed in discomfort, smacking her butt. "I'm just glad you're here."

"I'm just glad I'm here, too. I could sleep for ten years."

"I think I'll leave you two alone for a while," Zell said quietly, starting to leave.

"Hey!" Selphie called, smiling at him. "You should invite Raef over, and we can have a dinner party or something!"

"Uh..... maybe." Zell just turned and left, hearing Irvine ask "who's Raef?"

"A new friend of Zell's...." was Selphie's reply, trailing off as Zell closed the door between their apartments. Zell almost wanted to run straight to Archimedes, but Seifer had said he was going away for a couple days to Dollet to get some more items. It wasn't only that Zell wanted to warn the other man about Selphie's growing interest in meeting him, but he just wanted to see him. He knew that Seifer definitely wouldn't screech and leap into his arms (it would have been pretty funny, though). Zell sighed heavily, deciding to go out for a jog, check out Bridgeport. He was becoming rapidly infatuated with Seifer, but he did have a job to do while he was here. He started to jog, desperately wanting to go to the train station and just go to Dollet so he could find Seifer and talk with him again. It wasn't just his beautiful face and piercing green eyes that Zell was thinking about so intently. It was the conversations they'd shared. They'd talked about everything, and with intelligence. A lot of people forgot that Zell was very smart, and just dismissed him. He knew that Squall and Quistis often talked over his head like he couldn't fathom the subjects they were discussing, even though he would often trump them with his vast well of knowledge. But, surprisingly, Seifer never did that. At least, not this Seifer. Zell didn't even really consider Seifer ten years ago to be the same man as the new Seifer. Just like when Zell thought back on himself a decade ago, he was a vastly different person, too.

Zell stopped as he skirted the border between Bridgeport Square and Westphal. The skies were darkening with ominous looking clouds, and yet they seemed different from usual rain clouds. Zell shielded his eyes, concentrating on the rapidly approaching clouds. He felt a chill go through him, even though it was rather muggy out. It was a chill of magic. These clouds, while they were a weather phenomenon, weren't wholly natural. It disturbed Zell, and his body immediately felt like it was on fire from Ifrit's powers. He had to lean against a building, or else he was going to pass out on the sidewalk. Ifrit didn't speak in his head, but instead just growled angrily in protest. The skies opened, and the rain started, pouring down like a sea was above them, draining down below.

"Shit," Zell cursed under his breath, starting to try and jog back to the apartment, but the absolute agony in his body from Ifrit wasn't helping matters. But, he'd jogged quite a ways, and was far from his apartment. He caught the first trolley that came along, doubled over in agony the entire way home. He could barely get to his apartment, and definitely couldn't get to his bedroom. He wound up on the living room floor, curled up in horrible pain, wishing that he was back at Seifer's house, laying in Seifer's bed, and that he had Seifer to take care of him.

In the next room, Selphie and Irvine were in the middle of foreplay, and Irvine's hands worked their way into Selphie's shirt. She had her head thrown back, panting from the pleasure of Irvine's hands touching her after a while apart. Then, the pleasure of Irvine's hands became a pain in her chest, like she was being stabbed in the heart. She pitched forward, moaning. At first Irvine though that it was from pleasure, but only for an instant. Selphie was definitely in pain. "Sefie, what's wrong?" He stroked her back, looking at her with concern.

"I.... I don't know..." She gasped, clutching at her chest as the stabbing pain continued. Ek ipo pipappa. Selphie's head whirled around, and it blinded her with pain. There was that voice again. She collapsed on the bed, sweating from the sheer pain going through her blood. It was so bad that she blacked out, not knowing that Zell next door was also going through the same hell she was.

Bahamut opened one midnight eye as Ifrit walked in on all fours, regal and lion-esque. The smell of ash and fire filled Bahamut's throne chamber where he was curled up on the floor, napping. Smoke filtered up to the ceiling, permeating from Ifrit's skin.

"My Lord, I must speak with you."


"Diablos, My Lord."

"Hmph. What of him. If this is about him parading as a human in Timber, I'm well aware."

"This is about Alexander, My Lord."

Bahamut opened his other eye. Though he had to be fair with all the Summons of his court, especially those considered among the inner circle of 'Ancient Powers' like himself, Diablos, Ifrit, Shiva, Leviathan, formerly Tiamat and Alexander, the holy Summon wasn't his favourite. Perhaps it was his affection for his Dark Messenger that made this so, or perhaps it was Alexander's musty piety. "What of him?"

"He has been rumbling about Diablos being able to get away with much meddling in the human world."

"When is he not complaining?" Bahamut asked with a yawn.

"This is a little different," Ifrit pointed out. "He claims that you are too soft when it comes to Diablos. And, that if you don't police him, Alexander will do it himself."

This caused the dragon to bolt up to a straight sitting position. "Oh, really?"

Ifrit shrunk a little at Bahamut's show of anger. It was normally Diablos who brought ill news to Bahamut, for he had a taste for it, but also because it was well known that Bahamut favoured Diablos above the others. "You know how much they despise each other. It could get ugly, far uglier than Diablos's little game in the forest city."

Bahamut nodded his great dragon head at the fiery lion-like creature before him. When Ifrit breathed out, he breathed out a cloud of smoke. "I am aware that you are being Junctioned by that fighter SeeD in Timber. It puts you at an advantage to keep an eye on things. I'm also keeping an eye on Berith, as he is well aware."

"Cactuar is also in the city with the girl SeeD."

"I know, but Cactuar is...." Bahamut's wings flapped in a dragon's form of a shrug.

"Yes, I know My Lord. It isn't a typical summon. Though, I believe Diablos's presence is causing agitation in my Master's body with my powers."

"That would only become worse if Alexander wants to start a Summon War." Bahamut's eyes narrowed. "Tell Shiva and Leviathan to also watch things."

"My Lord, I know you don't like us asking, but what about Tiamat....?"

The dragon snorted. "If you know I don't like you asking, why do you? Besides, she is weak. Too weak to last against a feud between two Ancient Summons."

"I will do as you command, My Lord." Ifrit nodded his large head and walked away, his feet leaving scorch marks on the elegantly tiled floor.

Bahamut's wings lazily folded around his body, but his mind was far from sleepy. He was alert, and he was very angry. He closed his black eyes and was immediately standing under a large slate blue umbrella on the sidewalk outside Diablos's manor, wearing a white vinyl raincoat. I call you, Holy Summon Alexander, Lord Of Judgement. I call you in the name of Bahamut, your King. After sending his message, Bahamut went up the stairs to the front doors, opening them with his mind rather than with any physical force. He was drawn to the power that Diablos was exuding, even in human form, and found him easily in the large manor.

Diablos, in his Daeva form, was sitting in a bar room, sipping some brandy, a vampire bat perched on his finger like a butterfly or song bird would have been. When Diablos saw his Lord and King, the bat flapped its wings and dissolved into Diablos's finger, for it was part of him. "My Lord?!" A slow smile spread across Diablos's face, a slow and sensual upturning of his lips. "To what do I owe this honour?"

"We have a situation," Bahamut said icily as he felt another presence come into the manor. Diablos felt it too, for his eyes flashed blood red, and his face paled to parchment white.

"What's he doing here?" Diablos hissed, tail swishing out from the small of his back.

"I'm preventing a war."

Diablos furrowed his brow, pretty face drawn in a frown. Alexander came into the room, a tad bewildered to why he was here. He bowed to Bahamut's human form, kissing the back of his hand, but glaring up at Diablos as he did. Alexander, the Holy Summon, was dressed in the frock of a priest, black with a white square at the throat. He also had crosses on his belt and at his elbows, which gently clinked together as he walked. His hair was gleaming ash blonde, brushed to a sheen, curling around his shoulders. His eyes were a golden brown that seemed to glimmer like gold, and he had a square jaw and masculine face.

"Aren't you going to greet me?" Diablos hissed. "After all, this is my home."

"You make your home in the suffering of others," Alexander shot back, rising to his feet. "You make your home in the destruction of lives."

"Enough," Bahamut commanded. They were all speaking that tongue of Summons. Any eavesdropping servants wouldn't have been able to comprehend a single syllable. "Now, you wish to air grievances with the Lord of Darkness, Lord of Judgement?" Bahamut asked, using their archaic titles to show this was a very serious matter.

"You're not only flaunting your evil ways, Diablos, but you're infecting this city like a disease. You're corrupting all these souls for no reason than your own amusement, and on such a grand scale."

"I've been doing it for years, Alex. Why do you care now?" Diablos examined his fingernails, not giving a rat's ass that Alexander was glaring so hatefully at him that if looks could kill, he'd be dead ten times over.

Alexander shuddered at even the sound of Diablos's voice, how he flaunted this perverse, decadent lifestyle. "I care because you are evil."

"Oh, please!" Diablos exclaimed, wings flapping from out of his back, oily and black. "You don't give a shit about humans. You only care about being a nosy cunt."

"How dare you!" Alexander exclaimed, wings also flapping from his back in anger, feathery and white. "My Lord, you let this impudence slide..."

"Don't even finish that sentence," Bahamut warned, snarling. He bared elongated fangs. "Don't you dare throw piety in my face, Alexander. Not when your hands are bloodstained like all of ours."

Alexander's face went pale. "We all know that he's your whore."

Diablos snorted. "Yeah, especially when he locked me up in a fucking lamp for three millennia." Diablos folded his arms across his chest, glaring at Bahamut. His body was still human, though his arms were starting to grow longer, ropy with muscles, and fingers long and clawed.

"And, that was a tame punishment. I'd hate to have to think of something more devious for the both of you." He winked, but it wasn't a playful gesture.

Both were rendered silent, but kept giving each other the evil eye.

"I am King here, and I am now telling you to both watch your asses."

"But, I have done nothing wrong!" Alexander exclaimed.

"Going behind my back, wanting to start a Summon War with Diablos, counts as something wrong," the great dragon hissed.

"I am sorry, My Lord." Alexander fell to his knees and kissed Bahamut's hand again. The dragon, in human form, grabbed a fistful of Alexander's ash blonde hair and yanked him to his feet.

"I am still Lord here," Bahamut insisted darkly. "And, both of you should remember that. So, don't fuck with me." He released Alexander, who fell to the ground with the violence of Bahamut's release.

"Of course not," Alexander said with a bow of his head. "But, My Lord... if I may; Diablos should not be allowed to do whatever he pleases."

"Diablos should not be allowed to do as he pleases," the Dark Messenger mimicked cruelly, turning around angrily. The air outside started to darken with the demon's anger. "You hypocrite," he murmured under his breath.

"Enough!" Bahamut roared. "You are trying my patience."

Both became quiet.

"If I may take my leave, My Lord...." Alexander glared hatefully at Diablos.

"Get out of my house, you white magic trash," Diablos shouted.

"You may take your leave," Bahamut stated, as if Diablos hadn't spoken. Alexander disappeared on the spot, leaving white feathers littered on the rug.

"I hate that smug bastard," Diablos hissed, the sky black with clouds, even though it was the middle of the day. "Thinking he's so pure and good. He may be the Lord of Holy, but he's dirtier than a Bridgeport whore's vagina." His voice was now coming out a hiss because his teeth had grown into long, brutal fangs.

"And, of course, you're not blameless..." Bahamut trailed off sarcastically. "You never are, right?"

"What I'm doing has nothing to do with him," the demon sneered.

"Everything is connected, and your actions have repercussions on more things than just this human city."

Diablos made a rude face, turning his back to his King. "Yes, you would defend your precious humans. You've always had a soft spot for weak filth. Look at Tiamat...." Diablos's words were cut off as Bahamut's human hand came down and slapped Diablos's equally human face in a very degrading manner, backhanding him. Diablos fell backwards, landing on the rugs. Bahamut kicked him once in the gut for good measure.

"You dare speak her name to me?!" Bahamut roared with enough force that it shook paintings on the walls, though his lips didn't move. He was screaming with his mind, with his power. "I intervene where Alexander is concerned on your behalf, and this is how you repay me Berith?!"

Diablos just stared up at Bahamut, defiance in his eyes, which had gone from black and icy blue to glowing red. "I never asked for you to intervene. You think I can't take care of myself?" Diablos asked haughtily. "That I don't know what I'm doing?"

"I know you know what you're doing," Bahamut hissed. "That doesn't necessarily mean it's smart."

"Don't lecture me..."

"And, don't speak back to me!" The King yelled, furious. "Do you want my benevolence to turn to anger?!"

Diablos's defiance shrunk a little under Bahamut's anger. His shadow was large and dragon-shaped against the wall, though he was still in human form. "My Lord....."

Bahamut flung his hands out, to wash himself of Diablos's words. Power moved through the room, and his black eyes flashed green. They always flashed green when the dragon was powering up his Mega Flare attack. Diablos shrunk back again, falling to his knees, knowing he had erred. "Etanin, I'm...."

He just turned on his heel and stormed out of Diablos's Timber manor, dissipating into nothing, returning to the realm that his power inhabited, not wanting to hear his human name drop from Diablos's venomous mouth.

Diablos was still kneeling on the rug, hands still black and red scaled claws. His fists balled against the carpet, and he looked down at the pattern, anger stinging him. But, also fear. He knew that he could push Bahamut more than any other in the Summon Court, but there was only so far that even Diablos could push before the King became angry, and his anger was a frightening thing when truly provoked. He didn't want to be on the outs with his beloved King. The thunder rolled outside with the demon's anger and tumultuous feelings.

"No, no...." He whispered to himself, rising to his feet, wings hanging low off his back. "This will not do." He went to the window and stared up into the blackened sky. Big fat rain droplets had started to fall, and when Daeva's body totally vanished, leaving only the Dark Messenger, the heavy drops turned into a downpour. The clouds were blackest in the skies above Bridgeport Square. "You will not frighten me into submission," he hissed. "You forget who you're dealing with, my beloved. You and Alexander both." The large scaled, demonic body exploded into bats, which even further blackened Timber's unstable skies.

Selphie walked down the streets of Alraune, a little slower than she normally would have walked. For the past few days, her and Zell had both been bed-ridden with strange attacks that were based from their GF's power. Even after unjunctioning them, the pains of connection remained. Something strange was going on. This sickness in them meant that research on Blackball had stalled. Zell seemed a lot more affected than Selphie, and he still mostly kept to bed, though now he was up and around watching movies with Irvine, who was stuck doing all the SeeD work. He grumbled a little, but he still doted on Selphie wearing a smile, and little else. Today, Selphie felt like getting some fresh air, but she was also on a mission. A top secret mission.

While they'd been confined to their respective apartments, Selphie had started to ask Zell more questions about his new friend, Raef. Like, what did he look like, was he gay too (she never asked that question in front of Irvine), if he even had a last name. But, Zell would always clam up and change the subject without giving a reason why he was so closed-lipped. Selphie knew from her Intelligence skills, and the signs that Zell was dropping everywhere, Selphie got the feeling there was more than friendship going on there, and she normally wouldn't have been so pushy about such a sensitive subject to Zell, but she didn't like how secretive he was being. And, it wasn't the same sort of secrecy that Zell had carried his homosexuality with. This was something that made Selphie itch. And, she was genuinely curious. She wanted Zell to be comfortable with introducing a potential lover to her.

So, she'd done a little researching. Raef who was a blacksmith. All she'd had to do was look in the phone book for all the weapons dealers in the city, and then start to work through the list. Raef Emaissyl was the name that had come up. Owner and blacksmith of Archimedes. So, here she was, ready to meet this mysterious man. She went into the store, looking around. Inside was a very pleasant atmosphere, homey and far different than the impersonal shops of Vidilic Arms. A man with glasses was at the counter, and he smiled at Selphie when she came in.

".... uh, hi..." Gietzen greeted, staring into the brunette woman's bright jade eyes. She was quite pretty, and made him dumbstruck.

"Hello!" She greeted, smiling broadly. "Ummm, I'm hoping you can help me...." She cocked her head, putting her hands in her pockets, suddenly a little nervous. After all, this wasn't a SeeD target. This was Zell, her dear friend. Was she stepping over the line in meddling like this?

"Sure..." Gietzen panted out, feeling a blush rise to his cheeks.

"I'm looking for a... Mr. Raef Emaissyl?"

"Oh..." Gietzen said, trailing off. No wonder Raef would have such a pretty girl calling after him. Just Gietzen's luck that she wouldn't be shopping. "He's not here right now. He went on a business trip."

"Oh, that's too bad...." Selphie looked around the store, bouncing on the balls of her feet. "Do you know when he'll be getting back?"

"I'm not sure. Why, is something wrong?" Gietzen asked, leaning slightly over the counter. This woman smelled very nice.

"No, no." Selphie waved her hands, giving her big, bright smile again. "I just want to talk to him. I'm a friend of Zell Dincht's...."

Gietzen thought for a moment. "Oh, the SeeD." He frowned. "Are you.....?" He blushed again. "SeeD, too?"

She winked. "That's a top secret matter." She then laughed, and Gietzen gulped, sure his face was bright red by now. "So, you don't know when he'll be back?"

"Mr. Emaissyl usually comes in at night, after hours. He should be back tonight."

"Okay, great! Can you leave a message to tell him that Selphie Tilmitt will come by tonight to see him?"

Gietzen wrote her name down, though he didn't need to. It was engrained in his memory. "Sure...."

She smiled again. "Thanks a million. See ya." She picked up a business card on her way out, stepping onto the sidewalk. Though it was the middle of the day, it was dark. Selphie popped open her umbrella and started slowly walking to the trolley stop, flipping the business card between two fingers. The trolley pulled up, thunder rolling in the skies, though it didn't start raining. Selphie closed her umbrella again, and took a seat. She looked at the card, wondering how she was going to introduce herself to Zell's friend. She looked at the name on the card, and something curled in her.

Selphie started to pay particular attention to each letter on the card, running her fingers over the raised black type. She looked up as a passenger rang the bell. Selphie had missed her stop, so she got off and started backtracking on foot. She wasn't too far away, though. But, she kept her attention on the card she'd taken from Archimedes. The letters ran through her mind, Selphie's Intelligence training working overtime. R A E F E M A I S S Y L. She went up the elevator, hearing Irvine and Zell laughing in the other room at a film. She sat on her own couch, not announcing herself, continuing to stare at the card, and at the name Raef Emaissyl. She shook her head. No, that couldn't be possible.... Selphie found a pen on the coffee table, and started to write under Raef's name, scratching out each letter as she went.

S E I F E R A L M A S Y.

Selphie looked to the connecting door between her apartment and Zell's, her lips parted in shock. Is this the secret that Zell had been keeping? Was his new friend Raef really the former Sorceress's Knight, Squall's former rival? Was Seifer Almasy of all people Zell's potential new boyfriend? But, why? Selphie thought that Zell hated Seifer. And, she knew for a fact that Zell didn't hate Raef. Maybe it was just a coincidence... It had to be. It had to. Well, whatever the case, Selphie vowed that tonight, there was no other place in the world she would rather be than Archimedes Weaponry and Smithy.

Seifer drove into the city, the asphalt roads feeling much safer under his tires than the roads out in the country. He'd just gotten back from Dollet the night before from his item hunting trip, which had been a little successful. He'd found a few new mysterious crystals which he was looking forward to studying. But, work called, after all. During his entire trip to the northern Galbadian continent, Seifer had thought more about Zell than he'd thought of anything else. It wasn't only the thoughts of Zell sexually that had been going through Seifer's mind. It was the conversation they'd shared, the way Seifer had bonded emotionally with Zell in such a short time, simply through talking. Seifer hadn't talked to anyone like that in a long time, not even Fujin. After what happened with Raijin.... they felt pained in each other's company sometimes. They still saw each other often, and talked regularly, but they were drifting apart, and it tore Seifer in two. Fujin was all he had. The store kept him busy, but it didn't fill any human needs that he required.

When Seifer stared driving through downtown Timber, he felt a pain stab at his temple, and a chill go through his blood, like he'd just stepped onto the snowfields of Trabia. He actually had to pull off the side of the road when a pain grew steadily in his gut. He felt like he was going to be sick. Seifer rested his forehead against the steering wheel of his truck, breathing deeply to calm his stomach. The skies were still dark, and the threat of even more rain was upon the city. Seifer hoped it wouldn't start, because he'd been lucky to get home in the first place, and one more storm could separate Beech River from Timber for another week. When the pain within him passed, he made his way to work once more.

He parked along the sidewalk of the store, stopping the truck. He pulled out his case of items as he went to the door, fumbling in one of his pockets for his keys. He suddenly felt like he was being watched. Perhaps there were Blackballers in the shadows, waiting to attempt to rob him. Alraune hadn't been hit as hard as other sections of the city, but Blackball's popularity seemed to be growing. Seifer sighed heavily and angrily, thinking of Raijin. He still felt like he was being watched, so he moved his free hand to in his coat pocket, where a switchblade was hidden. Seifer never carried Hyperion in the city. It would give him away for who he really was. He unlocked the doors of the shop and went inside. No sooner had he closed the door that there was a gentle knock on it. Seifer put down his items case, his mind immediately wondering if it was Zell at the door. And, Seifer also couldn't help the smile that passed over his mouth at this thought.

He turned and opened the door, but that fragile smile on his lips froze into a stiff parody of itself.

"Mr. Raef Emaissyl, I presume?" Selphie had her hands in her pockets, looking up at Seifer. She'd been watching the store for the last couple of hours, and when she'd seen this tall man with brown hair and eyeglasses get out of the truck, she'd thought she'd been wrong about it really being Seifer Almasy. But then, she'd seen his face.....

Seifer stared at Selphie, dumbfounded and shell-shocked. No words came out of his mouth, and his mind couldn't even form any. Had Zell told her where he was....? Even after promising not to?

"Can I please come in?" She asked stiffly, a million thoughts racing through her head. Thoughts of bewilderment that Seifer was even still alive, and that Zell of all people had befriended him. "It might start raining any second."

Seifer slowly opened the door fully, his hands shaking noticeably. "So.... I guess Zell told you who I really was...."

"No," she answered stiffly.

Seifer frowned in confusion.

"I'm head of SeeD Intelligence," she pointed out, noticing that Seifer no longer had the scar between his eyes to match Squall's. "It's my job to know what people are thinking before they know it themselves."

Seifer started to regain his composure. "And, what made you so interested, anyway? Aren't you two supposed to be working here, instead of bugging me?"

Selphie put her hands on her hips. "I don't think that Zell has been bugging you at all....." She shrugged. "I guess I just wanted to meet Zell's new boyfriend."

"Boyfriend?" Seifer asked with raised eyebrows, the room starting to feel a little warm. "What makes you think we're boyfriends?" He laughed, though it was a little nervously.

"Because I know that Zell is gay, and I know that you're blushing right now." Selphie frowned. "But, now that I know it's you...."

Seifer got angry then. "Oh, what? You think you're so fucking smart, don't you? Do you honestly think that you know anything about me?" He laughed harshly. "Your opinion of me is based on something from ten years ago, and from the opinions of golden boy Squall and his perfect Princess."

"I know what I saw back then," Selphie pointed out, also getting angry. "I know what I saw when you made Galbadia Garden attack us. I know what I saw when you gave Rinoa over to Adel."

"You don't know anything," Seifer hissed under his breath, turning away from her.

"I know what I saw in Raijin!" She exclaimed heatedly. "I know that you're knowledgeable in items..." She waved her hands around, pointing out all the shelved items to prove her point.

Seifer whirled around to face Selphie once more, his face having gone pale with anger. "You think I would honestly do that to my best friend? You think I would willingly watch one of the only people in my life ruin himself like that?! You think I wouldn't just willingly watch, but create his downfall?!" The anger in his voice turned to bitter sadness. But, when he spoke, it was with a dead voice. "If you're supposed to know what people are thinking before they think it themselves, you've failed."

"I don't know if I can believe you."

"Can you believe Zell?" Seifer asked. "Or, do you not trust his opinion?"

"Of course I trust him, but...."

"But, what?" Seifer interrupted. "You think I fucking brainwashed him or something?" Seifer laughed, but it was not happily. "I am not the same person I was back then. And, I don't need to brainwash him."

"What did you make him do in exchange for those gloves?" Selphie asked.

Seifer snorted. "You bitch."

"Zell is my friend!" Selphie yelled. "I don't want to see you destroy him like you destroyed Raijin!"

Seifer balled his hands into fists, really wanting to hit her. "You wanna know what Zell gave me in return?!" He shouted, getting into her personal space. She stood her ground, though she was over a foot shorter than he was. "He fucking promised not to tell anyone I was here, especially not Squall."

Selphie was taken aback, Seifer's emotions coming off as very genuine. "Why did you make him promise that?"

"You think I want Squall to be knocking on my door?" Seifer asked bitterly, walking across the store, leaning wearily on the counter. "Do you think that your image of Seifer Almasy would change his hair, change his name, and hide away here in Timber, too ashamed of what he did under... her control to face his past?"

Selphie opened her mouth to reply, but she really had no answers. She was a very good judge of character, and her accusations earlier now seemed very cruel and malicious. "Was Zell with you for those days he was missing?"

"The rain washed out the highway, so he stayed with me." He rubbed his forehead, glaring at her. "And, no... we didn't have sex, if that's what you're thinking." Seifer wondered if Selphie could see it in his eyes that he'd wanted to go to bed with Zell, so he made his expression very blank.

But, he hadn't been successful enough. Selphie found his face impossible to read, but that only made Selphie cement her suspicions that there was more to Zell's relationship to Raef/Seifer.

"Now...." Seifer pushed himself away from the counter. "If you'll excuse me, I have work to do." He started to walk, but that pain passed through him again, a gnawing in his stomach and coldness in his blood. He also had fire in his chest, like an agonizing case of heartburn. It caused him to stumble, hand pressed to the center of his chest.

"Addicted to Blackball?" Selphie asked meanly, wanting to see Seifer's reaction to those words.

His upper lip curled into a sneer, his whole body shaking. "You saw Raijin... what Blackball did to him. Do I really look like an addict to you?" He leaned against the wall. "For SeeD Intelligence, you aren't very smart."

She angrily crossed her arms, head snapping back when there was a knock on the door. It pushed open, and Zell came in, a weary smile on his face. His skin was very pale from what Ifrit had been putting him through. Zell had known that Seifer was coming back today, and he wanted to see him so badly. He wanted to know if Seifer was having problems with his GF, and he just wanted to talk to him. Zell's smile vanished when he saw Seifer's face clouded with pain, his hand clutching his chest. And, the worried expression in his eyes turned to shock when he saw Selphie in the store too.

"What are you doing here?" Zell asked her when he'd found his voice.

"I knew you were hiding something," Selphie answered sadly. That look of concern on Zell's face for Seifer, and the ease of the air between him made her feel so foolish, and a little cruel. She watched as Zell went over to Seifer and quietly asked him if everything was okay. "I was asking him about Blackball."

"Accusing me is more like it..." Seifer trailed off with a hiss of discomfort. "You look like shit," he said to Zell.

"Thanks," Zell said with a roll of his eyes. He then went over to Selphie. "What, are you spying on me?" He asked with a little anger in his voice.

"I knew you were hiding something about Raef Emaissyl," she said again. "And, I knew it was something serious. And, I was right."

"Seifer is not addicted to Blackball," Zell insisted angrily. "What, don't you trust me?"

"I do...." Selphie trailed off. "But...."

"But, what?" Zell asked.

She sighed. "It's Seifer...."

"You think I don't know that? But, I also think that I know what I'm doing. I'm a SeeD just like you are, just like Squall is."

"I know that." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "But, are you sure you can trust him? I mean, after what we saw with Raijin...."

"You wanna know what happened with Raijin?" Seifer asked harshly. He was now leaning against the counter, the pain in his chest dulling, but still there. "He worked at a factory in Bridgeport Square, and someone from work must have given it to him. One day he came home, and he was glowing, like... afterglow." Seifer put one hand on his hip, frowning in pain. "Every day, he started coming back later. Fujin would ask him about it, but he would just get upset and leave. There were nights were he didn't come back at all, and when we did see him again, he looked like shit. Like he hadn't slept in weeks. Then, money started to go missing." Seifer stared straight ahead, the pain in his chest growing, and it wasn't from whatever was bugging him before. "He kept stealing from Fujin's wallet. He couldn't steal any money from me because I didn't have any at the time."

Zell cocked his head, feeling pain for Seifer. It was obviously hard for him to tell this story, especially when Selphie had basically forced his hand on the issue. He would have rather told this painful tale than have her run straight to Squall. "For a year, this went on. He started yelling at us, but we forgave him. He stole from us, but we forgave him. He pawned my watch, but I forgave him. After I opened the shop, I used all the profits to pay for a rehab center in Deling City." Seifer laughed sadly. "He only stayed three days. But, we let him come back. He brought weird people to their apartment, but we overlooked it. I'd saved up a lot of money for a new house, and I used it to put him through rehab again. It only lasted one day, and he left the center to rob a liquor store.... He... he kept trying to get us to take it. When Fujin begged him to stop and he beat her up for it, we couldn't forgive him anymore." Seifer looked up at them with blank, dead eyes. "I had to turn my back on him, even though he was all I had..." Seifer's voice shook a little, and he angrily pushed himself away from the counter. "I haven't seen him since. That was thee years ago."

Selphie breathed out. There was no way that Seifer was lying. No fucking way. Zell went over to stand beside the other man, and she heard him whisper "I'm sorry."

"I don't need your pity!" Seifer exclaimed angrily. "I never got pity, and I don't want it now."

Zell put his hand on Seifer's shoulder, squeezing it. Seifer slumped, Zell's hand so heavy on him. Selphie watched the silent interaction, the friendship there. She'd thought that maybe Raef Emaissyl had been Zell's boyfriend, but there seemed so much more to it than that. There was real friendship there, and a common thread. They had bonded over something personal to both of them. When Seifer had been talking, Selphie had heard the solitary note in Seifer's voice. The common bond between them had been loneliness, and all the years of ancient history they'd shared as children.

"Seifer...." Selphie trailed off. "I apologize."

"I said I don't want your goddamn pity."

"It's not pity! It's a genuine apology," she said stiffly. "I was wrong to accuse you."

Seifer made an amused noise, a smirk pulling at his lips. "You know, that's the first time someone's ever said that to me."

Selphie was silent, watching as Zell asked again if Seifer was okay.

"I said I was fine," he murmured. "What happened to you?" Seifer asked, seeing the paleness of Zell's complexion. Now that he was looking into Zell's eyes, the fact that Selphie was still standing there was inconsequential.

"I got sick because of Ifrit."

"Ifrit?" Seifer echoed, putting a hand to Zell's forehead. "You still feel hot. Are you sure you should be out of bed?"

"I'm fine."

"Ifrit..." Seifer trailed off, touching his chest. "I wonder if it's Tiamat that's making me feel like this. I didn't unjunction her."

"Tiamat?" Selphie asked cautiously. "You have a Guardian Force?"

"Yeah." Seifer looked at her with a bit of hostility. "I guess that's something else that you can report to Garden."

Zell looked over at Selphie, stricken. "Selphie... please don't tell Garden that Seifer is here."

Selphie was about to say that Squall wouldn't care, but she knew that was a lie. "Fine," she assured after a pause. It was the look in Zell's eyes that made her agree. "But, I'll tell him if I have to."

Seifer shrugged, but she could see the relief briefly on his face.

"Well, if Seifer's GF is acting up..... Irvine said he felt a little under the weather too because of Quetzacoatl. Why would they all be acting weird?" Zell wondered, leaning against the counter beside Seifer, who had been struck into silence.

"It's something to look into," Selphie pointed out, hesitant to talk about their mission in front of Seifer, even if he was a former Garden student. "Matron said there was magic here, after all."

Seifer frowned deeply at the mention of their former Matron. "Look, this little SeeD party is all fine and good, but I kind of want to be alone right now."

"Are you sure?" Zell asked, a little disappointed. Selphie noticed.

"Yeah," Seifer answered quietly, patting Zell on the back. "I need to get work done, anyway."

"We should talk more about this GF problem," Selphie said.

"Not right now," Seifer replied forcefully.

"Okay....." Zell said, trailing off. Selphie took her cue from Zell and moved her way to the door, her mind working through all that had happened in just a short time. Zell was oblivious to Selphie at that moment, as he looked into Seifer's eyes. He wanted to stay, and to say so many things, but he didn't. "See you later, okay?" Then, Zell did something he wanted to so badly, but wondered if it was wrong to do so. He kissed Seifer on the cheek. It wasn't just a quick peck in passing. Zell's lips hovered against Seifer's skin, their cheeks brushing against each other. Seifer didn't react at all, and when Zell pulled away, Seifer was just staring at him, not saying anything, his face totally blank. "Uh, see ya..." Zell trailed off, embarrassed. He shuffled out of the store, Selphie waiting for him on the sidewalk, watching him. She'd seen the kiss, and she saw that Zell's cheeks were pink from flush, and she was sure it wasn't all fever.

"Zell?" She asked as he started to usher her up the sidewalk. "I really think we should question him about his GF."

"Not right now," Zell insisted. "He already told us enough tonight." They stopped at the trolley stop. "You aren't going to tell Squall, are you?" He silently pleaded with Selphie.

"No," she said. "I won't." She stood very close to Zell, opening her umbrella as it started to rain. She put it over both their heads, looking at her friend's profile, the blush in his cheeks.... the flush of infatuation. She started thinking about Seifer's story. How would Selphie feel in his shoes? How would she feel if she had no other choice but to turn her back on her best friend? She couldn't imagine anything more heartbreaking, and it immediately made her think differently of Seifer Almasy than she had before. And, she knew that Zell was also thinking of Seifer as he never had before, just as Seifer was thinking of Zell in new ways, too.

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