My Orphanage

Chapter Six

By Scarlet Fever

The smell of the sea welcomed Zell as the train came out from the underground tunnel that connected Timber to Balamb. Zell looked out the window as they approached the train station. So, they were still working on the connector to the Horizon Bridge. Construction on that had been going on for a while. It seemed silly to have to take a train to Timber and then catch another train to Esthar, so they were building a train bridge that would connect to Horizon to make commuting easier, since so many people were travelling to Esthar because of its now free borders and lack of secrecy. While Timber was growing exponentially, so was Esthar. It was quite the place to go for tourists, as well as people wanting to utilize the city's futuristic technology.

The train stopped and Zell got off, the air warm and balmy, so very different from the cooling and wet air back in Timber. He thought of Seifer back in Timber, and how it almost felt more like home than Balamb, which had been his home for as long as he could remember. He thought of the way Seifer had looked, asleep beside him, sunlight streaming through the blinds. He'd been fast asleep, barely stirring when Zell got up, even when Zell had stroked his face and hair for a while. He'd also slept when Zell had kissed him goodbye, almost not wanting to leave. But, that same memories of Seifer's sleeping face and his voice were what made Zell get off the train, looking down the street from the top of the train station stairs. Everything in Balamb looked the same, and always would. Even if the town grew, which it had, it would always look the same. He walked down the street, and some familiar faces waved at him, shouting "Hey, Zell!"

"Hey!" He called back, waving. He smiled cheerfully at people he'd known almost his entire life, but his heart was fluttering in his chest. He knew he should have told Ma he was gay a long time ago, but he hadn't wanted to disappoint her, especially when she was so proud of him for being SeeD, and then becoming and Instructor. He got to his street, and it hadn't changed in all the years he'd lived here. Zell righted his shoulders and went through the door. He could smell something cooking. Even if Ma was alone here now, she was always cooking for neighbours and friends.

"Ma?" He called.

"Zell...?" He heard his mother's voice ask with surprise. She came out of the living room, a smear of dirt on her right cheek, a duster in her hands. "What are you doing here?"

"You're not happy to see me?" He asked, hugging her tightly. He wiped the dirt off her cheek, then kissed her forehead.

"Of course I am!" She exclaimed, swatting his shoulder playfully. "I... weren't you in Timber, though?"

"I came back for the day. I have to go back, though."

"Oh, did Garden call you back?" She asked, going into the kitchen to check on the potatoes cooking on the stove.

"No, I came to see you."

She looked over her shoulder at him. "Wha....? Is something wrong?"

"No... I'm fine," Zell said genuinely. He really was fine. Yeah, he was nervous about telling his mother (and, how would he breach the subject with Squall....?), but he really was happy. All he had to think about the way that Seifer had made him feel last night, and the way he made him feel just talking to him. It wasn't all sexual, and that's what made it so wonderful, so fulfilling, so fucking beautiful and right. And, that was more than enough to make Zell's nervousness inconsequential.

"You came all this way just to see me?" Ma Dincht smiled. "That's very sweet, Zell... but not really necessary." She pinched his tattooed cheek.

"Well... Ma, we need to talk. Can we go to the living room?"

"Sure?" She followed her son, wondering what had brought him across an ocean to talk about. She sat on the couch, and watched as Zell nervously paced around. Even though he was a grown man, stillness seemed to elude him. "Zell, please sit down. I thought you said you were fine."

"I am... I am." Zell sat down, but he started fidgeting almost immediately. "Ma... there's something I need to tell you." He looked at his hands rather than at her face. "I should have told you a long time ago."

Ma Dincht cocked her head, perplexed. Especially confused because Zell looked so serious. She saw that the muscles of his forearms were very tense, as was the rigid way his shoulders were set. "You love me, right?" Zell asked quietly.

His mother was surprised. "O-of course, Zell. Why would you ask that?"

"Are you proud of me?"

"Yes!" She exclaimed quietly. "You know that I can't stop talking about you to the neighbours."

"Will you, ummmm..." He trailed off, shaking his head. No, he couldn't hedge like this. He just had to dive right in and do it, instead of finding a way to get out of it. "Ma...." He looked up into her caring and loving eyes. Eyes that loved him unconditionally and always had. "I, uh.... I'm gay, Ma."

She blinked at him. "Yes, I know."

Zell felt like Pandemona had vacuumed all the air out of his lungs. "Wh-what?"

She smiled, getting up to sit beside her son on the loveseat. She covered one of his hands with her own. He was wearing gloves that were red scales, and she felt their combination of smoothness and roughness. "I know," she repeated.

"Since when?" Zell asked, feeling like a child again.

"Always," she whispered.

"Why didn't you say anything?!" He demanded.

"Because you weren't ready to tell me."

Zell laughed bitterly, shaking his head. "I must have done a really shitty job hiding it. It seems that everyone knows."

"I'm your mother.... I know these things." She squeezed his hands. "Why, who else knows?"

"Selphie knew..."

"She is SeeD Intelligence," Ma Dincht pointed out. "You can't hide anything from that girl." She peered at Zell. "I always noticed that you didn't pay much attention to girls. Even that girl from the school that liked you.... Jess, right? She looked at you with stars in her eyes, and you only saw a friend. I also noticed that your father's Spencer Taylor catalogues would always go missing, and wind up in your room." Spencer Taylor was an upscale men's store in Balamb, and had a penchant for hiring very handsome men for their models. "But, you always seemed afraid to tell me, so I never brought it up. It was something you had to tell me when you were ready." She wrapped her arms around Zell's shoulders, stroking his back in a motherly fashion.

"Did Dad know?" Zell asked. His father had died about 8 years ago.

She nodded. "I brought it up to him when he wondered why you didn't have a girlfriend." Ma Dincht pursed her lips. "What made you want to tell me, now of all times? Did you... meet someone?"

Zell nodded stiffly. "He also knew I was gay... without me having to tell him."

"It must be serious for you to come home in the middle of a SeeD assignment. Are you sleeping with him?"

"Ma!!" Zell exclaimed, face flushing.

She laughed. "Zell... how naive do you think I am, really? You're 27... I know very well that you're not a virgin. I just hope you're being careful."

Zell covered his face with his hands, mortified beyond belief.

"I love you, Zell..." His mother said sincerely, hugging him tightly. "I love you in anything you do, or what you are."

"I'm tired, Ma. Tired of lying, of pretending to have a life that I don't have. I want to be able to be Zell, you know....?"

"I hope you never thought I would be judgemental of you, Zell. I apologize if that's the case."

He couldn't help but laugh. "Shit, Ma...oops, sorry." He waved his hand, still feeling embarrassed about swearing in front of his mother, even though he was a grown man. "You're apologizing to me? Ma.... you don't need to."

She smiled, pinching his cheek again. "So, tell me about this man. Did you just meet him?"

"You're... okay?" He asked hesitantly.

"Yes, Zell. I just want you to be happy, and I know that for a long time, while you had things to fill the void, you weren't what I would call happy."

Zell smiled distantly, thinking of how quickly things had changed. Timber had a serious issue on its hands, and now it was getting even uglier, but Zell still felt... happy.

"Your smile says it all," Ma Dincht said quietly. "Is he from Timber? Did you meet when you went there with Selphie?"

"... Sort of," Zell muttered. This was going to be hard, too. It was one thing to tell his mother that he liked cock, but it was another to tell her that he was liking the cock of Seifer Almasy. Ma very well knew who Seifer was, not only from his days as Ultimecia's 'Knight', but also from the Garden days when Seifer had been Zell's bully, rather than his 'boyfriend'. But, were they actually boyfriends? Zell wasn't sure exactly what word to use to describe their relationship. But, it was a relationship, no question. "Yeah, I met him in Timber, but he's not from there..."

"I..." Zell's mother cocked her head, sensing that there was more to it than that. "What do you mean?"

"I... sort of... knew him before I saw him in Timber again. Maybe that's why we... ummm... hit it off..."

"Where did you know him from?"

"Garden," Zell answered stiffly. The room was starting to feel hot and stifling. "He went to school there. He's an alchemist now."

"An alchemist?" Ma Dincht asked, impressed. An alchemist was a very respectable job. Alchemists didn't make as much as lawyers and doctors, but it was a job where the person had to be both exceedingly intelligent, and a good fighter to deal with monsters. Though, it was also a very dangerous job. "What's his name?"

"Um.... Seifer... Almasy."

She thought for a moment, but then the name started to jog her memory. The Sorceress's Knight.... Ultimecia's puppet. But, what made her frown at her son was that she remembered Seifer Almasy as the boy who'd made Zell cry as a child. A bully.

"I know that look," Zell murmured. "You remember him, don't you? I know that he was the Sorceress's Knight, but...."

"That's not what I'm thinking about. Isn't he the boy that you used to hate....?"

Zell pursed his lips. "That was a long time ago."


"Ma, I like him." Zell felt himself blushing again, but it wasn't because he was embarrassed. "He's different than he was then, but yet..... the same. He's so passionate, but he's learned to be humble. He's suffered, and learned from it. And, the way he makes me feel..." He looked over at his mother. "And, not like that. The conversations we have...." He trailed off with a shrug. "I guess it's hard to explain."

She couldn't help but smile. "No, not hard at all. Just from the look on your face, and the tone of your voice... it says everything that needs to be said." She patted Zell's shoulder. "That you said nothing about liking him physically. That it was the mental connection that made you smile like that."

Zell furrowed his brow. "I almost feel like things are moving too fast, but then when I'm not with him.... he's all I can think about."

"I would like to meet him sometime," Ma Dincht said after a pause.

"I asked him to come with me, but he didn't think it would be a good idea." Zell sighed heavily. "I still have to tell Squall...."

"Squall is your best friend," she pointed out. "He'll care about you, no matter what."

"Squall doesn't like to be surprised," Zell said gravely. "Especially with something this big, especially because it's Seifer. I... I don't know how he'll react."

"I know you care about Squall, but you can't live your life for him, or even for me. Only for yourself, and I think that's why you told me. You even said so. You're tired of not being yourself, and lying to Squall isn't you being yourself."

Zell hugged his mother. "You always know what to say."

"Of course I do," she said, ruffling his hair. "I'm your mother." She then filled him in on things that had been happening since he'd went to Timber, and she asked about what was going on there. Zell couldn't tell her much because it was sensitive material and tied to a mission. She also asked about Seifer more, and Zell answered what he could, though their relationship was hard to put into words. He wished that he could have stayed longer, but he did have to get back to Timber. After all, there was a big mission going on. He kissed his mother goodbye, after promising that he would let her meet Seifer sometime when things had cooled down with Blackball and Diablos (though, he hadn't mentioned Diablos to his mother. He had the feeling that it would put her in danger somehow...) He waited around for the train, and when he got on, because he was SeeD, he got to ride in one of the special compartments. The first time Zell had ever ridden this train, it was when they'd first experienced Ellone's power, and everything in their lives had changed forever.

He sat back on the plush bench, putting his feet up and wishing Seifer was there with him. Wishing that he and Seifer could be in this posh compartment together, talking and kissing and touching each other. He smiled, looking around. There were some magazines on the table, so he picked them up. One was a new issue of Timber Maniacs. They didn't have quite the zing of the older ones, especially with Laguna's rather amusing and charmingly befuddled articles. There was a ladies' fashion magazine, and one about golf. Zell decided to flip through Timber Maniacs, and started reading an interesting article by a fisherman in FH, talking about their growing dependence on machinery, and if it was them themselves that were becoming machines.

He went passed a boring article on environmental activists protesting in Deling City, and saw a photograph about archaeological digging in the Great Salt Lake. There was a great skeleton of an Abadon, and Zell skimmed the article. He'd always found that place fascinating, with its ancient bones and history. The guy was talking about some dragon bones he'd found. He was also talking about something new they were thinking they'd discovered, old bones of a monster long extinct. "It's very exciting," said Dr. Wilson. "To look into an age long dead, especially since we haven't ever found Varuna bones in this good of a condition."

Varuna?! Zell boggled at the word. Every word that Seifer had said to him, including when he'd rattled off strange ingredients in Blackball, including Varuna Wings. Zell read every word of the article, but there was only a little mention of a Varuna being a winged monster that had long been extinct. There was a shot of some assembled bones, only the torso. It had a humanoid looking body and big bat-wings. Much like Diablos.

Zell looked around, wishing they could be in Timber that instant. He knew he still had the problem of having to tell Squall about him and Seifer, but Blackball was more important. But, he was also scared. Squall was a lot harder to deal with than his mother, especially where Seifer was concerned. After all, Seifer still had bitter feelings towards Squall, and Squall was one to hold grudges, even more than Seifer. But, all he had to do was think of Seifer, and what it had felt like to be held by him, to be kissed by him, to have Seifer's tongue inside him, to wake up next to him....

Zell sighed heavily, looking at the archaeological article again, and at the photograph of a long dead Varuna, and what was left of its bones. Zell then wondered, with fear growing in him: if Varunas were long extinct, where was Diablos getting the ingredients for Blackball....?

For the first night in a while, the skies above Timber were clear and starry. Diablos, in his original form of Daeva, was standing in front of a large mirror above his sink in the minimalist bathroom, water dripping from his nose and chin. He splashed his face with the cool water, waist-length hair all around his nude body. In the mirror, he could see his beautiful Ulurha sleeping on the bed among blood red and ink black sheets, auburn hair mussed and flesh alight with afterglow. Also tangled in the sheets was Nha'zora, one of his maids. Her full bosom was exposed, and she had an arm flung over her delicate face, black hair fanned all around her, skin shining with sexual sweat. Her hands showed the claws that belonged on her true form, though her body was still that of a voluptuous, sumptuous woman. Diablos could have been enjoying their bodies in hours of debauchery and fun, but he could not. His mind was too pre-occupied.

"You do not seem to be enjoying yourself," a voice echoed throughout the bathroom. Diablos's human hands curled around the edge of the sink as Bahamut's voice reverberated throughout him. The demon could feel a swell of power as Bahamut materialized in his millions of years old human form; King Etanin, Lord and Tyrant of the Genoa Highlands. He leaned against the doorframe, wearing a black suit with a shockingly bright pink shirt, tie loose and undone around his neck as if he'd just come from quite the party.

"I always enjoy myself," Diablos answered, staring at his beautiful face in the mirror, aided by the blood of his faerie father, a man who had entranced his human mother because of her own prettiness. Because his hair was pushed off his face, slightly pointed and elfish ears were shown.

"But, not tonight Berith," Bahamut pointed out knowingly.

"How can I?" Daeva asked in a very human tone, holding the edges of the black marbled counter. "When in my mind, I have seen such unpleasant things?"

"Unpleasant things?" Bahamut echoed in that way that said he more than likely knew what Diablos was referring to. "Do you mean Tiamat? I have felt her power."

The demon had felt Thuban Alwaid's powers in the city, but that's not what preoccupied him now. Daeva looked at his King's reflection in the mirror he was facing. "For the second time in my existence, I have prophesied my own death."

Bahamut's head slowly cocked, but his face registered little. Diablos this was a show of surprise on the dragon's part. In the millions of years since his first contact with Diablos, Bahamut had never quite understood the demon's ability to predict the future. It was an inexact science. Even to Diablos. Often, the future had too many variables to completely predict, but there were some events that were more cemented than others. "Your own death?" Bahamut echoed with a little laugh. "How amusing."

Diablos's blue and black eyes flared to fathomless night, a starless sky. "You mock me?!"

"You are of Ancient blood Diablos, Lord of Darkness. A prediction of your own death? It's quite ludicrous."

"And yet, I predicted it... just the same." Diablos stared at his own human reflection. "I feel... quite mortal, Etanin."

"You're serious..." Bahamut trailed off, a little in disbelief. This behaviour wasn't like the demon. It was too... mournful.

"I am," Daeva hissed, turning to face Etanin, his human nudity of no importance. "I have lived for ages. I have lived for the rise and fall of humans again and again. And, it will be humans that defeat me."

"Which humans?"

"The SeeD that defeated Sorceress Ultimecia of the future. The friends of my former and your current Master, Squall Leonhart." Diablos's eyes became distant, as did Bahamut's at the mention of Squall's name. Diablos saw many things in the future, not just dealing with his own fortunes, but also the fortunes of others, including Squall's fate. He had that spark... that certain something... it kept him interesting to them. Diablos then laughed bitterly, silken hair falling off his shoulder, cascading down his pale and masculine back. "Odin's murderer, and Ifrit's current Master will combine to destroy me."

Bahamut shook his head, stepping into the chrome and black bathroom.

"You should heed my words, Bahamut. Odin was destroyed. It can happen to any of us."

"I do not live my life in fear of things that might not be."

Diablos hissed angrily. "You've never had faith in my clairvoyance. You see it as a mere joke!" He stamped his foot angrily, the shadow of him on the wall shaped like his real form, though his body was still human, was still Daeva. His hair swung around his pale shoulders and lean, muscled torso.

"Do you recall when you predicted a great earthquake would sink the Esthar continent 10,000 years ago?" Bahamut asked, putting human hands on Daeva's shoulders, stroking through his thick and lush hair. "It never happened."

"Esthar's digging into the earth is what prevented it...." Daeva muttered sulkily. "It still could have happened."

"Could have," Bahamut echoed with a condescending laugh.

"Oh, you are so vexing," Daeva whined angrily. "Can't you see I am troubled?!"

Etanin could see that he was indeed troubled. Daeva's black and blue eyes were clouded with distraction, and his nude body started to slowly mould to the dragon King's side. Bahamut had first met Daeva in human disguise, before even seeing his real, demonic body. Perhaps that's why Bahamut had such a soft spot for the Lord of Darkness. He'd himself been in his infancy as a Summon, still so connected to his human life and human emotions. He'd only been 100 or so years into his life as Bahamut, which was no time at all to their kind. And, to see such a beautiful, captivating man with the same powers as his own... it had touched the humanity in him, and it was something that the dragon could not forget, even all these years and years later. He had a... weakness for Berith. And, the demon knew it.

Diablos wrapped human arms around Etanin's broad shoulders, resting his cheek against Bahamut's neck. His skin evoked memories of a civilization long turned to dust. Daeva had never known Etanin as a human, but he'd seen in through memories and his seeing abilities. Seen how powerful he'd been, even as a mortal man, how tyrannical he'd been, and yet how his people had loved him. Living in his human body as a disguise gave Diablos feelings he hadn't really felt in a long time. Feelings that were very human. Sexual feelings. Feelings of worry and jealousy... of weakness. Diablos hated humans, though he'd once been half human himself, and yet... there were interesting things about them. Dressing up as a human was necessary for his plan, but it also had perks. The perks of remembering the swelling lust he'd felt for Bahamut when they'd first seen each other, both in the guise of human men.

Daeva held the other 'man' closer, feeling Etanin's fingers run through his hair, holding fistfuls of it. He knew very well that other Summons were either jealous or wary of Bahamut and Diablos's relations together. But, he didn't care. Let them be jealous. It was more fun for him. He let out a small little sigh of contentment when Bahamut's human hands swept over his equally human naked skin. Daeva felt Etanin's lips hovering around his own, that warm breath touching his mouth and face. He moved in for a dark kiss, but was denied, strong hands on his shoulders pushing him back.

Daeva raised devilishly arched eyebrows, licking across his lower lip, knowing the powers of persuasion and seduction he possessed. Those were magic just as strong as his powers of necromancy or clairvoyance.

"You almost had me there, Berith."

Diablos gave the sultriest pout in his arsenal to the dragon King. "Why, My Lord... I don't know to what you refer..."

"Cut the shit," Bahamut snarled angrily. "Premonitions? Worried about your own demise? I know when I'm being manipulated, especially by you, my love."

"Manipulated?" Diablos echoed, his voice holding false innocence. For, in fact he had been using his premonition of that Sorceress's child and the mercenary with Ifrit destroying him to lure Bahamut to him. He'd done it before, acting sad and worried to gain Bahamut's comfort, no matter the form they took.

"Did you even have a premonition?" Bahamut asked, crossing his arms over the chest of his aggressively pink shirt.

"What were you and Manannan discussing in Dollet?" Diablos asked casually, examining his manicured nails.

Bahamut then laughed uproariously, his laugh echoing through the bathroom, multi-layered and non-human. "Why do you care? Business that does not involve you has always bored you to tears." Bahamut had a broad smile on his human face, though it was a far from human smile. That toothy grin belonged on a dragon's face.

"I don't care."

The smile disappeared, and Bahamut rolled black eyes. "Stop acting like a jealous mistress, Berith. I don't have time for this." He turned to leave, but something reached out and coiled around his wrist, strong and whip-like. Etanin Alwaid looked over his shoulder and saw that his wrist was being gripped by Diablos's thin, black-scaled tail, though it was still Daeva that was looking at him. He had a look of displeasure on his face. Because he wasn't getting his way. Bahamut frowned deeply. "Berith, you know that I do enjoy playing these little games with you, but my amusement is quickly turning to annoyance."

"Perhaps I am also filled with annoyance," Daeva hissed, black and ice eyes starting to fester into demonic, glowing yellow, his pupils disappearing. "That you don't take my premonitions seriously. Perhaps if I'd mentioned what I've seen for your impending future, hmmmm?" It was true that Diablos had been playing with his King, but his premonitions had also been true, and he disliked being fobbed off.

"Don't test me," Bahamut warned without moving his lips. His blue wings exploded from his back with his anger. Though the bathroom was human sized, when both changed into their real forms, the room didn't cramp them. Daeva's manor was as magical as he was. It swelled along with them. Ulurha and Nha'zora were awaken by the swell of power shooting through the mansion, their own less than human forms replacing their disguises. They quickly made themselves scarce, for they could feel the anger in their Master's power, but also the dark energy from Bahamut. Diablos's little game was a silly thing to start a fight over, but one thing you couldn't accuse GF of being was always rational.

One of Diablos's clawed hands got around the dragon's throat, but Bahamut's powerfully muscled tail slapped the demon away, sending him flying across the room, which had grown large and cavernous. Diablos used his wings to halt his backward motion, and flew at Bahamut, scratching his muzzle with talon-like nails. Bahamut snarled, smoke coming from his nostrils. He slapped Diablos with his tail again, long neck aiding him in biting Diablos's throat with powerful jaws, flapping his wings to send them flying backwards. The demon became sandwiched between the wall and Bahamut's heavy body, and he snarled, tail whipping around angrily as he tried to free himself from the GF King. Their sharp fangs and claws cut at each other, biting and scratching through the hard scales that armoured their flesh. Their wings beat against each other as their powers warred, filling the room, and even the city, with the darkness and depth of their ancient magic.

Bahamut roared angrily, using his much heftier body to tackle the demon to the ground. Diablos's wings and tail swished, and he hissed, but he was defeated as Bahamut's clawed toes dug into his flesh. Diablos began to cast Gravija in his anger, but his spell was cut off short when he was impaled sexually. It was more a show of power, for they didn't feel that same sexual pull while not in human form. It was still there, but far easier to control. Diablos dug his nails into Bahamut's muzzle, letting out another angry hiss. But, his falter in concentration also caused the magics surrounding the manor to get hold of them, rendering both of them back to human form. Diablos had cast runes on this land to help keep him in check, to prevent him accidentally changing to his true form in a fit of emotion. He could change at will while in the manor, as could any other GF, but the runes aided against accidental change.

When shrunk down to their human forms, Etanin and Daeva were tangled together sexually, the scars and scratches they'd given each other in their shuffle still on their flesh. It would heal in a few hours, but now the wounds were bleeding freely. Daeva's nails, which were long for a man, clawed down his King's neck, letting out an angry growl, but his hips raised, wanting Bahamut to brutalize him, just the way he liked. "So...." Daeva mused, groaning from both pleasure and discomfort. One of Etanin's thrusts was particularly vicious. "Looks like you played my little game after all...." He trailed off with a laugh, silky hair fanned all around him on the gleaming white tiled floor, which was also splattered with red blood, glittering unnaturally. Like liquefied rubies.

"You're infuriating, you little bastard..." Bahamut hissed, heavily biting Daeva's sultry and soft lower lip, blood spraying on their faces.

"I did predict my death, you realize...!" Daeva's words died with a gasp, his body arching under his King. He clawed up Etanin's back, their kisses as violent as their sex. When they released against each other, it was more than a release of semen. It was a release of power that shook the house to its core, and also exploded across the city. Daeva smiled a toothy grin as he and Etanin collapsed into each others arms, dripping blood.

"What do you plan to do?" Bahamut asked, stroking through Daeva's hair, that beautiful hair. He didn't show it, but he was concerned about Diablos's prediction. After all, Daeva-his beloved Berith-meant more to him than his own daughter did.

"My would-be murderers will not leave this house alive." Diablos ran a clawed hand through Etanin's dark hair. "I can guarantee that."

Laguna moved his tongue over Edea's clitoris, fingers touching her from the inside. Her hair was a mess and sticking to her face and shoulders, as was his own hair, but neither cared. They only cared about sating the lust between them, about being together. They were in Edea's hotel room, having been there for days, making love and falling asleep in each other's arms, waiting until time ran out for them, which would be soon. Laguna's hands moved up Edea's soft torso, cupping her breasts. She gasped, legs wrapped around his upper torso, hands running through his hair, across his shoulders, over her own skin. When he brought her to orgasm again, she cried out, hand flung over her face, breath coming out shallowly.

Laguna sat up, looking down at her. God, she was so beautiful. He could taste her on his lips, the intimacy of her natural lubricant, the guilt and joy of what they'd done, all at once. He lay down beside her, stroking her sweaty hair, kissing her cheeks and her lips. He held her tightly, and felt her shivering a little. She held him back, her body moulding to his, but she was tense. "He'll be here soon," she murmured quietly, hands stroking up and down Laguna's back.

"I know. Are you going straight to Timber?"

She nodded against his throat, pressing herself tighter to him. "What will I do when I have to look in his eyes?" She asked rhetorically. She, of course, was referring to her husband. He was on his way to Esthar to get Edea, and they were going to travel to Timber together to see Seifer, to tell him the truth. He could have gone right away, but it seemed right for them to tell him as a couple. What a lie. How could Cid and Edea face their child as a couple when she'd been fucking another man behind the scenes?

"I don't know," Laguna whispered, kissing her hair, then her eyelashes, then her mouth. He ravished her mouth, not wanting to leave this room, not wanting to give her up. How could he look Cid in the face without screaming out that he was in love with the man's wife. He knew it was wrong, that there were so many people he'd be disappointing besides Cid. What would Squall think of him....? But, when he touched Edea like this, he wanted to make her his. He wanted to run away with her, far away where nobody from Esthar could find them.

"I should probably get ready...." She trailed off quietly, still in Laguna's arms, still in their adulterous embrace.

"Just a little longer," he insisted, crushing her to his chest, his heart aching for her. He may have had her beside him physically, and he may have just had her sexually, but that wasn't what caused him so much pain. He wanted all of her. He wanted her companionship. He wanted her love, he wanted her forever. They held each other tightly, but finally broke away. Edea had already packed for her trip to Timber, but she had to make herself look presentable, like she hadn't just been cheating on her husband with the President of Esthar.

"You must be excited to see Seifer?" Laguna asked stiffly, watching as she started the shower.

"How can I face him?" She wondered, torture in her eyes. She stepped into the shower, washing away the sweat and evidence of their lovemaking. Laguna did not try to join her in the shower, for then he wouldn't want to ever let her go. She got out, and started to blow-dry her thick, dark hair. Laguna watched her, her skin still naked and gleaming with dampness. She was so beautiful that it made him ache. Why did it have to happen this way?

Edea pulled on a simple black cowl-necked sweater and classic black slacks, pulling her long hair up into a bun. She started to apply make-up as Laguna took his turn in the shower. It all felt very domestic, but tinged with so much longing and sadness. For, Edea was feeling the same way Laguna was. She didn't want to leave this room. She didn't want to leave the strength and passion of his embrace, of what his fingers could bring from her body. She didn't want to leave the loving look in his eyes behind her. Her love for Laguna was cementing itself, warring with her love for her husband. In this hotel bed with Laguna, she'd forgotten about Cid more times than she cared to count. She'd only thought of Laguna, and of Seifer when they were drifting off into sleep. Thoughts of her beautiful son would make her think of Cid, and bring tears from her. How had it gotten this far? How had it turned itself into such a messy situation? Laguna blow-dried his own hair, and dressed in the clothes he'd been wearing when he came here, the clothes that had been discarded on the floor for days.

Edea pursed her lips as the phone rang. She sat on the bed, picking it up. "Yes?"

"Sorceress Edea, your husband is waiting downstairs," the desk clerk informed.

"Thank you," Edea whispered, slowly hanging up the phone, her muscles feeling weighted with her guilt. She stood up and moved to collect her bag. But, instead she ran into Laguna's arms, embracing him as tightly as she could without squeezing the life out of both their bodies. They held each other for a long, perfect, and yet so brief moment. They broke apart, and Edea collected her bag, looking sadly over her shoulder at Laguna before she left the room, her stomach plummeting with each step towards the elevator. As she rode down to the ground floor, she thought she was going to be violently ill. It was bad enough to know what she was doing, but to have to look into Cid's eyes knowing it... shame made her eyes water. Coupled with her nervousness at seeing Seifer again, she was a nervous wreck, her hands visibly shaking.

When she saw Cid, he smiled brightly, and she felt sick with herself. He walked to her, collecting her into a quick hug. "Why are you staying here?" He asked, kissing her forehead. "Did you and Laguna have a falling out?"

Flashes of Laguna's hands on her flesh, Laguna inside her filled Edea's memories. "No... I just found the palace distracting."

"Dear, you're shaking!" Cid exclaimed quietly, looking into his wife's face. He saw the distress there. "Don't worry... I'm sure Seifer will understand."

She pursed her lips, for they were quivering. "Oh, Cid...."

"Well, come on." He offered his arm to her. "We better get going. We should talk to Seifer before things get really crazy in Timber. That is, unless you want to wait....?"

"No," she said strongly. "We've waited long enough."

Cid nodded, knowing exactly what Edea meant. They couldn't put off the truth any longer. It wasn't fair to Seifer, and it was also denying them a life of really knowing their only son. Edea and he got on a small, personal Airship that Laguna had offered them. It was called Wings To Discovery, and would get them to Timber quickly. Thoughts of what she'd been doing with Laguna behind Cid's back were replaced with thoughts of Seifer. She'd cut out the pictures and articles out of the tabloids, which hadn't been very kind to Seifer in their description of him, a former 'bloodthirsty murderer' as they'd called him. The pictures had all become worn because of all the times Edea had taken them out and looked at them. She did just that now, taking the photos out and looking at them. A photograph of when he'd still been a child, when he'd been trapped in Ultimecia's iron fist, with his blonde hair and youthful face. And, now... hair dyed dark, fashionable eyeglasses on, his face so beautiful, but yet that of a man. He wasn't the child of Edea's memories anymore.

Cid noticed what Edea was looking at. "He looks more like you now."

She sighed. "The glasses and dark hair make me see you in him."

Cid laughed quietly. "I was never that handsome at his age. He still looks very much like your mother, though. I think she would have been pleased."

Edea made a thoughtful noise. "I wish Seifer could have known her. They are so alike...." She sighed, putting the pictures away. "I wouldn't blame him if he hated us."

"Let's just hope for the best," he said quietly, putting an arm around her shoulders as the pilot flew them towards Timber, the Great Salt Lake below them.

She nodded, head resting on Cid's shoulder. She wouldn't blame Seifer for hating them at all, and she also wouldn't blame Cid for hating her, especially when at such a personal moment for them, she was thinking of the man she'd left behind....

Seifer angrily punched the numbers on his calculator as he poured over financial statements and bills for Archimedes. After all, even though the shit was hitting the fan with Diablos, he still did have the responsibilities of owning his own business, and they were many. As he added things up, he checked his day planner, looking for a free day so he could go hunt Malboros. Malboro Tentacles were very hard to keep in stock, since they were popular among not only people for weapons, but also among Blue Mages, the fringe scenes like the fetish circuit because of the fact the Tentacles made high-quality whips, and also because they also worked wonders on everyday ailments like fevers and infection. Also, doing this work kept Seifer's mind off the fact that Squall and Quistis were coming to Timber to back up Selphie, Zell and Irvine.

Selphie was currently pacing, discussing GFs with Irvine. She still couldn't believe that they'd actually talked to the human form of a Summon! "Hey, guys...? What do you think Cactuar's human form is like? I mean, they couldn't have been too happy about turning into a Cactuar instead of some big crazy dragon or something cool like that...."

"Maybe it was a Cactuar to begin with..." Seifer trailed off, frowning at his lack of profit margins. "Tiamat said that Summons have human forms, but what if monsters can have that sort of power in them, too?"

"Maybe Tonberry's like that, too..." Irvine sighed, putting his feet up on the coffee table. He looked over at Seifer, sitting at his and Selphie's kitchen table. "Man, I'd hate to be that calculator right now." He was talking about how hard Seifer was jabbing the buttons.

"Huh?" Seifer asked sharply. "Oh...."

"Nervous?" Selphie asked. She didn't sit near Seifer, since the brunette had his papers all organized around him, and messing them up would probably make him angry, since he was already so tense.

Seifer gave his trademark smug chuckle. "Me, nervous? Yeah right."

"Squall and Quistis should be here in a few hours. They might bring Rinoa, too. I mean, I know she's not SeeD, but they still might bring her..."

Seifer sighed heavily. "Yeah, I know Irvine." He looked down at his papers. "You don't have to remind me," he added quietly.

"Without you, we wouldn't be even halfway to this point, babe," Selphie pointed out. "Even Squall can't argue that."

"I won't disagree there," Seifer answered, putting his pen down. "I'm sure he does appreciate what I've done for your mission, but that doesn't mean he has to like it. Just like I don't have to like the fact that I'm stuck in the middle of the whole thing, and will have to take orders from that little..." He stopped himself. "Never mind."

"Well, we can almost guarantee that Bahamut is going to be at the party tonight," Selphie murmured, starting to pace again. "I guess we'll be able to recognize him, since he's Tiamat's Dad. There could be a family resemblance."

Irvine tapped the brim of his hat. "I think we'll be able to recognize him by the power he'll be oozing."

"Maybe not," Selphie mused. "Since that house is Diablos's, maybe the whole thing's one big spell, and we'll sort of be... overloaded, and thus blinded."

"But, Diablos doesn't know we know about him..."

"I wouldn't count on that," Seifer muttered, looking up over the frames of his glasses. "He's probably seen it. After all, Tiamat said he was really powerful...."

They all fell into silence for a few moments. Selphie and Irvine then started to plan different things they could do, different tactics and such. Seifer concentrated on his paperwork, but his mind was wandering in a million different directions. He was thinking about Zell, about Diablos, about Tiamat, about Squall...

He looked up when the door opened, and Zell came into Selphie and Irvine's apartment, his cheeks flushed as if he'd run here from Balamb. Zell went straight to Seifer, not caring that Selphie and Irvine were in the room when he planted a sound kiss on Seifer's lips. The entire train ride back here, all he could think about was Seifer. Besides now knowing what Varunas were, of course. Seifer was taken aback by the kiss, but he welcomed it, reciprocating. Zell's hands were strong on the sides of his neck, and when Seifer touched the other man's face, his skin felt warm.

"Are you okay...?" Seifer asked, breaking away from Zell. "Is Ifrit acting up again...?"

Zell smiled, kissing Seifer again. "I'm great!" He exclaimed. "Oh... you mean why am I warm? Because there was a fucking car accident downtown, and it bunged up all the trolleys, so I ran here from the train station." He gently moved some of the papers that Seifer had placed on the chair, and sat down beside him. "I have interesting news."

"Oh?" Seifer asked, smirking coyly at Zell.

Zell reached out for Seifer's hands, cupping them. He then kissed the back of Seifer's hands and his fingers. He'd only been away from Seifer for a day, and he'd missed him so badly it had hurt. What would Zell do when he had to go back to Balamb for good?

"Awwwww!" Selphie cooed, watching them. "You two are sooooo cute together! Aren't they cute, Irvine? Why can't you be that cute?"

He shrugged. "I guess my freakishly large penis will have to make up for it."

Zell rolled his eyes at them, and then turned his attention back to Seifer. "So, anyway..." He looked at Selphie and Irvine, fingers still looped with Seifer's. "You won't believe what I found out today!"

"Ummm, I think we can trump you." Irvine held up a finger, eyes shadowed by his hat.

"Oh, really?" Zell asked with a cocked eyebrow. "I found out what Varunas are."

"We saw Tiamat's human form, and found out that Daeva Aka-Manah is really Diablos in disguise," Selphie said, doing a victory pose when Zell's face became blank.

"....what?" He asked, looking at Selphie, then Irvine, then Seifer. The seriousness of their expressions told him it was true. "Human form?"

Seifer nodded. "She came to the door, as real as you or me. And, she told us that Diablos's human form is the Count. And, that the party was a trap. He was going to kill us."

Zell's eyebrows shot up. "You're shitting me."

"I shit you not," Seifer murmured. "There's so much about Summons that we never knew. Like, the fact that Tiamat is actually, like... 3 million years old. And, that Diablos won't be the only GF we'll have to face."

"What do you mean?"

"GF stick together," Selphie interjected. "Tiamat was breaking rules by even talking to us as herself. And, there's the fact that... Bahamut won't let us kill Diablos if he can help it."

"I don't believe it...."

"Squall and Quistis are on their way," Irvine added. "Tonight, we go to that party to kill Diablos, or be killed by him."

Zell shook his head, lips parted. "But, why would Diablos want to kill us?"

Seifer shrugged. "We don't know."

Zell frowned. "But, Seifer... the invitation was for you. What could you have done to make Diablos want to kill you?"

"Killed Odin?" He asked sarcastically. He then shrugged. "I really don't know. But, I have a feeling that he knew I would bring you, and it's killing two birds with one stone. Tiamat couldn't be specific."

"So... Squall's coming?" Zell asked at length. "How do you feel about that?"

"What can I do?" Seifer muttered, putting his paperwork away. "To save Raijin, I'd put up with anything." He closed his mailbag that he used as a briefcase. "Even Squall."

"Why are you still so bitter towards him?" Selphie asked, flopping down on the couch beside Irvine. He was looking at a map of Westphal, particularly the streets around Daeva's manor.

Seifer shrugged a shoulder. "Jealousy from childhood that I've never really got over?" He stood up, walking out of the room, into Zell's apartment. He didn't want to talk about Squall anymore. Neither Selphie nor Irvine said anything to him as he left. They knew he had a lot on his mind, as did they. But, Zell did follow him.

"I knew there was something about Aka-Manah that I didn't like..." Zell mused, watching as Seifer stared out the window to the street below. It had started to drizzle, the clouds looking heavy and ominous.

"What did your Mom say?" Seifer asked, after staring out the window for a while.

Zell stood next to the other man, resting his head on Seifer's shoulder, staring out the window as well. "She knew."

"She did?"

"Yeah... she said that she just didn't say anything because I wasn't ready to come out to her yet."

"How long has she known?"

"Always. I wonder if Squall knows, too...."

"To be fair..." Seifer pointed out quietly, arm sliding around Zell, hand resting on the small of his back. "Only me, Selphie and your mother knew. Selphie's a guru at that sort of shit, I knew because our situations were so similar, and she knew because she's your mother. Don't worry... Squall will be rightly shocked."

Zell made an exasperated noise. "I don't want him to be shocked."

"Squall hates change."

"I know."

"But, if he's really your friend, he won't care. He'll get over it."

"I hope you're right."

"So, what did you find out about Varunas?" Seifer asked, turning his face into Zell's hair, kissing his temple gently.

"Oh, right..." Zell reluctantly pulled away from the embrace, which felt so comfortable and familiar, and went to his bag, pulling out the archaeology magazine. He opened it to the article, and handed it to Seifer.

Seifer read over the article, studying the photographs. "I wonder if they existed around the same time as Diablos? Tiamat said he's about the same age as her and Bahamut. Oh..." Seifer looked over at Zell, briefly thinking of what Selphie had said earlier in the morning, about him and Zell being a couple. Was this his boyfriend he was looking at? "Bahamut is Tiamat's father."

"What... you mean when they were human?"

Seifer nodded.

"Well... shit..." Zell sat on the edge of his bed, looking up at Seifer. "There's so much about GF that we don't know...." He watched as Seifer's elegant frame slowly sat next to him. "We've fought GF before, so it shouldn't be too bad... right?"

"I think this is different. This isn't a GF testing our fighting abilities like Ifrit on those SeeD Field Exams. This time, the fight is serious."

"What if something... happens?" Zell asked.

"You mean... if we die?"

Zell nodded. "When I was in Balamb today, I was thinking about what it would feel like to go back there for good, knowing you were here. It hurt to be away for even just one day... what would forever be like?"

"There's no such thing as forever," Seifer grumbled. "Selphie said we're a couple today."

"Are we....?"

Seifer looked at Zell for a long time. "I don't.... I-I guess so.... we're not exactly going about this in typical order." He cocked his head. "Do you want to be my boyfriend?"

"I...." Zell struggled for words, but let out a small sigh when Seifer's hand cupped the side of his face. With one touch, he knew the answer. And, it was yes. He crawled across the mattress towards Seifer, kissing him. The kiss was slow and gentle, rather chaste actually. It was only deepened very slowly, their mouths opening slowly against each other, taking each step with exacting time and patience. They suckled at tasted each other's lips, mouths opening together. Seifer could feel the warmth of Zell's breath mingling with his own, and a shiver went down Zell's back when the tip of their tongues touched. They'd kissed like this before, but it felt different this time. Different because of the heavy attachment in the kiss, the pleasure in it that was so deeper than sexual. Their tongues rolled over each other, filling each other's mouths completely. Seifer wrapped his arms tightly around Zell, holding him close, still kind of amazed that this was happening. Zell held him back just as tightly, and Seifer's brow furrowed. Not from discomfort, but from pure joy. It felt so good to be held by strong, masculine arms.

They broke their kiss, planting a few more gentle ones on each others lips before enveloping into a tight embrace. "Ma wants to meet you," Zell whispered.

"You think she'll want to meet me after she knows I'm Ultimecia's former lackey?"

"She already knows."

"And, she didn't ask you to stay away from me?"

"She doesn't care about that Knight stuff. Neither do I." Zell breathed in the smell of Seifer's skin. "I'm going to wait until after the mission to talk to Squall about it...."

"Probably a good idea." Seifer sighed heavily, laying back on the bed. "I'm not looking forward to seeing him again."

Zell reclined beside his 'boyfriend'. He'd wanted a boyfriend for so long, but he couldn't really believe that he actually had one. It almost felt like a dream. Like it would end when he woke up. And, the fact that his boyfriend was Seifer Almasy... No, he wouldn't think like that. He wouldn't think about the past like that. He wouldn't let it cloud how good things were at this very moment. Yeah, he may have disliked the Seifer of old, but not this Seifer. They were the same Seifer, but they were so different at the same time. They shared that old passion, but a new mental connection...

"Zell?" Seifer asked, noticing that the other man was a million miles away. "What is it?"

The tattooed blonde snapped out of his reverie "Huh....? Oh... nothin'. Just thinking. That you of all people are actually my 'boyfriend' now, I guess.... I just... it's not something I would have thought of for my future."

"If you're not sure...."

"I'm sure!" Zell exclaimed quietly. "I mean, it will take some getting used to for both of us, but.... it feels right."

Seifer smiled serenely. "I feel the same way. Like, one morning I woke up, and I was alone like I always was, and then all of a sudden, my life changed in the blink of an eye." He ran the backs of his fingers up Zell's muscled arm. "Like I found the man of my dreams." He smirked to himself.

"What....?" Zell asked, cocking his head. He lay beside Seifer, resting his head on the other man's chest. "What's funny about that?"

"Nothing funny... just remembering something."


"... in Time Compression. I don't like to think about that time, but during Time Compression, I wound up lost... I don't know where I was. Maybe you guys were there the same time, fighting her. Because everything was so fucked up, it's hazy, but I remember... someone saying to me 'it isn't like you to give up. You're not alone.... you have someone waiting for you back home. The man of your dreams.' I... it was a nice thought, especially after everyone had abandoned me."

"Who said it to you?" Zell whispered.

"I don't remember. Maybe nobody. Maybe it was just my mind telling me not to give up, not to let her win. Maybe it was just a dream. I don't remember any of the particulars, but I do remember that stuff." Seifer looked down at Zell, who was curled up against him, strong arms holding him tightly around the waist. "Maybe you're the man of my dreams."

"That's a nice thought. Though.... did you ever imagine it would be me?"

"Maybe it's not that strange. We always point out how it's so weird that it's us of all people falling into this relationship, but maybe it's not weird at all. There's a fine line between love and hate. We sure as hell wouldn't be the first two people to hop into bed with someone that we fought with all the time."

"It's more than just falling into bed."

"I'm glad of it."

Zell just smiled as they fell into comfortable silence, holding each other. They didn't want to let go, and didn't even want to break the silence. They wanted to take these last moments together before Squall and Quistis showed up, before the mission started, before the shit hit the fan. They both sighed when there was a heavy knock on the door. They disentangled from each other, Zell looking deep into Seifer's peridot eyes. "Ready....?" He asked.

Seifer just nodded, but he wasn't sure that he was ready at all. Zell went to the door, and Seifer came out of the bedroom, his stomach knotted with nerves. The person knocked on the door again, angrily and impatiently. Zell opened the door, and a tempest in the form of Fujin came storming in.

"EXPLAIN," she demanded of Seifer, not greeting him, not saying hello to Zell.

Seifer couldn't help but sigh in relief, even though Fujin looked angry. "Oh, it's you."


"I don't mean it like that," Seifer said quietly, gripping her shoulders and kissing her forehead.

She looked at him with one cold eye. "WORRIED."

"You didn't have to be." Seifer rubbed his forehead. "Just... a lot of shit's been happening, Fujin."

She looked over at Zell. "GARDEN?"

"Something like that."

Zell watched Seifer and Fujin converse, how he completely understood the context of her strange dialect. "EXPLAIN..."

"I..." Seifer looked at Zell, then at her. "I can't."



She just put her hands on her hips. She was much smaller than Seifer in stature, but she may as well have been a brick wall.


"I can't, Fujin."

"SEIFER," she said again, her voice like iron.

"It would put you in danger. I can't."

Zell didn't say a word. Seifer's concern for Fujin was very sweet and compelling, and her iron will about finding out what was going on was just as compelling.

"ZELL?" She asked angrily, glaring at him with her single eye.

"It's Garden business, Fujin."

"It's about Blackball, isn't it?" She asked, crossing her arms. "Seifer, you wouldn't give a fuck about Garden protocol unless it was something that you wanted to protect me from."

"It's more than that." He sat on the armrest of the chair nearest to him, weary.

"I want to help. If it's about Blackball, it's about Raijin."

"You're not SeeD," Zell interjected.

"Neither is Seifer!" She exclaimed angrily. "I have Garden training, too!"

"No," Seifer muttered firmly. "No."


"It's not just some drug dealer, Fujin...." Seifer looked over at Zell, neither man knowing what to say. Zell knew exactly what Seifer was thinking. If they told Fujin the truth, about Diablos really being Daeva Aka-Manah, and him also supplying the world with the potent and addictive drug, it could put her in very deep danger.

"Tell me!" She shouted, shoving Seifer angrily. "I lost Raijin just like you fucking did, Seifer! I want whoever gave him that drug to fucking SUFFER!"

"Fujin...." Seifer looked up at her helplessly. He couldn't lose her, too....

Zell put a comforting hand on Seifer's shoulder, fingers massaging the back of his neck. "Fujin, I know you love Raijin, but Seifer's only thinking of your best interest. It's too dangerous."

Her lips quivered angrily. "DANGEROUS?" She echoed, voice hollow.

"What's all the shouting in here?!" Selphie exclaimed with worry, coming into the room. "Oh... Fujin!" Following behind the sprightly brunette were Quistis and Squall. When Seifer's eyes met those of his former rival, his stomach revolted, and he felt like he was going to be sick.

"Hello Seifer," Quistis greeted, ever the diplomat. "It's been a long time. You look... quite different."

"I am 'quite different', Instructor." While he was talking to Quistis, he was looking at Squall, and Squall glaring back at him.

"You don't have to call me that." Quistis frowned a little. When they'd come in, she'd noticed Zell's hand on the back of Seifer's neck, his fingers hovering over the other man's skin in a way that mere friends did not touch.

"... Sorry. Hello, Squall. Is Rinoa here with you?"

Squall flinched. "Yes," he spit out.

"She's in the other apartment with Irvine, setting things up." Selphie looked at the trio that they'd walked in on. She'd heard shouting, but they obviously weren't angry with each other. Selphie could very well see that Fujin was just worried about Raijin, and wanted to be useful. She was also wondering what Seifer was thinking, seeing Squall again in person. She looked at Squall's pretty profile, seeing anger there. She also saw hostility on Seifer's handsome face. "Ummm, maybe we should go in with Rinoa and Irvine..." Selphie waved her hand.

"Right." Quistis followed suit, trying to cut the tension in the air. For, they did have an important night. Also, a very dangerous one.

"STAYING," Fujin hissed, shoving past all of them into the other apartment. Selphie heard Irvine exclaim "Fujin?!", and she said something obscene.

Seifer just shrugged and went into the room as well, Zell walking behind him. Squall followed stiffly, and Quistis and Selphie brought up the rear. Quistis tried to catch her old friend's attention.

"What...?" Selphie asked.

Quistis sighed, watching the way that Zell sat between Squall and Irvine on the couch, but how he looked over at Seifer rather intently. "Can I ask you something....? About Zell and Seif...?"

"Later," Selphie interrupted, hiding her nervousness. She knew that Quistis was very perceptive and intelligent. She didn't want to give up Zell and Seifer yet, because it would make things messy for both of them, and also because she didn't know exactly how serious they were. But, she would bet a great deal of money that they were getting pretty tight.

Seifer stood in the far corner with Fujin, who refused to leave. Nothing short of blowing her out of the room with a tank would make her move.

"Okay...." Irvine dimmed the lights and started a slideshow. First came up pictures of Count Aka-Manah's manor. "This is the house. As you can see, it's pretty big. We're not sure how many guests will be there, but it was in the society page of the Timber Morning Star." Irvine flipped the slides, and the article popped up. "So, we can guess quite a few people, most of them innocents. We say most, because Tiamat's human form hinted at other GF being there. We'll refer to her as Thuban when speaking of her human form. We can almost bet the farm on Bahamut being there. We know what Thuban looks like, so we may be able to pick Bahamut's form out of a crowd." Irvine switched to the next slide. "This is Diablos's human form. Daeva Aka-Manah. From Thuban's information, he would be about 3 million years old, so definitely not a push-over."

"Remember how hard he was to fight when we rubbed that bottle?" Selphie asked, looking at Zell and Squall. "And, he probably wasn't even really trying. He had no personal reason to want us dead."

"Why does he want you dead?" Quistis asked, flipping some of her loose blonde hair over one shoulder. "You weren't really specific on that."

"Because we don't know," Irvine said. "Thuban pointed out that Diablos has a lot of powers. That even when he was human, he was a necromancer. But, the more important one is that he's clairvoyant, and I'm sure that skill has only gotten, like... better in 3 million years. Maybe he saw something he didn't like. The invitation was addressed to Seifer, under his alias, Raef Emaissyl."

Squall looked over at Seifer, at his now brown hair and the eyeglasses, how he still looked like he was in very good shape. Even as children, Seifer had always been the more muscular of the two, broader and more powerful across the shoulders and chest. "Why would he invite you?"

Seifer angrily sucked the inside of his cheek. "I don't know. Maybe because I have a good reputation in town as an alchemist and blacksmith? But, Tiamat said that we wouldn't have left that party alive, so Diablos obviously saw something in the future. Maybe he's afraid because I killed a GF once."

"It has to be more than that," Selphie said quietly. "Something to do with us."

"Why you?" Rinoa asked. She was sitting on the arm of the couch beside her husband. She saw him glaring at Seifer, and put a relaxing hand on his shoulder.

"If Diablos can see the future, he would have seen that I would have brought Zell, Selphie and Irvine to the party." Seifer crossed his arms, looking out the window and avoiding Zell's gaze. He didn't want to look at Zell then, lest it would give his feelings away. It had started raining again.

"Why?" Squall asked.

"Hmmm?" Seifer looked over at his former rival.

"Why would you bring them?" Squall asked, an eyebrow raised. "Why wouldn't you bring Fujin?"

"Because Fujin has to work, and is it so fucking hard to believe that Zell, Selphie, Irvine and I have become friends, Squall?"

Squall opened his mouth to say something, but looked at Selphie, Irvine and Zell, and saw them staring at him, asking the same question that Seifer had with their eyes. He just closed his mouth.

"Can we continue, please?" Quistis asked.

Irvine flipped to another slide. He showed articles about Daeva, or rather Diablos. "Diablos, as Daeva, has made a reputation for himself in the city as a charitable man."

"CHARITABLE?" Fujin choked out angrily. "MURDERER. DRUG DEALER." She spat the words out, disgusted by everything.

"What I don't understand..." Quistis murmured thoughtfully, putting her hand to her chin. "Is why Diablos would bother with all this?"

"I guess we won't find out until tonight..." Selphie looked over at Seifer. "Okay, so here's the plan. Seifer, Zell, me and Irvine will go into the party as planned. We already know what Daeva looks like, so that's a plus."

"And, we totally felt all of Thuban's power when she came here," Irvine noted. "We could probably feel Diablos from a mile away."

"Seifer isn't SeeD," Squall pointed out. "You should not be part of this mission."

Seifer snorted. "Oh, then how would you explain to the security guards, who I'm sure will be there even if we don't show up, just on matter of it being a party at a rich man's house, why you're there without an invitation?"

Squall couldn't answer.

"Besides, if I can fight a slew of Ruby Dragons alone, I think I can handle myself against Diablos, especially with three SeeD there with me."

"I'm coming, too...." Fujin trailed off quietly.

"No," Seifer said firmly. There would be no more discussion on the matter.

Quistis stood, and started to pace around as she thought. "Okay Fujin, if you want to help so badly... and I'm sure you do," she said with feeling, remembering what they'd said about Raijin. "You can stay here with Rinoa and find out everything you can about not only Daeva Aka-Manah, but about his business, and also about Diablos. We'll have a radio communication set up, so you and Rinoa can relay messages to me and Squall. We'll be patrolling outside the manor, waiting for Seifer's team to give us a signal."

"Right," Rinoa said, looking at the now black-haired woman, her single red eye flaring angrily. "I could really use the help, Fujin."

She huffed angrily. "FINE."

"What should our signal be?" Irvine asked.

"Go back to the shot of his house," Squall said quietly, getting up so he could look carefully at the screen. His eyes trailed over everything that was shown. "Irvine, when you need us, separate from the rest of them, and go to this window...." Squall pointed to a second-story rose window. "Shoot it out with Fire Ammo. Quistis and I will come then."

Irvine saluted him. "Sounds like a plan, Stan."

"Diablos probably already knows you're here," Seifer muttered. "Especially because from what they tell me, you were the one that always junctioned him."

Squall's mouth remained a thin line. "We'll just have to deal with that."

"Ummmm..." Rinoa raised a finger. "What about your GF?"

Selphie nodded. "Thuban said that she might not be able to help us, that even talking to us was going against Summon Court's rules. So, what about our GF?"

"We can't count on them," Seifer said sternly.

"I guess that means we're fucked."

"We're SeeD," Zell muttered. He'd been very silent up until that point. "We can handle it." He'd barely been paying attention to the conversation around him as he'd sat beside Squall, and repeatedly tried to catch Seifer's gaze. But, Seifer had been avoiding it. "We better start to get ready...." He went into his own apartment, his mind torn in so many different directions. He knew he had to concentrate on the mission, because it was his life on the line, but it was also Selphie's life, Irvine's life.... and, Seifer's life. And, sitting beside Squall that whole time, he'd thought that he should tell him the truth. Squall deserved it.


Zell turned around, a smile on his face. But, it wilted a little when it was Squall, not Seifer, that had said his name. "Yeah?" He asked quietly.

"Something's bothering you."

The smaller man shrugged. "Finding out a 3 million year old demon wants me dead... yeah, that's distracting."

Squall nodded, but Zell knew him well enough to know that there was more. "Are you sure about trusting Seifer?"

"Where's he now?" Zell asked, trying to keep his voice casual.

"Arguing with Fujin."

"He doesn't want to put her in danger," Zell said quietly. "He loves her, and he doesn't want her to get hurt. Especially after what happened with Raijin."

"Loves her?" Squall echoed. He was still mentally hung up on what Seifer had said about Rinoa, and about if she'd had a dick.

"As a best friend. The way I love Selphie, or even Quistis and Rinoa. The way I love you."

Squall got uncomfortable at Zell's declaration, though he knew it was true. Squall did love Zell, though not in the same way he loved Rinoa, or even how he loved the memories of Raine that Laguna had given him. But, it was still uncomfortable to say. But, it wasn't really the time to be thinking about that....

"But, I do trust him, Squall. Really. You know me well enough that I would be kicking and screaming in protest if I wasn't sure."

Squall thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, I do know that."

"He's been a lot of help," Zell defended, wishing that all of this would just go away so he and Seifer could be alone together.

"I.... don't doubt that, but..." Squall cut the air with his gloved hands. "Never mind that right now. Diablos is our main concern."

Zell nodded, slowly letting his breath out. "Yeah, especially because he wants to kill me for some fucking unknown reason."

Squall didn't say anything, but his scarred brow furrowed, thinking of the possibility that Zell, or even Selphie and Irvine, could die. He slowly reached out and patted Zell's shoulder. The blonde frowned a little, but then smiled. It was Squall's way of showing worry without actually having to come out and say he was worried. Zell patted Squall's shoulder back, for he was also worried. He then hugged his friend, feeling that Squall's back was very stiff. He wasn't much of a hugger, though he did eventually hug back. He was worried about tonight, but also about how Squall would react to the news that Zell wasn't only gay, but that his boyfriend was actually Seifer. Zell couldn't even really believe it, so how could Squall....?

The party was crowded with people. There were press there from newspapers and shows that had stuff about parties and fashion and the like. There were also guests from all over Timber, and the more nefarious guests that were really GF in disguise. But, to Seifer, Zell, Irvine and Selphie's chagrin, it was hard to tell which were real humans, and which weren't. Because there were so many people, and because the whole house felt like a spell charging, it made things a little confusing for them. But, Daeva stood out. Not only because his face was memorized by all of them, but because he wanted to stand out. Even though they knew what he was, and knew he was a danger to them, they found themselves rather hypnotized by him. Irvine had pointed out that the reporters and guests also fawned all over him.

"He is rather attractive," Seifer mused as he sipped some champagne, talking to Zell by the piano. There was a professional playing, and there had also been some women hired to sing. Right now, one was singing a jazzy, smoky song in Galbadian. Seifer played with the red silk ascot he was wearing at his throat, under his charcoal grey three-piece suit. "Beautiful, even."

Zell stood close to the other man, wanting to kiss him, but refraining. Squall may not have been there, but there were lots of people hanging around. "Not as beautiful as you. You look great."

The corner of Seifer's lip turned up in a smirk. He looked down at Zell, who was wearing a very nice pair of dark brown slacks and a black cashmere sweater with a sport jacket over top, also in dark brown. "You look pretty hot yourself," he murmured with a wink, but it was half-hearted. He was looking across the room at Daeva, who was talking to a reporter from Timber This Morning, though his strange gaze kept looking over at Seifer and Zell. Those black and blue eyes, too pretty to be entirely human. Daeva flipped some of his beautiful hair over one shoulder as he laughed at some question the female reporter had asked him. The laugh was dark and sensual, and very ugly to Seifer and Zell, who knew what Daeva really was.

Seifer looked away, not wanting to fall under the demon's spell. "Did you notice his ears?"


"They're pointed," Seifer muttered. "Thuban said that he would be in human form. Maybe why his eyes are like that, and his ears...." Seifer shrugged. "Maybe even when he was human, he wasn't entirely human."

"But, what would he be then?" Zell asked, a little disbelief in his voice.

"I don't know. But, strange things could have existed three million years ago."

Daeva excused himself from the conversation, eyes wandering across the room again to the two men by the piano. His future killers. He took a glass of 'red wine' from Nha'zora. It was really blood. "Thank you, my dear. Tell Ulurha that it's almost time."

"Of course." She bowed to the demon and went off to find Ulurha. Daeva was going to make his way across the room towards Seifer and Zell, but stopped when he saw a woman enter the room. She was chatting with someone, a human. Did that human realize who he was speaking with? Daeva went over to her, kissing her cheek.

"You've chosen quite the outfit, Daeva." Parminder Patel murmured, looking Daeva up and down. His face was so impossibly pretty, and yet his body was so impossibly masculine. He was wearing black velvet pants with soft leather black boots. His shirt was also black, but it was pure, sheer lace. It had bell sleeves, and should have been dainty on him, with the femininity of the garment, and the prettiness of his face. But, it wasn't. It looks masculine. Even with his nails painted black, and the shining silver claw ring he was wearing on his left index finger, he looked very masculine.

"One should always leave a good impression fashionably." He struck a pose, laughing as he drank from his crystal goblet of blood. He gave Parminder a toothy grin. "You look lovely as well, dear."

She rolled ice blue eyes at him, which stood out startlingly compared to her mocha skin and black hair. "Your flattery does not work on me." Parminder was wearing a beautiful sari in white with an ice blue pattern on it, showing off her hard, flat stomach and lean arms. She was wearing a diamond in her naval, as well as a small diamond on her forehead, an even smaller aquamarine just below it. Silver and platinum bracelets and rings flashed on her arms and fingers, also on her toes. She was a vision of exotic loveliness, her skin warm like chocolate, her eyes and voice cold like ice.

Daeva winked at her, and she couldn't help a small, indulgent smile. The great Ice Queen's teeth flashed pearly white against her darkly painted lips, just as her eyes contrasted with the black kohl around her eyes. "You always did know how to throw a party," Shiva mused.

"Do you see who's across the room?" Daeva asked, looking across the room he was in, not to Seifer and Zell, but to Bahamut, who was conversing with a man from the Forest Owl Hospital. The demon winked at his King, and then looked to Shiva.

The Lady of Ice wasn't sure to what Diablos was referring, so she looked over the crowd. She saw humans from all walks of life, and also a few of Diablos's disguised minions and GF in human forms mingling. She saw Manannan sipping champagne by the bar. The bartender didn't seem to care that it was a child he was serving. With any other child, it would have looked shocking, but with Manannan, it didn't look odd at all. How could it, for his aura was that of an 8 million year old god. Or, perhaps Leviathan had bespelled the bartender. She also saw the Lady of Silence standing near the bar, listening to the female singers Daeva had hired. She felt magical gazes on her, her beautiful mouth smiling brightly as she walked across the dance floor. She kissed each of Shiva's cold cheeks, and then wrapped her arm around Diablos's waist. "Those singers you hired are actually quite good," she said in her voice that was too beautiful to be human, full of tones and notes that were heartbreakingly wonderful.

Aria Lobzhelle-Qithe is what she'd been known as when she'd been human. At just under 1 million, she was one of the younger GF in the court, but was one renowned for her beauty and the power of her voice. Her hair was golden blonde, shimmering like spun ore, and her eyes were a lovely shade of green, but they swirled with multi-faceted colour; pinks, greens, blues, violets, golds and pale greys. She had a voluptuous, sensual body. It was part of the faerie blood that had mingled with her humanity, much like Diablos himself. It gave her the powers of sexual seduction, just like Diablos's faerie blood did with him. It had made them friendly among the courts. She was the Golden Tongue, he was the Poison Tongue. Siren and Diablos, the messengers of the Court.

"Hello, my dear." Diablos put a finger under her chin, tilting her face upwards. "I was just telling our friend here about a certain guest she'd be interested in."

Aria frowned. She may have liked Daeva quite a bit, but she often disagreed with his malicious sense of humour. Her shimmering eyes looked to Parminder. "It isn't a game, Daeva." Siren looked sadly across the dance floor, seeing who Shiva would so hate to see.

Shiva followed Siren's gaze, but didn't see Odin's Destroyer right away. She saw the other SeeD dancing together. The one called Kinneas, and the one called Tilmitt. The Tilmitt girl had a red dress on that twirled as she was spun around the dance floor, a matching hibiscus in her hair. She was laughing, though Shiva sensed there was more. Then, she saw it. Though the face had changed, Shiva would never forget him. Her beloved's murderer. The Almasy boy, stained by the Time Sorceress Ultimecia. It filled her with ugly memories, and she felt her disguise begin to slip. Her breath came out from between her lips in a thick white cloud. Only Siren's hand on her arm prevented Shiva from going right over there and destroying that boy like he'd destroyed her heart, like he'd destroyed Mercredi. "Parminder, please...."

"Don't worry, my cold darling..." Diablos took a long drink of blood. "They won't last the night."

Both ladies looked at the demon. "Whatever do you mean, Daeva?" Aria asked, raising a golden, suspicious eyebrow.

"You know that he means something nefarious," Etanin's smooth voice interrupted. He'd ended his conversation with the human, coming over to join the Ladies and his Berith.

"My Lord..." Aria moved to bow, but Etanin waved a hand.

"Please don't. It will draw attention." But, Aria did step away from Daeva when their King came up to the group. Etanin took Aria's place at the demon's side. His arm was possessively around Daeva's waist, and the demon gave a contented smile, leaning against Etanin's hard body.

"What are you planning?" Shiva asked when Diablos's happy smile turned into a plotting one. Ulurha, in his youthful and sexual human form, slowly came across the room, stopping at the bar, nodding towards his Master.

"To rain hell down on these poor souls."

Selphie and Irvine left the dance floor, joining Seifer and Zell. "It feels really ugly in here..." Selphie commented.

Seifer and Zell only had eyes for the three people standing around Daeva. Seifer would cut off his own nuts if they weren't Summons. Selphie looked to where they were staring, and nearly gasped. "Okay, I'm guessing the one that has his arm around Diablos is Bahamut... He and Thuban look alike."

"Who do you think the women are?" Irvine asked. "They're pretty hot...."

Selphie smacked him in the shoulder, and Seifer and Zell just frowned. "I'm not sure, but I'm guessing GF, especially because they seem so friendly with Diablos." Seifer cocked his head towards the bar. "The kid drinking... GF, too."

"Shit, I hadn't even noticed him," Zell murmured. Indeed, there was a 13 year old drinking scotch as if it was something he did often. His face was that of innocence, but there was a hard look in his eyes the way he stared around the room. Beside the child was a sensual looking redhead who nodded at Diablos as if there were something about to happen.

"Irvine," Selphie whispered. "Get ready to make a run for it. I think the shit's going down."

He nodded, hand casually going to the small of his back, where there was a gun hidden. As if on cue, there was a horrible scream from the lobby down some stairs. There were also shouts and crying out, and it was like a stampede. Swarms of people came flooding into the house, screaming and shouting indecipherable things. They all had that sweaty, strung out look of Blackballers. Guests from the party screamed, and the group of four pulled out their weapons as guests were roughed up by shouting and screeching drug addicts, looking wildly around.

"Ahhh, my guests!" Daeva called, stepping into the large ballroom, a big smile on his pretty face. "I'm so glad you could come." He snapped his fingers, Nha'zora and Ulurha coming to him, carrying large bowls that were almost too big for their arms. Two more servants did the same. The chandeliers illuminated off the shining surface of the bowls' contents. Blackball, and lots of it.

Seifer's heart leapt in his chest, his eyes searching the crowd for Raijin's face. The servants flung the contents upwards, raining Blackball down on the crowd. Guests were shoved out of the way, screaming as they were trampled by desperate addicts.

"Go!" Selphie shouted to Irvine. She pulled out her nunchaku, running across the ballroom for Diablos. They had not junctioned their GF, because Quistis had thought it would be far too dangerous to rely on something that might turn on them. Diablos just laughed, thrusting his hand outward. Selphie was slapped back by a strong magical spell.

Irvine had noticed where the stairs were on the way in, and he shoved and pushed his way through the tight crowd. It was hard, and Blackballers were trying to assault him, probably wanting to search his pockets for money. Blackballers scrambled on hands and knees as the balls fell to the ground. They sighed happily when they swallowed their beloved drug, the singers Daeva had hired now singing a song that the Blackballers started to sing along with.

Vi'kshatlatha Kollerurlah, dos meik u'sheikaram dahzi.

So'ulurha dos y'khexial xialiphi dos meikaka.

Vi'shak xillath xerthar dal akaxa doxapha...

Zell and Seifer fought his way through the crowd, eyes never leaving Diablos's human face. Those eyes were watching them the entire time, but they were halted by awful screams of rage.

"My Lord....!" They all exclaimed, shoving more of the drug into their mouths, but just spitting them out.

Diablos laughed as if the whole thing was terribly funny. "My poor little addicts, I grow weary of you."

"Noooooooo!" A few of them wailed, falling to their knees and crying out in physical and emotional pain.

"You son of a bitch!" Zell hissed, pushing his way through the crowd, attacking Diablos. He actually got a couple punches in on that pretty face, but he was flung backwards by what felt like a whip. He fell to his knees, looking up to see Daeva staring down at him, a black tail swishing behind him.

"Ulurha! Nha'zora! Sishza Meishe'hadxa! Dos xill doxzharm vi'zhar del vorallaram!"

Irvine had made his way up to the second floor, pulling out his gun as he ran down the decadent hallway towards the rose window that Squall had pointed out as the spot for the signal. But, he skidded to a stop when a beautiful, dark-haired woman was blocking his path.

"I saw you come up here," she mused in an accented voice. But, it was an accent that Irvine had never heard before. She mockingly bowed, her round breasts nearly falling out of the plunging neckline of her gown. "Nha'zora, at your service."

Irvine stared at the woman, not sure what to make of her. When her shadow grew long and took a shape that wasn't human, Irvine pulled out a second gun that had been holstered at his hip. He saw wings and horns or something in the shadow, and then the self-proclaimed Nha'zora transformed. Wings sliced from out of her back, spraying blood everywhere. It didn't smell like regular blood. It smelled acidic, chemical. She grew taller than what her human form had been, arms lengthening, claws growing deadly. When she'd fully transformed into a demon, she let out a hissing noise, her wings carrying her to Irvine's position with scary speed. She slashed out at him, and he had to jump back to prevent being decapitated. The thing, which looked like the pictures Zell had shown them of a Varuna, then cast Haste on herself, her moves a flurry of dangerous activity. Irvine fired at her, but he wasn't sure if he was really hitting her. This creature really did look like Diablos, but lacked some of the GF's majesty. He dashed past Nha'zora when she flew to his former position, not only slashing out with claws, but butting with her horned head. She hissed again, spittle flying from her fanged jaws. Irvine ran to the window, ducking and firing when the demon kept moving closer.

He howled in pain when one of her long arms caught his elbow, pulling hard enough that it popped his shoulder out of socket. But, he just rode the pain, using his free arm to smash out the window. It cut him up, but it also gave him the chance to pop a round of Fire Ammo out the shattered frame of the rose window, illuminating the sky. "Squall! Quistis!" He also screamed, not knowing if they could hear him or not. Shit, Irvine wished he had Quetzacoatl with him at that moment. This thing was fucking relentless. Irvine fired the gun loaded with Fire Ammo right in the demon's face. She howled and stumbled backwards, her wings flapping angrily as her big claws brushed at her face, trying to dust sparks away. Irvine raised his other gun, which was loaded with Pulse Ammo, and fired. But, because of his dislocated shoulder, his aim was a little off, and he got her in the chest. Nha'zora was flung backwards, and Irvine started running. He wanted to get downstairs again, where he could have backup. He heard the demon scream behind him, and he also heard the sound of her flying through the air. Irvine pressed himself to the wall, but she turned on a dime, slamming into him. The large picture windows behind them rattled, and Irvine started struggling against her. He did not want to go sailing through the windows onto the cement walkways through the garden below. He fired his Pulse Ammo again, getting a little space between him and the angry Varuna. He made it to the mouth of the stairway, but Nha'zora tackled him again, and they went tumbling down the stairs. Irvine groaned in pain from his shoulder, but also because he was hitting nearly every stair on the way down, with a heavy monster right on top of him.

Nha'zora hissed in Irvine's face, and he felt her hot breath wash over his face. Her breath smelled like blood. He felt her charging up a spell, and he fired into her belly again. Then, a whip was wrapped around Nha'zora's throat, and she was pulled away, a powerful water spell also being cast on her.

"Quistis!" Irvine exclaimed, rolling away. The blonde pulled her whip away, caging the Varuna. "Just in time." He grunted and rose to his feet, raising the gun and shooting Nha'zora again. It got her in the shoulder, and the power of the Pulse Ammo blew her arm right off. She screamed an awful noise, calling out something in that strange language. Then, a flurry of black bats enveloped her, and she vanished. The bats whirled away, Irvine and Quistis's eyes following. A cloud of the bats made Daeva materialize. Quistis and Irvine both moved to attack him, but this wasn't a lowly Varuna. This was the Lord of Darkness, the Dark Messenger. A 3 million year old magical powerhouse.

He raised an eyebrow. "I'm impressed that you've so maimed my Nha'zora." He put his hands on his hips, the claw ring glinting. Irvine fired at him, but Diablos dodged with the grace of a dancer. As he shot, Irvine cast a quick glance across the foyer and the ballroom that it opened to. There was chaos everywhere, people dead on the floor, skinny and unhealthy looking Blackballers wailing and going berserk, attacking anything and anyone they could. Guests were still screaming, running out the front doors before they could be assaulted too. Selphie was fighting through the crowd of Blackballers, using her nunchaku and slot magic. Squall, Seifer and Zell were facing off against a woman in a sari, glaring daggers at Seifer.

"Irvine, be careful!" Selphie screamed, jumping over fallen bodies, moving towards them. Diablos just laughed merrily, and cast Gravija on Quistis and Irvine as he gracefully moved towards Selphie, a strong hand slapping her across the face, stumbling her backwards.

As Daeva played with the others, Parminder stared hatefully at Seifer Almasy. She would never forget his face, for as long as she existed. "Parminder," Aria said quietly, her voice persuasive. "You're playing right into Daeva's hands."

Shiva hissed at Siren, her skin starting to pale. She stepped forward, ice forming where her feet fell. "You murdered Odin," she said angrily.

"Shiva, please..." Squall commanded. "Why are you doing this?"

Shiva cocked her head, looking at her master. There were frozen, dead bodies around her, bodies that had stood between her and Mercredi's killer. "Master Squall, I do respect you, but I will have vengeance."

"He would have killed me," Seifer pointed out, Hyperion raised. "Should I have just rolled over and died?"

"Yes!" She roared angrily.

"Shiva, Lady of Ice.... I will not let you walk into Diablos's plans based on anger alone. The Lord of Warfare knew the dangers." Siren said this, light glowing from underneath her skin, like the sun had risen in her blood. She said it with a commanding, hypnotic voice. Siren wrapped her arms around Shiva's cold body, exploding into her GF form in a rain of shimmering feathers. "You are on your own, humans." Shiva disappeared with Siren, spewing angry obscenities at the golden-tongued goddess.

"Shit," Zell cursed, seeing that Selphie and the others were in trouble. He jogged across the room, which had emptied out as much as it was going to of innocents. Blackballers were still screaming for their fix and getting in the way. Before Squall could join him, he was tackled by a woman with short brown hair and a willowy, skinny body. Squall sliced out with his gunblade, but it seemed to miss, even though the woman was right on top of him. Seifer ran towards Squall, who grunted in pain when the servant known as Zhasta started choking him. Seifer may have had his disagreements with Squall, but he wasn't just going to stand there and let him be killed by one of Diablos's minions. Seifer kicked at the girl's head, and when she looked over her shoulder at Seifer, it was the face of a demon. Seifer's blows hadn't affected what Seifer guessed was a live Varuna at all. Squall had a look of shock on his face when blood rained down on him from where Zhasta's wings tore through the skin of his back. The clothes she'd been wearing were shredded as her body grew, claws and horns exploding outwards, showering Squall with the chemical-smelling blood. She snapped at Squall's face with razor-sharp fangs, and Seifer sliced at her with the gunblade. It caused her to wobble off him, but didn't do nearly as much damage as he would have liked. He kicked her in her ugly, demon face and yanked Squall out from under Zhasta's heavy frame.

"You okay?" Seifer asked, not averting his gaze from the Varuna.

Squall nodded, his gunblade also armed, using the back of one arm to wipe the blood off his face. Seifer looked beyond the female monster to see that Zell and the others looked like they were in big shit against Diablos. He was still in human form, but his shadow was large and monstrous on the wall behind him. Seifer tried to cut of Zhasta's head, but he found that though she was right in front of him, he missed. Squall also tried, and failed. How were their weapons missing her? She clawed at them, and Seifer slammed into the wall hard enough that it cracked, knocking the wind out of him. Squall fell to his knees when one of Zhasta's wings hit him across the face. Suddenly, the demon seemed to stop moving, and Seifer was able to drag himself to his feet and slice Zhasta's head off with a single blow. He started to jog across the room to Zell, limping. He must have hurt his leg when he'd slammed into the wall.

"Berith won't be happy you let one of his little demons die," Etanin murmured. He and Manannan were sitting near the piano. They were still in sight of everyone in the room, but were paid no attention. Etanin was sitting on the instrument's bench, while Manannan had his small, child-like feet resting on the key cover, a cigarette burning between his lips.

"You really think he cares?" The Serpent God asked, casually blowing out smoke. "Besides, they are good masters, as far as humans go."

"Would you side with them?" Bahamut asked casually, eyes following the movements of Squall Leonhart, who Diablos's eyes had also landed upon.

"I do not wish to side, but I am allowed to disagree with Daeva, aren't I?"

"As am I," the King conceded.

Quistis, Selphie and Irvine had been in the fray with Diablos, but now were involved with fighting more deranged Blackballers, driven mad with a lack of their precious drug. More seemed to be pouring in, as if called by Diablos. It also served the purpose to separate the most interesting to the demon. His murderers, and his former master.

"Why are you trying to kill us?" Zell asked, hissing as his mouth filled with blood. He'd bitten the inside of his cheek when knocked the ground by one of Diablos's fists, and now it was bleeding profusely.

"I have seen things in the future that I do not like," Diablos answered, looking completely calm and elegant as he stared down Seifer and Zell with his black and blue eyes, which were starting to fester into a demonic amber. "Things that involve you."

"What have we done?!" Seifer demanded angrily, lashing out at Daeva. The other man sidestepped easily, elbowing Seifer in the back of the neck with a powerful downward thrust. It blackened Seifer's vision, but he still arced his arm backwards, slicing with Hyperion. Diablos made a less-than-human hissing noise, his black lace shirt torn at the back, sliced open by Seifer's gunblade. Blood flowered in a thin line, and Diablos shrieked angrily, eyes flaring yellow. They could actually see Diablos's anger, like a poltergeist in the room with them. He began to grow and change, human disguise vanishing, making way for his true form. Seifer grit his teeth and ran straight for the demon, using that moment when Diablos was weak to attack. He thought of what Raijin had been like before he'd ever heard about Blackball, how Diablos had stolen his life, how Diablos was trying to steal his own life right now, and how he would have also tried to steal Zell's life. How many people had similar stories? Children, parents, siblings, loved ones that had been so utterly consumed by what had actually only been a mere game to the GF?

Hyperion was knocked away, sliding across the marble floor by Diablos's tail, but Seifer still had his fists and kicks, and he used them all. He didn't stop even when those wings enveloped him, even when Diablos hissed in his ear, and snapped razor-sharp fangs near his face.

"Seifer!" Zell exclaimed, heart in his throat. Diablos had merely been toying with them up until now. What if he decided to stop playing around, and really did kill Seifer, while Zell was standing right there watching? He gasped as Diablos and Seifer crashed into the far wall. There was an ugly cracking sound, and Zell started to run towards the fight, but was held back by Squall's hand on his elbow.

"Squall?!" Zell exclaimed, frightened for Seifer, and bewildered by Squall.

"You can't just tear in there," Squall pointed out logically. "It would just wind up backfiring. We need another plan." The Varuna blood on Squall's face and clothes was starting to dry and flake.

"Well, what do you suggest?!" Zell exclaimed. He yelped when Diablos let out an awful scream. Black blood shot out from somewhere in the tangle of his body and Seifer's.

Bahamut's human form sat up straight at the piano. The seemingly innocent child beside him continued to smoke, a scotch glass casually in one hand. "Diablos made his own bed, My Lord."

Etanin's black eyes flashed angrily, but he didn't respond. It was only when he felt the air become thick with old, archaic power that he stood up from the piano bench. Manannan's silvery eyebrows shot up, for this was a power he hadn't felt in quite a while. In his 8 million years of existence, Leviathan had been called a lot of things, but stupid wasn't one of them. He knew an ugly situation when it was brewing, so his body vanished, returning to a sea from another world, another time. The only things that showed he'd been there at all were an abandoned scotch glass, and the sea water dripping over the keys of the piano.

Seifer couldn't see because of the curtain of his own blood in his eyes, and the pain throbbing through him as Diablos's claws dug deep into his muscle tissue, but he'd been lucid enough to drop the Dark Crystal he'd hidden up his sleeve into his palm. It was the icon item for Tiamat. He knew it was a long shot, but he was losing, and badly, to this ancient demon. It must have worked, for Diablos's head jerked, and he was visibly surprised. Seifer dug his nails into Diablos's pectoral muscles, digging until blood spurted out. Diablos just let out a deafening noise of anger, his body exploding into hundreds of angry vampire bats, their wings beating against Seifer's face and body as he tumbled to the ground. The bats filled the room, and Zell and Squall had to cover their faces to prevent the bats scratching their eyes out. The bats just screeched in Zell's ears, but Squall heard a distinct voice when they swirled all around him. I grieve for your future, little kitty. Then, Diablos seemed to laugh in his head, and the bats rose up through the ceiling.

Squall lowered his arms from his face, looking around. Had anyone else heard Diablos say those things? It sounded like it had been inside Squall's brain. He was shoved to the side by a looting Blackballer, and stumbled to regain his footing.

"This way!" Selphie shouted, rising up the stairs. She kicked a Blackballer in the face who tried to grab her leg, and then screamed when the whole house seemed to shake on its foundation, a great roar let out. It was matched by another screaming noise that they recognized as Diablos. Irvine tried to move towards the stairs to Selphie's position, but he was shoved out of the way from behind. He went sprawling to the ground, almost landing under the piano. He looked up and saw a man walking across the ballroom floor, big scaled wings sprouted from his back. Quistis was also shoved out of the man's path, his shadow that of a great dragon. Bahamut had joined the fray. He disappeared, the ground rattling again.

"Upstairs!" Selphie cried, running up. Irvine was helped to his feet by Quistis, and they started to plough through more Blackballers. Where were they all coming from, anyway?!

"Seifer..." Zell called quietly, kneeling beside the other man. "You're bleeding...!"

Seifer touched his temple, hands searching the ground for his eyeglasses. Zell picked them up, and lovingly put them back on Seifer's face. "It's just a surface wound, don't worry." He used Hyperion to help himself to his feet. "I summoned Tiamat...."

"I still don't know why he wants to kill us, but I'm not letting Diablos leave here alive." Zell cracked his knuckles and started to run for the stairs. Seifer followed, Squall slowly behind, his mind still elsewhere. Thinking of Diablos's voice in his head.... Quistis and Irvine brought up the rear, staying on the stairs to prevent more swarming addicts from blocking the path of the others. A great tremor shook the house, and a large chandelier fell from the ceiling, crashing into the center of the ballroom. Quistis was knocked to the side, a breaking window raining glass down upon her.

"Why have you forsaken usssss?!" The loud voice of a Blackballer hissed. He came into the foyer, others behind him. Quistis visibly gasped, and Irvine raised his gun, though it was with a heavy heart. Raijin looked over at them, and his starry black eyes glittering angrily. "It's you!" He yelled, pointing an accusatory finger at his former Instructor. "You and Seifer, that fucking Sorceress's Whore!"

Selphie was the first to get upstairs, screaming as the house shook again. Windows broke on all sides of her, and she crouched, covering her head with her hands as glass fell all around her.

"Selphie, you okay?" Zell asked, helping her to a standing position. Seifer and Squall had run up ahead, but Zell saw his potential lover halt short. There were large shadows playing on the walls. That of a demon, and that of a dragon.

"You dare show your face in my house?" Daeva asked. He was back in human form, standing in front of Thuban. It had been quite a long time since he'd seen her human form. He asked the question casually, his voice trembling a little. He had not foreseen this....

"I don't care about Court ties, Daeva. You will always be a dirty little mixed-blood slut. My father's slut."

"Siding with humans?" Diablos asked angrily. "Where is your pride, your majesty?!" He once again transformed, as did Thuban to Tiamat. She shot flares at him from her mouth, Diablos screaming angrily as her dark fires enveloped him. Seifer and Squall ran towards Diablos, wanting to catch him while he was distracted, but before they could reach him, they stumbled. They both tried to halt their steps before the bumped right into the huge blue dragon that had appeared from nowhere between the smaller gold and navy dragon and the black and red devil. He roared angrily, powerful jaws snapping at Tiamat's face. Only her agile neck prevented a fatal blow. She made a blood-curdling hissing noise, biting at Bahamut. She bit into his muzzle, smoke billowing from her nostrils. Seifer and Squall tried to move past Bahamut to their real target in Diablos, but the dragon's wings spread wide, and they were sent backwards by a powerful wall of magic and sheer aura. Squall's spine cracked against an end table, shattering it. Seifer went skipping along the floor like a rock, hitting his chin on the unforgiving wood surface.

The whole manor shook again as each dragon cast powerful flare spells on each other, fire licking from their tongues and between clenched jaws. Both had taken to the air, which was filled with bats now. The air felt thick with gravity spells that sucked the air out of the SeeD's lungs.

"MY LORD!!!" Raijin screamed, running up the stairs with Blackballers in tow. He could feel the power of the Evil Messenger. When Raijin's eyes saw Seifer trying to rise to his feet, all he could hear was his heartbeat in his ears, and the lack of his Lord's beautiful voice. He ran straight for Seifer. "This is your fault!" Raijin screamed, hands getting around his former friend's throat. Quistis came running up the hall, her whip winding around Raijin's neck, trying to pull him back. She got her knee in the small of Raijin's back, and she pulled, but the man was holding a death grip on Seifer, even though he looked so emaciated.

Diablos laughed all around them, the bats forming a thick and opaque cloud nearby. Daeva manifested from them, laughing still. Zell was behind the demon, and kicked the back of Daeva's head with force. The Count fell to his knees, and Zell saw Squall's gunblade laying scattered on the floor nearby. As Daeva looked over his shoulder, hissing and sprouting wings, Zell dove for the blade, and drove it through Diablos's torso, the point coming out his stomach.

Bahamut roared, his teeth sinking into Tiamat's neck, tossing her around like a rag doll. If you thought me cruel before, Thuban, you have certainly mistaken it for kindness in comparison to what I will do to you now, Father hissed to Daughter in the language of Summons. You will wish for mere banishment. He ripped out part of her neck, dragon blood flooding the hallway. His angry gaze then turned to the humans, and Daeva kneeling on the floor, blade poking through him. His wings were grown, and his tail was out, but blood was pouring all around him. Tiamat shrunk to human size, laying in a small lake of Summon blood.

Diablos grunted and pulled the gunblade out of his body, changing completely to his demon form. Blood pumped out of the wounds in massive amounts. Summons bled so much more than was even imaginable. The manor shook with Bahamut's power, and the demon was swept up among his Lord's large wings. But, not before a clawed hand grabbed Raijin around the wrist, yanking him away from Seifer, who fell to his knees, gasping for air. Diablos laughed weakly as he, Bahamut and Raijin were enveloped by bats, and disappeared.

Distant gunshots could be heard from Irvine's rifles downstairs, but upstairs was silent. Selphie and Quistis looked around, weapons ready. Squall was slowly rising to his feet, swaying and rubbing his back. Zell crouched beside Seifer, arms around the other man's shoulders. "Are you okay....?" Zell asked.

"No...!" Seifer gasped out, looking across the hall. He saw Tiamat, now Thuban, slowly writhing among her blood. "Shit." He ran towards her, stumbling and falling because of the pain in his body. "Tiamat?!"

"Go help Irvine," Squall commanded, stumbling as he walked towards where Zell had dropped Lionheart. He bent to pick it up, but he only fell down.

"Right...." Selphie nodded at Quistis and they went back downstairs. Selphie was stumbling as well, exhausted from using slot magic so much. It heavily worked her magical skills, but also her skills of mathematical calculation. Slot magic was based on math and percentages based on variables. Different spells changed integers in the equation of which magics would be on hand for her.

"Squall, here..." Zell took one of Squall's arms, and wrapped it around his shoulder, helping his friend to his feet. Squall was going to protest, but that blow against the end table had really taken it out of him. His back was throbbing, but at least he could move his feet, and it didn't feel broken.

Seifer had brought a kit of items with him, hidden under his coat, which was now ripped and tattered. He tore it off, pulling out items. He used various GF meds on her, her wounds slowly healing. "I... I have made a great enemy tonight," she panted. "An... an enemy... in my own father..." She started to disappear. "Do not worry.... I will heal... in time.... but... so... so will Daeva......" She vanished, leaving Seifer kneeling in her blood.

Seifer sighed heavily, rubbing his throbbing forehead, accidentally smearing Tiamat's blood on his face.

"You're still bleeding," Zell said quietly, looking at Seifer with concern. One of the lenses of Seifer's glasses was shattered.

Seifer pursed his lips, smiling wearily at Zell. "I'm okay...." He then sighed, thinking of that look in Raijin's eyes. Even though his former best friend had just tried to choke him to death, Seifer was still worried about the fact that Diablos had taken him. And, not only that, but had laughed so maliciously about it, a dark plan hatching in his demonic mind. But, what would that plan be....?

"It's not safe here," Squall pointed out wearily, heavily depending on Zell and his strong arms.

"Do you think it's safe anywhere?" Seifer asked bitterly, rising to his feet.

Squall frowned, using his gunblade as a crutch, pulling away from Zell. "You.... fight well."

Seifer rolled his eyes. "Glad you noticed. But, I agree. Let's get the fuck out of here."

"Diablos will come back," Zell mentioned, squeezing Seifer's shoulder. He looked over at Squall, but the other man was very distracted, concentrating on merely standing on his own. "So will Bahamut."

"We need to heal ourselves first." Seifer ran a quick hand through Zell's hair before they slowly walked up the hallway, still prepared for anything to jump out at them.

"Maybe Rinoa found out something useful." Squall caught a Hi-Potion that Seifer tossed at him. The tall man downed one of his own, and gently placed one in Zell's palm. Zell smiled wearily, realizing how close to death they'd all come, and it had only been luck that had prevented it.

"What will you tell Fujin?" Zell asked when they were alone at the top of the stairs. Squall was barking short instructions to people downstairs.

"I.... the truth," Seifer muttered, kissing Zell gently on the temple before carefully descending the stairs, taking one at a time, and each very cautiously. "What else can I tell her?"

Zell frowned, looking down at Squall giving instructions to Selphie and Irvine. Seifer's words hit home. He was chastising himself for even thinking about that stuff at a time like this, but maybe it was the hard fighting and being slapped across the face with mortality that did make the issue hit closer to home. He owed it to both Squall and Seifer to tell the truth.

"Let's just heal ourselves," Quistis pointed out with practicality. Squall called Rinoa and Fujin on the phone, wanting them to come to the manor. Squall thought it best that they hang around her and gather information.

Quistis acted as the healer, hesitantly junctioning Leviathan so she could use her stocked Curaga spells. After Seifer had been healed, he found himself in an untouched study. There were all sorts of old books and strange baubles in here that he looked at with tired eyes, but he was too distracted. He needed to get his glasses fixed, so half his vision was blurry. He slumped into a plush red velvet chair, holding his head in his hands. In one hand, he held the Dark Crystal that was Tiamat's icon item, guilt washing through him.

He knew Zell was there without having to look up. Zell sat on the ottoman that matched the chair, hands rubbing comforting circles on Seifer's knees. "Don't worry about Tiamat. She said she'd heal, and she wouldn't have fought if she didn't want to."

"That look in Raijin's eyes...." He trailed off. "Him looking at me with such hatred... it brings back ugly memories. About being her Knight."

Zell kissed one of Seifer's hands, then pulled out a sample of Blackball that had been littered on the floor like scattered pearls. "They're all over the floor. It feels different than before."

"Because it's not Blackball anymore. Diablos didn't only plan to kill us. He planned to fuck over all those addicts by taking his power out of the drug."

Zell nuzzled against Seifer's fingers, closing his eyes. "What do you think Diablos saw that made him want to kill us?"

Seifer looked at the other man. "I think you know. He would have predicted tonight, so he probably saw his own death. Kill or be killed, that was his motive."

Zell sighed heavily. "I was hoping you'd say something different. Fuck." He rubbed his forehead, and they sat in silence, taking comfort from the mere presence of each other.

Zell looked over his shoulder when he heard footsteps on the floor outside this remote study. He'd been expecting Selphie and Irvine, or maybe even Fujin, but not who was standing in the doorway.

Edea gently knocked on the door, heart leaping in her throat that Seifer was really before her. Cid was standing beside her, very still and silent.

"Matron....?" Zell asked with disbelief, rising to his feet. "What are you doing here?"

Seifer's head snapped up, and his lips parted. He felt like he had heartburn, discomfort and hot pain working up his chest.

"We just came from Esthar. We went to your apartment, but Rinoa and Fujin said you were here. I've been briefed by Rinoa." Edea stepped into the room. "Seifer....."

He just stared at his former Matron, his former Sorceress.

"It's good to see you," Zell went over and kissed her cheek, the same way he kissed his own mother's cheeks. "Hello, Headmaster." He bowed.

".... that won't be necessary, Zell." Cid put up his hands, but he had none of his usual jovialness. He was far too nervous for that.

"Seifer.... it's been so long." Edea took another careful step forward.

"A lifetime," he muttered, that hot feeling still burning his throat. When Edea got closer, he gasped. Pain shot out in his brain, stabbing behind his eyes. She closed the gap between them, reaching out to touch his hand. When she did so, he felt a flare of something ugly and familiar. Her power. It tingled his fingers, and it made him jump back with enough force that the ottoman that Zell had been sitting on toppled over. Edea also stood back.

"What is it, dear?" Cid asked, putting his hands on his wife's shoulders from behind.

"Stay away from me!" Seifer hissed, backing up. He was pressed against a bookcase with old volumes and strange bottled objects.

"Seifer, please...." Edea reached out for him again, but folded her hands together, such love and sadness on her face. "I know that I've hurt you terribly, but I want to apologize so very badly. I never meant to hurt you.. you know that, right?"

He didn't answer.

"Zell, can you please excuse us?" Cid asked quietly. "We must speak with Seifer privately."

Instead of just following the Headmaster's orders, Zell looked to Seifer for what he should do next. Zell and Seifer held gazes for a few long moments, and the blonde could see the other man's fear, all those horrible, nightmarish memories in his pale green eyes. Seifer eventually gave a small nod and a pursing of his lips. He looked so vulnerable that Zell didn't want to leave him alone. But, Seifer nodded again, and Zell could only abide by the other man's wishes. He left the room, but he didn't go far. He sat in an alcoved window-seat, staying near in case Seifer needed him. Or, even if he didn't need him. He just stayed nearby for him.

"Well, what do you want?" Seifer asked caustically. "Because I'm sure whatever it is, I don't want to hear it." He blocked his fear with a mean veneer, like he'd done so many times in the past.

"We have to talk," Edea said quietly, looking at Cid. "It's very important."

"If it's about.... her...."

"Ultimecia has nothing to do with this."

Seifer flinched at the mention of her name, and jerked back when Edea tried to touch him again. He felt like there were bugs crawling on his skin, their millions of legs making his skin want to rip off his bones. "What could you possibly have...."

"It's about your parents," Cid interrupted.

Seifer's eyes narrowed. "What....?" He asked, a little confused.

"Please Seifer... sit." Edea motioned to the chair he'd been sitting in earlier.

After a long time, Seifer eventually did sit down. Edea and Cid weren't going anywhere, and he was sure they wouldn't let him leave until they'd said whatever they'd came to say. Let them. It didn't matter to him.

Edea pulled up the ottoman, sitting close to the chair, but far enough away that she wasn't invading Seifer's space. "You look so handsome...."

"Cut the shit!" Seifer shouted. "What the hell do you want?"

"Don't talk to your mother like that," Cid exclaimed with emotion, gasping a little after the words fell from his mouth.

Seifer couldn't help but laugh at his former Headmaster.

"He's telling the truth, Seifer." She reached out to touch him, and he jerked away again. "You look so beautiful," she murmured. "All grown up."

"What's going on here?!" Seifer demanded.

".... Cid and I wanted a child so badly," Edea said quietly. "I did get pregnant, but it was a difficult term. But, I was determined to not give up on the baby inside me. After I birthed the child, there were complications, and I was barren after that. But.... that was a dangerous time. Adel was power-hungry and a threat over everything, especially over a Sorceress who had just given birth to a child."

Seifer opened his mouth to interrupt. He didn't want to hear Matron's sob story. But, she kept talking.

"I was frightened for our child, so I kept him hidden in the Orphanage, giving him another name, my mother's maiden name. I would have rather separated myself from my child than ever see harm come to him."

"Why are you telling me this...?" Seifer asked wearily. "I don't want to hear it, Edea."

"You're that child." Edea's lips quivered as she looked at him, seeing the pain and hostility in his eyes. "I wanted to tell you so many times...." Tears started to fall down her cheeks. "But, I was worried for your safety. Look into your heart, Seifer, and you'll see the truth. Cid is your father, and I am your mother."

Seifer shook his head, unable to believe such a crazy story. "Yeah right."

"Seifer, please." She gripped one of his hands between her own, her power flaring again and moving up his arm.

Seifer violently pulled his arm away from his former Mistress, but it was too late. He'd looked into her eyes, and saw the truth there. And, he'd seen the truth in her touch, in himself. He got up, stumbling over his feet, banging into the bookcase again. Things clattered, fell. He looked into Cid's calm yet earnest face, and into Edea's golden brown eyes, shining with tears. It was true. Something within him told him so.... Cid and Edea... they were his parents.

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