My Orphanage

Chapter Seven

By Scarlet Fever

"This can't be happening," Seifer breathed out. He felt like he was in some sort of crazy nightmare. "You guys are just fucking with me." He started to move to the door. It had to be this place. It was Diablos's mansion around him that was making Seifer hallucinate... It had to be.

"Seifer, please!" Cid urged. "We know this is shocking, but please listen to us."

He turned around slowly, looking at Cid and Edea. Something was still gnawing at him, and when she touched him again, reaching out to pat his arm, it flared again. He stumbled back, lips quivering.

"Why...... why didn't you tell me?" Seifer asked quietly. He'd always wondered who his parents were, if they'd died in the Sorceress War, if they'd abandoned him, or if they just hadn't wanted him, and gave him up to a bunch of strangers. That had always been Seifer's deepest fear; that it wasn't the Sorceress War that had taken his parents from him, but rather that it was him that had made his parents vanish, that even as a child, people had wanted to be far away from him as possible. But, this.... looking into those familiar eyes of his former Matron and his former Headmaster, seemed so much worse. They'd been parental figures for him, and yet.... what he'd wanted more than anything as a little boy was his parents, and they'd been right there the whole time. Lying to him.

"I can see on your face that you're shocked...." Cid murmured.

"Shocked?!" Seifer interrupted, his shock turning to anger. "Shocked?" He glared at both of them. "You never thought to tell me any of this?"

"It was for your safety," Edea whispered. She'd been so afraid that this would happen, that Seifer would be angry.

"Yeah, maybe for when the Sorceress War was actually happening. But, Adel was gone for years."

"But, not dead." Cid put his arm around Edea's shoulders. "Her threat was always there."

"You didn't think I could handle it when I got older? It would have been obvious I had no magical powers." Seifer glared at Headmaster Cid. No.... his father. "You saw me every fucking day!"

"I... I wanted to tell you so many times," Cid admitted. "It broke my heart to lie to you, but...." He sighed. "I was afraid. Afraid of putting you in danger, but also afraid of what you were going to say."

"That's the weakest excuse I've ever heard." Seifer could barely hear Cid's voice over the rapid beating of his own heart in his ears.

"I know."

Seifer let his breath out, shaky and angry. "And, yet... as long as I was at Garden, you were hard on me for everything. But, you praised Squall and stroked his fucking ego."

"I was hard on you because I knew you could do better," Cid pointed out. "You were destined for better things than being a school bully."

Seifer's upper lip curled up in a sneer. "Well, maybe things would have been different if you hadn't lied to me, hmmm?"

"Seifer, please..." Edea wrung her hands together, moving towards him again.

"Stay away from me!" He exclaimed. Whenever Edea came closer, all he could think about was Ultimecia. Oh, how she must have loved this dirty little secret. "So...." He hissed out stiffly. "What did old Ulti think of this whole thing?"

"I used everything I could to keep it from her," Edea said, taking very small steps towards him. Her son. "Every last ounce of what made me Edea. I used it to hide that from her. She would have revealed the truth to you in the cruellest way possible."

"And, this isn't?" Seifer asked harshly, glaring at both of them. "Sweet-talking it doesn't take away the fact that you waited almost thirty fucking years to get around to telling me!"

"It's not like that....!" Edea began, reaching out and taking one of Seifer's hands between her own. That power flared up again. It was her Sorcery, and it swelled like an ocean's crest, moving through her blood, heating her veins. It felt like there was a sun rising within her, and yet it felt dark. It was a black sun that was rising in her blood. Her fingers tingled where they were touching Seifer's skin, and he yanked his hand away, a look of fear coming into his peridot eyes, which swirled with the pale green colour, but also with gold. That evil gold that Edea knew very well....

Seifer cradled his hand to his chest as if it were burned, staring in shock at Edea.

"Seifer.... I...."

"Get away from me," he hissed. But, he also sounded very much in control. He knew that feeling. It was a feeling that still made him wake up with nightmares, even all these years after Ultimecia's demise.

"Please, Seifer... I... I didn't mean..."

He just made a disgusted noise, stalking to the door.

"We love you," Edea called quietly, her heart breaking. She had been worried that this would happen, that Seifer would be angry at them, but she'd still held out hope that he would be glad to finally know who his parents are, and that they were still alive.

Seifer's hands were on the ornate doorknobs, and he looked over his shoulder at them, a sneer on his handsome face. "Fuck you." He yanked the doors open, storming out into the hall.

"Seifer!" Edea called, starting to go after him. But, she was stopped by Cid's strong yet loving grip on her elbow.

"Let him go," Cid murmured sadly. "Let him absorb all of this. Then, afterwards, maybe he'll want to talk."

Edea nodded, but there were tears blinding her gaze. It torn her up to just let him walk away like that. She looked down at her hands as Cid wrapped his arms around her from behind. She sighed into her husband's embrace, looking at her fingertips, still feeling the tingle in them.

"Seifer...!" Zell called quietly, seeing the taller man storm out of the study. Seifer didn't appear to hear him, so the shorter blonde jogged towards him, stopping Seifer by grabbing his wrist.

Seifer yanked his arm away, not really seeing anything. He didn't see anything. He could only see his memories of Ultimecia, and what Edea and Cid had just told him. They'd fucking lied to him this entire time?! And, what about what he'd felt when he touched Edea? Was this... her way of trying to hold him under sway again....?

"Seifer?" Zell asked, eyebrows raising. Seifer's face was snow white, and his lips were bloodless and quivering. Zell stepped closer to him, seeing the distress plain on Seifer's face. It also looked like he was sweating a little bit. "Shit man, what happened?" Zell started to run his hands up Seifer's arms, feeling that the tall man was trembling.

Seifer jerked away. How dare they lie to him for all these years?! And, they just expected him to forgive them?

"Seifer?" Zell reached out for the other man again, starting to get really worried. He tried to hug Seifer, for that had been the most comforting thing they'd done with each other, but Seifer again pulled away. "What happened?"

"I have to get out of here," Seifer said, his teeth chattering, though the temperature in the house was quite comfortable. That feeling when Edea touched him was running up and down his spine. It felt like Ultimecia, a feeling that Seifer had ran to Timber to forget. He'd changed his name, changed his life, tried every sort of psychiatric prescription drug to cure himself of it, and Matron made it all flood back with one touch.

"Why.....?" Zell asked, looking to the study that Seifer had just barged out of. "What happened?" Zell cocked his head, confused. He grabbed Seifer's wrists, and again Seifer yanked himself away.

"I...." He looked into Zell's concerned eyes, heart slowing a little. But, that feeling of Ultimecia rolled through him again, a wave of nausea. Seifer's fingernails raked across his forehead as the pain stabbed from behind his eyes. When Zell's hands touched him again, Seifer could only feel Edea's poisonous hands. "Don't touch me!" Seifer screamed angrily, shoving Zell away.

Zell fell backwards, completely shocked. "Seifer....? What the hell has gotten into you?!" He rose to his feet, also starting to get angry. Why was Seifer acting so fucking weird?

Seifer covered his face with his hands, laughing bitterly into his palms, sounding quite manic. What if Ultimecia wasn't really dead? After all, there were all the complications of things happening in the past and the future. What if there was an event that happened in the past that would just make Ultimecia come back again and again....? What if Edea became Ultimecia again?! What if she used him again? What if he let himself be used again?

"What did Matron say?" Zell asked, nervously putting his hands on his hips. Seifer sounded like he was going to have a nervous breakdown.

"Matron's a lying whore!" Seifer ground out into his hands, breathing heavily enough that he was on the brink of hyperventilating.

"Don't say that about her!" Zell exclaimed, at a loss to Seifer's behaviour. He was also starting to get angry on Edea's behalf.

"You would defend her, Chicken-Wuss. That bitch...." Seifer was sure he would have burn marks on his skin in the shape of Edea's hands. My mother's hands.

"What the fuck?" Zell then crossed his arms, glaring at Seifer. Where was the humble Seifer that Zell had gotten to know again? Where was the calmness in his passion? The voice coming out of Seifer's mouth sounded like the Sorceress's Knight of old. Not the Seifer from their Garden Cadet days and earlier, but the Seifer that was under Ultimecia's sway. "Why are you talking about Matron like that?"

"I need to get out of here," he panted, not really hearing Zell.

"You sound like the old Seifer," Zell pointed out, which made Seifer stop all motion.

"What?" He demanded quietly, glaring down at the man he'd just agreed to try a relationship with. Part of Seifer just wanted to collapse onto the cold marble floor and be enveloped in Zell's arms. He wanted Zell to stroke his hair and kiss him again and again and tell him it was going to be okay. But, the other part was just so fucking scared to lose everything he'd gained back for himself, including the love of another man-a man like Zell-that he was lashing out.

"You sound like the old Seifer," Zell repeated quietly, wondering if he'd again spoken before thinking. Seifer's face had already been white, but it paled even further, his pale green eyes on fire with anger.

"You mean Ultimecia's Knight?!" The bespectacled man asked, voice so tight that each word snapped like rubber bands.

Zell pursed his lips. "Call it what you want, but yes."

Seifer got close to Zell. Normally, Zell would have been glad to have the other man this close to him, but now it was an invasion of personal space. Seifer poked his finger hard and harshly into Zell's chest. "Fuck. You." He spun on his heel and stormed out, upsetting planters and statues as he went, the stone figures smashing on the marble floor.

Zell stood in place, fuming. He'd actually given that asshole the benefit of the doubt? He'd actually wanted to be his boyfriend?! Fucking prick. But, then his anger turned to regret. Zell put his fingertips to his temples, whispering "shit." He felt moisture pooling at the corners of his eyes, tears forming and wanting to fall down his cheeks. He knew that his comment had been very insensitive.

"Zell?" Cid asked, putting his hand on the short man's muscular shoulder.

Zell gasped loudly, jumping on the spot and whirling around. The shock caused one of the unshed tears to trickle down the tattooed side of his face. Cid was looking at him, having the same look of sadness on his face.

"Where did Seifer go?" Edea asked, leaning against the wall, as if physically injured. But, they were emotional wounds that were taking their toll on the Sorceress.

"Did he do anything to you?" Zell asked, rushing over to his Matron. "Are you okay?"

Edea waved a hand. "I'm perfectly fine. Seifer didn't do anything to me. It is I that have wronged him."

"He was acting very strange." Zell frowned deeply, stepping back when he saw that Edea was indeed fine.

"Where did he go....?" She asked again.

"I dunno." Zell looked away, feeling remorseful again. When Seifer had shoved him, it had hurt. Not just physically, but emotionally too.

Edea saw the concern on Zell's face. She'd heard that Seifer had gotten friendly again with Zell, Irvine and Selphie. She was glad that her son had friends who could be there for him, ease him through the shock and pain.

"What happened.....?" Zell asked, looking at both Cid and Edea. What could they have said to Seifer to make him flip out like that?

Husband and wife looked at each other. "It's up to Seifer to tell you if he wants," Edea said at length. Cid wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and the look on their face was that of such sadness. What was going on here?

"There you are, Zell!" Selphie exclaimed, jogging up to them. "Oh... Matron. Headmaster." She pursed her lips. She would have to modify her questions about Seifer with their presence. "What happened? Seifer just took off in his truck. He looked pretty upset."

"He is upset," Edea said. "With good reason."

Zell and Selphie looked at each other, and with each passing moment, Zell just felt worse. But, he was also confused. What had made Seifer just storm off like that?

"Um... here you guys are." Rinoa came into the room, looking around at all the paintings Diablos's human form had used to decorate the hall. "Squall and Quistis want to have a briefing. But.... where did Seifer go?"

"Let him be," Edea murmured quietly, grasping Cid's hands like they were life rafts.

"Laguna is also here," Rinoa pointed out, coming closer. She was worrying her hands in front of her white sweater, eyes wide. She was nervous because something was tingling her extremities, something was stirring the powers that she so tried to conceal and control. Did Edea feel it, too?

"Laguna....?" Edea echoed, feeling like she'd taken a blow to the solar plexus. She was at such a fragile emotional place that Edea didn't know what she would do when she saw Laguna. Would she run into his arms, wanting comfort? She looked over at Cid, hoping that looking at her husband would rid her of these desires to be holding Laguna's hands instead.

"Matron....?" Rinoa asked quietly, looking carefully at Zell and Selphie. Both could see that something was bothering her. But, it was only secondary to Zell. He was thinking about the anger in Seifer's eyes and the tremor in his voice. Rinoa may not have grown up at the Orphanage, but she still thought of Edea as her 'Matron', too.

"Come on," Selphie said quietly, putting an arm around Zell's muscular shoulders. "We should probably get ready for the briefing." She and the blonde man walked silently up the hallways. "How long do you think it will be until Diablos comes back here?"

Zell shrugged, crossing his arms. "Dunno."

"What happened?" She whispered, leaning close to him.

"I don't know," Zell answered, just as quietly. "Something Edea said... it... spooked him. And, I said something retarded, and he got mad at me and stormed off." He looked at his shoes. "He told me to fuck myself."

"Edea looked troubled, too...." Selphie trailed off. "So did Rinoa. I wonder what's going on...." She said it with blank confusion, but her mind was already starting to work, to find common threads and possibilities. They came to a large dining room, where Squall and the others had set up shop. Quistis was doing the leading, Squall off alone in a corner, looking very thoughtful. He was thinking of what Diablos had whispered in his ear. What had Diablos seen in Squall's future....? The idea bothered him greatly.

Laguna noticed Zell and Selphie come in, and looked around hopefully. "Where's Edea?" He asked.

"Talking with Rinoa," Selphie answered. "She's okay."

Laguna nodded, feeling relieved. He hated the idea of Edea in this house suffering. He'd seen Seifer storm out and peel away in his truck as if he were running from the scene of a crime. And, he knew exactly why. Seifer hadn't taken the news that Cid and Edea were his parents very well. Laguna knew that pain. Though Squall hadn't gotten outwardly angry after hearing that Laguna was his father, and had always been alive, Laguna had been able to see Squall's eyes ice up, and him become very closed and remote. Even now, he wasn't quite thawed out.

"Edea..." Rinoa began as they walked to the meeting. "Did you have a...." She stroked a hand over her chest, feeling like she had a bad case of heartburn. "Feeling earlier?"

"....Yes." Edea frowned. "You felt it, then."

"What was it?" Rinoa asked with worry, stopping so people in the dining room wouldn't be able to overhear them. "It felt like.... her."

"I honestly don't know," Edea whispered. Cid went on ahead, leaving the two Sorceresses alone. "It flared when I touched Seifer's arm. He felt it, too."

Rinoa gasped. "Does that mean he's a..."

"No," Edea interrupted. "He doesn't have the magic gifts. But.... he was deeply touched by Ultimecia's magic, just as we were."

"But, we've been in contact hundreds of times since Time Compression. I don't understand..."

"I don't either."

"So, that's why Seifer left in such a rush...."

Edea knew there was much more to it than a ghost of Ultimecia's magic in the air, but she didn't say anything. It just seemed to be a further rape of Seifer's feelings to go telling everyone the truth. If he wanted to tell them, he would be the one to do it.

They all circled around the dining room table, except for Squall, who stayed in one corner, and Zell who hovered in another. He just wanted to leave and find Seifer. Quistis went over what they knew already, and the fact that Laguna had assigned a team from Esthar to help work on the magical study. The team, led by Dr. Odine, would be in Timber in the morning.

"Isn't this place dangerous?" Irvine asked, reaching out for Selphie's hand as she sat next to him. "What if Diablos comes back? I don't think he'll be happy to see us again."

"I can tell from my powers that some sort of spell is erected around this manor," Edea murmured, mind still wandering to Seifer. "It's a recent casting, meaning after the fight. I believe it is a warding spell. Perhaps it is to keep the GF out?"

"Who would have cast it, though?"

She shrugged, unsure. "It feels like an archaic spell... just like Diablos's magic felt to me before I knew what he really was."

"So...." Quistis trailed off, cocking her head and yawning. The battle had taken it out of all of them. "Are you saying a GF cast the spell? But, if that's the case, why would a Guardian Force cast a spell to keep other Guardian Forces out?"

"Maybe it was Tiamat," Zell offered sulkily. "After all, she helped us in the fight."

"And, of course Seifer is nowhere to be found..." Squall muttered under his breath.

"Hey, lay off!" Zell shouted angrily. He saw Squall stare at him as if he'd grown a new head, and he just sighed. "Are we done here? We were all just in a nasty battle, and I'm sure we want to heal."

"Ummmm..." Quistis nodded. They were all thinking it, but it wasn't like Zell to be so curt. "Yes, that sounds like a good idea. We will just have to be exceedingly careful if we have to leave this manor."

"We should do a search of it," Selphie pointed out. "I'm sure there are all sorts of crazy secret passageways and such."

"But, maybe the runes won't last very long..." Rinoa's voice trailed off as Zell left the room. He just couldn't stand still in that room anymore, not when all he could think about was Seifer.

Seifer's hands were shaking around the wheel as he drove too fast down the highway. The fact that one of his glasses lenses was shattered made driving dangerous to him, but he didn't dare stop. He just wanted to get away from that house, from the city. From everything. But... did he have the strength in him to run from his past again?

"It's dangerous to leave the manor."

Seifer wasn't surprised at the voice. He'd felt Tiamat's energy in the air. She magically appeared in the passenger seat beside him, her voice sounding a little strained. She was in her human form of Thuban Alwaid, and her skin looked pale and clammy. No, it wasn't surprise at seeing Tiamat appear out of thin air that was making Seifer drive recklessly. It was that fear of what he still felt slithering over his skin. Like Ultimecia's hands were stroking him.

"I can't stay there," he hissed.

"The runes I set up around Daeva's manor will only hold out for a very short time. After all..." She trailed off, looking out the window as Timber vanished behind them, the forests stretching out, their dark shadows like fingers reaching out over everything. "He is a far stronger Avatar than I."

"Your runes can't protect me from my own mother." Seifer spat the words out, momentarily blinded by memory. Memory of what he'd done for Ultimecia. How he'd given Rinoa to Adel, how so many people were slaughtered by the Galbadian Army under his control. His tires squealed as he pulled off to the side of the road, knowing he would crash his truck if he kept driving. He let out a long, heavy sigh and bowed forward. Seifer pressed his forehead against the steering wheel and let out a yell of frustration through clenched teeth.

"I know what you're thinking of," Thuban murmured. She was dressed far more casually than she had been before. In her old garb, it was to draw attention to the humans that she was something more than what their eyes saw her as. Now, she was wearing a pink terrycloth sweat suit with black and white racer stripes on the legs and arms. Her hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail. "Of what the Sorceress Edea told you."

Seifer didn't answer, keeping his eyes closed. As if slamming them shut would change what had happened.

"I can see in your mind, because of our junctioned connection, and yet I do not know how you feel," Guardian Force said to human master. "Because you yourself don't know how you feel."

"What should I feel?" Seifer asked bitterly, pulling onto the highway again. He just wanted to go home. It was a place that had given him so much comfort in the past when he'd felt Ultimecia creeping in on him. Back then, it had always been in a figurative sense, never like this current literal sense. He drove in tense silence, thinking of so many things. Thinking about this feeling... like Ultimecia was still alive. Thinking about the fact that Edea and Cid were really his parents, that they'd lied to him all this time. Thinking of why Diablos would have wanted him dead, thinking of how he'd shouted at Zell. How Zell had said he was acting like the 'old Seifer'. By the time Seifer pulled into his driveway, he was shaking all over. What if the 'old Seifer' indeed came back? Seifer had spent an entire decade trying to assimilate the old Seifer. Could he come back in a simple touch from Edea? No... his mother. My mother.

He asked himself again and again what he should feel. Should he be happy that he knew who his parents were, and that they were Cid and Edea, two very good people? Or, should he be horrified that they'd lied to him, almost as if he was their dirty little secret. After all, he would have been safe from Adel. She was stuck in space. After all, nobody had known that he was their child when Adel came back, and he'd still been put in danger. And, then there was the problem with feeling Ultimecia. That was a nightmare that Seifer didn't want to repeat. Never again.

He collapsed on his couch, Thuban sitting in an armchair, looking pale and weak. But, she closed her eyes and started to try and cast a temporary spell around her Master's house. She was concerned for him, but also for herself. She knew her father didn't make idle threats, and that standing against him and his precious Dark Messenger wasn't going to go over well, even among neutral members of the Ancient Court like Leviathan or Ifrit. Tiamat also knew that Shiva would be against her because her Master was Odin's killer. Perhaps Alexander would be on her side because his hatred for Diablos was stronger than even Tiamat's herself. But, there was also the issue that she'd gone against her own kind in favour of humans. But, she couldn't have just stood back and let Diablos murder them. And, even if Etanin decided to do nothing about it, that didn't mean Diablos would listen. He always did whatever he pleased, others be damned. She watched with her black dragon's eyes in human sockets as Seifer fell into a fitful sleep. She may have been awake, but she was just as restless. After all, her fate could be just as dire as his.

The pain was intense, and Diablos fought with tooth and nail against those who would touch him, even those who were trying to aid him. With each breath, he cursed the daughter of Bahamut, cursed Tiamat to the bowels of the underworld. He fell in and out of consciousness, seeing brief flashes of wings. Golden and opalesque, the wings of Siren, loyally by his bedside, singing a song that he'd known as a human child. A song sung in the ancient language of faeries. It was a song his mother had sung to him. The other feathers were fiery red with gold gilding. The feathers of Phoenix and her healing tears. Her soothing incantations mingled with Siren's enchanting voice, also mingling with the dark song his Blackballers had sung to him before he'd fucked them over and stole his power back from them. He also saw human eyes, knowing they were Leviathan's. After all, Manannan's serpent form could only exist in the sea, and even if he was in a dimension where all other Summons were in their true form, he would often go in human form, for this human form was also one of his godly ones. He'd been worshipped as a human child for ages before Leviathan had ever existed.

After some painful time that was hard to gauge, Diablos felt his consciousness begin to return to him. He smelled familiar scents, and felt familiar powers. He was in his own kingdom, existent in some other layer of time. His large demon form was nestled among velvet and satin pillows and a gauzy red curtain like a waterfall of blood. His clawed hand went down his torso, feeling discomfort from where that human had stabbed right through him. Only Phoenix's strength as a healer had spared his life. He'd been too confident. Through the gauzy curtain, he saw figures. The large bulk of his beloved King in true form, curled up on the floor with majesty and elegance. There was the small form of a human child beside him, and they were speaking in low tones to each other. There were also other voices that he recognized. The Ancient Court.

"She's helping that murderer!" Shiva exclaimed angrily, the ground frozen where her feet touched it. She paced around, glaring at her King.

"It is human nature to kill," Alexander pointed out. When Diablos heard that voice, his body went rigid, his wings frozen and tail swishing angrily. How dare Alexander come to his realm! "It is a sin, a stain, that only their faith in goodness will destroy."

"Your definition of piety isn't an issue right now," Bahamut pointed out. "Neither is anything to do with those humans. We are discussing Diablos and Tiamat."

"No matter what we say, you will just do as you please anyway," Alexander pointed out, in his true form, a great hulking machine. "We all know you're... biased."

Bahamut let out a low, angry growl. "I'd be careful, Alexander."

"At least he's asking our opinions," Leviathan pointed out. He was sitting within the curl of Bahamut's tail. "No matter how idiotic they are."

There was an angry noise made of gears grinding together, but Alexander's voice remained silent in his mechanical body.

Diablos sat among his pillowed bed, curled up with knees raised up to his chest, hands on knees and chin on hands. His wings enveloped around him and he cocked his head with interest.

"Diablos knows the errors of dabbling too much in the human world, though he may not see the whole picture," the dragon said lowly. "Tonight could have ended him, I hope he realizes that." Though Diablos made no noise, and kept his powers undetectable, the demon was well aware that Bahamut knew he was awake and listening. "I will give Diablos a very stern warning..."

Alexander made a mocking noise, which caused smoke to curl out of the King's nostrils, and for him to make a very angry noise that silenced the holy machine.

"But, there is the larger issue of Tiamat."

"This defiance cannot stand," Ifrit pointed out.

"No," Bahamut agreed. "It cannot. However, she has erected runes around herself to prevent an angry counterattack. But, her powers lessen, and she was never as strong as we are."

"I know what you would do," Shiva said. "But, this slight against us does not warrant death, My Lord."

"Expulsion from the Ancient Court should teach Tiamat her place," the King murmured.

"You would expel your own daughter?" Shiva asked sadly.

"As far as I know, the King has no daughter," Diablos finally said, slinking out from behind his curtains. He gave a devilish, toothy smile to Alexander, sitting elegantly on the floor. His body was still in agony, but the pleased expression on his face didn't give that away.

"We are adjourned here," Bahamut said in a dismissive tone. "Remember, we as a Court have done enough damage in the human world for now. We will keep our hands out as much as possible."

Shiva and Diablos both frowned, but what could do they do when Bahamut was so forceful in that one statement? All Summons left the vast room, save Bahamut.

"Oh, you stayed." Diablos's wings spread out wide from his back as he floated across the room to where the dragon was still curled up. "I'm pleased."

"You should be dead. Phoenix almost couldn't save you."

"I always find a way," the demon pointed out, teeth flashing. He wrapped his long, muscular arms around Bahamut's great neck, nuzzling against his King, wings flapping with his pleasure.

"I hope you know that I'll be watching you very carefully now."

Diablos laughed darkly, but stopped when Bahamut's thick tail wrapped tightly around his throat. Coupled with his injury and the strength of Bahamut's tail, Diablos gasped in pain.

"I'm not kidding, Berith. Manannan is watching Tiamat for me, but you won't have so much luck. I may love you most, but you also anger me most."

"My Lord..." Diablos gasped out, unable to breathe. When he was about to pass out, his body exploded into a cloud of bats, flying across the room and reforming into Diablos's demon body. He coughed and gasped, clawed hand holding his throat.

"I warned you about meddling in the human world. You are going to be on a very short leash, Lord of Darkness. Don't let it choke you." Bahamut left in the blink of an eye, with Diablos sputtering on the floor of his room.

He let out a long, shaky breath as he contained himself. His wings flapped, and though he wanted to go against Bahamut's words, he knew he better not. Diablos's body vanished into a black cloud of flapping bat wings and he reappeared on a city street in Timber, wearing a long wool coat with thick fur lining. The night was very cold, and because of his injury, Daeva was even colder. His long and silken hair flapped around him in the wind as he walked. Bahamut's warnings were playing over and over in his mind, but the King hadn't said anything about going in among humans. After all, Daeva was merely observing, not meddling. Observing his handiwork. This area of downtown Timber was fairly quiet, but as the demon in disguise walked, things got a little more... active. Blackballers were rioting, and the air of the areas closer to Bridgeport Square were filled with screams and shouts and the sound of sirens and random gunshots. Diablos walked among angry looters who were smashing windows of Bridgeport businesses without being bothered, as if they didn't see him, though he was there plain as day. Even the police paid him no attention. There were also a few Galbadian Army vehicles, and would probably be more by sunrise.

Daeva kept walking, bundling his expensive coat closer to his body. He left Bridgeport, but there were still riots going on in the streets. He made his way to his manor in Westphal. Even in human form, the runs that Tiamat had erected made him hesitate about getting closer. His beautiful house... now, those SeeD were holed up in there like rats. Daeva could feel that Nha'zora and Ulurha were still alive, but what about Zhasta? She was more than dead. It was a great loss, for she'd been a loyal minion. He tried to get closer, but the spell just made it too painful. He groaned, palm pressed to his torso.

"You shouldn't strain yourself," Manannan's youthful voice pointed out with ageless maturity as he appeared on the sidewalk beside Daeva. "Our King may be mad at you, but he does not wish you dead."

"What do you know of it?"

Manannan gave Daeva a withering look. "Oh, please."

"What are you doing here, anyway?" Daeva muttered sulkily, a bat appearing on his finger, perching like a song bird. He stroked the top of the bat's furry, rather cute head, and it stayed, for it was a part of his body. This was actually a nervous gesture on the demon's part, the same as any human would shuffle their feet or play with their hair.

"Keeping an eye on... things."

"On me?"

"Don't be so egotistical," Manannan said, crossing his arms. Daeva just rolled his eyes. "Keeping an eye on Tiamat."

"Oh." That single syllable snapped from Daeva's pretty mouth. "Is that bitch in my house?"

"It's not really your house anymore."

"Shut it, kiddo."

Manannan smacked Daeva in the chest, and it was like being slapped by an ocean wave. Daeva grunted, his chest wound flaring up painfully. "No, Thuban's not in there. The SeeD you tried to kill are, though."

"Then, why are you here?" Daeva started walking away, hating that he couldn't step closer to his own house because of Etanin's whore of a daughter.

Manannan fell in step with Daeva. "Because I felt you here. You know he's serious this time? He'll think of something worse than the lamp, Daeva." The disguised serpent took one of Daeva's hands in his own small ones, and then they were on a deserted country road in Beech River. "You should go back to your realm," Manannan said in Summon Tongue. "You look quite unwell."

"I should be insulted." Daeva furrowed his brow, still walking hand-in-hand with Manannan. He felt that same wall spell in the area, and his eyes sought out the house that the runes were coming from.

"This is where Tiamat currently is."

"Too cowardly to face us again."

"She isn't protecting herself," Manannan pointed out, sitting on a weather-beaten fence across the road from Seifer Almasy's home, his feet dangling off the ground. Daeva also leaned against the fence. With Manannan sitting and Daeva standing, they were equal in height. "She's protecting her Master. Though I am angry with her for spitting in the face of the Ancient Court, I can't help but admire her loyalty."

"To a human," Daeva spat out angrily. "Even before I became Diablos, I hated them."

"You're half 'them', Daeva."

He just snorted, flipping his hair back to silently show off his pointed faerie ears. "To them, I'm nothing more than a dirty, mixed-blood slut." He sneered at the echo of Thuban's insult to him. "To the fey too. Too human for the faeries, not human enough for humans."

"You do realize that it was only hours ago in human time that your injury occurred, yesssss?" The last word came out as a hiss, a snake's voice. "You are not strong enough to go against your so-called enemies now."

"I'm aware." Daeva's black and blue eyes looked to the side, glaring at the child beside him. "You don't need to be so sarcastic."

Manannan winked, leaning close to the demon. "This coming from the master of sarcasm?" He ran small and slender fingers through Daeva's luxurious hair, then kissed his soft and pretty lips. Others in the Ancient Court knew that if Bahamut weren't King, it would be Leviathan on their throne. He could be now, but he never desired the role of Summon Lord. Kingship suited Etanin much better. Daeva could taste the ocean on Manannan's lips, and when the brief kiss ended, Manannan was gone, and Daeva had to spit sea water onto the ground. He knew the ocean god was right, that he was far too weak to pick another fight, but oh how he wanted to. The small brown bat appeared on his index finger again. It was unlike the bats that his demon body transformed into. It was a young bat, far more 'cuddly' than the vampire bats that made up Diablos's real form. Daeva stroked a flawless, pale cheek against the furry animal, and the bats wings wrapped around his jaw, as if hugging him. The humans didn't matter much to Daeva's fickle sense of revenge now. It was his desire to destroy Tiamat that now filled him with a sense of vengeance that bordered on lust...

Zell drove down Obel Lake Road, the gravel slick because of rain that had been falling while they'd been fighting for their lives within Daeva's mansion. He saw a person standing on the side of the road, and wondered if they'd gotten washed out or stranded, but he slammed on the brakes when he saw long black hair whipping behind the man like a cape. That face.... Diablos. Zell had stopped the car so violently that if he weren't wearing his seatbelt, he would have gone flying through the windshield. Diablos's human form of Daeva Aka-Manah was still standing there, looking at Zell through the windows of the car. He gave Zell a wink, then blew apart into bats, the sky blackening with them. Then, they were gone. Zell stayed where he was, fists tight around the wheel, not daring to move for a good three minutes. When he thought that Diablos's wrath wasn't going to fall down on him from the skies, he started driving again, relieved when he saw Seifer's truck in the driveway. First, Zell had gone to Archimedes, which had been a task, since the streets of Timber were like a madhouse. Angry Blackballers going through withdrawal were rioting and attacking people and property. Zell knew that Raijin was out there somewhere, joining along in the chaos.

Zell slowly walked up the wood stairs to Seifer's front door, hesitating before he knocked. What could have possibly happened with Matron to freak him out so much? Maybe it was something awful, and maybe Zell's rather cruel comment had been close to the truth.... Maybe this whole thing was a bad idea. Zell didn't just mean coming here now, but he meant getting involved with Seifer in the first place. But, when Seifer opened the door, all Zell's doubts flew away. Seifer looked in bad shape. Not that he didn't look beautiful, because he more than did, but because he was just so shaken.


Zell sighed, looking at Seifer's face. He was wearing a different pair of glasses than Zell was used to seeing him in, and behind those glasses, he knew that Seifer had been crying. His cheeks were dry, but his eyes were rimmed with red, and his eyes looked very, very green. He'd also changed out of his ruined and bloodstained suit, now wearing a tank top and flannel plaid pyjama pants.

"What are you doing here?" Seifer asked bitterly, looking beyond Zell to the darkness.

"I'm alone. I came to see if you were okay...." He pursed his lips. "Can I come in?"

Seifer hesitated, but then pushed the door open to allow the other man entry. Zell came in, taking off his shoes and coat, seeing a dragon the size of a large dog sitting in the living room. It was Tiamat. She'd been in human form for a while, watching over her distraught Master, but to heal her body more quickly, she needed to stay in her true form, though the size she appeared in didn't matter. She could be the size of a hamster if she wanted. Soon she would have to go to her own realm, but she wanted to watch over Seifer just a little longer, for she felt Diablos's power in the air, and close.

"Did you put up the runes around the manor?" Zell asked the dragon.

She nodded silently.

"I saw Diablos across the street. Or... Daeva, rather."

"Tiamat said she could feel him. Did he try to fight you?" Seifer asked, but his voice was stiff and hoarse.

"No. He just left."

Seifer closed the door, palms still pressed to it, his back rigid. He jerked violently when Zell's hands touched his shoulders. He whirled around, gasping in surprise, eyes looking wild.

"Holy Hyne, Seifer.... what the hell happened between you and Edea."

"I don't want to talk about it," Seifer muttered. Everything had fuzzy edges around it because these were his old glasses. He sat on his couch, slumping over. He didn't see his house here. He only saw the Garden War, only saw Time Compression, only saw the awful gold of Ultimecia's eyes.

"Are you sure?" Zell asked quietly, sitting down beside Seifer, gently putting his hands on the other man's legs.

"You should just go."

"I'm sorry," Zell murmured, not being dismissed that easily. "For... what I said back at Daeva's mansion, you know?"

"What didn't you say that wasn't true?" Seifer asked, voice muffled because his face was pressed against the couch. His whole frame was shivering, body temperature like ice.

"Seifer...." Zell leaned over the other man, collecting him in an embrace. He stroked Seifer's dyed dark hair, spooning him tightly. "Please talk to me. You know, boyfriends are supposed to talk to each other about their problems."

"Boyfriends..." Seifer echoed bitterly. "You don't know what the fuck you're getting yourself into."

"Why do you say that?" Zell asked, lips pressed against the curl of Seifer's ear.

Seifer didn't say anything for a very long time. He didn't want to say it, because it would make it more concrete. And, Zell used all his patience to just stay with Seifer in silence. He could feel Seifer shaking like a leaf. Perhaps seeing Edea was just too much for him mentally. Zell couldn't even pretend to know what Seifer had gone through, so perhaps even just Edea's face was enough to invoke awful memories.

"I felt her," Seifer eventually whispered, Zell's strong hands soothing the tremor out of his muscles.

"You mean Matron...?"


Zell furrowed his brow, thinking he hadn't heard Seifer correctly. "Huh?"

Seifer didn't answer, instead curling his body into a tighter ball.

"What do you mean...?" Zell asked.

"You don't fucking believe me, do you?" Seifer asked angrily, pulling away from Zell and sitting up. He held his head in his hands, his whole body still shuddering from the memory of Ultimecia's magic.

Zell sat up too, folding his hands against his knees. He'd felt Seifer shivering, felt the fear under his skin, saw it in his eyes and heard it in his voice. "I believe you. I just don't understand. Ultimecia's dead."

"I know, but...." Seifer groaned into his hands. "I still felt her. Edea felt it, too."

Zell sighed, wrapping his arms around Seifer, kissing his shoulder. "What do you think it means?"

"I don't know!" Seifer exclaimed angrily. He got up and started pacing. Zell sat patiently, knowing that it wasn't him Seifer was angry at. He felt like shit for getting mad about it earlier. "If I knew, I would know how to stop it...."

"Do you think it's because Edea was the one who absorbed Ultimecia's powers?" Zell asked. Tiamat, who had been curled up on the floor, slowly vanished away, going to her own world.

"I don't know." Seifer's heart was beating fast in his chest. "But, if that were the reason, why didn't she ever feel it before. She was surprised enough that I knew this was the first time she'd felt it."

Zell did have to agree with that. "So, that's why you were so upset. No wonder...." He crossed the room and took Seifer's hands in his own.

The taller man laughed bitterly. "Oh, no.... that's not all. The bitch made sure that wasn't all."

"It's not Matron's fault that you felt Ultimecia...." Zell pointed out, wanting to defend Edea.

"No, nothing is ever Matron's fault," Seifer hissed, pulling his hands out of Zell's grip. "No... of course it's not her fault that her and Cid fucking lied to me for my entire fucking life." He was seething now, pacing in a small, angry circle.

"Seifer.... what....?"

"For my own good," he muttered to himself. "Of all the selfish things..."

"Seifer?" Zell asked sharply. "What are you talking about?"

Seifer then laughed. "You know what's funny, Dincht? That I spent the last ten years lying about my name, not using my real one. But, Seifer Almasy isn't even my real name... I lied about a fake name."

Zell's brow furrowed, and he wondered if Seifer was losing it because of his fears of Ultimecia. "I.... What are you talking about?"

"Edea and Cid wanted to see me, but it had nothing to do with Ultimecia. That was only an added bonus." He stared out the window into the darkness. "They had something important to tell me. She's been wanting to tell me for a long time."

"What?" Zell asked, remembering how Edea had said she'd 'wronged' Seifer. Did it have something to do with what Seifer was talking about, and nothing to do with Ultimecia?

"That this entire time, she knew where my parents were, and didn't tell me."

Zell smiled. "That's wonderful!"

Seifer let out an angry noise. "I would have thought so, too."

The blonde's smile faltered. "Why.... did she tell you something... bad?"

"You could say that."

Zell stood beside Seifer at the window, slowly and tentatively putting an arm around the other man's waist, not saying anything. Seifer was obviously distraught, and Zell just wanted to be there for him.

"You know what she told me?" Seifer whispered, feeling the warmth of Zell's body pressing against his side.

"What?" Zell whispered back, kissing Seifer's shoulder again.

"That she'd been lying to me my entire life. Her and Cid. They're my parents, Zell. They fobbed me off as an orphan to protect me from Adel, and then just forgot to tell me the truth."

Zell shook his head, what Seifer had just said sounding completely unbelievable. And yet.... Zell couldn't help but believe him. "Are you... sure?"

Seifer looked at Zell from the corner of his eye. "If you were blind, and you touched your mother, you would know it was her, right?"


"I just knew. I mean, I always felt close to Matron and Headmaster Cid, but I thought it was just because of her being at the orphanage, and him being a figure of authority at school."

"You hated authority at school."

Seifer cracked his first grin of the evening. "Yeah, I did.... But, I still felt a connection with Headmaster Cid."

"So, why didn't they tell you after Laguna sent Adel into space?"

Seifer shrugged. "That's what I'd like to fucking know. They say it's because Adel wasn't really dead. Lame excuse." He grunted, crossing his arms. "How could they have lied to me this entire time?"

"I think we'd all love for Matron to be our real mother."

"You already have a real mother," Seifer pointed out.

"You know what I meant. I meant biologically."

Seifer shook his head sadly. "Mrs. Dincht is your real mother, Zell. Blood doesn't necessarily mean anything."

Zell leaned against Seifer, resting his head on the other man's broad shoulder. "So... what are you going to do? You can't hide out forever."

"I made a life out of it for ten years."


The taller man slumped down in a club style chair, muscles unable to even hold himself up. Zell sat beside him, which wasn't really possible because the chair was made for one person, so Zell wound up sitting half beside Seifer, and half in his lap.

"What am I gonna do?" Seifer asked rhetorically.

"Do you mean about.... Edea, or about Ultimecia?"

"Fuck... I don't know. And, there's also fucking Diablos to worry about." He sighed heavily. "And, Raijin.... and, Squall."

"Why should you be worried about Squall?" Zell asked, cheek pressed to the nape of Seifer's neck, arms wrapped tightly around him.

Seifer rubbed his forehead, then pressed his cheek against Zell's strong chest. "He's just the icing on the fucking cake."

Zell held him in silence for a while, then said "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Seifer asked dully.

"For saying you were acting like... the old Seifer. I didn't know...."

"I won't hold it against you," he muttered.

"You want me to stay tonight?"

"Won't everyone be looking for you?"

"I don't care."

"What about Squall....?"

"What about him?" Zell interrupted. "I don't care," he repeated. "I only care about.... I only care about how I feel when I'm with you, like right now." Zell craned his neck so that their foreheads were firmly pressed together.

Seifer couldn't help but crack a grin. "That's so corny."

"I know, but it's true."

They held each other silently, Zell's hands moving through Seifer's dyed hair, the golden roots starting to show. He also breathed in the smell of Seifer's skin, the masculinity of it. Seifer's hands firmly stroked over Zell's back, shoulders and arms; the parts of his body that felt definitely male. Zell wondered what it must have felt like for Seifer at that moment. To have felt Ultimecia again, in the same night that a millions year old demon had tried to kill them, and the same night he also found out that Cid and Edea were his real parents. Zell knew that any of the other orphanage gang would have loved to have heard that Cid and Edea were their parents, but would they really... especially if they'd been lied to their entire lives? Seifer must have felt so betrayed, and it didn't make it any better than he saw Edea in a vastly different light than the others did. After all, she wasn't an avatar for Ultimecia's possession to them. They'd never felt Ultimecia like he had. Rinoa had felt her, and even though Rinoa cared about Matron, she was still sometimes wary. Hyne, how Seifer must have felt at that moment... Zell held him tighter, entire body wrapped around Seifer's.

They moved closer, until they were kissing. It was a slow and gentle kiss, Zell's top lip between Seifer's lips, and Seifer's lower lip between Zell's lips. The kiss was very soft and unsure, but then so very sure. The action was a shy one, but the emotions were not. They kissed as if they would crush each other's mouths, as if they were so very delicate. They breathed against each other, tasting that breath, tasting each other. Then, their mouths opened against each other, and they kissed deeply, assaulting each other with lips, tongue and even teeth. Seifer's hands kept stroking over Zell's body as his breath was taken away by Zell's mouth, as his mouth was filled by Zell's tongue. Zell's hands worked down Seifer's broad chest, until he was squeezing the other man's genitals through his pants. Seifer let out a grunt, then a soft gasp as Zell's hand expertly massaged him. Oh God, he craved this, yearned for it. His hands started to work up under Zell's shirt as Zell's hand pushed into his pants.

When Zell's fist closed around Seifer's growing erection, he grunted louder than Seifer even did. Zell had been celibate for so long that even touching another man, playing with him was a delightful shock to his senses. Zell was pressing himself so tightly to Seifer, it was as if he was trying to crawl inside the other man. He started jerking Seifer off, smiling against Seifer's mouth and around his tongue. But, that smile turned into a frown when Seifer pulled away, pushing on Zell's strong chest.

"I...." Seifer got up and adjusted his pants, breath shaky. "I don't really feel like it." He paced the room.


"So, if you came here looking for a quick lay, you're out of luck."

Zell snorted out angrily, his shirt all askew. "I didn't come here for that, and you know it. I came here to be here for you, because I was fucking worried about you. So, accept the company, and stop acting like an ass."

Seifer's broad shoulders slumped. He opened his mouth to apologize, but just closed it again. He finally said "you're right."

"Even if we never have sex, I'd still be right here," Zell murmured, standing up. They enveloped each other in a hug. "Though, I mean... it would be nice."

"It's not that I don't want to...." He trailed off, stroking his forehead again. Seifer had such a killer headache starting.

"It's understandable, especially with all that happened tonight."

"Fuck...." Seifer slowly walked across the room, going out into the hall. "What am I going to do?" He started to climb the stairs with the weariness of a person who hadn't slept for days, and only wanted to see their bed. "Everything was fucking starting to go right for me, and then this happens."

Zell followed Seifer upstairs, hearing the anger in the other man's voice. Sure, Seifer was feeling pretty helpless right now, but he was getting angry about it rather than hating himself. It was a typical Seifer Almasy reaction, and it comforted Zell. If Seifer was still acting like himself, then he wasn't on the verge of a breakdown. At least, not yet. Perhaps when the gravity of all the combined situations really hit him, that would be different. How would Seifer react when he really had time to think on the fact that he'd felt the woman of his nightmares as if she'd been the very room with him? Zell watched as Seifer collapsed on his bed, looking like he just wanted to pass out and forget about the world and all the things it had heaped on his shoulders in a very short amount of time.

The blonde kneeled on the mattress, taking off Seifer's socks for him. Seifer grunted, rubbing his chin. "Fuck, that's starting to hurt."

"Yeah... I know I'll be sore in the morning."

"What if there's an emergency?" Seifer asked distantly. Earlier, he'd drank some homemade potions to help him sleep, because he'd known that he wouldn't get a wink of natural sleep. He'd be too plagued by nightmares of Ultimecia, and thoughts of all the times in his life when Edea could have told him the truth, but hadn't. Now, the draught was starting to kick in.

"Selphie will have figured out where I am," Zell murmured, taking off the rest of Seifer's clothes for him, but it was without a totally sexual air. He also took off his own clothes, pressing his nude body against Seifer's. "Besides, you're more important to me right now."

"Hmmmm..." Seifer curled his long body into a ball, Zell holding him so completely. "I've always wanted to be... important to somebody."

Zell gently kissed Seifer's mouth, watching him for a while as he fell asleep. Zell didn't know how to relate to Seifer's problems, because he simply couldn't put himself in that emotional position. But, he did know how he felt about being on Diablos's hit list. He looked out to the starry sky and the large moon, wondering if Daeva was still out there somewhere... watching and waiting to make his next move, with the patience only fathomless ages of existence could bring. But, he tried not to think of that. He tried to think of Seifer laying next to him, and that alone. He wasn't very successful, but it was still a slice of heaven in the recent, hellish events.

"Rinoa said you wanted me?" Laguna asked as he came into the study that Cid and Edea were sitting in. Rinoa was also walking with him, and only Edea got the double meaning of his words. She tried not to look at him, but still felt the heat rise to her cheeks, which made her feel more ashamed than she already did.

"Yes," Cid said quietly. "Rinoa also knows what this is about."

Laguna saw the seriousness on Cid's face, and pushed all sexual thoughts of Edea out of his head. "What's going on, guys?"

"Last night, something disturbing happened. Cid and I were talking to Seifer..." She trailed off, knowing that Laguna knew what they were discussing with him. "And, when I touched him, I felt power flare.... It was Ultimecia's power."

Laguna cocked his head, looking befuddled. "Say what?"

"I know it sounds strange...."

"You actually said Ultimecia....?" He flipped his hair over his shoulder. "Seriously?"

"I felt it too," Rinoa pointed out quietly.


"We don't know, Laguna. I shouldn't feel Ultimecia, because her powers are my powers. She doesn't exist as a Sorceress anymore. Her powers are my powers, not hers anymore."

"And, I don't even have her powers," Rinoa mentioned. "Seifer isn't a Sorcerer at all...."

Laguna crossed his arms, looking over his shoulder when Squall came in the room. Laguna had the feeling that while Squall hadn't been the room, he still had heard everything. He was sneaky like that sometimes. "Well... what does that have to do with me?"

"You can ask Odine to look into it. I know he came in your Esthar party," Edea said.

"You think he'd be able to figure it out?" The President asked with some bitterness. It was no secret that he disliked the strange doctor.

"He's a magical genius," Cid pointed out. "Maybe he's heard of something like this before."

"But, why didn't this ever happen when Rinoa and I have come in contact?" Edea asked. "Why with Seifer?"

"Maybe because he's....." Cid trailed off, looking at the others in the room. He was going to say because Seifer was blood relation to Edea, but it wasn't right to just blurt that out without Seifer here.

"He's what?" Squall asked. He was leaning against the back wall, disappearing into the background, but keeping his eyes and ears open.

"He... was my Knight," Edea finally answered. That wasn't what Cid had been thinking of, but it was also a plausible option.

"Where is he, anyway?" Rinoa asked. "He hasn't come back. Why....?"

"Seifer suffered greatly at her hands," Edea said quietly, looking at her own hands. She wasn't just speaking of Ultimecia, but also of herself. "No wonder he reacted badly."

Squall briefly wondered if that was all, sensing there was more to it than that. But, what he was more mentally concerned about what the fact that Zell had also left Diablos's mansion, and that he still wasn't back yet. Had he gone after Seifer....? It still disturbed Squall that Zell and Seifer seemed so friendly with each other. He just didn't understand. He brought his concentration back to the room, and saw that Laguna was speaking. "Well, I'll ask Odine. I'm sure he'll agree, since it's a chance for him to monkey around with something that sounds nefarious."

"It would help if Seifer were here to describe exactly what he felt. Yeah, I can understand him getting upset.... but...not that upset," Rinoa mused, tucking some hair behind her ears. "Especially how he yelled at you, Matron. It wasn't your fault."

Edea sighed deeply, wishing she could go back in time, like Ultimecia herself, and change events. Edea would have told Seifer the truth as soon as Adel had been out of the picture, up in space. She would have cherished each moment with her only child. She had watched him fall asleep every night, had watched him play and grow up, but she wished she had told him the truth so she hadn't been able to see the pain that was in his eyes tonight. She would have been able to hear him call her Mommy, and things would have been so different. And yet, she couldn't change the past. She couldn't change how Seifer must have hated her and Cid at that moment. She instinctively reached out and took his hand, squeezing it.

Squall left the room silently, arms crossed. He walked down the halls, lost in his own head. But, he knew exactly where he was going. In search of Selphie. And, he found her. She was in the hall with Irvine, looking at the paintings Diablos, in human form, had hung.

"Hey Squall," Selphie greeted, looking up at a large landscape painting. This landscape didn't exist in their world, but it was a heavy idea that it probably had existed at some time. "What's up?"

"I want you two to do something."

"Like?" Selphie asked, fixing her full attention on Squall. Her body was starting to feel sore from all the fighting, but she'd at least bathed and changed into some clothes that had been left behind by Daeva's demonic staff. She was wearing a simple cut suit, but it was in a pale pink, so looked very bold. It was also low-cut, and meant to be worn without a shirt, so she was flashing cleavage. Irvine had also changed, wearing a suit. Though they were so different in appearance, Diablos's human form was actually the same size as Irvine, even a little broader across the shoulders, which was a total contrast to his femme face.

"I need you to find Seifer and Zell. This is your department, Selphie. I need you to bring them both back here."

Selphie nodded distantly. Squall's wording denoted that he knew Seifer and Zell were together, but in what capacity... Selphie was sure he was in the dark on that one. But, Selphie very well knew that Zell and Seifer were together, and very possibly together. But, what she didn't know was why Seifer had stormed off like that.

"Sure, but why?" Irvine asked.

"Because there is an issue arising. Edea, Rinoa and Seifer all felt a flare of Ultimecia's powers, and Edea asked Laguna for help. He's going to get Odine to look into it. After all, this could be a very serious matter." Squall looked up at the paintings. "It's like him to storm off when he's needed elsewhere."

Selphie didn't comment, but she was sure Squall wasn't seeing the whole picture. "I'll get right on it," she said, giving Squall a SeeD salute, watching as he left, arms still crossed.

"So, what now?" Irvine asked. He was also sure that Zell had gone after Seifer to comfort him in the same way Irvine would have comforted Selphie if she were distressed.

"Well... I told Squall that we would find them, and we will. It's just...." She looked at Irvine. "I'm sure I know what they're doing."

Irvine rolled his eyes. "You aren't hiding your happiness over the possibility of walking in on something dirty, my dear."

She laughed, but the bright smile wilted. "We'll have to leave the mansion. That could be a problem."

"So, do you think they went to the store, or that Seifer took off out of town?"

"He definitely went home. It's his comfort spot, and it's also far away from the city."

"We better go," Irvine said grimly. "Especially if Laguna and Dr. Odine are getting involved."

"Right." Selphie stretched her arms over her head as they walked towards the front foyer. "It will probably be a mess out there."

Irvine pulled out his gun as they slowly opened the front doors, almost expecting a face full of bats. But, there was nothing but cool night air. That, and the distant sounds of sirens. They walked up the courtyard path, to one of the cars that were rented on SeeD money. Irvine took point as Selphie got behind the wheel. He jumped quickly into the car as she sped out of the driveway, tires squealing. He held the gun tightly in his lap as they drove quickly through Timber's streets, heading out towards Beech River and the Obel Lake areas. "My God..." Selphie trailed off as they drove through the city. It was a sad sight. There were riots still going on, and everything just looked so hellish and pathetic, really. Blackballers were screaming, shouting, shuffling around and crying. They were falling apart without their beloved 'master' to guide them.

"Diablos fucked over so many people," Irvine commented sadly. "And, it was just a game to him. A frigging game." As they started to go towards the highway, Selphie noticed that the sun was rising. Sunrises were normally so beautiful, but this one looked uninviting. It was shedding light on an awful scene. "Sefie.... what do you think made Seifer take off like that, and like... flip out on Matron?"

"Dunno," she muttered. "At least, I don't know yet."

"What if it's something horrible?"

Selphie pursed her lips, driving silently. "I hope it isn't."

"But, what if it is?" Irvine insisted.

"I hope it isn't...." she repeated, sounding less sure than she had just a moment ago. She couldn't help but wonder if this was something that Ultimecia had planned since before her death. That, if by chance she'd met her ugly end, this could be a last 'fuck you' to her killers, to her little puppet, believing he was a Knight. Seifer had changed his name and appearance to get away from all that ugliness, and now... it was coming back full-force, like a shotgun blast to the face. But, Selphie knew that no matter what, Zell would be there for Seifer, and she knew she would be too.

Zell hadn't gotten much sleep at all. It was a beautiful feeling to lay next to Seifer again, but his mind was running over all the things that Seifer had told him. He was also watching over the other man, who was being plagued with nightmares. Though he'd taken that sleeping draught, he still tossed and turned, sweating and whimpering quietly in his sleep. All Zell could do was hold him tight and hope that it would get better in the morning. The morning that was now.

Zell spent some time watching the light begin to creep in the room with the sunrise. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Seifer woke with a start, bolting upright as if he'd been electrically shocked. Seifer was gasping and panting, blanket sticking to his sweaty flesh.

"It's okay..." Zell gently soothed, putting his hand on Seifer's back.

The taller man gasped loudly, scooting across the bed. He relaxed slightly when he saw it was Zell, but only slightly.

"It's morning," Zell told him.

He was still panting loudly, and rubbed his face. "Fuck," Seifer groaned into his hands.

"It was only a nightmare."

"Yeah.... it'd be nice if that were true." Seifer's whole body was shaking, and he balled the blanket in his fists.

Zell crawled across the bed, putting his hands on Seifer's legs. "I wish I could say something to make you feel better."

"Yeah, well... you can't." Seifer stood up and started pacing the room angrily. Yes, angry. He'd been shell-shocked last night, but now that his shock had worn off, he was to a more familiar emotional place. That of anger. How dare Edea keep this from him all this time. How dare Cid keep it from him! How many times had Seifer been berated privately in Headmaster Cid's office? Too many to count. And, each of those times, Cid could have told him the truth so easily. Didn't they think that Seifer would have wanted to know about his parents? Didn't they think it was something that he'd always wondered about, even if he hadn't been able to remember them because of GF use? And, what... did Cid and Edea think that Seifer would just welcome them with open arms now, after thirty years of thinking his parents dead in the Sorceress War, or thinking that they'd just abandoned him?!

Zell watched as Seifer paced and brooded. He'd been rather helpless last night, but now he looked more familiar. Seifer may have changed his life in the ten years since Time Compression, but he still had his indignant anger. As Zell also watched, he couldn't help but stare at Seifer's body, at how Seifer walked, completely comfortable in his nudity. Even though this really wasn't the time, Zell couldn't help where his eyes gravitated to on Seifer's body. After all, he was still a man, and he was also a man who had been starved for sex and companionship for a long time. Seifer then ran his hands down his chest in a way that made Zell's penis twitch. "Ugh... I need a shower."

"What are you going to do?" Zell asked, wrestling to make his voice sound neutral and calm, not shaky and lust-filled, which is how the rest of him felt.

"Take a shower," Seifer muttered sarcastically, with a roll of his peridot eyes.

"No, I mean..." Zell gave an exasperated sigh as Seifer went down the hall to the bathroom. "You know what I mean, Seifer."

"I dunno," he whispered, starting the shower up. He sat on the edge of the tub, testing the water temperature with his hand. "It would have been better if they'd just kept their mouths shut."

Zell's brow furrowed. "Seifer... you can't really mean that...."

"Why can't I, Chicken-Wuss."

Zell frowned deeply. "You might be mad now, but they're still your parents. And, not only that... but these are two people who you have a connection with. You were Edea's Knight, you were Cid's student for years."

"Her Knight?" Seifer barked bitterly. "Her Knight? I was never her 'Knight'. I bastardized that word. I was her puppet. I was someone that she could use to get what she wants. I didn't protect anybody. She didn't need a Knight... she just wanted someone to do her dirty work."

"That was Ultimecia, not Matron."

"They were the same person to me. And Cid.... He never let me forget that I was the rotten of the two of us." He snorted angrily, stepping under the shower.

Zell cocked his head, knowing that 'the two of us' meant Seifer and Squall. Zell got under the shower stream with Seifer, the other man not really seeming to notice or care.

"You figure a father would be proud of his son," Seifer hissed, angrily running his hands through wet hair. "Even if it was a secret son. But, no.... he always gave me such a fucking hard time, making me feel like shit compared to everyone's precious little Squall, the Garden darling, the one who could do no wrong, whose destiny it was to be the best in the world, even though he didn't give a shit. I was the one who trained every fucking day. I was the one who spent my entire life studying everything about the gunblade. Squall was the one who just happened to pick it up and be good with it. I was the better of us, and nobody noticed. Nobody gave a shit. Especially not Cid. All he cared about was Squall, that fucking prick." Seifer let out a shaky breath. "He probably wished Squall was his son all along, but instead was stuck with the failure. Me."

Zell didn't know what to say. He thought that Seifer was overreacting a little bit, but there was that truth to his words. It was true that Squall had always been a favourite of Garden administration, and that Seifer was the problem student. It wasn't true that students at Garden had thought he was a failure, though. They'd all been rather afraid of his skills, and his temper. Out of the two, Squall had actually been the more approachable. He was silent, but at least he wouldn't bite your head off if you tried to talk to him. Seifer hadn't made himself very popular, but he had been greatly respected for his intelligence and proficiency with a gunblade. Later, Quistis had told Zell that if Seifer had only applied himself to the battlefield and to obeying school rules, Squall would have been no comparison to him. But, thinking on what Seifer had just ranted, Zell saw why the taller man had made himself the bullying bastard that he was. The anger in his words was so thick, but there was also sadness there. How must he have felt as an impressionable child to always be compared to Squall, always be on the short end of that stick?

Since Zell didn't know what to say, he just wrapped his arms around Seifer's wet body, holding him tightly. He didn't think Seifer wanted to hear any pity or sympathy from him, anyway.

"Would you rather me be Squall?" Seifer asked out of the blue, staring at the shower fixtures, Zell's hands feeling so good stroking up and down his back. "And, are you and Cid just settling for me?"

"Stop it," Zell said, his own voice warming with anger. "You have every right to be bitter, Hyne knows. But, it's not like you to fucking fish for compliments. You know I don't want to be here because I can't be with Squall."

"Maybe I just want to hear it..."

"You don't need to hear it," Zell said. "You already know. Our relationship may be... surprising, but you still know."

Seifer looked down at the other man. "You're a lot smarter than people give you credit for, Chicken-Wuss."

Zell frowned and lightly stomped on Seifer's foot. "Ow!" Seifer exclaimed, but it was with a small yet genuine smile on his face. Their lips then met in a long kiss, one that felt infinitely lighter than the ones they'd shared last night. Last night, sex had been the furthest thing from Seifer's mind, and though ugly thoughts of Ultimecia, and Cid and Edea's deception, were still on his mind, it didn't make him forget the desire that had been growing in him for Zell almost since the moment they'd first seen each other again. His life may have been falling apart, but he was still a man, which meant he was governed by his dick at the most inopportune times. But, it wasn't only a desire for sex that was making him feel light-headed. It was a desire for Zell. It was a desire for the way Zell made him feel. Loved. Seifer's hands stroked all over the lines of Zell's fit body, his skin slick with water. Seifer was still thinking of Ultimecia, but he wanted to forget in Zell's arms, as if last night had never happened, just for a little while.... just for a little while.

Zell's arms wrapped around Seifer's broad shoulders, their kiss fuelled by the motion of their tongues. The friction of Seifer's wet skin against his own would have made Zell hard if his penis wasn't already fully and almost painfully erect. Zell knew that Seifer's full desire for sex may have not been for Zell's body alone, but also as a way to forget for a while, or as some comfort. And, Zell was okay with that. More than okay with it. He was okay with it because he also wanted that comfort. Last night wasn't nearly as bad for him as it was for Seifer, but he had almost died at Diablos's hands, and it made him put things in perspective. His lips moved away from Seifer's, and they were kissing and licking each other's faces. One of Zell's hands went down and started jerking Seifer off, hoping that he wouldn't be asked to stop this time. But, from the way Seifer kissed him as his fist moved up and down, Zell knew that they weren't going to stop. Zell wrenched away from the kiss, slowly sliding to his knees. The water from the shower rained down on him as he brought the head of Seifer's penis into his mouth. Seifer ran his hands through Zell's wet blonde hair, head lolling back as Zell performed fellatio on him. He gasped quietly as Zell's tongue worked around the head of his erection, rolled down his shaft, and probed into his urethra, moving with nimble quickness, but also with slow expertise. He slowly pulled his head forward, opening his eyes and looking down at Zell. Seifer's hands stroked over his face, fingers tracing the lines of his tattoo, cupping his cheeks and touching his neck. The gestures were as intimate in themselves as was the gesture of his dick in Zell's mouth.

Zell looked up as Seifer stroked his face. When their eyes met, Zell's heart constricted, and he pulled his mouth away, the tip of his tongue flicking out over Seifer's testicles. Seifer hissed quietly, and then pushed Zell away by the forehead. "Stop...." he murmured, voice thick with lust. But, he didn't mean for Zell to stop completely, and his voice showed that. He wanted Zell to stop because he didn't want to come just yet. And, Zell was good enough at oral sex that Seifer knew he would have just got lost in the feeling of Zell's tongue and mouth all around him. Seifer reached out of the shower towards the medicine cabinet, dripping water all over the tiled floor. He had to lean forward to reach, swinging the door open. He started rummaging around for a condom, and Zell started kissing and licking Seifer's genitals, teasing him. Seifer groaned when Zell quickly and effectively deep-throated him. Seifer's hand jerked, and he knocked a few things down onto the counter, but eventually he found the box of condoms that he'd had in the medicine cabinet, but hadn't used in a while. He'd always stupidly thought 'just in case', but now it didn't seem all that stupid, after all.

The water had started to run cold, so Seifer turned it off. He grabbed one of Zell's wrists and yanked the smaller man to his feet. They were both still wet and dripping, and their lips combined for a deep, wet and heavenly kiss. Zell let out a strangled moan as Seifer's index and middle fingers pressed into him. He tried to reach out for something to grab onto, but his fingers only slid down the slick shower tiles. Seifer pressed them up against the far wall of the shower, and Zell propped one of his feet on the edge of the tub so Seifer's fingers could press deeper into him, touching him in a way that he hadn't been touched in a long time. By the hands of a real lover, a companion, and not just a one-night stand. He started panting as Seifer's fingers found his prostate, and started manipulating it, making Zell utter noises that only came out of someone during sex. He had his eyes closed, concentrating on the feeling of Seifer's fingers deep inside him, stroking and massaging him, and Seifer's other hand gently rubbing over his chest, sides and back. It was that small gesture that made it about more than just sex. It made it about everything else, and sex was only the small core of it.

He felt Seifer's fingers pull out of him, and then the more substantial presence of Seifer's erection enter him. He let out his breath very slowly and shakily, Seifer's name dropping a few desperate times from his lips. A tear slid down his cheek, mingling with the water dripping from his hair, and when Seifer was fully inside him, Zell wrapped his arms around the other man's shoulders, their bodies pressed very tightly together. They started kissing again as Seifer lifted Zell off the floor, pressing him up against the tiled walls. He first began thrusting very slowly, a little unsure. After all, the first time one had sex with someone, it was a learning process, and it was rarely the best time. He didn't know if Zell liked it fast or slow, or in what positions. As Seifer's tongue licked over Zell's lips, he could taste the saltiness of tears, and he frowned. Was he hurting Zell? He'd lubed himself up as he was fingering Zell, but perhaps he hadn't done it well enough....

"You okay?" Seifer asked against Zell's mouth, voice barely above a whisper.

"Better than okay," Zell whispered back. They started kissing again, a heavy and messy kiss which was joined by Seifer's hips thrusting up against Zell's, his penis filling Zell completely. Zell thrust back, hands in Seifer's hair, tongue in Seifer's mouth. Both of Seifer's hands were on Zell's ass, holding him off the ground, so he positioned himself so that his stomach as he thrust gave Zell's genitals stimulation. They both moaned quietly, both having been so lonely for so long. This relationship changed all that. It was an unexpected and strange one, but also a beautiful and fulfilling one. Zell groaned loudly as he was slammed against the wall. It wasn't that it hurt, but that it felt so good. No matter how much they cared about each other, how much they were starting to perhaps fall in love with each other, there was still a point during sex when it was less about the emotional connection, and more about the act, about getting off. They kissed and bit at each other as Seifer fucked Zell. Really fucked him. Zell gave it back as good as he was getting it, all the years of sexual frustration coming out in their loving aggression with each other.

Zell relished in the feeling of Seifer sliding within him, deep and shallow, buried and then pulling out completely. He groaned as Seifer pulled out and left Zell standing on his own, which was a hard task since Zell's legs didn't want to co-operate. He was turned around so his chest and the side of his face were pressed against the tiles, and then he was impaled again. He had one foot propped on the side of the tub again to make the penetration deeper. He wanted to feel Seifer thrusting all the way up into his fucking throat. He started to jerk himself off in time with Seifer's thrusts, leaning back against the other man's chest, which was still damp from the shower, but also from growing sweat. Zell let out a masculine groan as Seifer's hand joined his own on his erection, and as Seifer bit into the apex of Zell's shoulder. Zell reached up his other hand, panting heavily as Seifer's thrusts got faster and more purposeful. He got a fistful of Seifer's hair, and pressed their mouths firmly together in a wet, messy kiss. Their tongues were everywhere. Not just in each other's mouths, but all over each other's lips, cheeks and chins. They were both groaning and panting by this time, sweaty and thinking of nothing else but each other. Everything that had happened the night before was a distant memory, at least for a little while.

Seifer was panting heavily, unable to hold back moans, as he pulled out of Zell again. He whirled the shorter man around, pressing him up against the tiles again. He wanted to be face-to-face with Zell again. Seifer pushed him up against the wall, thrusting up into him, each one forceful enough that Zell slid up and up the wall, his own hips moving down to match Seifer's.

They both moaned loudly as they came, Seifer's face pressed into the side of Zell's neck, Zell's fists gripping Seifer's hair, hearts beating so fast they were ready to explode in their chests. They slowly sank to the tub floor, Zell straddling Seifer's lap, Seifer still inside him. Their bodies slowly relaxed, muscles loosening, Zell's ejaculate a sticky mess between their stomachs. As they came down from the high, their arms tightened around each other, their embrace not sexual, but comforting and loving. "That was great," Zell whispered into Seifer's ear.

Seifer didn't reply, but just held the other man tighter.

"I can definitely say that this is something you're much better than Squall at."

Seifer pulled away slowly and gave Zell an incredulous look, that slowly iced into one of anger.

"I'm just kidding!" Zell exclaimed, putting his hands on Seifer's chest. He laughed, but it was with uncertainty. "Totally kidding...... ow!" He gasped as Seifer pinched one of his nipples. He slapped Seifer's shoulder, and then they started to horse around, their flesh squeaking against the wet tub. Their mouths met again in a kiss, both smiling. But, after a while of enjoying each other's mouths, they were interrupted when a chiming was heard in the air. The doorbell.

"Who the hell could that be?" Seifer wondered, slowly pushing Zell out of his lap.

Zell frowned, and started to dry himself off with a towel that Seifer had thrown at him.

"Don't worry, Zell. I'm sure Diablos isn't going to just ring the doorbell and wait for us to let him in." Seifer put on his eyeglasses.

"I...." Zell stopped talking. He was going to protest, but his mind actually had gone to that. But, then he did wonder who it was. It's not like anyone else knew where Seifer's house was. "Maybe it's Fujin?" He called as he started to search for clothing. Seifer had just wrapped a towel around his waist, but at least he'd remembered to wipe the semen off his stomach.

"Maybe." Seifer opened the door, frowning in surprise when he saw it was Selphie and Irvine. "How did you know where I live? Know what.... never mind. I don't want to know."

"Can we come in?" Selphie asked, eyeing Seifer's half-nudity with appreciation. "And, I already know that Zell's here, so he can come out of whatever closet he's hiding in." She smirked at her own word usage.

"Why are you here?" Seifer asked, less surprised and more annoyed.

"Squall asked me to find you."

Zell came trotting down the stairs, slowing when he saw Selphie and Irvine. "What....?"

"So, Squall knows where I live now?" Seifer asked, voice very clipped.

"No," Selphie said. "Can we come in?" She asked again.

Seifer glared at them for a few moments, then slowly pushed the door open. Selphie went under Seifer's arm, whereas Irvine had to duck.

"So, what does Squall want with me?" Seifer asked, crossing his arms.

"He just wanted to know where you were. You did kind of just take off, after all." Selphie looked over at Zell. "You, too."

The tattooed blonde shrugged his shoulders, wearing the pants he'd come to Seifer's house in, but also wearing a navy blue tennis shirt with small red and white horizontal stripes that he'd gotten from Seifer's drawer. "I was sure you'd be able to sniff me out."

"Why did you just leave like that?" She asked, a little concerned. "It's dangerous, especially if Diablos wants to go after you again."

"I couldn't stay there."

"Matron was really worried about you. We know... about the Ultimecia thing."

"Yeah, that 'thing'...." Seifer rolled his eyes. "So, did she tell you all about that?"

"It's why we're here," Irvine said, looking back and forth to Seifer and Zell. It was obvious that they'd been having sex, and recently. "Rinoa felt it to when she was around Matron, so they asked Laguna for help."

"Laguna...?" Zell asked, coming to stand beside Seifer. He gave Selphie and Irvine confused looks. "How could he help?"

"Because he has Dr. Odine," Selphie said.

"Odine?" Seifer echoed.

"Edea wants to know where it came from. After all, Ultimecia scares her as much as she scares you. But...." Selphie trailed off, stepping closer to Seifer, and earnest look on her face. She didn't want him to think she was bullying him. She wanted him to know she was his friend. "I have a feeling there's more to it than that."

"What would give you that feeling?" He asked.

Selphie just stared at Seifer for her answer. She also knew it was something from the look that Zell gave Seifer. He knew.

"Maybe I don't want to talk about it."

"We're your friends," Selphie pointed out. "We just wanna be here for you."

"You wouldn't believe me even if I told you."

"It will probably come out eventually," Irvine said quietly. "Secrets always do."

"This one took thirty years to come out," Seifer muttered bitterly. Zell put a comforting hand on Seifer's shoulder, leaning against him.

"What did Matron and the Headmaster tell you?" Irvine asked.

Selphie saw the pain in Seifer's eyes, only thinly veiled by anger. Like he'd been betrayed thoroughly. Selphie slowly let her hand come to rest on Seifer's forearm. "Maybe it has something to do with why Ultimecia's power flared....? It could help it from happening again."

"It didn't help her from destroying me," Seifer said, talking to himself.

"Matron didn't want to destroy you."

"She sure did it last night," Seifer muttered, again talking to himself as if the others weren't in the room. Seifer walked towards the kitchen, and Selphie threw her hands up, giving a quizzical look to Zell. He just looked at her with a conflicted look in his eyes.

"You wanna know the fucking truth?" Seifer called from the kitchen. "Cid and Edea..." He trailed off, laughing. Selphie, Irvine and Zell went into the room, where they saw Seifer drinking from a vodka bottle. "They're my parents." He started laughing louder, taking a big swig of alcohol."

"A little early for drinking, you think?" Irvine asked.

"Oh, my dear cowboy..." Seifer saluted Irvine with the bottle. "I think I've earned it."

"Your parents?!" Selphie exclaimed. "Wha....?"

"I told you that you wouldn't believe me," he muttered, voice muffled by the mouth of the vodka bottle.

"How is this possible....?" Irvine asked.

Seifer smiled in a sarcastic way. "When a man and a woman love each other and decide to make a baby...."

"All right all right," Selphie interrupted. "You don't need to be a smart ass about it." She sighed heavily. "It's just..... I was not expecting that."

"Yeah, well neither was I."

"But..... Matron can't have children."

"I guess I was a difficult pregnancy," Seifer muttered, downing some more vodka. Zell went over and took the bottle away from him. "And, they wanted to protect me from Adel, or some bullshit like that."

"So, it's true...." Selphie looked up into Seifer's face. "No wonder you were so freaked out."

"I'd like it if Matron was my mom..." Irvine trailed off.

Selphie kicked back, hitting Irvine's shin. She shot him a look over her shoulder, shaking her head. Her eyes screamed that was the wrong thing to say!

"Maybe I would have felt differently if she had told me right after Adel was put out of commission. Not thirty years after, give or take."

"She must have had her reasons...." Irvine pointed out.

Seifer pressed his fingertips to his temples. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Well, we probably should talk about Diablos, or even what happened with Matron's power."

"I saw Daeva last night," Zell pointed out. "He was standing on the side of the road, and just disappeared when I drove past on my way here."

"So, I guess you didn't kill him," Irvine muttered. "Come on... we should go back to the city." He gave an expectant glance to Seifer. "Even if you don't want to see them again right now, you really don't have a choice."

Seifer bit the inside of his cheek. Irvine was right, but Seifer didn't have to like it. "Fine. Just....." He sighed heavily. "Just let me get my shit together." Seifer slowly walked up the stairs, with the weight of someone walking to the death chamber.

Zell watched him go, frowning sadly. He looked over when he felt Selphie's eyes on him. Irvine was looking around, for this was the first time he'd been in Seifer's house.

"Welllllll?" Selphie asked, elbowing Zell in the ribs. "You totally did it, didn't you?"

"Selphie!" He hissed. "Now isn't the time."

"So, how was it?"

He shook his head at her, but couldn't help the slightly lopsided grin that spread across his face. He forced his expression back to a neutral one. "None of your business."

Selphie's eyebrows raised mischievously. "That hot, huh?"

"Shut up," Zell hissed, hitting her hands when she offered a high-five.

Seifer came back downstairs, wearing grey slacks and a white linen shirt with a tan argyle pattern. "Okay, let's get this over with."

"What... are you gonna say to them?" Irvine asked as they left the house, looking cautiously around for any sign of Diablos, or any other strange creatures. "To Cid and Edea, I mean."

"Nothing," Seifer muttered. "I don't even want to see them again, but I'm kind of stuck." He got into the backseat of Selphie's rented car, slumping down as far as he could. "And, I don't want to talk about it anymore."

The others just sort of nodded, Seifer's body language telling them to back off, even more than his words. Selphie drove, Irvine in the passenger seat beside her. Zell kept watching Seifer, reaching out and putting a loving hand on his knee. Seifer looked over, a small smile gracing his face. But, the lightness that Zell had seen in him only recently was gone. Seifer was too weighted down with all that had been dumped on him. His mind just wouldn't let him well in the afterglow, with good reason. Zell took one of Seifer's hands between his own, pressing it between his palms. It wasn't a sexual gesture, but one of substance. Zell was offering his support in that press of their hands.

"Hmmmmm...." Irvine made a thoughtful noise in the back of his throat. "Sky's gotten darker."

"Probably gonna start raining again," Selphie muttered. "Does it ever not rain in Timber?"

Seifer looked out the window, his hand still between Zell's strong ones. The ominous black clouds did look dreary and heavy with water, but none was falling. "Even when it rains, it never gets this dark...."

Selphie looked in the rear-view mirror at Seifer. "What do you mean?"

Seifer was staring out the back window, peering up at the sky. "I don't like it."

"You think it might be... him?" Irvine's hands gripped his shotgun a little tighter.

"I wouldn't discount it."

They all watched the skies silently as Selphie drove closer and closer to the city. She got onto a main street called Evergreen Parkway, and found a sight that would forever be burned into her memory. Irvine was ready to jump out the car and start blowing people away, but Zell put a hand on his friend's shoulder, restraining him as they all stared in horror. In the center of the chaos was the large, imposing figure of Diablos. The skies were blackening with each minute, and Diablos's wings were flapping majestically as he hovered over the crowd. A crowd of Blackballers. They were all shouting and praising to their devil, some on their knees, some even lower, crawling on their bellies like snakes, reaching up with shaking hands in the hope of touching Diablos's leathery, scaled skin. The skies were illuminated by fires from buildings, and the fires of a burning pyre. There were figures bound to tall poles, burning men like lampposts lining the walkways of hell. Through the fires, the group in the car could see that the burning men were members of the Timber Police, having lost their brave battle against the mob of drug addicts, all being controlled by Diablos's clawed hands.

"Holy Hyne....." Selphie put a shaking hand to her lips, the smell of burning flesh starting to seep into the car, cloying and sickeningly sweet.

One of Diablos's long fingers pointed out to the car, a stabbing dagger of accusation. "They are the ones that have stolen my voice from you. It is they had that have destroyed my powers. If you wish to be as one with me again, you must go through them. The pious, rotten flowers of Garden. The child of a Sorceress Whore."

Their hearts leapt in their throat as many pairs of angry, desperate eyes whirled on them, boring into them like lasers. "Kill them," Diablos spoke. "And, make me happy." As the more cohesive of the mob started to move towards the car, one of Diablos's demonic eyes playfully winked, and he vanished into a cloud of bats, their screeching noise so loud that Selphie, Irvine, Seifer and Zell had to cover their ears.

"What now?" Selphie asked, starting to pant as the car was surrounded by angry Blackballers, their faces full of anguish and anger. Obscenities were being screamed, and the car was rocked as it was slammed into by many bodies. "Shit! They're trying to tip us!"

As the car rocked, Irvine slammed his elbow against the passenger side window, shattering it. He punched the barrel of his shotgun out the broken glass, and pulled the trigger. A few Blackballers in the path of the scattering shells were flung backwards, dead on the sidewalk. It seemed to shock the mob a little.

"Irvine!" Zell exclaimed. "Diablos is our real target!"

"I don't care if they're being controlled!" Irvine exclaimed as the car was surrounded fully once more. "They're going to kill us."

"Irvine's right," Seifer pointed out. He'd taken Hyperion from the house, and also had his survival knives. "We have to get out of this car. We're just sitting ducks."

Selphie snorted, jade eyes widened. "Well, what do you suggest?"

Seifer closed his eyes. After Time Compression, he'd sworn to himself that he wouldn't kill another person unless he absolutely had to. All those Garden students and army soldiers' lives were still staining his hands red... he didn't want the blood of these people there, too. "They'll kill us if we don't do something," he whispered.

They'll do more than that, a velvet voice mused from within their heads, from all around them. If you think this is bad, humans.... oh, wait 'til I get going.

Zell looked around at the sound of Diablos's voice, gasping when the car was rocked again. "We have to do something....!" He exclaimed, yelping as their car was turned over, the sound of crushing metal and broken glass mingling with their own screams and Diablos's disjointed laughter.

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