My Orphanage

Chapter Eight

By Scarlet Fever

"Do you think it was safe to send Selphie and Irvine out into the city?" Rinoa asked quietly, hovering around Squall's chair.

"They can handle it," Squall muttered. He had some papers in his lap, some past documents about Guardian Forces and their powers, back from when Odine had 'discovered' them. He definitely was not concerned about them in the least. He was thinking of what Edea had said, about if Seifer's presence had put Rinoa in danger because of her connection with Ultimecia, too. And, had he also put Matron in danger? Maybe it was wrong of Squall to have sent Selphie and Irvine after him. But.... wasn't Zell with him, too? Did that mean Zell was in danger? Squall just didn't know what to think. Zell and Seifer not at each other's throats was new. It was different, and that made it scary to Squall.

"Squall....?" Rinoa asked, sitting on the arm of the chair. "I'm sure Odine will figure out what's going on..." She trailed off, playing with the ends of her hair. "Squall?" She asked again.

"What?" He asked sharply.

"I'm scared."

He sighed, his demeanour relaxing. "You don't have to be. After all, you haven't felt this from Matron before. You only felt it when Seifer came into the picture."

"I can hear the bitterness in your voice, Squall." Rinoa gently put a hand on her husband's shoulder. "I know you still blame Seifer for giving me over to Adel, and yeah...." She trailed off, pursing her lips as she tried to find the proper words to use. "It made me angry too, but... Squall.... you weren't there. You didn't hear his voice, or see his eyes."

"I didn't need to. He gave you to Adel. He knew you would die." Squall stood up angrily, going to the window. Though it was daytime, thick clouds were forming, the sun lost.

"He was lost, darling." Rinoa went over and put her arm around Squall's thin waist. Age hadn't changed his slender, boyish figure. "Just like Matron was. And, Seifer... he didn't have any Sorcery to act as a cushion. Ultimecia... she owned him. I'm sure feeling her frightened him half to death."

"You really think so?" Squall asked rhetorically. "I don't think he fears anything."

Rinoa slowly shook her head. "You shared a close relationship with Seifer for years Squall, and yet... you didn't know anything about him."

"What do you mean?"

"Seifer had so many fears that he was drowning in them. Just like you did." She put her head on his shoulder. "Like you still do sometimes."

Squall didn't say anything, and just kept staring out the window. The sky was getting blacker and blacker. Maybe it was rain?

"But.... you aren't just thinking about what happened between Seifer and Edea, are you?"

"How come him and Zell aren't at each other's throats?" Squall asked, his voice sounding a little lost in his confusion.

"It's been a long time," Rinoa pointed out. "Zell's not the same person he was back then. You aren't the same person you were back then. Neither is Seifer. He changed his name and went into hiding, Squall. That would change anyone."

Squall just made a noise, staring out at the city once more. Those clouds looked very ugly....

"I don't think you're really worried about Zell and Selphie and the others, or about how they feel about Seifer. What's really bothering you?"

Squall was silent for a while, but he looked into Rinoa's ever-patient eyes, and he spoke. Rinoa's eyes could get him to talk like nothing else in the world could. "Something that Diablos said to me. In my head..."

"What did he say?" Wife whispered to husband.

"He told me.... 'I grieve for your future, little kitty.' What does it mean?"

"I don't think you should take anything Diablos says to heart. It's still hard to believe that there is so much about the Guardian Forces that we don't know."

"But, apparently Diablos has the power of clairvoyance. What has he seen?"

"Probably nothing. He just said it to get under your skin, to gain an upper hand." She looked out the window as well, hand making comforting circles on the small of Squall's back. "Looks like it's going to rain."

"I don't know..... it feels ugly." Squall watched the clouds as they grew together, until the sky was a blanket of black. But, the clouds were swirling, especially around one area of town. A shudder of magic seemed to shoot out from there, and it buckled Rinoa's knees. She slumped, gasping. Only Squall catching her prevented Rinoa from swooning to the ground.

"Rinoa?!" He gasped, sinking to the ground. She was holding her belly, panting. "What happened?"

"Magic," she hissed. Squall stroked Rinoa's hair as she gulped in air. A few moments later, the door to the room banged open, and Quistis came in. "Squall....! Oh, Rinoa, are you okay?" She sank to a crouching position, looking at both with concern. "Matron just said that she felt a huge magical energy in the air. Diablos must be working on his revenge."

"Rinoa felt it too," Squall murmured.

Quistis bit her lower lip. "You think that Zell and the others could be in the center of it? After all, Diablos had wanted to kill Zell and Seifer last night."

Squall wondered if that was the case, if Diablos was at it again, trying to kill Zell and Seifer. Squall may not have shown it all the time, but he did care about Zell at lot, and the thought worried him. After all, Squall didn't have very many friends, let alone best friends. "But, Diablos was seriously injured."

Quistis gave him a withering look. "Squall, he's an ancient demon. I'm sure he's a fast healer."

"Is Matron okay?" Rinoa asked.

The blonde nodded. "Yeah, she's okay. But, she wants to go find Seifer. She's quite insistent. Laguna's trying to get her to stay here."

Squall rose to his feet. "Why would she want to leave? It's safe here..... and, Seifer was so cruel to her..."

Quistis shrugged a shoulder. "She said she wanted to. But, Seifer aside, this could be serious for the people of Timber. Especially because of all the Blackballers revolting."

"Let's move out. The Timber Police are probably already overwhelmed, and this isn't going to help matters...." When Rinoa started to stand to follow them, Squall said "no" firmly.

"No?" Rinoa echoed, finding her strength again. The shock of that magical wave had passed. She could still feel the power in the air, but could handle it now. "You're allowed to risk your life, but not me?"

"It's too dangerous."

"You're going...." She furrowed her brow, starting to get a little angry. Zell and the others were as much her friends as they were Squall's. She wanted to help them.

"I'm a SeeD."

"I'm a Sorceress," Rinoa shot back. "I think that trumps you. Now, I want to help Zell, Selphie and Irvine... and even Seifer. I want to help the people of Timber. Don't make me pull rank on you, my Knight."

Squall stared down his wife angrily, but she had a will of iron, and he knew that if he left her behind, she would come anyway, and on her own, which was even more dangerous. "Fine," he ground out. "Fine." He shook his head, a stiff jerking to show he was not happy about this. Quistis went ahead of them to tell Matron that they would head out to see what was going on, but when she came to the study, it was empty. Edea was gone, but so were Cid and Laguna. "Matron....?" Quistis called, looking around. "Squall! Rinoa!"

"What now?" Squall muttered as he got his gear together. He didn't know how good he would be in a fight because of his injuries the night before, but he would have to make due. He'd fought while broken and bruised before.

"Edea's gone."

Squall cursed under his breath. "Come on," he told the two women. "She could be putting herself in danger." They got their weapons together in record time, Squall still unable to wrap his head around the reason why Edea would take off into whatever nightmares Diablos was planning for them.

Zell groaned, blood dripping into his eyes from a gash on his forehead. The car was now upside down, and crunching metal and broken glass could be heard. The weight of the Blackballers getting on the car was causing it to collapse on itself. Selphie's fists were bloody from trying to push the cracked glass from out of her window. Zell groggily looked over and saw that Seifer's eyes were closed. His heart leapt in his throat. "Seifer?" He asked, reaching out and shaking the other man's shoulder.

"I'm okay," Seifer assured quietly. The deafening sound of crunching metal made all of them gasp. "Selphie," Seifer said calmly. "Can you use your slot magic?" His voice may have sounded calm, but inside Seifer was all jangled nerves.

"Yeah," she said, screeching as someone's arm shot through the broken windshield, trying to grab her. She saw where Seifer was going with this.

"Just cast something that will make them fall back. We need to get out of this car."

"What then?" Irvine asked, his shoulder impaled by a large hunk of broken windshield.

"... I don't know." Seifer closed his eyes again, knowing that they would probably have to kill their way through the crowd to get to a safe haven. Could he do this? Could he become Seifer Almasy the murderer again? It was a part of him that he often dreamed about at night, always waking up in a cold sweat, but it was a part of him that he desperately wanted to forget, too. Ultimecia had made him a murderer. He didn't want to make himself one again.

Selphie closed her eyes and started to do the mystical calculations needed to find a certain spell mingled within all the ones in her junctioned inventory. Even Selphie herself couldn't explain it. She found a thread that could link to five holy spells. So, she cast them, positioning them in a star pattern to give them the widest berth for escape. As soon as the spells hit the ground, Selphie did some moves that would make any contortionist happy and kicked as hard as she could against the broken driver's window. She shimmied out, as did Zell. Both got out faster because they were smaller. It was a little harder for Irvine and Seifer to navigate their long limbs out of the cramped space. Irvine crawled away from the car, leaving a wet, red trail from his injured shoulder. He sucked in his breath and pulled the large hunk of glass out, throwing it to the ground. Seifer was still on his knees in front of the car, even as the holy spells finished their task, and the Blackballers started to advance again in their blind rage. He stretched his arm out as far as it would go, trying to grasp the hilt of Hyperion, which was still in the backseat.

One Blackballer got close enough that Seifer had to pull one of his survival knives out of the sheaths on his belt. He sliced up just as his fingers got around his gunblade's hilt. The sharp knife, which had a blade that was more used for cutting through the hard scales of dragon flesh, cut through human skin like butter, digging into the bones of the man's neck. Seifer yanked Hyperion out of the crushed car, blood raining down on him from the Blackballer's severed carotid artery. The hot shower of blood shocked Seifer a little. He'd known that cutting someone would make them bleed, but it was another thing to feel the hot stickiness of someone else's blood on him again. He felt monster blood on him all the time, but when it was human blood... it was so very different.

Seifer stood, face streaked with red, his gunblade pointing out to the side, survival knife dripping blood from his fist. Cracks of lightning swathed the sky, and he cut an imposing silhouette. He stared through the rioting crowd, to where Diablos had re-formed himself. He was in human form, sitting on the roof of a parked transfer truck's trailer.

"So?" Daeva called, looking down at the four of them. "Where's your dragoness protector now? Did Daddy injure her too badly?"

"About as badly as I injured you," Zell hissed, stalking towards the truck. He had to punch and kick through the crowd, but was flung back by a wave of magic.

"I'm sitting here, aren't I?" Diablos asked, examining his black fingernails. "You know, I don't care if I kill you with my own hands. Just as long as you're good and dead."

"But, why?" Selphie asked desperately, hands out in an imploring gesture.

"I don't need to explain myself to you." Daeva then snapped his fingers, and all the Blackballers seemed to go nuts. It was as if they could hear something that Seifer, Selphie, Irvine and Zell couldn't. They started screaming and holding their heads, some collapsing, wailing in personal agony. They all started to focus their attentions squarely on the group of four, the look in their eyes no longer human, not even that of someone high on Blackball. It was a look of pure madness. Whatever Diablos had done to them, it made them all screech like monsters, swarming towards them.

"Shit," Zell cursed. "We can't just kill them."

"We have no choice!" Irvine exclaimed. "I'll get higher up. I can blast them that way." Irvine knew his strength wasn't right in the center of a maelstrom of fighting. He needed to be apart from it so he could aid the others with his sniper skills. And, he knew that this time, he wouldn't falter. He'd faltered at the Galbadia parade so long ago, but he knew it was because he couldn't just shoot the only woman he'd known as a mother figure. But, over the past decade, his grace under pressure was something that Irvine had worked hard on. And with Selphie's life in danger, he knew his hand would be steady now. He started running towards the big truck that Daeva had seated himself on. Irvine made his way there by pulling out a nickel-plated pistol to thin out a path. He started climbing up the back of the trailer, shrugging out of his jacket when some Blackballers grabbed the hem of it, trying to pull him back down to the street. He got to the top, rifle still strapped to his back. He ignored the stinging pain that was coursing through his shoulder. When he climbed to the top of the trailer, Daeva was sitting there, smiling patiently at Irvine. As soon as Irvine righted himself, Daeva exploded into bats, which zoomed towards the SeeD like bullets. Irvine fell backwards, having to hold onto the edge of the trailer to prevent falling to the ground below, into the waiting arms of a mob of angry drug abusers.

Selphie saw Irvine holding onto the edge of the tall trailer. "Irvine!" She screamed, trying to move towards him. The trailer was tall enough that a fall from it could seriously hurt him, or even kill him. But, the throngs of bodies was too thick, so Selphie had to fight her way through. There wasn't enough room to properly use her nunchaku, so she held the sticks together, using them as a club. She dug them into the throat of one, kicking him out of the way so she could get to the next one. She was trying not to kill them, but they just kept getting up. Selphie's fists were sore from punching hard jaws and chests, but she kept plugging along. Maybe she could also get high, and use her magic. She was the strongest magic user out of the four of them, and she wasn't doing much good now. She looked around, headbutting a female Blackballer, sending her flying backwards. She saw a second story balcony on a building across the street. "Zell, I need a path!" She called. He was closer to her desired destination than she was.

Zell heard her, but he was more worried about keeping himself alive, and her path was secondary. He was breaking necks and smashing faces left and right. Bodies were falling all around him. He would mourn them later. First, he needed to get out of this mess. He kicked one in the breadbasket, who then grabbed his foot. Zell used the momentum to do a roundhouse, kicking the man in the face hard enough that his nose exploded like ripe fruit. On his way down from the kick, Zell did a back flip, his heel smashing up into the guy's chin. His neck cracked loudly in a sound that Zell always hated for it meant death. As he was briefly weak from the move, one grabbed him from behind and started choking him. He was losing oxygen, but he still kicked out as other Blackballers advanced on him. He yelped in pain as his kick connected awkwardly, and a muscle pulled in his knee. He knew he'd sprained it. He yelped again when a loud explosion happened near him. The Blackballer that had been holding him let go. Zell fell backwards, on top of his dead body. Zell looked up, seeing that Irvine had pulled himself up on top of the trailer, and was shooting into the crowd. The tattooed blonde would have waved Irvine a thanks, but he had to concentrate on the masses that were still coming for him. His hands were starting to feel numb, and he couldn't kick with his left leg because his knee was flaring up. He felt someone grab his arm, and he tried to wrench free, but saw that it was Selphie. She started dragging him along, jumping on top of the roof of a car so she could leap up and grab the bottom rung of a fire escape ladder that led up to the balcony she desired to be on. She helped Zell up, then started climbing.

"Come on!" Selphie exclaimed. "You're doing no good with a bad knee. I'll fix you up, and then you can go back down."

Zell climbed up after her, looking at the chaos on the street. Hundreds of Blackballers were milling around. Irvine was shooting them as they tried to climb up on the trailer, and Zell's eyes searched the crowd for Seifer, wondering where he was, wondering if he was still alive.... Zell then saw him, among the crowd. He gripped the railing and looked out, eyes wide.

"There's Seifer...." Selphie pointed. "Hyne, he's surrounded."

Seifer had stabbed and beat up a few people to give himself some berth, but he was quickly surrounded again. He knew that he would have to kill them, or they were going to kill him. But... how could he will himself to kill again? It had destroyed his life before... a life he'd worked so hard to get back.

But, you have so much to live for again, he told himself. You don't wanna die now, do you? Killing them would be a blessing....

"They're monsters now," he mouthed to himself, closing his eyes. He went to the place in his mind he went when he hunted monsters like Ruby Dragons and Malboros. He had to do this.... he knew it.

Kill him, Diablos's voice echoed from everywhere and nowhere. Ten or fifteen Blackballers wailed like monsters. No, not even monsters. Something worse than that. They started running towards Seifer. Some of them had picked up weapons along the way, things like pipes and large chunks of rocks. As they moved closer, Seifer did a pirouette and the long blade of Hyperion cut through them. It was sharpened enough to cut through steel, so it went through flesh like it was nothing. He'd also made modifications to it in the past to better deal with monsters, so human bodies were no match. One slice of his blade went through six bodies, sending them sprawling backwards. They hit some more Blackballers on their way down. They were close enough that more blood sprayed onto Seifer, his clothes growing heavy with it. Some advanced on him from behind, so Seifer swung his gunblade back, feeling it cut through skin. He used his survival knife as a mirror to see where they were at his back.

Think of them as monsters, he repeated to himself as he dashed through the crowd. He quickly jabbed out with his survival knife with one arm, sweeping out long arcs with the Hyperion with his other arm. He tried not to see their human faces as he mowed through them. He saw their faces as the faces of a Ruby Dragon, or of a T-Rexaur, or an Iron Giant. Anything but a human face. He spun on his heel, crouching down low as he cut off one Blackballer's legs mid-thigh. As the body fell, Seifer stabbed the long blade of his weapon through his head, the point coming out in an explosion of blood and brains, and stabbed into the stomach of another Blackballer behind his falling corpse. He stood up quickly, dragging the body of the Blackballer whose head was impaled on Hyperion with him. He stabbed up into a woman who was about to attack him from behind, summoning up a fire spell. It went in a straight line behind the Blackballer he'd just stabbed, a queue of them going up in flames. Seifer pulled his gunblade away, stabbing his survival knife in the eye socket of a charging enemy. The line of fire exploded, sending bodies flying.

His combat knife was knocked out of his hand by one of the mob, but that didn't stop Seifer. He was on a roll, on a killing rampage not seen since his days as Ultimecia's knight. He dug fingers into throats as he decapitated and sliced off limbs with his gunblade, still just trying to think of these poor people as monsters. As he sliced off an arm at the shoulder, he felt a cramp in his lower abdomen. It felt awful, like someone ripping his intestines out. He let out a low moan, sinking to his knees.

It seems my Knight has returned.

Seifer let out a gasping breath, looking wildly around at the sound of Ultimecia's voice in his head. He tried to ignore it, but the blood in his eyes seemed so red, and the voice seemed all too real.

Kome, my Knight. Show me how you have improved.

I'm not your Knight anymore, he mentally hissed in argument.

You will always be my Knight. My killing hand. My little failure.

Seifer tried to ignore the voice, but it was so strong, so loud in his head. The voice seemed to move his limbs, and he cut through the crowd like they were nothing.

Selphie shook her head, watching from the balcony. Zell was gripping the iron railing hard enough that it was creaking under his strong hands. "He looks like he's dancing...." she mused in dark wonderment.

Zell could only stare as Seifer made a massacre of the crowd. Selphie's observation was correct. Seifer moved his arms not like he was fighting with weapons, but that the weapons were an extension of his body. He moved with the grace of a trained martial artist, and with more prowess than even SeeD's deadliest mercenaries or assassins. It was beautiful in its violence. Seifer leapt up onto the hood of a car, running up across the roof, gunblade out to his side. As he ran over the top of the car, leaping to another that was parallel parked in front of it, he cut of the heads of Blackballers trying to grab him and pull him down. Irvine was still randomly shooting from his position, but he was also watching Seifer with a bit of wonder, and... fear.

Every drop of blood makes you more as you were.

Diablos, though his form wasn't visible to human eyes, was still watching, and was worried. So, these were the abilities of his enemy? For a human, he was quite formidable. Diablos was right to have wanted him dead, to protect his own ancient life. His little human minions weren't a match. He would have to think of something else. The demon decided to regroup, removing his presence from their realm for now.

As soon as Diablos was gone, the Blackballers jerked out of their state of madness, looking around in fear and desperation for more of their precious drug. They saw the street run red with blood, and saw the death. They started running, scared and confused.

One poor woman saw herself staring at a man with hard green eyes and blood-stained skin. She saw that long, deadly blade arc down towards her. "Please!" She exclaimed meekly. "Please don't kill me! Please....!" Her last plea turned into a scream as the blade cut into the side of her face, cutting her head in two.

Please..... Her begging words echoed in Seifer's head, and he stared at the woman as she topped to the ground, one of so many corpses that had died on this street by his hand. He looked around him, at all the blood and the corpses, Hyperion dropping from his hand.

You did what's in your nature, the ghost of Ultimecia's voice pointed out with her familiar and nightmarish laugh.

The reason that Seifer had felt Ultimecia's presence again was because of Edea. She'd used the teleportation abilities that her sorcery skills had given her to come to this spot as fast as she could. Nothing had been able to hold her back. Not her husband's pleadings, not the pleadings of the man she loved. She'd only thought of Seifer, of what dangers he could be in. But, when she'd come, she'd seen that Seifer hadn't needed her help at all. As soon as she'd gotten near him, that feeling of the past had flared up, nearly doubling her over. Certainly Seifer had been able to feel it, too. But, perhaps his actions had shown he did. He looked like he did when Edea had controlled him, her body an extension of Ultimecia's. "Seifer!!" She called, starting to run down the street, kicking off her high heels so she could better manoeuvre through the bodies and large pools of blood.

"There's Matron," Selphie pointed out, seeing Seifer collapse to his knees. "Zell!" She called as he jumped from the balcony onto the roof of a car. "I haven't fixed your knee yet....!" She wasn't only concerned about Zell's knee, but at that moment, she was a little afraid of Seifer.

Zell grit through the pain of his sprained knee, but the injury wouldn't stop him from going to Seifer. Normally, someone would have been afraid of Seifer at that moment. But, not him. He reached Seifer before Edea, and saw that Seifer was shaking, looking over the carnage with wide eyes, tears threatening to trail down his cheeks from his wide, scared looking peridot eyes. "Seifer...?" Zell whispered, kneeling in blood beside the other man. He reached out and touched Seifer, and the other man jerked away, but then Zell touched him again, and the tears that had watered Seifer's eyes started to fall, and he crumpled against Zell's chest, gasping for air.

Please. That woman's appeal rang through his head over and over again, and he could see the terror in her eyes before he'd so viciously killed her. After all this time, nothing had really changed, had it? He was still the same monster that had killed under Ultimecia's flag. "What have I done?" Seifer asked, voice dissolving into sobs.

"Shhhhh," Zell soothed, stroking Seifer's bloody hair and holding him as tightly as he possibly could. "You did what you had to."

"She begged me..." Seifer wrenched out against Zell's chest. "She begged me not to kill her. And..." He gulped in some air. "I d-did.... I did anyway."

Squall, Rinoa and Quistis had also arrived, going a back way that had brought them to the scene as quickly as possible. They'd witnessed the tail end of Seifer's show of violence, and now saw him collapsed to his knees, shaking with sobs as he cried into Zell's chest.

"Any SeeD would be proud of such efficient fighting," Quistis murmured as they got out of the car. Her voice held little emotion when she said it.

Squall didn't say anything, but he did have to agree with his former Instructor. Garden students trained a lifetime to be able to have abilities that would pale in comparison to Seifer's. Grudgingly, Squall had to admit that Seifer's hand with a gunblade far outmatched his own. Though, he would never say it to anyone aloud. Ever.

"There's Edea," Rinoa said quietly. She'd never been one that liked the sight of blood, and there was so much of it that it was making her a little ill to her stomach. Rinoa walked on ahead, while Squall was too busy watching the way that Zell was sitting among the blood with Seifer, holding him and whispering something to him. How was this possible? Had the whole world gone insane?!

"Seifer!" Edea exclaimed, going closer. Her heart wanted to explode with pain when she heard Seifer crying. "Seifer..." She reached out and touched her son, which was a mistake. It angrily flared that ghost of Ultimecia's power, and Seifer jerked back, also pulling away from Zell's comforting embrace.

"Get away from me!" He yelled angrily. When Rinoa came closer to them, all gasped at the feeling, as if Ultimecia was standing among them.

"What's happening....?" Selphie asked quietly. She'd come down from her balcony, and was now standing beside Zell, who was still kneeling the blood.

"I...." Zell trailed off, looking up at his old friend. "I wish I knew."

Rinoa clutched at her bosom, clawing at the plum silk of her blouse. Squall ran over to her and put his arms around his wife, actually in a bit of a parody of how Zell had been holding Seifer earlier. "What have you done?" Squall asked, glaring at Seifer with an accusatory tone.

"Squall, please!!" Edea shouted, her voice actually rising in anger. That was the first time in ages that Squall had been yelled at by his Matron. He looked incredulously at her. She turned to her son. "Seifer, please.... I just came to see if you were okay."

"Okay?" He echoed, standing up. "I am so far from okay, I can't fucking see it anymore!!"

"Don't yell at her," Rinoa said, defending the Sorceress.

"Rinoa... you don't need to defend me." She didn't yell at the other Sorceress like she had with Squall, but while her tone was gentle, it was still very final.

Seifer glared silently at his mother, still feeling that black gnawing within him where all his nightmares came from. Nightmares of her gold eyes and cruel laugh.

Irvine had climbed down from the top of the truck, and now walked towards them. He kept his pistol handy, just in case something else decided to jump out at them. Along with the smell of all that fresh blood was the stench of burning flesh. The corpses of those poor Timber Police were still smouldering above them. "Laguna and Cid just pulled up."

Edea looked over as they ran up to the group of them. "It's okay," she said quietly to them.

"Are you okay?" Cid asked of his son. Seifer just angrily shrugged it off.

"It was that feeling again," Edea pointed out, standing up. "That feeling of Ultimecia between the three of us." She looked to Seifer and Rinoa.

Laguna stood up and crossed his arms over his chest in typical 'Laguna Loire in thought' fashion. "Hmmm, I may have a temporary idea. That is, until we can find out what's causing this. Let's go back to headquarters." They were calling Diablos's mansion 'headquarters' instead of 'the house'. They didn't like the comforting feeling the words 'the house' gave the demon's manor. "Though, I think that Seifer shouldn't ride in the same car with Rinoa and Edea until we're sure what's going on."

Edea nodded, though she didn't want to be parted from Seifer, even though he was glaring daggers at her. She started to move back to the car Laguna and Cid had come in, but Laguna held up his hand. "If you don't mind, I'd like to ride back with Seifer. Cid, why don't you take Edea and Rinoa in the other car?"

Cid nodded slowly. "Right.... just be careful, okay?" He clapped the President on the shoulder.

"Always am," Laguna said in a way that made Squall mutter something under his breath and roll his eyes that looked so much like Raine's. Squall, of course, went in the same car as his wife. Zell immediately fell in step beside Seifer. Selphie went towards the car that Laguna was getting in, and Irvine was going to follow, but Quistis put her hand on Irvine's shoulder. "I'll go with you. I'd like to be briefed on the situation."

"Okay, whatever." They all walked towards the car, and Laguna frowned. He'd wanted to talk personally with Seifer, but he couldn't exactly do that with all these other people hanging around.

Seifer noticed that Laguna was looking at him oddly. His emotions weren't very hard to read at all. "So, I assume you know why I'm so.... put-out with Edea and Cid right now," Seifer asked lowly, wiping at some blood on his face. But, it was congealing, and making even more of a mess. There was a cut on his cheek that started to well up again, his fingers having pulled it open again.

Zell noticed and put a hand on Seifer's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"No, but I'll live." Seifer stared down Laguna for a few moments. "You can say it in front of them. Selphie, Irvine and Zell already know. As for Instructor Trepe, well... I'm not going to keep secrets. I'm not like them."

"What are you talking about?" Quistis asked. "Do you know something about this whole Ultimecia thing?" She also noticed the almost motherly way Zell was looking at Seifer, fussing over his injuries and not caring about his own.

"You should give your mother the benefit of the doubt," Laguna said, getting behind the wheel of the car. Irvine sat in the front with his gun still in his lap. The others clambered into the back seats of the rugged utility vehicle. Quistis was furrowing her brow, while Zell and Selphie opted to remain silent.

"I think you should keep your opinions to yourself. No offence," he added insincerely.

"Edea was afraid for your safety."

"What....?" Quistis whispered to Selphie. They were sitting in the very back seat, Zell sitting close beside Seifer. She asked in a hissing whisper "what are they talking about? Edea is Seifer's mother?!"

"You don't have to believe it if you don't want to," Seifer muttered, not even looking over his shoulder at her. "But, it's the unfortunate truth. They're just a couple of liars, that's all."

"You're being too hard on them," Laguna said seriously. "They wanted to tell you so badly, but were afraid for you."

"Adel was gone for a long time. They should have told me years ago. What, did they just think I would forgive them for lying to me for my entire life?"

"I just.... I know how Edea feels. She loves you very much, and she has missed you these ten years. She wondered where you were every day. I would hope that you could see where she was coming from. You're mad... sure. Hyne knows you're entitled, but I would hope still...."

"What, forgive and forget?"

"I know that I wanted Squall to understand and forgive me." Laguna turned onto another street, looking in the rear-view mirror at Edea's son. He wanted to try and talk to him as a third party, someone a little separated from the situation. He wanted to do it to wipe that sadness from Edea's beautiful eyes. But... what would Seifer think if he knew Laguna was fucking a married woman. A married woman that was his mother?

"Maybe he shouldn't have," Seifer muttered, looking out the window. Zell briefly gave Seifer's hand a squeeze, then started to bandage his swollen and bleeding knuckles with gauze that Selphie was passing him. Quistis just sat silently, listening to this conversation. So, Edea and Cid were Seifer's parents. That's what they'd said that had made him so angry and upset. But, yet... how could this be? Quistis had always thought that Edea wasn't able to have children. She was so wrapped up in the bombshell she'd just heard that she didn't notice the brief exchange of affection between Seifer and Zell in the seat in front of her.

"Most kids in your situation would love to have a mother," Laguna pointed out. "Even after all this time."

Seifer looked away from the quickly passing scenery and glared at Laguna's gaze in the rear-view mirror. "A: I'm not a kid anymore, and B: maybe I would be happier if it weren't for the little fact that because of her, I had to change my name, I had to go into hiding. Because of her, Ultimecia will always stain me, even now."

"It wasn't her fault that Ultimecia controlled you," Laguna pointed out sadly.

Seifer rolled his eyes, having to take off his glasses because the blood splatter on them just wasn't coming off. "Yeah, well... it still happened."

"You're as bad about holding grudges as Squall is," the President muttered, pulling up in front of Diablos's former house.

"Squall...." Seifer echoed, laughing bitterly. "Yeah, he'll love this news, seeing as how he'd love nothing more than to see me under a trolley." As soon as the car stopped, Seifer practically kicked the door open. "No offence, President Loire, but keep your nose out of it." He slammed the door and started to go down the driveway, away from the house. He didn't want to go in that manor again, especially knowing that Edea and Cid were in there. And, Squall and Rinoa... they'd be standing there staring at him with their holier-than-thou expressions.

Zell noticed that Seifer was going to take off, so he quickly got out of the car and started to dash down the driveway. Quistis gave Selphie a quizzical look about Zell's show of loyalty to Seifer, but the brunette played dumb, giving Irvine a sad look.

"Seifer!" Zell called, jogging to catch up with the taller man. "Where are you going?"

"I don't want to see them," Seifer hissed. Zell reached out and grabbed his arm, which Seifer pulled away in a quick motion. It wasn't only Edea that he didn't want to see, but Cid too. Cid had almost been his nemesis when he was a student at Garden, always giving him a hard time and making him feel inferior to the likes of Quistis and especially Squall. He could never seem to do anything right for that man. He's always resented it, and to find out that Cid was his father just made it worse.

"But, Laguna said he has a way to stop this feeling you're getting. Don't you want that?" Zell asked.

"I can stop it by staying away from her."

"Seifer." Zell stated. It wasn't the beginning of a sentence. It was a harsh single word that was meant just as that. He frowned angrily. "I know you're angry, and you have every right to be, but don't let it blind you to rationality."

Seifer glared down at his boyfriend, lover, whatever they were calling each other now, but Zell just glared right back up at him. Zell's pale eyes softened a little. "And, I'll be with you the whole time."

The crease in Seifer's brow vanished, and he let out a long and heavy sigh. "I.... I couldn't control myself."

Zell heard the fear in Seifer's voice, and reached out to squeeze his wrist in reassurance. "You did what you had to."

"All I could hear was Ultimecia's voice. Even when I tried to drown her out... it was just like ten years ago."

"Come into the mansion. Maybe Laguna and Dr. Odine can really fix it."

"What if they can't?"

Zell didn't say anything, because he really didn't know what to say. He instead stood on his tiptoes and wrapped his arms around Seifer's shoulders, hugging him tightly and intimately. As Zell hugged Seifer, he thought of something that his new boyfriend had said in the car. That, he wasn't going to keep secrets, not like Cid and Edea. It shamed Zell a little. It made him want to tell everyone that he was in a relationship with Seifer, that Seifer was his boyfriend, his lover, his man.

"Someone could be watching," Seifer whispered. But, he didn't let go.

"I don't care."

"I think you'll care when Squall finds out, and you get in shit because of Garden's idiotic promiscuity laws."

Zell was still hugging Seifer, but he stiffened a little. Ah yes, those promiscuity laws. Unfortunately, when you were SeeD, you were still expected to uphold the same rules that the lesser cadets were to live by. And, that included conducting yourself in a certain manner. Which meant no sexual promiscuity, and no homosexuality. Just because Zell was an elite SeeD and Garden Instructor, that didn't mean he was above those rules. He eventually pulled away, looking up into Seifer's eyes. Those hard peridot eyes that had once been a source of pain for Zell, but were now a source for so much more. He wished so badly then that they were alone. But, with all the shit that Seifer was going through, Zell felt a little selfish for thinking about sex.

"I see what you're thinking," Seifer murmured teasingly. He tried to make his voice playful, but it was hard around the edges. "Maybe later...." He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "But, you are right. I can't run like some fucking coward. I've been a coward for too long." He started walking back up towards the house, Zell slowly following behind.

Seifer had wondered earlier if someone could have seen him and Zell embracing as more than just friends, and he would have been correct. Quistis had started to go after Zell to try and get Seifer to stay, to try to talk to him. After all, she'd barely said ten words to him since seeing him after all that time. But, she'd stopped short of approaching when she'd seen Seifer and Zell hugging. She understood that this was a very trying time for Seifer, what with this whole Ultimecia business, and also Cid and Edea. But, friends didn't really comfort each other like that. Squall comforted Rinoa like that. Selphie comforted Irvine like that. Why was Zell comforting Seifer like that?

Before Seifer could even take a step through the opulent halls of Diablos's human manor, Laguna gently gripped him by the elbow, pulling him aside.

"If this is about me forgiving them again..." Seifer began with a warning tone.

"Here." Laguna pressed something into Seifer's palm. The tall man looked down and saw it was a ring of some sort. It was made of bronze, and had substantial weight to it. The design also looked archaic, from another time and era.

"What's this....?" Seifer asked, turning the ring over in his palms, a little confused. There were inscriptions on the inside of the thick band, runes that Seifer couldn't read. But, he knew them to be magic related.

"An Odine ring. You've heard of the jewellery, I'm sure."

"Yeah," Seifer muttered dully. "It's supposed to suppress the Sorceress's powers. Why are you giving it to me?"

"Put it on."

"I'm not..."

"I know," Laguna said, holding up his hands. "But, maybe it will create a shield around you so Edea and Rinoa's powers don't affect you."

"This is what you wanted me to try?" Seifer asked with a cocked eyebrow, a little amused at the simplicity of the plan.

"Hey, you have any better ideas?"

Seifer stared at Squall's father for a while, and mentally conceded that he did not. The ring was large, even for Seifer, so he slid it on his middle finger. It was loose, but it slowly conformed to his hand by magic of its own. He looked at the sturdy bronze ring for a while, not feeling any different. He stared at it for a while, as a woman would greedily stare at a diamond she admired.

"What are you looking at?" Zell asked, seeing that Seifer was apparently transfixed with his own hand. Laguna had went into the large ballroom they were using as a meeting room. The ballroom where everything had started last night.

"This ring...." Seifer trailed off. "Laguna gave it to me."


"It's an Odine brand. He thinks it might lessen Edea and Rinoa's powers over me." He sighed, dropping his arm. "Zell.... what if...?"

"I'll keep an eye on you," the short blonde assured. "I won't let you out of my sight."

Seifer cupped the back of Zell's head. "If I wind up going on a murderous rampage again, hopefully you'll be able to tear your eyes away from my crotch long enough to stop me, hmmm?"

"Maybe not," Zell murmured as Seifer pulled away, walking into the ballroom as if he was walking to his own execution. When he came into the ballroom, all the eyes turned to him. Some were pleading, like the eyes of Cid and Edea, and some were accusatory, like the eyes of Squall. Seifer tried to ignore his old rival, his gaze gravitating to that of his parents. Seifer still didn't know how to feel other than angry about the whole thing.

"Please, sit," Laguna said quietly, voice friendly. Seifer did so, looking around just so he could meet Zell's eyes. That brief meeting of eyes was enough to give Seifer mental strength, to know that he wasn't completely alone here. Selphie and Irvine also gave him sympathetic looks, but it just wasn't the same. "Is the ring working?" Laguna asked, watching Seifer carefully.

"I....." Seifer trailed off, looking at Edea. She pursed her lips and tried to smile at him. Seifer turned his gaze away, staring at Squall instead. "So far so good."

"What happens if one of them touches you?" Irvine asked.

Rinoa started to step forward, not feeling any of Ultimecia in the air. But, she didn't get even a step before Squall's hand was tight around her bicep, preventing her from coming even within reaching distance of Seifer.

Squall just shook his head, giving his wife a very stern and final look.

"What?" Seifer asked bitterly, plainly seeing the exchange, for Squall had wanted him to see it. "Afraid I'll rip her head off or something?"

"Seifer..." Quistis trailed off, a little bit of her teacherly authority coming into her voice. "You're not making things any easier."

Seifer started laughing uproariously. "Defending Squall again? He could rape twenty children and leave their bodies to rot in the sun, and you'd still fucking find someone else to blame. I may not be giving Squall a chance, but he sure isn't giving me one, either. I may not be giving Cid and Edea a chance, but they would rather that he be their son, but they're stuck with the failure. With me."

Squall still had his left hand around Rinoa's arm, and the right hand had been holding a glass of water, which crashed to the ground at Seifer's words. Squall's head whipped towards Cid and Edea, eyebrows so high that they were almost part of his hairline. Cid and Edea didn't look over at him, but only had eyes for Seifer. Seifer with his dark hair... it actually did make him look a little like a younger, thinner Headmaster Cid, face softened by prettier features that were still everything masculine.

"You know we don't feel that way...." Edea trailed off.

"Do I?" Seifer asked harshly. "I also thought I knew that Ultimecia was dead."

"And, she iz."

Laguna just rolled his eyes and Edea frowned, but everyone else looked over when the eccentric Dr. Odine entered the ballroom.

"Iz my ring working, Mizter Almazy?"

Seifer nodded with hesitation. "So far so good, it seems."

"Of courze," Odine said with a smug tone, nodding at his own genius. "My inventionz never fail."

"Well, have you thought of anything?" Laguna asked.

"Prezident Loire, must you be zo contemptuouz?" Odine asked, shuffling across the room. His garb made him look a bit like a circus act. "I am a zientific genius!"

"Yeah, yeah..." Laguna waved his hand. "So, any ideas about this Ultimecia business?"

"Vell, I vould like to run zome tests on ze subjects...." Odine looked at all three of them with a grin that bordered on sexual. Squall wrapped a protective arm around Rinoa, and Zell wanted to go across the room and punch Odine right in his stupid face. "But, I do have a zeory."

"What is this theory exactly?" Edea asked. She felt the same way about Odine as Laguna did. He was a meddling little parasite who cared more about experiments than the human cost of them.

"I do not vish to discuss it immediately." Odine waved his hand. "I vill know more vonce I am in my labz in Ezthar."

Seifer frowned. "I'm not going to Esthar."

"You must!" Odine exclaimed, a little shocked. "For ze rezearch."

Seifer shrugged. "I can't leave work."

"You own the store, Seifer..." Selphie pointed out.

"I've already taken off too much time."

"Seifer...." Edea began.

"I'm not going to Esthar," Seifer repeated with finality, standing up. "I swore after Time Compression that I would never set foot in the City of the Sorceress again. If you're such a genius, Doctor, then I'm sure you can do whatever research you have to here in Timber."

"You do not vish to rid yourzelf of Ultimezia's Ztain?"

"Her what?" Seifer asked, already turning to leave.

"Her Ztain. Her Taint. It iz vhat you, Zorcerezz Edea and Zorcerezz Rinoa are veeling."

"And, what exactly does that mean, Odine?" Edea asked, sadly looking over at Seifer, her heart feeling like lead in her chest. But, she supposed this is what she and Cid deserved.

"I vill have to do more rezearch before I can make an accurate concluzion." Odine nodded, smiling in that infuriating way that meant he probably knew more than he was saying.

Laguna groaned. "You obviously know something, you little pissant."

"I am ze great Odine!!!" The tiny doctor exclaimed angrily, jumping up and down like a child. "How dare you taunt me zhis vay!"

"But, what are we supposed to do until you're ready with your conclusions?" Rinoa asked, leaning into Squall. "I don't want to feel her again."

"I have a perfect solution for that," Seifer muttered, walking towards the grand double doors of the ballroom. "I'm outta here."

"Seifer," Quistis said quickly, standing up. "Wait. It's too dangerous to leave here right now. You don't want another incident like today, do you?"

Seifer's back stiffened, and he actually jerked. "This house is big enough that I can avoid seeing whomever I wish," he said, each word coming out clipped and overly pronounced. He left the ballroom without a backwards look, heading for the large staircase that was so wide you could drive a car down it. Seifer's long legs quickly took him upstairs, and he found himself looking around. He looked in room after room, finding a narrow staircase behind one of the doors. He went up, and found himself on the third floor. There only seemed to be one room up here, and Seifer guessed it had been Daeva's bedchambers. After all, he was sure that Diablos's real form hadn't needed this place. The bed was large, what Seifer would call not King sized or Queen sized, but 'orgy-sized'. There were still clothes hanging in the closet that Daeva would have worn to parties or other functions. There was a vanity that was true to its word. Diablos's human form obviously cared about his appearance. Seifer sat down in front of the mirror, casually dancing his fingers over the various things on the vanity's table. Things like moisturizer and hair care products. Seifer opened a small decanter of liquid, smelling that it was cologne, and a very expensive brand at that.

Seifer put the bottle down, the room now gently filled the dark, mysterious and masculine scent of Diablos's human form. Seifer found himself staring at his reflection. He still had blood splattered all over him, his face dappled with it. It was his face that he concentrated on. The face of Cid and Edea Kramer's only child. He didn't see an overt resemblance to either of them, and yet.... he knew. With his glasses on, he brought images to his memory of what a younger Cid had looked like, back when Seifer had first come to Garden. Seifer definitely didn't have a chin that was quite as prominent, but really looking at himself, he did see a similarity in his eyes. His eyes were a different colour than Cid's, who had blue eyes where Seifer had pale green, but the shape of them was the same. He could see a little of Edea in his nose and mouth, but where he got his chin and blonde hair and green eyes, he didn't know. He'd never thought about his heritage before, because he hadn't even had parents or any kind of family before. A lifetime of knowledge about his bloodline was now at his fingertips, having being kept from him for so long. Even though Seifer was now a grown man, he'd always wanted a family. Fujin and Raijin had been his family for so long, but it wasn't the same.

Raijin... Seifer just realized that Raijin hadn't been among the people on the street, part of the mob. Or, had he.... and Seifer had just cut through him without even noticing his face? No, Seifer told himself. He would have noticed something like that. But, that then begged the question; where exactly was Raijin, anyway? And, what did Odine mean by 'Ultimecia's Stain'? He looked at the bronze ring on his middle finger, and sighed heavily. He pitched forward, resting his forehead in his hand. His clothes crunched with dried blood. Seifer then stood up and went to Daeva's closets. The demon's human form had actually been about Seifer's size, so he could at least put on some clean clothes. Even though Diablos had just tried to kill him on more than one occasion, Seifer didn't have any qualms about wearing his clothing. Though, a lot of Daeva's clothes were a little... outlandish. Seifer took off his ruined clothing and put on a pair of simple black tuxedo pants, happy that Daeva had been a tall man. But, finding a plain shirt.... that was another issue altogether. There was no such thing as a T-shirt or tank top here. So, he then just decided on the brightest shirt in the closet. A silk shirt in bright chartreuse green. Seifer was sure that the screaming colour would have looked quite nice against Daeva's pale skin and luxurious black hair. Seifer then put the coat that matched the pants on over top, looking at himself in the mirror. "Not bad...." he murmured to himself. The neon green definitely brought out the colour of his eyes.

Seifer sighed heavily after staring at himself for a while, and sat on the edge of the huge bed, his muscles stiff with stress. Maybe Diablos had slept here in human form. The bed was definitely wide enough to hold the demon's impressive wingspan. Seifer knew he had to go to Archimedes. After all, in the past few days, he hadn't gone there at all, and people were probably dying for weapons. But, what Quistis had said did ring true for him. Seifer definitely didn't want a repeat of what just happened. His heart started beating a little faster just at the thought. He'd gotten so out of control, and he hated that feeling. Hated knowing that even Ultimecia's memory had turned him into some killing machine.

He lay back on the bed, staring up at the red canopy. And, they weren't any closer to finding out why Diablos was trying to kill him, or why he'd even started Blackball in the first place. All those people... now they were in withdrawal from the drug, going through hell, and Raijin was one of them.

"Seifer?" Zell's voice called from the stairs that led up to Diablos's bedchambers. "You up here?"

Seifer didn't sit up to see Zell, but heard him click the lock on the door, then top the stairs. "Here you are," Zell said quietly, looking around the room. "I've been looking all over for you."

"I just wanted to be alone for a few minutes."

"Minutes?" Zell echoed, fingers running over the spines of books in the case by the armoire. "I've been searching this frigging place for three hours."

"Oh," Seifer answered dully.

Zell gripped one of the posts of the large, large bed, looking down at the other man. "Diablos's clothes?"

"Mmmm," was Seifer's response.

Zell sat on the bed beside Seifer, looking down at him. "At least the ring is working..." He trailed off lamely, not knowing what to say.

Seifer reached out and looped his fingers through Zell's. "You don't have to try and make me feel better," he whispered without malice.

"Edea's worried that you took off, even after Quistis told you not to."

"I need to leave sometime," Seifer muttered, letting out a long breath as Zell stretched out beside him, draping his left arm across the taller man's abdomen. "I have to go to work."

"I'm sure you can survive a few days without going there."

"Maybe, but it would affect me in the long run. When this is all over, and I'm sure it will be eventually, and if I happen to survive, I'm not like you and Selphie and Irvine, and even Squall. You can just go back to Garden and do another mission or teach another class. But, if I let the store slip, I lose customers, and hence money. And....." He sighed. "I need it to keep my mind off everything."

"It's not safe...."

"It's not safe here, either. Tiamat won't be able to protect this place forever, and I'm sure Diablos can eventually find a way around her runes, the slippery fucker. I'm not safe from myself, Zell."

"Notice I'm not going anywhere?"

Seifer let out an annoyed noise.

"I'm serious! I don't think you're a monster. I know that Selphie and Irvine don't, either. And, neither do Cid and Edea. There's an explanation for it all, and I'm sure Odine will find it. He's a creeper, but he is a genius."

"But, maybe I think I am."

"Shut up Seifer," Zell said in an exasperated way. "I don't want to hear anymore of that bullshit, okay?"


"No, really. Look, if you hadn't killed them, they would have strung you up and burned you like they did with those Timber Police officers. I killed some of them, so did Irvine and Selphie. We had to."

"I heard her voice.... It was like she was still alive."

"I know."

"No," Seifer insisted angrily. "You don't."

"Okay, maybe I don't know what it feels to have been possessed by a Sorceress," Zell admitted, sitting up. "And, I don't really want to know, but I'm trying to comfort you here, so stop biting my fucking head off."

Seifer sighed. "You're right. It's just been such a shitty day."

Zell rested his chin on Seifer's chest and the satiny chartreuse shirt. "Well, it wasn't all bad, right?"

Seifer looked into Zell's eyes for a long moment, stroking a hand through his blonde hair. "Yeah, that was all right, I guess."

"I wish the day we first had sex hadn't turned out so badly. I guess that's the stupid romantic in me." Zell turned his face so his cheek was pressed against Seifer's chest. He could hear the other man's strong heartbeat, and it soothed him.

"I know we did it, but it still seems a little surprising."

"I feel the same way." Zell chuckled. "You know.... I did lock the door behind me." The comment was just meant innocently, since neither was in a particularly horny mood. They held each other in silence, laying among Daeva's sheets and abandoned bedchamber. "Seifer....?" Zell asked after a while.


"I know you're going to get mad at me for asking this, but.... have you thought about what you're going to do about Cid and Edea?"

Seifer thought on the question for a few moments. "I honestly don't know. The things I do know are that they lied to me, and I have a million other things to worry about other than if I'm hurting their feelings."

"Don't you want to forgive them?" Zell asked, hand stroking up and down Seifer's side, palm then resting in the curve of his waist.

"Part of me does, yeah. One of the few memories I still have of the past, before Garden, was the day you got adopted. I was so jealous. I just wanted someone to come and take me home. I may not have shown it, but deep down I wanted someone to love me, to care for me."

"Yeah, you were a real bully."

"I know. I also stupidly dreamed that my parents would come through the Orphanage doors, that they hadn't really died in the Sorceress War, or that they hadn't just forgotten about me and abandoned me."

"But, Matron did love you."

"That's what makes it worse," Seifer muttered, arms tightening around Zell. Seifer buried his face in Zell's hair. "I wanted a mother so badly, and she was there the entire time, looking me in the eyes and lying to me."

"She did it..."

"... to protect me," Seifer finished. "Yeah, I get it."

Zell didn't respond. He didn't know how. This was something as alien to him as Seifer's ugly connection with a dead Sorceress. He couldn't imagine what Seifer was going through, finding out that he'd had a mother, all this time, and she'd been right under his nose. All the children at the Orphanage had dreamed of Matron being their mother, Zell included, but this situation was just so messy that it clouded those innocent childhood feelings. Zell was very loyal to Edea, and always had been. But now, he was also loyal to Seifer in a way that was very different. Zell looked up at Seifer, smiling distantly. He shimmied up the large mattress a little, planting a soft yet firm kiss on Seifer's mouth. He'd meant it as a rather chaste kiss of affection, but the taste of Seifer's lips against his wound up making it so much more. Zell hated that so many things were imploding all around them right now. He just wanted this time to get to know Seifer as a friend and as a lover. When Seifer's arms tightly wrapped around him, Zell could only describe the feeling inside him as a mushy sort of feeling. It felt like everything inside him just turned to goo. Seifer's arms were so strong around him, and even though they were in Diablos's manor, and his bedroom of all places, Zell felt safe.

Zell's hands slid down the slippery fabric of Seifer's borrowed shirt, one hand stroking up and down Seifer's chest, the other finding the junction between his thighs, squeezing Seifer's genitals. Seifer let in a quick, shaky breath as Zell's strong hand started firmly massaging him. It was true that he hadn't been in a very amorous mood earlier, but now that Zell was touching him like this.... well, it was hard to ignore. When Zell's hand slid into his, actually Daeva's, pants, Seifer let out his breath, opening his eyes as Zell broke their kiss.

The blonde gave Seifer a toothy grin, sliding down the bed as he freed Seifer's genitals from his pants. When Zell's tongue brushed over the head of his penis, the erection that had been starting grew fully hard. His arm draped across his eyes as he felt Zell's mouth surround him. He let out a long sigh, his other hand moving through Zell's hair. He let out a small groan once and a while as Zell went down on him, him mouth so velvety and wet and hot. Seifer's mind kept trying to go to more nefarious things like Diablos, Ultimecia and Cid and Edea, but he kept pushing all those thoughts out of his head, wanting to think only about Zell, about how good it felt to have someone else's hands and mouth on his body, to have someone not only as a sexual partner, but as a companion. Even though he was sure everyone else downstairs was a little, or a lot, wary of him at that moment, Seifer knew that Zell wasn't, that Zell still trusted him. And, that meant the world to him, and filled his heart with a warm tingly feeling. He let out a shaky breath as Zell deep-throated him, fist closing around some of Zell's hair.

Zell opened his eyes and looked up at Seifer as he swirled his tongue around the shaft of the other man's penis. Seifer had a serene look on his face that was a welcome change from the deeply brooding expressions he'd been holding for most of the day. Zell kissed Seifer's testicles, licking up his penis and covering it with his mouth again, wrenching a small noise out of Seifer's throat that was very satisfying to Zell. The blonde started putting all his oral talents to use , loving the sounds Seifer was making. His hand worked in time with his mouth on Seifer's erection, fist moving up and down with his mouth as his tongue worked nimbly to bring Seifer to orgasm. Zell tasted the heat and saltiness of Seifer's ejaculate explode in his mouth. He swallowed it, sitting up and looking down at Seifer, who still had his arm flung over his face, panting quietly. Zell slowly stroked Seifer's belly and kissed his chin and cheeks. Seifer came down from the high of orgasm, and eventually did up his pants, Zell moulding to his side.

"Zell?" Seifer asked.


"I'm glad you stayed." And, Zell knew that Seifer meant more than just in this room with him right now.

"Me too," Zell whispered, cheek still against Seifer's heartbeat.

"Daeva, I hope you're happy with yourself."

He looked over at Aria, flashing her a charming grin. He was walking gingerly, both palms flat against his sore stomach. Aria had her arm looped through his. People stared at them because they made an ethereal, beautiful couple. Daeva was too pretty to be a man, too masculine to be anything else. And, everyone looked at Aria, thinking the Lady of the Golden Tongue was a Sorceress, the way her skin was pearlescent, the way her hair shimmered like gold, how her eyes swirled like an opal. "I'm always happy with myself, my love..." He murmured, speaking to her in the ancient tongue of the fey.

"Look at what you've done. I don't understand how you can be so bitter towards them."

"What, humans?" Daeva asked. "You should know as well as I what is suffered because of them."

"That was a different time, a different age."

"Humans never change Aria," Daeva hissed, eyes briefly swirling to a demonic yellow. "If I make them all suffer to the end, it won't make up for how they made me suffer."

"The fey made you suffer, too."

One of Daeva's arched eyebrows cocked. "Yeah, but they aren't around anymore, now are they?"

Aria shook her head sadly. "Daeva...."

"Oh, don't start. You'll sound like Etanin."

"And, that's a bad thing?"

Daeva didn't reply, but started to walk with more purpose. Aria was just sort of dragged along with him, wondering where he was leading them. They eventually came to a rather unsavoury area. Aria wasn't afraid, but the smells and sounds were an affront to the senses. "Why are we here?"

Daeva put a finger to his luscious lips, giving the other Summon in disguise a saucy wink. They were at the mouth of an alley that stunk of garbage and human waste. Daeva led them into the darkness of the place, Aria frowning and hesitating. She didn't really want to wind up stepping in whatever was making that awful smell. "Daeva, really... I'm not interested in your little games."

"Just a moment, love." He stopped in front of what looked like some sort of decomposing appliance box, and he knocked as if a gentleman would knock on a potential date's door. Aria saw some legs move from within the makeshift shelter as Daeva kneeled down. He didn't protest, but Aria knew him well enough to know that simple motion caused him some bodily distress.

"Is anyone home?" Daeva cooed, pushing back the flaps of the box, looking at the human within. Just the person he was looking for, naturally. To Seifer or Fujin, Raijin would have been a pitiful sight that was nearly unrecognizable. He was so skinny and dirty, face looking sallow. His eyes also looked haunted, desperate and feverish. Aria stood back, knowing that the Dark Messenger was up to no good. She frowned the entire time, but Siren knew her disapproval would mean nothing to him.

"Do you know who I am, Raijin?" Daeva asked, hands resting on his knees. "I have a little job for you." Daeva leaned in, and started whispering in Raijin's ear. At first, the formerly boisterous man seemed unresponsive, but that voice sent shivers through him. Raijin hadn't joined the mobs of Blackballers because something had told him not to, that same beautiful voice that used to sing to him with his wonderful drugs. He'd thought that the voice had abandoned him, but no... here it was. Raijin looked over, seeing those fathomless blue and black eyes, hearing that voice in his ear.

Vaxhar u'vrhallaxah dith-somarxha. Dor vizsh Kh'thurasha meil zhllarvahx. Doth vollarah ba'thar kulerah? Si venar ko ke'sharxha xhallarvehth surpa di xuybakr. Di vartha. Sillvath bycxahr.... Daeva then leaned in, paying no attention to the awful smell permeating from the unwashed vagrant that Raijin had become. He then stood up, and reached his hand out to Aria. "Come, my dear. How do you feel about the symphony tonight.... in Dollet?"

Aria slowly took Daeva's hand. "What did you say to that poor man?" She may have spoken the language of faeries, but wasn't completely fluent in Diablos's dark tongue. "Daeva?" She asked sharply when he didn't answer.

"I told him what he wanted to hear," Daeva answered cryptically. "Now, are you ready to go?"

Aria sighed heavily, but followed when Diablos dissipated into a cloud of vampire bats. She herself vanished from the sidewalk, a few glistening gold feathers the only sign she'd been there.

Raijin stared into the darkness where Daeva, his saviour, had been standing. What Daeva had said in a language that Raijin understood perfectly was 'To have my voice back, listen carefully. Your old friend the Fallen Knight is what's stopping me. Will you kill him for me? He will be at his shop, or in my former manor in Westphal. Destroy him. And, you'll hear me again...

Raijin rose to shaky feet, hearing Diablos's words over and over again in his head, like a soothing mantra. So, the Fallen Knight....? That meant Seifer. That fucking bastard. That fucking uppity bastard. He always thought he was so much better than everyone else, especially Raijin. Fujin, too. She was just as stuck up as Seifer. Well, Raijin swore to himself that very moment that Seifer wouldn't live a moment longer than necessary. He didn't deserve to live even a day longer for stealing the Dark Voice from Raijin. Without that beautiful voice, he was falling apart, reduced to sleeping in the streets while Ultimecia's whore was allowed to sleep in a fucking mansion.

"You won't live the night Seifer," Raijin hissed, stumbling out of the alley. "And, I'll get my Blackball back."

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