My Orphanage

Chapter Ten

By Scarlet Fever

Zell sat the tea-set down on the small table in the private compartment Seifer had holed himself in. Laguna hadn't wanted to be too conspicuous when he came to Timber, so rather than flying in an Esthar Airship, he'd come to Timber by train, and that's how they were all travelling back to the technological and futuristic masterpiece that was Esthar. Zell had gotten the tea from a cart, but had brought it in himself. He had the feeling that Seifer didn't want to even see an employee of the train, let alone anyone else. "Seifer?" Zell asked quietly. "I brought you some Shumi tea."

Seifer just kept staring out the window as the ocean whizzed by them on the Horizon Bridge.

"It will help relax you...." Zell offered, slowly taking one of Seifer's hands in his own, squeezing it.

"No thank you," Seifer finally answered. His voice was dull and dead, like it belonged coming from someone else. Someone like Squall, not like the always proud Seifer, who never let his emotions become a secret. Since Raijin's death, Seifer had barely spoken twenty words, not even to Zell. Fujin had stayed behind in Timber, but only if she promised Laguna to let some Esthar guards keep an eye on her. She hadn't said a single word to Seifer since that night, since witnessing Raijin's death by Seifer's hands. That must have taken a toll on Seifer, probably one as equal to Raijin's death itself. Seifer had never said it, but that accusation in Fujin's eyes had crushed him.

"Seifer...." Zell trailed off.

Seifer's eyes closed in pain, and he gave a look to Zell that was indescribable. It looked so much like he was in agony, and yet he looked angry at the same time. "I don't want your pity, Dincht."

"I'm not giving you my pity, Almasy." Zell's voice dropped to a mere whisper. "I'm giving you comfort, if you'll let me." He put his chin on Seifer's shoulder, giving him a slow and gentle kiss on the cheek.

Seifer sighed heavily as Zell's lips pressed to his skin. He couldn't stop the tear that trickled down his cheek, not when Zell's lips felt so comforting, so free of judgement against him. Only full of affection, affection that he didn't deserve. He tried to hold back the tears, taking in a very shaky breath. But, as it usually happens, when one tries to hold back tears, they just come out anyway. Seifer felt thin tracks of wetness course down his face, and when Zell's strong hands slid up onto his shoulders, they started shaking. Zell's arms wrapped tight around him, holding him close, and Seifer started to quietly cry. His fingers were still bound in bandages from where his nails had broken off clawing at the pavement as he was stabbed by his best friend. His side still ached dreadfully, but these injuries couldn't compared to the agony in his heart at what he'd done to Raijin, a man who had supported Seifer in his darkest hours. And, in Raijin's darkest hours, what had Seifer done? He'd so brutally murdered him, like he'd been nothing at all. Like he hadn't even been human.

"Shhhh," Zell cooed gently into Seifer's ear, stroking his back and shoulders. "Shhh, it's okay baby. It's okay."

"It is not okay!" Seifer exclaimed angrily, pulling away from Zell's comforting arms, even though most of him still wanted to have them wrapped around him. "You saw what I did, Zell! I murdered him...." Seifer stopped talking as he felt his voice become choked in his throat. "I murdered him...."

"You didn't murder him! Raijin was being controlled by Diablos! You would have died if you hadn't done something!"

"I still killed him, didn't I?" Seifer asked glumly, turning his dead green eyes to the sea below them once more. Zell thought that Seifer would fall into another morose silence, but he kept talking. "After Time Compression, things were in a bad way for me, but Raijin stood by me. Even though things were so shitty, he stood by me. And, when things got shitty for him, where was I?" Seifer made a very bitter noise. "I abandoned him, and then killed him."

"You did not!" Zell exclaimed angrily, the hand that was still holding Seifer's constricting. Seifer's brow furrowed in pain, and Zell loosened his grip. "You did not," Zell repeated more quietly. "You spent a lot of money to get Raijin into a treatment clinic. Twice. You let him rob you, and you still helped him. Most other people would have turned him away long before that."

"I should have done everything I could have!" Seifer grated out through clenched teeth. "He deserved that much."

"You did do everything," Zell pointed out earnestly.

"If I did, then why did I see that anger in Fujin's eye?"

"She was just shocked. She'll come around."

Seifer then remained silent, staring out the window. Zell sighed and wrapped his arms around Seifer again, holding him tightly. He rested his cheek against the nape of Seifer's neck, smelling the scent of his skin. It was more than just a physical scent, the smell of someone that you cared deeply for. Zell sighed when his heart constricted in his chest. He squeezed Seifer tighter, as tight as he possibly could. Seifer grunted, but he didn't ask Zell to release him. He liked that substantial, strong and almost choking feeling of being so thoroughly held. He pressed his forehead to the glass, reaching a hand up to rest it on Zell's forearm. They sat in that silent embrace as the train moved along the Horizon Bridge, Fisherman's Horizon starting to come into view. As they got closer to Esthar, Seifer's stomach started to churn, and Zell's arms around him were the only thing that was keeping him grounded. He'd rather jump into the ocean below than face that city, but he also would rather face Esthar than another day with Ultimecia's voice echoing in his mind.

Zell felt Seifer stiffen up, and held the other man even tighter, if that was humanly possible. He kissed the side of Seifer's neck, and his cheek. Then, their lips met in a gentle kiss. Zell felt Seifer melt just a little, and that in itself was the perfect reward. They embrace, lips pressing together gently in butterfly kisses, Zell's knuckles stroking over Seifer's cheekbone, and Seifer's fingers tracing the lines of Zell's back. They tried to forget everything else, and only concentrate on each other, on how it felt to be with each other like this. It was an impossible task, but they tried anyway. But, the wonderful embrace ended when they heard the swishing sound of the private compartment's door sliding open. Instinctively, they broke apart, and Zell felt immediate shame for it. After all, he didn't want to hide anymore. He wanted the entire world to know how happy he was to be with Seifer like this, and yet he was pulling away at the fucking first sign that they might be caught.

"Don't worry!" Selphie exclaimed quietly, holding up her hands as she and Irvine came into the compartment. "It's only us." Selphie's jade eyes softened as she looked at Seifer. He saw that look in her eyes, the pity and sympathy, and gave her a withering, angry look, turning his peridot gaze back out to the sea, and Fisherman's Horizon that was approaching on the left. She sat across from Seifer and Zell, Irvine beside her. "How are ya feelin'?" She asked carefully.

Seifer kept staring out the window. "You don't have to treat me like glass," he muttered, iron in his voice.

"I don't mean to...." Selphie trailed off. "I just....."

Seifer just waved a dismissive hand.

"We should be in Esthar in about an hour," Irvine said quietly. "Laguna will be putting us up in the Palace."

Seifer made a noise in the back of this throat. It was a noise vaguely like detest.

"Let's talk about something else," Selphie suggested firmly, jabbing Irvine in the side with her elbow. "Like the two of you." She looked at Seifer and Zell.

Irvine groaned, rolling his periwinkle eyes. "Fishing for details, are you?"

"We're definitely not going to talk about that," Zell said. Though, he couldn't help but look at Seifer out of the corner of his eye. And, he couldn't help that his cheeks felt warm and the corners of his lips turned up. Seifer had caught the smile in Zell's reflection in the window, and while he didn't smile himself, he did feel heat rise up into his cheeks. How would Seifer had felt, going to Esthar, if Zell weren't there with him? How would he have felt with all these emotions and fears running through him, if Zell weren't there beside him? He probably would have floundered, would have ran and gone into hiding again, too cowardly to stand against his ghosts alone. If Zell weren't here right beside him, Seifer would probably be moving along to another city, another life, leaving both Seifer Almasy and Raef Emaissyl far behind, becoming someone else, vainly hoping that this time, things would be better. But they wouldn't, and Seifer knew that. When he'd changed his name to Raef Emaissyl, he'd known that he was just running and not really solving the real problem. Like a coward. But, also like a coward, he hadn't cared. He'd wanted to escape, to bury his head in the sand. But, then.... what had the life of Seifer Almasy yielded him? He hadn't had anything to lose. Now.... He looked over to Zell, his heart feeling too big for his chest.

Zell and Selphie were talking about something. Seifer had been so lost in his head that he didn't know what they were discussing. From the sounds of it, they were talking about some nightspots in Esthar. Socializing and partying were the farthest thing from Seifer's mind. But, he also knew that even though Laguna was being kind enough to let them stay in the Presidential Palace, Seifer would try to stay away for as long as he could.

"Seifer...?" Zell asked gently, seeing that the other man looked quite distressed during a lull in his conversation with Selphie. Indeed, they were talking about clubs and restaurants and attractions in Esthar, things like malls, museums and antique markets. Zell hadn't been to Esthar in quite a while, and wanted to know some things to do from Selphie, who travelled away from Garden a lot more than he did. He wanted things that he and Seifer could do as a couple. Things they could do to distract Seifer's mind from Raijin's awful death and Odine's impending experiments. "Are you...." Zell stopped himself from asking if Seifer was okay. It was a stupid question, because Seifer was obviously not okay. "Don't worry. Adel's not in Esthar anymore."

Zell bit his lip at Seifer's reaction. He put his foot in his mouth again. Seifer's pale eyes flared angrily, and he started to get up out of his seat. Zell gripped his wrists, willing him to sit down. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "That was stupid of me to say."

Selphie cocked her head as Seifer eventually sat down, the anger receding a little from his face. "Zell does have a point though, Seifer. Esthar's not the same as Timber, or even Deling City or Dollet. Esthar, and all of its people, know a lot about magic and sorcery. They won't.... think badly of you. They'll understand, and they've probably forgiven what happened."

"Even if I haven't?" Seifer asked.

Selphie, Irvine and Zell were put into a state of silence. What could they say to that, after all?

"I guess I'm not very lively company," Seifer muttered, propping his chin on his fist, getting anxious as he saw the Great Salt Flats starting to pass them by. Zell wrapped his arms around Seifer's shoulder, whispering in his ear. "I shouldn't have mentioned Adel. I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Seifer whispered back. They didn't care that Selphie and Irvine were sitting right across from them. "I'll have to hear her name again. Hyne... I'm going into Esthar. I'll have to face it."

"Odine may be a creep, but I'm sure he'll figure out what to do," Irvine pointed out.

Selphie just pursed her lips, and Zell noticed. He folded his hands in his lap as Seifer continued to silently stare out the window, lost in his own mind. "What?" Zell mouthed to her, but Selphie seemed to purposely be avoiding his gaze. Zell lightly kicked her shin, making a face. "What?" He asked in a sharp enough tone that Irvine looked up from playing with his watch band, and Seifer looked away from the window.

Selphie stared at Zell for a long time, frowning. Her eyes darted to Seifer, which the taller man noticed. "Well...." Selphie trailed off. "About Odine...."

"What about him?" Irvine asked, also looking over to Seifer. But, Seifer's face was blank.

"Yeah, he may find a way to fix this whole mess, but.... Odine's not always ethical, especially not when it comes to very powerful Witches. He'll be working on Edea and Rinoa, and also the former Knight of Ultimecia. I don't trust him not to get... greedy."

"But, I'm not a Sorcerer," Seifer pointed out.

"You think that matters?" Selphie asked. "I'm sure you know all about how he did things for Adel when she reigned Esthar."

"I may have seen some of it through Ultimecia's eyes," Seifer pointed out haltingly.

"This is probably all very fascinating to him, and something that's fascinating to Odine can't be a good thing." She shook her head. "Remember what he did with Elle?"

"Selphie," Zell hissed. "You're not helping."

Seifer just shrugged. "What? She's telling the truth."

"Though, I don't think Edea will let him do anything to you," Selphie also ventured.

Zell frowned at her, and looked at Seifer out of the corner of his eye, looking for a reaction. But, Seifer's face was closed.

"Perhaps," was Seifer's cryptic answer. Seifer felt a shiver go down his spine when the shadow of the buildings of Esthar came into view. They were coming so close. So close, so fast.... Seifer could just wait until the train stopped, and then just get on the next train back to Timber. He knew that this was something he had to do, but that didn't make him all the less nervous. He'd spent the last ten years trying to forget things like Lunatic Pandora and the Lunar Cry, and the memories were all washing back instantaneously. He gripped the armrests tightly, so tightly that it was hurting his hands. But, Esthar was still coming up so fast. The shapes and shadows of the skyline started to turn into actual buildings, the sun shining off their glass surfaces in an almost blinding fashion, the magic that powered everything emitting a glow in a shade that was known as Esthar blue, specifically because it was such a unique colour. Seifer had to close his eyes when a pleasant female voice announced "Attention Passengers; we will be arriving at Selbina Station in approximately fifteen minutes. We hope you have enjoyed your journey."

Zell wanted to ask if Seifer was okay, but he was sure the other man was quite sick of hearing that question. Instead, they all remained silent until the train slowed to a stop at the station, right in the heart of Esthar. Seifer's heart leapt in his chest, and he could actually taste bile in his mouth. Hyne, how on earth was he going to be able to do this? He noticed that Selphie, Irvine and Zell were all looking at him with concern and curiosity. Probably wondering if he was going to have a major freak-out. That look in their eyes gave him the resolve to stand up. Whatever meagre belongings Seifer had packed would be delivered right to the Palace, so he only had to worry about that trip into the heart of Esthar. He straightened his back and left their compartment. That look in their eyes made him not want to be a prisoner of his own memories.

Seifer's resolve only grew when, in the hallway, he spotted Squall, standing there like a sentry. Probably waiting to see if Seifer would fail at this attempt to enter the city of the Sorceress. "Really, Squall..." Seifer drawled out, his voice not telling of the butterflies in his stomach. "I don't need an escort."

Squall just stared patiently at Seifer. Squall was indeed curious about Seifer's reaction to Esthar. Squall himself also had a lot of bad memories of this place, most of them centring around Seifer. But, not all of them... After all, Seifer had nothing to do with Laguna being absent from his life as a child. Esthar is where Laguna had dropped that bombshell. Actually, Squall knew that he and Seifer were in the same sort of situation there. Squall had ten years to soften the blow of knowing that your parent was alive and you'd grown up without them, but Seifer had just found out recently. And, coupled with what had happened with Raijin, Squall felt a little of his distrust and distaste for Seifer melting away. And, there was also Rinoa's prodding. She had the most reason to hate Ultimecia's former knight, and yet she felt sympathy for him. Pity, even. Though, Seifer would hate to hear that last one, Squall knew very well.

Seifer frowned at Squall, who just continued to look at him in that almost vapid way he had. It meant that he was in deep thought. Seifer and Squall may have always had a rivalry between them, but while they were students at Garden, Squall was the person that Seifer had known best. Because they had been so similar. Perhaps that's where so much of Seifer's anger towards the other man was bred from. "What are you thinking, Squall? You have that look on your face."

"Odine won't be able to start until morning," Squall stated. "So, you'll be stuck in the city until then."

Seifer just raised an eyebrow, knowing that definitely wasn't what the other man had been so lost in thought about. "Well, thanks for the head's up," Seifer said insincerely. He walked past Squall, wanting to get this agonizing trek through the city over with.

Squall then watched as Selphie and Irvine walked out of the compartment that Seifer had come from. They were pressed close together, talking lowly amongst themselves. Selphie looked up when she saw Squall and gave him a cheery smile, lightly punching him in the shoulder as they passed. Squall caught a snippet of their conversation, but it was only about what they were going to do for that evening. Zell came out last, looking troubled and thoughtful. Squall's brow creased with confusion as Zell just kind of smiled weakly at him, but kept walking. Squall looked over his shoulder as Zell jogged past Selphie and Irvine, catching up with Seifer. Zell didn't seem to say anything to the other man, but they walked side-by-side, as if it where wholly comfortable and natural. Squall just didn't understand. Zell had always hated Seifer, and what could they possibly have in common? Squall had always been the one in Garden that was most like Seifer, and Zell and he couldn't be more different. But, a voice in Squall's mind pointed out that this wasn't all true. He started walking, coming up out of Selbina Station to the familiar sight of Esthar. It was quite a majestic picture, but Squall was so used to it that the elegance and wonder was quite lost on him. Squall watched Seifer's back carefully, looking for his reaction to really being in Esthar again. Seifer's broad back was held very stiffly, but he still bravely walked, Zell beside him.

Squall shook his head, not bothering to wait for Rinoa. She would go to the Palace with Laguna and the others. He often took solitary walks in the city, so it was something she'd be used to. Besides Seifer, there were other things that were weighing heavily on Squall. One was what Diablos had said to him. I grieve for your future, little kitty. But, there was also another very human issue that Squall was thinking about. Lately, Rinoa had started talking about having children. He knew that she wanted them, but he was hesitant. He barely had time for his wife as it was, so could he have time for a son or daughter? And.... could he really be a father? Well, Squall was sure that the idea of being a grandfather would please Laguna greatly. But, he didn't know if he was ready to be a father, or even if he wanted to. He found himself walking around the commercial section of the city that housed a lot of shops that dealt with magic. Half the shops weren't very reputable. Some people found the area of Esthar known as Crimson Sector a little scary, but Squall never found it dangerous. It was called Crimson Sector because the Esthar blue wasn't blue, but rather a purplish red, due to the different spells that powered lights here. This was a place where one could buy almost anything related to magic, even things that were supposed to be outlawed. Things like the trading of Xiphias bone marrow. Xiphias were an endangered fish, and selling any bi-products of them was illegal. Though, magical people or those who dealt in potions like Alchemists, Runecasters and the like, hailed the bone marrow for its properties in black spell-casting.

There were also shops that had things like shrunken heads in their windows, or Behemoth skulls next to a whole human skeleton. Squall stopped at a bazaar table when he saw a necklace made of phoenix pinions. "Wards off evil spirits, it does..." the old woman behind the table cooed, seeing that Squall was looking at it. "Ah, sir!" She exclaimed to a man standing beside Squall, looking at a pointed quill that seemed like it was made of bone. "An excellent piece. Ancient priests used these as earrings. It helped them communicate with the spirits better, to hear the voices of the high priest who gave this bone." Squall wondered if that story was even true. He looked over at the man, seeing that he had his face oddly painted. His skin was dark brown, nearly black. He was wearing a necklace that also looked like it was made of bone, and he turned the quill over in his black palms. His face was painted as a skeleton, and he was shirtless and wearing some sort of skirt type thing. Squall didn't profess to know everything about the world, so assumed that this guy was a priest in some sort of cult or underground religion. After all, not all of the world followed the same teachings of Hyne.

When the man's eyes slid over to Squall, they were as black as night, and sent a shiver down Squall's spine. Those eyes stared at him for a while, never wavering off Squall's face as he pushed some gil into the old woman's palm for the bone earring. The man's fingernails were pure white, shining as if they were lacquered like that. His lips, which had black lines painted in the white to resemble skeleton teeth, turned up in a slight smile, and the man inclined his head in a brief nod to Squall. Befuddled, Squall nodded back, but felt shaken somehow. He walked away from the table, feeling the weight of that gaze still on him. Squall felt like he couldn't look away, and bumped into a withered old man who was coming out of an items store. Squall turned away from that glittering, dark gaze, and walked up the street, still feeling those eyes on him, like a knife between his shoulders.

Squall let out his breath, searching for the real reason he'd come to Crimson Sector. There was a bookshop here. Diablos's words plagued Squall, and he knew all the books at the Palace regarding Guardian Forces would have been slanted to Odine's research. Squall entered the store, called Charvarl Books, and started looking at the shelves. Nearly all the books were magic related, and he found a couple books. One about the art of Summoning, and another very thick volume about gods and goddesses through the ages. After all, since the GF would have existed for so many years, they very well could have been worshipped in ages past. The books cost a lot of money, but Squall didn't care. He was very wealthy, and he probably could have even gotten them for free if he'd mentioned he was the son of the President. But, that was one thing he never brought up. Squall definitely was not the boasting kind. The books were put in a cloth bag for him, and as he opened the shop to head back into the city, he saw that same strange man with his painted face standing across the way, those black eyes watching Squall.

This time, the man wasn't alone. He was standing beside a child with silver hair and eyes too blue to be real. Squall hadn't been at the party at Daeva's when Manannan had been there, so this child's face was unfamiliar to him. The weight of this child's eyes was heavier than the man with the painted face. Squall felt it like an anvil on his chest. The child then craned his head up, and whispered something in the dark man's ear, who nodded and kept staring at Squall, as if he was very interesting indeed. Squall started walking up towards 12 Sector, where he knew he could get a telepod to the Palace. For the first time, Squall actually felt afraid to be in Crimson Sector.

Laguna looked up from his desk when he heard the door opening. Kiros came gliding in. Gliding was the appropriate word, since every move he made was with complete fluidity and grace. Laguna hadn't been doing any work, but had been staring off into space. There were papers laid out in front of him, but he wasn't paying them any attention. Papers and Laguna Loire just didn't mix. Kiros just stared at him for a while with patient brown eyes, until Laguna grumbled and said "what are you staring at, man?!"

"Edea's outside, and she wants to see you."

Laguna scowled. "So? Why didn't you let her in?"

Kiros just raised his eyebrows, leaning forward. His small braids, bound with gold and bronze beads, slid down over his shoulder. "I know what you're doing, Laguna."

"I...I, uh... don't know what you're talking about...." He stammered.

Kiros rolled his eyes, one hand on the back of Laguna's chair, the other splayed on the desk. "She's a married woman, Laguna."

"How do you know we're doing anything?" Laguna asked. "We're just friends."

"I'm not stupid," Kiros replied smoothly. "I know you so well, Laguna. I can see it in your eyes. That same look you had with Raine. I would say Julia, but I don't think you really loved her like you loved Raine, like you're falling in love with Edea."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Laguna said again, his voice now calm and frosty. "I am not in love--"

"Your left eyebrow is twitching," Kiros pointed out casually. "You're lying." Kiros then rose to full height, walking towards the door. "I hope you know what you're doing," he muttered before leaving. Edea came in, passing Kiros and smiling weakly. From the way that Kiros currently looked at her, she had a feeling he knew about what was going on between her and Laguna. Or, at least had a pretty accurate idea.

"He knows, doesn't he?" She asked quietly as Laguna ran shaky hands through his grey and black hair.

"I didn't tell him," Laguna muttered. "He just....." He sighed. "I guess he could read it on my face. I find it hard to hide how I feel about you."

Edea folded her hands in front of her belly, pursing her darkly painted lips in determination. "Well you'll just have to, Laguna."

He stared at her with a measure of surprise. "Huh?"

"We can't do this anymore." Her voice was very sure and powerful, but inside she was shaking and melting. "I'm married, and I will stand by my husband. I will work with him to repair the damaged relationship with our son."

Laguna sighed heavily, holding his head in his hands. "I know, I know." They were silent for a long time, and Laguna finally looked up at her when he thought he could handle it without coming undone. "So, what about tomorrow?"

"You mean about Odine?" Edea asked wearily, knowing very well of Laguna's dislike for the odd little man. She herself had the same reservations about him, but would let Odine do anything to her if it meant ridding Seifer of this nightmarish ghost. She wanted to help him, at least it would help towards trying to make up how she's hurt him so. "I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous...."

Laguna stood up quickly, stalking around his desk to her position. "I won't let that freaky little troll do anything to you!" He exclaimed hotly. "I won't let him hurt Rinoa or Seifer, or especially you!" He seized Edea by her shoulders. "I won't let him hurt the woman I love!" Laguna spit this out before he could stop himself, and felt immediately foolish for doing so.

"Laguna," Edea said a little angrily. "I told you..."

"I don't care!" He exclaimed. "Touching you like this.... being with you. I can't give it up, Edea. I know you're married, but I love you. I'm the one that understands you."

"Don't!" Edea shouted at him, taking a step backwards. "Don't do this to me, Laguna!"

"But, you feel the same way I do."

"I can't think about that now....." She sighed heavily as Laguna gripped her shoulders again. Her shouts became mere whispers. "I... I have to think about... about Cid...."

"I know," Laguna replied desperately, his voice just as quiet as hers.

"You don't love me, Laguna." Edea shook her head. Her voice sounded unsure, more like she was trying to convince herself rather than him. "It's just infatuation." She looked at a spot somewhere beyond his shoulder rather than his eyes when she said this.

Laguna roughly cupped the sides of her face, forcing her to face him. "Tell me that when you're looking in my eyes, Edea."

She shoved him away. "Stop it!" She exclaimed, some of her power starting to leak into the air. "We can't do this!"

Laguna frowned angrily, staring at her stiffly-held back. "Do you really think I want it to be like this, Edea? I don't want to break up your marriage!"

"And, yet...." She turned around to face him. "It's happening because we're both too weak to prevent it."

Laguna felt his eyes brimming with tears. He knew what he and Edea were doing was so very wrong, and yet he didn't want it to end, and he knew that Edea didn't, either. "Maybe it's weak, but do you really want to walk out of this office, and go back to just being friends?"

"We could never go back to the way things were."

"Well, then do you really want to walk out of this office, and never see each other again?"

"I..... I have to think about Seifer....."

"I'm not asking you not to."

"You're asking me to continue being unfaithful to my husband, though."

Laguna sighed heavily, rubbing his forehead wearily. "No, I'm not asking that, Edea. I'm asking you to figure out what your heart wants."

"The heart isn't always right, Laguna. You know that." She turned around to face him, and it was a mistake. When she'd had her back to him, she'd been able to be cold and thoughtful about the situation. But, when looking at his kind eyes and handsome face, that resolve she'd been building crumbled. How could things feel so right, but be so horribly wrong? She sighed heavily, her eyes brimming with tears the same as Laguna's were. There had been some space between them, and Edea covered it in three quick strides, her and Laguna collapsing into each other's arms. His strong arms, the ones that quickened the beat of her heart, that crushed her with guilt. The way his hands moved over her body as their lips found each other was like a drug, like her own version of Blackball. She and Laguna slumped against his desk, even though both knew it was wrong. And, yet they didn't want to stop. Maybe they couldn't stop.

Once off the train at Selbina Station, Seifer had started to walk towards the Palace, but just being in the city made his skin crawl with black memories. Instead, he walked the length of the train from the outside, to where they were unloading luggage. He stopped there, asking them for the hefty black case that carried not only Hyperion, but his other weapons, too.

"Seifer?" Zell asked, a little confused. "They'll take the luggage up to the Palace."

"I'm not going to the Palace," Seifer muttered, his eyes steely behind his glasses as he opened the case. The employees stepped back when Seifer started pulling out a small arsenal of weapons.

"Sir!" One of them exclaimed, eyeing Seifer warily. "You cannot carry weapons within the city of Esthar without a permit."

Seifer reached into his pocket with one hand as he strapped a machete to his inner forearm. He pulled out his Alchemist's certificate, which looked similar to a military ID or SeeD card, and handed it to them.

"Seifer, what are you doing?" Zell asked, hands on his hips and he looked down with a little wonder at how many weapons Seifer had managed to pack into that case. Most of them were edged weapons. He only had one firearm. A black metal handgun.

"You were there when I did inventory, Zell. There are a lot of monsters around here that I can get items out of."

The train employee handed Seifer back his card. "Very well then. We'll take the rest of your things up to the Palace."

"You're not going by yourself, are you?" Zell asked, but it was phrased more like a statement.

"I always go by myself," he answered as he finished strapping weapons to himself. Hyperion was on his back, and he had knives sheathed at his hips, as well as strapped to his forearms and throwing darts strapped to his thigh. He put the black pistol in the holster under his left arm. He started walking up the highroad towards the entrance to the city, where he knew he could rent a car. Seifer hadn't been in the city for years, but still knew his way around. Esthar's highroads and clean glass buildings would be forever engrained into his memory.

Zell jogged alongside Seifer's quick and long strides. "Can I come, too?"

"Wanna keep an eye on me?" Seifer asked blankly. He was both flattered and annoyed. Flattered that Zell wanted to come with him, to be with him. Annoyed because he didn't need a babysitter. The monsters around Esthar may have been dangerous, but Seifer faced dangerous monsters all the time.

"You really think you should leave the city?" Selphie called before Seifer and Zell got out of earshot. Both knew she was referring to Diablos.

"I have Tiamat!" Seifer called, not looking over his shoulder. He came to the car rental center, Zell still beside him.

"No," Zell muttered. "Can I come?" He asked again.


"Because I want to fight monsters with you," was Zell's simple answer. "I... miss that, you know? Fighting monsters."

Seifer regarded the other man for a few silent moments. "Fine. I would hope a SeeD Captain would be able to hold his own." Seifer turned to the desk clerk, looking down at the touch screen which showed the various car models. He chose a rugged truck, one that could carry back items and large pieces of monster carcasses. It was rolled out as Seifer paid, and he got behind the wheel, Zell quickly behind him. Seifer immediately felt better as they sped away from the city, heading into the barren wasteland of the Great Plains of Esthar. Seifer knew to find Behemoths, Iron Giants and Malboros, he would have to head down towards Tears Point, another place that brought back some bad memories. He stopped the truck a few miles from Tears Point, getting out. He sat on the hood of the truck, just staring across the plains to the shadowy form of the Point.

Zell also got out, sitting beside Seifer on the truck's hood. Though, he did it less gracefully than Seifer, since the truck was high, and Zell was much shorter than the other man. He draped his arm across Seifer's shoulder, pulling him close to his own body. He kissed Seifer's temple, looking out to Tears Point as well. They remained silent for a while, Zell knowing that this was hard for Seifer. "What now?" He eventually asked, mouth still pressed to Seifer's skin.

"Just wait. The monsters would have been scared off by the engine. We'll just wait for them to start moving out again." Seifer sat in silence for a while, watching the sun play on the parched plains. "Whenever you see a Torama, head straight for it. They're an item goldmine."

Zell just nodded, hoping he did run into a million Toramas, and not very many Behemoths. Though he was certain of Seifer's battle capabilities, as well as his own, Behemoths weren't something to mess around with.

"There." Seifer pointed across the dusty landscape to where there was a shadowy form moving as if liquid. Zell's heart plummeted a little. He would have rather a Behemoth instead of the Malboro that Seifer had just pointed out. Seifer must have noticed the expression on Zell's face, because he bumped his shoulder against Zell's and laughed quietly in the back of his throat. Zell immediately looked up at the noise, because he hadn't heard Seifer laugh in a couple of days. "You don't have to look so scared, Chicken-Wuss."

Zell made an angry noise and vaulted off the hood of the car. "Scared? Of a Malboro? Pffft."

"When was the last time you actually fought a Malboro, Zell?" Seifer also vaulted himself off the hood of the car, pulling Hyperion off his back.

"Err...." It was a bad sign that Zell had to think about it.

Seifer just raised a pale eyebrow. "Exactly. Now, it's not like it's gonna run from us. The bastard's probably already seen us. Just try to stay at its back so you can't get hit by Bad Breath, and we should be okay."

"Should be?" Zell asked, apprehension starting to rise in him. "You don't sound very confident."

"Just come on." Seifer started running towards the Malboro, Zell calling after him before breaking into a run himself. As they got closer, Zell was a little alarmed by the size of the Malboro. Indeed, it had been a while since he'd even seen one, let alone fought one. The creature's tentacles swished angrily as the long blade of Hyperion stabbed through its back, beneath its large head.

"Get behind it!" Seifer barked at Zell as the Malboro turned around and concentrated on him. Seifer would use himself as the bait so Zell could attack from behind. After all, he was used to Malboro poisoning. All Alchemists were. It came with the territory. The monster hissed angrily, baring its many sharp teeth as Zell got it with some forceful attacks. The Malboros tentacles were flailing wildly in its anger as it cast its infamous attack. Seifer had many protections against status effects, but the Bad Breath still stung his eyes painfully, blinding him with the pain and making hot tears work out of his eyes. He unsheathed the knife strapped to his left forearm and threw it right at the monster. True, he couldn't see well, but it's hard to miss a large monster standing right in front of you. The knife went straight into the Malboro's large mouth, getting the back of its throat. The blow wasn't nearly enough to kill a monster of this size and power, but it was enough to stun the creature for a few moments.

"Seifer, drop back!" Zell called. He couldn't see Seifer around the Malboro's bulk, and he didn't want to hit the other man with the spell he was charging. Zell still had Ifrit junctioned to him, which was something he was glad of, but something he was also wary of. After all, they were learning new and frightening things about Guardian Forces every day, so who was to say that Ifrit wasn't also as evil as Diablos. But, the fire Summon had yet to fail Zell. Magic was something that Zell had worked on in the last ten years. Magic related studies had always been his weakest classes at Garden, and there were times that pure brute force didn't help you, and he hated being stuck, relying on others, in those types of situations. He would never be as strong with magic as someone like Selphie or Quistis, but he was greatly improved.

Seifer ran back about fifteen meters as Zell cast Ultima. The Malboro screamed in its awful voice as the powerful spell hit it, and Seifer ran back forward, Hyperion out. The spell was still being cast, but he ran into it anyway, feeling the tingle of the black magic on his skin like he'd walked into a cloud of hungry insects. He pushed against this feeling, against the wall of magic, and sliced at the large monster, stabbing into and around its massive, stretched mouth. Fire magic was one of Seifer's strong points, so he let out a trio of very strong Firaga spells on the heels of a second Ultima spell from Zell. Hyperion's sharp blade dug into muscle and bone, right up through the roof of the Malboro's mouth and into its brain. It shrieked, and Seifer and Zell were both knocked backwards by thickly muscled tentacles that were writhing as the Malboro screamed in pain. It let out a wave of Bad Breath again, and Seifer felt dizzy as he got a large cloud of it right in the face. One of the tentacles slapped him back a good ten meters, Hyperion flying from his hands. This was quite the nasty Malboro. Seifer's eyes were streaming with tears from the Bad Breath, but he saw Zell still attacking the creature.

"Zell!" Seifer called, pulling out his pistol. He threw it as hard as he could towards the other man, the motion making him have to kneel and vomit with the familiar nausea of Malboro poisoning. Seifer had customized the bullets for his gun. Each were infused with magic stones bespelled with different elements through crystals and elemental items. He heard the loud sound of the gun being shot over the Malboro's screams, and then the loud thud of the monster falling over.

Seifer felt his tear-streaked cheeks behind wiped by gentle hands. The stinging in his eyes vanished with the pass of Zell's fingers, who had cast Esuna on him. "Are you sure we should be going after Malboros?" Zell asked, watching with concern as Seifer rose to his feet. But, the other man seemed fine. "That was too close."

"I've had worse," Seifer muttered as Zell handed the gun back. "Thanks." He was saying thanks for more than Zell just giving his gun back. "You okay?"

"Fine." A bemused smile passed over Zell's mouth, and he reached up to squeeze Seifer's upper arm with affection. "I think it ate your knife, though."

Seifer shrugged, walking over to the carcass. "I'll get it out." He took Hyperion, and started hacking at the tentacles, cutting them away from the body. Seifer handed Zell one of his many knives. "Don't just stand there."

Zell started to help Seifer cut away the tentacles, an appalling smell coming from the dead monster. By the time they were done, there was a large pile of Malboro tentacles beside the ravaged corpse. But, Zell saw that Seifer wasn't done. He started cutting into bone and meat, pulling out things that Zell wasn't sure of, also coming away with his knife from deep within the Malboro's gullet. Seifer was covered in greenish blood by the time he was done, out of breath but looking satisfied. "Okay, a few more Malboros should take care of tentacles. Help me carry these."

"A few more?" Zell asked, sighing as he lifted a bunch of tentacles, some of which were still twitching, to Zell's disgust.

"Yes, a few more." Seifer dumped the tentacles in the back of the sturdy truck. Now Zell knew why he didn't drive a sporty little Tempest, like Squall had. "This is an all day task, Dincht. If you want, you can head back to the city."

"I'll stay." The idea of fighting more Malboros didn't fill Zell with joy, but being with Seifer did. And, he also knew that if he went back, he'd do nothing but pace in the Palace, worrying about how Seifer was doing anyway.

Luckily, they didn't find another Malboro for a few hours, which gave Zell time to get back into monster-fighting shape by absolutely kicking the asses of Toramas, Imps and Mesmerizes galore, as well as even a couple small Behemoths. Zell was also learning things, because Seifer would explain some of the things he was taking from monster carcasses. Apparently, Mesmerize blood was what made a Phoenix Down liquid. Seifer also said that it was supposed to be an aphrodisiac.

"Really?" Zell asked with an interested, sultry tone.

"Don't get your hopes up. It's as much an aphrodisiac as oysters or oregano." Seifer looked at Zell for a while. "At least I'm not boring you."

"Not at all," Zell assured as they surveyed the plains around them again. "It's all very interesting."

"Yeah, you always liked absorbing knowledge," Seifer said quietly. "Always hanging around the library, reading ferociously."

"You noticed that?"

"I did." Seifer looked around them, seeing that it was starting to get dusky. More monsters would come out with the setting of the sun. "A lot of the school thought you were rather unintelligent."

Zell just shrugged, but that was a fact. Something that angered him, actually. "Maybe."

"I think you wanted them to think that," Seifer mused, wiping some monster blood off one of his knives. "It gave you a measure of privacy."

"Everyone thought I was in the library all the time because of Duranda. The library girl," Zell pointed out, not sure if Seifer knew who he was talking about. He actually hadn't thought of her in years. She'd never really loved him, and he definitely hadn't loved her. She had thought it was love, but it was really just a crush. It hadn't ended very well.

"I know who she is," Seifer said. "I also think you let people think you were there to see her on purpose."

"I didn't realize you noticed so much about me."

"I may have been an asshole, but I wasn't blind."

Zell was suddenly struck by how deeply personal this conversation actually was. Seifer had really noticed all those things about him, things nobody else had noticed, not even Zell's closest friends. He wrapped one arm around Seifer's waist, turning himself against Seifer's body so that their chests were pressed together. Zell rested his cheek against Seifer's shoulder, sighing. He felt Seifer's hand rest at the small of his back, but still felt Seifer's neck move with the turns of his head, his eyes still smartly watching out for monsters.

"There," Seifer whispered. Zell pulled away, albeit reluctantly. "Behemoth." He pointed, looking down into Zell's eyes. "Ready?"

"You know it," Zell said with a smirk, left hand punching his right palm.

They were both on a fighting roll by now, so the Behemoth went down rather easily, even though it was still a challenging creature to fight.

"I've missed this," Zell said as he caught his breath, wiping some blood off the tattooed side of his face.

"Missed what?" Seifer asked, the sickening crack of bones breaking filling the now night air. Zell flinched a little. He also started to feel a little queasy at the sound of Seifer ripping muscles off the bones of the carcass.

"Fighting monsters," Zell answered carefully, making a face as a small geyser of blood came out from the Behemoth.

Seifer couldn't help but laugh as he snapped the heavy skull off the spine. Behemoth skulls were one of those things that rich weirdoes buy to decorate their walls, and paid through the nose for them. Seifer could pay three month's rent on the shop for the cost of one. And, the Crimson Sector in Esthar was always in the market for them, too. "I never knew you were so... delicate, Dincht."

"What are you talking about?" Zell asked defensively, making a point not to stare at Seifer ripping the muscles away from the skeleton.

"Am I grossing you out, Zell?" He cocked his head and laughed again, finally satisfied that he'd collected all he could.

"It's nice to hear you laugh," Zell said quietly.

Seifer sighed heavily, thinking of all the things that had prevented him from smiling or laughing in the past day or two.

"Shit," Zell cursed, going over to Seifer, not caring that he was covered in dried and wet monster blood. "I'm sorry, babe. I always say the wrong fucking things." He put his hands on Seifer's shoulders, looking at him with concern.

"Don't worry about it," Seifer said with a strained voice. "I just wish you all wouldn't look at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like I'm going to fall apart," Seifer muttered. He hated them looking at him like this, because he felt it. Seifer knew he was teetering on the brink of a breakdown, and Zell and the others looking at him as if it was going to happen any moment didn't help his frame of mind. "Like I'm weak and frail, and in need of pity and charity."

"I don't think any of those things," Zell pointed out as Seifer finished loading up the truck. Seifer got in, sitting behind the wheel. Zell also got in, but stopped Seifer from starting up the engine. "You know I don't. I don't think I know anyone who is less weak and frail than you are. Look at all you've had to survive through. All of these so-called strong people would break after a day of that kind of suffering, let alone a decade of it. And, I don't pity you, or think you're a charity case. I'm worried about you because I care about you!"

Seifer stared at Zell for a few moments, taken aback by the violence of his declaration. It meant the world to him, that Zell felt so strongly. It made him feel full in such empty times. Seifer quickly leaned across the seats, capturing Zell into a strong kiss. Zell quickly pulled Seifer into a tight embrace, arms like a vice around Seifer's waist. They were at the point of their very new relationship when every time they touched, it was like an explosion of sexual desire. Though the front of the truck was rather cramped, they still tangled together, Zell sliding like liquid into Seifer's lap. Seifer's back was pressed firmly to the driver's side door as Zell's hands started to tug at his shirt, as their tongues filled each other's mouths. Zell groaned when Seifer's hand found his genitals, and squeezed them through Zell's pants. As their mouths smashed against each other with the force of their desire, Seifer's fingers traced the shape of Zell's testicles, and the growing hardness of his penis. He became rather fascinated with feeling every nuance of Zell's hardening erection with his fingers, even though he'd felt such a thing before.

Zell was groaning into Seifer's mouth, Seifer's fingers teasing him beyond what Zell could handle. He felt himself being pushed backwards, and wound up on his back, Seifer between his legs. Zell's shirt was pulled open, and Seifer started moving his mouth down Zell's body, kissing and licking down the exposed line of his chest. When Zell's pants were opened, and Seifer's breath and tongue started to play on the sensitive head, Zell's hands crawled down the passenger side window that was now behind his head, and dug into the seat. Seifer's tongue just briefly touched him, and Zell shuddered with desire. When the tip of Seifer's tongue touched him again, probing his urethra, Zell let out a low groan, almost a whimper. Seifer's hand started jerking Zell off, his other hand massaging Zell's testicles. Zell's eyes were rolling into the back of his head, and he was whimpering, lost in lust. There were times when Zell felt horny, but could go all night, and there were other times where he felt like even the smallest touch would make him have an orgasm that could very well kill him. This felt like the latter. Seifer's hands on him, and the teasing of his tongue, were a pleasure overload. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if Seifer's tongue wasn't teasing him so mercilessly. Seifer's tongue touched the tip of his erection, slid down the shaft, traced the veins, but didn't stay on Zell for long. Zell groaned and tried to force his hips up towards Seifer's mouth, but he was being rendered completely helpless by Seifer's hands stroking him. He could only really lay back under Seifer's mercy.

When Seifer's mouth finally surrounded his penis, Zell moaned loud enough that he was sure all the monsters in the plains could have heard him. Seifer pulled away, looking up at Zell and laughing quietly to himself. "Nice to know you're enjoying yourself." He slowly started kissing Zell's testicles and the shaft of his penis, knowing he was being a complete tease. Zell started cursing him out, and it just made Seifer laugh again. Zell gasped when Seifer's mouth surrounded him again, gasped like someone who had been drowning and finally tasted oxygen again. He gasped and moaned, repeated Seifer's name over and over again, moaned his lover's name until Seifer's hands and mouth brought and orgasm from his body. Zell groaned and panted, the orgasm so strong that it was painful. He was almost to the point of sobbing and begging Seifer to stop because his penis was just so sensitive. He was still panting and moaning quietly even when Seifer pulled away and sat up. He ran his hands up Zell's chest, who slowly pulled himself to a sitting position, eyes still glazed. Zell's glassy eyes slid shut when Seifer's arms wrapped around him in the most gentle hug he'd ever been part of. He held Seifer back, his whole body still shivering from his orgasm, Zell not wanting this embrace to ever end. Zell stroked his hands through Seifer's hair as they held each other, and he felt Seifer's shoulders shaking a little. "It's okay...." Zell mused, his voice not really working yet, holding Seifer tighter. He wasn't sure what exactly had upset Seifer, but there were so many things crashing down around him that it was more than understandable.

Seifer pulled away, straightening his clothing. Zell started to do the same, seeing that while Seifer hadn't started crying, his eyes did look a little bloodshot. "I'm fine," he said, but his voice sounded a little choked. "It's just... this place, that's all."

"It's just a city, Seifer."

Seifer put his hands on the steering wheel, gripping it tightly. "I know that," he lied.

"You're not the same person you were, Seifer." Zell slid across the seats, covering Seifer's hands with his own. "You have every reason in the world not to see Esthar again, baby. But... I know that you're stronger than a memory. You're stronger than Ultimecia. You're strong enough not to let a city beat you."

"Am I?" Seifer asked bitterly. "I sure don't fucking feel like it."

"It's not like you're alone, either." Zell squeezed Seifer's hands for emphasis. "And, Selphie and Irvine are there for you, too."

"What about Fujin?" was Seifer's bitter question.

"She loves you. She's just... shocked. You also have Headmaster Cid and Matron."

Seifer made an angry noise in the back of his throat.

"I know you're mad at them, but they're on your side, if you'll let them."

The brunette sighed heavily, pitching forward so his forehead was resting on his knuckles. "I know, but.... it hurts, Zell. They lied to me for 28 years. It fucking hurts."

"I know," Zell whispered into Seifer's ear, kissing the side of his face a few times. "But, they're still your parents."

Seifer didn't respond to that.

"They're not asking you to love them overnight, but maybe just understand a little, and accept."

"In theory, that would be an easy task if every time I looked at Edea, I didn't see Ultimecia."

"Matron isn't Ultimecia!" Zell exclaimed quietly on her behalf. "She suffered too. She asked about you all the time in the past 10 years whenever she came to Garden. She asked if we'd heard about you, wondering if you were okay, or even still alive. We all thought it was just guilt on her part, about what happened with Ultimecia. But, she was really worried about you because she really loves you."

Seifer gripped the steering wheel tighter, the sexual high shared with Zell vanishing, leaving him with a vaguely empty feeling. He could feel Zell watching him with a steady, serious gaze. Not the sort of gaze that Zell would have given him ten years ago. It was a very adult gaze, and not in the sexual sense. It was mature and serious, looking at Seifer with compassion, and also something else. The knowledge that Seifer had to take a huge step, one that Seifer knew he had to take, but was too afraid to. Because, Ultimecia was already seeping back into his life. If he opened himself up to Edea again......

"I know what you're thinking," Zell murmured quietly, pressed up tightly against Seifer's side. "But, you could even just tell her how you feel, how angry you are at her. It would at least open dialog, start to heal the wounds."

"Zell...." Seifer trailed off, shaking his head.

"I'm serious."

"I know you are. And, I know you're right, and I hate it."

Zell stayed silent, but just watched Seifer, watched his classic and handsome profile, watched the conflict on his face.

"I need to get this stuff back to the city," Seifer finally muttered, still not knowing what to do about Edea.

Zell didn't press the issue any as they drove across the plains, which looked rather ominous at night. He didn't want to start a fight with Seifer about Matron, especially right after a sexual experience. They drove into the city without a word, though it was a comfortable silence. They drove right to the Palace, and Seifer got into a brief conversation with one the guards. Zell caught the drift that Seifer was requesting a work area. The guard handed Seifer a key, and they then drove the truck down the underground walkways that were used for deliveries of food an other such things to the Palace.

"That was easy," Zell murmured as they parked outside a door of some kind. Zell had never been in this part of the Palace. It was a lot dingier, darker, than the rest of the grand building.

"I asked ahead of time.... when I knew I was coming back here." Seifer sighed as he unlocked the door to a room that looked like it was made especially for this sort of thing. There were tables and shelves and various empty bottles around. "I guess I should thank Laguna in person..." Seifer sighed. "Will you help me unload?"

Zell nodded and they started the business of lugging around heavy tentacles and bones and other things ravaged from monster corpses. After they were done, Seifer surveyed everything. "Might as well thank him now. I need a shower anyway."

Zell raised an interested eyebrow, trying to keep Seifer amused, keep his mind off the many awful thoughts that Zell was certain were plaguing the other man. They took a telepod to the upper portions of the Palace, Zell stroking Seifer's back and kissing the backs of his hands as they rode higher, to the top levels where Laguna's offices and their rooms were. A few guards stared at them a little, since Seifer was rather coated in monster blood. Seifer stopped before one guard, and asked "do you know if President Loire is in his office?"

"Yes, he's in there with Sorceress Edea."

"Oh......" Seifer sucked his breath in. "Thank you."

"Well?" Zell asked with concern.

"No time like the present, I guess....." Seifer trailed off, smiling weakly at Zell as they walked up the hallway to Laguna's office.

"Zell!" A voice called. Both turned around to see Squall walking up the hall towards them. Walking, not jogging. Squall never jogged to catch up to someone. "Here you are...." Squall's large blue eyes immediately went to Seifer, and all the dried blood on him.

"Monster hunting," Seifer simply explained.

Squall just nodded, giving Seifer a wary eye, which Seifer did in turn. It was a very uncomfortable exchange, their wary gazes turning into glares.

"So, uh... did you want something?" Zell asked.

Squall stared at Seifer for a few minutes longer, then turned to Zell. "Yes. I was told you were up here."


"We have to go over your mission briefing."

"Oh. Well, we were just going to see Laguna for a second. Is that okay?"

Squall nodded. "Fine. I need to get him anyway for the meeting."

Zell looked over at Seifer, who was looking immediately distant. "Are you sure you're okay about this....?"

Squall's ears perked up, wondering what Zell was referring to with such concern in his voice.

"I have to face her sometime," Seifer answered, his voice clipped. Squall nodded to himself, knowing that Seifer was talking about Matron. She must be in Laguna's office, too.

The guards outside Laguna's door saw Squall's face, and immediately stepped aside. They gave Seifer curious looks, but still let him pass.

"President Loire?" Seifer called as the office doors slid open. "I just wanted to thank you for... uh....." Seifer was rendered silent by the scene they happened upon. Zell's brow furrowed and his jaw dropped, and if he hadn't been so shocked himself, he would have seen a look of equal surprise on Squall's face. Seifer's was the most stony of the three, showing no emotion either way at the sight of Laguna and Edea tangled together, both very naked. They were sprawled on Laguna's desk, Edea's black hair fanned out all around her. Laguna's hair was equally loose, spilling around his naked shoulders, his equally naked body wrapped in Edea's pale limbs. Edea's eyes rolled back and stared at Seifer. "Seifer.....!" She exclaimed.

There was absolute silence in the room, save the sounds of Laguna and Edea's heavy breathing. Then, that silence was shattered by the sounds of them trying to disentangle from each other, things falling off the desk and clattering to the floor. One thing that fell was a framed photograph. It skipped like a stone across the floor, landing near Seifer's feet, the glass within the frame cracking. Seifer slowly picked up the picture as Laguna and Edea hastily tried to cover up their nudity. Zell was sure he should look away out of decency, but he was just too shocked to will himself to move. Squall was the same. His brow creased with almost innocent confusion.

The photograph was of a woman in what appeared to be a flower shop. She was smiling over her shoulder at the camera, and Seifer assumed this was Squall's mother, for they shared the same face. He kept staring at the woman that was Raine Leonhart-Loire, a dull headache starting to pound behind his eyes. He couldn't look up at them... he couldn't. Seifer looked over at Squall, whose face was a ghostly mirror of the woman in the picture. Squall felt Seifer's gaze, and looked back. Seifer slowly handed Squall the picture, who took it and stared down at his mother's face. Seifer finally turned his gaze back to Laguna and Edea.

"Seifer, I....." She trailed off, looking at Laguna. She'd put on his discarded shirt, keeping it closed with her hands around her bosom.

"Does Cid know?" Seifer asked blankly. Zell finally found motion, and looked over at Seifer. His face was blank, and his voice held no emotion. Though, Zell did notice that a muscle at the right corner of Seifer's mouth was twitching. Squall actually looked far more emotional out of the two. There was something very innocent in Squall when it came to relationships, and when Seifer mentioned Headmaster Cid's name, it really hit Squall. Laguna was having sex with not only his Matron, but a married woman.

"No....." Edea trailed off, ashamed. "Oh, sweetie.... I'm so sorry."

"It's not me that you have to apologize to," Seifer said, his voice still very calm. Squall carefully put the photograph of Raine with its cracked frame back on the desk as Seifer turned on his heel and left the office. "Oh," he called over his shoulder, though he didn't look at them. "Thank you for letting me use that workspace, President Loire."

Laguna closed his eyes and put his hand to his mouth, utterly ashamed of himself. "Squall, I....."

Squall just shook his head. Zell had never actually seen Squall like this, so unsure and rather child-like. Indeed, Squall was just shaking his head like a little kid who didn't understand, or didn't want to understand. He also quickly left, following Seifer out. Zell looked back at the two of them, his shock starting to turn to anger. She was a married woman, and Cid was a good man. He didn't deserve this. Zell also left, not wanting to look at the two of them anymore.

"Seifer!" Zell called, trying to catch up to his long strides.

"We still need to get to that meeting," Squall said with great difficulty. He and Seifer had fallen into stride beside each other, neither saying anything or looking at each other. Squall was certain he'd never be able to rid himself of the memory of seeing Laguna and Edea tangled together sexually.

"Right," Zell whispered. "But, what about Lagun--"

"Never mind him," Squall snapped showing real anger.

"Seifer, are you.....?"

"Do you think less of him now?" Seifer asked of Squall, staring straight ahead into the empty hallway. "Your father, I mean?"

Squall didn't answer, but the slight pursing of his pretty lips was the only answer needed. Zell put his hand on Seifer's shoulder, not knowing what to say. He felt betrayed by Edea, by his beloved Matron for not honouring her wedding vows, but how must Seifer and Squall have felt?

"I not only just found out that Edea is my mother, but I just found out that she's also a slut." Seifer shrugged off Zell's hand. "I need to wash this blood off."

"Seifer...." Zell called quietly, hating the pain in the other man's voice. He started to go after him, but Squall's hand on his elbow stopped him.

"The briefing...."

Zell nodded. "Right." He walked towards the telepod with Squall, both of them very silent. Squall thought of his mother's eyes in that photograph, and how disappointed she would have been with Laguna at that moment.

Daeva examined his fingernails, bored out of his mind. They were at a Summons' Court meeting, which took place in a grand hall that was the replica of one from Bahamut's human castle. But, it was not full of Guardian Forces, Summons, Aeons, Avatars, Espers or what have you. It was full of human forms, and even a couple of non-human ones. Because a Court meeting was neutral ground, they were each in their original forms, their powers held at bay by powerful shields that the Dragon King, now in regal human form, had erected. Daeva would occasionally look up from his nails to see Alexander glaring at him. He would smile and wave, and just go back to either admiring his nails or playing with the ends of his silky hair. Daeva didn't bother trying to catch Etanin's eyes, for the King wouldn't play his little games when there were issues at hand. Like the issue of Tiamat being missing from the meeting, how she'd turned her back on their kind in favour of helping humans. But, also the issue of them dabbling in the human world. Etanin's black eyes had sought out Daeva and Alexander with each word, the heaviness of his gaze making even Daeva have to look away.

As the meeting adjourned, Bahamut having gotten his point across, the other Summons started to talk amongst themselves. The greatest topics of discussion were, of course, Daeva and his Blackballers in Timber. But, there was also something else that was piquing their interests. The current master of most of the powerful beings in the room: Squall Leonhart. Doomtrain, with his dark, dark skin and face painted like a skull was telling the twins about seeing him in Esthar. The twins were the human form of Brother. They were identical to each freckle that was splashed across their pale cheeks, each highlight in their blonde hair, and each thread in their ram's hide clothing, hand tanned and sewed. It was a human expression to say 'joined at the hip', and it would have fit with Brothers. For in human life, they had been conjoined twins, and still were, joined at the hip so to speak. With their powers, they could have separated their bodies so they could each be one, but for some reason never did. None of the other Summons knew why, and none of them questioned.

Daeva perked up a pointed ear to listen to Kwar Mbarba's tale of what he felt from Squall Leonhart, but slunk towards where Parminder was standing, staring off into space, thinking.

"You seem lost, love." Daeva gave her his most charming smile, which would have melted any woman, and even most men, right in their shoes. But, Parminder wasn't most women, and Daeva's flirty charms were lost on her.

"You don't seem too concerned that Bahamut basically told you publicly in court to watch your step."

Daeva just waved a hand. "When do court matters ever bother me, dear?" He strolled around her, at her back. He saw that she was staring at the seat that Odin would have held during the meeting. "You miss him, don't you?"

"What's it to you?" Parminder asked harshly, her breath coming out in smoky clouds, her skin turning cold. Daeva could feel it without even touching her.

"I just know how I would feel if I somehow lost what I love most." Daeva's black and blue eyes slid over to where Etanin was speaking with Djinn and Orchid, the human form of Quetzacoatl; a woman of advanced age with a lined face, veins prominent on her skin, glowing as if she were a light. She usually wore a cloak and hood to dull the effect of her electricity. She was relatively new to the court, for the original power of Lightning had been a man named Ramuh, who had been defeated in battle, much the same as Parminder's beloved Odin. It had been millennia ago, but had been a wake-up call to the others of the court, for Ramuh had been rather powerful and wise. It was a call that they were not omnipotent, and his demise was still honoured as a reminder of their mortality.

"You mean Bahamut?" Parminder asked rhetorically. "I don't know. He doesn't seem too pleased with you...."

"I'm always doing something to infuriate him," Daeva said lowly with a small, personal smile. "But, I know my heart would ache if he died like Odin, like Ramuh. Killed by a human.... tragic."

"Don't you dare dig a knife into my wounds, demon."

"I would never mean to," Daeva whispered into her ear, his breath blowing tendrils of her black hair. "We are old friends, my dear. I hate to see you suffering. Especially when your suffering comes from such a detestable human."

"This has nothing to do with your prophecy, hmm?" The Ice Queen asked, though her voice was quieter than it had been, more unsure.

"My clairvoyance has nothing to do with Mercredi's death."

"Don't mention his name to me," Parminder begged quietly, her pale eyes closing, her mocha skin paling.

"He stole Mercredi from you. Far too soon..... far too soon. Ten years is but a day to us. And, yet... Mercredi's killer walks proud, no justice done for an honoured member of this court." Daeva's whispers were now hisses in Parminder's ear, his eyes bleeding yellow, his hands sliding up onto her shoulders, oily with black scales. "Finding love himself, when you must suffer alone."

Parminder slowly let the air out of her lungs, her breath thick and cold. Daeva's words spoke truth to her. They may not have been honourable words, but they were the ones she wanted to hear, despite her sense of fairness.

"Doesn't your true love deserve revenge?" Daeva asked, his eyes casting across the large hall to where Etanin was, watching him with a steady eye, though he was being talked at by Djinn. Daeva's eyes stayed on Etanin as he goaded Parminder. "If you really love someone, existing when they don't anymore is hell. Each solitary heart beat is the tick of a clock that counts down the days until you waste away without the only important thing in the world to you." Daeva kept staring directly at his King, his wings slowly flapping from his back as Parminder's skin began to ice like a lake at first frost. Daeva was using Shiva's hurt and lost feelings to his own advantage, but his own words stirred feelings in him, as well. The feelings he'd felt when Bahamut had punished him with captivity in that lamp. How he'd felt so much anger, and yet so much pain and loneliness. Diablos was a selfish being, but also an intelligent one. He figured he may have deserved the punishment, but he hadn't had to like it. And, after time, the anger had vanished, and he'd only wanted to feel the way he did when he saw Etanin even now, like the day he'd first seen him, a newborn to being the Dark Messenger, lost and alone.

"Berith...." Bahamut's voice warned into Diablos's head. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Nothing," Diablos answered innocently, his hands sliding off Shiva's shoulders. She was still staring into nothing, her tears frozen right to her cheeks, mid-trickle.

"Parminder?" Aria asked, casting an angry look to Diablos. "Are you okay?" She asked in her sweet, soothing tongue.

Shiva's breath came out from between clenched teeth, and she vanished on the spot.

"What did you tell her?!" Aria exclaimed angrily.

Daeva had fully returned to his human form. "You don't have to get all huffy, Aria." The grand hall was starting to thin out, Summons going back to their own realms.

"Huffy?!" She exclaimed angrily. "You can be so foul sometimes, Daeva." She then said something to him in the language of the fey that, while no other Summon than Diablos could understand, they all knew was something nasty. She left, still spewing ancient insults at him.

"She has a point," Etanin mentioned, casually leaning against the large wooden table. "What did you tell Shiva?"

"Something vile," Alexander hissed. He'd hung around, watching Diablos manipulate Shiva with his poisoned tongue. "Always so vile." Alexander also dissipated, but it was with an oddly serene smile on his face, one that Diablos didn't like. He still stared at the spot where Alexander had been, even after he was long gone, and only he and Etanin were in the large hall.

Daeva gasped when he felt his hair being tugged by Etanin's strong fist. "Have you heard a single word I've said?" Etanin asked, his voice casual.

"Huh?" Daeva asked, stroking his sore scalp. "Alexander is up to something."

"What would give you that idea?" Etanin asked, though Daeva very well knew that his King probably already knew the inner workings of Alexander's mind.

"I may have... pushed a few of his buttons when I was delivering your message about the Court gathering."

"Sounds like something you'd do." Etanin's black eyes narrowed. "Just like you just pushed a few of Shiva's buttons?"

"I only told her what she wanted to hear."

"I think you're thinking of something else, Daeva."

Daeva's dual-coloured eyes snapped over to Etanin's face when he heard his birth name. Bahamut rarely called him Daeva, and usually called him Berith, a name given to Daeva when he'd joined a King's court in his human life. It was a regal title, and the name Daeva only slipped from Etanin's lips in very personal moments. "What on earth would I be thinking?"

"Something personal. I know your face. I know your expressions."

"Perhaps I was," Daeva replied, his shadow casting a dark, demonic silhouette on the wall. "Perhaps I was thinking of how until just recently, I was held prisoner in a fucking lamp."

"You don't think that you deserved it?"

"You're honestly asking me that question?" Daeva asked with genuine laughter.

"It was rhetorical."

Daeva just fell into an angry silence, which Etanin found amusing. He gracefully pushed himself away from the table.

"Maybe I understand her feelings. To have everything stolen by a human...." Daeva's upper lip curled in a sneer. He remembered his own last moments, betrayed by his King, given to the commoner's mobs who so feared powerful magic, and therefore hated it. Daeva'd often wondered if his clairvoyance would show a repeat of history; that with his eyes that could see past the bend of time, he would see his current King betray him like his past King.

"I see in your eyes that it's more than how Ronouve-Sempra let them burn you."

Daeva made an inhuman hissing noise at the name of his former King, making a gesture down the front of his body to wipe that name away. He turned his back to Bahamut, the only Summon who dared do so on purpose. There were balconies lining the great hall that looked down upon gardens and a courtyard in a great castle. A fortress, though beautiful in its power. There was also a cityscape in the distance, and though this city hadn't existed in millions of years, it had life in it, even if that life was only a creation of Bahamut's large base of power. There was a nice, cool breeze coming from somewhere, and it kissed Daeva's silken hair, swinging it around his shoulders. He placed his hands on the railing, feeling the age and strength in the stone. It felt like touching Bahamut himself. The stone railing felt like the hands that were barely stroking over the surface of his hair. It was more like he was being touched by a gossamer of Etanin's magic. "I am not Ronouve-Sempra, Daeva."

"What makes you think I was thinking of you?" Daeva asked, knowing that Etanin could see through his lies. "You may not have let an unruly human mob burn me alive, but you did banish me once, all the same."

"Still hurt over that whole lamp thing, huh?"

"Nothing you do hurts me."

"You may be able to spin beautiful lies with your poisoned tongue, but they are lies that don't fool me." Etanin's human hands stroked Daeva's hair, and came to rest on his shoulders. He breathed in that dark, sensual and magical smell of Daeva's hair, of the nape of his neck. "What did you tell Shiva?"

"So, you want to wring it out of me, huh?" Daeva asked angrily, the hands that were on the stone railing turning into monstrous claws.

"I need to save you from yourself," the dragon king whispered. "Do you think I enjoy punishing you?"

Daeva looked over the magically recreated city. "You made a human empire out of your love of punishments."

"Let me ask you this, Berith. How many people do you think I've punished in the course of my existence?"


"Answer me seriously."

Daeva paused. "I could not guess."

"I don't even know the number anymore, Daeva. Millions.... millions." Etanin's fingers pressed into the masculine muscles of Daeva's shoulders. His body was powerful with more than just sorcery. "And, you are the only one who.... hurts me in turn. Your punishments are my punishments."

"And yet, you continue to punish me."

"Because you need punishing. You deserve it, but it doesn't stick."

Daeva continued to stare out over the city, at the twinkling lanterns and candles in the windows of the homes and apartments. The wind picked up a little, and the air felt moist. Rain was coming. Fat droplets started to fall from the night sky, stars veiled by clouds. "Would you seek revenge on the humans who are destined to kill me?" Daeva had meant to ask the question without emotion, but his voice cracked under the weight of his feelings.

"I have faith in your strengths."

"That's not what I asked."

Etanin gave a low, masculine laugh into the side of Daeva's neck, wrapping his arms around the demon's human waist. "You're so cute when you're fishing for compliments."

Daeva huffed, but allowed himself to melt into his Lord's arms. "I'd hate for my death to be the thing that makes you take my predictions seriously." He felt human again when Etanin touched him like this, the only time where he enjoyed feeling like a mortal man again. It brought back memories of the first time he'd ever seen the face of King Etanin Alwaid. Daeva let out a little sigh as Etanin's lips found a particularly sensitive spot on his neck, just behind his earlobe. "But, I've made moves to overcome... such... things." His head lolled back as Etanin's hands swept down his hips. As they embraced on a royal balcony overlooking the dead city of Uruloce, somewhere Shiva was playing right into Daeva's hands.

Seifer looked down at his notes, surrounded by items. He took his glasses off, rubbing his tired and sore eyes. He'd been up all night making new items and looking at the quality of the tentacles he'd taken from the Malboros on the plains. Even if he'd wanted to sleep, he couldn't. He'd also wanted to be alone. Zell had wanted to be with him, but after what the three of them had witnessed, Seifer would have rather just been solitary. He wanted time to think alone, without Zell's now familiar gaze on him. Today was also the day that he, Rinoa and Edea were supposed to start with Odine to learn about Ultimecia's Stain, or whatever the fuck Odine was calling it. It wasn't only the thought of remembering what he'd done for Ultimecia that was causing his nerves to shudder. It was also having to see Edea again. What could he honestly say to her after catching her in that kind of situation. He guessed it would be the same sort of thing if she walked in on him and Zell together. Except for the fact that Zell wasn't married, that they weren't fucking behind someone's back, cheating on them so callously. Matron was such an avatar of childhood for him that telling her he was homosexual was a bit of a stumbling block, but now he didn't feel nearly as nervous about it. If she disapproved, it didn't matter to him. She couldn't throw stones.

Seifer looked up from the meteor stone he was going to fuse with an ultima stone when he heard a soft rapping at the door. He'd expected Zell to come it, which would have actually been quite nice. But, it wasn't him. It was Selphie. Her friendly face should have been a welcome sight, but it really wasn't. Seifer didn't really feel like talking about what he saw with Edea, but Selphie would still see it on his face, and not rest until she knew everything. That is, unless she already knew from Zell or Squall.

"Hey...." She slowly came into the room. "Just wanted to see how you're doing, since today's...." She trailed off, thumbs hooked into the back pockets of her pants. "How you feel, you know... about Odine, and all." She sat across from him at the table, looking at the items laid out before him. Most looked quite exotic to her. She guessed that's why Garden wanted a real Alchemist as a teacher.

Seifer just shrugged, waiting as the two stones fused into one, with the help of a little magic. Selphie's jade eyes searched Seifer's face, noticing that he was looking away from her, concentrating heavily on his items. Zell and Squall had also been very distant, but she hadn't gotten anything out of them. What had happened? Did Squall find out about Seifer and Zell's relationship? "So, how did Squall take it?"

Seifer's eyes snapped up, and Selphie saw that they were bloodshot. He hadn't been to sleep yet. "What? Did Squall tell you?"

"Tell me?" Selphie asked, confused. It then dawned on her that she and Seifer were talking about two separate things. So... something else had happened that was making Seifer, Zell and Squall so distracted. But, what? Selphie's eyebrows slowly raised, nosing out a challenge. Her mind started working, wondering what was going on. It didn't really occur to Selphie that it could be something private, something personal. It was just a mystery to figure out. Something that Seifer, Zell and Squall all knew, but it wasn't about Seifer and Zell being a couple. Something that was making them all squirrelly, so it had to be big, and probably not to do with Ultimecia, because Squall wouldn't really care about that. Selphie drummed her fingers as her mind worked out all the angles.

Seifer watched the tattoo that Selphie was pelting out with her fingers, knowing that she was thinking, and Selphie thinking was never a good thing when you were trying to hide things. It wasn't that he wanted to be part of Edea's ugly secret, but he knew it wasn't his place to run to Cid and rat her out. She had to be the one to tell Cid. Her and Laguna both.

Selphie stared at Seifer, saw his nerves and the lack of sleep in his too handsome face. He was apprehensive about this meeting, no doubt. But, not because of Ultimecia, and not because Squall found out that he and Zell were fucking. Seifer didn't care two shits about Odine, and Squall sure wasn't afraid of him, so that wasn't it. Was it Rinoa? Doubtful, because Seifer also cared very little for her, at least not in a way that would make Squall flip out. It had to be something to do with Matron...... She sighed.

"Look," Seifer said quickly, standing up. "You should probably go. I have to do a few dangerous item fusions, and you shouldn't be here."

"What happened, Seifer? You can tell me." She resisted when Seifer tried to pull her to her feet. Selphie may have been small, but she was infinitely strong when she was stubborn. "We're friends, right?" She did stand up only when he slumped back down, looking so tired and weary. She put her hands on his shoulders.

"Yeah, sure...." He yawned, hoping she would drop it. Begging some infinite force that she would drop it. He didn't want to have to verbalize what he saw. "I just don't want to talk about it."

"Talking helps."

"You just can't stand not to know something."

She stood up, putting her hands on her hips. "The three of you look like you're going to explode. Why don't you just tell me?"

"Hey, Seifer?" A voice called from the hallway. Zell's voice. "You in here?"

"Yeah," Seifer called back, tiredly rubbing his eyes.

Zell came in, looking far more refreshed than his boyfriend. "Hey, Selphie...." He greeted her with the same wariness that Seifer had. She was on the prowl for clues, Zell knew this much. He felt the same way as Seifer. It wasn't his place to tattle, and he also didn't want to relive that embarrassing and rather disappointing moment. Zell went across the room, wrapping his arms tightly around Seifer's shoulders and kissing him. "I missed you last night," Zell whispered as quietly as he could, hoping that Selphie wouldn't hear. But, she did. And, she gave a thousand-watt smile. "Are you okay?"

Selphie groaned, flopping over the table. "Goddddddd, just telllll meeeeeee!" She begged. "Not knowing is killing me! Is it something to do with Matron?" She asked, knowing it was when she saw the looks on their faces. "Hmmm, something about Matron that has the three of you all upset. A secret.... an uncomfortable one. You don't seem scared. More.... embarrassed. Walk in on her naked or something?"

Zell tried very hard not to flinch. Seifer kept a perfect poker face. His lack of sleep helped him hide his emotions. But, he did smile when Zell's arm draped across his shoulders. Seifer pressed his cheek to Zell's side, just wanting to fall asleep now that Zell's comforting presence was with him.

"So, it is something like that!" Selphie exclaimed victorious. "But... I'm sure you would have gotten over seeing Matron half-naked. Squall would have just frozen up at it, not gotten all weird. Did you see her and Headmaster Cid fucking? Does he have a big dick?"

"That's enough," Seifer snapped angrily, glaring at her. "Those are my parents you're talking about." Seifer said that with such scorn that it felt like a knife in Selphie's ear.

"Oh, come on!" Selphie exclaimed. "You shouldn't be embarrassed about the fact that Matron and Cid still have sex. I think it's nice that they're keeping the spark in their marriage..."

"Except that she wasn't fucking Cid!" Zell exclaimed angrily. Zell had wanted a relationship his entire life, a real relationship that he didn't have to keep secret. He wanted to be able to hold hands with the man he loved without having to worry if anyone saw him. He'd always wanted that, and when people who could have this freedom (straight people), threw it away because they couldn't control his hormones... well, it was always something that Zell had deeply resented.

Selphie was so dumbfounded that she actually took a step backwards. "What....?"

"Zell...." Seifer shook his head.

"She was fucking Laguna!" Zell spat out.

Selphie was sure she'd heard that wrong. "I.......... I... what....?"

"You and your big fucking mouth Dincht," Seifer muttered.

"She would have found out eventually."

"You're lying, right?" Selphie asked, unable to believe that her Sir Laguna would sleep with a married woman. Not just any woman, but their Matron. It was so... slimy. So unlike him. "Oh, I know what's going on here. You're just mad at me asking you questions, so you're making this up to punish me." She laughed. "Highly amusing...." Her rather unemotional laughter died in her throat when she saw their faces. She also saw Squall's face during their meetings in her memory. How Squall and Seifer must have felt.... Squall seeing his father like that, Seifer seeing his mother.... "Sir Laguna....."

"It's not a very Knightly thing to do to break up a marriage," Seifer muttered. "And, whores don't make very good fairytale Sorceresses."

Zell looked at his watch, and then stuck his arm out so Seifer could read the time, the face of his watch on his inner wrist. "It's time...." Zell trailed off quietly.

Seifer just nodded and stood up. He had keys for this room, so ushered Selphie out so he could lock it. "Oh," he said to her as Zell started walking up the hallway. "We didn't tell anyone about what we saw, besides you. It's not like we're trying to keep their secret, but we don't feel it's our responsibility to tell, and I'm sure Squall feels the same way. Edea and Laguna should be the ones to tell Cid what they've done."

Selphie just kind of nodded as Seifer and Zell fell into stride besides each other, heading for the telepod that would take them into the city to Odine's laboratory.

"I shouldn't have said anything...." Zell muttered as they sat on the telepod and started moving through Esthar.

Seifer reached out and put his hand on Zell's knee, squeezing it tenderly. "I probably would have eventually told her too, just to get her to shut up. She wouldn't have rested until she found out, anyway."

Zell leaned into Seifer, their lips meeting in a brief kiss as the telepod slowed to a stop. "Seifer.... I....." He pursed his lips as they walked to Odine's lab, and they stopped outside the doors. "I'll wait outside the doors, okay?"

"You don't have to," Seifer whispered, trying not to talk too much, because he felt like he was going to throw up.

"I want to. For... moral support, you know?"

Seifer smiled a little, even though he was actually very terrified. "Well... thank you."

"I like this humble side of you," Zell whispered, leaning in for a quick kiss. There was nobody around that they saw. "Good luck."

Seifer just rolled his eyes a little, but knew he would need all the luck he could get. Stepping into Odine's lab made butterflies grow in Seifer's stomach, and the fact that the first face he saw was Edea's didn't help matters.

"Hello, Seifer...." She said at length, colour rising to her cheeks. "Zell."

"Hello, Matron...." Zell tried not to look at her, as he didn't want to imagine her having sex with Laguna again. It was just too mortifying.

"Have you.....?" She started to ask, but stopped herself.

"You're the one that has to tell," Seifer snapped, whisking by her without another word.

"Hi, guys!" Rinoa greeted cheerfully, the only one out of them that didn't know what had happened. "Am I late?"

"No," Edea said quietly, looking at Seifer's back. "You're just on time."

"Let's just get this over with," Seifer muttered. He walked into the lab, but cast a small look over his shoulder to Zell, who was making himself comfortable on a cushioned bench in the waiting area. Zell gave him a small, affectionate smile, and started rifling through the magazines on the table. Rinoa and Edea followed Seifer in, Odine's labs ho-hum to the two witches, since they'd been there many times before. Seifer had actually never set foot in the place, but was too distracted to be impressed by all the cutting-edge technology.

They waited around in uncomfortable silence for Odine to arrive. Not just uncomfortable because of what Seifer saw Laguna and Edea doing, but because all three of them were silently contemplating, all nervous. After about fifteen minutes, the little scientist came into the room, a big grin on his face. "Ah, velcome all. I hope zis will be a productive day."

Edea went over to Odine as Rinoa and Seifer took seats. "You better watch yourself, Odine. I, more than anyone, know how your perverse little mind works. I will not have you use my child as a guinea pig, nor let you harm Rinoa in any way. If you do anything to hurt Seifer, I'll kill you before Laguna can even get to you." Edea's eyes flared angrily. "Understand?"

"Are you zhreatening me, Zorcerezz Edea?"

"No," she said, casting a look over to Seifer, who was staring at his hands which were folded in his lap. "Just giving you some... advice."

Odine stared back at her, his voice equally chilly when he replied. "I know vhat I am doing."

Edea just raised an eyebrow and took her seat. There were three chairs arranged in a circle, facing each other. Odine went over to his machines, and started pressing a few buttons. "Vhat I have done is take my Junction Machine Ellone, and re-vorked it zo zhat it can try to junction Ultimezia's power out of your bodies." Odine smiled dreamily at his own genius. "It is a very delicate prozedure. So, all relax, and I vill get us ztarted."

Seifer closed his eyes, wondering how the fuck he was supposed to feel relaxed when so many things were crashing down on him all at the same time. He opened one eye as he heard a woman gasp. It had been Rinoa, and she was looking over at Odine. Edea's eyes weren't only closed, but they were slammed shut, as if she'd been punched in the gut. Seifer wondered if Odine had just done something that only the Sorceresses could feel, but then he felt it. It was like someone had dropkicked him right in the solar plexus, and all the wind had been vanquished from his lungs. His eyes went over to Odine, who was watching them all with a look of almost amusement on his face. Seifer wanted to get up out of his chair at that moment and just leave, but he couldn't. He couldn't move under the weight of whatever Odine's machines were doing to them.

"What.... what... are... you...doing?!" Edea exclaimed angrily. Normally, she was very gentile and kind, and people wouldn't guess that her powers were so incredibly strong in black magic, but her face showed her fathomless skills as a black mage.

"Purging Ultimezia from your bodies."

Seifer's head was snapped back as if he'd been hit, and he was finding it hard to breathe. He would have been able to suffer through the pain that was in his body, he would have been able to deal with this awful ache in his blood, but he could not deal with what happened next.

Do you really think that this idiot troll can purge me from your body?

Seifer's lungs seemed to collapse on him. He would have let out breath if there had been anything in his chest other than an awful emptiness.

I'll always be with you, my Knight. My fool. As long as your memories keep, I kan still exist within you.

"That's not power," Seifer whispered, not even realizing that words were falling from his lips. If he hadn't been so wrapped up in his own mind and memories of her, he would have heard Edea and Rinoa also whispering to themselves, lost in their own memories of being touched by Ultimecia's power.

Isn't it? Her hissing voice asked in his head. Isn't the mental torment what makes Diablos so strong against you? Isn't the memory of me what keeps you up at night, tossing in nightmares? I will always have power over you, and nothing this fool of a doktor kan do will change that.

"Shut up," Seifer hissed.

I'm not really there. It's all in your head. You're the one making me speak.

"Leave me alone."

You are alone. You will always be alone, bekause you'll always be my Knight.

"Shut up!" Seifer yelled.

"Mizter Almazy, do you feel Ultimezia being purged from you?"

He doesn't want to take me from you. He wants to make me stronger. He loves my power, it's like a Siren song to him.

"Do you feel her power growing?" Odine asked, a tone of almost sexual excitement in his voice. "Do you feel her rezurfazing?"

Odine will make me strong through you, my little puppet. My dear spineless weakling.

"I am not your servant anymore."

You will always be my slave. Nobody sees you any differently than that.

"I can feel her powerz rizing from you," Odine said quietly. "Ze Zorceressez are bringing it out of you."

See what I mean? Her voice asked victoriously. As long as he's alive, he'll seek my powers. Just like he bent over backwards for Adel's powers.

"Shut up," Seifer hissed again.

You kould kill him. It would end everything. You kould do it. You've done it many times before, and not always because I asked you to.

"No," he muttered. "I won't listen to you."

"She's zpeaking to you, iz she not, Mizter Almazy? Vhat iz she telling you?"

Ultimecia just laughed in Seifer's head, and it echoed over and over and over again. She just wouldn't stop laughing, and Odine was heatedly whispering questions in his head, and he heard Edea or Rinoa scream, he couldn't be sure which one it was. Seifer was then screaming himself, and he vaulted out of his chair, just wanting Ultimecia to stop laughing and leave him alone. He just wanted it all to be over. Why wouldn't she leave him alone?! Why wouldn't everyone just leave him alone? All he wanted was to go on with his life, and she wouldn't stop laughing at him. He just wanted to live quietly for the rest of his life, maybe with Zell. Was that such an awful thing to ask?

Monsters like you don't deserve happiness. You're weak, and you're foolish. This is why your parents abandoned you. This is why your little boyfriend will abandon you. Bekause you deserve it, and you will always deserve it.

"Shut up, you bitch!" Seifer screamed. "You're dead, you're fucking dead, so get out of my mind!" Seifer felt something wet and hot splash across his face, and he was panting heavily because of his internal war with his former mistress. He opened his eyes, and saw that his vision was red.

Rinoa and Edea were both panting and looked very pale, and were staring at him with horror. Rinoa then screamed, and Seifer looked around. Things were red, and his hands were wet with it. He wondered if he'd injured himself, and saw the horror on Rinoa's screaming face, and saw the pity in Edea's eyes. Laying on the floor at his feet was the small crumpled remains of what had been Dr. Odine. He was brutalized, and Seifer's hands and face and torso were covered in his blood. But.... how? Seifer had no weapons, and Odine wasn't just dead, he was destroyed. How had Seifer done this with his bare hands? He didn't even remember touching the doctor.

"What's going on in here?" Zell called, jogging into the room. "I heard screaming! Seifer, are you....?" Zell's pale eyes widened when he walked in on the scene. Rinoa was still screaming, staring down at the ugly, ugly mess that was Odine's body, and Edea was staring at Seifer with an unreadable expression. Seifer looked shocked and horrified, staring down at his hands, which were soaked with bright red blood. "Seifer...."

Seifer looked up from him hands when he heard Zell quietly say his name. Zell's heart broke at the scared look in Seifer's eyes. "Oh my God...." Seifer choked out. "Oh God, Zell... what.... what.....?"

"What happened, baby?" Zell asked, looking down at Odine's body. There was no accusation in his voice.

"I.... I... I...." That was all that Seifer could choke out. "I heard her voice," he finally said. "She wouldn't stop laughing, and Odine was asking if... if..." He trailed off with a sob. Blood was still dripping from his fingers onto the floor with a deafening sound.

Zell quickly looked around, realizing what had just happened, the shock wearing off. He immediately cast a very strong stop spell that even halted Rinoa and Edea's movements. Rinoa's screams cut off as if she'd been killed, but her eyes were still staring at them, very much alive even though she couldn't move a muscle. "You have to run," Zell whispered, gripping Seifer's hands, not caring if he was getting Odine's blood on himself. "Seifer, please...."


"You just killed Dr. Odine. The guards will be here any second. They'll arrest you for this. This isn't the same as killing a Blackballer. This is Odine. They may shoot you first, and sort it out later. There are cameras here. They'll be on their way."

"What....?" Seifer shook his head. "But... I didn't mean to!"

"I know!" Zell exclaimed fiercely, squeezing Seifer's hands again. "Just go. Please!" Zell then pushed him towards the back exit of the labs. "Go, please!"

"Zell.... I..... what about you?"

"I can handle it. Just go!!" Zell shoved Seifer out the back door, already hearing the Esthar guards storming into the labs. "Please hurry," Zell whispered, though Seifer was already gone. His stop spell had worn off, and Edea was getting out of her chair as Zell came back into the room, blood smeared hands up as the guards pointed guns at him. And, as the guards started yelling for explanations, just stopping short of arresting two Sorceresses and a SeeD Captain, Seifer ran...

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