My Orphanage

Chapter Twelve

By Scarlet Fever

"Hey, Almasy! You got a visitor."

Seifer looked away from the ceiling, which is what he'd been staring at all morning. Or, maybe it was afternoon now. He kept looking at his wrist, but the naked skin where his watch had been couldn't tell him the time, his blurry wrist. Along with his watch, they'd taken his contact lenses, so now he was half-blind. His heart fluttered a little, because he was expecting to see Zell's face. He knew his face visibly fell when he saw that wasn't the case. "Oh, it's you."

Edea pursed her lips sadly at the obvious lack of joy Seifer had in seeing her. "How are you?"

Seifer stood up, casually walking towards the glass. Edea's eyebrows raised at the sight of his natural hair colour. "As well as can be expected, I suppose. What brings you down here?"

"I wanted to see you."

"Well, here I am."

Edea shook her head. "Is it so strange that a mother would want to see her son?" She nervously put her hands in the pockets of the white slacks she was wearing. "You changed your hair."

"Well, I'm not Raef Emaissyl anymore, so don't need to pretend to have brown hair."

"Laguna's doing all he can in your defence. It helps that both Rinoa and myself were there, and know that Odine's experiment was not innocent."

"I'll have to thank him, though I'm sure Laguna's not doing it for me." He gave Edea a poignant gaze.

"I..... I'm sorry you had to see us like that."

"Have you told Cid yet?"

Edea looked at the floor, making various small, nervous gestures. "It's not the right time."

"You better make it the right time soon. It'll be harder and harder to tell him if you keep holding it off. I know what I'm talking about. It became easier and easier to pretend that I wasn't Seifer Almasy anymore as time went on. But, the truth always comes out."

"I know...."

"Did you or Rinoa hear her like I did?"

"I heard her," Edea said surely. "I heard her. I don't know what Odine was thinking."

"Probably thinking about power." His eyes trailed over the glass, thinking about the power he'd felt being exuded off Bahamut last night. "Can you....." He shook his head. "No, never mind."

"No, what?" Edea asked quietly, putting her hands to the glass that separated them. "Tell me, please." She then took her hands away, feeling some sort of energy on the surface.

"I guess that answers my question," Seifer muttered. "At least I won't sound crazy."

"What is this I'm feeling?" Edea asked, actually wiping her hands down the front of her navy velvet blouse to get that sensation off her fingers.

"Bahamut was here last night."


"He came in human form," Seifer said quietly.

"Then, how did you know?"

"Can I finish?"

"I'm sorry."

"He traced something on the glass. It looked like a rune. I could barely breathe when he was here, his power was so thick. Even Ultimecia never felt that strong."

"Bahamut would have millions of years to build a power-base. Ultimecia may have been able to jump back in time, but she only had her lifetime to do the same. She was still mortal, after all."

"Can you.... tell what sort of magic it is?"

Edea looked up into Seifer's eyes. "I'll touch it again." She put her hands to the glass, keeping her fingers pressed there even though it felt uncomfortable to be touching the layer of magic. She took her hands away and sighed. "I can't tell. It's too arcane for me. It doesn't seem aggressive, though."

"That's what I thought. I think if Bahamut wanted to kill me, he would have just come through the glass and ripped me apart instead of coming in human form."

"Then.... how were you sure it was him?"

"He.... looked like Thuban. Err, Tiamat. I've seen her in human form, too. She was Bahamut's daughter when they were human. Also, his shadow was the shape of a dragon. And.... I could just tell. By looking in his eyes."

"Can't you just ask Tiamat if she's your Guardian Force?"

"They forced me to disjunction her when I got locked up."

"Right. I'll see what I can find out about arcane runes like this." Edea put her palm flush to the glass and closed her eyes. With some cajoling, the pale violet rune appeared visible. She memorized it, then took her hand away. "They aren't allowing you any other visitors. I only got to see you because they're too afraid to say no to a Sorceress."


"Zell wanted me to tell you hi."

Seifer smiled a little, quite sure that 'hi' wasn't what Zell really wanted to say.

"You two are lucky to have found each other. A little surprising, but that smile says it all." It was Edea's turn to smile, but hers was much sadder than Seifer's.

"What's going to happen to him?"

"Nothing, at least in the eyes of Esthar. Though, with Garden...." She shook her head. "I don't know. Oh!" She then exclaimed. "I have something for you." She put something in the food slot. Seifer went over and saw it was his back-up set of eyeglasses. "I know that they took your contact lenses."

Seifer was taken aback by her thoughtfulness as he slid the glasses on his face. The world came into crisp focus. "I... uh... thank you."

"What's a mother for?" Edea smiled at him. "I should go. They only gave me so much time." She turned to go up the hallway, but stopped and looked over her shoulder at him. "I love you, you know? Cid and I both do. Very much."

Seifer didn't answer, but he didn't look away from her, either. He felt very alone right now. Here he was, locked up in this cell, having just murdered Odine. Zell wasn't allowed to see him, everyone thought he was a deranged killer, and he had ancient magical creatures gunning to end his life. Edea's words actually meant very much to him at that moment, and almost made him forget his anger towards her. Almost, but not quite. The idea of her sleeping around with Laguna, and how she and Cid had lied to him for so long prevented Seifer from saying anything back to her. She gave a small sigh and left. Seifer sat on his cot, looking at the glass. Trying not to think about everything that was crashing down on him, he thought of Edea's predicament instead. He really hoped that she realized that she couldn't hide her affair with Laguna for much longer. Cid may have been a busy man, but he would eventually notice something, if he hadn't already. Though, maybe Cid hadn't noticed. After all, he probably thought he could trust Edea with his life, let alone to not fuck around with other men, especially one who was a friend to them like Laguna.

He tried to put himself in that position, in a position where he cared very deeply about his partner, because Seifer knew that Edea loved Cid with all her heart. She wouldn't have that guilt in her eyes if she didn't. And yet, as much as she cared, she found a reason to look for something in Laguna. What if that had ever happened to Seifer? Was he being too hard on Edea for it? No.... Seifer could never imagine cheating on someone (and, that someone in his head was Zell). If you wanted to fuck someone else, you should just get to the root of the problem, instead of sneaking around. He sighed, running his hands through his blonde again hair. Maybe he should stop thinking about other people's mistakes, and start thinking more about his own. Xu probably had a list of Seifer Almasy's failures that she could rattle off by heart. Seifer could also rattle them all off, so many regrets and things he wished he could do differently. But, it wouldn't do him any good to think about that now.

So, instead he rested. It was what he did most of the time. With nothing to occupy himself, he would often just lay on his cot, for if he was asleep, at least time was passing without him having to look at these barren prison walls. He didn't find it hard to get the sleep, since his body was still catching up from Odine's experiment and his fight with Shiva. He needed the rest, but his sleep was always fitful. He was worried about himself, yes. But, he was more worried about Zell. Zell's problems were of Seifer's making, and maybe 10 years ago he wouldn't have cared if Zell had gone down with the flaming wreckage that was the chaos that always seemed to follow Seifer. But, now he wasn't a stupid, arrogant child anymore. He'd learned humility the hard way, and he didn't want Zell to suffer for what he'd done. Zell who had shown him so much kindness and understanding, even with their less than friendly past.

Seifer knew at least one day passed as he sat and stared at the walls and fitfully slept. Maybe it had been two or three days. Time stretched on, but maybe it was flying by. He was in a complete time vacuum without the sun or moon to gauge from, or without his watch to look at. He almost felt like he was in Time Compression again. At least he wasn't hearing Ultimecia's voice. In fact, he hadn't heard her since Odine's Labs. Was it just coincidence? Or, had Odine actually done something in his experiment to rid Seifer of the ghostly presence of his dead 'mistress'. The monotony of sitting, staring and sleeping wasn't even interrupted by the guards giving him food, because that also became part of the routine. But, it was interrupted by the sound of keys rattling that seemed deafening to Seifer. He got up off the cot, moving his eyes from a dark spot on the wall that he'd been watching for what seemed like eternity. The glass was then slid open, and Seifer watched warily. What was happening?

"Hey there," Laguna greeted, coming into view. "Come on."

"Where?" Seifer asked with suspicion.

Laguna raised his eyebrows, arms crossed over his chest. It wasn't a casual gesture. There was nervousness there. Shyness. He was still embarrassed looking into Seifer's face. Especially when he'd been touching Edea's skin only that morning. Laguna was pretty sure that Seifer could read the same, the guilt, the love for Edea all over his face. He was probably glowing with it. "Are you really in a position to question?"

Seifer frowned, but knew Laguna was right. He silently followed, deciding it was best not to open his big mouth. They ascended to the higher levels of the Presidential Palace, the parts that everyone saw, rising above the parts that nobody did, parts that were a reminder that it wasn't always Laguna Loire who controlled Esthar. They went higher and higher, to the top floor, going towards Laguna's office. There was no speaking between the two men. Seifer didn't want Laguna to say anything. He could have admired the sunshine coming through the clean glass, the first time he'd seen it in days, but he was too nervous. This wasn't just detention for some childish rule-breaking. He knew he was in deep shit. And, he also knew that Zell was in deep shit, but he didn't dare ask Laguna questions.

Laguna ushered Seifer into his office, and Seifer saw that they weren't going to be alone. Kiros and Ward were also there, along with a few other people that Seifer didn't know, though he recognized Odine's assistant.

"Please, sit." Laguna sat behind his desk, smiling sadly at Seifer, who wasn't calmed by the gesture. Seifer folded his hands in his lap, not nervously looking around the room. One thing that being Seifer Almasy had given him was the fact he was used to this sort of thing, being glared down at by many administrative figures. Being a bully and not caring about the rules tended to lead to disciplinary situations often.

"Now...." Laguna trailed off, looking at Seifer. "I'm sure you're very aware of the seriousness of what's happened. Dr. Odine was a fixture in this city, responsible for so much of Esthar's prosperity." Laguna sighed. "But, as you also know, he liked to go off on his own in terms of his research and experiments. Often breaking the rules himself."

Seifer frowned, wondering what the point of this whole speech was.

Laguna then gestured to one of the people in the background, who pulled out a small television set. "I see the confusion on your face, Seifer. In deciding your punishment, we had to look at exactly what happened. Adel had surveillance cameras outfitted in Odine's labs, without his knowledge. She wanted to keep tabs on what he was doing, and it's proved to work out for us, too."

Seifer wanted to interrupt, but held his tongue.

Laguna nodded as the tape started. Seifer had expected to see himself, Rinoa and Edea on the day of Odine's death. But, instead he was watching a tape from before then, for it showed a healthy and alive Odine, working on one of his machines. Seifer wasn't sure if he was supposed to be seeing anything here, but he then saw Odine clasp his hands in some sort of gesture of reverence, and then put something in the machine. The tape was then stopped.

"What am I seeing here?" Seifer asked blankly, finally speaking.

"This is what Odine used on the three of you to purge you of the remnants of Ultimecia's power," Odine's assistant pointed out. "In principle, we use this sort of equipment mostly to purge monster of their magical powers, for uses in farming and experiments and whatnot. However, Dr. Odine thought that it could also be used with humans. It's a practice that has been used in the past. A way of punishing Sorceresses who broke the law. They would have their powers removed. But, you saw Odine put a crystal into the machine."


"I'm sure you're aware of the functions of Lunatic Pandora, Mr. Almasy," Kiros butted in, glaring at Seifer. While Kiros wasn't an unfair man, he was a shrewd one. He had to be with such a forgiving President and friend like Laguna. And, quite frankly, he just didn't trust Seifer. His track record was against him. Kiros knew that Xu didn't trust Seifer as far as she could throw him, but her reasons were based on emotions, and they were personal. Kiros didn't want to make his decisions based on that, but he couldn't forget that Seifer was a big part in almost bringing Adel back. And, it was something he didn't know if he could forgive.

"How could I forget?" Seifer asked bitterly, rhetorically.

"It worked by drawing power from a central core crystal. In its case, it drew power from the moon, bringing a Lunar Cry, sucking up power for use, destroying things in its path to do so. Odine based it off the design of his Junction Machine Ellone."

Seifer squared his shoulders, but didn't reply. Kiros's voice was very sharp, and Seifer had to hold back snapping at the other man. Did he really need Kiros to remind him of regrets that he already knew? No.

"Well, since Odine put that crystal into the machine, it created the same sort of principle. He could use this taint of power that Ultimecia had left the three of you with to draw out her powers. Odine was always quite fascinated with her time magic abilities."

"It would have also let him draw out powers from Rinoa and especially Edea. Odine made no secret that he was interested in Edea as an experiment, as a specimen," Laguna interjected harshly.

Seifer frowned, knowing there were more to those words than just dislike for Odine's methods. He also noticed that Kiros gave the President a sharp glance.

"And, with Odine doing this to you three, he was pulling this power out of you. And.... you snapped." Odine's assistant spread his hands out, not thinking of any better words to use.

"Why didn't Edea or Rinoa snap?" Seifer asked.

"Because they had powers to cushion. Each is a Sorceress, and had their own magic to act as a buffer against the remnants of Ultimecia's powers. You have no such abilities, so Odine's experiment affected you far more deeply."

"Yeah, yeah..." Laguna tucked his hair behind his ears. "I bet you're wondering what's going to happen to you."

Seifer just stared at Squall's father.

"Odine using his machine for this reason was enough to arrest and charge him. Trying to steal a Sorceress's powers without just cause, such as criminal charges against said Sorceress. It is cause for a death penalty."

"But, there is still the fact that you took the law into your own hands," Kiros said. "However, we watched the tapes of the day of the experiment, and some disturbing information came to focus." Kiros pressed play for the security tape, and Seifer watched the familiar scene that had been haunting his dreams. He also saw that Rinoa and Edea were talking to themselves, like Seifer had been. Talking to Ultimecia's voice in their head. It frightened him that he'd still been able to hear her. Not just because of her voice, but because she'd really been that strong. Seifer was about to look away, not wanting to see himself kill Odine, but he looked back when he heard something. He wasn't sure if it was on the tape, or what it even was.

"Your reaction is the same as mine when I watched the tape," Kiros murmured. "You hear something, don't you?"

"Just barely," Seifer whispered, straining his ears. He then jerked and looked away when he watched himself vault out of his seat and start to rip Odine apart with his bare hands. The blood was just so red, and it was everywhere. He was screaming, shouting at Ultimecia's voice in his head, and Odine was screaming in agony as he was torn apart like a Mesmerize in the jaws of a Behemoth. Seifer was shaking, hating seeing himself be that vicious, but he heard that Kiros was still talking.

"We took audio off the tape and enhanced it." Kiros took a pocket recorder out of his ceremonial robes, and pressed play. Laguna was still the only one who shirked wearing the Esthar robes that someone in his position would have normally always been seen in. Seifer could hear his own voice, as well as Rinoa's and Edea's, whispering to the ghostly echoes of Ultimecia in their heads. Then, Seifer heard it. That voice he'd heard on the actual video. It was a gentle whisper, but one that he was keenly familiar with. As long as he's alive, he'll seek my powers. Just like he bent over backwards for Adel's powers.

"Now, as an eyewitness, whose voice is this?"

"Hers," Seifer whispered. "Hers...."

"Who?" Kiros asked quietly.

"Ultimecia." Those were the exact words that Seifer had heard in his mind when it had been going on.

Kiros nodded. "We played the audio for both Edea and Rinoa, and they concurred that it was indeed Ultimecia's voice. You're a lucky man, Mr. Almasy. You've fallen through a legal loophole."

Seifer looked up, his heart still beating quickly from hearing Ultimecia's ghostly voice. "What...?"

"Just as there are laws to protect Sorceresses from others stealing their powers, there are laws protecting people who do things under the influence of a Sorceress's powers. During Adel's reign, there were many people who were forced to do awful things because they were under Adel's control, or they were being blackmailed with some sort of magical punishment." Kiros then gave a small, sad smile. He couldn't think as ill of Seifer after seeing the terror in his eyes at hearing Ultimecia's voice. Though, he still wasn't all that forgiving. "Odine's experiment would have killed you if it hadn't been stopped." Kiros handed Seifer a thick volume. "This is Vhazl's report on the properties of Odine's experiments." Kiros nodded to Odine's former assistant, who was now in control of Odine's labs. "Vhazl's report, along with the testimonies of Edea Kramer and Rinoa Heartilly-Leonhart, and the evidence of the security audio and visual tapes, we find that you were under the influence of Sorceress Ultimecia's power, or what's left of it, which was assisted by the illegal actions of Dr. Nirrhal Odine. Your punishment consists of time served, as well as to be under surveillance from Dr. Vhazl, now head of Esthar's Sorcery Labs, for a period of six months."

"I....." Seifer shook his head. "I'm free?"

"You've been punished enough," Laguna whispered. "I don't think many people could survive the mental torture that Ultimecia has put you through."

Seifer just sat dumbfounded as the room started to filter out. Laguna stayed behind his desk while Kiros whispered something in his ear. Kiros then nodded to Seifer, but it was very stiffly done.

"Do I have to stay in Esthar for the whole six months?"

"No," Laguna said, his voice holding more ease than it had earlier. "You and Vhazl will just set up appointments where he can check on you. Don't worry, Vhazl's a good man. He gets Edea's seal of approval as an ethical scientist."

Seifer just shrugged, looking through the file about the machine that Odine had used on him and the two Sorceresses.

"Edea was really worried about you. Cid, too."

Seifer looked up. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and fixed Laguna with a stare. "I guess you would know her feelings, wouldn't you?"

Laguna pursed his lips. "It's not like we intended for this to happen."

"Why don't you just tell the truth?" Seifer asked wearily. "And, stop sneaking around."

"The truth may be the right thing, but it's sometimes the hardest."

"I... I may have ill feelings towards Cid right now, but I still think he deserves better."

"I know," Laguna said. "He's a good man." He gave a long sigh. "Edea wanted to speak with you. She's been waiting in my library for hours."

"I don't feel like talking to her right now," Seifer muttered, flipping through the report. "I want to sleep in a real bed, have a real shower, and eat a real meal. I also want to find Zell."

"Zell's in Balamb," Laguna answered.


"That's why Edea wanted to talk to you."

Seifer saw the frown creasing Laguna's brow, and quickly went to the door in the back corner of Laguna's rather cavernous office. Edea was sitting in a comfortable leather chair, but when she heard the door open, she bolted out of her seat. Her long hair was loose, looking like a silk curtain of night. Even in such a situation, Laguna was looking at what a beautiful woman she was in her black cashmere turtleneck and knee-length skirt of tan leather and high black leather boots. Her face was free of makeup, and her eyes lit up when she saw Seifer.

"Oh, thank Hyne!" She exclaimed, coming across the room and embracing Seifer, who was stiff against her and didn't return the hug. "They weren't allowed to tell me their decision, even though I knew that Odine caused it himself. Did they play the tape for you?"

"Yes," Seifer answered blankly. "The one where I murdered a defenceless man with my own hands."

"Oh...." Edea stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. "It wasn't your fault." She then looked into Seifer's eyes, and took a step back. He hadn't thawed to her yet.

"Where's Zell?" Seifer asked, getting to the point.

"Balamb. The Garden Tribunal is holding a hearing for him...." She looked at her silver wristwatch. It had been a gift from Cid on their last anniversary. "In about 12 hours Balamb Time."

"Tribunal?" Seifer echoed, his insides clenching. "For what?"

"For letting you escape. Even though you've been cleared, at the time that wasn't the case. It is one of Garden's sanctions that they go along with the rules of whatever country they are in, as you well know. I don't have to tell you Garden's rules. There are also a couple of other minor infractions, like including a civilian in mission briefings. Which means you during the Timber mission that Selphie, Irvine and Zell went on. There is also the fact...." She trailed off. "An infraction about his relationship with you, which falls under the promiscuity legislation that was started when NORG and his faculty took hold of the rule book."

Seifer frowned deeply. "Loopholes," he muttered. He'd just been saved by some loopholes, but Zell was about to be punished because of some. "They're completely ridiculous."

Edea sighed. "Well, it will be going in front of the Tribunal."

"Cid must see that this is stupid."

"For all of Cid's virtues, he's always wanted Garden as a true democracy, which means this is out of his hands. He of course has a vote on the Tribunal, but so do many others."

"Including Xu." Seifer muttered "that bitch," under his breath.

"Xu's done a lot for Garden," Edea pointed out, her voice a little chastising, which Seifer found amusing. "She has to follow the rules."

"She's doing this to punish me through Zell, which isn't what I'd call 'doing a lot'." He tossed Vhazl's report onto one of the end tables. "So, am I really free to go?" He asked.

"Yes," Laguna said. "After Vhazl checks you out, of course."

"Well, then I'm going to Balamb. At least you'll know where to find me." He left the library, stalking out of Laguna's office and down the hall.

"Wait!" Edea called, running after his much longer strides. "I stayed behind so I could be the one to tell you, and so I could bring you to Balamb myself." She put a hand on Seifer's elbow, stopping him. "And, to tell you not to do anything rash. Don't get involved."

"You think I would?"

"I know you."

Seifer bit his lower lip. "Can't I just go to support him? As a friend, as someone in his corner?"

"As a lover?" Edea asked.

"That, too." He looked into her golden brown eyes. "I don't care who frowns down on it. I only care that Zell knows I'm there for him."

Edea wondered if there was a little bit of accusation there, daring her to protest his relationship with Zell. "I may have been... surprised about you and Zell, but it's plain that you love each other, that you're happy. And, that makes me happy."

"Who said anything about love?" Seifer snapped, heading down the hall to his room.

"Your eyes did," Edea whispered. But, Seifer hadn't heard her.

He needed to get out of this prisoner's jumpsuit and shower before heading out to Balamb. Seifer's blood was boiling, thinking about how Xu was thinking of this. Zell was her bait. Oh, she'd love for Seifer to do something foolish so she could shoot him on sight. But, he wouldn't. He wouldn't ruin anything else for Zell. He would go to Balamb as moral support only. But, Xu was only one person. There were 9 seats on the Tribunal, which also included Quistis, Cid and Squall, as well as other Instructors and Administrators. Quistis and Cid would be fair, and even though Squall was a bit of a jerk, he would be too. He couldn't believe that they would hold a Tribunal over this. Zell wasn't even on Garden duty when it happened. His elation about being cleared was now complete worry. People who thought they knew Seifer Almasy, people like Xu, would have thought Seifer incapable of this kind of worry on behalf of another person. But, these were the same people who hadn't changed over the past 10 years, and who would never change. People like Squall, people like Xu. In fact, most people probably thought that Seifer wouldn't care that Zell was in trouble because of him, just as long as things worked out for himself. But, that was so far from the truth. Zell had risked jail and even expulsion from Garden for Seifer. It all worked out in the end, but the guards probably would have shot Seifer on sight if he'd stayed after killing Odine.

He didn't worry about his other belongings, because he knew they could be shipped, or he could come back and get them. He was more concerned about getting to Balamb as soon as possible. Nothing else mattered to him.

"Maybe you shouldn't go," Edea's voice suggested quietly from the doorway. She had her hands nervously in her pockets. Seifer looked up from unbuttoning the prison jumpsuit. "It might not help Zell's case."

Seifer put his hands on his hips. "When have I ever listened to reason?"

Edea didn't reply.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd rather be having a shower than talking to you."

Edea jerked a little, and sadly pursed her lips, but granted Seifer's wishes. She closed the door softly, which seems like so much more than an everyday gesture. It seemed so much like setting up a wall between them, one that was too thick to break down. There were moments where Edea thought that Seifer's anger towards her was lessening, and those moments were always overshadowed by his coolness towards her. She'd seen it in his eyes when the subject of Zell came up. She'd seen the dare in her to say anything about their relationship, knowing that he would spew out words to slap her across the face with her hypocrisy. And, the source of her hypocrisy was suddenly in front of her. But, that wasn't totally true. She'd made her way towards Laguna's office out of instinct.

"Hey," he said quietly. "Did you talk to Seifer?" Edea had voiced her opinion to Laguna about Seifer going to Balamb, and he'd suggested talking to Seifer about it.

"Tried to," she murmured glumly, arms folded tightly around her. "He doesn't want to hear anything I have to say. He's so very stubborn."

"Gee, I wonder where he gets that from?" Laguna asked, laughter behind his voice.

Edea just gave him a withering look, shaking her head. Her golden brown eyes were full of heartache and conflict. "I have no right to tell him what to do where his love life is concerned."

"You're not telling him what to do. You're just looking out for his best interest. Zell's, too."

"I wish he could.... tell me he's happy. I can see that he is, but I wish that things were different. I wish that I could be proud of him like any normal mother, and he could tell me all about the things in his life like a normal child." She sighed deeply, leaning against the wall near the doors to Laguna's office. "I wish Ultimecia had never come, that Adel...."

"Stop it," Laguna hissed, putting his hands on her shoulders. "Stop it with the regrets! It happened. Ultimecia happened, Adel happened. You made choices, now you have to make new ones to deal with the choices that you made. You messed up your bed, now you have to make it."

"I think you got that wrong."

"Who cares? The point's still the same. You did what you thought was right at the time. No use wishing things could be different, because it just won't happen." Laguna leaned forward after looking down the hall to make sure they were alone, and placed a lingering kiss on Edea's smooth forehead.

"I remember when Seifer was a little boy... how he used to look at me. There was adoration in his eyes. There was respect." She sighed deeply as Laguna collected her in a welcome, warm and so very wrong/right hug. "I wish I could see that in his eyes again. It just isn't there. He doesn't adore me, and he definitely doesn't respect me."

"He just needs time."

Edea looked up at Laguna and flattened her hands on his chest. He smiled down at her with that charming way of his and planted a kiss on her mouth. It was a kiss she welcomed, that made her knees quiver. But, the hands that were on Laguna's chest pushed, pushed until Laguna stumbled backwards, looking at her with longing and confusion. He shook his head at her in question.

"I need to think about my son right now. I need him to see me as his mother, not as an avatar for Ultimecia. I need him to respect me again. I need to think about Seifer. And, about his father."

Laguna felt stung by her words. "Edea...."

"You know this is right. Don't tell me you didn't see it coming." When Laguna tried to come close to her again, she put her hands out to stop him dead in his tracks. It wasn't magic that made his motion stop. It was the look in her eyes. The seriousness, the resolve.

"But, I love you."

"Don't say that to me!" She shouted. Her voice lowered. "Please, Laguna. I have a husband. I have a son with him that I want to rebuild a relationship with. Which means ending ours."

Laguna opened his mouth to protest, but Edea was already walking down the hallway, away from him, and away from something that Laguna knew was real love.

Rinoa's eyes searched their flower field for him, but again Squall wasn't there. She'd been dreaming a lot of their field in the last few days, sleeping more and more because of Odine's experiment. It sickened Rinoa that Odine had been actually plotting to get Ultimecia's power out of them. Again, she saw the priest there. He would whisper things to her, but she would never remember them when she woke up. But, the words, whatever they were, always left a wriggling feeling in her belly. The baby that she still hadn't told Squall about. He wasn't in much mood for conversation, even though she kept trying to bring the subject up. She woke up after the priest again whispered something in her ear. They were in their familiar apartment in Balamb Town, the salty breeze coming in through the open window. It ruffled the sheer drapes, and left Rinoa's skin comfortably cool. Squall was laying beside her, but he was awake. She knew that it wasn't any movement on her part that had stirred him from sleep. He'd probably been awake all night. Since coming from Esthar, she'd practically been able to hear the cogs in his head working. Squall may not have been forthcoming with his emotions, but it was never a secret when he was in deep thought. The entire world could read it on his face.

"Squall?" She whispered, her head resting on his shoulder, hair fanned out across his chest. "Can we talk?"

"Kinda late," he muttered.

"We have to..."

"If it's about Zell, don't bother," he replied shortly. "That's Garden stuff."

"It's about us."

She felt his muscles stiffen a little. She craned her neck so she could look up at his pretty face. He seemed a little confused, as he always did when she wanted to talk about them.

"It's nothing bad," she assured, patting him on the stomach. "It's actually.... very good."

He looked at her expectantly.

"When the doctor checked me over after Odine's experiment, he told me....." She looked up at him and smiled. "I'm pregnant."

Well, Squall's reaction wasn't what Rinoa was hoping for. But, it was one that she'd been expecting, down in the pit of her stomach. His blank look of expectation and patience clouded into one of disbelief, then one of dark surprise and hesitation. His final expression was pretty unreadable, but not one of joy.


"I'm pregnant," Rinoa repeated, but it was with less conviction than before.


"Yes, pregnant."

Squall was silent for a painful amount of time. He then sat up quickly enough that Rinoa's head was jarred off his shoulder. He stood up, and started pacing beside the bed.


"What have you decided?"


"Are you going to keep it?"

She shook her head at him. "Squall.... of course I am!"

The fact that he didn't look entirely pleased about the fact that she wanted to carry her husband's baby made Rinoa's heart plummet. She'd thought of this sort of moment over and over again throughout her life. She'd fantasized about it, how happy she'd be after she found out she was pregnant. Especially with the child of a man she'd loved. She'd once thought that about Seifer when she'd been so infatuated with him that one summer. But, Squall was the man she was supposed to have a baby with. He was her perfect mate. He was the man she loved more than anything, so it hurt her that this moment wasn't going according to fantasy.

"Squall....?" Rinoa asked a little desperately, tears starting to sting her eyes. "Don't you want to have a baby with me?"

He just stared dumbly at her, then picked up a discarded shirt from the floor, pulling it over his head.

"Where are you going?"


"Squall!" She called after him as he left their bedroom. "Squall?!" She cried again, more sharply. Angrier. She sighed when the door slammed and she was left all alone. Flopping down on the bed, Rinoa put her hands on her belly. Why did Squall object to children so much? She closed her eyes. "Don't worry Baby, he'll come around." She started to drift back off into an angry sleep, and though she didn't see the flower field this time, she could still smell it, somewhere off in the distance...

It was morning, but Zell had gotten zero sleep. It might as well have still been the middle of the night. A memo had been slipped under his office door sometime in the night, saying that Seifer had been cleared of all charges. That had certainly made Zell's heart feel lighter, but now it was heavy again with worry for himself. The room he was pacing felt less like an office and more like a prison. He wasn't required to stay in his office, but Zell would rather be here, where he could be alone. He currently felt very alienated in Garden, a place that had felt like his home for so many years. He supposed that everyone had heard what he'd done in Esthar. Seifer Almasy was still a name that caused a lot of emotions to rise in Garden students, faculty and administration. Also, he was quite positive that everyone and their dogs had seen the cover of the tabloid where he and Seifer were kissing. Hell, probably even the monsters in the Training Area had seen it and were whispering behind Zell's back. The thought of T-Rexaurs gossiping about a male-on-male kiss did make Zell smile just a little. Definitely the closest thing to a smile he'd shown since Seifer had been arrested, and since he himself had come under fire.

What made the whole thing even worse for Zell was knowing that his mother was going to be there. Well, not in the actual Tribunal, but she'd be waiting in the visitor's area for him. That made him feel so low, like a failure. Like... he was letting her down. Like he was letting his grandfather down, too. He ran his hands through his hair. They were shaking so badly. He had to control that. He didn't want to go into that Tribunal with shaking hands. He wanted to be strong, collected and like stone. He sat behind his desk, pushing down the urge to check his watch yet again. He opened one of the drawers in his desk, seeing the Timber Inquisitor. It was one of the reasons that he was in this current situation, but he'd still snuck a copy of it. It was such a piece of shit rag magazine, but he couldn't help but smile when he looked at the cover. It was the only picture of Seifer that Zell actually possessed, and the image of them kissing reminded him that he was doing the right thing. This wasn't just about Seifer, or even about Garden. It was about himself. Zell was a grown man. He had to stop sneaking around and lying like some scared little boy. He wasn't that screaming, crying baby anymore. He had to step up and do what was right for him. But... he didn't know how to do anything except be SeeD.

Zell gasped when there was a knock on the door. "Zell, it's me...." Quistis's voice called from the other side of the door. "You ready?" She opened the door and gave him a business-like smile. But, it was soft around the edges with friendship. She held one of the nine seats that would be deciding his fate, along with Squall, Xu, Cid, Nida, Instructor Cochrane, a healing magic instructor who had been at Garden for decades, Major Dheneb, one of the first members of SeeD, and now head of the Admissions Board, Instructor Morrisey who taught modern languages, and who had been the first teacher hired at Garden, and Dr. Phia Wong, who had replaced NORG as main Garden benefactor. Zell knew that at least two of the votes would go against him instantly. Zell and Instructor Cochrane had never gotten along, going back to Zell's days as a Junior Cadet. He was a curmudgeony old bastard, and he was also rather vocal about hating gays, for when it had been an issue for gay rights in Balamb Town about 10 or 15 years ago. He'd also hated Seifer with a passion, because there had been this incident where Seifer had made him look like a fool during one lesson, where he'd proved one of his lessons to be false. Zell couldn't even remember the details, but Cochrane throwing Seifer out of class forever was legend in the school. And, like all curmudgeony old bastards, Cochrane had a very long memory. And unfortunately, Zell knew that Xu's vote would go against him.

Zell had no idea about what had happened on Xu's first mission. He only knew what everyone outside of Xu, Seifer and Quistis knew. He only knew that Xu and Seifer despised each other for some mystery reason. Would Seifer tell him if he asked? But, Zell was confident in votes in his favour from Quistis, Cid, Nida and Squall.

"Ready as I'll ever be," Zell muttered, putting the magazine away. He didn't try to hide from Quistis that he was reading it.

Quistis patted him on the shoulder, and then brought him in for a quick hug. On one hand, it surprised Zell, because Quistis wasn't a huggy sort of person. But, on the other hand, he wasn't surprised at all. Quistis and he had always been close friends, and he was glad to have that feeling right now. He knew that's why Quistis had hugged him. She knew he needed that feeling right now, especially because Xu now seemed to be an enemy, and Squall had severely disappointed Zell.

"Don't worry," Quistis whispered. "Things will go well."

"Are you tipping your hand to me?" Zell asked teasingly, but his voice was hollow.

"You know how I feel about those loophole rules, Zell. It's no secret. One's personal feelings have nothing to do with Garden missions or the day-to-day running. And, I don't believe in punishing people for being happy."

"What about helping a criminal?"

Quistis shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe that could have been handled better, but you weren't disobeying Garden rules. This is out of their court." She shook her head angrily. "Xu's my dearest friend, but I don't agree with her flexing her administrative muscles like this."

"I'm more worried for Ma than I am for me," Zell admitted.

"She's in the visitor's center already. So are Selphie, Irvine and Matron. They're all on your side." She nudged his shoulder with her own as they walked. "And Seifer."

"Oh...." Zell trailed off. He felt warm, but wary.

"What are you thinking?"

"You know Seifer as well as I do...."

"Maybe not quite as well," she teased, putting a finger to her chin as they rode the elevator up. "But, yes. You're worried that Seifer might.... lose his restraint. Garden doesn't bring out the best in his temper, does it?"

"No, it does not."

"He won't," she said.

"How do you know."

"I can see it in his eyes. He'll behave. He just wants to be here for you."

They said no more to each other as they rode up to the top floor of Garden, where all the board rooms were, as well as the offices of people like Quistis, Squall and Headmaster Cid.

Ma Dincht, Selphie, Irvine, Edea and Seifer were also on the top floor. There was a reception room for civilians beside the board room that was actually a court room. Seifer had been waiting nervously for things to start. Even though he'd grown and matured, patience would never be one of his virtues. He saw Edea rise from her seat when Cid came into the room. He went over to his wife and gave her a kiss on the cheek, whispering something to her that Seifer couldn't hear. He then quietly left, giving a squeeze to Ma Dincht's shoulder on the way. Seifer watched as the door closed behind Cid, and then quietly followed him out into the hallway.

"This is total bullshit and you know it," Seifer said quietly. Cid turned around, jumping a little because the sound of Seifer's voice surprised him.

"Oh.... Seifer, you startled me."

"Why are you letting this happen to him?" Seifer asked, crossing his arms and looking down at Cid angrily.

"It's out of my hands. But, I'm sure the vote will go in Zell's favour."

"That's not the point." Seifer's expression became tortured. "Isn't there anything you can do..... Please?" Asking Cid for any sort of assistance was a very hard thing for Seifer to do, considering all the bad blood that had been between them, even before Seifer had found out the truth about Cid and Edea being his parents.

"I wish I could...." Cid whispered. "I really do. Not just for Zell, but for you, too."

"I don't want any favours from you," Seifer replied, uncomfortable. He looked up when the elevator dinged. Quistis came out, followed by a pale and drawn looking Zell. Seifer could tell that the other man hadn't gotten any sleep, and though his expression was blank, Seifer could see the worry. He refrained from going over to Zell, and just gave him a slow nod of encouragement.

Zell saw that Seifer was going to keep his distance, to keep things professional while they were here. Instead, it was Zell himself that went over, gently touching Seifer's bicep. It was a touch that said more than a hug or even a kiss could have. "Are you okay?"

Seifer snorted. "What a time to be asking me that, Dincht." He patted the top of Zell's head, his voice shaking a little. "No worries, right?"


"That's what I like to hear." Seifer gave the smallest of smiles as Zell stepped back and went with Quistis into the board room, followed by Cid. When the doors were closed, it was with a seemingly deafening noise. Seifer sighed and went back into the visitors' reception room. It felt as much like a jail cell as the one he'd just been freed from. Irvine was sitting in a chair, his hat pulled casually down to hide his eyes, though his fingers were stroking the brim a little more than they normally would have. Selphie was slowly pacing, toeing the carpet and winding the chain of her necklace through her fingers.

"I wish they would have let him have a liaison," Selphie muttered. "I hate when people have these Tribunals and are always on their own in there. It's not fair not to have legal representation."

"Would it really matter?" Seifer asked bitterly. "What they're doing is hardly due process, or even fair in the eyes of justice. This is some fucking high-school game to Xu. She wants to get back at me so badly. She loves to try and publicly humiliate me, and I guess she finally found my weakness." Seifer pursed his lips and looked over at Zell's mother, who was sitting in a chair with her hands folded in her lap. He'd avoided eye contact with her because he felt shamed in her presence. Not only because he was kind of embarrassed that he was the man that was fucking her son, but also because Zell was in trouble because of him.

"Is it about that field exam?" Selphie asked.

Seifer looked up sharply. "You know what happened?"

"No.... It's just... well, the reason that you and Xu hate each other so much has always been a hot topic of Garden gossip."

"It doesn't matter," Seifer replied with a quick roll of his eyes. He leaned against the wall with crossed arms, showing with his body language that the discussion was over. Seifer got lost in his head, staring off into a point on the wall.

"You know that Zell wouldn't have helped you if he didn't want to."

Seifer continued to stare at the wall, though knew it was Ma Dincht that was speaking to him. "I can still feel guilty about it."

"Yes, I suppose you could. Zell's wanted to be SeeD for as long as he knew what it was. He wanted to make his grandfather so proud of him."

"And, was he?"

"Yes," Ma Dincht answered with a slow nod. "But, I believe Zell is still trying to please him."

"I'm sure that being thrown out of SeeD won't do him proud."

"Zell's grandfather is long dead. And... he won't be thrown out. How can he be thrown out when he did nothing wrong?"

"In Garden's eyes he did." Seifer finally looked over at Zell's mother, who was watching him very steadily.

"Sometimes you have to make choices that come from different places. Zell made his choice to join SeeD from a very different place than the choice to help you escape." After a long pause, she stuck out her hand. "Saffron Dincht. It's nice to meet you."

Seifer slowly took her hand and shook it. "Seifer Almasy."

Edea watched Seifer and Saffron's exchange from across the room. The whole thing left a sour taste in her mouth. Jealousy. It brought back an emotion from almost thirty years ago that Edea had tried not to show she felt. She'd always harboured secret ill-will to the people who'd come to adopt her children. They were always very nice people, and the children deserved happy homes, but Edea loved all the children at her Orphanage as if they were her own children, like she loved Seifer. Mrs. Dincht was a wonderful woman, and a wonderful mother to Zell, but Edea had missed Zell terribly when he'd been gone. And, now.... Saffron was speaking to Seifer with an ease that Edea couldn't now find no matter how hard she tried. It's not like Seifer and Saffron Dincht looked like the best of friends, but they were talking quietly, more than Edea'd done with her own son in the last ten years, even longer. It's not like they were casually chatting while both being controlled by Ultimecia. The whole thing left a bitter taste in her mouth, and made her feel very alone. Especially now that she'd told Laguna they couldn't be together anymore.

So, they all stood or sat in tense silence, or quietly speaking to each other in subdued tones, waiting for the result of Zell's hearing.

Zell sat, trying not to fidget. This required him tightly lacing his fingers together, until he could feel the delicate skin between his fingers bruising. It hurt, but he didn't care. He needed that pain to keep him occupied. A Tribunal basically consisted of Zell sitting at a very solitary table facing a half-circle of the nine members who would decree if he got a punishment or not. They all looked down at him with blank expressions. The infractions were being read by Cid, who sat in the center as Headmaster. Major Dheneb sat on one side of him, and Dr. Phia Wong on the other. Xu was in the seat on the far left, which meant that she'd open the vote. The words that were coming from Cid's mouth were just a drone to Zell. He didn't care about all the small, stupid particulars.

"Captain Zell Dincht, you are hereby placed before Tribunal session number 016546AF35-75, moderated by Headmaster Cid Kramer," Cid droned on, reading all the formalities. "For the record, please state your Garden Identification number."

"41202," Zell mechanically answered. "Instructor number 52."

"Now, the Tribunal has brought you hear to discuss infractions on Garden Article number E-5842; the aiding of a wanted individual in a criminal investigation in the country of Esthar: Garden Article number G-4322415; the refusal to comply with the laws and sanctions of the nation the officer was in during the time of the infraction: Garden Article number C-14004; the allowance of a civilian to be privy to knowledge of a classified nature during a mission delivered by Garden-Balamb: and Garden Article number P-015515; conduct of a personal nature outside of the lines laid out by the Garden code of ethics and social behaviour, namely the admission to a sexual relationship with a member of the same gender."

Zell's mouth tightened at the sheer utterance of that last rule. It sickened him that Garden was trying to police what a 27 year old man did in his free time, with a consenting adult.

"Do you, Captain Dincht-number 41202, acknowledge that you have heard the list of infractions, and understand?"

"I acknowledge so," Zell answered, staring up at the Tribunal.

"Each Tribunal member will put in a single vote, based on their decision of the combined charges. The lights on their lecterns will show their vote. The white on the left means a vote to dismiss charges, the red on the right means a vote to charge. Do you acknowledge that you understand this, Captain Dincht?"

"I acknowledge that I understand," Zell echoed.

"Good. Now, each Tribunal member has the case file before them, and has acknowledged prior that they have read and understand the terms. Shall we begin?" Cid looked down at Zell, and was the only one who showed emotion thus far. He gave Zell a small smile which the blonde couldn't return. His face was frozen in an emotionless mask. He looked over to the lectern at the far left, where Xu sat. No surprise to Zell that her light went red. Her face was unreadable, but she had a smug air about her. He hated Xu so fucking much at that moment. What a whore she was. How dare she use Zell as a pawn to get back at Seifer? Zell was fuming inside that he was surprised he didn't upend the table in a fit of rage.

Zell looked to the lectern beside her. It was Nida, whose left light came on. The white light to dismiss. Zell felt a little relieved seeing at least one white light. Instructor Morrisey went next, and the white light also came on. Zell was immediately feeling better. The only other hurdle would be Instructor Cochrane, but only two red lights didn't matter, since it was a majority vote. Then Major Dheneb and Cid and Dr. Wong went. Dheneb's and Cid's lights went white, but Wong's light went red. It worried Zell a little that the benefactor would give him a red light. With Cochrane's upcoming vote, that would mean 3 red lights. He had 4 white lights already, and Squall and Quistis were the other two votes. He was totally in the clear. Zell gave a small sigh of relief when Squall's turn to vote came. There was a period of motionlessness, and then Squall hit the button on his lectern.

Zell had to blink a couple of times, because he thought he was seeing things. A red light on Squall's lectern. Quistis's blank expression slid off, and she looked at the red light before Squall with confusion. Cid also seemed perplexed, but Squall just kept staring straight ahead, with that red light on before him. Zell stared at the red, until it burned his eyes, until it was like he was staring in the sun. Red?? RED? Squall had voted against him? It was now Quistis's turn to vote, but Zell didn't give her a chance. He felt his body rising, he felt himself standing up. He was only partially aware of the action, but he was fully aware of the anger that was running through him. He was positively on fire with it.

"Captain Dincht, please take your seat," Cid commanded quietly. It was highly improper during a Tribunal for the one in question to stand up or interrupt the proceedings in any way.

"You know what?" Zell asked, his voice actually very calm for the amount of rage he was feeling. He stared into Squall's face, who met his gaze with that fucking blank expression of his. Zell pulled his SeeD and Garden IDs out of his pockets. "Forget it. Just forget it."

"Forget it?" Major Dheneb echoed. "What are you referring to?"

"This whole trumped-up Tribunal. I'm not going to stand here and be looked down upon for things that have nothing to do with my performance as a mercenary for this organization, which have nothing to do with my teaching abilities." He then started right at Xu. "I won't let you use me as some piece in your little game to punish someone for something completely childish and stupid."

Xu looked affronted at the insinuation that she was being childish. "Captain Dincht, if you do not restrain yourself, there will be another charge added to the list."

He laughed so bitterly that Cid's eyebrows shot up over the rims of his spectacles. "Add the fucking charge, Xu. You want to anyway. This Tribunal is your little baby, anyway."

"Captain Dincht, I know you're upset..." Cid said soothingly, raising his hands. "But, I cannot allow you to speak to a commanding officer like that."

Zell was just shaking his head, his lips baring his teeth in a sneer. He heard Cid's voice, and he heard Xu's mutterings, but he only had eyes for Squall, who was still staring at him as if Zell wasn't his best friend, as if Zell was nothing to him. Zell then threw his IDs, hitting Squall square in the face with a loud slap. Squall blinked and looked shocked.

"Well, you know what Cid? I fucking quit, so I can talk to her however I want. I gave everything to Garden, and this is how you treat me?! Fuck you all!" Zell then did what he was surprised he hadn't done already, and flipped the table over. It landed against the lectern podiums with a crash, cracking down the center, breaking in two. Zell then swung the doors open with a clap as loud as Quetzacoatl's thunder, and stormed down the hall.

Everyone in the Tribunal was a little shocked at Zell's outburst, but what shocked Nida, Cid and Quistis most was Squall's vote against Zell. Xu went over to Squall as the Tribunal members started talking quickly amongst themselves. Squall was holding Zell's IDs. "You did the right thing, Squall." Xu patted him on the shoulder. "Garden need to uphold an image to the public."

Quistis just shook her head at them and went out into the hallway. Maybe she could talk Zell out of it.

The people in the reception room heard the shouting and the bangs of the table and doors. Seifer came out first, surprised at how much rage he was seeing on Zell's face. The last time he'd seen rage like that, he'd been on the receiving end of one of Zell's really nasty right hooks.

"Get me out of here," Zell said in a shaky voice to Seifer, grabbing his wrist tight enough that Seifer actually winced.

"What....? What happened?"

"Zell, dear....?" Ma Dincht began to ask, but Zell waved her away. He didn't want to look at his mother right now. He didn't want to look at Selphie or Matron's concerned faces, or hear his mothers doting voice. He just wanted Seifer to take him away from Garden. Hyne, how could Squall have done this to him??

"Zell, wait!" Quistis called as Zell was dragging Seifer towards the elevator. Zell would have actually gone off on his own, but he wanted someone to drive, because he knew he was in no frame of mind to do so himself. "Zell!" She called again.

"Zell, if you walk out of Garden, you will not be allowed to come back." Xu's voice called.

Her voice was what stopped Zell dead in his tracks. So, had the vote gone against Zell? This surprised Seifer greatly. He could feel Zell's fingers shaking around his wrist.

"Zell, don't leave like this," Quistis murmured quietly.

Zell glared at Xu, not even regarding Quistis. "I bet you're tickled pink, aren't you?"

"I did what was in Garden's best interest," she said. She wasn't looking at Zell, but at Seifer instead.

"What, punishing me because I fell in love?" Zell asked.

"Because you disobeyed the laws of this school and the laws of your position as a mercenary who works for us."

"You're such a heartless cunt," Zell hissed.

Xu was now the one sneering. "And, look who you're fraternizing with." She shook her head at Seifer. "A man incapable of human compassion or love."

"You don't know anything about the word," Zell said lowly. His voice was actually quite frightening at that moment. "Maybe because you've never felt it. Maybe because nobody's ever felt it for you. You're sad and alone, Xu. And, you only have your bureaucracy to keep you warm at night. Now, kindly get out of my face before I punch your lights out."

Xu actually took a step back, because there was no idleness in Zell's voice. He meant it, and she knew it.

"Zell," Squall said quietly, coming out into the hallway.

"Don't you dare speak to me." Zell walked over to the elevator, dragging Seifer in his wake, who was looking at everyone with a look of confusion on his handsome face.

"Rules are rules, Zell. I did what I thought was right."

Zell stopped, Squall's words washing over him. But, he kept walking into the elevator, the doors closing. As they descended to the ground floor, Zell's entire body was shaking with all his pent-up anger. When they reached the ground floor, Zell stalked down the halls. He looked angry and imposing enough that everyone gave him a wide berth, including Seifer. They got to the parking garage, and Zell got into his car, but tossed his keys to Seifer. "Drive."

"Where?" Seifer asked, unsure. He slid into the driver's seat, adjusting it because his legs were much longer than Zell's.

"Anywhere but here."

Seifer silently took the order, driving down Balamb highway. They only got about halfway to Balamb Town when Seifer pulled over. "What happened?" He asked, looking over at Zell, who was still fuming. "Did they all vote against you?"

"I would have been cleared of charges if I'd stayed."

"Wh... what do you mean?"

"Squall voted against me," Zell answered quietly.


"Squall voted against me."

"But..... he couldn't have."

"RED LIGHT!" Zell shouted, loud enough that Seifer jerked. "The red light came on in front of him. He voted against me. My own best friend. He fucking VOTED AGAINST ME!" Zell let out a low scream of anger and wound up punching out the passenger side window. Shattered glass rained down on him, and he moved to punch something else, but Seifer had caught his fists. Zell struggled against Seifer. He wanted to destroy this whole car. He wanted to rage and to war. Seifer was suddenly very glad of his own physical strength, because it was taking all of it to restrain Zell's anger. He wondered if Zell would accidentally hit Seifer himself in his fit. He wouldn't take it personally, but it would probably knock him unconscious.

"Stop, stop...." Seifer commanded. "Wrecking the car isn't going to help anything. I mean, if the vote went in your favour...."

"I quit!" Zell hissed. "Fuck them, and fuck their stupid Tribunals. Fuck Xu, and FUCK HIM. I would rather be dead than be there."


"I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW!" Zell screamed in the other man's face.

"Fine," Seifer said coolly, releasing Zell's hands. Smashing the glass must have cut Zell's knuckles, because there was blood smeared all over Seifer's shirt and palms. "But, don't take it out on me."

Zell remained silent, which Seifer guessed was his form of apology right now. "We should get your hand looked after. I'll take you back to your mother's."

"I don't want to go there," Zell answered, looking out where the passenger window used to be.

"Well, then where do you want to go?" Seifer asked patiently. The sun was starting to set over the ocean, casting it in an orange light.

"Go to the Ocean Pearl. It's on Grotto Avenue."

"Okay. What is the Ocean Pearl?" Seifer asked, knowing very well that it was a bar.

Zell didn't answer, because he knew Seifer knew. Seifer pulled into Balamb Town and found the Ocean Pearl. It was more specifically a gay bar. It wasn't a dance club or anything. It was just a drinking establishment that quite a few gay men liked to visit to kick back a few drinks.

"I don't think you should be drinking...." Seifer didn't even finish his sentence, because the shorter blonde got out of the car and went straight in. Seifer sighed and found a parking spot, following Zell in. The place was at least clean and wasn't a dive. Zell had positioned himself at a table in the corner, and was already motioning for the waiter to come over. When Seifer approached, Zell tapped the chair beside him. "Sit." When the waiter came over, Zell ordered a bottle of Galbadia tequila. Before the waiter could leave, Seifer grabbed him by the elbow and said "orange juice" quietly. He knew that Zell was going to try to drown his sorrows by getting shit-faced drunk, so Seifer would have to stay sober to not only drive, but to also keep an eye on him.

As Zell drank, Seifer contemplated things, still sipping his first orange juice while Zell was on his third bottle. He wasn't surprised in the least that Xu voted against Zell. But.... Squall? Why? It disgusted Seifer. Weren't Squall and Zell supposed to be best friends? Seifer also then felt guilty. If Zell had quit Garden... that wasn't something he could take back. And, it was all because of Seifer. It was because of Seifer that Zell had more than likely lost his job, and lost his best friend, too.

In the process of his binge drinking, Zell had moved his chair so he was right beside Seifer. "Have a toast with me," he commanded as Seifer finished his juice. He poured some clear liquor that smelled very, very strong into Seifer's glass. "One drink won't kill you."

Seifer sighed. "Fine. What are we toasting....?"

"Us," Zell murmured. His voice was starting to get pretty slurred. But, he looked and sounded a lot more alert than he actually was. "You. Because if I didn't have you, I would have nothing." Zell then clanged the bottle against Seifer's glass hard enough that the liquor in the glass sloshed on the table. Seifer only took a small sip, his stomach starting to feel like it was in knots. This was a nightmare. He didn't want to be responsible for destroying Zell's life. Not when he was already responsible for destroying Raijin's life, not to mention his own.

After four more bottles on Zell's part, he was so beyond shit-faced drunk that he couldn't see it anymore. Most of his conversation was cursing Squall into the bowels of hell, and making some nasty comments about Xu that even raised Seifer's eyebrows, and he hated Xu more than he hated quite a few people. By that time, the bar was starting to close, and Zell was drunk enough that he was being asked to leave.

"You don't have to throw us out, asshole!" Zell shouted at the bartender as Zell led him back into the cool air of a Balamb night. The air smelled salty and fresh. Zell was leaning on Seifer because he couldn't walk on his own.

"Come on," Seifer murmured, helping Zell along. "Time to go home."

"I don't have a home anymore," Zell hissed, swaying. "Fucking Garden bastards."

"Okay, okay. Let's go to your mom's."

"Hey.... what happened to my car?" Zell asked, looking at the broken passenger window.

"You broke it," Seifer answered, putting Zell in the seat and doing up his seatbelt. He had a lot of experience dealing with people in this sort of situation. Raijin's choice hadn't been booze, rather Blackball, but the situation was somewhat similar. Seifer drove the car back to Ma Dincht's house. The lights were on as they walked up the sidewalk.

Zell stumbled and fell to his knees. "Ow," he muttered. "I think I fell." His voice was so slurred that it sounded like one word.

"I think you're drunk," Seifer said, helping Zell to his feet. But, Zell just slid down again. The taller man sighed and picked Zell up, carrying him bridegroom style.

"Seifer.....? I love you." Zell rested his head against Seifer's shoulder.

Seifer knew that Zell was plastered, and that just because Zell said 'I love you', it didn't necessarily mean anything at the moment. But, it still made him smile. When Seifer got into the house, Ma Dincht immediately came bustling out of the living room, wearing a terrycloth bathrobe. "Oh, thank Hyne! I was so worried!"

His mother's voice compounded with his inebriated state made Zell think of how disappointed she must have been in him, how he fucked everything up. How Squall had betrayed him. Squall.....

"Where did you go?" Saffron asked quietly.

"He got drunk," Seifer whispered. "He just needs to sleep it off. Which... which is his room?"

"Oh.... last one on the right."

Seifer nodded and carried Zell upstairs. Each stair they went up made Zell's heart get heavier. What his mother must have thought of him at that moment. It caused tears to sting his eyes, and then he started weeping quietly against Seifer's shoulder. He felt himself being laid out on his bed, and felt his hair being stroked. He could smell Seifer's skin, and reached out for him. Zell felt himself being held, and he started crying harder. He'd just thrown away his entire life. His best friend had just betrayed him. He was in constant fear for his life because he had a demon hell-bent on killing him. And, he had a god holding him right now, who made it all worth it.

Zell woke up, groaning. The sun coming through his window was hurting his eyes. He covered his face with his pillow, wondering what the hell had happened to him. His mouth tasted like he'd licked pavement and then washed it down with an old sock. He sat up slowly, feeling pretty ill. He realized that he was in his bedroom in Balamb Town. Things slowly started to come back to him, but this time he didn't feel the anger he'd felt last night. He looked at his hand, which was all cut up from smashing the window in his car. Now, he just had an empty, numb feeling within him.

Even though Zell was alone in the bed and knew it, he still looked to his side to see if Seifer was there. They hadn't actually slept together very many times, but it had become something intensely familiar to Zell. He knew that Seifer had brought him back here, had sat there patiently while Zell had drunk himself into a stupor, even though he'd disagreed. Zell got out of bed, but did it way too quickly. He couldn't call his feeling 'hung-over', because he still felt drunk. The room started spinning, and Zell had to sit back down on his bed because his legs felt boneless. He collected himself for a few moments, then stripped off the clothes he'd been wearing last night, and all of yesterday. The clothes he'd been wearing during his swan song for Garden. Zell suddenly felt very ill, and it had nothing to do with how much he'd drank last night. It had everything to do with they way Xu and the rest of Garden's administration had railroaded him, and how Squall had voted against him. Zell felt that hot anger again, but he also felt completely baffled. He just didn't understand. Maybe Zell wouldn't have been thrown out of Garden, but that wasn't the point. It was the point that Squall had voted to punish him, his own best friend. Was Squall's hate for Seifer really that deep, or was he still horrified about the idea of Seifer and Zell being a couple? That idea only infuriated Zell further. How dare Squall try to pass judgement on him for a part of Zell's life that had nothing to do with him?!

"Okay, okay...." Zell muttered to himself, running his hands through his hair, which was sticking up at all angles. "Calm down, Dincht. You can't change what happened," he muttered to himself. "Besides, you wouldn't want to be in a place like that, anyway."

He slowly stumbled around his bedroom towards his own private bathroom, washing away the dirty feeling that waking up still drunk gave him. Even though he was looking at everything through bleary eyes, he still straightened up the clothes that were on the floor and made his bed, neat freak that he was. He slowly went downstairs after dressing in a pair of light blue flannel pants with stars on them. They were an odd pattern for a man of almost thirty, a gift from his grandmother who was getting a little senile, but Zell rather liked them. He also put on an old T-shirt, the logo having been washed off years ago. There was also a hole in one of the armpits, but it was a comfort shirt. And, Zell needed that now. He could smell his mother cooking, and it churned his stomach.

Zell had always been surprised when his mother could hear him coming down the stairs, even when he was being very quiet. It had always made it hard for him to sneak out as a teenager.

"Zell?" She asked, standing at the foot of the stairs, wiping her hands on her apron. "Good morning. You want some bacon?"

"Uggghhh, no." He shook his head, stumbling down the last few steps.

"You really should eat something."

"I'd just barf it back up," he muttered, looking over at his mother. She was giving him that loving yet disapproving look that mothers give children all the time. "Did Seifer drive me home....?"

"He did." She went back into the kitchen to tend to the stuff cooking on the stove.

"Where did he go?" Zell asked, holding his stomach when it revolted at the smell of bacon.

Ma Dincht gestured with her head towards the living room. Zell looked over his shoulder and saw a breathing hump on the couch, covered in one of his mother's hand-crocheted quilts. His eyeglasses were on the coffee table beside him, and Seifer's face was blank with sleep.

"Why'd he sleep down here?" Zell asked, a little confused and disappointed.

"He said he didn't think it was appropriate for him to sleep in your room with you."

"Because I was drunk?"

"Because it's 'my home', as he said it. A gentlemanly gesture."

"Oh..." Zell pushed passed his mother a little, reaching for the coffee pot.

"Here, at least have some toast."

"No," Zell said quietly. "Maybe later."

"Oh, you had a phone call," Ma Dincht answered. She took a piece of bright blue sticky paper off the pad stuck to the wall. "It was Squall, dear."

Zell took the note from his mother and promptly tore it in two. Without a word of explanation to his mother, who was looking at him with raised eyebrows, Zell went into the living room and sat at the end of the couch, gently pushing Seifer's feet out of the way. But, not as gently as he could have. He used enough force that he was woke Seifer up, which was his goal anyway.

Seifer grunted and rubbed his eyes, looking over at Zell. At first he was angry about being woken up, but then he sat up, his hand searching for his eyeglasses. "Hey...." He noticed how pale and slightly green Zell's face looked. "Feeling okay?"

"Still a little drunk, I think. At least I'm not throwing up. Why'd you sleep down here?" Zell asked very quietly.

"I didn't think it was proper for us to sleep in the same bed in your mother's house."

"Yeah, that's what she said."

"Then, why did you ask me?" Seifer asked with a little roll of his pale green eyes.

"I wanted to hear you say it. I think she would have understood, especially because I was too passed out to do anything."

Seifer smiled sadly, reaching out and smoothing his palm over the top of Zell's head. "You're hair's all messy."

Zell reached up and wrapped his fingers around Seifer's wrist. He cocked his head so he was pressing into Seifer's palm, his eyes sliding shut.

"So.... what now?" Seifer asked quietly.

Zell sighed. "What about you?"

"What about me?" Seifer asked. "I have to go home. I've been away from work for too long."

"Well, then I guess I'm going to Timber, too."

Seifer was quiet enough that Zell opened his eyes and looked across the couch at the other man. "What?"

"Maybe you shouldn't."

"Whaddya mean?"

"Maybe you should stay here. You can work something out with Garden, and...."

"I don't want to work anything out with Garden," Zell insisted, anger rising into his voice. His voice then lowered again. "Don't you want me to come with you?"

"That's not the point."

"Then, what is?"

"Look at what's happened to you already because of me."

"What the bloody hell are you talking about?" Zell asked. Their tones were very hushed and quiet, for their conversation was rather private.

"You got thrown out of Garden because of me, Dincht. Look at what happened between you and Xu, and between you and Squall..."

"Stop right there." Seifer's hand had dropped from his, so they were sitting facing each other with their hands in their own laps. "What, so you think now that I might resent you for what happened?"

"Is that a completely foreign idea? We wouldn't be the first couple that grew to resent each other."

"If it hadn't been you, it would have been someone else," Zell pointed out.

"I've fucked up a lot of things, Zell. I'd hate for your life to be one of them. Xu and Squall already think I am."

"The fact that you are concerned about it makes bullshit out of their little theories. They think of you as the same Seifer from ten years ago, and your concern shows that. They don't know what the fuck they're talking about."

"What if we broke up next week, Zell? What if you come to Timber with me, to live, and it didn't work out? Then what? You'd have no job, you and Squall wouldn't be speaking...."

"Squall made his choice..."

"Maybe you should talk to him."

"Maybe I shouldn't," Zell snapped. "Look, maybe we might break up. But, if it wasn't you, it would be some other guy. After we broke up, I'd want to have a boyfriend again. And, I would have had to hide him, too. I can't go back to lying and hiding anymore, even if it's not with you."

"You're as stubborn as a fucking mule."

"Where do you think I get it from?" Zell asked, making a gesture with his head towards the kitchen.

"Maybe you should just stay here with your mother for a few days, until everything is sorted out."

"No," Zell answered. "I don't want to be anywhere near Garden."


"Seifer," Zell said in a way that was very final. "No."

Seifer just shook his head. "Fine. Fine... I guess I can't argue with you."

"I guess you can't."

"You look like shit," Seifer murmured affectionately, further messing up Zell's hair. "You drunken lush."

"Bastard," Zell answered quietly, but it was with a small smile. He popped Seifer one in the shoulder.

Seifer pursed his lips.

"Too hard?"

"Yeah...." Seifer rotated his shoulder. "I'm gonna brush my teeth." Seifer got up and kissed the top of Zell's head when he passed. "Good morning Mrs. Dincht," Seifer greeted as he passed. Zell could hear the nervousness and strain in his voice. He was uncomfortable. Zell drained the rest of his coffee and brought the mug back to the kitchen.

"So, I'm guessing you 'overheard'?" Zell asked.

"I did."

"I know that when I was at Garden... I was close-by. But... I can't stay. I need to get away for a while."

Ma Dincht smiled serenely at her son. "You're a grown man. I can't stop you. Besides, you would be much happier going to Timber than staying here and moping. But, I wish you would at least think about talking to Headmaster Cid."

"I'll think about it. But, I can't go back there now. I'm too angry."

Saffron nodded, patting the side of Zell's face. "I understand. I'm just glad you found someone who loves you."

Zell just shrugged and tried not to show that his mother's words made him feel warm down to his toes. Zell spent the rest of the day collecting his thoughts, and some of his stuff. He still had some belongings at the apartment he'd rented for his Timber Blackball mission with Selphie and Irvine, but this time he was bringing some more permanent things. He also had to consider that he might not be allowed back at that apartment, since he wasn't SeeD anymore, after all. He also spent some time with his mother. He helped her do chores around the house, and had a light lunch with her alone while Seifer took a walk. Nearing sunset, he and Seifer were sitting in the back sunroom as they waited to go to the train station.

"Zell?" Ma Dincht called from inside the house. "You have a visitor."

Zell's body immediately stiffened as both he and Seifer looked over their shoulders. Selphie slowly came in, as if she was walking towards a dangerous animal. "Uh, hi guys."

Zell relaxed a little, but wondered if she was hear as a Garden messenger. "Hello," he said coolly.

"I'm not here as a SeeD rep," Selphie insisted. "I just came to see... how you're doing?" She smoothed her black skirt over her bum and sat on a footstool.

"All right, considering."

"It was made official, you know. That you 'resigned' as a member of SeeD. They'll send your stuff here, and they've already put out a call to Galbadia and Trabia for a new teacher to replace you for your classes."

Zell just made a grunting noise.

"I can understand why you resigned, though. It's all over Garden, about Squall voting against you. Of course, now the rumours have you knocking him and Xu out and that it took ten guards to restrain you. They've also revoked your name off the Timber mission."

"What about you?" Seifer asked. "Are you still on the mission?"

Selphie nodded. "Yeah. Well... we aren't going back this instant. Since Zell was a high-rank SeeD, we have to do a bit of scrambling until replacements can be found. Irvine and I will be stationed at Garden for a week until things have settled down, then we're going back. The Blackballers may not be addicted anymore, since there's no supply, but they're all nasty from withdrawal."

"Are you getting another SeeD for the mission?"

Selphie nodded, but didn't say anything.

"It's Squall, isn't it?" Zell asked.

".... well, yeah. I mean, Diablos is big-time. Cid thought it was best to send Squall since he was the one that junctioned Diablos most."


Selphie cocked her head. "Squall seems really...."

"I don't want to hear it," Zell interrupted. His voice was very cold, but he wasn't yelling. "I don't want to talk about Squall. I don't even want to hear his name right now."

She nodded. "I understand, I guess. Well, at least Seifer lives out in the sticks, so you won't have to see him." She smiled sheepishly when Zell raised a pale eyebrow at her. She hugged her knees and smirked. "I'm head of SeeD Intelligence, remember? It's my job to know these things. Though... I wouldn't have needed my skills to guess that you were going back with Seifer."

Zell looked over at Seifer. He was very close to smiling, but he didn't. They just looked at each other. "I may not be on the Diablos mission anymore, but if you need help...."

"I'm sure that if we're looking for Diablos, we'll find you too. He still wants to kill you, and I seriously doubt he's forgotten."

"Gee... thanks." Zell rolled his eyes at her.

"So, um...." Selphie began after a long pause. "What are you going to do now?"

Zell pondered her question for a moment. "I..... I've been SeeD for so long, and it's all I've ever wanted to do. So..... I.... I really don't know." He shook his head, looking at the herbs that his mother was growing. "I guess I have to start over."

Timber was having a streak of beautiful, beautiful weather. The sun was shining, and the temperatures were warm yet comfortable. Everyone was in a good mood as they walked and drove around the city, the sunlight lifting their lately gloomy spirits. Crime was still so very high, and the Blackballers were still a threat to the personal safety of Timber's citizens. But, on a gorgeous sunny day like this, nobody was thinking about that as they sat at outdoor cafes and window shopped along promenades with brightly coloured window displays.

At one of those outdoor cafes, Daeva was sitting in all his human and fey elegance. Women smiled at him as they passed, not even recognizing him as Count Aka-Manah. Daeva's fey blood, coupled with millions of years of magic in his veins, made his glamour magic the most powerful that time had ever seen. Glamour magic was a fey specialty, and Daeva had perfected it beyond the race's wildest dreams. His appearance was no different, but it was the air around him that was. He had the exact same ice blue and ink black eyes he'd always had, the same silken hair, the same flawless skin and soft looking mouth that covered dazzling teeth which flashed in a mischievous smile. But, there was just something different in his mannerisms that made him appear a completely different person in the eyes of humans. Any common sorcerer could merely change their nose or eye colour, but it took a true master to change the intangibles.

Daeva blew on the top of his expensive cappuccino, smiling. Even he was enjoying the sunny weather. It felt like renewal to him. And, it gave him a sense of peace, especially when things were far from peaceful. He was frustrated about the former Knight of Ultimecia and his mercenary lover. His plans for his former Blackballer would take some time to come to pass, and Daeva had never been good at waiting. Even millions of years hadn't given him any patience. And, things were tense among the Ancient Court. Shiva was angry with him for manipulating her emotions, even though he hadn't lifted a magical finger. She'd done it all on her own, which was something that none of them believed. Alexander was still walking around with that damn smug smirk on his face when he was in human form, and there was an air of victory around his mechanical frame at other times. And, Bahamut.... Daeva could more than live with Shiva's anger or Alexander's sanctimonious bullshit, but Etanin's silence with him was the most fretting.

Daeva had used all his sensual charms to try and lure Bahamut to him for a nightly visit, or even just a casual passing of energy, but Bahamut was having none of it. His anger was like a stone wall that none of Diablos's tricks could topple. Daeva stirred some cream into his drink with such grace that it was almost painful, and caused someone nearby to watch him with reverence only shown to religious icons. He was wearing modern clothing so he fit in quite well as far as dress went, but his appearance would never allow him to completely mingle with even the most beautiful humans, who would look plain compared to the shining beauty of fey blood. Their hair just didn't shine the same, their skin just didn't glow the same. He actually felt quite under dressed, because he rarely showed skin while in clothing. It was just something left from his human life. His pale arms were bare in a fitted, sleeveless t-shirt in red the colour of blood, which looked striking against the blackness of his hair and the slacks in breathable cotton he was wearing.

The waitress came over and put a delicious looking dessert in front of Daeva. He looked down at the light and fluffy pastry with all its whipped cream and fresh berries, and then looked up at the waitress, who was smartly avoiding his eyes, as if she knew that he was a magical creature. "What's this?"

"The gentleman sent it over," she murmured, gesturing towards the bar. She left and went across the cafe. Daeva noticed she also didn't look the generous gentleman in the eye. For, he exuded an even stronger air of power than Diablos did. Though, he was easier to look at. While Etanin was vastly more powerful than Daeva himself, he did not possess fey blood, and had been fully human before transforming into Lord Bahamut. Though, he was still by far the most handsome man in the cafe.

Well well, was Daeva's cool response. What brings you here? It can't be the prettiness of the waitresses, can it?

Etanin got up from off his stool, leaving a glass of water behind that hadn't even been touched. He casually walked across the cafe in his smart looking white linen pants and casual dress shirt in a dark blue that perfectly matched the colour of his scales in true form. It was messily untucked, and open enough at the throat that Daeva had to hide his rush of desire at the glimpses of tanned flesh. In the language of the Summons, Etanin whispered in Daeva's ear as he passed, heading towards the door. I'm watching you.

Daeva frowned into his cappuccino. I'm not a child that needs supervision.

Then do not give me reason to supervise you.

Daeva raised an elegant eyebrow as Etanin stepped out onto the sidewalk. You can watch me from anywhere. Why show yourself to me?

Because you're making such an effort to draw my eyes to you with your glamour, Berith. Etanin then spoke in Daeva's language. Vhax dulla xrael'da kui. The closest thing that modern language could translate the phrase to was 'you look very pretty today'. That was a poor translation for something that was such a personal and intimate phrase, but the human tongue was rough for expressions such as those, expressions meant for the fey. And, then... he was gone, leaving Daeva sitting there staring at the dessert. He sighed and tented his fingers together. He could have kept things cool and impersonal for that brief contact if Etanin hadn't had to be a bastard and say something like that to Daeva. True, he was pouring the glamour on thick, mostly to get Bahamut's attention and to nettle him, but Etanin had one-upped him yet again. He knew his little compliment would get under Daeva's skin.

Oh, Eta... you love your little mind games.

There was silence. Bahamut was either ignoring him, or hadn't heard him. Probably the former. Daeva purposely threw in the 'Eta', which was something that Daeva only called Bahamut under very special, private circumstances. Daeva just smiled and dipped his finger into the whipped cream, licking it off in a sensual gesture. Diablos knew that Bahamut was watching him, so he would have to be extra sneaky. Good thing that's what he was best at.....

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