My Orphanage

Chapter Fourteen

By Scarlet Fever

"Hyne, we gotta help him..." Zell started to move to the spot on the empty highway where Seifer and the newly alive Raijin were facing each other down.

"No!" Squall grabbed Zell from behind, around the shoulders. "Don't."

Zell jerked away from Squall, shoving him backwards so Squall slammed against the side of Selphie's rental car. "Get your fucking hands off me," Zell hissed, his hands balled into tight fists.

"Not now!" Selphie exclaimed, casting some support magic on Seifer. She then stumbled as Fujin slumped to the ground, muttering in Diablos's language to herself, a sickeningly serene smile on her lips. "Fujin? Can you hear me?"

"You think you can kill me again?" Raijin asked.

"There's no 'again', Raijin. You're not alive this time."

"I'm breathing, aren't I?"

Seifer squared his shoulders. He couldn't listen to what Raijin was saying especially not when it sounded so much like him still. His voice was still his own, his mannerisms were still so very Raijin, so Seifer couldn't let these taunts affect him, especially because he knew he would have to kill his best friend for the second time. He had to convince himself that it was a blessing to kill Raijin, because he wasn't himself anymore, even though he looked and sounded like himself. Raijin swung out with the jagged steel pipe he was armed with before Seifer was really ready. He reared his head back, but wasn't quite fast enough. One of the edges of the broken pipe cut across Seifer's cheek. Seifer could tell as soon as it happened that it was a very deep cut, and blood went flying from his cheek, splattering on the asphalt with an audible noise.

"Seifer!" Zell exclaimed, taking a few steps forward.

"No!" Seifer shouted, slicing at Raijin with his hunting knives. "Stay the fuck out of it, Dincht."

"Holy shit!" Selphie exclaimed. "Guys, help!" Fujin started convulsing in Selphie's arms. "Help me hold her... she's having a fit."

Irvine stayed standing, which Selphie didn't chide him for. He had the best eye, so was keeping an eye on the field where all the bodies were piled, starting to move more. Zell crouched down and helped Selphie hold Fujin's convulsing body down, also trying to keep an eye on Seifer.

"I hope everyone finally sees what a liar and traitor you are."

"I've come to terms with what I've done. You throwing those words around won't work this time."

Raijin laughed quietly, and while he still sounded like himself, his laugh did not. "That's okay, ya know?! I can just kill you without any chit-chat." He swung the pipe out again, but Seifer was quicker on his toes this time. He dodged out of the way, feeling the wind of the pipe passing his ear. He sliced out again with his knife, but Raijin was unnaturally quick on his toes, and Seifer's knife missed landing a fatal blow, and only getting Raijin's ear. He sliced through it, and Seifer's former friend howled, but it didn't slow him down. He didn't seem to feel the pain much. Perhaps his magical resurrection bypassed the idea of pain.

"Nice shot, but you'll have to do better." Raijin laughed his demonic, unnatural cackle. He hit Seifer across the face again, blood pouring into Seifer's left eye from a cut the jagged end of the pipe made. Seifer heard Zell shout his name, but he didn't pay attention. He couldn't be distracted by Zell's voice, because hearing him would make Seifer worry, and he couldn't concentrate on worrying, not when this task was before him.

"Squall!!" Selphie shouted. Squall was still leaning against the truck, his back sore because of the force Zell had shoved him with. "Squall!"

He looked over, having been transfixed by Seifer and Raijin circling each other.

"We need you on guard. Irvine can't watch them all." Fujin was still having a seizure, screaming out words that they couldn't understand. Maybe it wasn't even Diablos's language, and it was just gibberish. Selphie and Zell both restrained her limbs, and she seemed to settle down, mewling in what sounded like pain.

Seifer and Raijin spoke no more to each other. They'd said all that needed to be said, and now it was just a matter of ending it. They knew that it wouldn't be over until one was dead, and Seifer couldn't dwell on that it was Raijin. He just looked at him like any other monster, because that's what he was now, just disguised in the glove of Raijin's body. Seifer was flung backwards, tumbling across the pavement when Raijin got him with a paralysing blow to the gut. He rolled away just as Raijin wound up to smash his head across the road. The steel pipe bit into the concrete with a loud smash, and Seifer used the chance in Raijin's downswing to slash at his knee. Raijin's leg crumpled under him, but he got up again. Seifer tried to slash at his Achilles tendon, but Raijin moved away. As he was getting up, the pipe came across his back. Seifer howled in pain as he heard a crack within him. It was one of his ribs, and he felt a sharp, sudden jabbing pain in his kidney.

"Seifer!" Zell stood up and ran towards the fight, being held back by Squall once more.

"It's too dangerous."

"FUCK YOU!" Zell screamed, trying to yank his arm out of Squall's grip. He then punched his former best friend in the face and ran towards Seifer, shoving Raijin out of the way as he repeatedly beat Seifer's back with the pipe, each blow landing on the tall blonde's body with an awful noise.

A demonic laugh filled the air as Zell punched Raijin in the face, kicking him in the kneecap as he reeled back. But, Raijin's grip on the steel pipe didn't lessen. Irvine raised his gun and started searching the sky, which had gotten blacker and blacker. Irvine shot into the air when he thought he saw the movement of wings among the swirling clouds. Fujin started shouting at Selphie, flailing her limbs and trying to attack her. Selphie easily held her weak motions down, and it broke her heart to see the normally strong and proud woman so reduced to this.

Squall rubbed his jaw and pulled out Lionheart, a little dizzy because being punched by Zell Dincht was never something that someone just took and turned the other cheek to. Squall was just lucky he hadn't been knocked unconscious. He stumbled around for a few steps, but then collected himself. His eyes started searching the blackness, but there was also the problem that the mass of writhing Blackballers was starting to get a little more mobile. A few of them were up on their feet, and Seifer and Zell were both occupied. Seifer may not have been SeeD at all, but he was damn good in a fight, and Squall would have felt better with some more manpower.

Zell hit Raijin in the face with a good two-punch combo which reeled him backwards, but he was still fucking going. He had unnatural stamina from whatever Diablos's black magic had done to him. Seifer was trying to get up, but Zell was very worried about the sounds that he was making. He was coughing, and each hack sounded very wet. He could also see that Seifer was spitting up blood. He rolled onto his back, but screamed in pain. Seifer had been injured many times before, so he could diagnose at least a little what was wrong with him. Bruised kidneys, a few broken ribs, a bruised spine which was possibly cracked. Maybe he also had a separated shoulder, and his lungs also seemed to have some damage. There was also a concussion, and maybe a cracked orbital bone. Seifer finally got to his feet, and heard Zell yelp in pain, and saw Raijin rushing him. He slashed out with his knives again, and the blade bit deeply into Raijin's stomach, but the successful blow came at a price. Raijin's pipe came crashing into his kneecap, and Seifer screamed in pain as it shattered. He crumpled down, and felt the knife that wasn't in Raijin's stomach being yanked out of his hand.

Zell was bleeding from a cut over his eye, but he'd heard the awful scream coming from Seifer as his kneecap was broken. There was no way that he was going to let anyone or anything cause Seifer to make that kind of noise, not while he still breathed. He ran towards Raijin, pulling the knife out of his hand as he writhed on the ground, screaming in agony as Raijin smashed the pipe down across his throat. Blood came spurting from Seifer's lips, and then he was being rained down on by it as Zell slit Raijin's throat from behind. Zell had never really killed someone with a blade before. It felt alien to him. Raijin spurted and gurgled, and then fell dead on top of Seifer. His limbs twitched a little, but then he stilled.

"Seifer!" Zell exclaimed, kicking Raijin out of the way. "Fuck... are you okay?" He leaned down and looked into Seifer's eyes. "Can you hear me? Can you talk?"

"I'll live," Seifer hissed out, blood dripping from the corners of his mouth. Even those two small words caused him an excruciating amount of pain.

Zell wrapped his arms around Seifer to hug him in relief, but jerked and reared back when Seifer screamed. Even that gentle contact was too much for his shattered ribs and separated shoulder.

"Head's up!" Irvine shouted as a form appeared closer in the sky. From far away, it did appear to be Diablos, but when it landed near them on the pavement, glaring at them with yellow eyes, they knew it wasn't the Summon. Zell knew that it was a Varuna from the picture he'd seen in that archaeological magazine on the train. Selphie cast a strong sleep spell on Fujin so she wouldn't be an issue for the time being. As Zell stood to face the Varuna Ulurha, Selphie ran across the road to where Seifer was. She started casting various magic on him. It wouldn't cure him, but it could at least ease his pain until he could get to a hospital.

"Guys!" She shouted from her kneeled position beside Seifer, who while he was still breathing with some difficulty, he at least wasn't moaning in pain with every natural motion his body made. She looked over at where all the writhing Blackballers had been. They were starting to move at an alarming rate, and some were even starting to walk their way. It wasn't like watching some zombie movie, because each Blackballer was moving with a purpose, and each one smelled terrible. It was the stench of death that was washing over them like a wave. Their eyes were all glittering black, and she heard a loud bang as Irvine shot at the demon.

Squall saw what Selphie was shouting about, and closed his eyes. He quickly summoned Shiva, and started moving towards the throngs of Blackballers who were starting to move with grace they'd probably never had as humans. They were being fuelled by ancient black magic, just like Raijin had been. Squall didn't have to tell Shiva what to do. As soon as she saw Diablo's minion, she knew exactly why she'd been summoned. Though, she couldn't feel Daeva's magic in the air. So, he was seeking any loophole he could around Bahamut's anger. That was so typically him. Her icy gaze targeted Ulurha, who just stared back at her with a smile on his demonic visage.

Selphie didn't want to leave Seifer still so injured, but she couldn't let Squall and Irvine fight all those Blackballers alone. "I'll be back," she whispered gently to Seifer, who was still breathing heavily, clutching at his chest, which was still burning like he was on fire. She dashed after Squall, who was moving to the front lines of the wave of attackers. Zell was still crouched beside Seifer, holding his hand and looking down at him with worry.

"Zell, come on!" Irvine shouted. He was standing back, sniping at their opponents. They were all also trying to keep an eye on what was going on between Shiva and Ulurha, but the ice Queen could obviously hold her own. While Varunas were intensely powerful and old, they were nothing compared to the likes of her. Squall cut through as many Blackballers as he could find with Lionheart. Selphie and Zell joined him in the fray. Selphie whipped her nunchaku around, also backing up her attacks with magic that took three or four of them out of commission at a time. Zell fought with an intense, angry fervour brought on by the fact that Seifer was now laying in the grass in intense pain, his leg bent at the wrong angle and still spitting up blood, even after Selphie's round of curative magic. They were starting to trip over the bodies of re-dead Blackballers, but more were still coming. Squall found himself knocked down by one from behind, the smell making him want to throw up. He tried to slash with his gunblade, but he was pinned at a bad angle. He then felt the warmth of a fire spell, and expected to see Selphie standing behind him, but it wasn't her who had saved his ass. It was Seifer, actually standing, even with his broken knee. His face was sweaty and ashen, splattered with blood he'd spit up. He was casting fire magic and using his hunting knives. It was obvious that he was in extreme pain, and that each step was enough for him to pray for death, but he wasn't giving up. Squall could only watch in complete amazement that Seifer would even bother.

You think you can stand up against me, little demon? Shiva asked calmly

Your powers don't frighten me, nor do they amaze me.

They should frighten you. Your Master isn't here to protect you.

The clouds swirled in the sky as Ulurha moved closer to Shiva. They were circling each other, both levitating a little off the ground. The air around Shiva was getting colder, and while she knew that this Varuna was one of Diablos's most powerful minions, his power meant little to her, and the fact that Daeva would be mad also meant little to her. Squall had called her to help, and she didn't want to refuse him, but Ulurha had also challenged her, and insulted her, so she didn't care about the repercussions with Diablos.

I don't need my master here. Ulurha's wings spread out wide, making him appear much larger than his actual size. I am more than a match for you.

Shiva just smirked and made an amused noise, deciding to put this impudent creature in his place, but a wave of black magic hit her with such force that she stumbled backwards. Her, the great Ice Queen, ancient among the Ancients. Ulurha laughed and took to the skies, his grey scaled body blending into the swirling, chaotic clouds.

"Don't worry about the demon!" Irvine shouted, his eyes still darting everywhere, occasionally a bullet exploding from his gun, sending a Blackballer flying backwards. Had so many of them really died and been brought back? The amount was staggering. "We're gonna get swallowed up here!"

Zell, Selphie and Squall had all been indeed watching Ulurha and Shiva square off, but Irvine's shout brought their attention back to where it should have been. Seifer was concentrating only on the Blackballers around him, though his face had gone beyond white to a sickly grey, and he was covered in sweat, his brow furrowed and face tight in what was obvious physical pain. But, he didn't stop. He couldn't stop. If he stopped, that meant that it was real, that Fujin was laying on the ground, twitching in the downward slide from a Blackball high, and that Raijin was really dead again, that Diablos's ancient magic had cruelly brought him back only to be killed again. And, it was the same with all these Blackballers that fell under Seifer's hunting knives and fire spells. They'd all gone down the same road as Raijin. They'd had lives before, and had gotten addicted, merely because they were pawns to Diablos, part of some game that was a passing fancy to him. They'd also died, not all by Seifer's hands, but died all the same. Some of them may have committed suicide out of the deep depression that came from Blackball withdrawal. Some of them may have been killed by the Timber Police, or by each other in fits of anger when the drug had been in shortage. If Seifer stopped, he would think about all those things, and it would make him weak to Diablos, and to them. He couldn't think about that stuff, because none of it really applied anymore. These were no longer poor, desperate souls who just lost their way. They were monsters, the same as he fought all the time. They had to be. They had to be.

The others were so wrapped up in trying to save their own asses to notice what anyone else was doing, save Selphie. Since she was the strongest magically, she was working on keeping the others alive, but also trying to fight. She wasn't some poor little miss who had to stand on the sidelines, and could give it as well as the guys could. But, because everyone else was so concentrated on not dying to wave after wave of Blackballers (where the hell did they all come from?), she was really the only one who noticed that if there was a contest to see who had the highest body-count, Seifer would be winning. He looked as pale and brutal as the Blackballers, so Selphie just couldn't understand where his drive was coming from. Maybe Seifer didn't understand, either.

As Squall cut through the undead Blackballers with Lionheart, his eyes briefly kept looking over to Zell, who literally had his hands full with his own battles. His head was still spinning from the punch Zell had given him, and Squall didn't understand it. He didn't understand why Zell would get so mad about Squall doing the right thing and trying to protect him. Seifer had obviously wanted to face Raijin one-on-one. Why couldn't Zell just understand Squall wanting to do the right thing for everyone? Squall was jerked into focus by the loud sound of a gunshot. Irvine was standing very near him, giving him a horrified look.

"Squall, fucking pay attention. You could have gotten gutted."

Squall looked down at the body of the Blackballer who had been about to attack him. They were holding what looked like a broken piece of metal in their hand, and it was wickedly jagged. He just nodded at Irvine as they thinned out the crowd. Occasionally, they were all caused to turn their heads by a loud crack of magic from the fight between Shiva and Diablos's minion.

Shiva had icicles hanging from her elbows and wrists, as well as jagged shards of ice where Ulurha's razor-sharp claws had cut her. Shiva's blood froze instantly once it left her body. Ulurha was also bleeding, his blood that was blacker than even the night around them dripping onto the road. One of his wings was bent at the wrong angle from his back, but Shiva now knew that it had been incorrect of her to write off Ulurha's powers, especially when she of all beings knew that age did play an important part in the power of one's magic. Shiva actually found it hard to breathe because of all the pressure of Ulurha's magic. While his powers did differ from Daeva's, there was a distinct similarity. She could gauge how to fight him because of her knowledge of Daeva's powers in the black arts of necromancy and gravity magic. She shot out a rain of ice shards above her head, Ulurha screaming in a high-pitched wailing as they stabbed him. He fell from the sky with a loud thud, Shiva throwing her most powerful ice magic at him. It had been a while since she'd been in such a long battle, and grew weary of it. She shot out more ice shards at Ulurha, but was flung backwards with force by a wall of thick gravity magic. She fell amongst a pile of bodies, their dead limbs immediately becoming caked with ice upon contact with her skin. She became momentarily tangled up, and it gave Ulurha a chance to attack her. His claws dug into her throat, and a spurt of blood immediately froze as it came spewing from her neck, leaving a sharp icicle sticking up.

Shiva flung a thick dagger of ice out from her palm, getting Ulurha in the left side of his face. He squealed and jerked off her, his spindly, clawed hands going up to his face, trying to pull out the large spike. Shiva kicked the demon in the face and thrust Diamond Dust out on him. Ulurha screamed and wailed as the ancient power of Shiva's ice magic froze him in a case of icicles. She didn't stop until she could no longer hear his screeching, because demons were notoriously tricky, especially demons that learned all they know from Diablos. She stared down at his frozen form, at his wings folded down on his back, his mouth open in a scream. She created a large shard of ice in her palm, and flung it at Ulurha's frozen body. He splintered and shattered like a broken mirror, and she turned her back and started to walk towards Squall. But, she actually limped as she did so. Her, the great Ice Queen, millions of years old, was limping from a fight with a lesser demon.

Squall felt a pull in his abdomen as Shiva's powers disappeared into his body. Lionheart sliced through the chest of an approaching Blackballer, and Squall looked around to see that most of them were littering the ground in twisted piles of limbs. Zell was giving a fierce kick to the face of one that fell with a loud noise of cracking cartilage and teeth. Selphie was already running back across the road to where they'd left Fujin, sliding to her knees on the asphalt to check on her. Irvine's eyes were still darting around to check to see if there was another ambush in the works. Seifer stabbed the last standing one in the kidneys with his hunting knives. When it fell to his feet, Seifer wobbled, like a person who'd just woken up from sleepwalking, and then he collapsed. He didn't fall to his knees and then fully to the ground. He just fell.

Zell had been so wrapped up in fighting that he hadn't really noticed Seifer attacking Blackballers with them, but he'd sure noticed the way Seifer had just fallen like a tree cut down. "Seifer!" He exclaimed, running to the other man's position, kicking some corpses out of the way so he could kneel beside his lover. "Seifer!" He called again. Zell tore off one of his bloody gloves with his teeth, and touched Seifer's face with his bare palm. "Shit, he's burning up. Seifer?!" Zell leaned over the other man, letting out a strangled cry of frustration. "Seifer!? SELPHIE!" He shouted, knowing that she was by far the best mage out of them.

She came jogging over, looking down at him. "Shit..." She started casting some protective magic on him. "I dunno what he was thinking," she chastised quietly. "He was too hurt to get up, let alone fight."

"What were you thinking, you moron?" Zell whispered into Seifer's ear, wiping some blood off his too pale cheeks, which were also damp with sweat.

"That knee doesn't look good," Selphie pointed out gravely, rising to a standing position. "We better get him and Fujin to a hospital. Fast. You should probably carry Seifer, since I think he's a little too heavy for me. I'll get Fujin."

Zell nodded and put his glove back on so he wouldn't lose it. Zell was definitely strong enough to pick Seifer up, who was pretty heavy because of his height and muscle mass, but it was a little awkward because of Seifer's long limbs, and the fact that Zell was much smaller, and he also wanted to be gentle because Seifer was so injured. He whispered things in Seifer's ear even though he was passed out. Zell was sure that Seifer could hear him, though. He really was just whispering nonsense, or saying things like 'you're going to be okay', followed by various terms of affection. Fujin was starting to rouse, muttering things under her breath in Diablos's black language. Selphie cast another strong sleep spell on her as she buckled the unconscious woman into the car. Zell did the same with Seifer, constantly stroking his hair and kissing the side of his face, his own face creased with worry. Selphie got behind the wheel, Irvine going in Squall's car with him so he could still keep a lookout for any incoming attacks. It was a very slow and tense ride to the hospital, everyone on edge, and wondering what Diablos's next attack would bring.

It was merely a day after Ulurha's death at Shiva's hands when Bahamut called a council to the replicated throne-room built from his memory and magic. He put a barrier around his realm so that no member of the court could change into their original form. Etanin very well knew that this was going to be a volatile meeting, and he wanted to restrict everyone's powers as much as he could, save his own. He didn't use his powers often, so sometimes even members of the Ancient court forgot how strong Bahamut really was, and why he was their ruler, and today would be a reminder, for all attendees of the meeting would know that in a second, Bahamut could come to full form and completely obliterate them while they were weakened.

He was sitting at the head of the table, sitting casually with his legs crossed and his fingers tented before him. There were a lot of nervous faces. Parminder still had cuts on her human face from the injuries she'd received in true form. Bahamut had laid out on the table what the meaning of this meeting was already; that only a member of this court could have gotten through Daeva's barriers to kill Nha'zora, and Bahamut wanted answers. There was also the matter of Ulurha's death at Shiva's hands. Daeva was sitting across the table from her, fidgeting. His face showed no nerves, only livid rage. His lips were white and his eyes were on fire with it. Parminder just stared back. She knew what she'd done, and it was Ulurha's own fault for attacking her, and she also knew that she was innocent on the Nha'zora issue.

"Come on!" Daeva shouted at her. "Why don't you just fucking admit it?"

"Because I have nothing to admit," Parminder replied coolly.

"You murdered Ulurha, you bitch!" Daeva yelled, vaulting onto the table. He got his hands around her throat and started throttling her. She cursed at him and also started to physically attack him. Kwar Mbarba, the human form of Doomtrain, grabbed Parminder in his powerful arms and pulled her away from Daeva's hands, which had left an ugly purple necklace of bruises around her throat. Etanin had one arm flung across Daeva's chest and pulled him back.

"This won't solve anything Berith," Etanin whispered in his ear. Daeva struggled against his arm to try and attack Parminder again. "Stop it."

"She murdered my Varuna," Daeva whispered unhappily. "You fucking bitch!" He tried to struggle against Etanin again. "Vahr dullarth xharvax di mol parvbarcxha!"

As Daeva screamed at Parminder, who was also shouting obscenities at Daeva, Etanin looked over the top of the fey's head to Alexander, who was still sitting in his usual spot at the table, watching the whole thing with a blank expression on his face. He felt Etanin's gaze on him, and stared back. Alexander looked questioningly at his King, his face showing nothing. But, Etanin kept staring at him, his gaze never wavering, always like a laser right through Alexander's body. Eventually, the priest had to look away from such an intense glare, but even with his face turned away, Alexander could still feel Etanin's eyes on him.

"This isn't helping anything, Berith," Etanin whispered into Daeva's ear.

"She murdered my Varuna," Daeva whispered back, his voice sounding like he was on the verge of tears.

"Because your Varuna attacked her. And, there is no proof that it was she who killed Nha'zora."

Daeva let out a frustrated noise of pure rage and pushed Etanin away from him. He threw his heavy oak chair against the wall, smashing it, and stormed off. Daeva knew the layout of this castle well, even if it only existed within their realm of magic, and thus knew where he was going.

Parminder looked angrily to Etanin. "I don't have to defend myself to you, but I don't know what the hell he's talking about. I killed his Varuna because his Varuna tried to kill me."

"You don't have to explain yourself to me, Parminder." Etanin crossed his arms casually. "Yes, Daeva's Varuna attacked you, and you had to kill him. Daeva would have been angry anyway, but with this whole Nha'zora thing..." He trailed off, his eyes looking over to Alexander once more.

She disentangled from Kwar, and nodded at him. "My Lord, you keep Daeva away from me, at least until he's acting rationally." She huffed and disappeared.

"I don't really think this helped anything," Manannan said quietly.

"It got everything out in the open," Etanin answered. "You may all leave if you wish, but just note that I'll be keeping an eye on things." He stared at Alexander once more before the priest vanished, rather quickly too. Manannan, however, remained.

"I see it on your face, Etanin. What are you thinking?" He cocked his head in a child-like manner. "You suspect Alexander, don't you?"

"There's no proof."

Manannan laughed, his legs swinging in the air as he sat on the edge of the table. "Since when has that stopped you from punishing someone?" His blue, blue eyes trailed along the courtroom, noting all the weapons hanging on the wall. Each was cleaned to a bright polish now, but in their days, every single one of those weapons had been drenched in blood at one time or another, the blood of people receiving punishment at his hands.

"These aren't mortals we're dealing with here, though. I have to tread carefully."

"But, if it had been Alexander that had broken through Daeva's barriers, Daeva most certainly would have known."

"I know. This is why I'm unsure. But, the motive definitely fits in Alexander's case."

"I'm sure you'll do what you think is best...." Manannan trailed off, really not sure what to say.

"You don't have to tread lightly, Manannan. You think that I'll just automatically blame Alexander because of my lack of friendship with him, and my closeness with Daeva."

"I do think that."

"This is why I want to be sure. I don't want there to be any doubt that I'm going after the correct person."

"Daeva can at least take consolation in the fact that he caused massive chaos and destruction in Timber." Manannan shrugged as his body disappeared from the tabletop. "At least that's something, I suppose."

Etanin started at the now empty table for a while. The meeting really had done very little, if you weren't looking in the right place. Most of the court would have thought that it was a complete waste of time, but it hadn't been for Etanin. He'd called the most powerful of them there to study their reactions to his questions, and to Daeva's anger. He'd known that Daeva would lose his temper. There was more to being powerful than simply throwing your magical weight around. There was patience, watchfulness and sneakiness, all of which Etanin had used, rather than command an answer through fear tactics. He'd studied each of their reactions when they'd been in their weakest forms, and it was Alexander's lack of reaction that had spoken the loudest. He walked through the halls of his old castle, his old home. Etanin's footsteps echoed in the empty hallways, his shadow cast in the form of a dragon by the flickering candles in their sconce holders. Every detail was the same as it had been when he was alive, including the portraits on the wall in this hallway. Portraits of his past wives, and including one of Thuban as a grown woman. The wives meant very little to him, all having died at the hands of his executioners, including Thuban's mother. But, Thuban still stirred something in him, though he tried to purge her from every realm of his existence.

"You should have let me tear her apart..." Daeva muttered. Etanin had come into his chambers to find Daeva flopped on an exquisitely upholstered sofa, already on his fourth glass of brandy. He hadn't spoken for a while, even though he'd known Etanin had been standing there for a while.

"You should have controlled yourself," Etanin chastised.

"Oh, fuck you!" Daeva shouted, throwing a pillow at Etanin. "My Varunas are dead, Eta...." Daeva trailed off, and he sounded very lost. He slumped down, the empty brandy snifter rolling out of his hands and falling onto the carpet without breaking.

"I know." Etanin sat down on the sofa beside Daeva. "I promised you I'd find answers. It just doesn't happen overnight."

"She did it," Daeva hissed. He would have transformed at that moment in his anger if it weren't for Etanin's barriers. "Shiva fucking did it, Eta!"

"Stop it," he commanded quietly, grabbing Daeva's wrists to make him sit still. When Daeva tried to rage again, Etanin commanded "Stop it" in a sterner voice. "You have to keep yourself calm."

"That's easy for you to say!" Daeva exclaimed angrily. But, when he spoke next, it was in a very quiet and sad voice. "My Varunas have been with me for so long... they've always been there, they were the only ones who were always there, who were always on my side." Daeva didn't say that with accusation, though Etanin knew it was a valid point. He may have been fiercely loyal to Daeva, but he wasn't always on his side. Daeva angrily turned his face away, because he felt something stinging at his eyes that he hadn't felt in a long time, and a long time for someone his age really was a long time. Tears. He hated himself for crying, because it made him feel weak. He was the Dark Messenger. He wasn't supposed to cry like this. A tear slid down his cheek, and he felt Etanin's fingers brush hair off his cheek, tucking it behind his pointed fey ear.

"Ulurha loved me," Daeva whispered as another tear trickled down his face. "He loved me."

"He loved your power," Etanin whispered into Daeva's fragrant hair.

"It was still love, My Lord."

Etanin traced the pointed line of Daeva's ear, then whispered something to him that was too intimate to repeat. Daeva started quietly crying at those words, because nobody had spoken to him like that in his entire lifetime. Eta had never even said something like that before. When Etanin's arms wrapped around Daeva from behind, whispering those too personal words again, Daeva didn't feel weak about crying.

Seifer groaned in pain when he woke up on the third day of being in the Timber hospital. He'd been under since the fight with the resurrected Blackballers. As soon as he woke up, he noticed that he needed to shave, but also that his whole body felt sore. His knee and back were absolutely killing him, and his torso felt like it had been beaten with a sack of doorknobs. He groaned and rubbed his head, wincing when his fingers touched his forehead. Not because of his head, but because of his fingers. He blearily looked at his hand and saw a couple of his fingers were bandaged. Everything was blurry, so he searched the side table for his glasses, but the touch of it felt weird. He looked around and noticed he wasn't in his bedroom.


He tried to sit up, but that was just too much effort, and caused him to make a mewling noise of pain.

"Do you need me to call the doctor?" A voice asked, sounding disjointed to the still groggy Seifer.

He looked around, and saw Cid standing at the foot of his bed, his shirt looking rumpled, even to Seifer's bad vision.

He tried to speak, but only a coarse sound came out. He gently touched his neck, and felt that it was bandaged, too.

"I'll go get the doctor." Cid bustled out of the room. Seifer looked around again, wondering how he got here. He saw that Zell was slumped at the side of the bed in a chair, sleeping in a very uncomfortable position. His head was resting by Seifer's elbow, and he looked completely out for the night. It didn't take long for Cid to come back with someone in a white coat. Seifer couldn't even really remember how he'd gotten here, but didn't really have time to remember when the doctor started to prod him. The doctor was doing it gently, but it felt like another beating to Seifer, who screamed in agony loud enough that Zell jerked awake. Seifer was pumped full of drugs, and as he blacked out again, he heard Zell calling his name.

Seifer woke up about 12 hours later, still feeling absolutely awful and bleary from the drugs, but a little better.

"Hello, again." Cid smiled down at him. This time, Cid was sitting in a chair beside the bed, but was still wearing the same rumpled shirt.

"Seifer?" Edea came from somewhere in the room that Seifer couldn't see, and looked down at him, standing behind Cid's chair. "How are you feeling?"

"Like shit," Seifer answered, surprised at how his own voice sounded. It was completely grated and hoarse, not sounded at all like himself. He lolled his head around on the pillow, and saw with disappointment that Zell wasn't beside his bed anymore. "What are you doing here?" He started coughing, and took the cup of ice chips that Cid offered him.

"We wanted to be here for you," Edea answered. "We are your parents, and we do love you."

Seifer didn't reply to that.

"Do you remember how you got here....?" Cid asked.

Seifer contemplated for a while.

"Seifer....?" Edea began to ask.

"I'm thinking," he interrupted, coughing again. He sucked on a piece of ice, the coldness soothing his injured throat. The concussion he'd gotten made it hard for him to concentrate, but his memory did start to piece things together, and each moment that he remembered made him feel worse, as if he was taking the beating all over again. "Yeah...." He trailed off bitterly. "Yeah, I remember."

"We're just so glad you're okay."

Seifer adjusted his weight, and couldn't help whimpering in pain.

"Go get the doctor," Cid asked of Edea. They shared a look, and even in his painful state, Seifer noticed. Edea looked down at the ground, and Cid had a look on his face that Seifer knew well, since he'd seen it on the Headmaster's face many times during his days as a Garden cadet. It was a look of supreme disappointment and anger.

"You found out, huh?" Seifer asked, chewing on some ice.

Cid was about to ask what Seifer was talking about, but saw the shrewd knowledge in his son's eyes. He passed Seifer his spare pair of eyeglasses, since his primary pair had been destroyed in the battle.

Seifer took them without a word, putting them on and seeing Cid's face in sharp focus, lined with so many emotions.

"How long have you known....?" Cid asked carefully.

"Not too long."


"Zell, Squall and me walked in on them in his office."

"And, you didn't say anything....?"

"It wasn't my place to tell you. She should have told you. I guess she finally did."

"No, she didn't." Cid frowned deeply. "I walked in on them, too."

"Oh. So... what now?"

"I don't know," Cid answered, looking at Seifer. "How did you feel?"

"Ashamed of her," Seifer admitted after a while. The pain was starting to ebb because of his painkiller drip. "Disappointed that they could be so sleazy. You know... I looked up to Laguna a lot when I was a kid, because he was in that Sorceress's Knight movie. I fucking loved that movie. Though...." Seifer stared towards the window, not wanting to look into Cid's eyes. "I haven't seen it in forever. I'm sure it's just awful, and I'm only remembering it through nostalgia-coloured glasses."

"I wonder how long it's been going on."

"You never asked?"

"What you heard me just say to her is the first time I've really talked to her since it happened."

"You shouldn't leave it. Unless you want your relationship to die, like our relationship died."

Cid looked away at the harshness of Seifer's comment. "Well, we've been a little distracted. We've both been more concerned about you."

"How long have I been here....?" Seifer asked, looking around the room again in vain for Zell.

"This is the fourth day."

"Where's Zell?" Seifer asked.

"Edea made him go get some food and some rest. He's barely left this room."

Seifer just nodded, laying back against his pillows. "What... what happened....?" Seifer trailed off with a yawn. "What happened to all the Blackballers....?" He briefly thought of Fujin, but he couldn't seem to stay awake long enough to hear Cid's answer. He wasn't quite asleep, but he was just shutting down for some more rest. He felt Cid remove his glasses from his face, and also heard Edea and the doctor come back in. The doctor said some stuff to them about Seifer's condition, and then he heard Cid say something tersely to Edea. He may have heard these things, but just couldn't react to them. He also felt Edea kiss his forehead, and Cid stroke his hair. Later, he felt the touch of Zell's hand. He couldn't see Zell, but he knew it was him simply by his touch. Over the next few days, Seifer was in and out of consciousness. The doctor wanted visitors restricted, but Zell was as stubborn as a mule and refused to leave. Cid and Edea were also in and out, but not usually at the same time. Pieces that Seifer couldn't remember were filled in for him, and he found out that Fujin was in another ward of the hospital, the substance abuse ward.

Seifer also found out the extent of his injuries from Zell, who had told him between kisses to each area, and gentle and loving strokes of his fingers. Five broken ribs, two cracked vertebrae, a cracked left orbital bone, a broken kneecap, bruised kidneys, lungs and vocal chords, two broken fingers, a concussion and 700 stitches throughout his body. Zell hadn't gotten off free, either. He had a broken hand and a sprained shoulder.

"How's Fujin doing?" He asked, groggy from another dose of painkillers. The doctors were starting to lessen the amount, for Seifer was slowly starting to get better. He was starting to walk around more, just to exercise his muscles.

"We don't really know. They're just saying that they're weaning her from Blackball, and that it's lucky it was only one dose. But... we aren't sure what they did to her before we found her," Zell answered, laying beside Seifer in the small hospital bed, being very careful about how he touched the other man. "They don't really let people visit that ward. I guess it interferes with the detox program or something..." Zell kissed Seifer's forehead, their fingers looped together. They were just enjoying a few moments alone, without doctors or Cid and Edea coming in, and while Seifer was awake and mostly alert.

"I guess our first date kinda got messed up." Seifer then groaned.

"What?" Zell asked, bolting right into a sitting position, immediately going into mothering mode. "Are you okay? Did the morphine wear off? Should I call the doctor?"

Seifer waved a hand. "No... no...." He yawned. "Nothing like that. Just thinking about that I missed even more time from work."

Zell let out a sigh. "Oh, I thought it was something serious." He then scowled. "You fucking scared me, you jerk." He smacked Seifer's chest, and both of them howled in pain. Seifer because of his cracked ribs, and Zell because he'd done it with his broken hand. "Sorry!" Zell exclaimed, putting his hand to his mouth as Seifer gasped for air. "Oh shit, I'm really sorry."

"It's okay," Seifer grunted, rubbing his chest.

"God, baby... I'm sorry."

"Stop simpering." Seifer flopped back against the pillow. "And, lay back down."

Zell slowly did so, being extra careful not to hurt Seifer again. They didn't really talk much more, and just lay in silence. Seifer drifted in and out of sleep, and Zell was just content in laying next to Seifer and listening to him breathe. It confirmed in him how lucky Seifer was that he was still alive. Seifer opened his eyes when he heard a gentle knock on the door. Zell sat up a little, and his face, which had a look of serenity on it before, completely darkened with anger.

"I just came to see how you were," Squall said in his emotionless way. He was dressed in his usual black, with a dress shirt and equally dark slacks. Most of Squall's injuries weren't visible, concentrated mostly to deep tissue and organ bruising, but there was one very visible wound. The huge welt on the side of his face from Zell's fist.

"Well, your concern is appreciated," Seifer said diplomatically. "Any word from Rinoa yet?" Seifer had heard through the grapevine that Squall was unable to get hold of his wife.

"No, none." Squall frowned, but changed the subject. "How's your hand?" Squall asked of Zell, defensively crossing his arms.

"Don't even fucking talk to me," Zell snapped.


"What, are you gonna vote me out of my own boyfriend's hospital room, too?" Zell shouted, getting out off the bed violently enough that Seifer grunted in pain, but Zell was so livid he didn't hear it.

"You won't even let me explain myself?" Squall asked. His voice was far calmer than Zell's, but Seifer could see deep under his mask of blankness that he was far from calm. Zell, if he weren't through the roof, would have probably noticed it, too. He was definitely upset, but more on the side of sadness than the side that Zell was on right now.

"What's to explain?" Zell's hands were balling into fists at his sides. "I don't think you can say anything that will make me hate you less."

"Hate...?" Squall asked, uncertain.

"Yeah. Hate. How did you think I would feel, you fucking bastard?"

"I'm part of the Administration at Garden, Zell." Squall's scarred brow was furrowing with his emotions. "It requires me making decisions that I may find hard, because they're what's best for the rules."

"What rules?" Zell shouted at the top of his lungs. "How does who I see during my personal time have anything to do with my duties as a SeeD?!"

"It has something to do with it when that person is a murderer."

"Ahem..." Seifer mockingly cleared his throat. "Being the person currently under discussion, I'd just like to say that I was cleared of charges, and perhaps Garden was a tad hasty in giving out punishment, before Esthar's case was finished."

"You just let yourself be bamboozled by Xu, since she's such a fucking whore and hates Seifer for no reason. You played right into her hands because you're so spineless and can't think for yourself and you can't handle change. Maybe Rinoa wised up and realized it too, and that's why you can't find her."

Squall looked away, and Seifer could see that his eyes were starting to get moist, brimming with tears.

"You shouldn't talk about things you don't know..." Squall trailed off, his voice very quiet.

"Hurts, does it? Well, good. A few sharp words and a punch in the face isn't anywhere near as awful as you deserve, you fuck. Now get out." Zell then shoved Squall in the chest, sending him stumbling back a few steps. When he looked back at Zell, Seifer could see that the tears had trickled down his cheeks, but that Squall also looked angry.

"Don't shove me," Squall said lowly.

"Fine." Zell backhanded Squall across the face. He moved to hit Squall again, but his hand was caught in the wind-up. Seifer had quickly gotten out of bed, and stepped between the two of them, hobbling because of his broken knee.

"Stop it. I'm a sick man, and I shouldn't have to be breaking up a fistfight in a fucking hospital!" He looked down into Zell's eyes, releasing his wrist. "Go take a walk, okay? You need to cool down."

Zell just silently fumed, but Seifer wouldn't break their gaze until Zell relented. "Fine," he answered. "Fine."

"Good." Seifer leaned forward and kissed Zell gently on his anger-set mouth. His eyes kept following Zell until he was out of the room.

"I should go," Squall said, making a motion with his hand towards the door.

"Sit down," Seifer commanded as he got back on the bed, his face already covered in sweat because of the effort of even simply standing and walking. Seifer motioned for Squall to sit on the bed. Squall looked confused about the request, but then relented.

"Are you okay? I know as well as anyone that Zell can pack quite the punch. Especially because I think I've been on the receiving end of 75 percent of them."

"I'm fine."

"Okay, well I'm just going to come out and say this: what's up with this Rinoa thing? What's Zell talking about?"

Squall didn't say anything for a while, but Seifer didn't press him to. He knew very well that Squall wasn't much of a talker. "It's not really your concern."

"Call it concern for Rinoa, then. Why isn't she here? I figured she'd be as stubborn as Zell is with me, and never want to leave your side, especially after a brush with death."

"I can't get a hold of her," Squall admitted. He didn't know why he was confiding in Seifer of all people. Maybe it was because Zell had opened a raw wound in him, or maybe it was because of how non-judgemental his voice sounded. Maybe it was because he was simply there. "I've been trying for a couple weeks, and she won't answer the phone at home. I've tried Garden, and I've tried her father's house. I can't find her anywhere."

"Have you called the police? Or, has Garden tried to find her?"

"I haven't called anyone."

Seifer frowned in confusion. "But, why? Something might have happened to her."

"I don't think she wants to talk to me."

Seifer cocked his head at the sadness in Squall's voice. He didn't press anything, since it sounded, from Squall's tone, that it was something serious and personal.

"She's pregnant," Squall said quietly. "When she told me, I asked what she was planning to do... if she was planning to abort. She got upset, and I was upset, and I haven't talked to her since." All of this came out in a whisper. "What if.... what if she really did have an abortion...?" Squall asked tentatively. "That's not something that can be undone."

"Do you want her to have an abortion?"

"I don't know..... But, what if something terrible happened to her? What if Diablos....?"

"Diablos is after me and Zell, not Rinoa."

"Or, what if she did get an abortion, and it went horribly wrong....?" Seifer could hear Squall's voice shaking, and could hear the real fear there. "I can't find my wife anywhere, Selphie and Quistis are barely talking to me, my father is breaking up someone else's marriage, and my own best friend hates me. And... and, I think I'm going crazy. I keep feeling like I'm being followed, but there's nobody there...." Squall trailed off because his voice was shaking so bad. He covered his face with his hands in shame that he was losing it like this in front of his old rival. He started crying quietly into his palms, all this fear and sadness growing too big for him to continue bottling up.

As he cried, he felt Seifer's weight on the bed shift, and then felt Seifer's hand on his back, between his shoulders. Yes, Seifer was mad with Squall about what happened with Zell, but it was plain that Squall was suffering with the fallout. He seemed to be falling apart. Seifer very well knew that Squall was more delicate than his cold exterior made him seem. And, Seifer also knew what it was like to have to live with regrets coming from an action that you wished you could take back. Seifer knew that feeling all too well, for his life was full of those kind of decisions. He stroked his hand up and down Squall's back, which made Squall cry harder, his quiet crying turning into sobs that wrenched his whole body. Squall wrapped his arms around his own shaking body, feeling himself being cocooned in Seifer's arms. Over the years, he'd been in a lot of situations with Seifer Almasy, but he'd never shared a hug with him, or been held by him. Seifer's arms were very strong, and Squall didn't feel ashamed at all. Seifer knew him in a completely different way than anyone else knew him, so Squall didn't feel awkward about crying into his chest.

Seifer kissed the top of Squall's head, and then rested his cheek there, not trying to say any words of comfort. This was a release for Squall, one that he probably sorely needed. He just kept stroking Squall's back, and holding him tight. The way he'd wished someone would have held him so many times in the past, when all his emotions had felt too big to handle. Eventually, Squall stopped crying, but he didn't make a move to pull away, so Seifer didn't make a move to break the hug. Seifer felt Squall sigh against him, and felt the other man's arms wrap around his waist.

When Selphie came in for a visit about ten minutes later, she couldn't have been more surprised. After all, it wasn't every day that you saw Seifer Almasy and Squall Leonhart hugging, let alone looking very content about it. When Squall looked up, Selphie deduced that Squall had been very upset. She could see that his eyes were red, and that his cheeks looked blotchy. There was nothing romantic about the embrace. It was a comfort thing. "Uhh.... should I come back later?" She asked, jerking her thumbs over her shoulder back towards the hallway.

"No it's okay," Seifer waved for her to come in. "What's up?"

"Uhhhh, not much. How are you?" She didn't know if she was asking Squall or Seifer. Squall didn't seem embarrassed about being caught in Seifer's arms, because he took his time pulling away, wiping his cheeks with his hands, and then running his fingers through his hair as he sniffled. He stood up, not really paying much attention to Selphie at the moment. "Thanks, Seifer."

The blonde just nodded. "If you need to talk or anything, you can call me, you know?"

"Umm.... can you tell.... uhh, can you tell Zell that I.... that I'm sorry?" Squall's voice still sounded shaky, like he was going to break down again. "That... I.....?" Squall trailed off, not knowing how to end that sentence.

Seifer nodded as Squall left. Squall made eye contact with Selphie, but didn't try to give her any greeting or pleasantries.

"Where is Zell, anyway?" Selphie asked when she and Seifer were alone.

"I made him take a walk. Him and Squall almost got into it."

"Ohhhhh." She sat on the bed where Squall had been. "So... what's wrong with him?"

"Too much stuff for him to handle right now, but I don't think it's my place to talk about it. So, what's up?"

"I just got some info I thought you might want to know. About Fujin."

Seifer perked up. "Really? How is she? Did you see her?"

"Whoa there tiger." Selphie put her hands up. "No, I didn't get to see her. The detox program likes to keep the environment... sterile. They don't like family or friends visiting the patients, because it makes them want to leave, and it's just easier, instead of making them sad or whatever. At least, that's what the doctor who talked to me said."

"But... did you find out how she is?"

"Yeah. He said that she's by no means the worst case he's ever seen. She should make a full recovery."

"Well, that's good."

"SeeD spy, at your service." She gave him a mock salute. "I also found out some other stuff, though."

"Other stuff?" Seifer echoed blandly, laying back down. He was starting to feel tired again.

"About Cid and Edea."

"Oh." His interest decreased dramatically. "If it's about Cid finding Edea and Laguna going at it like a couple of sluts, then I already know."

"Huh? How?"

"When I first woke up, I could see the looks they were giving each other. So, are they getting a divorce?"

Selphie played with the hem of her black kilt. "I don't really know. I don't think they know, to be honest. They're both so preoccupied with you and your condition right now that I don't think they've really thought of it. Though, I don't think it helps matters that Sir Laguna is around the hospital a lot because of Squall." Selphie then frowned at Seifer as he lay back against his pillows. "What was up with what I walked in on, anyway?"

"You should really stop giving Squall such a hard time," Seifer muttered sleepily, letting out a long yawn. "I know what it's like to be in his shoes...."

"To what, betray your friends?"

"Somewhat," Seifer answered, opening one eye and giving Selphie a look that shamed her, though she didn't know if that was his intent or not. "I also know what it's like to constantly regret a single action that destroys the rest of your life." He closed his eyes, and he thought Selphie said something, but he couldn't really stay awake. He drifted out of sleep when the bed shifted. He felt the warm weight of Zell curl up against his side, and he also woke up briefly when a nurse came in to check on him. But, other than that, he slept quite deeply.

Edea sat in her hotel room in Timber, stirring her cup of tea, which had long since gone cold. She hadn't even taken a sip. Seifer had been released from hospital the day before, and had gone home with only a brief muttering to her. He'd been a little chattier with Cid, but only a little. At least he'd looked Cid in the eye and said a legible word. At that moment, it seemed like so much more to her. It was a gloomy day outside, which felt fitting to Edea's mood. Her mood was not only that of depression, but of acute loneliness. Not only was Seifer still shunning her, but Rinoa had vanished off somewhere. Edea hadn't really realized how much she appreciated Rinoa being around. Rinoa was a Sorceress, like her, which was something rare, and comforting. Then, there were the two men in her life. Laguna was keeping his distance after Cid caught them, and Cid really wanted nothing to do with her at the moment, not that she blamed him. She looked up from her cold tea when the phone rang. She picked it up, but didn't say anything, since she knew who it was.

"Edea?" Laguna's voice asked. "I know you're listening. I think we should talk to Cid together. We can't just keep all giving each other the silent treatment."

"I don't think I should discuss anything with my husband with you there." She sighed and hung up the phone. But, she knew Laguna had a point. She and Cid were giving each other the silent treatment. And, Laguna wasn't just going to go away, so giving him the silent treatment also wasn't helping anything, especially because even though they'd been caught by the very person they were hiding from, she still desired his company. She sat down in front of her tea again, and just stared at it. She wasn't sure how much time had passed, but a knock at the door shocked her. Edea frowned and got up. She hoped it wasn't Laguna again, but it probably was. He was very stubborn. She opened the door, and was quite surprised to see Cid standing there.

"Oh.... hello."

"Hello," Cid greeted stiffly.

"Come in, please." She opened the door to allow her husband to come in, like he was some stranger, a mere guest in her room. She closed the door behind him. "I'm surprised you came. Happy, though. Have you heard anything from Seifer? How is he?"

"No, of course I haven't. He would never call to tell us how he was. Though, Selphie said he's okay and already back at the shop."

"I just hope he doesn't push himself too hard..."

"I didn't come her to talk about Seifer," Cid said abruptly. He crossed his arms.

"Yes...." Edea sat down, looking up at him. "You have to know how sorry I am."

"I'm sure you are. But, it still doesn't answer the question I have."

"Which is?"

Cid just stared at her, the same look she was sure he gave students when he knew they were lying to him.

"Why, Edea? Hyne, why!?"

"I don't know...." She answered shakily. "I don't know."

"Are you in love with him? Or, is it just for a hot fuck?"

"Cid!" She exclaimed.

"Am I wrong?" He asked. "How long has it been going on?" He laughed bitterly, shaking his head. "No, you know what? Never mind. It doesn't matter how long it's been going on. That it happened even once is enough." He stared angrily down at her. "So, do you love him more than you love me? Or, is it just that you don't find me attractive anymore?"

"That's not it! Laguna and I had been spending so much time together while you were working...."

"Oh, so is it my fault because I had duties at Garden?"

"No!" She exclaimed. "I didn't mean it like that."

"Then, how did you mean it?"

Edea was quiet for a while. "I don't have any answers for you, Cid. I don't know why it happened. It's not because I love you less, because I still love you very much. And, it's not that I wasn't happy...."

"Did you give Seifer, Zell and Squall this same song-and-dance when they caught you two?"

Edea looked down at her tea. "Seifer hasn't spoken to me much at all."

"So, you have no explanation for yourself?"

"I wish I did," she whispered.

"Do you still love me?" Cid asked, his voice not holding anger anymore.

"Yes!" Edea exclaimed quietly. "Of course I do."

Cid shook his head at her. "You know.... ever since I caught you two, that's something I wanted to know... if you still loved me, or even cared about me at all...."

"Of course I still love you!" She stood up and went over to him, putting her hand on his arm. "I can't picture a life without you. You've been by my side during some of my darkest moments..."

"If you felt that way, why did you have to turn to Laguna?"

Edea opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Cid disentangled himself from her. "I think you don't know what you want, and I think that I can't trust you after this. At least when the whole world was against you, I knew it wasn't you. I knew it was Ultimecia that was making you do those awful things. But, I can't blame this on Ultimecia, now can I?"

Edea turned away, pursing her lips which were starting to shake. Cid opened the door, and looked over his shoulder at her. "I can't be with a woman that I can't trust, Edea."

She let out a quiet sob as he went out into the hallway. Her heart leapt in her throat when she heard Laguna's sad voice in the hallway. "Hello, Cid."

"Come for another quickie with my wife?" Cid asked. Edea came out into the hallway, and gasped loudly when Cid punched Laguna in the face. Her hands went up to her mouth as Laguna fell back, hitting an end table with a decorative vase on it. The flowers in the vase scattered down on Laguna. In all the years she'd known Cid, Edea had never seen him hit anyone. He definitely wasn't a man of violence. But, his temper was there, under the surface. Seifer definitely was his son. That look of anger on Cid's face was mirrored in Seifer's face, though a lot more often.

"Cid!" Edea exclaimed, going towards him.

"Stay away from me, Edea!" He shouted angrily, stalking down the hallway. Instead of standing there and waiting for the elevator, he made it a true exit by taking the stairs. Once he was alone in the stairwell, the anger that rarely possessed him seeped away, and he collapsed against the wall, having to take his glasses off because his eyes were stinging with tears. As he wiped his eyes and mourned for what seemed like the death of his marriage, Laguna was slowly getting to his feet, the surroundings spinning.

"What are you doing here?" Edea asked as he rubbed his jaw.

"I still think we need to talk," Laguna pointed out. "And, in person... you can't hang up on me."

"Don't you think we've done enough damage, Laguna?" She asked angrily, storming off into her room and slamming the door behind her.

Squall was sitting alone in his bedroom, trying again to reach Rinoa. He was calling her number in Deling City, and just letting it ring. Irvine and Selphie were both out, so he was very alone, not just in the emotional sense. Though... for some reason, he did feel a little better after seeing Seifer in the hospital. After the twentieth ring, someone finally picked up.

"Rinoa?!" Squall exclaimed. "Rinoa, is that you?"

There was silence on the other end, and he could hear something mechanical in the background. A machine of some sort. There must have been construction outside, or she was using an appliance or something.

"Rinoa.... please.... I need to see you."

"Do you still want me to abort the baby?" She asked, sounding alien to him because of how dead her voice was. Her voice had always given away her emotions, including anger. She'd never sounded this empty to him before.

"No....." He trailed off. "Oh...." He sighed. "I've been so worried about you. Please, come to Timber. I-I... I need to see you."

"I'm busy here right now," she answered, again her voice sounding like it belonged to a stranger.

"How... how are you?" Squall asked. "Did you go to a doctor?"

"I'm fine. I have to go. Squall, I'll talk to you when I'm done my business here." She hung up abruptly.

Squall listened to dead air for a while, and then stared at the receiver in his hand. After a long time, he hung up, disturbed by how unlike herself Rinoa had sounded. And, what was this business she'd talked about?

"Well, at least he got a hold of her," Selphie pointed out as she, Irvine and Zell walked down one of the main streets in Downtown Timber. "So, I guess she's okay."

"You guess...?" Zell asked as he swallowed a bite of the chicken wrap he'd purchased from a sidewalk vendor. "Selphie, whenever you sound hesitant, that means something's wrong."

She shrugged, looping her arm with Irvine's after she polished off her hot dog. "Well, Squall said that she sounded 'off', not like herself..."

"Maybe she's still mad at him." Zell frowned. "I wouldn't blame her there."

"Maybe..... And, I guess things between Cid and Edea aren't getting better. You can see it on Cid's face when we have meetings."

"I can sort of see where he's coming from," Irvine pointed out. "I don't know how I'd feel if I saw Selphie with another man."

"I'm sure you wouldn't care if it was another woman," Selphie muttered, elbowing her boyfriend in the side.

"I know I'd flip my wig if I caught Seifer with another guy," Zell said.

Selphie snorted. "Then, I guess it's a good thing that I was the one who walked in on him and Squall holding each other.... I mean, uhh... oops." She winced. "I shouldn't have said that."

Zell's face darkened like a coming storm, the kind that Timber had seen too many of lately. "What?"

"Oh, it wasn't like that Zell!" She exclaimed, trying to smooth things over. "It's just that Squall was crying, and Seifer was comforting him..."

"I gotta go," Zell said sharply, walking up the sidewalk at a rapid pace.

"Zell, wait!" Selphie called. But, he either didn't hear her, or wasn't listening. "Zell....!! Oh, horseapples."

Irvine and Selphie both stared up the sidewalk. "So, how does your foot taste, anyway?"

"Quiet, you!" Selphie snarked, smacking Irvine's shoulder. But, her brows came together seriously. "You think I should call Seifer and warn him?" She started to pull out her cell phone.

"Why?" Irvine asked as they started walking again. "It's not like Seifer and Squall did anything that needs to be covered up. Seifer will point that out to Zell. Squall just.... needed a friend, that's all."

"Kinda makes me feel bad about how I've been treating him."

"You were feeling loyal to Zell. Of course you'd be angry with him."

"At least he seems genuinely sorry...."

"Don't worry about that stuff right now," Irvine whispered to her. "We actually have some free time, and I don't want to talk about depressing shit." He kissed her temple and they kept walking. Selphie would have liked to have listened to Irvine, but how could she not think of everything that was happening? And, she was quite sure they hadn't seen the worst yet.

Seifer had his leg propped up on a spare chair in his office as he finished up some paperwork. He wasn't pulling all-nighters to catch up, because it would do too much of a number on his still sore body, but also because Zell was being a tyrant about that, and was very punctual about picking Seifer up, since Seifer couldn't drive himself yet. Things were quieting down, so Seifer had a lot of time to finish up without interruptions, especially because Xera and Gietzen were dusting shelves, which always took a while because of so many small items.

He looked up when his office door opened, seeing Zell fly in. He checked his watch. "I still have an hour, Dincht. You're early...." He trailed off when he saw the look on Zell's face. "Whoa.... what happened?"

Zell put his hands on his hips and glowered at Seifer. For such a small guy, he looked pretty imposing at that moment. "So, was it just a morphine-induced haze that made you forget to tell me about you and Squall?"

"Tell you about me and Squall...?" Seifer echoed, a little confused. He put down a piece of paper he'd been reading. "Would you care to enlighten me to what you're blathering about?"

"Why didn't you tell me you were rubbing yourself all over Squall, and I had to hear it from Selphie?"

Seifer blinked dramatically. "Huh?"

"In the hospital?"

"Ohhhh." Seifer started laughing.

"Why are you laughing? Do you deny that you were all cuddling with Squall?"

Seifer's laughter died, and he stared back at Zell with as much anger as Zell was giving him. "Well, Squall is fine, thank you for asking."

"What do I care if Squall's okay if he's sliming up to my boyfriend."

"Can the jealous woman act, Dincht. Because it's not winning any points with me."

"So, did it turn you on?"

Seifer shook his head angrily. "You're fucking insane. Squall was worried about Rinoa, and he was upset over you, and he just started falling apart. What would you have wanted me to do, act like an asshole and just let him cry?"

"He deserves it."

"Is it really so hard for you just to hear him out? That's all he wants."

"It seems all he wants is to get stroked by you."

"He isn't even gay!" Seifer shouted. "Do you realize how ridiculous you sound? That you're jealous over nothing?"

"Yeah, well I never thought Squall would stab me in the back and get me fired. So, what's it for him to fuck you, too?"

Seifer started laughing bitterly into his palms. "You quit, Zell."

"If it was nothing then, why did you so conveniently forget to tell me, huh?!"

"Oh, I don't know..." Seifer put on a mockingly thoughtful face. "Maybe because I was almost killed, and I had other things on my mind. Or, because the doctors pumped me full of painkillers? I hear they make you scatterbrained."

"Don't make fun of me."

"Why not? You're acting like an ass."

"Well, then why were you hugging your childhood enemy like you were best friends?"

"Squall was never my enemy. We were rivals, but never enemies. Ultimecia and school gossip made us enemies. But, we never thought of each other that way. How did you find out, anyway? You weren't there."

"Selphie told me." Zell crossed his arms.

"Did she also tell you that it was completely innocent? Or, did you just storm off without hearing the rest of what she had to say, only hearing what you wanted to?"

"I don't need to hear Selphie to know that Squall is cozying up to you."

"Fuck you, Zell. Why don't you go ask Squall what exactly happened? Why don't you confront him instead of taking your anger for him out on me?" Seifer turned back to his computer. "Why don't you just not worry about picking me up, either? I'll find my own way home."

Zell frowned at Seifer's brush-off, frowned at Seifer not taking his anger seriously. He stormed out of the office, and instead of driving home, drove to the apartment where everything in Timber had first started, the SeeD issued flat that he, Irvine and Selphie had been assigned, and where Squall was now residing in Zell's place.

He got there and rapped angrily on the door. Squall opened it a crack, and was quite surprised to see Zell standing there. "Zell....? I...." He opened the door. "Come in."

Zell stormed past Squall, not noticing that Squall was looking thinner than usual, and had circles under his eyes from lack of sleep brought on by his constant feeling of being watched and followed, worry for his wife, and depression over Zell.

"So, what's next?" Zell asked, spreading his arms out. "It wasn't enough that you had to take my job from me, but my boyfriend, too?"

Squall cocked his head, his pretty mouth drawn into a frown. "I don't follow."

"Oh, you're whole crawl-into-my-boyfriend's-lap incident?"

"It wasn't like that," Squall said simply, leaning against the wall as Zell paced, unable to stay still, especially when he was so wound up. "I was... upset."

"Upset?!" Zell shouted. "Upset? You deserve to be upset after what you did to me."

"I regret it."

"Is that all you can say?!" Zell asked.

"I can tell you that Seifer was merely being kind to me. I just.... needed someone to be there for me. If you think it was something more than that, I'm sorry, but you're wrong."

"I find it hard to believe anything you say."

"Why wouldn't you believe Seifer, then?"

"Because I think you're a back-stabber."

"I didn't do it to stab you in the back, Zell." Squall sat down, folding his hands on the tabletop. "I'm a Garden official. I have to be neutral. I know you won't care, but for what it's worth…. I didn't vote against you because I wanted to."

"You did it to follow the rules," Zell muttered, crossing his arms. He stared at Squall for a very long time. It was a very bitter gaze. "Right. I got that."

"I've always believed in following the rules."

"Except when it came to Rinoa?"

"That was for love…."

"And, you don't love me?" Zell asked sharply. "I know we aren't a couple, but you don't love me, even as a friend?"

"I didn't say that…"

"I don't even think you know what you're trying to say." Zell went towards the door. "You can't even give me a good excuse."

"No, I can't…" Squall trailed off as Zell opened the door with force. Squall winced as the door heavily hit the wall. "I have no excuses. I can only tell you how sorry I am."

Zell just slammed the door behind him. Squall sighed heavily and slumped so his head was on the table. He knew his excuse was lame, but it was the only one he had.

Zell quietly removed his black hooded sweatshirt, and slowly kicked off his sneakers. The bedroom was dark, and he saw that Seifer was already asleep. All the lights in the house were out, so it was only lit by moonlight. He took off the rest of his clothes without trying to make much noise. After going over to Squall's, he'd driven around for a while, thinking. He'd realized that he'd flown off the handle, and now felt like a complete fool. He crawled into bed, looking at Seifer's back, the way his T-shirt pulled across his shoulder blades in that delicious way. With hesitation, Zell leaned over and kissed Seifer on the cheek, and noticed that the other man's eyelashes fluttered.

"Did I wake you up?" Zell whispered.

"No. I was just getting ready to fall asleep."

"Oh…." Zell sighed and pressed his forehead to the nape of Seifer's neck. "I was such an asshole."

"Yeah, you were."

"As soon as I heard Squall's name, I just lost it."

"You had no reason to."

"I know, and I'm sorry. I know… I know you wouldn't cheat on me."

"It isn't even a matter of that," Seifer said evenly. "I seriously hope that this isn't an indication of future events in our relationship, Zell. I really don't find the whole jealousy bit a turn-on."

"I know, Seifer. I'm sorry. Hyne, I'm sorry."

"Because, I have enough to deal with right now. An ancient demon is trying to kill me, so I don't need to worry about my boyfriend flying off the handle."

"I know," Zell emphasised, wrapping his arms around Seifer and squeezing tightly. "Believe me, I know. But… I just don't have an excuse…" He trailed off, thinking about what Squall had said to him.

"So, did you take my advice?"

"What, talking to Squall instead of using you as a middle man?"


"I did, actually."

Seifer gave Zell a surprised look. "Really? How did it go?"

"I'd be lying if I said good."

"Did you let him talk?"

"Yes." Zell rolled over to lay on his back. "But… he couldn't tell me anything. He didn't have a reason that wasn't bullshit."

Seifer just made a noise in the back of his throat, but it spoke very loudly to Zell, who felt ashamed of himself. "I know, I know. I was a complete prick."

Seifer reached over and pushed Zell's bangs off his face. "At least you can admit when you're wrong. Not all of us have that quality." He gave Zell a little smile.

"So, we're okay?"

"Yeah. Just… think things through before you flip out again, okay?"

"Deal." Zell rolled over, winding up on top of Seifer. "I'm glad you're so forgiving. Before, I never thought you would be."

"Maybe I wouldn't have been," Seifer whispered, his fingers stroking over Zell's face, tracing the lines and curves of his face, and the pattern of his tattoo. "I did used to be quite the asshole, in case you haven't forgotten."

"No, I didn't forget. But… you're definitely not an asshole now."

"I can be if you want me to."

"I could be an asshole right back."

"No thank you," Seifer said with a devilish grin. "I've seen enough of that today."

Zell frowned, but didn't make a snide comment because he knew that he deserved Seifer's little digs. "You're not an asshole anymore, though."

"Some people would disagree."

"Some people can eat shit."

"Well, I admire your loyalty, even if it's misplaced at times."

"I know, I know." Zell sighed and rested his chin on Seifer's collarbone. "I dunno… maybe it wasn't only Squall that made me over-react. Maybe it was because this is my first serious relationship where I don't have to fucking hide it, or pretend that we're 'just friends', you know? It's the first time I've really been in love, so I don't want anything to take it away."

Seifer smiled. "Maybe I can understand that. Though… do you realize that you just said 'love', Dincht?"

Zell pursed his lips, but he refused to be embarrassed, or shrug sheepishly and make some stuttering excuse, or even to giggle and blush at it. "I guess I did, didn't I? But, I'm not sorry, and I'm not ashamed. I guess it was finally time to say it."

"Yeah… and, I'm not scared off. I'm not even worried about telling you I love you back."

"So, we're in love, huh?"

"Seems that way." Seifer had a playful smirk on his face, but his eyes showed seriousness, and deep emotion. Zell's eyes mirrored that.

"So….." Zell's fingers started trailing down Seifer's sides, and then up under his T-shirt. "I guess we're not only going to have make-up sex, but also saying-I-love-you-for-the-first-time sex, eh?"

"Who said anything about having sex? You're awfully presumptuous."

"No sex?" Zell asked, as if Seifer had suggested asking Diablos to play nice and be their friend was the best way to solve their problems. "What, are you brain damaged or something?"

"I may be in love with you, but that doesn't mean I find you sexually attractive anymore. I think the lust is over…. Ow!" He gasped and started laughing as Zell pinched his nipples. He was laughing, but in actuality, it did kind of hurt. Zell's fingers squeezed his nipples, but the grip softened to one that was less painful and more sensual.

Zell chuckled. "Oh, you don't, huh? That boner that's poking my thigh says differently."

"Subconscious reaction."

"How about now?" Zell asked, one of his hands moving out of Seifer's shirt, and squeezing his genitals.

Seifer pursed his lips, but retained a blank expression. "Maybe you're just not as hot as you think you are. Or, maybe I'm a moron for being in love with you."

"You're such a bastard, Almasy."

"It's part of my charm…" He was trying to keep the upper hand in this little game, but he couldn't help the groan, however quiet it was, that came from his throat when Zell's hand slipped into his pants.

"I thought that you weren't sexually interested?" Zell asked coyly, pushing Seifer's pants down. "I think you're at least a little interested."

"Maybe just a little."

"Do you always suddenly become a prude after you confess love to a man?"

"I am not a prude!" Seifer exclaimed. He tried to sit up and roll Zell onto his back, but Zell just smiled and raised his eyebrows.

"Yes you are," Zell teased. "Just like a flabby, old librarian." As he said this, he was sliding down Seifer's body.

"Hey, if anyone here is flabby, it ain't me, sister." He sighed as Zell's mouth encircled him. "I'm still supposed to be mad at you….Oh, God." His arms slowly flailed out to his sides, and then above his head, fingers searching for something to grab onto. Unfortunately in moments like this, when Zell's wet and nimble tongue was around Seifer's penis, Seifer's flat wooden headboard seemed like a waste. There was nothing to grab onto, so his palms only slid against the surface with a squeaking sound. He was making quiet noises, but as Zell's mouth worked him, moving up and down his shaft in time with a strong fist, his tongue tracing every line, every vein, Seifer found it more and more difficult to keep those noises quiet. Zell's hands worked just as hard as his mouth and tongue, his fingers not just stroking over Seifer's thighs and testicles, but massaging them with the strength in his hands. Seifer's toes curled, and his hips arched up to Zell's mouth, groaning and saying illegible things, begging with his body more than his words for more.

Zell sat up suddenly and began to casually take off the rest of his clothes. "So, are you gonna give me my make-up sex now, or not?" He got off Seifer, and sat beside him, hands folded in his lap, looking cool and collected, even though he was feeling anything but that. Putting his hands in his lap made him suck his breath in, since his hands brushed his own erection.

"You fucking tease," Seifer panted through clenched teeth, pouncing on his lover. Zell laughed, but it quickly became far from a laughing matter when he was rolled over, and Seifer's hands moved up his back and across his shoulders with definite purpose, stroking his hands hard enough that Zell groaned, bordering on a whimper. He could only sway on his knees and press his forehead to the flat wooden headboard as Seifer's strong hands abandoned him to start the task of finding a condom and lubrication. Zell panted, rubbing against the wall and headboard, desiring any sort of friction against his skin and his genitals. He groaned loudly when Seifer's hands pressed down on his hips, and when he felt one of those hands moved down his ass, the fingers sliding into him. He knew that Seifer was preparing him fast, but it didn't seem fast enough to his impatient body. He wanted to feel Seifer in him now. He wanted to feel Seifer's hands and mouth all over him. He wanted to hear Seifer's breath in his ear, and feel it on the nape of his neck.

They both groaned as Seifer pressed his sheathed erection into Zell's body. Zell was sandwiched between Seifer's muscular body and the wall, whispering Seifer's name repeatedly as Seifer's hands stroked up his chest and started playing with his nipples as his hips began to work at a slow, introductory pace. Zell turned his head so that his and Seifer's lips met in a kiss that started out just as slowly as the pace of Seifer's hips. And, as Seifer's hips started to move quicker, their kiss got deeper and wetter. Their tongues tangled together as they moaned into each other's mouths. It had started out as teasing, then it became quick and almost sloppy, trying to copulate as quickly as possible, but now that Seifer was inside Zell, and now that they were actually in the act of sex, and their lips were pressed together like this, tongues twined, it became anything but quick and sloppy. Their fingers looped together and came apart as their hands discovered each other's bodies as if it was the first time again. Their hands touched each other in a way that spoke volumes of the gravity of saying 'I love you' to each other.

And, those three words were what they whispered to each other over and over as they not only had sex, but they made love. Seifer felt so good and so right inside him, and Seifer's hands touched him in ways that made him regret nothing of his life up to this point. He was sure people may have still seen it as weird that Zell Dincht and Seifer Almasy of all people were together, a couple, but in moments like this, how could it be weird? There was nothing weird about how Zell felt when he was with Seifer, and not just in sexual moments. But, sexual moments was all Zell could really think about, especially with the feeling of Seifer's hard penis stroking him from the inside, running over and over the inner walls of his rectum and his prostate gland. He could only think about how good this felt, how beautiful and loved he felt in Seifer's arms and when Seifer whispered in his ear and against his mouth, when his own mouth was painted with Seifer's saliva.

And, each time Seifer's penis thrust deeper into him and stimulated Zell's sweet spot, Zell said Seifer's name, and professed that he loved him, a little louder each time until he was practically shouting it, until it was loud enough that if Seifer didn't live in the middle of nowhere, neighbours would have been banging on the walls and telling them to shut up. Their hands stroked over each other's sweaty flesh, and they moaned each other's names, Zell screaming out his love for Seifer as he was slammed up against the wall, whispering it into Seifer's hair as Seifer's fingers played with his nipples, murmured it against Seifer's mouth as they kissed insatiably. And, he heard it repeated against the side of his neck, in his ear, against his mouth. Zell didn't only feel this all in his genitals, or in his rectum, or in his mouth, which was sore from their hard kisses. He felt it in his stomach, which was fluttering like crazy, in his intestines, which felt knotted and on fire, and in his heart, which was just too small for what he was feeling right now.

They changed position so that Zell's back was pressed to the wall and his legs were wrapped around Seifer's upper torso, Seifer just pounding into him, their mouths still fused together. Zell couldn't even fathom that something could feel this fucking good. How was it even possible? He'd once thought he'd felt love for a guy back in Balamb, a reporter for the Daily Breeze, but now he'd known it wasn't even in the same universe. And, Seifer had known he'd never felt love before, and honestly hadn't a clue as to what it would feel like when he did feel it, but Hyne… now that he felt it now, how had he existed without this feeling inside him? When they came, it just wasn't enough. They needed more, wanted more of each other. They kissed and stroked over each other's bodies until they were both hard and ready to go again. Zell felt Seifer grow hard inside him, since the other man hadn't pulled out at all. Zell was rolled over so he was on his back, Seifer's weight pressing him firmly into the mattress, their bodies hardly spent. And, they wouldn't be spent in the least for the rest of the night.

Diablos was laying in his posh bed, among his luxurious sheets with a feeling of contentment that only the hands of his King on him seemed to bring. Bahamut had left so now Diablos was alone, but that was fine. He felt weary, and a little more confident that something would be done about Ulurha and Nha'zora's deaths. Diablos just felt…. tired. A good sleep would let him think more clearly. He drifted in and out for what could have been hours, but could have also been days. While in true form, it was hard for Diablos, or any summon, to keep track of time in terms of minutes, seconds and hours. Diablos was woken up by a stroke of power over his body. He lazily opened one eye, wondering if Etanin had returned, but the second eye opened in confusion when he saw a face that was only vaguely familiar to him, but it wasn't because he'd ever met this face before. He'd seen her face through the eyes of another. Through the eyes of his former master, Squall Leonhart. It was his wife, Rinoa Heartilly. A human. A… human? But, then how had she gotten through his magical barriers?

He slowly sat up and stared at her. She was standing at the foot of the bed, looking so small with her human body compared to Diablos's large demonic form. But, she just stood there, standing back at him. He crawled across the bed, peering into her face, but reared back when he looked into her eyes. He remembered from seeing her through Squall's eyes that she had brown eyes, eyes the colour of fresh coffee. These eyes were a gold colour that Diablos knew very well. He snarled and moved to attack this intruder, but a wash of magic slammed into Diablos with force that greatly surprised him. When that power lashed out, Diablos saw that Alexander had been a tricky little monkey. Rinoa's skin was patched with sections that looked like her skin had split open, but revealed machinery instead of muscle or bone. He could see various lights and things that he couldn't explain moving like blood in veins. Machines were not something that Diablos understood. Wings also came from her back, those trademark feathery, white wings that had sprouted from Alexander's back numerous times.

"I should have known it was you," Diablos hissed, flinging some of his own magic at Rinoa, who stumbled backwards, but was kept on her feet by power that was not her own. When she moved, it sounded like a great machine advancing rather than human footsteps.

"Yes… seems your clairvoyance failed you, hmmm?" Alexander taunted through Rinoa's mouth. "You were so hell-bent on destroying those two humans that you didn't even seen the very human who you had to watch out for." Rinoa's arms moved down her front, as if showing herself off to the demon. "You've gotten to do as you please for far too long."

"Oh, you think you can police me?" Diablos snarled. "You're willing to make an enemy of our Lord because of a little spat with me?"

"Silence!" Alexander screamed, his voice reverberating from out of Rinoa's mouth. "You flaunt your dirty magic, and I cannot let it continue."

"You mean my faerie magic."

"Are you afraid to battle me, demon?"

Diablos laughed, but was flung backwards by a wave of holy magic. He slammed into the wall, the clouds in the sky outside blackening and swirling with the great show of magic that was happening between these ancient bases of power. "Hardly," Diablos ground out, laughing mockingly, not showing that that lash of Alexander's magic had hurt. "At least I'm brave enough to come in my true form."

"I will eradicate you!" Alexander hissed, the machinery showing through Rinoa's skin humming. "Just like I eradicated every other fey I came across."

"Well, Padre… let's have at it."

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