My Orphanage

Chapter Fifteen

By Scarlet Fever

Squall balanced two paper bags stuffed with groceries in his arms as he fished for his keys. A package of garbage bags started to fall out of the top of the bag, so he had to catch it with his teeth and hold it in his mouth as he finally got hold of his keys and tried to put the right one in the lock without dumping his food all over the place. He finally got the right key in the lock, his eyes casually drifting down the hall. When his eyes met the eyes of a child standing at the end of the hall, Squall dropped the bags from his arms, the package of garbage bags still between his teeth. Oranges and cans rolled all over the hall, the apartment door swinging open.

The child with his silver hair and hypnotic blue eyes stared at Squall for a few moments, and then turned to head towards the door that led to the stairwell.

"Wait!" Squall exclaimed. The child didn't stop walking. Squall abandoned his dropped grocery bags and dashed down the hall. He found as he got closer to the kid, the carpet squished under his shoes, for it was wet. He could smell the salt of the sea in the air. It smelled like Balamb. "Wait!!" Squall cried, grabbing the child's forearm, whirling him around. He gripped the boy's upper arms and gave him a little shake. "What are you doing here? Why am I always seeing you? Why are you following me!?"

"Please don't shake me," the boy said in a voice that sounded too old to be coming from his pink cherub's mouth.

"Why are you following me?!" Squall shouted in the child's face. He was then flung backwards by a wave of power that felt thick and powerful enough to collapse his lungs.

"Do you realize who I am yet?" The child asked serenely. Though a wave of defensive magic had sent Squall sprawling, he didn't seem angry. "Am I not familiar to you?"

Squall had never seen Leviathan in his child form like the others had. Squall had seen this child before, but had not known it was the god of the seas that he was looking upon. But, with that wave of magic, Squall knew it. Leviathan hadn't been one of the GF that he'd Junctioned a lot, but he did know the power. "Leviathan…."

"Well, at least you're not stupid," Manannan murmured, picking up a couple of stray oranges that had rolled near his feet. He rolled the round orange fruit in his small palms. "Well, not once you catch on, that is." He picked up one of the paper bags and started putting the oranges back in it. "You don't need to cower." He went into the apartment.

Squall scuttled to his feet. "Wh…. Wh-what the hell are you doing here?" Squall asked, pressing himself to the wall. Leviathan didn't seem angry, but Squall was still wary of that feeling of power still crawling over his skin. "Are you watching me for Diablos?"

Squall was sure he said something offensive. It wasn't that Leviathan got furious, but his hypnotic eyes darkened considerably, and one of his pale eyebrows arched in a very mature way that flew in the face of his child's body.

"No… I do not run errands for Daeva." Manannan put the bag on the table, and put his small hands on his hips. Seeing that Squall was just staring at him, frozen on spot, he retrieved the other bag of groceries, and put it next to the first bag.

"Then, why are you following me?" Squall demanded, spreading his arms out.

Manannan sat down at the table, regarding Squall for a while. "Curiosity."

"I don't believe that," Squall muttered, still pressed to the wall.

"No, it's not a very good, is it? Children can never lie convincingly. Something about the largeness of our eyes."

"Isn't this just a disguise?"

Manannan smiled benevolently. "It can be. But, this is the form I had when I became what I am now."

"Is this supposed to mean something to me?"

"No, not really."

But, Squall had the feeling it was supposed to mean something to him. But, what? He had no fucking idea. "Why don't you just tell me?" Squall demanded, crouching in front of the sitting boy. Or rather, sitting serpent in a human disguise. Or…. He didn't even know how to think of Leviathan. "I'm not stupid, you know."

"No, I know you aren't." Leviathan murmured, leaning forward and putting his hand on the crown of Squall's head, stroking his hair in a way that made Squall feel like he was being touched by a parent. "You are one of the greatest masters I've ever known, and that's saying something, kiddo."

Squall cocked his head at the amusement of being called 'kiddo' by a 12 year old. If he wasn't so confused, he probably would have smiled. "But, that still doesn't answer my question."

"It's not something that I can discuss with you at this time. But, you'll know eventually why I'm watching you."

Squall scowled. "Please."

Leviathan just smiled his sweet, cherubic smile again. But, then his facial expression started to change. It was like a light inside him was dimming. His skin seemed less youthful and rosy, and more shimmery and translucent. A lot more like a serpent's. Manannan stood up quickly, which caused Squall to lose his balance and fall back, landing on his ass.

"What….what's wrong?" Squall asked, hesitant.

"Ehtathro di Paathaello Qaeghashoma ii Yuaembai…." Leviathan whispered under his breath. Squall couldn't tell for the life of him what Leviathan said, but he was sure it was some sort of curse. Squall then felt a pain in his gut, and slumped even further onto the floor. He heard a ringing in his ears, and the whispering of more strange language.

Kharvikkallar? Ma Dalevvina.

The door to the apartment flew open on its own, and Leviathan walked towards it, leaving without any sort of explanation. Squall clutched at his chest, more worried about the awful pain shooting through his muscles than about Leviathan leaving. Squall gasped, winding up on his back, his fingers clawing at anything and nothing. He felt an explosion somewhere within him, like his innards were being ripped from out of him by an invisible hand. He felt cold all over, and then it was over. He was left gasping for air on the floor, his body still shivering, even though it was rather warm in his apartment. He slowly sat up, and saw flurries falling to the floor from his chest, melting on contact. He looked around, and though he was alone, there was an impression of power in the room. Shiva's power. She'd forcibly disjunctioned herself from Squall's body. She must have sensed the same thing that had made Leviathan leave so quickly. He shakily got to his feet, the room spinning.

"Squall, Squall!" Selphie called, jogging into the room. She started shivering when she came in, only wearing a red baby T-shirt and a rather short brown suede skirt. "Hyne, Squall….! What happened?" She looked at him with frost in his hair and snow melting on the floor around him.

"Shiva…. She… uh… disjunctioned." Squall coughed, trying to find his voice.

Selphie shook her head, gently putting her hand on his shoulder as he continued to stumble around, still trying to gain his bearings. "Hmmm….. Maybe it has something to do with what's going on…?"

"What's going on?" Squall asked, suddenly very alert and stable.

"Well… come see out the window." She let him to a good view of the sky over Timber. It was dark, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. But, it wasn't just dark. It was ominously black, and the clouds were swirling quickly, like a hurricane around its eye. There were also lights that appeared to be lightning illuminating the clouds for brief moments. Gusts of wind would rattle the windows, and the air just felt heavy and wrong.

"What is it….?" Squall wondered, the clouds looking like a black ocean.

"If Shiva left you like that…. Could it be Diablos…?"

Squall frowned. "That's a good bet. After all, Leviathan…." Squall trailed off as he took his eyes from the clouds, and noticed the sidewalk below. The child with the silver hair and drowning blue eyes was there, looking up at the window. He mouthed something that Squall couldn't hear, but at the same time, he could. It was like Leviathan's youthful voice had carried up from outside, and come through the window directly into his mind. Manannan then disappeared right before their eyes, but his words still echoed in Squall's head.

Your wife is in danger.

Squall felt like he'd been punched in the gut as he struggled for air.

"Leviathan what…..?" Selphie asked, seeing that Squall seemed to be under strain.

"Shit," he cursed. "Shit, shit, shit."

"What?" She demanded, putting her hands on his shoulders. "Squall, what?"

"It's him… I know it… and… Rinoa."


Squall shook her hands off, and went straight for the phone. He'd discovered Seifer's phone number while he was researching Seifer's life over the past decade, so dialled it.

"Hello….?" Seifer's voice asked, though he didn't sound all there.

"Seifer? It's Squall. Look…. Diablos is doing something in the city, and it looks bad. I think he's got Rinoa, too."

Seifer's end was silent.

"Seifer!!?" Squall shouted into phone.

"I'm here!" Seifer snapped. "Look… just stay where you are. Don't do anything until we get there."

Edea was laying on the bed in her hotel room, watching a television program, but not really watching it. Her mind was just too preoccupied to even bother trying to pay attention to something other than her own feelings of guilt and sadness. She knew it was pointless to wallow in self-pity, but she just couldn't help it. And, it especially seemed selfish when it was her own fault. She was the one who had cheated on Cid, and she and Cid were the ones who had lied to Seifer for so long. Laguna hadn't tried to contact her again since their confrontation with Cid, and she was glad of it. Especially because she just couldn't stop thinking about being held by him, that maybe in his arms, she would feel a bit better about things, and that made everything so much worse, considering she was thinking the exact same thing about her husband. To be in his very familiar and very comforting embrace… she would give anything for that, and give anything to hear him say he forgave her. But, how could Cid forgive her when she was still thinking favourably about Laguna?

Edea grunted, putting a hand to her bosom when she felt a sharp, stabbing pain there. Perhaps it was the spicy pasta she'd ordered from room service giving her heartburn. Then, she felt it again, and it was coming from outside. It was her power within her that was causing the pain. She got up, falling to her knees because the weight of whatever was going on outside was so oppressive on her sorcery. She crawled on her hands and knees across the carpet, tearing her flimsy, pale pink gauze skirt when she kneeled on it. She clutched the window frame and pulled herself to her feet. She gasped in horror when she saw the swirling clouds in the sky. From somewhere in the Westphal district, she could feel great power being unleashed. For a brief moment, she saw impressions of two great creatures, one resembling the buildings in Esthar that were mechanical marvels, and the other a black, winged demon. But, they weren't actually there. Edea normally could feel what other witches were doing, get a sense for what sort of spells they were casting, but the power was just too great here. She'd only felt something like this once before, and it was when Ultimecia had begun to realize Time Compression. It felt like there was another world at work here, but it was something so advanced that it made Time Compression seem like the spell of a novice witch. She put her hands to the glass, feeling it rattle from the winds of immense power.

The air in her own room was growing heavy because this much power in the air was causing her own magic to rise. Normally, she had much more control than this, but because it was ancient magic from two beings as powerful as Alexander and Diablos, it was far beyond her capabilities as a human to shield against it. Another wave of power rattled the windows, and she felt it sting through her palms, shooting like electricity up her arms. She was flung backwards from the window, her own power having connected with that blast wave. She crumpled on the ground, shivering and panting as her hair and skirt blew around her because of the wind her own magic was creating. She then heard the shrill ring of the phone. She crawled across the carpet again, digging her nails in to drag her weight, but only got a few inches before she collapsed under the weight of magic, the phone still ringing as she lost consciousness.

Seifer sighed as Zell put some coffee and a plate of seafood pasta on the coffee table in front of him. Seifer had just come back from work because his knee had started acting up. It was healing quite nicely, but it still got sore sometimes. It had been two weeks since Seifer and Zell had said 'I love you' to each other, and things had been going great. Whenever Seifer's body ached from his various and serious injuries, Zell doted on him like an overprotective mother, and did anything Seifer asked, which he found amusing. Once in a while, for his own amusement and to annoy Zell, Seifer would act like a complete asshole and demand all sorts of crazy things, but most of the time, he really appreciated it. But, he also assumed that being extra nice wasn't only because Zell loved him, but it was his way of still apologizing for getting jealous over Seifer comforting Squall at the hospital.

"Maybe you shouldn't go to work tomorrow," Zell murmured, stroking the back of Seifer's neck as he handed his lover a hot water bottle for his knee. "Just so you don't push it, you know?"

"It's okay," Seifer assured, wrapping an arm around Zell's shoulders and smiling as the other man leaned into his side. "I'll be fine in the morning." He gave Zell a quick peck on the lips, his mouth lingering over the other man's for a few extra, heavenly moments.

"Are you sure?" Zell asked again. "I know that you've been feeling under the weather the last couple days. Maybe you're getting sick, which would suck shit in your condition."

"I'll be fine," the taller blonde assured again, his voice patient. But, it was true he'd been feeling weary over the last few days. Zell was, too. Which wasn't surprising, since if one of them was going to get sick, it only made sense that the other one would too. Seifer took a drink of his coffee, which he was happy to taste had been made just the way he liked it. A perk of being in an actual relationship, so to speak. As he slowly rotated his knee to work out the soreness, Zell turned on the TV. They relaxed and started watching the news as they ate. They began watching a movie, cuddled with each other, their fingers wandering over each other's hands and arms, their lips finding each other's faces, lips and hair. But, Seifer's stomach started bugging him. Maybe he really was coming down with a cold. Seifer wrapped his arms around Zell, and was disturbed to find that his skin was rather warm.

"Dincht, are you okay…? You're kinda feverish feeling."

Zell groaned a little, slumping against Seifer's chest. "Yeah… it just kinda came on all of a sudden. My whole body aches. That's the first sign of the flu, I guess."

Seifer kissed Zell's warm forehead, and then rubbed his own chest, which was really starting to hurt. Then, he felt like someone had punched his heart from the inside, trying to break through the organ's walls. He cried out in pain, which caused Zell to sit up fast enough that he actually tasted bile in his mouth because the room started spinning, and his body was on fire. Seifer gasped when the pain suddenly ended, because Tiamat had disjunctioned from him. Zell then started screaming and clawing at both the couch and Seifer, but his pain ended, leaving him a shuddering and panting mess when Ifrit's human form, Djinn, appeared in the living room, along with Thuban.

"Tiamat… what….?" Seifer asked, still gasping for air. She was looking around nervously, and it was hard to read Djinn's expression, because he wore a cloth across his face, only his eyes painted by black kohl revealed. But, before she could give him any sort of explanation, the telephone rang. He slowly walked over. "Hello….?" Seifer's voice asked, sounding tired and strained, even to his own ears.

"Seifer? It's Squall," the other man's voice said over the other end, sounding like one word because he was talking so quickly, very un-Squall like. "Look…. Diablos is doing something in the city, and it looks bad. I think he's got Rinoa, too."

Seifer pursed his lips, looking over at Zell, who was rubbing his head and starting to sit up and look coherent. Tiamat seemed to be speaking to Ifrit, but it only sounded like exotic music to Seifer.

"Seifer!!?" Squall shouted into phone.

"I'm here!" Seifer snapped. "Look… just stay where you are. Don't do anything until we get there." He hung up. "That was Squall," Seifer said to Zell. That strange musical sound was still coming from Thuban's lips, and Djinn replied in turn.

"What did he want?" Zell grunted angrily.

"He said Diablos must be acting up. He sounded worried."

Zell just scowled.

"Not now!" Seifer exclaimed. "Something serious is obviously going on if our GFs both disjunctioned. And, the same thing probably happened to Squall with Shiva."

Zell rubbed his head again and stood up, looking to Tiamat and Ifrit, who were seemingly arguing with each other in that strange language that neither men could make heads or tails of. "Well… I guess this means big shit for us then, huh?" He reached out and grabbed Seifer's bicep when he started swooning again. "What should we do?"

Seifer stroked through Zell's hair, feeling that the other man was still quite warm to the touch. "Hey!" He called to Thuban and Djinn. But, they just kept making that musical sound, arguing with each other. "HEY!" Seifer shouted at them.

Thuban looked over her shoulder. "I'm afraid that you could be in danger," she murmured quietly. "But, Djinn doesn't think I should get involved to protect you, less it make our King angry." It was hard to tell Djinn's emotions because of his shroud, and because his eyes looked dark and foreboding anyway because of his fire magic. He murmured something to Thuban and then disappeared, leaving a cloud of hot smoke where he'd been standing.

"What did he say…?" Seifer asked.

"It doesn't matter." Thuban turned to face Seifer and Zell. "If Djinn thinks I'm worried about upsetting my father, well… he's forgotten who he's talking to."

"What should we do?" Zell asked. "What is it exactly that you're feeling?"

"It isn't just me. Djinn and Parminder as well, and I'm sure Manannan has as well, since he's been hanging around Timber. I'm feeling a tremendous release of powers centralized in the city. It is at the manor that Daeva was using as his home. I feel that he and Alexander are in a great power struggle."

"What?" Seifer asked. "Diablos and Alexander?" He looked at Zell. "But… Squall said that Rinoa was in trouble. How would she fit into that?"

"I dunno." Zell shook his head. "But, we're gonna find out."

"I would advise against that."

Seifer frowned at Thuban. "It's not like we're going to jump in the middle of a fight between Summons, but we are affected by what's going on. Diablos has made this our business."

She stared him down with a gaze that was pure Alwaid, and while Seifer had stared down many authority figures in his days, he had to look away from that stare.

"I know he's made it your business," she said quietly. "And, I think you should head to the city to check on your friend. Squall Leonhart's wife is involved somehow, and I'm sure he'll wish to find her, which could be potentially fatal. But, I would advise you go no closer to them."

"Isn't Bahamut going to step in?"

Thuban stepped outside and down to the driveway, turning into her true form, speaking from her great fanged mouth. Seifer and Zell followed after throwing on the first two coats they could get their hands on. "One of the strategies that my father liked to use was to just sit back and let two warring parties destroy themselves. It kept him alive during many conflicts."

"But… he's the Summon King. He must have to do something to stop this!" Zell exclaimed, eyes focused on the swirling clouds in the sky. This far away from Timber, he could only feel a distant tingling across his skin from the power, like a cool breeze. He was sure the air within the city was thick with magic.

"I'm sure he will, and I'm also quite sure that Diablos and Alexander hope he will stay out of it." She crouched down, her wings lowering. She looked at them patiently. "Father's power is immense and all-encompassing, and a terrible thing to behold. Now, come."


"Your motor vehicle is too slow. I will carry you to the city on my back."

Seifer and Zell looked at each other, and slowly climbed up on her. Both felt exhilarated, for neither had ridden on the back of a dragon before. The wind whipped around them, and Tiamat's muscles pumped around them as her wings flapped. Indeed, flying with her was far faster than Seifer's truck, even at the top speed. Both had to hold onto her neck tightly when she was flung backwards by a wave of power. Seifer dared to look down at Timber far below, but he didn't see the city anymore, at least not the city he was used to seeing.

Tiamat landed on what should have been Spruce Avenue in downtown. It looked like an avenue, but the surroundings were not the buildings of Timber. It looked like a ghostly replica, almost like a projection of buildings rather than concrete structures. Sound seemed to be sucked away, coming from impossible angles around them.

"What……?" Zell looked around. He could hear Squall's voice from somewhere. He was calling for Rinoa over the sound of magic clashing with magic, and the sound of Alexander's mechanical movements. "What happened to Timber?" The trees in the street potters were dead, and there was mist hanging an inch off the ground. Everything seemed black and green, and felt cold and dead. "What the fuck's going on?"

Tiamat let out a low growl of what sounded like pain, collapsing. Seifer and Zell slid off her back, and she slowly shrank back down to her human guise. "Thuban?" Seifer asked, crouching beside her.

She sat up, grunting and rubbing her chest. "There is a field up that is preventing us from coming in true form."


She shook her head. "It feels like Alexander's magic. He must have worried that Father would come, and of course would side with Daeva." She slowly stood up. "So, it must be affecting the others, too."

"What is this place…?" Seifer asked, hearing a distant explosion. But, because of the strangeness of the way sound carried in this place, he couldn't tell what direction it had come from.

"A projection of Daeva's power," Thuban answered, looking around. She had a far calmer expression on her face than Seifer or Zell. This place chilled them to the bone, and it felt like they, as humans, shouldn't have even been there at all. Zell huddled close to Seifer, wrapping his arm around his lover's waist. "So very like him."

"What do you mean?" Seifer asked. In the distance, he could hear Squall calling for his wife again.

"I may be outcast, but I still know Daeva very well. He is my father's concubine, after all." She started walking forward a few steps, looking around in the blackness, maybe seeing something that Seifer and Zell couldn't. "It's very like him to create the environment, to gain the upper hand. That he is fighting Alexander on his own turf, so to speak."

"Where is everybody else?" Zell wondered, turning his face into Seifer's chest as a gust of freezing wind hit them. It was a wind of pure power. It had the feeling of light magic, so they assumed it had come from Alexander. "All the other people?"

"I do not know. Perhaps Diablos let you in exclusively. It's also like him to tie up loose ends."

"Squall?!" Seifer called. "Are you here? Squall?!"

"Why would Diablos call Squall if he wants to kill you and me?" Zell asked of Seifer.

"He probably sees the whole group of us as a threat. Just easier to kill us all and worry about it later. Squall?!"

From somewhere in the strange dead city, they heard Squall call back. "Seifer….?"

"So, I guess Diablos wants to kill Squall now too," Seifer murmured, starting to walk up the street, careful where he stepped, since he couldn't see the ground through the thickening mist.

"Perhaps that's not it…." Thuban trailed off. She pointed, and eventually a figure started to come from the blackness. It was Squall.

"What is this place?" Squall asked when he arrived at their position.

"I dunno," Zell muttered. He was too confused, and quite frankly scared, to remember to be angry with Squall. "But, it's fucking cold. Humans shouldn't be here. It just feels wrong."

Squall cocked his head, his scarred brow furrowing slightly. "Cold?" He asked. He didn't feel cold at all, and he didn't really understand what Zell meant about it feeling 'wrong'. True, this was a strange place, but he didn't have a pinpointed sense of wrongness about it. "Never mind that. Where's Rinoa?!"

"We haven't seen her," said Seifer. "We haven't seen anyone."

"I was with Selphie in the apartment, and then all of a sudden, I was here. And, I could feel that she was here. Leviathan also said that she was in danger."

"Where's Selphie?" Zell asked.

"She wasn't with me when I came here." Squall looked around, and then pointed towards something in the dead surroundings. "This way."

"What….? Hey, wait!" Seifer called as Squall started walking. Thuban was watching Squall with fascination, and followed at a distance behind the humans.

"I can feel her," Squall said, a sort of possession in his voice. "This way." They were walking down a thin alleyway between two grey and decaying buildings, that while they were there in sight, didn't feel like they were actually there. Seifer tried to reach out and touch one of the walls, but it just seemed to get farther and farther away the closer his fingers got.

"Seifer…." Zell trailed off. "I don't feel so good." He stopped walking, having to catch his breath.

"Yeah… me too." Seifer stroked the small of Zell's back, his stomach doing flip-flops. He felt like his insides were trying to be sucked out of his mouth. Squall kept walking ahead of them, either not feeling the effects of what they were feeling, or just not showing it. They started walking again because they didn't want to lose sight of Squall's white T-shirt in the blackness, but they were both finding it hard to put one foot in front of the other. Both felt starved for oxygen, and Seifer had to stop to vomit.

"Dincht…." He called out weakly, stumbling. "It hurts…." All the injuries he'd received during his fight with the re-animated Raijin were starting to not just ache, but hurt as if they were fresh.

"Squall!" Zell shouted, his voice dissipating into the sound vacuum. But, Squall had already stopped. Zell crouched beside Seifer in the mist, stroking his hair. Seifer's eyes were closed behind his glasses, and he looked as ashen and sweaty as Zell himself felt.

The reason Squall had stopped was because they were here. Zell had to cover his ears when a mechanical explosion rattled his bones. They looked into the blackness beyond Squall, and saw the silhouettes of a giant winged demon and a hulking machine warring with each other. Alexander's white wings glowed in the blackness, and Diablos was illuminated by the lightning coming from the swirling clouds all around them.

"Rinoa!" Squall shouted, seeing her crumpled form among the mist a few meters ahead of him, just beside the battle. He ran towards her, but was flung back by the heavy weight of a powerful Gravija spell. "Rinoa!!" He shouted again. She wasn't moving. Hyne, why was she even here?! With that wave of magic, Zell had to crawl away from Seifer so he could throw up. He could taste blood in his bile.

Squall ran towards her, the sound of Diablos and Alexander's magics clashing together deafening. He reached his wife, picking her up and dragging her to a safer distance. "Rinoa!" He called, lightly shaking her and slapping her cheeks. Her skin was very pale, and there were shadowy spots on her cheeks and arms, marks that almost looked like wires and cogs. Like she had mechanical implants under her skin.

"Alexander was using her as an Avatar," a serene voice informed. Manannan came out of the blackness. Thuban looked over at him, her arms crossed. "The same way you use us, I would guess."

"Why?" Squall demanded.

Manannan waved his arm, and Zell was able to stand up on his own, the terrible feeling within him lessening. Seifer rubbed his head, and was also able to stand. "That should help you cope with the Necrophage."

"Necrophage…?" Zell echoed, remembering that book they'd found in Daeva's manor. "Isn't that a guild, a power base, and not an actual place?"

"Yes, and no." Manannan sighed. "Fey magic is very complex. Necrophage is the Dead Arts that the faeries of Daeva's time practiced, but they also created an arena for when they met in a large group, one that was unfriendly to the unmagical."

"You mean humans," Seifer interjected.

Manannan nodded. "Yes. Daeva has recreated it as an advantage over Alexander. Alexander countered with this barrier that only lets them be in true form. He knew that such a show of war on his part… possessing Rinoa Heartilly to aggressively attack Daeva, would call us all out, especially Bahamut."

"Does Alexander really think this barrier will stop Father?" Thuban asked rhetorically. "Even if he can't change into true form, he has other resources," she added bitterly.

"If this place is so unfriendly to humans, why are we here? Why didn't we just land in normal Timber?"

"I believe Thuban guessed it was because Diablos wanted to get rid of you as well. She would be correct."

"He must want to kill me now, too." Squall didn't look up from Rinoa's face. She seemed to be gaining a little bit of colour back from whatever magic Manannan had cast over them.

Manannan and Thuban shared a look, but Seifer, Zell and Squall were distracted when Rinoa let out a scream, sitting up as if she'd woken from a nightmare, bolting to a straight position.

"Rinoa!" Squall exclaimed quietly, wiping some dirt off her forehead.

She was panting furiously, and looked up to see Squall's eyes. She let out a tortured noise and flung her arms around her husband's shoulders. "Oh, Squall…."

"Are you okay?" He asked her after he'd hugged her tightly and gave her a big kiss. "Is the baby okay?'

She smiled sadly. "I…. I'm not sure." She touched her belly. "I think so. I…. Oh, I'm so sorry."

Squall hugged her again, kissing her hair and holding her as tightly as he could. She squeaked, but didn't tell him to let her go. "What happened?" He asked her finally.

"I…. I don't know. I was having these dreams of our field, but I couldn't find you. Instead… I found this priest…. I don't really remember anything after our fight."

As Rinoa and Squall embraced, Zell's hand tight around one of his, Seifer looked up at the battle, wondering if humans seemed as cruel to Summons as Summons seemed to him right now. After all, humans used GF power for their own gain, as if they were mere servants or pets. He felt a cold blast of magic, and put his free hand in his pocket to warm it up. It was a coat he hadn't worn in a while, and he felt something in the pocket. Maybe it was money. But, it felt round. He pulled it out, and his eyebrows raised.

"What is that?" Zell asked quietly.

"Blackball…." Seifer murmured quietly.

"Where'd you get that?"

"I haven't worn this coat since that fight at the Aphorora Pub." Seifer had to wrap his fist around the orb when an explosion of magic rocked everything around them. They all stumbled and fell over. It had come from Alexander, and whatever he'd fired from his machines had caused Diablos to fall from the sky, landing on the ground. Diablos made an awful hissing noise and leapt up. One of his wings seemed broken, but that didn't stop the demon. He dashed towards the hulking machine and the entire magical world shook with the spells he cast, calling up power from a bottomless well of ancient faerie magic. Another explosion rocked the environment, and this time it came from Alexander. The wings crumpled down from his bulk, Diablos still raining magic down on him.

Seifer got to his feet and uncurled his fist from around the single orb of Blackball. More explosions came from Alexander, and there was a long noise that sounded like someone pressing their hand down on a piano for a lengthy off-chord. It was Alexander screaming, and there was also laughter. The victorious laughter of Diablos. Seifer saw Diablos's demonic face turn away from Alexander, and those sulphuric yellow, evil eyes landing square on him and Zell, laughter still coming from behind sharp fangs. Seifer closed his fist around the Blackball again, and started muttering under his breath.

"Seifer….?" Zell asked, putting a hand on the other man's shoulder, which Seifer shrugged off, still chanting under his breath. It wasn't a magical spell he was chanting, but rather a spell that only Alchemists knew. It had no practical purpose in battle, but was extremely helpful to their craft. It was a spell of desynthesis. Items could be forged easily enough, but once forged, it was extremely hard to get them taken apart, and only high level Alchemists were taught desynth spells. It was part of the final exams. The reason only high-ranking Alchemists knew these spells was because some items became volatile if you tried to tear them apart. In his whole career, Seifer had only ever cast a desynthesis spell three times, including now. Because Blackball was no ordinary item, Seifer knew that it would be bad trying to rip it apart. But, he also knew that a lot of Diablos's magic was in that black orb, and it was really the only thing he could think to do, because Diablos was humming with power and confidence right now, and they were also in his created Necrophage. There was no way Seifer and Zell could survive as is. But, Seifer was banking on the fact that this specimen of Blackball was one of the only ones left, if not the only one left, so Diablos's power within it would be extremely concentrated.

The Blackball shattered in Seifer's fist, the shards cutting his palm. When it broke apart, Diablos started screaming. He'd gotten into the air once more, but fell to the ground, the air mingled with an echo of Alexander's machinery trying to run, but failing, and Diablos wailing in pain.

"It's now or never, Dincht." Seifer had stupidly left Hyperion at home, but did have his combat knives, and Zell always had his weapons. "And, don't ask what I did. No time." He started running towards the screaming demon.

Zell clamped his mouth shut, for he had been about to ask what Seifer had done. But, he couldn't argue with a window of opportunity like this. By the time Zell got to where Seifer was, the taller blonde was already drenched in Diablos's black blood, one of his knives embedded to the hilt in Diablos's chest. He had a huge cut on his forehead from one of Diablos's claws, and a combo of punches and kicks from Zell got an awful crack from Diablos's ribcage. Seifer used the other knife to slit Diablos's throat, but he couldn't complete the cut because he was thrown back from the demon by power that was so much stronger than anything he'd felt before. The weakness of the Blackball being broken apart must have worn off. But, no… Diablos was still screaming and now clawing at the knife sticking out of him, as well as at his throat, which was spewing blood.

Seifer's head whipped up when he heard an awful scream coming from Zell. The smaller blonde's body was flying away from Diablos, but it wasn't from magic. It was from physical force. Seifer had to blink because he couldn't comprehend quite what he was seeing. But, when he realized what it was, he let out a scream too. "Zell!" He screamed as Zell was flung backwards like a rag doll, one of his arms going in the other direction. Zell was screaming, and the arm that he still possessed was snapped at the wrist before he was tossed completely away. Zell's arm had been cut off at the shoulder by a huge battleaxe, wielded in the hands of Etanin Alwaid. He stood to full height, looking beautiful and terrible, his eyes flashing green with livid anger and awesome power as he observed the battlefield. His axe was dripping with Zell's blood, and Seifer's lip curled up angrily. He didn't care if this was Bahamut, he wasn't going to let any man or any creature do that to Zell. He stood up, Etanin walking slowly towards him with brutal justice and vengeance written all over his face.

From behind Seifer, a ray bomb hit Diablos, exploding. The demon cried out in obvious pain, Alexander using still working guns and weapons to attack his downed opponent. Bahamut's eyes went over to Alexander's frame, and with the mere wave of his arm and flick of his fingers, Alexander exploded. Huge hunks of metal rained down around them. Seifer heard gasps, and saw that more than Thuban and Manannan had come to the fray. Djinn had one of his hands to his covered mouth. Even Leviathan looked surprised. But, not Thuban. She looked nervous, but not surprised. Etanin ignored Diablos bleeding out as he walked past, heading straight for Seifer. One of Seifer's knives was still in Diablos's chest, so he only had one. He would have to rely on fire magic and his martial arts, and also his fury on Zell's behalf. It only grew bigger and bigger because he could hear Zell whimpering in pain, the pool of blood around him growing and growing. It wasn't only coming from the stump of his arm, but also from a serious head wound from hitting the ground.

Seifer cast Firaga, and only got one arc of his arm before he felt his balance give way. But, he didn't fall to the ground as one of his legs was severed from his body by Etanin's great axe. He was being kept up by the sheer amount of blows Etanin was landing on him. Kicks and punches as he twirled the axe like it was a child's baton, though Seifer knew it must have weight five times that of Hyperion. Seifer's teeth were knocked out and clattered down on the ground as his chest was ripped open and one of his hands got cut off. He felt his orbital bone smash when he landed face-first on the ground, winding up on his back. His chest was broken open, air wafting over his organs. Seifer could hear Zell scream distantly, and even though he was dying in horrible agony, he was glad that he'd at least found a little bit of love in his life. It seemed to have made all the misery of being outcast for being the Sorceress's Knight all worth it.

"Father, stop!" Thuban shouted, running towards Etanin. "They were only defending themselves against Daeva!"

"Don't even speak to me, Thuban. My first priority is to the members of my court."

"I know that all too well." She started to cast magic on Seifer and Zell, but was halted by Etanin, who slapped her, stopping the stream of words from her mouth for the incantation. As Seifer and Zell gasped their last, excruciating breaths, Thuban slapped her father back, which caused him to stare at her in absolute shock. The other Summons also gasped, and Manannan tried to run towards them, but was held back by Parminder. He started to attack her with the axe, but she'd pulled out a lance with magical abilities. She may have been weakened considerably, but she was still Etanin's daughter, which meant that she had powers that others didn't always know were there.

"Even in our human lives, you'd never once attacked me. Yet, you do it now for two humans?"

"For myself too!" Thuban shouted at her father, cutting his cheek with her lance. She was flung backwards by the blunt end of the axe, but recovered quickly. "You say your priority is to your court, but I know that's a lie. I've always been a member of your court, Father. In life, in death, and in everything after. And, yet, I've never seen any of your loyalty. These humans are the ones who show it to me, and I will pay it back."

"If only you'd been born a man."

"Even after all this time, you can't let go of your petty prejudices?" Thuban gasped as she was hit by one of her father's fists. She crumpled at his feet, gasping. "I only ever wanted you to love me," she whispered.

Etanin had been moving to cut a heavy downward stroke with his axe, but stopped. He put the axe on his back, looking down at her. Without a word, he turned his back to her, walking towards the center of the battlefield.

"You know, Father? When we died…. I was pregnant. With a male heir."

Etanin closed his eyes, stretching his fingers out, palms facing the ground. The silver rings on his left ring finger, left thumb, and right middle finger glowed as magic spread out around him. Seifer heaved a painful breath, feeling like he was being cocooned in a warm blanket. He could hear mechanical noises loud in his ears as the pieces of Alexander fused back together. Seifer felt like going to sleep, like he was in his bed back home with Zell's arms wrapped around him. That awful blankness where his leg should have been felt whole again. After a few moments, he was able to sit up, his teeth back to the way they were. Zell had stood up already, and was running towards Seifer, but stopped when he got within the perimeter of Etanin, whose shadow was that of Bahamut. But, Etanin wasn't facing them. In fact, they were like insects to him now. Not even worth his attention.

He was facing Diablos and Alexander, and started to speak to them in the Summon Tongue. Squall had been watching the whole scene, absolutely horrified by Bahamut's display of cruel power. But, when Bahamut spoke to Diablos and Alexander, he was able to understand it.

Did I not warn you? Did I not say not to get involved with humans? Did I not say not to make trouble amongst each other? And, what do you do?

It was his fault! Diablos screamed. He'd also been cured by Etanin's healing spell. He's the one that killed Nha'zora! He's the one that attacked me.

Silence! Etanin hissed. You will talk no more, Daeva. You will only listen to me now. I give you so many chances, Daeva. But, you continued with your Blackball. And you, Alexander. You purposely possessed Squall Leonhart's wife in order to call out Diablos for a battle, after I warned you not to.

Someone had to stop him, Alexander interrupted.

Etanin laughed. Oh, that was a very wrong answer, Priest. You want some justice put into this court? Fine.

Etanin's right index finger drew a pattern into thin air, much like he'd done with Seifer when he'd been in Esthar jail. But, this was a very different rune. I hereby revoke the Lord of Light and the Lord of Darkness of their powers until such time that I deem the punishment is over.

When the rune was completed, both Daeva and Alexander shrunk from their true forms into that of their human forms. When it happened, Daeva let out a scream, looking at his hands, then at Etanin.

I will hold your powers in my possession, safe.

Alexander started quietly weeping into his hands, sinking down to his knees. Daeva would not accept this punishment so quietly, however. He dashed towards Etanin and started attacking him with punches and curses. "Xh'avarnah-doth avi Kvarkath!!" He yelled in Etanin's face, in his own language. "You fucking prick!"

"I gave you too many chances Daeva," Etanin answered, also speaking Daeva's ancient fey language.

"How can you do this to me?! You're even taking the powers I was born with! Fuck you, Eta!"

Etanin didn't reply, and he also didn't retaliate when Daeva hit his chest and face. Daeva started weeping, and Etanin gripped his wrists. "Do you think I want to do this to you, Berith?" Etanin asked, speaking very frankly and personally with Daeva since nobody else here spoke this language, not even the other Summons.

"Don't call me that!" Daeva screamed, starting to slump as his cheeks became soaked with tears. "You're no better than Ronouve-Sempra! You both call me Berith, and you both betray me."


"Please…." Daeva begged. "Please don't take my power away. I'll wither without it. A faerie can't live without magic."

"You won't die. I promise."

"Promise?!" Daeva laughed bitterly, but it was through tears. "Don't you dare say that word to me. Your promises are as worthless as Ronouve-Sempra's were."

"Daeva, do not compare me to him."

"What are you crying about?!" Daeva shouted at Alexander in Daphnic. "This is your fault, you fucker." He spoke Timber's language because he found that he could not speak the Summon Tongue anymore.

Alexander glared up at Daeva hatefully, and started to rise to his feet, but Etanin held up a hand. "Stay where you are, Alexander." The former Holy Summon knew what was good for him, and obeyed this request.

"Sempra may have burned me at the stake, but this is a million times worse, Eta. At least he never promised me love."

Etanin pulled Daeva into an embrace, not caring that they had an audience. Wrapping his arms around Daeva was tough since he was struggling and raging. "I don't wish to do this," he whispered in one of Daeva's pointed ears. "I wish I could believe your lies when you say you've learned your lesson."

"I'm not lying this time."

"Yes, you are." Etanin breathed in the smell of Daeva's hair, engraining it into his long memory. "I… I will miss you dearly, my love." Etanin kissed Daeva's forehead, then his lips.

"Noooo," Daeva wailed, sliding down to his knees when Etanin released him. His hands were balled into fists on the ground as he wept. Thuban looked at the ground as her father passed her. They didn't share any words. Etanin just walked past Seifer and Zell as if he hadn't done anything to them. An orb of violet light came from Daeva, and an orb of white light came from Alexander, both shooting towards Etanin. Those orbs became glass balls with swirling energy inside, both as small as marbles. They landed in Etanin's palm, and when he closed his hand and opened it again, they were gone. When the marble of violet power vanished, they found themselves in a place that Seifer recognized as Mandy Beach. They weren't that far from his house. Bahamut must have teleported them here so they wouldn't wind up in the middle of a busy city street. The King of Summons gave a nod to Squall as he passed him, then made a gesture with a finger for the other Summons to follow him. They did so without question. Seifer was sure that none of them wanted to get what Daeva and Alexander had gotten.

"What happened….?" Zell whispered to Seifer, his rubbing his arm, which was as good as new.

"Bahamut stripped Diablos and Alexander of their powers," Squall answered quietly, helping Rinoa to her feet. She was staring at Alexander with fear in her chocolate brown eyes. "For some reason, I could understand when he was talking to them in that music language. But… I couldn't understand anything he said after that to Diablos."

Daeva wasn't paying Seifer, Zell, Squall or Rinoa any attention. He was too wrapped up in how empty he felt without his powers. In all his millions of years, even before his transformation into Diablos, he'd always had magic. He felt naked without it. He felt like an abomination. Every fey had magic in their blood. He looked up through his hair and through his tears, and saw Alexander slowly rising to his feet, also looking miserable. "This is your fault," Daeva hissed under his breath. "This is all your fault!" He shouted, fist circling around the hunting knife of Seifer's that had been in his chest. He got up and ran towards Alexander, tackling the priest to the ground and starting to stab him over and over and over again. He screamed in rage when he saw the stab wounds were healing on Alexander's chest almost as quickly as Daeva was inflicting them. He slit Alexander's throat angrily, and was sprayed with human blood, but the wound closed itself up. Alexander shoved Daeva off, coughing on some of his own blood.

"Father would have made sure that you didn't die while in human form," Thuban murmured. She of course hadn't followed when Bahamut had silently asked the other Summons to follow him. "It would also prevent you from doing something stupid at the height of emotion like ending your own existence."

Daeva started cursing at her in his language, getting to his feet. His black and blue eyes then turned to Seifer and Zell. Without his faerie magic, Daeva was easier to look at. Along with all his magical power, his glamour magic had also been taken from him. He was still achingly beautiful to behold, but looked far more real. "I guess my prediction came true, after all. I may still be alive, but you have destroyed me." He still had his hand tightly around the hilt of Seifer's knife. "I may not be able to harm myself or Alexander, but that doesn't apply to you." He dashed forward with speed and agility. Though without faerie magic, Daeva still possessed all their quickness and grace. But, as he moved to slice at Seifer with the knife, Daeva was flung backwards, landing in a heap in the grass.

"Father's protection rune on them still stands, Daeva."

"How long are we going to be like this…?" Alexander asked, running shaking fingers through his golden hair.

"Hopefully forever!" Rinoa hissed. "You deserve it." She looked down at her hands and let out a quiet sob. Much of her skin was covered in those mechanical looking marks, like someone had burned the pattern of a circuit board into her flesh. She gasped when Seifer took her wrist in his hand. Squall looked at Seifer with hostility, like he didn't like the other man touching his wife. Even though he knew Seifer was in a relationship with Zell, a man for Hyne's sake, he still thought of the fact that Seifer and Rinoa had dated as teenagers. She winced a little bit. Squall protectively wrapped his arms around his wife and glowered at Seifer.

"Oh grow up," Seifer muttered, touching Rinoa's face, tracing the red scars on her face. "I can get rid of those for you."

"You can?" She asked. "But… how?"

Seifer touched his forehead, drawing a diagonal line between his pale eyebrows. "The same way I got rid of this."


"Though, I think you should chill out first. You've been through a lot." He touched his wrist. "I think we all need to rest."

"Come here," Thuban said, stretching her arms out to them. "I'll transport you quickly."

Seifer and Zell expected her to turn into a dragon again, but instead she teleported them, none of them giving Daeva or Alexander a backwards glance.

Daeva stared at where they'd all been standing, panting because he was so angry and upset. He took a few deep breaths and collected himself. Part of his mind wondered if this was some awful joke, and Etanin would come out of nowhere and laugh at him. Daeva stood and looked around, but nobody came. No, he wouldn't come. Eta had been serious. He wouldn't have kissed Daeva in front of a bunch of humans if he hadn't been. He started to realize that he would have to think rationally, because he was stuck here. He felt weight in the pockets of the clothing that he was wearing. These weren't his own clothes, and were garments that Bahamut had endowed upon him. He put his hands in the pockets, and found what the weight was. It was money. It wasn't a large sum or anything, just enough for food and maybe to survive a week without employment. Daeva's hands shook as he looked at the bills and coin. It had been millions of years since he'd last had to deal with human currency, or to have to actually work. In fact, Daeva had never had a real job. He'd dealt with the fey, and after they'd thrown him out, he'd become a member of Sempra's court. He counted the money, and studied it. If he was to survive as a human, he would have to blend into human society, something he didn't have great confidence in doing. His looks, pointed ears and faerie eyes were already against him.

He turned to face the distant Timber skyline, but he found he couldn't move. He couldn't even take a single step towards that city of humans. God… he was one of them now. He slowly slid to his knees in the grass, the weight of it hitting him like a truck. He couldn't do this. He hadn't lived among humans as a human ever. How would he survive? He heard footsteps in the grass, Alexander walking past him. The former Holy Summon said nothing to Daeva, and just started walking towards Timber. But, Daeva could see the tired worry in the way the Priest held his shoulders. After all, they may have hated each other, but they knew each other very well. Daeva wasn't sure how long he was there, kneeling in the grass near the beach, smelling the ocean. It smelled like Leviathan. He was sure that Bahamut would instruct all the others of the Court to stay away from them, to completely ostracize them from their world, their home. Daeva wasn't even sure the time of day. Human time was so much different, and now he was lost in it. He balled his hands into fists, sliding down so he was laying in the grass, the fresh smell filling his nostrils. His movement caused a dead dandelion to release its seeds. They floated up all around Daeva, and were taken away by the wind, towards the city that had been Diablos's grave after all.

Seifer stirred some hearty mushroom soup on the stove. Thuban had transported them all to Seifer's house, and then disappeared. Seifer got the feeling that she wanted to be alone with her thoughts now, especially because that was probably the first time in a long time that she'd even spoken to her father. A long time being an understatement, Seifer was sure. Squall had wanted to go back to the city right away, but Rinoa was too wiped out, so Seifer invited them to stay, at least until she could walk by herself. But, she was still too wound up to sleep, and was sitting on the couch, curled up against her husband, trying to tell them exactly what happened for the third time. But, it wasn't really doing much good, since she couldn't remember. Seifer put the soup into mugs and brought them out. "Here," he said quietly.

"Thanks…" She took the mug between her hands, the warmth making her feel better. "I should go to a doctor to get the baby checked out. What if Alexander did something…?"

"I'm sure you're fine." Seifer sat in his favourite chair. Zell was pacing around, stroking his shoulder. Seifer knew exactly how he felt, since he wanted to rub his groin line and his wrist, just to feel that his leg and hand were actually there again, and he kept running his tongue over his teeth, still hearing them clattering to the ground.

"What do you think will happen to Alexander and Diablos?" Rinoa asked.

"I don't know," Seifer murmured. "They'll survive obviously, since they can't die, but…. They're both millions of years old. I'm sure they've forgotten how to live as humans. I guess it's a worse punishment than death."

"I can't get over how fast it happened," Zell mused, still pacing. "I didn't even see him coming, and then…. I was falling."

"I'm just glad he put us back together…." Seifer slumped in the chair, looking across to Squall, who looked very distracted, even for him.

Rinoa noticed too, and she tapped his knee gently. "Squall….? What are you thinking?"

"Just about what happened," Squall answered with a shrug. But in truth, he was thinking about the fact that he could understand what the GF had been saying in their own language. Did it have something to do with why Leviathan had been following him? "I want to get Rinoa back to the city to see a doctor."

"Will it kill you to be under my roof?" Seifer asked, raising an eyebrow at Squall.

"You're not a doctor."

"Squall…" Rinoa trailed off quietly. "We're all exhausted, and not really in a position to drive. My skin hurts more than anything. I think I'd feel it if something were wrong with me. Actually, aside from being tired, I feel… kind of good. It's hard to explain."

"Bahamut must have done something," Zell muttered, still restless.

"Sit down, Dincht. You're making me dizzy." Seifer wiggled his fingers.

Zell sat on the arm of Seifer's chair, looking anywhere but at Squall. Zell knew now was not the time to air dirty laundry with his former best friend, but he still couldn't help but be mad at him. But, Zell had enough sense to keep his big mouth shut this time.

"Can… can you really fix these marks?" Rinoa asked. She was wrapped in a blanket that Fujin had crocheted for Seifer years ago. Back before Raijin had become addicted to Blackball. Seifer had to close his eyes in pain when memories of a healthy and happy Raijin flooded over him.

"Yes," Seifer answered when he'd composed himself. "I can. But, I'll wait until after a doctor's checked you out." He cocked his head. "So, you ready to be a mommy?"

She smiled sheepishly. "I don't know. It just sort of happened, but… I've always wanted a baby." She looked cautiously at Squall out of the corner of her eye.

"How do you feel?" Seifer asked.

"I'm looking forward to it," Squall answered truthfully. When he'd thought Rinoa had vanished on him, all he'd thought of was how much he loved her, and what if something terrible had happened to her or the baby. His baby. Their baby. That was all he said on the subject.

"You two can take our bed," Seifer offered politely. "I'll work on getting the ingredients together for the salve, at least. I can get you fresh towels, too." He got up and started to find such things.

Zell followed after him, smiling at Rinoa and patting her shoulder in a friendly way. He and Squall just stared at each other. There wasn't room for anger on Zell's part now, but even from Squall's side, things were just terribly awkward.

"Our bed?" Zell after he'd followed Seifer upstairs. The taller blonde was taking towels out of the linen closet.

"Well, we do sort of share it, don't we? Hence, our bed."

Zell smiled, cocking his head. He closed the gap between them, resting his chin on Seifer's shoulder. "I'm still shaking. I just…. I lost my arm. You lost your leg, your hand…" He sighed. "I mean, he ripped you open…" He watched sadly as Seifer put the towels on the dresser. "You could have died."

"So could you." He looked over at Zell, and then they collected each other in a bone-crushing embrace. Zell gasped, but it wasn't from pain. It was from joy, and from relief. Seifer's fingers stroked his shoulder and his face, their lips mashing together. Zell moaned as if they were in the middle of sex, his heart exploding within him. He whispered Seifer's name, and he so wished that they were alone so they could be even closer than they were now. He wanted to feel Seifer inside him, to feel that he really was okay and in one piece. There were so many times in such a short period of time that they both could have died, that Zell could have lost Seifer. It was actually funny; there were so many periods in his childhood where Zell would have liked nothing better than to never see Seifer Almasy again, and to have him eradicated from the face of the earth, but now… now it was so different. Now, that was his worst nightmare.

Zell wrapped his arms around Seifer's shoulders, letting the hug linger. "So, where are we going to sleep?"

"Downstairs," Seifer murmured, finally letting go of Zell. "We can take the cushions off the couch and use them on the floor. It will probably be more comfortable."

Zell frowned. "Too bad. We would have had really hot sex."

"We could lock ourselves down in the basement," Seifer murmured. "I just think Rinoa needs the bed right now. Hyne knows how long she was being controlled by Alexander, and she's pregnant…." He trailed off. Seifer rubbed his forehead. "I don't know why I always seem to get stuck in the middle of these sorts of things. I guess I'm not destined for a normal life."

"Some people are just special. Look at all of us…"

"Special?" Seifer echoed, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I just want to be like everyone else…" He laughed bitterly, playing with a button on the front of Zell's shirt. "Never mind me. Just wallowing in self-pity."

"I think you're allowed a little of that, especially after all that's happened." Zell put his hands on Seifer's broad shoulders, quietly and slowly letting out his breath as Seifer's cheek rested against his stomach.

"You're not wallowing."

"I think because I'm still in shock." He bowed forward and smiled into Seifer's blonde hair.

They looked to the doorway when Rinoa cleared her throat. Squall was holding her elbow, and she looked completely exhausted. "Sorry… didn't mean to interrupt." She didn't look embarrassed, like Squall did, but rather had a serene smile on her face despite her weariness.

"It's no problem. In the morning, we'll take you to the hospital." Seifer rose to his feet, looking around when he heard the phone ringing. He furrowed his brow. "Wonder who that is…"

"It's mine." Squall pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked at the number being displayed. "Selphie. Squall here."

"Hyne, Squall! You're alive!" She shouted happily into the phone, loud enough that he had to pull it away from his ear. "What the hell happened to you? All of a sudden, you were gone. You were right beside me, and then you weren't."

"It's a long story," Squall muttered. "Let's just say that our mission has changed dramatically."

"Whaddya mean?"

"Diablos isn't going to be a problem anymore."

"Meaning….?" Selphie asked. "You know what? Never mind. You can tell me in person. Where are you?"

"Rinoa and I are at Seifer's."

"Rinoa?!" She exclaimed. "Is she okay?"

"She's fine. We're just going to rest now, and go to the hospital in the morning."

"Hospital?!" Selphie exclaimed loudly.

"Calm down. We're all fine. It's just a precaution, and a check-up for the baby."

"Oh, that's good to hear. Wait… uh, baby?"

"Rinoa's pregnant."


"I suppose I forgot to mention it. Look… we'll talk later."

"Okay. Me and Irvine are just glad to hear that you're okay. And, congratulations on being a daddy, I guess!" She sighed into the phone, laughing a little. "Well, whatever happened, it affected Matron, too."

"Matron?" Squall echoed. "What's wrong with her?"

Seifer cocked his head, his ears perking up at the mention of Edea.

"I got a call from Cid. He saw what was happening, and I guess he knew what it would do to her being a witch and all. I guess she collapsed because of all the magic in the air. Sir Laguna's called in a doctor from Esthar…. Y'know, since they know more about magic and all that. I'm here now with them. Is… is Seifer okay? Cid's asking about him."

"He's fine. We'll just come to Edea's hotel room tomorrow morning and discuss things then, okay?"


He hung up.

"What was she saying about Edea?" Seifer asked, trying to show only mild curiosity in his voice.

"All the magic in the air made her collapse," Squall said.

"That's not really surprising," Rinoa mused. "She is the most powerful Sorceress in the world, after all."

"What about your magic?" Zell asked of her as she sat on the bed, a small smile spreading across her face. The bed felt very warm and comfortable, which was a very welcome thing right then. "How is it…?"

"Seems intact. I'm a weak Sorceress compared to Edea… I can only imagine how weak I must be compared to Alexander…. Or, I guess, how powerful he used to be." She stared into space for a few moments, reclining against the pillows. "To think that I Junctioned him for years and years….and, for this to happen."

"Don't think about it now," Squall told her quietly, sitting on the bed beside his wife. He didn't want her to talk about that, since it would make him realize that he'd also Junctioned Diablos for years and years. "Just rest."

"If you need anything, I'll just be downstairs," Seifer said, ushering Zell out of the room.

"Squall?" Rinoa asked after they'd settled down, Squall spooning her. "I'm sorry we fought."

"Don't apologize," he said into her silken hair. "The fight was my fault anyway. I just…."

"You don't have to say anything," she assured after he'd trailed off. She squeezed his hand and melted into his arms. "I know Squall. I know."

"I heard the tone of your voice, you know?"

"Tone?" Seifer asked, looking at some jars on the pantry shelves in his basement. He was looking for the items he could give to Rinoa to get rid of the scars Alexander had bestowed upon her.

"When you asked about what Selphie said about Edea."

"What do you mean?" Seifer asked, pulling out some Mesmerize Blades and examining them, finally pulling out the one of highest quality.

"You care about her."

"I was just curious."

"You care." Zell put his hand on the small of Seifer's back. "I know you're mad at her, and feel betrayed, but you do care."

Seifer narrowed his eyes and looked down into Zell's face. "The same as your feelings about Squall."

Zell's face darkened. "That's different."

Seifer pursed his lips and pulled a jar of magic stones off the shelf in front of him.

"Oh, what?" Zell asked. "You want to say something nasty, right?"

"No, not nasty," Seifer replied, putting the items on a table. "I don't want to argue with you. Not now."

Zell nodded, putting his other hand on Seifer's stomach, tracing the lines of his abdominal muscles through his shirt. "I agree. You want to finish looking at items… later?" Zell rose to his tip-toes, nibbling Seifer's earlobe. "Squall and Rinoa can't hear us down here."

"You know… my hands are still shaking when I think about what happened." He turned to fully face Zell. "I would have… missed you, Chicken-Wuss."

"Way to ruin a perfectly loving moment, jerk." Zell gently popped Seifer in the shoulder, though the taller man still winced. "Sorry." He laughed quietly as he was picked up off the floor, and put on the table. He gently moved the items to the other side so they wouldn't be disturbed, and wrapped his legs around Seifer's hips. He was slammed back against the table, his head grazing off the unforgiving surface. Seifer didn't apologize, and Zell didn't want him to. When he'd just been standing next to Seifer and touching him, things had felt gentle and loving, but now that Seifer's hands were sweeping down his body like this, and tugging at his clothes, Zell felt that it was far more primal. Zell had thought that he and Seifer would be slow and seductive, whispering their affection for each other in a romantic, romance-novel kind of way. But, he just felt the urge to fuck. He wanted Seifer inside him, hard and forceful and powerful, and he wanted Seifer to just use his body until it couldn't be used anymore. He wanted to feel how fucking alive he knew he would feel because of it.

Seifer crawled up onto the table, his mouth covering Zell's. No, not covering it. Devouring it. He didn't even get Zell's pants off all the way, and he only unzipped his as much as he needed to. His exposed genitals rubbed against Zell's, and they both moaned at the friction. The head of Seifer's erection rubbed against Zell's cock, and then against his scrotum, then between his ass cheeks, feeling the puckered entrance to Zell's body against him. "Shit," Seifer cursed, pulling off Zell. He went across the room on shaking legs, and started going through the drawers with shaking hands, his genitals hanging out of his undone pants.

Zell groaned, writhing on the tabletop. Seifer found some condoms in the desk, and ripped one open, stalking back to the table.

"Why'd you have condoms down here?" Zell asked. He groaned loudly as he was roughly impaled. Maybe he should keep it down a little bit. He was used to him and Seifer being the only ones around, and was usually very vocal in bed because of it. True, Rinoa and Squall were on the second floor and they were in the basement, but sound could carry. Zell gripped a handful of Seifer's hair, tearing Seifer's glasses off his face and putting them across the table with the items. He kissed Seifer, devouring his mouth right back. At least when they were kissing so deeply like this, Seifer's mouth could muffle his moans. It kind of hurt because of the lack of lubricant, but the pleasure far outweighed the pain. Seifer's hips slammed against his, and Zell hooked his legs up over Seifer's shoulders. They both groaned, their fingers working like they had minds of their own, trailing over each other's flesh as they choked on each other's tongues, Seifer pounding into Zell so forcefully that Zell felt bruises on his ass from Seifer's pelvis, and his legs were starting to tingle.

"They came in handy, didn't they?" Seifer asked between pants, licking Zell's face.

"Oh God, fuck me…" Zell demanded as they practically slobbered all over each other. They rolled over, almost falling off the table, Zell moving his legs when he wound up straddling Seifer's hips. He rode him, back arched, thrusting down hard enough that the table was scraping against the floor. Zell groaned at the sounds Seifer was making. He laughed a very masculine and sexual laugh when Seifer gasped and moaned like a professional whore. Zell bowed forward, licking Seifer's face like a dog or cat would. "You're so fucking hot." Zell's shirt was starting to stick to his back and armpits because of the sweat, and his fingers clawed down Seifer's chest as he rode his erection as thoroughly as he could. Seifer was panting and calling Zell's name, which made the smaller blonde's hips move faster and harder.

They both were just moaning incoherently by the time they came. Zell collapsed on top of Seifer, his hands still seeking out the feel of Seifer's body under his fingertips. Seifer's hands were curling and uncurling in Zell's hair. "I love you," Zell desperately whispered when he'd finally caught his breath.

"I know, Dincht. I love you too."

"I know, too." Zell rested his head on Seifer's chest, sighing as his hair was still absently stroked by Seifer's fingers. Then, for some reason, he felt tears stinging his eyes, and then he was crying. He started weeping into Seifer's chest, fists bunching his shirt. Seifer didn't ask him what was wrong, and just held him tightly. After all, Seifer had been there, too. Zell felt Seifer's fingers and arms shaking, then his whole body, and knew that Seifer was crying too. Neither needed to say anything, since they knew the other was thinking and feeling and appreciating the exact same thing. Thinking about all that had happened, and how close they'd come to death, or mutilation. Feeling love for each other, and appreciating being alive, given a second chance by the same being that had almost killed them. Eventually, they pulled apart, wiping their cheeks without shame, and began straightening themselves up. Zell kissed Seifer goodnight and went up the stairs, changed his clothes, arranged the long couch cushion on the floor and curling up. It wasn't nearly as comfortable as the big bed upstairs, but Zell was so weary that it felt like heaven. He crashed, but briefly woke up later when he felt Seifer curl up next to him. He smiled as he felt Seifer's breath against the curl of his ear, and a shiver of pure happiness went through his body when he felt Seifer's heartbeat against him. It felt real. It felt Alive.

Edea's eyes fluttered open, and everything was blurry. She had to blink a few times to clear her vision. She heard voices that sounded muted and faraway, like she was listening to people talking from underwater.

"Oh, thank Hyne! She's awake!" Edea blinked again when she saw a blur of colours appear in her gaze. Upon focusing, she saw that it was Laguna leaning over her, his eyes full of unshed tears, his hair swung over one shoulder, trickling down and tickling the side of Edea's face because he was leaning so closely.

Edea struggled to get to a sitting position, even with Laguna protesting every movement she made. She saw Cid standing at the foot of her bed. He was standing farther away from her than Laguna was. He was gripping one of the posts of the bed, his knuckle nearly white. Seifer was standing beside him, hands casually in the pockets of his black leather jacket, his extremely handsome face showing no emotion either way.

"How…." She shook her head, clearing it. "How long was I out?"

"So, you remember?" Laguna asked, brushing some of her ebony hair off her face. Cid narrowed his eyes behind his glasses, glaring more hatefully at Laguna than he'd ever glared at anyone in his life.

"Yes…. What was it, exactly?"

"Diablos and Alexander decided to duke it out," Seifer answered coolly, running his gloved fingers through his hair in a casual gesture. "That much power in the air was too much for a witch to handle."

Edea nodded. "That makes sense. I'd never felt more powerful magic in my life. What… what happened? Hyne… did Diablos try to kill you again?" She asked of Seifer, starting to get off the bed to go to him.

"Lay down!" Laguna commanded, gently pushing her back down on the many pillows.

Seifer shrugged a shoulder. "No, actually… Diablos didn't get a chance to try to kill me. Etanin did that all on his own."

"Who's Etanin…?" Laguna asked. Seifer hadn't spoken of any of the dealings the night before with them. He'd just talked quietly to Cid about Edea's condition, about Rinoa, and about Zell's situation at Garden.

"The human form of Bahamut."

"Bahamut?!" Cid exclaimed, turning to his son. The anger he'd been showing in his eyes towards Laguna immediately turned to concern.

"Let's put it this way," Seifer said, putting his hands back in his pockets. "If you ever see Bahamut's human form coming towards you with an axe, you better hope he cures you afterwards, too."

"What did Bahamut do to you?" Cid asked.

"Cut off Zell's arm, cut off my leg and hand and ripped me open. Let's not forget causing Alexander to explode."

Edea gasped. "How…. Something like that exploding in the city must have caused such damage…!"

"It was in a different world. A world of Diablos's creation. It was like a… parallel dimension."

"Oh." She winced as she pressed her elbow into the mattress. She rubbed it, looking at it.

"You must have hit it when you fell," Laguna murmured, taking Edea's hand. Cid's lip curled up in a sneer, and he dropped her hand like it was on fire. Seifer was also watching the whole scene with mild interest. He was standing beside his father, and while it was just coincidence, it looked like a united family front to the President.

"Anyway, you'll be able to read it all in Squall's report. Since Diablos isn't going to be trouble anymore, their SeeD mission is kind of over."

"What do you mean?" Edea asked. "Is Diablos dead?"

"No. Sort of…." Seifer sighed, cocking his head. "I'm not sure exactly what happened, because GF speak their own language to each other, but Squall somehow understood it, and Bahamut's punishment to Diablos for the whole Blackball thing, and to Alexander for possessing Rinoa, was to take their powers away."

"Possessing Rinoa?!" Edea sat up again, getting out of bed. She wobbled, and only Cid's arms catching her prevented her from falling down again. "What happened to her? As a Sorceress…."

"She's fine," Seifer said, picking up a knick-knack on the table and casually examining it. "Alexander wasn't interested in her power. It was nothing compared to him."

"Wait… GF can lose their powers?" Laguna asked. "And, Squall was in on this….? Is my son okay?" He asked desperately.

"He's fine. You should probably go to the hospital and see him and Rinoa. I'm sure they have big news for you. And, don't flip out. They're just there for a check-up on Rinoa. Nothing serious. We're all fine." He turned to Cid and Edea. "Diablos and Alexander aren't GF anymore. They're in human form, because Bahamut took their power, and is holding it as punishment. I guess they'll be GF again someday, but that could be a long time, long after we're all dead, probably."

"But… if Diablos is human, he could just come and kill you…." Edea reached out for her son, stroking his cheek. She noticed that Seifer had a glow about him. The glow of love.

"Bahamut took care of that. Some sort of rune prevents him from attacking me or Zell, and it also prevents them from dying or killing each other or themselves."

"Themselves?" Cid asked.

"Think about it… if you were millions of years old, and suddenly lost all your powers, I'm sure you'd get a little suicidal. Especially because Diablos was a faerie when he was alive."

"A faerie…." Laguna trailed off with almost reverence. He'd always found faeries to be fascinating, but had never heard of a real one. "So, he would have been magical before he became Diablos."

"Yes. And, to suddenly not be magical…" Seifer shrugged one of his broad shoulders. "Well, you seem fine, so I'm going to leave." He went towards the door.

"Wait!" Edea called. "Please, Seifer." She looked up at Cid, and realized she was still in his arms. She smiled gingerly at him. He didn't smile back, but his eyes did show anguish. He let her go and pursed his lips, turning away. "Don't go. I can't bear for you to walk out of my life."

"You were the one who walked out of my life," Seifer replied, his tone suddenly frosty. "I just need time. Just like I'm sure you and Cid need time to work out what's happened." He opened the door. "It's not like I'm moving anytime soon. You'll know where we are." He said something lowly to Cid about Zell, and then closed the door behind him. Edea knew that the 'we' had referred to Seifer and Zell. She watched as Cid and Seifer conversed. Father and son. She sighed and straightened her shoulders, already feeling much stronger.

"Cid….?" She asked.

"What?" He asked tersely.

"How did I get in the bed? I fell on the floor."

Cid pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "I must not have called you in time. I saw what was happening, and knew how it would affect you."

"I did hear the phone," she answered. "I just couldn't get to it before I blacked out.

"I came to check on you, and saw you on the floor."

"Oh, Cid…." She pursed her lips. "Thank you." She reached out to touch his hand. "Do you think that… we could talk?"

"I have Garden business to attend to," he said.

"Cid, please!" She begged quietly. "I want us to be a family again." She reached out for him again. "I want us to be a couple again, and I want to try and be a family with Seifer."

Laguna bit his lower lip, turning his face away from them. He knew Edea was doing the right thing, but it still hurt. He really did love her.

"I can't trust you, Edea."

She closed her eyes, a tear trickling down her cheek. "I know. I really want to earn your trust again."

Cid's eyes turned to Laguna with hostility. "How can I believe that when I know you have real feelings for him?"

"I love you, Cid."

He closed his eyes, and when he spoke again, his voice was so small and tired. "I love you too, Edea. But, that's not enough right now. I'm sorry." He bowed to kiss her hands, and then left. She sank to the floor, bringing her hands to her mouth.

"Edea, are you okay?" Laguna asked, crouching beside her. "You should have stayed in bed…"

"Just go," she whispered. "Please, Laguna. Just…. Just go, okay?"


"Please!" She started quietly weeping.

Laguna put his fist to his mouth, hating to see her cry like this. But, he of course couldn't refuse her request. Not when both her husband and son had shrugged her off. He hated to leave her such a fragile emotional state, but it was their lust that put them in this position in the first place, so it just would have been cruel and selfish of him not to leave. He collected his jacket and left, deciding to take Seifer's advice and go to the hospital. He needed to concentrate less on what he felt for Edea, for a married woman, and more on his son and daughter-in-law. He'd spent so much time trying to build a relationship with Squall, and trying to get Squall to respect him, and he'd brushed that all away in one act of sexual urge with Edea. He jabbed the elevator call button, and when it came and the doors slid shut around him, he slumped to the elevator's floor, tears blinding his vision.

Squall was finishing giving his report to Quistis via video conference from their apartment in Timber. Selphie was pretty silent, since the only thing she'd had to contribute was saying that Squall had disappeared right beside her. Seifer and Zell were also there, since they knew as much as Squall did. They were also waiting because Seifer was going to give Rinoa the salve he'd made for her scars. The baby had turned out to be perfectly fine, and the news that he was going to be a grandpa made Laguna joyous, though everyone had noticed how his eyes had been rimmed with red from tears of sadness. Xu was on the Balamb end with Quistis, and would glare at Seifer and Zell the whole time. Seifer just smiled at her, the loathsome cunt.

"Okay," Quistis said after absorbing all that Squall and Selphie, with some interjections by Zell (Seifer was very silent), had said. "I will recall Squall, Selphie and Irvine back to Garden, where we will finish up with the debriefing. A decision will be made then upon how we will go about keeping an eye on Diablos and Alexander while they're here, as humans."

"How will we find them?" Irvine asked. "I'm sure they've vanished by now. And…. Why bother?"

"Well, once wind of this hit Esthar, Kiros and Odine's labs expressed interest. Odine may be gone, but his ideals about magical research are still around."

At the mention of Odine, Xu's eyes slid noticeably to Seifer. His upper lip curled, but he stayed quiet. Zell tried not to look at her, since being around during all this SeeD stuff was already making his temper starting to burn, and if he stared at Xu giving Seifer smug stares and looking all content with herself, he was going to flip out.

"I'm sure that they could give insight into magic, and even though they don't have their powers anymore, I'd still consider them dangerous," Quistis continued. "Wouldn't you agree."

All three SeeD nodded silently.

"Okay, then this concludes the briefing." Quistis smiled at them. "It's good to see that you're all okay."

"I think we're all glad to be okay, too." Rinoa looked across the room, smiling brightly when Seifer pulled out a jar of the salve he'd promised her. She got up and took it from him, offering quiet thanks. He just waved it off and took Zell's hand, going towards the door. He didn't want to be here anymore, and he knew Zell didn't, either. He'd known just from the look on Zell's face, but he could also feel it in the way Zell was holding his hand. He was definitely holding back a lot of anger.

"Zell….?" Quistis's voice called from the monitor. "Are you still there?"

Zell frowned, but walked over so he was in Quistis's sight. "What?"

"Listen…" She trailed off. "I know that things ended… badly at the Tribunal. But…."

Zell laughed harshly. "What? Want me to come back and do some job that doesn't need a SeeD card? I don't want to come back Quistis. I don't want to come back to a place that is so full of bigotry and small-minded people." He stared at Xu when he said that sentence.

"Was that directed at me?" Xu asked. "I should be directing comments at you for turning your back on Garden, especially with someone like Seifer Almasy. A blackmailing traitor."

"You're the fucking traitor," Zell hissed. "You always seemed goal-oriented to me, Xu. But, now you only seem like a power-hungry bitch who would betray even her best friend to gain a little more leverage."

"What, because I didn't want you in this school anymore?"

"Because it was Seifer. You're afraid of him coming anywhere near Garden again." Zell's pale eyes slowly moved to Quistis. "I'd watch my back if I were you, Quisty." He got up and moved away from the screen.

"Zell…!" Quistis called, but the short blonde wasn't paying any attention. He was already moving to leave. Squall was kind of standing near the door, and Zell just waved his hand.

"No, Squall. Just…. I just need time."

"Whoa…" Seifer muttered to himself as he followed Zell down the stairwell. "Déjà vu."

"Huh?" Zell asked when they got out to the sidewalk.

"What you said to Squall…" Seifer trailed off as he took Zell's hand while they walked. "I said the same thing to Edea this morning."

Zell and Seifer walked for a while, enjoying the crisp yet sunny day. "So… you never told me… why do you and Xu hate each other so much?"

"Oh…" Seifer glowered a little, eyes darkening behind his glasses. "Because of the first time we took the SeeD exam. We were sent to Deling because of this syndicate that was running guns." He sighed. "Xu was Captain, and even then we always argued. But, I argued with anyone, so I guess it's not a surprise. Her unit went in, and wound up getting ambushed. Xu turned tail and ran as two of the cadets under her had guns to their heads."

Zell furrowed his brow, stopping. This caused Seifer to have to stop too, since their hands were joined. "Serious?"

"Very," Seifer murmured.

"Did they die?"

Seifer nodded. "I saw it happen."

"Where were you?"

"Coming in from another side of the compound that they were holing themselves up in." They started walking again. "I saw them get their heads blown off as Xu just fucking left them behind." He hissed. "I killed the guys, but it couldn't save them. They were just kids like we were, dying crying and begging for their lives, calling for their mothers. I could never forgive her for that. She got heralded as a hero because she brought in the syndicate head, but I saw it for what it was: just compensation for what she'd done… or rather, not done."

"I can't believe it," Zell whispered.

"Believe it," Seifer spat. "That's why she hates me, and why I hate her. Whenever she saw me in school, she was reminded of what she'd done, and how she'd let them die, how their blood was on her hands. She was afraid that I would tell on her."

"Why didn't you?"

"Because she should tell what she did herself. I never let her forget it, though."

"Just… wow." Zell and Seifer kept walking to where Seifer had parked his truck. "I guess that explains a lot."

"I don't really want to talk about it." Seifer opened the driver's side door. "I just want to go home, and worry about shit like having to get up for work in the morning."

Zell slid into the passenger side. "Yeah, and I have to think about an actual job." He slumped against the seat. "I wonder if my pig-headedness just prevented me from getting a job offer from Quistis."

Seifer shrugged a shoulder as he drove. "Maybe. But, it would have been a Rinoa job, you realize? A job that they need done, but that no SeeD are going to be given, because they're put to better use doing the 'real' jobs. Rinoa doesn't care because she's never been SeeD before. She thinks she's helping. But, how would you feel?"

"Shitty," Zell answered, looking out the window as they drove out of Timber. "And, it would feel degrading. Besides, I could never go back to see people who tried to oust me just because I'm in love with you."

"Maybe if it weren't me, they would have overlooked it."

"But, it is you." Zell arched an eyebrow and a grin spread over his mouth. "Maybe I could have kept being a SeeD if I'd found another 'right' man, but I would have had to walk on eggshells. And, I just don't see the point of wallowing on what could have been. If anything, what happened with Diablos should have hammered that home." He smiled at Seifer. "I can't even think of being with another man."

"How sappy of you." Seifer chuckled to himself. "But, it's still cute."

"Do you think you and Cid and Edea will work things out?"

"I could ask you the same question about Squall. Besides, I'm more concerned about trying to start over with Fujin."

"Do you think she'll be okay?"

Seifer sighed as he pulled into his driveway. "You know… I think it's stupid of Garden or Esthar to think that Diablos would ever tell them anything about magic, or that he would let himself be caught by them… but… I would like to ask him how to help her. I wish I'd thought of it while he was right in front of us."

"You think he would have told you?" Zell asked as Seifer killed the engine.

"No," Seifer said. "It's a nice thought, though." Seifer started to get out of the truck, but Zell reached out and wrapped strong fingers around Seifer's wrist. "Wait a sec." He slid across the seat and put his hands on the sides of Seifer's face. He kissed Seifer's chin, then the tip of his nose, then his forehead and his eyelids, then finally his mouth. His tongue was nimble against Seifer's lips and tongue, and he smiled and then laughed against the other man's mouth. Seifer also smiled, and they laughed into the kiss with carefree abandon that could only come with that light-hearted feeling of love.

"Is this you looking for an actual job?" Seifer asked lightly, his and Zell's lips still meeting in quick, brief kisses.

"I could make a comment about a job of some kind, but it's too obvious. His breath lingered with Seifer's. "You taste so good, Almasy."

"Hmmm." Seifer traced Zell's tattoo with his fingertips. "You're the third man to say that to me today."

"Bastard." Zell ran his fingers through Seifer's blonde hair, his mouth pressing to Seifer's cheek. If five years from now, someone asked Zell 'how did you and Seifer fall in love?', he wouldn't have been able to answer. If Zell had told a story of their past, anyone would have thought Zell was out of his mind for even being in the same room as Seifer Almasy, let alone living with him and sharing a bed with him. But, even now, Zell contemplated exactly how it had turned from dislike to surprise to like to love with Seifer. He couldn't put his finger on it. It had just happened so naturally, so steadily that there wasn't a defining moment that Zell could put his finger on and say 'yes, that's the moment I knew I was in love with Seifer'. He supposed that the same could be said for a lot of couples. Even Squall and Rinoa.

"Hey, what's wrong?" Seifer asked, pursing his smiling lips. "You kinda vanished there for a second."

"Huh?" Zell cocked his head. "Oh, nothin'. Just thinking.

"That's never good," Seifer teased. He got out of the car, Zell following. "What were you thinking about?"

"Well, why should I tell you, since you're being such a jerk?"

Seifer snorted as he pulled out his keys. "If you think that's me being a jerk, you either suffered brain damage, or have a very short memory."

"Or, I'm just choosing to ignore how much of a fucker you are because the sex is hot."

"You're the third best I've had today."

Zell jabbed Seifer in the stomach, which caused the taller blonde to slowly let out his breath as soon as he was out of earshot. Even though they lacked that bully/victim layer to their relationship now, Seifer still didn't like to show when Zell hurt him, even if it was by accident. "So?" Seifer asked after he'd composed himself. "What do you want for supper?"

Zell sat at the kitchen's island, watching Seifer for a few moments with a smile on his face.

"Uh, Dincht?" Seifer snapped his fingers. "Stop staring at a mental patient and answer the question."

Zell's grin widened. "I don't care." While Seifer may have snapped at him, Zell knew that Seifer felt the same way as he did. He knew it in the way Seifer kissed him, and in the way Seifer touched him and held him.

"You're doing it again," Seifer pointed out as he pulled vegetables out of the fridge.


Seifer just shrugged a shoulder, even though he was glad that Zell kept staring at him like that. It made him glad to be in one piece, and glad to be home.

Dollet was having its first snowfall of the year. The flakes were fluffy and virgin white. The perfect snow to catch on your tongue, but yet the kind that melted as soon as it touched the ground. Zell had his hands spread out to catch the flurries, and stuck his tongue out, tasting the cold droplets.

"You're how old?" Seifer asked, even though he wrapped his arm around Zell's shoulder and kissed the top of his head, tasting wet snow in Zell's hair. They were taking a brief holiday in Dollet. They'd missed out on celebrating their four year anniversary a few months back because both were busy with work, but Seifer had booked a luxurious suite for them at the Dollet Hotel, knowing he had to make a trip to this area to pick up some items.

"I love snow," Zell murmured. It never snowed in Balamb, and in Timber, all they got was sleet and hail or cold rain. "I'm so glad you planned this. I needed the vacation." Seifer was still busy with Archimedes, and Zell had his dojo. After the whole Blackball thing had ironed itself out, Zell had taken a few menial jobs, but had eventually started his own martial arts school. After all, it was in his blood, and he already had teaching experience from Garden. The only place he could afford to lease was in Bridgeport Square near Westphal. At first, things hadn't gone well, and he'd had to burn through some of his savings to keep the place afloat. Fortunately, even though Blackball wasn't an issue anymore, crime still was. The more familiar drugs like cocaine and heroin had risen up to take Blackball's place, and robbery and homelessness were still rampant problems in Timber. It made people want to seek out ways to defend themselves. It was what made Seifer's business have a clientele besides soldiers and mercenaries, and it was what started to attract students to Zell. Seifer had always suggested that Zell advertise that he had once been SeeD, because it would make curious people maybe sign up, but Zell had refused to use Garden's name for anything. Even over four years later, he was still very sore about the whole thing. It was also what was still straining his relationship with Squall. Though, they were trying, Seifer had to admit that, and things between them were much better than they had been.

Squall and Rinoa had a baby girl. She was now over three and a half, and really quite adorable. They'd named her Ocean, and she was a spitting image of Squall. She had his light brown hair and pretty lips and porcelain skin and the sultry shape of his eyes, though her eye colour was that deep, warm chocolate brown of Rinoa. Squall hadn't wanted her when he'd found out that Rinoa was pregnant, but once she'd been born, he'd fallen in love with her. He doted on her and did everything for her. Whenever she reached out for his hand, his face lit up in a way it didn't for anyone or anything else. But, in typical Squall fashion, his love for his beautiful Ocean hadn't continued to the rest of his relationships, though he really was making an effort where Zell was concerned. Seifer and Squall's relationship was about the same, which meant that it was more complex than people gave it credit for. There had always been deep yet quiet respect between them, though they'd never be best buddies. Seifer supposed that it was a huge compliment that he'd been allowed to watch Ocean for a weekend before.

Laguna was so happy that Ocean was in his life, too. Because she looked so much like Squall, that meant that she could have been Raine as a little girl. He really loved his granddaughter's company, especially because he was lonely, still pining after Edea. Though, feelings for Raine were starting to come back to him whenever he looked into Ocean's face. Squall and he were starting to warm up to each other again, since Squall was scared about being a father, and would ask Laguna advice, even though he knew that Laguna hadn't been there for him. And, Laguna was very willing to give out these little gems of wisdom, sometimes which didn't make any sense. He didn't want Squall to make the same mistakes he did.

Rinoa loved her daughter too, but there was a problem. Squall had never come out and said so much to Seifer, but Seifer had gleaned that Rinoa was a little jealous of her daughter. Jealous because Ocean got all of Squall's love an attention, while her relationship with her husband had frosted considerably. Squall never discussed marital matters with Seifer, but the tall blonde could tell from the looks on their faces when they were all together. Seifer had once asked Squall if he and Rinoa were considering divorce, but Squall had never answered him, and had not even given an answer either way, instead choosing to ignore that Seifer had even asked it at all.

Zell and Seifer went into a pub to order some hearty beer. They both also ordered some seafood chowder to warm them up. Zell waved at someone who said "hey, Instructor!"

"One of your students?"

Zell nodded. "She's pretty promising, too. She's in my advanced kickboxing class." As their drink order came, Seifer started rooting through his coat pockets when he felt his phone vibrating.

"Who's that?" Zell asked, taking a long drink of beer.

"Edea," Seifer answered. He turned off his phone. "I'm on vacation. I'll talk to her when we get back home."

"Maybe a month after," Zell murmured to himself.

Seifer shrugged a shoulder. Edea was back in Centra at the Orphanage, which was her passion, even though the phone call had seemed to come from Esthar. She was steering clear of Esthar because of what had happened with Laguna, and what kept happening with him. She was trying everything to get Cid to forgive her and take her back, but whenever she wound up in Esthar on Sorcery business, they always seemed to wind up kissing or falling into bed together. She and Cid weren't divorced, but they were definitely separated. Cid had a lady friend who was one of the botany teachers at Garden, and who was also very nice, at least Seifer thought so. He didn't have any sort of feeling that Cid and Edea, his parents, should be together, since his feelings on it were still that they were just people who happened to be his parents. To say that Seifer had bonded with Cid and Edea over the past four years would have been a gross over-exaggeration. He'd bonded far more with Ma Dincht than he had with this woman who claimed to be his mother. He didn't mean to purposely hurt Cid and Edea, but he couldn't pretend to feel things he didn't, and they would have known if he was faking it. "The call was coming from Esthar."

"You think her and Laguna will stay together this time?" Zell asked, fingers touching Seifer's on the table.

"I don't know. Edea's depressed over Cid and Eirene, but…" He trailed off.

"She still loves Laguna, too." Zell looked up as their soup came. He smiled when the delicious smell hit his nostrils. "Thanks," he said to the waitress.

"Yeah. She loves Laguna, but she also sees him as the reason her marriage failed. Or rather… she sees them as why it failed, so even though she may want to be with Laguna, there will always be guilt there."

"Well, you should still try to call her as soon as we get back," Zell said with some reproach in his voice. He took a spoonful of chowder. "Mmmm. They have the best chowder outside Balamb."

"Yeah, it's good," Seifer agreed. "Though, not as good as Ma's."

"Nothing is. Speaking of calling mothers, I have to call her too when we get back. I haven't talked to her in a couple weeks. Last time, she said that Fujin would be back this month."

Seifer's ears perked up. "Oh?"

"Yeah, I forgot to mention it, babe. Sorry." After coming out of detox, Fujin had decided that she couldn't stay in Timber anymore. It was just full of ugly memories. She'd headed back towards Balamb, and opened a small restaurant that specialized in seafood. She'd always enjoyed fishing, saying it gave her happy memories of the posse together, back before everything had started going wrong. Seifer's relationship with Fujin was much like Zell and Squall's. They were really trying, but too much had happened for it to be the same ever again. Though, Seifer could see the closeness again between Squall and Zell. He didn't see that for Fujin and him. Things were just… too damaged. Fujin could never stop thinking of Seifer killing Raijin. Twice. And, Seifer couldn't forgive himself for it, especially not when he tried to look into her eye. Ma Dincht had promised to keep an eye on her for Seifer, though. So, at least he would know that she was okay. Zell was talking about a trip she'd just made to Fisherman's Horizon.

They didn't talk much for the rest of the meal. They didn't need to. They were comfortable with their silences. True, they weren't always this comfortable, and fought like any other couple. When they fought, it was always quite the scene, since they both were rather fiery when they got mad. They would say 'that's it, it's over', and break up. But, the break-up would only last a couple of hours. Seifer had once spent the night at a motel after a rather nasty fight about money, and had sworn that he'd never go to bed angry with Zell after that, because it had been the worst night of sleep he'd had in a long time. He'd missed Zell beside him at night too much.

"So, what next?" Zell asked after they'd paid for their meal, and were out in the slowly falling snow again.

Seifer pulled out two tickets. "There's that play at the Royal Theatre that you wanted to see…" The play was called Empire, and was about the last royal family of Dollet before the Empire had fallen.

Zell gasped, snatching the tickets from Seifer's gloved hand. "Seriously? Empire? How did you get tickets?"

"I booked them a while ago. We were going to go on our anniversary, but then that crapped out…" He trailed off and smiled as Zell kissed him soundly on the lips.

"You're just full of surprises, aren't you?" Zell wrapped his arms around Seifer's waist and gave a tight hug. "I love you."

"Yeah, yeah. You know… you'll owe me for this." Seifer cocked an eyebrow and laughed a very private and masculine laugh. "Curtain's in a couple of hours."

They decided to kill time by window shopping, their fingers tightly looped together. They would occasionally stop and give each other quick and perfect kisses. Seifer stopped by the window of a blacksmith's shop, eyes professionally looking over the weapons displayed in the window. "Hmmm….. Ow!" Seifer exclaimed. "Ow, ow, ow!! You're going to break my hand…!" Seifer gasped, nearly falling to his knees because Zell had suddenly started squeezing the life out of his hand. He finally wrenched his hand out of Zell's, starting to massage it. "Are you fucking crazy, Dincht?" Seifer asked angrily. "Fuck…" He slowly moved his fingers to get blood back into them. "What's your problem?" He looked at Zell angrily, but that anger started to seep away when he saw what the problem was.

Zell's eyes were transfixed on a customer that had just come out of the blacksmith's. Seifer also looked at the customer in horror, at that painfully beautiful face. Eyes that they thought they'd never see again turned and looked at them, also showing surprise in those black irises with fireworks of ice blue. His hair was much shorter than it had been four years ago, but those pointed ears and graceful movements were all the same, all belonging to Daeva Aka-Manah.

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