Author's Notes: I will begin a line with // to indicate a character’s thoughts.

Raijin’s Game

Part One

By ZeoRu

A dark-skinned, well-muscled arm flailed wildly, tangled in a glimmering sheen of tangled, sweaty sheets. Raijin struggled momentarily against attackers that existed only in his dream, before falling soundly from his bunk, onto the dorm room’s rather solid floor. An Asian face appeared in the fringes of his vision, as, opening his eyes, Raijin discovered he wasn’t in the jaws of a Marlboro, but in even greater danger.

“Let me guess…You dreamed you were a Puperon, and tried to perform their air-borne mating ritual?” Narrowed, angry, and quite tired eyes glinted at the fallen hulk. Nida knew many surprising things about Raijin, things only a roommate would know. Like the fact the muscular, dim-witted behemoth was obsessed with insects, even had several overdue books on the subjects of Puperon collecting, breeding, and worse, despite the widespread belief that the imbecile was illiterate. Rumor has it that if one was in trouble with the Disciplinary committee, an ‘easy’ out was to offer to go with the burly bully on a Puperon hunt in the training center. Never mind that in the heated moment of battle with a Tyrannosaur you might find Raijin wandering off obliviously after some colorful winged thing that had caught his eye. Still, it was an easy out compared to Seifer and Fujin. Comparatively, the captain of the Disciplinary Committee would dice a student with little to no cause whatsoever, while Fujin would be happy feeding the pieces to the Tyrannosaur as they flew off the unfortunate, still living corpse.

Nida leaned back, disappearing into his covers while making some variation of his disgusted-grunt noise, while Raijin shook himself, attempting to reconcile the terror of marbolo tentacles with the soft, silkiness of a sheet.

“I wasn’t a Puperon! That was last night, ya know!?”

// God, and yet I still have nightmares. Nightmares about Raijin’s dreams. Sick.

“Man, that was so happening, ya know? But this time, I was trying to catch one, so I was so convinced it was real, ya know?. A big, sael-jin-cetra- er – Saele-injet. .. jet…uh…” he fumbles with words, trying to produce sounds his limited vocabulary had nothing to compare to “…and uh, so pretty…” He made a wild gesture, ignored by the comatose SeeD candidate, followed by inarticulate cry. “Then it was eaten by a Marlboro!The bastard came out of nowhere and –inhaled- it! And then it-it tried to rip me apart, ya know? ! Tentacles, everywhere man! All over, griping and, and…ya know!?” Raijin carefully yelled at as low a volume as he could so as to ensure Nida would remain docile, or at least not completely hostile to his rant. Nida’s quasi-conscious mind put Raijin’s words together, jiggled them across the board a bit, and then gave up trying to make sense of it.

// So, Raijin dreams about pretty bugs and tentacle porn. Nice to know.

“Raijin. Silence. Today…SEED EXAM!” Nida was calm, collected, and always so self-assured. Not an ice cube like Squall, but rather full of some sort of relaxed, has-it-together-ness. Focus.

Just not right now. He was tired, pissy, and after two years as Raijin’s roommate, sick as hell of all things Puperon.

Raijin felt his roommate move, but didn’t have time to register the impact. Suddenly, he was in his bunk again, feeling the pain of a few bruises he didn’t fully comprehend his acquisition of, but painfully appreciated. He listened to Nida’s breathing become paced and deep.

//SeeD? Who gives a rats ass. Like you’ll ever be a Seed, Nida!

He tried to piss himself off at the sleeping man, but couldn’t. In truth, Raijin was more worried about the SeeD exam than Nida was. Raijin couldn’t be defeated in a physical contest, and Nida had learned that lesson plenty of times over. And yet, because he’d failed the written exam, Raijin wasn’t going to be taking the SeeD test. Even though this was most likely the last chance. Raijin sighed, a number of unpleasant possibilities for the following day passing through his mind. While Nida was academically top of the class, who knew what a real battlefield would could do to him?

//Tomorrow is the last chance for us, isn’t it, Nida? And I won’t be there. You and Seifer’ll be alright, ya know? Fuck, I don’t even know if I’ll graduate, and this my last fucking year. .. Hell with your stupid exam. Wonder who’ll be my new roomie for my last semester…

Cursing softly, Raijin tried to shake off his feelings of “weakness”. Seifer was most likely training with Squall, some last minute sparring before the big bad exam. Seifer would be ready for anything. At least that was something that could be counted on.

Raijin shifted. Thoughts of the past few weeks flitted by, images and sounds that blurred together into an annoying pulse. Failing the Lv2 magical classes because he couldn’t maintain a junction. Receiving the “Tank” award as the most feared physical fighter in all of garden. Attempting the written SeeD test without Seifer knowing….

// Failing the written Test… I forfeit the SeeD exam. Too bad, ya know? Just too bad…

Only Fujin knew that Raijin had aspirations at being SeeD in the first place, but never Seifer. Seifer would have felt threatened at the possible outcome that he might fail the test while Raijin passed. Raijin knew the rules. Basically, ask Fujin before making any independent brainwaves, and if she doesn’t beat the shit out of you, it’s probably because it’s fine. Or she’s thinking of how to ask you in one-word sentences which orifices you’d like your organs to issue forth from.

Raijin was kinda surprised when she had simply looked away for a few moments. Not angry. No emotion at all. And then a small sigh.


Maybe it had been a command, or a prediction, even a request, or perhaps all three. The topic was never brought up again except when the scores were posted. Fujin had beat him to the wall where they were displayed, and neatly removed of his with a precise whisk with one of her many blades. He had just stood there, thinking it didn’t really matter if he knew the score or not, just as long as Fujin stopped looking like she was going to go for the neck. She closed in on him, the smaller SeeD wannabes scurrying away in terror when they saw her face. She didn’t say anything at first. Just held out that small scrap of paper.

“Did ya…see it?” It seemed like a valid question, as she was still holding it. Her expression was unreadable. Raijin shifted uneasily.

“NEGATIVE. NOT SEE. NOT CARE.” She shrugged as he took it gingerly, trying not to cringe at the way her solitary eye seemed to fixate on something past him, or though him.

“HIDE THIS.” She meant more than just the scrap he held. Seifer was approaching. Raijin’s mind processed that it might be strange for him to be found by the grade posting. Not a typical habitat for the Puperon, the academic hall was a place Raijin loathed to be except for class, which was out over an hour ago. Seifer resolved the situation for him, as he frequently did when Raijin’s brain failed him.

“AW, you guys shouldn’t have. I’m sure I passed with flying colors.” He stretched, exchanging a tired glance with Fujin. “Just like every year I take the damn thing…”

Raijin was pulled out of his reverie, jerked from his memories back into the sweaty mess that was himself, finding his dorm room suddenly too small to breathe in. Nida continued to sleep, but the feeling of unease was stronger with each passing moment. And then, something changed.

He felt pain sear across his forehead, as a white hot light filled the dorm room. Crying out of shock more than pain itself, Raijin flipped into the floor, cradling his head while fighting to maintain a defensive stance. Nida was suddenly around him, holding him down.

“Raijin! Holy fuck, man!” Raijin tried to make out what Nida was saying, but his own thoughts were too loud and demanding at the moment.

Thoughts that were too weird to be his.

“Nida…I……ya need ta just give me a second, ya know!”

“What the fuck was that!? Are you alright? Raijin!”

“I’m Raijin. I’m…Raijin…just making sure, ya know?” Momentary glancing himself over, Raijin shook Nida off. Flexing. Testing.

“The Infirmary. Now.” Nida was spooked. He’d thought Raijin might have some mental problems – the dude was a little slow, obviously, and besides that he was friends with Seifer Almassy, something any well person would find inconceivable. Never mind the unhealthy Puperon obsession. But Nida had never even considered the possibility that his dark skinned roommate could be a schizoid.

“No. Something…more important than that to deal with.” Raijin’s tone had shifted dramatically from earlier. From his normal, deep, thug-like self to the confused kiddie whom had almost been eaten by a Malboro – but perhaps was more upset by not catching some weird ass bug than the possibility of being devoured alive- and then from there to this strange Raijin, who seemed to be just waking up. He seemed intimately aware of Nida’s body, though. Shivering slightly, Nida glanced himself over but found nothing out of the ordinary. Both Raijin and he were wearing boxers, and nothing else. And from Raijin’s expression, the boxers weren’t enough or were entirely too much, depending on one’s point of view. From Nida’s viewpoint, he no longer felt comfortable remaining so close to the bulk of muscle and tension in front of him. He attempted to bolt for the door.

“What-the-fuck…” Nida froze, while Raijin put his large hands onto the younger cadet’s shoulders, effortlessly halting the escape.

“You will pass today. Squall Leonhart. Zell Dincht. Selphie Tilmitt…” He paused as he said each name, yet enunciated each word as if savoring the flavor. His eyes were closed. “And you.” A shadow crossed his face. .. “Nida, I can’t explain it all to you, right now, ya know? There is too much…”The slender boy struggled, then sighed silently in resignation as Nida realized he, like every other member of the Garden, was powerless in the grip of Raijin.

// Raijin is insane. I always knew he was an odd one, but I didn’t think he’d go psycho!

“Nida, listen to me, before you freak out, ya know? Today Galbadia will attempt to capture the Dollet Communication tower. SeeD will be dispatched to liberate the city. Seifer will disobey…” His eyes opened, and he stared into Nida hard. Nida’s expression was fighting to be blank but kept failing. Concerned eyes stared back at Raijin.

“Raijin, you’ve had a nightmare. That’s all.”

//Gotta stay calm, gotta stay calm, Raijin’s fucking CRAZY, but gotta stay calm!

“I played this game before, Nida. It’s a game where I was Squall. And Zell. And others, all through the end. But I wasn’t me, you know? I wasn’t Raijin…before.”

“What…” He choked, took a deep breath, and tried again, amazed that his voice only broke once in the middle. “What the hell…are you talking about!?” He was finding it increasingly harder to put the things Raijin said into meaningful interpretation, but still, he hoped if Raijin babbled enough either it would start to make sense…rr maybe he’d go insane too, and they could continue being roommates in a sanitarium.

Raijin was lost in thought, but occasionally glanced at his captive as if making sure he was still there. There was a hint of something in his eyes when he looked at Nida that seemed to suggest a very different sort of irrationality than what Nida had feared.

//He’s looking at me. .. hard. The way he looks at his insects…

“Nida, you always wanted to show this garden what you’re made of. To make it your own, ya know?” Raijin trailed off, not knowing where to go with this train of thought. He finally released Nida from his ridged embrace. Nida was caught off guard. Before he could rush the door to summon help, Raijin was there, a quite massive barrier.

“Let’s say for a moment that as events pass right now, Trabia Garden will be destroyed, Galbadia Garden will be taken over by Galbadian military and the world will all get shot to hell. Pretty crazy, ya know?” Raijin forced Nida to continue to look into his eyes. “Crazy as hell, yeah? But here’s the best part. Not only do I know what will happen theoretically in the next few days, I know what is happening RIGHT NOW. I can prove it to you…. ya know?” Raijin’s voice became softer. Nida was convinced he was insane. But Raijin knew just what to do. “I know…about things, Nida. I know what has happened, what is happening, and even what would happen if nothing’s done about it…”

“Let’s just go to the Infirmary, Raijin. You’re delusional. Dr. Kadowaki will be able to clear all this up for you. Trust me. ”

“I agree, Nida. I can prove it to you there.” He leaned forward, but stopped when he saw the handsome features of his roommate twist in fear. “Squall and Seifer are fighting as usual – even as we speak, probably. But I’ve foreseen what will happen, or rather, what is happening right now. Seifer will cut Squall, a scar across his face.” Raijin gestured to demonstrate. “Squall retailed like this.” He drew his hand up over Nida’s face, indicating the gunblades path. “Seifer will refuse to go to the Infirmary for help, but Squall will be there this morning until Quistis retrieves him.” Raijin closed his eyes for a moment. Nida was listening to him, or perhaps was just afraid to say or do anything that might provoke a crazy reply. Still, in Raijin’s mind, things were falling into place, if he could just avoid being locked up long enough to be heard out. Raijin sighed. Time to cue the leap of faith in for the scene. “I’m not crazy, but I don’t think I can explain why I know those things right now. I’m Raijin, and yet…think of it like a junction. Only it’s knowledge. But I know you don’t follow me. Let’s say we go to the infirmary, but if what I said was right about Squall…” Raijin gripped Nida’s shoulder tightly for a moment. “I need you to swear you’ll back me up on this. Even if you don’t believe me. I need you to swear you’ll at least…investigate my claims. ” Nida’s sense of honor wasn’t a joking matter. Even to a crazy man, if he swore, he’d follow through.

“Raijin, even if…” Nida gulped for air, trying to reason out of the lack of rationality he found in this present discourse. Raijin was sounding less and less like himself,

“Nida, I’m not a fortune cookie giving you some lame ass generality. I told you the specific path of both Squall’s -and Seifer’s- scars. If I’m right…. EXACTLY right, then you need to back me up. Crazy as hell as all this sounds. Trust me, if I can get to Headmaster Cid…I know some shit that’ll be hard for him to deny. That’s how I’ll prove all this to him. ” Raijin shook his head, looking away as a sudden thought hit him. “Oh, and also…I may need your aid in passing the SeeD Exam. I intend to ensure Seifer passes it, despite what fate says. ”

Nida shook his head, numbly. He’d secretly wanted Raijin to be a SeeD quite bad, even if he always thought his muscular roommate considered him a mere annoyance and weakling that wasn’t worth noticing. The way Raijin noticed him now, with this strange mix of respect, hope, and perhaps an uncomfortable amount of scrutiny, easily made up for it.

//Except that he’s sick. And since when did he start talking all mature and intellectual? He’s speaking like Xu or me!

Raijin followed Nida out into the dorm hallways. When they neared the Infirmary, Nida turned to him, and touched his shoulder as Raijin had done to him earlier, but was a bit more gentle.

“Raijin…. I swear. On my honor as an aspiring SeeD.” He swallowed. Raijin leaned forward, meeting him eye to eye. Nida let his gaze travel downward, examining the dark facial fringe of scruff that so richly guarded the handsome face, drawing out the darkness in his eyes.

“Uh…ya know, that’s pretty cool…. Ya know?”

//Yep. He’s Raijin. Even if insane, he finally noticed me…I was waiting for him to notice me. For someone to acknowledge/respect/fear me, the way he is now. The way he always was to that Seifer… Maybe I’m a sick fuck too or something.

Nida felt almost as confused and panicked as one of Raijin’s freshly caught insects as they proceeded onward in silence.

They entered the Infirmary, nearly tripping over a semi-conscious Squall who was trying to open door to Dr. Kadowaki’s office. Nida’s face was slack with shock. Raijin, taken back a bit by all the blood, immediately recovered himself and stepped forward to help Squall stand. Squall was gasping a bit, obviously in some intense pain. The bloody rip in his forehead was kinda hard to make out with all the gore that had formed around it, but it was still visible enough. Nida’s mind reeled while Raijin opened the door Dr. Kodawaki’s office, and politely informed her that a student was bleeding to death all over the place. Nida’s almond eyes were wide and confused, as extremely unsettling thoughts danced about his head.

//Raijin knew. Was this all planned out? Is this some sick game Seifer was trying to play? What the fuck is going on!?

In a strangled voice, he spoke to his roommate as they helped move Squall into a patient room at Dr. Kadowaki’s gestured order.

“Raijin. What is all this- what the hell happened!?”

“Let’s chat about that in a few minutes. Maybe now you’ll pay a bit more attention to me than to the door, ya know?”

Dr. Kadowaki was still non-verbal as she examined Squall. She shook her head. Regarding the other two students in the room, she decided she couldn’t put it off any longer. Her day had begun.

“Nida, pleasure as always. And Raijin. I assume you’re not responsible for this as you don’t fool around with blades. If he was bludgeoned to a pulp I’d pin it on you.”

“No ma’am. I mean, yes, I don’t fool around with blades, but no, I had nothing to do with this Squall, and who the fuck would I beat like that anyway?” Noticing both Nida and the doctor’s expressions, he hurried on. “I can tell you how this tiff went, though. ”

“You were there, then? And brought Squall here after?”

“No. We came here because Nida wanted to speak with you. Squall was already here.”

“Then how would you know what happened? He told you? He seems only semi-conscious. And what did you need, Nida?”

Neither student responded, unsure which question she wanted hit first. She abruptly turned away, heading back to her office.

“Don’t let Squall lose consciousness yet. The spell I cast on him will take effect momentarily, but until then, the danger of a concussion must be tended to. I’ll be back after I’m in fresh dress, and I’ve had my coffee.” She slammed the door to her office, which conveniently linked to her private quarters. She was on call 24 hours a day. Whether she’d mend you or bend you backwards was dependent on which hour you called her on. From the looks of her disheveled clothes, Raijin could guess he would need to be very flexible to work this out for a happy ending, because it sure as hell wasn’t happy hour in the Infirmary.

As Squall was settled onto a bed, he felt Raijin’s strong hands slowly leave him. “Squall, it’s ok. Just rest up. SeeD Exam today, ya know? You’ll be ready.” Squall glared at him, before realizing Raijin was sincere. “I’ll be there too, ya know.” Squall’s eyebrow’s knitted together.

//Raijin? He didn’t take the prerequisite classes. Sucks at magic. Can’t do junctioning. Hasn’t taken the written exam. Has a nice ass.

Momentarily blacking out, he was drawn back to stare at Nida and Raijin, talking quietly near his bed. Dr. Kodawaki hadn’t asked them to leave. Squall felt the bandages pull on his forehead as he tried to lean forward. Moving hurt a bit.

“And, how is it that you will be allowed to take the SeeD Exam, Raijin?”

Nida glanced at Squall, then back to Raijin, his eyes asking the same question. Raijin turned to face Squall, his hand on Nida’s shoulder.

“That will be up to my ingenious study buddy Nida, whom knows all Garden Rules – and the associated loop holes, as well as every possible question on the written exam. I intend to pass the prerequisites via – merit.”

Squall wondered if he’d had more damage to his head than first assessed. Nida helpfully explained the plan. He’d decided to humor Raijin as much as possible until Dr. Kadowaki was there to take over.

“It’s simple. If Raijin can collect a medium level GF, then he accounts for all prerequisites for the Field Exam. But he must do it alone – no supporting SeeD like in the Fire Cavern. It’s not meant to be an intentional method of meeting the requirements – rather, this provision was made to handle cases where one way or another a cadet’s circumstances already surpassed the need for the prerequisites.” Glancing at Raijin with a wry grin, Nida continued. “Raijin predicts that Cid has such a GF sitting on his desk, somehow inside an old oil lamp. Sounds pretty far fetched, but even if he’s right, he still needs to convince Cid to let him take it on. And even after all this, there still is the written exam, so we need to hit the books until Cid is in his office.” He shook his head. This was sounding more improbable the more he talked about it. But then again, it was undeniable that Raijin was different. Somehow, someway, Nida was finding it impossible to escape the possibility that his friend could have some sort of true-blue insight. It was sad, really. He was explaining this for Raijin’s benefit, and yet he was starting to wish it could happen too. “Oh, and try not to share your prophecy with Cid. Might take it the wrong way and all. ” Nida and Raijin shared some kind of secret, uneasy laugh, while Squall’s mind was floored. He’d caught about half the conversation, and the rest he was trying to ignore.

// Raijin and Nida friends? Raijin taking the SeeD exam? Raijin touching my shoulder?

Sure enough, Raijin, with Nida at his side, was leaning over Squall, squeezing his shoulder gently. “Gotta go, Squall. Don’t let asshole Seifer piss you off. He just wants your attention. I dunno, maybe he’s got the hots for you or something.” That could be construed as an insult for either Seifer or Squall, but Squall felt safe presuming it was targeting his person. Normally this wouldn’t have effected Squall in the least, visibly. But today was special. Today was the day Squall got his head cracked open and then discovered the class valedictorian (though Squall never did know or care to know his name) was helping his nemesis’ best friend get into SeeD. The pale, smooth skinned cadet shook his head slightly, eyes flashing in anger.

“You trying to say I’m pretty boy, asshole? I fucked your main man Seifer just as bad, you know.” He gestured weakly to his forehead. Nida was registering shock at Squall’s first known use of colorful metaphor. It took a bit to get Squall to respond at all, but Raijin was doing so well.

“Yeah, but you knew you’re pretty. Well, not pretty, just, well…. Damn fine…ya know?” Raijin was speaking quickly. It occurred to him at some point that the situation was not improving, but looking into Squall’s stormy eyes made his train of though derail. Similarly, Nida had the impression he was watching a train wreck. Not much one can do to stop it, but unable to look away and miss it.

Squall opened and closed his mouth a couple of times. Many vicious responses were considered and rejected. Nida seemed likewise confused. Had Raijin just come on to Squall? Everyone pondered this for a moment. Raijin clarified.

“Well, about as hot as Nida, at least. No offense, Nida?” Raijin laughing, having caused both Squall and Nida to blush and cuss simultaneously . Not even Seifer was good enough to torment both of the cool and collect cadets at once. “Don’t take me so seriously, guys. I can’t be around Seifer and not have some of him in me. ”Momentary pause. “Not like that! Hell, I wish but no…” Another momentary pause.

“Whatever. ”Squall rolled over, feigning indifference while in reality trying to recover from shock. His rarely felt anger evaporated as if it had never been, and the weirdness that filled its place was better left unexamined. He felt the same way as when he’d been eating in the cafeteria, and noticed Zell eating a hot dog. Inhaling the condiments he’d piled on so very high, he left it shiny and clean, and then sucked on it discreetly. Ripping it apart with his lips. Gnashing, swallowing. Savoring the taste. It was as if he was trying to eat the inside of the hotdog first.

Squall ceased to eat in the cafeteria after that. He’d noticed the strange pigtailed girl from the library didn’t seem to either. He’d sit through lunch, reading a back issue of Weapon’s Monthly or the like, and notice her eating a random assortment of snacks while working on the computer terminal. Before the hotdogs made it onto the menu, she’d practically shadowed Zell anywhere he’d go. Now, she electing not to go see her crush turn hot dogs inside out, so very much enjoying the juices the were released, so very intent on his work that he ignored everyone else’s horrified stare. Indeed, Squall noticed that at least every day that he spent lunchtime in the library, so did she, much to the horror of the other librarians when they noticed the snack budget was effectively kaput.

“Whatever,”Squall reiterated when he realized Raijin and Nida had yet to move after a thirty second interval. He poured his heart and soul into sounding monotone for that one. He was starting to get strange ideas about why Zell’s inhaling hotdogs and Raijin flirting bothered him so greatly. He felt bile rising at the back of his throat from the hissing tension that filled the air.

“We need to…uh… study for that exam. Later, Squall. ” Nida, ever focused, neatly sidestepped the entire situation. And took Raijin with him, bodily towing him out.

“Uh…Sorry, ya know!…*fuck* … Let me know when I’m talking out loud, will ya? Fuck!Ya know? !” Whether he was talking to Squall, Nida, or himself was unknown. The implications of Raijin being gay, and having a nice ass, were concurrently flowing through Squall’s head. After he was sure the pair were gone, he rolled over to look at the ceiling. “Whatever. ” The ceiling failed to respond. “Whatever. ”A small shrug of the shoulders. Nonchalant. But the ceiling didn’t believe him. He could tell.

“What…. *yawn* …ever…”And with that inspirational statement, Squall fell asleep. For the moment.

Dr. Kadowaki sat impassively, branding the two cadets in front of her with her “Interrogation-Mode” face. She already had more answers than one would expect with regards to Squall’s duel with Seifer, at least considering Raijin had been “asleep” in his dorm room – confirmed by his roommate – at the time those events took place. When he had explained to her a bit about Sorceress Edea being the headmaster’s wife, a missile strike against Trabia Garden, and another Lunar Cry smashing down onto the nation of Esthar, she was torn with shock and anger. The secret of Cid’s marriage was something almost none but Dr. Kodowaki, Garden Master NORG, and a very few others knew about. Still she waited to see what else Raijin had to say, before she’d grill the little shit. If nothing else, he was sharing a rather entertaining if apocalyptic delusion.

When silence finally filled the room a few minutes later, it was hard to know who was more tense. The fact that Raijin had placed her as being the previous Card-King as a way of ‘proving’ his ‘insight’ pissed her off more than anything else. She barely ever played the game anymore, but low and behold he knew all about it. He even named off a few of the cards he knew her to have. He also knew not only the rumors that there “might” be a Field Exam today, but knew the exact details of deployment, and even some squad assignments. He seemed to hope enough facts would start to tip the scales in his favor, but Dr. Kadowaki wasn’t responding at all positively. Her glacial gaze seemed to waver only when she nodded for Raijin to continue, as if embarrassed that he would want to make an even bigger ass of himself than already but allowing him to do so.

Only the greatest, long-term players of Triad would know about the CC Group, and only members of the CC Group would know that she, Dr. Kadowaki, was once King. The Doctor’s gears began to turn, grinding up the messy information Raijin had given her into the fine flour that she baked her rational thoughts with.

// Maybe he overheard about CC while eavesdropping on Nida or Xu…

The doc spared a glance at Nida, who shifted slightly, anxious to leave.

//If Raijin had eavesdropped on Xu, that would explain why he knows so much about the Field Exam…or at least most of it.

Dr. Kodowaki frowned. It was Raijin who shifted this time, redistributing his weight from foot to foot, while leaning against the wall. Attempting to relax even while in the maw of hell. The frown deepened into a scowl. The normally pleasant, down-to-earth doc was pissed. She focused her anger on an invisible dot just above Raijin’s head.

“I find this all…extremely…no, ridiculously absurd. ”

Well, Nida considered that he had tried to stop Raijin’s eager testimony. Now that the verdict came back, he was convinced that what precious time to prepare for this afternoon was about to wind up in a bed pan named detention. Dr. Kodowaki folded her arms, and began to unconsciously tap her pen against her watch, in perfect rythym with her words.

“We’re in a pretty liberal school. Magic, junctioning, summoning…Yeah, best to keep an open mind. But, Raijin, this sort of ability sounds like…complete bullshit. ”Normally she would use the term ‘bull’, but somehow this required the fully qualified name. “I don’t know how exactly that you found this information, or why you would have attempted to do so. But I DO know that most of your thinking is given to you by Seifer. So, it’s safe to assume I need not look for a rational motive on your part. Or at all, ultimately. ”

“Zat so, Doc?” Raijin sneered, dropping all pretense of humbleness. He couldn’t help feeling defensive after that. Nida could almost smell the ozone, and suddenly realized he was about to see what happens when Raijin loses his temper first hand. From what Zell had said, you don’t go for a front row seat unless you’re ready to participate. Raijin marched up to the doc, grinning. The doctor’s deadpan gaze locked on his.

“Pardon?” Though she didn’t show it, she was rather startled, furious and shocked at the twists Raijin seemed to turn before her. He seemed too simple to be complex.

“Triad. I will WHIP your ass!” It wasn’t at all related to the topic at hand, but suddenly Raijin had realized he was failing to make the slightest impression on the woman. Time for a change in game plan.

“You want to play me in cards? Do you even know HOW to play?” The disbelief was worth stating. It would have been like Seifer asking her to make him a woman


Raijin paused, trembled a moment, and then was at peace. He spoke softly, steadily, and with a wicked grin that slowly picked up speed.

“Everyone knows that I’ve never played a full game before. Tried to and lost my temper…”

“With Zell, who was trying to let you win anyway so you wouldn’t beat his ass” Nida supplied helpfully. Raijin took it in stride.

“But this other ‘me’, that is also me now…played against you, Nida. And you. Doc. As Squall. And…. ” He leaned forward, his eyes opened just enough to wink. “…as Squall, I kicked your sorry asses. Quistis too. Some nice cards for it, too. Gilgamesh, Carbunkle, Leviathan…” He observed how both Nida and the Doc twitched as he named each of the CC Groups most treasured, unique cards. Yup, he’d found what buttons to push this time. “So, don’t you worry about who does my ‘thinking’. I think for myself, lady, and I’ll will set you on your amateur ass like the newbie you are, compared to me! You don’t buy it, huh? Think I’m so full of shit? I’ve got experience playing against almost every player in the world, and winning. Every combination of rule, and winning. ”

Dr. Kadowaki’s mouth opened and closed. She briefly choked while relearning to breath. Nida was holding his head, shaking slightly from some combination of anxiety and exaltation.

// Is this guy for REAL? Holy shit! He’s never even played a complete game of Triad in his life!

Nida looked at his friend – though it was a freshly minted ‘friendship’ – and wondered what he could say to fill the silence, to somehow diffuse the situation. And yet, he started to wonder what would happen if Raijin had to prove his claims. Or what it meant if he DID prove his claims. One only improves at Triad by playing Triad. There was no way Raijin could have acquired any real skill without the CC Group knowing it. Yet if he was good as he said, he’d have had to play somehow. A small part of Nida dared to speak up, wanting to challenge Raijin, if even just to know himself if the behemoth was lying. Dr. Kadowaki spoke first, however, shaken but not stirred, and really piping hot.

“Nida, I know you too well to think you would knowingly give out this sort of information…I know how important trust is to you, especially to your CC Group friends. So there are two possibilities I’m willing to accept. ”Her hand was suddenly animated, whipping up to point at Raijin’s chest. She was quite proud that it wasn’t shaking much visibly. She normally didn’t allow herself to become this angry over some silly prank, but a challenge in Triad was personal grounds. Professionalism was now in the same bedpan as Raijin’s study time. “The first is that Raijin searched your personal belongings, overheard you in your sleep, whatever it took to figure out the CC Group…and probably eavesdropped on either the Headmaster or Xu about the Field Exam. Of course, that’s cutting you some serious credit, Raijin. Even if grounds for expulsion. ”Raijin’s blood ran cold, his fists bunched up, and his shoulders heaved a little more as he fought to contain imminent meltdown. “The alternative is that somehow your bizarre and sick fantasy of sorceresses, and your insidious delusions of grandeur, may have some validity. This would be the one that I have unbelievable amounts of reservation on. ”She sighed. It was a long day, already. And the sun was barely visible. Injuries from the SeeD Exam were always numerous. And she’d been woken at 5am this morning by what was now quickly becoming an excessive waste of energy and time.

// Raijin was full of shit. Right? Maybe he has some kind of psychosis. Suddenly trying to belong or something. Fuck it.

“Tell you what, little boy. You go get your deck out and show me what you got. I’ve never seen Squall play cards, so when you say you kicked my ass as him, it sounds pretty ludicrous.” She shook her head.

// And pretty pathetic, too. Even in your delusions of grandeur, you’re not even you. Have to pretend to be Squall to have a fulfilling fantasy, perv-boy?

She continued, having started to tap on her watch again.

“I always thought he’d be good, but like you, I don’t think he has what it takes to really interact with another person in any healthy sort of way. But at least he doesn’t bully like you. ” Raijin was unperturbed.

“As Squall I didn’t even get my first cards until today. From a guy who hangs out in the 2nd floor hall way by the elevator a lot.” He tilted his head slightly, and gave another wink. “You know who I mean?”

// So he made out another CC member? Shit. So?

“As for me, I haven’t any cards, but that’s no problemo. We’ll use yours. Fuck this Garden’s rules. We play Random, Plus and All. That way you can just say it’s luck when I’ve walked away with your entire deck. Oh, and the first cards you give me are mine, but they’re yours if you win them back. So nail me on this first match, and you win. Deal?” He spoke like he knew what he was talking about. Dr. Kadowaki looked at Nida, who was grinning but trying not to.

“Let’s do this, Raijin. Don’t forget the stakes, now. I win, I get my cards back, you admit what you really did, you get detention or worse as Cid sees fit, and Nida misses out on the Field Exam.”

“What the hell? !”Nida nearly passed out.

“You believe him, don’t you? Then share in some of the responsibility. With the way Galbadia is acting, you’ll probably get another chance at SeeD anyway. Despite the once a year policy on Field Exam’s, when there’s a war, there’s a way. ” She looked at Raijin. “You named your terms, and I’ve named mine. It’s a deal? Don’t disappoint me now. ”He grinned, not with a mean look at all, but with something close to what he had before a sparring match. A respectful, and very determined, look.

“Ya know, this is gonna be fun…You sound just like Seifer.”

She glared at him menacingly, but his dark eyes were laughing back. Nida looked from one to the other, and then shook his head. He’d be willing to help Raijin try to take the SeeD Exam, but now it looked like his “prophecy” had to be tested before he would be. At the same time, looking at the way Raijin’s posture seemed to ooze confidence, he decided, what the hell.

“Count me in. I’ll wager my chance at the SeeD Exam on Raijin kicking your ass.”

Hearing those words, Squall shook his head. He was carefully concealing himself aside the doorway to his room, gazing out carefully into the room. He’d been listening, and shaking his head a lot, for the past few minutes. Not too fast, as he was still feeling pretty nauseous. He continued to watch with interest

Approximately twenty minutes later, Raijin was shuffling his deck thoughtfully, his unblinking gaze fixed on Dr. Kodowaki. She had her last cards in her hand, and was in a bemused daze.


“I thought the deal was I had to take all of your cards to win, Doc.”

“I’ve only got three left. I forfeit. Shit…What does this mean…?” She looked up at him, confused. Dr. Kodowaki was never confused. She also had never been consecutively defeated so many times so ruthlessly. She didn’t have her entire collection on her, but it was the deck she’d played against CC Group once in a while. And it was now in Raijin’s hand.

“I’ll give you back your cards if it’ll make you feel better. ”

“No, I mean about YOU. ”She gestured with the hand that held her final three cards, lightly tossing them into Raijin’s chest. Reshuffling the deck, Raijin placed it on Dr. Kodowaki’s side of the playing board. Normally players wouldn’t go so far as bring out a board unless a tournament was being played, but Dr. Kodowaki had thought it possible that somehow Raijin was cheating before. Now, she thought other thoughts. Thoughts about sorceresses and Trabia Garden in ashes.

“You think you can prepare for the SeeD Exam in a day? Many have spent their entire young-adult lives, and failed like you did. And without the Written Exam passed, the Field Exam is off limits.”

“You don’t believe me.” Raijin was making a statement rather than a question, but seemed just as hopeful for a response as otherwise.

“No, that’s why I’m worried. I don’t think I could convince Cid or anyone else, but I think I see why Nida believes you.”

“Cuz of my ability at Triad? My foresight of Squall’s scar? My knowledge of CCGroup? What is it that I need to do to prove…whatever this all is, is real?”

“No. Let’s ignore that band of issues for the moment. I was talking about your maturity level. Raijin, up until just now, I believe you were at the emotional level of a 12 year old, following Seifer to hell and back – bringing more with you than you left. Then this morning, you felt something change…” She looked him over, still finding it so hard to believe. “And I guess, though it’s still so hard to imagine the how or why…So do we. We feel it, too. ” Nida nodded. He had been sitting on the corner of the desk, watching the battle of wits in awe. Getting up, he glanced at the clock displayed on Dr. Kadowaki’s computer.

“Raijin…I don’t know how the hell you’re gonna be ready now. Did you ever take the SeeD Exams …you know, in your other past?”

“I doubt they’d be the same… Those tests were too easy. They were all true false, and I gained a SeeD Rank every time I aced one. ”

“That does sound like the SeeD Advancement Program…Hmm, but you didn’t take the written test as Squall? THAT was the essay. ”Nida looked hopefully at Raijin.

“Um, no. The game began today. I know Squall had taken the Written Exam last week, but…. ”

“There were no flashbacks or anything? You mean you’ve no…experience at all with the comprehensive written SeeD Exam?”

“No. I’ve not a fucking clue, except the time I flunked it awhile ago. ” Dr. Kodowaki and Nida exchanged glances and spoke simultaneously.


The Doc simultaneously poured a thermos of hot coffee while thrusting some kind of pastry into Raijin’s mouth.

“Eat! Brain food! You’re doing a Mid level GF harvesting task, the Written Exam, and the Field Exam!Eat like you won’t eat ever again, because that’s what it’ll feel like around 24 hours from now at Dollet Beach!Take this, it’s hot, don’t drink it yet, let it cool, Nida, don’t forget to cover the last chapter on Sorcery Transference and Inheritance – I heard there’s a dozy of a question on that which was missed by almost everyone, and remember that if Cid tells you No, the correct response is ‘but Dr. Kadowaki said it was in my best interests to develop a healthy self esteem’. ” Dr. Kadowaki’s lungs, completely emptied of air, quickly refilled themselves. Raijin and Nida were ready to lunge out the door in fear of the mad doctors helpfulness. “If Cid wants, I’ll do a full medical on why it’s Garden’s sworn duty, in the name of protecting a child of this institution, to place said child in excessive danger so as to develop as healthy and normal as the rest of us. ”

“You mean to deteriorate to an acceptable level of dementia,” returned Nida evenly. Dr. Kadowaki nodded, and grabbed them both. Together they exited the Infirmary. The faculty member that guarded the entrance to the main hall attempted to accost them, but was quickly bypassed by a special look that the doc gave people who accosted against her wishes. This look varied from the “Interrogation-Mode” look in terms of aggression in the eyes, and the tightness around the mouth scornfully pursed. This was the “Eat-Shit-And-Die-Mode” look. Dr. Kadowaki often was in that particular mode when dealing with Faculty.

“Ahem…so… Move out, people. Here’s a pass, it says to make the Faculty let you into the library even though it’s normally still closed. It’ll open in a little bit anyway but you need to get all of the required reading materials before anyone else. Nida, you’re on that. Raijin, you’re to prepare to cram as much needless curriculum as needed to pass this thing in as little time as possible. Cid will be in his office at 11AM. That’s you chance!Here’s my spare lift key Use it to…uh…make it to the appointment you had with him that he forgot to schedule with the Faculty. There…” She sighed. Something still nagged her, but whatever she had forgotten, there just wasn’t anymore time to be wasted.

“Thanks, Dr. Kadowaki…. Sorry I was such a jerk back there…”

“Apology accepted, especially after you gave me the most intense game of Triad of my life. I doubt the Squall we know will ever be that good. ” She smiled at him, finally. The new Raijin was pretty cool, she decided. And if the ‘future’ he saw was real, but could be changed, what the hell. Ounce of prevention, pound of cure. She was down with that. Nida thanked her quietly, and then the pair were on their way. “Good luck, kiddo. ” She turned and left, reentering the Infirmary just in time to see Squall regain consciousness. Though she had already concluded he had been awake for most of the morning.

“So, how do you feel?”

“Head…hurts. ”

// Oh my, why could that be? From fighting with Seifer, or from staring at Raijin’s butt all night?

“And I had the weirdest dream. Nida and Raijin were there. And…I think Raijin was coming on to me a little. What kinda fucking drugs did you give me?”

“None. And I’m not surprised about Raijin at all. ”

“Fuck, I said that out loud…?” Intense grimace. No sleep, partial delirium from his injury, and the bright, cheerful sunlight that poured into the room all combined to make Squall’s head begin to throb sickeningly.

“Yup. But I already knew. You see, someone that intelligent and sophisticated, not to mention depressive and moody, could never be straight. ”

// I must be…really fucked up. Raijin gay? Kadowaki says so. And that he’s smart, complex, has a nice ass

Momentary pause.

// No, she didn’t say that. I did. When?

Momentary pause.

“Say your name for me. ”

// I said he had a nice ass. To myself, as I noticed it! What the fuck!

He briefly reevaluated whether or not he had been staring at Raijin’s ass, and decided that for the moment, he couldn’t have been. Otherwise, the rest of his conscious self would hurt him badly.

“Squall. ”

“Right…Well, I know what happened and all, from Raijin. He found you here this morning with Nida. He needs to talk to you, after the Exam. ”

// About what? *panic*

“Whatever. ”

“Why didn’t see that coming? I’ll call Quistis. She’ll want to know what her most prized student’s were up to. ”

Stepping back out to her office, Dr. Kadowaki punched in Quistis’s number.

“Hello, Quistis? Something rather neat happened today. I played Triad against Raijin. No, he’s quite good. Took a deck from me with my own cards. Incredible. Anyhow, he’s going to attempt the SeeD Exam. I was wondering if you could pull some strings…”After several moments of hedging and double meanings, Quistis figured out enough to be completely confused. She had only walked into the classroom a moment ago, hoping to have a moment’s peace to prepare for the “Big Announcement” (read FIELD EXAM), and now Dr. Kodowaki was involving her into some grand intrigue.

“Alright, I’ll…. see what I can do. Though you might have more influence on Xu or Cid than me. ” Quistis flipped a strand of hair out of her face, holding the phone with neck while she attempted to sort through a large pile of Written Exams, looking for Raijin’s failure.

“Oh, and the other reason I called, perhaps a bit more common an event, though, is that a student of yours was injured while training this morning. He’s fine, no permanent damage, luckily. Probably leave a scar. ”

“I’ll be down shortly. Thanks, Doc. ”

“No, thank you. You have to meet up with Raijin sometime soon. He’s still himself, but he’s…well…It’ll be worth your time, trust me. ” Lower voice, but still loud enough for Squall to hear if he was trying to. Which he was, from the shadow by the door that the doctor could see. Though no one was there to see her expression, it was the “Giddy-Gossiping-Mode”. “Though, don’t want to get any ideas, Quisty. He might not be interested in girls like us. ”

“Yeah, he’s more into girls like Fujin. ”

“Oh please. He’d go for Seifer before her. See the way she treats him?”

“Never noticed. Or cared, really. .. but, what a thought!Seifer and Raijin? That’d be hilarious-they’re both such assholes…”Quistis couldn’t contain it. She giggled. Quistis never giggled. Snickered yes, but this was a fangirl giggle, only accepted between fangirls.

“Or maybe Squall. I didn’t really ask him which he was more turned on by. Maybe it’s the gunblade?”

“Are you serious…”

“Just giving you a heads up. If he’s on the SeeD Exam today, things are going to be weird. Especially considering where they’ll place him.

“In that squad.”


“Oh fuck. ”Everyone’s cuss filter was slipping today.

“I’d encourage them to get along, but perhaps not that far. If it does, be sure to tape it for me. ”

“Seifer, Squall, Zell, and Raijin…”

“I’m abstaining from that thought.”

“I see.” This time both gave a giggle. Quistis made Dr. Kadowaki feel young. They could always do girl talk, and talking dirty about the boys was something both the resident physician as well as the SeeD candidate instructor always made time to. It was grossly inappropriate, which is why it had to be done. And Doc was old enough to order the good stuff offline, besides.

“So, I’ll be down in a minute. If I don’t hurry I’ll be late getting back to my own class!”

“All right. See you soon. ”

As the phone disconnected, Dr. Kadowaki noticed Squall watching her intently from the door way.

“Do you think Raijin would have appreciated that?”

“No, but I knew you would. It means you weren’t looking at his ass in vain this morning. ”

“Fuck you!”A disgusted Squall glowered at the physician, who smiled at him sweetly before replying.

“Whatever. ”

She’d noticed Squall during the card competitions, peering out secretively. Watching Raijin, in particular his ass, while he was hunched over the desk, plotting his next triple combo conquest. Both Dr. Kadowaki and Squall knew that “moral indiscretion” could get a student expelled, even if a SeeD. Both also knew how Dr. Kadowaki stood on that issue. She’d informed Cid when the subject came up that if he didn’t change Garden policy, someone must have shat on his brain and forgot to stir it.

Generally, unless one is Hyne, disagreeing with Dr. Kadowaki wasn’t something one should do if one desires long life.

After a brief moment of locked gazes, Squall broke his away. It hurt to maintain the stare in his current state, and as he was pulsating with anger, something he normally did for Seifer alone, he decided to back off before he hurt himself.

“Whatever,” he agreed finally.


Books were open. Papers were flying everywhere. Nida was nearing tears as he ripped though every practice test he could find – and found no answer key. The Library Committee had recently arrived, and finding the place in complete disarray, attempted to summon the Disciplinary Committee, only to discover it was already here.

Raijin rapidly copied large sections of historical summary, drawing diagrams of names and places, in a strange effort to confuse himself into thinking he understood half of it. Nida didn’t try and stop him, thinking that with enough names and facts, he could probably BS his way through most of it. Still, with the practice questions and the answer key, there was hope. It was in fact possible that the very same exam form would be the one given to him this afternoon, a mistake Cid had made before. It was a long shot, but probably closer to possible than transforming the hulking bully into a SeeD whiz kid in an hour.

It was at this moment that Zell rounded the corner, reading a copy of Occult Fan, and heading towards the reading desks.

“Zell! Boy I’m glad you’re here!” The pigtailed girl was in front of him. The girl who kept looking at him. And at his pants. Zell smiled, at the same time trying to think of a polite way to explain that he didn’t date 14 year olds.

“Hey, whats up? Tch? What the HELL happened in here!?” His gaze roved the library’s study area. Books were open everywhere. Pages photocopied. Sections highlighted. Strange diagrams, panicked Nida…suddenly Zell was reminded of a similar scene last week.

“Yo! Nida?” The cadet met Zell’s eyes, momentarily not recognizing him. “You ok, man? What the fuck is all this…It’s like when you helped me cram for the SeeD test, only worse!”Suddenly Zell was nervous. “You…don’t think the Field Exam is for real today, do you? Is there…a written part to that too? !”

Nida bit his lip to keep from screaming at his blonde friend, but suddenly had a moment of true inspiration. “Zell, the practice test I gave you. You still have it, and the key to it, right?” Zell looked confused, which he was.

“Hell yeah. You retaking the Test when you already are our class’s valedictorian?”

“No. It’s for…a friend.”

“It’s for me, Chicken-wuss,” a deep voice said, deeply immersed in reading, but pausing to look the fellow martial artist up and down.

“WHAT DID…” His throat was caught in one of Raijin’s big hands, who squeezed slightly, but not enough to cause real pain or damage. Enough to remind Zell who was the “tank”.

“I called you Chicken-wuss. Because I like to see you angry, ya know? What do you think?” He glanced at the pigtailed girl, who was trying remain calm even though her hero was being rendered helpless by the bully with only one hand. He continued to read, but spoke softly to Zell, just loud enough for him, Nida, and the young librarian to hear. “I think she agrees, ya know. When you get emotional, you’re fucking hot, ya know? I can’t help but piss you off when you just look so…so damn GOOD pissed off. ” He snickering voice was full of mirth, vicious and biting sarcasm, and a weird sort of good humor. “So, how about this, Zell? I’ll get over my crush on you, if you help get me into SeeD. Oh, and if you agree to spar with me once in a while. ”


“I gotta study, Chicken. I’ve got a busy day, but I’ll make time for ya. After we’re SeeD’s, I’ll play ya some Triad at the Ball. If you’re not too much of a chicken wuss to pass the Test…” he released Zell’s throat, reluctantly. “Or to face me in a battle of wits. ” The dark skinned warrior stepped past his lighter skinned counter part, pausing momentarily to admire the spiky head of his rival. Zell fought with his fists, while Raijin fought with the bo. In a contest between them, Zell could only win if magic were allowed, which Raijin would never accept.

“Raijin …you can have my copy of the Exam if you can beat me in a duel. ” Nida slapped his forehead in anguish.

// Why is it that fate is so determined to prevent us from succeeding? Fuck, Zell…

“Just give it to him, Zell. Please.”

“I’ll do more than that. You wanna play Triad with me, you gotta beat me. With junctions. ”

Raijin shook his head, grinning widely. “Got something for me after I cleaned your clock last time, huh? You know I don’t have any junctions…” Zell gave a short nod. “Well, I’ll accept you’re challenge, Zell. It’ll have to be later today, though. I’ve got to go defeat Diablos so I can pass via Merit to take the Exam, ya know? But then we’ll have some fun. ”His eyes flashed dangerously. Zell shook his head, smirking.

“Tch…. Ifrit, Shiva, and Quez are the only three allowed GF’s to cadets. And Ifrit has to be won in the Fire Cavern trial. So blow me. There is no fucking Diablos. Not like you’d be able to junction it anyway. ”

“Then you won’t mind raising the stakes? I beat you, you have to play against me in Triad. And if I beat you using Diablos…You have to dance with ME during the SeeD Ball. Humiliating, ya know? Good thing there is no Diablos, right?”

“Sure. Tch, fine loser. You’re so full of crap. ” Shaking his head, Zell stormed off. The pigtailed girl followed him closely until he left the library, at which point she immediately returned to Raijin and Nida.

“I hope you fail.”

Raijin smiled at her, baring his teeth a little. “You mean in seducing your knight in shining armor? He seems pretty straight and all, but hell! A guy can dream, can’t he?” Raijin resumed reading. The pigtailed girl blushed furiously.

// He hadn’t been kidding. Holy shit…Raijin just asked Zell out to the SeeD Ball!

Shaking her head to clear it of a wave of dizziness, she left while Nida cursed and swore, having ripped the last practice test to shreds.

“Without the answer key, this little trick won’t work.”

“What do you mean?”

“We could pop all this on Cid, then when we’ve got him worn down so that he’ll accept you taking the Written Exam right then and there, we could get him to conveniently use the copy we’d provided.

“You mean – cheat!? No fucking way!”

“Raijin, this Test is so full of crap. Student’s who should have passed with flying colors have failed horribly, because of the most trivial bull shit. You wanna be a SeeD, take the Field Exam. The Written Exam is just a way for instructors to weed out students that don’t want to have the chance. ”

The pigtailed girl reappeared. With her was Quistis.

“I just wanted to take back what I said, Raijin. I do hope you pass. But leave Zell alone!You piss him off so much!”She leaned forward conspiratorily. “I have to agree, though. Zell IS awfully cute when he loses his temper!” She smirked and ran off, handing Quistis a portfolio. Nida started to sweat, having heard the two exchange a fangirl giggle before parting. Raijin ignored the oddness, and gestured for the instructor to continue.

“Raijin, this place is a mess. I want it cleaned up immediately. Then we’re going to see Cid. ”Quistis folded her arms over her chest, looking at Raijin expectantly.

Nida spurted out, “But we’re studying – we’re not doing anything wrong! Instructor!”

“I’m not punishing you or anything! I’m going with you to see Cid to make sure you don’t try anything foolish – like trying to cheat - wrecking both your chances for SeeD.” Nida looked around, flushed, but all too soon was met with Quistis’s knowing gaze. She knew he’d helped out a student or two in the past. He was as honorable as they come, but when he’d learned how corrupt the Faculty could be, that very sense of honor would drive him to break the rules he would otherwise defend with his life.

“Now, in my hand here, I have the library’s collection of true/false questions from the first 10 SeeD Advancement tests. I heard you knew those inside and out, Raijin. I’m going to man-handle Cid into making this your Written Exam. ”

“What’s going on?” Raijin whirled from Nida, back to Quistis. She handed him the portfolio the pigtailed girl had brought. Nida stared back, his almond eyes wide in surprise. Quistis gestured to Raijin to open it up.

“Run through them at least once to get warmed up. I just got back from the Fire Cavern with Squall fifteen minutes ago. We’ve less then an hour before the Field Exam. ”

Cid paced back and forth, glancing at Quistis, then Raijin, then Nida, and finally the unblinking Faculty whom was glaring at them all with as much passion as a machine could produce.

“Headmaster, this is absurd.”

“He got every one of them right. Every. And he knew almost more about Adel and Esthar than any one else I’ve met, though he couldn’t remember a single date.”

“Even so, the Written Test is to determine the eligibility of SeeD Enrollment ONLY after the proper prerequisites.”

Cid glanced up at Raijin, who had started forward only to be silenced by a swift kick from Nida and a sharp elbow into the stomach from Quistis. Which of course produced more sound from the muscular fellow than he’d have made simply speaking.

“You’ve a solution to this, Raijin?” The cadet straightened himself, and looked as formal as he could.

“…Uh…I…want to face Diablos, sir.”

“Face…what?” The headmaster’s kind features twitched in confusion.

All eyes were on Raijin. Sweat was flowing freely now.

“The cursed lamp. I’ll pass via Merit, by defeating the curse.”

“What rubbish. Cid, I…” The Faculty was silenced as the headmaster immediately rounded his desk, snatching the cursed item and eyeing it closely.

“Quiet, you.” Cid didn’t miss a beat. He placed the lamp back onto his desk, and sat next to it, after maneuvering a few odds and ends out of the way.

“You do realize that even if you are the strongest fighter in Garden, a GF isn’t like a human opponent. Without the necessary skills in magic…Without the ability to junction so as to obtain those skills…”

// How the hell does he know about this? I didn’t even know the bastard’s name... Diablos?

“I know. And to pass via Merit, I have to do it without SeeD support.”

“We can waive that for this, I think. There is a great possibility you’ll be in over your head,” he said, looking up into the big man’s face earnestly.

“No, we can’t. The rules are very clear on this, Cid. He has to show himself capable of holding his own with what skills he possesses. He has to show he’s surpassed the validity of the prerequisites.” The Faculty was happy. It was always right. Cid was always wrong. And they both knew that the Garden Master wouldn’t have it any other way.

“If he uses the lamp alone, he’ll face its master alone. If someone goes with him, they’ll surely be involved in the battle. If he goes alone, we wouldn’t be able to help him if he was over his head.” He turned turned to Raijin. “I can’t let you, I’m afraid. There’s no way to ensure your safety. ”

// Too much happening right now, anyway. We’ll need more time to discuss those issues, Raijin. Perhaps if you hadn’t waited to the last minute…

“You don’t need to, headmaster sir. I’ll accept full responsibility. I’ll succeed. And then…We’ll begin looking for Edea.” Cid’s eyebrows shot up, the air in his lungs suddenly escaping. Raijin took his moment of weakness to lunge for the lamp.

Rolling across the floor, he rubbed the old brassy surface with intensity. Nida tried to stop him, but Quistis caught his arm. As everything faded to black, Quistis was smiling at him, giving him the thumbs up, while a horrified headmaster watched on in shock. And the room was gone.

Everything was gone. A cold, strange void surrounded him. He could feel it above him, watching him.

// Who disturbs my slumber. .. my ancient and sacred sleep?

“I did, ya know. I need your help.”

// A mere human would dare to come here…alone?

“I didn’t have a choice, ya know?” Raijin collected himself, and began took in his surroundings. Or attempted to. There just wasn’t anything here.

“Besides, don’t you want to be free of this place? To exist in a tangible world once again? To matter, ya know?!” It sounded kinda corny and new-age, which is why Raijin thought it might appeal to a GF. Guardians didn’t make much sense anyway, so maybe random gibberish would be native lingo.

A red and black blur fizzed in and out of existence in front of him. Dodging the sudden blow, Raijin winced as something indistinct flashed by him from another angle. A bloody cut seemingly appeared on his shoulder of it’s own accord.

// Your arrogance will be your end. It lead you here, where you’ll remain.

The warping field of gravity was crushing him, but he still could move about. His arms and legs felt numb, his lungs were burning, but he was too full of the furious blood-rage to care. He hadn’t even brought his weapon with him into this place. Instead he fought with his fists and feet, landing crushing blow after blow against the strange, half-tangible beast. So close to the edge of death sent Raijin’s blood soaring with a fury that he’d previously have channeled into his ‘Raijin Special’, the most feared move in all of Garden, but instead he pummeled Diablos, trying to prevent the demon’s concentration from crushing him alive. Cursing himself for not having practiced more hand-to-hand arts like Zell, Raijin chugged the last Hi-potion he’d brought with him. The soft, silky feeling it created was ripped away as he was caught off guard by the demon’s charging suddenly, dark claws tearing through the hazy air, and the martial artist’s flesh.

“Bastard!” His mind was full of momentary pure rage, which directed him to throw his aching body after the demon. He connected with the tender flesh between shoulder and wing, his fist numb from the severity of its arrival into the hollow of the demon’s back. He felt the demon cry out, falling away into the shadows.

// Enough of this, human. You’ve fought well. I’ll allow you a quick death.

“I don’t think so, pal!” Raijin followed the demon’s mental voice, which seemed to pull him onward. Leaping onto his prey’s back, Raijin was startled by the sudden, physical cry of pain from the demon. Avoiding the deadly horns, his arms locked around the armored neck. Diablos shifted wildly, becoming more and more solid as Raijin sent excruciating waves of pain into the small of his back, kicking the sensitive spot with enough force to shatter a brick wall.

“If you don’t submit to me, I’ll rip it off.”

An unimaginable shriek filled the air.

// You’re strength will fail you, human. And I will feast on you! I’ll forever rip you apart, and then heal your frail human body, only to tear you asunder once again!

“But can you grow back a wing? You could tear me apart, whatever, but you’d never be whole, ya know? You’re becoming too real, too physical…You’re hurting like me now.”

Raijin could feel Diablos shivering underneath him, flexing and straining his shadowy body, but unable to reach his attacker without that overwhelming pain consuming him. His skin slick with sweat and blood, his cloths –and flesh – ripped by the demon’s magic and claws, Raijin clung tightly to Diablos.

// Too much sleep…I’m…too weak?

The demon slumped slightly, struggling, but unable to hold it’s head up high any longer. Raijin fell with Diablos, grappling with the demon whole heartedly, maintaining his hold on the beasts one weakness. Maintaining one arm around the demon’s neck, he felt with his other to reach the sensitive wound he’d rended into Diablos’s back. He felt the burning blood of the demon flowing freely onto his hand, burning, but not in an altogether unpleasant way.

// I’d sworn I’d never…fail again.

“Fail to what? Did not Hyne create you as a Guardian? Was it not your purpose to protect your caller?”

// Be a slave…. again? I’d rather remain here, between worlds forever…

Raijin had drunk all three of his Hi-Potions already, but he still had a far weaker curative on him. Gently rubbing the demon’s injuries with the soft healing potion, Raijin noticed how the demon – which had been roughly 15 feet tall from had to tail – now was about a man’s height. Panting slightly, the demon’s head turned enough to look Raijin in the eye. The hiss of pain was mixed with a little of something else. Raijin continued his ministrations, never giving Diablos the slightest opening to attack, but willing him to relax. Diablos opened his mouth slightly, letting out another hiss, obviously enjoying the way Raijin was massaging the joints of his wings.

// I’ve no choice. You’ve nearly…defeated me. I must serve you…So is our law.

Bitter regret filled the mental voice that echoed in Raijin’s head.

// I sealed myself in this cursed darkness…to escape…. But there is no hope against my fate, is there?

Raijin felt the being submit under his touch. He gently climbed off of his opponent, but didn’t remove his hands from their task.

“Diablos, I didn’t come here to enslave you exactly. If anything, I came to liberate you. Ya know? Fuck all that other shit, ya know?!”Raijin felt the demon melt under his fingers, into the dark mist all around. “I needed to prove myself. But I don’t need to be your master or anything, ya know? They said I needed to capture you, but I don’t need to keep you. ”

// You challenged me, not for my power, but for your meaningless pride!?

“No, I challenged you because you were powerful, and because I thought you could teach me to be likewise. ”

Silence. The swirling nothingness was beginning to make Raijin nervious.

// Did I defeat Diablos? What the hell is going on? I thought he liked that last touch I gave him…

// I did, my master.

The mental voice was different now. It seemed to well up all around, with a physical quality. It seemed to rub itself across Raijin’s flesh, drawing out the young man’s breath in a gasp.

// I told you!I’m not your master, ya know? !What the hell!

// I choose whom I serve…Just as you chose to challenge me, so I choose to submit myself to you…

Raijin saw and felt the darkness flooding over his skin. It was cool and burning, unlike the hotness of the demon’s blood. It was seeping into his skin, but it didn’t hurt.

// What-what do I do…. ?

// You didn’t know how to junction, Raijin? Learn now. Learn to be powerful…Learn all that I have to teach you…

Cid’s office chose that moment to reappear. Concerned faces surrounded him, but they still seemed distant. Raijin had the impression that he wasn’t alone, but was shaken from his reverie by Nida, quite physically.

“Great Hyne! You almost went in there, Raijin! Quistis, are you NUTS!?”

“You knew what was required to pass by Merit, Nida. So did he.”

Quistis was not at all perturbed by the young man’s glare, noting instead how it showed off the full range of his eyebrows as they furrowed menacingly.

“You were successful, then?” The worried headmaster was kneeling beside him.

“He was only in there a moment, sir. How the hell could he have done anything?” Nida would have continued if not for the strange force that seemed to emanate from Raijin suddenly becoming verbal, in a strange telepathic sort of way.

//I am Raijin’s Guardian, Diablos. Though he would choose not to enslave me, I bind myself to him, and thus he is my master. I assure you… he has done much, young one.

“Diablos, as much as I’d want your power, what would I give you?” Raijin spoke softly, saddened that the GF couldn’t help itself but serve after all. The GF responded quickly.

//You did not fully defeat me, my master. My strengths were beginning to return, and yours was already well faded. You did not…force me to join with you.

//What do you mean?

// Instead, you mastered me with your bare hands. You are master, by my choosing. You could have finished me in my moment of weakness, but instead you made me strong again…You were giving me…your strength…Our law was such that for you to slay me, I must serve you…but instead…

The darkness became intense. Nida backed away slowly, while the Faculty glanced about, uncomprehending.

//For what you’ve given me, I shall bind myself to you, Raijin…My powers, my knowledge, all that I am…As it was my master’s wish to…impress you mortals, let it be known that to challenge Raijin is to invite wraith and fury of the void. Question his worth again with such petty trials, and see well how Diablos serves his master.

The darkness faded away, the room became much warmer, and the headmaster, noting the lamp that now was a smoldering pool of metal, decided that Raijin had in fact lifted the lamp’s curse.

Coughing slightly, Cid shook himself. As his eyes focused, he beamed at Raijin. “You disobeyed a direct order from me, endangered yourself greatly, and further more took me by surprise by such an underhanded tactic. .. Then you go and tame a vicious and powerful Guardian with your bare hands, without defeating it!? You do realize that Guardian’s only talk with those they share high affinity with. Your affinity is so high with this…Diablos…” He shook his head. “He’s with you completely. He was right here with you. Talking to all of us, just now. Incredible!You’ve got some serious talent!”The headmaster was trying to shake off the incredible feelings of fear and confusion that the guardian’s voice had stirred within him. While other students had occasionally spoken with their Guardians under certain circumstances, this sort of event was unheard of, a hypothetical situation thought impossible under theories of para-magic. Of course, things that were impossible were generally just things that Odine hadn’t made time to accomplish yet.

//So many mysteries about you, Raijin. A little worn out…but this power…I think you really ARE ready after all, far more than most could ever be…

The Faculty, up until now unable to compute a response to the situation, and unable to hear the voice of Diablos, now became animated.

“What are you babbling about, Cid? ! The kid didn’t even touch the lamp but for a moment! What is the meaning of this…nonsense?”

“I’ve got my proof, NORG. I wouldn’t challenge Raijin’s claim if I were you, but…”

“…I demand proof. It is within my jurisdiction. ”

Raijin seemed to pause in consideration for a moment, and then shrugged.

“Diablos suggests I cast Demi on the ‘impudent fool’. It shouldn’t be too hard on him, but still makes it’s point. I think I see…how it’s done.”

“Your reports show you unable to junction even the lowest level of GF. Even if this Diablos existed, there’s no way you’d be able to harness it.”

“Do it, Raijin. You have my blessing. ”Cid stretched, and then headed towards the elevator. “Just hurry, I’m about to make my speech to the SeeD candidates, and you should be there. ”

Nida and Quistis were staying behind the watch the show. Raijin casting magic was a sight neither had ever expected to see. And the fact it was going to be an intricate spell that was even rare for SeeD’s to master, and that it was going to be cast on a Faculty, made this almost more improbable than if Raijin had announced he was having Seifer’s baby. Besides, after hearing Diablos themselves, neither Quistis or Nida wanted to leave Raijin alone just then. Both had questions and wanted answers.

The Faculty began to sputter something incoherent as light began to bend around it. Raijin raised his hand, still teetering a bit from his injuries. With a flick of his hand, much like he’d seen Diablos do during their battle, he lifted the machine high into the room on waves of shadowy nothingness, and crushed it.

The Faculty member collapsed in a heap. The damage was not severe, as was to be expected. It didn’t look up as the two cadets and instructor left, hurrying to still make the Field Exam meeting.

“At what point did I lose control?”

Quistis glanced at the squad leader, attempting to gauge his reaction. Seifer was staring at Raijin as if he’d sprouted a third eye.

“So, that’s why you blew Fujin off. To go fuck your roommate Nida, eh?”

//Oh, this is going to be a great day to be out in the Field Exam.

Quistis sighed. Seifer was somewhere close to tears, but he was laughing. Fujin had her hand near his shoulder, not quite brave enough to touch but wanting to. Her eye was fixed on Raijin. It was clear that any touch she had for his person would be very painful.

“BETRAYED US. LIED!” Raijin crumpled a bit, but controlled himself. He felt his two most closest friends in the world hating him, struggling to control their rage long enough to even begin to communicate it.

“All this time, ‘Ya know? ’ We were a posse, you piece of shit!” Seifer’s voice broke as he lunged forward, only to find himself disarmed and pinned to the ground by a shimmering shadow from Raijin’s hand. His body felt incredibly heavy, as he struggled to rise to his feet. “You were holding out on me, Raijin. I didn’t know you could play dirty. ” An extremely angry Quistis jerked Seifer upright, seething as much anger as possible into her instructor persona.

“As Raijin made such an effort to participate in this Exam, you might want to ask him why. Before you disqualify your unworthy ass and defeat the whole point of this.”

Squall and Zell exchanged glances, and then assumed attention stance, hoping to avoid the attention of the furious instructor. Quistis hefted Seifer into place as Cid approached to give his speech. She felt Raijin’s power on his friend’s body like a lover’s perfume. She momentarily wondered if this was a way for Raijin to cop a feel without Seifer knowing.

// Nah. He can’t have THAT high of an affinity…yet. Or he’d have found an excuse to Demi Squall or Zell by now.

“Best of luck,” Cid finished. He felt he’d droned on long enough, and besides, those students in particular would already know all that he had to say. Cid paused in front of Seifer, realizing that maybe a little more was in order after all.

“I believe that despite your deductions just now, you still can pass. Raijin is explicitly testing with you to ensure it. So, kindly take your gunblade out of your ass, and acknowledge your friends and comrades, willing to risk life and limb for their dreams, and even yours.”

Nodding to himself, Cid gestured to Quistis. His last minute words seemed to have no effect on Seifer, but Fujin had stopped glaring at Raijin. She just turned, and left. She didn’t want to see Seifer all torn up on the inside, and knew he’d hate it if he suspected how much of his pain she could see with her solitary eye.

Following suite, the candidates and their instructor walked to the garage.

“Like I said earlier: Seifer is squad leader. This cannot be changed. But keep in mind that Raijin can break any of you in two, and that’s ignoring his powers from Diablos, or from their high affinity.” Quistis sat across from Raijin, speaking to no one in particular except an invisible spot on the vehicle’s ceiling. Zell shared the seat with Raijin and Squall, but sat as far from Raijin as possible without being in Squall’s lap. He was trying to not make eye contact with anyone in the car, and yet was unwilling to close his eyes given he was in an enclosed space with both Raijin and Seifer. Even Squall wasn’t enough of a presence to make him feel safe. The gunblade-wielding ice cube faced his rival uneasily, not used to seeing this much visible emotion on the face of the head of the Disciplinary Committee.

“Well, thanks for the vote of confidence, Instructor. I’m touched. If I do anything crazy, I’m sure Raijin will be there to rip me apart. Probably be what gets him into SeeD.”

“Ya think so?”

“Shut up Chicken Wuss!” The exclamation was mutually produced by Seifer and Raijin, with approximately the same amount of malice.

“Instructor, did you notice anyone else in the Infirmary this morning?” Squall was attempting to change the subject. At the same time, he had a curious feeling of familiarity that just demanded to be acknowledged.

“I don’t think so…Is there a problem?”

“No, I just wondered who she was.”

Seifer snickered, but was cut off by Raijin before he could make whatever joke he had geared up for.

“Ya recognized her, didn’t ya? But from where? When?”

“That’s deep Raijin. Dumbass.” Zell rolled his eyes.

“I have to agree with Chicken Wuss on this-”


“If we make it through this shit, I’ll give you one or the other, Squall.”

“It’s none of your…”

“Business!” interjected Quistis, laughing. Squall maintained an emotionally blank stare ahead.


“Did you catch what I said, Leonhart?”


“I’ll give you ‘who’ for free. Not her name, though. Your name for her…”

“Shut the fuck up, Raijin.” His voice indicated the danger level had risen to serious levels. Quistis cleared her throat, making a slight gesture for Raijin to back off.

“Let’s hear it, Raijin.” Seifer was enjoying this immensely. Squall was hard as hell to get to, and even if Raijin was full of crap, playing along anyway might be enough to make Squall lose it, fucking up his Exam but good.

//And then it doesn’t matter if I fail, because I’ll have chosen to. You won’t be able to beat me, because I’ll have already won.

Seifer didn’t really care if he made SeeD or not, except in its relation to Squall making it into SeeD. If Squall made it into SeeD, Seifer had to. It was that simple. And petty.

// And pathetic. And if Raijin makes SeeD, and I don’t…. I’ll beat the living fuck out of him!

Raijin appeared to have ignored Seifer’s request, so Seifer decided to play a card that would make Squall’s reaction all of this his fault, and glory.

“Your Squad Leader has ordered you to tell us Squall’s name for that girl, Raijin. What is it…sweet cheeks? Honey cup? Chicken WUSS!” Zell attempted to start forward, but Raijin easily tossed the muscular blond back into his seat, lacing him with dark magic to hold him in place. The spell faded quickly, but the fear in Zell’s eyes remained. Raijin didn’t spare the tattooed fighter more than a moment’s look, before turning back to his squad leader.

“Oh? The Squad Leader needs to make his orders a bit more clear. They’re so hard to make out when the Squad Leader is up to his neck in his very own ass.” Zell’s breath caught in his throat, not expecting the deep voice to actually retort against the vicious bully. Looking at the furious Squad Leader in question, Zell felt himself begin to sweat. He noticed Raijin looking his way again.

“He’s pretty hot when he’s pissed off too, ya know? I just never had the guts to talk shit to him before. Something about you blondes, eh?” Raijin’s whispers were just loud enough to be heard by Zell, and apparently, Squall. Zell cautiously grinned, allowing himself to share a small measure of Raijin’s mirth, while Squall just shook his head, as if trying to cleanse his mind of an unpleasant musing. Seifer’s eyes were no longer seeing the car, but rather a vision of Raijin in intense pain.

Further discussion was prevented as the group arrived in Balamb.

A good briefing was kept simple. However, what started out as a good briefing in Xu’s opinion, rapidly deteriorated. She admitted to herself it was her fault. She’d asked Dr. Kadowaki personally why Raijin had been allowed to Test. And, reviewing what she’d learned, she decided that somehow all of Garden had gone mad. Nida, Doc, Cid, Quisty – they all were insane. Raijin was Raijin. Like a rock was a rock. Raijin shared much in common with a rock. Getting hit by a rock hurt. It was hard to teach a rock magic, junctioning, or even to be sociable. At least in terms of social life, the rock and the ice cube were dead one with one another. At least Squall could adapt, the apt pupil he was. There was hope the ice might melt someday, in the warmth of the right girl…While to melt a rock one needed a volcano, and once you’d throw him in, who’d want to go in after him?

//Granted, he’s always been quite proficient with weapons…

Xu frowned at Raijin again. It wasn’t intentional, just sort of an instinct. She felt it towards Seifer, but not today. Today was Frown-At-Raijin day.

“Are there any questions about your objectives?”

//But he’s a fool. Could he really have mastered a GF, gained enough affinity to cast high level spells without any practice….

Her eyes narrowed. She felt her nose twitch.

//Maybe there’s a GF in this world for every idiot who wants one bad enough. But cards don’t decide to love you because you’re there destiny. How the hell he’d acquire THAT skill? Playing himself, maybe?

“Instructor, I have a question that is unrelated to the objective.” Surprised she was still staring at Raijin so hard, she was suddenly thankful that he was too preoccupied with cleaning his bo to pay more than a scant moment’s attention. But he had a question. That implied he’d been listening, at least.

//Probably went right over his head. ‘uh, so we fight the Galbadians, ya know? And uh, then we go into the city…uh, and fight the Galbadians some more. ’

“Xu. I’m waiting for your permission.” Raijin carefully laid his bo to the side, turning his dark eyes to stare into hers for the first time in the meeting.

“Sorry. You’ve a question about the Objective?”

“Xu, he just explicitly stated he had an off topic question? That’s why he was waiting for your response, you see.” Seifer was trying to back Raijin up, out of habit as much as anything else. It annoyed him when his friend was a little slow, but it pissed him off royally to see him treated as intellectually inferior.

Xu smiled weakly at Seifer, thinking about how nice it would be to inform him he’d failed his final Exam.

“Please feel free, Raijin. What’s on your mind?”

“No big. Just curious, ya know, why you keep looking at me like I raped you or something.” He leaned back, apparently no longer interested in her response anyway. Quistis shook her head.

“Sorry Quisty, I just don’t see it,” Xu said, shrugging as she moved to leave.

“Well, you sure were looking hard enough,” the instructor shot back. Xu paused, surprised at Quistis’s willingness to defend Raijin.

“Was I really that bad? Oh.” She glanced at Raijin, who had been attempting to steal a glance at Zell without his noticing, only to discover the tattooed martial artist was watching his every move with growing apprehension.

// Quistis wasn’t kidding about that, at least. Wow. I’m stunned. Must suppress inner fangirl!

“Um. I apologize, then. Raijin.” She gave a nod, and was surprised that he returned in kind, respectfully. “Dr. Kadowaki let me keep a few cards to start my own deck. I’m doing rather well so far…I have several rares, including the Quistis card. If you’d like to know about the others, challenge me sometime.”

Xu’s mouth opened and closed. Raijin was no longer paying her any attention, having seen this particular kind of reaction a lot in the past few hours. He hadn’t been challenging her so much as leaving an invitation. And he was speaking in complete sentences, without his usual delaying tactics to mentally keep up with the conversation.

“That would be nice. Later, then.” In a few hours, it would be time for the battle. There was a lot of planning yet to be done, especially with regards to Cid’s heads upon the possible communication tower strike. Time to focus on the task at hand. “Any other questions, talk to Quistis. Make sure you’re all ready.” She exited the room gracefully, while considering what it meant when if a rock suddenly turned into tree, or a bird, or maybe a fruit…

Quistis sighed. Xu had it in for the Disciplinary Committee, but she still was objective. Most of the time. Squall moved towards the stairwell leading to the ship’s upper deck.

“Good, Squall. I was just about to order you to go check out what’s going down topside.” Seifer seemed pleased with himself.

“Why did you assume I was heading out?”

“Because it’s MY order!” He snickered lightly. His eyes lit up with that unholy, emerald glow that sometimes burned its way into Squall’s nightmares. Squall more than obliged to leave Seifer, his parting shot, as always, “Whatever. ”

The silence that followed Squall’s exit was broken by another jeer from Seifer.

“Great…I’ve got a chicken wuss, a newbie Triad player, and a guy who just reached puberty on my squad.” Seifer quietly snickered. Zell tensed, only to find himself held in place by a large, dark hand. Twisting sharply, Zell shook it off.

“Don’t fucking touch me, Raijin.”

“Just keeping the peace, ya know? And Seifer…”

“Yeah, Raijin? You wanna play cards with me, like Xu?”

“Nah. Just wanted to let you know that if you keep making an ass of yourself…I’m telling Big Sis.”

“What the fuck you talking about?” Seifer’s expression was unreadable, but his voice was suddenly tight, strangely muted in its texture.

Zell felt something cold and painful pass through his chest. Shaking his head to clear it of the odd feelings that were colliding with even weirder thoughts, he looked at Seifer, feeling some kind of…bond.

“I was just following your orders, Seifer. Like I always do, ya know?” Raijin’s expression was dark as he got up to head topside. He jerked his head around to look over his shoulder at the last instant, catching Zell looking at his ass. Zell flushed, glaring furiously at a nearby wall. Seifer missed the moment, but caught Raijin when he took a bit longer glance than he should have of the Squad Leader’s crotch area. He was suddenly gone from the room physically, leaving Seifer and Zell somewhat confused, shocked, and more than a little afraid of what made the “tank” tick. A few seconds later, Seifer realized Big Sis was the answer to his earlier question about Squall’s mysterious ‘girl’ in the Infirmary. Raijin was moving a mile a minute, gone from being dull but painful, to sharp and you’re already bleeding to death.

Squall had been outside all night. The splendid view of the softly glowing moon was quickly replaced with a myriad of oranges and reds, the harbinger of morning. Soon the sun would rise, probably moments before the SeeD candidates would reach the insertion point. Squall’s thoughts had flowed incessantly through the night.

// This isn’t what I had expected at all.

// I can’t believe this.

// Seifer as Squad Leader. Raijin and Zell as back up. Did I take the low road or what?

// I wonder if Raijin is really…that way.

Squall gave a slight hiss, teeth clenched, gripping the rail tightly.

// I wonder…if I could be.

// I like girls. Does it even matter what I like? What is normal?

// I shouldn’t have to be normal. But SeeD have to be normal. We’ve an image, if nothing else. Who wants to hire a fairy SeeD?

// SeeD…moral indiscretion…Whatever.

// Raijin has a nice ass…Stop thinking that, fuck!*panic*

“Fuck!” Squall was angry. Too many questions. No answers. No sleep.

So very typical.

“Sure. Who do you want me to do first?” Squall whirled to discover Raijin standing behind him, his bo at his side. He toyed with it a moment, ripping the air fast with a quick stroke and slash, ending with the beautiful weapon over his shoulder, his arms rippling as his hands traced the designs carved into the polished surface. Parts of the Raijin’s weapon were metal, others were wood. It was hard to tell what was what looking at it, though. It was just too beautiful, too solid to be digested by the eyes completely, no matter how long you waited, how long you were staring. It just wouldn’t get old.

“What do you need, Raijin?”

“You told me to fuck. I don’t see anyone else around, so this makes our situation somewhat awkward, doesn’t it?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“Ah. With my bo? Only if you watch.” Squall’s mouth opened and closed, and for the second time in a 24 time period, Raijin had successfully reduced the most unflappable student in all of Garden’s history to a state of extreme mental distress.

However, Squall’s mouth knew what to say, even as his brain put out a “do-not-disturb” sign on his forehead and ran off to kill itself.


He turned and looked at the approaching beach. A wicked battle was well underway, though only an occasional explosion was loud enough to be heard this far out. Checking the map he received during the briefing, Squall could see how simple the path seemed in theory. Cross beach. Up stairs to dock. Enter City. Seeing the real thing looming before him, Squall could see the beach head was contested ground. It was hard to tell who was killing who, as bombs seemed to be falling on anyone who moved, regardless of their uniform. It was disgusting.

// And it’s exciting. I hate it, I hate wanting to be there, fighting…

Squall shook his head.

// Do I really want to know what’s it like…to kill someone?

“Ya know…It’s time for us to regroup. No time to fuck now, ya know? Maybe when we all make it back to Garden, we’ll hook up, eh? .”

“Keep talking like that and you might be taken seriously. Need a excuse to be expelled?”

“I was just asking ya to a bit of sparing, ya know? ! Fuck, sorry asshole.”

// He was just joking with me after all. He was trying to be friendly with me. He wanted to spar. He knew that’s the only social thing I’d do.


// What should I say to him? I don’t mind sparing against you? Let’s spar together. I think you’d be a good sparring partner. .

“…. Yeah?” Raijin looked back at Squall, halfway into the ship.

// Respond. Now. Hurry! *PANIC* He’s getting away, and you can’t forget…

“You have a nice ass.”

// Oh no.

“Oh. Er, thanks Squall. You do too. Real nice…”

Momentary eye contact. Brain returns to skull to discover, having failed to commit suicide, it now has to deal with the decisions its body made in it’s absence. Reviewing a brief transcript of the immediate conversation, it replaced the “do-not-disturb” sign with one that said “too-late”.

“Whatever.” But Squall knew he was smiling. He was also turning colors rapidly, as if trying to match with the sky above. He felt Shiva returning into him.

// What’s wrong, sweety?

// I think I just…uh…slipped.

// Didn’t even wait for me, after I went through all that work.

// Whatever. Sorry.

// Well, I guess I’ll tell you anyways…

The cold Guardian then began to recount her adventures to her caller. And even though he couldn’t see her expression, he knew from her tone that it was the “Giddy-Gossip” face, a match for Dr. Kadowaki’s features when roomer-milling with Quistis.

Raijin continued into the ship, knowing that Squall would follow a few moments later. And then they’d be in the first real battle of their lives. But whatever happened next, at least they’d been somewhat honest. In a vulgar, base sort of way. Like most things worth being simply honest about, at any rate.

He felt warm inside. This was turning out to be an alright trip after all. Even so, he was disconcerted by the intense expressions of Zell and Seifer as he retook his seat, his hand not releasing his bo as he suddenly felt a pang of fear.

“Uh…. What? You’re both looking at me like Xu was.”

Seifer couldn’t speak, he just closed his eyes and shook his head. Very slowly. Not angry or upset or anything readable.

Zell wasn’t quite as shocked, in large part because he already knew half of what Seifer had just learned. He decided Raijin might want a response, so he set about generating one.

“Um. . See, uh…Tch, aw hell!” It came out less clear than he’d hoped. Squall, as placid as ever, stepped into the room. He didn’t bother sitting down. Quistis would be here any moment, and the action would begin. He noticed as Zell and Seifer turned as one to stare at him, and then rotated back to Raijin.

“Oh the things I didn’t need to know, Squall. There is a microphone on deck, so that a lookout can communicate inside the vessel. It’s two way. Quistis cut it on to let you know we were arriving, but it seems your side is shorted out. We heard your entire conversation, though. And it seemed a shame to worry you ‘bout this silly Field Exam when you’re on the path to self discovery.”

Seifer paused. Squall and Raijin were now looking at him in the most disturbing matter. It was akin to the look Xu had given to Raijin, and the very same look Seifer and Zell were giving Squall and Raijin presently. This marvelous, highly evolved, deeply communicative expression was in fact perfected by Dr. Kadowaki: The glorious “Eat-Shit-And-Die” expression, a compliment to the “Eat-Shit-And-Die” mode of human to human interaction (also perfected by Doc). Don’t just make a face. Make it a way of life.

Seifer chuckled darkly. “I guess if Xu wanted your ass now, it’d be pretty easy, Raijin. Fuckin faggot…I guess it’s just Chicken Wuss and myself who have a chance at SeeD. Unless he’s swings that way too, like the bitch he whines like.”

Zell looked at Seifer for a moment, letting his temper do his talking for him.

“Stop calling me chicken, asshole.” He leaned forward suddenly, letting his forehead nearly touch Seifer’s scar. Seifer’s gunblade didn’t come up fast enough, thanks to interference by Seifer’s lounging posture. Zell kicked the weapon away, sending it spinning to a solid steel wall, which it bit into with a sorrowful clang. One of his deadly hands was on Seifer’s throat, while the other was a fist that found it’s way into the squad leader’s stomach.

“Zell.” The word was a warning. Raijin wasn’t moving to stop him yet, but the threat was there.

“Tch, no problem, just clearin’ a little something up for the Squad Leader.”

For the first time ever, Seifer felt something other than the desire to torment the spiky haired martial artist. He really wanted to make him less angry. Because he wasn’t so much fun to pick on when he slowly choked your air way, simultaneously knocking the wind outta you. Making the body panic as it realized it had been purged of air, and it wasn’t coming back.

“Y’see…I don’t think you know which way I swing, Seifer.” Zell looked into the wide eyes of his nemesis, wanting to memorize every detail of Seifer, here and now, the tables turned for a change. “SO, unless ya’d like to find out personally, I suggest ya just shut the fuck up about all this. You read, baby?” The Squad Leader gasped quietly, as he was released as quickly as he was seized. Quistis stepped in front of him, then. The ship lurched for a moment, finding purchase on the sandy beaches of Dollet. Balancing herself against Raijin, Quistis hit the chamber release. A wall tore itself from the room, the sounds of war flooding in. She glanced at her students, and took a deep breath.

“You’re to secure the Central Square. Move out!Don’t forget to equip a GF!”

Raijin paused for a moment, and yelled back to Quistis. “Learn anything interesting just before we got here? Over the com, ya know?” Quistis laughed.

“I was already aware of the status of both Squall’s and Raijin’s asses being nice. Who wasn’t? Now move out!” She gave a final shoo, directing Seifer to proceed.

Seifer shook his head, disbelieving, but beyond caring, and lead the charge.

After all, he’d already been aware his friend and rival had nice asses, too.

Fujin was waiting in Balamb for well over an hour. The sun was still hung pretty high, but she knew that all too soon, she’d know. They would come back, probably uninjured. Maybe even as SeeDs. Maybe not. Maybe they’d fail. Maybe they’d been injured, captured, killed, or whatever worse…

Regardless, she would rip Raijin to pieces. She stared at the horizon, skimming for movement on the deep, azure span. Cursing it for being so calm, so annoyingly tranquil, so OBLVIOUS to the tension, the turmoil…


She glared with her one eye, enough to account for it’s missing partner, at the indistinct shape she saw in the distance.


She decided Seifer probably failed the SeeD Exam as he always did. Secretly, she believed he did so for her. One-eyed students were allowed to take SeeD course work, but not exams. Not physically fit, it was determined.

Still, she’d already decided how to play the situation. She had a usual a target for her anger. And it was conveniently heading this way with Seifer. Fujin normally loved the thug, nearly as much as Seifer. Even as his thick skulled tendencies drove her to unknown levels of rage, he was still her friend. He didn’t think she was weak. He FEARED her.

And she was going to remind him why.

// SEIFER FAILED, FAULT RAIJIN’S. I’ll kill the little shit I’ll rip his goddamn balls off I’ll fucking rip his tongue out by the root and shove it up that little fucker’s ass I’ll *momentarily incoherent train of thought*

“RAGE. ” Nearby spectators moved on. A rumor was fast spreading that she must be part of the SeeD Exam, and more than a few glanced uneasily at the approaching vessels, hoping the student’s aboard knew what they had gotten themselves into.

A strong womanly voice interrupted her thoughts.

“My my, you know some of the candidates, then? My son’s with them.” The woman offered Fujin a cold drink. Something in the older woman’s expression ( a classic example of the “Take-It-Or-Tempt-My-Wrath” face) convinced Fujin to accept, though relunctionly. She took a small sip, and was impressed with the sense of calmness the sweet, cold tea washed over her.

“NAME?” She was curious. No one she knew at Garden resembled the woman in the slightest, and she’d seen all of the SeeD candidates that morning as well.

“Just call me ‘Ma’. It’s what they all do around here.” Fujin processed, then shrugged.


“Zell. Spunky little ball of rubber, blond hair, facial tattoo. Boys, I tell ya! First he’s listening to loud music, checking out the ‘scene’ and trying…to find his fit. Hittin’ the books, looking to impress us, make me proud… Then he goes off to become SeeD!”

She was teary eyed, but smiling. Fujin suddenly realized the resemblance. Not so very physically, but emotionally, this was a female, middle-aged Zell.

“Think it was a hard Exam? I heard those Galbadian punks weren’t playing nice with Timber. S’pose it won’t be any different in Dollet. ”

“ZELL FINE. WITH SEIFER.” She thought for a moment, noting the woman’s reaction. Turning back to the vessel’s now arriving, she added, “SAFE.”

“Yeah, I heard Seifer was a tough one. Hope they got along. So, you must be Fujin, right? Zell mentioned you before. When are you taking the SeeD Exam?”

Fujin’s heart skipped a beat, but answered anyway.

“NOT ALLOWED.” She gave a vague gesture at her missing eye. Ma turned livid, momentarily ignoring even her son as he strode from the transport, waving to catch her attention.

“Don’t you dare let them stop you over THAT! Those bastards just don’t wanna be shown up by a girl who knows how to control a situation… Know what I mean?”


“Excuse me, dear. Gotta go see my son. And you need to find Seifer. Just don’t be too mad at him, no matter how upset you are. Zell said that anyone who even looked at you funny would be double teamed by him and Raijin. ”She leaned for conspiritorally. “Even though he said you were the scariest mother fucker of them all.” She gave the girl a pat on the shoulder, and then confronted her bemused son.

“Ma…What you doing with. .Fujin?”

“Don’t you Ma at me, Zell Dincht! Why didn’t you tell me today was your Field Exam! I was worried SILLY!”

“But I was going to tell you AFTER so you WOULDN’T worry.” The defeat in his voice was evident, but before he could press his point anyway, he was crushed into a motherly hug. He prayed that Seifer wasn’t watching.

Seifer approached her slowly, deep in thought. She stared at him intently a moment, and then gestured at vague bruising of his throat.


“Of course not!” His expression was like she’d asked him to name their child. He stormed forward, giving her a moment to catch on that he was leaving the scene. Now.

Raijin watched the Garden car speed off, and then looked up at the sky. Recalling the past several hours. Seifer hadn’t said much during the Test. No one had. When Seifer had the bright idea to follow a group of Galbadian’s to the communication’s tower, Raijin forced him to obtain permission from Xu, who strange enough was waiting nearby. As if expecting it.

While Squall and Zell ran from the giant mechanoid, Raijin stayed and fought. He was surprised to find his longtime friend at his side, making no move to run himself. Both were slicked with sweat, and each time the monster toppled, it came right back up again after a few seconds. Seifer didn’t complain. He didn’t try and show off, or prove anything. No point, not to Raijin, who always had practically worshiped him anyway. He was just backing him up. As he’d swore he’d do for the posse. His posse. His family.

When it had backed them onto Dollet’s main bridge, Squall and Zell returned to the battle, having evacuated all other candidates from the streets. At some point the vicious gadget from hell fell apart faster than it could rebuild itself. No one had said anything as they proceeded to the beach.

But when they got there, Selphie Timmett ripped them a new one. She had now chased their Squad over most of Dollet, and to catch up with them at the beach, five minutes before departure time, to give them (quite unnecessary at this point) orders to withdraw, by god, she was going to have her pound of flesh. She paused in her shrill whine just long enough to thank Squall for showing her around Garden that morning, and that she hoped his headache was gone. By the time she was really into it, Squall realized his headache had to have been gone at some point, or how else could he now be so aware of it’s return?

At some point during the vengeful Selphie event, Raijin left, heading out onto the deck before he accidentally snapped the girl’s neck. After, of course, making damn certain Quistis disabled the com system there.

He had felt someone put a hand on his shoulder. Not turning around, Raijin spoke lightly.

“Now I remember why I’m not into girls. Fucking psycho ass bitches, ya know?”

“How long…you knew?” Seifer’s voice. Raijin gave a small shrug, feeling the hand slowly fall off, limply.

“I don’t know, Seifer. Please…just don’t fucking hate me, man. We’re a posse…ya know?” He couldn’t help the weakness that seeped into his voice at the end. He could feel Seifer’s eyes on him, but he didn’t want to see it. Didn’t want lose that little lying fuck that some people called hope. Not yet.

Seifer’s voice was soft as silk, sharp as Hypernion’s edge.

“Yeah…We were a posse, before.” His voice held a wicked sense of finality. Raijin hid whatever reactions he had deep inside, but at least one escaped out of the corner of his eye. It slid down the round of his cheek, falling silently into a gloved hand. Seifer paused a moment, rubbing the evidence between his thumb and finger, considering. Faster than even Raijin’s lightning reflexes, Seifer had the big man helplessly pined the ground. Their weapons were still inside, but this was more of an nuisance than a deterrence to the their battle. Muscles strained as Seifer tried to maintain his hold on Raijin, even has he could feel the other fighter holding back.

// He’d let me kill him if he thought I really wanted to.

“We were a posse, Raijin.” Raijin shivered slightly, the feel of his friends burning eyes finally pulling his own into their gaze.

“Always were…” Raijin stopped himself from flinching, but the emotion in his voice was still all too telling. His huge shoulders gave a small shudder, imperceptible if not for the given proximity.

“No, Raijin. It’s, ‘Always were, always will be.’ Don’t fuck it up, Raijin…That really pisses me off, ‘ya know? ’” His voice was still measured and even, but his eyes weren’t angry. Just a little weary. Raijin tried to decipher his friend, and failed. Too many mixed messages, too many fast-moving emotions. Seifer was looking at him appraisingly, as if they had only met a minute ago.

“Think who you fuck matters to your posse, dumbass?” Raijin’s breath became slow and even, feeling muscles he never even knew he had releasing the tension he’d built up. Seifer turned his hold on Raijin into a fierce hug, more emotion than he’d ever shown anyone before except Fujin. When she’d lost an eye. A long moment passed, Raijin’s mind reeling, beyond the capacity for rational thought.

“Just… let me break it to Fujin. It’ll hurt less for you especially.” Raijin could feel Seifer’s fingers gripping him, his scared head resting on Raijin’s chest, emerald eyes closed but at ease. Nothing sexual. Just trust.

It was at this moment that Squall chose to speak.

“We’re about to arrive in Balamb. Think you two will be ready?”

Seifer sputtered something while Raijin attempted to get up, and was pulled back down rather hard as he tripped over himself, while attempting to explain the situation to Squall even without the ability to speak.

“I heard most of your conversation, anyway.” Squall shook his head. “You really ok with all this?” He looked at Seifer closely.

“Are you?”

“That’s none…”

“It’s totally my business, Leonhart. If someone fucks Raijin over…in a way he don’t like…then I rip out their spine.”

He released Raijin, and was suddenly in Squall’s face. The grin was something new. It confused Squall. His automatic defense system was helpless against this, and defecated in its official Squall’s Shell Employee shorts. Thus allowing Squall to react against his better judgment, which had called in sick already that morning.

Seeing the ice cube smile back, Seifer decided to push forward.

“Yeah, you little shit. You have a cute ass and all. But no more apart and beyond all you mere mortals crap.” His words had a serious, sober tone to them. This was partly why Squall was caught off guard when Seifer suddenly leaned up to touch his their scars together for a moment.

“We’re a posse, so I guess you and that little punk better get used to it.”

//Can you feel it, Seifer…He’s…infecting us…

Seifer closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the strange coldness that radiated from Squall’s touch. Shiva had been staring back at him from those stormy eyes. Seifer couldn’t help wondering if Ifrit was answering that look, filling his own emerald eyes with hellfire. He forcefully disjunction the beastly guardian, catching Squall unawares as he staggered suddenly.

“Uh…Seifer? What the FUCK?” A spiky haired martial artist unexpectedly appeared in the doorway. “Um…Hate to interrupt, but we’re, like, there?”

Balamb was within swimming distance. A blue dot at the docks was conversing with a large brown dot.

“What the hell is goin’ on?” He looked at Squall and Seifer, both completely blank and nonchalant. Raijin shifted uncomfortably, still trying to understand what was happening to his comrades, and feeling somehow left out of the loop.

“Seifer was just explaining about loyalty. Specifically, how if you and I become close to Raijin, it’d had better be for real.” Zell’s jaw dropped. Squall shrugged, seemly as distant as ever, until one reached his stormy eyes. They were full of things to say, thought to share. Confusion, as if the will behind those eyes were heatedly discussing something with itself, and disagreeing whole heartedly.

// What the HELL is going on? !

“Wow, that was deep, Squall. Must be true what they say about the quiet ones. All gooey inside. You’ll have to let me know, Raijin. ”Seifer snorted as he pushed passed the tattooed fighter, leaving the three to their thoughts, and hurrying off to find a place to begin sorting through his own. The silence on deck lasted a brief while, as the three men breathed.

Raijin spoke first.

“I think he thinks that we…uh.” He looked from Squall to Zell, whom then exchanged a glance with each other. Squall picked up the thread, as Zell wasn’t following without a step by step walkthrough.

“Seifer had no idea about Raijin. And unfortunately, you and I have made ourselves seem suspect of ‘moral indiscretion’ to some extend as well. So, he assumed...”

“I never said I was fucking gay! I was just trying to fuck with the guy!”

// Holy fuck! I could be expelled!

“Whatever.” Squall shrugged, deciding discretion was the better part of valor. Raijin shrugged as well, but not before exchanging another glance with Squall. They both had noticed a bulge in Zell’s pants. It had become noticeable as Seifer had shoved his way past him. And it was still quite noticeable as the blond, blushing furiously, fled.

He felt a tap on his shoulder, causing Raijin’s thoughts to return to the here and now of Balamb. Squall was at his side.

“So, we walk back to Garden. It’s nice weather. Quistis said we’re free until dark, when the results come in.” He paused. Raijin was peering at him curiously.

“Squall…why are you suddenly so social? I like it a lot, ya know? But damn man, it’s so weird to hear you use your voice. ”

// Am I really that cold? So I don’t like to get close. Hurts less this way.


“Ha! Think I’m gonna go easy on ya? Sorry, hot stuff. Is it because of how I tore the fuck outta that machine back there? Turns ya on or what?”

// … I guess I should tell him.

“It’s Diablos.” Raijin nearly fell over himself. It was too counter intuitive to jump from thinking dirty thoughts about Squall to remembering the dark, devastatingly powerful demon of time. Squall sighed impatiently, willing Zell to show up faster so they could leave town.

// … not much to tell.

“What do you mean by that, Squall?”

“Your affinity with him is pretty high. Like mine with Shiva. But I’m still just her caller…she’s too independent to name a master. But she’s pretty attached to me at times.” Raijin nodded. Despite of what Diablos had tried to show him so far, he still felt he was way out of his league with all things GF.

Squall paused for a moment, sorting out the word order for his revelation.

“So, what’s the connection between Shiva and Diablos?”

“Well, they both are tied to our consciousnesses, so when you…uh…flirted with me, it threw me into confusion. I was… feverishly trying to figure out what you meant, if you meant it, what it meant if you did, what it meant to me…whatever. ”

“So, she…asked Diablos?”

“Yeah. ”

“Um…So... uh, did he say I liked you or what?”

“Shiva told me he transcends time more effectively than any other Guardian she’s known. He’s in the past, present, and future, like any Guardian. But his mind flows freely, unlike the others who are dragged to where they are called. I don’t know what he saw, and I don’t think Shiva knew what to make of it either.” He shrugged.

“But she told me to trust you. Aside from that, she pointed out how rarely I find myself attracted to another guy. She’s convinced you’re special, especially after what you did to Diablos – if a little kinky. ” Squall raised an eyebrow. Raijin was looking at him in a most amusing state of turmoil.

Zell arrived, catching the last praise. He shook himself, determined not to be undone by anything his companions said or did. They certainly didn’t look gay. So what was going on, Zell wondered. The implications of Squall’s phrase were slowing introducing themselves to Zell as Raijin led the way out of town.

“Took you long enough, Chicken Wuss. It’s practically dusk, ya know?!”

“What did you call me!?”

“You want me to repeat it?”

“Actually, I’ve a better question. Why do you have to call me THAT?”

“He does it to piss you off, Zell. We covered this, earlier. ”

“I know that!But I what to know WHY he wants to piss me off. ”

“Because it makes you so cute when you flash your fangs at me, and twitch all over. Don’t forget we’ve a duel tonight. If I win using Diablos, that GF you were so SURE didn’t exit, then you’re my dancing partner until we get expelled. ”

“Are you…really, I mean…Tch!You know!” Zell flushed.

Squall helpfully jabbed Zell in the stomach, glaring at him icily.

“Ugh. . *inhales* What the hell was that for? !” He glared at the stormy eyes, but was unable to hold it with the way Squall was suddenly smiling. The stormy eyed SeeD candidate shuffled through emotions a mile a minute, as if trying to make up for lost time.

// He’s smiling…at me?

“I was helping you spit it out, that’s all. You were choking on such a simple question. ” He turned to Raijin. “He wants to know if we think he has a cute ass. Faggot keeps looking us over and thinks we’re not looking back?”

Raijin thoughtfully tapped Squall on the shoulder.

“I think I like this talkative version of you…You’re such a ruthless bitch.”

// Because now I don’t think before I speak. I just react. And let it flow. I can’t be afraid that way. Can’t kill my emotions…Shiva was right. It just gets easier, the more I let it burn through me. The more I give… and take…The more of you that grows in me…

“Whatever.” Stormy eyes glinted, his smile lasting longer this time.

“Whatever yourself, ya know?” Dark eyes drinking it in.

Zell muttered something quietly.

“What was that, Chicken?” Squall waited expectantly, but Zell just groaned.

“Tch! Not you too now!”He slumped a bit. Garden’s main gates seemed further ahead then it should be by now. The pace was slowing.

// And then what?

“Something’s got our Chicken bothered, ya know?” Raijin came to a halt, stretching his impressive frame, letting his arms settle themselves in the provocative way that helped the eye down to the lower regions.

Squall sighed, and leaned against Raijin slightly. He felt himself encircled by a warmth that smelled like sweat and Raijin. He met Zell’s eyes for a moment.

“I see. You’re alone, but not a loner like me…You can feel the coldness, Zell. The frost that only someone else can thaw…” Zell didn’t react. The soft voice of the quite SeeD no longer sounded empty or dull, but was filled with empathy.

“This is the first time…we’ve been this close either, Zell. ” He ran a gloved hand under the silky material of the cadet undershirt, feeling his way up Raijin’s back, stroking the groove of his spine, gently.

“Burn him, Raijin…Boil his blood as you do me. Taint his mind as I’ve been tainted…” Squall’s eyes showed pain and exaltation, while Raijin’s mind flipped.

// What…am I doing to him?

He felt Squall press up against him, still looking at Zell with that demanding gaze.

“Don’t stop, Raijin…I want this. He’ll want it too…”

Zell knew he looked angry. He couldn’t look away. He needed to stop watching this. He needed to stop wanting this. He felt excited, and jealous, and most of all angry at Squall, for the way he was looking back at him, taking it all in.

“Do you like being watched or something, you sick fucks…”

Raijin opened his eyes, sighing slightly as Squall withdrew his hands, but remained within the embrace.

“No, Zell. I just thought you’d want to be a part of this. If you’d rather be alone…”

“Or with the librarian, ya know? Go on ahead of us. We’re taking our time, ya know? It’s just that we know…you’re OUR Chicken Wuss. ”

Zell tried to force himself to move. He tried to make himself run away. Into the Garden. Away from the strange desires and acceptance that he was experiencing from two of the most deadly fighters he knew.

// Squall wants me. Raijin wants me. Every time they called me that name, part of me would go berserk. Maybe it knew it’s name, and came when it’s owners called.

“Why is it whenever Seifer calls me that, I just get pissed off. But when you guys do it, it just. .. ’ya know? ’” Raijin grinned at Zell’s usage of his expression (it was pretty cute), while Squall pulled the blond into his place. He felt Raijin’s massive chest pressing up against his through their uniforms, while Raijin traced the blonde’s tattoo with his tongue. Squall’s chest was firm against his back, letting him feel what tight definition that could be felt, even through the layer upon layer of clothing. There were no such barriers between his neck and the mouth that kissed so gently, and felt so warm. It was nearly impossible to think it was the cool and aloof Squall who was doing this to him. It was ridiculous to even consider that he could be pinned against the burly Raijin, who was tenderly nipping him at the base of his neck, giant hands pulling the three close.

“Can you feel…it, Zell?” Squall asked, nuzzling the tatooded man’s neck.

“It burns. .. like hell. ”Zell shivered, but the gentle warmth and strength around him banished all anxiety. Not to mention nearly all rational thought.

“Is this…real?” Raijin risked the question. Something was going on, but it was too slippery to grasp…Everything was happening too fast. As much as he’d tried to concentrate on Squall’s words earlier, it was drowned out by Squall’s body. It seemed to be crying out in an overwhelming silence that couldn’t be ignored. And now, Zell felt the same way to him. He actually felt Zell change, just as Squall had earlier. And just as before, Raijin’s conscious mind was floored by perceptions that couldn’t be processed, and once properly overwhelmed, stepped down to let his body do the thinking.

They parted reluctantly, as a Garden car exited the garage and quickly approached. Raijin hadn’t thought they’d be seen this far from Garden and Balamb, but maybe it had still been risky to be frisky in the open. Squall straightened his cadet uniform, his eyes glacial as ever. It was clear he didn’t like being interrupted. Zell was having trouble breathing. At some point thoughts that resembled his own came tumbling back into his spiky head.

// What the hell it’s practically dark what if we’re too late what’ll we tell the Faculty what if they could see us and we’re expelled or what if they TELL MA!

Raijin squeezed his shoulder roughly, like he used to when he was picking on him, only now his dark eyes clarified that it wasn’t aggressive against Zell as much as for Zell. Anyone passing by would assume Zell had done something to piss of the Disciplinary Committee, seeing it. Zell attempted to hide a grin. At some point he’d determined that whatever way Raijin and Squall would swing, he wanted to be there to catch it. He’d have his insecurities later, when he didn’t have two hot ass soon to be SeeDs touching his body like they owned it. And feeling that darkness spouting from within confirm it.

The car seemed vaguely familiar. A moment later there was no doubt. It was the same Garden car that Seifer and Fujin had drove off in.

Raijin went from his pose of bullying Zell to instead trying to keep Zell between him and the approaching doom that was surely Fujin.

Inside the garage, Seifer swore silently. Fujin was no longer furious. Just kind of cold and vengefully plotting Raijin’s death. He’d broken it to her slowly, first mentioning that she’d never really ‘wanted’ him anyway, and then moving on to more provoking facts. He fully believed he had done the right thing. Until a moment or so after it all clicked in that red, strained eye of hers. Boom, baby.

“So Fu, repeat after me. I will not rip Raijin’s arm off. ”


“No. Let’s try baby steps. How about, I will not tear Raijin’s fingers off. Go on.

“I. WILL. ”

“Continue. the next word is NOT, right? ,”


// There is hope. Some headway, at last. Ha.


// Oh. Well, too late, we’ve found them. Oh, were we interrupting something? Chicken Wuss!?

“Holy Fuck!I knew that little shit was checking me out! Fucking faggot!”

“ZELL?” Fujin glared mainly at Raijin, but pivoted briefly to Squall and Zell. Who looked from her back to Raijin, and then to Seifer. They had that expression people on a railroad bridge have when they see the train coming. That “Well, this was a fun idea, until we all die.” Fujin was the train, Seifer was the engineer, and anyone between them and Raijin were on the tracks.

She opened her side of the vehicle.

“Fujin…If I pass this Exam, it was because of him.”

“IF FAILED, BECAUSE ME. I KNOW.” She didn’t look at him again as she stepped out of the car. Seifer moved like lightning. He was in front of her, looking into her eye.

“If I failed or passed has nothing to do with you, Fujin. Maybe. .. it did a little, back when I thought you’d leave Garden without graduating if I had passed. But all of that’s a non-issue now.”


“No, Fu. If SeeD, we ALL stay. We’re a posse, Fu.”

“Always were, Fujin” Her singular gaze snapped to Raijin eyes, their darkness magnified by the black and silver of his uniform. He nodded her to finish it.

“Always will be.” The words weren’t slow and directing, but soft and hurried. As if they had been waiting to escape the girl’s mouth on her very next breath all along.

“And hell, if they won’t change their minds about letting you test, Fu? Fuck SeeD. Right Raijin?”

Collecting his bo from where it had landed at some point of his “moment” with Zell and Squall, he laughed loud and proud, his dark eyes filled with mirth.

“Hell yeah! I got the best of SeeD has to offer right here. Even without Garden to back us, we could fucking take down Galbadia.” He possessively grabbed Zell’s shoulder again, simultaneously throwing his other meaty arm around Squall’s neck. Bringing the three close again for a moment. He felt the dark flames flare up momentarily, and couldn’t help notice Seifer flinch.

“What you guys think?” he asked earnestly.

“We a… posse now?” Zell tried, finding it weird to be touched like this by Raijin in front of Seifer. Too similar to all the other times he’d experienced the Disciplinary Committee in action to ignore, but even more disconcerting was how badly he enjoyed it now, at least in part because it reminded him how he’d enjoyed it back then, in some dark, secret way. He braced himself in case he received a rebuke anyway. Squall nodded, grinning again, as if trying to practice the expression.

“We’re posse, then.” Squall paused, then shrugged. “Whatever.” He put an arm over each of his posse, feeling Zell giving a start, then quickly settling in, while Raijin seemed to flow onto him. Seifer allowed himself to grin, even as he felt the strangeness he’d experienced with Ifrit and Raijin come back in full force.

“So if your posse is part of my posse, then what does that make us, Chicken Wuss?”

Headmaster Cid stared at the newly graduated SeeDs. This was unusual. For he first time, SeeD would finally have a gunblade specialist. In fact, two. He looked carefully at the six graduates in front of him, and shook his head. He’d attempted to give them a speech, but was cut off by the Faculty. But he managed to get a few words in as he handed out the SeeD Rank Report.

( I’m really looking forward to the Garden Festival. )

( Do your best even if you don’t stand out. )

( Finally, a gunblade specialist. )

( I heard you play a mean game of Triad. We’ll see. We’ll discuss Edea later. )

( I’m glad you finally passed, but curb your ego. )

( Try and control your emotions a little. )

The newly appointed SeeD’s saluted. The ceremony was complete.

Nida compared Raijin’s report card to his own, closely.

“What the hell does ‘Bonus’ mean? You got extra credit?”

“Yeah. That big spider machine the Galbadians had. We chewed it up, ya know?” He and Raijin were moving their stuff into the SeeD side of the dorms. SeeD got their own rooms, which meant that for the first time since coming to Garden, a student could finally have some privacy. Raijin didn’t have much, but Nida’s parents sent him all kinds of crap. Books. Food. Plants. At one time they’d sent him an unusual seed they said they’d bought at an auction in Cetra. It turned out be a Marbolo. The potted beast wasn’t that bad a pet unless it was unhappy. The stench never fully left the room. When Nida was found out, there was little punishment that could be given, since while animals were forbidden, there was no provision for man-eating vegetation. The Faculty took it away, while rumors lived on that Nida’s pet was somewhere in the training center, feeding on Grats and underclassmen, getting ever bigger…

“That’s all of it, I think. Thanks, Raijin.” The almond eyes regarded his fellow SeeD intently. “You know, it’s kinda funny. We’ve been roommates for at least two years now, and we never really…connected. ” Raijin shook his head, sitting cross-legged just inside Nida’s room. Nida let go of the door, sitting next to Raijin as it closed. It was a dark, cool night, and the window was open a crack to let a soft breeze in of moist, ocean air.

“I guess I’ll…. miss you. I mean, you know. I feel like I just started getting to know you today. ”

“I’m not goin’ far, ya know. I’m five rooms down, for crying out loud!” Raijin gave a laugh, clapping Nida on the shoulder before rising to his feet. “But I know what you’re getting at. Today is the first day you felt like I looked at you and actually saw you. Or was it yesterday? Hell of a long day…*yawn*. ” He leaned forward slightly, offering Nida his hand. Suddenly, he had a thought. “You’ve got a girlfriend? I know because of my…uh…other past. But I only saw her once. Tonight, at the ball. Who is she?” Nida nodded slowly as Raijin pulled him to his feet, quite close together now. During their work, they both taken off their uniforms, changing to more typical fare. Raijin’s silky vest left most of his chest bare. Nida wore a black and crimson shirt (brushed cotton, parents did send clothes on occasion) that seemed to drape around his lithe form. Showing off the slopes of his shoulders, the play of his well-maintained arms… Raijin caught himself checking Nida out yet again. Tight, pitch black jeans that showed off that so very round, inviting butt…

“It’s hard to say.” Their chests were barely touching. Raijin tried not to sigh against the feelings that Nida’s proximity were summoning.

//I’ll see Zell soon for our duel…Then Squall at the Ball. But then he meets Rinoa…Well, we’ll see how it works out. Damn Nida looks fine, though!

“You’re looking at me very hard, Raijin.”

“You, uh, kinda look like Diablos, dressed like that.”

“Oh. I thought I was turning you on.”

Nida was speaking softly, but his eyes were speaking loudly.

“Nida, you are.” His silken pants were pretty baggy, but Raijin’s excitement was difficult to conceal. Raijin let Nida push him gently against the wall, an arm coming up under the dark skinned ‘tank’ on either side, pinning him tightly to the silken chest. Despite his considerable advantage in size and strength, Raijin found it very difficult to pull Nida away. Even more so when he saw hurt and doubt filling the almond eyes that he’d depended on so much already.

“Explain to me.”

“She’s an old friend. She’s been waiting for me to graduate so that I can make her my wife and start a family. Instead I’ve become a SeeD. ”

Raijin palmed Nida’s face, tilting his head upward. The almond eyes closed, feeling Raijin kiss him lightly on his throat, and then breath softly into his ear.

“And then?”

“My family reacted badly when I suggested the possibility of joining SeeD. They’re unaware that it’s been my sole goal these past years. I came here originally by running away, but once I was enrolled, they couldn’t do much about it. ”

“So, your parents thought that you’d eventually come to your senses. You’d stop trying to make it on your own and come running back for their money?”

“No. They thought that…she’d be able to convince me. She’s always been so afraid of all that GF side-effect crap. Totally against para-magic, and SeeD. She’s coming tonight because I told her I graduated. She doesn’t know I meant as a SeeD.”

Raijin gave a questioning ping with his mind to Diablos. The answering cry seemed to rain down on him. Nida was startled to feel the junction seemingly well up all around him, flowing into Raijin. He strengthened his embrace, staring into Rajin’s eyes so full of darkness.


//My master.



//That’s right. I need some more insight. I’m sorry to keep troubling you…

//I enjoy your call…Who is this one to you?

//A…friend of mine. You know my memories. You probably even know what I’m worried about…

//The rumors of there being a price to pay to call the Guardians. Do you wish to me to share with this one as well?

// *puzzle* You mean bring him here with us? How?

//It is natural, because he is yours.

//What the hell are you talking about?

//He gives himself to you, and so he is yours. Like the others.

//Others? What do you…

//The angel of frost and a serpent of thunder told me of them. And I told them of you. It’s no surprise that what has happened, has happened…

//I have too much to think about right now…

//I’m sorry, my master.

//Not your problem, Diablos. I wasn’t expecting easy answers.

//I’ll give you this, then. Many can call on the strengths of the Guardians, but where does the loyalties of the Guardians lay? Is it where the call originates, or where it ends?

//I’ll think about it. Oh, and who told you that…Nida was…you know. Mine?

//He did. Just now. Can you not feel it? Your aura has infected him, like the others. Mastered them, like you have mastered me…

The darkness fell away. The distant feeling of holding Nida became solid. Raijin’s eyes focused, looking into the almond eyes of his friend.

“I forgot you were…that powerful. You can speak with it, can’t you?”

“Yeah. Just wish I understood half of what he’s talking about, sometimes. ” He looked at Nida closely. “I’ve gotta go. I’m meeting up with Zell for our duel, and then it’s time for the Ball.”

He turned from Nida, but pulled him with towards the door. He let his hands drop to his sides, as the door opened, but cocked his head back to face Nida once more.

“After your dance, and you want me to notice you, don’t worry. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

//I own him…?

Nida looked at him intently. The almond eyes blinked, and the lithe chest let a sigh escape, softly. He nodded, grinning.

//I don’t want to be another face in the crowd.

As Raijin walked away, it occurred to him that he was in a very dangerous situation. He had something with Squall and Zell. Maybe it was always brewing and just took the right circumstances to bring it to the fore. Whatever. But he had something with Nida. All the quiet ways he’d tried to get closer to Raijin, tried to be ‘noticed. ’And as of the morning the Field Exam on, he’d been as dedicated as hell to Raijin’s cause.

Raijin still needed to explain his “prophecy” to the others. How would Squall and Zell react? How would Seifer?

As Raijin entered the Training Center, preparing to duke it out with his spiky haired soon to be boyfriend, another somewhat belated thought occurred to him.

//…. Nida doesn’t know about what’s happened with Squall and Zell. Squall and Zell don’t know what’s happened with Nida.

“FUCK!” Raijin was torn between running back to Nida, and see if knowing that he was giving himself to a guy who already had two other SeeDs on his plate made a difference, or simply running about the training center until he found a tyrannosaur’s mouth to put his head in.

“Right here and now? Tch, fine.” Zell was grinning, as he readying his gloves. Facing the blond, Raijin decided to try the direct and honest approach. The truth will set you free and all that. With such a wide open space, and so many tyrannosaurs, he’d find an exit one way or another if he needed one, anyhow.

“So, you’re mad. I mean, of course you’re mad.”

The duel had been quite exciting. Raijin explained the basics of he situation, and then Zell attacked him. It’d been an intense battle, but at this point, Zell was forced to submit. He was bruised, bloodied, and strangely content.

“Hell!I don’t know. It depends on you. ”

“You want me to tell Nida to get lost? I mean, Diablos said I fucking owned him!”

“Well, what’d he say about me?”

Raijin leaned on his bo, letting the sweet force of Diablos’s power fill him in a glow of Curaga. His strength returned as the spell sealed his wounds. He moved to cast the spell on Zell, who fiercely shook his head.

“Answer me. ”

“I shouldn’t have said shit. ”

“What did Diablos tell you Raijin…I…Hell! Just give it to me, will ya!”

Raijin gave a sigh. His friend was in obvious pain. If he’d let himself be healed, maybe it would be a fair trade off. Besides, it was always such fun to get a reaction from his Chicken Wuss.

“He said your Guardian told him that I owned you, too. ”

“Do you…right now?”

“I’m afraid to ask him.” Zell carefully got to his feet, still panting. He moved some the grime off his forehead, and gave a little shake.

“I was very mad at first, because I thought you were trying to say you’ve changed your mind about me.” He cracked his knuckles nervously, while Raijin slammed the ground with his bo hard enough that the beaten earth stress fractured several yards in all directions.

“Fuck no!”

“I figured that out, Raijin.” The dark skinned martial artists drew his smaller counterpart into his arms, letting a spell wash away his injuries.

“How so, Zell?” Raijin held the tattooed youth close, his dark eyes intense.

“Because you copped a feel on my ass every time you casted Graveja, just now. ”

He kissed Raijin deeply, his tongue pouring out the things his heart wanted to say. He felt Raijin return the kiss, deeply tasting the tattooed fighter’s mouth, possessively. Breaking for air, Raijin felt Zell’s brawny arms tighten around his own.

“You know, that was my first kiss. ” Raijin looked around. At some point those interactions had led them far from the main path though the training center. They were somewhere below the Secret Area. Silently, he bestowed upon it the name Even Greater Secret Area. Zell nuzzled that perfect fit for his head between Raijin’s collarbone and chin, whispering softly.

“I think they will forgive us…as long as we don’t get too carried away. We’re a posse. ”

“What about Nida?”

“I don’t know…I think he wanted to be your first. ”

“NO, I mean what will Squall think about him…with us, ya know?”

A new voice cleared itself.

“That tonight’s Ball will be exciting as hell. ” Squall, dressed in his full SeeD uniform, stopped a few yards away.

“So, uh-”

”Shiva already told me about Nida. ”

“I didn’t mean to… ”

“Yesterday, in fact. It’s quite alright. I just explained to him myself how things stand.” It was now Raijin’s mouth that opened and closed, no sounds coming out. Zell rubbed his hands across the broad span of back, making soft noises.

“To convince him I was sincere, I did the only practical thing, and kissed him until he kissed me back. Until the darkness bound him, like…us…” Squall gave an easy shrug, the gold glittering on the SeeD uniform’s many buttons.

“I told Zell he could have your first kiss with him, so that it’d all still be fair and square.”

“You didn’t tell me WHY, Squall!”

“Of course not, Chicken Wuss. You know seeing you pissed off is a hell of a turn on for our master.”

Raijin couldn’t respond, feeling the strange knowledge of the ancient Diablos bubble and collide with his other ‘resources’…It slowly dawned on him that as a player of this game, he had somehow made Squall, Zell and Nida into his, in some fashion...

Squall didn’t want to wreck his SeeD uniform, so he took off the jacket and shirt, tossing it into the air where it hung under the influence of Float. The bare-chested SeeD pulled Raijin and Zell around him, letting Zell spoon into his back while pressed his groin against Raijin’s. As expected, Raijin sighed, giving Squall the perfect opening to begin plundering his mouth. Zell reached around both of his lovers, his hands grabbing Raijin’s waist forcefully. Pulling him tight against Squall, squeezing Squall between them.

Some time later, after Squall had his kiss with Zell as well, and Raijin had marked them both a bit too visibly in the neck area, it was time to proceed. Or else they’d start something that would last over the Ball entirely. While Raijin and Zell headed to their rooms to change, Squall went directly to the Ball, thinking dirty thoughts about what would happen when all four of them were in the same place at the same time. He couldn’t help wondering if even in full SeeD uniform, they’d be able to behave so as avoiding expulsion. And if it’d be worth it all the same. No one had spoken much during their interactions, feeling one another’s minds all too tightly about one another. The binding was excruciating, yet so intensely pleasurable. The fact that Raijin was as much in the dark as Zell and Squall was quite a turn on as well.

// And you told me…more of the future. You couldn’t help it... I could feel your fear... Don’t worry, my master. She can try as she might to take my heart, but you’ve already ripped it out and devoured it whole…

The stormy eyed SeeD proceeded to the ball room, visions of what he intended to do when he had his comrades alone making his body tight.

An extremely short-skirted waitress approached. She looked Squall up and down, settling a moment on his scar. She offered up the tray of drinks, attempting to give him a good view of her cleavage. Did she dare try to thaw the Ice Cube? Squall, turned his head to examine the tray, giving her a good view of his hicky. She inhaled sharply, unable to assimilate both Squall and the hicky into the same thought. Squall selected a glass, and took a sip, and then noticing the girl was annoyingly still next to him, decided to be social.

“He likes to suck. ”

“I’m sorry, wh-what can I help you with?”

“How I got the hicky. My boyfriend likes to suck. ”He drained his glass and placed it back onto the tray.

“And bite. ” He quirked an eyebrow, trying not to openly grin at her sudden inability to balance the tray without both hands. And then he was impassive as always, ignoring the waitress fully. She numbly walked onward, nearly bounded into by Zell.

Apologizing, she scurried onward, trying not to glance back at the stormy eyed SeeD every two seconds. . Shrugging, Zell proceeded to Squall.

“Yo, Squall! S’up man?” In full uniform, Zell thought they both looked pretty hot. He couldn’t wait to find Raijin and check him out.

“So, we’re both SeeD’s now, huh? Shake hands now?” He rubbed his hand on his uniform, and stuck it out there. Squall sighed, glancing at the air above Zell’s head before responding.

“Zell, I’ll suck your dick, but I’m not going to shake the hand you masturbate with. ”His stormy eyes showed his amusement. Zell straightened up, giving a Squall a smirk that made him feel very confined in his SeeD uniform. Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. Selphie. Heading this way.

“Uh, later Squall, okay?”

“Just run, I’ll handle her. Chicken Wuss. ” Zell felt his own pants grow tight, and from Squall’s gaze he guessed that was the desired result. Reading, and reading into, one another’s thoughts was quickly becoming all too natural for the pair. Flushing, Zell attempted to escape. But Selphie, in a happy, oblivious state of mind that she seemed to ooze, cut off his escape route, striding out with confidence to confront the terrified youth. So happy to see him, she didn’t notice the bulge in front of his pants, thankfully, as she’d have assumed it was for her.

“Hey Zell! Wanna join the Garden Festival Committee?”

“Sorry, I uh…just remembered something. G-Gotta go!” He ran. He wouldn’t have escaped except that Squall presented a more inviting target. While Zell had the expression of a puppy caught in midday traffic, Squall actually was glaring at the girl. Obviously, he needed some cheering up.

“Oh. Hey Squall! Wanna join the Garden Festival Committee?”

“Sure Selphie. You seem to be putting a lot of time and effort into this. ”

“Gee, thanks Squall!” She seemed genuinely pleased.

“You must be stopped. My first act as a member of the Garden Festival Committee is to have you booted off. ”

“Hey, you can’t do that!”

“Are you saying you…don’t WANT me on the Garden Festival Committee?”

“No, but…” Selphie wasn’t stupid so much as naive. She was from a small Garden where everyone knew her name. She was Selphie Tilmitt, loved by everyone. And why wouldn’t they? After being locked up with her for a few years in the mountains, they probably either adapted or went insane.

“Squall, that was pretty mean. ”

“But I was actually saying no, but in a funny way. I’d never dream of taking your festival from you, Selphie. But I’m getting a little punchy. I’ve got my own festival to plan tonight, and you just scared off one of my committee members. .”She smiled, confused.

“I’m sorry…Is it a… rival festival or something?”

“Perhaps.” Her eyes narrowed, rearing for a challenge of dominance. Squall attempted to keep a straight face.

“What’s it called?”

“That’s none of your business. ”

“ARG! Squall! Stop being so mean!”

“I was just trying to look out for you. I mean, look what happened to the last Garden Festival chair…”

“He dropped out. His webpage said so.”

“Well, that may be what they want you to think. He certainly couldn’t come to the graduation ceremony without his head…”

“Wh-WHAT?” The perky expressions on her face suddenly fell away, making Squall worry that she may have needed a new battery. He patted her shoulder consolingly.

“Just be careful not to be alone in Quad. That’s where the Molboro hangs out. When they’re young, they move really fast, but I’m sure he’s a small fry still. Otherwise, he’d have taken more than the guy’s head, right?”

He walked away, noting from Selphie’s expression that she’d heard the rumors about the Molboro, too. His wonderful extension was all she’d need to have such wonderful nightmares. He permitted his mind to return to musings of the festival he had in mind for his master, as he gazed through the glass ceiling of he ball room out into the dark skies above.

He suddenly was cornered against a pillar, looking into the pale complexion of a young woman wearing an even shorter skirt than Selphie or the waitress. It was as if she’d planned on having to shit standing up and needed some clearance.

“You’re the best looking guy here. ”

//…. Raijin showed me all about you. How I’m supposed to fall in love with you.

“Dance with me?”

//But now I can’t, as I’m his. Theirs. Sorry, Rinoa. Far too late. ..

“…Um, let me guess. You only will dance with someone you like. ”

//…. No, I’ll dance with you. That way I’ll bump into Nida, as Raijin recalled. And steal him away from that friend of his…

“Did you see a falling star just now?”

“Ah ha! So you can speak! Weren’t we looking at the same one?”

“No. My boyfriend told me that just after a falling star, the daughter of a Galbadian general would drag me onto the dance floor, and ultimately into a multi-national crisis, as time permits.” He took her hand, observing the soft brown of her eyes sharpen in confusion.

“Who the hell…”

“Rinoa, be quiet. The song is starting.” He dragged her onto the dance floor, leaving no more time for questions. Squall stumbled a little, but Rinoa picked up the slack. Trying to keep their movements in synch, she decided to risk a question.

“How do you…know me?”

“I might have loved you, but sorry, I’ve been claimed. ”

Rinoa’s confusion mixed with her irritation, forming an alliance that unified her face in an expression of animosity against her partner. Before she could even respond that she was looking for her boyfriend, not a boyfriend, she was knocked forward by another couple.

Nida faced the bunglers who’d interrupted his delicate moment. As their partners exchanged glares, Squall and Nida locked eyes.

//Oh. Then she must be Rinoa. Doesn’t look like Squall digs her.

The almond eyes were laughing at the dark haired girl, but he didn’t say a word.

//Ah. So that’s Nida’s friend. I wonder how she took his response. I’ll ask him.

“Rinoa, thanks for the dance, but mind if we trade partners?” Squall gestured to Nida. Rinoa exchanged glances again with the other girl, but obtained no reaction. As if this was normal protocol in the middle of a dance.

“As long as he’s not as inept as you.”

“I don’t know. Let’s find out.” Squall took Nida’s hand, and the two of them finished the dance. Rinoa teetered a bit, not used to seeing guys together like this. Or being stranded on the dance floor. She felt the moment of incomprehension drag on, while her mind continued to not cooperate with itself. The other girl next to her gave a small sigh.

“So, Rinoa…wasn’t it? All the good ones always turn out that way, don’t they?” Noting that Rinoa needed some alone time, she walked away, noting with a smile how much Nida was enjoying his stormy eyed partner. With Nida, Squall’s steps were smooth and sure, matching Nida’s knowledgeable lead. Rinoa couldn’t help but notice this. She couldn’t help wonder what his name was. She’d need to know it so Seifer could go kick his ass. Both their asses. Yes, that was the ticket. She noticed Seifer, finally, along with Raijin, by the punch bowl. Extracting herself from the dance floor, Rinoa tried to reason out why she felt so mixed about the insensitive ass who’d just switched off from her to another guy. In the mid-dance, no less.

“I can’t believe they did that. Guts, ya know? Or they’re as drunk as you.”

“You were going out there with Zell, or so you boasted.”

“I-I don’t know, ya know?”

“Ah, come on. No one will think twice. This’ll all be written off as what happens when one provides enough free booze to teenagers. This is the one night you have a free pass out of detention, ya know?”

“Hell, Seifer, lets see you boogie with Chicken Wuss.”

“Don’t think I’m not so inclined every now and then, Raijin. If I wasn’t…incapacitated, I’d even take you out there…”

It was at this point that Rinoa decided to join the conversation. She’d waited until Seifer would have noticed her, and then realized he was very, very drunk. And happy. And wearing a full SeeD uniform. He’d finally passed.

“Seifer. Congrats! So you’re a SeeD!” Startled emeralds darted about, eventually discovering Rinoa. Raijin’s hand on his shoulder, steadying him, grew just a little bit tighter.

“Rinoa! How ya been? It’s been practically half a year – hic – whoa.

“You feeling ok? Had a bit too much celebration?”

Drunken eyes took in her form with a moment’s focus, and then slid onto Raijin.

“No, that’s what’ll happen if I pass out near Raijin and his gang. Celebrate all over, or up my ass. So it goes.” He weaved a bit more, trying to remember what he’d just said. Raijin shrugged.

“He’s been like this since he got sloshed. He always used to just flirt with every girl in sight when he’s like this. Then he met you, and changed, ya know?” Rinoa looked carefully at Seifer’s face. He normally started picking fights with other guys once he’d enough to drink. Accusing them of trying to steal his girl.

“And what made him change this time?”

“When he found out I thought he had a nice ass.” Images of last summer floated into her head. Raijin, Fujin, and Seifer. Always with Seifer. It was implied that something was going on between Raijin and Fujin. Everything worked out nicely that way, from Rinoa’s vantage. Not Raijin and Seifer. This was suddenly a very complicated night, and she had yet to even talk to Cid as she’d planned. Seifer seemed to miss the entire conversation, finding the floor that moved erratically in his vision fascinating.

“Raijin…I think I’m gonna toss. Gotta get to a facility.”

“Nice seeing ya again, Rinoa. If you’re looking for Headmaster Cid, he’s over there.” Raijin gestured at a man in a dark, formal vest, who was talking animatedly with a small group of SeeDs.

Rinoa turned to say thanks, only to discover her ex-boyfriend and Raijin were long gone. It occurred to her at that moment she hadn’t mentioned she was looking for Cid to anyone. A half moment later she also realized that Seifer’s arm had been around Raijin’s waist, the same way he used to hold her close.

A waitress offered her a glass of wine. Rinoa took it, needing a drink, but then stopped herself. Looking into the bubbly depths accusatory, she pondered the silly notion that had gripped her.

//Could it be something in the wine? …Oh, what the hell.

Quaffing the drink, she felt ready to face headmaster Cid. She’d sort all the rest of this shit out later.

// Besides, if I turned gay, I wouldn’t have to deal with idiot men anymore. Aside from Daddy.

Quistis found Ellone in the training center, just as Raijin had predicted. He’d told her enough of who Ellone was to trigger a monsoon of memories and feelings, swearing her to secrecy at the same time. Just wasn’t the right to share with the others, yet. For now, this reunion was all hers. At first they talked about Matron. Raijin had said some pretty disturbing things about her, too. Ellone didn’t know much more than Quistis, but was at least able to confirm that what Raijin had said was dead on. A sorceress had appeared in Galbadia, and her name was Edea.

And she was looking for Ellone.

“Quisty, did you really…forget all about back then? Squall, Seplhie, Zell…”

“…and Seifer. Yeah. I mean, there was a pull there. They still fight like hell, too. But until Raijin said something, it was just too indistinct.”

“I’ve been getting a really weird vibe from that Raijin guy. I saw him briefly, in the library studying yesterday.”

“Yeah. He had decided to take the Field Exam. The crazy-ness just won’t stop with that guy.” She looked at her childhood friendly closely. “He said you had an interesting power, too. And that there was something you had to do…with Squall. ”

“I don’t know, Quisty. I just don’t know what to do. I can’t keep hiding forever…”

They walked on, taking in the darkened path. Quistis had taken care to choose a route that would lessen the chance of encountering monsters. Somehow, they’d wound up just below the Secret Area. An enclose of a rock formations and shadow, bound against the Training Center’s wall.

“I’d like to meet him, see what else he knows. ”

“You may get the chance.” Quistis gestured to an odd pile of shadows, that, the longer one looked at it, the more human limbs could be made out.

Raijin was laying down, his SeeD uniform from the waist up missing. In his arms he held two blondes and a sultry brunette, two of them scarred across the forehead and the other tattooed. They were similarly dressed, and breathing slowly.

Ellone attempted to muffler a small shriek, while Quistis simply shook her head.

“What exactly do you call this, Raijin?” Dark eyes opened, seemingly not in the slightest disturbed at this intrusion.

“Mine.” He drew his finger across Squall’ sleepy face, eliciting a response from fierce, stormy eyes.

“His.” The stormy eyes closed. Raijin lightly grasped the nape of the tattooed blonde’s neck, answered by a groan.

“Chicken wuss?”

“Yours. Your chicken wuss, Raijin.” He growled a little, but Squall nestled in close, drawing a gasp out of the tattooed man.

Quistis rolled her eyes, and attempted to lead Ellone away. She wouldn’t move, pointing instead at the remaining blonde that was pressing himself almost greedily on top of Zell, still keeping Raijin’s arm firmly around his shoulders.

“S-Seifer?” Quistis felt her mind do a few cartwheels, landing on it’s ass. Ellone staggered a moment.

“I don’t know about Seifer. I talked with Ifrit, but Seifer won’t junction him enough for him to pick up on shit.” Raijin gave a shrug.

“What do you want to know, dumbass?” Irritated emerald eyes opened, flicking from Ellone to Quistis, briefly taking in the spikey blonde he was spooning, lingering a moment on his rivals oh so sexy scar, and then locking in on Raijin’s startled face.

Kissing him fiercely, while trying not to disturb Zell, Seifer made his point and promptly curled up once again. Even without Ifrit to explain with certainty that Seifer too was possessed, the sweet darkness seethed from the angry kiss told all. Before drifting off, he spoke once more, softly.

“Your turn to talk to Fujin.” Raijin’s face fell.

“Aw, shit.”

Ellone nodded to the group, swallowing.

“Well, Raijin, it’s…nice to meet you. Sorry to catch you at such a bad time and all. Um, nice to see you all get along so well.”

Quistis said something that no one but Ellone caught. Blushing greatly, she hurriedly followed the instructor out. Nearly running into an startled SeeD, whose almond eyes glanced rapidly from her to Quistis.

“Nida!? What are you doing out here?” She had a sinking feeling she already knew. He responded happily. He was quite drunk.

“Raijin. What else would I be doing?” He nodded to the instructor, and proceeded past. After all, he didn’t want to waste anymore time than was necessary. It would be daylight soon, and then the rest of Raijin’s prophecy would have to be dealt with. Until then, they had things to do.

Seeing Seifer, Nida suppressed a momentary gasp. Somehow he wasn’t surprised, but still couldn’t quite shuffle his feelings out. Diablos had said he suspected, but that Ifrit wasn’t able to see into the scarred blonde’s heart. Nida’s brief, intense meeting with Raijin’s Guardian in his dorm room had left him with some very strange impressions. He could feel the demon pouring from Raijin into himself, peering into him, knowing him, acknowledging him. And then at the Ball, he could almost feeling Raijin’s knowing gaze on him, even feeling the demon behind those dark eyes.

Needless to say, seeing Seifer in Raijin’s arms still made Nida feel a pang of jealousy. As if hearing his thoughts, the scared blond’s emerald eyes were suddenly on him.

“So, you must be Raijin’s roomie Nida. I don’t think we’ve met before, so you must be good at following rules. ”He indicated that Nida should come closer. As he moved to do so, he suddenly felt hard bodies moving against his, hands groping his body out of the uniform. He’d wondered where Squall and Zell were. His question was answered, as they were all over him. He soon found himself wedged between Seifer and Raijin, feeling the massive chest spooning into his back, so warm and solid, while Seifer’s inviting shoulders seemed to mold to the Asian’s chest. Squall slid himself neatly into Seifer’s arms, touching their scars for a moment, and then flipped so as to allow Seifer to kiss he back of his neck. His rival held Squall close, pulling him tightly against his chest. Enjoying the feeling of being sandwiched between the sultry brunette and Asian. Zell watched in interest, but suddenly realized he’d lost his place, so to speak. Raijin gave him a pointed gaze, and from one martial artist to another, the meaning was communicated. Zell carefully eased behind Raijin, finally getting to touch that deliciously rounded ass he’d been eyeing every chance he’d had. He felt the soft, warm skin of his friend’s expansive back invite him, and he pressed into it with a sigh. He reached around to touch Nida’s shoulders, and help pull the group that much closer.

Vaguely he wondered what Ma would think. Then he realized he didn’t care. She’d either be cool with it, or she’d explode. It was too unpredictable to know which way it would be, with anything great or small. Somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to be afraid, feeling Raijin’s slow, steady breathing. Hearing Nida whispering something that sounded sweet into Seifer’s ear, and the soft snicker of Squall in response. Somehow, Zell just knew that in spite of all the problems he’d had before, he had a posse now. Whatever came of Raijin’s visions, they’d handle it. His fists, Squall and Seifer’s blades, Nida’s spells and Raijin’s brute force. But even Zell was forced to admit….

He didn’t want to be the one to tell Fujin about Raijin’s latest conquest either.




Squall and Raijin stood uncomfortably with the headmaster out in front of the main gate. A Faculty stood nearby, staring intently into it’s palm as if envisioning someone’s still beating heart being crushed, while humming quite pleasantly to itself.

“We’ll wait one more minute. ”

Zell tore like a Papuron being chased by a Malboro over the turnstiles, heading at at the group with unbelievable speed. Leaping off his T-Board, he kicked the gadget so as to catch it deftly in one hand, slapping his shin with the other.

“Ha!I made it!”

“Riding a T-Board inside of Garden is forbidden, or had you forgotten?” The Faculty glowed, finally able to dispense some justice to those free-floating radicals.

Nida interrupted, having walked through the turnstile instead, and without the slightest indication of hurry approached the glowering Faculty.

“Actually, all SeeD are required to be in place for all mission briefings, especially before being released on a self-directed mission such as this one. Failure to be present for such a mission briefing could forfeit the SeeD’s participation at said mission, thereby threatening the success of the mission as well. So, Zell used the T-Board to maximize the success of his mission by avoiding excessive tardiness to the briefing. ”

Cid nodded. Nida sounded intelligent even as he shoveled with both hands. The T-Board was compacted into a tiny cube, which fell easily into one of Zell’s large pockets. The Faculty glared at the spastic fighter, but maintained a light tone.

“You are all SeeDs, but don’t forget you are still students at this Garden. You are to be exemplary to other students. Do not forget!”

Raijin cleared his throat.

“So, did you consider my offer, NORG?”

The Faculty came close the the massive warrior, metallic eyes meeting dark in an unblinking negotiation of animosity.

“ Leviathan is required for proper maintenance of NORG’s living quarters. It is not acceptable to sacrifice this in payment for even so lucrative – if ludicrous- arrangements as yours. ”

“Then tell NORG this: He’ll still ‘change’ anyway, eventually. But I’m offering him the chance to control that change. ”

“What do you know of those matters, Raijin? Impress us, as you seem to have everyone else. ” Raijin shrugged.

“ The Shumii change according to their hearts and minds. Those ruled by the heart become the Moomba’s, filled with emotions but without much conscious control or restraint. Likewise, those ruled by the mind become the Elders, and thus shirk much of what emotions they had to instead live in deeper, purer rationality. ”

The Faculty paused for a moment.

“Continue. You make Master NORG forget the fact he wants you expelled more than he wants his own life. ”

“Glad I have your interest, then. Anyhow, while it’s not a widely know fact, some Shumii have tried to become human. Therein lies the secret – you become what you are, only more so. What is a human to the Shumii, that the Shumii might want to be like a human, and then even more so, becoming one?”

“Such a strange riddle. Why would any want to become a human? Why would NORG trade what he is for what is so uncertain, so ever changing?”

“Maybe because NORG also wants the ability to change his destiny. Isn’t that why he did all this to begin with? To find a way to prevent his evolution? Sounds like a very human trait. Of course, you’re free to do as you will, Garden Master. My offer still stands, if you’re brave enough. ”

“We’ll discuss those matters later, Raijin. It’s time to proceed to the task at hand. ” The Faculty shook it’s head slightly, wondering why it was that this particular student who made NORG so uneasy. And why he couldn’t just squish the little bastard.


To Be Continued…

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