Chapter Two

By Scarlet Fever

The sun hung low in the afternoon sky as Seifer and Zell walked to Balamb Garden. They could have taken the bus, but it was too nice a day, and this way, they had time to themselves before people surrounded them, before Seifer was surrounded by his past. He was sort of afraid of what the reaction to his presence would be. Would his former classmates glared at him, spit on him, or laugh in his face? Or, had they forgiven him? If he had to do this by himself, he didnít think he would be able to. Zellís presence helped a lot. They walked along the beaten up road towards the Garden. With each step, Seiferís anticipation rose. Zell could feel his lover squeezing his hand tighter and tighter. He couldnít help but yelp in slight pain.

"Oh, Iím sorry, darlingÖ." Seifer smiled sadly, apologizing and loosening his grip on Zellís hand, but not letting go.

"You worry too much, Seifer," Zell muttered. He rested his head on Seiferís shoulder, cuddling up to him as they walked. "Come on, it wonít be that bad. Itís been four years. People forget."

"I havenít forgottenÖ" Seifer whispered as Balamb Garden came into view. Reluctantly, they released each otherís hands. They werenít ashamed of being together, but just didnít want to start anything. As they walked through the gates, Seifer sighed. This was the first time in a long time that he had been back in his old school. He noticed that a couple of the students were looking at him. He blushed under their gaze, just waiting for someone to spit on him.

"Zell, Seifer!"

They both looked up, haring a clear female voice call their names. Quistis slowly walked towards them, a happy smile on her face. She hadnít seen Seifer in a while. Her beautiful face was flushed with excitement about taking over the Headmaster duties for the Garden. She stopped in front of the blonde men. She folded her arms across her chest. It had been a very long time since she had seen Seifer and Zell standing together. They made a very striking couple. Zell smiled brightly at her, but Seifer looked distant. He looked extremely handsome, almost painfully so. After growing out of his teenaged years, Seiferís face had grown into his facial structure. His cheekbones were carved, making him look ethereal and regal. There was also a delicacy, a beauty about him. For a moment, Quistis wondered what it would be like to kiss him, to have him fuck her. She pushed it out of her mind.

"Iím so glad you came!" She exclaimed. She hugged Zell.

"Are you nervous?" Zell asked, reciprocating the embrace.

"A littleÖ." She trailed off, looking at Seifer. "Iím glad you came, SeiferÖ."

He tried to smile, tried to show the same enthusiasm that Zell had. "Thank you, QuistisÖ" He offered his hand to her. "I know I wasnít an easy student to teach, but you were a good Instructor, and I know youíll be a good Headmaster."

Quistis blushed, shaking Seiferís hand. "Please, that was the past." She waved her hand. "Matron was asking about youÖ."

Seifer blinked a few times, pushing down all the fear he felt in the idea of seeing her. "She was?"

"Yes, since yesterday. Wondering if you would come, how you wereÖ."

Seifer remained silent. He didnít know if he was as eager to see Edea as she was to see him. All he could think about was Edeaís sulfuric eyes, burning in her sockets. The eyes of Ultimecia. Seifer shook his head. Edea wasnít Ultimecia. She had been controlled, just like he had been. She had been made a prisoner in her own body, the same as him. Seifer felt foolish. He was being an idiot.

Zell noticed that Seifer became distant, and reached out, briefly squeezing his hand. "It will be okay."

Seifer waved his hand after Zell had released it. "I know, Iím being moronic."

Quistis tilted her head, her waist length blonde hair falling over her torso. "Itís not moronic." She clasped her hands in front of her chest. "Look, Seifer... I canít imagine what you had to go through while you were under Utlimeciaís control. Edea is the one person who can truly understand what happened to you..." She trailed off. "Well, Iím sure you donít really want to discuss this anymore. Come on..." She smiled brightly, motioning for Seifer and Zell to follow her. "So, Seifer. I hear youíre quite the protégé at school..."

The statuesque blonde scoffed. "I donít really think so. After all, Iím not you, Quistis."

The new headmasterís sapphire eyes lit up with mischief. "Cute, very cute. Well, make fun all you like, but youíll just have to face the fact that youíre becoming me... Maybe you admire me..."

"Yeah, thatís it..." Seifer muttered. "I really want to be an obsessive compulsive child protégé..."

Quistis scowled in mock anger. "Hmmm, well, your sense of humour seems to have remained intact."

Seifer smirked, which caused Zell to smile. Seeing glimmers of the old Seifer, the content Seifer made Zell happy. He knew that his lover had been apprehensive about this evening, and to see him actually relaxing was uplifting.

"So, are you still frigid and alone?" Seifer asked.

"I may be single, but Iím far from frigid," Quistis muttered as they walked into Balamb Garden. "Just because we all arenít sex obsessed...."

Zell snickered. "Well, just because someone has sex two or three times a day doesnít mean theyíre sex obsessed...." The small blonde muttered, a slight blush passing across his cheeks.

"Uh, letís talk about something else," Seifer suggested, looking around slightly at the students and faculty that were passing them. A few of them were giving him looks of curiosity and recognition, but it was hard for the muscular blonde to tell if the looks were also hostile.

"So, did Selphie get in yet?" Zell asked, a slight smirk passing over his youthful features.

"Why, do you want to fuck her?"

Zell blushed deeply. "No!" His mouth turned up in a wicked grin. "Although, Iím sure sheís got a tight ass..."

Seifer merely raised an eyebrow. "Fabulous, Iím dating Irvine...."

"Speaking of Irvine, howís that going?" Quistis led the two blonde men into the reception room.

"Fine, fine," Zell waved his hand. "Well, besides the fact that heís turning our apartment into a porno dubbing facility..."

Quistis raised an arched eyebrow, lowering her voice. "So, you think that Irvineís in love with Selphie again?"

"Again?" Seifer asked, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "He never fell out of love with her. The only thing that would have appeased our Rhinestone Cowboy would have been if Selphie had flunked out of military school and become a whory porno skank."

"I heard that, Almasy..."

They turned to see the pert brunette standing behind them. Selphie playfully had her hands on her girlish hips. "Do you have any other compliments you would like to bestow upon me?"

"Well, well, well... If it isnít the Trabian Beast Woman," Seifer taunted, smiling down at the small woman. "How have you been?"

Selphieís whole face lit up with a big smile. She quickly embraced Seifer. She looked up at him. "You know, if you werenít with Zell, I would get you into bed so fast..."

Zell cleared his throat. "Excuse me?"

She laughed, hugging Zell as well. "Donít shit your pants, Zell. God, you are sooo jealous..."

The tattooed blonde frowned. "Youíre one to talk."

Selphie made a face. "Hmmm, I know where youíre going with that, and you can stop right there." She paused. "Se, where is he?"

Seifer strugged. "I donít know. We just got here."

"Oh..." She trailed off, hiding her disappointment in a bright smile. "How are you two doing?"

Zell smiled gently. "He gives good head, so I think Iíll keep him around for a while..."

"Oh, thanks," Seifer muttered, rolling his clear blue eyes. He looked across the room, seeing two familiar faces. "Excuse me..." He ran a palm down Zellís arm, then went towards his old friends.

After Seifer was out of earshot, Selphie cocked here head. "Howís he doing?"

"Fine," Zell answered, his eyes following his loverís movements.

"How do you think heíll react when he sees Matron?" Quistis asked, obvious concern in her voice.

"I donít know," Zell mused. "I donít think Seifer knows, either. Even if it does bring up a lot of things. I think heíll handle it... At least for now..."

Selphie nodded, crossing hier arms over the front of her sleeveless black dress. The slightly flaired skirt moved with her motion. Her face lit up once more, her emerald eyes glittering. "So, are you two planning on getting married?"

"What?!" Zellís brow furrowed slightly. "Where did you hear that?"

Selphie waved her hand. "No, no, nowhere. I was just wondering..."

"Have you two thought of it?" Quistis wondered aloud, brushing some lint off her crimson suit.

"Not really..." Zell murmured. He looked over to where Seifer was, a distant smile on his face. He began to wonder what it would be like to be married to Seifer. Bonded forever. Would it be any different than the way they were living now? Zell didnít think it would. He felt warm as he saw Seiferís beautiful face light up up in a bright smile as Raijin embraced him.

"I guess itís something to consider, isnít it?" Zell whispered.

Seifer made a choking noise in the back of his throat as Raijin tightly hugged him. "Youíre going to break my rib cage."

"Sorry, ya know..." He trailed off, releasing the blonde.

Seifer gave him a wry grin. He took in Raijinís appearance. This was the first time Seifer had seen his burly friend in a suit. The deep gray wool was tailored to fit his burly body, and actualy made Raijin look distinguished. Seifer also noticed that Raijinís eyebrow was now pierced four times instead of just one.

Seifer then kissed Fujinís pale cheek. She wasnít wearing her eyepatch, and her milky white, unpainted glass eye was visible. It didnít really surprise Seifer, but, rather impressed him. It showed that Fujin had more confidence in her appearance. Her hair was still silvery and shaggy, but now brushing against her shoulders in stylish, jagged layers. The scarred blonde wasnít surprised that Fujin was wearing pants. She had always hated dresses. The pants suit was black, and tailored. The knee length coat had stylish bell sleeves and thin lapels. The coat was unbuttoned to the middle of Fujinís ribcage, and showed much of the flesh of her milky chest. She wasnít wearing anything under the coat, and her cleavage was showing.

"How are you?" She asked, giving Seifer a stern, yet concerned look. "We didnít expect you to come..."

"Well, Zell can be very persuasive," Seifer commented, blushing slightly.

"Iím glad that you two are still together," Fujin said, looping her arm through Raijinís. "Squall told us you were getting better."

Seifer raised an eyebrow. "What, you donít believe me when I tell you that Iím fine?"

"The phone can only tell you so much, ya know?!" Raijin responded.

"So, you guys talk to Squall a lot?"

Fujin nodded. "Since I became head of President Loireís security, weíve seen Squall a lot." It had been a year since Laguna had hired her to head the Palace security. It was a well paying job, and Laguna was a very easy going boss.

"Actually," Raijin began, lowering his voice. "He spends a lot of time in Esthar, and I donít think itís all because he wants to spend a lot of time with his father, ya know?!"

What, hiding from a certain Rinoa?" Seifer asked.

Raijin nodded, looking behind Seifer. "Well, speak of the devil..."

They all looked to see Squall approaching them, a pensive look on his pretty face. His floor length navy blue velvet coat swirled around him with his steps, looking like water compared to his black suit pants and dress shirt. A few buttons of the shirt were open revealing Squallís pale throat. He had a Martini in one of his gloved hands.

Squall stopped beside Seifer, a dark look in his stormy eyes. He raked his gaze over Seifer, who looked more than elegant in his oriental style black coat. The hem, which reached Seiferís calves, was embossed with gold dragons. The shirt he wore under the black suit was the same amber that the dragons were. "You know, if I were gay, Iíd want to fuck you right now..." Squall trailed off, looking at the tall blonde. "And, believe me, Iím considering it..." He took a drink of his Martini.

"Oh, probems with the Princess?" Seifer asked. "Since this afternoon?"

"Iím starting to realize how horrible women are..." Squall muttered. "Present company excluded."

Fujin nodded, rolling her crimson eye. "Well, I should hope you donít put me in the same category as Rinoa."

"What happened this time?" Raijin asked, nodding as Zell approached them. "Whatís up, Zell?"

The small martial artist smiled, kissing Fujinís cheek and quickly hugging Raijin. He looked at Squall. "Whoa, what happened?"

"Rinoa happened," Squall muttered, nibbling on his olive. "She says Iím not attentive enough. Plus, she thinks Iím uncaring to her concerns. I am, but she has no right to make that assumption."

"You used to think that you two were made for each other," Fujin mused. "Rinoa canít be all bad."

Squall shook his head, brushing some of his shaggy, auburn hair out of his face. "No, sheís not all bad. Fuck, I make it sound like sheís Ultimecia or something..." He sighed. "Weíre just so different. I donít think we were ever meant to be a couple."

Raijin raised an eyebrow when he noticed that both Seifer and Zell were checking Squall out. The stoic SeeD noticed Raijinís look, and smirked. "You guys are checking me out.."

Zell blushed, while Seifer just rolled his eyes.

"What do you expect?" Seifer asked, looking at Squall again. "If you didnít want to be stared at, you shouldnít have dressed that way...."

Squall smirked mischievously. "Oh, I didnít say I was complaining. Ogle me, ogle me. Hey, why arenít you pissed at each other for staring at another man?"

Zell chuckled, picking up a couple of champagne glasses from a waiterís tray. He handed one to Seifer. "Well, heís going home with me, not you, so itís okay. Plus, I was doing it, too."

Squall grimaced, taking another Martini from a waiter. "Well, lately, I havenít been able to go home with anyone."

"Uh, hi... Seifer, everyone..."

They turned away from their conversation to see Rinoa standing behind them. Her hands were clasped in front of her. She looked very pretty in a baby blue dress that reached to her calves. There was a slit up the side that showed off some of her shapely leg. The bodice of the dress clung to her body, with a neckline that went straight across her chest, just above her cleavage. The straps looked like silk ribbons. "Iím glad you came, Seifer. Itís been a while."

Seifer nodded, narrowing his eyes slightly in confusion. "Yeah, it has... You look lovely."

She blushed, tucking a lock of raven hair behind her ear that had fallen out of her bun. "Thank you." She looked over at Squall, who was just watching her, his eyes stormy over the top of his Martini glass. "Would you like to dance?"

Seifer blinked a few times in surprise. "Uh...okay...."

Rinoa grinned, shooting a look to Squall. "Thank you for being so... courteous." She followed Seifer to the dance floor.

"Bitch," Squall whispered, popping an olive in his mouth. "Does she really think that dancing with Seifer will make me jealous? Iíd rather dance with Seifer than with her..."

Zell looked over at his friend, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh, donít worry, Zell. Iíd dance with you, too. Actually, Iíd like to be in a Seifer and Zell sandwich..." He grinned, finishing his drink.

"I didnít think things were this bad..." Fujin mused. "You and Rinoa act so...."

"Married?" Squall offered. He looked across the room. "Hey, itís Irvine." He lazily pointed. The cowboy was dressed in a classic navy suit with a silver shirt and navy tie. "Do you think he and Selphie will wind up in the sack?"

Zell shrugged. "I know that Irvine will try like mad. I just fucking hope he doesnít try to fuck her in our bed..."

"What?" Squall asked, his eyebrows shooting up. "Heís tried to fuck people in your bed before?!"

Raijin laughed quietly. "Youíre still mad about that? That must have been three years ago, ya know?!"

Zell made a face. "How would you feel if... Laguna or someone had sex in your bed?"

Fujin raised the eyebrow over her glass eye. "I donít see why he would. He and Kiros have a bigger bed than we do..."

Squall scrunched his face up. "Can we please not talk about my fatherís sex life?!"

Raijin laughed. "I think this is a perfect cue to leave, ya know?! Fujin, my dear, would you care to dance?"

"Iíd love to," She smirked at Squall and Zell as Raijin led her to the dance floor.

"So, did you get Irvine back?" Squall asked. "Did you and Seifer fuck in his bed?"

Zell snickered. "Oh, we did. Seifer and I have had sex on every piece of furniture in that apartment."

"Really?" Squall raised his eyebrows, an interested look on his beautiful face. "Now, why canít Rinoa and I have sex in interesting and unusual places?" Squall frowned. "I sometimes wonder if sheís got a vagina at all."

"So," Rinoa began, marveling at how good a dancer Seifer was. He had always been good, but it had been a while since she had danced with him. It had been a while since she had danced with anyone. Squall didnít seem interested in dancing with her anymore. "You seem to be handling things well...."

"Things?" Seifer asked.

"You know, being back in Balamb, the thought of seeing Edea again..."

"I canít put it off forever, now can I?" Seifer asked, looking down into Rinoaís heart-shaped face. "You donít seem to be enjoying yourself."

"Well, itís hard to when Squall doesnít even acknowledge that I exist..." She sighed. "I mean, Iím trying my hardest. I really thought he had changed..."

Seifer nodded absently, looking over to Squall and Zell, who were conversing. Both men looked over at Seifer. Squall made a face, taking a sip of his champagne, while Zell merely smiled at him, a seductive move of his lips that went straight to Seiferís heart. He always was grateful to have Zell, but, on some occasions, like this moment, it hit him full force how lucky he was, how beautiful Zell was, how much Seifer was in love with the youthful blonde.

Rinoa sighed again, turning Seiferís attention back to her. "I mean, like today. When I got back from Timber, I had actually been scared, and Squall just shrugged it off."

"The hooded woman?" Seifer asked, his attention now fully on the petite, raven-haired girl. "Squall mentioned it."

Rinoa nodded. "I just had this really bad feeling.. and he totally blew me off. I wouldnít make up something like seeing Ultimecia again!"

Seiferís grip on Rinoaís hand tightened slightly. "Ultimecia...?"

Rinoa paused, sensing Seiferís tension. "Well, I know that it wasnít her, but this woman gave me the same feeling. The same recognition of her magic. And, the amber eyes. I mean, her face was covered, but I could see the yellow.. at least for a moment. It unnerved me, and Squall doesnít give a crap..."

Seifer sighed. "I think youíre trying too hard..."

"Am I?" Rinoa cocked her head. She made a disappointed noise in the back of her throat when the song stopped. "I had forgotten how good of a dancer you were..." She trailed off, noticing a change in Seiferís expression. His face went from a mask of bored complacency to helplessness. Rinoaís coffee-brown eyes followed Seiferís gaze. He was looking beyond Rinoa, staring at the person who just walked in the room.

Edea looked up, sensing eyes on her. Familiar eyes. She knew that gaze. Knew it without having to look up. Those endless sky blue eyes, staring helplessly at her. The same helpless gaze that had haunted her for the past four years. The eyes that wouldnít leave her dreams, the eyes that plagued her nightmares, that reminded her of all her inadequacies, how she couldnít protect him, couldnít protect herself. Seifer was staring at her, frozen like a deer. He looked so fragile, so beautiful. He had matured into his face, and was almost ethereal in his beauty, and yet, Edea could see the frightened child that she had sworn to pretect all those years agao, the child that she had promised to protect. Edea failed with her... She wasnít supposed to fail with Seifer.

Seifer felt like he was frozen on the spot. He hadnít known how he was going to react when he first laid eyes on Edea. And now, he couldnít move. All he could see was her golden brown eyes, flecked with amber, the amber he would never be able to forget. All he could see was her pale flesh, so white against the dimmed lighting of the background. All he could see was her dress. Red. So red. He just stared at the dress, the colour of the scarlet fabric blinding him, filling his vision. The dress had a sleeveless bodice, and looked very old fashioned, and was laced up with gold ribbon, crisscrossing over her chest, looking very antique. The dress pushed up her cleavage, causing more men than just Seifer to stare at her. The skirt flared out, the red velvet billowing off her shapely hips. So Red. He was snapped back into reality when someone bumped into him. Even when he looked away from Edeaís dress, he could see the red, burning his retinas.

The Sorceress walked towards her former Knight, almost afraid to approach him. What he must have suffered at her hands, what he must have still been suffering. How much baggage did he still carry? As much as Edea herself? She notice that Cid didnít try to follow her. Her husband knew how important it was for her to see Seifer, to face him. For the past month, for as long as the plans for Cidís reception had been finalized, she had been hoping Seifer would come. Every step seemed to take an eternity What would she say? She was at a loss. Edea had planned a million things to say, but they all left her head.

Zell looked away from Squall, who was on his fourth Martini. The sour look on his face deepened as Rinoa came towards them. "Well, sheís in a hurry," Squall muttered.

"I think youíre tipsy..." Zell scanned the room for Seifer. He was about to say something, but his mouth stopped when he saw Seifer. "Well, I think I found out why Rinoa left so fast.." He pointed, showing Squall.

"Hey, guys! Edeaís here!" Rinoa exclaimed, stopping beside her boyfriend.

"Well, obviously.." Squall muttered, swigging some of his drink.

"Why are you so hostile?" Rinoa demanded, her hands on her hips.

"Iím not hostile..." Squall muttered, popping a cocktail onion in his mouth. "Iím drunk."

Zell rolled his eyes, mostly ignoring the arguing couple. He was worried about Seifer, worried what was going to happen, how Seifer would react to seeing his former Mistress. He wanted to run over and comfort Seifer, give him moral support, tell him he loved him and always would. Zell shook his head, blowing his breath up into his bangs, which were falling in his icy eyes. It was better that Seifer deal with this himself. If Seifer needed him, Seifer would tell him.

"Hello, Seifer..." Edea greeted timidly, her normally calm, throaty voice shaking with her nervousness.

"Edea," Seifer whispered. He didnít know if she could hear it.

She could. She smiled sadly. "Itís been a while..."

Seifer nodded, his breath caught in his throat. All he could see was the red. It felt so familiar, looked so familiar.

"We may as well get out of the middle of the floor," Edea commented, walking beside Seifer to one of the tables. She didnít want to lead him. She watched as he sat down, his clear gaze always on her, always watching her. She sat across from him, her hands clasped in front of her on the table.

Seifer noticed the small red blossoms that adorned Edeaís mahogany hair, which was pulled into a loose, yet elegant bun. The flowers werenít roses, and he couldnít place what they were, but they felt familiar, as familiar as the red of her dress. "So, what are you and Cid planning now that Quistis is going to be the Headmaster?"

Edea sighed, fiddling with a ring on her finger. "Work at the Orphanage."

"You reopened it?"

"Yes..." Edea cocked her head. "I want to make up for the horrible lives that Orphans seem to go through. And, this way, it fills a hole..."

"What, because you couldnít have children?"

"Yes..." Edea mused. She waved a hand. "Enough about that... How are you?"

Seifer blinked a few times. "Iím fine.. I guess..."

"You donít sound very sure. Are you and Zell having problems? I heard that you were still together. Cid told me...."

"Oh, no, Zell and I are perfectly happy. Perfect..." He trailed off, looking around the room. When he saw Zell, he couldnít help but smile. "Weíre happier than some couples..."

"You mean Squall and Rinoa?" She smiled, noticing the change in Seiferís countenance when Zell was mentioned. "Iíve noticed they arenít as close as they once were...."

"Theyíre just... too different." Seifer trailed off, looking at her dress again. Those clothes. The Red Clothes.

"Seifer?" Edea asked, noticing the distance in his eyes. She then noticed something about Seifer. Something... different. It wasnít necessarily something wrong, just something...off. A different aura than he should have had. It felt familiar.

Seifer was in his own little world, somewhat oblivious to the fact that Edea had spoken to him.

"Seifer? What is it?" Edea asked again, her concern rising.

"Xerampelinae," he whispered. After he said it, he blinked a few times, the word that escaped his lips making no sense to him. He looked at Edea again, seeing her for what seemed like the first time that night. "Iím sorry," he apologized. "I donít know what came over me." He laughed sheepishly.

"Xerampelinae..." Edea repeated, the word barely coming out. She then noticed that what she had been feeling about Seifer was gone. It had felt so familiar, something she hadnít felt in years, not since she had been around.

"What does that mean? I have no idea what it means..." Seifer cocked his head, looking at his former Matron. "Do you know what it means? Iíve never heard the word before... Why would I just blurt it out like that?"

Edea shrugged, feeling like a train had hit her. Xerampelinae had been a word, a name she hadnít heard in a long time.

"Does it have something to do with Ultimecia?" Seifer asked, looking closer at Edea. He could see something behind her eyes. Recognition. "It does, doesnít it?"

The Sorceress opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when Cid tapped her on the shoulder.

"Theyíre starting..." He trailed off, giving Seifer a warm smile. "Hello, Seifer."

The blonde nodded. "Hello, Headmaster."

Cid chuckled. "Well, after tonight, you wonít have to call me that anymore."

"Seifer... Is it okay if we talk afterwards?"

"Yes, itís fine..." Seifer replied, watching her go. What, or who was Xerampelinae? He sighed deeply.


He looked up as he heard Zell gently saying his name. "Oh, hey, sweetie," he greeted distantly.

Zellís brow furrowed in concern as he sat down. "What happened? What did she say to you?"

"What?" Seifer looked up from the table which he had been staring intently at. "Oh, itís nothing. It wasnít anything she said. It was more something I said..."

Zell gripped Seiferís hand under the table. "What did you say?"

"The stupid thing is... I donít know. Iíve never heard the word before... but, it sounds so familiar..." He paused. "I donít even know who, or what, a Xerampelinae is."

Zell frowned, something clicking in his mind. "Xerampelinae..."

Seifer nodded, raising an eyebrow, noting the distant look on his boyfriendís face. "Yeah.... What?"

"Xerampelinae... Where have I heard that before?"

"Youíve heard it?!" Seiferís arched eyebrows shot up. "Where the fuck would you have heard it?"

"I donít know..." Zell mused.

"Edea seemed to know. I think it might have something to do with Ultimecia..."

Zell snapped his fingers. "Thatís where I heard it before!"

"Huh?" The scarred blonde lowered his voice as the reception began.

"There was a painting in Ultimeciaís castle called Xerampelinae. I remember it now. The Red Clothes."

"Red Clothes?" Seifer frowned. "Edeaís red dress... Was Xerampelinae a woman?"

Zell nodded. "I remembered the painting over all the other ones because she looked like you...."

"Who looked like Seifer?" Squall asked from his seated position beside his former rival.

Zell waved his hand. "We should talk about this later... The reception is starting."

Seifer opened his mouth to protest, but closed it as Cid stepped up to the podium. Seifer tried to pay attention to what his former Headmaster was saying, but his mind was reeling. Who was Xerampelinae? Was she related to him? Was she someone from his past? Seifer couldnít remember much about his childhood, at least, nothing before Edeaís Orphanage. Was this depiction reality, or was she just fantasy? How did Xerampelinae connect to Ultimecia, and how did Edea know her? Could this mean that Edea knew about his family? Seifer wanted to stand up in the middle of the reception and scream at Edea for answers, beg his former Mistress to tell him what she knew. Maybe she hadnít looked like him at allÖ Maybe it was only in Zellís eyes, in Zellís imagination. Did this Xerampelinae woman have something to do with why Ultimecia had chosen him? And why would something as simple as Red Clothes create such a strange reaction in Seifer? He wanted answers.

Seifer was lost in his thoughts, but something made his skin crawl, but not in a totally unpleasant way. It was like he was reacting to power, to magic. It was the same sort of feeling that Seifer would experience when magic was cast on him. The same strong power moving over his skin. It also resembled the feeling he had experience when he was around Edea in the heyday of her Sorcery, or Ultimecia. The aura wasnít as dark as Utlimeciaís had been , but it was just as powerful. It also felt familiarÖ Strangely familiar.

After Seifer and himself had stopped talking, Zell had retreated into his own mind. He felt guilty for not telling Seifer about the Xerampelinae painting sooner. He had justÖ forgotten. Considering all that had happenedj, that wasnít surprising. What, with Time Compression, Seifer being raped by a rotting corpse that resembled Zell, and having to defeat Ultimecia, something like a painting fell by the wayside. The woman in the painting had looked so much like Seifer.. So , why had Edea caused Seifer to say it? Simply because of the red dress? Zell reached under the table, squeezing Seiferís hand affectionately, to show that he was concerned, supportive. He smiled as he felt Seifer squeeze back. Even simple touches and caresses still sent warm, electrical chills down Zellís spine, just like the first few times he and Seifer had touched. Zell also enjoyed the familiarity he felt with his tall lover. Zell knew Seifer inside out, and vice versa. Zellís distant, pleasant lamentations were interrupted by a chill that passed over his skin, like a cold draft. It also had an electrical, crackling feel to it. Like magic. Zell couldnít place where exactly the sensation was coming from. It seemed to be all around him, but not stiflingly so. It somewhat reminded Zell of the crackling energy barrier that Ultimecia had placed between himself and Seifer during the corpse incident. But, it didnít have the same dark, foreboding feeling. Zell raised his head slightly, wondering were it was coming from.

Squall frowned into his Martini, casting a cool, sidelong glance to Rinoa, who was staring straight ahead, her arms folded across her breasts. She looked so fucking smug, like she was so much better than Squall was. He conceded the fact that she looked very beautiful, but he couldnít really see it. All he could see was the nagging, the woman underneath who caused him nothing but problems. And, she was such a priss. He couldnĎt remember the last time he had really enjoyed sex with her. She was very reserved in bed, and wouldnít even give head. Squall was more than willing to be experimental, but Rinoa wouldnít have it. She had actually smacked him when he wanted her to dress in a Police Officerís outfit. He was sick of everything being so mundane, so.. Routine. Squall had bitched to everyone around him about his relationship with Rinoa. Quistis had just said he was "frustrated, and blowing everything out of proportion." Was that it? Was he just making all of Rinoaís faults bigger than they were? He shook his head. Well, no matter how much he bitched about Rinoa, Seifer seemed to agree with him. He looked at his former rival, who was sitting beside him, looking pensive and distant. Why couldnít his relationship with Rinoa be like Seifer and Zellís relationship? They werenít only lovers, but best friends. He would never consider Rinoa to be his best friend in a million years. In his stupor, Squall felt electricity crawl over his flesh, tickling him like a powerful caterpillar. As he sipped his drink, he wondered where it was coming from. It actually felt nice, almost sensual, sexual. It reminded him of the feeling of being around a powerful Sorceress, like Edea, like Adel, like Ultimecia. It wasnítí as murky as Adelís aura. It felt dark, but not in the same way. It also felt more powerful, in Ultimeciaís stratosphere. He wondered where it was coming from, if it was really there, or if all his drinks were finally catching up with him.

Edea smiled up at her husband as he began to speak. She was glad that they would be able to spend more time together. She was also looking forward to returning her attentions to her Orphanage. Edea knew that Quistis would make an excellent Headmaster, and was more than capable of filling Cidís shoes. She had been extremely apprehensive about his night, most of her uneasiness surrounding Seifer. It had mostly been blown away. Seifer seemed happy with ZellÖ more than happy. She was glad that they had finally found each other. Even when they had been children, despite the arguing, the fights, they had always had a strong connection. The Sorceress would have been totally satisfied, except for Seiferís reaction, his whisper of Xerampelinae. Edea had hoped he would never remember Xera. She had hoped she would never have to remember. When Ultimecia had controlled her, Edea had been initially afraid that memories of Xerampelinae would surface... but it hadnít. Ultimecia had been as unwilling to think of Xera, think of her as Edea had been. Ultimecia hadnít even used Xerampelinae against Seifer. The Red clad woman had been a sore spot, a reminder of the Queen of the Dead. Edea shook her head. She shouldnít have worn the red dress. But, she hadnít expected Seifer to blurt out her name like that.

The smile faltered on Edeaísí stunning face as she felt something in the room. A presence. Power. Electricity. Magic. It was familiar. It canít beÖ Edea mentally trailed off. She looked over at Cid, who was still addressing the room, oblivious to the feeling that Edea was sensing. She looked out into the crowd of tables, scanning the faces with her golden brown gaze. She looked at the table that her children were occupying. Selphie was trying not to stare at Irvine, and Irvine was trying not to stare at Selphie. Squallís girlfriend, Rinoa, the former Sorceress, looked pensive and angry, her dark gaze shooting daggers at Squall. The auburn-haired SeeD had told Edea that they were having problems, yet again. She ten noticed the looked on Squallís almost pretty face. He looked pensive as he drank from his Martini glass. But, he also looked liked he felt something, like he was looking for someone, unsure if he was feeling a presence. She looked beside Squall, to Seifer and Zell. Both looked pensive, thoughtful. She could also see that they were holding hands under the table. Edea felt happy for them, then furrowed her brow, noticing that Seifer seemed to sense something, sense what Edea herself had felt. Edea then realized that the earlier sensation she had felt from Seifer was almost identical to the current feeling in the room.

Thatís when Edea saw that movement at the back of the room, the shadow fluttering in the doorway. Nobody else noticed, or cared. But, suddenly, it was all Edea could see. She was wearing a long black cloak, darker than ever the shadows. It looked like a black hole in the back of the room. She had the hood down, which showed she wanted to been seen, but was also confident in the fact that she wouldnít be noticed. There was a gently, soft smirk on her slightly thin lips as her eyes met Edeaís. She nodded slightly, her breast length, slightly curly hair bobbing with the movement, the coppery sheen shining in the limited light. Her hair was like a gradient, dark at the root, a deep brownish auburn, like cherry stained wood, showing her natural colour, melting into the coppery blonde sheen, making her look so much more like him. Her large hazel eyes looked straight at Edea, the green flecks in her irises cracking with power. It had been so long since Edea had seen her. So long.. And the family resemblance was striking. She was striking. Her hands came out from under the black, black fabric of her cloak as Cid finished talking. Edeaís breath caught in her throat, but the hands simply came together, clapping along with the rest. Her beautiful face looked calm and serene, watchful as she observed the room. Is this why Seifer had whispered the word Xerampelinae? Not because of Edeaís red gown, but because she was there?

The beautiful hazel eyes scanned the room, her eyes stopping on the back of Seiferís head. Even from this distance, Edea could see the mournful recognition in her eyes, the green flecks slightly softening. Would she try to talk to him, take him? Had Seifer sensed her presence? Had her remembered more than just Xerampelinae? Edea wanted to stand up and run to her, but was too afraid to draw attention to the tall woman. What did she wasnít? Why was she here? Edeaís slender eyebrows shot up as Seiferís head raised, as if he felt her watching him.

Seifer blinked a few times, feeling something he hadnít felt in a long time, something he couldnítí even remember feeling. It felt warm. Familiar, mingling with the electricity that was crawling over his skin. Like it was coming from the same person. For a moment, it felt like he could smell fire, feel fire, hot against his face, all around him. The memory burning his mind. Fire. Everywhere. The fear being quelled by the strong hand of his sister. Lilly. Lillith.

"LillithÖ." He whispered, raising his head. His eyes stopped on Edea, who was staring behind him, to the back of the room, a strange look on her pale face. It looked like she had seen a ghost. Seifer turned his head, looking in the direction that his former Mistress was staring. He looked to the doorway, seeing a flutter of shadow, but nothing more. They energy that was crackling in the air was fading. Even though the doorway, the spot where Edea was staring was empty. Even though there was nothing there, Seifer sensed that there had been someone there. Why would he think of Lillith, a womanÖ a girl he had only dreamed of once? For that fact, why had he thought of Xerampelinae, whomever she was? Seifer felt like something had been unlocked in him. What had been let out?

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