By Scarlet Fever
Seifer stretched in his chair, yawning. He'd been hunched over his computer for the past six or seven hours. He hadn't been absent from work that long, but the paperwork had really piled up. Xera had taken good care of the store, but there was stuff that she couldn't do, and just left it for Seifer. He'd been back in Timber for a week now, and was only now just starting to catch up. Though all this paperwork was a pain in the ass, the past week really had been.... great. It felt nice to have someone at the house with him, someone that he was sharing a bed with. Though, there were a few issues. There was no problem between Seifer and Zell per se, but it was more an issue of Zell himself. They weren't spending that much time together because Seifer was so busy at work, so that meant that Zell had to find ways to fill the time by himself, and now that he didn't have his job at Garden, he really didn't know how to fill that time. He spent a lot of it sleeping. When he wasn't sleeping, he was working out. Or, he was napping. Or, he was cleaning. Or moping. Seifer knew that it hadn't been much time at all, but he didn't want to see Zell just shuffling around and feeling sorry for himself.
Seifer rested his chin in his palm, staring blankly at the computer monitor. The numbers were all starting to meld into one. He tried to think only of paperwork, because getting distracted would just make Seifer want to abandon it. He was the boss; he didn't have time to daydream about his boyfriend. His boyfriend.... Seifer couldn't help but smirk at his own silliness. He was a grown man, and here he was smiling and blushing like a school girl. He settled in and started doing yet more margin reports. After a while, there was a gentle knock on the door. When the office door was opened, he could see that the sun was setting outside. It was probably near closing time.
"Hey, boss." Xera leaned on the door frame. "Gonna take off now. You've got a visitor, though."
Seifer's ears perked up and he wheeled his chair around so he was facing Xera. He was expecting to see Zell, for who else would visit at closing time, but there was a big part of him that was hoping it was Fujin. He'd left a message for her telling her he was back in town, but hadn't heard anything from her yet. Fujin's silence cut Seifer deeply.
But, it was neither Fujin nor Zell. Seifer's face remained blank as he found himself looking at Squall. "So...?" Xera asked. "Is it okay if I lock up now?"
"It's fine." Seifer stared at Squall coolly. Squall just stared back blankly. They didn't utter a word as they both heard Xera putter around and lock things up. They didn't even speak after she'd left. After a while, Seifer was the one who broke the silence first. "Well....?" He gestured with a hand, waiting for Squall to explain himself.
"I came to speak with you." Squall had his left wrist clasped with his right hand, his hands clad in his usual black leather gloves. He was wearing a pale grey sweater that set off the paleness of his eyes.
"Really? This should be good." Seifer gave an expectant little smile.
"I'm sure you could speak with Zell about your problems. I'm not going to be a mediator between you two."
"You know very well that he would slam the door in my face."
"I can't blame him," Seifer replied, his voice raising in anger. "You sure did fuck him over."
"I couldn't think of myself as Zell's friend at that moment."
"Oh, oh!" Seifer threw his head back and laughed. "Yes, that's right. Squall the loyal, Squall the follower. You never could think for yourself."
"Garden has rules, Seifer. Not that you'd ever understand that. You never found a rule that you cared to follow."
"If you knew anything about me, you'd know that's not entirely true. I'm surprised at you, Squall. You had a real insight to me when we were in the heyday of our 'rivalry'." Seifer did air quotation marks to emphasize the misuse of the word in their situation. "You knew that there were some rules that were very important to me."
"Only the ones that suited you."
"Only the ones that were right!" Seifer glared angrily at Squall, who now stood with his arms crossed. "Do you really think I cared about doing meaningless tasks that Instructors gave to make themselves feel big? Do you really think that the rules on tardiness are worth caring about?"
"It's not up to you to pick and choose which rules to follow."
"Stupid school crap is nothing compared to real world situations, Squall. Rules and textbooks don't apply there."
"Oh, are you saying you obeyed mission rules?" Squall asked quietly. "Like the Dollet mission? I seem to recall you failing yet again because of that little run of rule-breaking."
Seifer's face paled in anger. "Do you think you'd even be in a position now to be like that cunt Xu and sit up on your high-horse and deem yourself better than your friends and comrades if it weren't for me leaving my post? Or, maybe you wouldn't exist because Time Compression would have happened if we'd just sat on our thumbs in that square. Maybe you wouldn't have been sent to Timber and met your precious Rinoa."
Squall briefly looked away, collecting himself. "You're arrogant enough to think that single moment changed everything?"
"Of course it changed everything. Didn't you learn anything from what happened, Squall? Or, did you only learn how to be complacent and take the standard for granted?"
Squall remained silent, but Seifer read the frown on his face to mean that Squall didn't know what Seifer was getting at.
"Everything changes based on simple actions. Time's fickle like that. Everything happens because of a tiny sliver in time, the smallest of actions. I don't think you realize the impact of what you did to Zell."
"What does that have to do with the 'standard', if I may?"
"We shocked the hell out of you, Zell and me. You hated that. You hate that more than the fact that Zell sleeps in my bed with me, and lets me touch his body. It changed your image of Zell, and you despise that."
"How dare you profess to know how I feel..."
"And, how dare you come here to talk to me about Zell!" Seifer shouted, rising to his feet. Squall took a step back because he was very familiar with the temper of Seifer Almasy. "I know you want me to talk to him on your behalf, Squall. I can see it all over your face. You may be a master of burying your emotions, but you can't hide them from me. I know you too well. You should have done what you thought was right, not what your sense of duty thought was right."
"Do the two have to be different?"
"Your answer right there is the reason that Zell will probably never forgive you. You just don't get it."
"I want Zell to hear my point of view."
"I won't stop you from talking to him. Despite what you may think, I want you and Zell to be friends, because I know how much he cares about you. No, rather how much he loves you. And, because he's miserable, and it has nothing to do with losing his job. Losing his job wouldn't make him cry."
Squall pursed his lips. He'd seen Zell bluster and rage and show millions of emotions in the years, but he'd never seen the other man cry. Not once. There were a lot of things that Squall was sure that Zell kept private, and that part of him was one of them. The same, Squall supposed, as his sexual desires. "I had to appear impartial..."
"Do you think Quistis cared about being impartial? Or even Cid and Nida? No, because not only did they think Zell was a great asset to Garden and good at what he did, but they also didn't care about things that didn't affect his job at all. And, you know.... you may have done what you thought 'was right', but you really just fell into Xu's hands."
"Not everything is about the shit between you and Xu."
"No, I agree. It sure as fucking hell started out as her vendetta against me, but it didn't end that way. You made sure of that. Zell could have lived with working alongside Xu after this, even though she used him like a pawn, but he couldn't stand to be near you after you betrayed him like that. He gave his entire life to Garden, and you didn't consider that. You only cared about what he was doing behind closed doors with me."
"You murdered Odine!" Squall pointed out sharply, also starting to lose his temper. Things had been pretty tense for Squall in the past week. He knew he was still being watched by people he wasn't entirely sure were even human, he hadn't left Balamb on the best terms with Rinoa, and Selphie was being extremely cold with him since the Garden Tribunal. Irvine was being polite and civil, but it felt forced. Not to mention that the Blackballers were still making Timber a dangerous place. Seifer's orders for weapons had increased ten-fold because of the fear and paranoia that the former drug addicts were instilling in Timber's residents. Squall definitely wasn't as calm and collected as he usually was. And, quite frankly.... he missed Zell. A lot. Squall had sort of taken their friendship for granted, thought that Zell would always be around when he needed him. And boy, did Squall need him now. He needed someone to 'talk' to about Rinoa's pregnancy, and his feelings of being stalked. Squall usually didn't lose control of himself like this, but there had been times in the past where he'd felt like the weight of everything around him was going to crush him.
Squall remembered the day before his wedding to Rinoa, where he'd wondered if it was the right thing, if he was getting himself into a huge mess, if Rinoa was even right for him because she drove him nuts sometimes. And, Zell hadn't said anything to him, or prodded him at all. Squall hadn't said a word to Zell, and had only paced back and forth in Zell's room at his mother's house. But, Zell had been there all the same, and the only thing he'd done was give Squall a hug. It had made Squall feel calm and safe, because the hug was so free of judgement or ill feelings, and only about friendship and had said more than hours of talking could have. Didn't Zell know that Squall had wrestled with himself over the decision? He couldn't show partiality. The Tribunal was something that had been assigned to him based on his ability to disconnect his feelings from the situation. He'd had to do what was right for Garden, but Seifer's words and his own feelings were starting to make Squall hot with the panic over what he'd done.
Squall had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't noticed the silence on Seifer's part. Squall saw that Seifer was still staring at him, but not really staring at him. He was staring somewhere beyond Squall, beyond the room. Maybe beyond this moment in time. His face looked pale, but it wasn't because of anger this time. He looked haunted. When Seifer spoke next, his voice was very quiet and subdued. Most people would have never heard Seifer Almasy's voice take on that tone, but Squall had heard it a few times, especially during Seifer's disastrous role as Ultimecia's Knight. "Do you think that I've forgotten what I've done? Do you think I enjoy thinking about what I did? Do you think it was pre-meditated?"
"Save it," Seifer snapped. "I know which people I need forgiveness from, and you aren't one of them." Seifer went over to the door and held it open. "If you want to talk to Zell, talk to Zell. Don't do it through me."
Squall tried to stare Seifer down, but the taller man was having none of that. Most people eventually looked away when Squall stared at them like that for too long. Seifer never had. In fact, Squall was the first one to break the gaze. He left the store without another word, without a backwards glance. When he stepped on the sidewalk, now cast in night shadows, he felt intensely alone. Normally, Squall could bear the solitude quite well, but not tonight. These were moments when he knew Rinoa had changed his life profoundly. He looked around, eyes searching for the nearest pay telephone. When he found it, he put in some coin and dialled a number intimately familiar to him, because it was his own. The phone rang five or six times, Squall standing very still and not tapping his foot or drumming his fingers like any other person would do in a moment of impatience. He just stood there and let it ring.
"Hello, you've reached Squall and Rinoa," her voice answered, recorded onto their answering machine. "Please leave a message at the tone, and we'll get back to you." It wasn't a very interesting message, but whenever Rinoa wanted to make a creative one, Squall always just changed it to something even blander than her pleasant voice, which she thought sounded too much like a message on a big-business machine.
"Rinoa, answer the phone," Squall said tersely. "I don't want to talk to the machine."
Squall was also silent, so he was sure he was using up a lot of their memory space. "Pick up, Rinoa."
He leaned against the phone booth. "Rinoa, goddammit. Pick up the phone. Look....." He struggled for words. "I know I was a jerk, but.....I wanna hear your voice."
Squall just sighed and hung up. He took the nearest trolley to his apartment, which used to be Zell's rented apartment. Zell had gotten there before Squall, so the place had been cleaned out of all his belongings. Selphie and Irvine were in the living room watching TV, the connecting door opened. Selphie looked up and glared at Squall. Normally her face was so full of cheer and friendliness, but not then. She stared at him, and her face was alien to him, that of a stranger. Irvine just gave him a wilting smile, but turned back to the TV, his gaze not comfortable meeting Squall's.
He sighed heavily, going into his rented bedroom. It felt very empty and alone compared to the Balamb bedroom that he shared with Rinoa. Squall took off his clothes until he was in just a T-shirt and boxer shorts and flopped down on the bed, staring at the wallpaper for a while. He reached for the phone on the nightstand and dialled his number again. The machine picked up, but this time Squall didn't talk to a machine or dead air. He just hung up, but kept the phone in his hand, curling it against his chest. He fell into a fitful sleep after a while, wondering if Rinoa would call him back, if Zell would ever even let him explain himself, or if he would stop feeling like he was being watched.
Seifer sighed, tossing his keys onto the small table in the corner of the hallway by the front door. A visit from Squall definitely wasn't the way he'd wanted to end the evening. His back was sore from being hunched in front of his keyboard for hours on end, and he just wanted to get some sleep. He made a quick stop in the kitchen and picked up a shiny red apple from the bowl on the counter. He munched on it as he climbed the stairs, which seemed endless to his weary legs. He went down the hall and stopped by the bathroom, where Zell was mopping the floor.
"Made a mess, did you?" Seifer asked, leaning on the door and taking a bite of the crispy apple. "Never potty trained or something?"
"Doesn't hurt to clean."
"Are you calling me a slob?" Seifer asked, throwing the core of the apple in the garbage. Though, he did have to admit that the bathroom did look spotless. It's not that he was messy, but Zell was a very thorough cleaner. The other day, Seifer had caught him taking apart the bathroom's exhaust fan to dust it.
Zell leaned on the handle of the mop, regarding Seifer. He looked quite adorable with a red bandana holding his hair off his face, and something a lot more mature than adorable with his muscular, masculine arms bared by a grey T-shirt with the sleeves cut off.
"Well?" Zell asked. "Don't I get a kiss?"
"I suppose," Seifer muttered, non-chalant. Though, inside he was more than glad to grant Zell's request. He leaned down and planted a gentle kiss on Zell's mouth.
Zell smiled and looked up into Seifer's face when they broke apart, though they were still very close together. "Hmm... what happened?"
"We just kissed...." Seifer trailed off teasingly, his mouth now moving across Zell's cheek.
"No, I mean... what happened? You've got this look on your face."
"I can tell something's bugging you."
"It's nothing, really. Just tired." Seifer sighed as Zell leaned the mop against the wall and wrapped his arms around his waist. He kissed the top of Zell's head and then their lips met again in what was supposed to be a brief kiss. But, seeing as how they were in a very 'newlywed' phase of their relationship, a brief kiss always stretched out into something longer, more lingering, more passionate. They'd had sex before, they'd shared the same bed before, and they'd kissed before, but it still felt new. When Zell had first come to Timber, Seifer had actually been quite unsure as to how well living together would go. After all, they'd gotten into some terrible fights in the past, and while things may have been going fantastically now, living together always did bring up new and unforeseen problems. But, Seifer didn't want to think about that, nor did he want to think about his visit with Squall, which he knew he would have to bring up to Zell eventually. But, not right now. Right now, kissing Zell felt too nice to be interrupted by a terse conversation about Squall, and Zell's feelings on that whole matter.
Zell smiled against Seifer's mouth, then tucked his head under Seifer's chin as they held each other, standing in the middle of the bathroom. Zell's hands slid up under Seifer's shirt, stroking his back and his stomach in an affectionate way. Seifer's fingers started to linger over the nape of Zell's neck, and into his hair. The caresses, which while filled with affection, didn't have a sexual nature to them at first. But, when you touch someone that you not only desire sexually, but also care very deeply for, those sorts of caresses tend to take on a different air. The hands that were running up and down Seifer's back under his shirt started to have more press in them, and the fingers were tracing the lines of Seifer's torso in an exploratory way. The fingers that were in Zell's hair started to stroke harder, massaging Zell's scalp in a way that sent the sensation shivering all the way down his spine. Zell looked up at Seifer and gave him a smile, which Seifer returned as their foreheads pressed together. Then, in a quick moment, their shirts were being peeled off and their hands were sweeping over bared skin, their mouths becoming fused together. Zell's hands firmly cupped the sides of Seifer's face as they slid down to the gleaming floor, which was still damp from the mopping. Zell's fingers nimbly danced up the side of Seifer's face, removing his eyeglasses. He carefully put them on the counter, which was kind of hard because Seifer's hands were all over his chest and shoulders now, stroking and exploring him. Zell's head lolled back and he let out a small noise of pleasure when Seifer's mouth kissed down the front of his throat. Zell straddled Seifer's hips and forced his mouth down on the other man's in a very heavy, passionate kiss. It was the sort of kiss that probably wouldn't look terribly romantic to anyone who would happen to witness it, but it was the kind that was so gratifying when you were a part of it.
It was the kind of kiss that was messy, where their lips were smashed together, where it was even a little slobbery because of all the tongue action. But, it was also the kiss where you didn't care what you looked like, what you sounded like, and Seifer and Zell sure didn't care, because all that mattered was the feeling between them. It was a feeling of closeness, and of deep desire for the more than sexual. Zell loved the feeling of closeness and companionship he got when he was around Seifer, especially now that he felt rather alone and alienated because of all that had happened at Garden. His whole world was now upside-down and unfamiliar, so he valued how he felt when knowing he was living in Seifer's house, sharing Seifer's bed, but more importantly, sharing his time.
Seifer tightly wrapped his arms around Zell, pressing his face into Zell's chest. He breathed in the masculine smell of him as their hips started to move against each other in a slow grind. Though Seifer could feel Zell hard rubbing against him, he kept his hands above the belt-line. He wanted to prolong their contact, to stretch it out and make it last. He wanted to soak in the feeling of Zell. And, that meant all of him, not just the sexual feeling of him. Seifer's hands tugged and ran through Zell's hair as not only their genitals rubbed together through their pants, but their bare skin rubbed together. They lowered their bodies further, so that Zell wound up on his back on the floor. The coolness of it against his bare skin coupled with the stimulation of Seifer's hands so thoroughly exploring his body made his nipples harden. Seifer's fingers found the nubs and tweaked them, which made Zell squirm and arch his back up to the touch.
Zell started to wiggle out of his pants and underwear, helped by Seifer's now quick and eager hands. While he loved foreplay and extending the moment, their relationship was still so new, coupled with the very new feeling of not only being lovers, but living together too, that it was hard for them to hold off on that release. There would be time in the future to stroke each other's flesh for hours and to try and see how long they could hold off orgasm. But, that time wasn't now. Zell writhed as Seifer's body covered his own. He wound his legs around Seifer's, moaning at the sensation all over his skin, that maddening friction. It felt so good, much better than just kissing and petting, at least in his current mindset. But, he wanted more. He wanted to feel Seifer's hands all over him. He wanted to feel Seifer inside him, but not just that. He wanted to feel Seifer fucking him. He wanted to feel Seifer's cock like a piston in him, moving against the inside of his body, deeper and deeper.
Seifer struggled out of his own pants, his now naked body rubbing against Zell's. Their lips seized each other again, their hands impatiently fumbling over each other's bodies, searching to stimulate each other's genitals. Seifer threw his head back and groaned, his hips thrusting against Zell's. The smaller blonde's bare skin squeaked against the laminate floor, and he was suddenly rolled over and pulled up to his knees. Seifer stood up and opened the medicine cabinet, and then was quickly all over Zell again. His hands wanted to touch Zell's skin over and over again, and they were shaking as he ripped open the condom package. He lubed himself and Zell up in record time, and put the condom on with blistering speed, just so his hands could stroke over the smoothness of Zell's skin that encased his hard muscles. Zell looked over his shoulder at Seifer, and they started kissing again, their tongues moving over each other's lips, twining together, practically suffocating each other with them. The way that Seifer's fingers touched him from the inside, and the way they touched him now made Zell whisper incoherently into Seifer's mouth, begging Seifer to fuck him. Seifer swept his hands down Zell's back as he started to push himself inside his lover's body.
Zell's brow creased as he felt Seifer's erection pushing into him. Seifer was always gentle, so it wasn't pain that Zell felt. It was just a feeling of 'differentness'. He started making small noises that he couldn't control; little mewling noises and hitched pants and whimpers of delight. His fingers crawled across the floor as Seifer continued to push into him. He felt Seifer's hips pressing against his buttocks and let out a very shaky breath that was mixed with a barely audible groan. Seifer's hips began to slowly rock against him, that friction from within him causing Zell to furrow his brow and bite his lip. As Seifer's thrusts began to get a little more purposeful, Zell reached out and gripped the first thing his hands could find, which was the edge of the bathtub. His fingers turned white from how hard he was gripping it as Seifer's hips moved faster against him. His body bowed lower and lower, wanting Seifer deeper and deeper in him. The sound of their flesh slapping together filled the bathroom, and was only matched by their heavy breathing and the groans that came ripping from their throats. But, he longed for the feel of Seifer's body all around him as well as within him, so Zell rose to his knees, pressing his back flush to Seifer's chest.
One of Seifer's hands was playing with Zell's genitals, and the other one went into his hair again, stroking the softness of it, then stroking down the nape of his neck and across the masculine broadness of his shoulders. Zell's head lolled back so it was resting on Seifer's shoulder, his temple pressed to the other man's throat. His arms came up and draped over Seifer's shoulders, his own hips rolling back to meet the other man's. He moaned as he heard Seifer moaning, loving that Seifer was enjoying it, and loving the feeling of Seifer's hard penis rubbing against the inner walls of his lower intestine. After sex, Zell would notice that his knees were sore from kneeling on the unforgiving floor. But, now he couldn't feel that. All he could feel was Seifer inside him, Seifer fucking him. All he could feel was Seifer's dick thrusting deeper into him, then moving out, then pushing in again. He could only feel how hard his heart was beating against his chest. He could taste that heartbeat, and it actually kind of hurt how hard his heart was thumping against his breastbone.
Seifer buried his face into the nape of Zell's neck, the motion of his hips against Zell's now just instinct, not something he was concentrating on. He breathed in the smell of Zell's sweaty skin, the feeling of his hair and the wet pull of his skin under Seifer's fingertips. Then, all he could sense was the taste of Zell's throat on his lips, feeling the vibration of Zell's laughter against his mouth as he kissed over the front of his neck. Zell tasted so good and felt so good pressed against him, and the inside of Zell's body was so hot and tight around him, and it all felt just so goddamn right. He felt Zell's breath hitch against him, and felt the hot stickiness of semen against his hand as the muscles of Zell's rectum tightened and constricted around Seifer's erection. Seifer groaned into the spot on Zell's back between his shoulderblades as he came, his arms wrapping tighter around Zell, holding him close.
Zell panted and slid down so he was sitting on the floor rather than kneeling on it. Seifer's tight embrace kept his heart pounding, even after the high of orgasm started to dissipate. He twined his fingers with Seifer's as they both sagged against the side of the bathtub. They held each other tightly, and for a long time. Long enough that their legs had fallen asleep because of their awkward sitting position.
"You know..." Seifer murmured, his voice thick with afterglow. "I do have a bed, you know?"
Zell grinned and let out a small chuckle as they disentangled from each other. They had sex quite often, but it was usually in places besides the usual one: the bed. They'd done it many times on the floor, on the couch downstairs, on the kitchen table, in the shower, but only a couple of times actually in Seifer's bed. "Guess I'll have to mop the floor again...." Zell stood up and let out a sigh as the blood started to rush back into his legs. They took to the task of cleaning themselves up, and then Zell cleaned up the ejaculate that had splattered onto the floor with the mop.
As he was cleaning, he noticed that Seifer was getting that oddly distant look on his face. Something was concerning him. Seifer wasn't an open book, but Zell liked to think he was at least starting to know a few of the other man's facial expressions and moods. "Okay, what?"
"Huh?" Seifer looked up from the sink.
"You've got that look on your face again."
"Look?" Seifer echoed hollowly. He went down the hall to his bedroom, laying down on the mattress, which was very welcome to his tired body, which was now completely drained of energy because of the sex.
Zell sat on the edge of the bed beside Seifer's feet. "Just tell me, okay?" A touch of nervousness was edging into Zell's voice. "I mean... if it's something to do with Diablos.... are you okay?"
Seifer looked over at Zell, adjusting himself so he was laying properly on the bed, his head propped up. "No, it's nothing like that...." He didn't mean to say more, but he saw the worried expression on Zell's face. "It's about Squall, okay?"
That worried expression became a blank mask of closure. "Oh. What about him?"
"Nothing important," Seifer answered with a shrug of one of his broad shoulders.
"If it wasn't important, you wouldn't have that look on your face," Zell replied. He had a dead tone to his voice, as if he was trying to say he didn't care one hoot about Squall, but Seifer knew he did. Even if he was angry, he still cared. Or else, he wouldn't even be angry at all.
"He came to the shop."
"He wants to talk to you, to explain his side of things."
"Then, why did he go to you?"
"Because he knows you're furious with him, Dincht. You'd just slam the door in his face. No... scratch that. You'd deck him, then you'd slam the door in his face."
Zell remained silent, any joy from afterglow being sucked out of him at a rapid pace.
"But, I told him not to use me as a middle-man. If he wants to fucking talk to you, he can come and talk to you."
"I don't want to talk to him," Zell muttered.
"You gotta face him eventually," Seifer said, slipping under the covers and removing his eyeglasses. He set them on his night-table beside his alarm clock. "You can't hide out here forever."
"I'm not hiding out!" Zell pointed out, temper flaring. It wasn't a real flare-up, but rather one of his superficial shows of temper that most people thought was his actual temper. "I'm here because I want to be with you," he added in a very quiet voice.
The corners of Seifer's lips turned up, and he motioned with an arm for Zell to come closer to him. The shorter blonde slid across the sheets, and sighed when he was enveloped into Seifer's strong embrace, the sheets wrapped around both of them. "I know, Zell. But...."
"I know you're right, but I just can't, okay? Not yet. I'm just sorry he harassed you."
"Mhhhh." Seifer made a noise in the back of his throat as he and Zell settled down for sleep. "So, did you decide what you're going to do for a job?" Seifer asked after he'd turned the light out, and they were laying in darkness, save the moonlight coming from between the curtains.
"Uh, well.... I sorta thought that I could work at Archimedes with you...."
"Ehhh!" Seifer made a buzzer noise, his fingers stroking down the line of Zell's upper back. "Wrong answer."
"What do you mean?" Zell asked against the side of Seifer's neck.
"Dating, living together and working together? That's a recipe for disaster, Dincht. We'd fucking murder each other."
Zell opened his mouth to protest, but then he really thought about it. He'd thought he would work at the store with Seifer, because that way they could always be together. The way he felt now, that didn't seem like a bad thing at all. Spending twenty-four hours a day with Seifer was all Zell's heart wanted then. But, that feeling would change. Couples didn't stay in the honeymoon phase forever, and he knew that he and Seifer would be no exception. And, Seifer was right. They'd probably break up in a second if they saw each other's faces all the time. "Well.... I guess I have to actually think about it, then."
"I'm sure you have a million things you'd like to try."
"Maybe...." Zell shrugged, resting his head on Seifer's broad chest, listening to his even breathing and the steady beat of his heart. "I just.... I guess I feel kinda lost."
"It's understandable. I know you don't need the job, man. I mean, I know you have money, and even if you didn't, I'd help you, but I know that you also don't like being idle."
"It always impresses me when you know that stuff about me."
"It's my job to know these things," Seifer said in a falsetto that imitated Selphie's voice. "So, what other jobs do you have in mind?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well...." Seifer's words were stifled by a yawn. "You're good at mechanics. The train companies are always looking for people. And, with all the shit that's going on now, I'm sure the Timber Police are looking for people."
"Yeah...." Zell mused. He eventually felt Seifer's breathing regulate and deepen, but Zell couldn't fall asleep as easily. His mind kept going to different places, and when he finally fell asleep, it was a restless one.
The next morning, Zell woke up alone. That wasn't surprising, since Zell often woke up alone. Zell would sleep in beyond when Seifer had already left. It wasn't that Zell was sleeping until all hours of the afternoon, but it was that Seifer was spending so much time catching up at work that he often left before the sun came up. Zell slowly dragged himself out of the warm and still inviting bed and staggered into the shower. As he bathed, he mulled over his options for the day in his head. He figured he'd do some dusting, watch the news (for, he liked to keep tabs on the Blackball situation), and maybe look for a job. He could also go for a run around Obel Lake. The scenery there was amazingly beautiful, and there were so many forgotten walking trails there that Zell was sure during his daily runs, he'd barely discovered even a quarter of them.
When he'd dried himself off and dressed, Zell came downstairs. When he came into the kitchen, he let out a scream that caused Seifer to laugh at him. And no wonder. Zell was sure it had sounded quite girlish.
"What the fuck?!" Zell exclaimed, clutching his chest. "What are you doing here?!"
"I live here sometimes." Seifer smirked as he took a sip of Shumi tea, sitting at the island.
"Why aren't you at work?"
"Why, expecting company?" Seifer smirked. "I guess you'll have to call the milkman and tell him to plough someone else's hole, eh?"
"Bastard." Zell smacked Seifer's shoulder hard enough that tea sloshed out of his cup onto the counter. "Sorry, babe," he said when Seifer glared at him. He kissed the top of Seifer's head and asked "so, what are you doing here?"
"I have to go item hunting," Seifer said. "I figured you'd want to come along."
"Well, get your ass in gear, and let's get going."
Zell raced back upstairs after kissing the top of Seifer's head again. He changed into clothing that was a little more appropriate for fighting monsters. As he fastened his gloves around his wrists, it occurred to him that Seifer had explicitly waited around for him to wake up, instead of just taking off alone like he could have. It made Zell think even more of Seifer than he did already. It was a very thoughtful gesture, because it was just what Zell needed, and Seifer knew that.
He came downstairs, Seifer still sitting at the island, drinking his tea. "Ready!" He exclaimed. He then looked at Seifer, thinking of how he'd wanted to take his mind off Garden, off Squall, and one simple gesture from Seifer did all that. Seifer really knew him that well.
Seifer cocked his head, noticing the expression on Zell's face change from one of eager readiness to one of sadness. "Zell....?" He put his cup down on the counter. "What's wrong?"
Zell just smiled brightly and crossed the kitchen. "I'm ready." But, looking down into Seifer's eyes made his smile falter a little. He wrapped his arms around Seifer's shoulders, burying his face in the curve of the other man's shoulder. He found that his eyes were stinging, and that tears were trying to come out from behind closed eyes. When Seifer's arms tightened around him, Zell let out a shaky little sigh, sniffling as a couple tears managed to escape.
When they broke apart enough that Seifer could look into Zell's face, he stared into those pale eyes with confusion. "Dincht, what's wrong?"
Zell laughed. "Nothing." He wiped his cheeks and smiled through his tears. "I give you permission to laugh at me for crying at nothing."
Seifer gave him a sceptical look. "I'm sure it's hardly nothing." He stroked some of Zell's hair off his face, which just made a few more tears slide down Zell's cheeks. The tattooed blonde captured Seifer's mouth in a kiss, his hands shaking when he reached up to flank the sides of Seifer's face, their lips pressed together passionately. Zell's tongue twined with Seifer's, and he tried to prevent himself from crying more, but just couldn't help it.
"What is it?" Seifer demanded when their kiss broke. "Tell me," he demanded, but in a non-demanding tone. His tone only held affection, which caused Zell's voice to shake when he spoke.
Zell genuinely laughed at himself, wiping his cheeks again. "Really, Seifer... it's nothing. Really. It's just..... I dunno." He shrugged.
Seifer waited patiently for Zell to find the words to express himself, if indeed that's what he wanted to do. "I think you do know," he finally said.
"Well, I mean... you waited for me to get up just because you knew I'd want to go hunting with you. It really means a lot to me...." He had to stop talking because his voice was getting shaky again. Zell sniffled, and smiled down at Seifer, putting his hands on the other man's shoulder. "Especially with all the shit with Garden and Squall.... it makes me feel like you really know me." He laughed again, covering his mouth with the back of his hand as he collected himself.
Seifer just cocked his head, his peridot eyes studying Zell's face. He saw that this was the truth in Zell's eyes, and ran his hand through Zell's hair, cupping the back of his head. He tilted his head upwards and placed a very soft and gentle kiss on Zell's forehead. The kiss was more than just a touch of lips to skin. It was a way for Seifer to say 'I love you' when his voice wasn't ready to utter it yet. Zell felt the words behind the kiss just as he felt the press of Seifer's mouth. Zell traced the lines of Seifer's cheekbones and mouth with his fingertips, the caress echoing back the silent sentiments of Seifer's kiss, his fingers also saying what words weren't ready to.
"So, are we going to go, or what?" Seifer asked, feeling he had to break the moment, or else he really was going to do something he'd never done before: told a man he loved them. He'd told Raijin that once, but he'd never said it to a man he was in an intimate relationship with.
"Yeah, let's go." Zell smiled and punched one palm with his fist, sliding out of Seifer's lap. "What are you looking for, exactly?"
"Just some usual stuff. But...." Seifer shrugged as they got into his truck. "It's kind of odd that I need zombie powders already. I just got a bunch a couple of weeks ago."
"There's stuff in the forests that drop it?"
Seifer nodded and drove down the road. "Blood Souls are spreading out, so it's easy to get. Just... it's not a very common item for everyday purchase. I guess maybe the Blood Souls have a nest closer to the city, and they're inflicting farmers with zombie."
"You don't sound too sure."
Seifer shrugged again, turning off to a road that could barely be considered a 'road'. It was grown over, and the trees were very close. "Just seems odd. Blood Souls are cowardly, that's all. I guess Diablos's magic affected more than just Blackballers."
"Probably," Zell murmured. They drove in silence the rest of the way. Seifer concentrated on driving, while Zell looked at the old trees that were passing them by. He did reach out and stroke Seifer's side with his fingers, though. Seifer reached one of his hands off the steering wheel and tangled his fingers with Zell's, holding hands with him the rest of the drive. They eventually came to a clearing, and Seifer stopped the truck, parking it in the shade of a large oak tree, its limbs gnarled with advanced age. Zell got out and started doing some stretching exercises as Seifer reached into the back of the truck and pulled out Hyperion, as well as arming himself with throwing knives and smaller daggers. He also did a few warm-up exercises, and then they were ready to go.
Things were pretty uneventful at first. They did indeed find a hoard of Blood Souls after fighting Cockatrices and some Wendigos, their steel pipes valuable to Alchemists and Blacksmiths alike. They made trips back to Seifer's truck to drop off items and take a few drink or snack breaks, which also involved them being as close together as they possibly could, as completely wrapped up in each other as they could be while still being on the lookout for monsters.
"Hey, Seifer?" Zell asked as they sat on the hood of the truck, nibbling on some dried apricot slices.
"Hmmm?" Seifer had a bottle of water in his hands as he seemingly stared off into space, but Zell knew he was actually listening carefully for any sort of noise.
"Do you smell something...?"
"Oh, sorry. I thought I was alone." He laughed, but winced when Zell popped him in the shoulder.
"I'm serious, you ass. I smell something... off."
"It's probably just fertilizer or animal droppings. The farms around here can give off an awful stench."
"I guess....." Zell noticed Seifer vaulting off the truck and going towards the woods, so he did the same. "Just... it doesn't smell like shit, is all."
"Maybe a Wendigo killed something and it's hiding the carcass around here for later."
Zell just nodded, following Seifer deeper into the thick trees. He hadn't heard any sort of noise, but trusted Seifer's instincts. And, those instincts were right. There were a group of Wendigos centralized around the mouth of some sort of cave, digging in the ground. One did have a dead animal of some sort, the bones pretty much stripped clean of meat. That must have been what Zell was smelling. Seifer and Zell approached very quietly, but there was a fourth Wendigo that they hadn't seen, hiding in the crotch of a tree. It jumped out, revealing Seifer and Zell's location to the others. They made low grunting noises and started loping towards the two of them. Zell was a little concerned, because they were all rather big, and were circling around them, but Seifer seemed absolutely cool and collected.
It didn't take long for the two of them to mow through the strong Wendigos. Seifer bent over each one and inspected them very carefully for items. Wendigos also carried Steel Orbs, something that Seifer was searching carefully for. He pocketed each one that he found.
"What do you want those for?" Zell asked, shaking his hands to get the excess blood off his gloves.
"They might come in handy, especially where Diablos is concerned," Seifer mused thoughtfully, collecting more Steel Orbs.
Zell just nodded. "You know, I'm impressed."
Seifer looked up, raising an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"I mean... I get nervous when there are four Wendigos around us, but you've barely broken a sweat all day."
Seifer shrugged, but Zell could see a twinkle in his eyes that showed Zell's comment had flattered his ego. "Well I'm used to it, is all. I have to fight these things all the time."
Zell patted the top of Seifer's head as he passed, stopping to examine the carcass the Wendigos had left here. He couldn't tell what it once had been. While the remains did indeed smell, it wasn't quite the same odour as Zell had been smelling all afternoon. "That smell's not going away."
Seifer stood to full height, looking around. "Yeah, I know. It's worse over here...." He went past Zell to the mouth of the cave. "Hmm... the smell is stronger over here. It's probably coming from inside." He stepped into the shadows, and smiled over his shoulder, seeing that Zell was hesitant. "You coming? Or, are you too.... chicken? Eh, Chicken-Wuss?"
"Bastard!" Zell exclaimed, jogging into the cave. "I can't believe I'm going out with you."
"Better watch out, Dincht. It's dark and scary in here." Seifer could barely see in front of him. "You might need a man to protect you.....OW! Man, that really fucking hurt, Dincht." Seifer rubbed the back of his arm.
"I didn't touch you," Zell said in the darkness. "God, it reeks in here." Zell started coughing. The smell had become overpowering. "What do you think it is....?"
"Villar Hharva," Seifer muttered a couple words that Zell recognized from his days in Ancient Language classes back in Garden. It was a language of ancient runes, and a light appeared, floating in mid-air. It was a Will-O-The-Wisp, and it hovered near Seifer's shoulder. "That's a little better." Seifer noticed the scared look on Zell's face, and laughed quietly. "Poor baby... scared of a little floating light?"
"Seifer... you arm...." Zell reached out and looked up at Seifer with concern. "You're bleeding all over the place."
Seifer looked down and did indeed notice that his forearm was drenched in blood that was coming from the back of his arm. "What the....?"
"Maybe you hit it on a stalactite or something....?" Zell examined the wound, wiping some blood off. "Does it hurt?"
"It looks like a bite..." Zell used the light of the Will-O-The-Wisp to look closer.
"It was probably a bat. We are in a cave, after all."
"Pretty big bite for a bat, Almasy." Zell coughed as the stench washed over him. Because of the light, he could see a large shadow on the wall, moving from one of the paths that the cave forked into. "Seifer...."
"I see it." Seifer had Hyperion out, but with his other arm, he was covering his nose and mouth from the smell.
"The shadow looks like a spider of some kind."
"Go towards the entrance," Seifer whispered. "But... slow."
Zell nodded and started to move back the way they came. He could still see the shadow of a body with many legs hovering, curious but not aggressive.... at least, not yet. But, it did worry Zell that it could have been this thing that bit Seifer. Maybe it was a poisonous spider?
"Faster," Seifer hissed. "It's coming out." They moved to the mouth of the cave, and the creature followed. Except, it wasn't a spider. Now that more of it was revealed, they saw it was a scorpion-like creature. It's front claws had been hidden in the darkness, folded down underneath of it so only its legs were caught by the shadow. Well, at least it would have been a scorpion at one point. It actually wasn't that big, as far as monsters went, but it sure was nasty looking, and looked very imposing at that moment. It seemed hesitant of the sunlight filtering through the dense forest canopy, but still came out, making clicking noises as if it was talking.
"Think there are more of them?" Zell asked, trying not to look at the monstrosity. "Maybe it's calling others?" The scorpion, quite frankly, looked dead. It was rotten, and now that it was out in the open, was giving off such a rotten smell that Zell could taste vomit in his mouth, and Seifer was coughing. It didn't seem to have a carapace, like a normal, garden variety scorpion. Its skin was glistening, but it was because of pus and sweat on it. It was pale grey bordering on white, but had patches of ugly green, yellow and black all over. The colours of rot. Its eyes looked dead and white, and Zell was amazed that it seemed to be looking at them, for it should have been blind with eyes like that.
"I've seen these things before, but not like this....."
"What?" Zell asked as a second one came out of the cave.
"Yeah.... they went extinct a few hundred years ago because humans were encroaching on their territory. I've only ever seen them in pictures before...." Seifer whispered as the scorpions clicked.
"Well, they aren't extinct, dear." Zell turned away and retched as a third came out. The smell was just too much to handle.
"I think they are...." Seifer didn't elaborate on his cryptic whisper, but instead closed his eyes and whispered under his breath. The air got heavier with magic. "Call Ifrit, Zell. We can't fight these things."
"Do it!" Seifer shouted as Tiamat appeared from thin air, letting out a great bellow, flapping her wings. The scorpions clicked, but didn't cower at the sight of her.
Zell nodded, trusting Seifer's judgement. In all the commotion of Zell leaving Garden, he hadn't remember to give back his Icon item, so he still had Ifrit to junction. Which was a good thing, since even if Zell wasn't SeeD anymore, he would have felt completely naked if he didn't have a Guardian Force. Ifrit also appeared out of nowhere, growling in the back of his throat, smoke and fire licking from between his lips.
"What are these things.....?" Zell asked as Tiamat and Ifrit took care of the beasts.
"Check the cave," Seifer told Tiamat, patting her muzzle as she turned and went into the cave, her body shrinking to fit.
Ifrit sat at the mouth of the cave, the fire from his body illuminating it. He sniffed the air, and Seifer and Zell could see that he was in deep thought. Tiamat came out of the cave, and seemed to give Ifrit a wide berth. The fire god just watched her carefully.
"The cave is now empty," Tiamat informed Seifer, sitting regally in front of her master, her normal, impressive size once more. "I do not like this...." She looked over the spine of a great wing at Ifrit. "You can sense it, Djinn."
"Hmph." He looked to Zell. "Do you require more assistance?"
"You seem thoughtful," Zell said to his GF. "What is it? If these things are supposed to be extinct, why are they alive?"
"They weren't alive," Seifer muttered.
"That's correct," Ifrit murmured in a velvety voice that seemed out of place coming from his beastly mouth.
"So, they were brought back to life?" Zell asked.
"Not intentionally," Tiamat muttered bitterly. "A side-effect of a very powerful spell." Her dragon face showed empathy.
"Thank you," Seifer said quietly, closing his eyes. Tiamat vanished, while Ifrit stared at the spot she'd been sitting with that same thoughtful look on his face.
"What did she mean?" Zell asked.
"Necromancy is a demon's magic," Ifrit murmured, vanishing in a plume of smoke.
"What the bloody hell did that mean?" Zell asked as Seifer took his hand and led him back towards where the truck was parked. "Wait, wait... your arm."
"I think it just clipped me with its claw," Seifer muttered.
"What did Ifrit mean....?"
"Don't be dense, Zell." Seifer stopped in the clearing and turned to face his lover. "Necromancy brought those things back to life. They must have died in that cave a long time ago, and maybe their remains were fossilized or something. And, if Necromancy is a demon's magic... what demon do we know?"
"Diablos brought them back to life?" Zell asked. "But... Tiamat said 'not intentionally'. So... he must have been doing some other Necromancy spell, and it was strong enough to reach out this far."
"This is bad," Seifer muttered, leaning against his truck. "Real bad."
"Well..... wait!" Zell had pulled out a first-aid kit and was bandaging Seifer's arm. "That rune that Bahamut put on you.... did Tiamat ever tell you what it was?"
"I forgot to ask." Seifer got behind the wheel of the truck. "I'll ask when we get out of here. I got enough items, and quite frankly... I don't feel safe here right now."
Zell just nodded as they drove back to Seifer's house in complete silence. They got out and started unloading the items from the back of the truck, but as he was carrying an armload of steel pipes, Seifer doubled over, dropping the pipes to the ground.
"Seifer!" Zell exclaimed, sliding on his knees to Seifer's position. He cut himself on the gravel of the driveway, but didn't care.
"I'm fine...." Seifer let out his breath, and they were cast in shadow by Tiamat, who had forcibly summoned herself. She was in human form, wearing traditional garb from her time, in a toga-like dress in beautiful aqua fabric, her jewellery probably costing more than half the gems in Centra's mines. Zell helped Seifer to his feet and stroked his back, not caring that Thuban was walking down the driveway.
"What are you doing here?" Thuban asked.
A child was perched on the wooden fence that ran along the side of the road outside Seifer's house. They hadn't even noticed him when they'd gone past. "Watching."
"Oh, were you watching when those extinct creatures came back to life?"
"You should watch the tone you take with me, Thuban." Manannan gave her a chastising look. "I may not have the same feelings towards you as he does, but I am your elder."
She just stared at him with fiery defiance that was purely Alwaid. It made Leviathan's human form smile. "What exactly are you watching? Me, or my Master?"
"A little of both." He looked past Thuban to Seifer and Zell, who were standing silently, watching them. "You don't need to worry... at least not for now. Bahamut has put his protection on you, and even Daeva isn't that foolish."
"You'd be surprised," Thuban hissed.
"So, that rune was for protection," Zell murmured.
"I'm sure you can't be happy with being asked to babysit," Thuban murmured.
Manannan smiled serenely. "I don't let fleeting things like that bother me." He walked up the driveway in the carefree way that only children can, but there was such maturity and age behind each step. "I said I would watch over them because I knew Eta wanted it."
Thuban cocked her head, wondering if somewhere, Daeva was having a seizure. He liked to think that he was the only one who was allowed to call her father that very personal shortening of his name. For a man such as Etanin Alwaid was, or a creature such as Bahamut was now, any sort of informality with names was a rarity, especially a pet name like that. Manannan and Etanin's relationship wasn't the same nature as her father's relationship with Daeva, but it was still a very personal one. It was one of deep-rooted understanding, for Leviathan was the elder to Bahamut by millions of years, and was equally as powerful. Bahamut understood that if Leviathan wanted to overthrow him, he could at least have a shot at it. And, Leviathan knew that Bahamut knew this.
"If I sit here and wait for Daeva to make his move, it's but the bat of an eyelash compared to the length of my life, Thuban. I'm twice the age of the Ancient court. Those millions of years make quite the difference."
Seifer and Zell watched in rapt fascination as this child sat on the front steps, drawing patterns in the gravel with the tip of his small foot. He watched them for a while.
"Can.... can I ask you something?" Seifer ventured, slowly moving towards the steps. When Manannan didn't make a move either way, Seifer sat beside him. The silver-haired child smiled benevolently at him.
"You mean... why does Daeva want you dead? Why is he going to such lengths?"
Leviathan smiled, staring off into space. Zell and Seifer found his eyes captivating, hypnotic. They were such an amazingly magical ocean blue, and had a snake-ish appearance. "Well... you see, we were all human once. Most of us," he corrected, thinking about the odd summons like Cactuar. "It's something we hold onto for eons. I've seen more than 6 million years, and I still think about my human life. Most of us die naturally. In Thuban or Eta's case, they died in war. It's a casualty of living in such a society. Daeva was murdered...."
"I'm sure Father will love you sharing this information with humans," Thuban said to herself.
"He doesn't care. And, if it helps humans understand us more, that we merely aren't spells for their disposal...." He trailed off with a shrug. "Anyway, you see... Daeva was murdered by his King. He was thoroughly betrayed by people who took him in, who promised him a better life than being outcast by the fey."
Zell also sat down, fascinated. He was soothed by Leviathan's voice. Thuban just crossed her arms and looked nervous, as if Leviathan telling this story upset her.
"It's something that anyone would find hard to get over. And, it's not like he was just mercifully beheaded. Daeva was murdered in a painful, awful fashion. It filled his heart with anger and vengeance, and so Diablos was born from his magic. That city, and all memory of it, was razed to the ground by Diablos's wrath. But... the memory to him didn't dissipate. One of Daeva's magicks is the ability to see possibilities. It isn't exactly seeing the future, because as I'm sure you learned from your time with Ultimecia..." He gave Seifer a pointed look. "That time is too hard to predict with true accuracy. There are always things changing the outcomes. But, he sees different impressions of what may happen. These could be in the form of dreams, or visions. He never told me, and Etanin would never break his confidence with Daeva..." Manannan stopped when Thuban made a rude noise. "But, I believe he saw an impression of you killing him."
"But, he's so powerful.... I don't get how it's possible!" Zell exclaimed.
"Anything is possible. We may be powerful, and live for stretches of time that are impossible to gauge, but we can die again. And, because we so acutely remember our human selves, we also remember our emotions. This is why your father and Daeva share what they do," Leviathan pointed out to Thuban, who was still rolling her eyes and muttering snide comments under her breath.
She said nothing in response.
"And, with emotions, we also remember our fears. Daeva fears dying at the hands of a human again, because the way he died haunts him throughout time, and he does not wish for history to repeat itself."
"Was his death really that bad...?" Zell asked quietly.
"I'm sure being viciously tortured and dismembered, then burned at the stake, is at the bottom of your list for ways you want to die."
Seifer and Zell remained silent for a couple of reasons. One, because they couldn't think of anything to say to such a statement. Two, they were simply in awe of such a natural conversation featuring such a wealth of ancient knowledge from a magical creature who was older than the world as they knew it.
"Daeva must have seen an impression of you ending his life, and he's determined not to let this happen."
"But, now that he's taken action in this matter, the future will change," Seifer pointed out.
"Not necessarily." Manannan bit his lip in thought. It looked like such an innocent gesture because of his rosy cheeks and large eyes. "You see, now you will have to kill Daeva, lest he kill you. By paying his vision attention, he's caused it to become reality, instead of just a ghost of what could have been. He fell into his own trap of realized possibilities."
Seifer nodded slowly. "Yes, that's true. I guess you know more about these things than I do." He laughed quietly. "I guess you know more about everything."
"Not everything." Manannan gave a benign smile, but it was very tight around the edges, and his eyes showed some sadness.
Seifer and Zell looked at this child, this water god, with interest, but Manannan wasn't interested in elaborating. But, Thuban knew what had made his countenance wilt. While some Summons may have hated humans, it's because they were so very human themselves, and perhaps missed being alive again. Daeva hated humans because humans were the ones that had made him die in such agony, and it was human blood that had caused him to be cast out from the shining fey court. But, he still loved his former body. He was vain about his beauty, and loved revelling in the emotions and desires that could only come with mortal blood. Manannan, Thuban knew, had some hatred for humans because he was jealous. Because his form was so reliant on water, Manannan often would stay in human form, for it was easier for him to communicate with the others of the Ancient Court. But, it also hammered home why he was jealous: because he was forever a child. He'd existed for six million years in the body of a boy, never to grow tall and broad of shoulder. He was never to know the pleasures of a grown woman, never to know adult sensuality or have his body grow into that of a man. Leviathan was insanely powerful and ancient, but all he really wanted at heart was to grow up.
Manannan's clouded expression brightened, and he stood up. "I think I've said more than I should have. But..." He trailed off with a shrug. "Knowledge is power, is it not?" He stood up and walked down the driveway, putting his small hands in the pockets of his coat. He kept walking without a backwards glance. Thuban just had her arms crossed, and disappeared with a harumph of displeasure. It was only after Seifer and Zell had collected their thoughts after Leviathan's impromptu visit that they noticed he'd left behind wet footprints on the gravel driveway.
"So.....?" Zell asked as they slowly went back to the house, both of them looking over their shoulders, wondering if Leviathan was still watching them somewhere.
"Well, at least it gives us insight to Diablos's motives."
"Yeah, but that doesn't really help us, Seifer."
The taller man shrugged and went over to his answering machine. There was one message from Edea, who was currently in Balamb, but Seifer deleted the message almost immediately. There were no others, and Zell noticed Seifer staring at the small box for a few moments. His face was downcast, but Zell could see the sadness in the way Seifer was holding his shoulders. He did this often... checked the machine, hoping against hope that Fujin would have tried to call him. Zell went across the room and put his hands on Seifer's shoulder, kissing the back of the other man's neck before wrapping his arms around Seifer's waist from behind. "She just needs time."
"I don't think time will make her forgive me, Dincht. I mean... you didn't need time to forgive me after Odine."
Zell just kissed Seifer's temple, not giving a response because, really... what could he say? They sat in silence for a while, both of them contemplating the things that Leviathan had told them. Even if Diablos hadn't meant to raise those monsters from extinction, he must have been doing something to cause it as a side-effect, and when it came to Diablos, that meant the something he was doing was some massively powerful spell, and that meant it was bad for them. Seifer tucked his head under Zell's chin, and they sat wrapped up in each other for a few minutes. Seifer then silently got up and went out to his truck to start unloading the items. Zell got the distinct impression that Seifer wanted to be alone for a while, so he didn't follow.
While it was becoming a cool and drizzly night in Timber, it was sunny and warm on the Albatross Archipelago, where a great dragon was laying on the warm grass near the lapping ocean waves. He had his eyes closed and appeared to be napping. There were some human settlements on the islands off the East coast of Balamb, but those resorts and summer homes were on the other side of the islands because Ruby Dragons normally patrolled these areas. Today, the Ruby Dragons were keeping their respectful distance.
I'm sure I don't need to update you.
Bahamut's eyes didn't open, and he didn't appear to stir, but Leviathan knew he was awake. The shadow of a huge serpent appeared just underneath the water, and then the ocean god's magnificent reptilian head broke the surface of the water. A few droplets of water fell on Bahamut's hot, scaly skin. The King of Summons stretched and gave a long yawn, nodding his head as Leviathan pressed his muzzle to Bahamut's own in greeting.
Well, you came all this way to disturb my solitude. Tell me anyway.
I can't give you specifics, because I don't profess to know the intricacies of Daeva's magic...
There are few who do, Bahamut interrupted. It's something only a fey mind can understand, and only he and Aria exist now, and she is a very distant descendant, and may as well not even be the same species.
He awoke some extinct creatures without meaning to. Or, at least I don't think he meant to. I don't see the purpose of raising a few oversized arachnids.
Bahamut rested his chin on his clawed front feet. I'm sure Daeva didn't mean to.
Yes, well... You have more... err, insight to him than I do. Leviathan's mouth split into a snake's version of a smile.
Daeva knows that I put a protection rune on those children. If he disobeys now.....
I'm sure you'll think of something awful. It's something you're rather talented at.
Bahamut's brow furrowed, but he kept his eyes closed as if he were still trying to nap.
I know you don't get enjoyment out of punishing Daeva, Eta. Your daughter doesn't think you're capable of that sort of compassion.
What of my daughter? The dragon asked in a bored tone.
I spoke to her, as did Djinn. The Kramer boy is still carrying her.
I don't honestly care if she understands my motives or not. My ties with Daeva are none of her concern. Nothing in the Court is of her concern.
Leviathan dipped under the ocean's surface briefly to let water run over his gills. He breathed for a while before resurfacing. What do you suppose Daeva's doing, then?
Trying to find a loophole around my rune, I'm sure. After all, the rune doesn't allow him to touch those humans, but he has many minions at his disposal. Or, he could just be flexing his magical muscles. Daeva does love to show off.
Also.... Leviathan cocked his head. I'm feeling something stirring that doesn't involve Daeva's magic in the least.
I know. Bahamut opened one eye and stared at Leviathan calmly. It's centralized around Squall Leonhart and his wife, the Sorceress. She is with child. And, if Thuban and I are any proof, this power does run in families.
Hmmm.... Leviathan dipped underwater again, resurfacing shortly after. I've also been watching him, and aren't humans... happier when they know they're going to be parents? Leviathan asked it as a genuine question rather than a rhetorical one. This was one of the human things that Manannan did not understand because he'd been a child when he'd died. And, Etanin had been not only a grown man, but a father as well. True, he despised Thuban, but he hadn't known she'd be a girl until she was born.
Most of the time. It was true that Etanin hated Thuban because she was a woman, but that was only what started it. She'd constantly clashed with him on ideals and her displeasure on how he'd run his kingdom with such a blood-soaked iron fist. She'd been a disappointment to him at every turn, and while he could have looked past the worthlessness of her being a woman, their personalities just made it impossible for them to get along. While I may have detested my wife, when I heard she was with child, I was.... pleased.
Squall does not seem pleased.
Some people just don't want children, Bahamut pointed out. Perhaps this is the case with him. Other than that, what do you see concerning him?
Nothing out of the ordinary. He visited the Sorceress's son at his smithy, and left seeming depressed. Human emotions are a thing of wonder. I believe he is fighting with the Kramer boy's lover.... Leviathan trailed off wistfully, a look of sadness passing over his reptilian face. He felt that jealousy within him that he felt whenever he regarded couples in love. It was something he'd never have.
I told you I'd fuck you if you wanted me to, Bahamut said with a smirk, his wings curling around him as he settled in for another nap. Even though I don't prefer children as bed partners, I'd make an exception for you.
I'm not a lover of men. You know that.
Too bad, Mana. You don't know what you're missing out on. Bahamut yawned again, showing sharp and dangerous teeth, which were then bared in an equally dangerous smile.
You never did lack in confidence, Leviathan teased.
Bahamut gave a very masculine and rather human laugh. I must be doing something right if I can please one of the fey. He chuckled again and rested his head on his front legs again, curled up like a cat.
Leviathan didn't say anything as a farewell greeting, and just went underwater again, having all the oceans before him to traverse.
Diablos could smell in the air that his spells were taking effect. He was back in his Timber manor, though protected by magical shields from the prying eyes of humans. They could even come and go as they wished, and would never know that he was there. And, come and go they did. The Timber lawmen paid visits, as did the SeeD. Diablos didn't pay any of them any mind, though he often did watch Squall Leonhart for obvious reasons from his hiding places, disguised as a lamb in a painting of a farmer's field, disguised as a dragon in the pattern on a vase, hidden as a spider in the top corners of the ceilings. He'd just been away from the manor, surveying things around the city, and was satisfied. He decided that a long sleep would be just what he needed, though it would have been much nicer to share his big bed with a certain King of the Ancient Court, but Diablos was avoiding him right now. He came to his grand chamber, all in blacks and reds that resembled blood, but halted when he smelled something. His wings let him hover mid-air as he looked around his chambers. The red was too red, and wet looking. He noticed pieces of flesh scattered among his fine silk sheets, and blood was splattered all across the huge bed, which could fit his massive wing-span when he was in true form. There were pieces of a familiar wing, as well as part of a head that he knew had belonged to Nha'zora.
Diablos's demon face wasn't built to convey the emotions he felt, but the shock expressed there would have been evident to anyone. When he tore his eyes away from the mess on the bed, he saw that Nha'zora was also splattered all over the wall, as if she'd been blown apart from the inside. But... how? How?! Diablos's mind first went to those humans who he'd envisioned would kill him, but that was impossible. After all, there was no way they could have found him in this manor, let alone gotten past all the magic barriers and destroyed a creature as old and powerful as Nha'zora. Then, whom....? Ulurha.... he would have been able to defeat Nha'zora. But, why would he? Ulurha and Nha'zora were blood relatives, and Ulurha also knew that something like this would incur Diablos's wrath.
Diablos just got angrier and angrier as he looked at the ruined mess that was one of his most precious demons. Nha'zora had been a follower of his for millennia. His anger didn't only come from outrage at her death. It came from confusion. He hated being confused, and hated being caught off guard even more. Diablos reared up his demonic head when he heard a knock somewhere. It was at the door. Not the door to the manor itself, but to his chambers. The human form of Etanin Alwaid came through the door, and changed into his true form once inside the room.
What do you want? Diablos hissed, still sitting on the floor. But, his wings spread out from his back in an angry gesture.
I could feel your anger from an ocean away, Berith. Bahamut's fathomless eyes swept over the room, coming to rest on the sheets that were redder now because of the demoness's blood. This was one of your Varuna...?
Bahamut looked down at the gore, a thoughtful look on his reptile face. Do you know who did this?
I do not, Diablos admitted. He would never admit to ignorance to anyone but Bahamut. I don't understand, Eta.... He slumped on the ground, his wings flopping in a gesture of very human fatigue and defeat, despite his grand demonic form. Is this a warning....? I didn't see it.
You can't rely on your clairvoyance.
Oh, gee... thanks for that helpful insight. Diablos snarled at Bahamut, but it was half-hearted as he tried to make sense of something that just happened in the blink of an eye with no warning.
Something of great power did this, for it must have been strong to kill a Varuna before she could even put up a struggle.
Diablos looked around the room. In his surprise, he hadn't noticed that the rest of the room was still in pristine condition. Indeed, Bahamut was right. Nha'zora had not fought her attacker. She would have sensed an intruder, even if she'd been sleeping.
Was it meant for me?
Bahamut sat on the floor beside the slumping Diablos, his wings folding forward around Diablos's body in a gesture of embrace. Nha'zora may have been strong, but I doubt you would have been killed as easily as it seems she was.
How can you say that, Eta? Especially when it's unknown what did this. Diablos's horned head bowed, and he felt Bahamut's muzzle nudging him, stroking against his monstrous face. How could I have not seen this?
Don't fret over that now. Diablos's clawed fingers were now stroking up and down Bahamut's scaled neck, his wings still wilted in defeat. I'll discover the culprit.
I don't need you to do my dirty work, Eta.
This was an affront to you, Daeva. You are a member of my court, which also makes it an affront to me.
How diplomatic, Diablos snarled sarcastically, starting to sound a bit more like himself.
And, I also hate to see you so defeated. You're mine, and I won't let anyone harm you in any way.
Diablos just nodded, still slumped down, cocooned in Bahamut's wings. He knew that Bahamut was true to his word, and would do everything in his power to seek out the answers behind Nha'zora's murder. Diablos may have been extremely powerful, and may have been the best sorcerer in the world at glamour and dead magic, but Bahamut had magical resources that far outweighed his own. There were reasons why Diablos could never contest to Bahamut's throne. One of those reasons was he'd probably have to fight Leviathan for it, who was twice his age, which meant a lot. Two, that while Bahamut may not have flaunted his powers much, they were still there, and they were incredible.
"Eta.....?" Diablos asked quietly, speaking through his mouth in human language.
"Yes?" Bahamut's human voice asked from his dragon's mouth.
"Will you.....?" Diablos didn't have to finish the sentence, because Bahamut knew what he was asking. After millions of years of the closeness they'd shared both in and out of the Court, they knew each other as well as they knew themselves. Diablos's request was conveyed when his demon's body shrunk down to that of Daeva, and he was wrapped in the strong human arms of Etanin, arms that had gained their strength from a human life of hard work and warring. Daeva's request was something that could not be conveyed through magical forms, because the desire to be held by a loved one was so intensely human.
While Daeva mourned Nha'zora in the safe haven of Etanin's arms, Rinoa woke up on a familiar, comfortable bed. It wasn't her bed in Balamb, the one she shared with Squall. It was also the place that she'd spoken to him last after the disaster that was telling him she was pregnant. After a few moments of rubbing her bleary eyes, she remembered where she was. In her old bedroom at her father's mansion in Deling City. She felt tired and weak. Maybe the pregnancy was starting to catch up with her. After her fight with Squall, the last place she'd wanted to be was her apartment. Rinoa wasn't a woman to hold grudges, but she was still angry with him for even suggesting that she give up the baby. What a bastard. But, she still loved him, so knew that they would try to work it out. Squall hated to be surprised, and she'd given him one hell of a surprise.
Rinoa crawled out of bed, wondering if she wanted to tell her father she was pregnant now. Would he be happy....? She thought he would be, so maybe it would be a good idea. She needed someone to be happy for her. She went to the bathroom, which was still painted pale pink from when she was a little girl. She went to the sink to brush her teeth, and when her eyes casually went to her reflection in the mirror. She nearly screamed, but swallowed it, and just stared at herself in horror. Around her eyes was dripping red, smeared with blood. She looked down at her hands, and saw that they were absolutely covered in blood, which was also smearing all over the white porcelain of the sink. Blood... but.... but....
"Oh, Hyne...." she breathed out. She started washing her hands, rubbing them to find the wound that was causing all the bleeding. Had she hurt herself in her sleep....? But, she didn't remember having a nightmare. She stopped as pink water drained from the basin. In fact.... she couldn't really remember any dreams. She remembered eating supper and then going to read.... but, had that been a couple days ago? She'd heard of pregnant women having adverse and very weird reactions once they found out they were pregnant, but she'd never heard of women actually blacking out and forgetting periods of time.
Upon further examination of her hands, Rinoa found that she wasn't bleeding, or even injured in the least. So, then where did the blood come from? Rinoa then looked all over her body to see if the injury was anywhere else besides her hands, but she couldn't see any red wetness. Her heart was starting to beat faster when she couldn't come up with a simple explanation for why her hands had been so covered in blood. Rinoa then tore off her panties, wondering if it was vaginal bleeding. Maybe she really wasn't pregnant... maybe it was aborted. Oh, Hyne. Her heart lurched in her chest, but when she took off her underwear, there was no sign of blood. She leaned against the tub, still tasting her heartbeat on her tongue. She rushed into her room and started searching her sheets, but there was nothing to be found there, either.
She sat on the edge of the bed, both sagging in worry, and tense with it as well. Her hand reached for the phone, but she pulled it away and rested clenched fists in her lap, sitting on the edge of the bed in nervous silence, trying to find a memory of what happened to her, but it was a useless attempt. She closed her eyes and massaged her temples, but could only see blackness, and smell flowers somewhere in the distance...
Edea hung up the phone after leaving yet another message on Seifer's machine. She knew he was getting them, but he wasn't making any effort to contact her. She sat in her leather wingback chair and stared off into space for a while. How could she make things right with Seifer again? Things had just completely fallen apart between them. Edea knew a portion of that was because of Ultimecia, but she knew a bigger portion of it was because of the fact that her and Cid had abandoned Seifer, and lied to him for his entire life. They really hadn't 'abandoned' him, but they hadn't been parents to him when he really needed it most.
She looked up when she heard a gentle knocking on the door. She was staying in Cid's rooms at Balamb Garden, so was a little confused. Perhaps Cid just thought she wanted to be alone, and was making sure he wasn't disturbing her. She got out of the chair, which felt like a task too heavy for her to bear, what with the heaviness in her muscles, and more importantly in her heart. But, when she opened the door, she found that it wasn't her husband at all. It was Laguna. She was so glad to see him, and so angry too. The mere sight of his kind, smiling face lifted some of the heaviness in her chest, but it made her mind tense.
"What are you doing here?" She asked, not hiding the accusatory tone of her velvety voice.
"I came to see if you were okay..."
"You came all the way from Esthar for that?" She asked sourly. "You really didn't have to, and quite frankly, that's the lamest excuse I've ever heard, even coming from you, Laguna."
"I needed to see you."
"I told you that I didn't think we should see each other any more." She turned her back to him. "And, I meant it."
"Edea.... please. Don't shut me out like this."
"Do you want to break Cid's heart?"
"Of course not," Laguna answered genuinely. "But, I don't want you cut out of my life completely. I still want us to have a relationship, even if it is as only friends. I care about you too much to have let you walk out of Esthar without ever seeing you or talking to you again."
Edea stared at a painting on the wall for a while, not wanting to look at Laguna. "Do you really think we can go back to being 'just friends' though, Laguna?"
"I would like to try. Where is Cid, anyway?"
"His office doing some paperwork. SeeD exams are coming up tomorrow, so there will be a new batch of cadets."
"I wonder if there will be any good ones? Kind of hard to believe that it was actually 10 years ago that Seifer and Squall were students here. I still sort of see Squall as 17." Laguna sat in one of the leather chairs, smiling wistfully.
Edea sat in the chair facing him, though she looked down at her hands. "I still see Seifer as a baby. I still think of him as that little boy who ran around the Orphanage like he owned it." She laughed sadly to herself. "He really could be quite a brat."
"He seems to have matured into a fine man, though."
"Yes...." She looked up into Laguna's caring blue eyes. "You're right. He's become very mature and sensible. True that he still has problems because of what happened with Ultimecia, but he's handling them on his own, and he's trying to straighten himself out. I only wish...." She trailed off with a sigh. "I only wish that Cid and I knew him better. I know him as a little boy, and Cid knows him as a teenager, but neither of us know him as he is now."
"It will take time," Laguna assured, reaching over and patting her knee. "Remember how hard it was for me and Squall? But, we worked it out, and we have a relationship now. I mean.... yeah, it's not the closest relationship, but we're working on it."
"I don't know that Seifer will want to forgive me. There's more to our situation than just abandonment issues. He can only see me as Ultimecia."
"He's just shocked. He thought that his parents had died, or just didn't want him. And, I know that when Squall and I were trying to get to know each other, Rinoa was a big help in making things easier. I'm sure Zell will be the same way for you and Seifer."
She just remained silent, her mouth opening slightly as if she wanted to reply, but she just couldn't. "I know at one point he cared for me, and loved me. But, I don't think he loves me at all now. I'm not a stranger to him, like you were to Squall. I.... Cid and I hurt him deeply."
"He's a grown man now." Laguna got out of his chair and crouched beside Edea in hers. "He will just need time. I know that's a sucky explanation, but it's all I have."
"I know.... and, thank you. I know you're right, Laguna. I really do."
"You just don't see the tunnel for all the lights."
Edea laughed as Laguna stood up and ran his hand through his long hair, grinning.
"I screwed that one up, didn't I?"
"Just a little," she murmured, putting her thumb and forefinger nearly together. "But, that's okay." She stood up and started slowly pacing around the room. "Cid often asks Selphie and Irvine about him, but they don't really see him much. I think it's because him and Zell are trying to avoid any sort of Garden business, especially since Squall is now on the mission with them."
Laguna sighed heavily, coming up behind Edea and putting his hands on her shoulders. "I still don't understand why Squall did that. He's very evasive about it when I try to ask him."
"I think he thought following the rules was best, even if it was an unjust cause." Her shoulders slumped. "Squall and Seifer really are very different, aren't they?"
"Kinda the same in a way, though." One of his hands moved off her shoulder and swept over her hair.
She turned to face him. "Don't....."
"I'm sorry." He dropped his arms to his sides, but was still looking down into Edea's face. She kept looking back up at him, and all those feelings that she'd known were wrong started coming up again. This is why she'd wanted Laguna to stay behind in Esthar, and why she'd wanted to put as much distance as she could between them. No.... they'd been wrong. There was no way that they could go back to being just friends. Her eyes couldn't stop looking at Laguna's mouth, even as it came closer and closer to her. Then, they were kissing. It was as familiar to her as when she was kissing her husband. His arms were so strong and welcoming, and she started kissing him back with intensity. Their hands explored each other's bodies with their hands, which were moving at a pace bordering on madness. It was a kiss born from starvation. They'd only been away from each other for about a week, but it seemed to them like years, now that their lips were pressed together like this again. His hands moved up the front of Edea's blouse, palming her breasts and massaging them. She tugged at his shirttails and pulled them out of his pants, feeling the harness of his erection pressed against her pelvis. She moaned into his mouth, her fists pulling at his shirt hard enough to tear the fabric.
"Hyne, I missed you..." Laguna breathed into her hair. "I missed you so bad."
"Laguna...." She gasped as his hands slipped inside her shirt and touched in under the cups of her bra. She gasped again when she heard a loud clearing of someone's throat. But, the second gasp wasn't from pleasure. She and Laguna both looked to the door to see Cid standing there. He had his arms crossed over his chest, and some papers were dangling between two of his fingers.
"Cid....!" Edea exclaimed quietly, pulling away from Laguna with as much dignity as she could muster, which was zero. Laguna's hands had to slip out of her shirt, and it caused one of her breasts to be exposed. Laguna's shirt was also half-off, and he had a very noticeable erection. "I.... oh Hyne, Cid... I...."
He just stared at them patiently. He wasn't yelling, and he wasn't fuming. He was staring at her with the same look that Seifer had in his eyes when he caught her and Laguna together, and the same look he always had now. That complete look of distrust and disgust in his face, which was so much worse than any tirade he could have gone on.
"I was wondering if something was going on between the two of you. So... has this been going on for years? You two always were very close."
"I.... oh, Cid... I'm so..."
"Sorry?" Cid echoed hollowly, his face very blank of expression. "I'm sure you are, Edea. I know you wouldn't intentionally hurt me."
Edea winced as if Cid had just called her a whore, or had physically assaulted her. Laguna could only turn away until he could command more control of his genitals. He turned his back to them and went out of the room, closing the door behind him, quietly yet firmly.
Zell smiled across the table at Seifer, who was stirring hot chocolate with a chocolate-covered cookie. He loved how handsome Seifer looked with his face just titled that way. Seifer looked up when he felt Zell's foot started to explore up his leg. They were on their first real date, and Zell found that his heart was actually beating quickly, as if he wasn't living with this man, as if he'd never kissed him or fucked him.
"You seem to be enjoying yourself," Seifer commented, smirking over the rim of his mug.
"Aren't you?" Zell asked, his foot still moving up the inner line of Seifer's leg. He stopped just before he reached Seifer's genitals, teasingly putting his foot back down.
"Yeah...." The smirk turned into a genuine smile. "I am, actually. I haven't been on an actual date in a long time."
"Me neither," Zell admitted. "I like not having to worry about keeping it a secret that I like men. Well... just one man."
"So, what do you want to do next?"
"I don't really care," Zell said.
"We can't just sit here drinking hot chocolate forever."
"I wouldn't mind if we did." Zell reached across the table and took one of Seifer's hands into his own. God, it felt so freeing to be able to hold his boyfriend's hand, to not have to worry that someone from Garden might see him. There was still the worry of just a general bigot or asshole seeing them, but Zell wasn't worried about that at all. He just wanted to leap across the table and hug and kiss Seifer for the entire world to see.
"How about a movie?" Seifer asked after a period of silence. It wasn't one of those awkward pauses that so many dates are plagued with. It was wholly comfortable, and both was just content to sip their drinks and look at each other.
"That would be nice." Zell downed the rest of his drink. "We should probably find a paper to see what's playing."
"Okay. There's a stand on the next street corner." They paid for their drinks and started slowly walking down the sidewalk. Zell smiled when Seifer's arm draped over his shoulder. A few people stared at them, but neither cared. They were in their own little world.
"Let's see....." They stopped at a newsstand and Seifer paid for a local paper and started flipping through it. "What sort of movie are you in the mood for? And, don't say porno." Seifer looked at Zell sidelong.
Zell closed his mouth, because he was indeed going to mention that in jest. He just smiled and sidled closer to Seifer as the taller man kept searching the paper. He stood on his tiptoes and kissed Seifer's cheek and the side of his neck, making a small murmuring noise of delight in the back of his throat.
"Heeeeeyyyyyy! It's the lovebirds!" A cheerful and familiar voice exploded from across the street. Selphie was bouncing up and down like a pogo stick through the crowd, towing Irvine behind her. "What are you doing here?!"
"We live here," Seifer replied sardonically.
"I mean here!" Selphie exclaimed, pointing to the ground.
"Just went to that cafe, and now we're thinking of going to a movie." Seifer flipped to the next page of the paper. "You?"
"Just taking a break." She sighed and ran her hands through her hair. "Things are just crazzzzzyyyy. We really could use you."
Zell's smile darkened a little. "Oh, really? I thought Squall was helping you now."
"He is...." Selphie trailed off, her face also clouding.
"Squall's doing a good job. It's just we could use the extra manpower. The Blackballers thing is starting to get under control, but there's this fear in their wake. I guess that's something that Diablos wanted all along."
"I don't want to talk about Squall," Zell snapped, crossing his arms. He was no longer in a friendly mood, or even a date mood for that matter.
"Sorry..." Selphie apologized. "Well, do you wanna double for the movies?" She asked, trying to change the subject.
"Well, sure...." Zell trailed off, looking up at Seifer. "Is that okay?"
"I don't mind," Seifer murmured quietly, smiling softly. He gave Zell a look that while Selphie and Irvine were standing right there, it was a very private exchange. It made Zell's heart beat a little faster, and it made him feel warm and mushy all the way down to his toes.
"Errr, maybe we shouldn't." She gave them a wink and nudged Irvine. "I think we'd just be in the way."
"No, you wouldn't." Seifer closed the paper and tucked it under one arm. "We'd just ignore you."
"Oh, that's really nice," Selphie muttered, pretending to be offended. "So, let's go. Irvine and I will just pretend that we don't know you and make-out."
"Can I have popcorn first?"
"I don't care."
"Well, you'd be buying it...."
"What? Noooo way."
Seifer and Zell just ignored Selphie and Irvine's bickering, walking a few lengths behind them. Their hands twined together, and they walked with their sides pressed flush. Zell felt like giggling because he was so happy. The down feeling that had come about when Selphie mentioned Squall's name vanished when he was this close to Seifer. They were rather complacent at times when they were both back at the house, but being out together like this was just so new and gratifying. They stopped when Seifer's cellular phone rang. Ever since radio connections had been brought back after Adel's tomb fell from space, people had fallen in love with every kind of electronic communication, which included not only email and telephone, but also portable communication of any form.
Seifer pulled the phone out of his pocket, and Zell saw his face brighten. "Who is it...?"
"Fujin's number." Seifer put the phone to his ear. "Hello?"
"Seifer...." Her voice came through quietly, as if she was far away.
"Fujin....? I can barely hear you." His ear was then filled with a spine-chilling laughter. Seifer knew it wasn't Diablos's laugh, but it reminded him greatly of the demon's laugh. "Fujin?!" Seifer exclaimed. Selphie and Irvine stopped, hearing the worry in Seifer's voice.
"Seifer....?" Zell asked. "What's wrong?"
"Where are you?" Seifer demanded, but the line went dead. "Fujin?! Dammit."
"What?" Selphie asked, worried. "What did she say?"
"Nothing. She said my name, and then I heard this laughter..." Seifer pressed redial, but got a message that made his heard run cold. That the line could not be reached. "Shit, shit, shit."
Seifer pressed a few buttons on the phone. "I'm going to her location. Fuck."
"Not alone you're not," Zell ground out as he and Seifer moved towards where he'd parked his truck.
"What location?!" Selphie called out.
"The Ocean Drive off-ramp to the Galbadia Highway!" Seifer said without looking back at them.
Selphie pulled her own phone out of her bag and dialled Squall's number.
"What are you doing?!" Irving demanded. "We gotta go!"
"Calling Squall," she muttered. "Hey, it's Selphie. We got a problem."
Squall's end was silent, but Selphie knew he'd heard her.
"We think Fujin's in big shit trouble, man. She called Seifer, and..."
"You were with Seifer?"
"Focus, Squall!!" She yelled into the phone. "We think Diablos is doing some very nefarious things right now! He might be hurting Fujin. Seifer and Zell got a location from his phone, so we're going there now. We need you to help."
Squall was silent for a moment, but Selphie knew that mentioning Zell's name would stir something in Squall. It's not like Squall would have just sat back and let something bad happen to Fujin, but mentioning Zell's name was the kick in the ass that Selphie knew he needed.
"You know where the Ocean Drive off-ramp to Galbadia Highway is?"
"Yeah." He hung up.
"So?" Irvine asked.
"He's on his way." Selphie put her phone in her bag. "C'mon, we have to go. Fujin..... she could be in really big trouble."
"What if she's dead when we get there....?" Irvine asked. It was a question that was playing in Selphie's mind as she got behind the wheel of their car, but it was a question that she hadn't wanted to pose. She quickly took some side streets to get out of some slow traffic, and found herself on Ocean Drive. A few car lengths up ahead, she recognized Seifer's truck. Not only because she knew what it looked like, but because he was driving like a maniac. Selphie could easily keep up, because she also drove like a maniac on normal days.
Selphie didn't have to wonder what was going on. The Ocean Drive off-ramp sort of wound around the back of a farmer's field. The field was full of bodies writhing. The windows were down in the car, and Selphie immediately had to roll them up because of the smell. This wasn't a smell that came from alive people. All those people that looked like a big pile of writhing limbs smelled like they were dead. A few were walking around, but some looked like they couldn't move based on rot, or broken and disjointed limbs. Seifer's truck had stopped ahead of them, and he had gotten out of the car, Zell beside him. Selphie dashed over to them, covering her mouth and nose with her forearm. "Hyne, it reeks. What's happening?"
"They all look.... dead...." Zell looked away, the stench stinging his eyes. The ones that were still walking around weren't paying them much attention, and were focused at something off in the distance. By the off-ramp, things had gotten very dark. It had been a relatively nice afternoon in town, but out here, it was like it was night. But, it felt too unnatural to be real night.
"I think they are," Seifer said quietly. "This may be what Diablos was up to."
"How did they all get here?" Irvine asked. He'd pulled out his gun, and was holding it out in front of him. While the bodies were twitching like they were on their last breaths, he didn't trust them at all. He raised his gun when someone came staggering out of the mess that looked like it belonged in the deepest parts of hell. Zell's whole body clenched, and he couldn't help it when he protectively moved to stand in front of Seifer, as if Seifer actually needed the protection. The taller man gently moved Zell out of the way, staring at this staggering person coming towards him. Selphie let out a gasp, and Zell cursed under his breath. It was Fujin. At least she seemed alive.
When she got closer, Irvine gasped and Selphie cried out "Holy Hyne!" Fujin's eye was glittering black, and her skin looked very sweaty and greyish in colour.
"Fujin...." Seifer said. The way he said her name was just filled with so much pain. "No."
"I can hear him...." She whispered in a voice that didn't seem her own. It was her voice to be sure, but the tone seemed all wrong. The spidery whisper didn't belong with her voice. "I can feel him...."
"God, Fujin." Seifer dashed across the road and seized her shoulders. "Where did you get it from?!"
"I'm part of him."
"Why?!" Seifer demanded, his voice shaking in a way that broke Zell's heart. A car's tires squealed nearby, and Squall quickly came running. "Why?!" Seifer asked her again, shaking her.
"The roads are all blocked off," Squall informed them. "Overturned cars and fires, that sort of thing..." He looked over to Seifer and Fujin, and saw the blackness of her eye in the dim light. "Blackball...." Squall looked up to the black sky when he saw movement. It was a great pair of wings, and he would have thought it was Diablos, but that wasn't the case. While this was a demon that resembled the Dark Messenger in form, it wasn't truly him.
"It looks like one of those creatures from Daeva's mansion," Selphie hissed under her breath, her own weapon also getting pulled out.
"Seifer, if only you knew."
Seifer shook his head and looked into Fujin's sweaty face, but her lips hadn't moved. He'd been so concentrated on her that he hadn't noticed that someone else came out of the field. With Fujin, it was obvious that she was still alive. The same couldn't be said for Raijin. True, he was up and walking around, but he didn't look... right. There was also the fact that Seifer still dreamed every night of ending his former friend's life. While Blackball had made Fujin's face a pale pallor, Raijin looked positively ashen, and his eyes were milky with decay. But, he was still articulate, and those milky eyes did still show the intelligence of brain function.
"Fujin knows now, ya know?! She knows what I know, what all these gifted children know. But...I also know what a traitor you are, that you're the one that destroyed everything. He doesn't only tell me beautiful things, but also the ugly truth, even if it's about you."
"The ugly truth is that you're a puppet," Seifer hissed. Fujin slumped, and he gently let her down to the road. Selphie ran across the highway and helped bring Fujin towards the car. "You're Diablos's whore, and he uses you whenever he sees fit."
"Oh, the way you were a puppet to Ultimecia, ya know?!"
"That's exactly how I know!" Seifer shouted, pulling out his hunting knives. He hadn't brought Hyperion on what was supposed to be a nice date with Zell, but he never went anywhere without his small knives. "I know more than anyone what it's like to be someone's pawn and to be their bitch, and you're more Diablos's puppet than I was ever Ultimecia's."
"I'm blessed by his voice!" Raijin hissed, advancing towards Seifer. He had a wicked looking steel pole in his hands that was sharp and jagged on one end. The smell rolling off him was intense.
"You're dead!!" Seifer yelled back.
"You should know, ya know?!" Raijin got into a crouching stance that was achingly familiar of old days gone by at Garden. "You were the one that killed me, ya know?! Think you have the balls to do it again, Xar-voth kullerah?"
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