Gudday. My name is Michael Kenny, and I am a Zell fan.

This fic is a sequel to my other fic, FF8 Tournament. Many of you who are reading this now are people who have read Tournament – hopefully. If you wish to get the full enjoyment of this fic, read Tournament. I will be filling in a few blanks here and there, but the plot of Tournament will merge with Twist In Time, so it's crucial to read Tournament. (A few reviews wouldn't hurt either! Thanks!!)

As I said before, I am a Zell fan. I love the hotdog-eating freak, which might also explain why this fic will also be rather violent…bare-handed kinda violent. I've been commended on my ability to write a fight scene many times, and this story will have no exceptions. Expect action, and plenty of it.

That said, I'm not all explosions and flying fists. This thing will have a plot-line that will slap you across the side of your face with a wet fish – i.e. expect to be surprised. I'm a no-holds barred writer – Zell got tortured in Tournament, as well as killed…several times… so leave nothing to chance. I'm going to be brutal.

When reading this fic, I suggest some music. No, not Beethoven – though he does have some good ones – but more along the lines of Disturbed, Rob-Zombie, Powerman 5000, and to the lesser extent, Linkin Park. You know, something that'll make your ears bleed and carry you along with the fights – of which there will be plenty.

Right, intro over – time to rock!!

*          *            *

Ch 1 – Questions Questions

The pub was filled, basically, with scum.

This wasn't just any ordinary, 'don't-mess-with-me-or-you'll-be-breathing-through-a-hose' scum. Oh no. These guys were mean. They made you're worst enemy look like a walk in the park with an ice cream and your best girl by your side.

Of course, to some people, that would make these guys neigh to invincible. But we're referring these guys to your enemies – not to some people.

The bartender, a simple man with a simple job, tried desperately not to sweat. He had been cleaning the same glass for the last half-hour, trying not to draw any attention to himself. It wouldn't have mattered anyways. The scum hadn't actually ordered anything for a while since they had arrived.

Three days ago.

*          *            *

Outside the pub Timber police surrounded the tiny bar. Men stood all around the entrance and the windows, their guns trained on them unerringly. On the roof several cops stood to make sure no-one would try to escape through any vents.

Three men were stationed just outside the backdoor in the messy alleyway, their guns trained on the metal door. One sat behind a bundle of trashcans, hidden almost perfectly. Another stood just behind the gates of the stairs up to the Timber TV Station, further down the alleyway. The final one sat just on the windowsill above the door, his gun trained on the door as he leaned slightly over the sill.

He looked down at the man behind the cans awkwardly. "Hey…" He whispered. "…Hey, Jark."

"What?"

"Why are we here again?"

Jark rolled his eyes and spared a glance up at his friend. "We're making sure that they stay within the pub until the SeeDs get here."

"Well, they're taking their time, huh?"

"They're a mercenary force, Zap. A profit organization. They need time to get everything in order."

"Yeah, but…three days?"

The man in the back of the alleyway spoke up. "Oi! You two! Shut up already!!"

The two Timber soldiers shut their yaps and continued their vigilant watch on the door. They didn't see two figures on top of the TV Station roof.

*          *            *

Two figures stood atop the TV Station, the sunlight warming their backs.

The first man turned to the second, who was holding a rifle, the weapon pointed towards the rooftop. "Anything?"

The second man flicked his red ponytail back around his shoulder and adjusted his fedora hat, the stiff breeze causing the leather jacket he wore to flap around him. "No enemies on the roof. I'm impressed. I guess the Timber Soldiers must've been training."

The first man nodded, his muscular arms crossed. "Yeah…but I wonder why they asked us to take these guys. I mean, the Timber Soldiers are trained in paramagical abilities, right?"

"Nope…most of them use guns. They figure they don't really need magic in today's political clime."

The first man shook his head with a smirk. "Silly buggers…when will they learn?" He uncrossed his arms and cracked his knuckles, the loud cracks emitting from beneath the thin Adamantine gauntlets that covered his hands. One was a blood red, the other a shiny silver, each allowing full movement in both hands. He cracked the knuckles on one hand, before cracking the knuckles of the other. "Ah well. You ready?"

The second man stood, placing the rifle down into a case besides where he had just crouched. Standing straight, he flicked his arms out, two handguns sliding perfectly out of the sleeves into his hands. "Need you ask?" he muttered, a grin spreading on his handsome face.

The first man mirrored the grin, his tattooed face lighting up. "Then let's boogie."

*          *            *

One of the scum turned to the pub owner. "Hey! You!" He yelled gruffly, his serrated blade sliding out of his sheath with a menacing 'shing'.

The publican jumped slightly, almost dropping his very-clean glass. "Y-yes?"

"Get me a drink."

The publican blinked. "W-what do you want?"

"I said, get me a drink!!"

The order was put with such a sadistic tone, the glare the scum gave to the pub owner so vile, that he knew that if he went over there he would be, at the very least, strangled by his own colon. He also knew that if he didn't follow the order he would most likely not die so quickly.

Fighting for something that barely resembled calm, the pub owner quickly and professionally made the most alcoholic drink he knew – a Marlboro Dicer, guaranteed to make you see stars for at least a full hour – before the alcohol actually kicks in and you begin to feel like you've just drunk an entire vat of full strength beer.

"Where the hell's my drink?!"

"C-Coming sir!" The pub owner said, mixing the last of the drink and pouring all the contents into the largest glass he could find.

He quickly traced his way around the bar, the drink spilling slightly as he moved around the ten or so other soldiers towards the one who had ordered him. The man accepted the drink ungratefully, ripping it out of the pub owner's hands.

"Thanks…" He grunted, before lifting the large pitcher to his thick lisp and greedily gulping down the contents. He lowered the pitcher and grimaced, before belching loudly. "Weak as piss." He muttered, crushing the pewter pitcher in his hand  "You know how to make a Red Dragon?"

The pub owner gasped at the mention of the drink, his eyes widening in shock. "That…that drink has enough alcohol to kill a T-Rexaur. It's been proven!"

The man grinned again. "Yeah. It's a great drink."

The pub owner stepped back in dazed amazement. Even if the man were bluffing, it would be crazy to even request such a drink.

Unfortunately, he stepped right into another soldier, his beefy frame stopping the pudgy body of the pub owner as if he had waked right into a wall. A brick wall. A brick wall reinforced with adamantine. A brick wall, reinforced with adamantine, and carrying a very large gunblade.

Both men looked down at the small sandwich the man had made himself only moments before, the cheese spilled out of the two slices from where he had dropped it thanks to the clumsy bartender.

Both men looked up again, their eyes locking.

One man simply whimpered, sheer terror within the small orbs in his skull.

The other man's eyes were as lifeless as the cheese on the floor. The only thing that resembled emotion was the reflection of the other man's terrified eyes.

The publican scarpered. As sure as he was that someone was going to be coming for him and the other hostages huddled behind the bar, he was also sure that he was the only one who was holding on by a very thin thread.

He would not be holding on for much longer.

*          *            *

A Timber Soldier up on the roof suddenly heard two soft thumps, like the sound an empty cardboard box makes when it hits the floor. Looking around, the only thing he saw was the ventilation box, surrounded by several of his friends, who were looking outwards.

The ventilation box had been cleared and bolted down, a large steel container placed over it to prevent anybody from getting out.

The Soldier stepped forward slowly, his rifle trained on the ventilation box.

"Not there, buddy." A voice said evenly.

He looked up to see two men on top of the box – before a blood red fist entered his vision.

Then he saw nothing.

*          *            *

Several thumps sounded on the roof, and every soldier jumped to their feet. A myriad of sounds – swords being drawn, guns being cocked, chains being unfurled – echoed around the tiny bar.

The bartender gulped as the man he gave the drink to turned to the man beside him. "What the hell was that?"

The man that spoke back was the most deadly, simply because he didn't look deadly. Smaller then the others, his hands were covered in metallic armour, the gauntlets covered in small spikes. "It wasn't the Timber Soldiers. If they were going to do something, they would have done it by now." He muttered quietly, tossing a lock of long black hair from his intelligent eyes.

Every merc in the room looked at each other, the unspoken words seeming to be sent by their warriors eyes only. SeeDs were on the premises.

The man with the gauntlets walked to the centre of the room. "Everybody, take your places. All projectile users stay to the centre of the room. Blade and fighters take your places beside the doors. SeeD wouldn't risk the Timber Soldiers on an attack on such a small area – but they won't care about risking their own hides."

He pointed to the man who dropped his sandwich. "You – guard those hostages. If they move an inch, you have my permission to castrate them."

The man nodded emotionlessly, before vaulting over the bar and landing on top of someone.

Everybody was in position. All guns were trained on the roof. Several men carrying gunblades, nunchaku and knives guarded both doors and all windows. Now allow they needed was for someone to try and enter the pub.

They didn't need to wait for long.

*          *            *

"Are the soldiers taken care of?" The cowboy asked, looking down over the edge of the roof, speaking into the microphone attached to the collar of his coat.

The warrior looked up from the several bodies around him and lifted the silver gauntlet to his mouth. More or less. His words were emitted clearly from the earpiece within the cowboy's ear. I don't know about you, but I saw some movement within the pub. I think we've been fucked.

"Shit…" The cowboy muttered, flicking the safeties off his large handguns. "I told you we should have left the Timber Soldiers alone."

What, and risk allowing them to barge in while we're cleaning up? We'll have less to worry about once we get inside.

"Whatever, lets just finish this off, go home and get laid."

There was a brief pause, before the cowboy watched the warrior shrug with a smile. …Fine by me…

*          *            *

"One man outside. He's taken out all of the Timber Soldiers." One of the mercs said as he looked outside the window of the bar, before turning to the smaller warrior. "He's good. I barely saw him move."

"That's SeeD before…don't get freaked out, though. They're only human, like us."

"Certainly didn't look human to me Keln…."

Keln walked forward, gripping the larger man by the shirtfront and hauling him up off his feet. "I don't need weaklings." He muttered, before reaching up with the other hand – and stabbing the spikes on the gauntlet into his eyes.

The man barely had time to scream – before there was a knock on the front door.

*          *            *

Beginning entrance procedure…

"Come off it man. You just like acting cool before taking out the bad guys."

There was a short pause. …Executing entrance procedure…

The cowboy smiled, before pointing the handguns down at the roof under his feet. "I swear to the gods, you can be such an asshole sometimes…"

*          *            *

Every eye turned towards the door – before it blew open with a spectacular explosion, the blast smashing the three men around the door onto their backs and skidding off into the back of the bar.

Zell stepped through the now-open door with a large grin on his tattooed face. "Anybody call a Garden-er?"

Keln jumped backwards, pointing a finger at the SeeD. "It's SeeD! Blast him!!"

Every single person with a projectile weapon opened up on the SeeD, the loud clatter of machine gun fire echoing throughout the bar as the six men carrying gun opened fire.

Zell's grin seemed to grow even larger – before his hands began to dance before him, his arms blurs as sparks flashed and spat around and before him, his hands flashing as he deflected the bullets with his gauntlets.

There was a brief pause as the machine-gunners ran out of ammo, and everybody watched as Zell lowered one smoking red gauntlet, opening the fist – to show the bullets he had caught!! "You'll have to do better then that, boys." He said with a chuckle as the smoking lumps of lead clattered to the floor, the silence within the room so thick you couldn't cut it with a gunblade.

There was an abrupt repetition of gunshots as a neat hole was cut through the roof of the bar, a circle of ceiling dropping down to reveal a second SeeD, this one dressed in a leather coat, twirling twin handguns as he fell through the hole he made to land on top of the guy who had been unlucky enough to be beneath him. "Surprise!!" Irvine cried.

That was the que. Every mercenary in the bar suddenly jumped for Zell and Irvine, the two SeeDs ready for anything.

Irvine was amongst the mercs in an instant, his guns flaring brilliantly as he twisted and twirled amongst the swinging blades and flailing chains. Jumping on top of a table, his hands moved so fast you could hardly see, the bullets seeming to simply travel to their targets without the cowboy needing to look.

Zell stepped forward, bringing the fight to the mercs too. Smashing a fist into the face of a big beefy guy, he quickly grabbed his arm and flipped him over his body, slamming the man to the ground. A quick twist of the arm, a snap for confirmation, before slamming a palm into the man's agonised face signified his end to the fight.

Zell then ducked, rolling to the left as a large blade slashed through the air where his head had just been. Rolling to his feet, he flipped a chair up onto it's legs and kicked it forward, the chair sliding forward and tripping the swordsman over. Zell was on top of him in an instant, a quick head butt knocking him out.

He flipped up and off the man as a large chain smashed down on him, crushing the man's sternum, killing him instantly. The chain-wielder barely had time to look up – before two metal fingers poked straight through the eyes, meeting somewhere behind the eye-sockets, and separating the cranium from the maxilla. In layman's terms, ripping the top of the skull from the head.

Zell looked up to see a man aiming a gun at him, and he quickly threw the bone at him, the bloody piece of skull taking him right in the face, knocking the gun-man off-balance. Zell then stepped forward, placing his hand on the man's chest – before blasting him to atoms with a Firaga, the powerful magic also taking out half the table, chairs and terrorists behind the now ashened assailant.

Irvine picked himself off the floor just in time as another terrorist slashed down at the ground, only barely missing the cowboy's head as the sharp sword clove the lacquered wood floor. Irvine placed a handgun on the man's head, smiling as he shook his head – before the hammer fell on an empty chamber.

The merc was now the one who was smiling as Irvine frowned, annoyed, pulling the trigger again as if he didn't believe that his Vincent Valentine had run out of bullets. Irvine saw the smile, and, pulling the gun back, smashed the heavy metal weapon into the man's face. The man slumped down, unconscious.

Popping the clips on the guns, Irvine kicked a riding boot into an advancing terrorists' groin, causing the man to double over as Irvine rammed fresh clips into the clip chambers, allowing the slides to click forward, chambering the rounds. Irvine then placed one gun barrel on the kneeling terrorist's head and blew his brains out whilst swinging his other gun behind him, blasting a sneaky terrorist off his feet with an over-the-shoulder shot.

Zell quickly flipped over the back of one bad guy and, grabbing his face with a hand as he flipped over, threw him into another one, the two large men falling to the floor like skittles. Jumping up, he rammed a boot into the man lying on top, the shoe seeming to crush all barriers under it. Both men's screams were cut off abruptly by a flash of Fire.

Zell then turned to see the last two men. A man about Zell's height, wielding twin gauntlets with spikes on the knuckles, and a big chunky man wielding a gunblade and gripping a hostage by the throat, the sword inches away from piercing the man's heart.

The smaller man spoke, his voice cool and precise. "You must be Zell Dincht. Nobody else could have moved through my men with such precision and…violence. And nobody else has gauntlets like yours…one stained with your own blood, I presume?"

"Yeah…and I had some help." Zell muttered evenly, watching as Irvine stood up straight, smoke twisting from his Vincent's as he assessed the situation.

The smaller man smiled, not bothering to turn. "Irvine Kinnes…the Sorceress Slayer. Of course. Deadly with his guns…but without them, I'd think he wouldn't be much of a challenge."

"You'd have to get them off me first, dude." Irvine muttered, one gun pointed at the head of the small man whilst the other was pointed at the larger one. "Drop the hostage, give up, and you might live through this."

"You'd turn us over?" The smaller one asked, his voice full of mockery.

Zell smiled. "We're mercenaries…not police. We kill when we need to…but not all the time."

"Obviously." The smaller man lifted his fists, showing off his golden gauntlets. "My name is Rest Keln, a Commander in the Defector Army. I wish to challenge you to a Duel to the death."

Zell paused for a second – before smiling, nodding his head. "I fully accept you're challenge, Rest. It would please me to fight someone with such respect as you."

"Zell! What are you doing?!" Irvine exclaimed as he watched Zell lift his fists. "Lets just clean this up and go home!"

"It'll only take a minute, Irvine – trust me." Zell said to his friend with a wink.

Keln stepped forward, rolling his head on it's base. "I watched your fights in the Tournament. I was unable to fight at the time – I was hospitalised at the time. But now I'm ready for anything you throw at me - "

Keln stepped forward suddenly, cutting his sentence off as he threw a powerful blow at Zell – who just managed to dodge, sliding on his feet to the left and gripping the arm, pulling it up and over his body in the perfect throw.

Keln predicted the manoeuvre, however, and twisted his body around to land on his feet, using the closeness to his prey to his advantage. He smashed a fist into Zell's stomach, who grunted as the hand slammed into the flesh, the spikes driving into the SeeD's guts painfully. Zell grimaced, but didn't budge as he quickly twisted and threw the terrorist outside, the man flying straight through the wall beside the door and landing on the ground with a thud.

Zell looked over to Irvine. "Take care of him." He muttered, flicking a thumb at the man holding the gunblade, before walking out the door.

The man watched as Zell walked out the door, before turning his sight back to Irvine. The handgun was now almost an inch from his left eye, Irvine having covered the six or so feet from where he had been in almost a blink of an eye, and the man gulped loudly as he realised that he was screwed.

*          *            *

Keln picked himself up slowly, shaking his head and looking up in the Galbadian sunlight. Zell walked forward, keeping a safe distance as he watched the soldier rise to his feet.

He cocked his head to the left. "Bionics…cool." Zell muttered as he watched one of Keln's leg spark slightly, torn pant material showing the plastic skin covering the outside, ripped slightly from the trip through the metal and rock wall. "Reminds me of someone."

"Yes…I believe Sam Gangee had bionic too…" Keln said, stepping forward quickly, his fist slashing out over Zell's ducked head.

"Yeah…I wondered why it hurt so much to kick that leg." Zell replied, smashing an uppercut into Keln's head, before spinning and kicking the soldier down to the ground.

Keln looked up, spitting some blood out of his mouth as he watched the SeeD lift his hand, his palm flat, his fingers fanned. "You were too much for me…" He choked as the ball of lightening began to grow in Zell's red hand. "…At least I got to fight you…"

"Yeah…real honour, huh?" Zell muttered, watching as the man closed his eyes – before the Thundara smashed into his body, lacing through his system and frying him instantly. Keln's body twitched slightly, before coming to a rest, his gauntlet covered fist opening loose, all tension released as he left the physical coil.

Zell sighed and turned to see Irvine walk the last remaining terrorist out, disarmed and meek. "One survivor unhurt…I suppose that's some kinda record, huh?"

The man suddenly reached for his belt, pulling a knife out of nowhere – before his brains were splattered all over the place, Irvine's gun blast echoing throughout the city. Zell watched the body slump to the floor and shrugged. "Oh well."

*          *            *

The two SeeDs watched as the Timber authorities began to clean up, reviving their unconscious comrades and unfurling the body-bags for the fallen terrorists.

Irvine and Zell sat on the bench just next to the stairs down to the pub area, watching as all the paramedics and militia scurried about with their jobs to do. Timber citizens had began to crowd around the cordoned off area, many wanting to catch the afternoon train back to Deling. Zell leaned back on the bench, his eyes closed. Irvine sat with his legs crossed, his rifle case sitting beside him as he reloaded his spent clips.

"You hear what he said in there?" Zell muttered, not bothering to open his eyes, fingering the bandages that a paramedic had wrapped around his stomach after casting a small Cure spell on the wound.

Irvine nodded. "Yeah man. Defector Army." He finished one clip and stashed it in an ammo pouch, before starting on another. "You reckon there's more out there?"

"Who knows…although Hyne knows why they wanted to attack the Aurora Pub."

"Maybe with Deling gone they have nothing else to do? No leader, no mission…no point."

Zell shook his head. "Bugger it. It doesn't matter anymore. All that matters now it how we get back to Balamb…back to Angel."

Irvine rolled his eyes. "Well, you're the one with five million gil. It only costs three thousand, five hundred gil for a train ticket."

Zell snorted. "Yeah. Hell, I suppose I could buy the whole train system and ride for free."

"Yeah, why not?"

The two SeeD's chuckled. Zell shook his head and stood. "Well, come on. We won't get home waiting around here."

Irvine stood, placing the clip he was working on in an ammo pouch and picking up his rifle case. "Hey, what was with all the procedure today? You trying to get serious in you're old age?"

Zell rolled his eyes. "Hyne, Irvine, I'm only twenty one. There's only so much fun you can get from these missions. Maybe I just wanted to test out the new radio system we got."

"Yeah, these things are pretty cool." Irvine muttered, pulling the ear-piece and mike out of his ear and collar. "Although I keep forgetting to take them out after we're finished."

"Well, don't forget when Selphie is on a mission, otherwise you're sure to get your ass kicked."

"Just because I like to comment on the ladies I see when I'm on a mission doesn't mean I'm cheating on her!"

The two SeeDs chuckled once more before walking towards the train station.

They didn't see the two figures peel off the crowd and advance towards them.

*          *            *

"So…what's happening with Commander Carpenter?" Irvine asked Zell as he paid the lady at the newsagency.

"What about it?" Zell countered with a small grin, ripping the wrapping off his chocolate bar with a professional pull of his teeth and biting a huge piece off.

Irvine slugged Zell in the shoulder, frowning with annoyance. "Come on, man! Have you taken the mission, or not?"

It had been three months since the Tournament had finished. After being declared Champion of the World All Out Martial Arts Tournament, Zell had returned to his former job as a SeeD. His winnings – a large golden belt and twenty million Gil – were stashed safely away in his newly rebuilt home in Balamb.

Of course, he only got ten million from the winnings – what with Garden being his official sponsors. Not only that, five million went back into restoring the red Ragnarok to it's former glory – after Zell, Irvine and Selphie had managed to almost destroy it in their attempts to foil the assassination of both the Presidents of Esthar and Galbadia.

Zell couldn't complain, however. Five million gil was a lot more gil then he would ever see in his entire life. He safely stashed it away, planning to retire at the ripe old age of thirty – but that was for later.

"I said I would…but he gave me time to think about it." Zell replied solemnly, vaulting onto a train-station bench to wait for the train back to Balamb.

After a massive battle with the Assassin, a traitorous White SeeD called Sam Gangee, Zell had been approached by the highest official in SeeD – Master of the Garden Committee, Matthew Carpenter – and offered a highly dangerous mission.

Save the world…again.

Suffice to say, Zell was more then qualified.

But the catch was, Zell wouldn't just be saving Gaia – he'd be going into uncharted territories, into a place that was wholly foreign to anybody.

He would need to dive into the random equivalent that was Time Compression. But on a much larger, more universal scale. A Universal Compression.

The sheer insanity of it was enough to make anybody step back. 'Hey kid, good job foiling the bad guy's plot, now we want you to do something that would almost defiantly kill you – you up for it?'

Carpenter would have been more then insane to refuse Zell a few months to think it over. He would have been dead.

Irvine plonked down into the seat beside Zell, tearing the wrapper off his own chocolate bar. "So how long did he give you?"

"He said I could take as long as I thought it would take…but if something should happen at the Arch, I'd be forced to decide."

Irvine bit into the sweet chocolate, chewing thoughtfully on some nougat. "Soooo…where are you leaning?" he asked with a full mouth, raising his eyebrows with the question.

Zell shook his head, chomping the rest of his bar down and swallowing in one go. "I dunno…I still haven't made my mind up yet. I mean, Time Compression was bad enough…but Universal Compression? Would I even survive something like that?"

"That's the thing, though. We barely survived Time Compression. But that was years ago. And we had Rinoa with us. Would that mean that he'd ask Rinoa to go with you?"

Zell shook his head. "I dunno. From what I've figured, in an all out battle with you or Squall, I most likely wouldn't survive. He needs someone who can fight without equipment – someone who can defend themselves with their bare hands."

Irvine paused for a second – before shrugging the topic off. "Sucks to be you, man. I'd hate to be in your position."

Zell rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the sympathy, dude. I'm sure I'll remember that when I write my will."

Irvine snickered at that.

At that moment, the two tails who had followed them rose from their hiding places behind the bench, their arms reaching out to grasp the two SeeD's necks in long hugging grips…

Zell reacted instantly, his hand reaching up and grabbing his assailant's arm and flinging him up and over his head to fall into the train tracks, disappearing beneath the platform. Without looking he expertly smashed an elbow into Irvine's assailant's face, the female attacker squealing in pain as a spurt of blood signified a clean hit…

Wait a minute. Female attacker? Squealing in pain?

Zell froze like someone had cast Stop on him, his arm still cocked back to where the attack had taken place, before forcing his head to turn, with infinite slowness…to see Selphie rolling about on her back, both hands to her face as her nose bled freely. His whole body then froze completely, like someone had cast Blizaga on him. Several time over.

Thought number one: I am so dead.

Thought number two: If that's Selphie, then the other one must be…

Zell's nerves froze for a second time as he watched his beloved Angel, the woman he loved so desperately and intensely, pull herself up off the train tracks and onto the platform, an intense fire burning within her eyes as she blew the short chocolate-brown ponytail off of her shoulder.

Thought number three: I am SO dead. He had forgotten all about the fact that Selphie and Angel had said they would be visiting Timber today.

"It wasn't my fault! I swear, you guys! If you hadn't snuck up on us, you wouldn't have gotten the whole 'brutal' treatment! Hey come on, don't look at me like that! Come on guys! I was all jumpy from the mission!! See, I was stabbed!! Guys? Selphie, put down the Flail. Angel, watch where you're pointing that Fire. Come on honey, I've been hurt! See? Honey? Baby??"

The winner of the Gaia Martial Arts Tournament, the saviour of the world on two separate occasions, the most powerful martial artist in the world, bolted as the pair of woman pounced, narrowly missing the fighter and landing on a very frightened cowboy.

*          *            *

In a dark room hidden from prying eyes, a man watched as Zell ducked away from the attacking friends and ran as fast as he could down the street, the two woman giving chase, one dragging a very pitiful looking cowboy along with her.

The man looked up as a hand rested on his shoulder. "And how's our friend coming along?" Commander Carpenter asked, looking down at the screen with mild curiosity. He smiled as he saw Angel catch up with Zell, tackling the man to the floor.

The man sitting down sighed. "It's strange, sir. He moved through the mission with a professionalism I haven't seen in a long time – but now it's like he's an ordinary man. How can someone like that wield so much power?"

"It's the key to his power. His personality is what drew us to him in the first place. The fact that he's a fighter – a damn good one, at that – is just a bonus."

The two men watched as Selphie and Angel began to beat Zell severely, Zell mewling pitifully as Selphie's Flail bounced off his head. Irvine managed to drag the rabid woman off him, locking Selphie's arms back as she continued to natter and snarl at the obviously terrified Zell, who was now only barely defending himself from Angel.

The sitting man frowned. "Do you think he'll accept the mission?"

"I'm as sure of it as I am that nothing good will come out of the Arch. His loyalty to his friends and the world is second to none. He can't refuse."

The man sighed. "I don't know, sir…he just seems...well, I just don't think he'll be able to accept what he'll see when he goes through the Arch." He watched as Angel finally stopped punching Zell and walked away, arms crossed, head held high to tend to her wounded friend. Zell simply watched her go, sitting on the ground with his clothes slightly ruffled and torn from the scuffle, but his body no worse for wear.

Carpenter couldn't help but grunt in sympathy as Zell sniffed sadly and pulled himself to his feet, placing his hands in his pockets and walking slowly in the direction that the girls went in order to apologise. "He will…" Carpenter said slowly. "…And he'll save us in the process. You'll see."

With that, Carpenter patted the man on the shoulder and turned, walking out of the room, leaving him to his vigilant watch on the saviour of the world…and maybe countless others.
*          *            *

Hey there! Hope you liked the start!!

If you've read this before, you might recognise it as the teaser for the fic. Suffice to say, Recruit Number One was supposed to be the first chapter…but I decided to keep this in. It's just so good! I'm really happy with what I've written in it.

Also, I've cleaned up a few bits and pieces – the dual introductions, as well as some other things.