Thief's Treasure
Chapter One: One Last Taste of Freedom
By PasifiKStaR

Author's Note: Yet another boring story from me. Sorry if it's too long and slow. I'm just bored and wanted to write something. Like in my last story, other Final Fantasy characters will be serving as minor characters with their little cameos. It's just easier for me that way. -_-;;

*All Standard Disclaimers Apply - I do not own Final Fantasy or it's characters.

"There you are," a voice sighed from the door way. "I thought you'd be in here." The spiky haired blond waited to be recognized, but never was. The young man laying on the couch, with a book in his hand didn't seem to even care that he was there.

"Zell, did you find him?" a voice asked behind the blond. Zell turned around and saw a young man wearing a cowboy hat walking towards him. "He wasn't in the library."

"Yeah, I found him," Zell sighed. The tall brunette in the hat walked up behind Zell and looked over his head. He rolled his eyes at the sight. "I wonder if he's awake..."

As if to answer him, the brown haired young man on the couch raised his hand and turned a page. The tall brunette behind Zell snickered. "Yeah, he's just ignoring us."

"I'll turn on the lights," Zell sighed with a shake of his head. "Irvine, you try to get his attention." As the blond headed towards the light switch, Irvine walked over to the front of the ornately carved, Victorian style couch where a blue eyed brunette laid casually reading a book as a fire roared in the hearth across the room.

Up until Zell flipped the switch, the fire place's glow had been the only source of light in the tiny, out of the way lounge where the blue eyed brunette laid comfortably. "Squall," Irvine said with a frown as he crouched down. "Squall, your dad is looking for you."

Squall kept his blue eyes pasted on the leather book resting on his stomach as he leaned back against three large pillows. "Whatever," he mumbled. *Does it LOOK like I care?* He knew what was going on downstairs. He could hear the piano music floating up from the ball room and into the out of the room he had sought shelter in.

Irvine groaned. "Come on, Squall, you know this is important," Irvine looked desperate as he looked at his friend. "Just go. It won't kill you to just show up for a few minutes."

Squall raised his cold blue eyes to meet Irvine's green eyed plea. "I'm not going." he said, plain and simple.

"Why not!?" Zell whined behind him. He stood behind the couch and looked at Squall, who returned to reading his book. "How can THIS possibly be more interesting than...than..."

"Than checking out the best of the blue blood daughters!?" Irvine exclaimed tiredly. He stood up. "What are you reading anyway!?" He grabbed the book from Squall's hand and red the cover. His eyes squinted as he re-read the title. "'Foundations in the History of Chocobos'!?" He dropped the book and glared at Squall. "Have you gone insane!?"

Squall merely looked at him. "Did you know that you can capture chocobos in the forest with flutes?"

*Hyne, he has gone crazy.* Irvine and Zell stared at him in disbelief. Slowly, their heads lifted and shocked eyes met. It seemed that would have to resort to the only person who could talk some sense into their friend. "ELLONE!!"

Downstairs, a young woman was talking to some guests when she heard the cry upstairs. At first, she looked surprised, but quickly placed a smile back on her face as she turned to the guests. "Excuse me for one moment," she smiled elegantly. "I believe I forgot something upstairs!"

"Of course, Ellone," the busty brunette with the long dark brown hair said. "I'll talk to you in a bit."

Ellone bowed her head slightly and side stepped the other young woman. She immediately headed for the stairs that lead up to the upper levels of Esthar's Presidential Palace, where she had spent much of her life since her uncle and adoptive father was given control of the technologically advanced nation.

However, for her uncle's only son and her adoptive brother, the massive and elaborate palace had been nothing more than a gilded cage. *Perhaps that's why he ran off to Balamb Garden military school...* she thought to herself. Quietly she ascended the stairs and turned a corner. She heard Squall's two best friends yelling at him to get off his 'lazy ass' and mingle. She couldn't help but smile. She always enjoyed watching them argue back and forth like children.

"This whole party is for you!" Irvine gasped out as Zell paced the room nervously behind him. "I mean, all of Esthar's high and mighty have come to pay you homage."

"You and Dr. K's daughter, anyway," Zell said. He sighed happily. "Man, how I envy you... getting married to a great girl like that..."

"I don't even KNOW her." Squall mumbled stubbornly.

"Which is why you should take this opportunity to!" Irvine cut in energetically.

"Squall, what are you doing in here?" a voice asked from the door way. Zell and Irvine turned around and let out sighs of relief.

"Sorry, Ellone," Irvine said, shaking his head. "But we tried." He and Zell stepped aside as the young woman with the short brown hair walked into the cozy room.

Ellone looked from the two young soldiers, who were considered Squall's best friends, to Squall. She frowned and walked over. Her sky blue, off the shoulder dress trailed behind her as her shoulder length brown hair was accented with sky blue crystal clasps behind each temple. She knelt down and looked at Squall.

"I know you don't want to do this," she told him sternly. "But it means a lot to the family."

"Everything means a lot to the family," Squall grumbled. "I'm used to that by now."

She took his hand in hers. "Please, Squall," she pleaded. "At least make an appearance. The Kadowaki family took pains to get here all the way from western Esthar."

Squall avoided her gaze stubbornly. "I don't want to marry her, Sis."

Ellone closed her eyes and let his hand go gently. "I know, Squall," she whispered. "I don't want you to marry her either...but in these times..." she trailed off, shaking her head. "We don't have a choice."

Squall remained where he was laying on the couch, staring into thin air. Wealthy families were at war. Families like his who were not of noble blood, but were so damn powerful, they might as well have been. For generations, there had been tension between the Loire family and the Heartilly Family - two of the most powerful families in the world.

It was all supposed to change when Laguna fell in love with Julia. When Squall's father fell in love with the daughter of a dominating family in the entertainment world. The Loires were a political family and had been so for generations. While it was agreed that peace could be established if Laguna married Julia, issues arose that prevented them from getting married.

In desperation, they ran away together. And while on a ship back to Esthar, they hit a storm and Julia drowned. When word was received, the Heartilly family flew into a mad rage. They believed that Julia had been tricked by Laguna and that he caused her to drown. At that, the Heartilly family declared war on the Loires.

Years later, the war between two families continued to remain a force to be reckoned with. Other families were divided by the war. Businesses effected. Industries crushed and rebuilt. All of high society had to take a side, it didn't matter if they agreed or disagreed. All that mattered was that they gain an ally else sink into a pit of despair they could never escape. After the war was declared, the Loires needed allies. What better way to get them than marrying off their children to the children of other families. What better way for the Loires to gain a powerful ally in the medical world than by marrying off Laguna's son to the daughter of an extraordinary doctor?

Squall looked back at Ellone. He knew who would be effected if he did not marry her. They would loose a powerful ally. And his sister, who had cared for him so much after his mother died at his birth, would be forced to marry into another family. That was the reason he had agreed. To spare her the trauma of marrying a man she didn't love. It would be easier for him, he figured.

He let out a sigh and stood up. He never told Ellone the reason he had agreed. He never told her what the family elders had threatened if he refused to marry. Because he knew, that like he would for her, she would gladly trade in her happiness for his. "Let's go." he conceded.

Ellone let out a sigh of relief. He had been worrying her lately. She had an extraordinary ability to read minds, a trait found in one out of ten generations of women in her family. However, lately, whenever she tried to find out what was troubling him, he would immediately shut her out. As she watched him leave the room, dressed in a sharp black suit with a dark blue tie over a charcoal gray shirt, she frowned. *Hyne...why won't you tell me what's wrong?*

Squall walked down the stairs with Irvine and Zell behind him, both dressed in suits, although Irvine still wore his black cowboy hat. Squall looked down at the elegantly dressed people, lost in a world of bright lights and money. As soon as he reached the floor, Laguna's eyes lit up and he quickly rushed over to his son. "Squall! Oh, thank Hyne, you came!"

"Let's just get this over with." the brunette grumbled. Laguna nodded and motioned for them to follow him through the crowds. With a scowl on his face, Squall wove in and out of high society, giving nods as people congratulated him.

As they dove deeper and deeper into the bunched up groups, they finally arrived in front of a powerful looking woman dressed in deep purples from head to toe. Her dark hair was held back tightly as she turned to look at them. She carried an air of sophistication and seemed quite assured of herself as Laguna and Squall approached her. "Good evening, Squall," the woman told him collectedly. "I see you're just as Laguna promised." She extended her hand as her eyes scanned the young man up and down.

*What exactly did Laguna promise?* Squall though to himself bitterly as he took the doctor's extended and kissed the back of it.

"Where is your daughter, doctor?" Laguna asked.

"She had to return home earlier," Dr. Kadowaki explained. "Stomach pains. I don't want to take any chances, so I sent her home."

"Oh..." Laguna said, unable to hide his disappointment.

"I'm sorry I was unable to meet her this time, Dr. Kadowaki," Squall told her in a dead pan voice. "Perhaps some other time then."

"Yes, well, I would like to speak to you on the matters of this marriage previous to 'some other time'," Dr. Kadowaki stated. "If that is possible."

"of course, doctor," Laguna nodded. "Whenever you wish to discuss it-"

"Now is as good a time as any," the doctor told them. "I'm sure we will not be missed much."

"I'll have Ellone entertain the guests," the President of Esthar nodded. He looked at his son. "Squall, please take Dr. Kadowaki to my study. I'll meet you there."

Squall merely gave a curt nod and turned to the doctor as Laguna went to search for the brown haired girl. "Please follow me, doctor," he stated calmly. Kadowaki placed her wine glass on the tray of a an waiter as she passed them. Through the crowds and into the dimly lit hall, Kadowaki and Squall ended up in front of a heavy, dark door.

The young man turned the brass knob, letting them in. He reached over and flipped the switch, making the neatly organized study visible. "Tell me Squall," Kadowaki stated as she stood in the oval, book lined room. "What makes you think you are worthy of marrying my daughter?"

"Nothing makes me worthy of such an honor," Squall stated, as if it had been rehearsed so many times. He didn't bat an eye as he spoke, but looked directly into the doctor's eyes. "I apologize if I am not worthy enough."

Kadowaki narrowed her eyes. "Bull," she stated. "You say it as if it were true. I will tell you something right now. In my eyes, you will never be good enough for my daughter. You do not even deserve to be in the same room as she."

*Is that why you sent her away?* Squall voiced in his mind. He continued to stand there, straight as if he were being given military orders.

"Doctor Kadowaki," a voice said from the door. The doctor looked up and saw Laguna walk into the room, closing the heavy doors behind him. "Is there some sort of problem?"

"I'll be blunt with you, Loire," Kadowaki began. "Your son isn't worthy of my daughter. I believe I can find a better match for her."

Laguna's eyes went wide with panic. "Now, Dr. Kadowaki...let's not be too brash," he began. "Both you and I know that this is a good match."

Kadowaki's eyes met Laguna's in a stern gaze. "I want him to prove it."

"Prove it?" Laguna asked, looking confused as he stood in front of the woman. "How?"

"I want him to provide a dowry for my daughter."

"But we're already providing a-" Laguna began, but Kadowaki raised her hand to silence him.

"No, Loire," she corrected. "I want SQUALL to provide the dowry himself. I don't want him receive any help in attaining a dowry."

"Wait a second!" Laguna gasped out, annoyed. "How can you say that? The dowry we are giving is worth so much already! You cannot get any better dowry from any other family!"

"This isn't about material worth," Kadowaki snapped. Her eyes settled on Squall. "I want the boy to be able to show that he can stand on his own and thus care fully for my daughter."

"As plausible as that is," Laguna countered. "How can you possibly expect him to get another dowry on his own? His capita is far less than the dowry we are giving."

"He must find it on his own-"

"With WHAT!?" Laguna exclaimed.

Squall stood there, watching the two adults banter back and forth about the issue at hand. *It's like I'm not even here...* he thought to himself. *It's like they're bargaining for the best deal while buying fruit...* His hand clenched at his sides. *I am NO fruit!*

"I am not saying that he has to get himself killed-"

"I'll do it."

"You expect him to go running out into..." Laguna trailed off and turned to look at the shorter man standing quietly to the side. "What...?"

"I said I will go and 'prove' myself." Squall explained casually.

The corners of Kadowaki's lips curled into a smile. "Is that so?"

"Squall, you do not have to go through with this-" Laguna began.

"I'm already going through with the marriage," Squall snapped at his father. He narrowed his eyes. "I might as well go through the whole damn thing."

Laguna was silenced. He turned his eyes away as Kadowaki stepped up in front of Squall. "What do you propose you will give as her dowry?"

Squall looked up at the doctor, meeting their arrogant gaze with one of his own. "While I was in Balamb Garden, I heard several rumors about the lost treasures of Garnet...the Thief's Treasure. Are you familiar with the story, doctor?"

Looking interested, Kadowaki crossed her arms over her chest. "No, I'm afraid I am not. Please enlighten me."

"Thousands of years ago, the ancient kingdom of Garnet was marrying their daughter Sara to one of their knights, Cecil. However Sara was in love with a thief. The king loved his daughter so much, that he would allow the thief to marry her if the thief provided a dowry that could beat that of the knight's. Long story short, he did, but the ships carrying them back were lost at sea. Supposedly, one ship ended up in the Island Closest to Hell and the other ended up in the Island Closest to Heaven," Squall told them. He smirked slightly. "How would you like the largest dowry in the history of the world?"

Kadowaki raised an eyebrow and looked at Squall strangely. "Do you seriously believe that you can find the thief's treasure?"

"I believe I can." Squall told her confidently.

Kadowaki looked at Laguna, who looked more than stunned as he stood there. Smiling, Kadowaki extended her hand. "I expect nothing less for my daughter's hand than the thief's treasure."

Squall shook the doctor's hand. "It is agreed then."

"What are you thinking!?" Laguna cried out as he stood up from his chair and stared at his son in disbelief. "I mean...WHY? What in your mind possessed you to agree to her demands!? It was completely unnecessarily!"

"Laguna, calm down," Kiros stated as he and Ward stood on either side of Laguna's desk, making sure the long haired president didn't have a heart attack and die right there. "I'm sure Squall has his reasons."

"Yes!" Ellone agreed from where she was sitting on the couch to the side. Her eyes went wide as she nodded enthusiastically and looked at Squall. "Right, Squall?"

Squall shrugged. "Oh, Hyne..." Laguna fell back into his seat and closed his eyes tightly. "We could've talked her down, don't have to prove yourself to anyone."

Irvine looked up from the couch across from Ellone, where he and Zell had been sitting. "Prove yourself?" Irvine asked, sitting up straight as he narrowed his eyes. "What are you talking about?"

Ellone shook her head. "Dr. Kadowaki wants Squall to prove that he is good enough for her daughter by providing a dowry by himself."

"I thought a dowry has already been prepared," Zell said. "Wasn't it?" He looked around the room nervously.

"She wants a dowry that Squall accomplished by himself," Kiros explained. "Meaning no help from the family. No help from outside forces. He must come up with it himself."

"How is he going to do that?" Zell asked.

Laguna looked up at his son, who carried an unamused smile on his face. "He's going after the Thief's Treasure."

Irvine's eyes went wide as Ellone let out a gasp and dropped the shawl around her shoulders. "Squall, have you gone mad!?" Ellone said as she shot out of her seat and walked to her brother. "That treasure doesn't even exist!"

"It's too late for that," Kiros sighed. "It seems that now Kadowaki will refuse anything that isn't the Thief's Treasure."

"Maybe it's not too late," Laguna stammered. "Maybe we can still CALL Kadowaki and try to sort through this."

"She says she wants nothing less than the thief's treasure for her daughter." Squall stated, crushing all hopes his father had.

"How much is the treasure worth?" Irvine asked.

"No one knows for sure," Kiros explained with a heavy sigh. "It hasn't been seen for thousands of years."

"Supposedly it's priceless," Squall shrugged. "What's the problem? I find it. I get married. End of the story."

"Squall, you know you have to on a SHIP for that sort of search, right?" Ellone asked. "I mean..." she chuckled nervously. "You really don't INTEND to go on a ship, do you?"

"If that's the way to get it, then I'll go on a ship."

Laguna let out a deep breath and ran his hand through his long dark hair. "Squall, you KNOW that all the merchant vessels and cruise liners and such are all siding with the Heartilly family."

"No one is going to hire out to you..." Ellone ended sadly. "If they do, they'll be faced with the same threat from the Heartilly family as we are."

"I doubt that every single ship out there is so loyal to the Heartillys that they won't hire out to me," Squall stated. He turned around and headed for the door. "And even if there is just ONE ship, I'll find it."

"Squall!" Laguna called out desperately. It was too late, the brunette had already opened the door and stepped out. Laguna fell back on his seat, a forlorn look on his face.

"We'll go talk to him!" Zell said as he and Irvine hurried out the door after Squall.

Ellone looked back at her uncle with a distressed look. "You're not really going to allow him to go, are you, Uncle?" she asked. "He could get killed just by setting foot on the docks!"

Laguna stared at the door and let out a heavy sigh. "Unfortunately, know that once Squall's mind is made pretty much stays that way."

In the hall way, Squall was turning a corner and heading for the stairs to his room. Irvine and Zell were at his heels, beckoning for him to slow down a bit. "Squall!" Zell shouted.

"Squall, what the hell's wrong with you!?" Irvine gasped. He ran up the stairs and cut Squall off by standing right in front of him with his arms open to block his path. "First you agree to marry Kadowaki's daughter, then you say that you don't want to, and now you're going to go PROVE yourself worthy!?"

"It doesn't make any sense!" Zell exclaimed as he joined Irvine on the step above where Squall was standing.

The scarred blue eyed brunette looked up at them with cold eyes. "You don't get it do you?" Squall stated.

Irvine slowly dropped his arms as he studied Squall with narrowed eyes. "What do you mean?"

Shaking his head, Squall side stepped the two other young men and continued up the stairs. "I'm not proving myself to anyone."

Zell's eyes went wide and he and Irvine looked at each other. "Then that means..." They turned back to their other friend and raced up the stairs. "Wait!!"

Squall was already in the hallway that lead to his room as Zell and Irvine followed behind him. "You're not thinking of running away, are you!?"

"Of course not," Squall hissed. *Else Ellone is doomed...*

"Then what do you mean you're not proving yourself to anyone?" Zell called out.

They were now in front of his room and Squall turned around as he opened the door. He looked his two friends straight in the eye. "This is my last taste at freedom. Do you think that after I'm married, I can run off like before? I'm not stupid," Squall hissed. "I know what lies for me after I'm wed. It'll be non stop politics and all that dramatic shit!"

"So you're restless!?" Irvine snapped. "That's one hell of a bad reason, Squall."

"You don't understand," Squall growled. "You have no idea what goes on behind this...this facade of high society! Lies and deceit...that's all it is."

Zell frowned. "It's not all like that, Squall..."

"It's still a bad reason," Irvine mumbled. He shook his head disapprovingly. "I thought at the least, that you would do something like this to prove your worth, your honor, and maybe that you're willing to learn to love HER."

"You can interpret it any way you damn well please," Squall stated blandly. "But I'm going to take a train to the docks tomorrow to find a ship that can take us to the Islands."

"Wait..." Zell said. The blond squinted his eyes. "Did you just say 'us'?" Squall raised an eyebrow and Zell swallowed. "Us is good."

"Never mind that for a second," Irvine cut in. He looked at Squall with scrutiny. "What are the chances that we'll find a ship that will take us to BOTH islands? The percent of ships that are willing to go those distances is already small. You're making it even smaller if you take into consideration that maritime travel and trade are dominated by the Heartilly family!"

"And you being the heir to the Loire-"

"I'm a Leonheart, not a Loire." Squall corrected Zell.

"It doesn't matter what your last name is," Irvine stated simply. "The fact is that you're Laguna's SON. That automatically black lists you!"

"If there is a single ship that will be willing to take me to both islands out there, rest assured that I will find it," Squall said behind gritted teeth. "Tomorrow at dawn. Be ready." He closed his door.

Zell and Irvine stood there, dumbfounded. Irvine slowly removed his hat and scratched the back of his head. "Tomorrow then?" he asked.

Zell nodded. "See you then."

The night was deep and dark as her hands gripped on the rope at the stern of the ship. The ocean breeze swept through her hair as she smiled at the sight of land ahead of them. Small lights lined the horizon as the sea port of Esthar came into view.

The small ship cut through the dark ocean waters at speeds surprising for it's size. It left ripples behind it as dolphins leapt from the water as they swam close to the ship, riding on it's draft. Along the metal sides of the ship, it's name was written in elegant cursive writing. Siren. The young woman at the front of the ship inhaled the salty sea air.

"All right," a voice said behind her as she stared out at the sea. "Tomorrow I'm going to head out to the port to order some supplies. Do you need anything?"

"Well...I do need-"

"Hell no," the male voice behind her cut her off. She could sense the frown on his face. "I refuse to buy you girls those damn things again. It was embarrassing the last time."

"We're fine with those," she assured him as she rolled her eyes. "You bought them in bulk..."

"No need to remind me, CAPTAIN." His voice dripped with sarcasm, but she had long grown used to it.

"The girls and I are going diving then," she reminded him. "We'll be back in the afternoon."

"I'll have dinner ready and waiting." he commented. She nodded.

"Hey, wait," she turned around and her brown eyes met his green ones. "Whose going to watch the ship?"

"I am, ya know!" a voice said from the steering wheel of the small ship. She nodded.

"Sounds good," she agreed. "I'm going to bed. Can you wake me up when we hit the docks?"

"Sure thing, ya know!" the large, smiling man at the steering wheel bid the young woman good night as she headed below deck.

"I hope we find work," the blond male sighed as he stood next to the darker skinned man. "We can really use the money."

"Don't worry, ya know," the man smiled. "The captain's senses never are wrong."

The other male merely smiled. "Yeah," he sighed heavily. "She can't understand nautical terms for the life of her, but she's a good captain."

The air was cold, damp, and misty. The stench of the sea surrounded them as they arrived at the train station close to the harbor. The sound of gulls flying in the hazy air rang as fog horns sounded in the distance. Irvine looked around suspiciously. It had taken them quite some time to finally reach the harbor, even though they had left early that morning.

Behind him, Zell looked around and inhaled the crisp sea air appreciatively. "I have to admit, it's refreshing."

"Forget that," Squall stated as he stepped off the train behind them, wearing a dark leather jacket with a soft, fluff lined collar. "Let's head over to the main station."

"The main station won't tell you!" Irvine sighed. Squall scowled at him and Irvine grinned. "We head to the bar."

"The bar." Squall repeated hesitantly.

"You want to get drunk already?" Zell asked innocently. Irvine hit Zell's shoulder and frowned.

"Damn naive rich boys..." Irvine sighed. He stood in front of both of them. "Think about it like this. Squall walks into the main registration station and asks for a ship to take him to the Islands. The station attendant asks for his name and he says 'Squall Leonheart'. Squall is then happily escorted OUT of the station for even thinking of setting foot on to Heartilly territory. And, ta-da, no ship."

Zell crossed his arms. "And how is going to a bar going to help? Will being drunk lessen the pain of getting escorted out?"

"If you want a ship that doesn't have ties to the Heartilly family, then it's best that you go to the bar," Irvine grinned. "The sleazier the better. They'll have the information we need."

"I see," Squall agreed. "Since you know, you go ahead and take us to one."

Irvine looked slightly surprised. "How am I supposed to know where one is?"

"Because you know the sleazy underworld better than us," Zell grinned. "Lead the way, oh sleazy master."

Irvine rolled his eyes and turned around. "Shut up and follow me," he grumbled. "Try to stay away from sailors. They tend to be very loyal to Heartilly."

"And how would you know about all of this, Irvine?" Zell asked.

"Remember when we went to Fisherman's Horizon and I came back to the inn with a few bruises...?" Irvine trailed off. "Let's just say that being Squall's friend isn't easy."

"Why didn't you tell me about that?" Squall asked as he walked next to his friends.

"Some things are best left unsaid," Irvine assured him. He smirked. "Besides, those sailors didn't leave all pretty either."

As they walked down the docks, the afternoon haze started to thin out. A spot of light could be see sinking into the horizon as they reached a bar standing in front of the piers. Decorated in stereotypical fish nets and dried star fish, it pumped out an aura of seediness. "This looks like as good a place as any," Zell said. He looked at Irvine and Squall. "Who goes first?"

Irvine shoved Zell through the doors and followed after him as the blond struggled to keep his balance as he tumbled in. Squall entered and looked around. The smell of smoke and alcohol flooded his senses as the dirty bar was made up of crooks and drifters. Half naked women were draped over several gamblers as in the back corner, a pool table was taken up by several people. Cheesy piano music echoed in the background.

"Holy sh-"

Irvine covered Zell's mouth and nodded in acceptance. He walked over to the bar where a well built blonde man with blue eyes was pouring whiskey into shot glasses. "I'm looking for a ship."

"Very original," the bartender snorted as he handed the shot glasses to a waitress. "Take a step outside and take your pick."

Irvine looked around and smiled slightly. Zell and Squall had taken a seat in a corner table. As Zell looked around and ordered a drink, Squall sat there brooding. Anyone who dared look at him got a deadly glare shot right back at them. Irvine turned back to the bartender and tossed down a few gil. "I need a ship to take us to the forbidden islands."

The bartender reached over and took the gil. He looked up at Irvine. "What else?"

Irvine took a deep breath and put a few more gil down on the wooden, alcohol soaked counter. "Make sure they're non-affiliated. Do you understand?"

"Afraid I don't." the bartender grinned, taking the gil and turning around.

Irvine took out a wad of gil and slammed it on the counter, making the bartender turn around and smirk. "I think you do."

"You can keep your money, boy," the bartender told him. "It's no use. Ain't no ship that docks here be willing to be hired out under those circumstances."

"There must be one-"

"Ain't no ship..." the bartender insisted. Glaring, Irvine grabbed the wad of cash and stuffed it back into his jacket pocket.

"If you hear anything..."

"Yeah, sure." The bartender chuckled. Irvine stood up and walked over to the table where Squall and Zell were sitting.

"Nothing," Irvine said. "Let's move on."

Without saying a word, the other two stood up and headed towards the door after the cowboy. The bartender watched them leave and walked over to the other end of the bar where a man was sitting hunched over. "You heard them?"

"Thanks." the man's deep voice smirked. He looked up at the bartender with green eyes and slipped him some money. He chugged back his drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as he stood up and slipped off the stool.

Outside, Zell was looking around. "What about that one?" he pointed to a building.

Irvine shook his head. "That's a whore house."

"Oh..." Zell blushed and pointed in the other direction at another building. "How about that one, then?"

"That's...also a whore house," Irvine mumbled. He looked at Zell questioningly. "Are you trying to tell us something, Zell?"

"No!" Zell gasped. He threw his arms in the air. "How am I supposed to know where to go?!"

"How about that one?" Squall asked, pointing a bar at one end of the docks. Irvine looked over at it and shook his head.

"Not seedy enough."

"That one looks pretty seedy." Zell commented. Squall and Irvine looked at the bar Zell was pointing at before looking back at him with strange looks.

"That's the one we were just in." Squall stated.

"Hyne, Zell! Where's your sense of direction?" Irvine gasped.

"Chicken-wuss had a sense of direction? We'll, I'm surprised!" a voice laughed to their side. All three of them turned as they saw a young man with combed back blonde hair and green eyes walking towards them. He was carrying a heavy bag over his shoulder as a scar ran up between his eyes.

"No fucking way..." Irvine began, taking a step back as his eyes went wide.

"What the hell are you doing here!" Zell gasped. "I thought you were kicked out!"

The blond rolled his eyes. "Your sense of direction must be really bad...we're no where NEAR Balamb Garden."

"What are you doing here, Seifer?" Irvine hissed as he glared at the blond.

Seifer shrugged. "Just stopping for supplies," he said casually, lifting up the bag over his shoulder. "Can't run out of food while out at sea, right?"

Zell looked at Seifer and cracked a smile. He was wearing baggy pants and a loose dark shirt under a worn, long white jacket with red crosses on his sleeves. "So what are you now? A fisherman?"

"Fitting," Irvine grinned as he crossed his arms over his chest. "You always cut class to go fishing with those other two..."

"But I'd never thought I would see the day when Mr. High and Mighty Gun Blader would be reduced to this." Zell grinned.

Seifer snorted and shook his head. "I may not be a little rich boy, but at least I'm not depending on mommy and daddy for help." Seifer snapped.

Zell took a step forward and raised his fists. "What's that supposed to mean!?"

Seifer rolled his eyes. "Oh know what it means." Seifer sighed.

Zell grumbled and took another step forward, but Squall held him back with one arm. "Why did you show up all of a sudden?" Squall asked.

"I didn't 'show up'," Seifer corrected him. "My ship's docked to get supplies. I saw you three and just couldn't resist jerking chicken-wuss' chain again."

"I hate you so much..." Zell hissed.

"Oh boo fucking hoo," Seifer shrugged. "You think I give a damn?"

Before Zell could answer, Squall stepped forward. "Wait, you said you have a ship?"

"It's a small little thing, but it's a fast and strong," Seifer grinned. He knew exactly what Squall wanted, but wasn't about to give it to him easily. "And I'm not a fisherman, by the way, I'm a courier."

Squall narrowed his eyes. "Do you rent out?"

Irvine and Zell's eyes went wide as they turned to Squall. "What the-!?" Irvine looked at Seifer, who was grinning, and grabbed Squall's arm. He dragged him and Zell over to the side. "Squall, are you insane!? That's SEIFER...Seifer! The man that gave you this!" He ran his finger over the skin between his eyes.

"He has a ship," Squall said. "As of right now, that's all I'm interested in," Squall moved away from them and looked back at Seifer. "Well, do you?"

Seifer jerked his head up at Squall. "How much you offering?"

"Name your price."

"How much you got?"

"2.5 million gil."

"SQUALL!!" Irvine and Zell nearly screamed. They grabbed him once again and dragged him into a huddle.

Zell's eyes were wide as he looked at his friend. "You are offering him 2.5 million gil! That's like HALF of what you have!"

"We need a ship." he stated.

"That's too much! Especially to give to HIM of all people!" Zell added.

"He's right," Irvine agreed. "That's way too much money!"

"Unless YOU have and know how to captain a ship, then shut up," Squall snapped. He pulled away from them and walked over to Seifer. "Is that enough?"

Seifer studied Squall and grinned. "Well, we'll just have to see, won't we?" the blond smiled. "Follow me."

Still smirking triumphantly, Seifer walked around the cowboy and the tattooed blond. Squall followed behind him. "Squall!" Zell gasped. He and Irvine hurried to catch up.

"So where is this ship of yours?" Irvine said as they walked down the docks and headed towards one of the piers.

"It's up ahead," Seifer answered casually. He held the bag of food over his shoulder as he lead them down a pier. "So where are you headed?"

"The islands closest to heaven and hell," Zell mumbled as they passed massive iron ships. "Can you do it?"

"I've got the best navigator around," Seifer answered. "What for?"

Zell was about to answer, but Squall spoke up. "That's none of your business," he snapped. He narrowed his blue eyes. "Where is your ship?"

"Right there." Seifer stopped and pointed to the iron boat floating between two much larger ones. Irvine's mouth dropped.

"You've got to be kidding me..." Irvine mumbled in disbelief.

"Can that hunk of scrap metal even get OUT of the harbor!?" Zell gasped as he stared at it in disbelief. The ship couldn't have been more than a few hundred square feet. It was obviously made up of several decks, but seemed older compared to the ships that surrounded it. Older and more decrepit.

"Don't let it's appearance fool you," Seifer snorted. "She's faster than she looks."

"SHE?" Irvine asked. He looked at the side of the boat at it's name. Siren. *Someone's been at sea a little TOO long...*

"Raijin!" Seifer shouted as they reached it's side. "Drop a plank down!"

A big man looked over board and waved. "Hey! You brought company, ya know! Hold on a second while I get the plank, ya know!" A panel on the side of the ship opened and a heavy wooden board was lowered.

Seifer jumped on it and headed up. When he realized that there were no footsteps behind him, he turned around. "Are you coming or are you afraid of getting sea sick?"

Zell narrowed his eyes and ran up the plank with ease as Squall and Irvine walked up behind him. Seifer was on deck. "Raijin, you remember the cowboy, commander puberty, and chicken-wuss," Seifer said as he put the sack of food down. "We might have a job."

"Oh, good! The captain will be glad to hear that, ya know!" Raijin nodded as he smiled and took the sack from Seifer. "I'll put these in the kitchen, ya know."

"The captain...?" Irvine asked. He looked at Seifer who was walking across the ship to the other side. "I thought YOU were the captain."

"I never said I was."

"But you kept calling it 'your' ship," Zell said. "You're just an employee?"

Seifer sighed and unlatched a door that lead to the side of the boat. "I'm the fucking cook, all right?"

"The COOK!?" Zell and Irvine chorused. Highly amused grins crossed their faces as they burst into laughter. "The great Seifer! Reduced to being the cook of a crappy ship!"

Seifer rolled his eyes. "Chicken-wuss, you still single?"

"Yeah, so!?" Zell asked between gasps of laughter.

Seifer grinned and stepped back from the side panel. "Well, while you've been living it up with the cowboy and commander puberty, I've been living here...with THEM."

Zell tilted his head to the side in question as two pale hands gripped the side of the boat and white hair, soaked with sea water appeared. A pale woman with lovely features pulled herself up on the boat as her black eye patch dripped with water. She wore a black one piece swim suit that clung perfectly to her body as she merely gave them a look, as if to ask what they were doing there.

"Seifer?" she asked, turning to the blond and motioning her head over to the three men.

Seifer just smiled and shrugged. "Customers," She nodded and bent over the edge, taking someone else's hand and helping them up. "You three remember Fujin...oh, and this one is Selphie."

Petite and wearing a yellow two piece, the brunette was pulled up by Fujin. Her hair was wet and glimmered in the setting sun as pale, smooth skin glistened with salt water. Large emerald eyes blinked as she looked at them and beamed them a smile. "Hi!"

"Selphie, grab this!" another voice shouted over the edge. Selphie turned around and grabbed a mesh bag containing what looked like oysters. She tossed the bag aside and stepped back as a tall, beautiful woman with long blond hair climbed up.

"This is Quistis," Seifer grinned. "Our navigator."

The blond looked up, wearing a dusty pink colored one tank and shorts. She had long legs and was carrying a bunch of tools with her. She gave them a curt nod as her deep blue eyes studied them. "How do you do?"

"Quisty! Can you grab Angelo!?" a voice shouted below her. Quistis turned and sighed. Fujin knelt down by the edge with Quistis and helped carry up a large, soaking dog.

He panted as he reached the deck and shook himself off. Irvine and Zell frowned as they stepped back. Angelo was getting water all over them. Squall wasn't really paying attention. "And this one..." Seifer's voice said, cutting through his thoughts. "She's our captain."

At that, Squall turned around. His eyes went wide as he watched the black haired beauty reach the deck. The setting sun illuminated the light behind her, giving off warm glow around her wet skin. Shivering slightly, she looked up with large brown eyes as her light blue two piece fit perfectly against her. She smiled brightly and extended her hand. "Hi!" she grinned happily. "Welcome to the Siren! I'm Rinoa! Your captain."