Routine Set to Flame

~*~CHAPTER I : Desert Heat~*~

"By Bahamat's fucking breath, I should've known."

I shielded the blistering desert sun from my eyes and felt a huff coming on. This rancid old drama, with this rancid old fucktard, I so didn't need right now. Not now, not ever, fellow orphans or not. Why'd it hafta be me, dealing with a dud mission like this? Where was the ass-grinding monster beat-down I'd been all pumped to doll out? Where was the 'mysterious energy gathering' I was supposed to find and document? How was I ever gonna to get shitall done with this punk smarming it up in my face? The hell...what was he up to, way the hell out here?

Lords below, this was so much more a Quistis area then a Zell area. She had the patience for this restorative, polite relations shit; I really didn't.

"Catching some rays out here, chicken wuss?"

Standing in the midst of three Imp carcasses, like he hadn't killed Odin and then tried to feed Rinoa to Adel only just a couple of month ago, was nobody's favourite jerkass. Seifer Almasy, his grey coat skirting dramatically around his ankles, smirked down at me and despite being surrounded by miles of scorching red sand, in the middle of a foreign continent, I never felt so goddamn at home.

It was pathetic, alright.

"Shove the shit Seifer, I ain't in the mood." I bounced on the hard Esthar loam and levelled a few tight jabs in the air. Ehrgeiz blurred in a twist of motion; Fury Fragments catching the sunlight and glinting like a Holy spell. "I got orders from Laguna himself to check this area out so whatever you're-"

Seifer, who'd been in the process of flicking Imp goo off of Hyperion's cold blade, paused. "Laguna? What, that actor guy? You don't know him, do you?"

Seifer, most probably against his will, sounded pretty damn impressed and I revelled in it. The only reason Seifer had even chosen a gunblade as his weapon of speciality, I now seemed to remember, was because he'd been obsessed with Knights and swords after Matron had taken us to Timber to see Laguna's movie, 'Tymes of Trabian Turmoil'.

"Yeah I do," I trumped importantly, jabbing a thumb towards my chest with relish. It wasn't everyday I was able to get a jump on over Seifer and I was damn well gonna pound the most outta of this Gayla. "He's the President of Esthar, didn't you know? And he's Squall's old man."

Seifer goggled, something I can't say I'd ever seen the guy do. He actually had to flap his yap shut. "Squall's dad is Laguna the actor? The Knight actor? He's related to wet-end puberty boy?"

"Yeah that's right, Laguna the actor and he's the President too and we're good buds and I'm here on his orders so you just better relax 'cause I got enough-"

"Shut it, chicken," Seifer interrupted. He was scowling. I guess shock time was over for him...back to pissy-ass 101. "I don't care who sent you, fat mouth. I didn't do jack shit so quit ragging my ass."

"Yeah, uh huh, right." I folded my arms across my chest and tried to look imposing; probably would've cut a finer dash if the dude hadn't had, like seven inches on me, the stupid fucko. "Automated-J reports don't lie and neither do Energy Perceptors. Whatever you're doing is whipping off the Magic-J Stat charts so bag the Blobra and 'fess up man. The hell you doing out here?"


"What's it to you?" Seifer sneered. "What're you gonna do about it, you little shit?"

Evidently I'd forgotten how Seifer responded to A) authority figures and B) me.

I grit my teeth, forced my fists to lay low and adopted a 'pissed badass' sort of look. "Hey buddy, I ain't takin' none of your weirdass bullshit, got it? I'm here on orders from the President, I'm junctioned to the max and I got enough Ultima spells to knock your smug mug straight to Winter Island so shove the friggin' attitude, okay?"

Sad to say, for all my hard-talking ways, Seifer merely looked entertained. "Chill punk, I ain't here to cause shit." He tapped the side of his head. "It's all clear up here."

"Oh there's a relief." I rolled my eyes. The guy was still a certified Elastoid in my books, Ultimecia or not. "So what, then? What're you doing up here? When'd you leave Balamb anyway?"

He shrugged, the very picture of carelessness. "A week ago, I guess. Thought I'd do some of levelling up."

"You came all the way here to level up?" I studied him suspiciously. Something about his too would-be casual tone of voice didn't exactly gel well with me. "Why not train closer to home?"

"You think Bug Bites and Glacial Eyes are really gonna gimme a challenge?"

Well even I had to concede that he had a point there. That little rascal kid next door to Ma could take out a Bug Bite, blindfolded with one hand behind his back. I tried a different approach. "What d'you needa raise your stats for? Last I saw, you had a pretty high HP. 35,000+ or somethin', wasn't it?"

If I wasn't mistaken and when it came to this sort of shit I tried not to be, Seifer seemed a little uneasy. Nothing really drastic, just something nameless flickered briefly inside his eyes. "Since when's it a crime to level up?" he demanded defensively. "I'm not exactly the most welcome guy around town. If I wanna train, how's it any of your business?"


I took a step towards him. Yeah, he was hiding something, alright. Definitely. "It becomes my business when the government hires me to scout this place out and I find you lurking around. I'm here doin' my job and if you're involved...especially if you're involved, then I ain't restin' 'til Obel Lake hums. I wanna know what the deal is, pal. Galbadian army hire you to start rumblin' up here or what?"

The first signs of true anger coloured Seifer's face then. "Fuck off Zell," he snarled irritably. "All that shit's done with, didn't I tell you? You guys were up in that spookfest castle, you maimed that bitch up, you oughta know."

"If you have nothing to hide then what's with all this evasive shit?" I countered. Well of course I knew all about Ultimecia but Seifer was a completely different riddle. Who knew what the nutjob was out here doing, alone and with no visible means of provisions? "You may as well know dude, I ain't leavin' this place 'til I got you-"

The rest of my words were abruptly swallowed up and spit out into the dry, dusty air.

Now I can easily say, with a great deal of well-earned pride mind you, that I've fought and thrashed every single known monster on Earth...and then some. Ultima Weapon anyone? I was able to identify the scream and snarl and howl of any territorial monster from kilometres away. You didn't travel the entire world and train to level 100 without learning a bit of the old Biological Bestiary, that was for sure.

So when a roar, a really big fucking roar that could mostly likely be heard all the way in Balamb, cut me off mid-rant and I wasn't able to immediately identity the creature...well I was pretty much shocked to shit. The beastly bellow sounded annoyingly familiar and while I couldn't place it, I did have the fleeting memory of looking up at a vast Demon Moon, surrounded by whirls of cold mist.

I could hear other creatures, Imps and Toromas, skittering away in the distance. Instinctively, I found myself turning towards the enormous mountain range that dominated the landscape behind me. Something, whatever it was, was coming from beyond the Nortes Mountain, from the Mordred Plains.

"The hell's that?"

"He's coming."

Seifer spoke those two words in a tone that was decidedly preoccupied. I realized that I'd totally forgotten about the guy. I glanced sharply at him. He was striding away from me and towards the mountains. There was a look on his face that I didn't like. Whatever was coming our way, Seifer expected. He knew what it was and that pissed me off on all fronts.

"Hey, what the fuck?!" I chased after Seifer, who was covering pretty good ground and fast. I'll bet he didn't even hear me, probably didn't even know I was shucking after his ass.

Another thunderous howl, this one sending a zip of chills skirting up and down my spine, filled the Esthar Plains. I stopped in my tracks and wrenched an Aura Stone from the pocket of my shorts. The fact that my body and mind had mechanically begun to prepare me for a fight was half irritating and half troubling. With the exception of a Malboro, those fucking planty shits, there wasn't any other monster in the world that could send me rushing. I knew these deep screams but couldn't place them...just as I knew that an arduous battle was skulking behind the bend.

The grating scrape of scales and leathery wings grew audible as over the cresting mountains arose a familiar and formidable winged beast. It engulfed us in its massive shadow and I found myself fumbling with the glowing stone in my hand, trying not to drop it in pure astonishment. The image of Quistis, Irvine and myself fighting on the broken balcony of that cold Bell Tower swung into my mind.

D-A-R-K F-L-A-R-E.

Ultimecia's strongest Castle Guardian, the last and most powerful, was the Flare-eyed Tiamat. Blue and bronzed and imposing as fuckall, the dragon-like Guardian reared up before us, embers of Flare glinting around it. Tiamat began to speak. I recognized the intelligence upon its reptilian features but the words weren't for me; didn't ring inside my mind.

They were for Seifer.

Seifer stepped forwards, looking small and defenceless in the wake of such an enormous beast. He opened his arms wide, like he wanted to hug the creature and that was enough of a suicidal gesture, apparently. Tiamat dove in a swooping gust, accepting Seifer's invitation.

I didn't stop to think, I just moved. I was casting Shell on Balamb's biggest asshole before I knew it. Glittering pink petals protectively encased Seifer just as Tiamat plunged into him in a shower of spitting sparks...and disappeared.

I blinked so hard that my head actually clenched and this time I did drop my Aura Stone.

Seifer's eyes were huge and shocked against his suddenly-pale face.

Tiamat hadn't come to hurt Seifer...he'd come to junction himself to Seifer. Ultimecia's Knight had just junctioned her most powerful Guardian...

...right before falling unconscious, mouth first into the dust.

I gawked it up and for a few there I seriously thought I was going to crack up. That Seifer was all a heap of shit and then some. I remembered our Dollet field exam, once upon a time ago and how Ifrit had tapped me in the head for a little while. I'd never junctioned anything as strong as the Fire Demon at that point and Seifer had laughed himself sick at my initial shaky uneasiness.

I had to admit though, that I was more then tempted to stand around and kick sand at Seifer's spaced out mug until he awoke. However, I took being a SeeD totally serious, which was lucky for him and I remembered all to well how it was, having a never-before-junctioned entity like Bahamut stuff himself into my mind. Tiamat was probably on the same level as Bahamat and most likely hadn't ever been junctioned before, or at least not by anyone human. I knew Seifer didn't have a whole lot of experience with GFs, other then standard fare Garden GFs and even junior classmen had no problem handling those things.

I sighed very loudly as I knelt down beside Seifer. He didn't look too hot, there was no denying that. His eyelashes were fluttering rapidly...obviously there was high drama going on behind that front. Battle for cranium space and all that. I picked up Seifer's cold, limp wrist and felt for a pulse.

"Aw fucksticks," I groaned. Seifer's heart was beating at least three times the normal rate. Any more of that and his system might go into shock or something. You couldn't just pack a powerload like Tiamat into your mind without a heap of previous experience. Even little kids coulda told you that.

I would've liked nothing better then to beat the scene and leave the loser roasting in his own conceit but if Seifer was in possession of a GF as powerful as Tiamat then who knew what might happen...either to his head or afterwards, once he fully accepted the Guardian...? Not to mention that a civilian junctioning a GF was highly illegal, especially if said civilian was a traitor in the eyes of all National states. Nope, I was being paid to investigate the Plains and sort out the cause of disjunction, both of which I was determined to do. Even if I was saddled with a big lug of a bully.

I poked Seifer a bit. "Seifer? Hey Seifer! K'you hear me or what?"

Like a nun in the sack, as Irvine would say.

"Wake up you stupid fuck!"

Levelling up my ass.

I hunted around in my pockets once more but I already knew that I didn't have any LuvLuvGs on me. That shit was super rare. Yeah I know it was a sight, me rooting around for something to help Seifer. Now don't get me wrong or nothin', I didn't like dude one one did except for his posse...but I did have a hundred questions about Tiamat and all this junctioning business, none of which Seifer could answer from the fields of Lah Lah Land. It was a drainhole for sure and I knew if our positions were somehow reversed, Seifer would've had me caked to crap under Doomtrain and trussed up inside of one of those underground Estharian prisons before I could even say 'Dark Flare'. But I'm something of a nice guy, mostly or at least according to Selphie.

Maybe I was just stupider then a trash-talkin' Dollet monkey.

I knew that Seifer Almasy was and would forever remain a jumped-up arrogant asshole and still I rummaged through my items, in search of any kinda junk to ease the guy's tapped head. Elixirs, Chef Knives, Diamond Armours, Laser Cannons, G-Hi-Potions, Ochu Tentacles, Inferno Fangs...

Inferno Fangs.

I stared down at the fiery bit of bone, an idea churning inside my head. Sometimes items dropped by monsters could be used to raise compatibility with certain GFs. Red Fangs, for example, raised compatibility with Ifrit...and by using Ifrit's F Mag-RF Ability, one Inferno Fang could be refined into 20 Flares. That meant that Inferno Fangs had a Flare nucleus, allowing them to be further refined and if Tiamat was a Flare-based demon...

Well in any case, I had a heap of Elixirs on hand and seriously, who was around to see if I accidentally messed Seifer up? Or as to that, would anyone even care? I'd heal the guy in case anything serious happened. I wasn't a total jerkhole afterall...unlike some people lying around all recumbent and shit.

The wind was hot against my face as I took out my stock of Inferno Fangs. I had fifteen in all and assuming they worked and assuming each Fang raised Seifer's compatibility with Tiamat by a max of 3, well that would at least be enough to awaken Sleeping Beauty.

"You're gonna so owe me," I declared loudly, close to his ear. It was gonna just slay him, knowing that he was in debt to 'a hyper little shit' like me. Served the bastard right, I say, for all the lies he was spewing off. Levelling up his GFs, more like.

I stopped abruptly, feeling the heat of the Inferno Fang through my gloves as a sudden thought swooped into my head. What in the fuck was I doing, kneeling beside this tool, all ready to heal his head?

Seifer hadn't seemed at all surprised to see Tiamat...he must have come to Esthar with the sole purpose of finding Tiamat. And that meant, if he truly did expect to find the Flare Demon, that maybe he was already junctioned with a few more of those Castle in maybe all of them. If Seifer actually did have all eight monsters junctioned then I would be fucked to shit ten ways to Sunday. I was no match for eight consecutive GFs, especially since I was only hanging steady with Ifrit, Diablos and Doomtrain.

Ultimecia might be presently festering in a Dead Zone but Seifer was still as much of a fucker as he'd ever been...and then a heap. I wouldn't be surprised if he was still looking for a greater glory and with this new-found GF power, who knew what havoc he could wreak? No, I'd be fifteen kinds of dipshit to try and raise compatibility with friggin' Tiamat for Seifer of all people...

...Seifer, whose face was currently Blizzaga-white and streaked with webs of blue veins and was going into some kind of shock...

Clearly, I was fifteen kinds of dipshit.

"Fucking tutti-frutti guilty-ass conscience," I griped, hating myself and hating Seifer's pallid, grunged out features even more. I couldn't just leave one of the orphanage gang hanging, could I? Which was ironic since just a month ago, Squall, Quistis and I had been all ready to kill Seifer...for the third time.

I didn't even know if I wanted my idea to work or not.

If the Inferno Fang did jack shit then I'd be forced to sit around flinging curative potions and spells on the guy, none of which would do anything to alleviate head trauma. When Seifer did awake, he'd be fried and unable to answer questions for Hyne knew how long. I mean yeah Seifer was a shitheel of the first water but I didn't want the dude to turn veggie on me there. If anything I wanted to be the one to pull his shades closed a la My Final Heaven. He'd started all that 'cry-baby Zell' drama in the first place anyway.

On the other hand though, if I was able to rouse Seifer and he did have eight GFs...well that'd be pretty damn shitty. My strengths though, were that my compatibility with all three of my GFs were at max and I still had the Hero's Walk Squall gave to me aboard the Lunatic Pandora. If worse came to worse and I was majorly tapped out, I'd have to rely on that ticket. It was the coward's street up but better I got help and stopped Seifer as opposed to him leaving my carcass around as a buffet for Toromas to chow down on.

I so deserved a pay raise for what I was about to do. Helping Seifer, tch. This was akin to religious servitude, this was.

Ehrgeiz tightened around a particularly large Inferno Fang. The scarlet-stained bone splintered and crumpled beneath the crush of Dragon Skin and Adamantine. A glittering powder, fine as a bottled Amnesia Green, spilled out from beneath my gloved fingers. I cast the powder, the red ash dusting Seifer's skin like a veil of dried  blood. It seeped into his pores with a shimmer of familiar, crackling J-Magic and I knew that his mind, for better or for worse, had accepted the refined item.

There were a few unchanged instants before Seifer began to cough. I cast another Fang and the cough grew pronounced. In my other hand, I held fast an Aura Stone. I wasn't gonna take any chances, not with this whacked out homey beef junctioned to the friggin' Kashkabald Desert.

When Seifer finally got around to opening his eyes, six Infernos later, I was ready. He was blinking hard up at the endless sky when I shoved Ehrgeiz around his throat.

"Alright buddy, I had enough of your shit," I spat out in quite the snarling tone of voice, if I do say so myself. "I can have your ass stuffed into an Estharian jail cell faster then you can say 'Ultimecia's Bitch'. I'm SeeD and you oughta know by now what SeeDs can do." I loosened my hold around his neck a fraction, enough to let him garble it up. "What the fuck you doin' out here?"

Seifer stared up at me, his eyes still a bit hazy. He wouldn't be able to defend himself for a while yet. "The hell'd you do to me, chicken wuss?"

My fraying patience snapped at that horrible nickname. "Answer the goddamn question you arrogant bastard!"

No one else on this entire planet would have chuckled then but ram me sideways if that wasn't exactly what Seifer did. "You better watch that temper, chicken. I don't wanna take the blame for you having a damn heat spazz out here."

I couldn't believe this nerve of this guy. Did nothing faze him? Didn't he have any damn shame?

Spazz my ass.

With more pleasure then I should have ever felt...but oh baby did I get one helluva rush...I squeezed my fingers around his neck. Hard. Seriously, why'd I ever decide to ease his messed head? He didn't even deserve the sand to pass out on, for Omega sakes.

"Think I'm cracking the funnies, Seifer? Think I wouldn't arrange for an internal view of D-District for you?" I leaned close to him and gave him some intense pressure. "How many of those Castle monsters you got junctioned?"

Seifer wheezed, blood pouring into his cheeks. For once there were no smart answers coming out his gullet. "Three."

"Which ones?"

"Trauma, Red Giant and now Tiamat," he choked, his left hand scrabbling for Hyperion...which lay like a kilometre from him.

I let go of him and sat back. I wasn't sure I believed him but being as I didn't stock Scan spells, I couldn't disprove him either. In any case, once I dragged him back to Esthar with me, it'd be all too easy to tell whether his shit was the truth or not. With a vindictive satisfaction, I watched Seifer massage his throat with shaky hands. He was shooting glares darker then a Black Hole at me. I couldn't really say I gave a Geezard's gizzard about the whole thing. He'd pissed me off enough, as it were.

"You don't believe me," Seifer ground out as he slowly sat up. He looked like he was forcing himself something ferocious and trying not to pass out. Well I suppose I could understand that; the last thing I would have wanted to do was look weak in front of Seifer. "But I can't say I really give a crap. This is none of your business chicken wuss, so beat the scene and leave me alone."

I had to gape at the guy. I mean really, what else could I do? Seifer was going on like he thought I was being a nosy parker; like I had zip authority under all the suns to question his august presence.

And here he was calling me a spazz. "So what you're saying is that it's none of SeeD...none of my business that you're off gallivanting around the world, attempting to junction all eight of Ultimecia's Guardians? Like you don't see that I should be suspicious of you?"

Seifer's eyes flashed like an Energy Crystal. "Well with this goddamn criminal inquisition you're trying to pass off on me, is it any wonder I never took out an ad in the fucking paper?"

Oh like he had the right to be indignant. I ground my incisors together and decided a lesson in some not-so-ancient history was in order. "You took over Galbadia Garden, attacked both Trabia and Balamb Gardens, the latter of which was your fucking home, you tortured Squall, dug out that shithole Pandora, attacked Esthar, caused another fucking Lunar Cry, kidnapped Ellone, revived Adel, essentially fed Rinoa to Adel, killed Odin...pretty much started Time Compression in other words and you expect me to trust you, s'that it? Because last I saw you still didn't know when to call it quits."

There was a very long silence. The look on Seifer's face was something black and I figured he was on the verge of starting one helluva thumpdown. So it surprised me a good one, when instead he spoke...and in a relatively calm voice at that.

"D'you actually think when I came up to Timber that day I wanted to start all this shit? Yeah, Rinoa might have danced around with puberty boy at the ball but she came to Balamb to see me. She knew I was serious about helping her resistance group and the only reason Cid even dispersed you guys to help her was because I convinced him. I came to that TV Station to help her out, not to end up with a Sorceress shrieking shit inside my head. When Matron starting whispering to me and I suddenly remembered my childhood and how she raised me, d'you think I knew she was possessed by some nutjob from the future? All I knew was that my Mom was telling me to come with her. Any one of us would have gone with her Zell, she's our Matron."

Well shit on toast, if Seifer wasn't surprising me all over the place. I couldn't even recall the last time I'd ever heard him speak so rationally. As far as I knew, and I did know a lot having spent a good number of my years with the guy, when Seifer wasn't mercilessly bullying and picking fights with everyone in sight, he was questioning orders and flaunting his status as head of the Disciplinarian Committee. Nothing in that semblance of normalcy lent itself to much rationality of thought or speech, that was for sure.

And yeah, Seifer did have a couple of good points there but they were scary points and I didn't even want to think about what it would have been like, had it been me Matron had gone after instead of Seifer. I'd already felt enough of a tool then, for having blabbed that we were all from Balamb Garden.

Since I didn't really know how to respond to that big speech, I blurted out the only thing that popped into my head. "Well once you knew about Ultimecia, why didn't you stop?"

A disgusted expression crossed Seifer's features. He was looking at me like I was Grat goo stuck tough on Hyperion's blade. Ah familiarity. "You got no subtly, you know that chicken wuss? No fucking subtly. I don't know how you made SeeD, you're so damn dense."

"The hell?" I was outraged. I had plenty of subtly and I was not dense and anyway, what in the earth did any of that have to do with the price of Hypno Crowns in Esthar?

"You think someone like her would jazz around while I did the fucking Exit? You fought her, you saw her anger right up front. It was all or nothing, life servitude or death, with her." Seifer carefully picked up Hyperion and fussed with the gun a bit. "So since you guys offed her before she could off me, I guess I owe you or somethin'."

It had to be Blizzaga-ing something brutal in Hell because Seifer didn't just say he owed me...

...did he? Or did he?

Couldn't have been any Seifer I knew, especially not the one scowling at his precious weapon, carefully avoiding my definitely wide eyes, his cheeks...dare I mention it...just a tad bit Belhelmel red? I would've liked nothing better then to ham it up with some heavy gloating but some things you just didn't do and in my books that included ragging a dude done in...and Seifer was as cooked as any Fastitocalon-Fs I'd ever seen.

I swear I'm such a chillin' guy. What other SeeD would've raised compatibility with an illegal junction for the likes of Seifer Almasy? I should have been revelling in his misery and my obvious superiority over him but I liked to think that I was bigger then that sort of drama. Maybe his comments about Matron had struck Meteor Stones with me or something.

"Yeah dude whatever." When in doubt, Squall it up. "What I really wanna know is how'd you know Tiamat was way the hell out here?"

Surprise briefly marked Seifer's face before he was able to mask it. Yeah, for sure. He would've been lording over me from here to the moon, if he'd been a glorified, heroic SeeD and I a disgraced Knight. "I heard him, I guess."

"You heard him?" I frowned. That didn't sound too hot to me. "What d'you mean, exactly? Like how you'd hear Ultimecia?"

"Not like that," Seifer said impatiently. "She was more of a constant presence, always there all the time. I hear these Guardians only randomly. They're calling for her but since she's gone, her Knight is the next best thing." He shrugged. "I think those monsters were displaced during Time Compression. You guys didn't actually kill any of them and somehow they got pulled into our time. Maybe they tried to follow you here or somethin', I dunno."

I mulled that over. It made sense but I would've had to be one helluva damn fool to trust the word of Seifer Almasy.

The distrust I felt must have shown on my face because Seifer gave me a pissed, super dirty look. "Yeah alright I fucked up big, is that what you wanna hear, punkass? I caused some serious damage but fuck it all, I had a goddamn Sorceress jammed inside my head! The hell d'you expect? I'm not lying about all this monster junction crap. I'm not trying to take over Balamb Garden or kill Leonhart or whatever else you're thinking. I went looking for her Guardians because everyone else was doing jack shit. No one else can even hear them except me so I'm here to get rid of them. Her monsters shouldn't be roaming around, close to cities and stuff."

An admission and compassion. Reality had to be coughing up some grim lung butter because I'd be Creepy Touched back to the Commencement Room if I thought I'd ever hear a voluntary acknowledgment of guilt from His Majesty. I mean frig, Seifer didn't fuck up, he didn't do fuck ups. Everyone else fucked up, not him.

Of course, it wasn't like he could blame some random cadet for all the mayhem he'd caused. Guess he didn't have much of a choice but to accept all his stupid mistakes and move on...of which he wasn't going to do without my okay. I counted for something around here and I prized all of it.

"So you're gonna find those eight monsters and junction them all, is that it?"

"Yeah I am," Seifer declared defiantly. Of course he hadn't changed that much. "They wouldn't come to anyone other then me anyway."

"Not even Matron?"

"I thought about that but I don't think so. Matron doesn't mean anything to Ultimecia; she was only a tool really. Not like a Knight." It was subtle but there was bitterness in Seifer's voice. It rang odd, to tell you the truth.

"Yeah, that makes sense, I guess." I looked straight into Seifer's eyes. Here came the moment of reckoning. "You know I can't let you go off on your own, right?"

"The fuck you can't," Seifer angrily bit out. "I'm not about to hurt anyone, I'm not a threat to anybody and I've had enough with all this-"

"Dude, it doesn't matter what you say," I interrupted. May as well stop him well and early, before he really got a diesel on. "Because that boat ain't gonna float. Once it reaches anyone that you're junctioned to the hilt with Ultimecia's Guardians and make no mistake baby, I'll be blabbing for sure, Garden and Federal Defence alike will be after your ass. Ultimecia's long gone and these illegal junctions were done of your own free will. No one's gonna make the mistake of being lenient with you and you oughta know that by now."

Seifer started to protest, furiously if the scathing expression on his face was any indication, but I overrode him. He was gonna listen to me because I wasn't a chicken wuss beneath him any longer but a SeeD above him. I didn't have to take Seifer's stupidness any longer. "You can try and leave but I'll tell you right now that I'll be ragging your every step. You may've got yourself a few high-level GFs but there ain't no way you had enough time to train up their all abilities. We fight and I'll beat you ten times over. Then I'll cart your carcass straight up to Esthar where you'll either be charged or given over to that creepfest Odine as an experiment. That nutbar'll keep you locked up inside the Sorceress Memorial or somethin'...he wouldn't mind making an exception for your sorry ass."

It was mean, I know it but I was totally into the murderous vibes Seifer was fumigating. He had a grip on his gunblade like he wanted nothing better then to hand me into some open face surgery. Well I could live with it, his cheap rage. Had to be a shade fairer then his endless harassment and ridicule and all the rest of that rancid old song and dance.

"You threatening me, chicken?" Spoken in a voice softer then a Shear Feather and reeking with suppressed fury.

"You damn right I am. This world's seen enough of your interests at work." I lightly began to bounce where I stood and started up with some shadowboxing. It felt fucking okay to dish out an ultimatum to Seifer. "Like I said, you can tear tracks outta here or you can ditch the bitchy attitude and come with me to Esthar. I'll make my report and we can see what Laguna has to say. He's a fair guy and no one'll be able to jump down your throat if you've voluntarily placed yourself under SeeD authority."

If looks were Death Stones then a Phoenix Pinion would be pretty fucking useful right about now.

"Bet you'd love that...seeing me hung under your authority." He spat out the last two words like they were dung-coated.

Try to cut a jerk some slack and he'll just end up pissing on your kicks. I should've known. "I'm doing my fucking job, you prick," I retorted, quelling the urge to unleash a Different Beat onto his skunky face. "I was hired to investigate the disturbance out here and yeah, I friggin' found it. You might find this hard to believe but I actually don't give fifty Gil to Galbadia about you. All I wanna do is get rid of those monsters before someone gets hurt and having you junction all of them isn't exactly what I'd call a safe deal."

There was a long silence, broken only by the low growl of a Behemoth hunting in the distance. Seifer was pissed, any loser could've seen that a kilometre away but I knew he was also considering what I'd said. Pride or not, he had enough to lose without the protection of my inferior authority.

Hyne, the guy was such a bastard.

I didn't know what exactly I'd expected him to say, maybe a few choice insults but in the end, to my endless surprise, Seifer said nothing. He bent to scoop up a few Poison Powders dropped by the Imps he'd been fighting and then stashed his gunblade. There was something on his face that I didn't like...and I knew I was gonna have to keep it up.  

"Lead the way then SeeD," he invited in mocking tones. His eyes bore glacial holes into my skull. "I have, after all, voluntarily placed myself under your authority."

Oh when would the fun times ever end?

~*~Author's Notes~*~

Phew but this was one long bitchass of a chapter. I know it's a horrible habit, starting epic stories without finishing the other epics but sometimes this kinda shit doesn't lemme alone. Or maybe I'm just sick to death of all the sappy, cliché, fangirl versions of two dude hooking it and wanted to write something as realistically as possible? Yeah, that's it. I'm gonna try and shy away from all the oodles of S/Z clichés out there. Here there will be no 'Seifer's been secretly in love with Zell all this time and showed it by constant bullying the guy to avoid rejection' (only in a fangirl's world) or especially none of this 'Zell pining after Squall (in spite of having no problems with helping Rinoa hook up with Squall during the game) and takes to Seifer as a consolation, thereby finding true love in the process' business. Don't get me wrong, I've read some stories which have employed both those clichés to amazing results and some which have ended up with shitass results.

I guess what I want to achieve in this story is a solid plot and a slow but credible build-up towards a relationship by two characters who basically loathe each other. I want this to be about two teenaged guys first...and let's face it, most of us girls know shitall about guys in a relationship...but I'm gonna try. There's not gonna be any romanticizing here...but there will be lots of swearing because I have something of a Stephen King complex, in case you haven't fucking noticed. And a bunch of sex later on because teenaged guys are hornyass motherfuckers.

So send me criticism or comments if you'd like because I feel like I'm deviating from the normal shit I write to a different kind of shit and I'd love to know your thoughts on this new bit of drama.