Warnings: Slight dirty language and mentions of slash, nothing to merit a higher language. Rambling first-person narration - always fun.

Disclaimer: T'ain't mine. That's all there is to it.

SeeD. A commonly spoken word, full of so many meanings. Whispered in awe, it says elite, powerful, master; spat in disgust it declares soulless, murderer, tool. SeeD gathers up children and judges, strengthens, embraces completely or mercilessly casts away. I have never had any problems with SeeD being my parent, my judge.

I came here at thirteen, two years after Everything, after the End of the World (Almost). The world was transfixed, then, had a little more admiration to give - the memory of being saved was fresh enough still, but the doubts were trickling back in. I didn't carry those doubts, instead I carried the dreams. My mother nearly forbid it of me – too dangerous, she said, too ruthless - but I was stubborn, and she'd rather see me off with her grudgingly given blessing than not see me at all.

My pride, my anticipation, was almost tangible. Balamb Garden had accepted me; I was to learn from the best. All of us expecting a rousing congratulations speech from a hero were disappointed. Headmaster Cid and his ridiculous sweater vest greeted us, and would be the man we dealt with in the beginning of our years there. Leonhart, I later learned, had been up in his office attempting to get paperwork done; he always did that when he was studiously avoiding seeing the new students. The only glimpses I got of the famous ones back then were fleeting as they hurried past in halls or instructed older students, eyes focused on something more important, barely even registering our existence.

Kinneas almost ran me down once – knocked me straight on the ass because neither of us was watching where we were going, and he was running to something that was probably going to blow up sooner rather than later. I called him a mother fucker before I could stop my mouth, but he just laughed at the gangly girl on the floor before his eyes became unseeing again. The SeeD Disconnect would become familiar, and we students came to learn that they did it without noticing, lacking malice just as they lacked attention. There was something to fight, someone to kill, a place to be, and the outside world proved too distracting sometimes, so they shut it off.

I would learn to do it, soon enough.

I barely even noticed my three years as a younger student; they passed by in a blur of trying to stay sane amongst the tests and drills and running laps around the quad while going over your textbook in your mind, because by that time you had pretty much memorized the damn thing. Insanely enough, I was looking forward to the next year, the one of intense study and physical exhaustion, all in preparation for the exam and our life afterward; looking forward to classes taught by people whose fame had waned in the outside world. Beyond our Gardens, things weren't remembered so clearly or appreciatively, not outside SeeD's reverent whispers; the awe had worn off, and the fear had settled back in.

No one minded.

Zell Dincht looked at us as if we were all missing a very funny joke, that first day of class. He sat on his desk, not behind it, laser pointer in one hand and an old leather fighting glove on the other. Hand to hand, he told us, meant we were going to get our asses kicked a lot. It's the kicking back that matters.

Zell was short and strong and young and absolutely psychotic. All the pictures of him from That Time, newspaper clippings and the odd television recording, have short hair and one tattoo across his left cheek. When he taught us – and now, I guess – his hair brushed his cheekbones, and there was another pattern of black under his right eye – and a long, thick scar across that eye, cutting through eyebrow and tattoo, from hairline to chin. It had nearly taken his eye, a miracle that it hadn't, and he laughed about it as if it were the greatest thing in the world.

Scars weren't uncommon in SeeD, especially not facial ones. Too many monsters, and even more men, realized that the face was vulnerable and went straight for it. The short range fighters, especially, had fewer eyes to go around than they should have. It was something we avoided thinking about.

It was nearly impossible not to be attracted to Zell, if you had even vague leanings in that direction. He was funny and weird and handsome in a beat up sort of way, and one day he sidetracked class completely to show us what happened when you threw lots of magnesium into lots of water – which was, incidentally, an awesome explosion and one really pissed off Instructor Trepe. He never let us call him Instructor; he treated us like the adults we were trying to be and knew way too much about so many things that meant so little.

And you should really try it sometime; it's awesome if you don't get blown – you punch like that, Kail, you're going to break a knuckle or four!

So, yeah, half of the class had one big, amorphous crush on Zell Dincht, and we could only pride ourselves on the fact that this fanclub didn't have a name. And we respected his privacy – catching a Trepie going through Instructor Trepe's garbage is one of the more disturbing things I've seen. Lucky for the rest of that half of the class though, they didn't have their crush cut off in the most bizarre and slightly traumatizing way possible, because there are very few ways to put a good spin on seeing your teacher making out with the SeeD Commander.

I had some stupid question to ask, something about gloves or technique or what might happen if you put magnesium in toilets, and in my defense, the classroom door was unlocked. It always was. So what if it was after curfew, technically? No one really ever observed curfew. But still, Zell's desk was not the place for a round of after-hours tonsil hockey, and I hope to this day they didn't even guess someone stood in the doorway for about thirty seconds too long. Leonhart is, quite frankly, hot, and Zell is Zell and my mind tangled itself between 'run away' and 'fuck, that's hot' before the flight instinct kicked in.

I didn't think about it much, afterward, didn't have the damn time to. I was so tired in the months before the exam, so run around and sucked dry by training that I wouldn't have noticed if someone set Garden on fire.

I never did get to drop magnesium in the toilets, which probably would have gotten me expelled.

The test came, and it was everything I expected and nothing I really wanted. Have you ever killed a man? It's too easy. Crunch, snap, empty eyes. I don't even really remember who I was killing, and I've never thought to keep a running tally. SeeD are mercenaries, it's not just a job, it's an existence. We could be hired by anyone: gangs who scraped together money; the real organized crime; factions in countries; the whole damn country. It wasn't our place to choose between missions, between right and wrong. SeeD had one chance to do the right thing, and they'd done it so spectacularly that doing it again would just be anticlimactic. Apathetic is what we're good at, and the world needs it.

Graduation found us giddy and exuberant, the SeeD uniforms too new and unstained with all the things we'd eventually stain them with – spleen juice, in my case. I danced with boys and girls and anyone who would move with me, just to work off the energy, but killing is easier than dancing and I eventually had to stop. The euphoria had to stop, and it was just one night before reality set in and Leonhart was running us ragged with missions and stupid missions and missions that sent us to the edges of death.

In my first four years, I lost my right eye, and it took me sixth months to work with the blow to my depth perception, but I sucked it up and did it. It's a common wound among close range fighters, after all.

We, the SeeDs, know that Leonhart holes himself up in his office with paperwork every time the new students come in, because we do it too. We know what they'll turn into, all that hope and pride, and it isn't the elite and powerful. Dangerous, murderer, tool; we can't look at them.

But we can still look at ourselves, and be happy with what we are. We're contrary folk, we SeeDs.