A/N: Oh, boy – so six months between part one and… chapter two, because I'm simply not writing enough at the moment to justify posting it in gigantic blocks ^^; It's a bit nothing-ish in terms of content, but it provides some building blocks, etc blah blaaaah. This story has been changed from oneshot-in-too-many-parts status to chaptered, to try and keep me going at it semi-regularly rather than running and hiding at the thought of writing it thirty pages at a time. Many apologies to all for how long this has taken, my life has been an explosion of activity this year compared to others. Please consider this my belated Zemyx Day contribution ^_^ Um, even if it's completely lacking in Demyxness… ^^;

As ever, this one's for my darling Decorinne, as part of her… cough, 2009 Christmas present (because I'm filled to the brim with phail like that ;)

Oh, and just a little side note to anyone who hasn't looked at my profile or dA journals lately… FFnet apparently decided that my usual three hyphens in a row no longer qualify as… text, let alone page breaks, so all~l my other stories, and the first part of this one, are now completely lacking in any breaks. All breaks. It sucks. Kurosora1984 gave me a fab solution to it all (namely find/replacing them all rather than my previous godawful plan of going through each story page by page to do it), but it'll still take me a while to get around to it, so whatever else of mine you might be reading… bear with the major suck they now all contain ^^; And my condolences to anyone else who has suffered the same.


Night time sparkled, the skies stripped bare of cloud to reveal a frigid spread of winter stars blanked out by the bright glow of the city lights, Radiant Garden shining, revolving slowly before Zexion's moody gaze. The Mt. Olympus restaurant sat high in amongst the business towers, teetering over the entertainment district with aloof isolation, gently turning to provide its diners with a constantly breathtaking view. It was a beautiful city; Zexion could see none of it. As he eyeballed the broad window flanking their small table, all he saw was his own reflection, the scenery lost, Naminé's reflection not even registering. She sat across from him, dressed in elegant white, her fair hair draped across one shoulder in a shining twist, blue eyes filled with uncertainty. Fingertips pressing to the delicate neck of her wine glass, she watched the man for stretching minutes, hesitant to speak, his reverie deep and emanating complexity.

He had turned up on time, a smile on his face as per usual, but it had been brittle compared to its usual polite warmth, and faded swiftly in favour of this strange, brooding silence she hadn't the heart or nerve to immediately try to dispel. They had ordered their food, the period in which menus had been perused a brief respite from the hush, but the instant the waiter had vanished, Zexion had slid straight back into this tense detachment. Something had obviously happened since their previous morning's talk on the phone – he had been displaying none of this then – but outside of this assumption, Naminé didn't know what to think. Had it been some issue connected with the Royal King of Hearts, she was certain he would have said something before now, included her in whatever it was that was bothering him. She was, after all, partnering the revival project, and he hadn't yet treated her involvement lightly or with condescension. Even Sephiroth's meddling only ever caused him to become lividly vocal on the matter – nothing had ever shut him down like this, boxed inside his own world, and at the expense of a dinner guest no less.

She continued to fiddle with her glass, taking occasional, nervous sips of red, eyes flicking about the room in search of something to occupy herself during his mental absence. She would wait until the food arrived and then attempt conversation, she had decided this firmly, and just as she'd thought that he had forgotten her presence entirely, Zexion abruptly asked her, "Naminé, what do you believe in?"

For a moment, the woman was flustered, his suddenness, and the grimness with which he asked it, throwing her off balance. "Well… Well, I…" She grasped for words, came up blank, Zexion showing rare impatience as he watched her gape across the table.

"It was just a question, you don't need to think so hard about it – what do you believe in?"

"Well," she stammered again, then with a burst of effort achieved, "I come from a family of firm Protes-"

"No, no, no." He waved her religion aside with a flick of one hand, banishing it to the edges of the round, window-spanned room. "I don't mean that, I don't mean anything like that, I mean things, Naminé – phenomenon, superstitions, black cats and witches and cemeteries at midnight, the Bermuda Triangle – any of it? All of it? None? I want to know what you believe in." He was staring intently, leaning forward onto the table now, all the concentration of his reverie focused on her like a drill between the eyes. She blinked, once again trying to formulate anything close to a coherent answer.

"I…" She paused, looked at him warily. He propped his chin on his knuckles, not letting up for a second.

"Don't be shy, now."

"I – I believe in…" She blushed, and finished on a near-whisper, "unicorns." At his flattening expression, she hurriedly added, "But only once! As in, not anymore, obviously, somebody would have found one by now, but a long time ago, I believe… that… unicorns existed…" She trailed off, the man obviously unimpressed. Then she frowned, saying, "You're the one who wanted to know, you're not allowed to then turn around and tell me I'm ridiculous."

"I didn't say anything of the sort," Zexion swiftly countered.

"You didn't need to say anything." She was feeling indignant now. "Why don't you tell me what you believe in, I'll make the same face you're currently making and we'll see how confident you feel?"

The man briefly shut his eyes. "I see. I understand. I apologise. After all…" He said the following as though the words were being dredged up from deep inside, laced thickly with scepticism, "one never knows about unicorns."

She heard it plainly, and now it was Naminé's turn to be unimpressed. "Well, what do you believe in, then? If you're so intent on the subject that you can sit there and ignore me before making fun of me, go on – I want to hear how solid your beliefs are."

Zexion hesitated, making her scowl. "…This isn't about what I believe in. I wanted to know what you do… for example – unicorns," he inclined his head in what he evidently thought to be a pacifying manner, "or, say – earthbound spirits."

Naminé's brows lifted. "You mean like – ghosts?"

The word didn't sit right, it sounded unpleasant and cartoonish in the air between them, he shook his head sharply, saying, "No, forget it, it was just something to talk about. You're right, I've been ignoring you, and I'm sorry. It won't continue. Let's talk about something else. Let's talk about your tour schedule. How is the tour going?"

Naminé watched him suspiciously, Zexion hooking up his wineglass, untouched prior to now, and swirling down three-quarters of its contents in one swallow. "…It's going well, as you know. There have been some bumps, but everybody has been getting along fine, and the performances have been getting positive reviews."

The glass was set back down, Zexion sucking his lips into his mouth for stray drops and nodding distractedly, only half paying attention. "Good, good, I'm glad to hear it. It's a shame you won't be seeing the Royal King sooner, but I understand, it's important to keep to your commitments."

"The Royal King," Naminé echoed, seizing on the topic, as yet undiscussed – a curious thing, considering it was their entire reason for being here. "How has he been?"

For a moment, Zexion looked startled, almost spooked, eyes wide, body still. "…He?"

She smiled a little. "He, the Royal King of Hearts. You always refer to the Royal Queen as a she, so I assumed the Royal King must be her little husband…"

"Ah." He relaxed, poking a finger into his left temple as though a headache throbbed just out of reach. "Of course, yes – no, I don't tend to, actually. The Royal King has always been an 'it' to me, but I can see how you would… have got confused, yes, I –" He rubbed his face, looking extraordinarily tired all of a sudden. "The Royal King is going well. The contractors have spent the last two days looking around, they went off to draw up their quotes when I locked up this afternoon before flying over this way. I haven't – been inside since yesterday, though. But from what I saw, it has a lot of good potential, so…"

The blonde studied his expression. "Is there something wrong, Zexion?" She asked it softly, so as not to alarm him, but nonetheless couldn't help but notice how he stiffened at the question. Before anything more could be said, however, their waiter arrived with the soup, Zexion's slightly opened mouth snapping shut, skin looking a shade paler than it had been. They were silent as the waiter set down their bowls, smiled automatically as he wished them fine dining. Naminé waited until he'd left before returning her attention to the slightly ill-looking man across the table, but rather than pick up where they'd left off, Zexion appeared to be opting for resumed muteness, focusing his attentions on his spoon, eyes lowered, brow hard. After a pause, the woman let loose a sigh, troubled by his mood, and followed suit. They were back to where they'd started, Zexion's attentiveness quickly slipping away from the restaurant even as he fed the soup into his mouth, his gaze nowhere that Naminé could readily discern. The night was turning into a disappointment; she had been looking forward to hearing about the theatre, its ins and outs, discussing plans for its future, and instead it was – this. It would have been awkward, if Zexion had been anywhere vaguely close to present. As it was, she might as well have been dining alone. The only animation he'd shown the entire time they'd been here had been when he was demanding what she 'believed in', like that was the focus of the evening rather than their financially fraught joint project.

Speaking of which: "Sephiroth has been approaching me again. This time, he sent his financial advisor after me, who tried proposing that I withdraw my support from you and partner with Sephiroth instead. He claims he can void our contract if I choose to."

"Oh, really?" He was half twisted in his chair, looking like he had barely heard her, showing absolutely no concern over her statement. Naminé began losing patience.

Leaning forward, the sharp motion catching his eye, she said with annoyance, "Yes, Zexion, really. Sephiroth. Wanting me to withdraw from our contract and partner with him instead. Effectively robbing you of the Royal King of Hearts. Seph-i-roth."

Zexion stared at her for a long moment, saying nothing, then blinked and incredulously echoed, "Sephiroth?"

The blonde let out a noise of irritation, clacking her spoon down hard. "Honestly – what is the matter with you tonight? You might as well have stayed in Traverse Town, you're no company at all. I'm tired, you know – I could have been using this time to practice for tomorrow's concert or sleep. If you were going to be like this, then you should have just –"

"I'm sorry." He cut her off with a pained expression, this time very much in the moment, in Mt. Olympus with her. "I know, I've been rude. I really am sorry, Naminé, I didn't mean to be like this."

Hearing this, she subsided in her attack, but wasn't yet mollified. Raising her eyebrows expectantly, she asked, "Well? What's going on? Is it the theatre? If it is, then I have a right to know."

Zexion inhaled, narrowing his eyes and glancing away, abandoning his own spoon, barely hungry in the first place. His seriousness brought forth a spike of alarm in the blonde. He had at least the presence of mind to notice, and made an effort, reassuring her, "It's alright, the theatre is fine. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the Royal King of Hearts, Naminé. Structurally, the place is sound, and now we just have to wait for the quotes to find out what sort of costs we're looking at overall for the renovations."

She blinked at him, relieved but frowning, asking, "Then what? If it isn't the theatre – and it isn't Sephiroth, or you'd have been talking about it…" She paused, a look of dawning realisation tinging her features, followed swiftly by abashed uncertainty. "Is it personal? Am I prying?"

He shook his head. "No, it…" He took a breath, nodded suddenly. "Yes, it's personal, but…"

Naminé straightened in her seat, fingers at her mouth. "I'm so sorry, Zexion, I won't ask anything more, then."

"No…" He struggled for a moment, finding words. He didn't know quite how to say it, or even what to say. Naminé was a good person, she would let the matter drop if she thought it was none of her business, but it was, sort of, as it did pertain to the theatre – and besides, he wasn't entirely sure this was something he could – handle all by himself. But at the same time, neither did he want to come off as being completely out of his mind, which was undoubtedly a possibility, one he hadn't been able to yet strike from the list. But he needed – to talk to somebody about this, and Naminé was not only the closest person to him at the current moment, but also a sympathetic personality containing much tact and compassion. If he was in mental trouble, she would be the most likely to identify and gently point it out to him. His mouth came open, beginnings of sentences forming and dying soundlessly over the course of a minute, Naminé watching and patiently waiting.

At length, he managed to again tightly ask, "What do you believe in?"

Naminé looked exasperated. "I think we've already been over this, Zexion." Then she stopped for a moment, recalling, "But you asked about ghosts, didn't you? 'Earthbound spirits'?" For a stretching several seconds, the two of them joined gazes, Naminé curiously, Zexion with reluctant trepidation. Eventually, the blonde's eyes widened. "Wait… Zexion?" He looked away, picking his spoon back up.

"I – never mind, let's just –"

"Are you trying to tell me that you – encountered something? Someone?" She was staring in awe, breathless. "Who?"

He attempted scepticism, snorting, "Surely you don't believe in such things, it's such nonsense…"

She shook her head slowly, leaning forward, hands reaching across the table towards him. "I really couldn't tell you one way or another… but if you happened to tell me you had seen something, in an old theatre like that, I really don't think that I'd doubt you…"

He glanced at her dubiously. "And why is that?"

She spread her hands, lifting slender shoulders helplessly. "Because you're the last person who would ever dream up such things, or lie about it, or go crazy, or anything. Zexion, you're the most grounded and sensible person I know. If you told me you'd seen something – something otherworldly – I would have a really hard time not believing you. I would have to at least listen, and, and consider what you were saying, and even if you were wrong about it, I would need to have it proved wrong." She touched his wrist, lying limp on the table. "So whatever's bothering you, please – you can tell me."

He drew back from her touch, uncomfortably scratching a weary hand through his hair. "You know, if this was the other way around, if it was you who was suggestion something – strange, then I'd have had no compunction in telling you to go and get help."

"That just means that you're you, and I'm me," she said steadily, "and I'm not ready to throw you to the asylum yet. You haven't even told me yet." When Zexion lapsed into another strangled silence, the woman tipped her head to one side, regarding him thoughtfully for a moment. "…Tell me a story," she suggested. "A ghost story. Tell me about – a man who purchases the ownership to an old, abandoned theatre, and then…?"

Zexion's eyes flickered upward, meeting hers, a pause settling over the table. It was a shallow little ruse… but… "A man who purchases the ownership to an old, abandoned theatre, you say?"

She propped her elbows up on the table, taking her chin in her knuckles, sending over an interested expression. "Tell me what happens to him, Zexion."

He sucked in a slow breath, muttered, "…More than you would imagine," and finally, finally,started to talk.


Zexion stayed in Radiant Garden that night, sleeping soundly for the first time in three nights, and with only one thing to attribute it to: getting the whole debacle off his chest to Naminé, the very best thing he could have done. Just putting it into words, instead of having it swirling through his mind with a life of its own, had helped to soothe his tightened nerves, introducing an element of – of reality to the proceedings. Rather than feeling like his head was going to detach and spin off into space, Zexion had felt himself relaxing, bit by bit, simply through having a conduit for all his thoughts and the whole mad tale. Naminé had indeed been the perfect candidate for unfurling it all to, neither eager to believe like some occult-chasing idiot nor anywhere near as utterly sceptical as he would have been. Rather, she had just listened, and afterwards they had discussed it – the situation that the character in Zexion's story had found himself in. She had even had careful suggestions to make, which he intended to follow up on and test out upon returning to Traverse Town. It had been an enlightening night, one which he was grateful to not have cancelled like he had first wanted to.

For now, however, more immediate business had to be taken care of.

Naminé was back with her philharmonic company, preparing for the day and night ahead, their parting the previous evening perfectly amicable despite his ungraciousness earlier on and the idiocy he'd later spouted under the label of fiction. He would email her the results of the contractors' efforts when they arrived, and they would go through them together, possibly over another, more successfully business-minded dinner. Before that was due to happen, though, he needed to make sure that she would not be harassed when the time came to invest her money into the theatre's revival, and this, unfortunately, meant a visit to Sephiroth's people.

Dressed in his warmest clothes, Zexion traversed the icy walkways with a heavy clump to each step, his mood souring at the thought of being around anyone even remotely related to Sephiroth of their own accord. Whenever he met Cloud, he couldn't help but eyeball the blond and wonder what the hell inside his head had ever thought that getting together with such a bastarding tyrant would ever work out well. It was incomprehensible. Zexion's first instinct was always, without fail, to want to take to the man's head with a razor and completely shear him of his vainly cultivated hair. The image of a stubbled and stunned Sephiroth was enough to keep him smiling for hours – except for on days when he actually had to contemplate being near Sephiroth.

He sighed a plume of steam, savouring the procrastinating nature of walking versus catching a taxi, the journey taking him a decent forty minutes from the lobby of his hotel to the revolving door of Sephiroth's financial advisor. It was an unfortunate convenience that Naminé just happened to be performing in the same town that the slime that Sephiroth employed worked in. If only he had been able to put it off for longer by it being a good five hour flight, or even drive, away – Zexion wasn't the type to ordinarily delay the inevitable, but even he had his exceptions in life.

Thus, entirely all too soon for his liking, the man found himself outside the rust-red brick building, its windows like many blank eyes, his distaste rising to encompass the premises itself. Sucking a deep breath, he pushed his way through the revolving door and into the lobby, crossing the careworn carpet to the elevators, stepping inside the nearest waiting car and pressing the floor number of Sephiroth's financial man. It had taken him mere minutes to look the information up over breakfast, all of it far too frustratingly simple to come by and follow up. But, as bad as it might end up being, at least it stood as a fine distraction from other things. Having focus was – a good thing. Having somewhere to direct his thoughts, for once. The building was clean, but somewhat shabby, unexpected from somebody of Sephiroth's league. Of course, the man himself had probably never even been here, but still – perhaps the more downtrodden location made it easier to indulge in unreliable practices.

The entire third floor was being leased out to the Midgar Mako Production Company, Sephiroth's pet project, but it was a curious thing to Zexion that the place seemed almost deserted. As the elevator stopped and released him into the reception area, he found that he could hear nothing – no voices, no telephones, no copy machines rumbling away – and that the only soul about was a long-haired man behind the front desk, hidden behind a newspaper. For a startled moment, Zexion thought he was looking at Sephiroth himself, until the newspaper was lowered and he found himself staring at somebody only superficially similar – the face was narrower, younger, the arrogance far less pronounced, the eyes perhaps a bit wider and less self-satisfied. A relieved breath escaping him, Zexion stepped closer to the desk, starting to unbutton his heavy coat. "Good morning."

The silver-haired youth behind the counter eyed him. Ruffling his paper, lifting it back up to continue reading, he said with disinterest, "Saix has no appointments this morning. You'll have to make an appointment if you want to see him."

"Then I'd like to make an appointment." His voice held a sharpish edge while remaining pleasant, and in a sardonic corner of his mind Zexion noted that, yes, this was a subdivision of Sephiroth's, alright.

The youth turned a page, replying, "All appointments must be made by phone."

Zexion asked, "May I borrow your phone for a moment?"

There was a sharp rustle of newspaper, the male pulling it down again to send over a faint glare. "…You should really just leave. I doubt you have any business here, Saix is extremely discerning in who his clients are. In fact, he works almost exclusively for one person alone, and you are not he."

"Sephiroth, you mean?" He said it dryly, conveying his lack of awe very clearly, causing the young man to pause and intensify his scowl with a sliver of suspicion. "I have an issue of business with Saix, relating to Sephiroth." Removing a business card from his wallet, Zexion slid it across the gleaming desk and watched the silver-haired male transfer his frown down onto it. There was a beat of hesitation, before long fingers reached out to pluck it up, turn it around to silently read the embossed inscription. Slowly, a single pale eyebrow lifted. In the next moment, eerily green eyes flicked up to him, an element of amusement in their depths that Zexion didn't like in the least. "…I see." He finally lay down the paper, folding it in half while tossing his long hair over his shoulders, leaning back with a creak in his chair to call out, "Loz – come out for a moment." Across the hall, the door of one of the noiseless offices opened, filled almost completely by the large frame of another youth, his arms looking thick enough to snap a slight man like Zexion in two. Zexion glanced over only briefly, unimpressed by the display. "Go and tell Saix that he has a visitor, would you? It's the man who's after that theatre Sephiroth wants, you know the one."

A slow smile spread over the face of the big one, Loz, Zexion feeling a flicker of irritation at the joke he was apparently unaware of. "Right. Sure thing." He disappeared down the hall, lighter on his feet than he looked, Zexion turning to the long-haired one for a brief moment before wandering over to the far wall to pretend to inspect a series of hanging paintings while he waited. Just as expected, dealing with anyone voluntarily Sephiroth-related was proving to be a headache within the first five minutes. Wonderful, as per usual.

Several minutes passed. Despite the utter lack of cliental, he was being made to wait, to cool his heels as it were, even with it having taken him long enough simply to make his intentions clear. He knew the way these people worked, though, and wearily resigned himself to the many, petty power games in store. Secret smirks, mild displays of control, hinted knowledge that you were unaware of – it was all pathetically run of the mill for these people.

At length, there was the distant click of another door, followed by soft steps coming to meet him. A third silver-haired brat appeared, looking a little younger than the other two, all of them seeming like they'd been rolled off of some Sephiroth production line and thrown into the reject pile for not quite being the perfect clones. The newcomer flashed a sly, inherently smug smile. "Zexion? Come this way – Saix is looking forward to meeting you." He was led down the long corridor, following the confident, hip-swinging stride of the boy. Against his will, unwanted thoughts came bumping into his head, a little whispering voice comparing the slick, bloated self-assurance of this person to the charmingly fumbling manner of – of Demyx. The notion existed for only a second before being squashed down, Zexion clearing his throat and throwing his gaze to one side with a scowl. The boy in front glanced back at the noise, smirked, then flung open the furthest door from the elevator, stepping back to allow the man to enter.

The first thing he noticed was that the big one was standing behind the door. He started to turn as he spotted him in the peripheral of his right eye, stopping altogether as the confident one entered behind him and closed the door again, shutting the three of them in. Before he could dwell on the unorthodox nature of their behaviour, a soft voice uttered, "Welcome, Zexion. I must say, I'm surprised to see you here. If you're interested in my services, I'm sorry, my allegiance lies with Sephiroth over the matter of your theatre. But for anything else, I'm sure I won't mind fitting you into my schedule."

Biting down his contempt, Zexion twisted towards the voice, Saix sitting at a mahogany desk at the far end of the room, the blinds drawn and shuttered, no scrap of natural light entering the room, the overhead lights instead providing the necessary illumination. "Saix. It's been some time since we met each other face to face, I hardly recognise you when you aren't sneaking around trying to sabotage my finances or mislead my business partners."

"Ah, but there was no proof that I ever tried to tamper with your finances, remember?" Saix ticked his finger from side to side, a warning expression in place. "That's why you never prosecuted, you realised what a waste of time it all was. Please refrain from mentioning it again, I'd hate to have to sue you for slander."

Zexion laughed out a sigh as he approached the desk, leaving the silver-haired creatures by the door, ignoring them now. Removing his gloves, he pulled back the visitors' chair and sat down, finding a measure of relief in easing the pressure from his feet at last. "Kadaj," Saix addressed the younger boy, "go and fetch some coffee for myself and our guest. It isn't every day that we receive visits from such illustrious names in the business." With a nod, the boy disappeared back through the doorway, once again closing the door firmly behind him. Zexion took only a brief pause to notice that the big one had stepped in front of it, as though blocking the doorway, before turning to Saix and lazily mentioning, "I really doubt I'll be here long enough to warrant coffee, Saix. I came on a matter of reasonable urgency, it won't take much time for us to discuss it like the adults we are."

"I'm sure you're right," Saix smiled, ice and false friendliness dancing between them in the form of social convention. "After all, there is nothing I can readily think of that would inspire you to favour us with a visit. You and I have had no direct business dealings, so why come to me, Zexion? Surely it's Sephiroth whose attentions would be more worth your while."

Pleasantly, Zexion replied, "I try to avoid speaking with Sephiroth where possible. I dislike the indigestion it causes me."

Saix laughed lightly. "That isn't very amiable of you."

"This isn't a particularly amiable visit." Their smiles lasted for several seconds more, before dropping simultaneously. "You've been harassing Naminé on your master's orders. It needs to stop."

"You should watch your words and actions," Saix commented with narrow eyes. "You never know what sort of trouble you might be causing yourself, Zexion."

"Whatever trouble I cause myself is my own," the man said coldly, "but what I won't endure is the two of you dragging Naminé into it. She is being constantly hounded by Sephiroth, and we have the recordings to prove it. That alone is bad enough without you then approaching her to try and convince her to renege on our contract." It was a lie about the recordings, Naminé had never had the presence of mind to do such a thing, but the implicit threat of it caused Saix to visibly harden his jaw. Behind Zexion, by the door, the one called Loz shifted slightly.

"…If I were to have spoken to the young lady in question," Saix said, after a moment's consideration, "then it would be well within my rights to do so. I have done nothing illegal, it's all just business. You aren't proposing that I am involved in illegal proceedings – are you?" There was tension in the air. Zexion glared, a bad mood developing in the pit of his chest.

"…Only you," he growled, "would consider a complete lack of ethics to be mutually exclusive from wrongdoings, Saix."

A heavy minute passed with the two men glowering at one another, each formulating his various possible attacks, before the door opened and the smell of hot coffee wafted through the room. It thumped into the back of the hulking sentry, the boy Kadaj hissing, "Loz, get out of the damn way!"

As Loz hurried to step aside, the boy came sashaying back in with a tray of drinks, Zexion sardonically saying, "I hope there's no poison in my one, Saix."

"As though killing you would achieve anything," the man replied, the pair of them uttering brittle laughs, their eyes remaining hard on one another but the viscosity of the tension momentarily broken by the interruption. As Kadaj placed the cups on the desk, Zexion supposed with a sigh that mountains might be being made out of molehills. Saix did have a point, after all – nothing illegal was being done. In the broad scheme of things, Sephiroth was and always would be a sly creature dedicated to obtaining his desires in decidedly underhanded ways, but there was, in the end, only so far that he could push. As long as their nagging at Naminé remained within the range of business, no matter how petty and deceitful they tried to be about it in regards to Zexion himself, there really was nothing he could do, and no true damage being inflicted. Naminé could be trusted, and wanted no more to do with Sephiroth than Zexion did. His coming here to Saix's office had been a venture born of frustration, but at least now he had come to terms with the nature of how things stood, and his irritation was gradually fading into a tired sense of acceptance. He filled his coffee with the preferred quantity of sugar and milk, stirring it patiently, and when he next glanced up at Saix he did so with calmer eyes.

He was being watched over the edge of the other man's cup, Saix commenting, "You look as though you've given up."

Zexion shook his head minutely. "Not with you people – no, just no longer railing against fate. You'll always be like this, all of you." He sipped at his coffee, stronger than he generally liked it but palatable, and necessary for a bit of rejuvenation. Kadaj had retreated towards the back of the room, Loz again in front of the door, Zexion aware of each of their movements but unaffected by whatever dim air of threat they were trying to create. He was an international mogul and held his confidence duly; they wouldn't even dare think of touching him.

Saix continued to watch him rather closely. "And so this was really all you came to speak to me about? You came just to warn me off your little business partner, Zexion? How caring of you."

"Until I find out about the next time you try to pull the wool over my eyes, then yes, this was all there was." He took a larger swallow, growing eager to end the meeting and be back in the fresh outdoors. "You can tell Sephiroth about the recordings Naminé has been making, though – perhaps make him think twice about pursuing her so doggedly against her will. I'm sure there are things being said that he would prefer didn't become public media property." As he finished the coffee, Saix's eyes narrowed, but the man did nothing more than faintly incline his head to acknowledge the other's words.

"I'll be sure to pass your message along. I'm certain he'll be interested to know you've been past."

Standing now, beginning to rebutton the coat he'd never even got around to removing, Zexion nodded back at him. "I'm sure Naminé would appreciate that. She has lost patience with his constant calls. I'd rather not have to return to play the mediator again, especially if it means I have to speak to him face to face."

Saix tutted. "You never have appreciated Sephiroth's greatness, have you?"

"When I see it," Zexion replied, pulling up his thick collar, "I'll appreciate it."

In an odd burst of persistence, the man asked, "And this is really all that has you concerned? There's nothing else you've come to confront me over?"

Zexion paused. "Why? Should there be? Have I missed something, Saix?"

The man stood smoothly, coming around to Zexion's side of the desk, saying, "Not at all – I'm just still having a little difficulty believing you came here especially simply to tell us off." He lifted his shoulders lightly, holding out a hand to be shaken. "But oh, well – if this is how you waste your time, so be it."

"I despise dealing with you people," Zexion sighed, automatically grasping his hand. "Leave Naminé alone in future, Saix. There is nothing you can say to convince her to abandon the project."

"Perish the thought," Saix smiled thinly. "Her abandoning the project was never a part of Sephiroth's plans."

Zexion rolled his eyes. "No, of course not. He needs her just as much as I do. She never will defect though, you know. She's a woman of actual morals and ethics, an unknown quantity to a man of Sephiroth's calibre." He moved over towards the door, where the hulking Loz had already moved aside, allowing him to sweep through unmolested, Saix following in his wake, accompanying him to the elevator where the long-haired youth was back to reading his newspaper.

Politely, as they waited for the elevator car to climb and open the doors, Saix asked, "Will you be remaining in Radiant Garden for any length of time?"

"I'm returning to Traverse Town this afternoon." Casting a glance sideways, with an element of triumph he added, "The Royal King won't take care of itself, after all, I need to make sure all the right decisions are being made. There's nobody else to make them for me."

The smile on Saix's face was stiff as he said, "Indeed not. However, if one is not careful, one never knows how things can change, even in a matter of weeks. Tides are always turning, Zexion, it's what makes the ocean such a perilous place to sail."

The man snorted dismissively. "It's a good thing I won't be taking any boats then." The elevator car arrived, Zexion stepping into it with the vaguest feeling of having come out of the meeting with, if not victory in hand, then at least a definite sense of having held his own among some of the more treacherous vipers the world had to offer. Though only a brief discussion had taken place, it felt, as they parted, like a boxing match had occurred. Saix was glaring as Zexion turned to press the ground floor button, and again he said, "I'll be sure to inform Sephiroth of your visit."

"You do that," Zexion responded pleasantly, and felt a welling of satisfaction as the doors slid shut before the man could speak further. Getting the last word with these people counted as a coup, and he felt that he had earned, on the flight home, one or two gin and tonics over which to mull and relax. Never mind what may be waiting for him when he returned to Traverse – it was a week away from Christmas, he had an agreeable business partner, and despite whatever else, the theatre of his dreams.

Anything that came later, came later. Right now, a little bit of smug indulgence was called for.