Chapter II : Mechanical Arraignment

The remainder of the sunny afternoon was dwindling down into a crisp, orange-skied evening. A slight breeze swept through the bustling streets and winded its way into the approaching night.

Zell absently played with the prongs on his fork as he watched the world hurry past the generous picture window of the restaurant he'd decided to eat in. Deling City was much larger and more active than Balamb and he liked watching the motion swirl around him. There was so much to see, so many people doing so many different things. Life was blatantly obvious here and it was precious to watch.

Since Ultimecia's defeat, Zell had a whole new affinity on life. He knew that a whole world could change in a heartbeat and everything familiar could disappear in seconds. Life, he understood now, was fragile and he tried his best to keep it real. Well mostly.

He smiled wistfully as a brunette with a ponytail walked by. She reminded him of Rayla, the shy, studious library girl who'd had a crush on him. While his feelings for Rayla hadn't been as strong as her feelings for him, he still had like her a lot and had enjoyed her company immensely.  It had been sad seeing her go and he still missed her. She had been a good friend to him, though it was probably for the best that she had left Balamb Garden because he hadn't been sure that he could give her what she deserved.

"Are you ready to order now?" The redheaded waitress smiled down at him, her pen posed atop her bill pad.

Zell nodded and gave her his order.

"Alright then," she replied briskly, whisking away his menu. "I'll be right back with your drink."

"Thanks," Zell said and turned his attention back to watching the crowds outside.

The dying sun cast luminous shadows upon the lively streets, drenching the scurrying crowds in vibrant shades. His gaze shifted until it happened to rest upon a familiar figure striding through the people across the car-crammed street.

Blue eyes widened.

 "Well shit," he muttered, blinking rapidly.

Standing nearly a head taller than most, clad in a sweeping black trench coat, was Seifer Almasy. He was stalking down the street with asphalt-eating steps, a stack of tattered books clenched in his hands.

"So he came to Deling City," Zell thought, scrutinizing the other blond.

After the Garden had flown back home, Seifer had remained in Balamb for about a week, according to Zell's Ma, who delighted in sending him letters filled with Balamb town gossip. Then, just as Fujin and Raijin were reinstated back into the Garden, Seifer had disappeared. Fujin refused to talk about Seifer's departure and beat the hell out of anyone who talked shit about the ex-Knight. Raijin, if Fujin wasn't around, would admit that he didn't know where Seifer was. He only knew that Seifer had left a note saying that he needed to find peace and atone for his sins.

That fact alone was enough to catch Rinoa's interest. She had nagged Raijin into showing her Seifer's note. Then, much to Squall's chagrin, she had made a grand production of regaling them all with what she knew and demanded that they forgive Seifer because he had obviously changed. Not everyone had shared her altruistic outlook. Squall had rolled his eyes, Irvine had snorted, Quistis had sighed and he had responded with a hearty 'Hell no!' Only Selphie had taken Rinoa's side and agreed that Seifer deserved to be forgiven. Afterall, if Rinoa could forgive him, she being the one that he had practically fed to Adel, then why couldn't they all follow suit?

Well Rinoa could think and do what she wanted to but Zell wasn't ready to forgive Seifer. Putting aside the countless times, both at the orphanage and later on in the Garden, that Seifer had bullied him and gotten him in trouble, there was the fact that he had betrayed them all. Seifer had been a part of the attacks on Trabia and Balamb Gardens, had tried to kill them, had killed their faithful Odin, had resurrected Adel and forced Rinoa upon her and even after Fujin and Raijin had left him, he still hadn't known when to stop. Forgiving Seifer would be extremely difficult, if not damn near impossible.

Zell truly believed that but at the same time, Rinoa's words struck with him. Seifer, by his own admission, acknowledged that he had made a *mistake* and was looking to *atone* for his sins?! That bordered upon extraordinary. The Seifer that Zell knew, that they all knew, would never admit that he had made a mistake. But that admission, coupled with the fact that he was looking to make up for his past sins, truly intrigued Zell. Of course he'd die before ever admitting that he was intrigued by Seifer's actions but it was the truth.

Secretly, Zell was curious. And wasn't it only natural? He'd known Seifer nearly all of his life and whether he liked it or not (he didn't), Seifer was, in some strange, incomprehensible way, like family to him. Even more so now that he remembered his childhood in Edea's orphanage. Seifer had always been in his life, picking on him and blaming him and fighting with him. If nothing else remained constant, Seifer did. And now, the one person that Zell could always count on to never change, to always be a cocky asshole, had changed.

And it was fucking lunacy. How the hell had he ended up looking to Seifer for some sort of constancy? He hadn't thought about it before but now that Seifer was truly gone, he had evaluated and revaluated his relationship with the older boy. It was stupid and lame and something only a true loser would do. But stability wasn't something that was in Zell's nature and he supposed that on some frigged up level it made sense that he looked elsewhere for it. Even if it was to Seifer. Afterall during his cadet days, he and Seifer had shared a lot of classes and assignments together.

Ever since Rinoa had announced the contents of Seifer's note, Zell had thought a lot about him. He wasn't certain why or what for, but Seifer had been on his mind and it was definitely strange. Then it had died down as life demanded and missions popped up. And in that manner, six months had passed.

Only now, seeing Seifer in person, was Zell reminded of his former curiosity. 

"I don't even know why I give a shit," Zell contemplated inwardly, cupping his chin in the palm of his hand, his elbow resting upon the table. "It's not like that bastard deserves anything."

Still, even though he swore that he wasn't concerned with Seifer, he couldn't help but note the change in the other man's bearing. Seifer was striding quickly down the street, with his gaze trained firmly upon the ground instead of swaggering and smirking self-importantly at everyone he passed. And he was holding a bunch of books in his arms. That was definitely un-Seifer like. The last bit out outside reading Zell had seen Seifer indulge in was 'Little Tonberry makes a mess' and that only at Matron's insistence.

"Oh well," Zell thought as the waitress placed his drink in front of him. "It's none of my business what happens to that jerk."

~*~*~*~*~*~

"...followed by three orders of Grendel streak, a couple bowls of Blue Blobra stew, the closed Turtapod Surprise and an extra-large order of your Vegetable-Cockatrice Medley. Oh and for dessert I'd like a couple slices of your Estharian Moon Beam Cake with the Winhill Special Flower glaze. Got it?"

"Win...hill...Special...Flower...sauce," the waiter repeated slowly as he scribbled furiously upon his notepad. He looked up, his eyes slightly glassy. "Will that be everything, Miss?"

Selphie nodded, satisfied. "For now. If I want anything else, I'll let you know."

"Er...right." The waiter capped his pen. "I'll be back."

"Thanks!"

Irvine watched the brunette for a moment before shaking his head. "I know you haven't since breakfast but aren't you overdoing it? Three Grendel steaks? That's three damn big pieces of meat!"

"I'm a growing girl," Selphie declared, folding her arms across her chest. "I need food. 'Sides, the cafeteria never has anything good so now that we're finally at a decent restaurant I intend to make up for all the crappy meals that I've been forced to eat. Seriously, if I have to eat another stupid hot dog I won't be held responsible for my actions."

Irvine had to smile. "You're some piece of work, you know that darlin'?"

Selphie blinked owlishly at the endearment but chose to ignore it since she knew that he wasn't serious. "Yeah, if you like your girls stickish." She frowned down at her skinny arms. "I needa gain some serious weight if I wanna help out with the reconstruction process at Trabia Garden."

"You look pretty good to me," Irvine drawled out, giving her a thorough once-over.

The brunette snorted. "Irvine, all girls look pretty good to you."

"Well yeah," Irvine admitted. "But all girls can't eat like a Snow Lion. I find that large appetites tend to carry over into other aspects."

"Other aspects? You perv!" Selphie whacked the gunslinger. "Don't forget that all girls can't kick your ass!"

Irvine winked at her. "Why darlin', I didn't know you cared!"

Selphie snickered. "Yeah, you're like the older brother I never wanted!"

"Why then, do I have the distinct memory of you asking me to be your boyfriend?"

Green eyes widened at the forgotten memory. "We were like five years old!"

Irvine sighed theatrically. "You had such good taste back then. I don't know what happened."

"It's called growing up, loser!"

"Why are you so bent on hurting me?" Irvine asked, his expression dramatically wounded.

"I'm sure there are dozens of girls who'd love to raise your spirits," Selphie said, rolling her eyes.

Irvine straightened and looked deeply into animated jade-colored eyes. His tone was low and his Galbadian accent thickened, as it always did when he was completely serious. "And if I only want you?"

Selphie's heart beat quickened at the unexpected intensity of Irvine's actions. His words, tone and gaze all startled her. She had seen Irvine in action with the ladies before and he looked at them like he was looking at her now. She and Rinoa had secretly dubbed the smoky, heavy-lidded violet gaze 'Irvy's bag 'em and bang 'em' look. However, the infamous look had never been turned on her and it, coupled with the gravity tinting his voice, utterly unnerved her.

She fidgeted, twisting and clutching at her fingers. Irvine always flirted with her but it meant nothing. She was just another girl in a long line of girls and he was only interested in her because they had been best friends as children and he hadn't slept with her yet. She was probably nothing more than a challenge to him.

Selphie smiled, a gesture which came automatically to her. "You wanna make me into a statistic there cowboy?"

"Sel-"

"Here are your drinks folks," their waiter suddenly interrupted, sweeping up to their table. He placed tall, chilled glasses in front of them and then hurried off to another table.

Selphie stuffed the brightly colored straw into her mouth and took a long drink. "Yum, yum!" she declared, smacking her lips. "This vacation is gonna be awesome, I can just tell."

Irvine frowned into the rim of his glass. Even now, Selphie still wouldn't believe that he was serious about wanting her. She made all his attempts into a joke and he'd had enough. This little vacation was the perfect opportunity to show Selphie that she was different than all the other nameless girls he'd dated.

He would prove to her that he loved her.

~*~*~*~*~*~

A few hours later, Zell sauntered back into the hotel, a huge grin plastered across his face. He had just purchased Combat King issues 8 and 9, as well as the long-awaited, reader-acclaimed sequel to 'Goodbye Pupurun', 'See you Later Pupurun'. In addition to stocking up on his reading material, he'd stumbled across a used CD store and had found the rare, discontinued copy of  'Claustrophobia Calamity ' the first CD by his favorite industrial punk group, Pressing Elevator Buttons.

Life, he liberally decided, was damn good.

"Mr. Dincht?"

Zell looked over at the dark-haired receptionist who was smiling and shuffling papers together. "Yeah that's me." He approached the reception desk. "How'd you know?"

"You and your acquaintances are the only SeeDs staying with us for the moment." She handed him a slip of paper. "A message came in for you folks from Balamb Garden. They want you to call them back as soon as possible. I was unable to get in touch with the other members of your party so I'm glad that you've come in. I got the impression that the message was urgent."

Zell resisted the urge to groan. Not even one damn day of vacation had passed and already the Garden was bombarding them! "Thanks," he grumbled and headed towards the elevator.

Zell groused all the way to his room and once inside, he groused some more. He dropped his bags onto the ornate dresser that dominated the south wall of the room and flopped bonelessly onto his bed. Selphie and Irvine were still gone so he couldn't force the phoning task onto one of them.

"They better not make us give up our vacation," he complained loudly to the ceiling. "I worked hard for this and I'm not leaving!"

A few minutes more of carping and procrastinating passed before he finally skulked off the bed and found the phone. He dialed Headmaster Cid's office number and waited impatiently while the phone rang and rang. Finally the intercommunications response system activated and he was able to leave a rushed message.

Glancing at the clock, he realized that he'd forgotten about the time change between Deling City and Balamb. Deling City was four hours behind, making it about midnight in Balamb. Oh well, he tried. It wasn't his fault that everyone was sleeping.

Pulling his sneakers and socks off, Zell settled down on his bed and flipped on the TV. The popular children's cartoon 'Cactaur's Centra Adventure' was on. Grinning, he began to watch. He had loved this show as a child, even if Seifer had spent hours making fun of him because of it.

He shifted uneasily as he thought of Seifer. Yet again, his thoughts had unconsciously drifted to older blond. How was it that even though he was gone, Seifer still had power over him?

"Stupid Seifer," he mumbled and forcibly thrust all disconcerting thoughts from his head. He had a show to watch and he wasn't about to let Seifer ruin it.

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Author's Notes
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I hope I didn't gross anyone out with Selphie eating monsters but hey I didn't make it up. It's all about Eden's Devour command and it was Selphie who ate a Grendal and said it was refreshing. Hah hah, I really love the Devour command.