Chapter Twelve

Odine finally released Seifer from the lab at five minutes to midnight. The tests had been intensive, and he was exhausted. They hadn't fed him since midday and even then, it had been sparing; just a few items from the vending machine as an afterthought. They escorted him to the lobby where Rinoa and Selphie stood waiting, and he was pleased to find that Matron – no, Edea – was no longer there.

His relief died when he saw Selphie. She was struggling to stand straight, her eyes were sunken and bloodshot, and her face was a pasty canvas of burst blood vessels and bruises around the ever-present smile.

"What the fuck happened to you?" he barked.

"Been a long day," she replied simply.

Rinoa put her hands on her hips. She looked mad. No, she felt mad. The air hummed with magic. Up above the lights flickered and Odine mopped sweat from his brow.

"This was not part of the agreement," she said to Odine. "Selphie is under SeeD contract and you did not have permission from Garden to include her in the testing. This is an extreme breach of trust and I won't – "

Selphie placed a hand on her arm. "Rinny. It's fine. I volunteered. It might be against SeeD protocol but technically I'm under no contract save yours, and I'm on vacation. This is to help the bigger cause."

Rinoa looked more concerned than annoyed now, and probably only dropped the matter because Selphie looked about to collapse.

But Seifer didn't want to drop the matter. He was inexplicably furious, boiling with rage, but unsure at whom to direct it. Selphie? Odine? Himself?

"Why are you doing this?" he spat at Selphie. "This doesn't involve you! I'm the one with the hollowing so I'm the one they need to test."

Selphie smiled wanly. "It's complicated, but basically they think I might be delaying your condition, so I volunteered to help understand how and why."

Seifer scoffed. "What the fuck did they do? Kick the shit out of you? Drop you into a pit of Ruby's?" Fuelled by ire, he grabbed Odine by the front of his coat and heaved him off the ground. Five soldiers levelled their rifles at him, but he paid them no mind as he shook Odine and snarled in his face. "What did you do to her, you son of a bitch! Answer me!"

"Step away from the Doctor," one of the soldiers barked.

Seifer spun to face them, dragging Odine with him. "You want to take me on? You think you can? I will end you and use this pathetic clown as a meat shield!"

"Enough!" Rinoa waved a hand, and the room went quiet.

Seifer's grip inexplicably slackened and Odine dropped to the floor. The soldiers lowered their weapons and walked calmly out the room, their footsteps in perfect, measured unison. Unruffled, Odine regained his footing and stared at Rinoa. Waiting.

Rinoa's magic sank into Seifer's mind, running like poison through his veins. He pressed his hands to his eyes, mentally willing a sudden darkness to recede.

Selphie shook Rinoa's shoulder. "Rinny, stop! You can't use magic around Seifer; you're making it worse!"

Rinoa threw Seifer a startled look, and the magic vanished from his mind. "I… I'm sorry. I didn't mean… I don't mean to do these things sometimes – but I - I can't –"

Selphie's hand dropped to her side. "It's okay, Rin. We know. It's just been a long day." She turned to Seifer, looking even more exhausted, if that was possible. "Let's go home, okay? I wanna go home."

Home. Is that… what the cabin was to her? Home? The thought was troubling. He couldn't pinpoint why. Honestly, he was too tired to pinpoint anything. Instead, he adjusted the egg under the crook of his arm and nodded in silent agreement.

"I'll take you," Rinoa said, avoiding eye contact and visibly upset. "I'll report to Odine in the morning to see if they found anything." She waved a hand and opened a portal through which they glimpsed wooden walls and a window framed with snow. "I'll be in touch tomorrow," she added. "Both of you should get some sleep."

Selphie pecked her on the cheek companionably before practically tumbling through the portal. Seifer followed her and the portal zipped closed behind him, then he placed the egg in its nest and switched on the lamps, and they stood in silence for a short while.

As he expected, the reserve Selphie was burning for Rinoa's sake extinguished and she tumbled sideways. He caught her, ready, and was surprised she was still conscious. She batted at him weakly.

"I'm fine, I'm fine."

"You're not," he said shortly. "I've never seen this kind of magic exhaustion before. What the hells did they do to you, Tilmitt? I swear I'll fucking kill that snivelling imp of a doctor…"

Selphie leaned heavily on him as he wordlessly guided her to the bedroom. "They were trying to Draw the magic outta me. 'Cept I think they Drew the life outta me instead."

"The magic in you?"


"What magic? You mean Para-Magic?"

She yawned and sank further into his arms, stalling their way to the bedroom. He cradled her clumsily while coaxing her forward, but getting little response, he scooped her off her feet and carried her into the bedroom instead.

He ducked his head and lowered her onto the bottom bunk, but as he went to pull away, she snaked her arms around his neck and tugged him back down. Hyne only knew where she found the strength, but it was enough that he lost his balance, almost hitting his head on the upper bunk, and had to awkwardly support his weight on his elbows to avoid crushing her.

"Don't go," she purred as her hands snaked up the back of his neck, teasing his hair. Her legs shifted silkily underneath him, and one foot eased up his calf.

A traitorous shiver worked down his spine and for a fleeting moment, he almost didn't move. "You're tired," he told her (and himself), "and delirious, and probably sick from the tests. Go to sleep before you do something you'll regret later."

Her voice became a kitten's mewl in his ear and her breath feathered across his throat. "No, stay, stay! Please? I'll be a good girl, I promise, just stay here. Mmmn, Seifer, come here… Seifer…"

She had an iron grip but with some effort (more mental than physical) he unwound her arms and eased himself away. He roughly threw a blanket over her if only to avoid seeing her squirm, and she hummed his name right until she dropped suddenly to sleep.

He stood there for a moment with a hand over his face, cursing his traitorous arousal, and then stalked off to have a cold shower.

Three days later, they'd almost fully recovered from the damage wrought by Odine's tests. Selphie had been far worse than he, having been submitted to nothing short of torture under the disguise of scientific pursuit, but now the colour was back in her cheeks and her smile was less of a means to mask the pain.

Unfortunately, there was little to show for their suffering. According to Rinoa, Odine needed more time and tests to process the collected data into something resembling news. They'd accepted this grimly and didn't speak of the upcoming tests next week.

Selphie didn't mention her uncharacteristic behaviour a few nights ago, though he doubted she remembered because she would've either joked about it or apologised by now. Although, something about her demeanour and changed since the tests. Maybe it was his imagination, but she was… gentler, somehow.

Seifer did not abide any kind of gentleness on his behalf. He was used to being in the know, one step ahead, in control. Selphie so often left him off balance with her blasé forgiveness and infallibility that it left him downright irritated. And to top it off, he was pretty sure she enjoyed irritating him.

Yet, begrudgingly, he found himself being gentler with her too. He was still mad, of course; he didn't deserve her help or forgiveness, and what difference could she make, anyway? He was doomed and she was wasting her time. But on the other hand, she'd tolerated his attacks, two dragons and a cult of evil scientists in hopes of finding a cure for his hollowfication, all without complaint – as well she should, it would be shameful otherwise – but he found he couldn't be as brusque with her as he usually was.

She's making you soft, a tiny voice mocked in the back of his mind. And a louder, crasser voice countered, Quite the opposite, actually.

He swept those irritating thoughts aside at the exact moment he caught himself staring at her legs, exposed under the hem of an oversized jumper. He huffed, frustrated with himself, and returned his attention to the crossword at the back of the newspaper Greta had given him.

"Is it hard?"

The pen almost slipped between his fingers as he grimaced at her poor wording. "No, just bored with crosswords."

"It's 'Butter', by the way."

"What is? Nine across?"

Selphie blinked over his shoulder at the crossword. "Oooh. You're doing the adult one? I was doing the kid one. Six down was Butter, as in Butter the Bunny. The kid's book. You know?"

"No. No, I don't. I'm doing the adult crossword. Like an adult."

She pulled a face and twirled around. "Borrrrring. Adult stuff is boring."

He smirked behind his hand. "Not all adult stuff is boring."

This earned him a curious look behind a practised smile, but he spared her a fumbling response, annoyed again by his wandering thoughts (he really was bored, though), and headed out the front of the cabin to chop wood.

The day was typically freezing, though there were no heavy clouds threatening snowfall. Just a crisp clear sky to compliment the fresh pines. He hefted the axe over his shoulder and placed a trunk on the block, then swung down, splitting the log in two. He kicked them aside and picked up another.


He picked up another.


He wasn't sure what had turned his thoughts carnal. The utter boredom of the cabin? His inability to vent his frustrations through training? Or was it Tilmitt herself? The other night opened a floodgate of emotion he'd thought carefully disciplined; her moaning his name now played on repeat inside his head like a broken record. She'd whispered half a delicious secret to him then dangled the ending out of grasp, where his imagination merrily filled in the gaps during frequent moments of boredom.

He'd considered paying a visit to the brothel in Whelby but couldn't bring himself to do it. While he couldn't risk exposing his presence here – whores were terrible gossips – his reluctance involved feelings he simply didn't have the time or patience for – what would be the point now anyway? – yet could shake no more than he could his boredom.

Sweeping the complications aside, he told himself it was because he was bored and young and Tilmitt was the only girl available in a ten-mile radius. There's no way he'd have considered her otherwise. Even if she was actually quite attractive when she didn't have her hair done up like a three-year-old's and wore something other than frumpy sweaters and dungarees. In the mornings she wore these sweat-shorts that skimmed the top of her thighs, showing off her long, lean legs that tickled the memory of her foot creeping up his calf –

Get it together, Almasy.

He stood up straight, wiping sweat off his brow, then frowned at the pile of wood at his feet. He'd chopped way too much, enough for three days.

He tried to be angry about the lack of control, but realised he felt giddy with it. Giddy. It was dumb. He was dumb. She was dumb. He just needed to get laid, and then all his emotions would set themselves right again. Not that he was particularly ashamed, but he'd thought himself above such mundane frustrations. Or maybe he'd taken those Garden girls for granted.

Distant buzzing shattered the silence of the wilderness, and it took Seifer a moment to recognise the sound of a snowmobile. His frown deepened. Their cabin was at the end of a winding track forever covered with snow, so the likelihood of the person passing by was slim to none.

Seifer lodged the axe into the block and returned inside. He was in no mood for visitors.

He found Selphie sitting on the couch with the egg on her lap, staring at nothing. Her expression was unsmiling. Blank. It made him uneasy.

"Hey, airhead. I think you have visitor."

She blinked, noticing him for the first time. "Huh? Wha-?"

Seifer cocked his thumb at the door. "Snow mobile incoming. I'm guessing it's your boyfriend."

She didn't look pleased by this, and that made him oddly satisfied.

"Eh, you're probably right. He hasn't checked in for a few days and Rinoa probably updated everyone on what happened at Odine's Lab. I was kinda hoping she wouldn't but…" She bobbed a shoulder and pasted a smile onto her face. "Be nice to have some company!"

He held a hand to his chest and said mockingly, "Is my esteemed company not good enough for her majesty?"

Selphie giggled and shooed him away from the door. "Go put some coffee on."

"I will. Just not for him."

"Don't be jealous," she chided as she headed for the bedroom.

This time he was genuinely taken aback. "I'm not! I'm not jealous. You're – you're fuckin' deluded."

She didn't respond as she shut the bedroom door, so he stomped to the kitchen and began boiling hot water, thoughts mutinous and grumpier than ever. She re-emerged just as the snow mobile stopped outside, dressed slightly more respectably in a pair of yellow overalls and a navy turtleneck.

"You look like a kindergarten teacher," Seifer said scathingly, feeling the need to speak and be heard.

Selphie tittered and mimed cracking a whip. "I'll leave the sexy schoolteacher vibe to Quisty."

"Shame," Seifer said before he could help himself.

Selphie spun around, surprised, but a knock at the door severed her response. She twirled back and yanked it open. "Irvy! You came to visit!"

She caught him in a bear hug that made Seifer bristle with dangerous emotions, but he clamped down on whatever stupid impulses were trying to usurp his cool. Tipping instant coffee and a thumb of whisky into his mug, he overheard their boring conversation.

"I'm glad to see you're safe. Rinoa looked… upset when she came back from the lab. Said you were involved in the testing now."

There was the sound of coats and boots being removed. Apparently, he was inviting himself to stay longer than Seifer cared for.

Selphie was saying, "C'mon, don't give me that look! I volunteered!"

"Now, I know you're tryin' to be helpful. I'm just sayin' maybe you haven't thought this through. This is Odine we're talkin' about. What if he… what if he puts a chip in your brain or somethin'?"

"I was kinda hoping he'd replace by left arm with a bazooka – pew BOOM! – wouldn't that be sick!? But I would totally be open to a chip depending on what it did. Like make me invisible. Or… oh! Oh! Mind reading powers!"

"Rinoa already has those."

"Oh yeah. Boooo. I guess a GF is kinda like a chip already, though? Anywho, Odine wants to learn more about my magic and how it might help other people in the future, so I'mma let him for funsies. Oh, and welcome to our home! I'll give you the grand tour!"

"Our home," Irvine repeatedly flatly. "Well, it does look more homely compared to last time. Less… burned and in ruins."

"Yeah," Selphie tittered agreeably. "Rinny did the interior design. Isn't she stellar?"

"She sure is. So, there's been no more… incidents?"

"Hm? Oh! Um. No. Not really."

"Not really?"


"He bein' nice to you?"

Seifer turned to face the jumped-up prick who apparently thought he could just waltz in here and talk about him like he wasn't there. He cocked his head and sneered at Irvine, inviting retaliation. Irvine glowered back for a second, then thumbed his hat and turned an easy gaze to the fireplace.

"Welp, I'm glad you're still around, anyways," he told Seifer. "This hollowin' thing is important to Rinoa, so it's important to us, too."

This was apparently the right thing to say because Selphie fixed Irvine with a big, beaming smile that he caught and returned, but their shared look churned something rotten in Seifer.

"I'm sure the tests aren't the only reason you're checkin' on Tilmitt. You kept your memories of the orphanage, right?" Seifer sneered. "You never could stand us bein' together. That she liked bein' with me more than she did with you."

"Seifer!" Selphie snapped.

Irvine shrugged. "Don't be mad at him, Sefie. It's not like he's got much left anymore. Just meaningless memories and a few insults to nurse his bruised ego."

Selphie turned her annoyed look on him. "Our memories together aren't meaningless! Don't say that. It's not nice."

Irvine tipped his hat at her. "Pardon. But regardless of the welcoming committee I'm still gonna be checkin' on you. Please, Sefie, come outside, let's talk in private –"

"Which part of running off to a shack in the middle of nowhere and bein' told she wants to be left alone is difficult for you to understand, Kinneas?" Seifer grated.

Irvine closed his eyes, clearly trying to reel in his temper. Good. He deserved to feel angry. He was probably part of the reason Tilmitt had come here in the first place.

Selphie levelled Seifer with a look, then placed a hand on Irvine's arm. "If I promise to call once a week, will you stop worrying so much?"

"It won't stop me worrying, Sefie. You know that."

She looked away. "It's just… I really do need to be left alone for bit. Y'know. So I can think about things. Please understand; I would've come here with or without Seifer."

"I don't care what happens to him," Irvine said. "I just want you back."

Seifer was losing control of his cool, which only made him angrier. Seeing Selphie's expression soften, he couldn't help but sneer, "Well, you're going to be disappointed in that respect too, cowboy, 'cause she ain't comin' back."

Selphie shot Seifer a betrayed look and Irvine caught it. He rang his hat in his hands. "Sefie? What does he mean?"

She stared at him open mouthed for a moment, lost for words, then looked aside. "I… I don't want to talk about this right now."

"Are you… are you leavin' SeeD? Sefie, please, tell me. Don't make me hear it second-hand."

"I seriously don't wanna talk about it right now, okay?" Selphie pleaded. "I just need a bit more time. To think. You know?"

Irvine expression crumpled, then he pitched an angry look at Seifer. "Would you at least have the decency to give us five damn minutes? You weren't wanted back at the Orphanage and you're not wanted now."

Seifer stepped forward furiously, but Selphie stood between them and rested a pacifying hand on Seifer's arm. Irvine stared at their shared touch, and when something broke behind his eyes Seifer did not feel sorry.

Selphie said, "I said I don't want to talk about it right now. When I do, I promise I'll call. Until then… there's nothing else to discuss." Her expression softened. "I'm… I'm sorry, Irvy. I just –"

"Don't," Irvine said. "Just don't. I'll leave you two alone. That's clearly what you want."

He snatched up his coat, replaced his hat and barged back out the door, leaving it swinging open while he climbed on the snowmobile and shot away.

Seifer crossed his arms and smirked. "What a fuckin' drama queen. You'd think a –"

The slap was an unexpected sting across his right cheek. There wasn't a huge amount of force behind it, but he supposed it wasn't meant to hurt physically.

"You – you asshole!"

Selphie looked genuinely upset. Her eyes were blurred with tears and her lips were pressed into a thin, trembling line.

"You never said not to tell anyone," Seifer said petulantly. "But I'll give you that one."

"Oh, shut up! You knew – you knew darn well that I didn't want anyone to know. It wasn't your place to say anything! And then you just go and – and blurt it out… to Irvine, of all people! You knew exactly what you were doing. You couldn't even spare me that one dignity you – you – you –" She shoved past him and out through the open front door, and stormed down the road.

As Seifer watched her go, a curious coil of unease tapped against his chest, but he pushed it aside and closed the front door behind her. He didn't want the cold air coming in.

Three hours passed filled with meaningless chores; turning the egg, finishing the crossword, half-finished cups of cold coffee. Distraction tactics while he told himself he didn't care. Because he didn't, dammit. He didn't care about her one bit.

He didn't.

And he was still repeating how much he didn't care while he pulled on his thermals and followed her footprints towards town in the deep snow outside.

Frustration. That was the problem, he realised. Frustrated about everything; Leonhart's promotion, Ultimecia, Matron, his lost chance with Rinoa, severing ties with Raijin and Fujin, his spoiled knighthood, the hollowing. Selphie. Everything. He had no direction, no goals, no dreams. Yet here he was, still fighting. Still trudging through the brutal cold and snow, refusing to give up for reasons he couldn't understand, beyond his own damn stubbornness.

Hyne, but he missed his gunblade. Just going through the basic stances would ease the irritation that accompanied his every waking moment nowadays.

Sighing, Seifer composed himself before entering the Sunspot.

It was busy inside. The miners' workday had finished, and now they lounged around the tables, eating, drinking and gambling, and choking the tavern with tobacco smoke and the smell of cooked meat. Seifer spotted Tilmitt engaged in a card game with a group of them, her poker face a bright grin, her banter easy and her insults playful. She didn't acknowledge him.

Seifer slunk somewhat dejectedly to the bar and wedged himself into a corner. Propping his feet on a stool in front of him and scowling at anyone who might ask for it, he stewed in his own thoughts until Sorely approached with a pint.

"'Ello, kiddo. Didn't think I'd see you again, much less with your limbs all intact. Couldn't bloody believe it when Greta told me you'd slayed two dragons. You're tougher than you look, I'll giva ya that." He placed the pint on the table in front of Seifer. "Drinks are on the men tonight. Word gets around fast in this place. You saved 'em a lot of worry, takin' care of them dragons. Greta said you did it for free and all."

Seifer eyed the beer coolly. When he looked up a few of the surrounding men lifted their own drinks in silent salute. He ignored them. "We didn't do it for free. We did it in exchange for a few turned heads if the wrong sort of people come sniffing around. And because my partner is batshit crazy."

Sorely guffawed. "She sure is. She dragged a damn mesmerise carcass in here earlier and cooked steak for everyone." He shook his head. "You sure bagged a wild one."

Seifer almost spluttered. "I didn't – It's not – We're not together."

Sorely raised a bushy brow. "Oh? S'not what she said earlier. Eh, none of my business. Drink up, kiddo. These tight motherfuckers won't treat you to a freehouse again."

"I'm not a damn kid," Seifer spat, then downed half the pint as Sorely returned to the bar.

The booze eased his tetchy demeanour and eventually he began to enjoy the bawdy songs of the miners and the flicker of the flames under the hearth. By the time he was on his second pint he'd started eyeing the women on the other side of the bar, and by his fourth he'd decided to ask their fees and was just finding his feet when someone blocked his view.

Selphie fixed him with a crooked grin. "What are ya lookin' at?" she asked in a tone that implied she knew exactly what he'd been looking at.

He leaned back and swallowed a sigh. "Nothin', apparently."

She kicked his feet off the stool and sat down. Wobbling, she waved at Sorely, who passed her a glass of something sparkling, and she stabbed the table twice with a straw before finally getting it in the drink.

Seifer couldn't help but smirk. "You're drunk."

"You're drunk," she retorted.

Seifer considered the tilt of the room. "Yeah."

They sat in silence for a moment, then at length, Seifer said, "I'm sorry for earlier. What I said. It was… out of line."

She propped her chin on her palm and squinted at him. "I didn't think you cared enough to apologise."

"Cared enough about what? You?"


Seifer scoffed. "I'm not Squall."

"Aww, Squall is very caring, I'll have you know. He cares about, like, four whole things: Rinoa, his gunblade, his friends, and his triple triad card collection."

Always so fast to jump to Leonhart's defence. How did that loser manage to brainwash so many people into believing he was such a loveable fuck? Well, they didn't know shit about Leonhart.

Seifer drank the rest of his pint and signalled for another.

Selphie stabbed her straw at him. "Hey. Heeey. Is it true what they used to say about you around Garden?"

"They used to say a lot about me around Garden," he said wryly.

"About you and Quisty."

Seifer choked on a laugh. "And what did they say about me and dear Instructor Trepe?"

"That you used to… you know…" Selphie twirled her straw while she hunted for an appropriate word. "Bang."

"Damn, I thought you were gonna say something interesting. That's an old one."

"So it's not true?"

The interest had been there, once. Maybe. Seifer recalled his half-hearted flirting and her equally half-hearted rebuffs. Both of them on a pedestal of Garden's making, untouchable. Both of them seesawing between charm and contempt; mutual admiration and distaste that somehow always went hand in hand. Had there been something between them? They'd both been looking for validation and a type of connection that Garden actively discouraged. Maybe if things had been different and she wasn't so…

"She's not my type," he said simply.

"Oh? How so?"

"She's a total stick in the mud. Don't defend her. You damn well know it. She's a total sap, a flake, and a sticker to the rules. Not my type."

"Oh, c'mon. She chose a whip as her weapon! I bet she's a demon in the sheets."

Seifer snorted. "Why are you fantasising about Quistis?"

"Who hasn't fantasised about Quistis?" Selphie countered fairly. "Although if Quistis isn't your type then I can see why you went for Rinny."

Seifer instantly sobered and glanced off to the side. "Don't bring that up."

Selphie sucked up half her drink, jade eyes fixed on him with an unreadable expression. He could already tell she wasn't going to drop it and felt irritation tousle his calm.

"Do you still like her like that?" she asked.

Seifer considered this. "No. That summer was… I was angry and frustrated with Garden. With Cid. I'd just failed my third SeeD exam. Cid had signed me out of Garden for the summer to encourage 'introspection'. I met Rinoa in Deling. She was angry too. At Caraway. At Galbadia. Both of us battling to escape the cages we'd been bred into… She was so different to everyone in Garden and I was different to all the stuck-up prep kids she hung around with, and she was full of fire and ambition like…" He trailed off, realising he'd opened up a bit more than he'd intended. He pushed away the pint.

"Bet it stings to see her with Squall," Selphie said.

Seifer reflexively clenched his jaw. "Not worth thinkin' about. I've come to terms with my mistakes. I still care about her, but not like that."

Selphie was still watching him with that smiling, unreadable expression. "Rinny still cares about you too, y'know."

"Rinoa cares about everyone," Seifer said shortly. "She's a pain in the ass. Like you."

Selphie leaned back, blowing a raspberry. "If I'm a pain in the ass then that makes you the King of All the Asses that ever lived."

He stood up. "I'll take that. Get me some of that steak to go, peasant. We're goin' home."

Selphie grinned at him, and he realised too late his slip of the tongue, but before he could attempt to backtrack, she skipped behind the bar towards the kitchens, and Sorely let her pass without protest. Damn, but the girl had a way of cajoling people.

As he stepped outside, he had to admit he was feeling a little fuzzy around the edges. Even the stinging slap of cold night air wasn't enough to sober him up completely, and when Tilmitt joined him he noted her step wasn't exactly steady either. She grinned brightly at him without any plausible reason, which he chose to ignore, though he did give her a once over. Right. She'd left the cabin in a tantrum.

He shrugged out of his thermal jacket and dropped it over her head. "You'll freeze, dimwit."

Selphie almost lost her balance as she tugged on his oversized jacket. "I'm wearin' a beer jacket, tee-hee!"

"You won't be laughin' when the frostbite sets in. Zip it all the way up."

Selphie stuck her tongue out but did as she was told. "What about you?"

Seifer raised a hand and let his latent magic set it ablaze. It came easily. No need to prod to life some temperamental GF who may or may not take a few memories just for the fire show. It was a curious feeling, though not necessarily a pleasant one.

Selphie made a show of patting out the flames. "Hey, hey! No magic, mister! I get the point, you're hot."

He winked at her and she rolled her eyes.

"Just escort me home like a gentleman," she slurred. "You owe me that much at least."

"I'm always a gentleman," he retorted. "I escort all my love interests straight into the arms of vengeful sorceresses."

She made an attempt to look cross but couldn't quite hide her grin. "Are you implying I'm a love interest?"

"I'm implying that I'll make you a human sacrifice if you don't shut up and start walkin'."

"But my toesies are numb," she said poutingly. "Carry me?"

"Not on your life."


"Dammit, Tilmitt, just walk already."

She skipped beside him and gave him a long look. "My name's Selphie. Sel-phiiiie. Would it hurt ya to say it?"

"You've got a big mouth, Messenger Girl." He considered the treeline. It was ominously dark, but he could pick out hulking shadows just outside the light of the Whelby. The sky was utterly black and it was beginning to snow. Regretfully, he said, "I think we should find somewhere to stay for the night."

"Huh? Why?"

As if speaking to a child he said, "I have no weapon. You have no weapon. I haven't got a GF. You haven't got a GF. We're both drunk. You wanna risk walkin' back?"

Selphie blinked blearily at the darkness beyond. "Wow, Xu would knock me down a rank if she knew how unprepped I am right now. Okie-dokie! Let's go find somewhere to sleep! You wanna stay at the brothel?" She elbowed him. "I know ya dooooo."

He absently pushed Selphie out of his personal space. Seifer's vision was beginning to swim and his head felt stuffed with cotton. He hadn't been this drunk in a long time.

"No, there's gotta be an inn in this backwater dump. Let's go."