Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Prince of Thieves

5. After Hours

by Myshu 0 reviews

After Hours

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Freya Crescent - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2007-03-27 - Updated: 2007-11-02 - 5545 words - Complete

5. After Hours

Two months later, he still hadn't finished reading Freya Crescent's diary.

He took in scraps at a time, usually before bed. He learned the full name of the King of Thieves, something no history book would divulge, and swallowed it, never knowing how to bring it up against permission. Boss neither spoke nor listened of his family history, and especially the Mist War, which was unfortunately where Luth's curiosities were rooted.

He didn't have to probe; all the facts were already in his hands, just as Boss told him. His real dilemma, the one that fettered his spirit to a dead Pilgrimage in a world that had outgrown it, was that he didn't really know what he was looking for. He was digging for answers to unborn questions, things he couldn't ask and, from the impression Boss was giving, shouldn't.

Eventually, after turning too many slow pages in his quiet, neat apartment, he forewent the unspoken hows and the written whats and whens and festered on the only question left:

Why did he come here?

Though he couldn't figure out what he was doing with his life, Boss kept him too busy to dwell on it during the day. The Genome was right about one thing: Luth got to travel. Quite a lot. Ultima Express was a fast track to anywhere in the world.

Luth wasn't sure about his job description, either--if he had one. He accompanied Boss to locations far, wide and exotic, for both business and leisure, but since Boss always handled the former, Luth felt more on tour than at service. Sometimes, when deliveries necessitated hiking through the more outlandish parts of Gaia (such as the time they carried a birthday cake from one Qu's Marsh on Eunorus Plains to another on Lanar Island, half-way across the world and through the sweatiest bogs imaginable), Boss would call on Luth's halberd to fend off monsters, and then he felt more like a bodyguard than an assistant. Although, considering Boss's performance in The Pen, Luth wondered if he needed even that.

More than anything, Luth was suspecting, he was just there for Boss to talk to.

They flew over the patchwork towns of the Zamo Basin, their healthy pastures freshly sprung out of old Mist-soaked valleys. They stopped by the desert mining outposts of the Forgotten Continent. They visited the halcyon, frosted temples of Esto Gaza, and the homely capital of the dwarves, Conde Petie. Luth even saw the old Black Mage Village, which was supposedly the first Genome colony as well (Boss spoke only far enough on the subject to confirm that.) It was Luth's first time meeting the Black Mages, who kept a very limited, close-knit population--unlike their Genome compatriots, who had multiplied and scattered to the world's hidden corners. His impression was that they were lively and friendly, nothing like the demon puppets of lore, but more like the child-mage his ancestor wrote fondly of.

Whenever they touched base in Lindblum at the end of a string of deliveries, they went their separate ways, Boss taking nightly excursions to wherever he couldn't be found. Luth explored downtown Lindblum at his own pace, mentally charting its winding, knotted streets before retiring to his room at UE's central branch, always earlier than Boss no matter how late he wandered.

Luth was once stirred in the tiny hours by loud giggles moving down the hall, and once he arsed himself to get up and investigate, he found Boss leading a pair of strange, scantily-clad ladies (he'd wonder later if he really saw a fishnet skirt) to his room. To Luth's compounded embarrassment, Boss spotted him and gave a besotted grin and wave. "'eya, Lu! G'night," he slurred as the larger of the two women yanked him by the collar through the open threshold, followed by a slamming door.

Boss was shamelessly open about the incident the following morning as they ambled through office cubicles, paperwork and boxes breezing around them. "I normally don't do that. You should never bring a hooker into your house, Lu. You piss them off, they nick your shit. Those ladies were cool, though. They know I pay them good no matter what."

At a loss in the other departments, all Luth could weigh in was, "Well."


A twinge of self-consciousness couldn't help him from reiterating, "You pay them 'well,' sir."

Boss recoiled a pace, tossing Luth a critical grimace. "Geez, rookie, you're not with the grammar police, are you? All crackin' down on a man and his hookers. That's not a cool person to be. I hope you drop that habit."

"Sorry, sir," Luth murmured, thus cowed.

"Watch that s-word," Boss chided just as the office jack-in-the-box appeared, ever disheveled with his mis-buttoned, coffee-stained white shirt and dark-rimmed eyes.

"Gato!" Pat trumpeted.

Luth was almost used to his "game" by now--he only had a mild heart attack.

"Meow," Boss rolled the guess off his tongue. "No."


"Hmm!" Boss considered, piquing both Luth and Pat's interest. "Spell it."

Pat skipped a hopeful beat at the encouragement. "Haha! D-A-R-I-U-S."




He inflated with quickening breaths. Luth hoped Pat wouldn't have a heart attack of his own. "Holy god, really??"

Boss cackled lightly. "Haha no, I'm fucking with you. Not even close."

"Damn!" Barely fazed, Pat snapped his fingers and sprang off his other foot, up and away.

"So," Boss resumed, "Guess where we're going today."

"Where, sir?"


Luth stopped so fast he burned his heels on the clean floor tiles. Boss was dragged to a halt ahead of him.

"What's wrong?"

"Burmecia, sir?" Luth echoed, mortification leaking from his voice.

"Yeah, the capital. That's where you're from, right? It'll be like a reunion or somethin'. We can stop by your folks' home and everything."

"Yes, sir, but... Do we have to go?"

Boss studied his hesitation, at turns surprised and concerned. Luth was pawing the ground with one nervous foot and looking everything like a cornered... well, mouse. "Ah... no," he said at length. "No, you don't have to go. It's alright."

Luth's ears leveled with relief as he stared at the ground, a little ashamed. He wished he had a better way to communicate that he wasn't ready to return home just yet--how could he, without completing his knight's objective? The one he apparently abandoned? "Thank you, sir. I know it seems strange of me."

Boss shrugged, naturally sympathetic, regardless of whether he understood. "Don't worry about it. I won't make you go anywhere you're not comfortable."

Luth nodded sullenly and then looked up, moving on to an inquisitive tack. "So what are we going to do now?"

Boss tapped his chin thoughtfully and then placed a hand on Luth's shoulder, guiding him out of the maze of offices and towards the lobby. "I have an idea."

It was Luth's cold feet for his own homeland that prompted Boss to ask on the way, "You have any family or friends here?"

"Not really, no sir. They're all in Burmecia."

"So you're on your own out here?"

"That's part of the spirit of the Pilgrimage."

"Heheh, right," Boss chuckled, mostly to himself.

Luth frowned, confused. "Sir, if this is about the room you gave me, I can pay--"

"Shut up, shut up, no. That's yours," he said emphatically. "Don't worry about it. Call it a company perk."

"Oh. Um, thank you, sir."

"Listen, I was just saying, I want to be sure you're taken care of. I told you we're like a family. If you ever get in trouble, you can come to me. No matter what."

"I appreciate it, sir," Luth said softly, not knowing what else to say.

They approached the front desk. "Mornin', Sheryl."

Sheryl swiveled neatly in her chair and lowered her glasses at Boss, putting up a typically frosty front. "I see it's casual Friday again," she noted his saggy blue jeans and faded t-shirt reading "TASTES LIKE CHICKEN." "Just like Thursday, Wednesday, Tuesday and Monday."

"It's called being consistent."

"If only your other attributes shared that quality. I'm getting angry calls from Miss Carawol's lawyers, and then from the DA. If you miss another court date the regency's going to fine you twelve thousand gil."

"I don't do courtrooms. Fuck 'em."

"Sure," Sheryl responded in stride, "And what do you want me to tell them when they ask why?"

"Spell it out." Boss began to weave his hands through the air like a conductor. "F-U-C-K-Y-O-U. I think they'll get the message. What else is on the planner?"

She reached to her keyboard and summoned a schedule on screen. "The A-47200 is departing for Burmecia I.A. at 10:35 AM."

Luth squeaked something, but Boss waved him down.

"What's that, in like half an hour? Okay." The Genome whirled and pointed directly at Luth. "Today I'm going to sic you on Sheryl, rookie. I'm going to run by myself while she shows you how to push papers. I know it's not the most fun in the world, but every day can't be a winner. Tonight we're gonna do something cool, I promise."

Luth agreeably accepted the assignment. "It's okay, sir. I'd like to learn more so I can help around the office."

Boss clapped him on the back. "Wow, you're a real sport. Well, good luck. You two play nice." He then strode around Luth and headed for the front gates, sliding down a stainless steel banister in lieu of stairs. "Don't you dare do too much actual work, now!"

Luth dumbly waved after him. "Yes... sir."

Sheryl rose with a box of paper procured from beneath her desk, which she passed heavily into Luth's unsuspecting arms.

"I hope you like sorting."


It wasn't the most fun in the world, but skittering around the office all day was a refreshing change from all the restless travel Boss subjected him to. Sheryl was cool and patient with Luth, even if she didn't have much to say to him.

After Sheryl clocked out and left Luth to his own devices, he ate some sandwiches in the café, retreated to the top floor and settled in his apartment for some evening reading. It was a dusky hour when Boss knocked on Luth's door, inviting him into town.

Luth followed, not questioning a thing. It usually didn't pay to ask Boss where they were going; he tended to share exactly what he was ready to share, only when he was ready ("Suspense is half the fun, Lu.") In the meantime, their cab crawled around traffic-packed Fabool Square, Luth watching the taxi-meter run up while Boss leaned out the window to throw dinner rolls at pigeons--whole ones--Luth didn't ask where he got a bag full of them, either.

"Hahaha, look at that one I hit right on the head! It's stuck! It's got like a... bread helmet. Oh shit, the other pigeons are eating its face. This is brutal. Oh wait, it's okay, never mind."

"Um, sir?" Luth tried once Boss ran out of ammunition.


"I was thinking about what you said earlier today, sir. If we're like family, do you mind if I ask a personal question?"

"You like those, don't you? Sure, fire away."

"Are you--I mean, you and Miss Sheryl--" He glanced to his lap, where his long fingers tangled as they tried to knit his words into a proper sentence.


"Um, yes. Do you and Miss Sheryl have a... I mean, um..."

"What? Are we fucking?"

Luth pursed his lips prudishly. "I wasn't going to say it like that, sir."

Boss rolled in place, kicking the back of the driver's seat in a fit. "Ahahaha!" he laughed for nearly a minute before catching his breath, sitting upright and wiping the tears from his eyes. "Oh, gods. Holy freaking hell, no. Nooo way. Sheryl's a tiger, Lu. I like 'em rough, but damn. She'll bite your nuts off and spit 'em down the flusher. I'm not her type, anyway."

"Oh. I only thought, the way you two talked..."

"Heh, that's just playing around. Sheryl knows I'm kidding. We're friends. She's engaged, you know."


"Yeah. Her fiancé's a bit of a dick, though. Some lawyer. Tried to kick my ass once, heheh."

"I think I might understand why--er, no offense, sir."

"Hahahahaha. No shit. Okay, my turn."


"Why do you call me 'sir' so much?"

"You didn't leave me much of a choice, sir."

"I know, but why do you call me that /all the time/? I'm not your drill sergeant."

"Um." Luth turned one ear, considering himself. "Just a habit, I guess. I always had to call my parents and instructors 'sir' and 'ma'am'."

Boss gaped a bit. "Your parents made you call them 'sir'?"

"Yes, sir."

"Holy shit. That explains a lot."

Luth lowered his brow indignantly. "I beg your pardon?"

Boss shrugged with neutral surprise. "Nothing, that just seems really... rigid. It's amazing you didn't turn out to be a total stiff."

Luth tried not to sound completely offended as he asserted, "I am not a... stiff, sir, and neither are my parents."

"Of course not, kid."

The Burmecian frowned and changed the subject the only way he could. "So where are we going, sir?"

"The Laughy Shacky."

"Laughy Shacky?"

"Yeah. Ever been?"

Luth shook his head. "No, sir."

Boss smiled. "Well, it's a fun place. I think you'll like it."

They arrived at a bar, identical in face to all the other pubs on the block, save the jerking neon banner of a puck man laughing--or choking, one couldn't be sure with its 'X's for eyes. Immediately inside was a ticket booth, and beyond a spread of round tables before a quaint, spotlit stage. Various draughts were being served over the counter in a shallow recess. All the lighting was carefully arranged away from the main floor, which was cloaked in blue florescent shadows and cigarette smoke.

Luth pieced the locale with the name to finally realize he was in, "A comedy club?"

Boss cocked an eyebrow and half-grinned. "Yeah, you... didn't think the Laughy Shacky was gonna be anything else, did you?"

"You never know, sir," Luth replied honestly.

"Hahaha. Lu, you are /fascinating/."

"I am, sir?"

"You have no idea." He motioned to the ticket vendor. "Com'on, before the show sells out."

They each ordered a drink and found a spot for two in the thickening crowd. Luth studied the business cards sewn around the frosted red glass candleholder on their table (ABBY'S CAR WASH: 20 GIL A CAR, SATISFACTION GUARANTEED OR YOUR DIRT BACK) while waiting for the first performer.

"Hey, Boss!" hailed a hulk from across the room. When he stood and waved, Luth recognized the demi-badger right away.

"Whoa, Gribbo!" Boss excitedly returned, getting up and hopping tables. Luth didn't venture after him, instead watching the Genome sit down with Gribbo and two other men, who all chatted with boisterous familiarity.

"Sir..." he protested faintly from his lonely table. The Burmecian strained an ear over the tables in-between to catch snips of their conversation.

"Here to ... Steve Dawn?"
"Yeah ... funny bastard."
"Did you ... fire on ...aber... ...amn ...nt?"
"No... ...arne... swing a... cap..."

Luth eventually shook his head, giving up as he became aware that Boss wasn't coming back for him. The show started without him, the club dimming to a dark roar and a man mounting the stage to rowdy applause. Luth brooded through most of the jokes; political invective wasn't really his kind of humor. Granted, he didn't know what his kind of humor was, but he was now sure of one more type that wasn't.

He was at the bottom of his South Gate Iced Tea when, "This seat taken?" jarred him from his self-absorbed thoughts.

"Oh! Hello, I..." Luth beheld a woman--a Burmecian woman, no less--standing over him. "...guess not."

She was clad in a slim, simple purple dress, her silver hair styled in waves around her slender ears. She gracefully slid into Boss's vacant chair and offered a soft, milky hand to Luth's calloused, dirty-yellow one. "Hi. My name's Julia."

Luth shook her hand and grinned in all the wrong directions, stuck between awe and idiocy. "Hi, I'm... very pleased to meet you."

Julia folded her wrists under her chin and giggled, a sound like rain on wind chimes. "Hehe, nice to meet you too, Mr. Pleased."

He caught himself with a nervous laugh. "Ah, um, haha. My name is Luthane. Luth. You can call me Luth."

Julia's gentle smile was very forgiving. "You're with Boss Ultima?"

"Oh," he was just reminded of Boss's existence. "Yes. I mean, he brought me here. I mean, it's... we're friends," he finished carefully.

"Oh? Where do you know each other from?"

"Well, from work. He's my boss."

"Really? How long have you and Boss been working together?"

"A few months. Not long at all, really."

"Hmm. Do you like it? What do you do?"

"I'm his assistant, apparently. I just follow him around most of the time..."

He trailed off when Julia leaned over and tapped his earring, a solitary silver hoop. "That's cute."

A blush bristled the hair on his cheeks. "Umm, thanks."

"So, how did you two meet?"

"It was a little funny, actually. I visited him in his office, and told him about my lineage. I wanted to ask him about the King of Thieves."

"Really? Did you think being a Crescent would help your case? What did he tell you?"

"Nothing, unfortunately, but he hired me on the spot. I wasn't even asking for work."

She laughed again. "That sounds like Boss."

"Yeah, he's kinda hard to say no to."

"He's so charismatic, I think," Julia interpreted.

"Yes, he's very..." He glanced back to Gribbo's table, which was packed with jolly ribbing. "...overwhelming."

Julia followed his gaze. "It's amazing how people just stop and listen to him. And follow him." Her palms flatted on the table with a snap as she turned back to Luth. "But enough about him. I'd love to hear about you. Can I get you another drink?"

He tried something different: a Gulug Volcano, which he split with her. Julia asked friendly, prying questions and Luth spilled all he could, eager to please her hungry curiosity. Something in the conversation bothered him--her forward inquisitiveness, his fumbling candidness--but he couldn't stop talking under her hypnotic stare, her eyes like amber, warm and mystical even in the pallid synthetic light.

As intrigued as Julia seemed by his family and knight's training, the topic eventually circled back to Boss.

"Com'on!" She nudged his shoulder. "You're his new protégé! I bet he lets you in on all kinds of juicy secrets."

"You know, he does, but..." Luth admitted, "It's all stuff about the company. I could tell you anything you wanted to know about how the company runs, who we do business with, who works for us, who works against us--but I still don't know anything about him. If I even try to ask him his name he says it's a 'company secret.' It's like I know every company secret except /who runs the company/."

"Hmm," Julia hummed, stirring the umbrella in their drink with a straw. "Sounds like someone who was deeply hurt."

Luth tipped his head with a clueless blink. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, you know. Sometimes people have different ways of dealing with a painful past. Some people try to bury it and run away instead of facing reality and accepting it."

"Do you really think so?" It was hard to think that way about Boss, a vivacious sprite.

She shrugged with a resigned flick of the wrist. "Well, who knows. How would you like to come back to my place? We can talk better there."

An alarmed prickle ran down Luth's spine and up his ears. "I don't know," he hedged and started looking for Boss, "I really shouldn't leave him al..." Spying Gribbo's empty table, he let out a gasp. "Uh-oh, where is he?"

"I saw him wander off with his buddies a while ago," Julia informed.

"Oh, no." Luth sank in his chair, looking as dismayed as a parent who lost a child. "I shouldn't have let him out of my sight. This is all my fault."

Julia patted him lightly on the shoulder. "Hehe. I think he's a big boy. He is Boss Ultima, after all. He can take care of himself."

"I guess so..." he reluctantly agreed, and next he knew she was pulling him to his feet. She led him outside, the citrine city still sparkling around them even without the stars, and then to her car. It was a nice car--a convertible, wine-colored. She drove him to the highrises on Pally Hill, in the west end of town, and they talked all over silly things on the elevator to her flat: pop music, cats verses dogs, bad sports to play indoors, courtroom dramas and mouse traps. He'd never talked so much nonsense in his life, and she laughed and they loved it.

The lift stopped, her door opened, and Luth was amazed.

She kept a grand studio apartment, with a wall of leaning glass and enough space to run cartwheel races. Bronze-framed paintings adorned the walls and a velvet sofa wound around a large television center and a grey-bricked hearth. There were fine plants in fine porcelain vases and fine magazines on fine tables and a fine fire that sprang to life at the clap of Julia's hands.

"Wow..." Luth breathed, almost too apprehensive to set one filthy foot inside the finery. "This place is incredible."

"Hehe, it's not really," she played modestly. "Go on, sit down! I'll be right back." She then disappeared into the back rooms.

He obeyed, taking a warm spot in front of the fireplace. It was a nice sofa, soft and rounded in just the right places, fitting his weary back like a pillow. Pillows made him sleepy. He normally didn't stay up this late. He wasn't anywhere near his apartment, but he was in a much nicer one. It was a really nice apartment. Julia was nice to let him in. They were having a nice time, and a nice drink. Now he had a nice fire to look at. Julia was a nice girl. Nice and friendly and... warm... heavy-soft-warm like... /pillows... fire... bed/.

...dreams of red candles in smoky blue bars...

Luth startled himself awake an embarrassing while later, nothing left of Julia save the note balanced on his knee.

I really enjoyed our talk tonight, Luthane.
Maybe next time we can watch a movie together, if you can stay awake for it! (Just kidding!)

Call me sometime. My number is 16-18-54-24.

P.S: Please lock the door on the way out.


He felt like a fantastic idiot all the way home, but never had the stomach to throw the note away. It sat like a stone in his pocket throughout the cab ride back to UE. He practically slept-walked across the night-lit lobby, to the lift and through the droll hotel-hall towards his door, just drunk and tired enough to feel fuzzy around the edges.

"...uuhhnnngh," issued from behind a closed door that wasn't his, and Luth paused. No, he wasn't going there. It wasn't his place, and for all the ways Boss treated him, it never would be. That was fine.

Another groan, low and plaintive and a little scary, and Luth never minded himself. He was scratching on that other door until nothing answered, and then against all his sober judgments he turned the knob and poked inside.

There was a golden darkness, like candlelight, orange streetlights spilling in through crimson curtains onto a big rumpled bed. The room smelled of wood, smoke, musk, liquor and stale bread. "Sir?" he tested the dead air.

"...Lu?" feebly mirrored a lump hanging off the side of the bed. Luth stepped up to it and crouched to join Boss on the floor.

"Sir? Are you alright?"

Boss muttered, half into his arms and half into the mattress that was a little too high to reach, "I am completely, utterly shit-faced. You have no idea how much of a feat that is."

Luth took the inert Genome under the arms and hoisted him to a comfortable height. "Let me help you into bed, sir."

"Oh, thanks Lu," he grunted and dropped like a log, his tail flicking lamely under the weight of the leg that trapped it. "You're a... you're a good sport. Just r'member, drugs are bad, rookie."

"Drugs?" Luth inspected one of the open bottles on the nightstand, sniffing the powder inside. It reminded him of Gatortown. "What did you take?"

"Oh, a few shots of gin, some tabs, a little'a coke, just trying some new stuff." He drew a long breath, wiggled uncomfortably around the covers and moaned again. "Oh, gods... I feel like my heart could stop."

Luth frowned, worried and strangely angry at once. "Why did you do this to yourself, sir?"

"It's ca... cath... cathi..." He swallowed his spit and abandoned the thought. "Fuckit, why not. Ohhh man..." Boss blinked lethargically at the ceiling, his words tumbling out of numb lips. "Nights like this make me feel my age."

"How old are you, sir?" Luth had to ask, now that he mentioned it.

"Older than I look."

"Well that's good, because you look sixteen."

Boss's head lolled Luth's way, cloudy blue eyes coming to fleeting focus. "Did you quit calling me ‘sir’ for five seconds to make a funny? I am very proud of you, Lu. That's progress."

Luth smirked and sat on the bed. "Gee, thanks sir."

"...Tonight's an okay night to die..." Boss murmured, far away again.

"Please don't talk like that, sir." Luth forced down a frightened lump in his throat and put two fingers to the Genome's tender neck. His skin was slick and cold, his breathing short and hesitant and his heart frantic like a caged bird. "I think you need to go to the hospital."

"Fuck!" Boss spat gracelessly, flopping violently onto his side. "No, no doctors. Leave them out of this. I'll be just fine without one, thank you."

Luth gulped, taken aback. "...As you wish, sir. Is there anything I can do?"

"Talk to me, Lu," he grumbled, quiet now, like a docile dragon. "Keep me awake. Tell me more about yourself. What're your dreams? What do you want to do with your life?"

"My life?" Luth's heart twisted in place. It was the worst question to ask at the perfect time. He closed his eyes, considering his role in it all--in the world, in Lindblum, as a prospecting Dragon Knight, then a fallen page, now in his boss's bedroom at three in the morning with nothing but the city’s fake fire-glow through the window and empty pill bottles on the table and a Genome's flailing pulse under his fingertips--he sighed, and let it all out. "...I don't know. My family wanted me to become another Dragon Knight, just like my parents and grandparents. You know, the Crescent line is famous for its Dragon Knights, starting with Lady Freya and Sir Fratley. I started the training in the palace, but instead of undergoing the initiation rites there, I elected to take the Pilgrimage."

"Yeah, so it goes. That's very old-fashioned of you, y'know. I didn't know they still did that these days."

"It's not usual, that's true. I think I'm the first to volunteer for it in about fifty years. It's easier to take the trials at the palace, where you don't have to leave Burmecia."

"So, you came to Lindblum?"

"I was thinking about the reasons I was becoming a Dragon Knight. It didn't seem good enough to want to do it just because that's what my parents wanted. I wasn't sure if I was ready to commit myself to serving king and country for the rest of my life. I mean, Burmecia is... It's great, but you know, it's not like it was in the old days, when grand dragons were swarming the hills and everybody fought with swords and lances and magic on chocobo-back. Today we have cars and guns and tanks and there aren't any dragons left to slay. Sometimes it seems ridiculous to even have Dragon Knights anymore. They're just so... watered-down. They're like all the other decorations in the palace now, just standing around to make the king look good. None of it... none of it means anything anymore."

"Times change. People don't change so easy. Some people have a harder time letting go of the past than others."

"Yeah, but it's like everybody's with the times but us. I just wanted to get out for a while. See what else there was. I took that diary with me--well, I stole it, really. My family probably doesn't know it's missing yet. I shouldn't have, but... I was reading it to see if I could find the reason she became a Dragon Knight. I thought it might inspire me."

"Did it?"

"No," he said bluntly, painfully. "It's not what I thought it would be. It just left me with more questions than answers. I haven't even been patient enough to read it to the end. That's why I came to you. I heard that the man who founded Ultima Express was related to the King of Thieves. I figured, if that's your ancestor, you might have some family secret that could help me understand my own family's past. Then I could fulfill my Pilgrimage and go home, or... I don't know. I just want to know what to do with myself."

Boss humored his little tirade, everything about it perfect and absurd. "Mmm-hmm. Listen, I'm not in a position to give you life-changing advice, but I'll tell you this: you can't live in the present by following the past. Let me ask, are you happy here, Lu?"


"Yeah, I mean, here, this job'n stuff, n'..." He twirled a listless hand through the invisible cosmos. "...everythin'. Are you happy?"

"Sir... I'm really grateful for everything you've done for me, but... I still don't feel like I have the answers I need. I haven't figured out my path. What's my purpose?"

Boss snorted. "Kid, some people go their whole lives without figuring that out. Sometimes the wisest thing a man can do is admit he doesn't know."

Catching the disheartened pall that fell over the Burmecian, Boss amended, "But hey, don't take my word for it. You know I'm full of crap. I'm sure if you keep following your heart, you'll get your answers. Sometimes you don't find the things you're after most until you stop looking for them." He hiccupped and then growled softly, draping an arm over his eyes. "Ugh, all this deep, philosophical shit is making me sober already."

"What about you, sir?"


"What about your dreams?"

"Heh. Dreams. Don't ask me, kid. I don't have dreams. I don't have a point. I'm just... here."

The room was oppressively quiet. Muddled on where to go next, Luth's gaze lingered on the crosshatched flesh around Boss's navel. He remembered The Pen, where many old wounds were laid bare, and wondered aloud, "Where did you get all those scars, sir?"

"Hmm?" A discreet hand smoothed his shirt back down. "Oh. I've been around. A lot," he answered ambiguously.

Quiet again, discomfited by another of Boss's personal walls.

"...Do you want to know what I think?"

It wasn't Luth's place.

"Now you're getting /opinions/. There's hope for you yet."

It never would be.

"You strike me as a very insecure person, sir. I think you're running. I think you've been running for a long time. I think this job, all the... philanthropy, the sex and drugs, hiding your real name, never spending two nights in a row in your own bed--I think it's all an escape. I don't know, maybe someone really hurt you in the past, and instead of getting over it you just do all this... all this bullshit to avoid coming back to your empty flat at the end of the day and admitting that you're alone."

Quiet again, Boss trying to force a mute response through the most astonished expression Luth had seen him wear to date.

"...Wow," he drawled flatly. "Just--damn. Wow. Did you just try to psycho-analyze me? And you swore, too! You are very, very cute." Boss achingly pulled himself up onto one elbow and continued, his tone suddenly level and final--almost threatening, "Let me go right ahead and set this straight, though: if you think you're going to sort out all my crazy, you've got your work cut out for you. You don't know me. You can't. I'm not even being a pretentious drama queen with that, trying to sound like a special pity snowflake. There are just some things you can't fix--some people no one can help. Don't waste your sympathy, or my time."

"Sir..." Luth tried, something recanted on his tongue, but he was too late and he knew it.

Boss jerked the blankets thickly around himself, shutting intruders out. "Good night, Lu," the bedcovers spoke, and Luth picked himself up and left.

It would never be his place.
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