Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Prince of Thieves

6. Therapy

by Myshu 0 reviews


Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama,Fantasy - Characters: Freya Crescent - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2007-03-27 - Updated: 2007-11-02 - 5279 words - Complete

6. Therapy

Luth slept in. It was not something he normally liked to do, but it was the weekend and, after his chain of fiascos last night, he didn't care. He had a feeling Boss wouldn't, either.

He showered and dressed in downcast spirits, rue and resentment still clinging to his fur, and headed downstairs for breakfast. The lobby was typically crowded, and the café was caught in the lull between breakfast and lunch. He stalled throughout brunch, nibbling on some biscuits and jam while watching a sports station from a comfortable lounge seat, trying to think about nothing.

The rambling football announcers and bustling daylight worked strange wonders, clearing his head in no time. Feeling a little more positive about the day, he returned to the top floor, pausing outside the office.

He could hear a television's drone inside; Boss was up. Luth wondered what he could say. Maybe acting like nothing happened was the best idea, but it didn't feel right, even if Boss was adverse to apologies and admitting mistakes.

Luth rallied a full breath and pressed through, regardless. He found the Genome slouching at his desk, holding the bridge of his nose with a vexed crease to his brow. He seemed asleep until he snapped his chin up and blinked heavily at the visitor.

"Oh, hey Lu." He sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I have a monster headache. Would you turn off that TV?"

Luth stepped over and flipped it off, dead air filling the room. He swallowed and attempted to breach it. "Listen sir, about what I said last night..."

"You're not going to apologize, are you? Don't, remember?" Boss studied a ringed stain on his desk with a remorseful frown and shrugged. "I should be the one who's sorry, anyway. I was a jackass, and you didn't need my bullshit there."

Luth freed his breath, relieved. "It's okay, sir. I was just worried about you."

Boss dragged himself out of his chair and stretched like a cat, grunting, "Hmn. You're a sweet kid. What were you doing up that late, anyway?"

"Oh, um." Luth scratched his nose bashfully. "I had just got in. I was having drinks with someone, and I guess time got away from me. I'm sorry I lost track of you, sir."

"No sorry's, remember? You're not my babysitter, and I'm not yours." He tested a lewd grin. "So, you made a friend, eh?"

"You might say that, sir. Her name is Julia."

Boss plodded to the bookshelf opposite the window, picked through paper airplanes lodged between the volumes and crumpled them into balls. "Julia? That reporter? Nice score, man. She's hot."

"Reporter?!" Luth dropped his jaw.

He pitched the wrecked planes into the trash bin. "Oh yeah, I saw how she was all over you. I hope you responded in kind, rookie."

"I didn't know she was a reporter!" Luth squealed, flabbergasted.

"Yeah, didn't you recognize her from Channel 8? That's Julia Knickoff--as in, I'd totally get her knickers off, if you know what I mean." Boss winked.

Luth wrung his hands, staring at the rug in guilty shock. "Oh gods! She could have told me..."

Boss shrugged at his distraught partner. "What? It's no big deal. You didn't tell her anything, right?"

"No, of course not..." He shook his head quickly.

"That's a shame." Boss rolled a prompting wrist. "So, what I've been trying to ask in six different ways is: did you tap that ass?"

"What?" Luth's eyes widened in horror, finally catching his drift. "N-no!"

Boss smirked. "Why not?"

Luth glowered at him, dignity flaring. "I'm not like you! It's not--I couldn't even--she wasn't--it wasn't like that!"

Boss backed up, mollifying hands in the air. "Holy shit, kid. You act like I just pissed all over your grandmother's grave. I'm almost afraid to ask, but have you tapped any ass, at all? Ever?"

"W-what?!" Luth was barely aware he was screaming, now. "What are you trying to say?"

Boss's forehead fell into his palm. "Oh my God, that's a no. And how old are you?"

His ears were scarlet, but at least he'd tempered his voice. "I'm twenty-three, but I don't see how--"

The Genome gaped at him. "Oh my GOD." He crossed the room in two strokes, standing directly in front of Luth. "Okay, okay, okay, let's not panic. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to healing. It's okay, I'm here for you, and tonight..." He set his hands decisively on Luth's shoulders. "You're going to get help."


"It's a surprise," was all Boss would reveal about his plan for their evening, "But first we gotta take care of some business."

Boss advised him to "dress nice" before they hitched a cab out of city limits and down into the plateau. Luth didn't have anything for that particular requisite, so he settled on the cleanest tunic in his closet. Boss wasn't much for his own advice, though Luth noted that the black slacks and untucked white dress shirt were the nicest clothes he'd seen on the Genome yet.

"I don't think sneakers go well with that, sir," was his final comment on that regard.

"What're you, the fashion police too?" Boss riposted, and off they went.

It was a forty-minute drive through thickening twilight, Falcon's Gate blotting out the waking stars behind them and the homely lamps of the Outer-Lindblum suburbs rising before them. It was one of the most domestic places in the world, with nice houses, trimmed lawns and dainty picket fences--the haven of the rising middle class. They arrowed through the straight, pristine streets and ventured farther, into richer country, where great estates sprawled over hundreds of acres.

Eventually the cab dumped them at the foot of nowhere, where a dirty trail snaked off the road into old, dripping woods. They hiked from there, a red moon and blue fireflies guiding them through black willows.

Luth didn't have his usual barrage of questions. He didn't even try to figure out where he was going; he was too busy staving off thoughts of Julia, mostly in vain. He was rather grateful when Boss took up the inquisitive front.

"You're awfully quiet, rookie. You okay?"

Luth nodded distractedly. "Sure, sir. It's just... nothing."

Boss shrank a little, a strange frown brewing as he tugged on the collar of his shirt. "Do you like me, Lu? It's okay to say no. You won't get in trouble."

He blinked, thrown off guard. It wasn't a Boss sort of query. It made Luth wonder how much of his rant from last night Boss took to heart. "I... don't approve of your lifestyle, but I still like you, sir," he answered, carefully candid.

"Haha," Boss quietly chuckled at the ground.

Since he was asking, Luth had to return the favor. "Do you like /me/, sir?"

"Heh, of course I do. I wouldn't have hired you if I didn't like you."

"I suppose that's true. What's this all about, sir? Where are you taking me?"

"Don Gator's house."

"Don Gator?!" Luth's eyes widened, their whites flashing in the dark. "What in the world are we going there for?"

"Well, ah..." Boss's gaze roamed evasively. "You know, Lu? I have a confession to make. Remember that thing you heard about my company and drug trafficking?"

"You mean those rumors, sir?"

"Yeah, well... they're true."

It was a quiet moment before Luth remembered himself and uttered, "...What?"

Boss elaborated quickly, "You know all those delivery runs you've been doing with me? Most of those have been for Don Gator--well, Leo and Armond, specifically. I'm their carrier. But they go through Don. Hell, I do most of Don's legwork, straight through my company. Don't worry, you're not an, ah, accessory or implicated or whatever." He rolled his shoulders conservatively. "Well, until now, I guess."

Luth threw up his hands. "Dear gods, sir! I would've liked to have known this sooner."

"Hey, I can't just tell anyone about this stuff. It's confidential! Besides, I didn't think you'd take it well."

"I shouldn't, sir! I'm getting a little tired of being deceived lately." Luth huffily stormed ahead.

Boss stumbled over that, the paces between him and Luth rapidly filling with boggy nightfall. "Uh, kinda like how you're taking it now." He skipped several steps to catch him. "Oh, Lu--Lu! Hey! Is that what this is about? That reporter?"

Luth stopped and crossed his arms, refusing to face him.

Boss set his hands on his hips, peeved. "Geez, Lu, it's not like she was writing a story on you!"

"What if she was, sir?" Luth whirled on him, not throwing the notion out. "What if she was trying to use me to get a story on you, or the company?"

"Nah," Boss waved his concern down, "Julia wouldn't do that."

Luth narrowed an accusing glare at him. "And how would you know that, sir?"

"Ah, uhm," Boss choked on his words. "Well..."

Luth buried his face in his hands, dreading what he was about to hear. "Oh gods, sir..."

The Genome gave another hedging shrug. "I was the one who told her about you."

Not staying for another word, Luth turned and marched away again.

"Lu, Lu!" Boss yelled after him. "Hey, com'on, it's not what you think!"

"What am I supposed to think, sir?!" Luth's voice ricocheted back, strange and angry off the weeping trees.

"She found me last night, at the club! We've known each other for a while, actually. She's been hounding me for an interview for ages. We had a nice chat for a while and then I pointed her over to you, that's it. I thought she might be your type."

Luth finally stopped. It was too dark; he didn't know where he was going. He didn't know why he was going. His proud shoulders sagged as he stared at an inscrutable ground, damp and gross between his toes, like walking on toads.

Somewhere behind him, Boss barely pleaded, "You're not really that mad at me, are you?"

"Sir, I..." When Luth looked back, Boss was still there, waiting for him, warily distant. The Burmecian cleared his throat, trying to make sense of his feelings--Julia, Burmecia, Ultima Express, Don Gator, /him/. Pilgrimages weren't supposed to be this complicated.

"...No. I'm not mad, sir. I appreciate the thought, but I would appreciate it more if you didn't set me up like that anymore."

"Oh." He rubbed his chin, chewing on the request. "Okay. Yeah, sure. I don't want to be a pest." Boss scooted closer and asked with an oddly confidential air, considering they were already alone, "You're not gay though, are you? I mean that's okay if you are; I swing both ways, myself."

Luth jumped back. "What?! No!"

"Okay, okay, just checkin'," Boss rolled along.

"Sir, I definitely don't--wait, you mean you have...?" He shook his head with a shudder. "No, please don't answer that, sir."

"Ahahahaha, you're cute when you're embarrassed, Lu. Relax, it's not what you think. I'm never what you think. Listen... I don't want you to feel like I'm betraying your trust. I mean, I like you--platonically, if you must know--and I trust you a lot. That's why I wanted you to come with me tonight. I want you to be my righty."

"Righty, sir?" Luth echoed, still perturbed.

"Yeah, you know, my 'right hand man.' That what we call 'em." Boss scratched the back of his neck. "I know it's asking a lot at once, but I hope you can trust me back."

Luth bit his lip, then sighed. "...I guess I don't have a choice but to go along, for now."

"That's the spirit. Close enough, anyway."

Their stroll continued in peace and cricket-chirps. A lukewarm beacon shone through the tree line, far down the road. Soon their infamous destination would be in sight. "So, sir, you're really a... drug dealer?" he had to ask.

"No, no no, Lu," Boss insisted. "I don't deal drugs! Geez. I just ship them. And just drugs--not weapons. That's Pevy's department. Giving a bunch of tripped-out dusterheads guns? That's just bad business. Besides, I don't like guns. I had someone in the family who was a weapons dealer. It kinda did him in. He died a long time ago."

Sepia pages of Black Mages and eidolons flitted through his head. "...I think I know who you mean, sir."

Boss hesitated, something startled in his wide-eyed stare, but then his mien melted with a cryptic grin and he moved on.

Luth had to move on, as well. "Has your family always been in the... uh..."

"Mob? Eh, you might say that. On and off," he flaked. "Now, Gator's gang? I think you'll like 'em, heheh."

"I think we have differing opinions on what I like, sir."

"Ahaha. If it makes you feel better, we won't be staying long. Gonna eat-and-run."

Just before the manor was an impressive wrought-iron gate with a security booth. Boss had a brief and efficient chat with the guard, who gruffly asked, "Wha'ddya got for us?"

"Cherry lollipops," Boss automatically responded, and the gate peeled open with a soft creak.

"Cherry lollipops, sir?" Luth wondered once they were inside and out of the guard's way.

"Are you offering?" Boss brightly returned. "Heheh, just kidding. It's a password, rookie."

"Oh. Are you sure it's okay for me to be here?"

Boss looped an arm around Luth's shoulders--a little awkwardly, the Genome too short for him--and stuck a self-assured thumb at his chest. "Sure it is. You're with me. That's what you tell anyone who asks."


The Gators dwelled on the crook of a turbid bayou in a sprawling ranch-style house, nothing too pressing on the marshy soil. Several muddy cars were haphazardly parked around the four-port garage, and smoldering lawn candles donated a fragrance to the lawn that was repulsive to insects.

Boss was furtively hashing out the Gatortown roster as they approached the screened front porch.

"Don has five bosses working under him. They do most of his dirty work, and each get different shares of his domain. Pevy's with weapons, Leo gets dusters, Armond does grass, I worry about shipping and handling, and Arpy's, uh... Well, his status as a boss is more honorary than anything. He's got a rather... stilted take on humanity. You'll see what I mean in a minute."

Yokel tunes and the smell of cheap beer and rich tobacco welcomed Luth on the porch, where a moogle in a black vest chewed on a cigar while sitting on a stereo box.

"God damn, who let the whole zoo in?" the moogle barked at the visitors, and Luth stepped back as the fairy lurched forward, buzzing towards Boss on nubby bat-wings. "You monkey-fucking son of a bitch!" he greeted raucously, and Boss returned the sentiment with a big hug.

"Oh Arpy, I knew one of you still loved me!" the Genome fawned melodramatically. Meanwhile, "Bloody Christ, Ultima's here," sounded from indoors.

"Ack, bastard!" the moogle gagged as it squirmed in Boss's snug grip. He pried himself free and hit the floorboards with a squeaky thud, like a big dog toy. Arpy sprang back to his perch and reclaimed his haughty demeanor, a cigar dancing in one corner of his mouth as he ranted, "It's about time you showed up! This party was getting more stale than the crust off Gator's left ass cheek."

"Holy hell're you late!" blasted the devil, and the front door burst open for a portly demi-gator, all blue and black mottled scales in wide khaki pants and an aloha shirt. Luth didn't need a second guess to figure out that this was the Don.

Boss simply shrugged. "I took the scenic route."

"The hell you did!" Don guffawed, and--as if by his own gravity--dragged Boss through the threshold. "We were about to start without ya."

Luth reluctantly followed, opting to keep his boss company over hanging out with Arpy on the porch. Getting off Don's tail, he veered out of the vestibule and into a deserted lounge, drawn instead to the quiet, free space. Raised chatter carried on without him, deeper into the house. It seemed he hadn't been noticed, which didn't really bother him. Luth didn't know what to do with himself in such company yet, anyway, and Boss was too far gone to give him a clue. He bid his time in the lonely room, waiting for a cue.

Despite outward appearances, the interior was clean and classy white, with mint upholstery and crystal light fixtures. The house wasn't grand on most scales, but impressed with finery. Luth sat down on a leather sofa and surveyed the gallery of photographs on the walls.

It was an artless spread of family portraits, wedged between windows and around doorframes--mostly alligators, sometimes others. Some locales Luth recognized from Gatortown or downtown Lindblum. Some pictures were grey and frayed with old blood, and others crisp and bold with new.

Luth eventually rose to inspect something in the middle, a wide shot of several families in a happy row. A brown demi-gator and his sleek black mate stood amidst a brood of little Gators, and flanking them were litters of humans and other demis, none of the lot Luth recognized. Three figures on the right caught his eye, however: a man that eerily resembled Boss, standing with a woman and small child of his likeness--all blonde, blue-eyed and fuzzy-tailed.

"So!" boomed a hulking figure behind Luth's shoulder, and the Burmecian nearly knocked his head on the ceiling with a jump.

"Bwahaha!" Don Gator slapped his jolly belly. "Scared your peach fuzz off, did I?"

"H-hello, um..." Luth gulped to catch his breath.

"So!" Don resumed, "You're Ultima's righty now."

"Oh." Luth straightened and nodded. "Yes, I suppose so."

"You suppose! Gwaha. You're somethin'. Luthane Crescent, right?"

"Yes, sir." He wondered where his full name had been dropped. It didn't seem likely that Boss remembered it, but the Genome was always full of surprises.

Don's pat on the shoulder was like the fall of a hammer, and Luth had to brace his feet for it. "Great, great, nice to meet'chya. Crescents are good people. You be careful around that monkey, now; he's a crazy bastard, just like his old man."

Luth blinked, a little amazed. "You knew his father, Mister--Don... sir?" he tapered off uncertainly.

"Just call me Don, kid. And hell, I knew 'im." Don turned a high chin and wistful eye to the photograph Luth was inspecting moments before. "I knew his mother for years, especially once the old man kicked off and she took over. She was a real firecracker--classy like fine china, sharp like a whip."

Luth didn't linger on how little sense that made and asked instead, "Is that her, in the picture? What was her name?"

"Meridia, a beautiful name for a beautiful lady. Can't remember Ultima Senior's name to save my life, now that I'm thinkin' on it. He was always sneaky about it--guess that's where junior got it from. But I'll be damned if I forget his name now, what-how Meridia used to scream it all over my back porch. 'Alfy, you get out of that bayou! A croc's gonna eat ya!' Gwahaha."

"Alfy?" Luth studied the grinning imp twined around his parents' legs, fascinated. "That's his name? Really?"

"You mean ya didn't know that? Oh. Well!" Don muttered through a long row of jagged teeth, "Ya didn't hear it from me, kiddo." Luth gave the belittling term a fractured smirk while Don reared back with another laugh. "Gwahaha. Of course it's short for somethin' classy, ah, kinda strange... Well, damn me to five of seven hells, I can't remember after all. Bwahaha."

Luth pointed at the patriarchal demi-gator in the center. "Is that your father, then?"

"Ah, sure as hell, that's my old man, Maton Gator. An' that's me there, about to knock my little sister's lights out. Ah, good times."

"Dinner's ready!" A female gracefully announced, and Don pushed Luth along into the dining room.


Luth was reunited with Boss at the table, where an extra chair had been procured for him. Don's wife laid out a voluptuous feast of fowl, potatoes and beans, and the whole mob troupe dug in while Don sat at the head of it all, relaying pertinent business between mouthfuls. Luth stayed absorbed in his meal and didn't dare a word, so he was pleasantly ignored. There was much to say without him, apparently, and Luth gathered all he could about his fellow guests with a patient ear--watching everything, looking at nothing.

They talked over his head about "deals," "runs," "hooks," and miscellaneous jargon that hurt Luth's sense of ethics just to overhear, much less comprehend. In a careful aside, Boss at least managed to explain what "dusters" and "grass" were: illegal drugs, as a matter of course.

Boss Leo was unsurprisingly a demi-lion, suave of voice and gesture. His every word was purred or growled, and his coal mane was neatly tied back with three ribbons. He was accompanied by Greasy Ricky, who looked grateful enough to still have his genitals intact.
Boss Armond was a pale, lanky, unassuming character until he spoke, his few lines poignantly sarcastic.
Boss Pevy was loud and fire-haired, the silverware shuddering under the pounding of his fist. He would be spitting venom one moment and chortling merrily the next. His righty was a man introduced as Maroon, whose moniker matched the hue of his dull, limp hair. Unlike his boss, he was intensely quiet and serious. Every time Luth glanced his way, Maroon would be staring straight back with sharp features and quicksilver eyes.

Arpy sat opposite Don with a large bowl of kupo nuts, firing billingsgate at everything that breathed. "That's because Pevy's cousin's a ripe old cunt--won't even take a hit to save her mother's life. Everyone's in Zamo's a dirty whore just like that. I'd rather blow a Qu for nickels than shell out to anyone from Zamo. Worse than Guntans. Almost as bad as Burmecians."

"Don't listen to him," Leo rumbled aloofly in response to Luth's toothy grimace. "Arpy hates all peoples."

"I didn't hate your mother that night in Treno!" the moogle shot back, and Pevy slapped the table with an outrageous cackle while Leo put up a noble scowl.

"All right, you lugs, pull it together," Don reeled them in. "There's one more piece of business I'd like to discuss tonight. I was unfortunate enough to read the paper yesterday morning and learn that Grand Castle was robbed of the Falcon Claw."

The table stilled--even Arpy quit chewing on a nut for a reverent moment. Boss rested his chin on steepled fingers, staring dimly at the tablecloth. Beyond him, Luth met Maroon's piercing gaze again. He flinched and shied away.

"As a lifelong citizen of Lindblum, I am deeply grieved to hear of the loss of our national treasure. It is an insult to our great nation and its heritage." Don sighed shortly and held a hand over his heart. "I only wish that whoever committed this heinous crime would've come to me first--I could've helped 'em out."

The guests broke into snickers. Arpy cracked another kupo nut in one strong mitt. Boss remained silent.

"Who would be stupid enough to do that?" Ricky was first to ask. "Nobody nicks somethin' that hot--not even Lord King, and that guy's got the Alexandrian fuckin' crown jewels in his vault."

"The press says a band called the Red Angels did it," Armond contributed.

"I've got a guy in the castle, says he saw 'em," Arpy eagerly volunteered. "Says he nearly got his pom-pom whacked off by one of 'em. They were all dressed in black and climbed up the walls like goddamn spiders. Ninja fuckin' spider monkeys."

"Well, whoever they are, they're good," Don grunted. "They're too good. What else do we know about these people?"

"Virtually nothing." Pevy shrugged. "The pigs are clueless."

Don wagged a fat finger. "Then find out. I want you all to find out as much as you can about these punks, especially if they're after the other Jewels."


After the table was cleared, Luth was finally able to strike up conversation with someone: Don's wife, Emilia, who turned out to be the most gracious alligator Luth had ever met. She politely endured Luth's nervous reservations and gave him a tour of the house, elaborating on the colorful history of the Gator family as they went.

Luth was about to offer his hand at washing the dishes in exchange for her courtesy when someone pulled him aside--he was startled to see it was Maroon.

"I believe you dropped this," he said succinctly, passing Luth a shoulder pack.

"Huh?" When Luth realized it was his, he thankfully accepted it. "Oh! So I did. Thank you."

A fleeting, feral smile crossed Maroon's visage, somehow making him look more threatening than without. "It's no problem." He then turned and vanished.

Boss popped up, snagging Luth by the arm. "Hey, there you went!" He nodded at Emilia and began to tow his righty towards the front door. "Thanks for the sweet grub, Mrs. Gator, but Lu and I gotta bolt. Say goodnight, Lu."

"Oh, um--" Luth stammered, finding his bearings through a hasty farewell. "Sorry, Mrs. Gator! Thank you very much for everything."

She giggled demurely and waved the pair out. "Don't be a stranger, Luthane. You too, Ultima!"


Their cab was waiting where they left it. Luth didn't bother to comment on how absurdly high the fare was going to run, but he did want to throw out something, since Boss was strangely quiet on the hike back. Suddenly it felt like his turn to break the ice.

"So, sir... Was that the surprise you were talking about for tonight?"

"Huh?" Boss snapped, waking from a daze. He then lightened on Luth's thought. "...Oh! No, no rookie. I've got somethin' better than that. I'm taking you to meet Susan."

"Susan? Who's that?"

"She's my therapist."

"I didn't know you saw a therapist, sir."

"Well, Susan's not your typical therapist, but whenever I feel down she always perks me right up," he explained with a crafty grin.

Luth tipped his head back, looking for the red moon at its apex. "She sure keeps late hours, sir."

"Yeeeeah, that she does," Boss said shiftily, and left the rest to Luth's imagination.


Nothing Luth pictured in his mind ended up matching the scene at the southeast corner of Lindblum's old Theater District. Tucked behind a derelict artisan shop was a sloping alley that stopped at the foot of a soot-shrouded storefront.

Suspicions well past raised, Luth had to enquire, "This doesn't lead to Gatortown, does it?" as Boss circled around to a cellar door and kicked it open.

"Nah, better," Boss assured him, and Luth followed his lead down a flight of stairs. Each step brought them closer to loud, undulating beats and muted, flickering lights. When Boss opened the door at the bottom, Luth was assaulted with techno beats, glitter-shaded spotlights and a barrage of odors that reminded him of Boss's bedroom in every wrong way.

There was a bar on the left with a decent selection of drinks, but it was the horseshoe stage to the right with the women clad in fur and threads dancing around poles while shady men on the floor stuffed paper bills into their thongs that gave Luth a better idea of the spirit of the establishment.

Luth's stunned gape was left unattended as Boss sidled up to the bar and blew a kiss at a lady cleaning mugs. She set down her glass and rag and sat up on the countertop, crossing her bare legs over the side. She was wearing an adequate skirt and a buttoned-up vest, but that didn't really allay Luth's fears. "It's been a while, Ultima."

Boss drummed his fingers on the bar and his tail on an adjacent barstool. "What's up, Susan?"

Susan flicked her blonde ponytail to the side and imparted a sultry smile. "Back for the usual?"

He reached back and tugged Luth closer. "Actually, I was hoping you could educate my friend here. He needs to chill out."

Luth shook his head furiously. "Hey!"

Boss leaned over the bar, whispering to Susan with no subtle implications, "This is his first time, so take it easy, alright?"

Luth jumped to Boss's ear, thoroughly mortified. "Sir!! What are you doing?!"

The Genome grinned dumbly at him. "What do you think I'm doing? I told you I was going to introduce you to Susan."

"This is a brothel!" he hissed. "You've taken me to see a prostitute, not a therapist!"

"She's a sexual therapist."

"Sir!! I am extremely uncomfortable here! Can we please talk outside?"

Susan lowered a baffled look at Boss. "Is he okay?"

"Yeah," Boss replied uneasily, stuck between the girl and the Burmecian with a death-grip on his wrist. "Uh... alright. Just a sec." He nodded briskly at Susan and followed Luth's fleeing tail.

"Sir," Luth panted at the top of the stairs, not even affording Boss the chance to ask what's wrong, "I'm going to have to draw a line here."

All Boss did in response was cross his arms and grin smugly. "I was wondering where you'd finally do that!"

A look of total, exasperated bemusement stuck on Luth's face. "What??" He shook himself lucid. "No, no, listen, sir, I really don't want to do this!"

Boss gave a cool shrug. "I know you're saying that now, but tomorrow you're going to thank me."

"I'm pretty sure this is and will remain a bad idea, sir," he said stonily.

"You Dragon Knights don't take a vow of celibacy now, do you?"

"What?! No! I just, that's not the--"

"Then what're you so worked up about? Lighten up, rookie. Girls don't bite. Unless you want them to."

Luth stamped his feet desperately. "No, stop! Just no. I don't approve of this! I'm putting my foot down, sir."

Boss frowned. "Don't approve? What're you, some old spinster? Hey rookie, you're a twenty-three year-old male in his prime! What're you waiting for?"

"Maybe I do want to wait! Maybe I..." Dear gods, why was he out here defending his--how did he even get to this point? "M-Maybe I'm saving myself. For the right girl."

What followed was the most critical silence of Luth's life. Nothing moved; Boss didn't even breathe, until...

"...ahahahaHaHaHAHA!" he exploded. Luth could only stand and watch, first stunned, then embarrassed, then downright annoyed as his boss continued laughing out of control, holding the rotten brick wall for support.

Luth effectively pouted, waiting for the Genome's riotous outburst to simmer down. "Are you done, sir?"

It took several big gulps of air to quench the fit, but finally Boss was able to speak again. "Oh God. I'm sorry," he chuckled. He righted himself and sauntered up to Luth, resting one hand on his shoulder. "Lu, Lu, Lu. Do you trust me?"

"I think you're drunk, sir."

"I wish. Do you trust me?"

Luth let the question stew for a minute. "...Yes, sir," he admitted broodingly.

"Have I let you down yet?"

"Well, um... Not really."

"Do you really, really, really not want to meet Susan? I promise she'll give you a good time."

He swallowed, almost whimpering. "I really don't, sir..."

Boss put up a resigned smile, nodded slowly and patted Luth's cheek. "Okay. Alright. I said I wouldn't force you to go anywhere you're not comfortable, and I'm keeping my word." He started back up the alley. "Let's go home. We'll try again on your birthday."

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