Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Prince of Thieves

13. Seduction of the Innocent

by Myshu 0 reviews

Seduction of the Innocent

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Characters: Freya Crescent - Warnings: [!] [X] - Published: 2007-10-11 - Updated: 2007-11-02 - 8963 words - Complete

13. Seduction of the Innocent

There were two sides to Treno: the ever-expanding, industrialized sector that scaled the mountain ridges eclipsing the city, and the part less-than-affectionately known as "Old Town."

The former applied the technological fervor of Lindblum to classic Alexandrian business models--in short, it was a lot of cheap tenements huddling under the feet of textile factories and smoke-stacks that were each one town hall citation away from being condemned.

The latter was populated by centuries-old mansions and boardwalks that refused to die, even as they gradually rotted into the watery grave of the Treno River. Seedy night clubs, tattoo parlors, coffee shops and unmarked taverns grew like mushrooms along the underbelly of the city's antique castle-estates, where old, wealthy families pretended to hold on to old, noble ideals.

There were two sides to Treno, and both of them were dark.

Luth minded his step over the creaking boards as he navigated beneath the stone bridges of Abbey Canal. Under his feet, inky waters lapped silently at oil-stained brick walls while mirroring the overhead street lamps in rainbow-black splotches. Above, a woman on a billboard beseeching drivers-by to "Save Treno River" was sheered in half, and a curly mustache had been spray-painted under her nose.

A wire trolley rattled over the bridge ahead, nearly drowning out Boss's introduction. "Welcome to Old Treno, the best place to get away from the law."

"Isn't it, 'to get away from it all'?" Luth questioned the motto.

"You heard me." Boss skipped up a brick ramp and crossed the overpass, beckoning Luth along. "History lesson, Lu: After the Bloody Revolution back in 1914, things in Treno went from the rich crampin' the style of the poor to the poor crampin' the style of themselves. Once a shithole, always a shithole. Gotta love this place."

Luth glanced around the block, barely making out the blue half-crescent of the moon beyond the fluorescent banners and glaring headlights--just like Lindblum, there was no room for stars. "Where are we going?"

Boss pointed down the cobbled street at a two-storied shanty with a gaudy neon sign over the porch that depicted a chocoboy boot kicking a bare rump. "To Becca's Bar & Grill, the best shithole in town."


Just like all the other pubs in Boss's taste, Becca's bar turned out to be a strip club. Its distinguishing characteristic was its "on the ranch" motif, though Luth didn't want to visit a chocobo farm where everyone walked around wearing only hot pink, spangled assless chaps with silver spurs and streamers. In a warmly-lit corner a country-style band played some upbeat, folksy tunes, and on center stage a lady "performed" atop a mechanical bull.

Boss slid up to the bar and took a seat near the end. Luth found a barstool next to him and warily scoped the crowded room. Behind the counter, a small television was mounted above shelves of exotic bottles--The Channel 8 Report was on, of all things. The polished ebony bar curved around the closed-off kitchen and its toasty lights and scents, and on the opposite end a gaggle of men carried on some loud games. There was ivory clacking on the billiards table, coins were spinning over hands of cards, and the dark floor was cluttered with dining, drinking, roaring patrons.

"What are we supposed to do now, sir?"

"Nothin'. Sit back, relax, enjoy the scenery." Boss rested his elbows on the counter and watched the show, one lascivious eye on the stage and the other following a waitress that passed close enough for his tail to twitch up her skirt. When she paused to search for a culprit, she found only a draft, a distracted Genome and a Burmecian staring back with a bewildered sort of guilt.

She screwed up her face into a furious scowl just as Luth began to stammer, too late, "W-wait, it wa--"

Smack. Luth's chair spun from the force of the slap. Once the waitress fixed her apparel and left, Boss cracked a lewd grin. "I still say, Lu, that mankind's greatest invention is the miniskirt."

Luth rubbed his sore snout. "That was not nice, sir."

"I try. Now let that be a lesson to you: never look a mad woman in the eye." He gestured towards the platform across the room. "If you want something to watch, there's plenty of free titties and ass, right up there."

Luth shied away from the rabble, turning back towards the bar and perching over a bowl of jellybeans. "I, um, think I'll keep to myself, sir."

Boss clucked disapprovingly. "Don't look down on them, Lu--you want to look up for the better view, anyway. But strippers are people, too. Not a one of them wanted to grow up like this. Not at first, anyway. My ex was a stripper, you know."

"Your ex?" Luth looked up, interested. "The quee--oh, Meridia, you mean?"

He snorted sardonically. "Yes Lu, the Queen of Alexandria used to be a stripper. God damn, I can think of fifty people who would roll in their graves to hear that."

Embarrassed by his faux pas, Luth looked to the TV for support. It didn't make him feel any better. "There doesn't seem to be any more word on the Red Angels, not since they got the Desert Star."

"How did we get out of there, anyway? I keep forgetting to ask."

"Same way we got in, sir. I carried you out. The Red Angels killed any guards that would have seen us."

"Oh. What about your friend? The one you were talking to."

"Petrov? I don't know. I hope he's okay. He said he wasn't going to tell his supervisor about me." Luth began to sort the jellybeans by color, popping the red ones into his mouth as he encountered them. Another worriment bubbled to the surface with a gasp. "Oh, I hope he doesn't think I'm involved."

Boss frowned, that very thought occurring to him. "Gee, me too. I'm sorry I got you into this. This isn't what I intended."

"It's okay, sir. I just don't want them to get away with this. I wonder what they're going to do with the Jewels."

Neither knew what to say about that, so they let the TV speak for them. Local news segued into global headlines, and in an Act of Irony, Julia appeared to recap Don's funeral.

Boss playfully poked him. "Hey, there's your girlfriend."

"She's not my girlfriend..." Luth muttered defensively, like a little boy accused of dealing with 'cooties.'

Boss held up his hands, backing off. "Alright, alright, if you say so. Are you sure you're not queer? I have been sensing a profound lack of interest in the opposite sex."

Luth growled quietly. "It's not that, sir. And I don't appreciate having my sexuality questioned. I'm just not like you, or Petrov and his, his... What did he call it? 'Overactive libido'."

Boss snatched a jellybean and hooted, "Hah! Your friend can talk to me about his 'overactive libido' when he's been stuck in puberty for a hundred and ninety-two years." He sighed wistfully at the on-screen obsequies. "Ah, Don, you sorry bastard. You know, a lot of men don't like funerals because they remind them of their own mortality. I just don't like 'em cuz they make me jealous."

"I still can't believe what happened earlier today," Luth remarked.

"Don't feel bad; they brought it on themselves. Classic thugs, the lot of 'em. You know, none of this would've happened if Don were still here." He winced. "And I wasn't, I guess, but you can wish in one hand..."

"So," Luth wondered, "Now that Pevy and Leo are gone, will that stop the gun and drug business?"

"Altogether? Oh hell no, rookie. It'll just go back to small-time. The dealers will take it into their own hands, try to stake territories, build their own dusterhouses, gangs, guns, police raids, street wars, anarchy, all that fun stuff. Or Armond'll take it all over, hell if I know."

"Oh. At least we stopped them from using the company, sir," Luth tried to look for a bright side.

"I know, but I'm still worried about the Jewels, and..."

"Althier?" Luth said what he couldn't.


Their conversation lulled as the band fired up a verse of, "Billy Shot My Stepmom." Luth shared his jellybeans with his sulking boss until the Genome sat up and said in a fit, "Geez, when're we gonna get some drin--" His eye caught a figure at the other end of the bar, and he swallowed his words. "Oh, Tami's working tonight."

"Who?" Luth looked that way, spotting a woman behind the counter. She was tall, lean, freckled of skin and plain of dress, wearing a plain tank top and cargo pants. Her chestnut hair was pulled into a floppy ponytail, and a glittering pony tattoo splashed across her left arm. Her attentions were presently on a group of men stacking beer bottles into a pyramid.

"Tami, the head waitress. She's the best--booze and boobs all in one package. And I like my drinks like I like my women: hard and to the point."

"That barely makes sense, sir. Do you know /everyone/?" Luth asked sourly, though he didn't know why that vexed him--he should be used to Boss's plethora of lady friends.

"Oh no, rookie," Boss said matter-of-factly, "Everyone knows Tami. You'll see what I mean." He then plucked another jellybean from the pile, eliciting a yelp.



"That was the last red one. I was saving that."

Boss paused, the bean already half-chewed in his mouth, and after a long gawk at his partner he uttered bemusedly, "...Do you want it back?"

"You two are adorable," came a clipped voice directly ahead, startling Luth. Tami was leaning over her side of the bar, regarding him and Boss with a smug grin. "Can I get you loverboys something to drink?"

Boss put up a lukewarm smile. "Hey babe."

"Hey, Ultima." She picked up a discarded mug and began to wipe it out with a rag. "Haven't seen you in a while."

"Yeah, been havin' a bit of a rough time lately."

Tami sniffed. "Psh, guy like you? Please."

Boss raised some casual indignance. "Hey, I'm allowed to have problems too, okay? Shit happens."

"Oh honey, tell me about it. My ex is hidin' out in Alexandria. Still won't pay a penny of child support. Fuckin' deadbeat."

"You know, Tami, if you need some help, I--"

"Keep your stupid money, I don't need it," Tami cut him short. "I've been supporting an eighteen-month-old all by myself just fine." She tossed a black look across the bar and started to rant, each word elevating towards a shriek, "All I need is one real man in this whole damn country to step up and take some motherfucking responsibility! /Is that so much to ask/?!"

The music hesitated and all the patrons shrank from the counter a notch, until Tami turned back to Boss and placidly continued, "If you really want to help me, you can give my deadbeat brother a job."

"Oh? I didn't know you have a brother."

"I never told you about Drew? He's the one who was going out with Mandy, until she went all crazy-cult and left the club. I hear she's a licensed witch now. How the hell do people get licenses for that, is wha' I wanna know."

"Ohhh, he was Mandy's boyfriend? I didn't know that was your brother. So what's he do now? Besides deadbeating."

"He just moved back in last night. Had some big-name security job in Lindblum, hell if I know. He never talks about his work. I bet he was blowing Regent Mick for tips. Anyway, he shows up at the asscrack of the moon o'clock with his head wrapped up like some POW, saying some shmuck blew his eye out!"

Boss bit his lip and stared evasively at the counter. "...You don't say." Luth didn't get it, and didn't want to.

"His damn eye is fine--the doctor said the swelling'll go down in a few days. But Christ, now my mother has to babysit Liaf and his whiny ass while I'm at work? She'll find a way to blame me for this, I know it. Family sucks." Tami fixed a look on Luth, making the Burmecian immediately uncomfortable. "Who's your friend?"

"This is my partner, Lu."

"Hello, Miss Tami..." Luth responded timorously.

Tami beamed in high amusement. "Holy shit, aren't you a gentleman? You can just call me Tami, hon." She then resumed talking to Boss over Luth's head. "He looks like a regular sweetie-pie. I hope you're not getting him into trouble."

"Only the best," Boss assured. Luth coughed.

A rowdy voice shot across the bar, "Hey! How 'bout some service??"

Tami whirled on him and the blonde in his lap like a Black Mage flinging a fireball. "Hey! How about you quit giving that hoochy-mamma a ride on her tab and go home to your /wife/, you goddamn worthless scab?!"

Thus shut up, she switched back to Luth, offering a friendly hand. "It's very nice to meet you, Lu. So, what'll you two be having?"

"Um, Ipsen Scotch," Luth ordered off the cuff, before he tried the barkeep's patience.

Boss was dumbstruck. "Ipsen Scotch? /You/?"

"The man can order for himself, can't you, hon?" Tami spoke up. "And your poison, monkey-boy?"

Boss shrugged, confounded. "Hell, same."

She winked at Luth and strolled off to get it. Boss studied him with incredulous respect that quickly broke into laughter.

Luth pouted. "What?"

"Hahaha, I'm sorry, but I can't picture you with a hard drink, /ever/. Hahahaha."

Before Luth could muster a defense Tami returned, setting down a murky bottle and two glasses. Cornered into proving himself, Luth promptly poured a shot, quaffed it and met Boss with a straight face, wagging his brow triumphantly.

Boss was pleasantly surprised. "Huh, you were serious! You are somethin' else, Lu."

"'Everyone's full of surprises,' my mother always says."

"Yeah, I shoulda figured. You Crescents all have iron stomachs. Even your grandmother could knock back some serious /firewater/."

"So," Tami interjected, "What's the matter? You fellas look like you just buried somebody."

"In a sense," Boss quipped as he poured his own drink.

"Family trouble," Luth volunteered, to Boss's chagrin. The Genome flashed him an annoyed glower that quickly dissolved in his scotch.

Tami shook her head glumly. "The worst kind."

Luth glimpsed the shiny pony again and blurted out some polite flattery, fighting not to acknowledge Boss and his bad temper. "I like your tattoo, Miss Tami."

She lit up like a moogle with a kupo nut, clutching her arm affectionately. "Oh I /know/, I love it. It's /sparkly/."

"It's a rub-on," Boss flatly belittled it.

"It /still counts/, shut up." Tami's focus bounced off the bar and onto Luth's wrist, which she snatched up and scrutinized with hyper enthusiasm. "Ohmygawd your fur is /blonde/. I want. Can I have it?"

Boss nudged his companion. "Heh, you can take the whole package."

Luth's hair bristled in recoil. "Sir!"

"What? Tami's a nice girl. She only has two outstanding warrants now."

"/Haha/," Tami cawed, not daunted. "Don't listen to a word he says," she advised Luth. "He's a regular bastard."

"You still love me," Boss played.

"Yeah, like a pipe cleaner up my urethra. Oh oh oh!" She fished into her pocket and withdrew a pulsing, blue, plastic... thing. It split open to reveal a glowing dialpad and message screen. "Hang on, let me get in a picture with you. Drew gave me this camera phone for my birthday and I'm lovin' it."

Armed with the phone's lens in her outstretched hand, she shuffled onto the bar and cozied up to Boss for a snapshot. He tried to shrug out of it, suddenly uneasy. "Ah, Tami, I don't really--"

"Oh shut up, I know you don't like getting pictures, but humor me." She reached over and tugged Luth's sleeve. "You too, cutie."

"Me? I'm--" Before Luth could properly object he was yanked into the line of fire and caught in the flash. Tami giggled and bounced back over the counter. "Thanks, dolls. It's going in my collection."

Luth blinked out of the shock quickly enough to comment, "I didn't know you were camera-shy, sir."

Boss looked ruffled. "I'm not /shy/, I just don't like /evidence/."

Tami's attention wandered up to the TV, which began narrating, "Class was dismissed early for hundreds of schoolchildren in Lindblum today..."

"Ugh, bombing a school," she huffed, disgusted. "What kind of sick fuck would do something like that?"

Boss hid behind his drink and remarked passively, "Takes all kinds."

"I'd like ta find 'im and rip his balls off with a rusty pipe wrench," she declared viciously, and Luth squeaked loudly at her violent gesticulations.

Boss passed the Burmecian another warning glare, just as a distant customer complained, "Hey, where's my drink, bitch?" to the cackles of his companions.

Tami's expression hardened. Without a second thought, she picked up the scotch and Lu's empty shot, took a thick draught from the bottle and fired the glass at the offender's head. It shattered on the bar just short of its target, sending the surrounding patrons ducking and cursing to the floor.

Boss was enthralled by the woman's machismo. "God you're beautiful. Marry me?"

"Sorry, I've already got a little boy," she snipped, and then shrugged towards the throng of customers. "Looks like I should get back to serving these apes." She replaced Luth's glass and left them the bottle, strutting away. "You boys play nice."

"...A pleasure," Luth said feebly in her wake.

"Quit acting so guilty, Lu," Boss upbraided him once Tami was out of earshot. "It's suspicious as hell."

Luth cast another stricken look at the outraged parents on screen and groaned miserably. "I'm an accomplice."

"Oh, no you're not," Boss blew off his concern. Luth returned a baleful stare, and Boss relented, "Well, okay, but they'll never catch us, honestly. They won't even waste their time on a hoax, so lighten up. You look like I made you eat a baby."

Luth brooded on his fugitive status while Boss poured them both another round. "Besides, you didn't know what I was doing until I already did it. That makes you an accessory, not an accomplice."

"That doesn't really help, sir," Luth said bitterly, washing the words down with more scotch.


They passed the next couple of hours in restless peace, watching the stage and television in turns. Luth eventually grew comfortable in his companion's silence, with doubtless thanks to the liquor blurring the fringes of his senses.

He was blearily enjoying a sitcom when Luth finally noticed how one-sided their silence really was--Boss had been rambling on-and-off for the past six commerical breaks.

"Heheh, you know what he's gonna say because he's been doing that gag the whole episode, but he's gonna say somethin' different now."

"Quit spoilin' it all, sir--v-vaguely spoiling it, I might add. I haben't seen this before."

"Neither have I. It's just damn obvious. Vaguely."

"I like you betta when you're soba, sir."

"When I'm sober or you're sober?"

Luth's right whiskers twitched as he gagged on a hiccup. "...Both."

Boss rested his jaw in his hand and grumbled, "Back at'chya, Lu." He closed his eyes and snorted under his breath. "Sheesh. /Family trouble/."


"What you told Tami. Like you would know?" he pithily attacked him.

"Oh, I dunno, sir," Luth slurred, barely knowing what Boss was talking about, much less the source of his bad humor. He tried to piece together some apologetic anecdote, but ended up saying out of the inebriated blue, "I 'ate my father."

Boss wrinkled his nose. "Ate him? Geebus. I didn't know you Burmecians were into that shit."

Luth cracked up at the ludicrous imagery. "No! Ah, hahaha. H-hate him. He--he called me a nancy mamma's boy. Said I would neva make a man'a myself. I was, was too soft, y'know? He said. But I don't cry, sir, no I don't. I never cried, not one tear, not even when Gramma died. I was, I wuza..." He hiccuped again. "...I'm a soldier."

Boss tipped his eyebrows, his countenance softening. "Rookie, your sudden candor under the influence both intrigues and disturbs me. You know, a lot of people have problems with poor self-image. I think your problem is that you have no self-image. And, believe it or not, I know what will cure your problem." He pinned a finger on Luth's shoulder, driving in the point, "/You need to get laid/."

He bashfully leaned away. "I s'ink you need t'shud up... sir."

"Fine," Boss patronized him, "Don't listen to me and my centuries of worldly experience."

"You canna even say that 'til youf been alive at lea's two."

"And I see alcohol also inhibits your ability to do math."

"Nooo," Luth blindly strove to correct the numbers. "You said one-hundred and ninety..." The solution clicked behind his eyes, and he trailed off in defeat. "...Oh. That's not fair."

"Yeah, you've completely stopped making sense." Boss pushed Luth's glass aside. "No more drinks for you."

Luth sat up on his stool, gripping the edge of the bar for balance. "Listen, sir, I... umn... a secret, sir, something I haven't told you... about my pilgrimage."

Boss waved him down. "Com'on, Lu, don't get all blathery on me. You don't have to tell me anything."

"No!" Luth insisted, just a little too loud. "I, I wanna tell you. You were right, init... itiff... insh... at first." He swallowed a clear breath. "We dun do that anymore--I mean, Dragon Knights don't. That tradition died a long time ago. I mean, in a sense, I am on, erm, pilgrimage, just..." He wrung his thumbs, his voice weakening with his confession. "I'm the only one who knows about it. As far as my superiors--and my parents... as far as they know... I ran away."

Luth expected him to weigh in with some outlandish opinion or reproach, yet Boss respectfully reserved it. "Oh?"

He nodded shamefully, awaiting his condemnation.

Boss merely shrugged. "Well shit, Lu. You could've just said that from the start."

"You're... not angry that I lied to you?" Luth couldn't help recalling his own outburst on the way to Don's party, when the situation was reversed.

"What? Angry? Why?" He sputtered. "Am I confused? Yes. Angry? Geez, of course not. You did what you thought you had to do--I just don't get why you felt like you had to run away in the first place."

Luth was muddled and relieved at once. "It's just, my parents--they wouldn't have understood the way I felt, about the Dragon Knight training. I wasn't even sure what I wanted to do, but if I tried to explain that to them, they... they would've been mad."

"Geez, so? What were they gonna do? Tell you to /go to your room/? Tami said it: you're a grown man. You can make your own decisions.

Luth sighed. "I know, sir, it just doesn't feel that way with them."

"Ah. Well." Boss rolled his brow, fishing for a sympathetic response. "I don't really know your folks, so I can't say. But you know the saying: you can't pick your parents."

"I'll say, sir," Luth grumbled, and he contemplated the backs of his hands for a spell.

The comedy show had a sentimental moment which eventually segued to flowery intercourse--literally, there were rose petals.

"Hrm, so romantic..." Luth mumbled dreamily.

Boss chuckled thickly. "Heh. You sound like a girl. Sex is never romantic, Lu."

Luth blinked groggily. "Never?"

"Pretty much ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine-infinity-percent-times, yep."

"But what if it's with someone you deeply care about?"

"Ninety-eight percent."

"When did you become completely jaded to everything in the world?"

"I think it was around the time they took The Crabbits off the air."

"Honestly, sir..."

"Look, you can be cuddly and intimate and romantic all you want--right up until the little soldier is deployed. Then it's just ridiculous, any way you look at it. Sex is a riot, Lu. If I weren't so busy gettin' off I'd be laughing through the whole thing."

"That's disturbing, sir."

An unfamiliar face broke into the fold, surprising them both from behind. She was made of pert blonde curls, marble eyes and a button nose, and her kiss on Boss's cheek was sweet and dainty.

"Hey, long time no see! Remember me, sugar?" she chirped.

Boss floundered, half-interested, "Ahm, sure... Gloria?"

"Nope! But guess what?" She grinned wickedly through the indignity, her riposte a salty slap across the other cheek. "You're a shallow, sexist, crass, lecherous, absolutely spoilt bastard." She then huffed and left on the whim she appeared on.

Languidly impressed, Boss massaged his sore face and remarked to her retreating backside, "Wow, /lecherous/. There's a classy word you don't hear anymore. You've got my number, babe."

Luth blinked. "Who was that?"

"Beats me. She looked hot, though." He toasted himself. "Good for me."

Boss received an unsavory frown as Luth pried, "This is probably out of line, but I'm going to ask out of morbid curiosity: how many women have you slept with, sir?"

He blithely replied, "Nobody, since last night. What do you mean, last week? This year?"

"I kind of meant /ever/."

He scratched his head, looking boggled. "Damn, I'm not a computer. I can't crunch those kinda numbers."

Luth scoffed. "Oh, honestly."

"Honestly? I can estimate, if you really want to know. Go on, guess. I'll tell you if you're close."

"Hmm..." Luth tested his game. "Umm... thirty?"

Boss's cool front didn't last three seconds before crumbling into snickers. "Hah, hahaha."

"Too low?"

"Hahahahahah, oh sweet mist, keep going, seriously."


"Hahahaha! Man, you're killin' me. /Higher/."

"More than a hundred?"

"Aha, ha, ha." He had to stop for his breath while he smudged out a tear. "Phew. Wow. You're still way too low. Keep guessing."

"No, I think I'm going to stop now," Luth said tartly, not wanting to play anymore.

"Hehehe." Boss threw up his hands in surrender. "What can I say, Lu? The ladies love me."

"I think it's just the other way around, sir," Luth cut him down, frowning as Boss reached for the last jellybean. "...You know," he said quietly, once it was gone and the Genome's ear was open, "I can't imagine what it's like to live as long as you have."

Boss was struck sober by the remark. He mulled over it just a minute before stating bluffly, "Really freaking boring. You know there are people out there who can live for over a thousand years? I don't know how they do it. I've only done a fraction of the time and I'm ready to blow my brains out."

Luth's optimism was tireless, even after six shots. "Surely life isn't all that dull, sir."

"I dunno..." Boss turned a speculative glance onto a stripper across the room, watching as she straddled a stuffed steer's head. "It has its perks." He shrugged. "You get used to it, I guess. Or kill yourself. A lot. It's probably a lot easier for them when all their friends and relatives can hit triple-digit birthdays, too."

"Exactly what kinds of people are you talking about, sir? There's nobody that old on Gaia..."

"Oh, they're way out there. Not on this world."

Luth decided to pass on the interplanetary question--the answer was probably too many hard drugs. "You still have friends here, sir."

Boss smiled wearily and skimmed a finger along the fine grain of Luth's ear, sending a tiny shiver down his tail. "You're cute, always trying to cheer me up. Don't ever change, Lu."

"Um... thanks?" Luth squirmed a little, trying to throw the conversation off him. "You know, sir, you've been alive for two centuries, but only married twice."

"I smell a personal question."

"Pardon me if this is insensitive, but have you considered marrying again? You might be less lonely with another companion."

Boss leered at him. "Are you proposing, Lu?"

Luth choked on thin air, and the Genome brushed it off. "Nah, Lu, no. It's not that simple. I can't go through all that again."

"Was it that bad?" Luth asked sincerely.

"Eh?" Something livid flickered in his eyes, like a cringing candle. "No, no, it wasn't bad, not like that. It was great. Best days of my life. It's just the end that got me. I can't... no. No. Really, after my second wife died, I got out of that business."

Luth's brow creased, perplexed. "You think marriage is a business?"

"Obviously you haven't been married yet," Boss said drolly, and went back to his drink.

"Uh... huh." Luth started digging for a safer subject. "Say, sir, didn't you promise to tell me about Lady Freya?"

Boss rolled up his gaze and thumbed his chin, considering her. "I didn't sleep with her, no. Hmm, I should've--I bet she was a wild fang in the sack. All those prim-and-proper types always turn into beasts in bed."

Luth snapped back with more than mild disgust, "That's not what I meant."

"Haha, I know. Let's cut to the chase, Lu. You don't want to hear about 'Her Honorable Lady Freya' and war heroes and your lineage and all that stuck-up crap; you want me to tell you what she was really like."

"Well, I..." Luth failed to deny it.

"I'll tell you! But I'm gonna need a lot more to drink." He downed another glass and shuddered vigorously. "Woo. That's the stuff. Now, Freya..." He levelled a finger at Luth. "I'll be straight with ya. She was hot. I really wasn't into Burmecians at the time, but if I was, I woulda hit that. Soft hair, nice thighs, a decent rack, tall--I can dig taller women..."

"Sir!" Luth squawked.

"What? A man can't call it like it is? Well, was. I guess she was too old for me--when we first met, anyway."

"That's not what I meant /at all/, sir," he reiterated.

"Hahaha. Ah, Lu. I love fuckin' wid'ja."

Luth's ears burned, not appreciating the gag, and he moved on. "You were good friends, weren't you?"

"Yeah, we were pretty close."

"So, what was she like? Seriously."

"Oh man. She was a perfect gentlewoman--totally insufferable."

"Oh really?" A proud, humored smile crawled up Luth's face.

"Hell, that's what she said about me, too--the insufferable part, that is. I was never a gentleman--or woman, for that matter."

"I am not surprised, sir," Luth flatly nipped him.

"Thanks, rookie," Boss took it in stride. "But she... She was such a strong lady. She was tough, and noble, and well-spoken--I swear, every word she said sounded like poetry. She was fantastic on the battlefield, swift and light like a... like a bird. She was a good mother; I loved her kids. She was just... amazing. And beautiful."

There was a sticky, longing silence, Luth humbled by the eulogy and Boss lost in nostalgia. The moment was broken when Boss added abruptly, "And she hated brussel sprouts."

Luth snorted, unable to repress a grin.

"And she was awful in the mornings until you shoved some tea down her throat--just straight-up, scalding hot, no creme or sugar or anything pussy like that. And also, she would rise from the grave to find a way to kill me if she heard me tell you this, but she made the best surly drunk ever. Just bad, bad, hilariously angry. She'd swear like a dwarf. I crossed her at a bar once and she all but kicked my ass. It was great."


He sighed. "And no matter how old I got, she always called me a kid."

"Hmm," Luth hummed appreciatively. "You know, you're not what I expected, for the King of Thieves."

Boss gave him a charmed, quizzical smirk. "Really? What were you expecting?"

"I don't know. Maybe someone..." Luth fumbled with the words he wanted, just out of reach. "Ah, um... taller?"

"Ohhh!" He slapped the counter excitably. "Is that a burn? I'll remember that."

"Er, sorry sir, I didn't mean it like that. Um..." Luth clicked his long fingernails against the countertop, itching for an escape. "So, what about Griffin? How did you find out he was a Coral? Did he volunteer it?"

"Hell no. Griffin wouldn't volunteer shit from his own asshole. I met him in The Pen, just like you first saw 'im. I kicked his ass then too, of course, and afterwards I stopped to ask him--cuz he looked familiar, y'know? I said, 'Hey, are you a Coral?' and he looked at me like I'd just finished fucking his sister--I mean, shit, maybe I have, I dunno, but that's not the point. He was like, 'How did you know?" and I said, 'Lucky guess.' He's been pickin' fights with me ever since."

"That's it?"

"That's it. He's a weird guy. ...Griffin should grow a goatee. I think it would suit him, don't you?"

"I... can't say I've thought about that, sir." Luth was relieved of that imagery when they heard Tami bellow across the bar, "/Cocksuckers/!"

"She seems angry," Luth noted cautiously, grateful that he wasn't on her warpath.

"She's just warming up. Anyway, what else would you like to know?"

Luth perked up, eager to take advantage of this opportunity. "Oh, tell me some stories from the Mist War."

Boss grimaced. "Stories? What're you, nine years old? Geez, Lu, you don't want to hear about that."

"But I do, sir."

"It was war!" he exclaimed, exasperated. "There were explosions, and fighting, and death. Lots and lots of death. You should shut up and thank your dragon gods you weren't there."

"Aww sir, I can't even ask what the Mist was like?"

"Mist? It was just this big fog... thing. You know about it."

"I know, sir, but I was just wondering what it was like to actually see it. Did it look funny? Or smell?"

"Smell?" He shrugged in rememberance. "I guess it did smell weird. You know the way the air smells before a storm? Kinda, I dunno, coppery? It was like that. That and... ashes."


"Yeah. I guess it was something between fog and smoke."

"I think they call that smog, sir."

"Haha. Well, you know what I mean. Or I guess you don't. But you know what the Mist really was, don't you? I don't have to explain that."

"Oh, I know. I'm grateful there isn't any Mist anymore, but I can't help being curious."

"Why? This stuff can't be that interesting."

"Oh, but it is. I love history."

"Really? I don't," Boss said moodily.

Luth frowned, disappointed. "I'm sorry to hear that, sir."

There was a slow, calculating pause, and then Boss turned up a sly look. "I can show you what it looked like, if you want."


"Sir, where are we going?" Luth asked for the third time.

The blue moon was full tilt over their heads as they crossed the river via a covered catwalk.

"I told you, it's a surprise."

Instead of taking the pedestrian route, however, they crept along the bridge's outer shell, their feet taking purchase on steel girders and jutting bricks.

Luth inched across a corner, stepping off the catwalk's steep canopy and onto a dark windowsil. "We're not doing anything... erm... not...?"

Boss was two steps ahead, pulling himself up and over a gutter. "Relax, Lu, you won't get into trouble. Now shh."

"If it's so safe," Luth grumbled as he porpoised onto the roof after him, "Why are we sneaking around and whispering?"

"/Because/, surprise. Just shut up and trust me."

Luth groaned and followed regardless. He was glad for his childhood's intrepid jaunts across Burmecia's hoods and steeples; he'd never be afraid of heights or soggy shingles, and he had a head for navigating rafters that came in handy now that he had to keep up with Boss, who wasn't hesitating at a single one. Really, for all the listing, pipe-meshed, colliding platforms and balconies, Old Treno really wasn't that different from his old neighborhood, now that Luth looked on its topside.

They took the high route over three streets and finally paused where a fork off the river pooled around a regal, limestone facade. A pair of granite griffins stood watch over the front gate, one pale spotlight dragging their pock-marked shadows into the recessed threshold. Boss perched on his toes atop a collapsed parapet, sizing up the entrance from a safe block away.

"What is this place?" Luth wondered as he shuffled to sit beside him. He accidentally knocked a broken stone down the wall, and watched it shatter on the cobbles after a queasy drop.

"Shh," Boss checked him again. "It's the King place," he explained quietly. "Well, the backside of it. Right there's the old famous auction house, though they shut if off and moved it a long time ago. Now they just use that part of the mansion to store treasure and hot shiz."

"Hot shiz?" Luth was baffled.

"Oh yeah, the real priceless shit. There's stuff in there that makes my vault look like a stamp collection. Actually, whenever I'm out to restock, I look here first."

"What do you mean, 'restock'?" Luth asked with dawning suspicion. "We're not going to try and sneak in there, are we, sir?"

"Oh no," Boss breezily shot the notion down. "Not through the door; that's crazy." He tossed a nod around the derelict watchtower and down the brick wall that snaked into the courtyard. "We're going in from the top, so we don't set off the alarms." That said, he bounded down the crumbling steps and began slinking through the antiquated debris like a lion across the savanna.

"Sir!!" Luth scrambled in pursuit, clumsily snaring him by the fuzz of his tail. Boss stumbled onto his face, wrenched about and took himself back. "What?!" he hissed impatiently, smoothing the fur back in place. "Lu, I love ya, but you're driving me nuts."

"Driving you nuts?" Luth countered, confounded. "We can't go in there! This is breaking and entering! This is a crime!"

"Possession is nine tenths of the law, rookie. I'm doing a little property reclamation."

"That's just what you're calling /stealing/!"

Boss's retort was sardonically pleasant, imitating one of his phone operators. "Thank you for calling, Lu. We highly value your input and in the future will need you to shut up so we can get past security." He pointed emphatically into the courtyard just beyond the sawtoothed ledge, where a brown suit and badge was stalking the well-kempt lawn.

Luth gasped and dropped to his knees, taking cover behind the bricks. He covered his eyes and whimpered, "We should turn back now, sir..."

Boss pried one hand off Luth's face, grabbing his attention. "Hey, hey! Get with the program, here. You know what these jerkoffs used to do? They bought treasure and expensive shit from cat burglars and thugs, then auctioned them off to rich idiots who didn't realize they were buying their own crap back. And I bet you two pennies to the buck they're still doing that to this day. I'm just cutting to the chase."

"You think the Kings might have something that was stolen from you?" Luth ventured.

"Well," Boss flaked, "It doesn't hurt to make sure, does it? Anyway, that's only half the reason we're here."

"What's the other reason?"

Luth should've known better than to ask. "Because, /surprise/, damnit."

"Um, but," Luth wouldn't give up, "Why don't you file a report with the police or try to reason with the owner instead of this insane vigilantism?"

"Please. The King family is a bunch of cutthroat old puckerasses. What do you want me to do, waltz in there and say, 'Hey man, you stole my stuff. May I have it back, pretty please?' You're outta your mind, Lu. And what did I tell you about cops? Besides, you're in Treno. The long arm of the law is too busy beating off the sheriff." He sat up on his haunches and resumed prowling. "Now, we gotta be quiet once we get in."

Luth cried as Boss pulled away, "But, this is crazy! We can't do this!"

"Why the hell not?"

"Because, karma, sir! Haven't you ever heard the saying, 'Two wrongs do not make a right'?"

Boss stopped, sighed, went back to Luth for the last time and vigorously shook him. "Lu--Lu! Are you listening to yourself?"

"I-I can't think because you're shaking me!" Luth dumbly rattled--he could virtually hear the alcohol sloshing in his skull.

"I am going to shake you until candy falls out. We're climbing the roof of the King mansion in the middle of the night in the most heavily guarded part of the biggest crime pit in the world and you're debating the ethics of breaking-and-entering with the King of Thieves. Have you ever heard the saying, 'Shit or get off the pot'? Because if you're going to piss and moan like this the whole way I'm leaving you outside."

Luth was jarred stiff. "No, sir, I won't! I mean, I'm not! I'm with you. I just wish you wouldn't do this."

Boss winked and let go. "Relax, kid, you won't get in trouble. You're with me, right? You have no idea how many times I've had to do this."

His constitution set, Luth crawled in Boss's footsteps, along the shambles of the outer wall and into the smoother corners of the estate. There was a quaint gumdrop path winding across the boxed-in lawn, its ornamental lights the only beacons for the solitary guard to follow. While he was busy skipping every other stone and humming in a trance, Boss slid up a drain pipe, across a porch, down the privacy fence and behind some prickly hedges, keeping along the fringes of every shadow.

Within a moment they reached a tool shed. Boss marked their targets with wide gestures as he dictated, "There's a breaker box in here. We're going to flip it so the lights go out--the alarm, too. While the guard is back here figuring out how to switch it all back on without waking everyone in the house, we're going to sneak in the gallery through the back door over there."

"If you say so, sir." Luth wasn't going to test him anymore.

"I sure do. Now, the only trick about this shed..." He nudged the doorknob, which wouldn't yeild. "Is that it's..." He growled softly, his thick fingers clawing the rift between the door and its frame. "...locked like..." One last, hard shove, to no avail. "...a retard. There's the lock on the knob here, and then a padlock on the inside, and I can see the key in it." He scratched his nose. "Hmm... waitasec."

Luth watched in bemusement as Boss pressed his back to the shed, threaded his tail through the crack and blindly guided it along on the obscured side of the door. "Ah... ah... com'on... it's right--and..." Luth heard a muffled jingle and then one flat /pat/, like striking dirt. "Aw, crap."

"Did you drop it, sir?"

"Yeah, the whole thing fell. What a tardlock. But I need a better grip on it! The lock won't hold still so I can pull the key out."

"Can't you just pull the whole thing out?"

"It's too big. If only I had another..." A twinkle lit his shifty grin. "You have a tail, too."

"I... what?" Luth clutched his own defensively and flicked his nose at the rickety shed. "I'm not sticking it in there!"

"Nothing's going to bite you. Just get your butt over here, before the rent-a-cop comes back this way."

"Um..." Luth timidly complied, sitting next to Boss and working his skinny tail through the break beneath the door. Together they fished for the lock and key, lost in a heap somewhere in the dark.

"This is weird, sir..." he had to comment.

"Yeah, well..." Boss shrugged, unable to finish the thought. "Oh! I got it. Do you got it?"

"I think so."

"Just hold it tight."


A metallic rustle indicated success. Boss swept the key out from under the door, tossed it into his hands and picked the shed open. The rest was too automatic, like striding across the shipyards to tag another box, or down to the foyer to talk to Sheryl--like another routine shift, another day on the clock. Boss found the breaker box and mussed the switches up. Then there was a blacker night and mild cursing, and Boss did everything he said he would, and the guard did everything Boss said he would, and Luth followed along like he said he would--the key even opened the back gallery door without a hitch. Luth would have stopped to feel his heart racing two beats ahead of the danger, but there wasn't even a second afforded for that.

And then he was standing in the gallery, and it was dark and quiet, and any noise Luth wanted to make from the pit of his heart was silenced with a simple glance and Boss's finger to his lips.

They padded across a polished hardwood floor, the expansive, delicate windows pouring rays of midnight over their toes and the plush carpet-runner. Boss took him up a slow, wide, spiral staircase and onto a crossroads to the upper levels. Luth panned a curious look around the chamber, which was swathed in breath-still ivory lace and decorated in patches with lush ferns in expensive vases. The vaulted ceiling sheltered a mural too intricate for nocturnal eyes, and straight ahead was a wall likewise hibernating.

Boss stood behind him, his hands light and persuasive on Luth's shoulders. "Right here."

Luth's brow rumpled in the dark. "What's here?" he asked carefully. "There's nothing but a wall. It's too dark to see."

"Just wait a minute."

He shed about a pound of fur on the spot when the electricity clacked on, all the gallery's subtle night-lights buzzing to life like fireflies. Boss chuckled faintly as he held Luth steady in place, directing his frantic glances to the yet-ignored wall. "Look, look."

"Oh geez that sca..." Luth looked, and beheld the largest painting he'd ever seen, several feet in breadth and nearly stretching from baseboards to rafters. Three dim, gilded portrait lights splashed over it just right, setting fire to the warm colors and watering the cool ones, like a field of wildflowers pressed to canvas. It depicted a grand, ancient landscape, a waterfall streaming off a cliff into peaked, smoky woods, and a sunrise so lifelike Luth wanted to shield his eyes.

The bronze nameplate read, "The Evil Forest, 1852," and Luth recognized the piece with an astonished breath. "That's an original /Michael/, isn't it? It's part of his famous Mist series."

"You know your art history."

"I did study a bit... Wow. It's so much more amazing in person than it is in a book." Luth was enraptured by the artwork, staring at the majestic scene as if it were just over the side of an airship, real and impossible to comprehend. 'Mist... How could someone make something so terrible look so beautiful?'

Boss was suddenly far off, his interest captured by something else. Luth snapped out of his reverie and approached him. "What are you looking at, sir?"

The Genome was parked over a marble stand and its velvet-nested package. Boss smoothly took the lid off the crystal box and withdrew a palm-sized orb that held all the hues of a black light. "Check it out, rookie. It's Dark Matter."

Luth had never heard of such a thing--it just looked and smelled like the most sinister... nothing. "Dark Matter? What's it do?"

The stone's lurid gleam was reflected in Boss's strangely reverent gaze. "Oh, it's somethin'. ...This'll do."

"Huh?" Luth couldn't question him, especially once the door downstairs shuddered, heralding the night watch. Boss briskly pocketed the treasure while Luth spun sharply on his feet--too sharply, evidentally, because in the next second Boss was writhing on the floor and holding his groin. Luth was washed with horror and fright when he realized he'd accidentally struck his boss.

"Fu--Geez!" the Genome frothed, his tail thrashing and his face as red as a moogle's nose. "I said I can't die, not that I'm immune to getting--kicked--in the--balls! What's wrong with you?!"

There was some lackluster grumbling and footfalls directly below as the guard drew closer, and Luth knew enough to not waste time thinking. He instinctively scooped Boss up and carried him off, down the opposite hall.

"The hell--" Boss gracelessly accepted his "rescue," muttering, "This is comin' outta your next check."

The rug bunched up under his toes as Luth skidded to a halt in a dead-end of a drawing room. "Very sorry, sir," he said unsympathetically, his mind rather on their pertinent doom. "The guard is coming! What do we do?"

"Shit, I don't..." Boss trailed off at the distant, telltale beeping of a keypad alarm being reset. "Shit! Uh, the window, quick!"

They scrambled for the glass portal, flipped the latch and wiggled outside in record time. Luth did not stall another second, leaping deftly off the flowerbox and onto the roof, which he crossed in three long, silent strides. Neither stopped until their feet were soundly on the wasted bricks of the abandoned watchtower, where they collasped in a fit of panting and insane cackling.

"Hahaha!" Boss roared while Luth spun in circles, checking every corner like a dog with a spider on its tail. It took a minute for the Burmecian to settle down, his hands yet shaking. "I can't believe we did that!" He flopped onto his back and pressed a hand to his chest, struggling to quell his fluttering lungs and heart. "Oh gods, why did we do that??"

"Haha, wasn't it awesome?"

"I can't believe we got away with that!"

Boss leaned over him, one lithe arm crossing his shoulders. "Were you scared?"

"It was terrifying!"

He flashed an incubus-grin, his hair spilling around his shadowed face like a bleached mane. "Really?"

"Yes!" Luth exclaimed, frazzled beyond repair. "We could have been caught, we could have gone to /jail/, we could have been /killed/--"

"That makes me so hot."

"My family would be disgraced--/What/?"

He said it low, deep, so simple, so easy, like he was asking him to just /breathe/. "Kiss me."

"W-what?!" Luth couldn't even see straight, still dizzy from the chase that almost was.

"Kiss me, Lu. Kiss me like you're crazy," Boss rasped, dipping close so the words were hot on his neck, and Luth was racked with the warmest shiver ever.

"I..." his voice jammed up and he didn't know what to feel, and Boss's eyes glittered like Dark Matter and they were going to get caught but they didn't and he knew it and loved it.

Becoming a Dragon Knight wasn't supposed to be this complicated.

"Or are you afraid?" It was quiet, challenging, dangerous, just--just /Boss/.

Luth did it, because he was--crazy and scared and everything. Burmecians don't even kiss like humans do; they can't, but damned if either was about to use that as an excuse.

He tasted like cigarettes, licorice, scotch and bubblegum. His tongue tickled the long roof of Luth's mouth and a giggle slipped out, on the brink of laughing and crying at once. It was way too messy and he slobbered over them both and they were doing it wrong, he was sure, but it was okay, they were always going to be okay because it was him and being okay was what he did for a living, whether he wanted to live or not.

Boss showed him how to do everything wrong.

So he kissed him, because he was crazy.

"Oh yeah," Boss purred predatorily, and Luth about drowned in his heady breath. You want this, too.

He could feel Boss's excitement through it all, brushing his thigh, tight and hard. His ears were pounding. His heart thrashed in his ribs. His hips bucked, fighting for flight, but Boss saddled him and the rubbing and catching of cloth and belts and skin and hair made Luth's groin ache and his throat shaky with a moan. Boss held his muzzle shut with a reassuring, "Shh," and they were doing it wrong, crazy teeth sinking into his neck, thief-fingers unwinding his belt and a calloused palm taking him.

His fur tingled with every hot throb in his veins and his tail lashed against the shingles and he remembered to breathe with a hitched snort and they were doing it wrong, all upside-down and backwards and tails around shoulders and ankles, the world spinning without him. Boss let go and crawled down on his knees and licked and sucked, bracing Luth's wide hips with one hand and touching himself with the other--and Luth hissed, wondering vacantly where it all went wrong.

"Sir... ah-a-a-ah-s-sir!"

"Hnn," Boss sloppily growled, "When are you going to stop calling me that?"

Afterwards, once Luth was spent and everything was tucked back in place, Boss sat up on one arm, wiped his chin and tittered, "Hehe, I can't believe you actually did it," as if it were a joke. Luth's face burned so hot he could've gone bald.


They found an inn, some backwater hovel under the docks, and Boss never asked for a favor returned--he never asked for anything.

"Did you think it was romantic?" was all he wanted to know, still laughing.

Luth was tired, sore and afflicted with Ipsen's malaise, so he only had the mind to petulantly reply, "I am not gay."

Boss threw up his hands, sincerely jesting, "Hey, then neither am I!"

He stopped calling him sir and went to sleep.
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