When Seifer awoke it wasn’t because his exhaustion had faded, it was because he had broken free from a nightmare. Sweat beaded across his forehead and dripped down his cheeks like misguided teardrops.
He shivered as memories, burnt in his mind, flared to life inside him, sending the echoes of screams shimmering across his eyes. He writhed in his bed and finally toppled right off as his thrashings became more pronounced.
For a moment he lay in a tangle of sheets on the hard floor listening, just listening, to his own ragged breath. His blonde hair feathered over his eyes and his eyes glistened with tears at the harsh impact. Seifer steadily calmed himself down and then eased himself into a sitting position where he began to unravel the sheets from his legs.
After a few frustrating minutes he was finally free and able to stand up. The movement was simple but sent him reeling from the sudden departure of blood from his head. Seifer swore and shoved the sheets away from his feet with a brutal kick as he slid around, his hand on the bed for balance. After a few moments he felt the dizziness float away.
The starchy hospital sheets left his hand as he took the first few steps by himself. He couldn’t remember much of what had happened, but every detail of the nightmares was there in such clarity he wasn’t sure if they were just dreams or not.
“Ugh, Hyne I’m stiff,” He growled lowly as he made it to the door and out, “The SeeD test!”
His memory clouded in like a thick London fog. Seifer began to hurry, across the floor, up the stairs, turn around, is anyone awake? His reflection stared at him, distorted, from the tiles on the floor. He turned around and fled to the elevator, nearly falling inside for his haste was so great.
Getting to Quistis’ dorm had never taken so long in his life. His fingernails raked the door as he stumbled again, his body not quite strong enough from the sudden leap out of bed he had performed. He slumped down to the ground and blearily knocked on the door, praying Trepe would be awake.
Naturally, even in her most catatonic states, Trepe was up. Marking. Making an exam. Staring at the ninth cup of coffee in double the amount of trips to her bathroom. She heard the ‘thing’ hit her door and her sapphire eyes narrowed. Pale fingers found her whip and held it in a death grip as she rose from her chair.
Like a cat she slid to the door and opened it quickly, prepared to start injuring whatever foul creature had come up. Instead she saw a little ball of Seifer. Trepe’s eye twitched as she studied this ball of silver and gold, crimson cross, trying to figure out what she was looking at. Her eyes widened and the ghosts that had haunted her eyes left in a shower of hope.
She knelt down and touched his shoulder, scrambling back when his head snapped up. Her heart hit her chest and she gasped as tears came up slowly.
“You’re okay,” she whispered shakily.
“Did I pass SeeD?” Seifer asked numbly, his face inches away from Quistis’.
“We wanted to wait until you were better,” Quistis whispered, her eyes wide and the stress dripping off her, “Are you better?”
“I’m better…I think. What in Hyne’s name happened to me?”
“A guardian force by the name of Psyche, what did you see?” Quistis felt her temper stir, of all the GFs to put him against…
“I saw my past,” Seifer replied shortly, and it was enough for Quistis.
She found herself stroking his back, comforting him while he gloomily stared off. Her voice returned when a sudden idea sparked.
“Would you like to come in for some coffee?” she asked hesitantly.
Seifer looked up, gratitude shining in otherwise dull eyes.
Quistis settled herself on the couch after getting up to make more coffee. They had talked in whispered hushes for hours and dawn was coming around to start a new day. Seifer still looked frightened with phantoms in his eyes but he spoke calmly now and neither of them brought up the subject of the SeeD test.
As for Trepe, knowing Seifer was okay made her feel like she could pull herself back together. Maybe everything wasn’t quite all lost. Whizzing through her marking and finding it easier to smile, she quickly set herself back on her normal routinely track. Seifer’s aqua eyes rested on her thoughtfully as she threw red checks and ‘X’s all over the papers and scribbled responses to some abstract ideas.
“Why aren’t you on the mission, Trepe?” He asked, his tone low with the intimacy of the room.
“…Stress leave,” Quistis gave him a tight smile but it soon relaxed, “They’ll take me off after this though. I feel much better.”
“What changed?” Seifer probed.
Quistis put her pen down and took a deep mouthful of coffee. Licking her lips she stared off into the distance before managing to meet his eyes.
“You did, Seifer,” She said ever so softly.
A mixture of emotions fell over the man’s face. Seifer held his breath and felt his heart constrict. Did she…care about him? Maybe it was about her job being completed. How could anyone care for the ex-knight of the sorceresses? But then…she and him had been growing closer…
“I…uh…I’m glad you’re going to be okay,” Seifer said hesitantly.
Quistis smiled and a little dimple creased her cheek, “I’m glad you’ll be okay too.”
They talked a bit longer though conversation had become slightly strained, both embarrassed about their mutual relief. Unaware of her low descent to slumber, Quistis was soon asleep, curled next to a dozing Seifer; his arm casually draped around her.
During the night Seifer had another nightmare.
He watched himself; unable to stop his limbs, as he dismembered the SeeDs, cut them all down. He was thrown from Garden, tossed into the snow of a winter’s cold day. Another failure to add to his list.
And then she came.
Violet-black robes swirling around her porcelain skin and amber eyes haunting his, it was his sorceress. A scream tore from his throat and Seifer threw up his Hyperion.
“Come back to me my knight,” Edea whispered.
“No!” Seifer yelled furiously, swinging the blade at her.
“You belong with me my knight!” Edea smiled softly, her eyes glowing.
“SEIFER! Wake UP!”
Seifer was jolted from his sleep as sticky wine splashed over his face. A dishevelled and thoroughly dumped Quistis stared at him from where he had tossed her on to the floor. Her hair fell over her eyes and shoulders and she was breathing heavily, one from waking up in Seifer’s arms, and two for being almost instantly thrown out of them.
“Quistis,” Seifer swallowed hard, his face pale.
“A nightmare?” Quistis asked, getting up and walking to her kitchenette for a damp cloth.
Seifer nodded silently behind her, knowing she wouldn’t see it. The blonde woman came back and tossed him the cloth, sitting back down and apologizing for the wine. Seifer nodded again, his mind hurting painfully.
“These nightmares have been going on for a while, as long as you were unconscious and up until now.” Quistis announced, looking displeased, “Perhaps we can get the Guardian Force Psyche to undo its damage.”
“I don’t know if I want another run in with Psyche,” Seifer said sheepishly,
“You won’t be an offensive target though,” Quistis insisted, “Give it a try, otherwise they’ll throw you on stress leave and never get any missions.”
“Was it that hard on you Trepe? Guess it would be, missing the opportunity to shine like you do,” Seifer smiled wryly and leaned back.
Quistis arched an eyebrow and sat opposite him on the couch, “And what does that mean?”
Seifer laughed at her dry tone, “Come on Trepe. Sure you go out there to do your job but everyone around you looks up to you. You’re the one in control aren’t you? You glamour up everything you do just by…by being you. If Trepe’s on the case we all know it’ll be executed gracefully. That’s why you’re so revered.”
Quistis appraised him quietly for his insight. She did quietly make sure everything she did was done with a steady composure. Coming from Seifer though, that seemed amazing. She had realized he had studied her so much while he had been at Garden and they had been less than friends. Things had really become different now.
“You’ve changed, Seifer,” Quistis informed him again quietly.
A look of such hope crossed the man’s scarred face and it nearly shocked Quistis with its intensity. But this is what Selphie had told her all along hadn’t it? Quistis smiled fully and then leaned forward and did something she never thought she’d do.
She wrapped Seifer in an embrace.
And received one back.
Squall breathed in the cool night air, feeling it turn to fire in his exhausted lungs. Selphie had fainted at his side and he now held the girl completely in his arms. Juniors were streaming this way and that, Kerei and Zell were fighting back to back against recruits from the warehouse, Irvine was tucked into a corner picking them off one by one and Michelle was trying to help the wounded. Irvine noticed the movement Squall had made and when he saw Selphie he ducked down and ran over to them.
“Squall! Is she okay? Is Selphie all right? Escape that way, believe it or not we have this more or less under control,” Irvine’s violet eyes glimmered.
“Right,” Squall nodded and then sprinted off through the shadows to go around the courtyard to where a quad was hopefully waiting for him.
And as luck would have it, there wasn’t. Squall swore. He began walking through the eerie dark town, fatigue getting the best of him until he was completely lost and alone save for the girl in his arms.
Sweaty bangs hung in front of his eyes as Squall stumbled down narrow roads looking for a place to hide, or sleep, or some method of transportation. He had trudged several miles, the hours leaking away, before he found something that made him smile. Stepping up to a dimly-lit booth Squall held up two fingers,
“Two for as close to Balamb as you can take me,”
A man squinted at him curiously and nodded, sliding two tickets Squall’s way, “The train will leave in twenty minutes.”
Trianon breathed out and then yawned. Blinking away her own fatigue, she looked around the pitch-black room and tried to find some sort of light source. Not happening. Opening her palm she blew into it and watched with satisfaction as a violet stream of flame came to life. Holding it out she walked down a hallway on the sixth floor and looked around for a window to escape out of.
She had lost Morgan and his helpers awhile ago. They were still looking for her though. They’d need a hostage if they ever wanted to get the plans for the Aries. Trianon lifted her thick cerulean ringlets off her neck and shook out her hair. My, but was it ever getting hot in there.
Her hand felt the hottest, her free one, not holding the flame. Frowning she looked down and felt her body stiffen. There was a little red circle travelling up her arm. Trianon dropped to the ground and rolled across the hallway. A bullet embedded itself in the thick flooring as the woman sprang up and began to run again. How had they come up so quietly on her?
Ever-shifting eyes scanned the hallway. She needed a window, or a door, or a staircase! Fortune smiled upon her as she turned a corner and saw quite clearly the silhouette of the moon gracing the sky with its silver-struck self. Racing towards it she dove, her foot coming out and kicking the pane of glass, feeling it shatter, tear through her armour, and give way to her weight.
“What the fuck? We’re on the sixth floor!” One of Morgan’s men slid to a stop and stared out the window.
Trianon fell in a free-fall. The wind sliced through her hair and stung her cheeks as the ground came up with a sickening quickness. She was falling towards the courtyard and its jumbled mess of SeeDs and escapees. Her eyes found Irvine trying to fend off two men at the same time close to where she was about to land. Raising her hand she watched one of the enemies with his back to her and quietly she directed her flame to just in front of him.
It exploded by his eyes, making him lurch back. The timing was nearly perfect, but as the flame subsided he began to move forward back to Irvine. Not fast enough. Trianon hit him painfully, wrapping her arm around his neck and swinging herself on top of him so they landed on the ground together.
Every one of her bones seemed to be rattled inside her as Trianon lay on the man. Her breath had been liberally knocked out of her and all she could do is concentrate on getting it back. Slowly she eased her body off, rolling on to her back and staring at the stars as they moved around her vision. Everything hurt. Everything.
“Trianon!” Irvine ran to her side and knelt down, “Are you okay? Are you suicidal?! That was a six-story jump!”
“Nowhere…else,” Trianon muttered in a daze.
“Listen doll, you jus’ stay right there,” Irvine whispered, touching her cheek lightly and jumping back up.
She did so. For an hour she lay there in quiet darkness, mistaken for one of the dead as the battle raged on.
It was a gruesome turn out with all hostages but three dead and more than one Junior planning on retreating from the process of becoming a SeeD. Irvine returned and Trianon was lifted on a stretcher, and then laid carefully on a quad backseat. By the end of the trip, however, she was looking much more alive.
“Call! Dincht, Zell!”
“Call! Feilan, Michelle!”
Irvine stood in line anxiously, there weren’t many present, but Xu had a list of the wounded as well.
“Call! Kinneas, Irvine!”
“Sir!” Irvine shouted,
“Call! Leonhart, Squall!”
And a terrible silence fell over them. Irvine frowned and looked over the group. Where the hell was Squall?
Squall was half asleep in the train with Selphie’s head in his lap, sleeping soundly. He had taken her to the washroom on the train and in the tiny sink washed her face, even washed her hair as much as he could.
He had bandaged her wounds, tidied her dress up, and when he was finally finished she looked more Selphie-like, despite her thin face and dark-rimmed eyes. Normally he wouldn’t have done that, but the guilt, and the horror at seeing her so displaced was gnawing at him.
In his daze he began to absently stroke her hair. He had done that with Rinoa so many times, just relaxing, and touching her silken hair. With Selphie in his lap it awakened so many memories of him and the raven haired girl, but Squall seemed to be changing. The memories didn’t make him sad, now he was angry, and confused, why would Selphie bring all of this up inside him.
‘Selphie isn’t as annoying’
‘Rinoa loved me’
‘Selphie doesn’t usually require saving…’
‘Rinoa reached out to you, pulled you away from your darkness…’
‘Selphie lets me stay that way, she likes me how I am.’
“Likes me how I am.” Squall whispered aloud, and his eyes widened.
It was a dawning piece of information to him. That was why he and Rinoa had never gotten along so very well, simply because the raven haired woman had always tried to change who he was, and Squall couldn’t do something like that so quickly. As hyperactive as she was, Selphie was much more patient with people than Rinoa. Squall bit his lip, he must be feeling pretty vulnerable to start thinking these things about Selphie. Though lately…
‘No. It’s because you lost Rinoa. You’re feeling sorry for yourself because you screwed up.’
Squall sighed and let his head fall back against the padded seat, his fingers entangled in the little girl’s hair. It was lonely, suddenly being alone. Waking up in empty beds and having no one to hold. He never imagined he would ever have this problem.
Morgan growled and slammed his thick boot into the steel door of their apartment. His amber eyes flashed with rage and he whirled around, glaring at the remaining men in his security unit.
“She was a CHILD! We let her escape! This is unacceptable. We need the Aries. If that pansy-assed crybaby girl we found hadn’t spewed all the information we’d never have this chance, we HAVE to take advantage of this!”
“Why not find that girl again? Get HER to take the plans,” One of the security guards suggested warily.
“No! We’re not using anyone else. There aren’t any written plans, we just need that girl.” Morgan hissed.
He began to pace. Furious for losing the weak SeeD and for failing in general, he now sought to get her back as soon as possible. The apartment was in the H district of the Qun’sho, buried in other apartments in a casual manor where Morgan doubted anyone would find them. He had stumbled upon some waif of a girl, black hair and coffee-coloured eyes, crying her eyes out and wandering around Deling City. From her he had learnt that the new commander of Balamb Garden was paying more attention to a new ship, and that some silly brunette was the one in charge for the most vital parts.
He needed that stealth ship. Two weeks earlier he had made a mistake by involving himself in a huge moneymaking scam with Esthar’s leading ring of crooks. Unfortunately for Morgan, because he was new to the ring he had been scammed himself, and his precious promise of money had been torn away. Morgan had needed the extra cash to put him in a prestigious university where he’d be guaranteed a good job and all the right connections. He had dreams of producing militaristic weaponry and selling it illegally to whomever had the most money, and everyone knew the highest in the hierarchy were corrupt. There was profit in it, if he went slowly and guarded his back. His father had done it, and lost the business when he was promptly shot by his competitors. If they had waited four more months to knock off Morgan’s old man, Morgan would have had enough to get into the university, a military-based organization in Esthar. Now Morgan had to get the money…and more, of course, just to soothe his anger, and the Aries would be his hidden trick. The ring was centred in a prison near Galbadia. Half the inmates were key-players to the ring, and the building itself was full of deceit and trickery.
It was shaped like a square, with open ground in the middle. Morgan’s plan was to fly the Aries in to the middle and attack that way. With a stealth ship they wouldn’t be detected until they were too close to shoot down.
And the Aries was key.
He had to get that girl again. It’d be harder, now that they knew she was a target. Of course…if they weren’t expecting anything…
“Move out.” He ordered quietly.
Quistis sighed and scratched another large ‘x’ on the paper she was marking. Some of these students amazed her with their inability to grasp the simplest concepts. She threw the finished test into the box with the others and stretched, looking at her empty classroom. It was very peaceful in there… evening classes had been dismissed two hours ago and Quistis basked in the tranquility.
“The SeeDs are back!”
An excited squeal from outside had the instructor up and ignoring the rest of the papers scattered over her desk and jumped up from the chair. As she strode down the hallway with a brisk pace she saw an anxious Seifer lurking around the elevator. Smiling softly she sped up and grabbed the corner of his trench coat collar, pulling him along with a dazzling smile as she did.
Seifer caught his breath and numbly followed the blonde. The past few days with her had been amazing. Patiently she had listened to his fears without once suggesting that he was now weaker. They had started training together in the evenings and she was always full of praise. He knew she was supporting him but…he felt good about it. Everyone depended on Quistis, and he felt no shame in doing the same. He was slowly getting to know a Quistis he had never seen, a softer woman who was generous and kind: a very loyal friend.
They stood in comfortable silence in the elevator; both wishing the machine would fall faster so they could see that everyone was okay. As the seconds flew by the elevator slowed and the doors slid open quietly. Quistis and Seifer tumbled out in time to see the SeeDs lined up under Xu’s gaze.
“Call! Leonhart, Squall!”
Quistis frowned when the noise hushed. Crystalline eyes searched the room and a new panic began to bubble up. Where was Squall? She saw Irvine look around in confusion and wariness and then Seifer stirred by her side, drawing her attention away.
“Squall and Selphie are missing,” He said in a low voice, his eyes looking troubled.
“Well. It won’t be the first time SeeDs have come in late,” Quistis said quietly, chewing on her lower lip as she looked around one last time, “we can just hope for the best.”
Seifer nodded and they moved forward to help tend to the injured. It was Quistis, however, who found herself by Irvine’s side first. The tall auburn-haired sniper was kneeling over Trianon and gently peeling away her suit while her glazed eyes watched him from under dark blue eyelashes.
Quistis watched passively as Irvine bandaged the young woman’s ribs, her torso a mosaic of bruises from her harsh landing. Irvine tenderly added the last round of whiteness, dampening the bandages so that they hardened into a protective shell around her pale skin. Trianon was silent as a stone as he patched her up. She was bleeding on her temple, and her hair was in tangles everywhere so Quistis, being one to relate with the desire for perfect hair, wiped the blood off, bandaged her head, and then began getting grass and leaves out of the Instructor’s blue locks. That brought a quirking smile to the woman’s pale lips followed by the softest groan, as Irvine had to turn her on to her side.
After the majority of Trianon’s hair was nicely smoothed out Quistis stood up and felt her heart leap into her throat. It was faint, but there were definitely two people drawing closer to Garden. One barely moving, more being carried along as they approached at a snail’s pace.
“Quistis…” Seifer appeared at her side, also gazing down through the open doors of Balamb.
They raced out together and dashed across the field. The wind streamed through Quistis’ hair as her long legs stretched out, trying to keep up with Seifer as he split the air around him with his speed.
Squall was more than exhausted. Selphie was light but the distance he had had to walk combined with the energy exhausted during the mission was beginning to wear on him. He had been able to see Balamb for miles now, the massive Garden lit up in celebration for its SeeDs returned.
His arm was coiled around Selphie’s waist and he was practically keeping her off the ground as he tried to bring them closer to home. She was delirious, mumbling incoherently and at times losing consciousness. He wished he had some food for her, or even some water. It was if he was holding a broken puppet now, in a torn princess dress.
After another hour of taking the tiniest steps and feeling his strength waver for the umpteenth time he heard two shouts ahead of him. Two figures running towards him, he couldn’t see much detail but he'd recognize their figures any day. Quistis and Seifer were blitzing their way to reach him, and Squall could barely believe his luck.
As he opened his mouth to call out to them three small ships slashed through the sky overhead. Squall looked up in shock, watching fighter planes streak towards Garden. Fire opened, and bolts of fiery orange laced the air, bringing a round of explosions. The figures of Quistis and Seifer dove to the ground on instinct, rolling to either side.
Squall crouched low, hoping that with his dark suit they wouldn’t be able to see him. He could see Quistis and Seifer running in a crouch towards him, and after an agonizing five minute wait while Garden began to fire back, the two SeeDs reached him.
“Squall!” Quistis flung herself down at his side, her crystal eyes looking crushed but nevertheless happy to see him.
“Quistis, what’s going on?” Squall demanded, staring at the horrific battle only a short distance away; they could even hear the screams.
“I don’t know! The other SeeDs just got back, I have no idea who those fighters are, perhaps the men after the Aries?” Quistis frowned with concern, “Garden has weapons loaded on it but we’re otherwise defenceless. Unless Xu covers for Nida and Nida takes the Ragnarok.”
“I don’t have my link,” Squall growled in frustration, “We need Ragnarok out there.”
“I’ll go,” Seifer volunteered uneasily.
“Seifer, you can’t run in open fire above you!” Quistis stared at him with a penetrating gaze.
“There’s a loose window on the lower floor of the West side of Garden, I can run around the side while they face their attacks on the front of Garden,” Seifer planned hurriedly, fierce concentration wrinkling his forehead.
Squall and Quistis shared a look, “How do you know about a loose window on the lower floor?” Quistis asked warily.
“Raijin and I…used it…”
“To break in, so you WERE the ones who caused that flood four semesters ago!” Quistis pointed accusingly at Seifer, who promptly turned crimson.
“HAH! Start running you fiend and I might not press charges,” Quistis narrowed her eyes dangerously.
Seifer nodded and took off, his trench coat waving behind him rapidly. After he faded from view, lost in the darkness, Quistis and Squall looked back to Selphie. She was breathing regularly but hoarsely, she looked terrible, but neither said it.
“Do you tease Seifer often?” Squall asked, not looking at Quistis.
Her head snapped up in shock, and then lowered modestly, “Sometimes.”
“He’s changed, hasn’t he.”
“He has, the pride is still there, but he’s forcefully pushing it out of the way to help. Squall he’s trying his best. People stare at him and he just looks away now, he’s bruised but, he really does want to help,” Quistis sent a pleading look to Squall who missed it completely as he looked down at Selphie.
Quistis sighed and ran a hand through her hair, making sure it was still decent from the run. There had been no accusation in Squall’s tone but she had the feeling he was testing her. Scooting closer she helped him sit Selphie up, watching in sadness as the brunette’s head lolled back and her limbs reacted like a puppet’s. Tears welled up in Quistis’ eyes and she was shocked to see the same happening in Squall’s.
“We need food for her, and water,” Quistis said, “We can’t do a thing for Garden, let’s go to Balamb.”
“Nothing is open this late,” Squall shook his head, “And that’s a long way to carry Selphie, we’re lucky enough that Garden isn't at FH anymore.”
“Squall, she won’t survive much longer if we hesitate, please, ….Ma Dincht will help us!”
Squall looked up, hope back in his eyes, “I forgot about her, let’s go, we can contact Garden from her house.”
The two of them lifted Selphie and began a very long walk to Balamb. Stiff-legged and tired Squall fought valiantly to keep up with Trepe, who was supporting more of Selphie now and wondering if pushing Squall on such a journey was an okay thing to do. The night was thick around them and behind came the sounds of open fire and just noise like nothing else. Quistis hoped Seifer would be able to get the message through, in times like this the upper hands were sometimes too busy getting things under control to leap completely into the offensive.
Selphie was deadweight in their arms and they carried her for what seemed like hours. In reality it was only one hour, since Squall’s previous location hadn’t been too far from the city. Wearily they trudged in, knocking on Ma Dincht’s door for 15 minutes before the tired woman blearily answered.
Two cups of tea later and with a plate of food Quistis and Squall were very much revived. They had fed Selphie the tea and when she stirred they fed her soft breads that were easy to chew. She had no idea where she was, and neither SeeD wanted to make their friend distraught by answering her delirious queries.
“You all go to bed now, Quistis, you’re in the best health so you can share my bed, you’ll be up early to get to Balamb, Squall, take Selphie to Zell’s old room, you two can sleep in there, bring this food up in case she needs it, there’s a dear,”
The three SeeDs went to Zell’s room first where Squall looked through Zell’s drawers and found two long shirts and a pair of pjs. Zell was a lot shorter than Squall but the commander put the pjs on anyhow. Quistis dressed Selphie and threw her torn dress on to the pile of uniforms they had slipped out of, while she donned on a shirt herself. Turning around she saw Squall peeling back the covers of Zell’s bed and then gently picking up Selphie.
“Keep her warm,” Quistis told him, “It’s cold tonight.”
Squall nodded and slipped into the bed with Selphie. He never even questioned what he was doing, he was too exhausted, and Selphie wouldn’t mind, since they had done missions where they’d crammed six people to a bed when necessary. After growing up with her all his life...and the ducky underwear…they’d been through enough that curling up around her body seemed like second nature. He wrapped his arms around her waist. The last thought that crossed his weary mind was that she felt softer than Rinoa.