“Here! Take this!”
“Get those juniors under cover!”
“Heads up, they’re firing again!”
“SeeDs! Report to your stations immediately, prepare Garden for mobile action and the release of the Ragnarok!”
“Seifer, I’m glad you came back, you’re certainly turning your reputation around.”
“You flatter me Xu, really, you do,” Seifer shot back sarcastically, but enjoying the playful side of their banter.
He had dashed back and snuck in to find Xu herding juniors and cadets around like frightened lambs. They had barely covered their tactics lessons and currently had no experience. Having their safe haven be fired upon was not good for their morale.
A flustered Nida was just looking for an excuse to release the Ragnarok. With Seifer there taking over Xu’s job, Xu was able to pilot Garden and Nida headed down for the Ragnarok. Used to being on the Disciplinary Committee, Seifer engaged his deadly tongue to snap the students out of their daze with some tough love, and get them to their safe holdings in the lower levels of Garden while it began to lurch away into the ocean.
Morgan’s fighters laughed gleefully as they, for a moment, were able to shoot directly inside the walls of Balamb. They flew around, blasting out windows and firing at every moving target they could find. The object was to cripple as much as possible, and create entranceways for later.
“This is great, what weaklings, and they call themselves soldiers! Since their Aries isn’t finished we don’t even have to worry about getting hurt!”
“Don’t get cocky Aaron, they still have some weapons, look out, see? Canons off the side.”
“Bah, those old machines are slow, c’mon Davies let’s have some fun, over there, two running away.”
The two men flew around, firing their lasers down on to the field and Garden. Both wore smiles of victory and cheer as they watched the hordes of SeeDs run in every direction.
“Hey, wait, they’re moving it!”
“So we can follow for a short distance over seas,” Aaron snapped.
“No, wait, what the hell is that?!”
A massive shadow flew over the sky, laced with red, looking like a giant bleeding dragon. Both men gasped as massive arcs of weaponry assaulted them.
In the sky there were two sunbursts of explosions as sparks showered to the ground in an apocalyptic rain.
Nida breathed a sigh of relief and landed the Ragnarok outside of where Balamb Garden would shortly be returning. His hands were sore from gripping the controls so tightly and when he stood up he closed his eyes for a moment. Garden would be in bad shape.
Back in the building Seifer smiled and looked at the huddled cadets behind him. They stared back with wide eyes and watched as he spread his arms and gestured to the ruined walls outside.
“Well, start cleaning kiddies.”
Balamb took a rest at FH, to begin repairs that would last all night. Nida contacted the Garden and told them that he’d pick up Squall, Quistis and Selphie the next morning and in the meantime everyone had their hands full with cleaning up the wreckage. The damage to Balamb had been significant along the exterior architecture.
The injuries had doubled now, and Dr. Kadowaki had her arms full. Cid was touring around looking at the singed walls and places were holes let moonlight stream through. The entrance was torn up completely. It would need new flooring soon but right now that area had rubble strewn over it and a few unconscious cadets. He made lists, and sighed, but was grateful so many SeeDs were safe.
Irvine sighed and kicked a chunk of Balamb down some ruined stairs. Trianon and he were sheltered in the hallway leading to the Training Centre and through the pandemonium he had lost sight of Quistis and Seifer. Trianon was holding her ribs gently, looking around with clear eyes, and surveying the damage. Much to the SeeDs horror, one of the cadets, suffering a slit throat when a fall beam lanced past him, had stumbled up the stairs only to topple in his death into the moat that ringed Balamb. An unpleasant pool of blood was growing around the floating body now.
Waving the dust out of the air around him, Irvine shared a look with Trianon and they carefully stepped over the patchwork floor to see where they could help.
By the morning most of the rubble had been sunk to the ocean floor. It was pronounced that they’d have 4 days off while mechanics were brought in to fix immediate needs in Garden. Seifer changed his dirty clothes in favour for some cleaner ones and then checked the mirror in his dorm. Oh, but was he ever a golden god.
Strutting out with a healthy glow amid the ruins he found Irvine lounging on one of the balconies that rimmed Garden. The Cowboy was seated, stretched out with his hat tilted down making Seifer wonder if he was sleeping.
“You can watch me all day long, won’t get ya anywhere though.” The lazy voice floated up.
“I didn’t know if you were sleeping,” Seifer shrugged and stepped out into the daylight, squinting against its harshness.
Irvine’s violet-blue eyes watched Seifer sink down and sit. The taller man didn’t seem to want anything more than light companionship. Irvine understood, he was trying his hardest to fit in. A spark of information flickered back in the cowboy’s mind and he sat up abruptly.
“Hey, you hear about Fuujin? Her an’ Raijin are movin’ back to Garden,” Irvine said, hoping it would bring some life to the blonde.
It had the desired effect as Seifer’s aqua eyes snapped up to Irvine’s. He looked shocked, happy, sad for a moment as he recalled some bitter memories, and then happy again.
Irvine nodded and smiled a little before leaning back and shading his eyes. They sat in comfortable silence, both dazing off into dreams for a few hours as the sun climbed overhead.
“Wake up boys.”
Irvine muttered and tilted his hat back to crack an eye open at the latest visitor. He sat bolt upright and leaned over to kick Seifer awake.
Squall awoke with his face buried in Selphie’s hair. He rolled away, blinking wearily and then realized what had happened. Getting out of bed and tucking Selphie back in he strode down the stairs trying to ignore the leftover warmth from the girl’s soft body.
Downstairs Quistis and Ma Dincht were talking quietly and Nida was sitting with them. Squall’s eyes widened in surprise before he looked at the clock and realized it was the afternoon. He sat down slowly, still in Zell’s clothes, though he had rolled the pants up to his knees so they didn’t look so ridiculously short on him.
“Well?” He asked softly, fixating Nida with a stormy gaze.
“Balamb will recover, I spoke with Xu this morning and we’re going on a four-day holiday while the majority of the damage is fixed, good thinking with sending Seifer back, he…he’s trying really hard,” Nida said softly,
Quistis smiled, “That he is.”
“How’s Selphie?” Nida asked anxiously.
“Good, she looks a little better, I’m letting her sleep a bit longer,” Squall said quietly, looking up the stairs and flicking some bangs out of his eyes, “she’ll need more solid food in her though.”
“Why don’t you wake her up and we’ll get something for you three to take with you to give to her,” Ma Dincht suggested, hurrying to the kitchen.
Squall nodded and he and Quistis went upstairs. Ma Dincht had washed their clothes, even what was left of Selphie’s dress. Quistis roused Selphie and helped the weak woman into her tatters while Squall changed and went back downstairs.
“Morning…” Selphie whispered as she came down, still looking dazed but more or less alert. Her skin was a patchwork of bruises and lacerations, making the SeeDs and Ma Dincht pale.
Squall smiled weakly and then pushed the food in her direction. The brunette sat down and ate slowly at first, then more quickly until they had to stop her. Too much food after being starved wouldn’t help her. She drank a few cups of tea and then smiled more convincingly at them. After seeing her lips quirk up Squall could feel the tension leave his body. Selphie would be okay.
They stocked up on edibles and helped Selphie up from the table. She instinctively went to Squall who kept his arm around her waist, a little surprised but nonetheless pleased. Ma Dincht saw them off with a worried look and the troop was off once more.
It had been an odd experience for Selphie. Waking up in the middle of the night, wondering where she was—which seemed to happen a lot—and then feeling a warmth against her. She didn’t have to question who it might be, his head was tucked close to her own and Selphie could see Squall’s bangs feathered in her own hair.
She felt an overwhelming sense of safety, locked in his arms like that and her sleepy mind told her she could get used to this feeling. Slipping into slumber she didn’t open her eyes again until Quistis was gently waking her up.
As she trailed nervously down the stairs, testing the strength of her limbs, she looked up and saw Squall watching her. He had a tiny smile on his lips, he looked so concerned she wanted to burst into tears. She had been surrounded by uncaring brutes, torturing her for days, and at last she was safe, here with her friends.
When the first sample of food hit her stomach she closed her eyes and reeled in the flavour. Soon she was trying to eat as much as she could but her friends stopped her, regrettably. Selphie blushed a little when she realized how much she had ate but her smile of amusement brought the attention away from her stomach and back on her.
As they left for the Ragnarok Selphie found Squall and buried close to his side. She couldn’t explain the need for contact right now, but she remembered the heavenly warmth close to her all night. She needed that right now. On her other side, Quistic held her hand and smiled encouragingly at her. Selphie beamed back, feeling a rush of gratitude for her friends.
When Squall’s arm snaked around her waist she gave a soft sigh at his acceptance. The cold exterior of Squall was so often unyielding, and she was amazed that she had managed to get past it; he must have been really worried about her.
Morgan’s fist slammed through the wall, coming out with chalky residue plastered to the blood on his knuckles. Livid, enraged by the incompetence of his men, the leader seethed. Amber eyes flashed as he stalked through the room, his remaining men watching him warily, unsure of the temper of the man as he looked around angrily.
He was unaware of the pain in his hand. Only the certain fate that would behold him if he wasn’t able to acquire the Aries. The men in the ring would know he wanted revenge. He was next on their list to be disposed of. Morgan could almost hear them, crawling around…waiting to…
“Get down!” Morgan yelled, dropping to his stomach as the glass windows in the room exploded into a hailstorm of fragments.
The men swore, finding shelter immediately, their dark clothes standing stark against the whitewashed walls. Morgan tasted blood on his lips from biting them, he hadn’t expected to be struck so soon, but then, was that not the same tactic he had just tried to use? Balamb survived, and so would he.
He rolled across the room to where the kitchen table lay upturned in the hassle. Behind it was a closet that Morgan knew to have guns and other weapons inside. One of his more loyal men was already there, tossing out the handguns, sliding machine guns across the floor and packs of ammunition through the air.
“Mr. Morgan, I advise you come out,” An oily voice could be heard through a megaphone.
Morgan hissed and jerked his head, urging his men to get to windows, anywhere they could shoot from. His long tail of ebony hair was covered in powdered glass, and his hand was now throbbing from his past fury catching up with his present.
Morgan stood as the beams of a spot light struck him full on. His men, about fifteen in total surged forth, pouring out the window from their ground-level apartment. In the streets the shadows of inmates set free glittered over the asphalt and across the buildings, thrown over the glassy roads of Esthar’s higher platforms. Morgan let bullets spray forth, spinning in a circle and dropping down to avoid being shot himself.
Morgan’s eyes widened in horror as the apartment behind him bulged and then in a ball of fire collapsed, sending the entire building into a shaking smoking mass. He ran as flames spread wildly up the building, and dust and smoke poured down across the street, obscuring everything.
“Don’t bother Mr. Morgan, you have no where to go.”
Morgan swore, seeing nine of his men left, all in a circle near him, surrounded completely. His dreams were being shattered, his life was drawing to an end, and Morgan would not take it.
His muscles rippled as he lunged for the nearest man, hooking his arm around the other’s head, snapping him around and spitting up blood as he received a punch to the stomach. Sweat poured from his forehead and Morgan tumbled to the ground only to roll back up and shoot another in the chest. His eyes burned fire, reflected from his wasted home, and shining through from his heart.
He would not be taken.
Shots rang out. Bodies fell. Morgan was captured and thrown to the ground but he went easily, his gun trembling with every bullet let loose. Blood soaked his shirt from his own body and mostly from others. The snarling faces of men turned insane glinted at him in the flashing spotlights that turned their battlefield into strobe-lit chaos. Qun'Sho guards were now pouring out, shouting, demanding answers. Knowing he had to leave soon, Morgan climbed to his feet and just as he moved to take a step he felt a hand grab his neck.
Fingers closed over his throat and Morgan was lifted off the ground. The darkness of night was all around him, shot through with silver stars. How could this happen? How could it end so soon?
Quistis looked down at the two men and smiled brilliantly. Irvine had a sunny smile on his face, his eyes still shaded from view. Quistis could see that he looked tired but he was pleased to see her, which warmed her heart. Seifer was staring up at her with wide eyes, which quickly turned to his usual closed-expression, leaving Quistis a little curious.
“I hear ya heard about the break?” Irvine asked.
Quistis smiled and looked down, “Yes, well, it’s such a lovely day, Squall and I are going to take Selphie on a picnic, she’s been tested on all night and wants to go out in the sun.”
Quistis fidgeted. She was wearing a pale slate blue sundress that made her eyes seem to be more vibrant and deep and having the cowboy’s eyes trail her figure made her self-conscious. He only did it once though before his violet orbs rested on her eyes and stayed there.
“Anyhow…you two are invited if you want to come,” Quistis smiled at them and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her head.
“Sounds good,” Irvine stretched like a cat and then stood up, towering over Quistis, and tipping his hat at her.
The blonde woman grinned and extended a hand to Seifer who took it with less reluctance now. He had warmed up to Trepe easier than he thought he would’ve. But it was still hard to grab the beautiful lady’s hand when she seemed so pristine compared to him. They were all soldiers in the end though.
With Quistis in the lead, the trio trekked off to where Squall was holding Selphie tightly and helping her into a small boat they were renting from FH. Irvine shared a look with the two blondes as they watched Squall stiffly, but gently, offer his shoulder and arm for Selphie’s benefit until she had settled in the boat.
She had been so weak, and still was, her limbs craving nourishment but her mind as active as it always was now. She had been plugged into tubes for a night, getting her body replenished. Selphie was still tiring easily but she had curing potions and elixirs by the dozen to carry with her when she needed an added boost.
As Irvine hopped in the boat he winked at Selphie and then moved over so Seifer could jump in. As the blonde began to cross the boat drifted further away, though with some awkward manoeuvring Seifer managed to get onboard. This left Quistis.
“Um…can ya step over that?” Irvine asked doubtfully, looking at the lady’s skirt and the gap between docks and boat.
Quistis peered into the dark water and shook her head slowly, “Don’t think so, can you move the boat back, please?”
“…No…can…do,” Seifer strained to reach the rope but it was just out of his reach, sinking in the water.
“Hey, just jump, we’ll catch ya,” Irvine grinned.
Quistis paled, and Squall and Selphie shuffled over with dubious looks. Seifer found himself grinning as Quistis tossed over her purse and then backed up. She took a three step lead and then soared through the air. As she did so the clip from her hair loosened and her blonde locks fluttered out in chaotic disorder that was somehow poetic. Seifer reached up, as time ceased its slow motion and Trepe sailed into his arms somewhat unsteadily.
“Seifer don’t step back!”
As Quistis landed in Seifer’s arms the boat wobbled unsteadily. Seifer’s grin faded and Quistis’ smile turned to alarm as a massive squeal was set up by Selphie…
…Quistis coughed and groped for Seifer who was treading water, laughing hard and barely able to keep afloat. His trench coat floated around him and was weighing him down, but he didn’t dare take it off. Selphie was lying against the upturned boat, mourning the loss of the watermelon and a sandal, and Squall was resting on his back in the water calmly, staring up at the sky with a blank expression.
As Irvine surfaced he sighed and blew his wet bangs out of his face before swimming around looking for his cowboy hat. Slowly they all migrated to the boat and when they all reached it Quistis began to giggle. Irvine shook his head and laughed helplessly, then before anyone knew it they were all laughing, even Squall.
“Here, let me give ya a hand, Sefie,” Irvine leaned down and took Selphie’s hand.
With Squall’s hands on her waist, and Irvine helping her lift up, the brunette was able to get back on the docks. A soaking Seifer and quivering Quistis sat with their legs hanging off the wooden planks watching as the rest of their friends surfaced. The boat was a white protrusion in the water, forgotten as the friends squeezed out ocean from their clothes and hair.
“Well what should we do now?” Quistis asked, trying to pick out dirt from her wet dress.
“Walk around FH until we’re dry?” Irvine suggested.
“Are you up to that Selphie?” Quistis asked.
“Yeah, I wanna get out more!” Selphie smiled brightly, “We can have so, so, so much fun! We can go shopping at the touristy places and maybe get some ice cream!”
“Tourists?” Seifer raised his eyebrows.
“Of course! That’s where all that tacky merchandise is!” Selphie giggled.
Irvine rolled his eyes and they stood up slowly, their wet clothing plastered to their bodies and making the entire group wince. Squall looked the unhappiest with tight leather mashed to his skin and the fringe on his jacket dripping. He pulled the taunt material off his arms and slung it over his shoulder, missing the admiring glances from Quistis and Selphie as his toned arms slid into view.
The blonde woman exchanged a glance with Selphie and the two smirked. Quistis was not oblivious to Selphie’s sudden interest in Squall and she was more than thankful that Squall seemed to accept the brunette as well. Either it was his sudden loss of Rinoa or his near-loss of Selphie, Quistis wasn’t sure what triggered the feelings that the stoic man seemed to harbour.
As they walked along chatting amongst themselves Selphie struggled to stay awake. Her body was in recovery but inside she felt so cheerful and buoyant. Squall was beside her, not touching her anymore since they were still drying off, but he was close enough that she could feel the heat radiating off him. They were idly coming down a wide road with some market places appearing on either side. Quistis found a place with milkshakes so they trailed off to the side of the street and all sat up on a stool.
As Selphie took a sip of her chocolate shake she looked up to see a small holo-screen displaying an explosion in a Qun'Sho residential district. She frowned, her emerald eyes watching closely as it showed. She nudged Squall and the others hushed as they leaned forward to listen to the reporter.
“…19 were found dead and 6 were wounded, when the Qun'Sho guards came they discovered the apartment belonged to a young man by the name of Morgan—”
Selphie paled as a picture of her captor flashed on the screen. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Squall’s hand tighten around his glass and Irvine and Quistis gasped as Trepe quickly scribbled down the name.
“—said that the man was not counted amongst the dead. If anyone has any information about the location of Mr. Morgan, please contact Qun'Sho officials…”
Selphie swallowed a mouthful and then sighed, “What do you think happened?”
“He must have targeted someone else as well,” Seifer said with a shrug, “What do you think, the body could have been destroyed in the explosion.”
Quistis nodded, “It’s entirely possible. We can ask the Qun'Sho royal family to hire the SeeDs and that way we can see for ourselves. Or we can investigate undercover... might be better actually. Why don't we station ourselves in Esthar?”
“I’ll phone La…my father, tonight,” Squall nodded, his eyes reduced to chips of stone, “If Morgan is still out there he might be even more desperate to get the Aries, though, he may be in more trouble than we know in which case the ship is the last thing on his mind.”
Irvine nodded and then looked at Selphie, “When’s the Aries gonna be finished?”
“Soon,” Selphie said with a brilliant smile, “After I’m back on my feet for good I can start constructing the engine.”
“Why don’t you stay behind and do that Sefie. We can split into two groups and half of us can go to Esthar,” Quistis suggested.
“Sounds like a plan,” Squall nodded.
“We better get Zell hooked up with us,” Irvine added.
Later when they returned, Irvine was the one to tell Zell of their trip. The little blonde’s eyes lit up and he fist flew to the air,