Squall slid into his office that night and collapsed on the padded chair. He felt drained after spending so much time outside but he was beginning to be more social with the other elite SeeDs and he even felt fine about calling them his friends. Hell, he was speaking more often too…
The picture of Rinoa, framed, her on the balcony with petals in the air. There had been strange occurrences at Balamb where every time Rinoa was around there seemed to be a storm of flowers but those had ended when she left. The wind was teasing her hair, her smile was beautiful, coffee coloured eyes gazing deeply at him…
…That picture was gone now but he remembered every detail…
Her emerald eyes lit up as she came down the stairs, frail, ethereal, a nervous smile on her lips as she reached the table and began to pick at her food. Later jumping up, attaching herself to his side. Soft skin brushing over the smooth leather, another shy smile in his direction, those brilliantly green eyes…that smile…golden halos in her hair when the sun shone…
He remembered those details too, it seemed. Squall sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He cherished Selphie more than ever, he felt a sudden desire to protect her always, hold her close forever. They had all seen the scars on her body from the torture. Their little Selphie. Bruised. Beaten. How could they do that to such a darling face?
A yawn escaped his lips and he picked up the phone, dialling his father’s number easily though feeling his stomach flutter once it was answered by the secretary.
“Commander Leonhart, I’d like to speak with the President, in his own time,” Squall said professionally though his voice nearly wavered.
He set up a phone appointment and hung up. By tomorrow he’d be able to produce his plan to Cid and dispatch the SeeDs. He remembered when he had told the old man that he didn’t want to be Headmaster. Quistis would have done a better job than he would, but she didn’t want to either. With Squall as a commander it lessened the load and they were all happy.
Reclining back the man shook his bangs from his eyes and pictured Selphie again. She was still as cheerful as ever but now shadows hung in her eyes. He wanted to put the sparkle back into them. He wanted to make her happy again, and Squall had a feeling that she’d let him.
“It’s really peaceful out here,” Quistis murmured as the wind breezed over them gently.
“It is,” Seifer agreed, “Needs more action.”
Quistis shot him a look and jabbed him playfully, “Oh, come on now! It’s so nice out here, don’t you ever get tired of the battles and missions?”
“If I got tired of it I wouldn’t be a SeeD now would I Trepe?”
“True enough Almasy, and I must say, that uniform is quite becoming on you.”
As her cerulean eyes hit him, Quistis was amazed to see Seifer blushing. A giggle escaped her lips and he made a noise of protest but she teased him anyhow all the way back to the cafeteria where Zell and Irvine were girl hunting. They sat down together and talked until Squall made it, looking tired yet expressionless…somehow.
His eyes scanned the room and found no Selphie and he realized the disappointment was clearly on his face by the smiles that Irvine and Quistis wore. Quickly masking the emotion he sat down and pushed a piece of paper across the table. Quistis scanned it as soon as she could easily see the small font and then her face lit up.
“So we can go to Esthar?”
“Yes, Cid approves.”
“Hey, our payday is coming up isn’t it?” Irvine asked suddenly.
Quistis raised her eyebrows, “Yes, but we all have enough money to never have to work again so why does it matter?”
“I…I want to go and buy something,” Irvine sly grin.
“What sort of something?” Quistis pried while Seifer and Squall both looked on with interest and Zell vacated for the hotdogs.
“I was reading a magazine, one of Squall’s actually, it mentions a new metal alloy, light-weight, I was thinkin’ it would be good for a gun, if it could tolerate the heat and pressure of bein’ shaped.”
“Ask Instructor Trianon,” Squall suggested, surprising them all with a wicked grin on his face.
“Hey now, she’s a respectable lady,” Irvine shot back, mildly offended, “I’m not treatin’ her just like any ol’ girl, she’s got too much class.”
“So you do like her?” Seifer asked, his sea-green eyes narrowing slightly, “What’s your plan of attack?”
Irvine smiled again, a charming rugged smile that ladies all around the cafeteria swooned over, “Take ‘er to Esthar, we might need someone of her…qualifications.”
“Qualifications?” Seifer, Quistis and Squall all voiced at the same time.
“She’s special,” Irvine shrugged, a glint in his eye, “Now then, where’s Sefie?”
“Resting,” Squall replied shortly, “We need to decide who comes with us to Esthar.”
“Selphie stays,” Irvine announced, “An’ I want to go.”
“I’d like to go,” Quistis spoke up.
“Me too,” Seifer said in a hurry, promptly turning pink and then glaring at Irvine and Squall as they broke into grins.
“So, Seifer, Quistis, Irvine, Instructor Elvelyn if she volunteers,” Squall trailed off, “Zell?”
“Won’t be useful, hand to hand combat often loses against the bullet,” Irvine shrugged, “Keep him here.”
“Michelle then,” Squall scribbled down the names, “We’ll take some of the cadets who are ready for combat.”
“So you’re staying?” Quistis asked Squall,
“We need someone here just in case Balamb is attacked again, the Garden is a bit defenceless right now,” Squall replied stiffly.
“True, so Squall, Zell, Selphie and Kerei are staying, will that be enough?” Quistis asked Squall with concern.
“If you do your job right we won’t have any problems,” Squall replied smoothly, “And you have enough power between the SeeDs and Estharian soldiers to do so.”
“Right,” Irvine agreed, “Well. I’ll go talk to Miss Elvelyn.”
He shot them a wink and sauntered off.
“Hyne protect that poor woman,” Quistis murmured, making Seifer and Squall chuckle lightly.
Trianon’s eyes opened as she felt a presence enter the silent classroom she was in. Chairs sat in disarray from the students who had since leapt up and scattered to race into other rooms. She could hear the steps of the Cowboy…it had to be him with the jangling of the metal chain he wore…as he entered her room.
She looked up, passive-faced, as he stepped in and looked around for a moment before his indigo eyes rested on her own. He smiled kindly and walked over, noting that she was marking just like Quistis did in her spare time.
“How are your ribs?” Irvine asked conversationally.
“Quite fine, I took off the bandages this morning,” Trianon replied easily, her gaze redirected to the paper in front of her.
Irvine’s eyebrows shot up. Her abdomen had been covered in bruises, her ribs shattered in some places, and it had only been two days since her fall. Trianon didn’t seem to notice his surprise though for she kept talking.
“What brings you to my classroom Kinneas?” Trianon looked back up at him swiftly, her eyes were that of a hawk’s and he had the distinct feeling that only honesty would save him.
“I’d like you to come on the mission to Esthar,” He said bluntly,
“You’re an assassin.”
“We might need you.”
“I want you to come.”
“So you’ve told me.”
Irvine fidgeted, “I want you to come…because I want to know more about you.”
“Ah,” A smile crossed the lady’s face, “I’m training cadets in the cavern over the next 4 days, we’re trying to boost the amount of cadets ready for the next SeeD exam,”
“You can’t come?” Irvine looked crestfallen.
“Afraid not SeeD Kinneas, perhaps next time,” Trianon looked back down at her papers and scribbled a remark in red.
Irvine barred his face against his disappointment and eased himself out of the room. He sighed once he was out. It was rare to find a woman as interested in weaponry as he was, but she didn’t seem interested in him as a person. Perhaps it was because he was busy, or maybe she just…didn’t care. Another sigh followed the first. Quistis had slipped through his fingers and so was this new instructor. The cowboy shook his head.
“And people call me a playboy. Tch. Can’t even get the girls I want.”
The team of mechanics that came into Balamb worked all day and all night. The outer walls were repaired first so that any immediate attacks could be fended off with greater ease and the changing weather wouldn’t be a problem. The entrance was slowly being repaired, and the mess was cleaned up on the first day that they had come, while strings of plastic tape were strung along unsafe zones and marked where students should walk. Cid overlooked the progress with pleasure, since he had been distraught after seeing his beloved Garden blown to pieces in the front, and carefully appraised the work, wondering when it would be safe to return to land and commence classes. The students were certainly loving the break, most of them having rushed to the water for swimming or enjoying tourist attractions.
Balamb would take another week for the finer details to be corrected, more so if pieces had to be ordered in. Cid wasn’t looking forward to that but he knew the mechanics instructors were just itching to give their classes some hands-on assignments that would both benefit their experience and Balamb’s ‘health’.
Unfortunately for the students, Cid saw no reason to hold classes for an entire week, and he had every intention of getting them back where they belonged after their remaining two days were up. He also wanted Tilmitt to make more progress on the Aries, though he wondered if the efforts to capture the ship would be reinforced after it was completed.
The older man walked up the steps to the elevator and ascended to his office, there was much to be done, and he was the only one there to do it, he didn’t mind too much though, as Squall and Xu surely needed a break by now.
In his office he read over Squall’s proposal again. The man would make a fine Headmaster some day, if he ever desired the full position. Cid worried for him sometimes, since Rinoa’s sudden departure he had been even more moody than usual, but it seemed his friends were helping him with that. Matron always told Cid to ease up on the boy and leave him to his friends. They knew him better than anyone. Especially Quistis. Quistis…
“I wonder how she’s doing with Almasy,” Cid pondered aloud.
It was all over Balamb. The two blondes stuck together like twin pieces of honey. The frozen gaze of Trepe silenced those who didn’t trust Seifer, and the fire in Seifer’s heart eventually turned them to his favour when they realized how dedicated the man was. Every night Cid did his nightly walk and saw them coming out of the Training Centre. Quistis had her hair falling out of place, a flush over her cheeks and a sheen covering her skin. Seifer would be breathing hard, Hyperion clasped loosely in his hands as he pushed the locker room open to change. The woman was getting him back to shape for all his malnutrition when they first found him. Even his face had become more full though it carried a steel jaw and very defined bones.
It warmed his heart to see the two finally getting along. Oh, he’d see them bickering, neither willing to stand down until both would sigh, and then ignore the situation of they could. The maturation that had evolved between them was a golden treasure. Matron herself told Cid to cherish it, for he would never see Quistis nor Seifer so happy. She was right. Quistis’ blue eyes were brighter and Seifer was able to smile radiantly every time she came around. It was interesting to watch them interact with each other, and watch them test their boundaries with one another. If Cid didn’t know better he’d say love was in the air.
“I always was an old romantic,” He said nostalgically.
“Our break is almost over,” Selphie said sadly.
“One more day,” Irvine added dismally.
“What should we do?” Quistis asked, “We have the mission tomorrow at noon, but we still have today.”
“We’ve already explored FH top to bottom,” Squall spoke up, his blue-grey eyes staring into his coffee.
They sat at their usual table in the cafeteria, Selphie leaning against Squall’s arm, her face pale but her usual perkiness ever present, Seifer was reclining back in his chair, flicking little paper balls with a plastic spoon at Zell who was making a game at punching them away lightly. Occasionally one struck him in the face making them laugh.
The day was overcast, the seasons turning ever so slowly, and it looked like it might rain. Squall secretly hoped it would, because he liked the rain. He was beginning to enjoy Selphie’s presence, and he had been pleasantly surprised to learn that she could be quiet sometimes, when she felt the mood of placid solitude wash over Squall. He entertained her wild ideas and she entertained his need to be solitary by merely being his shadow. While she was still weak he took care of her, but he wondered what would happen when she was healthy and able to be by herself all the time.
“Spend an evening relaxing at the Pearl?” Quistis suggested, looking at them curiously.
“Another night at the pub wouldn’t kill us,” Irvine agreed.
“Sounds good!” Selphie chirped, then turning an anxious green-eyed gaze at Squall, “You wanna come?”
Squall appraised the faces watching him before nodding shortly. Selphie cheered and the rest smiled, even Seifer. The group decided to pack their belongings and meet each other at the Pearl for some last laughs before their mission took over.
Selphie didn’t have to pack at all, but her room was a complete mess from the break in. She hadn’t been strong enough to keep a steady job of cleaning going but now as her body became healthier she thought she could finish.
New drapes had to be bought, and a new pillow or two, as well as some new CDs but she’d do all that later. No tears had been shed because Selphie realized they had missed finding her journal, stashed on the underside of her bed and taped there.
She opened it up and flipped to the last written page and then backtracked a little. She had a picture that Matron had taken of them all as children. No one knew she had it, and it was something Selphie treasured. She was kneeling on the ground between Seifer and Squall, Irvine and Quistis were holding hands and grinning, and Sis was in between the two clusters, with an arm on Quistis’ shoulder and Seifer’s as well. After that was a picture of her and Irvine, him resting his head in her lap while she babbled about something or other. Xu had snapped the picture and given it to Selphie on her last birthday.
The pages were thick, scrapbook material, and she ran her fingers over them, tracing the corners of the picture and studying the emotions captured in Irvine’s eyes. Clear indigo, happiness, loyalty, amazingly enough the man had loyalty…Selphie had always been surprised about that.
A knock sounded on the girl’s door, making her jump and then scamper over with excitement. She was surprised, though, when she saw the tall stoic figure of Trianon watching her solemnly. Selphie didn’t know the cerulean-haired woman well, so she hesitated for a moment before managing a greeting.
“SeeD Tilmitt I was instructed to tell you through Headmaster Cid that the Aries is to be finished as soon as possible, and in this time I will be serving as your bodyguard.”
Selphie’s eyebrows shot off her face in shock.
Seifer stared at the folded SeeD uniform in his bag. No matter how long he watched it he couldn’t get used to thinking that the uniform was his. Quickly he piled on socks and boxers over the dark green jacket and threw in a few magazines to read while they were flying.
His dorm was largely undecorated. It had one poster of a shiny red car with a woman sprawled over the hood but that was it. Balamb…it was home now, but still didn’t quite feel like it. He threw in some combs and a bag of his bathroom commodities, mostly gel and other hair products into the bag and zipped it up.
He wandered into his bathroom, tossing a second check around the small space and then catching his reflection in the mirror. No longer were there shadows under his eyes so prominent and he was relieved to again notice that his cheeks weren’t so hollow. He still had a fox-like look to him though…
“Badass, sexy fox,” He murmured with a smirk before heading out and shutting the door.
A lone cowboy sat on his bed, a full bag off to the side and a dismal look on his face. It wasn’t too often that he was completely shot down, but then again, Trianon was an instructor, so of course she’d be busy. His indigo eyes stared downcast at his Exeter and he finally sighed, standing up and slinging his trench coat over his shoulder.
The mission would be interesting, he thought, as they didn’t come across mystery-type scenarios all that often. Usually the SeeDs would be shipped off, fight a few battles, rescue someone and come back home with an expression of “all that jazz” on their face to excuse the brutality of some of their more violent missions. They were soldiers, and they killed.
It was always nice to go to Esthar and see Laguna, walk around the malls with their ‘holo-screen everythings’ and personalized ‘bots that walked around and dealt with customers just like any real human would…Irvine preferred the country better but he didn’t mind seeing the flashy new technology.
Waltzing out of his room he passed Quistis’ room where the door was left open. He slowed down and knocked on the wall before looking in. Quistis was packed as well, which didn’t surprise Irvine because she was always ready for anything it seemed. Sitting on her couch she was organizing piles of papers that she’d take with her to mark in her free time, keeping them covering her lap and table entirely, the poor lass never got a break it seemed. A wave of affection rolled over Irvine because he had always regarded Trepe with some sort of awe. His little crush for her had faded slowly, out of respect for Seifer, of all reasons! Irvine was intuitive, and it was easy to see that Seifer was clinging to Trepe for support, support that she gave to them all. Seifer needed Quistis, while Irvine didn’t need her, he just wanted her. The blonde flicked her gaze up to Irvine and waved him in warmly as she slipped a stack of papers into a plastic case and threw in a few pens with it.
“Never a dull moment in the life of Trepe?” Irvine asked, gesturing to the papers as he sat down on the arm of her couch.
“Oh, it’s exciting all right,” Quistis replied sarcastically, a smile gracing her face though she sounded a bit tired, “Ready to go to the Pearl?”
“Yep,” Irvine grinned, just imagining his fingers wrapped around a mug of FH’s finest Seashell Brew.
Quistis began to shift the papers off her lap and as she grabbed her purse she tossed the plastic case on to her bag. Irvine’s eyebrows rose when he realized Quistis was wearing a dress he had never seen on her before, and since he had memorized everything in her closet he knew it had to be newly-bought.
“Like the dress Trepe,” He commented as the door slid shut behind her.
Quistis nodded, having never taken such compliments easily. It was a deep violet but with red undertones and clung to her figure though flaring out slightly above her knees. Irvine liked the material a gauzy invention layered to hide details yet pronounce so much…
He grinned wolfishly.
The walk to the Pearl was a quiet one with Quistis deep in thought and Irvine enjoying the view. The breeze was a cool one and even the air had a bit of a nip to it, so by the time the two arrived at the pub Quistis was wearing the trench coat that Irvine had carried with him.
They were the first to arrive and being fairly early they grabbed a padded booth seat to share with their friends and ordered the first drinks.
“Might as well warm up while we’re here,” Irvine said with candlelight glinting in his eyes.
Quistis smiled another warm smile and nodded, “I haven’t had a glass of Deling’s finest wine for ages,” she agreed.
The clock was ticking by, urging Squall to finish over seeing some constructional problems that they had run in to. Not enough tiles here, hit a pipe here, by the way, we have to knock out your power for a day…hope you don’t mind!
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, pursing his lips and scrawling out a signature. What else could they do? They needed Balamb in top shape, and he had a bad feeling that if they didn’t fix the place up they’d be in a lot of trouble.
A beep from his clock jolted him out of his thoughts and he realized he was going to be late. Hurriedly he got up and strode to the door, locking the office behind him and jogging to the elevator. Running down the stairs and out of Garden he dashed across the docks leading into FH.
As he ran he caught side of a figure ahead of him. Instantly Squall slowed down, his eyes narrowing as the waif of a person drifted closer in a disjointed walk. It was a female, he could tell by the curves, but she looked more like an apparition. Long black hair twisted in the wind and her attire…long billowing white sleeves, everything near-translucent, long and flowing around her. Squall’s hand dropped to the hilt of his gunblade warily.
The figure ahead of him suddenly stopped for a moment, too far away and too dark to see her expression. She had seen him though, he was sure of it. His breath hitched as she suddenly ran towards him. He felt magic light the air and suddenly she was there, right in front of him, arms reaching for him and her body melting against his.
“Squall!” she moaned.
A thousand needles stabbed his body in shock and Squall felt his head tip back, his throat close and an icy numbness seep into his limbs.