Phase XIII: A Truce
Squall got comfortable in the driver's seat waiting for the rest of the group to settle and pack their supplies in the trunk. He glanced at himself in the side mirror of the car noticing dark circles and bags rim his eyes. Just as he yawned for the millionth that morning, Angelus walked by looking just as exhausted.
The two had called it a late night, but couldn't get much sleep from the events that took place in the warehouse.
After their little meeting with Zone the night before, the two had a hard time falling asleep. Squall spent most of the night lying on Vaughn's living room floor just staring at the ceiling. For the first time in ages, he found himself thinking about Rinoa. As he mentioned before to Angelus, her involvement in all this could cause severe complications. They weren't just dealing with the Galbadian government anymore, but a sorceress that could very well destroy cities, kill innocent people on a whim, and cause devastation as she saw fit.
"Gimme a hand here, Leonhart." Angelus called him. Squall took a final sip of his black coffee and tossed the paper cup aside. He dragged himself out of the driver's seat to tend to the large black garbage bag that sat on the ground just behind their SUV.
As Angelus grabbed Zone's ankles, Squall took his shoulders to hoist him into the trunk. The garbage bag was Angelus' idea in the case they were pulled over by highway patrol at any point of their journey. Zone didn't seem to mind; he was out cold thanks to a heavy sleep spell cast on him earlier this morning.
Squall slammed the trunk shut. "What if he wakes up?"
Angelus scratched his head, stifling a yawn, "Then Selphie's gonna cast another spell."
Vaughn walked over slapping the black body of the vehicle, "You bring this one back, ya hear? I don't get cars like these very often."
"We will, Vaughny boy." Angelus waved him off.
Squall walked up to Nida, "You sure you wanna stay here?"
"Yeah, don't worry about me." Nida told him. "I'm good with the SeeDs."
Squall nodded, "Keep your eye on them. Make sure James doesn't do anything stupid."
"Gotcha, sir." Nida saluted, and Squall made his way back to the driver's seat. He stuck the key into the ignition, and the car rumbled to life. After everyone got strapped in, Squall drove the car onto the dirt road leading out of Fisherman's Horizon towards the northbound highway that lead to Deling City.
Estharian Presidential Palace- Esthar City
The doors to the presidential office burst open, and the quick clicks of pointed heels announced her arrival. She was formally dressed in full uniform, consisting of a light blue blazer with gold Esthari trim stitched into the shoulder pads, and a matching pencil skirt. Her short blonde bob brushed against the top of her shoulders and framed her face. Blue eyes were trained ahead, peering through black rectangular glasses at the man sitting behind his large glass desk.
In toe was her second in command, Xu. She wore a similar uniform with less metals pinned to the breast of her blazer. Her brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and her expression was stoic to match her superiors.
The women purposely walked onwards until they stopped their gait right in front of President Loire himself.
Contrary to the warnings and empty threats of his secretary, the president let out a heavy sigh of relief, tearing his eyes away from all his authorization paperwork. "Thank god! I was getting so bored of…" he re-read the heading of the document, "Taxes on condo developments?"
"Seriously," He said, "I honestly wouldn't bother livin' in one of those. It's so confinin', and the prices are insane. Even I wouldn't pay that! Have you seen the cost of maintenance fees in Esthar? Is that normal?"
"Mr, President," Quistis Trepe saluted him, "We have received information on what's going on outside the HEX Shield."
"Finally!" He moved himself around the large desk, throwing his hands in the air, "I haven't heard from anyone in over a month."
"You wont like the news, sir." Xu said, curtly.
His green eyes looked over at the ex-SeeD turned lieutenant of his army, "Please, we've been through this. Laguna is fine."
"Just being professional on the clock, sir."
He looked at his watch, "Well, you got ten minutes, and after that you can cut the 'sir' crap."
"President Loire," Quistis interrupted, "Our sources tell us that Dollet has been attacked as well."
Laguna looked at her, shocked, and in utter disbelief. He felt like he was going to faint. He needed to depend on the desk behind him for support. "Is he…"
He allowed air to fully enter his lungs to maximum capacity and then back out slowly. His doctors always told him to take deep breaths to elevate the leg cramps, "Is there any word on my son's well bein'?"
Quistis' eyes softened, "No, sir. I had some of my men flown into Galbadia, and Squall has not turned up yet."
"Any reason why Dollet would be attacked?" Laguna asked her, "Is this somethin' we need'a worry about, Trepe?"
"Upgrades have been made to the shield." Quistis assured him. "It's cloaking and security detection software are running the latest version."
For the past two years, the eastern continent was at peace. Esthar had been running as smoothly as ever under his administration and still isolated itself from the rest of the world. Laguna Loire couldn't help but feel trapped within the walls of this metropolis. His men constantly reminded him that it was for his own safety as he was the President, but that didn't stop him from worrying. His own flesh and blood, his son, was still out there somewhere. He could have been displaced, injured, or even dead for all he knew.
Despite lost time, and Laguna's lack of paternal presence in the kid's life, he still deeply cared for Squall. If memory served, he was nineteen now and no longer a child. He had rushed through childhood and adolescence to survive in this world, he had become a SeeD and a commander soon after. Squall would be fine. He had to be. He didn't need his old man to protect him. He may not need his old man period.
And that thought triggered memories that Laguna struggled with for the past couple of months.
Squall, please, don't go!
Fuck you, I don't need you! I never have. I've been fine all these years on my own!
He remembered his son saying those hurtful words on Christmas Eve less than a year ago before he abruptly took the next flight back to the western continent.
They hadn't spoken a word since.
What am I doin' wrong, Raine? He found himself asking his late wife more often now.
"Laguna?" Xu finally asked.
Laguna looked up and turned his frown upside down. "Just report back with anything you find."
"And if we find him?" Quistis asked.
"Do whatever you can to bring him here where he will be safe." Laguna said firmly, walking around his desk, "Now, back to condos."
October 16thth, 2009. 2045 hrs
Three straight days on the road and the group were really feeling the effects of it. They stopped their journey to Deling City by Obel Lake, settling around a campfire roasting marsh mellows that Riki insisted them buy. Zell bought a pack of hotdogs from a gas station and slide one onto a skewer. He passed it to Selene, and she smiled in return.
"No prob, these are the best kinda hotdogs." He told her, "Well, 'sides from the ones at Garden that is. I used to go nuts for those."
"Ew, do you even know where the meat comes from?" Riki asked him. Her face pulled a disgusted frown at the processed meat hovering over the campfire. Angelus rolled his eyes knowing where this was going.
"I don't even wanna know! You're gonna ruin it!"
"LA-LA-LA I can't hear you!" Zell shouted, clamping his hands over his ears. As everyone laughed, Selphie's eyes scanned the woods around them, anticipating Squall's arrival with the firewood. He'd been gone for almost an hour now, and there was still no sign of him. Selphie stood up.
"Where ya goin'?" Riki asked her.
"I gotta pee."
Watching her leave, Zell was wide-eyed, "TMI, girlfriend. Seriously, didn't need to know that!"
Selphie's brown boots stomped against the earth of the rather dense forest that lined the lake. Mist rested on the water's surface from the chilly bite in the air. The moon had a way of highlighting the calm ripples of the lake and the green bush around it, creating a mystical atmosphere.
Up ahead she could see someone perched on a rock, tossing stones, and watching them skip across the surface. They were clad in dark clothing, and she didn't doubt who that was.
"Whatcha doing?" She asked him, as another rock skipped three, no four- five times across the water until it plunged into the lake. He didn't bother answering her and tossed another. Selphie awkwardly curled herself up into a ball on the ground near the rocks, watching the pebbles skip and their distance increasing each time.
Finally Squall spoke, asking the same question that started all of this. "What do you want?"
"What's up?" She asked, trying to start a conversation.
"Nothing." He retorted, hopping off the rock. "Now if you'll excuse me-"
"Don't walk away from me!" Selphie shot up from her spot on the ground.
Squall let out a frustrated sigh, "I don't have anything to say to you."
"Well, I have a lot to say to you!" She insisted, "And you better stick around and hear it because I can't stand us not talking. I don't know what's going on anymore, and you wont justify me with an answer. You just get mad every time I talk to you, like I'm bothering you, and I don't even know what I did!"
"Selphie, what do you want me to say!?" Squall turned on her, "There's nothing going on here, so stop thinking about it."
Selphie scoffed, "Excuse me? There is something going on here! You kissed me, Squall!"
He stomped over to her, looking more frustrated than a behemoth with a thorn in its foot. "You and I both know you were planning on following that person you thought was Stacy. I needed to catch you off guard to protect you."
"To protect me?" Selphie echoed, "Since when do I need protecting? I knew what I was doing- and how dare you mess with my emotions like that!"
A smirk unexpectedly cross his face, "It isn't hard."
Selphie shouted, "What did I do, huh? What did I do for you to be such a jerk!?"
He shook his head fed up with this conversation. "Are you done? I'm sure Angelus is getting worried."
Selphie blinked, "Angelus? What do you…Oh my god!"
How could she be so dense? How could he be so…stupid? Seriously? Angelus? That only meant one thing.
Squall was jealous.
Selphie's hysterical laughter didn't ease the awkwardness of the situation. Squall had enough of this conversation.
Just as quickly as he turned to leave, her small hand grabbed his larger one, yanking at his arm.
"I'm sorry…it's j-just…so funny!" Her laughter began to die down, "I'm not the least bit interested in Angelus."
She straightened, and a coy smile crossed her face when she saw the frown on his, "Wow!"
"I'm not jealous!"
"Just admit it already! You thought something was happening between us all this time, and you got mad!"
"Selphie, honestly-" He looked down to see her hand extended out to him, "What are you doing?"
Selphie smiled brilliantly, "A truce!"
She sighed, knowing he was intentionally stalling, "We've done nothing but fight since all this started! I'm willing to start with a clean slate. What do you say?"
Reluctantly, he gave her his hand. They shook on it, but she twisted hers out of his grip to stick up her pinkly. "No, I already shook on it."
"This seals the deal, Leonhart! So, what's it gonna be?"
Squall sighed again, hoping nobody else was watching. They pinky swore on it, and suddenly he felt like he was four again.
"We never talk about this." He warned her.
Selphie giggled, SeeD saluting him. Squall stepped closer to her, analyzing her careless posture and the straightness in her arm and fingers.
"You should regard your superiors with more respect, SeeD Tilmitt. I should demote you a rank for that." He spoke firmly, grabbing her forearm.
He thought he saw a twinkle in her eyes when she rotated her arm from his grip to playfully jab him in the chest.
"Not a chance, Commander." Selphie teased, and he let her go. As she walked away from him, Squall suddenly watched her every movement with interest, "I'm gonna hit the hay. Night, Squall!"
Her body disappeared into the shadows towards the others again leaving him alone again. Squall allowed a smile, "Goodnight, Selphie."