Phase XIX: Motion
A single finger rimmed the empty glass sitting in front of her on the old wooden countertop. The clock ticked back at her from above the liquor cabinet as she sat alone in the dimly lit bar. Selphie's green eyes periodically peered up at its hands, but somehow still lost track of how many hours had past since she first sat down. Her head had long become fuzzy from the beverage's potent flavour, which also quelled the series of questions she had swirling around in her mind over what happened earlier that day.
After Squall had left with the two Estharians, she headed back to the bar to wait for him only to find it conveniently empty of any of her faction mates. A perfect time to leave her to drive herself crazy with her musings, she opened a few bottles and called it a day.
Despite everything, today was amazing; probably the best day she had in a while. A strange weight had been lifted from her shoulders when Squall had kissed her as she stupidly rambled about their perplexing romantic situation. Today had put an end to the questions that had bothered her for over two years now. They were finally making progress.
Selphie wasn't sure what she wanted out of this or where this would lead them. She did know that whatever was about to happen, she would be sure to be by his side.
A grin crossed her face as she fingered at a white petal of the flower crown he gave her that sat next to the empty glass. Her stomach fluttered, and suddenly she couldn't wait to see him.
She almost didn't hear the bar's front door fly open and the heavy pounding of boots bolt across the floor and up the stairs lining the wall to her left. Startled, Selphie's eyes caught sight of the person's black boot and matching shorts disappearing behind the wall at the top of the stairs.
"Squall?" she called after him, but the door just slammed shut behind him so hard that she saw dust falling from the old ceiling.
Selphie slid off the barstool and went after him, leaving the flower crown and beer on the wooden counter. When she got to the door of Raine's apartment, the door was unlocked. She didn't hesitate to step inside, as the feeling of concern grew stronger, nagging at her to find out what was going on.
Something was definitely wrong.
Squall carelessly shoved his clothing into his black duffle bag on the twin bed in front of him; movements rushed and full of panic.
"What are you doing?" Selphie asked him, venturing closer. When he didn't respond, she pressed on. "Where you going?"
Squall slid the strap onto his shoulder, finally looking at her with this strange darkness in his eyes. "Selphie, I don't have-"
Her hand pressed his sternum, cornering him between the beds and blocking his way to the door. "Squall, what's wrong?"
"I need you to do something for me."
She raised a brow, "What?"
He ignored her question and continued, "Don't follow me. I'm skipping town." It instantly became evident that shock and confusion set into her, and Squall took this chance to step around her and leave before she could protest.
"Why?" Her small hand reflexively latched onto his forearm.
He refrained from saying anything else, blue eyes intensely staring deep into hers. Squall debated explaining everything to Selphie, but also knew he didn't have time for a heart to heart either. He didn't have a choice, and she wasn't going to like what he was about to do.
"I'd rather you be hurt by me than anything else." His voice dripped with bitterness.
Her features twisted into anger, hurt, and confusion much like it did many times before. "What the hell is that supposed to mean!?"
"It means that I'd rather you stay outta my business!" Squall's words bit harder. "We'd be better off if we stay away from each other, got it?"
Selphie felt something tighten in her chest, shaking her head in disbelief as Squall walked right past her to the door. He was deliberately pushing her away again. "You son of a…"
Once his hand landed on the old golden knob, Selphie swiftly turned on him. "NO!" She shouted, "You don't get to run away! You don't get to leave again!"
For a few seconds, she stared at his tense back, feeling the tension between them grow thick in the air.
And that's when everything blew up.
Squall spun around, black duffel dropping to the floor as he stormed over to her. He yelled in her face, "Don't you get it!? This is war, Selphie! Not some fucking romance novel! People are dying, places are being blown off the map, and all you care about is me!?"
"The war doesn't give a shit about how you feel, how I feel, or anything else! My family-" He caught himself, air leaving him completely as his eyes shifted away at something behind her, refusing to keep eye contact in a moment of weakness. His emotions created a ripple effect reminding him that he wasn't as strong as he wanted to be.
Silence overcame them both as Selphie pieced together what he was trying to get at. His family…Squall never referred to Sir Laguna or Ellone as his family. Those men came from Esthar to specifically speak to him in private.
Her green eyes slowly cast upward to his face, analyzing his posture and breathing. This close Selphie could see it between the panting and tension. Squall was trembling. He was coming apart at the seams, desperation evident in his tone and features.
They attacked Esthar!
The unspoken news still dropped a heavy weight on her even if he hadn't officially confirmed it yet. Selphie felt anger at first, not for Squall's idiocy, but because she had seen this play out once before. She felt the same way he did when Trabia had been hit during the last war.
"Squall…" Selphie deflated, stepping forward to touch him.
"They came to tell me." Squall's voice was low and hopeless. "The Presidential Palace was targeted, my father was…"
Arms snaked around him instantly, her face buried in the crook of his neck. She closed her eyes tightly, remembering the absolute devastation she felt when she was told her home had been destroyed, and all her friends, her family, with it.
"I'm sorry, Squall." His shirt muffled Selphie's voice as she spoke. "I'm sooo sorry."
The embrace was reluctantly returned, her warmth still felt foreign to him. "I'm…" he trailed off, eyes connecting with the old wooden floorboards behind her, "I'm going to Esthar."
Selphie pulled away and received a stoic expression in return. Despite her uncertainly, Selphie knew what she had to do. "Me too."
Squall ran a hand through his hair, going silent again to deliberate this. He finally sighed, shaking his head. "No."
Selphie braced herself for another argument. "Why not!?"
Squall was fed up, rubbing his temples vigorously, "If you got hurt or worse…"
"I'm a SeeD!" she replied, defensively.
"That doesn't matter." Squall retorted, eyes narrowed. "It isn't about that."
"Then what is it about!?" Selphie lost her temper, "I can actually help you!"
He looked just as conflicted as before, "If something happens…"
"We can take care of it!" She finished for him.
He looked deep in her eyes for any indication that she would cower away from this decision. "Selphie, are you sure?"
She nodded, "If there's anything I can do, I'd do it, Squall. Please just give this a chance. Give me a chance."
Give her a chance? Does she even realize what would happen if I…if I lose her, too? Because I couldn't say no? I don't know what to do.
"Take me with you." Selphie stated, green eyes holding that same determination she had the day she forced him to split the group up so she could go to the missile base to save her home.
She believes in us. She thinks we might still have a chance.
Selphie smiled triumphantly before firmly kissing him.
Esthar City, Estharian Continent
Quistis Trepe was at her wits end. Her eyes scanned over the paperwork in front of her. Reports on top of reports. Damage reports, death counts…numbers. So many fucking numbers! She sat alone in her makeshift office deep within the confines of the bomb shelter located under the city.
"How could this happen?" She asked herself, but no answer came.
The disputes between Esthar and Galbadia have been quiet for over two years now. I would know I negotiated the terms for Laguna myself.
Why would they attack us? What's going on?
"Zir." She heard the thick accent of a native Estharian solider enter her office and stand at attention in his light blue uniform. "Ze paramedics have given zeir updated report on ze death toll az of an hour ago."
"What's the count?"
"Over a million, Zir." His voice had a hint of sympathy. He couldn't offer more than that as everyone expected strength from the soldiers and authority figures in a time of major loss.
"Was one of those million Loire?" She sighed, dreadfully.
He looked unsure, "Ve haven't found the body, Zir. Crewz are ztill rummaging through ze wreckage of ze palace."
"Dismissed." She stated, offhandedly.
"Excuze me?" He seemed not to catch the hint that she wanted him to go.
"Dismissed!" She shouted, and the man rushed out the door leaving Quistis to stare at the reports on her desk again. They held the hourly tally of bodies recovered from wreckage with names and civilian identification numbers.
She almost wanted to go out there and find Laguna herself, hoping to Hyne the bastard was alive so she could yell and scream at him for making her take on such a heavy burden. Then she would yell at him some more for giving her a heart attack.
She grabbed her military pea coat and strode out of her office to a nearby exit that could only be open with her authorization. Once the door dislodged, she took a deep breath feeling the cold wind brush against her skin- the first signs of winter approaching.
The blonde pulled a pack out of her pocket to light a cigarette. In SeeD, she wasn't much of a smoker and would pink slip anyone caught doing it on school grounds, but times had changed. She really needed a smoke to ease the stress right now.
"Didn't take you for a smoker, Trepe." Xu said from behind her.
"Whatever." Quistis mumbled, rolling one into the corner of her mouth and took a drag.
Xu laughed at the irony. "Does he know?"
"Of course he knows. I sent my men out to tell him. Turns out Simba was in Winhill."
Simba was a code name they used. Throwing Squall Leonhart's name around was kept to a minimum for the sake of security. It wasn't common knowledge here that Laguna Loire had an estranged son. Even when skepticism was at its highest right now, people would quickly point fingers at anyone who was a potential suspect. Especially when they dug deeper to find out that the relationship between the two had been even more strained that it ever had been over the past year.
"They should be on their way back by now." Quistis added.
"You think he'll show?" Xu asked.
"I really hope he does."
"Oh, and while we are on that topic. Ellone wants to speak with you."
Quistis eyed her friend and put the cigarette out with her boot. "Okay, where is she?"
"Her quarters." Xu said, "Just…be careful. She's got questions, and she's angrier than a behemoth if that's even possible."
Quistis nodded and made her way back into the shelter.
"Ellone." Quistis spoke, "You wanted to see me?"
The girl looked up from her bunk, "Have you heard anything?"
The room was small and meant for only one person. Usually quarters like these were saved for military personnel only, but Ellone Loire was an exception.
She stood up, her brown hair falling into her face. Her light brown eyes held so much concern with tears rimming her lower lids. "Please. I need to know what's going on!"
"Laguna…he's-" She didn't know how to put this into words.
"I meant Squall!" Ellone cried.
Quistis' blue eyes softened as she sat down on the bed, "I sent some men to go find him and relay the message. From their report, Squall was seen in Deling City a week ago and traveled to Winhill where he had been staying. They caught up with him there."
"He knows about the attack. Actually, he must have found out before it hit the media." Quistis added.
"So is he coming here?" Ellone sat down next to her.
"I don't really know." She answered honestly.
"I want to talk to him!" Ellone shouted.
"Why not!? He's my brother! I need to talk to my brother!" Ellone was getting frantic now.
"We don't know where he is."
Communication had been few and far between. The last report from her men in Galbadia detailed that they did speak with Squall. He understandably hadn't taken the news well. When left alone for a brief moment, Squall disappeared again. She made a mental note to fire those two idiots when they got back.
"What do you mean, you just said-"
"He's Squall," Quistis cut her off to avoid further questions, "One way or another, he's going to show up. Just have faith in him."
Ellone huffed and rubbed her face. Dejectedly, she dropped her hands into her lap looking more exhausted than ever. "I'm going crazy." Ellone complained.
An idea struck in Quistis' mind just then. She may not be able to get Squall to Esthar any sooner, but she could at least help Ellone.
"I have a job for you then."
Winhill, Galbadia/Ellone's Parents House
Angelus typed away at a report on the laptop they carried with them from Deling City. He was tinkering with the signal of the system trying to connect with Cesar to check the status of the Galbadian army. From the last time he checked in, they were still on the lookout for the SeeD members they thought were responsible for the death of Zone and setting the mansion fire. As much as Angelus thought that was bullshit, he knew it wasn't Cesar or the UA who pointed the finger at the SeeDs.
Rinoa's a smart girl; she probably put two and two together.
He proceeded to log into the underground network's server through a remote access point that he frequently used this gateway whenever he wasn't in Deling. Angelus used to pride himself on his advanced computer literacy with the UA. When he initially started with the Forest Owls, he was usually on security scans and monitored data coming in and going out. It had been a few years since he actively practiced this, but felt relieved that he still retained most of it.
A buzz and a crackle came from one of the comm.-links they used for missions. Angelus flashed his eyes over to it and picked up the small earpiece. The signal was slightly better than most places out east as the army had yet to venture this far south of the continent.
Putting the small black device into his ear, Angelus waited until the voice became clear enough to understand.
"…ya there?...Ce…r. It's….me. Angelus. Ya there? Can ya hear me?" Cesar spoke.
"Yeah," He replied. "What's up?"
"Are ya logged into the system where ya are?"
"I am. You got an update?" Angelus asked, turning back to the computer monitor.
"I'm sendin' it now."
A compressed file flashed onto his screen that required three separate password logins. Angelus eagerly typed away at the keyboard and clicked on the icon until it opened. Inside, he found two files containing images and a profile.
When he saw what they were, he couldn't believe it.
They were a series of images taken between October 20th and 21st. One was of two men dragging a body out of a car, and although it was pixilated and evidently taken from a security camera of some kind, he knew instantly who they were.
They were onto us the whole time.
The rest were taken from various others. Some were from inside the ballroom itself and others from the Deling Golden Gate Square later that night.
But it wasn't these images that concerned him. It was the other file containing old mug shots from two years ago and what looked like an arrest warrant that concerned him more. The man in the image wore a SeeD uniform, was clean-shaven, and his brown hair combed back professionally. His blue eyes stared back at him with familiar intensity, and the diagonal scar had still been a fresh wound. In simple san serif typed font, the warrant said:
Name: Squall Leonhart
Occupation: SeeD Commander- Rank A Officer
"Wanted for the kidnapping and murder of Zone Frane in cold blood. Wanted for arson and is a potential suspect for the death of Fury Caraway. If seen, report to Galbadian authorities, as subject is armed and very dangerous. One billion Gil reward if found and captured!?" He read aloud.
He knew that Rinoa was on a crazy vendetta against what was left of SeeD, but to do this? To go this far?
"Angelus? Ya still there? There's one more thing." Cesar spoke to him carefully, and Angelus could only grunt his reply. "Esthar's been targeted. Rinoa's men bombed the city. Blown 'em off the map like Trabia."
"Angelus!" Riki came rushing into the room interrupting the conversation between Cesar and himself. Angelus dealt her an annoyed glare, watching her stomp over to him with a sheet of paper in hand. She looked alarmed, and he knew something bad just happened.
"What's going on?"
"It's Squall and Selphie!" Her tone didn't hide its urgency, "They're gone! All their shits gone, too! Selphie left a note. Looks like they took off to Esthar!" Angelus' ground his teeth tightening his jaw, eyes staring deep into Riki's.
How could everything go from bad to totally fucking worse in a matter of five minutes?