Phase II: Reality Isn't So Kind
Quistis Trepe sat in the cafeteria reading a local newspaper and sipping on a hot cup of tea. She found reading to be one of the best distractions. As pathetic as it sounded, reading about other people's issues kind of made her current situation feel less horrible.
"There you are!" The blonde flashed her blue eyes up at the women who stood next to her table. "Is this seat taken?"
"No, Xu, by all-" She was about to gesture towards the other seat across from her when the brunette SeeD plopped down before she could finish her sentence.
Xu looked flustered, which was expected due to the announcement to the rest of the student body just a few hours earlier. She ran her hand through her medium length hair staring out at the small line up of students grabbing a late lunch. "I can't believe this. I never thought I'd see the day."
"Nobody did." Quistis replied carefully sipping on her tea by lifting the white porcelain cup to her lips. "We all have to find our own way I suppose."
Xu's face shifted to a skeptical expression. "Easy for you to say. You have options."
The cup clinked when it collided with the matching saucer next to where her paper lay. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Xu brushed Quistis' look of annoyance off, "Come on, Trepe! We both know President Loire had his eyes set on you for that position in his personal council since the end of the war. He's been pestering you about it for months. Just take the job already!"
"I don't know." Quistis still seemed unsure, and Xu couldn't imagine why.
"It's better pay than this place, you get to relocate, and have free board. It's the perfect opportunity!" She exclaimed.
Quistis considered this because it wouldn't have been a possibility before. Laguna had been constantly trying to get her to work for him as he recognized her potential in diplomatic affairs and military services. What had held her back was the possibility of leaving a life she thoroughly enjoyed. SeeD had been her home, but in less than 48 hours that would become irrelevant.
"And if I say yes?" Quistis asked slowly.
Xu just had this amused look on her face that Quistis found to be somewhat alarming, "I hear he's looking for two people. Put in a good word for me, yeah?"
Balamb Garden/Training Centre – 0530
Zell Dincht took down maybe the tenth Grat since he got here. Well, he thought it was ten- could have been more if he was actually paying attention. He stood up disgusted by the green ooze that tended to burst from their bodies when they died. He shook it off his hand and grumbled, walking off to find his next opponent.
He ventured farther into the training centre noticing a lack of attendees today, which he assumed it had to do with the news of SeeD disbanding. That was why he was here anyways. Was he the only guy in this goddamn place that trained to release tension? To forget about things?
Pansy cakes. All of them. I don't use that as an excuse not to train.
He kept on walking towards the 'secret area' now. He took out his cell phone from his pant pocket to check the time. The touch screen display indicated that he had been at this for over an hour. He wiped the sweat off his brow with a tanned forearm. He figured that if nobody were around taking a break would do him good.
Stepping onto the balcony that overlooked the rest of Garden, Zell realized the sun was turning in for the night. The reds and oranges in the sky that set on the horizon caught the sky aflame, and a crisp breeze suggested that fall had arrived.
Upon entering the balcony, all expectations of being alone diminished when he saw a familiar cowboy 'getting busy' with a blonde girl in the corner. They were the only ones there, and Zell felt like maybe he should find a new place to hang out now that Irvine had tainted this place with his promiscuity.
Zell cleared his throat forcing the cowboy to turn around to see him standing there with his arms crossed. Irvine smiled sheepishly trying to readjust his hat while the girl got embarrassed and ran right past Zell.
He got just a glimpse of her and jeered, "Ain't she a little young for you, bro?"
"Fuck, Zell." Irvine grumbled, clearly agitated by the interruption, "You're such a cock block, man."
"Did you catch her ID?" Zell snickered, "Dude, I'm pretty sure you just committed a crime."
Irvine waved at him, "It ain't my fault that all the ladies want me. I can't discriminate!"
"What happened to Selphie, huh?" Zell asked him.
Irvine looked taken aback, "Look. That happened like once, okay?"
Zell nodded, "Uh-huh."
"I gotta take advantage of this. I got like what? Less than two days to live this shit up before we gotta leave, alright?"
The blond laughed, despite their situation. "Man, there's gonna be more women out there, trust me."
"Well, here the girls are nice. Out there," He said waving his arm out towards the ocean, "They're all pretentious and harder to woo if ya know what I mean."
"Yeah, sure." Zell chuckled and suddenly went serious, "What's your big plan anyway?"
Irvine jerked his arm gesturing towards the ocean again, "I'm gonna go out there! Travel and see world without havin' to be at war. Enjoy the finest luxuries and women, and maybe visit a few arms museums while at I'm it. Could use a new gun or two. Yerself?"
"Probably gonna go back home." Zell didn't miss a beat.
Irvine sighed, "Must be nice havin' a mom, eh? Home cooked meals and a place to stay."
Zell scratched his head, "I guess. It kinda sucks for everyone else though. What's everyone else's plan?"
"Selphie's headin' back to Trabia from what she told me. Quistis has a job offer that she doesn't wanna talk about. I don't know about Squall. He won't be goin' to Esthar to live with his ol' man."
"That's fucked." Zell replied, still finding it hard to believe that the president of Esthar was Squall's father. This was still fresh news with the group, and less known to the general public.
"Maybe he's gonna go be with Rin." Irvine suggested and shrugged it off. "Anyways." he grabbed something from his coat pocket randomly and unscrewed the cap. A flask.
Zell eyed the silver container watching the cowboy take a few gulps. Irvine looked over at him extending it over to him, "Want some? Takes the edge off."
The blonde shrugged and took a sip. It burnt all the way down and made his head fuzzy. His emotions stirred and settled. Irvine was right. Regarding the sunset again, Zell lifted the flask to cheers Irvine, Garden, and the Island of Balamb.
To embracin' a new start, I guess.
Balamb Garden/Quad – 2200
"Maybe it's bricks and mortar now, whether or not they run it down
I don't want anything to shake that shape away…"
Selphie sang strumming the cords of her guitar. It was a song she felt that embodied what she was feeling during the war and at the moment. It written by an artist she had been listening to a lot more recently.
"No one told us which way to come, nobody mapped oblivion
So I go growing roses in disarray…"
Currently, she was alone in the dead of night singing her heart out into the empty quad. Her private sanctuary. Her home here. This was how she distracted herself. Music had always been a way for her to express herself and her feelings when the going got tough. It relieved her stress, and thankfully she had this moment to sing and let it all go.
"Just like most, falling head in. 'Til my ghost fills the bed in
So lift it up like a banner. Hold it up over me. If this war is never ending. I'll take this love down with me. Like a banner."
She put more emotion into the last part synchronizing the tabs and her vocal cords into a harmony. Selphie felt one with the music as mental images were trigged by certain words and phrases. They reminded her of specific memories of the last few months. It was like she was expressing her thoughts without actually expressing them. She felt music allowed her to show emotions that she wouldn't normally show on a regular day.
Sad songs gave her empathy when a smile widened on her face. Happy songs enhanced her mood and picked the pieces of war off the ground that lay scattered at her feet. Love songs made her imagine the possibilities of one day falling in love with someone she truly cared for.
"I don't need fate to give it time; it doesn't take pain to change your mind." She kept singing until she opened her eyes and realized she had an audience. She didn't even notice that he was standing there down below while she sat on the stage leaning against a pillar holding up the lights with the guitar sitting in her lap.
"Mind no weapon con sever the soul from me…" She whispered the last part, trying to maintain the smile on her face while hiding her embarrassment.
Squall quietly watched on and waited a few moments after she stopped singing. He lifted a hand and strode to the front of the stage, "No, don't mind me. Keep going."
Selphie skeptically eyed him and got back into tune, "Not the sorceress, not the money. All my cleverness, all my cunning so lift up like a banner. Hold it up over me if this war is never ending."
"I'll take this love down with me." She finished. There was more to the song, but she didn't feel like reiterating the same lyrics. Squall probably got the point by now. She giggled at the small smile that was faintly present on his lips.
"Did you like it?" She asked him, and he nodded.
"I didn't know you could do that." Squall admitted, climbing up the stage and sitting next to her. Selphie swung her legs over the edge and kicked her feet. She felt warmth in this random interaction, and actually liked his company.
"I'm full of surprises." She laughed, "I like singing because it makes me feel like I can express myself in ways I normally can't."
"You're always so happy and excited about everything. How's that not expressing yourself?" Squall asked her, frowning.
Laughter dissipated in her tone, and Selphie eyes fixated on something ahead, "I guess you're not the only one who hides behind a mask, huh?"
In that moment, Squall considered this. He always found that Selphie and himself had nothing in common. Their attitudes were entirely different, and where she was loud and exciting, he was quiet and reserved.
But maybe she was a master at hiding how she really felt about things. She had a mask on in terms of a smile and of laughter, whereas he had a blank expression and a frown. They were night and day, but maybe they were the same after all- in some aspects.
"So, Squall what's up?" Selphie looked over to him with that smile.
Squall sighed, unsure of where to begin. The day he had was coming to an end, and he was so grateful for that. Since leaving Rinoa's room where he found Seifer, he had gone to his room and probably broke everything fragile that he could get his hands on- one of those things being a framed picture of Rinoa and himself at a victory party.
He also knew Selphie had an idea of what was going on. She was there when he slammed into her without even apologizing. He left her gathering her papers into a pile, and he didn't even offer to help. Not even the second time when he ran right by her. He felt guilty because out of everyone Selphie deserved his aloof nature and cold treatment the least.
"I'm sorry about earlier." Squall finally said, and it seemed that it took Selphie a few moments to register this until she recalled what he was referring to.
Selphie waved and dismissed it like that was the most ridiculous thing ever. "It's okay! I got it all figured out. I handed that long report in to the headmaster, and it was no biggie."
"I didn't offer to help you. I was…in a bit of a rush." Squall struggled to even tip toe around the subject. He deliberated whether to tell her or not. Part of him really needed to sort out his thoughts a loud, but the other was scared of being judged or appearing weak.
In reality, he was weak. He felt weak. Maybe he always was weak.
"Yeah," Selphie gave him a look, "You looked like you were running away from a T-rexuar, not gonna lie. Is everything okay?"
Everything's fine. It's none of your business.
It's funny because six months ago he would have replied with that without a second's hesitation. Now, he knew that's not what he wanted to say. Not to Selphie.
"Uh…" he started off, the uncertainty in his voice was something not even he was used to, "Rinoa and I broke up." Just admitting that out loud was like a confirmation. Not something he could trick himself into denial. Out loud it was official because now someone else knew.
Selphie's eyes went wide as saucers. She was clearly shocked by this news. And it was just five simple words- five words she never thought she'd hear. "What!? Why!?"
Squall almost felt comfort in Selphie's outburst. He knew she would care. "I caught her with Seifer. That's why she didn't go to the meeting earlier."
"She cheated on you with Seifer!?" Selphie's voice rang out loud in the quad, and Squall found himself searching the area making sure nobody was there to eavesdrop.
Selphie took the hint and flushed, "Sorry. It's just…wow. I can't believe her. What a bitch!"
Squall wanted to laugh suddenly at Selphie's vulgar choice of words to describe his now ex-girlfriend and her friend. "Yeah, that's what's up."
"Oh my Hyne, Squall!" Selphie exclaimed, passion and sympathy in her voice now. She shifted to kneel down behind him embracing him in a tight hug. Her face buried itself in the crook of his neck. The warmth settled his nerves, and he grabbed her forearm reciprocating the action somewhat. "I'm so sorry. You must feel horrible."
Thanks for stating the oblivious there. He caught himself thinking.
"If there's anything you need…" She whispered, "Please tell me."
He turned to her, and she lifted her head, "Nothing now. It's just nice to know someone's got my back."
She chuckled, "Literally. On your back."
He allowed a small smile, "Like a monkey on my back."
She laughed again, "You callin' me a monkey now!?"
He nodded, and felt her push him off the stage with more force than he thought she had considering their size difference. Squall landed expertly on his feet and spun around to look at her accusingly. She hand her hands on her hips, but her laughter found its way throughout the room.
"That wasn't funny."
Selphie wasn't taking him seriously and jumped off the stage after him. "Really? I think that was pretty hilarious."
Squall shook his head slightly annoyed and began to storm the other way, but his hand caught onto hers before he could get far enough. She stopped him, and he questionably stared at her. Yes, he was very aware of her hand gripping onto his. And yes, his girlfriend just cheated on him. Oh and yes, they were both losing their home the day after tomorrow. But none of that actually mattered because whatever Selphie just did made him forget all that for five minutes.
In the back of his mind, a fleeting thought made him feel an emotion that seemed so odd that it was something he had never considered before. Something he never felt for Selphie, but once felt for Rinoa upon meeting her.
Selphie's carefree attitude despite whatever was going on, and her caring spirit for her comrades fascinated him. There were so many layers to her, so many versions of her that he had seen in the past few months, and it all came at him at once.
There they stood facing each other with her green eyes gazing into blue. The amusement in them started to vanish, and he couldn't read what he saw there anymore. There was something else.
It frightened him, too. He didn't know what to do then, but he did at the same time. He opened his mind for a split second to a possibility. A 'what if'?
Maybe it was out of desperation, or his broken heart, or his muddled fucked up head. Fuck it. He didn't really care right now what it was, and all he kept thinking about was how easy it was to be around her. And the thrilling, liberating feeling that she wasn't going to be here in two days, two weeks, or two years.
His fear wasn't a fear right now, more like an advantage. Squall never felt like this before. Slowly he leaned in, not feeling obligated to Rinoa, or Garden or SeeD. Fuck it all. He was going for it anyways.
It was an instant, maybe a second that he felt his lips lightly brush hers. And upon contact, a thought struck him like lightening to a tree. Hold on, what am I doing….? He was selfish, and didn't even consider how she felt.
Selphie was too surprised by this action, but that didn't explain the fluttering of her heart. He backed away suddenly and looked really embarrassed. She remained calm, because this was Squall Leonhart making a mistake. Freaking out over it would make things worse.
Channel Squall's behavior and act like it didn't bother you. Selphie thought, but corrected herself. It did though because this is so wrong. I…don't know how I feel about this.
"I better go." Squall said hastily. "Thanks for the talk."
Before she could even answer, her hand slipped away from his. Selphie was left watching him run away again for the second time that day.
Balamb Garden/Secret Area – 2330
The two guys had managed to finish the flask and scored another bottle of Trabian gin from Irvine's room just to come back and enjoy the night. It didn't make much sense why they decided to come back here seeing as it didn't make a difference to drink in his room or in the 'secret area.'
And since they were leaving Garden, screw the rules, right?
Zell managed to also score a small wireless speaker and hooked it up via Bluetooth to his Smartphone. Classic rock blared and the two sang along to the lyrics in a rather embarrassing duet.
"Welcome to tha jungle. We've got fun 'n' games. We got everythin' ya wan. Honey, we know the names. We are the people that can find whateva…ya may need. If you got the mona, hona…We got your diseeeease." They both sang alternating the lines between them.
At one point it broke out into an elaborated guitar solo, which made Zell start air guitaring, and Irvine dance with the almost empty bottle of the clear liquid like it was a woman.
Irvine broke off from the lyrics as his face lit up when he caught sight of the lush green leaves and trees back in the training centre, "I get it! I fuckin' get it!' That's the jungle!"
Zell stopped and doubled over in laughter that fully took over his body. His eyes were leaking tears from the hilarity of it all. The two were so distracted from their manic fit of laughter they didn't realize that Quistis had showed up, and no, it wasn't for the party.
She uncrossed her arms and made for the speaker shutting it off. Zell looked up accusingly about to punch the lights out of whoever just did that, but his face instead went white when he saw his former instructor standing there not looking too pleased.
"What's going on here?" Quistis snapped seizing the speaker into a fist.
Zell looked at Irvine who tried to hide the bottle behind his back. This was a failed attempt because she could clearly smell alcohol in the air. "Uh…Quisty. Wanna join tha party?"
"Y-yeah, it's not like were drinkin' or nothin'." Zell said, thinking he was getting away with it, but really he just ratted them out with his big mouth. Irvine immediately glared his way like he had been severely wronged.
"This breaks so many rules I can't even begin to list them all." She scolded. "What do you say in your defense?"
Irvine exchanged a look with Zell who just shrugged. They had been sold out anyways, and Irvine wasn't going to hide that bottle forever. She could have some if she wanted to. Sharing was caring after all.
The cowboy revealed the bottle and waved it at the neck, "Wanna have some?"
Quistis sighed irritably, "This is where you two have been? Have you not heard? Rinoa and Seifer left!"
The two raised their eyebrows at each other. "Why'd they leave?" Irvine asked.
Quistis seriously had to spell it out for these assholes. "Rinoa and Seifer left together. And Squall wont leave his room! I was just there. He won't answer."
"Where's Selphie?" Zell asked, taking the bottle from Irvine to have another sip. He was disregarding the seriousness of the situation, "Let her deal with it. We're busy." Just as he was about to take another gulp, Quistis quickly grabbed the bottle.
"Selphie, for some unknown reason, is in her room, too. Her door is locked. She never locks her door." Quistis explained.
"So Rinoa and Squall are done?" Zell asked, "And she left his sorry ass for Seifer!? That's some fucked up shit."
"Wait!" Irvine exclaimed loudly. The volume level of their voices was enough to give Quistis a headache, and they were still breaking noise level rules just by talking. "Where's Squall gonna go?"
A light bulb lit up in Zell's mind just then. He stumbled forwards and fist pumped in the air, "Oh man! I know! I got this covered guys!"
"What're you plannin'?" Irvine slurred lazily. "Share with the rest of the class."
As if he just declared Timber's independence to the world, he turned on his heel to look at them triumphantly, "I'm gonna ask him to come with me to Ma's place! It'll be awesome!"
But before he could turn to leave on this rather important mission, Quistis grabbed his arm, "Before you wake him up, sober up, and wait til morning."
He sloppily SeeD saluted her, but felt something rumble in his stomach just then. His insides churned, and the next thing he knew he was running into the training centre to throw up in a flower bed.
Quistis rolled her eyes and wondered what she did to deserve this.
Balamb Garden/Guys Dorm
Almost 2 days later
1.5 hrs left
I hope you're happy. I did what you said and left. Seifer's coming with me. You're probably wondering what brought all this on. Well, you were never around and always working. I felt like you didn't take us seriously enough. I felt ignored, unless I did something that made you mad. All you tried to do was control me, and I can't deal with that.
I hope you have a great life.
That's what the note left under his door said when he came back from the quad a few nights ago. Her words echoed in his mind on everything he did wrong in the relationship. She was the one that cheated, and yet she had a way of pointing the finger at him.
And then there was what he did to Selphie. He hadn't even seen her since, and spent less time with his friends. He wasn't sure how he was feeling right now, and just needed to get out of this place.
Squall shoved his fur lined leather coat into the duffle bag he had on his bed. The white fur got caught on the zipper again, and he just sighed in frustration. He wasn't usually so careless with his things, but today he really couldn't give a damn. The last few days had been hell. He hadn't slept more than 2 hours at a time because he brain wouldn't shut off.
If it were up to him, he would have stayed in his room until he had to leave, but Cid had him in his office organizing the recall of five SeeD squads that had been recently dispatched.
He also had a long list of other duties to fulfill and was probably the last person still packing in the dorms. His room was cleaned from floor to ceiling of any of his belongings, which in reality wasn't much. Squall threw the bag into a pile of others along with two Gunblade cases containing Lionheart and Revolver.
At least those are coming with me. Squall mused. He searched around the room and checked his adjoining bathroom to find any stray toiletries in the shower.
"Knock! knock!" Zell's voice boomed announcing his arrival. "And that's not a lame knock-knock joke, it's just me!"
Squall rolled his blue eyes and frowned. He really didn't want to deal with this right now. He sucked it up and got out of the bathroom to greet his friend.
"What do you want, Zell?" Squall growled walking past him to shove his toothbrush into the black duffle he just put down.
Zell looked his friend over to noticing that Squall was wearing a grey hoodie, a white t-shirt, and a pair of navy blue Balamb Garden issued sweat pants. His attire was odd even for him- a guy who was usually decked out in black jeans and leather jackets.
"Wow, you don't look so hot." Zell commented .
"Thanks, the thought of you checking me out makes me squeal with delight." He grumbled, and realized how spiteful and unnecessary that sounded, "Whatever. State what you need." He hoisted the handle's strap over his shoulder.
"So, Squall," Zell said with interest, "What's your big plan?"
Squall hated to admit it, but he didn't have one. "I'm going to a hotel for a couple of nights. I'll figure it out later."
A huge grin crossed the blonds face, "Well, how about bunking with me and Ma?"
Squall blinked, surprised. He didn't even consider that. "Are you sure?"
Zell nodded, "Sure, man. You board for free, and you just have to do some housework, but it's all good. Ma loves ya. Stay as long as you want!"
Squall deliberated this. It was either not knowing where to go and have no plan, finally swallow his pride to live with his father in Esthar, or stay with the Dinchts.
Option one sounded vague and dreadful. Option two would see hell freeze over first. But three seemed promising. He liked three.
"Fine." He said. "You lead, I'll follow."
Zell cheered, "Yes! This'll be awesome, man! Just you wait!"
Squall began to carry his things down the hall with Zell in toe. "It's gonna be me n' you. Two ex-SeeDs livin' in the unknown havin' the time of their-"
"Zell," Squall interjected, "Shut up, and help me."
Balamb Town/ Train Station
The group gathered together with their bags and luggage except for Squall and Zell who left theirs at the Dincht residence. Quistis and Selphie were heading east to Esthar and Trabia, while Irvine went west to Galbadia.
"Promise we'll stay in touch?" Selphie sniffed, "I'll miss you guys…"
"Yeah, it was fun while it lasted I guess." Irvine said, giving her a big hug.
Quistis wrapped her arm around Zell and winked, "Don't party too hard. Zell, take care of him."
"More like I'm taking care of him." Squall replied, and Zell laughed.
"Squall knows what's up."
Quistis and Irvine hugged it out with the other two, and surprisingly Squall didn't relent from the bodily contact of his friends. "Hey Squall, I'll be around. I'll come visit you guys. We can have a poker night sometime, eh? Just us guys." Irvine patted his back.
"Whatever." he muttered, and turned to see Selphie idling nearby. Today was the first time he had seen her since what happened in the quad. She seemed oddly shy around him, but still tried to hide behind that smile.
"Bye Squall!" Selphie pouted, pulling him into an embrace. It painfully reminded him of the other night, and he just awkwardly reciprocated the hug.
She pulled back and tried to smile brightly, but he could see how fake it was. Her eyes silently questioned him about what he did and why. "Stay in touch."
An announcement came over the PA system about the impending arrival times for all three trains. Xu called to Quistis from the top of the stairs, which indicated her departure. Soon after Selphie and Irvine followed suit leaving the two ex-SeeDs to watch on.
Zell sighed, "Man, it's gonna be weird."
"I know." Squall replied.