On Earth as it is in Hell Chapter 14
By Caleb Nova
"Being with her was the most wonderful thing ever. It was.... Strawberries and cinnamon, sunshine and butterflies."
What divides legend and history? Are the previous Final Fantasies a prelude to the years that followed? Did Avalanche beget SeeD? Is Magicite is nothing more than a form of proto-Materia? Or are these universes separated by eternity's of nothing, each world spinning in it's own womb of dimensional fabric? And if so, how could one breach that nothingness, and bring what was not meant to be together? These questions are perhaps, doors that should never be opened.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
They had all taken shelter a little ways from the road and given in to exhaustion, each slumped wherever they could find minimal comfort. Zell felt this would be short lived since the storm was getting close to breaking. He was disappointed for two reasons.
The first was obviously the fact that he was very tired and had hoped to rest for awhile longer. The second was that during their respite, Selphie's lithe form had somehow become wedged up against his back, a position more titillating than usual since Selphie was in a definite lack of uniform. And thus two parts of him exulted- the part that loved Selphie and was giddy to be this close to her, and the part that wanted Selphie and was excited by the contact. The latter part was ordering him to innocently shift in his 'sleep' to an even more pleasing position against her, but somewhere deep in his conscious common sense told him that wouldn't look good to the others. If she shifted any closer though, he wouldn't care.
He was spared the decision when Rinoa sent a resounding call to wake up reverberating through his brain, and from the sudden start everyone else gave, he wasn't the only one. Sitting up, he was pleased to see that Quistis was awake, albeit still a bit dazed, and Squall was filling her in. Selphie was still unconscious, but her breathing seemed regular and she wasn't too pale, so there was no immediate danger. Irvine was shaking Scott awake, who of course couldn't hear Rinoa.
He figured he would carry Selphie, since Irvine was limping, the Scott guy was sick or something, and Squall was too busy....... Well, he would be doing something else. He was just being helpful, right? At least as far as anyone else knew, and he intended to keep it that way.
Scott still felt like crap. It was just like a hangover but worse, since at least if he had a hangover he knew what caused it and that it would eventually go away. He was also sorely missing his only personal possessions, a camera, a manual and a glass tube. It wasn't much but the camera would be most useful, so that if he ever went back he could prove he wasn't crazy.
He had a suspicion though. In the end, it might not even be worth it to go back. There had been a certain amount of speculation about time, and how it flowed in different universes. Speculation, and not much fact. His transition from Earth to Galbadia had seemed to happen in the blink of an eye, but if such theories were true, it may have been days, even years. Thus, every one day here could equal a hundred in Earth space, or on the other side of the coin, every day here might be worth only a second elsewhere. If the former was true, the Earth he would return to, if he returned, would not be the one he left. It was something best not to think about.
Squall called for a quick meeting to decide their next destination. While heading for Dollet would be the fastest way, it was also the most dangerous. Instead, their options were to go for Timber or attempt to contact SeeD for an amphibious pickup. The decision was made when Rinoa informed them she had already talked to the Headmaster, and an amphibious craft was on it's way to a beach several miles east of their position. Scott waited uncomfortably as they all stared into nothingness, absorbing the news flash. Again, they all forgot he couldn't hear.
Scott cleared his throat to get their attention. "So, what's the good news? It is good, right?"
Squall, true to character, ignored him and Zell was already lugging Selphie up to the road. Quistis was still a little dazed so it fell to Irvine to respond.
"Yeah, there's a boat heading for us," He said, wincing as he stood. "Just a few miles. So cheer up! A few hours and we'll get you a hot shower and some clean clothes."
That sounded pretty good to Scott. He could worry about what happened after later. He and Irvine turned to go up the road and saw the other three already on their way. They hurried to catch up.
On the way, Scott wanted to clear some things up. So far the person he knew best was Irvine, so he turned to him for some answers. Ducking under Irvine's arm, he shifted some of the wounded cowboy's weight onto himself, easing off his wounded leg.
"Thanks," Irvine grunted, hobbling over towards Scott to balance. "The spells kill the pain but I still need to see a doctor when we get back."
"Right, right," Scott said. "The cure spell things."
"About that... how does it work?"
Irvine smiled. "You want the short or long of it?"
"Somewhere in between."
"Well then, lets see.. Quistis would probably be better at this, but I can give you the general idea. Many of the creatures around here, which we call monsters, are from the moon. And these monsters have magical powers. We don't know why or how these powers work, but they do. Humans like us cannot use that power. You with me?"
"Okay, we can't use spells like the animals. But you guys cast spells."
"Some scientist guys, like Odine, he's a scientist in Esthar, a country across the sea, figured out a way for people like us to junction GFs, or Guardian Forces, to ourselves to imitate this magic. It's not real magic, but something called proto-magic. It's adapted for our use."
Scott still really didn't understand what a GF was or how the whole thing worked, but he had a vague idea. It was enough for him. It didn't matter all that much anyway.
So Scott nodded like it was all clear to him. "All right, I get it. I think the real question is, can you magically get me back home?"
Irvine glanced over at him. "Don't ask me, I'm just a sniper. I'm sure Squall will find the right people for you to talk to when we get back to Garden."
He could see Scott was still less than convinced. Irvine laughed, punching him in the arm.
"Relax, man. We have plenty of time to figure it out. We'll do whatever it takes to get you back home."
"Sure," Scott said, keeping his doubts to himself.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Odine found himself in front of a desk, behind which sat a man he had never seen before and knew nothing of. His new boss. He could not help but be somewhat nervous as this man put away the files he had been looking at.
Julian leaned slightly back in his chair assuming a relaxed attitude. It was an attitude he had to work at to pull off.
"Doctor, Odine, is it?" Julian began. "I see here from these files you have done extensive work for Galbadia in the past. Good work, of course."
"Yes, zis is true," Odine said, desperately trying to get the measure of the man in front of him. Julian remained an enigma, his eyes giving away nothing. Odine thought it was very odd he had never seen this man before. He had thought he knew of all the major power players in Galbadia.
"According to these, sources, I have, you have done some work on Project Spreading Sun."
Officially, Odine's agreement with Poleground called for complete silence about the project. But since it was apparent Poleground was no longer part of the picture he had nothing to gain by not talking.
"Zis is also true."
"Good. Then you will be of some use to me. You lead the project to success in the past, and now we must finish it. We have other plans that depend on it's completion. You will help us do this."
It wasn't a question.
"First, we need to know how to use it, and who to use it on."
Odine cleared his throat. "I imagine zat you already know ze basics. It is a wind carried virus with a limited range, easily curable by those zat know how. Ze former leaders used zis to eliminate various rebels, destroying their respective revolutionary cells. Ze preferable method of use is by some equipment I created, an airborne distributor zat is programmable to seek out ze target. If you wish to complete ze planned project, you would kill ze remaining three leaders of ze largest rebels factions in Galbadia."
"How long would this take?"
"Ze virus is quickly lethal, and has a short life span. No longer zan two days."
Julian nodded and gestured over towards Hendrow, who had been standing by the door. "Michael here will take you to the area were you will work with my scientists to do this. You will be blindfolded during the trip. You will address Michael as Mr. Hendrow."
Odine said nothing, and followed Hendrow out the door, pondering this odd turn of fate.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Thanks to his work, little by little the power that be knew about what went on down in the facility, and with every passing day they knew more. The Agent had insinuated himself into the normal working patterns of Julian's employees, posing as a low-level scientist assigned to studying the energy emissions from the portal. He was educated enough to do this, but he would have a hard time making his way among the higher ups.
It still seemed to him like some fantastic movie set, complete with a glowing sci-fi portal and faceless men running about in white suits. Like everyone else in the facility, the Agent quickly learned to wear goggles when in the portal room, where the strange light could cause pain in the eyes. This was actually a good thing since the goggles made everyone look alike, a fortuitous circumstance for a spy.
The first real breakthrough had occurred when someone mentioned GPSS. Some scientist, probably in the rec room. Of all the things he heard, it was lucky he did a little research on this one. He hit pay dirt, and was amazed to read the file on the whole affair. He was aware the thing was already on file at some government facility somewhere, but the information tied everything together for the first time. He wondered if they already knew this was related to what happened at GPSS, but asking questions like that was very stupid. He reported it as new findings.
He spent most of his time now trying to find out where this portal went. The GPSS papers didn't say, and the way they read he suspected someone had removed quite a bit of information from them. And between the omnipresent security and closemouthed technicians, just finding out where the bathroom was became a struggle.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It took only two hours for the boats to arrive, the plume of water just visible on the horizon and growing closer every minute. Scott would just be glad to get off his feet and out of danger. Maybe he would be excited about going to Balamb Garden when he was there.
When the boat touched shore Squall was the first one on, followed by Quistis. Both went up into the drivers compartment, probably to get on whatever form of communication the boat used to call the Garden. Zell lay Selphie down on one of the seats. Scott noticed he started to sit next to her, but then moved over to sit across when Irvine limped on board. There was obviously something going on with Zell and Selphie, but from what he had heard, Irvine was her boyfriend. Or maybe he wasn't. Scott didn't know, and the love triangle or whatever it was wasn't any of his business. What he didn't realize was that nobody else knew either. As the outsider, he had seen it first.
The interior of the ship was fairly bland, although it looked like there was a way up to some sort of deck above, which he thought he might check out later. Other than that there was some sort of screen on the far wall and that was it. Irvine sat across from Scott, leaning over towards him, apparently to brief him some more.
"We use these ships all over the world," Irvine said, patting one of the bulkheads. "They are extremely fast and pack a fair amount of fire power too. Top of line in amphibious landings, so it's a pretty sweet ride. We're lucky Cid diverted one to pick us up."
Scott figured he had to at least pretend to be impressed or have some sort of reaction. So far Irvine was his only friend here, and he didn't want to lose that. Unfortunately being friendly was becoming more and more of an effort. "They keep pretty busy, huh?"
"Oh yeah. Beach landings are the most common method of getting where we want to go, or at least most of the way there. You have amphibious assaults where you come from?"
Scott smiled at the question. "June 6, 1944."
"Very famous date in my country, and not a few others. Biggest amphibious assault in history. Or my history at least."
"Really? Tell me about it. There's nothing else to do."
So Scott did. He was past the invasion and talking about Cherbourg when Quistis came back down. She took a seat next to Zell, since Selphie took up all the rest of the other seat.
"So, what happened to you?" Zell asked.
Quistis leaned forward wearily. "I took a blow to the head when Rinoa's dad's house nearly collapsed on me and Squall."
"Oh. Does it still hurt?"
"What do you think Zell?"
"Oh, well, I was just thinking that maybe you were still hurt or something, so... Uh... I don't know."
Irvine laughed, leaning back into his seat. He looked at Quistis. "Don't confuse the poor boy Quistis. You know he has a limited capacity for sarcasm. Don't worry Zell, it's not your fault. You can't help being handicapped."
Zell frowned. Quistis just closed her eyes.
"What are you talking about?" Zell said, eyes narrowing. "I'm not handicapped."
Irvine started laughing again, and Quistis sighed, eyes still closed.
"Nothing, Zell," Quistis said, resting her head on the seat back. "Don't worry about it."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Nightfall was nearing by the time Balamb Island was in site. Scott was standing up on the deck, enjoying the sensation of the craft speeding across the water top. Getting closer every second, he could see the sparkling lights of a town he assumed to be Balamb. He was surprised at the size- towns that small were rare back in his world.
They passed several other boats coming in, fisherman returning home for the night. Scott dutifully waved back at them. Then, as they turned into the docks, he caught a glimpse of the Garden, or what he thought was the Garden, shining just above the treetops to the northwest. The lights glowed bright yellow and blue. He immediately revised what he pictured as the Garden in his head. He had figured it to be like any other military academy. Bright lights didn't fit into that.
As they docked, he went back downstairs to see if he had to wake anyone up. It wasn't necessary. Squall and Quistis were already at the door with Irvine. Zell was still trying to wrestle Selphie into a comfortable carrying position. The craft shook slightly, then came to a bobbing rest. Hydraulics hummed and the door opened with a woosh, it's three prongs coming apart like a peeled orange.
The streets were mostly empty. Everybody was in for the night and most stores were closed. The street appeared empty of vehicles except for one, idling at the entrance. Scott figured it was a SeeD vehicle when everybody else lit up at the sight of it. This was confirmed when the driver waved at them, opening the side sliding doors. When he was closer, Scott saw it was also armored.
Zell was the first one in, leveling Selphie into the back seat. The driver look at her in concern.
"Is she okay?"
Squall nodded, sliding into the front passenger seat. "She's healing."
"Does she need to go to the infirmary?"
Squall nodded again, already staring out the window. Once everybody else was in, the driver shifted gears and started the trip to Garden. On the road, he tried to start up conversation again.
"So, who's the new guy?"
Quistis was looking drowsy, Irvine was already asleep, Squall was unlikely to talk so Zell fielded the question.
"It's a long story," He said, trying to put a seat belt around the limp form of Selphie. "But he'll be at Garden for awhile."
"Long story huh?" The driver laughed, looking at Squall next to him. "Looks like it. What happened to your clothes?"
Zell grunted in exasperation. Selphie had almost fallen off the seat. He struggled with the seatbelt without answering. Scott reached over the seat back to help him.
"What, not going to tell me?"
"Huh?" Zell asked, not paying attention. With the combined strength of Scott, the seatbelt finally snapped together. "Oh, look Nida, we're saving it for debriefing. I'll tell you all about it later, okay?"
"Fine," Nida said, applying the brake to avoid hitting a large pothole at high speed. "But I want all the details."
Garden came into view about fifteen minutes later. Scott was surprised, and not a bit awed, at the huge structure. It didn't look anything like any school he had ever seen. The picture in his head had been of a standard military installation of boring concrete gray and monochrome tiled halls. What stood before him had more in common with some massive dance hall, complete with bright lights and terraces.
Nida pulled the car into the Garden garage. After it was parked and turned off, he hopped out and he and Squall helped Zell pull Selphie out. Squall lifted Selphie up with Zell and turned to Nida.
"I want you to find Scott a room for the night. We'll sort all this out with the headmaster tomorrow."
"Yes sir," Nida said, saluting. He motion at Scott. "He's Scott, I gather."
Squall didn't bothering answering such an inane question. He looked at Irvine questioningly. Irvine was hobbling to catch up. He nodded to the unspoken query.
"I can walk."
The three went off to the infirmary, leaving Scott and Nida standing just outside the car. Quistis slid out the door a bit unsteadily and went off after the others.
Nida looked over at Scott. He thought about asking a few questions, but held back. His curiosity could wait until tomorrow.
He motioned towards the dormitories with his head. "Let's go, I guess."
Scott followed him out of the garage into the commons area. As soon as Scott stepped out into that vast space, he froze, taking it all in.
It was a huge room, a dome shaped structure with branching hallways leading off into the outer rings of the Garden. It was apparent the entire place was concentric rings leading out from each other, the hallways neatly stacking to make a narrowing circle. Nida explained that the large square shaped protrusion on the other side of the Garden was a large auditorium and ball room. Surrounding the central walkway were fountains, which were also spaced in a smaller circle around an elevator shaft which was directly centered in the Garden, looking for all the world like a hollow glass support beam. Halfway to the ceiling was the first stop of the elevator, with branching suspended walkways leading off both sides into the upper portions of the Garden. At the very top built into the roof itself was a large circular space that the elevator shaft ended in, which Nida told him was the headmasters office and quarters and the control station for when the Garden was in motion.
"This thing moves?" Scott asked incredulously, eyeing the sheer size of the place.
Nida smiled, secretly proud to be showing off the Garden. "Indeed it does, thanks to the antigravity ring the can rotate around the bottom. The Garden is actually partially buried in the ground at the moment. There are a lot of passageways and rooms filled with machinery and stuff below us right now."
"But you guys have a ton of water in here. Wouldn't that mess the place up?"
Nida nodded, remembering. "It did when we first moved it. Damn near flooded the lower sections of the Garden, although thank Hyne the library was spared. Now we drain it all before we move."
"Where do we move or where does the water go?"
"Where does the water go?"
"Holding tanks at the bottom of the Garden. There was a bunch of space there that wasn't being used. If we need more speed we can just dump it out while moving."
Scott felt the strong need to explore, but it would have to wait. He followed Nida around the ring and down the hallway into the dormitories. The hallway ended in two stairwells to the left and right. Nida lead him up the right stairwell into the second floor men's dormitories. There wasn't anyone down here either, and Nida explained it was after curfew. After going up one more flight into the third floor they went down about twenty doors when Nida stopped at one.
"This is yours," He said, handed Scott a keycard. "It's a single room for higher rank SeeDs. Most rooms on this floor are doubles and the second floor is all triple bunks."
"What's on the first floor?"
"Like you saw, the first floor doesn't have that many rooms except that few along the entrance hallway, and there are about ten more behind the stairwells. Those are for teachers."
"How many floors are there?"
"Six. They get progressively smaller the higher you go up. The central elevator goes only to floors three and the headmasters office, where Squall has his own freaking penthouse. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Between you and me, it also goes all the way down, but most students don't know that. There are a few other elevators. One in the cafeteria that goes to the classrooms above, one in the library, and a maintenance elevator in the Training Center. No one is allowed to use the maintenance elevator and the library elevator only goes to some conference rooms over head. And only teachers use the one in the cafeteria, to get to their rooms from their breakfast before class. With all the kids here everybody just has to use the stairwells, and the one place we could really use an elevator or two is here in the dormitories, which we don't have."
Scott looked incredulous. Nida laughed at him.
"I know, it's not a very convenient system at all. Especially for such a large structure. But this place was converted into a school. It wasn't even it's original purpose. This whole thing was a mobile shelter built by the Centra."
"I should probably let Quistis or someone handle that question, I'd probably be talking a bunch of crap. Well, have a good night. I'll probably be the one they send to wake you up tomorrow."
With that, he left Scott standing in the dimly lit hallway. Scott realized Nida hadn't told him how to use the keycard. Well, there was only one pad on the door, and said pad had only one slot. There was only so many ways you could stick a rectangular card in a slot. After a few tries, he did it right and the door slid open.
The room was fairly bare. There was a dresser against the wall to his right, a small bathroom to his immediate left, a closet next to that a bit farther down, and against the far wall directly across from him an already made up bed. The bathroom had a shower that couldn't be more than three by three feet square, and a toilet and a sink with a mirrored medicine cabinet over it.
He looked down at himself, still wearing nothing but boxers. He sure was glad that nobody had been out and about in the halls. He opened the dresser. Unfortunately, it was empty. He was about to accept the prospect of spending the next day in his briefs when there was a quiet knock on the door. He fumbled with the pad, before deciding he should probably press the green button that said 'open' beneath it. Good thinking. The door slid aside to reveal Irvine, now clad in his usual gear. He tossed a bundle of clothes to Scott.
"Here," He said, turning to go. "Put those on tomorrow. Considering what those boxers have been through, I suggest you sleep naked if you want to sleep at all."
Scott looked down at the uniform his was now holding. "Right. What time are we getting up tomorrow?"
Irvine shrugged. "I wouldn't worry about it. We've all been through a lot and the debrief can wait. Get up whenever."
He started to leave, then turned back around and smiled at Scott. "Unless, of course, your not planning to sleep. I happen to know several ladies who might be interested in the company of a fine young man like yourself...."
Scott blinked. Was Irvine trying to pimp him out? Maybe he was just joking. Scott was too tired to tell.
Irvine just laughed at his lack of response. "Kidding, man. Just kidding. Your probably wiped anyhow. See you tomorrow."
With that, Irvine walked off down the hallway. Scott did nothing more than key his door shut before he collapsed into bed, and promptly fell asleep. But for others in the Garden, sleep was far from reach.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Selphie found herself wandering the Quad. It was past midnight now, 1:23 by her watch, and the Garden was silent but for the soft background noise of the fountains, and the faint hum of ancient machinery deep beneath her feet.
They had released her from the infirmary half an hour ago. She felt kind of bad that they had to run a late shift just for her. They had been nice about it though, and Quistis had went and picked up some clothes from her dorm. Now she was struggling to see if she could remember any of the mission after she had been shot. She thought she vaguely remembered another tunnel, with that man Scott sitting with Irvine across from her. But besides that, nothing.
Her footfalls echoed softly in the cavernous space of the central dome when she walked up the stairs. She wasn't sure why she was still up, especially after just fully recovering from a gunshot wound. She had just been sitting on the stage, thinking. About things she hadn't had time to think about before. About Irvine. And maybe.. A little about Zell.
She decided she should go back to the dormitories. She wasn't sure if she could sleep, but she should at least give it a try.
She was walking down the hallway to the stairwells when she saw Irvine coming down. He had one of his many guns with him, and all of his gear. Training at this time of night? Apparently she wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep. He stopped when he saw her. A smile spread across his face.
"Look who's up," He said, running over to give her a careful hug, since he knew she was probably still sore. "They give you a clean bill of health?"
"Yeah," She said, not looking at him. He slowly let go, unsure of what to do next. Her attitude puzzled him.
"Irvine," She said, now looking up at him. "We need to talk."
A dreaded sentence. He was about to reply when one of the teacher's dorm doors slid open, revealing one irritated geography professor.
"If you don't mind," He hissed, glaring at the two of them. "Some of us have to teach a class tomorrow."
They just walked away without answering, neither wanting to get into a loud argument and wake up anyone else. Automatically, without talking, they went to the Training Center. They stopped just in front of the double doors. There was an uncomfortably silence before Irvine broke it., fidgeting nervously with his gun.
"I... Guess we haven't talked much lately," He said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
Selphie said nothing, waiting for him to continue. What was there to say? Their relationship was like a bridge that had collapsed in the night. There was no sabotage here. Just a lack of maintenance. Irvine opened his mouth, then stopped. Suddenly he grunted in anger and stomped one foot on the ground.
"Hyne, why does this have to be so hard?" He burst out, looking at her. "Selphie, it's obvious we're not.... Together, anymore. I just want to know. Was it my fault?"
"No, Irvine," She said, shaking her head. "No, it's not. It just happened. Don't blame yourself. I don't."
He nodded, not knowing what to say next. This wasn't it, right? If it was, he wasn't going to be the first to walk away. He didn't think it was anyone's fault. They had never really been that serious. She had been his casual girl, it was all fun. So really, it shouldn't be this hard. But it was, because it had always been there in the back of their minds that they would always be together. It was expected. But it didn't happen that way, and now it might destroy the friendship they had too. He couldn't think of a way to tell her this without hurting her. She stepped in closer to him.
"Irvine. We may not be a couple, but I don't want this to break up our friendship. Can we put all this past us? It won't be easy, but maybe if we just tried...."
He smiled in great relief. Of course he could, he still wanted to be friends with her. He had just been worried she couldn't put it behind her.
He laughed, pulling her in for a hug. "Come here you!"
They shared a hug for a few seconds. Irvine broke it off. He sighed, still smiling.
"Well, as far as breakups go, that went well. No slapping, screaming, or kicking."
She giggled, walking back towards the dorms. "See you tomorrow, Irvy!"
"Bye," He said, turning to go into the Training Center, whistling a cheery tune.
Selphie practically skipped back to the commons. She was so happy that she and Irvine had managed to be mature enough not to tear apart their friendship over a relationship that had died peacefully. It wasn't really a breakup at all. Just a mutual realization that they hadn't had anything together but what they had created through expectations. And being with someone just because you always thought you should be wouldn't work. It was good that they had diffused this proverbial bomb before it blew up. With a little time, they would be back to best friends again.
She was circling towards the dormitory hallway when she spotted something extremely odd. There was somebody sitting on a chair on the third floor walkway off the elevator. It looked like... Zell? What in the world was he doing up there?
Having nothing else to do except go to bed, she decided to find out. Traversing the tiled floor and up the stairs, she entered the central elevator and rode it up to the walkway. The doors slid open, and sure enough, there was Zell. He was sitting on a folding chair, leaning halfway back, dressed again in his usual attire. He was holding several packs of Triple Triad cards in his hands, shuffling them. He looked over at her and smiled.
"Sweet, your back up! Feel okay?"
She opened her mouth to reply but was suddenly cut off by a strange moaning noise that seemed to come from nowhere. She started in surprise and looked around, but it was only her and Zell on the balcony. She was even more confused when Zell snorted in laughter, chuckling as he leaned farther back in his chair.
She looked at him, eyes wide. "Two things Zell- What are you doing up here, and what was that?"
Zell shrugged, sinking lower in his chair. "Sometimes I sit up here at night to think. It's a great view, and there's no one around to bother me."
Selphie bit one of her fingernails. Was he mad at her for bothering him? He didn't sound like it. It wasn't really fair of him to think she came up here to bother him, how was she supposed to know? She leaned against the rail across from him.
"Yeah, it's nice up here. What about the noise?"
"Shhh," Zell shushed her, lips spreading in his trademark grin. "Listen for a second and you might be able to tell."
They waited for a few seconds and it came again. Definitely a human moan. Female. But what was.... Ohhhh. Her cheeks reddened in a widening blush as she realized Squall's room was directly above them. She looked up and sure enough, there was a vent. Then Squall and Rinoa were...
Zell started quietly laughing at her, leaning his chair back even farther. She frowned, half in embarrassment and half for Rinoa's sake.
"You shouldn't be up here listening to them!"
Zell contorted his face into a expression that said 'So?'. "I was here first. I didn't come up here just to listen. But it helps pass the time. I'm playing a little game with myself- every time I hear Rinoa, I lean my chair back a little further. I'm trying to see how long it takes before I fall."
He had no sooner finished speaking when a particularly loud moan came drifting down the vent and, sure enough, Zell tipped over with a crash that seemed incredibly loud in the silence. Selphie grabbed his hand, pulling him up and dragging him down the hallway towards the classrooms.
"You are not going to stay there and listen," She scolded, walking quickly. "And what if you woke somebody up with that crash?"
"Oh, come on Selph. Where's your sense of humor, man? 'Sides, we saved the freaking world, I think they can cut us a little slack for being out past curfew."
Out past curfew with Selphie Tilmitt. Out past curfew with Selphie Tilmitt who was holding his hand. Out past curfew with Selphie Tilmitt who was holding his hand and was already taken by one of his best friends.
Play it cool, Dincht. Don't do anything stupid.
"Besides, it's not like anyone's going to think we're making out or something."
My brain doesn't listen to me.
"Unless of course, you want to."
My brain wants me dead.
Selphie was a bit confused. That was a very Irvine flavored line Zell had just delivered. Zell Dincht, who, last time she had checked, blushed when a girl looked at him. Did he go through some type of rapid change in maturity, or was he high? Before she could ask him, he was already apologizing.
"Oh, sorry Selph, I'm just kidding. I don't know where the hell that came from, I'll... Just shut up now."
Selphie said nothing. What was wrong with Zell tonight? This just wasn't like him at all. Staying up late, listening to Squall and Rinoa? The Zell she knew went to bed after exhausting himself in the Training Center, and would have been far too embarrassed to stay on the walkway. Now that she thought about, he had been acting strange for awhile now. Well, he was her friend, and she was going to get to the bottom of it. She knew just where to do it too.
There was a room she had found once, a small one, that was not part of the known Garden structure. She had seen it on some defense plan blueprints of Garden, which she had found on the computer system in the basement. It had been after they had discovered the Garden could move, and Squall had requested that they be printed in case there was anything else important they needed to know.
It was apparently the remnants of some stairwell construction that was never completed, a room built into the ceiling over the third floor classroom hallway. It wasn't anything important that she needed to tell anyone else about, it was empty. The only way to get to it was by releasing one of the light fixtures underneath it and crawling up inside the framework that held the Garden together. If you carefully crossed a series of beams, you could climb up and over into the room which was about ten by seven feet rectangular, with walls about four feet high. Just a small drywall box with no top, sitting there in the beams.
She had only been in it once, right after she had found it in the blueprints. Late at night she had made her way into the ceiling just to see if it was still there. And now it was the perfect place to talk to Zell without getting caught out after curfew.
"Hey," she said, tugging on his arm. "I want to show you something."
Zell's mind jumped to all the obvious male conclusions on what exactly she wanted to show. But figuring there was no way in hell he could be that lucky, he settled on being clueless.
"Come on," Selphie urged, not answering. She led him a bit further down the hallway until they had completely circled the third floor by walking, and back to the place where the walkway met the hallway. She remembered the exact spot well, since it was where she had first met Squall.
Zell was confused further when she stopped and started jumping up towards one of the lights. She stopped and looked at him, judging his height. Zell had hit his growth spurt after fighting Ultimecia and had gained quite a few inches.
"Here," She said, putting her hands on his shoulders. "Give me a boost."
Zell complied, easily hefting her up towards the ceiling. While she fiddled with the light, he spent the time studying her well rounded posterior, which happened to be right by his face.
With clank, the fixture came free, and she pushed it up into the hole it had come from, sliding it back out of the way. She looked down at Zell to tell him to let her down, and saw him doing what could only be described as staring at her rear end. He gave a start when he realized she was looking at him, eyes wide. Unable to quickly think of a way to cover, he just lowered her back down to the floor, averting his gaze.
Selphie wasn't really sure what to think. Was Zell just checking out my ass? Sure, she was attracted to him, but it was hard to think of Zell thinking that way. It just didn't seem like him. Still, did this mean that he liked her that way too? Immediately she tried to push that thought to the back of her mind. Jumping to conclusions wasn't the good thing to do here. He was a guy after all, so in the end it was probably just the natural instinct. She knew he probably hadn't even been thinking about it. One ass checking out does not a love make.
She jumped up again, pulling her self up and over into the ceiling. Zell just followed without asking questions. Going up into the ceiling in the middle of the night was weird, but it was with Selphie, so he wasn't complaining. Once he was in, Selphie slid the light back into place.
Zell had figured it would be pitch black, but instead he could see just fine. The lights in the lengths of the hallway gave off their dim glow up here too. The fixtures weren't covered on the top. During the day, they would be even brighter.
He followed her along the beam, one foot in front of the other. He wondered, if he fell, would he fall through the ceiling back into the hall? Best not to find out.
It was only a few yards before Selphie lowered herself down into something he couldn't see yet, since it was below his line of sight. When he came closer, he found himself looking down into the box, surprise stamped across his features. What the hell is this?
He hopped down into the box, his impact making a louder noise than he expected, echoing through the rafters and sending vibrations through the floor. He winced, looking apologetically over at Selphie. She just sat down, patting the floor indicating that he should too. Warily, he complied, not at all sure what was happening.
"Zell, we've all been a little worried about you," Selphie began, figuring 'we' would be safer than 'I'. "You just haven't been yourself lately."
Oh, so that was it. This was a therapy session for Zell, the only one in the group who just couldn't be normal, just couldn't get a girlfriend or be happy all the time. Well, who was she to talk?
"Me?" Zell demanded. "What about you? What's been up with you?"
"This isn't about me," She stammered.
Oh, yes it is. "I don't see how it's any of your business."
"Zell, why won't you let me help you? You should have asked me, or any of us for help if you need it."
Because asking you for help would be asking you out. "Maybe I don't need help."
"And maybe you do Zell!" She said, anger coming through for the first time.
Zell jumped to his feet, pacing back and forth. He couldn't sit still when he was like this. Should he just tell her? Why even bother, when she was with Irvine. Selphie watched him in silence, waiting for him to say something or sit down. He sat down.
Zell was not the kind of guy who could really hide his feelings, it was obvious that something was eating at him. She repressed a sigh of exasperation. They had always been close, and if he couldn't talk to her, she didn't know who he could talk to.
"Zell, please," She pleaded. "I just want to help."
He looked up in anger, but when his eyes met her crystal green ones, he just couldn't say no any longer. He knew there was no way he could get up the self-confidence to tell her that he wanted to be with her, but he could try to explain that it was his love life, or lack of it, that was getting him down. No doubt this would only result in her fixing him up with some of her unattached friends or whoever else she could lampoon into going out with him. Here goes nothing...
"It's just," He tried to start, struggling with the words.
"You know, it's... Well, Squall is with Rinoa, obviously...."
'Your in love with Rinoa?"
"No! Hyne, it's just you have Irvine and I have no-"
"Me and Irvine broke up."
"You see? That's exactly what I'm- What?"
"Me and Irvine broke up."
Zell felt something that could only be likened to a brick impacting somewhere in his mid torso. Selphie and Irvine.. Broke up? When? How? Why? Who cares Dincht, this is your chance, before some other guy snags her! As if. Ironically, now that she actually was free, he was even more nervous. Before when she was with Irvine at least he couldn't tell her because Irvine was his friend. Now, she was unattached, and sitting up in the ceiling alone with him in the middle of the night. Be careful what you wish for. Zell might have been comforted if he had known that during his entire train of thought, his face, for once in his life, actually betrayed nothing.
Selphie, for her part, was trying to read into Zell's reaction, with no success. Rather shocking, since usually Zell was an open book to the world. He was thinking hard about something. Well, so was she. She had come up here to help Zell with his problems. Alone with him, she had made a realization. She wanted to be with Zell Dincht. She loved his hair, his eyes, the way he moved, his strange obsession with hotdogs, the way he smiled, his exuberance, his firmly muscled body....... Which brought up another question- did he feel the same way? At all? Was he even attracted to her?
Selphie had never been much of a tease, but she was definitely a woman, and there was only one way to find out. Keeping silent under the pretense of not wanting to disturb his thinking, she innocently shifted her position on the floor, allowing her dress to ride up to expose few more good inches of thigh. She was immediately rewarded with a slight blush suffusing Zell's cheeks. That was the Zell she knew. But it still didn't answer her question. So he was embarrassed. But did he want more? Again, there was only one way to find out.
She suddenly stood up and walked the few feet between them, slumping down next to him. She felt him stiffen at the closeness. So far, so good.
"What are you thinking?" She asked him, looking down at the floor. She rubbed her hand across the floor as if idly feeling the texture, her hand 'accidentally' brushing his several times.
Zell figured now was not a time for honesty, since if he voiced his thoughts at this particular moment it would result in a restraining order. "Nothing."
"Mm." She hummed noncommittally. Then she took the big jump. She leaned her head back as if staring at the ceiling, resting it against the wall, looking straight up. Giving Zell a clear line of sight down her shirt front. Booby trap.
For Zell, it proved to be too much to resist. She let about two seconds pass before she jerked her head up and found him rapturously taking in the view. He gave a sudden start when he realized she was looking right at his face. His eyes met hers, filled with guilt and apprehension at the immediate backlash he knew was coming.
Instead, she took the final plunge. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him.
The second her soft lips touched his Zell lost all orientation. He wasn't sure who he was, where he was, or why he was there, but he knew one thing- Selphie Tilmitt was kissing him, and unless he was mistaken, he had just felt a bit of tongue.
Selphie broke the kiss, looking at him, gauging his reaction. She had felt it, that magnetism, that spark between him. She could see it in his eyes now, and knew without a doubt that he felt the same way. She also knew what would come next.
Zell immediately tried to apologize, even though she had clearly initiated the kiss. "Selph, I'm-"
She silenced him again.
When they pulled back for the second time, Zell shook his head a little and took a deep breath.
"Uh, I guess then... Want to be my girlfriend, Sephie?"
She giggled at him, the sweet sound suffusing his senses, and answered him the best way possible.
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic