On Earth as it is in Hell Chapter 16
By Caleb Nova
"Whenever I think about Garden, it always strikes me as odd that such an installation could be accepted at face value. But we did. A gigantic school founded for the single purpose of molding young children into mercenaries. It turned out to be a facade, but what does it say about a world that never questioned such a thing?"
-Quistis Trepe, What's Hyne Got To Do With It?
Like the night that had come before, Balamb Garden was sleeping, the faint gurgle and deep hum always present in the great structure the only noise. But unlike the previous night, Scott Keyor was the one who roamed about the tiled floors like a ghost, a sleepless soul in search of nothing.
He had been unable to sleep. The meeting that evening had not given him much to hope for. It had been made apparent that no one present could help him achieve his goal of returning back to his native dimension. The others repeatedly referred to a 'Odine' who was the most likely person to be able to help him, but he resided in another country and they had yet to reach him.
He wasn't sure what time it was. He hadn't looked at a clock since he had left his room what felt like hours before. He sighed. There was no point in wearing down his shoes for no reason, he should at least try to sleep again. Still, he had to admit that there was something strangely comforting about the Garden at night, a sense of security that felt strange in a large dimly light room that should have been creepy.
He slowly made his way back to the staircases, pausing by one of the fountains to look down into it, watching the bubbles rise to the surface. He couldn't get over how fancy this place was for a military academy. When he reached the stairs, he stopped, hidden in the shadows when he saw someone else coming down the girls dormitory steps. His nerves kicked in. What if it was a teacher? Would they bust his ass for being out past curfew, or would it not matter since he wasn't a student?
It all became a moot point when the shadowy figure in question turned out to be Selphie. She moved quietly and with extreme stealth, obviously utilizing her training. She disappeared up the staircase into the men's dormitories. Scott figured he knew exactly where she was going, and it wasn't any of his business. He was relaxing a little bit when yet another unknown came out of the shadows to his right. He gave a tremendous start, barely stifling a yelp. He saw the other person do the same. It was Nida.
"Holy shit," Nida gasped, leaning against the wall. "You just about killed me. What the hell are you doing up?"
"I could ask you the same."
Nida shrugged, pushing himself back up. "Hey, I'm legit. I was over fixing one of the Training Center doors. Some wise ass stuck a bunch of sticky tack in the lock."
Scott decided he knew Nida enough by now not to be tactful. "I thought you were a SeeD. What's with the janitorial work?"
Nida shrugged again. "I have no idea. This stuff just always seems to fall to me. Squall hands off these odd jobs, usually while staring at some stack of papers, and of course I'm the only guy near by not conspicuously doing something important." He sighed. "If I'm not piloting, I'm being ignored. I've learned to live with it."
Scott knew the feeling. He had been a late bloomer in High School, one of the scrawny little kids who always ended getting seated next to the teachers desk and was told to run papers to the office. He had graduated in three years, all of them spent in obscurity. He hadn't been picked on, but he hadn't made any friends either.
"Hey, that sucks man."
"It's not so bad. I still get sent on missions sometimes, and I'm lucky to count Squall and the rest of them as my friends. Between you and me, it really helps my status with the ladies. Before I really was totally ignored, now at least I can bask in their reflected glory."
Scott laughed, cutting it off when he realized where he was, sending a darting glance towards the closed dorm doors closest to them. Nothing moved. He sighed in relief, turning back to Nida.
"That's cool. I suppose being the friend of heroes would get you some female attention."
"Your not so bad yourself, I saw all the looks you were getting in the Cafeteria today."
"Well, I can't really get involved."
Nida looked at him thoughtfully, reminded that he had never heard the full story on Scott. He filed it away once more for another time. "That's too bad, since this is the place to get involved in."
Scott nodded in complete agreement. "No kidding man. I haven't seen an unattractive girl here yet. It's amazing."
Nida smiled, raising his eyebrows. "That's what's great about living in a school that emphasizes on combat. No fat chicks."
Scott snorted, covering his mouth with his arm to keep from making noise. "Amen."
With that, they went upstairs together, quietly cracking jokes. They split up on the second floor, Nida's dorm being on the fourth. Scott keyed open his door and lay down in bed, finally succumbing to sleep.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Morning dawned on the Garden, the sun dispelling the shadows of the night before. It seeped through the blinds of Quistis's room, falling softly on her luminous features. The Garden had once housed morning bells, now a thing of the past after it's sudden transformation. They had been broken in the collision with Fisherman's Horizon, and now lay gathering dust in some storage room deep in the MD level. As such, she could no longer rely on the bells to wake her and had to resort to the crude screech of a digital alarm clock. It emitted said screech at precisely 6:15, which was fast approaching.
The alarm was superfluous since she was already awake, having been so for several minutes.
Another day at Garden. Another class to teach. More tests to grade, more students to send to detention. Another meaningless day at Garden.
This was why she wanted to go on missions, because it was so much easier to believe her life meant something when she was doing something important. When she was making a difference. When she was too concentrated on completing the objective at hand to think about her life. She hated being alone like this in her room, hated the self-pitying thoughts that sprang unbidden in her mind. Get up and do something Quistis. People will be counting on you today.
She needed a vacation, she needed a different job, a different existence, a different life. She didn't know what she needed. Well, whatever it was, she wasn't going to find it laying in bed.
While Quistis prepared for the morning ahead, someone else not too far away did the same under very different circumstances. Seifer had been on the boat most of the previous day, and now he faced the task of lugging his load the rest of the way on foot. He could see the Garden in the distance, the just risen sun giving the dome a glittery sheen. There was no way he could just walk in the front entrance, too many people would know who he was. In fact, now that he was almost near his destination, he realized he had no idea how to go about doing what he was about to do. It would be of the utmost idiocy to waltz in carrying the weapons of the dead commander and his friends. They could and probably would blame him anyway, the last thing he needed to do was to provide evidence. The only people who wouldn't attempt to kill him on sight were Cid and Edea. Top floor, the three windows near the peak if he remembered correctly. He would have to wait for nightfall. But then again, if he broke into their room in the dark, it would look even worse. He would have to somehow scale the side of the Garden unseen in the middle of the day, carrying several hundred pounds in equipment up the almost sheer walls, and then break through the bulletproof windows into Cid's office without making too much noise. Seifer looked at the Garden, looked at the bag he was carrying, and looked back at the Garden.
Ten minutes later, Seifer walked in through the front entrance. The SeeD manning the gate gazed up from his magazine and did a double take.
The SeeD dived back down behind the counter and slammed on the alarm.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The alarm jolted Squall out of his paper work stupor, sudden adrenaline coursing through his veins. He knew it wasn't a drill, he had not planned a drill. He quickly moved from his chair to the row of security monitors that lined one of the walls. The monitors had little LED lights on their sides to indicate which camera was closest to the alarm that had been trigger. The only monitor flashing was the one overlooking the entryway, and via it's colorless lens he could see a lone figure attempting to fend off several students with a gunblade. Like lighting, recognition shot through him. Seifer.
He assumed the worst. If Seifer was indeed attacking the Garden, there was no guarantee he would be by himself. Squall pulled his gunblade from his sheath and ran for the elevator. Another thought made his blood run cold. Rinoa had gone down to the cafeteria as per her usual schedule. Rinoa was down there with him. Fear gripping his heart, Squall ran faster.
Seifer knew he had overestimated his own stamina. He was quickly tiring, trying to fend off several trainees while protecting his precious luggage, now stashed behind the counter of the stall, and more students were gathering every second. The instructors had evacuated the younger kids from the area, and everybody else seemed to be waiting for something. Fools. If they all attacked at once they could take him down, but they hesitated, waiting for someone to take charge. What if he had been at full strength with the actual intent to cause some damage? They would not have stood a chance, not with their best fighters and leaders dead. Well, not if he had been at full strength anyway.
"Back off!" He snarled at the nearest SeeD, clumsily swinging his gunblade to ward her off. He looked straight into her eyes and tried to reason through the fear he saw there. "I need to see Cid, I don't want to hurt you!"
A javelin was thrown from somewhere in the back and he barely dodged it, sweeping his blade up to cut it in half. It would only be a matter of minutes until someone scored a hit, possibly a fatal one. It was at that moment that Seifer was distracted by a ghost.
Squall Leonhart came barreling out of the elevator with a gunblade in hand and murder in his eyes. Seifer froze, utterly confused at the scene before him. The students surrounding him melted away, and then before he could even draw breath, Squall was on him.
He barely blocked the first blow, sparks igniting at the contact, both blades sliding away to bite into the floor. He tried to back away but was too slow, and before he could raise Hyperion again Squall had kicked him in the gut, sending him sprawling backwards. The kicked was followed by a lethal downward swing. He could feel the metal brush the top of his hair as he pulled himself towards Squall with his feet, just removing his head from the impact. Squall jumped to one side and used Seifer's position under his legs to deliver another kick to the former Knight's side, sending him crashing into the counter.
In desperation, Seifer used most of his strength in a leap over the counter, Squall's gunblade carving a deep slice were his legs had been. He was out of shape and taken by surprise, dragged down by fatigue and atrophied skills. He didn't stand a chance and he knew it. He painfully crashed to the floor on the other side of the stall and rolled over, one hand grasping into the bag. His hand found the hilt of the Lionheart just as Squall was halfway over the counter. Out of time, Seifer held the Lionheart at his chest, waiting for the end he knew was coming. There was the sound of Squall's feet hitting the floor, the all to familiar swish of a gunblade, and then.... Nothing.
Seifer lay perfectly still, the point of Squall's blade tickling his throat, length of the sword resting on the Lionheart. Squall's gaze was fixed on it, confusion plainly stamped across his features. A voice broke the standstill. A familiar voice.
Rinoa came running, Zell, Selphie, Quistis and Irvine in tow. The sea of students parted to allow them through. Slowly, Squall backed away from Seifer, business end of the gunblade still pointed carefully at his enemy's head.
The group reached the stall and froze in disbelief at the scene before them, at someone they had never expected to see again. Everyone but Zell. Rage lit up his features, and it was almost as if he had expected something like this to happen.
"SEIFER!" He roared, clearing the counter in a single jump. Quick as lighting, he brought up his fist to strike a blow to Seifer's head.
"Zell, no!" Rinoa cried out, stopping the martial artist from carrying out his intentions. Zell slowly backed away, sliding back over the counter, still fuming. Selphie tentatively gripped his hand soothingly, trying to calm him down.
Seifer sat up and everyone jumped, leveling their weapons at him. He held up his hands, wiggling his fingers in a mocking fashion to show he wasn't armed. He looked at Squall, who was still fixated on the Lionheart, unable to understand it's presence. Scott stood in the back, wondering what was going on.
"That's gratitude," Seifer grunted, trying to ignore the pain that was just now beginning to register in his system. A few cracked ribs, at least. "I bring you back your shit and you kick the crap out of me. Yeah, go ahead and let Dincht hit me, I'll just keep these."
Seifer reached back and opened the bag, spilling it's contents on the floor. The SeeDs' eyes widened at the rest of their weapons. Even the present situation couldn't stop Selphie from letting loose a squeal at the sight of her Strange Vision. Zell only turned redder.
"Where the fuck did you get those?!"
"If you answer, 'Why the fuck aren't you dead', I might know why the fuck I have these."
Zell opened his mouth for what was sure to be some angry retort but Quistis held him back, placing a hand on his arm. She looked around at all the gathered students, staring at the confrontation, whispering amongst themselves. She motioned to Squall. "Your office would be a better place, I think."
He nodded. Nudging Hyperion out of Seifer's reach, he bent down and warily helped him to his feet, eyes carefully gauging the blond man's state. He let go of his arm as soon as Seifer was standing, backing away with Lionheart now in hand. The rest of the SeeDs quickly recovered their weapons and surrounded the two. Squall opened the gate leading out of the stall. Forming a circle around the battered Seifer, they walked to the elevator, parting the students again. While the others escorted their somewhat willing prisoner to the top floor, Quistis dropped behind to send all of the students back to their classes, trying to restore some order. Reluctantly, the crowd dispersed, leaving Scott standing with Nida at the foot of the stairs. Quistis smiled apologetically at Scott.
"I'm sorry, this is SeeD business, so...."
"Oh, no, it's cool," Scott said, passing it off with a wave of his hand. "Nida was going to show me the MD level anyway."
"All right then. Be careful though, and stay away from the turbines."
With that, she too went up the elevator. Scott turned to Nida, noting the fading anger in his eyes. Apparently he had some beef with whoever that had been too. Although the blond guy had looked familiar... He was distracted from this line of thought when Nida seemed to shrug off whatever was bothering him, leaving it to Squall to handle things. He smiled at Scott.
"It's pretty cool down there man, you can go swimming in the tanks since there's always some water in them. The tanks are freaking huge."
Scott raised an eyebrow. "Wouldn't that be a little dangerous if they happen to dump the fountains? I think having several tons of water fall on top of you might be a little damaging."
"Don't worry about it, we only do that while airborne, and besides, an alarm goes off first. Come on, lets go."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Seifer was careful not to let his feelings show on his face. He was surrounded by people he had assumed to be dead. Obviously, this assumption had been false. He looked at all of them, the tension clearly affecting each. Zell was being held back by Selphie who was trying to soothe him. The chicken-wuss and Selphie? Pointedly, he sent a glance at both of them, looking back and forth between them before letting out a low chuckle. Zell tensed up, face coloring, but Selphie only gave his hand a squeeze, sticking her tongue out at Seifer. Over in the other corner Rinoa was doing the same thing for Squall, albeit much less noticeably. Squall had always had much more self-control than Zell. Irvine was the most relaxed of all of them, hat drooping halfway over his eyes. He met Seifer's gaze with a steady one of his own, nodding his head slightly as if in recognition.
The elevator doors slid open, and Seifer was walked into Squall's office and seated in a chair across from the desk. Zell and Selphie sat to his right, Irvine to his left. Squall sat behind his desk with Rinoa standing behind him. Seifer hid a smile. The evil Overlord with his right-hand babe, a movie cliché come to life. Fucking pathetic.
There was silence until Quistis arrived moments later, standing to the other side of Squall, completing the picture. He was unable to read the look in her eyes, so he winked at her, noting with pleasure the total lack of response. Cold as ever.
Squall started the dialogue with his usual manner. "Where did you get the weapons?"
Seifer leaned back, faking a thoughtful look. "Well you know Squall, I'm not quite sure. Maybe five bucks would refresh my memory....."
No reaction. Seifer sighed, shaking his head at Squall. "All this time and still no sense of humor. Rinoa, I'm disappointed in you. I figured if anything some hot sex would-"
"Shut up!" Zell snarled, half out of his chair. "He asked you a fucking question!"
Seifer frowned, studying him not with contempt, but with genuine curiosity. Had chicken-wuss grown a spine? He tried staring Zell down, but Zell stared back with even more fury. Interesting. He decided to dispense with the mocking attitude... For now. He shrugged.
"The new rulers of Deling. They wanted me to bring them back."
Squall frowned. "Why?"
"How the hell should I know? You think they told me all their top secret plans so I could relate them back to you verbatim? I figured you guys had bit it anyway, I never would've thought you could drag yourself more than ten feet away from your sword, Leonhart."
"Oh, I see, those two words just explain everything. Will somebody who can actually talk do so?"
Rinoa had always been insightful, and her new powers only enhanced the natural cognitive abilities she had. Seifer might be acting like his old self, but looking into his eyes she could tell it was all show. He was worn, inside and out. Just a shadow of the arrogant young man he had been. She opened her mouth and cut into the conversation.
"Where were you?"
"Where were you when they asked for your help?"
Seifer leaned forward. "They didn't ask for my help, they demanded it. And of course I was in Deling, you think they'd let me into Trabia or Esthar?"
Zell snorted. "In Deling doing what, sleeping in dumpsters? You look like shit Almasy."
"So do you, and you've been showering every morning. Probably with Squa-"
"Stop it, both of you," Quistis broke in, walking over to stand between them. "It's not important where he was, but what he knows."
Seifer raised an eyebrow. Quistis, defending him? Some sort of residual teacher instinct kicking in no doubt. "Hey, I brought back your stuff, and I know things about Deling. You don't get something for nothing."
"Then what do you want?" Squall asked quietly.
What did he want? What did he want? I want to change the last few years, I want a rewind on all the shit that went wrong, I want to go away and hide for the rest of my life. I want, I want.... Oh hell, I want-
"A second chance."
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Several days had passed, and the Agent still wasn't getting any closer to the truth. He was wandering the deserted halls late at night under the pretense of searching for the bathroom, who's location he was well aware of, but it was hard enough to find that he wouldn't draw any undue suspicion.
He needed papers. He needed video, computer files, anything. He needed evidence. And that was in short supply. The GPSS files had told him all they could and were now useless unless he could find the unedited version. When he had first arrived it had seemed like the clock was ticking, they had been gearing up towards something, men and machinery coming and going, research moving at a frantic pace. Then one day the crowds had disappeared and things had gone quiet around the base. Whatever had been going to happen had, and he had been too late to stop it.
He might not have a second chance.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The six had gathered in Squall and Rinoa's room adjoining his office, sitting on various chairs or the bed. Only Zell stood, pacing back and forth in front of the window. Seifer was under guard in the Headmaster's office, awaiting the decision. Squall knew that technically the choice was his and Cid's to make, but he felt the others deserved some say after all that had happened. Zell was the first to speak.
"No," He said, arms crossing across his chest. "No."
"Zell-" Rinoa started.
"No goddamn way. Not after what he did. Not anymore. No."
"Give us the chance to talk this out before you-"
"How can you even think it Rinoa? Remember Adel? Remember that shit he tried to do to you? And now you want to let him the fuck back in?!"
"I didn't say that Zell."
"Yeah, well, I did. And the answer is no, and if your smart that's what you'll say too."
Squall sighed. He didn't know what to think. Most of him agreed with Zell, but he could tell at least Selphie and Rinoa and probably Irvine too were willing to at least give him a chance. Quistis seemed impassive, but he knew her well enough to see that the wheels were turning. Her decision would be a mystery to him. Seifer did not seem all that repentant though, and it wasn't weighing in his favor.
It was then that Edea walked into the room, her presence a breath of fresh air, a comforting feeling of security. She was their mother, and they all loved her. Even with Rinoa she had filled the hole left by Rinoa's mother. Whatever she had to say would be listened to well.
Edea delicately sat in a chair by Zell, placing a calming hand on his arm. The effect was immediate, and Zell stopped pacing, sitting on the floor next to her. Edea was still beautiful, face only barely lined from the passing of years.
She looked at all of them. How far they had all come, how much they had grown.
Squall, always the silent one, so bitter so young. But even now he was changing for the better. Just the day before she had seen him smile at something Zell had said, and she rejoiced that at last he could be happy.
Irvine, more complicated than most gave him credit for. Ladies man, sharpshooter, philosopher. He had brought the group back together when they had all forgotten, himself once more an integral part of the tight knit friends. They were all held together by bonds more profound than they could imagine, and he was one of them.
Selphie, the sunshine and laughter. They could count on her during their darkest hour to be the light that led the way, no matter what it cost herself. Edea wished that she could forever be so bright without faking it.
Zell, such a firebrand, always so loud and outspoken. But Edea had seen the loneliness that had been hidden behind the facade, and she was glad to see Selphie by his side, to be a calming Yin to his raging Yang.
Quistis, still the leader even when she didn't realize it. Squall had been forced to lead by circumstance, Quistis took responsibility without thought to protect her family. Now she hid behind that responsibility from a life that held no meaning besides her friends, and Edea hoped that she found someone to share happiness with soon.
Rinoa had not been in the Orphanage, but Edea felt that she knew her as well as the others. She had become one of them, and despite her pampered childhood events of the recent past had left her as much of a hardened warrior as any in the room. She was the supports that held up Squall, the other half of him. It was good she was here now, for he would need her to make the right choice.
And they were all here to decide the fate of her last child, Seifer. She had come to tell them what they needed to hear to make the right decision, before they condemned him without knowing enough.
She sighed, ready to defend him just as she would the rest of them. "I came here to ask you to give Seifer a second chance."
Nobody was surprised, but Zell clenched his fists, willing himself to be impervious to whatever she had to say.
"You hate Seifer because you believe he betrayed you all," Edea said, making eye contact with all of them. "You all suffered at his hands, but no one suffered more than him."
"So he spent a few bad months in Deling," Zell grunted, not looking up. "And that just makes it all better?"
"Seifer betrayed himself and was unable to stop. He was controlled Zell, every step of the way. I....." She stopped, blinking for a minute. Only the passage of time would cleanse the burning memories. "Ultimecia, twisted his sense of valor, his desire to protect, to be a Knight to her own purposes. He does not remember much of what has occurred, he.... Does not know of Trabia or what happened between Rinoa and Adel."
Nobody questioned Edea's knowledge of this, even without powers she could see things others could not. What Edea said only confirmed what Rinoa had suspected all along. Seifer had always been too ambitious for his own good, but never evil. She and everyone else also understood the unspoken request not to tell him, at least not yet.
Zell put his face in his hands, knowing what was coming. Seifer may have been controlled, but that didn't change his feelings one iota. Seifer had been his enemy before anyone had ever heard of Ultimecia.
Squall sighed, nodding his acquiescence. "He can recuperate and take the SeeD exam. If he passes, he will be reinstated. If he should cause problems, he's out."
Edea smiled. "That is all I can ask."
Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic