Fire Petals Chapter 13
Squall sat motionless in the dark, leaning against a hard steel wall. His eyes were wide open in his sleeplessness, though he could see no better than if they had been closed.
Irvine had brought him down to the dicliplinary floor by use of the elevators, throwing him angrily into the steel vault he sat in now. Irvine hadn't said a word to him--didn't even look at him as he led him around by his arm. It had made Squall feel horrible, knowing Irvine would not listen if he had tried to explain what had happened. It had been a long, uncomfortable trip.
Sensory deprivation was the harshest punishment anyone could recieve in a Garden besides expulsion. *Maybe this is . . . just a temporary place to hold me until they can officially kick me out of here. I bet they're signing the papers right now.*
Squall couldn't hear or see or feel anything that existed in the outside world. The only person he had to deal with facing now was himself.
And that would be the hardest of all.
It was obvious to Squall that the people he thought were his friends were just as quick to condemn him as a complete stranger would be. They stared at him, looked *down* at him, like he was an insect. A hideous creature that didn't diserve to live.
He remembered Rinoa's face, her tear-streaked, shocked face, as Zell led her delicately down the hall, trying to keep her out of Squall's view as they left. She had refused to look at anything but the floor.
*At least she's still alive. I have to be thankful for that.* But she was scarred, he knew, and it would be even easier to see her emotional scar than the one, say, on Squall's forehead. Seifer had now left his mark on both of them.
As he watched Zell and Rinoa walk away, Irvine and Quistis had held his arms to keep him from doing anything rash, but he didn't fight. He couldn't fight his friends. He hoped he could prove that to them.
*Even if they did give me a chance to explain, what would I say? That Seifer took over my mind and it's all his fault? They'd just call me an irrisponsible lunatic . . . Maybe I AM a lunatic.*
It was possible. Had all those events, where Seifer had mentally spoken to him, controlled him, just been his imagination? He had believed Seifer was controlling him, but it may only have been himself. This obviously meant he was insane, and a plea to that idea would have him demoted to . . . he didn't even know what. He'd never be allowed to fight for Garden again.
*I'm sure it was Seifer. I can't be carzy . . . or at least not at the time it happened . . . I think I'm driving myself crazy in HERE . . .*
The thick metal door to the six-foot-square chamber opened suddenly, bathing the black walls in flourescent light. *Well, here they are to tell me that I'm kicked out. Sentenced to spending the rest of my life in an insane asylum . . .* A light hanging form the cielig turned on, and Quistis enetered. *Hm. She came to tell me in person.* Quistis was calm. She sat on the floor right beside him. The heavy door closed. *She's not afraid to be alone with me in here? What if I --if Seifer-- did the same thing to her?*
"Squall?" she asked quietly, soothingly, trying to find out if he was awake. She couldn't see the slumped figure's face.
"Yeah?" he didn't move an inch.
"I want you to tell me what happened today. From your viewpoint, not how you think we saw it." her voice was like that of patient mother whose child had just accidentally broken a lamp..
"Why are you in here alone with me? I could do the same thing to you . . . you don't know what could happen . . . "
"I'm here because the others sent me. I'm here because I want to be here. I'm here because I trust you."
"All of you . . . you must hate me. I saw the anger in Irvine's eyes and the fear in Rinoa's. I saw Selphie, and Zell, and *you*, all looking down at me. . .You were all so angry . . ."
"We were confused, Squall, not angry."
"Infuriated. Don't lie to me."
"I tell you the truth. Our group had a long discussion. Rinoa told us what happened. Selphie cried--she was afraid for you. Rinoa's terribly confused, and so am I. Irvine remained mostly silent. I doubt he knew what to think. Zell was angry, but knew that something horrible must have happened to you . . . after what you called him. But let me assure you, not one of us hates you. I think you need to learn that you can trust your friends not to abandon you."
"They . . . you . . . are sticking with me here?"
"Of course. If not yours, then whose side could we be on?"
"I think I should get a turn to ask the questions, now." In truth, Quistis was afraid to tell him where to find her until she had learned his side of the story. "Does Seifer have anything to do with this?"
"Why do you ask?"
"You called Zell 'chicken wuss'. Rinoa noticed she picked up some of his nervous habits from you."
"I can't tell you." *He'll kill Rinoa. He'll . . . kill me.* He did not fear death, but damn well knew he wasn't going to welcome it with open arms.
"Squall . . . you should . . . please, it's for the good of everyone. Including yourself."
*Oh, Quistis, you don't know how wrong you are.* "I still have a lot to sort out. . . .Do you think you could do a couple favours for me?"
"Lock the door tight behind you. I don't know what could happen. Please keep searching for Ellone. And . . .tell Rinoa I'm sorry."
Quistis left, tears of worry stinging her eyes. *Squall, what's happening to you?*
No matter how many times he pounded his pillows to return their softness, Zell could not help but feel they were rocks. His eyes were closed and he mostly remained still, but his mind was racing.
* . . . Rinoa let me hold her I never knew Squall could do this he punched me in the face he punched RINOA in the face what an asshole but it couldn't have been his fault he doesn't use the name chicken wuss she needed me . . .*
"Ugh! I can't fuckin' deal with this!" Tired of trying to sleep, he got up and began to ream on a punching bag that hung in one corner without even bothering to turn on the light.
After about a half hour he began to get tired, and sat back down on the edge of his bed. His knee bounced up and down in a nervous habit he'd had since before he could remember.
Someone was walking down the hallway, with slow, light, shoeless steps. He stopped fidgeting and listened. A few seconds later, just as the steps moved out of listening range, he heard a scream.
The pure devastation that lay before Rinoa's eyes neraly made her fall to the ground and weep. The Galbadian missiles had hit Balamb Garden harder than Trabia, and she knew there had to be many dead. She ran through the hallways, her feet crunching on shards of glass from windows shattered duing the impact. She occasionally tripped over uprooted floor tiles and had to climb her way over many a fallen girder with great difficulty. She found people, junior classmen as young as five and SeeDs as old as twenty-five. All were dead, having been crushed beneath fallen debris or thrown many feet in the shocks of the explosions. She was scared nearly to death, but she knew she had to keep going.
*I have to find my friends. I have to make sure they're okay.* She was positive they must have survived--they were strong and intelligent--they would know where to go and what to do.
She found Irvine in the front hallway, the bottom half of his body having been crushed by a giant piece of a wall that had toppled over. His eyes were wide with dead fear, as he clutched his shotgun with stiff fingers of rigor-mortis.
Selphie was not ten feet away, in a heap by a wall and barely recognizible. Her body was stained red with blood from the deadly rain of millions of shards of glass when a nearby window had exploded. The only way Rinoa knew it was her was by her little yellow jumper. Her face had been torn apart.
Rinoa continued. *Surely they can't all be dead.*
Quistis was in the library, beneath a fallen bookcase. Her hand was all that was visible, protruding from beneath a shelf, clutching her whip as though it would protect her.
But there was no protection against *this.*
A section of the rounded hall had caved in, to be swallowed by the decorative fountain-pools. More people, *children* mostly, had drowned, having forgotten how to swim in their horrified panic.
She waded through the stained-pink water, pushing the occasional body out of her way as her feet lost contact with the bottom, and reached the other side.
Rinoa had thought (maybe hoped) that seeing so much death within only a half hour would have begun to numb her to the pain of it all. When she found Zell in the cafeteria, she realized this was not so. An additional fire had erupted as the gas stoves were destroyed, engulfing the whole room in flames. Many people had been burned to death, not given time to suffocate from the smoke or the lack of oxygen that the fire had stolen hungrily. Zell had been no exception. His clothes had been charred nearly beyond recognition. His face was black, contorted, his mouth a deadly grimace, his lips having shrunken, bearing his teeth. He no longer had eyes, only charred sockets, and all of his hair was gone. Rinoa turned and ran, horrified by the sight more than any of the others.
*I haven't found Squall yet. Maybe he wasn't here. Maybe he found somewhere safe to go . . .*
After climbing the ladder in the elevator shaft, Rinoa saw that the bridge had toppled over from the third floor to the second. Near the wreckage outside the classroom, she found Xu and Nida, both having died in the fall. There was an arm protruding from beneath the toppled control equipment and pieces of glass from the dome once shielding it: A leather-sleeved arm ending with a hand wearing a black glove.
"Oh, no . . ." Rinoa was instantly there, throwing every piece of debris off of Squall with near inhuman strength. She knelt beside him, cradling his head in her arms. He strangely didn't seem to have any obvious injuries like the others. No blood. No disfiguration. . . but he wouldn't wake up. She was calling him, quietly at first and louder as she became more desperate, but there was nothing. She was afraid, so desperately, insanely afraid, that she felt like she would scream. "No, Squall, don't you leave me, too . . ."
And then something hit her on the head and bounced onto the floor. She looked at the little object, then picked it up, rubbing the small bump on her head with her other hand. It was ice--a hailstone, she supposed, but strangely coloured--turqouise. She looked to the sky, unshielded now that the roof had caved in. There were no clouds.
Another one fell and hit Squall square in the chest, then another hit her in the shoulder. A full-blown hailstorm erupted from the still-blue sky. Rinoa held Squall closer to her, hoping to shield him from what she could.
There came a strange stench in the air. Rinoa looked around her for it's source, then at Squall. As each hailstone hit him, it burned holes in his clothes. One buried itself into the side of his face, and it began to . . . rot away. *What? What ARE these things?* Soon half of his face was affected, white bone beginning to show through black, dissloving skin.
Rinoa looked at herself. The same things were happeining to her arms and legs, multiplying red holes spreading into sickening black rot. Insects began to climb and scurry from them, red as blood, wet, worm-like. Hundreds of them.
They were both being eaten alive.
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