Fire Petals Chapter 17
Rinoa had already pulled the blankets over her head to shield the sun from her eyes before she knew she had woken up. A few minutes later she groaned quietly and poked her head out into a room that she didn't know. It took her a few seconds to remember the previous night, and she sat up, swinging her feet over the edge of the bed. This was what she had planned on, anyway, but first her legs came in contact with something, knocking it to the floor with a startling thud. She peered down to see Zell, who had been leaning on the side of the bed as he slept, rubbing his head as he peered up at her.
"The hell was that for?" he asked groggily.
"I didn't know you were there. Sorry."
"Don't matter. Uh . . . Listen, we found some stuff out last night after you were asleep. . . "
Selphie found Irvine asleep on the second-floor balcony at eight that morning, his back against the wall has he sat on the floor, his lanky form half-flopped-over. She giggled and knelt beside him, staring at him until he stirred. His eyes opened slowly, and when he saw that there was a face only inches from his own, he let out a rather unmanly yelp, and tried to back away from her, with nowhere to go. This only made Selphie giggle more, and as Irvine realized who it was and what had happened, he grabbed his hat from beside him and used it to cover his reddening cheeks.
"You're like a damn cat, you know that?"
"You're adorable." Selphie replied cutely.
"Leeme lone." he replied, his voice muffled, "Tryin' ta sleep."
"It's eight o'clock."
"We're supposed to meet in Cid's office. Remember? That's what Quistis told us."
"Will Squall be there?"
" . . . Maybe. So?"
Irvine didn't reply.
"He's gonna be pissed at me. I was so damn rude to him . . ."
"So were the rest of us. He'll understand."
"I guess . . ."
"Come on, we'll be late."
"A new course has been set for the Garden." Squall said as soon as Irvine, the last of the people who were to attend, entered the office. Squall was doing his best to be as official as possible, hoping to avoid confrontation by keeping the subject matter as far away as possible from the previous day's events. Quistis stood close to his side, just in case Seifer decided to pay them another visit. Though he thought her presence would make him feel more as ease, her ready whip only made him nervous.
Rinoa has been silent since she arrived, and noticed that Squall had avoided looking at her. The moment she had seen him she felt like she had been stabbed in the chest. He looked horrible: his clothes and hair were rumpled, with even darker-than-usual bags under his eyes. She could see the pain in those eyes, the sorrow for what his body had done to her. Though they were the same eyes she had feared and searched for answers in the day before, there was a someone completely different behind them now. Still, she found them nearly impossible to look at, as her mind was already overloaded with too much negativity. Rinoa was sure that she wouldn't be comfortable around Squall for a long time, but looked forward to attempting to ease the discomfort that was a haze between them, thick enough to be cut with a knife, and everyone knew it.
What had occurred last night in Zell's room didn't help much, either. She didn't know if Squall yet knew about it, and wasn't looking forward to having to tell him if he didn't. Come to think of it, Zell had also been quite quiet, the usual bouncy tone in his voice having melted into something soft and mellow, even as he explained to her what Ellone had told them when she was found. Rinoa wondered why he seemed so sad -- was he sorry that they had kissed or that he knew that it would never happen again?
"Where are we going?" Selphie asked lightly, hoping that having a bubbly attitude (the only light heart in the room, it seemed), would cheer people up somewhat.
"Grandidi Forest." Squall replied, "Ellone told us that she had been taken through a gigantic forest, and that's the largest in the world. It would be a good place to hide something--like a building. I doubt these people want to be found."
"What're we gonna do when we get there?" Selphie asked, knowing nobody else felt like talking.
"Well, we'll have to leave the Garden near the shore because of all the trees, and then . . . hike, I guess."
"We're hiking. Through Grandidi forest. Are you out of your mind? We could be there for days!" Quistis interrupted.
Squall turned to her. "If that's the case, then so be it. I want to find Seifer and whoever else is behind this. If those people have the technology to take Ellone's powers and use them, I want to stop anything else they're developing before it gets out of hand."
"Are you sure the Garden will be alright on it's own for a few days?" Quistis asked, making sure Squall knew exactly what he was doing and hadn't forgotten anything. She still, in some ways, considered him her student. Besides, his mind wasn't in the stablest of conditions right now.
"I've already spoken with Xu and Nida. They'll be able handle most anything that pops up. I'll also have about fifty SeeDs accompany us in case there's resistance."
" . . . . Which there most likely will be. Are you sure you should go? We don't even know where they are. Maybe you should stay here and--"
"I'm positive I'm going with you. I need to face Seifer." Squall paused for a minute. "If there's nothing else, meet on the second floor balcony at six o'clock. There we'll have a final briefing and I'll answer any questions you have. Dismissed."
Trees whizzed by Seifer's head at an alarming rate. He'd managed to take a T-bike from one of the guards at the palace entrance, and figured he'd get to the shore by noon, although he hadn't even been riding for twelve hours yet. T-bikes were surely the easiest way to get through the forest--they were fast, you could sit on them, and their ability to hover as they moved overcame nearly any obstacle with swift ease. Seifer didn't know what he'd do once he got to shore. He'd find another goal to achieve, he was sure. If only he had a phone . . . then he could call Garden and tell them he wanted to come back. Surely they'd accept him -- he was a good fighter, and he was sure Squall would keep quiet about the little incident. Well, that was what he hoped. Unfortunately, the more he thought about it, the the less likely it seemed.
Suddenly, after dodging around a particularly large tree, Seifer caught a hint of blue just ahead of him. He jerked the T-bike to the right as quickly as he could, but not fast enough to dodge the blue jacket, and sent the person wearing it flying into the trunk of a tree. Instantly he was off the bike and running towards the person he had hit, and noticing the silver hair atop the woman's head, fell to his knees beside her. It was Fujin, with blood running down her chin from a cut on her lip, her eye patch out of place. She looked up at him, lost.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Seifer asked. Though his words were harsh, his tone was full of concern. "You and Raijin abandoned me . . . I thought you'd never come back."
Fujin groaned and placed a hand on her stomach. They both knew that she could have severe internal bleeding. "PAIN." she whispered, closing her good eye. Seifer replaced the patch over her other one, knowing how much she hated people seeing the empty socket.
"I'm so sorry . . ." Seifer whispered, suddenly realizing with a proverbial punch in the stomach what he had done. "Fujin . . . what were you doing wandering around in the forest like this?"
"Then what were you doing?" Seifer asked as he began to undo her jacket to check for bruises.
"Who?" Seifer busied himself lifting up her shirt to find that some gigantic dark stains were already beginning to form on her abdomen. This definitely did not look good.
"Fujin . . . you don't need to rescue me! I'm doing fine on my own." He lowered her shirt and began to button her jacket back up. "And now look what happened . . . Looks like now I'm the one rescuing you."
Fujin leaned back against the tree. "RAIJIN."
"Is he here too?"
"I'll look for him. You're going to get on the back of the T-bike so I can take you . . . somewhere."
"I . . . don't know. I'll figure something out. I'll get you some help." Seifer put an arm around her shoulders and helped her up. The pair limped back to the T-bike, and Fujin leaned forward onto his back as he sat down and started the engine.
"INJURED?" As they began to move, Fujin's weakening arms began to snake around Seifers waist. He didnt mind.
"Badly. And I only have fire magic on me and I'm out of potions."
"HURRY." The usual emphasis in her voice was beginning to fade into nothing more than a soft, painful groan. Seifer began to feel pain in his own stomach as well.
The pair sped off.
After their dismissal, Zell headed to his room to pack what he knew he would need, and to grab his T-board, which he was positive would come in handy on their expedition. He found it incredibly difficult to concentrate on what he was trying to do: counting out potions and making sure everything with Quezacotl was junctioned correctly. He was too busy thinking about Rinoa.
Zell could see that Rinoa and Squall would be making up sooner than later. Last he'd heard, Rinoa had already been heading for the second floor balcony to look for him. But those two belonged together. They fit together perfectly--Rinoa helped Squall to show his feelings, and Squall helped Rinoa to see that problems could not be fixed by a simple smile and a wave of your hand. Zell already knew that: he wanted Rinoa, even felt that he was beginning to love Rinoa, and couldn't shake the feeling away no matter how hard he tried. There seemed to be no bright side to look on. Their discussion, their kiss, the way she had sunken needily into his arms like he'd thought she could with no other, played over and over in his head, and he was powerless to stop it.
Power was always something Zell had strived for. Power over himself was something he'd never completely had--the power to keep the tears from falling whenever someone said "boo" to him had strengthened since his childhood, but man, did he feel like bursting out in tears right now. Before, his anger and pain had been channelled into his tears. Now, it came out of him in anger, rage that sometimes he feared he would be unable to control. But, when the time came, his punching bags helped a great deal.
Zell wanted the power to control his feelings, to keep from being hurt by all the names he'd been called through his life; to keep from being hurt by rejection. Acting tough had always seemed a good way to gain control of a situation. Being feared meant he was in control, and it kept people quiet. And then Seifer came into the picture, a boy that had never taken him seriously, that had always known exactly what buttons to push to make Zell reach his limits. Zell had been close to frustrated tears several times when dealing with Seifer, and it nearly drove him insane. He was no longer in control around that bastard, and both of them knew it. Needless to say, he was not looking forward to facing Sefier again. He feared that he'd lose control of himself, his anger clouding his judgement, and would make another dumb mistake like he had so many times before.
Zell suddenly realized that, while lost in his thoughts, he'd managed to neatly fill his regualtion-size backpack with all the items he needed--this really hadn't been the difficult task he'd thought--they had been trained in their classes to memorize the list of necessary items for a trip. Having been directed to be the one to carry all the medical items along with his regualr things, he knew his pack would be heavier than those of the others, but that was alright with him. Anything that made him stronger, or at least look stronger, was a plus in his opinion.
Having gotten the chore of packing over with, Zell realized that with a day of free time, he could go visit Balamb. He hadn't seen Ma in weeks, and was sure she'd be happy to see him. She might even prepare him come caterchipillar stew like she usually did upon his rare visits. One thing he knew was that she was an amazing cook, and the way he could nearly taste it convinced him to leave as soon as possible. Besides, Ma always was good with advice, and though he couldn't stand to be considered a 'mama's boy', he loved her dearly.
After a few hard, routine whacks to his punching bag, Zell left to inform his friends that he would be leaving.
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