Fire Petals Chapter 23
A Perdu Et A Trouvé
Quistis' back was just beginning to become numb with the slight pain of the blade that pressed into it. Seifer walked behind her silently, and she remained equally silent, the only sound around them the giddy chirping of birds and the rustling of dead leaves beneath their every step. She didn't dare turn around or even speak, unable to predict what Seifer would do, knowing that her fear would show in her unsteady voice if she said a word. The last thing she wanted was for Seifer to know she feared him--that would give him power over her, more so than he already had. The man was incredibly unpredictable, one moment having shown remorse, the next feeling some strange necessity to dig himself deeper into the ground.
To Quistis' surprise, it was Seifer who spoke, relieving her of the responsibility. "Scared?"
"What?" she replied, unsure of how she should answer the question.
"Are you afraid? Don't know how I'll react to anything you do, or even whether or not I'm gonna kill you?"
"And how would you know that, Seifer, were it true?" she asked stiffly, careful of her every word.
"It's true. I can tell without even looking at your face--it's in the way you're walking. Same thing's happened to me. Don't worry though, I'm not going to fool you into anything."
"What do you mean?" Seifer seemed to be speaking nonsense. Who knew what was going through his head right now?
"I mean . . . never mind. I don't even know why I'm talking to you."
"You *can* trust me, you know. Maybe we can work all this out?"
Seifer guffawed. "Don't try to tell *me* who to trust, Quistis."
*Oops.* Quistis thought, noticing the heightened anger in his voice. She tried to cover it up by changing the subject somewhat. "Seifer . . . what do you plan to do?"
"I'll just keep you while I need you, then drop you like *that*." he snapped his fingers, "The only difference is, I won't fool you. No wool over your eyes. You get to *know* that I don't give a shit about you. It doesn't matter--by the time you get to tell anyone, if you get to tell anyone, this will all be over."
*"I won't fool you."* Quistis rolled those words over in her mind. "Seifer, who fooled you?"
"Nobody." he said quickly, trying to dismiss what he'd already gotten himself into. "Never mind."
"Okay." Seifer's sharp tone kept her from saying any more. She didn't want to drive him too far.
It seemed someone had done the things he was speaking of to him--something in the tone of his voice gave it away. He was hurt and had nobody to talk to about his grief, reluctant to appear weak. Quistis made a mental note to find out what it was--not only was there the possibility of finding some useful information, but also that she might be able to help him. If this anger that was driving him was somehow taken care of, at least for the time being, he would be much easier to negotiate with. She could tell he wanted to talk . . . he just didn't want to look like he wanted to talk.
She just hoped that the Garden had understood that she was in trouble. She didn't know how much of her message had gotten through, but hopefully the others were coming to help her. She wasn't sure she could manage this on her own.
Zell's boat was at the shore when the group got there . . . but he was not. Squall was first to jump from the boat and hurry to Fujin and Raijin. "Where'd he go?"
"Who?" Raijin asked, confused as to whether Squall meant Zell or Seifer.
Fujin interrupted before Squall could re-ask the question. "SEIFER: NORTH. ZELL: NORTHEAST." Squall nodded once.
"There are more boats coming. They should be here in half an hour." said Rinoa from Squall's side. "Should we stay?"
"No. We have to find Zell and we can't split up. Fujin, are you going to be alive when those boats get here?"
"Wait!" Raijin said as Squall began to turn away, "I hafta give ya a message, ya know?"
Squall gave him his full attention. "Yes?"
"Seifer's holding Quistis captive. Says he won't give her back until you promise you'll let him into Garden scot-free."
"Shit." Squall muttered, "Where is he?"
"All we know 's he went in the woods. He wouldn't tell us anything else, ya know?"
"That idiot. How're we supposed to find him?"
Raijin shrugged. "Dunno."
Squall sighed with exasperation and turned to his teammates to wave them over before making his way to the edge of the forest. The trees weren't spaced too close together, but he was sure that deeper within they would be. A tough hike, but nothing they couldn't handle. "Zell!" he called, his voice loud but near-emotionless. There was no answer, and he continued inside after him, the team following close behind. Selphie began to call Zell's name as they walked, and Squall was thankful that he wouldn't have to do it again himself. Selphie had quite a loud voice for someone so small.
Zell wiped a hand over his forehead, pushing back his soaking-wet bangs that refused to defy gravity any longer. They kept falling into his eyes, annoying the heck out of him. In his current state of looking like a drowned, stoned rat, he was getting mighty frustrated at the whole situation. He hoped he'd find Quistis soon.
Yes, he was after Quistis. Zell had a job to do--whether it was so he could finally prove to his friends that he could do something right or just the fact that she needed help, he didn't know.
*I'll show them,* he thought, *they'll see that I can ~do~ this.* He began to mutter to himself without realizing he was doing so. "Anothin's gonna get in my way." A loud roar sounded behind him, and he spun quickly around, nearly tripping over a stone. "Except . . . a Hexadragon . . . maybe . . ." he said quietly, then jumped back as the thing swiped a razor-sharp claw at him. He looked down to see that it had torn his black tank-top, and swore. "You *bastard.* This is the only shirt I *have* dammit!" He was suddenly incredibly thankful that his buzz was wearing off; otherwise, the dragon would have had quite an advantage over him.
The creature glared at him with it's six crimson eyes, growling in what sounded to Zell a challenging tone. Zell narrowed his eyes and stared right back. "You're not gonna get away with that." he said, his voice monotone with anger, and with that, he lunged at it.
The sun was beginning to set now, turning the leaves at the tips of the trees above Seifer an Quistis from green to orange. The pair was resting now, though Seifer seemed the only one actually getting some rest as he sat on a bit of soft grass in a small clearing, smoking a cigarette. Quistis stood a few feet from him, and he watched her with piercing blue eyes, just daring her to try to run. His gunblade was now beside him, looking particularly unthreatening, but still Quistis did not move. She didn't know which way to go, not even a map to tell her how to get back to the shore. And still Hyperion was a threat, for Seifer could easily pick it up and shoot her in the back if she decided to try anything.
"Sit." Seifer offered suddenly, startling her.
"I'm fine." she replied. In all honesty, her feet and back were killing her and that grass looked terribly inviting, but with her hands tied the way they were she knew she would have an awful time trying to get back up again, and she didn't want to have to ask Seifer for help.
Seifer shrugged. "Alright. Have it your way."
"Where are we going?" Quistis asked, hoping to make conversation.
"You'll see. Hey, you wearin' a wire?"
"You could have a mic on . . . and that would be why you keep asking me all these questions."
"No, Seifer, I'm not."
Seifer stood and looked down at her, then walked around to her back, pulling the cigarette from his lips and tossing it to the ground. Quistis didn't move, at least until she felt a pair of hands on either side of her waist, making her jump nearly out of her skin.
"Hyne, Quistis, I'm not gonna friggin' *grope* you. Stay the hell still." and he proceeded to pat her down, from her shoulders to the bottom of her skirt, then checked to make sure her wrists were still bound tightly together.
"I told you, I'm not wearing a wire."
Just to spite her, Seifer did it again, taking extra time this time to search her every one of her pockets--he was as thorough as he could be without it being considered sexual assault. He out a satisfied grunt when he was finished. Quistis shook her head in exasperation. "See?"
Seifer shrugged. "I had to check. It's not like I have a reason to trust you. Let's go." With that he picked up Hyperion from the ground, sheathing it, and rather roughly took hold of Quistis' arm to lead her from the clearing.
Squall was getting another headache. Selphie had been yelling Zell's name for twenty minutes now, loud and shrill in his ear. The trees were getting closer together by now, too, blanketing the group almost completely in shade.
"I hope he's okay." Rinoa said quietly from beside him.
Squall let out a grunt that could have been taken to mean anything, keeping his eyes ahead of him. He didn't know if he wanted to find Zell or not--It wasn't like he wanted him dead or anything like that, he just didn't want to see him . . . he didn't know what he would do if they did find him. "He could be dead." he said quietly.
"Don't you hope he's alive, though?"
Squall shrugged. "This place is crawling with Hexadragons."
"Why are you being so cold?" Rinoa lowered her voice so the others couldn't hear her--it was obvious that Irvine And Seplhie were trying to listen in. *Nosy bums,* she thought--she'd have to talk to him about that later. "Squall . . . is it because I stayed in his room last night?" She kept her tone concerned, and not accusing. The last thing Squall needed right now was to feel like he was being attacked.
Squall didn't answer for a while, and lowered his gaze to his feet, watching them as he walked. He sighed before finally answering, "Maybe."
Rinoa took a deep breath, trying her hardest to find the courage to say what she needed to. "I . . . I didn't . . . I only kissed him. That's it. And don't blame him. It was me too." Squall nodded, looking back up at the horizon, or at least where it should be beyond all those trees. His face was blank, as if he hadn't heard what she'd said, but she knew he had. Rinoa would have felt less horrible if he had started yelling at her, or run away from her, or started crying, but the blankness on his face scared her to death. Perhaps it was fear of the unknown--she didn't have a clue as to what he was thinking. "And . . . I'm sorry." she added, "I needed comfort . . . he was the only one there . . . I had no clue what was going on--"
"You don't need to make excuses. I don't blame you." Squall interrupted. "You can . . . you can go be with him. It doesn't matter."
"What?" Rinoa almost smiled, "No, no, Squall, I don't have *feelings* for him! It was just a . . . spur of the moment thing . . . neither of us knew what we were doing until it was over."
This really confused him. How could she see that as nothing? Kissing, touching--they were something he held precious. Did she even know how much it meant when he allowed her to slide her arms around his waist back in the Garden? Probably not. "What about him?"
"I'm not sure. . . don't worry, I'm going to talk to him. If we find him, that is."
They were silent for a few minutes before Squall spoke again. "I accept your apology." How could he not? Even if he didn't agree with her motives, it all stemmed from something he'd done in the first place. Besides, if she was willing to forgive him for what he'd done, it was only fair to return the favour.
She had hurt him, but he could see just how sorry she was in her voice when she said happily, "Thank you." and took his hand in hers.
He looked down at their hands quizzically, then at her face. "Why are you doing that?"
Rinoa giggled a little. "It's just something people do . . . you don't mind, do you?" Squall shook his head, just slightly, and actually tightened his grip on her hand. "You'll be able to tell if Seifer comes, right?"
"Yes. Don't worry."
The group simultaneously spun around to find Zell, looking bloodied and tired but at the same time incredibly excited, his hair, barely wet anymore, falling over his forehead. He was sweating like mad, as though he'd been running or working out. He walked over to them, or more, *hopped* (since the adrenaline from the battle hadn't quite worn off yet) waving a hand at them. "I got dinner." he said.
"Zell, what happened to you?" Selphie asked, eyeing the blood that covered his arms and clothes with a worried expression on her face.
"Got in a fight with a Hexadragon." he nodded his chin over his shoulder, "Back there. I beat his ass." An excited grin appeared on his face, as one often did during or after a battle.
"I meant, are you okay?" Selphie asked.
"Is any of that blood yours?" Irvine added.
"Maybe a few scratches, and my shirt's wrecked, but other than that, I'm . . . . hey, you guys ready to set up camp? It's getting dark. We can eat a whole lot of that monster, then pack up the rest for the road . . ." With that, Zell turned in the direction he came, and the others followed. As they walked, Rinoa looked up at Squall to find that he looked particularly infuriated. The tightening grip on her hand, though, told her more than his face. Zell was going to get quite a lecture about all this.
Zell stopped by the creature's body, what really looked like a big, bloody, purple lump in the grass. Many of the trees in the area had giant gashes in the sides, and a smaller one, particularly far off, had been completely knocked over. The surrounding foliage had been trampled. "Did I prove that I can do it now?" Zell asked, crossing his arms and shifting his weight to his left leg.
"Shit." Irvine mumbled, walking around the lump, "You did this with your freakin' *hands?*"
"Yup." Zell was obviously feeling quite smug.
"While you were, like, *stoned?*"
"Nah, it had pretty much worn off before the fight started. I mean, it's been a coupe hours . . . yeah, about that . . . sorry I took off like that. Didn't mean 'ta freak everybody out, there."
"You blatantly disregarded orders. Garden protocol. You could be expelled for this." Squall said tersely.
Zell looked at him. "Yeah, I know . . . that's your decision I guess . . . I was hoping this would help me prove myself, since I'll bet all the food got soaked."
"It's too late for that. A SeeD is supposed to be *responsible*, Zell, and not intoxicate themselves before a mission."
"So . . . I'm kicked out then?" Sadness seeped into Zell's voice, his previous hope dissolving.
"I . . ." Was he? *Would I be threatening expulsion had Rinoa not been in his room last night?* "No."
Zell's eyes widened. "Really?"
Squall nodded, his face unchanging, and turned around to pull off his backpack. "I have two two-person tents, and there are five of us." he said as he opened it. "We'll need to take turns to watch at night. Let's--" suddenly his words were cut off my something slamming into him from behind. Strong arms gripped around his shoulders.
"Thanks, man! Thank you!" Zell cried happily.
Squall struggled. "Let go, Zell." he demanded in a no-nonsense tone, "Now."
Zell did as he was told, and Squall turned around to see him smiling. "Sorry 'bout that, yo." he said, plopping himself down on the ground. The others were laughing, and only Rinoa was trying to hide it. Squall narrowed his eyes and continued unpacking.
"I hear something." Seifer said as he stopped walking. Quistis looked over at him to see him looking around, eyes narrowed. She listened, and found that he was right--there was a rustling in the shadowy bushes, not too far ahead of them.
"What do you think it is?" She asked quietly.
"Shut up." Quistis did as she was told, beginning to get a little nervous as well. Was it Squall and the others? Or a monster? "Come on out, you coward!" Seifer suddenly hollered, grinning evilly as he drew Hyperion and took a few steps forward.
The Forbidden that had been hiding behind the trunk of a large tree seemed happy to oblige, skittering into view and hissing at them threateningly. Quistis jumped back a little as Seifer lunged forward at the mock-human-skeleton, unable to touch the creature as it hopped out of his way without effort, jumping from foot to foot. Forbiddens were quick and smart, the speedy swipes of their daggers (or swords, whichever they happened to come upon first) making up for what they lacked in physical strength. It seemed to laugh at Seifer, it's cackling cry only egging him on as he thrust his gunblade at it again and again, missing every time. "Fuck off!" he hollered, only seeming to make it happier and quicker.
Quistis knew this was not the best kind of fight for him. Forbiddens loved to anger their enemies to a state of frustrated bewilderment to weaken them before striking. Seifer, easily aggravated, would surely fall into the trap. Thankfully, Quistis had been working at the knots in her whip for the last hour as she walked beside him, taking advantage of the fact that her hands had been out of his view. One more knot and she would be free.
Seifer managed to tear its tattered red cape with one of his swipes, disappointed at not catching bone. "You fuckin' thing, stay still!"
"They cast Death, you know." Quistis said, making sure to keep her wrists from his view, "I'd be careful."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Did I ask for your help?" he made the mistake of turning his head to say this, and the Forbidden took it as an opportunity to strike. Its short but very sharp dagger reached over to slice across Seifer's throat blindingly fast, bringing its stench of rotten death just under his nose before he collapsed to the ground, muttering something Quistis couldn't understand.
"Seifer!" she yelled, and would have thoughtlessly been at his side to cast Curaga had it not been for the Forbidden a few yards away. It walked slowly in her direction, and she noticed an earthworm slithering from its ever-grinning teeth. Her hands fumbled with the last knot in her whip with panicked, shaky fingers, and she freed herself just in time to jump from a slash of its dagger. Her whip came out and with a loud crack the Forbidden's head was knocked from its rotting, white shoulders to slam against a nearby tree, screeching loudly. Still the body moved, for Forbiddens relied on magic to survive as opposed to living organs. Crack by crack, her whip disassembled the thing, scattering bones in every direction until not one of them moved.
She looked at Seifer, sprawled out on the ground, his head to one side. *He could already be dead.* She thought as the looked at the blood that began to stain the leaves and grass. "Seifer?" she asked quietly.
"Mmphm." came his reply, nearly silent. So he was alive. Now what would she do? Save the life of her captor, when she could just steal his compass and leave him for dead to find her way back to shore and wave down the Garden?
No. He could be saved, and surely had useful information to give her. She couldn't give that up--if she did, they may never find whoever it was he was working for. *Saving his life may just be the key to unlock his trust.* Besides, she'd known him her whole life, and she knew that, despite all his wrongdoings, he wasn't *evil.* He did not deserve to die. Pretty damn close though--she would have to give him several lashes with her whip later (if he managed to live), since it seemed that she would now be in control. With that thought, she bent over him, first pulling Hyperion from his hand and placing it behind her, then rolling him over.
The wound across his throat wasn't quite as bad as she had assumed--thin and not that deep; not deep enough to completely sever his jugular and be *instantly* fatal, anyways. She looked at his eyes, and saw something she never had in them: pleading, crystal-blue fear. "You owe me *big time* for this one, mister." she mumbled as she pulled a hi-potion from her belt to tip the whole vial into the wound. She could see it's magic working to mend the torn tissue. "This had better be enough." She said sharply, "It's my last one."
Seifer passed out a minute or so later, the strong medicine and loss of blood too much for his body to handle. He was incredibly lucky, Quistis realized as she knelt beside him and watched him. Half an inch deeper and he would have been dead on the spot.
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