Author's Note: OK, I'm a beginner. This is my first attempt at writing FF8 fiction and I'd like feedback if you care. Maybe I should tackle a shorter fic, not a super long one with 7 different characters and 7 different perspectives and 5 or more major problems going on at the same time. But hey.

Barbed Wire

Part III: Explosives

By Jamaica


I shoved my few belongings into the duffel bag. It was not heavy at all; I could easily carry it with one arm. Maybe I should bring a knife or something, just in case. Yeah.

I turned back to my dresser and fumbled out a small pocketknife. It's not much, but it'd have to do. I shoved it inside my boots. Then I turned around and looked at myself in the mirror. My hair was tied into a ponytail and tucked away in a chignon. My bangs were tucked behind my ear. I took off all my jewellery, except for the ring that Squall gave me, the one with Griever on it. I liked it a lot.

I took a deep breath. Well, here goes nothing. I could not stand staying in this house one more minute. I needed to leave. So I turned around one last time checking everything. Then I grabbed the ticket that was lying on my bed, and opened the window. I took the rope that was lying under the chair and tied it to my bedpost. The other end I threw out the window.

I had planned this escape from those two people for a long time. Well, okay, no, I planned it since last night. After whatever that stupid cowboy and the rest of them said to me, I had to go. I mean, what else could I do but leave?

I readjusted my clothes and belonging one last time, took one last look at the room, and carefully grabbed onto the rope, climbed over the window's ledge, and slipped down. That man's mansion was quite tall, but I had the thing all planned out and it's relatively easy once I reached the lamppost. I was locked in the room for the whole day, might as well do something useful, like planning.

Oop, thud. Down to the ground like a pro. I looked up at the window stories above me, phew, mission accomplished. That wasn't hard at all.

Ouch, well, rope burns were there. Minor damage, no biggie. I then took my blaster edge out, aimed high and shot at the windowpane.

A tiny snap was heard. The rope suddenly lost all of its rigidness and fell straight down on my head. Yeek! I hopped back. I was proud of my aim but I forgot about the falling part.

I noticed I was still standing in the lawn, and not two feet away from the wall of the house. I gathered the rope up and stuffed it behind the lamppost. It'd take them a while to find the thing. Then I spun on my tiptoes and headed quickly toward the train station. Timber, here I come.

"Wheee!" The train whistled. I jumped up from my sleep, nearly knocking over my bag. The train was slowing down to a stop. I was at Timber.

I would see Ryan real soon. Just thinking about it brought a smile to my lips.

He was staying with the Forest Owl's leader. Squall told him to stay away from Garden for a while. Lay low, that way that man and that woman can't find him even if they manage to find out about us. Nobody knew this, until my call to Balamb. There's no way I could reach Ryan to tell him I was coming. Like I said, I didn't decide to run away until Zell's casual suggestion. Well, I'll show them they can't just do whatever they want with me. I was almost twenty years old. Enough to make my own decisions, thank you.

I dragged my bag off the train and stepped onto the familiar platform. I hadn't been here for a while, and some sort of nostalgia sank in. Oh, well, no time pondering. I wonder if Zone or Watts' here. Oh, wait, they were on the White SeeD ship, which was harboured somewhere off Esthar. Darn, I miss them.

I walked out to the street and headed toward Timber Maniacs. Squinting into the afternoon sun, I suddenly was aware of how tired I was. The train ride had lasted around 10 hours; from DC to here was not an easy and short trip. Although I slept most of the way, still, you get the lag.

There's the door. I knocked softly. Three times, pause, two more times, as usual. After a few moments, the door swung open and there stood Alice.

"Rinoa!" She exclaimed. "Hey, Francisca, look who's here!" She called into the room.

Francisca? Mrs. DiMarco? What was she doing here? Where's the leader of Forest Fox?

"Come in, come in," Alice grinned. Mrs. DiMarco emerged from the backroom. She exclaimed and gave me a fierce hug. I hugged back, smiling to myself.

"Mrs. DiMarco, how are you? Where's..."

"Oh, please, what did I tell you about calling me Mrs. DiMarco?" She cut in pleasantly. "It's Francisca, even Alice calls me that! And for Roxanne, she's gone to Dollet for some business. So I'm filling in for her household this week."

"Oh." I nodded. "Um, where's Ryan?"

Alice giggled. Her short black hair bounced around as she shook her head. "That's why you're here?"

I rolled my eyes. Immature kid. It's nothing to laugh about. "Yeah."

"Ah," Francisca waved her hand. "You just missed him. He headed to Balamb Garden yesterday."

What? "Garden? But... why?"

"I don't exactly know. Said something about a horrible feeling in his gut, and he had to go back to check on you. You two must've missed each other on the way. Luck's funny, sometimes, huh?" Francisca gestured for me to sit down. "Alice, go get some tea."

"He just had this feeling and left?" I specifically told him not to. So did Squall.

"No, darling, he said he tried to reach you a couple of times and you won't answer."

I must've been at Deling when he tried. "I wasn't at Balamb. I was in Galbadia."

"You were?" Alice returned with my tea. I thanked her as I received the cup. "For what?"

"Them." They knew what I mean.

"Ah. Trouble again?" Francisca smiled. She had no idea.

Just then, the videophone ran in the back of the house. Alice jumped up from the couch. The atmosphere suddenly tensed. There was only one videophone in Mrs. Pratt's home, and it's for emergencies only, like back when Timber was still under Galbadian control and the soldiers were coming to burn the city, some of our underground people warned us ahead of time through that phone. That kind of Emergencies.

"Hello, mom?" We all quickly piled in front of the screen and Alice answered it. "What's wrong?"

"Alice, oh, Rinoa, I thought you'd be here." Mrs. Pratt's face showed up.

"Huh?" I was confused.

She sighed. "Rinoa, your father is on the verge of sending the entire Galbadian Army after you."

"WHAT!!! He's actually SENDING them?" She's joking. She must've been. That man don't care about me enough to send the army after me!

"Well, not exactly after you. After Balamb Garden."

"Wait, so you didn't just decided to drop by but you, like, ran away from them?" Alice looked at me. Yep. I nodded.

"So your father thinks you're at Balamb, not here." Francisca said. "Is that intentional?"

I nodded again. "Yes. He still thinks I'm with Squall and Garden is my shelter. Mrs. Pratt, where did you hear this?"

"I knew from a few trusted friends in Deling." The Forest Fox leader replied. "The news has not even travel outside the capital, so no one here knows. But the information is accurate, I'm sure. We have to warn Balamb. It's supposed to be a surprise attack and I don't think that Squall boy could handle it."

"Let's call him, then," Alice suggested.

"No!" I stopped her. "I'm going to Balamb Garden. That way all of you won't be in trouble because of me. And if I ever need shelter here again, I can be sure that no one would suspect this place. When's the next train there coming?"

I should warn Squall in person. Plus, Ryan's there.

"There's one to Balamb around 6." Francisca said to me. Alice turned around and kept on talking to her mother. "Eat dinner here, darling, you look beat. There's not much you can do right now anyways. "

"All right," I smoothed a strand of stray hair back. I could use a few minutes of rest right then. "Thank you, Francisca."


"So, where do you want to go?" I crossed my arms in front of my chest. These Junk Yard people, not trying to be rude to Selphie or anything, but I had this nagging feeling about them. Especially that Jocifer guy. He just, I don't know, he didn't talk. It's not like the Squall kind of not talking, no. It's the... well... nasty kind. Smart and furtive kind, like a spy or something.

"Aren't you supposed to be taking us around?" The redhead sighed. "I mean, you are our guide."

"No, actually, you picked me to be your guide. I didn't say shit about taking you a round to Balamb." I didn't.

"Man, you live here. What's cool about this place?" The guy named Jeep paced around the steps we were sitting on. The hooker-looking girl looked bored out of her mind. Jocifer just stared at me. I swear, that guy's been eyeing me up and down the entire walk here. Maybe I should say something to him - with Hyperion.

"You picked the wrong guy to be your guide. You should've asked Zell." I said. "He lived here all his life. I haven't."

"Who's Zell?" The redhead opened another pack of gum. How much did she bring?

The hooker rolled her eyes. "Jamaica, you idiot. The punk guy with the tattoo on his face, duh!"

"Oh! He's cute, but isn't he like, going out with some gal in the library?" All right, Selphie sure did e-mail them about everything. Jamaica, huh, what kind of name is that anyway? I think it's pretty fucked up that they all have J-names. Even if it's stage names. I can think of much better ones.

"No, they broke up like ages ago. Her fault, too," Jeep replied. "Why don't you go chattin' him up. It'll be Mesmerize."


Jen gave me a look. "It'll be okay, that's what he meant."

"How the hell you get 'okay' from 'Mesmerize.' By the way, that's not even an adjective, and nowhere near an adjective." I didn't understand them. No, really.

"I'm boreeeeeddddddd!" The redhead said in a singing-voice. "This feels like an old soap opera. I'm pining for a jerk. Jen's pining for a certain tall, dark, and handsome. Joce's pining for a certain red-brown hair short kid who's obviously taken. Jeep's pining for -"

"HEY, SHUT UP!" The other three yelled simultaneously. I laughed. That redhead could dish some serious dirt. I needed to chat with her sometime. Nice blackmail materials.

"Hey, uh..." Jen started.

"Seifer," I answered.

"Yeah, sorry, Seifer, do you know any tattoo parlours or piercing shops? I'm thinking of getting some chains, maybe a tattoo or something."

That I actually know. "Now you're talking. Yeah, there's one a few blocks from here. Come on, I'll take ya."

"Haven't you had enough piercing to your body already?" Jocifer scoffed.

"Lighten up, Joce. I just want to look and see what they have there." Jen waved her hand. "Jee? Jamie? You up for anything?"

The redhead looked thoughtful while the Jeep guy shuttered. "Forbidden, no! Piercing on a guy looks gay."

I cocked my head. "Oh, does it?"

"Yeah!" He said as if it's the most natural thing in the world. "Earrings, well, okay, I'll let that pass. But anywhere else it's just... so homo."

"Sexist and stereotypical comment. Ignore him, he's been scarred." The redhead jumped in. "I might get a tiny tattoo on my ankle. Where's the shop?"

"I am not scarred!"

"Yeah, you are." Jen snickered. "Is this shop it?"

We stopped a few paces away from the shop I knew - The Crowned Child. It's a very decent place. I got my choker here, and chicken-wuss' tattoo belongs here as well. Perhaps I should do some browsing for myself, too.

"I'm staying out, okay?" Jeep stopped right by the doorway. "You guys go."

"Aw, come on, Jee, it's just a shop!" The redhead said.

"Sure, uh-huh. No."

Jen rolled her eyes, then went inside, dragging the redhead with her. The two guys strolled around the door. Hmm, I think I'd go after the girls.

"Hey, Almasy,"

I froze. It's Jocifer. How the hell did he know my last name? I didn't remember any of us Garden people saying anything involving last names. I turned around and frowned at him.

He jerked his head toward a direction, obviously wanted to stay away from Jeep to talk to me about some matter privately. What the fuck? Oh, well, I shrugged and followed him to a corner. Just what could he do to me?

"What?" I crossed my arms again.

He gave me a downward glance. "I'm concerned for Selphie."

I snickered. Selphie? He dragged me here to talk about Selphie? This was hilarious. "And why would I care?"

"Is Kinneas swindling her?"

My eyes got kind of wide. He sure didn't waste any breath on small talk. "Uh, what?"

"I know his rep. But is he seeing somebody else behind her back?"

I tilted my head. "You shouldn't ask me. You should ask Kinneas himself."

Jocifer scoffed. "Listen, Almasy, tell me the truth. Let me make it a little clearer. Did Kinneas and that instructor, Trepe, go on a date last night?"

Whoa. First of all, you don't threaten me. Second of all, what the fuck are you talking ab...

The Triangle. Oh, shit! Wait, when did the four of them arrive in Balamb? But they wouldn't recognize us even if they saw us the previous day, would they? Maybe he's bluffing. Damn, dangerously close to the truth bluffing. This guy's good. I mean, Kinneas and Quistis did not exactly go on a date, but we didn't tell Selphie about the meeting for Rinoa and all her shit. And at the Triangle... I managed to put on a calm expression and replied. "No. You're crazy."

He slanted his eyes. "I believe that everyone possess a special skill. Mine happened to be that I never forget a face or a name once I had seen it. I saw them two holding hands and walking toward a club when I got here yesterday. Don't care how much he flirts, but he shouldn't be seeing anybody else while he's supposedly anchored. Oh, by the way, I know about you and your chocolate-haired whore, too. I saw you. So I'm giving you one more chance. Answer me."

I was dumbstruck. My mouth was open, my ears were ringing, and he just looked at me and waited for me to find my voice. I knew there's a reason why I didn't trust him. And how dare he called my lover a whore! A flash of anger dwelled up from my chest. Before I even realized it, I had him by the collar and we're face to face. "I don't have to answer shit from you!" I exclaimed. Nobody talks to Seifer Almasy like this.

"Hey, whoa!! Whoa! Break it up, man!" Jeep's voice sounded to my right. "What just happened?" Two hands stuck in between us and forced me to let go. "You two knockers psycho?"

Jocifer didn't say another word. I looked at him straight in the eye. "No," I said, "they did not."

He nodded briefly. Then he abruptly turned and walked toward the shop door. I saw a flash of silver against his boots - a knife. Now I realized how empty my threat was. He could've stabbed me easily if he wanted to, and kill me, for I wasn't armed at all. I shook my head. No point analyzing that thought.

Jeep continued to stare at me. I couldn't read his expression. Man, these Trabia people are confusing me to death. Why do they all have to be all introvert and stuff? It makes their actions unpredictable.

And I hate surprises.

I let out a little sigh. Seeing the shop door a few steps away, I walked briskly into the Crowned Child. The redhead was inspecting a sheet of tattoo designs; the hooker was sitting on a stool, ready to receive another hole in her ear shell. I scanned around the room for any interesting articles.

My eyes landed on an ad. It grabbed my attention in a second. I was absorbed by the intrigue it held. Both subtle and loud, and very appealing. I smiled a little.

"Hey," I tapped a kid that's working there. "How much for getting that?"


"Well, how does it look, guys?"

Selphie smiled brightly as she scanned around her. The Quad was transformed into a concert hall, completed with chairs, tables, sound system, various lights that I busted my back putting up since Seifer bailed, and the works. The middle of the Quad was cleared up for the dance floor. Well, it would be cleared tonight. Right then Quistis was sitting in the middle e-mailing the announcement to the students.

She was still deliberately ignoring me. I wouldn't have mind before; she didn't speak much voluntarily with me a couple of days ago anyway. But now it just got on my nerves. I wanted to talk to her, not hitting on her but actually talk to her, about anything. It's fun and great to be able to charm my way around people, men included, but sometimes you know enough is enough.

Never thought I'd hear myself saying that sentence this soon. I thought I'd live up to my so-called reputation until I'm thirty or something, and then I'd go to a discreet town like Winhill and get a decent job and marry some girl for real. Not right now, when I wasn't even twenty, in Balamb Garden surrounded by potential dates. No way.

But sometimes fate works against you.

"Go talk to her,"

I jumped a mile. Okay, I don't care how not-frightened-easily you claim, but if a voice suddenly protrude in your ear while you're deep in thought, believe me, it's gonna at least make your heart skip a beat. I turned to my right, making a face, "Jesus Christ, Squall, you could've tapped me on the shoulder first."

He rolled his eyes. "Go."

I put up my hands. "What man? She won't speak to me."

"Suddenly turning passive?" His tone turned slightly mocking.

What's his problem? I narrowed my eyes. He was warning me not to hurt Quistis' feelings before, now he wanted to me to go talk to her? What did he want?

Did he even know himself?

I smirked at the thought. "Squall, do you even know what exactly you wanted me to do yourself?"

He flinched. The pair of slate-blue eyes burnt into mine. Guess he got used to the commanding thing and was not prepared to have his orders questioned like this. Good, sometimes somebody needs to be knocked on the ground for a second.

"Irvine..." He started. I cocked my eyebrows at him. Then it seemed to fell on him that I was right, of course, and he closed his mouth and sighed.

"Look, man, I'll handle it." I told him. "I promise you I won't hurt her with empty words. I know, I know, coming from me it's really strange, but this time, it's for real."

It was.

He nodded. He was about to say something else but a voice called from the door. I turned and saw a SeeD cadet. I've seen the student before but never spoke to him. He had short dirty blonde hair and a nice pair of grey eyes. He looked sorta dusty, like he had been travelling for hours.

Squall did a double take. "Ryan?! What are you doing here?"

Ryan? Ryan. Oh, that Ryan! Wait, wasn't he supposed to be at Timber?

"I came to see Rinoa, Headmaster," Ryan replied.

Squall shook his head slightly. "She went to Deling City. Her father called."


Squall hesitated, debating on what to tell him. Tough one, I wouldn't know what to say, either.

"It's better if she tell you herself. Plus, we don't really know." Quistis' voice rang from behind. I spun around, startled. I was pretty jumpy. Probably because of Tonberry King's nature. Acquired GF traits, not fun.

Ryan nodded in agreement. "Well, okay, I guess I'll head to DC then."

"Rest up first, you look tired." Squall recommended.

Ryan nodded again and saluted. He turned on his heels and headed toward the dormitory. I turned to Quistis, bringing on my usual smile. "Good job, Instructor."

"About what?"

"Sparing someone of an awkward moment."

"..." See, what did I tell ya? She won't speak to me!

"And creating one for someone else right now." I cleared my throat. "Well, the Quad looks great." I changed the subject.

"Yes. Selphie's quite talented, isn't she?"

Okay, we're on the second sentence and she had to bring out Selphie's name. I admit it, I admit it, I should've made it clear to Sefie that we were just friends. Best friends in the world, but none other than. I couldn't help it if she likes me more than I did to her. I couldn't.

Yes, I know I'm BS-ing, too. But I couldn't really change anything now. Maybe at this party tonight something'll come up and I'll think of a good way to set things right. Yeah, that's it. Party would be the saviour.

"Oh, Squall, I forgot to mention it this morning," Quistis turned her attention to the leather-clad leader of ours. "Thanks."

"For?" He frowned.

"For asking Seifer to get the car for me. It's thoughtful."

Squall's expression was blank. Heck, it should be, because he didn't say that. I did. He knew I did, too. Seifer, you lying bastard. It's not like my path with Quistis is all smooth in the first place, but you gotta throw in some more stones.

"Hey, whatcha guys talking about?" Selphie bounced over to our corner. "Uh-oh, I sense tension. What's up? All of y'all are like, so out of it today."

"Ask your boyfriend," Quistis replied. She abruptly turned and walked out the Quad. Squall gave me a meaningful glare, then followed.

Selphie gave me her innocent big-eye look. Crap, I didn't want to set anything right right now. No, wait after the party, you know. Oh, well. "Um," I scratched my head. "Uh, I think we need to talk."

"About?" She chirped.

"Us. Or lack there of. Look, Sefie, I think you got the wrong idea about us." Here we go. "I, I always look at us as best friends, you know. Nothing more."

I closed my eyes for a brief second, anticipating a huge explosion. It didn't come. Instead, Selphie's face simply fell and she lost her bubbly tone. "Oh. Well, it's okay, I mean, it doesn't change anything, right? I mean, it's just a name thing and it's a bummer but, I mean... ."

"I'm sorry. I should've said it sooner." She was about to cry. Fuck, I felt so bad. I know, I was an asshole for all these fucked up shit, but I was making amends now. I was. I was trying.

"..." She couldn't make out any more words without breaking down. Selphie Tilmitt was not the kind to break down in front of people, especially not in front of me. Watching her was tearing my heart to pieces.

"W-Why are you telling me this now?" She asked.

Ugh. "I think it's about time I tell you. I mean, any longer is just prolonging... my uh, guilt toward you and it's not fair to you."

She didn't look like she believed me. At all. But I couldn't tell her it's because of Quistis. Right, that'll go well. Uh-huh, I'd be knocked into a ditch.

Or Quistis'll get a beating. I did not want to see that. Ever.

Selphie slumped her shoulders and sighed heavily. Then she shook her head and walked past me, brushing against my arm. I didn't turn around. I simply stared in front of me, at the stage.

First time a woman ever got to me this much. Funny, I must've dropped similar lines to dozens of girls before and didn't feel a thing. Now...

The stage light flickered. Crap. I slapped my hand against my forehead. Brilliant, now I gotta figure out what to do at that party. I couldn't just not go, and Selphie couldn't just not go, so if we go people'll still expect something from us, at least like we were before. She certainly won't be ready to come anywhere near me after this crazy break-up thing. And I -

I -

I truly wanted, and needed, to talk to someone else. Someone who's ignoring me deliberately. Someone who I know held some thing for me in her heart but just refused to acknowledge it even if the sky falls down, simply because she's afraid.

She's afraid. Oh, tonight's gonna be fun. Sure.


I slumped on the pillow in my room and buried my head. Bummer. Mega bummer. I really thought we... Irvy...!

I was not gonna cry. I was not gonna cry. No tears. No!

I think I fell asleep while lying there. Because the next thing I knew was a pair of hands shaking me like crazy and my name being called.

"Selph? Selphie? What's wrong?"

Who was that? I turned my head. Jen!

They're back! Wait, was it that late? I turned toward the window. Sure enough, the sun was low. I must've slept all afternoon.

"Nothing," I shook my head.

Jen gave me a look. "Right, seeing you without a smile means the world must've caved somewhere and killed somebody. What's wrong?"

"Noth -" I choked a little. I couldn't continue. She wouldn't believe me anyways. I drew in a shaky breath and replied. "Irvy just... he just... broke it with me."

"What?!" Jen exclaimed.

"What happened?" Mai came in. She jumped on top of the bed with me. "Girl, you crying? Who did what to you? I'm gonna go beat him up if he ever wronged you."

"How do you know it's a him anyways? It could a bitch, like Q -"

"Hey!" I stopped Jen. "Don't diss my friend like that."

Jen snickered. "Well, your boyfriend is no good, so I'm having doubts about the rest of your Balamb friends, too."

"Why?" I frowned. "They're perfectly regular, nice people. Like y'all to me!"

"Well, I ain't sure about the perfect part, or the regular part, or the nice part." Matt's voice cut in. Steve followed him. "Did Kinneas do something?"

I didn't say anything. It's too crappy and my head hurts from it. Matt growled in his throat. "I knew it. And I knew that Almasy was tripping me."

"What's he tripping you about?" Jen asked.

"Kinneas and Trepe's date. Almasy denied it ever happened. Like hell, it didn't."

What? My eyes grew big. Quistis? No way! She wouldn't betray me like that. Naw, Matt's hallucinating. I didn't believe it.

"Whoa, what's going on here?" Mai piped. "Why's everybody dissin' Selph's friends? I think they're okay people. Y'all're just, like, I don't know, intimidated for some reason by them. Yeah, Irvine was pretty nasty when he broke it with Selph, but that doesn't mean he cheated on her with Quistis, and it certainly don't mean that all the others are bad. Joce, don't pick random targets."

Steve laughed. "Ha, don't drag Seifer into this Grat session, right?"

Mai grew red. "I think he's hot, okay? So shut up." She turned her nose up.

"You think Seifer is hot? What kind of taste is that?" Jen rolled her eyes. "I rather pick -"

She stopped suddenly and cleared her throat.

"Who? Oh, you won't say it because, oh..." Steve elbowed Jen, who glared at him. "Ha ha. Don't say it or somebody'll get angry. Ruby Dragon angry. But it's a good opportunity for you now, though, since he -"

"Shut the freak up, Steve," Jen hissed. "Selphie, please ignore him. He's off the wall, as usual."

"Am not. I'm right on target. You're just nervous because of that."

"Yeah, okay, whatever, you two. Look, girl, cheer up!" Mai flashed a huge smile. "I mean, I know it's hard, but we do have a performance thing to do, and nobody can perform good in a sour mood. So I say, let's forget this whole thing, at least for tonight. Come on, all smiles here now."

She's so sweet. And she's right. No point letting this thing drag me down when my dream was gonna come true. I felt much better and grinned. "Mai, what am I gonna do without you."

"She's smiling, she's smiling again!" Steve's grin spread from ear to ear. "All right, S-bomb, we all good?"

"Yeah, it's good. It's gonna be fun." I jumped off the bed. "Let's get ready for that concert! Am I gonna perform with y'all?"

"Of course! You're gonna lead a song or two." Steve smoothed his hair back. "What songs do you know?"

"I got an idea." Jen's eyes twinkle mischievously. "This time the program is going to be a little different. Selph, don't worry about it, leave it all to me. Oh, and don't get too softhearted, either."

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Matt smirked. What did Jen mean by the last thing? It went over my head. I shrugged. It would be fun, and that's all I cared at this point. It's my dream to let them perform here, so I couldn't care less what they decide to play.

"Okay, Junk Yard, let's get going!" Mai twirled around the room. "Make-up, clothes, instrument, we need to move! The show starts in an hour! We need to eat before going on, too."

"You ate enough gum to last you months," Steve said. Mai stuck out her tongue at him. With chewing gum showing, too.

"Jocifer, come on, we need to plan this program. Selph, we'll see you later." Jen and Matt left the room, the other two followed. I was by myself again.

Well, time to pick a happy dress and get ready to rock!

"Hey, Selphie," Quistis greeted me. I smiled back. She definitely would not betray me with Irvine. Matt's crazy.

"Hey! Where's everybody?" I looked around. The only other person I saw sitting at our table was Irvine. I did not feel like talking to him, so I didn't. Quistis shrugged. Oh, well.

The table grew quiet. Yeah, usually Zell's the first one here trying to get all the hotdogs, but now he's nowhere in sight. Neither was Squall, which was really weird because since he's Headmaster and all he should be one of the first to arrive in a Garden event. And if all my friends were back, Seifer should be back, too. It's so boring with nobody here.

"Selph!" I hopped up from the table and spun around. There they were, my band, the Junk Yard. They were all in costume. Mai braided her red hair into two short braids, like Pippi Longstockings, except they're not sticking out. She got on some men's dress shirt and pants, and a loose tie. Oh, and she's chewing gum, of course. Jen wore a shiny catsuit with furry belts. It's cute and the light reflect off of it. Matt and Steve just wore jeans and shirts, you know, guy stuff.

"You guys, you're supposed to on stage already! Go, the crowd won't wait." I gestured toward all the lights.

"Well, we wanna you to look at this program, since you're the producer and all." Mai handed me a sheet of paper. "Look."

I took it and read it. "Uh, whoa. Some of them I need to get Squall to approve."

Jen snickered. "What? Inappropriate for children?"

Uh, yeah. We did have junior classmen at the party. It's not like it's the SeeD ball where only SeeDs can come, it's open to everyone. And speaking of Squall, he's here!

"Here, let me see it," Quistis reached for the program. I handed to her. She frowned slightly.

"You aren't the Headmaster," Jen said quietly. Quistis heard her and frowned even more, but didn't say anything. Irvine, however, started to open his mouth, but Squall came up and silenced him. I shot Jen a look. Whatever my Trabia friends said should be kept within us, and not spread everywhere.

"What's this?" Squall asked while looking over Quistis' shoulder.

"Tonight's music program," she replied. "Shouldn't we delete some of the songs because we do have children here?"

"Get rid of the children," Matt shrugged.

They both glared at him. "We can't just order all the junior classmen to leave." Squall said. "You should've specified that this concert's not suitable for young kids."

"Y'all didn't ask." Jen replied. "I don't think kids nowadays care about a little cussing anyways. What did you expect?"

"It's kinda the Garden rule." Irvine said from his side.

Matt laughed. "Oh, yeah, I know the rules. But I didn't think you would say anything since somebody had broken some of them, frequently, already." His eyes landed on Squall.

Squall flinched. His brow tightly knitted together and he wore a shocked expression. Quistis was wide-eyed, too.

OK, my two groups of friends were fighting. Stop it. I looked back and forth at them, worried. I had no idea what Matt was talking about, but it didn't look good. No fighting, please! I mean, they're all my friends. Well, except for one at this moment, but still.

Steve must've seen my expression, for he cleared his throat. "Ahem. Hey, how about this. On some of the songs, we'll just blot out the cuss words or sing another clean version of it. You know, instead singing 'Closer' we'll just do the Super Mario remix of the song, or something like that."

There's a Super Mario remix of the song? I didn't know that! Cool, I gotta listen to that! Steve's so sweet.

Everyone seemed to agree with that idea. Great, phew, I was worried Squall'll postpone the concert or something. That just couldn't happen! I felt Mai tugging my sleeve. "Selph, let's go. You're needed backstage."

I nodded and smiled. Then we all headed toward the side door that lead to the backdrop. Once we're separated from the crowd, Jen slapped Steve hard on the head. He yelled.

"What was that for?!"

"That, dumbass, was for ruining what I planned for hours on." Jen fumed. "And you, Jamaica, should've kept the program back here."

"I gotta at least show Selphie." Mai protested.

"Show her here! Augh, whatever, I'm not blotting any words out, thank you very much. That ruins the song."

"Neither am I," grumbled Matt.

They can't do that! Squall'll get mad, and afterwards who gets a lecture? Me. "Hey, I thought y'all agreed!" I poked Jen, who rolled her eyes.

"What is the problem with you two Geezards?" Steve put his hands on his hip. "We are guests here. I don't know about you, but that Squall guy was really nice. So was Seifer for showing us around, and how did, you, Jocifer, managed to tick him off was beyond me. And -"

"And Kinneas swindled S-bomb here with the Instruc -" Matt started.

"What does that have to do with any of the other friends Selphie have here?" Steve cut him off. "Plus, you don't even know for sure anything's happening between those two. I didn't see nothing. Just 'cause Selphie's boyfriend broke up with her doesn't mean we have to be rude to the Headmaster or the Trepe girl or anyone else."

"Um, as much as I like to hear everyone argue, we do have a show to do. In about 3 minutes, you know?" Mai popped a piece of fresh gum in her mouth. "Selphie, the introduction, please?"

I gotta thank Mai again for stop this madness. Well, here we go. I turned my face toward the curtains, off the stage.


"That was refreshing," Irvine commented as he sat back in the chair. "How did they figure out about you and Seifer, Squall?"

I had no idea, so I shrugged. I hadn't seen Seifer all day; he managed to disappear after the return from Balamb. He seemed to be deliberately avoiding me. Why? No idea, either. "I'm not even sure he knows exactly. He could be bluffing."

Quistis shook her head. "Jocifer does not look like a bluff kind of person. He doesn't speak much, but everything he says has a point. Squall," I looked up at her. "I think it's better if we get the kids out of here."

I raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"Because I really don't think they're going to blot out any foul language. In fact, I think that's the point. They're trying to break rules to get to you. Or us."

"And they would get to us because..." She's making perfect sense. But what did we do?

"Because I broke up with Selphie."

I stared at him. Irvine broke up with Selphie? He actually did? Since when did the rebel of all rebels follow my advice? If he hadn't said it with such a serious undertone, I wouldn't believed it if my life depend on it.

"Geez, Squall, don't need to burn a hole in my forehead," Irvine laughed lightly. "Yes, I broke up with her. Which would explain the unusual behaviour of her Trabia friends, although I don't know what is usual behaviour for them."

"That's not unusual; that's uncivil. Rude." Quistis seethed. She's angry at something other than the stuff Jocifer said. "Anyways, Squall, the kids?"

Oh. "Yes, you're right. I'll go make the announcement right -" Before I could stand up or finish my sentence, the lights dimmed and Selphie's high soprano shook the air.

Too late.

"Ahem," She clasped her hands together. "OK, first of all, I apologize for this, but the junior classmen need to excused. I am very sorry that I forgot to specify it, but I didn't know about the requirement until a few minutes ago. So, please?"

OK, maybe not too late. The junior classmen all groaned, but, following orders, they soon left the Quad. The Quad crowd did not seem to thin out any. Selphie and her friends had packed a good show, and the students seem all to eager for it to begin.

"Well, since that's cleared," Selphie smiled brightly. "I welcome and thank all of y'all for attending this concert. Y'all're gonna have so much fun tonight. And without further delay, here is The Junk Yard!"

At that, the stage lit up and the four Trabia musicians appeared. Jen and Jocifer both had electric guitars in their hands. Jamaica was in charge of the keyboard, and Jeep was the drummer. Selphie was in charge of the synthesizer for any other necessary additions. They looked great.

"Boy, I feel useless," said I. Selphie ran the entire show. It didn't exactly make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

"Don't." A voice rang behind me as a hand caressed my neck. Seifer. I turned toward him as he sat down between me and Quistis. I smiled.

"Where were you? I haven't seen you all afternoon. I thought you came back around lunch."

"Later than that, but..." he smirked. "Where's chicken-wuss?" He asked Quistis.

"His name's 'Zell,'" she scoffed. "Seifer, you never change, do you? He's with Dr. Kadowaki, making the rest of the potion with the Heroes."

"Ah. So, I guess it's just the four of us, huh, since Selphie's too busy to bother with her Balamb friends. Or rather, bother with her ex-boyfriend."

Irvine frowned. "How do you know that?"

"I didn't. You just confirmed it for me. I had a hunch because you're still sitting here. You should be over there cheering her on, like a boyfriend should."

"I never did that," Irvine frowned even more.

"Which either means you're uncomfortable with PDA or you didn't really like her that way in the first place. Since it's you, I'm assuming the latter. But, anyway, that's not my problem. Now I'm gonna do what a boyfriend should do." He stood up, dragging me up with him. I struggled a little to get out of his iron grip, but he just grinned more and started to head to the middle of the Quad floor. The place where the most people were dancing.

"Seifer!" I hissed. "What are you doing? Let go!" OK, I know I did say that I wouldn't hide our relationship anymore. But, like any average person would, saying and actually doing are totally different things. I felt my heart tighten. And a nervous feeling reeled in my stomach.

We got to where he wanted and stopped. He turned around to face me, with the most sincere look I've ever seen in his eyes. He linked his hands behind my back, and leaned forward. And kissed me.

I was so shocked that I didn't move for several seconds. My eyes were wide open, and I saw clearly the people around us, some gaped while others frowned. Most were as shocked as I was. I heard gasps and other things being uttered, one of them distinguishably was Selphie shrieking "Oh my God!" over the music. But all of these disappeared from my mind when Seifer pushed his tongue inside my mouth.

Something round and cold scraped against my teeth. His hot tongue found my own and started teasing it. The coldness didn't disappear, but stayed in the middle of all the heat. I felt my tongue moving against the cold metal ball, teasing back. Then he began to slightly suck on my lips, with his hands roaming around the small of my back, and ventured lower to rub my thigh.

I finally started to respond. I leaned into his touch. My eyes closed, for I didn't care to look at the people's reactions anymore. I wrapped my arms around his neck and started playing with his golden hair. Our kiss still hadn't break, and I didn't want it to. The metal ball - apparently his newly acquired tongue ring - roamed the roof of my mouth. My breathing became short and irregular, so had his. I moaned, loud enough for pretty much everyone to hear. The warmth from our mouths transferred into a stream and headed toward my stomach. Toward the place between my legs. I knew he felt it. And I certainly felt him.

After what seemed like an eternity, he broke the kiss. We were both gasping for breath, and I knew my cheeks were flushed. I was pretty sure in real time frame the kiss only lasted less than 30 seconds. Seifer smirked and raised his eyebrows suggestively. I couldn't help but grin back.

"So... when did you get a tongue ring?" I asked him.

Seifer laughed out loud. "That's all you have to say? Asking about the ring? I got it this morning, at the Crowned Child. You like it?"

"Does it hurt?"

"Nothing a Cure can't handle."

"Ah," I shifted in his arms to get more comfortable, as we slow-danced to the music. "So that's why you've been avoiding me all afternoon."

"And you are still beating around the bush, avoiding the obvious topic. Oh, look at all these people staring at us." He raised his voice. "Hey, what're you -"

"Shut up!" I kicked his foot. I didn't need him to get us more blatant than it already was.

He laughed again. The rumble in his chest felt nice. "See, nobody beat us up or yelled at us to get out."

"That's because I'm Headmaster." I replied quietly.

"So what are you afraid of before?"

I lowered my gaze. It's not what they do, it's what they say. I didn't care what the students were doing now, but what about tomorrow? When I need to assign SeeD missions or run the everyday errands, the students would lose their respect for me. Because of my sexual preference.

Because Squall Leonhart is gay and his lover is Seifer Almasy.

And he's Headmaster of Balamb Garden, which do have a reputation to hold.

"Look, baby, you can't stop their brains." Seifer seems to have read my thoughts. "People will always think, and be judgmental to a degree. We just gotta deal with it. And things aren't always as bad as you think. For example, when you found out Headmaster Cid was married to Matron, the sorceress you're supposed to kill who's evil at the time, did it make you lose all the respect you had for Cid?"

I shook my head. "But that's different."

"I see no difference. Who you want to be with is none of their business. Let them stare. They just find us sexy and they're envious."

I scoffed lightheartedly. "Yeah, I'm sure that's the case."

"Of course it is," His expression turned smug. "You just gotta convince yourself of it. Now shut up, because I like this song."

I smiled and laid my head on his shoulder. All that got through to my mind then was the sound of Seifer's heartbeat, and the lyric of the song from the stage.


And scars are souvenirs you never lose
The past is never far
Did you lose yourself somewhere out there
Did you get to be a star
And don't it make you sad to know that life
Is more than who we are


I felt a smile creep up my face. So Seifer finally had enough. And apparently Squall finally stopped worrying about what people'll think. It's odd, since Squall didn't care what anyone thinks at all prior to Ultimecia, but I guess being Headmaster there were some aspects one has to worry. There's more responsibility and Garden's reputation should not be damaged. Leave it to Seifer to pull something like this. It worked.

"Nice song," Irvine rested his arms on the table. "Who knew Jocifer had such a nice baritone, although I'm sure the original artists were tenors."

"What's the song's name?" I asked. It was indeed nice, appropriate for the couple in the middle of the floor anyways.

"'Name' by Goo Goo Dolls. It'd be better if Selphie had not screamed in the middle of it." He shook his head.

"She didn't know."

"Still. Hey," He suddenly stood up as 'Name' ended. "I think the song I requested is next. Come on, let's dance."

"You requested?" I didn't move. "How did you request it?"

He shrugged. "I talked to Jeep. He's cool with it. How did he get Jen to agree to put it on there, I haven't the slightest idea. Come on, Instructor, dance with me."

He doesn't quit. I sighed, and reluctantly got up. He took my hand, planted a kiss on it, and strode toward the door. People's attention was still on Squall and Seifer, so our spot was relatively desolated. Just then the first verse of the song came on, in the mezzo-soprano of Jen and the alto of Jamaica.


There are two of us talking in circles
And one of us who wants to leave
In a world created for only us
An empty cage that had no key
Don't you know that we're working with flesh and blood
Carving out of jealousy
Crawling into each other, it's smothering
Every little part of me


I groaned. "Irvine Kinneas, if you have something to say to me, just say it. Don't get a song to do the job for you."

"'Circle' by Sarah McLachlan. Soothing song, eh?" He ignored my accusation and pulled me into his arms. "I heard your insomnia is cured."

I rolled my eyes. "Finding random topic to talk about now?"

He looked at me. "Quistis, why are you denying it?"

"What am I denying?" Direct, isn't he?

"Honey, it's okay now. I'm single." His turn to roll his eyes. "Never wasn't in the first place, but apparently that needed some fixing."

I shook my head. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yeah, you do."

"No, I - ugh," I scoffed. Yes, I knew perfectly what he's talking about. "It's not fair to Selphie."

"Wha - I broke up with her already, so to speak."

"See, your relationship's ruined because of me. You broke it for me, I know. I'm not stupid. And it's wrong; it shouldn't happen."

"There's nothing that shouldn't happen because there wasn't anything in the beginning! She's my best friend, best friend, that's it. And - hold on a minute girl, I ain't finished talking to you." I turned to leave but he twisted me back into his arms. "And, okay, I just lost my train of thought."

I stifled a laugh. He's going to make a huge speech, but he's scatterbrained, like Laguna. "Right, can I leave now?"

"No! Look, give me a chance. You're not betraying Selphie, not after we've separated."

"You lost a best friend. And everyone, including me, thinks you two are meant to be. I do think so."

He was staring at me again. Please stop or I'll -

"Yeah, I did lose a best friend - for like a week, tops. Sefie'll come to her senses faster than she can fly the Ragnarok. And if you're talking meant-to-be's, so's Squall and Rinoa. What happened to them now? He's got a boyfriend and she's pregnant with another guy's kid."

I couldn't think of anything else to say. So I concentrated on the song again.


What kind of love is this that keeps me hanging on
Despite everything it's doing to me
What is this love that keeps me coming back for more
When it will only end in misery


Big mistake. Irvine sure could choose his songs.

He's quiet. I looked up and saw straight into his eyes. The shiny indigo burnt into mine. I could feel my heart crumble and my knees were weak all of a sudden. The room began to spin again, similar to the one last night. Last night...

"Quistis," He breathed out my name. I absentmindedly pushed against his chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Seifer and Squall at our table, watching us. But all I could focus on was the feel of his breath. His left hand moved up to my face, lifted my chin. Oh, God, those lips...

His arm tightened around me. Blood rushed through my temple, and all over my body. He leaned closer, our faces just centimetres apart. A ghost of a touch tingled my own lips. Then...


I know too many people unhappy
In a life from which they'd love to flee
Watching others get everything offered
They're wanton for discovery
Oh my brother, my sister, my mother
You're losing your identity
Can't you see that it's you in the window
Shining with intensity



I gasped loudly and tore away from Irvine. I spun around, and saw Selphie, wide-eyed with tears, frozen on the stage. Oh, idiot! How could I forget that she's here!!! No, now I really had hurt her. I should not have listen to Irvine. Should not let him convince me. Should not -

Selphie dropped whatever she was doing and dashed off the stage. She zoomed past the crowd and disappeared through the Quad door. My God, what have I done?! Ignoring Irvine's hand on my wrist, I shook him off and ran after Selphie. I needed to apologize. It'd never happen again. I needed to tell her that. I had to!

"Excuse me!" I weaved my way through the astonished crowd. I had to catch up. "Selphie! Listen to me!"

I ran through the Quad door and crashed down the hallway. Thank goodness I was wearing pants and boots, so I could run fast. Then main hallway appeared before me. Where did she go?

I didn't slow my pace, so I turned toward the door. She probably ran outside into the woods. Or the Fire Cavern, Ifrit being junctioned to her had a preference to heat. Not a good place to cool off, but a homey place.

"Oof!" Somebody knocked solidly into me. Or maybe I into her. I didn't know. All I knew was that we're both on the floor.

"Quistis! Great, I found you!" Xu exclaimed.

"What?" I rubbed my temples.

"Here, can you please give this to Dr. Kadowaki?" She handed me a bag. Why? "I couldn't find her at the infirmary. I think she's in the Quad or at the Bridge. I have another errand to run so if you give this to her I'd be grateful."

"What is this?" I strung the bag on my waist.

"The purified and condensed Heroes. It sure takes a lot of time to make that potion for Mrs. Dincht."

Oh. But my mind was still set on chasing after Selphie. "Um, did Selphie run past you?"

"Yeah!" Xu replied. "I just saw her running out the door, heading toward the woods, I think. It looked like she was crying, what's -"

"I'll explain later," Got to catch up! "Thanks, Xu!" I yelled over my shoulder as I headed to the exit.

"Sure, no problem. Dr. Kadowaki, Quistis! Don't forget! Somebody's life depends on that bag!"


What kind of love is this that keeps me hanging on
Despite everything it's doing to me
What is this love that keeps me coming back for more
When it will only end in misery


"Hand me the syringe, Zell, please," Dr. Kadowaki said.

I picked up the syringe and gave it to her. That's the second to last ingredient. The only other one was the Heroes, but they needed to be condensed, or something, so they'll be more powerful and cure faster. I was anxious as hell; Ma's gonna be all right. She already suffered enough, don't need no more.

Dr. Kadowaki gave Ma the shot consists of Megalixir and a few of the Heroes. Minutes after, Ma's skin color turned from that awful blue to her normal color. Yowza! I jumped and did a victory dance.

"Just a little to early to be cheering, young man," Dr. K smiled. "She's out of danger now, though. After this dosage, she should be fine in general."

"So why do we even need to the rest of the Heroes?" We only used about half of the stock. What's with the other 50 Heroes?

"Those are the ones that'll replenish all the energy she had lost and reinforce the effect of this dosage." Dr. K explained. "It'd finish the healing procedure. Xu!" She called out into the outer room of the Infirmary.

"Yes?" the Asian girl poked her head inside the lab.

"Run this to the MD level and use the condenser there, please." Dr. K handed Xu the bag of scattered Heroes. "Make sure it's blended, not swirled together. And make sure it -"

"Yes, Doctor, I know," Xu smiled. "I've done this millions of times. No worries. And Zell," I looked at her, "it's all going to be all right. At least concerning your mom, yes, I am sure of it."

"How long will it take before it's done?" I pointed to the Heroes.

"It's quick. About 20 minutes or so. I'll be right back." With that, Xu turned and closed the door behind her.

I let out a breath of relief. Last step, not even that important of a step, compared to everything else we've done. I've seen enough recovering and healing items and methods this afternoon to last me a lifetime. I also know that there ain't no way I'm gonna be a doctor.

"All right, I think things are in order now." Dr. K turned around and adjusted the I.V. unit that hung next to Ma's bed. "Don't you have a concert to go to tonight?"

Oh, shit! Yeah! It totally slipped my mind. Selphie's band, Junk something-or-other, were gonna perform tonight. And I had promised her I'd be there! I glanced at my wristwatch. It's way past 8. The thing started around 7. Man, I'd get it in the morning. Oh, yeah, that girl'll beat me up or nag me all day.

"Yeah, Doctor K, thanks for reminding me. I think I'll go now."

"Just a - ah, nevermind, go. Have fun."

"What?" I glanced over and saw she was frowning at an empty bottle on the table. We ran out of something? "What?" I asked again.

"We ran out of lysander liquids. I'll need it when the Heroes arrive."

"What for?"

"The condensed Heroes have a side effect if it's not used properly. It could cause minor blood anemia, or blood shortage, when given because the cells were used to repair damaged skin cells and clotting. I don't think it's a good idea to put your mom through that. Lysander has the ability to trigger more blood production, therefore counter the effect. Unfortunately, I think I used the last one in another injury."

Oh. "So... where can we find more?"

"Oh, it's easy to find. Around the Balamb woods and the mountain area. Don't worry about it, Zell, you go to the concert. I can easily dig up some."

No need. I got it. "It's okay, I got it covered. What does it look like?"

"Zell, really -"

"Aw, come on! It's not problem." Yeah, and it'd give me a legitimate reason for being late. I could just say I was out digging lysanders and Squall or Selphie won't chew me out. Ha.

"It's a purple flower with blue centres. It also glows white at night, so it should be easy to spot. I just need a handful or two." Dr. Kadowaki handed me a pouch. "Here, just put them in here."

"Cool. I'll be back in a second." I pushed open the door to the Infirmary, then zoomed out the building. The quicker I get this done, the better.

Balamb at night was usually quiet. Besides for a few crickets and such, and a Bite Bug or two, any other creature was rare. That is, if you stay on the road and the open grass. I stayed away from the woods at night ever since I came here. T-Rexaurs were mostly active at night. I ain't got the heart set on taking one down by myself yet, even though I had both Shiva and Bahamut.

I looked around the base of the mountain. There weren't any white glowing flowery things. Damn, I had to go into the woods. I didn't want to go into the woods. No, I wasn't scared, okay? I was just kinda cautious because if I run into a T-Rexaur I'd be killed! Or at least badly beaten. Yeah, you try to take down one of those at Level 65 by yourself. Ha ha ha.

Sigh. Guess I had no choice. Sigh again. I picked up my sneakered feet and trudged into the Balamb Woods.

I saw the little flowers almost at once. Hey, this is easy! I bent down and started digging them up by the shovel full. She only needed a few; I'd be done in two minutes.


I jumped about two feet in the air. What the heck was that?!!! I saw a huge flash in the middle of the woods. It was so bright and it looked kinda red. Huh? Somebody set off a bomb or something?

After that a few seconds of eerie silence followed. I still couldn't move. Somehow I had a feeling that a huge explosion like that there should be something else after it. I mean, even the aftershock's enough to knock down a few trees or something.


"Hell!" I yelled to myself. Yep, I was right. I hate it when I'm right. That was the most blood-curdling scream I've ever heard. Goosebumps crept up my arms. It just sound so ... devastating. Somebody must've been in some serious pain! I better go help them! Man, Zell Dincht's not built to watch a bad thing and do nothing.

I stuffed the pouch in my pants pocket and ran toward the canter of the woods. The scream sounded like a woman. Thinking of that made me sped up my pace.

Huh? A shadow just zoomed in front of me. "Who's there?!" I called into the darkness and slowed down. I knew I saw something.

Rustle. Trees moved to my right. I jumped a few strides and saw a figure crouched on the ground. The yellow dress caught my attention immediately.

"Selphie?" I cried in surprise. "Whatcha doing here?"

She looked at me. Her eyes were all glazed over and her hands were trembling. Whoa, girl! I sat on the ground next to her and held her hand. "Z-Zell?"

"Yeah, 's me. What happened? I heard this huge explosion and. . . you okay?"

She nodded. "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. I'm fine. It's not my fault! Really, Zell, it's not my fault!!"

"Huh? What? Your fault? I have no idea whatcha talking about, girl. I'm sure whatever it is it's not your fault. I mean, that's some big bomb."

Selphie stiffed and started shaking her head violently. "It's their - It's not - They went out! They, she, betrayed me. She betrayed me, Zell, she did! I -"

"Whoa, whoa, calm down. It's over. It's gone now. Okay?" I had no idea what she's talking about, but it's better to calm her down than let her tie herself into crazy knots. I wrapped my arm around her and patted her soft hair.

She seemed to be somewhat calm. Well, somewhat. "Quistis..." she mumbled.

"Quistis what?" I loosened my grip and she raised her head to look at me. Her big green eyes were moist. She looked spooked.

"She . . yes . . She betrayed me!!" Her voice suddenly got loud. "She was cheating on me with Irvine! That's why he broke up with me! That is why!! Zell! It's not my fault! I got dumped and cheated on!"

My own eyes became big. Holy crap, no. Naw! That can't be true. If that's true, oh, I'm so gonna kick Kinneas' ass! And I'm gonna go chew out Quistis, too. No way, she must be mistaken! I mean, it's one thing to love someone when they're taken, it's another to actually get with someone when they're taken. And the latter is unacceptable!

"Are you sure, Selphie? I mean, I don't think they -"

I stopped my sentence. The look on her eyes was as determined and as sure as anything. I believed her. Ugh, that bastard. How dare he cheat on Selphie! He's gonna get it. Oh yeah. Definitely.

Selphie was shaking again. I hugged her closer and she welcomed it. My job at hand was to calm her down. Then I'll go solve the rest of the problem that caused her all this pain.


Something clicked inside my head as I watched Quistis chased after Selphie out the door. Something dreadful. Wrong. Premonition.

I never had a premonition before. Okay, not true, I had a few, but never one that felt this right. This one, heh, it's bugging me, big time.

I felt someone squeezing my hand. Squall. We exchanged worried glances. He looked even worse than me. I leaned down to talk in his ear. "You stay here, keep an eye on the cowboy. I'll go after them."

He nodded quickly. With that, I pushed past the crowd, who were mostly standing around wondering what's going on since the music stopped. Where'd they go?

"Thanks, Xu!" Ah, Quistis' voice. I spun toward the source, which seemed to be heading out the door. I zoomed past Xu, whom I assume gave Quistis Selphie's directions. No far ahead I saw a flash of white. That's Quistis' shirt. Okay, I'm good at this following thing.

The white dot was vivid in the black of night. It actually wasn't that dark yet, but it was enough to stop most monsters. So wherever they'd gone they should be saf -

Okay, unless they run into the woods. And guess what? That's exactly where the spot of white was aiming for. Wonderful. Yeah, get yourself killed with a T-Rex. Oh, fuck it! I scoffed in their stupidity and followed. I sped up, too. If somebody's gonna die we might as well give it a try and fight for our lives.

Thank Hades for Pandemona's speed junctions.

I raced after the white dot. It got bigger. She's slowing down. Then, not that far ahead, I saw a flash of yellow. All righty, there's Selphie. I found my women.

"Get away from me! Bitch!"

Okay, did I say women? I meant cats. Really nasty cats.

"Selphie, please listen to me! I -"

"NO! You, how could you! You, arggh!"

By then I had made it into the clearing. Quistis and Selphie were, apparently, having a small argument going on. I stayed behind a rock. As long as they're safe from T-Rex's and nobody takes out their weapons or something, I think I'd stay out.

"It is not what you think. There isn't anything between us. I swear!" Quistis sounded so devastated.

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure. And he went on date with you for nothing last night, huh?" And since when did sweet bouncy Tilmitt turned into, into, uh, that?!

"That was not a date! That was -"

"So you two did go somewhere last night, period!" Selphie scoffed. "I didn't believe Matt when he told me. I thought you're my friend and my friend won't turn her back on me! Guess not! You're just, just like Rinoa. A slut."

Quistis gasped. I took in a breath myself. Selphie had gone off the edge. Or was she like this truly and all the happy-go-lucky stuff was a simple cover-up? Either way, she was pissed. Beyond pissed. What would Selphie do when she's pissed?

"I -" Quistis lost her voice. Shit, I'd be too.

"Ha, no come-back for that one, huh?" Something glittered in the pure green eyes of the usual perky girl. "Why, because it's true? Because you are just a no-good whore who want to get inside my boyfriend's p -"

"Shut up! NO!"

"And it worked too! You happy now?!!" Selphie's voice was on hysterics. She was sobbing at the same time. "Now that he's yours, totally yours. I love him, do you know that? I love him. But he, he... You...... Augh!"

I should've steppe out right there. I fucking should have.

But I didn't.

Instead, I still watched. I watched Selphie's face twisted with rage. And Quistis', full of shame that should not be placed on her, and anger. Bottled-up anger that could find no release for. She should not be blamed. She really shouldn't. Selphie was just too pissed right then to think straight.


A haze, dark and misty, flew out of Selphie's hands. Another mist joined, along with the burning red of a Firaga spell. That was as far as I could recognize before -


Holy Mother of God!

The blast was so massive and so bright and I had to shield my eyes for a few moments. The smell of charred wood, burnt grass, and the familiar scent of blood reached my nostrils. Holy fuck! Shit! SHIT!

I jumped out from behind the rock and landed on scorched earth. Damn, what the Hell had happened? I waited a few more moments to get my eyes adjusted back to the sudden darkness. Selphie's nowhere in sight. Quistis...


She was knocked down (no shit) on the dry soil. I raced to her and slipped, falling knees first beside her. What I slipped on was her blood. It formed a pool around her, a couple of centimetres thick. Fuck it! She was covered with blood, from her chest to her abdomen. A dark muddle in the absence of light.

"Quistis, oh my god, Quistis! Can you hear me?" I wrapped my right arm around her to hoist her up. Her eyes were wide open, but they're not looking at me but straight at the sky. Was she... no, she was breathing. Irregularly, but still breathing.

Then she screamed.

The most frightening scream I've ever heard in my life. And I'm telling you, I've heard plenty of screams. It chilled my entire skeleton frame, travelling from the top of my spine to my tailbone. She was tearing her heart out, along with her vocal cords.

"Whoa, whoa, Quistis!" I wrapped my other arm around her and put her head to my chest. "Honey, it's okay! It's over. It's over! Shhhhh." I gotta quiet her down. Hysteria wouldn't help anybody.

Her scream broke up into shorter and shorter pieces and finally died down. Her eyes focused on me. "S-Seifer?" She said hoarsely.

"Yeah. Don't talk, drink this first!" Man, was I ever glad that I had two Elixirs and some Curaga spells on me. I handed her the bottle of Elixir and cast several Curaga's on her. That's when I noticed she suffered from massive burning injuries, too. From her shoulder blades, down her two arms, and it also turned the last few inches of her long beautiful blonde hair into ashes. Jesus fucking Christ!

The wounds did not close up much and I realized I was running out of Curagas. Fuck! I searched through my items and fumbled out a Remedy and some Hi-potions. "Come on, girl, drink these, too!" I ordered.

She shook her head sadly. "Seifer, don't worry about it. I'm not going to make it, I know. I..."

"Don't say that! You are going to make it, okay? Look, it's just -"

"An explosion? Yes. Do you want to know what caused this explosion?"

I stopped listening to her but concentrated on spreading the Remedy on her wounds. Even in the lack of colour I knew her blood was not right. It was thicker, and it smelled wrong. If this was daylight I know for a fact that her blood colour was black. She's severely poisoned along with the rest of whatever injury she's suffering from.

"It's Pain and Meltdown thrown together, with a fire spell."

I raised my head. "That's impossible. They don't mix."

"Exactly." She suddenly keeled over and started coughing on me. Thick liquid splattered my coat. More blood. Good God, she's enduring internal bleeding, too?

I felt a blind rage enveloping my head. It's a stupid rage, because it shouldn't be there and had no reason to be there. But it's there, nonetheless. Nobody should be treated like this no matter what they'd done. In my opinion, she didn't even do anything but fall in love. And her beloved didn't do anything but love her back. That's it. Love has no logic, and it cannot be helped or easily changed. I knew that personally.

"You are not going to die, you hear me?" I shifted her so she'd be more comfortable in my arms. "You are not. I'll take you back to Garden and let Dr. Ka -"

"No!" She suddenly exclaimed. Then her breath hitched and she choked out more quietly. "No. Please."

"Honey, I can't cure you! I have nothing left to cure you with and you need help. Bad."

She shook her head. "Not Garden. Not Garden. Just... call Matron."

Matron? Shit, Matron lives in Centra! That's 20 plus hours worth of boat ride. No fucking way I'm gonna send her on such a voyage. But she's right, Matron could help. Sis was there, too. They could help her. How do I get her there?

Think, Almasy, think!

I got it!

"Okay, Quistis. Okay. You're going there. All right?" I fished around my pants pocket until I got out a portable communication device. I punched in the number and put the receiver to my ear.

"HELLO?" Fujin's voice. Great.

My posse work for Laguna now. They're his personal assistants. They're my contacts for anything involving outside Balamb.

"Fu? Hey, this is Seifer. Listen, I need to talk to Laguna."

"SEIFER?" On the background I heard Raijin saying "Seifer? It's Seifer, ya know!"

"Yeah. Please? I need to speak with him."

"AFFIRMATIVE." The phone was handled a couple of times, then Laguna's cheerful voice sounded in the receiver.

"Yeah? It's Laguna."

"I need to borrow the Ragnarok."

"Huh?" He was taken aback. "Now?"

"Yes. Right now. It's an emergency."

"Okay, then." Laguna knows about me and Squall. He didn't object in the least. In fact, he treats me like another son, which I am grateful for. "It'll be there in 15 or so minutes. I'm sending Fujin to fly it."

"Thanks. A lot. Oh, tell her to bring some Elixirs."


Click. 15 or so minutes. Then from here to Centra, in the Ragnarok, would take 20 to 30 minutes. Less than an hour.

"Quistis, hey," I nudged her. She was about to drift into unconsciousness, and that's always bad in cases like this. "Stay awake, hon. You'll be seeing Matron in less than an hour. Hold on. An hour. Please."

She looked at me weakly.

"Come on, girl. Hold on, for me. For all of us. For Kinneas. Please."

She nodded. Then she smiled. A weak one, but she smiled.

I let go of the breath that I'd been holding for whatever minutes ago. A sigh of relief.


"I am sorry for tonight's interruption, but the concert will be postponed. It will be rescheduled, however, so listen for it in the announcements." Squall said to the confused crowd. Good ole Headmaster duty. I couldn't care less. I briskly started to walk toward the door, but Squall stopped me.

"Irvine. Stay." He paused my motion with his gloved hands. "Seifer's after them."

"Oh, and he specifically told you to keep an eye on me, huh?" I knew him. Both of them.

Squall sighed. "Yes. I'm pretty sure he got it covered."

"So what are we gonna do?"

"Stay here."

I watched as the last of the students dissipate out the door. The Quad was about as empty as, well, I never seen it this empty. I mean, there'd always be people in here doing something. It changed from the loud music pumping state to as quiet as the library. You could hear a pin drop.


"What was that?" My head snapped up. It sounded like a small explosion. Actually, if we could hear it in the Quad, it's not exactly that small. "You heard that?"

Squall nodded. His scowl became deeper. Worried about Seifer, probably. Maybe I should go out there and check, just in case -


I flinched. Something weird crawled into my spine. That sounded like Quistis. No, that was Quistis. I didn't know how could I tell, but before I realized it I was running to the door full speed. Judging by the distance, she should be in the woods. I heard Squall call my name. I ignored him.

Before I could even step out into the corridor, though, something solid knocked into my stomach. My breath caught in my throat and I saw the ceiling while my back contacted with the floor. I felt four hands dragging me up, two on each arm. Then someone's fist clashed with my jaw. My teeth knocked into my cheek and it stung for moment before I felt something warm filled the inside.

"That is for Selphie, loser!"

Ah, the band. Figures.

A steel-toed boot kicked my shin. Jocifer's, no doubt. I struggled out the grip before I heard my knee snap. Ok, I have no time to play with y'all. I managed to leap out another one's kick. I needed to get to the woods. Anything else I couldn't care less.

"Ooof!" Jocifer landed on top of me. He drilled his elbow into the curve of my spine. OW! Spots danced in front of my eyes. I couldn't breathe. Pressure. Ow. Ow! My head swam and my eyes shut close.

"Get off of him."

The pressure gradually lightened and disappeared. I flipped on my back and sucked in a deep breath. Then I started coughing. Something sticky travelled up my larynx, metallic tasting, and I coughed some more.

A hand hauled me slowly to my feet. I opened my eyes, and saw Squall, with his gunblade pressed against Jocifer's throat. The other three were frozen in place. I guess Squall told them to or he's gonna slice off Jocifer's head. My hat, due to some miracle, was still on. God, I love that hat.

"Leave. Now!" The Headmaster ordered. Jocifer gave me a dagger look, then followed his troupe out the Quad. That went swell.

"You're armed?" I asked Squall as he put up the Lionheart.

"You're not?" He returned equally, eyes flickering in my direction.

"Why would I need to be armed at a dance?"

"Well, you just gained a reason. Seifer!" His attention turned behind me, as the cross trenchcoat man stepped in the threshold. He was covered with blood. "What -?"

"Don't ask, I'll tell you later. You, cowboy, got a fucking time-bomb of a girlfriend, you know that?!" Seifer's voice was infused with anger. What did that mean?

"Where's Quistis?" I asked.

Seifer looked harshly at me. "I don't know."

Liar. That was such a lie that it's not even funny. "Don't lie to me." I demanded. "Where is Quistis? Is she okay?"

"Refer to my previous statement." Seifer snickered as he sat down in a chair. More like dropped down. He looked beat.

"Seifer, what happened? Why are you... like this?" Squall gestured at the blood-soaked clothing.

"Didn't I -"

"Look, you can't just show up, looking like you've been to a massacre, and tell me to ask you later. What happened? Where's Selphie? And Quistis?"

Seifer looked at Squall, then glared at me, then sighed. "Squall, listen, Quistis told me not to tell. I can't betray her like that."

"Yo! Where's that damn cowboy?!" Zell stumbled through the door. "And where's Quistis!?"

Now why did everyone have to find the person that I'm interested in finding? As if things weren't already complicated enough, we had to add the hyperactive shorty into the category -

- who seem to be holding a grudge against me, for some reason. Zell saw me and immediately jumped in front of me, pulled back his arm, and hit me, with his Erhgeiz on, squarely below my breastbone.

"Zell, don't!" Squall's warning came too late. I gasped and choked on my breath, for the third time in less than half an hour. The warm feeling that I had been suppressed down since Jocifer knocked into me returned. I couldn't hold it down this time, and I doubled over. A blast of metallic and bittersweet liquid surged from inside my throat and poured on the ground in front of me. Red splattered on Zell's and my own clothes.

"Wha - I didn't do that! I can't cause that with one blow!" A bewildered Zell took a couple of steps back. My inside was burning and a sharp pain zoomed through my veins. I staggered backwards before I grabbed a chair to keep my balance. I looked up, and saw Seifer gave me a concerned look, while Squall was fuming at Zell.

"No shit you didn't do that, the Junk Yard did." Squall frowned. "Would you lay off of him already? What got you so mad anyways?"

"He cheated on Selphie with Quistis!"

Ha ha. Well.

Seifer stood up. "Chicken wuss, what the fuck are you talking about? And how did you know this? I thought you're in the Infirmary."

"SEIFER! I'M WARNING YOU!" Zell balled up his fists. Squall walked over and helped me up. "And I ran into Selphie. She told me, okay? Now where's Quistis!"

"Selphie? You saw Selphie? Good. 'Cause I have an issue to settle with her." Seifer started to walk to the door, but Zell stood firmly and blocked his way. "Get out of my way."

"No. Why are you defending Quistis? She's a -"

"Say that word and I will personally teach you how to count your teeth, one by one." Seifer used his full height advantage over Zell. "Go ask Selphie what the fuck she's done to Quistis, and then come back and talk to me."

"What's she done to Quistis?" My blood ran cold. Neglecting the dizziness in my head, I quickly walked up to Seifer. "Seifer!" I grabbed his arm. "I know you know. Tell me, please!"

Okay, that was the first time I begged. When had you ever heard Irvine Kinneas falling on his knees? But I was close to at that point. I cared about Quistis, and at the moment she was the only thing on my mind. I didn't care if I had to kiss Seifer's boot; I wanted to know.

"Oh, the two-timing slime wants to know about his other half," Zell mumbled. I stared him, getting angry. OK, I don't give a damn what you call me, but do not insult Quistis. She didn't do anything. Not a thing.

"I'm gonna shut that fucking mouth of yours for good -" Seifer swung his fist around. Just before it collided with Zell's ducking head, Squall grabbed Seifer with both hands.

"Seifer! Seifer! Calm down! Whoa!" Squall dragged Seifer away. "Beating up Zell won't solve anything."

"Seifer." I still needed an answer.

"Would people just stop saying my name? I heard it enough times." Seifer seethed. "Quistis told me not to. Especially to you, Irvine. I don't want to -"

"Then stop telling us abo -" Zell started.

"Shut up!" All three of us said simultaneously. Zell flinched. Then he grumbled to himself and stayed quiet, with arms folded tightly around his chest.

Seifer gave me a look. He gave up finally and sighed. "She's with Matron. Anything else, ask her when you get there."

"Thank you," I spun on my heels, headed toward the door.

"Irvine." Seifer suddenly called.

I paused, but didn't turn around. I could feel the expression on his face, though. "Uh, never mind. Go."

I smiled to myself. I knew exactly what he wanted to say. But he's Seifer, and Seifer won't allow himself to say it.

"Wait," Squall's smooth voice cut in. "how do you plan to get there?"

"By boat," I answered. What other way there is?

"Here," Feet shuffled behind me and a bottle of Elixir was put into my hand, along with some Gil. "Take this. And take care."

I turned sideways to face Squall. A smile formed on my face. Squall reached over and wiped the blood off from my lips. I placed a light kiss on his lingering fingertip, adjusted my hat, and walked out the door. Pushing Zell away from the doorframe, of course.

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