Don't Let Me Wake

Chapter 1 - Sunk In Memories

By Balinese no Neko

He stared at the ceiling of the Infirmary, not really seeing it. He was somewhere else in his mind, endlessly remembering what he had done, as if by reliving it, he could somehow change it, make it come out right this time. But he couldn't change what had happened. If nothing else, the past year had shown him that.

How could I have done that to him? he thought, agonizing over his memories. The pain reminded him he was alive, that he could still feel. I did terrible things . . . .

It was late at night and the Training Center was nearly empty. He was, for once, trying to forget the emotional heaviness he had been carrying with him for two months—or was it three? He couldn't remember. Did it even matter? However long he had been carrying it, it was nowhere near long enough to make up for the mistakes he had made, the pain he had caused. He wasn't even sure it was okay to try to forget about it, but for the sake of his increasingly worried friends, he thought he should give it a try, if only to make them happier. Regrettably, it did not quite worked out. A Grat, of all things, managed to catch him off his guard and knock him into semi-consciousness. Before it could take advantage of this luck, though, something frightened it off. He was evenly torn between thanking Hyne for giving him more time to atone for his sins the only way he knew how and disappointment when the T-Rexaur that had scared off the Grat made its appearance.

Not normally that big of a problem for someone with his experience, the T-Rexaur nevertheless put up a good fight. He defeated it, of course. The skilled handling of his gunblade had not suffered while he had let himself slip into depression. What made the battle harder than it should have been was that he was unable to convince himself that he should fight to the fullest of his ability, that he shouldn't just give up and let the T-Rexaur win. But after the battle, bleeding heavily from wounds that should not have been inflicted, it was even harder to justify his continued existence. And so he lay there, too deep in his own mind to care for himself.

Somehow, he had managed to wake in the in Garden's Infirmary. A curious disappointment, echoing what he had felt in the Training Center, had filled him when he had realized where he was a week ago. He didn't exactly want to die, but if he happened to, it wouldn't be that much of a problem for him. Or so he imagined he'd view it if, indeed, there was life after death.

He had turned his thoughts inward after waking, taking a peculiar sort of comfort in the deep guilt he immersed himself in whenever he might be forgetting what he had to make amends for. A penance turned sanctuary. If he would not be allowed to die for the grievous mistakes he had made, then he would make sure he didn't live, either. A twisted piece of logic he was almost proud of, that. What right had he to be happy, even momentarily, after the pain he had caused? Until he had apologized to the one person he had finally realized he had never meant to hurt, why should he enjoy life? And since an apology to his rival was just as likely as Ultimecia finding a sense of fashion, it looked gloomily certain that this existence of his would continue until they let him die.

He wasn't even sure if he could apologize, given another chance. Aside from the scarce opportunity—he couldn't even recall when he last might have been able to—just the thought of his rival's reaction kept his mouth shut. He didn't know which possible reaction he was the most afraid of, but he was fairly sure that he would consider none of them totally acceptable. With the dreary certainty that it would not be understood, that there wouldn't be a chance to work things out, why bother even trying?

He didn't quite know when death had started to look appealing. The change between trying not to worry everyone and just being too tired to keep up the pretense that he was fine seemed, to him, to be a gradual thing. There was no one day he could single out and say, "Yes, this is where I stopped pretending to everyone. This is where I really started falling." All he knew was one day, his mind had presented for his consideration the thought that, aside from his ever-present guilt, he no longer really gave a damn about anything.

That was the first day he had gone into the Training Center unjunctioned.

A last flurry of slashes from his gunblade sent the T-Rexaur crashing to the ground for the last time. He glared at it, panting just a little. It was getting harder and harder to find something to challenge him in the Training Center.

His thoughts shifted, as they did more and more often, to his rival. Yes, a challenge was what he needed. And was as likely to happen as Zell swearing off hot dogs. He had his own brand of pride, he wasn't going to beg his rival for another chance.

He headed out of the Training Center, going to his room for a much-needed shower and some time spent in serious contemplation of his ceiling. He hadn't been able to get even a halfway decent night's sleep for two weeks now. He just couldn't seem to stop thinking . . . .

He could hear them now, standing just outside his cubicle.

"How is he?" Zell's voice, atypically quiet, subdued.

"Physically?" Quistis. "Perfectly fine. You managed to get him here soon enough that using Life or a Phoenix Down was never a need." He heard her sigh. "Other than that, I wish I could tell you. He just lies there. Doesn't move, doesn't talk, doesn't react."

Zell barked a laugh. "So now he's worse than ever, that's what you're saying. And I thought this past week was bad." He paused. "Still no idea why he's been steadily heading down?"

A frustrated snort. "Zell, he hasn't been talking. Communication has to happen before we can find out what's wrong. If we can't get to him, then we can't help." A reflective silence followed. "What are you thinking about, Zell?" Quistis sounded wary.

"Huh? Oh, nothing . . . . Yeah, we can't get through to him." He sounded like he was definitely harbouring an idea of some sort. "Not even as students, right? Nothing we ever said or did changed him."

"You are not thinking that, Zell, I just know you're not," Quistis said flatly. "They tried to kill each other how many times?"

He'd started to pay attention when he had realized just who the two must be talking about, but he had just as quickly plummeted when Quistis grounded the idea before it had even had a chance to fly. He let their conversation wash over him as he turned his attention inwards once more. It was just so much easier to stay where he was. He hurt, yes, the pain of his past mistakes had never stopped, but at least this way he couldn't be hurt worse. If nothing could get through to him, then nothing could hurt him, right?

Another week had passed. Or so he thought. He hadn't really been giving much attention to what was happening around him, passively allowing his body to be moved as others dictated. It was easier than he had supposed to completely shut out everything, to not allow himself to care. Now, he mostly drifted; even his guilt had faded almost into a gentle sea upon which he was rocked.

He vaguely heard someone enter his cubicle, but, as before, didn't trouble himself to notice anything other than that. It was . . . peaceful where he was. Nothing could hurt him as long as he stayed there.

"I still think my idea's the best," Zell said stubbornly, viciously killing another innocent shadow.

"Yeah, and what happened the last time we had Squall and Seifer in the same room?" Quistis asked, lifting an elegant eyebrow.

"We saved the world! Yeah!" The blond stood proud and still for one moment.

"Yes, from Seifer, in part. Why don't we see if Rinoa can do anything?"

A snort. "A summer fling who left him for another guy," Irvine drawled. "Just what he needs to bring him to his senses, I don't think."

The blonde shot him a look. "If you have any suggestions, Kinneas, I'd be more than happy to hear them," she said crisply.

The sharpshooter shrugged. "I'm all for following Zell's plan," he replied easily. "Call it men's intuition," he suggested, his eyes glinting mischievously.

"'Men's intuition'." Quistis let her silence give her opinion on that. "Really, Irvine."

"Really. Women aren't the only ones who have intuition, you know. Besides, if Zell thinks it's worth the risk, I think it's a pretty good indication of how desperate the situation is."

"It's not really that desperate," Quistis protested halfheartedly.

Another snort. "Tell me another one, Quisty. The poor boy hasn't done anything on his own for nearly a week now and it wasn't like he was a fount of words before that, either. Something's seriously bothering the kid and we obviously don't have a clue what it is. And until he tells us, we won't either."

"Kid." Quistis sighed again. "I swear, Irvine, you're the only person who would call someone older than you a kid."

"That's not the point. The point is the kid needs something to shake him up. And Zell's idea is the best one I've heard so far."

The blonde threw up her arms in defeat. "Fine! Do whatever you want!" A short pause. "I just hope it works," she added softly.

He wasn't completely sure how much time had passed when he once again heard voices outside his cubicle again. Periods of light, periods of dark . . . . Did it really matter?

The voices sounded like they were having an argument. One, a slightly surly, thoroughly belligerent voice, seemed familiar to him, almost enough by itself to rouse him out of his self-imposed isolation.

"I don't see why you all dragged me out of my comfortable little hole to here, of all places," it grumbled. "I mean, what are the chances of me being horribly slaughtered here?"

"You're the one who agreed to come here," Quistis reminded the familiar voice, in a tone just shy of full-blown irritation.

"Well, yeah." Now the voice sounded slightly uncomfortable. Only slightly, because it was hard to imagine anything being too much for the sheer confidence in this voice. "But that was when, you know, you guys were painting me such a, a pitiful picture. I felt so sorry for you I had to come."

"And now?" If he hadn't known better, he could have sworn Zell's voice held a note of positively unholy glee.

"Shut up. Now's different, that's all." Surliness abounded.

Zell sighed. "Just get in there! If nothing happens, we'll apologize to you for interrupting your retirement, okay?" There was a sound reminiscent of someone stumbling from a sharp push.

"Watch it, Chicken-wuss!" More grumbling reached his ears, along with the sounds of someone trying to straighten their clothes.

"Okay, that's it! Now you're not coming out of there until he talks!"

"Wha—? Are you crazy, Chicken-wuss? Kindly use what little brain you have and remember who we're talking about!" The quiet hiss of the door closing and the slightly muffled beeps indicating the activation of the door's lock both showed that Zell's threat had hardly been idle. A thud, as if a fist had hit the door. A hmph. "As if I couldn't get out of here if I wanted to."

Footsteps came slower to the bed. Something about them, about the voice was still trying to get through to him. Something familiar . . . . Something he was waiting for?

"Hey, Leonhart, why you in here anyway?" The voice sounded exceedingly grumpy. "Leonhart! I asked you a question!" The tone of arrogant command was so familiar; why couldn't he remember? "Leonhart?" He fought to move his head, to open his eyes. Maybe if he could see who was talking to him . . . . "Hey, Squall, what happened to you?" Unfamiliar concern in that familiar voice. He knew who it was. "Squall?"

He managed to both open his eyes and turn his head, meeting unwontedly concerned aqua eyes.

Seifer . . . ? he mouthed, surprise written all over his own features at the sight before him.

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