Notes: Ahh! I've been away. What have I missed? Hm.. well, this is the prologue to my new FF8 fic. It's really more a teaser than a prologue, it's so damned short. No magic. No weird stuff. Just the team dealing with everything after Ultimecia's been gone for awhile. Don't let the pairing throw you off. It's a challenge, but I'll try my best to make it believable.

Dedicated to: Mike. With his beautiful shining soul, and his sad eyes. Never stop believing in the good, Mike. It's somewhere, even if we can't see it sometimes.

Warnings: Nothing special. No gore. No pointless angst. I only do mild angst. No males being pregnant. None of that. Just a real look, at characters who should have been real. Oh wait, there is a warning for yaoi fans. There are het pairings in this fic. If that grosses you out, deal with it. No smut. Unless Mike asks for it.


Chapter Three - timber

By Sniffles

"Can't do things quietly, can you?" Squall muttered as he and the gang gathered around Laguna.

"You okay Zell?" Irvine murmured.

Zell looked up at Irvine, nodding, "How about you?"

Irvine shook his head, looking away. "I will be." he whispered.

Laguna grinned, "I'm not the one who did this..." He said with a quick shake of his head. He glanced past Squall at Edea and Cid. Another explosion rocked the building, though this one wasn't as strong as the last, "C'mon, we gotta' move!"

"Wait! What's going on?" Squall demanded, taking position as leader of their small group. It was a position he was well used to, so he just fell into it without really meaning to.

"You haven't heard?"

"Obviously not."

"Timber is attacking Balamb."

A moment of tense silence. Laguna had certainly gotten everyone's attention, "I'll explain more later. We gotta' get you out of here before this place comes down on our ears." Laguna said anxiously as the floor shook, "Move! C'mon!"

"Timber wouldn't attack Balamb." Rinoa whispered.

"Shush." Quistis said softly to Rinoa, "I know it's surprising, but for now we just have to go along with this."

"There's just no way." Seifer wrapped his arm around Rinoa's waist when she spoke again.

"Everyone just stay calm, please." Laguna put on his helmet and with a wave of his hand he headed back out of the hall.

After only a brief hesitation the group followed, the Esthar soldiers moving in behind them so they were surrounded by uniformed bodies.

"In different circumstances this would be an interesting position." Irvine said wryly, shifting to try and get comfortable.

They were all crammed in the back of a small boat. Cid and Edea were the only ones not present. Laguna had insisted on sending them on a seperate boat, though he wouldn't share his reasons for such an action. Zell groaned, jabbing Irvine in the ribs. "Quit that." He hissed.

Zell and Selphie were on either side of Irvine, both of them practically in his lap. "Quit what?" Irvine grumbled with an equal amount of irritation in his tone.

"Squirming." Zell said, looking away.

"Okay, so I guess you're all waiting for an explanation." The only one who looked even remotely comfortable was Laguna. He had a small space all to himself where he sat with one leg drawn up to his chest and the other dangling over the side of the crate he was perched on.

"Timber wouldn't attack Balamb." Rinoa piped up, snuggling back into Seifer's arms immediately after speaking.

Irvine watched them, his mouth drawn down in a small frown. He felt Zell nudge him in the ribs again so he tore his gaze away. There was no use crying over something that couldn't be changed. Rinoa and Seifer... they were together, and it was obvious they really cared about each other.

"Not normally, but there was a little.. disagreement." Laguna said reluctantly, "And as a result Timber has launched a full scale attack on Balamb."

"What kind of disagreement?" Squall asked, speaking for the first time since they'd got into the boat.

He moved his arm around Quistis' waist, if only because it was more comfortable, he didn't notice the look Zell gave them, he was too focused on Laguna. "Uh... I'm not at liberty to say..?" Laguna said hesitantly.

"Why is Esthar involved?" Quistis asked.

"We've stepped in to try and be peace keepers. We have not taken sides, but we are trying to negotiate with Timber and Balamb." Laguna said, sounding a bit more confident in that.

Irvine watched Laguna closely, //He's aged quite a bit.// He thought, smiling a little, //But he's still easy to look at, like his son.//

"Good luck." Zell snorted, looking away from Squall and Quistis with a little sigh.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Rinoa looked at Zell sharply, "I can't believe there is a fight going on between the two as it is."

"Where are you taking us?" Selphie asked, sounding much too cheerful.

"To Esthar. So you can continue your reunion, of course."

//Damn him...// Squall glowered at the President of Esthar. He had never liked Laguna. The man was too air-headed for him, and this was just further reason for him to dislike the man. Laguna was irritating. Suffocatingly so. Just looking at Laguna made Squall want to run over and bash his head against the wall until he stopped smiling that ridiculous smile. //How can he act so calm? Behave so rationally? When Timber is at war with Balamb.// What irritated him the most was the simple fact that Laguna expected them to continue with their reunion as if nothing had happened.

As if they hadn't been in the middle of an attack from Timber, as if their hall hadn't been nearly blown to pieces while they visited inside. How were they supposed to continue with their reunion? He heard coughing and turned his eyes in the direction of the hoarse sound. Zell, who was sitting beside Irvine, their legs tangled together, was leaning heavily against Irvine's shoulder and coughing in a manner that could not be just allergies. Squall watched with a frown as Irvine wrapped an arm around Zell's shoulders and bent his head to murmur something into Zell's ear.

The coughing stopped after a few moments, but it did nothing to ease Squall's intent scrutiny. Instead he found himself watching Zell closer. //He's really pale...// He thought, studying Zell's thin, white features.

"You okay?" Irvine murmured, running his hand up and down Zell's back as he tried to help calm the tremors racking through Zell's body.

After a moment the coughing subsided and Zell looked up at Irvine, nodding shortly. "Yeah... sorry... just the dust... y'know."

"You need your meds?"

Zell's look was sharp. Obviously he was -not- impressed that Irvine had said that aloud in this small area where someone might hear. "No." He hissed, "I don't need anything but for you to shut up."

Irvine smirked, fingers curling around Zell's hip as he held his friend close. Zell felt too thin, and it made his heart lurch. Zell closed his eyes, sighing, "Sorry... didn't mean to snap."

Irvine laughed lightly, "Don't ever apologize blondie. I'm your friend, you're allowed to dump on me." He glanced up, sensing eyes on him.

He was startled to find Squall fixing him with a 'if looks could kill' glare. But then he realized -why- he was receiving that look. He glanced back down to the blond he was holding so protectively, whose legs were tangled with his own. It was a comfortable position for them both, since they were the type of people who liked to have constant human contact. He considered mentioning something to Zell about Squall, but something held him back. Instead he bent his head, burying his nose in Zell's soft hair. Hair that smelled like strong soap.

Zell relaxed against Irvine, the pain in his chest easing somewhat. He did need his meds, but there was no way in hell he was going to take them here. Too many questions would be raised by the others, questions he had no interest in answering. Irvine was warm, and his arm was comforting. Sometimes it seemed surreal to him that he had a friend like Irvine, when they first met he'd thought Irvine was nothing more than a worthless playboy. That assumption had been killed when he found Irvine in the bathroom, wrists bloody, eyes vacant.

If he hadn't found Irvine he was sure Irvine wouldn't be around right now. But he had, and from that moment on they had been as close as two friends could get. Reliant on each other in every way that mattered. There was only one thing they couldn't give each other. Love.

Zell opened his eyes, seeking out a familiar blond and brunette. Seifer and Rinoa. They sat together, at the moment they were gazing into each other's eyes and speaking quietly. Before the explosion and Laguna's arrival, they had been about to announce their engagement. Zell knew this as well as Irvine and a few others who kept their eyes open. "Are you okay?" Zell whispered, remembering Irvine's pained shout when Seifer was trying to make the announcement.

"I dunno..." Irvine said quietly.

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