Disclaimer: Squaresoft and a whole bunch of other people I can't remember own the boys, while I'm just a harmless hentai ~_^

Battle Grounds: Sacrifices

By BlackRose

The late afternoon had brought more snow with it, drifting down in flurries of white that dusted, wet and cold, across broken stones. Selphie was thrilled.

It's spring, for gods' sake. And it's snowing. Selphie is the only person I know of who could grow up in this and think it was fun. I would have been beyond miserable.

Maybe Trabia just breeds a certain type of toughness. Selphie, under that cheery exterior of hers, is strong as hells in a pinch. Her friends and classmates - all of the SeeD at Trabia Garden - they're all the same. Squall offered to take those who wanted back to Balamb. They universally, one and all, turned him down. The place was a ruin of scorch marks and tumbling down walls, but they'd stay. They'd fight to keep it and rebuild it.

I wouldn't have been that loyal to Galbadia. Trabia... Trabia just has a spirit to it that Galbadia didn't. Even Balamb doesn't. Out of all of them, it's a damn shame this one had to be hit. If it comes to a fight, they would have been the ones to have there.

The sky was full of flat grey clouds, so low it felt like I could reach up and touch them. Trabia Garden was a ragged silloughette against them, squatted on the ground at the base of snow capped mountains. If I squinted I could try to imagine what it must have looked like when Selphie lived there, full of light and warmth. What it would have looked like airborne. I couldn't really picture it.

The front court was a maze of cracked stone and tumbled rocks, rough beneath my boots. The others were inside; we would be leaving soon but Selphie had goodbyes to say and Squall wanted to make sure Trabia had what it needed. Quistis was in the back, helping to dismantle the hulk of that dead missile - I never would have figured her to be that good with explosives but she had been telling them just what to unscrew and take off. Guess we've all got some surprising talents.

Which left me at loose ends. Best I could do was to stay out of everyone's way. It was quiet outside, the sort of hush that comes with falling snow, nothing stirring anywhere except for the sound of my boots on the pavement.

And the hollow sound of a basketball hitting stone and rebounding, slow and rhythmic, echoing sharply around the broken walls. I turned up the collar of my coat to keep the snow from my neck and wandered my way out into the court.

He was sitting on the edge of the fountain, almost absently bouncing the ball between his feet. Drop, then catch on the rebound, spinning it over in his hands before dropping it again. The snow was turning everything around him wet, the flakes melting as they touched the stones. He had to be freezing - I was feeling the cold through the leather of my coat and that jacket of his wasn't near as thick. Last time I had seen him he had been inside, helping the Trabia docs with the minor wounded.

"Hey," I said softly, dropping down to sit beside him. The stone was damn cold, even through coat and jeans.

He just nodded a little, showing he knew I was there. His hands and the ball had a rhythm to them, steady as clockwork. Bounce. Catch. Bounce. Catch. Square hands, blunt fingered. Steady. I realized, a little startled, that he didn't have his gloves on. I had never really thought about it but it might have been the first time I'd ever seen him without them.

Bounce. When the ball rebounded to his hands he flipped it over, spinning it easily between his fingers. "Do you..." he started, then broke off, shaking his head. His breath billowed in a pale cloud of steam against the drifting snow. "Do you remember," he started again, his voice tight in his chest, "when Matron caught us playing ball in the house?"

I let my own breath out slowly. I knew what it cost him to say that; I could feel it myself, hard and cold and tight inside me and it was all I had been feeling for days. "Yeah, I remember," I told him quietly. "Hells, Zell, I think I was the one who brought the ball inside."

He laughed, a little haltingly. "That's right. And Squall nearly broke Matron's vase with that rim shot off of the mantle... she was so angry. I just knew we were going to get in trouble."

"You were always telling us we were going to get in trouble," I reminded him with a forced grin. He ducked his head; I couldn't tell if he was blushing or not.

"Gods, I was a whiney kid," he muttered and tossed the ball back down, almost savage, the sound of it against the pavement sharp and loud. Bounce, catch. I rested my elbows on my knees, hunching my shoulders some against the cold.

"How could you do it?" he asked after a few moments. He wouldn't look up, his head down, eyes fixed on his feet. "I mean... you knew. You remembered. And we... none of us did. Didn't have a clue. How could you stand it?"

I shrugged, though he couldn't see it. "Wasn't easy," I admitted. "Had me on needles for the first day or so. I kept wanting to say something - anything - but... hells. There was enough to think about then."

"The mission," he said flatly. Bounce, catch, and that time he held onto it, his hands tight around the surface of the ball, knuckles stiff and white. "Gods. Fucking hells. Matron. I don't... this can't be happening." His voice broke off, half choked, and he dropped his head down to rest his forehead against the ball. "How could you make that shot? How could you even try?"

If I closed my eyes the only thing I could recall was the hard recoil of the sniper rifle against my shoulder. The smell of oil and metal and the wrenching feeling in my gut as I forced myself to squeeze the trigger. "Because I had to," I muttered. "Because we have to. It's what we're here for."

Zell was quiet for a long moment. "This is fucked," he whispered at last. "Damn it... Headmaster Kramer... Cid... do you remember? He was always gone. And then, when he would come back, Matron would be so happy. And he always brought us stuff, toys and things..." His voice was choked. "A week ago he handed me my diploma. And I didn't remember. I didn't remember a single fucking thing."

"He knows," I offered a little weakly. "I mean, he knows why. He made the decision that Balamb would use Guardian Forces - he had to know what it would do."

"Maybe." Zell straightened, brushing back his bangs. They were wet with the snow, blonde locks starting to fall into his eyes. "We don't... we didn't keep them junctioned all the time, you know. Not usually, not when we were younger. I mean, you train with 'em alot, to get used to it... but you don't get them assigned to you until you're about to graduate." His glance towards me was fleeting. "But now... fuck, Irvine, it's only been a few weeks, but Quezacotl... Every time I think about unjunctioning her, I just feel sick. She's always there, where I can feel her, just reach out and touch her... I don't want to not have that. But now I keep thinking what it's doing to us..."

He broke off, his voice lowering, soft and quiet in the gathering dusk. "The first time... The first time I junctioned her. Gods. I swear, it was like the world was in black and white before and I'd just never realized. Then she was there and everything was in color, bright full spectrum color, just incredible..."

I had to shake my head. Zell caught the gesture from the corner of his eye and laughed softly, self conscious. "Not like that for you, huh? Maybe you just need the right one. We had to go through all kinds of exams before they assigned a GF to us - psych and physical and everything. Make sure there was a good compatability." He grinned, a little lopsided. "I don't think Ifrit suits you."

"Hells no," I replied feverently. "You don't have to tell me that! But until something better comes along... You said it when we were talking before. If we need them to do this, if we need them to save the people we love... then it's worth it. Whatever it takes. If you can protect your family with it, then isn't it worth any price?"

The ball dropped dully from Zell's hands, bouncing off the pavement, and that time he didn't catch it. It fell again, rolling away to come to rest against a piece of broken rock. "That's the thing, isn't it?" he muttered, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket. "They're not my family."

I didn't know what to say to that. I'm not sure there's anything I could say. Out of all of us, Zell was the only one who had family. Who was adopted into a home that worked. He has relatives and a place to call home outside of the Gardens and when I looked at him, there in the fading afternoon light, I could remember how proud and pleased he was when I asked about his grandfather's antique guns hung on his bedroom wall and how he got in my face when I dared to touch one. "Zell..."

"Well, they're not, are they?" he snapped. "I'm adopted. And Ma... Ma never said anything. Not one fucking word. I didn't know. I should have remembered, and I didn't. I've been sitting here thinking, Irvine, and I don't remember. I don't remember leaving the orphanage, or when Ma first brought me home, or going to school when I was little... I don't remember any of it. Just glimpses of things, like Seifer catching that damn vase when it fell, but it doesn't feel real." His voice was rising. I'm no doctor but I know the sound of somebody on the ragged edge of hysteria when I hear it. Zell wrapped his arms around himself, coat and all, huddled there on the fountain.

"Zell..." I was trying to find words, something comforting to offer him. In the relief of seeing rememberance on their faces I hadn't stopped to think of just what a shock it must be to any of them. "Your Ma was still your mom. She raised you. Just because you're not blood doesn't change that. Lots of kids are adopted."

He didn't say anything for a minute, his face turned away where I couldn't see his expression. "I just wish she'd said something," he said at last. "Maybe... maybe I could have remembered more. Fuck, Irvine... am I going to wake up some day and not remember her? And I won't even miss it because I won't know it's gone! Just whole chunks of my life slipping away..."

His words were like touching a live wire to wet skin. It was the same fear, there in his voice, that had crawled into my nerves ever since Selphie handed me that damn demon beast of hers. I found myself going over my own memories constantly, like prayer beads, running over them one by one, hoping they're all there. Hoping I'll notice if they're not.

Zell was scrubbing a hand across his face, taking a shuddering breath. "Sorry," he muttered. "Crap. I'm still whining, aren't I? Fuck."

"No," I told him softly. "No, I'm scared of forgetting too."

"It hurts," he admitted quietly. "To know... They're in there. In my head. Doing this to me. But I can't do this without them. I can't."

"None of us can." I pulled my coat closer, tilting my hat to keep the snow from my face. "We need the GFs. Without them, we'd be fucking dead ten times over."

"They're not just weapons," he whispered. "Quez... Quezacotl. She's sorry. I can feel it, in the back of my head, like a whisper. She's sorry for what she's doing. But that's the way she was, that's what she does, she can't stop any more then I can."

"All's fair in war," I told him. "And that's what this is turning into. We'll do what we have to."

"Yeah." He said it heavily, at though the one word was too much effort. When he glanceed up it was to Trabia's ruined walls, dark shadows against the sunset. "Yeah, we will. All of us."


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