Stitch In Time

Chapter Four

By Scarlet Fever


Zell sighed, rubbing his shoulder, which throbbed dully. That Gerogero had gotten him with a good hit, and now his arm felt heavy. Selphie looked over at him, concern on her small face.

"I’m fine," Zell assured, giving her a weak smile.

Selphie’s green eyes didn’t look convinced. She hastily cast a Cure on him. "Better?"

Zell nodded, running his gloved palm over the back of his hair. The Cure spell had made him feel much better… Physically, anyway. Ever since the disastrous attempt at making peace with Seifer, Zell had felt empty. And he didn’t think a Cure spell could change that. Selphie had noticed that the compact blonde had been edgy and distracted, but couldn’t put a finger on it, and she didn’t really want to pry. However, she did want him to talk about it because she knew that keeping things bottled up never worked out well, and would make Zell turn into either Squall or Seifer.

"You’re giving me that look again," Zell muttered, leaning against the wall of the Forest Owls’ base. Their job was to work for said resistance group, which was run by Rinoa Heartilly, if you could call it running it. Zell didn’t want to be rude, but it wasn’t the most professional outfit. However, Rinoa being the leader was actually quite interesting. She was none other than the mystery woman from the SeeD ball that Squall had been dancing with. She seemed nice enough, but was a little girlish for Zell’s taste. The funny thing was that she seemed to know Seifer pretty well, for she kept asking about him, a girly hopefulness creeping into her large, coffee brown eyes at the mention of his name, which caused Zell’s heart to wrench. Was he… jealous? No, couldn’t be…

Zell could see why Squall would want to dance with her. Even if Zell wasn’t interested, he could appreciate the fact that she was very pretty. Her eyes were large and sincere, and she had a small nose and cute, heart shaped mouth. She also had soft black hair with jagged style bangs that fell over her ivory forehead, and stylish brown streaks surrounding her face. Her body wasn’t bad, either, but Zell didn’t really pay attention. There were more important things than body type. Rinoa was cute, but Zell thought Selphie was better. She was more dynamic. For a moment, he credited that Seifer was better than both of them.

"There’s a back way to the television station…" Rinoa’s breathy voice snapped Zell back.

Squall nodded, bored already. He didn’t appreciate being ordered around by Rinoa and her ragtag bunch. It all seemed so last minute, so unorganized. He looked over at Zell and Selphie. He would much rather take both of them instead of one of them and Rinoa, but he was stuck. He decided that Zell’s physical strength would be handy.

"Come on, Zell," Squall muttered, shooting the small blonde a look that said ‘I know. I feel the same way you do’.

Zell nodded, giving Selphie a look. "See ya."

Selphie nodded. She brushed her palms over the front of her yellow jumpdress, reading the Anarchist articles that were on the wall.

Zell followed behind Rinoa, who was trying to make small talk with Squall. The tattooed martial artist smirked, knowing that Squall probably had tuned out the blue clad girl a long time ago. Zell had sort of tuned her out, too, wallowing in his own thoughts. He didn’t know if it would have hurt so much if Rinoa would stop bringing up Seifer’s name every fifteen minutes. He was intrigued as to how the tall blonde knew her, but didn’t really want to ask Rinoa, because that would just be nosy. It still hurt to think about the way that Seifer had been so curt with him, the way he wouldn’t even hear Zell out. And, it hurt to think of the pain that Seifer had accidentally let show.

Zell looked up as he heard Rinoa cry out. They were being flanked by Galbadian Soldiers. Squall and Zell got into battle stance, ready for their attack. Zell cast a sidelong glance to Rinoa, not knowing how she would handle having to fight. Well, at least she was armed.

Rinoa looked around. She had never actually been in a battle before. She hoped that she wouldn’t get too nervous, and tried to remember what Seifer had taught her that past summer. She also didn’t want to look foolish in front of Squall and Zell, whom she seemed to respect. Rinoa became extremely agitated when one of the Soldiers cast Fire on her, but it hurt less than she was expecting, and she used her Blaster Edge against him, which sent the uniformed threat sprawling on his face, dead. The rush that went through her slender body was unmistakable, and made her bolder. Zell attacked the second one with force, using his Beat Rush against him. It greatly weakened the enemy, but didn’t kill him. Rinoa stepped up, dealing the final blow, which surprised the blonde.

"Nice job, Rinoa," Zell commented, giving her an appreciative smile.

She beamed. "I feel great!" She cocked her head, something about Zell plaguing her memory, like she had met him before, or at least, his name wasn’t unfamiliar. She pushed it out of her adrenaline jumbled thoughts, figuring it didn’t matter.

Squall crossed his arms, frowning. "Don’t get too cocky." He didn’t want to admit that the raven-haired girl’s fighting skills impressed him. "But you did alright."

"Seifer taught me a few things," Rinoa credited, furrowing her brow at the response she got from Zell. The rolling of Squall’s stormy eyes was expected, but Zell seemed to flush, turning away and walking ahead of them towards the television station. There must have been bad blood between Seifer and Zell, as well. Rinoa sighed, pointing Squall in the correct direction. They had to go through the Aphrora Pub to get to the right alleyway.

Once inside the pub, Zell leaned against the bar, waiting as Squall talked to the bartender. Rinoa slowly settled beside him, glad for the break. The adrenaline rush had left her, and now she felt shaky. She looked over at Zell, smiling weakly. "I’m glad that SeeD came."

Zell looked at her, surprised at the sound of her breathy voice. "Oh. Well, it’s our job."

"Are you all so cold?" Rinoa asked, a bit of anger seeping into her tone.

Zell sighed. "I’m sorry. I guess my mind is just occupied."

"By what?"

"Stuff. I’m at a crossroads right now…"

"Say no more," Rinoa replied, patting Zell’s muscular shoulder. She could feel the powerful muscles through her palm. "It’s none of my business. But, can I ask you something?"

Zell turned to her. "What?"

"Whenever I mention Seifer, you and Squall get weird looks on your faces. Why?"

Zell sighed. "Seifer’s the one who gave Squall that scar. And Squall gave him an almost identical one."

Rinoa’s dark eyebrows shot up. "Really?"

Zell nodded.


"I’m surprised that you’re surprised."

Rinoa sighed. "Seifer may have a cruel streak, but I didn’t think it was like this…"

"I don’t think it was cruelty. Just a rivalry getting out of hand, emotions flaring, that sort of thing…." Zell muttered, feeling that he should defend Seifer.

Rinoa nodded. "Probably. So, why do you hate him?"

Zell remained silent. Did he hate Seifer? Zell didn’t like to think about hating anyone, but if there was anyone for him to hate, it would have to be Seifer. So much had transpired between them to validate such an emotion. Zell shrugged, not wanting to think about Seifer anymore.

"Okay," Squall commanded gently, motioning Zell and Rinoa to the door. There was a man sprawled in front of it, who was babbling about cards.

"Why don’t you give him that one you found?" Zell whispered quietly, not wanting the drunk to hear them. His breath washed over the curl of Squall’s ear, which caused the scarred man to shiver slightly. He nodded. The man seemed overjoyed, and even let the group keep the card, moving out of the way.

"That was easy enough," Rinoa muttered, craning her neck upwards. There’s the television station."

Squall nodded, urging both of them to follow him. This was his first mission, and he wanted it to go well. So far, it hadn’t, what with the false President Deiling fiasco, and Rinoa’s haphazard way of leading things. As they walked up the stairs, Squall cast a look back to his party members. Rinoa was talking to Zell about something, but he didn’t really seem to be paying attention. Squall furrowed his elegant brow. The usually cheerful martial artist had been acting morose all day. He had seemed fine at the SeeD ball… But, then again, Squall hadn’t really noticed much, since all his time had been occupied with Rinoa and Quistis’s strange confession. Squall still found the fact that his now former instructor had confessed herself to him. Why him?! Squall sighed, deciding not to let trivial things worry him.

"Damn…" Squall muttered as they approached the big screen, where broadcasts would have been emitted from if wire communications were working. They had never actually worked in Squall’s lifetime. He thought back to the Dollet Communication Tower.

"Whoa, an outdoor TV!" Zell exclaimed, straining his neck to look at the electronic monstrosity.

"This is creepy," Rinoa mused, meaning the noise. "What is it?"

"This noise is broadcast over most of the frequencies," Squall explained lazily. "Something has to be done about this before they can broadcast it over the air."

"Oh, really," Zell murmured, loving any trivial tidbits about electronics. "I was actually wondering myself…" He trailed off as Watts approached them.

"The President’s in the studio now, Sir," Watts directed at Squall. "Too many guards now, so we won’t be able to storm the place, Sir!"

Rinoa sighed, sounding defeated. "So, we can’t just rush in…." She paused, thinking. "We’ve gotta come up with a new plan now!" She paused again, placing her thoughts in order. "If the President leaves, maybe the guards will be gone, too? That’s when we do our broadcast. It might not be as influential, but it’s better than nothing, right?" She looked at Zell first, then Squall.

Squall sighed, tired, annoyed. "Don’t worry about us. We’ll fight your enemies based on your decision. It’s our duty."

"You tell us to go, we go, even if it is a losing battle," Zell echoed, sounding more cheerful than his counterpart.

Rinoa cocked her head. "How sad…. Act on my decision? That’s your duty? Oh, what an easy life it must be," Rinoa scoffed. "Just to follow orders…"

"Call it what you want," Squall answered dryly. "All we want is for you to achieve your goal, using our help. I find it hard to believe you can do it, though…" The last statement was dripping with anger and a snide tint to Squall’s voice.

"W-what did you say?!" Rinoa gaped, glaring at Squall. She placed her fists on her slender waist. "If you have something to say, just say it!"

"Alright," Squall muttered, his anger rising. "How serious are you….? Really…? The three of you plop down on the floor to discuss strategy?!" With each rhetorical question, Squall’s voice shook more and more with anger. "On top of that, you can’t make a decision without our input, right? How do you think we feel, working for such an organization!" Squall smirked. "You don’t honestly think this is professional, do you?"

Rinoa gasped. "How dare you?!"

"And how dare you hire us? You are the least professional person I have ever met! This is just beyond ridiculous."

"Oh, so now I’m ridiculous?!"

"You’re also a stupid bitch!" Squall spat. He sort of regretted saying that as soon as it fell of his sensual mouth.

"You’re being to hard, man," Zell muttered, lowering his voice so the fuming Rinoa wouldn’t hear him.

"…Sorry." Squall apologized, not really sounding sincere. "I guess I got a little carried away."

"You know….." Rinoa began, her voice shaking with emotion. "Maybe this was all a big mistake. I thought everything would work out fine once SeeD came to help us, but I guess it’s not that easy." She balled her fists, facing Squall calmly. "You were all hired. It’s not like you were one of us. Um, let’s see… We’ll cancel the plan and disperse for now."

"Running away?" Squall muttered, loud enough for the angry raven-haired girl to hear. "How very cowardly.

The leader of the Forest Owls gaped at the SeeD. "We don’t stand a chance if we take ‘em head on, right?" At Squall’s silence, she scoffed angrily. "So… You guys probably think this is all a game to us… Well, it’s not! We’re serious. So serious.. It hurts…."

"Serious, yet cowardly to the last," Squall spat.

Rinoa stuck her tongue out, rushing down the flight of stairs, and past Selphie, who was staring up at them, confused. When she stopped next to Zell, she raised her eyebrows. "…Heeey? What’s going on?"

"Oh, the Princess didn’t get her way…" Squall muttered, pushing past Watts.

Zell flinched at the word ‘Princess’. The way Squall had said it reminded Zell of how Seifer had called him that. Painful anger mixed with shame crept across Zell’s flesh. He made a move to follow Squall, but stopped when the large screen sputtered.

"Are they starting?" Selphie yelped, craning her view upward.

Zell looked over at Squall, who was staring, transfixed on the image before him. There was a mousy announcer testing the microphone and introducing President Deling. Zell’s mind flashed to the Dollet Communication Tower. So, that’s why the Galbadian Army had such an interest in it… Zell found that the words Deling spoke weren’t really registering. The tattooed blonde knew that they were all lies anyway, so he didn’t even let the phrases falling from the President’s lying mouth. He flinched when he heard a loud noise in the background, which brought his attention back to the broadcast.

"I plan to convene with other nations’ leaders immediately to resolve these problems," the screen fluidly stated. "At this time, allow me to introduce the Ambassador who will be my representative for the conference…"

"Man, all this just to introduce an Ambassador?!" Zell asked, shocked by the stupidity of it all.

The image of the President continued to speak. "The Ambassador is the Sorceress…"

"Shit! The Sorceress…?" Squall cried, surprised by the announcement. What did the Sorceress have to do with this?! "Fuck!" Squall swore again as the image on the screen changed. A familiar figure bounded into the screen, attacking the President, his Hyperion flashing rapidly.

"Heeey!" Selphie exclaimed, shocked to see Seifer causing such a disastrous scene.

"Seifer?!" Zell cried, shocked. What the hell was Seifer doing in Timber. He was supposed to be in Balamb. A number of Galbadian soldiers appeared in the picture, attacking Seifer, trying to restrain him. A couple of them jumped on his broad back, trying to stop his advancement. Seifer kicked out with his long legs, sending the Soldier in front of him sprawling, knocking the camera sideways in the process. The enraged blonde on the large screen got out of the reach of the guards, and lunged for the President, holding his gunblade to Deling’s throat. Quistis then rushed into the picture, facing the camera.

"What’s he doing?!" Selphie exclaimed, surprised that Seifer would do something so foolish.

"Instructor Trepe!" Zell cried, noticing the blonde teacher.

"Stay back!" Quistis cried to the Soldiers, trying to calm things down.

"Squall, what are we gonna do?!" Zell asked frantically. He still couldn’t believe that Seifer was here. He should have been at the Garden, not ruining everything here.

"For the last time, stay back!" Quistis cried. "You’ll only provoke him!!"

Squall groaned angrily, furious with Seifer. "….Nothing. Our job is to assist the Owls. It’s none of our business."

Zell scoffed, but he couldn’t go against his squad leader’s orders.

"Timber team, are you watching?!" Quistis cried, distress awash over her elegant face. The loose blonde hair framing her face swung as she looked over her shoulder as she looked back at the almost rabid blonde behind her. "Get over here, right now!!! You have permission! I need your help!"

"Squall!?" Zell exclaimed, looking over to the leather-clad man.

"Squad leader!" Selphie cried in shock.

"Let’s go!" Squall commanded, running up the next flight of stairs. Zell followed hurriedly behind, his mind reeling. What was Seifer thinking? He was endangering their mission, sticking his nose where it didn’t belong. And dragging Instructor Trepe into it, too. That moron. Zell swore that he would curse Seifer out big time after this… If they survived. Damn Seifer, how could he think that this actually would help?! Zell snapped back to reality, wanting to be on guard for whatever happened to come across their path. When they arrived at the Timber Television station, Seifer was already wreaking havoc, his long blade dangerously close to cutting Deling’s head off.

"We need to restrain him!" Quistis exclaimed, relived that the others were there. Her deep blue eyes showed her relief.

"Seifer, what do you think you’re doing?!" Squall asked, his face flushed with anger.

"It’s obvious, isn’t it?!" Seifer exclaimed. "What are you planning to do with this guy?"

"…Planning to do?" Squall wondered aloud. That’s right, he inwardly realized. He knows Rinoa. Is that why he’s here?

"I get it!" Zell exclaimed angrily. He himself couldn’t help but noticed the dripping… Jealousy… that was echoing in his words. "You’re Rinoa’s…"

"Shut your fucking mouth! You moron!" Seifer spat, grabbing the older man with force, holding the Hyperion to his neck. Seifer’s eyes shot to Zell, flashing him a mixed look of anger, determination and…. Sadness. Seifer shook his head, looking back to Deling, not believing that even looking at his object of affection could unnerve him. He couldn’t look Zell in the eyes again, not wanting to lose focus… Or dignity. He felt ashamed to be under Zell’s pale gaze. Seifer ignored it.

"He broke out of the Disciplinary room, injuring many in the process," Quistis exclaimed breathlessly.

Zell’s eyebrows shot up. "You stupid fuck!" Zell couldn’t believe how idiotic Seifer was acting, and he was also angry at Seifer belittling him and calling him a moron.

Zell, please. Squall mentally pleaded, his pleas coming out with a tangible "Be quiet."

"Instructor, I know. You’re taking this dumb fuck back to the Garden, right?!" Zell asked, glaring at the taller blonde.

"Shut up!! No!!" Squall cried angrily, apprehension taking over. Zell had blown their cover.

"I see… You’re all from Garden. Should anything happen to me, the Galbadian army will undoubtedly crush Garden." Deling turned to Seifer, a victorious smirk pasted on his face. "You can let me go now."

"Nice going, Chicken-Wuss. You had to open your big fucking mouth, didn’t you?" Seifer spat, looking Zell in the eyes for the first time. He saw the shame and regret passing through the icy irises, and felt a pang of guilt for making Zell feel worse, but his anger got the better of him. "Take care of this mess, Instructor and Mr. Leader." He said the last with dripping sarcasm.

Deling just smirked, knowing he was triumphant over these silly children.

Seifer growled low in his throat, dragging Deling with him to a room off to the side. It was better to get the hell out of there than to have to face more Soldiers.

"Why are you being so foolish?" The President asked quietly as Seifer dragged him away. "What will this gain you?"

"Shut up!" Seifer commanded. He remained silent after that, Deling’s words passing through his mind. Why had he done this? Seifer himself couldn’t answer the question. He thought back to the conversation he had had with Quistis back at the Garden, how he had been outraged that they only sent Squall, Zell and Selphie to Timber, how Cid hadn’t considered this to be an important mission, how it had meant so much to Rinoa, whom he still considered a friend. Seifer had been surprised, to say the least, that Rinoa was the new SeeDs’ contact. He hadn’t seen Rinoa in a while, not since that past, fateful summer. Was it actually foolish, what he was doing? Deling was more of a dictator than a president, and offing him would save so many people so much pain, and give Seifer the glory that always had seemed to elude him. Was that why? Was it for the chance of rising above the mediocrity that Seifer always seemed to be plagued with?

No… Seifer trailed off to himself. His primary thought had been that it was obvious that this whole plan was a trap. Deling knew that there were resistance factions out to get him, so it was obvious, even to Seifer, that it was set-up, to draw out any would-be attackers. When Seifer had initially thought about that, images of failure on the part of Squall’s party had filled his mind. The four of them in jail… Or worse. It’s not like Seifer would risk himself for Squall, and he barely knew Selphie… but when he had been sitting useless in the detention room back in Balamb, all he could think about was that Zell was in danger, and Seifer wouldn’t have been able to live with himself if something had happened to the small blonde. Despite the fact that they had argued just that morning, that Seifer felt utterly ashamed of himself at Zell’s hands, he still cared what happened to his one time lover. He cared deeply.

Here you are, worried about him, and he totally put the Garden in danger! Seifer mentally reminded himself. It had been totally foolish of Zell to speak so, to reveal that they were Garden students. If he failed in his haphazard mission…. Seifer shook any thoughts of failure out of his head. They wouldn’t do him any good here…..

Seifer stopped moving, Deling’s body slack against his, as he felt another presence in the empty room. The tall blonde looked around slowly, seeing who else was there. They were alone.

Seifer breathed deeply, turning fully around, knowing there was someone behind him. His eyes widened in surprise when they fell on a shapely woman, clad in black, coming out of a wall. How was that possible? She had a mask obscuring her face, which Seifer guessed would be as darkly seductive as the rest of her. She was sort of hard to miss, as she was dressed rather extravagantly, unusually. She was up a few stairs from Seifer, and looked down the bridge of her straight nose at him.

"Stay away from me," Seifer commanded lowly, getting a tight feeling in the pit of his chest. He didn’t like this at all..

"Such a confused little boy," she mused, her voice like black velvet draping across the room, cutting out any light, anything surrounding Seifer, so that she was the only thing in his scope. He couldn’t stop looking at her. Her voice was so clear, so commanding, so drowning….. He shook his head, coming out of his stupor, tightening his grip on his captive. He still looked up at her, finding the mask that hid her face to be hypnotic. It looked like a dark bird carved out of wood or porcelain, like the Raven perched on the pallid bust of Pallas. The black velvet of her gown clung happily to the endless curves of her body, the neckline dipping low, showing mature cleavage that would only come from a true woman, not a girl. Her pale, graceful neck was framed by gentle, wispy feathers, a deep mix of indigo and black, almost fluttering gently around her, like it would come to life, adding to the illusion of a bird. Seifer didn’t find her femininity very appealing, but he couldn’t help but be mesmerized by this mysterious woman. His grip slackened on the President, but he didn’t let go. "Are you going to step forward? Retreat? You have to decide."

"Stay back!" Seifer repeated, but this time, the command was quiet, broken.

Quistis gaped as she bounded into the room that Seifer had disappeared into with the President. There was a strange woman, all in black, standing before the two men. Quistis got a gnawing fear in the pit of her chest, and she tried to advance. Without warning, she ran into something that she couldn’t see, no doubt magical in origin. It knocked her backwards, almost violently, and knocked her unconscious.

"The boy in you is telling you to come. The adult in you is telling you to back off." she practically whispered, her voice so soothing. Seifer felt his eyelids getting heavy as she spoke, lulled him to a less painful place within himself. "You can’t make up your mind, you don’t know the right answer… You want to be helped, don’t you? Saved from this predicament?" Her voice echoed in the empty room, echoed through Seifer’s body, rattling his skeleton.

He snapped out of it, ignoring her voice, which was surprisingly clear from behind the raven mask. "Shut the fuck up!" He snarled.

"Don’t be ashamed to ask for help." Her voice took on a light quality, like a song. "Besides, you’re only a little boy."

"I’m not… Stop calling me a little boy!" Seifer cried as she brought up feelings in the blonde that he wouldn’t rather think about.. Feelings of inadequacy, that he was remaining stationary, weak, not growing. While everyone else around him grew into their ideals for themselves, he was staying behind, unable to get ahead, unable to reach his goals. Was he just a boy pretending to be a man?

"But that’s what you are…" the woman trailed off.

Seifer choked back a sob, his grip loose on Deling now. The President felt the ominous feel in the air, taking the opportunity to get the hell out of there. He didn’t even bother looking back at his former assailant, who was now practically kneeling before the strange woman.

"You don’t want to be a boy anymore?" She opened her arms to him, motherly, inviting.

"I’m not a little boy," Seifer protested again, almost whimpering. He couldn’t think of anything else except her voice… Not what he had just done, not the fact that Deling got away, not Zell… Only her.

"Come to a place of no return," She murmured, placing her delicate, claw like fingers just under Seifer’s chin, the black of her gloves contrasting with the lily white flesh of his face. She tilted his face upwards, wanting his skied eyes to meet the hollow sockets of the raven mask. He looked up, his eyes looking large in his elegant, regal face. His blue eyes traced the large gold fan protruding off her shoulders, sticking out like false, sharp wings, cold and metallic. The conch shells and coral horns of her headdress also seemed to fascinate him.

She blinked a few times behind the mask, his large eyes looking up at her, watery and frightened looking, feeling familiar. She was glad for the heavy barrier over her face, for she didn’t want to show the momentary lapse of concentration.

Yes, he will be useful…. A voice whispered, only heard by the raven woman. It sounded like her own in her head, but not at the same time. "Come with me," she repeated, knowing that she had him now.

Seifer nodded his head, everything but her vanishing all around him. His body felt like it weighed nothing at all, like he was floating away to an empty world, a tangible surrounding to mirror the feeling left in his soul.

"Seifer!" Someone cried. Male, urgent.

The woman looked up, feeling her sway over Seifer breaking at the sheer sound of this man’s gravely, youthful sounding voice. How could a single voice break through it?

"Zell…." Seifer whispered, feeling like he was just waking up. The black dressed woman just barely heard what had fallen from Seifer’s slightly parted, sensuous lips.

"Come with me…." She whispered again, more forceful. "Bid farewell to your childhood."

Seifer nodded again, even the sound of Zell’s voice disappearing, every thought of the blonde gone from his mind. He stood, taking the spindly, skeletal hand that was offered to him. Standing to full height, he was much taller than this woman, but her presence made him but a small child being led by the hand, something that felt familiar to both of them. The woman used some sort of telekinetic magic to make the wall become an entryway to someplace that Seifer couldn’t even begin to comprehend about. All he could do was numbly follow this woman, who promised him salvation, a place to belong. Something that even Zell couldn’t seem to offer him, no matter how badly Seifer wanted it. He dully followed her, not caring what waited for him beyond the darkness of her velvet voice…

Zell jogged into the next room, behind Squall. The harshness of Seifer’s tone against him still stung like a slap to the face. He knew that Seifer had been angry with him, and he knew he royally fucked up, but it still hurt, to be belittled by the one person he had slept with, the only person who had given themselves so openly to Zell. He shook his head, not wanting to think about what it had felt like to have Seifer under him, their skin touching, Seifer’s ungloved hands on his body… The pleasant thoughts of Seifer were replaced with the dread of what he had done. What if the President really did send troops to crush the Garden? Then, it would be his fault, all Zell’s fault, because he opened his stupid mouth… again. He had no right to complain about Seifer being so harsh with him. He deserved it. Zell followed behind Squall and Selphie, peeking over the leather-clad shoulder of his leader. Seifer was standing solitary in front of a strange woman. She was speaking to him, but none of them could make out what she was saying.

Squall looked over, noticing Quistis on the floor. She was laying comatose. Selphie tried to move to her, but felt melted into the ground. Squall and Zell looked at each other, trying to advance, but the same ailment prevented it. All of their minds went blank for a few moments.

Squall shook his head, feeling normal again. He looked over at Quistis, who was being helped up by Selphie. Zell was shaking his head.

"Where are they?" Squall asked, slowly looking around.

Zell stopped beside his taller teammate, his eyes scanning the room for Seifer. He was gone, not a trace of him around anywhere.

Selphie wrinkled her nose. "I don’t like this…."

"Where’s Seifer and the President?" Quistis asked breathlessly, whipping her head around.

"We don’t know. There isn’t a trace of them…." Zell trailed off, confused. He had a bad feeling in the pit of his chest, compounding over his fear for the Garden’s safety.

Quistis placed elegant gloved fingers on her chin thoughtfully. "We better get out of here, in case more soldiers follow us…"

Squall nodded. "Right, Instructor."

"What about Rinoa?" Zell asked. Her name dropped from his lips with almost scorn. He didn’t know why he had such harsh feelings towards the girl. She had a sweet enough disposition, and was at least kind, even though she was a little disorganized. Zell just wanted to get back to the Garden, back to his makeshift home to make sure everything was okay.

Squall nodded. "We’ll get her, then leave. We have to check on the Garden…" Squall trailed off, shooting the apprehensive Zell a disapproving glare.

"Hey, guys!" Rinoa exclaimed, bounding into the room. "Where’s Seifer?"

Squall paused, his mind completely blank. What had happened? "We don’t know…"

Zell sighed looking around the room again, wondering where Seifer was. Why did he feel like he was missing a few minutes of time?

"…He’ll be okay, right?" She asked, quickly turning on her heel, leaving, hoping to find him. Quistis chased after the streaming sleeveless blue duster with it’s little silk-screened angel wings.

"What do you think will happen?" Zell asked of Squall as they left the ominous room.

"Well, hopefully, the Garden is still save, but it could be a pile of rubble now…" Squall shot Zell an evil look.

Zell just hung his head in shame, acknowledging his error. He was silent as they left the Television Station, his body tight with worry and apprehension…

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