Stitch In Time

Chapter Six

By Scarlet Fever

The sun began to set gently, just barely disappearing over the horizon as Zell, Selphie and Rinoa walked to the Galbadia Garden Train Station. Zell’s mind was still reeling from the news of Seifer’s death, and now with the news that they had to assassinate the Sorceress, with the help of Irvine Kinneas. There was something about that guy that Zell didn’t like at all. Maybe it was the way he was so damn cocky. Zell sighed. He couldn’t say that he hated cockiness, per se. It also could have been his womanizing ways, the fact that he gave off an air of sluttiness. He smirked, thinking of the utter disappointment in Irvine’s grayish blue eyes when Zell had replaced the would-be cowboy in Irvine's makeshift party.

"What do you guys think of Irvine?" Selphie asked as they slowly walked.

Zell scoffed. I don’t like him. I don’t know…. I guess he’s nice enough, but something about him rubs me the wrong way. He’s so damn cocky…"

"Just like Seifer…" Selphie mused, kicking a small rock as she twirled her Nunchuku like batons.

"He is not like Seifer!" Zell exclaimed. "Seifer wasn’t a male slut…" Zell trailed off, stopping his stream of words. Even that morning, he had mentally accused Seifer of being a male slut himself. He couldn’t stop a small tear from escaping his pale eye.

"Okay, what’s going on?" Selphie asked.

"Yeah," Rinoa asked. "You said you hated Seifer…."

Zell sighed, not responding. He walked ahead of them, looking out onto the ocean. He still had his fists clenched tightly, having not released them since the mention of Seifer’s execution. He didn’t have to look over to know that Rinoa was standing beside him. He could smell her faint strawberry perfume.

"Seifer…. You say you hated him. Why?"

He sighed, perching himself on a boulder, staring out at the ocean. "He’s done nothing but make my life miserable. For as long as I could remember, he’s picked on me, belittled me…. How was I supposed to feel?! And, just when I think there’s some good in him…. Besides," Zell thought of the hatred in Seifer’s voice back in Timber. "He hated me, too."

The girl beside him sighed. "He didn’t hate you, Zell."

Zell turned his head slightly, mouth parted in surprise.

"He didn’t?" Selphie asked. She was sitting on the boulder next to Zell, patting his hand, trying to console him from the pain that she didn’t know anything about.

Rinoa shook her head. "I’ve been thinking about it since we first heard about the execution. Selphie, you were passed out at the time, but I mentioned to Zell that ever since I met him, I’ve had this feeling of familiarity…"

Selphie groaned. "God, ‘Selphie, you were passed out at the time’ sounds soooo bad."

Rinoa smirked. "Anyway. It was because Seifer had mentioned Zell to me on more than one occasion."

"How serious were you two, anyway?" Selphie asked. "Oh, sorry! I shouldn’t pry!"

Rinoa waved a hand. "No, no, it’s fine. I was the one who brought it up, anyway." She breathed in deeply, the salty air feeling good in her lungs. "If by serious you mean having sex, then yes, we were serious, but I actually don’t think we were. We both knew it wouldn’t last. There were too many… obstacles."

"Such as?" Selphie asked.

Rinoa laughed, watching as Angelo came out of the woods. Her pet dog always followed her, and she didn’t have to worry about her getting lost. Her big brown dog eyes looked over at her Mistress with happiness. "He hates dogs. As soon as he saw Angie, he freaked out. He never did explain why he didn’t like her. She’s friendly." She whistled for her dog, who came bounding over.

"He’s afraid of dogs…" Zell murmured, almost whispering, surprised he could remember that about Seifer. He clenched his fists tighter, the steel of his gloves cutting into his palms painfully. He ignored it. "Or, was afraid of dogs. A big dog attacked him when he was smaller. He had to get a lot of stitches from it, and still had some nasty scars on his legs…" The small blonde trailed off, biting his lower lip, trying to stop more tears from falling down his cheeks as he remembered Seifer’s long legs wrapped around his waist. "Whenever he saw a dog, he would get all pissed and pretend not to like them, but he was actually afraid of them. He just didn’t want to show the weakness of being afraid of something…"

Selphie cocked her head. "How did you know that?"

Zell laughed. It sounded tinny and hollow. "You have to make a point to know your enemy."

"Did you actually consider Seifer an enemy?!" Rinoa seemed surprised. "He didn’t think badly of you, you know. Whenever he would mention anything about his life at Balamb, he would mention you, one way or another. He would get a wistful smile on his face, and he would seem generally happy when he talked about how you were clumsy, or the way you would get so easily angered…" Rinoa sighed sadly. "I couldn’t even make him that happy, and I slept with him…"

Zell couldn’t hold back the small sob of pain that was ripped from his chest. He dug further into his palms, thick trails of blood trickling down his wrists. At that moment, he would have given his own life, thrown Selphie and Rinoa into the ocean just for the chance to know that this was all a joke, and Seifer would come walking down the beach, collect Zell in his arms and whisper that everything was okay. He closed his eyes as more tears streamed down his cheeks.

"What?!" Selphie asked, rubbing small circular motions on Zell’s back. "What did we say?!"

"The last thing Seifer heard me say about him was calling him a dumb fuck," Zell whispered. "He died thinking I hated him, even after…."

"After what?" Rinoa asked.

"You did hate him, though…" Selphie pointed out, trying to unfurl Zell’s fists.

"No!" Zell exclaimed angrily. "I was just upset with him!" Zell became silent, his heart feeling like it was breaking. "… Why did he keep teasing me, then?!"

Rinoa sighed, patting Angelo’s head absently. "He had a difficult time expressing his emotions. He didn’t like to open up to people…" Rinoa trailed off.

"What was the real reason you two broke up?" Selphie asked of Rinoa. Her gaze remained on Zell, though, who was staring out at the ocean, blank, numb.

Rinoa looked at Zell, saying nothing. "I think Zell knows…"

A choked sob worked its way out of Zell’s muscular chest. He wished he could take back every bad thing he had said to Seifer, wished he could turn back time to when he had first woken up with Seifer in his bed.

"What’s going on?!" Selphie asked. She raised her eyebrows at Rinoa. "Was Seifer in love with Zell?"

Zell openly wept, wrapping his bloodied hands around his arms, his tears falling into his lap. Selphie collected him against her small frame, rocking him like a child.

"I don’t know…" Rinoa looked at Zell, her heart breaking. "You must have had some knowledge of these feelings, Zell, or you wouldn’t be reacting this way…" She reached out, stroking his soft blonde hair.

Zell waited for his broken sobs to subside. "I had a bit of an inkling," he replied, smiling wryly through his tears. "I think I noticed it while I was fucking him."

"What?!" Selphie screeched, looking into Zell’s eyes. "When was this?!"

Zell sighed. "This doesn’t leave your mouths, okay?! I don’t want the entire world knowing about my sex life. Plus, it wouldn’t be fair to Seifer to air our dirty laundry…" He breathed deeply. "The night of the SeeD graduation, I snuck away from the ball and went into Balamb. I went to a bar and Seifer was there. He was so drunk, and I got pretty wasted, too…" Zell trailed off, remembering the moments when Seifer had actually smiled at him, genuine smiles. He sighed, knowing that he probably was one of the only people, except for Rinoa, Fujin and Raijin who had any fond memories of Seifer Almasy. "Well, we were piss drunk, and one thing led to another, and I’m sure you can imagine the rest. When I woke up, I was sort of scared, you know, finding my lifelong nemesis naked in my bed. I sort of rejected him, and he got angry and stormed off. I tried to apologize to him later, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He was such a bastard about it when I wanted to try to make it right."

"I can’t believe it…" Selphie mused. "You and Seifer?"

"You couldn’t have been that drunk…" Rinoa muttered, not meaning it as sarcastic, although that’s how it came out.

Zell shrugged. "I was pretty drunk, and he’s so different when he’s drinking, and he was being so nice to me…." Zell trailed off again. "And he wanted me…" Zell choked back a groan. What was he saying? "Or at least I thought he did." What did Rinoa know anyway? She hadn’t even known that Seifer was afraid of dogs, and she didn’t seem like the sort of person who would care to immerse herself in the deepest rooted problems of people around her, although she seemed to care. Had she just tried to look for the best in Seifer, much like she seemed to be doing with Squall? So many questions plagued Zell. "Never mind…" He muttered, wiping the already drying tears from his eyes. "I don’t feel like talking about it. It was the past, a mistake, and I have to accept the fact that Seifer’s dead, and whatever I feel is probably a figment of my imagination."

Rinoa frowned, her heart-shaped mouth pursing. "That’s a rather cruel thing to say about him…."

Zell snorted, his anger at Seifer returning. "He only ever cared about himself. I know you wanted to see the best in him, Rinoa. I wanted to see it, too, and look where it got me. I’ve never felt more betrayed in my life. What was he thinking, barging in like that?! He could have put all our lives in danger, but of course, he was being selfish, only thinking of himself. Seifer Almasy has always been number one, and that’s that!"

Rinoa shrugged. "I thought I knew him pretty well…" She trailed off. Was Zell right? Did Seifer only show her what she wanted to see, or did she actually see things that weren’t really there? No, deep down, Seifer had been kind, even though he had a hard time showing it. She didn’t feel like wrestling with Zell’s empty rage, so she stood. "Squall’s probably waiting for us."

Selphie nodded, still somewhat confused. She felt badly for Zell. So many emotions must have been passing through him, and she knew it must have been tearing him up. However, the blonde didn’t seem open to discussing it anymore, and Selphie didn’t want to push him. She walked slowly behind Zell and Rinoa, who were both silent. The raven-haired girl was keeping her eye on Angelo as she bounded on ahead. Selphie decided to occupy her mind with something else, hoping that Zell and Rinoa would do the same. She started to think about the newest member of their party, Irvine Kinneas. He seemed so arrogant, even more so than Seifer had been, or Squall was. Selphie actually couldn’t decide if she was insulted or flattered that he was already trying to get into her underwear. It was awfully presumptuous of him, and yet, Selphie felt some sort of warm feeling of familiarity that she enjoyed when she saw Irvine. She sighed happily when the Galbadia train station came into view. There were some uniform clad students milling around, talking about everyday stuff, things that Selphie, Zell and Rinoa should have been talking about. When had their lives turned into such a Soap Opera?

"Where’s Squall?" Rinoa asked, almost disappointed.

Zell and Selphie looked at each other, sharing a meaningful glance. Selphie could tell that Rinoa was becoming interested in their cold leader, and Zell’s reactions confirmed her suspicions. The trio walked up to the train, deciding to wait for the others in silence. As they waited, Zell tried to straighten all his thoughts about Seifer. Seifer probably wouldn’t have given a flying fuck if Zell had died, so why did he care so much about the loss of Seifer? Zell then vowed to put it behind him. His unanswered questions would now forever be unanswered, and that was that.

"There they are," Selphie pointed, seeing Quistis walk ahead of the two men, a pissed look on her elegant face. Irvine was chatting her up, no doubt with an ulterior motive. Quistis just rolled her eyes, shooting Selphie a look that said everything she couldn’t out of politeness.

Zell groaned, feeling badly for Quistis. God, Irvine was impossible. Who the hell did he think he was?! Zell didn’t know why the cowboy irked him so much, but Irvine did, nonetheless. He glared at Irvine as they boarded the train, the words Male Slut passing through his mind, over and over again.

"Confirming… Access granted…" The female computer voice chimed.

The door to the train’s compartment opened, and Selphie smiled. "Heyyy, you caught on!" She winked at Squall and bounded down the lushly carpeted hallway.

Squall shrugged, deciding to let her be. He folded his arms across his slender chest, his mind quickly jumping from topic to topic. He didn’t know what to think of Irvine yet, but Squall appreciated the cowboy’s fighting skills. So what if he was a womanizer? He looked over at Zell, who was still rather distant and morose. Squall figured that the exuberant blonde would have been in better spirits after finding out that Balamb Garden was safe. They all seemed to be sort of down after hearing about Seifer’s death. Squall was the first to admit that he and Seifer had no love lost between them, but he had respected the ill-tempered bully, and he knew that Seifer had respected him as well, and even though they weren’t best friends, it was still sort of saddening that Seifer was gone, only a memory. He wondered if anyone would give a fuck, or if Seifer would be forgotten by the next day.

"This train, bound for Deling City, will be departing shortly," the female voice announced.

Rinoa snorted. "This is the only train bound for Deling City, anyway."

"Hmm, perhaps it’s fate," Irvine announced suddenly, disappearing down the hallway after Selphie.

Zell glared at the hall entryway. "So, what do we do about him?!" He crossed his muscled arms across his hard chest.

"Shouldn’t you go check on Selphie?" Rinoa asked, cocking her head. She thought Irvine was a decent enough guy, but she didn’t know if he would try and make the moves on the seemingly innocent brunette.

"I don’t want that Irvine guy using the guest room. Don’t open it for him," Zell muttered. He knew he sounded childish, but at that moment, he didn’t care. So many things had happened to him, both physically and emotionally, that he didn’t care if he was being a brat.

Quistis frowned, going into responsible adult mode. "….Irvine just kind of went off….Shouldn’t you check?" She frowned, knowing what Irvine was probably trying to do, for she had to sit and smile through his come-on lines already.

Squall frowned, thinking that Selphie could take care of herself, but he obliged his teammates and followed Irvine. When he approached the pseudo-couple, he heard Irvine cheesily exclaim, "Selphie… We’re destined to be together!"

Squall had to stifle a groan, but he remained silent, just watching with a stern eye.

Selphie scoffed, keeping her emerald gaze off of Irvine’s handsome face and on the rapidly passing scenery. "Y-Yeah right!" She sighed.

"A sigh of love?" Irvine asked, running his fingertips over the brim of his black cowboy hat.

"N-No…" Selphie trailed off, finding that warm feeling passing through her chest again, the warm familiar feeling….

"Pardon me…" Irvine said simply, breezing past Squall as if nothing had happened.

"My heart’s pounding… What’s this I’m feeling?" Selphie asked. Her question was mostly directed at herself, but sort of at Squall as well. Why did Irvine make her feel this way? Or was she just feeling sympathy for Zell, for all of them?

"It’s an important mission," Squall began. In the back of his head, he wondered if Selphie was just horny and didn’t want to admit it. "Get used to handling pressure while you still can."

Selphie remained silent, only sighing again. Squall was so cold. She knew he was trying in his own little way to be supportive and to try to say something, but it failed. Is that what it was? That they were so close to Deling, and they had such an important mission? She sighed again. "How much longer ‘til Deling City?"

Squall shook his head and went back out to where the rest of the party was. He raised a delicate eyebrow when he saw Irvine trying to make nice with Rinoa.

"Rinoa…" The cowboy mused.

Quistis groaned, folding her arms across her breasts angrily. "Irvine Kinneas! You’re playing a major role in this mission. Now behave yourself!" This man’s arrogance reminded Quistis a little of Seifer, but at least Seifer wasn’t always trying to get into the underwear of his female comrades. Seifer had had at least a little professionalism, except for his last mission. Quistis sighed. Why hadn’t she stopped him?! No wonder she wasn’t cut out to be an Instructor. She had no authority, and everyone knew it. The willowy blonde knew that she shouldn’t get so worried about everyone else, because she wasn’t in charge, but she couldn’t help it.

Irvine sighed, looking over at Quistis, meeting her cold sapphire gaze. "No one understands me… Sharpshooters are loners by nature…" He walked over to the corner of the train, suddenly sullen. "We hone our instincts, pour our entire being into a single bullet. The pressure of the moment, an instant of tension… That’s what… I have to face alone. It’s not easy, so just, like…. Do me a favor and let me be!" Irvine whirled around, facing the wall. "You get my drift?" He crossed his arms. These people were all so cold, and he couldn’t believe that they didn’t remember…. He shook his head angrily, not wanting to think about it.

Zell felt like he was going to explode from rage. First, that male slut came in there like he owned them, trying to slime his way all over Rinoa, Quistis and Selphie, then he tries to get them to buy a sob story about being a misunderstood loner. Zell felt like punching Irvine in the face, smashing his head through the wall of the train. Instead of resorting to physical violence, Zell slammed his fist into the hard floor of the train. The pain barely registered, for it was far worse than the other kinds of pain that he was feeling.

"Err…. There was no damage to the train from that, err, minor vibration… I, uh, repeat, there was no damage to the train from that, err, minor vibration…" The female announcer sputtered.

The rest of the train ride was full of uncomfortable silence, and a collective sigh of relief was heard when the train stopped in Deling.

Squall looked at his party members. "Okay, we’re supposed to go to see General Caraway. I’ll take Zell and Rinoa. Quistis, you, Selphie and Irvine follow us, but not too closely. It’s probably safer to stay apart, in case someone working for the Sorceress sees us. We don’t want them to know that we’re together."

They all nodded, heading for the expanse of the capital of Galbadia.

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