The Oath
( Some Bonds... Are Stronger Than Others)

Chapter 1

By YuriNigasa

Some hours later, the trio found themselves still encamped in the Infirmary, which, on orders, was presently closed, notwithstanding dire emergency that required missing limbs for admittance.  They were deep in heated discussion, primarily between the resident physician and the man who they had called back from his mission due to this unforeseen event.

"I'm keeping him sedated, Squall, and that's final.  You can stow that look for someone it will intimidate.  When it comes to this Infirmary there are no orders that can supercede mine, and you know it.  I'm as curious as you are, but there is no way to know how he will react when awakened.  Until I run additional tests and make every determination I can he's staying under.  Another day or two isn't going to make a difference."

The man glared, pale gray gaze anchored on the physician in front of him.  Reaching out, he rested one hand on the medical terminal in front of her, his body language echoing the insistence of his request.  His second in command leaned lazily against the back wall of the office, arms crossed against his chest and his expression reading a helpless 'I told you so.'

"Don't you start, too," Squall snapped.  His subordinate simply shrugged helplessly and gave him a look that begged innocence in the goings on. 

He hadn't felt this out of sorts in ages, say, oh, five years.  Things had long ago fallen into the realm of the predictably mundane, a world ordered by schedules and daily regimen.  After the last major conflict, events were no longer on such a grand scale.  Skirmishes erupted every so often, his troops intervened, said skirmishes ended, and life went back to what passed, ostensibly, for normal.  Yet, not ten meters away was something, someone, who absolutely, under no foreseeable circumstance, remotely fell into the category of minor.  Quite to the contrary, he couldn't compartmentalize it, no matter how many edges and corners he attempted to mentally trim, into the realm of normal.  At one point, he had reached a place where any circumstance he found himself in failed to shock him in the least, due to the fact that he'd seen things that, beforehand, he would have relegated to the area of pure fantasy.  Try explaining to the uninitiated that one had not only battled untold monsters, but fought Sorceresses, traveled into past consciousness, and, as a last resort, into a twisted realm where time had folded in and back and around on itself before spitting you out again, and they tended to look at you strangely.  The world simply hailed them as heroes, and left it at that, without asking very many questions.  As with most grand events, within six months, it simply failed to be important to anyone.  A source of occasional drunken speculation, another holiday commemorated once a year, and the world would thank you very much not to let it interfere with everyday life.  On the bed, however, lay a figure that, in the space of twenty-four hours, effectively both shocked him and unintentionally turned his perfectly ordered world on its ear.  Squall held no doubts that if said figure was cognizant of his surroundings, he would have found his discomfiture infinitely amusing.

"Tch, check it out Quisty, he went monologue again.  Haven't seen him pull one of those in quite some time."  The blonde man moved away from the wall, pacing deliberately to the center of the room.

"What do you expect?"  The woman gestured toward the room where the patient lay, her perfectly manicured nails reflecting the lights overhead.

"Quit talking like I can't hear you.  And I'll thank you to keep your speculation to yourself, if you don't mind."

The pair of blondes looked at each other, shrugging simultaneously.  "Yes, Sir," they said in unison, gesturing with mock salutes.

Squall failed to see the humor in the actions, electing instead to scowl and issue an audible huff.  "Will forty-eight hours give you enough time to run tests?" he asked without preamble.

"It should, unless something unforeseen occurs," said Quistis, as she relocated some hard files from her drawer to the desktop.

"Okay then, keep me posted on your progress."  Gesturing towards his second in command, he nodded toward the door.  "Let's go.  I don't want you distracting her."

"Me?  A distraction?"  The blonde rolled his eyes.  "Amazing.  I didn't know she had the hots for me."

"She doesn't, Zell.  You'll just talk her ear off."

"Ugh, do you have to be so cruel?  C'mon, a guy can use a little hope now and then," he replied as they walked out of the Infirmary.

Paging Commander Leonhart and Lieutenant Commander Dincht to the Infirmary.  Paging Commander Leonhart...

The public address system echoed through the halls, drawing the student population of Balamb Garden to a screeching halt.  All ears attuned to the speakers, craning to catch anything of import, but the system simply repeated the page.  There was no secret regarding what the Infirmary was containing.  Rumors, however, still ran rampant, and, despite the best efforts of Instructors and Faculty alike, student attention focused on little else.  As if drawn back by winches, the students parted to let the Commander make his way to the elevator, turning to watch his entry, and staring pointedly until the door closed and the elevator dropped.

When the doors parted, Squall stepped out to a repeat of the scene on the second floor.  Groups of students exchanged the latest in hot information, which, predictably, was less than ninety percent correct.  There was little doubt that the creators of such rumors found amusement in the reaction generated by their ‘information.’  Sparing not so much as a glance at his surroundings, he arrived at the Infirmary in short order.  With one hand, he punched in the security override.  With the other, he reached in his pocket and withdrew a piece of gum.  The door chimed softly before granting access to the interior.  Quistis sat at the desk, dressed in a long sleeved burgundy shirt with a delicate mandarin collar, black wool pants with a tapered ankle, and conservative black leather flats.  A lab coat, obviously hers, was tossed across the row of chairs that sat against the wall.  She looked up, nodded in greeting, and turned back to examine the file on her terminal with intensity.  Moving Quistis' lab coat to the side, Squall took the chair closest to the door.

"It won't be long," Quistis said.  "I'm just organizing my notes.  When Zell gets...” She didn't have time to finish her statement, because even as she spoke, the door chimed again, announcing the arrival of another person.  "And speaking of," she continued.  "Look who shows up finally."

"Hey now, I can't help it.  You interrupted my dinner," he said.

"At least you actually eat food now, so I suppose I should be grateful, as your physician.  I can't believe you actually existed on those," she paused, "things for so long."  She shuddered slightly and turned toward the printer, which was issuing a hard copy of the report she had onscreen.

"Man, a guy likes hotdogs and look at all the insults I take for it.  I was a growing boy, Quistis," he said, drawing up to his full height, which was now a more reasonable five-foot-eight.  About four years ago Zell had undergone one final growth spurt, coming out of it with another three inches to his frame.  He still couldn't quite see eye-to-eye with Squall, who now stood at five-nine, but it was better than seeing nothing more than chin at eye level.  "Besides, who's taller than whom now?" he taunted in Quistis' general direction.  "That's right, I am," he said, answering his own question.

"I would have thought that to be rhetorical, but obviously I was mistaken," remarked Squall dryly, leaning back and folding his hands behind his head.

"Ooh, you have like, zero sense of humor right now.  Remind me to stay out of your way."  Zell rolled his eyes and took up a comfortable spot, sprawled out across three chairs, on the opposite side of the room to wait.

A few minutes later Quistis gently cleared her throat.  "Gentlemen, and I do use the term loosely, if you would be so kind as to take a look over here," Quistis requested.  The noises of chairs and shuffling feet gave way to the sound of two men leaning over her shoulder.  "I ran every conceivable test I could without consulting Doctor Odine.  We all know how that would turn out and it's not something I would suggest we do right now, or potentially, ever.  I found no discernable latent paramagical effects, but I gave him several Esuna treatments for safety purposes.  One is generally sufficient, but I wanted to make sure that my tests didn't trigger anything.  Physically, he shows obvious signs of repeated trauma, excluding the most recent bout at the hands of Garden's best," she said sarcastically.  "Initially I treated him for internal trauma to the lungs and a bruised kidney.  There were signs of poorly healed breaks in the ribs, left forearm, and right ankle.  Quite honestly, I don't know how he walked out of Lunatic Pandora five years ago if this information is indicative of the state he was in."

"Hey," interrupted Zell, "what's with the age thing, anyway?  You still believe he's just a kid?"

"I stand by my original position in regards to that.  You can look at it anyway you'd like.  You're twenty-three, Squall is twenty-three, I'm twenty-four; but he," she said pointedly, "is no older than eighteen.  Now then, back to issues at hand.  I can give him a mild stimulant to wake him; it should need less than half an hour to take effect.  He will be groggy and potentially incoherent, but it will give us a good opportunity to see how he will react.  If he shows even the slightest hint of aggressive behavior, I'm sedating him again and we can move him to a more secure location."

Implicitly understanding that Quistis' statement had also been a tentative request for approval to wake the sleeping patient, Squall nodded.  "Do it," he said succinctly.

Approximately twenty-two minutes later, a groan came from the patient on the bed.  Quistis hurried in, accompanied by the two men.  "Get back, both of you, opposite side of the room, now," she said quietly but forcefully.  "The three of you were hardly on cordial terms and it's likely that given past history, you are both perceived as potential threats."  Squall and Zell did as ordered, neither one caring to cross her on the issue.

On the bed, the patient stirred.  Eyes fluttered open to reveal emerald green eyes hazed with drug-induced disorientation.  His brow knit in confusion as his eyes refused to focus.  "Seifer," a voice called.  A soft voice, a beautiful voice.  Something deep inside him told him it was a safe voice, that he could follow it.  "Seifer, can you hear me?" the voice asked.  He groaned in reply and tried to roll over but every muscle in his body refused to cooperate.  He blinked.  It was bright, but not overly so.  He wanted to sleep some more but there were too many distractions.  The shapes in front of him were like an impressionist's watercolor.  They moved in fluid gestures, sometimes forward, sometimes to the left or right, and occasionally backward.  He wished they'd stay still and create something he could identify.  Something like that building he saw from the cliffs.  A beautiful sight, until he got to it.  Now, he didn't quite remember what happened, except that it involved quite a lot of yelling and punching.  Then he remembered, he had heard the voice then, too.  He remembered that warm feeling that had taken away the pain on the outside of him.  Suddenly, his eyes began to regain clarity and the shapes in front of him began to coalesce into solid objects.  A wall, a picture, a sheet.  With great effort, he turned his head to the side and saw... an angel.  A blonde angel.  He squinted and looked closer.  It wasn't an angel, but he didn't know who it was.  Some vague sense that he had seen her before gnawed at the back of his mind.  "Seifer?" she asked again.  "Do you know who I am?"

Frowning with intense concentration, he applied his scattered thought patterns to the question at hand.  He scowled, unable to make his mind do what he wanted.  It seemed content to jump from random thought to random thought, senseless, and incoherent.  Finally, a concept formed, and he began adding random things to it to create a definitive statement.  Inhaling deeply he looked at her, and then exhaled.  He opened his mouth and closed it, then repeated the process a couple of times, as if making sure it would work on command.  He looked her in the eyes and said quite simply, "Quisty."

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