“Playin' war! Playin' war!” sang Zell in bouncy clusters as he bounded down the orphanage hallways, slapping a three-foot stick into the door frames. He tripped at the end of the hall, spiraled on his knee-cap and body-checked the wall. Dropping the stick, he clutched his rug-burning knee and squeezed himself into a compact Zell-ball. A growl, a whimper, a sob, and then he was up again and waging his battle through the living room, yelling frenetically as he went.
Quistis had already had enough, having twice before lunch pulled the kinetic, spiky-headed boy away from certain peril. She swiftly tossed her cards down on the hard rug and stomped before Zell, heading him off, grasping his shoulders, and shaking him back.
“Calm down!” she commanded. “Matron'll have a fit with you!”
“No she won't!” the young Zell defied, squirming like captured gerbil. He went to strike playfully when he realized his wooden sword was no longer with him; he left it back in the hall. “Matwyn doesn't care!”
“Yes, she does,” said Quistis with the most beautifully juvenile specimen of bombast in the world. “She told me if you don't behave I get to put you out into the rain!”
Zell went motionless for over half a minute, possibly a personal record, and paled to sheep-white. He forgot how to breathe at first, and then it seemed also how to stand as his knees began to bend in and out forcefully, despite the disciplinarian's clad grip. He searched for aide, but the others were content to watch, and finally he could only see Quistis's glacial eyes. But you couldn't stop Zell for long.
“Nuh uh!” he pronounced proudly, and in her angry surprise he ducked and slipped past like the most cunning of rogues.
“Zell, I'm gonna tell on you!” Quistis threatened as her control melted away.
Zell pranced through the center of the living room, accidentally kicking the center card pile with the toe of his untied shoe and scattering them wildly about the room and under the furniture.
“Good goin'!” the cute little Selphie jibed before throwing her hand of five into the fray.
“Sowey, Sefie,” the little torment said, and then he dashed behind the girl and played her like a human shield from the tough Quistis's imminent barrage.
“Oh yes she did!” continued Quistis on her earlier thought, feeling her catch on the situation drift completely into oblivion. When she tried to reach around Selphie and reprimand the hunkering Zell, the human barrier twisted and slapped her arm to the side. Selphie giggled fiendishly.
“Not you too!” Quistis stammered exasperated. “Pick up these cards!”
Hoping against everything she had fooled the ditsy little girl, Quistis waited for Selphie to reach for the nearest jumbled pile and then struck out at Zell once more, but he spryly hopped up onto the comforter and catapulted across the room in wide lunges. Before Quistis could turn to make a move Selphie gyrated her whole body and tripped Quistis to the floor, laughing uproariously again.
“Yay, yay! War, war!” Zell happily sang.
“Errrr!!!” Quistis growled in frustration, bringing herself to her knees. “I'll tell Matron on you!”
“Nuh uh!” replied Zell once more before he lost himself to the hallway, looking for his fallen weapon.
Quistis squared her glasses on her head and held her arms at her waist a few moments. She waited for Selphie to come down from her chuckle-frenzy. Finally the laughing girl said, “Sowey,” with a bright smile, and they went about recollecting the sprawling cards. It was quiet for a time, excepting only the sharp thwacking sounds of Zell's wooden stick on whatever it was he decided needed to die at the time. Shuffling her deck into a perfect rectangular pile, folding each bent card most towards its true alignment, and then setting them pristinely into their box, Quistis contemplated how best to ensnare the out-of control Zell, squinting sickly every time she heard the stick beat on something in a distant room the could possibly be glass. War on a rainy day: the most dependable sign of trouble.
“We're missing some,” she informed Selphie, noting how the stack didn't achieve its appropriate height.
“Ummmmm...” Selphie mused, swishing her curvy hair as she looked around. “Oh! There! Under the sofa leg! Hey Squall, can 'ou get those cards 'or us?”
Squall, dressed in a gold-orange shirt split with a black strip, broke out of his doze and looked disoriented a moment, a gargoyle poised in a shadowy corner, but then he shrugged carelessly and fished three cards into his hands. He offered them absent-mindedly to Selphie, who chirped “Thank 'ou”, brushed nothing off his pant legs, and returned to lay his back against the wall and brood off into the pudgy raindrops. He realized that Ellone, or Sis as he always called her, wasn't coming back.
(Look at you. Always by yourself. Waiting for Sis.)
Two chipper whaps of Zell's stick rang in from the adjacent room.
“Stupid Zell...” fumed Quistis.
“He's funny!” Selphie said cheerily, but even she realized when to back down when the glasses-sporting tough girl shot those frigid eyes.
“He's a pain in the butt!” Quistis rebutted sharply. Selphie shook her head in ineffective disagreement and looked around the room for something to do.
“What about 'ou, Squall? In't Zell funny?”
“Whatever...” he said almost silently to the window pane.
“Hmph!” Selphie grumbled. “Well, 'ou're sure not!”
A riotous shatter erupted from the side room, and before Quistis could stand and charge, a young, lazy Irvine entered, stretching and rubbing his eyes.
“Irvy!!!!” warbled Selphie as if she'd never met him before. She bounced up and down on her rear end.
“Hey Seify!” And then he turned to Quistis, still rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Zell's breakin' stuff.”
Quistis slammed the card box into the rug and barreled out of the room, whooshing past Irvine, who had instinctually strafed aside. Before he joined the vibe of the room, Quistis was already barking orders. Irvine smiled and mimicked it, making swift pointing motions with his finger, and Selphie cracked up. He walked closer in to sit down.
“Where's Matron?” he asked.
“She over at d'other pwace,” Selphie answered and she paused there, and then went low and secretive. “He's here.”
“Oh...” said Irvine, just on the edge of sad. He slumped his shoulders, thought about nothing in the silence, and then sat down on the sofa, promptly joined by the bubbly Selphie.
“Come on, Squall, join me and Irvy.”
Squall didn't want to join them, and for five seconds pretended he hadn't heard her. But she would just keep calling to him until he did it, and so he scuffed his feet into the wood floor a couple times and sat on the sofa, putting as much distance as possible between him and the girl. Irvy? Seify, Quisty, and Irvy; they all had nicknames but him. Even Sis was a nickname. They sat and laughed at the sounds of Quistis running Zell down and beating him stupid.
“Look, there!” chimed Selphie, pointing at some passing shadows in the opposite hallway.
Just as they turned to look, the cool, tranquil Matron passed by, barely appearing to be taking steps, following the him. As she passed the door, a violent snap sounded from some cavity of the house likely occupied by Zell, and she paused, but just as abruptly she moved on after him, without a look to the three on the couch.
Zell vaulted in and ducked behind the couch, screeching “Hide me, hide me!” and instantly the small but all-intimidating figure of Quistis filled the bottom half of the door frame.
“Zell, stop it!” she screamed. Her typically well partitioned and pampered hair was clumped into frazzles. Just as she dashed around the sofa to strike once more, Zell gave in.
“Okay, okay!” he pleaded, somersaulting to safety. He stood, brushed himself off, and hopped onto the couch, right next to Squall, who clamored unsuccessfully for ground of his own. Quistis didn't want to trust it, but would take what she could get. She jabbed one warning finger, and then sat by the hearth.
(I bet you hated this. Hated when he came over and you were stuck with them.)
“I hate the rain!” Zell exclaimed after some boring time sauntered by.
“Yeah,” agreed Selphie, Zell's usual war compatriot. “Especially when he's around.”
“Oh, you guys are so silly. His name's Cid,” said Quistis.
They didn't like it when Cid came by; things always got bad when he did. He was like an ogre to look at, fat and entirely covered in fur, and he always took Matron away from them. Usually he would just stop in, maybe spend half and hour at the most, and never really spoke to them. He was always so excited to talk to Matron, always had some great news to tell about how this or that was going well. He loved to talk about Norg, whatever that was. And he took very special interest in his gardening.
But this time he'd come over just after breakfast and stayed there into the afternoon, pulling Matron from the children as quickly as he could and taking her into the back rooms, the offices. He seemed more emphatic than ever, and got distempered whenever he was interrupted by some pressing need of the orphans. By the time the four sat noiselessly on the sofa with the one by the fire, praying for the clouds to rain themselves dry so they could at least enjoy the outside, Cid had effectively stolen Matron from them forever. Stupid days like this were the worst.
“Hey Quisty?” Selphie said to break the silence.
“Uh huh,” the other girl answered, keeping a noose-like eye wrapped around the hyperactive Zell.
“I bet if we fwinish 'dat thing and take it to 'er, she'd spend the rest of the day wit' us.”
“You think?” wondered Quistis intently, not so overly rigid she was above childish hope.
“Yeah!” Selphie said back, getting excited already.
(Always so naïve...)
“Then let's do it,” Quistis affirmed, and then she crawled over to the sofa and pulled the thing out from under it. It was mix between a sorceress's staff, a baton, and totem pole, shimmering from stem to stern in fluorescent colors and rattling and jingling with more than a few bells and shakers.
“I'll help too,” cheered Zell, and then, in response to Quistis's almost creature-like backlash of pulling the thing close into her body, he said, “I won't bweak it, Quisty, I pwomise!”
Quistis reluctantly consented.
“'Ou too, Irvy!” Selphie offered, and then she grinned and looked at the final boy on the far end of the couch, clutching to the arm cushion like a floating device. “Do 'ou wanna help, Squall?”
“No thanks,” he replied, as quickly as possible, and then he realized he needed to cap the invitation. “I'll just watch the rain to see if it stops.”
Squall stood and returned to his lonely corner.
(Should have helped...)
The project belonged to Quistis as it was her idea and no one else had put in near the work that she had. What began as three cardboard tubes taped profusely end to end had grown into quite the pedestal of juvenile artistic vision. At the top, supposedly the head of the thing, was a construction of vibrant poster board cut and pasted into the shape of one of those Fasticulon-F's that they saw down by the lighthouse occasionally. Stretching the next couple feet were brightly colored shapes on which most of them had crayoned their portrait. It was uneven because Zell had taken up way too much space, but it wasn't too bad overall. The walking temper-tantrum was actually pretty good with his hands when he found the restraint enough to set them on a small task. And on the base, the most meticulous construction, the crowning achievement, the big seller, and what they were still putting together, was the rounded orb of a Malboro's body, complete with all those green tentacles and the vicious maw. They'd gotten the idea from the picture on the Malboro card.
Both Zell and Selphie wanted to abandon the fish head for some kind of gun barrel, but Quistis vetoed that right out, and Irvine was just there to help.
Suddenly a creak in a floorboard unsettled them, and an enveloping shadow grazed over. The once soaring fire in the hearth almost instantly stifled into the single licks of fragile orange flame, like embers gasping for breath. The rain pattered harder. A thunder strike hit.
Zell twisted around and positioned himself behind the others, and from her rocking position, perched on her two thin legs, Selphie said, with all music lost from her voice, “Hey Seifer.”
The blonde boy that paused and poised himself in the doorframe didn't say anything in answer, only creased his glinting eyes and blanketed the room with his gaze, a subtle smirk impressed on his lips. When the strumming roll of thunder had completely faded, Seifer pressed down his blue vest striped with the narrow white cross and walked a few steps into the living room.
“Cid brought something this time,” he said, like it was some juicy secret. “He showed it to Matron all morning. He's real excited.”
Then it looked like Seifer was excited too. He slickly barreled across the room, around Zell's armor of bodies, and knocked him onto his back with a fierce jab to the shoulder.
“Do you wanna see it, chicken-wuss!?”
“Ow!” Zell cried, the first furious tears rising as quickly as he had been attacked.
“Yeah, stop it!” added Selphie.
“Shut up!” Seifer the tyrant snapped. “Well, chicken-wuss, you wanna see it?!”
“I don't care,” Zell pouted in his defense. “I don't care, I don't care.”
Seifer laughed, spasmodic hiccup laughs, and then wiped his nose across his arm. He kicked Zell in the leg before sidestepping away from Quistis's controlling swipe and chuckling once more. He noticed Squall in the corner, trying to not care, trying to ease the bubbling sensations that rose in his blood vessels whenever the bully entered the room, looking for trouble.
“I bet you wanna see it!” Seifer announced confidently. When Squall was silent back to him, he persisted, “Huh?”
“No, I don't!” came Squall's crisp and forceful, yet still resigned reply.
“You guys are no fun!” Seifer concluded, kicking the random toys strewn about behind the couch and eyeing the ornate creation centered between the four in front. He hated that thing as much as he hated Quistis or that chicken-wuss. Those other kids were always trying to earn points with Matron, steal some recognition. Well, all except for Squall, but then, he didn't like Squall either. Squall was a wuss, too, he just didn't quite know how to cry about it, Seifer thought.
Just as the children felt safe to return to their project, Seifer butt in with an idea he thought cruelly delicious.
“I'll just go get it then. And I'll show it to ya,” he said, making slowly and showily towards the door from where he'd entered.
“Where is it?” interrogated Quistis darkly, compelled by her own sense of responsibility to bite, against all more intelligent notions of whether or not she should. Seifer's smile literally glittered.
“In Matron's room.”
“'Ou can't go in there,” Selphie said with great concern.
“Watch me!” boasted Seifer, and he lunged out of the room.
“No! Seifer, no!” Quistis hollered, jumping to her feet and chasing the menace down the hallway. The others couldn't bear to not see what happened, so they placed the project up on the sofa and followed as energetically as all else. Squall looked at the emptiness with a drawn curl on his lips, and then it rendered into sadness. Alone once more, he stepped over just before the window, tranced off into the torrential rain, and begged for Sis.
“You're not supposed to go in there!” Quistis reprimanded, tugging at Seifer's shoulder.
“Shut up!” he hissed, and he slapped her away so hard she flinched and clutched her arm. Positive that Matron and Cid were not around, he eased towards the door to her room, making a much larger deal of it than necessary, just to impress Selphie and Irvine. All these stupid kids were putty in his hands, he thought.
Seifer opened the door.
“There it is!” he whispered, very potentially beside himself, and then he said, “Hey, there's two!”
Seifer bounded to the desk, just escaping Quistis's final attempt to grab him and hold him back, and he pulled one of the things off the table, though he immediately dropped it because of the weight. It collided onto the wooden floor with a high metallic gonging, like pans clapped together. Zell jumped over the bed and hid behind it in response to the noise, but the others were content with a few tense seconds of worry that passed, as nothing seemed to come of their intrusion.
“What is it?” Zell then said from his hiding place, implacably interested.
“It's a weapon, stupid!” Seifer chided. Slipping his small fingers as best he could around it, he lifted it with both hands and studied it.
They'd never seen anything like it, not even in the pictures in their card decks or in the magazines that Matron occasionally indulged them in. At its base was a black handle, set slightly diagonal from the long shaft of the blade, which was fairly long and very heavy and etched with the insignia of a roaring lion along the flat. In every way like a sword, only instead of a hilt, the blade ended in a cylindrical six-piston barrel and gun trigger. It was bright and impeccably clean, never before used. Little Seifer tried to hold it like he would a toy gun, pointer-finger wrapped on the trigger, but the blade tip instantly dropped and stabbed itself into the floor. Splintered cracks grew out of the wound.
“Uh oh!” Selphie chirruped. And then she did twice more.
“See what you did?!” said Quistis, instantaneously overcome with worry.
“Shut up!” Seifer yelled back.
He tore the gunblade up from the floor-piercing tried to make a fancy sway of it through the air, only to find he couldn't lift it to do so, and instead he scraped a semicircular gash across the wood. Even Seifer had the audacity to look surprised.
“I can't believe you!” Quistis vehemently disapproved. “Now we're gonna get in so much trouble!”
“Only if you tell on me!” Seifer exclaimed, gripping hard at the blade handle as if he were about to brandish it. He squinted his eyes severely and bore a glare into Quistis's face.
“Like she's not gonna find out,” applied Quistis. “We have to tell Matron that…”
“We don't have to tell her anything!” pleaded Seifer with absolute conviction.
“Hey guys…” Selphie tried to break in, but the two were at it now.
“I'll tell her myself!” Quistis defied, angrily. “I'll tell her myself!”
“No you won't!” the dark child screamed.
“No you won't!”
“I will! I will! I'll go right now!” And Quistis did make for the door.
“No!” Seifer raged, “You won't!”
Seifer threw the gunblade hard to the floor and dashed at her in a torment. Zell scurried, Irvine stepped too late, thunder quaked, and Selphie screamed in terror. Before the boom above had rolled by or the meaty sound of the hit had been registered, they saw Quistis sprawled back onto the floor and Seifer rearing his right fist, a light streak of blood on the knuckle, shaking all over.
Quistis broke into wails, accompanied quickly by Zell who launched out of the room and started crying against the wall.
“Seifer!!!” Selphie roared, “Look what 'ou did! Quisty! Quisty!”
Selphie fell to the floor beside Quistis who was crying and masking her face behind a cage of fingers.
“Le'me see!” Selphie begged, but Quistis only shook her head from side to side and stamped her feet onto the cracked wooden floor. “Le' me see!”
Irvine stood motionless, choking in his corner of the room, and Seifer was at a complete loss. His chest heaved, his eyes aghast in wonderment and horrible fear, and he kept the guilty hand, stained with a mottle of red, aloft and away like some foreign invader. The small boy felt the pressure of a world crumbling around him.
“Quisty, Quisty,” Zell called from the hallway, though rather aimlessly.
Selphie finally managed to unhinge the hands and she saw the blood trail smeared down Quistis's chin from her mouth.
“She's got a fat wip!” Selphie hurled at the frozen Seifer, herself furious.
“If you tell…if you tell…” stuttered Seifer, scrambling desperately for a viable defense.
“You can't get away wit this!” Zell said next from the hallway.
“If you tell…” still Seifer was somewhere out of his body and looking down at himself a small and frightened thing, but also hot all over and angry. “If you tell…”
“I'm gonna…tell!” Quistis said finally, sitting up and trying to master her sobs. She cuddled her bottom lip heavily in her frail hand, a drip of scarlet bulging through her tight fingers. “I'll tell on you!”
“I won't let you,” Seifer gasped while shaking his head, hardly if at all believing his own words. Quistis stood up bravely, still caressing her wound.
“How are you gonna stop me?” was her competitive question.
“I'll…I'll…” Seifer was flabbergasted, and everything seemed completely beyond him. The anger surged within him like some fatal toxin, almost unwillingly making him grip the ball of his right fist even tighter and stronger. But before another strike became his only answer, he thought of something. “If you tell, I'll destroy it!”
By the time the word “what?” had escaped from the hurt girl's damaged lips, Seifer had already turned and bolted from the room, and she already knew the answer.
“No!” she pleaded, agony flushing over as she raced after him, “Please, no!”
Quistis toppled around a cowering Zell and rapidly turned two hallways, disregarding the row of photos she accidently sliced off the wall with her arm as she outstretched it.
“Please no! Please no!” she continued to cry at the boy that was too far ahead of her. Rounding the final doorway, her mouth gaped and tears of emotion stopped her eyes.
“What's going on?!” Squall demanded, a range of stimuli overloading the moment. He'd seen Seifer dash in, spit a frantic, frightened look at him, and jet onto the couch, and then just as quickly he saw Quistis in the doorframe, bright blood smeared on her chin and her bottom lip split and puffing.
Seifer lifted the great thing, the gift, the project, with both his hands over his head like some victory trophy, and cackled as if it was his vengeance. He spun on the unsteady sofa cushion to view both Squall and Quistis, warding them with his scowl like they were rabid monsters.
“What's going on?!” Squall inquired frenetically again.
“Don't you do it!” Quistis ordered from the door, the three other children at last filing in behind her. “Squall, make him stop!”
“What?” returned the ever-accusing Squall.
“Stay back!” Seifer shouted before Squall had even considered advancing. Flanked by opposition, Seifer jerked his neck violently to each side, praying for some move, some direction to run, so impossibly in over his head he threatened hyperventilation. It was more terrible than he thought himself capable, but he couldn't throw his control away, no matter how threadlike it was.
A blinding slice of light and rippling thunder shocked them all out of their standoff long enough for Seifer to sprint from his post, and the momentarily disabled eyes of the other children lost him from the room. Relying on their ears, the loud shatter of glass directed them towards the patio door, window broken from when Seifer rushed himself through it, slammed it shut, and darted into the rain.
“No!!!” Quistis screeched and broke for the door, her frantic body sluicing away from Selphie's restraining grab. Quistis scampered over the glass shrapnel and chased the young villain into the tumult.
Why they looked to Squall at that moment, why at that quiet unfriendly child, they couldn't say, but they did just the same, all three of them, eyes swelling with fear. Perhaps because he was the only one that didn't seem to care, somehow qualifying him to care the most now that it started. He compelled them all of the sudden; for once he wasn't a fixture in the room but the centerpiece. Maybe it was because Quistis had asked for his help. Anyway about it, they could not move before Squall.
Even Squall didn't understand it, but as if by some instinct surfacing for the very first time, he went to the door, gritted his teeth, and followed through the storm.
(What is this?!)
Immediately soaked to the pores, Squall struggled through the fat and powerful raindrops, his thin legs sliding carelessly over rock and mud. Twice he fell face first into the wet sludge, breath choked away from him, catapulting droplets pummeling his skull, and when he pressed into the muddy vat of ground for something solid enough to push himself up he was wildly disoriented by the piercing feel of dirty grit on his eyes. They burned. It was so dark; so supernaturally black outside, like night had come to join the swirling rain. Squall, feverish and manic, heard shouting voices before and behind, those he was after, those after him, all surrounding and confusing. Wiping what muck he could from his eyes he pursued those voices further into the gale of water, hardly able to look forward long enough to find his quarry.
A lightning strike and he halted so abruptly his feet slid from under him once more and his back slapped into the now rocky ground. The illuminating flash had put in his peripheral vision two bodies to his left. He scrambled to his feet, turned face, and saw them; Seifer screaming and looking definably afraid, Quistis, long hair clumped down her utterly saturated pink dress, screaming as well and scratching her fingers onto this tree. Before Squall could go to them another brilliant burst of light popped all around them, and Squall saw what he didn't want to see: a ball of green, a curve of orange, stuck half-way up the tree, and in the clouds above, as if this tree were some tower summoning it, ached a crown of lightning.
“Seifer!!!” bellowed Squall, his fists clenched in the most impossible pang of rage, rage born from nothing, rage he'd never known; just this sudden boiling anger at this diabolical monster of a child. As he yelled it in the kettledrums of thunder, Seifer didn't hear it, but Squall instantly knew that was best. Not realizing how the three others had just arrived at his back, he kicked off the stonework ground, down the declining slope of land, and charged the fiend.
Like a beast from the ocean of rain he vaulted into sight, and with a full-body spasm, Seifer, now entirely overcome with nerve, jerked, arched, and back-stepped, but too late.
“I hate you!” Squall roared from his stomach and then he tackled Seifer to the ground.
Hands clamored, teeth gnashed, and feet stomped for support in the loose mud as they fought, one on top of the other, and then a roll and it was reversed, wet dirt caking to their skin. They forgot what was around them, ignored the young girl reaching up the tree, and didn't once comprehend the too distant bawls of the children.
Arms wrapped for dear life around the spongy trunk of the tree, Quistis climbed slowly but incautiously upwards, yearning her hand towards her great work when she felt she could balance it, but it was still too high up. Shaking with fury and fear, she stepped out onto a soggy branch thick enough for her weight and shimmied through the torrents to a better footing. Then a penetrating flash of white shot through her retinas, and all was a blur of colors for three seconds, long enough misstep, and fast she felt the desired branch scraping into her shin. A cracking sound emitted from the side of the trunk, and Quistis hugged direly onto the nearest branches as the whole world rained, thundered, and dizzily spiraled around her.
“Quisty!!!” a howl of terror jettisoned through the afternoon bleak.
Squall was striking more mud than opponent, thrashing more clothing than skin. Horizontally toppling through one front of muck and water after another, the two juvenile combatants scored barely a hit, each of them more adept at shoving palm to face or kicking weakly back with the legs. Their grunts and hollers punctuated the move from offense to defense, but this happened so quickly the advantage in the fight was nonexistent.
Then Seifer gained footing, raised himself into the air, shifted his balance, reared, and punched. First Squall coughed, overwhelmed with thorough shock, and then the pain was noticed, sharp and wide on his face. And then Seifer struck again, same fist, same target, same damage. And the report was so loud, the meaty thud so deep and impressive, he slanted backwards startled in surprise, and sank his back into the mud.
Squall rolled, sloshed the mud away from his wound, and gripped his bottom lip, and keen flare of lightning revealing the red streaks staining his fingers. His lip was split, gums torn, and even one tooth was crawling and jumping in the back of his throat. He shrieked more in horror than pain, and Seifer to his front was crying and comforting his injured knuckles. Squall's lip quickly fattened and pulsed with a sour pain, and he kicked at the blonde devil in a tantrum.
All were too beaten, too tired, too emotional to act or think; they could only stand, sit, or lay and cry. Lances of electricity vaulted all around them, each seeming more close to the last, and all that seemed left to do was drown in the hurricane.
“I hate you!!!” Squall finally managed to shout again, thought Seifer probably could not hear it over the blasting explosions in the crowd. All the small injuries, the bumps and prods of battle, made themselves known at once, and his body ached and wept with him.
Then they each heard a snapping sound and looked up, into the tree, and saw the brave Quistis, once more scaling upwards to the thing she wanted so badly as to risk it. The limb gave way, she twisted, knocked into the bludgeoning welcome of others, and for a sublime moment it seemed only a petty threat, before her new perch buckled. Quistis screamed and fell…
Squall awoke to uncertain and unimportant images. He brushed them aside with his eyelids and sat up, frigidly damp and massively fatigued and dizzy. Venomous hatred seethed in his veins, and a single unchecked goal vibrated in his cranium. Seifer!
He inhaled and exhaled greedily, and slowly made sense of the noises around him: cheerful voices, clattering of plastic and metal, footsteps, laughter, like some completely happy organism was breathing and living all around him. He was crossed and disoriented by his surroundings. And then they came to him, all in a stark realization. Squall reached to his belt, pulled the gunblade free, weighed it in his ever-strengthening hand, and then he stood up and searched. Searched for him!
He chiseled his top teeth into the bottom teeth as he trudged past one table of cahooting idiots after another. They made little notice if any of his dire grimace, the crushing down of his eyes sockets and serpentine pursing of his lips that worked towards his supreme animosity. The cafeteria was full at that moment, so it was a wonder at all he'd been able to sleep, and no wonder at all that he'd been woken up so suddenly. And though everything of his dream was almost instantly clouded in hazy mystery, one thing remained certain: punishment. And it didn't take long to find it.
Seifer was there, his two cronies Fujin and Raijin to his sides, and a few other lackeys completing the semi-circle of conversation and joviality. Though they weren't wise to their king's treachery, their lunch was going to end short that day.
Squall was upon them before they noticed him, and he introduced himself by holding the gunblade aloft, a war trophy, and then hacking it into the linoleum table.
“Let's finish it!!!” he growled at Seifer, as tray halves and flurries of french fries sailed through he air. Things went quiet, and Seifer's posse scooted back to allow room for the boss.
Seifer's lip curled into a grin, a terrible grin; he sniffed and wiped away some of the debris from his shoulder. He stood and palmed the handle of his gunblade, and there the two squared off with each other like duelists at high noon. To be honest, Squall couldn't say whether or not Seifer knew what he was talking about, but nevertheless the despicable man spoke as if he did.
“'Bout time,” is all he said, and with a motion of the blade the destiny-set opponents went to finish it.
“Feisty today!” Seifer jested as he slapped Squall to the side, but Squall dexterously rounded on him and came in from behind. Seifer spun and strafed, barely fast enough, and dodged a biting swipe of Squall's blade. “Careful now!”
His fury was inhibiting, it dumbed his battle prowess, but at that moment Squall did not care. This was for Quistis! This was for Zell! This was for himself! He charged again, but just as skillfully Seifer parried and tripped Squall to the dirt. He gracefully swished his gunblade through the air and allowed Squall to regain his step.
The long walk to their favorite training ground was incredibly thick with tension and confusion. Seifer was happy to get Squall riled up into something, but Squall was feeling almost sick with anger, and now each thrust of his blade accompanied a similar one in his gut; wrenching pains seized over him, but he fought through them.
A steady shower of blue rain began, dropping the air temperature readily, though Squall could only feel his own heat. Still, he thought it was fitting, just perfect in fact.
Squall roared, so loud his voice instantly went hoarse, and went into fast melee with his more ready enemy. Seifer laughed devilishly with enjoyment, jousting his gunblade up and down to block Squall's constant attempts.
“What's gotten into you?!” Seifer said, both impressed and surprised, and at that moment, as he laughed and enjoyed, the fight turned.
Squall found a pocket of space, sidestepped, and struck the flat of the blade across Seifer's face, sending him to the ground. Seifer cuddled his cheek a moment, now realizing anger of his own, and then he stood up and put his blade back in position.
“All right then!” he said, threateningly, “If that's how it's going to be!”
Seifer charged, stomped Squall's blade aside, and knocked him with a shoulder to the chest. Squall coughed and spit, but was not so easily undone. He faced and approached. The two matched blades again, jarring clangs and shrieks of metal anticipating every attack. The barrels were unloaded of course, but with every move that put the blade in true to strike, Squall squeezed the trigger all the same, each and every time a potential kill shot. As the resistance grew heavier, Seifer displayed even more spectacular refinements with his gunblade technique, but also he became frustrated and angry with the too serious Squall. He had to put him down.
A deft swipe of the blade put Squall off his guard, and swiftly Seifer balled a fist and punched his opponent straight in face. He pulled blood away with him when he recoiled the bare weapon, and suddenly his fist trembled, and his eyes widened with a distant fear. Something was coming back to him, something awful. Too afraid of it not to do something, Seifer acted out against the only one there, quickly conjuring a spell of fire in his hand and propelling Squall's newest charge back with it.
But it was nothing to do so, vivid millisecond images snapped over his eyes; bleak, rainy images, full of anger and hate.
“Ahhhh!!!” he bellowed as the nightmare played over him in hot bursts, and fully beside himself he jumped on Squall, swung his blade, and slashed the vile reminder down across his face. Blood poured down from the wound, and Squall lost his stance, rear-ended and whacked his skull into a rock behind.
The attack brought control over Seifer once more, and besting the rancid dream made him smile.
Squall ached all over, the colors melding and then sorting themselves and then melding one more. He looked up through mosaic eyes and saw only that smile, that glittering haughty smile the turned his veins to fire, and with a final ounce of consciousness he took his gunblade and swerved the up into the misting air. He felt the tip of the blade snag onto something but before he could see what, all became black.
Squall awoke to uncertain and unimportant images, but he was too weak to brush them aside. Bright images they were, very white and pale. Uh, he thought, the back of his head throbbing.
“How are you feeling?” said a familiar voice, one that didn't remind him of bad times, not that he remembered any at this point.
“.......Ok.” he said.
“Take it easy next time, you hear?” an old matronly woman brought her face over Squall's and peered deep within him. “Looks like your eyes are focusing. You should be fine. Say your name for me.”
She nodded like it was some great quiz.
“Why don't you take it easy in training? Next time you might not be so lucky.”
“Tell that to Seifer,” he said, assuming that it had been Seifer that had gotten out of hand. If only he could remember what happened.
“That Seifer ... Won't listen to anyone. Why don't you ignore him?”
“I can't just run away!” said Squall defensively. He almost felt like he was being accused of something, but what?
“You wanna be cool, huh? Well, don't get hurt in the process. Let's see,” Dr. Kadowaki, dressed in clothes of a professionalism somewhere between doctor and nurse, said while checking a rolodex on the side table. “Your instructor is....Quistis! I'll call her now, just wait here a minute.”
Squall lay patiently in the infirmary bed, and checked his wounds. A trembling pain surged at the back of his head, and the gash along the bridge of his nose would likely scar. As he examined himself he heard the doctor speak in the other room.
“Quistis? Come get your student. Yes, yes. His injury's not serious. It'll probably leave a scar. Right. Now please come by.”
Silent minutes passed when the doctor didn't come back in and the instructor wasn't yet there. Instructor? Instructor Quistis? Why was that so important all of the sudden? A retched little inkling danced around in his mind and dissipated with no resolution. Feeling down his face he found his final injury, a simple one at that, a fat lip, and yet when his fingers crossed it they shook very slightly, as if it were some forbidden thing, some deeper knowledge not for him.
A young woman passed by the infirmary window and spoke to him, but in his stupor over this final scar, he hardly listened.
“Squall.....so we meet again,” she said, and then very quietly, even less than a whisper, she said, “I didn't mean to cause any trouble, I didn't think something like that would happen. Hope your okay?”
The woman walked away as eerily as she'd come and Squall was left once again to himself, though not much aware that he'd been disturbed. His tender fingers were fixated on the bulge in his bottom lip, the split skin, the narrow scab. There was something he wanted to know, but he flushed with worry every time he tried to guess at it. This simple fat lip, this one-day ailment, burned on him like devil's fire.
Quistis entered, shook her head, and directed Squall out of the room. And when she asked if something was on his mind he said no.
But something was, something awful, something terrible, but something he couldn't remember for all the strenuous effort in his body. It eventually came that he tucked the fat lip into his mouth and kept it to himself until the swelling went down. He saved others the horror, saved them from the breaking questions, but for Squall, it was overbearing.
For now, he went in fear.