Forever Part 2
"Out of the way!" I yelled, bracing Quistis's limp body against my own. I ran down the hall towards the infirmary, pushing startled cadets out of the way. "Dr. Kadowaki!!!" I bellowed as I stepped inside the infirmary.
She stood up from her desk where she had been working on reports. "Irvine, I'm here! You don't need to ye-" She gasped when she saw Quistis. I laid her tenderly on one of the beds and looked up at the doctor.
"Can you help her?" I asked desparately, leaning over my friend.
"I-I'm not sure," she stammered. "Well, move out of the way! How can I help her if you're hovering over her! I can't even get close to her!" Her face softened as I backed away. "Don't worry...she's in good hands. If anything can be done for her, believe me, it will. As for you, you look like you could use some medical care yourself."
Zell ran in at that instant. "How is she? Is she ok?" he asked as he leaned over, trying to catch his breath.
"My goodness! You too!" Dr. Kadowaki looked at the two of us, clicking her tongue. "While I'm working with Quistis, I want you two to clean up." She pointed to the cabinet, "And in there are plenty of supplies to dress your wounds. I know you've been trained for all that. If you need any assistance, let me know. If not, you can check back on Quistis in..." she looked down at her watch, "Let's say two hours. That will give us all time to do what we need to."
"Thank you," Zell and I answered politely. He walked to the cabinet to gather some bandages.
"Don't worry. She'll be fine," Dr. Kadowaki whispered assuringly. I simply nodded and walked out with Zell.
After showering and dressing our wounds, we received word that Cid wished to see us.
We walked up to his door and Zell raised his hand to knock, but before he had a chance, we heard him call out, "Come in, guys!"
"How DOES he do that?" Zell exclaimed. I just shrugged, looking around once more to see if I could spot any hidden cameras. Nope.
"Sit down, boys," Cid stood up at his desk, setting down the folder he had been making notes in. He held up a hand. "I want to know the status of your mission. What did you see there? What'd you find out?"
I looked over at Zell and he raised an eyebrow. We began to tell Cid about the abandoned ship from Esthar and how there was nothing unusual about it. We then told him about entering the Deep Sea Research Facility and about the trap that was laid.
"A bomb? So we're not dealing with a supernatural enemy, then?"
"I don't know," I answered. "It's hard to say. In fact, we found a note that would suggest more than one enemy...an army, maybe." I took the crumpled piece of paper and handed it to him.
"Oh no, I don't think so." Cid shook his head as he examined the note. "If the Galbadians were up to something, we'd know."
"Why do you assume Galbadians?" Zell asked, puzzled.
"Because, who else would it be? The Esthar government? Not hardly...If anyone was up to anything, it'd either be the Galbadians or someone else..."
I snorted. "Oh THAT narrows it down!" I said sarcastically and I suppose, a little disrespectfully.
"Kinneas..." Cid said in a warning tone as he narrowed his eyes. "We need more clues. If you don't think you can handle something like this, I can always reassign it to someone."
"Oh no! I'm sorry, sir," I said humbly as he put me in my place.
"Good, because we just received word of another incident." He handed a small stack of documents to Zell. "There's been a strange explosion near the Shumi Village. We don't yet know if it's related to the happenings at the Deep Sea Facility or not. You two will investigate it. And I'll find someone to fill Quistis's place since she obviously won't be going anywhere for a while."
"Yes sir," Zell and I answered in unison.
"OK, you can go now. You won't leave until tomorrow morning. That'll allow time for routine maintenance and refueling of the Ragnarok."
We left Cid's office. I was feeling a little uneasy for some reason. I wasn't sure if it had to do with the mission or with the state Quistis was in. I wasn't sure if it had to do with the nagging little thoughts in the back of my head that concerned her. I told Zell I'd catch up with him later and I made my way down to the infirmary. It hadn't been two hours yet, but I figured I could sweet-talk Dr. Kadowaki into letting me see her anyway.
I opened the door and immediately looked over at Quistis's bed. "She's alright," Dr. Kadowaki said as she watched me approach Quistis, who was sleeping. "Don't wake her. She's going to be fine. She was just knocked around a bit."
Quistis stirred and I gazed at her expectantly, overjoyed that she was ok. I looked around and spotted a little pink carnation in a tiny vase on Dr. Kadowaki's desk. Picking it up, I put on my most charming face. "You don't mind, right?"
She sighed, "I guess not...just don't bother her! I'm going to step out for a few minutes. Push this button if you need me," she pointed to the emergency switch near the bed and walked out.
Quistis moaned and her eyes fluttered open. I held the little pink carnation out to her, "Good morning, sleeping beauty," I teased, handing her the flower.
"Irvine?" she tried to prop herself up. "I feel like I was run over by Doomtrain. About 50 times!"
"Just relax," I coaxed.
"Is Zell ok?"
"He's fine. We've just been worried about you. I've been worried about you," I emphasized.
"You have?" she smiled.
"I have," I confirmed softly. I sat down by the bed. "I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't made it. I just don't want to even think about it."
"We're in a dangerous career. Sometimes things happen," she pointed out.
"I don't care. Nothing will ever happen to you if I have my way. I'll defend you til the day I die!" I proclaimed valiently, causing her to giggle.
"Silly..." she laughed.
"No...truthful," I corrected. We looked at each other in silence. Nothing really needed to be said just then. I leaned over and kissed her forehead. "You get some rest now, you hear! If Dr. Kadowaki comes back in here and sees you sitting up like that, she'll have my hide!"
"Thank you," she whispered, settling herself back down. She had a certain softness about her and I lingered in the doorway just taking her all in before winking at her and walking out. As I walked down that hallway, I realized something had changed in me. This girl who had always just been a friend...who had always just been 'there'...she was something more now. I didn't know if it took almost losing her or what. All I knew was that I felt differently. I arrived at my dorm room, my head full of Quistis. As I opened the door, someone tackled me from the inside.
I looked up at the intruder, astonished. "Selphie?"
"S...Sephie, is that you?" I whispered, almost unable to believe my own eyes. She had rushed into my arms and buried her face in my chest.
She looked up at me, her eyes sparkling and she answered softly, "Of course it's me!"
"W...what are you doing here? I mean...I thought..."
She laughed. "Well, I just missed you guys too much. I realized that Trabia Garden wasn't my place. I wasn't meant to be there, so I requistioned Cid for a transfer back to Balamb and he approved it!"
"So you're back here for good?"
"Well, I doubt I'll be here forever, but for now, yeah..."
I stared down at her, my mouth opening, but nothing coming out. I truly didn't know what to say at that moment. She giggled at me. "What's this? Irvine Kinneas at a loss for words?"
I shook my head and joked, "Nah...I'm just trying out my Squall act. You know, uh...whatever!" This seemed to break any tension there was before and we both laughed. Ah, so many things were running through my head. I couldn't believe it! My Sefie was back. She was back!
Her face suddenly grew serious and she asked, "Remember when I told you I thought Wesley was the one?"
How could I ever forget that night? "Yeah," I nodded.
"Well...I realize now he's not. You see, we had spent a lot of time together at Trabia and then I got transferred and we lost touch. Then, to find him again...we spent several amazing days together and I thought I was falling for him. But I realize now, maybe I was only falling in love with the idea of being in love with him. Know what I mean?"
"Umm...." I really wasn't sure what she was trying to say, though I did get the part about not loving Wesley.
"Well, it's more like something out of a storybook, you know? Two people are really close to each other and then something happens and they happen to part, never expecting to see each other again. But then somehow, they do! And that's what happened with me and Wes. But I think just the sheer romanticism of the idea was what did it. But once we got to Trabia and reality set in, I realized that he was just a friend. Nothing more. I wanted to love him, but I just didn't. Does that make sense?"
She continued, "But that's how it was with us, wasn't it? We were close as children and separated for so long, only to meet up again. It's like it was fate! Do you believe in fate, Irvy?"
"I...I'm not sure."
"I do," she sighed. She blushed a pretty shade of rose. "Did you miss me at all?"
I laughed, "Of course I did!" I pulled her closer to me and just held her, relishing her completely. She was the first girl I had ever really given my heart to. I know there was a problem with the communication of all that, but if I was understanding her correctly, then I knew that it wasn't over between us. Not at all. So I just held her and closed my eyes, conjuring up every image I had of her in my mind. I saw her first as the spunky child with the cowlick who was my favorite playmate, and then as the beautiful young woman she had become. I saw her perky smile, her green eyes, her long blonde hair...
Wait a minute. Selphie didn't have long, blonde hair.
I drew back, my eyes quickly opening. I gasped a little with the realization, causing Selphie to look at me, concerned. "Irvy, is everything ok?"
"It's fine, Seph. Everything's fine," I lied.
She had asked me if I believed in fate. Well, if fate did exist, it was cruel and I was now totally confused...
* * *
The next day, as originally planned, Zell and I boarded the Ragnarok, ready to head to the Shumi village to investigate that explosion. At this point, I was glad Quistis was injured. Wait, that came out all wrong. I wasn't glad she was injured...just glad she wasn't going with us. But knowing my luck, Cid would assign Selphie to come with us. I stared at the door, waiting to see who would come through and was relieved when I saw the pikapipikapipikapipikapi head of Nida come bobbing through the door.
"Hey guys!" he waved excitedly. "Looks like it's just you and me!"
"Yeah. 'Sup, Nida?" Zell jerked his head at him.
"Oh, I'm just excited about the mission! Who knows what can happen!"
"Most likely, we'll just be looking at the dirt, searching for clues. The chances of anything happening are slim," I replied. I could tell my comment disappointed him a little, so I added, "But you never know..."
So, we took off and headed out to investigate. I knew I should have gone to check on Quistis one more time, but I just couldn't. The funny thing is, I had been so happy to see Selphie back, but at the same time, I dreaded seeing her. You know, any other girls, and I wouldn't have been affected this way. But the fact that I realized I had feelings for two of the best girls in the world, was just the worst because it seemed like both of them might feel the same way and I didn't want to hurt either of them. What should I do?
What should I do?
"Wanna talk about it?" I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up to find Nida looking down at me, his eyes big.
"What?" What the heck was he doing there?
"Well, sometimes it helps if you just get whatever it is, out. So just talk it through. Whatever's bothering you..."
"What??? Nida, I'm not some girl that's gonna talk about 'feelings.' Come on! If I have something bothering me, which I don't by the way, I'll deal with it," I exclaimed.
"Oh, that's not healthy! Come on, just let it out. I'm here to listen!" he insisted.
"Yo, Nida...go fly the ship," Zell called from the chair where he was sitting, reading the latest issue of Combat King.
"It's on auto-pilot."
Zell stood up, tossing the magazine into the chair next to him. He sauntered over to the control panel and flipped a switch. The Ragnarok jerked and started to lose altitude. "Now it's not."
"ZELL! What are you doing??? Gosh, you could get us all killed!" Nida jumped up and ran to the control panel.
"Works every time," Zell whispered to me. His voice returned to normal. "Hey, it's cool Selphie's back, huh?"
"Yeah...real cool," I replied.
"And Quistis is doing better. That's cool too..."
"Yep," I agreed, leaning back in my chair, pulling my hat down to cover my head. I liked Zell, but I didn't really want to talk about Quistis or Selphie. All I wanted to think about, was the Shumi Village.
The Ragnarok circled above the Shumi Village.
"Bring her down gently, Nida," I instructed him.
Nida glared at me, a look of annoyance crossing his face. "OK...like I don't realize that! Like I didn't pilot an entire Garden for several months!"
"Right..." Zell responded sarcastically. "So I guess you DO know the importance of the word, 'gently.'"
"Guys, come on! Enough is enough!" I reprimanded them. I couldn't help it. This whole mess with Selphie and Quistis had left me in a mood. "Just bring the dang ship down!"
"Bringing her down now!" Nida replied and with the skill of a master, he maneuvered the Ragnarok until it brushed the ground. I had to admit, this was really where his talent was. As hard of a time as we gave him sometimes, he was still a SeeD and he worked so hard to try to gain the respect of others.
"How's that for gentle?" he looked at Zell with a smug expression on his face.
Zell nodded with approval. "I'm impressed!" Nida beamed at the complement.
We stepped off the ship and walked to the entrance of the Shumi Village and descended downward under the ground into the heart of it. "OK, we should go find Elder. He'll most likely be the one to give us the low-down on the explosion." We were walking towards his house when one of the Shumi walked up to us, smiling grandly.
"Sculptor remembers you!" He exclaimed. "Welcome back! Let Sculptor guess...you're here to speak with Elder?"
"You got it," I replied. "We're just here trying to follow up on the--"
"Say no more," he held up his hands. "Sculptor already knows why you're here. It was the explosion. Elder doesn't know much about it. He's not the one who witnessed it."
"Then who?" Zell asked.
"Scout, of course. He was up overland..." Sculptor pointed and glanced upwards, "...when he saw the flash and heard the roar."
"Where exactly?" Nida asked.
"To the south, he said, but not far," the Shumi informed us. "No one knows anything else. The tribe keeps to itself for a reason you know." He shook his head. "Sculptor must go. Pay your respects to Elder before you leave." He suggested, bowing slightly and hurrying off.
"Should we find Scout and talk to him ourselves?" Nida asked.
I shook my head. "There's really no need. Sculptor told us pretty much all they know. But he's right. We need to say hi to Elder. More than likely, he already knows we're here." So we continued on towards Elder's house, visiting with him for a few minutes. Like Sculptor had said, Elder didn't know anything more about the explosion. He only knew what Scout had told him. But he wished us good fortune and reminded us that we could stay the night in the Shumi Inn if we pleased. Thanking our gracious host, we took our leave.
We found Sculptor and said goodbye to him. We headed in the direction he had indicated. I was shocked by what I saw. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the utter desolation that was before me shook me. The ground was scorched. The snow around the area was dusted with ash. It seemed that any form of life was very far away. I heard Zell whistle softly and saw Nida take out a transmitter. His voice was low as he began to record and relay the images back to Balamb in realtime. "It's 3:22 pm. The wind is coming from the North. As you can see, we're looking at the blast site. Not much to see except dust, ash, and snow..."
"Hey Irvine, come check this out!" Zell called, so I ran over to where he was leaning over. He pointed down at a shiny, oval shaped, black stone. It looked like it was made of obsidian or something and was half buried in the ash. "What do you think it is?" he asked.
I frowned because I knew I had seen a picture of one of these things before. I couldn't remember if I had read it in a book or seen it on the television or something. "I'm not sure..." I said.
"I'm going to make sure Nida gets a shot of this thing. Someone back at the Garden is bound to know what it is." He stood back up and jogged towards Nida. I took a deep breath and began to walk around the blast site, searching for some clue. What was going on here? Was the explosion related to the Deep Sea Research incident somehow? I noticed a small scrap of navy cloth so I leaned down to pick it up. Turning it over in my hands, I recognized the seal of Esthar embroidered on it. What the....? How could it have survived the explosion when everything else had been burnt to a crisp? Unless that meant that someone had come out here before we did...How was Esthar involved?
With dozens of questions racing through my mind, I stuck the scrap of cloth into my pocket and started walking towards where Zell and Nida were hunched over one of the strange stones. Suddenly, I remembered where I had seen them. My old roommate at Galbadia loved watching the Expedition Channel and there was this one special about experimental weaponry. The stones were made from this special ore which was found on the sea floor. The way the weapon worked was, when touched, it would spray a lethal dose of the poison, Tauron, at the victim.
"NIDA! DON'T TOUCH THAT!" I yelled, running towards them as fast as I could, but it was too late. He glanced up startled, as his hand brushed the stone. It rumbled slightly and gave a pop, spraying a pitch-like substance at Nida. He cried out in pain, dropped the transmittor, and clawed at his face. "Zell, we have to get out of here!" Zell understood my urgency, especially when the deep rumble began. There were tons of stones buried around the area and they were about to erupt. Zell picked Nida up and hoisted him over his shoulder and we ran as fast as we could. Behind us, what seemed like hundreds of stones exploded, spraying the pitch-like poison all around. The foul stench of Tauron filled the air.
Zell laid Nida down when we had reached safe ground. He wasn't screaming anymore. He was wimpering pathetically. We didn't have much time. "Zell, you got antidote junctioned?"
"Of course. I don't go anywhere without it," he replied. "What is that?" He pointed at the black tar covering Nida's face.
"It's called Tauron. It's nasty stuff. It coats the victim's skin and within minutes, he'll be dead. They bury these things and when one of them goes off, it triggers the rest. It has the potential to wipe out whole armies."
"Oh Hyne..." Zell gaped and quickly cast antidote on Nida. "Will this work?"
"I don't know...it's all we have for now." I stood up and cursed. What was going on? It was almost as if a trap had been laid for us. "Let's get back. We need to get Nida to Dr. Kadowaki and I need to talk to Cid."
"Oh Hyne, what happened??" Selphie cried. She had been watching for the Ragnarok's return and had run out to meet us. Zell and I had hoisted Nida up and were running as fast as we could to the infirmary. We were kind of hobbling along, actually. Zell couldn't seem to coordinate his stride with my own. But then again, at the Balamb Garden Festival a few months ago, he and Selphie were the three-legged race champions. But I took one look at his face and knew why. He was pretty flustered, I could tell. Selphie ran alongside us, reaching out her hand to support Nida's head. Casting antidote had seemed to work for a little bit, but he was fading fast.
"It was a trap," I answered darkly. "A TRAP! And I didn't see it for what it was!"
"Irvy, it's not your fault!" she exclaimed, her eyes filling with water.
"You don't know!" I snapped at her. "You weren't there! DR. KADOWAKI!!!" I bellowed as we ran down the hall. Selphie stood back. I could tell that I had hurt her feelings by lashing out at her like that. I don't know why I spoke to her like that. I really can't justify it. I was just feeling pretty stressed. Actually, I was just really feeling like crap.
Dr. Kadowaki appeared at the door of the infirmary and gasped when she saw Nida. "Get him in here, fast!" She cleared the way as we carried him in and laid him down in one of the beds. "What happened?" she asked as she frantically rummaged through the cabinets for some medicine.
I sat down and buried my face in my hands. This couldn't be happening. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that Selphie had inched herself into the doorway.
"We were investigated this field where this explosion had taken place up near the Shumi Village and I found this weird black stone-looking thing," Zell was saying. His voice seemed to trail off and yet I looked up and saw that he was still talking. The room started to spin and everyone began to move in slow motion. I heard a whooshing sound and closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, I was surprised to find myself in my room. But I wasn't alone. I slowly turned my head and saw a beautiful face watching me. Beautiful, but bruised. My mouth was dry and when I opened my mouth, nothing came out. Quistis jumped up from the chair she had been sitting in and rushed to my side. "Shhh...it's ok," she said, picking up a glass of water and holding it to my lips.
"You collapsed," she answered.
"Collapsed?" I shook my head. "Nah, I couldn't have. I wasn't hurt or anything."
"Dr. Kadowaki thinks it was stress related."
"Still, I really don't think I would have collapsed," I insisted.
"Oh yeah? Then how'd you end up in here?" She smiled at me, a sly look in her eyes.
"That's none of your business," I replied.
"Because you have no clue!" she laughed, grabbing one of my pillows and swatting me in the face with it. Or trying to, at least. I grabbed it before she could hit me, and swung it at her, causing her to shriek a little. We were both laughing by this time. It was amazing that only a week or so ago, we were at each other's throats! She grew serious and said my name. Before she could continue, though, there was a knock at the door.
I raised an eyebrow and looked at her questioningly and she nodded so I called out, "Come in!"
The door opened and Selphie stepped inside. As soon as she saw Quistis sitting there, a flush creeped up her cheeks and she began to stammer. "I...uh...I'm sorry...I didn't..."
"Selphie, come on in!" Quistis smiled as she stood. "I was just leaving anyway."
"You were?" Selphie looked unsure.
"Yeah, I was." She nodded and gave me one last smile before straightening up and resuming her proper "Quistisness." With graceful strides, she walked out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
Selphie sat down on the end of the bed. "Are you ok?" she asked.
I didn't answer her. "How's Nida doing?"
"He's going to be fine. Dr. Kadowaki was able to drain the poison before it really hurt him. He may have some scarring, though, on his face."
I closed my eyes and exhaled slowly. Poor Nida. He didn't deserve what had been handed him. His whole life, he had struggled to gain people's respect. How much harder would it be now that he might be somewhat disfigured? As much as I hate to say it, people can be shallow.
"Are you ok?" she asked again. "Talk to me! It seems like since I got back, you haven't really been all that happy to see me. What's going on?"
I sighed. "I don't know, Selphie. I'm being kind of selfish right now."
"What do you mean?"
I shook my head. "I don't even know. I guess...well, Cid handed this mission to me. I guess he thought I'd be good for it, but look what's happened! First Quistis got hurt and now Nida..."
"Do you blame yourself?"
I thought for a few seconds and nodded. "Yeah, I do."
"Did anything like this ever happen when Squall was in charge?"
Selphie blinked. "It's not a competition, Irvine! What's going on now is totally different than what happened then. And yes, stuff happened when Squall was in charge. People died, Irvine. A lot of my friends died. Rinoa was hurt. Seifer...But was any of that Squall's fault? No! It was just a result of the circumstances just like all this has been."
"I'm not ready to command."
"Stop it!" she exclaimed. "Irvine, look at me. Please..." I hadn't realized that I hadn't been looking at her. I raised my eyes slowly to meet hers. "Whatever I've done, tell me," she pleaded.
I hesitated and answered, "You haven't done anything, Sefie."
"Then why did you pause like that?"
"Be honest with me, Irvine. You owe me that much."
I didn't know what to say. I really didn't. I shook my head again. "I don't know what to say."
"Are you mad at me?" she asked, her green eyes wide.
"No! Of course not!" I exclaimed. I really wasn't mad. Just confused. I had always loved Selphie. She had always been everything to me. "You want me to talk about my feelings, don't you?" She nodded and I groaned, melodramatically. This brought a tiny smile to her face at least. "OK, well, that night...remember? Before you left with Wesley? I was going to tell you something. And I wanted it to be special. I didn't want it to be something I just threw around. I didn't want it to simply be something that you wanted to hear. I wanted to make sure and that's why it took me so long. But then..."
"Oh no..." she realized what I was trying to say. "Irvine..."
"No, wait. You wanted me to talk about my feelings...you better let me. I don't want to get in the habit of this! I guess I was kind of hurt when you chose him over me, but I got used to the idea and I was ok with it. I mean, anything to make you happy would make me happy. But then you came back and it just really threw everything off balance! I mean, I had this mission and...I'm so sorry, Selphie. I'm sorry I hurt you!"
"Oh Irvy!" her face grew radiant and she threw herself at my chest. The only problem with that was, I wasn't finished. I hadn't told her everything. I hadn't told her about how scared I had been when I thought Quistis wasn't going to make it. But how could I tell her now while she looked so happy? While she had her face buried in my chest and she was so confident of my love for her?
But wait...I did love her! I did! She had always been that one person...until recently when I realized that there was another that could also be that one person.
* * *
Cid replayed the transmission for me and Zell. He pointed at the video screen with the remote and the screen went blank. Turning to us, he asked, "What do you think?"
I shook my head and Zell mumbled. "It sucks. There was really no point to all that being laid out there. I mean, it was in the middle of nowhere. It's almost like the explosion wasn't really related, but was something that would lure us in."
I remembered the scrap of cloth I had shoved in my jacket pocket. Fumbling around, I reached in and found it was still there. Without a word, I handed it to Cid. He looked up at me with surprise. "What's this?"
"A scrap of cloth with the Esthar emblem embroidered on it," I said.
"Well, I know what it is, but what I meant was, why are you giving it to me?"
"I found it out there," I pointed at the blank video screen.
"Out on the field?"
"Yep. It's kind of funny how Esthar keeps popping up in all this. The research team was from Esthar, and now this scrap of cloth..." I commented.
"You think it's all related then?" Cid sat on the edge of his desk, setting the scrap of cloth down carefully.
"Don't you?" asked Zell.
Cid shook his head. "I don't see how some conspiracy could be going on like this and President Loire not be aware of it."
Zell snickered and muttered, "Boy I wish Squall were in here right now..."
Cid gave him a disapproving look and he straightened up real fast. "Well, I suppose we need to alert President Loire to what we've discovered. He'd want to know if something was going on."
"Unless he's behind it all," I commented.
"What?" Zell laughed. "That's insane. Yeah, I'm so sure! By day, he's shaking hands with everyone and kissing babies on the cheeks, but by night, he's laying out poisonous eggs and launching explosions everywhere."
"Yeah, you're right," I agreed. "It's pretty stupid to think."
"No, I don't think it's stupid at all," Cid disagreed. "I think it's wise to examine every possibility. I don't know whether the Esthar government is involved or whether it's some ploy by someone else to make us think it is, but it's getting more and more serious. You two are doing a good job. I may be arranging a trip to Esthar for you very soon."
"Cid, I really don't think..." I started to say, but he interrupted me, looking down at his watch.
"Tell me later. Right now, I've got to meet someone very important for tea. Dismissed," he said as he shut the files and placed the scrap of cloth in a safebox. He pushed us out of his office, snapped off the lights and hurried down to the elevator. We rode down in silence and stepping out, Cid walked over to where Matron was sitting on a bench. She stood up and embraced him and arm in arm, they strode away.
I felt a tiny hand slip around my arm and looked down to see Selphie gazing up at me. I couldn't help but smile at her as she began to chatter about her day. She made some little comment that made me laugh, but I caught a glimpse of someone out of the corner of my eye and the laughter died away. Quistis was talking to Xu down the hall and she kind of cocked her head a little as she watched Selphie leading me away. She looked at me with a kind of wistful expression for a few seconds and then turned back to Xu, giving her her full attention.
"Irvine, can I talk to you for a minute?"
I turned around and saw Rinoa running towards me. "Sure," I frowned. I wondered what this was all about. I mean, Rinoa and I had always been friends, but I had never exactly gotten close to her. She was one of those friends that you say is your friend, but that you really don't know anything about.
"Oh, don't look so scared!" she laughed, playfully punching my arm. "I just want to talk!"
"I know, but when's the last time we talked?"
She paused and her brow furrowed as she tried to remember. "Good question. Maybe that means we don't talk enough."
"Maybe," I agreed and led her to the corner of the cafeteria, pulling a chair out for her like the gentleman I am.
She giggled and said, "Squall never does that for me!"
"Well Squall needs a talking to now, doesn't he?" I sat down across from her as she tried to make small talk. Finally I interrupted her and said, "Why don't you just spit out whatever it is you wanted to say?"
"Well," she began to squirm. "You know that Selphie and Quistis are my two best friends, right?" I nodded. "Well, you do realize that they're both in love with you, right?"
I nodded miserably.
"So what are you going to do about it? I mean, if you choose Selphie, you're going to hurt Quistis and if you choose Quistis, you're going to hurt Selphie!" She leaned in and pointed a finger in my face. "You better not hurt either of them!"
"So what do I do? Date them both at the same time?" I exclaimed.
Rinoa exclaimed, "NO! They'd never go for that! That'd hurt them too if they knew they weren't the only one in your life!"
I shook my head, "So I shouldn't date either of them."
Rinoa shook her head. "No no no! You drop them both and you break both of their hearts!"
I sat back, "So let me get this straight. If I choose Selphie, I'm hurting Quistis. If I choose Quistis, I'm hurting Selphie. If I date both of them, I hurt them both because I'm not being exclusive."
"AND you put a strain on their friendship," Rinoa added.
"And I'm putting a strain on their friendship," I repeated. "But at the same time, if I drop them both, I break both of their hearts."
"Yeah, and that's not cool. And don't even THINK about keeping on stringing them along like you have been! You'll figure something out. She stood up and took a deep breath. "Well, I feel better since we talked. Thanks, Irvy." With a flip of her hair, she waved at me and left the cafeteria, leaving me feeling even more confused than I was. Well, she helped me see one thing, at least...
There really was no solution.
* * *
We were sitting in the lobby outside of Laguna...I mean, President Loire's office. Cid had gone ahead and set up an appointment with him. I was hoping he'd meet with President Loire himself, but he told me, Quistis, and Zell to go since it was our mission. I had tried to tell Quistis that I wasn't cut out for this whole "leading the mission" thing, but she argued with me. I tried to explain how I get nervous under pressure, but she told me that that was just an excuse - merely a crutch that I had been leaning on for far too long. Finally, I gave in to her. Believe me, you don't want to argue with Quistis because you won't win!
Anyway, we were sitting in the lobby, waiting. I stood up and began to pace. Laguna's assistant looked up at me and smiled. I could see laughter in her eyes hidden behind the thick glasses. Her nametag said 'Daima.' What an unusual name, I thought. I'd have to remember that one...
"We have some magazines you can read if you like," she offered.
"Nah, it's ok." I waved my hand. At that moment the door opened and Laguna stepped out.
"Daima--" he started to say, but noticed we were waiting there. Quistis and Zell jumped to their feet.
He looked up and wrinkled his brow and then shook his head, laughing. "Never mind. I forgot what I was going to say." He turned to face us. "Come on in!" He pulled an extra chair out of the corner and sat down behind his desk. "What's going on? Cid wouldn't give me any details. He just told me that it involved Esthar and that it wasn't good."
"Sir, we believe that there's someone in your government who is working against you," Quistis said, handing the file over the desk to him. He opened it and began to scan, his face growing more and more horrified.
"Poor Nida," he whispered as he looked down at the photograph of the young man. "His face..."
"It's badly scarred," Quistis nodded sadly.
Laguna flipped another page and came to the photographs of the Esthar emblem that we had found. "You're positive Esthar's involved?" he asked. "I mean, wouldn't you say it's also feasible that Esthar's being framed."
"Yeah. Could be, but by who?" Zell leaned forward. "It just doesn't make any sense."
"What do you think, Irvine?" Laguna set the file down.
I shook my head. "I really don't know. I think someone's got an agenda, but I don't know what that would be. I mean, the disappearance of the research team in the Deep Sea Facility could be because of the ore needed for the Tauron mines. Maybe they saw something they weren't meant to see and so they were taken away."
Quistis shook her head, "But why lay a field with those Tauron mines up near the Shumi Village? I mean, what's the point? It's so isolated up there."
Daima burst through the door. Laguna frowned, "Daima, I'm in a meeting."
"I know sir, but..." she looked frightened. "We have an incoming transmission on Screen 6. I figured you would have turned your monitors off. It's a disaster!"
Laguna nodded and turned the knob and immediately, the sound of a staticky voice filled the air. "Sir! We don't know what happened. Three of our missiles have been fired and they're headed straight for Deling City."
"WHAT??" Laguna exploded. He frantically pressed a few buttons and said, "Get some tracers out there immediately! We have to intercept!"
"Who would have access to the missile codes?" Zell demanded.
Laguna ran his hand through his hair and shouted, "There's several of us! I was going to get rid of the missiles entirely. We've only kept them in case of an emergency but I thought we had deactivated them!"
"Apparently someone reactivated them," Daima muttered softly. Her face was pale and her eyes wide.
I felt so helpless at that moment. We could only sit and wait. Even if we tried, we'd never get to the Ragnarok in time to lift off and intercept.
"Relations with Galbadia are already tense," Laguna said. He was getting more and more tense. "If those missiles hit, they're going to see it as an aggressive action and--"
"Sir?" the voice over the monitor said.
"YES!" We all held our breath in anticipation.
"Sir, we failed. We were able to intercept one of the missiles, but the other two hit near the center of the city."
Laguna closed his eyes and grimaced. No doubt he wasn't only thinking of the repercussions, but of all the innocent lives lost. After a few seconds of silence as the gravity of it all sunk in, he said, "You did all you could."
He reached over and turned the knob. Quistis, Zell, Daima, and I stood there, waiting for him to say something. He opened his mouth, but was interrupted by the sound of the phone buzzing from the hallway. Daima excused herself and ran to answer it. She walked back into the room and in a tiny voice, said, "President Loire, the Minister of Galbadia is on the phone."
Laguna nodded and answered. He sat in stunned silence as the man on the other continent spoke. "Wait!" he exclaimed. "We need to meet. We need to speak. You have to understand that--" He stopped and dropped the receiver.
"What happened?" Quistis asked.
"He wouldn't listen. We're now officially at war with Galbadia."