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Puzzle Pieces

The Parking Garage was packed.

When Ragnarok had landed at Garden most of the SeeDs were present, and acting as a human wall to keep the cadets back. Taciturn, moody, and downright arrogant though Squall could be, he had been their commander and was still the epitome of SeeD to most of Garden. Everyone wanted to know whether he was okay.

When Zell carried his limp body down the ramp, every voice was silenced.

When Rinoa exited next, the SeeDs had to hold fast to each other to keep the human wall in place. Cries and shouts indicated clearly that Garden believed Squall was dead and Rinoa was responsible. Selphie, Georg, and Bella immediately moved out to stand next to her, protectively.

What silenced the room next was the authoritative crack of Quistis' whip. She was standing at the door to the Parking Garage, Xu at her side. She raised her voice so that it would carry to every person crowding the room and hall.

"Squall lives!" she shouted. "And Rinoa probably saved his life. What are you doing away from your classes and studies? Get back to your duties - you can check on him later, if the Doctor will let you!"

Slowly, the cadets backed off, letting Zell carry Squall out, and letting the others follow him. When they had, Quistis and Xu followed, leaving the crowd to disperse on its own. The friends moved quickly to get to the Infirmary before it occurred to the cadets to mob.

"You probably should have waited until they'd gone," Quistis said to Rinoa as they ran. "That entrance has just undone a lot of Irvine's work."

"Where is he?" said Rinoa, refusing to respond to the accusation.

"At the Infirmary," said Xu. "He's making sure there isn't an oversufficiency of 'helping hands' when we arrive."

Rinoa wondered how Squall would feel about all this fuss being over him. Probably he'd hate it, she thought. He hates being the center of attention. She stole a sideways glance at Zell, who had cradled Squall against his chest like a child as he ran. Almost, Rinoa could have wished for a gurney to make things more comfortable...but that might also have been too slow. Faint noises behind her said that the cadets were leaving the Parking Garage...and most were taking any reason they could to follow them. Slowly, perhaps, out of respect for the Headmaster's whip and admonishment, but very definitely moving.

No, speed was of the essence. Once he was safely behind the Infirmary's doors, Doctor Kadowaki commanded respect enough to keep him safe. And there was no telling how long the Sleep spell would last.

* * * * * * *

Irvine had done his job well. The entire Medical Wing was cleared of all but the most senior personnel and those who actually had a provable reason for being there.

Even so, once Squall was taken in, the friends were barred from following. Even Quistis, Selphie and Xu had to stay in the outer hallway.

"So how's about you tell us what the hell's going on?" asked Irvine after a few moments.

"Yes, I'd like to know too," said Quistis. "You went dead on the radio telling us to stay away, and the next thing we know you're telling us he's a priority call for Doctor Kadowaki. He didn't look that hurt."

Selphie filled them in, especially on the damage Squall had done to the Ragnarok.

Xu said, "This water power, I don't like this. I know for a fact that every GF in Garden is accounted for. He didn't have one, and neither did Rinoa. The fact that he could do that at all is very very worrying."

"And he just...stopped? when you touched him, Rinoa?" asked Quistis.

She nodded. "I didn't cast anything on him until Zell asked me to, so he could carry him."

Quistis leaned back on the waiting bench, staring at the ceiling for a few moments. "I think you ought to go in, Rinoa," she said slowly. "Tell Doctor Kadowaki to let you in and I'll be along in a few minutes with my reason why."

"Why just Rinoa?" asked Selphie. "We're his friends too, why can't we go in?"

"Because he attacked you, but not her," said Quistis unhappily. "I'll explain in a few minutes, but I really have to go." She quickly stood up and left the Infirmary. Before Rinoa could stand and ask for permission to enter, though, one of the medics came out. He looked like he'd just been in a fight.

"Rinoa?" the young man said. "I'm Stav, a senior medical cadet. Doctor Kadowaki has asked for you."

The others exchanged glances. The sleep spell had probably worn off. Rinoa looked at them for a moment, then hurried after Stav.

* * * * * * * * * *

Squall was being held down by so many cadets that you could only tell where he was by looking at the general shape the cadets made. They were trying desperately to tie him to the bed. Doctor Kadowaki saw Rinoa and called, "Whatever you did to him before, we really need you to do it again! He's not responding to sleep magic or tranquilizers and these are medics, not fighters!"

But I didn't do anything, thought Rinoa. Still, there was only one thing to try. She moved to the head of the bed and stared into Squall's face, his features contorted in rage as he tried to get free. Slowly she reached out and put her hand against his cheek as his head thrashed from side to side.

The effect was as dramatic as before - so much so that the medics, suddenly straining against no resistance, only barely managed to avoid injuring themselves. Squall's eyes closed again and he lay completely still, as though he had been a machine that were suddenly switched off.

But...I didn't do anything...I swear I didn't do anything...

"Well, thank goodness that worked," said Doctor Kadowaki. She indicated that the medics should finish tying Squall down. "No telling how long it'll last," she said, "and we can't keep Rinoa in here all the time."

"I'd stay," said Rinoa automatically.

"I know you would, my dear," said Kadowaki with a gentle smile, "but it's no good you neglecting your health for his, now is it? Any idea what you did?"

The medics finished their job and filed out, casting looks back at Squall, now tied very firmly to the gurney.

"Nothing," protested Rinoa. "I don't know why this happens any more than you do. What's wrong with him?"

"Well, something's been done that's certain," the doctor replied. "He's been in here before, once with a fever that made him violent. Didn't take half as many cadets to tie him down then as it did this time, and he was still winning. That's why I had to call you in here. It's possible he was drugged somehow. You just hold him still and I'll get a blood sample."

Rinoa couldn't watch as Kadowaki took samples of Squall's blood. She just watched his face, stroking his cheek gently with one hand. Even in sleep his features were more expressive than they were now. Now his face was as expressionless, as emotionless, as if he were a marble carving. At least when he was moving his face betrayed emotion.

Kadowaki finished filling her syringe and handed it to a medical cadet for analysis. She then busied herself with potions and elixirs on Squall's hand. "Did you see what he did to do this?" she asked.

"Yes," said Rinoa. "He punched a rock. He was aiming for Zell."

"Zell?" the doctor frowned. "He's almost powdered the bones in his hand," she said. "He used to get into scuffles with Zell when they were roommates, but he'd never have hit him this hard, even if he could."

"He cracked the rock he hit," said Rinoa. "And he was definitely aiming for Zell. They were roommates?"

The doctor raised an eyebrow, but continued her work on Squall's hand. "Yes," she said, "Though I shouldn't be surprised neither of them thought to mention that to you. Cadets always have roommates. Zell was Squall's. By their choice, or so I heard. I tend to be Garden's counselor as well as chief medic. I'd say Zell's probably Squall's best friend."

Rinoa smiled at the thought. Well, that explained why Zell had been so sympathetic. It seemed Squall got along better with complete opposites than with those most like himself, though she suspected most of the work of that friendship was on Zell's part. She used her toe to hook a handy chair and pull it over, sitting down at the head of the gurney and gently wrapping her arms around Squall's neck. If her touch was all that would calm him, she had no problem with hugging him.

Stav entered the room, looking upset. "Doctor Kadowaki?" he asked. "These results...would you look at this please?"

Doctor Kadowaki sighed and gently set Squall's hand down. "Don't let him move," she admonished Rinoa. "It'll take a lot of work to finish setting the bones before I can use magic or potions to heal the damage. I'll be back in a few minutes." She got up and left the room. Rinoa was alone with Squall.

Somehow, this was not how she'd pictured the first time being alone with Squall in a Garden room with a bed. But then, Squall had never fit the usual images of anything. It was not right, for him to lie so still while she could still walk and talk. Someone was owed a letter of complaint for causing this. She wanted to shake him, or yell, or cry...anything to wake him up into the person he had been on the Horizon Bridge, six days and forever ago.

* * * * * * * * *

Quistis searched frantically through her office until she found it. It had entirely slipped her mind during the search for Squall, but now a chance passage half-remembered was driving her mad with possibility. Squall hadn't attacked Rinoa - had calmed when she touched him, Squall who hated anybody touching him and wasn't anywhere near his usual self right now.

There it was, it had slipped down the back of the heavy office chair and gotten wedged between it and the wall. With no one to see, Quistis made an undignified stretch and retrieved it, checking to make sure her place hadn't been lost. The one copy Garden had of 'The Sorceress' Knight' was safe. She blew out a long breath of relief.

Now it was just a matter of finding that passage that she couldn't remember all of....

* * * * * * *

Someone knocked gently on the door of Squall's infirmary room. Rinoa looked up and realized she was the only person who could answer, so she said, "Come in."

It was Zell, though he was flanked by the rest of the orphanage group except for Quistis. All of them looked worried and sad, filing in as quietly as they could -- as though Squall were merely asleep.

Rinoa didn't think he was. He hadn't budged an inch since she had touched him. Only the slow rise and fall of his chest proved he was even alive.

"Have they told you anything?" Zell said quietly. "We were hoping maybe they'd tell you something they wouldn't tell us?"

Rinoa shook her head wearily. "No," she said just as softly. "Doctor Kadowaki said he might have been drugged - probably - and took some blood for tests. She hasn't come back yet."

Selphie said, "I'm not too good on biology but I'm great at chemistry. I'll go see if I can find out anything." She reached out for a moment as though to give Squall a pat, but pulled her hand back and left.

Irvine said, "Rinoa, I know you don't wanna hear this right now, but half of Garden thinks this is your doing. Could you...stay here for a while? Not go back to your room?" He pulled over a chair and sat down, head hung low so that only his lips were visible under his hat as he spoke. "I've been tryin' like crazy to squash these rumors, but somebody keeps 'em going. Somebody in Garden wants you dead, Rinoa. If you gotta leave the Infirmary, let one of us know, all right?"

He was right. She didn't want to hear this right now. But she couldn't yell at Irvine. He might sound like the biggest male slut in Garden, but he never lied if he had any option. It was a big liability for a potential gigolo. She just closed her eyes briefly and nodded. "All right," she said. "I was planning on staying here, anyway. Doctor Kadowaki said neither magic nor tranquilizers were helping."

"But your spell worked just fine," said Zell. "He was out for hours."

Irvine looked up. "You cast a spell on him?" he asked. "Isn't he wearing that ring that bites when you cast magic on it?"

Rinoa frowned. "He should be," she said, and moved from her seat at the head of the bed to Squall's left hand, gloved as it always was. Gently she pulled the glove off. Griever was there, shining platinum snug around his finger. "Should I test it?" she asked. "Can't be a safer place to try than here, I suppose."

"We'll catch ya if it bites again," said Irvine, but he didn't look too thrilled at the idea.

Since it would let her stretch a bit, Rinoa concentrated and cast Sleep on Squall again.

On his finger, Griever flashed briefly but did not lash out.

"Well, I'll be damned," said Irvine wonderingly. "I wonder if he knew it did that. I always wondered why anyone would wear a ring under gloves."

"Don't think so," said Zell. "He had to wear it on a chain around his neck until he was fifteen and his finger fit the band. If he knew it did fancy tricks he probably would have had it in a pouch or something."

Rinoa reached out and touched the band, the leonine carving familiar under her fingers after six months of wearing it around her neck. It felt warmer than his skin, but not by much. "I guess you were right," she said softly. "It won't hurt you."

Zell was looking at Squall's hand and frowning. Rinoa watched, puzzled, as he picked Squall's hand up and examined it closely, then pushed up the sleeve of his jacket. She was just about to ask what he thought he was doing when she saw it. It had been hidden by the sleeves, but Squall's wrists bore chafe marks and scabs that could only come from chains.

"Come on, help me get him untied," he said quickly. "We gotta get his jacket off." Rinoa and Irvine were suddenly afraid of whatever Zell suspected, and afraid to ask him. As quickly as they could, they undid the ropes that bound Squall to the bed.

"Squall uses nail clippers," Zell commented as he held Squall up so that Rinoa could remove his jacket. "We got into a big fight about it once when we were roommates, damn nail clipping almost caught me in the eye when I was tryin'a study. But look at his hands. Somebody's been bitin' 'em, and I'm betting with those marks on his wrists it wasn't Squall lookin' for a pair of clippers."

The jacket was off Squall's shoulders, not completely removed because Rinoa didn't dare disturb Doctor Kadowaki's bone setting on the injured hand. But it was enough. Between the edges of his short-sleeved white shirt and the jacket, Squall's skin was a mass of bruises. When her eyes refused to register what she was seeing, Rinoa looked away...and noticed something else.

"His shirt's on inside out," she said in a voice filled with dread. "Go get Doctor Kadowaki...and if she doesn't come right away tell her I am going to fry her."

* * * * * *

When Selphie found the Doctor, she was in the middle of half a dozen panicky medical cadets. "Oh thank goodness you showed up," said Kadowaki, sounding hassled. "We can use a good chemist in here, this stuff's completely unidentifiable."

"Er, what is?" asked Selphie.

"Whatever the people who took Squall pumped into his bloodstream. There's traces of more than a dozen substances in his blood, and a lot more than a trace of another one."

"Something that hurts?" Selphie asked. "A drug?"

"You're the chemist," said Kadowaki. "I have no idea what this stuff is and I can use all the help I can get."

Afraid to find out what it was, but immensely relieved to be able to help, Selphie elbowed one of the medics aside and set to work. She didn't even turn her head when Zell rushed in and practically dragged Doctor Kadowaki out of the room.

The Doctor was right. The substance traces were entirely new. But Selphie loved a challenge, and whoever had created it had given her incredible incentive to unlock its secrets by giving it to Squall.

* * * * * * * *

"I hope you haven't disturbed the bone setting when you decided to move him around like some sort of doll," Kadowaki said harshly.

"But look at his arms," said Irvine.

"First things first," she said briskly, setting to work. "Unless you want to be the one telling him he can't use a gunblade any longer."

At that, everyone backed off. They were afraid of what might have happened and wanted to know, but none of them wanted to present Squall with news like that....should he wake up.

The work was agonizingly slow, as Kadowaki gently pushed bones back into position and used small amounts of Elixir to fix them in place. To use the whole potion on such an injury would leave the hand crippled. After an indeterminate while that felt like forever, she set the hand down and said, "All right. Assuming he doesn't punch anything else until it's healed, he should be fine. Now tell me what's going on, and why you're moving my patient around like a rag doll."

Both Zell and Rinoa flinched at the image, but Irvine pushed up the sleeve of Squall's jacket again, revealing the marks and half-healed cuts, letting the evidence speak for itself.

He was not prepared to hear Kadowaki say, "You boys get out," in a tone of command. "You boys get out right now. Rinoa can fill you in later if she wants to." But the Chief Medic could overrule even the masters of Garden in medical matters, so they flashed Rinoa looks that said they wanted details later and unhappily filed out.

"Why - " began Rinoa, but the doctor hushed her.

"Because I've known Squall since he came to Garden," said the doctor, "Just like I know every cadet and SeeD in the place. And I know we're going to get him back on his feet somehow, and I also know how he'd feel to know anyone could just yank his clothes off, even his friends, even for what they think are very good reasons. I told you I'm Garden's counselor as well as chief medic - if I know he won't approve of something, it doesn't get done."

Rinoa nodded unhappily, realizing she had been behaving as though Squall were some sort of inanimate object. Which in a sense, right now, he was - but who was to say that he did not know what was going on and was only unable to respond? Suddenly she felt ashamed; she knew that if Squall could hear her right now, he would not be happy with her.

"Now - I know I've been busy with other things, but we really do need to find out if he's suffering from anything worse than a broken hand and whatever they pumped him full of." Doctor Kadowaki laid a reassuring hand on Rinoa's shoulder. "I've treated ex-prisoners before, when a mission went sour. I don't know what we'll find, if anything, but we need you to be strong. Okay?"

Again, Rinoa nodded. This time she tried to look determined, strong...the perfect SeeD. At least it was enough to win a small smile from Kadowaki, and a brief pat on the shoulder before she removed her hand.

Gently but quickly they pulled off Squall's jacket, setting it beside his gloves on a small table. "See his shirt?" said Rinoa quietly, as if she might wake Squall up. The doctor nodded slowly.

"Captors do that sometimes, just to assert their authority. On the other hand, his shirt looks about the same either way, with the jacket on." She tried to sound reassuring, but she knew bruise types. The last time she'd seen bruise shapes like the ones she was seeing, it had been on a female cadet in an abusive relationship. She glanced over at Rinoa, who held him upright as best she could while the Doctor pulled off Squall's shirt.

No, there could be no question now. There was no part of Squall's body below the neck that was not covered in purpling or fading bruises. Rinoa stepped back involuntarily, then instinctively reached out her hand. The Doctor grabbed her hand before she could touch him.

"No," she said. "No magic, not yet. We need to know what was done before we try to cure it. When I'm through, you can knock yourself out healing him and I won't mind a bit. But right now those bruises are the only part of him that's talking and we need to know what's been done to make him this way." Reluctantly Rinoa nodded in agreement, but she was fighting to keep herself from healing the hurts she was seeing.

Doctor Kadowaki's face relaxed into an impersonal mask as she conducted her examination of Squall, making little notes on a clipboard. "Well, I know one thing - they certainly didn't feed him. If it weren't for the bruises the first thing you'd see is his ribs. Rinoa, will you get some cadets to get an IV going? It's been days since he's had anything to eat by the look of him, and that won't help matters any."

Rinoa nodded and quickly left, grateful that she didn't have to watch if she couldn't help. However, it took her some time to locate some cadets that could be pulled from everything else going on in the Infirmary, and a little more time to get the required materials for an IV. When she returned with everything in tow, she found the door locked. She was a little surprised by this but opted to knock.

A few minutes later, Doctor Kadowaki opened the door and waved them in. Squall was now under the covers of a proper medical bed. Rinoa glanced to the corner; all of his clothes were piled there, even his pendant, though Griever still nestled on his finger. She turned to the Doctor questioningly.

"I think you'd better come to my office, Rinoa," said Kadowaki with a troubled look. "I think I have an idea what's wrong." She turned to the cadets. "I'll be back in a few moments - but when you're done, lock the door. I want no visitors to this room at all. And make sure he's tied down, will you?"

Rinoa followed the Doctor out of the room and past the curious stares of her friends, suspecting yet dreading the words that were to come.

Chapter 14

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