"That should do it," said Selphie, putting a cap on the vial she was holding.
The whole group was on hand for this. After analyzing the notes taken
from Alicia's complex, and the differences between the four people affected,
Fujin and Selphie had been surprisingly quick in formulating a counteragent.
"Who wants to go first?" she said cheerily, holding up a syringe.
Seifer and Squall shared a look, then Seifer said, "I will. So you chickens
know it's all okay."
Rinoa glanced curiously over at Squall, and read his reason in his eyes.
Raijin and Fujin need Seifer. The bond between them was growing
clearer all the time, it seemed.
"There's no telling if this is gonna hurt," warned Selphie. "Odine doesn't
make notations like that. So be ready to hang onto something, okay?"
"Just do it," snarled Seifer.
Selphie nodded and emptied the syringe into Seifer's shoulder. He took
a deep breath to steady himself, then casually sat down on the bed, gripping
the sheets in one white-knuckled hand. "You can...note that it hurts, Selphie,"
he gritted, but refused to cry out or give in. He was the leader; leaders
didn't do that. Especially not when their troops are anxiously watching
their every move, as Fujin and Raijin were doing. After a few minutes of
the terse silence, Seifer took a deep breath and relaxed. "It's okay guys,"
he said. "It won't kill you."
Selphie nodded. "Ordinarily I'd wait until we know for sure it works,
but Fujin's double checked my figures and I don't think we can risk waiting.
It turned out to be Raijin, who did his best to bear it the way Seifer
had, but ended up fainting - much to Irvine's private amusement. He muttered
something about a bet with Zell on the matter. Fujin simply laid down on
the bed when her turn came.
Squall removed his jacket and gloves so that Selphie could reach his
shoulder, but knew before the injection that it was probably too late for
him. There was a faint bluish tint to his skin now, and as far as he was
concerned the temperature in the room was freezing. But he took his medicine
along with the others, and quickly replaced his jacket and gloves.
The injection felt like liquid heat, which given his current views on
the temperature felt wonderful. He wondered why it didn't hurt him the
way it had the others.
They noticed it too. "You did give him the same thing as the
rest of us, right?" warned Seifer.
But Fujin stopped any argument by saying, "SAME."
Selphie looked concerned, but Squall noted she didn't seem surprised.
"They weren't given as much as you were, comparatively speaking," she said,
"and they hadn't had it as long. When I did the tests, they were just beginning
to bond with the material. The counteragent prevented the material reaching
a high enough bonding percentage to achieve permanency. I was hoping it
would undo some of the mergence you've had, Squall...but if it didn't hurt
at all then it probably didn't do anything but slow it down. I'll take
a sample in about half an hour to be sure, if you don't mind."
"You mean, he's still got that water-punch?" asked Raijin.
Seifer drawled, "It's gonna kill him, Raij, I wouldn't bother getting
Rinoa snapped a furious glare at Seifer, but Squall left the room without
saying a word. She would have followed, but to her surprise Seifer stopped
her. "You aren't going to make him feel better chasing after him like that,"
he said simply, brutally. "He'll take from me what he won't take from anyone
else, and he needs to hear some things. I'll be back." And Seifer strode
out the door.
"I wouldn't go after him, Rinoa," said Selphie. "Wait till Squall kicks
his ass first, then go. They don't go in for witnesses when they
fight. Zell warned me about this."
* * * * * *
The Presidential Palace was the tallest building in Esthar, and Seifer
found Squall on the roof. The weather had hardly cooled from its earlier
baking heat, though it was now well into the night, but Squall kept his
gloves and jacket on and didn't seem the least bit hot. He whirled when
he heard Seifer's bootsteps, fists half-raised.
"Gonna blow me off the building, Squall?" said Seifer. "I don't think
so. If you were gonna do that, you'd have done it before."
"Go away, Seifer," said Squall, almost as if it were an order.
"Nope, don't think so," grinned Seifer, taking a seat on a handy air-conditioning
unit. "I'm not one of your SeeDs that you can order around, or Rinoa for
you to make eyes at. And if you blow me off the building you're gonna have
your hands full with Fujin and Raijin. And you might be able to outfight
me with your fancy powers but that wouldn't be a fair fight, so
you and I both know it wouldn't matter."
The only noticeable effect this had on Squall was that he lowered his
hands and turned away, apparently intent on ignoring Seifer until he went
away. In the darkness Squall was almost a shadow, lost amid the other shadows
but for the pale sheen of his face, watching the city below, and the fur
on his jacket's collar.
"You know what it is the Knights can do, don't you," said Seifer. "That
little voice trick you did with Rinoa earlier, the looks you've shared
with her. You've brought the bond to life. How did you find out?"
Squall was not about to tell Seifer about his ordeal, but there was
another answer that was just as true. "The book," he said.
Seifer nodded. "You know," he said in a tone that was half thoughtful,
half angry, "there are days when I just wanna kick your ass clear across
the country. You never dreamed of anything in Garden, never wanted anything
that I could tell other than to be a SeeD. You never went on a date, read
a book that wasn't on a course curriculum, went anywhere by your own choice
other than the Training Center." He stood up and began to pace, filled
with pent-up energy.
"And then you find out about my dream, to be the Sorceress' Knight,
to be a great leader...and you make my dream yours. You become the
Sorceress' Knight and the Commander of Garden, you find a father who just
happens to run the most powerful nation on the planet, and you become
the savior of the world to boot. You know, if it weren't for the fact I
just lost my new toy, I think I probably would kick your ass. You
certainly deserve it."
Squall merely turned and looked at him, his whole stance saying, You
could try. But he said nothing.
"Raijin and Fujin...they've filled me in on a lot of things while you
were off necking with Rinoa," Seifer continued. At the sudden flash of
anger on Squall's face, he quickly clarified, "Not everything. They seem
to figure we owe you one for warning us, and that's their payback. But
I don't need 'em to tell me things for me to know 'em. You're walking wounded,
Squall," he said. "I saw people with your eyes in the D-District prison,
when I was under Ultimecia's spell."
Squall's posture shifted slightly, just enough that a fighting stance
was only a half-second away. Seifer noticed it, and grinned wolfishly.
"You might be able to kill me now, Squall," he said with just a hint of
mockery in his voice, as though he knew very well Squall wouldn't try,
"but don't you ever assume I'm less intelligent than you are. You know
as well as I do that it isn't strength that wins a gunblade fight. She
did something to you, besides give you that water-strike, and since I managed
to tick her off once or twice I can make a few guesses at what it was.
You're not going to move on until you've paid her back. Some pain is like
Seifer noticed that Squall was just perceptibly trembling, with rage
or with something else. Whatever it was, it was taking all of Squall's
legendary self-control to keep it from expression. Since he really didn't
want to fight Squall given his current enhancements, Seifer opted in a
rare moment of tact to drop the subject.
"Alicia...she's something else," he mused instead. "But the thing about
her is, the farther away you get, the clearer you think. It took us quite
a while to find you, lucky for you. I don't plan on getting within arm's
reach of her again, so she's all yours. Soon's your friends give us a clean
bill of health, we're dropping off the map." When Squall cocked his head
to one side, eyes narrowed, Seifer continued, "Actually, they want to go
back to Garden."
This garnered a response. "I'm not Commander of Garden," said Squall.
"Don't give me that crap," snapped Seifer. "You command Garden no matter
who holds the title. Xu would kiss your boots if you asked. You
think Garden would be invading underground fortresses and making alliances
with Esthar if the SeeD Alicia took hadn't been you? I'm willing
to make you a deal. Let us return to Garden, and I'll swear off Rinoa,
and you as long as you're her Knight. Fighting practice aside, of course,"
he finished with a smirk.
When Squall didn't answer, Seifer growled, "Hyne damn it, Squall, you've
taken my dream. The least you can do is give me yours."
Squall studied Seifer's face. The man was beaten, and knew it, but if
there was a common point between them it was understanding the dictates
of pride. This was as close as Seifer could ever come to admitting defeat.
"...I never wanted your dream, Seifer," said Squall quietly. "Only Rinoa."
"And doesn't that just make me feel all warm and tingly," said Seifer
sourly. "Do we have a deal or don't we?"
Squall considered it so long that Seifer was just about to give up and
head back downstairs when he said, "One condition."
"Yes, O loquacious one?" said Seifer, as though granting a huge favor.
"I will ask you one favor, sometime in the future. You will do it, no
Seifer's eyes narrowed. "If that's an invitation to go to bed with you,
you can forget it," he said.
Squall's expressionless mask twisted into an expression of disgust.
"It won't be," he said, in a tone that said such an idea had been literally
the last thing on his mind. "Nothing that would compromise the honor of
a SeeD, or a Knight for that matter. One favor. That's all."
It was Seifer's turn to consider. "Done," he said at last. He knew from
long experience not to try shaking on it so he simply nodded, as one does
to an equal. Squall nodded back, and Seifer turned to go back to the others.
Squall simply waited, watching the city. He enjoyed being alone, right
now needed to be alone, but he had grown to understand his friends well
enough to know that they weren't going to leave him alone. Seifer had managed
to say something they were all thinking but hadn't dared to say, and Squall
rather expected that one by one they'd all be up here apologizing for thinking
it. In a way, it made Seifer and his posse soothing; they wouldn't try
anything of the sort. In some respects, Seifer understood him better than
anyone, possibly better than even Rinoa did. He wondered how Seifer would
feel to know that Squall had already left a message for Irvine to send
to Xu, asking for exactly what Seifer had requested. Probably annoyed,
Squall thought, to know that I can anticipate him as well as he anticipates
He felt her presence before hearing it, like a warm blanket around his
cold shoulders. Something in her drove back the Leviathan effect, made
him warm again just for a little while. He needed that badly; the longer
he was away from her, the cooler he felt. He wondered whether he would
end up freezing to death; the ocean couldn't freeze over, but if you were
in it too long...
Rinoa had grown to understand him too, it seemed - once on the rooftop,
she cast Aero on a handy tool shed and used it to block the doorway. No
"Seifer didn't look damaged," she said by way of an opening. "To hear
Selphie talk, he should have been covered in slashes and bleeding his way
down the corridors."
"Maybe a year ago, he would have," Squall said equably. "Though it would
have been just as likely to see me doing the bleeding."
"Are you no longer rivals, then?" asked Rinoa, moving to put her arms
Squall considered this. "...If I live through this, yes, we probably
would be," he said at last. "Otherwise, no. I think there's a truce on
until it's decided."
Rinoa looked at him. "Until it's decided? Whether you live or not? You're
taking this incredibly well, you know. I'm not happy about it."
Squall shrugged. "I've gotten to see what's on the other side," he said.
"And you're still there, and you can still hear me, and I can hear you.
There is nothing unknown to fear....and I knew when I joined SeeD that
it wasn't a job where people retired."
"And there is nothing you would regret?" Rinoa asked curiously.
To her surprise, Squall had an immediate response. "I would regret not
being able to touch you," he said. "I saw you crying, in Kadowaki's office,
and on the floor of the Infirmary. It hurt, that I could see you and hear
you crying, and could do nothing."
Rinoa considered this. "I didn't think I'd ever hear you saying something
like that," she said.
"...If I had seventy years to get around to it, you probably still wouldn't,"
said Squall honestly. "But I think Selphie's estimates are on the generous
side." He could feel the chill seeping into his body, his mouth
already cold enough that the humidity of Estharian September filled each
intaken breath with fog.
"Since you're being so determinedly morbid," said Rinoa on the brink
of tears, "Perhaps you'll tell me what you think I'm going to be doing.
Because I certainly don't know..."
Squall looked at her in surprise. "Live," he said simply, as if there
were no other options.
"Do you think so, Squall? Alone, with no Knight to keep me from becoming
another Adel, another Ultimecia? You were only out for a few weeks, and
my Sorceress wings are gray. How long before they're black, with you gone?"
Squall considered this. It hadn't occurred to him that Rinoa would really
need him in that manner. She always struck him as being innocent, a living
embodiment of joy and happiness. It was one of the things he found so attractive
about her. "What turned them gray?" he asked at last. "I saw that they
were gray in the Infirmary, but..." he shrugged.
It was Rinoa's turn to shudder. "...I wanted to hurt someone," she said.
"Not just fight them, to protect someone or defend myself, but hurt
someone - cause them pain." She turned Squall's head to face her, forcing
him to look her in the eyes. "I wanted to hurt Alicia, because she had
hurt you," she said. "I think they're still gray because I can't bring
myself to regret wanting to hurt her."
Squall frowned. He couldn't really regret that, either. But then, he
wasn't in danger of becoming a world tyrant for it. If were a choice between
becoming Griever, or Rinoa becoming another Adel or Ultimecia, was the
choice really so terrible? It would still be Rinoa's choice, at the end.
A Knight could not initiate a Joining. He recognized this as rationalization;
he would tell her not to avert such an event, but because he now recognized
without question that she cared enough for him to want to know. She was,
indeed, his price.
"...There might be another option," he said slowly.
"To what? You dying? I'm all ears," said Rinoa, and he could tell she
Squall drew off his left glove, so that the platinum sheen of Griever
was visible on his finger. "This," he said. "Cast Scan on it now, while
I'm wearing it."
Rinoa did so, and her eyes went wide. "Squall, it's a Sorceress' token.
How did you know?"
"Raine told me," said Squall. "She told me where it came from, why I
had it...everything. You and I, we could become Griever. It's something
only a Sorceress and a Knight together can do. The power stored here would
make us stronger than even Eden or Gilgamesh."
"But...we killed Griever," said Rinoa. "Griever was Ultimecia's
GF. We can't become something that would serve her..."
Squall nodded. "Raine said that time is flexible, that choices made
now could prevent Ultimecia ever arising. I wish I knew what those choices
were," he said heavily. "But basically...it's not written in stone that
if we become Griever, we serve Ultimecia. It's just a possibility, not
a guarantee. But I didn't want to tell you, since it is a possibility."
Rinoa was silent a while, her arms wrapped loosely around him as she
thought. "You and I...would be one being," she said slowly. "What effect
would the Leviathan have on us?"
"...That's just it, there's no way to know. It might spread it so thin
it'll disintegrate, and I'd be fine. Or there might be so much of it already
that it would take over your system too, and we'd both die. I don't think
it'd kill a GF, so the only sure way would be to become Griever and stay
Rinoa thought about that, then said, "If it means I don't lose you,
and can't become like Adel...it's not so bad. Since you've been thinking
about this, why don't you tell me what you think we could do to not be
Ultimecia's servant?" There was a hint of teasing in her voice, that said
of course he had been thinking about that.
There was a smile in Squall's voice if not on his face, as he said,
"I think we'd have to join just once, permanently - and use whatever power's
in the ring to make us as strong as possible. If we work with Garden, we
can grow further from there, just like the other GFs do. And if we stay
with Garden, Ultimecia will have to defeat Garden to get us. And defeat
us to capture us."
"But we already know she does that," said Rinoa. "We saw the dead SeeDs
at the base of her castle."
Squall turned to face her. "We don't know that they were all
of SeeD," he said. "There might be SeeDs left in the world after Ultimecia
is defeated. I hope so, anyway. But think about it; GFs are loyal. If we,
as Griever, have been with SeeD all that time...how loyal could
we be to Ultimecia?"
"This is all guesswork, Squall," said Rinoa sadly. "For all we know,
we could be a truly loyal servant of Ultimecia...with all that power."
Squall turned back to his view of the city. "Yes," he said. "That's
the risk. It's probably as bad as the risk of you turning into another
Adel. But...this isn't my choice. This is the Sorceress' choice. All I
can tell you is, if you want to try it, I'll do it."
Rinoa said nothing, and Squall could only hope she was thinking it through
carefully. She would know better than he how likely her turning to darkness
He was, therefore, completely surprised when she took his ungloved hand
in hers, and set a kiss in it that filled him with warmth. She smiled at
his look of shock.
"What, you can discuss becoming one being with me, but a more mundane
version surprises you?" Rinoa teased gently. "I've waited months for you,
Squall, but there aren't months to wait any more. If it is not to be the
higher-ranking SeeD inviting a lower ranking SeeD to join him, then it
will be the Sorceress asking her Knight." She paused, and shook her head.
"No...that isn't right. I don't want the Commander of SeeD, the Sorceress'
Knight, or even the son of the President of Esthar. I just want Squall
Leonhart...if he'll have me?"
Squall stood speechless for a moment, then drew Griever off his finger.
He weighed it in his hand for a moment, and put it in his pocket. "I won't
have a SeeD," he replied slowly, as though making a vow, "Or the Sorceress,
or the daughter of a Galbadian general. But...I will take Rinoa Heartilly,
if she offers."
Rinoa smiled, and drew Squall in for a kiss.
* * * * * *
Xu entered Quistis' office, where she was examining papers. The Garden
was in motion again, heading for Esthar. "Where's Zell?" asked Quistis
by way of hello. "He wasn't at the execution, and I haven't seen him since."
"He asked to be excused, said he didn't think Carbuncle would want to
see Mikhal. I gave him permission." Xu cocked her head at Quistis. "I think
you were probably harder on him than you should have been. He looked pretty
upset. You can probably find him in the Training Center, but you know how
worked up he can get. I wouldn't recommend going after him. I'd wait till
he comes out on his own."
Quistis shook her head. "He shouldn't have been talking about something
so sensitive, and he knew it," she said. "He knew there was a traitor in
Garden, knew that the missing GF would clearly show who it was. All he
had to do was keep quiet until we'd tracked the person down. As it was,
the traitor was sitting at Zell's table, listening to Zell warning
him that we knew of his existence and would shortly have his identity.
I'd only just learned who it was, and had gone down there to grab a bite
and say hi. It was pure luck that I got my whip around Mikhal before Zell
blew the whole thing."
"It was perhaps a mistake to pair you with him," said Xu reflectively.
"He reacts impulsively, sometimes - but never with ill will toward anyone.
Well, except Seifer."
"It was a mistake to assign him to look for the lab with me," said Quistis.
"He's a great fighter, but his inability to keep his mouth shut has landed
us in trouble before. It was Zell's mouth that destroyed Trabia Garden,
and nearly this one as well."
Xu frowned as she thought, and replied, "What would you have me do,
then? Set him to watching the youngest cadets? Writing poetry? I note that
you have not suggested any severe punishments for Squall, even though in
telling Rinoa so much about Garden before she was offered a position in
SeeD, he could be charged with treason. Should we summon the GFs to tear
Squall apart also?"
Quistis stepped back, surprised. "No, of course not," she said. "He
was out of line speaking to Rinoa, but she's never proven to be a security
Xu continued, her face implacable as she said, "Quistis, the only real
crime for a SeeD is treason. We're mercenaries; there is no leader we will
not oppose, no cause we will not uphold, if the client can meet the price
we set. The only cause we are obligated to take a stand on is the Sorceress;
we exist to make certain she is not a threat. Rinoa is the Sorceress --
exactly how is Squall telling her how we operate not a threat to us?"
Quistis was taken aback, but couldn't really formulate a reply. Her
reasoning was subjective, and she knew it.
"Quistis...I know Cid had great ideas for Garden at its founding, and
we needed that vision to survive Ultimecia. But now we need to survive
to Ultimecia, to the day she arises in the future. SeeD must be
there to oppose her - and any corrupt sorceress that arises between now
and then - and this is our overriding purpose. We must be able to rely
on our own. I like Squall, and respect his leadership capabilities the
same as every other SeeD in Garden. But that does not change the fact that
what he did was treason. His loyalty is not to SeeD, Quistis. It is to
Rinoa. Rinoa is the Sorceress. If he can serve as her Knight, and keep
her from becoming a threat, I'll forbear punishment. But that doesn't mean
I'm going to jump at his whims."
"I've got a message here from Squall," and Xu dropped a message sheet
in front of Quistis, "saying that he's promised Seifer, Fujin and Raijin
that they can return to Garden in exchange for turning coat on Alicia.
They're cadets, not SeeDs, but they've still betrayed Garden more than
once. Quistis - are you loyal to Garden, or to Squall?" And she turned
around and left the office.
So that's what she's angry about, thought Quistis. Xu was one
of her Card Club members, and she'd always thought they were friends. But
her accusations made Quistis very uncomfortable. Possibly because there's
more than a little truth to them, she thought sadly. She had been furious
with Zell for almost warning off the traitor, but Xu was quite right in
pointing out that Squall had done something just as bad as Mikhal not so
long ago. Just because Rinoa was an ally of SeeD now, it didn't
mean things would always be that way. Quistis vividly remembered the first
sight of Rinoa's steel gray wings in the Infirmary, as she demanded the
right to tear Alicia apart.
Thankfully, the threat Alicia presented had united SeeD against her
- almost, anyway. Enough SeeDs had seen Squall carried off the Ragnarok
that there had been no shortage of volunteers when the request came down
to take on her stronghold. Very few people in Garden knew what Squall had
done; only Zell, Kadowaki, Selphie, Xu, and Quistis herself. They'd kept
it that way - Squall was a hero to most of Garden, and any public accusations
would demoralize Garden severely.
But, what to do about it? Quistis stared at the terse message from Esthar.
Seifer, too, had felt himself above the everyday rules of Garden. The difference,
from Quistis' viewpoint, was that Seifer broke the rules because he didn't
think they should apply to him. Squall had broken the rules for Rinoa.
Quistis sighed as she realized Xu was right. Whether he admitted it
to himself or not, Squall's first loyalty was no longer to SeeD; it was
to Rinoa. If she was involved, he could not be relied upon.
Which left the knotty problem of Quistis' own loyalty. If it came down
to it - if Rinoa became the world's enemy, and Squall stayed with her -
would she be able to bring herself to fight Squall? She'd spent most of
her life at least halfway in love with him. The idea of snapping her whip
at his throat, as she'd done to Mikhal...
No. She realized with a heavy heart that she could not. Xu was right
to question her loyalty; if she were truly loyal to SeeD, and to its ideals,
she should be able to take Squall's head off with her whip if he sided
with an evil Sorceress. Ultimately, Squall held more of her loyalty than
She stared at his message. Perhaps he, too, recognized the threat he
might one day pose. For here was her answer - she might not have
the heart to fight Squall, but Seifer and his posse would take the job
with a smile on their faces and a song in their hearts. And they were strong
enough to do it. Not by themselves, perhaps, not yet -- but if she finished
their training, made them SeeDs, gave them Guardian Forces...yes. She might
dislike Seifer intensely, but both of her loyalties agreed that he should
be admitted back into Garden. SeeD would need his skill if Rinoa went to
the bad, and Squall had requested it.
She penned a reply, informing Squall that Garden would welcome Seifer
and his posse back into Garden's fold.