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Chapter 16 Rescue

Noddy was awake; not surprising, when Squall thought about it. He knew first-hand the sort of powers that came from the artificial GFs. The room was dark, but with Griever's sight it appeared to be twilight to Squall - and he could see the boy's eyes were also changed. Solid black field; Cactaur's eyes. He was watching Squall, intently but without fear.

Squall pointed over at the sleeping Bella, then raised a gloved finger to his lips. The boy nodded; don't wake her up. Still feeling a little strange about the prospect, Squall held out his hand and the boy took it. He led them into the sitting room, where Zell and Selphie were waiting.

"Bella's still sleeping," said Squall. "Why don't you two join her? I'll be fine here."

Zell rolled his eyes. "You just like to ruin my fun, dont'cha," he yawned. "I was really hopin' I could get to see this." He stretched. "But you're right, as usual. I'm bushed. See ya inna morning...or whenever..."

Selphie just came up close and whispered, "You will owe me details," with a wicked smile as she followed Zell out of the room.

Noddy looked around. "Where's Irvine?" he asked.

Squall shrugged; hard enough to explain that one to an adult, never mind a ten year old kid. "He's...taking my place, somewhere I'd otherwise have to be."

Noddy stared at him, a little suspicious. "I saw your eyes, back there," he said as though presenting proof of something. "Like Zell's." His face scrunched up in thought, and Squall heard Irvine's chuckle in the back of his mind. "Irvine said he was going to talk to my 'real daddy', and now he's gone and you're here. You look a lot like Daear, you know that?"

"Daear?" asked Squall. He had no idea what he was supposed to say, but at least Noddy seemed to be making it easy on him by not asking much.

Nodwydd frowned. "Daear can push people into the ground," he said seriously. "She likes doing that - she thinks it's funny when they yell."

Daear must be the Diablos girl, then. Squall frowned; it had probably been too much to hope that all the children would be free of the taint of their mothers. He had no trouble thinking of a reply to Noddy's leading comment. "I don't think it's funny," he said. "Are any of the others like that?"

The boy smiled, reminding Squall very forcibly of Laguna for a moment. "Not really," he said. "Daddy gets mad if we do things like that. Daear just likes to be different."

"Do me a favor," said Squall in a slightly strangled voice. "Don't call him 'daddy', all right? I'm glad he's taken care of you, but he's done some things..." he shook his head. "Things you probably don't want to know about."

Was all conversation like this, or just conversation with children? Squall felt like he was walking through a minefield with every word.

Somewhat to his surprise, the boy reached out and patted his hand seriously. "I know," he said. "Sometimes he asks me to go with his friends, late at night when the others are asleep. He asks me 'cause I can keep a secret."

Squall's eyes widened. "Tell me he hasn't made you kill," he said. Not another generation of SeeDs, Hyne please not another generation of child soldiers...

"A couple of times," admitted Noddy with a frown. "He said they were gonna take us away from him. Why does everybody want to take us away from him? Even Zell wanted me to stay here."

This man is dead, thought Squall. He has made my son a killer.

At least he chose a good bloodline, came Griever's voice. Squall, Garden made you a killer at about his age, and you've done all right. Don't give up on them yet - even Daear.

" shouldn't ever have to kill. People are trying to take you away from him because he's doing some very bad things and they don't want you to be hurt."

Squall stood up, checked the window. Outside it was well into morning - they'd know Noddy was taken by now. What that might mean for the other five...damn. He hated it, but he was going to have to use his son.

"Noddy...I'd like to get you and the others out of there. Do you trust me?"

Noddy shrugged. "I guess so. You're like us, aren't you? Like Zell - a friend of our real daddy?"

Squall felt like someone was choking him; wanting to speak and at the same time having trouble breathing. But he would not lie. Not now, not ever. If he had any hope of winning affection from the boy - unfamiliar territory to start with - then he had to be truthful. He felt Rinoa's support, and was tempted to ask her what on earth he should say. This was her home ground, not his; she always knew how to deal with people.

You don't need our help, said Griever. You already know what you're supposed to do.

Yes, but it didn't make it easier. He was becoming rapidly aware that Laguna had been far more courageous than he seemed, and further that he owed his father a deep and heartfelt apology. In the back of his mind, Squall could hear Irvine roaring with laughter, Rinoa's quiet chuckles blending in. You're finally learning, Squall, she said, and he blushed.

"Noddy, I'm the one Zell was talking about," said Squall. "That's why Daear looks like me." A thought struck him. "And you look like my father. Look - you see?" He reached into his wallet and pulled out a picture of Laguna and Ellone, that Ellone had given him shortly after Ultimecia had been defeated. He'd kept it because it had her in it - this was the first time he'd ever had reason to point out Laguna.

Noddy took the picture and stared at it for a while. "He's got hair like me, and he's got green eyes too," he said slowly. Then he reached up and tugged on Squall's bangs. Squall froze; he didn't want to frighten the boy, but he still didn't handle touching very well. He fought the desire to flinch as Nodwydd stared at his face for a moment, played with his hair. It took all his willpower not to jerk away as, all innocence, his son traced the scar from his right brow to his left cheek. The child couldn't help how he'd come to be, and while Squall couldn't help how he felt he could keep his son from ever finding out. He'd spent his life learning to hide his emotions from casual observation - now, at last, there was a good use for that skill.

"You don't look old enough to be my daddy," said the boy at last. "Is that part of your power?"

Relief flooded through him; question and answer. "Yes," he said. "When I am where I'm supposed to be, anyway. I'm hoping you and the others would want to come with me."

Squall... warned Griever, you can't take them into eternity. They'd end up even more antisocial than you are.

Not eternity, said Squall. But Griever's realm. They can grow up there if we allow Time to pass for them. And we can bring them into the real world and back; that's one of the Guardian Force's powers - we just won't be using it to attack them.

If they agree, then yes, said Griever. But make sure you explain it properly. This place isn't exactly a natural environment.

And Garden is? dismissed Squall. We'll see - but so far it's the best idea I can come up with. Any better ones occur to either of you, let me know.

Roger, o fearless leader, came Griever's voice. It seemed that the common ground between Irvine and Rinoa consisted primarily of their sense of humor. Absolutely wonderful.

"I dunno," said Noddy. "I'd have to ask them. I'm not the boss, you know. That's Taran's job."

"Can you take me to Taran, then?" asked Squall, hating himself for having to use his son this way - but none of the others knew how to find Detmer's place. Deling City was not a small town by any means.

Noddy looked up at him, all innocence. "I don't even know your name," he said. "And if I believe you and you're our dad, it's just gonna confuse everybody."

Life had come full circle, it seemed. Laguna had always wanted Squall to call him 'dad' or at least 'father', and Squall had never gotten used to it. And now his own son was going to do the same thing to him. May there one day be a generation of our family that can get over this problem of parents, he prayed. In the meantime, though, Nodwydd was exactly right.

"I'm called Squall," he said. "You call me...whatever you're up to calling me, I guess." He shrugged.

Nodwydd's green eyes went wide. "You have a water power?" he asked, plainly in awe. "Wow! Can I see?"

Squall managed to keep the wince from showing on his face. "I had one once," he admitted. "I lost it, though." Damn you, Alicia. "I had to, or it would have killed me." He closed his eyes briefly. Say it, damn you - admit... "Like it killed your mother." Whoever the hell she was - and thank Hyne I can't remember... This conversation was rapidly becoming more than Squall could handle. The edge of the pit drawing nearer, deeper...all of his control going into letting none of it show on his face, in his voice, or in his stance.

"Oh," said Noddy, plainly disappointed. "Will I die, too? From the power?"

Squall shook his head, grateful to be back on safer ground. "No - it's natural for you, like my other powers are for me. It won't hurt you. But Detmer just might hurt the others now he knows you're gone." He crouched down, so the boy could look him in the eye. "Nodwydd, are you quick? Are you quiet?"

The boy's chest fairly puffed out with pride. "You bet - that's why I always get picked to help daddy's - I mean Detmer's - friends. 'Cause I'm the best."

Laguna is going to love this little guy, came Griever's laughing thought. Squall resolutely ignored it; enough with talking - there was important work to be done.

"Well then," he said. "You're going to have to show me where Detmer's house is, so I can meet your brothers and sisters." He hesitated. "Do you think they'll like me?" he asked. Hyne, he was starting to feel like a little kid again just talking to Noddy.

It's about time you did, came Rinoa's gentle voice. It's something you were never really allowed to be.

Nodwydd considered the question seriously. "I think so," he said at last. "At least, as much as they like anybody. Daear and Gwynt you'll have to convince. Show 'em your power and they'll be good." He didn't sound overly concerned; apparently this was how they settled conflicts. It made Squall feel vaguely uneasy, remembering his fights with Seifer.

"Let's go, then," said Squall. "We'll come back for the others later, when they're awake, okay?"

Noddy grinned. "Sure. And you're going to show me your power, right?"

Squall looked down at his son. "Oh, yes," he said. "You'll get to see it. I promise."

Right about the time you find Detmer, is that it? came Griever's thought.

Yes, thought Squall. Last time we used it, it took out Alicia and Odine. This time let's get their work as well. It's time to go - give me your eyes.

You can't take on that whole house alone, Squall. Take the others with you.

I'm not going to fight. I'm going to find out where the hell this place is, and get as many of the kids out as I can before the fighting starts. I've got a sick feeling that Detmer will kill them rather than let them go.

He seems to have treated them very well so far, came Griever's doubting thought.

I don't think he's actually given them any reason to rebel yet, either. If the others have powers as strong as Nodwydd's, he could take over Deling City just with them in only a few more years. Why risk antagonizing them? But he's kept them isolated for the most part. Noddy's been out the most and even he doesn't know what Detmer's 'friends' are doing. He must know Noddy was taken by now - if I were he, I would be making sure I didn't lose any more. Further, I'd be making sure that Noddy didn't come back with any tales that might conflict with what the others have been told. These six stick together - they'd believe Noddy over him and he knows it.

Squall, I think that's the most I've ever heard out of you at one time in my life, came Irvine's wondering voice, backed by Rinoa's laughter. And I wish I could find a flaw in the logic, but I can't. You're one sick puppy, you know that?

I am what I was raised to be, said Squall simply. Now lend me your eyes.

Griever didn't reply - but Squall's vision sharpened and grew more clear, so he knew that they had complied with his request. Looking down, he saw Nodwydd's leaf-green eyes darken into a field of solid black - quite dramatic given the boy's black hair - and together they moved quietly through the room full of sleeping SeeDs towards the door. Though outside it was day, in here there was no light; his friends (and that still took a little getting used to) needed their rest.

Once outside, he let the power go, and indicated to Noddy that he should do the same. "You know the way?" he asked.

"Oh yeah," said the boy with a grin. "I know my way all over town. I've been lots of places."

"I'll follow you, then," said Squall, keeping one hand on LionHeart's hilt. "Don't use your power if there's trouble, all right? Leave trouble to me."

"Why?" asked Noddy curiously. "I missed Irvine, but he's not so bad so I don't mind. I don't usually miss."

"Didn't say you did. But there are going to be people looking for you, and I don't think we want them to find you. If you shoot needles at them - well, how many people can do that?"

"Oh," said Noddy. "Okay. This way." And before Squall could react, the boy grabbed his gloved hand and tugged, heading for an alley. He concentrated on staying relaxed, and keeping alert for any sign of pursuit or attack. These children had to be more valuable than gold to Detmer. There was no telling how far he'd go to keep them.

* * * * * * * *

Zell was the first to rise - not really all that surprising, as his specialization required a higher degree of physical fitness than those of the others. It didn't take him long to realize that his brain had very definitely been out to lunch when he'd gone to bed; the hotel room lacked any sign of Nodwydd or Squall.

Of course Squall hadn't gone to bed. Squall had been completely rested - and since Noddy had probably been sleeping before being called on to escort Irvine's captors, Noddy hadn't been all that tired either. And the silence in his head was deafening; he couldn't even ask Griever where the hell Squall could be. And he wasn't about to try getting on Tonberry's good side just to find out.

Besides - he already knew where they were headed - he just didn't know how to find the place on a map. There was only one place they would have gone; Soares Detmer's mansion. Damn the man - hadn't ten years with Rinoa taught him anything about not deserting his friends? About teamwork? Great Hyne, he was going into a completely unknown situation with only a ten year old kid for backup.

There had to be an easier way. They had proof now, after all, that Detmer was up to something. And there was still the Felians - but they still didn't know which ones to arrest. He blew out a long breath. That would probably have to wait until Irvine got back; he was the one who had the orders. Still - it didn't mean they couldn't just ask the local police where Detmer's house was.

Someone was stumbling around in the next room - so now he'd have company. He grinned; someone to share his idea with. They hit the bathroom first, of course. Zell opted to work through some kata until whoever it was felt presentable enough to join him in the sitting room. Women could be kinda picky about guys seeing them first thing in the morning, and with Squall out he was alone in female territory.

Not that Squall would have been much help in that regard. His friend had generally regarded women as either furniture, fighting companions, or pests to be avoided at all costs. How Rinoa had gotten Squall to really see her as a woman was something Zell still hadn't figured out.

His friend-in-wakefulness turned out to be Bella, looking a bit green around the gills. Immediately he leaped up and offered her his seat; he knew better by now than to open with 'you look awful' but it was so preying on is mind that he couldn't think of anything else to say that didn't sound just as bad.

Bella took the offered seat and took a few deep breaths. "Zell, I was going to wait until this was over, but since we seem to be inundated with children right now, perhaps you'd better know."

"Um, Noddy's gone off with Squall," said Zell, not really sure where this was going. "No kids here..."

Bella smiled. "Sit down, Zell, or I won't be responsible for the consequences."

Zell took a seat, looking somewhat uncomfortable. Sitting wasn't his first choice when feeling nervous. "All right, sitting. What's up?"

Bella blushed, and looked at the floor. " Put it like this; Squall isn't the only one around who's a father..."

Zell looked completely confused for a moment, and then completely floored. He shot right out of his chair and swept Bella around in a fierce hug - then suddenly put her right back in her chair, evidently afraid he'd hurt her. "That's great news," he gushed, and then sobered for a minute. "Um - waitaminute. How are we gonna finish this mission with you..umm...?"

"Pregnant, Zell. You can say the word." Bella shrugged. "I'm not that far along - and with Squall around I don't think our job here will take too long to finish. And you did say that after it was over you'd be at Garden for a while..."

Zell sobered right up at the reminder of his impending punishment. "Yeah, I will. Well - it should make life a little less dull, anyway. I was a real little hellcat in Balamb, they tell me." He shook his head. "Person'lly, I don't remember." He looked at her. "Do you mind if the little fellow's a SeeD?"

It was Bella's turn to frown. "Zell...did you ever think maybe your friend acts the way he does because he was never given a choice about becoming a SeeD?"

"Whaddaya mean?" asked Zell. "I know I got adopted before he did, and he was at Garden when I arrived - but so were Seifer and Quistis."

Bella shook her head. "I'm an information specialist, Zell. Did you know the exam for that consists of cracking Garden's security and handing in proof - along with a way to prevent a recurrence of that tactic? I got higher marks than Fujin because I took a harder test - I cracked the records of the earliest residents of Garden. Squall was always at Garden - from day one. Seifer too. They were never adopted; they were always cadets, and I think it hurt them. I don't want that for our baby, Zell."

"Well, it certainly explains why Seifer's such a bastard," sighed Zell. "I can't stand the guy, but everyone should have a parent. But Squall's fine." At Bella's disbelieving look, he said, "Well, I thought so anyway," rather defensively.

She took his hand and patted it, smiling softly. "Yes, I know you do," she said. "I think you might be the only one, though. I'm a little surprised you're so loyal, given the rumors I heard."

Zell stood up and rolled his eyes. "Oh, you mean the whole 'Squall is gay and sleeping with Zell' rumors that kept going around, don't'cha. Hyne, Bella, I thought I knew you better than that."

"There was always someone willing to repeat it," shrugged Bella. "I verified that it was false as one of my assignments - it didn't make me any friends though. Apparently nobody ever thought to ask the known gays in Garden about that rumor."

"Bella, all he wanted was to be left alone. You've seen what he looks like - so damn pretty it makes your breath catch, even with that scar. It was a lot worse before he got that scar, when he wore cadet togs all the time." Zell frowned, staring off into space. "I used to be jealous - I mean, he didn't even have to try, and there were people all around wanting to get close to him. I didn't realize how much it bothered him until he got his own casual gear." He grinned. "Got the shock of my life that day. It took me a few weeks before I realized that he did that so people would leave him alone. He never cared whether people thought he was gay, straight, or screwing purple rabbits, so long as they left him alone."

"I have to admit it worked," said Bella. "I heard the girls sighing over him, but I never heard any of them talk about asking him on a date. Just the usual 'the prettiest ones already have boyfriends' talk."

"Screwed my social life up something awful for a while, though," shrugged Zell. "He couldn't stop the rumors that we were going steady - I mean, we were roommates and all, and he knew if he denied it that would just make it worse." Zell looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know how he fixed that, don't you? If you checked the rumors then you must know. People always swore he didn't have any friends...but he did that for me. He did lots of little things like that over the years."

"Yes," said Bella. "I know." Squall had managed to quell the rumors by being seen in the company of various known members of Garden's gay community. He wasn't acting any more friendly with them than with anyone else, but the frequency of the sightings and his own manner of dress, coupled with his cold attitude toward the female cadets, 'added up'. He'd let people think he was sleeping around, so that Zell could be freed to find his own dates. An unconventional solution, but then it was a rather unconventional problem in the first place. She'd never found out what those men had gotten for allowing themselves to be seen that way - anyone seen in Squall's company merited attention by the Disciplinary Committee, and Seifer was homophobic and tended therefore to unnecessary roughness. She rather doubted she'd be able to pry an answer out of Squall, either. She only knew it could not have been sex; beyond that, the small group had refused to elaborate.

"Nah....if our little fellow - or lady - turns out like Squall, I don't think I'll mind," said Zell. "I don't think you should mind, either."

"All right," said Bella. "I'll leave it alone." Privately, she decided that Zell simply had a big blind spot when it came to Squall, and that it would do no good to argue with him about it.

* * * * * * * * *

The two stood in the shadow of a nearby alleyway, looking at the house with Guardian eyes. It wasn't so that they could see in the dark - the morning was bright and clear, and anyone with average vision could see just fine. It was so that they could pick out details that ordinary eyes couldn't see.

"Are there always motion detectors on?" asked Squall, but not as if he expected the answer to be 'yes'.

"Something's wrong," said Noddy, worried. "They should be up by now but it looks like everyone's asleep."

Ask him if there's any signal he could give to his brothers and sisters, Squall, said Griever. They may work like a club, covering for each other as needed.

Squall passed on the request, but Noddy shook his head. "We don't know how to use that little of the power," he said sadly. "I can't call one needle - it's always a whole bunch of 'em. The same goes for the others. The only one of us who has anything like that kind of control is Gwynt."

Squall frowned at the house. Griever's eyes could see motion detection beams and trace them back to alarms. The house was locked up tight; there was no way into it without alerting those inside. Detmer knew that Noddy was taken, and wasn't going to take any chances - not of Noddy getting back in, or of any of the others getting out.

Which didn't meant they couldn't get in. They just couldn't be subtle about it, as he'd hoped they could. He looked down at Noddy's trusting face. Laguna's temperament indeed; it had taken hardly any work at all to gain the boy's trust. Squall knew he himself would not have been so forthcoming at that age. Surely, among those in the house were a few that shared his own way of thinking - and those would be the most dangerous. Yet he could not risk losing one to make gaining the other five more easy. Certainly not this one, killer though he evidently was. He crouched down so that Noddy could see Griever's eyes and know he was being very serious.

"Is there some way you could help me get the others out of there, Noddy?" he asked. "Something I could say or show them that they'd know came from you?"

Noddy frowned at the house, thinking. "I dunno if it'll help 'cause some of 'em don't like to believe people," he said. "But I can give you my pendant. Da - I mean, Detmer gave it to me when I started doing things for him." He reached inside his shirt and pulled out a child's toy - a plastic representation of a cactaur, on an equally plastic string. Completely worthless, if you weren't the right person. Squall took it solemnly, though he had no idea if it would help.

It was better than having to fight off his own children, even if they were the children of demons.

Don't be so hard on 'em, said Griever. Noddy seems to be all right. The others can't be all bad either, if they're half yours.

Where you got the impression I was some paragon of goodness, I have no idea, thought Squall tiredly. I did what I was ordered to do, what had to be done. Quit thinking that makes me a hero.

Rinoa's laughter in his thoughts lifted his spirits, even though he was fairly sure she was laughing at him. Something about Rinoa being happy just made things...not so bad. It didn't matter why. He pocketed the little toy, and said, "I need you to get the others here. Can you find your way back?"

"Easy," grinned Noddy. "Where will you be?"

"I'm going to see if I can find a way in. Tell the others if they see a fuss to come in swinging. Otherwise wait for me here."

"Gotcha," said Noddy, and ran off - evidently thrilled to be in on such a 'covert operation'. Kids loved games of spies.

All right, now that was a little low of you, said Griever. You know Detmer is looking for him, and you send him halfway across town alone?

He can defend himself a lot better than you seem to think, replied Squall in the silence of his thoughts, in motion once more around the house's perimeter. He missed Irvine, but not by much. He's killed before. There isn't much left that I could even try to protect him from, so why try?

He is your son, Squall. That's supposed to mean you protect him.

And when he actually needs it, he'll have it. For a jog across town he does not need it - especially when my attention is better directed elsewhere.

For a moment, Griever reached out to him - Rinoa's compassion and Irvine's indignation working together. For Rinoa's sake, he let them see what was bothering him. He really didn't know what he was supposed to do; on the one hand there was a basic, almost instinctual need to protect this boy he knew to be his son. On the other was the certain knowledge that said boy had already taken human lives and had no problem with it - and the certainty that his siblings were in dire need of removal from this place where they were confined. There was no clear 'right road' for him to follow - all was cast in shadow, and all he could do was choose the best option at the time.

Griever settled back - or at least, somewhat back. Squall needed its eyes to see the traps laid around the house, as he circled the perimeter looking for an opening.

He had the senses of a Guardian Force - or of someone gifted with GF power. So when he got to the southwest corner it was not a problem for him to pick up the sounds of children arguing, their voices edged in panic.

He gripped the hilt of LionHeart, found an unobtrusive spot, and listened....amber-gold cat's eyes narrowing.

Chapter 17

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