Retribution Part 3

“Squall?” He heard Quistis say to him. “How’s it coming down there?” Squall shook his head inside the helmet, and concentrated once again on the task he had been given.

“What?” He said, clearing away the last of the fog in his mind. “The bombs? Uh… yeah, I’m just starting now.”

“Are you OK, Squall?” Quistis asked the young commander, with a concerned tone in her voice.

“Yeah,” Squall said, trying to keep his mind focused. “I’m fine. Over and out.” Squall walked over to where the bombs were sat on the pallet, gently lifting them off, and placed them on the floor. Once had moved both of them, he stepped onto the metal sheet himself.

“OK,” he started, “I’m on. Lift me up.”

“Roger,” Irvine replied. “You might wanna hold onto something.” As Irvine finished talking, the pallet, complete with Squall, lifted off the ground. Squall kept his balance by holding onto the ropes that had been tied to each corner of the pallet, but he was still overbalancing it to one side, and he felt his feet start to slip.

“You might wanna hurry it up a bit?” Squall asked rhetorically, as his feet slipped another few inches toward the edge. He made an effort to slide his boots back up the pallet, but he couldn’t get any grip with his futuristic footwear. Fortunately for him, however, Quistis and Irvine picked up the pace, and before Squall knew it, he was back, standing on the edge of the crater with his two friends. He went and sat down in the buggy, and Quistis and Irvine followed him and did the same.

“Thanks, guys,” Squall said, as he sat down. Quistis eased herself into the driver’s seat, and started up the motor.

“What was the delay down there anyway?” She asked as she started to drive back towards the Ragnarok.

“Oh,” Squall muttered, as he remembered the orb, and the numerous images that had confused him so much. “It was nothing. Really. It just took longer to walk over there than I thought. The gravity, you know?”

“Right…” Quistis replied, not fully convinced by the explanation. Suddenly, the buggy hit a small bump, and as with the outward journey, it lifted itself several feet off the floor.

“Look,” an irritated Irvine started, “do you want me to drive or somethin’?” Squall chuckled at Irvine’s slight hysteria, and it helped him to take his mind off the images he saw inside the crater, which had been plaguing him ever since they’d entered his mind. He kept trying to make sense of them all, right until he felt the buggy drive up the ramp and into the Ragnarok’s hangar. The door to the asteroid closed, and the hangar repressurised. Squall, Quistis and Irvine all took off their spacesuits, and, in the low gravity, bounded up the stairs into the cockpit, where Seifer was ready and waiting for them. He moved over and let Quistis take her seat behind the pilot’s console, and as steadily as she had landed it, she lifted the Ragnarok off the surface of the dull grey world. Turning the spaceship towards their home, she fired the engines and left the asteroid behind them. Irvine took his seat in the co-pilot’s chair, and activated the radio.

“Come in control, this is Ragnarok, I repeat, come in control, over,” the sniper-turned astronaut said into the radio’s handset. There was a pause of a few seconds, before they heard the familiar sound of Xu’s voice.

“This is control, we copy you, Ragnarok. Over,” Xu replied.

“Mission has been carried off without a hitch. The payload has been delivered and we are heading home. I repeat, the payload has been delivered. Over,” Irvine stated. Again, there was a pause of a few seconds, before they heard Xu’s voice again, accompanied by some cheering and celebrating in the background.

“We copy you loud and clear, Ragnarok, and are looking forward to having you back, over,” Xu said cheerfully, prompting smiles from all four astronauts.

“We’re looking forward to being back,” Irvine said. “See you soon. Ragnarok over and out.” With that, communications were cut, and there was a brief silence in the cockpit. Quistis was the one to break the silence.

“Squall,” she said, starting to ease herself out of her chair, “could you take over for a minute? I need to go down to the buggy and sort out some of the rocks we collected while we were on the asteroid.” Squall simply shrugged, and floated into the pilot’s seat, as Quistis floated toward the door.

“OK,” Squall started, “I don’t mind. Although why you bothered collecting a handful of rocks is beyond me. If you wanted rocks, you could’ve just gone to any beach in Centra. There are millions there.” Quistis simply chuckled in response.

“It wasn’t me, honest,” she replied, “It’s those scientists from Esthar. They said they wanted to study them for some reason.”

“Whatever,” Squall retorted, settling himself down in the pilot’s seat. As Quistis floated towards the lift, she noticed Seifer rise up out of his chair and follow her.

“I don’t really need any help, Seifer,” Quistis said, trying to persuade the blond man to sit back down. Seifer was not going to be easily persuaded, however.

“Oh, come on,” he said quietly to her, “I’ve felt like a frigging fifth wheel ever since this mission started. The least you could do is give me a use.” Quistis smiled- the Seifer she’d grown up with would never have volunteered for anything that didn’t involve bouncing some poor kid’s head off a wall. He really has changed a lot, she thought to herself, before nodding at him.

“Come on, then,” she said, leading Seifer towards the lift. They descended in the lift together, leaving Squall and Irvine alone in the cockpit.

However, Xu was not the only person to have had a radio link to the Ragnarok’s cockpit.

“Mission complete,” Chris said to himself, listening in on the Ragnarok from his home in the desert prison. “Well done, heroes. Now you get your reward.” Chuckling, Chris leaned over to his control panel, and pushed a big, red button.

The explosion rocked the Ragnarok hard, and for a brief while, it span like a corkscrew through the black of space. Eventually, though, it regained its balance and continued on its journey home, albeit with a large hole ripped out of the side…

In the hangar, the bomb had caught Seifer and Quistis completely by surprise, and they found themselves flung against the walls, the ceiling, and all over the place, until the rolling stopped, and room was once again quiet, but for one very loud and very pained voice.

“Aaaaaaagggghhh!!” Seifer yelled in pure agony. “My leg! I think it’s broken!” Quistis, however, did not respond- the buggy, which had been unrestrained, had rolled along with Seifer and Quistis during the time following the explosion, and had been responsible for Seifer’s broken leg. It had also been responsible for delivering to Quistis a nasty blow to the head, from which blood was slowly oozing, forming a red ball in the middle of the hangar. Seifer swallowed his pain, and slowly edged over to where Quistis was floating, appearing to Seifer like a puppet that had had all of her wires tangled up. He checked her neck for a pulse, and was relieved to find that she still had one. Like a lifeguard saving a drowning person, Seifer manoeuvred himself behind the blonde instructor and placed his arm around her chest, before slowly “swimming” towards the floor of the hangar. Once he had placed her safely down there, Seifer “swam” towards the wall to fetch an emergency first-aid kit, which contained the usual bandages and surgical tape, plus a small draw point which contained five curaga spells. Instinctively, Seifer began to try to draw the spells, but paused when he remembered a small detail.

“Ah,” he said, aborting his draw attempt, “can’t use magic- no GF’s.” Determined to make Quistis regain consciousness, Seifer began rummaging through the first-aid kit for anything else he could use. When his search proved futile, he tried some more old-fashioned means.

“WAKE UP!” He shouted into Quistis’s ear, while simultaneously pinching her nose. “I WILL NOT LET YOU DIE ON ME!” He pulled open Quistis’s eyelids to see if there was any sign of response, and when there wasn’t, Seifer resumed his search for something to help him with his task. Eventually, his eyes stumbled across a two-litre bottle of water, which had drifted loose from the supplies that were being kept in the hangar. Floating over to it and grabbing it, he took it back to his “patient”, whereupon he opened the bottle and held it upside down above Quistis. However, nothing happened.

“Huh?” Seifer said, looking up into the bottle where the water remained static. His face turned into an angry scowl as he realised his error. “Argh! Damned zero gravity!” Determined to put the water to use somehow, Seifer put the bottle to his lips, and sucked as hard as he could, drawing the water into his cheeks. Then, pointing his mouth at Quistis, he spat it out all at once, the water splashing all over the young woman’s face. To Seifer’s delight, she began to stir. Seifer took another gulp from his bottle, and spat it in Quistis’s face. This time, her eyes started to open.

“Quistis?” Seifer asked, hopefully. “Can you hear me? It’s me, Seifer!” There was a brief pause while Quistis laid, dazed, on the hangar floor. Seifer eventually grew impatient. “Dammit! Answer me!” Quistis’s mouth started to move at that point, and she started to speak to Seifer.

“Sq-Squall…” Quistis muttered between deeply taken breaths. Seifer’s eyes widened- he’d forgotten all about Squall and Irvine, who had been in the cockpit when the bomb went off.

“Wait right there,” Seifer said, patting Quistis on the shoulder, as he floated towards the intercom. He pushed the button labelled “cockpit” and spoke into the microphone.

“Squall, Irvine, this is Seifer. What’s going on?” He paused for a second, before remembering that he needed to let the two of them know that they had to respond. “Oh, over,” he said, correcting himself. There was a fifteen-second delay, while Seifer awaited a response. His wait was in vain.

“I repeat, cockpit, this is Seifer in the hangar. What the hell is going on? Over,” He said once again into the microphone. The next voice he heard was that of Quistis, rather than Squall or Irvine.

“Both… dead…” she mumbled in her semi-conscious state.

“No way,” Seifer responded. “I won’t accept that. The radio’s just smashed, that’s all. Either that or they’re both still out cold. Trust me, Quistis, they are not dead.” Seifer’s voice had a tone of authority to it, and Quistis was forced to agree with Seifer.

“You’re right,” she slurred, as her eyes slowly started to close.

“Oh no you don’t!” Seifer shouted, as Quistis started to black out again. Retrieving his water bottle, he drew another large gulp, and regurgitated it into Quistis’s face, having the desired effect of waking her back up.

“Wha?” She asked, still hazy but very much awake. “I’m awake, I’m awake.” Seifer pressed the water bottle to her lips, and she started to take small sips out of it.

“C’mon, drink,” he ordered, “You’ve lost a lot of blood. You need the fluid.” Obeying Seifer’s order, Quistis started to take larger gulps, until she gently leaned her head back on the metal of the floor, her eyes starting to refocus.

“Better?” Seifer asked. Quistis gulped again before answering.

“Yeah,” she said, quietly, “a little. I still feel like I could slip away at any time, though.”

“I’m not about to let that happen,” Seifer stated, before noticing that Quistis started looking unhappier than she had been previously. “What’s up?” He asked.

“Squall and Irvine…” she quietly mumbled to the floor.

“I told you,” Seifer stated, “they’re both fine. Try not to think about them.” Quistis blinked back the tears that had started to form when she thought of her two friends, trapped in the cockpit. She turned her head to face Seifer, but was greeted by an unpleasant sight.

“Oooh…” she mumbled, somewhat disgusted by the sight.

“What’s up?” Seifer asked.

“Your leg…” she said, as disgusted as before. Seifer looked down at his leg, and suppressed a gasp- it had gained an extra joint at the shin. He changed his position, placing his leg close to Quistis’s face.

“You’re gonna have to reset it,” he said, placing his leg on top of the instructor. She, however, simply turned away.

“Don’t, please,” she said, feeling slightly nauseous.

“Come on!” Seifer shouted. “If it isn’t reset it’ll get infected! I woke you up, the least you could do is fix my leg!” Swallowing the urge to vomit, Quistis apprehensively grabbed Seifer’s leg, and sharply twisted it back into position. For the second time in five minutes, Seifer screamed in pure agony. The fact that he also had a bullet wound in the leg, 4 inches above the break, didn’t help matters either. After a few seconds, though, Seifer managed to calm the pain down to tolerable levels.

“You might have warned me!” He shouted angrily at Quistis, as he started looking around for something to use as a splint for his leg.

“Ingrate…” Quistis muttered back, before unexpectedly starting to chuckle.

“What’s so funny?” Seifer asked, annoyed.

“It’s nothing,” Quistis said, before laughing even harder than she had been before. Eventually, Seifer started laughing too, and eventually, they both creased up, laughing their heads off for several minutes.

“What were we laughing about again?” Seifer asked a panting Quistis.

“I… dunno…” Quistis said between breaths, which only started them laughing again.

“Oh, man,” Seifer said, “here we go again…”

Meanwhile, in the cockpit, Squall and Irvine were sitting motionless in their chairs, when the radio suddenly sprang to life.

“…Repeat. Ground Control to Ragnarok. Please respond, over” Xu’s slightly anxious voice stated over the radio, causing Squall to stir slightly. He slowly opened his eyes to a scene of devastation in front of him. The pilot’s controls were destroyed, with only half of the co-pilot’s console still illuminated, which was where the voice was coming from. Squall leaned over and punched the still-unconscious Irvine in the shoulder.

“Wake up,” Squall said as he punched the ponytailed astronaut. Irvine awoke with a start, although he was still slurring and his eyes had yet to focus.

“Who-whuugh-wha?” He asked, incoherently. “Squall? What happened?”

“There was an explosion,” Squall replied, “I reckon sabotage. Answer the radio.” Nodding, Irvine took hold of the handset and started speaking into the reverse of it.

“This is the Ragnarok, we copy you, Xu, over,” Irvine said, giggling slightly as he said the last few words.

“What’s so damned funny?” Squall demanded to know.

“You, Xu!” Irvine responded with a huge grin on his face, before creasing up with laughter. Oh, swell, Squall thought to himself as he took the handset from Irvine, he’s concussed and I’ve got to spend time aboard an ailing spaceship with him. Squall activated the handset (which Irvine had also neglected to do during his reply to Xu) and spoke into the correct side of it.

“Xu, we read you loud and clear. Please respond, over,” he stated, hoping the Xu would respond. A good ten seconds passed before the radio crackled into life again.

“I repeat, ground control to Ragnarok. Do you hear me? Over.” Xu’s voice sounded even more anxious than the last time she had tried to contact the spaceship.

“The time lag isn’t that big, surely?” Irvine asked, still laughing. Squall shook his head.

“It’s two seconds, tops,” he replied. “Our transmitter must be busted.” Irvine didn’t stop laughing, even at the bad news. “Will you stop laughing, you moron?” Squall’s voice had a more aggressive edge to it. Irvine responded by laughing even harder.

“You, Xu!” He shouted, laughing again, before composing himself and donning a serious tone of voice. “Hey, Squall, is it just me, or is it getting cold in here?”

“It’s just you,” Squall replied, before noticing that his arm had developed goose pimples, and his ears were hurting like hell. “Actually, you’re right, it IS cold in here. The heater must be broken too.”

“How cold’s it going to get?” Irvine asked, now completely serious.

“Very,” Squall said, looking at the thermometer on Irvine’s control panel- it put the temperature at a degree below freezing, and it was falling steadily. Squall looked over at Irvine- he was starting to shiver uncontrollably, and his teeth were chattering together as a result. Squall floated out of his chair and started tearing the passenger seats apart.

“Here,” he said, handing some of the covering material to Irvine, “wrap this round yourself. It’s not much, but it should keep out the cold.” Nodding, and still shivering, Irvine grabbed the fabric and wrapped it around him, while simultaneously huddling further into the chair.

Back at ground control, the mood was sombre.

“I repeat,” Xu stated for what must have been the twentieth time in ten minutes, “Ragnarok, please, if you can hear us, respond. Over.” Xu kept the receiver on for the next whole minute, hoping to hear something, anything from the craft. She was not to be in luck. Looking behind her to where Cid was standing, she sadly shook her head. Cid’s heart sank, as he turned round to face the two women who had not slept since the Ragnarok had taken off, 16 hours previously.

“I’m afraid,” he started, “there has been no word from the Ragnarok ever since we detected the explosion.” Cid let his normally rock-hard front crack slightly, as he witnessed Selphie’s and Rinoa’s features fall. He knew that they were both devastated, as he would be if his wife were presumed dead, trapped aboard a crippled spaceship. Just because I’ve been in their position before doesn’t make it any easier, he thought to himself, remembering the time he’d ordered SeeD to destroy sorceress Edea, even though she was his wife. Cid continued speaking.

“I’ve contacted President Loire in Esthar, and he’s sending the largest spaceship he has to rendezvous with the Ragnarok.” Cid took a deep breath, before continuing. “However, I’m afraid I must recommend that you prepare yourselves for a worst-case scenario. I’m sorry.” Cid turned and left Selphie and Rinoa alone at that point. Selphie was crestfallen, and had remained unusually silent throughout Cid’s speech, not even looking up once. Poor Selphie, Cid thought to himself, first, she’s told she can’t have babies, now she faces the possibility of losing the love of her life. His thoughts then turned to Rinoa, whose hands had been over her belly all throughout. Poor Rinoa, he thought, facing the prospect of raising a child by herself after losing the love of her life. Cid then made the decision that if Squall was, indeed, dead, then Rinoa’s child would be allowed to study at Balamb Garden and take SeeD exams free of charge, regardless of whether Rinoa stays on as a SeeD or not.

Selphie turned to face Rinoa, determined to cheer her up.

“Rinn,” she started, trying to sound optimistic but not overly cheerful, “you heard what Headmaster Cid said. Sir Laguna’s gonna find them all alive!” Rinoa, however, simply broke down crying. “Oh, Rinn,” Selphie said, leaning over and giving her a big hug, “come on! You can’t be pessimistic!” Rinoa, leaning her head onto Selphie’s shoulder, just cried even harder.

“It’s so easy for you,” Rinoa wailed. Selphie pulled Rinoa’s head off of her shoulder and looked her in the eye.

“Hey,” she said, “what happened to the old, cheerful Rinoa I used to know?” Rinoa blinked and composed herself.

“She’s looking at the prospect of raising a child by herself,” Rinoa replied. Selphie gave Rinoa another big hug. “Can I ask you a favour?” Rinoa asked, still weeping.

“Sure,” Selphie replied, “anything.”

“I don’t want to be alone tonight…” Rinoa said, quietly. Selphie’s eyes widened- Did she just ask what I think she asked? She thought to herself.

“Rinn,” she asked cautiously, “I don’t understand what you mean.” Almost immediately, Rinoa started giggling.

“Oh, Selph,” she said, giggling even more, “I’m not propositioning you!” Selphie started laughing too, out of relief. “I just need the company, that’s all.”

“OK,” Selphie said, still laughing, “of course I’ll stay with you.” Sharing smiles, Selphie and Rinoa wheeled/hobbled off towards their quarters. “Your place or mine?” Selphie asked, perkily, which prompted another giggle from Rinoa.

In the hangar of the Ragnarok, Quistis and Seifer were huddled together in a corner under a blanket, in an attempt to fight the cold.

“H-how c-cold is it now?” Quistis asked. With help from Seifer, she’d managed to patch up her head wound, but she had lost a lot of blood, and she could feel herself slipping deeper and deeper into the clutches of hypothermia. Unbeknownst to Seifer, she’d already lost all feeling in her feet, and the rest of her legs were starting to go numb.

“I don’t know,” Seifer, who was also shivering, replied. “Maybe 30 below.” Seifer then realised that a layer of cold air had started to develop between the blonde instructor and himself, so he pulled her tighter to him in an effort to keep both of them warm.

“We gotta preserve our body heat!” He sharply reminded Quistis. She was starting to shiver uncontrollably, which worried Seifer. He knew that if she succumbed to the hypothermia and lost consciousness, it was likely she’d never wake up. I’ve got to keep her awake, he thought to himself. But how do I do that? Thinking quickly, Seifer came up with a plan.

“Quistis,” he asked, calmly, “can you remember your parents? I mean, before they died?” Quistis looked up into Seifer’s face.

“What do you mean?” She asked, still shivering.

“I mean,” Seifer stated, “can you remember the people who raised you for the first few years of your life?” Quistis shook her head.

“No,” she answered, “none of us can, ‘cause of the GF’s.” Seifer then took a deep breath, and prepared himself to tell Quistis something he’d never told anyone.

“I can remember mine,” he said, prompting Quistis to sit up. Seifer quickly pulled her back into his frame. “Body heat, remember?” He snapped. Quistis nodded in response.

“What can you remember about them?” Quistis, who was genuinely curious, asked. “How can you remember them? I thought the damage caused by the GF’s was irreversible.” Seifer shook his head.

“It’s not irreversible,” he said in reply. “Don’t forget, I haven’t used a GF in over three years. And, about six months ago, I started to have flashbacks of a man and a woman. I believe they were my parents.”

“What were they like?” Quistis asked inquisitively. Seifer closed his eyes.

“The only memories I have are of them fighting,” he said.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Quistis responded. Seifer shook his head again.

“No need to be,” he reassured the young woman, “it’s not like it was your fault or anything. And to answer your original question, my mother was a beautiful woman. She was young, or at least appeared to be. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen when she had me. She was also quite petite.” Seifer paused for a little while, which prompted Quistis to speak up.

“And your father?” She asked. Seifer took a deep breath. OK, Seif, he thought to himself. You started this conversation, you can’t back out of it now.

“He-he was a brute,” Seifer said, his voice wobbling slightly.

“Seifer?” Quistis softly asked, with a concerned tone creeping into her voice.

“He was a soldier, an officer in the Galbaldian army, I think,” he continued. “He was tall- very tall, maybe 6’ 7”, maybe even taller than that.”

“That would explain where you get it from, then,” Quistis interjected. Seifer laughed a bit, looking down at his 6’ 4” frame.

“Yeah,” he said, continuing to laugh, “probably. My Dad absolutely towered over my mother, and he intimidated her. He was a real brute- everything had to be perfect, or-“ Seifer paused, trying to compose himself.

“Or what?” Quistis cautiously asked. Seifer sniffed, trying to hold back the tears that were welling in his eyes.

“Or he’d beat her,” he said, prompting a gasp from Quistis. “And he’d make me watch. Said it’d be ‘Good for me to see that violence is the solution to everything.’ What crap.”

“Oh, Seifer,” Quistis said, burying her head in his chest, as he leaned his head back on the wall of the hangar.

“Inevitably, of course, I’d start crying too,” Seifer continued, “I was only three years old. And when I started to cry, he just beat her even more, saying that She’d ‘Made me weak with her mollycoddling’ or something like that. And when he’d finished with her, he’d start with me.” Quistis looked up at Seifer, a shocked expression on her face.

“You heard me,” he continued, “even though I was an infant, I had to be just like he was- cold, hard and emotionless. I tried to run at times, but that just made him angrier when he found me. I could never escape him- I was just a toddler, and was a frigging giant. When he caught me, he’d pin me down, face-first, with one hand. Then,” Seifer paused for a moment, struggling in vain to keep back the tears that were straining to escape his eyes, “he’d take off his belt, and he’d tell me in that goddamned voice of his that ‘It was for my own good.’ Then he’d hit me across the back with the belt.” Seifer’s tears were flowing freely by this point. “You know, sometimes I wish I’d never got these memories back. I mean, what kind of human being uses a weapon against a three-year old?” Quistis did not respond- she felt that nothing she could say would be able to comfort the young man who was pouring his heart out to her. Seifer continued his life story. “Naturally, I’d cry all throughout the beating, which just made him beat me more. Sometimes, when he was really angry, he’d even use the buckle end, which hurt me so much I usually vomited. He’d only stop beating me once I’d cried myself dry. And all throughout, he’d call me a sissy. A mummy’s boy. I hate that bastard so f**king much.” Seifer took several breaths, trying to compose himself. Quistis took the opportunity to respond.

“Seifer,” she asked cautiously, knowing that Seifer had a tendency to be over-generous with the truth, “is all of that true?” Seifer looked down into Quistis’s face, staring at her with anger-filled eyes.

“Of course it’s true!” He snapped. “I’m not that good an actor, Quis, do you think I could make these up?” He asked, pointing at his tear-streaked eyes. He sighed, then took several deep breaths, calming himself down. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to snap.” Quistis shook her head.

“It’s OK,” she said, not realising that Seifer had successfully taken her mind off of the pain and numbness that she was in.

“When I enrolled at Balamb Garden,” he continued, with a more subdued tone of voice, “I still had the memories of that… person firmly embedded in my mind. While he was alive, all I wanted to do was make him proud of me, so that’s probably why I picked on everyone- I saw them all as sissies, and I knew my father hated sissies. I thought that maybe if I showed him that I’m following in his footsteps, he’d be proud of me. Maybe.”

“And now?” Quistis asked.

“If by some miracle he is alive, and he comes to me and says he’s proud of me, I’d most probably vomit in disgust.”

“You’ve changed so much, Seifer Almasy,” Quistis stated. “If it means anything to you, Seif, I’m proud of you. What you’ve become.”

“Thanks, Quistis,” Seifer said, giving Quistis a brief kiss on the forehead. Quistis said nothing in response, instead, she merely huddled herself closer to Seifer.

In the cockpit, Squall and Irvine were in a bad way. They were fast succumbing to hypothermia, and were both semi-conscious, and hallucinating from the depleted supply of oxygen.

Squall was sitting in the pilot’s seat of the Ragnarok, freezing to death, but as far as he was concerned, he was disciplining three unruly SeeD cadets, which were, in reality, a microphone, a window and one of his spacesuit’s gloves.

“You listen to me!” Squall yelled, almost incoherently, “I don’t care if it’s your birthday, you do as you’re damned well told or I’ll bust your ass down to danitorial juty (sic) so fast that your feet won’t touch the floor!” Squall paused for a moment, before continuing. “And I don’t give a shit that you don’t have feet, either!”

Meanwhile, Irvine, who was not only fighting hypothermia, but also a mild concussion, was wrapped up in his makeshift blanket, eyes closed, and was mumbling incoherently. However, his mind was very active.

Irvine was standing on the peak of a snow-covered mountain, buck naked, shivering like crazy. All around him, he could hear voices, all of them calling his name.

“Irvine…” a boy, who was maybe ten years old, called.

“Irvine?” an elderly lady enquired.

“Irvine!” a stern, authoritative male voice barked. None of these voices made Irvine move from where he knelt on the mountaintop, his hands preserving his modesty. Out of the cacophony of voices, however, Irvine heard one in particular that grew louder and louder, clearer and clearer.

“Irvy-poo… Irvy-poo…” Irvine looked up upon hearing his wife’s voice, and cried out.

“Selphie!!!!! Where are you?” Irvine stood up and turned around, just in time to see the train slam into him.

“Train, train, take us away, take us away, far away…” Selphie’s voice sang out from all around Irvine, who was plastered, still naked, to the front of the train, which was getting faster, and faster, like the song, which eventually got so fast, it started overlapping, until it was little more than gibberish.

“Train far us train away us far take away away away away…” Irvine chanced a look behind him, and saw that he was approaching a dead end, and the train showed no signs of slowing down. He screamed, whilst the train flew straight into the barriers, exploding. The next thing Irvine knew, he was inside a cramped place- a hollow metal tube, open at only one end.

“Selphie?” He asked cautiously, before realising where he was. I’m in one of my guns… he thought to himself.

“BANG!” Irvine heard Selphie shout, as he flew out of the end of the gun, like a bullet. Within seconds, he had spread his wings (which he never even knew he had) and was flying, soaring over the clouds, with a passenger on his back.

“Hi, my Irvy-poo!” Selphie cooed from he position atop the airborne Irvine.

“Hey, my ickle Sefie-bunny!” Irvine cooed back, pulling off a loop-the-loop, which prompted a yelp of excitement from his passenger. Before he knew what was happening, however, Selphie had jumped off his back, and was plummeting to the ground, far, far below.

“Wheeee!” Selphie shouted as she fell. Reacting quickly, Irvine swooped down, and landed beside Selphie, who was now wearing a blue cotton dress, some weird, sparkling red shoes, and, most curious of all, was holding a small dog in her arms.

“There’s no place like home,” she whispered, soulfully, before running from Irvine down a long, straight road. As he ran, Irvine was confronted by twisted, distorted images of his friends and family. He saw Squall, except it was not the lion hearted Squall, but a real lion, who somehow bore Squall’s face.

“Keep running,” the lion said, before turning and running off into the distance. Irvine turned his head away from the lion, and saw a man, made of metal, bouncing his fist off of the top of a scarecrow’s head. The metal man bore a startling resemblance to Seifer, and the scarecrow looked exactly like Zell, hair, tattoos and all. Both of them gave thumbs-ups to Irvine as he ran past. Then, much to Irvine’s confusion, two bloated, furry creatures with antennae sticking out of their head ran across the road in front of Irvine. They turned, and Irvine immediately recognised the faces as being those of Quistis and Rinoa. The two women waved at him as he ran past.

“Eh-oh!” Rinoa shouted in a strange, high-pitched voice.

“Funny Irvine!” Shouted Quistis in an equally high voice.

Irvine passed several more strange sights, such as Nida, wearing baggy black pants, breakdancing to some rap music; his adoptive parents, who seemed to be wearing tie-dyed T-shirts and headbands of flowers, singing a duet; Cid, dressed like an army commando with a khaki vest and headband, mowing down ninjas with a machine gun.

Eventually, however, Irvine reached the end of the road, where Selphie was sitting in a rocking chair, petting her dog.

“You took your time,” Selphie said.

“S-sorry,” an out-of-breath Irvine replied, while he sat down in the chair next to Selphie. There was a brief pause, while Selphie simply stared at Irvine.

“Well?” She asked, impatiently.

“Well what?” Irvine responded.

“Well,” Selphie said, “are you gonna kiss me or not?” Irvine smiled, and leapt out of his chair at Selphie, giving his wife a long, passionate kiss…

Back in the real world, Squall had fallen asleep after realising he was hallucinating, by casting on himself the spells Aura (to clear his head), Regen, and finally Sleep. In his sleep, he dreamt of his wife, of kissing her, and holding her close, when he realised that something was not quite right. Since when did Rinoa have stubble? He thought to himself.

Meanwhile, Irvine’s passionate encounter with Selphie had hit a similar snag. Selphie doesn’t usually forget to shave, the hallucinating sniper thought to himself. Come to think of it, Selphie doesn’t usually HAVE to shave. Irvine opened his eyes, and was alarmed to find himself in a passionate embrace with none other than his commander, Squall Leonheart, just as Squall had opened his eyes and realised what he was doing with Irvine.

“Aaaauuuggghhh!” Squall shouted, pushing Irvine off of him. “What the hell are you doing?”

“What the hell am I doing?” A now-lucid Irvine shouted back. “You’re the one who- who- UGH! I feel sick! What were you thinking?”

“I was asleep, you moron!” Squall retorted, loudly. “You’re the one who forced yourself on me!”

“I WAS HALLUCINATING!” Irvine shouted. The two of them stared at each other for a while, before completely breaking down in laughter. They returned to their chairs and wrapped their blankets around themselves once more, both still laughing hard.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Squall started, still chuckling, “I didn’t think we’d got this bad already. Promise me one thing- if we get home, you NEVER tell Selphie about what just happened. Deal?” Squall extended his hand, which Irvine gladly shook.

“Deal,” he said, looking out of the window at the world he’d just strived so hard to save. A thought then entered his mind.

“Squall,” he asked, “When are the bombs set to detonate?” Squall leaned over and looked at the clock on Irvine’s control panel, before closing the blast shutters on the windows.

“Right about… now,” Squall said.

“Squall,” Irvine asked, “we are far enough away to protect us from the blast, right? I mean, we did have momentum when that bomb went off, didn’t we?” Squall simply looked over at Irvine with a neutral expression on his face.

“Let’s hope so,” he stated. As if on cue, the cockpit started to ever-so-slightly shake…

In Rinoa’s quarters, Selphie was lying awake on Rinoa’s and Squall’s bed, the back of her head resting on Rinoa’s abdomen, where she had fallen asleep a few hours previously. They’d had had a real girls’ night, staying up into the small hours talking about their husbands, until Rinoa started to feel sleepy, at which point they’d crashed on the bed in the positions they presently occupied. Because of Rinoa’s condition, they hadn’t drunk any alcohol that night, meaning that Selphie, usually a light sleeper anyway, woke up very quickly following the dream that she’d had.

She and Irvine were riding on the carousel at the annual Balamb fun fair, and were having a good time, smiling, laughing, holding each other, when suddenly, from out of nowhere, a gunshot was fired, and the next thing Selphie knew, Irvine had fallen off the carousel, and laid dead on the floor at her feet. Then, as Selphie cradled Irvine’s body in her arms, Chris Duncan, the SeeD Selphie thought she knew so well, but had turned out to be a homicidal maniac, walked up to her, and knelt down beside her grief-stricken form, brandishing the rifle he’d just used to kill her love.

“Tell me, Sefie-bunny,” he whispered in a quiet, psychotic voice, using the pet name Irvine had given her, “what did you honestly expect? Hmm?” Chris then kissed Selphie on the lips and walked off, at which point Selphie awoke, almost screaming. She’d been unable to get back to sleep since the dream, and in the time since, had thought of only one person- her husband, the man she’d grown to depend upon during the past three years.

As a couple, Selphie and Irvine were similar to Squall and Rinoa in many ways, but were polar opposites in many other ways. Irvine and Selphie loved close physical contact, and strived to get as much of it as they possibly could during a day. When they were seen walking down a corridor together, Selphie was almost guaranteed to have wrapped herself around the cowboy’s frame, and Irvine was almost guaranteed to have placed one of his hands firmly on Selphie’s hip. They also often used pet names- “Irvy-poo” and “Sefie-bunny” being two of the more common ones.

The thing about the relationship that had surprised Selphie the most, though, was that Irvine had almost immediately stopped eyeing up every woman he saw. Before he and Selphie had their first romantic encounter in the kitchen of the former orphanage, barely an HOUR would go by in which Irvine wasn’t mentally undressing every woman within eyeshot, even if he was on a date, it was likely to happen at some point. When he’d hooked up with Selphie, however, those tendencies had stopped dead, up to the point where Selphie figured that even a fully naked woman wouldn’t be able to drag Irvine’s eyes away from herself. And Selphie had loved every second of it- she loved when Irvine spoilt her; she loved when Irvine was merely in the same room as her. She loved Irvine, and that was all there was to it.

And now, she had to face the prospect of life without him.

No more cuddles. No more pet names. No more sex. No more sleeping in his strong arms. No more shared laughs. No more Irvine.

His mere presence made Selphie blissfully happy- but the lack of it made her depressed. She’d hidden it, of course, behind her veil of optimism, and deep down, she truly did believe that Irvine was going to return, but she had to be prepared to face the possibility that he would never come back, no matter how much that would make her sad.

Selphie’s thought processes were interrupted when all of a sudden, a bright flash briefly lit up the mid-morning sky outside the window. She quickly shook Rinoa awake, and pointed at the window.

“Rinn!” She yelled, enthusiastically. “The bombs just exploded! Woo-hoo! They did it!” Thanks to Selphie’s jostling, Rinoa woke up, albeit groggily.

“What?” She asked, sleepily.

“The bombs just exploded!” Selphie shouted, causing Rinoa to wince.

“Not so loud, Selph, please,” Rinoa murmured, not moving an inch from where she was sprawled on the bed.

“Oh, sorry, Rinn,” Selphie said, sliding off the bed and hobbling over to the television, turning it on. “Let’s see what it says on the news!” Selphie, now sitting up on the end of the bed, switched the set over to the news channel.

“We interrupt this article to bring you this breaking news,” the female newsreader started. “A large flash has just been seen in the skies over Esthar, Balamb and Trabia. There is no further news as to what may have caused the flash, but-“ the newsreader paused as she touched her finger to her ear, no doubt receiving instructions from her director. “We’ve just been told, listeners, that President Laguna Loire of Esthar is preparing to make an announcement concerning the flash.”

“Woo-hoo!” Selphie yelled again. “Rinn, Rinn! Your Daddy-in-law’s on the TV!” Rinoa, however, was still groggy, and only half-paying attention to the broadcast. A few seconds passed, before a close-up view of Laguna, standing on the balcony of the Esthar presidential palace, appeared on the screen.

“People of the world,” Laguna started, “I am happy to inform you that we-“ Laguna suddenly stopped talking, clutching the right hand side of his chest, which had suddenly become bloody. Almost instantaneously, there was chaos, as cameramen, paramedics, government ministers (including Ward and Kiros) and armed security guards suddenly began crowding around where Laguna had fallen on the floor. Within seconds, the screen turned to static, before returning to the shell-shocked newsreader. Selphie, too, was in a state of shock.

“OH MY GOD!!” She shouted in a very high-pitched voice. “Rinn! Rinn! Laguna!” Rinoa, however, was still not paying attention, almost to the point of being catatonic. “Rinoa, have you been paying attention to what’s just happened?” Selphie finally snapped, having grown tired of Rinoa’s lack of response to the whole situation. Selphie grabbed the pregnant woman by the arms, and looked up into her face.

“Your father-in-law has just been assassinated!” Selphie barked in Rinoa’s face. However, Rinoa, without warning, replied by throwing up all over Selphie. The tiny brunette was incredulous, and were it not for her injuries, would have been running around the room, screaming.

“AAAUUGGHH!” Selphie shouted, backing away from Rinoa. “Why did you just do that!?” Rinoa shook her head.

“Morning sickness…” Rinoa groaned, heading towards the bathroom. “Sorry.” Selphie followed her into the bathroom, and started cleaning herself up, while Rinoa continued to throw up down the toilet. A few minutes passed, before Rinoa spoke up.

“I can’t believe it,” Rinoa said. “First Squall, now Laguna. Why did this have to happen?”

“Well we can’t just sit here feeling sorry for ourselves, Rinn!” Selphie shouted at the depressed mother-to-be, before hobbling out of the bathroom and towards the telephone.

“Where are you going, Selph?” Rinoa asked, wearily, while Selphie was busy dialling.

“I’m gonna ring Cid!” Selphie enthusiastically squeaked. “Me and you, Rinn, we’re going to Esthar, right now!”

“But Selph…” Rinoa whined.

“No buts!” Selphie shouted as she held the receiver to her ear, waiting for the reply. “Ellone’s just lost her father, and maybe her brother too. She’s gonna want all the family she can get. That’s you, Rinn.” Accepting defeat, Rinoa nodded, while Selphie spoke into the receiver.

“Hello?” Selphie enquired. “Boss? Me and Rinoa need to get to Esthar pronto. Can you arrange it?” There was a brief pause, while Cid, with whom Selphie was conversing, responded. “Woo-hoo!” She shouted, ending the pause. “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” She hung up, and hobbled as fast as she could toward Rinoa.

“What did he say?” Rinoa asked, starting to sound more awake and less nauseous.

“We’re going in half an hour!” Selphie enthused.

“Half an hour?” Rinoa exclaimed. “Is that enough time for you to get back to your quarters and get changed?” Selphie simply shook her head.

“I’ll just borrow some of your stuff,” she replied. “In a few weeks, it won’t even fit you anyway!” Selphie patted Rinoa’s belly to emphasise the point, before going over to her wardrobe and picking out an outfit to wear.

Forty-five minutes later, and, being accompanied by Cid, Selphie and Rinoa were aboard a jetcopter, and were heading to Esthar. They quickly touched down at Esthar air station, and were greeted by Kiros, who was sweating and panting so much that he looked like he’d just finished the Esthar marathon. Immediately, Rinoa hobbled towards the dark-skinned aide of Laguna.

“What happened to Dad?” Asked Rinoa, who had started calling Laguna “Dad” at his request. Kiros looked up, and smiled and nodded, prompting Rinoa to sigh with relief, and give him a quick hug.

“He’s out of surgery,” Kiros started, catching his breath. “The bullet got lodged between two of his ribs. He’ll be fine in a week or two.”

“Yay!” Selphie shouted, as she wheeled herself toward where Rinoa and Kiros were standing. Cid quickly followed her.

“Is he conscious?” The headmaster asked, seriously. “I need to speak to him as soon as possible.” Kiros shook his head.

“He’ll be conscious in a few hours,” Kiros replied, “but you can all come with me to the hospital now- I’m sure Ellone would like to see you as quickly as is possible.” With that, they all boarded the nearest shuttle car, and departed for Esthar hospital. Upon their arrival, they entered the building and went up to Laguna’s room, only to be stopped by an elite Esthar security guard.

“Relatives and government officials only,” the guard said in a cold voice, allowing Kiros to enter but blocking the others’ path with a rifle. Cid and Selphie nodded and sat down in the nearby waiting room. Rinoa, however, was not to be moved. She simply stared at the guard with a fierce look on her face.

“I said,” the guard reiterated, “Relatives and government officials only.”

“Do you know who I am?” Rinoa asked, in a patronising voice.

“President Loire’s daughter-in-law,” the guard replied in a matter-of-fact voice. “Only his son and his adopted daughter count as relatives. Sorry.” With that, Rinoa felt her temper start to boil over.

“Do you mean,” she started, seething with rage, “that you won’t allow the woman who is carrying his grandchild to enter? Because if that’s the case, then, at some point in the future, I am going to go to Kiros, find out exactly who you are, then I will go to my father-in-law and tell him EXACTLY who it was who kept his daughter-in-law and his unborn grandchild from seeing him when he was unwell. And when that happens, my friend, the closest you will get to working with him is when you clean out his drains!” Once again, Rinoa stared the guard in the face. This time, however, the guard turned around and opened the door into his room.

“Make it quick,” the guard said, accepting defeat. With a smug look on her face, Rinoa entered the room, and sat down next to Ellone, at Laguna’s bedside.

“Hi,” Rinoa said quietly to her sister-in-law, while Kiros and Ward conversed with the doctor who was tending to Laguna.

“Hi,” Ellone replied. There was an awkward pause, before they both started to speak at the same time.

“Is there-“ Rinoa said.

“Have you-“ Ellone said simultaneously, before both women laughed at their mistake.

“You go first,” Rinoa said. Ellone nodded.

“Have you heard any news about Squally?” She asked, hopefully. Rinoa leaned her head downwards, and almost started crying. “Rinn? What’s the matter?”

“I was hoping you’d know something,” Rinoa sobbed. At this, Ellone’s eyes also started to well up.

“First Uncle Laguna and now Squally…” Ellone wailed, quietly. The two women leaned in toward each other and gave each other a brief, comforting hug.

“They’re sending a rescue party into outer space, aren’t they?” Rinoa asked, hopefully. Ellone nodded, letting go of her sister-in-law.

“They should get there in about four hours,” Ellone confirmed.

“And the asteroid?” Rinoa asked, out of interest.

“Completely destroyed,” Ellone stated. “We issued a press release earlier about it. Uncle Laguna was meant to have made the statement live, but-“

“It’s OK, Elle,” Rinoa said, giving the tearful Ellone another hug. Just then, however, Laguna started to stir, groaning and trying to lift his hand. The doctor, accompanied by Kiros and Ward, rushed over, and read the instruments by Laguna’s bedside.

“He’s regaining consciousness,” the doctor stated. Slowly, Laguna opened his eyes, to be greeted by the sight of his adoptive daughter, and his daughter-in-law.

“Hey,” he said, smiling, “my two favourite girls.” Ellone and Rinoa both giggled- Laguna was going to be alright.

A couple of hours later, while Rinoa, Ellone and Selphie were talking in the visitors’ room, Cid was privately conversing with Laguna.

“I thought it might have been,” Laguna said. “Haven’t your people caught this ‘Chris’ person yet?” Cid shook his head.

“He’s one of the most highly-trained SeeDs in Garden,” Cid replied. “How he managed to smuggle that Fox-17 into Esthar baffles even me- it’s not exactly a handgun.”

“I want him caught,” Laguna stated.

“Seifer Almasy is already funding a mission to catch Mr. Duncan,” Cid explained. Laguna simply shook his head.

“From now on, the mission is funded by the Esthar government,” Laguna plainly stated.

“Why all the urgency?” Cid asked, bemused. Laguna was possibly the least vindictive man on the planet, so why he’d be so eager to catch Chris made no sense to the headmaster.

“He’s shown that he’s not afraid to hurt family and friends to get at Squall,” Laguna started. “I’m sure that bullet was meant for my heart. If he goes for Ellone, or Rinoa…” Laguna’s voice trailed off, as he didn’t want to contemplate what might happen if Chris got even more vicious. Cid nodded- it all made sense to him now.

“I’ll despatch Zell, along with several security guards, the second we hear from the rescue squad,” Cid said, at which point Laguna nodded, as both began the long wait for news about the Ragnarok.

In the hangar, Seifer felt himself slip closer and closer toward unconsciousness. The pain from his leg was almost blinding him, and his body temperature had dropped to dangerous levels. I’ve got to hold on… He thought to himself, clutching the unconscious Quistis in his arms. Already, despite her still being (barely) alive, she felt cold to Seifer’s touch. Seifer’s vision faded to darkness as he felt the cold claw of unconsciousness start to claim him as well. I’m sorry, Quis, was what he thought as he eventually lost the battle to remain awake. The last thing he was aware of, before passing out, was the ship starting to rumble…

In the hospital room, everyone, Ellone, Selphie, Rinoa, Ward and Kiros, had gathered around Laguna’s bed, where a videoconference link had been established to ground control. No one knew whether the crew of the Ragnarok would be alive or dead, or even whether or not the ship had been vaporised by the force of the nuclear bomb. There was an anxious 30-minute wait for response from the rescue squad, during which time no one, not even Selphie, or Zell at ground control, uttered a word. Eventually, the static on the radio started to clear up, and the voice of Dyne, the commander of the rescue squad, could be heard.

“Rescue Squad to Balamb Control, come in, please, over,” the deep masculine voice of Dyne boomed over the radio.

“This is Balamb control, we copy you,” the comparatively tiny voice of Xu replied. “What is the status of the crew of the Ragnarok? Over.”

“We have recovered all four crew members,” Dyne started, before pausing, which prompted everyone listening to hold their breath. Rinoa clutched her abdomen, where her unborn baby was developing. Please… She thought to herself. Oh, Hyne, please let him be alright… Eventually, Selphie could not take the suspense any longer, even though it had only been a mere few seconds.

“Come on!” She wailed, “are they all alive?” There was another brief pause before Dyne finished his sentence.

“…Alive,” he boomed. In ground control, the scenes of celebration were grand, with everybody cheering and hugging each other, and discarded papers being flung in the air. “We’re bringing them home as we speak. Over and out.” In the hospital room, everyone sighed, and while a jubilant Selphie, Rinoa and Ellone all shared a group hug, Cid went over and shook Laguna’s hand. Thank Hyne… The headmaster thought to himself.

A mere seven hours later, the rescue craft touched down at Esthar airstation. Rinoa and Selphie both waited anxiously as Quistis’s and Seifer’s unconscious bodies were wheeled out on stretchers, before seeing the sight they had waited the last three days for. Irvine and Squall were walking off the spacecraft, assisted by two Esthar astronauts, but both were walking. When they saw their wives, they were running. Squall immediately broke from his helper and ran towards Rinoa, wrapping his arms tightly around her.

“I’ve missed you so much…” Squall whispered in her ear.

“I love you so much…” Rinoa whispered in his ear. They kissed, and hugged again, before walking together toward the shuttle car that bore their unconscious friends.

“Squall,” Rinoa said in a hushed tone en route to the shuttle car, “I’ve got some bad news for you about Dad…”

When Irvine saw Selphie sitting at the end of the ramp, in her wheelchair, his face immediately lit up, and, despite mild hypothermia and a slight concussion, he sprinted as fast as he could towards her smiling face, bending down and holding her close to his body.

“Is that party still on?” He jokingly asked the still-grinning Selphie.

“You bet!” She happily replied. “Once Quisty and Seifer are on their feet, of course.” They too then proceeded toward the shuttle car, closely followed by the rest of the rescue team.

Fifteen minutes later, Squall was marching through the halls of Esthar hospital, belying his comparatively poor physical state. When Rinoa had told him of the assassination attempt, Squall’s heart had started racing- mostly out of concern for his father’s safety, but also out of rage.

The rage, of course, was directed towards Chris- the man who had tried to kill him, the man who had wounded his wife, the man who had blown up his best friend’s house for a whim, and now he had tried to kill his father. Squall was also angry at himself- for being stranded, helpless, in outer space while his father may have been dying.

Eventually, Squall arrived at the door into Laguna’s private room, which the guard opened without hesitation. Squall broke into a relieved smile upon seeing Laguna sitting up in his bed, grinning at him.

“Hi Squall!” Laguna shouted, cheerily.

“Hi Dad!” Squall replied. There was a brief silence before Squall finally spoke again.

“What’s the news on the asteroid?” He asked, prompting a groan from Laguna.

“Oh, come on Squall,” Laguna moaned, “don’t be all business all the time!”

“What else do you want to talk about then?” Squall asked, sitting down at Laguna’s bedside.

“Well,” the fifty-year old president replied, chuckling, “my first grandchild, for a start. Have you had the ultrasound yet?” Squall shook his head.

“Not yet, we-“ Squall tried to reply, before Laguna cut him off by speaking again.

“I’ve got one booked for you in a couple of hours,” he said, causing Squall to recoil in surprise.

“Huh?” Squall replied.

“I figured, with both you and Rinoa here, why not?” Squall paused for a few seconds, trying to think of a reason, before finally admitting defeat.

“I can’t think of a reason,” Squall replied. “I’ll let her know once I’m done here.”

“OK, son,” Laguna said, smiling.

“Can we talk business now?” Squall asked.

“The asteroid?” Laguna asked, at which Squall nodded. “Completely obliterated.” Squall smiled.

“That’s good to hear,” he replied. “Have they examined the, er, your bullet yet?” Squall asked, adopting a more subdued tone. Laguna nodded.

“Yep,” he replied, equally subdued. “Same gun that shot you, Seifer and Rinoa.” Squall clenched his hands into fists at this news.

“Why would he do that?” The young man asked angrily. Laguna simply shook his head.

“Some people are just plain evil, Squall,” he stated. It was not a great source of comfort to Squall.

“Suppose he goes for Elle next?” He asked, his voice wobbling slightly.

“Both Elle and myself are going into hiding until that lunatic is either behind bars or six feet under,” Laguna responded. “And I don’t care which. I won’t have people messing with what I care about most- my family.” Squall nodded. “Speaking of which, aren’t you supposed to be telling Rinoa about the ultrasound?” Squall looked up, and smiled.

“You’re right,” he acknowledged.

“Hey,” Laguna replied, “doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s always good!” Both he and his son laughed at the remark.

“I’ll see you soon, Dad,” Squall said, getting up and leaving his father in peace.

“Bye, son,” Laguna said, waving as Squall walked out of the room. Once he had gone, Laguna leant back in his bed, and started singing quietly to himself.

“I’m gonna be a granddad,” he started, before repeating the line over and over again.

Meanwhile, a young woman was walking through the streets of Esthar. She had long, brown hair, and was wearing an ankle-length cotton dress. This woman, however, was not all that she appeared to be- she was, in fact, a man. She was, in fact, the same man who had, mere hours before, taken a shot at the president of the city that she, or rather, he was now trying to leave.

Chris allowed himself a little smirk- once again, his ingenuity had seen him pull off his mission, and escape without anyone noticing.

“How ironic,” he said, quietly, to himself, “that it should be Almasy himself who gave me my best idea yet.” Despite the explosion on the Ragnarok, Chris’s spyphone had survived intact, and had told him that Squall and Irvine had survived the blast. With nothing better to do, Chris resumed his watching of Seifer’s video diaries, when he watched the recording of Selphie’s torture at Seifer’s hands. What Seifer had said at the end was of great interest to Chris- “I’ve got an assassination to plan” were his exact words. It was common knowledge at Garden that Laguna was the father of Squall, but it had never entered Chris’s mind before. Immediately, he travelled to Esthar, complete with his sniper rifle, and the disguise he would be using to escape. Gaining entry using a fake ID, he positioned himself on a building opposite the presidential palace, and awaited his chance.

His chance came very quickly, as within half an hour of his arrival, the nuclear bombs detonated and lit up the skies. This had come as no great surprise to Chris- he’d been aware of the countdown and had been expecting it. Chris had also expected Laguna to appear on the balcony outside the presidential palace to address the public concerning the flash in the skies, and Chris’s instincts had not let him down. As Laguna started speaking, Chris aimed his crosshairs over Laguna’s heart, before an unexpected thought struck him- I’ve not actually killed anyone so far, he thought to himself. He’d tried, on several occasions, but everyone he’d come in contact with remained very much alive. Not wanting to break his duck just yet, Chris altered his aim and hit Laguna in the right-hand side of the chest, missing his heart, and making it look like an attempted murder, when it was in fact anything but. I am of course making Squall even more angry at me, Chris thought to himself, but I couldn’t let him return to a hero’s welcome, all smiles and joy, can I? I wonder how he’ll take my little surprise, not to mention the one I’ve left in his quarters at Balamb…

Chris, using another fake ID, exited Esthar via the trans-continental railway, and headed all the way back to Galbaldia, and his secret base, all the while, feeling smug about another job well done…

Squall and Rinoa entered the ultrasound room in Esthar hospital, and, under the doctor’s instructions, Rinoa laid down on the table, and pulled her shirt upward, exposing her midriff. The doctor placed lubricating jelly onto her ultrasound scope, before pushing it into Rinoa’s belly. The young woman gasped slightly as the cold jelly met her skin.

“What’s up?” Squall asked, concerned by Rinoa’s gasp.

“It’s cold,” Rinoa whispered back. Just then, however, the doctor interrupted them.

“I’ve got someone on this screen who might want to meet you,” the doctor said, before gasping herself.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” Rinoa asked, panicking slightly. The doctor simply smiled.

“Nothing’s wrong,” the doctor informed the parents-to-be. “You have a perfectly healthy baby.” Squall and Rinoa both smiled big, cheesy grins at the news.

“In fact,” the doctor continued, “you have two perfectly healthy babies. Take a look.”

“Twins?” Rinoa asked. The doctor nodded, before wheeling the monitor around for Squall and Rinoa to see. They both looked on in awe…

Two perfect babies, Rinoa thought, looking at the screen, then at her belly where the babies were growing, then back at the screen again. The foetuses were not yet fully formed, the limbs still being a bit stumpy, but to their mother, they were the most amazing things in the world. Two perfect babies… Rinoa may have been a sorceress with incredible magical power, but she was still awe-struck by the simple matter of procreation.

“They’re our kids, Angel!” Squall excitedly exclaimed, placing his hands on Rinoa’s shoulders.

“I know,” said Rinoa, still awestruck. “It’s a miracle, isn’t it?” Squall simply nodded, still smiling.

“They’re both healthy, aren’t they?” Squall asked, wanting reassurance. The doctor nodded, to the relief of both parents.

“Two perfectly healthy, normal babies. Would you like to know their genders?” The doctor asked. Squall and Rinoa looked at each other, unsure of their answer.

“Well?” Squall asked.

“I don’t know,” Rinoa answered. “Yes. No wait, no, I want to keep the surprise. No, yes. No. Yes.” Rinoa was changing her mind so fast neither the doctor or Squall could keep up. In the end, Squall simply squeezed Rinoa’s shoulders a little, causing her to stop talking.

“Yes,” Squall said, answering the doctor’s question.

“Squall, are you sure?” Rinoa replied. “What about the surprise?”

“You’ll be giving birth to two babies back-to-back,” Squall retorted, “knowing you, you probably won’t care too much about the surprise.” Rinoa smiled, and nodded- it hadn’t dawned on her that she’d have to go through the pain of childbirth twice in quick succession.

“I’m pleased to announce,” the doctor said, “that you’re having one of each. A boy and a girl. Congratulations.” Squall and Rinoa simply smiled, happy with the knowledge that in a little over six months’ time, there would be two new additions to their household.

On the jetcopter ride back, Rinoa broke the news to Irvine and Selphie, who were sharing the jetcopter with the parents-to-be.

“Wow! Twins!” Selphie shouted, wheeling her wheel chair over toward Rinoa, and wrapping her arms around her in a big hug. “That’s so awesome!” Irvine was equally excited, giving Squall a brief, friendly hug of his own.

“Damn, Squall,” Irvine, who had been happy to get his hat and coat back, said, “you’ve sure got some ammunition in you!”

“Now we’ve got a double reason for that party!” Selphie perkily announced. “The asteroid went BOOM! And Rinoa’s gonna have twins!” Selphie then gasped.

“What is it?” Rinoa asked, wondering why Selphie was taken aback all of a sudden.

“Oh my god,” Selphie exclaimed, “I just realised- I’ve got a baby shower to plan too!”

“Relax, Selph,” Rinoa said, trying to calm the even-more-bubbly-than-usual Selphie down. “The babies aren’t due for another six months!” Selphie, however, was not dissuaded.

“A boy AND a girl?” Selphie asked, rhetorically. “Well, then, we gotta have pink and blue…”

The jetcopter headed off, back toward Balamb Garden, with Selphie getting more and more excited as each second passed.

Seifer hobbled down the hallway on his crutches, accompanied by a security guard. Now that he’d returned to normal gravity, his broken leg had started to hurt like hell, and, after regaining consciousness, it took him three hours to merely sit up, he was in so much pain. He’d originally left his bed merely to go to the toilet, but upon his journey back, he noticed a light on in one of the rooms, despite it being the middle of the night. He lifted his glasses and peered at the name on the door, which read “Miss Q. Trepe.” Needing the company, and deciding that Quistis probably needed it too, Seifer headed toward the door.

“Stay out here,” he ordered the guard, who nodded, and waited while Seifer knocked on the door. The guard had also noticed the name on the door, and while he may have been ordered to take Seifer to the toilet and nowhere else, he felt that his superiors wouldn’t mind him letting two of the heroes who blew up the asteroid talk to each other for a couple of minutes. Particularly when his superior happened to be the president of Esthar.

Seifer entered the room quietly. The lights were on, but Quistis was lying down on her bed as if she were asleep.

“Hello?” Seifer asked, quietly, to test whether or not she was awake. Quistis suddenly stirred, and opened her eyes.

“Seifer?” She asked, groggily, squinting in the light. “What are you doing in here?”

“I just wanted to see how you were,” Seifer replied. “I was concerned about you.” Quistis smiled- it was the first time she’d ever known Seifer to express concern for anyone other than himself. The transformation continues… she thought to herself.

“I’m fine,” she replied, “just a bit of a headache.”

“A bit?” Seifer exclaimed, incredulously. “You were hit on the head with a dune buggy, for crying out loud!”

“OK,” Quistis acknowledged, “maybe it hurts more than I’m letting on. In fact, if you must know, it hurts like hell.”

“Do you want me to turn the lights down?” Seifer asked.

“Please,” Quistis answered. Seifer turned the lights down to minimum, and then sat down next to Quistis’s bed.

“At least you’re in a nice, warm bed now,” Seifer said. Quistis smiled at that remark.

“Yeah, rather than freezing to death in a cold, metal hangar. What’s happened to the Ragnarok anyway? Is it here in Esthar?” Solemnly, Seifer shook his head.

“Damaged beyond repair,” he confirmed. “The Esthar scientists say it’s gonna just skim the atmosphere above Balamb tomorrow, before heading out into deep space. On the bright side, though, they say it’ll finally come to rest in orbit around a star. It won’t be for about 5 million years, though.” Quistis was understandably upset about the Ragnarok, having travelled to and from many missions, official Garden visits and even holidays on the spacecraft.

“Damn,” she stated, simply.

“Quistis,” Seifer started, “there’s something I feel I need to tell you. When we were trapped in the hangar, together, I really felt that we… connected.”

“I know,” Quistis responded, “I felt that way too.”

“You can remember what happened, right?” Seifer asked, in a more offbeat tone of voice, which prompted a giggle from Quistis.

“Yes, my concussion isn’t THAT bad,” she replied, still giggling. “I’ve never seen that side of you before, the more vulnerable side of Seifer Almasy.”

“I don’t get it out often,” Seifer admitted. “I thought we were going to die, and you were losing consciousness, so I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t prepared to let you die in my arms.” Quistis nodded. Slowly, Seifer rose from his chair, and walked over to the blonde woman. “Anyway,” he continued, “I just wanted to say thanks, for being there for me in the Ragnarok. I don’t know what I’d have done if I was there alone. Probably not re-set my leg, for one thing.” Quistis giggled again at Seifer’s joke.

“No,” she replied, still laughing, “thank you. If it weren’t for you I’d probably be dead right now. I owe you a lot.” Smiling, Seifer leaned down, and kissed Quistis on the forehead.

“I’ll see you around,” Seifer said, walking out of the door.

“Seifer!” Quistis shouted after him.

“Yep?” The tall man replied, turning around to face her.

“Want a piece of advice from your former teacher?” Quistis asked. Seifer smiled.

“Sure, why not?” He replied.

“Don’t,” Quistis started, “under any circumstances, lose your sense of humour. It completes you.” Seifer smiled a broad grin, and winked at Quistis.

“You got it,” Seifer said, leaving the room, and smiling at Quistis. Accompanied by his guard, he walked back toward his room, but he was unable to tear his mind away from the young instructor…

Another man who had her on his mind was Zell, who had welcomed his friends back several hours previously. Unsurprisingly, Selphie, Irvine, Squall and Rinoa had immediately retired to their quarters, partly to save energy for the debriefing and party the following day, and partly so that they could get “reacquainted” with each other. With Xu still finishing off matters at ground control, and Quistis being kept overnight for observation in Esthar, it left Zell pretty much alone, and he’d eventually found himself drawn to the secret place, in the back of the training centre. He was alone there, and was finding it hard to some to terms with the blow he’d just been dealt, by the girl who once adored him so much, and the man he thought to be his friend, but turned out to be a backstabber.

Mei and Nida.

Mei and Nida!?!? Zell thought to himself. The idea was incomprehensible to him. Mei had never even set eyes on Nida during the time she worked at Balamb Garden library, or vice versa. But, as it turned out, they met eight months ago, when Nida, along with Irvine and Selphie, went for a snowboarding holiday in Trabia. While they were there, Selphie naturally visited her former home, Trabia Garden, and had dragged Irvine and Nida with her. Of course, one thing inevitably led to another, and suddenly, Mei and Nida were best of friends, writing to each other nearly every day. As it turned out, the only reason Mei had returned to Balamb was to help Nida with his move to Trabia Garden, where he’d accepted the position of vice-commander. Man, Zell thought to himself, life sucks sometimes. With that thought, however, Zell suddenly remembered the kiss on the cheek that he’d received from Quistis, shortly before the lift-off. Me and Quis? Zell thought to himself. Hell, stranger things have happened. Mei and Nida, for one. Zell then frowned again, silently cursing himself. Nah, he thought sadly, it’s probably nothing. Damn. Zell continued wallowing in his self-pity until about 2AM, when, with nothing better to do, Zell decided to get some sleep, ahead of all the preparing for the following day’s party that Selphie would no doubt have him doing.

The sun rose over the gleaming structure of Balamb Garden, heralding a new day.

In her quarters, Selphie, wrapped in Irvine’s arms as per usual, laid awake, watching as the Sun slowly made its ascent. When she woke up the previous morning, she was full of uncertainty, full of fear and anxiousness concerning her husband. Now, with his arms tightly wrapped around her petite frame, Selphie felt nothing but pure contentment. She wanted to stay in Irvine’s arms forever, but she knew that celebrations didn’t plan themselves, and as the head of Balamb Garden’s festival committee, it was her responsibility to be at the centre of all the planning. Much as Selphie enjoyed the work, however, there was still one thing that she decided she needed to start her day. She slowly turned over so that she was facing her husband, and, giggling, kissed the tip of his nose, waking him from his deep slumber.

“Huh… wha?” Irvine mumbled, waking up. Upon seeing the smiling face of his wife, however, he brightened up almost instantly. “Hey, babe,” he said, smiling, “you’re looking happy this morning.” Smiling even more than she had been, Selphie simply gave Irvine a bigger hug.

“Why wouldn’t I be happy?” She replied. “You’re back.” Irvine let out a little chuckle and kissed Selphie on the forehead. “There is one thing that would make me REALLY happy, though,” Selphie said, cheekily.

“Name it, and it’s yours,” Irvine responded. Grinning, Selphie leaned over her husband, and whispered in his ear. Irvine’s face broke into a huge grin.

“Now THAT I can do easily,” he said, before giving his wife a long, passionate kiss, and pulling the covers over the both of them…

Upon their return from Esthar the previous night, Squall and Rinoa had immediately gone to bed, and after a few “bedroom exercises”, had fallen asleep relatively quickly.

Squall was the first to wake up that morning, looking out of the window at the sun, as it peeked up over the horizon. The view he enjoyed the most, however, was that of the woman who laid next to him in bed. Opting not to awaken her, for fear that she might vomit all over him, Squall instead chose to simply lie awake in bed, staring at Rinoa. Eventually, though, temptation overcame him, and he leaned towards his wife, gently kissing her on the lips. Rinoa stirred, and finally woke up.

“Hey,” she said, groggily.

“Good morning,” Squall replied, smiling. “Feeling alright?”

“Not too bad this morning,” Rinoa answered, “now that you’re here with me.” Squall and Rinoa smiled, and kissed each other again,

“We should get up,” Squall said. “Knowing Selphie, she’ll probably be knocking on our door any minute now, ordering us to help her get ready for the party.” Rinoa chuckled at Squall’s little comment, before burying her head in her husband’s chest.

“Just a little more time, please,” Rinoa asked.

“OK,” Squall said, wrapping his muscular arms around Rinoa’s body, and holding her tightly. A few minutes passed, during which no words were exchanged between the couple, but only feelings of warmth, happiness, and love. Eventually, Squall let go of Rinoa, and got out of bed, walking over towards his closet to get some underpants to put on. When he opened the door to his closet, however, he froze on the spot, not moving a muscle.

“Rinoa…” Squall said quietly, not diverting his attention from what he’d seen in his closet.

“What is it, Squall?” Rinoa shouted back, prompting Squall to wince.

“Not so loud!” Squall hissed, without turning his head. “Bring me Lionheart.” Instinctively, Rinoa hobbled over to where Squall was standing, so that she could see what was making him so anxious.

“What is it?” She asked again, before gasping in shock at the sight that greeted her. There, on top of a videocassette, laid the unmistakable red and green markings of an Esthar Viper, and it was fully awake, and was staring Squall straight in the eyes.

“Bring me Lionheart,” Squall repeated. “Then get out of here. Protect our babies.”

“I won’t leave you alone,” Rinoa replied, before hobbling off, a few feet away, to her dresser, where she picked up her blaster edge weapon. “Stand still, Squall,” Rinoa said, slowly aiming the weapon at the snake.

“I love you,” Squall said, smiling. “But try and keep that cassette intact.”

“I’ll do my best,” Rinoa replied, finalising her aim. “I love you too.” Rinoa then inhaled, and held her breath as she fired her weapon, watching (much to her delight) as it neatly decapitated the snake, before embedding itself in the doorframe of the closet. Squall and Rinoa both breathed huge sighs of relief, before giving each other a quick embrace. Quickly putting on clothes to cover their naked bodies, Rinoa telephoned Cid to report the incident, while Squall picked up the videocassette that had been resting underneath the snake.

“Headmaster?” Rinoa said, as Cid answered the telephone, “there’s been an incident…”

Later, in Cid’s office, Squall, Rinoa, Zell, Selphie and Irvine were all meeting with the headmaster. Cid held the videocassette in his hands, ready to put it in the machine.

“I think there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that this came courtesy of Mr. Duncan,” Cid stated. “Is everyone ready?” The five SeeDs all nodded, without saying a word. Cid pushed the cassette into his VCR and pressed ‘play’. Almost immediately, the SeeDs were greeted by Chris’s evil, grinning face on the screen.

“Hello, Squall,” Chris said, making Squall bristle. “If you’re watching this, then my viper obviously didn’t work- a pity, but never mind. Unless, of course, it did work, and someone other than Squall is watching this. In which case, pass on my condolences to Mrs Leonheart, will you? Unless, of course, it got her as well, in which case we’ll call it a job well done.” Chris leaned back in his chair and laughed, while Squall and Rinoa both watched on, anger etched across their faces.

“I have a confession to make,” Chris continued. “The bomb, on board the Ragnarok? That was me. Tell that tattooed freak you call a security chief that he should consider putting better security there. Oh, wait a minute, I forgot, there is no Ragnarok any more. My mistake. Tell him also that his security teams should be more observant- I managed to sneak into the Garden and out again on several occasions, not including the time I planted this video. I won’t give away any clues as to what I’ve done, save for this- don’t eat the hotdogs.” In his chair, Zell began to quake with anger. To have the likes of Chris call him an incompetent security chief was almost as much as Zell could take. And still, Chris went on.

“By the time you see this, I’m sure you’ll be aware that President Loire of Esthar was killed by a Fox-17- that was also me. And for my next trick? Well, aside from the little surprises I’ve left at the Garden, let’s just say that when you come after me, I’ll be ready. Do you want me? Then come to Timber. I’ll be waiting.” Having finished his speech, Chris stood up, and turned off the camcorder he had been using. The five SeeDs and their headmaster remained seated where they were, contemplating the information they had just been given. Typically, Selphie was the first one to speak.

“So,” she started, in a tiny, subdued voice, “is the party still going ahead or not?” Zell and Squall both shot disapproving glances at Selphie for asking a question like that in a crisis time, but Cid’s expression remained neutral.

“We can’t let this ruin the celebrations,” Cid started. “We have to put on a strong face, and show that our spirits will not be broken by anybody. The party will go ahead. However, I was going to give you all a week’s holiday afterwards- that has now been cancelled. Our first priority is to find and take down Mr. Duncan at any cost. The Esthar government is now funding the mission, so I will be able to devote more men and resources to his capture. Squall, Zell, after the party has finished I want you to immediately report back to my office. In the meantime, you are all free until noon.” Nodding, all the SeeDs rose (including Selphie, who was now strong enough to walk on crutches), and started to leave. “Squall, Irvine,” Cid continued, “you can debrief from the asteroid mission now, or later, when Seifer and Quistis have returned. It’s your choice.” Looking at each other, Squall and Irvine instinctively knew what the other was thinking.

“Later,” Squall said, at which Irvine nodded.

“Any particular reason?” Cid asked.

“I just think that you’d be better off hearing all points of view at once,” Squall replied. Cid nodded, as the two men left his office- once again, his commander had been right.

At Esthar airstation, Quistis was about to board her jetcopter back to Balamb, having been discharged from hospital earlier in the morning. As she started to climb the steps into the craft, however, she was stopped by a voice coming from behind her.

“Quistis! Wait!” Seifer shouted, as he hobbled towards the blonde woman. Quistis turned around to face him.

“What is it, Seifer? I’m in a hurry.”

“There’s something I really need to tell you,” Seifer started. He gulped, before continuing. “Ever since our chat last night, I-I’ve been unable to get you out of my head.” Seifer paused, trying to find both the words and the courage to continue. “Damn, I’m not good at this, am I?” He said, jokingly. Quistis smiled.

“Just tell me what it is you wanted to say,” she said, in a caring voice.

“I, er, I think,” Seifer started, fighting through his nervousness, “I think… I’m falling in love with you.” Immediately as he finished the sentence, Seifer diverted his eyes away from Quistis’s shocked gaze, not wanting to witness her reaction.

Quistis was shell-shocked by the revelation- she and Seifer had grown close while on the Ragnarok, but she wouldn’t have guessed in a million years that he harboured those kinds of feelings for her. The biggest problem facing Quistis, however, was that she was unsure of her feelings for him…

“Seifer,” she started, struggling for words as much as Seifer had been, “I, er- I gotta go.” Quistis turned and walked up the stairs into the jetcopter, and closed the door.

“Quistis,” Seifer said quietly, as the jetcopter taxied to the end of the runway, before taking off. He watched as the small, jet-propelled craft quickly disappeared from view. Suddenly, Seifer felt his anger and frustration well up inside him. He wanted to kick something, but he had a broken leg. He wanted to punch something, but his hands were filled with his crutches. Eventually, overcome with the anger and frustration, Seifer smacked himself in the forehead with his right-hand crutch, an action that caused him considerable pain.

“Argh!” Seifer shouted, before letting loose a minute-long barrage of swear words, directed towards the crutch. Upon hearing Seifer’s tirade, the guard who had been watching him ran toward him, gun in hand.

“Mr. Almasy?” The guard asked, anxiously. “Is everything alright?” Seifer composed himself, and stood up straight.

“Yeah,” he started, trying to ease the guard’s worries. “I’m fine. Take me back to the hospital.” The guard looked confused by Seifer’s order.

“What?” Seifer asked, irritated by the guard’s hesitation. “I asked you to take me back to the hospital.”

“But what about your jetcopter?” The guard asked, confusing Seifer.

“What do you mean, ‘my jetcopter’?” Seifer asked. “I thought I was staying here, in Esthar.”

“Commander Leonheart gave me orders that instructed me to escort you back to Balamb Garden for debriefing,” the guard stated.

“What?” Seifer asked, incredulous. “Why wasn’t I informed about this? Let me see these orders.” The guard dutifully handed Seifer the piece of paper, which Seifer took and read. After he had finished, Seifer sighed, and nodded.

“Typical Squall,” Seifer said, “assuming I’d know automatically that I had to debrief with Kramer.” Although Seifer had spent much of his younger life at Balamb Garden, he had, over the past four years, totally forgotten all of the Garden’s little rules and procedures, such as the rarely implemented one that stated that all outsiders on a mission are counted as SeeDs until formally dismissed by either the commander or the headmaster of the Garden. Seifer had yet to be formally dismissed by either Squall or Cid, and despite that fact that he was merely an observer and a payload specialist for the mission, he still counted as a SeeD, just like Squall, Quistis or Irvine. Nice irony there, the tall man thought to himself. “OK,” he finally said, handing the piece of paper back to the guard, “Balamb it is. I take it we’re entering via the side door.” The guard nodded, confirming Seifer’s assumption.

“Figures,” Seifer said, as the guard escorted him to his jetcopter, which had parked further down the runway. I may be treated as a SeeD as far as the mission’s concerned, Seifer thought to himself, but in all the in-between bits, I’m still a prisoner. Seifer briefly felt sorry for himself, but forced himself to stop, remembering the circumstances of his imprisonment.

After Rinoa had helped to purge Ultimecia’s influence from both Squall and himself, Seifer felt different, like a new man. He was no longer hell-bent on destroying Squall and co, no longer the sadistic maniac that he had become. He was able to look back on his actions with a new sense of impartiality, and he was disgusted by what he had done. Torture, terrorism, attempted murder- all of these, and more, prayed on Seifer’s mind, and the guilt he felt just rose, and rose, until he finally couldn’t take any more. On the day before he and Squall were due to be discharged, he requested Laguna’s presence. Even though Seifer had badly wounded both of Laguna’s children, the Esthar president felt no malice toward him. Once Laguna had arrived, Seifer asked a simple question, for which Laguna had no definite answer.

“What’s going to become of me?” Seifer asked. He knew that somewhere, there would be people who would eventually find out about his involvement, and want him disposed of (an assumption that later proved to be very, very right).

“I don’t know,” Laguna stated. “You were obviously under the sorceress’s influence, so you can’t really be held fully responsible for any of your actions. Really, the only thing I can legally do is set you free.” Seifer shook his head.

“I don’t think so,” Seifer said.

“Oh? Why not?” Laguna asked, confused as to why a man would refuse freedom.

“For one thing, there are people out there who know about my involvement. Every single SeeD at Balamb Garden, for a start.” Seifer then paused, before making the request that would change his life. “I want to be tried and imprisoned for my crimes. Nothing public, you understand, but I don’t want this guilt any more.”

“Are you sure?” Laguna asked. Seifer nodded- he knew that prison was the only road open to him.

And so, it came to pass that as a tried and convicted terrorist, Seifer rarely went anywhere, and when he did, it was always under armed protection, such as the protection that he had when his jetcopter landed just outside Balamb Garden, and when he disembarked, and when he entered the military academy, via the rear entrance, which was usually reserved for things like deliveries and trash collection.

Meanwhile, Quistis was already in Cid’s office, having been examined and declared fit for minimal duties by Dr. Kadowaki. She was there for the debriefing, and should have been looking through her report on the mission. However, her thoughts were elsewhere, centred on a certain former sorceress’s knight. His revelation at the Esthar airstation had come like a bolt from the blue- during his time at Balamb Garden, Seifer had made no secret of his disdain for her teaching abilities, and although they’d grown to be friends in the years since, Quistis would never have guessed that Seifer, of all people, would have feelings for her. However, Quistis’s feelings for him confused her even more.

Do I feel that way about him? She thought to herself. Am I meant to be with Seifer, of all people? The person who’s tried to kill me on numerous occasions? She was in the middle of her musings when Squall walked in and sat down opposite her, derailing her train of thought.

“Hello?” Squall asked, trying to grab Quistis’s attention. “Anyone in there?” Quistis jumped upon hearing the commander’s voice.

“Wha- Squall?” She said, her attention now focused on the man sitting opposite her, the man who she had a crush on for a long time. If only he hadn’t met Rinoa, she thought to herself, how different things could’ve been.

“You looked like you were lost in thought,” Squall continued. “Are you thinking about the Ragnarok?” Quistis paused for a minute, mentally debating whether or not to tell Squall of what Seifer had said to her. No, I’d better not tell him, she eventually decided.

“Yeah,” Quistis lied, “I’m gonna miss that ship.” Squall nodded, solemnly.

“We all are,” he said, mournfully. “But, like Selphie, you’ve got to look on the bright side- at least it wasn’t one of us.” Quistis smiled and nodded at Squall’s words of optimism. Somehow, as all good commanders should, Squall had been able to take her mind off her problems.

“You’re right,” Quistis acknowledged, as Irvine and Cid entered the room. “Are we gonna start then?” Quistis was surprised when Squall shook his head.

“We’ve got to wait for Seifer, remember?” Quistis almost gasped at Squall’s statement- before she remembered, like Seifer had done, the regulation that stated that all outsiders on missions are counted as SeeDs, until they are formally dismissed by either the commander or the headmaster.

“Did you forget about 38-C?” Squall asked, referring to the regulation by its number. Quistis nodded, but immediately froze when she heard the familiar clicking of Seifer’s crutches from outside the door. Sure enough, the handle of the door turned, and Seifer entered, taking the seat next to Irvine, who had sat himself down next to Quistis. Once Squall had moved into the chair on the opposite side of the young woman, Cid formally started the meeting, and all four of the astronauts began telling Cid their versions of the mission on the asteroid. However, all throughout, Seifer and Quistis kept noticeably avoiding each other’s gaze. Squall, Irvine and Cid all noticed it as it repeatedly occurred, but, wisely, none of them opted to say anything about it.

The meeting ended, and Quistis was the first to leave, quickly walking out of the door, deliberately avoiding eye contact with Seifer.

“What’s up with her?” Irvine asked Squall, quietly. He’d noticed Quistis’s edginess all throughout the meeting and had wanted to comment on it, but had opted to bite his tongue instead. Now that the meeting was over, however, he wasted no time in getting his concerns off his chest.

“I don’t know,” Squall said, answering Irvine’s query. “I don’t think it’s anything to do with the loss of the Ragnarok, though. You got any idea, Seif?” Squall shouted over to Seifer, who was busy trying to stand up. He immediately slumped back down into his chair upon hearing Squall’s voice, however.

“Any idea about what?” He asked, despite the fact that he heard every word that Irvine and Squall had said.

“Any idea as to why Quistis just bolted out of here faster than a bullet out of a gun?” Irvine asked in reply. Now isn’t the time to tell them, Seifer decided to himself. Best leave it until later. On the upside, however, at least she’s thinking about what I said. Seifer shook his head.

“No idea whatsoever,” he replied. Satisfied with Seifer’s answer, Squall and Irvine both nodded, and left, heading toward the quad, where the celebration that Selphie had prepared was about to start. Sighing, and wishing that he could have gone to the celebration as well, Seifer eventually managed to get to his feet, and was about to leave, when Cid stopped him.

“Seifer,” the headmaster said, “there’s something I want to talk to you about.” Confused, Seifer turned round and hobbled toward Cid’s desk, where they both sat down.

“What is it?” Seifer asked, the confusion easily detectable in his voice.

“On this mission,” Cid started, “you have demonstrated a level of maturity and capability that, quite frankly, I thought you were incapable of.”

“Thank you,” Seifer started, “I think. Any other SeeD would have been the same, if not better, though.” Cid nodded.

“Maybe,” he retorted, “but don’t forget that SeeDs are trained to the highest possible standard. What I’m trying to say, Seifer, is that I think you could be an asset to Balamb Garden.” As Cid completed his sentence, Seifer couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

“Me!?” Seifer asked incredulously. “The same guy who, not so long ago, tried to destroy Balamb Garden?”

“I’m serious, Seifer,” Cid replied. “I can tell that the time in prison has changed you, made you a better person. If I thought for one second that you were still the same, brash boy that turned on us four years ago, you would out of that door so fast that your feet wouldn’t touch the floor.”

“On the subject of my incarceration,” Seifer retorted, “how would I be supposed to work here when I’m banged up in Esthar? Long-range telescope?” Cid frowned at Seifer’s apparent inability to take his offer seriously.

“I would have words with President Loire to have you released during weekdays, during which time you would sleep under armed guard on campus.” Seifer nodded- what Cid was saying made sense to him.

“So what kind of work would I be doing, then?” Seifer asked. “Cleaning out the crappers? Folding sheets?” With each passing second, Cid grew more and more impatient with Seifer’s sarcastic attitude, and he finally snapped. He put his arms in front of him on the desk, and leaned forward.

“What I’m offering, Seifer,” Cid started, with a more angry tone to his voice, “is the chance to fit in here. That’s what you always wanted, isn’t it? Your little place here, in Garden?”

“Maybe once,” Seifer replied, not flinching under Cid’s angry tone, “but not any more. I like what I have. I may be a prisoner, but ironically enough I have more freedom than I’ve ever had in my life. I sleep whenever I want, I write whenever I want, and most importantly of all, I’m no one’s slave.” Cid leaned back in his chair upon hearing this- during Seifer’s time at Balamb Garden, Cid had had very little contact with him, other than telling him why he’d failed yet another entrance exam, or informing him of yet another complaint he’d received about him and the other members of the disciplinary committee. Now, however, Cid was getting a rare look into Seifer’s psyche, and he intended to exploit it to the fullest.

“I don’t want you as an active SeeD, or an instructor,” Cid said.

“Well that just leaves the cafeteria or the library, then,” Seifer interrupted. Cid sighed.

“If you’d let me finish, Seifer,” Cid continued, “I was going to offer you an advisory position. You’ve been around the world a few times, same as Squall and the others, right? Plus, you have the advantage of having had the enemy’s point of view. We could use that right now, to capture Mr. Duncan.” Seifer leaned back upon hearing this- he still didn’t like the prospect of having to call anyone “sir” or, worse yet, “ma’am”, but the idea was warming on him.

“I’m going to have to think about this,” he finally replied. “Can I let you know tonight?”

“Tonight will be fine,” Cid replied. Seifer then stood, and shook Cid’s hand.

“Thanks for the offer, by the way,” Seifer said, before leaving.

“You’re welcome,” Cid replied, as Seifer exited. “I just hope I don’t live to regret it…”

In the corridor, Seifer rendezvoused with his guard, but before they headed off down the corridor, Seifer stopped them.

“Wait,” he said, “I want to say goodbye to my friends first. Is there somewhere we can wait until the party’s over?” The guard nodded, and escorted Seifer to the guest quarters he had been using before he departed on the Ragnarok, which had not yet been cleared out.

Part 4