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Bad blood part 2
by Neb

Squall awoke to find himself standing in a field, full of long, green grass. He was uninjured. Even his facial scar, his trademark, had disappeared.

“What’s happening?” He asked, directing his query at no one in particular. His voice had a strange metallic echo to it...

“Squall?” He heard a female voice call. It can’t be… he thought. You’re dead. But then again, he glumly remembered, so am I… He turned round to see the face of the woman he hadn’t seen since he was a baby.

“Mother?” He asked the dark-haired woman, who bore a striking resemblance to Squall himself.

“Squall,” Raine answered, slowly walking forward and embracing her son, as he did the same thing to her.

“What’s happening?” He asked Raine, tears of emotion uncontrollably falling from his eyes.

“This is not your time,” she answered cryptically, “but I must tell you these things. Listen carefully, Squall,” she said in a motherly tone, “and heed them. Be true to Rinoa. Never make her angry. You are to her as Laguna was to me.”

“OK,” Squall said, breaking down completely.

“Talk to your father,” Raine continued. “He loves you, and if you ask him never to leave you, then he never will. And Squall,” she said, releasing her son and staring at him in his tear-streaked face, “make time for your friends. They’re good people who care deeply for you- they’ll stand by you through thick and thin. You owe it to them to do the same.” Squall nodded.

“I will, mother,” he said. “I love you...” he wailed. Raine embraced her son once more.

“I love you too, Squall,” she said. “You’re a strong, handsome, brave young man who people can’t help but adore. Don’t blame Seifer- even he’ll come round in the end.” Strangely, when Raine mentioned Seifer’s name, Squall felt no rage or spite, but instead, felt pity.

“This is your destiny,” she said, as Squall faded out again.

“Mother?” He asked towards the fading image of his mum. “MOTHER!” Squall suddenly felt an arc of electricity pass through his body, and passed out. He awoke to find himself lying shirtless on a table, with needles and tubes in him, and two small burn marks on his chest.

“We’ve got a pulse!” He heard a familiar voice shout. Dr. Kadowaki? He thought, weakly. Slowly, he turned his head, to see a sight he’d been longing for for days- Rinoa’s smiling face, staring straight at his. She had obviously been crying, and quite heavily so. Squall, who was all but bereft of energy, flashed a brief smile back.

“Hey...” he croaked, knowing how he must look, but trying to show Rinoa just how much he loved her.

“Squall...” she said to him, still crying, but this time, they were tears of happiness. However, Dr. Kadowaki put her arms around Rinoa and gently escorted her out of the room. Squall tried to raise his right arm to wave at her, but it was still in agony from where Seifer had stamped on it.

“I’ll be back later, Squall! I love you!” She shouted as the good doctor escorted her out of the room. Squall was barely able to mouth “I love you” back at her before losing consciousness again.

Squall awoke some time later to find himself in the side room of the infirmary. It was mid-afternoon, and the sun was shining through the window. Squall was slightly stronger now, so he turned his head, and, seeing Dr. Kadowaki, addressed her.

“How long was I out?” He asked her, making her jump slightly.

“Oh, you’re awake!” She was somewhat surprised- she hadn’t expected him to regain consciousness until the following day. “You should get back to sleep- you need your rest.”

“How long?” Squall re-iterated. He was in no mood for rest. Dr. Kadowaki relented, and answered his question.

“Eight hours. You were brought in here at 7 AM, and it’s 3 now.” Squall slowly shook his head.

“I mean before that,” he said, “after I lost consciousness at the prison.” Dr. Kadowaki smiled.

“Only a few hours,” she re-assured him. “You were brought straight here on the Ragnarok. We nearly lost you.”

“Thanks for bringing me back,” Squall said, gratefully. “I want to see Rinoa,” he said again, this time more forcefully. The doctor shook her head.

“You’re still weak,” she said, “too much excitement might send you into another coma. I’ll let you see her tomorrow morning. What you need to concentrate on is resting, and getting better.” Squall then asked the question she hadn’t wanted to hear.

“How bad are my injuries?” Dr. Kadowaki sighed- she had some bad news, and she felt it best to wait until her patient was a little stronger.

“Tomorrow, Squall,” she replied. Squall was not happy at this answer.

“I need to know, doctor,” he said, forcefully, “if I’m to get better.” Dr. Kadowaki sat down with a dour expression on her face. Even if it’s bad news, Squall thought, I still need to know.

“Most of the surface injuries were easily treatable with magic and medicine,” she began, “but your wrist and your leg were different matters. If you don’t push it, and stick to the exercises and magic program I give you, your wrist should be fully healed in four weeks.” Squall sighed with relief- for a broken wrist, four weeks was not a bad recovery time.

“And my leg?” He asked. Dr. Kadowaki started speaking, only with a very serious tone.

“That’s a different story, I’m afraid. The blade punctured one of your quadriceps muscles, and the bullets nearly tore it to shreds. Had he done any more damage, it was likely we’d have had to amputate.” Squall was shocked at this news, but he didn’t let it show. Taking a big gulp, he asked the question he really didn’t want to know the answer to.

“How long?”

“Well,” Dr. Kadowaki answered him, “with the right program of exer-“

“How long, doctor?” Squall asked, more forcefully this time. Dr. Kadowaki sighed.

“At least fourteen weeks, Squall,” she said, quietly. Squall closed his eyes, unable to believe what he’d just heard. Fourteen weeks. That was over three months. He’d be off his feet, unable to train, barely able to walk, for over three months. Dr. Kadowaki stood up, and left him in peace, but not before some parting advice.

“You should get some sleep, Squall,” she said before closing the door on him. However, Squall couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking the same thing, over and over again.
Three months… three months… Squall fell asleep that night, wondering how he was possibly going to survive for three months doing nothing but re-habilitating.

Squall again found himself standing in a grassy field, bereft of his scars and injuries. He knew immediately what it meant.

“Mother?” He asked, expectantly. What he got, however, was different from anything he could possibly have expected.

“Hello, Squall,” he heard the familiar voice of his father call from behind him. Squall turned round, and sure enough, there stood Laguna Loire- the president of Esthar, and his father.

“What are you doing here?” Squall asked, defensively. Laguna simply smiled.

“I hear you’ve got some free time ahead of you, Squall,” he smirked.

“It won’t all be free time,” Squall corrected his old man, “I’ll have to re-habilitate, I’ll have work to catch up on, and-“ Laguna waved his hand, stopping Squall in his tracks.

“Recently,” he started, “a very clever and beautiful woman gave you some advice. I suggest you act on it. Hell,” he continued, laughing, “It’s not like you don’t have the time!” Squall nodded, remembering what his mother had told him when he was, for a brief moment, dead.

“OK,” Squall said, “ I will.” Laguna smiled.

“Trust me, you won’t regret it,” he said, backing off. “Oh, and don’t forget to call me!”

“I won’t!” Squall shouted after his fading father.

Squall woke up in his hospital bed, smiling. It was probably the most pleasant dream he’d had in a while. Opening his eyes, he was alarmed to find a pair of hands cutting off his vision.

“Guess who,” the familiar voice of his lover came from behind him. Squall’s smile widened. Reaching over with his left hand, he took one of Rinoa’s hands and gently kissed it.

“Hi,” he said simply, turning over, before Rinoa leaned in and kissed him on the lips. He let her hand go, and she sat down at his bedside.

“How are you doing?” She asked him, still grinning slightly.

“Well,” Squall answered, joking but trying (badly) to sound serious, “I feel like my right hand’s in a vice, I’ve got a bite bug in my thigh, but with you here, I couldn’t feel better.” Rinoa giggled slightly- to say that Squall wasn’t usually one to crack jokes was one of the biggest exaggerations of all time. Squall continued.

“Any news on when I can get out of here?” Rinoa smiled again- Good news! Squall thought to himself.

“The doc says,” she continued, “that if we treat you with magic once every four hours, you can be discharged this evening.” Squall smiled, and laughed a bit himself.

“I really, really,” he said, “cannot wait to get back to our home.” Rinoa stopped smiling for a minute, and then started a more serious conversation.

“Squall, about what we said to each other the night before you left...” Squall cut her off with a wave.

“Forget it,” he said, dismissively. “We all say things we don’t mean at times. If I upset you, then I apologise.” Rinoa was dumbfounded.

“No,” she said, “It was my fault. If I wasn’t so stubborn I-“ Squall cut her off again.

“It’s OK,” he continued, smiling lightly, “I’m willing to put it behind us if you are.” Rinoa smiled again.

“OK,” she started, “who are you, and what have you done with the real Squall?” Squall laughed again.

“I am the real Squall,” he said, “I just haven’t acted like it until now.” He then realised that he had something to ask Rinoa. He sobered up his expression.

“On a more serious note, though,” he asked, “how did I get out of the prison?” Rinoa also sobered up.

“We found you just as you were about to be-“ she hesitated, but Squall knew exactly what she meant.

“Go on,” He said, reassuringly.

“Me and Zell broke in from the top floor and caught Seifer unawares. We freed Quis, Selphie and Irvine, but what with trying to save you and Seifer’s magic, we weren’t able to finish him off.” Squall nodded.

“Was anyone else hurt?” he asked, quietly. He was relieved when Rinoa shook her head.

“No,” she said, “there were too many of us. He did manage to catch Quis in the arm with his gunblade, but it was only a flesh wound, easily treated.”

“Is she alright?” He asked, still concerned.

“You can’t even tell where he hit her,” she answered. Squall breathed a sigh of relief. Rinoa’s expression went dour again, though.

“But,” she said, glumly, “Selphie’s been a little depressed lately. I’m not sure why. She said she’ll only talk to you about it.” Squall nodded- he had an idea why that was.

“Hasn’t Irvine been able to cheer her up?” Usually, when Selphie had been a little glum, Irvine was always on hand to cheer her up. Unfortunately, Rinoa shook her head.

“She says it’s something she’d only feel comfortable talking to you about.” She said, before saying with a mischievous grin, “It’s not something I should be jealous about, is it?” Squall chuckled.

“With Selphie? Everyone’s younger sister?” He shook his head. “There’s only one girl for me, and that’s you.” Rinoa smiled, and kissed him again.

“I have to be going,” she said, “you know how Quis gets when you’re late for classes.” Squall raised an eyebrow.

“So you’re not quitting the Garden after all, then?” Rinoa smiled.

“Never in a million years.” She kissed him again. “I love you, Squall.”

“I love you too, Rinoa,” he said back. Rinoa waved coyly as she left, and Squall waved back (with his left hand, of course), grinning. Three months, he thought, this isn’t going to be so bad after all… Suddenly, Squall remembered something Edea had said to him a few months earlier, shortly after the end of the Ultimecia incident. Summoning over Dr. Kadowaki, he asked her for a telephone...

Selphie hadn’t got much sleep the previous night- then again, she very rarely does. Usually she bedded down at around 1 AM, only to be up again at 5:30, bright and breezy as always. Many people often wondered where she got her energy from- and, honestly, so did Selphie herself. On this night, however, something was deeply troubling her. Clutching her favourite teddy bear (she may have been nearly 18, but she couldn’t bear to be parted from him for too long), she lay awake all night, thinking one thing over and over again... I’ve let Squall down… I’ve let Squall down… She’d been the only one who Squall had told about his parentage, and she blabbed all to Seifer. Sure, she’d been drugged at the time, and it was the first and only time she’d been tortured, but that was no consolation to her. She had the following day off, as all of the SeeDs from the mission did (they’d de-briefed the previous day), and she lay in bed until 10 AM, at which point she heard a knocking on her door. She sat upright.

“Come in,” she said, still a little down. It was Irvine- her best friend, and the man she secretly had a crush on. At least I hope it’s secret… Selphie thought to herself. Selphie and Irvine’s relationship had been spectacularly hard to define- while it was clear that Squall and Rinoa were lovers, no one could make up their mind about Selphie or Irvine. People often joked, Rinoa in particular, that they would make a lovely couple, but Selphie and Irvine would just deny it, Selphie coming up with a jokey statement like “with him? He’ll only ask me when every other girl in Garden’s turned him down!” While Irvine would say, “Man, she’s like my sister!” However, deep down, Selphie really wanted to be with Irvine the same way Rinoa was with Squall... What she didn’t know was that Irvine felt about her in exactly the same way. Maybe he’s come here to tell me, Selphie secretly hoped. Irvine plonked himself down in her sofa, which was in considerably better condition than his, and swung his feet up on her bed.

“If you’re here to try to cheer me up again,” she started, “then I really don’t feel like it, Irvy.” Irvine simply smiled, and sat down on the bed next to her. He took of his hat and plonked it on her head.

“Hey,” he said, playfully, “who said anything about trying?” He grinned at her, hoping to elicit a smile, but to no avail- she was still as glum as when he’d tried to cheer her up the previous night. Come on, Sefie, he thought, just one smile. You don’t know how much this is hurting me, seeing you depressed… What he was about to say would not improve matters.

“Ya know,” he started, trying to lighten the mood, “I was just talking to Squall in the infirmary, and he said he really wanted to talk to you.” Selphie couldn’t contain herself, and started crying. She buried her face in Irvine’s shoulder.

“He hates me, doesn’t he?” She asked, sorrowfully. Irvine puts his arms around her to comfort her.

“No, of course he doesn’t!” He said, reassuringly. “How could anyone hate you? You’re the most popular person in this Garden!”

“Seifer hates me,” she retorted.

“Seifer’s a weirdo,” Irvine said, “he doesn’t count. Look,” he said, drying her tears with his gloved hand, “you were under torture. We all were. Hey, even Squall himself couldn’t have held out forever.” Selphie smiled, and nodded. “Squall said he urgently needed to see you.”

“I’d best not keep him waiting, then!” Selphie tried to put on her normally constant happy face, but deep down, she dreaded Squall’s reaction.

Squall was jotting down a few things, and keying instructions into a calculator when Selphie walked in. In her paranoid state, she thought Uh-oh, is he calculating my punishment?

“Hi!” Squall greeted her from his bed, unusually chirpily, Selphie thought. “Sit down, I’ve got something I need to tell you.” Selphie sat down nervously, still fearing the worst. She decided to take the initiative, and spoke first.

“S-Squall,” she said, hesitantly.

“What is it, Selphie?” Squall asked, unsure why she was being so defensive. Selphie gulped, and started talking.

“When we were in the prison, S-Seifer told me that he told you that I-I told him, about you, a-and S-Sir Lag-“ Squall waved a hand and shushed her.

“It’s alright, Selphie.” Selphie obviously didn’t hear him that well, as she carried on regardless.

“I just wanted to say that I know you must be mad at me, and if you want to-“ Squall decided to be a bit more forceful this time.

“Selphie?” He said, cutting Selphie off and making her jump, “I said it’s alright. You were under duress. I wouldn’t have expected anyone to stay quiet.” Selphie allowed herself a brief smile.

“R-Really?” She asked. Squall nodded.

“I saw the whole thing,” he said. As Selphie was about to ask him how, Squall pre-empted her. “Seifer had me sat behind a one-way mirror, forced me to watch everyone else being tortured. His idea of a sick joke. I saw what he put you through, and, as Zell would say, it sucked!” Selphie chuckled briefly at this.

“But if you didn’t want to talk to me about that,” she asked, “what did you want me for?” Squall sat up on his elbows, showing Selphie his notepad.

“You remember Matron telling us she had plans for the old orphanage, right?” Selphie nodded as Squall continued talking. “Well it seems that she’s almost finished renovating it, and she’s turned it into a small beach chalet, complete with pool, that she’s planning to rent out.” Selphie started smiling.

“Then where do I come into it?” She asked, genuinely curious.

“It turns out the builders have finished,” Squall said, “and Matron wants six people to stay there for a few days to test everything. As luck would have it, me, you, Rinoa, Irvine, Zell and Quistis all have the next five days off, and we’ve been asked to be her guinea-pigs.” Selphie couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Five days for free in a beach chalet?” She asked, giddy with excitement. Squall nodded, and she giggled, even more excited.

“I’ve got a shopping list here of everything we need. I’ve asked Cid, and he’s allowed you and Rinoa to use the Ragnarok to fly to Esthar and pick up everything on this list. You’ll have to be quick, however, we leave in 24 hours.” Almost bouncing off the ceiling with excitement, Selphie grabbed the list off Squall.

“Yes sir!” She shouted, before hugging him and kissing him on the cheek. “Thank you so much!” She said.

“It’s nothing,” he replied. “Now you’d better get going or you’ll be late!” Selphie giggled again, staring at the list, before skipping out of the room, singing “we’re gonna have a beach party” over and over. Squall lied back down on his bed and smiled. The difference a few moments of giving can make, he thought to himself. The old him would have fobbed her off to Irvine to deal with, and when that didn’t work, he’d only have fobbed her off again. I’m becoming too much like my old man, he thought to himself. But is that really a bad thing? Just so long as I don’t start getting leg cramp. He rolled over, forgetting his injury, and grimaced as a bolt of pain shot up his left leg. He couldn’t help but chuckle to himself. Oh, no, he thought to himself, here we go…

A few hours later, a very excited Selphie bounded out of the Ragnarok, followed by a more sedate but still enthusiastic Rinoa, and Zell. Zell had invited himself along at the last minute, claiming he was going to get “a few extra things Squall wanted”. This was actually the truth, but not the whole truth. Fortunately, Selphie and Rinoa suspected nothing, thinking that he just wanted another tattoo or something.

“I’ll see you girls later, then,” he said, boarding the nearest shuttle tube into the central business district of Esthar. Selphie and Rinoa giggled and looked at each other.

“Yeah...” Selphie said, giggling

“...Much later!” Rinoa finished for her. Zell just looked confused.

“Right then,” he said, completely missing the joke that had the two girls in stitches. His shuttle tube left, while Selphie and Rinoa waited for theirs, which was headed in the opposite direction.

“Aren’t we going shopping?” Selphie asked, impatiently. Rinoa simply smiled at her, before responding.

“There’s someone I have to see first,” she said. “I’ll catch you up.”

“OK!” Selphie shouted, running off to catch the next shuttle tube car into town, while Rinoa waited for her. Meanwhile, walking through the Esthar shopping mall, Zell was feeling somewhat nervous. Man, he thought to himself, what do I know about jewellery? Squall had asked him personally to buy some kind of ring for him to give to Rinoa at the beach party. Zell had protested, asking why he didn’t just ask him to make a copy of an existing ring for him, but Squall said he wanted it to be unique. So, there Zell was, wandering round the shopping mall, feeling like a complete idiot (not to mention having people stare at his tattoos), and to make matters worse, he was starting to get hungry...

For the second time in three days, Rinoa walked up to Ellone’s door, and knocked. Ellone answered the door, getting a pleasant surprise.

“Rinoa!” She said, with a smile. Rinoa smiled back.

“Hi, Ellone.”

“What are you doing back so soon?” She asked, slightly less enthusiastically. Is it bad news? She asked herself, before inviting Rinoa in. Rinoa entered, and sat down on a sofa. Almost reading Ellone’s mind, Rinoa started talking.

“We rescued Squall,” she said, eliciting a sigh of relief from Ellone.

“Is he OK?” She asked Rinoa.

“He’s got a few bad injuries,” Rinoa said, prompting a gasp from Ellone, “but he’s going to make a full recovery.” Ellone smiled, again out of relief for the man she considered her brother.

“I just thought you might like to know,” Rinoa said, standing up. Ellone smiled, and showed Rinoa out.

“Thanks, that was very considerate of you,” Ellone said, “I’ll be sure to let his father know too.” Rinoa stopped, believing that her hearing had just played a trick on her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, confused, “could you repeat that, please?” Ellone looked a little confused herself.

“I said,” she repeated deliberately, pointing at the ceiling, “I’ll be sure to let his fa-“ suddenly, Ellone realised what had happened. “You mean Squall hasn’t told you yet?”
Suddenly, Rinoa was defensive.

“Told me what?” She asked Ellone.

“About him,” Ellone started, “and Unc-“ she paused, before shaking her head. “It’s probably best you hear it from Squall himself.” Rinoa nodded, still not believing what she’d heard.

“Don’t worry,” Rinoa said, “I will hear it from Squall.” There was a brief pause, before Rinoa continued. “I have to meet my friend in town, so I’d better go now.”

“OK,” Ellone said, showing her out. “See you soon.” The mood was much more subdued now.

“Bye,” Rinoa said, leaving. Once she was outside, the shuttle tube ride to the shopping centre for her was dominated by one thought- why did he keep it from me? She thought it over and over again. Perhaps he didn’t want to tell anyone? Perhaps he was ashamed of his father? She’d pretty much worked out that his father was Laguna, despite the fact that father and son were as different as chalk and cheese. At least, Rinoa thought, the old Squall was… She arrived in the shopping centre, and quickly locating Selphie, who was struggling with about twelve different bags, rushed to help her out.

“Careful now!” Rinoa said, trying to put a jokey face on, “you don’t want to drop those!” Selphie laughed, then watched in horror as all the bags she was holding suddenly fell to the floor, spilling their contents everywhere.

“Oh, no,” she said, with mock despair, “I can’t believe how clumsy I am at times!”

“What have you got in here?” Rinoa asked as she helped Selphie with the bags. “Did Squall ask you to buy a whole new house?” Selphie giggled again, and nearly lost control of the bags. Fortunately, Zell had watched what was going on and ran over to catch the bags before they spilled on the floor.

“Hey,” he started, “you want to be careful with those!” Zell then paused as he saw Rinoa and Selphie staring at each other again, the same way they had done at the shuttle tube station.

“Zell,” Rinoa asked, turning to face him, “have you finished your shopping yet?”

“Yeah,” he said, unsure of what the girls were planning, “it was only a few odds and ends.”

“Where is it?” Selphie asked.

“In my pocket.”

“Zell,” Rinoa asked again, after exchanging a nod with Selphie, “could you do us a REALLY big favour?”

And so it came to pass that for the next few hours while Selphie and Rinoa visited (often RE-visited) practically every shop in town, Zell was lumbered with the role of “bag boy”, walking around with all their bags on, in and under his arms. Eventually, six hours after they had arrived in Esthar, Rinoa and Selphie walked back to the Ragnarok thoroughly exhausted, and slumped in the passenger’s seats in the cockpit. Zell stumbled in a few moments later, and after dumping the bags in the hold, slumped in the passenger seat next to the girls, who simply stared at him.

“What?” He asked.

“This ship isn’t going to fly itself, Zell,” Rinoa helpfully informed him.

“Aw MAN!” Zell said, getting up and starting the Ragnarok’s engine. Steadily, they climbed into the air, heading back to Balamb. Rinoa then decided to ask Selphie something she knew she wasn’t going to like the answer to.

“Selph,” she started, “you went with Squall to Esthar, just before the Garden was bombed, didn’t you?”

“Sure did!” Selphie answered, shifting from a slumped position to kneeling on her chair. “Although we didn’t stay long, of course.” Rinoa sat up, and assumed a serious expression, which made Selphie a little concerned.

“Rinn,” she asked, “what’s the matter?” Rinoa started fiddling with her fingers, distracted by what she was going to ask.

“On the way back,” she started, “did Squall... tell you anything?”

“You mean about him and Sir Laguna?” Selphie asked, excitedly. “I know! Isn’t it cool?” Rinoa maintained her serious expression. “Wait a minute,” Selphie continued, “Squall... he did tell you, didn’t he?” Rinoa simply looked at her friend, and sighed.

“Why didn’t he tell me, Selph?” She asked, worried for her relationship. “Doesn’t he trust me?”

“Of course he does, silly!” Selphie said, quasi-reassuringly. “I’m sure that what with the bombings, the mission and all that, he just couldn’t find the time.” Rinoa thought back to the morning after the bombings- he had tried to tell her after breakfast, but got called away. Why hadn’t he told her afterwards? Then she remembered. Seifer… she thought to herself. Why must he always come between us? She thought back to when he had thrown her to sorceress Adel- how he had claimed he was doing it because it was the wish of Ultimecia. Could it really have been because he wanted to hurt her and Squall’s relationship? Rinoa quickly put the thought of her mind and turned back to Selphie.

“Yeah,” she said, trying to sound convinced, “I’m sure that’s what it is.”

“Well,” Selphie said, once again excited, “it’s not like you won’t have tons of opportunities to ask him this week!” Rinoa smiled and allowed herself a little laugh- somehow, Selphie had managed to put a smile on her face, as she always seemed to do.

Meanwhile, back at the desert prison, Seifer was pacing around the control room, talking to himself. It had been nearly two days since his opportunity to kill Squall had been denied by Zell and Rinoa, and he was mentally in a bad state.

“Ten more seconds...” he thought to himself. “Just ten more seconds and his head would have been mine. TEN SECONDS!” He brought his fist crashing down on the control panel, causing various lights to flicker as he mashed the controls, wildly. “And why’d it have to be HER?” He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, there before him stood Squall, gunblade in hand, taunting Seifer.

“You’ll never be able to beat me,” Squall said. Seifer picked up his gunblade and dived at his nemesis, only for him to vanish, and re-appear behind him. Seifer crashed to the floor in a heap.

“Come on!” The phantom Squall shouted. “Is that the best you can do?” Seifer picked up his gunblade and dived again, this time, emitting an animal-like growl as he did so. Again, Squall vanished, and again, Seifer was left floundering on the floor.

“You’re pathetic,” Squall said, kneeling down beside the fallen Seifer, “you’re really pathetic, you know that? All this time, you try to beat me. I can’t be beaten.”

“I-I tortured you,” Seifer said, defiantly, “You were going to give up!” Squall merely shook his head and laughed in Seifer’s face.

“Don’t you get it, loser?” The phantom Squall said again, “I have friends. I have back up. They’ll always be there for me. You’ve spent your whole life turning away everyone who’s ever tried to get close to you. And why? To be a sorceress’ knight? Don’t make me laugh!” Seifer stood up, and wildly started swinging at his imaginary adversary. Again and again, he failed to hit him, as again and again, Squall kept vanishing. Then, Seifer heard the voice from behind him that he once longed to hear.

“You’re right,” came the voice of Rinoa from behind him. He turned round to face her- she was wearing her usual blue dress, only she had Squall’s jacket on over it. She continued talking.

“I don’t know what I ever saw in him in the first place. You’re more of a man than he’ll ever be, Squall.” She walked over to Squall, and kissed him passionately. When they were done, they turned to Seifer and laughed at him. Laughed... and laughed... and laughed until they were hoarse. Seifer sank to his knees, quivering in rage, and emotional pain. Then, one by one, all the other people he’d sided against came towards him. First, Selphie, the messenger girl he’d taken so much pleasure from poisoning.

“You’re just a pathetic low-life,” she said, spitting in his face. Seifer shook his head, close to tears. Then came Quistis.

“I always knew he’d amount to the nothing that he is,” she said, slapping him in the face. All of them laughed as he slumped to the ground, crying.

“Chicken-wuss,” he heard the voice of Zell say. By then, Seifer had broken down completely. And when he heard the voice of Irvine say, “Look at him, no-one likes him! It’s no wonder he was an orphan- his parents died of shame!” Seifer had pretty much given up hope.

“You want to put that gunblade of yours to good use?” Squall asked Seifer rhetorically, leaning down beside him, “then put it in the ground, blade upward, and fall on it. Go on. It’s not like anyone would miss you.” Seifer started to nod, but he then saw Squall spasm, as if caught by electricity. He looked up, and saw Ultimecia standing behind Squall, projecting some kind of energy into his body.

“Go on,” Ultimecia said, “kill him.” Seifer, with his second wind, stood up, and picked up his gunblade. He pierced the helpless Squall with it, and the instant he saw the blood run down the blade, he felt like a new man. Rejuvenated, he pulled the trigger on the gunblade, and every time he saw Squall’s body twitch as the bullet entered him, he felt more and more ecstatic, until he was almost orgasmic in his delight. He pushed Squall’s lifeless corpse off the gunblade and watched it sink to the floor, before vanishing. Seifer looked at Ultimecia, confused.

“That was only a test,” Ultimecia revealed to Seifer. “The real Squall is still out there. You must end his life. The time for torture has past. Kill Squall, my Knight.” Ultimecia walked over to Seifer and stroked his beard. Seifer felt good to be alive.

“I will,” he said, “and I promise you, it will be slow and painful.” He watched as Ultimecia vanished, and the scene returned to that of the control room, empty, as it had been before Squall’s arrival.

“Kill him...” Ultimecia’s voice came into Seifer’s head once again. Seifer nodded. He would kill Squall, or die trying.

Ultimecia had come into Seifer’s life a few months earlier- after the whole incident involving her and compressed time had passed, he’d decided not to return to Balamb Garden. He had wanted to go back, but was unsure whether he’d be accepted there. Realising that just words weren’t going to heal wounds, he’d packed up, and started travelling around the world. He’d visited Shumi Village, stayed briefly in Esthar, and eventually ended up in Fisherman’s Horizon, where he was surprised to find his old friends, Fujin and Raijin. They’d left him when they were all aboard the Lunatic Pandora, but he didn’t mind- he was amazed they’d followed him that far. He stayed with them for a couple of weeks, having fun fishing, until one day, he saw Balamb Garden float past. He watched it with longing- he still wanted to be accepted there, no matter how unlikely it was that they’d forgive him. Then, he saw the face that turned his mind- Squall, leaning over the second floor balcony. Suddenly, something inside him went wild. Squall… he thought. He’d seen television reports hailing Squall as the conquering hero, the leader of the SeeDs who’d beaten the sorceress. He hadn’t minded that too much- after all, it was true. But what wound him up was seeing him in the flesh, looking down on him as if he was some kind of god. How dare he! Seifer had thought. How dare he look down on me as if I’m some kind of lowly peasant! He hadn’t known where those feelings had come from, but they wouldn’t go away. That night, he’d dreamt about Squall, about him standing on that balcony, laughing on him. He hadn’t been physically laughing, but Seifer knew that was what Squall was doing, deep inside. Laughing at the man he’d squashed like a bug, then discarded. Before he could be consumed by rage, however, Ultimecia came to him, and gave him a new meaning of life.

“Take back what was taken from you...” she said. He was unsure what she’d meant, but then it hit him. All his life, Squall had taken what he’d had. Everything he had, Squall desired, and got. Hell, even Fujin and Raijin, his so-called “best friends” had been corrupted by Squall. Well, thought Seifer, that’s all going to change. The following morning, he went up to Fujin and Raijin, and launched his blistering verbal attack on Squall, also indicting the two of them in his speech. He’d ended his rant with the word “payback”, then stomped up to the room he was renting. Overnight, he left. He hadn’t expected the two of them to actually believe what he said about “Mr. Perfect” Squall Leonheart, so he didn’t bother to leave them an explanatory note or anything. He returned to the D-district prison in Galbaldia, and climbed up to the control room. There, memories came flooding back- his torture of Squall, watching him writhe in agony- it was too much to resist. He started abducting people off the street, and brainwashing them to serve him. He’d called his army “servants of the Almasy Empire”, but in truth he wanted no power- all he wanted was revenge. He found himself in a position to carry out his threat when, on an undercover visit to Balamb, he’d abducted two students of Balamb Garden, which had apparently opted to root itself back in the ground, outside Balamb, where it used to be. He captured the students and brainwashed them, and when the time was right, secretly contacted them, telling them to destroy the Garden’s training centre. He’d received intelligence that Squall was out on a mission, so that would be the perfect time. Along with a little message he’d videotaped for Squall, the bait was set. And Squall had gobbled it up beautifully. Unfortunately, he hadn’t counted on Squall’s friends. Even when he’d isolated him, his friends were somehow able to come to the rescue and save Squall. Still, at least he’d managed to torture Squall, almost to the point where he’d broken. But, Ultimecia had spoken.

“Kill Squall...” she’d said. And that was what he was going to do. If he had to go through Squall’s friends, even HER, then he would. He went to his study and sat down at his desk, formulating a new plan of action.

Meanwhile, the Ragnarok set down just outside Edea’s newly renovated beach house, and six friends, dressed for a party, departed the spaceship, waved off by their pilot.

“Man,” Nida said, “ I wish I was going with you. But hey, someone’s gotta keep an eye on the Garden while you’re gone. Have fun!” Nida waved at them one last time before taking back off in the Ragnarok, and they waved back at him. Squall, who was in a wheelchair, was suddenly pestered by two of the six.

“Come on, Squall!” Selphie shouted, grabbing his arm and bouncing up and down.

“Yeah,” a very excited Irvine, who was walking backwards in front of him, and therefore staring him straight in the face, said, “give us the keys!” Squall simply sighed, smiled, and handed the keys over as Selphie and Irvine cheered. Selphie grabbed the keys, jumped on Irvine’s back, and he gave her a piggyback the remaining 300 yards to the door. They made it there quickly, and opened the door. Eventually, the others arrived, and were amazed by what they saw.

“WOW!” Zell shouted, upon seeing the finished work. The others felt much the same way- far from being the ruined old husk of a house it was a few months previously, it was a real home, rebuilt, painted, everything. The builders had even added a third bedroom, and the whole place was sparkling and clean. Selphie and Irvine came bounding back out, throwing a beach ball at the remaining four.

“Last one on the beach is making dinner!” Selphie shouted, excitedly. At that, Zell, Rinoa and Quistis dropped everything they were carrying, and ran outside (with Rinoa pushing Squall’s wheelchair). Eventually, they were all outside on the beach. It was a bright, sunny day and the ocean was warm. Zell and Quistis wasted no time in stripping down to their swimming costumes and dived right in, while Selphie and Irvine amused themselves with the beach ball. Rinoa unpacked two towels from underneath Squall’s wheelchair and spread them on the sand, before stripping down to her bikini and laying on one, in an attempt to get a tan.

“Squall,” she said, already relaxed on her towel, “pass me the sun tan lotion, will you?” Squall reached underneath his chair and produced the bottle, before carefully sliding off his chair onto the towel adjacent to Rinoa.

“I can do better than that,” he said, squirting some on Rinoa’s back and gently rubbing it in. Rinoa undid her bikini top to make Squall’s task a little easier.

“This was a lovely idea,” she said, twitching a little bit as Squall started applying the cold lotion to her legs. Squall simply shrugged.

“I figured everyone could do with a break. Edea told me a few months ago about her plans for the old orphanage, and as luck would have it, the builders have just finished.” He started rubbing the lotion onto the soles of her feet.

“Ah!” She shouted, laughing as Squall started tickling her feet. “Stop it!” Squall smiled.

“Sorry,” he said, “I couldn’t resist that.” He took his shirt off and started rubbing some lotion on his chest. When he had finished, he simply lay there, enjoying the sun.

Meanwhile, once they had grown tired of the beach ball, Selphie and Irvine found the pool that Squall had mentioned to her earlier.

“I don’t get it,” Irvine, who for this holiday had shunned the cowboy look for a more laid-back look (he even had a Hawaiian shirt), “why can’t we just swim in the ocean?”

“Because, silly,” Selphie replied, leading him by the hand, “the ocean doesn’t have a diving board!” She took off her top and her shorts to reveal the new bikini she’d brought in Esthar, then ran right up to the diving board and dived right in. When she surfaced, her hair had lost some of it’s lift and was hanging down slightly. Irvine was so caught up staring at her beauty that he didn’t hear her egging him on. Eventually, she splashed him with some water, getting his attention.

“Well?” She asked, impatiently, “Are you coming in or not?” Irvine’s attention returned, and he smiled.

“Wait right there,” he said, before running off to get changed into his swimming shorts. Unlike Zell and the girls, he’d forgotten to plan ahead. He eventually emerged, and stood on the diving board, ready to jump in.

“Are you ready, Sefie?” He asked. “Watch this!” He took a big headlong dive off the board and made a huge splash in the water, but when he resurfaced, his demeanour had changed.

“Oh no!” He shouted. “I can’t believe this!” Selphie was laughing her head off- she’d seen the whole problem. Irvine’s shorts had come off when he’d jumped into the pool. Before he could retrieve them, however, Selphie swam over, grabbed them, and jumped out of the pool, running back towards the beach. Irvine climbed out, and with one hand preserving his modesty, ran after her.

“Gimme my shorts back!” He shouted, sprinting across the beach after her, and making Squall, Rinoa, Zell and Quistis fall about in hysterics.

“You gotta catch me first!” Selphie had replied. Eventually, she climbed over a pile of rocks, but slipped, landing backside first on the sand. Irvine caught her and restrained both her arms, until she agreed to drop his shorts. He quickly retrieved them and put them back on.

“Are you alright?” He asked her, helping her up after her fall. She dusted the sand off her backside and replied.

“Yeh, I’m OK.” She looked up into his eyes, and he looked down into hers. They moved their heads closer, and were about to kiss, when Zell’s voice interrupted the moment.

“YO! You two!” He shouted over the rocks, unable to see the romantic scene unfolding, “Dinner’s ready!” Zell had promised them that he’d prepare one of his famous barbecues, and he hadn’t let them down. The smell of chicken, burgers and hotdogs hung heavily in the air. The food, naturally, was delicious, and by the time they’d all finished eating, they were too tired to do anything else but lay on the beach and watch the sunset while Zell polished off the leftovers (of which there had been quite a few). They talked, laughed and even dragged the beach ball out for a final appearance of the night, before eventually going inside and settling down to bed. It was kind of an unwritten fact that Squall and Rinoa would get the Kramers’ old room, while Selphie and Quistis shared another room, and Irvine and Zell gave the new room a test-run. Squall, however, was having difficulty sleeping, as Rinoa was becoming well aware of.

“Squall, darling,” she asked tiredly, “what’s up? It’s 1 AM.” She’d been trying to get some sleep, but Squall was tossing and turning like nobody’s business. He turned again, to face her.

“It’s nothing,” he lied. Rinoa was not impressed.

“Squall,” she said, with a slightly stern tone of voice, “don’t give me that.” Squall turned away from Rinoa for a brief moment. “Is it about your father?” She asked. Squall had finally come clean to all of them about him and Laguna on board the Ragnarok en route to the chalet. His friends were shocked, but had taken it well enough. However, Rinoa’s curiosity was not satisfied.

“It’s not that,” Squall confessed. Rinoa was suddenly hit by an unpleasant thought.

“It’s Seifer, isn’t it?” She asked. Squall cringed as he heard Seifer’s name- he’d been desperately trying not to think of him, but slowly, he’d managed to work his way into Squall’s conscious.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

“It helps to talk,” Rinoa said, trying to coax Squall out of the figurative shell he’d built around himself. Squall sighed- it wasn’t going to be easy to persuade her to take ‘no’ for an answer.

“It’s not something I’m proud of,” Squall admitted, “not something I want to admit to.” Rinoa could detect a very serious tone in Squall’s voice- this was something he felt very strongly about. Nonetheless, she hated him keeping secrets from her.

“Whatever it is,” she started, “you can tell me. I won’t be shocked, or offended. I promise.” Squall sighed, and turned round to face her.

“Maybe it will help to talk,” he said, before averting his gaze from Rinoa. He’s ashamed, Rinoa immediately figures out. Whatever it is, he’s ashamed to tell me. She’d got to know Squall a lot in the past few months, and one of the things she worked out quickly was that he had no regrets. He was very rarely ashamed of his past actions, and when he was, it had to have been a whopper of an action for him to bottle it up. Squall began talking.

“When Seifer was torturing me, what he was doing to me was unimaginable. He hit me, cut me, used weapons and magic against me, even poisoned me to make me vomit so he could humiliate me.” Rinoa nodded, trying to hide the concern on her face- she’d known Squall was tortured, she didn’t really want to hear the details. Squall then averted his gaze entirely from her. “In the end, Rinoa, I’d had enough. If you and Zell hadn’t some in the Ragnarok... I’d have given up. I’d have let Seifer win. I just couldn’t take any more.” Squall’s eyes started to well up at this point, and Rinoa held him tightly. I’ve never seen him so vulnerable! She thought to herself. Usually he was the one immediately pushing his emotions aside and helping her, not the other way round. Squall couldn’t contain himself any more, and he started crying. “I just didn’t know what else to do...” he wailed. Rinoa looked at him in the face, astonished by seeing the tears running down his normally expressionless features, and put his mind at rest.

“It’s OK, Squall,” she started. “No-one’s perfect. No one’s invincible. Not even you. We’d all have broken some time.” She looked at Squall again, and could tell that he was far from convinced. She tried a different approach. “Exactly how long was Seifer torturing you before you lost the plot?” She put it that way, hoping that it might make Squall feel a little better.

“I don’t know,” he answered, still sobbing. “He had a clock in the torture room, near the start, it said half past six, you came at around twelve... five hours, maybe.” Rinoa gasped- she’d had no idea it was that long.

“Five hours?” She said, still shocked. “I don’t think anyone could have held out that long with a madman like Seifer torturing them.” Squall was still unconvinced.

“It’s not enough, Rinoa,” he said, still sobbing away, “It’s the fact that he beat me. He broke me. He’s breaking me right now!” Rinoa grabbed him and held him tight again.

“Ssh,” she said, soothingly, “You can’t let yourself fall to his level. He wants revenge on you. He wants to hurt you. If you keep thinking like this, you’ll only end up like him- bitter and twisted. And I won’t let that happen.” Squall nodded- she was right, as always.

“I love you, Rinoa,” he said, quietly into her ear.

“I love you too, Squall,” she said back into his ear. They fell asleep holding each other. Squall had no nightmares that night.

Meanwhile, Irvine was lying awake with worries of his own. One thought was rolling through his head over and over again. Do I really love Sefie? Do I really love Sefie? After they nearly kissed behind the rocks on the beach, he’d been unable to get her out of his mind. Usually, he tended to concentrate on all the beautiful women he’d ever seen all at the same time, but for some reason, Selphie had displaced them all. She’d been his best friend for as long as he could remember- even when they were taken away from the orphanage and given to separate foster families, and placed in separate Gardens, he always thought of her, but not in the way he’d thought about all the other women in his life. Sure, he’d tried to hit on her, shortly after they’d met, but he was sure she’d remembered him from the orphanage. Yes, he was older, much taller, and he was sporting a trenchcoat and hat, but he was amazed she hadn’t recognised him. When he’d spilled the beans to everyone at Trabia Garden, however, then Selphie started to remember him. They’d hung around with each other more, shared more laughs and smiles than they’d ever done when they were at the orphanage. Now, however, with his memories of the orphanage fading due to the GF’s, his feelings towards Selphie were unclear. He’d initially only wanted friendship- and yet she seemed to grow more beautiful with every passing day. Could it be that he and Selphie were to be like Squall and Rinoa- deeply in love and joined at the hip? Could he give up his bachelor life, a new girl every week, and be with Selphie alone? Did he really love her that much? He decided to get up and make himself a drink. Maybe that would help him clear his mind and get to sleep. He climbed out of bed quietly, so as not to disturb a fast asleep (and snoring- that helped) Zell, and tiptoed into the kitchen. He was more than shocked and surprised to see Selphie there, making herself a drink. She turned round, and gasped out of shock when she saw Irvine there.

“Irvy!” She shouted, unusually flustered. “What are you doing here?” She looked at him- he was wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts, showing off his muscular body to the full. He’s so cute… Selphie caught herself thinking.

“Well,” Irvine responded, “I’d like to get myself a drink, if that’s OK with you.” He was flustered himself- Selphie’s presence made sure of that. He couldn’t take her eyes off her- she was wearing that short white nightie she always wore to bed, the one that showed off her slim body and her legs to the full. She’s so cute… Irvine caught himself thinking.

“S-sure,” Selphie replied, turning back to the sideboard where the kettle was. She didn’t see Irvine start to walk towards her. “What would you like?” She asked as she reached into the cupboard for the teabags. Irvine reached in at the same time, and their hands touched. Their eyes locked on to each other’s, and they leaned in towards each other...

Meanwhile, for the umpteenth time, Quistis’s belly rumbled. Oh, she thought to herself, damn Zell and his cooking! Why do I always eat too much on holiday? Being a consummate professional, Quistis always maintained a strict regime of diet and exercise, but that had a tendency to go straight out of the window whenever she was on holiday. She decided to get up and get herself some indigestion tablets, hoping that they might settle her stomach down a little. She slowly climbed out of bed and walked down the hallway to the bathroom, which was where the medicine was kept. That’s strange, she thought to herself as she left the bedroom, Selphie’s up too… Thinking nothing of it, she continued down towards the toilet when she heard a strange noise coming from the kitchen. Opening the door and peeking in, she was most surprised to see Irvine and Selphie, with their arms wrapped around each other, passionately kissing. Her surprise, however, was nothing compared to that of either Irvine or Selphie, who immediately stopped kissing, and turned to face Quistis.

“Quis! Hi!” Selphie said, even more flustered than when Irvine had walked in.

“Quistis! Fancy seeing you here,” Irvine said, simultaneously with Selphie. Both were wearing cheesy grins, in a futile attempt to disguise what they were just doing. Quistis, who was used to catching students of hers in compromising positions, simply smiled, shook her head and left.

“Do you think she suspects anything?” Irvine asked, somewhat naively. Selphie smiled at him.

“How could she NOT suspect anything?” She replied. Irvine nodded- it wasn’t the first time he’d been caught red-handed by a tutor, but still, he was on vacation, and besides, Quistis wasn’t so much a tutor as a friend. She’d understand, even if he did have to explain to her why she’d never get a turn with him...

“Where were we again?” He asked his new love with a smile. They embraced again, and continued where they’d left off...

The following morning at breakfast, and despite the fact that Quistis obviously knew, Irvine and Selphie were wondering how to inform the rest of their friends about their being together, having barely come to terms with it themselves. Fortunately, they could rely on Zell to provide the opportunity for them. He’d noticed that they were grinning at each other, and didn’t like not knowing what was going on.

“What’s up with you two this morning?” He asked, while making himself some breakfast. He would have made it for everyone, but Squall and Rinoa weren’t up yet, and Quistis had passed for some reason...

“Well, erm,” Selphie started, between giggles.

“Yeah, you see,” Irvine also tried to say, but was cut off by giggles too. Quistis rolled her eyes before spilling the beans on Irvine and Selphie’s behalf.

“They’re an item,” she said, with mock indifference in her voice, before starting to laugh a bit herself.

“SERIOUSLY?” Zell asked, not sure he’d heard right. Selphie jumped up out of her chair and into Irvine’s lap, surprising him with a long, deep kiss.

“Seriously,” Selphie replied, while still wrapped around Irvine.

“Damn,” Zell said out loud, “looks like Nida won the bet then.” Irvine and Selphie looked at each other, not sure what Zell meant.

“What do you mean, won the bet?” Irvine asked Zell.

“Me, Nida, Rinoa and a couple of others had a bet on how long it’d take for you two to hook up,” Zell replied. “Nida won.” Before Selphie or Irvine could react further, Squall and Rinoa walked in (or “hobbled” in in Squall’s case), and both saw Selphie firmly wrapped around her new love.

“Let me guess,” Squall started, “the chair’s broken.” Squall had never been known for having a sharp wit, but it had certainly surfaced in recent days.

“No, silly!” Selphie had replied, before looking in Irvine’s eyes. “You are looking at Garden’s new cutest couple.” Irvine shrugged, smiling smugly.

“Sorry, guys,” he said. They kissed again.

“Aw, man,” Rinoa started, “that means-“ Zell cut her off.

“Nida won the bet. Yes, we know,” he finished while Squall and Rinoa sat down at the table. “So,” he said, turning to face Squall. “What’re the plans for today? Beach, beach and more beach?”

“That just about sums it up,” Squall answered. “That is, of course,” he said, turning to face the still embracing Irvine and Selphie, “if some people can let each other go.”

“Aww,” Rinoa said, “I think it’s kinda cute. Remember what we were like when we started dating?” She asked, climbing onto Squall’s one good knee.

“You haven’t made it easy to forget,” he answered, and the two of them started passionately kissing as well. Quistis simply looked over at Zell, who nodded at her, and they headed out onto the beach and into the ocean. It was a full half-four before any of the other four joined them, and even then, it was Rinoa and Squall. Irvine and Selphie didn’t emerge until mid-afternoon...

Later that evening, while Irvine and the girls were relaxing on the beach, topping up their tans, Squall was inside, talking secretly to Zell.

“Did you get it?” Squall asked his friend.

“Yeh,” Zell replied, “and you won’t believe the hassle I had to go through!” Squall laughed a little at this. “What’s so damn funny?” Zell asked.

“The girls had you running errands for them, then?” Squall asked, jokily.

“Man,” Zell replied, “they were like wild animals!” Squall nodded- he’d once invited himself along on a shopping trip to Balamb with Rinoa and Selphie, and had barely made it back conscious. Since then, he decided to leave the girls to their own devices, but not before having a little fun with Zell...

“Let’s see it then,” Squall asked. Zell showed him the ring- it was nothing too extravagant, just a slender gold band with a single diamond set on it. On the inside bore the inscription “Rinoa. Forever yours. Squall.” Squall gave it his nod of approval.

“Thanks, man,” he said, slapping Zell on the shoulder.

“No sweat,” Zell replied, “only next time, don’t send me shopping with those two. I’d rather face Omega weapon again than have to deal with that!” Squall smiled.

“Don’t worry, I-“ He was interrupted by a cough at the door- Selphie had come inside to get some drinks, and was watching at the doorway. Squall quickly whipped his hands, and the ring, behind his back.

“Selphie!” Zell shouted, guiltily, “Hi!” Squall also waved, with a guilty smile on his face.

“Err... hi,” she said, unsure of what exactly she’d interrupted. “I came to get some drinks...” Zell immediately jumped into action.

“Don’t- don’t worry,” he shouted, far too loud even for him, “I’ll bring them out to you!” Selphie grinned, then turned and left.

“Woo-hoo! Thanks!” She said, before returning to her sunbathing.

“Do you think she suspected anything?” Zell asked Squall, whispering.

“Probably,” Squall answered, “with you shouting loud enough for the whole world to hear.”

“Aw, come on man!” Zell shouted, before a stare from Squall cut him off.

“OK, sorry man,” Zell conceded.

Outside, Selphie took Rinoa to one side and had a quiet talk with her.

“You’ll never guess what I just saw!” Selphie said, trying desperately not to literally bounce with excitement.

“What, what?” Rinoa asked, Selphie’s excitement noticeably rubbing off on her. Selphie whispered something in Rinoa’s ear.

“Seriously!?” Rinoa asked, incredulously. Selphie nodded, still giddy with the excitement.

“Isn’t it great?” Selphie asked.

“Yeah!” Rinoa responded, now as excited as Selphie. Wow! She thought. Squall had brought her presents before, but nothing as expensive or fancy as a ring. “Do you reckon I should tell him I know?” Selphie shook her head.

“Are you kidding?” She asked, grinning. “Of course not!” Rinoa grinned back- her holiday was getting better and better...

Later that night, when they were all in bed, it was Rinoa’s turn not to sleep. It may have been slightly immature of her, but she wanted her present now, and was determined to get it. I wonder what it’s like… she thought, as she rolled over and felt herself roll on something hard. Oops, she thought, that’s not good… Squall, who had been asleep, woke up and clutched his broken wrist, which Rinoa had just rolled over.

“Aah!” He cried in pain.

“Oops, sorry,” Rinoa said.

“That’s OK,” Squall replied, wearily, “you just get to sleep, Angel.” Squall was really tired, and just wanted some rest. Rinoa, on the other hand, was still very much awake. She decided she’d have a little fun.

“Squall,” she asked, “How much do you love me?” Squall opened his eyes and rolled back over.

“You know how much I love you, Angel,” Squall replied, sleepily.

“Tell me again,” she asked, snuggling herself up to Squall and wrapping her arms around him.

“OK,” Squall said, up for Rinoa’s little game but mainly trying to get her to sleep so he could, “I love you from beneath the bottom of my heart, with more than all of my soul, and will do for longer than eternity.” Rinoa smiled- she’d been satisfied. Now, she thought, the finishing touch…

“Prove it,” she said, jokily. Squall stared down at her, one thought on his mind. She knows… he thought to himself. Selphie must have told her. Damn! He quickly thought of a way of stalling Rinoa.

“Tell you what,” he said, thinking on his feet, “meet me at sunrise tomorrow, on the outcropping at the end of the beach. I’ll prove it then.” Rinoa smiled- she could wait until sunrise.

“OK,” she said, “sunrise it is.” For the second night in a row, they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

The next morning, Squall was awake early, and already at the aforementioned outcropping ten whole minutes before sunrise, ring in hand. He’d wanted to save it for the last day of the holiday, but now as good a time as any. For possibly the first time he could ever remember, he was nervous. He heard Rinoa’s soft voice from behind him. The sun was coming up. It’s now or never, Squall thought.

“Squall?” Rinoa asked. Squall took a deep breath, and turned round to face her. It took a while, with his being on crutches, but he got there eventually.

“Rinoa,” he started, “last night, you asked me how much I love you. I gave you a short answer, now I want to give you the long answer.” Rinoa nodded, smiling.

“Ever since I met you,” he continued to ad lib, “there’s been something about you I’ve not been able to resist. It’s not just your amazing beauty or your personality. It’s something different. Something... intangible. I know we have our whole lives ahead of us, but I want to spend my life with you.” He dropped his crutch, and pulled out the ring, just as the sun broke over the horizon. “Rinoa Heartilly, will you marry me?” His voice was quivering- he’d fought in loads of battles, but was never as nervous as he was right then. What if she says no? He thought. Will I be able to cope with that? Fortunately for Squall, Rinoa did not say no. Unfortunately, she didn’t say yes, either.

“Squall,” Rinoa said, in shock. It was an engagement ring! She thought. Selphie said nothing about that! Squall had totally blindsided her with his proposal. She started to feel a little light-headed. “I need to lie down,” Rinoa said, backing off. “Let me think about it.” Squall was sort of expecting an answer like this, so he wasn’t too shocked.

“Take all the time you need, Angel,” he said, as Rinoa scurried back into the chalet. Squall then realised he had no means of picking his crutch back up. Damn, he thought, my father’s legacy comes back to haunt me once again. He swiftly pocketed the ring and bent at the hip, just about managing to retrieve his crutch a few tries later. He hobbled back into the chalet, and was about to re-enter his room when he remembered Rinoa was most likely in there, mulling over her decision. I’d best give her some time, he thought, as he hobbled into the lounge area and put the television on. However, Rinoa was not in their room, but had gone to seek advice from Selphie and Quistis.

“Wow! Congratulations!” And unusually excitable Quistis had shouted. Selphie was also hyper, even for her.

“He proposed! Wow!” She shouted, giving Rinoa a congratulatory hug. “Show us the ring!” Rinoa shook her head, and sat down on the bed.

“I haven’t said yes yet,” she said.

“What? Why not?” Quistis asked.

“Yeah, what’s the matter?” Selphie asked as well. Rinoa shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she answered truthfully, “I want to be with Squall, but this is just a little fast. Do I really want to settle down with him?”

“That’s a question only you can answer,” Quistis replied.

“Yeah!” Selphie exclaimed. “Do you love Squall or not?” She asked.

“Of course I do,” Rinoa answered.

“Do you, have you, or will you love anyone more than him?” Selphie asked, continuing the interrogation. Rinoa thought back to the summer she’d spent with Seifer the previous year. Sure, it had been fun, and she’d liked him a lot, but she didn’t have that feeling with him that she did with Squall. “Something... intangible” was the way Squall had put it. Rinoa felt exactly the same way.

“No,” Rinoa answered with full confidence. “Squall’s the love of my life.”

“Are you sure?” Quistis asked. Rinoa nodded- she was sure. She knew she’d never get that intangible feeling anywhere else.

“Why do you love him?” Selphie asked. Rinoa had to think long and hard about this one. Loads of reasons… she thought, but couldn’t come up with a single one. Sure, Squall was attractive, in a rugged kind of way; sure, he was brave and heroic, and he was absolutely devoted to her, she was sure of that. She couldn’t think of one solid reason, until she remembered Squall saying something, which brought it all back to her. “Rinoa...” he’d said, “even if the whole world ends up hating you, I’ll be your knight.” Rinoa remembered that, and was instantly sure that no matter what, no matter who came between then, Squall would always be hers. How could she put that feeling into words? She decided, in the end, to borrow one of Squall’s phrases.

“It’s something... intangible,” Rinoa replied. Selphie then hit her with the question that sealed her answer to Squall.

“In thirty years’ time,” she asked, “where do you see yourself?” Rinoa sighed- there was only one answer she could give.

“With Squall,” she said. “And I don’t see us being apart at all during those thirty years.”

“Then give me a reason why you two shouldn’t get married,” Quistis said. Rinoa sighed- aside from the obvious one, she couldn’t think of any. She tried the obvious one anyway.

“We’re too young,” she said, massively unsure of herself. Quistis got up and sat next to Rinoa, putting a comforting arm around her.

“Rinn,” she said, “I can see how you look whenever you see Squall. Your pupils dilate, your breathing increases, you go weak at the knees. In my book, that’s true love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re seventeen or seventy.” Rinoa nodded- as always, Quistis was right.

“So?” Selphie asked. “What are you gonna say to Squall?”

“There’s only one thing I can say,” Rinoa answered. She got up and prepared to leave, but before doing so, gave both Quistis and Selphie thank-you hugs.

“Thank you so much,” Rinoa said. “You don’t know how much this meant to me.” She then left to find Squall, expecting him to be in their room. She was surprised to find him lying on the couch in the lounge area, half-watching TV.

“Anything good on?” Rinoa asked, startling Squall.

“N-no,” Squall stuttered, struggling to his feet, “just a repeat.” There was an awkward pause, before Rinoa spoke again.

“Would you like your answer now?” She asked.

“Y-yes,” Squall replied, nervously. His heart sank as he saw Rinoa lower his head. Why did I ask her? He thought to himself. Why did I throw away the single best thing that ever happened to me? He was about to get the shock of his life.

“Yes,” Rinoa answered, looking into Squall’s eyes. Squall couldn’t believe his ears.

“Y-yes?” Squall asked.

“Yes,” Rinoa said, with a grin on her face. “I will marry you.” Squall’s expression turned into one of pure delight as he rushed forward, as fast as he could, anyway, and gave Rinoa the biggest hug he could muster.

“I love you so much...” he said, squeezing her tight, as tears of pure joy fell from his eyes.

“I love you too,” Rinoa said, laughing, as she tried to squirm out of Squall’s bear-like hug. Squall released his hug, remembering something.

“Oh!” He shouted. “I almost forgot...” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring, slipping it on Rinoa’s finger. “This makes it official, my fiancée.” Rinoa stared at the ring- it was nothing too extravagant, but it was the giving of the ring that mattered most, not the actual ring itself. She then looked at Squall’s face, and realised that she’d never seen him so happy. She smiled, and then they gave each other a long, easy kiss.

At breakfast that morning, they made the announcement. Everyone was excited for them, wanting to know when the wedding was going to be, only to be told it won’t be for a few months (to allow Squall’s leg time to heal). No one was really disappointed- it gave them all (particularly Selphie, who had appointed herself wedding planner almost immediately) more time to plan the big day.

The next few days at the beach proved to be a perfect holiday for the six of them- forgetting their worries, forgetting their wounds, forgetting Seifer. None of them wanted to go home, but when Nida came in the Ragnarok to pick them up, they knew that duty called. After they’d dropped Zell, Selphie, Irvine and Quistis off at the Garden, however, Squall ordered Nida to head to Esthar.

“Why are we heading to Esthar?” A healthily tanned Rinoa asked. Squall had his business face on, which worried Rinoa slightly.

“There’s something I have to do, Angel,” he replied.

“What?” She asked, speaking softly. Squall turned and faced Rinoa, smiling.

“Formally introduce my father to my fiancée,” he answered. Rinoa smiled- although she’d met Laguna before, it would be the first time she’d met him with him as Squall’s father, and her as Squall’s romantic interest.

Squall, however, had an ulterior motive- unlike the others, he hadn’t been able to push Seifer further than the back of his mind, where he always lingered, like a bad smell. He had recalled, over and over again, Seifer telling him he was going to assassinate Laguna- and Squall had no intention of letting him.

The Ragnarok landed at Esthar air station for what must have been the umpteenth time in the past few days, and after waving goodbye to Nida, Squall and Rinoa were greeted by the familiar faces of Ward and Kiros.

“Squall!” Kiros said, enthusiastically. “It’s good to see you again.” He reached up to shake Squall’s hand, only to see his cast. He then noted his crutches. Ward leaned in towards the group.

“Ward says,” Kiros started, “what the hell happened to you? And frankly, I’d like to know too.”

“Long story,” Squall said. “I’ll tell you once we’re on the shuttle car.” They boarded, and Squall related the story of his torture at the hands of Seifer (a censored version, seeing as Rinoa was also there). He then told Ward and Kiros of his ulterior motive.

“During the torture,” Squall started, “Seifer told me he was planning on assassinating Laguna.” Kiros cut him off before he could go on.

“It won’t happen,” Kiros stated. “We won’t let him within 100 miles of Laguna.”

“See that you don’t,” Squall said, “he’s a very dangerous man.” Before too long, the shuttle car arrived at the presidential palace, and the four of them disembarked, entering the palace. Ward and Kiros escorted the newly engaged couple up to Laguna’s door, before waiting outside.

“Go on in,” Kiros said, opening the door for them. Squall and Rinoa entered. Laguna was standing at the window, his back to the door. He turned round to face his son.

“Squall!” He shouted, waking over and putting his hands on Squall’s shoulders. “I see you’ve been in the wars a little bit,” he said, with a grin on his face.

“Hello,” Squall started, “...father.” Laguna grinned even further- he’d worried that Squall might disown him. Usually, it was fathers that disowned their offspring, but Laguna’s luck had never been all that good.

“What brings you back to Esthar?” Laguna asked, barely noticing Rinoa, who stepped up to Squall’s side and hooked her arm around his.

“Father,” Squall started, before Laguna cut him off with a wave.

“Call me ‘Dad’”, he said. Squall sighed, and then smiled.

“Dad,” Squall said with a slight grin, “I believe you’ve met Rinoa Heartilly, during the Ultimecia incident?”

“Ah, yes,” Laguna said with a cheeky grin on his face. “Is she your bit on the side, son?” Squall’s face adopted a cheeky grin of it’s own.

“Kind of,” he answered. “She’s my fiancée.” Laguna’s jaw dropped.

“Your fi-“ he said, not quite believing what he’d heard. Squall and Rinoa exchanged smiles, and nodded. “Wo-ow!” Laguna shouted, hugging both of them. “That’s incredible! Well done! When’s the wedding going to be?” Rinoa decided she’d kept quiet long enough, and answered for the both of them.

“Not until Squall’s better,” she answered, before pausing. “We were thinking...” she paused, not knowing how to finish the sentence.

“What?” Laguna asked. Squall finished Rinoa’s sentence for her.

“We were thinking of having the wedding at Winhill, if that’s alright with you. The same place you and, uh, mum got married.” Laguna smiled, fighting back tears.

“That’d be perfect,” he answered.

“Will you be coming?” Rinoa asked. Laguna laughed.

“Are you kidding?” He asked, rhetorically. “Wild chocobos couldn’t keep me away! Hell, I’ll even make the sandwiches if you want!”

“Thanks,” Squall asked, “it’d mean a lot to us.” Laguna waved, dismissively.

“Least I could do,” he said. “I wasn’t there for the first years of your life. I wanted to be, but fate kept us apart. I’ll be damned if anything keeps me from watching my boy get married.” Squall and Rinoa both smiled- it was turning into a fairytale, and they didn’t want it to end.

“Well,” Squall said, hesitantly, “I have to be back at the Garden pretty soon. You know how things get.”

“Sure do,” Laguna said. He walked up to the young couple and shook their hands. “It’s been nice seeing you. Be sure to call me.”

“To tell you when the wedding is?” Squall asked. Laguna shook his head.

“Just to talk,” he answered. “It’d be nice to hear from you once in a while.” Squall nodded.

“OK,” he said. “I’ll call. See you soon, Dad.” Laguna and his son shared a brief familial hug.

“Goodbye,” Rinoa started, “soon-to-be Dad!” Laguna smiled, and winked at Rinoa, who smiled and blushed.

“Goodbye,” he said, “soon-to-be daughter!” He waved at the two of them as, arm in arm, they backed out of the office. With a smile on his face, Laguna sat down in his chair. I’ve got a good feeling about those two, he thought to himself. He swung his legs up on the desk, and watched in horror as he tipped the chair backwards and fell over with an unceremonious thump. Ward and Kiros immediately rushed in to see what was happening, but upon seeing Laguna on the floor, simply creased up laughing.

“Guys!” Laguna shouted from the floor. “This is not funny! Aren’t you gonna help me up?”

Squall arrived back at the Garden with a new sense of optimism about it. It had been less than a fortnight since the bombings, but already the Garden was virtually back to normal. Most of the monsters from the monster arena had been re-captured, the monster arena itself was close to being re-opened, and after Squall relayed some of the information Seifer had bragged to him during his torture, in particular, his only brainwashing two Garden students, normal service was close to being resumed. However, Seifer still hung around at the back of his mind, refusing to go away. A few weeks passed, Squall’s leg was healing fine, and Selphie had planned his and Rinoa’s wedding down to almost the finest detail. However, one morning, they hit a slight snag, when Squall asked something he should really have known not to. It was around 8:30, and Squall was getting ready for yet another wedding planning meeting with Selphie and Quistis. He was putting on his jacket when the unfortunate words slipped out.

“So,” he said, innocently enough, “will we be inviting your father to the wedding?” He immediately smacked his head with his hand- Rinoa and her father had not had the best of relationships, and while Squall had found time for Laguna, Rinoa had yet to forgive her father. She came storming out of the bathroom, where she had finished getting ready, and marched straight past Squall, a face like thunder.

“You should know better than to ask me that,” she whispered angrily as she passed her fiancé.

“Angel,” Squall said apologetically, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” Rinoa stared at Squall, still with anger on her face, but could see that he was genuinely sorry. She allowed herself a little smile.

“That’s OK,” she said, as Squall gave her a hug. “It’s something I have to think about, though,” she conceded. She may not have liked the man, but he was still her father and still had a right to know about the wedding.

“After the meeting,” Squall said, commandingly.

“Yes sir!” Rinoa replied, jokily, before giving him a kiss. Upon their return from the meeting (which had done nothing but decide on one song that they would have played), they sat down, and quickly decided that the only way was to go to Deling City and meet with her father. Unfortunately, persuading Cid to let them have the day off AND to let them use the Ragnarok for more personal use would prove to be a bit more tricky, but still, they gave it their best shot.

“I beg your pardon?” Cid asked, upon hearing Squall’s request.

“We would like the use of the Ragnarok for one day, for personal use,” Rinoa re-iterated. She, along with Squall, could see that Cid was in no mood to let his prized possession be used as little more than an intercontinental taxi.

“Out of the question,” Cid stated. “The Ragnarok is only for personal use when it is infeasible for the journey to be made any other way. The time off you may have, both of you, but if you are to go to Deling City then you’ll go by train, same as everyone else.”

“But sir-!” Squall tried to plead. Cid cut him off with a wave.

“I will not risk the Ragnarok when it may be needed elsewhere. You six,” Cid said, referring to Squall, Rinoa et al, “have taken far too many liberties with what is essentially Garden property. Yes, you did salvage it and for that I am eternally grateful, but that doesn’t mean you can use it willy-nilly. Request denied. End of discussion.” Squall, while he didn’t like it, still had to take orders from Cid, so he simply nodded his head.

“Yes sir,” he said, disappointedly. Rinoa was going to argue further, but Squall put a hand on her shoulder and managed to dissuade her.

“Yes, sir,” she said, reluctantly, before they both left. Rinoa muttered something under her breath as she left, which she hoped Cid didn’t hear. Fortunately, he didn’t.

Later on, in the cafeteria, Squall and Rinoa were letting Zell and Quistis know what Cid’s decision was, and what they thought of it.

“Man,” Zell started, “that sucks.” Squall, Quistis and Rinoa nodded in agreement.

“Well,” Squall said, resignedly, “what are you gonna do? He’s the boss. We’ll just have to take the train.”

“When are you leaving?” Quistis asked.

“Four days,” Rinoa answered. “That’s the soonest we could get any time off. I- we felt it was best to get this over and done with as soon as possible.”

“You’ve not seen your old man since we beat the sorceress, huh?” Zell asked. Rinoa shook her head, before giggling.

“I’m dying to know what he’ll say when I tell him I’m getting married.” She laughed a bit more. “It’ll come as a shock to him, that’s for sure.” The others nodded. “Well,” Rinoa said, changing the subject, “where are Irvine and Selphie? Didn’t they say they’d meet us here?”

“Forget it,” Quistis said, “ever since they started seeing each other they’ve forgotten the meaning of on time.” As if on cue, Irvine and Selphie came through the doors, hand in hand as usual, and sat down at the table.

“Glad you could make it,” Quistis said, sarcastically.

“Sorry, sorry,” Irvine said, almost bursting with excitement. Selphie was the same way.

“What’s with you two today?” Zell asked. Irvine and Selphie looked at each other, barely able to contain their excitement.

“Do you want to tell them or shall I?” Irvine asked his nearly red-faced girlfriend.

“I wanna do it! I wanna do it!” Selphie replied between giggles.

“Tell us what?” Squall asked impatiently. Irvine smiled at Selphie, who managed to contain herself long enough to speak.

“We’re gonna get married too!” Selphie said, climbing on Irvine’s lap and giving him a big hug. The other four were shocked, but happy for them.

“Awesome!” Zell shouted, enthusiastically.

“Wow! Well done!” Was Rinoa’s response. Irvine shrugged and was soon back to his normal self, the excitement over for now.

“Well,” he started, “it means I won’t be able to go out with every girl in the Garden after all, but I’ve learnt something- a diamond’s worth a million pebbles. No offence,” he said, referring to Rinoa and Quistis, before turning back to his fiancée and giving her a kiss.

“Wow man,” Zell said, “that was deep. Where’d you read it?”

“Hey,” Irvine retorted, “I made that up myself! Well, most of it, anyway.”

“Have you set a date yet?” Rinoa enquired. Selphie and Irvine shook their heads.

“We’ve only just got engaged,” he said. “We don’t wanna rush things.”

“You’ve only been together a month and already you’re engaged,” Squall retorted. “You don’t call that rushing?”

“Let’s just say,” Selphie replied, “that we wanna enjoy the moment!” She kissed Irvine again. Squall got up and shook Irvine’s hand. Rinoa gave Selphie, who had separated herself from her fiancé, a congratulatory hug.

“Anyway, well done, man,” Squall said, shaking the cowboy’s hand, “even if you are overshadowing us a little.” He grinned to let Irvine know he was kidding.

“Well done,” Rinoa said, hugging Selphie, before starting to leave with her fiancé.

“Well,” Squall said, waving goodbye to the others, “we gotta go. We’ve got train tickets to book.” He and Rinoa said their goodbyes and departed, leaving Quistis, Zell, Irvine and an extremely excited Selphie alone at the table. Eventually, Selphie couldn’t contain herself any longer.

“We’re gonna get married!” She shouted, jumping back in Irvine’s lap.

Four days later, Squall and Rinoa departed Balamb station at night for the overnight journey to Deling City. Squall was glad for a break- as if planning his wedding wasn’t enough, Selphie had insisted on planning hers and Irvine’s at the exact same time and including Squall at every step along the way. Irvine had selected Squall to be his best man (even though Squall hasn’t returned the favour, instead opting for Zell), and between running the Garden, arranging two separate weddings, rehabilitating his leg and maintaining a relationship with his father, Squall was exhausted. It was true that he rarely needed more than five hours’ sleep a night, but every night when he went to bed, he made sure to get his money’s worth. This increased need for rest annoyed Rinoa (and her libido) somewhat, so Squall had opted for an overnight train- that way, even with Rinoa’s, well, appetite, he would still get at least 6 hours’ sleep.

“Squall...” Rinoa’s soft, kitten-like voice came from beside him. Oh man, Squall thought, I thought she’d finally fallen asleep… he could feel her hands start to slowly caress his shoulders. It was 3:30, and they would arrive in less than five hours. Squall decided to chicken out, and pretended to be asleep. He faked an unconvincing snore. Rinoa simply smiled, and reached in front of Squall, pinching his nose.

“Hey!” Squall said, involuntarily. “I’m trying to sleep!”

“Just one more,” Rinoa said, almost pleading him. While he may have enjoyed, erm, having Rinoa’s company, Squall was really tired and wasn’t really, well, up to it.

“Angel,” he started, wearily, “I’m really, really tired. We’ve already done it four times tonight.”

“I know,” Rinoa said, “but just one more, please?” She put an emphasis on the word ‘please’ that Squall found it impossible to resist her. He sighed, then rolled over, put his arms around her, and started to kiss her...

Ten minutes later, and Rinoa was lightly dozing, a definite smile on her face. Squall, on the other hand, was out like a light, and was dreaming.

Squall stood in the grassy field, once again bereft of all scars.

“Mum? Dad?” He intuitively shouted out. He turned round, only to see Laguna there, bloodied and beaten.

“Dad!” Squall shouted, rushing to where his stricken father was crouching.

“I-I’m sorry, son,” Laguna said, obviously dying, “I-I couldn’t protect her... forgive me...” Squall looked down, tears filling his eyes, as his father died in his arms.

“DAAAAAADDD!!!” Squall shouted, grief-stricken. “NNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!” Squall woke up in a panic, sitting bolt upright, drenched in sweat. This fact had not gone unnoticed by Rinoa.

“Squall,” she said, lying him back down on the bed, “what’s up? Was it a nightmare?” Squall wiped the sweat from his face with the bed sheet.

“Obviously,” he replied. “I need access to a phone.”

“We’re almost at Deling City station,” Rinoa responded. “What happened in your dream?” Squall shuddered, before answering.

“My father died,” he responded, quietly. Rinoa took his head in her hands and looked him in the eye.

“It was all a dream, Squall,” she said, sternly, “when you ring Laguna at the station, you’ll see that it was nothing to get so worried about.” Squall nodded. They arrived at the station about forty minutes later, during which time Squall and Rinoa had got dressed and ready to depart. Squall immediately rushed over to the nearest payphone, and dialled Laguna’s private line. The phone rang for five rings, Squall getting more anxious with each passing ring, before eventually, it was answered.

“Hello?” Squall heard the familiar voice of his father say.

“Dad?” Squall asked.

“Squall!” Laguna shouted enthusiastically, over the phone. A little too enthusiastically, it turns out, as Squall held the receiver away from his ear for a little while.

“Oops,” Laguna said of his little outburst, “sorry, son.”

“That’s OK,” Squall replied.

“So,” Laguna said, “why’d you ring me? You don’t normally call at this hour.”

“I just wanted to see whether you were alright or not,” Squall replied.

“Of course I am,” Laguna replied, “why wouldn’t I be?” Squall shook his head- of course he was going to be alright, he thought, it was just a silly dream.

“No reason,” he said, “I just had a bad dream, that’s all.” He could hear Laguna laughing on the other end of the phone, and Squall felt his cheeks go slightly red.

“Squall,” Laguna guffawed, “you can’t ring me every time you have a nightmare! Although, I admit, it is nice to hear from you.”

“OK,” Squall conceded, “I know. It was just a bit disturbing, that’s all. Anyway, I’ve got things to do, I just wanted to ring and say hi.”

“I understand,” Laguna said. “Ring me again soon!”

“Will do. Bye.”

“Bye, son.” Squall hung up the receiver, and walked back over to where his fiancée was waiting for him.

“Well?” Rinoa asked. Squall simply shrugged.

“You were right,” he started, “he’s fine.” Squall acted as if he was convinced, but deep inside, he still felt as if something was wrong...

The meeting with General Caraway went better than either Squall or Rinoa could have expected. It turned out that he followed the news, and had been in contact with Cid for a while regarding the deployment of SeeDs in Galbaldia (something that Squall, as Garden commander, should have been aware of, but Caraway had been insistent about talking to Cid and Cid alone). He was thus aware of Squall’s rise to glory, the fact that Rinoa was a lapsed sorceress, and their relationship. This revelation came as a surprise to Rinoa, and they spent over an hour and a half discussing the wedding, General Caraway’s invitation, and even his agreeing to walk Rinoa down the aisle. All in all, the meeting went well for Rinoa and her father, proving, at least in Rinoa’s mind, that time does indeed heal all wounds. Squall, on the other hand, remained even more silent than usual during the meeting, barely taking anything in, and often having to be prompted by Rinoa whenever General Caraway asked him a question. Fortunately, Squall managed to bluff his way through the meeting well enough (he’d had plenty of practice sessions during interminable Garden meetings with Cid, Xu and Quistis), but when they left, he was still mentally elsewhere. He and Rinoa were walking hand-in-hand down the main street of Deling City, towards the train station, when Squall suddenly became aware of Rinoa talking to him.

“Squall?” Rinoa asked for what must have been the fifth time. She waved her hand in front of his eyes and he broke whatever trance it was he was in.

“Hmm?” He replied, blinking and turning to look at Rinoa. “What’s up, Angel?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” she replied, concerned. “You haven’t said five words since we left Dad’s house.” Squall shook his head, as if trying to clear his thoughts.

“I know,” he said, “I just can’t get that dream out of my head. I’ve been trying, but I just haven’t been able to shake the image of Laguna dying in my arms. I know it sounds silly, but I’m sure something bad has happened.”

“Squall,” Rinoa said, commandingly, “listen to me. Noth-“ but before she could finish her sentence, her words were drowned out by the sound of the Ragnarok passing overhead. Squall gulped- he knew it meant trouble, and as there was none in Deling City, the Ragnarok had to be there for one reason only- to collect him and deliver him the news. Squall looked at Rinoa, and as one, they ran (in Squall’s case, quickly hobbled as his leg had yet to fully heal) off to where the Ragnarok had been hastily parked. Selphie was already at the entrance hatch and running towards Squall and Rinoa by the time they arrived at the ship.

“SQUALL!!” Selphie shouted at the top of her voice. “You gotta come quickly!!” Squall grabbed Selphie by the shoulders and managed to calm her down.

“What’s up?” He asked, maintaining a calm exterior but secretly panicking on the inside. “What happened?”

“You gotta come to Esthar,” Selphie said, regaining her breath, “Seifer’s attacked.” Squall looked at Rinoa, and they both had the same expression on their face- extreme concern. Squall bolted onto the Ragnarok and quickly flung himself in the pilot’s seat. It had been some time since he’d flown it last, but he was more than up to the task. Selphie was going to object, but Rinoa managed to give her a glance that seemed to say ‘let him do this’. Selphie nodded, and sat down in the passenger seat while Squall took them to Esthar as fast as the Ragnarok could manage. When they arrived, Squall grabbed the radio mike and called the air station.

“Esthar air station, this is Ragnarok requesting permission to land, over,” Squall said in one breath. Instead of the usual air traffic controller, however, Squall was greeted by the instantly recognisable voice of Kiros.

“Squall?” Kiros asked, over the radio.

“Kiros?” Squall asked back. “What happened? Over.”

“Land first,” Kiros instructed, “I’ll explain all once we’re en route to the hospital. Over and out.” Squall cast a glance back to where Rinoa was sitting- it had to be extremely bad for Kiros to greet them personally over the radio, and the hospital statement only made Squall more anxious. Rinoa’s face displayed an equal amount of anxiety. Squall landed the Ragnarok, and the three of them exited the ship.

“Wait here and guard the ship,” Squall said to Selphie.

“But I wanna go too!” Selphie said, full of the same anxiety that had gripped Squall and Rinoa.

“Wait here,” Squall said, more firmly. Selphie nodded and retreated back into the Ragnarok. Squall and Rinoa waved her off, and then turned round to see Ward and Kiros running towards them, exhausted.

“Sq-Squall,” Kiros said, panting, “this way.” He led them to the nearest shuttle car, which they boarded, before being taken off to Esthar hospital. The shuttle tube was obviously wasting no time, as the four of them had to cling onto their seats to prevent themselves from being flung against the back wall of the car. Squall would have asked Kiros what was going on, but he doubted he could make himself heard over the din the engine of the shuttle tube was making. Eventually, they arrived at the hospital, where, much to Squall’s relief, a very upset-looking Laguna was waiting for them. Squall hopped off the car and gave his father a brief hug.

“Dad,” he said, letting his father go, “what happened?” Laguna had to fight back tears as he told his son the bad news.

“Squall,” he said, his voice quivering, “it’s Elle. I couldn’t protect her. I’m sorry.” Squall’s mind turned from one of anxiety to one of rage- Seifer had tried to kill Ellone, just to get to him. Together, Laguna, Squall, Ward, Kiros and Rinoa rushed inside, to where Ellone was lying on her side, badly wounded, in an intensive care bed. She was unconscious, and she was very pale.

“Sis...” Squall muttered, under his breath, as Rinoa put her arms around him for comfort.

“Squall,” Laguna said, quietly, “we found this at the scene.” He handed him a package, containing a videotape. “It was addressed to you,” Laguna finished. Squall took the package and immediately felt his blood start to boil. Seifer… Squall thought, in a cold rage.

“There’s a VCR in the other room you can use,” Laguna informed Squall. Squall nodded, and entered the room, followed by Rinoa. Squall was not too happy about this.

“I don’t want you to have to see this, Rinoa,” Squall said, barely able to contain his rage.

“Too bad,” Rinoa said, staring at him. “Ellone’s my friend too. I want to see why he did this.” Squall nodded- she had a point. He pushed the video into the machine and pressed play. He was greeted by Seifer’s smiling, bearded face, just as he had been the day after the Garden bombings.

“Hello, Squall,” Seifer said, smugly. “I expect you’re wondering why I chose Ellone as my latest target, aren’t you?” Seifer didn’t even show the slightest hint of remorse- he was laughing, loving every second of it. Squall was quivering with rage. “Well,” Seifer went on, “it’s quite simple. I know how close you are to her, how much she means. How much you hogged her at the orphanage. Well, it’s time I showed you how much she means to me- as bait. Do you want me, Squall? Come and get me. I’ll be waiting for you near the sorceress memorial. Apt, don’t you think? And come alone. We have unfinished business. Goodbye.” Seifer clicked off the camcorder, laughing, leaving Squall and Rinoa alone in the room. Squall could contain himself no longer. He leapt up, ejected the videotape, and repeatedly smashed it with his gunblade. Rinoa desperately tried to calm him down.

“Squall!” She shouted, on the verge of tears, “Calm down! Please!” She couldn’t bear to see Squall angry. He had a dark side, same as everyone else, but he was a dangerous man when provoked. Too dangerous. Someone had to calm him down. That someone was Rinoa. Squall turned around and faced his fiancée, wild-eyed.

“He’s gone too far, Rinoa,” Squall said, a hint of madness on his voice. “He’s gonna pay. I swear it.”

“Squall,” Rinoa said, futilely trying to calm him down, “Please, think about what you’re saying...” unfortunately, this only served to fuel Squall’s rage.

“Think about what I’m doing!?” Squall asked, incredulous. “What’s there to think about, Rinoa? He bombs the Garden. He murders innocents. He wounds me. He threatens your life. He tries to murder Elle. Am I supposed to let this slide? NO!!” Rinoa jumped slightly as Squall yelled at her. This was as angry as she’d ever seen him, and she was legitimately scared.

“The line has to be drawn somewhere,” Squall continued, “and I am gonna draw it HERE! This far, and no further! Make no mistake, Rinoa, I am gonna make that bastard pay for what he’s done.” He was so caught up in his rage he didn’t even realise Rinoa was crying.

“Squall, please,” she tried to dissuade him, but he couldn’t hear her. He marched out of the room, without even saying goodbye to the one he loved. Rinoa slumped back down onto the chair where she had sat to watch the video, and wept uncontrollably.

Laguna was highly surprised to see Squall marching down the hallway, gunblade in hand, faster than his injury should have normally allowed him to. Uh-oh, Laguna thought, this ain’t good. Leaving Ward and Kiros to look over Ellone, he took off after Squall.

“Squall!” He shouted after his son. “Wait!” Even though he was injured, Squall was almost thirty years younger than Laguna, and Laguna, with his knees, had a hard time keeping up. Fortunately, Squall heard his father, and turned round.

“I have business to attend to,” Squall said, coldly.

“Seifer can wait,” Laguna said. “Ellone needs her brother here when she wakes up.”

“I won’t be long...” Squall replied, resuming his march towards the exit.

“Squall!” His father shouted. “He’s not worth it! We’ll capture him, I promise! You’re hurt, you shouldn’t do this!” Unfortunately, Laguna’s words were lost on Squall. He walked straight out of the building, and headed towards the sorceress memorial, to the southeast of the city. Laguna wandered back inside the hospital, only to hear crying from the room where he had sent Squall to watch the videotape. Venturing inside, he saw Rinoa, weeping.

“Hey,” he said, “what’s up, girl?” Rinoa managed to stifle her tears long enough to answer her soon-to-be father-in-law.

“He’s gone off,” Rinoa said, barely. Laguna sat down next to her and gave her a fatherly hug.

“I know, I know,” he said, “but don’t worry. He’ll calm down by the time he reaches the memorial.” Rinoa shook her head.

“You don’t understand,” she said, still weeping. “He’s vulnerable. He’s been emotionally fragile ever since Seifer...” she couldn’t bring herself to say the word ‘torture’, and quickly had to think up an alternative. “...Hurt him. He can’t stand to see people taken away from him. Please, you have to stop him!” Laguna thought for a few seconds, before leaving Rinoa alone.

“Don’t worry,” he said, exiting the room, “he’ll not get out of Esthar.”

Seifer, meanwhile, was not at the sorceress memorial at all, but had gone to ground within the Esthar city limits. His thoughts were not on Squall or revenge, but on the woman he’d attacked. His mind was full of guilt, and penitence. Why did I do that? Seifer thought, grief-stricken. She never did anything to me? What possessed me to do such a thing? As if in answer to his question, Ultimecia appeared before him.

“Don’t concern yourself with that,” she said, trying to soothe him, “Squall is on his way. You have to kill him.” Seifer nodded, but he didn’t really believe Ultimecia.

“You doubt me?” She asked. “Think of all Squall has done to you. All he’s taken from you.” Seifer answered, saying out loud what was on his mind.

“He never hurt the ones I love...” He said. Ultimecia forced him to stare at her.

“Pitiful child,” she spat in his direction. “Mercy is for the weak. Only the ruthless will get what they truly want.” However, as Seifer was about to submit to Ultimecia’s will, a vision of Rinoa appeared before him.

“Rinny?” He asked, using the pet name he had given her all those months ago...

“I’m here, Seifer,” she answered him. “Don’t give in to Ultimecia. Let go.”

“NO!” Ultimecia commanded. “Squall is your enemy! You must kill him!” Rinoa stepped in front of Ultimecia.

“No, Seifer,” she said, softly, “Listen to me. Spare Squall. He is not your enemy.” Seifer nodded. Ultimecia started to walk towards him, but Rinoa cut her off with a vicious magic spell. Ultimecia shattered into a million pieces, and Rinoa put her hands on either side of Seifer’s face. “You’re free now,” she said. Seifer shook his head.

“No,” he said, thinking clearly for the first time since his descent into madness had started at FH, “there’s still something I have to do. Someone I have to apologise to.” Rinoa faded from his view, and where she stood, Seifer focused on a figure at the end of the alley he was in. The figure was wearing a fur-lined jacket and wielding the same weapon as him.

“Squall...” Seifer said, without even a hint of malice in his voice.

“Seifer,” Squall replied, angrily.

“I know you must hate me, but-“ Seifer’s sentence was cut short as Squall charged at him, emitting a primal scream. Seifer barely brought his gunblade up to defend himself. If he hadn’t, Squall would have cut him cleanly in two, from his shoulder to his hip.

“I am going to kill you!” Squall shouted. Seifer looked at his former adversary’s eyes, and saw that they contained nothing but pure hatred. Seifer had pushed him too far- and he knew it. Squall slashed again, adrenaline pumping through his veins, making him forget his injuries, and this time just caught the tip of Seifer’s nose. Seifer yelped, more out surprise than pain, and leapt back. Squall paused for a minute.

“Why did you do it, Seifer?” He asked, still enraged. “Why do you have to hurt me? Why do you have to hurt the people I love?”

“Squall...” Seifer started, desperately trying to find the words, any words that would convey to Squall how much he was sorry. Nothing came, and Squall lost his patience and attacked again. The fight lasted for another five minutes, with Seifer not trying to land even a single attack. Eventually, however, Squall’s persistence paid off, and he slashed at Seifer, watching as his blade became firmly lodged in Seifer’s right shoulder. Seifer yelled in pain, dropping his weapon and slumping to the floor. Squall pulled the trigger, and Seifer yelled again and the bullet entered him, also forcing the blade clear. Squall stood over his fallen adversary, ready to impale him on the end of his weapon, when he heard a voice- a voice he thought he’d never hear again.

“Do it, Squall,” the unexpected voice of Ultimecia came from in front of him. He looked up- there she stood, in all her glory.

“Fight her, Squall,” Seifer whispered, barely conscious.

“Pay no attention to him, Squall,” Ultimecia continued, “feel the power flowing through your veins. Kill Seifer, Squall. Embrace the power. Let it fill you. Soak it up.” Squall lifted his gunblade higher, preparing to deliver the deathblow, but then, another image appeared before him.

“Mother?” Squall asked. Raine appeared before him, smiling.

“Don’t blame Seifer- even he’ll come round in the end,” she said, repeating the words she had said to him while he laid dead on the infirmary operating table. Squall started to smile, but Ultimecia appeared again, and shattered the image of his mother. Squall watched, speechless, as Raine broke into millions of tiny pieces, then looked up, only to see Ultimecia standing there, smiling.

“Now, Squall,” she commanded, “fulfil your destiny. Take Seifer’s life, and I will fill you with so much power that you will never care for anything ever again. You don’t like caring, do you, Squall?” Filled with the intoxicating feeling of Ultimecia’s power, Squall shook his head.

“Then kill him.” Seifer gulped as Squall thrust his blade downwards, but just as he was about to pierce Seifer’s skin, he heard a voice from behind him.

“Squall!” The soft, yet firm, voice of his fiancée shouted from behind him. “Don’t do it, Squall!”

“Ignore her!” Ultimecia snapped. “She is just an illusion. Pierce him! Impale him! Take his life!” Squall was torn- on one hand, Rinoa, on the other hand, Ultimecia. If he was of sound mind, there would have been no choice, but Squall’s mind was far from sound.

Rinoa watched, as Squall stood over Seifer’s fallen frame, ready to impale him with his gunblade. What’s happened to him? She thought to herself. Squall had never been vindictive, let alone vengeful. He was angry when he left the hospital, but he would never kill anyone, even Seifer, in cold blood. At the end of the alleyway, however, she saw a figure in the dust- Ultimecia? She thought. No, that’s not possible. We killed her in compressed time. However, Rinoa then sadly remembered that Ultimecia was a sorceress, with the power to mess with people’s minds. Specifically, the minds of anyone who had been close to a sorceress. A sorceress like me… Rinoa thought. She had only ever had two boyfriends- Squall and Seifer, and they were both at the end of the alley. Squall’s mind was infected with Ultimecia’s, well, programming, for want of a better word, but Seifer seemed to have beaten it. He was lying on the ground, but his mind was not full of malice, but of penitence. How could that have been? Rinoa had only one thought. Ellone… Seifer had attacked Ellone, and somehow, she’d broken the programming. Rinoa then stepped back for a second. Programming? Ultimecia? Ellone? She was confused. A sorceress she may have been, but she still got headaches like anyone else. However, Squall needed her, and with Ellone in a coma, only she could help him beat Ultimecia’s control.

“Squall,” she said, starting towards him, “I’m real. Trust me. Believe in me, Squall.” She could see Ultimecia clearly now- she was very much there, in her mind, in the minds of the two men. Rinoa knew she had to find some way of disposing of her for good.

“Ignore her, Squall,” Ultimecia continued. “Better still, kill her. That way you’ll know she’s not real.” In his crazed state, Squall turned round, and brandished his gunblade, ready to strike Rinoa. Rinoa gulped. It’s now or never… She thought. She couldn’t defeat someone who was not there- she had to help Squall beat her on his own, Like Seifer had done.

“Squall,” she started, as he stood, ready to strike her down, “I love you.” Nervously, she stepped forward, and gave Squall a long, easy kiss on the lips. Squall dropped his gunblade over the back of his head, where it clattered on the floor.

“A-Angel?” He asked. “What happened? Where am I?” He was clearing his mind of Ultimecia’s influence- when he’d stepped into the alley, he’d only wanted to confront Seifer, but something had taken over- and he knew what it was. He turned around, and saw Ultimecia starting to fade away. She was screaming.

“Squall!” Seifer shouted. “Be strong!” Unfortunately, Ultimecia had one final nasty surprise for the three of them. As she vanished, energy started to well up around Squall and Seifer. The more she disappeared, the more energy there was. Rinoa went to try and break Squall free, only to be thrown back down the alleyway. Ultimecia shattered, producing a ray of light that nearly blinded Rinoa. Shielding her eyes, she saw Squall and Seifer get encompassed in the ray. When it was gone, Ultimecia was no more, but Squall and Seifer were both unconscious in the alley. She scurried over to where Squall had fallen.

“Squall?” She asked, hoping that he could hear her. Tears had started to well up in her eyes. She checked for a pulse- there was one, but it was very faint. She tried using magic on him, plugging curaga after curaga into him, but nothing worked. Eventually, she ran out of magic, and kneeled beside him, clutching his body, as she felt his pulse slowly fade away...

Squall was standing in a room, a room he knew well. His old dorm at the orphanage. He was standing back to back with someone he knew equally as well.

“Seifer,” Squall started, penitence in his voice. Seifer cut him off.

“Squall,” Seifer started, equally as penitent, “don’t. We’ve both screwed up, me more than you.”

“I guess we paid the price for our mistakes, huh,” Squall said, laughing a little. Seifer also gave in to a little chuckle.

“Yeah, you can say that again,” Seifer replied.

“What happened?” Squall asked. “All I remember is going to confront you, then-“

“I don’t know,” Seifer replied. “Ultimecia was controlling us.”

“How?” Squall asked.

“Maybe, after you killed her, she hitched a ride in our heads. I honestly have no clue. All that matters is that she’s gone now.”

“So are we,” Squall said, before pausing. “Did... you... really hate me?” He asked Seifer. Seifer laughed and shook his head.

“No,” he said, chuckling, “not really. Before Ultimecia took over I didn’t have a bad thought about you. Jealous at times, yes, but never hateful.”

“So you don’t mind,” Squall started, pausing mid-sentence, “about me and Rinoa?” Seifer smiled again.

“She made her choice. I could see how much she cares for you. What we had doesn’t even compare to what the two of you have.” Squall felt a tear enter his eye- he remembered he’d never see Rinoa again.

“Had,” he corrected, croaking. “I wish things could have been different. I wish we couldn’t have been enemies.”

“Tell you what,” Seifer said, regaining his usual sarcastic drone, “when we get reincarnated, I’ll look you up.” Squall smiled.

“Yeah, that’d be good.”

They were about to turn around and shake hands, when suddenly, the orphanage started to fade, and Squall and Seifer found themselves falling through darkness. They were both gripped by surges of electricity, and everything flashed white.

“Whe-where am I?” Squall said to himself. A white light surrounded him. “Is this heaven?” He asked no one in particular. “Mother?” Squall felt himself gripped by the electrical shock again, and a third time. He eventually blacked out, and felt himself fade into nothingness...

Instantaneously, Squall felt himself awaken in a bed. He was weak- so weak that he couldn’t even open his eyes, or breathe for himself, yet he was fully conscious and aware of his surroundings. He was dimly aware of voices around him, but they were unintelligible to him. He relaxed, expecting to fall asleep again, when he heard a voice he recognised well.

“When will he be conscious?” He heard the female voice ask. Squall instantly recognised it. Rinoa… he thought. Immediately, Squall’s spirits were lifted. By some miracle, he had survived, and was in the hospital in Esthar. This was confirmed by a voice that even a mere two months ago he wouldn’t have been glad to hear, but today, it was music to his ears.

“Come on, Rinoa,” he heard the calming voice of his father say, “let’s give him some space. They’ll let us know when he’s awake.” Rinoa… Dad… Squall’s mind was on those two people only.

“Just let me talk to him,” Rinoa managed to persuade the doctors. Squall, even with his eyes closed, knew that Rinoa was leaning over him. He could feel her breath on his forehead, could, well, sense her presence. His heart rate involuntarily increased, although it wasn’t by much so no one noticed except Squall.

“Squall,” Rinoa began to speak. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but if you can, I just want to say this.” She paused. “Don’t you ever do that to me again!” She laughed, but Squall could tell she was crying. She must be pretty sick of watching me lie in a hospital bed, he thought to himself.

“Seriously, though, Squall, my love,” Rinoa continued, with a more morbid tone to her voice, “I thought I’d lost you, again. I hate watching you like this.” Squall could feel the pain in her voice, and it hurt him too. “I love you, Squall,” she continued, “and I want to marry you as soon as you’re up. I don’t want to wait any longer, not knowing whether you’ll come back from these missions alive or dead.” She leaned down, and kissed him on the forehead. Slowly, but surely, Squall regained his strength, and managed to open his eyes. The sight that greeted him was of an ecstatic Rinoa.

“Squall!” She said, happily. “You heard!” Suddenly, Squall found his strength returning more and more. He mustered up enough strength to nod his head, although even that simple action exhausted him. He put his remaining strength into saying just four words.

“I love you Rinoa,” he half croaked half whispered, before falling back unconscious. It didn’t matter to Rinoa how he said the words, just that he said them at all. Rinoa smiled, and cried tears of joy, before Laguna finally put an arm round her shoulder and persuaded her to leave. Rinoa’s thought upon hearing Squall’s words was a simple one- Everything’s gonna be fine! No matter what was going to come between them, Rinoa knew that she and Squall would always have each other.

It was seven full days before Squall was up and about again, and even then, it was on crutches, as he’d aggravated his leg injury attacking Seifer. The doctors figured that Ultimecia’s influence had started to affect him when he watched the videotape of Seifer, making him ignore, and thus worsen, his leg injury.

On this particular day, he rose early, slowly climbing to the top of the hospital, to get a look at the sunrise. He backed into a wall, and let himself slump into a sitting position. The sun was peeking over the horizon, bringing with it a new day. It’s going to be a beautiful day, Squall thought. Suddenly, his thoughts were interrupted by someone standing above him.

“Anyone sitting there?” Seifer enquired. During his spell in hospital, Seifer had had plenty of time to reflect upon his actions. While it was true that he was under the direct influence of a sorceress, he was still repentant for what he’d done. And, in Seifer’s opinion, he’d done far too much. He knew he’d never be accepted back at Balamb Garden, he’d burned his bridges with Fujin and Raijin, and he couldn’t even stay in Esthar, due to what he’d done to Ellone. He truly was a man with nowhere to go.

“No, make yourself comfortable,” Squall answered. Seifer slowly lowered himself into a seated position- the shoulder injury he’d suffered was easily as bad as Squall’s leg injury, if not worse. He was absolutely certain he’d never wield a gunblade ever again.

“We get discharged today,” Seifer said, solemnly.

“Yeah,” Squall said, not wanting to look at his newfound friend, for fear of the guilt he might feel.

“Is the Ragnarok coming to pick you up?” Seifer asked.

“They’ll be here at about half past one,” Squall confirmed. “Selphie, typically, is throwing a ‘welcome back’ party, even though I’ve only been gone a week.” Seifer smiled. How he longed to be accepted as a part of that crowd. How he longed to be accepted as a part of any crowd. But it was not to be. “How about you?” Squall asked. “Where are you going?” Seifer’s answer astonished Squall.

“Prison,” Seifer answered, almost enthusiastically. “I’ve had a word with President Loire, and I’ve agreed to stand trial for my actions. Terrorism, brainwashing members of the public, grievous bodily harm- I’m looking at 15 years minimum.” Squall was incredulous.

“Seif,” he said, upset at the thought of Seifer rotting away in a prison cell, “that’s not right. You shouldn’t have to stand trial. You were brainwashed by the sorceress, for pity’s sake!” Seifer shook his head.

“It’s where I belong, Squall,” he responded. “But I’m not upset. I’ll have time to think in prison. Maybe I’ll write a book or two.” Suddenly, the sun burst over the horizon, bathing the two men in it’s warm, morning glow. Squall and Seifer smiled together.

“Be sure to send me a copy,” Squall said. “I’ll be sure to write you, every week.” Seifer laughed.

“Hell,” he said, chuckling, “there’s a book in that already!” Squall found himself laughing too- Seifer had a point.

“Seriously, though, Seif,” Squall said, “I’ll have a word with my father, see if I can get you out for a couple of days.”

“Days?” Seifer asked. “What days?”

“Well,” Squall started, “my wedding, for one.” Seifer looked at Squall.

“You really want me there?” He asked. Squall nodded.

“I’d be offended if you said no.” Seifer reached over and shook Squall’s hand.

“You got yourself a wedding guest, then!” The two of them laughed some more, before they both decided they’d had enough fun, and stood up, walking side by side towards the door down into the hospital.

Seifer was sentenced to 18 years solitary confinement 6 days afterwards, although he was told he’d only have to serve 15 years. He didn’t mind in the slightest, and started writing his first book of many on his first day in prison. It went on to be a number one bestseller, partially due to the fact that Squall agreed to write the foreword.

Squall arrived back at Balamb Garden on the evening of his discharge from hospital. As expected, Selphie (and Irvine) threw him a huge party. Squall wasn’t really in the mood for the party, which was on a scale to match the one they’d thrown after defeating Ultimecia (for the first time, as it turned out), but he attended nonetheless, and found himself having a good time. He resumed his duties as Garden commander with new-found aplomb, and found himself enjoying every day more and more, no longer minding the fact that people looked up to him, and no longer minding the fact that he inspired people, for he realised that he was bringing out the best in them, and he liked it.

Squall and Rinoa were married at Winhill church a mere three months later. All their friends were there, including Seifer, who mainly kept hidden at the back. After the ceremony, however, Squall made a point to go up to him and talk to him.

“Seif,” Squall, still in his groom outfit, said. “Glad you could make it.” Seifer smiled- he certainly had changed from the man he fought three months ago. Although he was only 19, he looked at least 35. His hair was slightly greying, as was his beard (which he’d trimmed down to a goatee), and his face just looked, well, old. However, his voice was the same old Seifer.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for anything,” he answered. “Make sure to treat her right, OK?”

“Of course,” Squall answered back.

“Good,” Seifer said, “or I might have to break out of prison and come looking for you.” Suddenly they heard a voice behind them.

“Squall!” Irvine, the self-appointed cameraman/official photographer shouted. “Come on!” Squall looked back at Seifer.

“Look’s like I’d better be taking my leave,” Seifer said, sadly.

“You won’t stay for the reception?” Squall asked, hopefully.

“No,” Seifer said, shaking his head, “there’s just too much bad blood. The ceremony was enough for me. It was good seeing you again, man.” He started back towards the van, where the Esthar soldier was waiting for him, but not before shaking Squall’s hand.

“See you soon, Seif,” Squall shouted after his receding friend.

“Sure!” Seifer shouted, stepping into the back of the prison truck. Squall waved as it trundled off down the road.

“SQUALL!” Irvine yelled from behind him. “What’s keeping you?” Squall turned, and headed back towards his friends, and his new wife.

Later, at the reception, it was Squall’s turn to make his speech. Zell had made his, which was typically humorous, and General Caraway had made a speech, asking whether Squall was aware of what he was letting himself in for, which also generated a few laughs. Now, it was Squall’s turn to speak.

“Thank you, everybody,” he said, calming the ripple of applause which had swept through the small, yet packed, hall. “I’d like to thank everyone for coming, and Zell and General Caraway for their... well... speeches.” A small ripple of laughter swept the room. “Seriously, though, I’d like to talk about one person who has made these past seven months into the best seven months of my life. My darling wife, Rinoa. Angel,” he said, turning to face his bride, “I’m not sure whether or not you’re aware the impact you had on my life. When I first met you, you were like a breath of fresh air in what was becoming a stale existence. Everything you did intrigued me, to the point where all I could think about was you. Then, you got hurt, and I didn’t know what to do. It was then that, with my typical timing, my true feelings for you became clear for the first time. You are far more than part of my existence- you are my existence. I consider it an honour and a privilege to spend the rest of my life with you, Mrs. Leonheart.” Squall reached down, and helped Rinoa up, and for what was nearly the millionth time, they kissed each other. This time, however, they both knew that their life was unalterably changed for the better.

Later, after the dances had started, Quistis was feeling slightly lonely. She’d seen Squall marry Rinoa, and soon Irvine and Selphie would be tying the knot. She looked down at her bridesmaid’s dress. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, she thought to herself. Just then, Zell came up to her. He stood there, scratching his head.

“Wanna dance?” He blurted out. Quistis looked up at him, unsure whether she heard right.

“Yeah, you know,” Zell started, “I was reading this book Rinoa gave me about proper wedding behaviour, and the best man’s always supposed to dance with the bridesmaid.” Quistis smiled.

“I’d love to,” she said, standing up.

“Awesome!” Zell said, enthusiastically. He led her onto the dance floor, and they danced with each other for the rest of the evening, smiling...

Meanwhile, Irvine was dancing with Selphie. They’d been engaged for three months, and hadn’t regretted rushing into it. Irvine looked down at his fiancée, who was looking as beautiful as ever in her bridesmaid’s dress, which just seemed to fit her like a glove. All his life, he’d been chasing woman after woman, never going with the same one twice, but deep down, all he wanted was one woman to be with him forever. He just hadn’t realised it until now.

“Sefie?” he asked, causing his fiancée to look up at him.

“Yes, Irvy?” Selphie asked back.

“Have I ever told you how much I love you?” Selphie nodded.

“Yeah,” she said, “but you can say it again as many times as you want!” Irvine smiled.

“I love you with all my heart, Selphie Tilmitt.” They shared a brief kiss, before they resumed dancing. Selphie leaned her head into Irvine’s chest and smiled. She was looking forward to her life with the man she adored...

Whilst Irvine and Selphie were declaring their love for each other, the more mature members of the congregation, namely Cid, Edea, Laguna, Ward, Kiros and Ellone, were sitting, watching the young adults.

“This is a wonderful day,” Edea said, unable to properly convey her emotions over seeing the children she helped raise finally grow up and become adults. Laguna, sitting next to her, smiled.

“It sure is.” He’d gained a son, and now, a daughter-in-law. “I can’t wait for the grandkids to start rolling in!” Everyone chuckled- Laguna had a way of lightening almost any situation. Cid and Edea took the opportunity to take to the dance floor themselves, which prompted Ellone to stand up, and walk over to Laguna.

“Would you like to dance, Uncle Laguna?” Laguna smiled, and stood up.

“I’d love to.” Before he could go any further, however, his leg was hit by cramp, and he stopped, and sat back down. “Ow, ow ow ow ow ow,” he complained. Ellone did not look impressed.

“Well I never!” She said, incredulous at her adopted father’s bad timing.

“Sorry,” Laguna said, “just give me a couple of minutes.” However, Ellone had had other plans, and within moments, had whisked Ward out on to the dance floor. As it turned out, Ward was one hell of a dancer, and Laguna and Kiros exchanged baffled looks, as they saw their usually taciturn friend have a good time on the dance floor.

In the shadows, General Caraway was sitting, observing the daughter he’d only just regained. She’s now a young woman, he thought to himself. He found the thought of her being married at the tender age of 18 almost impossible to accept, but ever since they’d made the effort to talk to each other again, he’d started understanding her more. He came to understand that he couldn’t wrap her in cotton wool, or expect her to obey his every command. She had found true love with Squall, the Garden commander, and while it was hard for him to accept, he understood that he must accept it nonetheless. After all, he thought, better to have a married daughter than no daughter at all… This way, he was even the father-in-law of one of the most powerful military men in the world- it may prove to be to his advantage...

Squall and Rinoa stood together on the balcony outside the reception room, overlooking Winhill’s town square. It was a clear night, and the stars were out. They exchanged no words on the balcony, only feelings, for words were not necessary. As Squall looked into his love’s eyes and they moved their heads together to kiss each other, Squall thought to himself one thing-

Every day’s just going to get better and better. As they kissed, fireworks went off in the town square, bathing the couple in light, and putting the finishing touches on the scene. A beautiful day, with a beautiful woman, Squall thought to himself as he kissed his wife again...


Note- Squaresoft owns copyright on all the characters, even the ones I made up. Hope you liked it, if you want a sequel I may be amenable to the idea. Drop me a line at and I’ll see what I can do.


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