Balamb Blues 03
I bought him flowers.

It was all I could think to do.

And anyway, it went together, right? Hospitals and flowers. Yeah.

We stayed the night with Ma Dincht, to save us the drive. She
was just getting up for the day when we stumbled blind into her
doorstep. I would've slept anywhere, on the back of a running
Chocobo, anywhere at all, but she gave me her own bed. Zell
staggered upstairs. I slept till nearly five, and when I left to track
down a get-well bouquet Zell was still snoring.

I wasn't even sure of Squall's favorite flower. Probably something
like a rose, except Rinoa loved roses. So no use in going there.

The florist was really very helpful. She was a pert little thing, maybe
Selphie's height, if that, with bright pink hair that, strangely enough,
complimented her milk-pale complexion. She recommended spider
lilies, yellow, long-stemmed. I didn't even have a vase.

I dithered for about twenty minutes, smelling lilacs and irises and
fingering the lilies. I decided on gladiolas at seven twenty, threw
cash on the counter, and ran for the door. I couldn't be late, not for
this! The vase was heavy, water sloshed as I ran, and all I could
think was why in hell did they have to expand Balamb to the west?
Why not north? Make it wider instead of longer, instead of stretching
out along the train tracks like some river-town. It was a long walk.

BMHI is this low, ugly concrete and Plexi-glass compound, surrounded
by more wire fences than a prison and two depressingly tiny parking
lots. Did no one ever visit? Even the trees were drooping and sad with
neglect against the sheer rigidity of the too-modern sprawl. Ironically
enough, it squatted beside the shiny new Loire Children's Hospital.
Squall's father had always had a soft spot for children. Just not his

Zell was no where to be found, but as I stood panting in the empty lot,
flowers clutched in one hand, hat in the other to fan myself, he trotted
around the north corner at battle-speed.

He was carrying a back pack, and slowed to a stumbling walk when
he saw me.

"Flowers," I explained when he came to a stop, holding up the bouquet
like an offering or a shield.

"I didn't know," he panted. "What Squall might want. So I brought some
of my old stuffed toys."

I raised one brow. Thinking, Squall and stuffed animals? It didn't seem
to fit, but looking at that glass building, I just nodded. Gestured to the

"Shall we?" I prompted. He remained still for a moment, catching his

"Should we call someone?" he asked, looking uncertain.

"After," I said. "We should probably ask him if he wants anyone else
to know. He might care."

"True enough," he chuckled weakly, and we started for the stairs.

Two sections of chain link fence funneled us to a concrete and steel
set of stairs, the kind that run free-standing; I could see a miserable
square of dimly-lit green beyond it through the slats between steps.
The hall ran on behind the stairs, but all the doors visible from our
position said things like "Door locked for the patients' protection",
or "Please enter upstairs". So we went up the stairs.

I was silent, and trudged to concrete slats at a time. Zell hummed
nervously to himself, and bounded up with a remnant of his usual
energy. The back pack bounced with his strides, hitting his back
with a hollow, nylon sound.

The stairs left us after only a flight, and we were dumped onto an
elevated concrete walkway. Not to keep emphasizing the concrete,
but it was the really horrible kind, pebbly with "real" stones like some
tragically doomed attempt at decorative functionality. Yuck. The
walkway mostly surrounded a rectangle of open air that looked down
on the grassy courtyard. It was fenced around, of course, but only to
waist height, and I got the feeling that patients maybe weren't let
outside unsupervised.

Blank windows stared down at us from directly above and across the
way. We weren't sure of Squall's exact location, but all my badgering
at the Med had gotten me a more general area to begin the search:
East Wing 4. It was like a spell, an incantation. East Wing 4. It didn't
really mean anything to me, but was repeated obsessively in my head
as we approached the guarded and locked glass doors. The walls were
glass, windows on all sides, so you could see straight through the lobby
to the lonely slice of meadow on the other side of the building, fenced as
it was.

There was a guard sitting at a small card table just inside the doors.
I just stared at him for a long moment, but Zell made a little waving
motion, and he hit a button like a remote car alarm or garage door
closer. Something buzzed loudly, and one of the doors popped open
about an inch. I grabbed the handle before it could close again, and
slipped inside.

A group of resident doctors, young and chattering and apparently freed
from their shift, brushed past us through the same door. They had keycards,
and asked the guard for nothing. We approached his table slowly, Zell
casting curious glances to a glassed-in reception desk.

"Do we have to sign in?" Zell guessed, loudly enough for the guard to
overhear. He nodded, overweight and grizzled, and nudged a clipboard
forward across the small table.

"Patient's name, your name," he said boredly, pointing to each row in turn
as he handed Zell a cheap pen. Zell scrawled Squall's name quickly, then
his own, and handed the pen over to me. I looked down at what Zell had
written, and felt sick for a moment.

The guard directed us over to the reception desk with a careless wave of
one hand. We walked around the three free-standing metal detectors, not
through them, but he didn't seem to notice. The woman behind the glass
was on the phone and fiddling with a switchboard; from what I could hear
she was locating a doctor for someone who sounded exceedingly pissed

There was a large clock on the wall behind her, with visiting hours posted
prominently beside it. The elevators, across from the reception desk, also
boasted another such sign, as well as a variety of notices involving who
could ride the elevator and when. Most of the prohibitions referred to
patients and their guests.

Zell was tapping impatiently at the glass shielding her from us, and I began
calculating an escape plan. The walls were beige. The people were ignoring
me. I'd been here for five minutes and I was already getting twitchy. Squall
must be out of his mind by now! The minute hand eased forward again, and
I blatantly adjusted my gun, very aware that our single visiting hour was
slipping by rapidly.

"No weapons allowed," a voice said behind me. It was the guard. Apparently
he was capable of moving on his own after all. "No weapons, pens, pencils,
compasses, glass, flowers, or playing cards."

"Flowers?" Zell asked incredulously. "Why can't he have flowers?"

"We've had patients eat them before," the guard said.

"Look, Squall is *not* going to try to eat these flowers," I countered, glaring
at the man.

"Other patients might," he shrugged.

"Okay, one, why would these patients have access to his things, and two,
who cares?" I asked, gesturing wildly with my free arm as the anger built.
"Flowers are non-toxic, who really cares?"

"Doctors orders," he said, his voice invoking ritual rather than one specific
possessive. No one had ordered this. It was custom. And custom is
something that can't really be argued with. Not successfully, anyway. Not
in just the few minutes we had.

I looked down at the flowers in my hand, at the glass vase I'd bought not an
hour before, at Exeter's strap across my chest, and grinned sickly.

"What else can't he have?" I asked. My voice sounded dead.

"The receptionist has a list," the guard said, apparently bored to tears and
wanting only to get back to his station. "I'm only supposed to stop weapons
and purses."

"Right," I said, feeling numb. I unstrapped Exeter's sheath, setting down the
flowers to get the knives out of my boots.

I didn't remove everything. I'm not that recovered from the war.

He took my pile of weaponry back to his card table, shaking his head. Zell's
gloved hands went unnoticed, and the guard hadn't actually searched me,
so neither of us were helpless. That was something, anyway.

The receptionist finally hung up the phone, and we pounced.

"Patient's name?" she asked, almost managing to sound interested.

"Squall Leonheart," Zell said, leaning forward to speak into the window.
I wanted to applaud his discretion, so rare in the martial artist, but I had
the sick feeling this little secret wouldn't stay hidden for long.

"Listen, the guard said we can't take flowers up," I began, leaning in with
my most charming non-sexual smile. "Could you maybe leave them at a
nurse's station or someplace where he could see them?"

She looked up from the box of index cards she'd been rifling through,
staring at the flower arrangement like she'd never seen such a thing.

"I'll have to ask his doctor," she said, pulling out two cards and placing
them on the counter along with two bright green visitor's passes. They
were laminated, and had little alligator-teeth clamps.

"Could you do that?" I prompted, eyes glittering with what she probably
thought was gratitude. It wasn't.

"We have some other things for him," Zell added, heaving his backpack
up onto the counter. "Can we take this up?"

"No, but we can give him the contents," she said, as though the scene
had been memorized by rote long ago. "Provided they are approved by
his doctor."

"It's just some stuffed animals and a paperback I thought he might like," Zell
said, almost whining. I was getting sick of these rules, too.

"I can't let him have the back pack," she repeated, pulling out another
clipboard from the pile of paperwork scattered across her desk. I clipped
my visitor's pass to my collar, where it stuck out jauntily. "The stuffed
animals can probably go up, and maybe the book. What all do you have
in there?" she continued, pen poised to record our answer.

"Why?" I asked, probably sounding as cranky as I felt. Our hour was slipping

"We keep records of the patient's possessions so that they can be returned,"
she explained, again from routine.

"Fine," Zell said. "Two stuffed animals and three books, one back pack, and
a vase with flowers, okay?"

"You understand the vase can't go up," she said as she wrote. She was
wearing scrubs, the ubiquitous hospital uniform. Was she a nurse?

"Yes, yes, we understand that," Zell said impatiently. "But you're going to ask?"

"Sure, honey, I'll check on that for you first thing in the morning," she said absently,
working the vase through the large square in her protective window. She set the
flowers on a file cabinet, saying absently that they sure smelled nice, and pulled
out a roll of masking tape. "I'll label these for you if you want to go on up," she said,
already marking the backpack with tape and pen.

"Where is he?" Zell asked, looking blankly at his card. I looked down at mine.
The incantation was scrawled beneath Squall's name in abbreviated form: E-4.

"Just take those elevators, honey," the receptionist pointed from behind us. I
nodded, glancing at the clock. Nearly eight. It had seemed to take longer.

On a guess I hit the button for the fourth floor. The elevator was slow, and large,
and smelled of a dangerous musk. It hit me then: this wasn't a hospital.

There was no smell of disinfectant, no flowers allowed in the rooms, no cheerful
nurses with bright smiles and loving hearts to turn down bed sheets and administer
morphine. This was no hospital.

This was something far more frightening.

The elevator groaned to a halt, and we exited into a small yellow room with
doors in each of its other three walls. Pierced on all sides, like a heart. The
door across from the elevators looked like it had been painted shut, like a
rarely-used window sill. The doors to our left were labeled with a large 'W',
the doors to our right with a large 'E'. Each door had a sign over a small
buzzer that said "Ring for admittance", but there were two other people in
this small yellow room.

One was visiting, and the second an employee; they'd just emerged from
'W', and she turned from locking the door with a frown, saying "He's on
East, you should have said that before," and leading the visitor across to
the doors marked 'E'.

We followed, flashed the little card and gained admittance to hell.

Okay, it wasn't all that bad, but it was still depressing. Just a long, bare
room, with scattered wooden furniture and sad, thinly-padded couches,
one TV on a rolling cart, and a glassed-in nurse's station in the northeast
corner, by another set of doors. There was also a set at the opposite end,
beneath another large clock.

The opposite wall was actually another bank of floor to ceiling windows,
these wired and caged and shuttered, utterly blocked from the night. A
number of employees sat at one long table, ignoring us, which was amusing
as they were apparently their as security. A few patients were huddled with
visitors at the other end of the long room.

The woman who had, perhaps unintentionally, given us entrance finally came
to see what we needed. I just held up my card mutely, and Zell said, "Squall
Leonheart, that's L-E-O-N-H-E-A-R-T, in E-4."

"Right," she said, grinning briefly. "The 'whatever' man," she continued,
before waving us to a little couch across from the security-stifled windows
and heading for the doors at the north end of the room, by the nurse's
station. There was a man behind the glass. She said something to him
as we moved to sit down, and he buzzed her through.

Then we waited.

My knee was jigging nervously. My gut was churning. I'd felt less anxious
preparing to kill the woman who'd raised me, raised us all.

Zell was uncharacteristically silent, though his fists were clenched and his
teeth apparently grinding together. I had a feeling the silence wouldn't last
very long.

A wail echoed down the room. My head whipped around, hat caught by
reflex, and I caught sight of an older woman rocking back and forth in the
arms of another woman who could've been her sister. I blinked. Mental
hospitals were co-ed? Hmph.

It's surprising how quickly you become numb.

I felt Zell giving me a look, so I turned to face his gaze, hot and hungry
and ready to kill.

Oh yes. Zell was pissed, and likely to raise hell once we'd left. At least
he knew better than to upset Squall.

Speaking of, the doors opened. I jumped to my feet, caught sight of the
nurse who'd let us in and a slimmer, shorter dark-haired figure. It slammed
into my gut, the knowledge of just how small Squall really is. We think of
him as larger than life, because usually he seems it. I guess all facades
break under enough pressure.

My heart was fluttering. I saw his head come up, and he caught sight of us
over the nurse's broad shoulder. Zell was on his feet beside me, bobbing
impatiently so that his blond crest resembled a walking chocobo.

Squall grinned.

My heart fell to my feet, below my feet, and yet spiraled up with fear and
a delirious joy of reunion. I strained forward on my toes, feeling unable to
move as the nurse moved to the side and he came clearly into view. Zell
stepped forward, and this broke my paralysis as I stepped up with him,
striding to meet our imprisoned Commander who was *grinning* at us
like we were water and he was dying of thirst and we met him halfway--

--and he fell into Zell's arms and caught the back of my neck in his hug,
bowing me down to shelter his back and wrap and arm around his waist.

He was crying softly, and still smiling.

"You came," he said, a broken man. "You came."

A/N Some mental hospitals suck. A lot. This was one of that kind.
If you've been to a nice one, congratulations. Just be warned, it
gets worse from here on in, as I diverge from reality and move
into the fantasy of this story-line. Okay, actually that should go
after the next chapter, which will be a nice peaceful visit in which
Squall complains and Zell and Irvine get really pissed. Heh.