Chapter 18: Legacy—Destiny

On the highest mountain in the Dollet countryside, Griever stood watching the sunset. It had been almost twenty-four hours since he'd bequeathed his precious ring to Raine Leonhart, and the intended result he hoped it would have on the timeline had yet to take effect. He'd avoided all human contact since leaving the pub that night, leaving him as he had been while he wandered the Earth he and his queen had created, or would create, rather. The solitude didn't bother him, though. If everything went according to plan, he expected to wind up this way; isolated; alone; forgotten.

"You idiot!"

He sighed at the grating voice, or voices, that came from behind him. Isolated and forgotten, maybe, but his pursuer would certainly follow him as long as they could. More annoyed than anything, Griever turned to see The Mimic perched on a mound just a few feet away from him. The jewelry it bore glistened in the sunlight, gracing the creature with an unfitting gentle aura.

"Took you long enough. I wasn't surprised to have sensed your presence, but you must know that any actions you took to track me down may've had just as much an impact as mine did, don't you?" the Knight calmly asked.

"Shut up, traitor!" Hesiod shouted back. It's voice echoed throughout the mountains, but Griever paid little heed to whether or not anyone could hear them. At this point, they were maybe a few hours away from time compression beginning again.

"Do you realize what you've done, Griever?! Giving that woman your ring has all but sealed our queen's fate! You defected; you have your reasons, but to set in motion your own wife's death?! What's come over you?!" demanded the Mimic.

The Knight shrugged nonchalantly to Hesiod's outrage.

"That woman is not my wife," he replied.

"Are you that dense, Knight? After all your years of servitude, you've the gall to make such a claim?!"

Griever nodded.

"My years of servitude scorched the earth of all life. We were on the brink of not only cementing our legacy as the ones who destroyed the world, but, the ones who ended all of existence. Past, present, future—we would've destroyed them all."

Hesiod jumped down from where it was perched and stood up. Arms crossed over it's chest, it tilted its head and stared at the Knight, perplexed.

"…Legacy? Griever, what legacy is it you speak of? There was no one left to record your deeds, and anything that may've been written during your campaign was long gone. When you say legacy, you're really referring to your conscience, aren't you?"

The Mimic had a knack for finding any chink in its opponent's armor and exposing it to its fullest. Griever's lips formed a thin line, and he turned away from the creature.

"Hyne, Griever. And you talked down to me about my misunderstanding of the timeline. You do know that your actions have already created another one, right? When Squall and the others arrive at Ultimecia's castle, they'll have come from a different past, not this one.

"Once events begin to unfold as you so intended, this time will ceased to exist, but, through time compression, they'll still arrive in our future safely. What's to become of us, then, Griever?"

The Mimic circled around the Knight and locked eyes with him.

"Your legacy as a monster will always sit with you. Just you. Should they defeat her, our world will disappear, and then what? You'll have nowhere to go home to, and while you drift through time and space, no one will speak of you as redeemed. No one will speak of you at all!"

That was something the Knight could live with.

"So be it. I'll fade away eventually, warped in the ether of time. Just like you will. Ultimecia and I will never come into existence, and Hyne's Will—"

"Oh yes, Hyne's Will! Do you remember the girl in blue? The one who'd become a Sorceress thanks to you and your wife's meddling in the past?"

Griever didn't want to acknowledge anything The Mimic had to say, but the girl in the blue was important. She was the person who'd snapped him out of his centuries-long trance. Despite Hesiod's malintent, gleaning whatever knowledge he could from its words would help to ensure his success.

...Why can't I remember her name?

"She'll be the one who carries that burden, now. That boy with the scar will serve her, and the cycle will continue. You'll only fade away when another Knight accepts their duty to protect the Sorceress. He'll take up Hyne's Charge, and with that, your powers, and it'll happen all over again."

Griever stared intently at his wife's creation. Its words held some truth; observing the world through Edea's eyes had proven that many facets of their life were cyclical in nature. SeeD still existed, Garden still existed, and countries and regions retained the names they'd had from before he'd destroyed them. The idea that Hyne's Will would press onward after her defeat was very likely, and Griever's stoic disposition began to wane.

"You must've known that was a possibility. There's no way you'd go through all this trouble without knowing the risks involved, right?" Hesiod asked. When he didn't respond, the Mimic laughed maniacally.

"You did, didn't you?! How short-sided can you be?! Hm, perhaps that's a question better posed to your species as a whole. Even after all of the changes you underwent, here you are making the same mistakes as those you slaughtered, rightfully so, I might add. You spilt the bloods of millions to protect your wife, and in His name as well. This talk of your 'legacy' would make sense if you wanted to know where you'd stand after time compression.

"But, here we are, in the past, awaiting your foolish actions to radically change everything around us. One man's ego trip has thrown existence into flux, only to postpone Hyne's Will coming to fruition."

"That's enough!" shouted Griever. The Mimic didn't flinch. Instead, it turned to face the setting sun over the Dollet shores, and laughed quietly to itself.

"When Rinoa begins to embrace her new powers, Squall will follow her lead. Hyne will recognize it, and you'll be obsolete. That will be your legacy, Griever. A man who obeyed Him, defied Him, only to pay the price for his obstinance; the man who tried to abandon Hyne's Charge, only to be seceded by a Knight truly worthy of it. How does it feel to know this was all in vein?"

Rinoa, her name's Rinoa...

The Knight took in a deep breath and closed his eyes; he could feel the Mimic trying to read his thoughts, as well as prepare to counter an attack of some kind. He'd done all of this to right what he'd come to realize was wrong, but Hesiod's words rang truer still: the cycle would continue.

...Unless he could stop it…

Before he could respond to the Mimic, the skyline began to change colors at a rapid pace. The surrounding mountains began to warp, and the ground beneath them disappeared.

"Looks like it's happening," the Knight said to himself.

"What's your plan, Griever? Everything's about to play out just a little differently from when you gave Raine the ring. Tell me, since he'll have your ring, do you think he can stop me?" Both warriors jumped hastily towards the ether. The Mimic attempted to warp back to Ultimecia's castle and fight in Griever's place, but the Knight gave chase. A better fighter in every way, Griever immediately grabbed hold of the Mimic's ankle and yanked it back behind him. There, in a shattered reality, the two squared off, both determined to see that this was their opponent's last stand.

Griever unsheathed his broadsword, and Hesiod pulled its arms out from under its cloak with a sickle in each hand.

"Who're you imitating now?" the Knight asked.

"A warrior I caught a glimpse of while following you to Winhill. I liked his beard more, but the weapons are what counts."

Clearly it wasn't someone from their world. Their existence in shambles, the idea of seeing parallel universes wasn't inconceivable. If anything, Griever was surprised that Hesiod hadn't done more than just imitate this warrior.

"Well, let's see you fight like him, then!" the Knight shouted. They readied their arms, and the moment their weapons clashed, the world was torn asunder.

Ellone shot up from where she'd fallen asleep in the infirmary, drenched in a cold sweat. Another vision, this time of an event that took place before the defeat of Ultimecia, but from a timeline that no longer existed. It was just another entry for her charts, but it was more relevant to their situation than the others had been. Scant images of what she'd seen with Seifer of the first timeline, where all of this madness began, flashed across her mind. From Quistis planning out humanity's final days, to her last breath, the one thing they all shared was Griever's all-powerful presence. All of them were indicators of how different their world could've been, and how little it took for everything to change. None, however, had shed as much light on the Knight's motives than the one she'd just seen. What bothered her more though was that she'd witnessed it alone. Who, or whatever was responsible for having sent Seifer into the link so many times these past six months, had now shifted their attention to Ellone.

The curtain to Rinoa's room opened, and Edea looked out to see her oldest foster child taking deep, hurried breaths. Her motherly instincts in full swing, she knew Ellone had just awoken from a nightmare.

"Ellone, are you alright?" asked her Matron. Breathing heavily and wiping the sweat away from her forehead, the White SeeD Commander could only nod. To her surprise, her sudden jolt out of her seat hadn't awoken Zell, who'd slumped to the side and leaned his shoulder against hers in his slumber.

I think that's what Selphie would call "oafey."

A small chuckle escaped her lips in spite of her fatigue, and Edea smiled and walked over to take her hand.

"Was it about last night?" Edea inquired.

"Kind of…" she replied.

"Kind of?"

Ellone waved off her Matron's concerns and turned to catch a look at Rinoa.

"How is she doing?" she asked. Taking note of Ellone's attempt to change the subject, Edea obliged and followed.

"She'll wake up soon. There were a few times where she opened her eyes and called for Squall, but then would fall back asleep. The last time, she made eye contact with me and tried to say something else. I think it may've been an apology. Part of me hopes she can hear me right now, so she can know that one isn't necessary." Ellone walked over to the chair adjacent to Rinoa's cot and scooted forward.

"She looks awfully peaceful considering everything that happened," she remarked.

"Before Griever and Irvine left, after loading Squall into the car with Quistis, he said they'd had a rather intimate exchange shortly before. Also, he said we were lucky to have her stay here, rather than him." The end of Griever's last words left Ellone thinking of her nightmare, of what Hesiod had predicted about what Squall would do once this all began.

"He didn't say anything about what they talked about, though?" she asked her Matron. Edea shook her head, and Ellone sighed.

"I take it that he made his decision based on what was safest for all of us. You, Zell, and Selphie are here. You alone managed to square off with Rinoa in full; the three of you will be more than able to do it if necessary."

"I hope to Hyne that…"

The White SeeD Commander paused before she finished her sentence. Perhaps it was best not to hope to Hyne, in light of what she'd just bore witness to, let alone touched upon with Quistis and Irvine last night.

"…I hope that doesn't happen. I was telling the others I would've never anticipated my fighting her."

"No true warrior trains to fight. They train to protect. Last night, you were protecting your friends, you weren't out for blood," replied Edea.

But, was she?

Ellone nodded graciously, and went to stand, when Rinoa suddenly stirred. The two women froze as the young Sorceress opened her eyes, and took in their worried expressions.

"Um…hi," was all Rinoa could think to say. Ellone and Edea both let out sighs of relief, and Edea took to the chair on the other side of Rinoa's bed.

"How're you feeling, sweetheart?" she asked. Rinoa nodded slowly, and then looked down at her hands.

"Oh, good. They're normal again." She flashed them to Ellone and Edea, and her actions couldn't help but elicit a small chuckle from Edea.

"And your nails are still painted, too," commented Ellone, trying to keep the air as surprisingly light as it was.

"How about that…" replied Rinoa, her voice drifting off.

The White SeeD Commander turned to her Matron with a request.

"Matron, can I have—"

"Of course, dear."

Though she wasn't a Sorceress anymore, Edea still had the perception of a medium, and stepped out of the small room, closing the curtain behind her. When the door to the infirmary closed, Ellone turned to Rinoa, who returned her look with a thoughtful expression.

"So…about last night," began Ellone. Wasting no time in alleviating her friend of any guilt or worry, Rinoa wrapped her arms around the one person Squall considered family. Ellone didn't hesitate to return the gesture, and the two held each other in a sisterly embrace.

"I'm so sorry, Ellone." Rinoa's voice came in a whisper, holding back choked tears as she hugged the woman she'd tried so tenaciously to kill.

"I know." Ellone wouldn't speak to Rinoa as though it wasn't her that she'd fought. If she'd replied with anything other than an acknowledgment, like "No, don't blame yourself," or "It's not your fault," she'd be lying to her. Her reasons for holding Rinoa as tightly as she was stemmed from her desire to be honest; she wanted Rinoa to know that in spite of what she'd done, she still had all of her friends in her corner—even more so now.

"This is something we were all afraid would happen. But none of us thought of what would come the morning after…" Ellone pulled away from the young Sorceress and looked back at her with a comforting smile. Rinoa had done well to stifle her tears, but the occasional sniffle still penetrated her bold façade.

"I think if we knew that we'd be able to see you the next day, and be able to pick up the pieces like this, we might've been less worried about it all," Ellone continued.

"You were worried too, Ellone?" Rinoa asked. The White SeeD Commander nodded, but what followed was not the same spiel Rinoa had heard from everyone else.

"I've been where you are, Rin. Having powers that I don't understand, feeling overwhelmed by them, and ostracized or singled out because of them; I've been there. Our paths diverge at a certain point, but for the most part, I can empathize with some of what you're going through."

Rinoa smiled back at her boyfriend's sister, and pulled her knees up to her chest.

"Squall's been on our path too, apparently. I had no idea," Rinoa added.

"I don't think anyone other than Griever could've foreseen that." Both women took a moment to realize there was one other person who'd known, but had had to keep his mouth shut about it.

"Poor Zell…all he wanted to do was reach out to a friend," said Rinoa.

"Zell's a soldier just like the rest of them. He's a softy behind those fists of his, but he's ready to throw down for what he believes in at the drop of a hat," added Ellone. Rinoa thought fondly onto when she'd asked Zell to help her make a copy of Squall's ring. He'd asked why, and upon Rinoa's abrupt blush, agreed to do it with an ear-to-ear smile.

"Does he know that I was looking for him last night?" asked Rinoa. The shift from her memory of the past to the bleak circumstance of their present was a difficult, but necessary transition.

"I honestly don't think he cares. A part of him still doesn't grasp what exactly happened to you, or Squall for that matter. But, even if we took the time to explain every little detail of it to him, he would probably gloss over the minutia and just ask, 'But they're gonna be ok, right'?" replied Ellone, ending it with as much of an impression of the martial artist as she could.

The two laughed softly at their dear friend's tunnel vision when it came to his friends' well-being. When they collected themselves, Rinoa asked the question she'd been wondering about even as she slept.

"So...where's Squall?"

Ellone didn't see a need to lie.

"Resting in the Garden infirmary. Quistis and Cid are there, too, while Xu and Nida run damage control—although everything happened pretty late, so it's unlikely any of the younger cadets saw or heard anything."

"What about the SeeDs I—"

The White SeeD Commander held up her hand to quell Rinoa's worries.

"My troops know the value of discretion. They were the only ones out last night, and if you recall, their mission is different than the rest of the Garden's."

What started as a means of consolement quickly turned into a reminder of one of Rinoa's, and Squall's, greatest fears.

"...Guess that's why I'm here, then," Rinoa replied. Ellone shifted from her chair over to Rinoa's cot and sat next to her.

"That mission isn't going to come to a head," Ellone stated.

The young Sorceress didn't seem too encouraged, but when Ellone leaned against her to grab her attention, she saw just how serious the White SeeD Commander was.

"Squall's not the only one looking out for you; we all are. We took our oaths, swore ourselves to this life, but our loyalties lie with each other."

Rinoa gave a soft smile, the occasional sniffle still present, and the confidence she'd felt when she'd spoken with Squall in the void slowly returned.

"Well, that's probably the nicest thing a Sorceress' heard after...um, maybe ever?" Her attempt to keep it light resonated with the entity that had awakened within her. Dormant once more, but still present, the sentiment seemed to leave it confused—curious, even.

Before Ellone could continue, there came a hasty knocking at the infirmary door. When the door opened, they heard the beast that was Selphie without her morning coffee growl at the person on the other side.

"What?" she spat.

"Uh...Ms. Tilmitt, is—"

"What is it? Spit it out! What's so important that you had to knock on the door like that so frickin' early?"

Oh no, she's almost cursing…

Ellone quickly reached over to open the curtains to see a very nervous White SeeD standing at least a foot taller than the tired brunette that'd answered the door.

"Sefie, it's fine. Let him in," Ellone requested. With a low—for her, at least—pitched grunt, Selphie traipsed back to the chairs she'd slept on. She laid herself over them, and put Irvine's cowboy hat over her face to block out the light. The White SeeD Commander stood to salute her subordinate, and he immediately saluted her back.

"Have you something to report, soldier?" she asked sternly.

"Commander, we're receiving a request to join a conference call with Esthar, Deling City, and Balamb Garden. President Laguna wouldn't divulge any information to us without you present."

A conference call between Esthar, Deling, and Balamb Garden was essentially a meeting of the world's superpowers. Though Garden wasn't a nation, it was an independent military unit that served to procure the balance in power between the nations since the end of the war. The White SeeDs were an extension of them, so for all four of them to be on one joint call meant something big was about to go down.

Rinoa shifted on the cot and pulled her legs under her.

"Deling? Does that mean my father is—" Ellone cringed inward at the mention General Caraway. She imagined that was something the young Sorceress could do without right now.

"Commander, they're waiting for you."

What could this be about?

If Balamb is involved, does that mean Cid is handling their role in this by himself?

She turned to Rinoa and placed a hand on her shoulder.

"I'll be back, Rin. Let me go see what this is all about."

Rinoa nodded and smiled understandingly. If Ellone said she'd be back, she'd be back. In the wake of everything that had happened just a few hours ago, not only had the young Sorceress miraculously come away with a just a few cuts and bruises, but she'd felt a bond grow between her and the very woman she'd fought hardest against. Though still new, the confidence she'd found in talking with Squall through the bond earlier had given her a reason to look to the future with hope, and she wasn't about to let it waver.

When Ellone opened the curtain and followed her soldier out, Rinoa saw Zell and Selphie still sleeping—Zell's mouth was wide open—and had to fight to contain her laughter. Selphie's subconscious adjusting of Irvine's hat made it all the harder, and in trying to control her outburst, the tears that would've accompanied her glee trickled down her cheeks.

Of course, the two most energetic people in the world sleep like logs.

She pulled her knees up to her chest and leaned back against the wall. While she most certainly had a devoted Knight, she breathed easier knowing that she also had friends that were just as loyal to her, and she them.

A little more than a quarter of the way to Garden, Irvine's loud pants and grunts had reached their peak volume. As much as he'd tried to ignore it, Griever knew that his bodyguard wouldn't be much of use if he were on the verge of collapsing upon their arrival. The Knight turned to see the sharpshooter sweating profusely, and couldn't help but chuckle under his breath.

"Need a minute?" he asked.

Irvine could only nod, and immediately plopped down on the grass on the side of the road. Griever followed suit, and took in the early morning—it was around 07:00—marveling at nature as he'd once forsaken it.

"At least the breeze is cool, right?" he asked Irvine.

Irvine, again, could only nod, and flopped backwards onto the ground, spread out on the grass like a cadet overtired from training.

"You used to travel on foot like this all the time, didn't you? And for longer distances, too."

"It's been a year, man! I didn't keep training for crap like this like Squall, or Quistis...or Zell...or Selphie…"

"So, it's just you and Rinoa who wouldn't be able to make long walks like this?"

"Well, she ain't a SeeD either, so—"

"Right. I believe she's a 'princess.' Which makes you..."

The sharpshooter, still too tired to sit up, turned his head and saw Griever with an uncharacteristic smirk on his face. He had to give credit where credit was due, and laughed at another snippet of the Knight's surprisingly dry humor.

"So, even after last night, you're still finding it pretty easy to adjust? Let loose a little? Act like a dick when your friend is tired?" he asked his client. The Knight chuckled and shook his head.

"Perhaps it was seeing everyone huddle around Rinoa and Squall the way you did. I've never been more confident in this endeavor than I am now."

Irvine was surprised to hear how calm Griever was. Considering how much he'd stressed the gravity of the matters at hand, seeing as how smoothly everything went after he and Griever neutralized Rinoa's powers, perhaps things were going to be alright after all. Griever had spoken of everything as though it were high-risk, high-reward, but he always followed every warning or caution with an assurance he could handle things should they go awry.

The sharpshooter shifted onto his right side for a few seconds of comfort. If time had allowed, he could've slept right there on the side of the road for hours, until a curious ringing came from Griever's jacket.

"Hm?" The Knight reached into his pocket and pulled out the one-way radio Cid and Edea had procured for him and Irvine upon his request.

"It's ringing...but you're the only one who can contact me on this…" Before his client could get too worked up, Irvine chuckled and retrieved his radio from his back pocket.

"Sorry, I think I butt-dialed you," he joked. The colloquialism was lost on the Knight. Irvine elaborated.

"It's pretty straight-forward, man. Not all that different from a fist-bump; it's exactly what it sounds like."

"You called me with your butt?" Griever asked, genuinely confused.

"No, my butt called you."

The Knight had nothing to say back to that.

"Like, I leaned on the radio with my butt, and it dialed you. A butt-dial."

"Oh…"

Griever looked at his own radio perplexingly, thoroughly examining it, before returning his attention to his bodyguard.

"I'd probably crush it if I kept it in my back-pocket like you do," he replied in light jest.

"Probably. For a guy who doesn't like riding in cars, I'd say it has more to do with you being the size of one instead of just not liking cramped spaces."

"I'm not that big," the Knight replied.

"Dude, height only goes so far. I might be a little taller than you, but, if we find the time, we should go to Balamb's big-and-tall store to buy you some new clothes. Or towels. Holy crap, when was the last time you took a shower?!"

Irvine was far from a stickler when it came to personal hygiene, but this man had stayed in an abandoned lighthouse for the past six months, and had been wearing the same thing for the past few centuries. He thought maybe it was just his being used to prevalent B.O. that had kept him from picking up on how bad he smelled.

"They had running water at the lighthouse, Irvine. But, I could go for a shower." The Knight sniffed the air, then turned with an eyebrow raised to the sharpshooter.

"And, that odor is you. I smell fine."

Irvine stuck his nose into his right armpit and jerked his head away instantly.

"Hyne, sorry. These clothes need to be sterilized ASAP." The Knight chuckled again, until there came another ringing, this time from Irvine jacket. The two looked at each other, and Griever shrugged.

"My radio's in my hand," he replied. Irvine reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his cellphone. Quistis' name came up on the screen, and he quickly answered it.

"Hey, what's up?"

"Irvine, where are you and Griever? The walk back from Balamb isn't that long. Are you sitting on the side of road like a couple of—"

"Yes, but that's my fault. I'm tired, and—"

"I know it's your fault. Put Griever on, this is important."

She's technically your boss, she's technically your boss…

...Totally gonna get her back for talking to me like I'm—

"Irvine!" came Quistis' voice again.

"Ok! Sheesh!" He held out the phone for Griever to take, and the Knight curiously took it from him.

"Are we in trouble?" the Knight asked him.

"I am, probably. She wants to talk to you." Griever put the phone to his ear and tried not to appear too anxious about being on the phone. He'd only used one a handful of times since he'd returned, not counting when Selphie and Zell were on speaker. To him, he was talking to the room and Zell just happened to be able to hear him.

Just be calm and talk into the—

"Hello, Griever?"

The Knight quickly turned the phone right-side up, hoping Irvine wouldn't notice he had it upside down.

"Quistis?" he asked.

"Griever, we need you and Irvine back at Garden STAT. There's a major meeting taking place between Esthar, Deling, Garden, the White SeeDs, and now Dollet is joining the line."

"What's going on? It's not about last night, is it?"

"No, but we still need your input. It's about our other problem."

An abrupt change in mood shifted Griever's spirits entirely.

"We're on our way. How's Squall?" he asked as he began to stand up, much to Irvine's ire.

"I'm going back down to the infirmary to check on him, but he's been resting since we arrived."

"If it's ok, I want to check on him before we come up."

"Can I keep you informed on that? This meeting is being called regarding something that happened last night, as well as what's taken place over the past two days. It happened almost exactly around when Rinoa lost control of her powers. I can't say as to whether they're connected, but they'll need your input."

Reluctantly, Griever accepted Quistis' proposal.

"Alright, we're coming."

"Thank you. See you in a bit." The Head Instructor hung up the phone, and Griever tossed Irvine's back to him.

"Could've just handed it to me, man," the sharpshooter joked as he reached for the phone that'd landed on his stomach.

"Let's go. It seems Hesiod was busy while we were dealing with Rinoa last night."

Irvine turned quickly upon hearing that name, and got to his feet.

"Do you think whatever it did and Rinoa's episode are connected?" he asked.

"I can't say. We'll see once we get back."

"We have no choice this time. He should select whoever holds his position for the time being, though."

Duty called for Quistis to check on Squall every hour or so and keep Cid and Xu up to date on his condition.

"I'm still getting everything prepared for the meeting, Quistis. I think he'd take the news better if it came from you, too."

Xu's duties didn't overlap with any kind of interpersonal obligation to their Commander—rather, their former Commander. After the events from early that morning, Squall had been officially relieved of his duties as Commander of Balamb Garden. Quistis, ever the stand-up woman and dutiful soldier she was, was charged with the task of breaking the news to him.

Glad to see you're feeling better Squall. By the way, your position is suspended indefinitely after what happened. Don't kill the messenger!

The scene played out with Quistis giving an uncharacteristic sarcastic smile after informing one of her best friends he was now under just as scrutinous of a watch as Rinoa had felt she'd been.

Who am I, Selphie?

...Actually, she might be better suited to break this to him than me. Her spirit might drown out the harsh reality of it all.

The elevator dinged, and the Head Instructor stepped out into the corridor and made her way to the infirmary. The doors slid open, and she strode into the back of the infirmary where Dr. Kadowaki was overlooking Squall's charts. He hadn't moved an inch since they'd laid him down, and aside from the occasional grunt or quick flickering of the eyes, it seemed he was still connected to the link. From the pained look on his face, one could assume he wasn't enjoying his time there, or perhaps he was lost and just trying to find his way back to reality.

It's time compression all over again.

Rinoa's not here to save you this time, though...at least, I don't think she is…

"Oh, Quistis, I didn't hear you come in," the kind doctor commented.

"Sorry, is this a bad time?" she asked.

"As fine a time as ever. His condition is stable, same as it was from when you first brought him here. Other than this 'link' you told me about, all of his vitals and tests are coming back positive. I'd say he was asleep—maybe having a nightmare, judging from his expression—had you not told me everything that took place last night."

Quistis brought her right arm over her torso for support as she leaned forward to peek at the charts.

"I was wondering, doctor, do you think we should run those tests on him they've started performing in Balamb?"

"Was he junctioned last night?" the doctor asked.

"Hard to say. The bond between him and Rinoa may've served the same purpose as a GF would. As to whether there's been any fallout from it all, I couldn't say."

"So, we'd be running the tests to determine if the Sorcery has...affected him, in some way?"

The implication felt like more of an accusation. If they were to put Squall through those tests, he wouldn't be in a position to object. The only person who'd have a say on his tests in particular would be the one doctor who would know what to look for. Experts had designed those tests for determining side effects of using para-magic unjunctioned—only one had had the chance to study, explore, or test the effects of Sorcery on a person.

Odine...and then of course, our guest…

Quistis' head was now abuzz with curiosity held over from hers and Irvine's interrogation of sorts with Griever.

Though I'd rather talk to Ellone about this, I'm still...almost dumbfounded as to this man's inability to remember anything from his past.

He has a guilty conscience over things he can't remember actually transpiring. Ellone said he has his dates wrong—the events he speaks of don't take place a few hundred years from now like he claims.

...Hyne's Charge...blinded by his duty to Ultimecia…

Her eyes fell to her friend, lying still and suffering in a way she couldn't even fathom.

Have you already gone blind, Squall? Or was last night the moment where you could truly see for the first time?

She was conflicted over whom to extend her sympathies to. Quistis' natural need to hold people accountable for their actions immediately cast Squall, Rinoa, and Griever in a negative light. But, while she was naturally inclined to look that way, her compassion gave way to pity. She could only bring herself to sympathize so much with people who had power they couldn't control, be it presently or hundreds of years ago in another timeline.

Then there's Seifer…

Make that four people. Ellone's casual mentioning of their former enemy—a term no one in the group felt comfortable using to address him, but that he'd undoubtedly earned—rattled her further. The past few days had shined a different light on just about everything Seifer had done. The group had always assumed mind control played a big role during his servitude to Ultimecia, but upon hearing he'd inherited the duty from a man that had done far worse, and then seeing that very man in the flesh…

Her sense of duty clashed again with the pulling at her conscience over how to think of the two of them.

"Quistis?" Dr. Kadowaki quietly called to her. The Blue Mage realized she'd lost herself in her thoughts, not unlike her former pupil, and brought her attention back to the room.

"Sorry. There's a lot—"

"You don't have to apologize to me, Quistis. There's more going on here than anyone really knows how to deal with."

"But, we have to."

The doctor drew pause, silently agreeing with her part-time assistant while further examining Squall's chart.

"You know, maybe it's because you and Squall are so similar that you and him clashed so much," she suggested in an attempt to lighten the mood.

"Trust me, we've crossed that bridge. Silently, of course, but we're both aware of it," Quistis replied with a slight chuckle.

Neither Squall nor Quistis believed in miracles, or even acknowledged the possibility of them, but if Quistis didn't know any better, her friend came to his senses upon hearing such a tender exchange regarding him. She and Dr. Kadowaki stepped back as he put his hand over his face, then moved it up to his head and grabbed at his temples. Under his hand he saw who was with him, and upon seeing Quistis, shook his head.

"Deja vu," he deadpanned. A little over a year ago, Quistis had walked into the infirmary to find her finest student wounded after a "training session" with Seifer had gone awry. She wasn't wearing her glasses, or in uniform as she had been then, but the similarities were enough that even Squall acknowledged them.

"That depends. Are you going to push us away like you did me that morning?" she asked, half-joking.

A humorless chuckle left the young Knight's lips, and he shook his head.

"That always seems to get me into trouble," he replied.

"So, you're saying I was right," she teased.

Squall sighed, but relented to his former instructor with a nod.

"Say your name for me," Dr. Kadowaki prodded further. Quistis couldn't help but laugh aloud at that. The Commander, despite knowing it was a joke, recited his name.

"SeeD Squall Leonhart, Rank A, ID No.—"

"Slow down, tiger, I was only kidding," the doctor playfully interrupted. She handed him his charts, and he squinted as he struggled to read them.

"Everything appears fine from what tests we've run. There is an interesting point your former instructor brought up, though."

"The tests?"

Both women were surprised by his interruption, but Squall carried on.

"You know who had a hand in designing those tests, don't you?" Squall asked of his former instructor. When Rinoa had accidentally injured Faust during their training session, Squall had been fully supportive of administering the tests Odine spearheaded to ensure Faust was ok. Now that the idea was being thrown around that they may administer them to him, his hesitance called on Quistis' interrogative instincts.

"We were actually just discussing that. Care to weigh in?" Quistis asked.

Squall saw Quistis' face grow slightly cross, and concluded she'd thought of the man they both reviled, but may have to look to for answers at one point or another.

"I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but the definition of these 'infections' that the tests are supposed to look out for is pretty broad. If I didn't know any better, Odine's contributions are to seek out any form of magic that isn't para-magic."

With a heavy sigh, Quistis rolled her eyes, knowing her former pupil was probably right. In just moments, something that had been considered a potential breakthrough in the field of science pertaining to magic may've been revealed as just a backhanded way of smoking out anyone capable of using Sorcery.

"If someone were to set off one of those bells and whistles he has hidden in there, he'd have little trouble ordering them to be transferred to Esthar so he could 'study' them," she groaned.

"Then maybe we'll approach this in more of the traditional sense. Squall, how're you feeling?" Dr. Kadowaki asked simply.

The Commander looked away for a moment to collect himself. When he turned to look back at the doctor, he simply shrugged.

"I expected as much," the doctor laughed, marking his response on her chart.

"Except…"

Without meaning to, Squall had fully captured the attention of both women. A little put off by the attention, he proceeded cautiously.

"I can't really tell if I'm still connected or not."

"To the link?" ask Quistis.

Squall only nodded.

"I don't know much about this 'link' you've all been talking so much about. Would either of you care to explain?"

Both SeeDs fell silent. Neither of them had a terribly in-depth understanding of it, either. They both knew it was what Ellone had referred to her power as during the war, but as of late it seemed to have taken on a larger identity. Did it transcend time and space? Was it a way of connecting to others that superseded all forms of human communication before that point? Was it an actual place someone could go to, and while there, do, as they pleased?

"Ellone could probably explain it better than either of us could," Quistis finally answered.

"Or Griever," added Squall.

Quistis held her tongue, but wanted nothing more than to shoot down the idea of taking Ultimecia's former Knight's word over Ellone's.

"That man...I haven't had the chance to meet him yet. I know why he's here, and who he is—or, was—but...well, why don't you two tell me about him, just so I know what to expect when I do meet him?"

"Everyone seems to react differently," Quistis replied. As the only one besides Ellone and Seifer who'd seen some of the destruction he was capable of, she'd maintained her composure more than her three male colleagues, who'd all made, or almost made, an attempt on the man's life. Irvine had been the only who'd followed through, and was the first to see one of the more troublesome aspects of their guests' power.

"...Yeah, that's about all we can say," Squall agreed.

Dr. Kadowaki rolled her eyes as she folded up Squall's medical charts.

"Fine. I suppose I'll just have to wait until I meet him myself." The doctor stuffed the manilla folder with Squall's information into her jacket and then addressed the two SeeDs on a more informal level.

"Are you ok, Doctor?" Quistis asked.

The Doctor wiped the sweat from her forehead before answering. It was barely mid-morning and she already looked exhausted.

"The gravity of this situation isn't lost on me, but while all of you are running around with the fate of the world on your shoulders—an uncertain one at that—it's important not to lose sight of the simpler things that can help, too. Whatever form of standard medicine I can utilize to care for my students, I will use. Or maybe one of you may just need an objective ear to chatter off to get something off of your chest. Whatever it is, don't hesitate to come here first."

The two were a bit confused by the Doctor's adamance about being involved in any of this. Seeing their looks of confusion, she withdrew herself from the conversation with a final plea.

"Please?" she asked sweetly.

The two nodded, and with that the Doctor swiftly exited the room.

Now for the hard part...

Quistis sat in the chair adjacent to Squall's cot and folded her hands over her lap.

"Squall," she began. Still flushed, wearing his fatigue on his shoulder, he slowly turned to face his former Instructor. She appeared nervous; something was on the tip of her tongue, and while she didn't want to say it, it was only hurting her to keep it in any longer.

"I'm listening," Squall replied. She cleared her throat, took in a deep breath, and exhaled slowly.

"Cid, Xu, and I...we've decided that following last night's events…"

The young Knight knew what was coming. It stung, but he knew it was the right thing to do.

As long as I'm still SeeD, I can still fight to protect Garden…

...What if they dismissed me from SeeD, as well? Then what?

If I'm no longer SeeD...there's no more conflict of interest. My military titles will have been stricken, but those titles and responsibilities haven't mattered since Rinoa deemed me her Knight.

Garden can't take that away from me. It's...it's all that matters to me.

It's everything now.

"It's only a temporary suspension. Until things are back on track," she continued.

"Back on track?" he asked.

"You know what I mean…"

He did know what she meant, but it didn't make the news any less hard to process. Up until a year ago, he'd taken his role as Commander almost as serious as his role as Knight. But, he didn't love SeeD; he didn't love Garden. He could stand to see them go, hard as it would be.

Does that go for my friends, too?

I fought Irvine last night. If I could've, I would've beaten him into submission and run out to help Rinoa.

What would I have done? Quistis, Selphie, even Sis were all out there trying to subdue her.

...Hyne, what would I have done?

The former Commander shook his head to break free of that train of thought. He slowly sat up and put his legs over the side of his cot. Quistis looked up to make eye contact, and Squall responded to her movement. This discussion wasn't over.

"I understand..." he said quietly.

"I know you're hurting, Squall. The timing is awful. I didn't want this to happen, but…"

The two had yet to break eye contact, and in that moment, Quistis' duty became a priority.

"...I know it has to be done. I know you said you understand, but, there's more." She cleared her throat, and slowly sat up straight. Her shoulders back, and her hair now pulled back from her face, she continued to carry out her task.

"There's a meeting about to begin with Esthar, Deling City, and Dollet. Three members of the world council, Cid, and Ellone are partaking in a joint meeting regarding something else that happened last night."

"Something else?"

"Hesiod."

Hyne. Can't we catch a break for once?

...I would've never asked for a break a year ago. I think I learned that from...Quistis, actually.

She's my superior now...I'm obligated to listen out of duty.

"What happened?" he asked finally.

"It'll be explained at the meeting. But, we're not making your suspension public. Honestly, keeping you out of any kind of discussion regarding this would just be downright foolish. Even Griever will be there—off camera, of course—since he's most experienced with fighting the Mimic. That way you can go straight—"

"—To train when we're done."

The two had exchanged positions as superior to one another over the years, but a title was just that, a title. Quistis was no less the strategist than Squall, nor he than her. But, they thought differently, and together, they could fill in any oversight the other might make, and formulate the best plan possible. Squall grunted as he struggled to stand, and Quistis reached out her hand to help him. A year ago he would have ignored the gesture and struggled to stand alone. Today, he took her hand and rose to his feet with ease.

"You feeling up to this, soldier?" she asked with a smile, relieved that this had all gone smoother than she'd worried it would. Squall locked his heels together, and saluted Balamb's Head Instructor. She saluted back, and the two walked out together.

"Wait," he said.

Quistis turned to him, listening thoughtfully to whatever he had to say.

"Who's my replacement?" he asked. Quistis nodded, realizing she'd forgotten to tell him that that decision was up to him.

"Right, I was in such a rush to get us to the meeting I almost forgot. We all felt that you should pick."

"It should be you."

Squall had made a lot of tough decisions during the second Sorceress' War, one's that

required deep, measured, and thoughtful weighing of pros and cons. Each decision would have ramifications that he'd be responsible for. but over time, he'd gained confidence in himself to make what he felt was the right call sooner rather than later. This was one of the easiest decisions he'd ever had to make.

"Squall, I...I don't know what to say," Qustis replied as she held her hand over her chest. Squall nodded and placed his hand on his hip before responding.

"I won't tell you it's your destiny like Cid told me. But, if anyone is qualified to take on the responsibility, it's you—the one who taught me how to handle it."

Quistis' eyes began to well up, but she shook her head in an effort to hold back her tears. While she was far more open to revealing her emotions than Squall was, revealing them to Squall—especially after such a momentous decision and transferral of power between them had taken place—was still tough for her to handle.

Sensing his friend, and now leaders', feeling of being overwhelmed, Squall cut the tension.

"No pressure. Maybe think about it for now?"

Oh yeah, no pressure at all, Leonhart.

"I think I'll do just that," she replied. Squall offered a small but reassuring smile, and then gestured towards the door.

"Right," she said, "Right, on our way then."

LaylaEvercrest updated her incredible story a few days ago. Since I last updated mine, I've been neck deep in various professional & musical adventures. It's been almost four years! Yet, I saw that update email come in, and it hit me—I missed this. I told my girlfriend who I'm currently in the process of moving in with about this part of my life in greater detail than I had before, and after reading the updates to LaylaEvercrest's story, I pulled up the chapters I'd begun writing a few years ago, and decided to get back to this. Let's see where it goes!

Thank you to everyone who's come across this story in the years I wasn't around to update it. I miss you all, and I'll try to come back as often as possible. See you all soon, and I hope you like what is essentially the beginning of disc 2 of my little fic :)