Chapter 3: Trust…


The nurse stopped to look over her chart and make sure she had the right room.

"Shiv, Faust; yep, this is the room. Although visiting hours are almost over, so you won't be able to stay long," she cautioned.

"We won't be long, just wanted to check up on him," replied Irvine.

Without disclosing too many details, Irvine and Selphie had told Quistis and Zell about the mission assigned to them. Having described it as nothing more than a particularly long escort mission, Quistis chalked her, Squall, and Xu being left out of the contract negotiations to Cid wanting them to focus their attention on dispelling any rumors circulating as to what had really happened to Faust, and shut them down immediately. As much as Irvine wanted to tell them what had happened at his and Selphie's meeting with the Kramer's, he'd opted to hold his tongue, and the four were planning to have dinner at Ma Dincht's before the couple departed.

Selphie had thought it'd be in their best interest to visit Faust—the student who had been injured in the training center—while they were in town. It would be a good show of support and, as Quistis pointed out, a chance to see what conclusions Faust had drawn for himself about Rinoa, if any. Zell had told them not to bank on that latter point, and just focus on the visit. Irvine just wanted to get in and get out.

They entered the room and the boy was lying quietly in bed, watching TV. He couldn't have been older than twelve, maybe thirteen, but they'd heard from Squall that he showed great promise as a gunblade specialist. He was set to be one of the youngest students to take the Fire Cavern exam. Whether or not he'd go straight from that to a field exam was a whole different matter, as his momentum had waned a bit since the incident.

When he saw them, he immediately shut off the TV and turned his head, making his light blonde hair flop down over his forehead. They were the typical bangs a boy his age would sport, but they didn't hide the shine of his bright green eyes. This kid was going to be a looker, that was for sure. No one really knew what to make of how—his lanky build aside—Faust could pass for a young doppelganger of Seifer. It would only take a short conversation to see that the two were nothing alike. Faust was obedient, humble, and while quite aware of his skills, frequently turned down offers to train on the Alcauld Plains with other gunblade students out of fear of hurting them. Sometimes it came off as a way of being cocky, but as their chief instructor and Commander often pointed out, it was better to be safe than sorry. This would usually lead to Squall gesturing to the most blatant example of how he didn't think to do that one fateful day.

"Hey guys, thanks for coming," he said, an air of sedation hanging in his tone.

"Hey Faust! How're you feeling?!" exclaimed Selphie. The other three immediately shushed her, to which she rolled her eyes and pouted.

"I'm okay. My leg is almost completely healed. I know I'm getting the pass for the semester, but I would like to return to training when I get back to Garden."

"We'll make that evaluation once the hospital releases you," replied Quistis. Faust nodded politely and noticed something was amiss.

"Where's Commander Squall and Rinoa?" he asked, sounding genuinely concerned. The four of them didn't know what to say other than "we don't know". They drew a collective blank, until Irvine just decided to wing it.

"You know the commander; always so busy with work. He sends his regards, of course."

"He hasn't come to visit me yet," continued Faust. "I know what we talked about in the infirmary and everything, but, I still would like to see him. He is my teacher, after all. I hope he briefs me when I take my field exam!" The innocence in his voice broke Quistis and Zell's hearts a little. Selphie went in and gave him a hug, as she was one to do.

"You're a great kid, you know that Faust?" she asked. Faust shrugged and gave a small smile in return.

"He hasn't come once?" asked Zell. Irvine tried to hide his cringing at that question.

Why, Dincht? Why would you feel the need to push anything regarding Squall any further?

"Just when he brought me here, if that counts. I haven't seen Sorceress Rinoa either, although that I kind of understand."

None of them ever called Rinoa 'Sorceress Rinoa'. To them, she was just Rinoa Heartilly: the sweet, excitable girl they'd saved the world with, and one of their best friends. The rest of the world however, had no problem bestowing the title upon her.

"Uh, you know, she's actually been on reprieve with Edea since the incident, Faust," said Irvine. The other three turned quickly faced Irvine; Quistis shooting daggers at him. Despite it being a boldfaced lie, it would steer the conversation away from Faust's questions, which he knew was for the best. Ignoring Quistis' contempt in his peripheral, Irvine continued.

"Edea used to be a sorceress, too. Managing that kind of power isn't easy, and only recently has the concept of a 'good sorceress' become more accepted among the public. I wouldn't read too much into their not coming to see you yet; you know how thorough Squall is. On top of his work he's been in constant contact with the two of them, staying up to date and doing whatever he can to further ensure this type of thing never happens again." Irvine realized he'd kind of trailed off and started telling snippets of truths, but Faust appeared to be buying his farce wholesale. Sure, he was a good kid, but being the wiser to what Irvine could come up with? Impossible.

"I understand," replied Faust.

"There you go. We just wanted to tell you how grateful we are for your cooperation through all of this. We're new to this, too, so every bit of support helps us a ton," Irvine finished.

Faust nodded and smiled appreciatively.

"Thanks for explaining that, Mr. Kinneas. Do you think there's any chance he'll come to see me before I'm discharged? My test results will be back in a few days and right after that I'll be free to either go home or back to Garden."

Irvine drew pause at the last part of Faust's sentence.

Test results? What test results? What kind of tests could the hospital be running on a kid with a wounded leg?

Irvine couldn't make sense of it, but when he looked over at the others to search their expressions, Quistis' had quickly changed to concerned.

She knows something. Better not hold out on me later, Quisty.

"I think visiting hours are ending," said Faust. Yet another statement Irvine wasn't expecting to hear.

That's weird. Does he want us gone as much we don't want to be here?

"Yeah, you should get all the rest you can, buddy," said Zell.

"Way to go, Faust! You're a real trooper," added Selphie.

"Thank you, Faust. I'll stop by again in the morning before I leave," Quistis assured. When it came to Irvine to say his goodbyes, he found himself with a dry mouth and feeling incredibly uncomfortable. Faust's nonchalant demeanor wasn't helping either. Something general would work; there was no need to be so sincere and direct all the time. He just wanted to get the hell out of there.

"Take care, kid." He was the first one to walk out of the room, despite being closest to Faust's bed. Once they all stepped into the hall, Quistis closed the door, and the real conversation began.

"On reprieve?" inquired Quistis, her glare returning tenfold.

"Well, we haven't seen her and quite frankly, until today, I haven't really seen Matron either. Have any of you?" he replied swiftly.

Zell put his hand under his chin as the cogs in his head started churning.

"Actually…no, I haven't."

"Not until today, with you," added Selphie.

"That's not the point. You told a blatant lie to a student that could be a huge liability for Garden, not to mention Squall and Rinoa!" Quistis interrupted.

"Shhh, keep your voice down!" warned Selphie.

Zell did a double take at Selphie telling someone else to be quiet. He figured now might be a good time to leave.

"We should talk back at my place about this, shouldn't we?"

"Yeah, let's get out of here," Irvine replied hastily. He saw an opportunity to get out of this place and seized it, walking ahead of Zell and straight out of the hospital.

o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o

The four of them sat around the dinner table in a silence fit for a typical awkward family dinner. Ma Dincht had turned in early for the night, so Zell did all of the cooking. To break the silence that had been occupied by the sounds of clashing silverware, Irvine started in.

"So, what kind of tests are they running on a kid with an injured leg?" he asked, indirectly posing the question to Quistis.

"Well, it was an ice shard, right? Maybe they thought it was dirty? They could be testing for an infection," answered Selphie.

"Don't they always run tests whenever you're in the hospital anyway? It's just them following basic medical protocol, right?" Zell piled on.

Quistis had yet to answer, or look up from her plate for that matter.

"It's your turn, Quisty…" pressured Irvine.

She sighed and dropped her fork onto her plate.

"We told them it was the result of a strong magic spell gone haywire. When something like that happens, doctors can run a test checking for...unusual bacteria developing within a wound."

"We've all been hurt by magic before, and none of us ever got one of those tests," Irvine retorted.

Quistis continued to speak without looking away from her food.

"It's a fairly new procedure, still in beta-testing. But, unusual after-effects of being injured by para-magic aren't unheard of. We junctioned GF's to protect us from status ailments and elemental properties of spells, as well the overall damage they could've caused us. We were never subjected to those tests because we never needed them. Faust, on the other hand, wasn't junctioned at all. This is standard procedure, Irvine, nothing to over-think or worry about." She stuck her fork into a piece of lettuce a little more forceful than necessary after her response.

"Then why'd you look so concerned when he mentioned them?" Irvine stuck his fork into a sizeable chunk of chicken breast in response. The tension grew thicker between them, and Zell, directing his disapproving eyes at Irvine, wasn't having any of it.

"Hey, take it easy man. She's just worried about her student, that's all. Right, Quistis?" She nodded, but her eyes were still fixated on her dinner. She was still avoiding any and all eye contact.

Selphie nudged Irvine's arm to get his attention.

"Why're you being such a meanie?" she asked. Frustrated that Zell and Selphie had essentially placed the blame on him for the painfully awkward atmosphere, Irvine abruptly stood up, took his plate to the sink and then made his way toward the door in one fluid motion.

"Irvy, where're you going?" asked a concerned Selphie.

"I'm heading back to the hotel; gonna read up on this guy we're picking up in Centra." He walked back toward the table to kiss Selphie on the cheek before addressing the group, but intending every word solely for Quistis.

"I know I lied to the kid about Squall and Rinoa, but let's not get our priorities mixed up here. We were all there for the Meteor incident, and the two of them don't know how many journalists and townspeople we had bribe into not saying anything. Squall was looking through the books for months to find out where all that money went. Now, we're telling a kid who not only saw one of these incidents, but actually got injured during it, to keep quiet by giving him a full pass for the semester and paying for his medical expenses? He could be in the infirmary with all of the other injured students who're limping around campus while their injuries heal up, but because of the nature of his injury, we're doing this instead.

"I'm glad he's going to be okay, but we can't so much as go near Squall and Rinoa's room because of what, our guilty consciences? Of course we haven't seen them; we've avoided them as much they've avoided us! They tried to hide after the Meteor incident, but we pulled them out. But with this, even Matron dropped off the map for a few days! Guys, something is going on that's bigger than we think, but no one's asking the questions that need to be asked. And the way you all glared at me in that hospital room today? You may as well have turned tail and run as I walked into battle alone."

"Irvine!" exclaimed Quistis, breaking her trepidation by standing up, outraged.

"Dude, that's not cool! We were just surprised!" added Zell.

"Irvy, don't do this! If you're gonna get mad at us about being surprised by something you've also been doing—avoiding the two of them—then you're just a big hypocrite!" Selphie finished.

Irvine shook his head, once again feeling like he was getting nowhere by speaking his mind.

"I'm not mad at you for avoiding them. We're all upset about what happened, but no one's talking about it; it's like we're pretending it never happened! I know I sure as hell wish it didn't, but today I saw Matron dance around the subject no different than we have. She's the only other person who knows about the nature of this beast, and now even she's not sure what to do!

"I'm not mad, I'm scared!"

The three of them looked at Irvine in shock. Even he was surprised by his own words. Those last two, "I'm scared," weren't meant to come out like that—or at all, rather. He just kept on with his tangent, and those feelings came to the surface. Holding the file in his hand, he remembered what the Headmaster and Edea had told him about its relevance to this situation, and the importance of keeping it a secret. With that in mind, he decided to wrap things up on a somewhat melancholy note.

"What's worse is that there are only four of us here right now. Don't you guys feel like ever since we got back, the two of them have been moving further away from us? I don't mean as a couple; that was bound to happen. But in terms of our friendships—they're pulling away. What should we do? Pull them back? If not, will letting nature take its course end up hurting us? I don't know, you guys, I really don't know."

Selphie moved a chair out of the way to walk toward him, but he quickly turned walked out the door. The three of them were left in the room, speechless.

"Hyne, he's right," said Zell.

"You think so?" asked Selphie.

"One hundred percent," answered Quistis. "I'm not sure what do, or expect from Rinoa after this…but it scares me that I can't think of a good outcome," she continued.

"Matron couldn't even handle these powers; why are we banking on Rinoa of all people to handle the pressure?" asked Zell.

"Matron was possessed, though!" Selphie insisted, "She didn't have any control!"

"Apparently neither does Rinoa, and so far there's no sign of someone else pulling at her strings, is there?" retorted Quistis.

Zell got up from the table with his plate. He placed it in the sink and started upstairs.

"Quistis, the guest room is set up for you if you don't wanna head back tonight. Selphie, be safe on your trip with Irvine."

"Heeey, where are you going? Don't leave us, too!" pleaded Selphie, growing anxious as she watched the rift between her friends widen further.

"I'm not 'leaving you guys', I'm just really tired. All of this has got me bugged out—not to mention the work I've been doing to fix up the training center." He stepped back into the room, out of the staircase.

"When I get back to the garden, I'm going to see the two of them. Me and Squall were gonna get his ring fixed up anyway; we made that a plan before this happened, and I'm gonna follow through with it. I'll offer to get the copy I made for Rinoa fixed too, if she needs it. I'm gonna do my part and reach out to them. Selphie, will you and Irvine do the same when you get back?"

Selphie nodded eagerly, her energy returning in an instant.

"Quistis?" he asked.

The Head Instructor hesitated—not a good sign. Selphie stopped in her tracks and looked at Quistis with disappointment when she still hadn't answered. Eventually, she stood and looked Zell in the eyes, finally making eye contact with someone.

"I'm going to seek out Matron and Cid first. I want to find out what they were up to while we were left to take care of the Garden. I'll be the brains, and do my part to help."

Assured, Zell nodded to his comrade. His low key response was short-lived, and he quickly threw his fists up in the air.

"Yes! That's what I'm talking about!" he yelled triumphantly.

"Wait, you guys made cool nicknames? I want one, what does that make me? I'm gonna go see them too! What does that make me?" Selphie piped up and asked.

Quistis turned endearingly toward Selphie and put her hand on her shoulder. She and Zell had never consulted a chart of the human body to decide what Selphie and Irvine were in their running joke, but she felt she had an answer as good as any.

"You're Selphie. We need you to be you and never stop, not even for a second. Think you're up for it, Sefie?" asked Quistis, now showing a tired, but encouraging smile.

There were times it seemed like Selphie and Zell were in a competition to see who could be more outrageously energetic. If their excitement in that moment could be measured in explosives, Zell would've been a pile of dynamite, while Selphie would've been an atomic bomb.

"CAN I DO THAT?!" Leaping into the air, too excited to actually answer the question, she came down on Quistis with, of course, a bear hug. She was 5'1; no one understood how she could do this all the time. They both fell onto the floor laughing, and Zell began dancing around the room victoriously.

"Okay, so we're all set, then! I thought I was going to bed, but I'm gonna go lay into my punching bag to get some of this energy out, baby! Quistis, you start working on your plan, and Selphie, go…Selphie Irvine!"

"I'm gonna Selphie the crap out of Irvine!" she exclaimed, still on top of Quistis.

"You're Selphie-ing the crap out of me right now," she half joked to the tiny lightning bolt masquerading as a brunette.

Selphie leapt up and skipped out of the house, blowing a kiss to them both as she hopped away into the night.

"I'm taking full credit for this one. You know that, right?" said Zell.

"Okay, brawns got the job done today, absolutely. Now can you help me up?"

o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o

The folder lay open with papers strewn across the table in Irvine and Selphie's hotel room. Irvine was pouring himself a glass of water, muttering curses under his breath in frustration. He was halfway through the information he'd been given—about twenty-five of the fifty-and change pages—and knew almost nothing about the man waiting for them in Centra. He picked up the pile of papers he'd already read, looking over the front page again, hoping to find something he may have missed. The only thing of worth that he'd found was that the man had briefly stayed in Winhill a little less than twenty years ago. By brief, he meant an hour tops. That was the only piece of information he'd found that wasn't a part of the twenty-page contract he'd made with Garden.

He'd read page after page about nothing but breaches of privacy and the client's need to be protected at all times. Irvine's name was mentioned several times as being the one to provide the service, but he had no idea why. From the look of it, some of the times he'd been mentioned weren't by Cid's accord.

Does this guy know who I am?

The other thing Irvine had found was a police report; a missing persons report to be exact. Someone had come looking for him the next day, and the person who'd confirmed his being there was a four-year-old girl named Ellone.

Sis.

No exact timeframe was given as to when he was there, but it had to have been when Ellone was still living with Laguna and Raine, perhaps even when Raine was pregnant with Squall.

What further frustrated Irvine was that although he had a missing persons report in his hand, there wasn't a single mention of the man's name. Just Ellone saying that someone had been there the night before, paired with a note about how Raine pulled her back inside and asked the police to leave.

Why was she paranoid?

Maybe she thought it was a trick by Esthar soldiers to try and kidnap Ellone again...

So, this man was a friend of Raine's? Was he on the run from someone? How the hell did he know Raine, of all people?

The name of the person who filed the missing persons report made things all the more confusing; GoGo. It had to have been an alias of some kind, but who the hell picks GoGo as their alias? As directionless as this information was, it was the only thing Irvine had to assure him, just slightly, that he and Selphie weren't walking into something dangerous.

It was the only thing he had, but it wasn't enough.

"How is there no name in a missing persons report?" he wondered aloud. "Did they even know who they were looking for?"

He sat back down and started to look through the papers he'd yet to read. At random, he picked up the last page of the contract, which just had several disclaimers and footnotes to protect Garden should anything go wrong during Irvine and Selphie's travels. Irvine threw that paper onto what he'd now deemed the "useless crap" pile, but drew pause when he took notice of the next page.

A transcript?

There were twenty-four pages of dialogue that had been exchanged between Edea and this man. It appeared Cid occasionally took part as well. This was highly unusual; things like this only appeared when escort missions were for people who were highly suspect, potential threats to those dispatched, or to the Garden's safety in general. The transcript however, read like a bad job interview, and of course, to Irvine's continued frustration, not once did either party speak his damn name.

Edea: How long have you been back for?

Client: I believe about five months or so. Now that I can relatively tell time again, I noted a change in the seasons that would indicate I've been here for that long.

The wheels in his head started spinning.

What the hell? Who talks like that?

And back from where?

"Who the hell are you?" he wondered aloud again. The transcript went on.

Edea: How does it feel? Has the adjustment been easy for you?

Client: Yes, actually. It's like old times, and it's nice to see the orphanage as it was so long ago. Puts some things into perspective from when I lived here.

"What, from when he lived there? And, 'so long ago?' Did the orphanage used to be in shambles before we lived there as kids, restored, then reduced to bits again? How old is this frickin' guy?" he mumbled to himself.

Just then the door burst open. Without a second thought, Irvine pulled Exeter out of his jacket before he saw the tiny doe-eyed brunette standing in the doorway.

"I know you were gonna shoot me, and that would've been a total bummer, but, damn you're fast!"

Irvine quickly put the gun away and hurried over to her.

"I'm so sorry, Selphie! I didn't know it was you, I would never…"

"Relaaax Irvy. I know you wouldn't do anything like that. But, you should know that there's a distinct difference between my barging through a door and anyone else's."

There wasn't, but Irvine played along.

"Can you explain that, then? Just so I never make that mistake again. Hyne forbid I didn't see you quick enough and—"

"Don't even, cowboy. Just take a seat, and I'll show you the difference, okay?"

Irvine rubbed his eyes and sat back down; already exhausted from going through the paperwork so diligently. Now that Selphie was here, as much as he loved her, he didn't think he had it in him to keep up with her right now.

"Ok, so here's mine," she said, closing the door. The door swung back open immediately, and she stood in the doorway with her arms up in the air and a big smile on her face.

"And the other?" asked Irvine, amused.

"Heeey, pay attention, Irvy. This is what you've got to look for when someone bursts into a room you're in." Irvine just stared at Selphie and saw, well, Selphie. It was great, but what was he supposed to be looking for, exactly? What was the cue for him to pull or not to pull out his gun?

"So if the person who bursts through the door isn't you, lock and load?" he asked. Selphie pouted and closed the door again.

"Let's try again," her muffled voice said from the other side. Irvine sighed and slid down into his chair. He couldn't lie to Selphie, so at one point he was either going to have to tell her he had no idea what he was looking for, or maybe he'd catch something and actually know what she was getting at.

"Ready?" she asked.

"Ready," he replied.

BOOM!

The door burst open again, this time hitting the wall, and Selphie wasn't in her usual cheerleader-esque position.

"So…every time you do this, your hands will be up in the air and I'll see those pearly whites of yours?"

"Every. Time."

Irvine chuckled and tipped his hat.

"Gotcha. If someone bursts through the door and isn't striking a pose, I need to be ready for anything."

Selphie nodded and skipped over to him. She plopped down in his lap, all one hundred pounds of her resting directly on Irvine's right thigh.

"Whatcha readin'?" she asked cutely, noticing he winced when she sat down. Hopefully her tone would take his attention off of her using him as a seat, especially since she had no intention of getting back up.

"Crap, as of now," he replied. He picked up the transcripts and handed them to Selphie. She flipped through the pages one after another, her nose almost touching the papers as her eyes darted along the lines.

Right, she's a speed-reader.

She placed the papers in a neat pile on the desk, right next to the ones Irvine had already read.

"You're right, that is crap. Why'd they give you twenty-four pages of them essentially talking about the weather?" she asked.

"You didn't happen to catch a name in there, did you? I only made it through the first page."

"Nope, they never say his name. Matron said something about really hoping that 'this would work,' I'm guess that's referring to how he's supposed to help Rinoa." Irvine didn't bother to pick the papers back up to look for that exchange; it was already something he knew.

"You see the part about him having used to live there?" he asked.

"Yeah, that was weird. But, I guess someone had to have built the place before we got there, right?" she asked.

Irvine shrugged, but that actually made sense. This guy could just be on the older side, maybe older than Cid and Edea. Maybe he had knowledge of sorcery that would serve useful to them; although it seemed odd that he wouldn't have used this back when Edea was the Sorceress. Then again, they had said he'd been away for a long time, but where had he been that he would've completely missed the Sorceress War, let alone time compression? The world was trapped in a paradoxical state for what probably felt like forever to those not fighting Ultimecia. Was this guy was completely unaffected?

That's just impossible.

"Hey, I know Rinoa's back at Balamb, but I'll get that duster if you don't get out of your head ASAP!" commanded Selphie. Irvine snapped back to attention and leaned back in exhaustion.

"Sorry. You know how I feel, though." He motioned for her to get up and instead, she leaned forward and gave him a peck on the cheek, as opposed to saying no.

"Seriously, I need to use the bathroom," he said.

"You know no one at the house is mad at you, right?" she asked him.

The bathroom can wait.

"Oh?" he replied.

"You kind of brought to the surface what we were all thinking. I mean, I wasn't worrying about it too much, but Zell and Quisty were in their own ways. Before I left, we all rallied together and decided that we're going to reach out to Squall and Rinoa and try to reel em back in! No one can do this alone, and we're gonna bring the group back together stronger than ever!" she shouted triumphantly. Irvine's expression didn't mirror her enthusiasm.

"Hey, didn't you hear me? Everyone's happy! You did a good thing back there," she said, rubbing his hand. He couldn't help but give her a small, albeit very tired smile.

"Sorry, this whole thing has got me—well, you know," he said. Selphie then got up and Irvine started toward the bathroom.

"Why wouldn't he visit Faust?" he asked, turning back to her.

Selphie's eyes lit up as an answer popped into her head.

"Heeey, your little lie may've actually been true! Squall's duty is to protect the Sorceress. Staying by her side is him doing his job, right?"

Irvine agreed, but still didn't share her enthusiasm.

"That's what scares me," he said, looking away.

Selphie walked over to Irvine and took his hand again.

"We're gonna fix it. Everything will be okay, you'll see. In fact, you're gonna play a major part in it all, bringing this guy here to help Rinoa, right?"

Irvine's effort to keep up with Selphie's relentless optimism was draining him further. The distraction from the fears he'd shared earlier might be him letting his guard down. But, maybe it was the best way to keep his head clear, if only for a moment. That way he could focus on the mission at hand now, and be able to tackle what comes next with his all.

"So, you think Zell and Quistis are gonna be able to bring Squall and Rinoa out of their shell?" he asked her. Selphie nodded her head excitedly, making her hair bop up and down on the sides of her head.

"Oh, Irvy, you should've seen it. We were like kids all over again; it was so fun! I even got Quistis to laugh after I gave her an aerial bear hug!"

Selphie kept a list of how she classified particular types of hugs. Everyone who'd ever received one would all classify them as overwhelming, or maybe terrifying, but Irvine had gotten used to, and even come to enjoy most of them. The aerial bear hug however, was the Ultima of hugs. Part of him was waiting to hear if Quistis had regained consciousness at the hospital.

"You gave her one of those? Those are a lot for even me to handle, Selph."

"I know, I know. That's why I'm saving your next one for when you're in better spirits. How about we wash up and then head for the train, huh? We can sleep until we make it to FH tomorrow."

Irvine looked at the clock; they had half an hour to catch their train.

"Yeah, let's get a move on," he said, and made his way into the bathroom.

o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o

The following morning, Zell and Quistis arrived at Garden's front gate together. They gazed up at its facade; preparing to embark on their journeys to get to the bottom of things with Squall and Rinoa.

"So, I'm gonna grab Squall so we can get that ring fixed. You know where to find Matron?" he asked Quistis.

"Well, I know where to find Cid. I'll start at his office and go from there. Xu might have a clue, too."

"Alright! Let's do this!" He threw his hand in the air for a high five. Quistis timidly raised her hand, only to have it smacked down by Zell.

"Ow! What the hell was that?!" she yelled, holding her hand gently like a wounded animal.

"That was friendship, baby!" He darted away, hands in his back pockets—the weird way he ran when he was excited. Quistis slowly followed, nursing the hand that had experienced so much "friendship".

Zell made his way to the dorms. Gallivanting through the halls, he finally came across the Commander's room, and gave a hearty knock. There was no answer. He shrugged and tried again.

"Just a minute!" shouted Squall from the other side of the door.

Yes! He's there! Piece of cake!

The door opened, and a very irritated Squall peered his head out through the crack. Once he saw it was Zell, his expression loosened up a little.

"Oh, it's just you. For a minute I thought you were whoever's been knocking on my door and then running away when I answer it."

"Someone's been pranking the Commander? That kid is gonna spend the rest of the year in the disciplinary room!"

Squall nodded and then there was silence.

"So...can I help you?" he asked, finally.

"Dude, weren't we gonna get your ring fixed up at the junk shop in Balamb? That's my guy that runs the place, you know? We can probably get a good deal, even for a ring like that!"

Squall quickly remembered and slightly lightened up.

"Oh, that's right. I actually thought of that the other day. Wait out here."

Squall closed the door and Zell heard another voice from the other side. It had to have been Rinoa he was talking to. The door opened again, and she popped her head out with a smile.

"There she is!" Zell's shoulders pushed the door open and he gave her a tight hug. She tried to return the embrace, but was having a little trouble breathing.

"Zell, she's turning purple," Squall droned.

"Oh, sorry!" Zell put her back down on the ground and smiled at his friend.

"Hi Zell," she said warmly. There was a hint of mischief in her grin, and Zell grew playfully cautious.

"What?" he asked. It was then that he realized Rinoa was wearing a big white t-shirt and hopefully, a pair of underwear. Blood rushed to Zell's cheeks, and he jumped to slam the door shut.

"Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry!" Standing out in the hallway trying to quell his fears of Squall decapitating him with his gunblade, he could hear Rinoa laughing on the other side of the door.

Zell was red with embarrassment. Seeing his friend's girlfriend in her underwear?

That's gotta be some kind of violation of the bro code.

Wait, does Squall even know about bro code?

If he did, that'd be way out of character. He'd had to have watched television or, Hyne forbid, talk to someone outside of their circle. The door opened again and this time only Squall came out, holding both his and Rinoa's Griever rings.

"I'll let the underwear thing slide if you can get 'your guy' to fix both," he said.

That was a better response than Zell was expecting, but Squall's lack of a smile still made the moment uncomfortable. He should've been used to Squall being that way all the time, and probably thankful that after bursting into his room and seeing his girlfriend almost naked, that he wasn't raging mad. Zell tried to put a spring back in his step and took the rings from Squall.

"You got it! I'll get the deal for sure."

"You better," Squall replied, showing no signs that wasn't a threat.

The two walked out of the dorms and immediately, students turned to salute the Commander.

"Sir!"

"Cadet."

"Sir!"

"Cadet."

"Sir!"

"Cadet."

Each acknowledgement of Squall came with a firm SeeD salute, and he returned each one, albeit in a calmer voice than those of the Garden Students.

"That probably never gets old, does it?" asked Zell cheekily.

"I like that things are getting to how they were before the war. I'm not aiming to make us like G-Garden, but respect for those in charge is going to be a must in the new SeeD," replied Squall.

"The new SeeD?" asked Zell.

Squall nodded.

"It's something Cid and I have been discussing. Now that we're in peacetime, he thinks we should expand on the humanitarian aspect of SeeD. We'd take jobs helping rebuild homes in small towns; hold monthly food drives for the needy, stuff like that. I'm okay with that idea, but I don't want to scale back on our combat training, either. It's too vital for when the inevitable happens; this country is at war with that country, or a swell of monsters invades some town, and so on.

"We've been looking at ways to move the budget around; the humanitarian jobs won't bring in as much money as our combat missions did, mostly because we won't charge even half as much to do them. This might mean some of these departments being scaled down. I, for one, could live with a smaller parking lot; maybe dedicate early hours to cooking and first aid classes in the infirmary and cafeteria. We could probably do something with the quad, too, but I—"

"Hey, slow the hell down, man!" interrupted Zell. Squall abruptly stopped walking and scowled at him for breaking his train of thought.

"It all sounds great, really. But, we're going to get yours and Rinoa's rings fixed. Forget about the job for now, huh?"

Squall folded his arms over his chest and turned his head away. Normally, this would've meant that they weren't going to Balamb anymore, but Squall had learned not to pull away whenever someone, or something irritated him; to not let it take such a hold of him. Begrudgingly, he continued to walk along the halls with his friend. Zell liked the changes he was making; small as they were; he was opening up a little.

"I didn't mean to bust your chops, I just wanted to take a walk with my buddy down to the store and relax. Don't tell me you aren't kind of excited to be getting this taken care of; I know how you and Rinoa feel about these rings."

Squall turned his head back and let out a very, very subtle side smile.

"Yeah…"

That was more then he would have ever done or said before, so that was good enough for Zell. Now it was time to take the conversation in a different direction.

"While we're down there, let's pay a visit to Faust."

Squall shrugged and nodded in agreement.

"Ok, but I just saw him the other day. His leg is almost completely healed; pretty remarkable considering the injury."

Zell was the one who stopped walking this time. Squall turned and looked back at him with a puzzled look.

"What?" he asked.

"You saw him the other day?" asked Zell, trying to mask his shock.

"Why do you sound so surprised?"

Obviously, his attempt at disguising his emotions didn't work.

"Is it that shocking that I showed some kind of compassion? Sometimes I think you all thought I was heartless before I met Rinoa." Squall scratched the back of his head, a little uncomfortable with having revealed a concern regarding what others thought of him. Zell stepped in to quell his nerves.

"Hey man, I never thought you were heartless. I don't think anyone did. But, that's not what I'm talking about. I visited Faust with the others yesterday, and he said you hadn't come to see him."

Squall narrowed his eyes, trying to see if Zell was messing with him.

"I'm not messing with you," the martial artist reassured. Zell knew that look like the back of his own hand.

"That's...weird. The few times I've left my desk was either to see him, or to pick up food from the cafeteria for Rinoa and I."

"You visited him more than once?" he further inquired, loudly at that. Squall could tell he was beginning to get worked up and motioned for him to calm down.

"Yes," he replied simply.

Zell shook his head and stared off into space for a moment. The few gears he had to churn in his head were going full throttle. Did Faust lie? Why would he lie about Squall coming to see him? That didn't seem like him at all. This didn't make any sense.

Squall watched his friend as he stood there, lost in his thoughts, and commented on the sight.

"I see one of my habits rubbed off on everyone. If Rinoa were here you'd get an earful."

Zell snapped back to reality and laughed.

"You know, as much crap as we gave you for it, taking a second to evaluate the moment is pretty damn helpful. You were onto something with that. If you only you had frickin' told us that's what you were actually doing, instead of leaving us in the dark and blatantly ignoring us."

Squall gave a muffled chuckle and turned back towards the exit.

"Look, maybe he was just tired. Aren't they running those new magic tests on him?"

"You know about those, too?"

"I have to stay up to date on medical procedures that might be used on our students. I know they're fairly new and haven't reported any kind of negative side effects, but maybe they can put you out a little; make you a little forgetful for a bit after they're done."

Zell remembered that Faust had looked pretty out of it when they visited. He didn't want to think about it anymore; there was already too much going on that they weren't sure how to handle yet. He just had to stay focused and keep Squall engaged.

"You're probably right" he replied.

Okay, now time for the next topic we need to talk about. Easy does it, Zell.

"How's Rinoa doing?" he asked.

Squall didn't answer right away. He looked down for a minute to gather his thoughts, and then, after clearing his throat, reluctantly answered.

"She's feeling alright. Physically she hasn't shown any signs of…change, I guess is one way to put it."

Zell nodded and gave a relieved smile.

"That's good, right? Has she been talking with Matron? We hadn't seen either of them so we figured they were—"

"No, she hasn't."

"Oh…" Zell knew that was the answer, but to find out what had been going on, he needed to confirm what hadn't been going on too.

"Just been with you?" he asked.

"Yeah…" Squall was starting to pull back, so Zell had to be careful in his attempts to keep the conversation going.

"Man, you're really her rock, huh?"

Squall looked down at his feet and smiled. That was apparently the entirety of his answer, so Zell needed to find another way to get Squall to actually talk.

"So if Matron hasn't been with Rinoa, where's she been? Was she ever in the meetings with you and Cid?"

"Matron's been kind of MIA as well, actually. Rinoa wasn't ready to talk about it with her. I don't think Matron really wanted to either, though," Squall replied.

That surprised Zell. Since when did their Matron not want to help?

"What makes you say that?" he asked cautiously.

Squall shrugged and looked off to his right before asking,

"Can we not talk about this anymore?"

Damn it! Well, at least they're doing ok, I guess.

Maybe after they grabbed some Balamb fish, Squall would open up on the way back.

Maybe…

o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o

Quistis knocked once again on Headmaster Cid's door.

"Headmaster? It's Quistis. Do you have a minute?"

The door opened and Xu stepped out, quickly closing it behind her.

"Oh, hey Xu. Is everything alright?"

Xu shook her head.

"The headmaster and Edea are arguing over something. I was just reviewing the budget, when the mention of some Centra mission came up. Cid said our compensation from that would help us get out of the red; paying for Faust's medical care in Balamb is not cheap."

Centra mission? The one Irvine and Selphie are on?

Quistis didn't want to appear like she knew anything, so she played dumb, contrary to her title as "The Brains."

"What Centra mission?"

"I don't know. But, when Cid mentioned it, Edea stormed in really mad that he'd brought it up. I guess I wasn't supposed to know about it? I'm actually relieved you came; even though they moved the argument to the bedroom they had put in, I could hear every word. Did you know Irvine and Selphie were assigned to it?"

"I knew they had to take a train to FH, but I figured it was diplomatic—or something of the like—and that Selphie and Irvine would charm Mayor Dobe into making a donation." The Brains knew how to lie.

"Oh, so they didn't go into detail about it with you?"

"No, not really. I guess they're taking a boat out from there to Centra?"

"Not just any boat. Apparently when they get there, the White SeeDs are picking them up."

"The White SeeDs?!" Quistis exclaimed.

That actually surprised her. If the White SeeDs were willing to come out of hiding and let themselves be out in the open just to pick up Selphie and Irvine, this mission had much more weight to it.

"Apparently they don't know; Selphie and Irvine. I guess the change was made last minute, but then they started arguing about whether or not they should stay here with us for a while. Edea was staunchly against it, but Cid kept pushing for it, saying something about taking 'every precaution necessary, short of the bangle'."

There's only one bangle he could've been referring to—the Odine Bangle. Were they discussing the idea of having Rinoa wear one? To Quistis, that didn't seem all that bad of an idea, actually, if it could ensure Rinoa would be safe from losing control of her powers again. But there was no way she would go for it. If Rinoa was going to live her life in peace amongst the people, she was going to live it her way, and not wear some dog collar to keep track of her. Quistis went to push for a little more information before deciding whether to leave or not.

"So, Cid mentioned a bangle, and then what?"

"We really shouldn't be gossiping like this, Q," replied Xu.

She was right, but Quistis needed answers. Unfortunately, it sounded like pushing for more information wouldn't get her anywhere short of trouble.

"That is weird. I wonder what it could be about?" said Quistis, trying to bait Xu to voluntarily give up more information.

"Oh, come on, Quistis. It's obviously about what happened last week with Rinoa. I don't know what Centra has to do with any of it, but the White SeeDs are Edea's SeeDs, and are trained for the same purpose we are."

"They served more as a protectorate for her, I thought. Monitoring her from a distance, or at least anyone she was pursuing. I don't know how skilled they are in combat."

"Oh, those SeeDs are something else! Remember when I told you about how they jumped all the way from their ship onto ours? One effortless leap and they had cleared probably thirty feet. They're springy, like frickin' ninjas!" she exclaimed, moving her hands in a chopping motion.

"Ok, ok, I get it, Xu. I don't think the Headmaster and Edea are jumping that far ahead, though, do you?"

"Maybe not Edea, but the Headmaster…I don't know. I guess we'll see when Irvine and Selphie get back."

Quistis nodded and folded her arms.

"I guess so…well, maybe I'll try back later, then. Where are you going to be around 18:00 or so?"

"Probably getting the inventory ready, depending on how late these two hold me up," she chuckled.

"OK, I'll see you later then."

Quistis stepped into the elevator and headed for the first floor. If she couldn't talk to Edea about Rinoa, the only option was talking to Rinoa herself. She took in a deep breath, and then headed for the dorms. Walking down the path Zell had gone to fetch Squall, Quistis knocked on the Commander's door, expecting to hear nothing on the first knock. Instead, to her surprise, Rinoa opened the door right away, wearing a big white t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants.

"Oh! Rinoa…hi!" Quistis wasn't scared. She was legitimately surprised by the fact that there was any kind of response to her knocking. Rinoa, on the other hand, seemed to regret having opened it.

"Hey Quistis…sorry, did I startle you?"

"No, Squall just never opens the door on the first knock. I think my record is four tries until he finally opened it and shot me his usual glare," she joked.

"Oh! You mean this one?" Rinoa turned around and then quickly turned her head over her shoulder, showing Quistis her best "angry Squall" impersonation.

"Yes! That's it!" shouted Quistis. They shared a laugh, and Rinoa stepped into the hall to give Quistis a hug.

"Come in. Squall went with Zell to get our rings fixed up, so I've been holed up in here for the past hour."

Quistis stepped into the room and took in the cute mix of Squall and Rinoa's personalities displayed in every corner of it. Everything was organized to a T; even the small rug in the middle of the room was symmetrical to the walls. But, it was salmon colored. Squall definitely compromised when Rinoa wanted a pink one, Quistis thought.

The area where people took their shoes off was impeccable. Various pairs of boots were stacked neatly on top of a baby-blue mat that read, "The floor won't bite!" That one was entirely Rinoa. Quistis kicked off her boots and looked at Rinoa for approval.

"I think he'll actually enjoy organizing them," Rinoa laughed. Quistis sat at Squall's desk but Rinoa patted the bed, insisting she come sit next to her.

I'm actually more comfortable by the desk, but she might not think so.

I'm already in; I better go over there.

The Brains moved over to the bed and dove right in.

"You looked unhappy to see me when you opened the door. Is it because you were expecting Squall?" Quistis asked. Rinoa shook her head.

"No, I figured he'd be a while. Him and Zell are bound to get into some kind of dopey argument. I was-I mean, I thought you were startled because of…"

"Oh, no! Absolutely not, Rinoa!"

"I know, I know. It's just me. Still dealing with...it, you know?" She pulled her knees toward her chest, and her hair swayed with her as she rocked back and forth.

Quistis noticed that Rinoa's highlights were more faded than usual. More curious, her eyebrows seemed a bit thinner than usual. This was hardly the time to take notice of such things, but her eyebrows helped shape her face so well. And Rinoa's upkeep of her hair was impeccable. Even without them, she still looked so innocent; just a little girl who felt she'd lost her way. Quistis was the Brains, sure, but as Zell had pointed out, Rinoa was part of the heart, and right now the heart was troubled.

"We haven't seen you since it happened, Rin," Quistis started quietly. Rinoa didn't respond.

"I've wanted to say so much to you…not just since last week, but since Balamb, too," the Head Instructor continued.

"Quistis, please." Tears were beginning to well up in Rinoa's eyes.

Quistis always wondered what she and Matron would talk about for hours in Cid's office. Maybe they didn't talk at all. Maybe Rinoa just sobbed and Matron held her like only she knew how. Could Quistis do that for Rinoa? Should Quistis do that for Rinoa? Maybe that was Matron's place in the group's dynamic, but Quistis wasn't afraid to confront hard truths. Well, she was afraid, but she wasn't a coward.

"We don't have to talk about it now, and we all know Squall is there for you no matter what—but, so are we. We think about you all the time and when you two aren't around. We know you're off somewhere being adorable together, we just admire your connection and wish we saw you more. Just so we could watch it; watch your love that is so truly one of a kind," Quistis soothed.

Rinoa threw herself into the Blue Mage's arms, pulled her close, and began to weep. Not prepared for the sudden outburst of emotion, Quistis realized she'd been holding back some tears herself, and tears quietly slide down her cheeks while rocking Rinoa back and forth. Her silence was so that Rinoa wouldn't worry about her; if she knew Quistis was crying too, she'd immediately pull away and try to reverse the roles in their embrace.

"Quistis, what am I going to do?!" she cried into her chest. Quistis sniffled a bit and just kept rocking her back and forth like a baby who needed comforting.

The poor girl continued. "I can't control it! It's so dangerous—it's so, so dangerous, and I can't control it! If anything happens, it'll be all my fault! I'll be responsible for something I have no control over! Why? Why did this have to happen to me?!"

She was questioning the entire second half of their journey together. The event that made Squall realize what he may've lost had she stayed in that coma. The very thing that may've set their love in motion and brought him to his senses to chase after her and never let her go, the thing she had wanted so badly, she now spoke of with regret.

This is worst than I thought.

"Rinoa, I don't know. I really don't know what to say."

Rinoa kept sobbing, her throat beginning to dry up from the constant hiccupping and attempts to catch her breath.

"Let me get you some water, Rin."

Rinoa pulled away for a second, and held out her left hand.

"There's…no need." Rinoa choked back her tears and started to focus intently on the palm of her hand. Shards of glass materialized out of thin air in the shape of a small cup, and water began to fill it from the bottom until it came close to the brim. Rinoa drank the water out of the glass, and then placed it on her nightstand. Quistis was speechless.

"Edea taught me that. She said she used to be able to conjure things up from her thoughts and then could will them into existence. Faust has no idea that I sutured the back of his leg when I first got a look at it in the infirmary. Squall doesn't know either. It's the reason he's made such a 'miraculous' recovery, because I sped up the process by just willing it to be."

Rinoa turned to look at her friend and gauge her response. Quistis' mouth was open, but she couldn't formulate any type of response. Rinoa didn't like the look on her face, thinking she had upset her friend, and started crying into her hands again. Quistis snapped out of her trance and immediately wrapped herself around Rinoa.

"Rin, wait, look at me!" urged Quistis. A puffy eyed Rinoa slowly looked up and saw Quistis glowing; her smile preventing her own tears from rolling down her cheeks.

"Rin, you can control your powers, and you can use them for good! This is incredible! Do you know what this means? These incidents that are happening; all we need to do is figure out what's causing them, what gets in your way of being in control, and you'll be okay! You'll be more than okay, you'll be wonderful!"

She was starting to sound a bit like Selphie, but even Selphie's energy couldn't have made the message stick. Rinoa's eyes welled up again, but instead of letting loose another batch of tears, she attempted to talk to Quistis.

"Quistis…when it happens…when I lose control…something else happens first." Quistis' eyes grew wide, not sure if she wanted to hear what was coming next.

"At Balamb that night, when I excused myself to the bathroom, I went to go splash some water on my face because I was starting to feel a little warm. I looked into the mirror, and at first I just saw my reflection and the room behind me. But, then a misshapen throne faded into view in the mirror. I turned to see what was there and suddenly, I was in another world, looking in from the outside.

"There was a flight of stairs that led to a throne where a woman who bore white angel wings sat with one leg over the armrest, just lounging in it. A man was kneeling before her, and he was begging her for something. I couldn't hear anything that was happening, but the woman on the throne seemed amused. She lifted up her finger toward the man. He flew into the air, seemingly hanging by something that pulled at the front his shirt. Then, she made her hand into a fist, and he…"

Quistis was horrified, but needed to know what happened to the man.

"…He'd been flailing about, but then suddenly stopped. His mouth was wide open and his head hung back limp. She released her grip, and he fell onto the floor like a puppet cut from its strings. I don't know how, but I knew she had crushed his heart from inside his chest. It didn't even faze her, and she turned her attention to the hand she'd used to kill him and began filing her nails. That's it, she murdered a desperate man, and then went and filed her nails like she had just taken out the trash."

"Rinoa…what?"

"And then," Rinoa continued, her voice beginning to sound manic, excited even.

"The third time, I was in here, practicing that spell you just saw with the water. I was working on honing my powers to will things into existence, nice things. I think I was working on a bouquet of flowers to surprise Squall. He'd never want flowers, but I wanted to see his reaction for fun. I was deciding between different types of ribbons for the bouquet, when the room melted around me, and I was back in that throne room.

"I could see more this time. I was in a cavern of some kind. The throne actually sat upon the top of a hill where stairs had been carved into the rock. There was a path that led up to it, and it was surrounded by…I'm not sure, some type of raw, unwavering energy. It pulsated like a beating heart, and changed colors at random. The woman was sitting on the throne the same way she had been before, but this time a man walked down the path and dragged a child behind him. A little girl, actually.

"There was a doorway that led into the room, and a woman burst through it, and I could hear her yelling 'No! Not my daughter! Please, take me; spare my child!' The man turned around kicked her in the stomach. She fell back into the energy, and vanished into its ether. The little girl screamed out for her mother, but the man dragged her down the path and threw her onto the stairs before the woman. She raised an eyebrow, showing interest in the little girl, and again lifted her finger.

"The girl flew up into the air like the man had, and the woman looked her over. 'Maybe,' she said nonchalantly, and waved her hand to the side. The girl was heaved toward the wall but instead of hitting it, she passed through to the other side. As she went through it, I could hear voices. Multiple children were on the other side of that wall, Quistis. This woman and this man were gathering them for some reason. Then the woman got up from her throne and she sort of glided down the stairs with her wings. She took the man's hand, they locked eyes, and then kissed."

Rinoa turned to Quistis, who was doing everything in her power to not run out of the room. She knew what Rinoa was going to say, she knew, but to leave now would be to abandon all hope of something she wasn't sure could even be achieved. Not after hearing all of that. She wasn't sure what she stood to gain by remaining here with Rinoa, but she couldn't leave. She knew she couldn't leave.

"You must've guessed by now…because of the wings?" asked Rinoa. Quistis swallowed her answer and simply nodded.

"Amidst all of that, those two people were…happy." Rinoa drifted away on that last word.

Happy.

What does it mean to be truly happy? To live the life you intend to live for yourself, and on your terms? Was Rinoa suggesting that those two people she saw were somehow justified in their actions? No, no way. She couldn't possibly mean that. This was Rinoa, of all people. She would never…

"We're older…" she began again. "I don't know when this happens Quistis, but Squall and I are older than we are now. I have blue and black markings strewn across the left side of my face, and they were starting to form on the right side, too. I might've been about halfway into my transformation. Squall's a little bulkier, but other than that, the man you call 'Commander' carries out any and every task I ask of him.

"And, most importantly, he's clear. You know how he can seem unsure of whether or not to even take a step forward in the hall? How he used to curl up into a ball and when he didn't know what to do? Those doubts are gone. Squall is fearless; my knight is by my side through all of this, and he's happy to do it."

Rinoa stood up and walked to the other side of the room. She turned to Quistis, showing all distress had left her face, and Quistis' hands began to shake.

"Quistis, Edea knows I've had these visions. The man who's coming here, that Irvine and Selphie are going to retrieve from Centra, he's going to be able to discern whether or not these are just my fears raging out of control; just a young girl's anxieties magnified by her power…or if it's a premonition."

Rinoa walked back over to the bed. Quistis didn't scurry away like she wanted to. She didn't run either. She desperately wanted to, but actually couldn't. For all Quistis knew, she was suddenly in a dream, because she had absolutely zero control over her body. She was hoping that she'd passed out on the way to see Rinoa, and would wake up any moment now in the infirmary. When Rinoa placed her hand on hers, she knew this was all too real. The reason she couldn't move or speak was because Rinoa had slyly cast a Stop spell on her so that she wouldn't be able to leave.

"Edea told me to be prepared for anything, and to do whatever is necessary not to end up like that. So, I'm asking you to please not tell anyone about this. Not just for my sake, but for your own as well."

Quistis couldn't open her mouth to scream. She was forced to gaze into Rinoa's eyes. She had never been more afraid of someone in her entire life, even Ultimecia. She wasn't alone, then, but now she was completely defenseless against someone who exhibited that same kind of raw power. What had happened to her friend? What had happened to the sweet girl from Timber she had met one year ago? The girl that had fought by her side to save the world? The girl who wore her hair almost so that it would invigorate and cheer up those around her?

Why the hell am I still thinking about her highlights?!

The Head Instructor couldn't get the idea that something was missing from Rinoa at this moment. Was she trying to fabricate the possibility that this wasn't Rinoa?

That's ridiculous! This is real, this is all terrifyingly real! What will I say to the others?! Matron actually told her to do this! What am I to—

"Quistis," Rinoa whispered. Quistis realized she now had control of her lips; the spell was wearing off. She began to shake, but Rinoa intensified her grip on her hand and she immediately stopped.

"…Run."

At that second, Quistis regained control of her legs, as though Rinoa had willed it. She put her hands over her mouth, tears immediately forming in her eyes.

"Rinoa, please…tell me this isn't real," she whispered.

Rinoa laid back down on the bed and put her hands behind her head, before shooing her away.

Quistis grabbed the door handle and bolted out of the room. To the students who she passed, they had just seen the Head Instructor flee from the Commander and Sorceress's room. It was a terrible sight, and she knew there'd be almost no way for her to run damage control on it. How could she tell Squall? If she told him, he wouldn't believe her, and might even take up his calling to protect his Sorceress. If she told Xu, those White SeeDs would do more than just stick around. And, what about Matron? Had she really told Rinoa to act this way? That it was all right and it was what she had to do? Quistis ran into her room and shut the door behind her. She collapsed onto the floor and wept.

o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0o

Back in the Commander's room, the Sorceress rose from her bed and closed the door before anyone could look inside. She walked over to the closet and willed it open. An unconscious body fell out, and she picked it up to place it on the bed. Naked, Rinoa Heartilly lay on the bed sound asleep under the effects of a double sleep spell. The Sorceress undressed and then slid each article of clothing onto the real Rinoa. With a snap of her fingers, a burst of smoke came out from under the her feet. Standing much taller than Rinoa's petite 5'3, a creature in a mysterious yellow cloak that went over its head leered around the room. It had black markings similar to Ultimecia's running down the middle of it, and was covered in various red, orange, and gold jewelry, with a small slit in front for it to see. Inside, two bright, white lights of energy shined through, serving as its eyes. The creature looked out of the peephole in the door and watched as students quickly gathered by the door, waiting for someone else to come out.

"Hmmm…Squall is in Balamb right now with Zell…unbeknownst to the students, most likely. I think he'll be the one to chase after Quistis." The creature spoke in a voice that sounded like hundreds of men and women speaking at the same time. Whatever this thing was, it was capable of mimicry, and with another snap of its fingers, Squall now stood in the room, naked.

"He took his usual wardrobe out? A pair of jeans will do nicely. And…he'll be putting on a shirt as he runs out of here. Oh, the gossip this little fiasco will create!" the Mimic murmured to itself. Running to their closet, it slid on a pair of pants and grabbed a white t-shirt.

It took one last look at Rinoa before leaving. Slowly, it crept up along the side of the bed and leaned in to whisper into her ear.

"The sweet irony is that those visions are all too real. You would abandon such power for the sake of what, I ask you? My dear Sorceress, if you keep trying to fight against what your body wants for you, I'll have to step in and make sure you fail." It ran Squall's hand through her hair.

"It's for your own good. Someday you'll think back and be grateful to have had a servant like me." The faux Squall stood up and slid the shirt over its head, opening the door and closing it quickly behind it.

"Quistis, wait!" it yelled, and ran down the hall to where it thought she might've gone. It made a sharp turn down an empty hall and vanished, but not before relishing in the voices behind it saying things like:

"What happened now?"

"Is the commander sleeping with Instructor Trepe or something?"

"What did the Sorceress do?!"

Watching from the shadows, The Mimic snickered to itself as it overlooked the chaos from the second floor.

"It's not what the Sorceress did that should be your concern, children. It's what she will do."


Whoo! Another update! :D

Sorry for the cliffhanger. Well, I'm not sorry for writing it, I just know they can be a bit of a tease :P

Thanks to h34rt1lly, LaylaEvercrest, AllyTood, and LeCritic for your reviews of the last chapter; I'm glad to see this piece is keeping everyone engaged (so far, lol) and that you're all enjoying it (so far :D )

I know this chapter's a little on the long side, but I promise most of the ones to come won't be this long.

Also, while I have you here, the concept of premonitions, as well as the song from the OST was running through my head constantly while I wrote this. So much so, that I decided to do a rock version of the song and make a video for it:

watch?v=tUsEvl0FjPk
Thank you all so much for reading! Please R&R if you get a chance, there's no writer I know that doesn't like to hear from their readers :)

Seeya soon!