"Quis! Hi!" Zell said, accidentally spluttering half a mouthful of pizza over the floor. He quickly swallowed, and sat back down again, swiping a load of his garbage off the chair next to him so Quistis could sit down. She did so, apprehensively.
"What brings you down here?" Zell asked, taking another swig of shandy, and offering Quistis a can.
"No thanks," Quistis said, refusing Zell's offer. "I thought you could use some company, you've been cooped up in here for hours." Zell smiled.
"Yeah," Zell said, "it's been lonely down here. But hey! I get paid well for it." Zell took another swig of shandy, but swallowed too fast and accidentally belched. "Sorry," Zell said, embarrassed at having belched in front of Quistis. She waved her hand, letting him know she didn't mind. Zell smiled, and took another swig.
"Have you found anything yet?" She asked. Zell frowned, and shook his head.
"It's like I'm banging my head against a frigging wall!" Zell said, angrily even for him. "I know Irv didn't do it, I just gotta prove it!" Quistis nodded- she hadn't believed that Irvine could have even dreamt of shooting Squall or Seifer, and she had even issued a formal request to Cid that Irvine not be arrested on those charges. A request that was, of course, denied. Still, Quistis felt that she should give all the help she could.
"Need any help?" She asked Zell. Zell was surprised.
"You serious?" Zell asked back. Quistis nodded. "Alright!" Zell shouted, enthusiastically. "Grab a screen and start watching!" Zell swung his legs up on the table in front of him, and, laughing, Quistis did the same. Together, they started to watch the screens.
Secretly, however, Quistis had an ulterior motive for wanting to help, and it wasn't just to save Irvine's reputation.
Quistis's love life had not been as smooth as either Selphie's or Rinoa's- she had not been able to find the one man she wanted to be with for all time. Well, not since Squall opted to be with Rinoa, anyway. While she had accepted Squall's decision, it had hit her hard. She tried to explain away the crush as some sort of "big sisterly" thing, but deep down, she still secretly wished he had chosen to be with her instead. However, she had not simply sat and sulked about it. She was one of the most popular people if the Garden, and had more than her fair share of male admirers. She had tried dating a few of them, even going on a date with Nida once, but she eventually discovered that her mere presence terrified them, so she ultimately decided it best to let the "Trepies" (as they were still called) admire her from afar. Instead, she tried going for more hard-to-get men, specifically those who were intelligent and well read like herself. Ultimately, though, that ended in disaster as well, as she discovered that she wasn't particularly fond of boring men who treated her like she was an object, and the final straw came when she caught Sacha, her latest boyfriend, kissing another woman. She'd immediately returned to the Garden from her holiday, and locked herself in her room. Why must I always have the bad luck? She thought to herself, self-pityingly. Unfortunately for her, none of her friends were there to help her, as it was the holiday season in Garden. Squall and Rinoa were in Esthar visiting Laguna, and Selphie and Irvine were at Trabia Garden, visiting some of Selphie's old friends. Even Xu, her oldest friend at the Garden, had found herself someone to be with, and had married him that summer. As she had done for Rinoa and Selphie, Quistis had assumed the role of bridesmaid. All of these things combined had made her fall into a depression after her break-up with Sacha, but for Quistis, relief had come from the most unlikely of sources.
Zell Dincht, the loudmouth, the one whom Quistis found uncouth and tactless when she first met him, had taken the time out from his holiday with his folks and had driven back to Balamb Garden for the day just to cheer her up. He even offered to let her stay at his place for the rest of the holidays, an offer Quistis had turned down and later regretted not taking. Afterwards, although Zell's words were not that comforting (it was tantamount to ordering her to cheer up), Quistis simply couldn't stop thinking about him. It all suddenly made sense to her- Zell wasn't like either the Trepies or the snobs she'd dated before- he didn't feel nervous when she was around, he didn't treat her as some sort of prize- he was a true friend to her. And he made her laugh. Quistis was, at times, an insufferably aloof person, smiling and frowning like everyone else, but keeping her personal emotions to herself. She felt it was not her place, as an instructor, to go around everywhere giggling like Selphie, Irvine, or, indeed, Zell had been known to do. However, it was Zell who could change that at the drop of a hat. Often, she found herself creased up with laughter, unable to talk at times when Zell was telling one of his jokes, or delighting all with a hotdog-eating marathon. Quistis quickly realised that she had a crush on Zell, and was initially appalled at the thought. However, she forced herself to look at things differently. Stop being so stuck-up, Quis! She thought to herself. OK, so he may be a slob, but at least he's honest, funny, and even sexy, in a twisted kind of way… Over the following few months, Which included parties for Zell's 21st and Quistis' 22nd birthdays, she tried to find the right time to tell him how she felt, but something kept stopping her. Being as intelligent as she was, however, Quistis immediately knew what it was.
He's never expressed any interest in me…
All the men that Quistis had been out with had approached her- even the "snobs", as she called him, had to make the first move with her. Actually asking Zell to be with her was a prospect that terrified Quistis. What if he says no? She thought to herself. She didn't relish the thought of losing the man who had quickly become her best friend all on some silly crush. Nonetheless, the more Quistis thought of Zell, the more she wanted to be with him, and when she learned that Zell was going to be studying the CCTV tapes alone, she saw it as her perfect opportunity. OK, she thought, mustering up the courage to talk to Zell, here goes nothing…
"Zell," Quistis started, but never got the chance to finish.
"YES!" Zell shouted, jumping to his feet. "Did you see that, Quis? Did ya see it?" He rewound the tape to let Quistis see what he had seen. She put her glasses on and squinted, trying to see what Zell had seen, which was a hunched-over figure of a person in a trenchcoat entering Irvine and Selphie's quarters, and leaving 45 seconds later with a parcel, which looked very much like it contained a rifle.
"That's Irvine entering his quarters. So what?" Quistis remarked.
"Look at the time, Quis!" Quistis squinted again at the time display.
"11:22 AM, August 23rd. What about it?" Then it hit her. "We-" Zell finished her sentence for her.
"-Were in the cafeteria, getting ready for Squall's surprise party! All of us, Irvine included! He's got half the Garden as an alibi!" Zell was now really excited- the past 8 hours had not been in vain.
"Have you got video evidence?" Quistis asked. Zell nodded, fetching another video. They played the two simultaneously on different monitors, matching the time on both videos. They clearly showed that while "Irvine" was fetching the rifle from his quarters, he was also clearly helping Rinoa & Selphie lay tables in the cafeteria.
"This is the proof we were looking for," Zell simply stated. He ejected both videos and slipped them into a bag, before heading towards the exit of the office.
"Where are you going?" Quistis asked.
"To see Cid, of course!" Zell replied, still enthusiastic at his discovery. He exited, leaving Quistis alone in the office. Damn, she thought to herself, another opportunity wasted… Quistis looked around at the mess Zell had left, and, smirking, opted to leave herself, rather than stay and clean it up.
Approximately fifteen minutes later, Squall, Zell, Cid and Irvine had convened in Cid's office. Cid, Zell and Squall all had their heads hung low. Irvine's expression was more neutral than anything- he was a little fatigued after his "workout" with Selphie.
"And we have concluded," Cid continued, in his business-like tone, "that in light of this new evidence, we have no other option but to drop all charges currently against you, and reinstate all rights and responsibilities that had been previously stripped." Cid looked into Irvine's eyes, expecting to see anger, or spite, but instead saw forgiveness. Cid's mouth turned up a little at the corners. "On a personal note, Irvine," Cid continued in his serious tone, "I just want to say how truly sorry I am, and this will never happen again." He offered Irvine his hand, which the sharpshooter accepted and shook. Cid then quickly departed the room, stating that he had work to do elsewhere. In truth, he'd never been good at apologies, and didn't want to stick around any longer. This left the three young men alone. There was an uneasy silence, before Squall decided he'd speak first.
"Irv," he started, looking at his feet before facing Irvine, "I can't say how sorry I am for the whole thing. If there's any way I can make it up to you, and I mean ANY, just tell me and I'll do it. Anything at all." Irvine smiled, and waved his hand- he'd known that Squall hadn't meant anything personal by the arrest, and he'd forgiven him once the charges had been dropped.
"That's OK, man," Irvine started in his usual friendly voice, "I knew it wasn't anything personal. I forgive you. Both of you." Irvine nodded at Zell, who had also been reluctant to look him in the eye. He offered both of them his hand in turn, which they both gladly accepted and shook.
"So we pretend this never happened?" Zell asked. Irvine thought for a second, then said in a deadpan voice-
"As good as, I suppose." He smiled again, to let Squall and Zell know he was just being his usual jokey self.
"On a more serious note, though," Squall continued, "we still have the small problem of someone out there having a top-of-the-range sniper rifle and not being afraid to use it. Plus, they live in this Garden." Zell and Irvine both nodded seriously at that- it was a serious matter.
"We could use a gun nut like you on the investigating team," Zell started. Irvine simply smiled.
"You got yourself an investigator, then!" All three of them smiled at this- things were back to normal. All they'd have to do was find the person who was responsible for the shootings in Esthar, and life would be truly as it was before…
And the asteroid headed ever onwards.