IRIS

A/N - All the characters, creatures and locations in FF8 belong to Square, and 'Iris' belongs to the Goo Goo Dolls. The story is all mine, though ;) It's a companion piece to 'An Aching Heart', and is set after the game.

Zell shuffled awkwardly across the library. Unlike the Cafeteria, the Training Centre, or even Dr Zawoski's medical room, it was almost unknown territory to him. On the few occasions that he had entered it looking for the latest copy of Weapons Monthly, he had stayed for as brief a time as possible. Recently, though, something, or rather someone, had attracted his attention enough to bring him back more often.

And I'd give up forever to touch you

'Cause I know that you feel me somehow

You're the closest to heaven that I'll ever be

And I don't want to go home right now

Iris, her name was Iris. The name was more than fitting for her; it was perfect. His Ma grew irises in her garden, their frilled, triune blooms standing tall on their elegant stems. He watched the bumblebees buzzing around them, eagerly plunging into their depths before emerging with their spikey backs coated in pollen. They were not embarrassed to take what they wanted, they felt no awkwardness when confronted with their desire. He wished that he could emulate them, but instead he tripped over his feet, fumbled over his words, escaped with his magazine as quickly as he could.

Faced with her beautiful smile, he fell apart. He was always more comfortable with actions than words anyway, so, with his brain dribbling out of his ears, all power of speech deserted him completely. Her eyes met his, calm, assured, and he dropped his gaze, unable to maintain the contact. The pounding in his chest must surely be audible to her? How could she remain so unruffled? Did she not realise the effect she had on him? Or did she not care?

So he remained, rooted to the spot in front of the library desk, inhaling her perfume as if was air.

And all I can taste is this moment

And all I can breathe is your life

and sooner or later it's over

I just don't want to miss you tonight

He had half intended to ask her to go out with him that evening, but the steadiness of her gaze left him unable to speak. Why would a girl like her, intelligent as well as beautiful, want to spend time with him?

'Is there something I can do for you?' she asked, clearly confused that he was still standing in front of the desk after she had stamped the return date on the magazine.

Her voice cut across his thoughts, but did nothing to clear the confusion in his head. 'Ummm... errr...'

'...it's just that you're holding up the queue...' she explained, gesturing towards the people standing behind him.

Fujin, who was next in line (what was she doing here?), poked him in the ribs. 'ASK HER!' she hissed.

'No, no, there's nothing, sorry!' he muttered, and forced his legs into obedience for long enough to carry him out of the library.

And I don't want the world to see me

'Cause I don't think that they'd understand

When everything's made to be broken

I just want you to know who I am

When Fujin emerged from the library, she found him collapsed on one of the benches around the fountain. She raised her eyebrow at him, and shook her head.

'WHY?' she demanded.

'Why what?' he asked, miserable with embarrassment. He had completely shown himself up in public, and in front of Fujin, too. It was only a matter of time before it got back to Seifer, who would make his life even more unbearable. Some things about the ex-Knight had changed, but his desire to pick on Zell was as strong as ever, despite the fact that he now had a life outside Garden.

Fujin shrugged, eloquently expressing without words, 'Why didn't you just ask her out?', 'Why did you act like a complete idiot in there?', and most of all,'Why did you run away like a complete chickenwuss?!'

'I don't know!' he wailed, in response to all of her unspoken questions. 'I just don't know, OK?'

He stood and stormed off in the direction of the Training Centre.

And you can't fight the tears that ain't coming

Or the moment of truth in your lies

When everything feels like the movies

Yeah, you bleed just to know you're alive

It felt good to be in here, the moist, heavy air making breathing difficult, the thick vegetation limiting visibility, but the discomforts heightening his other senses. He crouched behind a log, listening for the hiss and shuffle of a Grat, or the thunderous tread of a T-Rexaur. A trickle of blood, the trophy of his last encounter with one of the plant monsters, irritated his cheek.

In here, his whole attention was fixed on survival, kill or be killed. There was no room left for thoughts of pretty girls with pigtails, no room left for anything except being ready for the next attack.

The ground began to shake, and through a gap in the surrounding bushes he saw the massive hind legs of the dinosaur. The creature paused for a moment, and he could imagine its nostrils quivering as it sought for a scent. He tensed, preparing to leap out of his hiding place as it passed him and catch it by surprise. When it began moving, however, it was away from him. Cursing silently, he set off in pursuit.

And I don't want the world to see me

'Cause I don't think that they'd understand

When everything's made to be broken

I just want you to know who I am

The T-Rexaur was moving quite slowly, but purposefully; clearly it was hunting something. He hoped it was a Grat, and not a Freshman. Then he heard something that made his stomach sink even more than if the monster had suddenly turned on him after all.

'Hey, Chickenwuss!' yelled Seifer, cheerfully. 'Come out, come out, wherever you are!'

Zell could clearly imagine the smug expression the other man would be wearing, and he knew he just could not face it. Slowly, he began to turn around, hoping to be able to sneak out of the Training Centre without being seen.

Noises that were probably meant to imitate the sound of a chicken drifted through the heavy air towards him, but he kept moving in the opposite direction. Suddenly, there was a crash, and he knew the T-Rexaur had demolished a tree. The creature growled menacingly, but Zell paid it no heed; let Seifer deal with it.

Then came another sound. 'Hyne! Zell, help! Please? I'm seri...'

And I don't want the world to see me

'Cause I don't think that they'd understand

When everything's made to be broken

I just want you to know who I am

Seifer's voice suddenly cut off, and Zell felt his guts turn to iced water. This was no longer about personal rivalries; a fellow human being was in trouble, and he had to help. He threw himself forward, yelling at the top of his voice in a desperate attempt to distract the monster before it sank its teeth into his enemy. Breaking through the final line of bushes, he took in the scene before him in a single glance.

The T-Rexaur had its mouth open at full stretch, and was just about to lower its head onto its helpless prey. Seifer cowered below it, arms raised protectively to cover his head, not that they offered any real protection. Hyperion gleamed dully from amongst the leaf litter where it had fallen, too far away from its owner to be of any use to him.

What in the name of Hyne was he doing here, anyway? Civilians, even those who had once been Knights, were not allowed in here. It was even recommended that SeeDs enter in pairs. His presence endangered Zell's life as much as his own, because, unarmed, his ability to fight was severely limited. Still, if he could get the gunblade back to him, they might stand a chance together.

Zell grabbed the weapon, and swung wildly at the dinosaur's hamstring. His blow did not fall exactly right, but he did manage to break the skin covering the massive thigh. Blood sprayed everywhere as the creature swung around to face him. His mouth suddenly went dry, and his stomach flipped over. Every battle he had ever been in came suddenly to mind. None of them had terrified him as much as this one.

And I don't want the world to see me

'Cause I don't think that they'd understand

When everything's made to be broken

I just want you to know who I am

He quickly threw Hyperion towards Seifer, who was now on his feet, and then aimed a Bio spell at the T-Rexaur. Every time it lunged at him, its movements became a little weaker, and it moved a little more slowly. The two warriors were not relying on the effectiveness of the poison alone, however, and rained blow after blow onto their opponant.

The fight was over so suddenly that he almost got trapped under the creature's bulk as it crashed to the ground. He glanced quickly at it to make sure it was really dead, and then turned on Seifer, his fists bunching into fists.

'What in the name of Hyne...'

'If you had come out to talk to me in the first place, I could have explained...'

'Explained what, Almasy?' he demanded, laying as much contempt on the last word as possible.

An expression he could not quite read flickered over the other man's face, but he did not speak. Instead he pointed at the T-Rexaur. He was about to ask what the dead monster had to do with anything, when he noticed the arrow sticking out of it's eye. Neither of them had fired it, which meant that there was someone else in here.

A rustling in the bushes off to one side caught his attention, and he turned slowly, as if in a dream. There was a cadet standing there, her bow and a fresh arrow in her hands, but she was shaking so much she would never have been able to fire it. His first thought was that at least Seifer had followed procedure enough to bring a companion; his second was that he knew her face.

I just want you to know who I am

I just want you to know who I am

I just want you to know who I am

Before he could say anything, Iris was in his arms, her tears of relief soaking his shoulder.

And suddenly, the universe was perfect.