Part VI: Aftermaths
"Wake up, sleepyhead, we're almost there."
I yawn and shuffle around a little before I open my eyes. The red ceiling of the Ragnarok comes into view. I recognize my surroundings, and a smile sweeps my face.
"Good sleep?" Irvine's voice booms next to my ear. I shift in his embrace to settle my head more comfortably on his chest. I then stretch my legs out so that they rest very cozily on the arm of the sofa we are reclining on.
"Yeah," I reply lazily. "Why weren't you asleep?"
"I was. They woke me up, as usual." Irvine says to the chair diagonally across from us.
"Oh, shut up." Seifer retorts. "We weren't making a sound, cowboy. And you weren't sleeping so stop pointing fingers."
"Shhh, are you going to develop an allergic reaction if you two don't bicker every minute you're awake?" Squall runs his hand through his hair.
"Hey, we used to do that," says Seifer.
"Used to. If we can get past it, I'm sure you two can." Squall stands up from his seat. "What time is it?"
"Two o'clock," I reply. We had been traveling for about two hours now. We should be in Esthar in another hour or so. It normally takes about twenty minutes to get from Balamb to Esthar with the Ragnarok, but Selphie specifically set the speed so it will take longer. To us, the trip to there is half the fun. Plus, we want to rest a little before getting thrown into Laguna's frenzy. Nothing against Laguna, but he can never stand still and has already said he "got big plan for all of us." It creeps me out sometimes how unusual his idea of fun is.
It is one week after that night when Mrs. Dincht first got sick. Three days after the total purging of the Garden. One day after everything returned to normal, or relatively normal considering the damage we have endured. It is quite frightening when you think about it. From the first moment I ran out the Garden to Mrs. Dincht's house to my last step across the field after I shut the side door in Room 148, the total process took up less than four days. That's not even 100 hours.
It seems longer than two lifetimes.
The back-up system worked wonderfully. Should I even use that adjective to describe it? The entire Galbadian Army inside the Garden was wiped out in less than five minutes. General Carraway is dead. So is his new wife. In fact, that is why Rinoa is not here at present. She's back in Deling City, organizing a funeral and trying to figure out what to do with the nation of Galbadia. Rumor has it she may become the next leader. I'm not sure she wants to do it. I certainly wouldn't.
The good news is that we have Balamb Garden back in one piece and under control again. The bad news is the casualty number, from both sides. How horrible the scene before our eyes was as we re-entered the Garden when the gas had cleared! Monstrous.
But it was war. War cannot be helped sometimes. No matter how many fences you put up, someday they are going to be trampled down by a greater force. And the reality will sink in, whether good or bad.
We're all trying to convince ourselves that we did the right thing. I mean, we did. If we had not eliminated them, General Carraway would have found the Energy Orb and use it to destroy pretty much the entire world as we know it. I just wish there were some options other than the one we were dealt.
"You're thinking about it again, aren't you?" Irvine's whisper jolts me away from the daydream. "Look, hon, we had no other choice. How else could we pull this off? If I have to do it all over again, I will. Stop blaming yourself."
I sigh in content. People say everything happens for a reason. I disagree. I think things happen simply to happen. Luck, chance, our own abilities, whatever you call it.
Nevertheless, we all survived.
Zell has, indeed, seriously injured his neck. Although the Curagas and such we used have eliminated any permanent damage, as of the moment he is wearing a neck brace. He's upstairs in the control room with Selphie, who probably has permanent scars on her ankles for life. She's relatively unhurt, which is fantastic.
The Junk Yard has all returned to Trabia. None seriously injured. They've proven excellent fighters and may become great allies for us in the future. But I'm not quite counting on it. At least half of them dislike us to a degree that they wouldn't mind never seeing any of us again. The incident with Galbadia doesn't help much, either.
Dr. Kadowaki has officially retired. She told us the news yesterday, saying she's too old to handle anything after this invasion. Squall let her go. So now I am legitimately the doctor of Balamb Garden and in charge of the Infirmary. Mrs. Dincht has recovered completely after the dose of newly condensed Heroes; apparently Jen was very prepared and brought extras just in case.
I myself am fine. My hair is cut short, but it will grow out very quickly. There will always be hideous scars on my chest. I can live with that. It's not interfering with anything else. Irvine escaped without much injury. That's why I'm lying on top of him now. Or I'd be at least sitting.
My scars are nothing compared to what Squall has acquired through the ordeal. He has been through so much that it pains me to look at him now. I'm very very relieved that he at least has Seifer. The bullet that went through Seifer's right leg shattered his kneecap and pierced through the femur at an angle. We all thought the leg was ruined, but thank the lords in heaven it is not. He carries a cane now, and will have to use it for at least another couple of months. As much as Seifer hates it, if he still wants to use that leg he will have to abide by it.
"I wonder what Selphie and Zell are doing." Squall wanders to the door. "Hopefully nothing crazy because she is flying this ship."
"With chicken-wuss up there with her? I doubt that." Seifer snickers. He stands up after Squall. I look at him, limping a little with that cane in his hand. It makes him look so . . . vulnerable. Seifer Almasy looking vulnerable, who would've thought?
It's nice, though. I'm pretty sure Squall thinks the same thing. Until now, only he had seen the softer side of his lover. He wouldn't mind everyone else knows a bit.
"Quistis, you're turning into Icecube over there. Stop thinking all the time! Or at least say it out loud or something." Irvine says to me.
"She's probably trying to distract herself so she won't have to tell you to stop feeling her up." Seifer retorts.
Irvine's voice raises a pitch. "And what have you been doing to Squall for the past hour or so?"
"You weren't asleep?" Squall arches his eyebrow.
"What did I tell ya? He was faking it!" Seifer remarks.
Squall look shocked. "Then why didn't you stop when you know Irvine's awake? That means -"
"I heard every single thing you two said, and yes, I regretted that I didn't really fall asleep." Irvine snorts. "You would think the leg wound would slow down at least some of your advances, Seifer, but I guess n-"
"Shut up!" the accused attempts to swing the cane at him.
I laugh out loud at this. "As much as I love to hear this conversation continue, don't you think we should at least check on the two up there? They're quiet, and that usually is not a good thing."
Just as I said that, a loud crash sounds from above. Following sharply is a shriek from Selphie. The ship shakes violently as the intercom suddenly snaps on. "STOP IT! I'M FLYING THIS SHIP!"
"OKAY OKAY! I'M SORRY! Goodness gracious, girl! My neck IS broken so you don't have to hit THAT hard. Man!" Zell stumps.
Seifer rolls his eyes and walks to the speaker. "Hey, you two, we do like to arrive in Esthar in one piece, you know. So whatever y'all were doing, save it for the Hotel when we land in the city, will ya? And chicken-wuss, sit down."
"Seifer, fuck you!" comes Zell's reply.
"You won't." Seifer clicks the intercom off before he hears Zell's reply. I laugh out loud again. Irvine is also shaking with laughter. Squall puts his fingers on the bridge of his nose and sighs.
"Okay," Selphie's voice booms from the overhead announcer. "Since I'm flying the ship and I control the thing, and you just insulted my boyfriend and me, I'm gonna play pop music really really loudly for the rest of the trip. Oh, and your door's locked. Tee-hee, have fun."
"NO!" All four of us exclaim simultaneously as the door clicks shut. Yikes, Selphie's getting harsh. I think Seifer may not want to pick on Zell so often in the future anymore.
"She's so gonna get it when we land. Just you wait . . . " Seifer grumbles. It is an empty threat and he knows it. He sits back down on the sofa across from me, bringing Squall down with him.
"Anyone got a CD player with headphones?" Irvine asks feebly.
"Yeah, in another room." Squall scoffs. "This is worse than any torture."
"Oh, come on," I say to him. "It can't be that bad." Both he and Seifer look at me like I have three ears. "I'm serious. I've heard some of Selphie's music and she does not listen to sugary sweet pop all the time."
"So what does she listen to?" Squall asks.
"She listens to -"
Where's all my soul sisters
Let me hear ya flow, sisters
Hey sister, go sister, soul sister, flow sister
Hey sister, go sister, soul sister, go sister
" - things like that." I finish. "Lady Marmalade", the new remix, too. Even though I'm not quite into pop, an hour of this kind is endurable.
But the guys are all miserable about it. I smile as an idea forms in my head. "Oh, lighten up." I start to sing along with it. Haha, their expressions are worth a million Gils.
A smirk spreads slowly onto Squall's face. Seifer notices it, and groans loudly. "God, I'm stuck in a room with morons who have no taste in music. Fine!"
"Too bad for you." Irvine also catches on with what I'm doing. We're going to drive Seifer insane. It's actually quite entertaining.
I can get used to this. Isn't it sad we only start to value what we have after a huge tragedy? I put my hand on top of Irvine's hands on my stomach, and he wraps his arm tighter around me by reflex. Secure.
I smile again for the nth time ever since I was awake. Genuine happiness fills my senses. I am actually looking forward to this vacation and cannot wait for it to start. When was the last time I was truly excited about some trip? This feels like a picnic we had gone to when we're still Matron's children. We still are Matron's children.
I close my eyes for a brief second, drowning in this atmosphere of . . . compassion. Friendship. Home.
I feel safe.