"You know..." Rinoa's voice sounded loud to her own ears in the confines of the dorm room. "I wonder if we're not doing this the wrong way."
Zell only paused briefly in mid-motion and then went back to flexing and re-flexing each joint in his hands and arms, as though reassuring himself that everything still worked. But Squall looked up, lifting his head with an effort and squinting over at her where she'd perched gingerly on the side of his bed. "What do you mean," he said, voice low and gritty and lacking enough energy for the upward inflection that would have made it a question.
"Well--" She hesitated briefly. "The guys in the library said they had everything blocked off to help Cid hide, right? So that the Garden Master's faction wouldn't know where to look and they'd have to try everywhere. But isn't that just what we're doing, too?"
"What else are we supposed to do?" Zell demanded. "We've gotta find him somehow." He sounded strained, and Rinoa bit her lip, remembering how rough he'd looked when she'd first found him and the other SeeDs in the depths of the D-District prison. After all they'd been through, she could hardly blame him for being twitchy.
She glanced toward Squall and found him watching her steadily, with no expression on his face other than dull fatigue.
"I know," she said, trying to choose her words carefully. "But we don't have a lot of time left. There's got to be a better way."
Zell made an incredulous noise, arm jerking, and Rinoa thought for a moment he was going to punch something, but Squall's flat voice brought him up short: "What do you have in mind."
She'd been afraid that he would ask. She was no SeeD; she didn't have their training, and she could never seem to make a suggestion without feeling hopelessly inexperienced and naive. But she refused to be dead weight any longer. She had to at least try to help. "I'm not really sure, but... If it was you they were looking for, Squall, where would you hide out? What would you do?"
Squall didn't answer, but she could see that he was thinking it over. His eyes went slightly out of focus as his attention turned inward. "I'd get out of Garden," he said eventually. "If they were searching the whole place for me like this, the smartest thing I could do was be somewhere else."
"But if you couldn't get out of Garden," she pressed. "If you had to stay, what would you do?"
He looked around him at the dorm room for a moment before his eyes finally came back to her; behind them, she could tell from the faint crease in his brow that was twisting his scar, he was thinking fast. "Probably..." he began slowly, "...I'd do what we're doing now. Barricade myself in here, where I know it's defensible and I have some extra supplies stashed."
"Aw, man," Zell groaned. "If he's holed up somewhere in the dorms, we'll never find him. There's way too many rooms!"
An idea was beginning to catch hold in Rinoa's head, but before she could say anything, Squall broke in, already a step ahead of her. "No," he said. "The headmaster doesn't live in the dorms."
They were on the same wavelength now. Rinoa clasped her hands together, trying hard to contain a growing feeling of excitement. "So where does the headmaster live?" she asked him.
"On the third floor," said Zell.
Squall nodded in confirmation. "His quarters are attached to his office," he explained. "It'd be a good place to dig in. There's only one entrance, and the students don't have access."
"Neither do we." Zell's voice was a discouraged groan. "Even if he's up there, how are we supposed to get to him?"
"We can figure something out!" Rinoa insisted. "At least it's a place to start looking. It's got to be better than going all the way around every wing and getting into fights every time we turn around."
"She's right," Squall said, with a tone of calm decision that lifted some of the depressed flatness from his voice. "If we keep on like we have been, we'll just get worn down, and we've wasted too much time already. We'll go check out the elevator. Maybe we can override it somehow."
Zell's eyes darted between them, from Squall to Rinoa and back. "Okay," he said, and put his fist against his palm with a quiet smack of the metal knuckles against leather. "Let's do it, then."
"Does either of you need a cure?" Rinoa asked quickly, looking between them. "We haven't had much of a rest..."
"There's no time," Squall told her, already on his feet and hefting his gunblade back into place at his side. With Zell's help, he shifted his desk away from the door of the dorm room, and planted himself against the wall to the side of the door before he opened it and took a wary look out into the hall. "It's clear. Let's go."
Zell went first, and Squall gestured Rinoa through the door ahead of himself. She took a moment to steel herself for whatever lay ahead, and then she headed out of the room after Zell.
"Good thinking," she heard Squall's low voice say as she passed him.
It was not the place or the time for it, but inwardly Rinoa couldn't help but feel pleased. It was the first time she could think of that he'd complimented her.