A/N: So after seeing what's up with Genesis, Firion, Angeal and Dalmasca, we return to Radiant Garden.
Squall burst out of Master Kramer's longhouse, having finally finished his lessons for the day, leaving him free to find his friends. He stopped in the middle of the street, looking both ways. Whom should he find first?
His cousins were the furthest away, across the bridge in the temple and priests' residence. He could go that way or find the others first. No, he'd start with Selphie. After all, there was no way of knowing if Irvine would even be free to join them. He turned right, shooting off down the dirt road, being careful to weave between the men and women of the town. He skirted round the market, choosing to take a smaller path that would avoid the busy centre where people would distract him with their calls to try or taste their wares.
Many of the houses he ran between were larger than he would find elsewhere in the town, doubling up as workshops where people not only lived, but also made their living. He did not have to run for long before coming to the building he sought. He could hear Selphie's mother's voice drifting down the street. The door was open, allowing as much light as possible to flood inside, making the workers' tasks clear to see.
He slipped inside, glancing round the room for his friend, but his gaze was halted in the centre of the room where not only Lucrecia stood, but also his mother and Boy. The little blond had new clothes on and the weaver was in front of him checking the fit, chatting away to Raine who stood behind the child.
The boy in question turned at Selphie's voice, seeing her crouched in the corner with her baby brother. She waved to him and bounced to her feet.
"You're finished." Squall nodded and she grinned, turning to her mother. "Can I leave?"
"Be back before dark, and bring Bartz over here so I can keep an eye on him."
She pulled her brother to his feet, but the boy didn't wait before running off to his mother's side, hugging her waist as she finished with her customer. Following his example, Selphie dashed off, passing Squall on the way out the door.
His mother's voice halted him before he could step outside. Raine walked towards him, Boy's hand in her's, pulling the foreign child so that he stood before her.
"Take Boy with you."
"What?" He looked between the two of them.
"Take Boy with you. It will be good for him to play with other children."
The chief's son looked back at the small boy, who looked just as confused as he did. He liked the younger child, but to have him follow him around all day…
"But he is so small; he will not be able to keep up with us."
"Then walk slower," came the mother's smooth reply. "He needs to be with other children and run around. Be a good son and take him."
To emphasis her point she gave Boy a small push towards the door. He turned back with wide eyes, looking scared. Raine smiled, pointing at her son.
"Go and play with Squall."
The child looked at Squall, uncertainty swimming in his eyes, and then back at Raine.
"Go on, have fun."
He doubted Boy could understand what she was saying, but he clearly got the meaning and wasn't keen on the idea. Unfortunately, Squall knew nothing would dissuade his mother in this matter. She had decided that Boy need to go with Squall and would not be swayed like his father could be, not because of something as petty as nerves anyway.
Resigning himself to his fate, he reached down and took the other child's hand, no point wasting any more time. The blond looked back at him, his blue eyes wide. Squall gave the smaller hand a tug, pulling him from the building and the comfort of the adults inside. Boy gave Raine one last longing look over his shoulder.
Out in the sunshine and warm spring breeze, Selphie waited. As soon as they stepped out she looked them over.
"It will take forever to get everyone with Boy slowing us down. I'll find Quistis and you," she jabbed a finger at the two boys, "can find Zell. We can meet at the temple."
She didn't wait for Squall's nod as she spun round and, hitching up her skirt, ran off down the street. Taking a deep breath he walked in the opposite direction.
"Come on," he said to his companion, still leading him by the hand as they walked down the streets.
Zell was not far away; his mother's workshop faced onto the road that led to the market square. The short walk was done in silence - after all, what was the point in talking to a boy who could not understand him? The strangers they met watched them pass, smiles tugging at their lips or small laughs escaping them, causing Squall's cheek to heat with embarrassment. The closer they got to Zell's, the closer they became to the Market and so the more people they met, adding to his growing self-consciousness.
They heard the workshop long before they saw it, the ring of metal against metal rising above the cries of the market that lay beyond. They slipped between two houses, skirting round the rubbish in their way and appearing not two feet from their destination.
The house itself looked much like any other building around it, but for the small building outside that served as the workshop, a simple building that looked much like the stables outside the Trepe's inn. However, the inside was completely differently. There was no hay, no chocobos with their calm 'wark's and the air wasn't cool. A fire radiated heat that Squall could feel rolling over him with increasing intensity with every step he took forward. The hay was replaced with various iron instruments, the names of which eluded the boy, and no chocobo rested inside, but Ma Dincht beat away at a lump of red hot iron. The hammer fell again, causing another sharp ring to cut the air, as the ore slowly took the shape of a sword.
It was an impressive sight to see the woman swing a hammer, which Zell could barely lift, with such ease and accuracy. Sweat glistened on her brow, strands of hair sticking to her face as they fell free from the braid. The woman was as strong as any man in the town, except from maybe Ward, but Squall's father said that that was why she was such good friends with his mother.
However, it was not a strength that came willingly. Zell's father had died four years ago, leaving Ma Dincht with two choices: beg on the streets or take over her husband's work. So, she picked up the hammer and forged her own future.
Squall felt small fingers tangle in his belt, tugging it and he looked down to see Boy peering round his legs in wide-eyed amazement. The younger child had clearly never seen a blacksmith before.
"You have guests, Zell."
Squall looked up at Ma's voice to see the woman gazing down at them, the iron on the anvil rapidly cooling. He heard his name from a second voice and Zell's head appeared around his mother, grinning widely, a pair of bellows resting in his hands.
Ma nodded. "And he brings company."
She turned and plunged the to-be-sword into the fire, Zell quickly returning to his job. She strode toward the visitors, placing the hammer down as she did so, and towered other the two children.
"This must be Boy."
The child in question's finger tightened around his minder's belt, trying to draw himself as close to the other boy as possible.
Squall ignored him. "Mother told me to bring him with us today."
Ma Dincht smiled down at the blond. "Hello Boy, I am a fr-"
She didn't get any further before the shy child ducked back behind Squall, his face buried in the material of the older child's tunic. Squall looked behind him and then back at his mother's friend, trying not to sigh.
"He does that a lot."
"Timid thing, is he not?"
Yes, and it could get a little annoying at times like these. Still, he could understand this time why the younger one could find Ma Dincht scary, even if the woman wouldn't hurt a fly.
"You came to steal Zell away from me, I assume?" Squall nodded and she looked back at her son, jerking her head in the direction of the street. "Be off with you then, before I change my mind."
She turned back to her work, calling out to the house for another boy to come take her son's place. Zell needed no second bidding, dropping his task he ran, hastily thanking his mother.
The chief's son ran after his friend, but he soon forced himself to slow his steps as Boy stumbled to keep up, his hold on Squall's belt tightening even further.
"And make sure you look after the little one."
At the sound of his mother's caution, his friend stopped and impatiently waited for them to catch up, shifting from foot to foot as he did so.
"We just came from there. She went to find Quistis, we will meet at the temple."
"Race you there!"
He'd barely taken two steps when Squall called out, becoming increasingly annoyed. "Boy can't keep up if we run."
The boisterous youth skidded to a stop and hopped back. He crouched down with his back to them, his hands reaching behind him expectantly.
Boy simply looked bemused. He looked up at Squall.
"Climb up onto his back." He pointed to his friend.
The younger child looked at Zell and then at him, more confused than ever.
"He doesn't understand."
His friend looked mildly put-out. "Can't you do something?"
Zell shrugged. "He's your guest."
Squall looked at the younger child beside him and he was struck by a sudden thought. Stepping beside the pale blond, he slipped his hands under smaller boy's armpits and heaved him up. Boy yelped in surprise, trying to crane his neck round to look at Squall. The elder child shuffled forward and deposited his unexpectedly light cargo on his friend's back. Instinctively Boy took a hold on Zell who, in turn, held onto his passenger tightly so he wouldn't fall off. He quickly stood, making his load tighten his grip. Without a second word, they were off, trotting down the street at an easy jog.
Boy's alarm slowly faded as they travelled, his eyes becoming less wide and his smile grew until Zell gave off a small 'Wark', imitating a chocobo. At the sound, the smaller child giggled, the first that Squall had heard from him. At least he was having fun, and this way he could easily keep up with Zell.
The rest of the journey passed easily, with Boy giggling away, Zell managing to keep him on and passers-by smirking as they watched them go. Eventually they stopped by Priest's Bridge and Zell crouched down to let slide Boy off. The older blond stretched his arms high, leaning back slightly as he did so, while the foreign boy bowed deeply.
"Domo arigatou gozaimashita."
Zell beamed down at him, a little embarrassed.
"I've never been bowed to before."
Squall turned, not in the least impressed by such a minor matter.
"Come on, Selphie and Quistis must be on the other side already."
"Beat you by a mile," a bright voice sounded by the bridge, accompanied by a round of laughter. They turned to see the two girls in question crouching by the crossing's wall, Irvine standing behind them while Aerith trotted up behind. "I knew it would take you forever with Boy."
"We weren't that long."
Aerith passed her brother and peered round Squall to look at the youngest member of their group.
"Hello," she offered him a gentle smile.
"Harro," Boy quietly replied.
"Why's Aerith here?" Zell demanded.
"I want to play with Boy as well."
"You won't have fun." Irvine frowned down at his sister. "You won't be able to keep up with us and you'll be left behind."
She pointed to Boy. "What about him?"
"We already have to look after him; we'll never get anywhere if we have to look out for you as well."
"If Boy can go, then I can. I am older." She turned to her cousin. "I can come, can I not, Squall?"
He did not know why she turned to him; it was not as if he agreed with her anymore than Irvine did. It was bad enough that they would be slowed down by one infant without adding her as well. It was not as if she would enjoy their games.
"You will just get bored," he tried reasoning, "and you will not want to play our games."
"Well, I'm already bored," Selphie exclaimed, skipping past them. "I'll see you by the oak tree."
"Me too." Aerith dashed forward, taking Boy's hand.
"Aerith!" Her brother cried in exasperation, chasing his sister.
"She can play with Boy while we play together." Quistis once again acted as the voice of logic, giving them their solution with a second thought, following her friends as they left the bridge behind them.
Determined not to be the last again, Squall quickly took off after them, but it didn't go quite to plan. He was mid-stride when something large and heavy rammed into his side. He cried out in shock as he went flying off his feet, the world blurring past him until his back collided painfully with the path. However, whatever had bowled into Squall was still firmly tangled with him and the momentum sent them tumbling across the path, forcing him to close his eyes against the dirt thrown into the air. It was all he could think to do in his shock.
Someone laughed, the person who had crashed into him, and it broke his spell. The sound of his friends' cries floating towards him and he found his fighting spirit once more. He struck with his right fist, struggling against the unknown opponent to get on top. He tried to reach out and grab the unknown assailant, but his hands were either pushed away or grasped thin air. Reaching out for something, anything, he finally felt something light brush against his fingers and they snapped around it, pulling hard.
"Owch! That was my hair Squall."
He stilled, pulling his hand back as his eyes snapped open to gaze at the cloudless blue sky. He knew that voice. His ambusher didn't wait though, laughing he sat of top of his victim and pinned him down.
"Aha! Victory is mine. So much for…uh oh…"
Squall's gaze drifted down, taking in the scene around him. Two temple guards had rushed over to come to their young prince's aid, one staff resting against his attacker's chest while the other rest against the back of the youth's head. They weren't the only one who had come to the rescue though. Several town residents had stopped, their drawn swords pointing at the stranger. Between and behind them stood Squall's friends, wide-eyed, scared, nervous and excited all at the same time. A strange woman drifted on the fringe of the fray, her dark blue, almost black, hood pulled down low.
However, his attention was drawn to the raven-haired boy, a year younger than him, who currently had him pinned down. The boy's eyes were wide as they stared around at the weapons hovering uncomfortably close to him. A small 'oops' escaped his lips as the realisation that he'd done something rather stupid dawned on him.
The scene remained frozen, no one daring to move. The adult's expressions were thunderous at the gall of his attacker for laying a hand on their chief's son, while the dark-haired boy was looking increasingly sheepish. He turned his eyes to Squall, silently asking him to explain, to call off the guards. It remained like that until Squall finally managed to get a word out.