The clock ticked away the seconds solemnly, too sharp a sound to echo, but too empty to fill the office. The man behind the desk had his head in his hands; his entire posture read defeat. Two others behind him were as silent as stone--hardly daring to breath, lest it upset some celestial god of luck, lest it turn the outcome out of their favor. The official seated at the console was hard at work, scouring the database for anything--any clue at all, to bring hope back into the room.
Nothing was said. Nothing could be said. All of the people in the room knew the truth: this wasn't a search any more. It was a deathwatch.
the seconds plodded along at a pace altogether too appropriate to the situation--each tick from the clock representing another painful lurch in the seated man's heart. One...Two...Three....
The second hand struck twelve, and there was a soft, melodic chime. The official coughed uncomfortably, and pushed her chair back from the console. With a deft movement, she switched it off. "No results," she said crisply. "As of this moment; zero hundred hours on August Twenty-Third, 4085, SeeD ID 41269, Squall Leonhart, is declared missing, presumed to be dead. The appropriate information will be sent to Balamb Garden, along with our sincerest apologies."
There was a muffled noise from the man at the desk. "You don't... have to say it like that."
The woman's face softened slightly. "I can only imagine how you must feel, sir, but we've done all we can. By protocol we can't search for him beyond this point. I have no idea how to say this, but... I'm sorry." There was a pause as she gathered her coat. "If there's anything more I can do--within protocol, that is--please contact me."
That said, the official walked out the door.
Silence reined again. Finally, one of the standing men moved to place a hand on the shoulder of the one sitting down. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"No," came the simple reply.
"Look, man. Moping won't make anything get better. You've been putting off the facts for a month, now. It's time to accept it."
The man slowly lifted his head from his hands. It surprised nobody to see that he had been crying. "I never should have done it. Never should have hired them. If I didn't, he--"
"You really need to stop blaming yourself."
"I can't help it!" The man spun around in the chair, facing his two friends. "Who am I supposed to blame?"
The third man grunted, and the second nodded. "Blame the Lunar Cry."
The sitting man seemed to deflate. "It was his birthday tomorrow, right?"
"Today? ...man, I lost track." He let loose a small sob. "I was going to tell him today. I didn't think that--that--"
The door slid open, and a man in a simple white robe stepped through. "Sir?" he said, a bit ill at ease as he saw the man's condition. "...you have a meeting in fifteen minutes with the Paramagical Ordinance Council. Shall I tell them you'll be late, sir?"
"He'll be there," said the man's friend, giving him a pointed, but not unsympathetic, glance. Turning, he patted the man on the shoulder and left the room.
As the door slid shut, the aide turned to his superior. "What's wrong with the President?" he queried.
The taller man shook his head. "His son just died," he said.
--==//Forget Me Not\\==--
"Rikku! Ed ec dra Aeon!"
Rikku looked up as her quarry appeared over the horizon, turning the sky a foreboding blue-black around it. "E caa ed!" she yelled back at her brother, tightening her gloves. She turned to the handful of monks who had accompanied her, and started calling out instructions in standard Spiran. "Watch out! It'll hit us with Demi first, and then it'll start using other magic. We have to hold on until the Nullifier can start working!"
"Ed lusec!" caller her brother, and Rikku tensed. Her hand tightened around the bar that held the metal claws onto her fist--as if they would do any good against the monstrosity bearing down on them. Fingering the complex lock on an Al Bhed Potion on her belt, she adjusted the nozzle to spray across the entire group. It might be necessary.
The Aeon closed swiftly, and within seconds the combined shouts of "Vena!" and "Fire!" were ripping through the air. Bullets rocketed towards their target, tearing bright red streaks in the sleek black hide. The Aeon checked it's momentum, soaring higher on its batlike wings. Raising an arm dangerously, it sent the expected Demi attack raging down on the assembled Al Bhed and ex-Yevonites below.
Rikku flipped the seal on one of the potions, and the fine mist spread through the area, clotting wounds and seeping into the blood to re-energize the hunters. "Brother!' she called, glancing over to see him working on one of his machina. He was bent over double, trying to coax the thousand-year-old device to function properly. He was sweating from the stress and the hot Sanubia sun, but he seemed to almost have the Nullifier up and running.
With a flash of golden light, the Aeon fell to the ground. Landing roughly on its thin legs, both its hands his the sand as the burning yellow eyes stared at the party. A thin hiss escaped from between equally thin teeth, and it lunged at the nearest member of the party only to be repelled by the gunfire. With a last roar, it surrendered itself to dissolution.
The party stood, looking at each other nervously. Long moments passed, and they began to realize that there was no immediate attack coming to follow the Aeon's unexpected disappearance. Finally, one of the ex-Yevonites spat and buried the blade of his bayonet in the sand.
"It seems a bit too easy," he said cynically.
"Everything is easy if we work together!" Rikku asserted. "See?"
A figure, clad in a simple green dress, emerged from between two of the guards. "I don't understand...." Shelinda began. "I always believed that Aeons were benevolent."
"We used to believe Yevon was, too," one of the guards shot back. Shelinda bowed her head.
One of the Al Bhed rattled off something in his language, and Rikku translated. "He says that anyone can become an Aeon after they die. So, really, if the person doesn't like us then neither will the Aeon. Yevon only kept the friendly ones in the Temples."
"...I... I guess so, but...."
"Yeah, who cares? Are there any more of those evil Aeons out here? I want to head home."
Rikku shrugged. Brother thought for a moment, then said "We, to Home go," in broken Spiran. Rikku nodded.
Brother started off towards the new site for Home, an oasis location still heavily under construction. Near the back of the group, a pair fell behind to give another glance around the landscape. One of them nudged the other lightly in the side with his elbow.
"Take a look at that, eh? An evil Aeon. Things just keep getting weirder around Spira, ya?"
"I suppose so," came the soft reply.
A sigh. "You can't keep on like this forever, ya know, Yuna? Pretty soon, you'll be all worn out. Then what am I supposed to do? I'd make a pretty sad Guardian, that's for sure."
Yuna managed a smile. "I'm glad you came with me to help Rikku, Wakka."
"Aaah. No problem! I'm just worried that you might get yourself into trouble, with all your Aeons getting Sent an' all."
"It's no trouble, really... especially with Rikku and her friends around." Yuna's voice was distant.
Wakka sighed again. "Ya know, Lulu still thinks you need to let him go."
Yuna rounded on him. "No!' she protested. "I can't forget him."
"Hey, I didn't say you needed to forget him, ya? Just let him go. Looking for him... it's like the needle in the chocobo barn, ya know? All I'm saying is... maybe it's time to move on."
Yuna shook her head. "I don't know," she said.
"Hmm," Wakka said. "I'm heading back to Home. Don't spend too much time here, okay? There are still Fiends around."
"I won't," Yuna agreed. Wakka gave the dunes a last glance, making sure there weren't any fiends in the immediate vicinity, and turned to catch up with the rest of the group.
As he left, he could hear a clear whistle cut through the landscape. There was a heavy pause, and then the sound of light footsteps in the sand, following him Home.