Chapter 11

Like Old Times

(Irvine)

The escort car brought the Headmaster, Irvine, and Selphie up a long steel ramp and into what used to be Galbadia Garden's front gate area. The row of turnstiles at the front of the Garden had been pulled out to allow room for a makeshift garage, where a handful of military vehicles were parked closely together. The driver pulled the car into a vacant spot, and the passengers all disembarked.

Behind them, the steel ramp leading into the Garden withdrew, and a metal shield closed the entryway as the Garden lifted off from the ground and rotated, steering itself back towards Deling City.

(No goin' back now.)

Martine, flanked on either side by armed G-soldiers, led the group to the Garden's center. Like Balamb Garden, the heart of G-Garden was a massive circular dome where all the major hallways intersected. But instead of being built around a central elevator like in Balamb, G-Garden's core was a flat, open quad area with a raised platform in the middle, ringed by ferns and other plants. In the middle of the platform, Galbadia Garden's sigil blazed proudly, illuminated by a decorative pillar of yellow light that came down from the ceiling. Four hallways extended in each cardinal direction from the central area, and a second-floor walkway encircled the upper level.

Martine stopped just before the central platform and turned to face Irvine and Selphie. Irvine unconsciously gripped the handle of his shotgun a little tighter, his finger reaching for the trigger. If Martine was planning a trap, this might be a good time for him to spring it, with his guards nearby.

Perhaps sensing the unease radiating from his guests, Martine glanced at the nearby G-soldiers and waved them off. They saluted crisply, then scattered throughout the Garden, leaving Martine and his guests relatively alone. A handful of students wearing G-Garden's black uniforms walked across the quad, heading between the classrooms and the dorms, but no one paid the three any notice.

"As you can see," Martine said, gesturing around him, "Nothing much has changed here. We've managed to return our Garden to the way it was before the sorceress took over. Classes have resumed, order is restored, and things are normal again. Everything should be the way as it was when you left it, Kinneas."

"That's good," Irvine said.

Though his allegiances had changed and Irvine had battled many Galbadians in the weeks since he left G-Garden, part of him still felt an attachment to the school. He'd spent much of his life in the place and—for better or for worse—it was what he considered to be home for many years. The halls were intimately familiar, as were the atmosphere, the lighting, the mood. He could close his eyes and envision every hallway, every classroom, down to the smallest details.

But fate had pulled the course of his destiny away from Galbadia Garden, and now, despite his history, he felt strangely alien at the school. Everything he knew about the Garden was in the past now. It was home. He once lived here.

(This isn't home anymore.)

"We should arrive in Deling City tomorrow," Martine said. "Until then, you are free to roam the Garden as you please. You can keep your weapons, provided you follow the school guidelines concerning them. Try not to disturb any lectures or training sessions that are taking place. If you have any questions, I'll be in my office. From there, I will contact General Caraway and let him know we're coming. I should be able to convince him to delay the attack until our arrival. I'll also have some of our students prepare one of the guest dorms for you tonight. I trust you still remember where the guest dorms are, Kinneas?"

Irvine smirked. "It hasn't been that long, Headmaster," he said.

"No. No it hasn't," Martine said. "You two can have dorm 20A. It has a bunk bed and a personal bathroom. Good day to you both."

Excitement replaced Irvine's worries, once he knew he'd be spending the night in the same room as Selphie. Granted, they wouldn't technically be sharing the same bed, but it was better than the arrangement they had at Balamb and Trabia.

And a personal bathroom as well! All the personal bathrooms came equipped with shower stalls, and Selphie would definitely be anxious to wash off days and days of Trabian dirt off her body. And maybe, if he played his cards right, she'd want a special shower buddy to help her with those hard to reach areas.

Irvine had to take a deep breath to calm himself.

(Lookin' forward to tonight.)

The Headmaster turned to leave, then stopped, as if suddenly remembering something. "Before I go talk to General Caraway," he said, "It would be best if I had something to tell him. You don't need to tell me the whole story of how you defeated the sorceress, but I need something to convince the General that it is worth his time to meet with you."

Irvine blinked out of his fantasies and focused. He'd expected Martine to ask questions like this, so he'd spent his brief time in the car thinking up a simple cover story to keep the Headmaster satisfied.

"Sure," Irvine said. "Ask away."

"What did you do with the body?" Martine asked. "After you killed the Sorceress Edea. How was she disposed of?"

(Crap.)

He hadn't thought that far ahead. But he knew that any hesitation would be devastating, so he went with a lie that seemed probable and required no evidence.

"Overboard," Irvine said quickly. "Tossed her into the ocean. Splash."

He kept his tone light, the hint of a smile playing off the edge of his lips. Being confident to the point of arrogance was so easy for him, he barely even had to think about it. His only concern was that Selphie might give something away, but thankfully she was silent, and the Headmaster ignored her.

"Is that everything?" Martine asked, staring intently into Irvine's eyes. "You're completely sure of that? You're not… hiding anything?"

Irvine had to suppress a smile. He was familiar with this old mind trick: a common favorite of parents, teachers, and other people in positions of power over kids.

(Pretend to know more than you actually do, to get a kid to spill his guts.)

(I ain't fallin' for it.)

"Yyyup," Irvine said smoothly. "And anyway, we're saving the best bits for the General. If we told you everything now, then what's to keep you from goin' back on our deal?"

"You know I'm a man of my word, Kinneas," Martine said.

"Still… no sense bein' careless."

Martine nodded. "If you insist. It's a shame, anyway. I would have liked to see the sorceress' body. It… it would set my mind at ease, knowing that she isn't going to come back and try to steal my Garden from me a second time." Martine took a deep breath and let it out.

"Speakin' of that," Irvine said. He was desperate to change the subject off the sorceress, to keep from having to think up more lies. Experience taught him that people loved nothing more than to talk about themselves, so he asked, "How'd you get back here? Last we saw, you were mopin' around in Fisherman's Horizon."

Martine happily answered Irvine's question. "And that's where I remained for quite some time," he said. "After the two Gardens battled, G-Garden fled into the ocean, for fear of retaliation from Balamb or the sorceress. Mind you, I don't know any of this personally; I only know what the students told me after the fact."

He continued, "Anyway, once they felt confident that no one was in pursuit, the students headed back to the Galbadian continent, lying low in the unpopulated desert regions and sending scouts to Deling City. Eventually, they discovered that Balamb Garden was docked at Fisherman's Horizon. They sent a couple scouts to FH to spy on SeeD and learn the fate of the sorceress. And, in the process, they found me 'moping around,' as you put it. They informed me of all that transpired, and when we were sure that the sorceress was dead—or at least inactive—I returned here and resumed my role as Headmaster. And that, really, is everything there is to tell."

"Huh, okay," Irvine said.

(Seems legit.)

"And speaking of my role as Headmaster," Martine said, "I should get back to work. I will be in my office if you need me. Good day."

Martine nodded to the two and departed, crossing the quad and disappearing into the hallway on the other side. Irvine watched him go, the tension of Martine's presence fading away with every step he took.

(Alone at last.)

Although he and Selphie were in a school full of students and instructors, this was still the closest the two had gotten to a private moment since leaving Balamb. Furthermore, this was also the first time he'd share a bunk with Selphie since… since ever, actually. If he couldn't make something happen tonight, then he would be embarrassed to call himself a man.

Irvine turned to Selphie and grinned. "So, is there anything you wanna do?"

"Ride a dragon into battle," Selphie said. "But only if it breathes fire. I don't wanna wimp dragon that can't even breathe liquid flame. Cause, I mean, what's the point, right?"

Irvine frowned. "… I meant here, at G-Garden."

"I know."

(Sometimes, I just have no idea what to say…)

"You know, it ain't really so bad here," Irvine said, trying not to get hung up on Selphie's answer. "It seems stuffy and formal, but there's a lot you can do, if you know where to look."

Selphie brightened. "Like dragons?"

"No, not dragons. But there are… um…"

Then he stopped. He looked blankly into the quad and realized—with shock and terror—that there was absolutely nothing he could do with Selphie, and that he'd made a terrible miscalculation by ever letting her think there was.

Yes, it was true that he'd had a lot of fun in G-Garden when he was a student. But for various reasons, he didn't want to involve Selphie in any of his former hobbies. He obviously wasn't going to take her around to hit on girls. And he wasn't going to meet up with his old friends and cause some havoc—not because he thought Selphie would disapprove of havoc, but because he definitely didn't want Selphie meeting his old friends.

(Not sure I really want to meet them again either.)

And a lot of the best stuff—the good date spots and all the great events—were in Deling City, an ocean away. Back when G-Garden was still on the continent and connected via a direct train route to the capital, he'd thought nothing of popping over to the city to catch some shows, do some shopping, and just hang out. But now they were in the middle of nowhere, and he had no idea what to do with Selphie.

(Well… damn.)

"There's the uh…" Irvine said.

(The what? The classrooms? The workout area? The offices?)

"The uh…" he said.

(The auditorium? What?)

"Theeeeee?" Selphie said.

"Hold on, I'll think of something," Irvine said. He rubbed his chin dramatically with his free hand. "It's just, you know, there's so many options here it's hard to pick only one."

"Yeah, I'm sure that's the problem," Selphie said, deadpan. "Military school is just too exciting."

"You don't know the half of it!" Irvine said.

(She actually doesn't know the half of it.)

(No one can go wild like a bunch of angry, repressed, sexually frustrated teenagers.)

But he wasn't going to tell her any of those kinds of stories. Not yet, anyway.

"… You like basketball?" he finally said, coming up with at least one fun thing to do in G-Garden. He remembered the ruins of a basketball court in Trabia, so he knew she had to be at least somewhat familiar with the game.

"Sure!" Selphie said. "Where's the court?"

"C'mon, I'll show you," Irvine said.

They crossed the central platform, heading to the far side of the school. All around, students were marching across the quad, or stepping quickly along the upper walkway. Irvine had forgotten how rushed everyone was in Galbadia. Students hustled from class to class at a brisk walk so rapid it was almost a jog. There was no chatter in the halls, or any noise at all. If it didn't directly contribute to learning or scheduled in a student's day planner, it wasn't allowed in G-Garden. Irvine then remembered that everything fun he'd ever done at the Garden was against one or more regulations.

Even as only a guest of the school, Irvine began to feel the slow, crushing weight of the school's fanatic devotion to discipline settling down on him like fog in the air.

(Man, I can't wait to leave.)

"Do you think Martine is gonna keep his word?" Selphie asked as they walked to the other end of the quad.

"I wouldn't've here come if I thought he wasn't," Irvine said. He rested his shotgun on his shoulder, relaxed. "And I've been thinking about everything and you know, Martine has a point. Most of the nasty stuff with Galbadia—the real nasty stuff—was because of Ultimecia. Martine didn't sic G-Garden on Balamb, or put out a manhunt on Ellone, or… you know."

He coughed. He had almost said, "ordered a missile strike on Balamb and Trabia," but he managed to catch himself in time.

"Martine's a hardass," Irvine went on, "But I've never really had any problems with him. If he says we're just guests, then we're just guests. And if he gives us his word, he'll keep it. Nothin' to worry about."

"I dunno," Selphie said. "I don't like it here. It's creepy. Gives off a 'serial killer' vibe."

"You get used to it," Irvine said.

"I don't wanna get used to it," Selphie said.

He thought back to all the experiences Selphie had with G-Garden and with Galbadia in general. From her perspective, they'd never been anything other than the enemy, sending soldiers, machines, and missiles after her. He knew there was more to the Garden than just Ultimecia's reign of terror, but there was no way he could change Selphie's mind with mere words.

They passed by other students in the hall—dressed in their uniforms—as well as a handful of G-Soldiers marching around with their swords strapped to their hips. Irvine ignored them all, hoping he wouldn't bump into anyone he knew. His old friends and his old reputation had to be set aside if he was going to have any chance of convincing Selphie of the sincerity of his feelings toward her.

At last they emerged into the G-Garden field house, as the bright sun shone down through a massive skylight, heating the faded red floor. Unlike Balamb's training center, which was a paddock full of monsters, Galbadia's field house was more or less a gymnasium. Clay tennis courts and basketball courts were divided by high chain-link fences. A running track with lanes painted on it began and ended in the field house, encircling the entire Garden. A few students in red exercise uniforms and yellow sweatbands huffed and gasped as they ran laps.

Irvine grabbed Selphie's hand and made his way to the nearest basketball court. He laid his hand on the metal clasp to open the door when a deep, masculine voice bellowed from behind him, making him freeze in place.

"Get in uniform, or get out of my field house!" the voice shouted.

Irvine spun around and saw one of the well-muscled School Discipline Instructors marching towards him. The SDI, like all the others of his kind, was dressed in a tight-fitting black shirt and gray slacks, with a black baseball cap and a whistle around his neck. The SDI's of G-Garden served the dual purpose of being Physical Education teachers while also enforcing the school rules—which they did by using more Physical Education.

(Their answer to every question is "more pushups.")

"We're not students," Irvine said. "We're guests of the Headmaster."

The SDI marched up to Irvine, pressing his face inches away from Irvine's, to the point where the brims of their hats bumped into each other. The SDI stank of sweat, and his breath was sour.

"If you ain't students then get the hell out!" the SDI said. "The field house is for students only! It's not your damn playground! Take your ditzy girlfriend and scram!"

Selphie's jaw popped open and she pushed her way in between Irvine and the SDI.

"Ditzy?!" Selphie said. "I'll show you ditzy!"

She grabbed her nunchaku in both hands and spun them quickly, ending in a strong battle stance.

(No! Bad idea!)

"Little girl," the SDI said slowly. "You best be runnin' along now before you hurt yourself."

Thinking quickly, Irvine pushed between the SDI and Selphie, pointing over the Instructor's shoulder towards the track. On the track, a pair of students were walking, clutching their sides and gasping for air.

"You got some slackers behind you," Irvine said.

The SDI spun around. His eyes instinctively honed in on the presence of insufficient work ethic, and he tapped into the infinite well of pure hatred that all SDI's seemed to possess. Summoning a voice so loud it could almost rattle the fences, he hollered, "THE DORMS ARE FOR RESTIN', THE TRACK IS FOR RUNNIN'! NOW RUN!"

The two students on the track nearly fell over in surprise, then starting running again. Irvine took the opportunity and grabbed Selphie's shoulder, pulling her out of the field house and back into the hall. Thankfully, the SDI let them go and returned to whatever dark hole he'd crawled out of.

"Aww…" Selphie said, looking back towards the field house. "I coulda taken him."

"We're not here to pick fights with the SDI's," Irvine said.

"The who's?" she asked.

"School Discipline Instructors," he said.

"Ah."

He stopped in the hallway when they were a good distance away from the field house. A cluster of students in identical exercise uniforms marched out of a nearby hallway, bound for the field house. Yet another SDI led the group, shouting orders to the students.

As Irvine paused to think of another place to take Selphie, he realized that when the SDI had called Selphie his "ditzy girlfriend," she'd only taken offense to the "ditzy" part, not the "girlfriend" part. He took it as a good sign for the future.

(Definitely lookin' forward to tonight.)

"We can still check out the hockey rink," Irvine said. He shrugged. "If you're interested."

"Sure!" Selphie said, raising her hands and bouncing on her feet. Irvine snatched up her hand once again and tugged her through the drab gray halls, past the identically dressed students, back across the quad, and down another hallway.

"I'm lost," Selphie said. "Every hallway looks the same."

There were no signs or markers indicating which of the blue doors in the hallway led to the hockey rink. It had taken Irvine years to remember which doors led where, and thankfully, his memory did not fail him. He stepped in front of a seemingly random door, and it slid open automatically when it sensed him. A breath of cool air greeted him, and he brought Selphie into the hockey rink.

As usual, the small indoor stadium was mostly empty. Hockey practice was usually held in the mornings, and games were at night, but the arena was open to free skating during the daytime. A couple of uniformed cadets drifted lazily on the ice. Irvine noticed a boy and a girl holding hands as they did laps around the rink. A girl at the far end, far more ambitious than the others, practiced figure skating moves, her skates digging into the ice and sending up snow showers as she leapt and spun.

"We don't have any skates," Selphie said as Irvine pushed open the plastic barrier and stepped onto the slippery ice.

"Don't need 'em," Irvine said. He set down his shotgun on a nearby bench, and Selphie put her nunchaku next to it. "Watch this."

He pushed off the wall and let go of Selphie, propelling himself nearly to the blue offside line. He used the edges of his boots to thrust forward, sliding along awkwardly. He looked absurd, his dusty trench coat flapping around as his boots thumped across the ice. When he spun around and looked, Selphie was grinning. He smiled back. The students on the ice were staring at him, but he couldn't care less.

"Let me try," Selphie said. Her big, clunky boots weren't well-suited for ice, but she successfully managed to stumble and flail about for a bit before crashing to the ice in a giggling heap. The two cadets holding hands glared at Selphie as they skated around her, then muttered something. Their annoyance only made the two outsiders act out even more.

"Check this out!" Irvine said. He dug into the ice and threw himself forward, then slid down to one knee and leaned back, like he was sliding into home plate on a baseball diamond. With the edge of one boot, he carved a wave of ice particles that sliced through the air. He came to a stop and rose to his knees, the cold ice aching against his joints.

"That's nothin'!" Selphie said. She flopped forward, running more than skating, gathering speed with each uncontrolled step. She crossed center ice, faster and faster, then dove onto her stomach and slid forward, her momentum sending her past the offsides line, past the faceoff circles, and into the figure-skating girl. She collapsed onto Selphie with an indignant shriek. Irvine grimaced.

"ARE. YOU. CRAZY?" the figure-skating girl screamed. She stumbled to her feet, while Selphie got to hers.

"ARE. YOU. OKAY?" Selphie screamed back, repeating the girl's tone. "I. DIDN'T. MEAN. TO DO THAT. I'M. REALLY. SORRY."

Grumbling, the other girl skated to the nearest door and exited the rink. She slammed the door shut and disappeared from the arena. One by one, the other skaters left the rink as well, staring daggers into the outsider couple. In a few moments, Irvine and Selphie were alone on the ice.

Irvine raised his hands in a victory pose. "THE ICE IS OURS!" he shouted, his voice echoing around the stands.

"WE HAVE CONQUERED THE ICE!" Selphie shouted. "WHOO HOO!"

Their celebration was short-lived, as a few seconds later the figure-skating girl returned, followed closely by an SDI.

(Uh oh.)

"GET OUT!" the SDI shouted.

"THE ICE IS YOURS!" Irvine said, still giddy.

"WE SURRENDER THE ICE!" Selphie yelled. She flopped and skidding and stumbled her way back to the opposite side of the rink. Irvine grabbed hold of her around the waist, feeling the warmth of her body beneath her yellow dress, and guided the pair back to the door they'd come in. Irvine took a moment to kick the ice off his boots and recover their weapons before leaving.

(I wonder if it's a good idea, causin' so much hassle.)

(Eh, whatever.)

Selphie was having fun, and together they were on their way to help their friends in Timber. Whatever Martine thought or didn't think of them was of no consequence to Irvine. Just so long as Martine honored the deal, he was fine with whatever happened.

Irvine and Selphie stepped back out into the hall, the warmer temperature making them acutely aware of all the ice that still clung to their clothes. Irvine used his free hand to swat the patches of ice that had collected on his coat, while Selphie looked up and down the hallway. She turned to him.

"This place is super drab," she said. "Don't you have a Garden Festival Committee to decorate for you?"

"Nope," Irvine said.

"Student Council?"

"Nope."

"Rebel band of artists willing to spit in the face of authority?"

"Heh. Yeah, right."

"Aww, man," Selphie said. She kicked at the floor. "This place is like an army bunker."

Irvine shrugged. "Well, yeah," he said. "That's what it is. G-Garden mostly trains students to join the Galbadian military."

"Yeah, I know that," Selphie said. "But they're not in the army now, so they should have some freedoms. Everyone needs a chance to be a kid before they grow up."

"Don't say the 'f' word here," Irvine said. "You'll get a swarm of SDI's in your face."

"So… why'd you wanna come here?" Selphie asked.

"Why'd you want to follow me?" Irvine asked. He raised his eyebrows.

"No, no," Selphie said. She shook her head. "I mean, why'd you come here to at all? After the orphanage?"

He frowned. "You mean I never told you?" he asked.

"Nnnope," Selphie said. "I mean, I just can't imagine you coming here. This place is so not you. Were you forced or something?"

"Eh… Kinda," Irvine said. He lifted his free hand and ran his fingers through his ponytail. "Not forced by any person, but forced by circumstance, you know? It's kinda my foster family's fault. If you're interested in the story…" He raised an eyebrow questioningly.

"Sure!" Selphie said.

Instead of sharing his life story with Selphie while in the middle of a hallway, with strange and slightly hostile students marching up and down all the time, Irvine grabbed Selphie's hand and brought her to the next door, which he knew led to a classroom. He was lucky, and found the room to be empty.

A semicircle of raised seats faced towards a metal podium and a long marker board. Two rows of steps divided the seating section into thirds, and the G-Garden sigil hung high from the back wall. Irvine brought her far enough into the room for the automatic door to shut behind them, then he made his way to the podium. He leaned back against it, resting his elbows casually atop its surface, his shotgun dangling in his hand. Selphie found a nearby seat and flopped down into it, giving him her whole attention.

(Can't believe I never told her this story yet…)

"Anyway, they—my foster parents—were an insanely rich couple living in Deling City," he said. "They stopped by the orphanage and picked me out of the group. I was six or seven, I think. I don't quite remember. Must've been my stunning good looks were obvious even back then."

"Pah, right," Selphie said. "That musta been it."

(Ouch.)

Irvine grinned and continued. "At first I was excited, you know? I was picturing a mansion, lotsa servants, big fancy meals, and whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it. I thought I had it made. Turns out these two were the tightest rich people in Galbadia, maybe the world. No mansion, no servants, lousy home-cooked meals, and nothing for free, not even on my birthday. They didn't believe in 'gifts,' even between family members."

"Super lame!" Selphie said.

"Yeah, I thought so too," Irvine said. "'You work for everything you earn, and earn everything you work for.' That's what my foster father always said to me. I'm still not entirely sure what that means. Anyway, they wanted me to take over their business when they retired, so they hired all these tutors and enrolled me in a private school in Deling City with all these other stuffy rich kids. I was stuck in that lousy school with those lousy parents for years. Till one day a recruiter from G-Garden came to my school. I was desperate, so I went and talked to him. I was the only one in the whole school who did. No way any of those other rich punks would ever dream of throwing away their future lives as CEOs or whatever to become lowly soldiers.

"So anyway, I talked to this recruiter guy for the better part of an afternoon. He told me that Garden would let me travel, teach me all these useful skills, make me into my own man. I mean, he really sold me on it. By the time I went home, I wanted nothing else. I begged my foster parents to let me enlist, but they wouldn't have it. I had 'responsibilities' they said. They said that enlisting was 'beneath me.' So the next day, I packed all my things and talked to the recruiter again. I forged my parents' signatures, made up a few lies, and ended up in G-Garden.

"I didn't know anything about the other two Gardens at that point. I figured they were all more or less the same. But if I'd known then what I know now, I woulda put in for a transfer, or enlisted in Balamb or Trabia instead. But I didn't know that. I just wanted to get away from my adoptive family, and away from the life they had planned for me. I didn't care where I went, just so long as I never had to see them again."

"You ever talk to them?" Selphie asked. "Your foster parents?"

"Nope," Irvine said. "A couple years after I enlisted, I tracked them down. Turns out they'd adopted some other kid. Some nerdy little geek who was more like what they wanted. That's when I realized they never really wanted a son. They didn't want someone to love. They wanted an heir, someone to carry on their legacy after they died. And they never lifted a finger to try to track me down after I left. They just cut their losses—like any good business people—and found a replacement. You can't do that with real family, you know? You can't just get a new son, or a new father. That's when I knew they never cared in the first place. So screw 'em. I don't miss 'em. And they sure as hell don't miss me."

"That's sad…" Selphie said.

Irvine shrugged. "I don't think so," he said. "You have to love someone first, before you can miss them when they're gone. There was never any love in that family."

He trailed off. Selphie waited, expecting him to continue to the story, but Irvine was silent.

(Actually, now that I think about it...)

Although he never liked his foster parents or his school, he did become accustomed to their lifestyle, their mannerisms, and their expectations. At that time, he saw the world filtered through the window of high privilege and wealth.

So when he enlisted and came to G-Garden, he found himself in a totally different world. Coming down from one of the most prestigious schools in Deling City, he immediately joined the ranks of butcher's sons and farmer's daughters. People of low birth, running to the military to escape poverty, jail, or meaningless lives of drudgery in isolated corners of the world. Irvine had nothing in common with any of them. He was an outsider, and couldn't relate to their problems.

(It all makes sense. Huh… I never really thought of it that way.)

He glanced down at his dusty brown trench coat, his cowboy boots and black hat. The purple vest he wore under his layers of clothing. His persona, the "lonesome sniper." For a time, he managed to convince himself that it was all a ruse, just an easy way to gain a girl's sympathy and trust. But that ruse came from a place of truth; Irvine was alone in the world. His real parents were dead, his foster parents didn't care, and he never truly understood his peers.

With a start, he realized he'd been silent for almost a minute. He shook his head and looked up. There, perched on a chair in the front row, was Selphie, still waiting for Irvine to finish his story.

(I don't have to be alone anymore.)

He smirked. "Anyway, this is a boring subject," he said. "Let's find something to cheer ourselves up!"

"Alright!" Selphie said. She hopped out of her chair.

He rested his shotgun on his shoulder and went for the door. It slid open automatically, admitting the pair back into the gray hallway. Wordlessly, he turned and began heading away from the central quad area, into the less frequented areas of G-Garden. He had no specific destination in mind, but he wanted to keep moving, to give the impression that he knew where he was going. Selphie bounced after him.

After a few minutes and a couple random turns, Selphie lunged out and grabbed Irvine's elbow. He froze in place and turned around.

"Ohh! Ohh!" Selphie said. She was pointing down the hall at something. "Is there a training center here?"

"Huh?" Irvine asked. He looked at her. "Um… No. Just the field house out back. Why?"

"Cause those guys up there have weapons," Selphie said. "Thought maybe they came back from a training center."

Confused, Irvine followed the tip of her finger to where she was pointing down the hall. The corridor ended in a T-shaped intersection and a flat wall. Walking towards the pair was a pair of uniformed cadets, both carrying Galbadian Military Sabers.

"… Weird…" Irvine said. The students passed by, talking to each other, oblivious of Irvine and Selphie standing there, watching them. Irvine chewed his lip and thought to himself.

It was common to see armed students in Balamb and Trabia, but not so much in Galbadia. G-Garden allowed its students to carry their weapons almost anywhere—even to classes, with permission—but they were only permitted to use them outside, in the grounds area. So most students didn't bother hauling their weapons around, adding useless extra weight, unless they were heading to or from a training session or a mission.

(Maybe because Garden's mobile now, they started training indoors?)

That was possible. There were a number of rooms—auditoriums and the like—that were large enough to be converted into makeshift training areas while G-Garden was at sea. But no, that didn't make sense either, because the only rooms nearby were a string of small classrooms and—

(The detention center!)

Down the hall and to the left was where the Garden's detention center was located. Now that he remembered that, Irvine was definitely curious. For as long as he'd been a student at G-Garden, the hallways immediately around the detention center were one of the few no-weapon zones. G-Garden's lax enlistment standards led to them sometimes gathered violent students. Because of that, the detention center was really more of a makeshift prison than anything else, and so it had stricter rules about weapons and the like.

(Something has changed.)
"Let's go check it out," Irvine said.

He took Selphie down the corridor, beyond the identical blue doors, and to the intersection. There, he turned left. The hallway went on for a few more steps before ending in yet another blue door. This one, however, was marked. In large, block letters the words, "Restricted Area: Authorized Personnel Only" were written in red and black.

The door opened as easily as any other, sliding open soundlessly at Irvine's approach. Beyond was a short walkway leading to a floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall reinforced glass prison area. The glass panel was incredibly strong and, if Irvine remembered, resistant to most magics as well. A rectangle of white lines scratched into the glass wall indicated where the only door into or out of the detention center was located.

"This area is restricted," a cadet said sternly. He brandished his sword threateningly, pointing the tip at Irvine's chest. Another guard next to the cadet pointed his sword at Selphie. Irvine shrugged and held up his hands, in a gesture of surrender, but he kept a firm grip on his shotgun and peered over the shoulder of the two guards, trying to see who or what was locked up in the detention center.

(Why would they need two armed guards?)

"Sorry, man," Irvine said. "We're just exploring."

The second guard, a boy younger than Irvine by at least two or three years scowled. "The door says, 'Authorized Personnel Only.' Can't you read?"

"My apologies," Irvine said. He sidestepped a pace, in order to better see around the guards.

The room beyond was as sparse as any other Galbadian prison. A long, steel communal bench was on the far wall, providing the only furniture in the room. A metal toilet, shiny and cold, sat in the corner without so much as a curtain for privacy. A few students, both uniformed and not, paced back and forth, keeping an eye on Irvine and Selphie. More students were sitting, leaning, or lying on the metal bench.

Irvine looked at the faces, but saw nothing unusual at first glance. Just the standard fare of truants, smart-mouths, bullies, and students who didn't correctly file a leave of absence and got marked AWOL. There was one girl, with long brown hair tied in a ponytail, lying curled up on the bench, facing the wall. A black blanket with the G-Garden sigil covered most of her body, but she was the only slightly odd thing Irvine saw.

Until his gaze reached the end of the bench.

"Well, lookee here," Seifer said, smiling broadly. He stood up from the bench and approached the glass wall. "Are you two my rescue squad? Am I finally saved? My prayers are answered."

"Seifer?" Selphie asked. "What are you doing here?"

Seifer shrugged, and gestured to the blank walls around him. "Figured I'd try to be the first person to get locked up in all three Garden detention rooms. Two down, one to go. Or… wait. Does Trabia still have a detention room, or just a pile of rubble now?"

"Hey! Not cool!" Selphie said. She waved her arms and stomped her foot. Irvine knew she was prone to over-dramatic gestures at times, but this time she meant it. Her eyes burned into Seifer's, her teeth clenched.

(Good thing there's a wall between us.)

"Doesn't matter," Seifer said. "Just point me at the pile of rocks that used to be Trabia's detention center, and I'll stand in it for a couple minutes. A symbolic act, you might say."

"Shut it, Seifer," Irvine said, starting to get angry himself now.

"Yeah, we're the only ones who can get you out of here!" Selphie said. "So be nice!"

"Enough! All of you!" one of the guards said. He pressed his blade closer to Irvine, trying to establish his strength and authority. "No talking with the prisoners. Leave now!"

"Oh, hush!" Selphie said. In seconds a pale blue ball of energy formed in the chain between her nunchaku. She tugged on both ends of her weapon, snapping the chain taut, and the sleep spell flew out and hit the student, enveloping him in a white smoke that sucked into his eyes, nose, and mouth. The student gasped, his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and then he collapsed to the floor.

The other guard rushed at Selphie in retaliation, raising his blade up high to bring it down on Selphie's head. In one smooth motion, Irvine stepped in front of her and caught the blade against the barrel of his shotgun. With his augmented strength, it was easy for Irvine to push aside the boy's sword with one stroke, and crack him in the jaw with a second. The student dropped to the floor in a limp heap, unconscious, beside his gently snoring companion.

"… So now what?" Seifer asked. He sneered at the pair. "You didn't happen to bring the whole Garden with you, did you? Or an army? Maybe that badass spaceship you guys were flyin' around in?"

Irvine and Selphie glanced at each other, but didn't answer.

"Yeah, didn't think so," Seifer said. He stepped closer to the glass, until his nose was almost touching it. "Even if you got me out of here, where the hell would we go? We're in the middle of the damn ocean. How far do you two think you can swim?" He rolled his eyes. "Tch. Dumbasses."

"You'd rather stay in here?" Selphie asked.

"I don't remember askin' to be rescued," Seifer snapped. "'Specially not by ladyboy and little miss hugs and kisses here. I can handle my own problems."

(Ladyboy? Ladyboy?)

"Seifer, I think the phrase you were lookin' for wasn't 'ladyboy,'" Irvine said. He tipped his hat. "But instead, 'ladies' man.'"
Irvine posed cockily for a moment. Selphie turned to him, fuming, and slapped him on the shoulder, hard enough to sting even though his trench coat. He yelped and rubbed his shoulder.

Seifer snorted. "Ain't you two just hilarious." He shook his head. "If you two really wanna do something useful with your lives, then get her out of here."

He turned around and pointed at the sleeping girl, the one covered by the Galbadian blanket.

"She's a sorceress," he said, turning back around. "I think they killed her, but you know how that goes. They ain't sure what to do with her now, so they got her in here, with a couple guards to make sure she stays put."

(Why should I believe anything Seifer says?)

"How do you know she's a sorceress?" Irvine asked.

Seifer gave him an insulted look. "Nevermind," he said. "Galbadia is huntin' sorceresses. They're in Balamb right now, pullin' women and kids out of their homes to look for 'em. You might wanna keep an extra eye on Rinoa, if you've got half a brain between you two."

The door behind them slid open, and Irvine heard the rapid marching of many feet. He and Selphie spun around, coming face-to-face with a dozen or more armed students and G-Army soldiers, a wall of blades and rifles pointed at them.

(Well… damn.)

Behind Irvine, in the cell, Seifer laughed. "Man, what a great rescue."

Martine's voice called out from the rear of the cluster of Galbadians.

"Hands up," he said. "Drop your weapons. No sudden movements."

Irvine and Selphie sighed, put their weapons on the floor, and raised their hands above their heads. Two of the guards rushed forward and restrained the pair by tying their hands behind their backs with plastic zip wire. The guards stayed behind them, holding on to their wrists to keep them still. Another pair of guards scrambled up and confiscated their weapons. The sleeping guards on the floor were wakened, and brought out into the hallway.

Martine made his way through the guards. They stepped aside to allow their Headmaster through. Martine stepped inside the detention center and stood before Irvine and Selphie, his hands folded behind his back.

"Kinneas, you disappoint me," he said. He shook his head sadly. "I give you free reign of the Garden, offer to escort you to Deling City and expunge your record. I even let you keep your weapons, as a show of faith. And this is what you choose to do. Lack of proper discipline has softened your mind, Kinneas. I should have been harder on you from the start."

Irvine snorted dismissively, and asked, "Is that girl in there a sorceress?"

Martine peered through the glass, to the girl who was lying on the bench.

"The girl is sleeping," Martine said. "If she were really a sorceress, I would imagine it would take more than our flimsy walls to hold her captive. I cannot remember what she did, but I assure you, she's just a regular student here."

Seifer scoffed. "Bull."

"What are you gonna do with Seifer?" Selphie asked.

Martine turned to her. "Seifer is a prisoner of Galbadia. He, like you two, was given the opportunity to assist us, but he instead chose to tear a path of destruction up and down the streets of Balamb, resulting in numerous casualties."

Seifer snorted and rolled his eyes. He turned his back on the headmaster and reclaimed his seat on the bench. He leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms, watching the conversation play out.

"What're you gonna do to him?" Selphie said.

"Well," Martine said, "Officially, we reported that Seifer was executed weeks ago, following his stunt with the former president Deling. It would be awfully embarrassing for the government if he were to turn up somewhere, alive and well."

(Wait… they're not gonna…)

Selphie beat Irvine to the question. "So you're gonna execute him!?"

She stomped the floor with both feet, jostling the guard standing behind her. The guard grabbed her shoulders, restraining her, but she fought back. Another guard broke from the pack to help hold her in place. After a moment, she settled down, but continued to stare daggers into Martine. He seemed unimpressed.

"That's up to him," Martine said. "Seifer's experience with the Sorceress Edea is invaluable to our war effort. He has an insight into the mind of the sorceress that few others in the world possess. If he chooses to cooperate, a pardon for his crimes is not out of the question. If not… however…"

Martine shrugged and looked through the glass. Seifer stared back, completely disinterested, as if death was only a minor inconvenience for him.

"If not, well, I don't want anyone to accuse the government of lying," Martine said.

"You can't!" Selphie said.

"I don't think you should waste your pity on him," Martine said. "He's done nothing to earn it. If I'd realized earlier you two had a personal connection with him, I would have taken more care to ensure that you did not find your way into here, and we could have avoided this whole awkward situation. It was a miscalculation on my part."

"I'll give YOU a miscalculation!" Selphie yelled, tugging at her restraints and forcing the two students to brace themselves to keep her from attacking the Headmaster. She kicked and spun, trying to break free, fighting against the Galbadians.

(Fighting to help Seifer…)

(… But why?)

Irvine looked at her and shook his head. "Why do you care?"

"Huh?" Selphie said. She turned to Irvine and stopped struggling. Her guards took this moment to catch their breaths.

"I said, why do you care?" Irvine repeated. He shrugged. "Seifer tried to kill us… umm… let's see, one… two… three… four times at least. He tortured Squall. He held his gunblade to Rinoa's throat. He caused the Lunar Cry, and nearly ended the world. I'm sorry, but… I don't care whether he dies or not. He's not our friend."

"Ain't that the truth," Seifer said.

"He's one of us!" Selphie said, hurt and indignation threading her voice. "He's from the orphanage. And he's from Garden."

"So?" Irvine said.

"So? SO?!" Selphie said, tugging at her wrist-restraints. Her guards leapt into action again, putting their hands on her arms and shoulders, fighting to keep her still. Even though she was a tiny little thing, her junctions gave her far more strength than anyone could expect. Yet another guard broke from the hallway to come and help detain Selphie.

"Yeah. So?" Irvine said. "When someone tries to kill me, I don't turn around and stick my neck out for 'em. I really don't understand why you're so upset about this. Seems like Galbadia is doing our dirty work for us."

Selphie resisted the guards for a couple more seconds, then went limp. She turned her head away from Irvine, her eyes cast down at the floor. Using her shoulder, she adjusted the wool cap on her head—a remnant from her cold weather gear in Trabia. She pulled the cap down as far as it would go, as if hiding from Irvine.

(I don't know what else to tell her.)

(We have other friends who need our help. Actual friends, who care about us.)

(Seifer is our enemy. Always was, always will be.)

Martine watched the whole exchange, no doubt paying extra attention to the list of Seifer's past faults. After a few moments of silence, he stepped forward.

"I'm glad to see you've still got a rational mind, Kinneas," Martine said. "I'm willing to forgive this indiscretion of yours. But only if you promise to forget this incident and cooperate with us and with General Caraway. I'll still allow you to transfer out of G-Garden, when all this is done. However, as punishment, you'll both be confined to your dorm until we arrive in Deling City. Break the rules again, Kinneas, and you'll arrive in Deling City not as guests, but as prisoners."

(He's being… quite forgiving.)

Irvine had expected much more than just a slap on the wrists. He got the feeling that there was a great deal that Martine wasn't telling him, something about Caraway or Deling City that made him extra lenient towards his guests. Still, he wasn't going to complain about easy treatment.

"Fair enough," Irvine said, nodding.

"Take them to dorm 20A," Martine said to the guards.

The guards nodded to the Headmaster and ushered Irvine and Selphie out of the detention center and down the hall to the dorms. It was a long, quiet walk through the halls to the second-floor dormitories. All through the trip, Selphie made a point of frowning as hard as she could and stomping her boots louder than necessary. At first, Irvine felt a little bit guilty about not taking her side, but as he walked, he found more and more justifications for not helping Seifer, and fewer reasons to empathize with Selphie.

They were brought into an austere dorm room. Unlike the highly decorated and personalized dorms in Balamb, Galbadia's dorms were nothing more than military bunk beds and steel writing desks with computers on top. In the far corner was a narrow doorway leading into the private bathroom. The same room that, mere hours ago, had been the setting of his latest Selphie-oriented fantasies. Now, those fantasies were gone, and the bathroom was just a room.

Irvine and Selphie were pushed roughly inside by their guards, their hands quickly unbound. The guards stepped outside, closing the door. Irvine glanced behind him and saw his shotgun and Selphie's nunchaku lying on the floor.

(At least we still got those.)

Irvine and Selphie both rubbed their wrists, still sore from the restraints, and stared at each other.

"So… what're we gonna do about Seifer?" Selphie asked.

Irvine shook his head. "What about him?" he asked.

"What?" Selphie said.

"What what?" Irvine said.

"I mean, what?" Selphie said. "I thought you were actin' for Martine. You know, pretending to be on his side so he'd lower his guard. Aren't we gonna bust out Seifer now? They aren't gonna suspect it, and I've still got a ton more sleep spells we can use. And they were dumb enough to give us our weapons back! Look!"

"I wasn't acting," Irvine said. "I really, honestly, truly don't give a damn what happens to Seifer. I don't."

Selphie's expression drooped. "But.. why?" she asked. "He's part of the Orphanage Crew! The Matron Six!"

(…The Matron Six?)

"Seifer betrayed us," Irvine said. "He jumped sides and became Ultimecia's knight. He's not part of our crew anymore. We don't owe him anything."

"But we can't just…" Selphie said. She frowned, hard, and flopped down onto the bottom bunk. The metal springs creaked under her weight. "You act like he'll never change. Like he's going to be bad forever. He's just a kid, you know? Like us."

"People can change sometimes," Irvine said. "But only if they really want to. You saw him in there. That's the exact same Seifer we fought in Lunatic Pandora, the one who was screaming about 'Ultimecia's wish,' and whatever else. He's a mad dog, Selphie, and if we let him off his chain, he's just going to bite us."

The two were silent for some time. Finally, in a small voice, barely audible, Selphie said, "I… don't know why I care. But I do. I can't not care."

(I can.)

Irvine sighed and tugged on the brim of his hat. "Look… some people… ergh."

He sighed again and tried to gather his thoughts.

"I told you about my parents," he said. "My foster parents. Do you think I owe them anything?"

"I dunno," Selphie said. "I never met 'em."

"But you know the story," he said. "They didn't want me, so I left. And now, Seifer doesn't want us. And say what you'd like about my foster family, they were just a couple of stuck-up rich folks with more money than heart. Neither of them were murderin' psychopaths. So, not only can I not care about Seifer, I can not care pretty easily. Seifer grew up in the same orphanage as us, but… he's made his choices. And we've made ours."

(Is any of this getting through?)

Selphie sat on the bottom bunk, her hands folded in her lap, her wool cap pulled down almost over her eyes. She was sullen, silent, gazing sightlessly at Irvine's chest, but not looking him in the face.

Irvine shrugged, then said, "Well, there's nothing we can do right now. Even if we tried something, Seifer was right: we're in the middle of the ocean, and it's just the two of us against all of G-Garden. We have to at least wait until we get to land before we can help out."

"No…" Selphie said softly, not bothering to move. "No, you're right. We can't do anything. We shouldn't do anything. Seifer is Seifer's problem, not ours."

(I have to fix this. I can't let tonight end like this.)

The day, the whole day, had been just such a crazy mix of emotions. After days of digging in the rubble in Trabia, he finally found the elevator shaft leading down into the MD levels. But the whole mission proved to be a bust, a big waste of time. The G-Garden came, and he started to wonder if he was going to die next to Selphie, atop the barrier wall of Trabia Garden. To die without ever expressing his true feelings for her.

Then they came aboard the Garden and everything was going so well. Selphie cheered up—really let loose—for the first time in days. For a short time, she seemed like she was before Trabia: excited, full of hope, spontaneous. He told her his story, and realized how incredibly important she was to him. She and all his true friends, who'd stood by him after years of living with people who only wanted to use him, or leave him.

And then the stupid detention center, and stupid Seifer.

(I can't care about him, and Selphie can't help but care about him.)

Irvine sighed. "Look, we'll talk in the morning, okay? We're both just really tired."

Selphie said nothing. She stretched out on the bed, her head on the pillow and boots still on her feet. It was still several hours before nightfall, but after everything that happened, Irvine felt like he could sleep for a week.

He took off his hat and hung it on the edge of the bedpost, then climbed up a short ladder to the top bunk, ducking his head to keep from hitting the low ceiling. Still in his clothes, he stretched out on his side and turned to the front door.

When he'd been a student at G-Garden, he always used to shut off the lights by taking off one glove and throwing it at the switch. He eyed the button on the wall and peeled off a glove. He chucked it sidearm, and it slapped the wall, killing the lights and plunging the dorm into darkness. A little bit of light still streamed in through the blinds.

"G'night, Selphie," Irvine said.

He got no response.