Fire Petals Chapter 14


By Edenne

Zell bolted out into the hallway to find Rinoa in a heap (somewhere within a puddle of way-too-big flannel pyjamas) on the floor some feet away. "Oh damn . . ." he turned her over and shook her shoulders a little too roughly in his panic. Rinoa's eyes opened wide and immediately she shoved him off of her and climbed away frantically.

"Rinoa! It's me! It's just me!" He took hold of her wrist.

"Don't touch me!" she exclaimed. Zell let go, startled. Rinoa fell backwards onto her rear, began clawing at her face, her arms. "The bugs! They're . . . my arms . . .my face . . . Squall . . . *diappearing*!!"

Her panic suddenly ceased. She fell back, smacking her head on the floor. Zell hurried to her side once again. "Dude . . . " he whispered. Rinoa was awake, staring at the cieling. After a few seconds, she looked over at him.

"I just had a freak-out again, didn't I?"

"You have a *name* for this? And what do you mean *'again'*?"

Rinoa sat up. "I used to sleep walk back when in my father's house. I always ended up getting lost."

Zell nodded, listening intently.

"I even fell down the stairs once. I went to a doctor, and all she could tell me was that it was because I was unhappy -- it always seemed to happen after we (my father and I, I mean) had an argument. And then, when I left home and met Watts and Zone, it went away. I didn't know it would ever come back." She was shaky, afraid, her knees pulled up to her chest as she rocked herself back and forth. She seemed very lost in thought, and very alone.

Sensing that she was done and didn't want to talk anymore (he couldn't listen to someone for very long anyways), Zell let his hand fall upon her shoulder. "Why don't we get you back to Selphie's room? That's where you were stayin', right?"

Rinoa sighed. "Yeah . . . I guess . . . she kicks in her sleep, though." She said as he helped her up. "I probably won't get to sleep. And she's such a sound sleeper, I can't wake her up to tell her to stop." Rinoa smiled.

"So . . . I bet she wouldn't notice if you got out of bed again and sleepwalked right out of the damn Garden, would she?"

"Doubt it. Want to go to the library or something?"

You're coming to my room." Zell didn't realize he'd said it unitl the woards has popped out of his mouth. *What the hell did I say that for? After what happened in the LAST guy's room she was in? . . . Oh well, I'll just go with it.* "I know I won't be sleepin' anyways. I'll watch you until you can talk to Doctor Kadowaki tomorrow."

"What? Zell, I could get in trouble for just being in there." She'd never before heard the demanding, protective tone he used.

"No you won't. We can explain it tomorrow if anyone has a problem." *Hyne damn it. Why don't you just make her MORE uncomfortable? But hey, If it means she'll be in MY room . . .*

Rinoa hadn't noticed where they'd been walking, and suddenly found that she was standing at Zell's door. He opened it and gestured for her to step inside. Rinoa did, but hesitantly. *Oh shit, there's this totally HOT girl, not just a hot girl, RINOA . . . Oh shit, what do I DO??*

"Zell, could you do me a favour?"

"Uh. . . sure, what is it?"

"Leave the door unlocked?"

"Okay . . ." Zell made sure it wasn't locked, and plunked himself down on the floor. "Why?"

Rinoa sat gingerly on the bed. "Um . . . I don't know. Never mind. It doesn't matter." She began to fiddle with her hands again.

"You want it unlocked so you'll be able to 'escape'." Zell mumbled, and proceeded to mentally whack himself in the forehead.


He hadn't meant for her to overhear him, but he decided to make the best of it. "Do you think I'd try the same thing Squall did?" *I shouldn't be bringing this up. I should have let HER bring it up.*

Rinoa didn't want to admit it, knowing she had no real reason. Zell wasn't a bad person. But then . . . neither was Squall. " . . . No." she replied, staring at her fidgeting, entwining hands.

Zell stilled them with one of his own. "Look Rinoa, I know you've been through a whole helluva lot, but you still need to trust the people who are tryin' ta help you."

*Zell's become mature? CALM? When did this happen?* "I guess you have a point . . ."

"But I'll still leave it unlocked for ya. So you'll be comfortable."


A few moments of awkward silence passed. Zell walked to the other side of the room, leaning against the wall. "Are you just going to stay there all night?" Rinoa asked.

"That's the plan. Aren't you gonna go to sleep?"


"No. In the cafeteria." Zell replied with a smirk.

"I don't know if I'll get to sleep, but I'll give it a try. . . " She said, ignoring his sarcasm. She pulled up the blankets and buried herself in the warm nest made by the bed's previous occupant. Zell turned out the lights and returned to his watch spot against the wall. He knew he wouldn't mind watching her. Still, this was going to be a long night.


As soon as Quistis returned to the main floor, she found Irvine waiting for her on the stairs leading down from the elevator. He stood up and tipped his hat when he saw her. "What'd he say?"

"He wouldn't tell me his motives, even after I said that we were all on his side."

"Why'd you tell 'im that? I never said *I* was on his side. And I don't think Zell is either. And don't even ask me about Rinoa. As far as I know, she hasn't said a word yet." Irvine was rather annoyed at her for putting words in his mouth.

"I believed that if I . . . well. . . bent the truth a little in his favour, he might have given me some answers."

Irvine thought that over. "But it didn't work."

"No, it didn't. There's something holding him back. He wanted to tell me . . . I could see it. But something or someone is confining him."

"Quistis, you're looking too deep into this. I'll bet he just cracked and lost his judgement. Or he was just an asshole all along . . ."

"Irvine!" Quistis scolded, "I can't believe you could say something like that. He's not . . . he doesn't even like to *touch* people, let alone . . ." She groped for the right words, ". . . *assault* them." The words she found tasted horribly bitter in her mouth.

"Sure looked like he *touched* Rinoa to *me* . . ."

Quistis ignored the comment. "There is one problem, though . . ."

"Only one?"

"He asked me to apologize to Rinoa for him."

"Aha! A confession!"

"I was afraid you'd see it that way." Quistis looked to the floor, dread of the possible truth written across her features. "That was what it sounded like to me, too. I had hoped you would quell the idea, not agree to it."

"We should do something."

"Like what? It's nearly midnight. Irvine, I suggest you go to bed. That's what I'll soon be doing."

"What? It's early! Nah, I think I'll go check up on Selphie."

"She's probably sleeping, too."

"Well, y'know, I could always watch her."

Quistis sighed. "Alright, Irvine, have it your way. You had just better not be cranky tomorrow." She began to walk away.

"Geez, Quistis, I'm not a little kid." Irvine called to her back before walking in the opposite direction.


Zell had never woken up standing before, and nearly fell over when he realized he was, stumbling forward a step. *Damn it. I didn't want to fall asleep.*

"No . . . Squall . . . don't you leave me, too . . ." Mumbling, from the other side of the room. *Well, at least she's still here.*

"What, Rinoa?"

No answer. He walked forward, barely able to see in the dim moonlight filtering through the thin-curtained window. A few steps later, he stumbled over a heap of blankets on the floor. Rinoa had obviously done some major tossing-and-turning.

"Hey--you awake?" he whispered as a writing Rinoa, tangled up in her own pj's, replied,

" . . . why's it . . . hail?. . . my arms . . ."

"Shit." he said under his breath. He couldn't just let her lay there freaked out, so he knelt by the bed to touch her. *I hope she doesn't hold this against me.* "Yo. Rinoa. Wake up." Looking closer at her pale features, he found that her cheeks were wet.

Rinoa finally awoke to find Zell's hand lightly caressing her cheek. When her eyes opened, he jumped back, a little embarassed. Rinoa noticed that her pillow was wet, and pulled it up to cover her face. "You're not supposed to see that." she choked.

"Sorry." He replied, turning around to give her some privacy as she wipd up her tears.

"It's okay." she replied, her voice muffled.



"You were saying some of the same things just now that you were when I found in the hall. . . . do you want to talk about it?" Zell felt incredibly awkward (a feeling that he didn't know very well) and scolded himslef for bringing it up. *I should have just left her alone . . .*

"Just a bad dream . . ."

"That much I could figute out."

" . . . in which all of my friends die and the Garden's destroyed."

"Geez. Care to elaborate?"

"I don't think you want to hear it."

"Only if you want to tell me."

Memories of the all-too-real nightmare flooded Rinoa's mind. "You got burned to a crisp." She removed the pillow from her face.

"That's nice to hear."

"Not nice to see. Selphie was ripped apart. Irvine and Quistis were crushed. Squall . . . I don't even *know* what happened to him. Something about hailstones, and us disappearing . . . dissolving . . . lots of bugs. . . "

The slight wince that had taken over Zell's face at the beginning of her summary only now began to dissapear. "Are you okay?"

"I guess so. But . . . Zell, do you ever have dreams that aren't really that scary when you talk about them, and don't even have any real events beside the feeling of fear?"

"Hmm." Zell thought for a moment, massaging the back of his neck. "I think I know what you mean. Once, I had this dream when I was little that I was screaming and I knew why but I didn't really, you know what I mean?"

Rinoa nodded. Zell rested his chin on the edge of the bed.

"And I couldn't tell anyone what was wrong cuz I was just *screaming*, and Ma was trying to figure out was was wrong, and she couldn't, and as if it wasn't scary enough, *she* got so afraid that she was screaming too . . ."

"That's what I mean! Screaming isn't that scary in itself. But dreaming about fear itself is the worst nightmare of all."

*Yeah! We're conversing! She likes talking to me!* "Yeah. I woke up crying. I was only six."

"Well . . . anyways, this dream was sorta like that."

" I bet it has something to do with today. Y'know, what happened." *Damn it. I brought it up AGAIN. I'm never gonna learn how to talk to people.*

Rinoa sighed, "Probably."

"Do you think he meant to do it? Or, like . . . did he just go nuts?" *Rinoa looks like she wants to talk about it . . . maybe she does . . . she'll probably tell me if she doesn't . . .*

"I don't know . . ." She was silent, pondering, for a long time. "He certainly wasn't himself. But . . . Those were *his* arms holding me down . . . *his* voice telling me to 'shut the fuck up and it'll be over faster.' . . . " Her voice became shaky with a new wave of tears begging to erupt from her already-swollen eyes. "His eyes telling me *nothing* . . . It was like they were *empty* . . ." Rinoa didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to remember it, but her mouth kept moving without her full consent. "His *hands* touching my . . . . more than touching . . . *hurting*. . ."

Rinoa again found herself wrapped up in Zell's warm embrace, stronger and more passionate than the first.

Because this time he *knew.* He knew was she thought and how she felt when nobody else did. She'd only felt so close (though never so suddenly) to a select few throughout her life.

"I'm . . . sorry. I shoudl have gotten there sooner." Zell couldn't think of anything else to say. He generally had no experoence at this this type of thing.

"I'm just . . .glad you showed up in time." She whispered shakily, "It could have been so much worse . . . thank you."

"No problem." Zell was no longer afraid to break her. His pure rage at whatever had driven so much pain into one person (be it Squall or whatever had caused him to act this way), and fact that that one person had been Rinoa seethed into his arms until he squeezed her to the point that it almost hurt her. Realizing that this was the last thing he wanted to, he let go, though his hand remained at the nape of Rinoa's neck.

They stared at each other for a full minute; wet, dismal brown swirling into angry but caring blue. Unable to stand the intensity of each other's gazes for another second, the pair's lips met.

*Great Hyne, what the hell am I doing? I'm KISSING her!! Squall's gonna kick my ASS . . . * still, despite the possible concequences, Zell found himself unable to pull away from her. *She needs me right now.*

Zell's mouth seemed the secret sanctuary that Rinoa hadn't known she'd been searching for, where in unknown ways she could express wordless emotions. His lips parted to allow her delicate tongue it's refuge, offering comfort. Ethereal hands ran through soft blond hair and over a black-lightning-bolt tatoo; strong, trained fingers played with the thin chain which graced a plae collarbone.

Then it was over, as quickly as it began. It seemed there was no longer a need for words, at least until tomorrow -- that none could further complete the slient ones just exchanged. Zell picked the blankets up off the floor and spread them out over Rinoa, then began to walk back over to the other side of the room, feeling strangely less comfortable than he had when she'd entered.

"You're leaving now?" Rinoa aked, reaching her lightning touch over to his arm.

He stopped dead in his tracks and looked at her. *I can't do this. I can't take advantage of her any more than I already have. She's so upset . . .* "Just to the wall where I was before. If you need anything, you can just--"

"Zell, um . . . I think I'd feel better if you stayed over here." Rinoa looked down at her pillow. *What am I saying? What would Squall think? What if what happened wasn't his fault and he finds out about this . . ?* "As friends," she added, begginning to fell uncomfortable herself, "Um . . . yeah. Friends."

*Friends that just decide to KISS once in a while? What is she talking about?*

"Okay, if that's what you want." *That's what she wants. I guess I'll . . .*

"You can lock the door now." she whispered. Zell did as he was aked, feeling quite relieved to know that she now trusted him, and returned to her to find she had shifted over in the bed and lifted up the covers to offer him a spot. Zell took it, laying stiffly on his back. Rinoa's head found his chest as she cuddled up to him, and was still. "Zell, don't think I'm a slut or anything . . ."

The thought had never crossed his mind. "Why would I think that?" *Though she IS acting pretty wierd.*

"What just happened . . . I don't think I'll ever be able to go back to Squall, even if what he did somehow wasn't his fault."

*NO! This isn't supposed to happen! I don't want to break them up!* Zell hadn't realized the possible concequences of his actions. He shifted slightly away from her without realizing it. "Why? If it wasn't his fault . . . because I have to admit, he damn right wasn't himself . . ."

"I don't think I can make those memories go away. Every time I look at him, they'll come back."

"But you two were a perfect couple . . " *Damn it , Zell, this is your chance! You've wanted her since you met her! Why are you fucking it all up?*

"Were we actually a couple?"

"That's what everyone thought."

Rinoa was slient for a while. "That's what I thought too." He voice was sad, like she had lost something very dear to her.

*Oh MAN, what have I done here? She's not going back to Squall now, and I want her . . . really bad . . .* He wanted to just run, get out of that bed and *run* as far away as possible. But then he looked down at her, and realized how much he cared. He could never leave. *Oh well, it's just tonight. Maybe everything will be back to normal tomorrow.* It seemed he couldn't stand his contradicting thoughts another minute.

"Just say here with me tonight, I need *someone,* and . . . maybe all these doubts I'm having will go away."

"We'll just have to see, I guess. Let's go to sleep now. This day's been too damn crazy."

"Okay." Rinoa sighed and didn't say any more. She felt incredibly comfortable (physically and mentally) if she managed to stop thinking about all the feelings she had for Squall that she couldn't yet abandon. Zell was strong and his one arm laying over her shoulders offered protection that she'd never had before. She knew that the nightmares wouldn't come back, at least for tonight.


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