Fire Petals Chapter 22


By Edenne

"Yes, yes, it's Seifer." Came Quistis' fuzzy reply.

Squall balled his fists. *You'd better be careful, Quistis . . .*

"Only say something to those you must. Tell the SeeDs to be ready with weapons in case they need them. He still has his--"

"Gunblade. Drop your toy." Seifer's voice. A second later, a loud thump echoed from the bridge's speakers.

"Quistis, are you there? Qui--" Nida was cut off by more crackling, then complete silence.

Squall grabbed the mic from Nida's hand, "Quistis?" No answer. "Answer me, damn it!"

"There's no use. The line's been cut off." Nida replied, looking somewhat paler than he had a few minutes earlier.

Squall threw the mic to the floor in frustration, surprising both Nida and Xu, and squinted to the barely-visible shoreline. "Go there. Now. We're leaving now. Make an announcement to tell the SeeDs to get ready to disembark. To get the boats ready." He turned to leave.

"What are you going to do?" Xu asked, hoping the concern showed through he voice.

"I'm going to find Rinoa to let her know I'm leaving. Then I'm going to find the others on my team. We'll be the first to disembark." With that he left, moving much faster than usual after stepping off the elevator platform.

"I thought Rinoa would be going with them." Xu said absently as Nida began to steer the Garden towards the shoreline.

"He probably wants to protect her." Nida replied, picking up the mic from the floor.


"What're YOU guys doING?" came a familiar yet distorted voice from the doorway to Selphie's dorm. Irvine sat up with a start, his hat falling to his lap as he squinted up with startled, sleepy eyes.

It was Selphie who recognized him first. "Zell, what are you--"

"OOPS, uhhh . . . . sorry I 'nterrupt'd I'll be GOing now . . . ." Zell shifted his weight from the doorframe, stumbling on his first step. Irvine jumped to his feet, taking Zell by his shoulders. Something about him *really* wasn't right.

"What's wrong with you?" He asked, sounding more angry than concerned.

Zell shook his head a few times to reply with, "Dunno." His eyelids drooped quite tiredly, and he had a strange vacant look about him. He fell into Irvine's grasp like Jell-o.

"Look at me, Zell. Now." Irvine shook him, but got nothing. Zell's head only bobbed slightly from side to side and his leg began to bounce a little, as though he were completely unable to be still.

"What's wrong with him?" Came Selphie's worried voice from behind Irvine's shoulder.

Irvine lowered his voice to reply while slowly leading Zell to Selphie's bed, where he obediently sat down while Selphie looked on, silent with worry. "I don't know. I think he took something . . . maybe Rinoa hurt his feelings more than we thought."

"Yes she DID . . . she DID hurt m' feelin's I didn't use HER I really LIKE her . . ."

"Zell, what did you take? You need to tell us." Irvine demanded sternly.

"I'll . . . I donwanna. I'll get in TROUble." His knee began to bounce again, first one and then both, his head still moving as he looked around the room as if he'd never seen anything like it.

"No you won't. We'll make sure nothing happens to you. I promise."



"Ok um . . . ." he looked at the floor, "Ok um theysaid I hadta have the MED kit in my backpack thingie so I had it and I was sad so I drank a potion." here he scratched the side of his nose and just stared vacantly at nothing in particular.

"You had to drink more than that to get like this, Zell, and you know it."

"OK fine," he began to try to count on his fingers as he stared at the ceiling in thought, "four megaones and six potion thingies, and now I feel MUCH better."

Irvine sighed. From the few med classes he'd taken, he knew that this wasn’t enough to overdose, but it wasn't good and it was *definitely* against the rules. If anyone found out about this Zell could even be expelled.

"Why did you take them, Zell?"

"I was sad, so I had . . . . one, and that was cool, and then I had more cuz I liked 'em. But I didn't . . . I didn't know THIS would happen . . . I'm feelin' REALly funny."

Suddenly there was a click from the speakers in the hallway. ~"All SeeDs going on the mission to Grandidi forest, head to your previously designated stations. There will be an early departure today because of an emergency--one of our SeeDs has come across some complications on the shore and is in need of assistance."~

"Shit. Why now?" Irvine hissed through gritted teeth, "Damn it, anytime but *now*. We weren't supposed to go 'til tomorrow!"

"It's okAY, I can still go." Zell said confidently, "It's all GOOD."

"No, you can't, Zell. You're screwed up." Irvine replied. "Shit shit shit *shit* . . ."

"We have to bring him." Selphie said timidly, "There's nothing else we can do."

"Yeah, But I'll be too busy with Exeter to freakin' *babysit* him . . . "

"You don' need ta BABY sit me! I can take car 'o m'self." The pair ignored him.

"There were *complications* Selphie, and you know as well as I do there's gonna be a rumble."

"A *fight?* Ooooooo yeah, let's go kick some ASS!" Zell rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

"What other choice do we have?" Selphie asked, placing her hands on her hips.

Irvine sighed. "Alright, alright. You're right." He turned to Zell, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, I need you to listen to me." Zell looked up and nodded quite energetically. "I need you to stay quiet as we're heading to the boats, and as we're getting on them, too. Don't say a *word.* Just follow me."

Zell nodded again. "Will DO, cap'n!"

Irvine's hand found his forehead. "I can't *believe* this . . ." he mumbled as he and Selphie grabbed their backpacks and headed out the door, Zell close in tow.


It was mostly by chance that Squall found Rinoa walking down the dorm hallway unsteadily but seemingly with purpose. She stood out in the crowd of SeeDs that rushed in either direction down the halls. When he called out to her, she turned around quickly. "Squall, there you are! I was just about to go to the entrance . . . that's where the boats are, right?"

"Rinoa, you're staying here."

"What?" She took a step back from him, her eyes narrowing.

"Look, Quistis went to investigate over there and she found Seifer. He took her, Rinoa . . . I need to find them."

Rinoa was silent for a few seconds, thinking over what she'd just learned. "But the announcement . . . it said for everyone that was going to go to get to the boats."

"I want you to stay."

"You don't want me around Seifer."

Squall looked away at the accusation. "I . . . Rinoa, I just want to protect you."

"You don't need to protect me. I can fight as well as anyone, Squall, especially if I'm beside you, and you know it."

"And if I lose to Seifer . . . when we fight . . . what will happen to you? What will he try to do?" *What if he gets into my head again? And . . . ~succeeds~ this time?*

Rinoa leaned a little closer to him, recognising the worry in his eyes as a tiny smile appeared on her lips. She placed a finger under his chin to reply, "You won't lose."

Squall turned his back to her, his steps light and unsteady. He crossed his arms tightly in front of him, instantly regretting admitting his insecurity to her.

Rinoa stepped up to his back carefully, delicately sliding her arms around his waist and leaning her head on his back. "I know I'm safer with you than with anyone else. You can beat him. It'll all be fine. Look," she giggled a little, "I'm coming whether you like it or not. You can't stop me. I'm stubborn."

Squall sighed and shook his head. She was right about that. And if he left her at Garden, it could be attacked. Seifer had to be working for somebody, and who knew how many armies they had? Nobody would be there to protect her. Nobody cared enough to die trying. "Okay." he said quietly, "We have to go. Now. I want to be in the first boat there." he slid from her grasp and took her hand to lead her, not looking back to see her pleased expression.


“What the hell is this?” Irvine stopped dead in his tracks upon reaching the main entrance. A crowd of hurried SeeDs moved directionlessly in front of the trio, blocking them from moving any further. Taking Selphie’s hand, who in turn took Zell’s (for he was looking particularly dazed), he headed to the closest official-looking SeeD he could find. “What’s going on here?” he asked, just before being shoved in the back by someone.

“Someone messed up and let the boats go before they were supposed to. They’re all floating around somewhere beneath the second floor balcony. Until we get them back, nobody’s leaving this place.” replied the exasperated teenage girl. “Are you supposed to go on this mission?”

Irvine had turned around before he got the chance to answer her. “Where are we going?” Selphie asked.

“We’re gonna go to the second floor balcony.” he replied as they made their way into the main circular hallway, “I remember using a rope for a pillow last time I took a nap up there.”

“Oh no, you’re not planning on--”

“Hey, Squall!” Irvine called. Sure enough, there he was, leading Rinoa close behind him. “Where’re you off to?”

“We’re going to the front, where the boats are,” Squall replied, “We’d better hurry, if--”

Irvine shook his head, exasperated. “No chance. Someone let ‘em go. Must’ve messed up and untied the rope, I guess. They’re floatin’ under the second floor balcony as we speak.”

Squall’s eyes widened in disbelief, then narrowed in anger. “Shit.” he muttered. “Quistis is over there.”


“Seifer took her. He was there when she was last on the radio, and then it cut out. We have to get there, *now.*”

Both Rinoa and Selphie raised a hand to cover their mouths. Zell looked like he hadn’t heard. Though Irvine was particularly surprised by this bit of information, he managed to keep it from phasing him. “There’s a rope up there. We can climb down into the water.”

Squall nodded and the group began to head for the elevator. “What’s wrong with Zell?” Rinoa asked, staring at him strangely as he stared at everything around him strangely.

“Uh . . .” Irvine looked at Selphie, who only shrugged. “He drank a bunch of potions a little while ago . . . I guess he was lookin’ for comfort. Says he went a little further than he’d planned.”

Squall’s hand found his forehead. He couldn’t believe this. *What does ~he~ need comfort for?* “We can’t bring him with us.” he said, “If he’s intoxicated, he can’t handle--”

“I can HANDLE it, guys!” Zell interrupted, “‘S not that bad anywho. I can walk now, and I’ll just follow YOU, reeeeal quiet.”

“Fine . . . “ Squall quickened his pace, then turned his attention to the elevator buttons as the others piled in. “We don’t have time to . . . no time to argue about anything.” he mumbled, “Let’s just get there.” The others nodded.

There was a collective muttering of “Shit” and “Damn it” upon reaching the balcony. There the boats were, a few hundred feet below them, and there the rope was, looking much to short to reach them.

“We’re going to have to jump.” Squall said.

“Excuse me?” Selphie asked, “We can’t!”

“We’ll tie the rope up here and climb as far as we can down it, and then jump. That’s a hundred feet taken off. We were trained to dive from a significant height. It’ll be fine.”

“What about Zell?” Irvine asked, “Can he do it?”

“I can DO it, already.” Zell replied, sighing with exasperation. “Nobody EVER thinks I can do ANYTHING. Geez. I know how to climb down a rope.”

“We don’t have time for this. Zell, I’ve thought about it . . . you’re staying here. I can’t have your life resting on our shoulders because you’re too messed up to take care of yourself.”

Zell hung his head. “I’m sorry.”

“Good. Which means you’ll never do this again.”

“All I ever WANTED was for you to think I could DO it.”

“Do what, Zell?”

“ANYTHING! Nobody . . . nobody ever thinks I cando anything.”

“Well, you can prove yourself next mission.” Squall said heartlessly, turning to knot the rope to the rail as Zell slumped into a corner, his head in his hands.

“I thought you were my friend.” he muttered, quiet enough for Squall to pretend he hadn’t heard.

*Right. I thought you were my friend, and then you just ~invited~ Rinoa into your room to--*

Irvine leaned over to whisper to Squall, “Uh . . . are you sure you’re not being a little too hard? Maybe letting personal stuff get in the way of--”

“He’s lucky I’m not having him demoted back to a student for this.” Squall interrupted quietly, not looking up.

Soon the rope was triple-knotted and Squall was on his way down, thankful for the protection his leather gloves provided against the rope as it slid quickly through his palms. Irvine was next, far above him. “Hurry up, Irvine! We don’t have time!” he called.

“MY gloves don’t have fingers--Gimme a break here!” was the reply, “and YOU aren’t carrying anybody!”

Squall looked up to see Selphie clinging to him, her arms around his shoulders and her legs around his waist. “I don’t have any gloves at all!” she explained to Squall, who quickly looked back down as he realized his view went right up her skirt. A hot blush appeared on his cheeks.

“What about Rinoa? She doesn’t have any either!” he said, keeping his gaze averted as he tilted his head upwards so he could be heard.

“I can’t carry two people for chrissakes!” Irvine replied.

“It’s okay Squall!” Rinoa called down to him, “Zell gave me his!”

*Zell gave her his. Isn’t that wonderful.* Squall recognized the resentment he had for Zell, a feeling very strange to him after being so used to not caring. Sure, Zell often annoyed him, but he’d had a good heart. Now, though, after what he tried with Rinoa yesterday and the stunt he pulled with the potions today, it seemed to him that all Zell wanted to do was mess things up as much as possible. It was a new side he’d never seen before. Squall shook his head and sighed, pushing the thought away in order to concentrate. *This is what I get for caring about people. Distractions from what’s really important.* “Be careful, Rinoa!” he said, then continued on his way downwards. *I should be carrying her. I should have thought like Irvine did. Damn it. If she falls . . .*

He nearly let out a yell as a blur of blue and black whizzed down past him, but then he heard Rinoa’s scream of “No, Zell!” from above. It took a second to compute in his mind that Zell had jumped.

“Shit! Zell!” came Irvine’s panicked voice. Squall searched the water below as Selphie hollered Zell’s name. He went even faster down the rope, then stopped as a blond head appeared above the waves.

“See? I can do it!” Zell called to them, his yell barely audible, as the team’s cries of panic changed to joyful cheers.

Squall remained silent, beginning to move again as Zell climbed into a boat. *How the hell . . .* “Zell, wait there!” Squall yelled as he reached the rope’s end.

“I’ve got to go help Quistis! I’ll meet you there!” Zell informed him, seeming as though he hadn’t heard the instructions. The boat’s engine revved and sped off toward the shore. With nothing else to do, Squall inhaled deeply and let go of the rope, twisting his body in midair to dive into the frigid ocean waters. He quickly swam back to the surface, his body slightly tingling due to the force of the impact. Immediately he headed for the nearest boat, taking off his backpack and throwing it on board, thankful the dreadful weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He clambered inside to wait for the others who still dangled above him. First to follow was Selphie, whose head popped up above water seconds later, choking and spluttering with a look of severe distaste on her face. Irvine's dive made more of a splash than necessary, but nonetheless he came up fine as well, grabbing his hat from beside him before swimming over. Rinoa's dive was more graceful than any had expected, and she landed in the water witha quiet "ploop" to surface right at the edge of the boat.

"I have a rich daddy, remember? Baby Rinoa wanted swimming lessons, and she got them." Rinoa explained, smiling slightly as she hopped into the boat, "I ended up with a bronze cross."

The boat's engine came alive, Squall in no mood to waste time. "Zell . . ." he mumbled as the small vessel headed for shore, "If you mess things up . . ."


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