Squall learns that Selphie and Irvine are about to have a baby. With two weeks before the wedding, how will the 'children of fate' cope with their personal convictions that threaten to break their ...
"So this is what I've been reduced to," Rinoa thought as she scooped another ladleful of lard into the deep fryer. "It was this or cleaning toilets."
Everything just smelled fattening. She swore she was gaining pounds just from inhaling the kitchen, between the hamburgers and hotdogs, the small squares of chocolate pudding pie, the macaroni and cheese. When you were surrounded by it, it felt like you were knee-deep in grease. Why Zell hadn't chosen to work here was beyond her. God help her if any of her friends saw her like this. She adjusted her hairnet - her ugly, ugly hairnet. It made her hair feel poofy, but that was just because it was all bundled up under a thin mesh.
"Hey, Rinoa," one of the attendants said, "Look alive." She nodded back to the counter. Rinoa looked and saw a student waiting for service there.
"Oh," she stepped away from the deep fryer and approached her. "Can I help you?"
"Yeah, can I get a burger combo?"
Rinoa accessed the part of her brain where the burger combo file was stored. It consisted of a hamburger, fries, fruit, and dessert. "Sure," she said. She took a hamburger patty that was fresh off the grill, put it between two toasted buns and added a piece of lettuce and tomato. Then she grabbed a scoopful of fries and put them next to the plate. Then she grabbed a piece of today's fruit - an apple - and put it on the tray in another square. Next to that she scooped in a slice of the pudding pie. Finished, she handed the tray over the sneeze guard to the student. "Here you go."
Wow, she did it. She didn't sneeze on the hamburger. She didn't tip the tray forward and spill it everywhere. She didn't cost the cafeteria 8,000 gil worth of damages. "Hey, I did it!" she said excitedly to the nearby cook.
"Sure you can," she said. "It's not hard. Doing it for fifty years, now that's hard."
"Fifty... years?" Rinoa suddenly pictured herself old and gray, eyes wrinkled shut, hardly being able to see the hamburger she was putting together, feebly handing a tray over to a student saying 'here ya go, sonny'.
She shook her head to clear the image. That was scary.
"Francine," the second cafeteria lady called out to the first one, "I'm taking this down," she said next to a doorway holding a barrel of potatoes nearly as big as her.
"Okay," Francine said. With her gone, she moved over to Rinoa and started collecting and toasting the buns along side her. "Everything you do, you just take it one day at a time," she said to the young woman. "You keep so uptight, you're gonna fail."
"It's just, I'm so afraid of klutzing it up. I tried being a mechanic, a secretary, a nurse, and I always did something to screw it up. I'm afraid I'm gonna poison someone with the lettuce."
"Aw, you can't do that unless you leave it in the sun for too long. And then you can tell pretty easy." She seared the bread with her spatula, creating a sizzling sound. "Your problem is you're trying too hard. You care too much about being able to fit in."
"But I'm not contributing anything to Garden, cause I'm not a SeeD."
"Bull-hockey. I'm not a SeeD and I get to stay here. The faculty gets to stay here. Dr. Kadowaki's not a SeeD and she still contributes. They're part of the team. You may not realize it, but even though you don't have a position, you still have a job."
"Taking care of Squall."
She cocked her eyes at the lunch lady. "That's not a job."
"No one's gonna take you out of Garden because you're not a SeeD. You did just fine without being one. You earned your place here a hundred times over, and you're keeping it by being with Squall. Squall's the backbone of Garden. He's the one we all look up to when things go wrong. But he can't do it alone. You protect the protector. Under every eagle there's a great wind holding it up." She took the bin of toasted buns off the counter and moved to Rinoa's other side. "I've been here long enough to know everyone here and Squall's got something on his back. And it didn't start until the Selphie thing."
Rinoa's thoughts turned to the marks on his hand. Where was her protection then? She stared at her meat patties. "I've tried getting through to him, but it's just not working. I've never seen him take anything to heart like this."
"See, here's the thing. Squall keeps everything inside him. He cares a lot about his people and friends, and he'll defend them to the death against every little thing that comes in. But personal confrontation." She shook her head disapprovingly. "Can't stand it. He'll just make comments in his head and move on. But those build up until he can't take it."
Rinoa remembered one of the first times they met, at the base of Timber TV tower. They were planning a strategy to stop the broadcast when Squall stopped her to complain about the slapdash methods of her resistance team. Looking back on it now, he didn't yell at her because he hated her, it was because he cared about her. At the time she thought he was being too hard on her. Probably because he was so hard on himself.
Rinoa looked at Francine. "But why this time? He seems more upset than anything I've seen him upset at. It's like he's reverting back to his old self."
"Well, ever since time compression happened, I've noticed he's taken his role as commander more seriously. He was reluctant at first, but now he's thrown himself into his work. That's because during that whole time he felt like he had no control. People were forcing him into decisions and situations and leading him around. Like growing up an orphan, being forced to come to Garden, and then to become Commander, his sister leaving."
"Sister?" Rinoa queried. "Sis? You mean Ellone? How do you know about Ellone?"
"I've been doing this for long enough, I know everybody's stories, Squall's most of all. Anyway, the point is, he never had control and he always desired it. He wants order to the chaos, for things to stay the same, status quo. But then Selphie's problem came along and now he has to deal with that. Things never stay the same. Everyone's changing, growing up, moving onward. When you've seen as many students pass through this cafeteria as I have, you get some perspective."
Wow, Rinoa thought. Sometimes you really get help from the most unlikely of places.
"Hey, Francine, gimme a hand down here," the other cafeteria lady called down from the basement.
"Coming," she called. She took off her gloves and headed for the door. "Can you stir the special sauce?" she told Rinoa as she traipsed down the stairs.
Rinoa nodded and headed over to the big vat on the stove with an oversize serving spoon inside. She pulled the spoon and used all her strength to pull it in the gummy liquid. Ick, it smelled like mayonnaise left in the sun. She brought her arm to face and sniffed. Now she smelled like it too. She didn't think she'd be working here much longer.
Ooh, if the ladies could see me now, Irvine commented inwardly as the doctor held the cold disc of the stethoscope up to his chest. If only Dr. Kadowaki was a little thinner... and not so hard-nosed... and attractive... and less than six hundred years old.
Irvine sat shirtless on the rubber check-up bed, waiting for the doctor to finish writing on her sheet. He kicked his legs up and down on the high bed like a little boy. Being partially naked he somehow associated with being energetic. Probably, it was from sports, when he'd play basketball, volleyball, track, etc.
The doctor came back and poked an instrument into his ear. It tickled and itched at the same time. Irvine looked over at the wall inside the doctor's office.
"Nice painting," he commented. "When did you get that?"
"Uh, some time ago," she replied.
"What is it of?"
"I'm not sure," she took out the ear instrument and made some more notes. "All right, your vital signs are all normal. Everything looks good. You look like you're in good physical shape. Good enough for an island vacation."
"Oh, believe me, it's no vacation."
"Oh, don't think I don't know that. I assume there will be a field doctor with you."
"Of course. I have about two weeks of orientation in Trabia before I get shipped out. So I'll get to know everyone real well then."
She began talking as she was writing in her form. Irvine was amazed she could do that, must have been a skill learned from all those years of doctoring. "Did you take your mental aptitude test yet?"
"Yep, nailed it," Irvine answered as he made a fake revolver with his fingers and fired it. "Weirdest test I ever took, too. There weren't even any questions, just a bunch of video games."
"Yeah, those are to test your concentration and alertness."
"I'm sure I passed. After the time compression, everything's gonna be a breeze. They didn't even find any major memory loss issues."
"Not using the GF's?"
"Nope, not going to either, for the mission."
"Really?" she said with concern. "That sounds like a bad idea to me, especially on that island."
"Believe me, I had a long debate with Cid about that. But if Squall can do it, I can do it." He remembered when Squall delivered an announcement to Garden, about six months ago, about how he was going to stop using GF's. As far as the rest of the students were concerned, he decided to let everyone make their own decisions, but that he strongly recommended against it.
Irvine said, "I don't want to lose any memories. Not with everything that's happening to me."
"Ah, yes," the doctor understood. "Well, you just take care of yourself out there."
Irvine put on his shirt. "Hey, I'm a sharpshooter. All you need to do is make sure they don't get close. No need to take out head-on what you can eliminate from three hundred feet." He made another motion as if he had a gun, taking out the jar of tongue depressors.
"You seem overly confident. That might get you killed," she warned, even though she knew that was just part of Irvine's personality.
Irvine said, "Don't say that. If you say bad things, they'll come true." Dr. Kadowaki shrugged in acknowledgment. "Besides, I'm more worried about missing all my friends and Selphie and the baby and losing touch with them. I'm more worried they're gonna forget me."
"Believe me, they won't."
"Aw, I know they won't. And Selphie, well, once the radio gets back up, my kid'll be six months old by then. Maybe he'll be able to make the first world radio broadcast."
"Well, usually babies don't start making cohesive words until nine months."
"Oh. Well, maybe mine'll be special. And Selphie, I'll be able to keep in contact with her when the radio goes up. So it won't be so bad. It's better than it was in history. Communication's evolved so much. It's pretty cool to be a part of it."
Irvine put on his cowboy hat and stood up from the table. "Am I all done?"
"All set," she said.
"Thank you kindly, ma'am. I'll be on my way now." Irvine strutted out of the doctor's office.
"Yippie-kie-yay," the doctor said to herself as she rolled her eyes.
"Squall, we need to talk."
That was always one of the worst things a man could hear, short of hearing your mother died. His brain froze. It meant he was in trouble, like a little kid, but now he was a little kid who could defend himself. Some of the worst arguments he and Rinoa had had started with 'we need to talk'. Centra fell because of 'we need to talk'.
Squall looked up from his paper slowly as Rinoa sat on the coffee table, concern flooding her eyes. They told Squall she wasn't angry, which was a good thing, in a way. But sometimes her being sad was worse.
"About those cuts on your hands," she said. "I know they didn't come from a funguar," she said quickly as Squall re-raised his paper.
"They're nothing," he said.
"Squall, please, listen to me. I got a call from the train station and -"
He pulled down his paper fast. "The train station called you?"
"They called this number. I just told them you weren't here."
Squall got up to leave the room. Rinoa quick put a hand on his knee to stop him. "Please, no, listen, this isn't an interrogation or anything. I'm not committing you. I just want to know you'll be all right... cause... cause I know if I were in trouble, you'd do the same for me. No matter what the cost. But it's hard to save someone from themselves."
Squall stopped in his tracks and thought, his eyes moving back and forth, showing the wheels turning in his head. He sat back down.
"It was more than a week ago. I haven't felt like doing it since. I'm not gonna do it again. I just felt... something... that I couldn't describe. Like a mix of every emotion. So I lashed out. I had to do it or I felt like I was going to explode. I didn't have any other way to get it out of me. It was just a gut reaction. I didn't know what else to do."
"Is that the only time you've ever done that?"
"So I don't need to inform the psych ward?"
"It was just a high-stress situation."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I'd prefer no one to know. It's my job to be the commander. Garden's rock. And Irvine and Selphie are supposed to be my friends. How would it look for the leaders of Garden to be locked in internal conflict?"
"Sometimes it's good to show your human side too. It inspires confidence in the leader, that he's healthy emotionally. They're looking for mistakes, not emotionality." She put both her hands on his knees. "It's all right to voice your opinion on someone... quietly... to others. We've all been so conflicted about this, you're not alone."
Rinoa wasn't sure if she was getting through. She wanted to hear what Squall really had to say about it, what he was feeling. But his face was as cold as stone.
"All right, so are we cool about this?" he said.
"Yeah, we're cool. One scar is all I need." She gently brushed the bridge of his nose. Rinoa sat up as Squall continued with his paper. She felt somewhat empty, like she hadn't accomplished anything, but she completed something. She walked over to the entrance to the bedroom.
"Rin?" he said.
"Yes," she said from the doorway.
"If it was anyone else... even Quistis or Zell... I wouldn't have said anything."
Rinoa smiled. "Thanks, Squall." In truth, that meant a lot to her. She just wished it could mean a lot to everyone else.
Quistis took her pointer and moved it to the blinking yellow lights that indicated ships on the blue and green map. "Now, if ships A and B were to move here, and C strafed over here like this, what's wrong with that?" She bent down to the teacher's desk's control panel and programmed the display to show the dots moving to the positions she had pointed out. The dots repeated their movement over and over with a trail of dashes behind. "Zell?"
"Uh..." Zell looked around at his battle theory classmates, they were all focused on the display and writing in their notes, absorbing every bit of information. He looked up at the control panel, trying desperately to decipher the strategy Quistis had put up. "Uh, I don't know."
Quistis sighed. "The ships would be obscured by the wall. That's a blind spot. The cannons would tear them to pieces."
Oh, guess so, he thought. Quistis bent down to access the next display while Zell wondered why he was still in class. He thought he was done with classes. Didn't he graduate already?
"Let's move on," she said. "So, we move all the ships down, they all conglomerate here, on the shore. What's going to happen first in this scenario?"
I should know this, Zell thought, I had a mission just like this. Quistis looked right at Zell, while others raised their hands. He knew she was ready to call on him, and he anxiously formulated a quick answer. "Soren?" she called out.
"Ship C gets wiped out before they have a chance."
"Right. That would result in unacceptable losses. So where should we move to? Zell?"
Acck, why is she calling on me for everything?
"Uh, spread out the ships more? Maybe move 'em away from the beach... then they can all rappel up the cliff?"
Quistis shook her head sadly. "No, Zell, you'd move around the island for cover and then thrust forward like an arrow."
Zell stuck out his bottom lip and cringed his hands. Aw, man, I knew that. I'm suckin' it down, I'm gonna fail if I keep this up.
"Zell, are you paying attention?" she yelped.
Zell sat straight up in his seat and nodded. "Uh, yes."
Quistis depressingly looked down at the ground, and then up at the clock. The period was nearly over. "Well, all right, for next time, do pages 84 through 86 in your text book and start reading the chapter on division of resources." Students started causing a racket with the gathering of their bags and shuffling out of the room. "Zell," she said clearly over the din, "I want to see you after class."
Eep. Zell swallowed and hesitantly started to stand up from his desk.
"No," she commanded. "You stay there."
Zell fell back in his chair. He was really worried now. It's not like it was his fault. He didn't know what was wrong with him. Maybe he was just having a bad day. After the last of the students had left she warmly approached his desk.
"Zell, you seemed distracted today. Is anything wrong?"
Zell shrugged no.
Quistis walked back to the front of the room and leaned up against her desk, looking at Zell. "Maybe you need to study after school." She began traipsing her fingers up her pale pink vest. She rubbed the space between her breasts up and down lightly.
"Uh, sure... that'd be... cool," Zell stuttered, staring at her hand. What in the world was she doing?
Quistis took the zipper at the top of her clothes and tugged down slowly. She pulled her arms back and her vest just flowed off of her. Her skirt melted away to the floor. She was now wearing leather straps wrapped around her thighs. Her leather boots were studded up each side, as well as her leather panties with a zipper down the middle. And she had a push-up bra making her chest seem twice its size with rivets where the...
Zell swallowed, his brow beading into a cold sweat. Quistis scowled in a devilish manner and strapped a riding whip to her hand.
"You're going to have to perform a make-up test, Mr. Dincht."
Zell's eyes widened enough to fall out of his head. He heard mumbles at his left and looked. The Trepies were hooting and hollering from the corner.
"Yeah! All right, Quistis!"
"Beat that bad boy! Beat him!"
"He's been naughty!"
Zell was frozen in his seat. Quistis started walking up to him very slowly, putting one foot in front of the other, a seductive smirk plastered on her face. Zell was practically shivering-
-Zell opened his eyes and saw the blackness fluttering from his pupils dilating too quickly. He looked around and saw he was back in his own room. The red digits on the alarm clock told him he had just been sleeping.
He sat up in bed and rubbed his forehead. "I've been thinking about girls too much." What a weird dream.
He plopped back down on the pillow and cradled it under his arms. Next time, he thought, he'd have fewer hot dogs before he went to bed.