She has a plan. Or rather, an idea and a hope, bundled together. And this time she's going to do it right.
Forged in the fires of Hell, she seeks redemption with the winds.
Chapter One - Albino Dawn
It wasn't a bad life, she mused, but it was pretty dull. Sure, for most people it would be perfectly acceptable, but she wasn't most people. And then there was the fact that she was lonely as well. The two idiots, as she thought of them affectionately, were good company, but she couldn't really talk to them about things. But then, she couldn't even if she'd wanted to. A girlfriend, that'd be nice. Someone who wasn't laden with testosterone and just spent most of their time goofing around. The goofing was good she had to admit; for too long she'd been all wrapped up in misery, and then she moved onto spite and hatefulness. Now, now she was just bored with everything. She needed to get some excitement back into her life. She missed fighting really. You didn't get many monsters in the small town they'd relocated to, and apart from the odd bar brawl, she didn't fight people either.
She knew what she'd do though. She didn't know if the others would join her; in a bizarre way, she hoped they didn't and she felt bad about that, but she wanted this to be something she'd do for herself, by herself. She didn't want to rely on anyone else, to succeed because of her own strength. She smiled to herself; she would succeed where even they had failed. Of course, she still had to find Balamb Garden first, but she had a few ideas about that...
Edea sat out on the veranda, calmly sipping a cup of tea as she stared out over the ocean, the sky darkening as it inched ever closer towards the evening. It was all so peaceful now and she was truly thankful for it. Memories of the terrible things she had done whilst under Ultimecia's control still haunted her, but out here, away from Galbadia, away from Trabia, away from Balamb and Esthar, she didn't have to worry about them. Of course, she knew the calm would only last for so long. In the distant future Ultimecia would rise to prominence and cast the world into darkness, but she would nonetheless be defeated. Certainly, other things would happen in-between then and now which SeeD would have to deal with, but it was unlikely that anything truly major should happen in her lifetime.
She didn't turn when she heard the footsteps come up behind her, knowing it was merely her husband Cid.
She blinked. That certainly wasn't Cid's voice. Not that it could have been, she realised. Her memory was clearly suffering from old age, she laughed to herself. Turning, she looked up into a single red eye staring seemingly impassively back down at her, an eyepatch presumably covering the other.
"Forgive me my child, do I know you?"
"Oh, right, back when... I was under Ultimecia's control. You... assisted Seifer, did you not?"
"I'm glad he had someone by his side at least."
Looking at the young woman a lot closer, she could see her clothes were caked in dust, as was her face and hair. Whilst her expression was calm, her single eye twinkled nonetheless with a fair degree of exultation.
"I'm afraid Cid isn't here at the moment, Squall asked him to assist at Balamb briefly, though I can contact him if you wish."
"AFFIRMATIVE. WISH TO RETURN."
She raised an eyebrow in surprise, but merely nodded in return. "Why don't you go and take a bath whilst I talk to Cid?" she asked as she set the china cup to one side, before rising to her feet. "I'm sure you must want to shed yourselves of the several layers of dirt you seem to have accumulated."
She found her visitor to certainly be a curious one, not the least in regards to her voice. She led the young woman back into the house, procuring a towel and bathing robe for her before showing her the bathroom. "If you put your clothes in this basket," she said as she placed one besides the door, "I'll see what I can do about giving them a good clean."
"CAN'T ASK THAT," came the shocked reply.
"Nonsense, you called me Matron, and I'd do this for any of my children. Don't worry yourself about it. It wouldn't be the worst thing I've had to wash within these walls, believe me."
Standing over the sink about half an hour later, her arms almost up to their elbows in the warm water, she smiled to herself. She actually found she missed this. Of all the silly things, washing someone else's clothes should hardly be the thing of reminiscences, but there she was, thinking about times past. Of the children she'd looked after and how they'd grown to become fine people through the years after she had left their lives, when she had taken in the powers of a second sorceress, Ultimecia.
She'd lost years of her life to that woman, constantly living in fear of the day she would lose control and possibly destroy everyone and everything that she cared about.
The truth of it was, she realised, that she would never escape those memories wherever she was. She had killed most of Trabia Garden, she had assassinated a country's president in front of a large crowd, she pitted Garden against Garden and nearly started a war. So many had died at her hands and no amount of scrubbing could cleanse them. Though the big blue jacket did seem to be fine now. She lifted it out of the basin giving it a quick shake to get rid of the excess water, before going outside to put it onto the clothesline, along with the rest of the young woman's clothes.
The earlier call to Cid had been quite amusing, but after he got over his initial surprise and a brief discussion with Squall, they'd agreed to at least talk to Fujin about the matter of her reacceptance. Zell was to be dispatched aboard the Ragnarok to pick her up the next day, the fast jet enabling the round trip to easily be completed within a span of twenty-four hours.
Knocking on the bathroom door, she got no response, nor when she called out to her guest. Peeking her head around the door, she found the young woman asleep in the bathtub. Moving to her side, she reached out to shake Fujin's arm, instead finding it quickly lashing out towards her, hand clutching tightly at her throat. Turning her head, the grey-haired woman saw what was happening and quickly released the ex-sorceress, instead scrambling to her feet as Edea fell to the floor, gasping for breath.
"APOLOGIES. BLIND SIDE. STARTLED," Fujin said as she started to clamber out of the tub, instead slipping and hitting the ground forehead first. Quickly getting to her knees besides the older woman, she pulled Edea's hands away from where they rubbed her throat before examining her neck carefully, gently tilting her head one way and then the other. "BRUISING ONLY," she reported, rising to her feet, offering a hand down for Edea to take.
Hoisted quickly back to her feet as she took it, Edea looked up the small difference in their heights. She reached out her right hand, gently brushing the damp hair away the left side of Fujin's face, uncovering her ruined left eye. Surrounded by a mass of gnarled scar tissue, the space where her eye should have been was empty, neither eyeball nor eyelid there. Her fingers traced down Fujin's face to run along the jagged white line that curved around her neck.
"My poor child, what have they done to you?" she whispered, a tear rolling down her face, horrified that someone of Fujin's young age could have been through so much pain and misery already.
Fujin leaned forwards on tiptoes, gently pressing her lips to Edea's forehead. "THANK YOU," she said, before turning to pick up the towel where she'd left it.
"I, uh, I'll go and cook us something. I'm sure you haven't had a good meal in a while."
"AFFIRMATIVE," Fujin smiled back before Edea left the room.
The dinner was a fairly simple affair, chicken stew, but Fujin attacked it with relish. She'd mostly been living off the land whilst crossing the Centra continent, having travelled through Esthar, an adventure all of its own, especially whilst running from a group of Ruby Dragons in the mountains. She felt a lot fitter than she had before she'd left; the simple life the posse had led had made her soft in places she hadn't been for a long time.
"So, where were you after the situation ended?" Edea asked.
"FH," she said between mouthfuls of the stew.
"With Seifer and... Raijin was it?"
"AFFIRMATIVE. MY BROTHER."
"The two of you are close then? Why isn't he here with you?"
"NOT ASKED. LEFT NOTE."
"We're a bit out of the way here; how did you get here?" she questioned, not prying into the situation.
Edea laughed at the obvious joke before she saw the look on Fujin's face, an eyebrow raised as held a polite smile. "You're serious? Why on earth would you do that?"
"TRAINING. GOT SOFT. PROVED MYSELF."
"MYSELF." She lifted the bowl up, pouring the last of the stew down her gullet, setting it down with a resounding thwack. "VERY GOOD."
"You can finish mine if you want, it's refreshing to see someone eat my cooking with so much relish."
"NEGATIVE. YOU EAT. TOO THIN."
Edea laughed again, amused by the young woman's frankness. "Well, if you insist," she replied wryly before draining her bowl in a similar fashion, though with less success at spilling it down the front of her top. She couldn't help but laugh, Fujin joining in as well, the harsh sound filling the air, but was caught short by a bout of coughing, clutching her throat at the pain.
"Does that happen a lot?" Edea asked, after the cough had died down, a worried look on her face.
"TALK TOO MUCH. LAUGH TOO HARD. HAPPENS."
"And it can't be cured?"
"Have you considered going to Esthar and talking to the doctors there? They're a lot more advanced than the rest of the world, so they may be able to fix your throat."
Fujin shook her head. "NOT CITIZEN. NO MONEY."
"Hmm, but if you become a SeeD, you'll get a salary, and they have a healthcare system. They might even pay for it."
"MAYBE," she grunted noncommittally, shrugging her shoulders. Truth be told, Fujin wasn't sure she'd want her throat fixed even if it were possible. She'd suffered the affliction as long as she could remember; it was as much a part of her as her albinism. To change that would be to change who she was. She shrugged again, this time to herself, and then stifled a yawn.
"Yes, it is getting late. Which reminds me, all of the guest beds are still in storage, and it hardly seems worth getting one out for just a single night. However, I wouldn't sentence any poor soul to sleeping on the couch or the floor, so..." Edea trailed off, hesitant to raise the suggestion.
"SHARE BED?" filled in Fujin, seemingly unphased.
"If you don't mind that is," she replied, getting a shake of the head in response. "Alright, do you need anything before you go to sleep? Toothpaste and whatnot?"
"NEGATIVE. IN PACK." Saying so, she got up and retrieved it from the veranda where she'd left it. She paused to look out over the nighttime ocean before sighing and heading back inside. Once Edea was finished with the bathroom, she trooped in, brushed her teeth and washed her face, before entering the master bedroom. Edea was climbing between the sheets as Fujin peeled off the clothes she had borrowed, moving around to the other side of the bed. Placing them down on a chair, she removed her eyepatch and set in on a bedside table. As she lifted the sheets to slip in, she paused, noticing the older woman staring at her. It took her a moment to realise what it was that made Edea blush like she was; her naked body silhouetted in the moonlight pouring through the window. She shrugged and slipped into the bed anyway. Pulling the sheet back up to cover herself, she stretched in the bed, arching her back as she purred, eliciting further stares.
"TWO MONTHS. NO BED. SHEETS ON SKIN. BLISSFUL," she said as she smiled at the older woman, prompting a few giggles.
"Good night Fujin."
She woke up with a weight pushing down upon her. For a moment she panicked, before opening her eye and realising it was just Edea, her head resting upon Fujin's bare chest, an arm draped across her body. She smiled down at the slumbering figure, running a hand through the ex-sorceresses' hair, careful not to disturb her. It felt... nice to be in a situation like this, someone who barely knew her trusting her enough to sleep in the same bed. She guessed Edea just missed her husband and instinctively snuggled up to the body in their bed.
After basking in the warmth of Edea's embrace for a few minutes, she gently slipped out from underneath her, putting her pillow into the older woman's grasp instead. Taking her eyepatch from the bedside table, she slipped it on, lifting her hair from underneath the elastic, and then padded her way out of the room.
Blinking her eyes open, she found the other half of the bed deserted, a pillow squashed up against her body. She blushed, remembering how the young woman had climbed into her bed stark naked. For a moment, Edea had thought Fujin had misunderstood her intentions in offering to share the bed. Now here she was, still gripping the pillow which had mysteriously found its way into her arms. She could guess as to how it had gotten there and blushed again.
Nonetheless, Fujin was nowhere to be seen. Had Zell already arrived and gone? No, she would have heard the Ragnarok easily. So where was she? Edea clambered out of the bed, rubbing at her eyes as she walked throughout the Orphanage. She wasn't within its walls though; walking out onto the veranda, she saw a figure on the beach, dancing gracefully through the sand. Hah, dancing, she thought. Anyone more than half awake would know she's practicing. Setting herself down in a chair to watch, she noted how deft Fujin's movements were, her arms and legs flashing outwards sharply whilst still maintaining strict control. Clouds of sand blew up around her legs as she took measured step after measured step, every movement highlighting the well-defined muscles covering her body, from her calves to her arms. Even from the distance she was at, she could clearly see the sweat pouring down Fujin's body; it was then that she realised the young woman was still naked.
"Honestly, children these days," she murmured to herself, smiling. She shook her head and went back inside, making herself a cup of tea. It was fifteen minutes later when a nude Fujin marched back into the Orphanage, offering Edea a curt nod before slipping into the bathroom, and a further five before she trooped back out and took her clothes off of the washing line, slipping into them easily. The older woman watched all of this with much amusement.
"I'm curious, do you always parade around naked in front of other people, Fujin?" she asked, a smile on her face.
The younger woman paused, uncertain how to respond. "NOT PARADING. JUST NOT CLOTHED." She paused again before continuing, "YOU'RE NOT MALE. NOT LETCH. WHY BE BOTHERED? SEIFER. RAIJIN. NOT NAKED AROUND." She gave a short cough as she finished.
"Surely you've known them for years though," Edea said, knowing full well it still didn't really work that way.
"MAN. WOMAN. NOT NAKED UNLESS LOVERS. RAIJIN? BROTHER. SEIFER? HAH! YOU MORE LIKELY," followed by another short cough.
"Well, I'm flattered to hear that," smiled Edea. She marvelled at the swift change in her own personality since this young woman before her entered her life. Further proof that she'd really been starved for company other than that of her husband and those she had raised in the Orphanage. They'd always be like the children she'd never had to her, so she couldn't completely be herself around them. She'd be somewhat sad when Fujin would have to leave later this day, she realised.
They passed their time waiting for Zell's arrival by reading, Edea surprised when Fujin pulled a battered paperback from her pack, picking up from where a leather bookmark had rested. At noon, the hyperactive martial artist still hadn't arrived, so the matron took her usual walk along the beach. She couldn't help but notice the sly grin Fujin was sporting once she returned, her eye twinkling with merriment every time she looked up from her book. No amount of verbal poking and prodding would get her to reveal what it was that amused her so, but Edea didn't really seem to mind at all.
It was after lunch when the roar of the Ragnarok's engines were heard coming closer, the noise cutting out as it landed a few hundred meters away.
"GO. GREET. BE THERE SOON," said Fujin as they both stood. Edea shrugged, and walked through the front door towards a galloping Zell who was obviously very pleased to see her.
"Matron, am I glad to see ya! Sorry I'm so late, Sasha was in a bit of a snit with me."
"Sasha? Ah yes, your young lady from the library. I'm happy things seem to be working out for the two of you. I'm sure everything will be fine once you return."
"Yeah! Was kinda my fault, but like Squall likes to say, whatever. Anyway, so who's our mystery guest? Squall didn't tell me who I'm picking up."
Fujin picked exactly that moment to emerge from the Orphanage, carrying her pack and a large suitcase, which caught Edea's attention, since the young woman certainly hadn't arrived with it. As she reached them, Fujin set the suitcase down and gave Zell one of her curt nods, only to be met by a closed fist to the jaw, nearly sending her to one knee. "NONE LOOSE," she muttered to herself after probing her mouth with her fingers. Spitting out blood to one side, she straightened back up, staring right back at the furious Zell.
As Edea's arm flashed out to deliver an open-handed slap to the marital artist, Fujin's was faster as it grabbed her wrist. "DON'T," she said calmly as she turned to gaze impassively at the older woman. "DESERVED IT."
"Damn straight you deserved it! Not like I'd forget you leading Galbadian troops into my town!" the angry Zell hissed at her.
Fujin's right hand flashed out, striking him across the cheek. "SHAME. HITTING FRONT OF MATRON. SHOULD HAVE WAITED."
Her words took the fire out of Zell, as he looked down at his feet, quickly stealing a glance at the beloved woman.
"If the two of you are finished playing games, which I shall tell you right now that you are," Edea said, a harsh tone in her voice, "might you explain why you have my suitcase with you?"
"SIMPLE," Fujin grinned, picking up said item with the same arm that had the pack slung over it, and then stooped next to the older woman, grabbing her legs as she lifted Edea onto her shoulder. "COMING WITH."
Zell could only stand and stare slack-jawed as Fujin marched towards the large red ship, Edea screeching and hollering from her position slung across the young woman's shoulder. It wasn't until they were all aboard and in the air when Fujin finally set the ex-sorceress down.
"Really, was all that necessary?" she huffed as she smoothed down the long dress she wore, glaring at Fujin.
"AFFIRMATIVE," was her only response though as Fujin stalked through the hangar of the Ragnarok, towards the cockpit, where they found Zell leaning back in his seat, hands behind his head and his eyes closed.
As she slipped into the co-pilot's seat, Zell opened his eyes and muttered, "Don't touch anything," before closing them again. It wasn't long before snoring filled the cabin, much to Fujin's annoyance. She had to admit that she was tempted to try flying the Ragnarok, but the sheer number of buttons and levers was slightly intimidating, and she didn't really want to crash it, if only so she wouldn't have to hear Zell saying 'I told you so'. She reached around for her pack, and as she pulled out her book, she remembered something else she'd stuck in there when preparing to leave FH. Grabbing another two books from the pack, she poked Zell in the ribs, eliciting a startled grunt as he flailed about at being suddenly woken.
"What?" he demanded, turning to face the smirking Fujin, only to get a book waved in his face. "Holy crap, how did you get that?"
"STOLE FROM RAIJIN," she replied, her smirk turning into a full-fledged grin. "NOT PAYING FINES THOUGH."
"Man, I thought I was never gonna get to read this!" he enthused as he quickly opened it up.
"What is it, Zell?" Edea asked, sat in the row behind them, as Fujin turned and offered her the third book, the one which she had been reading earlier at the Orphanage.
"Goodbye Pupurun! Raijin's had this book out from the library for years! Sasha will be really happy when I give this back to her," he said. "...After I read it first though!"
With that said, he curled up in his seat and began reading, laughing every now and then as he grinned inanely, thoroughly enjoying the story.
The ex-sorceress was surprised by all of this. Not by Zell's love of children's books, for she knew he was still a child at heart, but at Fujin's seeming compassion. She found it hard to believe that the young woman could be as kind and warm-hearted as she'd shown herself to be in the last few days, and yet had aided Ultimecia during the struggles. It seemed paradoxical at best to her, but decided not to ask about it, in case she only brought pain to the albino by raising the matter. Certainly, her actions earlier suggested that she did indeed carry feelings of guilt for the things she had done. Edea pondered these matters whilst reading her book, only half paying attention to the prose.
The flight only lasted two hours, by which time Zell had nearly finished his book. Fujin felt a slight pain in her chest as Balamb Garden came into view, a combination of wariness and guilt gnawing away at her as she saw the place she'd called home as long as she could remember. Whatever life she'd led before... well, it didn't matter now. Soon enough she'd be SeeD, she was confident of that, and what else mattered? Her past was irrelevant, the future was what mattered.
Nonetheless, standing in the hangar as both Zell and Edea embarked, Fujin hesitated. Balamb Garden was a place that she could be held accountable for her sins, and she knew at least some of its inhabitants would not be willing to forgive and forget. But then, did she truly deserve a clean slate? She didn't think so, not really. She would not allow herself to forget the things that she had done; they had to be shouldered for the rest of her life. However, she was determined not to let them drag her down. Taking in a deep breath, pack slung over her shoulder, she stepped off the hangar platform and walked towards Edea, who had turned around and waited for the young woman to join them.