Back in Balamb Garden, her home for so many years, Fujin sets about trying to re-enrol.
She couldn't help but feel like she was being stared at, though logically, she knew more attention was being paid to Edea, someone whom SeeD had once promised to eliminate, and yet was the wife of the former headmaster, someone whom they all knew. Nonetheless, she still felt the recriminations, imaginary or not. She steeled herself, making herself hard on the outside like she used to be, not caring what others thought of her and willing to be ruthless to those who crossed her.
Balamb Garden was as vibrant as ever, she noted. Groups of gangly teenagers wearing cadet uniforms walked past, chatting away, whilst a few young children could be seen playing hopscotch in one of the several garden areas that filled space between each spoke. She realised that she actually missed this place, even though she disliked most of the people there. She'd grown up here, lived here as long as she could remember. To Fujin, Balamb Garden was home.
They rode the elevator up to the third floor in silence, Zell and Edea standing at the front of the chamber, Fujin at the back. As the door opened, she was surprised by the changes that had occurred in the headmaster's office. Not that she'd been there very often, but she certainly didn't remember the second elevator, nor the extra floor that it led to.
She followed Zell and Edea into the office to one side, finding both Squall Leonhart and Headmaster Cid... no, she remembered hearing that Squall was the new headmaster, a fact which amused her since she wasn't all that much younger than him. Zell grunted, drawing the attention of the two men who were in the midst of a hushed conversation, neither having noticed the small group's entrance.
"Edea? What are you... oh! Zell, Fujin!" Cid stood up in surprise, quickly moving around the desk to greet the arrivals. "I see you had a safe journey here. Can I get any of you something to drink?"
"A peppermint tea would be nice," smiled Edea, settling herself into a chair. Fujin shook her head as Cid looked her way, so he gave a small head gesture to Zell, who quickly left the room.
"Would you like to sit, Fujin?" Squall asked.
"STAND," was Fujin's reply, earning a small smile from Squall as he nodded, having expected the answer.
"Very well then, let's get down to business. I understand you wish to re-enrol here at Balamb Garden?"
"Why?" was the simple question he asked.
"NEED DIRECTION. STRENGTH. PURPOSE. PROVE MYSELF."
"I seem to recall you were plenty strong enough when we last fought," Squall commented wryly, a finger tracing the scar on his forehead as he remembered battles past.
"Who do you need to prove yourself to?" asked Cid.
"MYSELF. WANT VALIDATION. ACHIEVE SOMETHING. SUCCEED."
"And of course, if you did become SeeD, it would be something neither Seifer or your brother has done."
"AFFIRMATIVE. BY MYSELF. FOR MYSELF."
Zell returned just as Squall was about to ask another question, quickly giving Edea the cup and saucer he carried in, and departing just as speedily.
"I'm curious, where are they?"
"Not really, I'm afraid. You've left Balamb before for Seifer, who's to say you won't do so again? A rogue SeeD is not something we'd be happy setting loose upon the world, especially considering your history."
Fujin gave a curt nod, conceding the point. "WON'T TELL," she responded, nonetheless. "OWE THEM THAT."
"Very well, I can hardly fault you for loyalty to your friends and family. We're willing to take you back on as a student, but there are a few provisos. Firstly, you'll be on probation, not allowed to leave Garden until either you qualify as SeeD or quit. Secondly, despite your history here, you'll still need to attend classes; we're only a few weeks into the semester so you should be able to somewhat fit in with either Instructor Aki or Trepe's class, whichever you choose to join." Squall paused, before turning to Edea. "Matron, will you be staying here at Garden for a while?"
"Certainly, at least as long as Cid is here."
"Would you be willing to serve as a counsellor for her?" She responded with a nod so Squall continued, turning back to Fujin. "Alright then, you'll also have to have a meeting with Edea once a fortnight, so she can judge your general progress as well as serve as an intermediary for any issues you may have. Finally, you're going to have to keep your nose clean here. I realise that several people here may remember you and what you did, causing antagonism to rise, but try to deal with such matters... as quietly as you can. I don't want to hear of you starting any fights with fellow students or SeeDs. Are we agreed?"
"AFFIRMATIVE," Fujin barked, grinning as she did so.
"Well, I'm glad that's all settled," said Cid, rising from where he had perched on the edge of the desk. Taking the white-haired woman by the shoulders, he looked her up and down. "I really am quite happy to see you again. You certainly seem to be in good shape."
"You should see her naked," came the reply from one side.
Cid, Squall and Fujin all stopped, blinked a few times and then turned to face Edea, who had turned bright red.
"WAS WRONG. YOU ARE LETCH!" Fujin cried, a twinkle in her eye.
"I didn't mean it that way, honestly. I just thought you'd be able to see her muscle definition better without clothes in the way. She's really quite impressive looking, I thought."
"That is a point actually, you'll have to have a check-up from Dr. Kadowaki as well, Fujin, and naturally, you'll need to pass that to actually be accepted, though I doubt you'll have any problems there if I'm to believe my wife!"
"...You're not going to let me get away with that one, are you?"
"Certainly not! You still tease me about the mustard, so why should I go easy on you?" Cid smirked.
"Mustard?" murmured Squall.
Fujin paused, then shook her head. "NOT WANT TO KNOW."
"...Quickly moving on, let's see about settling you into the dorms." Walking over to the doorway, he leant outwards, calling for Xu, who quickly appeared. "Can you organise a room for our new student here?" he asked, gesturing towards Fujin, who gave a slight nod in greeting.
"Certainly, if you'll come with me please?" With that, the administrator walked to the opposite office, Fujin following. After looking through a few documents, she pulled a set of two keys out of a drawer and handed them over. "There you go, 27b. Do you need anything else?"
"MEDICAL RECORDS. NEED EXAMINATION."
"Ah, I understand. Dr. Kadowaki should still have a copy on the computer. Do you want me to set up an appointment for you? I assume the sooner the better?"
"Alright, let me just contact her about it." Reaching out, Xu hit a button the desk, causing a section to flip upwards revealing a screen and several buttons. Pressing one, it quickly connected her to the infirmary. "Doctor, when's the earliest you can fit in a student for a med exam?"
"Tell Fujin she can drop by whenever she wants, I'm not particularly busy at the moment," came the reply.
"How did you..." Xu trailed off, surprise painted all over her face.
"Word spreads pretty quickly through Garden, you should know that by now Xu! I'll expect her within the next hour or two then." The picture flickered and was gone.
"I guess you heard all that," Xu said as she turned to face Fujin once more. "Is there anything else?"
"NEGATIVE." She started to leave, but paused and turned back to face Xu. "THANK YOU."
It didn't take long for Fujin to find what would be her room until she qualified as a SeeD. It was as small as she remembered, (though she noted that the actual dormitory area in general was a lot larger) but she didn't mind all too much. After most of a year cooped up in a small apartment with both Seifer and Raijin, she'd become used to restricted living space, and her trek to the Orphanage had only exaggerated it. The small chamber and single bed before her seemed heavenly. And more importantly, it was home, not just a place she was living out of.
She slung her pack onto the bed and quickly sorted out her clothes and the few other possessions she had brought with her. Truth be told, she didn't actually own very much; her clothes, her chakram, a tatty wallet containing a credit card and some cash, and a couple of books were all she had to her name. She'd left some things back in Fisherman's Horizon, but nothing she couldn't live without quite easily.
She changed into a sports bra and baggy black shorts before putting the rest of her clothes away and then left for the infirmary. She recognised a few of the students and even one or two SeeDs she passed, but most faces she saw were new to her, which she supposed, was in her favour. Less of them to remember who she was. She knew she wasn't very good at such things, but she intended to try and actually get on with people, maybe actually make some friends in Balamb Garden. During the Sorceress War and afterwards, living in FH, she'd found out things about herself she truly wasn't certain that she liked, and one of them was her standoffishness. It was down to her insecurities, Fujin admitted, but she'd been living with them for so long that it was routine for her to push everyone away, not letting anyone in close. Here though, she wanted to start anew. She'd been quite pleased with how it had worked with Edea, though she knew it would be harder for her here.
As she walked down the corridor towards the infirmary, she thought back on when she'd last been there. She'd come to warn those in the area about the incoming missiles during the NORG insurrection, to hopefully quell the fighting, though Squall and his party had done most of the work already. Over a year had passed since then and she had finally returned.
She shivered a bit as she pushed open the infirmary door, cold air bringing up goosebumps all over her skin. Still, cold was better than heat in her opinion, at least the cold could be avoided.
"Ah, you're here Fujin," came a voice from around a corner. As Fujin followed the voice, she saw Dr. Kadowaki stood by one of the beds, a young woman dressed in a cadet uniform lying atop it, a bandage being wrapped around her thigh. "Ironically, as soon as I think I'm going to have a quiet day, the injuries come streaming in. This is my third one since Xu set the appointment for you."
"HELP?" she asked, not wanting to just sit around waiting.
"Bring a crutch from the supply room, key is on my desk," was the doctor's reply.
"AFFIRMATIVE." She returned a few moments later bearing the implement, just as Dr. Kadowaki made the last adjustments to the young woman's bandage.
"Alright then Alleyra, that about does it. I want you to keep your weight off that leg for the next week or so though, and then come back so I can check it." Turning to Fujin, she took the crutch and then passed it onto the cadet. "It'll take a bit of getting used to, but I want you to use this for getting around. Obviously, you're to be excluded from all practical lessons for the week. Other than that, you're good to go."
The cadet eased herself off the bed, wincing slightly as she stood up, and slowly made her way out of the infirmary, having difficulties with the crutch.
"Honestly, I worry about that one. She's been in here a good number of times over the last few months, never with a word of thanks either." Arching an eyebrow at Fujin who was still staring at the door, she laughed. "I must be getting old, babbling on like that. Anyway, shall we begin?"
Fujin headed for the door instead. "APOLOGIES. RETURN SOON. PROMISE," she said, giving Dr. Kadowaki a bow of the head before leaving. She caught up to the cadet before she'd even got halfway along the passageway towards the main hub.
"ASSIST?" Fujin asked as she came around her.
The cadet looked up at her, sweat visible upon her brow. "I don't need any help," she snarled before staggering a few steps away. The rubber heel of the crutch slipped and down she went, but arms quickly wrapped around her, guiding her back upright.
"APOLOGIES. ANGERED. DISTRACTED. MY FAULT." Releasing the cadet who now leant against a wall, Fujin quickly retrieved the crutch, pushing it into the young woman's hands. "ALRIGHT?"
"Yeah yeah, I'm fine. Now fuck off."
For half a moment, Fujin shied away before making up her mind. Whether this girl Alleyra liked it or not, she was going to help her, and the easiest method would be... Nimbly, she scooped the cadet up, carrying her across both arms as she started to make her down the passageway. This was getting to be a habit, she realised, the second woman today she was carrying, though this one struggled a lot more.
"Let go of me you freak!" she wailed, batting at Fujin's chest with her free arm. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"CARRYING YOU," was the only reply she got though. Alleyra stared at the woman carrying her, searching for some hint that she was being teased, but couldn't find any. Frustrated at her loss of control, she struck out again, this time eliciting Fujin to stop in her tracks and glaring down at her unwilling passenger.
"CEASE OR DROP," commanded the albino, before continuing her measured pace. Realising she wasn't going to win, the younger of the two
As they reached the central hub, they drew stares from the people they passed. "DESTINATION?"
"...The dormitory," sighed Alleyra, thoroughly consigned to the fact that she wasn't going to escape Fujin. As they pair made their way through the building, the carried woman gave directions. Finally they found themselves stood in front of the door they had been seeking.
"HOLD ON," Fujin said. Puzzled, Alleyra slung her arms around Fujin's neck, careful not to smack her in the head with the crutch she still carried. Fujin removed the arm that had been supporting the younger woman's back and delved into a pocket. A few moments later she had the door open, turning so she could slip the both of them inside.
"How did you get a key for here?" Alleyra asked, astonished.
"TWO-NINE-B," Fujin responded, gesturing with her head as she lowered Alleyra's legs to the floor. "MINE."
"Well that explains everything. They're doing it again, aren't they?"
Fujin's brow creased. "NOT UNDERSTAND," she said, confused by the sudden accusation.
"Don't play stupid, they sent you to keep an eye on me, didn't they? They couldn't get me to play nice with the other students so they sent one of their heavies to do the job instead?"
Fujin struggled to keep herself from dissolving into a fit of laughter at the younger woman's arrogance, especially how much it reminded her of Seifer, thinking that the whole world was against him, set to stop him from achieving his 'romantic dream'. "NOT SPY. LAST PERSON THEY'D SEND."
"Of course you'd say that... right?"
Fujin just smiled and shook her head. "NOT CARE. BYE"
She jogged back to the infirmary in no time at all, and was soon undergoing all manner of tests under the doctor's keen supervision.
"You're sure you're not junctioned to a Guardian Force, Fujin?" Dr. Kadowaki asked, as the younger woman jogged on a treadmill, an oxygen mask worn across her face.
"AFFIRMATIVE," she replied for what seemed to be the fifth or so time.
"It's just the results I'm getting, well, they're far better than any I've seen before, at least for someone who is unjunctioned."
Fujin stopped, placing a foot either side of the treadmill's belt, and turned to face the doctor, taking the mask from her face. "NOT LIAR."
Silence filled the air as both women stared at each other, before Kadowaki finally broke the deadlock. "No, you're right. You've never been a liar, have you? Well, I can't see any reason from these," she made a gesture with the clipboard held in her hand, "as to why you're not fit to re-enter Balamb. Consider yourself a cadet once again."
Fujin grinned, giving a small bow of her head. "THANK YOU."
"I'll type up my notes and send the report in a few hours. I expect Xu will ask to see you tomorrow and you'll be officially reinstated. Just keep yourself out of trouble until then," she finished with a sly wink.
The previous night had seemed interminably long to Fujin. Alleyra had steadfastly ignored her, but that didn't cause much perturbation, though it did make the air between them seem taut. Instead, she merely read her book, made an entry into her journal, the first for quite a while, did some stretches and went to sleep. All the while, excitement bubbled away deep inside her chest, but she refused to let it show. There was a time and place for emotions, and it most certainly was neither here nor now. In a way, she was channelling the Fujin of old, but there were also significant differences in her outlook upon the world. No more was she so idealistic or blind in how she saw those around her. She had carried hatred towards everyone for so long, but now she realised they were all just trying to get on with their own lives, just like her. Likewise, her adoration for Seifer had waned, leaving her feeling somewhat empty at first. She was... disappointed in him. But that was irrelevant now; he wasn't here and as such, had no place in her thoughts.
As delightful as she found sleeping in a proper bed again, she was still awake nearly an hour before dawn, a fact she found both reassuring and irritating. She was glad to be sticking to her routine, but today it only meant that she had more hours to waste sitting around and doing nothing. When she had been a cadet, she would often go to the training centre when she found herself awake hours before anyone else, but she had no pass to allow her entrance. Instead, she found herself walking around the place, familiarising herself once more with the only home she could remember. It was all so much larger than it had been a year ago, the missile crisis seeming so distant now. This was a new chapter in the history of both Garden and SeeD; the destruction of Trabia Garden meant that both Balamb and Galbadia Garden had seen their cadet ranks swell with the survivors, though work was underway to restore the fallen Garden. Enrolment of new cadets was up too, with the news of how SeeD had saved the world from the threat of the Sorceress. Word was even going around about a possible fourth Garden being set up on the recently re-revealed Esthar continent, though whether that was merely rumour or not, no one seemed to know.
She rode the elevator up to the second floor and walked through the silent corridors until she emerged outside. She shivered slightly in the breeze as she strode to the balcony's edge, looking out over the darkness-covered Balamb. The site where the Garden used to rest had been restored, once more housing the academy. If she had known of this, her trip could have been significantly shorter, but Fujin found herself glad that she hadn't. She felt fitter than ever, the result of her two-month trek to the Orphanage, and meeting Edea, the real Edea, was... nice. It felt good to spend time with someone who could understand her, someone she could be the real Fujin around. Certainly, she had promised herself to try hard at making friends this time around, but she knew she would still be guarded around them. Maybe it was because Edea had been through a somewhat similar, yet altogether different, situation, that she could be more open with her.
A noise from behind startled her. She spun on her heel, cursing herself for being caught unawares.
"Fujin? Is that you?" the figure said as it stepped out from the doorway, into the light cast from a fixture above the door. Honey blonde hair as neatly arranged as always, glasses worn halfway down her nose so she could fix you with a glare over the lenses, each step made confidently, Quistis Trepe was everything that Fujin hated, since it only made her feel even more inadequate and freakish.
"AFFIRMATIVE," she barked out, keeping the bile in her throat down. Logically, she knew that she had no reason to hate the young instructor so much, none of the attributes she loathed so much were actually Quistis's fault, but she couldn't help it.
"Xu informed me that you were back, though rumour of it had already reached me by then. It's..." she hesitated as she stepped beside Fujin, gazing out over the landscape as the albino done only moments before. "It's good to have you back again." She turned to face Fujin, looking her in the eye. "I mean that, I really do. Guilt I guess. I can't help but feel that I failed Seifer, and in that way, I failed both you and Raijin as well."
"BULLSHIT. WE CHOSE. NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU."
For a moment, the instructor froze in place, before a hesitant smile crept across her face. "Thank you." She turned back to face out over the balcony. "I like to come out here in the mornings, a few moments of piece before my day goes to hell as it inevitably does. No students, no Trepies, no reports; for a short while I'm free of all that."
"...Yes, I guess I am really. Squall has Rinoa, Zell has Sasha, Irvine went back to Galbadia and Selphie returned to Trabia to help with the rebuilding, though I understand they communicate a lot, so I don't know where that may end up leading to. And here I am, the dull instructor, all by myself. Xu is pretty much the only real friend I have around here. I mean, Rinoa and Zell are alright and everything, it's just I keep ending up being a third, or even a fifth, wheel... Why on earth am I telling you this stuff? It's not like you care."
"TRUE." At the look upon Quistis's face, Fujin realised she needed to clarify what she meant. "TRUE. NOT CARE. GOOD THOUGH. UNBIASED."
"Well... that does make sense I guess. You've got no reason to lie to me."
"NONE," Fujin agreed.
"Well, as I said, it is good to see you back. You were good enough for SeeD when you left, and I saw the results of your medical, so I doubt you're going to have any problems between now and graduation. As long as you don't get into any trouble."
"TROUBLE? ME? HAH!" Fujin said, a large grin spread across her face.
"Yes, you. Oh, I'm sure you won't start it, you're too disciplined for that, but keep your retaliations in check, will you? That's all I ask of you."
"AGREED," she responded, offering a curt nod of her head.
"I should go and prepare for classes. I'll be seeing you around." Offering a respective nod of her head, Quistis made her way back inside, leaving Fujin alone on the balcony.
She found it amusing really, even those that she hated back then, she found to be only human as well. No need for rage or fury, nor indignation, they all had their own issues. How could she hate them, when really, they were just like her? A year ago, she was still bound up in her anger, her fury against the world, but now, she had gone above and beyond that. She was a different person now, she knew that. Just the rest of the world left to convince of that fact.
She stayed to watch the sun crest the horizon, before returning to her dorm room, spending the rest of her time reading.
"Fujin, please report to the administrator's office. I repeat: Fujin, please report to the administrator's office."
As the message coming over the tannoy system ended, Fujin rolled off the bed, grabbing her jacket before leaving her room. Shrugging it on, she made her way to the elevator, this time certain that she was drawing stares. Reaching the third floor, she stepped out and strode confidently into Xu's office.
"Ah, good, you're here," the older woman said, not looking up from her paperwork. "Do you have a preference over which instructor you have?"
"Alright, Instructor Trepe it is then. GF?"
"I thought that's what you'd say, so I made sure it was currently unassigned. You can draw it from Instructor Trepe at your first lesson tomorrow." Finally, Xu looked at the woman stood before her. Scooping up a few items from her desk, she rose to her feet and proffered them forwards. "There's your class schedule, a letter of acceptance and your new ID card."
Stepping around the desk, she reached out and took Fujin's spare hand, shaking it firmly. "Welcome back to Balamb Garden, Cadet Fujin."