When it was just one SeeD, people just acted like nothing happened. But after an important person fell too, they got right to work trying to fix it. Irvine just wished they could've acted when it h...
There was no rest of the weary, however; Garden simply got back up and went back to their mercenary life – with Garden Master NORG having been disposed of, their financial situation was looking rather bleak. Even with the Sorceress threat gone, SeeD found themselves involved in further disputes between neighbouring or not so closely affiliated countries. Despite the bleak money situation, Garden was receiving mission requests to keep Galbadians from overtaking other countries in the region, and numerous mishaps had already broken out between both Esthar and Galbadia. Needless to say, the Garden officials, their Commander and even the Headmaster had their hands full.
Aside from work, though, things seemed to be steadily returning to normal, but also there were changes amidst the routine. For instance, Rinoa Heartilly, now the only Sorceress in the world (that anyone knew of), was staying at the Garden. Most disagreed with this decision, but since her boyfriend just so happened to be the Garden Commander, the complaints weren’t nearly as vocal as they would have been in other circumstances. Irvine Kinneas, the sharpshooter from Galbadia Garden, had put in for a transfer that was taking forever in a T-Rexaurs age to process. Despite Martine’s protests that this was standard procedure, Irvine was fairly certain the former ousted Master wasn’t pulling enough strings.
The reason for the transfer was simple; out of everyone in the orphanage group from so long ago (aside from Ellone of course), Irvine was the only one who actually remembered their time together; the reason being constant Guardian Force usage. Since Galbadia Garden only trained their students in weapon usage and tactics, Irvine hadn’t had his memories affected. He’d tried them during the war against Ultimecia, but he wasn’t exactly thrilled about continuing their usage, and a big part of why was he didn’t want to forget his childhood. Despite what the others said about having the power to protect those they cared about, there was no point in using it if they couldn’t remember who exactly those people were.
There was another reason for his sticking around, and he couldn’t help but notice that it was the one everyone else thought about constantly. He’d had a crush on her since they were living in the orphanage and as many conquests as he’d had in the past; he’d never truly forgotten Selphie Tilmitt. When even she didn’t remember him, he’d fallen into a depression that had lasted a little while; the real reason he’d requested that everyone just leave him alone on the way to Deling City. But in the end the others had been able to remember their time in the orphanage.
Irvine sighed loudly; currently he was lying in the quad and watching the sky above, the clouds moving at a snail’s crawl across the blue atmosphere. He was bored, and everyone else seemed to have things they had to take care of. Zell Dincht, another member of the team that had defeated Ultimecia, had only just come back from a mission earlier on that day and he’d immediately locked himself in his room for some much needed rest. Quistis Trepe, having re-obtained her Instructor’s licence, was busy grading papers for her classes, what with the fall term and all. Rinoa had gone into town to pick up supplies and, well, there really was no need to wonder why Squall wasn’t available. His normal cloud watching partner was missing; Selphie had left for a mission a week ago and wasn’t scheduled to be back for another couple weeks. Needless to repeat an already quoted phrase, the cowboy was bored.
He’d opted to go cloud watching anyway – it was something to do – but that had been a few hours ago. Now he was ready to do something else, but to be honest there wasn’t anything else to do. Sure, he could go into the Training Center, but he wasn’t all that equipped for it. Unlike Galbadia Garden, Balamb was specifically designed to handle students utilizing the powers of the GF’s, so the monsters they’d chosen were more difficult than what he was used to handling. Besides; he was a sharpshooter – the only way he could get some real training in was if someone with close ranged training went with him.
Then there was the option of getting someone to train against him; he was always better with working against people than he was with monsters, but that would involve actually getting someone to participate; the same problem as option A. Sighing again, he tried to think of the things he normally would do on these off days, but pushed them all aside; most of them involved the female half of the human race, and now that he’d been reunited with Selphie he wasn’t all that keen on looking elsewhere for some tail. Those days were over, as far as he was concerned, but that didn’t mean he could get a gander now and then.
His mind made up, he pulled himself to his full height of 6 feet and stalked out of the quad, the soles of his brown boots hitting the tiled floor beneath him with a dull thud as he moved. The beige trench coat he was always seen wearing swished behind him and his cowboy hat – he wouldn’t be caught dead without it of course – was pulled low over his eyes for a kind of dramatic effect. After walking for a few minutes, he allowed himself to collapse into the wooden bench just across the library, his arms draped along the back of the bench as he sat leisurely. When he’d first set foot inside the Garden during the Sorceress War, he’d marvelled at the beauty of the place. Sure, it was considerably smaller than Galbadia Garden (after all, everything in Galbadia had to be bigger), but there was no doubt that it was just as magnificent looking.
And the girls who attended the garden were all stunning in their own light.
He nodded at the occasional passer-by (majority of the time it was the aforementioned girls), and even some of the male students nodded in greeting (he wasn’t interested, but there was nothing wrong with being polite and all). He’d never gotten a clear idea of just what everyone’s opinion of him was; he knew quite plainly how they felt about a Sorceress living under their roof, but he wasn’t exactly in home territory himself. He’d never had it in mind to become a SeeD; he’d actually been playing around with the idea of joining the Galbadian military some day, but now he wasn’t even so sure of that.
It was getting later on in the day when Irvine finally decided he was bored enough to ask anybody who’d be interested to play a game of Triple Triad (mostly his rule was to play against girls only). He’d only just gotten up from the bench when he saw someone familiar descend the stairs in front of the elevator. He didn’t need to look twice though; he recognized the fur collared beater jacket anywhere, but just as he’d been about to wave the SeeD over, he stopped himself. Judging by just how fast he climbed down the stairs, Squall was in a hurry; no doubt it was SeeD business. But just as he was about to move along and mind his own business, Squall noticed him and called him over, shocking the teenager slightly. When he didn’t respond right away, it was the SeeD who stalked over to him. “Where’s the fire?” Irvine asked cordially.
The look on the young Commander’s face told the sharpshooter that now was not the time for his bluster. Had that failed, then the tone in his voice would have dropped the hint. “I’m heading to the Front Gate,” he said. “You should probably come with me.”
“Why’s that?” Irvine asked. Squall shook his head and started at a brisk pace, the Galbadian barely able to catch up to him. “What’s goin’ on?”
“I just received contact from a team returning to the Garden.” Squall stated. “Apparently something went wrong; I’m not in a position where I can tell you the details, but I think you ought to know.”
Irvine stopped suddenly, causing the shorter male to do the same a few steps ahead. It was very rare that Squall was that willing to talk about a SeeD team, especially if they were on a mission. Even the little he did tell him was abnormal, and the fact that he thought Irvine should know was really strange. “Why’s that?” he asked.
Squall seemed to pause before answering; probably searching for the right way to answer (it was a bad habit everyone had been trying to pull him out of), but it wasn’t long before he spoke. “…Because the situation involves Selphie.”
At first Irvine didn’t think he’d heard him right, but by the time he replayed the response through his head he realized he’d already started moving of his own accord, slightly ahead of the Garden Commander. Soon, they’d reached the front gate, passing the turnstiles as well as the security guard at his station before moving out into the cold. It was nearing the end of November and while Balamb never saw snow aside from the snow-caps of the surrounding mountains, it was just as equally bitter. Irvine found himself wishing for a jacket, even as Squall pulled the fur lining up around his ears and zipped up the jacket. Irvine followed suit before following him. By the time they arrived at the front gate, the Ragnarok was touching down onto the grassy plains just beyond the golden gates. Irvine noticed a small congregation around the gates; there was Xu and Cid Kramer, the Lieutenant Commander and Headmaster respectively, as well as Nida who piloted the Garden, Dr. Kadowaki, Garden’s head physician, and a few other SeeDs Irvine didn’t know by name. He guessed that they might be there to assist the doctor though.
The Ragnarok finally completed its landing process and a moment later the hanger door opened, the top of the door landing along the dirt just before the road leading into the garage. Another moment passed, Irvine wondering just what had happened on this mission, when the SeeD team emerged from the ship; one girl with curly brown hair and one guy with braided black hair, both in civilian clothing (the girl wore a brown winter jacket and a pair of black jeans; the guy in a navy blue jacket wearing blue jeans. Slung up on his back was the third member of the team…
“Selphie!” Irvine called out, but before he could go any closer, Squall pulled him back, shaking his head when the taller boy turned to regard him.
Selphie Tilmitt was being supported by her team-mate; her arms hanging limply over his shoulders as he kept her supported with his arms behind her knees. From what he could tell, Irvine figured she hadn’t dressed appropriately for the weather (Selphie rarely did in fact); wearing a pair of jeaned mini-shorts with a yellow winter jacket draped across the top half of her body. Irvine could never figure out how she could manage (he’d forever asked how she could possibly be comfortable wearing a yellow sundress in the middle of the Trabian Tundra without ever having received a response). Her head was resting against the SeeD member’s shoulder; her short brown hair hanging in front of her face. However, as soon as the team had descended the ramp the group of SeeDs who had been waiting immediately went about their duties; taking her off the SeeD member’s hands and laying her on a stretcher before bringing her inside the Garden. Irvine caught a glimpse of her, even as Squall went to speak to Nida and the rest of Selphie’s team, and hadn’t liked what he’d seen; she looked almost dead, skin slightly paler than he’d remembered it being. The Selphie he’d known had been vibrating full of life, but seeing her so still just seemed so very wrong.
After a moment of simply standing there watching her being brought inside of the building before him, he realized he wasn’t alone; Squall was now standing beside him as Dr. Kadowaki followed after the team of SeeDs and Xu and Cid escorted the remaining members of Selphie’s team inside. Irvine suspected that Nida had been charged with parking the Ragnarok; given the circumstance.
“What happened to her?” Irvine finally asked after a moment. Squall shook his head in response; a bad sign if he didn’t even know.
“I need to ask you a couple of questions, though.” Squall stated. Irvine didn’t spare him a glance. “Since you were the last one with her before she left on her mission.”
Irvine didn’t say anything; didn’t know what to say to a statement like that. Never had he thought a situation like this could’ve happened, but thinking about it, he knew it was inevitable, what with their line of work. Four of his closest friends had chosen this profession, and right now one of them could be fighting for her life.
The walk back inside of the Garden was a blur; before he knew it he was in the warm hall instead of outside freezing his ass off. Still, they didn’t stop there; they continued passed the elevator down the left hand path leading towards the Infirmary; Irvine knew this simply because it was the obvious place he would head to next, especially after knowing what had happened.
“How was Selphie when you last saw her?” Squall finally asked. The hallways seemed desolate; probably emptied when the SeeDs had set off to the infirmary. Irvine could only imagine the result of seeing one of their own on a stretcher; especially should the hallways have been filled with students. No doubt Xu or Dr. Kadowaki had broken up the crowd and ordered the students away.
“Same as always.” Irvine finally answered at great length. He remembered the last time he’d seen her vividly, specifically since they’d had an argument. It wasn’t a big one, but it had been enough to make them equally furious at each other for a large chunk of the day. By the next morning, however, Irvine had cooled down enough to want to talk to her, but since she’d already left, it was kind of hard to laugh it off. “She was healthy.”
“There wasn’t anything strange with her?”
“Nothing.” Irvine retorted. “Why are you askin’ me this?”
Squall sighed heavily before answering. “We’re trying to rule out possibilities. Right now we don’t know what happened to her, and I want to make sure there wasn’t any kind of warning for this.”
“What about her team-mates?” Irvine pointed out. “Wouldn’t they know?”
“They’re waiting in my office right now. I’m going to question and debrief them shortly, but I wanted to ask you before we rule anything else out.”
“I can go see her right?” Irvine asked. “Dr. Kadowaki will let me in?”
“I can’t guarantee anything, especially since we don’t know why she’s unconscious, but judging by the fact that her team-mates haven’t collapsed, I doubt there’ll be a problem. We’ll keep an eye on them though, just to be sure.”
Irvine sighed in relief, just as they made the turn that would take them to the infirmary. The door’s motion sensor kicked in just when they were a couple feet away and slid open automatically, granting them access and they continued along another bridge, the windows along the sides allowing the descending sun’s lights to illuminate the hall. Moving towards another door, Irvine frowned when it remained closed, however Squall quickly typed in a code and the doors slid open.
The infirmary itself was fairly large; with enough room to fit roughly a quarter of the Garden inside if need be. Fortunately the only time where they’d actually needed to utilize the space had been during the Garden War in Centra. Right now, it was mostly empty, save for Dr. Kadowaki and her assisting staff. The SeeDs who had brought her along were currently being examined by the staff, in case her condition really was contagious.
Dr. Kadowaki immediately looked up and noticed the two standing in her doorway and ushered them inside. Irvine had been concerned that they would be turned away and was happily surprised by the actual outcome, though he supposed Squall’s rank had something to do with that.
“We’re running blood tests right now, and prepping an MRI in case the problem is neurological.” She started immediately; neither one had had to make a sound, which left Irvine wondering if this was a regular occurrence. “We won’t know the results of the blood test for a few days, but the MRI results will probably be in by midday tomorrow at the latest.”
“Are you allowing visitors?” Squall asked the question Irvine was afraid to.
Another surprise; Dr. Kadowaki nodded. “Only if you’re up for an examination afterwards; we have to be careful not to let this thing spread if it is contagious.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if there weren’t any visitations?” Irvine surprised everyone by asking this question. “If it was contagious, I’d be stuck in here too.”
“I know from past experiences that if there are going to be visitors, then there are going to be visitors.” Dr. Kadowaki stated. “As long as the proper procedures are followed, I don’t see the trouble. If it does turn out to be contagious, we’ll do the best we can to figure out what it is before it spreads too far.”
“Wouldn’t that be a bad thing?” Irvine asked.
“I understand and appreciate your concern Irvine, but I don’t actually believe that it’s contagious at all.” Dr. Kadowaki said. “If it was, then her team-mates would have collapsed before they returned to Garden. We’re just making precautions; that’s all.”
She turned back to the Commander before speaking once again. “I’ll let you know as soon as the results have come in.”
Squall nodded and after a moment he left the room, most likely wanting to question the two team-mates.
“I’m afraid the visit’ll have to be short,” Dr. Kadowaki said. “We’re almost ready for the MRI, but as soon as it’s done, I can let you back in to see her.”
Irvine nodded and took a set beside Selphie’s bedside and simply watched her for the next few minutes.
It was a few hours later before Irvine had finally been able to return to the Infirmary. Dr. Kadowaki had set a time limit to visitation hours simply because she didn’t want visitors spending the night (“What if someone else got hurt and needed a bed?”), so by the time he returned it was nearing eleven thirty. He’d had to leave a half hour later, and he’d only been granted the extra half hour because Dr. Kadowaki had promised that he could come back. He’d gone to bed shortly afterwards.
By morning though, everyone knew the basics of what had happened; something had happened to Selphie and now she was unconscious and resting in the infirmary. Zell, Quistis and Rinoa had been devastated to hear about it and had each taken turns checking in on her in the event that she might mysteriously wake up. All night long Irvine had had strange dreams about her just jumping out of bed as though nothing had happened. He’d woken up each time realizing he’d only imagined it.
An investigation was taking place, but Irvine began to notice that, as the days went by and no reasonable explanation for Selphie’s condition had been presented, everyone seemed to slowly go back to their own lives; almost as though none of this was happening. While normally cool tempered and easy going, Irvine couldn’t help but become both frustrated and angered by the sudden coldness. The only one who seemed to give a damn at all was Dr. Kadowaki, but Irvine suspected it was only because she was the doctor overseeing the case. He also began to notice that even his friends seemed to care less and less, and that made him even angrier.
So it was on the fifth day when Irvine finally decided that enough was enough; that he would get results done even if he had to go over everyone’s heads. He woke up as early as he possibly could (which was actually easy considering he’d gone to be earlier in order to avoid everyone else) and took the elevator up to the third floor of the Garden, where the higher ups’ offices were. He was thankful that Cid had decided, for convenience sake, to leave the mechanism that would lock the rest of the Garden out of the third floor shut off for the higher ups to get to their offices easier and get started on their work. He leaned against the double doors that lead into the main hall, tapping his booted foot against the floor rapidly and disturbing the otherwise silent surroundings. Checking his watch, he knew that the person he was waiting for should be due any moment, and that if he had to he would wait all day for him to show up, simply because he had nothing better to do. Normally he would have been visiting with Selphie by then, but honestly he couldn’t stand to watch as nothing got done about her situation.
Finally, he heard foot falls down the hall, and looked up just as he caught sight of a familiar pair of boots stopping further away from him. His hat obscured some of his vision, but he was still able to make out the Commander of Garden, even as the other teenager resumed his walk towards the office. “What’re you doing here so early?” he asked.
Irvine forced his expression to be as neutral as possible as he straightened up, even as Squall unlocked the door and moved to enter. “I need to talk to you about something.”
“Obviously,” Squall said, and Irvine had to admit he was sort of stating the obvious. “What is it?”
Irvine couldn’t believe he had the gall to ask him that, especially as straight faced as he was. Was he the only one who was honestly concerned about this whole thing? “It’s about Selphie.”
Squall must have seen this coming, because he sighed loudly, even as he managed to open the door leading to his office. “An investigation is underway; we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances.”
“Well, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t seem like you are.” Irvine pointed out. “It sounds to me that you’ve given up. And I’m not just talking about you; I’m talkin’ about everyone.”
“That’s not it at all.” Squall argued. “There are many things we’ve had to focus on, and I’m sorry it seems like we’ve put Selphie on a back burner, but that’s not the case.”
“I noticed that no one’s visited her as much as they used to.” Irvine continued. “But she’s still alive, Squall, and I think she’d be hurt to know her friends, her closest friends especially, are treating her this way.”
“Irvine,” Squall started, but Irvine cut him off.
“No Squall, let me finish. Just because you guys don’t remember that much about the orphanage doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And I don’t wanna hear excuses; that you’re all busy, because I’ve been down there all the time during visiting hours. I haven’t seen any one of you come in to visit with her for the last few days. I know ya’ll have lives to run and jobs to do, but five minutes won’t kill ya. And this so called investigation that’s being run isn’t helping things. And yeah, I did say ‘so-called’, because I haven’t seen any results, because I’m fairly certain there haven’t been any results. We’re nowhere near close to finding out why she’s layin’ like she is in the infirmary; just that it’s not contagious or neurological. And I’m tired of sitting on my thumbs, wondering what’s going on. If I have to figure it out on my own, then I will, but I just thought I’d let you know how disgusted I am with everyone in this damned Garden.”
For his part, Squall simply watched and waited for Irvine to finish, his expression unreadable, and it was only when Irvine paused for a long period of time that Squall finally spoke. “Can I talk now?”
If he hadn’t been so floored by those four simple words, Irvine probably would’ve slugged him. Squall seemed to take Irvine’s silence as an affirmative, because he continued. “I understand how you feel, and I’m not going to make excuses, because simply put we could have taken the time to visit, even for a few minutes. I can’t speak for the others, so I won’t, but I do feel bad about it. As for the investigation, there have been other things that have needed to be addressed, Garden related for the most part. Despite what’s happened to Selphie, we can’t just drop everything just because we wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings.”
“You sonova…” Irvine started, but Squall held up a hand.
“Now it’s your turn to let me finish.” He said in a tone that brook no argument. “As much as I agree Selphie wouldn’t be happy that her friends are abandoning her, which by the way we haven’t, I also have to argue that she wouldn’t want the Garden to stop what they’re doing just to look after her. We’d fall apart if that happened. Despite having so much to do though, we are making some progress, however long it may be taking, but these things do take time.”
Irvine’s anger was ebbed away just by that declaration; they’d made some kind of progress. It meant that they hadn’t really forgotten about her after all and as much as he felt like an idiot for believing they had, he still thought they should be taking the whole thing a little more seriously. It was refreshing to know that at least Squall was. “What did you find out?”
Another loud sigh. “Officially, I can’t tell you.”
“Oh come on!” Irvine said, more out of frustration than out of anger. “You can’t just tell me you’ve made progress and then not tell me what’s going on.”
Squall simply moved passed him and headed to the door, (the object sliding open as the motion sensors detected movement) looking out into the hall for a moment before typing in a code on the locking mechanism to the right. The door slid shut and an audible ‘clicking’ noise signalled that it had been locked. Turning around, he fixed Irvine with the most serious expression he’d ever seen and the rest of his argument had died in his throat. “Officially, I can’t tell you, because it concerns a mission that is still classified. Unofficially, the mission has ended, however because of the situation with Selphie; we are not publicly releasing any information because she has not yet been debriefed. Her team-mates have, however she was in charge of the mission and thus we need her statement. That can’t be done until she’s regained consciousness. If I were to tell you anything at all, I could lose my rank and possibly my SeeDship, because I would be allowing classified information to slip to someone without the clearance to access it. In the worst case scenario, I could be imprisoned and even charged with treason should anyone learn of my actions.”
It was then that Irvine realized what Squall was telling him. Officially he wasn’t able to tell him anything, due to Client-Garden confidentiality. Squall was telling him the risks of such an action simply because he was prepared to tell him, so long as the sharpshooter kept his mouth shut. Irvine made a visual sweep of the room, making sure that there was no sign of evidence that would give them up and realized at that moment why Squall locked the door before explaining himself further. Irvine nodded; a silent affirmation that whatever happened in the office stayed there. Squall nodded back, having understood before moving passed Irvine to get to his desk. “Have a seat.” He said simply before taking the one behind his desk.
Irvine plopped down in a chair, Squall running a hand through his hair in a feeble attempt to keep it out of his face before he started talking. “The mission Selphie was on was to assist the authorities in Timber in capturing and detaining a murderer. Within the few days before the request for SeeD’s assistance, four people had been victimized; obviously there were no survivors. Garden responded and sent a three-man cell in accordance with the contract negotiations that were set and met. The contract we had with the Timber authorities was to expire once the perpetrator was apprehended or killed.
“According to the debriefing we received from the rest of the team, they quickly managed to locate their suspect and were able to connect them to the crimes, so they proceeded with the arrest warrant, but the suspect apparently fled. Selphie was separated from the team, but when they finally found her, the suspect was deceased and Selphie was unconscious. Rather than wait for the murders to stop before returning, they immediately contacted Garden to alert us of the situation and I myself advised the Timber authorities to contact us should the murders start up again.”
“Have they?” Irvine asked after a moment, just to connect the dots rather than out of any genuine curiosity.
“They haven’t contacted us, so it’s assumed that the murders have stopped, yes.” Squall answered.
“So… what’s happened to Selphie?”
“We don’t have anything to else go on, aside from the knowledge that Selphie collapsed after coming into contact with the murder suspect.” Squall explained. “Our first assumption was that he’d poisoned her; some poisons are slow acting, and depending on the dosage, could put her in a state of unconsciousness rather than simply kill her, but we’ve dismissed it for two reasons. One, if the killer was responsible for her condition, he wouldn’t have poisoned her, he would have just killed her instead. Two, Dr. Kadowaki ordered a tox-screen to be sure, but when we received the results, there was no evidence to suggest that she’d been poisoned at all.”
“So we still don’t know what happened to her,” Irvine said. Squall nodded in response.
“We were sure that, since you didn’t report anything out of the ordinary with her, it had to have something to do with the mission, but that didn’t pan out. I still think it might have had something to do with it, but there’s no real way to connect the two events together, aside from the fact that it happened once the suspect was dead.”
“What about getting the autopsy report from Timber?” Irvine suggested. Squall shook his head.
“Already tried that. The result shows that the suspect died in a confrontation. Possibly against Selphie.”
“Doesn’t that seem strange to you though?” Irvine asked. “I mean, the suspect gets killed, probably because Selphie killed him, and then she’s suddenly out of it for almost a week.”
“I know what it suggests, but there’s no proof that it happened that way.” Squall said. “And I haven’t heard of anyone being able to attack someone after they died.”
“What if it didn’t happen after, but just before?”
“With the wounds the suspect suffered, I don’t think he could have done much of anything before he died, let alone attack a junctioned SeeD.”
“So that’s it then?” Irvine asked, his frustration returning. “That’s all we have? There’s nothing we can use to figure out why Selphie’s unconscious?”
“Honestly, we haven’t come up with another theory.” Squall admitted.
“So back to square one then.”
Squall cleared his throat, interrupting Irvine in the process, but the expression on his face was one of patience rather than of annoyance. “Before you launch into another tirade, let me just save you the trouble and tell you that I’ve been doing some additional digging outside of work to get to the bottom of this. So far, I haven’t been able to find anything else out, but I’ll let you know as soon as I do.”
Irvine opened his mouth to say something but snapped it shut out of shock. The fact that someone else was actually going to do something aside from him was almost too much to take. His body acted without his volition, however, and asked the question he had not been actually prepared to ask. “Why?”
Squall arched an eyebrow in response. “Why?” he echoed.
With much more determination than he’d had when he first asked, he repeated himself, “Why?”
“Because I know how it feels,” Squall answered in a steady voice, without hesitation. “to watch someone you care about lying on a bed almost lifeless, without a clue as to how it happened or why; never knowing whether they’ll come out of it or if they’re going to die like that, or whether you’re going crazy asking yourself the same questions and wondering whether or not you really want to know the answer to any of them.”
At first, Irvine didn’t know what he was talking about, but he was suddenly reminded a moment later when he thought about Rinoa; how she’d fallen into a comatose state no one had thought she would awaken from after the very last time they’d had to fight Edea. He remembered how often Squall had visited the infirmary despite his duties as the Garden’s Commander weighing him down (which had involved leaving the Garden on a couple of instances). He remembered how he had been so desperate to bring her back that he’d kidnapped her and had walked the distance from Fisherman’s Horizon, using the train tracks leading from the eastern continent as a bridge, and trekking it on foot to Esthar in order to find some form of cure.
He did know how he felt; because he’d been in the exact same position before.
“Thank you,” Irvine said and honestly he meant it. Knowing that there was someone who was on his side, willing to go through the lengths that he himself would go to find a solution for someone they cared about was enough to lift the weight he’d been carrying on his shoulders.
Squall didn’t respond; simply rising to his feet and moving towards the filing cabinet on the left hand side of the room. He pulled out a file folder and placed it on his desk; no doubt the folder was filled with paperwork he would have to fill out.
However, just as Irvine opened the door to let himself out, Squall did say something at last; “Get some rest Irvine.”
Smiling for the first time in a few days, Irvine figured he’d take the advice.
Two days had passed since he’d spoken to Squall in his office, and true to his word, Squall did put some time aside to work on figuring out what was wrong with Selphie. Irvine knew this because they met at the library around the same time; after six and until nine at night, both he and the Commander sifted through the books in the library, searching for any kind of malady both magic based or natural that would explain Selphie’s condition. When nine o’clock rolled on by, Squall would leave so that he would be able to get up early the following morning. Irvine would stay behind until the library had to close at eleven and head to bed himself. He was slightly resentful that no one else had volunteered their time, but as Squall had told him, everyone couldn’t just drop everything just to solve this mystery.
The previous night though, Squall had surprised him, suggesting that Irvine go visit with Selphie while he continued looking up the symptoms and after some major pestering, Irvine finally relented and did just that. The sharpshooter had been a little tired after a full week of investigating and emotional turmoil and had chosen to head to bed early that night. He figured that that was what Squall had been up to all along; Squall seemed to be able to figure out when other people needed a break, and had even pointed out that the sharpshooter needed to get some more rest. He was grateful he’d taken the advice; he woke up feeling more rejuvenated than he had in a while. There was even a small spring in his step as he got himself dressed and prepared to visit with Selphie once again.
However, when he emerged from the dorm room he was staying in, he noticed something was wrong; there was a congregation of students and SeeD members’ alike hanging around the hallway outside of the Dormitories and quickly closing the door behind him, he jogged over, wondering what the commotion was. The crowd seemed to stretch towards the Training Center, and he began wading through the masses of people trying to get a better look. It was then that he suddenly heard Xu’s voice over the clambering of the people milling around.
“Break it up, everyone! SeeD members and cadets; report back to your dormitories immediately. An announcement will be made shortly on the situation, but you can’t stay here!”
Even as several students and SeeDs made their way back to their dorms, Irvine just had to figure out what was going on. But when he got closer, he realized that Xu was not alone; he could barely make out Dr. Kadowaki’s voice over the complaints of the people around him.
“…still alive, but we won’t know how long he’s been like this until we get a look at those security cameras.”
“We need to keep a lid on this,” Xu stated, the tone of voice authoritative. “Someone needs to contact the Headmaster and alert him on the situation. No one is to go into the Infirmary until I say so.”
Forcing his way through the movement of students was slowly becoming easier the closer he got; most of them had already done as told by the time he neared the front of the line, and what he could barely see made him speed up all the more. Kadowaki was leaning over a body that had been propped up against the wall, probably checking over it to make sure there were no injuries, but what little he saw of the body made him want to investigate. He finally reached a point where he could see it all clearly, but he stopped in shock as he took in the scene before him.
Xu’s back was to him, her hands on her hips as she watched more students and SeeDs on the opposite side disperse, though they weren’t heading to their dorms like they had been instructed. Dressed in her SeeD uniform, she looked just as commanding as ever; possibly even more so. Dr. Kadowaki was still wearing her white lab coat overtop her work clothes, but it was the prone body she was propped over that caught him off guard. The person’s face was obscured; hair hanging in the way, but all Irvine needed to see were the clothes; black jeans and boots, and a black fur collared beater jacket overtop gloves and a white shirt.
It was Squall.
Before he could properly react, however, Xu chose that moment to turn around and her expression darkened considerably as she looked right at him. “You,” she snapped; her tone sharp. “Come with me. Right now.”
For the second time in the last two days, Irvine found himself up on the third floor, though it was under different circumstances. Much like Squall’s office, Xu’s was immaculately neat aside from her desk, which was covered in papers and file folders. As Xu entered, her pace stayed the same brisk speed as she moved towards her desk, the door closing behind Irvine with an audible clicking noise. A moment later, Xu pushed all the files and papers on her desk to one side before sinking into her chair, her expression still as cold as it had been during the last few minutes.
Irvine would have sat down, but he was afraid the chairs might bite if he did, so he remained standing. After a moment of terse silence, Xu finally spoke. “Just what the hell do you think you’re playing at?”
Irvine must have looked confused, because Xu’s expression darkened considerably. “The situation was being looked into; we were handling it just fine. I don’t know what in Hyne’s name possessed you to think you had the right, the privilege, to go around us the way you did, but I assure you your actions have not gone unnoticed.”
The sharpshooter didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about but he figured he could gander a guess. “What are you talking about?”
Xu slammed both palms of her hands atop the surface of her desk as she rose to her feet. “I am talking about your little meeting with Squall two days ago. Just because he locked his door doesn’t mean we don’t know what it was you were talking about.”
“You weren’t doing anything about it,” Irvine protested, though he noticed how she’d addressed her superior. At least he knew what she was so angry about now.
“We were doing all we could, given the circumstances.”
“That we didn’t know, and still don’t for that matter, what was causing Operative Tilmitt’s condition.”
Irvine folded his arms across his chest defiantly. “If you’re worried about it being contagious, Dr. Kadowaki already ruled it out.”
“While that may be the case, that information does not bring us any closer to knowing what exactly it is. For all we know, it could have been some form of timed contagion; expected to go off after a certain amount of time.”
Irvine frowned slightly; he hadn’t thought of that at all. Still, he didn’t want her to know that. “Don’t ya think that’s grasping at straws?”
“What neither you nor Squall seem to have gotten through your thick skulls,” Xu snapped. “is that SeeD must be prepared for any situation. That includes variables that may just be a stretch. How likely is it that someone from the future tries to influence the past by compressing time?”
Irvine snapped his mouth shut; she had him there.
“I could have you court martialled and removed for your actions, however it wasn’t just your actions that caused this.” Xu said. “For the record, and this does not go any further from this room, Squall felt that we weren’t doing enough either. He was warned by both Headmaster Kramer and myself that it was unwise to just continue the search without caution, but obviously he was too closely involved to listen.”
“If you knew about it, then why didn’t you stop us?” Irvine asked curiously. “If you thought it was so dangerous, why didn’t you do anything?”
“Because, for your information, I only learned about it after I learned what had happened this morning.” Xu stated. “I searched the security tapes, looking for any sign of just what had happened, though I’d already suspected he’d just ignored the Headmaster and my own advice to him. Then, I saw you waiting for him in one of the tapes. You couldn’t wait until after you’d gotten into his office to talk and I figured that you were a part of the situation.”
“You think that because he wanted to help me that he’s like this now? You think that’s the reason.”
“No, I know it is.” Xu said. “And now, we just might have an epidemic on our hands. We have to go through all the drills of contagion infection, which means that as of now the Garden is on complete lockdown. No one is to enter or exit the premises, which includes commuting students, until we can isolate the spread.”
Irvine swallowed hard. He really hadn’t thought things through. “What about Squall and Selphie?”
“They will be looked after in the infirmary, with limited visitation of course.” Xu sighed, sitting back down in her seat. “We were trying to keep things quiet, but it looks like we’re going to have to go public with what we know. This isn’t going to sit very well with the higher ups, or the rest of the Garden for that matter, but it has to be done.”
“What do you want me to do?” Irvine asked. Xu fixed him with a hard look.
“Stay out of the way.” She stated plainly. “Keep your noise out of it. Stay uninvolved and let those of us who are authorized to do so deal with this. If I find out that you have been working on this in any way, shape or form, once this is all over I’ll see to it that your requested transfer to this Garden is denied, and inform the Garden Master Martine of the exact situation behind it. You’ll be lucky if they’ll let you stay in Galbadia Garden after that.”
She pulled out one of the forms from the now large pile surrounding her, and the mountain of papers and file folders fell off the desk and onto the floor around her. Xu made a frustrated grunt in the back of her throat before throwing a livid glare at Irvine, as though all of this were his fault. “Get out of here already; you’re dismissed.”
A clicking noise was heard behind him and Irvine double-timed it out of there before he could make the situation even worse.
No one was happy about the news once it had been announced over the Public Address System; many of the commuters were furious that they were forced to stay over the weekend and the students who had decided to go into town had to rethink their plans. Irvine was glad to know that Xu had not named any names involving the circumstances, but he figured that if he put one toe out of line she wasn’t above doing such a thing.
In fact, the only people who did know were the people he told immediately after his visit with Xu; Quistis, Zell and Rinoa. None of them were very thrilled to learn that he’d had a hand in it, but they weren’t nearly as angry at him as he’d initially thought, especially since it was Zell’s mother’s birthday and the brawler had made plans to spend the day with her. (The only reason Zell was still in the Garden was because he’d lost track of time and had opted to stay in Garden dorm for the night). Irvine guessed they were more concerned about Selphie and Squall than about their own plans and discomforts.
Everyone had met up in Irvine’s dorm, where he’d told them everything that he knew about the situation; not because he wanted to get involved, but simply because he thought they deserved to at least know. Rinoa had known something was up when Squall had gone back to his dorm later than usual, or so she told them when he explained things. While he’d thought the brawler would have tried to make him feel worse about it, Zell had simply kept his mouth shut (for once); Irvine guessed they all knew he felt bad enough already.
Still, it hadn’t stopped Quistis from pointing out how he should have just left it up to the higher ups; it wasn’t their business to snoop around about it when it was already being handled, regardless of who was involved. Nevertheless, they were all more sympathetic than he had expected them to be.
Throughout the day, the medical staff visited each dorm room, taking blood and testing them on anything that could possibly be connected with the recent cases. Once that had been taken care of, Quistis had left to grade some more tests, and Zell had gone to call his mother to wish her a happy birthday. Irvine was grateful when Rinoa volunteered to head to the infirmary with him. Fortunately, Xu hadn’t seen it fit to revoke his visitation rights and for this Irvine was grateful.
They walked in silence most of the trek from the dorms to the Infirmary, but it was when they passed the cafeteria that Rinoa broke the silence. “I had a bad feeling last night.”
Irvine didn’t respond, expecting the raven haired Sorceress to elaborate. She took the hint. “On my way back from taking Angelo for a walk, I checked his dorm room, to see if he was there. He hadn’t come back yet, so I assumed he was in the Training Center. Still, even when I went to bed, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen. I never once thought that something could’ve happened to him, though.”
“If you thought something was going to happen, why didn’t you check it out?”
“Because I thought it was my imagination.” Rinoa explained with a shrug. “At night I get a bit jumpy, especially if I’m by myself. I thought I was just jumping at shadows.”
Irvine nodded to himself. He guessed Rinoa was feeling just as guilty as he was, but he tried not to dwell on it. “It’s not your fault,” he finally said.
“It’s not yours either.” Rinoa said. “From what Xu told you, Squall was already looking into it on his own anyway. He even said so himself. I don’t think it would’ve made much difference if you hadn’t met with him when you did.”
“At any right,” Irvine said uncomfortably. “Quistis has the right idea; let Xu and the Headmaster figure it out. Maybe they’ll bring in Garden’s council if they can’t find anything. There isn’t much we can do except hope they wake up.”
Rinoa nodded, just as equally uncomfortable. They arrived at the infirmary moments later, the automated doors sliding open and shut. Dr. Kadowaki, who was sitting at her desk working on some paperwork, looked up and nodded in greeting before resuming her work; for obvious reasons she had her hands full.
As though the thought had already programmed itself into his head, Irvine headed towards the back of the room where Selphie lay behind a curtain that was meant for privacy than for any form of security measure. She was still motionless, save for the steady rise and fall of her chest. He sat down at the chair positioned next to her bed and was surprised when Rinoa pulled up a chair beside him (he thought she’d have gone straight for Squall). When she noticed his curious gaze, Rinoa shrugged. “I feel bad that I haven’t been visiting as much as I should have; I’m not even a student here, and I’ve got all the time in the world. I guess I’ve been pretty selfish, huh?”
Irvine didn’t answer, but the thought had crossed his mind on more than one occasion. Still, now was not the time to start an argument; at least now she was trying making up for it. Still, he couldn’t help but feel bitter; while Selphie had been in the Infirmary for a week now, no one had seemed to care; now all of a sudden, the Commander of Garden joins her in the exact same condition and the world comes to an end. As much as he knew it wasn’t his fault, it didn’t stop him from being embittered at the knowledge that, somehow, Squall seemed more important to Garden then Selphie did, all because of rank.
Finally, he rose to his feet and move to the next bed beside the curtain, where Squall now resided. Like Selphie’s winter coat, Squall’s beater jacket had been removed and was hanging on a coat rack at the front of the room. His boots had also been removed and, like Selphie, he was barefoot underneath the blanket that was covering him. Even though he knew that the outcome would have been the same regardless, he still felt badly; that perhaps he should have stayed with him in the library rather than run off to the infirmary. Maybe then he could have at least seen what had happened to him, or even have been there to stop it. Rinoa seemed to realize he was thinking this, because she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder and said, “This isn’t your fault.”
He nodded slowly, and after a few more minutes, Rinoa stood up and moved over towards the doctor, Irvine doing the same, though he had no idea what Rinoa wanted with Kadowaki. That is, until she spoke up. “Um, I was wondering; is it okay if I take Squall’s jacket with me?”
Irvine caught onto her line of thinking; the jacket was a part of Squall. He wore it all the time, especially during the war, and it’d been through a lot. It was something of his that she could hold onto, at least until he got better.
“I don’t mind,” Dr. Kadowaki answered. “They’ve already been cleaned, so you shouldn’t get sick if you take it.”
Rinoa nodded and immediately removed the beater jacket from the coat rack and put it on. The shoulders were far too big for her, and the sleeves hung passed her hands, but the bottom seemed to fall against her waist. Dr. Kadowaki smiled at Irvine; the first smile he’d received since Squall had collapsed. “You can take Selphie’s too, if you’d like.”
“Oh, ah, no thanks.” Irvine said sheepishly. “Doubt it’d fit me at all.”
Dr. Kadowaki’s smile grew bigger as she removed the yellow jacket from the rack and handed it to the sharpshooter. “It’s the sentiment that’s important right? Just take it.”
Irvine tried to refuse, but eventually he did take the jacket, tucking it under his arm. “Thanks,” he said, honestly at a loss for words.
The doctor smiled good naturedly at the both of them as they left in slightly higher spirits than they had arrived in. Rinoa wrapped her arms around herself, so that both hands were resting on her shoulders; Irvine had seen her do this plenty of times during the war and figured it was a nervous habit, just like Zell’s shadow boxing. Suddenly, she stopped and unwrapped her arms from her front before checking something inside the beater. “What’s up?” Irvine asked.
“Something just poked me,” Rinoa said, digging into an inside pocket before withdrawing a small piece of paper.
Irvine gave her a critical look. “You could feel that?”
“I have very delicate skin,” Rinoa protested defensively, as she searched the pocket for anything else. Aside from a pen, she came up empty. “Why would Squall have a piece of paper in his jacket?”
Irvine’s eyes lit up and he snatched it out of her hand. “Maybe ‘cuz he found something.”
“What happened to staying out of it?” Rinoa asked, refolding her arms across her chest.
“He left a note, so it must be important,” Irvine waved off, knowing exactly what she was implying. He unfolded the piece of paper and found that Squall had indeed written something on it; it was barely discernable through his handwriting and the colour matched that of the pen Rinoa had found:
“What’s it say?” Rinoa asked. Irvine simply handed her the paper and after she was finished looking it over, she looked as clueless as he felt. “What’s this supposed to mean?”
“Dunno,” Irvine said. “Some kind of clue I guess.”
“What should we do about it?” Rinoa asked. “Talk to Xu? Maybe even Cid?”
“I’m supposed to be stayin’ outta it, remember? You remember what Xu told me. If I get involved, I’m outta here faster than you can say ‘Transfer Denied’.”
“Then what are we going to do?”
Irvine thought about it for a moment before frowning slightly. “There’s still someone else who might be able to figure this out.”