The news was so consistently bad that Irvine developed a routine of emotionally steeling himself before ordering the television on. The stations were under Edea's rule and put her own spin on events, but the facts were clear enough.
The world was engulfed in war, and Edea was winning. Dollet had capitulated almost at once, Timber was locked down under martial law. Winhill and Balamb were under siege.
Irvine listened to all of it - made himself - and tried not to think it was his fault. No word, no word anywhere, of his friends - and the nurses kept calling him "Mr. Green". He didn't find out what his first name was supposed to be until a doctor - with the false joviality often considered by doctors to be a 'friendly bedside manner' - called him Sergius.
I guess that lets out being the local John Doe/, he thought to himself at the time. /Someone gave me an identity. Which means someone knew how much I needed one. But who's left? Are there SeeD operatives still in Deling?
He didn't dare use healing spells. His progress was carefully monitored, and proof of a junction would make him immediately suspect. Not to mention, with the small stock of spells he'd had time to acquire, there was no guarantee he could heal himself and break out of the thick body cast and get out - naked and unarmed - into Deling proper. And even if he did, where would he go? The Gardens were destroyed. SeeD might be part of the "resistance" forces the newscasts mentioned, or they might not. It certainly wasn't anything he could ask about.
To occupy his time in between newscasts, Irvine worked on making peace with Ifrit. Whatever else had happened, his junction was the only reason he'd lived this long, and might well be the only thing to get him through future episodes of (hopefully never this bad) luck. Ifrit did not like him, that was certain. The fire junction seemed to delight in prowling around his brain, making him nauseated, giving him headaches. Days blurred, and the news got no better. While he healed, Winhill fell. Edea owned the whole continent, now, and Irvine was starting to look forward to the day he could really hook Ifrit in, and know that someday he wouldn't be able to remember the video footage of the last independent city on the continent going down in flames.
Irvine was not a man to handle depression well. For weeks after Winhill's destruction he occupied his time being snarky at the nurses, indulging in small rebellions (such as were possible when he couldn't move 98% of his body at all) and generally being a pill. The staff seemed to understand that it was his forced inaction more than anything else that was driving him snarly, though, which reduced his desire to lash out at them considerably. He just didn't have it in him to yell at people who were not, in fact, the reason he was annoyed with the universe.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Green," said a new voice one day, and although familiar he didn't turn to see who it was. He'd learned the names and habits of about a third of the hospital by then; most voices were familiar to one degree or another.
The girl came up close enough to the bed so that she overshadowed him, and he looked up to see - Rinoa! His jaw dropped in shock, and she put a finger to his lips to shush him, but her pleased expression told him how much she was loving his surprise. She was dressed as a cheer-volunteer, or candy striper as they were often called, red and white stripes being a predominant part of the uniform. "I hear you've been feeling a little down, Mr. Green," she said with a wink. "Maybe things aren't as bad as you seem to think?"
"You're alive," he whispered, cheered immensely. "Is - did anyone -"
"Shhh," she said, speaking very softly. "It's taken months for things to quiet down enough for it to be safe for me to visit you. The newscasts are edited like crazy - this city's totally locked down."
That did not sound good at all. "Is anyone...?"
She sighed. "They escaped the prison. A few months ago - I got word. That's part of why I haven't been able to come sooner - the guards were scouring the city for them, I couldn't draw any attention to you. You've done well, not using...you know. Edea knows you were involved - she's got a hunt out for you. But while you're here you're safe; nobody's got a solid description of you. The junction will give it away though."
Irvine mulled this over. "You're the one who gave me this identity, then."
"Yes," Rinoa nodded, pleased. "I couldn't do much, and you're lucky someone brought you here because it wasn't me. I checked here when I could, to see if you were alive, and gave them a wallet I'd made up for you. You're officially Sergius Green now, a chocobo rancher, and you got trampled by the mob in the riot." She smiled, happy with her skills. "I paid for your medical care. With what I got out of ...my father's house."
"I heard," Irvine replied. It had been on the news - that General Caraway had been tried and executed for treason. It didn't take much to know that the "trial" had probably consisted of Edea pointing her finger and declaring him a traitor.
"I'll save the whole story for another time." She stood up. "I have the rounds to make - I had to take this job to get any time with you that wouldn't be too suspect, and I won't keep it long. Just - stay down, and heal, and we'll do what we can when you're out of here."
Irvine would've raised a hand to stop her if he could. "Wait. Will you be back - soon? I need to know what's happening. What's going on."
Rinoa gave him a sad little smile. "Keep watching the news. The worst is usually there. I'll be back when I can - just don't give up, okay?" Taking a deep breath, Rinoa plastered on her bright candy-striper smile and bounced out.
Irvine sighed and closed his eyes. The others were alive then, at last count. Alive and free. Better off than he was now.
There had to be something left to work for when he could finally walk. The question was, what would it be?
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