Grazhir :: Crossover :: Tempest :: 03 :: Meetings

03 • Meetings

Anxious Heart

They drove into Garden in silence; no one was willing to talk. Parked a minute later in the garage, they popped the trunk and hauled out their belongings, then turned and walked down the corridor as one to the reception awaiting them.

The entire team was there—almost. Seifer blinked in surprise when he realized that Squall wasn’t present, but quickly schooled his face to an expression of calm serenity. He almost lost it a second time when the first person to approach them was Rinoa; he would have thought she’d be at the back in a conflicted mess.

She stopped a few feet away and smiled at them before saying, “Welcome back to Garden. I’m sure you’re all probably tired—it is late after all—so why don’t we show you to your new rooms, and then we can all talk if you’d like.”

Seifer started to nod, then reconsidered, instead asking, “I don’t mean to sound rude, but . . . why isn’t Squall here? Does he—is he—uh. . . .”

Irvine stepped forward and spoke. “Squall left Garden about a week ago. He resigned. We’ll explain after you folks get settled in, okay?”

Seifer hefted his pack and nodded after a quick look back at his companions. “Lead on.”

The quarters turned out to be in visitors country, strangely enough. Selphie explained as they stowed their goods in their respective rooms that they’d decided not to split the trio up; the suite was available, so why not use it? There were rarely any visiting dignitaries that required the elaborate set-up.

When they were all settled in the main room, Seifer asked about Squall again, feeling obscurely anxious. “So what’s the deal? Why did he take off?”

Irvine shrugged and replied, “He had a nasty accident not too long back, one that almost killed him, though he was found in time, obviously. He’d been his usual self before that, distant and moody. Nothing new there. He was eventually released for light duty. It wasn’t until two days later that we realized he was missing.”

He shrugged again, though his brow furrowed. “He’d worked for a few hours the day before, and because of the light duty no one paid attention when he hadn’t shown up the next day. I guess we all assumed he was taking it easy and he’d be up later on.”

Rinoa broke in, a frown marring her features. “When I went in to drop off some paperwork I saw that the desk was practically spotless, which was highly unusual, and that a form was laying dead center along with an envelope.”

She looked up, and Seifer could see the hurt in her eyes. “He’d left behind a copy of his resignation and a letter for us. He said several things, though the most pressing one was that by the time we read it, he’d be gone. That the near-death experience had really shook him up, and he needed time to think. That Garden needed a commander who could function, and he’d never wanted the position in the first place.”

She flicked her hair over her shoulder and with a deep breath continued, “He also said he didn’t want us to try and find him. Any of us, for any reason.” She averted her face to stare fixedly at the wall.

“He, um,” offered Quistis, “mentioned you as well, Seifer.” When his brow arched inquiringly she continued. “He wanted us to know that he believed you deserved another chance. Well, you can read the letter yourself if you want. Just ask and one of us will bring you a copy.”

“I think I would. If someone could—” he said, breaking off as a jaw-splitting yawn hit him.

“I’ll take care of it, then,” said Quistis with a nod. “I think we should let you guys sleep, and we’ll go over the paperwork tomorrow on re-admitting you to Garden.”

They rose and left with muted farewells, the door finally sliding shut behind the last of them. Raijin rose and went to his room as Fujin got up to secure the door before heading to her own room. Seifer sat there for a few minutes, replaying the conversation in his mind.

Something didn’t feel quite right. Squall never willingly gave out that much information, and it took a master in the art to make sense of his stares, glares, and gestures, never mind the subtle clues afforded by his eyes. It had to be a lot more than just a near-death experience to rattle that much free.

He sighed and made for bed, knowing that he might never learn the truth of the matter. For the moment, he was content that not one of them had commented on his change in manner, or questioned it.

*

Alpha and Omega

He yawned and stretched, not really wanting to leave the warmth of his cozy bed, but knowing that lazing about in a doze all day wouldn’t accomplish anything. He levered himself up and swung his legs around and onto the floor, then, blinking sleepily, he pushed up to a standing position and stumbled into the bathroom to take a shower.

It wasn’t until he was soaked from head to toe and just starting to wash his hair that he realized something had changed. The first thing he noticed was that his hair was no longer short; in fact, he felt it fluttering in the flow of water at least part way down his back. He pushed his hands back and down, gathering the mass into a tail and pulling it around and forward to stare at it in mild bewilderment.

It was longer than he expected. It was also a striking shade of white-blond, or would be if not for the water and shampoo. The water felt real, the tiles under his feet felt real, so he was awake, wasn’t he? The shower was seductive, though, so he shrugged philosophically and cut off his musing to finish washing up.

With a towel slung carelessly around his hips and loosely tucked in, he stepped in front of the mirror and wiped the steamy surface to reveal a subtly changed face staring back at him. His eyes were more silver than grey, no longer holding any hint of blue, but still managing to convey a sense of barely contained storms.

His cheekbones were higher, his face more sculptured and defined, and his mouth was fuller than before, with a decidedly sultry slant to it, even in repose. He retained the odd air he’d projected from before; he still looked slightly feminine. He no longer looked quite as remote as he used to, though, and the Hyperion scar was gone completely. In short, though he could recognize himself despite the changes, he didn’t think many others would be able to, if anyone.

He flicked his eyes away from the mirror to examine his body and limbs. There was no trace of scarring anywhere, except from when he’d almost died. Though some was hidden by the towel, he could see the jagged line reaching part way across his abdomen. He shrugged. It was a reminder he wasn’t unhappy to keep, and with the right clothing he could go shirtless and not have it showing. His skin remained pale, even ghostly.

An interesting look for a man named Storm. He grabbed another towel and rubbed and clenched his hair, squeezing out the excess moisture, then slung it around his neck and padded out. He wasn’t going to feel shocked at this point. He assumed it had something to do with the beach and Raine, and was part of the answer of how to start again.

Breakfast was a meal of scrambled eggs and bacon, along with a wedge of cheddar and toast. His stores were getting low, which worried him slightly. The only person he thought he might be able to trust at that point was Laguna, but there was the problem of getting to see him in the first place, especially in light of the changes wrought in him overnight.

A letter, perhaps? He could attempt to arrange a meeting, or say he was sending a representative in via the salt flats. It would mean docking at Fishermans Horizon and walking a goodly distance alone, but he still had Lionheart, even if he’d have to stow it and wrap the case on the ride in once he’d got past the shield. It should work. Laguna would probably be thrilled to receive a letter from his distant son, especially one asking for help.

He padded into the bedroom and tossed the towels into the bathroom; he’d clean that up later. Swiveling the bar on the top drawer of the built-in dresser, he eased the drawer out and selected a set of boxers and threw them on the bed, then continued rummaging through drawers until he had a complete set of clothing.

When he finished dressing in comfortable black drawstring pants and a ribbed grey tank he entered the bathroom, stooping the retrieve the towels, and tossed them into the hamper before turning his attention to the mirror.

Now halfway dry, his hair had begun to form a wispy cloud around his face, slightly wavy but relatively tame. Twisting his body he saw that it reached a good way down his back. He looked ethereal, not quite human, and he found the effect intriguing. Smiling at his reflection, he started mentally composing a letter to his father even before he headed off to his laptop.

Dream of the Shore Bordering Another World

Storm sprawled on his bed and closed his eyes, tucking one hand back and under the pillow. Tomorrow he’d start the journey to Esthar. Serenaded by the sound of water lapping against the sides of his ship, he drifted off to sleep.

The blackness receded slowly, like it was bleeding away in every direction. He blinked sleepily and yawned, casting his gaze around in befuddlement. What he saw made his mouth drop open. It wasn’t the beach he was reclining on that brought about his reaction, nor the pleasant blue of the dawn sky.

The twining tendrils of glowing green light, on the other hand, were like nothing he’d ever seen before in his short life. The sea was gone, replaced with a seemingly endless plain of cracked shale from which leaked the strands of eerie light.

Storm sat up and brushed the sand from his hands, staring without comprehension at the scene before him, until movement on the rock caught his attention. Someone was walking toward him slowly, the figure picking its way carefully across the treacherous landscape, and pausing to glance up in his direction every so often.

Closer and closer it came until Storm could make out a shock of spiky blond hair, a well muscled though slender form, and faintly glowing eyes. A minute later the figure revealed itself as male, though with a distinctly feminine cast to his features, not unlike Storm’s own.

Storm waited, telling himself this could only be a dream, and therefore not something to be seen as cause for alarm. When the young man came close enough, Storm politely gestured for him to sit, eyeing the enormous sword strapped to the fellow’s back with some trepidation before realizing that his faithful Lionheart was safely with him.

The stranger tilted his head to one side, his brow furrowed, then spoke. “I’m Cloud.”

Storm felt his brows rise but replied in kind, “I’m Storm,” feeling a little better when the other man’s brows also rose. Silence reigned for a few minutes as they studied each other, taking in every minute detail.

“I’m not quite sure what’s going on here. I know this beach, but not . . . that.” Storm indicated the shale plain and the streams of light.

Cloud glanced back over his shoulder and replied, “I do. It doesn’t look quite right, though.”

“If I may ask . . . what do you mean?”

Cloud looked back, his eyes unnervingly bright. “It looks a lot like the land around Midgar, except the city is missing.”

“And that light?”

“The lifestream.”

“Um. . . .”

Cloud angled his head and stared at him quizzically.

“You really don’t know. The lifestream—it’s a part of Gaia, the planet. Every living thing, when it dies, goes back to the lifestream to eventually be reborn, though not always as the same thing. We are her children—people, plants, creatures.”

‘Well that didn’t make much sense,’ Storm thought. “Midgar?” he asked out loud.

“A city I once lived in, though it was pretty much destroyed in a cataclysmic event. The ruins should be there, but they aren’t.” Cloud shrugged. “What is this beach? I don’t recognize it.”

“It should be Balamb beach, but Balamb itself is missing. Of course, the last time I was here it was missing, so I’m not entirely surprised.”

“Balamb?” came the expected query.

Storm smiled and replied, “Balamb, a town that should be over in that cove. And back over there,” he gestured over his shoulder, “should be Balamb Garden, a training facility, in part for mercernaries.”

“Well, this is bizarre.”

“I think I can safely say that’s an understatement.”

Cloud chuckled, then peered closely at him. “I’ve never seen a weapon like that before. What is it, if I may ask?”

*

Several hours had passed with an exchange of information. Cloud was still trying to wrap his mind around Storm’s concept of the laws of magic, which were so alien to his own. He suspected that Storm was having the same problem. As they’d talked Storm had become more and more animated, using his hands as an accompaniment to speech, and Cloud had been having a difficult time keeping his mind focused, much prefering to let his eyes roam over the figure before him, so like an angel that it made his heart contract with longing.

Their respective stories were so different, yet so similar, even to the dreams they’d had while they lay slowly dying. He’d also learned that Storm was not quite who he appeared to be, and Cloud wondered if this was a result of something like his own experience, and if this current state of things was also one. Was there a multitude of worlds? Jenova had to have come from somewhere, so was it really such a stretch of the imagination?

He pulled his mind back to what Storm was saying in time to hear him speak of the letter he’d recently sent to his estranged father.

“It sounds like you’re well on your way to a new start, Storm.”

“Yes. I think so. Though to be honest, after being here with you I think I’m going to be a bit lonely when I wake up.”

“Oh?”

“I’ve never been able to talk to anyone as easily as I have with you. Hyne, I don’t even know if any of this has any basis in reality, but still . . . I’m going to miss. . . .” His voice trailed off into pregnant silence.

“I’m going to miss you as well, Storm. We have so much in common. If this really is just a dream, I’ll still treasure it.”

Storm smiled again, his silver eyes gleaming. Then his head whipped around, as though he’d heard something outside of Cloud’s senses. Cloud followed where his friend’s gaze must be focused to see the sky bleeding away, and knew that their time together must almost be over.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I think. . . .” He sighed as Storm’s eyes came back to his. “I think we’re going to wake up shortly.” He glanced over his shoulder to see the landscape shimmering, then turned back to see a translucent Storm trying to speak, flickering against a background of swirling blue and black.

Just before he faded out Storm mouthed, “I’ll miss you.”

Cloud closed his eyes, feeling a single tear trickle down his cheek. When he opened them again, he was laying on the deck of his ship, alone.

Behind the Door

Storm slipped a plain black cover over his gunblade case hurriedly, wanting to conceal it before the lift finished its journey. Once finished he slipped his arm through the carrying strap and waited, stepping off the platform to meet with a representative of the president who stood next to a vehicle very similar to the one he’d seen the last time.

The man opened the door and gestured, then walked to the other side and entered the car, starting it up once Storm was seated, and driving through the tunnel and out into the city in a parallel of the previous journey, except that it was only the two of them.

He once again saw the city unfold before his eyes and he drank in the sight with a sense of wonder, feeling the same rush of awe he’d felt the first time. The ride itself was uneventful, as was the trip up into the palace. He was led to a small suite of rooms to drop off his gear, then escorted up to the president’s office and let in, and the doors closed behind him.

Storm scanned the room quickly, seeing that nothing had really changed, then focused on the president of Esthar, his father, Laguna Loire. He stepped forward and sketched a bow, then waited.

“Ah, you’re here. You’re Storm, correct?” Laguna’s voice was affable as always, though he scratched the back of his head nervously as he spoke.

“Yes, sir.”

“Is Squall all right?” asked Laguna anxiously. Storm could see the very real concern shining in the man’s eyes.

“He’s quite well actually. You might want to sit down, though, sir, before I say anything more.”

Laguna scratched his head again and tumbled into a chair, looking back up with hopeful eyes and belatedly waving his hand at an empty chair.

Storm sat down and smiled before asking, “Sir, is this room monitored?”

Laguna frowned, then shook his head. “No. Well, yes. My two closest aides keep an eye out.”

“Kiros and Ward, sir.”

“Well . . . yes, actually. How—oh, I suppose Squall might have mentioned them.”

“Not exactly, sir. However, what I have been entrusted to say can be voiced to you only, so I find myself in somewhat of a dilema. While I recognize the need for your personal safety. . . .” Storm held up his hands in a helpless gesture.

Laguna looked away for a moment, tapping his fingers on the arm of the chair, then turned back and opened his mouth, only to close it again.

“Hm. Got any paper handy, sir? I suppose I could write things down, and you back,” he suggested.

Laguna smiled brightly and jumped up to grab some sheets and a pen from his desk. He handed them over before dropping back into his chair.

Storm started to write, then paused long enough to say, “Please don’t react verbally to any of this, sir, I implore you,” before scribbling out a few more lines. He placed the pen on the small table adjacent to their chairs and extended the paper to Laguna, who blinked a few times as he read, then snatched up the pen to respond back.

After a moment, the paper came back to Storm.

Storm smiled and wrote below his father’s words:

Laguna read quickly, his eyes becoming wider by the second, then shot a piercing look at Storm, who nodded calmly and held out his hand for the sheet. With it back in his possession he added the following:

He handed it back with another smile, watching his father’s eyes scan the words swiftly. Laguna sat there for a few minutes before gazing back up at him. He scratched the back of his head, then stood and walked to the fireplace and tossed the sheet of paper into the flames, watching until it was nothing more than ashes.

“You’ve been given a room?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Call me Laguna, please. Sir makes me feel old.”

“If that’s what you prefer, I’d be happy to.”

Laguna turned around and smiled tentatively. “Are you . . . hungry? It’s almost time for dinner and we could. . . .” he trailed off uncertainly.

“I would love to.”

“Great!” caroled Laguna. “Follow me!”

*

Laguna’s suite had the benefit of being guarded by a highly sophisticated system of electrical wards; monitoring devices only activated if the wards failed, making it safe to speak freely, as Storm quickly learned. Once a cart had been rolled in and the servant was safely outside, Laguna flipped a series of switches and flopped into a chair at the table.

“You’re really—wow . . . I can’t believe it. What happened to you?”

Storm launched into a detailed account of everything that had happened, starting with just before the accident, watching as a welter of emotions paraded across his father’s face.

“I know it’s a lot to take in,” he concluded, eyeing his father carefully. “I’d tell you to have Sis drop you into my recent past to confirm this, but that would sort of negate my need for secrecy, and besides, a blood test would probably be quicker. I would do it, though, if it meant you were sure.”

“No, no. I believe you. I’m just so. . . .”

“Yeah.”

“So, okay. I can see why you came here. But what do you plan on doing? I mean, what do you want help with besides the obvious?”

“There’s only a few things I’m any good at. One is out by virtue of the changes and one is out by virtue of the circumstances. So that leaves one thing.”

“Which is?”

“I guess I’ll become a singer. I have a good voice, I’ve written any number of songs in my private journal, and could always write more. I’m not too sure about the music yet, but . . . I could always give that a shot too. It can’t hurt to try. If all else fails, I’ll just have to look a little harder for something to do, something around here.”

Laguna nodded vigorously. “I could be your patron, your benefactor!” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “Then no one would consider it at all strange if we ended up spending a lot of time together.” The force of his smile seemed to light up the room like a small sun.

Storm grinned. “And get to know each other at the same time.” Laguna seemed to be taking this all in stride once the initial shock had worn off. Things were definitely looking up.