Chapter Three

Field Exam

I stared up at the ceiling of my room with my hands behind my pillow.

I had been staring at the picture of Zell - fastened there since the beginning of my crush - since Zell had left me at the door of my dorm with a smile, a touch on the nose, and a kiss longer than the normal peck. Sleep had been chased away by that kiss and the memory of our first date in the Quad and on the beach outside Garden. I couldn't say that I stressed over anything, I just couldn't sleep. I wasn't over-analyzing anything either. I only stared at his picture and remembered stellar points of my three-year 'relationship' with him.

I stretched and looked over at the clock on my bedside table. Five o'clock. I guess I should get up. I released a deep breath just as a knock sounded on the door. I sat up and stared at it--


"Who is it?"

"It's Zell, Sally. Can I talk to you for a sec?"

I blinked at the not-so-bright tone in his voice, pinched myself to make sure I wasn't having a nightmare, and straightened my sweatshirt and leggings - I always used them as a 'nightie' - as I made my way to the door.

"Sure. I'm coming." I opened the door. Zell leaned against the frame as usual, but his expression looked troubled when he raised his gaze from the ground. "Zell? What's the matter?"

"Garden just got a request for SeeDs," he said somberly.

I would have smiled, due to the fact a request meant a Field Exam, but Zell's mood kept any relief firmly squashed. Instead, I stepped from my room and closed the door behind me. "Doesn't that mean I get my Field Exam?" I asked, carefully watching his face.

He nodded, lowering his gaze to the floor again. "Yup, but I don't like this one, Sally. I've got a bad feeling."


Zell looked at me. "A bunch of radicals stole some Galbadian missiles. They're holding hostages at my old orphanage."

I paled and reached out to touch his arm. "Are you okay?"

Zell nodded. "I'm fine, but I don't want you to go on this one. It's going to be… It'll be really dangerous."

"Maybe they won't assign any candidates," I assured him.

Zell shook his head and turned to lean against the door, crossing his arms. "I got the list. You're on it."

"Oh." I lowered my gaze and took in a deep breath. Then I leaned against the door beside him. "Because of my computer knowledge."

Zell gave a nod, adjusting his crossed arms even tighter. "They'll probably get you to the missiles and have you disengage the arming mechanism. That's what I would do." He moved his gaze to my profile. "I know you can handle this, but... I don't want you to go."

And I knew exactly how he felt. I had felt the same way each time he had gone on a mission. I met his gaze after releasing another deep breath. "Are you an observer?"

Zell shook his head. "No. I couldn't. I have two Fire Cavern exams scheduled today." He frowned and looked away. "Dammit," he muttered.

I continued to watch his profile. It hurt, deep, to see him like this. My lip trembled. "Zell, I'm sure I'll be okay. There will be SeeDs there watching, right?"

"Yeah, but SeeDs watching won't help when the damn missile blows up in your face," he said a bit harshly.

I blinked, completely surprised at his not-so take-it-as-it-goes attitude. He looked away. "Zell--"

"I'm scared, Sally," he confessed.

I blinked again, staring at him wide-eyed.

Zell looked back over at me, a serious expression making his blue eyes black. "I think I get why Squall always kept everyone outside. It hurt too much to see them get killed." He shook his head before reaching out to cup my face in his hand, stroking my cheek with his thumb. "I don't want to see your name on the casualty list."

My throat tightened as tears brimmed, but I tried my best to give him a reassuring smile. It must have looked pretty pathetic.

Zell suddenly pulled me into a tight embrace. "You be really careful, Meg. Don't forget anything we've worked on, okay?"

I squeezed my eyes closed to stifle the tears that flowed as my arms wrapped tightly around him. "I promise," I whispered in a choked voice.

Zell held me for a long time after that. It was... It was like every war movie I'd ever seen, with the hero going off to war and never coming back. When he finally pulled back, he sent me a forced smile and held my chin with his hand. I knew he must have seen those movies, too.

"We can't work out today," he said quietly. "You're being shipped out at 06:00. Pack your gear and get changed. Be at the parking lot at 05:30. They'll take you to Balamb and the ship."

"All right," I whispered.

Zell stared down at me for a second before clearing his throat and lowering his hand from my face. Then he reached behind him and pulled something from the back pocket of his worn jeans. They were his Ergheiz gloves. My eyes widened. "I want you to take these, Meg." He presented them to me, still not looking at my face. "Use 'em good."

I hesitantly took the gloves, staring down at them with wide eyes. Then I moved my gaze to Zell's somber expression. He still stared at the gloves. "I will," I promised.

Zell nodded, clearing his throat again as he absently rubbed his hands on the back pockets of his jeans. "Okay... Well... I better jet." He finally met my gaze. "Come back, Sally. Okay?"

I nodded, eyes wide, tears falling, gloves held in tightly fisted hands. He gave another brief nod and turned to walk slowly away, hands submerged deep in his pockets. I watched him go, my throat tightening around any words that I would have said.

I stared morosely down at my glove-covered hands as our ship headed for the cape and the orphanage. Zell and my good-bye kept replaying in my mind. Regret at not chasing after him had risen like the plague. There must have been something-- I pushed the thought away with a sigh. It's too late. Save the hugs and kisses for when you come back. I adjusted the Ergheiz gloves on my hands with a slight smile. I'll come back, Zell. I promise.

"Listen up, people."

I looked up from my hands and straightened as Field Commander Xu stepped up to brief the group on our mission. There were six of us: two groups of three.

"Our stealth group still hasn't confirmed the presence or identity of the alleged hostages. We've decided to use this as part of the plan. As the first group goes in fully tracked and viewed by the radicals, the second will be beached on a remote section. The first group's duty will be to confirm the presence of hostages and negotiate terms. The second group will use any and all means necessary for the location of the missiles. Once found, Sally, it's your duty to both corrupt the guidance system in case of a launch and neutralize the armament and/or the remote detonator. Do you have your handheld?"

I nodded and patted the left side of my SeeD candidate jacket. "Right here, commander."

Xu briskly nodded. "Good. Thomas, Kelly, you're to get her to those missiles using any means necessary. Do you understand?"

Thomas and Kelly nodded. Thomas was a tall and lanky redhead who had taken up the gunblade like Commander Squall. He hadn't reached the rank of 'specialist' due to the fact he hadn't graduated yet, but everyone knew that Cmdr. Squall gave him lessons once or twice a week.

Kelly was of average height and build, a blonde with blue eyes, and had taken up the good old-fashioned machine gun. He was good, too. A crack shot like Irvine. I had to admit that I felt as if I were in good hands.

"Excellent." Xu faced the other group. "Rachel, you're squad leader of team one, which means you'll be in charge of the confirmation and negotiation. Thad, you and Kendall watch her six." They all nodded. Xu looked at each group in turn. "All right then, good luck."

The ship landed and the hatch opened. Rachel's team disembarked. Then the door closed again and we were off to the beach. I rubbed at the knuckles of the gloves with bated breath, hoping against hope that Zell could feel just how ready I was. For the first time in my life I wasn't terrified. I was scared sure, only an idiot wouldn't be, but it wouldn't affect my performance of my duty. That made me feel great.

I slightly smiled. I'll be okay, Zell. And when I get back, we'll go to Balamb and swim in the rain. Promise. Although I would still wear my t-shirt. I repressed a giggle and just smiled wider.

Xu sat beside me. "Sally."

I looked over at her with a slight blink of surprise. "Yes, commander?"

"We can track the location of the missiles with a satellite. Those coordinates will be sent to your handheld. Thomas is squad leader, but you navigate."

I nodded. "Yes, commander."

Xu handed me a wireless transmitter/receiver barely the size of a large blueberry. "Here. If you get caught in a hostile crossfire, let us know. We've got a SeeD elite group ready to go."

I tucked the transmitter/receiver into my ear. "Yes, commander."

Xu placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. "Be careful, girl. I'd like to live a little longer."


Xu smiled as she lowered her hand from my shoulder. "Never mind." She stood. "Good luck. Keep your eyes open."

"Yes, commander."

The ship beached with a lurch. Thomas, Kelly, and I all stood, retrieving weapons, adjusting gloves, and making sure all of our equipment was safely in place. When we sent Xu an acknowledging nod, she opened the hatch and we exited onto the beach, scurrying to the rock out-cropping that led to the orphanage on the bluff. The hatch closed and the ship pulled away. Thomas, Kelly, and I didn't watch it leave. Our minds were already on the task at hand, per our training.

I retrieved the handheld from the inner pocket of my jacket and turned it on. It booted and I set to work logging into the satellite that would let me find the missiles. All took about 30 seconds.

"All clear," Thomas whispered. He looked down at me as I crouched against the rock face. "Where's the first missile?"

The satellite zoomed in. "Fifty yards down the beach."

Thomas gave a brief nod and looked to Kelly. "Watch this entrance. No one gets to the beach." Kelly nodded and sprinted to the other side of the steps to take up position. Thomas touched my shoulder and then gestured down the beach. "Stay close to the rock face. Let's go."


We moved fast; head down, eyes and ears alert. Nothing entered my mind but what I had to do, how I would do it, and balancing stealth and speed together just like Zell had taught me. Fifty yards came and went in a flash of running and quick, silent breaths. Then we flattened ourselves against the rock face a moment before diving into the depths of the cave.

Thomas flipped on the 'lantern' he had affixed to his wrist and illuminated the darkness. I studied the handheld and translated the coordinates.

"Twenty yards to the northeast."

"Any thermal readings?"

I accessed another aspect of the satellite. "Two. In with the missile."

"All right. Let's go."

As we hurried through the tunnels toward the cavern with the missile, I brought up the information on file for that cave. "Thomas, there's a tunnel that goes completely around the back of the cavern."

"Great. Where's the turn."

I studied the map. "Five yards."

We ducked into the tunnel, which was much narrower than the main corridor, and followed it around. When we heard voices, we slowed our steps and then halted. Thomas carefully looked around the cavern wall to gauge their position. I watched the thermal readings on the handheld, tapping my lips with a finger. We couldn't use our GFs because of the missile. Thomas couldn't use his gunblade because of the same reason. If we used magic, we could set off the missile as well.

I tucked the handheld into Thomas' hand. He stared down at it before looking at me. The expression on his face showed that he knew what I planned and that it was the best way.

I ducked into the cavern, immediately hidden from view by the body of the missile as I pressed my back against it. It was smaller than the ones used against Trabia and Balamb Gardens. I closed my eyes and cast Scan. Purists. As in they didn't believe in the junction of, or use of, magic. They focused more on the physical aspect of defense and attack.

I carefully looked over my right shoulder to the two men. They were big. Of course, I was only a couple inches over five feet. Everyone looked big. I moved my gaze away, adjusting my position. Okay, Sally. Focus. Use what you have... I looked down at the loose dirt at my feet, grimaced at the cliché use of it, and scooped up a handful. Then I carefully maneuvered my way around to the left of the missile perched as it was against the wall of the cavern. The men stood side-by-side, odd in my mind considering the secondary entrance to the cavern, and faced the main entrance of the cavern. I kept low, concentrating on my footing as I watched the men and their body movements. Watching for that hint before they would turn to look at me.

When I had positioned myself almost directly behind the first man, I stood, kicked his knees out from under him, tossed the dust into the other man's eyes, and followed through with a sharp kick to the gut. He tumbled backwards, losing his footing on a crate behind as the first man rotated to his butt, gun in hand. I kicked the gun free, following through to land a firm kick him in his chest.

He lay still.

I crouched and turned; the arm of the other man swung by. I leapt up, punching him twice in the face before landing a left that broke his nose. He fell back and didn't get up again.

Thomas immediately entered the cavern, handing me the handheld as he went to the main entrance of the cavern. "Good job."

I absently grunted a reply as I made my way to the side-panel of the missile. The panel was missing, signaling that someone had already been tampering with the unit. I examined the circuitry and found the problem. They had patched in a roughly made remote. I disengaged it without a problem. Then I plugged in the handheld and went to work.

Three minutes.


"Great. Let's get out of here."

I looked over at Thomas. He'd tied and gagged the two men.

Thomas motioned back the way we came. "Back way. Go."

I did, pinpointing the second missile as I went. I stopped. "Thomas. Wait."

"What is it?"

I looked up at him. "The second missile is in with the radicals."

"What?" Thomas stood beside me to look onto the handheld's screen. "Damn. Is there a third one?"

I checked the map. "No."

"Check the thermal. How many radicals?"


"How many are meeting with Rachel's team?"


"How many on the perimeter of the building where the main group of radicals are?"

..."Two sets of three."

"Can you access the missile through the Satellite from your handheld?"

I tried it. "No. Somehow they've disconnected the uplink."

Thomas frowned. "Damn."

I gnawed my lower lip. I knew that using magic was out. Thomas and I didn't have the access to the spells we would need to confuse the men and blind them to our location while muting them to voicing a warning to the men out with Rachel's team. We didn't even have a shell or reflect spell--

I blinked. "Thomas. I have a reflect spell."

"What? How?"

I flushed. "I drew it from Zell during one of our training sessions."

"Perfect. Here's what we're going to do. You cast Reflect on the missile. Once it takes, I'll cast Fire on the group. Make sure you follow-up my Fire with either Thunder or Blizzard."

"And don't summon Shiva or Ifrit."

"Right. Let's go."

We headed out of the cave at a run, keeping close to the rock face as we made our way to where Kelly still held his position at the base of the stairs. Thomas and I didn't stop. Kelly didn't question. He followed up the stairs after us, me between. When we climbed the last steps, we pressed ourselves flat against the rock wall on the south side, waiting for the first of the three-person perimeter team.

Thomas motioned me to stay. I nodded. Thomas gestured silent orders to Kelly, who also nodded, and then they stealthily moved to the outside wall of the main building. I could hear the crunch-crunch-crunch of the men approaching on their patrol.

They rounded the corner into butts of machine guns, gunblades, and flying fists.

Thomas motioned to me. I hurried to their location. "I figure we have three minutes before the next team reaches this point. Kelly, you stand watch. Sally, you're with me."

Thomas and I scurried stealthily into the building, moving from tattered box to crumbled wall to broken piece of furniture. We arrived at the main room 45 seconds later. Thomas gave me the signal. I closed my eyes and cast Reflect on the missile. It took. I opened my eyes to see Thomas casting a group Fire spell. I immediately started casting Blizzard. Flames engulfed the group and the missile. The men gasped but didn't cry out. Reflected flames hit the wall beside Thomas, but he was too busy readying a second volley.

Blizzard struck, silencing the men in a chrysalis of ice. All but two men hit the ground, and the reflected spell from the missile hit one of them. He fell. Instead of casting Fire, Thomas charged forward and struck the man with his gunblade. The man went down without a word.

I slipped out from my hiding place, hurrying to the missile.

"You have 90 seconds, Sally," Thomas whispered.

I clenched my jaw and quickly disconnected the remote device. I inserted the communication cable from my handheld into the port and tapped some options. You can do this, Sally. Go. Go.

"60 seconds."

Tap-tap-tap-drop down menu-select-tap-tap-tap-tap-send "Done."

"Move out."

I removed the cable and hurried for the back exit. Thomas' steps were heard after me. When we saw Kelly, he gestured for us to hurry. Thomas and I cleared the building and hurried for the stairs. I noticed that Kelly had moved the other men's bodies. Where, I didn't know. Kelly's steps picked up after Thomas'. We ducked behind the rock wall of the stairs just as the men came into view. The three of us pressed ourselves flat against the rock face, desperately trying to silence our breathing.

When the men rounded the other corner, Thomas motioned to the beach. We rushed down the steps.

"Xu, if you can hear me, two missiles neutralized, and we're heading out at a run."

"We read you loud and clear, Sally. Coming in for a pick-up."

"They're on their way, Thomas," I reported.


We reached the bottom of the stairs and waited, hidden against the cliff face as the ship approached. I gnawed my lower lip. They're going to see the ship. "Xu, is Rachel's team free and clear?"

"In process."

I pulled out my handheld and accessed the thermal scan. The perimeter scouts were on their way back around-- They entered the main building. "Xu, the perimeter scouts went inside. They're going to see the mess."

"Acknowledged. Ordering Rachel's withdrawal. Get to the beach. Now."

We did, diving into the water - thank goodness the handheld was waterproof - to meet the ship before it had completely reached the shore. We were getting Kelly on board when there was the sound of gunfire. We all looked toward the main building until the hatch closed.

Thomas, Kelly and I sat down to wait for Xu's report as the ship headed around to retrieve Rachel's team. Let them be okay. Please. I rubbed at the Ergheiz gloves, trying to let Zell know I was okay while hoping against hope there wouldn't be a casualty list.

Xu appeared a few minutes later. "Good job." She clearly read the expression on our faces. "They're fine. We're heading to the rendezvous point."

We all released a deep breath and smiled.

I retrieved the transmitter/receiver from my ear and gave it back to Xu.

"Good job, Sally," she commended as she took it. "All of you. Excellent."

We muttered our thanks and then settled back to endure the eventual ride home.

I leaned against the door to my dorm room with a deep exhalation of breath. Zell was still at the Fire Cavern finishing up his last exam. I released another deep breath as I pushed away from the door. It was nearly four o'clock in the afternoon, and I was exhausted. This Field Exam had convinced me more than ever that I wanted a nice cushy desk job. Librarians and computer geeks had no business being shot at, and I would much rather risk a virtual injury than a real one.

I slumped onto my bed with a yawn. Then I kicked my shoes off and laid back...

...warmth and surrounding comfort... lips on forehead. I mumbled something only to hear a whispered "Shh. Go to sleep, girl" to which I sleepily nodded, colored by a yawn, and faded back to my dreams...


I groaned. Too early... I stretched, rubbing my eyes with the backs of my hands.


"Who is it?" I yawned, lowering my hands from my face.

"It's Selphie, Sally. Open up."

I pushed off the blanket - I don't remember pulling that on... - and swung my legs over the bed to push myself to a wobbly stand. Then I made my way to the door and opened it. I blinked into the bright hallway.

"Hello," I yawned.

Selphie giggled. "Zelly was right. You were wiped out from the exam yesterday."

Wide-awake. "Zell?"

"Yeah. He came to get you for the announcement of the results for the Field Exam. He said you were sleeping and that we should go on without you."

I looked down. Sure enough, I still wore my SeeD candidate uniform from the previous day. "Oh. Oops."

Selphie giggled again. "Don't worry about it. I just came over to say..." I raised my eyes. "You passed! You're going to Graduate!"

My mouth dropped open. Selphie wrapped me in a hug. "I... I passed?"

Selphie pulled back. "Of course you passed, Sally. You guys did great!"

"I passed." My voice sounded dumbfounded.

"Okay, okay." Selphie gestured back inside my room. "You're excused from work today, so get showered and changed and have a blast. I'll let you know when those of you who passed this Field Exam get your diplomas from Squall. See you later." Selphie closed the door behind her.

I stood in the middle of the room in distracted muddlement before going through the motions of showering and changing. Once dressed in sweatpants and a T-shirt, I blinked and-- "Zell!"

I grabbed his Ergheiz gloves and dived for the door, barely taking the time to close it behind me before jogging down the halls and heading for the Training Center. When I got there, he wasn't in the main lobby. I entered the right door and searched, moving with hurried steps.

"Zell?" I called.

Zell wasn't in the first section, so I moved on to the next. No one. I made my way to the 'Forbidden Area' where couples usually stayed after hours... Zell leaned against the wall, arms crossed against the top of it as he stared out at Garden and its backdrop of a purple and pink sunrise.

I hesitated a moment before stepping up beside him.

Zell looked over at me and smiled. "Hey."

"Hi, Zell," I greeted softly. I examined his expression. "I'm sorry I'm late."

Zell turned to lean his back against the wall, crossing his arms as he stared down at the ground. "No prob." He adjusted his arms. "I heard you kicked butt."

I flushed. "I did all right," I whispered. I looked down at his gloves in my hand.

"I knew you could do it, Sally."

I smoothed the knuckles of the gloves. "Believe it or not, so did I. I was scared, sure, but I knew I could get it done."

"That's my girl," he said in a quiet voice.

I smiled - warm fuzzies attack! - and then looked up as I held the gloves out to him. "Here. They worked great. It was almost like having you coaching me."

Zell took in a deep breath and released it fast, finally looking over at me. To my surprise, he stepped forward and enfolded me in a tight embrace. "I'm glad you're okay, Sally."

I squeezed my eyes shut as I brought my arms up to hold him close. "So am I," I whispered.

Then Zell pulled back, hands on my upper arms as he met my gaze. "I couldn't believe I was stressing. I mean, I'd trained you. I knew you could do it without a problem, but I stressed anyway. And it felt as if someone kicked me in the gut."

I looked up into his very serious blue expression and smiled a wavering smile. "I don't think I want to be known as the girl that stressed out Zell Dincht," I said quietly.

The seriousness melted to a smile. "Hey, I stress. I just don't make it a habit."

"Oh," I responded, and my lips twitched upward.

Zell continued to smile down at me. Then he gave me a gentle cuff on the chin. "Come on, Meg. Let's go grab your suit and head for the spa. I want to hear how much butt you kicked while I'm soaking out the stress."

I nodded. "Okay."

I sunk into the spa with an "ow ow ow" and then an "ahhh".

Zell shook his head and sent me a lopsided smile. "Come on, beach bunny. I tell ya it's not that hot."

"Sure it is." I glanced his direction. "You just have thicker skin than me."

Zell threw back his head and laughed. "You got me there!"

I softly smiled as I carefully made my way to the right-- and tripped over Zell's feet in the process. "Ack!"

He reached out with a "Wup!" and guided me to sit on his lap instead of falling over the side of the spa. "You okay?"

I nodded with an exhalation of breath. "Yes. Thank you."

"Man. That would've hurt," Zell observed. Then he grinned and adjusted his hold around me. "You wanna stay?"

Flush, near giggle, and a heart flutter-- I cleared my throat. "Zell..."


I flushed darker, and I'm sure I raised the temperature of the spa water at least 5 degrees. While it's tempting... "That wouldn't be a very good idea," I whispered.

"How come?" Zell's expression screamed 'I dare you.'

I cleared my throat and absently tapped at the water. "Zell..."

Zell chuckled and kissed my cheek before holding my hand to steady me as I moved off his lap to sit beside him. Then he released my hand and draped his arm behind me along the rim of the spa. "So what happened. Xu said you were cool as a cucumber. Thomas said you had perfect timing, offering great ideas right when he needed them."

I absently played with my T-shirt, making it capture the spa-bubbles only to force them out again.

"Come on," Zell pressed as he nudged my shoulder with a hand. "'Fess up. What happened?"

I sent him a sidelong glance. He met it. "I don't have to embellish, do I?"

"Just give it to me straight, Sally." And Zell's expression looked surprisingly serious.

Throughout the entire re-telling Zell stayed mostly quiet, nodding here and there while giving a gentle rub of my shoulders. He grinned when I retold the section where I took on the two guys and won, and he whispered a "good for you" and a "good girl" at certain times after that. Then the story ended and Zell didn't say anything. He just kept lightly rubbing my upper arm.

I looked over at him, watching his profile to try and figure out what he thought that kept him so quiet. I couldn't get it, though. His expression was different. Serious. I hadn't ever seen Zell so serious so much. He must have looked like this all the time during the fights against Sorceress Ultimecia.

"Zell?" I finally asked. "Is something wrong?"

Zell looked over to meet my gaze. "No. I was just thinking that maybe you shouldn't be Network Admin for the library."

I blinked and pulled back a little. "What?"

Zell's serious expression remained. "I think you've got what it takes to be a true SeeD. You're cool under pressure. Sure you don't like confrontations, but you don't shirk 'em when they hit you."

I shook my head, wide-eyed. "I don't want to be a fighting SeeD."

Zell turned toward me. "But Meg, if you--"

"No," I insisted while giving another head shake. "If they need me to get involved like I was here, that's what I'll do. But not unless I have to."

"Sally, hear me out."

I gave a slight nod, eyes still wide as I watched his face.

"You've always kicked ass on the written exams, your theories and hypotheses on different things were majorly amazing. I know. I remember reading some of them when Selphie needed help grading papers. Then you got over the Fire Cavern - beating Squall's score by a full 30 seconds - and kicked ass again on the Field Exam. You belong in the field, Sally. It's obvious."

I lowered my gaze.

"I wouldn't even think it except for what Xu and Thomas said. Thomas usually doesn't think girls should be anywhere near the action, but he said he couldn't have done it without you. And Xu? Xu picks everyone's exams apart like a damn... Well, I don't know. All I do know is that she had nothing but good things to say about Thomas' team, especially you."

I looked up, surprised.

Zell's expression remained serious. "I don't want to piss you off by saying all this, and I'd definitely feel better about the whole thing if you didn't listen to me, but I don't think that's fair to you or to the people Garden helps every day. Just think about it, okay? I'm not saying you have to make any kind of choice right now. I just want you to give it a thought or two."

I lowered my eyes again.

Zell released a deep breath. "You're not mad, are ya?"

I shook my head.

Zell touched my arm. "Come on, Sally. Let's talk about it."

I raised my gaze to meet his. "Zell... Where did this come from?" I asked, confusion coloring my expression. "You said it was okay if I didn't want to fight. You said that each person has their specific talent. You even talked to Headmaster Cid and suggested that he give me the Network Admin job on graduation."

Zell nodded. "I know."

I stretched out my arms. "Then why are you saying this now? You said yourself that you didn't want me to go to the Field Exam because how dangerous it was. You didn't want me to get hurt. Neither did I, because I didn't want you to be miserable. I still don't. But now you're telling me that I should just because I did good on the Field Exam." I shook my head. "I'm confused, Zell."

"Sally." Zell reached out to tug my ponytail. "It's about helping the people that need it. Garden has always been about that."

I looked down while giving a slight nod. "I know, and I'll go if they really need me. But not unless they ask. Seeing the misery on your face... I don't want to see that again."

"Sally, it's not about me."

I looked up, holding his serious gaze as my throat began to tighten. "Then you have to tell me that you want me out there risking my life; fighting just like you and the others did against--"

"Okay," Zell interrupted sharply, and he even frowned. "So I don't want you mixed up in all that hell, but it's not about me. You know that."

Tears brimmed. "It is for me," I choked out. "I just got you, Zell. Now you want me to risk losing that?" My voice cracked.

"Sally..." The frown vanished and Zell pulled me close. "Sally, come on. Don't cry. You don't hafta choose today. I just wanted you to think about it. That's all."

"I have," I cried, "and I don't want to." I hiccupped. "I don't want you to feel the same way I did each and every time you were going somewhere dangerous. I want to help people, sure, but I don't want to do that to you, Zell. Please don't make me." I sniffed and hiccupped and sniffed some more.

Zell's arms tightened around me. "Oh man. Sally..." He sighed. Then Zell leaned back, smoothing the wet hair from my face as he watched my expression. "I'm sorry, girl. I just thought it was really important to think about, is all."

I met his gaze. "I don't want to think about it anymore. All I see is your face when you told me you were scared." My throat tightened around the last word, causing yet another hiccup. I pulled him close again. "I don't want to think about it anymore..."

"Okay, Sally," Zell said softly. "You don't have to."

Chapter Two .:. Back  ‡  Next .:. Chapter Four