I made a complete tour of the Training Center, but Zell was nowhere to be found. I lowered myself onto my rock in the front portion of the T.C. and released a deep breath. It was the third time that week he hadn't been here for our workout sessions.
The first time, a first year candidate had needed his help for a Fire Cavern qualification. The second time, he'd been waylaid by a group of students who had questions about their schedules, their Instructor assignments, and various other things only he - as Head of Instruction now that Quistis was gone - could do anything about. Now? Who knew. It was more than likely important. More than likely Garden-related. More than likely last minute and unavoidable.
I released another breath, deeper this time. We didn't get to see each other much. Not since Quistis had left to work with Zack at the TV station. Zell was busy picking up her workload as Head of Instruction - Janine taking over her classes - while training senior candidates to help with his caseload. And me? I was left somewhere outside, busy with the Security Office and reports and surveillance...
I hadn't minded the separation so much before because we had been planning the birthday and then the wedding. But now? With the radical attack those few weeks before on top of the GF summon? It would have been nice to have him around a little bit more than on weekends and occasionally in the morning. I was feeling a little... down.
"Hey, Sal gal."
I looked up and offered Janine a somewhat forced smile. "Good morning, Janine."
"Where's lover-boy?" She came to stand across from me and rested a fist on her hip as the other rested on the pommel of her gunblade.
My gaze lowered and I shrugged.
"Busy, eh?" She spat and adjusted her stance. "Damn. No wonder you look like hell. Haven't seen him much, huh?"
I morosely shook my head, my eyes focusing on two rings decorating my left hand.
Janine gave my foot a kick, drawing my gaze. "Why don't you and I workout? We can beat shit up and imagine it's his crummy job."
"But it's not a crummy job, Janine. It's very important."
"Hell," she scoffed. "No job is so important that he can't spend time with his woman. Why the hell you think Quis was a damn bitch? No time for some wild fun."
I flushed and looked away. "Janine..."
"Come on, come on, Sal. Let's go beat the hell out of a T-Rexaur or two. Hyne knows I need the workout."
I nodded and sighed as I stood. "Okay," I softly agreed. And working out with Janine was fun, I just wanted to see my sweetie. So I could convince myself it was all really happening. That I was engaged to Zell. That I was getting married in a little over a month. That... That he did love me.
I looked over at Janine to notice an odd expression on her face. "Hm?"
The metal doors of the main section of the T.C. closed behind us before she faced me. For the first time, I saw an intensely serious expression in her eyes. It went beyond thoughtful.
"Why get married?"
I blinked. "What?"
"Why get married?" she repeated. "What's the point? Sure, the six months you've known each other seems awesome enough, but who says it'll last another six? Why not just shack up together and enjoy it while it lasts? Then..." She shrugged. "Move on. At least you'll be friends. At least you'll have had a great few months to remember."
"But..." I shook my head. "But I don't want to move on, Janine. I've been in love with Zell for years."
Janine's expression actually glowed with patience. "Sally, you haven't lived much outside Garden. What do you know about love?"
My jaw dropped.
"I don't mean to sound like a Queen Bitch. Really. Hell. I think it's great you think you're in love with the spaz and everything, but... Come on, Sally. How long do you think it's going to last? I've been in a lot of relationships and they never do. Guys are about thrills and danger. The moment something is too relable or too... demanding they leave, looking for the next rush. Zell's a Sorceress slayer who's seen more of the world than you've ever dreamed of. What's to keep him here with you?"
I stared at Janine with wide eyes for a long time, admitting to myself that I had fought the same doubts the entire life of our relationship. Each day had been another challenge for me to trust another portion of myself to a hero. To take that risk so that I could live outside of the fear of being hurt.
I lowered my gaze to my engagement ring-- I balled my hand into a fist and met Janine's gaze. "I love him, Janine, and I believe him when he says he loves me. No, I haven't seen as much as he has, but I'm willing to share everything I do have with him. That's what marriage is about: sharing. Support. A commitment to be with the one person who makes you feel more than what you felt you were before. A decision to travel a hard road together, no matter the obstacles.
"Sure, he's a hero and I'm only an ex-librarian, but..." My throat tightened and I blinked back the tears. "But he's taught me to look past that and see the hero that I can be. I might not fight Sorceresses from the future or evil incarnate, but I do my best to keep my Garden family safe. And it's because he taught me how to be courageous. It's because he taught me how to face my fear and step past it. So, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to risk a possible heartache to be happy. With him."
Janine regarded me for a long moment before lifting her fisted right hand and slowly opening it...I blinked...to reveal a small velveteen box.
"I didn't think he would. I didn't think..." She met my gaze with one that actually showed confusion. "Why would he?"
"Why wouldn't he?"
"Are you kidding, Sally? I mean... the hell?!"
I smiled and rested a hand on her shoulder. "Janine, maybe he cares about you as much as you care about him?"
"Maybe? Maybe? I can't do 'maybe', Sally. Worrying every day if there's something that's going to blast the thing we've got to hell. Wondering every damn hour if he wants to tell me to 'go to hell' because I'm asking too many damned questions or getting into his personal space every friggin' day!?"
"Do you do that now?"
Janine frowned. "Hell no. He's his own man. He can do what he damn-well pleases, and he knows if he screws me over I'll beat him to hell."
I reluctantly laughed. "Then that's what you keep doing, Janine."
Janine scoffed. "Like hell! Being married--"
"Is the same as being someone's best friend." I grinned. "You just get the fringe benefits," I quoted Zell.
"We're getting those now, Sally, so what the hell does he want to prove by giving me this!" And she stuck out her hand holding the velveteen box.
And I could hear the terror in her voice. "You haven't ever had this kind of relationship with a guy... have you?"
Janine looked away, one foot tapping as she gripped the hilt of her gunblade and lowered her arm to her side.
"And now someone like Seifer, who can be loyal to the death, wants to marry you. Wants to show, to the world, that you're together. That he'll beat the crap out of anyone who comes between you--"
"Yes!" she snapped as she harshly faced me. "Okay? I'm scared shitless because I don't know why he'd want to marry a thrill-seeking bitch like me who only chased after him because no one else had balls enough to do it! It was the thrill. The rush. That was it!"
"And now you love him," I observed. And she flinched. She actually flinched.
Janine looked away and tightly crossed her arms. "Hell yes, I love him. And I told him, and he didn't run away. The night of your party he actually said he loved me. Best damn night of passion in my life, and he was still there the next morning. Greeting me with that damn sexy smirk and those emerald eyes..." Her voice choked off.
"You don't want to love it so much, do you?" I asked softly. "Being with him, I mean. Because what if... what if he leaves?"
Janine lowered her chin with a whispered, "Dammit, Sally..." She shook her head. "It wasn't so bad when I had the control. When I was leading him on to the next thrill while knowing I could back out any time I damn-well pleased. But this?" She adjusted her crossed arms to free the hand that held the velveteen box. "I don't know if I can do this thrill, Sally."
I released a soft breath and moved beside her to take the velveteen box from her hand and open it. We stared down at the ring together for a long moment before I took the ring from where it comfortably nestled in the velvet cushion within. Then I looked up at Janine. Her brown eyes continued to focus on the ring.
"This ring is his way of telling you that you don't have to do it by yourself," I said softly.
Her brown eyes darkened before she hesitantly reached out to take the ring, cradling it in the palm of her hand that had caused its share of battle and death. And it was then I realized that if anyone understood Seifer, it was Janine Larabie. He knew it, and he was willing to risk a lot of things to hold on to it.
Janine finally very slowly slipped the ring onto the finger of her left hand with a choked, "...dammit, Seifer. You out-thrilled me."
I smiled and pulled her into a hug. "Congratulations, Janie. I wish you all the happiness in the world."
I touched the button for the basement level and then patiently waited for the lift to arrive. I still could hardly believe the conversation that had happened in the Training Center with Janine. I smiled. Janine and Seifer. No one else probably even suspected. In fact, Janine had confessed that to be one of the thrills of their relationship: trying to keep it a secret. Now I began to wonder if they would actually get married like Zell and I were doing, or if they would pack up and elope just for the added thrill.
I giggled. Elope. I couldn't see Sub-Lt. Cmdr. Seifer doing something spontaneous like that, but it was a nice thought. He needed to relax and do something fun. And Janine was nothing but fun. Kind of like Zell.
The elevator arrived from the top floor and opened-- to reveal Seifer just taking a drink of his coffee while looking over an open report in his hand. My smile disappeared and I cleared my throat as I debated whether or not to wait for the next one.
Seifer lifted his gaze from the report. "Regal," he greeted, and then looked back down.
I sighed, scolded myself for still being such a coward, and then forced myself to step on board. "Sir."
I pressed the button for the basement level and then clenched my hands behind my back. The desire to say 'Congratulations' to him nearly over-powered the knowledge that it would have been rude to interrupt his reading of the report. So, I just clenched my hands tighter behind my back and began planning my day to keep my mind away from it.
Then the elevator shuddered and groaned to a halt, sending my stomach down into the soles of my feet as I stared down at the basement level through the bottom portion of the elevator. No. I pressed the basement level button, but the elevator didn't move and the lights flickered off, triggering the red emergency lights. Oh no. Please. Not this. I pressed the button again, but nothing happened.
"Relax, Regal. Maintanence will fix it in a minute," Seifer said calmly, taking another drink of his coffee as he still perused the report in his hand.
"Yes, sir," I whispered, and again clenched my hands behind my back.
But a minute went by and the elevator still hadn't moved.
Seifer finished reading the report and then dropped it to the floor in front of him with a soft splut, which almost caused a twitch. Then he lifted his mug to his mouth for another drink and checked his watch. "Not exactly the best way to start the day," he observed, lowering his mug again. "I wonder whose ass I get to put in detention for this?"
As long as it isn't mine or Zell's... I cleared my throat, "I don't know, sir," and dutifully stared at the joining point of the elevator doors.
Seifer leaned back against the elevator wall and crossed his arm across his chest, still holding his 'Death is answering 'No'' mug in his other hand. To my horror, he focused on me while taking yet another drink. "I guess I'll report to you on the security measures for the wedding, since you have the final say."
I stammered a "Y-Yes, sir," while trying to get my brain to switch gears to me being in charge of him. It was like trying to back up a car with a marshmallow... or something.
"As I said-- suggested before, guests will only be allowed within the Training Center for the ceremony and then the Quad for the Reception. Cafeteria will be guarded by two Security Officers with only those on the approved list allowed in or out. Security Officers will also be at the front gates to check invitations with the list you and Dincht provided. Correct?"
I nodded, unable to look away from his green eyes and stern face. ...Zell... help...
His smirk twitched. "Ahndra and Marshal will be... undercover at the ceremony and the reception, armed of course, while supervising the guests and their activities. Extra surveillance equipment will also be monitoring GF activity. Wouldn't want any uninvited guests to ruin chicken-wuss' fun."
I blinked and minutely frowned but held my tongue.
Seifer's expression seemed to briefly change, but he continued his report. "Uniformed Security Officers will perform random checks of your guests to ensure no... unnecessary equipment has been... acquired. Most of them will be informal searches with a handheld scanner device. Resistance to the search will result in an escort from the Quad for more... tender loving care by myself." He took a drink of his coffee before saying, "Is that satisfactory?"
Any remaining frown disappeared and I cleared my throat and wordlessly nodded.
He regarded me a moment before looking away and saying, "Good."
Finished with the duty of being 'in charge', I released a deep breath and moved my focus again to the elevator doors. I didn't like being 'in charge'. Too many expectations. Too much pressure. I didn't li--
"What are your plans for the honeymoon?"
I blinked and flushed and dropped my jaw open all at the same moment I focused on Seifer. "...what?"
"Three weeks," Seifer reminded, "and no travel plan filed yet." He took a slow drink, green eyes seemingly... laughing at me. "You're going to be pretty damn sore after three weeks, Regal. You being unexperienced. I'll be sure to tell Dincht to take it easy on you. Hot heads have a tendency of being... over zealous."
My jaw worked, but no sound could make it past the horror and the embarrassment of my boss talking to me about what to expect on my honeymoon.
"If you want to have a little fun with him, leave a trail of clothes to the bedroom and lock the door. Then make him look for the key, with only the clothes left out as the clue as to where it could be." Seifer chuckled, and it sounded a little evil to me... what soaked through my shock and shame, that is. "He'll likely break down the door just to see if you're wearing anything."
He motioned to me, and I think my face burned as red as the light that continued to flash.
"Wear something that hugs that tight ass of yours. He'll go wild. Guys like a nice bit of ass."
He motioned to me again, and I paled this time and began to feel very sick as I began to push back away from him to the other corner of the elevator.
"You've got a nice rack, too. Black lace would be perfect. I'll ask Larabie if she's got something for you. Seems to me you're about the same size. I guess it doesn't matter if you aren't." He chuckled again. "It won't be on very long. And be sure to let him take it off. Guys like that. Control thing, Larabie says."
My eyes must have widened to twice their normal size as I stared at him.
"Showers." Seifer gave a sickly serious nod. "Definitely try it. Hot or cold doesn't matter. They're damn fun... Just be sure to keep the soap handy--"
I covered my mouth with both hands, feeling very very sick, and slumped to the floor. "...I'm going to be sick..." I mumbled through my hands.
Seifer knelt with a muttered "Larabie's going to kill me, dammit," as he rested a hand on my back. "Hell, Regal. Relax. I was having a bit of fun. Damn."
My head shot up, eyes wide and expression wild. "Fun?!" I repeated in a somewhat hysterical tone, and I couldn't control the words that flew out of my mouth. I pushed him back away from me. "You're talking about sex and showers and... black... lace... and you think that's 'a bit of fun'?!" And I could see the surprise in his green eyes as he now rested on his butt on the far side of the elevator, still sitting where the force of my push had knocked him. Before I could stop myself, I took off one of my slip-on loafers and threw it at him. He barely deflected it in time with a raised arm.
And when I heard him laugh, it made me... angry.
"Go ahead and laugh," I fumed, frowning at him with my fists on my hips, "but I'll get you one of these days, and then we'll see who thinks what is 'a bit of fun'!"
Seifer continued to smile and chuckle, his arms resting now on his bent knees as his green eyes laughed at me. "Hot damn. You are a spit fire, aren't you? I didn't believe him."
"'Him'? 'Him' who?" I insisted angrily.
"Your brother." He pushed himself to his feet and offered a hand to me.
I slapped it away, which caused him to chuckle again, and stood. "It figures." I swiped up my shoe and then angrily waved it at Seifer, who continued to chuckle and smile as he guarded his face with raised hands. "Well you tell that brother of mine that he's supposed to protect his baby sister and not put goons like you up to things like this!"
"Tell him yourself," Seifer said, and the laughter in his voice was all too clear.
"Don't think I won't," I told him, still shaking my shoe at him. "I still owe him for that other pra--"
The elevator groaned and clanked and then hummed back down toward the basement, the action bringing me back to reality from the haze of embarrassment and humiliation feeding the irritation with a loud bang. I focused again on Seifer and my eyes widened as I dropped my shoe.
I backed off while whispering "Oh Hyne," and pressing myself back against the other side of the elevator.
Seifer chuckled and gathered his report and coffee mug from the floor. "It's okay, Regal. That was a lot of fun. More fun than I thought it'd be."
The elevator dinged and opened the doors. "Too bad." Seifer stepped forward, but he paused at the exit and turned to give me a wink. "Nice shot, but don't miss next time."
He stepped off, chuckling as he made his way down the hall toward his office. I slid to the floor of the elevator with a deep breath, trying not to imagine black lace and showers.
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