(Jaxon Crest is the property of JSeay, cowriter of 'In Theory'. He is not to be used without her permission.)
I absently slapped the bound sheaf of papers against my leg as I strode toward Deling Garden's entry and away from the Ground Transport. Sorry, Sally. I felt like the biggest jerk in the world for missing our workout sessions that week, especially with all the crap that was happening with the GF summon and the radicals... but I had a job to do. I knew Sally understood that, but I also knew it didn't make it better. I missed her.
I released a deep breath and scrubbed at my scalp. Zell, you dog. You've got a wife. Well, almost. We were working on it, at least. I just never thought it'd happen. I smirked as I remembered the look on Sally's face when I'd proposed at her birthday party. I'd have that look burned into my brain for years. I chuckled. Well, until our wedding night. And that had me grinning.
Dincht! I cleared my throat and tried to keep thoughts away from Sally and pale-pink lace teddies... Down boy! I cleared my throat again and focused on the silver hunk of trouble that was Deling Garden moments before stepping toward the entry gates. I presented my ID, signed in, and accepted the 'On-Duty SeeD' visitor's pass to clip it onto my SeeD jacket. I wonder if the bars on this thing will keep the asses away. They sure as hell impressed Sally every time I wore the blasted thing. And I wasn't saying I didn't think I could handle every discipline case at Deling Garden, either. They weren't there for trying to take over the world. They were there for being hard-nosed idiots that didn't recognize the chain of command. I gave a shrug and stepped past the entry gates to make my way to Jaxon's office.
There were fewer in line for the registrar's office this time, but it was still more than I would've liked to see. I scowled and moved on. It doesn't do any good to wonder why they've got their heads up their ass. And I knew the Instructors at Deling did their best to give the 'misfits' a reason to straighten up. It was just whether or not they decided to actually do it. I'd talked to Squall about it once, and he'd said pretty much what I had when the goons had faced me and Sally down. 'They've got to make their own choices. We can only give them the ones to choose from.' I just wondered what the hell was making them fight against what was obviously the better choice all the way around.
SeeD life was hard, but it was a helluva lot better than no life at all.
I shook my head and entered the security office, giving a "'Sup?" to those few faces I recognized before making my way to Jaxon's office. I gave a knock and entered to find him sitting back in his office chair, kinda slouched actually, and staring vacantly out the small window that was more a 'porthole' than 'window'. Unfortunately, I knew that look. Seen it too many times on a SeeDs face after returning from battle.
I stepped up to, and dropped the bound sheaf of papers onto, his desk to make a somewhat loud splut. Jaxon didn't twitch or even blink. Never a good sign. "Yo, Jax." I leaned forward and loudly snapped my fingers several times.
Realization returned and he very slowly blinked before turning his head to face me. He sat up. "Hey, Dincht. What are you doing here?"
I stepped to his office door, closed it, and then returned to sit in one of the chairs across from his desk. "First thing, I wanted to ask if you'd be Best Man. I'd ask Squall, only he's doing the ceremony."
Jaxon cleared his throat and said, "Well..." as he lowered his focus to the sheaf of papers. He lifted an eyebrow. "What's this?"
I grinned. "That, Jax, is your ticket out of here."
He read the title and looked up. "You're kidding. A SeeD Security Entrance Exam?" He scowled and pushed it away. "I've taken this already. Passed with the highest--"
"Not that one," I interrupted, and I couldn't hold back the smirk as I pointed toward the exam. "That's been dubbed the 'Exam from Hell'. You pass that and Seifer'll recommend you for a promotion. Maybe even put you in his Special Security section just under Ahndra."
Jaxon continued to scowl down at the exam. "I thought Cmdr. Leonhart approved transfers."
Flags went up in my head. "He does, but Seifer's H.O.S. for the Network. He makes the recommendations for acceptance and placement." And if it wasn't for the flags, I would have smirked at how much I sounded like Sally.
Jaxon picked up the exam and tossed it into the wastebasket. "No thanks."
"'No thanks'?" I repeated, and the look of shock on my face would have had Sally laughing. "What the hell are you talking about, 'no thanks'?"
Jaxon crossed his arms, scowling deeper as he moved his focus to stare out the same little window. "Sorry for the wasted trip, Dincht. Say 'hi' to Sally."
"Tch! You've been trying to get out of this 'hellhole' for six months. Now you're just going to blow it off like that? With a 'no thanks' and a 'say hi to Sally'? Like hell." I leaned forward. "What the hell's the matter with you?"
Jaxon stood roughly and strode to his office door. "You don't want to know, and I'd rather not remember." He jerked it open. "Again, sorry for the wasted trip."
I watched him as I absently thudded my thumb against the arm of the chair. 'I'd rather not remember.' ... 'Just doing what I can to get by.' I stood and made my way to the door. "Walk me out." I ordered as I passed, and I felt like shit for pulling rank.
Jaxon clenched his jaw and then slammed closed the door to his office before following behind. When we cleared the front gates, Jaxon saluted with a sneered "Here you are, sir. Anything else for you, sir?"
"Cut the shit, Jax."
Jaxon ended the salute and barked, "Go to hell," before turning and striding back toward the entry gates.
"So who're you trying to forget?" I called after him. He halted. "And why shouldn't I report you to Seifer for disobeying standard regulations on junctioning?"
Jaxon turned and strode up to me, grabbing me by the shirt front and nearly lifting me off my feet. "He can shove those regulations up his ass," he hissed.
I held his gaze, very well aware that with him junctioned he could likely beat the shit out of me, and asked, "So who was she?" When Jaxon flinched, I knew I was right on.
He shoved me away with another, "Go to hell."
I quickly recovered. "Been there," I told him as I straighened. "Watched a lot of good SeeDs get blasted to bits. Lost a lot of friends, too."
"When you lose Sally," he snapped, "then you can come and talk to me about junctioning and regulations. Until then, my answer's the same: go to hell."
Jaxon's entire face changed at that one word. He actually went yellow and green.
I released a quick breath and scrubbed at the back of my neck. Then I grabbed Jaxon by the arm and practically dragged him toward the nearby exam qualifier: the Tomb of the Unknown King. His steps were sluggish and unresponsive, which made me know beyond a shadow of the doubt that the GF wasn't working as well as he wanted it to.
We were about to enter the tomb when he came to his senses and jerked his arm free. "What the hell are we doing here?"
I turned on him. "We're going to beat some shit up, that's what we're doing. You want to forget? You're willing to risk SeeDs lives to do it? Fine. Summon your GF until you're blue in the face. Screw your brains and memories to hell. At least she'll finally be dead." And if it had been me, I would have beat the shit out of me for that crack.
But Jaxon only looked as if he'd been shot in the gut. Then he lifted his hands. "She died right here. Right in these hands and I couldn't do a damn thing to stop it. The missiles just kept coming. The blasts ringing in my ears and the bodies being thrown around like dolls. Blood and brains every--" His voice choked off, and he fisted his hands again and squeezed his eyes shut tight. One tear ran down his cheek before he opened his eyes and focused on me. "If Sally died in your arms while whispering your name, would you put back the way to escape? Would you, Zell? Or would you welcome the damn fog each and every day you wake up, so that you could be free of that one thing?"
"I'd probably do the same stupid-ass thing," I admitted, "all the while hoping someone would step up and help me out of hell." I motioned to him. "Sure," I went on, "it makes the pain go away a little bit, but it never goes all away. It's always waiting for the right question. The right look. The right place. Then they all come flooding back. You think your lady wants you wasting your life? Skating by instead of living the life she gave hers for? Hell no, Jax, and you know it."
Jaxon lowered his gaze and fisted his hands.
"We all know what it's like, Jax. Squall, Quis, Seifer... all of us. And we've all faced the same question. But what the hell does it prove? Nothing."
"Like hell," Jaxon said in a low voice. "It gets me out of my head. It gets me out of the same damned picture..."
"And then what? Hm? Then she's dead, and you're the one that killed her this time."
Jaxon slugged me across the mouth, hitting me so hard that I actually saw stars.
I spat out the mouth full of blood and straightened to face him again. "Okay. Get pissed. Get mad as hell, just don't forget who she was. What she lived for. What she gave her life for. You do and it's like she never existed. You want that for her?"
Jaxon looked as if he was about to puke right then and there. "I can't," he choked out.
I jabbed a finger in my chest. "Then where do you get off hitting me? If you love her so damn much, show it! Don't shove her memory in a hole!"
He grabbed my jacket and, by the look in his eyes, I thought he was going to kill me. "Shut up, dammit! Shut the hell up!"
"Or what? You'll summon your GF so you can hide some more?" He didn't say anything, so I freed my jacket from his gasp. "Come on, Jax. Don't do this. If you keep on, you're gonna lose it and Garden will be out a damn good SeeD. And what will that get you? Nothing but a padded room and worse memories when the effects of the GF wear off after they take it from you."
Jaxon rubbed both hands through his hair, roughly scratching at his scalp. "...dammit."
"Promise to clean yourself up, Jax, and I won't report you. You've got until the wedding, and I want you there GF free. If you're not? I can't help you."
Jaxon released a long and deep breath as he nodded his head and said, "Okay," in a voice that sounded as if I'd beaten the hell out of him. He sounded completely... broken. And that made me feel like a damn prick. I mean, how the hell did I know what he was going through? I had Sally, and I was doing my best to keep her out of harms way.
Jaxon met my gaze, and what he said next blew me away. "Thank you, Zell. Believe it or not, I appreciate it."
"No prob, Jax." I gripped his shoulder and forced a grin. "You punch me like that again and you'll be in the Infirmary for a week."
"I'll try to remember that... Sir."
My grin became more real and I shoved him back toward Garden. "Come on. There's an exam with your name on it in the wastebasket. I skipped out on classes today so that I could bring it back with me."
"I appreciate that, too." He sent me a sidelong glance. "Zell, I don't know if I can handle 'Best Man'. Elle... She was my fiancee."
The grin vanished as I met his gaze. "Damn, Jax. I'm sorry." It explained a lot. "Well, sure, I guess if you can't do it..." I scrubbed at the back of my neck. "Geez. Marshal can't because he's on security. Irvine's tending bar. Squall's doing the ceremony. Zack won't give me a straight answer. He's been married three times already," I sent as an aside to Jaxon.
Jaxon blinked and then smirked. "And I thought I was the 'one date wonder'."
I grinned, but it faded as I went back to the list in my head. "Seifer-- Yeah right. Zone's out of the question - too bad, too - and I can't ask Sally's pop because he's giving away the bride. I guess I could ask Laguna."
"The President of Esthar?"
"Yeah, but he's so busy..." I grinned again. "Sorry, dude. It's you, or Sally and I have to elope." Hey. I wouldn't mind.
"Then I guess it's me."
I snapped my fingers. "Damn."
Jaxon laughed, and it sounded real. I gave him a slug on the arm, which he returned, and then I released an unnoticed deep breath. Sally would've been proud of me.
I plopped onto the couch in the SeeD cabin just as the phone in my pocket rang the tone programmed for Sally. I smiled and dug it out of my pocket, answering with a "How's the sexiest security officer on the planet?"
She giggled, and like usual, it gave me tingles and a grin.
"Hi, sweetie. I'm doing okay."
"How's your day been goin'? Wild? Or just the usual?"
"Mostly the usual. What about you? You haven't been in any classes today."
"I know. I grabbed one of the entrance exams and brought it out here to Deling Garden for Jax to fill out. I had to ask him about 'Best Man' anyway. Oh. And I guess he's the lucky stiff that gets to plan the reception over here. Janine buzzed while we were talking." I sniggered when I remembered the look on Jaxon's face. "Jax's shitting bricks, too, because now he has to set up all the security crap."
"Nah. It'll be good for him. Keep his mind busy." Maybe make it easier to give up on the GFs. "Say, you hear anything from that furniture place we stopped in? They said they'd call as soon as that bedroom set came in. I guess I should've stopped by."
"They did call, actually. They said that it's on backorder and won't be in until about 4 weeks from now."
I frowned and glared at the ceiling. "Geez. That's, like, 2 weeks before the honeymoon. How the hell are we supposed to get the apartment set up with doing all the final crap for the wedding?"
"They said that they wouldn't charge us extra for delivery and set up," she offered.
I smiled. "Leave it to you to have it covered before calling." She softly giggled and I shook my head. Damn girl, you couldn't be much less than perfect. And what the hell was she doing with me? "What about that table and chair set? Did he talk to you about those, too?"
"They should come in tomorrow. I wasn't sure if you wanted me to have them delivered, so he said he would call when they came in."
"Okay. If I'm not there, tell him we'd like them delivered. I don't think we're going to have time to pick them up and everything."
For some reason, an itch in the back of my brain had me asking, "Meg, are you sure you're okay?" I checked my watch. She wasn't off the clock yet and it was way beyond her lunch time. "You're calling on Garden time, kitten. What's the matter?"
"N-Nothing," she said hesitantly. "I just miss you, is all."
I adjusted my position to lay out on the couch, hand behind my head as I stared up at the ceiling. "Yeah, I know. I've missed you, too." I released a deep breath. "Life's been pretty crazy, huh? If it isn't one thing, it's another. But I'll make it up to you, kitten. Promise."
"You don't have to."
But her tone of voice screamed for it. "Sure I do. Besides, I know how much you love surprises."
"Okay." And I could practically see the smile in her voice.
"How about dinner on the beach tonight? We'll go out just before the sun goes down."
"That sounds wonderful," she whispered, and then she sighed. "Zell...?"
"Zell, I really want this to work."
And the hint of tears I heard in her voice made me feel even worse for not being around as much as I wanted to. "I know, kitten. So do I. I'm training those seniors for my classes, and once that's done things'll slow down. A couple of them already have Final Exams scheduled, so as soon as they pass, Squall said he'd push through their graduation and have them instated as Instructors. He promised it'd be before the wedding. Okay?"
She didn't say anything, but she more than likely nodded her head because of not wanting to have me hear the tears in her voice. She was a sensitive thing, just another reason why I sometimes wondered why she was with me. I could be as tactful as a Wendigo on steroids.
"Now don't you start crying," I soothed. "Seifer'll bust you for using company time for personal calls."
She sniffed. "No. He said it was okay for me to call."
My eyes snapped open. "Say again?"
"I wasn't feeling very good, so I asked if I could call you. He said I could."
I frowned in confusion and scratched my scalp. "Oh." Seifer? I guess she was his favorite. I smirked. Hell. She could wrap anyone around her little finger with those big eyes of hers. I chuckled.
"What's so funny?" she asked softly, the smile returning to her voice.
"Nothing. I'll see you in a little bit, kitten. Okay? I've got to transfer at Timber and then I'll be home."
She giggled. "Bye."
I clicked off the phone and then tucked it back into my pocket, moving my other hand behind my head as I stared up at the ceiling. I smiled. I could still remember the first time I was here with her. On our way to Timber to meet her parents and tell them about her score on the Fire Cavern.
Hanging out with her had been different than anything I'd done before. If someone had asked, back then, how I meant 'different', I wouldn't have been able to tell them. But now? I guess the best way to describe it was 'we clicked', but even that was kind of a half-assed explanation. I could 'click' with mostly everybody - except Seifer and Squall. But with Sally? I'd actually... I don't know. I guess I'd looked at her different. Played it cooler and not as wild. I hadn't had to act so much the clown to be, well, cool. Maybe it had been the way she'd looked at me. Or the way she listened to what I had to say. It didn't matter, I guess. I had just felt safe with her.
I brought my left hand out from behind my head to stare at my half of the ring she'd had made for me. A 'claw-like' portion of the tattoo on my face. I guess it sounded hokey but... Well, I'd begun to feel like this ring when I was away from her. Only half there. I guess that's what Jax was talking about. He'd lost his half.
I released a deep breath and lowered my hand to again stare at the ceiling. Thinking about what he did to not think about it... You would've done the same damn thing, Dincht, and you know it. What else could I have done to keep from feeling only half alive?
I needed to stretch my legs, so I walked the distance from Balamb to Garden, chuckling and shaking my head as I remembered the so many other trips to and from that Sally and I had made. The kiss, the concussion, the silence just holding hands, the carriage rides... They made the entire Sorceress Ultimecia thing worth it. Not that it hadn't been worth it before. I mean, we were saving the world.
I was just glad to know Sally had been a part of that world all along.
My smile faded when I remembered how she'd been so badly hurt during that fight between Balamb and Galbadia Gardens. And though I'd been there, I didn't do anything to help her. I couldn't. I hadn't known about her back then. She'd only been a passing face. Someone who'd given me a Mega Phoenix. Someone who I'd occasionally seen in the library between SeeD missions before all hell broke loose.
I kicked at a rock and shoved my hands in my pockets. While I'd been trying to save Rinoa from falling off a cliff, Sally had been lying hurt under a bunch of fallen rubble. And I hadn't even been able to save Rinoa! I had to go back and get Squall--
I blinked and stopped as a memory began to tickle at the back of my brain...
A SeeD ran up to me as I held my position at the front gate, hoping against hope that Squall would get to Rinoa in time to save her. I focused on the SeeD as he motioned behind him. "There's been a collapse in the Library and we can't get one of the candidates out!"
"What? Dammit!" I looked to the others as they stood waiting for the next wave of attacks from Galbadia Garden. "I'll be right back." I turned back to the SeeD, grabbing his arm as I headed toward the Library. "Come on!"
"She's hurt bad," the SeeD went on. "We've got to get her to the Infirmary fast!"
"Sally was helping get the junior classmen out when one of the bookcases toppled at the last attack."
I swore and picked up the pace as I turned to run down the side corridor toward the Library. "Are the kids okay?"
"Yeah. She pushed the last one out of the way. The little guy only got hit with a couple books as it came down."
I entered the Library and skidded to a halt to see one of the huge wood bookcases laying on its face, books scattered all over the place. Only a small hand showed from under the bookcase as two other SeeD tried to lift it.
"Shit." I ran forward, skidding to my knees to take hold of the small hand. It was warm to the touch, the pulse weak but steady. I released a quick breath of relief and then looked to the other SeeDs. "She's alive. I'll cast Float and then you guys help me lift and push. Ready? One-Two-Three!"
The bookcase moved, settling on the other side of the Library to reveal a petite candidate with brunette braids. I knelt beside her and cast a low-level Cure spell as I carefully turned her onto her back. Her face twisted with pain and her hands tightened into fists. There was blood in her hair and trickling down the side of her face. She more than likely had internal bleeding, too, because when I lifted her into my arms and stood, she shuddered and cringed with a low moan.
"Sh-sh-sh. I've got ya." I sprinted out of the Library, holding her close against me while shouting "Tell the doc I'm on my way to the Infirmary and to get her butt over there!"
"You've got it!"
I glanced down to her pale face, twisted in pain and stained with blood. One side was already darkening with a bruise. "Hold on, girl."
Dr. Kadowaki wasn't in the Infirmiry, but a SeeD in training for the medical section was. I hurried inside. "She was trapped under a bookcase. She's hurt bad." I set the candidate carefully down onto the bed in one of the exam rooms. The girl grabbed my hands and held tight, voicing a pain-filled cry as her face twisted yet again.
"Do something!" I said, voice a little panicked.
The SeeD stepped forward and began examining her. "Broken ribs... Damn. One of her lungs has collapsed. Move." And he pushed me aside.
The girl opened her eyes as my hands left hers and whispered, "...Zell..." And then her eyes closed again as she shuddered.
I leaned close. "It's okay, girl. You just hold on. They'll fix you up--"
"Zell!" came a call from outside the Infirmary. I looked up to see a group of SeeD entering. "They need you!"
"Right there!" I focused again on the candidate and gave her chin a gentle chuck. "Fight on, girl. Garden needs more SeeDs like you." I looked to the SeeD working on her.
He sent me a somewhat forced smile. "She'll be okay." He motioned toward the door with a tilt of his head. "Hurry."
I nodded and sent the candidate one last look before leaving the Infirmary at a run...
I took a staggered step backward. ...the hell?
But memories still did that sometimes, coming back from the fog the GFs had made in our head. Finally making their way out of the hole. The doctors on staff had said that some memories took longer to return than others, being triggered by heavy emotions or stress. That's why so many candidates and SeeDs were still enrolled in weekly sessions. To help them deal with all the misplaced memories.
But this one? I... I saved her life...? I picked up the pace, heading toward Balamb at a near run. The memory felt damn good to have back. And now I had to tell Sally.
I sighed and looked at my watch. Fifteen minutes. Then I could go and hopefully meet Zell on the way from Balamb to Garden.
I twitched and looked behind me to watch Seifer approach. "Yes, sir?"
He stopped and pointed toward the elevator. "Get out of my security office."
"What part of that didn't you understand?" He turned back for his office, a hand in the air. "Go on, go on. The perimeter says Dincht is on the approach at a run."
My eyes widened as I softly gasped. Then I smiled and gathered my SeeD jacket and hurried for the elevator while calling "Thank you, sir!" over my shoulder.
I hit the first floor button and then excitedly 'hopped' forward and back from the balls of my feet to my heels as it rushed upward. The doors opened and I squeezed through before it had finished. Then I slid down the banister of the stairs on my backside - a trick Zell had taught me to work on postural balance - and hit the ground running and giggling out an occasional "Excuse me," to a passed candidate or SeeD as I continued on my way.
I think everyone at Balamb Garden had come to expect craziness from me a long time ago.
Zell and the front gate came in view just about the same time. I squealed out a "Zell!", catching his attention and his boyish grin moments before he leaped the gate. I threw myself into his arms, knowing full-well that the entire scene was over-blown and cliche. After all, he'd only been gone for the day. But I didn't care. I'd missed him.
He held me tight. "So how's my girl?" he asked in a low voice.
I released a long and deep breath, a silly smile on my lips as my arms encircled him. "I feel better now," I whispered.
Zell chuckled, the sound vibrating through me to give me a shiver. "Yeah. Me, too."
I softly giggled, giving a brief and quiet squeal when he scooped me up and headed forward toward Garden. I happily dangled my feet and linked my fingers behind his neck as I gave him a kiss on the cheek and then pressed mine against it.
Zack would have rolled his eyes and made a 'gag' gesture to the nearest male.
"This is my favorite position," I happily sighed.
"I bet. You wanna know why?"
"Because I'm your damsel in distress?"
Zell chuckled again and nudged my cheek with his. I lifted my head and met his gaze, still smiling that silly smile as I was. "Something like that, I guess. Did you know I'm the one who took you to the Infirmary that time?"
"'That time'?" I repeated dreamily. "What time? When I bonked my head on the way to Balamb?"
He shook his head. "No. When Galbadia Garden attacked and you were caught in the Library under the bookcase."
I blinked, my smile vanishing as my eyes widened and I gasped. Then I softly said, "You..." as I hesitantly pointed at him, still blinking as my mind struggled with the possibility. "You took me to the... R-Really?"
Zell nodded. "I just remembered on the way here." He grinned. "I nearly fell over."
I stared at him for another long moment of awed wonder before whispering a choked "...oh Zell..." and giving his neck a tight hug as I pressed my face against him. For years I'd wondered with no one able to tell me; the memory long since lost to life, war, and GFs. And now... My Zell had saved my life, proving once more that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we were meant to be together. What else could it mean? What else did I want it to mean?
Zell kissed my hair. "How about I tell you the story tonight?"
I wordlessly nodded, happily crying against him. I couldn't think of another memory that would have been so well timed.
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