Chapter 6: Breakfast

I was having a fucking terrible day. I know everyone has bad days, but this one was just ridiculous.

First, I overslept and missed breakfast. Since my return to Garden, I had made it a point to actually eat something before starting my day. For some reason I had never been a breakfast person; even if I had missed dinner the day before I never felt hunger pangs until several hours after waking, and by then lunchtime had usually rolled around. But with the strenuous schedule I was keeping, missing breakfast was a serious problem. Food in my stomach was essential for good performance in our daily trials, absolutely necessary if I wanted to keep in the perfect shape I had carefully built myself up to in the last two months.

So that day, two days before the field trial, I woke to the charming sound of Raijin singing along with his Discman. I recognized the song. Barely. Raijin couldn't hold a tune to save his life.

I realized that if Raijin was up, I was going to have to skip breakfast or be late. Normal modules kept later hours than ours did. There was no question about which option I would choose; I didn't want to get on Trepe's bad side.

I snarled and tried to get out of my bed without hurting myself, but to no avail. I was all tangled in the sheets, and in my hurried struggle to make it to class on time, the thrashing only caused me to fall right off of my bed. Onto my face.

I yelped furiously and ripped the damned sheets away from me, almost spitting with rage.

The singing stopped, and I growled to myself. Raijin had heard, and now I would have to put up with his early morning cheerfulness. I am not a morning person, and there's nothing I can't stand more when I feel cranky than someone who is happy.

"Seifer?" he poked his head in my door as I finished struggling with my vest. I shot him a look full of daggers at his lack of knocking, and he grinned uncertainly. "You still here?"

I was in no mood for Raijin's peculiar brand of idiocy that morning. Maddened, I hissed, "No, Raijin, I'm not fucking here. I'm in fucking Centra right now, okay?"

He looked at me. "Whoa, take it easy, ya know?" I slung him the one-fingered salute and began to tug my boots on.

"Raijin, do you have any food? I don't have time for breakfast." I swore, tore the right boot off my foot and scrabbled at the laces. I had simply kicked them off the night before, and now I couldn't get them back on.

"I think I've got some breakfast bars..." he began, and I made a face. I hate those things. Sickening. I don't have any kind of sweet tooth, not at all, and I could barely make myself eat good food right after waking. There was a fair chance that if I devoured a couple of those nasty things, they would end up on the floor in a little wet heap. But I needed to eat something.

"Yeah, give me a couple of those." If I threw up, I would make sure to aim for Raijin.

He trotted obediently back into his room, and returned by the time I had finally gotten my damned boots figured out. I shrugged into my coat and held out my hand to Raijin. He dropped two strawberry breakfast bars into my palm, and I unwrapped them and ate them as fast as possible, hoping that I wouldn't be able to taste the nauseating sweetness. No such luck. I sputtered, and had a hard time not gagging. I waved my hand desperately.

"Drink," I managed to choke out. Raijin was in serious danger of being puked on.

Raijin immediately shoved a glass into my hand, and I took a big gulp of tomato juice before I realized what it was. As soon as I did, that mouthful of tomato juice made a colorful splatter across Raijin's white shirt. If there's anything I hate more than breakfast bars, it's got to be vegetable juice drinks.

"Raijin," I began menacingly, staring at him with utter hatred. And of course, Fujin chose that moment to burst into laughter from her vantage point at the door.

I spun and turned that look on her, which only made her laugh harder. I reached for my gloves, utterly furious, as Fujin stumbled into the main room, nearly shrieking with laughter. I made my way to the door, and stopped to give my final parting shot.

Unfortunately, I couldn't think of anything witty, so I had to settle for a less than satisfying gesture. I shook my fist mutely at both of them and entered the hallway.

 

On top of that, it was pouring. I hate rain. I think I was a cat in a past life.

We were on a beach north of Dollet, trying to catch slippery Adamantoises in one of the heaviest downpours I'd ever been unfortunate enough to be caught out in. My partners had cornered one, finally, but its snapping jaws and oddly quick movements prevented us from really getting in a good position to catch it. Every time we thought we had it, it would slip to the side nimbly and escape us. I had been swearing steadily for twenty minutes now, and ten minutes ago my other partners had joined in. I had to exert more and more self-control to keep myself from cutting its fool head off. We weren't allowed to kill or injure these monsters. Clean capture was the objective.

The damned thing slipped away from me again and I cursed. Again. I stretched for a moment and began to circle it once more, but a shout from Trepe halted me.

"Stop! Everyone to me, now." Yep, Trepe sounded pissed. I tossed the damned net on the sand and gathered with the rest of the class.

"Up the beach, everyone. Just leave that stuff there." She gave us an example to follow, stiffly climbing the beach until we reached the grass line. Once we got there, she basically asked us what the hell was wrong with us today, and shoved her sodden hair out of her face to wait for our answer. As far as I could tell, it was the rain. I really hate working in rain, and I imagined we all felt that way. But someone piped up with something I hadn't thought of. One of the students was worried about the field exam on the Island Closest to Hell, and looking around, I realized that that was what the problem was. Me, I just hated rain. The others, they were letting tomorrow's worries affect today's actions. Rookie mistake, I thought, and tuned in to what was going on.

She was explaining that she and the others who had faced Ultimecia had trained there.

Curiosity got the better of me. "You trained there? How?" I asked.

Trepe rubbed the back of her head and grimaced.  "We camped there for a week. Fought all day, every day. We slept in the Ragnorak."

I began to feel uneasy. Somehow I knew that they had faced me after that intense training and won. That wasn't what was bothering me though. It was something about their battle formation. Three team members made a squad. They had been training in squads.

"You fought in groups of three, though, didn't you?" I said.

"Yes. Why?"

"You said we were doing this in pairs." I didn't want to insult her teaching syllabus, but the thought of some of my classmates facing Ruby Dragons in pairs made me nervous. Well, maybe I wanted to insult it just a little. I was having a hard day, after all.

The mocking tone of her voice told me that she had heard the insult loud and clear, and was prepared to retaliate. "Scared, Seifer?"

The thought I fear nothing skittered across my mind like a spider, and I barely heard her apology. Or her decision to change the format of the field trial. I was too busy wondering why that old traditional thought of mine, my reflex response to any accusation of nervousness, was no longer true.

I wasn't nervous about the field trial, that was for sure. Even though my group would be the only one with just two members, I was still utterly confident of victory. In fact, I was looking forward to the trial. The tasks we had been performing lately were appallingly boring in nature, yet frustratingly tricky. I was really anticipating some simple smash 'n bash.

The day after the mess on that beach in Dollet, we took the final written exam, and were told to rest and prepare for the field trial the next day. I visited the infirmary to score some liniment for a mild strain I had gotten in my wrist from getting too temperamental with the nets the previous day. Other than that, I ate a huge dinner and went to sleep as soon as I felt like I could. It was a short day.

I woke early enough to avoid Raijin and went down to breakfast feeling unusually alert. I ate lightly and visited the Training Center, stretching carefully and making sure that my wrist was well worked out before smashing a few Grats into oblivion. Of course, that activity soon palled, and I found myself heading for the front gate early.

To my surprise, everyone was present except for Trepe. And she showed up just a few moments later, shrugged, and herded us into the skimmer after giving us our instructions. Just five monsters to kill, and then we'd be done. The only one I was even remotely worried about was the Ruby Dragon. That breath attack can really screw you if you aren't prepared for it.

As it turned out, Ruby was the very first monster we encountered of those on our list. Happily, Trepe had some quite powerful sleep spells junctioned to her whip, and they were actually effective against the dragon. It fell with only a little struggle under our attack. I hadn't known she would be making it this easy for me, but I wasn't about to ask for a harder trial.  

In fact, we didn't have any trouble at all until we just had one monster left on our list, T-Rexaur. I'd fought them in the Training Center, and was not at all concerned with killing one. The problem was finding one.

Both of us scanned the horizon, and it was Trepe who finally found one. We snuck up on it cleanly, and I was pleased. It's pretty difficult to sneak up on a predator, after all.

We began, and if Trepe's Sleep attack had been effective on Ruby, it was devastating on T-Rex. As soon as I attacked, she would follow and put it to sleep so that it could not retaliate. I was sure the fight would be over in a matter of seconds.

I was wrong.

I heard a roar very close by and saw the other T-Rex a second too late. It had caught Trepe in its jaws, and it gave her a great shake before dropping her. Amazingly, she landed on her feet, and her whip whispered through the air to caress the snout of the huge monster. She had counterattacked. I could barely believe it. But the T-Rexaur slid into slumber as simple as that. Belatedly I remembered the original T-Rex, and spat, "Sleep!" at it just as Trepe fell, first to both knees, then to a limp sprawl on the ground.

I cursed and glanced at the original T-Rex to make sure it had succumbed to my spell before stripping off my gloves.

I knelt next to Trepe and turned her over. Her face was pale and her eyes were open, though I was sure she was unconscious. I looked at her side, where the sharp teeth had grasped her. Blood was everywhere; there was no way the meds would get here in time to save her life. I marveled, before my training took over, that she hadn't simply been bitten in half.

I got her in as stable a position as I could manage on the ground, wrapping one arm around her torso tightly. I'd need the other hand for the wound; Curaga worked so much better administered physically. She'd need everything I had to survive this.

I began, clamping my right hand on the torn flesh of her side without hesitation. How many spells did I use on her that day? I have no idea. I do know that sweat was running into my eyes with the effort of keeping her still and concentrating hard enough to cast spells. I know that when I returned to Garden later that day I had less than half the number of curative spells in my arsenal as I did when I left. I know that I was seriously starting to wonder if she was going to die on me.

But then I felt her arm move, reaching for something. I didn't dare look away from the task I was performing, but I vaguely remembered dropping one of my gloves over there.

"Quit wriggling," I commanded quietly, trying not to break my concentration. The spells had slowly been increasing in effectiveness as her flesh grew closer and closer into the form it was supposed to take. The next one was impressive; half of the scores from the teeth closed in a flash.

She gasped, and her body arched in one great spasm. I frowned, and not looking away from the primary wound, I swung my right leg over both of hers.

"One more," I said. And that was the one that did it. I was fairly sure that she had had a couple of broken ribs, but she sighed and went limp against my chest, breathing easy. Hell, she was in better shape than I was. I shifted her so that she could rest more comfortably.

I looked down at her, cradled in my arms. She was a mess. Her clip had fallen out and one lock of hair was plastered across her face. I itched just looking at it and slid my fingers across her forehead, tucking that hair behind her ear. Idly, I admired the fine bone structure of her face. I'd never noticed that Instructor Trepe was pretty.

At my touch she shifted, and her lips moved ever so slightly. Suddenly I remembered the temporary side effects of curative spells. Enhanced sensory perceptions.

And the thought caught me.

I gazed down at her and felt both my body and my mind go still and silent.

And she chose that moment to push herself away from me, moving to sit wearily on the ground. I had disturbed myself so much with that one thought, that single-word thought, that I couldn't immediately make myself move at all.

Finally I told myself, Think about it later. If at all. I stood and looked around for my equipment. I heard her rising, behind me, and turned to find her holding out one of my gloves, and Hyperion.

"Thanks. Let's finish these guys off and get back to the skimmer." I retrieved my other glove from the ground, and wiped my forehead before pulling them back on.

"Any time."