Afraid to Love: One for the Cameras

By Black Rose

Feeding the rumor mill.

It's a routine of sorts, one grown very familiar after months of practice. Every morning I'm met at the door of my suite by my security guard of the day - either Zell or Selphie, on rotating shifts - and usually by Squall as well. Which is understandable, as all he's done is duck through the inner door that joins our suites and then exited via his own door to the hallway.

It's grown comfortable and rather friendly. I've joked with Selphie and Zell about who gets 'babysitting' duty for the day - Selphie says she enjoys it, while Zell says it's a convenient way to catch a nap while holding up the wall of a conference room, which usually earns him a muted reprimand from Squall that sleeping isn't what he's being paid to do. We all take it with a grin - Squall, once he steps out of his door, is strictly business only with the mask of the Garden Commander firmly in place.

I know better. We all do, which is why Zell just rolls his eyes at a reprimand and Selphie grins like a manic imp. Squall glares and snaps and we brush it off; his friends because they know him better than that, know when the growl is in jest or when it's serious. Me... well. It's not really the Commander's place to snap at the President of the country who's hiring him. And I can't take his grumbling seriously when I still have the taste of his mouth pressed to my lips from a last quick kiss snatched before we seperate to face our respective morning jobs.

It's all in his eyes. He keeps his face a mask in public, stone cold and still, but you can find the real expression buried deep in his eyes. It's the little things that give him away and I've learned, over the last year, to read them all. It's in the momentary pause when he catches my eye, in the tiniest quirk of his eyebrow that takes the place of a smile or the tilt of his head, disguised as a casual motion, that speaks volumes. He's told me that he's no good at communicating but he's wrong; he's an open book if you know what to look for.

The rest of the world, thankfully, takes the glare at face value. His reputation, outside of our circle, is perfectly intact... which means mine is as well.

My babysitter of the day was Selphie - crisply turned out and cute as a button in the dark blue of Esthar security. She's modified the hells out of a standard uniform; over the months I think I've managed to spot all of the non-regulation additional weaponry she's carrying concealed in various places but I wouldn't bet money on it.

She snapped out a perfect salute, boot heels clicking, but the formality was ruined by her broad grin and cheerfully bright greeting. "Good morning, Mr. President!" Hyne. Whatever the hells Selphie drinks when she wakes up has to be five times the strength of regular coffee. She needs to start sharing it.

"Morning, Selphie," I echoed back with a smile. A glance down the hall showed that Squall was still by his door, waylaid by Quistis, their heads bent over a printout Quistis was holding. I offered, once, to find Squall a secretary. He turned me down and now I knew why. Quistis, in the months she's been with us, has melted perfectly into the presidential staff; she looks like the image of a cabinet secretary, from her neatly pinned up hair to the agenda binder she constantly carries and the shined gleam of her color coordinated heels. In organization she could almost give my own secretary competition if she really tried... and on top of it all she carries nearly as many weapons as Selphie, somewhere under a pressed tan suit jacket, and a firm grip on a security intelligence network that I don't even have the basics of.

I raised my voice for the benefit of the security cameras that I knew dotted the whole length of the hall. "Good morning, Squall."

He glanced up and then moved to join us, Quistis trailing half a step behind. "Laguna," he acknowledged me curtly, before turning back to her. "Quistis, take care of it. If that thing crosses my desk one more time I'll have someone's fucking head on a platter."

"Problem?" I asked as we fell into step with each other, the girls following behind us.

Squall shook his head, lips already pressed into a mask of irritation. "Garden business," he told me succinctly, which only meant that it was something nominally classified in public and I could hear all about it in the evening if I really wanted to.

"Any news from the Dollet front?" It's the political business version of small talk, carried on as we walk the corridors together, clean and perfectly innocuous.

"Truce is holding," Squall replied back. His attention wasn't on me, his gaze as he walked turned to the reports that Quistis was silently and efficiently handing him. "The Gardens have been asked to send relief personnel in," he added absently as we rounded the turn of the hallway.

"Well, that's good news, at least," I sighed.

He shrugged, not bothering to answer. He was frowning again, flipping through papers. "We have that joint meeting with the finance cabinet at one, and I've got... fuck. Quistis?"

It's all part of the public act. Squall hasn't ever forgotten a single thing on his daily agenda. But Quistis is right there, the spitting image of the cool, professional secretary. "You have a Garden teleconference at ten this morning, Commander."

I glanced back but any amusement that might have been in her eyes was lost behind the glare of the lights on her glasses. Beside me, Squall grimaced. "Which could stretch out through noon... I'll cut it short if I have to."

There's a guard station at the end of the hall, by the elevators. It's pure formality - my guard is Selphie and we all know it. The security officer on duty snapped to attention as we approached, which we all habitually noticed about as much as the color of the walls though I gave him a quick nod in passing as Selphie slipped around me to key the elevator. We all had our public faces on by then, intact and flawless through practice. "That's fine, Squall. I'll see you then."

He nodded, already briskly turning away to the hall that lead to his own office. To my surprise it was Selphie who piped up to delay him for a moment. "Squall?"

Squall turned to look and Selphie slid back around me in a flash. I saw it all in one snapshot - the anticipatory amused crinkle at the edge of Quistis' eyes, the rest of her face a perfect mask, and the genuine look of irritated interruption on Squall's expression a second before Selphie reached him, bouncing up on her tip toes to plant a kiss squarely on his mouth.

Selphie should be an actress. She kept it quick but unmistakable, breaking away with a brilliant smile. "Dinner tonight, right?" she chirrped. "I'll be waiting."

The thing that made the whole tableau perfect was the flush that spread bright red across Squall's cheeks and halfway to his hairline, the faded scar on his forehead blanching white, and the embarassed, halfway guilty glance he shot towards me. He caught Selphie's shoulder and gave her a push in my direction. "Later," he said shortly - which could have been an embarassed acknowledgement of a planned date, or a promise of bodily harm later on for the flawless little performance.

The elevator chimed quietly, the doors sliding open. "I won't keep her working late," I promised, unable to wipe the grin from my face. Squall, his cheeks still flushed, walked stiffly away without looking back despite Selphie's undampened enthusiastic "Later!"

There were at least two seperate cameras that had caught the whole thing on tape from different angles, and a security officer less than five feet away. It couldn't have been planned better. There was another camera in the elevator; I jammed my hands into my pockets and clamped my elbows to my ribs, trying desperately to breath around the silent stutter of laughs that I couldn't give voice to even behind the closed doors.

Selphie kept the performance going effortlessly as the elevator slid into motion, pouting with a full lipped mock frown. "He can kiss better than that."

"I'm sure he can, Selphie," I managed, trying not to sound too strangled by my own laughter. "I'm very certain he can."

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