Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Final Fantasy VIII, however I do intend on using them for my own selfish amusement!

Author’s Notes: Some people have said that they noticed a bit of OOCness in some of the characters… especially Squall… but I do have to point out that this IS an AU!!!

A World Apart

Chapter 1

By Zen

The sun shone brightly onto the kitchen floor in such a way that it was obviously going to be a gorgeous day outside, even though the summer was over.

Squall ambled sleepily to the refrigerator to grab the milk. Yawning quietly, he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, not really wanting the day to begin but knowing it was inevitable. School was like that; something that filled in the years between teenager and adult, though he tended to think it was just a way to keep them occupied and bored to tears so that when they finally graduated they'd be grateful enough to take what ever role life offered them. It wasn't fair when you already knew what you wanted to do; having already found what it was that made life bearable.

Grumpily, he poured the milk and began to pick at his cereal; he didn't look up when the back door opened, it was just his dad coming home from his early morning jog. Not sparing a glance as his hair was ruffled, Squall instead absentmindedly smoothed it back into place, his eyes telling his father that he was off elsewhere.

'Probably not to happy about school,' Laguna thought to himself as he went to go take a shower before heading to the office.

Squall got up, dumping his half-eaten cereal into the garbage disposal, and rinsed his bowl before putting into the dishwasher. The housekeeper wasn't due till Friday, so he did his part to help keep things semi-decent – couldn't have her leaping off the balcony because she came back to a huge mess, 'that wouldn't look too good in the papers'. The thought brought a smile to his lips as he pondered just what the tabloids might say...

God, he was becoming as dark and gloomy as his art – if that's what you could call it these days, for it seemed the only art he could now produce was of the ominous and depressing variety. He really had to get out more instead of locking himself away, though it was hard to go out and have fun when you only had one friend and no likely prospects for any more in the near future.

Shaking his head, he started the dishwasher and glanced at the clock that sat on the breakfast bar. Dammit! He'd done it again, having spaced out for almost ten minutes that time. Squall swore a little under his breath, and began a slow ascent up the stairs to his room, the largest on the second floor, which he used both as a bedroom and a studio.

Opening the door to his room was like walking through a portal to another world, everywhere was evidence of his talent, the walls being nothing more than another canvas to him, and he had painted a different mural on each wall.

The wall to the left depicted a brightly-lit, wind-swept field of swaying grass strewn with beautiful pink and red flowers whose petals danced on the unseen wind along with feathers. He had no idea why he'd added the feathers, it just...seemed right at the time, and he had to admit that it added a certain something to the picture. Topping it off was a sky so blue and clouds so white that it was startling to look at, as if you could almost walk into that field beneath that sky and feel the wind.

The wall to the right portrayed the raging sea at the height of a storm; its white-capped waves driven by a fierce wind as the dark and pendulous clouds poured rain over the wild ocean. Squall hadn't meant for it to turn out like that, but his mother died while he was in the middle of painting it, and as such it had become an outlet for his anger and sorrow. The mural had soothed him and so he just left it.

The door, as it closed behind him, seemed to melt into a steamy jungle scene, with a variety of animals hiding beneath the forested canopy: birds frozen in mid-call and monkeys caught in mid-swing. The most dominating and intimidating part of this mural, however, had to be the gigantic Black Panther whose eyes glared from the painting with ferocious menace. Zell had often complained that it was looking at him, which had only made Squall laugh. To him in represented the hostility and danger that lay outside that door. Yes, he loved his room and it showed, of course the only people who ever saw it were his family and his best friend Zell.

The huge pair of French doors covered in gauzy white curtains that led out onto the balcony occupied the final wall. Not his most favorite of places but it gave him the perfect lighting to paint in, without it he would have had to install some track lighting, which would ruin everything he had tried to create here...

Sighing heavily, Squall moved to the closet to try and put together a half way decent outfit to wear – not that he cared much about his appearance, it was just easier that way to avoid a few of the stares he received.

Being only 5'8 at seventeen with a mass of chocolate colored hair that always appeared to be messy and a lean body that, no matter what he did, always seemed to be slightly feminine, he was always the subject of stares. Hazing too, though that part his dad didn't know about, and he wasn't about to tell him either.

Not wanting to get caught up in another monologue, Squall concentrated on finding clothes, finally deciding on a black pair of jeans and T-shirt that hugged his body firmly. At least when he wore tight clothing there was little doubt that he was a guy, not that it mattered much to those that tormented him.

The shrill ringing of the phone in his room made his jump and he hastily reached for it, already knowing who was on the other end, "I know, I know, I'm running a little late – I'm coming," he said without bothering to even say hello first.

Swiftly running a comb through his hair and grabbing his backpack from the front hall, Squall dashed out to the sidewalk and began walking in the direction that Zell would be waiting...

Zell saw him coming over the hill and waved his hands frantically, trying to get his friend to move out of the way as he careened down the sidewalk on his skateboard...but Squall was lost in thought, again. Rather than plow into his best friend, Zell decided to do the noble thing and steered himself into Mrs. Roper's hedge, comically sticking halfway out of it like a cartoon character with twigs digging painfully into him as he tried to wrestle free before an unaware Squall left him behind.

Finally succeeding, he grabbed his skateboard, "Hey, yoo-hoo... you in there somewhere Squall my man?"

Confusion seemed to cloud his face, as Zell jarred him from his thoughts, "Huh? Oh Zell, sorry, just kinda lost today I guess."

Shaking his head at his friend of at least twelve years, Zell quickly decided that Squall was beyond help. He should know – he'd spent many of those twelve years trying.

Together they walked in companionable silence toward the brick and mortar prison that would be their private hell for the next year. Zell could already see last year's football team assembling on the quad near the front doors, and it made him desperately want to just turn around and go home...but his mom would just send him back. So, doing his best to look nonchalant, he flipped up his board with his foot and caught it in his hand as they prepared to cross the street.

The sounds of kids yelling and talking, and, in the case of the girls, screaming their damn fool heads off as they saw other girls they hadn't seen since summer, permeated the air – as did the stinking fumes left behind by the buses as they dropped off their wards at the front door.

Squall took none of it in; he was too busy thinking about why he even bothered to come here at all anymore. God knows he didn't want to go, it was hell and torture beyond cruelty, just another reason to create his own world through painting; at least there he was the master of all he purveyed...

Zell steered him around the buses and away from the football players by every once in a while tugging him the right direction via his backpack. Squall had gotten this thing last year about being touched – he hated it. Only his dad could touch him and get away with it. Zell didn't pretend to understand it but he did comply with his friend's wishes. The one time he did touch Squall – just a friendly arm across his shoulders – he'd gotten a look so frightening that he never risked it again.

As they entered the building, Squall was pulled out of his monologue by the familiar smell of dusty books, fresh paint and unidentifiable cafeteria food assaulting his senses.

He glanced at Zell who just blew out a deep breath, "Don't look so depressed, Zell, who knows? Maybe we'll have a fantastic year."

"Hah, yeah ok, and a girl is miraculously going to notice me. In case you don't remember, we're LOSERS and are NEVER going to have a fantastic anything!"

"That was sarcasm Zell, you remember sarcasm, don't you?"


Squall rolled his eyes and turned away from his friend...only to run right into what felt like a walking wall.


His eyes went wide as he had to look up to see who he had run into, 'Please don't be Shane, please don't be Shane,' he prayed, actually smiling when he finally got to the face and realized that he didn't know him.

Yet, looking into those emerald eyes, Squall felt something akin to an electrical shock go through his system. His smile faltered and he stumbled back, "I...I'm sorry, I wasn't watching..."

The other boy let his gaze linger on him for a second longer before stepping around him and going on his way, not waiting to hear the rest of the apology.

Zell hesitated forward as the boy left, "Damn Squall, you okay?"

"Yeah I'm okay. Hey, you haven't seen him before have you?"

Zell's eyes went wide as he realized that Squall didn't have a clue what was going on. "That was Seifer Almasy, dumbass! I thought you were a dead man for sure!" he whispered as they continued down the hall.



(End Chapter One)

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