Author's Note: After that *ahem* minor hiccup...back to the subplots, and back to Galbadia. This ittle bitty chapter actually happens a few hours before Chapter 13. (Hey, I would have posted it first, but you guys were getting impatient over Squall, who we will go back to next time, BTW.) The other (much longer) one starts at about the same time as Chapter 13, and ends up overlapping with the upcoming installment of main plot. My editor and I spent 2 hours working out the incredibly complicated time differences... Thanks again for the many reviews.

WARNING: It's a yaoi story, but there's none in this chapter or the next. Enjoy a little het romancing here instead.

DISCLAIMER: Still working on that hostile takeover bid - I'm negotiating for a couple of squads of SeeD paratroopers to help me persuade Square I could manage the whole FF concept better than them...

Darkened Sunrise

Chapter Fourteen - Conversations with Kings

By Persephone

Quistis sighed as she shut down the e-mail program, and stared round her bedroom trying to decide how to take the news. Her replacement had been confirmed; Xu had told her to expect Nida over within the next two days to take charge of the Galbadia mission while she went back to Garden to recuperate.

She walked to the window seat, settled down on it and looked out over the Palace gardens, glowing radiant in the noonday sunshine. The mood of the scene was so opposed to her own dark humour that she almost felt like laughing at the contrast.

It wasn't as if the mission was going to fail because of what had happened. It wasn't as if getting honourably discharged due to injury would ever be held against her. But she didn't want to leave Galbadia. She just didn't like leaving anything unfinished. If any of the remaining SeeDs got so much as a paper cut she would feel responsible simply because she was no longer there to prevent it.

Someone knocked lightly on the door. "Come in," she called, expecting it to be one of the SeeDs. But instead, to her surprise, the door swung open to reveal Xavier Salvador.

"I hope I'm not intruding. I wanted to see if you were feeling at all better today."

She nodded, managing to find a smile. No question of that; you're not in the way at all. "There's almost no residual pain anymore unless I walk too far or try to stand for too long." Not that she'd tried combat exercises or anything similar. Walking too far meant going more than a hundred metres or so without a break. She wasn't exactly at her best and she didn't deny that she couldn't take on active missions until she'd recovered. "Garden's used to hurrying the recuperation time for this kind of injury. My doctor should have me back in the field within a couple of weeks."

"Is it really wise to rush things?" He sounded genuinely interested rather than just concerned. "If you're risking permanent damage by doing this..."

"We can't do it too often, but I've only ever had injuries this serious once before. And none of us can stay off active duty for long at the moment. We're short of SeeDs."

He came over to the window and, as Quistis had done, stared out at the banks of brightly coloured flowers in the formal gardens below. She looked up at him, watching the light play over his sharp features and bring out the hidden sheen in his dark eyes. He looked so handsome when his face was half-shadowed like this. "Will you be returning here when you've recovered, or will you be posted elsewhere?"

"I'm not sure at the moment. It mainly depends on whether any missions come up that call for my specialised skills, or those of my replacement. I'm given very little say in my postings."

Xavier sank down beside her onto the seat. "What would you do if you had the choice?"

"I'd come back here," she answered instantly. For all her musings, she couldn't say exactly why. But, when she looked at him, she fancied she had half an answer.

He ventured a smile, and she decided again that she'd been wrong about his age. He couldn't be older than thirty or thirty-five. "I would be very happy if you did - you already know so much about the problems we face," he qualified quickly, his grin broadening.

"And I've already established a working relationship with you and the relevant Army personnel."

"Yes, of course."

Oh, forget it. Quistis leant over and kissed him.

If she surprised him, she did so only for a second. He slid an arm round her and leant into the kiss, deepening it. She felt herself responding. For a second or two she welcomed it, opening her mouth just a little and letting her hand slide up to wind through his thick black curls. Then she remembered where she was and who she was and pulled away as quickly as she could.

They stared at each other for a moment. Quistis was first to break eye contact; she dropped her head and said quickly, "My substitute is Galbadian. You should be able to work with him just fine."

"Really?" He was still looking at her, challenging her. She raised her head and instantly got caught in his black-eyed gaze again. No. Stop it. Be professional, you silly woman. But his hand on hers was gentle, not criticising at all.

She cleared her throat. "This isn't what I meant by a working relationship. I think you'd better stop holding my hand."

"Do you want me to?"

What kind of a question is that? "No," she admitted.

"Well, then..." His head was still close to hers. It was so easy to lean just a little way forwards so their lips touched once more.


(to be continued...)

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