Disclaimer: The characters are property of Square Soft. This fic is not for profit.


Chapter Four

By Race Ulfson

Quistis Trepe punched the button on the private line. "Garden Administrator."

A tinny voice said, "Please hold for the President of Esther."

Quistis sank back in the padded executive chair, tapping her pen. But she had to smile when she heard Laguna Loire's breathless voice.

"Squall? Lissen Kiddo -"

"Squall's not here, Mr. President."

"Oh... Quisty?" Reassured by the affirmative noise she made that he'd correctly identified to whom he was speaking, Laguna said, "Call me Laguna. Is he really not there or just 'I'm not talking to that jerk' not there?" As always, he spoke in a rapid rush as if afraid he'd run out of air before he got his point across.

Quistis took a moment to sort that out and said, "Squall is really not at Balamb at all, Mr. President."

"Don't call me that!"

"Yes, Sir." Quistis fought back the smile that was sneaking into her voice and tried to remain professional sounding. "I thought he was with you."

Laguna sighed. "He was. Then we had another one of our famous 'Leave My Life Alone' fights, and I haven't seen him since." Another sigh, follwed by a selfdepreciating chuckle. "It's been a couple of days, and, well, I cooled off... So I thought I'd call and you know, mend fences. Apologize."

"Squall hasn't shown up here. He does have several days of his vacation left."

"I know, but if Squall didn't go back to Garden, where did he go?"

Quistis invited herself to join Zell at lunch. "You heard from Squall?," she asked casually, as she slipped in beside him.

Zell glanced up from the video he was watching on his laptop. "This guy's form sucks." He took another bite of hot dog. "Why would Squall call me?"

"You're his best friend, right?"

"Eeee.... yeah, mainly from lack of competition, but yeah." Zell chewed thoughtfully. "You know what he's been like, since... since we came back." His attention drifted back to the screen. "Since the Rinoa fiasco, anyway."

Quistis toyed with her breadstick. "I thought Rinoa had a chance, for a while there. I should call her... sometime."

"Okay." Zell finished his lunch and the video, waiting for Quistis to stop dropping hints and get to the point. When he noticed she was folding and refolding her napkin into little knife edge creases, he spoke up. "I thought the Iceman was spending this vacation with his dad?"

"They had a big fight and Squall took off."

"Oo, surprise, surprise."

Quistis dismissed his sarcasm with a wave. "They have a lot of issues to work out."

Zell shut off the DVD, shaking his head. "They have no issues to work out, and that's the whole problem. Squall got along fine for 17 years with no father and even after 4 years of trying he still can't figure out what to do with one. Squall can't blow Laguna off, because he feels guilty 'cuz he's the only one of us who has a father. So he goes there and tries to do his duty and make nice, realizes he has no idea what he's doing, and bails."

"Do you know where he is?"

"I know Squall well enought to know that no one knowing where he is would be his idea of a great vacation."

"I have such a bad feeling about this."

Zell stood, gathering up laptop and assorted books and papers. "I'm late. Lissen, I bet you even now Squall is sitting somewhere dull, eating a vanilla ice cream cone, avidly waiting for the belt shop to open."

"Zell!" Quistis had to laugh.

Mission accomplished, Zell paused to say seriously, "You know Squall can take care of himself. He'll be back, exactly on time, and he'll probably never tell you where he was. That's just the way he is."

And trust me, Zell added mentally as he bounced off to his class, you don't wanna know the places Squally hangs out when he's cutting loose.

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