Squall stood in the shadows, unwilling to go any closer to the dance floor. Myles stood beside him, looking around the room interestedly. He stepped forward for a moment, seemingly to obtain a better view of the dance, before returning to Squall's side. He stood a bit too close for Squall's liking. Squall tried to discreetly sidestep the man when he grabbed his upper arm, pulling him back into a distance Squall felt to be unnecessarily close.
"There is business I wish to discuss with you," his voice was dark and low. He looked down at Squall with hooded eyes silently for a moment before continuing, "it is regarding the mission."
"What about the mission?" Squall looked back with confusion. Hadn't he read the mission report that he had carefully written up?
"You read the briefing, haven't you?"
Squall looked back blankly. What was he talking about?
"I don't understand, Mr. Krystalhart."
Myles smiled reassuringly, "It must have been sent in to your office while you were preparing for your speech to the graduates. I know it is very short notice, but it had been worked out with Cid beforehand. The report should be on your desk."
"You must forgive me, but I have to go and read that report, Mr.-"
"It's quite all right. I do not mind at all," Myles gestured towards the entrance to the Quad, where people were still flooding from, into and out of, the party. Squall turned to hurry out when Myles grabbed his arm and once again, drew him close.
"By the way," he said darkly, "call me Myles."
Squall hurried out of the quad, lest he have Myles find him again.
/There's something... off about that guy.../
He eagerly bounded up the steps towards the dormitories. There were boxes scattered throughout the hall with various amounts of belongings piled unceremoniously within them. Light from open double dormitories cast fuzzy rectangular shapes on the opposing walls. A rustling emanated from a room further down the hall, then a crash as a fully suited SeeD member fell across a box standing just inside of a doorway, flinging a box of clothing violently against a wall. Women's effects flew through the air like streamers, burying the floor and the SeeD. The SeeD groaned quietly, pulling a pair of pants off of his face.
"Do you need help, Zell?"
"Yes. Very much so." He struggled to his feet, then back down onto his knees, piling and folding the clothes. Squall too, got to his knees, and helped Zell with the errant articles of clothing, settling into a bit of a routine.
"Zell? Did you receive any briefing on a mission set for tomorrow? I haven't seen it."
"Yeah, I did. I'm surprised that you didn't get it yet. I got mine after the field exam."
"... What is the briefing?"
"We're escorting that Crystal Guy back to Galbadia, and then being briefed further when we get there."
"Yeah, Whatever. Anyway, it's you, me, Irvine, and Rinoa. We're all going to the capitol, and I guess we're going to guard the President, whoever that is," Zell put the last article into the box and sealed it back up again, "Squall, how did you know that the Fumadiden was going to be down there?"
"I didn't know."
"Yeah, but you said you had a bad feeling about going into the basement."
"I just felt uneasy."
Zell looked at Squall suspiciously for a moment, before picking up the box and heading back into the room. Squall silently followed Zell's cue until all the boxes were moved into the room, and everything unpacked. Zell eyed him with the same suspicion that he held for anyone he regarded as a liar for the rest of the night until they parted company for the night, bidding a curt farewell. His jaw flexed the entire night, trying to keep his questions inward, knowing that Squall would never answer them if he kept asking.
Squall entered his darkened room with a hint of caution in his step. Sensing that Mr.... that _Myles_ had left his room, Squall disrobed, and crawled into bed, aching and tired. He pulled the covers of himself, and then lay motionless, staring at the ceiling above, ruminating over his conversation in the hall. The last thing of any real importance that had come out of Zell's mouth that night bothered him.
/Did I really know what was going to happen, even before I stepped one foot into the elevator?/
It could have just been the crystals resonating with the frequency of the monster.
/That's not it, not really. Whatever, I don't really care. Still, I can't feel as though the arrival of Krystalhart and the appearance of the Fumadiden are somehow related.../
/Did I die at some point after the war and not notice?/ Squall wondered to himself, staring into another cup of coffee. It was his third that morning, but it seemed to have no effect on him. He was still feeling sluggish and weak. All of the others, sensing Squall's discomfort, took their cues from him and kept quiet. The richly furnished car had more than enough interest to keep them from turning on each other's nerves. Zell was pacing back and forth quietly, deep in thought with an uncharacteristically intense expression on his face. Rinoa was on the bottom bunk of the bunk beds, amusing herself with the newest Pet Pals, causally figuring out a new training regimen for Angelo. Irvine was nursing a hangover in the top bunk, laying flat on his back, his hat over his eyes, occasionally taking sips of ginger ale out of a twenty ounce bottle he bought at the Balamb train station. Myles too, kept to himself, looking over papers spread out across the coffee table. He had the sleeves of his dress shirt rolled up to his elbows, and a pen behind his ear. There was another one in his mouth, the cap clenched between his teeth, and still a third he was using to write. Zell decided to break the comfortable silence.
"Yes, Zell?" Squall hissed out from between his teeth.
"Did they decide who they were going to send out with the Fumadiden? I bet President Loire's really peeved that you're not going to go see him."
"Well, I think they sent Nida and Erica."
Rinoa looked up from her magazine, "how can you not know? She's the library girl!"
Irvine sighed, "it's just like you not to notice a pretty girl that's head over heels for you. She's been dying to rip off your pants since... since... well, since at least I've been here! You sure you're not... hiding something from us guys, are you?"
Zell squawked, "if you're implying that I'm gay, again-"
"I don't think he's implying anything, Zell. I think he just about came out and said it," Rinoa didn't even bother to look up from her magazine.
"Irvine... that's... That's just not cool."
"Ooh, witty. I guess I'm not the only one with a hangover."
Zell growled, "I am not gay! You're just overcompensating!"
Irvine just made a disgusted noise from under his hat and went back to ignoring Zell.
"As I was saying, Nida and Erica are taking the Fumadiden to Esthar. It shouldn't be too much trouble, more of a formality, really. Nida will teach Erica to do this sort of paperwork, so in the future, she can lead these sorts of missions."
"That sounds solid. And like a nice vacation for those two."
"Should we all be so lucky..." Irvine mumbled from under the hat.
"This is your first day as a SeeD, Irvine. You shouldn't already need a vacation," Squall was starting to become agitated with his compartment mates, and his coffee was getting cold.
"But you have to admit, Squall, it's not exactly normal to send rookie SeeDs out on the first day. Just because it happened to us, hardly makes it the norm..."
"...I suppose you're right."
"... But Irvine is being a big crybaby."
"Hey, I'm not the crybaby in this compartment!"
"Stop bringing that up! At least I didn't wet the bed every night!"
"...That might have been Seifer..."
"As much as I'd like to blame Seifer for every problem that happened in this great big beautiful world of ours, that was so totally you peeing in the bed every night."
"Shut up, Zell. I'm not peeing the bed anymore."
Zell said nothing in response, and resumed pacing.
Myles looked up from his paperwork, "you're related?"
"Sort of. Squall, and Irvine, and me, and some other kids all grew up at the same orphanage on Centra. I lived there until I was about five or so... I think Irvine had been adopted a few months before..."
"Yeah... something like that. I just turned five when I was taken off."
Myles smiled, "did you all play together as children?"
"Well, Zell was a tattletale-"
"Oh, come on! You all started saying that after Seifer got you all to do it!"
"Sure, whatever... So like... Oh, yeah. Squall never played with the rest of us. Unlike the rest of us, Squall had a biological sister-"
"Ellone isn't my biological sister."
"Oh... uh... well, so then anyway, Squall came into the orphanage at the same time as this other girl, Ellone. She was older than the rest of us, so she was like a big sister. One day, the White SeeDs came and took her out onto their boat to protect her from Ultimecia. Squall took it hardest."
"Look, Irvine, I-"
"We will be arriving in Galbadia shortly. Thank you for riding International Railways. We hope you choose to ride the rails again soon!"
The four SeeDs looked back and around at each other.
"These missions are starting to get really messed up," Zell said solemnly.
"I'd say more like, /‘fucked up,'/ but I suppose it's the same thing in the end, right?" Irvine shrugged his shoulders easily.
"Why is Krystalhart insisting that we go to the Galbadia Hotel? Weren't we supposed to protect him?" Rinoa looked confused, "did I read the contract wrong?"
"No, you didn't. He's deliberately changing the plans, but we don't have a choice but to listen to him," Squall sighed, "maybe you should pay your father a visit?"
Zell looked around, "well, we have three hours before reporting to the President's mansion. I guess we should enjoy ourselves in the time being."
"Or check into the hotel, at least. People are staring at us," Irvine looked over his shoulder.
They were indeed attracting attention. People looked at the group of young adults in SeeD uniforms, standing in a semicircle, surrounded by luggage. Galbadia had not seen the SeeDs so much as "liberating the Galbadian people of the yoke of an evil and powerful sorceress," but more as "an obstruction of national glory for the Galbadian state." The sorceress had freed them from Vinzer Deling, and led them to the path of glory for Galbadia by the conquering of the world. They were not fond of the SeeD interference.
"Let's just go and change, for now."
Squall looked out of the window of the hotel. The view was stunning. They were given suites on the top floor of the hotel. Squall had the corner room, and the windows wrapped around the room, filling it with light. Below, the whole city spanned out around the hotel, fading off into the distance. If he squinted his eyes, he could almost see the Tomb of the Forgotten King. Feeling safe, perched up on the lofty tower, Squall nursed his fourth coffee of the day. Pulling himself away from the view, he opened his mission briefing again, carefully reading it.
To: Commander Squall Leonheart
From: Headmaster Cid Kramer
Re: New mission
From henceforth, this mission will be referred to as Operation Number 17569: Guarding Cactus Jack. Operation 17569 will consist of you, S Class SeeD Zell Dincht, 6 Class SeeD Rinoa Heartilly and 6 Class SeeD Irvine Kinneas escorting X. Myles Krystalhart to the President's manor in Galbadia, where you will await further orders from him. Your duties will involve protecting him and the President of Galbadia, if the President so needs it, compiling information for the conference between Galbadia and Esthar, keeping your eyes on the manuscript, and general peacekeeping measures. Above all, you must follow Krystalhart's instructions.
Try to be on your best behavior. Don't get into any needless fights.
/get into needless fights? What does he mean by that? He must know something that I don't... I hate being used like this! Will it ever end?/
There was a knock at the door the separated his room with the room next door, Irvine's. Squall got out of his easy chair and opened the door.
"You all unpacked?"
"So like, how about we go look around?"
"Don't you have a hangover?"
Irvine waved his hand dismissively, "I'm all right now."
Squall smiled faintly, "where's Zell? He didn't want to go?"
Irvine shrugged, "I tried, but no one answered. I guess he saw a hot dog stand or something..." Irvine grabbed Squall's shoulder, "stop being such a pill! Let's go! Who cares what happened to Zell?"
Zell knocked on the door gingerly. After twenty-two agonizing seconds, he turned around to leave.
"Oh... uh... HI!"
Rinoa smiled softly, "did you need something?"
"Um... well... I was wondering if... if uh, You wanted to go, with me, with me together, to get some.... Uh... coffee?" Zell scratched the back of his head, trying not to turn beet red.
"Sure, I'd love to! There's the cutest little café on the other side of the block. They serve the best Lattes! Just let me get my purse..."
X. Myles Krystalhart smoothed out his pants in a nervous gesture too practiced to be genuine. The light from the afternoon sun was streaming in from the windows facing the plaza. If he strained to look, he could see people and cars moving about, back and forth, with purpose and aimless, too far away to matter. His attention was focused on the man in front of him; the president, sitting behind the cherry wood desk that had once belonged to despot Deling, reclining in a new desk chair, and watching the window. Sunlight caught the tips of his short cropped hair, glowing in the bright light, surrounded by the darkness of the wood paneled office.
"Sir, you really should go. You cannot simply hide up here forever."
"And why can't I? I thought you enjoyed all of the attention you got by being the personal assistant of the President."
Krystalhart bowed his head humbly, knowing that the president could see him in the reflection of the glass.
"I am nothing but a humble civil servant."
The president snorted derisively, and turned away from the window slightly. The French windows let in light that shadowed the planes of his hard-boned face in the gloom of the office.
"I don't like people playing with me, Myles. Don't taunt me. I'll go meet with them if I must. You are dismissed."
Krystalhart allowed himself a small smile, as he turned to leave.
"Just one more thing, Krystalhart, before you go."
"Yes, sir?" As Krystalhart turned to face the President again, a strong hand shot out, grabbing the breast of his immaculate black suit. He was hauled over the desk violently, until he was face to face, and nearly nose to nose with his superior.
"I may to be able to directly fire you, but try to cross me, and I'll make your life such hell. Consider it a talent of mine."
"I completely understand, Mr. President."
The President sneered and threw the smaller man backwards, letting him stumble until he hit the door. Upon hitting it, Krystalhart scurried out as quickly as he could.
/Maybe drinking coffee wasn't the best idea for my shot nerves.../ Zell thought to himself, watching his hand shake slightly, moving the coffee around in the little cup. The café was indeed a fashionable one, one that didn't seem to be common knowledge to the masses on the shopping arcades and main streets a few hundred yards away. The young and trendy of Galbadia sat out on shaded porches outside, enjoying the summer breeze, or inside the little shop, crowded around little tables, reading back issues of Timber Maniacs, sketching in notebooks, or talking and laughing. Zell and Rinoa sat near the large, pink-gelled window at a table the seemed barely big enough for one person, let alone two, on chairs that seemed too small for Zell to really get comfortable in. Rinoa, on the other hand, seemed completely at home in the little chair. She talked cheerfully about the store, and the history of the place. Zell tried to pay attention to what she was saying, he really did, but...
He could only focus on the shape of her mouth.
Rinoa smiled at him.
Zell smiled back, trying not to jump out of his little chair.
"Not to spoil your fun but... is this really necessary?"
"Aww, don't be such a baby! What are you afraid of?"
"I am not afraid!"
"Then there's no problem!"
Squall sighed, there seemed to be no stopping Irvine, "Why do you feel the need to do this?"
"Don't you feel the thrill?"
Squall was taken aback. Irvine was right. He did feel a thrill, standing in the middle of Deling Square, in front of the mansion. It looked a lot more pleasant during the day, built out of rough white stone and copper roofed. Scaffolding marred the perfection of the building as workers carefully fitted pieces of stone to the eaves.
/It must be for the statues that were destroyed during the fight.../
"I still don't understand why you want to retrace our steps on the night of that mission."
Irvine smiled, "I just want to see what happened to us... and I want to see if there was anything we could have done differently."
"There's no point in living in the past."
Irvine stared at Squall, amusement in his eyes, and something else too, it seemed./he thinks I'm a hypocrite..../
Squall looked back up at the balcony where Deling had been assassinated. It stood empty. People passed by the two young men without so much as a second glance, heading towards the shopping arcade, or back to the residential area. The cool wind blowing through the city kept people moving. No one had time to look back at the pair. Irvine's smile faded, sensing Squall's discomfort.
"So like... there's this new ammo store that I've been hearing about. They're giving a discount on fire ammo. Why don't we go and check it out?"
The smile returned, and Irvine rolled his eyes, "Well, since you're so excited about it, why are we wasting time here?"
Squall shrugged, "You're the one who wanted to come here."
"Ahh, details , details..." without another glance at the mansion, the two marched back up the street towards the arcade, unnoticed by all around them.
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