*standard I don't own FFVIII, Squaresoft, characters, etc. applies from now until whenever I decide I'm done*
By Yuri Nigasa
Later that afternoon, I looked at the clock. By now the delegation from Esthar would have left. I didn't even bother getting out of bed to find out. I knew Xu was responsible enough to see them off, and honestly Loire was the last person I wanted to see. I nuzzled Seifer's neck and he wrapped his arms around me, kissing the top of my head.
"Seifer?" I asked softly.
"Say it again."
"It again," he chuckled then got serious. "I love you, Squall."
I sighed contentedly. I hadn't yet found the voice to reciprocate, but he never once prompted me to say it, content to let me take my time. I counted myself the luckiest of men.
I was rudely jolted from my moment of contentment by the sound of the door chime. Repeatedly. Only one person rang like that.
"Selphie's here," I muttered, rolling over and glancing around for something more suitable than a bed sheet. Seifer was already pulling on some jeans and heading to the door. How did he do that? I swear it was like his clothes just magically appeared or something. I made a mad dash for the closet and grabbed a pair of slacks. I managed to get them on just as the door slid open.
"Hi!" I heard her voice from the living room. "We were gonna wait until you guys came out, but then I figured you weren't gonna." I headed out to the room, pulling a shirt on over my head. "Ooh, did I interrupt something?" she asked innocently. I raised an eyebrow. "Oh come on, Squall. I'm not that dumb. He's shirtless and barefoot and you're wearing stuff I've never seen you put on outside the office."
"No, nosy. You didn't."
"Yeah, we were already done when you showed up," said Seifer. I choked. Selphie's eyes grew wide.
"Seifer!" she exclaimed.
"What?" he asked innocuously, shrugging his shoulders and winking at me.
"Too many details!" she waved her hands at him.
"Well then next time, don't ask," he stuck his tongue out at her. "So is there any reason you've interrupted my Friday afternoon nap?"
"We wanted to check on Squall."
"Who's 'we'? Because I only see you," I asked.
"That's because they're out in the hallway."
"You left them there?" Seifer asked.
"No, they said they didn't want to be first in the door."
Seifer chuckled. "Well, might as well let them in," I said.
Selphie bounded out the door and came back with Irvine and Quisty in tow. I sat down on the couch, Seifer and Quistis on either side of me. Irvine took one of the chairs and Selphie sat on the floor. I looked over at Quistis. "So they left?"
"Yes, about two hours ago. No problems, of course. Did the two of you reach some sort of settlement about the issues?" That was Quistis-speak for 'was I okay' and 'did things work out.'
"Yes and no. He seemed to be honest once things got started, but still, this is a man who's made lying and manipulation a force of habit. So, maybe he was and maybe he wasn't. I gave him some... 'demands' to meet if he was serious about his newfound change of heart. He's to admit to the total extent of Esthar's involvement in the Sorceress Conflict. He's to clear Seifer completely. And," I looked at Selphie, "he's to fund the rebuilding of Trabia Garden."
Selphie was ecstatic. She hugged Irvine, as he was the nearest person, and then hugged the rest of us in turn. "I hope you're right about that. They've been struggling to find the money. I just hope they can be convinced to keep it. But, I can understand why you'd ask him to do the other two things... why'd you tell him to rebuild Trabia?"
I smirked, "Why not?"
Selphie giggled. "Way to go, Squall! You're becoming positively evil I think!"
"So," interrupted Irvine, "we going to do anything?"
"What did you have in mind?" asked Quistis.
"Don't rightly know. All I know is I've seen way too much of the inside of Garden this week, and with that written test coming up, I want to get out of here while I still can," he replied.
"Hey, I'll have you prepped for that test, believe me. I can pass that thing without the questions, I've taken it so many times," Seifer said.
Everyone laughed. It felt good, being here among my true family. I felt the anguish of the past two days slipping away as we talked. We decided to head out to the beach, not wanting to have a night on the town.
I was amazed at how easily I found the others bringing Seifer into the close-knit circle. It made me happy to see him smiling and laughing with everyone. The bonfire in front of me popped and sparked as I lay out on a blanket with him. Selphie had raided the kitchen and came away with a basket full of things, from sandwiches to vegetables to drinks, and of course, the obligatory pile of sweets.
I nibbled on a cookie as I listened to Irvine relate a story from his days at Galbadia. In the way the best Cowboy stories go, it involved a girl, too much liquor, and having your pants off in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Not to be outdone, Selphie launched into a tale involving underwear, snow, a graveyard, and fuzzy slippers. As she continued to talk I made a mental note to never get on her bad side. She had a wicked sense of revenge.
The night grew long and we slowly made our way back toward the halls of Garden, relaxed and carefree. I tucked my arm around Seifer as we walked, and was rewarded with a smile that glowed in the moonlight. He kissed my temple, drawing a round of 'oohs' from Selphie. Seifer jumped at her, and she ran off with him at her heels. I fell in beside Irvine and he looked down at me quizzically.
"I just wanted to say thanks," I said quietly, "for earlier."
He smiled a little, just an upturn of the corners of his mouth, "Not a problem. You know, he really worries about you."
"Despite not really getting a fair impression the first time around, he's a decent guy. We had a chance to talk the other day and for what it's worth, I like him."
Further conversation was interrupted by the return of Seifer with Selphie riding piggyback. She had her arms latched around his neck and was giggling for him to go faster. He shot me a look that pleaded for help. I just smirked as we walked through the front gate and headed inside.
Later that night I was curled in the comfort of the bed I now shared, with Seifer brushing a wayward strand of hair from my eyes.
A yawn followed by "Yeah?"
A sleepy kiss pressed to my temple as he wrapped his body around mine. "Love you, too."
Bioluminescent eyes flashed in the darkness. The head turned upward, scenting the wind. The shape of the body suggested that it was some sort of mutated Blitz. It turned its head in the direction of the nighttime motion capture equipment and stared. In what seemed to be a blinding moment of comprehension for a mere monster it attacked the equipment and there transmission ended.
I clicked the small remote in my hand. I turned to address the Garden Council.
"This is the only known footage of the creatures that have been conducting the raids in and around the northwest area of Galbadia's Catania province. I invited Doctor Volaju of the Trabian Biomutation and Critical Research Facility to discuss this issue."
Doctor Volaju looked to be in his mid-thirties. He didn't look like the type that would be into Biomutation Research, or any other medical field, for that matter. He handed me a small stack of papers and indicated that I should pass them around the table. I complied and began to quickly scan the page.
"Thank you, Commander Leonhart." He spoke with a deep, heavily accented voice. "As you have seen from the clip provided, this creature does exhibit some bizarre tendencies. Physically, it resembles the Blitz-type, but the more feral aspect seen when the creature tries to determine scent isn't present in the Blitz. What concerns me most is the way in which it attacks the equipment. In the first portion of the video, it doesn't pay the transmitter any heed." He picked up the remote and replayed the first part.
"Here, however," he stopped it the moment the creature turned to face the camera, "we see a discernable switch from passive behavior to an active one. It is if this creature were actually the 'eyes' for something of higher intellect. I would not rule out a psychically based hive-mentality. This would explain why each successive raid has become more violent. The creatures are systematically testing their prey - humans - for weaknesses."
As Doctor Volaju sat down, I stood back up again and faced the Council. "It is my opinion that this needs to be examined further. A minimal team can be sent down to perform routine investigation, and then we can use that data as the basis for further plans. If the Council could, please vote now."
The application passed, as I knew it would. I nodded to the assembled Council members and went upstairs to speak with Selphie. I walked in the office and over to her desk.
"I need you to contact Alisa Case. She's staying that the Balamb Hotel. Let her know that her application has been approved by the council and that someone will be in touch about the specifics soon."
Selphie nodded, "No problem. Oh, Seifer said to tell you that he'll be in Irvine's room. They're studying," she smiled at me. "Just a few more days until Irvy takes that test. I'm hoping Seifer will have him in shape for it."
I smiled back at her. "He'll do fine."
"No, you just need to think of it logically. Fire isn't affected by cold, but cold is affected by fire, fire is affected by water, however. Lightening is highly effective on machine based opponents and vehicles. Doesn't affect earth-based creatures well, however."
"Damn, this is impossible. Nobody asked to see my SeeD credentials when I was out there slinging shells at critters in the Lunatic Pandora and running around Ultimecia's little vacation home."
"Yeah, but you know how they are. Sticklers. No SeeD test, no SeeD paycheck. From what I hear it's not a bad one either."
"That's what Sefie says. I just want to be able to head out on missions again. All this sitting around is getting to me. Only so much forced vacation I can handle," he grinned.
I snorted. "Try being on confined to quarters. Let me tell you, the Garden basement is not a stellar living environment."
"I bet. So you gonna to take another crack at it?"
"This," he gestured toward the test papers that scattered his quarters.
I shrugged. "I never really thought of it. Even before, I never really wanted to become SeeD. I've been taking the damn tests for what, four years? If I had wanted to, I would have. I'll tell you, that little stint with her royal freakiness was enough for me. Add up the Ultimecia thing in addition to Rinoa, and I don't care if I go on another mission the rest of my life."
Irvine nearly spit his soda all over the table. "That was harsh," he tried to sound reproachful, but failed miserably.
We had covered that little topic early on during study sessions. In a way I missed her, if only because I would have loved to watch her deal with the concept of her first and second choices for her Knight sleeping together. A chime at the door signaled company. Irvine got up and opened the door. I saw Squall standing there.
"It's for you," he said.
I quirked an eyebrow in Squall's direction. "What's up?"
"I wanted to talk to you for a minute. In private."
I shrugged and stood up, following him out into the hallway.
"What is it? Something the matter?"
He pursed his lips together thoughtfully and looked up at me. "I want you taking that test when Irvine does."
"Squall, I haven't been cleared yet. It's hardly the time to be thinking about something like that."
"No, you can't afford to wait. You know they won't make an exemption on you staying here once you're cleared."
I sighed. I didn't really want to take the test. I furrowed my brow and glared at him as best I could. "Squall, I don't want to be SeeD."
His jaw clenched. He hadn't expected me to balk him on this. "Look, take the test and I'll get you set up in some administrative position."
"And when someone wants me to go on a mission? Then what?"
"Then I go with you."
"Squall..." I said halfheartedly.
"For me, please?"
"Dammit, Squall, that's not fair." I hadn't meant to speak so harshly. Squall's face was pained. "I'm sorry, it's just that... I don't know."
"It's okay. I shouldn't push. Just please think about it. I know there's nobody I'd rather have by my side in a fight."
Damn but he was good at manipulating and the scary thing was, he didn't even realize it. I couldn't say no to him. It's not like being SeeD or not being SeeD was all that important to me. I guess to him though, it meant something.
I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him close, placing a kiss on his forehead. "If it means so much, I'll do it.
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