"C'mon, Squall, let the lady have her way," Irvine said, and inched his boots even further across the table. A stack of maintenance reports fell, shoved, off the far edge of the desk, and would have landed neatly in the paper bin, had it not already contained most of Squall's other paperwork. A tiny arms race had developed across the table; with every refusal of Selphie's suggestions, Irvine sprawled just a little bit further, and Squall's glare was getting chillier and chillier with every boot-marked report. The audience in the office was hoping that Squall would give in to her demands soon. He was at risk of pulling a muscle if it continued any longer, and to stretch out any further, Irvine would have to dislocate his spine. "No reason why it can't go in the SeeD physical training regime."
"It's perfect for cardiovascular exercise," Selphie trilled. "And it's good for agility!"
"The other Gardens are still laughing at us from the spring parade incident. No."
Selphie looked downcast. "I... I thought everyone would like the Shiva float."
"It was too..." Squall cast about for words, and settled for making a furtive gesture in front of his chest.
"It seemed pretty accurate to me," Irvine said, leaning back on his chair even further. "Your ice lady is smokin'. Figuratively speaking, of course." He made eyes at somewhere near Squall's temple. "If you ever want to blow that joint, miss..."
A look of utter pain crossed Squall's face. "New Garden rule," he said, after a while. "No flirting with anybody who lives in my head."
"The Galbadian ambassadors seemed to quite like the parade," Rinoa said, lying on the floor and giving herself and Angelo matching braids.
"The Galbadian ambassadors," Squall said, "quite liked that our military budget wasn't going to missiles, guns, or machinery, but to giant naked blue ladies."
"Inflatable ones," Zell pointed out.
"Inflatable ones," Squall said, giving Selphie a patented Leonheart Look.
"But jumprope is such a good workout," said Selphie, trying her luck again.
"You're just saying that because whenever you think no-one's looking, you skip around with your nunchucks."
Selphie had the grace to look sheepish. "It's a girl thing. Give any girl something like a rope, and as soon as no-one's around, pow! She's skipping."
Everyone slowly turned to look at Quistis. She shrugged, and went back to grading papers. "It's good for agility."
"It's real great for cardio!" supplied Zell, half-way through a handstand pushup.
"Morale, too. The creation of G-Garden's women's skipping team was possibly the highlight of my entire life."
Squall put his head in his hands. "Am I the only one here who doesn't act like a child?"
"Definitely not," said Rinoa, "I've seen how you are around spiders." Quistis made a strangled coughing noise from behind her paperwork. Rinoa mimed holding a cup and a piece of paper. "I have to release them into the training zone," she whispered, far too loudly.
"Apparently Seifer fancied himself quite the jumprope genius for a while there," added Quistis, as Squall went dangerously sullen. "Tried to create his own signature move and everything. Called it the Fire Criss-Cross."
"Th' hell? What did that involve?" Zell asked.
"From the nurse reports? Attempting to strangle Raijin, mostly."
"Moving on," Squall said. "Any report from Trabia?"
"Mmm, they're pretty okay at the moment," Selphie said. "Rebuilding's nearly done! The only thing is, there's been some vigilantes around or something? Every week there's, like, vandals and criminals, all beaten up, tied to the front gate. The group that's claimed responsibility is calling themselves..." she squinted at her report. "Los Banditos Disciplinarios?"
"SeeD doesn't really teach an awful lot about subterfuge, does it?" Irvine said, after a long, strained silence.
"Do you think," Quistis said, "that they make Fuujin shake maracas dramatically when they ambush someone?"
Squall leveled his pencil at Quistis threateningly, then turned back to his desk. "Let's hear the report from Deling."
Two braided heads poked over the side of his desk, one attempting to chew on his Thank You Balamb! Trabian snowglobe. Squall politely pushed Angelo to the side with a pencil. "Daddy says he hopes you'll make it to the mid-winter ball at his house this time," Rinoa said. "He said it like that, too. This time."
Squall looked exasperated. "I had no choice but to miss it last year. Garden was on fire."
"Hey," said a upside-down Zell, "I said I was real sorry for that! Those kids just really really wanted to see what a GF was like, you know?"
"I know. They were very enthusiastic. I hope we all learnt a lot that day."
"I learnt that under certain circumstances, Shumi metal is flammable," said Quistis.
"I learnt that small kids get along far too well with giant cranky fire demons," said Selphie.
"I learnt that janitor duties really suck," said Zell, sulkily.
Squall glared at him. "Don't make me tell the mechanics exactly who put a dent in that brand new FH vending machine."
Zell gave him a look that was so innocent, it could have been scraped off of a kitten. Squall sighed and turned back to his desk. "Your report has been noted, Deling correspondent," he said, sternly. Rinoa saluted, and she and Angelo disappeared back over the edge of his desk. After a moment, a hand reached back up and put back a snowglobe that smelt suspiciously of dog. Squall frowned. Eventually he settled for pushing it along the desk with the pencil, leaving a doggy trail in its wake, until it joined the reports in the paperbin filing system. "Esthar report."
Quistis adjusted her glasses and rifled through her paperwork. Squall watched a parade of red Fs flicker past, like a particularly repetitive flipbook. "Esthar is pleased with the alliance with B. Garden," she read. "As proof of their good will, they have provided us with advanced technology. The President hopes that this supply of Estharian training equipment will find good use in our Garden."
"Tell me," said Squall, after a stony silence, "is any of this equipment particularly rope shaped?"
"They light up," Selphie admitted. "And play music! They're really- where are you going?"
"I quit," said Squall, in the doorway, "and am going to start a new life in the Trabian mountains."
"Don't worry," said Rinoa, after the slam of the door had stopped echoing around the room. "He'll be fine. He's just going to stomp down to L1 and get a vending machine coffee."
"No he's not," said Zell, gloomily. "I punched that machine, too."