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Reunion

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Disclaimer: All characters and places are the creation and copyrighted by SquareEnix Inc.,formerly known as Square Soft Inc. Final Fantasy VIII and its respected characters does not belong to me, and by stating this disclaimer I refuse to be hold any liability in terms of violating copyrights, unless you want to sue an extremely poor, on financial-aid college student. ^^;;; Don't bother. I have to save months to buy one of your games.

Warning: This fanfiction is yaoi, though the content is only PG-13. If you do not know what yaoi is, in short term, is male-male relationships. If you cannot accept such genre, please do not read. Thank you! ^_^

Reunion


~~~ Hieru Youko

"… No."

"Oh, c'mon, Squall!!!" she whined, as she tried to do an imitation of a Rinoa-Selphie crossover, which she knew by heart annoyed the hell out of me.

"No." I said, and crossed my arms in front of my chest as I leaned against my doorframe, looking down at the beautiful blonde. The uniform she chose as her business attire, an altered SeeD uniform with the medals that were given to the Elite SeeDs and an honorary member of the White SeeD shined beautifully above her left breast, indicating what a dedicated and brave warrior she had been just years before. Which, at this point, seemed utterly ridiculous as she tried to do a cute valley girl begging act.

"For the last time, Squall, pleeeease?" Quistis clasped her hands together in front of her chest, her eyes large with shining tears, which I'm almost positive to be Visine tears or some other kind of eye drops that she probably gave herself before coming to my dorm, looked up at me with her best chibi performance.

"And for the last time, Quisty. No." I said, narrowing my eyes and standing stern.

"Fine!" Quistis cried loudly, dropping her cute act as she stomped her foot once more. "If you want to play it that way, Squall Leonhart!" she growled as she put her hands on her hips, and pointed one fine finger, painted with red nail polish, right into my face. "I order you, Elite SeeD Squall Leonhart, to accept this mission at once!"

I'm pretty sure my mouth dropped as I gaped at the small woman. "Excuse me?" I asked, after overcoming the brief moment of shock.

This time, Quistis had that triumphant look on her face as she peered up at me, her smirk the more annoying than from Rinoa's whines, which ticked me off tremendously. "Your loss, Leonhart. I'm the SeeD Commander, that means I get to command you to do the mission, whether you like it or not."

For the first time in five years, I hated my decision of giving up that position. I glared down at her, anger was evident in my eyes, which weren't that hard to see as they must've sparkled like dark seawater in a thunderstorm. Quistis yielded nothing, only looked up at me in return with her brilliant blue eyes, victory danced happily in those orbs.

We stood there staring at each other for at least five minutes, ignoring all the odd looks cadets and other SeeDs gave us as they passed my office. Some cadets stayed far, far away, clutching their books and homework that I could tell from the corner of my eye to be the assignment I had recently given them, whispering softly and looking with both interest and fear. What, they think I'll eat Quistis alive or something?

I'll be glad if she doesn't eat ME alive.

Finally, I sighed and closed my eyes, slumping against my doorframe in a defeated way, ending and admitting my loss in the staring contest. "….Whatever." I mumbled, waving my hand in resignation. Quistis squealed in happiness, and pressed a folder to my chest, and made sure I took it before she let it go. She tip-toed a little and planted a kiss on my forehead, and grinned as she walked, no, bounced is more like it, away.

I glared at her departing form, and sighed again as I motioned for the cadets that had been waiting for me to help them with their projects to enter my office. Damn that Quistis.

*****

I gaped at the sight in front of me, and quadruple-checked the address that I copied from the file. City: Deling. Alright…. I'm in the right place, that's for sure…. But never had I thought I would have to… sink THIS low to complete a mission.

Okay, maybe that's an overstatement. The temporary apartment was alright. It wasn't the five-star hotel that we usually stayed in, not that I cared anyway, but it definitely wasn't what you'd call decent. The exterior paint was falling off miserably as the graffiti stained the walls, creating a rather disturbing picture just for the building alone. The lock on the front door looked a million years old, and the windows were so dirtied that I wonder if anybody had cleaned them before. Quistis' little note on the file certainly did NOT soothe me whatsoever — There are NO bugs. Great. I despise insects. I'm not saying I'm a neat freak, but I definitely cannot tolerate insects in my living quarters.

And I have to stay here until I've completed my mission?! I have GOT to ask Quistis what I did that offended her enough to do this to me.

Sighing loudly, I picked up my duffle bag and swung it over my shoulder, and my gunblade case, and pushed open the front door. It creaked loudly as I did, and I looked twice at it as I closed it, making sure it won't fall from the frame the minute I let my hand go. An elderly man sitting behind the counter looked up at me with disinterest, and I presented my lease agreement to him. He took it wordlessly, and tossed me a key.

"No loud music, no furniture breaking, and no carpet staining. When you leave here at the end, you leave your place exactly as you found it. Capice?" he growled with a heavy Italian accent, to which I nodded. The building was about six stories tall, and my apartment was, thank Hyne, on the third floor. The elevator had a large "Out of Order" sign hanging pathetically on one string by a corner, dwindling from the wind that I brought in with me. Not that I would want to take it if it had been working, really….

Minutes later, I arrived in front of my temporary home. I unlocked the door, squinting and braced for the worst. Surprisingly, the apartment was quite nice, contrary to its exterior. The walls were not newly painted, but were kept decent in a vanilla yogurt color, with no stains on them. The carpet was light brown with a grape juice stain near the kitchen, nothing a lamp wouldn't cover up. Upon entering the door to my right was the living room with the kitchen attached, and more inward was the bedroom and the bathroom. The furniture was old, and the TV looked like at least five generations behind, but all were working and decent. The coffee table was quite new compared to the surroundings, and my guess was the last tenant broke it and had to replace it. Surprisingly, a book shelf was placed next to the large window-door, and two books were placed in it. I walked in, closing the door with my foot, and dropped my duffle bag in the living room. I carefully put my gunblade next to the TV set, and opened the window door and walked out to the balcony. There really wasn't any view, per se, but it's considered a luxury in the neighborhood. The wind was chilly in the nights of Deling, and I retreated back inside, closed and locked the door shut and pulled the curtains together.

I sat down on the sofa, and turned on the TV so that there's noise in the room, not caring what channel it was on. Unzipping the duffle bag, I took out the file and made myself comfortable on the couch, studying it just once more. There were some pictures attached, but all too blurry that they weren't any help at all. The information was not as clear as SeeD's usual work, mostly just gossip and talk that couldn't be completely reliable, and some hand-written notes from Quistis. She gave me some words of advice, which I felt was extremely maternal, but read them anyway. A corded phone was sitting on the end table next to the couch, and I picked up the phone to dial Esthar's number. I informed my father about being outside of Balamb for a mission, and assured him that this mission wasn't dangerous or anything. It had become a routine for me nowadays, since Laguna would pester me and called about twenty times a day whenever I'm out on missions, so I started calling him either before or on the job so he wouldn't be worried. Besides, whenever Laguna worries, I always got the 'look' from Kiros and 'tsks' from practically everybody else, and that was something I definitely did not need.

After listening to Laguna telling me to be careful and other stuff for twenty minutes, I hung up and shook my head. A small smile hung on the corner of my lips, and I did nothing to try to conceal it. Even though Rinoa and I never made it past the first year, some of her openness, if you would call it that, rubbed off on me, and I was able to accept my emotions a little better. We parted on good terms, since we both came to the conclusion that there really wasn't any point in trying, and that we were both tired from the relationship. She still called me every once in a while, and we would go out whenever she came to Balamb or I went to Trebia. She's staying with Selphie now and helping the bubbly girl with running the Trebia Garden, and last I heard she was dating somebody she wouldn't disclose. I didn't pry, since I kind of had some ideas already.

The past five years had been uneventful, to say the least. Zell got together with Quistis, and Irvine returned to Galbaldia Garden to become the assistant of the new Headmaster. The Elite SeeD was formed, consisting of the gang who fought against Ultimecia. The job was kind of the same as SeeD, except we had a new uniform (no thanks to Irvine's fashion sense), and the job of cruising around in Ragnorak every two months to make sure the world's alright and there was no Sorceress prancing around looking for trouble. Well, Rinoa doesn't count. Esthar became open to the world and a great tourist attraction, same with the Centra Continent, and new cities began to form on Trebia and Centra. SeeDs became more of an academy of excellence, and less of a military function. Most requests went to Quistis then, who handled them with elegance that I knew I'd lack had I taken the job, and all of us became a teacher in one way or the other. I took the job of teaching strategical planning and physical training, along with philosophy and history. I decided to stay in the Garden because of the free housing, and the new rooms that were created in the last remodel were great in both comfort and elegance. Quistis went all out, and I am not complaining.

I looked at my watch after watching the TV for about 10 minutes, bored out of my mind, and decided to get a jump start on my mission. It was about ten past nine, and the night was still young. I dumped all of my belongings from the duffle bag onto the bed, and in no time organized the contents within in the way I liked them. Smiling at my hard work, I took a long shower to wash away any exhaustion I might had from the trip and the unpacking, and got dressed for the mission. Since this mission was unlike the others, I paid a little bit more attention to the clothes I chose. I put on tight black jeans and a light blue shirt, with the top two buttons opened. My Griever pendent and a sapphire stud earring in my left ear, my wallet chained and into my front pocket, the silver chains dangling in contrast to my jeans, and my ring and watch. I decided to leave my belts alone, and took a sports jacket with me. Light and easy, I hoped.

Grabbing the address of my destination, I locked the door and headed to the deepest part of Deling City, where people called the area "Sin Street."

*****

I stood outside the place for a while, studying the sign with my eyes squinted tightly, the flashing neon lights blinding me. Something about the golden tiger being on in ten minutes, and I felt like I was in one of those comedy anime with a large sweat drop hanging over my head. There was a long line getting into the club, with thunderous music blasting out every time the bouncer opened the door, and I started to foresee a necessity in my health insurance plan — hearing aid. I fell into the line, ignoring some of the wolf whistles tossed my way, and tried my best to look nonchalant and cold without wincing at the music. Not that I have anything against techno or punk, but when they're played at a volume that could bring down the Fire Cave, I really couldn't say I like it. It took almost twenty minutes just to get into the club, and I was almost blasted away by the loud music immediately. Again, damn you, Quistis.

Squeezing between bodies, I wormed my way through the crowd and was lucky enough to land a seat before the other guy had his hand on the back. He was about to complain when I gave him one of my best killer looks, and he backed off. The nearly topless waitress walked over, twisting her hips and squealing every now and then when some guy, or girl, grabbed her ass, and bent down just enough to gave me an ample view of her breasts. "What would you like, handsome?"

"….. Club Soda," I replied, much to her disappointment. She snorted through her nose, and stood up, walking back towards the bar slowly. I couldn't risk getting drunk in a mission, and especially since I'm not that good with alcohol. Last time we all got together Zell spiked everyone's drink and… Well, let's just say that that was the last time anybody gave me any alcohol.

The music suddenly changed into an upbeat one, and the DJ announced loudly to the excited crowd, "Ladies and Gents, heeeeeeere is what you've been waiting for!!! The one. The only. The mighty Golden….. TIGER!!!!!!!"

The lights began to dance crazily on the stage, with the curtains fluttering madly. The waitress that was just here put down the club soda on the small table I was leaning against, and took my gil without saying thank you. I sipped the club soda gingerly, testing it first to see if anyone spiked it, and thank Hyne they didn't. Just when I took a mouthful, the curtains swung open and a man clad in dark suit danced out. A mask like those seen in old movies featuring royalty having a masquerade ball covered the upper portion of his face, and he walked with confidence to the walkway that extended out from the stage. Both women and men screamed in delight and joy upon seeing him, the name Golden Tiger kept on being chanted as he danced around the stage.

And I spit out my club soda and began coughing as I got a close look at the man. Nobody cared, not even the girl I unfortunately wetted. All of their attention focused on the man on the stage.

The man I was there to get.

Seifer Almasy.


When I got back to the apartment, I wasn't sure what to do. I had got out of the club before seeing the complete show, and I was blushing despite the fact that the night had been chilly. When I sat down on the sofa, I could see from my reflection in the dark TV screen that I was in shock. My eyes were wide and my mouth was gaping, and I looked like I'd just seen a ghost.

Maybe I did. Yeah. That probably was it.

Stumbling to the kitchen, I grabbed my mug with the words "1998 Balamb Tournament" and the logo on the side and filled it with water, then gulped down in a hurry. The water cooled the heat on my face a little, but I bet that I still looked like an overripe apple. I slumped against the sink, trying to collect my head. Or what's left of it after that shock. Whatever.

So that's why Quistis demanded me to come…. So that's why the information was so unclear. Quistis wasn't sure if the gossip and the talk were true, and she didn't want to risk exposing Seifer to either the public or to the SeeDs that may be assigned to collect the data. She sent me because she knew that I am probably the only one that could confront Seifer without flinching, and she kept it in such hush-hush tone for Seifer's dignity.

I am so demanding a raise or a bonus for the shock she put me through tonight.

Finding myself still able to joke mentally, I pushed my body off the sink and trotted back into the living room, another cup full of water in my hand. I set the mug down, and sat on the sofa once more. I calmed myself, or at least, tried my best, and started going through the options that were presented to me at the moment. I could stalk him and find out where he lives, but knowing Seifer he'd probably sense it in the middle and beat the hell out of me… Or I could confront Seifer directly and get beaten the hell out of regardless. Either way I don't think Seifer would be thrilled to see me, especially since after I found out what he was doing.

That really sucked.

I sat there for an hour going through options and questions continuously, the legal pad I put on the coffee table had been drawn upon with question marks after question marks. Scribbles splattered all over the page and even a stick figure or two had popped out, indicating how confused and irritated I am about the ways to approach Seifer. At the end, I sighed and tossed the legal pad down to the floor, and lay down on the couch.

What was Seifer thinking!? I screamed mentally as I stared up the stucco-painted ceiling. Had he lost his mind completely after Ultimecia?! I began to trace my memories back to the past five years to see what I've heard of Seifer. I remember right after we came back from the Time Compression that Seifer had been in the Fisherman's Horizon staying with Fujin and Raijin and doing nothing but fishing. I remember Balamb passed by there and I've see him staring up at us as we drove through, and he didn't see me looking at him from the balcony. But later on I remember hearing about Fujin and Raijin separated during their marriage and Seifer left them to find his own path, and that's the last I've heard of him.

I didn't particularly put any effort on finding him and keeping in touch for the next year, mostly because I didn't know how and why. I knew that every once in a while I would be in my bed looking up at the ceiling and wondering where Seifer was, how he was doing, and stuff like that. Besides, Rinoa and I were breaking up at this point, and Laguna decided to take that time, nearly two years after the Sorceress War, to reveal his paternity to me. I had been suspecting it ever since our Triple Triad game on the Ragnorak, but I didn't ask him and just waited. I don't know why I didn't ask him. Maybe because I was afraid to get rejected, even though Laguna and I looked a lot alike. But there were too many horrifying stories I'd seen on the news where parents neglect their children maliciously, or in those soap operas Rinoa so enjoys about parents not wanting to acknowledge their kids after leaving them for a long time. I just didn't want to get my hopes up and come crashing down again. But when Laguna told me, I actually felt relieved. Then it took us an awkward six months to learn how to be father and son, where he had watched too many TV shows and movies and I had watched too few. He literally kidnapped me to Esthar for a good month, making me drop my classes that semester, and dragged me around to dinner, to movies, to games, and to all sort of things that he thought a father and a son should do together. Eventually, Kiros talked him out of these crazy things, probably after seeing my face darkened more and more as the days went by, and he loosened up a bit with the activities. We then started talking, mostly Laguna talked and I listened, and slowly learned about each other and our lives. I learned that he was a big baseball fan, and he loved Mahjongg as much as I do. And I've shared my likes and dislikes with him, and the remaining part of the month we, along with Kiros and Ward, played Mahjongg almost every night. Laguna sucked at it though.

When I finally got back to Balamb, I heard that Seifer was missing. Raijin and Fujin had gotten back together, and called us asking if we had seen Seifer. They told us that Seifer had stopped contacting them, and his cellphone and home phone had been disconnected. They went to his last known address, which was in Galbaldia, and found the apartment to be occupied by somebody else. There was no forwarding address, and the landlady was not really nice to them when they asked about Seifer. Couple days after Seifer was gone the new President of Galbaldia made a speech and blamed almost everything that had gone wrong from the Sorceress War until now to Seifer, claiming that it was Seifer's fault that the economy had slipped, and the budget surplus was gone and this and that bullshit. Quistis made a surprising move by calling the President after his speech and demanded a recantation, or else all SeeD organizations would never associate with Galbaldia, and he did. But the bad seeds had been planted, and now Galbaldia wasn't necessarily kind to Seifer. Irvine had told us that there were some people forming small groups determined to find Seifer and kill him, and he had broken up several of them. We were all worried for Seifer then, and finally, the hatred had died down after nearly a year. Irvine and the Galbaldia Garden had done a wonderful job of infiltrating the citizens and spreading kind words to placate the citizens, while severely punishing the ones that tried to form groups to kill Seifer, and it took a while, but eventually, the uproar vanished.

Even then Seifer didn't contact either us or Raijin and Fujin. He missed his posse's first born son, and yet Fujin still appointed Seifer as the kid's godfather. They named the kid Seph, and we were all there to congratulate the couple. The kid was adorable, and he even made Quistis want a kid. I was actually mad at Seifer for not being there for the big moment, but Fujin said that Seifer must have his reasons for not contacting us. Still, it was quite upsetting for me and some of the others.

But now, seeing Seifer here in Deling…. I suddenly understand why he didn't contact us. I don't think Seifer was ashamed of what he was doing, since he was damn good at it, but rather, he knew what society's view on his career was and he didn't want to see the disapproving look in everyone's eyes. Besides, he was hiding from the world's hatred towards him, and I cringed at the thought of how that must've felt. I sighed, feeling sympathetic towards my childhood rival.

Now that the first question had been cleared out of the way, I got up, cleaned myself up, undressed and crawled into bed. Sleep didn't come to me immediately, and I found myself thinking of Seifer even more. I remember the bare torso I'd seen today, and the way he was dancing. So gracefully, so powerful, so…. sexy.

I blushed at the thought, and shook my head furiously to clear the image of Seifer crawling towards the extended walk way purring loudly. Even I found it arousing, and I was branded by Rinoa as lacking of sexual interest. I mean, just because I don't jump her every chance I get doesn't mean I don't like sex. I just don't think about it that often and despise to let my lower half body control me. That's more Irvine's territory.

Just before I fell asleep with the image of Seifer ripping open his shirt, I found myself asking loudly in my mind — Why haven't I ever noticed how sexy Seifer is?

*****

I woke up with a sticky feeling on my legs. At first I was puzzled at why I felt so uncomfortable, then I realized that I had orgasmed from that steamy dream I had. Cursing loudly, I ripped the sheets off my bed and blushed furiously as I dumped it into the bin I dedicated for laundry, and stepped into the showers. Now I felt like throwing a Rinoa tantrum….

After taking a long cold shower that was enough to chill even Irvine, I got out a bit stiff thanks to the freezing water. Drying myself quickly and putting on the warmest clothes I could find in the closet, I grabbed my keys and wallet and headed out. The cold wind greeted me mercilessly and I tugged my sports jacket closer, shivering as I sneezed. I found a coffee and pastry shop in the corner, and ordered a large cup of cafe latte with an extra shot of espresso and a danish. Taking my breakfast to a small table overlooking the empty street, I sat down and started nibbling. I looked up with disinterest as the bell jingled, and my eyes widened. Who other than the man that made me almost give myself a cold walked in with a large yawn, and leaned over the counter as he purred to the cashier and ordered his regular. The girl obviously swooned at his presence, and he picked up a newspaper from the rack near the counter and sat down on the other side of the shop. Minutes later she served him his coffee and donut, and chatted with him for a while before bouncing back behind the counter.

I found myself studying him blatantly, surprised that he didn't see me sitting in the corner. Then again, he wasn't really looking around the store when he walked in. His hair was longer now, but just a little, as he still kept his hair chisley short in the back and let his bangs grow and fall forward to cover his scar. He wore glasses that reminded me of a scholar, and I found that to be utterly beautiful on him. I never thought he needed glasses… and I never thought how much a pair of lenses could make a person look so attractive. He had a little frown line in between his eyebrows, probably because he was frowning as he read the news, and I found myself actually sighing softly in relief to see that he had no ring on his left hand. He was wearing dark kahki pants and a light brown turtleneck sweater, and a chain draped from his pocket to his belt, my guess was to his wallet.

I was, however, proven wrong as he took out a pocketwatch that was at the other end of his chain, and opened the cover to look at the time. I saw him caress the inside of the cover where most people keep a picture in there, his God-like features softened in an almost loving smile as he studied the picture with a forlonging glance. I felt myself twinge slightly in jealousy. He put it back into his pocket, and went back to his newspaper. Normally, when you're trying to spy on someone, you would not stare at them for too long directly, or else the target would get the feeling of somebody watching them after a while and take off. But at that moment, I found myself mesmerized by his features. His entire being was like a light, and my eyes were like moths being hopelessly attracted to it. Even in casual wear, with him letting his guard down as he enjoyed his breakfast and his newspaper, he looked like a Greek God come to life. I remember hearing some girls a long time ago when we were both cadets described him as a Nordic God, and I had laughed at them mentally back then. Well, now if anybody would asked me, I would nod immediately with no doubt in mind.

He finally sighed and looked up, as if he was getting tired of being studied for so long and was ready to confront that person as he turned to me, and whatever he was planning on yelling or barking dissipated as his eyes widened in recognition, and I blushed almost immediately as I stared into his aquamarine eyes. Hyne, how I've missed those eyes…. We just stared at each other for the longest time, and even though we were sitting at the opposite ends of the shop, it felt like we were right next to each other. The girl at the counter, who was obviously attracted to Seifer, walked between us purposely as she refilled Seifer's cup and glared at me, breaking our trance. He stood up, and walked towards me. I swallowed and shifted in my seat, hating myself for being such a high school girl getting all nervous because the hottest guy in school is approaching me.

"……Hey," he said, stopping just inches away from me, looking down. I could tell he was doing what I was moments ago, studying me and looking for any differences I had acquired in the past five years. I had let my hair grow even longer, but not as long as my father had. I had gotten rid of the multiple belts and the bomber jacket routine, and now I preferred more comfortable, cashmere styles. I really didn't look that different from the past, except that my facial expression probably was softer than before because I had finally, as Zell put it so eloquently, 'got out of my shell'.

I cleared my throat and slapped myself silly mentally, "Hey…" I said, and almost immediately wanted to commit suicide for the stupidity I heard in my voice. Get your bearings together, Squall! Or have you just been hopelessly converted into a male version of Rinoa now?! Damn!

My voice seemed to snap him out of his trance, and he grinned as he turned and walked away from me. Panic filled my heart immediately, but I relaxed when I saw him grab his coffee and newspaper and walk back towards me. He sat down on the chair across the table, and put down his coffee. "Haven't seen you in a while," he said, his voice sending chills down my spine. Since WHEN had Seifer Almasy learned to talk in such a low baritone that could practically seduce others with just its timbre?! "How's it going?"

"Um…. nothing major…." I said stupidly, and for the first time hating my voice to be in a high tenor. "You…? You're looking well."

Seifer snickered, "Wow, I'm actually getting a response from Squall Leonhart. I gotta buy a lotto today." he joked, but unlike the past, there was no malice in his tone, but pure amusement. I glared at him, which made him chuckle lowly.

"Shut up, Seifer," I growled, which didn't sound threatening at all. "Where have you been?! We've been looking all over for you!"

Seifer shrugged, and crossed his legs as he leaned back on the chair, studying me with an emotion that I've never seen, or rather, noticed before in his eyes. I tried my best to analyze it, but I really couldn't. So I gave up. "Oh, here, there, everywhere…." he replied, and stood, kicked the chair so it flipped and sat down, resting his arms on the back of the chair as he leaned forward, straddling the lucky thing.

Wait, what was that I just thought about that chair?!

"Don't play games with me, Seifer…" I said, trying to sound as dangerous as I could.

My rival grinned happily and kept his silence, and a flick of… pain? crossed his eyes as he stared at me. Pain???

"Nothing. After Raijin and Fujin got separated, I felt it wasn't my place to staywith them and be the largest lightbulb of the universe, so I packed up and left. I travelled until I ran out of money, and settled here. As for why I haven't contacted anybody…" he paused slightly, and shrugged again, "I got robbed and my address book was lost. You? How is Rinoa?"

I knew immediately that was a lie. A front he just put up to shun me, but I didn't say anything. If he wasn't about to tell me the truth, I didn't want to force him. The mission was to get Seifer back to the Garden, but Quistis didn't give me a deadline. I have all the time I want to interrogate this man. This arrogant, ever-so-confident, goddamn sexy—-

Okay, stop that train of thought.

"Alright. She's in Trebia now, helping Selphie run the Trebia Garden," I answered, sipping my cold cafe latte.

"Trebia?" Seifer asked in surprise, "What's she doing in Trebia?! Isn't that a bit far from you?! I didn't know she liked long distance relationships…."

I shook my head, "She doesn't. We broke up about nine months after the Time Compression."

This time, Seifer had a look of relief and… giddiness? in his eyes. So clear that I knew I wasn't imagining things. "Huh. I see. So you both singles now?"

I felt a sharp pain in my heart out of nowhere, and I wondered if Seifer was happy because he wanted to get back with Rinoa. It had to be, since he asked if she was single… well, technically he asked about us, but he must've meant to ask about her without sounding too obvious. "I am, and I guess yes about her too, but the last time we talked she sounded like she was dating someone. Nothing serious yet, though." I answered honestly. If Seifer wanted to pursue Rinoa, who am I to stop him? Besides, Rinoa could probably be a lure for me to get Seifer back to Balamb.

The giddiness in Seifer eyes didn't die away, it only intensified. I wondered where Seifer got his confidence from, seeing how he looked so sure of getting Rinoa back. I found the thought of seeing Seifer and Rinoa together uncomfortable to me.

"So, um…" I started, clearing my throat a little, and tried to avoid his eyes. He was giving me a look that I couldn't understand, something in between amusement and a smile, so I decided to look away for just a little while. "What are you doing now?"

"Well, I got a job in the local library…" he said nonchalantly, "And a part-time job whenever my gil runs short."

I was actually surprised to hear him mention the part-time job, wondering if he had seen me the night before. "Oh. Library? I never saw you as… a librarian."

"Neither did I," he laughed and waved it off, "But it's good money, and gives me a lot of time to read and think. I'm quite fond of reading now, an art that I purposely forgot to pick up back in the Garden. Besides, our library is filled with technical books. I like fiction better."

That's probably where the glasses are from… I know that by personal experience once I start reading I can't stop until it's pitch black. But that was only when I had time to read. Nowadays I am swarmed with papers and homework turned in from the students that I haven't any time to read anymore.

"So, what about you?" he asked, sipping his coffee. "What is the SeeD Commander doing in the lower part of Deling?"

I shook my head, "The SeeD Commander is still in Balamb. I passed that job to Quistis a while back. Right now I'm just a professor that got away for a while."

"A teacher, huh?" he purred, sending another chill down my spine. Damn, I wished he would stop that. "Nice… I never imagined you being a teacher, but I'm sure your students love you."

"They're… alright." I said hesitantly. How was I to know if they liked me or not? It's not like I have a radar to check or anything. Besides, admittedly, I'm denser than even Selphie in terms of human emotions.

Seifer scoffed, "A person has to stand right in front of you and profess their love to you to let you know their feelings, Squall. You're smart, but not in the emotion department."

I rolled my eyes, "…Whatever…"

Seifer tossed his head back and laughed out loud, causing the other customers to look towards us curiously. He got up, and tossed down some gil on the table for his and my breakfast. He pulled me up with one hand, and took his newspaper with another, "Come on," he said, leading me out the door with no room for the alternative, not that I had any objections at all, "Walk me to the library. I'm gonna be late if we don't start walking."

The wind was less freezing than earlier, but it still gave me enough shivers that I gripped my jacket a bit more. Even though on a geographical stand point, Balamb and Deling is almost at the same longitude and should have the same weather, the truth was that Balamb was decidedly warmer than Deling because of the forest and the beach. I glared at Seifer, wondering how he could survive this weather with just a sweater. He noticed my fear of the cold wind, something I always had a weakness about, and smiled as he trotted to my right side, walking just a tad faster in front of me to block the wind. The gesture was surprisingly genuine, and kind. I felt flattered and almost…. loved. Well, that might be just my hallucination, since Seifer liked Rinoa and all.

We chit-chatted our way to the library, which was about a good twenty minutes walk, catching up on the five years. He never mentioned why he lied about losing our phone numbers, since I'm sure he knew Balamb and Galbaldia's by heart. And it's not like he couldn't just dial information or open the yellow pages to ask for the Garden's phone number. I'm sure we're listed in every major and minor yellow pages in the world. I felt a small rage building up inside of me, but ignored it as I listened to him talk and answered his questions about the others. I would analyze that rage when I got home.

When we arrived at the library, he had me wait near the counter as he went inside the office and punched in. He then made brief conversation with his co-workers, and came back out. He walked to the door and unlocked the front door officially, and switched the CLOSED sign to OPEN. He smiled warmly to an elderly lady who happened to be today's first patron, and took her return books with a "Good Morning." She smiled at him maternally, and patted his hand as she walked in, mumbling about what a nice gentleman Seifer was. I found myself studying all this with interest, never seeing this side of Seifer before. He had matured so much that I felt so little standing next to him.

As the hours passed, more and more people poured into the library. I remained near the counter and watched him work, listening to him talking to the patrons gently and sometimes striking up a joke or two with them as he helped them either borrow or return the books. Seeing how today was a Sunday, there were a lot of people coming in and out of the library, and soon the cart of the returned books was filled. Another librarian came and took over the counter, and Seifer pushed the cart out.

"Come on, give me a hand," he said simply, and started walking into the deeper part of the library. I followed him, listening to him briefly explain how the books are labelled, and demonstrated once for me. I picked up a small stack, and started putting them onto the shelves where they belong, stopping occassionally as Seifer corrected me when I made a mistake. We took our time, just enjoying each other's company, and stopped when the large cart was emptied. He took out the pocket watch and looked at the time as we walked back to the counter together, and smiled at me, where I had two books, one by John Grisham and the other by Michael Connelly, in my hand. He returned the cart into the office and took the books from my hand, and gave me a form as he took out a new library card silently. I filled the form out and gave it back to him, enjoying this silent companionship immensely. It was as if he knew what I was thinking. Our past rivalry had been so long ago, yet this almost felt unreal. We were interacting as if we had been together forever.

Together? Why would I find that so… desireable?

Do I want to be with him? But as what? Friend? No… I know for a fact that I don't want to be his friend, but why, I have no idea. But I don't know what else though….

"All done," Seifer said softly, standing next to me as I snapped my head up. He chuckled and shook his head, "You were talking to yourself again, weren't you, Squall?"

"Just…. thinking." I said slowly, reaching out to take the books but he hid them from me. I fumed and glared up.

"I won't give them back to you unless you have lunch with me," he said coyly, a triumphant smirk that so mirrored Quistis' on his face. I glared at him, and reached to his right, a fake move that he didn't detect, and immediately snatched the books from his left hand. This time, it was me that grinned triumphantly to him as he chuckled, and reached out, tapped my nose lightly. I blinked, not understanding the gesture.

"C'mon, my treat. Though I must warn you, it's not five-star cuisine like in the Garden," he said, taking my hand and starting to walk out of the library as if that was something he had done all his life. So naturally. I looked down at our connected hands, and felt a light heat across my face as I followed him out.

"As long as it's not hot dogs, I don't mind," I said, noticing that even though I was walking next to him, he didn't let go of my hands, and I liked the feeling of him holding my hands….

Seifer laughed, "Deal. I know of this burger joint that may look a bit dirty, but their food is divine."

*****

It turned out that I spent my entire day with Seifer. After we ate (which, by the way, was incredibly delicious despite the fact that the restaurant was grimy and dirty, and looked more like a mafia joint with the grumpy-looking chef and an overweight old waitress) we went back to the library, and I helped him reshelve the books whenever the cart was filled. He pulled a chair next to the counter in a place where I wouldn't be in the way of others for me, and I sat there reading and studying him all afternoon. After his shift was over, we went to dinner, my treat this time, though he led the way, our hands joined the whole time, and he took me home. He was surprised to see me stay in such a rundown apartment, and I lied to him about me not wanting to be too easy to find, since I ran away and stuff. I don't know if he bought it, and if he didn't, he said nothing.

When I got back, I called Quistis to let her know that the mysterious figure was confirmed to be Seifer, but I only told her that he's working as a librarian. When she pressed about him being a stripper, I lied and said I hadn't checked the club yet. She reminded me again of getting him back to the Garden no matter what or how or how long, and I just nodded idly. I still don't understand why Seifer would want to be a stripper, but from the looks of things, he was having a life that he liked, and I don't think it's Quistis', or even my place, to meddle with it.

The next two weeks was almost the same as my first day of getting in contact with Seifer. Everyday we would meet at the coffee shop, and enjoy our breakfast together either talking or reading, him with his newspaper and I with my books. I was surprised to learn that he kept a close tab on current affairs, and he had a very sharp and clear political mind when he looked at the events happening around. He would criticize the ways leaders have taken and analyze them with his theories, and I would listen to him with intent interest. I never thought of Seifer as someone that could analyze something with no prejudice or bias, and could see things as they are and through them clearly. It was amazing to listen to his theory and his predictions, and see the exact thing happening days later.

Seifer also had a sharp sense of humor, something that I never noticed when we were rivals. He also had a soft side that he hid so well before, but now displayed them freely to the public. I could tell by hanging around him in the library that many elderly men and women loved him like their own grandson, and enjoyed his company as much as I did. They would sometimes sneak in homemade cookies and muffins for him, and he would take me to the back room to share. His co-workers, mostly in their 40s, treated him like a son and always cried melodramatically if they caught us eating without inviting them. Then Seifer would do his best to feign a girlish scream and do an overt queen-ish drama of begging for forgiveness, and a play would ensue before me that I would be laughing so hard I couldn't eat anything without choking. Then Seifer would look at me with a smile and a warmth in his eyes that I still couldn't figure out what and study my laughter, and I would blush and look away and nibble at my food.

I had also been wandering around the club where I found Seifer strip dancing, listening to others talk about him and seeing that he hadn't been there for a while, starting about when I showed up. I'd asked about how to know if he'd be there, and word was that the club would post signs about a day before to announce his presence the next evening. Apparently, he's the hottest man in Deling, yet nobody, not even his owner, knew his true identity. He had a way of hiding himself well. I wonder how I was able to see through him immediately that night.


Weeks went by, then months. I spent almost every day with Seifer, our routine was mostly us having all three meals together, and spending time in the library. I eventually applied and got accepted as some sort of intern or volunteer in the library, seeing how I was there everyday. Seifer was my mentor, and taught me everything I needed to know about being a librarian. I found out that he had been taking online courses in Library Arts, and was about eight units shy or something from graduating. He was really excited about getting his diploma, and we agreed that I would make him a fancy meal and he would bring the wine to celebrate his graduation.

Quistis was extremely concerned when I seemed to have forgotten my mission, and I had to reassure her constantly that I remembered. She was also unhappy about me taking nearly six months to complete this mission, but I made up all sorts of difficulties I'm facing and how Seifer showed no indication of wanting to go back to Balamb, which was true, and that I needed more time to convince him. Quistis was to a point where she wanted me to just tie Seifer up like some kind of sacrificial offering on a stick and bring him back to Balamb. I laughed at the thought and brushed it off. I knew she was upset because I had abandoned my students and the classes I'm responsible of, and even though there were ample teachers around to substitute or even take over, she still felt that I should be the one teaching the class. The only time I didn't spend time with Seifer was the Elite SeeDs patrol, which Seifer knew about, and I made up another lie about how Quistis caught me but agreed to let me rest but I had to show up for the patrols. We both know I'm a horrible liar, but Seifer accepted it nontheless.

He came by my apartment several times, and I his. His apartment was neat and cozy, with his Hyperion mounted on the wall and a small cat which I adored immensely, and the most attractive feature was he had a fireplace, however small it was. It was also a one bedroom apartment, but was in a slightly better neighborhood than mine. Also, his building looked a lot nicer than mine, which made me question Quistis' choice of abode. He helped me decorate my apartment, however temporary it was, so that it looked cozy and not so hotel-like. I suck at that anyway.

We often spent the night at each other's apartment. We would rent movies and watch them until we both fell asleep, or play video games until one of us screamed of dizziness and passed out. Everytime I went on the Elite SeeD patrol I would steal home some more video games or DVDs that I bought during my trip or my Father gave me, and some board games and stuff as well. The others would question my 'secret mission', but I just smiled and shrugged it off. I found my smile to be enough to silence them; maybe it was that scary. I don't know.

Seifer never set foot into the club anymore, and I found myself dying of curiosity but I couldn't ask him. Besides, I couldn't drop by the club since we were practically glued to each other, and leaving the apartment, no, leaving Seifer's side would practically be too obvious. It was odd how much time we spent together and we never got tired of each other. We had fights, yes, but they were so trivial that it was funny. We would argue about which actor or actress is better, or what we want to eat that night, or even just the answers in the Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire show reruns. We both loved Game Show Network, and we would keep score for each show to see who wins. So far, we were still tied, though I'm better at Lingo and he's definitely good in the Russian Roulette. We both sucked at the Weakest Link, but we loved Anne Robinson's dark humor to death.

I found that Seifer enjoyed bodily contact. When I asked him about it, he just shrugged and said it felt good, and in falsetto claimed that it's what his therapist recommended. That earned him a kick in the spleen, wherever that is. Whenever we watched TV, he enjoyed putting his arm around my shoulder, or holding my hand or wrapping his arms around me if I was sitting on the floor. I really didn't mind, and to be honest, I enjoyed the attention and the touches he gave me, but I would often wonder about the meaning. I didn't know what I wanted him to mean, and I was afraid to even fathom a thought, so I just let it pass. Sometimes I would find him watching me instead of watching TV, and he would claim that he's studying art. Yeah, right. That would also earn him a kick to the spleen.

Deling snows, and whenever it does, we would snuggle under all the blankets we could find in the apartment and sip hot cocoa. I always brought my blankets over, along with my DVDs and my video games, and camped out in front of his fireplace when it snowed. I would fell asleep and wake up finding myself in his lap, with a blanket draped over me, and he would just smile and walk away. He would turn the heat on and light the fireplace, and walk around the house in shorts or light T-shirts, knowing how much I was afraid of the cold and didn't care how hot he felt. As the days got warmer we would shift our camp to my apartment, where it was cooler compared to his. Sometimes on our off days when we didn't need to work we would just read and enjoy a silent day, and even though not a single word would be spoken in hours, it felt like we were…. in Heaven.

And that's what I felt for the past year. Until Quistis demanded my return to the Garden.


"Must you go?" Seifer whined, helping me put my books and DVDs into the large cardboard box I was shipping back to the Garden. He looked so cute with his pouty lips, which he mimicked Rinoa as best as he could, making me crack up and start laughing. He then stomped his foot, doing his best impression of Selphie and crossed his arms. "I'm serious, you big meanie!" he cried in falsetto, and I only laughed harder.

When I finally caught my breath, I patted his arm and nodded, "I still have work there…. You could come with me, if you want." I suggested, the mission completely out of my mind. I'd left the folder in the Garden the first time I went on the Elite SeeD patrol, since I didn't need it.

Seifer shook his head, and stroked my cheek with his large hand, a gesture I found soothing. "Nah… It's alright. I have work here too, even though it's not as important as yours…"

My eyes darkened at his tone, a tone filled with sadness and longing that I had never heard before. I lowered my head, and turned to finish packing, using scotch tape to seal the box tight. I came with one duffle bag, and now I'm leaving with a suitcase and a cardboard box. After everything's packed, I sat on the bed, and sighed.

To be honest, I didn't want to go back to the Garden, at all. I wanted to stay here. Stay in this… Heaven. Stay with Seifer. We were having so much fun together, and to me, now, Garden means lonely and work. A lot of work. Sure, the pay was certainly better than the librarian work, but it's also boring and tedious.

Most of all…. Seifer wouldn't be there.

I looked up when I heard him move, and I saw a key in front of me. It was connected to a small, cheap teddy bear keychain that was adorable, despite the poor workmanship. I looked up to Seifer, puzzled as I studied his beautiful aquamarines.

"Take it," he said, taking my hand and putting the key on my palm, then closed my fingers around it. "I'll always be here, and if you want to come back… well, it'll fit no matter what. If you don't want to, at least it's a souvenir."

I studied him, still being mesmerized by his sea green eyes even after a year, and noticing the sadness within. Why would he be sad? I never felt sad when Selphie or Rinoa left for Trebia, or Irvine left for Galbaldia. I mean, I missed them and all, but I never felt sad because they were leaving my immediate area…. And as I was pondering the question, I found myself being sad as well. But this didn't make sense!!! Why would Seifer be more special than the others???

And somehow, I think I knew the answer, I was just afraid to confirm it.

Nodding, I took the key and pressed it to my heart for a brief moment, before slipping it into my pocket. I rubbed his arm as comforting as I could, and turned as I picked up the suitcase. He picked up the cardboard box for me, and together, we walked down the stairs. I dropped my key to the same old man at the counter, who smiled and patted my arm and said goodbye. We took a cab to the Deling Port, where the ship going to Balamb had been waiting. I checked in, and filled out the shipment form for my suitcase and my cardboard box, and we stood side by side and watched as the luggage rolled down that conveyer belt after being scanned.

The two of us went and got ourselves each a sandwitch and a Coke, and we ate in silence as we looked out at the sea. The day was beautiful, and sea gulls flew above the ship and the umbrellas of the cafe, flying down occassionally to eat the bread crumbs kids fed them with glee. But compared to the day, I felt miserable. Finishing my lunch, I tossed the trash into the nearby trash bin, and sighed loudly as I slumped over the railing. Seifer's eyes never left me.

We continued our silence, each deep in our thoughts, until the ship roared, and the captain announced through the public radio that all passengers heading to Balamb should board the ship immediately. Normally, I could just ask for a SeeD transport, seeing how I am an Elite SeeD and I have seniority and stuff, but I refused when Quistis offered, and wanted to take the ship just like anybody else. I felt such weight as I started to walk towards the boarding bridge, Seifer close behind me. I got before the bridge, and turned, looking back at Seifer. We stepped out of the way so other passengers could board first, and I lowered my head, the ground was suddenly more interesting.

I didn't know how long it was before the second PR announcement was heard, and I fidgeted a little. "I… gotta go," I said softly, not wanting to leave at all. He reached over, and tilted my chin, forcing me to look at him. Before I could ask him what was wrong, he bent down and kissed me. It wasn't a tongue-involved kiss like the ones Rinoa had always wanted, but more like lips against lips, and him chewing my bottom lip in loving abuse. My eyes widened, and slowly closed, just feeling him taking me into his arms, not caring if anybody could see us, and feeling this kiss, though soft, but with more passion than I had ever felt before. We parted slowly, and he smiled sadly at me as I broke away, and boarded the ship. I stood by the doorway until the sailor closed the ship, and he kept that smile the entire time, until I couldn't see him anymore.

I touched my lips, knowing exactly what I had to do.


It wasn't really an argument, per se…. But more like a trial of sorts. When I got back to Balamb, I went directly to Quistis' office, not even bothering to unpack or freshen up. The ship had taken nearly sixteen hours, considered extremely slow with our technology, but I didn't mind a bit. I sat in my seat along the way and just thought about the situation, not so much of what I had to do, since I already knew, but more of how. But… I never did expect this when I got back.

See, my plan was just to go in, with the resignation letter I had in hand, claiming that I had failed my mission and wished to be relieved permanently and some other bullshit reasons and just give it to Quistis, and leave. I would then take the returning ship, departing a week after my return, and back to Deling and reapply for my librarian job. It should be plain and simple, right?

Wrong.

When I walked into Quistis' office, the first thing that shocked me was that all of my friends were there. Quistis was sitting in her Commander chair, Zell sitting on the table next to her, and Selphie and Rinoa were sitting in the loveseat nearby, talking amongst themselves. Irvine sat in the single sofa next to the girls, trying his best to strike up a conversation with them to no avail. My dad sat across from the girls with Kiros, chatting happily about something. When I came in, all conversation stopped and I swallowed. This is like…. Judge and Jury, with me as the defendant. I want to either turn around and just leave immediately, or sing 'Rescue Me' at the top of my lungs and hope for Seifer to come in shining armor.

"Welcome back, Squall," Quistis said calmly and almost coldly, which made me swallow. "Please, have a seat." she pointed at a chair that's the single sofachair opposite of Irvine, against the wall, in the center. I swear I could see the word 'persecution' written all over the black leather cover upholstery.

Gingerly, I sat down, looking at all the people from literally all over the world coming here to… kill me? Um, no, eat me alive is more like it. I tried my best to put on my emotionless face, crossing my legs as I sat back into the chair. There was a little commotion as Irvine changed his seat and relocated next to Kiros, and Quistis sat down directly across from me, with Zell preparing some paperwork from the table.

"So…. Had a nice trip?" the Queen asked ever so delicately, but venom was literally dripping from her words. I shrugged, pretended to not notice.

"I apologize for failing the mission," I said immediately. Better to acknowledge the crime first, right? The sentencing should be lighter in most cases. I didn't want much, just kick me out of the Garden and I'd be happy.

Quistis took a dramatic breath, and nodded, "Ah, yes… The mission. I thought you had forgotten about it. Any reports?"

I shook my head, "Just like the last telephone transmission, Commander, there was no change in status. The target has not returned to the alluded activity and had no intention in cooperating with the Garden." I chose my words carefully, even though I'm pretty sure that all those present knew I was talking about Seifer. But I couldn't take that one chance someone might not know about the mission and exploit Seifer's secret, even though it wasn't much of a secret anymore, seeing how he never went back to the club again.

Quistis nodded, seemingly in deep thought. Zell had come and stood next to her with the paperwork in hand, and just waited silently. I took the chance in studying everyone's faces, and grunted mentally as they all put on a poker face that prevented me to even start guessing. I stared at my father the longest, trying to read anything from his eyes, but he avoided my eyes and looked to Quistis, and I cursed silently for his trick.

"See, Squall, here's our problem," Quistis began again, and I shifted my attention back to our Queen. Hey, don't laugh about her nickname, because you know she deserved that name in every aspect. "You've not only failed your mission, but cost us a great deal of money in vain."

"Huh?" I asked out loud, trying not to sound as stupid as it looked like, though I knew I was failing miserably. "Since when have I wasted money?"

"The apartment rental, the credit card usage," Zell listed as he looked at the paperwork, and I cut him off short.

"The apartment was rented at 300 gil a month, and I know my salary can cover that. Credit card, I used maximum three times for a total of no more than 2000 gil, and I have no problem of paying it back. Next."

I heard Rinoa whisper to Selphie, "See, I told you he'd keep track of it."

Zell shrugged and continued, "The loss of a potential SeeD and an Elite SeeD, and four teachers that were invaluable to the Garden. Not to mention travelling cost."

"Say what!?" my eyes widened in disbelief as I stared at the little blonde, "This is a solitary mission, how did—–" then it dawned on me. I sank into my seat, and blushed furiously as I covered my face with my hand, peeking through the crack between my index finger and my middle finger. They KNEW?!

Selphie jumped up and screamed, "BOOYA!!!!!!!!" and high-fived, low-fived with Zell. My father bursted out laughing and leaned into Kiros, clinging to the dark man who was grinning and trying his best not to laugh. Rinoa giggled, and Quistis chuckled as well. Irvine shook his head, and gave me a gun shot gesture with a smirk.

Great. I've been set up.

"How long did you know?" I asked after Quistis broke up Selphie and Zell's victory dances around the room with a wave, and Selphie bounced into my lap and hugged me. I glared at her, and looked at Quistis.

"Oh, right about when you started saying that there were unforeseen difficulties in getting Seifer back because of this and that…." she twirled her hair with her finger, feigning innocencet. "I asked Irvine to take a look to see what's wrong, actually afraid that Seifer had been difficult."

Irvine snickered, "But when I saw you guys walking hand-in-hand down the street back into his apartment with groceries in hand, well, let's just say within the next forty-eight hours everybody knew."

"Jeez….." I hung my head, and Selphie laughed and ruffled my hair. She saw an edge of the folded paper I had in my inner pocket, and snapped it out of my pocket.

"Ah~~~~! Resignation letter!!!! See!! We weren't wrong at all!!!!! WOOHOO!!!" she bounced up and down my lap, laughing uncontrollably. I grabbed it back with a deadly glare, blushing furiously. The hyperactive girl giggled, and bounced off my lap, returning to her seat next to Rinoa. I wanted to dig a hole and just curl up in there and die.

I shifted my attention from my friends to my father and his aid, "And you, Dad? Kiros?"

"Well~~~" my dad grinned and shrugged. "Quistis called me and asked if it would be okay for us to set you up, more like informing me than asking, really, and I just HAD to see your expression…. It's not everyday you get to see your stoic son getting set up and blush so cutely, you know?"

I wanted to smack my dad and say I'm not cute, but I doubted anything I said now would be convincing. I sighed, and shook my head. "It's not like I'm going back there to be his lover or anything…. I just wanted to do what I want to do…" I said softly, trying not to let my own insecurity seep into my voice. All the happy commotion died around me, and I couldn't tell what they were saying to each other mutely since I was looking down on my Griever pendant.

"You mean he hasn't told you?" Rinoa asked incredulously. I looked up, and found the same expression across everybody's face. Something kind of like disbelief mixed with, 'Are you an idiot?' expression. With the exception of my dad, Kiros, and Rinoa, who wore something more close to a paternal forgiveness type.

I blinked, and it took me a while to actually understand what Rinoa was talking about. I shook my head, "No, if you mean love…." I blushed slightly, and faded into silence.

"Did he do anything?" Laguna asked, and Selphir and Zell were interrogating Irvine with their eyes.

I nodded, "He kissed me…. kinda… before I left. But that doesn't mean he loves me or anything, right? That could mean anything…."

They all exchanged a look, and I felt even more confused than ever. Then, they all smirked, and looked back at me, and in unison, did a dramatic sigh with a shake of their heads. Well, all except Kiros.

"What?!" I asked, a little upset about their actions and implications.

Quistis grinned, and shrugged as she slid me a document across the long coffee table in the middle. I picked it up, and read it quickly. When I finished reading I looked back at Quistis with a puzzled look. The document was just a sort of legal mumble-jumble, but it basically boiled down to a release of my job as a teacher employed by Garden, but I will have to be a full-time Elite SeeD, handling requests directly for the Elite SeeD. I don't necessarily have to stay in any of the Gardens, but I must attend every monthly Elite SeeD briefing (which, before, we didn't need to be there everytime, though we use the time to hang out and play Triple Triads,) and the bi-monthly patrol. I was also in charge of getting Seifer readmitted, and since he had taken all of the required courses, he needed to take the final field test once more and pass, and I had to "personally train" him to become an Elite SeeD. But there really wasn't any requirement for Elite SeeD, not by a long shot, since it's more of a promotional status that thanked those of us who destroyed Ultimecia rather than any real power whatsoever at all… what's the point in it? The money for Elite SeeD is definitely better than the normal SeeD, but that means we also have more responsibility. I read on, and found that our salary was about the same as any normal SeeD, reason being we wouldn't be teaching. There were also options where I could teach part-time and all, but strictly optional.

"Sign at the bottom, and take that with you to have Seifer sign it, then bring it, and him, back to me," Quistis commanded.

"But—"

"SILENCE!"

I clamped my mouth shut.

"Good," she grinned evilly. If anyone would ask what a devil incarnate was, I'd suggest Quistis Trepe Dincht. "Now, you are to stay here and administer the next field test," I opened my mouth to protest, but she looked at me and I zipped my mouth immediately, "and learn how to take over the Elite SeeD administrative business. Also, I will need you to come up with a requirement on how to join Elite SeeD, the tests, and etc. Then you can return to Deling and bring me what I need."

I glared at her, knowing that I couldn't say no since I'm still under her control. Besides, all those people, including my father, President of Esthar, probably had their dibs on this, how was I to battle all of them?

*****

I cursed loudly in my room as I saved the last question of the Elite SeeD test into the file, and screamed mentally as I tried to control my rage of not smashing the computer right there and then. It had been three agonizing months since I signed my life away, and I had just finally finished the entire series of Elite SeeD tests. I had finished designing the field test and requirements two months ago, but the written test was what driving me nuts. I pressed a button to send the completed work to Quistis, and started packing. I only had about a few sets of clothes to pack, since I left almost my entire belongings intact. I paused when I heard knocking on the door. Sighing exasperatedly, I got up, and opened the door.

It was Zell, grinning stupidly as he always does. Adorable, but idiotic. "You're needed in the conference room," he said, jerking his thumb in the direction of said place.

I sighed, and nodded, following Zell down the hall. He bounced on his feet as he looked up to me, "I heard from Quisty that you've finished the tests at last."

"Yeah," I nodded, my mind already flying miles and miles away to Deling.

"Any plans after you leave here?"

"Grovel for my job back," I said, remembering how sad the other Aunties, as I followed Seifer in calling the other co-workers, were when I gave them my resignation.

"Nice plan," Zell snickered, and I glared down at the shorter youth, giving him the gesture of 'I will snap your neck' that made him feign a shudder. Don't I get ANY respect around here?!

We arrived at the conference room, but Zell made no movement of going in. I shrugged, and entered the room myself, finding my dad waiting there alone. I lifted my eyebrow, and he smiled at me. "Yo!" he quirped.

"Hi, Dad," I greeted, a bit annoyed.

Laguna got up, and gave me a bear hug, squeezing my smaller frame in the embrace tightly. "Come on," he said, leading me out, "Walk with me."

I sighed, and followed him. We walked to the garden of, well, Balamb Garden, and sat down on the edge of the fountain, watching the younger cadets running about during their recess time. Some waved at me enthusiastically, and I nodded as my dad waved back.

"What brings you to Balamb?" I asked, looking at Laguna quizzically. Even though he has his own shuttle, it's not a short distance and he must've had something important to be here unannounced.

Laguna grinned, "What, I can't see my own child on a whim?"

"Not if you're the President of Esthar, you don't," I replied, lifting my eyebrow and pressing him for the answer.

He laughed, putting his hands up in a defeated sign. "Alright, alright. I came to give you this," he said, giving me a small, but long rectangle box. It was gift wrapped quite nicely, and I lifted my eyebrows up and made a move to open it, only he stopped me with a 'tsk'.

"Don't open it until Saturday," he said, and patted my head as he stood up, looking at me adoringly like a father would a child. I looked at the gift curiously, shaking it and tried to listen to the sound, but heard nothing. He laughed as he pinched my cheek, "You're so cute, Squall."

"For the last time…." I growled, glaring up. Laguna laughed and waved his hand.

"Alright, yes, yes, you're not cute. Whatever, Squall. Whatever," he imitated my tone and bent down, kissing me on the head. "I gotta go back now. Kiros must be super mad now that I skipped the conference and sneaked out to come here. No worries. New Raine II would only take fifteen minutes from here to Esthar. I'm gonna run." He patted my cheek lovingly, "You make sure you give me a call every week, alright?"

"Yes, father…." I said monotonously, which caused him to laugh even more as he waved goodbye to me and left. I sat there for another good ten minutes, before putting the box into my pocket and heading back into my room.

*****

The release and every other minor detail took about a day or two, though it felt like centuries to me. The minute Quistis nodded her final approval for both the requirements and the tests, I was out of Balamb Garden's front door. Rinoa and Selphie came with Ragnorak to gave me a ride, and grinned the entire way to Deling as they indulged in my impatient look, something I still denied that I had on my face though they insisted that I did. They dropped me off at the outskirts of Deling, and blew kisses to me as they left. They're weird.

I looked at my watch, and noted that it was still early in the afternoon, so Seifer would probably be in the library. I hailed a cab, who was kind enough not to complain about the cardboard box filled with DVDs and games and all sorts of entertainment items that I brought back, and took me to the apartment I longed for the past three months. With some effort I moved my stuff into his apartment, not caring if he'd disapprove if I just left them by the fireplace, and wondered my next move.

I crossed my arms, and felt something in my pocket. I took it out, and found a small, chibi head sketch of Rinoa and Selphie on the folded paper, with "Open when you get home" under it. I unfolded the paper.

"Dear the world's SUPER dense Squall,

Please take our advice and do the following. Go and select one of the finest wines you both enjoy, we know you have the money. Then buy some ingredients to his favorite dinner and COOK for him! And yes, we know all about you being a great chef, even though you try to keep it a secret. Also, buy a couple of pillard candles and set them on the table, prepare everything nice and romantic. Dim the lights when he comes home, and play some soft jazz music. This is an order from all of us, and we'll know if you did it or not. Oh yes, trust us, we know. And you will face dire consequences if you fail to do all of the above.

Love,
Rinoa & Selphie."

I sweatdropped, and sighed. No wonder they called Rinoa the 'hopeless romantic.' I really wanted to skip all those and just go down to the library and meet Seifer, but the haunting words at the end of the note made me cringe in fear. The last three months was tiring and scary enough, and I did NOT want to do it all over again. Sighing, I headed out the door, and went down to the local market.

Within two hours or so I got all of the stuff I needed, including a soft jazz music CD. It took me another two hours to finish preparing the food, set the table, and take a shower. I turned off the light, and with the setting sun light squinted in the dark apartment to double check I'd gotten everything they ordered. By the time I put the paper down on the kitchen counter, I heard the keys jingle being inserted into the doorknob.

For the first time in my life, I felt butterflies in my stomach as I became extremely nervous. Not even before Ultimecia was I this excited and scared. How could these two complete opposite emotions exist at the same time?

The door opened, and Seifer came in. He halted as he smelled the food, and I took the cue to light the candles. Well, nine months with Rinoa meant I did learn something called romantic, though I still find it a bit too time-consuming. I heard Seifer gasp loudly, and I looked around, trying to see if anything was wrong. Nope, couldn't find anything.

"….Squall," he said, after a long time. I nodded, and gasped myself as I forgot to put in the CD. Fumbling a little with the little light from the two candles, I unwrapped the CD and tossed it into the CD player, and pressed PLAY hastily. Whew. I would NOT suffer these girls' wrath again just because I forgot one lousy CD.

The smooth saxophone filled the small apartment instantly, and I stood up, a little proud of all the hard work I did. Then I felt a pair of strong arms wrapped around my waist, and pull me close to a broad chest. I felt Seifer nuzzled at the crook of my neck, and I shifted slightly as that really tickled.

"You came back….." he whispered, his voice cracked a little.

I nodded, "I would sooner, but they wouldn't let me."

"It doesn't matter…." he sighed, clutching me a little closer, "I thought you'd never come back…"

"I didn't say that!" I protested softly, the mood, which Rinoa kept on emphasizing during our nine months relationship, actually worked this time. It felt… good, and sensual, and as if any loud noise would just interrupt this beauty around us. "I just wanted to go back and resign and…."

The rest of my explanations disappeared into the kiss he gave me as he turned me around. This time, a passionate kiss. I sighed in pleasure.

"I love you, Squall…." he whispered as he held me there, swaying slowly to the music.

I smiled, still blushing from the kiss. "I think…… this time, without anyone telling me…… I know."


It turned out that the gift my dad gave us was a key to a larger apartment my dad bought for me, equivalent of a birthday present. I didn't even realize, but the day I returned to Seifer was my birthday. Since Seifer rented his apartment, we decided to move to the new one in the better neighborhood with a better view. It had a larger fireplace, too, much to my delight.

Eventually, I confessed to Seifer about my motive of approaching him in the first place, and he in return told me why he was strip-dancing. "I just wanted some attention, I guess," he said as he held me close to him, "Or to chase away the lonely gap in my soul or whatever… but I don't want to keep my every waking moment thinking of you since it was too painful. Besides, it WAS good money, something I desperately needed at the time."

Seifer didn't care about the Elite SeeD documents and signed without reading them. He joked that this was our marriage license, and he would sign it anytime, anyday if it meant he could be with me. I blushed furiously when I heard that. He then went through rigorous training for six weeks, reawakening those lazy bones of his, and he passed the field test of SeeD and the Elite SeeD tests with flying colors. But the minute he graduated, he made faces at Quistis and gave her the finger, cursing and joking at her for keeping me away from him. She enacted her revenge by giving him a lot of desk assignments that kept him up at night, and he hated her even more.

But to be honest… I was actually happy after he was done, because that love-making afterwards was more intense than any. When Rinoa finally pressed it out of me, after close to feeding me confession medicines, which was how far she would go to get these juicy details, she laughed and took ten gil from Selphie and Irvine. Apparently they made a bet about what Seifer would do first thing after he finished the work — pounce me or sleep. I took 50% from Rinoa.

Rinoa ended up with Selphie, who would've guessed? Or maybe I was just, as they said, too dense. Irvine still hasn't settled at this moment, and Quistis gave birth to a girl last month, her third child. I was appointed godfather for all of her children, and even now, I'm still at a loss of what to do. Seifer adores his godson, and Seph will sometimes stop by and spend the weekend or something, whenever he has a long vacation from school.

It has been nearly ten years since our first night as a couple, and let's just say the passion only increases, never fades. We've sponsored a couple of kids from the orphanage, and they're both excelling in the Garden. In our free time we head to Centra whenever possible and help Matron and Cid out handling the new orphanage, and we are still being employed by the library, now one of the largest libraries in the world. My dad was re-elected for the umpteenth time for being the President, and I often wonder if there is some kind of IQ problem with the Esthar people. Then again, it's not in my place to judge. Dad's almost 50 now, but he looks like 20 still, which is scary. He has been talking about passing the presidency to me, but I sincerely hope he is just kidding.

"What are you thinking about, Liebe?" Seifer asked sleepily, and I turned, looking up into his hypnotic aquamarines. I smiled and shrugged.

"Nothing, just thinking…."

"Well," he yawned, pulling my close to him, "Stop. You're thinking too loud."

I chuckled, and snuggled to him. "Alright…. Good night, Seifer."

"Goodnight…"

~~ (c) Hieru Youko
Start: January 19, 2003 1:10am
Ends: January 19, 2003 8:20am

Author's Mewling: Well, sometimes illness can make you do stupid thing, as I am doing now. ^^;;; I was really sick the week I did this, and for some reason, I stayed up through the night while I should be resting to finish this fic. It took me total of 8 hours to complete this ficcie, my longest ficcie ever. ^^;; I mean, the others are in chapters, whereas this one I just scrumped into one chapter. It was really fun, though I think, at the end, when I'm all dizzy and stuff, many things were left unexplained. I'm leaving this ficcie in the status of CONTINUE EDITING, so I do need inputs from you all. ^^ My beta reader, the lovely Espaa, never played FFVIII. Poor girl, having to read through this and not understanding most of what Squally's ramblings are about. >V<

Anyway, with that said, all constructive criticism and comments are loved and welcomed and worshipped!!! As most authors say, only readers' feedback keeps us alive, since we don't make any dime on these works. >V< My next ficcie is planning on trying something I've been doing in my mind but never on paper — MPREG, featuring FFVIII characters. I'm shifting back to FFVIII phase after the Weiss Kreuz phase. >V< Perhaps reading too many FFVIII ficcies help. *giggles* Thank you all for reading! ^_^