Well, everyone got home safely (the next morning; yup, they'd crashed at Ma Dincht's as predicted). Selphie immediately started planning her next "buck's night" for Irvine (this one was going to involve strippers) and the whole karaoke thing was forgotten for a while.
But, like I said, Squall thinks things over, and then he over-thinks things. So I wasn't too surprised when I got an email a month later from Squall, pointing me to a lyrics site and asking my opinion of a particular song.
I read over the lyrics, then did a quick search on the music server for the song in question.
(I suppose I should explain about the music server. It's one of Selphie's little innovations as morale officer. She found some bits and pieces showing music playing in the background improves academic performance and concentration, and used these to wangle permission from Squall to set up an internal music service for Garden. Her solution was to grab a spare server from the computer labs, treble the amount of storage space in it, and then tell everyone it was open for business – if you wanted to share your favourite tunes, just copy them on there.
According to Selphie, the only reason there aren't still one hundred and fifty copies each of the same three popular albums on there is because she spent an hour deleting them off, and wrote up the “common sense amendment” to the server rules.
Fixing the server so it was firstly, available to the internal Garden network, but secondly, unavailable to the external world-wide network (as per request from the lawyers for the Galbadian music publishing industry, who got in contact with us by about day three of the server's existence) took another week, and was accompanied by daily hysterical letters from said lawyers. I understand Quistis and Xu took to analysing them for content and style. Effectiveness they didn't bother with – nagging Squall is an exercise in futility at the best of times. Expecting him to agree with you about something he doesn't care about... well, Quistis still remembers being told to go talk to a wall when she tried it, and these days she thinks he was actually giving good advice. The wall is going to stay there while you're talking. Squall will walk away in the middle of someone else's rant about a subject which bores him these days.
Nice to know he learned something from me.
The “common sense” amendment? If there's already a copy of the song on the server, we don't need another one; if you think otherwise, argue the case with Selphie and be prepared to lose.)
The song itself was by a group from out Winhill way, and it was basically one of those whiny songs which bemoan the singer's life, their anonymity, and the fact they have any problems at all. I have to admit I don't generally find myself overly impressed by those ones – after all, if the singer thinks their life is so tragic, they could always try mine on for size. The guy who sang it had a pretty good voice, as far as I could tell, but really, it wasn't much to write home about.
But for some reason Squall had chosen to bring this song to my attention.
So, once I'd finished chasing the last bunch of detention cadets around the boundaries of Garden for the day, I wandered inside to find out what was on the mind of our Mighty Commander, and why he was wanting me to check out song lyrics all of a sudden.
Squall's office is up on the third floor, although it isn't in the frankly over-ornate area Cid used to use as his office. Instead, he'd handed Cid's old office over to Quistis and Xu, told them to divide it up between themselves and the cockpit, and grabbed the smaller space which used to be devoted to the Chief of Security. He preferred it because it's off to the side, and less obvious to the casual visitor – means he's able to get his work done with less interruptions. One of the advantages of it, from my point of view, is it's easy to access, and it doesn't have a barrage of secretarial staff sitting out the front of it acting as gatekeepers. So I strolled over and ambled in.
“Saw that song you were talking about,” I told him. “I don't think it really challenges the rule, though.”
Squall looked up from the pile of forms he had in front of him, and raised an eyebrow at me. Great, it had been a long day and he was non-verbal.
“I mean, the guy is still whingeing about not being able to get into his girlfriend's pants, it's just instead of her telling him no, it's his own inadequacies telling him he shouldn't get the girl. Same diff.”
Squall shrugged at me. “I thought it was interesting.”
“Yeah?” Now I was genuinely curious. After all, Squall really doesn't have much interest in anything outside gunblades, work, and maybe reading. I don't recall him ever being interested in the various convulsions of popular culture when we were cadets – in fact, I'm pretty sure he managed to turn away at least one of his more persistent followers by looking at her blankly when she mentioned some popular band or other. So why was he getting all interested in this one song?
Well, I wasn't going to get my answers out of Squall today, no matter what I did. Particularly not while he still had an inch-thick pile of paperwork in front of him. I leaned over and took a dekko at it.
“Requisition forms? What the fuck are you looking at those for, Squall? I thought that was Xu's gig.”
“Xu is always busy, Squall. It's how she gets her jollies.” I rolled my eyes. Guy is hard as nails in some respects, but in others he was a real pushover. “She's a busy-body from way back, and she loves sloughing off the boring bits of her job onto other people. You should know that by now.”
He shrugged at me. My guess is she'd caught him doing something other than paperwork in the office at some stage, and guilted him into taking on some of her paperwork as a punishment for it. She does this on occasion; still hasn't got over the fact a bunch of cadets she oversaw in the exam now outrank her, so she pulls rank she hasn't got in order to make her life easier. Doesn't work on me, of course, and it only works on Irvine and Selphie occasionally, but the rest of 'em fold like a bad hand of cards under her glares. I sometimes wonder just how much of Xu's job is actually performed by Xu, and how much of it gets shuffled sideways onto Squall, Quistis and Zell.
Looked like it was time for me to start hanging around the admin offices again and bugging the hell out of her. At least that way, she had me as a target, and she left the other guys alone.
In the meantime, I took a look at the clock.
“C'mon, five o'clock. Knock off time,” I said, taking the pen out of Squall's hand, and pulling the forms out of reach. He glared at me, as expected, and reached for the keyboard of his console, but I hit the power button on the display. “Knock off time means it's time for all good little Commanders to be out of the office and down to the mess. Now up and at 'em, or I'll pick you up and carry you.”
He knew I'd do it, too. Which was why he was glaring at me as he relit the screen, closed up things and shut them down for the day. I'd get the rest of the story out of him some other time, when he wasn't being hassled by Xu.
I spent the next morning in Squall's office, helping him out with the requisition forms (by which I mean I picked them all up, carried them next door to Xu's office and told her to do her own damn job) and getting in the way. Squall's job at present consists of looking over client requests, determining whether they're serious, figuring out whether SeeD can meet the request, and assigning personnel as required. As part of this, he spends about two hours each morning ploughing through a full run-down of political news from Timber, Winhill, Delling, Esthar, Trabia, FH and other such places, as well as the local stuff from Balamb, in order to keep on top of where requests are likely to be coming from. Don't tell him I said this, but I sometimes find that bit of his job pretty interesting – it can be fun seeing the two different sides of various disputes as each side portrays them.
It's certainly fun listening to the news out of Galbadia lately, because they're busy trying to paint themselves as still being the Big Power in world affairs. Problem is, they know they're overshadowed technologically by Esthar, and they've lost too much of their empire in the wake of the whole Being Controlled by A Crazy Sorceress thing to be believable as a major colonial power. Doesn't stop them from trying to assert their influence over places like Dollet, Timber and Winhill – it's just nobody there bothers to listen to the word out of Delling City, and their current President is a putz.
(I should know – he was about fifth-in-charge during my time there. Couldn't organise his way out of a wet paper bag without help.)
Oh, and the big international mystery at the moment is exactly why Esthar decided to drop their decades-long isolation and rejoin the rest of the world. The news types would probably wet themselves if they knew said reason didn't function in the morning until he'd had at least two cups of coffee, and he really can't stand the “cute moogle” stories at the end of the bulletin. Or at least, one half of said reason. The other half of said reason loves those “cute moogle” stories to bits and pieces, and is, from everything I've heard from his son, an absolute dork.
Anyway, once Squall's finished his big newsreel, and dug through the briefing papers compiled from all the news-sheets on the Global Net, he picks up the requests for the day, and starts sorting through them.
Today's major offerings are a request from the Dollet dukedom for SeeD's assistance in pushing their border with Galbadia back another three feet; a request from the Estharian scientific laboratories to provide bodyguards or escorts for some scientists going out to research the various Lunar Cry monsters; and a request from Timber for help with patrolling their borders (and Rinoa's still trying to blackmail Squall into giving her a discount; too bad the financial side of these things is handled by Xu, who's about as sentimental as a shark at the best of times, and responds to any and all annoyances from the clients by putting up the price ten percent). There's also a request from a business type in Delling for a bodyguard, a couple of small town mayors writing to ask for assistance with various monsters in their region, and a flier from the Triple Triad league advising of the next big tournament.
I decided to interrupt before he got too far into things. “So, what was the story with that song, anyway?”
Squall looked at me like I was a moron for interrupting him. Or possibly just the most annoying person on the planet. But hey, I know I'm not the first, and I'm well aware I'm definitely heading the short list for the second, particularly where Squall Leonhart is concerned; he's used to it and so am I. So I pushed a bit harder.
“C'mon, I mean, it was just another whiny emo song by another whiny emo group. What's the big deal that got you all interested enough to firstly listen to it, secondly look up the lyrics, and thirdly, send it off to me?”
I swear, he almost blushed. I don't think he was quite aware of how out-of-character he'd been behaving by doing those things – it's very hard to pretend you're this cool, detatched, ice prince when you're actually taking an interest in life. As far as I'm concerned, I'm with the rest of the gang on the subject: Squall is much better company when he's not being Shiva's Chosen One, and is actually participating in humanity. So I do my bit to chivvy him out of his self-imposed isolation, and prevent certain people (why yes, Xu, I am glaring at you) from trying to make it SOP.
There was a long pause before he spoke. Squall doesn't like speaking, so when he does, he likes to make every word count. He won't just dump out a babble of noise, like someone like Zell or Selphie would, and let you sift through it. Instead, he picks his words carefully.
“It spoke to me,” he said.
Of course, the other side of Squall picking his words carefully is the rest of us don't get the intermediate steps between points A and B. This is where babblers like Sephie and Zell have an advantage – at least the rest of us can see where their logic jumped tracks and started heading off to the Island Closest to Hell, rather than being stunned by the eventual conclusions the way Squall does it.
There is a balance to be struck, after all. There's a reason I actually don't mind Quistis most of the time – she at least gives you all the landmarks on the way to a decision. Of course, Irvine's my favourite, because he appreciates the value of bullshit, and when to ladle it on generously.
Anyway, back to Squall and his cryptic crossword clues. “It spoke to you? Care to give me a bit more to be going on with?”
This time he did blush, which means clearly we're stepping into personal territory here. Part of the Ice Prince persona involves a real reluctance on the part of Squall Leonhart to release any details of how he's feeling (or that he's feeling anything at all). I waited.
Eventually, he came out with some more words. “It just... it reminded me of the way people were about me and Rin, back when. The whole Sorceress and Knight thing, and all the rubbish about destiny and how we were somehow meant for each other.”
I wasn't present for most of what he was talking about. Hell, for most of it I was on the opposite side in the war. But I do know a little of how Rinoa functions, and one of the things she does tend to do is treat everything which happens to her as being massively significant on a global scale. She's got the whole fairytale princess thing but bad, and being spoiled by her Dad since she was about five or so didn't help matters. So, with this context in mind, I did a quick mental review of how she'd see the whole process of the war as it played out from their side.
Yeah, she would have been all “Ultimate Destiny” about the whole thing. Probably expected everything to continue with the sunshine, rainbows and high drama after the war ended, rather than devolving into everyday mundanity. To be honest, the real reason she broke up with Squall was because she'd fallen for the Lionheart the press painted, the big damn hero, rather than the genuine Squall Leonhart, who happens to be a pretty boring guy when you get right down to it.
So I nodded, and said, “Yeah, well, don't let Rin ever find out you think of her as some cross to bear or a hair shirt or something. She'd scream the place down, and given she's a Sorceress now, she'd probably do it literally.”
He grinned a bit. He and I share the common ground of being part of Rinoa's League of Evil Exes (or at least, that's how she paints us in any conversation to a future love interest), and one of the better topics for the group when we hold our occasional reunions is the sort of tantrum she threw as part of the break-up process. I get points in the League because I'm the one who broke up with her, rather than vice versa – plus, of course, I spent some time being actually Evil. Squall gets points for being the one she broke up with because he was genuinely not spending time with her (as opposed to the more regular “not spending every waking hour worrying about her”), as well as for blowing off her “I'm leaving” tantrum with “Whatever”.
So, okay, we had that much out there, and now I had a bit of background information, I could see his point. Sometimes, there are songs which actually speak to a person and seem to echo our lives. I suppose it helps, a bit, to know you're not the only one who's been through the feelings you're living through.
I didn't say anything, though. I just gave him a grin, and went off to plan some more punishment details for the detention kids. It's my job now, at Garden. I'm in charge of the kids who have reached the point where they're all full of energy and idiocy and can't be trusted to sit still in a classroom for longer than about a quarter of an hour. The ones who used to spend hours on end writing lines in detention as punishment for talking out of turn, or fidgeting in class. These days, they get sent to me, and I figure out why they're fidgeting and take appropriate steps to deal with it.
For most of them, it's just a case of too much energy and not enough movement, so the cure is easy – I get them running laps until they're settled enough to concentrate. There's a couple in the current batch who appear to be genuinely hyper, so with them it's a case of working out with Doc Kadowaki what works to keep them steady (oddly enough, a good solid cup of coffee in the mornings seems to even those sorts of kids out a lot), and there's at least one who had my problem and Squall's – too smart to be trailing along with her so-called peers, so the poor kid's bored rigid. Her trouble is she's not equally advanced in all her classes – she's streets ahead of most of her age peers in math, but when it comes to things like spelling, grammar and punctuation, she's damn near sub-literate. So in her case, it's extra language and composition lessons, plus pointing her at reading material which is going to keep her interested in learning.
But in between keeping track of all these kids, I kept thinking about what Squall had been on about with that song, and I wondered whether there mightn't be one on the server which spoke to me, as well.
Oh well, nothing for it but to look.
It didn't take me anywhere near as long as I'd expected to find the song I was after, something I have to put down to the random rotation of songs running on the Garden intercom these days. I caught a bit of it in the background while I was doing some of the necessary paperwork for the job I have (look, every job generates paperwork – I learned that truth as Ultimecia's Knight, running the Galbadian army for her) and immediately went chasing the song on the server.
Another couple of listens convinced me it was a good fit (I love the punk stuff out of Dollet – there's something about the clashing guitars that just does it for me) and had me digging out the lyrics to just double check. It still fit my main thesis – guy's bitching about a lot of stuff, but one of the things he bitches about is he can't get his rocks off with his girlfriend because of what he's done. But as far as I'm concerned, it also echoes a lot of what I feel about the war and the aftermath.
I did fight the law, and the law did win. Then again, if they hadn't, I'd probably still be running the army in Galbadia, or else I'd've been squished out of existence by Time Kompression like everyone else, rather than working on ways to keep the current Problem Children of Balamb Garden from turning out like I did. Just so happens, I'm okay with this particular outcome – I can't stand the admin side of running an army, being forever squashed into an eternal moment sounds boring, and hey, the job I have at present comes with some very nice perks, which only start at “you don't have a crazy Sorceress constantly riding the back of your mind”.
While I was there, I found a song which I thought pretty much summed up Squall to me. So I included that one in the email to him. Let's see what he makes of that...