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The lights of his office were still dimmed when he stepped in, but Laguna knew Squall was already inside. He would be standing on the balcony, staring down at the city, watching the constant play of lights in a metropolis that was always alive, always busy. It was strange how he could think Squall's behaviour as predictable now, and anticipate what he was going to do or say. Laguna flicked the light switches on and shrugged off his jacket, carefully draping it over one of the armchairs. It has been a long day of meetings and signing bilateral agreements and arguments about foreign policy, and Laguna was exhausted, but seeing Squall standing there made everything seem less dire.

Squall didn't move as he heard him coming in, but something in his stance relaxed when the door shut behind Laguna with a whoosh and a click. "You should do something about your security, you know," Squall said, not turning away from the railing. The wind blew at his hair, longer now than Laguna had ever seen it. "Anyone could have sneaked in here."

Laguna snorted. "Your SeeDs were the ones who designed the security measures. That's the only reason you can get in."

"That's not really true," Squall said, finally stepping away from the balcony and back into the room. He waved what looked like his Garden ID card at Laguna. "I used this to get pass your last two doors, and not the usual way." It looked a little bent.

"You broke through the door using a card?" Laguna began to revise his thoughts about predictable behaviours. "How do you even do that? Everything's computerised and on the grid."

"Good old-fashioned lock picking," Squall said drily, tossing the card onto Laguna's desk. "I'll have Selphie take another look at the whole system, just to be safe." Squall looked somewhat older now, Laguna thought. More tired than the last time he saw him, and that was less than two months ago. He just wanted Squall to sit down and take a break, stop thinking, stop worrying, but there was no point of telling him that, because evidently Squall didn't know how to stop working. It was sweet, how he constantly worried about Laguna's safety, but sometimes his thoroughness could border on aggravating.

"As long as she doesn't redecorate the whole suite," Laguna countered instead, keeping his voice light, and was gratified to see a tug of a smile at Squall's lips. He pulled out his chair and sat down, his eyes straying to the paperwork still towering on the desk. He absently picked up a pen and shuffled the papers around.

Squall cleared his throat and took the chair opposite him, pinning him down with look. "So what exactly is the problem?" he asked. His gunblade rested within easy reach, leaning against the desk. It looked wholly incongruous with the rest of the office. "Ward was rather vague when he saw us earlier, he said you'd be able to explain better."

"Did he now?" Squall's team had probably landed during Laguna's meeting with the Galbadian president, then. Foreign dignitaries made his head hurt. International relations had been much more easier when Esthar was still behind its closed-door policy. Ward was lucky not to be involved in all these meetings, though Laguna couldn't envy him having to handle irate SeeDs. Laguna snapped back his attention to Squall, who was frowning at him now, probably annoyed that Laguna wasn't focussing on his questions.

"Laguna, is this a security matter?" Squall pressed, all businesslike and serious. "Is there a problem with the Galbadian delegation that we should be aware of?"

"Not particularly," Laguna said. Their Minister of the Interior was an idiot who talked too much, but that wasn't Squall's problem. He really should have thought up excuses for this beforehand. "There's been, um, increased monster activity in the salt flats?"

Squall pinched the bridge of his nose, giving Laguna a long-suffering look. "Selphie was convinced that someone was coming to assassinate you."

"Uh, yes, in a sense. The monsters are."

Squall's eyebrows rose at that. "I doubt your guards are incapable of killing a stray torama wandering around your city," he said, a touch of exasperation colouring his voice.

"We don't have toramas here," Laguna answered distractedly. "Too far away from the plains."

"Laguna," Squall said, standing up, both hands planted on Laguna's desk, "what exactly did you call us to Esthar for?" Laguna recognised that dangerous tone of voice immediately, which Squall usually reserved for desperate situations or when someone was threatening his team or Laguna or Ellone. It wasn't very nice being on the receiving end of it.

"I just wanted to see you," Laguna said in a rush, leaning away from Squall, almost toppling his chair over. He cringed a bit, realising what a pathetic excuse that was.

Squall blinked at that before straightening up, his anger dissipating into nothing. He seemed mildly perplexed by the whole thing, and even that shifted to amusement in a few seconds, though the only thing that changed was the way his eyes had lit up. "Cid wouldn't be very pleased when he learns you lured me here under false pretences."

Laguna scoffed, pushing his chair away from his desk so he could look at Squall without getting a crick in his neck. "Oh, Cid knows. You should give that old boy more credit." Squall looked sceptical at that but didn't pursue the point. "Besides, you're permanently attached to Esthar when you're not needed elsewhere. And even then my requests take priority, remember?"

"Always," Squall said, the warmth in his voice and in his gaze a balm to Laguna's nerves. "But we were--" Squall broke off to correct himself, "--I was worried. I thought you were in real danger."

"I guess I didn't think it through," Laguna admitted, shrugging apologetically. "I didn't mean to worry you -- I suppose we could be more specific. Maybe add a Code 6: 'Come home because I miss you'?" He gave Squall his most charming grin. Squall just shook his head, though it seemed more in fond bemusement than saying no to the suggestion. "I'll make it up to you," Laguna promised. "Anything you want."

"I'll hold you to that," Squall said, almost lazily, and Laguna had to remind himself that they were in his office, with an unlocked door, and settled himself more firmly in his chair.

"I've got work to finish first," he said feebly, gesturing at his desk, kicking himself for not completing everything earlier, even though there really hadn't been enough time for it. "So, later? You can get a couple of hours of rest first. I'll find you the moment I get this done."

Squall looked discomfited for a few seconds. "I can stay, if that's all right with you?"

Laguna blinked in surprise, but he couldn't help but feel pleased. "If you want. You can protect me from being assassinated by monsters here."

Squall snorted. "Yeah, I think that's a good idea. I can imagine my report for this one: 'In Esthar to protect President from imaginary monsters.' Xu is going to give me so much grief over that." He stifled a yawn as he pushed the chair he had been sitting in away. Laguna did some quick calculations in his head -- it was probably past midnight now, Balamb time. No wonder Squall was tired.

"You know what, you can take that couch there, it's pretty comfortable." Laguna stood up and took hold of Squall's arm, pulling him towards it. Squall made a face.

"I can't sleep while on duty."

"You're not on duty," Laguna protested. "I haven't even briefed your team on what you're here for."

"You're a tricky devil," Squall commented, not quite mockingly, a glint in his eyes.

Laguna gave him a sketchy bow. "Thank you."

Squall gave a wry smile at that, before looking away and letting his gaze drift across the room. He paused before a photo on the wall as he retrieved his gunblade, of him and Laguna shaking hands over some sort of peace treaty or Garden function, tilting his head a bit as he considered it. "They were saying something about family resemblance," Squall murmured, his eyes flicking over to Laguna's face, almost shy. "Selphie, I mean, and Edea and Quistis. I'm beginning to think everyone has a crush on you."

Laguna laughed, feeling suddenly and acutely the crinkles in the corner of his eyes, and the grey dusting his hair. "It's the hair," he said, and as his laughter quietened into a smile he reached out to brush Squall's hair out of his face, his fingers ghosting over the skin. "I still think you look more like your mother, though." Squall just gave him that now familiar look, something like longing and jealousy and desperation all rolled into one, and Laguna leaned in and gave him a quick kiss on his lips, as always never quite finding the right words to say.

When he pulled away, Squall was simply looking at him thoughtfully. "You really should get your work done as fast as you possibly could," his voice so bland that Laguna couldn't tell whether or not he was insinuating anything. Laguna rolled his eyes and went back to his desk, watching as Squall slipped his jacket off and took a seat on the couch, and found himself wishing that Squall would just lie down and take a short nap. He looked up occasionally to catch a glimpse of Squall trying to stay awake by skimming through a booklet that looked like a report on the Budget. Laguna doubted that it would be able sustain his interest for long, and after a while Squall began nodding off. Laguna was glad, he hated the way Squall looked so tired each time he arrived in Esthar, almost as if he never got enough sleep when he was outside the city.

An hour and a half flew by, and he kept glancing towards Squall sprawled awkwardly on the couch. He accidentally knocked over a few binders as he was reaching for the last folder on his desk and he cursed to himself as they clattered on the floor. Squall started and sat up, looking around in alarm, automatically reaching for his weapon. Laguna made a shushing sound, trying to calm him down. "Nice of you to drop by, even if it's just to doze while I work," he said lightly, and Squall blinked at him in surprise. He yawned, and relaxed back into the couch.

"If you get your work finished faster, I could be sleeping somewhere much more comfortable than the couch," Squall grumbled, and Laguna had to hide his grin. He ducked his head, and continued reading the document, vaguely aware of Squall stretching and getting up, picking up both his discarded jacket and Laguna's. After a few minutes Squall walked to the desk and stood behind Laguna, watching as he scribbled some notes. "You can't spell," Squall pointed out, startling Laguna with his breath warm against Laguna's ear. Laguna turned and scowled at him, his pen still poised on the paper.

"You try it with someone breathing in your ear!" he complained, trying to figure out which words he got wrong.

"You were spelling things wrongly even before I was standing here," Squall said, ever practical, gently running his fingers over Laguna's handwriting on the top half of the paper. Laguna squinted at the messy notes, wondering whether 'disapproval' was spelled with two 'S's or two 'P's. "Do you still have a lot more to do? It's getting late, and you have more meetings tomorrow."

"Are you my secretary now?"

"If you want me to be," Squall said with that characteristic solemn seriousness of his, yet that playful glint was still in his eyes, and Laguna shook his head and pushed his papers away, giving up on them for the night.

"Let's not even go there," he said firmly, slamming the cover of the last report shut with relish. He wasn't quite done with it, but he could always get up early tomorrow -- Squall was more important right now. "And you're right, it's late. You need more sleep, and I have meetings tomorrow."

"Sleep and meetings," Squall said thoughtfully. "So I guess I'll see you at breakfast?" Laguna blew out a noisy sigh, unable to find words of protest. Squall laughed, freely and easily; Laguna had heard that laugh many times now, but it still made his breath catch. A firm hand wrapped around Laguna's wrist as he yanked him up from his seat. "Your rooms are closer, right?"

"Right," Laguna said with a decisive nod, letting himself be pulled close to Squall, almost into an embrace.

"And it's easier to protect you from imaginary monsters if I stay in your room, don't you think?" Squall asked, his voice quiet but there was a smile, tiny and real, gracing his features.

"Yeah," Laguna agreed, unable to wipe off the goofy grin he knew was plastered on his own face. "Much easier if you're in the same bed, even."

"I can get behind that plan," Squall said, reaching up to brush Laguna's hair out of his face before he leaned in to kiss him. "I can definitely get behind that plan."