Grazhir :: Final Fantasy :: Snafu :: 02


An hour later they were back in the planning room. Squall was having a hard time repressing his urge to swear and the Forest Owls were huddled together coming up with a new brilliant plan, this time to make a broadcast from the TV station in Timber regarding the declaration of Timber’s independence—not that it could possibly be true, especially not when they now knew that the real Deling would be initiating a broadcast personally in a short while. Though, if he was to be fair, the failure of the mission was not entirely the fault of the Forest Owls, but it did point out that their information gathering abilities were not up to par.

Selphie and Nida were examining the materials pinned to the walls and Squall was wondering what sort of mess their next “mission” would result in. After a deep breath to settle himself he stepped over to the Forest Owls to ask about the contract. He barely even parted his lips when Rinoa looked up, beamed at him, and said, “Good timing! We’ve come up with a plan!”

“Before we get to that, do you have a copy of the contract with Garden I could look at?”

“Oh, sure.” Rinoa stood up and went over to a cabinet, pulled some paperwork from it, and returned. “Here.”

As he was reading it Selphie and Nida came to look it over as well, but before he could finish deciphering the legalese Rinoa shoved a new piece of paper on top. “I thought that one was really confusing so Cid gave me this.”

His jaw tightened momentarily at the interruption, but nevertheless examined the new one. It basically said what he had already overheard Seifer speaking of; they were contracted indefinitely and there would be no substitutes. The only way out of it was to win, die, or quit Garden. ‘For the love of Hyne, what is Cid’s problem? If this is the kind of contract he thinks is acceptable I bet the Garden Faculty routinely ensure he never makes this kind of decision. But that begs the question of who does make them.’

“This is really vague,” Selphie commented. “Until Timber’s independence? That could be years from now.”

“Hey, you’re paid professionals, so no complaining!” Rinoa retorted. “We’re going to the station, so—” She paused when Watts and the other man disappeared. “We should be arriving back in town shortly. From there we’ll head to the TV station and try to make our broadcast.”

A short time later the train slowed and came to a stop so the four of them quit the room. Watts was waiting with some information for them just outside on the platform. “The TV station is pretty close, sir. It’s located behind the Timber Maniacs building, so please head in that direction.”

Squall glanced around and spied what looked like a tower, but never having been to Timber before that was not exactly helpful. He eyed Rinoa. “Lead the way.”

The route took them though a bar and out the back door, so while Watts’s information was vaguely correct (the Timber Maniacs building was visible not far from the bar, though not even on the same level of the town), it was ultimately useless. ‘Do these people think every SeeD memorizes the layout of every single village, town, and city on the planet?’

The alley continued on past a metal staircase that Rinoa began to climb, stopping at the top in front of a huge screen displaying static. “This is creepy,” she commented. “What is that stuff?”

“Signal noise,” he said, then turned at the sound of feet pounding up the stairs.

“The president is already in the studio, sir. There are too many guards now so we won’t be able to storm the place,” Watts said breathlessly, then retreated out of sight.

‘And this was unexpected, how?’ Squall thought, giving serious consideration already to the idea of quitting Garden if this was the kind of juvenile missions his team would be sent on.

“So we can’t just rush in,” Rinoa said thoughtfully. “We’ve gotta come up with a new plan now! If the president leaves, maybe the guards will be gone, too? That’s when we do our broadcast. It might not be as influential, but it’s better than nothing, right? We don’t stand a chance if we take ’em head on, right?”

‘Right? Right?’ he silently mocked. “We’ll fight your enemies based on your decision. That’s our duty,” he said. ‘Though maybe you should consider getting more intelligent people in your resistance organization. Or, I don’t know, asking for advice from the professionals.’

“I’m ready for anything,” Selphie said excitedly.

“How sad. Act on my decision? That’s your duty? Oh, what an easy life it must be, just to follow orders. . . .”

‘For the love of Hyne! She hires mercenaries and expects us not to follow orders or something?’ A sidelong glanced showed that even Nida was a bit put out by her remarks. “Call it whatever what you want,” Squall finally said. “You hired us to help you achieve your goal. I don’t think any of us appreciate your slur, though.”

Rinoa stepped back, clearly upset. “What? If you have something to say, then say it!”

“According to you we obviously aren’t capable of thinking, never mind pointing out the serious flaws in your organization’s thinking,” he replied coldly. “How serious are you about this? You make plans based on little to no intel and hope it’ll work? You don’t even consult the professionals you hired until information comes in clearly showing that your plans won’t work. How do you think we feel working for a group like yours knowing we could be here indefinitely?”

Rinoa gaped at him for a minute, then narrowed her eyes. “You know, maybe this was all a big mistake. I thought everything would work out fine once SeeD came to help us, but I guess it’s not that easy. You were all hired. It's not like you’re one of us. Um, let’s see. . . . We’ll cancel the plan, and we’ll disperse for now. We don’t stand a chance if we take ’em head on, right?”

“You’re not a native, either, from what I hear,” Squall pointed out.

Rinoa’s eyes went wide and teary. “You guys probably think this is all a game to us,” she said with a huff of indignation. “Well, it's not! We’re serious. So serious it hurts.” She brushed past him and ran down the stairs.

“Maybe you were a little too hard on her,” Selphie murmured.

‘Seifer was right.’ “If this is typical of the resistance groups in this town it’s no wonder they’re still under Galbadian rule,” he said quietly. “Tell me, Selphie, do you honestly disagree with what I said?”

She sighed and slowly shook her head.

“If it’s not a game to them, then they need to stop treating it like it is,” he said flatly. “Now, I don’t know how much time there is. Let’s consider the idea of infiltrating and preventing the broadcast. Thoughts?”

Nida stepped a short distance away and looked along the metal catwalk leading to the station. “This looks like a back entrance. There are several windows we might be able to get into. There’s nothing which indicates which floor they’d be on, though.”

Squall moved to step over as well when the static on the screen cleared without warning. He redirected his focus, snapping his fingers at Nida to join him.

“They’re starting already?” Selphie muttered. “So much for that idea.”

A man in a pin-striped suit moved into view and stood behind a podium and tapped the microphone. “T-testing . . . 1 . . . 2 . . . testing . . . testing. . . . Ohhhh! P-people of the world! Can you see me!? Can you hear me!? Oh, this is incredible! Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a recording! This is an actual broadcast over the air! Yes, it’s been seventeen years since a live broadcast has been possible! Oh, please excuse me . . . I seem to have lost my composure. We would like to present to you today a message from lifelong president of Galbadia, Vinzer Deling. Ladies and gentlemen, President Deling.” He stepped aside and disappeared as another man took his place.

“Greetings. I am Vinzer Deling, lifelong president of Galbadia. Today, I stand before you to make the following proposition. We the people of the world have the power to end all wars.”

Selphie crowed and jumped in place. “See, see! It’s a peace proposal to the world. I knew it!”

‘And how naïve is that?’ Squall wondered.

“Unfortunately, there are some trifling problems standing between Galbadia and other nations, and they must be resolved. I plan to convene with other nations’ leaders immediately to resolve these problems. At this time, allow me to name the ambassador who will be my representative for the conference, and who will be joining us shortly.”

“All this just to introduce an ambassador,” Nida muttered, looking a bit skeptical.

“The ambassador is Sorceress—”


Deling was cut off by the intrusion of a masked person wielding a blade. Seconds later Deling crumpled to the floor and the broadcast abruptly returned to static. ‘The hell? A gunblade—’ His eyes widened. “We need to get in there,” he said urgently, then raced off down the walkway.

As it turned out the back door was not even secured, so they entered easily. Down a hallway in the direction of a loud commotion—rather like a stampede, actually—and through a door brought them to the studio. The intruder jumped up from checking Deling’s pulse and started to flee, then stopped dead, eyes wide behind the mask.

‘Very familiar eyes, not to mention that gunblade,’ Squall thought, then stepped forward quickly to rip the mask away. “Seifer!” he hissed. “What the hell do you think you’re doing!?”

To his credit, Seifer barely paused before saying, “Don’t have time for this! We need to get out of here!”

Rinoa must have been lurking not far from the screen because she rushed in at that point and squealed on seeing Seifer. She latched onto him quickly and aimed an infatuated look his way before jumping slightly. “We need to go! We gotta get out of town!”

‘We?’ Squall pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, then gestured sharply. The five of them raced back out and down the corridor, through the door and down the walkway, not stopping until they were back in the bar. He pulled Rinoa away from Seifer (who gave him a grateful look) and over to a spot away from any patrons. He opened his mouth to ask if she had any brilliant ideas when Watts popped up and whispered a little too loudly, “Galbadian forces have mobilized, sir! They’ve shut down the trains temporarily and are now guarding the exits from town. They even blew up our base.”

‘Thank you so much, Seifer,’ he thought, aiming a glare at his sparring partner, who returned it with a look of confused innocence. To Rinoa and Watts he said, “Is there a relatively safe place in town we can talk?”

“Um. . . .” Rinoa tapped her chin with one finger, then brightened. “Yes! Follow me.”

They moved all of a couple of buildings over, Watts disappearing along the way, into a private home. Rinoa waved to a young woman who was preparing a meal in the kitchen area of the ground floor as she dashed up the stairs. “Okay,” she said, “we’re safe here for now.”

Squall nodded and pulled Seifer off to a corner. “Explain.”

Seifer eyed him boldly and lifted his chin. “I saw the contract. As soon as I knew they sent three brand new SeeDs here—” He glanced over his shoulder at Rinoa. “I knew there was no way her group could do much more than fumble around.”

“So you, also a brand new SeeD, raced off to the rescue? Should I be insulted? Or flattered?” he said dryly, feeling a measure of surprise when Seifer’s cheeks gained the slightest hint of colour. “You’ve been here before and we need to get out of town. Ideas?”

Seifer displayed faint surprise at that knowledge. “Yes,” he said slowly, a mischievous gleam suddenly lighting his eyes. “But you won’t like it.”

Squall arched a brow.

“You’re right that I know Timber. I’ve spent more than one break here. It’s also how I know her. The Galbadian forces aren’t completely incompetent, but they can be gotten around. You, uh, remember those students at Garden who liked to call you girly?”

His jaw tightened momentarily.

“We get a wig for you, something a little less masculine for clothing. . . . We can have Rinoa fetch a couple of large picnic baskets, one for actual supplies and one for your gear. Then we waltz past the guards—maybe the girls can flirt a little—and they’ll never know the difference,” Seifer said blithely. “They may already have people on the lookout for a group of two males and one female. This way we’d have two males and three females. Well, it’d be better with three males, but we can’t have everything.”

“I don’t do the kinky stuff on the first date, Seifer,” he drawled wickedly. “Any other ideas? Such as however you got in without making it obvious to the Galbadians?”

The blond coughed and looked away for a second. When he met gazes again he said, “Well, there is this spot behind one of the buildings, kind of an unused triangular corner the Galbadians never seem to keep an eye on. We could get to it easily enough.”

Squall nodded, a slow smile gracing his lips. “All right, then.” He pushed away from the wall and stepped into the center of the room. “Rinoa, what about Watts and that other guy.”


“Whatever. Do we need to track them down before we leave?”

“They’re really good at finding hiding places,” she said with a shake of her head, making him wonder if she cared about anyone but herself.

“Fine. Let’s go. Seifer will lead us to a place we can leave from.” He turned and lightly tripped down the stairs, stopping midway toward the door when the woman downstairs stepped up and shoved a basket at him.

“I’m sure this won’t hurt,” she said. “We all help each other out around here. If you look like you’re going on a picnic maybe the guards will pay less attention to you.”

He took it with a muttered “Thanks” and looked inside. In addition to various kinds of food there were medical supplies tucked in underneath. “Thanks,” he repeated, this time with a bit of warmth.

She nodded and stepped back to the kitchen area, calling out, “Jelna! Timeath! Lunch is ready!”

Squall thrust the basket at Seifer after removing a handful of cookies and a napkin to hold them in. “Here. You look the strongest so you get to carry it,” he said, ignoring the expression on the blond’s face. “Lead on.”

As they were walking to the escape point he muttered, “Dragged out of bed at dawn, no breakfast, bunch of imbeciles waiting here. . . .” He bit down savagely on a cookie.

Seifer snorted in amusement and stole one, biting into it with relish. “So,” he said conversationally, “I know this great place we can have our picnic.” He nodded absently to a soldier they were passing and added, “Nice shade trees, almost no monsters, so the girls shouldn’t have a problem with it. Should be perfect.”

Squall was a bit unwillingly impressed by how casually Seifer was going about things. “Sounds good,” he replied, finishing off his cookie and preparing to eat another.

Seifer continued to ramble on innocently enough, eventually turning down a narrow alley out of sight of any soldiers. In no time at all they were over the wall and slipping away from Timber. No one seemed to notice, no soldiers shouted after them, and Seifer grinned as he continued to lead them. In point of fact, he led them to a spot which seemed to match his earlier description. The basket was placed on the ground and a cloth fetched out, food and drink removed, and napkins as well. Soon enough they were all enjoying a meal. Selphie made it a point to sit by Rinoa, Nida sat by himself, and Seifer chose the spot next to Squall.

Once the gaping hole in his stomach had been filled Squall sighed slightly. “Code says we head for the nearest Garden.”

Seifer nodded. “It’s a longish walk, but nothing too bad if I remember right. I visited Galbadia Garden once, but I took the train.”

And Dollet was farther on to the north, not that it particularly mattered, though there were some decent Triple Triad players there. He took a sip of water and pinned Seifer with an intent look. “So you assassinated Deling.”

“I intended to hold him hostage, actually, but he moved right into my blade. You can’t trust a man who trusts a sorceress as an ambassador.”

“Seifer,” he said with a sigh.


“It’s a good thing you wore a mask and cut the cables, else Garden might be in a world of trouble. Also, if the sorceress had come in she could have messed with your mind. We both learned about Adel in class. You know what they can do.”

“I had a dream before,” Seifer mumbled. “I kept wanting to be a sorceress’s knight. They always made it seem so romantic in those movies.”

“And then you learned differently?”

Seifer shrugged. “They can’t all be bad. Still, I did a lot of additional research. There’s a theory about how when a sorceress passes on her powers before death that sometimes some of their personality goes with it. They theorized that it might be what causes some of them to go mad. But, it’s just as likely that some people just can’t handle power. I’d just as soon not trust any of them unless I know they’re sane.” He shifted and shook his head. “I have no idea why I’m telling you this.”

“I’m a good listener,” he deadpanned.

Seifer laughed at that and grabbed another piece of fried chicken. “Maybe it’s because you’ve showed me lately that you do actually have a personality, and a sense of humor.”

Squall smirked at him. “Don’t tell anyone. My reputation would be in ruins. In return I won’t tell anyone about your dream.”

“Deal,” Seifer said.


It was dusk when they came upon a small train station. Seifer tapped his arm and pointed. “Through those woods is Galbadia Garden. We should probably camp on this side of them.”

“Agreed.” It did not take long to reach treeline and the SeeDs quickly began bending a roughly circular stand of saplings inward. Ropes were produced and used to tie them at the center and long grasses were pulled up to be woven between the slender trunks, fashioning a temporary shelter.

“Wow, you guys really know what you’re doing,” Rinoa said.

Squall turned away and rolled his eyes heavenward, then stepped a bit deeper into the trees, finding some deadwood he could hack apart. When he returned Nida had already removed a large circle of turf and set it aside, exposing bare earth. Selphie took the wood from Squall and began setting up a fire while Seifer was investigating the basket to see how much food remained. They were soon enough about to eat dinner when Squall heard that high-pitched whine again and grabbed his head. He was dragged into another dream featuring Laguna, Kiros, and Ward, and spent the time mentally cursing. He found it a bit odd that of the men involved, Laguna seemed to almost hear his thoughts.

On waking up he swore under his breath and sat up, noticing that this time Seifer had also been affected. Selphie sat up quickly, swayed for a moment, then said, “Sir Laguna’s in big trouble! I hope he’s okay. . . .”

“What the hell was that?” Seifer muttered.

“It’s happened once already—the train to Timber,” Squall told him quietly. “If it’d just been me or just Selphie I might have shrugged it off. As it stands, whatever it is could be dangerous. We can’t afford to be incapacitated like that. We’re just lucky so far that we haven’t been in the middle of something and ended up dead because of it.”

Seifer cursed and shook his head.

Nida cleared his throat to get their attention. “It was the same as before. You just . . . collapsed. Seemed like you were having some kind of dream.”

Rinoa pushed the basket closer and gazed at him and Seifer with huge dark eyes. “I was really scared, but Nida said it should be okay.”

‘Like I care,’ he thought, his mouth twitching when he saw Seifer rolling his eyes. He fetched out a bottle of water and some food and settled in to appease his hunger. “We’ll take turns on watch. Nida, you’ll be last since you weren’t forced into a ‘nap’.”

“I can take a watch,” Rinoa volunteered, then shrank back when every set of eyes turned toward her.

“You’re a client,” Squall said, “not a SeeD.”

“You’re really mean, you know that?” she retorted with a glare, then spoiled it by yawning expansively.

Seifer snorted quietly.

“No, I’m tactless and blunt. There’s a difference.” Squall returned his attention to something more important: his food.

“I’ll take first watch,” Seifer said.

He nodded. “I’ll go next.” Then he raised his voice. “Selphie, you’ll take watch after me.”

When they were done eating Rinoa ducked into the shelter with a huff, followed by Selphie and Nida. Squall moved to lie down in front of the shelter’s opening while Seifer got up so he could pace around quietly, back always to the fire so his eyesight could remain adjusted to the darkness. Squall closed his eyes after watching Seifer for a few minutes, wondering just how much more there might be to the blond. He had not expected his unorthodox method of getting the upper hand during a spar and test to have such far-reaching effects. It surprised and amused him to find out that Seifer had a sense of humor and could tease someone without being actively malicious. It did not hurt that the blond seemed to share his dislike of Quistis and Rinoa. Would the camaraderie last? Did it matter? He drifted off to sleep wondering about many things.


The next morning they had already finished a meager breakfast and taken care of business by the time Rinoa woke up. The dark-haired girl flushed in embarrassment when Selphie escorted her out of sight, and again when Rinoa realized she was the one holding up their journey. She grabbed a few things in a napkin and stood up, nodding to show she was ready.

The forest was fairly quiet, though they were beset by numerous monsters along the way. Rinoa was always shoved into the center of their circle when they had to fight and she seemed faintly ashamed at her lack of ability. Angelo was of more use than she was, which was not saying much.

No one at Galbadia Garden seemed to pay the least bit of attention to them, so they freely walked in. Squall’s attention was more on the students wearing some kind of device which allowed them to fly. He had to wonder just how useful they really were. Farther in they moved through the turnstiles and paused, eyeing the interior; the layout was nothing like that of Balamb Garden.

“Interesting,” Seifer murmured.

“I understand they don’t use GFs,” he replied as he looked around, then arched a brow at two familiar looking people headed toward them. “What are they doing here?”

Selphie spotted them and began waving. “Hi, Quistis! Hi, Zell!” she called as they got closer.

Quistis came to a stop a foot away, a puzzled look on her face. “We heard of an assassination in Timber. Is that why you’re all here? And, Seifer? I thought you were—”

“Cid let me take a break since there weren’t any missions I could go on right away. Decided to head to Timber because I’ve spent several breaks there. I was more than a little surprised to run into Squall and the others,” Seifer said with somehow perfect sincerity.

‘Interesting that she didn’t automatically accuse our client of ordering Deling’s death.’ And speaking of—“Quistis,” he said by way of greeting. “Our client, Rinoa, requested we get her out of town once we got word of the assassination.”

Quistis nodded, still looking a bit puzzled. “Well, Zell and I are here to deliver some orders. We’re staying overnight in a guest suite on the first floor. There’s room for everyone. Why don’t you follow me so I can show you, then you can wander around and check the place out.” After getting a nod from Squall she turned and led them across the center of the main section of the ground floor, up a set of stairs, and down a corridor, pausing at a door marked GS01. Inside she pointed out the various rooms. “There are only three rooms, so. . . . The girls in one room and split the other two, I guess.” She glanced at a clock on the wall and added, “I have to go. My appointment with the headmaster is in a few minutes. Zell, why don’t you show them where the cafeteria is at least.”

“Sure thing!” Zell said enthusiastically.

Twenty minutes later they were seated at one of the larger tables with trays of food, though Zell looked downcast over the lack of hot dogs. “So wow, didn’t expect to run into you guys. You gonna hang out for a few days and then go back to Timber?”

Squall shrugged. “That depends on our client.”

“You do anything exciting while you were there?” Zell asked, then shoved at least ten french fries into his mouth at once.

“Unfortunately, no.”

“I thought it was exciting,” Rinoa muttered.

“That’s easy for someone with no experience to say,” Seifer told her.

“Not you, too!” she complained. “I thought we were—friends!”

Seifer declined to respond, instead taking a long pull on his drink.

“So, uh,” Zell said uncomfortably. “You’re Rinoa, huh? I’m Zell. Nice to meet you!”

“Yeah. It’s nice to meet you, too.” She aimed a pouty glare at Seifer and asked Zell, “Have you ever been here before?”

“Well. . . .”

“I think after I’m done I’m just going to go back to the suite and relax,” Seifer murmured, his head tilted toward Squall.

Squall nodded. It sounded like an excellent idea to him. And maybe Zell would take up Rinoa’s attention for the rest of the day. He hurried through his meal, coincidentally finishing up at the same time as Seifer, and got up to drop off the tray.

Seifer walked beside him on the way back and once inside the suite investigated what was behind each door. “Bathroom’s the one on the right,” he tossed over his shoulder. “Trepe already has her things in the room next to it, Dincht has stuff in the middle room. Want to share the last one?”

“Sure. I’d be inclined to commit violence if I had to share with Zell.” He walked over to the final room and stepped inside, then laid his gunblade on a table, also removing his jacket. The pillow of his chosen bed was shoved against the side wall and he sat down using it as a backrest.

Seifer followed him in and closed the door, then stretched out after setting his blade aside. “So, what suddenly made you start acting so different?”

Squall tilted his head back to rest against the wall and snorted. “I wanted to win our spar and I knew I was losing that time, so I tried something unorthodox. It worked.”

“Uh huh. Then explain the SeeD test.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve failed that test multiple times already. You wouldn’t keep taking it if you didn’t want to pass, so I thought I’d distract you from what I thought would get you failed again. You were the squad leader so I’d have gone if you’d ordered it. I just didn’t think it was wise to go.”

“By flirting with me?”

“It worked, didn’t it?”

Seifer chuckled lowly, a strangely honest and attractive sound to Squall’s ears. “I never thought I’d say this to you, but thanks.”

“You’re my sparring partner,” he replied.

Seifer rolled onto his side and propped his head up with one hand. “Rinoa give you much grief?”

“She’s a moron. I’d really like to give Cid a piece of my mind right now. That contract is insane. That group she’s in can barely function and none of them can even fight.”

“I’ve met them before. Last summer when I was visiting Timber. Rinoa latched on to me and wouldn’t let go. She’s like a leech. I got to hear all about the resistance groups there, hers in particular. And if that wasn’t enough she dragged me around shopping. I managed to get her to show me the contract that night. I had no idea anyone would be sent so soon, and certainly not brand new SeeDs. I don’t envy you one bit.”

Squall shrugged. “I have my limits when it comes to abject stupidity. If I hit the threshold. . . .”

“Well I don’t think you can get away with murdering the client, but I can see why you’d want to. Watts is a suck up, Zone is too scared to do anything personally, and Rinoa is a spoiled princess who ran away from home to go play freedom fighter in direct opposition to her Galbadian general daddy.”

Squall nodded. “I overheard you in the training center speaking about her and the contract. I made her show me a copy because of that. If this is Cid’s idea of getting our feet wet we’ll have jungle rot before long.”

Seifer chuckled again. “Just what the world needs more of. Zombie SeeDs.”

“I wonder why they sent Quistis and Zell here just to deliver some orders. Couldn’t they have just sent it by cable?”

“Oh, speaking of Trepe—she’s no longer an instructor. I overheard her moping about it the night of the ball. One of the reasons cited was having no leadership ability. I can’t say that I disagree.”

Squall could detect more than a hint of malicious glee in Seifer’s tone. “Maybe she’ll stop being such an inconsistent, bossy know-it-all.”

“Oh, so there isn’t something going on between you two?” Seifer asked, eyes alight with interest.

He grimaced in revulsion. “Whatever it is it’s one-sided.” Then he smirked. “Why? Jealous?”

Seifer made a face. “She was forever getting on my case if you came back from a spar with so much as a scratch. It had me wondering just what was going on, but you’re not the most approachable person to ask.”

“Well, Sir Knight, maybe you can keep the lovesick, nagging harpies off my back while you’re around,” he teased. “I may be blunt and tactless, but you take it to a whole new level.”

Seifer was obviously into the spirit of things as he raised his free hand to cover his heart and a mock-awed smile adorned his face. “You honor me with your trust!”

Squall unbent enough to laugh softly, but abruptly went stone-faced at the sound of people arriving in the common room outside. A knock came a few seconds later and the door opened.

‘Because it’s not like we might be changing or something,’ he thought in disgust. ‘Or maybe that was the idea.’

Quistis popped her head in long enough to say, “Will you two come out? I’ve got some news.”