Author's Notes: Nothing too racy happens in this chapter. I'll get it in soon, and eventually, it'll be a lemon like you're uesd to from me.
The train screeched to a halt, drowning out all of the other sounds in the small train station; the people talking, the sounds of many footsteps, the voice of the announcer, declaring what trains were arriving and departing from where. Squall took comfort in the noise, even when others would cringe slightly, before shrugging it off and trying to do something, anything to ignore the almost painful sound.
He paced about the platform listlessly, waiting for the train doors to open. They opened with a quick hiss on pneumatic hinges. The passengers all began to alight, laden with packages and bags of all sorts. Squall waited patiently for the crowd to thin, and for his charges to arrive. Quickly, he reigned in the excitement that coiled within his gut. It wouldn't do to get so excited. Finally, the two faces that he had been waiting for appeared out of the train car.
Rinoa smiled blissfully, catching sight of Squall immediately. Turning abruptly, she grabbed at the arm of someone else just exiting the train car. Irvine stumbled a little over the steps, but quickly regaining his balance, tried a suave tip of his hat in Squall's direction. Squall gave a brief nod in reply. Rinoa ran across the platform, dragging Irvine behind until she reached Squall.
"Squall! I'm so happy to see you!"
Irvine tipped his hat again. Squall nodded back, not breaking eye contact.
"Did you have fun while we were gone?" Rinoa asked, interrupting the silence between the three. Squall smiled faintly and sadly, looking down into Rinoa's eyes, filled with an emotion that he could not name. The emotion in her eyes swirled, mottling into happiness again.
"Let's go! I want to be well rested for tomorrow! Right, Irvine?" She turned to look behind her. Irvine smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
"Whatever you say... I'd rather be out partying."
Rinoa looked mock frustrated, "there's time for that after we graduate to SeeD!" Irvine started for the street, laughing and holding up a defensive arm against Rinoa's scratch attack. Squall stood motionless for a moment, before clearing his throat loud enough to stop both of them in their tracks.
"Speaking of field exams, Rinoa, you haven't been to the fire cavern yet."
Rinoa gasped and smacked her forehead.
"I completely forgot! Oh no..." she moaned, "now I'll have to go at who knows what horrible time!"
"I've set you up an appointment for an hour from now. We need to hurry back. The instructor will be waiting by the gate in forty five minutes."
"Oh thank you, Squall!" Rinoa reached up and placed a platonic kiss on his cheek. Squall smiled faintly down at her. They stood there for a long moment before Irvine cleared his throat, indicating his eagerness to leave. Quickly, they looked away from each other, and headed out into the busy street.
Picking up Irvine and Rinoa had been the one of the least stressful things Squall had to do that day, even though being with Rinoa still made him feel a little heartsick, despite the fact they had broken up almost a year ago. Upon entering his office, he was accosted by Xu, who handed him a fat binder with little dog eared pages and post-it notes sticking out every which way and started to herd him towards his office.
"There's someone from the office of President of Galbadia here to see you. It concerns the contract."
"Why didn't you send him to see Cid? You know I don't handle the business aspect of Garden."
"Um.. He said he wanted to see you specifically, Commander sir."
"I told you to stop calling me that."
"Simply keeping up appearances, Squall."
With that, Xu shoved him through his office door. Squall entered the office somewhat tentatively, not knowing exactly what was waiting for him, just that it was going to be difficult. With his free hand, he swept his bangs into place. The Galbadian was waiting in the chair that was put in front of his desk for meetings with clients to discuss battle strategy.
He turned, the light from the large windows of his second floor office shimmering like fire across his short cropped, feathery red hair. He was tall and thin and pale, paler than Squall himself. The Galbadian alighted from the chair and closed the distance between himself and Squall. Though the man was considerably taller than Squall, there was something about his piercing green eyes that made a part of Squall feel small and defenseless. The man extended his hand.
"My name is X. Myles Krystalhart."
Squall took his hand, feeling its smoothness through his glove.
/This man has probably never worked a day in his life.../
There was a soft noise of assent within his chest, "It is a pleasure to finally meet you."
"Shall we get to business?"
"But of course," Myles stepped aside, allowing Squall to step behind his austere desk. He placed the binder in the exact center of the mat that protected the desk from pen marks. The only other thing on his desk, the only thing of personal significance, was a framed picture sitting on one corner, far away from the workstation.
"What exactly is this concerning, Mr. Krystalhart?"
"I come here on the president's behalf to request that an amendment to the contract for tomorrow's mission be made. You are familiar with the mission that is to happen tomorrow?"
"Yes, I am. It is our field exam day for potential SeeD members. If it concerns that, the contract was signed well in advance giving explicit permission for this mission to be used as a field exam."
"No, no, it's not that."
"Then what is it, Mr. Krystalhart?"
"I wish to have anything found in the Deep Research Center be brought directly to Galbadia, and please, call me Myles."
Squall sighed heavily, rubbing his temples slightly, "I'm afraid that this can only be taken up with Headmaster Kramer. I cannot help you."
"There is nothing you can do?"
Squall could feel his patience draining. /Why don't people bother listening to me? They only hear what they want to hear.../
"Anything that involves the contract, must be taken up with Headmaster Kramer. I'm sorry that you wasted your time here."
Myles stood, smoothing out his immaculate charcoal gray suit. Suddenly, his attention was drawn to the picture on the desk. His fingers slid delicately across the wooden frame, and he picked it up almost reverently. His brows knit as he studied it carefully.
"She's very pretty."
His tone was absent, floating like dust in a beam of sunlight.
"Is she your girlfriend?"
Squall's tone was heavy and dead. It invited no further questions.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
Only when Squall heard himself say it, it almost did sound like something.
Myles put the picture back down on the table with the same reverence with which he had picked it up. Squall stood curtly, eager to show this intruder out of the room, so that he could be left alone to ponder. He escorted Myles out of the office. Myles seemed to move like water, sinuous muscles moving under charcoal gray currents.
Squall had only a few moments to himself after Myles had left. He took the picture off the side of the desk, looking for fingerprints. He stared wistfully at the glass.
It had been just after the defeat of the sorceress. Everyone had gone to Lapin Beach in Dollet for vacation. There they all were on the very same beach where everything had began. It had been warm that day, and very pleasant. Selphie had insisted that everyone was to have a picture, lest they forget because of a GF battle. He had held Rinoa so tightly in the picture. Everyone was smiling (or at least a reasonable attempt at it.) Everyone was in the picture, all clad in their bathing suits, but Squall only had eyes for Rinoa. Suddenly snapping out of his reverie, he placed the picture face down on the desk and left the office.
Planning the mission for the next day wasn't really any easier for Squall. His mind was in a million places at once, flitting back and forth like the shadows of a wind blown tree. Xu sighed, looking at Squall.
"It's fine. Now as I was saying, tomorrow, at 0900 hours, we are to arrive at the Deep Sea Research Center. It will be Quistis' responsibility to oversee the students clearing out the surface areas. According to photographs taken by the Galbadian SeeDs for their exam, there are three sorts of monsters to worry about: Ruby Dragons, Anaconduars, and Blood Souls. Be prepared with Remedies and Holy Waters in case things get to be too difficult. You are to make sure that your squad, Squad A, disables the generator in order to allow Squad B, Zell's squad into the lower chambers, as well as assist in killing monsters that may be found in the lower levels. Beware of several different types of monsters, mostly Grendels and Bombs, but don't be surprised if there are a few other types of monsters there as well. Once at the bottom of the shaft where it starts to lead to the basement, Squad B technicians will suspend the power credits by using a portable generator. Once that is cleared, Squall, you will oversee Squad C's descent into the basement, and then the sub-basement, where the Squad is to go and clear of monsters. Unfortunately, we have no idea what sort of monsters are down there. Be ready for anything. More specifically, however, your mission is to make sure any materials of any value down there, such as artifacts and manuscripts, make it to the surface, where you will turn them over to Headmaster Cid."
Xu looked around the room at all of the SeeDs present.
Zell raised his hand, "yeah, I have one: What is Battleship Island? I mean, I know it was a center for the study for Magic, but... what _is_ it?"
Xu shook her head. "I wasn't given that information. If you want to know that, I suspect the Headmaster knows."
"Who is ordering this?"
Everyone paused, startled that Squall talked.
"It was a joint assignment from Esthar and Galbadia. Since neither of them know for sure who owns the Deep Sea Research Center, they are working together to find out."
"Who is the president of Galbadia, anyway?"
There was silence for a moment, before Nida spoke, from the corner.
"They've placed a gag order. No one is to mention the president's identity right now. Personally, I believe that there is no president yet, and the Galbadians are covering their tracks for some reason."
Quistis nodded, "That could be entirely possible. I'm not sure we should trust them as much as we seem to."
Xu looked back at Squall, "Who was that man in your office earlier today?"
"There was a man in your office Squall?"
Squall sighed. "Yes, Zell, there was. He was from the president's office, and wanted to change the contract. I couldn't do anything about it, so I sent him off. It was just strange to me that he never spoke the presidents' name. That's why I asked."
"So..." Zell pondered, "Headmaster Cid would know the identity of the president, if he had to sign a contract."
"If he knows," Quistis interjected, "He must have good reason to not tell us."
Zell muttered something under his breath and shook his head. Xu looked around the room, somewhat expectantly.
"If there are no other questions, then you are all dismissed."
At the cafeteria, Squall carefully weaved his way through the minefield of chairs and stray legs to find his table in the back, far away from the Trepie table, because Quistis refuses to sit any closer. Squall, for that matter, didn't particularly like sitting by them either. The conversations that drifted from the table revolved around aspects of Quistis that Squall did not like to think about; namely, her relationships with her friends, and her sex life. And they weren't necessarily mutually exclusive topics.
Squall ducked into a corner, crossing his legs at the ankle and tucking his legs under the chair in a rather feminine manner. Ever since Rinoa began coaching him in proper posture, he had been behaving in some of the same ways that Rinoa had, though nothing could get him to hug his legs to his chest and rock back and forth, like Rinoa in one of her more nostalgic moods. That much, he had noticed as a behavior that would not be good to adopt. At least now, he didn't have as many backaches as he used to by slumping over or in from of everything when he sat down. He watched his soup ripple, casting flickers of fluorescent light into his eyes. A shadow crossed over the bowl. Squall looked up to see Zell plop down into a seat next to him, and give him the strange, almost manic grin that was Zell's and Zell's alone.
"Hey Squall," his face suddenly became serious, "Before Quisty comes over, I want to ask you something."
Squall stared at Zell for a moment, before he, taking the silence as a solicitation to continue, spoke.
"Um... Squall? I was wondering about that guy who came into your office. I mean, Who was he? What did he want?"
"I already explained what he wanted. His name was X. Myles Krystalhart."
"Oh," There was a long pause, "But that's all he said, right? About the contract?"
Squall stared at Zell a moment before speaking, "Why do you want to know?"
"C'mon Squall! Just tell me!" Zell began to sound peevish.
Squall put his hand to his forehead, trying to remember.
"He was very nosy. Asked if Rinoa was my girlfriend. And he wanted me to call hum Myles. That was it."
"That's all?" Zell looked disappointed, "What did he want to change?"
"He wanted me to turn over anything we find in the Deep Sea research Center over to Galbadia."
"Huh..." Zell rubbed his chin thoughtfully, "I wonder what the Galbadians know. Obviously, they think something down there is worth taking."
"I don't really care right now, Zell. I've had enough of all this for one night."
Squall's stern and dismissive tone stopped all conversation until Irvine came to the table, reading a textbook, and holding his tray with his free hand.
"Hey," he said dismissively.
Zell huffed, taking a bite of his taco salad, "What are you reading?"
Irvine shrugged, "eh, it's a history textbook. I'm just reading up about the Great Hyne."
"But didn't you pass your written test already?"
Irvine made a noise of disgust, "some of us like knowing stuff."
Zell scoffed, "I'm no idiot. I just thought-"
Irvine snorted, "I'm no idiot."
"An idiot savant, maybe, but not an idiot," Squall murmured.
"What was that?" Irvine looked insulted, "then tell me, what am I a savant in?"
"You've told me yourself: 'guns and women, of course.'"
Irvine rolled his eyes and went back to his book. Selphie came up behind him, her eyes full of laughter.
"Hey Irvy, whatcha' reading?"
Irvine looked up from his book with a smile that he reserved only for a pretty girl, "I'm just reading a bedtime story. If you want, I'll come over and read it to you tonight... in your room," he added with a wink.
"Aw, c'mon you perv! People are still eating! Zell hollered, a touch too loudly."
"Irvy's no pervy!" Selphie declared adamantly, sticking her tongue out and blowing a raspberry.
Squall stared at his food blankly, wishing himself far, far away.
"Besides," Selphie added, "if Irvine misbehaves... I can always turn my affections on that cute new redhead in the suit that I've seen walking around the quad today."
"But Sephie! You're the only woman for me!" Irvine whined.
Squall looked up, unaffected by Irvine's caterwauling, but rather, what Selphie had said.
/does that mean that Krystalhart is staying here? Why? Why not Balamb Hotel? I'm so confused. I need to take my mind off of this.../
Squall quickly finished his meal without another word, and unobtrusively left the table and it's bickering patrons, and left for his office.
After dinner, Squall ducked away from his friends to return to his office. Carefully, he drew the shades to the windows, and sat down at his desk. Languidly, he slid his fingers across the metal drawer above his thighs. His thumbs slid over secret buttons, pushed carefully. The drawer popped open, and deferentially, he pulled free maps and books and pictures. Carefully, he pored over the map, checking, and double checking places where someone might hide. He looked sadly at the pictures taped to the map. They were pictures taken from surveillance cameras found in Lunatic Pandora. Even with the grainy shots, Squall could see the fatigue wearing on his classic features, the mad sparkle in his eyes.
Squall reached out and touched the photograph. /I promise I'll find you, wherever you are, Seifer... I know you're still alive, but where?/
It had become somewhat of an obsession for Squall, the search for Seifer Almasy. Just after he had returned to his own time with Rinoa, it dawned on him that many of the people in the world hadn't found their way back to the present. Even on Centra, Squall could feel the loneliness. It hung in the air, wafted in on the breeze with the flower petals. But Squall was too happy to have found home, and Rinoa's inviting arms to have realized. It was only after the initial euphoria ebbed away, did he begin to worry. Gradually though, the people came back. Sometimes they came in droves, and sometimes, barely a trickle. There were still so many missing, though. It was becoming less and less certain that they would return.
/Could Seifer be one of these people?/ Squall asked himself, poring over the reports (many unsubstantiated) of Seifer and the rest of his posse. The most likely one was they were at FH, though Squall doubted it. SeeDs had been sent there since the world began reverted to it's relative timeline, and there was no report from any of them. But still, Seifer could have hidden himself within the rubble.
/But Fisherman's Horizon? What would Seifer do? Fish? He hates fishing.../
Unsubstantiated or not, if Seifer was still at the end of time, he could always appear one day. It happens all the time. And when the time comes, or if it had come already...
"It will be my responsibility to find you..." he whispered to himself, his fingertips brushing ever so lightly against one of the better pictures of Seifer, his head thrown back in a look of defiance, his hands on his hips. He looked over at the wall mounted clock hanging over his door and sighed. It would do no good to stay up all night when such an important mission was at stake.
After a time, Squall gave up for the night, putting his things away carefully, hiding them from view. He turned out the lights, and quietly, shut the door behind him.
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