A/N1: As usual, everything is property of Square Enix where applicable.

Inspiration for this story comes from the wonderfully talented Ronin-Ai [check her stories out]. This will be my second story which is in no way related to my other one - the SeeD of Chaos. I hope you enjoy this one.

=Balamb Garden, Dormitory section, High rank SeeD and administrative accomodation=


It was 05:00 when the harsh noise of the alarm buzzed through her room. From under the plain white duvet a slender arm slipped out and wandered in the direction of the alarm clock. At first her finger seemed to run across the first button on the left which was marked "OFF" but instead it drifted to the right and hit the button next to it which was marked "SNOOZE". Her hand retreated back under the duvet and a faint voice whispered.

"Five more minutes"

Sadly for the girl wanting to sleep, the alarm clock could not understand human speech. If it could, it would have probably ignored her anyway because the moment the furthest right digit on the red and black LCD display changed from a zero to a one, the harsh tone of the alarm flooded the room again. This time, she knew the snooze button would not respond to her. She flung the covers across the bed and stood up in front of the alarm clock on the unit by her bedside. She hit the "OFF" button and the noise finally stopped. In the pre-dawn darkness she walked across the room towards her door and flicked a switch. The lights flickered to life and illuminated her surroundings. Her bedroom was pretty generic in appearances. It was a standard ten feet by 12 feet room with a double bed in the corner against the wall, facing the window. To the right of the window was the door to the rest of her quarters - the bathroom, living area, kitchen and storage room. Her quarters were on the north face of Balamb Garden like the rest of the staff and students there, but to her dismay, they were on the east side of the block. This meant that when the sun rose, the mountains and the fire cavern first shielded it from the rays of light which crept through her blinds at dawn, but without warning the full effects. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, and stretching, the woman, dressed in short-shorts (emphasis on short!) and a loose, baggy white t-shirt fumbled at the wall for the light switch. She turned it on and bypassed her mirror. She knew she looked like hell. Hell, she felt like hell. Thankfully it was her day off and she planned to do some serious training today. Hangover or not, she prided herself on being the best in any and every situation. She walked through the door and opened it. The living room area of her apartment was in darkness but she could vaguely see the outline of a bottle or two and some glasses on her table. Clearly the celebrations at the ball last night were not enough, she had to continue the party back at her place.

"I feel like hell!"

Flicking the light switch on, she noticed her SeeD uniform sprawled across the couch by two empty bottles of wine and two empty glasses. She had guessed she wasn't drinking alone, but the identity of her companion for the night was a mystery for the time being. Not wasting anymore time, she walked towards her bathroom. She saw the door was ajar and kicked it open. The bathroom was a mess, but at least it wasn't covered in vomit. She thought she had thrown up last night due to the bitter taste in her mouth but there were no tell-tale signs of any regurgitation of bodily fluids. She glanced at her watch, it read "05:15". She stripped off, casting her clothes to the floor and stepped into her shower. She figured a quick power shower would perk her up before she went for her morning run in the training center. As the warm water ran down her naked body, she briefly wiped herself over with a wash cloth before paying attention to her hair. It was almost jet black and slicked right back due to the water. She knew she would have to be washed properly again after her training session and put back to its normal perfect state, but for now she didn't care. Stepping out of the shower, she turned it off, wrapped a towel around herself and another smaller one around her head. She glanced down at her watch again, "05:21". Hangover or not, she was right on schedule. Retreating across the room back to her bedroom she glanced at her PDA - there were no new messages or alerts on it.

"Looks like I'm going solo this morning then"

She pulled out a black sports bra and black slim profile underwear from her draw and slipped into them. She put on a set of ankle socks and then reached for her wardrobe door. She opened it up and scanned its contents. It was neatly arranged in a specific order. To the left were her SeeD uniforms and official function wear, in the middle were her "training clothes" - Garden official wear and her own wear, and then to the right were her civilian clothes and 'fancy' clothes. She pulled out a pair of plain black jogging pants and then a skin-tight black lycra top. As she slipped into her clothes, she looked into the mirror - on the right side of her neck she spotted a rather telling mark.

"Why do I always get the clumsy ones?"

She pulled the lycra top on and adjusted it so everything sat right. It was charcoal grey and black in parts top which left nothing to the imagination, it clung to every muscle and curve on her upper body. She then went to her make up drawer and pulled out some concealer and put it over the mark. She'd had too much practice with this technique over the years but there was always one person who could see through it - Quistis Trepe. Thankfully Quistis wouldn't be awake right now. The last she saw of the blonde was her trying to hide from the legion of Trepies who hounded her at every move. She remembered Zell, Ami the library girl and Nida pulling her aside through a side door to the private SeeD lounge. Thankfully there were no Trepies who were SeeDs, or at least that they knew of. Judging by the amount of alcohol they had consumed last night, she figured Quistis would be passed out still. She glanced at her watch again "05:38".

"Time to tool up and get out there!"

She left her bedroom and looked across her apartment once again. It was fairly large for a SeeD, but given that she was an 'A Rank' SeeD and also part of the Garden's administration team, she was given special privileges like her accommodation and exemption from Curfews. She looked over to the left corner of the room - the kitchen was the tidiest area of the room right now. All the doors were closed and there were no left over dishes or bits of food lying on the side. The washing machine was full though, she made a mental note to put it on before she headed out. She looked across the wall adjacent to the kitchen - the main windows took up most of it, below it was a radiator and one of her chairs by the desk her computer was at. To the right of that, on the wall backing onto her bedroom was her personal wall. SeeDs tried to put small personal touches on their accommodations, most usually had the odd poster or pictures of places they'd only dream of visiting if they survived into their mid-late twenties, their goals and ambitions. She was different. Her bookcase and display cabinet was filled with research texts, military dossiers, martial arts magazines. The shelves of her case were filled with trophies from combat - the helmet of a dead G-soldier from the garden battle a few weeks earlier. A knife from a Tonberry, an Inferno fang from a Ruby Dragon, A claw from a T-Rexaur, the first one she took down solo in the training center. Alongside these grizzly reminders of death and victory were her service medals and certificates. To the right of these was the most striking feature of the room - a large blast proof locker. She opened it up - it was a small personal armory in there. On the inside of the left door was her combat equipment - utility belts, grappling hooks, ropes, sheaths, holsters and limb guards and fighting gloves. On the inside of the right door were the support weapons - various combat knives, Kunai, Shurikens and more covert weaponry such as bladed fans, hairpieces which could be thrown or used in close quarters combat and even hidden wrist blades which were spring-loaded. She took a knife holster and tied it round her inner left calf and placed a standard combat knife in there. She then took her utility belt and loaded it up with some Kunai's and her grappling hook. Her attention then turned to the middle of the locker - these were the weapons she used the most.

"What to train with today..."

As she mused to herself, she glanced over her weaponry - A Ninjato known as the Yagyu Darkblade as its blade was as black as the night, a Tanto, a Wakazashi called Kitsune (The Fox Blade), a pair of dragon skin fighting gloves and a strange-looking hand scythe which had a chain on it which had a heavy metal ball on the end of it. The main attraction though in the war closet was a pair of Sais. They were custom-made - a combination of adamantine and curse spikes made up the main bulk of the weapon with a dragon skin wrap around the handle and a star fragment in the ornamental slot at the base of the handle. From its longest tip to the end of the handle, it measured 23 inches, 17 inches of that was just the main spike. Its tips were sharp and although in pristine condition due to what it was made of, the groves of the Sai near the join were coated in stains which would not come out, no matter how hard they were scrubbed. They were known as "Tengokutodjigoku" (Heaven and Hell). She thought for a second before picking up the sai's and placing them in their special holders on her belt - one on each hip. She then attached Kitsune to the clasp for it on the back of her customized utility belt and then put the Yagyu Darkblade in its sheath and slung that around her shoulder so it rested on her back.

She glanced at her watch again, "05:50". It was time to go. She was all geared up and ready to begin her usual two and a half hour training session in the training center. It was endurance and stealth training, her plan was simple - get through the center without being detected by anyone in there this early and tag them with a special paper tag she kept in her pouch. If they didn't remove the tag after 15 seconds, the PDA would vibrate signalling a hit and then the tag would explode into smoke, alerting the person to the fact they'd just been 'stickied'. She prided herself on her abilities. She was after all Balamb Garden's most elite operative when it came to covert ops and stealth. Nicknamed the "Diamond of Balamb" by many admirers and people who had came across her in combat in one way or another due to her beauty, toughness and rarity, she was one of the most important assets to Garden, along with Squall Leonheart, Gunblade master and newly appointed SeeD commander, Quistis Trepe the blue mage and icon to the students who was the youngest person to ever make SeeD at 15 years of age and Nida Liang, the pilot of Garden and well-respected strategist. Most people overlooked her due to the fact she seemed to be more involved in the administration of the garden these days, but the Diamond of Balamb, the only SeeD with multiple weapon disciplines mastered, the only 'Ninja' in SeeD was always ready for combat. She exited her dormitory and locked the door behind her. It was "05:52" and she had eight minutes to get into the training center to begin her routine. As the door closed behind her, a small bronze plaque was on the door. It only had a short word on it, but that word was enough - "Xu".

Xu Had arrived in the training centre at exactly 06:00 hours. She carefully pushed the blast door open and got into the staging area of the facility. Scanning her surroundings, she looked for any sign or activity of someone nearby. The secret area was still open and it wasn't uncommon for some loved up couples to still be there when dawn broke over the jungle. She was no stranger to the place, she had been there many times over her years in Garden but more recently, putting the recent troubles with Galbadia and Ultimecia aside, the twenty-two year old hadn't found the time to indulge in the passions of the flesh. Last night's party in the grand ballroom on the second floor of Garden must have been the first bit of male attention she had received for quite some time. She wasn't promiscuous to say the least, but she did enjoy herself and had left a trail of potential suitors in her wake. They wanted the whole nine yards - the relationship, discussions about their future, talk of weddings and children. This was something she did not want or need in her life. She was a trained mercenary who could die in battle at any given moment and the thought of leaving someone behind who was emotionally attached and dependent on her in a non-friendly or work related way made her shudder. She wasn't afraid of commitment, not in the slightest. She was more afraid of letting people in only to hurt them in the end. Unlike Squall, the lone wolf who didn't want to let anyone in or depend on anyone or have them depend on him, Xu just didn't want anyone to be romantically close to her. It was easier that way, it helped her focus.

Drawing her mind away from her love life and focusing it back on training, she pushed the second blast door open and spread her fingers out before clenching her hands into fists, pulling the dragon skin taunt, making it rougher and tougher. She spotted a lone grat, and before it even knew she was there, Xu had ghosted her way across a fallen log, vaulted up into a nearby tree and then dropped down, driving her fist into the back of the creature. It let out a scream, alerting its pack who were in the undergrowth and the surrounding trees to her presence. Its agony was shortly lived however, Xu ripped off one of the creature's arms and drove its spiked end through the creatures mouth into its chest cavity. The creature screamed again before it went limp and fell to the floor. As its body hit the floor, several more grat emerged from the trees. The Ninja wasted no time. She unsheathed the dark blade with her right arm in one quick motion and jumped towards the grat, a quick vertical slice cut it open, letting its organs slip out onto the floor. She spun the blade round effortlessly and held it so the blade pointed to her right, like it was a knife. She moved forwards, keeping low and made a sweeping blow, taking out the legs of a second grat before she re-adjusted her grip and drove her sword into its stomach, like she was elbowing the creature. She released her right hand from the sword's handle and took it in her left hand. She pulled it out and at the same time, ducked down low to avoid the flailing limbs of another one of the creatures. She reached down to her left thigh and pulled the knife out. In one quick and effortless motion, without even looking, she threw the blade at almost the exact moment it had left its sheath on her calf and heard the scream of a grat - the knife had found its mark perfectly - it pinned the creature 's fly-trap like leaves on the top of it's body to the trunk of a tree nearby. Wasting little time, she retrieved the knife, wiped it down and sheathed it again. Keeping the sword in her hand, she looked around before deciding to head to the left. Her plan was to bypass the secret area and to make things entertaining - try and rouse a T-rexaur from its slumber.

="06:52" Training Center, near secret area, Balamb Garden=

She was ahead of her planned time. It normally took her fifty-six minutes to complete her usual route this way when practicing her sword, fist and knife style. It was time for a change now though. The amount of grats she had killed this morning would have alerted the T-rexaurs to the presence of someone. The grat in the training center were specially modified and bred to give off the stench of freshly killed animals. The smell was irresistible to the T-rexaurs and it's what made this place so dangerous. Depending on who was in there or how many grats had been killed, there could be any number of T-rexaurs about the place. Given the forty dead grats in fifty minutes, Xu calculated there would be at least three T-rexaurs awake by now. She sheathed the darkblade and reached for her grappling hook. She flung it up to the metal scaffolding just outside of the secret area and climbed up the rope and took up position. She scanned the treeline for any distinctive movements - nothing. She looked out over the other visible sectors from here - she could see some cadets making their pre-class training runs. It was a known tactic to try to get injured before class, especially if it was one of Instructor Aki's classes. He was an incredible teacher, but he was extremely strict and incredibly tedious. Xu remembered falling asleep in some of his classes when she was still a cadet, she was caught and punished with detention for a week, but at the same time, it also taught her to junction sleep magic to her defenses so she wouldn't succumb to his drone. As she watched for several minutes, she saw a familiar face leaving the secret area below. It was Xavier, also known as "Club" of the CC Group - the elite triple triad players of Balamb Garden who faced only the most gifted of players. Xu was a member - she was Heart, initially ranked second to Quistis, the King, but given Squall's conquest of the group in such a short space of time she wondered if she would lose her place. She was shocked to find out he didn't want to be part of the group, but then she also realised that Squall and social matters were a lost cause, so she had kept her rank.

"This is too easy"

Xu smiled to herself as she pulled out one of her customized tags. She gracefully made her way down the framework and in a swift and clean move, somersaulted from a tree branch, over the head of the SeeD and placed the tag on his right shoulder-blade, mid-rotation before reaching down with her left hand and planting a second one on the small of his back almost instantly after the first one. She landed down on the ground with a soft thud in a crouched stance and quickly took cover behind a nearby boulder. The seconds seemed to last for minutes as she waited for the familiar vibration of the PDA and the telltale wisp of smoke to signal a perfect hit, but it didn't come. Xu peeked round the boulder, in the clearing, Xavier stood with his weapon - a katana drawn and in a defensive stance. On the floor in front of him was the tag.

Xavier: "Xu, show yourself. You can't get me that easy"

Xu smiled and instead of drawing her weapons, she held her left hand up with all her fingers and thumb outstretched. She started to bend them down into a fist, one by one

Xu: "Five... Four... Three... Two..."

Xavier: "...Shit!"

Xu smiled as a wisp of smoke trailed up behind Xavier. He had felt the first hit and tried to play along and lure the ninja out into direct battle, but the second tag wasn't felt at all. Xavier frantically wafted the smoke away with his left hand whilst his right gripped the katana firmly. He looked at Xu, his green eyes met her brown eyes and for a moment, they almost made lasting contact. That was until Xu's eyes narrowed. Her left hand flicked out from her right side and a Kunai flew towards her fellow SeeD. He almost didn't see it coming at first, but as he drew his sword up in both hands, the Kunai bounced off the blade, startling him. He looked down at the small throwing implement and cursed her.

Xavier: "Stop trying to kill me Xu! You've made your point already, you got me!"

Xu: "I'm not trying to kill you Xav, I'm just trying to keep you on your toes. You spend faaar too much time in that special place"

Xavier drew his sword up to shoulder level and leaned its flat edge along the inside of his arm, crossing his face so his eyes looked over the beautifully crafted cutting edge. He angled it slightly so the light of the sun flashed across the ninja's eyes. Xu closed them and jumped backwards. The distraction was enough to allow Xavier to close the gap. He rushed her with his sword, he made a horizontal slice, aiming for her mid-section. Xu managed to backflip out-of-the-way using her agility. Even without junctions, she was extremely agile, but with her GF, Megitsune - the spirit of a nine-tailed fox which itself was a master of deception and quick moves and attacks, she could easily evade anything thrown at her. During one on one training sessions, she would often tell Megitsune to lower her evasion to her natural abilities just to give others a fighting chance, this was one of those moments. Xu and Megitsune had a fairly strong understanding and relationship with each other, the fox would only strengthen her when she was in actual combat or in grave peril, preferring to help her mask her true strength. In this case, the fox did as xu had expected it to, she could feel herself slowing down to her normal unjunctioned levels. As she anded down in a crouched stance from the evasive back flip, she pulled the wakazashi from behind her with her left hand and blocked the katana strike. Quickly following up, she pulled out the knife from her left calf and thrust it forwards, aiming for his right thigh. Xavier saw this and brought his sword down in a diagonal motion, parrying her blow, before moving in with his rear leg, kicking out at her. Xu moved her right arm across and parried the kick, but she had to take some of the force of the impact in order to set up her follow-through move. She quickly rose up in a spiraling motion and slashed at him with her wakazashi. Xavier had to parry again with his sword as he stepped backwards. Before he even tried to make a retaliation strike, Xu stepped forwards and thrust in with her knife again, aiming for his leg once more. Having Sparred with Xu in the past, Xavier knew what was coming. The right thrust would be followed up with her bringing the wakazashi over her extended right arm and slicing across her front in a slightly diagonal movement aimed at his mid-section. This would then be followed up by her making a small rising strike with the knife, which would then be followed up with a full body rotation into an over-head swinging slice aimed for the neck. Knowing he had only a small window of time to act, he focused his magical energy to his left hand. He stepped backwards and blocked the first left-handed slice, letting his left hand move off the hilt of the sword for a moment. He then stepped backwards, leaning as far back as he could to avoid her follow-up right knife uppercut slice before he smirked.

Xavier: "Not this time babe"

Xu didn't even have a chance to react. As she begun to spin round, Xavier brought himself back up and held his left hand out, palm outstretched. He released his focus and a gust of wind came out of his hand. It was incredibly focused and at such a short-range, guaranteed to give him the desired result. Xu had completed her twist and brought her sword up to begin what would be her killing blow if this was a life or death situation, but when she saw him smiling, she knew he had countered her already. The highly focused aero spell smashed into her stomach, winding her and knocking her to the floor. Both her weapons clattered across the ground as she lay there stunned for a moment. Before she could even reach for a kunai or a shuriken, the tip of Xavier's katana was pointed right between her eyes - it was millimeters away from her nose. Xu closed her eyes and opened her hands - a sign of defeat. This had hurt her pride slightly, but she knew Xavier was a gifted fighter and rather unorthodox when he had to be. Probably why she loved to train with him so much - it was never the same fight twice. Xavier sheathed his katana and held his arm out. Xu took it firmly and pulled herself up. She humbly bowed to him.

Xu: "Impressive as always Xavier."

Xavier laughed. He picked up Xu's wakazashi and admired the detailing on the blade, especially the engraving of the fox near the hilt. He balanced it in his hand before twirling it around and passing it back to her. Xu sheathed kitsune and retrieved her combat knife. Xavier bowed to her as a sign of respect and the two of them sat down on a nearby log. It was 07:13. The fight didn't seem that long, but in the heat of battle, nothing ever did. She wiped her forehead before taking a small hip flask from her belt. She took the top off, took a swig and then passed it to Xavier who gratefully received it. As he took a small sip and passed it back, he stopped to take a moment to actually appreciate the woman sat next to him. She was five foot five and very petit in her build but she was muscular where it mattered. Her small frame helped her fight the way she did - it allowed her to be agile, flexible and deceptively strong. Her pale skin helped her jet black hair and deep brown eyes stand out. It's what gave her, her beauty many said. Such was the contrast when she was clad all in black, she made everyone's heads turn. She didn't have the fan club like Quistis, but she was just as beautiful in her own right. Her breasts were average size, B cup most probably. He'd only ever seen her dressed in her combat and training attire so he couldn't really say, but they were perfectly in proportion to the rest of her body. Nothing about her seemed out-of-place at all.

Xu: "You done undressing me in your head yet Xavier?"

Xavier blushed. Xu knew he had a schoolboy crush on her, but he also knew her too well to even attempt to act on it. She was gorgeous but she wasn't his type. He knew about the number of dreams she had put an end to, or the hearts she had broken. He didn't think any less of her, but he knew why she was so cold and detached when it came to intimacy. He knew she would prefer to fuck than make love. He knew she would rather spend one night in passion than a lifetime in love. He smiled at her, she returned the smile. She replaced her hip flask and pulled out her PDA. There was one alert on it - it was from Nida. She opened it and started to blush.

Xavier: "Damage reports from last night?"

Xu: "You know it. Nida, Zell and Ami had to play bodyguard for Quistis... He just sent me a very brief report of what happened when they got her to the SeeD only section."

Xavier: "Quistis is a fun drunk, but she gets weird sometimes, especially if she is on the liquor"

Xu: "Try Inferno's"

Xavier winced at the mere mention of an 'Inferno'. It was a popular shot-cocktail amongst the people of Balamb - it was a three-part drink. A coffee liqueur popular in Dollet known as "KahlĂșa", a Balambian cream called "Kayleigh's" and then a tripple-sec known as 'Grand Marnier" which was then topped with another layer of dark rum before being ignited. Many people had tried the Inferno and most often burned themselves in the process, Xu did it once but as she finished drinking it through the straw, she knocked the glass over and set fire to her hand. It stung a little but it also earned her massive respect amongst the party-animals of Balamb. Xavier had only ever seen people drink it, he prefered to drink much more dignified drinks like scotch on the rocks. Both of them looked into the distance, wondering what the former Instructor would be like, drunk off an insane cocktail like that. They both laughed at the same time before Xu's PDA went once more - a picture this time came through from Nida.

Xavier: "Is that the aftermath then?"

Xu couldn't believe it. Her jaw literally dropped as she looked at the picture. Quistis who was usually prim and proper in her SeeD uniform had most of it unbuttoned, revealing her cleavage and was planting a kiss on Ami, the girl from the library who Zell had a thing for. Xu tried to process the image in front of her as Xavier stole her PDA from her hands. He saw the picture and smiled. His fingers moved quickly and before Xu even realized he had the PDA, his own PDA beeped.

Xu: "You just sent that picture to yourself didn't you?"

Xavier: "I had to. I will never share it outside our friend circle or card group, but this picture is like a gift from Hyne. Who would have known that Quistis Trepe was a wild child inside. I knew she let loose when drunk occasionally, but... this?"

Xu snatched her PDA back. She looked at the time - "07:35" and sighed. She enjoyed talking with Xavier, but this had taken a chunk out of her training time. She pocketed her device and then stood up. Re-adjusting her straps on her knife holster on her leg and re-positioning her belt, she glanced over her shoulder at the swordsman and spoke.

Xu: "Loved the chat, but I think the T-rexaurs are stirring. You up for hunting one?"

Xavier stood up. He kept his sword sheathed and his hand on the handle of it, ready. He shook his head at Xu's offer and looked at his watch.

Xavier: "I'd love to, but I'm on duty at 08:30. I need to clean up and get to the garage. I'm taking some of the junior cadets down to Balamb Harbour to show them the transport fleet and to do some maritime combat training."

Xu: "No matter how many times I ride in those things, I never get used to the fact one wrong foot and I'm in the drink. Fighting on water is so un-natural"

Xavier waved goodbye to her as he turned and headed towards the exit. Given how Xu had thinned out the grat herds significantly in those sections her comrade was headed into, he would easily be back in time to get changed and take his assignment. Xu walked towards the door of the secret area. She pressed her ear against it, hoping to hear some talking going on, but there was nothing. She wondered who Xavier had been in there with, since he left alone. Sh allowed her curiosity to take control and she walked through the door and onto the balcony. She looked around and saw an almost empty bottle of scotch on the floor near the railing alongside a picture drawn on the wall. The picture was of a broadsword and it had the words "Dian, brother in arms" wrote underneath it. Xu bowed her head for a moment in respect at the graffiti. Dian was Xavier's oldest friend in Garden. They joined at the same time, were room mates, course mates, team mates on the SeeD exam and they went on missions together. He was the closest thing Xavier had to a brother. Sadly, he died two years ago on a mission. The SeeD team had been given bad intel by their local contact. Dian and Xavier knew that something wasn't right and they scouted on ahead of the rest of their unit of cadets training for the SeeD exam when they were ambushed by bandits. Normally a single SeeD could handle an ambush by four or five unskilled, unorganized, opportunistic murderers, but when two men were set upon by twenty, its a different matter. They both fought valiantly against the men in the woods near Yaluny canyon, on the edge of Galbadia Garden's borders, but by the time the cadets had come to assist their commanding officers, Dian had succumbed to his wounds whilst protecting the injured Xavier. Xu remembered the funeral and noted how Xavier had taken it personally, blaming himself for the death of his comrade. Thankfully it was the only personal loss he had suffered, but he still talked about Dian like he was still alive. He even had Dian's broadsword smelted down and re-forged into his Katana which was called 'Dian'.

In a way, Dian was still alive and with them, but no one really talked about it. Xavier put on a good front for everyone else, but Xu knew how much he was hurting, mainly because she felt his pain too. Dian was her boyfriend once, the last man she actually called her boyfriend. They were an item when Xu was 17 and he was 15, five years ago, round the time she was preparing for her SeeD exam. She dated him for a few months and he was the guy who she lost her virginity too. She would always have a soft spot for him despite them breaking up for no clear reason and he would always see her off once she became a SeeD at 18, a year later. Xu sat down, leaning against the rail. She took the bottle and held it up - enough for one large stiff drink. Unscrewing it, she looked at the tribute to Dian and spoke, her words a mix of happiness and sorrow.

Xu: "Sorry I haven't been by much recently. The past few months have been insane. A sorceress took over Galbadia, iced Vinzer Deiling and recruited Seifer as her knight... Seifer, a sorceress's knight. Who'd believe that arsehole would get lucky like that? [she paused] We had a huge battle against G-garden which had been taken over by the sorceress and Seifer was promoted to commander of the G-army. We kicked their asses and then ended up traveling to something called 'time compression' where Squall, who was promoted to Garden's SeeD Commander.. Bit of a shock to everyone that was! Do you remember him? Silent, Loner, helluva swordsman... bit like you were.."

Xu trailed off, she took a mouthful from the bottle and winced. She hated the taste of scotch, but she knew she couldn't drink anything else when talking to Dian this way.

Xu: "Squall fought this sorceress from the future called Ultimecia, it was crazy... I don't know much of the details, but turned out his dad is president of Esthar, and his new girlfriend... yeah, he actually has a girlfriend. It broke poor Trepe's heart but she'll never tell anyone that! Anyway [Xu takes another mouthful from the bottle], Hyne this stuff tastes like arse... How did you drink it? Yeah... anyway, his girlfriend is the daughter of a Galbadian General called Caraway and she;s also a Timber-resistance faction member. I think he's going to re-deploy to Timber soon to help end the occupation, they had a contract or something. Since he's commander and will be out in the field, I think Quisty, Nida, Xavier and myself will be taking over aspects of his role until its sorted out there... Who'd have thought it, head of SeeD administration, the headmaster's right hand and the SeeD Commander's chief of operations just after my 22nd birthday"

Xu wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. She didn't cry much, but she couldn't allow herself to show weakness in such an open area like this. She lifted the bottle to her lips and drained the majority of it, before she splashed the dregs at the bottom across Dian's memorial.

Xu: "Have one on me pal. Keep Xav safe you hear me? Little bastard actually beat me in training today... bet that was you helping him eh?"

Xu stood up. She saluted the memorial before leaving the secret area. It was now 08:15. She had roughly 15 minutes to find a T-rexaur before she left the training area to head back to her quarters to wash off, get into her civilian clothes and find the rest of the gang to see what was happening. She left the secret area and headed right towards the bridges. She scanned the treeline but there were no disturbances which disappointed her. She really wanted a T-rexaur to fight this morning. It would keep her mind focused and stop it from drifting too much. Part of her wanted to abandon the training and find Selphie and ask her who she took to her room last night. The Trabian exchange student who was part of the gang who defeated the sorceress was the fountain of all gossip. If she didn't know it, it didn't happen, or it had happened and no one realized it had. Brushing her curiosities aside, Xu carefully walked across the bridge. Joker of the CC group loved to rig it with stage pyro explosives when the wrong board or trip wire was hit which would normally alert the nearby monsters to someone's presence. This trick only ever yielded two or three grat at best, but once, it backfired and brought out a T-rexaur which chased a cadet through the center until Quistis who was taking a combat class in the vicinity used her blue magic to blast the beast into oblivion. Xu wished for a T-rexaur to ambush her, but it didn't happen. She looked down at her sai's and apologized

Xu: "Heaven, Hell, Sorry. Maybe later on we can come back with a few more people and go looking for something yeah?"

=08:55, Dormitory wing, Xu's quarters=

Xu had stopped by the cafeteria on her way to the dorms. Opting for a light breakfast of toast and an apple, she ate it on the go. Not many people were in the cafeteria before 9am, so she felt no need to wait round. She opened her door and closed it behind her. She took her weapons off carefully and wiped each one down before returning each one to the locker in the precise place they had been taken out of. She then took her clothes off. They were soaked in sweat, mud and grat fluids. Putting them in her washing machine, she turned it on and then opened her blinds. It was bright outside with minimal cloud cover. Standing in the window in her underwear wasn't a problem to her. Her room was out the way enough so none of the cadets who tried to proposition her could sneak a look at her. She stripped off, walking across her living room naked towards the bedroom. Grabbing her towels from earlier, she returned to the bathroom and this time took a longer, hot shower. The water washed away every trace of filth on her body and helped her feel refreshed. She paid more attention to herself this time. Her flannel holding hand moved over every inch of her flesh. Caressing the curves of her breasts as she wiped the soap away from them. She then slid her hands down towards her crotch. For a moment she thought about taking some time for herself, but she decided against it, she would only feel frustrated later on and end up doing something foolish. Instead she simply washed the area and decided it would need attending too at some point in the next day or so before she turned the shower off. As she dried herself off again and got into a fresh set of underwear - a normal bra and matching panties, she checked her PDA. It was a message from Quistis which wasn't exactly cryptic. "Head hurts, bring water. Think I went too far again, Q x".

Xu laughed. She sent her the picture which Nida sent her and captioned it with "Don't let Irvine find out about this!". Laughing to herself again, Xu reached into her wardrobe and this time opted for something more attractive than training based. She pulled out a thigh length red skirt with golden foxes on, her just below the knee-high black boots and a white sleeveless t-shirt which had a golden fox embroided onto the back of it. She put on her red forearm length gloves and then closed the doors. She headed back to her weapons locker and removed a golden hairpin. She placed it carefully in her hair, making sure not to cut herself on its sharp edges and then took out several Kunai. She pulled out a leg strap which was designed to fit around her upper thigh, just under her skirt and out of sight. She loaded it with the small knives and then picked up her handbag. In it she placed her combat knife, her PDA, her purse which contained 400gil and a bottle of water like Quistis wanted. She tidied the room up before she left - binning the empty bottles, placing her uniform in the laundry basket and putting the glasses in the sink. After making sure she was all set, she glanced at her watch - "09:30". It took ten minutes to walk across the complex to Quistis' room. The two used to be next-door neighbors, but Quistis' room had been moved when she lost her instructors license. After much arm turning and persuasion, Cid agreed to move Quistis back to her room next to Xu by the end of the week. She was meant to move in today, but given the state she would be in, the move could wait till tomorrow she thought. Xu walked through the residential complex towards the temporary quarters of Quistis. She had just gotten near it when a voice from behind her caught her attention.

"Hey Xu, who'd you let in to your secret lair last night?"

Xu went red. She wondered how this person could know she had took someone back with her, but then it dawned on her. She had washed the concealer off her neck before in the shower. She turned round, with a look which was some kind of mix between anger and embarrassment to find Nida proudly standing there. His six foot frame, short black hair and plain sense of clothing - a grey t-shirt and blue denim made him very easy to ignore. He wasn't exactly the most recognizable of the SeeDs, but his ability to hide in plain sight sometimes made him a very valuable ally. He was also extremely intelligent - his tactical prowess was second to none and he was a gifted pilot and engineer. He walked towards Xu and playfully punched her on the arm and winked at her. If it was anyone else, Xu would have thrown them over her shoulder and wrapped her arms around their arm and tried to wrench it out of its socket for doing that. Instead, because it was Nida, she only quickly grabbed his wrist, pulled him in close and left her lips in front of his for a second. The tension built but before either of them could act, Xu let go and pushed him away and winked.

Xu: "To be honest, I don't know, but I bet you wish it was you!"

Nida held his hands up mockingly to say "Oh no, you got me!" before shaking his head.

Nida: "Nah, not in the state you were last night. I am a gentleman remember, I would never take advantage of you in your state"

Xu: "I wasn't that bad was I?"

Nida reached for his PDA. He flicked through some pictures till he found a video. He pressed play and held it up to Xu. As she watched it, she cringed. The video was of her lining up "Needles" - shots of Cactaur spirit, a form of vodka. She heard her drunken voice shout rather obnoxiously "I could do one THOUSAND of these!" before she drank five out of the eight she had lined up in quick succession. As she reached for the sixth, she lost her balance and fell against the bar, knocking the shots all over the bar much to everyone's amusement.

Nida: "If that is your idea of 'wasn't THAT bad' I'd love to see what 'bad' is"

Xu wanted the ground to open up below her and swallow her. She now realized why someone must have come back with her, when she drank vodka, she lost near enough all her inhibitions.

Xu: "Please don't make that public... I'm already trying to work out who I let play red bat on me last night, I can't have my shot-handling abilities slandered like that too!"

Nida smiled as he put the PDA away.

Nida: "Promise! Anyway, I take it you're off to see Quistis right?"

Xu: "Yeah, I'm gonna help her sober up a little bit and then take her to Balamb for the day. Go to the spa, have a pamper day before we move her back to her old room tomorrow"

Nida took this as his queue to quickly change the subject. It was no secret he harbored deep longing for the blonde. The thought of Quistis being pampered and made to look even more refreshing and attractive than she already was, it drove him wild inside. The scenes of her drunken sexual exploration last night, passionately kissing Ami, the girl who was trying to get Zell to ask her out had caused him to have a cold shower when he got home. He knew Xu was aware of his feelings for her best friend and secretly, she wished he would act on them. Quistis needed someone who would treat her right and help her get over Squall and bring her out of her shell more and the obvious choice was the man who didn't stand out.

Nida: "So, you been the training center this morning?"

Xu: "Yeah, tried to ambush Xavier, but he beat me this time in our little weekly duels by the secret area. He's getting better and harder to predict. Soon I think he'd be able to rival Squall when it come to two-handed sword techniques"

Nida: "That is high praise coming from the 'Diamond of Balamb' "

Xu cast an icy glare at Nida. She hated being called that. She felt it paid more attention to her looks than her actual value in combat. Many old rich nobles tried to hire her as a personal bodyguard but she asked Cid to ensure she was never on protection details unless it was a team effort. She was not a whore and she hated the idea that money could buy a trained killer in an attempt to seduce her.

Xu: "I'll let you live this time Liang... But watch it, next time you're in the training centre, I will pay you back"

Nida waved to her and turned his back. He headed towards the exit of the dorm and probably towards the Quad. He was often found there on his downtime or off days. He loved to people watch and enjoy the simple things. He was a complicated man when he wanted to be, but in the end, all Nida wanted was to be recognized from time to time, and not by his friends, but by people in general. Xu waved back to him before heading towards Quistis' door. She knocked on it loudly. She knew Quistis would have a Hyne-sized hangover headache, and the tormenting she had lined up for the girl was well woth the shouting and grief the blonde would give her. A groan of pain was heard from beyond the door before it opened. Quistis was a mess. Her long blonde hair was down and all over the place. It was the worst case of 'bed head' Xu had seen since the day Zell forgot to gel his hair before a class one day. Xu slipped through the slightly open door and looked at the scene in front of her - Quistis' clothes were all over the floor. There was a small bucket which had an unpleasant smell coming from it near the top of the SeeD's bed and the bathroom door was wide open. Since moving into the smaller quarters, Quistis was at least thankful that her trips to the bathroom were only seconds long instead of longer ones when the room was across from her bedroom. Xu carefully stepped around the hungover Blonde who sat shaking on the bed. She picked up her sick bucket and took it to the bathroom where she carefully rinsed it out with the shower, taking upmost care not to spill any of it on herself. She then returned the bucket to Quistis and fumbled around in her bag - she pulled out the bottle of water and passed it to her friend. Quistis mouthed the words "Thank you" before unscrewing the top and taking a drink from it. After several seconds, she finally found the energy to talk.

Quistis: "Why did you bail early last night? You were meant to be helping me"

Xu: "Trepe, from what I have heard and seen today, you certainly helped yourself"

Quistis took another sip of water. She swallowed it and winced slightly

Quistis: "Why does it hurt when I swallow?"

Xu laughed

Xu: "Nida tells me you were on the Inferno's last night"

Quistis was pale naturally, but the mere mention of an Inferno sent her as white as her sheets. Not even the most hardened drinkers amongst the party animal SeeDs would take on an Inferno. It was just something which made them feel uncomfortable, especially when an actual inferno fang was used to light it, that gave it the extra kick. Upon hearing the news, she quickly rummaged round for something on the floor. She found a pack of cigarettes with one left in it. Xu shook her head and then opened her bag. She pulled out a packet herself and took out her lighter. Since Quistis was in no state to light a cigarette, she lit it for her. After taking the first drag of it, she passed it over to her friend.

Xu: "I thought we both agreed to stop the alcohol induced smoking at the SeeD graduation ball a few months back"

Quistis took a drag of her cigarette as Xu lit one for herself. The pair of them let the faint greyish smoke flow from their mouths before talking again.

Quistis: "I'm still drunk, whats your excuse?"

Xu: "I shared a drink with Dian this morning"

Quistis didn't speak. She simply placed her arm around Xu and hugged her as best as she could.

Xu: "I told him all about you, and how drunk you got. Little Trepe, such a Wild child!"

Quistis: "You doing ok hun? Its been two years now hasn't it?"

Xu exhaled, she moved her mouth slightly and blew a ring of smoke before she leaned back on her friend's bed. Despite them both being grown women, they acted like they had only just became teenagers. Such was the price of being an orphan and a trained killer - your childhood was stolen from you and you had to claim bits of it wherever you could.

Xu: "Yeah. I try not to think about him as much now, its easier if I only think of him on special days. Xavier though, he took it really bad. He drank nearly a whole bottle of scotch last night in the secret area. I don't know how his drunk ass managed to beat me in our weekly spa this morning!"

Quistis: "He beat you? You're getting sloppy girl"

Xu frowned as she took the last drag of her cigarette before putting it in the ashtray near Quistis' bed.

Xu: "Did you see who I left with last night?"

Quistis: "I don't remember much. I know I kissed someone, and they had a god feel, but thats all I know about action. Message Selphie, she should know"

Xu sighed. She didn't mind Selphie, but she was just too enthusiastic and intense at times. Her passion for life was incredible, as was her sunny disposition. Even in the face of trouble like Ultimecia, she was talking about moogles, chocobo's and guys with Rinoa like it was a slumber party.

Xu: "I'd rather not find out on the garden forums thank you. All I know is We didn't fuck because I didn't wake up naked"

Quistis laughed as she finished her cigarette.

Quistis: "I guess thats a good starting point. You managed to pick up the one guy who wouldn't take advantage of you when you were drunk... Think it might have been Nida? I've seen the way he watches you!"

Xu: "Believe me, it wasn't Nida. He's more tongue than teeth"

Quistis was shocked at this revelation. She didn't know Xu had kissed Nida before.

Xu: "Strong, Silent, passionate... He's a keeper if thats what you look for... and before you ask, we didn't fuck. I kinda got into a touchy-feely drunk at his SeeD Graduation. I tried to take him back to my room but he was such a gentleman he refused to go in with me, instead he walked me to my dorm then went back to the ball"

Quistis stood up. She was wrapped up in her duvet. Her friend had an unfortunate habit of sleeping naked when drunk. She had lost count of the number of times the naked blonde had been sprawled out across her couch in the morning. Xu simply turned her head away as the blonde dropped the duvet and walked into her bathroom and closed the door. She could hear the shower running.

Quistis: (slightly drowned out by the shower) "So, what do you wanna do today?"

Xu walked to the door. She opened it slightly so she could hear her better

Xu: "Get a car, drive into Balamb, have a girl day - Spa, lunch, shopping, come back here?"

Quistis: "That'll do me fine. Will you get my clothes out for me?"

Xu didn't answer. She instead picked out a pair of slightly baggy jeans, a peach t-shirt and a brown jacket for her friend. She lay them on her chair and used the time she had to gather up her friend's things and tidy her room up a little. She sat down, picked up another cigarette and lit it before checking her PDA. It was a message off Irvine. Xu didn't mind Irvine. He was a good guy and a serious flirt but he had a killer weakness - Selphie. The Galbadian acted like he was a ladies man, but he only ever had attention for one girl since he met her - the Trabian exchange student and gossip queen extraordinaire. She read the message, "Hey, bumped into Nida, says you're sporting a nice mark. Got any others you'd like to show me? Love the cowboy". Xu thought about sending Irvine a picture of her underwear just to put him on the spot, but she thought against it. Instead she took a drag of her cigarette and messaged him back, "Yeah, if you tell me who marked me, I might show you the rest ;-)". She knew Irvine would never reply to this taunt so she had silenced that for now. It did present a problem though, who did she let near her last night if Irvine, Nida and Quistis didn't know? Xu took another drag of the cigarette before putting it in the ashtray. She only had two left in the packet and then she was done smoking again till the next big occasion. As she savoured her guilty pleasure, she ran her free hand along the mark on the right side of her neck. Whoever it was, they wanted her to know in the morning she thought. Whoever it was also must have respected her enough not to take full advantage of her. As she tried to run down the list of potential men on her list, the sound of Quistis leaving the shower interupted her. Xu stood up, shielded her eyes and put her cigarette out.

Xu: "I'm gonna head to the library. Its... [looks at watch] 10:05 now, meet in the garage at 10:45?"

Quistis: "Yeah, I'll be ready by then. When we get to Balamb, can we eat? I think I'll be hungry then"

Xu: "Sure... Now get ready, we both need this weekend off. You've earned it!"

Xu left the room, closing the door behind her so no prying Trepie could sneak a peek at their idol in the flesh. She looked around before heading down the hallway towards the library. She was only going to eavesdrop in the stacks. She knew if there was any gossip about her, the library would be the best place to start.

"Next time I get drunk, I'm going to do a Nida and photograph everyone I interact with"

A/N2: The inferno cocktail mentioned is inspired from the cocktail the B-52... its deadly!