Disclaimer: Like, I totally do not own the settings presented here. *Twirls hair* As if you would, like, think me capable of, like, such a fantasissimo plotline! Like, whatever! You are so beyond out of the loop! It's so obviously Squaresoft. Get a clue!

*Grins* Sorry, couldn't help myself. Ahem. Just a little vignette about one of my favourite characters. Meaningless, really. What can I say? I was bored.

"The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing" ~ Marcus Aurelius.

   mal de siecle, or ennui

   Through narrowed eyes she aimed, via precise aim she released the trigger. A pounding succession of shots discharged towards the target located at other side of the room. Her rhythm was steady, never once did she miss a beat.

   Bang

   Bang

   Bang

   Bang

   The concrete of the basement walls blocked the thundering resonance from travelling outside the designated area. Not that anyone would have picked it up. It was half two in the morning. Few frequented the training quarter at such an hour.

   With impatience Xu lowered her weapon. She snatched up a cartridge from her ample supply and promptly reloaded. Blanks, of course. No reason to waste real lead on a cardboard cut out.

   Blowing hair from her eyes she took aim. Her arm remained steady and perfectly horizontal as she fired. The bullets flew efficiently, hitting their goal with an impressive speed, until the gun was emptied once more.

   When she lowered her arm this time she released the revolver completely. Laid it on the small platform in front of her.

   She rolled strong shoulders and stretched both arms above her head. Feeling a release of tension she sighed and let them fall. She would be sore for a while, she knew. But it was the good kind of ache. The kind that meant hard work and discipline. The kind that reassured her she was still at the top of her game. And would remain so as long as she desired it.

   After wrenching off the heavy ear protection she typically wore during target drills Xu allowed her fringe to slide back over her forehead. It was irksomely too short to remain with the rest of her dark tresses, which were currently pulled back into a severe ponytail, ending just at the back of her neck.

   For the first time she noticed the perspiration that had formed at the small of her back and across her chest. She shrugged out of the grey cotton jacket she had pulled on over a tank top and matching sweats before leaving her room. That done, she picked up her favoured weapon to reload.

   Quicksilver. There were much more modern, and reportedly faster, models of the rapid-fire fully-automatic out there and from time to time she would pick one up. Give it a trial run. But there was something comforting and familiar about this one. It was her partner. She had known right after Cid Kramer had handed it to her all those years ago. It was the first thing that had ever truly belonged to her.

   Xu cringed at the sentimental avenue her thoughts had taken. Her lips twisted in a sneer and she scoffed at herself. There was a reason she was down here in the middle of the night. It wasn't so she could blubber about her miss-spent youth.

   The practice area was still. Her acute ears only picked up the mechanical clicking of her weapon, juxtaposed with the whispered timbre of her metrical breathing.

   She was alone. The way she wanted it ~ no one around to get in her way. No arrogant males pumped to the brim with testosterone and machismo twirling their oh-so-impressive firearms and challenging each other to various pathetic competitions. No would-be swains leering in her direction, eyes full of lurid suggestion. How people like that had yet to be weeded out of the gene pool she did not know. They were enough to make her lose all faith in the laws of natural selection.

   Not bothering to replace her headgear Xu lifted her arm and shot again. And again. And again. Grip loose, elbow curved, back straight, stance open yet ready, knees bent, feet planted and spread at the optimum distance for maximum utility. She had been trained by the best. Now she was the best.

   Her skills were flawless; they had to be. She had grown up in a man's world. Women had to work twice as hard for their share. For her it had been survive or croak, eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. Until that fortunate, Hyne-given day when she had been caught pinching Edea Kramer's handbag Xu had not known the meaning of trust or faith. Her childhood spent on the streets had taught her resilience, independence, and strength. Even then perfection had been required. Any sign of weakness and she would have ended in the gutter. Her lips curved in reminiscence. If she recalled correctly, she had been damn good in her trade back then as well.

   When the last cartridge was drained she dropped her arm for the final time and relaxed her posture. She wriggled her toes encased in worn sneakers and let her eyes drift about the room.

She had been feeling edgy all day. The restlessness had not dissipated by nightfall. After she had grown agitated with sleep's elusive nature and sick of staring at the ceiling she had given up and decided she might as well work it off. Whatever it was.

Something was niggling at the back of her mind and it was pissing her off. So she had ventured to the firearms training area to shoot off the tension. It always used to help.

   Tonight was no exception. She was indeed more relaxed than when she had entered just over an hour ago. Her pulse had balanced and the nervous energy had faded. But her mind was still tense, alert. It was as if she couldn't shut it off. Couldn't lock the thoughts away for even a few hours. Her chest heaved in another sigh. She knew a restful slumber would not be hers tonight.

   She glanced at her watch. Three-twenty. Damn. Yet another caffeine-filled day lay await for her with the rising of the sun. Her head began to throb in anticipation.

   Not that she truly minded. She loved Balamb Garden. Loved her position there. At only twenty-two years of age she had managed to achieve what most never accomplished in a lifetime. She was respected and admired across the globe for her proficiency and expertise. She was a brilliant logician ~ no one understood the odds better than she. After all, hadn't her entire life been a gamble from the outset?

   Xu was well aware of the fact that she was at least partially responsible for the grand success of the military academy. Cid frequently told her how much he would be lost without her direct and efficient efforts. Her eyes turned affectionate even as she smirked. If not for her covering his ass Garden would have fallen apart years ago. She was the mitochondrion of the cell. Pure and simple.

   Nonetheless, it was beyond that, what she craved. She did not seek the recognition and esteem of others, rather the knowledge that she had made something of herself. Done something right in her life, something she could be proud of.

   Of that she could have the utmost confidence in. Which was why she continued to work so hard. Balamb Garden was not just her career, her vocation; in a short amount of time it had come to define her very existence. It was her passion. If someone had approached her ten years previous and told her that she would be standing in that very spot today, she would have disparaged and made off with his wallet.

   That was it. Her dark eyes sharpened. That was why she was feeling all twitchy. Ten years ago today was the day she had encountered Edea Kramer on the streets of inner Deling. The day one amazing, generous woman had taken one look at the scrawny, ill-kempt, and insolent twelve-year-old and decided to make her one of the first female SeeDs to graduate Balamb Garden. Xu would never know what Edea had seen in her that day but she had made it her life's work to deserve it.

   Disabling her weapon Xu prepared to leave. Her muscles were throbbing with lack of use and she thought a walk might loosen them up. She slid the pistol into its holder and slung her jacket over one arm.

   Her skin still tingled with perspiration. The cool air that greeted her in the small chamber of the lift was a welcome reprieve. She stood in bliss as the vents wafted breezy air over her heated flesh.

   It would be a while yet before the halls filled with tired cadets and hurried SeeDs and faculty. She would have the place to herself for the next couple of hours. When the lift let out a quiet hum as it halted on the ground floor she decided to head toward the quad before returning to her dorm to change and shower. It would be nice to sit in peace before students piled in, giggling and gossiping. She wondered if she had ever been that innocent. Knew the answer was an unambiguous no.

   Her gaze traced the dazzling tumble of the fountains. So simple yet so exquisite. Funny how a plain fall of water could evoke such serenity as she felt by mere observation. She shook her head and gave a wry smile. No wonder she despised these all-nighters. For some reason one's thoughts often turned subjective when presented with such little rest to feed them. Blech. Not one of her strong points. Quistis would have been stunned.

   At the thought of her friend Xu could not help but feel a twinge of resentment. The younger woman appeared to have it all. Whereas Xu rarely hesitated to state her mind, Quistis always seemed to do and say the right thing. She had come by her grades and subsequent rank without any apparent effort. Xu knew this was unfair. Quistis certainly had her share of difficulties.

    Inside the quad she eased herself down on a bench, bending one knee to rest a foot on the edge of the wood. Her hands linked together around an ankle. A light frown caused her eyebrows to lower as she glanced up at the half-moon. It was only a fleeting look. She wasn't the type to stargaze. Her mind was focussed on the present, the tangible, and the objective. Save the philosophical, idealistic crap for the dreamers.

   It wasn't that she was exactly jealous, per se. More that she envied her friend's innate ability of compassion. Her capacity to feel, even after all she had been through. At times, standing next to her, Xu wondered if she would ever be able to experience such vivid emotions again. Or if they had died with her innocence in the back alleys of Deling.  

   She was aware it was stupid to think that way. Not to mention completely out of character. Who gave a rat's ass? Her empathy may be lost but her spirit surely was not. Yet she found herself questioning her attitude more and more as of late. Would she always feel this…empty?    

   Dumb Xu, really dumb, she berated herself. There was no way she would trade the cards she had been dealt, even if it were possible. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? In the area of pure strength, she definitely had quite a few up on her over-achieving comrade.

   With a growl she let her foot slip back to the tiled floor and leaned her neck against the back of the bench. Her eyes slid closed as she tried to rid her mind of such hazardous reflections. It was all she could do to relax her uneasy mind.

   Screw it. From now on she would concentrate on the work she had ahead of her.   

   Useless to speculate on what might have been. In the real world asperity was not only an asset it was required. Sensitivity had no place in war. It was in this real world that she would excel.

   She would play the odds, draw with caution, and bluntly lay her weapons on the table. And she would win.

   Keeping that in mind she rose from her seat in one swift movement. It was time to head in. But before she departed she sent one final coup d'oeil toward the moon.

   Eyebrows lifted in defiance, she stuck out her tongue. Then, grinning wildly, she turned her back and strolled away.

   Right on target.