Disclaimer: I make no claim whatsoever to the characters or world of Final Fantasy VIII, which is the property of Squaresoft/Square Enix.

Chapter I


He felt submerged in her presence, a tingling sensation that was so intensely her that it jolted him out of his hard-won sleep.

Squall's eyes flicked open. His heart was racing, probably from some dream that had dissipated the moment he awoke. The only remnants of it were a faint buzzing in his head, and an urgent thought: Rinoa.

Whatever the dream had been, it left him with a heavy feeling that something wasn't right with Rinoa. Squall shifted, and half-sat up in the bed to get a better look at her. His girlfriend was sleeping softly at his side, without even stirring at the movements he made. He ran a tender finger along her smooth black hair, brushing a strand off her cheek. He envied her ability to sleep so deeply. SeeDs were conditioned from a young age to wake at the slightest sound, or hint of danger. Rinoa's middle-class upbringing in Deling City had spared her from that. Despite the horrors she'd later experienced, the art of true sleep had never deserted her. He wondered if she knew how lucky she was.

He stayed still, watching Rinoa for a few moments. In the light seeping into his Commander's quarters from the corridor, he could make out a tiny frown carved into her brow. She'd been wearing it a lot lately. He wasn't sure for how long. Her face used to look so peaceful when she was asleep, didn't it? When had that changed?

The red digits of the bedside data panel blinked back at him. 3:03 am. Squall sighed, and silently swung his legs onto the floor. The thick surge of adrenalin that had woken him had ebbed, but he knew there was no way he would be getting back to sleep. His nervous system was now primed to start the day, even if he would prefer to lie in bed with Rinoa for the next few hours.

He crept towards the closet, pulled a black SeeD sweatshirt over his head and fumbled his way into a pair of pants. He tiptoed across the floor of the living area in search of his boots, praying that he would not trip over the sleeping bundle that was Angelo. Rinoa's dog had a basket at the side of the sofa, but rarely remained in it until morning. He knew from bitter experience that she did not react well to being stepped on.

Squall decided that he may as well take advantage of the dead of night to finish up some paperwork. At least he was unlikely to be disturbed by the usual time-wasters: long rambling phone calls from Cid, video conferences with the President of Esthar that never failed to stray away from official topics, or Xu at his door with another punishingly thick stack of documents awaiting Squall's signature. He slipped through the door, closing it as quietly as he could.

The corridors of Balamb Garden's upper floors were deserted at this hour. The dimmed lights were still too white, too fluorescent for Squall's bleary eyes. He kept his gaze on the floor, noting how scuffed the dark blue carpet had gotten. He mentally added Carpet Replacement, Question Mark into a budget allocation spreadsheet that he and Xu were working on, and wondered what she would say about it. He pictured a derisory scowl, possibly accompanied by a few choice curses. It was fair to say that Xu and Squall had different priorities when it came to the Garden's funds.

The buzzing in his head was still there when he swiped his entry card to the Commander's office, and Squall shook his head in annoyance as he pushed the door open. Maybe he was just overtired-

What the hell?

Moonlight streamed in through the huge windows, illuminating a scene that didn't make sense. Squall stared at the figure hunched at his desk, her hands darting over the keyboard of his computer.

"But you were asleep," he blurted out.

Her hands froze, then her whole body.

Even with her back to him, he would know Rinoa anywhere. The tilt of her head, the way her hair fell around the nape of her neck. But this was... strange. She was wearing a flimsy white tunic and pants that he'd never seen before. It made her look like a nurse. Or a surgical patient.

"Rin?" he said, uncertainly.

She slowly drew herself up to a standing position, still facing away from him.

"You're... not supposed to be here."

He laughed, a little nervously. "I'm not supposed to be here? In my own office? What are you doing with the computer, Rin?"

"Please go back to bed, Squall."

Her voice was strained. Something wasn't right. No, he thought. Not something. Everything. The sense of wrongness was overwhelming.

"Rin...?" he started, not quite sure where his question was going. "Why does everything about this feel wrong?"

She flinched. He was sure of it. She's afraid. Why?

"Please, Squall. Don't."

He stepped forward, his hand outstretched, determined to make her turn round. To see her face. See what was wrong. But his hand came up against a solid wall, some invisible pressure that occupied the space between him and his girlfriend.

"Rin, what-"

He pushed against it, and was instantly thrown back by a force that slammed him to the floor. Squall tried to raise his head, aware of a dull throbbing at the base of his skull. And something else, too. A familiarity. A memory, maybe. Had this happened before? Yes, it definitely had… and with Rinoa. Where?

"Rin," he croaked as he tried to rise to his feet. "I don't understa-"

She turned around and quickly threw a spell at him. In the split second before it hit, Squall's eyes registered the unmistakeable sight of a thin red line traced diagonally across her forehead and the bridge of her nose, her pale skin lit up in the moonlight.

My scar, was the last shocked thought his mind held onto before the powerful Sleep spell shut down his senses. Why does she have my scar?