Bad Blood

A Final Fantasy VIII story by Neb

Squall sat in the passenger's seat of the Ragnarok, quietly looking out of the window. Selphie, piloting, had stopped talking for possibly the first time since they'd left Balamb, and Squall was in no mood to set her off again. Not that he didn't like Selphie- quite the contrary. It was just that this was the first time Squall had been sent on a mission since Ultimecia's defeat three months ago, and he wanted to be sharp.

Upon his return from the time-compressed future, everyone had treated the six of them as heroes, legends. And not just in Garden- they were all international heroes. Some, like Zell and Irvine, adored the publicity, couldn't get enough of talking to the media. But it was Squall they were really interested in. He was the young commander of the Garden, the leader of the group who finally defeated the evil sorceress. Squall didn't feel like talking then and he sure as hell was not about to change his mind. He was a SeeD, first and foremost, and that's how he was going to stay. Hell, he wasn't even the highest-ranking SeeD in Garden, and he totally expected to be despatched on new missions as soon as the fuss had died down (Garden still needed funding, and Headmaster Kramer saw no better way than to rent out SeeDs, same as always). Only when the fuss died down, Cid had done something that Squall found horrifying.

"Excuse me?" Squall had said. He had heard Cid word for word, but was quite unsure whether or not this was some sort of unfunny joke.

"I meant what I said, Squall," Replied Cid. "I want you to stay on as Garden Commander. You've proven yourself to have a clear head and strength of character, despite your young age. The young students look up to you. They idolise you."

Yeah, right, Squall had thought.

"If you walk down the corridors of this Garden, you'll hear them all talking about you, about how they're so desperate to impress you."

Squall had had enough at this point. He was never the most talkative of people, but he couldn't contain himself any longer.

"What exactly is it about me that they idolise? What makes me this legendary figure, like some kind of mystic warrior sent from Hyne?"

Cid shook his head dismissively, before replying. Somehow, his words managed to start to convince Squall. "It's the intangibles, Squall. Tell me, why did you fight Ultimecia, even though you knew you almost certainly wouldn't return alive?"

Squall lowered his head. He was losing the argument, and he knew it. But, he wasn't about to go down without a fight. "Because it was what I was trained for."

"More than that, Squall. It was because you cared about what happened to the world. What happened to its inhabitants. You didn't want to be a hero. No true heroes ever do. But you came back, and you are a hero. You owe it to them, you owe it to yourself, to live up to those responsibilities and lead this Garden. It's your destiny."

Squall sighed, then reluctantly offered Cid his hand. "You've got yourself a Commander then, Sir."

Cid took Squall's hand a shook it, a broad smile developing on his face. "Call me Cid."

Being a hero was fine for Squall. Being a role model was also OK; kind of flattering in a sense (although he wished the students, his crew, in a way, would stop wearing those furry jackets), but what disturbed him most was being taken off active duty. He was a fighter, probably the best in Garden, certainly the greatest gunblade fighter the world had ever seen. But Cid once again had a speech lined up for Squall-

"It's not all fun and games, being a hero."

Squall nodded at that- it was hardly fun and games at all. The ritual for new inductees seemed to be "speech by Headmaster Kramer, followed by having your photo taken with the hero". He felt like an old war-horse, which was dragged out for parades so all the little children could point at it. And he hated it.

"You need," Cid continued, "To remember that your presence boosts morale. If you're hurt, or god forbid, killed, then the morale of the Garden will go straight through the floor."

"You can always hire another Garden Commander," Squall retorted.

"Yes I can," Cid agreed, "But I can't hire another Squall Leonheart."

Squall conceded defeat at this point- Cid was his boss, after all, and while Squall may have had his ear, Cid's word was ultimately final. So, Squall sat down at his new desk, delegating out tasks, and watching as his friends, Zell, Irvine (who Cid had made a SeeD following Ultimecia's defeat, as he wasn't beforehand), Selphie, Nida (but not Quistis, who had re-assumed her teaching position) went out to the front lines to keep the peace. Squall got slightly depressed, but at the end of the day, he was always happy.

Because of her.

Somehow, this beautiful raven-haired girl had managed to work her way into his life until the thought of life without her was to Squall like living without arms or legs. She'd taken up SeeD entry classes after the defeat of Ultimecia. While she may have been a bit old, at the age of 17, no one could argue that she wasn't as capable as any SeeD. Nonetheless, Rinoa herself insisted that she be tutored properly, and Quistis had been only too happy to oblige.

Squall and Rinoa had grown very, very close very, very quickly, and within a week had decided that separate quarters were not for them. Amazingly, despite his dislike of students getting romantically involved with each other, Cid had not only granted their request but had moved them to what was known as "the honeymoon suite" of the Garden, complete with four-poster king-sized bed. Squall had at first been tempted to turn it down, but when he saw the grin on Rinoa's face, he knew that they'd be happy in their new quarters. They spent every night together, except for the odd one when Rinoa was on an outside training mission, and they were happy. Then, just as Squall was settling down to his new life, Cid called him to his office with a message.