The day, for all its oh-so-summertime brightness, was still riddled with clouds--every once in a while the sun would disappear behind them and, when it came out a few minutes later, Nida would be framed between the shadows of the two gargoyles that guarded the entrance to Balamb Garden's outdoor court. His jacket was open, and it was flapping in the wind in what he couldn't help but think was a particularly dramatic fashion.

Squall's jacket, on the other hand, probably wouldn't do much more than flop around a bit unless one were to run an Aero through it--and, aside from the slight movements of the fur at the collar, it wasn't doing much of anything.

And somehow, Nida couldn't help but notice, Squall still seemed to attract the glances of everyone who happened to pass by.

It was really quite a feat, he decided, given that his opponent hadn't moved at all in the last two minutes, and hadn't done much in the way of moving for the last half-hour.

"You know," Nida pointed out, "the game goes a lot faster when you put the pieces on the board."

Squall might have responded, but if he did it was far too soft for any human senses to register it. After a moment, though, he placed his counter on the board.

"Nice move," Nida said, even though he hadn't looked to see if it had been or not. After a quick glance at the open spaces, he placed his white counter right next to Squall's black one. "Your turn."

Squall gave an exasperated sigh, looking over the playing board again. Nida leaned back, resting both elbows on the stone planter behind him.

"You think about this way too much, you know that?"

Squall glanced up, frowning. "It's a game of strategy," he said.

"It's a game, Squall. It's not like you're conducting a campaign."

Squall placed his piece. "You're not taking this seriously."

"I think you're taking it seriously enough for both of us." Nida tossed his counter up, catching it deftly. "Me? My job is to have the fun in this outfit." He smacked the piece down, adding onto one of his forts.

Squall regarded his move with distaste. "You're not even playing with a strategy," he observed. "You're just putting your lines wherever you feel like it."

"Why not? Luck's as good as skill in my book," Nida said.

"You can't win Go by guessing."

"Fifty gil says I can." Reaching into his pants pocket, nida pulled out his wallet and extracted a 50-gil coin. With a challenging grin, he dropped it in the middle of the game board.

Squall stared at the coin for a moment, then carefully picked it up and put it on the table next to the board. He made no response to the challenge.

Nida rolled his eyes. "You know what the difference between you and me is?" he asked.

"I'm your superior by four ranks?" Squall responded, deadpan.

"Aside from that." Nida drummed his fingers on the game table, well aware that he was annoying Squall and seeing no reason to stop.

Squall placed his piece by way of saying he didn't care.

Nida moved quickly, eliciting a halfhearted glare from his opponent. "You're in love with the rules, Squall," he said. "I'd bet a gil to a gold brick that you've memorized the SeeD handbook. You can't figure out that life doesn't play by the book. You need to learn how to improvise."

"I seem to be surviving," Squall pointed out. "Ultimecia was hardly a regulation assignment."

"I'm not an idiot, Squall, I know you're not a computer. But--tell me. Have you ever gone against regulations? Even once?"

A number of situations ran through Squall's mind--the Sorceress Memorial, the Horizon Bridge, the Lunar Base--but he pushed each one away. Those situations had been so far-fetched that no SeeD regulation existed to cover them--the most that could be said was that he didn't go terribly out of his way to invent a SeeD regulation to comply with.

Nida wasn't waiting for an answer. "Sixty-second hypothetical," he said. "You've been dispatched on a mission to the Monterosa region. It's a two-person team, and your partner's been injured very badly. At this point, you're not sure if he'll recover. Three Galbadian patrols are in the region, and the conditions of your mission dictate that you're not to allow the Galbadians to catch sight of you or you run the risk of identification--and that would lead to the immediate declaration of a mission failure. Monterosa is all plains in this region--grassy and sparse. there's no cover, and no real way to evade the patrols. Classic nowhere to run, nowhere to hide situation. What do you do?"

"Since escape and evasion are both impossible," Squall responded, "the only other choice would be to engage the Galbadians. If they couldn't report back to their superiors, identification wouldn't be possible and the mission wouldn't be declared a failure."

"Gutsy," Nida acknowledged. "But I don't even think you could take on three Galbadian range patrols. That scenario ends with you dead and the mission a failure. Second choice?"

Squall frowned at his as-yet-unplaced game piece. "Escape, evasion, and engagement all end in a mission failure," he said. "It's a no-win situation."

"And now comes the fun part," Nida said. "Squall, you wanna guess why I'm only four ranks behind you, you being the Almighty SeeD Commander and Universal Hero and all?"

It didn't seem as if one should be able to begin frowning from a frowning position, but Squall managed it somehow upon hearing his list of unofficial titles. "You were promoted on return from one of your missions," he said.

"That mission. And--hey, look. I'm still here. The mission was a success, and I came home happy. Wanna know how?"

With infinite calmness, Squall placed his piece. "How?"

Nida made his move, completing a fort and capturing seven of Squall's pieces. "I rewrote the rules, Squall. I changed the parameters of the mission. I grabbed my partner, walked right up to the Galbadian patrol, and told them that we had been attacked by a group of people. I gave them descriptions in line with whatever they knew about us, and got a free guarded escort back to Deling City. They saw us, and they could have taken photos of us if they damn well wanted to, but they never identified us. So... I won."

"You got lucky," Squall countered.

"Like I said. In my book, luck's just as good as anything else. You going to move, or what?"

"I'm thinking."

After Squall had stared for one spot on the board for what seemed like a minute and a half, Nida decided that it might be a good idea to make sure his opponent was still alive. "Giving up?" he asked, grinning slyly.

Squall glanced up from the board, raising an eyebrow ever-so-slightly at Nida. "I'm going to win in two moves," he said. "Would you like to forfeit now, or should we go on?"

Nida looked down at the board, grin fading. "'n'ell do you figure that?" he asked.

If it was possible for Squall to sound amused, Nida would have sworn that he did. "You do know how to play Go, don't you?"

Nida frowned. "I've played it a few times," he said.

"It's a very strategic game. Heavily rule-based."

Nida was getting the distinct impression that Squall was poking fun at him. "It's your move," he said.

Squall shrugged, placing his counter. Nida moved to place his own--and froze.

"Oh, Hyne in hell."

Squall wasn't the type to say "I told you so," but if he had been, he would have.

Nida stared at the board for a few more moments--then grinned again. "Whatever," he responded, picking up the fifty-gil coin and tossing it at Squall. Squall caught it deftly. "All right, commander, I admit defeat. You're the Go champion. I'll just content myself succeeding in the real world."

"Regulation 13C," Squall said.

Nida blinked at him. "What?"

"Regulation 13C, SeeD contingency manual," Squall repeated. "The Kaeffen Corollary. Assuming a situation in which there's no possibly way to achieve the mission objectives, the SeeD's first duty is to protect the lives of himself and his team by whatever means reasonable and necessary. 13D states that, assuming survival, the mission objectives can be reevaluated and pursued if realistic." Squall went to work methodically clearing off the board. "You followed the exact letter of the regulation."

Nida shook his head. "...I can't believe you have these things memorized," he said.

Squall shrugged. "It comes in handy."

"Yeah, I'll bet." Nida glanced at his watch. "I have class in fifteen minutes, but that doesn't mean I don't want a rematch. Up for poker at six? The Adjunct Med Staff has a game going...."

Squall shrugged. "Why not?"

"I'll look forward to it," Nida said. "See you around 'til then."

Nida headed off, leaving Squall to finish boxing up the counters. He waited until he was sure that no one could see him--then smiled quietly to himself as he flipped the lid closed.