Summary: It's about five months since the end of the game, Squall Leonhart has been forced into the role of an international icon and out of active duty. He finally gets the opportunity to go on another mission, but what happens when things go wrong and he's taken prisoner? Will Squall's friends find him? And what happens when it seems he doesn't want to be found?

Story includes a little bit of every genre, I think. There is a bit of Squall/Rinoa and Irvine/Selphie but the romance is in the background.

Disclaimer: I do not own Squall, or anything else from the Final Fantasy game, I only own this plot, but that's enough for me. The whole world belongs to Square! Happy reading, I hope you like it.

Note: This is the updated version of Chapter 1 which completely changes the mood in which this story is set. So, if you have already read chapter one... Well, go ahead and read it again! Just about every scene has been changed.

Ardent Deception

I.

Squall glared out the window behind Headmaster Cid's desk. He had received a message the night before to report in first thing in the morning and had already been waiting for one and a half hours. He wished he could just leave, but was afraid that the moment he did Cid would walk in and he would get in trouble for not showing up.

At last the doors behind him opened and the middle-aged Headmaster of Balamb Garden entered. He smiled at Squall as he walked around his desk—although the gesture seemed forced.

"Good morning, Squall," He greeted, quickly glancing over the papers on his desk.

Squall snapped off a quick salute and returned the greeting, "Good morning, sir."

"Just Cid is fine, Squall," the man insisted for the hundredth time, "You're Commander now and besides, we are in private, there is no need to stand on ceremony."

"What did you need to talk to me about?" Squall asked, cutting to the chase as always.

Cid smiled a little at the teen's predictable behavior, "Yes, well… Squall your wish has been granted." He said, carefully watching the brunette for any change in attitude. He was disappointed to see only the strictly stoic SeeD but continued anyway, "I have a mission for you." He paused again, mulling over what else to say.

"Now, I know I said you weren't going to be on active duty for some time still, but I just can't send anyone else for this one." He continued, pausing to see what Squall would have to say to this.

Quickly realizing a reply was expected, Squall managed a monotone: "I understand, sir."

"It isn't an ordinary mission," Cid continued, "you'll be on your own. It's an espionage mission, Squall. It's imperative that you're not seen; the party you'll be spying on is known to be very dangerous and we don't want to lose you.

"More than that, I can't tell you right now. You'll receive the rest of your briefing on the train, which you'll be catching out tonight, the 23.00 to Timber." Cid paused once more, "Oh, and I'm sure I hardly need to tell you this, but it is a top secret mission, you're not to tell anyone about your departure. I will take care of your friends missing you later."

"Yes, sir." Squall responded covering up a smirk of amusement himself at the look of annoyance on Cid's face caused by his formality.

"Until then you're to go about the day as normal, don't let on that anything's amiss. Dismissed." Squall gave the Headmaster another salute and walked to the door. "Oh, and Squall," Cid added, stopping the SeeD as he was opening the door. Squall turned back to give him his attention again, "Good luck, in case I don't see you again."

A hint of worry seeded itself in Squall's stomach but the Headmaster squashed its bloom by smiling and finishing his statement, "Before your departure."

Squall nodded and managed to give the Headmaster a small smile in return before heading back out the door and down to his first class.


Squall grunted as the large tail of a T-Rexaur slammed into his body. His feet hardly skidded as he used the momentum to push himself off the ground and jump towards the creature, tearing his gunblade across it in a lightening fast movement. The lizard let out a cry of pain as its body collapsed. In a last futile effort it snapped its jaws at Squall but the agile SeeD easily dodged the monsters dying attack.

The SeeD stepped back and gave his sword a quick jerk, sending the majority of the blood flying off the blade, then swiftly wiped a cloth along its length. He turned his head at the sound of movement behind him, every muscle in his body tensing up.

"Yo, Squall!" The teen in question quickly turned his attention back to his weapon and finished wiping off a last few stains of blood before slipping it back in its sheath.

"Squall!" The blonde called again, running over to him, "Hey, didn't you hear me?"

"What do you need, Zell?" Squall asked, turning to face his friend again with an inaudible sigh. Everywhere he had went today it seemed like the blonde martial artist was right behind him.

"You want some company?" Zell asked, bouncing on the balls of his feet and punching the air, "I have a few more hours to fill my quota this week."

Squall shook his head, "It's getting late. I'm going to turn in."

"Aw man," Zell sighed, dropping his head. Recovering almost immediately he shrugged, "Alright, man. I'll see you tomorrow."

Squall replied with an unintelligible grunt before walking past Zell towards the exit. Zell didn't seem the least bit bothered by this and pushed forward into the training center, eager to find some prey.

Squall reached his dormitory at 21.30 and headed immediately to the shower to rinse off the sweat and blood that covered him from his time in the TC. He stopped suddenly as he entered the adjoining bathroom that was one of his new liberties as Commander and quickly retraced his steps until he was once again standing in front of his bed. Sure enough something was not right. A pile of neatly folded clothes was stacked on the end of the bed with a note lying on top. Squall picked up the paper and flicked it open.

"I forgot to mention one thing earlier; as this is a covert operation you will not be able to wear your own clothes. You're an international icon, you'd be recognized in an instant. Please find the clothes accompanying this note; if you have any problems with the size, contact Xu immediately."

Squall picked up the clothes. Dark blue jeans with a hole in one knee, a long sleeved forest green shirt and a stocking hat of a slightly darker shade of green. He sighed and took them into the bathroom with him.

A half an hour later Squall had successfully made his way out of Garden, avoiding every single camera and every single guard. Cid had said it was a covert mission and Squall had made sure no one would even know he was gone until well into the next day. He didn't even allow himself time to reflect on this small victory though, the mission was far from over.

Squall made it to the Balamb Train Station a few minutes before the train was scheduled to depart. He bought his ticket and got onto the train with no one noticing anything amiss. It was the only train departing at this time of night and he was pleased when no one seemed to recognize him.

Opening the door to the inner compartment of the train with his ticket, Squall couldn't help but think of Selphie. She'd probably be mad at him for going on a train without her. He, personally, didn't particularly like trains. They were too loud and crowded, but, thankfully, as a SeeD he didn't have to worry about the latter as he received a private room.

Inside the small room, Squall's eyes quickly fell on a yellow folder in the middle of the small coffee table. He immediately picked it up and opened it as he sat on the couch.

Egeslics.

Leader:

Size:

Squall frowned seeing the many blanks on the pages, it seemed there was hardly anything known about this gang or whatever they were. He casually flipped through the pages until he found what he was looking for, it was the mission briefing for him.

Squall, as you now know, very little is known about the Egeslics—as they call themselves. Three SeeDs have already been dispatched to gather information, the most recent over three weeks ago, none have returned which is why we are sending you—only the best.

The group started as only a minor annoyance in Galbadia, but what started as bombed garages and drive-by shootings has escalated enough for the government to recruit our help. Their most recent act of terrorism was the destruction of a train five days ago; the train, which started in Timber, exploded just after it entered the train station in Deling City. Over 250 passengers and bystanders were killed including a handful of high ranking military officers.

The President thinks they may be hiding out in Timber, you are to gather information from the locals or other sources you can find. Be careful, it's obvious these terrorists are no longer playing around, they're a deadly group. If the occasion arises that you are taken prisoner… Do what you think best.

Sqaull frowned, that was rather open ended, Shifting through the rest of the folder's contents he found a small vial. Carefully, he opened the lid and sniffed cautiously at the contents. He started with surprise: poison. There was no question as to what this was meant for; he slipped it away in a hidden pocket at the bottom of his pants. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that.


Squall stalked the Timber streets with irritation, his boots thudding on the cobblestones as he made his way around town in the growing dusk.

A group of children lingering on the front steps of the Timber Maniacs building scattered with one look at his face. If he hadn't been in such ill-temper he may have been amused. But after spending a week among the boneless population that made up the unorganized Timber rebel groups he didn't think anything could be worse.

Rolling his eyes Squall swiftly made his way past a couple of teenagers making out in the twilight on the bridge that overlooked the main square. Giving the unpleasant scene that only worsened his mood a wide berth, Squall took the steps down to the town square two at a time.

His evening got worse yet when he spotted Trent, an old drunkard that seemed to believe Squall was his best friend, sitting forlornly outside the bar that stood in between Squall and the post office. He tried to walk past very quietly, hoping he wouldn't be noticed.

"Ah! Clint, that you?" Squall stopped as the man drunkenly swaggered over to him, slurring his words and hiccuping a little.

"Care to join me for a drink, mate?" Trent asked, grabbing Squall's jacket to keep himself upright on unsteady feet.

(I think you've had enough already...) Squall thought dryly as he made a face at the stench of the man's breath. He fought off the urge to retch that the touch of the sticky hands on him invited and forced himself to reply, "Not tonight." He shook the man off him, wondering when he would realize that the answer was always the same.

"Aw," the man complained, drawing out the monosyllable far longer than anyone had the right to. He shuffled his feet sullenly as accompaniment but almost lost his precarious balance in the process, only saving himself a trip to the ground by grabbing Squall again.

Squall sighed aloud this time and dug a handful of gil from his pocket to place in the man's hand. "Knock yourself out, Trent," he said, knowing that money for more drinks was really the drunks only objective. "Please," he added.

Trent missed the implied insult as he always did and stumbled back toward the bar, loudly proclaiming to the whole empty street what a great guy his "buddy Clint" was.

Shaking his head with disgust Squall walked into the post office and right up to the counter. He placed a small envelope on the counter as well as the required sum of gil.

"Last one in again, eh, Clint?" The old postman greeted, the wrinkles on his slim face rearranging themselves into a smile.

Squall nodded curtly.

"Same place as last time?" The man asked in a kind tone as he gathered up the money and envelope.

Squall nodded again.

The old man chuckled to himself as he filled out a receipt form. He presented it to Squall once he had signed the bottom. "Nice chatting with you," he said with a wink between more chuckles.

Squall ignored the sarcasm, "Good evening, Mr. Vector."

Charging swiftly back out into the growing night, Squall made his way to the train station where he had already procured his ticket to Deling City earlier that day.


Squall walked out of the Waltzer Bar after a particularly helpful chat with his chief informer, Craeg. Cold air pumped with exhaust fumes filled his lungs immediately, a welcome change from the smoky din inside the bar. He walked through the dark, semi-crowded back streets with his hands almost twitching at his sides and his head trying to look every direction at once.

Last night some unfortunate petty thief had tried to hold him up for his wallet with a knife. Squall wondered when the kid would be released from intensive care.

Even with his alertness it took Squall longer than he would have liked to realize he was being followed by two large men that could only be described as thugs. Now that he had noticed them they stuck out like a fine piece of art might while before they had appeared no more spectacular than any other flickering neon sign or glowing graffiti on the wall.

Squall continued at the same pace as if he hadn't even noticed them but instead of heading back to the hotel he began taking turns that would lead him to the less populated areas of the city. After all, whatever ended up happening, he would rather not have witnesses to his confrontations.

Forcing himself not to cast nervous glances at the men over his shoulder as they walked, Squall found himself walking in a part of the city he hadn't been to yet. His nails dug into the palms of his hands as they were fisted tightly, (Why do I get the feeling I'm not the one choosing our battleground?)

By the time Squall and his pursuers arrived in an abandoned alley they had significantly narrowed the space in between each other. Turning to face the men, Squall held his ground, ready to reach for his gunblade if need be.

"Why are you following me?" Squall demanded, glaring between the two men.

"Just want to help, buddy," one of the men said in a gruff voice, "Heard you was askin' about the Egeslics."

Squall shook his head. They hadn't used any of the proper words his connections knew and that could only mean trouble. "You must be thinking of someone else. I'm not interested in anyone but myself."

"Oh, but I have it from a very reliable source that you're paying good money for information, Mr. Wood," the second man said, greening toothily.

Squall's eyes narrowed and his muscles tensed further, ready for action. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Alright, enough playin' dumb," the first man said, cracking his knuckles threateningly in much the same manner as Zell before a fight, "We know who you are and we're under orders to bring you down, SeeD!"

Squall's gunblade was out and in his hands in a heartbeat. The first man was spinning a heavy chain with malice, slowly closing in on Squall. The second man picked up a steel bar from a pile of debris next to one of the buildings on either side of them, his action accompanied by the sound of metal scraping concrete.

Acting on his honed instincts, Squall spun around only to see a crowbar swinging towards his head. He nimbly jumped back, just avoiding the painful blow. More men were climbing out of the open manhole behind the ambusher, but Squall didn't give any of them a second thought after registering the fact that they were there. Instead he jumped quickly over the steel pole which had been aiming to sweep him off his feet.

Even as he landed Squall felt the cold links of the first mans chains around the front of his neck. He gagged as muscular hands yanked the chains suffocatingly tight but acted quickly, reaching over his shoulder with his open hand to grab the man behind him with the intention to flip his attacker over his back.

Before he got a chance to complete his move he was forced to use his gunblade to block a series of attacks from the pole-wielder, each more intense than the last. His grip already weakened by the lack of oxygen implemented by the chain, the second man managed to knock Squalls gunblade from his hand after a couple of hard, jarring blows.

Instead of trying to retrieve his fallen weapon, Squall concentrated on completing the move he had started earlier. He used both hands now and ducked, pulling at the man behind him with all the strength he had remaining at the same time as he kicked the mans legs out from underneath him, sending the attacker rolling over his back and bowling into his comrade. Before the SeeD was able to re-establish his bearings pain exploded at the base of his skull.

With a feeble grunt of pain Squall fell face forward onto the alleyway ground. The man with the crowbar stepped back, smirking triumphantly.

"This one put up a fight," he commented as his comrades stood up, one of them wiping blood from his mouth. "The others didn't even see me coming."

Two more guys were already picking up the SeeDs limp body. Under the supervision of the other three they lugged the dead weight back to the manhole, lowering him down to waiting hands below.