Four Blue Corners

Squall: I sit down in the circle of chairs, balancing my wine glass while I do so. The others are already seated and talking, except Rinoa, who has obviously been waiting for me to show. I give a quick grin to reassure her I'm alright as I settle comfortably into the leather cushions of the seat.

It feels funny being here tonight, the day after the day after we saved the world. I almost didn't come. I thought a lot about the old me, of going back, of switching off again. I couldn't do it. You can't go back to the way things were once you've changed. Even if you act the same, you'll always be aware that something happened, that there is another way.

I look over the rim of my glass at the others while I take a sip, trying to fix their faces in my memory. Irvine is leaning forward conspiratorially towards the girls. He is making Selphie laugh over something, probably another one of his outrageous stories. He even has Quistis hiding a smile behind her hand. Zell is twitching in his seat and eying the bar, clearly a bit bored. Another couple of beers and he'll start to relax and loosen up. Rinoa is nibbling a strand of her hair absently, listening to Irvine, Selphie and Quistis talk.

I watch Rinoa, deliberately losing myself for a little, watching the movement of her face. It weaves a little as she follows the story, some old battle of ours. She frowns a little, and launches into some vital correction of one of Irvine's points, starting a good-natured argument involving much arm-waving and gesticulating. Someone says something by my ear and they turn to look at me. Yikes. Rinoa hates it when I just stare at her.

"What?" I blurt intelligently.

"I said, 'Do you remember, Squall?'" she repeats, watching me with a knowing look.

"He's not heard a word that's been said in the last five minutes!" Zell laughs next to me "He's ignoring us all again to watch you, Rinoa."

Note to self: Kill Zell.

"Oh, Squall!" she says reprovingly "At least make an effort to speak to your friends. It's our last evening together."

But her tone is forgiving. I give her my best lost puppy look and am rewarded with a roll of the eyes and a touch of a smile on her lips.

Quistis, Chief Instructor Trepe now, I remind myself, salutes me with her glass and takes a sip.

"It's strange, knowing we're going away after tonight, isn't it? Where will we all be in six months time? What will we all be doing?" she asks reflectively.

I'm wondering too. We've all been hiding these last few days, dodging the upcoming separation. The… whirlwind that swept us all up, flung us all together and carried us all over the world is now scattering us back to the four corners of the globe again. I mean, we saved the world. Then we came back, and the world said "Well done. Now what?"

Tomorrow Quistis leaves to take up her new responsibilities in Balamb Garden. Zell is vanishing off to see his parents for the first time in months. Selphie is returning to Trabia Garden, to lead the reconstruction effort. Irvine is going with her. As newly promoted Military Director of all SeeD forces, I'm stuck overseeing the creation of the new company headquarters here in Esthar City. Esthar Garden. That name has an odd ring to it. Esthar was unreachable for all of my lifetime.

"I always thought that if I survived, I'd just get to go quietly back to teaching," continued Quistis musingly "And now I turn round and find that I have powers no one has ever seen before, and I'm not just an instructor, I'm in charge of a whole damn academy. I'm expected to teach the people who taught me basic para-magic! I woke up this morning and thought "I don't know this person lying here."

"I know exactly what you mean!" laughs Selphie "Yesterday I videophoned an old commander I had up in Trabia… and she called me Ma'am."

We all have to smile at the picture of last year's Trabian messenger girl today being saluted.

Irvine sees a break in the conversation and darts off, to return with another tray of drinks. He serves Selphie something clear and reeking of gin, with a cocktail stirrer sticking up out of it. Selphie swigs a mouthful unhesitatingly, and then stiffens abruptly in her seat. Her eyes flicker over to Irvine. For a minute I think he is going to be able to pull it off, then his face creases up, and he bends over in a fit of laughter. Selphie sprays her mouthful of drink all over him. As we sit there laughing, I'm struck by how much the drips running off Irvine's hat look like tears.