"The most precious possession that ever comes to a man in this world…is a woman's heart."
- Josiah Gilbert
-. Possession .-
It was strange for him to realize how much he didn't care in that moment.
He didn't care about the hundreds of people watching, even though many of them were government officials, colleagues, students and some mere children. He didn't care about his friends and family, the ones he grew up, the ones who had raised him, the ones he had recently learned to trust with his life, all screaming at him to stop. He didn't even care what they would do to him after this, however it turned out.
There was no doubt that something had snapped, and he took comfort in the fact that at least he was aware of his folly. Somehow, that made it easier to function.
His mission was straightforward after all. As clear as day. As bright as the sun.
The storm encompassing his mind relented a little at the name, hovering instead of suffocating, and Squall blinked away what felt like the effects of way too much champagne. Even though he hadn't had a drop tonight.
Or had he?
Squall blinked in confusion. His memories, his entire past, seemed to be muddling into some singular, mutating event.
Something wasn't right.
With a violent shiver, he pressed his palms onto his temples, trying to ward away demons that only he could see. They dashed around the confines of his mind, taunting, teasing, laughing manically at his inability to control himself.
Quite simply, it was fate's doing.
Angry, jealous, omnipotent fate.
What an idiot he had been for thinking they could somehow avoid it. As if it were a spot on a map they could simply black out and detour around.
This was his destiny after all. Everything he had done, every breath up until this moment, had all been leading to this dire inevitability.
Sorceresses and Knights, when together, hurt people. That had always been a fact of history. Love does not create exceptions.
In fact, he noted with a sadistic smirk, love makes it so much worse.
-. Possession .-
Chapter 1: …Repose …
Balamb Garden was quiet; a rare and cherished state for administrators, faculty and students alike.
There was no threat of attack. No wars to fight. No dangerous missions to outline and fret about. Galbadia was put under strict military restrictions and was closely monitored be the newly formed World Council. The army of paparazzi that surrounded the building had gradually slinked away from their camp sites, having given up hope of sneaking a photo or interview with any of the young heroes. Even the grassy plain's wildlife seemed to hush itself in respect for the occasion of much needed tranquility.
Balamb Garden was quiet.
Every inhabitant could let go of their breath and relax.
Nothing but white noise.
With a collective sigh of contentment, every single being residing within the mobile campus unanimously came to the same blissful conclusion: that it was all over.
After more than two years of turmoil including the war itself and its political backlash…it was finished.
Silence and harmony.
Finally, peace and quiet…
Quistis promptly dropped the stack of papers she was holding as a result of her hands reflexively leaping up to clutch her chest.
The inhumanly shrill exclamation heralded the entrance of a petite woman skipping into the Commander's office, blissfully oblivious to anything beyond the joy of being alive. She casually plopped herself down in one of the office chairs, her smile painfully wide, and had already begun impatiently tapping her foot before her blonde friend even had a chance to catch her breath.
"For the love of…" Quistis took a deep gulp of air to compose herself while surveying the mess of strewn papers at her feet. Her outward façade let out no more than a soft sigh as the only indication of displeasure. "Do you always have to make so much noise when entering room?"
"Sorrrrrrry!" Selphie said through a smile, watching as her superior dropped to her knees to collect her once meticulously organized document. After a moment's contemplation, she too bent down the join her beneath the desk, hastily sweeping random pages into her lap in an effort to speed up the process. "But I was just so excited! I just handed in my last mission report. The one about the extermination of the snow lions up near Trabia? Let me tell you, that was one painful piece of writing. D-U-L."
"That's D-U-…" Quisitis shook her head, knowing that nothing she said would be retained in the long run. "Never mind."
"There!" Selphie handed her dust covered pile of sheets happily back to Quistis, who accepted them with what she hoped was a genuine-looking grin of appreciation before returning to her high-back leather chair, readying to get to work again.
She was in fact so concentrated on getting the report back in order that she temporarily forgot about her loud, unwelcome visitor. That is until a bright flash of yellow caught the corner of her eye, almost making her drop the pile for a second time.
"What'cha doing?" the bubbly brunette asked, having somehow silently slipped behind the desk with the speed of a snake, allowing her to peer over Quistis' shoulder.
"A report." There was no point in emphasizing.
"That's got to be your last one, right? You've been filling these out for days. I procrastinated for two months and even I finished all of em'. And Zell got his wrapped up weeks ago!"
Quistis shrugged. "I'm just more…thorough I guess." Not to mention that she had to re-write all of Zell's because his one paragraphed 'detailed' accounts were barely legible English.
"Just a little more thorough?" Selphie questioned while thumbing through the mass of papers piled almost a foot high. "Is this meant to be a general mission report or the great Galbadian novel?"
Quistis snatched the loose sheets out of her friend's hands, giving her a wry grin. "The clients want the specifics of where their money's going to. With my accounts, there leaves no room for questions. I'd rather spend a few extra hours on seemingly insignificant details than spend days arguing on the phone with them. Not to mention appearing unprofessional, disorganized, and lazy. Agreed?"
"I guess so..." Selphie's tone dripped with skepticism and Quistis scolded herself for even bothering to try and explain her procedures. "But, back to the point! You gotsa be finished soon. Absolutely nothing is happening here! And Irvy was talking bout renting a cabin on the beach near Deling…I was thinking we could all head there for a communal elite SeeD break! And we could sunbathe and swim and go clubbin-"
"Can't," the strict SeeD responded instantly while sorting through the mass stack of to-be-confirmed contracts that crowded the inbox. "I have too much work to do."
"What work? I don't see any work? Not for you anyway." Selphie's hands immediately flew to her hips as she scanned the desktop littered with folders and miscellaneous loose sheets. "This is Squall's desk isn't it? It shouldn't be your problem if he fell behind."
An involuntarily bark of laughter burst from Quistis' lips which she immediately tried, and failed, to disguise as a cough. She met her colleagues eyes, silently demanding that she not read too much into both her reaction and what she was about to say. "Commander Leonhart is otherwise occupied. I...volunteered," try as she might, it was impossible not to sprinkle some spite into the word "to take over his pressing duties."
Selphie raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Occupied, eh?"
"That's what I said. Occupied. So I have to stay here. Sorry."
After flashing a professionally apathetic smile, Quistis returned focus toward her work, taking a second to blow her long golden bangs out of her eyes. A haircut needed to be added to her long list of things to do, though she had no idea when she'd find the time.
Today's office goals: Finish contracts. Edit Reports. Try not lose mind.
"Have fun in Deling," she mumbled weakly to Selphie's retreating form, trying and failing to sound enthusiastic for the sake of her friend. "Send me a postcard okay?"
Silently, she considered that it would be a appropriate tool with which to slit her own throat if needed.
"Yeah. I'll try. It just won't be fun without you though."
Quistis nodded, obviously not paying attention. Or at least trying her best to make it appear so. Selphie gave her one last look of sympathy before stepping onto the threshold where she was immediately forced into the wall by Xu plowing through. The veteran SeeD practically jettisoned herself into the office, which was an impressive feat considering the precariously balanced three foot stack of papers she held in one arm while pulling a cart full of unlabelled boxes with the other.
Barely escaping being flattened by the cart, Selphie twirled herself out of its destructive path, involuntarily turning to face Quistis once more. She noted, with a sharp twang of sympathy, that the woman's already cream-colored skin had whitened a couple of more shades upon the appearance of the Cid's favorite.
"Headmaster Kramer needs these contracts reviewed and signed before 1900 hours. And these wizard stones need to be refined to potions stat." she gestured vaguely to the cart, not bothering to take a moment to breathe. "The hospital stock is all out."
Quistis pulled her glasses down from her nose and stared, open mouthed, at the tasks set before her. For a second, she seemed to be on the brink of tears. But, being Qusitis, she recovered quickly and completely. "The contracts I can do, fine. But can't Cid find some entry level SeeD to refine the stones? He can't possibly expect me alone to…"
"All SeeDs are on leave until further notice." She explained, her words as hurried as her entrance. "The headmaster figured everyone needed a break."
This time Quistis almost really did cry. Only a little bit.
"I-I shall try," it was impossible to mask the sudden tightness in her throat. "But I already have a lot…"
"The Headmaster's counting on you. By 1900 hours okay? Good luck!"
And with that, she sped out of the room. Xu was probably equally as busy as she was with some other preposterously low-level task assigned to an otherwise over-qualified SeeD just because Cid decided to let the vast majority of his staff 'relax' simultaneously…And the only price he had to pay was the sanity of those few who opted to stay behind. Three people to administer an entire Garden.
Pressing her lips together to suppress any outward emotion, she urged herself not to think about it, knowing it would only fuel to already unstable fire of her rage.
So instead, she did whatever any good A-rank SeeD would do. She got to work.
"Is he INSANE?"
Except she had forgotten one miniscule yet deafeningly loud problem.
"I'm sorry Selphie. I can't talk. I have a lot on my plate right now."
"You can't possibly do all that stuff alone! What is he thinking?"
"He's thinking that I'm the only qualified person presently in Garden who can handle this. And I am handling it. I will handle it. Besides, we're both under the same amount of pressure"
"Cid at least has Xu to help him out." Selphie countered, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at the door that the veteran SeeD disappeared through with as much abhorrence as she could muster. "How is that fair? Where the heck is your helper, huh?"
Quistis chanced a glance at the smaller, empty desk positioned closer to the entrance for the purpose of greeting and directing guests of the Commander. The surface of which was littered with odd trinkets such as sea shells, a plastic jeweled pencil holder, fluffy frames displaying pictures of friends and of course, saliva-saturated dog toys. She cringed at the clutter.
"Rinoa is on leave too. Everyone is on leave. In fact, you're on leave."
"So…" she gestured to the door with her eyes never leaving the paper "leave."
Selphie rolled her eyes and rebelliously planted her feet on the floor. "What about Squall? Isn't this his office? Isn't this his work load you're doing?"
"Yes." She acknowledged, trying her hardest to keep the bitterness out of her voice. "When he put in the vacation request, I was the only candidate with high enough security clearance to help out. He just conveniently forgot to mention that it landed on the time when Cid was planning a surprise holiday for everyone else on staff…"
"So you're doing both your co-Headmistress work and the Commander's without the help of secretaries or copy writers or the mail team or even cafeteria catering?"
"Grrr! Doesn't that just…just…make you soooo angry! I'd be angry. I'd be throw a terminal out a window angry."
"I'm not exactly thrilled, but I'm coping. There's nothing that can be done so why complain? I signed myself into this."
"Like hell there's nothing you can do!" After that rather solid exclamation, the echoing footsteps of a pissed-off lithe woman stomping across the marble tiles gradually registered in Quistis' brain. Still, she didn't bother looking up to see what the brunette was doing. She was on too much of a roll with editing the latest contract.
And yet, if only for amusement purposes, she kept an ear open. She heard the familiar click of a satellite communicator being dialed from Rinoa's desk. Quistis allowed herself a small smile, appreciating the dear girl's selfless yet futile efforts to keep her from losing her mind.
"It won't work" she called over to her friend, hoping to spare her the effort, eyes still on the document. "He's out of range. If he even has his communicator on him at all."
"Out of range?" Selphie repeated incredulously, her ear still glued to the receiver. "Is he crazy? What if we needed him back?"
"He checks in every twelve hours." She explained while signing one piece of paper with a finalizing twirl to the 'e' in Trepe, placing it in the 'out' box. "He hasn't abandoned Garden. He just needed a break."
"A break that's out of range of our communication towers? How out of range is he?"
"Centra? The desolate, empty continent Centra?"
"No, the new and improved luxury resort Centra."
"The what? Is that place new? How come he gets to try it out? Why can't I go?"
Quistis met her eyes from over her spectacles for a brief moment, her voice dry and monotone. "I was being sarcastic."
Selphie's shoulders slumped. "Oh…"
Silence enveloped the room, all except the scratching of Quistis' pen on paper and the quiet ringing from Selphie's end of the communicator. It took another two minutes of hopeless waiting before she sighed in defeat and hung up the receiver, slumping against the desk with an uncharacteristically deep frown on her lips. She looked over at her blonde friend and felt yet another overwhelming wave of pity. With Cid's new tasks in addition to the hefty workload she already had, Quistis seemed to be practically engulfed in menial labor.
No doubt about it, she needed help. But of course, pride would never allow her to admit to having limitations.
"Where's Rinoa then?" Selphie asked, smiling again with new hope as she snatched up the receiver. If she couldn't get Squall to suck it up and do his freakin' job, then she could at least try for his regular assistant. Rinoa wouldn't mind.
"She's in Centra."
Selphie slammed the phone down in frustration. "Why is everyone in Centra? Is there, like, some new tourist attraction that idiotically choose the worst location ever that I have yet to hear about?"
"Only Squall and Rinoa are there."
"Wh-Ahhh- Oh!" She pushed a finger to her lips to stop herself from speaking just as Quistis, once again, took a moment to glare at her in warning before continuing to write.
Though her visual message was a clear don't go there, Selphie's curiosity got the better of her and she feigned ignorance. "So…are they there…together ya think?"
Quistis' pen flew off the page, engraving a long scratch along the beautifully carved wood she so admired. This distraction lasted only a second before she was writing again; the only clue that something offset her was the increased speed of her hand scribbling notes. "That was never confirmed."
"Right…I'm just wondering. Because no one in their right minds would choose Centra as a vacation spot. Let alone two people. And Squall taking his vacation when he knew all the assistants will also be off…that's oddly irresponsible of him."
"It is a strange coincidence." Her tone was an eerie sort of forced cheerful.
"Yes. Yes it is. A coincidence…"
Selphie stared at her friend, hoping to get some hint from her demeanor. But Quistis was careful to reveal nothing in her actions.
The rumor of a more-than-friends relationship between the Commander and his past-client had been circling Garden for over a year now, since the defeat of Ultimecia. And yet there was not one solid shred of evidence to say that they were in fact an item. Squall preferred to keep his private life not only private, but metaphorically stored deep below the surface of the earth, under numerous locks and keys, and guarded by the three-headed canine terror Cerberus. His romantic life, if there indeed was one, would be forever a mystery.
Once in an era there would be a small clue that Squall and Rinoa were a little bit more than casual acquaintances, such as when he promoted her to be his personal secretary (though severely under qualified) or this strange trip to Centra for example. But such facts hardly constituted an affair to remember.
Another question was too tempting to resist.
"Soo…" Selphie began, picking up one of the thousands of wizard stones from a box on Xu's cart and juggling it between her hands. "Does Rinoa check in? And if so, what time in comparison to Squall? And which section of Centra exactly did each of them say they would be? And what time exactly did each of them leave campus? And where-"
Quistis sighed and threw her pen down, leaning back while rubbing her temples in pure frustration. She couldn't deal with this game. Not tonight. "Squall checks in for Rinoa too. They're in Centra together, camping."
"I KNEW IT!"
"But!" she bothered to meet her friend's eyes then. "That fact does not at all imply that they have admitted to or indeed have a romantic relationship. And Squall will most definitely kill you if he returns to Garden and finds out you told everyone. And he'll kill me if he finds out I told you of all people."
"Oh come on Quisty! You have to let me rub this in his face. Maybe he'll let something slip!" Her eyes beamed with mischievous excitement but Quistis was set on her beliefs. Squall had trusted her. Mainly because he and Rinoa hadn't had a choice about revealing their destination and checking in, but she still found it flattering all the same.
"No." she answered firmly, hoping her curt answer left no room for debate. Selphie, however, was ruthless.
"Come on! Don't you want to know if there really is something going on between them? Not even you can resist a good scandal I bet."
"What our Commander, I feel a need to stress that point, chooses to do with his personal affairs is none of our business."
"Affairs, eh?" she giggled. "Interesting choice of words."
Quistis rolled her eyes. "Whatever." She didn't know whether to blame the clichéd response on Squall rubbing off on her or that it was truly the only method of shutting the girl up.
"When's he due to check in again?"
The question, so bluntly asked, put Quistis off guard momentarily. She didn't even think of the reason why she may be asking before the words "1800 hours" came tumbling out of her mouth.
"That's only in five hours!" Selphie stated happily as she glanced at the clock mounted on the wall. "I can wait."
"Wait for what?"
"For him to check in of course. Then I'll answer the phone and, being passionate about protocol, he'll have to relay the message the he and Rinoa are fine and then I can act all shocked and ask him questions and…"
"He'll just hang up on you."
"Which will prove him guilty!"
Quistis sighed and buried her face in her hands, cursing Squall more than ever for getting her into this mess. She could have been on a beach right now…instead of fighting for a grip on reality with a co-worker, not to mention frying her brains with this endless stream of formality dribble on paper.
"Selphie, you do notice how preposterous that idea is? Why would you be answering the Commander's phone?"
"Because his replacement', i.e. you, stepped out for a break because of work overload while I, your temporary assistant, was manning the office."
Quistis removed her face from her hands more quickly than her whip. "My…what?" Dare she even hope Selphie meant what she thought she meant?
The yellow clad girl only smiled before placing on the scratched desk a perfect potion, refined from the wizard stone she'd been juggling earlier. Quistis stared at it in disbelief; rolling her chair away from the desk as if afraid it, the inanimate object, may jump up and bite her.
"I'm pretty good with refining." She explained, while picking up a second stone. "I can get all these done for you in about five hours. And then I can file the remaining mission reports so that you can concentrate on the contracts for Cid."
"And…" this time Quistis really did begin to cry, her eyes automatically brimming with unshed tears "and all I have to do is…let you answer Squall's communicator call?"
Selphie nodded, still smiling, placing yet another fully refined potion next to the first on the Commander's desk.
"But what about the cabin? With Irvine?"
She shrugged indifferently. "So we'll head out tomorrow. Maybe, if we get enough stuff done tonight, you can come too!"
Quistis almost scoffed at the idea, knowing there would be a new, equally ridiculous pile of work for her to do in the morning. But something about this girl's unwavering cheerfulness made her bite down any stress-induced impulses to chastise. "I'd like that. I shall try," she said with a surprising amount of optimism, harshly blinking away any evidence of emotion.
Selphie's request was small. And she really did need the help. Not to mention Squall deserved to be lightly punished for tricking her into this job in the first place. As co-headmistress, one of the few people with authority over the Commander, she would have never allowed him to take off if she had had one inkling of the non- administrative staff vacation plans. He was playing a very precarious game with loopholes in the World Council's Angelica policy. She could only trust, only hope, that he knew what he was doing.
"It's a deal then!" Selphie bounced over to her side of the desk, shook the temporary Commander's hand and then bounced right back to the cart of stones to begin her tedious yet soon to be profitable task. Quistis meanwhile, returned to her work, spurred by the new confidence that she would not be disappointing Cid.
"Hey Quisty…" barely five minutes had passed before Selphie all too easily got bored with the dullness of her repetitive assignment "what exactly did Squall say to excuse he and Rinoa's being together?"
"He said they were excavating the ruins where we found Odin. A purely professional outing of course." She tried, and for the most part failed, at sounding sincere. And Selphie's laughing was not helping her keep a straight face. "Well I wouldn't be surprised. Centra, where I'm positive they are located according to their communication signal, isn't exactly the place for a romantic outing. Is it so hard to believe that maybe they really are doing what they reported?"
"Don't be so naïve Quistis!" Selphie chastised through her chuckles. "Picture this; a teenage guy and a girl who may or may not be in a relationship, head out alone to the most desolate area on the planet for two solid weeks, camping in what I assume is one tent for 'practicality'" she and Quistis shared giggles at that "and we're supposed to believe they're on an archeological dig?"
While shaking her head, Selphie placed her eleventh refined potion onto the floor along with the others, chancing a glance at the wall clock in anticipation of Squall's call. "All alone. Just the two of them. No one around for miles. Hmm…I'm sure they're just practicing combat positions" she added with a wink.
Quistis couldn't help but burst out laughing.