Squall looked up and squinted, the dim light and his current pounding headache combining to form a rather strange vision in front of his desk. He rubbed a hand over his face and tried looking again. The face hadn't changed.
"Seifer," he muttered the name like the curse it had become not so long ago.
The blonde shrugged, dropping the packet of papers he carried on top of the stack already in front of Squall and sitting heavily in one of the plush chairs opposite him. To say Squall was surprised would have been an understatement. Beyond that, he wasn't sure what he felt, or what he should be feeling.
At least they could finally settle the rumors of whether Seifer Almasy was dead or not.
Squall glanced down at the papers, withholding an involuntary shudder as he noticed the Esthar seal at the top of the page. His headache reasserted itself as he skimmed the first page.
"Esthar is transferring you here?" He would have been appalled at the audacity if the orders were from anyone other than Laguna. Days like this, he was almost ashamed the man was his father.
Seifer shrugged and lounged in the chair as if he belonged there. "I didn't ask them to. It was your dad's idea."
Squall's eyebrow rose. He was tempted to ask but he was fairly certain he didn't want to know how Seifer knew his father.
A glance at the clock reminded him how late the hour was. He should have been asleep hours ago. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been asleep when he should have.
He had a call to make in the morning.
"Where do you want me?"
Squall looked up from his desk. Oh. Right. Almasy. He'd almost forgotten the blonde was there. Wishful thinking.
He read through the first page again, flipping slowly through the rest. Forget phone call, this warranted a full visit. Seifer would be acting as Esthar's official agent at the Garden. It was all spelled out in the paperwork. He could refuse. Squall was in charge of Balamb. Esthar had no official say in its workings. He could tear up the papers and throw Seifer out of the Garden.
That was, of course, if he never wanted to have any further dealings with Esthar, never wanted to cross their borders, and never expected any kind of aid from them until he finally gave in. Half their budget came from Esthar funds.
He wondered what the press would say if the head of Balamb Garden decked the President of Esthar. Kiros was probably expecting it. Squall would be lucky if he got anywhere near Laguna until they were in the President's private chambers.
For now, he had a different problem to deal with.
Rubbing his temples, he avoided looking at his old friend and enemy. "West wing, room 437. It's a private corridor, mostly unused. Take tomorrow to settle in, but I ask that you don't leave your quarters until I have a chance to inform security and the instructors of your new position. We'll discuss official duties later."
The Seifer he knew would have objected to being confined to quarters for a day. The Seifer he was used to would have at least made some sort of cocky or snide remark. Instead, the blonde stood calmly, barely an expression on his face.
And then he was gone, the door sighing shut behind him.
Alone at last, Squall let his head fall to the desk.
What had his father gotten him into this time?
"I don't need him." Squall glared across the metal desk, his gaze having little effect on the man opposite.
"Aww, don't be like that, Squall," the President of Esthar pouted.
"I think you do." Laguna smiled. "Give him a chance. What's the worst that could happen?"
Squall raised an eyebrow and stared. "He'll get taken over by a Sorceress, try and take over the world, stab me through the chest with a spear of ice..."
Laguna waved his hands frantically, his smile faltering. "Now, now, that wasn't his fault. You said it yourself. He was under Ultimacia's control." Puppy-like eyes pouted at him. "You're not still mad at him, are you?"
Squall looked away quickly, running a hand through brown bangs. The hair extended farther than he remembered and he stared at the frayed ends between his fingers. He'd need to get it cut, or start pulling it back in a ponytail. Half the Garden would probably die of shock if he changed his signature hairstyle.
That thought made the ponytail sound a little more appealing.
Laguna was still pouting at him.
Squall sighed. "I'm not mad at him."
"Excellent!" His father practically bounced in his chair. "Then there should be no problems with Seifer's assignment."
"Just because I don't have a problem with him, doesn't mean that the rest of the Garden won't. Half the head instructors fought against him. Not to mention all of Galbadia hates him."
"I'm sure you'll take care of that."
Squall didn't bother arguing against Laguna's blind optimism.
"So, Seifer is supposed to be Esthar's official envoy at the Garden?"
"Exactly." Laguna beamed, obviously pleased that they were moving on in the conversation.
Apparently Laguna had been expecting this question. He didn't even miss a beat. "Because you need help, someone you can rely on and I'm so far away."
Squall resisted the urge to sigh again. Why did he have to have such an annoying father? "I don't need help."
Laguna's expression turned strangely serious, staring at Squall with a piercing gaze. "What time did you get to bed last night?"
He didn't want to answer but staying silent would only make Laguna pester him more. "Four."
"And the night before?"
Laguna leaned forward. "See. You're overworked."
"I am not," Squall protested quickly. "It's just been a busy week."
"And when was the last time you were in bed before midnight?"
He couldn't remember.
Laguna took his silence for the admission of guilt that it was. "And this is why you need help. Let Seifer take over some of the smaller stuff. I'm sure there's some work you could give him."
Squall frowned. "I do have a staff," he reminded. "If I needed to delegate, I would have asked Zell or Quistis or Irvine to help."
"Then why didn't you?"
He had no answer for that.
"Seifer's there to help you. That's an order."
Squall lifted an eyebrow. "From the President of Esthar to the leader of Balamb Garden?" Sometimes Laguna needed to be reminded of their positions.
"From a father to his son." Sometimes Squall forgot his own position.
With a sigh, he sank back into the chair and gave up. Seifer would stay, for as long as Laguna had this strange whim of his.
Squall was not looking forward to announcing the Garden's newest arrival.
The cup was placed on his desk without comment. Squall glanced up briefly and nodded his thanks to the blonde before taking a sip. His shoulders relaxed at the first sip, a slight smile slipping across his lips. He didn't question how Seifer knew the exact way Squall liked his coffee.
Silence stretched between them, interrupted only by the turning of pages and the soft glide of his pen.
In his head, Squall could hear Laguna nagging him about being anti-social and doing too much himself.
"I haven't seen you around the halls," Squall started awkwardly. This was the first time he'd spoken with the blonde in the week since his arrival.
Seifer shifted in his chair. "I thought I'd take a page from your book and try the whole nocturnal thing. Less people around that way."
"I've never known you to avoid crowds. I thought you liked the attention." He couldn't help the barb. Old rivalries died hard.
"Not when they come equipped with pitchforks."
Squall stared across the desk and frowned. "It's not that bad." Someone would have told him if it was.
"You haven't been to Galbadia recently."
While that was true, he couldn't imagine the people there being that hostile. They'd hate him certainly, but pitchforks seemed a bit far-fetched. "And you have?"
"Only once and it was memorable enough that I'm never going back."
The thought the Seifer would ever bar himself from an entire continent was disturbing. He wondered if Laguna knew the details.
At a loss for an appropriate response, Squall turned back to his paperwork.
Loose bangs fell across his face as he tilted his head back down, the ends brushing against the paper before him and obscuring half the page from his sight. He tucked the strands back in a gesture that was becoming so common it required barely a thought, and turned the page. His hair stayed in place for a whole of five seconds before falling loose again.
"Here." Seifer stood, moving quickly around Squall's desk to stand behind him. Squall had to force himself to stay still as cool fingers efficiently pulled back his hair and tied it securely. The improvement to his field of vision was startling.
"Better?" Seifer returned to his seat, an unreadable expression on his face.
Dazed, Squall touched the cord in his hair. "Yes," he answered slowly. "Thanks."
He should have done this ages ago.
"In case you didn't get the memo," Squall looked up as Seifer spoke, "I'm sorry."
He didn't have to ask for what.
"You're forgiven." Surprisingly, Squall meant it.
Awkward silence fell between them again. Squall stared at the pile of papers on his desk and weighed the options between work and sleep. Was it his imagination or had the stack grown while they were talking?
"Anything I can help with?"
For the first time since Seifer's arrival, he seriously considered letting Seifer help.
Squall dug thought the papers and handed Seifer a blue binder. "Here. Read this and report back." It was a request for aid from the farmers in Timber, complaining about the recent drought ruining their crops. Attached was a long and overblown report by some scientist sent to survey the area. It was dull, boring, and possibly the least critical piece of paperwork on Squall's desk.
He relished not having to look at it.
Seifer leaned back in his chair and cracked open the binder.
A glance at the clock told Squall how late in the evening... morning it was. "Aren't you going to bed?" Surely Seifer had something better to do than hang around a dark office when dawn was fast approaching.
The look Seifer gave him reminded Squall of their childhood. "Aren't you?"
Another glance at the clock and some quick mental calculations told Squall that he'd been awake for far too long. He had to be up again in four hours for a staff meeting and then a meeting with Dr. Kadowaki about medical supplies.
Seifer watched him. In a way it was like being around his father again.
"Fine." Squall tossed his pen on the desk and stood.
He chose not to comment on the pleased smile Seifer gave him.
Seifer appeared in Squall's office again the next night and each following night until Squall began to wonder if Seifer had nothing better to do than hang out with in the headmaster's office during hours when most sane people were asleep. He would have been tempted to kick Seifer out, but Seifer had somehow turned out to be incredibly helpful. He read every document Squall gave him by the next day and came back with intelligent, well thought out solutions. Who knew that the agriculture problem in Timber could be solved by a couple well-placed irrigation ditches?
With Seifer's help in lightening his workload, Squall had even managed to get six hours of sleep the past few nights, though his new earlier bedtime was probably more attributed to Seifer's pointed looks and subtle comments as the hour grew later than any actual decrease in work. Squall certainly hadn't noticed the pile on his desk thinning to any discernable degree. He had to admit that despite their checkered past he was somewhat enjoying having company while stuck in his office late into the night. But even the companionship was nothing compared to the largest benefit of Seifer's presence.
He brought Squall coffee. Good coffee, from a brand Selphie had practically mainlined a month ago, thus leading to a Garden-wide ban of coffee in public places. Sometime in the last day or two, the coffee had turned into coffee and dinner, after Squall had accidentally admitted to frequently skipping meals.
Laguna had called to yell at him for not eating the next day and Squall wondered if Seifer's main reason for being here was just to spy on him. He wouldn't put it past either of them.
It was strange how he was starting to group Seifer in the same general category of his father. They both seemed to have some strange preoccupation with his health. Seifer reminded him to eat and to go to bed and tied back his hair when it fell loose and reminded him to have his shirt cleaned whenever he spilled something on it. Seifer had only been here a month and yet somehow he was becoming indispensable to Squall.
That should sound weird to him, but it didn't.
"Come on." Squall looked up to find Seifer at his elbow, a patient smile on his face.
He stood slowly, giving up on paperwork for the night after realizing he'd been staring off into space for the last half hour. Seifer moved around the office, putting away their paperwork and turning off lights. Squall followed Seifer out the door, keeping easy pace as Seifer lead the way to Squall's quarters, set only a few doors down from Seifer's. At first he'd arranged it that way to keep an eye on the blonde. Now it was just a matter of convenience.
The halls were dark, lit only by dim track lights that brightened minutely as they passed. His shoulder bummed against Seifer's as he stumbled, tiredness making him miss a step. The blonde's hand on his arm steadied him and then stayed there for a short moment as they walked. Squall kind of enjoyed the touch, in a strange sort of way.
Seifer's hand drifted slowly down Squall's sleeve as they walked until it rested lightly against Squall's own. Their fingers entwined, seemingly by force of gravitational pull rather than intention.
Squall glanced down at their hands. Seifer's face was a calm mask.
He let his hand stay where it was.
It seemed like they reached his quarters far too soon and Squall found himself strangely disappointed at the prospect of going to bed alone.
Their fingers slipped apart as he tapped out the combination to open the door. He didn't bother with secrecy. Seifer already knew it.
The door slid open with a low hum.
"Good night," Squall offered quietly as he turned back around.
Seifer wasn't where he expected. Strong hands pressed him against the wall, not hard enough that he couldn't escape but enough that he could feel the pressure of contact with another body. Warm lips covered his. He sighed, not realizing what he'd been missing until he found it.
They separated slowly, hands still lingering on each other in a loose embrace.
Seifer was the first to pull away, a small smile stretched across lips that Squall could still feel pressed against him. "Good night."
A similar smile was on Squall's face as he stepped into his quarters.
He was going to have to admit that Laguna was right.