Well, this little drabble was initially scheduled to appear in "Angel Wings". But seeing as I stopped writing on that story, this lovely little piece of dialog would never have seen the light of day; until I was digging through all of my notes today and found it, that is. I re-read it and realized what a little gem it was, and I knew, in good conscience, that I couldn't just leave it on a little piece of scrap paper, never to been seen by the world.

So I give it to you.

I'm not sure where in the story this little piece was supposed to go. The note I had didn't indicate it. I must have written it when I still had all my ideas for the story still in my mind. (I do that a lot. More ideas of mine have been lost because I was too lazy to just write it down. sigh) I'm thinking it might be somewhere in Fisherman's Horizon during the dance... or perhaps in Trabia before they go after Galbadia Garden. But we'll never know.

In any event, I think the drabble stands well on its own. Enjoy!

"You act like we're some kind of salty pain in your ass, when all we've ever been is your friends!"

Squall looked at her dully and turned on his heel, walking away from her. "I don't have time for this..."

Rinoa, furious and red-cheeked, stormed after him, grabbing him by his arm and with every ounce of strength in her tiny body, she turned him around. "Then make time," she growled through clenched teeth. "I'm not going to go away just because you want me to."

She stood in front of him, the world's most miniscule, yet oddly immoveable, wall. Squall sighed heavily, rolling his eyes and girding his loins for a very long, and no doubt very boring, litany detailing how a horrible person he was – as if he cared. Rinoa could see the faraway look in his face, and she knew he wasn't really listening. She crossed her arms and shook her head. This time, she sighed.

"We want to help you, Squall," she said softly, becoming annoyed when he snorted disdainfully at the very suggestion. "What part of help don't you understand? Do I need to give you a definition? -- because it isn't that hard, even for the emotionally stunted."

His eyes narrowed, and for the first time in his life he was really angry. "You think it's that easy for me?! Do honestly believe I like being like this? I don't! I hate it! But it's the only way..."

"No, it really isn't," she shot back, her dark eyes becoming cold and hard.

Frustrated, he ran his hands through his hair. "Don't you get it, Rinoa? We're just kids. And I have to send them out to die," and as he said it his eyes drifted towards the dim shadows of his schoolmates dancing, illuminated by flickering firelight. "In the next few days half those people out there might be dead, and I'll be responsible because I sent them there and that scares the shit out of me. But here's the catch, I can't show it, because if I feel it, they feel it. And if they're afraid, they can't fight and we'll all die."

She drew a trembling hand against her mouth, whispering wonderingly: "So you do care..."

"OF COURSE I FUCKING CARE!" he exploded, feeling all the things he'd kept tightly wound around himself for the last few weeks. "Rinoa... you... all of you are the only reason I keep going. Without you – without everyone, I'm nothing. I know that, but... the closer you are to me, the closer you are to death. I don't think I could take it if any one of you got hurt. I can't... I.. I won't have your blood on my hands," he murmured fiercely. And when he looked at her, a fire blazed behind his storm cloud eyes – he looked every bit the hero, even if he could never admit it to himself. "I'm begging you, Rinoa. Begging you. Don't ask me to--"

"Squall, don't talk to me like I'm a child. I get it. I really do. But no matter what you do, it won't get any easier." She paused, looking out thoughtfully at the throng of dancing teenagers. "Thing is, most of those kids out there are fighting because they've been told to. But all of us, you, me, Zell, Quisits, everyone... we're fighting because we want to, because it's the right thing to do. And if I'm going to die, I'd rather be by your side, fighting with you." She stopped again, sensing his agitation. "You can't decide for us."

He laughed mirthlessly, clearly upset but doing his best to cover it. "So, you've all decided then."

Rinoa took a deep breath, smiling to brush the dark forbidding air from the conversation. "Yeah. We even voted and everything. It was a unilateral 'Yes' for certain death with Squall, rather than uncertain death without him."

Exasperated, but really in no mood to argue anymore, his shoulders sagged and he looked at her with helpless resignation. "I'm no leader, Rinoa..."

She stepped right up to him and held his mouth closed with her fingers. "Now there's some bullshit. Have you seen... you? Because I see you. You are a leader, Squall, whether you like it or not. You always have been. Maybe it's because you don't want to be one, maybe it's something else. I don't know but... but what I do know is that no matter what happens, you'll do exactly what needs to be done. Not for glory or gratitude. Not for money or the prize at the end of it. You do it because your heart told you it was right, even if everyone else says it's wrong. That's real strength, Squall, and for that, we'd gladly follow you into hell."

He gazed at her with a look of utter defeat, knowing he'd let her win yet again, his eyes shining and wet. "So, exactly how does this all go?" he asked, his voice husky and worn.

"The whole having friends and being social thing or...?"

"No... yes.. whatever!" And then she giggled, finding infinite humor in his frustration. He grunted, waving his arms in a vague gesture of deep aggravation. "You know what I mean!!"

"Well, we help you and if we play our cards right, we don't die."

He glared at her mildly, trying his best not to be amused. "No, really. I'll try my damnedest not to die," he replied sarcastically. "Is that really our plan?"

"Uh, yeah. Not dying – best plan EVER."

"I'm surrounded by crazy people," he muttered softly as he massaged his temple.

"Aw, you know you love us."

He grunted, and whether it was meant as an affirmation or negation of her statement, not even he knew. "You sure about this?"

"What – about you loving us or the other thing?" His eyebrows disappeared into his bangs as he gave her the classic Squall 'you didn't just say that' face. "Yes, I'm sure! I mean, what else are we going to do -- play cards in the cafeteria? I don't think so. Quistis is the self proclaimed 'Queen of Cards' and Irvine cheats, and if I'm gonna lose all the time I might as well make it a good old fashioned fight to the death, rather than achingly slow, pointless defeat."

He snorted, which was as close as Squall ever got to an actual laugh, and shook his head. "So, death before card games – is that our motto? – because it really lacks flair."

Rinoa shrugged, happily realizing that he was joking around with her like a normal teenager, for once. "Oh, I don't know, it kinda has a ring to it. And, hey, unique! People will be debating for years about what it means."

"Ah, yes, and only we'll know the awful truth."