Disclaimer: I do not own FFVIII or any of its characters...
FFVIII: The Stalker's Log
Chapter One: The Conversation that broke the Seal
Balamb Garden, a military academy located on the small island of Balamb was accredited for quite a few things. It was a very exceptional academy in the nature of their training and educational standards, but that was not the only reason for being so recognized among all of the other gardens in the world. Of course one would also have to take into consideration that the two only other gardens that could compete with it weren't exactly in the condition to function. Trabia had been demolished in the midst of an aggressive expansion that had been taken into action by the Galbadian army under the orders of Sorceress Edea and Galbadia Garden, a military academy that had been far superior to Balamb at the time of its function was, ironically enough, bested by it in a battle of epic proportions that rocked what was left of the Centra continent. Getting back to Balamb, it was also quite famous for giving rise to the very heroes that saved the universe from time compression, which would have been very unpleasant, needless to say. Of those heroes, one of them was the most recognized for their valiant efforts and that young man was none other than, Squall Leonhart.
He was popular in the garden despite his rather cold nature, and moody disposition. He was even quite popular with the ladies much to the dismay of other young men within the garden who believed that they had a lot to offer in the areas that that black clad gentleman clearly lacked, and while it wasn't too much...it mattered. He really had little patience for silliness, or anything else that disturbed him from his own agendas and he wasn't exactly mister sensitivity. His tendency to brush off others if they really had nothing 'important' to tell him was something that could hurt feelings as well and yet he was still pursued by those who were unwilling to take a hint, and then there was the facial expression that he always had on his face. It was very rare to get anything other than a frown or stoic look from the young Commander. There were rumors that it was so hard to find him smiling because if he did your mind would be completely blown, thus the memory would have been lost along with the rest of any comprehensible thoughts that may have been occupying the brain at that exact moment. That rumor, however, was disproved when a certain young woman by the name of Rinoa Heartily stepped into the picture that others were sure couldn't be squeezed into, or found for that matter. Squall couldn't be found in any class pictures mainly because he either wouldn't show up to them or he was really busy in important matters at the time, and any casual pictures from social events were pretty much taken by stalkers since they were the only ones bold enough to take them...from a distance, of course.
Squall Leonhart, though observant and capable of seeing things that others would normally overlook, had no idea that he had any. I'm pointing this out for a reason by the way...
Squall Leonhart...the name leaves shivers through my entire body, and perhaps my very soul. It belongs to the man that I admire, and long for, however, my position limits me from making this common knowledge to him. Well, perhaps that really isn't true anymore due to the current circumstance, but I feel that my habits of handling these feelings have become so part of my nature that I find it hard to express them in any other way. I'm working hard to change that, but for now I will follow my old methods until I can rid myself of them. In the past I was able to come face to face with him on many occasions, but now even that has been stolen away from me by my own cowardice. I've found that it has gradually become something else over time though. Watching Ms. Heartily prance around him, and force her care-free ways upon him has been a daily experience that eats away at me slowly but surely. Even so I still watch from afar, observing him as he goes along with the motions of living, enjoying the little things he does that drew me to him in the first place. I feel no shame in doing so for it is our secret bond...or rather my secret bond to him. Even now I search for the courage to change that.
- Stalker's Log, September 15th-
The cafeteria of Balamb Garden was the hang out spot for many of the students, second only to the Quad of the garden. Here many of the students rushed to get in line for the coveted hot dogs that the lunch ladies were a bit unsure about since all they really did was defrost them. They figured it was just all do to the ravings of one student to another, but anyway, it was also the one place that many practitioners of the art of stalking could simply pull back a seat and watch Squall Leonhart mingle with his closest friends, and...Rinoa...but that wasn't really something most of them appreciated for obvious reasons. Some of the students cleared the way for the commander and his posse of friends, that being Zell, Selphie, Irvine, Quistis, Nida, Rinoa, and on rare occasions, even Xu. He wasn't really sure why they always did that every time he walked into the cafe, but he really wished they would refrain from it. He didn't care for any special treatments or anything of the sort. It was just kind of weird from his point of view.
"I'm loving this." Zell spoke, rubbing his hands together at the thought of holding one of the hot dogs that he craved almost every passing moment of his young life. "Squall walks in, and everyone parts like the red sea!" The energetic martial artist placed a hand on Squall's shoulder and grinned at him with tears brimming in his eyes. "I never want anything to come between our friendship, man."
Squall directed his usual cool gaze at his friend and replied, "Calm down Zell." He turned his attention away from him when he felt two small arms wrap around his right arm as though they were trying to take him captive, which was true in a sense when associating the gesture with the young woman was clung to him tightly. The lion did his best not to sigh when he saw Rinoa look up at him with her usual mischievous grin.
"Well, you gotta admit that this sort of thing is pretty awesome." She told him, nuzzling the leather of his jacket. "I feel kind of guilty for abusing it though."
"Guilty pleasures are those we should savor most." Irvine commented with a lady killer smirk. He attempted to wrap his arm around Selphie's waist, but she pinched his gloved hand before it could reach it's mark. "Aw, c'mon Sephie! They're doing it!"
"Uh, so?" Selphie discouraged the man with her response. "Try that on someone else, cowboy." Her words got a daring look from the young man before he set his sights on the bespectacled instructor walking beside him. If Selphie wasn't willing to play along in his game, then he was more than willing to turn to the lovely instructor for some good fun. Quistis was, after all, the most sought after woman in the garden. She had her own fan club to prove it, though she hardly needed to do such a thing. There was an off limits condition about her, however. It ran strong before Squall met with the resistance leader of the Timber Owls, and it still lingered even now. The blonde woman still held a flame for the lone wolf in hopes that he would eventually tire of the cute and cuddly, Rinoa Heartily.
Cuddly? Quistis thought to herself, stealing a glance at Rinoa before stroking her chin thoughtfully. So Squall likes them cuddly, huh? Well, just give me the opportunity to show you cuddly, commander Leonhart. She inwardly chuckled before she realized that a gloved hand was snaking around for her waist. Irvine watched as her glasses gleamed dangerously, and he wisely pulled back his hand. She was gorgeous, but she came with a deadly edge as well.
"Hm?" Squall suddenly felt a tingle at his neck as though something was alerting him of a presence. He looked to his left, finding an overwhelming mass of clamoring students before looking in the other direction to spot Rajiin and Fujiin leaning against the wall with their arms crossed. Seifer had disbanded from them to start his own travels of the world. He promised Squall that he would return some day and become a SeeD, but not until he truly understood himself and what he would be aiming for. He, of course, said this in his usual cocky manner, but Squall understood that his rival was beginning to wander a new path. He wanted to put his past with the sorceress behind him, but in order to do that he had to distance himself from those who he betrayed in the process. It was understandable.
I wonder how those two are taking it. He thought to himself, watching the two disciplinary members intently. It wasn't until he turned away from Rajiin that he realized that the silver-haired beauty beside him had her crimson orb transfixed upon him. It was slightly unnerving at first, but he boldly kept his eyes locked with her own until she finally crossed her arms and turned her head to the side. Squall wasn't sure why, but he felt as though he had just earned himself a victory until-
"Hey." He looked down to Rinoa to see a displeased expression gracing her lovely features. "What was that about?"
"I'm not sure." He answered her truthfully.
"She looked like she felt it was something." The young woman quipped, loosening her vice grip on his arm much to his relief. "Hm, I wonder what she's thinking sometimes. Do you think she's still holding a grudge against you for what happened between you and Seifer?"
"Whatever." Squall tried to end the matter on the subject.
"Oh, come on Squall!" Rinoa groaned. "Can't you hold at least one conversation about the guy without brushing me off to the side. It's kind of disheartening after a while, ya know?"
"Ooh, lover's quarrel." Zell joked before feeling a rough nudge at his side. He looked to find Selphie narrowing her eyes at him viciously, and he eased off.
"Why isn't your girlfriend with you?" She asked, attempting to put him on the spot.
"Busy at the library." Zell answered her quickly.
"Then take her lunch, too." Selphie tugged him near her by the collar with a scowl. "Got it?"
"I don't like you anymore."
"Training season starts today." Quistis alerted Squall before she popped a small fry into her mouth, allowing some of the onlooking male students to let go of the breaths they were holding. "Our schedules are gonna get hectic again."
"Hm." Squall hummed, taking a drink from his cup. "I'm actually thankful for it."
"Workaholic." Rinoa teased her boyfriend, resting her cheek in her hand and picking a fry from her plate before munching on it. "I guess it's better than you being locked up in your office though. I'm sure it gets boring in there."
"You trying to say something?" She asked him with a sweet smile although he was sure that her words held a different nature behind them. The others at the table snickered, most of all Quistis. After things finally settled down after the world incident with Ultimecia, Squall mostly spent his time in his office writing up reports and viewing the SeeD entries that had been piling up from all the hopefuls. Quistits would usually come in and disturb him to lighten things up for him since Rinoa was stuck in Deiling City for most of the following months trying to settle the living arrangements with her father. After a few talks, she managed to convince him to take up the position of an instructor. It would allow him to become more involved with the SeeD training agendas, and Headmaster Cid expressed an interest in more gunblade specialists. That being the way it was, Squall found that refusing the position wouldn't be a choice he could make.
"It's easier to work in silence, is all I'm saying." Squall answered her fearlessly before he felt her teeth close around the side of his arm. "Ow!"
"You asked for it." Rinoa mumbled before turning to Irvine when she heard him shift in his seat loudly. He looked to the commander and offered him a lopsided grin before saying, "You know, there's a bunch of guys in this cafeteria that would kill to be bitten by her. You're a privileged man."
"Eww." said girl leaned away from him in disgust. "Cut it out Irvine. This is exactly why things aren't working out for you and Selphie anymore."
"H-Hey!" Selphie interjected quickly. "You keep me out of this!" While this stirred amongst the three others, Quistis turned to Squall, tapping him on the shoulder lightly.
"Hm?" Squall acknowledged her, setting down his plastic fork.
"I've been looking over to Rajiin and Fujiin while you guys were messing around...and I think she really still has some sort of grudge on you." The instructor informed him, trying her best to seem as if she was talking about the quiet woman since she still had her eyes directed at Squall. "She's been looking over here for a while since we sat down."
Squall sighed, wiping his mouth and replied, "Are you serious? I saw her glaring at me earlier, but I figured it wasn't that serious." He looked to Fujiin, finding that she was still looking his way, and for a moment he felt cold shivers run up his back. There was something about the way she looked at him that made him feel a little unsafe. He couldn't detect any anger or ill intentions behind the window of her soul, but that's what made it so unsettling. Maybe I should have a talk with her. She isn't really a person of many words, but I guess that will make this much easier.
"Are you thinking of talking with her?" Quistis whispered, leaning over to him closely. He eyes glanced over to Rinoa for a moment to see if she was looking their way to find that she was still caught up in her conversation with Irvine and Selphie. Zell was eating lunch with the library girl so there was no one to see the bold step she had taken in getting so close to the commander. Squall was either so focused on the silver-haired woman that he paid no mind to how one of her platinum bangs brushed against his ear lightly, or he simply trust his friend enough to no try anything risky while his girlfriend was nearby. That was until-
"What?" Squall turned to Quistis after hearing her voice to find her bang tickling his nose. He leaned back slightly to put a little distance between their faces, and asked, "What were you saying." He seemed to brush it off much to the female instructor's disappointment. It was hard to get a blush out of him unless you were Rinoa Heartily.
This is depressing. Her eyes dulled somewhat, but she answered his question. "I asked if you were thinking of talking with her."
"It might be the only way to put any grudges she might have to rest."
"Ah, good!" Quistis exclaimed, her eyes gleaming with life again. By the looks of things, Squall wasn't sure if he would come to appreciate where this might have been heading. Just as it was rare to see him smile, finding Quistis in such a cheery mood was just as difficult. Sometimes he wondered if it was an honor that he was one of the few people in the world who could bring it out of her.
"...What's going on?" The commander growled softly.
Hours later at The Training Center...
Xu, the highest ranking SeeD and instructor of the garden was a mysterious woman. Not much was known about her except for her involvement in almost every garden operation that involved military action. If it was an operation on Dollet, she was there to direct the SeeDs through the war torn city. If there was a revolt between the headmaster and the garden master, she was there to ensure that the headmaster was safe and that no traitors would reach him. If there were missiles heading to destroy the garden, she was there to ensure that all safety measures were taken for the safety of all students. Not even time compression was enough to keep her from being present for the final showdown, even if she killed most of her time playing cards on the Ragnorok. Not much was known about her personality or her likes and dislikes. Most who had the chance to train under her simply saw her as a tough instructor. She was just as much of an enigma to the students of Balamb as Squall and Seifer were. Sure, she was supposedly close friends with Quistis, but you could only see them together on rare occasions.
"Quistis," Xu called to her long time friend, watching the blonde instructor walk into the training center with Squall following not far behind her. "I see that you managed to bring out our grumpy commander. I honestly didn't expect him to accept the position."
"I wasn't offered much of a choice." Squall responded to her words, stopping in front of her with a hand on his hip. "Cid finds ways around the word 'no' when he feels it will benefit others."
"I know." Xu stifled a giggle. "It's great to see that you're part of the team though."
"Yeah." Quistis agreed with a nod, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Your presence is bound to keep the trainees in line. Everyone is either a fan or afraid of you."
"I don't blame them." Xu poked fun at the commander. "With a face like that I'd be intimidated too."
"Are we here to talk or to work?" Squall finally decided to put an end to their fun. If they just wanted to me to join them for fun then I have other places to spend my time. He blinked when he noticed the curious expressions on both woman's faces. "What?"
"You just seemed to be in deep thought again." Quistist answered him. "You get this certain look on your face whenever you do that. Contrary to what Rinny says sometimes, I think it's kind of adorable."
"He reminds me of a kitten when he does that." Xu grinned.
"Whatever..." The three of them said in unison, much to Squall's annoyance. He regarded both women silently for a moment before walking ahead of them to meet the new trainees. Quistis and Xu watched him walk away before sharing a high five.
"Easy." Xu laughed.
"Sometimes he could be..." Quistis replied.
Upon seeing Squall cross the bridge that separated the training facility from the entrance the SeeD candidates all straightened up. There were at least twenty of them today. After weeding out those who would have a chance, the other instructors would take over the next group tomorrow, and so on until they would finally separate them into their squads. It was a similar system to how Squall and the others had gone through before they became actual SeeDs. After they did their studies the examination test would come and he would have to take them out to gain their first Guardian Force through battle. Afterward they would send them out on their first mission to grade them on their performance. While it wouldn't be nearly as involving with the flow of history as Dollet's war had been, it would be challenging, sure enough.
"Commander." They all addressed his presence respectfully.
"From today I will be an instructor to some of you." He ignored some of the excited squeals from the girls in the group. There were some groans from the males in the group as well. They were informed that Xu and Quistis would take care of the first entry of candidates. Squall's presence would ruin the fun they all so foolishly believed was ahead of them. Clearly they were unaware of just how strict and cruel both women could be when they were busy in their duties. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you that only a few of you will be selected from the group based on your abilities to cooperate as a team, and follow orders properly. You will also be paired as dueling partners. This won't necessarily mean that your acceptance will be determined upon who is victorious in these dueling session, but we want to see how well you really are in your combat specialties."
"Not bad, commander." He heard Xu whisper from beside him. "Your future as an instructor looks promising."
"Stop calling me that already." Squall told her. "I have a name."
"I'll take it from here, Squall." Xu chuckled before the grin on her face dropped as she turned to face the trainees. "Alright," The tone of her voice was all business now as she approached the group with a stern expression that would have gripped any student's heart with fear. "I'm going to make this first step simple for all of you, so listen up! We're going to divide you all into five groups so start counting off right now. When you're done, get into formation, got that?!"
"Yes, instructor Xu!" All of the trainees complied.
"Who are the other two instructors today?" Squall asked Quistis, watching from afar as Xu took control of the candidates.
"Nida, and Zell." Quistis replied, stifling a laugh at the way Squall's expression shifted at the sound of the martial artist's name.
"Zell?" Squall crossed his arms skeptically. "Zell Dincht?"
"That's right." She nodded, crossing her arms in a similar manner. "Why don't you sound so sure about this decision?"
"Zell seems kind of..."
"Not the word I was looking for." Squall replied, furrowing his brow. "He led the others through the attack on Esthar pretty well. It's just-"
"He loses his temper easily, correct?" Quistis went ahead of him again.
"Well, it was the headmaster's decision." She told him, placing her hands on her hips. "He felt that Zell would be perfect for the program since he could relate to the trainees better than the rest of us. He also said it would help in building more character and morale. Ms. Dincht was thrilled after hearing about it, and you know how much Zell takes pride in impressing his mother."
"Thrilled, huh?" Squall raised an eyebrow slightly. As much as he didn't feel comfortable about the whole situation with Zell, he had a soft spot for Ms. Dincht. She was a big help during the martial law operation in the town of Balamb after all. "It's none of my business anyway."
"I knew you'd see it our way." Quistis gave him a little clap, confusing him before she cheered, "Congratulations, you held a conversation."
Squall gave her a little smirk before looking to the jittered trainees. When Xu was done dividing them into their squads she walked back to join him and Quistis with a satisfied grin on her face. "These guys break easily, huh? The last ones from the year before actually posed a challenge." She looked to the bridge leading from the entrance of the training center before looking back at them. "So where's Zell and Nida?"
"Don't know." Squall answered.
"Then I guess we'll have to start on our squads without them." Quistis suggested.
"And who am I assigned to?"
"First squad, of course." Xu chirped, gesturing to the four students lined up in single file near the lake. Squall nodded and headed off to them, leaving the two women to watch him handle his business.
"I remember when him and Seifer were standing there, side by side." Quistis chuckled, covering her mouth to keep her amusement from being too noticeable.
"They were fierce then, huh?" Xu remarked.
"Two fighting tigers, one would say."
"Something like that." Xu agreed with her friend, crossing her arms as she cocked her head to the side. "Those scars will never go away."
"Yeah...but for some reason Squall looks more attractive with his scar." Quistis commented with a light blush. "He looked a bit plain before that."
"You think so, too?"
"We're here!" Both women turned to the bridge to find Nida and Zell jogging up to them. To see Zell in his instructing uniform was an odd sight, but it was somewhat welcoming. It was way more acceptable than the bummy clothes he usually sported when he wasn't intending to leave the garden for anything. "He left his uniform with his girlfriend. Can you believe that?" Nida shook his head, jabbing a thumb at the martial artist.
"She told me that she would take better care of it than I would." Zell did more to add to the hurt than defend himself.
"I wouldn't be surprised to hear that." Quistis mumbled with a frown.
"I,uh, heard that." Zell told her, holding up a finger.
"Good." The blonde instructor said dully.
Let me see here. Squall thought to himself, walking down the line of four students before finding a person at the end that he never expected to see. She stood there in her usual style of attire. That being a blue button up shirt made in an oriental style, with black slacks. Her silver hair was a little longer than before now that he was able to get a better look at her, and the usual eye patch covered her right eye. Sometimes he found himself wondering what happened to her.
Does she really have an eye missing? Squall stopped beside Fujiin, finding himself locking his eyes with her like the last time they had seen each other. This was happening a lot now that he thought about it. "So you want to become a SeeD now?"
Fujiin didn't answer his question immediately, simply blinking before answering, "YES." Of course, she didn't say this very loud as the text seems to imply, but it always appeared that way for some reason. Were there boxes appearing over their heads as they spoke, you might be asking right now. Well, for the sake of originality, yes.
Squall crossed his arms, regarding her intensely. "Why?"
"...Yeah." Well, I don't think so...but I'd like to hear one since it's you.
The instructor turned away from her for a moment to massaged his left temple before turning back to her, saying, "I've heard you speak normally before, Fujiin."
"So why do you continue to speak like that?"
Squall widened his eyes slightly at her question. Did it bother him? It honestly didn't, but for some reason he just felt it would be a nice change of pace to listen to a few sentences come out of her mouth rather than what she usually offered, and it wasn't much. "Not really."
"WHAT REASON THEN?" She caught him off guard when she cocked her head to the side. Her husky voice accompanied by the way she looked with her head tilted to the side so innocently made the commander feel rather odd just for looking at her. It was something different from what he was used to.
"I suppose it would be nice." He answered her. Nice...I don't think I've ever spoken like this to someone before. This is an awkward conversation now that I stop to think about it. Why am I having it with her anyway? He glanced over to where Quistis and Xu were last to find that they had gone to their squads already. Well at least Quistist isn't watching me do this. But on the contrary, for the dear instructor was watching his from afar much to the dismay of the male students in her squad. It hurt their pride to see that their instructor was much more focused on someone other than themselves. The fact that it was the infamous commander made that all the more harder for them.
"Nice?" Squall was surprised to find that the text came out normally. "I never looked at it that way." Fujiin went on with a thoughtful look on her face. She stared at him with a curious expression, stroking her chin. "I saw it as simply being more efficient. It allowed me to get to the point with less words."
"...I suppose that works." Squall stroked the side of his arm subconsciously. "So...getting back to my first question. Why do you want to become a SeeD now? You didn't show much of an interest in it before, even when Seifer attempted to become one." He inwardly felt guilty for throwing in his rival's name, but he wanted to see what kind of reaction he would get from her. It would help him get a little insight on how she felt about the friction between them.
"THINGS DIFFERENT NOW."
Huh? She just went back to- Squall's train of thought was thrown off when he felt someone tap him on the shoulder.
"Hey," He turned to find Quistis behind him, her glasses gleaming in the light. "I forgot to tell you, but you need to assign a squad leader."
"Right." Squall nodded before his fellow instructor looked over his shoulder to regard Fujiin.
"Oh, didn't see you there." Quistis said, a hint of emotion in her voice that caught Squall off guard. "I was wondering where you were since Rajiin ended up in my squad. Well, what a surprise."
Fujiin offered her no response...
"Ah-huh." Quistis mused, nodding her head slowly before looking to Squall again. "Just wanted to tell you." With that, she returned to her squad.
Squall turned back to face Fujiin to find her eye narrowed slightly. "I suppose I'll assign the position to you then." His words got her attention, seemingly surprising her. He saw her reaction and blinked. He wasn't expecting her to react that way. "Something bothering you?"
"Why are you choosing me?" She asked.
...She's talking normally again. I wonder what's up. "You handled Galbadian soldiers pretty well in the past. You'd be the best choice."
"I see." For some reason her response sounded a bit cold. He wondered if he struck a chord with her, bringing up the past like that.
"Did I say something wrong?"
"I'd prefer that you did not base your decisions on me about the past anymore. That is behind us."
"Fine." Squall told her with a nod before she did something else unexpected.
Fujiin smiled at him brilliantly, crinkling her eye slightly to express her joy, and softly said, "Thank you."
At that moment Squall wasn't sure what just happened, but he could tell that he might have just triggered something. The feeling he was left with as Xu had them all dismissed left a lingering disturbance.
...That was new...
Today I have taken my first step forward...
- Stalker's Log, September 15th-
To Be Continued...
Expect things to get a little odd from here...