Summary: Squall sends Quistis and Irvine on a mission to Esthar, in the midst of political (and familial) unrest. Will they end up facing down the terrorists they suspect are behind Esthar's current political uprisings? Or is Laguna paying millions of gil for two very skilled Triple Triad partners?

Notes: This is a total piece of comfort-writing, after the hellish fuckjob that March has been. Somewhat inspired by the shenanigans at the LunaticDiscord RP, but also a chance for me to get caught up on Get Your Words Out.

Additional Notes: I don't believe I'm coming back to Fanfiction Dot Net just to post this.

The Odds Are In will be a series of connected ficlets / scenes / vignettes / pieces. Some will have plot, some will just be scenes. This month's goal: WORDS.

Accompanying lyrics and butchered title are taken from / inspired by (respectively) the song Dance Commander by Electric Six. In retrospect this is fairly embarrassing to admit.

-

you must obey the dance commander you know that / he's the only one

-

Quistis sat down beside Irvine, throwing a somewhat worried glance his way: do you know what this is about? Irvine gave a very small shrug, as if to say no, and they both turned back to look across the paper-strewn desk at the folder Squall was hidden behind. The folder itself seemed nondescript and plain, which was surprising what with the urgency they'd both been summoned to the Commander's office.

Eventually the folder was lowered. The look on Squall's face was surprisingly grim and blank; worry started to build in Quistis' gut. She tried to sneak a glance at the files inside the folder, but Squall snapped it shut with finality --and to her surprise, handed it to her.

"President Loire of Esthar has commissioned your services," Squall said.

There was a long-ish pause, and then: "Laguna?" Quistis asked, just as Irvine blurted out, "Your old man?"

Squall's lips tightened, almost imperceptibly, but Quistis was an excellent reader of Squall's stoic moods and caught the warning sign. "The mission request comes from the Presidential Office of Esthar," he clarified, making particular emphasis on the words.

"So, from Kiros and Ward." Irvine nodded in understanding.

"No." Squall glanced down at the paper, and Quistis saw his lips twitch again. "The message is specifically from the President himself. He... made that very clear."

"What do you mean?" Irvine asked, leaning forward. Squall blinked, and the lines around his mouth grew tighter.

"What's the mission?" Quistis asked hastily, hoping to defer the explosion. "Your page sounded important. Is it urgent?"

Squall opened another folder slowly. "Urgent enough to require advance payment," he said, handing a receipt her way. Quistis glanced down, and then took a second look - was that their fee? She hadn't seen that many zeroes in a row since Seifer's last report card.

"Sir?" Quistis handed the receipt sheet back to Squall. "What exactly is going on?"

"The President," Squall said, distinctly emphasizing the title, "has found himself in a tight spot." He shuffled through his own folder, which Quistis was beginning to suspect was a more in-depth copy of the folder she was holding. "Esthar is on the brink of a civil war," Squall said.

"Yeah, we know." Irvine leaned back in his chair, looking bored. "It's been all over the news."

Squall nodded. "They are more on the brink than the news is showing. Last week, there were two attempts to remove the President from office, and one additional attempt to overtake the Presidential Palace."

Quistis blinked. "I've heard nothing about this," she said, slowly.

"And you won't," Squall replied. He rested his hands on the table, looking idly at the papers beneath them. "Esthar is trying to keep the peace. They don't want to let the people know that the unrest has gone that far."

"Woah." Irvine shook his head. "That can't be good."

Squall raised an eyebrow at Irvine's understatement. "It isn't," he said, letting the confirmation hang in the air over his desk.

Quistis shifted in her chair, uncomfortable at the silence. "So what is the mission, then?"

Squall glanced at the folder in her hand, his expression clearly saying read it yourself, but Quistis simply stared back at him, deliberately leaving the folder closed; whatever Squall wasn't saying made her nervous, and she was going to make him say it aloud before she was going anywhere.

Finally, Squall sighed. "It's... complicated," he said.

"With Laguna?" Irvine muttered. "You expected otherwise?"

Quistis primly set the folder down on her lap. "Please explain, sir."

"Missions inside missions." Squall made a small hand gesture of frustration. "Your first assignment is officially from the Presidential Office of Esthar. You are publicly assigned as acting bodyguards to the President, and charged with the safety of his person and of the Presidential Palace, in that order. The assignment will last until the President's safety and well-being are no longer in danger, and the Presidential Office is willing to pay a monthly fee for your services until such a time."

"Who decides when that is?" Irvine murmured. "I like Laguna, but..."

Squall ignored him. "Within that assignment is a second mission. During your tenure as President Loire's bodyguards, you will investigate certain political groups which the President suspects are funding terrorist attacks. If proof is found, you will call in a secondary SeeD team, who will eliminate these threats under your direction."

"Wait," Quistis said, carefully. "I thought SeeD wasn't going to get involved in the political side of things as much, now." Squall had been very careful in the past few months to keep SeeD completely separate from any of the political uproar which had swept their world in the aftermath of Time Compression.

Squall drummed fingers on folders, absently. "This isn't political," he replied, after a moment's thought. "Terrorist groups are a danger to Estharian civilians, no matter which side they may hail from politically. We risk nothing contracting ourselves to the President's Office in this manner, as long as we implement our teams without regard to political philosophy."

Irvine and Quistis glanced at each other. Finally Irvine said, "What?"

Squall let out his breath in a rush of annoyance. "The President thinks that someone in Esthar is gathering material for a dirty bomb," he said flatly, "and using the leftovers from the Lunar Cry as a cover story for their break-ins and attacks. It's in the folder, Quistis," he added with just a hint of annoyance.

"Then I'll make sure to read up on the details before we go," she retorted, primly tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, not bothered at all. "What else do we need to know?"

"Well." Squall glanced between the two of them, threw another pointed look at the folder in Quistis' lap, and then sighed, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his temples. "There's a second mission -- well, third, really. A private mission, tacked on separate from the other two, and paid for separately as well." His eyes closed for a moment. "If things go... if things get bad in Esthar, the two of you are responsible for getting the Loire family safely out of Esthar and back to Balamb where they can claim political asylum."

Quistis blinked. Beside her, Irvine leaned forward. "Loire family?" he blurted out. "Laguna's got more kids?"

Squall buried his face in his hand for a moment, and then looked up, his expression carefully bland. "Your two charges are Laguna and Ellone Loire."

"Oh, Elle!" Irvine's face brightened. "That's right, she's in Esthar now. Laguna's... whatever-y person."

"Ambassador," Quistis said, trying not to laugh at the look on Squall's face. "Ambassador of Magic." They'd all had a good, private laugh over the title -- behind Squall's back, of course, because Squall hadn't found it amusing. But even Rinoa had giggled a bit, and Rinoa was one of the few people Ellone was supposed to be acting as an Ambassador to.

"Chancellor," Squall corrected her, with a perfectly straight face. "The position's title has been changed."

"It's about time." Irvine chuckled. "Poor Ellone must have been goin' nuts figuring out how to be an Ambassador to--"

Squall cleared his throat. "This last mission," he said loudly over the end of Irvine's comment, "will only take effect in case of emergency." Irvine's mouth snapped shut at the serious tone in Squall's voice, and he glanced upwards. "President Loire has paid extra for the privilege of employer's choice," Squall continued softly. "You will both be bound by this extra clause if he chooses to invoke it."

"What determines a state of emergency?" Quistis asked. "Will it be up to--?"

Squall blinked and looked away, and Quistis stopped talking at the strange flush which appeared on his face. "Because he has invoked employer's choice," Squall said woodenly, "President Loire will decide what qualifies as a state of emergency. If he at any point says... the code phrase included in your briefing files, your priorities are expected to immediately switch, to getting the Loire family out of Esthar safely. No matter the cost."

Quistis sat back, pensive; things like this happened occasionally, and it must be much worse in Esthar than she'd thought for Squall and Laguna to have made such an arrangement. Irvine, incorrigible, leaned forward with a smirk on his face. "What's the password, then?"

Squall glanced down at the closed folders in his desk. Reluctantly, he said, "President Loire has chosen the code phrase 'Operation Moomba Parade'."

Irvine snickered, and Quistis glanced up with a smile she couldn't quite help. Squall's face was still blank. "I am not sure whether President Loire understands the seriousness of an employer's choice clause," he said nastily.

"At least it's not a common phrase he might say accidentally," Quistis offered.

"Are you sure?" Irvine asked her under his breath.

Squall stood up, with an air of finality. "The rest of the details are included in your briefing folder. Quistis, you'll be squad leader." ("Squad of two?" Irvine mumbled.) "If you have any questions, make sure you see me this afternoon. There are two tickets to Esthar reserved in your names for tomorrow morning."

Quistis glanced at the folder and then back up; she longed to ask more questions, but the look on Squall's face said he'd had quite enough about Laguna and Esthar for one day. "Yes, sir," she said instead, standing up. "Irvine, shall we go take a look at our assignment in my dorm?"

"I'd love to," Irvine said with a grin and a wink, following her out.