Alright! Well, dudes, it was faster than I expected, but I have a new story idea! I'm also playing around with my writing style this time, we'll have to see if you notice. So yeah, entirely new alternate universe, entirely new story! I hope you guys like this one. ^^ Can't wait to hear what you think!

O


Chapter 1


"Are you sure you want to do this Squall?"

Squall halted just as his hand was reaching for the doorknob, a quiet breath leaving him before he turned around and gave his parents a tight smile, "I'll be fine."

His mother's arms were crossed over her chest as if trying to hold herself together, a sign Squall had learned long ago meant that she was anxious, "Squall, we all know that money is tight but we'll find some way to put you through school. I, I can find a second job and-"

Pulling the strap of his duffle bag further onto his shoulder, Squall shook his head, his bangs falling a bit into his face, "No, Mom. This will work out. My contract is only for two years, and after that, the military is going to foot my college bill. You have…other things to worry about besides me."

His gaze flickered toward the back of the house where his brother's room was. Sora, only twelve years old, had just developed a sudden serious medical problem. He didn't know what it was, but the tests to figure that out alone were costing his parents a small fortune. He needed to go to college so that he could get a better job but to do that he needed money. Money they just didn't have. After high school, he had spent three years trying to settle down into a good job, but in their economy no one would hire him for anything but low-paying physical labor. All of the money he had built up was already nearly depleted from their recent hospital bills and living costs. But he wasn't willing to make his parents pay for his education, especially not when he had another option available to him.

His mother's eyes fell closed at his words and his father stepped forward, "I can tell you're set on this. Just," the man let out a sigh and reached over to rest his hand against the side of Squall's face, "just be careful. Having one son in danger has been torture, so I know having two in danger will be hell. Take care of yourself, alright?"

Squall felt his throat closing up a little, his grip tightening on his bag as he gave a small nod, managing a small, strained, "I will."

"And, despite how much I may disagree with your decision, I am proud of you. And," his father paused for a moment to regain his voice. Squall didn't dare look up; he didn't think he could manage to keep control of his emotions if he were to see the ones in his father's eyes. "And know that we love you, and that you had better write as much as you can, or else we'll come after you."

Despite the torrent of emotions inside he was unable to help a small smirk from slipping out from the mess, "Alright."

Taking a deep breath, his father was about to continue when a door back inside the house slammed open, a small shout ringing out accompanied by the sound of someone falling to the ground. A moment later, Sora stumbled out from around the corner of the hallway and, still flushed with a fever, threw himself at his older brother.

Catching him easily, Squall lifted the boy into a quick hug, his failing athletic body trembling in his grasp, "Squall, you were going to leave without saying good-bye!"

Biting his lip, he ruffled Sora's hair before placing a quick familial kiss on his forehead, "Didn't want to wake you, Sor. But now that you're awake, I guess I can. Be good for Mom and Dad, alright? Or else I'll have to come back and knock some sense into you."

"I will! I will…but you'll come back soon, right?"

"…As soon as I can."

Sora took a small breath, his large blue eyes wide and his face fell to look at the ground. He was young but even he could hear the white lie and tell that Squall meant he was going to be gone for a while. Determination suddenly swelled up in his face and he tilted his chin back up, "Alright! By the time you come back, I won't be sick anymore so don't worry about me!"

Squall let out a small chuckle, "If you say so, I'll try not to…" Releasing his little brother, he straightened up, "But you should go back to bed and stop worrying so much yourself. I'll be back."

"Promise?"

Squall smiled a little, giving his family a small wave before reaching out for the doorknob again, this time turning it and stepping passed the threshold, "Ya. I promise."

Leaning back against the shattered exoskeleton to what used to be a house, Squall held his breath, his rifle tucked tightly against his chest as the sweat running down from underneath his helmet drew pale lines in the dirt that coated his face. The sound of a firefight split the night, the explosions of light coming from the barrels of the guns lighting up the smoke-filled air as sirens wailed somewhere in the distance.

Seeing an opportunity, he suddenly lurched forward and ran over to where he had seen one of his comrades disappear behind another broken piece of wall. The man jumped as Squall rounded the corner but instantly relaxed, recognizing the identical uniform before the face. "L-leonhart, you scared the shit out of me…"

Squall grit his teeth as he recognized the voice, "Almasy, what are you doing?" He and the other man had been what could most accurately be described as rivals the moment both had been promoted into the elite SeeD unit, although they would both admit a grudging respect for the other if forced. Their animosity had peaked during a training exercise a few months ago; they had ended up scaring each other's faces and their superior finally stepped up and forced them to get over their issues. That had basically consisted of the two of them being locked in confinement together until they managed to reach an unenthusiastic truce.

"I got hit."

"What?"

Seifer scowled and thrust his arm under Squall's nose, a bullet hole clearly burnt into the fabric over his bicep, blood blossoming out from the wound and trailing down to the fingertips of his gloved hand, "I. Got. Hit. I can't hold my damn gun steady."

Squall started at the sight then grabbed his radio from his shoulder, "You need to get back to HQ or else it will get infected."

"Hold up, what are you doing?"

Ignoring him, Squall clicked the walkie on, a small stream of static filling the air as he spoke into it, "Leonhart to Dincht, do you copy?"

There was a moment of silence before a voice flickered back, "Yo, Leon, Dincht here. 'Sup?"

Rolling his eyes at the other's use of the nickname he had been given since he had entered the military, Squall continued, "Zell, Almasy's been hit, I'm taking him back to HQ."

"With you two down, we'll have to move out too."

"Will you be alright?"

"With me leading? Of course! See you back at home, buddy!"

Looking back over at Seifer as Zell's voice faded out, Squall frowned as he saw the other man leaning back against the wall with his eyes shut. A quick smack to the helmet made his blue eyes fly open again and they turned, burning with annoyance toward his reluctant rescuer, "What?"

"I don't care how much blood you lost, you're going to stay awake. Can you walk?"

"I'm not letting you carry me if that's what you mean. I'll be fine, just cover our backs and make sure no one shoots us full of lead."

Frown deepening, Squall struggled to remind himself that Seifer was wounded and therefore probably in pain, and probably particularly ill-tempered because of it. It was still really hard not to turn around and give him a punch to the jaw as Seifer harped on him the whole way back, Squall even having to give him a hand up as he nearly passed out half-way there. The trip was tense, since at any moment they could be discovered and shot, and the extra stress did nothing for Squall's nerves.

By the time they managed to stumble into the concrete SeeD bunker, Squall felt just as exhausted and cranky as Seifer looked. Squall had to admit though that the other man looked worryingly pale and quickly found a medic who swiftly ushered the blond soldier into to healing ward to be looked at.

Heaving a long breath, Squall slowly reached up and unfastened his helmet, running a hand through his sweat soaked hair as it fell down to his shoulders. He really needed a haircut. Trudging further into the room, he pulled off his rifle and set it carefully down onto a table before practically collapsing into a wooden chair.

What was he doing out here? He was half-way across the world from home and still had five more months of his contract the fulfill, but just thinking of spending five more days, much less five more months, was enough to send a crushing depression into his chest. He had been fighting, and killing people, for months as what could only be described as a mercenary, and it was taking its toll, physically and emotionally. He had been taught things that he couldn't have begun to imagine himself knowing before, from how to fix an electric generator to how to incapacitate a man with one hand but all he really wanted to know was how his family was doing. Three months after he had left, he had gotten a message from his parents saying that they had found out Sora had Leukemia, some kind of cancer. Squall didn't know much about it, except that it was serious. He hadn't spoken with them for months already, and last time he had, Sora hadn't been doing any better…

His fingers tightened their grip on his hair as he rested his head in his hands, his elbows holding his weight as they rested on the table next to his gun. He was going to lose it soon if something didn't change.

A hand fell on his shoulder and he jumped about a foot, his hands immediately going to the concealed dagger in his vest as he spun around, only relaxing as he heard a familiar laugh, "Hey, watch it there!"

"What do you want Zell?"

"Just wanted to see what's up with Seifer."

"The medics have him, I think he'll be fine."

Squall's stormy gaze was on the table and so he missed the concerned frown that slowly slipped across Zell's face, his next words spoken with a seriousness that startled Squall out of his daze, "What about you? You okay, Leon?"

"I'm fine."

"Funny. You don't look it." The seriousness was gone as quickly as it had come and Zell waved it off, "But you're a big boy, you can take care of yourself. Oh, that reminds me, you have a note on your bunk."

"A note? From who?"

"I don't know, I don't go around looking at other people's mail. It must've been delivered this morning when we got the mail in from town though." They only sent men to retrieve their mail once every week, it was too dangerous to send someone out every day, and it was rare for anyone to get any sort of personal message.

"Thanks. Could you put my gear away for me?"

"What am I, your maid? Fine, but you officially owe me one favor."

"Whatever."

His mind drifted as he stood up and moved towards the hall that would lead him to the sleeping quarters, his feet knowing the path so well his thoughts were allowed to go blank, trying to block out the sight of the concrete floor, walls, and ceiling, bare lightbulbs running down the corridor the only source of light along the hallway to where the men slept. Pushing the heavy metal door open with his shoulder, Squall was relieved to find that he was alone, all of the other bunks unoccupied. The men were probably eating or trying to wash off some of the grime that they picked up on the battlefield, two things that he very much wanted to do but his knew his curiosity wouldn't allow it.

Reaching his bunk, he spotted the mentioned letter sitting in the middle of his bed, the white paper stained a bit with dirt from its trip. Snatching it off of his blankets, he quickly tore it open, not having recognized the address or the name of the sender on the front. It had looked like a government title.

At the sight of the long expanse of typed print, Squall felt eyes tire and his mind begin to go blank again until his heart froze up as he finally processed the first line of the letter:

Mr. Squall Leonhart, It is our unfortunate duty to inform you that your parents have passed away.

Feeling like he had just had all of the wind knocked out of him, he didn't even have the strength to hold himself up as his knees suddenly gave out. His body slowly slid down the metal bedframe until he was sitting on the ground, his full attention now on the paper in front of him.

They were in an automobile accident; both suffered major injuries and were pronounced dead at the scene. The man who hit them was also killed in the collision, but these are details which are probably unnecessary at the moment.

No, he wanted the details. Who had hit them, why had he hit them? How long ago had they even died? Hands trembling, he turned the envelope over to look for the post mark. It had mailed out over two weeks ago. His parents had been dead for half a month…and this was the first he heard about it?

It has come to our attention that you are the only remaining direct relative of your younger brother, Sora Leonhart, who, still being a minor, requires the care of a legal guardian. He has been placed in the city's care, but can legally only remain with us for one month. After that, he will be placed into foster care unless you or another relative or authorized adult takes custody of him. We are aware of your position but if it is at all possible, could you send a list of candidates who may be able to look after Sora until you return? Also, your parents left most of their possessions to you in their will, and will have to be claimed by you after your return from duty.

Oh god, he had forgotten about Sora. Squall shook his head. There was no way he was going to let Sora get put into foster care, not while he was still living. But his contract was still active for another few months, and there was no way he'd be able to get back within the month if he put in the paperwork needed to be dismissed.

There was only one thing he could do then.

Making up his mind in less than a second, Squall quickly pulled out his duffle bag, the very same one he had carried with him from home, from under his bunk and set it onto his bed. Trying to work quickly before anyone came in, he gathered up his minimal possessions, nothing more than a set of civilian clothes, his wallet, and personal hygiene necessities. The whole process took less than five minutes; everything else he had belonged to the military and he wasn't about to steal from them on top of deserting.

Zipping the duffle up, he hesitated at the sight of the letter laying open on his pillow. Pursing his lips, he grabbed the envelope with the sender's information on it but left the letter out and open. It was the only explanation he could think of to leave for the others once they found that he was missing and wouldn't be coming back.

Shouldering his bag, he took one more glance around the room then turned to face the hall he had just walked down, his heart pounding not so much with excitement but in fear at the thought that someone might spot him on the way out and stop him. Enough time had passed that Zell had probably gone to the mess hall by now; the front room was liable to be empty. With this thought in mind, he pulled his helmet back on and pushed the door open, reverting to using his stealth techniques against the very people who had taught him how and slunk nearly silently down the hall.

He could hear men's voices echoing from the living quarters of the bunker, separated from himself only by a concrete wall as he continued to move, no more than a small sigh of relief slipping past his lips as he saw that the front room was indeed emptied for the moment.

He glanced at his rifle that Zell had returned neatly to its case near the door but decided against taking it. They were always running short of supplies and if he was taking away one of their men he could at least let them keep one of their guns. That would only leave him with a small handgun and a dagger but hopefully he wouldn't run into any enemy combatants on the way to the city. Once there, he would be able to get transport to the airport and buy himself a ticket back home, back to Traverse Town.

It sounded so simple. Such a simple thing and yet it was unfathomable that it would work. But all that mattered now was getting back to Sora. He was needed there more than he was here now. He would figure everything else out later.

His mind settled, Squall marched over to the door and pulled it open, the hinges groaning as he stepped out of the safety of the bunker, pulling the door closed again before someone came to investigate the noise. The air outside lit up in a blood red from the setting sun as it was filtered through smoke and dust on the western horizon. Turning towards it, Squall pulled his helmet down further over his face to protect his eyes from the wind, his other hand settling near his hip where his gun was holstered, ready for anyone to try and attack the lone SeeD as he wandered his way toward civilization.


The neon lights of Traverse Town glared down upon him as Squall walked through its familiar gate. Everything looked the same and yet…it felt, different. Smaller. Strange.

Shaking the thoughts away, Squall ran a hand through his hair to try and comb out any tangles. He hadn't had the opportunity to shower since he had left, though he had changed into his second pair of clothes, not wanting the attention his SeeD uniform would have garnered. Especially since it was still stained with Seifer's blood from when the other man had been injured.

Blinking up at the two crooked streetlights which stood in the middle of the courtyard, he passed in between them, letting his feet guide him home while ignoring the looks of curious strangers, wishing they'd just keep on going about their business before he was recognized. He really didn't feel up to talking.

Like the First District, the Second District didn't seem to have changed a thing since he had last been home, the fact simultaneously comforting and disconcerting. It was as if a day hadn't even passed but he knew that the image would be shattered as soon as he reached his house, because his parents wouldn't be waiting for him. But Sora would.

In less time than he had hoped, Squall found himself staring at his front door, steeling himself for whatever lay inside. He hadn't been home in a year in a half, so many things had changed, both within the house and within himself.

Bracing himself, he took a short breath before reaching a hand out and knocking. His heart flew into his throat as there was a short silence before suddenly the sound of padded footsteps echoed out from behind the door, a voice he almost recognized calling out a second later, "Who is it?"

"Leo—Squall…It's Squall—"

Before he could say anything more the door was nearly ripped open, revealing a young teenager, his expression broken from grief and sickness and a strange desperation sparking in his crystal blue eyes as they met his. Behind all this, Squall could still make out his baby brother. A strangled noise escaped Sora's throat before he stumbled outside and threw his arms around Squall's neck, burying his face into his chest.

Letting his duffel bag fall unattended to the ground, Squall quickly returned the gesture, enveloping Sora's thin frame in a tight hug, every emotion that he had buried for so long boiling up to the surface as he felt Sora shake in his arms. And it felt so nice to hold someone again.

Noticing Sora's shakes morphing into shivers in the cool night air, Squall pulled away from their embrace though keeping an arm wrapped firmly around Sora's shoulder's as he picked up his bag, his voice gruff with bottled-up feelings when he spoke, "Let's get you inside…"

Managing a nod, Sora wiped his eyes with the back of his hands, unable to keep the tremble from his words as Squall closed the front door behind them, "Y-you came back..!"

Sighing, Squall tossed his bag onto the couch in the living room before directing his gaze to the floor. Gods, all the furniture was still the same… "Sora. I just got a letter two days ago. I didn't, didn't know—I'm sorry—"

"—It's okay." Blinking up in shock, Squall looked at his brother to find Sora's eyes staring back firmly into his, "It's okay. You're here now, so it's okay." A weak smile made its way onto the youth's face and even this shell of Sora's former happiness was enough to melt away a little of Squall's uncertainties. "I, I was afraid, that I would have to be, be sent away somewhere. I want, I want to stay here, I—I just—"

Squall cut off his rising panic by stepping forward and pulling him into another hug, "Hey…It'll be alright now. I'll take care of you."

He swallowed as he felt Sora's fingers grip at his shirt, pulling at the fabric as he tried to keep himself together, "Th-thank you."

Eyes softening, Squall lowered his head to rest on Sora's soft brunet spikes, his hands slowly moving on their own accord to rub comforting circles on Sora's back, like he remembered his mother doing whenever he had been upset. The motion seemed to relax the teen but Squall frowned as he realized just how skinny Sora was. Pulling away, he cleared his throat, "Anyway, how about I make us something to eat, alright?"

Sora nodded softly then smiled shakily, "You can cook?"

"Probably as well as you can, if there's anything to eat in the house."

"Mm, I can't remember what's in the fridge. I, haven't gone shopping yet."

Squall frowned as the depression flickered back in Sora's voice and traveled straight into his heart. That's right, he had been on his own for a few weeks now. "Well, I'm sure we'll find something."

That something turned out to be a batch of rice topped with a sort of make-shift stir-fry of whatever Squall found still edible in the crisper. It would make due for the moment. Setting a plate down at the table for Sora, Squall took the seat across from him as the younger let out a small noise of surprise, "Wow, this looks surprisingly good. I didn't know we had vegetables left."

"We barely did. I'll go grocery shopping tomorrow…" Squall fell silent for a moment to allow them each a few bites before speaking again, as well as to give him a few minutes to work out his next question as best he could, "…Do you know, where I need to go to get control of our—inheritance?"

Sora swallowed thickly before giving a small nod, "Y-ya. City Hall, I think…I think that's what the city workers said."

"Alright, I'll take care of that tomorrow too…Do you want to come?"

Sora blinked then shook his head, "I have school tomorrow."

"Hm? Oh, right." Right, Sora was still in high school. "How, how is that going?"

It felt awkward to try to start a conversation about something so mundane but Sora answered without missing a beat, as if relieved to finally be discussing a more comfortable topic. "It's alright I guess. Even though I'm fifteen, I'm a freshman because I had to be held back a year because I was sick too much last year during chemotherapy."

"Hm?"

"What? Oh, chemotherapy? Ya that was last year." He gave a small laugh, "That wasn't so fun…All my hair fell out and everything, it just grew out to its normal length like two months ago."

"…Was it bad? Did it hurt?"

Sora kicked his feet a little under the table, "It wasn't so bad…I've been feeling better since, although I guess I have to take those drugs for the next two years or something before the symptoms really go away, hopefully for good." He gave another tight smile, "I'm kind of tired of being sick."

Squall did the only thing he could think of and gave a small nod. To have gone through something like that at his age…he didn't want to think about it.

"What about you?"

Squall gave a questioning grunt and Sora explained, "I mean, how was it, out there? Like the movies?"

"Worse."

"What do you mean?"

Taking a small breath, he shook his head, "You don't need to know." Seeing that his plate had emptied sometime during their talk, he looked up to find Sora's dish in the same condition. Rising to his feet, he picked both plates up and walked over to the sink, "I can say that it's good to be back."

"It's, good to have you back."

Turning around, Squall found that Sora had followed him into the kitchen. Giving a rare smile, he raised a hand and set it down on Sora's head, ruffling his brown spikes, "Thanks…I'll, try my best, to be what you need me to be." Swallowing, Squall looked away, his gaze happening to pass over the clock on the microwave, "…And that being said, since tomorrow's a school day, and it's nearly eleven, you should be getting ready for bed."

Sora blinked before letting out a small laugh, his hands going up to grab the one Squall was resting on his head, "It seems like forever since I was told to go to bed. But you should go to sleep soon too, you must be tired. You look tired…"

"Do I? I suppose I am a little."

Nodding, Sora slowly fell still, his voice tentative as he spoke again, "Are, are you going to stay in your old room? Mom and Dad left it alone while you were away. But—their room is bigger and since, since—"

"—My old room's fine." Sora took a breath then nodded again, "Go ahead and get ready for bed. I'll make sure everything's locked up and follow you soon."

"Alright." Pulling away from underneath his older brother's palm, Sora turned and slowly down the hall to his bedroom, his soft voice echoing back into the kitchen as he left, "Thank you."

Squall didn't reply, knowing Sora wasn't waiting for an answer, and instead just watched the teen walk down the hall and slip around the corner. After he had passed out of sight, Squall found himself unable to move for a few moments, the events of the last week suddenly falling like a weight onto his shoulders.

The worst was over. Tomorrow they would begin to reconstruct their lives.

That night, Squall slept fitfully in his childhood bed, flashes of dirt, blood, and faces breaking into his dreams. He woke in a cold sweat, his hand automatically moving to the place on the floor where he had always kept his handgun back in the barracks, his fingers just curling around the grip before he realized where he was.

Taking a shuddering breath, he paused before pulling his hand up from the ground to run it over his face. Squall forced himself to remain calm as he heard footsteps hurrying towards his room from the hall outside, unsurprised as the sounds were soon followed up by a cautious knock.

"What is it Sora?" His voice was still rough from sleep but his little brother didn't seem bothered as he pushed the door open.

"I thought I heard a scream or something…you okay?"

Blinking in surprise, Squall gave a quick nod, "Ya, everything's fine." He couldn't remember ever having talked in his sleep before and none of the other SeeD members had mentioned it; it must've been from the change in environments, "What time's it?"

"Almost seven, so still pretty early. I was just gonna get some cereal if you want some. I mean, it'd be pretty easy for you to get yourself but since I'm gonna do it anyways—"

Squall gave a small smile at Sora's rambling and slipped his legs out from under the covers, liking the way that the carpeted floor felt under his bare feet compared to the cold concrete he had grown so used to waking up to. "Thanks Sor, but I'm not really hungry…Do you need a shower or can I take the bathroom?"

"Nope, it's all yours this morning!" A grin slipped onto Sora's face as he leaned into the room, "I guess you'll have to use my shampoo until you go buy your own, huh?"

"What's so funny about that?"

"Nothing really; you just don't really seem like a strawberry-papou fruit kinda guy."

"…Could you've picked a fruitier smelling shampoo?"

"Hey, it smells good!"

Rolling his eyes, Squall motioned for Sora to leave, which he did with a small laugh. By the time Squall had made it into the bathroom down the hall, he was well aware of how badly he needed to wash. Despite his night spent in clean sheets, he could still sense the smell of smoke and gunpowder lingering on him and as he stepped into the blistering hot water, he couldn't help but wince at how for the first few moments he could actually see dirt streak off of his skin and down into the drain. He was definitely going to have to wash his sheets tonight…

Stepping out of the shower a good fifteen minutes of scrubbing later, he made short work of going back to his room and pulling on some clothes that he hadn't seen in one and a half years. The t-shirt fit much more snuggly than he remembered and he was still fiddling with it as he walked out into the kitchen to find Sora sitting at the table shoveling a bowl of cereal into his mouth while simultaneously working on a math assignment.

Taking a seat across from him, Squall waited until his brother had swallowed before speaking up, "So today I will go down to City Hall and see about getting legal control of Mom and Dad's assets and then I was thinking about going to the workshops around town and asking if they needed any extra hands—"

He paused as Sora interrupted him with a shake of his head, "Most of the shops closed up a few months ago."

"Where does everything in town come from then?"

"One of the big cities like Radiant Gardens or Dark City. I guess they were a lot cheaper or something, 'cause the local store here started to close up and a lot of people lost their jobs 'cept for a few."

Squall frowned, his fingers drumming lightly on the tabletop as he tried to think of somewhere else he could go to get a job. He had figured the workshops would take him in; that was where he had mostly worked before he had become a SeeD mercenary, but if they were all closed down…there probably weren't a lot of other places that would take someone with just a high school diploma, especially if all the ex-employees of the workshops were also looking for work.

Undoubtedly seeing his mounting frustration, Sora piped up, "I think there's some place downtown that's been helping people find jobs. It's been in the news a lot, because of all of the layoffs and stuff."

"I'll try it. Maybe they'll have something. But shouldn't you be getting to school?"

At his words, Sora's blue eyes flew to the clock, a small noise of shock escaping the young teen as he realized that it was nearly 7:45, "Ah shoot! Class starts in fifteen minutes! I haven't finished my math yet!" Squall allowed himself a small chuckle and Sora's head whipped around to look at him, hope shining in his eyes, "Hey Squall, we still have your motorcycle parked outside! Since you're here, could you give me a ride to school? Please? I'd be there in five minutes!"

Quirking his head at being reminded of his old bike, Squall made a show of thinking it over before smirking, "I suppose it wouldn't be too far out of my way. But be ready to go in five minutes."

The smile that Sora gave him in return seemed to light up the room, "Thanks! I'll be finished by then!"

The teen had told the truth, just barely managing to complete his homework and scoop all of his school supplies into his backpack at the end of his five minute deadline. Squall stood at the front door in his old cropped leather jacket, the soft fur around the collar providing warmth his white wife beater didn't allow. Crossing his arms over his chest, he watched with a small smirk on his face as Sora scramble over to him like a puppy.

"Ready!"

"Then let's get going." Plucking his keys off of a hook by the door, Squall led Sora outside and around the corner into the nearby alley where the residences were allowed to park their vehicles. It helped that most everyone walked everywhere and took the train into nearby cities; in fact, the only thing currently parked there was Squall's motorcycle.

Pulling the cover off of it, he ran his hand over the metal body, trying to remember himself when he had put it together. It was nearly impossible. Squall shook his head then motioned his head for Sora to get on behind him as he mounted the bike himself. He only had one helmet attached to the handlebars so he pulled it off and gave it to his little brother, "Put this on and hang on tight."

Sora nodded quickly, an excited smile dancing across his face as he obeyed, pressing his cheek against Squall's back as he wrapped his arms tightly around his waist. "Wow! You have muscles now!"

Squall smirked again, "Being a solider has its perks…"

After making sure that Sora got to the school without incident, Squall sped off toward the town center and City Hall. The first thing he did was go to take control of his and Sora's inheritance. The lawyers were surprised to see him, since they knew he was contracted for a few more months of service still, but by lunch Squall was the new legal owner of all of his parents' property. Some of it was to go to Sora when he came of age, although Squall made sure that a large portion of his parents' money went into a college fund for Sora. Even if Squall never received the chance to get a higher education didn't mean that he would let Sora fall into the same situation. Unfortunately, his parents didn't have much money left, most of it having been drained from the passed two years of Sora's medical bills, and as Squall left the lawyer's office the pressure for him to find a job was nearly overwhelming.

Walking across the square to the government buildings, Squall quickly located his next stop, the ads aimed at job seekers plastered across the front a good indication he was in the right place. Taking the stairs up to the main door two at a time, he pushed the door open to find himself in an average looking office building. A secretary looked up at him and he subconsciously ran a hand through his hair, trying to look more presentable. "Um, I'm here about finding a job?"

She glanced behind her, checking the offices down the hall before turning to face him again, "Alright, second room down should be free. Go ahead inside."

"Thank you…"

Walking passed her, Squall cautiously approached the specified door. He cleared his throat a little as he stepped inside the small room, catching the attention of a man at a desk in the corner. Looking away from his computer screen the man gave Squall a half-smile before motioning him to sit in a chair on the other side of the room. "Here for a job, I suppose?"

"Yes sir."

"Alright then…" His voice trailed off as he shuffled through some forms on his desk, finally pulling one from the stack and grabbing a pen, "Name, date of birth, and street address?"

Squall rattled off the requested information, the man scribbling it into the correct blanks spaces on the form before continuing, "Level of education?"

"High school was the furthest I got." The man glanced up at him and Squall shifted under his gaze. He could sense the man's opinion of him drop a few points.

"Prior work experience?"

"Um…I worked for around three years at one of the workshops in town after I got out of high school but I, haven't had much luck for about a year and a half now." Squall knew that if he mentioned SeeD it would open up floodgate of questions he didn't want to have to answer. Particularly how he left. Desertion was worse than a dishonorable discharge; he would never get a job if anyone found out.

"Well, let's see what we can do for you, Mr. Leonhart. I can't promise anything, the markets been tight for job seekers lately, as you are undoubtedly aware." Spinning his chair around, the man went to work at his computer, accessing some sort of databank and entering Squall's information in. A few moments of awkward silence ensued as the computer searched, a small beeping noise signaling that it was finished.

Heaving a sigh, the man gave a small shrug, "I'm sorry, Mr. Leonhart, but there are no jobs available for someone in your position right now."

"Wait, can you check again sir?"

"I'm sorry Mr. Leonhart, I've already checked all the job openings."

Squall rose to his feet, about to argue his case when he heard the sound of someone clearing their throat behind him. Glancing back, he caught sight of a short, slim man dressed in a suit, his oddly-colored hair falling so that it covered nearly half of his face. When the smaller man spoke, the man behind the desk straightened up, "If I may, Mr. Leonhart, was it?" Squall nodded, "I could not help but overhear. I might be able to help you, if you care to come to my office."

"Of course." Squall followed without a second glance back at the man who had been "helping" him earlier. As he was led into a new room near the back of the hall, he couldn't help but ask, "How is it that you would be able to help when he wasn't?"

"I have different connections." Closing the door and taking a seat behind a large desk, the short man didn't even turn on his computer, just delicately crossed his arms, "Now, tell me about yourself Mr. Leonhart."

"I'm not how much you heard before but basically I'm a high school graduate who hasn't had a job in a year and a half." Squall noted that the man's desk was neatly organized, not a paper out of place, his nameplate reading "Ienzo Corazza". Squall had to wonder how old he was; he didn't look a day over 18.

"Hmm…" Leaning back, Ienzo raised his chin, his visible eye sparking with intelligence, "Now, Mr. Leonhart, let's try that again. And please, do not take me for a fool."

Squall narrowed his eyes, "What do you mean?"

"I heard you speaking with Mr. Scott and, although he may lack some power of observation, I do not. A man such as yourself would not have remained idle for a year and a half, meaning that you must have been doing something you deemed unnecessary for him to know about. Equally obvious to the trained eye is that you have spent time in the military. The way you hold yourself, the way you quickly respond to direct questions, the way you address figures of authority as 'Sir'. You might as well explain yourself."

Frowning, Squall leaned back against the wall, not liking the direction their conversation had taken. But it would be stupid to lie about anything now, this man was sharp, "Fine. I was in the military."

"Oh? What branch?"

"…SeeD."

"Elite forces then…Interesting. As I recall, a SeeD contract extends for twenty-four months, yet you seemed to have gotten out in less…"

"I—" Squall sighed, raising his head to gaze straight into the man's eyes, "I deserted."

Ienzo's expression didn't change, "I assume you had your reasons. Well, given your background, Mr. Leonhart, I have a question for you. How desperately do you need a job?"

The inquiry caught Squall off-guard. He didn't know if he liked the way it had been phrased. But, thinking back on Sora…he still needed medication, and there were bills, mortgages, and food to be paid for… "I need a job immediately."

"And what would you be willing to do?"

Ienzo's voice was quiet as he asked but it still sent a chill down Squall's back. But there was only one answer he could give. "I would do anything."

A small smile appeared on Ienzo's lips and Squall felt as if he had just made a deal with the devil, "Excellent…Meet me tonight at this address." Jotting down a quick note on a scrap of paper, Ienzo passed it across the desk to Squall, "Don't be late."