~*Chapter 15*~

Trust Issues

*Things always look better when you can't see them.*

A full ten minutes passed before Squall had even begun to contemplate opening his eyes let alone moving from the dark, safe corner. Eventually he forced himself to pry at least one eyelid opened and, upon doing so, instantly regretted it.

The scene had still yet to miraculously morph into something semi-pleasant as it did in his wonderful daydreams of late. But alas, nothing had changed. Rinoa, growing paler by the second, still lay sprawled on the floor at an almost impossible angle and Quistis' blood continued to slowly stain his sheets. . .his really really nice sheets. She had to taint everything of his didn't she?

Upon closer inspection Squall concluded that there was nothing dangerous about the assistant headmistress' state. The cuts were minor and so few that the only thing she needed worry about was finding a sturdy brand of band-aids and of keeping well away from him in the future. He quickly decided that the best remedy, not to mention the most simple, was to simply let her sleep it off. What other choice did he have anyway? In a few minutes Garden would be awake and bustling with people again and his one chance of getting out unobserved would dissipate.

There wasn't enough time to worry about something as minor as a drunken intrusion. . .which may result in her job being revoked if caught. Squall instinctively felt a little guilty about leaving her in such a delicate situation but just as easily threw the pitiful emotion away. It was her own fault anyway. Let her clean up her own messes.

With a paranoid cautiousness, Squall gripped the edge of his desk and slowly pulled himself up from the floor, exceedingly careful not to make a creak in the non-existent floorboards so as not to disturb his restful visitors. Now was a very delicate moment, one that may determine how he lived the rest of his life. He couldn't afford anyone presently on the floor to have any inkling that something odd was going on, not to mention the risk of waking Quistis who'd inevitably go into another screaming fit and precious seconds could be lost trying to calm her down.

Never had Squall been so glad that Cid forced him into agreeing to spend a ton of gil on what he thought was completely 'unnecessary' soundproofing. With single sex zones and the majority of the residents out on missions more than 80% of the time, he wasn't able to see the point in bothering to put so much money, time and effort into making the walls thicker. It wasn't before long though that he began to notice that many of his fellow 'A' rank SeeDs had visitors of the opposite sex some nights DESPITE to strict rule against such activity. Knowing that Cid had no concerns about the extracurricular activities of the Garden students, Squall could only thank Hyne that he couldn't hear a peep of what went on in his neighbors' apartments.

Once again, Cid had been right as usual. . .as always in fact. Never once had any of the man's predictions (from enemy movements to the amount of hot dogs to order) ever been off target.

The elite administration of course, did have a different set of rules. Once you became part of the faculty and leaders of military planning you were no longer considered students at Garden with an expendable reputation. Strict regulations commanded the manners and actions of said administration, who didn't dare break the rules or embarrass themselves and Garden. They were public figure heads after all. Any shame to them would be everyone's pain.

Squall shook his head to clear it and continued moving softly through the room, not daring to think about anything for fear of losing his nerve. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally arrived beside Rinoa's body and tried to be a methodical as possible when turning her over and inspecting for signs of life. He had done this millions of times to wounded soldiers out in the battlefield, determining their fate depending on the amount of supplies available and the strength of their heartbeat, and yet try as he might to remain cool and detached when dealing with the sorceress he couldn't help the rush of fear and longing that gripped his heart when he touched her.

Her skin, which only a few hours ago felt so hot it burned, was now unnaturally cool, almost as if somehow her blood had been removed and exchanged for liquid nitrogen. With a cautiousness that Squall tried to convince himself was normal for these procedures, he slowly rolled her onto her back and shakily forced her open, unblinking eyes shut against their will. Not that having closed eyes was necessary, but he couldn't help himself. Her gaze was too much for him to bear as she simply stared at him with shock, pain, and disappointment written all over her face. It was more than scaring him to see her like that and for a second or two he actually thought of rushing to the bathroom for a bag to put over her head before he continued on. But he had too much respect for her to realistically consider such a degrading option. She was too beautiful to be hidden from view for even a second.

Trying not to notice how badly his hands were shaking, Squall's feather- light touch traveled down from her closed eyelids, to her soft cheeks and onto her neck where her mother's wedding band and his griever were settled comfortably in the groove between her collarbones. He smiled unconsciously when his fingers found the delicate, dull silver and platinum rings.

He loved this part of her. Her neck, he decided last night, was his favorite area of her entire body. Maybe if things were different, if they had woken up together on a normal morning, in a normal atmosphere he could have had time to voice this ridiculous discovery of his. She would giggle as she usually does when he says something so stupid, and then kiss him lightly and lovingly, eventually running her hands through his hair as she had a habit of doing. Then they would make love, talk a little and make love again until some other random, everyday appointment would force them to part, their separation only building up their hunger for each other until they met again at night.

A perfect, normal life.

Squall's smile disappeared as quickly as it appeared as he arduously retracted his wandering fingers that were beginning to involuntarily trace her collarbone.

A normal life? That was too much to ask for the all mighty Squall Leonhart. He didn't know why he even bothered dreaming about such fantastical things.

Saving the world he could do any day.

But wanting to share a simple modest home with the woman he loved? Impossible. Outrageous! Downright crazy.

He sighed while his hand still hovered above her sleep-like form daring to continue its timid explorations, for purely scientific reasons of course. But he dare not touch her again, not if he wanted to get out of this whole ordeal with his heart in one piece.

His fingers slowly balled themselves into a fist and kept their distance. Squall, meanwhile, noticed that no matter how he looked at her, the sight of her limp body with almost no sign of life would constantly phase his attention. He stood up briskly and turned his back to her, trying to regulate his breathing to some sort of normal pace. It was impossible to even glance at her let alone get past piles of security with her in his arms. He needed something, ANYTHING for reassurance that what he was doing was indeed, not a mistake.

Said reassurance presented itself in the form of an accident. Despite his deranged attempts to keep completely silent while making his exit, in a moment of anxiety Squall managed to hit a strategically placed end table that began to wobble as he passed, threatening to spill it's fragile contents. He only noticed it after the first trinket (a small glass compass) shattered loudly on the floor.

"Shit. . !" he whispered, diving to catch the teetering furniture before it caused any further damage. It was his vigilant paranoia that worked against him, for in chancing a glance to make sure his drunken, unconscious professor was indeed still worthy of that title, he missed the opportunity to avoid a racket. His attention divided one time too many and not being used to his dorm being in such disarray, Squall managed to trip over the removed desk drawer that Rinoa had upended when searching for a spare key card, the impact of which sent him flailing forward.

Not only did he fail in saving the table but, in an attempt to catch himself he managed to grab onto an already unstable pile of duffle bags filled with clanking metal equipment which further fell over, hit a tall pile of small boxes the top one of which spilled it's fragile contents onto the desk, shattering with impact and sending piles of papers and thousands gil flying about the room.

The noise seemed endless. The metal would keep shifting, the glass still tinkled and the vast number of paper money bills made slight 'swooshing' sounds as they landed, carefully, wherever the breeze took them.

And in the middle of it all, his heart beating faster than he ever remember, sat the Squall Leonhart: klutz extraordinaire, wincing every time he heard something move, his eyes wide and frightened, fixed on Quistis.

She groaned once.

He held his breath.

She rolled over to face him.

He felt every muscle in his body tighten.

And that was it. Her face, with its eyes thankfully closed, still maintained its expression of deep and peaceful slumber. This woman could officially sleep through anything. He let out the breath he didn't realize he had been holding.

And people wondered why he always kept his living areas so painfully neat. Exhibit A: THIS is what happens to few times he let it get out of hand.

That was when he heard it. A soft 'clunk' as something relatively light and non-metallic hit the floor to the right of him having fallen off the desk. With no longer any fear of waking his practically comatose ex-instructor, Squall peered curiously at the small black velvet box that lay lopsided by his thigh.

He knew what it was immediately, not only by its shape but also by the deep sense of relief he felt upon hearing it fall from the moneybag. His fingers were, for once, steady as he picked it up and gently pried it open.

The ring. . .

He had forgotten about it in the ensuing chaos of last night. He would have loved to see her face when he presented it to her, knowing perfectly well that marriage was constantly on the mind of any woman in a long-term relationship once arriving at the acceptable age. They were meant to be, they both realized that long ago. Making it official was only a matter of time.

Gingerly removing the ring from its plush environment, Squall grasped it tightly in his palm and dared to bring Rinoa into his field of vision. Of course, she was in the exact position that he had left her in; on her back, arms crossed daintily in her lap, eyes closed yet still with a pained expression.

She looked dead to tell the truth. He almost expected a mortician to walk in at any moment and immediately attempt mold her features into something more peaceful-like. Not that he'd let anyone dare touch her.

No longer caring about the noise, or his deadline, or anything, Squall hesitantly picked his way closer, crawling on his hands and knees while roughly shoving obstacles in his path to the side. Once kneeling by Rinoa's side, he no longer felt afraid or ashamed of her rigid and pale body. With a gentleness he once thought impossible, he softly brushed a few stray hairs away from her white cheek.

Her beauty could bring a grown man to tears and capture his attention for days simply to gawk at. But he had other things to do today. Later there'd be more than enough time for staring. Now he reached behind her neck, searching clumsily for the clasp to her necklace. Against his palms he felt her almost unnoticeable pulse, the beating of her heart so soft that even a legitimate doctor would swear on his profession that she was dead. But Squall knew better. In a few days she would wake, a little weak from her entire system being paused for a while but, in all other instances, more healthy than when she first went under the influence.

Finally he found the clasp and discreetly added the diamond ring to her collection, pushing it down the chain until it rested with the others.

Perfect.

Now for step 2.

Squall cleared away as much glass as he could from the surrounding area, not wanting her to wake up in the same groggy and pained state as Quistis would obviously be experiencing in few hours. He placed one arm underneath the bend of Rinoa's knees and the other under her back then lifted her easily into his arms. She was very limp and her head kept falling back despite his efforts to make her look as natural as possible.

She was simply a passed out party-goer being carried home by her protective boyfriend. . .

Yeah Right. The only people who would believe that would have to be blind.

So, his only hope of getting out would be to not be seen.

That was easy enough. . .

If you were invisible.

But, still, not impossible considering that it was 5:45 AM. The few faculty members awake at this hour simply stood at the entranceway to the recreational areas, and every student knows that they're pretty much asleep on their feet. The students themselves definitely wouldn't be near the parking lot. Even if they were sneaking out, they'd use their windows or walk out the front entrance. And the older SeeDs? They were the most difficult to figure out since they haven't ANY limitation unlike the cadets. He'd simply have to coast on the hope that they'd all be either sleeping, away on missions, or in their offices. With enough stealth, it was probably manageable.

Then came a knock on the door.

Squall almost dropped Rinoa in shock.

Who would come to his door at this hour?

Selphie and Irvine? No they'd make more noise than that.

Zell? No, he went "to find a REAL party" which was his code phrase for visiting his mother.

Cid checking up on them? That made the most sense. It was a polite knock, one that only a respectful or scared man would make.

Cid was outside his door. What could he do? Hide Rinoa? No, that wouldn't work. Be silent, still and not answer? But what if he had heard the noise and thus came to check? But aren't the walls soundproof? Wasn't there this whole inner debate about that very same subject a few minutes ago?

Squall shook his head to clear it of its rotating disputes and quickly voted on opening the door. He had to act natural after all.

Carefully he laid Rinoa on the bed, next to a drooling, snoring Quistis, and then prudently approached the door.

The knock came again. Louder this time.

Squall took a deep breath and made sure to wipe the sweat off his palms before he unlocked the door and opened it a crack in what he hoped was a natural manner.

"Yes?" he interrogated his harasser, staring at his polished shoes and trying to mask the creaking in his voice.

"I'm sorry sir but I. . .' The man paused for a second and Squall could practically feel his eyes scanning him from head to toe. A security cadet (of course), shocked possibly by running into THE Squall Leonhart? His voice was definitely not that Cid Kramer at least. From what he could tell by staring at his feet, this man was young. . .and very tall.

*Cadet. . .Not Cid. WOOHOO!* (To borrow a line from Selphie). Squall was so relieved that he was almost smiling when he finally brought his attention to the man's face. Only then did nausea hit.

*As if my day could get any worse. . .*

Seifer. . .THE Seifer Almasy stood before him now. Grinning form ear to ear, arms crossed smugly across his chest.

"Well well well commander. Fancy running into you of all people here."

It was a touching reunion. 5 seconds in and Squall already felt like punching him.

"There's nothing 'fancy' about it. I live here." *And what kinda prick uses the word 'fancy'?*

"You live here!?" Seifer feigned shock and stepped back a few paces "I'm sorry sir but I do not recognize you as a member of the elite SeeD. Seeing as such, I have every right to arrest you for trespassing."

Squall rolled his eyes and tapped his fingers impatiently on the doorframe, still being careful that the door didn't open any more than necessary. "You? Arrest me? For being in MY dorm during night hours? Aren't you supposed to be rotting in jail?"

"And aren't you suppose to be pledging for endangered species, helping old women cross the street, and going door to door selling those delicious SeeD cookies?" He laughed as Squall simultaneously sighed in annoyance. " Not all of us are meant to do what we're told."

He remembered now. A meeting, about 4 months ago. Cid had warned him about the results of Seifer's trial, and to be on the guard about his escaping for revenge. For the first week or so, Squall and the headmaster kept on their toes, not bothering to alarm the others yet still remaining cautious. It got old after a while since Trabia had yet to report any odd behavior and the expected bodies had yet to turn up. Gradually, it faded from both their memories.

"You're on parole. Congratulations. But if you're looking for some big, 'romantic' fight to the death, can it wait a few more months? I'm kinda busy."

Seifer laughed at this, a huge hearty laugh that Squall didn't remember hearing since they were kids and were having one of their infamous one- sided fight which comprised of Squall taking brave yet unsubstantial swings while Seifer beat the hell outta him. "I would take you up on that offer, if I wasn't for the fact that I came to your room by pure accident, you just happen to be the only one either present or alive on this entire floor."

"How do you know I'm the only one here?'

"Ah, you see it takes much genius to figure out as much." He leaned in closer, pretending his next words were a big secret. "Me walking. Me hear loud crashing noise. Me brilliantly conclude that room with noise contains people."

*Damn cheap Balamb construction. Soundproof my ass!*

"You're being awful secretive commander." Seifer said slyly, having no shame in trying to peer over Squall's head and into the room "With all that noise, it makes a guy wonder what you're hiding in there". Instinctively, Squall stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind him with lightening speed. He wouldn't even try bringing Rinoa out if he knew they still had the patrol going around.

Seifer had a witty remark on the tip of his tongue, Squall could tell by the way his face grinned, if possible, even more widely. But seeing as time was an issue, he decided that pulling rank and a few small threats couldn't hurt in this situation. Screw morality.

"Isn't your parole conditional Seifer?"

The grin dissolved instantly and his arms once again crossed in front of his chest; typical Seifer defensive mode. "So what?"

"Which means that if you do anything to piss off a superior, he or she can send you back kicking and screaming into that vile dank hell hole named the Desert Prison." His adversary's gaze dropped to the ground and his feet began shuffling uncomfortably. "Do you want to go back there Seifer? Then please, continue harassing me and I'll go make that phone call."

"You wouldn't."

"Try me." It was Squall's turn to grin arrogantly for once in his life. "Just leave this floor quickly and quietly, go back to Trabia immediately and maybe I wont have you arrested."

"Hey, I'm just doing my job! You can't threaten a harmless Trabian security officer. Why it would be unjust and authoritarian! I'm on the road to recovery!"

"And if you want to continue living and recovering then I suggest you leave."

"Whoa! Hostile are we? Someone had a bad night. Wanna tell me about it?"

*URRGGG!!!* Squall was beginning to think that maybe just getting his gunblade out would be a faster way to end this conversation. Why was Seifer stalling so long anyway? Surely whatever access card he acquired for this job would expire within the next 5 minutes, or he'd be trapped in the elite floor until someone let him out.

"Why are you looking for a SeeD anyway?"

"Why did you resign as Commander?"

Squall paused, temporarily put off track by such direct and random interrogation. But the shock at such assertive intervention in his personal business quickly turned to anger. "What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

Seifer merely shrugged in his increasingly annoying manner "An eye for an eye. A question for a question. It makes sense when you think about it. Besides, you may as well practice your answer since as soon as you step outside there's about 50 million reporters wanting to know the same thing."

Reporters. . .right. He forgot about them. During big events they were usually camped out around the whole Garden, watching with extreme vigilance to catch departing celebrities. How was he supposed to get out now?

*Get rid of Seifer first, then worry about the other obstacles.* "If you must know. . . I made a mistake."

Seifer obviously wasn't buying it. "A mistake? You bitch at your superior officer in front of the world and it was all a mistake?"

"I. . ." Time was running out. He couldn't stand here all day making excuses especially when they're as stupid as this. "Whatever." He mumbled, fishing his keycard out of his pocket and turning back towards the door.

"Whatever?. . .I disappear for an entire year and you STILL have yet to improve your vocabulary skills."

"Seifer do me a favor, shut up and go away, you shouldn't be on this floor anyway. You're shift ends in 2 minutes." In his haste to get back in his room he was swiping the keycard too fast and the code refused to register. *I hate technology*

"Trust me 'commander'" he chuckled a little at the title as Squall finally got the door open and tried to discreetly slip inside through the minimal gap "I do know my schedule. But first I have to find Quistis. She's not in her room for some reason."

He only got his first leg over the threshold when he froze. Quistis?

"Why do you want to see Instructor Trepe?"

"Because."

"Because?! In case you didn't know, that excuse expires once you pass kindergarten."

"Yeah." Seifer shifted his eyes nervously, suddenly fascinated with the ceiling molds.

"So. . .?" he gestured for him to continue, becoming and more and more irritated by the minute. The ex-knight just continued to the transfer his weight from one foot to another, muttering to himself from behind his hand.

"What?. . ."

"*incoherent mumbling*"

"I can't hear you."

"*more incoherent mumbling*"

"Screw this." Squall somehow managed to twist the rest of his body back through the small gap (as far as he dared open his door) and was about to close it in his face when Seifer's strong arm flew out and caught it before it slammed.

"Alright! Geez you have no patience."

"And you find that surprising?"

"If you absolutely MUST know I. . ." he scratched the back of his neck nervously and did a quick scan of the surrounding floor before continuing "I temporarily misplaced my key card."

Missing key card? High Security gets special short term access don't they? Suddenly Squall became interested is his ex-rival's problem since it may have been the cause of one of his.

"Was it all-access?"

Seifer dropped his head like a little kid shamed for getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Yes. . ."

"Leave it to you to loose one of those."

"Yes yes. I know I'm an idiot. But this is a fucking big deal! Not only am I screwed if I don't return it by the end of the night to my team leader, but I'm also positive that by now its time has run out and I couldn't even get out of here to report to him even if I had the damn piece of plastic! I HATE TECHNOLOGY!"

*Well, we have one thing in common: Hate*

Squall, trying not to laugh at Seifer's ridiculous predicament, nor ponder what the hell Quistis had to do to get that key off of him, decided to screw secrecy for the time being. According to his watch it was three minutes past six and seeing as he never expected to see the Trabian cadet again, who cared what he saw.

"Wait here." He ordered, right before flinging the door open as wide as it could go, exposing his "terrible" secret to the man he trusted least in the world. Seifer, of course, his mind too focused on gawking, had yet to make some crude comment about the situation he now found himself in.

Two women, both who he himself had lusted after at some point in his life were now rested comfortably on the bed of a man he once swore would be a virgin till he died. Of course, he didn't expect him to live very long once going up against Edea, himself AND Ultimecia. But seeing THIS!. . .

He never knew he had it in him.

He was still staring at the women even as Squall confidently strode up to Quistis, pried something rectangular and plastic from her hand and returned to the threshold, offering him his missing keycard.

But Seifer didn't take it. He didn't even move. . . just kept staring into the room: The source of all things odd and unnatural.

"There you go" Squall had to shove the card in his face to get him to notice it. "Take it. . ."

Seifer didn't move.

". . .Anytime now."

After a minute or so he gave up on getting his attention and simply put the card in the breast pocket of Seifer's uniform jacket, though that did nothing to divert his attention. Something about two beautiful women, flushed and exhausted, lying on a bed that takes a guy a while to look away. "Thank you and please DO NOT come again."

He was about to close the door but this time he made the mistake of letting it open a little TOO wide, thus allowing Seifer to easily step in and stopper its path with his foot. "Wait a minute! I'm sure there's a riveting story here. You can't just leave me hanging?"

"That was the plan."

"But seriously. You know if I caught ANY other male in this exact situation I'd give him a pat on the back. . .but you. . ." he stopped for a few seconds, once again scanning the area to make sure that it all wasn't some sick hallucination. "You understand why I'm freaked out right?"

Squall didn't bother to answer his question, he was too angry that this man had so little respect for people that he thought it right to just barge into their homes and comment on their lifestyle. Even if it was what his deluded little mind supposed, the Commander's doings were still none of his business. "You have your card Mr. Almasy." He roughly kicked the kneecap of the leg which held the door open, remembering what Zell had taught him about hand to hand combat and which areas do the most damage.

"AHH!!" Seifer screamed, clutching his knee in pain. "YOU SON OF A. . .!" He staggered out the doorway, and finally Squall was able to slam the door on his face, like he had been trying to do for the past 10 minutes.

"Finally. . ." he whispered to no one in particular, leaning back against the wall and taking a well deserved gulp of air. For a moment he forgot about everything to be done that day and simply enjoyed the pleasures of breathing. Then Quistis sneezed, interrupting the blissful silence and reality was forced upon him once again.

Quistis. Right. . .he couldn't just leave her here. After all was said and done she could get into a lot of trouble if and when she was found in his dorm. He needed to get her back to her room. . .but how?

"I think you broke my leg ASSHOLE!!"

Almasy. . .still outside waiting.

And his walls were very much not sound proof.

Figures. Hyne was not smiling upon him today.

Suppressing a groan, Squall pulled the door open once more and yanked him (who was still rubbing his leg) inside the small dorm. Seifer, for whatever reason, didn't seem surprised but gingerly sat down on one of the few remaining chairs, pulled up his pant leg and began to examine his kneecap, which seemed perfectly fine in Squall's eyes. He hadn't hit him THAT hard. . .at least he hadn't meant to. Right?

"Seriously! It's gotta be dislocated or something. You got any ice?"

"You are such a baby."

"Hey! Give me a shot at you and THEN you can bitch to me bout being a sissy."

"I need a favor"

"Well I kinda figured. But I must warn you, I know I'm attractive but I'm sorry to say I'm not into any of that girl on girl and guy on guy stuff. It's just unnatural you know?" He paused for a moment to consider his what he just said. "Actually, girl on girl sounds sorta interes. . ."

"Please do not finish that sentence and I will pretend that you have said nothing this entire time. Clear?"

Seifer nodded exasperatedly then slowly began to pull his pant leg back down, wincing every time he touched his knee. Squall couldn't help but roll his eyes at the pathetic-ness of this grown man. You'd think jail would toughen a guy up?

"I need you to take Quistis back to her dorm." Seifer seemed to consider this, wasting precious seconds obviously trying to figure out a way to work this deal to his advantage.

"And in return, what do I get?

"Your card expired remember? Unless you want to wander around the hallways for the next three hours waiting for your team leader to kick your ass, you're gonna need an A-rank SeeD access card. Am I right?"

"Right. . ." Seifer scowled, drowning the hope of a reward that was little more gratifying than the opening of a door.

"Quistis should have her keycard in her room." Squall continued, ignoring his expression of disappointment "bring her back to her dorm, drop her on the couch, get her card and head out IMMEDIATELY."

"Ohh. . .So it's like a bad video game? Your mission is to get the damsel in distress home safely and then you can move on the area 2?"

"It can be whatever the hell you're sick mind wants it to be."

"Sweet! I get to be the designated driver? This totally makes up for you breaking my knee." His tone was dripping with sarcasm, which the commander failed to appreciate.

"For Hyne's sake I didn't break your knee! Get over it!"

"Says the man with both kneecaps intact."

"You! . .You're so. . .URG!"

"And you're very articulate. I could sue ya know!"

"Just get her out of here. No questions. And we'll never have to talk to each other again after today."

"That's fine by me commander puberty/abusive."

He walked towards the bed with an exaggerated limp glaring at Squall over his shoulder as he made his was towards Quistis and tried to decide whether to wake her up or carry her. The beautiful blonde was now sweaty and red- faced, obviously beyond drunk. You'd think that she would have given it up after her horrible embarrassing sickness a few hours prior, but apparently she replenished her bodily supply.

*Squall must throw one hell of a dorm party* he thought while slipping his arm underneath Quistis' knees, trying to judge whether his "wounded" leg could handle her weight. This is the second time in one night he ended up with her in his arms *Hey Deja Vu*.

As he tried to organize his ex-instructor into some kind of useful position, Seifer couldn't help but chance a glance at Rinoa. Hyne dammit she was still one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, and he had seen many. In that form fitting blood red dress and her dark, wet hair cascading all over the pillow, he felt that familiar longing rise up in his heart once more. The first girl he had ever loved, and she was beyond perfect . . .Squall was a lucky man indeed.

He stared at her for a while longer. Luckily Leonhart was too busy fussing about the room gathering things to notice his rival's examination. Unlike Quistis, Rinoa was neither sweaty nor red. Just pale, white as snow in fact. . .in deep contrast to her raven hair and red lips. Being of the male species Seifers gaze 'unintentionally' *cough* lowered to her torso, lingering on the swell of her breasts above her dress. . .which didn't move.

He was confused for a second, thinking that maybe his vision paused. Was it just a trick of the mind or was Rinoa not. . .breathing?

He watched her for a full minute, expecting any second for her to take a huge heaving inhale of air and her chest would once again swell up and down rhythmically.

But no.

Not after one minute, nor the next.

Seifer took a deep breath and glanced quickly at Squall, making sure he was still preoccupied before turning his attention back to his ex-girlfriend and reaching a shaking hand to her neck, pressing two fingers gently to her throat. She didn't have a pulse.

*Oh my Hyne.*

He quickly snatched his hand back as if worried she would awake undead and bite him. Squall saw him then, the quick movement of his retracting hand caught the SeeD's attention and he instantly leapt into action.

"Don't touch her!" he screamed forcefully, pulling Seifer away by the back of his collar, choking him in the process. With one swift jerky movement Seifer wrenched himself from the knights grasp, no longer trusting him with his back turned.

"What the fuck did you do to her Squall?!" He gestured towards Rinoa with trembling hands.

"She's none of you're concern Almasy." He spoke lowly, dangerously and Seifer for the first time, was genuinely afraid. This was not the little kid he used to pick on. This was THE Squall Leonhart. . .the one he read about in newspaper articles. The strongest, most cunning and fearsome man in the world.

"We may not be friends anymore but for Hyne's sake look at her! She's not breathing. Why don't you call for some fucking help!!"

"I told you before I let you in: no questions remember?"

"That was before I found my ex-girlfriend dead on your furniture."

"Trust me."

Seifer shook his head and backed away further, stumbling over several random articles as he moved but not daring to turn his back on Squall. "Trust you? You expect me to trust you?"

"Yes. . .Trust me. Please."

There was something in the "heartless" commander's tone that made Seifer pause. He sounded sincere, weakened and exasperated . . .desperate even. His reputation was all he had and now, to reveal such vulnerability to his childhood bully of all people, that proved some sort fragile hopelessness lingered which depended solely on his actions.

Seifer sighed and admitted defeat. Believe it or not, he did have a lot of respect for Squall and trusted him more than he did some of his closest friends. He sure as hell would't leave his cash alone with Rajin, or bother to tell Fujin a secret. If there was one thing he knew about Squall Leonhart it's that he was honest.

Hoping against hope that he wouldn't regret his actions later, Seifer risked stepping a bit closer to Squall, and pressed himself on the edge of the bed. He then easily lifted sleeping Quistis into his arms, trying hard not to let his gaze wander to the sorceress and then confidently strode out of the room and disappeared down in the hallway.

No questions asked.

Thank Hyne.

Two obstacles now out of his way. Several hundred more to go. Squall turned towards Rinoa and sighed, bending down to capture her in his arms and gently lifted her from her resting position. He stared the open door as if it were the gateway to hell. It may as well have been.

"For you Rinoa," he whispered as he apprehensively stepped over the threshold and into the deserted hallway "I'll do anything."

~*~

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Believe it or not I actually had this chapter written over 2 months ago. . .all clean and edited and ready for postage. But then there was the end of year exams, graduation, prom, parties, a 3 week trip to Spain (my new favorite country), returning after a 26 hour flight (damn weather delays) only to start my new summer job at Starbucks the next day (I officially hate coffee) and finally, just when I figured that I was settled in enough to get back into my regular routine of Final Fantasy AMV making and fanfiction writing.I get the news that one of my best friends, Sabrina (who has been rarely well enough to come to school these past three months) passed away after a half-year struggle with brain cancer. . .

She was one day from turning 17. After all the excitement of Prom and graduation, the last thing my classmates and I thought we'd be doing at the end of high school was burying a friend. Needless to say fanfiction seemed to be of minor importance these past weeks. Especially since, during the years when she was well enough to read, Sabrina not only put up with my video game rambling, but sometimes helped edit my chapters which were in dire need of help.

Anyway, I've since come to realize that sitting in my room moping was doing nothing to improve my life. And my writing and other hobbies now seem more important than ever. I hope to finish this entire story before the year is out, since this was just a tester fic I now know what to base my next one on which will be ten times better and I'm eager to start it.

Next chapter 'The Promise' will be out soon. Thank You.