Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VIII or any of its characters. I am grateful for the opportunity to borrow this wonderful universe the people at Square have created.

Chapter 1: The Lion and Winter

Today was an office day.

Squall Leonhart loved his job, he really did, but the office days still made him tempted to tell Cid where he could shove it. Of course being the commander of SeeD had its perks, including living quarters with a closet the size of his old dorm room, as well as the authority to assign cadets to track down the latest gunblade upgrade items.

Still, sometimes he wished he could summon those cadets into his office, introduce them to a stack of contracts that needed reviewing, and head out to whatever remote island was home to the bizarre creature he needed claws from himself.

Of course, if he did that, Quistis wouldn't speak to him for a week, mostly because she'd be irritated that he'd thought of it first and then neglected to take her along. She did love a good remote island, and Save the Queen was as demanding a mistress as Lionheart. It was so nice to finally have someone who understood…

Are you capable of going ten minutes without a sentimental monologue running through your head? You aren't the only one who has to live in here…

Squall made no sign he'd noticed the foreign intellect which entered his mind like a cool whisper. By now, the thread of Shiva's consciousness was so neatly woven among his thoughts and fears and memories that her presence was as familiar as any of them.

She loves you, you know. I had always suspected, but I did a bit of investigating the last time she equipped me just to be sure, and I'm quite certain now that I was right.

Squall smiled inwardly, which he knew was the only kind she could see, and allowed his mind to wander from the page before him.

I don't think Ifrit would be amused to learn that you were snooping around in his territory.

He felt her sniff indignantly.

As if the horned one's displeasure might give me pause. I am subtle and cunning and he is a great brute, announcing his presence like a firecracker wherever he goes. Her taste in guardians is lacking, however irreproachable her taste in partners may be.

She hardly had a choice on the guardian front. I wasn't about to give up one so subtle and cunning.

A slight arctic wind affectionately tousled his locks, and Squall shook his head, turning his attention back to the contract before him. Shiva, however, had no intention of allowing it to stray for long.

You love her too, though she does not fully comprehend how much.

Squall sighed, his pen hovering over the spot his eyes had just left. Like him, Shiva had a tendency to get antsy on office days, but lately she'd been working on a project of her own devising, attempting to retrieve some of the memories her presence had seemingly obliterated from his mind, and it usually kept her at least somewhat engaged.

Not that he could begrudge her her boredom, but he had a pile of papers he needed to move through if he wanted to be out of here by dinner, and he wasn't even sure what she was getting at. Yes, he loved Quistis and she loved him too. It was as simple as that.

Of course he had still managed to bungle it for an unforgivably long time, but they had gotten through that, and now things were good. In fact, he honestly couldn't remember being happier, and he was pretty confident it had nothing to do with his extensive use of Guardian Forces.

Dismissing Shiva's unusually dogged talkativeness, he renewed his efforts to proceed down the page before him. Suddenly, he felt his body stiffen and the pen fell from his rigid fingers, rolling off the desk and hitting the carpet with a soft thud.

It seemed Shiva was determined not to be ignored. Their uniquely intuitive bond meant she could be summoned in battle near instantly, and during one harrowing day when he'd been inches from death, they had accidentally learned that with enough effort on her part she could actually traverse their connection herself, and come without his call.

Of course, as with any summoning, it left him utterly prone and unable to command his body, locked in his mind just as she often was.

She leaned across the desk before him, and stared into his vacant eyes.

"I am trying to converse with you, if you hadn't noticed," she said. She retained a connection to his mind, and though nothing happened when he ordered his mouth to scowl in her direction, she nonetheless got the message, and proceeded to ignore it.

"I am curious as to when you were intending to follow up on that inkling you have to propose to her."

Trapped in his mind, Squall sulked. Like a fish out of water, she could only remain in on the mortal plane so long before needing to retreat back to his mind and recoup.

"Come now, stubborn boy, you know I can sustain this form far longer when I have no need to do battle. Satisfy me and I will return to you your body," she said, the moisture in the air around her lips icing over as she spoke.

Things are going well. I don't see any reason to mess with them. And besides, what's got you so suspicious about my love life all of a sudden?

Shiva chose to ignore his question. There was a time when she'd chafed at the other's growing prominence in Squall's mental landscape, but Quistis was someone she'd fought beside, someone she'd shared mental quarters with, and ultimately Shiva found that she approved of the affect the woman had on her master's mind.

Quistis had a way of melding onto the frayed bits when they became evident, rather than fussing over them as the former girl had done. And Quistis had frayed bits of her own, which made Shiva sure she had no small understanding of them.

"Such was your attitude when your friendship blossomed. Had she not been determined enough to push the issue herself, you'd still be contenting yourself just short of intimacy," Shiva pointed out.

If she wasn't that determined, we'd never have ended up together anyway. And besides, no one ever accused me of being emotionally adventurous, least of all Quistis. You know I've thought about proposing to her, but I'm happy, and she's happy, and I'm not inclined to risk that just yet, however small the risk may be. After all, what's the rush?

Shiva regarded him silently for a moment, and he saw thoughts churning behind her countenance like frigid water below a layer of ice. She glided around the desk without a word and soon he could feel her presence behind him, though he could not turn to regard her.

Suddenly, he felt her whisper into his ear, almost as though she was back in his head.

"I was hesitating to reveal this to you, but it seems you must know. Your beloved grows tired of waiting, as she did before. Diablos has spoken to me of this, and it seems she has decided to take matters into her own hands again."

With that, Squall felt a sudden chill rush though his body, and he knew that the next time he asked, his limbs would obey him.

An unexpected warmth bubbled up on the heels of Shiva's cool reentry, as he contemplated this revelation she had imparted. But it was followed closely by a more sober afterthought. In his heart of hearts, Squall had always intended to be the one to propose to her.

It wasn't that he labored under any strict notion of masculinity which prevented him from tolerating a woman taking the lead. No, Rinoa had effectively quashed any tendencies of that kind long ago.

Still, even he was aware of certain insecurities which were harbored among Quistis' abiding affections for him. It seemed she had never forgotten that, while first to his side, she had been second to his heart.

Though he had endeavored with his unyielding devotion to never allow the cracks in her faith to expand by even a sliver, the original persistent ones defied his efforts. Their continued presence was a frustration, and he had come to hope that proposing to her might be the one curaga which could amend the cracks as seamlessly as if they'd never been there.

And besides, the resolute part of him, the proud part of him, was telling him that this was something he needed to do for himself as well, something he'd left to others for far too long.

Still, this had never caused him to be in any hurry. The situation seemed to have stabilized and his tendency to put off emotional confrontations had kept his concerns at bay.

Shiva was hovering just above his thoughts, monitoring them and displaying her approval by keeping her silence. The contract rested forgotten in his hand while the pen bided its time at his feet.

So what now? If she's already intent on proposing there's not much I can do. I'm not just going to burst into her office and blurt it out then and there just to beat her to the punch.

Nor should you. Though you would undoubtedly do a perfectly adequate job, you might also suffer a nervous breakdown before you could arrive at her door. Already your heart races at the very thought of it. And regardless, she deserves better than a hasty, thrown-together proposal.

Shiva was pleased with how quickly Squall considered this once it was all before him and arrived at the proper resolution, given that she'd been pushing him towards it all afternoon.

I need time to think about how I'm going to do this.

Then we shall work together to buy you that time. For you, and for her. I shall speak with Diablos and see if he cannot persuade her to delay, but I little doubt that if she has made up her mind, she will follow through. Though we will offer aid as we can, it will be up to you to sidestep any potential proposals the meantime.

Squall nodded in the empty office.

If she asks, I will not refuse her.

Then ensure that she does have the chance before you are ready. You will have the upper hand, for you have seen all the cards in play. Consider carefully your course, but do not tarry long in indecision.

And with that, he felt her slip from his mind, winging towards the immortal plane where Diablos was undoubtedly waiting.

Just then, a sharp knock sounded against his door.

Come in he thought idly as he reached down to collect his pen, only to have a second insistent knock remind him that he was no longer in the company of telepathic immortals.

"Come in," he tried again, rising up behind his desk.

In bustled Xu, loaded down with a stack of papers.

"Was someone just in here?" she asked, looking about the room as if somebody might step out from behind the bookshelf at any moment. He responded in the best way he could think to, which was to look at her like she was crazy.

"I just…" she began. He intensified his look of perplexity. She took one more glance around the room.

"Never mind…anyway, these are the applications for the teaching position. The transfers are the blue, the promotions are the white, and the goldenrod ones are outside candidates. Cid was hoping you'd have a chance to review them one more time before tomorrow morning's meeting," she explained.

Squall eyed the colorful stack warily before sighing and gesturing for her to leave them on his desk. And she was coming over to do just that when suddenly she jumped.

"What happened to your carpet?" she asked dubiously, looking down at her feet.

Squall stood and walked around the desk to see what had happened to his carpet. Sure enough, there in front of his desk was a sizable dark spot where the carpet was soaked with what he was sure was icy water.

He shrugged and Xu shook her head in disbelief. She was about to place the papers on his desk when she froze and did another double take. There on its surface was a pair of twin puddles, which Squall suspected were roughly the size of Shiva's outstretched hands. He made a mental note to chastise her about leaving ice all over his office to melt.

Once he'd managed to convince Xu that he'd been too deeply buried in his work to notice what was obviously a sizable water leak in the ceiling above his desk and assured her that the applications would be both safe and thoroughly reviewed if she left them on his bookshelf, Squall thanked her and ushered her out the door, pulling it gently closed behind her.

He walked back to his chair and sat, staring into space and reconsidering the world in light of what he had just learned.

Then he rose and went to the bathroom to collect some paper towels to dry his desk. The commander could already feel the adrenaline rushing to his aid, the anxiousness to attain the objective he coveted. Paperwork could wait. For a SeeD, the mission trumped all.

o-O-o

The next day, Squall sat behind his desk, riding high on a breeze of confidence.

Shiva had returned the night before with promises of Diablos' complicity, and though he hadn't yet decided how he wanted his proposal to go, the mission had been smooth sailing so far.

While he'd initially been cautious about going home at the end of the day to the private quarters he and Quistis shared, the whole night had been spent reviewing the applications for the meeting the following morning.

With the first rays of the sun they'd collapsed onto the couch, her head pillowed in his chest, to catch a precious few hours of sleep. With this, he had counted his first day a success.

The morning had been uneventful as well. Other than the pathetic murmur war they'd staged upon awakening over who got to take the first shower and who had to make the coffee, they'd exchanged little in the way of words.

When he'd handed her a steaming mug, she'd planted a lethargic, grateful kiss directly onto his scowl, her face and lips still wet, and that was it. The familiar smell of her apple shampoo had lingered as he'd headed to the bathroom.

And now here he was, back in his office. He'd survived the meeting about the teaching candidates and was fairly well pleased with the progression of his mission thus far.

The click of familiar boots told him she was coming, and he lifted his eyes to face her as she came through the door.

"So, what about those candidates?" she said, leaning over his desk in a mirror of Shiva's posture from the day before.

"There are some strong transfers. I know Cid wants to promote someone from within, but that's no reason to pass on the better candidate."

"True enough, though for an instructor rapport with the students and familiarity with the system can be important indicators of performance. And besides, an impressive background as a SeeD doesn't necessarily translate into an ability to instruct, as you and I well know…"

He raised his eyebrow and she smiled to reassure him that she spoke in jest, rather than bitterness.

"I don't know…I still like Arden," Squall replied.

"She certainly knows how to swing that sword around, as if you cared about anything else."

Elise Arden was an expert duelist, and her rapier was legendary among her peers in Galbadia. Why she would be interested in a teaching position in Balamb was as yet unknown, though Irvine had heard rumor of some sort of a scandal that had never reached the official level.

Still, it had been some time since Balamb had had a sword instructor of any kind, let alone one of this caliber, and Squall had made his support for her selection known from the start. He was tired of pinch hitting with students who wanted to use a sword but didn't have the discipline or skill to wield a gunblade.

"And Xu tells me you managed to get a massive leak in your office. It's a lucky thing she came in here or you'd have been up to your nose in water before you ever noticed," Quistis continued, glancing up to his ceiling.

What is she talking about?

I'll tell you later.

"They came to repair it, but they couldn't find the source."

"A leak that sprung from nowhere and vanished as quickly as it came?" She looked incredulous.

He shrugged, "I stopped assuming I understood this garden years ago when we found out it had an obese yellow financier and a propulsion system."

She laughed, and flashed him another smile, "You're in an oddly good mood this morning given how little sleep you got last night. Walk with me to lunch?"

Squall felt Shiva tense within him and carefully considered his best course.

"I have a few things to finish up first," he said, vaguely indicating his computer screen, "Why don't you go ahead with Xu and I'll meet you there?"

"We can wait," she said, heading for the door before he could protest, "Oh, and Ifrit says Shiva should ease up on the smugness— he can smell it all the way from the immortal plane, and he knows she's up to something."

Squall stared at the door as it closed behind her, face paling, his head reeling both with the anticipation of his first possible challenge and Shiva's outraged ranting.

Still, if there was one thing Squall Leonhart knew, it was that he'd never gotten where he was by insisting on ideal situations. It was his ability to navigate the non-ideal and the unexpected that had gotten him out of tight spots again and again.

And this situation would be no different. Once he had settled the indignant GF he rose, and followed Quistis out the door.

Sure enough, as he stepped into the outer room where Xu's desk was located, both women ceased conversing immediately.

"Ready to go?" Quistis asked.

"Xu, are you ready?"

"Oh no, I have a few things to finish up first. Why don't you two go ahead and I'll meet you there?"

Great, had it sounded that lame when he'd said it?

Yes, Shiva grumbled from somewhere in the back of his mind.

Quistis nodded agreeably and he noted that the women exchanged one more not-so-subtle round of smiles before they went on their way. All his training had prepared him for this moment. He was ready.

Her heels clicked their way along the corridor towards the elevator.

"Shall we check and see if Cid wants to come along?" Squall offered.

"You know Cid never eats in the cafeteria. Especially not on Hot Dog Thursday."

Shoot, he'd forgotten about that- this just gets better and better….

You'd better hope ink-face is bouncing off the walls vigorously enough to cause a distraction.

Damn it Shiva, settle down- you're making me nervous! Besides, things are going fine. We don't even have any reason to think that she's going to say anything at this point.

The ding of the elevator brought him out of his thoughts.

"Squall, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about,"

HA

What did Ifrit tell you about being smug?

"What are your thoughts about this relationship? Are you happy with the way things are going?"

Squall deliberately stared at the emergency evacuation procedure sign posted on the wall, noting that one of its bulleted instructions was not to take the elevator in an emergency under any circumstances.

"Of course. It's good," he replied.

"Have you thought at all about where things might be headed? You know, what's next for us?"

"Yeah, I guess."

She waited for him to elaborate, but he took the opportunity to panic instead.

"And?" she finally asked.

"We…should get a dog- er, a cat."

She glanced at him in confusion but he didn't happen to meet her eyes.

"No, I-"

"Alright, a dog if that's what you really want," he continued. The elevator dinged as they arrived on the ground floor.

"I wasn't talking about that. I was thinking more in terms of us specifically…" she trailed off and he didn't say anything. He felt like an ass. It was almost unnerving how easily this type of behavior came back to him.

And then they arrived at the cafeteria, and blessed relief was his. But she deliberately paused at the door, and he couldn't bring himself to just keep walking. He finally looked her in the eyes, and saw that she had adopted a somewhat perplexed expression. She studied him for a moment.

"We'd better get in there and grab some hot dogs before Zell eats them all," he offered.

"Good plan," she agreed, shaking the expression from her face, "I'd like to continue this conversation later. What do you say to dinner in Balamb tonight?"

NO NO NO

"On a Thursday night?"

"I know it's a weeknight and we haven't been getting much sleep, but it would mean a lot to me."

NO NO NO

"Alright…"

What else could I say? he hissed at the GF who was burying her head in her hands. He could feel the mission slipping. He had to think up a plan and fast.

And then opportunity walked up sporting a yellow sundress and severely bobbed hair.

"…Yes, I think dinner in Balamb tonight is a great idea," he said, his voiced hovering a decibel higher than its usual place. Opportunity took the bait.

"HEYA! Did I hear you two are grabbing dinner in Balamb tonight? Oh, can Irvy and I come with you? We haven't been to town in forever- everyone's been busy with the hiring thing, and Irvy's been commuting to Galbadia to help them train that new sniper, who by the way is a total ditz-"

"Selphie," Quistis interrupted her, "I was thinking it would be more like a date…"

"Oh, I understand," Selphie winked conspiratorially, "double dates are the best! I'll tell Irvy to dress up and I'll have to find something myself. I know the best place too! Let's say meet at 6:30 tonight in the garage. Look sharp!"

With that, she skipped off into the cafeteria, pleased that she'd solved everyone's dilemma so neatly.

Quistis sighed and Squall, feeling a twinge of guilt not only for his role in thwarting her but also for the relief he felt even now, gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

"Oh well," she muttered, leaning against his shoulder resignedly. Together, they headed in to the cafeteria.

You are exceedingly lucky.

I recognize opportunity when I see it. Nothing more to it than that.

o-O-o

A/N: Hello there. Are you another person who actually still cares about FFVIII and/or Squall and Quistis? Are there actually any of you left out there? If you've read this far, would you please hit that little review button and leave a comment? It means so much just to know I'm not sending this out into the void (unless you're Exdeath, in which case I am surprised that you are a Quall fan). I'll be sure to respond to each and every one, assuming there are any, and maybe then I'll be tempted to continue this little monstrosity…

On another self-promotional note, if you liked this story and you're interested in reading more Quall by me, check out my one-shot 'A Lifetime of Moments'. It's not strictly set in this same universe as this one, but it's pretty compatible. You might want to avoid the other ones I've written. They're a bit…old.

Thank you for reading. Again, please review! (:

-JP