Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VIII isn't my own intellectual property. What you should really be asking me is whether I cry about that every night...

Hyne's Book of Tales

Tale One: Cold Streak

By Traingham


Quistis Trepe did not favor sick days, though it was not for the obvious reasons of being bed ridden and weak that soured her mood on these particular days. Rather she found herself bothered by the loneliness of it all, confined to her bed with the blinds closed over the window and not a soul around to keep her company, even if one would argue that the devoted Trepies of her fanclub would have gladly done just that. Still, what she needed right now was not the rabid love of her many stalkers or admirers, but the company of her friends...of which there weren't many to make note of. Aside from her best friend Xu, she really had no one else she could consider herself close to and it was days like today that reminded her of that. It depressed her. At least when Seifer was around she could depend on him to show up and tease her until she got tired of seeing his roguishly handsome face, but after witnessing his defection at the Deiling parade she wasn't sure what to make of his situation or his future for that matter, and as for Squall...

"...Squall." Quistis said the name to herself in a raspy voice, his face materializing in her mind clearly. It was difficult for her to figure that guy out, as unreadable as he generally was, and that had only gotten worse since that resistance leader had involved herself with their group. Now, instead of being aloof most of the time he was actually responding to what others said to him, and the responses that left his mouth always made him come off as a bit of a jerk to be honest. Rinoa Heartily's stubbornness in forcing him to open up to the rest of the group probably wasn't getting the results she was intending through her efforts, if her visits to the library were of any indication. Quistis recalled catching the girl grumbling to herself fiercely with a book in hand on two occasions, with the word 'jerk' coming up in her private rants more than a few times, which had become something of her personal title for Mr. Leonhart since they had actually gotten the chance to properly acquaint themselves in Timber. The lovely instructor wasn't too proud of herself since it was a bit selfish now that she had personal time to reflect on it, but she was relieved that things weren't progressing very well between Rinoa and Squall even after their touching reunion in Fisherman's Horizon. Still, it made her stomach twist thinking about it whenever she noticed how much time those two were spending together on a daily basis, even if it always consisted of the lion trying to get away from the resistance leader with no success. If she wasn't careful-

"Dammit!" Quistis hissed to no one in particular as she slapped the palm of her hand against her forehead, perhaps a little too hard since she found herself tearing at the corners of her eyes because of it. "What right do I even have to get angry about it? I'm doing nothing to help myself anyway!" She coughed away the itch in her throat and her lashes drooped pathetically. "All I'm really doing is watching from afar like a coward. Expecting this to turn out in my favor when I can barely work up the nerve to meet his eyes anymore would be foolish on my part."

'Go talk to a wall.' Almost as if to discourage her, those words bubbled to the surface of her mind like a curse. Needless to say, it burned her up whenever she recalled that particular conversation she had with him. It was the last time she ever made an effort to personally speak with him for obvious reasons, and his cool attitude toward her the following day did not improve things one bit for their rather complex relationship. It was as though he didn't care for how his words may have afflicted her heart. "Although it's not like I haven't tried to get him to open up to me." Quistis growled in a low voice, her eyes narrowing to near slits. "He's just too much of a jerk to understand how much I've tried, and yet...and yet he could find it within himself to spout more than just a few words to her." Had she been just a little self conscious about the way she was talking to herself at that moment she might have gotten chills, though it probably didn't help that there was a small voice in the back of her head cheering her on to claim what was rightfully hers. That, of course, would have been Siren jumping up and down in a cheerleading uniform.

"There, there, Quisty." An approaching voice from the door got her to perk up in bed, gathering the covers to her chest reflexively. She relaxed when Xu entered the room with the usual cheerful expression gracing her lovely features, although the woman had been elite instructor for so long that it was getting harder for Quistis to tell apart her professional smiles from the genuine ones. "You know, talking to yourself is one of the first sign of developing madness. Just a thought." Xu informed her off handedly, twisting the rod at the right side of the window to turn open the blinds. Quistis shrank back into her pillow when the unwelcome light invaded the room, revealing all of the strewn clothes and boxes of tissue that had been concealed in the darkness with its brilliance. It was a wonder how Xu had managed to reach the window without tripping over a loose article here and there, but then again seeing her trip and fall over would have been an unusual sight considering who she was, and even that was a mystery to Quistis and perhaps the Garden as a whole.

"Geez," The sick instructor sniffed, looking to her friend with bloodshot eyes that would have discouraged any other person from remaining in the same room with her, "When did you get in? I didn't hear the door open earlier."

Xu began picking up the clothes on the floor, folding them over her arm as she moved around the bed with fluid grace. "You were too busy grumbling about mister Leonhart to pay attention to anything else." She set them down on Quistis' desk and began folding them neatly before looking over her shoulder. "Then again, I suppose being out of the game for a day would make a girl paranoid about what goes on in her absence." She shot her bedridden friend a thumbs up for reassurance. "Not to worry though, Heartily has been too preoccupied with miss Tilmitt to come too close to him. Those two get along mighty well."

"I'm not feeling paranoid." Quistis argued, narrowing her eyes in annoyance at her friend's spot on presumptions. "And it's not like I bother worrying about trivial stuff like that."

"Oh?" Xu dropped the folded articles into the clothes basket and turned to face her with a hand upon her hip. "Such confidence might lead to an untimely blunder on your part."

Quistis' left eyebrow twitched in disturbance at Xu's suspicious tone, "Meaning what?"

"Well, mister Leonhart isn't too hard on the eyes, and anyone who is willing to work past the walls he puts up is in for a delicious treat." Xu explained nonchalantly in light of employing a commonly used adjective one would normally place before a consumable resource to describe a man she was most familiar with, in front of a woman who supposedly had romantic interests in said man. She shrugged her shoulders and took a seat beside the now attentive Quistis who seemed just a little more tense when she felt her friend's body weigh on the side of her leg. There was a peculiar gleam in the elite instructor's eyes, one that Quistis knew she'd seen before and it made her uncomfortable. "Miss Heartily has realized this if her most recent behavior is any testament to the fact. The way she steals glances at him when she's convinced that he isn't aware of her presence, or her steadily growing tendency to question him on every little thing he does. In fact, the other day she teased him about the way he closes his eyes and rests his blade on his shoulder after every victory. It's cute, really." The instructor grinned mischievously when Quistis rolled her eyes. Xu knew that this was the last thing that she wanted to hear, especially in her sickly state, but Quistis' overall demeanor had changed around Squall since the day they both returned from the sorceress assassination assignment in Deiling City. To assume that Rinoa Heartily was the reason behind the timidness that she exhibited now would not have been a stretch, that girl had established herself as a formidable threat the moment she pulled the young lion onto the dance floor with her, a feat that couldn't be taken lightly by anyone who understood how difficult that must have been.

"You'll have to excuse me if I'm not feeling very motivated at the moment, Xu." The sarcasm oozed from the blonde instructor's tongue when she spoke, her mood souring at what she was hearing. "I've had a rough night and my sickness hasn't subsided in the least." Quistis threw the cover over her face and growled softly. "Those two are the last thing on my mind...seriously." She tacked on the last word a little forcefully.

Xu clicked her tongue with a shake of her head, "Given up already. Your future looks mighty dry and dreary." The elite instructor cracked a small smirk when the woman beneath the covers flinched. "Not to worry, Quisty, I always look out for my own, you know that."

"Hm?" Quistis brought the covers down to her chin. "What are you scheming, Xu?" She narrowed her eyes at her sly friend with a suspicious stare. "Something about this doesn't sound quite right."

"Is that fever robbing you of more than your health?" Xu teased, cocking her head to the side with her arms crossed. "As a dear friend I should be insulted to hear that you would think me so sly. I just wanted to do you a favor since you're in such a miserable state." She jabbed at thumb in the direction of the door. "I made a few purchases at the market in Fisherman's Horizon, should be enough for a delicious soup. I also happened to run into a master fisherman who found it within the kindness of his heart to offer me some of his fresh catch. They're all laid out on the counter of your kitchenette."

Quistis was almost too touched to form a good response hearing that. "You mean..." She averted her eyes in embarrassment, her cheeks softly aglow. "...You're going to cook for me?"

"No." Xu answered her as quickly as the question came to her, sending Quistis' mind a blank for a few seconds.

"Then why did you bring those things in here?" The blonde instructor demanded to know, sitting upright like a ghoul rising from its grave. "Am I supposed to cook all of tha-" Her words were cut short by a coughing fit.

"Calm down." Xu told her, placing a hand on her shoulder comfortingly. "Obviously you're not the one who is going to cook it, silly girl. The 'Soup god' is going to do it for you, naturally." And her consoling words were met by a curious expression from the woman who had just recovered from her fit, because she could have sworn Xu had said something absurd...well, absurd leaving her mouth. It just didn't fit.

"I'm sorry-the whaaaat?" Quistis cocked her head to the side, narrowing her eyes imperceptibly with wonder.

"The 'Soup god', Quisty. Honestly, have you been living under a rock for the past couple of years?"

"Where do you people subscribe to get this sort of information?" She paused, her expression growing skeptic by the minute. "This wouldn't be something out of one of those Occult fan issues, would it?"

"The 'Soup god' is said to take the form of a handsome adolescent male to aid those through their sickness with sumptuous meals to boost the vitality. The early Centra say that he was a being who could not find it within himself to sympathize with humanity and their susceptibility to the sicknesses that plagued the world and so the elder gods tasked him with a mission to care for those in need so that he would come to understand their piteous plight." Xu chuckled, waving off Quistis' incredulous expression with a hand. "Of course, what I really mean to say is that he was tasked with the personal mission to nurse students to health by Headmaster Cid, but tales tend to grow tall with time. He's popular with quite a few of the girls in the Garden, but they're forbidden to speak his true identity."

"I don't want a visitation from some stranger, Xu."

"Oh?" Xu smirked ever so deviously. "But he is definitely no stranger to you."

"Hah?" Quistis wanted to inquire about her friend's curious response, but the elite instructor rose from her bedside and walked to the door with a casual wave of farewell, saying, "Well, I'd best be off. The 'Soup god' doesn't appear unless the afflicted is helpless and alone."

"Xu!" Quistis called out to her, only to be met with silence in return before hearing her door open and close. "Xu? Get back here!"

Said elite instructor had entered the training facility not long after she had left Quistis to ponder the scheme that she was about to set into motion. Here she found the people she was looking for, Squall Leonhart and his crew, although it would have been more in line with the truth to say that she was just looking for the lion himself. They had just gotten finished with their daily training from the look of things, with Squall sitting on the grass against the rail, polishing off the blood and goop from his gunblade while Zell and Selphie gathered around Rinoa, complimenting her on the gradual progression in her combat prowess. The gunshots that echoed from within the training area would have indicated to the whereabouts of the sharpshooter, Irvine Kinneas.

Squall said nothing, but began to eye her with suspicion when she did not greet them all immediately upon approaching them. Xu simply smiled professionally and offered the black clad gentleman a slight bow before saying, "Ah, the scent of blood and sweat after a good session." She inhaled sharply as if the smell intoxicated her. Zell, Selphie, and Rinoa stopped mid conversation when they heard the elite instructor speak. "Nothing gets my blood going more."

"Oh, Xu!" Zell gestured to her quickly with one hand as he always did whenever he greeted a friend although, in all honestly, he wasn't sure if he even knew Xu enough to consider her anything more than an acquaintance. "Came here to work off some sweat?"

"Heeeeyeee, Xu!" Selphie greeted awkwardly. "Here with orders from the Headmaster?" Her question must have been Squall's exact thoughts since he nodded to Xu as if to incite a response from her.

"We're going to start moving again?" From Rinoa's tone it didn't seem like she wanted to break the calm that had fallen over the garden just yet, which was understandable after the ordeal they had gone through leading up to their reunion in FH. The resistance leader crossed her arms, a look of unease gracing her lovely features as she glanced at Selphie, perhaps because she overheard the situation regarding the garden festival. Strangely, at that exact moment Squall and Selphie slowly looked to each other, held eye contact for a few seconds and broke away, returning their attention back to Xu. The peculiar interaction didn't go unnoticed by Rinoa or Zell who couldn't help but blink curiously.

"You can all relax." Xu assured them, waving off their concerns with a few flicks of her hand. "I'm not here at Cid's request."

"Then why are you here?" Squall finally spoke, his voice indicating at nothing he might have been feeling.

"Well, if you must know mister Leonhart, this is my place of reflection."

"Here?" Selphie questioned the idea. "At the training center?"

"Of course." Xu nodded cheerfully. "There are less people here to interfere with my thoughts."

"Oh..." Zell mumbled in a low voice, looking away with a private grin. "...but think of the monsters."

"What was that, Dincht?" Xu asked pleasantly.

"N-Nothin'." The martial artist wisely responded with a forced chuckle.

"Oh." Xu crossed her arms, holding up a hand with one finger extended out as if a thought had just struck her. "Have you all visited Quistis yet?" Her question elicited confused responses from everyone else, ranging from shaken heads to awkward gesturing. Of course, Squall was an exception to that. All he did was twitch his eyebrows slightly upward with a quiet grunt and nothing more.

"Instructor Trepe?" Zell asked, using the title out of habit in light of the fact that she had been demoted not long before she joined them. "No." He suddenly tensed, realizing what she meant. "Visit? What do you mean? What happened to her?"

"Did she get hurt?" Selphie stepped forward reflexively. "Is she in the infirmary?"

"That's right." Rinoa mused, stealing a glance at Squall to study his expression at the news. For some reason his neutral expression brought her a strange sense of calmness that she herself could not fully understand, nor did she make any attempt to study it. She feared that to apprehend the emotion that washed over her was to dip her conscience into murkier waters than she dared to meddle with. "I haven't seen her all day."

"No, she's not hurt, and she isn't at the infirmary either." Xu told them, her cheerful demeanor refusing to falter in the face of their reactions. "She's sick in bed, is all. The poor girl must have succumbed to it due to her exhaustion, and I wouldn't blame her. Just because she no longer holds the official title of instructor doesn't necessarily mean that she has lost the sense of responsibility that came with the position. After all that happened following the incident in Timber she must have been pushing herself hard to ensure all your safety until you returned to the garden." Xu glanced at Squall when another grunt escaped him, and smirked with satisfaction at how things were going. "Honestly, she worries too much for her own good, wouldn't you agree, mister Leonhart?"

Squall knit his brow with a barely pronounced scowl, "Why bother asking me?" His cold reply did not discourage the elite instructor in the least. Instead she stroked her chin and regarded him with, oddly enough, affection. It wasn't wanton, mind you, but there was something about the gleam in her calculating eyes that even made the lion slightly uncomfortable if anything.

"I'll visit her later then!" Selphie exclaimed, turning to regard Rinoa. "You should too, Rinny!"

The resistance leader gripped her shoulder awkwardly. "Um...well." She averted her eyes, recalling the bumpy relationship she already shared with the blonde instructor. "I'm not sure..."

Zell saw Rinoa sweating under Xu and Selphie's stares and decided to act quickly to take the attention off of her, "You know, I'll see her after she gets better." He scratched the back of his head with a nervous grin. "I'm not too sure about visiting her in her room. Now, if she was in the infirmary that would be another story, but uhhhhh-" He laughed, dropping his hand at his side. "You know!"

"That's understandable." Xu giggled. "I don't think she would be comfortable with you in her room either, but I'll pass along your good wishes in your stead."

"I appreciate it." Zell thanked her, nodding his head slightly.

"Yours too, miss Heartily."

Rinoa flinched at the mention of her name and blushed, embarrassed at her own timidness. "Um, thanks." She turned her head to direct her eyes at the spot that Squall had been occupying only to draw a blank when she realized that he had moved away and was proceeding on his way to the exit of the facility. "Wait, Squall!" She called after him, bringing a hand up to her chest when she felt a bothersome heat settle within. It diminished when Squall came to a halt at her call.

"What?" The black clad SeeD responded, looking at her over his shoulder.

"Where are you going?" Rinoa inquired, gesturing to Zell and Selphie unconsciously. "Are we already done here?"

"Carry on if you guys want." Squall returned his attention to the exit ahead of him as he resumed walking. "I have something to take care of so don't look for me."

"But Squall..." Rinoa's eyebrows drooped, a her lips carving a frown upon her lovely features. "That guy...he sure likes to go off on his own all the time." She perked up when she felt a hand rest on her shoulder.

"Don't let it bother you, Rin." Selphie told her with a grin. "That's just Squall's way, but I'm sure he didn't leave like that to hurt anyones feelings." She gave Rinoa a thumbs up. "Trust me on this!"

"Yeah." Zell agreed, smiling at her. "It takes a while to figure that guy out, but he isn't the jerk most of the people around here make him out to be."

Xu raised her left hand to tuck a stray bang behind her ear with a soft mutter of "Just as planned" eliciting a quick inquiry of "What" from the other three when they heard the suspicious line leave her mouth. Needless to say, when Xu simply smiled in response to their unappeased curiosity and turned to take her leave of them they could only stare at her receding form with the vague sense that something more had taken place in their presence than they had been aware of, but rather than occupy themselves with such troublesome thoughts, two of them decided to attend their concerns to more intriguing matters like that long exchange between Squall and Selphie earlier. Of all things that could have been thought of as suspicious, that brief, private moment had decidedly taken the title from Xu's visit.

"So," Rinoa opened her mouth, pulling the spotlight away from Xu. "What was that about anyway, Selphie?"

The Trabian regarded the resistance princess quizzically. "What was what about?" She blinked cutely. "I don't get why you guys are staring at me that way."

Meanwhile, somewhere within the abstract space that occupied the gap between two minds...

"Ah, so we meet again, Shivy."

"Oh, Siren, how I count the seconds of our every meeting. I was hoping you'd have spared me your gloating."

"Don't be bitter! After all, there is no one to blame for this."

"Unless this malady is a work of your own schemes, which I find it hard to believe otherwise."

"You are quick to make accusations when things do not go your way. I can assure you that this is all the result of natural consequences."

"And yet I cannot help, but feel that this is all somehow unnatural."

"Admit it, he looks good in an apron."

"I don't need to admit to things I already know-"

Quistis Trepe's nose twitched as she stirred in her sleep. Her back arched in her newfound restlessness, and her lips twitched just slightly upwards when a pleasant scent wafted past her sensitive nostrils.

"It would seem that my reception is breaking~ksssshhht!"

"That's not true! I can hear just fine, Shiva!"

"Ksssshhht~ What was that~ksssssht!"

"You're making that noise yourself, dammit!"

"..."

"I know you're still there, bi-"

"Hey." A deep voice tickled the outer boundaries of Quistis's subconscious, interrupting the mysterious conversation that had been taking place within the inner reaches of her mind. Normally the blonde instructor might have opened her eyes to investigate the source of the familiar voice, but a small part of her managed to convince her that it was nothing more than a trick of the mind suffering from malnutrition and hunger. After all, that voice she heard belonged to none other than Squall Leonhart, and she was confident in her own reasoning that there was no way for him to actually be standing beside her bed. The young lion always found other things to occupy his time with whenever he was presented with the opportunity for human contact, unless it was forced on him, and even then you had to be Headmaster Cid to make that possible. Still, there was room for doubt made when she heard the inflexible call of, "Wake up, Quistis. Keep this up and you'll be sore when you try to get out of bed later."

So she became slightly anxious, swallowing nervously before working up the courage to open her eyes and come face to face with the hallucination that was bothering her-"Huh?"-only to come to the frightening conclusion that Squall Leonhart was, indeed, at her bedside, with an apron tied around his waist to make things even more surreal for her. What the hell was he doing here? Could he at least find it within himself to understand just how embarrassing it was for her to be caught in this position? Did he have no shame, entering a woman's room unannounced? Was he secretly laughing at her behind that ever present stoic mask of his?

Not caring very much for the blank expression of shock on Quistis' face, Squall just appeared to be satisfied that she finally awoke to his call. "That's goo-huh?" He was unable to finish getting the words out of his mouth as Quistis reached over and shoved him away with as much force her weak body could afford, which ended quite awkwardly since he barely moved an inch. He fixed her with a questioning stare, "What the...?"

"Squall!" Quistis cried out, blushing furiously as she ran her hands over the top of her head in an attempt to hide her bed hair. "When did you-I mean, what the hell are you doing in my room?" She would have to pat herself on the back later for managing to regain a measure of her composure in spite of how utterly mortified she was. Still, the way he just stared back at her so nonchalantly was threatening to make the kettle boil over again, and the next step she had in mind was to blind him. He could show some common decency and read the mood.

To her vexation Squall crossed his arms and directed a look at her that she felt was mores suited for her own expression. "Why aren't you at the infirmary?" He had the audacity to be annoyed with her at a time like this? The nerve of this guy.

Quistis chuckled, letting her head tilt to the side. "Hey, I'm the one with questions here. Answer me."

"Xu informed me about your situation."

"Xu?" Quistis reacted flatly, resting her palm on her forehead. She was going to have to talk with her friend later, but right now she had bigger fish to deal with. "So you're here to wish me luck on my recovery, or something?" The blonde instructor frowned. "Never took you for the considerate type."

"Never realized you were so irresponsible with yourself." He quipped without missing a beat, getting her left eyebrow to twitch.

"How did you get in here, anyway?"

"I used your spare card key." Squall answered her, whipping out the card in question. The blonde, bespectacled young woman on the I.D photo smiled back at Quistis confidently almost as if to mock her, or at least that's how she felt seeing it held by him so casually. "I knocked earlier, but you sleep harder than a malboro."

"I don't..." Quistis stammered, staring back at the card in his hand accusingly. "I don't remember giving you that."

"I don't expect you would, honestly." He replied, coolly. "It was a while back when you first got promoted to instructor." He blinked when she shoved her hand out to him. "What?" He raised an eyebrow curiously.

"I'll have that back, thank you."

"Sure." He held it out to her without the hesitation she had expected. "It'll be harder for me to get back in here later-"

"That's the aim, Squall." Quistis spoke over him in an annoyed tone and took it from him, grumbling to herself. "I don't know what the hell I was thinking, giving this to you." A small voice in the back of her head questioned why she was being so unfriendly toward the apron wearing SeeD officer, but it was muted out by a louder voice that pressed her to keep up the hostility. If Squall felt anything from having the card confiscated from his possession, there was no way for her to tell with the usual expression on his handsome features. Not that it made her feel any sort of way in particular, but she could swear that her body temperature was rising to dangerous levels.

"Thinking ahead of an emergency, I'd figure." Squall told her, probably not realizing that her question was meant to be rhetoric.

"And you would come to my rescue in my time of need?" Quistis jabbed at him with her words, her eyes gleaming with a lethal sharpness.

Squall turned his eyes away from her, annoyed by her strange behavior before shooting her the patented side glance that he was known all around the garden for. "Whatever." Quistis joined him in brushing away her last comment, although there was a noticeable lack of her usual charm when she did. Squall went on talking as though he took no notice of it, "You're doing nothing to help yourself from the look of things. Anyway, what was the story behind all the food on your counter top?"

It was after hearing that question leave his mouth that Quistis Trepe's mind was brought back to the scent that welcomed her to the waking world again. At the moment it was a little difficult for her to get a hold of the scent since her nasal passages were beginning to congest (She refused to ask Squall to hand her the tissue box sitting on the table behind him) but she could put two and two together just the same. Judging from the apron wrapped around Squall's waist, the question he asked, and the delicious smell from earlier-

"Hey, how long have you been in here exactly?" Quistis inquired, silently praying that she hadn't been snoring the whole time through.

"Maybe half an hour to forty five minutes ago. I'm not too sure." He answered her, his expression relaxing. "You had ingredients laid out on your counter. I thought you were planning to cook for yourself, but you were dead asleep the whole time."

"Eheh..." Quistis chuckled in embarrassment, guilt slowly wrapping its pesky tendrils around her heavy heart as she went on, "Did...So, you cooked it in my place?" Of course, she knew the answer to that question, as weird as it was to imagine Squall Leonhart cooking for anyone, least of all himself, but hearing it out of his mouth would have been so rewarding.

Normally a person would have been unable to keep from smiling, perhaps because they knew they would be praised for their act of kindness, but Squall, as always, was a different person when it came to these delicate matters. He just stared back at her and replied, "Who knows how long you had that fish sitting there. It would have gone to waste unless I'd done something about it." His words left a sour taste in her mouth, and she could feel that heat settling in her chest again.

"You could have just said yes, you know." Quistis glared at him for a moment before averting her eyes, grumbling to herself dispiritedly. "It would have been so much nicer that way." She sighed, her shoulders sinking low. Squall took notice of her mood and shifted uncomfortably, glancing back at the door to her room before returning his attention to her with an undeniable sense of awkwardness apparent in his posture.

"So, are you hungry?" He asked after a long silence.

Quistis raised her head, balling her hands at her lap beneath the covers. "I guess I am...maybe just a little. I, uh...don't want to risk vomiting it up later though."

"You need to get something into your body." Squall advised her, catching her off guard with the tone of his voice. "I'll serve you some soup. Your stomach should at least digest that with the least resistance." And with that he turned away from her and proceeded to the door, but he was stopped when Quistis called his attention. "What?" He regarded her over his shoulder.

"You're being awfully nice to me today."

"...What about it?"

"Well..." Quistis started off, but she came to a pause in hesitation. "...It's just."

"Yeah?" Squall waited for her to continue, never moving past the door. After standing there for a while without receiving an answer from her he heaved a quiet sigh of annoyance, or at least she took it that way. "...Did you forget what you were going to say?"

"Never mind." She dropped it quickly, forcing a small smile to come to her face when she did. "Can't wait for that soup!" She sighed in relief when the young man grunted in reply and left the room to serve her a bowl of the soup that he prepared. "Hyne, what the hell is wrong with me?" The blond instructor growled to herself, clutching the covers in frustration. "I should be happy about this, right? Squall is actually taking the time out of his day to be my personal chef, but how do I know this isn't just a stupid dream?" She pinched the skin of her bare thigh between two of her fingers beneath the covers and twisted hard-"Ouch! A-alright, so this really isn't some kind of dream. He's actually here in my dorm room."

Quistis glanced at the door to make sure he wasn't on his way back. "Then shouldn't I be taking advantage of this opportunity to clear a few things up?" Her cheeks burned scarlet when an even more personal agenda came to mind. "Shouldn't I...take advantage of him with my situation? Honestly, anyone else would do the same thing." She nodded at her own sensible reasoning. "That's right, I should have him spoil me while he's here. It would be the proper way to have him make it up to me for being such a jerk before." She whipped her head back to the door when she heard the sound of porcelain clattering softly against an adjustable metal, dining tray. One she was sure she never brought into her dorm.

"Were you saying something?" Squall asked as he carefully approached with her bowl of soup. "I heard you talking as I got back."

"Just thinking out loud." Quistis answered him truthfully. She looked at the contents of the bowl when he lowered the tray to eye level and licked her lips out of reflex when the pangs of hunger suddenly struck her stomach. "That...um..." Admittedly, she had expected to be met with something that looked amateurish, but the dish almost looked too perfect for her to believe it was a homemade meal. He even decorated the soup with garnishes to give it some presentation, which was a rather nice touch. "...that looks delicious, Squall. I'm really impressed, you know?"

"Whatever." He replied, though she had to note that it lacked the usual disdain the normally accompanied it. Was this how he reacted whenever he felt embarrassed? She would have to do some extensive observation later when she got the chance. "Just sit up so I can position the tray over your legs properly."

"Actually..." Quistis stopped him in a quiet voice before he could lift the tray over her.

Squall froze in position just raising the tray over the bed, "What is it?"

The blonde instructor stared down at her lap, hoping to Hyne that she wasn't blushing like mad from the scheme that was weaving a web in her mind. "Do you think you could feed me?" Had she looked up at him the moment she made her request she might have caught the way his eyes widened in surprise. "Earlier this morning Xu handed me a glass of water and it just slipped from my hands. I suppose my body is a bit stiff from being stuck in bed all through the night with this sickness." This was, of course, a lie, but she wasn't about to let this chance slip by. "And I don't want to risk the chance of dropping hot soup on myself." She looked to him, doing her best to look as pathetic as possible in his eyes. "Please, Squall?"

The young man relaxed his posture, holding the tray low against his legs. "You're serious about this?"

"Of course I am." She told him flatly, narrowing her eyes in irritation at his implied refusal. "You don't think this is embarrassing for me?" She asked him, doing her best to seem true to her words so he wouldn't suspect her of foul play. For a moment she thought he wouldn't go through with it. He seemed hesitant, and her past experiences taught her that he wasn't afraid to turn down anyone regardless of how much they attempted to appeal to his sense of sympathy, but to her delight he answered her request by turning around to set the tray down on her desk and pulling the chair from underneath it to set it beside her bed. He held the bowl of soup carefully in one hand, seemingly unaffected by how hot it might have been, and took a seat beside her.

"Fine." He told her, dipping the spoon held in his other hand into the soup. "Get a little closer so it'll be easier for the both of us."

"You mean it?" Quistis looked at him strangely. "I mean, I'm really grateful and all, but..."

"I don't want the thought of you dropping this all over yourself on my conscience."

"Didn't realize you had the capacity for one." She quipped with a smooth roll of her eyes.

It got his attention, but she spoke so low that he barely heard the words leave her mouth. "Hm?"

"Nothing at all important, I assure you." She told him with a persuasive grin. "Thanks, though. I appreciate that you're helping me with this."

"Don't mention it." He replied, withdrawing a spoonful from the bowl before adding seriously, "To anyone." His response caused her to laugh at how comical it was, even if that wasn't his intention. As expected her reaction didn't appear to bother him in this slightest, he didn't indicate it anyway. He blew on the spoon with a gentleness that felt uncharacteristic of him and cupped his other hand beneath the spoon as he brought it to her mouth. Quistis leaned in and took it into her mouth, savoring the exquisite flavor with a guttural moan of appreciation. Her eyelids fell shut as her taste buds tingled with an unexplainable sense of euphoria, but the moment abruptly left her when Squall withdrew the spoon from her mouth without warning.

"Mmm..." She opened an eye and stared back at him lazily. "Did you have to pull it away so quickly?"

"I thought I gave you enough time to swallow it."

"You did." She groaned in disappointment. "I just wanted some time to savor the feeling."

"Sorry."

Quistis opened her other eye, sure that her ears were playing tricks on her. "Huh?"

"Nothing." Squall lied, lifting another spoonful from the bowl and blowing on it before offering it to her again. "Don't swallow it down too quickly." He slipped it into her mouth when she parted her lips and waited for her to pull back this time.

Quistis felt a smile tug upwards at the ends of her lips. "Thanks." She giggled to herself, running her fingers through her bed hair. The fact that she didn't look nearly a presentable as she usually did, for understandable reasons, no longer weighed on her mind, perhaps because she could now find it in herself to accept his presence. "So how long have you been a closet chef, Squall? I would have never guessed you were capable of this if you hadn't cooked for me personally."

"It's not something I wanted to learn on my own." He replied with a low growl as if remembering something unpleasant. "The headmaster ordered me to care for Seifer while he was sick when we were younger. It was punishment for all of the times we disrupted classes with our arguments. He said I needed to learn to get along with him."

Quistis fixed her pillows to get comfortable in bed and leaned over, her interest piqued. "How did that turn out?"

"Seifer was uncooperative, and when I handed him a bowl of canned soup he threw it at me."

"...I figured it didn't go too well." Quistis stifled back a laugh. "So what happened after that?"

"I told Cid that it was useless and there was no way I was going back to help him." Squall drew another spoonful of soup and offered it to her, this time a nice meaty portion of fish was present. Quistis was quick to dart in and take it in her mouth, her moans of approval reaching his ears quite clearly. "Cid wouldn't accept that so he sent me back."

"So what did you do?"

"I skipped out on orders." Squall answered her, causing her to deflate.

"Wait, really?" The blonde instructor gasped. "How did you get out of trouble?"

"I didn't. Cid found out, courtesy of Seifer's obnoxious mouth." He replied, pulling a napkin out of his apron pocket to wipe her chin. "So he decided that the original punishment wasn't enough. He had me assist Dr. Kadowaki with dorm room visits."

"Ohhh. That would explain why Dr. Kadowaki likes you so much." Quistis said offhandedly, getting Squall to pause for a moment.

"Wait, she said that?"

"She talks fondly about you every time we play cards."

"You play triple triad?" His question made Quistis flinch for some reason, but she nodded after spending a moment just staring at him like a mesmerize looking down the barrel of a shotgun.

"A-anyway, what did she have you do, huh?" She moved him away from the subject of cards quickly. "Were you treating sick students?"

"I stayed with them for the afternoon, assisting in every way I could." Squall offered her another spoonful before continuing, "But that usually meant I would be running back and forth to and from the cafeteria. That would get aggravating after a while so I decided to bring canned soups in a bag with me every time Kadawaki ordered me to stay with a student."

"Did that make things easier?"

"Nobody wanted the soup. They said it tasted horrible."

"Did you buy the cheap stuff?"

"Yeah."

"Well, there you go." Quistis said sarcastically, shrugging her shoulders. "What did you expect?"

"For them to take what was given to them." Squall rolled his eyes. "Eventually I was assigned to Xu."

"R-Really?" She felt her eye twitch at the mention of her best friend's name. "She never told me about that."

"Shocking." Squall retorted, sarcasm in his voice. "I'd be surprised if she shared the date of her birthday with you."

"Well of course she...wait, you're right." Quistis stroked her chin, suddenly feeling very left behind. "She never did share that information."

"She told me." Squall mentioned offhandedly. "Anyway, she didn't want any of the canned soup I brought with me."

"Wait, she told you the date of her birthday?" She was still stuck on that.

"But she didn't want anything from the cafeteria either." He continued, ignoring her question. "She forced me to cook for her, saying she would inform Kadowaki about my uncooperative attitude if I refused."

"Geez, so what did you do?"

"I didn't want that message to get back to Cid, so I did as she said. She had all the ingredients for a chicken soup in her kitchen."

"Classic Xu." Quistis grumbled with a frown. "That girl always was a magnificent basta-"

"So I followed her instructions and cooked her chicken soup."

"Did she like it?"

"She said I needed more work." He replied, readying another spoonful for her. "It was almost time to leave by the time she was done though, so I left before she could force me to do anything else."

"Oh. Serves her right."

"Only, she got sick two weeks later."

"...Again?"

"And she had me cook her a Trabian soup that time."

"Did she like it?"

"She said I was a horrible cook, but it was a few minutes after the end of our time together so I left before she could force me to do anything else."

"Oh. That's what she gets for being picky."

"Only, she got sick again the following week."

"On a school day again? Seriously?"

"On a day off, actually." Squall told her, picking a bit of seaweed from the side of her lip. She thanked him with a light blush touching her cheeks, but he made no note of it. "Cid told Dr. Kadowaki to have me stay with Xu until the late evening that time since I didn't have to attend any classes in the afternoon."

"That must have been rough."

"Xu had me cook several different dishes for her. Soups, appetizers, and a main course."

Quistis blinked in a mixture of amazement and disbelief. "You've got to be kidding me. So, how did it go? Did she like it that time?" She asked, eager to know if he progressed. "Don't tell me she insulted you again."

"She told me I was getting better, and that I should start brushing up on my skills because I had potential." Squall answered her, averting his eyes after he did. "...So I decided to research a few cooking methods on my free periods at the library and started to cook meals for myself instead of going to the cafeteria for dinner."

Quistis nodded along, enthralled by his recollections. "And did you go back to Xu when you were confident in yourself?"

"No." Squall answered, getting a flat "What" out of her. "I waited for the next time Seifer was absent for classes and told Cid that I would volunteer to care for him in Dr. Kadowaki's place."

The blonde instructor nodded with anticipation. "Yeah, yeah. So what happened?" She hadn't realized it, but she held her breath afterward.

"I gave Seifer a bowl of my home cooked, Galbadian fastitocalon chowder."

"Aaaaaand?"

"He asked for seconds." Had she listened carefully she might have been able to pick up the hint of pride in his reply. "He finished the entire pot, and asked me to cook him another pot."

"Did you?"

Squall kept her hanging for a moment, but his answer eventually came and it almost sounded cruel to the ears.

"No." Squall let the spoon clatter inside the empty bowl in his left hand and stood from his seat. "Anyway, I have everything left prepared in your kitchen if you want more later. You should take a shower and get into some clean clothes. You'll feel when you do." With that he turned around and headed for the door, but-

"Squall, wait!" Quistis called out to him quickly.

"What?" He asked, turning around to face her with a quizzical expression on his face. "You want me to feed you another bowl?"

"W-Well, it's very nice of you to offer." She said timidly, squashing the voice inside her that demanded that she take the offer. "Actually, I just wanted to get back to what I was going to tell you earlier."

"Earlier?" He echoed her before a look of recognition washed over his features. "You mean when I left the room before?"

"Yes, that's right." She nodded, hiding her hands beneath the covers again to fidget nervously. "I, uh, never expected you to come visit me. To be honest, you were the last person I expected to come over."

"...Why's that?" He asked her, genuine curiosity in his voice.

"I was pretty sure that you hated me." Quistis admitted, meeting his eyes with an unwavering gaze. "That's right. I thought you didn't like me."

"What would ever give you that impression?"

That innocent question made something snap in her. "Are you serious, Squall? Do you remember the talk I had with you in the secret area at the training center? I can't get your words out of my head no matter how much I try!" She breathed in deep after her outburst, her shoulders rising and falling a little to fast for comfort. She knew she would explode if he asked that question, she was counting on him to ask that question, but she never intended her reaction to be so dramatic. "I'm...I'm sorry. That must have been a little melodramatic, I'm sure, but-"

"You don't need to apologize." Squall cut her off calmly. "I'm sorry."

Quistis leaned back, caught off guard by his response. "Wait, what?"

"I'm sorry that I responded to you that way on that night." He set the bowl of soup down on her book shelf. "I still remember it, too. It was one of the last things that I remember looking back on before everything went black on that parade float in Deiling City. I must have gone through it a hundred times in my head before I woke up in that prison cell."

"Wh...Why?" She suddenly felt a little queasy. Why did she go there? Why didn't she just let him leave?

"I guess I just didn't want to leave you like that." Squall answered her, his voice sounding so sure as though there wasn't a doubt in his mind about what he felt at that moment. "I didn't want to leave you thinking that I didn't care about your feelings that night. I don't know why Headmaster Cid demoted you from your position as instructor, Quistis, but I do know one thing-I'm grateful that he did make that decision. I feel more secure having you with me at my side than anywhere else, and I'm sure that I wouldn't be here talking with you if you didn't have my back the entire time we were away from the garden."

Quistis felt her eyes begin to sting with unshed tears, but she held them back. "You mean that?"

"Don't ever believe otherwise." The black clad gentleman answered her with a nod before grabbing the bowl from her bookshelf and turning a second time, but-

"Squall." She called him again, and he turned around, perhaps a little more slowly this time.

"Yeah?"

Quistis reached into the pocket of her pajama pants and retrieved the spare key card that she confiscated from him earlier. "Here." She held it out to him with an affectionate smile adorning her lovely face. "How else are you going to come back and check up on me?"

"Come back?" Squall asked, approaching her to receive the card. He stared at the bespectacled young woman smiling back at him from the I.D photo and for the briefest moment he smiled at Quistis Trepe, shaking her previously grounded perceptions of reality when he did. He placed the card in his back pocket and walked away with a final quip before he vanished from the doorway. "Don't push your luck."


Tale One, END


A/N: I hope that wasn't too OC guys. I just wanted to get a Squall x Quistis fic out of my system before I started writing any of the other one-shots. I'll probably explore a lot of different pairings in this story since they're all going to be one-shots, including some of the rare variety like Squall x Xu. I guess that one isn't too popular around here. A shame. Well, hope you all enjoyed reading!

Oh, and if you're a "Stalker's Log" reader, don't worry, I haven't given up on it. I'm just trying to get the juices going again.


On the next tale...

Sorceress Adel's skirt fell to the ground and Laguna could only gasp as the towering figure approached him with a predatory smile.

"Oh frickin Hyne!" The journalist cried out, hoping against all other hopes that might have cancelled out his own that his luck wasn't nearly as rotten as Kiros said it was. "You're a woman!"

Adel reached out and cupped his chin a little more gently that Laguna was frankly comfortable with and purred, "Indeed. You'll come to understand that far more intimately in just a moment."