Chapter 32: Resetting the Board

"Timber's elected a new president." Kiros said pouring a cup of coffee and bringing it to Laguna, then joining him at his dining room table.

"Thank you," Laguna said accepting the cup. Taking a sip, he frowned, "They certainly didn't waste any time."

"It only seems that way because you haven't been paying attention." Kiros chided him.

"Well, I have been busy," Laguna replied. Then he added, "So, who'd they elect? The resistance leader kid? David Z-something-or-other?"

"Interestingly, no." Kiros sipped at his own coffee and set it down on the table, tenting his fingers and frowning slightly. "When the media asked him about it, he told them he thought he'd do better as an adviser, sort of like a secretary of state, as he put it."

Laguna grunted, "Probably got tired of hearing all the flak about his age. What is he, nineteen? Twenty?"

"Just turned nineteen a couple of weeks ago, according to the bio we managed to dig up." Kiros answered, then, seeing Laguna frown unhappily at this, added, "Don't give me that look. He was potentially the leader of Timber. We needed whatever information we could find out about him to see what kind of person he is, and how best to deal with him, if necessary."

"Well, in that case, I don't blame the kid for trying on a lesser position first." Laguna said with a snort.

"It was actually very shrewd of him. Sometimes more power can be wielded behind the scenes, out of public view. And he is used to that method of operation." Kiros observed.

"Plus he gets what amounts to an internship in running a country. Smart kid." Laguna said, adding. "No doubt he's simply going to wait until his age isn't such an issue."

Kiros nodded, "no doubt. Then of course, there's Galbadia…"

"Yes. Of course," Laguna murmured, sipping his coffee. "How stable have things gotten there, anyway?"

"Well, General Caraway is firmly in control, but so far has been concentrating on rebuilding what Deling and the civil war destroyed. He's got his hands full." Kiros answered.

"So, nobody's really ready for any sort of diplomatic overtures on our part, are they?" Laguna wondered.

Kiros shook his head. "Maybe in a few months' time, when things have had a chance to settle a bit more."

"Who should we approach first, do you think?" Laguna asked.

Kiros frowned thoughtfully, "Good question. I'd say Galbadia first but you don't necessarily want to ignore Timber either. They could be integral to any sort of trade agreement. Perhaps it's best to involve both, but to have Galbadia host any sort of meeting that may take place."

"Not a bad idea…" Laguna said, when his cellphone rang. He frowned while answering, thinking that he still had almost a half-hour before he needed to put in an appearance at the office, and he hadn't left anything undone from the night before that he could recall. So his assistant, who was nearly as bad a nag as Kiros, shouldn't be calling him…yet.

"Hello?" he answered, frowning slightly and responding, "Yes, this is President Loire. How can I help you?"

Laguna's face went blank as he listened to whoever was speaking. Kiros watched intently, suspecting the reason for the call.

"So, what you're telling me is that there is no doubt. 99.9% accuracy, right?" Laguna asked the caller slowly. When the answer came he closed his eyes and let out a long sigh. "Thank you Doctor. Thank you very much. Could you send me a printed copy of that report please? Thanks, I really appreciate it."

Upon disconnecting the call, Laguna simply leaned back in his chair and stared into space, eyes glistening, cell phone pressed against his chest.

"Laguna?" Kiros asked him.

"DNA test results." Laguna answered, taking a shaking breath and swallowing. "I already knew, of course, and you did too, but…"

"But now you have irrefutable proof that your son can no longer deny." Kiros said, smiling kindly at his friend.

"Yes. Yes exactly." Laguna said, and suddenly his face crumpled, "My son. He's my son. And he's a complete stranger who thinks I'm a fool." It was almost more than he could bear, recalling the cold contempt in the young man's eyes as he stalked out of the room after Laguna's revelation of his paternity. Even worse was the thought that he'd nearly sent the boy to his death.

Oh, Gods Raine, please forgive me… He didn't think he'd ever forgive himself if anything happened to Squall because of him. Kiros' strong hand squeezed Laguna's shoulder, offering his support. Laguna snuffled and wiped his wet cheeks on his sleeve, laughing suddenly at Kiros' long suffering eye-roll and proffered handkerchief.

Kiros waited while Laguna composed himself, then asked, "so, what do you want to do now? Call him?"

He wanted to. Ached to. But Squall wasn't interested in talking to him. Not yet. Maybe not ever. "I don't know," he answered softly. "He likely already knows. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out that a phone call from his long-lost and apparently unlamented father is probably the last thing that Commander Squall Leonhart would want."

"That's probably true." Kiros said, adding, "But I think you should call him anyway. Even if he doesn't talk to you. Even if you end up having to leave a voicemail message. You're not getting any younger Laguna, and his job isn't getting any safer. Someone has to make a move, and that someone has to be you."

"You're right. Of course you're right…" Laguna sighed. Just then his watch chimed the hour and he was assaulted by a mixture of relief, guilt and disappointment. "Duty calls."

Kiros checked his watch and agreed, "It does indeed. But I'll hold your first appointment, if you'd like to make that call."

Laguna studied Kiros, belatedly realizing why he was so insistent upon his calling Squall as soon as possible after receiving the lab results. Because Squall would know that Laguna was aware, and at least an attempt at contact, wanted or not, would almost be expected.

"All right then," Laguna said. He hoped he wouldn't end up a blubbering mess right before his appointment with the Secretary of Defense (or as he joked privately, 'de-fence', owing to that big damn privacy screen that had been erected around the entire country some decades ago).

He stood up, leaving his coffee cup on the table and followed Kiros out of his apartment. Time to go to work.

Squall leaned against the balcony railing and let the breeze blow his hair back off his face, reveling in its freshness. He would have liked to go down to the Quad; the work crews had done an incredible job on its repair and reconstruction and it was even more beautiful now than it had been before. But for that very reason, he decided instead to come to the little balcony that he'd taken Rinoa to on her first tour of Garden. The quad was far too populated these days for his liking, especially when he was dealing with….

He glanced down at the papers he was holding in his hand; the fax he'd received that morning. Lab results from the DNA test he'd ordered some six weeks ago. It amazed him that a country as technologically sophisticated as Esthar would take so long to do that. At least they were thorough; Dr. Kadowaki had requested some additional tests along with the DNA analysis. Squall had no idea why, but she'd said something about wanting a baseline metabolic panel on file for him. Whatever.

He was playing hooky from work at the moment, but he didn't care. He'd needed some fresh air and some time alone to process the news that the moronic former Galbadian soldier and current president of Esthar was in fact his father. To a 99.999% degree of accuracy. With an error coefficient of .0001%. Or something like that; he glanced down at the report, looking for the error analytics.

He gave it up with an annoyed sigh. It didn't matter. Laguna had told him months ago and Squall simply hadn't wanted to believe it, though the man hadn't had any reason to lie. Now he held in his hand hard, empirical proof that his father was alive and well and running the largest country in the world. And he had no idea what to do, what to think, or what to feel about it. None whatsoever.

So he abandoned all thought and instead gazed out over the view of the Alcauld Plains that Garden's current orientation afforded this particular balcony. The grass had yellowed and gone dormant as fall was now well underway. The breeze had a crisp but not yet cold feeling to it that always said autumn to Squall, and the trees on the slopes of the far off mountains, at least at the lower elevations, were wearing their fall colors. They showed brilliant flashes of yellow, orange and scarlet among the evergreens.

What now? He wondered. Surely Laguna would want to establish some sort of relationship with him, wouldn't he? He'd been pretty persistent in calling Squall after everything was concluded and Ultimecia had been defeated; fortunately Squall had left shortly afterward for Timber to complete that contract. And after his return, he'd submitted the request for DNA analysis. Laguna had been quiet for some time after that. Squall wondered briefly if his curtly worded missive had in fact hurt or offended the man.

Squall frowned in irritation at this train of thought and folded the papers and put them into the breast pocket of his uniform tunic. He felt unsettled and off-balance; everything he thought he knew about himself was wrong, as was everything he'd assumed about the parents he'd never known. It left him in an edgy, annoyed mood, one that he was better off dealing with alone. At least in his opinion. Those that he had to work with may have differing viewpoints, but he rather doubted it.

He already knew it was going to be another night spent cutting a swath through the Training Center as he worked through his pique.

The sound of someone opening the door to the balcony and entering increased his annoyance briefly as he thought of being forced by circumstance to join the human race again. The light footsteps approaching him however were familiar, and his touchiness suddenly faded.

"So this is where you've decided to hide out." Rinoa said, leaning against the railing next to him.

He glanced over at her, but declined comment for the moment. The sight of her in a cadet's uniform, temporary though it was, still jarred him. He was glad she was there, no doubts about that but…it seemed inherently wrong to see his young Sorceress/girlfriend dressed as a SeeD cadet. Fortunately, since she was not a SeeD candidate, and instead was a tuition paying student, she was only required to wear the uniform for her first semester.

Returning his attention to the view, he asked her, "Don't you have a class this hour?"

Rinoa tilted her head, studying him. Her shields were firmly closed, but she still got the impression that something was bothering him. It was what had drawn her to him in the first place.

Finally she answered, "Midterms. I just finished my tests for the morning classes. I'm free until after lunch."

He turned to face her fully, asking her, "Midterms already?"

She nodded ruefully, "Yeah, and since I was fully as busy as you were, I can totally see how you ended up losing track of the semester."

"How'd you do?" He asked her curiously.

"Grades aren't posted until next week, but…I think I did okay." She answered.

Moving closer, she tentatively reached out and took his hand, hoping he wouldn't pull away. Sometimes he did, if he wasn't in the mood for…anyone. He'd mostly worked past his hurt, but Rinoa had lost ground with him and it made her heart ache thinking that she might have lost all the progress they'd made while in Timber. The easy intimacy that they'd once had was gone, and Rinoa didn't know if it was because they were both in Garden now, where the rules were different, or if it was because, somewhere deep down, Squall was still wounded on some level and trusted her less.

He didn't pull away however, and Rinoa didn't bother hiding how happy that made her, letting some of it leak out to help calm and elevate Squall's mood.

Gradually his tension eased and he sighed, turning to lean against the railing again, fingers still laced with hers. The shift in his position, probably planned by him, brought her closer to his body, subtly encouraging her to lean into him. She did, and leaned her head against his shoulder, smiling.

"What brought you out here anyway?" Rinoa wondered.

"I just needed to get out and get some air." Squall answered her, gazing pensively toward the mountains.

Rinoa took in the lovely scenery, the crisp, fresh air, and sighed, "I can see why. It's lovely out."

Squall nodded agreement but remained silent for the moment. Rinoa leaned closer, wanting to slip her arm around his waist, and have his arm come around hers. Wanting more than just that; they hadn't had much private time together at all, and Rinoa missed it keenly. A few months ago, she would have thought Squall felt the same, but now she wasn't entirely sure…at least not without reading him. And she'd promised both herself and Edea that she would not.

She didn't always have to actively read him anyway; she still got a sense of his moods even with her shields up. Edea had told her it was likely their bond; it was almost impossible to block it completely. Very strong emotions at least would still leak through.

It was obvious that he was in the grips of something very profound. Without knowing what it was, there was little that Rinoa could to do help, and getting Squall to tell her about it would be nearly impossible. If there was something that he wanted to talk to her about, he would seek her out. In that respect at least, he was improving.

This, whatever it was that he was wrestling with, was something he was obviously unwilling, perhaps unready, to discuss. Since discussion was not an option at the moment, Rinoa thought that distraction might be a better remedy until he was ready to talk about what was bothering him. And she already knew exactly how to distract him.

Sighing, she leaned in closer and squeezed his hand, lightly caressing his thumb with hers. Squall glanced down at her and met her gaze, raising his eyebrows slightly.


"This is nice," she sighed, not bothering to hide the longing in her voice. "It's been awhile since we were able to just…be… you know what I mean?"

"Yeah. I do. These last few weeks have been pretty busy for everyone." He replied.

Rinoa glanced around, asking, "there are security cameras out here, aren't there?"

"It was a major point of vulnerability in the Garden Battle. Of course there are." Squall answered her, beginning to wonder what she was getting at.

"Do you know where they all are?" she asked.

"I do," Squall answered her warily. "Why do you ask?"

"Well," She answered. "Aside from the cameras, we're totally alone out here. Nobody really uses this balcony, not when the Quad is easier to get to and much nicer, and the secret area is much more secluded and secure." Stepping closer until their bodies were touching, Rinoa slid her arms around his waist, gazing up at him, continuing softly, "I could disable the cameras easily, I could freeze the door shut. We'd have this place to ourselves for as long as we want…"

Understanding dawned, and Squall's expression lightened a bit. But only a little and it was tempered by regret. Rinoa frowned at seeing this and opened her mouth to protest his impending denial, but he stopped her.

Sliding his arms around her waist in return, he shook his head, saying softly, "It's a nice idea but it won't work. The minute the cameras are disabled a SeeD team is scrambled to investigate. I don't think you want them catching us in the middle of…whatever you intend." Rinoa's face fell, tears starting. It had been so long since she'd even kissed him…

"Hey," he said gently, placing his fingers under her chin to tilt her face up, forcing her to look at him. "It's been awhile for me too, Rin. But this isn't the right place for it."

The tears were starting to blur her vision and Rinoa blinked them away, asking shakily, "then where? And when? You can't come to my dorm room because of my roommate, and I can't go to your quarters because of Garden's rules against fraternization between cadets and Command Personnel. And I know you don't want to seem like you're playing favorites with me Squall but…." Her voice faltered, and then she whispered, lips trembling, "I miss you."

Squall's expression softened at this, and his thumb caressed her lower lip, tickling her and making her lick it in reflex. "I miss you too."

"So what do we do then? How do we do this? I love you and I can't even touch you while I'm here?" Rinoa asked him, frustration warring with despair, voice trembling on the edge of tears.

"Come out with me Friday. I'm sorry it's been so long since we've been out together…you've been busy studying; I've been busy working…Not that that's much of an excuse. We'll go to that little seaside café, have dinner, spend the weekend in the Balamb Hotel…" He murmured, caressing her cheek with the back of his fingers while wiping away a stray tear with his thumb, eyes fixed on hers, begging her to understand, before they dropped to her lips. "In the meantime," he whispered. "It's no great secret that I'm dating you. So who gives a fuck if they catch us kissing?" He bent his head toward hers, his intent plain, before pausing with his lips a breath away from hers.

"Let's give the security team something to talk about," he breathed, then settled his lips against hers. He started out lightly, adding more pressure gradually as her mouth softened and opened up, allowing his tongue to enter. His hand drifted back from her cheek, his fingers tangling through her hair as the other hand, splayed at the small of her back, pressed her into his body. Rinoa tightened her arms around him and held on tight, closing her eyes and giving everything she had and everything she was to him. She poured it all into the kiss and Squall moaned deep in his throat in response, all but crushing her in his arms, leaving her no doubts of how badly he wanted her.

It seemed like forever before they came up for air, bodies humming, and hearts pounding heavily in synchronicity.

Squall rested his forehead against hers for a moment, eyes closed, murmuring, "Gods, I love you. More than I thought possible. More than I thought I was capable of. You are my Angel, my heart. I couldn't stop loving you any more than I could stop my heart from beating, my lungs from drawing air. Please, remember that. Because I will be an ass from time to time. I'll try not to be but I won't make any promises that I can't keep…"

"If we can remember to be kind to each other, I think we'll be fine." Rinoa replied gently, stroking her fingers through his hair.

Squall raised his head and gazed down at her, a slow, sweet smile stealing across his lips. Rinoa's heart skipped when she saw it, knowing that smile was for her and her alone.

"Yeah. I think we will." He said. Then his smile changed to a smirk as he looked around, spotting the security cameras, adding, "I'll bet the entire security team is out having a smoke now. That kiss was hot enough that I need a cigarette! I don't even smoke!"

Rinoa laughed at this, then said in mock severity, "You'd better not start!"

Squall shook his head, "Never. I like being able to run all day. Besides, I'm doing the A-level Combine in a few weeks. Last thing I need is to cut my wind by taking up smoking."

"The A-level Combine?" Rinoa asked.

"I'll explain it to you later." Glancing down at his watch, he grimaced, "I'm actually kind of surprised they haven't sent the cavalry after me. I need to get back. And so do you."

Rinoa sighed when he showed her the time, "Yeah, you're right. Well, I hope you have a good day." She turned to leave, but Squall took her hand and pulled her back for another brief but searing kiss.

"I will now. Thank you, Rin." He smiled at her again, and she smiled back.

"You're welcome," she replied, then she turned and left. Squall watched her walk toward the door, deciding then that he rather liked the way she wore her cadet's uniform. Particularly the short skirt. Then he too left the balcony and headed back to his office.

The crackling of the papers in his breast pocket reminded him of why he'd come out there. Shaking his head to himself, he mentally pushed that reminder away, choosing instead to think about Rinoa and their upcoming date that weekend. There would be time enough later to worry and brood about what it all meant for him and Laguna going forward.

For right now however, he had work to do, and SeeDs to command.

"What do you think Watts? Nice crop of birds, huh?" the young man formerly known by the code name "Shrike", now reverting back to his given name of Dillon, asked. He pulled his broad-brimmed hat lower over his eyes, leaning casually against the fence encircling the chicabo enclosure. Playing up the "hick" image, he had a stalk of straw in his mouth, low-slung, faded jeans, battered boots and a leather vest. His long black hair was pulled back into a ponytail.

Watts nodded, "yeah. You think you'll have any worth racing?"

"A few," Cyllan, aka "Kestrel" answered. "Skarn did a pretty good job this breeding season. Got a lot of good looking chicabos from him."

Virtually identical to his brother, Cyllan wore his hair in a long braid down his back, and a black tee shirt with his jeans. He also had on sunglasses, obscuring his deep blue eyes. It had always been difficult to differentiate the brothers until one got to know their personalities. Cyllan tended to be the more serious of the two, and if Watts cared to guess, was probably the first born. Neither brother actually knew which had come first however; both parents were dead and their birth certificates had been lost.

"'cept that one," Dillon said, pointing out an odd-looking little chicabo. It was taller than the other chicabos, and had an odd brownish-yellow plumage that appeared moth-eaten. Its head was nearly bald and the base of its neck was ringed about with white feathers, while its eyes and beak were blood red.

"Yikes!" Watts said. "What happened? Did a buzzard jump one of your hens?"

"Nope. That's one of Skarn's, with one of our best hens." Cyllan answered. "He's got a little bit of an ugly duckling thing going on right now but he'll grow out of it."

Dillon squinted and tilted his head sideways for a moment before saying, "You know, he kinda reminds me of someone…"

"Who?" Watts asked, squinting at the little bird as well and seeing nothing more than a weedy looking half-plucked chicabo.

"You remember that SeeD? Squid? Or Squeak…" Dillon paused and scratched his head, appearing to think really hard. "Squawk?" he smirked as Watts snorted and shook his head.

"Squall? You think that gawky little bird reminds you of him? How?" he asked, curious.

"Yeah. See? He's got those fluffy feathers round his neck like Squawk did. In fact, that's what I'm gonna name him. Squawk Leonhart." Dillon declared, much to his brother's consternation.

"Dill, that may not be a good idea…" Cyllan said in a warning tone.

Watts began laughing, "I can just imagine the look on Squall's face, if he ever finds out you named a chocobo after him. You'd better hope this little guy wins the gold cup in a few years, or you may want to consider going into hiding!"

"I swear Dill, I may have gotten shot in the head, but apparently it was your brains that got scrambled. You really like to play with fire, don't you?" Cyllan said, shaking his head in exasperation.

"What's he going to do, hunt me down? I say bring it! I'll have an arrow through his breastbone before he even knows what hit him!" Dillon said, drawing himself up, eyes flashing challenge.

Cyllan shook his head, muttering, "idiot." Watts started laughing.

"You do realize that you're talking about the same guy that pretty much tore up the entire Galbadian army by himself." He said.

"He did?" Dillon asked, eyes wide. "Why don't I remember that?"

"Because you were about a heartbeat away from dead." Cyllan answered quietly. "Rinoa saved your sorry ass." He cleared his throat and suddenly glanced away, eyes bright. Watts glanced from him to Dillon, wanting to say something, but remaining silent. He hadn't known that Dill had been injured.

"She did? Did she kiss me?" Dillon asked, then frowned, "She kissed me, didn't she? And I missed it. Damn!"

Cyllan shook his head, "she didn't kiss you, man." Watts snorted.

Changing the subject, Cyllan asked Watts, "So, what are you up to now? I know you and Zone have been kept hopping since the treaty was signed. I was kind of surprised that he didn't run for president."

Watts shook his head, "he wasn't ready, and neither was Timber. I mean, no matter what he did or didn't do in the war, Dave already knew nobody would take him seriously. He's only just turned nineteen, you know."

"Yeah. Well, what are you guys doing now?" Dillon asked curiously.

"I guess Dave decided to take a page from Squall's book and ended up in an advisory position as Secretary of State." Watts answered.

"What about you?'Cyllan asked.

Watts shrugged, "I dunno. I kinda liked doing what I was doing with the Owls. So, I guess I'll keep doing that."

"What, you mean the information gathering?" Cyllan asked.

"Yeah. The way I figure it, Squall's always going to need intel, and sometimes information is far more valuable than money. Besides, I think I'm pretty good at it." Watts said with a shrug, adding, "I like the traveling too."

"Who's gonna look after your Gram when you're gone Hyne knows where?" Dillon asked him with a concerned frown. He liked the old lady, and had no problems with dropping in on her when he happened to be in Timber. It wasn't as often as he'd have liked; the family ranch was remote and even when Skarn put on his best pace, it was a long ride to Timber.

"Dave said he'd keep an eye on her. And Gram tells me you've been stopping by occasionally too." Watts answered, adjusting the blue bandanna he was wearing on his head.

"Are you gonna be sticking around for a while or are you taking off?" Cyllan asked.

"I'm gonna see what's going on in Deling City. I'm sure there's plenty of stuff goin' on there still that some folks may be interested in." Watts answered.

"I hear it's still pretty dangerous there." Dillon said.

"All the more reason I should be there to keep tabs on it. Any shit looks to be headed our way; Dave'll be the first to know." Watts said.

"Well, watch your back then. That's not a place I'd want to go into alone," Cyllan said seriously.

"Well, having an 'in' with the SeeD Commander has its benefits; he's hooking me up with some operatives in deep cover there. What I don't know about stealth, these guys can teach me." Watts replied.

The twins exchanged a glance, and Cyllan said, "Well, good luck then I guess."

"Thanks, I could use it," Watts said, hitching his backpack higher onto his shoulders. "I'll keep in touch with you guys though. Next time I'm in town I'll buy you both a beer."

Dillon smirked at this and quipped, "I hope you mean a beer each."

Watts snorted and retorted, "No. I'm going to make you both share one. I'll get each of you a crazy straw to sip it with."

Dillon guffawed at this, while Cyllan simply shook his head.

"Are you heading out there now?" he asked Watts.

Watts nodded, "yeah. They've got the trains running again, so I'm going back to town and catch the train to Deling City when I get there."

Putting his hand out, Cyllan said, "Well, have a safe trip then." Watts took his hand and shook it then turned to Dillon, who shook his hand as well, saying, "safe travels bro. Take it easy."

"Will do," He replied, turning away and starting his walk back to Timber. He still had to say good-bye to Gram, and Dave as well.

It felt strange to be using Dave's real name again. He and Dave had been "Watts" and "Zone" for more than half their lives it seemed; first in play as children, as they pretended to be resistance fighters who would be heroes for chasing the evil Galbadians out of Timber. Then later in deadly earnest, as they struggled merely to survive while keeping the hope of freedom alive. Now they were the heroes that they'd they'd thought they would be, and this left Watts wondering what to do next.

He knew Dave wanted to reopen his father's wood shop, wanted to try and carry on his legacy, and Watts couldn't fault him for it. And of course, he'd want his brother in all but blood, Ben, to join him in that endeavor. But Watts wasn't ready for it. Maybe he'd never be ready to give up his identity of "Watts" in favor of "Ben". He didn't even know any more, which of those two personae was really him.

So, he was taking a trip into a place that still held dangers, and still had the potential for interesting developments for him to observe and report on.

There would always be a need for a good spy….

Squall unlocked his office and opened the door, returning to work after managing to grab a quick lunch with Rinoa. It was days still until Friday, but those brief meetings for lunch were both the highlight of his day and sheer torture. It was hard to leave her every day to go back to work, but leave he did, and to her credit, Rinoa too applied herself well to her studies despite the distraction that her relationship with Squall provided.

She had confided an interest in working with Dr. Kadowaki at some point, wanting to hone her skills at healing both in magical and in conventional methods. Squall couldn't think of anything better for Rinoa to do. Not only because that was what she wanted to do, but because she could become an even more valuable asset to Garden and SeeD than she already was. It wouldn't hurt the public perception of her as a sorceress either, should it get out that she was in Garden to learn how to use her magic to help and heal, rather than destroy.

The blinking message light on his phone caught his attention as he walked in, and he shut the door behind him. Approaching his desk and pressing the button to play the message, he frowned as he recognized the voice of the caller.

"Hi, I mean, Commander Leonhart. This is Laguna. Um… President Loire. I'm guessing that you got the test results by now. And….well, look. I know this maybe isn't welcome news for you, but I have to be honest, it IS for me. Of course, I knew the moment I laid eyes on you, that you were Raine's son, and by extension, mine as well. There wasn't anyone else for her, after we'd gotten married. Not even after I left her alone for all those months, looking for Ellone. And yes, Squall, we WERE married. Don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise. Anyway, I just wanted to give you a quick call, or maybe not so quick…I can picture you rolling your eyes about now, wishing I'd stop rambling. (pause) I know I wasn't there for you when you were a child and I'm sorry about that. And if you want, we can keep this just between us, nobody else has to know. I promise I won't go shouting it from the rooftops, even though that's exactly what I want to do right now. But I'm putting the ball in your court, son.( long pause) You can have whatever kind of relationship with me that you want. I would like it if we could at least be friends, but I'll be okay with whatever you're comfortable with. No pressure. ( pause) I'd better get going now…but, you can call me any time, if you want to talk. (pause) Take care son."

The message ended and Squall continued to stand there, staring pensively at the phone. There were no other messages besides that one. Face expressionless, he pressed the delete button on the phone, discarding the message.

Then he finally sat down behind his desk and logged back into the computer, returning to work.


Author's Note: At last, it is FINISHED! I often never really know how close I am to done on any given story until I suddenly reach a point where the story just naturally ends. I wasn't sure if I was going to add an epilogue or not, then while writing this chapter, realized that I didn't really need one. everything ties up rather neatly right here, and if you pay close attention, you'll find little bits here and there that hint at later fics. Now then, time to finish my OTHER fics...and work at getting my pesky Plot Bunnies under control...

By the way, thanks to everyone who've read, reviewed and enjoyed this story. I hope this work, now that I can actually call it COMPLETED, lives up to everyone's expectations.