Title: Noblesse Oblige
Fandom: Final Fantasy VIII
Beta: Shara Lunison & Shivani
Chapters: 19 of 19 COMPLETE!
Pairings: Seifer/Squall, Irvine/Selphie, Zell/Xu, Quistis/OMC, Fujin/Raijin
Warnings: AU, major canon-buggery, OoC Squall, slash/yaoi
Summary: No one thought to warn Squall against touching his younger self, and he leaves a part of himself behind when he returns to Time Compression.
A/N: Bit of a perspective change. And some minor time-jumps. Wanted to take care of an idea Shara had, and I was sick of arguing with Laguna. (I love him, really I do. But, seriously... *eye roll*)
Anyway, this fic needed to end eventually. XP
Some Things Are That Simple
"I want to do something nice for Seifer and Squall," Selphie commented as she leaned over the edge of the bridge, watching the trains passing beneath them.
"What sort of something?" Irvine wondered, sharp eyes watching the passersby. Timber was calmer now than it had been when they'd first arrived, but there were still pockets of resistance that didn't appreciate SeeD's quiet occupation of their city.
Selphie sighed and leaned a bit more weight on the railing, her behind raising just the slightest and teasing anyone watching with the shortness of her jumper-dress. "I don't know. Not sure what they'd like."
Irvine grunted, acknowledging the difficulty of finding anything for the two high-ranked SeeDs. "Something they can't buy for themselves," he suggested, shooting a warning glare at a man who slowed a little too much, eyes on Selphie. "Darlin', maybe a little farther down in the back?"
"Hm?" Selphie glanced over her shoulder and flashed a smile full of silent threat at the gawker, who high-tailed it out of there. "Well, yeah, but what can I get for them that doesn't cost money and that they won't smile politely at and shove in a corner in Seifer's room?"
"Their own room," Irvine replied, half joking.
Selphie blinked, frowning just the slightest bit as the idea turned over in her head. "Their own...room..."
Irvine turned to look at her. "Selph?"
Selphie scratched at her head and stared down at a passing train, watching it without actually seeing it. "NORG is dead, right?"
Irvine shrugged. "That's what Quis said," he agreed.
"So his floor – the B-level or whatever it's called – isn't in use right now, right?"
"Mmmm... Pretty much, yeah."
Selphie's lips curled with a smile full of mischief. "And they don't have an office right now."
Irvine's own eyes lit as he cottoned on. "I guess they don't. Seems like poor planning, if you ask me."
Selphie pushed away from the railing. "Let's go back to the hotel; I've got a cable to send."
"You, my love, are beautifully devious," Irvine declared as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, walking in step towards the hotel.
"Hm. I suppose I must be," Selphie agreed, flashing him a smile.
"Are you sure this is necessary?" Cid asked as he walked in step behind Selphie towards the lift. "I can give them an office up on the third floor..."
Selphie sighed and hit the call button before leaning against the edge of the doorway, expression very much like Seifer's patented 'You're an idiot' look. "It's not like the area's being used for anything right now," she pointed out to him, as she had three times over the past two weeks, twice over the phone, once through the messaging system. "They'll appreciate having an office space all their own that they can spread out in, or leave the paperwork for an hour to spar in. And the security will be to their liking."
"The third floor is secure!"
Selphie closed her eyes and resisted the urge to steal Squall's motion of rubbing along the bridge of her nose. She wished she hadn't left Irvine in Timber, wished her boyfriend was at her side, tall and imposing. But one of them had needed to stay, so Squall and Seifer didn't get suspicious, and it was Selphie's project. Which Cid was still being a stick in the mud about. Honestly.
The lift dinged and they both stepped on. Selphie input her code to access the basement and the doors slid shut before heading down. "The third floor is secure," she agreed, "but not as secure as it could be. They don't have control over who can and can't visit them, and it's always so busy up there, with the techs running around about every little thing and all the paper-pushing."
"I don't see why that would be a problem..." Cid muttered, only sounding a little pathetic.
Selphie rolled her eyes. "Anyway, if they're pretty much living down here, you'd always know where they were, right? You wouldn't have to send runners to their office and their dorms and the Training Centre and the cafeteria and–"
"That's what the intercom is for."
Selphie shot him a smile, knowing they both well remembered how the intercom wires had been cut during Garden's upheaval a little over a month ago. And it wasn't the first time a careless cadet had nicked a wire during training, since they were exposed in most of the hallways. There was only so fast the technicians could find the cut wires and replace them, and Squall was the only person in Garden who was able to bypass the cut wires in such a way. (Not for lack of trying; Squall had actually tried to teach the techs his tricks, but most of them were lost after the first sentence, and the others had always failed during test-runs. If the process didn't make Selphie's own head spin, she would have happily mocked the computer geeks; as it was, she empathised with their sense of pathetic-ness in the shadow of Squall's genius.)
Cid sighed and pulled out the sketches Selphie had drawn up after using her Squall-taught skills to hack into the Garden database and find the original blueprints for the basement floor. There was a clear space around the lift exit, with a meeting room directly across from the steps and the office off to one side. About a third of the floor was taken up by a training room, while the rest of the space had a large room for both Seifer and Squall and a couple small guest rooms, one of which had Ellone's name pencilled in over the bed. Cid, honestly, couldn't disagree with finding more secure quarters for Ellone, but he almost felt that this was going a bit too far.
"One room?" he tried. Really, that was bothering him the most, especially since he already had a nagging suspicion about how close the two were. Had been off-and-on suspicious since Squall 'talked' him into making them partners.
Selphie pressed her lips together, unwilling to be the one to reveal Squall and Seifer's relationship, but aware that her blueprint was all the evidence one would need to catch on. If only she hadn't needed Cid's permission to renovate the basement.
The doors to the lift opened and they stepped out into the empty floor. They both took a moment to look around, taking in the echoing silence and the stillness of a room once filled with NORG's life-support machines.
"Uncle Cid," Selphie whispered into the silence, "they've already done so much for us – for SeeD and all of the world; isn't it only fair that we give them something back? They've never had a real house, a safe-space they could call their own. I mean, they've got the Gustafsons' manor now, but it's not the same. This... Garden is their home. Don't they deserve their own space in their home? One where they can allow or deny visitors at their will? One that they can redecorate as they please, without worrying that regulation will come down on their heads? Especially now that they're going to be stuck here all the time, for good or ill."
Cid sighed and looked back down at the sketch in his hands, eyes skirting over the single bedroom. "Yes, fine," he agreed tiredly, unwilling to refuse that heartfelt plea. Maybe this was something those boys deserved, something that could make up for sacrificing their innocence for the future and turning a blind eye on Squall's own quiet pain from living with memories of war and death. He handed Selphie her sketches and turned back to the lift. "Make whatever changes you want."
Somehow, Selphie didn't feel as giddy about getting his permission as she'd thought she would.
After a couple more months fighting with the southern resistance, they finally managed to draw up something of a peace contract between the lead villages and Galbadia's new president. Between SeeD's insistence of overarching neutrality and Esthar's president running things, the leaders met in Winhill and the treaty was signed.
Most of the SeeD forces had already been dispatched to help with the bandits in Trabia or were sent as a protective guard for the Galbadian President, so their forces were few when everything was finally sorted. Most of the Estharians had also returned home, leaving behind one boat, which Laguna graciously offered to transport his son's last team on.
"I don't suppose I'll ever get to see Elle?" Laguna asked somewhat jokingly as Balamb Island came into view. He knew Squall and Seifer knew where she was, but he also knew that they were determined to protect her to the best of their ability; since Laguna also wanted her safe, he didn't blame them for keeping her away from the fighting and, incidentally, Laguna himself.
"I suppose that depends on whether or not you're closing your borders again," Seifer replied from next to Squall. The brunet was staring towards the approaching island with a blank expression, while Seifer was smiling just the faintest bit towards his long-time home, but Laguna thought that both of them were glad to be returning. Quistis, Zell, October, and Xu would have been watching their home come into view as well, but the two Commanders had sent them to sleep a couple hours ago when they first woke from their own nap.
Laguna flashed the blond a smile even as he retorted, "So the likelihood of my being able to see my own daughter is wholly dependent on my country's willingness to rejoin the rest of the world?"
"Well, when you put it that way, I sound like an ass."
"You are an ass," Squall muttered.
Two and a half months in Winhill had taught Laguna that Seifer saw that particular insult as a compliment, and the grin on his face at Squall's comment was further evidence of that. Laguna rolled his eyes at both of them and said, "I can promise to push for it, but the decision still lies with the Council and the popular vote."
"Well, I guess that mean–"
"Seifer," Squall interrupted, a hint of laughter in his voice.
Seifer flashed his lover a shit-eating grin, then looked back at Laguna. "You'll see her when we reach Balamb," he offered.
Laguna couldn't have stopped the smile that took over his face even if he'd wanted to. "Really?" he asked, a little breathless. Meeting his son had been important, but seeing Ellone again would make his world.
"Really," Seifer agreed. "Captain Pretty Pants dropped her off a couple of days ago, when the treaty was signed."
" 'Pretty Pants'?" Squall enquired, eyebrow raised. Honestly, he wasn't sure he wanted to know why Seifer was calling Beau that particular name. "One of these days, he's going to chance insubordination just to get you back for years of abuse."
Seifer shrugged. "Probably. It's fun to watch him fume, though."
Squall rolled his eyes and leaned forward against the railing to see around Seifer at where his father was bouncing a bit and looking towards Balamb with far more glee. "Laguna," he called.
Laguna winced at the serious note in Squall's voice and looked over, drooping. "Okay, what's the bad news?"
Seifer snorted, only to get smacked by Squall. "The bad news is: As long as you retain your public office in Esthar, visitation with Ellone will be at a minimum. You can come see her, but we can't let her come see you. Not unless the Estharians are willing to let armed SeeDs into the city to accompany her at all times. And, even then, with our inability to keep communication..."
"I know," Laguna replied tiredly. He did know; didn't look forward to returning to his current home and losing all contact with his family outside the OCS.
"You know, if only there wasn't that radio interference problem," Seifer said in a voice that was way too knowing for Laguna's comfort. It wasn't the first time one of the two had hinted at their knowledge that the interference was Esthar's fault, but Laguna wasn't brave enough to ask what all they knew, or what they thought they knew. He was even less interested in asking how they found out, somehow certain he'd never get a straight answer, and unwilling to test uncertain bonds of kinship by pushing for secrets Squall and Seifer wouldn't – or couldn't – share.
"It's an unfortunate problem," he replied, the same thing he said any time either young man brought the interference up. 'And I complain about them keeping secrets.'
The heavy tread of Garden-issue boots sounded on the steel stairs and they all glanced back to see a yawning October walking up to join them. The moment he caught sight of – and recognised – Balamb, he shot Seifer an irritated look. "You couldn't have woken us?"
"I know how you like your beauty sleep," Seifer retorted in a voice that had the ability to make anyone he used it on simultaneously want to throttle him and run away in terror. The only person immune to the qualities of that tone, Laguna had discovered, was Squall.
October tensed, fighting his 'fight or flight' response. "Squall," he ground out.
Squall sighed and knocked his foot against Seifer's calf none-too-lightly, making the larger teen wince. "We're still a little over an hour out and it was decided we'd wait to wake you until we were much closer; this was decided more for our sanity than because we thought you required the rest, however."
"Sanity?" October asked, relaxing under the calm of Squall's factual response and Seifer's faint grimace of pain. "Oh, right. Zell." The brawler was a bundle of restless energy, desperate to get home and see Ma Dincht after his long, dangerous journey through time and across Horizon Bridge. Xu had been forced to trick him into un-junctioning his protections so they could hit him with a sleep spell and get a break. And they'd only gone that route after Seifer suggested he knock Zell unconscious with Hyperion to get him to stop moving.
"Is Quistis up?" Laguna wondered, knowing October had retired with her.
October took up a position along the rail. "Huh? Oh, no. I managed to slip out of bed without waking her."
Laguna was suitably impressed.
Seifer sidled closer to October and pasted on a sharp smile. "So..."
October took a step away, wishing he'd stayed in bed. "So?" he parroted.
Seifer took another step closer, closing the gap October had created. "Selph and Irvy are up to something. And I'm betting you're in on it."
October swallowed and looked hopefully towards Squall for an intervention. Squall just flashed him a smile as sharp as Seifer's and looked back towards Balamb. "Uhm... I'm under threat of castration?" he tried. It wasn't really true, but he knew that him giving away Selphie's surprise wouldn't end well for him. He actually sort of wished he hadn't been let in on the secret.
"Ooh, castration." Seifer gave a dramatic little shudder, then hit the older man with a knowing look. "That's not their style. Xu maybe, but not Selph. She's more likely to giggle you to death."
"And that doesn't scare you?" October asked.
Seifer considered that for a moment, then gave a very real shudder and moved back towards Squall. "You do it."
Squall snorted. "I'm capable of waiting an hour."
"Oh, come on, Squally! What if it's something dangerous."
"Like a weekly Garden Festival?" Squall suggested.
Seifer shoved a finger in Squall's face. "You are evil and have zero compassion for my plight."
October burst out laughing while Squall rolled his eyes and pushed away from the railing. "I'm going back below."
"For the love of Hyne, don't wake Zell," Seifer called after him. When Squall's response was an absent wave over his shoulder, Seifer moaned and covered his face with his hands. "Doomed."
"You two are a Garden Festival act all on your own," October informed him, trading grins with Laguna, who had watched everything with a fond smile.
Seifer shot him a dirty look. "Mention that around Selph and I'll take a page out of Squally's book and gut you," he threatened with just enough darkness in his eyes to make October think he'd actually do it.
October held up both hands in defence. "My lips are sealed."
Seifer grunted at that and looked over the railing toward the churning water beneath them. October was just starting to relax against the railing when the younger man asked, "It's not a weekly Garden Festival, is it?"
October bit his tongue to keep from laughing at the worry in Seifer's voice. "No, nothing like that."
There was a crash from down below, then Zell's voice calling, "Are we there yet?"
October and Laguna let out similar moans. Seifer shoved away from the railing, snarling, "I'll kill him."
"Which one?" October couldn't help but ask as the Commander started towards the stairs.
"Both of them."
The state of the group when they disembarked was telling: Zell had developed an impressive split lip that no one had bothered to heal and was half hiding behind Squall, who looked smug – or, as smug as Squall ever got. Seifer was glaring at both Squall and Zell while the others all hid smiles behind their hands, but generally stood closer to Squall than Seifer.
Ellone quickly defused the situation by stepping forward and shouting, "Welcome home!"
Seifer's expression softened and the group of SeeDs all turned smiles on their elder sister, though Zell's smile looked a little pained. Laguna, though, hurried forward, grinning, and grabbed Ellone in a hug, shouting, "Elle!"
Everyone had already been warned that Laguna was coming – and provided with a description – so no weapons were drawn with the intent of protecting the young woman. Ellone had been expecting the greeting and she gladly returned the hug, whispering, "Uncle Laguna..."
Greetings were exchanged among the various SeeDs and Zell peeled off to hug his mother, who immediately worried over his split lip. Zell didn't have the heart to tell her that Seifer had done it to make him shut up and stop grinning, even if it would have been funny to see her tell off the blond Commander – who had over thirty centimetres on Ma Dincht – it wouldn't have been fun to suffer through Seifer's revenge, especially since he now controlled Zell's pay and missions.
Ellone eventually got Laguna to let her go and she bestowed hugs and kisses on the cheek upon each of her siblings – October and Xu included – which restored Seifer's good humour enough that he draped himself around Selphie's shoulders and gave her a sharp smile. "So," he said as she swallowed a little nervously, "what's this big secret you've been hiding from us?"
Irvine stepped up to Selphie's other shoulder, fingering the rifle slung casually over his shoulder. "Why don't we head back to Garden and you can see with your own eyes?" he suggested, a subtle threat in his voice.
Seifer narrowed his eyes and tightened his grip on Selphie's shoulder. "Problem, Cowboy?"
Squall sighed and grabbed Seifer's ear. "Stop threatening Selph and Irvy," he ordered.
Seifer removed his arm from Selphie, scowling a bit. "Aw, come on, Squally! It's just a bit of fun."
Squall raised an eyebrow in disbelief.
"Whipped," Irvine coughed as Selphie returned to his side, rubbing her shoulder.
Squall shot the sharpshooter a look. "Continue to taunt him and I'll let him at you, Irvine," he promised.
Irvine held up his hands. "Peace."
"Hm." Squall turned towards Laguna and Kiros, who were standing just beside Ellone. "Laguna, unless you need to get back to Esthar, you're welcome to join us in Garden for the evening. Your men, as well." His gaze flickered over Laguna's shoulder to where their ship pilots and the couple of soldiers who'd come with stood in the entrance of the ship.
Laguna's expression lightened. "It won't be a problem? Really?"
Seifer snorted. "Oh, come on, Laguna. Like we're really going to kick you back out to sea without inviting you to see Garden when you're already here."
Laguna flashed him a grateful smile, then turned to call out to his men that they would be spending the night at Garden. Seifer and Squall, likewise, turned their attention to the SeeDs around them and collected them to prepare for heading back to Garden, sending Fujin and Raijin to get a couple more vehicles from the small garage off to the side of the docks.
At last, they were on their way. Squall had managed, without Seifer's notice, to set it up so Laguna, Kiros, and Ellone rode with them, which kept Seifer from the chance to pressure any of the other SeeDs about the big secret. Seifer had only pouted a little bit, which had Ellone laughing at him. When he thought to ask her if she'd tell him, she shook her head, and Seifer wasn't cruel enough to pressure her like he did with the rest of their friends.
When they reached Garden and unloaded, Seifer asked, "So, can we drop our things in our room before we're dragged off to see the surprise, or are we lugging our stuff with us?"
"Suddenly not as interested in going to see it?" Irvine teased.
"You have to bring your stuff with," Selphie replied, unapologetic.
Seifer made a face and looked for a moment like he might whine – just because he could – but Squall touched his shoulder and shook his head. "Come on."
Selphie narrowed her eyes at the brunet Commander, suspicious, but retained the bounce in her step as she led the way to the lift.
Those they passed on their way through Garden stopped and saluted the Commanders or called out greetings, all smiling. Laguna was struck, again, with how popular his son and his lover were among their people. Some of the faculty members had seemed displeased when they performed the salute – if they performed it – but the normal teachers, cadets, and SeeDs alike showed the same fondness for the two Commanders that Laguna had observed from the villagers and SeeDs in Winhill. For all the regrets Laguna still had for never returning to Winhill, he was glad that Squall and Seifer at least had such a large support base, even if they only utilised a small portion of it on a daily basis.
They had to scrunch a bit to get everyone into the lift – Raijin, Fujin, Zell, and Xu had thankfully volunteered themselves to accompany the Estharian soldiers to the guest wing – but they managed with only a few bruises.
"We're going down?" Seifer asked as Selphie typed in her code to get down to the basement level. "Don't tell me the surprise is NORG, reborn."
"No, it's not," Selphie promised, shuddering a bit at the thought of the ex-Garden Master returning to make their lives hell. "You think any of us would be standing here in one piece if he was back?"
"Hm. Good point."
Selphie flashed another suspicious look at Squall, who caught it and offered her a hint of a smile. 'He already knows. Meanie.'
When the lift doors opened to show the changed basement, Seifer let out a surprised sound while October and Quistis both whistled at the change. Laguna and Kiros both looked suitably impressed – they didn't know exactly how things had changed, but they knew something had. Squall just looked around with a faint smile, as if he already knew exactly what everything looked like. Selphie only hated him a little bit.
"What is all this?" Seifer wondered, dropping his bag at the bottom of the stairs and walking forward to poke his head into the meeting room.
"It's for you and Squall," Selphie announced, proud in spite of her irritation at Squall. "It's an office and meeting room and training room and bedroom all at once!"
"I've got a room down here too!" Ellone added cheerfully as she took Squall's arm. "Isn't it amazing, Squall?"
"It's impressive," Squall agreed, nodding towards Selphie.
"It's awesome!" Seifer declared, moving on to check out the training room and completely bypassing the office.
Selphie sighed and shot Squall a helpless look. "When did you find out?"
"Last week," Squall admitted with a shrug.
October, Quistis, and Irvine all let out helpless sounds, none of them surprised, while Ellone laughed.
Seifer, though, turned around and gave his lover a disgusted look. "And you never told me?"
Squall shrugged again. "Watching you threaten people was amusing. And you were more than capable of hacking into the Garden security camera system to see what they were up to, yourself."
"Whaaat!" Selphie stomped her foot. "But I cut the power to all the ones down here!"
Squall flashed her that look that said she was about to find out exactly how much of an idiot she was. "You forgot to cut the power to the main entrance and the lift cameras when you were having the materials and furniture delivered. Also, they run the Garden-wide debug system on the first Monday of every month, which cut the power back on to the cameras down here."
"Damnit," Selphie muttered.
"How would you have even known which cameras to check?" Quistis wondered as Seifer rejoined them, pouting. Ellone left Squall to his quiet superiority to sympathise with Seifer. "Or during what time period, even? It's been over a month since the last of the materials were ordered."
"Selph used Garden funds," Squall replied. "I happened to notice some suspicious withdrawals from the account while I was putting in the pay information last month, but I didn't have the time to check more closely until things calmed down last week, when I was doing the pay information again. So I hacked into the security cameras at the entrance during the dates around the withdrawals and followed the items to the lift. Given, cutting the power to the basement level cameras was clever, and it would have worked if you had remembered the debug or simply cut the power feed from the system entirely."
Selphie brightened. "You can do that? Keep the debug from turning cameras back on?"
Squall narrowed his eyes, suspicious. "Yes. I'm not sure I should teach you how, though..."
"You owe me for ruining my surprise," Selphie replied.
Squall raised an eyebrow at her. "I do?"
Selphie paused at that, debating whether Squall meant that to sound threatening or not, then pressed on. "Yeah, you do. Meanie."
Squall's lips twitched with a suppressed smile. "I'll raise your SeeD Rank."
Selphie sighed. "Oh, fine. Meanie."
"Isn't that an abuse of your position?" October wondered a bit jokingly.
"I'm pretty sure teaching Selph how to take cameras off the system would be worse than raising her rank one," Quistis replied, smiling. They all chuckled at that a bit.
Irvine ruffled Selphie's hair. "Well, they seem to like it, so why don't we leave them to explore, hm?"
"We'll show Laguna and Kiros to the guest wing," Quistis promised as she gathered her bag from where she'd left it against the lift.
Ellone hopped up the stairs to join Laguna as they started into the lift. "I'll go with. Lunch in the cafeteria in two hours?"
"We might be there," Seifer promised as he came to a stop behind Squall, resting a possessive hand on the brunet's waist.
Squall rolled his eyes. "We'll see you in two hours," he promised amid the giggles Seifer's comment had elicited.
Once the lift doors closed, Seifer wrapped his arms around Squall and said, "I'm still irritated with you."
"I guess that means it's the couch for me," Squall replied evenly.
Seifer snorted. "No, it means you're my slave for the next two hours."
Squall laughed, a free, quiet sound that always made Seifer smile during the rare times he heard it. "Let's go unpack," he suggested.
Seifer sighed into Squall's ear, making the slighter teen shudder, then pulled away to grab his bag. "And then I get to make you my slave."
Squall rolled his eyes. "Yes, then I'll be your slave."
Seifer flashed him a superior grin.
Squall rolled his eyes again. "Before you conquer me, Master Seifer, am I allowed to lock the lift access and disable the cameras?"
Seifer flashed him a heated look. "Are you sure we have to unpack first?"
Squall considered his bag for a moment, then dropped it on the floor and turned towards the office. "Let me get those cameras and the lift..."
Seifer dropped his own bag and followed Squall. "I am so doing you on your desk!"
In the security room, Squall and Seifer's group of friends – including a reluctant Laguna and Kiros – groaned as the power cut off to all the cameras in the basement, and nothing any of them did could get them back on-line.
"He has got to teach me that trick," Selphie muttered, only pouting a little.
A/N: The office/room down in the basement was Shara's idea. It's kinda inspired, and without NORG, there really isn't another use for that level.
And because someone is going to ask: In my mind, Squall never, actually, tells the rest of his friends or Laguna about his memories. Though, I suppose you can decide he does so in your own mind, if that's what you'd prefer.
I had a terrible time with this chapter. I'm not sure if it's just 'cause I always have trouble ending fics, or because my lack of halo on the NaNo website really did affect my writing that much... Possibly a bit of both. Anyway, it sucked a bit, but I wrote some more on some other fics while I was avoiding this one, which is something. Right? Right.
I swear to Merlin, I am not writing anymore FFVIII. Not that I dislike this fandom, I'm just kinda sick of it right now. Wow. Three fics in as many months? Yeah, done.
I'm gonna go work on something else, now...