Disclaimer: I don't own Dissidia. Such a shame, huh?
A/N: Well, here it is finally. The sequel to Watch Duty! It turned out to be a lot longer than I expected, and this time around we get Squall's POV in this little adventure of sorts. I've never done Squall's POV before, so if it's a failure I sincerely apologize. Hope you all enjoy! (Also, I am working on this bad habit I seemed to have picked up with run on sentences, which I never used to have way back when I started writing. It's a work in progress, but I think this story is an improvement compared to some of my more recent one-shots.) Feedback would be much appreciated. After all, the more I get, the more it encourages me to keep on coming up with these kinda stories!
"I don't want anyone to look back and regret this day. So just this once, I want you guys to give everything you've got! For yourselves and for me!" -Squall Leonhart (Final Fantasy VIII)
For What it's Worth
The cool evening breeze was gentle and playful in nature, and lifting his often unreadable gaze to the crimson sky stretching out for miles over the land of discord, the battle-hardened and somewhat anti-social warrior known as Squall Leonhart let his steel blue eyes fall closed, the soft whisper of the wind caressing the sharp angles of his face while at the same time its subtle touch created a pattern of flickering shadows that flashed across his lean and muscular profile. He could feel the breeze weaving through his dark hair, and it ruffled the fur trim on his leather jacket, forcing him to hunch his shoulders a bit to keep the wind off his neck. At the moment, he sat with his legs stretched slightly apart, his elbows resting on his knees, and next to him on the grass, the sunlight glinting off the familiar weapon's polished surface, lay his gunblade, which had been placed strategically close at hand in case he needed to put it to good use.
Behind him, several of the other warriors of harmony were beginning to set up camp, and spotting a flash of bright light playing across his closed eyelids, Squall deduced that Terra had just performed a fire spell on the wood Bartz and the Onion Knight had gathered earlier, which would allow all of them to indulge in a hot meal that night.
In the background, Squall could hear Cecil and the Warrior of Light giving out last minute instructions, and surprisingly Firion's gentle words and pleasant tone of voice appeared to be keeping Zidane, Bartz, and Tidus in line, which was a remarkable feat considering who the weapons master was dealing with at the moment. Somehow, much to Squall's skeptical surprise, Firion was doing an excellent job of ensuring that the misbehaving trio of warriors who tended to attract trouble wherever they went were kept busy, thus all three of Firion's current charges were being relatively quiet. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they were at least maintaining a decent and somewhat bearable level of noise, and for that Squall was indebted to the silver-haired weapons master. He had been forced to put up with Zidane and Bartz's incessant chattering all day, and now that Tidus had joined their ranks, he was stuck with three of them instead of just two.
At the moment, all was peaceful, and not only were Zidane and the others staying out of trouble for once, there wasn't a single manikin in sight. Squall relished the silence, and taking a deep breath he allowed it to wash over him in a refreshing wave of peace and solitude. Perhaps he'd manage to get through this particular round of watch duty without wanting to knock one of his fellow warriors unconscious, (particularly Zidane) but he wasn't holding his breath. The night was still young, and somehow he didn't feel the chances of making it through the evening unscathed were very likely.
More like non-existent.
Then again, his partner for the evening was the fair-haired warrior known as Cloud Strife, and all things considered that was a good start. It at least gave Squall a fighting chance, since he had learned early on that Cloud valued peace and quiet every bit as much as he did.
And he can hold his own in a fight, too. No offence to Zidane or Bartz, but it's nice to have some actual competition for once.
When it came to the slaughter of mindless manikins, Squall and Cloud were still almost tied in the standings of the little competition they had going on with each other. So far the other warriors still hadn't yet discovered their friendly rivalry, and though earlier Squall had been in the lead, just the other day Cloud had managed to slip ahead of him by one. The manikins weren't the only source of their rivalry, though. Last night during a sparring match between them, Cecil had concluded it to be a draw, since neither one of them had been able to gain the upper hand in the battle. The result of their match had forced Zidane and Bartz to fork over a lot of gil to Firion, who in an attempt to cure Bartz and Zidane of their bad habit to place bets on nearly anything and everything, made a bet himself that the match would be a draw. Though Squall couldn't remember much about his home world, he was quite sure he'd never before come across a warrior who could be considered his equal. Not just in strength and fighting abilities, as many of the other warriors like Cecil or the Warrior of Light could give him a run for his gil, and even Zidane and Bartz probably could if they would take sparring matches a little more seriously, it was mostly because he was sure he had never before met someone who shared many of the same viewpoints as him. Cloud seemed to understand the fact that happiness could be fleeting if you didn't grab hold of it while you still had the chance, and though the blond warrior was often wary of allowing himself to indulge in the joy that often eluded him, that didn't mean he didn't appreciate it for what it was worth. For Squall, maybe there had been a warrior from his home world who could match him in strength, but Cloud was the first warrior he'd ever met who really seemed to understand him as a person. And not only that, the blond warrior also seemed to understand his uncommon way of thinking. In the end, even if Cloud didn't understand him completely, it was at least to some degree.
Though the two of them had not spent a lot of time traveling together, from the moment they had first met, Squall had felt as if there was some sort of subtle connection between them. A mutual understanding of sorts and a healthy dose of respect for one another, so to speak. That feeling had only become much more defined and reinforced since they had joined up to take on Chaos with the rest of their fellow warriors. The quiet atmosphere between them was always calm and comfortable, and Squall appreciated it for its simplicity. Often they did not need to speak to understand what the other was thinking, and thus no words were ever wasted between them.
Unlike with some people...
Though Cloud might not always give off an air of confidence in himself, his uncomplicated and unconcerned way of speaking showed he had potential. Squall often had the impression that Cloud brooded on the past quite a bit, even if it wasn't a past he could remember, and that spoke volumes about the kind of world he came from. The blond warrior didn't often burden others with his musings, instead preferring to keep them to himself.
Much like Squall himself, in fact.
But regardless of his silence, Cloud did not disregard words of wisdom either, and thus Squall knew there were slight cracks in his fellow soldier's seemingly uncaring demeanor. There were ways to sneak inside, as Squall had discovered was the same for him, thanks to Zidane and Bartz. It was just a matter of finding a way to slip through the cracks, and judging by the stories he'd heard from some of the others warriors, it looked as if Firion, Tidus, and Cecil had managed to find some of Cloud's weak points, even if the blond warrior would never admit it.
Just like Bartz and Zidane did for me...
Not that he would ever admit it either. And though he was reluctant to place his thoughts into words, after meeting up with all the other warriors again he often found himself wondering if perhaps the unexpected allies and newly formed friendships he'd made with strangers from other worlds had done both him and Cloud a lot of good.
Though he would shoot himself with his own gunblade before he would ever admit such a thing to the likes of Bartz or Zidane.
I'd never hear the end of it from those two...
Snorting softly at his own thoughts, Squall turned his head to gaze at the blond warrior sitting next to him, his hard and often critical gaze studying his fellow warrior's slim, yet finely muscled profile. Cloud Strife was a handsome man, but his appearance could be misleading. With fair skin, spiky blond hair, and baby blue eyes, Cloud didn't look very dangerous, especially since he wasn't overly tall or imposing, but despite his seemingly innocent appearance there was a hard edge to his demeanor that, unless you were a fool to miss it, gave you advanced warning that he wasn't what he appeared to be at first sight. Cloud had the grace and confidence of a trained fighter, and his ability to wield a sword almost as big as himself was a good indication he meant business.
Cloud wasn't a talker, but his observation skills rivaled Squall's, and though the blond warrior didn't say much, it was clear he never missed much either.
All of those things were good qualities as far as Squall was concerned, and having a companion like Cloud around helped to maintain a sense of balance within the ranks of the warriors fighting in the name of Cosmos, the goddess of harmony, who were mostly playful by nature and overly optimistic at times.
At least as far as Squall was concerned.
Amazing some of them haven't gotten themselves killed yet...
Squall was not easily impressed, but he had to admit Cloud had caught his eye. The blond warrior was good company, especially when it came to watch duty, and his most appealing trait was the fact that he did not need to chatter endlessly over things of little importance. It was nice to have a quiet companion who was willing to respect his partner's need for silence, and also his partner's right to some personal space instead of constantly having someone like Zidane yacking in your ear all day.
Though the fact that Squall didn't seem to mind Zidane yacking in his ear as much anymore was a slight cause for some concern.
Hmm...must be getting soft.
Cosmos would be happy. Or at least, she would have been if she were still around.
Squall hadn't actually had the opportunity to sit watch duty with Cloud for almost three days now, so this arrangement suited him nicely, especially since he'd been forced to endure Tidus earlier in the afternoon when they had stopped for a lunch break. The last time Cloud had been in his company was three nights ago, and before that it had been earlier on the same day during a break when the Warrior of Light had chastised them for riling up Zidane. The man had also somehow managed to find a way to blame them for Firion and the Onion Knight, as well. Somehow the entire fiasco, which was really all Tidus' and Zidane's fault, had backfired on him and Cloud, and needless to say Squall was not very happy about the whole affair. It had most definitely spoiled watch duty for both of them that night, since Zidane had kept sending glares in their direction, and Tidus had refused to leave them alone. Squall was sure he and Cloud would find a way to get Zidane back eventually, hopefully without having to endure that somewhat insufferable Warrior of Light. Normally Squall didn't have much of a problem with their leader, who as a general rule made excellent decisions and knew what he was doing, but there were some days when it was an effort not to make use of his gunblade to test the man's armour and that ridiculous helmet he wore.
But for now, Squall was determined to indulge in a blissful moment alone with his thoughts. Or at least that would have been the case if Cloud hadn't suddenly caught him staring with what was most likely an unreadable expression on his face. Not that it really mattered, since Cloud most likely knew exactly what he was thinking anyways.
"Nice, isn't it?"
Cloud didn't elaborate, but Squall knew what the golden-haired warrior was talking about. "Wonder how long it'll last this time."
Cloud leaned back on his hands, his Buster Sword lying within easy reach beside him in the grass and his blond spikes fluttering slightly in the cool breeze, and shrugging his shoulders, he said, "Not long enough probably. Better make the most of it while we can."
Squall let out a soft grunt in reply, knowing Cloud spoke the truth. "They never bother the others on watch duty."
Cloud raised an eyebrow at this, his blue eyes sparkling with the barest hint of amusement. "Didn't we go through this already?"
"...Doesn't mean I have to like it."
"Better get used to it," Cloud said mildly, punching him lightly in the shoulder before once again lifting his unreadable blue gaze to the crimson sky.
"...Zidane. Any ideas?"
"Still thinking about it."
Unfortunately the two of them were still working on formulating a plan to get Zidane back for bringing the Warrior of Light's wrath down upon them, but despite the slow progress they were making on coming up with a suitable type of punishment, one way or another Squall was determined to get revenge on the Genome by teaching him a lesson he would be unlikely to forget.
And speaking of Zidane...again...
Squall watched with narrowed eyes as the golden-haired thief slipped away from a distracted Cecil, who had been trying to coax Zidane into helping Terra and the Onion Knight set up for dinner only to be interrupted by an annoyed Tidus, who kept insisting someone had been messing around with his blitzball. Hurrying over to Bartz, the Genome whispered something in his friend's ear before pulling the mimic warrior to his feet.
Bartz looked like he wanted to protest, with the way he kept glancing uncertainly at Cecil and the Warrior of Light, but Zidane must have pulled out all the stops and done a good job of sweet talking his fellow warrior into coming with him because Bartz finally gave a resigned sigh and proceeded to follow the Genome to the edge of the camp.
There was no doubt Zidane could be charming when he wanted to be, and Bartz, being the easygoing free spirit that he was, would often succumb to the blond thief's playful nature, and also to his charismatic personality. Bartz was a total sucker for the subtle magnetic pull that radiated like a beacon from Zidane, and knowing this the golden-haired thief was able to wield that alluring aspect of himself effectively to his advantage.
Like now, for instance.
Zidane had a unique way of drawing other people into the enticing web of adventure and excitement that seemed to surround him, and as a result Bartz had trouble saying no to the golden-haired thief.
Not that Squall himself had ever been a victim of Zidane's charm.
Hell no. Definitely not.
Apparently the suspicious behaviour Zidane and Bartz were exhibiting, which practically screamed 'we're up to no good', went unnoticed by the other warriors of harmony, since Cecil was busy dealing with Tidus and Firion was in deep conversation with the Warrior of Light. Terra and the Onion Knight were still busy hovering over the fire, so the treasure hunting duo's departure went unnoticed.
Except of course by Squall, and not surprisingly his blond companion had apparently noticed as well.
"Where do you think they're going?" Cloud suddenly asked quietly in his ear, nudging his arm to get his attention. The mako-infused warrior's tone suggested a hint of mild curiosity as he watched Zidane and Bartz disappear beyond the ridge of jagged cliffs to the east of the camp.
Squall felt the frown on his forehead deepen, and pressing his lips together in a barely perceptible thin line, he muttered, "Somewhere they shouldn't be most likely."
"The Warrior of Light's not gonna be happy."
"Not our problem. They deserve whatever punishment he deals out to them once he realizes they've gone missing."
"He'll just blame us if he realizes we saw them go and didn't try to stop them."
Squall returned his attention to the blond warrior sitting close beside him, his steady blue gaze showing absolutely no concern whatsoever. "Who says we saw anything?"
Cloud sat up straight on the faded brown grass, and crossing his legs to get more comfortable, he said with faint amusement, "So that's how it is, huh? Fine by me."
"We didn't see anything."
"Not a thing," Cloud agreed, the light from the setting sun and the crimson streaks painting the sky red reflecting in his bright blue eyes. "Guess that means no going after them. Shame."
"Do you want to go after them?"
Cloud seemed to ponder the question for a moment before shaking his head and saying dryly, "Not interested."
Squall grunted in response, which was his way of saying he agreed wholeheartedly with his blond companion.
Not worth my time.
"If we go after them and they get caught, they'll just drag up down with them."
"My thoughts exactly."
"Watch duty and all," Cloud said blandly, his expression remaining cool and aloof. "Can't leave our posts, can we."
Squall smirked at this, his thoughts returning to when the two of them had last used those words. "Someone has to watch the camp."
A rare smile that was so faint you would have missed it if you hadn't been watching at just exactly that moment flashed across Cloud's face, and resting his elbows on his knees, he said, "Maybe we'll get lucky tonight."
No Bartz, and no Zidane...
"Maybe we will."
"Kick me or something if any manikins decide to pay us a visit," Cloud added, stretching out onto his back upon the grass and resting his arms behind his head for support. "Don't want to lose my lead."
"Don't get cocky, Strife. We still have a long way to go until we reach Chaos."
Cloud cracked an eye open, and giving him an unreadable look, the blond warrior said confidently, "I"ll leave you in my dust long before then, Leonhart."
"Don't count on it."
"A fair fight then."
Squall lowered his dark head to gaze at his fellow warrior, and referring to Cloud's earlier request, he said shortly, "Don't expect a gentle kick."
A fair fight, huh? Sounds like our little game is about to reach a whole new level of competition.
Cloud must have taken his words as a token of assent because he held out his hand and Squall gave it a firm squeeze, sealing their agreement, and once again lifting his face to the crimson sky, Squall allowed himself a rare moment to relax a bit.
Cloud's little 'naps' were more of a running joke between them than anything else since though it looked as if he was sleeping, Squall knew his fellow warrior would be alert and ready with sword in hand as soon as any manikin so much as took a step in their direction. The naps were more of a farce to dissuade the other warriors from interrupting him when he wanted to be alone with his thoughts.
Not that it ever actually worked by any stretch of the imagination, especially when you were stuck with warriors as persistent as Tidus, Zidane, or Bartz.
That didn't seem to stop Cloud from trying, though.
Squall knew the feeling and he could sympathize with Cloud, thanks to all the interruptions he had to deal with on a daily basis, coming from none other than Zidane and Bartz of course, but now that the threat of those two harassing him tonight had been eliminated for the moment, he was going to take advantage of this extremely rare occasion.
The only sounds to mar the blissful silence of the evening were the low murmur of voices in the background, the whisper of the wind, and Cloud's soft breathing. It was easy for Squall to become immersed in his own thoughts, and brooding over the fight with Chaos that was still to come, since he wasn't all that sure Bartz and Zidane would take it as seriously as they should, Squall allowed himself a moment of reflection on all of the events that had led him to this very moment. Many of the lessons he'd learned and the events he had witnessed during the course of his journey to find his crystal he did not regret, including meeting Bartz and Zidane, and also the blond warrior pretending to snooze next to him, but that did not mean he wanted to get himself stuck in another dangerous and most likely bizarre situation that could be traced directly back to Bartz and Zidane, thus making the fate that awaited him entirely their fault. Those two were bound and determined to get themselves into trouble, and as per usual the end result would most likely not bode well for him.
Those two are a catastrophe waiting to happen. Why I even bother...
Best not to dwell on such an unnerving thought. At the moment he had more important things to think about, like how quiet and peaceful it was...until a dramatic yelp of pain coming from somewhere to the east that sounded suspiciously like Zidane shattered the moment.
Squall glanced at his napping companion, and letting out a resigned sigh Cloud slowly opened his eyes, his blue gaze flicking towards the jagged cliffs to the east. "Right on cue."
Peace and quiet, huh? Well, so much for that idea.
Of all the stupid things to do...
As far as Squall was concerned, this was the absolute final straw. When he got his hands on Zidane he was going to give the golden-haired thief a taste of his gunblade. "Better go after him."
"Could be manikins," Cloud said calmly, sitting up and reaching out to grab onto the hilt of his Buster Sword. "They have the worst timing."
"...Who? Zidane or the manikins?"
Cloud paused to look at him, his blue eyes flashing with that subtle sparkle of amusement again. "Both."
"Can't argue with that."
"If it is manikins, Zidane can handle them on his own," Cloud offered, watching him closely.
Following Cloud's example, Squall grabbed onto his own weapon of choice, and leaping to his feet he ignored the blond warrior's penetrating gaze as he continued to study the eastern horizon. "I wouldn't bet on that if I were you. Think we should follow him?"
Cloud raised his eyebrows, and leaning leisurely on the hilt of his Buster Sword, which was embedded into the ground, he said lightly, "Do we have a choice?"
Before Squall could answer, he was interrupted by Firion, who after having heard Zidane's shout had jogged over to them to see what all the commotion was about.
"Was that Zidane's voice I heard just now?" the silver-haired warrior asked, glancing anxiously to the east.
The Onion Knight, Terra, and Tidus were quick to follow, and crossing his arms over his chest, the Onion Knight said indignantly, "Don't tell me Bartz and Zidane have run off on their own again."
"Seriously? Aw man, what's the deal?" Tidus complained, his hands coming to rest impatiently on his hips. "Why didn't they ask me to come with?"
Since entering the land of discord, Bartz and Zidane had managed to slip away on a couple of occasions to pick up some treasure, much to the annoyance of the Warrior of Light who had scolded them for their behaviour afterwords, but never had either one of them wandered quite so far before. Zidane was normally a little more careful not to test the Warrior of Light's patience too much, so what could have been so important this time that it would send the blond thief wandering off so far?
"Wherever they've gone, it sounds like Zidane might be in trouble," Terra said, looking worried. "Do you think it might have something to do with the manikins?"
"Only one way to find out," Cloud replied, securing his Buster Sword onto his back and giving Terra's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
At that moment the Warrior of Light and Cecil calmly approached them, having finally caught wind of the fact that something was amiss.
"Do my ears deceive me or was that Zidane I just heard?" Cecil asked, frowning slightly.
"I fear Zidane and Bartz have taken it upon themselves to go hunting for treasure again," the Warrior of Light said slowly, looking less than impressed with the recent actions of the two misbehaving warriors under his command.
"You two, you were on watch duty! How could you have let them go wandering off like that?" the Onion Knight demanded, his expression immediately becoming suspicious as he pointed an accusing finger at the two unfortunate warriors currently taking up the first watch of the evening.
Squall proceeded to stare the younger warrior down, and crossing his arms over his chest, he said flatly, "I was recruited for watch duty, not babysitting."
"Not our problem," Cloud said, shrugging his shoulders.
"Didn't you see them leave?" Tidus interrupted, jabbing his finger into Cloud's chest. "If you did you should have told me. I could have gone with them!"
This remark earned the blitzball player a raised eyebrow from Cecil and a disapproving stare from the Warrior of Light, and sheepishly scratching the back of his head, Tidus backed up a few steps and went to hide like a coward behind Firion.
Squall, watching Tidus, exchanged a look with Cloud, and giving the blitzball star a rather bored look, the mako-infused warrior said, "Sorry, never saw a thing."
"Should we go after them?" Terra asked anxiously, looking to the Warrior of Light for guidance on the matter.
Squall suspected the man hadn't been fooled by Cloud's indifference, so he was quite sure the Warrior of Light was exacting punishment on them when he said, "Squall, you and Cloud can go after Zidane and Bartz. Take Firion and Tidus with you in case you need the help. Terra and the Onion Knight can take over your shift for watch duty since they were scheduled to relieve you in an hour regardless. Cecil and I can finish making arrangements here for our camp while you're away. If Zidane and Bartz have been attacked, it could be a trap to lure us into possible danger. Proceed with caution, and may the light guide you on your journey. Make sure you send someone back if you need us."
"And Firion, do try to keep Tidus out of trouble," Cecil added, a smile of amusement playing across his lips.
"An impossible task, Cecil," Firion replied, shaking his head in despair.
Tidus glared at Firion, and punching his fellow warrior lightly in the shoulder, he muttered, "I'll pretend I didn't hear that."
Squall took it upon himself to ignore Tidus, and hefting his trusty gunblade over his shoulder he proceeded to head in the direction Zidane's cry had come from, a frown marring his handsome features. Trust Zidane to get himself into trouble at the most inconvenient moment. Squall was not going to waste his time worrying about his fellow warrior.
Not at all. Not one bit.
...Definitely going soft.
"Hey, Rosebud, see anything yet?" Tidus asked, nudging the weapons master in the side.
Firion declined to comment, his pale blue eyes scanning their immediate surroundings for any sign of life, and turning to Cloud, who was keeping pace beside him, he nodded towards the ridge up ahead. "Dangerous territory to be wandering into without first exercising a bit of caution."
"Maybe for Zidane," Cloud replied, motioning for Tidus, who was lagging behind, to hurry up a bit.
Squall nodded at this, and climbing the ridge, which grew more treacherous as you followed the line in the distance, he dropped down to the other side easily with Firion. Cloud managed to grab onto Tidus by the waist of those ridiculous pants he wore as the blitzball star, who hadn't been paying attention to his surroundings, nearly slipped and sent both himself and Cloud tumbling back down the ridge.
Without a word, Cloud hauled a protesting Tidus back to his feet, and together the two made their way down the slope of the ridge, joining Firion and an impatient Squall, who were waiting for them at the bottom.
"Nice place," Cloud commented, nodding to the rough terrain up ahead.
The territory before them was a death trap full of narrow pathways and wicked looking lava pits, and Squall cringed to think about what kind of trouble Zidane had gotten himself into this time. They had all passed through this same area remarkably without incident before making camp earlier in the afternoon, and as far as Squall could remember it hadn't held anything of note that would have caught Zidane's interest.
So why, if that was the case, had Zidane decided to pass through here again?
"Still no sign of monkey boy," Tidus snorted, making a face. "And he hasn't made another sound since that first shout either. What do you guys make of that, huh?"
"Dead maybe?" Cloud offered helpfully, sounding completely unconcerned.
Firion gently nudged Cloud in the side, a disapproving frown on his face, and shifting his stance slightly, his armour clinking softly and his cape blowing in the wind, he said, "The fact that Zidane has gone quiet is a bit concerning..."
At this point, Squall resolutely decided he simply wasn't going to think about it anymore. It had nothing to do with being worried.
Fool. If he gets himself killed...
Turning abruptly, Squall said with an edge to his voice that he hadn't for once intended, "Let's keep moving. We're wasting time."
Squall could feel Cloud's unreadable blue gaze burning into the back of his skull, and glancing over his shoulder, he wasn't surprised to find their eyes meeting in some kind of silent and meaningful conversation. Something seemed to pass between them, though the cool, almost indifferent expression on Cloud's face never altered in the slightest, and placing a hand on his shoulder, Cloud nodded almost imperceptibly in understanding before taking the lead.
Squall followed without comment, and though he was sure his expression had been lacking any kind of definable emotion, he had a feeling Cloud knew exactly what was going on in his head at that moment.
Which was something very few people ever succeeded in accomplishing.
No, Squall was not embarrassed. Squall Leonhart never got embarrassed.
Huffing in annoyance, Squall followed the blond with a look on his face that was positively murderous, though he hadn't intended for that to be the case, and shoving an unfortunate and rather undeserving Tidus in front of him, he left Firion to his own devices, knowing the weapons master would have no trouble keeping up with them. Not only that, he knew Firion would not go out of his way to be intentionally difficult.
Unlike some warriors.
They had only been walking for several minutes when a familiar figure came into sight, though unfortunately it wasn't the blond fool of a thief or his treasure hunting mimic companion whom they were currently looking for at the moment. Instead, a moogle was floating leisurely amidst the lava pits, and at first glance he appeared to be muttering to himself, preventing him from becoming aware of the sudden visitors that had come upon his shop. The moogle must have just recently taken up residence in the area because he certainly hadn't been there earlier when they were passing through.
You could say one thing for the moogles. They could sniff out a potential customer from miles away, and they didn't hesitate to take advantage of that particular talent of theirs if it meant making a good profit. This one must have caught wind of their campsite and had ever so conveniently placed himself close by in case they were in need of his services.
Greedy little demons disguised as harmless cuddly mascots, which for some bizarre reason gave you a strange desire to reach out and touch those stupid looking pom poms on their heads.
In some ways, they reminded Squall of Zidane.
"You there," he said bluntly, approaching the moogle. "You see an idiot with a tail come through here earlier?"
The moogle nearly flipped over backwards in the air at being addressed so suddenly, the pom pom on his head bouncing furiously as he struggled to keep himself upright. "What's that, kupo?"
"Idiot with a tail. Bad habit of talking too much. You see him?"
The moogle eyed him curiously for a moment, and pondering the question he let out a rather indignant 'kupo', his expression taking on a look of sudden recognition. "Short guy with a tail? You bet I did! He tried to swindle me out of some merchandise earlier. Really, the nerve of some people, kupo. You just can't trust anybody these days, hero or not. He had a friend with him too by the way. That the guy you're talking about, kupo?"
"Sounds like Zidane," Tidus agreed, smirking in amusement.
"Which way did they go?" Cloud asked, punching Tidus none too gently in the ribs.
"That way, kupo," the moogle replied, pointing towards the maze of pits behind him. "You might want to hurry up and find them, kupo. I heard a scream earlier and it sounded pretty close by. Wouldn't want to lose a valuable customer...even if he is a thief, kupo."
"You heard he was in trouble and you didn't even bother going to check up on him?" Tidus demanded, glaring at the moogle.
"What do you expect? It's dangerous around here, kupo! And plus I've got a shop to run."
Squall, who had lost his patience by this time with the useless moogle, decided it wasn't worth his time to make a response, and tapping Cloud on the shoulder he pointed to the maze up ahead. With a simple nod Cloud proceeded to follow him, but Firion paused to give the moogle an apologetic look. "Allow me to apologize for the behaviour of our friends. They didn't take anything from you, did they?"
"Well no, but that thief sure is quite the charmer. I almost fell for it. I believe he owes me some compensation for wasting my time, kupo."
"Forget it," Tidus butted in, pointing an accusing finger at the moogle. "You're just using Zidane as an excuse to get charity money off of us, and I'm not paying a single gil or ounce of KP to save monkey boy's backside."
"No way, Rosebud. We're not wasting our gil or our KP on Zidane and taking the wrap for him," Tidus interrupted, grabbing onto Firion's arm and dragging him away from the moogle.
"Aren't you at least going to buy something, kupo?" the moogle asked hopefully. "It's a dangerous world out there. Always best to take a few extra items and summonstones with you."
Squall came to an abrupt stop, which sent Tidus stumbling into his back, and turning he gave the unfortunate moogle a look that made the small creature cower in fear, his pom pom drooping in submission. "No."
"And on that slightly disturbing note, we're out of here. Catch you later!" Tidus called out cheerfully, giving the now humbled moogle a hearty salute.
Squall grunted as Tidus attempted to drag him through the maze of lava pits, but upon hearing what he thought sounded like a faint voice coming from one of the pits a little further ahead, he stopped and held out his hand for silence.
The other three warriors paused to listen as well, and what sounded suspiciously like two voices engaged in an argument appeared to be coming from the depths of a particularly wicked looking lava pit up ahead and slightly to the east of where they were standing.
Two very familiar voices from the sounds of it, and placing his fingers against his forehead Squall took a deep breath, which did nothing to lower the rising level of irritation currently building up within him.
"Better go check it out," Cloud said simply, making his way towards the pit.
Squall glanced around quickly for any sign of nearby manikins, and seeing nothing suspicious he proceeded to stride purposely towards the edge of the pit in question, Firion and Tidus following along behind him. Reaching his destination in silence and crouching on one knee to gaze into the pit, he was induced once again to place his fingers against his forehead in a show of disgust at the spectacle he was witnessing inside the pit.
And glancing over the entire fiasco with a critical eye, Squall came to the obvious conclusion that the events taking place inside the pit were entirely Zidane's fault.
No surprise there.
It was clear now why Zidane had risked the Warrior of Light's wrath to come back to this area, and it all had to do with an enticing treasure chest that was sitting on a precarious ledge near the very bottom of the pit, where the lava bubbled and steamed dangerously down below.
Squall, who wasn't in the habit of peering into dangerous pits when they were unimportant to the current mission at hand, hadn't seen the treasure chest earlier when they were passing by, but Bartz and Zidane, with their uncanny noses for sniffing out treasure, had seen it, and clearly they had made a pact to come back later when they weren't under the watchful eye of the Warrior of Light. The chest did look rather important, considering the fact that this pit appeared to be relatively dangerous compared to most of the other ones in the area, but that didn't mean Zidane wasn't an idiot. That chest could easily contain only a handful of gil instead of a valuable weapon or chain to help them in the gateways, and in Squall's opinion the reward in this case really wasn't worth the risk. Apparently Bartz and Zidane hadn't agreed with him, though, because the fool warriors had been stupid enough to venture into the pit, and upon doing so they had gotten themselves into a bit of a predicament.
Zidane had managed to get closest to the treasure chest, but instead of landing safely on the ledge where it sat he had somehow managed to get his tail caught in a tangle of unhealthy looking tree branches that were sticking out of the dirt walls of the cliff. How there were tree branches growing out of the pit in the first place when there weren't any trees around was a mystery to Squall, but since they were acting as a sort of barrier to prevent the walls from eroding, he certainly wasn't complaining. It wouldn't have been so bad if Zidane's tail had just been wrapped around a branch, but with having it tangled, a particularly wicked looking spike had actually managed to pierce through the blond thief's unique extra appendage. Because of the pain and the fact that he was hanging upside down, Zidane had been forced to cling to one of the branches to relieve the pressure on his tail and to prevent himself from doing any more damage to it. If he let go, the lapse in concentration would most likely result in the blond thief falling straight into the lava below, as he would probably hit the edge of one of the two platforms beneath him and bounce off into the bubbling mass of molten rock if his upside down perch were to give away.
Bartz, who was higher up, had also gotten himself tangled in the branches, and it looked as if one of his feet was wedged deeply into a niche in the rock that was mingled in with the dirt and branches to create the pit walls. Their positions at first glance were rather comical, and giving them a cheerful wave, Bartz called out, "Hey, guys! Took you long enough to get here. I was beginning to think you weren't going to show up."
Squall glanced at Cloud, who was crouching beside him, and Cloud shrugged in response.
"Should I even ask?" Firion sighed from his position on Cloud's other side, shaking his head in hopeless defeat.
"How's it hanging down there?" Tidus joked, forcing Squall to cuff him upside the head. "Ouch! I was just trying to lighten the mood!"
At this point Zidane had finally become aware of their presence, and looking up, his handsome face twisting in obvious pain, his eyes met Squall's in defiance. As soon as their gazes locked, the blond thief's impish blue eyes narrowed into a look that Squall couldn't quite read before his expression once again became indifferent. "Oh, it's you."
Although Zidane's words were carefree and lacking any kind of concern for his own safety, it was clear he was putting up a brave front to mask the pain in his tail. It was a valiant effort to hide his discomfort, but even so his careless tone wasn't fooling Squall in the slightest.
Perhaps Zidane realized his little performance wasn't all that convincing because he quickly averted his gaze and proceeded to focus his attention on the walls of the cliff.
Squall chose not to respond directly to Zidane. Instead, he turned his attention to Bartz, his tone becoming rather flat and unimpressed. "You snuck away from camp for this? One treasure isn't worth the lives of two warriors when we need everyone we can spare to take down Chaos."
"Never mind that we're your friends, right Squall?" Zidane called back sarcastically, rolling his eyes. "It's all about Chaos and the grand finale."
Huh, so that's how it is.
Clearly Zidane hadn't gotten over what had happened a few nights ago when he, Squall, had joked about their 'unfortunate' friendship. His offhand comment must have struck a nerve.
Not that he cared.
"It was Zidane's idea," Bartz admitted, sounding a bit sheepish. "He saw it on our way past, and we figured since it was so difficult to get it must hold something pretty rare."
"Traitor," Zidane grumbled, mock glaring up at his treasure hunting partner in crime.
Squall again crossed his arms over his chest, not even bothering to hide his annoyance. "Still not worth your lives."
"Yeah, we get it," Zidane said impatiently, refusing to look at him. "Where are all the others?"
"They remained behind to watch the camp," Firion explained.
"Not even a single manikin in sight," Cloud said mildly, feigning disappointment. "What a waste."
"You guys are so going to get it from the Warrior of Light when we get back," Tidus smirked, punching his fist into his other hand.
"Great, he noticed. I told you he would," Bartz complained to Zidane, rolling his eyes down at the blond thief. "Thanks a lot."
"Forget about that," Zidane said airily, waving the hand that was still unoccupied in an offhand sort of manner. "Is someone going to help me out of here or what?"
Squall looked at Cloud beside him, and making a face, Cloud said, "Do we have to?"
"I heard that!"
Squall let out a frustrated sigh, not liking the situation one little bit. "Firion, you and Tidus get Bartz. Cloud and I will get Zidane."
"You know this would be way easier if Terra was with us," Tidus commented. "She could just fly them up."
"I'd rather not bother Terra with these two clowns," Cloud remarked, ignoring another protest from Zidane.
Bartz winced playfully at that, and smiling up at the blond warrior, he said easily, "You didn't have to put it quite like that."
Unlike Tidus and Bartz, Squall wasn't in the mood for jokes, and sitting down on the edge of the ledge to lower himself into the pit, he said harshly, "Let them suffer a bit longer while they wait for us to reach them."
"But that means we gotta do all the work to set them free," Tidus complained.
"A little exercise isn't going to hurt you," Firion commented, grabbing onto the blitzball player's arm and holding him steady as he searched for a foothold.
Squall waited on the ledge for Cloud to join him, his sharp gaze watching Firion and Tidus as the two slowly made their way down to Bartz. The mimic warrior was higher up and slightly further over from Zidane, thus Tidus and Firion didn't have as far to climb down. Cloud had a bit more trouble reaching the ledge than Squall, seeing as how he was a bit shorter, and catching the blond's arm Squall pulled Cloud towards him to prevent his fellow warrior from staggering backwards into the pit as his feet hit the ledge.
"So much for a quiet night," Cloud murmured, nodding his thanks.
Squall grunted in response and quickly turned to test the branches next to him to see if they were sturdy enough to support his weight, but before he could use them to lower himself down onto the next ledge, Cloud caught his shoulder, forcing him to turn back around.
They stared at each other for a moment, Cloud's blue eyes watching him closely, and nodding to the grumbling thief down below, the golden-haired warrior said, "Don't be too hard on him."
"He should be more responsible."
"He gets the job done when he has to."
"He's going to get himself killed."
"I doubt it. We're not that lucky."
"...I'm not a babysitter."
Cloud raised his eyebrows, his head tilting to the side to study him more intently. "I never said you were."
"He can't keep depending on others to get him out of trouble."
"Relax, he'll be fine."
"...I didn't say I was worried."
Cloud stepped past him, and grabbing onto the branches he swung himself down to the next perch, his dry tone floating back up towards the ledge as he said, "You didn't have to."
Squall snorted softly to himself, and following Cloud he carefully lowered himself down to the next ledge, his handsome face taking on a more neutral expression.
He wasn't worried. He was annoyed. There was a difference between the two, and he was not about to admit defeat to the likes of Cloud Strife.
"And besides, I never implied you were," Cloud added once they were standing together on the same ledge again.
"Worried," Cloud elaborated, his expression suspiciously detached. "I never implied you were worried."
Okay, Squall was willing to admit that he had definitely lost that round, but he wasn't going to give Cloud the satisfaction of knowing he had gained the upper hand in their silent war of words.
"Can you guys hurry up a bit?" Zidane called out, his tone sounding much more strained than earlier.
"What's the rush?" Cloud called back. "You're not going anywhere."
"Very funny," Zidane shot back. "Never knew you had such a sense of humour, Cloud. I guess even Mr. Broody is full of surprises."
"And you're full of hot air," Cloud muttered in response.
It wasn't loud enough for Zidane to hear, but Squall caught the words and allowed himself a rare smile. Now that they were closer to the blond thief, Squall could see that his face looked rather pale, and he kept wincing uncomfortably, his blue eyes sparkling with apprehension every time he glanced at his tail. It was clear he wasn't only in a lot of pain, but he was also getting tired from having to brace himself upside down against the pit wall to prevent all of the weight from transferring onto his pierced tail.
Even so, Squall was not going to show his fellow warrior any sympathy.
...He wasn't dammit!
The next drop was also a bit further to reach, and using the vines Squall carefully lowered himself down to the next ledge while Cloud kept a firm grip on his arm to prevent him from letting go too quickly. Once he was safely standing on his new perch, he waited for Cloud to make his way onto the vines above.
Dropping down beside him, Cloud said, "Almost there."
"He shouldn't depend on me so much."
Keeping one hand braced against the wall, Cloud leaned over the ledge to search for their next perch, and gazing at Zidane down below, he said simply, "He does because he can. And he would do the same for you. No use trying to deny it. He says himself he doesn't need a reason to help people...and neither do you, I think."
"It's stupid and reckless."
Cloud looked at him, and shrugging indifferently, he said, "I trust you. Why would Zidane be any different?"
Squall was momentarily startled by this, and then without any regard for his own safety Cloud dropped over the side of the ledge without looking properly for a spot to land. Instincts taking over, Squall caught him by the arm before the blond warrior could plunge right into the lava, and furious, he muttered, "Idiot."
Cloud chose not to respond to that, having already made his point. Instead, an almost imperceptible smile sparkled in his eyes as he swayed back and forth in the air while hanging precariously over the bubbling lava down below. "Swing me to the right, would you?"
Since he could find no reason to argue, Squall did as he was asked and Cloud landed safely onto the next ledge down below. The blond warrior had gotten his message across with undeniable clarity, but that didn't mean Squall wasn't still angry with him.
...Why is it always me?
Muttering to himself, Squall leaped to the ledge below, and Cloud caught him by the front of his leather jacket as he tipped backwards a bit, his balance slightly off.
Nodding his thanks, Squall proceeded the rest of the way down in silence, Cloud following above him with a suspicious air of amusement. It was making him seriously debate the idea of hurling the blond warrior over the side of the ledge on purpose, thus washing his hands free of the whole affair.
Why did he ever agree to come along on this farce?
There was a convenient, narrow ledge placed directly below where Zidane was trapped in the branches, and landing on it with a soft thump, Squall proceeded to glare dangerously at the blond thief, his expression leaving no room for doubt just exactly how annoyed and angry he was. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't just leave you here and be on my way."
"You need me to help take down Chaos, remember?" Zidane replied, giving him a hopeful look.
"I've changed my mind."
Zidane gave him an affronted glare, indignant to the very tip of his tail. "Without me you wouldn't have anyone to annoy you anymore. Where would the fun be in that?"
"...And this is a problem how?"
Zidane winked at him, a playful smile on his face. "You know you'd miss me."
"Tidus and Bartz would have no difficulty picking up your slack."
Zidane's cheerful expression fell at this, and looking away, he said sarcastically, "If it's not too much trouble, do you mind setting me free? This is kind of starting to hurt."
Squall let out a sigh, and bracing himself against the dirt wall of the cliff, he said flatly, "Let go of the wall."
"Are you crazy?" Zidane yelped, gaping at him. "Do you know how much that would hurt?"
Yes, Squall was pretty sure he was going to murder Zidane. Not only had the thief gotten himself into this ridiculous predicament in the first place, he now had the nerve to be difficult when help he didn't deserve had come to aid him in escaping from the confines of his earthly prison.
Facing Chaos with one less warrior might not be such a bad idea after all.
Grabbing onto the branches, Squall boosted himself into a more suitable position to reach Zidane, and finding a decent perch that would hold, he motioned for the blond thief to let go.
Again, Zidane protested, and growing impatient, Squall snapped, "Would you rather I cut you free and we see how long it takes for you to bounce off the ledge and hit the bottom? Nasty way to die, but it would save me the trouble of having to haul you back up."
"Is it really that hard for you to just admit you care?" Zidane asked innocently, a mischievously wicked look in his playful blue eyes despite the pain on his face.
Squall summoned his gunblade with a flash of light, and letting out another yelp, Zidane said hastily, "I was just kidding! Okay fine, but you'd better catch me."
Squall chose not to respond. Instead he merely let his gunblade dissipate into thin air and resumed his earlier position, albeit somewhat reluctantly.
Despite his words, Zidane still hesitated, and taking a deep breath he finally let go of the wall with a reckless sort of abandon. Squall caught him easily, and wrapping an arm around the blond thief's torso to hold him in place and to alleviate some of the pressure on his tail, he glanced up at Cloud, who was perched just above Zidane on the branches. "Think you can untangle him?"
Cloud shrugged. "Maybe. Depends on if I feel like it or not."
"One Squall is enough, thanks," Zidane shot back, twisting slightly to glare at the mako-infused warrior. His words were muffled slightly by Squall's shoulder and he didn't look at all impressed.
Cloud ignored Zidane's remark, an unreadable expression on his face, and glancing up to where Tidus and Firion were untangling Bartz, he said, "Convince me then. You interrupted a perfectly good round of watch duty. Not sure if it's worth my time."
"What?" Zidane asked stupidly, clearly confused.
Cloud shrugged his shoulders again, studying Zidane. "Major offence."
"Huh? Actually, forget it. Just untangle me already!"
"Not interested," Cloud said mildly, moving to stand up.
Zidane was looking rather anxious by this time, and he hurriedly said, "I get it, I get it! Shutting up now. Seriously, get me out of here."
Above them Tidus and Firion had managed to set Bartz free, and clinging to Firion, who had his arm wrapped securely around the mimic's waist, Bartz cheerfully expressed his thanks while receiving an affectionate pat on the back from Tidus.
Clearly Bartz's rescuers were much more sympathetic and understanding than Squall or Cloud, but that didn't mean Squall was going to go any easier on Zidane. It had been the blond thief's idea in the first place, and Squall wasn't going to let him off the hook that easily.
Especially when the idiot had interrupted a perfectly good chance for some quiet time.
"Hold still," Cloud ordered, reaching for Zidane's tail and proceeding to work it free from the branches.
Zidane jumped in Squall's grip at the sudden contact, and wincing, he said, "Careful. It's sensitive, you know. And don't pull on it!"
Cloud paused and said without any sympathy, "Drop him, Squall."
Squall loosened his grip on Zidane, and clinging to him for dear life, the blond thief cried, "I'm quiet, I'm quiet! I'm being quiet!"
Satisfied, Cloud continued to work Zidane's tail free from the branches, and Squall tightened his grip again, grunting slightly at the death grip Zidane had on his neck. The golden-haired treasure hunter was quivering slightly in his grasp, but whether or not it was from pain or fear, Squall couldn't be sure.
Cloud worked calmly in silence, and getting Zidane's tail unwound, he peered at the point where it had been pierced by a slim, yet sturdy jagged branch that had been turned up just enough to act as a stake. Examining it closely, Cloud frowned before turning his gaze back to Squall. "Gonna have to yank it out."
"What?" Zidane gasped, his blue eyes growing wide. "On no. No way. Do you realize how much that's going to-"
Cloud pulled the branch free with a sharp yank, and crying out Zidane swung forward into Squall, nearly knocking them both free from their perch. As Zidane's smaller form collided with his, Squall managed to catch the blond thief around the waist while at the same time reaching for the wall. Unfortunately he missed grabbing the branches, and falling backwards he was lucky enough to land on his back upon the narrow ledge he'd been standing on earlier without bouncing off, the air escaping his lungs as Zidane landed on top of him with a heavy thump.
"My tail!" Zidane moaned, sitting up slightly and reaching out to cradle the injured appendage in his hands.
Looking down at him, Zidane huffed in annoyance. "You don't make a very good pillow, Squall."
Realizing it was useless to respond, Squall shoved the golden-haired thief off his stomach and sat up, a hand reaching back to gently prod his skull for any lasting damages.
Beside him Zidane continued to lament over his injured tail, and gazing up at Cloud, who was still perched on the branches, Squall gave the mako-infused warrior his best death stare. "Not a word."
Above him Cloud was looking suspiciously smug and victorious, but as was in his nature to do so, he wisely kept quiet, though he appeared to be a little too satisfied with himself for Squall's liking.
"My treasure!" Zidane suddenly gasped, flopping down onto his stomach and peering over the ledge at the chest perched precariously on the final platform just below them, completely forgetting all about his injured tail for the moment.
Squall kicked the blond thief aside with his foot, and dropping down onto the last ledge, he said without emotion, "You want it still?"
Zidane looked down at him, and Squall calmly gazed back at the thief, his face revealing nothing.
Perhaps Zidane understood the significance of what was being asked of him and the choice he was being given to make as he glanced between his dark-haired companion and the chest, because his face betrayed a flash of emotion Squall instantly recognized but chose not to comment on.
Breaking eye contact and deliberately turning away from the treasure chest, his tail hanging comfortably over the edge of the ledge, Zidane said quietly, "No, it's okay. Probably nothing good in it anyways."
Or in other words, he was sorry. Sorry for risking the lives of his friends for treasure, thus he had chosen Squall over the tempting box down below.
Staring at the chest, Squall kicked it into the pit and watched without any regret as it disappeared beneath the surface of the lava.
Zidane watched it as well, though he didn't look particularly sorry to see it go, and when their eyes met again the golden-haired thief glanced away in embarrassment, looking suddenly vulnerable for the first time since the issue with Bartz and the fake crystal some time ago.
"Come on, let's go," Squall said shortly, reaching for the ledge and hauling himself back up.
Zidane caught his hand and helped him up without comment, and together the two of them joined Cloud on the branches above. The mako-infused warrior didn't say anything, but he did give a nod of respect at Zidane's decision, which Zidane sheepishly returned.
Together the three of them began the slow climb back towards the top, where Firion, Tidus, and Bartz were waiting for them, having already made the difficult trek themselves.
Cloud was the first one to reach the top, and Squall allowed the blond warrior to help haul him over the edge. He in turn pulled Zidane up, and sprawling on the grass the three of them took a moment to catch their breath.
"So much for our treasure hunt," Bartz sighed, having witnessed the scene down below, resulting in the treasure chest meeting its fiery death. "All that work and nothing to show for it."
"I wouldn't say that," Zidane mumbled, avoiding Bartz's gaze.
Squall felt the blond thief glance towards him, and leaning towards Cloud, he murmured, "Got any potions? I'm all out."
"No need to ask why," Cloud snorted, shaking his head at Bartz and Zidane, who had in fact received the healing effects from almost all of his last stock.
Producing a potion Cloud handed it to him with a friendly nudge, and squeezing the blond's shoulder in thanks, Squall crouched next to Zidane and said bluntly, "Here."
Zidane let out a sigh of relief as the potion spilled over him, instantly healing his injured tail, and winking, he said, "Thanks."
"Don't expect me to be this generous next time."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Zidane said dryly, inspecting his tail and giving a nod of satisfaction as all proved to be well.
"I hope you two have learned your lesson this time," Firion scolded, though he didn't look particularly hopeful in that regard.
"Exactly! Why didn't you ask me to come with?" Tidus demanded.
This comment earned him an uncharacteristic whack over the head from Firion, and dragging the protesting blitzball star off, Firion proceeded to give him a good talking to, which left Tidus cowering and pleading to be forgiven under the flashing eyes of his aggravated comrade.
"We would have asked him, but we thought it might look a little too suspicious if three of us suddenly disappeared," Zidane explained, smiling in amusement.
At this Squall cuffed the blond thief roughly on the head, earning himself a satisfying yelp of pain, and smiling at Zidane, Bartz said, "You were asking for that one."
"Now what?" Cloud asked, getting to his feet.
Squall joined the blond warrior, and frowning, he said, "We'd better head back. I'm surprised the others haven't come looking for us yet."
"You sure about that?"
Squall looked at Cloud and reluctantly nodded his head. He was of the same opinion, but they didn't really have a choice. Zidane might have been the one to run off, but as Cloud seemed to feel was the case, somehow Squall just knew the whole fiasco would turn out to be entirely their fault.
So much for vengeance.
"So...what do you guys think was really in that treasure chest?" Zidane asked curiously, bouncing on his toes with pent up energy.
"Drop it," Cloud advised.
"Uh...Zidane, now might not be a good time," Bartz interrupted, glancing warily at the look on Cloud's face.
"Fine, but I still want an answer," Zidane grumbled, circling around Cloud, his tail swaying happily behind him and his blue eyes flashing. "And it had better be a more satisfying answer than the one you gave me a couple days ago, Squall."
"...You still haven't gotten over that?"
"You owe me an apology," Zidane announced, hopping over to him and poking him in the chest.
"...Fine, but only if you refrain from doing something this stupid ever again."
Zidane seemed to think it over a bit, and smiling, he said, "I guess that's a fair exchange. Can't make any promises, though. So...watch duty, huh? The Warrior of Light seriously let you get out of it to come look for me?"
"Terra and the Onion Knight are filling in till we get back."
"Great! That means you guys can answer my question when we get back!"
"Not a chance," Cloud added.
"Watch Duty," Squall said quickly, exchanging a look with Cloud. "Manikins. Might attack us."
"Gotta keep an eye on them," Cloud agreed.
"Forget that! This is way more important!"
Watch duty with Zidane yacking in their ears all night? Especially after that stunt he'd pulled earlier? And to top it off, he had apparently forgotten the important lesson he'd learned only moments ago.
Oh, hell no.
Doesn't he ever give up?
"Come on, Squall! Watch duty is boring. You need someone to provide the entertainment," Zidane teased, tugging lightly on his arm.
Peace and quiet. That was all he wanted. Just once for even just a few hours. Was that really so much to ask?
Zidane waved his remark aside, ignoring it completely, and said, "Now about that treasure chest... A weapon you think?"
Okay, that really was the last straw. Summoning his gunblade, Squall was about to advance on Zidane when Cloud put a hand on his arm to stop him, a determined look on the blond's face.
Squall glanced at him, and grabbing hold of his Buster Sword, Cloud said, "Allow me."
"Huh?" Zidane blurted out, peering curiously at Cloud.
Swinging his blade, the Buster Sword just missed Zidane's abdomen by mere inches.
"Hey! What was that for?" the blond thief cried, glaring at the mako-infused warrior.
"You might want to start running," Cloud replied, his blue eyes taking on a dangerous glint.
Zidane didn't need to be told twice. Grabbing Bartz's arm, he proceeded to make a break for it, a confused Firion calling after them as they raced to catch up with Tidus.
Smirking, Squall said, "Think he got the message?"
"If not, I'll make due on my threat tonight when we get back," Cloud snorted, glancing back at him. "By the way, I told you so."
...Fine, so maybe he had been a little bit worried.
But just a little.
Shaking his head at himself, Squall proceeded to follow his blond companion in silence. Maybe if they were lucky, watch duty would commence without any more interruptions. That is, if they could manage to avoid Zidane and the Warrior of Light upon returning.
It was a nice thought, but Squall wasn't getting his hopes up.
Cloud must have sensed what he was thinking because the blond warrior suddenly put a friendly arm around his shoulders, which was a surprisingly sympathetic gesture coming from him, and gazing at each other they nodded in silent agreement before breaking apart and heading back towards the ridge side by side.
As far as Squall was concerned, sitting watch duty with Cloud was a lost cause, and for some reason that didn't seem to bother him as much as it should.
But really, one of these days he was going to murder Zidane. If Cloud didn't beat him to it first.