I intend to create an appropriate cover for this story at some point soon. The current one is only temporary, so please be patient.


Phenomenon

A New Threat

"What the-? WHOA!" Zell shouted, jumping out of the way of a firaga spell. He hit the ground stomach first as he lay there in shock for a moment.

"Sorry, Zell!" Rinoa hollered, looking at him in a bit of horror.

Zell slowly rose to all fours as he coughed a little from the impact, turning his head toward a nearby wall to see the fire slowly dying down.

He turned his head back toward Rinoa - trying to be calm, but finding it hard to contain.

"Okay…I think that's enough for today."

He shook his head as he stood up, momentarily recalling exactly how close a call that was. He had offered to help Rinoa adjust to her sorceress powers upon her request. She was still not quite used to them, as it had only been a year since she'd become one, and was still afraid of them a little. Since Squall had currently had other matters to attend to around Garden, the ever-friendly, yet hot-headed martial arts master gladly, and proudly, took her up on the offer – not quite knowing what he was getting into. Now, however…he was wondering about that exact thing.

"Please, just a little longer," Rinoa pleaded, "I think I'm getting the hang of it now!"

Zell sighed as he put his hand to his forehead. He wanted to laugh at her words, but when he really thought about it – it wasn't so funny. With the exception of that last instance, thanks to his quick-thinking, he had been hit five times now: one thundaga, two blizzagas, one aero, and one meltdown. The latter had been an accidental cast, but nevertheless – he now knew how it got its name. Any injuries he'd sustained were easily fixed with a cast of Regen – but, he still wanted to quit before he became her personal shish kebob.

"Man. Squall's got a lot more patience than I thought." he thought to himself.

He lifted his hand and lightly waved to Rinoa, signifying that he was done – much to her dismay.

At that moment, Squall walked out to witness the scene as he looked around – the dissipating flames of Rinoa's firaga spell still on the wall. He sighed as he closed his eyes, lowering his head as he shook it lightly.

"What are you doing, Zell?"

Rinoa looked at him in delight.

"Squall!"

She quickly ran up and hugged him with a bright smile on her face.

Zell looked over at him, a great expression of relief sweeping over his face as he hurried over toward them.

"Yo! Squall!" he shouted, "Thanks, man! You can take it from here."

Squall let go of Rinoa as he looked at Zell in a bit of frustration.

"Can't you take anything seriously?" he grumbled.

Zell was at a loss for words at that comment as he glanced from Squall to Rinoa for a moment. The look on their faces let him know he was automatically outnumbered. Anytime they were together – it was never the other's fault.

"Have you ever actually done this with her before?" he argued, "It's hell, I tell ya!"

Rinoa looked at Zell in surprise, and a bit of anger, at his remark.

"Hey!" she yelled, "It's not my fault!"

"Frickin' hell!" he replied, clearly shocked by her words.

Squall face-palmed in embarrassment for both of them as he spoke again.

"Lighten up, Zell. She's new at this, remember?"

Rinoa smiled gratefully at his words. Since they had become a couple, she had seen a whole new side to Squall. Despite his seemingly cold and introverted exterior at first glance, he actually proved to be rather decent. It had been hard at first, but over time – she had managed to bring out the better half of him: trustworthy, reliable, and caring – especially when it came to her. He really had come a long way in just a year's time.

Zell decided not to argue with Squall – knowing, for one thing, that he couldn't win. No one could get him to go against Rinoa, no matter the situation. As nice as that was…it also got a bit annoying sometimes.

He sighed as he dropped his head.

"…Never mind. I'll see ya' later."

He stood up straight and saluted Squall before heading back inside Garden.

Squall only looked away at the notion as Zell walked past him. He'd been Commander of SeeD for only a year now, but he still wasn't any more comfortable with it. Everyone now believed they had even more of an excuse to have him solve their problems – or any, for that matter. While he didn't mind the respect, the whole thing was getting old in general. He secretly longed for the days when he was just a regular SeeD – at least life made more sense and was easier then.

Rinoa looked at him in question at his reaction to Zell's salute.

"Squall? What's wrong?"

Squall sighed as he turned his head toward her slowly.

"I'm just a little tired of this whole "Commander" thing," he admitted, "Everyone treats me like I'm a completely different person now just because of my rank."

He looked at the ground for a moment.

"I never asked to be Commander. It just happened. If I'd had a choice…I'd still be a simple SeeD."

Rinoa looked at him in concern as he stared at the ground. She knew he wasn't fond of being Commander, but she had at least thought he'd adjusted to it by now. He was always so busy and taking on his duties with such diligence that she figured he was even enjoying it a little. Hearing him talk about it at this moment, however, she realized exactly how wrong she had been. She felt bad since she'd never thought to ask him about it all. She had just been afraid she might get in the way if she had tried.

She thought for a moment and an idea came to mind.

She looked up at Squall with a light smile – his facial response expressing his confusion as he looked back at her.

"A whole year and I still can't completely figure her out." he thought, "What?"

"Why don't you just step down?" she suggested.

Squall was a bit surprised by her words as he stared at her in further bewilderment. Contrary to what she had always thought, he had believed she'd enjoyed him being Commander. Sure, they hadn't gotten to spend much time together, especially lately, but since she hadn't said anything…he thought it was what she had wanted; that she was happy. He didn't understand how though - he wasn't.

"Resign?" he asked, his voice requesting verification.

Rinoa nodded.

"Sure," she answered, "Why do something you don't enjoy? That's not fair. It's your life, Squall. Do what you want."

Squall thought on those words for a moment, turning his head away as he closed his eyes. He had never really thought about it, but hearing it now…she had a point. He wasn't really enjoying his new status – it was boring and redundant: the same thing day after day. Besides, with Balamb Garden no longer mobile…was there even really a need for a Commander anymore? Since Ultimecia's defeat, the whole world had pretty much quieted down. Even Galbadia seemed rather peaceful – something that he actually found more suspicious than pleasing, but nevertheless…it was nice to know they weren't causing problems anymore. Without a real purpose for such a role – was it even worth it? The more he thought about it, the more sense it made.

Still though, he couldn't quite find it in him to agree with such an idea. Everyone at Garden looked up to him and counted on him – more than he expected or desired, but he didn't want to let them down just the same. Sure, it had become rather dull over the past year…but, that was the price to pay for peace. As much as he really wanted to…he just couldn't bring himself to accept that decision.

"…I can't." he said, looking at Rinoa again.

Rinoa just smiled at his words.

"That's what I like about you. You put others before yourself."

She put her hand over her heart as she thought back to how things used to be: when Squall was once the last person you'd expect to help someone through a predicament or be concerned with their thoughts and feelings. He used to never trust anybody, instead telling them to go bother someone else with their problems – and sometimes, literally. The memory made her a bit mad to recall, but she smiled again when she thought about how he was now.

"You've changed, Squall." she said, looking up at him again.

Squall looked away once more upon hearing that.

"Everyone keeps telling me that," he grumbled a little, "It's really getting annoying."

Rinoa looked down at the ground – instantly overcome with embarrassment and apology.

Squall saw her reaction and immediately felt regret sweep over him as he looked at her and sighed.

"I'm sorry. I know it's not your fault. I'm just a bit aggravated. I need a break…or something."

Rinoa continued to stare at the ground as an idea suddenly formed in Squall's head. This time, he was the one to smile as he looked at Rinoa again.

"That's it." he said, quietly.

Rinoa looked up at him in question upon hearing him.

"What?"

"Why don't we get out of here for a little while? Just you and me! We can go anywhere you want to go." he answered.

Rinoa was a caught off-guard a little by this suggestion. It had been so sudden. He had never once brought up any ideas or shown much, if any, interest in leaving Garden – especially indefinitely. He had agreed a few times when she'd asked him, but it was only ever a walk of sorts, usually toward Balamb Town - they would always get no more than a mile from Garden and then Squall would have them turn around. Were things really all that bad?

"Squall, are you sure?" she asked, a clear hesitation in her voice, "What about Garden?"

Squall put his hand on her shoulder as he smiled at her – the look in his eyes sincere and compassionate.

"Everything will be fine. We'll only be gone a few hours, tops," he said.

He looked at her closely as he spoke again.

"Just you and me. That's all I want – even for one night."

Rinoa smiled back at him as she laughed a little under her breath. It had been a while since she and Squall had personal time. She had to admit - the thought was definitely enticing. Besides, as sick as he was of his duties as Commander, she was as equally sick of being a sorceress - the constant worry of how and when she'd adjust to her powers was beginning to stress her out. Not to mention, there was still a fear of what might happen to her should people rise up against her for any reason just because of that status. Things seemed fairly calm now and the chances of that were actually rather slim – but, still…the fear lingered, nonetheless. She knew she'd be able to count on Squall were that to happen, but it was still scary to think about.

She stared up at him for a moment – his undying smile a source of comfort for her, and she found herself unable to resist. He really knew how to charm her.

"Okay," she said, softly, as she nodded, "Where? When?"

Squall smiled at her answer as multiple locations immediately came to mind.

"Balamb, Dollet, FH," he said, "Even Timber. Your pick."

Rinoa smiled at his words as she thought for a moment. As much as she loved Timber, it was a little too far away, and she had seen enough of Balamb by now to last her a lifetime. That helped her narrow it down to FH and Dollet. Both were good locations, but Dollet definitely had the more romantic spots – and better food, in her opinion. Even though it was in Galbadia, as long as she was with Squall…she didn't care too much. Besides, she still wasn't quite fond of Mayor Dobe's attitude towards Squall just because he was a SeeD. She still couldn't forget how rude he'd been when Balamb had nearly crashed into FH the year before. Squall, representing Garden, had been anything but unpleasant – speaking firmly and straightforward, being honest, and just trying to be friendly in general – yet, the mayor and his wife were anything but accepting – a fact she found interesting since they had claimed to be so peaceful. It was thoughts like that which made her decision easy.

"Dollet." she said, happily.

"Alright," Squall said, smiling back, "How about tomorrow night?"

Rinoa just smiled once again as she hugged him, the SeeD holding her close with a warm embrace.

They slowly let go of each other and Squall looked at Rinoa again.

"It's settled then," he said, nodding lightly, "Dollet. Tomorrow – seven o'clock."

Rinoa just nodded in response and Squall kissed her real quick before they both headed back inside Garden.


"President Deling, sir," General Caraway said, as he stood at the door of the President's room.

Deling turned around and smiled at the sight of the General.

"Ah! General Caraway. Do come in."

General Caraway walked toward Deling's desk and stopped a couple feet short of it as he looked at the President in silence – standing straight and proud as he awaited to hear what he'd been summoned for.

Deling sat down at his desk as he took a breath.

"I'll get right to the point," he said, "I'd like to promote you to Commander."

General Caraway was speechless at his words as he looked at him in a bit of surprise, and confusion, for a moment.

"Me, sir?"

Deling looked around the room with a sarcastic expression.

"Do you have a problem with that?" he asked, a bit aggravated.

"No, sir," the General replied, "Thank you, sir."

Deling stood up and faced the General.

"Good," he said, "Your first order of business is to reorganize the Galbadian Army as soon as possible."

General Caraway was a bit taken aghast by the apparent haste. He didn't understand why he need do such a thing. From what he could recall, there were no threats toward Galbadia any time recently - and the army had been severely cut down in numbers due to the prior year's endeavors. Given such, even if he were to regather their forces...there was little chance of them being as effective as before. It was an odd request indeed and he could only look at the president in wonder.

"May I ask why, sir?"

Deling looked at him with an irate expression.

"Questioning your superiors, Commander?" he said, sternly

"No, sir," the General quickly replied, "Excuse my impertinence, sir."

"Good," Deling replied, "I have high expectations of you, Commander. You'd do well to remember that. Dismissed."

General Caraway nodded as Deling turned away from him.

"Sir."

Before he could get out the door, however, Deling spoke one last time.

"Oh, and…Commander."

"Sir." Caraway replied, turning back around immediately.

Deling looked down at his desk at a map of the world, his eyes attracted to a specific spot as he spoke again.

"We'll also be requiring the assistance of a third party." he said, in a sly tone.

Caraway was curious, and a bit suspicious, as he looked at Deling intently.

"...Sir?"

Deling smirked as his eyes remained locked on the map.

"…Get me in touch with Esthar."