Author's note: I don't remember the exact date that I first posted this story, on a now defunct website called Fantasy Square. It still resides on another site, Darkangel's videogame fanfiction, no longer active either except as an archive. I posted this and several other of my stories there first, then on my own website. It never occurred to me to sign up to and start posting here on until YEARS later (after a writer named Ashbear and I struck up an online friendship). I know it has been in existence for at least ten years to my recollection. So, this is my 10th anniversary version of this, still probably one of my favorite, stories. I hope you enjoy it.

GUNBLADE PRACTICE

Disclaimer: These aren't my characters; I am borrowing them from squaresoft. No profit but enjoyment is derived from this.

Dawn was just touching the horizon. The beach still glowed from the starlight of the night before, and the waves swished back and forth in their endless rhythm. As if to herald the sun's approach, a slight breeze picked up, carrying with it the cries of the seabirds and the sounds and smells of the sea. In the gray light, a lone figure strode onto the beach and faced the sea, gazing at the horizon where it was gradually lightening.

Squall Leonhart, in his usual fur-trimmed cropped leather jacket, leather pants, and t-shirt, lifted his face to the breeze and closed his eyes, letting it caress his face and blow his hair back off his forehead. He let the sound of the waves and the birds and the peace that it brought invade his being. It was his favorite place to get away and his favorite time of the day. One of the few moments where he could be alone with his thoughts and not be bothered by all the demands on his time that he had to deal with these days.

Slowly, he slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a white bandanna, and tied it around his forehead to keep the hair out of his eyes. I should probably get a haircut, he thought. I'm getting kinda tired of it flopping into my eyes all the time. He opened his eyes and observed the progress of the sunrise, then turned and walked away from the onrushing tide onto the sand, and removed his jacket. Squall then pulled his gunblade from its holster and stood in a ready position, facing the sea, and the dawn.

Starting slowly at first to warm up, he made a pass to the left, then to the right, letting the weight of the blade carry through the swing. Then he started first with a beginners pattern, fighting an imaginary opponent...block, parry, thrust, guard, and then back to ready position, going over the same pattern faster and faster until he was warm, sweating in fact.

The sun broke over the waves, the colors of the dawn turning from violet, to red, rose, peach and then to fiery gold, the colors picking up in the blade Squall held. He thrust it into the sand for a moment to stretch out his arms and shoulders, shaking out some lingering kinks, then, as it was getting warmer, he removed his t-shirt and tossed it over to where his jacket lay. Then he worked through all the different patterns he knew at full speed, going from beginner to the more advanced maneuvers he now knew.

The sun glinted off his heavy platinum chain with the lion head pendant, and flashed on the translucent, sky blue blade of Lion Heart as he worked out. He shifted to a one handed grip; more difficult with the heavy weapon, but the adamantine it was made out of was lighter than pure steel. He started making some fancy passes, whirling the blade from one side to the next, keeping his left hand close to his chest to keep it out of the way, then slashed high, slashed low, spun around and slashed out and down.

He kept up the dance, letting the weight and balance of the blade choose its own path, ignoring the sweat that trickled down the side of his face and neck, and down his chest. He wasn't dancing to any pre-set pattern now, he was caught up in the joy and challenge, and for a moment, his mind, spirit and body all were focused on the flash of the blade. He used his whole body, shifting forward and back on his legs, diving forward and rolling to his feet to slash at an imaginary attacker.

At one point he grew audacious and took a running start, gaining speed, then leaped high into the air, flipping into a forward somersault and landing firmly on his feet, back into his guard position, and laughed with pure joy. Zell's not the only one who can do somersaults! He thought gleefully. He continued the dance, his breath more labored now, but the blood still surging in his veins urged him on, and so he did, ignoring fatigue.


Selphie ran through Balamb Garden's hallways to the girl's dorm. Gasping for breath, she pounded on the door to Rinoa's dorm room. When she opened it, just barely awake, she saw Selphie, jumping up and down in excitement.

"Hurry up and get dressed Rinoa, you gotta see this!" she urged.

Blinking sleepily, Rinoa asked, "see what?"

Selphie only repeated, "Hurry up and get dressed!" When Rinoa complied, Selphie grabbed her by the hand and started towing her out of her room.

"Hey! Can I at least brush my hair?" She protested, wondering at Selphie's excitement and trying to guess at how many cups of coffee she'd had already. Selphie stopped and waited impatiently for Rinoa to run a brush through her hair, and then they continued on out the door.

"Oh, I hope he isn't finished yet, " Selphie panted as they ran through the hallways.

"Hope who isn't finished?" Rinoa asked.

"Squall. Oh you gotta see this, its sooo coool!" Selphie exclaimed, and she urged Rinoa to greater speed as they ran out of the Garden and toward the beach.

As they approached they could see Squall's lone figure doing some exercises with his gunblade. Suddenly Selphie grabbed Rinoa and they both dropped to the ground at the crest of a hill where the land began to slope into the sea.

"Shhhh-shh," panted Selphie.

Rinoa was too busy catching her breath from her run to say anything. At Selphie's urging, she turned her eyes to where Squall was still working out with his gunblade. She was amazed. She knew Squall was a top-notch fighter, it took years to master his unique weapon, and he was the only one in Garden who specialized in using it.

But she had seen him fighting for his life with it, and that, she found, was not the same as watching him practice it. It became more than a mere exercise, it became art instead. He moved with the lithe grace and balance of the very same creature whose head graced his pendant, and as he moved faster and faster, she could see it was more than a workout to him, it was more like a dance. He danced to his own rhythm, punctuated by the singing of his blade through the air and his own explosive breaths. When he ran forward and did a front somersault, laughing for joy upon landing on his feet and immediately shifting into a parry-thrust, she gasped. Then she immediately clamped her hand over her mouth as Squall, whose hearing was exceptionally keen, quickly looked in their direction.

"Uh-oh," Whispered Selphie. "Busted."

"Shh," Rinoa whispered back, "maybe not."

Squall stood, sweat slicked and panting, and narrowed his eyes, still gazing in their direction. Then a slight smile quirked at the corners of his mouth, and he gave a slight nod, and then continued with his blade dancing. Rinoa was torn between embarrassment at getting caught spying, and amusement at Selphie's attempts to melt into the grass.

Rinoa propped her chin on her fist and waited for him, smiling. He is so beautiful, she thought, admiring the way the sun caught in his mahogany hair and sparked on the coppery red highlights. His suntanned skin covered well-defined arm and chest muscles, made so by his incessant training with the huge gunblade. If not for the scar Seifer gave him, he'd be almost too pretty to be a boy, she mused.

The scar that was Squall's trademark was a diagonal slash beginning above his right eyebrow, going over the bridge of his aquiline nose between his eyes to below his left eye. Quistis had told Rinoa that Squall had gotten it in a "training accident" with his archrival and the only other gunblade user in Garden at the time, Seifer Almasy. Seifer bore a similar scar, a mirror image of Squall's own, gained on Squall's return stroke.

It was gifted to him on the same day that Squall had passed the SeeD field exam, the same exam that Seifer had failed yet again. It was the very same day that I met him, at the Celebratory Ball for the new SeeD inductees. She remembered. Even with the fresh cut on his forehead, he still had looked so handsome in his dress uniform that he had taken her breath away.

"Hello..?" Selphie waved her hand in front of Rinoa's face.

"What?" Said Rinoa, startled out of her (somewhat lustful) thoughts.

"What planet were you on? Were you even watching? " Selphie demanded.

"Yes, of course I was..." Said Rinoa, blushing.

"Well, gotta go!" Selphie said with an impish grin and bounced to her feet, green eyes twinkling with humor, then ran off giggling.

"Hey! Wait! Selphie!" Rinoa said, starting to get up, then stopped as a shadow fell across her.

Squall stood with his gloved hand outstretched to help Rinoa to her feet. He pulled her to her feet, smiling, and then jumped slightly as she threw her arms around him in a tight hug.

"Uh, Rinoa..." He began; holding his arms away from her, then gently pushed her away.

"What?" She asked, smiling at him.

"I..Um, I need a shower..." He said, fanning his overheated face and grimacing.

"Silly," she chided, "I don't care". Then she slid her hands behind his neck and pulled him into a kiss.

Hesitating a moment, he thought, what the hell, and tightened his arms around her and kissed her back until they were both flushed and panting. I could really get used to this, he thought when his scattered wits returned.

"Let's go back inside." He said softly, picking up his jacket and shaking out the sand, then doing likewise with his t-shirt and putting it back on. It was too hot to wear the jacket now, so he slung it over his shoulder, holding it with one hand and draping his arm around Rinoa with the other.

As they started walking back, Rinoa asked him, "So why are you training out here now, instead of the Training Center?"

"Too many interruptions." He answered, and then continued, "Everyone knew to look for me there and before I knew it, I was rescuing half of the wannabe gunblade masters that have suddenly started to crop up among the underclassmen. I finally had to go to the instructors to have them enforce the buddy rule there so nobody would get hurt." He sighed. He hated giving kids detention; it put him too much in mind of Seifer and his self-appointed disciplinary committee, Fujin and Raijin.

"I bet they told you to set a good example and never go in there alone yourself, right?" Rinoa asked, brown eyes lit with amusement.

Squall gave her a sidewise look and a smirk and said, "yeah...they did. And I could see their point, so I stopped working out in there and started coming out here instead."

Rinoa laughed, "Old habits are hard to change, aren't they?" Squall tightened his arm around her shoulders in a half hug and kissed the top of her head.

"I'm working on it." He said.

They continued on into the Garden, with Squall giving a nod to the security guard at the front gate. It was still early yet, so the halls weren't too populated, but some early risers were treated to the sight of Squall strolling casually toward the dormitories with Rinoa snuggled under his arm. Some waved and called out hellos, others smiled. Squall nodded to acknowledge the greetings, then continued on to the dorms.

Kissing Rinoa again at the door to her room, he told her, "I'll meet you in the cafeteria for breakfast." He started to turn away but Rinoa grabbed him and kissed him silly, again.

Surfacing for air a few moments later, Squall said the first thing that popped into his head, "I really need that shower..." he said, backing off. Preferably a cold one, he thought, trying to regain control over his raging hormones. Rinoa smiled at him sweetly and blew him a kiss, then made a shooing motion with her hands.

"Ok, you can go now. See you at breakfast." She turned and went into her room.


Showered and shaved, dressed in his SeeD uniform since he had laundry to do and didn't much care to do it (he usually prevailed upon Zell's mom in town to do it for him, but he hadn't made it over there yet), he joined Rinoa in the cafeteria. She smiled as he sat down next to her.

"Mmmm..Spiffy. Why so formal? Got an important meeting?" She asked.

"No," He grinned, flashing an elusive dimple in one cheek. "I have to do laundry, and I haven't had a chance to get over to Zell's yet."

"Flash that dimple at her and she'll be begging to adopt you." Rinoa teased, then stopped as his expression cooled and he started on his breakfast.

"I'm sorry Squall, I wasn't thinking." She started, but he looked up and replied, "It's ok, I know you didn't mean anything by it." He took her hand and rubbed the back of her knuckles with his thumb in gentle reassurance. They were almost finished eating when they heard Xu's voice over the P.A. system, paging for Squall to come to the bridge.

He stood up and gave her a quick kiss, then said, "Time to go to work. I'll see you later ok?" He traced his finger down her cheek and smiled.

"Ok Squall" she smiled back.

As Squall strode toward the lift, he thought over the changes that he had undergone, both within and without, since he and his friends had defeated the evil Sorceress Ultimecia. It seemed like a lifetime had passed for him, and perhaps in a way it had while he was in the time-compressed world of her making. He only knew that he was no longer the same person who had originally set out, albeit reluctantly, to save the world from the evil Sorceress. He'd had no such altruistic motives, in reality. In the end, he had only done it to save Rinoa from the threat of possession.

Now just barely eighteen, the youngest (indeed, currently the only) SeeD commander in the history of the Gardens; Squall found himself surprisingly settling into the role thrust upon him by Headmaster Cid during the battle with Galbadia Garden. It had been under Seifer's command at the time. He was carrying out Edea's orders while she was under Ultimecia's control.

I wonder what became of Seifer after we defeated him in Esthar? Squall wondered. He was badly injured, but not dead when we killed the Sorceress Adel. We were so busy with that battle, nobody paid attention to what he was doing. He vaguely remembered someone telling him that they had spotted him fishing in Balamb Harbor with his compatriots, Fujin and Raijin not long after Ultimecia's defeat. Not wanting to waste any more time thinking about his erstwhile enemy, Squall continued up to the bridge, and gave Xu a salute.

"Well, Squall, I don't know what made you decide to wear your uniform today, but its a lucky thing you did," She said, smiling.

Squall waited, and then realizing she was actually expecting a response, he asked, "Oh? Why is that?"

"You have a special visitor in your office, someone who wants to hire you and your team." She said. Then continued, "He just got here, so I told him it would be ok to wait in your office."

"What's the job?" Squall asked, wondering why Xu would put a potential contract in his office instead of just having them wait in the lobby like everyone else.

"Why don't you just talk to him about that?" Xu said, seeming slightly flustered. Squall gave her an odd look and took the lift down to his office.

The minute he walked in, he knew the reason for Xu's odd behavior. Never in a million years would he mistake that long mane of black hair, rumpled turquoise shirt and khaki pants. It was the same outfit the man had worn the first time Squall had met him in Esthar. Even with his back to the door, Squall knew who it was. He had shared minds with this man, during dreamlike states his sis Ellone had put him in, reliving a past that had happened before his birth through this man's eyes. Laguna Loire, President of the great nation of Esthar, stood in all his rumpled glory, gazing out of the window in Squall's office, with his hands in his pockets and shoulders hunched forward.

Laguna Loire, liberator of Esthar from the same Sorceress Adel that Squall, seventeen years later, killed. He was a former Galbadian soldier, then journalist and writer, who left his new wife Raine in her hometown of Winhill to search for her adopted daughter Ellone after she had been kidnapped by Estharian soldiers acting on Adel's orders. He was never to return upon hearing of Raine's death. Laguna Loire… his father. Squall closed the door behind him and stood, silent for a moment, gazing at him as he turned around.

"Squall..." Laguna began.

"President Loire." Squall cut him off coldly. "What can I do for you?"

Laguna sighed. I guess I can't really blame him. He thought. For seventeen years, the boy thought he was an orphan. Now, come to find out his father is not only alive, but President of the largest country in the world, is a bit of a shock, to say the least. I just hope that someday he can find it in him to forgive me... His thoughts trailed off as he studied his son. He's filled out some since I last saw him, looks a little taller too. He was brought up short as Squall, looking impatient, cleared his throat and gave him an icy look that clearly said, "Let's get on with it, shall we?"

"Ah, ok." Said Laguna. "I'm going to Galbadia on a diplomatic mission. We are trying to reestablish trade with the rest of the world, and now that Galbadia's government is stable, The Estharian Council thought it would be a good idea to start there. You know General Caraway, right? Rinoa's father?" Squall nodded.

"Well, right after Edea killed President Deling, Caraway declared martial law and took over. He's gradually gotten the situation settled down but wants to get the economy there jump-started before he steps down and lets the citizens of Galbadia elect a new president." Laguna went on,

"Basically, what I want you and your team to do, Squall, is act as my security escort while I'm in Deling City."

Great, Squall thought sourly. I get to baby-sit this buffoon while he does his P.R. spiel. I thought he used to be a soldier himself. He folded his arms across his chest and studied Laguna, mildly surprised to note that he was now at an even height with him, or even slightly taller now. Then he brought his thoughts back to the matter at hand.

"Have you received any threats?" He asked coolly.

"Any political figure will have enemies, regardless the type of person they are, it goes with the office. It's only a precaution, and I would rather have you and your friends backing up Ward and Kiros, than anyone else. I know I can trust you." Laguna said.

Squall narrowed his eyes. Typical politician, takes a whole sentence to say absolutely nothing, he thought.

Then he took a step forward, looking directly into Laguna's eyes, and asked again, distinctly, "Have you received any threats?" Emerald green eyes met cool blue-green as they studied each other. Then Laguna let out a breath and scratched at the back of his neck.

"Yeah, I have." Laguna waited a beat, but Squall's expression never changed as he questioned him about the nature and frequency of the threats. When Squall had gotten as much information from Laguna as he had to give, he turned to leave.

"Squall, wait." Laguna stopped him, and then asked, "Will you take the job?"

"I'll have to think about it. Are you staying in the Balamb Hotel?" He asked. Laguna nodded.

"You'll hear from us within the next day or two." Squall replied, and then left.

Squall had too many mixed feelings about Laguna's visit to sort through immediately, so he did what he usually did in those kinds of situations, shoved them into a little corner of his mind and ignored them. He went through his duties without any sign of his personal feelings on the matter. Sooner or later, he knew, he would have to face them and sort through them, and maybe actually talk to Laguna to try to make some sense out of what he was feeling. He wasn't all that thrilled about the thought.

After discussing with Xu various mundane details such as current SeeD assignments, new applicants to the academy, the latest group scheduled for a field exam, Squall headed back to his office to review some reports. Paperwork. He thought with exasperation, 90% of the time leadership all boils down to paperwork. I may take that job just to get the hell out of here. Squall thought, knowing Xu could keep things running smoothly in his absence.

Squall was thankful for Xu's support, the older woman could have easily have been resentful of someone of his youth being given a command that she perhaps would have been better suited for. Instead she supported and subtly guided him, almost as much his mentor as Headmaster Cid. He planned this for me from the moment I joined Balamb Garden, he thought, remembering Cid's subtle guidance in his curriculum choices. I didn't understand why he kept stressing subjects like Strategy and Tactics, Diplomacy. At that thought, Squall smirked. Probably the only class I ever failed...Leadership Skills...Now I'm using everything I learned, and then some. The only thing I STILL can't figure out is WHY? Why me?

Realizing that he was brooding again, Squall sighed and stood up, noting the time as he did so. It was already past noon, and Squall realized that he had been so distracted by Laguna's visit he had forgotten to eat lunch. Squall poked his head out of his office door, looking for Xu.

"Xu, is there anything else that needs my immediate attention?" He asked when she came into sight.

"Nothing urgent, but Quistis was wondering if you could give a demonstration to one of her classes on gunblade techniques, sometime next week?" Xu asked. Squall sighed and closed his eyes for a minute.

He was sincerely glad that Quistis had gotten her instructor's permit back, and she was an even better teacher now than she had been before, but he really hated that sort of thing, even though Zell and Irvine ate it up when their turns came to demonstrate martial arts or marksmanship. He opened his eyes and looked over at Xu's slightly amused expression.

"All right, tell her I'll do it, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to do it next week or not. I'll talk it over with her." He raked his fingers through his hair and said, "Well, if there isn't anything else going on right now, I'm gonna take off. Call me if anything comes up." With that, he strode to the lift, and headed down to his dorm room, by way of Zell's room. He still had to do laundry. Maybe I'll snag something to eat in town...


"Give him some time Laguna." Kiros, Laguna's friend and the Prime Minister of Esthar, said. "Its a lot for him to get used to." Ward rumbled in agreement.

Laguna paced the hotel room restlessly and then flung his arms out in frustration. "I know! But it's been months since they beat Ultimecia, and no word from him at all!" Laguna sat down dejectedly on the edge of the bed and put his elbows on his knees, and his face in his hands, looking through his fingers at his friends.

" I want to get to know him, at least be friends with him if nothing else, but he won't even try! How can I make up for the last seventeen years Kiros? How do I even reach him?" Laguna's green eyes shone with anguish. Ah, Raine...If you had only told me...

"From what his friends told me, that's just the way he is." Kiros stated. "He'll never make any overtures Laguna, you have to keep trying."

"He's like that because of me," Laguna said in a low voice. Kiros shook his head, his brown eyes dark with sympathy.

"No, Laguna, its not because of you. He was hurt, very deeply, as a child, but not by you." Kiros said firmly.

"I should have been there for him...I wish I had been there. I probably would have made the worst father in the world, " He gave a mirthless laugh. "But at least I would have had the chance to try and screw it up myself. I missed so much of his life...his babyhood, his first steps..." Laguna wished he had seen Squall as a baby. He wondered if he had been as solemn as an infant as he now was as a young man. Raine wanted me to see him, Laguna thought in anguish. But by the time I made it back to Winhill, it was too late; Raine had died. I felt like a part of myself had died with her.

"Well, if he takes this job you've offered him, you'll at least be able to spend some time with him." Abruptly changing the subject in the hopes of getting his friend's mind off his problems, he asked, "Anybody hungry? I could do with some lunch, and I'm sure the Incredible Bulk over there is starving too." Kiros grinned at Ward's glare and rude gesture.

A giant at 7-plus feet, Ward's huge frame took a lot of fuel to keep going. Mute since a throat injury during their last action while in the Galbadian army, Ward nevertheless managed to make himself understood to his two closest friends. Going over to where Laguna sat, Ward clapped his huge hand onto the smaller man's shoulder to get his attention, and then jerked his head toward the door.

"All right, we'll go," Laguna sighed and stood up, then suggested, "Maybe you two ought to put on some normal clothes or something, you'll stick out like sore thumbs here in those Estharian robes. I still don't see why you guys actually like wearing them, they look kinda silly if you ask me."

Kiros crossed his arms over his chest and said with great dignity, "Esthar IS a desert country, and these robes are very comfortable. It wouldn't hurt you to try wearing them yourself Laguna, after all, you ARE the president." Ward rumbled in agreement.

Laguna shook his head. "Nobody asked ME if I wanted to be president. They just sorta took a vote while I wasn't looking. Besides, they may look ok on you guys, but I'd feel like I was wearing a dress or somethin' " He started for the door, and looked over his shoulder at the two of them, saying, "c'mon then, let's go."


Squall finally arrived back at Balamb Garden after getting his clothes cleaned and grabbing a quick lunch at Zell's mom's place. Zell had to do a bit of laundry himself, and to his, and Squall's, surprise, (and consternation), Mrs. Dincht told them both to do their own laundry and she would fix them lunch instead. At a loss as to how to deal with his leather outfit, he dropped it off at a dry cleaner's and did the rest at a Laundromat. Then watched in veiled amusement as Zell's adoptive mother fussed over him the way all mothers do while they ate lunch. After agreeing with her final admonishment to "Keep Zell out of trouble!" they both headed back to Garden.

Upon arrival, he told Zell to find Quistis, Irvine and the others, and have them meet him in the cafeteria at their usual table. Then he went to his room to change into his favorite black jeans and t-shirt, and headed for the cafeteria. On the way there, he reflected that since there was nothing serious pending and all the SeeD teams currently out on assignment had their jobs well in hand, he would go ahead and accept the job Laguna had offered him. Sitting down at the table next to Rinoa, he looked at his friends, who were waiting for him to state the reason he had asked them all to meet.

Glancing over to Quistis, he asked her, "Quistis, is there anyone who can take over your classes for the next few days?"

Quistis shrugged, "I'm sure Xu can help me find someone, why?" she asked, sky blue eyes alive with curiosity.

" I had a meeting this morning with the President of Esthar, and he wants to hire us as his security escort on a diplomatic visit he's planning to make to Galbadia." He said, still wondering what his real motivation for deciding to do it was. I think I just need to get out of here and away from all that damn paperwork, he thought, not willing to acknowledge that this would be a perfect opportunity to get a few things sorted out between himself and his father, and something inside him had been nagging at him to take the job.

"You didn't have anything to do with this, did you Shiva?" He asked his guardian mentally.

Shiva was indignant and her crystalline voice rang in his head as she replied, "no master, it was not I, it was your own heart did the nagging this time."

"Are you sure about that?" He pressed, and had a mental vision of Shiva folding her arms and pouting.

"Ok, maybe I did nudge a little, but you need to do this. Please don't be mad at me?" He shook his head and assured her that he wasn't angry.

They never tell you that when you junction with a Guardian Force, you sometimes get the more intelligent ones talking back to you if you aren't careful, he thought ruefully, and then sent a calming thought to Shiva as she reacted to that.

Normally, GFs didn't get too involved, just appearing when they were summoned and doing their job of supporting the person junctioned to them, but sometimes, when the bond is long standing, and a very deep one, as his was with Shiva, they got a little proprietary. Coming back from his momentary distraction, he noticed Zell and Irvine studying him with amusement.

"Shiva put in her two cents?" Zell asked. Squall nodded.

Zell laughed, "I just got an earful from Ifrit, he's all for it. Said he was getting bored with whompin on T-rexaurs."

Squall looked at the rest of his friends and they all nodded. He shook his head.

"Now that all our guardians are in agreement, I guess I should finish telling you what the job entails." He said dryly, and then continued, "I take it that everyone is willing to go to Deling City then?"

At their nods, he went on, "President Loire has been receiving threats ever since his announcement to go to Galbadia. His private security forces haven't been able to determine if the threat to him is serious or not, but Galbadia still harbors some factions who aren't in favor of General Caraway's policies, and may wish to cause trouble to keep Esthar and Galbadia from reaching any kind of trade agreement. Because of Vinzer Deling's mismanagement, the economy of Galbadia is currently in a depressed state, and they need this trade agreement."

"So how are we involved?" Quistis asked.

"We're going to be working with the president's security forces as his special escort, with a secondary objective to find out if in fact the threats are serious and eliminate them." Squall explained.

"Why us? We have people here specially trained for that sort of thing..." Zell wondered.

"He requested us specifically. He remembers us from when we were in Esthar to fight Sorceress Adel. He said he knows he can trust us. " Squall sighed for a moment, looking pensive, then said

"That's it for now, I'm gonna go clear a few things with Xu and the faculty, then we'll get together with the President and work out the details of the contract."

After deciding that it was better for all concerned for the Garden to remain stationary at Balamb for now, since it was only a small team that the President had requested, Squall got in touch with Laguna and informed him that they had decided to take the job.

"Great!" Laguna had said enthusiastically, "we can leave whenever you're ready, I'm not really due to be there for another few days, so you can take your time getting things set up."

"I do have some questions that I would like to ask you about this, so can we meet and discuss it?" Squall asked, then continued, "I would also like to request some special equipment if possible, to help out with this."

"Sure, whatever you want! If we don't have it, can probably whip it up for you in no time." Laguna replied helpfully.

"I'll get you a list." Squall replied dryly.