Author's Notes: Another bridge story between Hyne's War and Eden's Chosen.


Freedom's Call

In the course of his training, Nida had learned a wide number of means to keep calm in stressful situations. Calm was the core of a SeeD's combat regimen, and translated well to all aspects of life. Right now he was using one of the most basic tactics, counting to a hundred to keep him from shouting at Martine.

"I've already told you," he sighed, not even looking up from his paperwork—a great means of implied dismissal that he'd learned from Squall—and shook his head. "My contract is up in a few days. And I would frankly prefer if you did not make such a fuss. For once in my life I would like to exit quietly and gracefully."

"And just what am I supposed to do without you?"

"If you'll forgive me, Headmaster Martine, we could both do without you trotting out cliches best reserved for romantic comedies. I am no more a requisite to the successful operation of a Garden than I am a master chef. Besides," Nida said, finally setting his pen aside and looking up to stare unflinchingly into Martine's eyes, "My replacement has long since been arranged, and trained might I add."

"Almasy is..."

Martine actually flinched when Nida slammed his hand on his desk.

"Seifer has been training as my, and eventually your, replacement since his arrival. More than half of the work processed by my office is performed by Almasy. The only reason he is yet to take over in fact is because Squall feels it is better this way. He wants everyone to see the confidence I place in him before he steps up as your SeeD Commander. And the goal is to give him a few months practical experience and exposure as a true power before your retirement."

"I do not approve of..."

"And the rest of the Inter-Garden Council couldn't give a fuck," Nida snapped. "This decision was never in your hands. We forgave your betrayal during the Sorceress War, yet you refuse to forgive his when he's proved his value and redeemed himself time and time again. This time next year Seifer's going to be sitting in your office, like it or not. Your own contract is expiring and we aren't picking it back up. So lay off and get out of my office."

The Galbadian Garden Headmaster fled, almost eagerly. It made Nida wonder if the conversation hadn't turned out exactly as Martine had desired. Maybe he shouldn't have mentioned the role of the Council in all of this, but soon it wasn't going to be his problem, so why did he care?

A series of three short, exaggerated claps reminded him just why he cared.

"Seifer," he sighed, returning his attention to the report before him.

"While it doesn't look like Squall, it sure sounds like Squall, and scowls like Squall. Tell me, who put the stick so far up your ass this time? I want to beat them with it."

"Remind me to laugh next time you tell a joke."

"Hey Nomura?"

"Yeah?"

"Laugh."

Seifer had insane reflexes, even without being junctioned. It was that which saved him from the letter opener that thudded into the wood of the door jab here Seifer's ear had recently been. Not that Nida had expected the small, sharp blade to hit. No, he had just learned very early on something Squall had known for years: it was easier to work closely with Almasy when one was open with their annoyance. There were more than a few notches in the door from the letter opener that Nida sharpened every morning while reading reports.

"You missed your calling as a knife thrower in the circus," Seifer laughed, yanking the impromptu weapon from the door.

"You missed yours as a target," Nida countered, smirking to himself. "How long were you listening?"

"I think I came in somewhere around 'good afternoon Headmaster.'"

Leave it to Seifer to hear the entirety of a conversation he shouldn't have heard a word of. There was a talent there, almost a useful one, though Nida had yet to figure out a use for it. He desperately hoped that someone, someday, would determine a use for it. He feared, constantly, that Seifer already had.

"How come no one told me about these plans? I could have told you all that I'm not the man for the job..."

"You aren't," Nida quickly agreed, and he could see the shock plainly written on Seifer's face. He took a fraction of a second to enjoy the expression. It took a lot ot earn that from either Seifer or Squall. Still, if he let it go too long, Seifer was going to ruin the moment, and he wasn't ready for the snark that would come with it. "But you will be. You've proven that to me and the others countless time since you returned from Balamb with me. Besides, this was one of the conditions I gave Squall for my coming here in the first place. I would come to Galbadia to see the program up to snuff, if you were to train for real responsibility. When you think about it, I've traded your freedom for my own."

He laughed, and the sound of it was oddly bitter, even to his own ears. Strange. Why would he feel like that? Wasn't he looking forward to his escape? He was just so tired these days.

"You really don't understand what it means to be in the posse, do you? Once a member..."

"Always a member," Nida finished. "Trust me, I get it. Consider this my way of supporting the posse after I'm gone. You've already proven to me that you can lead. I promised Squall I'd show him you belonged guiding a Garden. I have. No it's your turn to prove it. To Squall, to the Council, to the world, and to yourself. I've even arranged a strong second for you, one already on the way to replace me. The same ship delivering her will be taking me..."

"So that's why Fuu has been evasive lately. Count on her to keep quiet better than you ever could. Now just imagine what could happen with you as Headmaster, me as SeeD Commander, and Fuu as my second."

"I'd rather not," Nida admitted, shaking his head. "I know I'm going to sound crazy saying this, but I'm tired. I've been going non-stop since before the war began. The closest I've come to a break was when I was injured or under suspicion of working with Elijah. I need to stop. I've done what I promised everyone else. Now it's time to do what I promised myself."

"And where are you going to go? Winhill is hardly..."

"I have a place in Esthar."

That shut Seifer up. In fact, something like but not quite amusement lingered on his friend's face. Friend? Yes, that was a plain truth between them no. Their bond could never rival the one Seifer had with the other posse members, or Nida with... Well, they were close in their own way. As such they knew much about each other, to the point where few secrets slipped past them. For Nida to have managed to keep the knowledge from Seifer was pretty serious, and so no small bit suspicious.

"Esthar, huh? Never figured you for the type. All that hustle and bustle..."

"Is oddly suited to solitude. Which is what I'm looking for."

"You're running away again."

Nida laughed, first a low, private thing; then louder a full bellied. "I'd hardly call it running. It's a vacation. Three months, mandatory. Let's face it, the only thing I know how to do is live and work in a Garden. Squall has given me an advance on the last two months pay so I could get a place far from concerns and memory to unwind. I figure I'll go mad in a week. Or catch up on a lot of reading. Or both."

"You'll have trouble staying in shape, not to mention contact."

Again Nida laughed. "We've thought of that. There's a private line installed in my place that goes straight to the Presidential Palace and the Gardens. High Commander Leonhart also expects me to stay in shape. I'll have sparring sessions twice a week with Seagill and Zabac. I'm also expected to maintain my condition on my own, otherwise Squall's threatened to see me back into shape himself."

"Ouch," Seifer winced, his shoulders shaking with laughter. "Well..."

"If I need anything, I know how to reach you," Nida agreed. "You know, Seifer, sometimes you make it seem like you're my own, personal knight in shining armor."

The letter opener cam sailing back through the air, handle first. That didn't stop the laughter.