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Title: Echoes
Part: 18
Fandom: Final Fantasy VIII
Disclaimer: No implied ownership, no financial gain, only fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: Squall/Zell eventual, Full Cast
Rating: M overall
Summary: Squall draws a strange spell from a strange beast, but when he casts it, nothing seems to happen -- until the next day...
Notes: 2007's NaNoWriMo fic, edited. May contain gratuitous butchering of game mechanics and also, lots of Shiva. Some of this has been posted randomly in unfinished forms. ^^;;

"Eighteen," Squall said to himself as he stared upward at the dark ceiling of his dark room. "Eighteen."

Compared with fifty variations on his day remaining, eighteen sounded wonderful. But everything had reset and his previous day getting to know Zell was now completely void of existence, except in his head. It wasn't fair - he wanted to see what would happen. He wanted to know if it would work out.

And chances were, he thought, that if he ever tried anything like that once time straightened itself out, he'd only meet with disaster.

He rolled over and crawled out of bed, turning on his bedroom light before stumbling through the bathroom to turn the shower on first, then the light.

"Lame," he said to his reflection in the mirror. Still no horns, no scales or anything else. He stretched and then scratched his stomach. "Really lame."

"Day off?"

"I take every other day off," he told Shiva as he shook his head. "Maybe I just do some work today, like it's a normal day, and see what happens."

Shiva didn't respond - she only retreated a bit to her usual spot, resting comfortably as Squall got in the shower.

"What do I do if I see Zell?" he asked as he washed his hair. "Smile and wave, I guess. I wish I'd cast the spell on both of us. I could stand being stuck on repeat with him."

He paused.

"I mean, if it worked. For all I know, we're a million times better as friends," Squall said as he began to rinse himself off. "I probably shouldn't view Garden as a dating pool anyway. In fact, I probably shouldn't. No one has managed a successful romance around here other than Cid and Matron and you know what, Shiva? I would hardly classify that as normal."

Shaking his head, he finished washing and turned off the water.

"Normal, normal day..."

A half hour later, he had a cup of coffee in his hand and was heading towards his office. No breakfast for anyone else or anything - just himself and his coffee. He was going to have a normal day. One without a stapler, he realized just before he saw Quistis coming his way.

"Good morning!" she said, waving to him with one hand. She had a thick folder of papers in the other, tucked against her side.

"Morning," Squall replied with a quick raise of the hand not clutching his coffee.

"I heard that spell was a complete dud," she said as she stopped and gave him a once over. "Sorry I had to miss it, but I've been grading papers for the last week and if I don't keep grading them every waking hour, they'll never get done."

"I remember seeing the incident report for your aide," Squall replied. "Why haven't you asked for help?"

"Pride, I guess," Quistis said as she shook her head. "I'm supposed to be able to do everything, remember?"

"If you need a hand, stop by my office after lunch and I'll help you," Squall offered with a soft smile.

Quistis smiled back. "Just don't tell anyone, okay?"

"Not a problem," Squall said. "What's the subject?"

"History of Political Strife on the Galbadian Continent," Quistis replied. "One of your favorites."

"I should brush up," Squall noted. He needed to hit the library to see Ellone anyway. And tell her the weather in Winhill, which he quickly needed to check on. "I'll stop by the library and grab a reference."

"Good luck," Quistis said. "They're probably all still checked out. Or at least the ones with the newer updates."

"Quistis, I think I know about the newer updates. We were there."

She smiled. "I know. And you should see how wrong these papers get it anyway."

Squall shook his head as he headed off. He could check the weather on the internet in his office (as much as he didn't like turning his computer on - it always led to more work that he didn't mind doing but didn't necessarily want to do in the first place because it just kept appearing. That and everyone sent him really silly e-mails that he most certainly wouldn't pass on even to people that he didn't like). And maybe grab a stapler from Xu or have a stapler thrown at him by Xu...

Ellone was easy to find, though in a different part of the library than he'd remembered her being in, if he could even trust his memories. The past month's worth of days were jumbling together worse than he thought they should be, though technically they were the same day over and over - there was really no reason to expect to be able to tell any of them apart.

"Hey, Sis," he softly called as he stepped up behind her. She was bent over a table, apparently showing something in a large book to one of her students.

"Squall!" she turned, smiling. "You feeling okay? No weird after-effects from that spell? I'd meant to try to stop by your room this morning but..."

"No worries," Squall said. "Do you see horns or scales?"

"You'd be cute with horns," she said as she looked him over. "No problems, then?"

"Nothing," Squall said. "And in case you were too busy to check this morning, it's supposed to rain in Winhill today. No storms - just a nice soft rain."

Ellone's face went through a multitude of expressions before finishing on a puzzled smile. "How did you...? Why...? Thank you."

"It's a long story," Squall said as he turned to go. "Just wanted to let you know that I'm okay. And grab a book, actually, which is why I was here."

"Yeah..." she said, obviously still a little stunned. "Thanks..."

Squall headed off to the political reference section and found the book he remembered using when he had to write a very similar paper for Quistis. It certainly wasn't very current, but the current stuff, well, had left a bit of a lasting impression on him. And besides, it was all still being written, anyway.

For some reason, doing paperwork was far easier when it would accomplish absolutely no useful purpose. Squall felt like he was flying through it and much to his amazement, the same stack that would have taken him all day was done in only a couple of hours. Which was fine as he'd completely missed lunch and found himself happily waiting for Quistis to arrive with whatever snacks she was going to bring.

Luckily, she was right on time, bearing a pair of lucious ripe apples and a tray of cheese and crackers.

"I hope you don't mind helping me eat this," she said as she entered, an almost apologetic smile on her face. "I keep telling them not to bring me candy, so they've been bringing me things resembling real food. I almost want the candy back, but that was just giving me a big butt."

Squall chuckled.

"Sorry," Quistis said quickly. "Probably too much information."

"Nah," Squall said. "You're a teammate - sometimes when you're close to someone, you get to say all the kinds of things you'd never say to anyone else."

"You sure you didn't get zapped by that spell?" Quistis asked. "That was somewhat un-Squallish."

"Actually, it's a response to some of Selphie's revelations in Trabia," Squall replied. There was a grain of truth in that. "And it just felt normal. Besides, who else do we have to talk to?"

"Good point," Quistis said as she set everything down on the low coffee table that was flanked on either side by leather sofas. She flopped onto one and pulled her boots off. "Now, let's get these stupid papers taken care of."

Squall was amused to see Quistis of all people making herself comfortable. Usually Quistis maintained her uptight persona through the whole day. He half-expected her to let her hair down, but that would have been too much. Maybe he wasn't the only who'd been zapped by the repeat spell - maybe they were all repeating without telling one another. Except Quistis hadn't been there.

"Afterward, we should go take care of a few Grats or something," Squall said as he sat down across from her and grabbed an apple. "Just to make sure neither of us have gone soft."

"I doubt you have, Mr. I-Just-Killed-Some-Random-Beastie-In-Trabia," Quistis shot back.

"I wish you'd have been there," Squall said. "Just like old times."

"'Old Times' weren't that long ago," Quistis said as she handed a paper over to him. "Just mark the stuff that looks off."

"Ever wonder what we're supposed to be doing now?" Squall asked as he took the report and began to look it over. He could probably recite half of it from memory, complete with errors, if he wanted to. "Now that things are calm..."

"They don't stay like this forever," Quistis said. She took a piece of orange cheese and put it on a cracker. "But yeah, I know how you feel."

"Maybe we could go to Esthar for a couple weeks, get a ship big enough to live in... We could go out and hunt down whatever's left from the Lunar Cry," Squall said. "Or find that weird island."

"You think you just want senseless action?" Quistis asked. "Or a larger machination full of intrigue. Something to be sorted out. I don't think you'd be happy without a grand plot to foil in the end."

"What do so-called heroes do with their time?" Squall asked. He made a few marks on the page and flipped to the next one.

"Ask Laguna," Quistis suggested. "Though maybe you're a little young to run a country. Maybe you should make a movie, become an almost respectable journalist, and vagabond around for awhile. Then you can claim Balamb as your own and turn it into a nation-state where everyone wears black leather and mopes in bed on their bad days."

"Haven't done that in years."

"To quote: 'Whatever'," Quistis said with a devious smile. "I'm just trying to help you answer your own question."

"I know."

They worked in silence for a few minutes, Squall alternately staring at the ceiling and at the paper he was supposed to actually be reading instead of just making marks on it where he knew the errors were.

Certainly he didn't expect a physical relationship - with anyone - to help take care of the strange emptiness he felt. And it was probably more than just a lack of excitement. Sure, he'd had a really good time tracking down that beast in Trabia but without any knowledge of what it was or where it had come from... Hey, wasn't that what Ellone was supposed to have been looking at in the library? But she'd been... no, she'd probably already done that and he'd probably totally distracted her with the bit about Winhill...




He looked over at Quistis. She had a smile on her face and looked the most relaxed he'd seen her in ages.

"Really. I don't think I've so much as talked to anyone in ages. Certainly not anyone from fighting Ultimecia," she admitted. "It's nice to know I'm not alone. Maybe that's why Selphie keeps so busy. Maybe it's why we all do."

Squall nodded.

"We should have a get-together or something. Where everyone can come. Maybe Seifer and Fuujin and Raijin, too. They have to feel even more isolated," Quistis continued.

"We can do that," Squall said. "Why didn't you bring this up sooner?"

"Why would I have?" Quistis asked. "Before your little trip to Trabia, what was the last thing you did with either Zell or Selphie?"

Squall opened his mouth to speak but he didn't have an answer. Just like he had no idea how swamped Xu was with work or what Selphie was doing with her morale-raising events, he had no idea if or when he communicated with anyone about anything that wasn't work-related and even then... No wonder he'd been getting so many strange comments when he actually did things for people or with people or did anything that didn't involve paperwork or hiding in his blank, dull room with his collection of things he didn't even look at.

And for some reason, having a nice voice in his head had struck him as strange...

"I don't know," he admitted. "I just don't know. I've been thinking about that, too. Maybe that's why I offered to help you even though I don't like grading papers. It's just that... Cid left all of this to me to take care of for him and I get bogged down with all the paperwork even though he never did. He was always around and checking on us and he knew everyone by name. I'm lucky if I know a third of everyone by name and that's only because I had to sit in on detention that one time..."

"This wasn't supposed to be a guilt trip," Quists said quickly. "I just meant..."

"But you're right," Squall interjected. "You're absolutely correct. Everything you've said is the truth and I've just been missing it because I'm stuck in my own head and forgetting how to look out again."

"Read this one," Quistis said as she handed him a paper. It wasn't one he'd seen before and once he started reading, he saw why Quistis had kept it away from him.

Paragraph after paragraph and all of it was about the near past, about his own activity and that of the SeeDs who had been with him. Parts were wrong and parts stretched the truth, but overall it painted a very real portrait.

Finished, he set the paper down on the table beside the mostly-eaten cheese and cracker plate and looked at Quistis.

"These kids think you're a hero," she said. "You need to be their hero whether you want to or not. Even if it's just doing little things."

"Tomorrow," Squall said with a slight chuckle as he kicked back and grabbed another paper. "You too, right?"

Quistis laughed. "No heroes today. Maybe you're right. I mean, we need a day off now and then, too..."

"No skipping class," Squall reminded her. "In fact, shouldn't you be..."

He hadn't even thought about it before, but didn't she need to be in class? As many times as they'd repeated the day, it had never quite popped into his head that there might be a little more to her being there.

"Pre-testing stuff," Quistis replied. "I left a note on the board with which online lessons and testing I wanted everyone to go through. And when they were done, they could go. I left enough to keep most of them all hour."

"I remember that," Squall said. "Boring. Finished it in ten minutes and wandered back to my room to polish my gunblade and..."

Quistis started giggling.

"Oh, not you too. Selphie always giggled when I said that." Squall complained as he rolled his eyes. "That's not what I mean and you know it."

"It's still funny," Quistis said. "In the totally inappropriate, not supposed to act like a twelve-year old kind of way."

Squall sighed. It was kinda funny, in the totally inappropriate, not supposed to act like a twelve-year old but doing it anyway kind of way.

"We should have dinner or something," Squall said after a moment. "Then go help Selphie with her big project. Have you checked in on it yet?"

"Er... No?" Quistis said, glancing away. "Okay, I'm guilty too. We established that we all are, right? I mean, we all told Seifer and his lot that they were always welcome here but have they ever stopped by? No..."

"They have their own lives now," Squall said. "Maybe it's better for them."

"Maybe," Quistis replied. "Maybe they're free of this. We were some of the first... But what happens to the ones who burn out or don't make it? We're going to have to create a support network for them. We're making soldiers but the world doesn't always need soldiers. How are these kids supposed to fit into normal society?"

"Awkwardly," Squall said. "But let's get through these papers or they'll never get done."

Quistis nodded.

"What are you two doing here?" Selphie asked as she bounced over to the pair.

"He's an exceptionally cheap date," Quistis replied. Squall winced.

"We're just... I don't know what we're doing, but we've come to help you," Squall said as he eyed the half-built stage. "Looks like you're making some progress with your whatever-it-is."

"We're having a creepy festival," Selphie said. "You know, like a haunted house or something. Scary things."

"I like it," Quistis said. "As long as you don't scare the younger kids."

Selphie shook her head. "We're planning it so actual scary things don't happen til after their curfew. There might even be a murder mystery if someone can write it. And we find someone to play dead."

"I'll do it," Squall said without thinking. He was getting way too used to committing to things he was never actually going to have to do.

"What?" Quistis asked. "You?"

"Trying to be more involved," Squall replied. "I mean, if that's okay with Selphie."

"Totally!" Selphie chirped. "But if we're gonna talk, we should do it while working. We need to get most of the framing done tonight because we're behind to begin with, and there's only so much time before we have to start decorating, too."

Quistis nodded. "What should we do?"

"Okay, to start with..." Selphie began, pointing off in every direction.

"I know," Squall said in response to Shiva's happy chirping. "I know. When she was eighteen, she was just as awkward as I was, but now she's starting to pick up a lot of grace and charm. Her fanclub is only going to get bigger. But... I seem to like boys. Or just not like girls, which ever it is. And Quistis is a girl, whether I like it or not. I probably had all the same thoughts that you did."

He flopped onto his bed after changing, mostly exhausted and quite a bit dirtier than he'd usually prefer to be when going to bed but since even his dirt level would reset, he just didn't care about it.

Pulling his blankets over his head, Squall couldn't help but let his mind wander to the days he had left. Plenty of time to kill, but nothing compared to what he'd started with... He'd read every book he had around and had started a few in the library. He had a potential romantic interest though 'romance' was not at all the term he'd use. He'd learned how to fix strained relationships and how to pay attention to the people around him. He'd learned that there was only so much he could do as a single human. He'd learned that he was a lasting hero, at least to some people. And he'd decided, as opposed to learned, that Laguna was doing pretty well with the lot he'd been cast in life.


He wasn't sure if it was his own voice, her voice, or both together.



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