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Exact Curriculum

Title: Exact Curriculum
Part: 1
Fandom: Final Fantasy VIII/Final Fantasy VII
Disclaimer: No implied ownership, no financial gain, only fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: Squall, Vincent, Vincent/Squall, Full Cast
Rating: MA
Summary: Once upon a time, except maybe not that long ago, Squall settled into his role as leader of Garden. And all was well for a little tiny while though sometimes Laguna phoned at odd hours. With strange stories about having made incredibly poor decisions. Which meant Squall was going to have to...
...hire a very strange fellow named Vincent Valentine to work for him?
Notes: 2013 Edit

The longer Squall tried to ignore the high wailing of his office phone, the more obvious it became that whoever was calling was not going to give up until the phone was answered.

"Hello," Squall mumbled, trying to figure out who even had the number to dial directly into his office.

"Squall! How're you doing?"

Squall groaned, audibly, before looking to see just how much coffee he had left in his cup.

His cup was half empty.

"Do you have any idea what time it is here?" Squall asked before double-checking the clock on his computer to verify that it truly was barely after seven in the morning.

"Time zones!" Laguna exclaimed before breaking into a nervous chuckle. "Ah, I forgot about that. But you're up, which is the important thing."

"What. Is. It?" Squall asked through clenched teeth. It was much too early to deal with anything stupid. In fact, the only reason he was up and in his office so early was so he could catch up on his ever growing pile of paperwork. Alone. In peace. With no one disturbing him. Wanting stupid things. At a little after seven in the morning.

"A couple weeks ago some of Esthar's soldiers found a man nearly dead out in the desert," Laguna began. "They brought him back and he had a very interesting story to tell."

"Sorceress?" Squall asked quickly, perking up just a bit.

"Nope. Well, maybe. But not what you're thinking, Squall. More like... Um..."

Squall fought the urge to bang his head on the desk.

"You know, he'll be much better at explaining all of that," Laguna finally said. "To tell the truth, I was sort of confused by it all."

"Back up a second. Are you saying you..."

"He's on his way there. I know you said you were looking for one more instructor so I just thought..." Laguna said, only to suddenly finding himself talking to the dial tone.

Squall unplugged the office phone and dumped it in his trash can. He wouldn't leave it there. He'd just store it there safely until he didn't feel vaguely homicidal.

His paperwork didn't get done. Instead he tried to figure out how to ship the mystery man back to Esthar as soon as possible. Unless, of course, Laguna had somehow had a good idea.

For just a moment his morning was broken by a slight chuckle.

The man had said no more than a handful of words to Quistis since she'd picked him up at the train station. And now, walking into Balamb Garden, she had her reservations about the whole situation. But the final outcome was in the Commander's hands, not hers.

"Just take the elevator up," Quistis found herself saying, not really wanting to spend another moment with the man. As he got into the elevator, she took another glance at him and at the gold gleaming beneath the cloak he wore. "Maybe you just have to get to know him," she said to herself before turning to go. Her classes had all been dismissed for the day, so she was off duty until her evening patrol through the Training Center.

Squall looked up from his eighth cup of coffee when he heard a slight knock at his office door.

"Come in," he yelled, shuffling some papers in front of him and trying to look like he hadn't been staring off into space for the last few minutes.

"Commander Leonhart?" the visitor asked, stepping through the doorway and pausing just inside the room.

"Listen," Squall said as he stood from his chair and crossed around in front of his desk. "I have no intention of hiring you. Laguna is an impulsive..."

And then he stopped, mid-sentence, to stare at the man standing just inside the doorway of his office.

"Sit down," Squall said quickly as he went to do the same.

The man complied silently and once he was seated, Squall looked straight into his guest's bright red eyes.

"My name is Vincent Valentine," the man said, holding out a hand across the desk to shake. "And if nothing else, just hear me out."

Squall nodded dumbly as he shook Vincent's hand. Mentally he noted a dozen small things, such as how damned strong the handshake was coming from someone who looked downright underfed.

"Go ahead."

"I was told this world had a near-cataclysmic disturbance several years ago that permanently altered various aspects of the environment and possibly the so-called life-force of the land," Vincent began, dropping his right hand from the desk to rest below Squall's line of vision.

Squall blinked. That was certainly an interesting way to describe the last Sorceress War.

"Correct," he said.

"The world I am from had a similar series of disturbances," Vincent continued. "And without any other explanation to grasp at, I am of the assumption that whatever separated this world and my world grew thin enough to temporarily rupture."

"You're from another... dimension?" Squall asked. He really, really hoped he would wake up and be told he'd taken a hit to the head.

"Put simply, yes."

"And you expect me to believe that?"

"No," Vincent said calmly. "In your position, I would not believe a man telling a story such as mine."

Squall contemplated banging his head on the wall before realizing such an action would be completely juvenile. Banging his head on his desk would definitely be more mature. Yet he completed neither action, choosing only to imagine each one. It almost managed to work. And then he remembered his phone was still in the garbage can, which no longer had anything to do with the black-haired man sitting patiently across from him, waiting for some sort of verdict.

If his story was true, Squall definitely needed to keep the man around for further... study. It seemed like a cold term for another person, but it was the only one that could sum up just what he was thinking. If anything, he wanted to know more about Vincent's world and if Vincent had any knowledge that would prove useful to Garden.

"You can stay," Squall found himself saying. "Do you have any military training?"

Vincent nodded. "I was once a part of an elite group of... skilled assassins. After that I was recruited by a party of terrorists who successfully destroyed my former employer."

Squall raised an eyebrow, a bit of body language not missed by Vincent.

"Would a demonstration suffice? Ms. Trepe did mention a stocked training facility," Vincent said quickly.

"I... I would like that," Squall said quickly. He was having a hard time imagining the slight man as any sort of extremist fighter. Especially someone so calm and soft-spoken. If he was as good as his resume, then perhaps he could teach all of Garden a few things.

"Then lead the way, Commander," Vincent replied, a slight smile crossing his lips. It unnerved Squall a bit, but Squall wasn't sure just what the unnerving factor was, whether it was those glowing red eyes or just the way Vincent addressed him.

Wherever Vincent came from, he was as captivating as he was creepy.

Squall stood, crossing the room to pull his gunblade case from a shelf.

"You need a weapon?" he asked, looking back at Vincent.

"I have more than one," Vincent said, his voice still even. At least, Squall decided, he didn't seem bloodthirsty.

Without speaking, Squall removed his weapon from the case and swung it up to rest on his shoulder. Only then did Vincent stand, smoothing his cloak with his right hand as he did so.

Vincent seemed to be willing to answer questions but not volunteer information on his own. It was an admirable quality.

"The Training Center is this way," Squall said, motioning to the door. "We can stop for lunch though, if you'd like."

"Afterward," Vincent replied. How he could not be hungry after the trip from Esthar, Squall wasn't sure. After all, last Squall could remember, the train served nothing edible on its morning runs.

"This is a nicely designed environment," Vincent commented midway through their elevator trip to the first floor. "Effective?"

Squall didn't reply at first. It wasn't exactly questioning Garden, yet it wasn't exactly idle curiosity, either.

"The finest hired mercenaries and private army members are trained in this facility," Squall said. "Even those who choose other lines of work are greeted by success."

He managed to hold in his desire to ask why Vincent had inquired. He was trying to keep the upper hand but found it difficult. They each seemed to be carefully watching the other, gauging responses and questions.

"Mercenary," Vincent repeated back. "Yes, I knew one who called himself by that title."

The sudden faraway look in Vincent's eyes was new to Squall. It did make sense, obviously Vincent had to have had some sort of friends and loved ones back in his world. Vincent had lost quite literally everything. And perhaps, Squall thought, he should be a bit sensitive to that for the time being.

The elevator stopped and Vincent followed Squall silently to the Training Center. It was relatively empty, save for a couple of girls who giggled and waved to Squall. He didn't return the gesture and instead pointed to the opposing path.

"I'm not sure the creatures here are anything you'd be used to," Squall said. "If it's anything large, let me take care of it."

"I'm sure I'll be perfectly fine," Vincent replied, not bothering to even reach for whatever weapon he had hidden beneath his cloak.

Vincent's seemingly nonchalant attitude was starting to get to Squall. For all their combined silence, Squall had never stopped actively thinking. So far he actually liked Vincent and found himself wanting to trust him.

Before they could round the next turn, Vincent reached out his arm to stop Squall. Whatever he heard, Squall didn't. But the creatures stalking them decided to show themselves soon enough.

A pack of three grats quickly surrounded them, two to their front and one to the back.

"Go for it," Squall said quickly. "I'll take the back one."

Before Squall could even take a step towards the creature, he heard a shot ring out. Glancing back ever so quickly, he saw one of the two grats slump forward. The second one looked as though it was going to make a move, but it wasn't a concern at the moment; not with a grat in his face as well.

A perfect trigger quickly took care of his quarry and Squall looked back to see how Vincent was doing. He hadn't heard a second shot yet.

Just as he could see the scene clearly, Vincent fired. It was amazing, a perfect shot that seemed to instantly kill the target. And Vincent seemed to absolutely absorb the recoil.

"What is that thing?" Squall asked, looking from the large smoking gun in Vincent's hand to the two dead grats and back again.

"Death Penalty," Vincent replied, tucking it back under his cloak.

Blinking, Squall wondered if even Irvine could pull off the sort of accuracy he just saw. A teaching job was definitely in the works if this was part of a pattern.

"We should head deeper," Squall said, suddenly very anxious, perhaps for the first time ever, to find a T-Rexaur. With everyone's busy schedules and constant missions, he didn't often get someone skilled to partner with, certainly rarely someone who could go up against a T-Rexaur with him.

Vincent nodded, looking off into the underbrush again. Instead of saying anything, he just reached out and pointed off to the left. It was an odd gesture, since not only was he using his right hand but also since he was reaching across Squall, who had moved to that side.

"Where?" Squall whispered. But before Vincent could reply, Squall could hear it too. It wasn't anything big, but it was close. And behind him.

Another grat stumbled out onto the path, looking about as confused as a grat possibly could. It looked as though it had already been through a fight and had a variety of status ailments cast upon it.

Squall put a hand to his head.

"Kill it," he said to Vincent. "I wish the students would learn to kill what they start."

Suddenly the grat regained its bearings and leaped at Squall. Before he could react, a flash of red crossed his vision.

Vincent stood there, the dead grat at his feet, a hand of golden claws glittering under the Training Center lights and marred only by the blood of the creature.

That was proof enough for Squall that he was having a bad day and should just go back to bed. Normally he would be on top of things but ever since being annoyed, er, pestered, er... greeted by Laguna's phone call that morning, he'd been on a slight mental vacation.

And besides that, Vincent had proven himself worthy to at least stick around for awhile, even if it was just as a guest.

"Thanks," Squall tossed off, trying not to stare at the claws Vincent quickly tucked back under his cloak. No wonder, Squall thought, that he hadn't seen the man's other hand until now.

"You seem willing to take damage," Vincent said.

"Adrenaline," Squall muttered. "I think I need it today."

"Perhaps, though, I should take you up on that meal," Vincent continued. "I have to admit to a slight fear that one of your students will attempt to cast onto me whatever that poor beast had cast onto it."

Squall smiled a rare smile. At least Vincent wasn't without a sense of humor.

"Do you like hot dogs?" Squall asked, turning to head back to the entrance. "We always seem to have hot dogs in the cafeteria."

Vincent looked over at Squall, but didn't say a thing.

They were within sight of the entrance when there was a crash behind them. A T-Rexaur lunged out from the trees, startling them both. This time Squall had quick reflexes. But one hit onto the T-Rexaur did little more than anger it. It lunged at them both, Vincent firing up at it as he was knocked to the ground.

"Vincent!" Squall cried, lunging forward and hitting the T-Rexaur with all he had. He heard another gunshot before being pushed back by the beast. Without pause he quickly decided his best bet would be to summon assistance. His first choice, as always, was Shiva.

He fluttered out of that plain of existence, aware only of the slight chill that went with Shiva's appearance. When next he found himself face to face with the red creature, something new was attacking the beast. It was... Something.

And whatever it was, it packed one heckuva whallop. It wasn't a GF, as far as Squall knew. No one in Garden had anything that looked like this thing. And he couldn't imagine Vincent having a GF. Especially nothing like this. It didn't even behave like a GF.

But that was moot at the moment. The T-Rexaur lunged forward again and Squall raised his gunblade. Bringing it down quickly, he pulled the trigger to deliver what was ultimately the deathblow.

And just as the creature collapsed to the ground, Squall looked over to where the mysterious not-a-GF was. Except it was no longer there. Instead, Vincent was standing in its place, looking quite pale and unsteady on his feet.

By the time he wavered and slipped to his knees, Squall was there to ease him down.

"What was that?" Squall asked, watching as Vincent's breathing evened out.

"Something that hasn't happened in quite awhile," Vincent replied, politely removing Squall's hand from his shoulder and standing. "It isn't a cause for worry."

"Was that a GF?" Squall inquired as they quickly headed for the exit.

"A GF?" Vincent replied.

"Guardian Force, something summoned," Squall explained. "I'm not sure if you saw me summon Shiva or not."

"Shiva," Vincent echoed, not really asking a question before closing his eyes. "Yes, I understand you calling her, but no, what you saw was not a... GF."

"Then what was it?" Squall asked, just as they reached the entrance of the cafeteria.

"Me," Vincent said simply. "Something within me."

"Like a GF?"

Vincent shook his head. "No. This body is shared."

As the sight of dozens of students waiting in line for food greeted them, Squall decided it was a good time to keep quiet and not push. He already had figured out that Vincent was far from an average guy.

"No lines for staff or guests," Squall said, gesturing for Vincent to follow him back behind the lunch counter.

They ate back in Squall's office, free of the stares and interruptions of the cafeteria. Between bites, Squall kept glancing up to watch Vincent. The man certainly was a ball of surprises.

"Could you teach?" Squall asked, breaking the silence after chewing and swallowing one last mouthful of sticky macaroni and cheese.

"Perhaps," Vincent replied. "However, I am not yet aware of the exact curriculum here."

"I mean, once you understand how Garden operates," Squall corrected. He was sure that Vincent would... somehow manage to fit it amongst the rest of the menagerie that somehow churned out skilled fighters for private use.

"Then you are asking me to stay?" Vincent questioned, pausing with his fork halfway to his mouth.

"For now," Squall said, hoping his other intentions weren't so obvious.

"You're much like your father," Vincent said in response. "Keeping me close until you know if I'm a threat or not. But I would think you would at least respect his opinion."

Squall's mouth dropped open. Neither he nor Laguna ever made mention of their relationship, and definitely not to random strangers. And it wasn't as if it was an easy guess - if anyone had figured it out in the past, they'd never made mention of it.

But Vincent didn't reply, he just continued eating.



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