Title: Exact Curriculum
Fandom: Final Fantasy VIII/Final Fantasy VII
Disclaimer: No implied ownership, no financial gain, only fanwork.
Characters/Pairings: Squall, Vincent, Vincent/Squall, Full Cast
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
"I have class with him too!"
Squall glanced across the library towards where the loud squeal had come from. The students had just received their new class assignments, and already he had heard dozens of excited comments about the new instructor.
Two months had passed since Vincent had first arrived at Garden. Those two months had gone quickly, blurring into a mess of training, ritual, and quite a few late nights swapping stories.
Squall felt comfortable around Vincent, and that simple fact made everyone more willing to accept Vincent into their midst.
After a run in with Selphie and a pair of scissors, Vincent even looked like a proper instructor, his wild hair trimmed to rest on his shoulders and his wardrobe filled with professional attire.
That, mixed with his red eyes and mysterious past, had gotten him quite the fan club of both female and male students. Even Quistis couldn't help a bit of jealousy as some of her Trepies jumped ship.
Walking over to stand on the other side of the bookcase from the gaggle of gossiping girls, Squall leaned close to listen, just for curiosity’s sake. Normally he dismissed such behavior, but as Headmaster, it was interesting to hear just what students thought of their instructors - even the ones who hadn't taught a single class yet.
"I heard he's from Esthar," one girl said, her voice barely below a normal tone. So much for whispering in a library.
"Do you think he has a girlfriend?" another asked.
"He spends a lot of time with the headmaster." The voice was that of the first, screaming girl.
"Because he's an instructor, you dork."
Squall backed away, curious if he really was spending so much time with Vincent that it was beginning to look like something besides a professional friendship. The idea was preposterous - Vincent was a good looking man but he never mentioned relationships or romance in regards to himself. For all Squall knew, he just wasn't interested in general.
As he left the library, his first thought was to go visit Vincent, who was more than likely setting up his new classroom. Still setting up his new classroom, Squall corrected, as he headed towards the elevator. It didn't seem to be nervousness that tainted Vincent's perfectionism, but rather comfort. He didn't seem to be a fan of new technology and was doing his best to shun the computer terminals for books and paper.
Squall knocked on the closed classroom door, waiting patiently for a moment for it to be opened. He didn't want to barge inside, just in case Vincent was working on something surprising.
The door opened a crack before opening all the way.
"Leonhart!" Before Squall could so much as reply, he was pulled inside.
Finding himself quite close and very face to face with Vincent, Squall momentarily lost the ability to speak. There was something about Vincent's eyes that was very nearly hypnotizing.
"Classes haven't even started yet, and look..." Vincent stepped away to point at his desk, which was absolutely covered in apples, small gifts, and even flowers.
Squall sucked in his breath before chuckling. He did a quick mental count of the apples before wondering what Vincent would do with the three dozen he had amassed.
"Rethinking?" Squall questioned, walking over to the desk and picking up an apple.
"They wouldn't still be here if they were unwilling to learn this craft," Vincent replied. "Once the term gets underway, I believe they'll settle down."
"You'll probably still have a few hardcore devotees," Squall said, flipping the apple from one hand to the other and glancing around the classroom. So far it seemed standard, lacking most decoration and personality.
"But I don't see why," Vincent said, looking away quickly. "I am flawed not of my own will."
"That's just your opinion," Squall replied before taking a bite of the apple. It was sweet and juicy, meaning it was bought fresh and likely not just swiped from the cafeteria.
Vincent looked at him questioningly, as though he hadn't quite heard Squall's statement.
"Do you need any help?" Squall asked once he'd swallowed.
Shaking his head, Vincent sighed. "I think I need to figure this all out on my own. But you're welcome to stay, if you desire."
"Fine, fine..." Squall walked over to the bookcase holding a meager few physical text books and picked one out. It was something Squall didn't remember ever seeing before - a book on the ancient history of world.
"Interesting past this place has," Vincent commented, red eyes looking holes through Squall. "I picked that up in Balamb from a junk shop, but it corroborates much of what I've found in the computers here."
"Can I read this?" Squall asked before taking another bite of his apple.
"Of course," Vincent replied. "And you can have an apple as well, if you'd like."
It was already early evening when Squall put down the book, somewhat amazed at the twilight forming outside the classroom windows. Not a soul had bothered the pair as Vincent made careful notes on a yellow legal pad while Squall had lost himself in the depths of ancient Hyne worship and sorceresses of the past. History -- the passage of time -- it all scared him a little. Yet he didn't take much joy in the present, either.
"Hands-on over lectures..." Vincent replied, somewhat absently, still writing. "If that's okay with you."
"Fine, but... why did you buy this?"
Finally focusing, Vincent brought the end of his pen to his lips before quickly pulling it back. Squall couldn't help but wonder if Vincent had once smoked. Little details like that were still deeply entrenched in the mystery that was Instructor Valentine.
"The world I am from focused very much on cycles of power - birth, life, death... going back to the planet... power and magic were in there, but magic wasn't as natural as it is here..." Vincent paused, seemingly trying to gather his thoughts.
"Don't think our GFs are natural," Squall countered, frowning. "We literally give up our identity in order to harness their power. We lose our memories and sometimes our minds."
"I can at least match you on the mind part," Vincent said, resting the pen back near his mouth. "But we had no greater god who so proved power... Just ideas... Except for a poor soul turned madman."
Squall couldn't help but be quiet. Usually during their conversations they talked about Balamb or Garden or students - not Vincent and certainly not anything that sounded so amazingly personal. And while Squall was no master of emotion by a long shot, he could sense that the story Vincent was telling was an extremely personal tale.
"I cannot say..." Vincent continued. "I cannot say that I'm really at peace with your use of GFs or Esthar's cybernetically enhanced soldiers. But it is done humanely and at the discretion of those taking the risks, which is much more than I can say for the world I am from."
There was a pause. Vincent looked out the window into the fading purple of the sunset for a moment before sighing.
"I believe I should save my reminiscence for another time," Vincent finally announced, setting his pen down after capping the end he hadn't been nearly chewing on.
"I'll listen," Squall finally said. "Whenever you want - I'll listen."
"You're a good man," Vincent said as he stood. "But don't offer to take on my sins once you hear them. I can bear the weight on my own."
Complicated. Vincent was certainly complicated. Squall knew well enough that Vincent was the victim of some sort of inhumane testing. But Squall had certainly never made a connection between whatever could have happened to Vincent and the purely voluntary enhancements of the Estharian military. Besides, every beautiful and rather anonymous Estharian soldier that Squall had spent the night with had certainly never had a single complaint about their situation.
What a tangent to go off on, Squall thought, snapping back to the moment and trying to think of something to say to Vincent. But he had nothing. Nothing.
"Dinner?" he finally asked.
"Yes," Vincent replied. "But I'd prefer to dine on my own this evening. Another time, Commander."
Right. Another time.
"Good," Vincent said, dropping his hands to his sides. "Now, could you shoot a man like that?"
The student, Aiden Dundas, only blinked as he looked at both the gun in his hands and the dead grat several yards away.
"If Grace had been hired by someone trying to kill you, could you kill her?"
Squall knew that it was forced ice in Vincent's voice. The students had to learn that after so long it wasn't about killing grats. It was about killing other humans, when need-be.
"Me?" Grace squeaked, raising an eyebrow as she looked at Vincent. "Why me?"
"Why not you?" Vincent replied. "So, Aiden, could you?"
"If I had to, I guess," Aiden answered, voice shaking a bit. Squall couldn't help but make a mental note of the response. Aiden was already heading towards what Squall considered a case-of-Irvine - freezing at the most inopportune moment. Not something desirable in a SeeD at all.
But then again, Squall was very much spying on the proceedings, not officially there to take notes. So perhaps the things said were not open for critique by anyone but the present instructor, Vincent.
The term was halfway over and things had settled down quite a bit, even for Instructor Valentine. Dozens of daily apples settled into about one-dozen, which Vincent routinely gave away to his last class of the day. Occasionally he ate one himself and always seemed to make sure there was one particularly juicy one left for Squall, not that Squall had ever commented on that tiny fact.
"Hey!" Grace gave Aiden a playful smack with the flat side of her sword. It wasn't the most versatile of weapons, but she had insisted. Between her and Aiden, they obviously needed the after-dinner training exercise that Vincent was offering them. The whole thing explained why Vincent had been so quick to leave dinner as well. The pair still ate together fairly frequently, though thankfully in public often enough to put a stop to most of the inappropriate rumors.
"Instructor is the one who asked," Aiden said quickly, laughing instead of being angry. "So if Instructor sent me on a mission to kill you, I guess I'd have to."
"But Instructor wouldn't," Grace replied, pouting. Soft blonde hair framed her face, short enough for it to not need to be bound back. "Would you?"
"War does strange things," Vincent said, pointing off to their right. "There's another creature there. Sounds larger than a grat. Kill it."
At least, Squall noted, there was no impropriety there. Grace was an obvious flirt and certainly was still near the top of the list of Vincent's fans. Surely this wasn't so much of a test of Vincent's students as it as a test of the man himself. Squall was quite happy to watch - Vincent had yet to make further comment on just what made him tick and certainly Squall didn't want to push.
Crouched down in the brush, Squall was certain he was hidden both visually and aurally from Vincent's keen senses. He'd actually been there for a few minutes before he'd been lucky enough to have Vincent's party stumble in his direction. And knowing Aiden, there was stumbling involved.
A gunshot rang out, and a split second later, Squall heard Aiden's triumphant cry. He couldn't see them now, but he didn't dare risk moving. Finally, when it seemed that he was very much alone save for a few creatures that absolutely didn't care about him being in their midst, Squall pulled out a small notebook and made a few notes fresh from his mind. He did have staff reviews to do, after all, and at the moment, Vincent's was nothing more than nearly-garish glowing.
If Squall had ever been the jumpy sort, he would have hit the roof of Garden. He looked up into unnaturally red eyes, wondering just how Vincent had gotten so close. In battle, this would be the moment of his death. Instead, Vincent just reached out with his flesh hand and touched Squall's shoulder.
"You are it."
Yes, Squall thought, now he was suitably embarrassed.
"Don't worry," Vincent continued. "I didn't actually realize you were there until we were heading away."
"Aiden seems to be improving," Squall said, trying not to show any emotion.
"Only because I keep literally holding his hand. I can understand why the students get moon-eyed over instructors like Miss Quistis or Mister Nida, but why me?" Lacking his cloak, Vincent's metal hand caught the light and sparkled for just a moment, drawing Squall's gaze.
"You aren't bad looking," Squall said, carefully measuring his words. "But maybe this world is uglier than your last one."
Vincent couldn't help a chuckle. "You certainly can ruin a fit of self-loathing."
"I've always had someone to ruin mine," Squall replied, standing up and brushing the dirt from his backside. He tucked his notebook away and looked at Vincent again. "Whom I should call, actually. I haven't heard from her in quite some time..."
"Give the Lady my regards," Vincent said softly. He didn't actually know Rinoa, but staying at Garden had certainly told him tales of her. Squall could only imagine what Vincent must have learned from varying sources, especially about their spectacular break-up and later alliance which everyone saw as less of an alliance and more of a second-wind to their relationship.
Which certainly wasn't the truth at all since Squall still shuddered at the thought of her in bed. Which was not the thing to be thinking about, nor was the moment in Esthar in which he realized that it wasn't just her, it was girls which... Which...
Where had Vincent gone?
Vincent made him absolutely stupid. Not the absent-minded, contagious stupid that came from being around Laguna, but instead an uneasy stupid where Squall seemed prone to lose his cool and misthink or get distracted.
It didn't matter. He was now mentally prepared to call Rinoa and certainly an opportunity like that wasn't anything to take lightly. Vincent could be handled another day, once Squall figured out just how he actually felt.
Up in his office, Squall leaned back in his chair, sighing before finally grabbing the phone and speed-dialing Rinoa's residence in Timber.
"Hello?" At first Squall didn't recognize the voice. But after a second, he realized it was Zone.
"Evening," Squall said. "Is everything okay there? Rinoa hasn't called."
Yeah, he probably should have mentioned that first, instead of jumping into business.
"So..." This did not have to be a long conversation. This did not have to be...
"I'll let Rinoa explain, I guess." This was going to be a long conversation.
There were a few thumps and thuds as the phone transferred hands, and some muffled whispering.
"Squall!" Yet there was no real enthusiasm. It sounded fake and pained.
"Something is wrong."
"I was hoping to know a little more before trying to explain," Rinoa said, her voice falling flat before settling into a conversational tone. "I guess I can't hide much from you."
"I'm not going to condemn you," Squall said. "I just thought to check in. You know, pay some actual attention to you."
"I'll let that go," Rinoa replied. "But only because this is something big and scary."
"Well, you know how the planet is slowly righting itself after everything that happened? Like the cross-dimensional whatsit thingie and the outbreaks of monsters and slight climate changes and everything?" Rinoa's voice was no longer calm.
"Yes, and?" Squall did not have a good feeling about this. There was no way to have a good feeling about this.
"Apparently in the process of settling, um, the world, there was some... Squall! I don't know how to say this... There can't just be one sorceress, I guess. It isn't natural..."
No, this was not good.
"You're saying you..."
"I can feel others," Rinoa interrupted. "Nothing like what I have - nothing could ever be like this. But that doesn't mean they aren't there now. After all, magic is a balance. So for all the monsters we've killed, their magic has to go somewhere, right? It must be being recycled --"
"But with Time..."
"Squall, we changed all of that. We changed everything. Which is why all of this is happening!"
"Out of the frying pan, into the fire," Squall commented.
"That makes you sound like an old man."
"So where are they? These new powers you sense?"
"I'm not a dowsing stick," Rinoa complained. "I just know that they're out there. If I get a better read, I'll let you know! But until then, Squall, don't tell anyone. There's no reason to worry."
"Sorceresses are always a reason to worry," Squall said, no longer leaning back. "I may be able to handle random trans-dimensional visitors, but Sorceresses..."
"Let me worry about them," Rinoa pleaded. "I'll call you every day if it'll make you relax a little."
Squall knew Rinoa well enough that he'd again be lucky to get a call once a week. And it was too late anyway, he was worrying.
"Isn't it late there?" Rinoa asked suddenly. "You should probably be in bed. Goodnight, Commander!"
The phone clicked dead and out of force of habit, Squall unplugged the device and dumped it into his garbage can. Xu would know enough to pull it out before emptying the can anyway. Maybe he did need to go to bed. Certainly it wasn't like the day would turn around and everyone would start farting rainbows and kittens.
Though that was one of the more amusing thoughts he could have.
If Rinoa would indeed step up and worry about the Sorceresses on her own, then he could worry a bit about just why he cared so much about Vincent's moods.
Drink Lemonade! Tip Your Waitress!