Promotion and Priority

Rinoa waited in the Cafeteria, watching the cadets and not enjoying it as much as she used to.

Once Squall had showed her that she should note the things that were not there, her entire perception of the cadets of Balamb Garden had changed. Instead of noting how happy the students were to have a day off to relax, she found herself noting how wild their parties were, how intimate their contact, how devoid of true intimacy or commitment.

She understood why the ring was called Griever, now. It was Squall's nature to see consequences, as much a part of himself as the scar on his forehead. It would grieve him to see the cadets trying to reach out to one another seeking the intimacy they'd never known, and failing. It wasn't that the lives of the cadets and SeeDs were unhappy; far from it. It was simply that most of them never realized that there could be more to life; and never knowing, never strived. You couldn't even tell them there was something missing; they would lack even the understanding required to make sense of the statement. Squall had chosen to hold himself apart rather than form attachments that would not hold.

But what did that make her friends? She looked over at Selphie and Irvine, casual friends - and occasionally, casual lovers. For the first time, she wondered if that was all there would ever be for them; if the mutual knowledge that death could come at any time would prevent them from reaching out to each other with the entirety of their hearts. She thought of Zell and his pony-tailed girlfriend, so shy Rinoa had yet to learn her name. Would that pairing last?

What of Quistis? She had been in love with Squall...or perhaps in love with what she thought Squall was. Because of that, she hadn't made any sort of attachments. At first Rinoa would have been willing to do anything to redirect Quistis' unrequited love elsewhere...but perhaps it really was better this way. Forming no attachments, however transient, Quistis could be complete in herself.

Was she seeing things as they truly were, or was she underestimating her friends? How would she know?

A pair of arms interrupted her thinking, closing as gently around her as if she were a bird whose bones would break if he squeezed. Only one person would do that; she turned her head to see Squall, still in his Commander's uniform, behind her.

"You look so sad," he said quietly. "Smile for me, please?"

She couldn't help herself; Squall was here, she smiled automatically. When she did, Squall's expression of seriousness softened, and a gloved finger stroked her cheek. Then he was gone.

Blinking, Rinoa looked for him - only to find him some distance away, flanked by Nida and Xu. Nida? Rinoa wondered. But then who's steering Garden? Must be something important. Indeed, both SeeDs were in full dress uniform, so that the trio stood out among the more casual dress adopted by the off duty SeeDs and cadets.

Squall is in uniform, which he hates. He's got Nida and Xu with him, also in formal clothes. Something big was going to happen, but Rinoa couldn't figure out what. She had no idea, when it came down to it, of what Squall's position actually entailed. Thankfully she was spared wondering for much longer, as the three made their way to a raised platform that later would be used as a dance floor.

Ah! He's got them with him for moral support, Rinoa smiled to herself. Squall hated being the center of attention, and would have chosen the others to give the audience something else to look at. The choice also lent extra weight to whatever he did say. As soon as the three had reached the top of the platform, a wave of silence expanded outward from them as the SeeDs and cadets stopped what they were doing and paid attention. The jukebox's music died abruptly as someone silenced it by unplugging it in the middle of a song.

"I won't keep you long," said Squall, in the strangled tones of someone who was not designed by Nature for public speaking. He raised a hand as if to forestall any wisecracks, but none were forthcoming.

"As you know," he continued, "Headmaster Cid has retired. He spoke with me on his choice of successor, and also discussed with me his choice for a new Garden Master; the position last held by NORG. I agreed with his choices. They were contacted, and accepted the positions offered. Please congratulate our new Headmaster, Quistis Trepe, and our new Garden Master, Selphie Tilmitt."

As the two women were singled out, Squall, Xu and Nida made a quiet exit. Rinoa felt she might have been the only one to see them go - for the whole Cafeteria had rushed to Quistis and Selphie to offer congratulations. It was evident that the Trepies were ecstatic - so much so that two of them had fainted. And Selphie had made many friends with her successful Garden Festival at FH. Figuring that Squall would probably want time to get out of the uniform he'd been trapped in all day, Rinoa headed toward the recently elevated pair to add her good wishes to the rest.

"Good going Sef!" cheered Irvine, picking her up and whirling her around. "All that number crunching paid off, huh?"

"Hey, can we get a bigger intramural sports budget?" asked Zell.

Quistis was used to admiration, and took everything in good part, smiling and regal as any queen. Selphie was bouncing around as if she'd just won on a game show, even though she'd known about her elevation a day previously, when it had been offered to her.

"Congratulations," offered Rinoa with a smile. "So what will you do with your new power? What is it that either of you actually do?"

"Garden Master is the one responsible for Garden's funding," Selphie said. "I get to decide where money comes from, and what it's spent on. The Garden Festival this year is gonna be great!"

"The Headmaster is responsible for the education of the cadets, and grading SeeD-candidate exams," said Quistis. "I'm back to being an Instructor." She seemed quite happy about it; there was something ingrained in Quistis that just said teacher.

"You two were good choices, then," said Rinoa.

"Just a moment, Rinoa," said Quistis, as she saw Rinoa turning to leave. "We - Selphie and I - need to talk to you."

"In this?" Rinoa indicated the chaotic festivities getting back underway all around them. "You two are the stars of the evening. I don't think you'll be able to get away."

"We won't need to," Selphie winked. "Give it half an hour, and the party will be going on full steam without us, and we can have a talk."

Sure enough, after half an hour, most of the people present were fully into the party, and Quistis and Selphie could rejoin their friends without threat of interruption right in the middle of it.

"We know what Squall showed you," began Quistis hesitantly. "He spoke with us about it this afternoon."

"Yes?" said Rinoa politely.

"I hope you'll understand that he should not have done so, and that you should not speak of it to anyone outside Garden."

"What, that Garden robs children of their families and memories, teaches them to kill, and makes sure they're forgotten when they die?" said Rinoa, annoyed. "I wonder who I would be suddenly inclined to talk about that to."

Selphie looked hurt. "It isn't as bad as it looks, Rinoa," she said. "Squall has always had a harsh view of Garden's policies."

"I wonder why?" replied Rinoa sweetly.

"That's enough, Rinoa," said Quistis sternly. "I understand you'll want to agree with Squall, but we'd appreciate it if you use your own mind this time."

"All right, then," said Rinoa. "What have I misinterpreted?"

"Actually...nothing," said Selphie. "But you haven't got the whole story, either. It does make a difference."

"Supposing you tell me the whole story, then?"

"We can't," said Selphie, somewhat sadly. "You're not a SeeD."

So I was right, thought Rinoa. He did mean 'enough to decide if you want to be SeeD'.

"Would you use these things against me, if I were to become a SeeD?" Rinoa asked. "Would you wait for me to forget my family - if I had children, would you take them from me?"

"You're a special case, Rinoa," said Quistis. "You know more about SeeD than anyone not SeeD is supposed to - and more, you're a Sorceress. If we were to hope for anything, it would be that you have no children at all - but that would be foolish of us. We would not separate any children from you; it is in our interests, as well as yours, to see that any Sorceress children you might have grow up with all the support a parent can provide. We would not see another Sorceress War."

All the support a parent can provide. "And what of Squall, if he stays with me? What of me, if I become SeeD?"

Selphie was not looking happy about this. "Eventually...Squall will have to decide where his loyalty lies. To you, or to SeeD. Unless you become SeeD. Then, it will be for you to put aside personal desires and work toward what is best for the world."

"And what would that be?" Rinoa's eyes were starting to glow with sorcerous power. It took a strong effort of will to stop the effect.

"To prevent another Sorceress War. To make sure that the means are there to fight Ultimecia when she arises, in the future. For all we know, it's only the actions of the SeeD who died fighting her in her own era that allowed us to defeat her."

"And what personal desires would you want me to put aside?"

Quistis and Selphie exchanged glances. "Any that we ask you to," Quistis eventually replied. "We only ask that you recognize SeeD as being higher than yourself."

Rinoa thought about that. They were her friends, she didn't think they'd ask more of her than they had to. Still...."How long do I have to decide?"

The two women shared another look. This time it was Selphie who said, "Sundown tomorrow, I think. We need to get this settled."

Rinoa nodded agreement. "Sundown tomorrow, then," she said. "Where should I go, when I'm ready?"

"The Headmaster's room, under the bridge," said Quistis. "We still have a lot to do, so we'll be there."

"Until then, then," said Rinoa, and left the party. It hadn't been much fun anyway. Not without Squall.

* * * * *

She found Squall back on the second floor deck, in his old familiar clothes. The sea breezes were playing with his hair as the Garden sat still on the waters. He turned quickly when he heard the door open, but relaxed when he saw it was Rinoa.

"Were you expecting attack?" Rinoa asked, surprised at his behavior.



There was a long pause, then, "SeeD has a habit of not losing," he said.

"You thought your friends would turn against you?" asked Rinoa. "Squall, they're your friends."

He turned to face her. "They're SeeD first, Rinoa."

"You didn't break your word."

"Technically. I know what I did."

"Then why did you do it? You didn't have to."

Another long pause. Squall seemed to find the lapping of waves against the exterior of the Garden fascinating.

"Because you're the only one here not SeeD. Not even a cadet. I could tell you felt...out of place. And it would be in SeeD's interest to see you stayed that way. You'd join as a cadet, and by the time you knew the important things, SeeD would be so much a part of you it wouldn't make a difference."

"And you wanted it to make a difference to me?"

"You're a Sorceress, Rinoa. You'd never use GFs, you don't need to. You can use magic and forget nothing. SeeD would want you to use GFs."

And forget her family. She couldn't see where forgetting General Caraway would make a big difference in the world, though. "What about that bothers you, Squall?"

"If you hadn't known how SeeD deals with families, SeeD might have had sorceresses to raise."

That was assuming rather a lot, Rinoa thought. Squall evidently loved her company, even as he loved her, but things had not progressed that far as yet. He'd have to take his gloves off first, she thought with a repressed smile. And she couldn't imagine trying with anyone else. Still, it pleased her that he'd thought of it.

"I think they recognize that you wouldn't want to raise a Sorceress as a mercenary," she said. "But I take your point." And she reached out and took his hand. A smile flickered across his face, as he moved to enfold her in his arms.

"I wanted you to know, before you were made to choose," he said.

"They're going to want to know where you stand, too," Rinoa said.

"With you," Squall said simply, but he didn't sound entirely happy about it. SeeD, however flawed, had been his life.

Rinoa slipped out from his embrace, and smiled to smooth the confused look that passed across his features. "Thanks, Squall," she said. "But for now, I think we need to get some rest."

He nodded, and they left for the dormitory, heading each for their own rooms.

Chapter 5