A continuation of the events of Final Fantasy 8 after the conclusion of the game.
(It’s useless. I’ll never get back to sleep.)
Squall opened his eyes and watched for a few minutes, as the gray fingers of dawn stole away the darkness of his dormitory room. It was very early in the morning, but morning nonetheless. Even if he fell asleep in that instant, he would earn himself no more than an hour or two of sleep before the other students of Balamb Garden rose for the day. Before he too would be expected to rise and fulfill his duties as a member of SeeD. That brief amount of time wouldn’t amount to anything. Besides, he felt rested enough already and saw no need to waste more time in bed.
He pulled aside his half of the bed sheets, careful not to wake Rinoa. His bed was only built wide enough to accommodate a single student at a time, forcing Squall and Rinoa to huddle together to keep from falling to the floor. Pressed between the wall and Rinoa, Squall had only inches to spare as he worked himself upright.
He had tried to get Rinoa to sleep in one of the spare dormitories reserved for visitors and new cadets, but Rinoa refused outright. Now struggling to work his way to the foot of the bed and then to the floor, Squall wished he’d been more determined to hold his side of the argument. It was inconvenient, awkward, and unnecessary for them to bunk together. Not to mention against protocol for a members of SeeD to keep a girl—or anyone at all—in their dorms overnight. Even if it wasn’t against the rules, sleeping with a girl had certain social consequences as well.
(Not that Rinoa cares about that. She loves giving people the wrong impression.)
Squall’s feet reached the floor and he stood up. The bed shook, but not enough to wake Rinoa. One of her arms slid off the edge of the bed and hung limp in the air, her fingers extended as if she was reaching for something. In the dim light, Squall could see the outlines and curves of her face. For most people, sleep pulled down on their faces, slackening their jaws and leaving them in a permanent expression of dimwitted amazement. For Rinoa, her features seemed to pull upwards instead, lifting her eyebrows and the corners of her lips into the beginning of a smile.
(She’s pretty when she sleeps.)
(… She’s pretty when she does anything.)
The spirit of efficiency had made Squall accustomed to sleeping while mostly dressed. It was simply more convenient than changing back and forth into night clothes. As he stepped away from the bed, he already had his pants and a white undershirt on. He slid on his boots and buckled them. His fur-lined jacket hung from a coat hanger on the wall above his bed, alongside his SeeD dress uniform, but to reach it would require him to lean over Rinoa, possibly disturbing her. He left it where it was. The weather was warm anyway, too warm to bother with a jacket.
He pulled open his dorm room door. Once more, he looked back to Rinoa.
(She’ll be mad if I’m not here when she wakes up.)
He’d been working hard in the past few days and weeks to grow more sensitive to other people’s feelings. So he was aware that it was probably rude for him to sneak off, leaving Rinoa alone in the bed.
But fundamentally, he was Squall. Though he’d changed in the past few weeks since he met Rinoa, there were certain parts of him that formed the core of his identity. He was still an introvert who enjoyed having quiet time by himself to process his thoughts. Sometimes being alone was a need of his, as basic as eating and sleeping. It allowed him to release his stress and ready his mind to accept new thoughts and ideas. Being alone made him more willing to spend time with others. Rinoa might not like it if he left in the night, but she’d be even more upset if he acted moody or uncomfortable when she was awake.
(… Guess I’ll have to be back before she wakes up then.)
He stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him. He listened for a moment to hear if Rinoa woke up. There was nothing but silence on the other side of the door.
With his left hand, Squall worked out a kink in his opposite shoulder as he headed down the dormitory hallway towards the central hub of Garden. His dorm room was in a wing reserved for graduated SeeD members. Full SeeDs were allowed to decorate their dorms however they wanted, so long as the decorations weren’t permanent or in violation of other Garden rules. Squall chose not to exercise this right, making his door the only one in the hall that was blank. He passed by several dozen doors adorned with colored flyers, banners, streamers, hand-drawn pictures, photographs, and paper cut-out letters spelling the occupant’s name.
Several days ago, Selphie and Zell had decided to compete with each other to make the most outrageous door decorations. This resulted in an escalating arms race of absurdity that ended with Selphie plastering her door with fifty greeting cards she’d bought in Balamb. They were the singing kind that played music every time they were opened. Zell countered this by hanging a one hundred and fifty pound punching bag from his door. The contest ended there, as both of them were forced to remove their decorations: Selphie because hers kept people awake at night when the cards would be blown open by a breeze, chiming into the darkness, and Zell because his punching bag blocked the hallway and was cracking the doorframe.
Zell settled for hanging a small speed bag from the top of his door, along with pages ripped from Weapons Monthly and Combat King magazines. Selphie’s door had a life-sized photo of herself that had been signed by almost everyone in Garden. Even Squall, after some convincing, had signed his name on photo-Selphie’s left boot.
Of all the decorations in the SeeD wing, Quistis’ was the only one that Squall could tolerate. Her door bore only a simple bronze plaque with her full name professionally etched into it, making her doorway look like the entrance to an office for a doctor or a lawyer.
Aside from the decorations, the hallways were empty. For a while, Squall had been concerned that, after the Garden Staff fled with NORG, there would be a complete breakdown in discipline. Without authority figures looming over every shoulder and around every corner, a compound full of children and teenagers was liable to explode with the sudden, unfamiliar freedom. And yet nothing of the sort had occurred. So far, anyway.
Discipline had relaxed, but instead of taking the opportunity to go crazy, most students had chosen to relax. Rather than partying through the night, they slept in late. Without morning classes to attend or pending missions to perform, there really wasn’t much point in keeping focus. Most in Garden loved having fewer restrictions, viewing it as the first vacation many of them had ever had in their lives. But Squall was not so pleased.
As he saw it, SeeD was a military organization. They had a job to perform, and that job often required the members of SeeD to place themselves in warzones and combat situations. Without discipline to guide them, organization would break down, mistakes would be made. People would die unnecessarily. Discipline was unpleasant, yes, but death was worse.
Headmaster Cid and what little was left of Garden’s administration wanted to maintain SeeD’s composure, but too much had happened too fast. First, NORG led an uprising, dividing the Garden Staff and the SeeDs. After NORG’s failed coup, the Garden Staff fled to avoid facing the consequences of their betrayal. A number of instructors and desk workers for Garden had left as well, either because they sympathized with NORG and his ruthless business practices, or the civil war in Garden had reminded them how dangerous this line of work could be.
This exodus of employees left gaping holes in the administration that all but shut down Garden. Factor in the destructive battle against Galbadia Garden, the constant travel, and the war with the sorceress Ultimecia, and all operations in Garden had no choice but to be put on hold.
Squall emerged from the hallway into the cavernous main area of Garden. The ceiling sloped upwards three stories, topped with an ornate dome. Circular lights formed a grid of dots in the ceiling, keeping the interior at an ever-constant brightness. A metal cylinder in the middle of the room rose all the way up and through the dome, housing the Garden’s main elevator. From this central cylinder, walkways leading to the eight main divisions of Garden—including the dormitories—extended from the middle like spokes on a wheel. Connecting these spokes with the central hub was a single circular walkway that was bordered by water fountains, pools, and flowerbeds. Color-coded stripes on each walkway showed which division of Garden they connected.
Squall strode along the gray stripe that indicated the dormitory’s pathway and headed to the central walkway. When he got there, he paused.
At nighttime, the only two divisions that were open were the dormitories and the Training Area. The Training Area was filled with live monsters. Hardly an ideal place for Squall to gather his thoughts. And despite the quiet of the dormitories, Squall still felt too crowded, too pressed in by the narrow halls and the gaudy hallway decorations to really let his mind wander.
Short of taking aimless circles around the central loop, there was one other place Squall could think of. There was a balcony on the second floor that was likely to be vacant. It had almost always been locked, for safety reasons, but in the battle against Galbadia Garden, G-Soldiers had broken the lock. It had yet to be fixed.
Squall got on the circular walkway and headed for the elevator. As he moved, he tried to recollect his thoughts from where he’d left off.
(The Garden Staff leaving. Discipline in SeeD.)
Squall knew that the recent change in Garden wasn’t just because of relaxed discipline. SeeD was a military organization, true, and they performed mercenary work around the globe. But their defining feature, the ideal they had been founded on, was the notion that SeeD existed to defeat the sorceress. It was in their mission statement, touched upon in most of their classes, and drilled into their minds from the moment they enlisted.
(SeeD exists to defeat the sorceress.)
And now the Sorceress Ultimecia was defeated. Or she would be defeated. Time travel made a muck out of causality and linear thought. In either case, SeeD had fought their final battle and emerged victorious. Knowing this, Squall couldn’t blame the others for taking an unscheduled vacation. Why wake up early? Why study? Why train? Why prepare for a battle that has already been won?
Squall didn’t have an answer.
He arrived at the elevator and pushed the call button. With a low hum, the elevator sank down to the first floor. A chime went off, and the glass doors slid open. Squall stepped inside and pushed the button for the second floor.
(Why even have SeeD at all?)
Because of his time traveling, Squall had a deeper insight into the origins of Garden and SeeD than anyone else aside from the Headmaster and Edea. He had, in fact, unintentionally inspired its creation. So he knew that there was no secondary goal in mind, no alternative plans in place after SeeD had won. SeeD was created to fight the sorceress. Now the sorceress was dead. SeeD’s purpose was fulfilled.
The elevator chimed again, then stopped at the second floor. The doors opened, and Squall crossed a small bridge to the ring of classrooms that formed the entirety of the second floor. All the classroom doors were closed and locked, their lights shut off. He passed them one by one, remembering which instructors used to teach in which classrooms.
At the end of the curved hallway were two steel doorways. The one on the left was an emergency exit, ringed with yellow-and-black caution paint and a flashing red light atop its frame. The one on the right was marked with the word “Balcony,” its handle sheared off by Galbadian weaponry. Squall pushed this door open and ascended the steps beyond up to the balcony.
Once outside, he stopped and looked up to the sky. The sun had not yet breached the horizon, and though the light was gaining fast, it was still dark enough to see most of the stars in the sky. A waist-high concrete wall formed the edge of the balcony. Squall stepped forward and rested his arms on the wall, keeping his eyes on the stars. It occurred to him that he had never, in all his years, actually seen a star fade away into the sunrise. He had seen the sky full of stars at night, and he’d seen the sky empty, lit by the sun, but he had never witnessed that transition between those two states.
His eyes found a bright star on the rim of the horizon and he fixed his gaze upon it. Would it fade as it was overwhelmed by the dawn, or would it blink out, like a lightbulb? He knew he probably should know the answer from some class or another he had taken, but the answer didn’t come to him.
Down the steps behind him, the door to the balcony opened. Footsteps ascended the stairs. Squall sighed.
(So much for being alone.)
“You’re up early,” a man’s voice said from behind Squall. Squall glanced over his shoulder. There stood the Garden’s Headmaster, a man who looked more like someone’s grandfather than the leader of the largest mercenary force in the world. Unlike Squall, Cid was fully dressed and ready for the day, with his familiar red vest and khaki dress pants. He held a steaming cup of coffee in his hand which he sipped at on occasion.
“That’s what I like to see,” Headmaster Cid said, walked to the edge of the balcony to stand beside Squall. “Our Commander setting a good example for the others. Goodness knows we need someone around here to exemplify SeeD discipline.”
Squall looked at the headmaster.
(How did he know I was here?)
He decided not to ask that question. The answer didn’t particularly interest him anyway. He asked the second question to come to mind.
“I’m still SeeD Commander?” Squall asked. “I thought that was over with.”
“Well, why not?” Cid said. “Even during peacetime, armies need their generals to lead them. It’s not like they fire all their generals every time war is over.”
(It’s not that they need the generals to lead their armies in peacetime. It’s because they need them to stand by and be ready for the next war.)
Squall looked away from the Headmaster. His eyes, by force of habit, went downward, over the edge of the balcony. There was nothing to see below the balcony besides the drifting waves of the ocean. Still, Squall couldn’t make eye contact for a long period of time. It felt more natural to speak to someone without looking directly at them. Staring at someone was demanding. It pressured the other person. Squall was not a person who pressured the Headmaster of Balamb Garden.
“Something on your mind, Squall?” Cid asked. He paused, then laughed to himself. “Ah, who am I kidding? Of course there is. A better question would be: would you care to share what’s on your mind, Squall?”
“Just… thinking,” Squall said.
“Yes?” Cid said. He sipped his coffee. “I already knew that you were thinking. I asked what you were thinking about.”
Squall sighed. He raised his head, choosing to watch the horizon rather than the sea. “What’s next? Where does SeeD go from here?”
“First, we go back to Balamb,” Cid said. “Nida tells me that we should arrive sometime this afternoon. Then we have to resupply in town. According to Xu, we are dangerously low on hot dogs. I don’t want to imagine the riots that will ensue if we run out completely.”
Cid smirked at that last comment, and looked to Squall for a reaction. Squall continued to watch the horizon, showing no emotion.
“No, I mean the future,” Squall said. He glanced at Cid once, then turned away again. “Long term. What does SeeD do a year from now? Ten years? A hundred?”
Cid nodded. His smirk died away, and his tone assumed the seriousness that Squall had wanted from the start. “That’s been on my mind too. ‘SeeD exists to defeat the sorceress.’ If the sorceress is defeated, does that mean that SeeD no longer exists?”
“I’ll be honest,” Cid said, “I’ve thought about disbanding SeeD. I don’t like sending children off to fight wars, however necessary it might be. Or seem to be. I don’t like training them to kill. I want to give you all a purpose, a job, a mission, but mercenary work is no life for people of your age.”
“We’re not children,” Squall said. He rested his hand on his hip and looked at the Headmaster.
Cid chuckled. “Yes. Yes, you are. But at the same time, I can’t just turn all these hundreds of children out in the street, can I? I can’t very well say, ‘Okay, SeeD is done with. Everybody go home now.’ Most of my students are orphans. There is no home waiting for them. No families to take them in. Garden is the only home available for so many of my students. I can’t turn my back on them.”
Cid looked at Squall. Squall thought that he was maybe searching for a statement from Squall, some sort of confirmation or agreement. Squall didn’t know what to say, so he was silent.
Cid sighed and turned to face the sea. “Edea and I have talked about this. It’s our duty to give you all a future, but… it’s starting to look like the only future we have to offer is one of violence and bloodshed.”
(Didn’t he know this already when he founded SeeD?)
(… Is he going soft?)
Squall straightened up. He didn’t like the tone of Cid’s voice, his choice of words. It sounded like defeat, like Cid had given up on SeeD. Squall didn’t know where the future of Seed rested, but he knew that SeeD did have a future. It must have a future. He’d seen it himself, on the shores outside of Ultimecia’s Castle.
“We’ve always known what SeeD has meant, Headmaster,” Squall said. “We knew what was at stake when we signed up. You don’t have to feel sorry for us. We chose this life.”
“Maybe there’s a better way,” Cid said.
A thought forced itself into Squall’s mind, a single image from his memory. The future he had witnessed for himself. After Time Compression, after floating through the seas of shattered timelines and breaking through in an age generations beyond their own, Squall and the others had arrived on the shores outside of Edea’s orphanage. There, strewn along the sand, were the bodies of soldiers Squall’s age, dressed in the uniforms of White SeeDs: white uniforms with cream-colored joint pads. There was no mistaking their allegiance, or question of how death had come to them. They had died fighting the sorceress; they had died as SeeDs.
Since that day, this thought, more than any other, had pressed in his mind. Whatever the future held for SeeD, it would come at the price of death. SeeD would persist, in some form or another, and the fighting would not stop ever, even until the last days of Ultimecia’s reign.
All of this had been in Squall’s report, which he had given to the Headmaster upon successful completion of the mission.
(Has the Headmaster forgotten? Or is he choosing not to remember?)
“The fighting isn’t going to stop,” Squall said. “We both know that.”
“No, no, no,” Cid said. “Of course not. People are always going to be in some war or another. Some jerk with more power than brains is going to point his guns at someone else and innocent lives will be lost in the never ending struggle to prove absolutely nothing at all. That’s the way it’s always been. I’m old, Squall, but I’m not senile. Not yet.”
Cid took a breath. “I meant… I meant it could be different. SeeD doesn’t have to be just mercenaries, or just fighting against the sorceress. We have a great deal of power and resources at our disposal. It is up to us to decide how to use them. And I think I have a few ideas of how best to use our talents.”
Cid smiled and glanced at Squall. “I won’t tell you just yet. I’m going to make an announcement later this morning, detailing my ideas. I’ll tell you about it before then.”
(Why can’t you tell me now?)
“For now I think you should head back to your dorm and get ready, Squall,” Cid said. “It’s going to be a busy day today, and I want you ready to lead the others. Understood?”
That last word was spoken with a crisp edge of authority. It was not an idle statement, but a command issued from a superior. Squall snapped to attention and saluted. “Yes, Headmaster.”
Cid sipped his coffee. “Good. Go get ready. And don’t think too much about what’s going to happen to SeeD in a hundred years. You can drive yourself crazy doing that. Believe me.”
Squall relaxed his salute and turned back for the door. At the last moment, he remembered the star he’d been watching when he first stepped onto the balcony. He turned and scanned the horizon, but it was gone, washed away by the rising sun. Squall sighed.
“You forget something?” Cid asked.
“No, just… thinking too much,” Squall said.
“It’s what you do best, Squall.”
Squall walked down the stairs and closed the door behind him.