I looked up from my current project of cataloging the newest Garden candidate enrollees and their security status and smiled when Sub-Lt. Cmdr Seifer was seen to head toward my office from the elevator. It had been two months since I'd been married to Zell, but Seifer kept calling me 'Regal', and who was I to change a habit? "Yes, sir?"
"The Commander's having an issue with his security access. Fix it."
"Oh." I looked down at the half-done project and then sighed as I set it in my secondary in-box. "Yes, sir." Hopefully the problem wouldn't take all day, as I was already drifting behind on my projects.
"Don't worry about your box, Regal, I'll put Crest on it."
Smiling, I nodded and grabbed my 'troubleshooting' kit from the right side of my desk. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
Seifer waved me away as he continued toward his office, coffee mug in hand.
So, I hurried away, entering the elevator that would lead to Cmdr. Squall's office on the third floor. Jaxon Crest was the security division's newest member, transferred from Deling Garden's security office only a month before. It was fun to have him around, I'd liked him from the first moment I'd met him, and it gave me a chance to hear more (i.e. new) stories about Zell's life there at Garden. Jaxon and he had gone to quite a few workshops and lectures together and had some of the funniest stories of pranks, mostly done to alleviate boredom. Sometimes just to be a pain. Zell was like that, I noticed.
Sometimes I would get a call from Jaxon in the middle of the night, or a tap on Zell and my apartment door, usually when he had a nightmare about his late-fiancee who had died in his arms during the Trabia missile attack. It was really hard to see him like that without breaking into tears, but I always managed to do it somehow. Offering him an ear and sometimes a simple 'It'll be okay,' which I remember him saying once was mostly all he wanted to hear. My heart broke for Jaxon, and I had no idea how he faced each day with a smile when I knew he missed her so much.
I released a deep breath, adjusting my hold on my kit as the elevator purred to a stop and opened the doors to let me off. I then made my way past the secondary elevator that led to the Garden's 'cockpit', and to the desk Cmdr. Squall had stuffed in a partially hidden corner. He'd once said he liked it there, kind of removed from everything.
But when I passed the elevator's external shaft and came into view of Cmdr. Squall's desk, my step hesitated and I began biting my lip. Why? Because the Commander didn't look like he was having the best of days. Normally, Cmdr. Squall didn't show much emotion. He was always very calm, and I think that made me calm. In fact, I think it made a lot of people calm. But today, he looked a little... harried. Or... maybe he just looked frustrated. And irritated, too. He was kind of glaring down at a report while rubbing at his scalp and occasionally glancing at the video-phone on the left side of his desk. It even looked like he muttered something every once in a while.
I had never seen him mutter before.
Cmdr. Squall seemed to twitch slightly before forcing the glare away and offering a very slight smile. "Hello, Sally. You here about my computer?"
I could only nod.
Cmdr. Squall pushed back from his desk and stood, motioning down to where the tower was tucked to the right and beneath his desk. He put his hands on his hips. "I don't get it. It keeps saying it doesn't recognize my administration code."
Clearing my throat and tightening my hold of the kit, I stepped forward and behind his desk, kneeling down to wheel the tower out of its cubby after setting the kit aside. "That's odd, sir. We're not due to alter admin codes until next week." I pulled out my handheld and plugged the adapter into the side port, entering the appropriate information to bring up the diagnostic program.
"I know. I have it marked on my calandar. At first I thought Seifer... well, I've tried everything. It just won't work."
"Hm." I navigated to the admin log-on and tried his password. It worked. I raised an eyebrow. "It worked for me, sir."
"What?" He dropped to one knee beside me, and I showed him the handheld.
I motioned to his keyboard. "Try it again, sir. Maybe there's a scramble in the signal from your keyboard to the tower."
Cmdr. Squall released a quick breath while muttering something I didn't think I caught right. It sounded like he'd said 'when it rains, it pours.' Someone only ever said that when their day had already started bad and was just getting worse, or continuing to give them problems. He usually never let someone know he was having a bad But right now, it was almost like he wanted someone to ask and didn't realize it.
He tried the password and it worked.
I smiled and began disconnecting my handheld, but when he continued to just stare at the monitor, hands not moving from their position on either side of the keyboard, my smile faded and I began to worry my lower lip. When it seemed like it had been a full minute without him moving, I cleared my throat and softly prompted, "Sir? Are you all right?"
Fully expecting a forced smile and an 'I'm fine,' I was more than a little shocked when I heard a somewhat quiet "I don't know." But then I heard myself asking, "Do you want to talk about it?" before I could even register that he'd said anything.
And I suddenly felt very dizzy.
Cmdr. Squall let out a deep breath before sitting back in his chair and simply resting his hands on his knees as he continued to stare at his monitor. It was like he didn't want to meet my eyes; as if that would make talking about it all the harder. I guess I could understand that. After all, I didn't like looking in anyone's eyes when I wanted to talk about something personal.
But you know what happened then, he swiveled in his chair, leaned forward so that his elbows and forearms were on his legs and looked me in the eye to say "Dr. Levinne says I have a fear of committment."
I blinked, leaning slightly back even though I couldn't look away. "...what?" Of all the people I knew, I couldn't imagine Cmdr. Squall having a fear of anything, and especially not commitment. He committed himself to Garden every How could he be afraid of committment when he did that? But Dr. Levinne was one of the best psychologists on staff, so if he said it was true... And I guess I remembered telling Zell something similar, about Cmdr. Squall being afraid of committing to his relationship with Rinoa because of his past and everybody leaving him... That was a hard thing to get over all the way.
Cmdr. Squall gave a slight nod. "Yeah." He finally lowered his gaze, again rubbing a hand through his hair. "I guess it's no surprise. Rin's been hinting at it for months, pushing me to start up therapy twice a week instead of once. Had a blow-up about that on the phone. That's the only reason I went to Dr. Levinne this morning. But I guess I knew about it anyway. The nightmares have started up again, and I keep calling Ellone to make sure she's..." His voice drifted and then he sighed before once more looking up at me.
My eyes must have been as big as saucers. I just couldn't believe the Commander of the Garden Network was talking to me. Then, to my complete and utter surprise, he suddenly sported a somewhat lopsided smile and motioned to the handheld still clutched in my hand. "Can you do something with that and make the whole problem go away?"
I blinked again, looking down to my handheld and then sounding a very nervous giggle. Again meeting his gaze, I shook my head and whispered, "Sorry, sir. We don't have that adapter yet."
He chuckled and gave his hair another hand-through before kind of slumping forward a little. "You and Zell. Quistis and Zone. Seifer and Janine, for cripes sake."
And I'd never heard him so... passionate? Though he was still calmer than Seifer would have been... Though hadn't Seifer been mega-calm when he asked me if Janine would marry him?
"You make it look so easy," he finished.
Without really intending to do it, I reached out a hand and placed it on his arm, shaking my head when he looked up. "It's not, sir. It's very, very hard. And it's very, very scary."
"But you've done it, Sally. Me? I..." His gaze once more lowered to the polished cloor of his office. "I can't even think about it. I change the subject when Rin brings up an anniversary of something. When we walk by a jeweler's? I look the other way. I... When I think I've worked up to maybe talking to her about it, I have a real-life panic attack. Can't breathe. Heart races. Sweats..." Cmdr. Squall shook his head, fisting his hands in such a way that tore my heart into pieces. "I risked my life for her, so why can't I...? Why do I think...?" He swallowed hard and shook his head again. "Why do I think she'll leave? She never has."
"I don't know, sir," I admitted softly. "Why do you think she'll leave?"
"I don't know. Dr. Levinne asked me the same question, and I couldn't answer it." Cmdr. Squall released a quick breath. "When we were first going out, I'd pick fights with Rin sometimes just to get her to leave. She never would. She'd look at me different and then her expression would change. Even the way she'd be standing there would change and she'd just say, 'I'm not going anywhere, Squall. I can't. I love you too much.'" He lifted his gaze to meet mine. "She said she loves me too much and that makes me even more scared?"
"Maybe you think that puts a lot of pressure on you? Maybe you expect yourself to love her just as much, and in the same way, as she loves you? Maybe you're scared because you don't want to let her down? It could be a lot of things, sir. A lot of things that are normal for a relationship. But that's what makes it so special. Because it is so scary and hard and all these other things and we make it work anyway." I smiled and tightened my hold on his forearm. "If it makes you feel better, she's probably just as scared that you'll leave her."
Cmdr. Squall looked confused at that. "If I was going to leave her, I would've done it a long time ago." And his tone made it sound like it was obvious.
My smile widened slightly. "Okay, sir, well, since you haven't left her yet, and it doesn't sound like you want to, and she hasn't left you yet, doesn't that sound a little like commitment already? And you're not scared of that, are you?"
Cmdr. Squall actually looked... non-plussed. It was like he couldn't understand why he hadn't seen this before, though I'm almost sure Dr. Levinne had probably done his best to help him work it out, without downright spelling it out as I did.
I couldn't help it. I softly giggled. "Sir, being married isn't all that different from being best friends or boyfriend/girlfriend. We still have our disagreements. We have our hang-out times. And all that other stuff. The biggest challenge is knowing when to give each other space, so that the little quirks each of us have don't drive the other person nuts. Sure it's hard, and sometimes I want to cuff him upside the back of the head. But we just talk it out, work it out, and try not to let it bug us. When it does, we just ask for some space. I go hang out with Selphie or Janine, and he goes and hangs out with Jaxon or Marshal..."
Sitting back on my heels, I continued to softly smile at Cmdr. Squall while feeling very much a 'mother'. To be honest, it was pretty awesome. "Sir, maybe you should think of this as a mission? Fear isn't ever an option on SeeD missions. So, instead of seeing it as a marriage or an engagement or whatever, see it as a contract to protect this person, at the risk of your own life, for as long as they live. Maybe Rin would even draft a contract for you?" And if I remembered correctly, that was how he and Rinoa had become romantically involved in the first place.
Cmdr. Squall leaned back. "Contract?"
"Certainly. That's all a marriage vow and license is anyway. Connecting you to the other person via a contract, both verbal and documented. You do better with structure like that anyway, don't you?" He almost absently nodded, and I smiled. "Sometimes it's better to just do what's easiest for all of us. For Seifer and Janine it was eloping after keeping everything a secret. For me and Zell it was taking it slow through friendship and then dating and then a short engagement. For Quistis and Zone, it's just keeping it... honest and..." I flushed. "Well, Quistis and Zone are Quistis and Zone." I motioned toward him. "And you're Squall, Commander of the Garden Network. You're a very serious man who has a very serious job and very serious feelings for a woman who is seriously in love with you. Why not take a more serious view of the whole marriage thing and make it a mission?" I withheld a giggle. "Actually, that's kind of romantic."
I laughed, nodding. "You haven't been on a mission in a while, sir, have you?" Then I put on a somewhat serious face, somewhere deep inside realizing that being married to Zell was making me braver and a bit of a humor-freak, and leaned slightly forward. "Taking on a mission of making Rin happy every day of her life? That will be the most challenging mission of all. I don't believe anyone but you can do it." I stood and saluted. "Good luck, sir."
And then I simply headed out of his office, laughing silently to myself while shaking my head and wishing Sally Regal good riddance. Sally Elizabeth Dincht was a lot of fun.
I halted and turned, still smiling as I saw Cmdr. Squall slow and then stop a few feet from his desk. "Yes, sir?" He motioned behind him toward his desk, seemingly looking for the words to say. So, I just smiled a little wider, my eyes crinkling at the corners as they always did, and said "You're welcome, sir," before again turning for the elevator. Once aboard, I waved to him and then pushed the button down as he gave an almost absent wave in return. I giggled and clasped both hands on the handle of my kit, shrugging both shoulders as I released a happy sigh. Yeah. Sally Dincht was a lot of fun sometimes. I was liking her more and more.