CHAPTER II: Working it Out.

Lark found the library almost five minutes before six, that being nearly fifteen minutes after she started looking for it. She didn’t really enjoy studying but she knew she wanted to pass her finals—she wasn’t sure why she wanted to pass them, especially since she had only just found out about them and was sure there must be some mistake—but she knew she wanted to pass all the same. So she would study just as hard as she could… within reason.

Lark walked past the tall shelves of books, vaguely wondering how anyone could know where anything was here and spotted the black haired boy sitting at one of the desks in the back. "Hey, Nida!" Lark greeted, not particularly caring that she was in a library. Nida looked up—almost jumping as he did so. He relaxed again when he saw Lark.

"Hi, Raven," he returned, "are you ready to get started?"

"Jeez, Nida, down to business already? I’ve got to get you to lighten up one of these days." Lark mused, taking an empty seat next to him.

Nida reddened slightly and turned back to his desk, expecting Lark to do the same even though he could no longer see her. "I wasn’t sure what you wanted to work on, so I picked out some books on a variety of subjects that are usually the focus of the finals." He motioned to what looked like a very large stack of books and Lark felt her heart sink in her chest.

"This one focuses on your weapon," Nida explained, passing a book over to her, "there’s some basic stuff at the beginning which you probably already know, but it goes over all the different kinds of ammo and their effects and the upgraded models of shotguns you might not have seen yet." Lark accepted the book, flipping through a few pages before setting it on her own desk.

"This is a general weapons book," Nida said, picking up the next on the pile, "they often ask questions about weapons and fighting techniques even if they aren’t your specialty. You probably already have this book, but I thought I’d bring it to your attention, just in case." Lark accepted this book the same as the last, glancing at the chapter titles to see how many different styles there were, her eyes widened at the length of the list.

"This book details magic," Nida pulled up yet another book, "it briefly goes through all the magic spells known and focuses on the major elements; describing when they’re most useful, the best techniques to use them… a lot of useful stuff. It also lists the Guardian Forces and what elements they represent."

Nida glanced at Lark long enough to notice the dismal look on her face as she added the book to the stack. He laughed, "Don’t worry, there’s only one left." Lark’s face relaxed and he showed her the last book, "I know you’re already in tactics, but you seemed to be a little lost today. This book goes into more detail about the different tactics you can use in battle, it might be useful for you to study from, the style is a lot different than in lecture."

Lark added it to her pile and looked forlornly at the stack of books, "Jeez, how am I ever supposed to read through all these things?"

Nida laughed again, more at ease now than he had been in the halls earlier, "You’ll do fine, Raven, I’m sure. You probably already know at least half of what’s in those books, anyway. You can just skim through those parts."

"Can I just pretend I know all of it and then have you help me on the test?" Lark asked as innocently as she could manage.

Nida looked surprised, "You want me to cheat on the test?"

Lark laughed, "Relax, Nida. It was a joke, I’ve never cheated in my life… probably half the reason I get such bad grades."

"What’s the other half?" Nida asked, just as innocently as Lark had before.

"I’ve never studied in my life, either!" Lark laughed.

Nida laughed, too, "Well, my parents would have a fit if I didn’t get good grades. I’m practically known by sight, here…" he glanced back at the pile of books, "So, do you want to get started?"

Lark looked at the pile of books as well and nodded although she made no move towards them. Nida noticed this with a raise of an eyebrow as he looked at her expectantly. Lark either didn’t care or was ignorant to Nida’s gaze. Either way, she still didn’t make a move for the books.

"So… did you go to the ballistics lecture today?" Nida finally asked upon reassuring himself Lark wasn’t about to pick up a book just yet.

Lark nodded, "It was really good, I was surprised."

Nida nodded, "I’ve heard a lot of good reports about that lecture. The students really seemed to enjoy it."

"Yeah," Lark got a far away look on her face, "whenever someone started to nod off he’d fire one of the guns he brought… it was so cool."

Nida laughed, "But did you learn anything from it?"

Lark hesitated before answering, "Yeah, I learned how to tell the difference between a rifle and a shotgun by ear."

"Anything useful?" Nida added, although he was still grinning at Lark’s comment.

"Yeah, I guess," Lark reluctantly agreed.

"Like what?" Nida pressed.

Lark sighed and thought back, "Well… he talked a lot about good techniques to keep our guns in top condition… He mentioned a lot about the pros and cons of the different firearms—I’ve decided the shotgun is definitely the best. He described the damage different ammo inflicts on your enemy—I’ve got to get some Pulse Ammo." She decided not to mention that she had learned the correct way to hold and fire a shotgun.

Nida nodded, "See, you already know most of the stuff in the shotgun book. That part will be easy."

"Then at least that’s one book I won’t have to worry so much about." Lark spread out the books on her desk and picked up the magic one, "This I’m not so sure about," she admitted, "I did awful in magic class today… couldn’t even cast a stupid Fire spell."

A thoughtful look momentarily filled Nida’s face and then he looked up at Lark again, "You should ask Squall for help on that one, he’s the best magic castor in our class."

Believe it or not, Lark had completely forgotten about Squall after she saw him that morning. He seemed to blend into the shadows so much she hadn’t even noticed if he was in any of her other classes or not. Then again, she’d had a lot on her mind. Which brought her back to the inconceivability of where she actually was.

A frown crossed her features. How was it somebody ended up in a video game they hadn’t played for over two years? Actually, how was it somebody ended up in a video game at all? She might not be an expert on quantum physics, but she was pretty sure it was impossible. It seemed to break all those rules about conservation of mass and whatnot…

"Or not," Nida put in. Lark looked up in surprise and suddenly realized he must have thought she was thinking about his suggestion all this time. Her realization was confirmed as Nida continued, "I think Seifer’s good with magic too, he could probably give you a few pointers if you don’t want to work with Squall."

Lark shook her head quickly, "No, Squall’s fine. I was just thinking about something else."

"Really? What?" Nida asked.

Lark blanched. How did you tell someone you were thinking about how you got transported into a video game that they were a part of without them thinking you’re crazy? You don’t. "Uh… Sloane suggested I should take up training with Rodor in the mornings. I was thinking about when to ask him."

Nida accepted the answer with a nod, "That’s a good idea, we all need all the extra help we can get right now. We could go find him when we’re done here."

"Okay," Lark agreed, "that would be great."

"So, where do you want to start?" Nida asked.

Lark thought a moment before picking up the shotgun book, "I’ll start here and work my way to the harder subjects." She decided. Nida agreed and the two of them began studying.

Two hours later Lark walked out of the library with Nida at her side and a real pain in her butt. Sitting on the uncomfortable library chairs had taken it’s toll, but she had her reward in an armful of books.

"Rodor’s room isn’t far from mine," Nida informed her, taking the lead around the circular main hall, "have you been by there before?"

Lark shook her head, "I don’t think so. Hey, thanks for helping me pick out these books. I’m sure they’ll help a lot."

"No prob," Nida replied, "I’m glad I could help."

They stopped in front of Rodor’s room a minute later and Nida knocked on the door. An irritated, "What do you want?" greeted them.

"Rodor?" Nida called, "It’s Raven and Nida!"

There were a few thumps on the other side of the room and a few moments later the door was swung open. A very hassled looking Rodor stood in the doorway, something not quite identifiable dripping from his hair and a blue stain adoring one cheek.

"What happened to you?" Lark couldn’t help but ask.

Rodor sighed in defeat and opened the door wider for the two to enter. The entire kitchenette was in much the same state as him, "I kind of got in a fight with uncooperative muffin batter." He admitted sheepishly, his entire face going almost as red as his hair to contrast sharply with the blue on his cheek.

Nida laughed loudly, "You’re sure you should get help from this guy?" He managed to ask Lark who was having only a slightly better time hiding her amusement from Rodor.

"Help? Help for what?" Rodor asked, "If it’s anything food related, forget it. I’m done with cooking, too messy."

Lark laughed, "Nothing food related. Do you want to train in the mornings before classes? I could use some extra practice before exams… well, alright, a lot of extra practice. What do you say?"

Rodor grinned, "Well if that’s all it is, sure! I could use the extra practice, too. I’d really like to pass this year although I wouldn’t be too surprised if I don’t. The extra training would do me some good."

Lark nodded, "It would do me a world of good. Let’s see… homeroom is at…"

"Eight," Rodor supplied.

"And we’d probably want an hour, so I’ll have to get up at the unearthly hour of…"

"Six," Nida offered.

Lark made a pained expression at the mention of the ‘unearthly hour.’

Both boys laughed, "Hey, six isn’t so bad, Raven," Rodor offered, "Get up at six and have breakfast or whatnot and we’ll meet at six-thirty. You’ll have a half an hour so you won’t have to rush it. Then at seven-thirty we can take our showers and get upstairs in plenty of time for homeroom to start."

"And I won’t have to go to detention." Lark finished happily.

"But you will have to set your alarm earlier," Nida pointed out.

The pained expression was back, "Please… don’t mention that word…"

"What, earlier?" Nida asked, frowning slightly with confusion.

Lark and Rodor shook their heads at the same time. "No, alarm," Rodor corrected, "Raven has a… er, sensitive relationship with her alarm clock." Lark was wincing again.

"It’s not ‘sensitive,’ Ro, it’s a wake-me-up, beat-it-up relationship. It deserves everything I give it, probably more as it still goes ahead and wakes me up." Lark said unsympathetically. The boys only laughed again.

"Well, I’ll see you guys tomorrow in homeroom." Nida offered, taking his leave of the others. Lark and Rodor wished him goodnight as he left.

Lark looked back at the mess in the kitchen, "Why were you trying to make blueberry muffins, anyway, Ro?"

Rodor cringed, "Promise you won’t laugh?"

Lark considered this for a moment before promising.

Rodor turned an interesting shade of pink as he continued, "Well, you know that brown haired girl in our homeroom?…" he paused, glancing guiltily up at Lark, "I kind of… er, that is, I…"

Lark, forgetting her earlier promise, laughed, "You want to impress her, you mean?" Rodor nodded miserably, "You want her to think you can cook?" Another miserable nod, "Girls don’t care about stuff like that!"

Rodor frowned, "How do you know?"

Lark stared at him in surprise for a moment, then shook her head… Oh how naive they could sometimes be. "I just do. I happen to be an expert on girls."

"Then how come you don’t have a girlfriend?"

Now Lark was red. She fumbled for words for a moment before finally answering, "Because, Ro, I don’t… er, swing that way."

Rodor’s eyes widened and he took an unconscious step back, "You mean you… you’re…" he couldn’t bring himself to finish his sentence.

Lark sighed in exasperation, embarrassment quickly giving way to irritation, "Rodor, you dolt, I am a girl!" Damn her too flat chest, of course her choice of outfit didn’t do anything to help her figure.

Rodor blinked, looking every bit a stunned owl. He blinked again, not completely certain he’d heard right, "You… you are?" He asked cautiously.

Lark rolled her eyes and nodded, "Why did you think Nida’s always hitting on me?" She personally hadn’t noticed this, but Seifer seemed to think he was.

Rodor blushed brightly, "I, well… I just thought he was… you know, he might be…"

Lark, unable to hold herself back any longer, smacked Rodor upside the head.

"Ow!" Rodor complained loudly, "What was that for?"

"That’s for being an idiot," Lark declared, "I mean, no one else seems to have trouble distinguishing between genders. It’s perfectly obvious to them what sex I’m of. I honestly don’t see how you people do it."

"Well, you know… you don’t really look like… er, that is to say, you don’t dress like… uh, you know." Rodor mumbled half-heartedly.

Lark smacked him again for good measure, "Rodor don’t be such a dolt. It’s not the clothes that make the person."

"So… Uh, now what?" Rodor asked uncertainly.

"What do you mean?" Lark asked.

"I mean… you know, now that you’re a girl… well, things are different, right?" Rodor questioned meekly.

Lark resisted the urge to punch him again and fought to keep her voice even, "Rodor, nothing is different. I’ve always been a girl, since the day I was born. I’m no different today than I was yesterday"—except that yesterday I wasn’t in some weird game—"and I can pretty much guarantee I’ll still be the same tomorrow. Now, if you can’t see that I’m still the same person you thought I was before, then you’ll have to decide what you want to do about it."

Rodor looked very much the little boy who had just been chastised by his mother. He looked down at the floor guiltily, his shoe playing with a bit of splattered batter. "Yeah… I guess you’re right… we can still train together, if you want." He looked up with a thoughtful expression, "I always wondered why you never walked back with us to our dorms… this explains a lot!"

Lark rolled her eyes, "I’m glad you feel enlightened." She stated wryly.

Lark reluctantly opened her eyes. She rolled over on her bed and gazed around the room with bleary eyes until they landed on the mocking visage of her blaring alarm clock. Her eyes narrowed and she raised a fist, throwing it down on the clock with a solid blow—a satisfactory silence filled the room and she flopped back onto her back, mulling miserably about how six was way too early to be getting up at.

After laying in bed reflecting on how time—and the world in general—was so unfair, Lark finally forced herself out of bed. Pulling out the drawers on the small bedside dresser, she pulled out a clean pair of baggy black pants and a long sleeved black shirt that read "Tortured Artist" on the front in large, badly formed letters. She quickly went through the motions of donning her other accessories and, half way out the door, backed up to retrieve her shotgun.
Glancing around the double room, Lark allowed herself a little comfort in knowing Bretta was not up yet. She lazily scoured the kitchen cupboards until she found a box of pop tarts. Not even bothering to toast them, she slipped two out of their pouch and sat on one of the comfortable chairs in the small living area of her shared dorm. She slowly munched away at the small pastries for the next fifteen minutes, then, suddenly noticing the time, she quickly abandoned her last half-eaten pop tart on the counter and left the room as quickly as her sluggish muscles would allow her to move.

She was halfway down the hallway when she realized she didn’t know where to meet Rodor. The realization slipped away just about as quickly as she had thought it and so she wandered around the halls until she came to the map at the front of Garden. After a moment’s hesitation she decided to wait here.

Few people were walking around at six-thirty in the morning, but Lark made a great show of scowling at those that were. Nobody should be up this early. She shouldn’t be up this early. I want to go back to bed!

She didn’t have to wait at the directory for long, Rodor soon came running up to her. As he came to a stop in front of her, he rested his shotgun lazily on his shoulder and smirked.
"Hey, Raven, ready for me to kill you at some target practice?" He asked haughtily, apparently having completely forgotten their interesting conversation the night before.

Lark shrugged, "You probably will," she agreed, "where should we go?"

"Huh?" Rodor’s thoughts crashed to a stop and clumsily started rolling again at the introduction of this unexpected question. "We’ll just head over to the range," he said matter-of-factly. Lark bit back the reply: "There’s a range?"

"Oh, right." She said instead.

Rodor nodded, his smirk safely back in place, "Alright, come on."

Lark followed Rodor out the entrance of the Garden, trying to decide if Rodor was usually this happy in the morning or if some specific event had made him happy on this particular morning. Either way, this did not please Lark as she hated morning people in general. It just wasn’t right to be happy before eleven o’clock.

They skirted the outer edge of Garden but hadn’t walked far before they came to a neatly mowed, roped off portion of field. At the far end stood a variety of targets and the grass between the targets and them was marked off with white lines signifying distances. The range was completely abandoned, except for Lark and Rodor.

"I suppose we’ll warm up at twenty-five yards," Rodor said as he began loading his gun. Lark fumbled to clumsily do the same while he wasn’t looking—she finished just as he looked up.

"Er, right, sure," Lark agreed. She followed Rodor to the thick white line marking twenty-five yards. She looked down at the targets—they seemed to be a very long way away. She glanced over at Rodor who was carefully aiming up a target, then back at the targets.

"Hey, you know, monsters aren’t usually this far away when we shoot at them, are they?" Lark asked.

Rodor squeezed his trigger, smirking as the slug hit it’s mark, splintering the wood of the target. "Oh, I guess they’re usually a bit closer," he admitted, "around… ten yards, I’d guess, on average… but if you can hit a target from farther away, you’ve got a good chance of hitting it closer, right? Plus, if you ever do need to hit something twenty-five, thirty yards away, you’ll be able to do that, too."

"I guess…" Lark reluctantly agreed. Rodor watched her intently as she brought her own gun up to her shoulder, taking what seemed to Lark as a very long time to aim it, and then fired, again almost getting thrown backwards with the recoil. Then he laughed.

Lark shot him a glare, "What’s so funny?"

"Nothing," Rodor said quickly, "it’s just… you do know how to use a shotgun, don’t you?" He asked, laughing again.

Lark’s glare intensified, "Of course I do! I just… haven’t really practiced a lot lately. I just need to get back into the swing of things!"

"Well, I think you’ve got quite a ways to ‘swing,’" Rodor said, "come on, let’s try that again."

Shooting Rodor one last irritated glare, Lark jerked the fore-end to chamber another slug. She brought the shotgun to her shoulder again, aiming for a target at the far side of the range.

"Try holding your gun off your shoulder a little," Rodor suggested, "aiming will be a bit more difficult, but that’s what we build arm muscles up for. It should help a little with the recoil."

Lark fought the instinct to shoot him another dirty look and did as directed. Rodor nodded, "And stagger your legs a little more, too," he added, "you don’t want to stumble backwards like that during a recoil, it leaves you open and vulnerable to attacks, plus it takes more time to get another mark."

Lark locked her jaw with determination and staggered her step, all the while thinking that if she really had been practicing this for the past three years she should know at least as well as Rodor.

"Alright, now give it a try," Rodor encouraged, completely oblivious to Lark’s internal battle.

Lark concentrated hard on the target, trying to aim her gun perfectly even while her arms shook ever so slightly. She squeezed the trigger to release another bullet—she barely felt the recoil this time and was able to easily keep her balance, and a satisfying ‘thunk’ of slug-on-wood reached her ears as the bullet hit target. She smirked, "Something like that, Ro?"

Rodor smiled, looking down at the target, then back at Lark appreciatively, "Yeah, that was great! You were just leading me on before, weren’t you?"

Lark didn’t respond, "So are we going to practice or just stand here all morning?" She asked, chambering another slug.

Rodor grinned, doing the same, "Let’s get it on!"

Fourty minutes later Lark stumbled back into her room, picking up her half-eaten pop tart from the counter and resuming her previous task as she listened to the shower trickling in the other room. She was most of the way done when the door opened and Bretta joined her.

"You were up early," Bretta commented, "what’s up?"

"Can’t a person get up early if they want to?" Snapped Lark—her mind may no longer be muddled with sleep, but that didn’t make her hate morning people any less.

"I guess so," Bretta agreed, "if the person isn’t you. So… you going to tell me what you were up to?"

"I was just training," Lark said, "and now that you’re through monopolizing the bathroom, I’ll shower."

"You were… training?" Bretta asked as Lark stepped toward the bathroom, "You?"

"Yeah," Lark replied, "I was."

"Never thought I’d hear miss natural say that," Bretta said thoughtfully, grinning after Lark’s retreating back. Lark ignored the comment and shut the door behind her. Moments later her worries—all her thoughts, actually—were washed away with the hot water of the shower.

She actually managed to make it to homeroom on time, having gotten out of the shower at Bretta’s ten minute warning instead of her three minute warning. This gave her plenty of time to amble up to class.

Entering the classroom three minutes early, Lark glanced around at the mostly empty desks, she had passed most of the other students standing outside in the halls. Her eyes landed on the back row, to the slumped form of a brown haired boy that was so familiar to her. She walked down the isle and stopped beside his desk. He didn’t look up and she didn’t say anything.

After what seemed like ten minutes—although it couldn’t really be more than two—he looked up, his blue eyes showing great irritation at her mere presence, "Did you want something?" He asked. Lark had the feeling she’d just been shouted at although the boy’s voice was hardly loud enough to hear at the front of the room.

"Actually, uh, yeah," Lark said intelligently, "Er—Nida said you’re one of the best magic users in our class and"—she was trying desperately to ignore his glare—"I was just wondering if you’d be willing to practice with me."

He continued to stare at her for several long moments, the seats around them were already filling in. Lark could’ve sworn she saw confusion filter through his blue-gray eyes as he tried to grasp the unfamiliar request. At last he gave voice to this inner bewilderment, "What?"

"I wanted to know if you’d practice magic with me." Lark repeated simply.

"I—" Whatever he had been about to say was cut off by Quistis ordering the students to take their seats. Squall’s attention was returned to the computer console in front of him and Lark, knowing when she was defeated, strode back to her own seat, promising herself to try again after class.

The thirty minutes of homeroom seemed to drag on forever. Eventually, Instructor Trepe released the class, students rushed to the door all around Lark, who left with them but stopped outside the door. She waited, leaning against the wall until at last the boy she’d been waiting for walked out—he didn’t even glance at her. Lark ignored this and walked in step with him.

"Well?" She pressed immediately.

Squall glowered at the floor, "Well, what?"

"Will you train with me or not?" Lark asked impatiently.

Squall didn’t respond and Lark rolled her eyes. "We have got to teach you some people skills, Squall." She stated, "Do you even have any friends?"

"I don’t need friends." Squall stated without looking at her.

"I didn’t say you do," Lark said patiently, "all I said was that I need a partner to practice magic with. I asked if you would help, will you or am I wasting my time asking? It’s a simple question."

"If that’s all you wanted to know, I’d say you’re wasting your time." Squall stated, eyes finally rising to meet hers in a dark glare.

Lark put on quite a display of pondering this for a moment and then shrugged, "Ah, well, I’ve wasted my time in worse ways before!" There was a long pause in which the only sound was their footsteps echoing down the hall and the shouts of students who sounded like they were just around the corner, then, "Squall, will you train with me?"

Squall didn’t respond, he was glaring at the tiles again.

"Please?" Lark asked.

Squall continued to glare at the tiles.

Lark looked at him curiously, then at the tiles, then back at him. At length she asked, "What are you looking at?"

"Leave me alone," Squall growled, quickening his pace in an attempt to leave the girl behind.

Lark made to quicken her pace as well, but thought better of it at the last minute. She rolled her eyes, "Men."

There was a low chuckle from behind her and she whipped her head around to see Seifer walking casually up to her. She suddenly felt very self-conscious, wondering if he’d seen all that.

"Leonhart’s just an asshole," he stated casually, "I doubt he’s worth your time."

"Oh," was all Lark could think of to say.

Seifer laughed, "What did you want from him, anyway?"

"Er, my magic’s a little off," Lark admitted, "I was hoping he’d be willing to help me practice, but, as you saw, no such luck."

"That’s because you’re asking him to act like a normal person." Seifer explained, "Leonhart only comes in one mode: jerk."

"He’s not that bad…" Lark said, looking at the floor and insisting to herself that she really wasn’t blushing.

Seifer laughed again, "You obviously don’t know Leonhart like I do. The day he acts social is the day I take over the world."

"Close," Lark mused under her breath.

That afternoon Lark was in her dorm room, studying one of the books Nida had helped her find when she received a surprise. There was a knock on the door. Normally this only happens when Bretta is in the room, as Lark didn’t have a lot of friends besides the guys, and they don’t knock, they just barge right in most of the time. How she knew this, she wasn’t sure, but it seemed the most natural thing in the world to know.

She opened the door and was surprised further to see Squall there—glaring at her, sure, but there nonetheless.

"Are you ready?" He asked.

Lark blinked, "For what?"

"You wanted to train together, right?" Squall prodded irritably.

"Yeah," Lark confirmed, "I didn’t know you did, though."

Squall didn’t reply for a long moment and then says, "Well if you want to practice we should get started now."

"Okay," Lark agreed, "just let me grab my stuff." She dashed back into her room to grab her belt, holster, and shotgun before meeting Squall in the hall again. "Okay, I’m ready."

"We’ll practice in the training center," Squall said, "we can draw magic from the monsters there and practice casting it."

"That sounds good," Lark agreed again, "I’m afraid I failed miserably when I tried drawing in class earlier, though."

Squall again didn’t reply and the two of them walked to the training center in moderate silence. Lark was shocked that Squall had actually sought her out for this and was unsure about the whole situation. Could it be Squall was actually a nice guy? It was almost a year before the game’s story line was supposed to start, so it might be possible. Shrugging mentally, she cleared her thoughts of her home as they entered the training room. Was it all a dream?

"Drawing is one of the most fundamental magic skills," Squall stated, stopping abruptly a few steps in, "If you can’t even do that we’d be wasting our time doing anything else." He put a hand on his hip, looking at Lark thoughtfully, "Try drawing from me."

"What?" Lark asked, "Are we allowed to do that?"

Squall rolled his eyes, his arm falling to his side again, "With permission, yes. I have a couple of Silences stocked, if you try to draw from me I can tell you what you’re doing wrong."

"Okay," Lark agreed hesitantly. She had seen people draw in her magic class earlier, so she had some idea what to do. She closed her eyes in concentration and held a hand to her forehead, "Draw." She ordered. Nothing happened and she cracked an eye open to see an irritated looking Squall gazing back at her with a frown.

"That," Squall said, "Was pathetic."

Lark blushed and looked down, "Sorry. Guess I’m a lost cause, huh?"

Squall sighed, "You just need to concentrate, I don’t know how you managed to pass the first two years of practical magic." He paused and moved so he was standing beside Lark. "Close your eyes," he directed.

Lark closed her eyes obediently, trying not to get disoriented as his soft voice entered her ears again but she was unable to see the source. "Now try to feel out the magic in me… Can you feel it?"

Lark concentrated, but couldn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. She shook her head and was met with silence. After a long moment, she opened her eyes to see that Squall was looking at her thoughtfully.

"I want you to keep your eyes open this time, Lark." Squall directed taking a few steps back from her again. "Most people find it easier to concentrate on the feeling of magic, but some can see auras better." Lark nodded in understanding, having read about magical auras in the book Nida had found.

"Okay," Squall hesitated, frowning again as he tried to think of a way to direct Lark. "Try to focus your eyes through me," he continued at length, "Not really to see what’s behind me, but the magical aura that’s inside me…"

Lark nodded again, staring at him as she tried to focus her eyes like he’d described. At first she saw nothing, her vision wavering between focusing on Squall, and focusing on the fauna behind him, then suddenly her vision snapped into place as if it were completely natural. Squall’s body was outlined with a softly glowing purple light, and a small white ball of light seemed to be circulating throughout his body, mostly around his heart.

Moving as if in a trance, Lark put her right hand in a fist over her heart, and her left she held out vertically in front of it, the palm pointing off to one side. Her eyes were still focused on the strange glowing aura surrounding Squall, and they focused in on the small glowing orb. "Draw," she said again.

With a small smirk, Lark watched as the orb floated suddenly away from Squall’s aura and toward her, passing through her hands. She allowed her vision to focus normally again, and grinned as she looked over at Squall, who was wearing a small smile himself (which was erased as soon as he realized she was looking at him again and not through him).

"Good," he said, "Now let’s find a grat and you can practice again on that."

Lark nodded and followed him deeper into the Training Center, unbuckling the latch on her holster to allow her to draw her gun quickly.

"I heard you and Squall were together in the Training Center for a couple of hours yesterday," Rodor commented, grinning conspiratorially over at Lark as she loaded her gun.

"Yeah," Lark agreed, closing the magazine compartment with a snap.

Rodor’s grin widened, "Is there anything going on that I should know about?"

Lark shot him a scathing glare, "We were training together," she snapped, "As we have been every other afternoon for the past week."

"The subject of love?" Rodor asked crudely.

Lark, having leveled off a target pretty quickly this time, let a slug fly before turning back to him, not even watching as it splintered into the wood. "Magic," she corrected in an angry tone, "He’s one of the strongest magic users in our class, and he helped me out a lot." She grinned evilly with an afterthought, "Care for a demonstration?"

Rodor paled slightly and shook his head, "No, thank you! I’ve seen you use magic before, Raven. If Squall actually helped you improve that, I definitely don’t want to be on the receiving end."

"Then no more making fun of me an’ Squally!" Lark declared haughtily, chambering the next shell with a swift movement.

Rodor choked with laughter, his bullet firing wildly off target, "Squally?" He repeated.

Lark glared even more darkly at him, a decent warning for him to shut up. He wisely obeyed and went back to aiming up his next target. Lark having done the same, fired again and was impressed with how much she improved. She was more than a match for Rodor now, and it had only been a few days. The movements all felt natural with her body, like she had only forgotten how to do them but the well practiced moves were still right under the surface. It was a little disconcerting.

Time seemed to flash in a blink of the eye and before any of them realized it, it was the day before examinations. Lark had since dismissed every notion of this being a dream, and was fairly accepting of her other life being a dream—one she hadn’t had for quite some time. Of course, this didn’t explain why she couldn’t remember all the things people talked about happening in the past… she was caught between believing and not believing. But now she was rather preoccupied.

"Sloane!" Lark cried, "Give that back, I need it!"

Sloane looked at the cover of the book, "Come on, Raven, you know all of this. You’re going to stress yourself out if you keep studying like this."

"At least I’ll pass!" Lark retorted, "Give it to me, Sloane!"

Sloane passed the book to Rodor, who was sitting on the other side of him, even farther away from Lark. She shot him an angry glare, "Rodor, hand it over."

The red head shook negatively, "Sloane’s right," he argued, "for once in his life. You’re worrying about nothing, Raven. If any of us here pass, it’ll be you." He paused for a moment, "Or bookworm, over here." He added.

"Yeah," Sloane agreed, "You’re a natural, Raven, you’ve got nothing to worry about."

"So you had one set back earlier this year, you still blew us out of the water once you got back into the groove of things," Rodor added.

"What happened to the old Raven who didn’t study for anyone?" Sloane questioned.

Lark’s eyes narrowed, "She fainted from shock when she remembered the finals were tomorrow." She answered wryly.

"How about a day at Balamb, then," Sloane suggested, "No studying, we’ll go hang out at that restaurant, or go fishing or something. You’re not going to pass if you make yourself sick studying today."

"Yeah, how about it, Raven?" Rodor agreed, "A trip to Balamb would be fun, ne?"

Raven paused, "Well… I have been spending kind of a lot of time studying lately… And I would like to see Balamb," after a belated amount of time she cautiously added, "again." After another pause she smiled and agreed, "Alright, let’s go to Balamb!"

The two boys grinned, "Glad to have you back, Raven."

"We can go fishing, and swimming, and, well, that’s actually about it." Rodor finished lamely.

Sloane rolled his eyes, "Don’t listen to the prat. There’s lots of things to do in Balamb, you just have to know where to look."

"Can I have my book back, now?" Raven asked before plucking it out of Rodor’s hands, much to his indignation. Nida chuckled, having been watching quietly up until now.

"Hey!" Rodor cried, "I thought you said you wanted to go to Balamb with us!"

"And I will," Lark agreed, "As long as we get back at a reasonable time. I want to be well rested for the test tomorrow."

Sloane laughed, "You wouldn’t be well rested even if you went to bed right now."

Lark scowled, "I know." She agreed, "Who’s dumb idea was it to schedule the test at nine AM?"

The three boys all laughed and Nida answered, "I think that was Instructor Trepe’s idea."

"Figures," Lark allowed, "She probably did it just to bug me, too."

They all laughed again and Sloane turned his attention to their dark haired friend, "So, you want to come along, Nida?"

Nida shook his head, "I agree that Raven could pass without studying, but I need every bit of studying I can get."

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