Mastermind (Final Fantasy 8 Fanfic)

Slight movement of an arm or hand, a quick jerk of the head. Some say Squall Leonhart is an unreadable icy bastard that doesn’t know the meaning of the word body language. Not in combat, baby.
In combat, he’s the master of body language, but only if you know what to look for. Gunblade slightly tilted to the right means I’m up next. Again. I throw a worried glance at Zell, who is trying to stay on his feet and out of harm’s way, obviously biting away whatever pain his left foot is causing him. While the thin razorsharp blade comes down and the blueish gargantuous winged creature – whatever it’s bloody name might be according to bloody Trabia’s bloody Almanac of their oh my gawd it’s so damn gorgeous flora and fauna – roars in pain and rage, i prepare myself and quickly rummage around in my my excuse for a brain for the cure spell I know is there. Even before I find it, Squall’s head snaps up and glares at me when he falls back as if he read my mind and doesn’t agree at all. In that same second he gives me the signal to attack. My face must be stuck in the ‘confused’ state, because he repeats the signal, something I haven’t seen him done since I joined our happy group of blood and grime-covered men. I manage to recover and fire a round of bullets at the scaled beast. Bullets of which I hope are the right kind and if not that’s just *censormode*ing tough luck for our tightlipped compadre here, who hasn’t even bothered to explain to me what the hell all his signals mean.

Zell had explained it curtly once. We’d both sat down, while in the half-dark of sunset our tent seemed magically set up itself. This, the young blonde had explained in his best grumpy voice as ‘Stealth is something that should be practiced every minute of the day’, which proved what I had suspected; Tents don’t set up themselves, Squall was over there and my vision was terrible. When Squall returned to pick up some of the herrings for the tent, he made eye-contact with Zell for a fraction of a second and squinted his eyes ever so slightly. This, in turn, proved that both our hearing was terrible compared to Squall’s.

I looked at Zell questioningly, who looked a bit taken aback after this short exchange. As Squall disappeared in the shadows of the tent, Zell muttered something under his breath, looked at me and jabbed a thumb backward over his shoulder in Squall’s direction. " ’Shut up and do your work.’ Tsh, a few more weeks and we’ll be communicating in nothing but his personal sign language.” He shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and pushed a slab of meat in my general direction. “Here, cook it will ya?” I remember just sitting there, taken aback and finally i asked “Wait.. wha- what? You’re kidding. Right?”. He put the meat aside and, not looking up from preparing the rest of the food, shook his head. “Just about every gesture he makes has a meaning. I think I’ve got about half of them down.” A piece of wood in one hand and a fire spell on my lips to make a fire, I suddenly paused and waving animatedly with the makeshift conductor’s stick I voiced what I had felt all along. “That’s the reason I can’t keep up in fights. Squall is giving orders, that’s why the two of you are like one oiled machine in combat and I am lagging behind.” He just nodded. “Then why the heck didn’t you tell me? I would have been able to keep up, that would have been so much easier. Why didn’t you tell me?” I smiled triumphantly now that the reason for my stumbling back and forth in combat between two men that seemed to be ahead of me by three moves was clear. Zell’s head snapped up and he glared at me. I realised i flinched and for a moment we sat like that. A few seconds later whatever had upset Zell seemed to be gone as he sighed and gestured me to sit down next to him. He took the stick I was holding and drew three circles next to each other and a fourth, larger circle, surrounding them. “You’ve noticed how he’s always in the middle?” I nodded, remembering quite clearly how Squall had roughly shoved me away to reclaim his position in the center the day before. “That’s cuz he’ll tilt his blade to the left or right to indicate who’s next after him.” I stuttered something in surprise and Zell smiled ever so slightly like someone who has just shown something valuable but has a lot more to tell. Right then and there, I felt relieved and indignant at the same time that it was something this simple and inconspicuous. “It took me a while to figure it out too. I’ll just explain the three you’ll need most often; attack, defend and cure.” I nodded and made mental notes of the gestures.

The blade comes down again and knowing he’s got some badass powerful ice spell junctioned, I briefly imagine how friggin’ cold that blade has got to be by now. He returns to position and gives the signal to attack, his blade tilted towards Zell and a quick forward move of his elbow. The creature retaliates but halfway it decides to twist, turn and smack me along the side of my head. Colored spots appear before my eyes and for a moment I don’t know what hit me. Then I remember what hit me and duck just in time to prevent another hit. Squall steps in and covers for me long enough so I can get back on my feet. As he returns to his position I notice he’s holding the blade in an awkward manner, with two fingers outstretched along the blade. He gives me the signal to attack. My vision is still blurred but I fire off a round and as I lay the gun to my cheek I feel something warm and wet streaming down my face. When I return to position, from the corner of my eye I can see the blur of movement that is Zell dash forward and for a moment there I’m pretty sure I can see where his ankle is bent in an awkward angle, but he seems to ignore it through clenched teeth and even kicks at the beast with his injured foot. As he falls back, his face is all white and his fists stay clenched. A deep rumbling sound that is the roar of the beast is somewhat of a warning that an attack is coming but before the sound registers it already hits me with its claws like treetrunks and I am thrown aside. When I get up, I stumble and somewhere it registers that it’s gotten darker here. I start looking for a cure spell, but Squall’s interrupts me with a curt “attack”. I look up to him and see he’s holding one finger against the blade. He must have given the signal, but I haven’t seen it and somewhere inside I object to another attack that is issued in such an uncaring matter and right now I understand why Zell looked at me the way he did when I responded relieved upon learning that Squall dicated the entire battle with signals. To hell with it, I can’t take another hit. I won’t. *Yes you can! Attack!* Squall’s voice comes from somewhere where hearing has nothing to do with sound and the overwhelming feeling that I am floating in an emptyness not my own takes hold of me. While a part of me objects to a junction exchange, I haven’t got the strength to close the connection and for a fleeting moment I share Squall’s insight in the battle; That neither he nor Zell can be healed without splinting first because else the broken bones would knit together and become useless, that I can take one more hit and that if the calculations are correct this last round should do it. And somewhere I hear my own thoughts trying to figure out when Squall had broken something and if this had registered anywhere and what calculations, but my body is already responding to this information and from afar I feel myself aiming and firing rounds of ammo and see Squall and Zell launching a series of physical attacks. The creature attempts one more attack and hits the three of us wih a great swipe of a wing, but a last hit – I don’t even know from whom – causes it to collapse into a shuddering, bloodied pile of scales and meat. My body decides then and there that this has been enough for today and even though I know it isn’t I fall down on hands and knees, blood streaming down my face. The curse on my lips comes out as a shuddering breath rather than the sharp, witty remark I want it to be. And somewhere in the background I catch myself taking mental notes of Squall’s every gesture during this fight, trying to figure out how to read him faster and increase my chance of survival with .. oh half a percent at a time maybe..