*standard I don't own FFVIII, Squaresoft, characters, etc. applies from now until whenever I decide I'm done*
By Yuri Nigasa
In that dazed instant between the end of sleep and full awakening I thought that it had all been a nightmare. Seifer was looking down at me, his eyes full of warmth, his hand lazily tracing circles across my shoulder.
"What time is it? I had the worst dream last night." Then I realized I was wearing the same shirt I had been wearing in the 'dream.' The look on Seifer's face told me that it hadn't been a dream of any kind. "No, no, no," I shook my head as echoes of last night's turmoil rebounded through my mind. "It can't be true."
"Squall, it's alright."
"It's not alright."
Seifer tried to wrap his arms around me but I put my arms between us and shoved him back. I scrambled backward, tumbling out of bed. I lost my footing and felt a crack as my head snapped against the wall. Pain exploded behind my eyes and faded to a dull thump. He was up in an instant, trying to help me. None of this had been his fault, but he was the only available target for my hurt, pain, and anger. I shoved him and he fell backward.
"Leave me alone!" I yelled. "I don't need you acting like I'm incompetent!" I rose unsteadily and found my pants, putting them on, then grabbing my boots and lacing them up.
"Squall..." Seifer sounded hurt. I wouldn't look at him. I was lashing out at him for no other reason than that he was the only one here.
"What?" I spat.
"Nothing." His voice had grown bitter, like it had been.
I heard his footsteps walking out of the room. I lifted my head to see that he had dressed and was heading out the door. I didn't have the voice to call him back. Guilt lacerated my already shattered heart to ribbons. He promised to be patient, a traitorous voice reminded me. In my state of mind it was all the justification I needed.
When all else fails, go to the source. I knew I was the easy target, but if I stood around and took shit from Squall, it wasn't going to fix the real problem. I was glad that these doors didn't operate like the ones in the basement. These assumed if you had gotten in, you surely had permission to get out. So out I got. I headed the only place I knew to go, the Infirmary. It was late enough that Quistis should be in. I walked from the Residential area and discovered yet another added advantage to being me. As the guy who, everyone assumed, had been responsible for a whole list of heinous crimes, people generally gave me a wide berth and left me alone. I walked down the hall to the Infirmary and reached the door, which opened automatically. The room was empty. I called out to see if maybe she had wandered into the back. The door opened and I turned to see Quistis walk in.
"I thought that was you I saw walking in here," she said. I gave her a puzzled look. "Oh don't you start with the silence thing too. One is bad enough." Then she took the time to look closer. I guess the expression on my face said it all. "Oh no. What happened?"
"Last night's little bout of shock wore off. As soon as he woke up he got hostile and he's pretty unstable. Squall is not on speaking terms with Mr. Sanity right now. I'm all for throwing Loire in the room with him and sending in a crew to take care of the carpets when Squall's done."
"And you left him? Alone?" Quisty's expression left little room for misinterpretation. She was thinking that Squall wasn't the only person not thinking rationally.
"No he's got his ego, id, and super ego. What was I supposed to do Quistis? Stand there and be a punching bag? He shoved me twice. The second time he about launched me across the room. All my presence did was aggravate him."
"We've got to find him and get him calmed down."
"Got any tranquilizer darts?" She didn't appreciate my humor. I can't help it. My way of dealing with high-stress situations comes out in sarcastic comments.
"Not funny, Seifer."
"Fine. I say we go have a chat with the dear President first. Get Selphie and Irvine down here and we'll go parley with the bastard."
"Not until you calm down."
"I promise I won't kill him?" She glared at me. "Okay, fine. I won't lay a finger on him." She glared again. "Or any other body part." Still glaring. "I won't inflict violence with inanimate objects either. Happy now?" She grunted affirmatively and went to the com. She paged Selphie and Irvine as I sat down to wait.
They must have been standing outside the door listening or something because they were there in what seemed as close to instantaneous as I've ever seen a human manage. After a short recap of the morning's highlights I followed them out the door and in the direction of the conference rooms. Quistis buzzed the door and I waited for it to open, shifting anxiously from foot to foot. When it opened, Kiros stood in the doorway.
"May I help you?" he asked. I couldn't tell if he was being sincere or smug.
"We need to speak with President Loire. It's urgent." He nodded and we all went in.
Loire was sitting on a couch, looking like a study in paradox. It was difficult to reconcile the kind of man I now knew him to be with my former impressions.
He lifted an eyebrow and regarded us calmly. "I was more expecting Squall to show up. What can I do for you?"
I glared. It wasn't going to be easy to keep that promise. "Look you smug..." Quistis cut me off by placing a hand on my arm.
"Are you truly so heartless? What has happened to you, Laguna?" It was the first time I could recall Quistis calling him that. She continued, "I had always thought you a caring person, one who genuinely was concerned with the welfare of others. I know from what we experienced through Ellone that was the impression I received. It hasn't been so long, really, for you to change so much."
"No offense, sir," Irvine spoke up, his soft drawl adding impact without adding volume, "but you've really fucked things up here. Maybe I've got reason to be a bit pissed in my own right, but I'm not here for me. I'm here because your son is a friend, someone I grew up with, and someone I admire. I'm not about to let anyone, President, father, whatever... play mind games with him."
Maybe there was a lot more explained by genetics than anyone gave credit for. Right now he seemed more and more like Squall with each passing moment.
"You listen to me," I spoke up. Quistis tried to quiet me down, but I shrugged her off. I was going to have my say. "I'm not upset about what you did to me. I knew what the job was when I signed up, but them, Squall - they had no idea. Yet even when you put them in the path of the woman that raised them, they still did what they had to, because that's the type of people they are. I know your type well," not adding that I only knew from a lifetime of dealing with his son, "and I know that you're too proud to admit you've fucked us all. Maybe you weren't always like this, at least that's the impression I got, but something's twisted you. You exploited your own son, the only flesh and blood you've got in this world. Do you have any idea the lengths we would go through to have that? And you threw it away."
He looked up, not at me, but behind me. "What do you think, Squall?" None of us had even been aware of the door opening.
I had arrived halfway through Irvine's little speech. In some way I knew it should feel good to have friends that would stick up for me like this, but I wasn't thinking logically. All I could see is that they were interfering in what, by rights, was between Loire... my father... and myself.
"Everyone out," I said, using a tone that absolutely dared anyone to question me. Nobody moved. I'm sure they all expected me to strangle him the moment they left. Even I expected me to.
"I won't say it again. Get. Out. Now." Seifer turned and looked at me, his eyes filled with hurt. I glared at him. He was the first to go. It was as if his leaving was the signal for everyone else to give up and follow.
When the door closed I walked over and locked it. I turned and strode to the table in the middle of the room, leaning against it. I folded my hands across my chest and stared into a face as cold and impassive as my own, but deceptive in a way I had never been.
"I could call you every despicable name I can come up with, and it still wouldn't do justice to how I feel. I could beat you senseless, believe me I know you're no match, and it wouldn't make me feel better. What I feel right now is so far beyond anything you could possibly comprehend if you lived to be one hundred."
That look was back, the one from last night. I couldn't tell which persona to believe. This was a man who wasn't above using such tactics to get the response he wanted.
"You have every right to hate me. You should hate me. I want you to hate me. Every good thing I've ever had in my life I've ruined."
"You expect me to buy into this pity act? You expect me to believe you feel any remorse over this in the least?"
"I don't care. You'll believe what you want to in the end. I think you owe it to me..."
"I don't owe you a damned thing. Well, maybe I do, but I'm not in the mood to have all of Esthar climb my case for killing their beloved President."
"You want to, go ahead. I don't care."
"You never stop pulling strings, do you? What kind of sick fuck are you? For once, once, quit the game and try the truth."
Silence. I wasn't used to being on the receiving end of that. Time stretched out indefinitely until he spoke again.
"I lost the only thing I had ever loved. If I had kept you, you would have been a constant reminder of what I lost. When I finally realized that in my selfishness, I had let her down, it was too late. The orphanage had closed, and things were changing. Edea had begun exhibiting the personality change that would eventually be identified as the consciousness of Ultimecia. I felt you were safer at Garden. We didn't know what Edea was capable of. I feared that if I brought you to Esthar and anything happened, I couldn't protect you. So I left both you and Elle in the care of Cid Kramer."
"Through anonymous sources, Esthar began to influence Garden's training regimen. We were highly aware of the usefulness of Guardian capabilities, although we hadn't had enough experience to understand the full impact of their use. We made sure that Cid became aware of this powerful tool. One that would enable an average fighter to become a superior fighter, and a superior fighter to rival a god. Garden was placed in a position that forced it to resort to using fully-trained SeeD as a mercenary force, to hone the skills of classroom-trained fighters in real-world battle."
"The advantages of junctioning magic were introduced, the use of protective and restorative spells. Esthar's scientists formulated potions, elixirs, phoenix downs, cures for magical ailments, anything and everything we could think of that might make the difference when at last the day came when the threat would become reality. I saw the kind of person you became. You may think I didn't know or didn't care but I knew. I knew. I did what I did because I didn't know any other way to do it. The part of me that was your father didn't want to send you out to fight, but the other part of me knew that six children who had been raised by the Sorceress and trained under the influence of her husband, given every advantage that Esthar had to offer... that part of me knew you were the only hope."
I had been pacing up and down the hallway until Irvine had put a hand on my shoulder and directed me to one of the other conference rooms. I really had no desire to be in a room with anyone from Esthar, but Loire's two lackeys followed us and I was forced to make due. I was worried about Squall. Pissed that he'd shoved me away like that, but worried still. Watching him hurt like that and knowing that despite all my strength I was powerless to do anything about it.
"Seifer," Irvine's voice jolted me out of my thoughts, "sit down. Damn but you're picking up his habits, having those conversations with yourself."
I glared. Had we been in private I wouldn't have minded so much, probably even agreed, but the last thing I wanted was a report heading back to Loire that I was boffing the Commander of Garden, a.k.a. his son. Maybe it would piss him off. If so I'd be all for walking over there and telling him to his face immediately, but instead I was stuck in the room with three people I didn't mind and two that I'd just as soon shove off the second floor balcony by merit of association with Loire alone.
"How can you two stand by someone like that?" If I was going to be stuck in a room with them, I might as well pick a fight.
"Seifer," three voices, near simultaneously. I laughed.
"Only one way to shut me up, and if you use it, I'll just write notes. Might as well let me talk. I have kept my word after all, Quisty."
"I don't think it's wise," Selphie piped up.
"For a prisoner to smart off? If anything gets out like anyone will think the worse of me for it." I turned back to face Loire's aides. "So, what's it like being paid by a man who uses his son as a tool?"
The look on the larger one's face - he didn't speak as far as I could tell - was defensive. Underneath it however, was some sense of melancholy. It was the other one, Kiros, who spoke.
"You want to just be a vindictive little prick or do you really want to know what he's like?"
I was taken aback. He gave the appearance of a quiet demeanor, but damn, he was one wily old man. I grunted begrudgingly. I had to give him credit for having the guts to go toe to toe with me. "I'm listening."
"We've known him longer than you've been alive. Twenty, twenty-five years ago, he wasn't like this. It's rare to find someone in this world who's truly innocent. He was. Everything to him was wonderful, an adventure. He'd find the good in anything and everyone. One reason he sucked so badly at being a soldier. He'd just as soon sit down and talk to them as shoot anyone. When I found him after we'd been separated, he'd been living in this town called Winhill. Maybe a hundred, hundred fifty people in the place, tops. But there he was, playing monster hunter in exchange for room and board in a town where just about everyone hated him except for her and the girl."
"'Unca 'Guna' she used to call him, back before she was old enough to say his name... still calls him that sometimes. As much as he loved Elle though, he loved Raine more. He gave up who he was for her. He'd never been content to stay put, but for her... Put a ring on her finger one night and that was it. When Elle got taken, though, he never forgave himself. Had to get her back. No way he'd let such a little thing suffer at the hands of unknown people. We got her back, but then they wanted to make him the leader of that resistance. Why stop at saving Elle when he could save Esthar? Certainly they were as deserving of help. He hated to see anyone suffer."
"Took Elle back to Raine and after a bit, well, you've all faced a Sorceress. We were lucky though, got ourselves an overconfident, inept, shortsighted one. He'd go back to Winhill when he could. She never told him though, about the baby. Otherwise he never would have left. She knew him better than she let on to him. He was so oblivious though, he never even thought. Then when he found out, it was like someone tore out his heart. He got back too late. They were clamoring for him to get back to Esthar, had a country to run. So he weighed his personal happiness against the lives of everyone in that damned country, and went back. Not until years later did we realize what forcing that decision from him had done."
"Loss of innocence is one of the greatest tragedies a man can face, only exceeded by the loss of love. Combine them, and what it left was a devastated, hollow, man. He's lived his life since then without regard for what he's wanted, only for the greater good. Always what's best for everyone but himself. I don't know how many times over the years we've tried to get him to make contact, but he won't listen to us. Never has, never will. Maybe now, forced into it, something will break him again. In the same way that none of you would ever desert the others, so we are similarly bound to him. We can only do what we're able to, support him, and hope that maybe," here he chuckled - a startling sound after the long and thoughtful speech from him, "he'll get his head out of his ass."
I stared at the man across from me, my mind unable to decide what to do about the entire situation.
"I don't care if you hate me," he said softly, "I did what I had to do. Just like you did. And because of you and Selphie and Zell and Irvine and Quistis and Seifer, because of you the world is safe. Because of you, I have an opportunity to change things. Just please, please, for her sake think about what I said. She wouldn't approve of what I've become, but she's not here anymore and I can't bring her back, but I'd give anything I had to have her for one more minute. Maybe I've lost every bit of time I could have spent being a father to you. I could have been what she would have wanted me to be, but I failed. I want to make amends."
How many times over the years had I stood in the rain, drops of water cascading down my cheeks to hide my tears, aching for someone to be there, anyone? How many times in my dreams had my father come for me, to take me home? It wouldn't have mattered to me then what kind of man my father was, all that would have mattered was that he was my father. I wanted to be furious at him; I wanted to hate him.
"What was she like?" I found myself asking, when I hadn't even intended to open my mouth.
"Radiant, loving, beautiful, patient, intelligent, funny. You have her eyes, your hair is the same color... you have her nose, too. I see her in you. I wish you could have known her. Not just because she was your mother, but because of the kind of person she was. She never tired of listening to me, all the things I'd tell her just to have an excuse to sit there and look at her. She loved flowers, loved filling the house with them. She loved to read. Before Elle was taken, I'd come back so many nights to find her sitting by the fireplace, asleep with a book across her chest. She wanted children. Thought that Elle needed a little 'brother' or 'sister' so that no matter what, they would always have each other. She would be so angry with me right now, for all I've done."
I wanted to forgive him, but I couldn't yet. I didn't trust him, father or not. I was hurt, upset, and mad. Had he stayed with my mother, maybe things would have been different. I didn't want to admit that if he had, maybe we would all be dead right now, victims of a Sorceress. I was more like my father than I wanted to be. Willing to make sacrifices of the people I cared for to do what needed to be done. When I had sent Selphie and Zell to the Missile Base with Rinoa, I honestly hadn't expected them to come back. Time and again I had put people I cared for in the path of danger because I was the one chosen to lead. I never asked to lead, never wanted to, yet I had to, because there was nobody else. Was that what it had been like for him?
"Squall, please. Say anything."
I looked up at him. "If you truly mean what you've said, you'll prove it in time. I understand more than I want to because I'm more like you than I care to admit. It's that part of myself I've always hated, always wanted to change. Maybe you aren't much of a father, but you're the only one I have." I stood up and stared down at him.
"There are a few things that would go a long way toward proving your intentions to me, as well as my friends. If you decide to make such an effort, let me inform you that this is what I want, in no uncertain terms. I want full public disclosure of Esthar's activities prior to and during the Sorceress' Conflict. I want the name of Seifer Almasy cleared of any wrongdoing. I also want Esthar to fund the rebuilding of Trabia Garden. I don't think they're entirely unreasonable requests."
Loire didn't even bat an eyelash. "Consider it done."
I nodded. I was anxious to get out of the room now, as if now that the conflict was on the road to resolution, I couldn't stand to stay there. Not when I knew I had something I had to do. Someone I had to find. Apologies of my own to tender. I just hoped that he was more forgiving than I had been today.
"If you will excuse me, I've got something that I must attend to," I said.
I opened the door and walked out into the hall. They must have gone somewhere to sit down. I didn't know how long I'd been in the conference room. I reached a terminal and patched a com call to Quistis. A moment later she answered.
"Have Seifer meet me in the hallway please."
Seifer walked out into the hallway and a face that should have held nothing but contempt for me showed nothing but concern. It was like being punched in the gut. I didn't know what to do or what to say. I felt so guilty for my actions. He stood in front of me, silent, hands clasped behind his back. For the second time in as many days I felt hot tears slip down my face. I couldn't look him in the eye I was so ashamed. Then I felt a strong hand caress my cheek, wiping the tears away and across my lips. Then I felt him kiss the tears away. I wrapped my arms around him and began to sob into the fabric of his shirt.
"I-I... I'm... s-sor-ry."
"Shh, I knew before you even said it. Crying, over me? I promised you, Squall. There's not a thing you could do that would every make me break that promise. Not now, not ever."
"I should think it's obvious. Do you need to hear me say it?"
I felt his hand under my chin, lifting my eyes up to meet his. The heat of his gaze bore through me like fire.
"Because, Squall, I love you."
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