Phase XXI: Memories Best Forgotten
He felt a headache coming on, then static turning into a persistent ringing. When it dissipated, he could hear crewman shouting and airships landing and taking off. He found himself standing there, feeling proud and nervous at the same time. Hovering just a few feet off the ground, the landing gear of an airship touched down.
Laguna Loire tried to ignore the pain shooting up his leg while he waited for his arrival. He watched as the boarding ramp prepared to let passengers off. As they reunited with family, the crowd dispersed leaving him to locate Squall.
(Wait…I know this. Is...this a dream?)
He offered a welcoming smile to the young man who stood with just a black duffel bag strapped across his body. Squall, his eighteen-year-old son, didn't look so pleased to see him.
"Hi, Squall!" He greeted with excitement. "How was the trip in?"
He shrugged, "Okay, I guess. You didn't need to send an airship to get me. I could've taken more conventional means of travel."
Laguna laughed, clapping him on the shoulder, "You know me, I travel in style. I'd like my kid to do the same."
Squall groaned. "Whatever. Can we go now?"
"I'm glad you came to visit for Christmas. Elle's gonna be so excited!" He led Squall to the hovercraft that awaited them to go to the Presidential Palace.
(Sis? Sis! What're you doing!? Stop! I don't wanna see this!)
(I'm sorry, Squall. This is the only way…)
The hum of the motor filled the awkward silence, and Laguna didn't know where to start or what to ask him. The last time they had spoken Laguna had called him into his office after the war and told Squall he was his father.
That didn't go down well at all.
When Garden disbanded a year ago, Squall chose to live with his friend's family instead of his own. That was a hard one to swallow, a punch to the gut, and he hadn't made the effort to call Laguna since.
Ellone had filled him in on other things going on in Squall's life such as his recent move to Dollet with Zell. For the life of him, Laguna couldn't remember which one he was and kept mistaking him for the cowboy.
"So," He started, but Squall didn't bother to remove his gaze from the window. "I heard you moved to Dollet recently. How'd ya like it?"
Laguna should have expected this. The conversation seemed to start and end there, but he was determined to keep it going. Laguna scratched his head, "I remember stayin' there. It was really nice! Their tourism industry is huge, and the beaches are awesome!"
"Was this before or after you left my mother?" Squall grumbled.
Laguna shut up. His green eyes shifted to the road feeling guilt consume him again. It had been a while, and Laguna just wished that Squall could forgive him already. He should have anticipated this; it did take a lot of hoaxing from Ellone to even get him here in the first place.
But he was here, so that had to count for something, right?
"Oh my gosh!" Ellone exclaimed, almost pouncing on him when he came through the door. Hanging from his shoulders, she laughed in delight, "It's so good to see you, Squall!"
Squall allowed a shy smile, patting her back, "Same here."
She dragged her brother away, insisting on giving him a tour of the Palace and show him where he'd be sleeping. Laguna could hear her excited chatter all the way from down the hall, leaving him to just sigh in defeat.
Was he jealous of his adopted daughters relationship with his son? Sure, but she was there for him during his earliest years and taught him the basics of life. They had also spent most their lives apart as he went to Garden and she stowed away on a ship in the Centra coast. Ellone's powers had stolen a normal life from her, being the driving force that tore them apart. They were just kids at the time, they didn't understand it then. It was out of their control.
Wasn't leaving to save Ellone from Sorceress Adel's soldiers out of his control as well?
No, Squall didn't see it that way. Laguna could have come home with her after the war ended, but he chose to stay behind and become President of Esthar. In a time where his family needed him most, Laguna chose his duty before his loved ones.
That was his biggest regret that still haunted him since the day he found out his wife died.
"Ward says 'you need to give it time, man.'" Kiros translated when he strolled into his office.
Laguna shook his head, walking to his desk to try to get some work done. "A years not enough time? The kid still hates me."
"Just chill." Kiros reassured, "It's Christmas. Maybe this trip will be good for him."
"Christmas," Laguna snorted, "I don't even know if he believes in all that jazz. Hell, I don't even know if he believes in anything!"
Picking up a tablet next to him, he rifled through the file he needed to go over. Maybe some more work would do him some good.
(I…wasn't that difficult…was I?)
After Laguna finished his work later that night, he made his way towards Squall's suite. He knocked on the door, and was surprisingly granted access. The indicator light flashed green, and he stepped through the automatic door.
Squall's private quarters looked straight out of a luxury home decor magazine. The kitchen had all stainless steel appliances, a fridge full of food, and a breakfast bar. In the living area, there was a large 60-inch flat screen TV on the opposite wall to the door and a set of leather couches. Squall was sitting on one of them watching some Estharian TV show he couldn't understand.
Laguna chuckled, catching his attention. Strolling over, he took a seat on the other couch next to him. "I never understood it either. It's not common to hear Estharian anymore; most people in politics speak English. Some districts still do though, but I try to stay away from there without a translator."
Squall scoffed, "You're their president. You're supposed to know their culture."
"I do!" He exclaimed in his defense. "I'm just terrible at speakin' other languages. Do you know any?"
"Two." Squall replied, " Galbadia doesn't speak Latin anymore, but I still chose to learn it."
Laguna smiled, "I guess the one thing I'm thankful for is that you grew up with an education."
"Whatever." He brushed that off, getting straight to the point. "What do you want, anyway?"
Laguna had almost forgotten, "Uh…here."
Squall hesitated to take the small box from him, "What's this?"
"A Christmas gift." Laguna smiled. "Go on, open it!"
Squall's fingers peeled away at the silver wrapping and opened the black box underneath. In it was a chain, and it dangled from his hand shimmering in the light. It had an intricate crest with griever incorporated into it made of real silver.
Laguna shook his head, "This one's special. It's for your gunblade. Estharian weapons fabricators have been tryin' to phase out sheaths for swords. Our men use these. Magic conceals the weapon, and it can be summoned on demand. How cool is that!?"
"...I heard about this somewhere."
Laguna nodded, happily, "Got this made special for ya. Yours has the Leonhart family crest on it. Raine showed it to me once, and I managed to snag a picture of it from her old belongings. Family was important to her."
Squall gave him a look, "And how about you? Is it important to you?"
"Now it is." He answered honestly.
Squall just frowned, "Giving me gifts wont change anything, Laguna. You can't buy my forgiveness even if it's sentimental. It doesn't work that way."
"It's a start." Laguna retorted.
Squall shook his head, and tossed the box with his gift to the side before padding towards his bedroom. "I'm gonna go to bed. See yourself out."
(He wasn't there when I spent all those Christmases in my room alone or in the training centre. And now he wanted to make it up to me?)
(It was too late.)
December 24rd, 2008 – 11 Months Ago
Christmas eve was always something Raine enjoyed more than any other holiday of the year. She told Laguna stories of her childhood and that her parents got married on this day. In recent years, Christmas became more of a tradition for him to keep her spirit alive. He usually held extravagant balls for all his friends, but this year was different. Kiros and Ward chose to celebrate with their own families leaving Laguna to his.
A small get together at a posh restaurant in the city core was in order for their small family. They all seated at a small table finally together in one place. They drank the richest Galbadian wine and ate from the most expensive plates on the menu; each one cultivated and prepared like meticulous artwork. The establishment even had a tree decked out in Swarovski crystal.
Ellone had on a beautiful red evening gown with her shoulder length hair in loose ringlets. She sat next to him, chatting, laughing, and full of life. Squall had put on a pressed formal black button up shirt, white tie, and matching pants. He sat across Laguna mindlessly poking at his food with his usual frown.
"So, I said to her that the dress needed to be tailored some more. I'm really hoping that it'll be done in time for the new years celebration next week." Ellone continued on with her story, while Laguna nodded with a mouthful.
"Oh, Squall!" Ellone chirped, "You would love the fireworks! It's right over the Palace. You used to love fireworks, remember!?"
(I found it odd that I was sitting there with my family like none of it ever happened.)
"Yeah…" he muttered, continuing to eat.
"Squall," Laguna spoke to him, "Elle tells me you got caught playin' with fireworks as kids. I bet the Kramers were pissed!"
"Oh, so mad!" She emphasized, laughing. "Looking back it was probably not such a good idea. We set off three before they came running out screaming!"
(I hated the fact that we were telling him our childhood stories, when fathers are supposed to be telling us. That should have been him, not Matron and Cid.)
Laguna chuckled, but noticed his son hadn't said anything. Squall pushed himself away from his half eaten meal and asked, "Can I be excused?"
"Uh…sure." Laguna permitted, "You not feelin' well, kid?"
Squall shrugged, but didn't dignify him with an answer. He walked past tables of other patrons towards the exit, and Ellone looked concerned.
Laguna stood, but before he could follow him, she squeezed his forearm. "Squall's having a hard time adjusting to us."
He shook his head, fed up with Squall's attitude. He couldn't understand him as much as he tried. Squall was Raine's son, too, but even she hadn't been this difficult. If Squall had taken after his mother at all, he knew that Squall was both proud and stubborn. The only two things he was prepared for as he strode after him.
Squall was sitting on the curb when he found him. He was tense, rubbing his hands against his face. Clearly, he was stressed out.
"You okay?" Laguna asked him.
"What do you want?"
The older man sighed, "I'm tryin' to figure you out, but you wont throw me a bone."
"Look," Squall growled, standing up to him. "I'm not interested in Christmas, presents, fireworks or family gatherings, okay? I've been fine without them up until now." He turned, walking away from Laguna now.
"How many times do I have to apologize to you before you forgive me!?" He called after him.
Squall stopped for a moment before turning on his father, disgust contorted his face. "You think all this is gonna remedy our situation!? Laguna, nothing will! Nothing will erase what's been done! I didn't have a father all my life, and I don't need one now!"
That hurt. His words dug deep under Laguna's skin.
"Squall," Laguna found himself begging now, "Don't push me away! I'm tryin' to mend things now! For this to work we need to-"
His son's anger grew, unable to take this anymore. The amount of hate Laguna saw in his eyes made him want to back off, cower away, and admit defeat. But he couldn't do that, not now, not ever. He couldn't give up on him, he promised Raine that.
What came out from Squall's mouth begged to differ though and hurt more than anything else.
"Fuck you, I don't need you! I never have. I've been fine all these years on my own!" With that, Squall finally stormed off leaving Laguna to mentally process what just happened.
Laguna, hurt and distraught, closed his eyes standing as still as he could. He prayed to Raine like he often did, unsure of what he was doing wrong.
Maybe a whole bottle of Deling wine was in order tonight.
What completely broke his heart was the look in Ellone's eyes the next morning when she came to him with a note. Scribbled in Squall's all caps handwriting and tears in her eyes.
"Merry Christmas. – Squall."
Squall's quarters were empty, and his key was left with the concierge's desk. According to them, he'd checked out of his suite in the middle of the night to catch the next flight to Dollet.
Usually people were hopeful about the New Year. They created lists of resolutions to make this year better than the last, but Laguna wasn't so sure. This next year was probably going to suck more than the last eighteen. His son was out there hating his guts, and the guilt had never felt heavier.
(…Shit. Was I that horrible? He…he didn't deserve that.)
(Squall, I'm disconnecting now. I'm sorry I had to do this. Again, there was no other way.)
Esthar City/ Underground Bomb Shelter
November 13th, 2009
0345 Hrs ET
Ellone felt a headache come on stronger than the last. Sitting up on the makeshift bed, she was alone in a small cubicle that served as her room the past week. The job Quistis had issued her had been to assist the medical staff. Everyday for over twelve hours a shift, she would help Rayen and other doctors tend to the wounded.
Her days always ended the same, and she'd come back here to the privacy of her cubical trying not to break down. The good thing about having a job was it offered distraction, but when she was alone the anxiety grew worse. More and more, she began to practice her powers again, trying desperately to connect with Squall.
Every night for seven days she tried, but couldn't get him to see the memory she was trying to send.
She knew it was wrong, he was probably still mourning, too, but Ellone didn't know what else to do. Tonight he latched onto the memory, and she figured he was asleep as it was easier for her to 'plant it' as a dream.
The white curtain of her cubicle tugged to the side, and Rayen stepped in looking just as exhausted. He had been working round the clock in longer shifts than her.
"You look beat." She commented, feeling the cot sink under his weight.
He scoffed, "Speak for yourself."
Ellone winced from the quick turn of her head. She hoped he didn't see it, not wanting to answer any difficult questions.
Rayen noticed without a doubt, he always noticed the smallest twitches and movements. She had to always remind herself that he was once as SeeD, too, he had been trained to read people.
"You don't look so good." He spoke. "You okay?"
Ellone faked a smile, "I'm just really tired is all. Don't worry about me."
He could also tell when someone was lying.
"What is it? A migraine? A cold?"
She paused, but figured telling him wouldn't be so bad, "Headache."
Rayen dug into his satchel, taking out a small bottle of ibuprofen and handing it to her, "Here. It's not much since we need to preserve the good stuff for patients, but I managed to score some of this. Take two with water and something in your stomach."
"Thanks." She watched him get up from the cot. "What brought you here tonight?"
"Just checking in." He said, "I know you've been working a lot. It's a great distraction, but how are you doing?"
"I'm fine…" Ellone replied, "I'm just mourning is all. Laguna was like a father to me."
"Does your brother know?"
Ellone shrugged, "Quistis says he does. I hope he's fine."
"You said he was a SeeD, right? I'm sure he's okay." Rayen stifled a yawn making his way to the curtain. "Anyways, I'm hitting the sack. See you bright and early, Elle."
She waved him off and felt blessed to have a guy like him around. They had been spending a lot of time together, and he seemed nice enough. This wasn't the first time he would 'check in' on her between shifts. She could tell by the way his dark eyes caught hers that he had been concerned about her. For the first time, someone actually cared for her and treated her like a normal person.
Guilt struck Ellone like it had many times before because Rayen had no idea what she was capable of. It was still too dangerous.
Maybe one day she'd tell him.
Fisherman's Horizon/Old Train Station
November 13th, 2009
The static dissipated again, and he lay in a cold sweat with a thundering heart in his chest. His throat felt tight, making swallowing the pain down difficult. It felt like something was taking hold of his airways as he struggled to stay calm. His eyes, cheeks, and the mattress under his head were wet. He must have been crying in his sleep. Squall was just thankful nobody else was around.
There was an aching nausea in his gut threatening to unleash itself from his lips, but he kept it down. His body wasn't used to being sent back into his father's past like it used to. It came at him with a jolt of the unexpected. Squall worked through careful breaths, shutting his eyes tightly to gather his senses.
Sis is alive. She must have been trying to get in contact with me.
The body next to him shifted, drawing him from his trance. He rolled to his side to find Selphie sleeping soundlessly. She was at peace; a smile naturally tugged the corner of her lips. Her body heat invited him closer, and Squall slid his arm around her waist. She didn't stir, but somehow knew to draw closer to him until they pressed together.
Another sleepless night.
Squall needed to get himself together.