Grazhir :: Final Fantasy :: Providential:: 02 :: Esthar

02 • Esthar

“Irvine?”

“What is it?”

“So, is Rinoa a friend, too? I’m starting to wonder.”

Irvine gave him an opaque look before answering. “If I got my bearings straight, Rinoa thinks she’s in love with you, and you with her.”

Squall’s eyes widened in surprise. “Then why would she do something like that?”

“I honestly don’t know, Squall. It might be that if Quistis checks the tapes she could find the answer to that. Rinoa might not be willing to explain why she pranked you. She seemed awfully embarrassed.”

“Do you always wear that hat? And that coat? Doesn’t it get hot?”

Irvine’s eyes crossed for a moment, then refocused on him. After a moment, he smiled. “Yes, yes, and no.”

“What’s so funny?” Squall asked suspiciously. “You are my friend, aren’t you?”

Irvine chuckled softly. “Yeah. Let me show you something, all right?”

“Okay!”

“I’ll be right back.” Irvine rose and disappeared into the bedroom, then emerged with his hands full of clothing, which he laid out on the coffee table. “Squall, this is what you usually wear.”

He looked at the outfit curiously, then grinned, understanding why Irvine had reacted as he had. “I see! I guess that was a silly question, huh?”

Irvine gathered everything up and put it back in the bedroom, then sat down and said, “You couldn’t have known.”

“So how come Quistis looked like she was going to faint every time I waved at people on the way to the infirmary?”

Irvine closed his eyes briefly, then said, “Squall, in the normal course of things, you intimidate the hell out of most people. You probably sent any number of unsuspecting victims into shock today. It’s not your fault, though, so don’t worry about it.”

Squall shook his head. “I have a hard time believing that. I seem to be a pretty cheerful person, you know? You’re just playing with me. Hey! What’s that case over there?”

Irvine followed his gaze, then said, “Your weapon, Lionheart. It’s a gunblade.” And before Squall could open his mouth Irvine said, “I’ll show you,” and stood up again, crossing to the case and lifting it onto the table. After releasing the catches he opened the lid.

“Wow,” Squall breathed. “That’s mine?”

“Yup. Not many people can handle one, but you, my friend, are a natural.”

“Can I—?”

“It does belong to you, Squall, but I wouldn’t advise using it in here.”

Squall slumped back, disappointed. “Yeah, I guess so.”

Irvine closed the case and put it back. “Are you hungry?”

Squall gave him a wide-eyed look and nodded. “Do you know how to cook?”

Irvine chuckled and shook his head. “Don’t need to know. Will you be all right if I run and get something from the cafeteria for us? I’ll need your keycard, though, since Quistis forgot to give me one.”

“Oh, sure! I’ll watch tv while you’re gone.” Squall fished the card from his pocket and handed it over.

“I’ll only be gone for a few minutes. Don’t wander off.”

Squall grabbed the remote and waved it at him with a smile.

*

Irvine heaved a sigh the second he was outside Squall’s quarters and rubbed his forehead. Who knew? He certainly had never imagined that underneath Squall’s icy exterior was a man with childlike curiosity and enough cheerfulness to almost put Selphie to shame. Apparently, he was a great deal like his father. Shaking his head, he headed for the cafeteria at a fast trot, unwilling to leave Squall alone for any longer than necessary. He wouldn’t put it past the man to open his door to just anyone simply to see who it was.

He threw Squall’s name around shamelessly once he got there, which had the effect of sending the ladies behind the counter into a frenzy of movement. They were all a bit sweet on the commander, not that he blamed them. Within minutes they were shoving a tray at him across the counter, so he gave them a lazy smile and a nod of thanks, then headed back as quickly as he could.

Once inside he slid the tray onto the table and went to get napkins, then came back to see Squall staring at the food. “That one is yours,” he said, pointing.

“What is it?”

“Vegetarian lasagne. You don’t eat meat, Squall.”

Squall’s bright eyes focused on him and Irvine suffered a moment of weakness. They were usually so cloudy and closed off. He sat down and handed Squall a napkin, then unloaded the tray. “Don’t let it get cold,” he said gently, then started in on his own. It wasn’t until sometime later that Quistis appeared again, and Irvine was glad for a brief respite from Squall’s nearly ceaseless chatter about what they were watching.

“Squall,” she said, catching his attention, “I need to talk to Irvine for a minute in the kitchen, okay?”

“Sure!” was the cheerful reply, so the two of them slipped out of the room and into relative privacy.

Quistis rubbed her forehead and gave him a frank stare. “How are you holding up?”

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, Quisty. He hasn’t stopped talking the entire time. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear someone transplanted Laguna’s personality into him.”

She gave him a briefly amused smile and nodded. “Speaking of Laguna, Cid has suggested that Squall go on a little vacation to Esthar. It’s not that we can’t keep him safe here, but he seems to feel that this would be a good opportunity for Squall to get to know his father without his usual issues getting in the way.”

“Isn’t that a bit underhanded?” Irvine protested. “Squall might be pretty pissed off once he regains his memory and realizes what we did.”

“I know, I know, but this is Cid we’re talking about. He also wants you to go with him so that Squall has someone he’s familiar with to talk to.”

Irvine sucked in his breath. “Quisty. . . .”

“What?”

He shook his head. “Never mind. What about Rinoa?”

“Oh, her. She refuses to explain why she did it. Cid sent her packing. He almost raised his voice.”

Irvine blinked. “He must have been really angry, then. The security tapes?”

She tilted her head in confusion. “Is there even a point? Oh, I see. You think she might have visited him in his office.” When he nodded she said, “All right, I’ll go check them out. Here’s your keycard, by the way. I forgot earlier.”

Irvine slipped it into a pocket and fiddled with his hat. “There’s only one bed in here.”

She gave him an odd look and said, “Be a man, Irvine. The couch won’t kill you. Look, I’m going to check those tapes and call Laguna. I’ll buzz you later or stop by tomorrow, whichever. Let me know if anything comes up.” On that note she turned and left.

He sighed and rubbed his face, then went back out to sit with Squall.

*

If pressed, he would admit that the couch wasn’t all that bad, but the bed would have been much nicer. Quistis dropped by bright and early with the latest news.

“Kiros is on his way.”

“All right.”

“And you were right about the tapes.”

Now that fired his curiosity. “Do tell.”

She exhaled heavily before answering. “Well, it seems the two of them had a rather revealing conversation. Squall told Rinoa that kissing her was like kissing his sister and that he didn’t love her. She didn’t take it so well. I don’t think it’s any stretch of the imagination to think that’s what set her off. He was definitely himself at the time, though. The tapes of the corridor show that she jimmied the locking mechanism and slipped in here. Security obviously sucks, so we’ll have to do an overhaul. That’s another reason to get Squall out of here for a while. If she can manage it, anyone could.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow morning, so pack up tonight.” She glanced at the clock and grimaced, then said, “I’ll leave it to you to explain about your little holiday.”

“Heartless wench.”

She grinned and gave him a mocking salute. “At your service!”

*

Squall found Irvine stretched out on the couch watching television, promptly sat down on the floor just beside, and said, “Was the couch really all right? You could have the bed tonight. We could trade off! Did you sleep okay?”

Irvine smiled lazily at him. “Don’t worry about it, I slept fine. There is something I need to tell you about, though, so I’m glad you’re awake.”

Squall looked at him attentively and nodded.

“We think we know why Rinoa pulled that prank on you for one thing. The security tapes showed the two of you having a conversation that upset her quite a bit. Now, during the celebration we had after the defeat of Ultimecia, apparently you kissed her out on the balcony of the ballroom. When you spoke, though, you told her that it felt like kissing your sister. She didn’t like that at all, especially when you told her you weren’t in love with her, either.”

“Oh.” At least that mystery was cleared up. He could treat this Rinoa girl like a sister and not worry about it. Speaking of which, did he have any family? “Okay, so I’m not with anyone?”

Irvine arched a brow and replied, “Not that I’m aware of. You never seemed to have time for that anyway.”

How could he not have time? Was being a commander that much work? “What about the other thing?”

Irvine shifted and glanced away for a moment, looking decidedly uncomfortable. Then he said, “I want you to understand that this was not my idea, Squall. Cid—that’s the headmaster—thinks it’s a good idea if we go on a vacation to see your father.”

Squall pondered that briefly. “What’s so bad about that?”

Irvine shifted again, then said, “Up until just recently, you didn’t know you had a father. One that was alive, I mean. It’s hard to say, but I think you were pretty stressed out over it and rather angry.”

“Why?”

“Well, the thing is, your father is a lot like you seem to be at the moment. Very curious, cheerful. . . . I think it got on your nerves, Squall.”

Squall jerked back in surprise. He didn’t think he was so bad, so how could that have upset him? Obviously, he wasn’t himself, or so they said, but just how much could a person change simply from losing their memories? “Who is he?”

“The president of Esthar, Laguna Loire.”

“Wow. Is that a city?”

“A country, actually. A very technologically advanced country that until recently had hidden itself away from the rest of the world. Try to think back to what we talked about yesterday, when I told you about the Sorceress Adel.”

“Oh, right. So when do we go?”

“Kiros, one of your father’s two closest advisors and friends, is on his way here to pick us up. He’ll probably get here early tomorrow morning, so we should pack up some things today. I’m not sure how long we’ll be staying, though.”

*

Kiros showed up nearly at the crack of dawn, his face a study of seriousness. Irvine was almost happy in a way; having another person around meant that it was likely Squall would pester Kiros just as much, giving him the off moments to simply sit back and observe.

“Irvine,” Kiros said, then looked at Squall almost curiously. “Hello, Squall.”

“Hi! You’re Kiros? Happy to meet you.” Squall thrust out a hand and immediately said, “You’re my dad’s friend, huh? Irvine says you’ve been through a lot together. You must have such interesting stories to tell!”

Kiros somewhat belatedly shook hands with Squall, casting a quick look at Irvine. “I am happy to see you again, Squall. I know that Laguna will be also.”

“I can’t wait to see this Esthar place. Irvine says it’s really amazing. Are we staying in that palace he mentioned? Hey! Do I look anything like my dad?”

Irvine stifled a snort of laughter at the look on Kiros’s face at the barrage of words. Now that he was well over his own shock at the situation, he found it was inordinately amusing to watch the reactions of others as Squall chattered on like a magpie.

He interrupted, saying, “Squall, I’m going to go get our bags.”

“Okay, sure.” Then Squall turned back to Kiros and said, “Wow, those are really neat. How long does it take to do those braid thingies? Does someone have to do them for you? I think the bead colours are just perfect, though. They really suit your colouring.”

Irvine chuckled and headed toward the bedroom, returning back several minutes later and fairly heavily loaded down. Kiros moved quickly to assist him, though it was possible his motivation was not entirely simply to balance the load. Squall dashed across the room and grabbed his gunblade case, then hesitated and looked at Irvine anxiously. “It is okay, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is, Squall. And I think, with due care, you can even try using it once we get there and have settled in. Not alone, though.”

Squall brightened and whisked back over. “I promise.”

Irvine looked at Kiros, who said, “Shall we go, gentlemen?”

By the time they arrived in Esthar Squall had asked so many questions that Kiros was looking almost as though he might cringe at any moment, which made Irvine wonder just how he had managed for so many years around Laguna. Then again, as he recalled, Laguna was not quite so . . . excitable.

Squall had eyes the size of saucers during the entire trip from the airstation to the palace and inside, for once not saying a word. Inside, Kiros led them to a suite of rooms and gestured them in, pointing out the doors which led to the bedrooms and suggesting that Squall might want to go ahead and choose one for himself.

The moment Squall disappeared Kiros gave Irvine a steady look. “I will need to speak with Laguna first.”

Irvine tipped his hat back and nodded. “I imagine so. Bit of a shock, eh?”

Kiros favored him with his version of a smile, an upturn at one corner of his mouth. “Yes. Expect to have breakfast with us. If you need anything until then, I believe you will remember what to do.”

“Yep. Thank you kindly. Try to be gentle.”

Kiros gave him another smile, then left, so Irvine grabbed Squall’s luggage and wandered off after him.

*

“I think that Kiros fellow is awfully nice, don’t you? A bit quiet, though. I wonder what he does around here exactly.” Squall went silent as he caught sight of the view, then realized the corridor they were traversing was made almost entirely of some sort of translucent substance. “Wow. I would hate to be afraid of heights and live in a place like this.”

“It would be rather scary,” Irvine agreed.

Squall opened his mouth to make another comment, then closed it as they reached a set of doors. Irvine knocked once, then waited, and a few seconds later they opened to reveal a room not unlike the one in their suite, though much larger.

Irvine forged ahead, so Squall followed him, then glanced around once inside. On spotting Kiros he gave a cheerful wave, then stopped dead when he saw one of the other men present.

“What is it, Squall?” Irvine asked, touching his arm fleetingly.

“He—” Squall frowned slightly and turned to his friend. “He reminds me of someone, something. Do . . . I know him?”

An odd look crossed over Irvine’s face, but he answered readily enough. “Yes, that’s Laguna, your father.”

Squall looked back and eyed the man curiously, trying to figure out why he looked almost familiar when no one else had. His scrutiny was interrupted when Laguna stepped forward slowly and said, “Squall?”

Squall shook his head to clear it and smiled. “Hi! So, you’re my dad, huh? And a president, wow! Irvine has told me so much about you. Hey! Who’s that guy?” He pointed. “Is that Ward?”

Laguna did a slight double take, then nodded. “Yes. Are you hungry?”

“As a matter of fact, I’m starving.” Then he looked around again. “This is a really nice room, though it could use a little more blue in it, don’t you think?” Then he turned back to Irvine and said, “You said I don’t eat meat, right? Do they know that, too?”

Irvine flashed him a smile and nodded. “Let’s go sit down,” he suggested.

“Okay, sure!” Squall really was glad Irvine was with him. He might actually be quite anxious otherwise. After sitting down in the seat Kiros indicated, he looked up and smiled brightly at his father, then switched his gaze to Ward. “Hi!” Ward merely nodded, which confused him until he recalled something about the man being mute.

“I really am glad to see you again, Squall,” Laguna said softly.

Squall looked back at his father and tilted his head to the side. “I wish I could remember. But hey, once Irvine told me that I seemed to be a lot like you, I knew you must be a very nice person and we’d get along just fine. Right?” Then he paused, frowned slightly, and added, “Though, from what I gather, I’m not usually like this.”

Irvine touched his arm again, causing him to look over and see another smile, which cheered him up immediately.

*

Much later on, after he and Ward had taken Squall on a bit of a tour through Esthar itself, Irvine was somewhat relieved that Squall opted to take a nap. “I’m going to go talk with Laguna and the others for a bit, then, Squall. Please don’t wander off if I’m not back when you wake up.”

Squall gave him a wide-eyed look, then nodded. “I’d get lost anyway.”

Irvine chuckled and squeezed Squall’s shoulder briefly. “Quite possibly. I shouldn’t be gone for very long, though, all right?” Once he was outside the suite he headed straight back for Laguna’s quarters, pausing only long enough for the time it took to be admitted, and taking a seat directly he was inside.

He rubbed his face for a few moments, then looked up with a sigh. “So, that’s Squall.”

“I’m—he’s like a completely different person,” Laguna said, looking slightly bewildered. “I really don’t quite know how to react.”

“Well, I think it’s somewhat encouraging that he almost seemed to recognize you.”

“True. . . .”

“Doc had no idea how long the memory loss might persist. At least him showing some signs means there’s definite hope that he’ll recover. It’s just. . . .”

“Yes?”

“Perhaps Kiros noticed this and said something already, but, Squall can get a bit anxious at times. It seems to upset him when people aren’t willing to answer his questions, for one thing. I’m not saying he’s regressed mentally, but he does show some similarities. If you try to shut him up without being careful about it, he thinks he’s done something wrong and withdraws.”

“Yes, all right.”

Kiros shifted in his seat and said, “Perhaps there would be merit in having Ellone spend time with Squall.”

“That’s not a bad idea. Sis is the one he was closest to, and it broke his heart when she was removed from the orphanage. Where is she?”

“Visiting in Winhill,” said Laguna. “But she should be back soon. She only planned on being there a few weeks, and it’s been almost that long now.”

Irvine nodded. “Mind you, I’m not saying I dislike the present Squall, though it is a bit wearying at the moment. Hopefully he’ll settle down once we’ve been here a while. After all, we were only in Balamb for two days with him like this, so he never really had a chance to fully exercise his curiosity about things.”

“You know you two can stay for as long as you want,” Laguna said immediately.

Irvine shifted uncomfortably. “It would have to be for a while, anyway. Besides, Cid was quite insistent that Squall come here. I just hope when he regains his memory that he doesn’t go ballistic.”

Laguna shot him a curious look. “I’m sorry?”

Irvine sighed and looked away. “Maybe you already understand this, maybe not. Squall didn’t look happy when he realized originally who you were. I don’t know why, though. It’s not like he ever talked to any of us about things. He might end up feeling angry and manipulated, that Cid took advantage of him. I can’t say for sure, but I do think that Squall would have eventually come to you on his own. The fact that Cid more or less ordered him here is something he might take great exception to. The Squall I know would be very angry that someone, anyone, tried to dictate parts of his personal life.”

“That does not surprise me,” Kiros said. “However, assuming that Squall forms any kind of connection to Ellone, she might be able to assist by dropping him back into portions of the past. It may jog his memory.”

“Yes, but, not without his knowledge, Kiros. He would have to agree to it. I know that Squall and I aren’t exactly what you’d call close, but I definitely don’t want to suffer his wrath should it come to it.”

“Either way presents a case for manipulation,” Kiros pointed out.

Irvine shook his head. “That may be true, but I’d rather he understand over someone deciding for him to do this, possibly making it seem as though he’s having particularly bizarre dreams. At least if he knows, he could look back later on and appreciate the fact that we were honest and open with him, and that he himself agreed to it.”

“I agree, Irvine,” Laguna said. “As soon as she gets back, I know she’ll want to see him regardless, so we’ll see how it goes.”

“I assume you have no idea as to the condition of his Guardian Forces,” said Kiros.

“Not a damn thing. However, since I know he really wants to play with his gunblade, perhaps once I’ve had a chance to see that he can still use it, I could take him out someplace and see how many of the abilities they afford him were affected. Either way, I get the feeling he would consider it all a grand adventure.”

Laguna giggled, startling him, then said, “Grand adventure. Hey, Kiros, remember that movie? That dragon was huge!”

Irvine hastily excused himself, citing his wish to be back before Squall should wake up.

*

Squall stretched and rolled over, then sat up and looked around the room. It was still light out, so he supposed it couldn’t be all that terribly late. Then again, not really understanding where Esthar was, he couldn’t possibly understand what constituted a normal time for sunset. He slid off the bed and padded into the attached bathroom, taking a minute to relieve himself, then wandered back into the bedroom and out into the main room.

While he was delighted that Irvine was already back, he was somewhat confused at the expression that flitted across his friend’s face. “Are you okay?”

A smile immediately graced Irvine’s face as he nodded. “Sure am. Did you just wake up?”

“Yep! What time is it anyway?” he asked as he crossed over to take a seat on the couch next to Irvine.

“Just about six. It’ll be dinner soon, so you might want to throw on a robe or some clothes.”

Squall glanced down, only just remembering he was only wearing a pair of boxers. “Oh.” Then he looked up and smiled. “I am kinda hungry. Lunch was fine, but I don’t think I ate enough. I’ll go find something to wear!” He leapt to his feet and dashed off, returning to the sitting room several minutes later to sit back down next to his friend.

Irvine gave him a once-over, then commented, “I see you’re wearing that new shirt you got today.”

“I really think it brings out my eyes, don’t you? And I don’t think I’m such a bad looking person. Maybe if I dress a bit differently, I’ll attract some nice guy’s attention.”

Irvine’s reaction was to blink rapidly several times and swallow audibly, which Squall thought was a bit peculiar, then say, “You attract attention nearly everywhere you go, Squall. If you’re going to change how you dress, you ought to be doing it because it makes you happy. I do wonder, though, how you’ll feel once you’ve regained your memory. Speaking of which, we’ve thought of something that might help.”