I can't believe it's been a whole year since I wrote Mircales. So here's a companion piece of sorts, based on recurring daydreams that have been floating around in my head all these years. Once again, Happy Birthday, Squall!
One by one, street lights flashed into the interior of the presidential vehicle as it glided down the highway. Its sleek, almost otherworldly form was covered in the same baffling technology that the rest of the city was. If it weren't for the fact that the sky was dark, one might almost assume it was still daytime, as the entire city was illuminated by the dazzling lights of skyscrapers and colorful billboards everywhere while citizens flocked from place to place. A shrouded metropolis; an ingenuity of engineering at its finest that sprawled out almost endlessly. A city that never slept. Squall didn't think he'd ever fully comprehend it. But before he'd even attempt that, his priority was figuring out how in the world he'd been roped into this in the first place.
Really, it all came back to Ellone. That was the sole reason he was going through any of this agony. According to Laguna in a rather abrupt phone call the night before, Ellone would soon be celebrating her 23rd birthday, and Laguna wanted their dysfunctional, sort-of-but-sort-of-not little family together for the occasion.
"C'mon, whaddya say? I mean I get you're really busy and all—I am too! But I think it would mean a lot to Elle if we could get together and give her a nice birthday. Please, for Elle?"
Squall sighed into the receiver of the device. Laguna wasn't exactly his favorite person in the world… Despite his cheerful demeanor and knack for making friends with just about anyone, Squall found he was never all that comfortable in the man's company. Not to mention it was only last month that the man had sat him down and explained he was actually his father. They hadn't even spoken since then, making the phone call all the more awkward. The young commander wasn't sure if he could handle seeing his father (he almost shivered at such a strange title being put on Laguna) again so soon. Maybe he could just make an excuse; say he was too busy with Garden and SeeD and getting back on track with his schooling. It was believable enough. And it's not like Laguna would argue with him. But he grimaced suddenly at the thought, feeling a pang of guilt for even thinking of disappointing his sister. Just the image of her crestfallen face at being told Squall couldn't make it was enough to make him hesitate in his rejection.
"Well…" he mumbled. 'It's not like I can't handle being away for a day or two. And Headmaster Cid would probably let me go without a second thought, especially if it was to see Laguna... Maybe I shouldn't have told him about the situation? No, that wouldn't have worked. Rinoa or the others would have told him eventually anyway. It's a wonder the whole school hasn't found out thanks to Zell and his big mouth.'
"That's the spirit!" Laguna laughed, sounding much less nervous than before.
"I'm sure Elle will be ecstatic to see you again. Hey, I could show you two around the city, give you a first-class tour! We've got pretty much everything; shopping malls, great restaurants, even a few amusement parks! Oh, and you won't believe the historical district, where.."
Squall glanced down at his feet, lost in thought. 'He's right, Ellone would be really happy to see me… Especially since she's gone through her whole life just trying to get us all back together. Man… Why does this have to be so difficult? Just what am I supposed to do around the guy, anyway? We have nothing in common. He's loud, obnoxious, and way too energetic. And he's not really all that bright either. How the hell is he running a country?! Whatever, I can't think about that right now. The whole thing would be a huge, awkward mess. But damn it, I really do want to see Ellone on her birthday…'
"…which actually kinda ended up coming out way different than I'd intended. One way or other everyone got the wrong idea, and before I knew it there were secret agents swarming the place! One of them even did the whole "Get down, Mr. President!" thing, haha! But yeah, it caused such a ruckus so I'm not really allowed to do that anymore. Oh, but I'm just blabbing here. Oops! Anyways, point is, it'll be a blast. And well, uh, y'know I want you to have the greatest we can offer. I can get you the best hotel in the world—literally! Or, um… maybe you could stay with us at the palace? …You could be close to Ellone! Would you like that instead?"
Squall began to pace the room, still oblivious the man's ranting. 'I guess there's no way around it, then. Besides, maybe it won't be so bad. I could stay in a hotel and not have to share a room with someone for once. I can put up with him for a day or two, right? At least he's a nice person. Too nice, but whatever. It'll make her happy for all of us to be together, so I'll do it. For Big Sis.'
"Yeah, that'll be alright." Before he could get another word out, Laguna all but shouted into the phone.
"Really?! Okay! Tha-that's great! I'm, er, Ellone will be so glad to hear it! Oh, but we'll have to send a private jet to come and get you—security reasons and all. The Ragnarok has become too recognizable because of all the media coverage, so we'll have to use a more discreet way to travel. I'll arrange something with Cid as far as the exact location goes, and he'll let you know probably by tomorrow morning," he explained, having calmed down some after the strange outburst.
It sounded like a simple enough plan, and Squall gave a small grunt in agreement.
"Pack your bags and get a good night's sleep, okay?" At this, Squall frowned again.
What did Laguna think he was, some little kid? As if needed to be told what to do. He was the commander of Balamb Garden, damn it!
"Good night, Laguna," he ground out, irritated.
"Haha, alright, alright, I get it! I'll set up the room right next to Ellone's for you at the palace. Goodnight, don't let the bedbugs bite!" and with a click, the man's sunny voice was gone. Squall hung the receiver, even more offended than before. Just when, exactly, did he tell Laguna he would be okay with staying in his house?!
Squall soon phoned Rinoa to let her know he'd be leaving town to see his…family (it felt weird to call them that, but Rinoa insisted, saying he'd thank her one day) and to let their other friends know. The next afternoon she was there to see him off with an embarrassingly sweet kiss goodbye, making Squall almost grateful for the private respite of the plane. But as he saw her fade as the plane took off, he knew he missed her already. Relationships were strange like that.
So that was how he'd ended up, the airplane touching down in a discreet landing near the land-bridge connecting Galbadia and the Esthar continent, then being shuttled into the very car Laguna was driving now through Esthar's winding traffic system.
"So, was the flight okay?" Laguna asked, attempting to engage his broody son in conversation.
Squall shrugged. "Whatever."
"I guess a plane is just a plane no matter what, huh? As long as it takes you where you're going, you don't need anything else," he nodded, almost as though he was conceding to a point Squall made. The young mercenary blinked hard; he was too tired to try and figure out the intricacies of that lunatic's mind.
"Well, that's true I guess, but personally I like things a little livelier!"
With the push of a large, round button on the dashboard of the vehicle, Laguna switched on the radio. He glanced away from the road for a second (an act Squall highly disapproved of, but couldn't be bothered to complain about) to flash a grin at his son.
"Any kind of music you like to listen to? I don't really know what's popular with kids these days, so let me know if you hear something you like!" He pressed another button, and the radio began to scan through stations, each time landing on a different song. For a moment Squall thought to ask him to stop it when he heard classical music floating out of the speakers, but as soon as he thought to do so it skipped ahead once more.
"Heeeey!" Laguna cheered, "I used to love this song! It would come on the radio all the time back when I was your age. Whaddya think? Cool, huh?"
'Maybe I could listen to it and form a proper opinion if you'd stop talking!' he fumed to himself.
"Whatever," came out instead.
Turning the knob, Laguna raised the volume slightly.
"Man, this song really takes me back! It reminds of this one time, I got Kiros mixed up in this whole ordeal that almost got us expelled because…" he began, and Squall started to tune him out.
This was torture. When were they going to get to the palace already? Come to think of it, Esthar was absolutely huge… 'This is going to take hours. Great.'
"…and hey, well, how was I supposed to know the door was locked? But we'd already broken in, so I figured, might as well go all the way! So then…"
As his consciousness faded out, so did the retro-rock music playing to accompany Laguna's oddly soothing voice.
'Well,' he reasoned, 'At least I can get some sleep in before I see Ellone.' He turned his head to the window, allowing it to loll on his shoulder as he drifted off.
"…of course, he wasn't going to tell anyway now since we had so much dirt on him. Kiros made sure he knew that! And that's the story of how we—" Laguna stopped in his reminiscing once he glimpsed the slumbering figure of his son next to him.
The rumors were right, he really did look much more peaceful when he slept. The president smiled, both happy to be with his son now and also sad to know of how much he'd missed at the same time. What other little secrets and details about his son did he not know? Ellone knew a few, which she was more than happy to share. But they had the whole future ahead of them, he figured, so that was more than enough. Truth be told, Laguna was surprised the young man had even agreed to come over in the first place, much less stay in his home! It was probably more to see Ellone, but still… That at least meant the boy could tolerate him. A good start, if he did say so himself. Laguna's wonderings were cut short when, next to him, Squall began shifting his sleeping self around in the seat, twisting himself into a position any normal person would not have been comfortable in. Taking a few brief glances at the spectacle, Laguna found it hard to hold in his laughter. Apparently, his son shared his affinity for sleeping in unorthodox poses, which Laguna found himself endlessly amused by.
'Aw man, do I really look that funny? No wonder the guys always got such a kick out of it!'
Squall's face screwed up as though he were annoyed with someone.
"Mmph," he muttered, "Don't… restock..."
He spoke in his sleep, too, just like his dad! And here Laguna thought he couldn't get any happier.
'I'm so lucky…' he thought, 'The luckiest man in the world. Raine, thank you so much.'
If Squall were to wake up at that moment, he would probably be a little put off by the beaming smile his father had on his face, but Laguna was powerless to stop it. He peered over at his son once more and chuckled softly. As he craned his neck back to watch the road, he took his time, wanting to savor the sight before him. A little too much time, it seemed, as Laguna's car was suddenly way too close for comfort to the car in front of him. He stomped on the breaks, the car lurching precariously close the the other vehicle's bumper. Laguna could swear he was a hair's width away, and scolded himself for not paying attention. Even in the middle of the night, Esthar's traffic was just terrible. Yet he couldn't help another furtive peek at Squall, hoping he didn't wake his son up. A second later, after making sure the boy was sleeping soundly, Laguna turned his attention solely to the road. It was a shame he couldn't fawn over his son anymore, but focusing on driving was probably better in the long run. The president sighed. It was going to be a long drive anyway, so he might as well at least try to enjoy knowing Squall was safe and content with him for the time being. Applying a bit more pressure to the gas pedal, Laguna lowered the volume on the radio.
"Squall? Squall, we're here." Already? It felt like he'd only been sleeping a second. He'd had so many dreams, too, more than he'd had in a while. A lot of them were of him being in various romantic situations—probably because of the radio Laguna must've left on. In one, he'd even dreamt he was falling, plummeting down into an abyss, but then suddenly stopped. If he weren't asleep he could've sworn it was real.
"Get up, because if you don't I will carry you inside!"
His eyes snapped open, pinning Laguna with a fearsome glare. He wouldn't dare.
"Oh, don't be like that. Woke you up, didn't it?" he teased.
Somehow, Squall got the feeling Laguna wasn't entirely joking about picking him up. He stepped out of the car, taking a moment to stretch his legs and check out the surrounding area. Laguna, despite not being asked, was busying himself with taking Squall's bags from the backseat. They were in what looked like a large garage, and it was mostly dark and very silent.
"Where exactly are we?" he asked, voicing the question on his mind.
"In a private garage of my own, of sorts," he answered, shutting the door.
"I usually use this place to tinker around with some of my cars, but I figured this would be a good place to slip in undetected."
Squall did a double take at his father. "Undetected?" he asked, his mind immediately going into soldier mode.
"Haha, don't take it so seriously! It's just that, my aides at the office hate it when I leave on my own. But I really don't feel comfortable bringing a whole big gang with me everywhere I go. I figure, if I'm just going to pick you up and come right back, why should I worry? I'm a grown man, I can drive myself for goodness' sake."
He slapped a hand to his forehead.
"So you're telling me you basically snuck out without telling anyone what you were doing?" And he wondered why Squall didn't respect him very much…
"Well, yeah," he said defensively. "But I do it all the time and I'm always fine, so what's the big deal?"
Squall was now certain he'd need another vacation by the time this visit was over.
As predicted by Squall, the two were met with pandemonium as soon as they walked in the door.
"Ah, here he is right now! Call them off, tell them we've found him!" A voice shouted, the man obviously one of the palace's many staff.
"Mr. President," the man huffed as he approached the two, trying to be formal but still obviously perturbed, "You know we can't have you leaving like that without the proper protection! What—Oh. Oh my!" As soon as he saw Squall standing next to Laguna, his entire demeanor changed, though Squall wasn't sure whether this was good or bad.
"Squall Leonhart himself! Well this is an honor. What brings you here so late at night, young sir? If it's not too bold of me?"
Squall stuttered, unsure of what to say. Did the people working in the palace know about them? He hoped not. What would be a good cover? Damn it, why hadn't he thought of this?
"Well you know," Laguna breezed, "Squall here was really good friends with Elle back when they were kids. Small world, huh?! He wanted to come see Elle for her birthday, and I insisted he stay with us!"
"Mr. President, perhaps if you let us know about these things in advance next time, we could better prepa—"
"Nonsense! Squall's the kinda guy who doesn't like people making a big fuss over him. Like me!" he grinned, and Squall was .5 seconds away from giving the man a hard elbow to the ribs when he clapped a hand down on his shoulder. Perhaps sensing his pure anger, Laguna removed the hand almost as soon as he placed it there.
"Now it's late, and we should all be getting to bed. I'll show Squall here to his room, and you guys just go ahead and call it a day, okay? Great!" he grinned, not giving the man one second to argue. Without further prompt Laguna turned and walked away, Squall trailing behind. They soon reached an elevator, one he remembered from his last visit. His face burned at the memory; he'd even remembered what room they'd been sitting in. Suddenly the air felt much thicker around him.
"Just wait until you see your room," Laguna chattered. "I swear, the guys who designed this place really go above and beyond. Y'know how many rooms are in this place? One thousand, four hundred, and forty-four! Insane, am I right?"
The young man had had enough idle chit-chat. "Do you think Ellone is still awake?"
He turned to his son as they entered the elevator.
"I was just wondering about that myself! We can give her a knock when we pass by, although it is pretty late. She may have fallen asleep by now… Speaking of which, what about you? Hah, you're probably ready to crash right over!"
He cocked an eyebrow. "No, actually, I'm not all that tired anymore." This conversation was going nowhere, and it was still awkward. Why did he even bother saying he wasn't tired? He should've just said, 'Yes, I'm so tired, please let me go to bed and leave me alone,' but for some idiotic reason he was honest. Damn his friends for making him more open.
"Yeah, I get that. I've been staying up so late myself that it's ridiculous. Did you know? There's a terrace at the top of the palace that pretty much no one but me goes to, and it's a perfect place to chill. Just stand up there and watch the world underneath you… I've seem plenty of sunrises from there. If you're still up then, you should check it out."
"Hm." He replied monotonously. More idle talk. This night was really dragging on.
"I think I'll just try to get some sleep," he amended.
His father laughed softly. "Yeah, that's probably a better idea."
With a soft ding, the elevator stopped, and the doors glided open. They stepped out into a hallway decorated with ornate walls and dark blue carpet.
"This is the President's suite!" he smiled, sweeping an arm dramatically.
"The palace is full of rooms for guests, but this area is designed for the president and his family, obviously. Let's see, Ellone's is… Ah, this one!"
Bringing a fist up, he rapped softly on the door. "Elle?" he called. "Are ya still awake?"
Silence answered back, and the two men were both a little disappointed.
"Ah well, we'll see her in the morning. Yours is this one right here," he pointed with a thumb, "And mine is that one there. There's a kitchen the other way down the hall in case you get hungry. You need anything else?" he inquired.
"I'm fine, thank you. Good night," he nodded politely.
Laguna beamed back, "Good night! Don't let the bed bugs bite!"
He could swore he died a little inside each time he heard that.
After acquainting himself with the room, which was every bit as extraordinary as Laguna told him it would be, Squall settled in and tried to get some rest. But even on what was probably the highest quality bed in the world, the young man found he was just too restless. Not knowing what time it was, he glanced out the window.
'Watching the sunrise, huh? …Well, I've never done that before.'
It wouldn't hurt to get some fresh air, too, and he could always come back when and if he got sleepy. Making a note of what floor he was on, Squall pressed the topmost button, hoping it would take him where he wanted to go. When the doors opened and Squall felt a gust of wind, he knew he was in the right place. Laguna was right, it really was like looking down at the whole world. He wasn't even usually scared of heights, but even this distance from the ground was daunting to think about. But the air felt nice, and it was much easier to see the stars from up here, something Squall always loved to do. He tilted his head to the sky, closing his eyes, and took in a deep breath. Maybe it was weird, but he loved savoring quiet moments like this.
"You couldn't sleep after all?"
So much for savoring.
Jolting a little bit, Squall whipped to his side, Laguna suddenly leaning on the railing next to him. 'What the?! When did he even get here?!'
"…No," Was all he could manage. Whatever, he didn't want to talk to the guy anyway.
Laguna hummed softly, as if to say, "me too," and looked up, much like Squall did before.
The young man looked around every so often. Was he the only one who felt so uncomfortable? He swiped a look at Laguna from the corner of his eye. The man looked perfectly content. How infuriating.
"…Do you have something to say?" he found himself asking. Why he even bothered, he didn't know. But he'd never been around a quiet Laguna. It felt… weird. Out of place. Unnatural.
A small smile on his face, he turned to Squall. "Not really. But I could talk if you want me too!"
The boy scoffed, inexplicably embarrassed.
"Whatever," he shrugged.
Taking that as a cue, Laguna looked to the stars once more.
"I used to love looking at the stars, ever since I was a kid. I would map out the constellations, read stories about the myths behind them…"
Now Squall was interested. "You too?" he replied, surprise shining through in what sounded more like a statement than a question.
"Like you wouldn't believe! I guess that's another thing we've got in common," he commented.
Squall couldn't help but flush a little at the acknowledgement. Having a father… was hard to get used to. Especially having father like Laguna. But what did he mean, saying it like that?
"What do you mean, "another thing"?" he asked, almost afraid to know.
His smile stretched even wider. It was something funny, obviously. Great.
"You fell asleep on the ride over, you know that. But what you didn't know is that you apparently sleep funny."
"Sleep funny?" he repeated.
"Yeah! Like, ya twist yourself up in weird ways. I do it too, always have. The other boys at boot-camp thought it was hilarious. Oh, and you talk in your sleep, too! Bet you didn't know that."
He huffed. "That, I knew about. Irvine heard me talking in my sleep one time, and then he told all the others. Now they never let me hear the end of it. Zell tells me I do it, too. He even writes down some of it!"
Laguna burst out laughing, wrapping his arms around his waist. "Are you serious?!"
"I-it's not that funny! Cut it out!" he said sorely. The man continued to cackle, in spite of his son's increasing ire. Squall averted his eyes, his ears burning. Now Laguna was laughing at him, too? Wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, Laguna simmered down.
"Sorry, sorry!" he apologized. "I didn't mean to laugh at you, but it just really is funny!"
Squall sulked, scuffing his shoe at the pavement. It wasn't funny to him! Laguna had such a backward sense of humor; yet another reason Squall didn't think he'd ever understand him.
The man thought of asking Squall why he said that so often, but figured it wasn't good to prod at the boy any more for the night. Squall was a sensitive person, it seemed—another trait he'd inherited from his father, though he showed it in a different way.
"At least now I can just blame you for it."
Laguna twisted his head so fast he was sure he'd have whiplash the next morning.
"Did you just…?"
"Yes, believe it or not, I am capable of cracking a joke every now and then," he said nonchalantly, an entertained smirk on his face nevertheless.
Laguna soon adopted a sly grin of his own, feeling a little more at ease around his newly found son.
"Hmmm… So you're one of those people who takes about a hundred years to let loose around others, huh?"
"I call it protecting myself, but I suppose that's one, narrow-minded way to see it," he bantered back.
"Well if that's the case, I guess I'll just have to spend as much time with you as I can then, won't I?"
"You can try."
For a long time, they said nothing else, but instead just enjoyed the peaceful night air and the friendly silence between them. Perhaps, Squall conceded, there was still something to savor after all. It just wasn't what he thought it would be. Thinking back to just a month ago, he was starting to realize that life wasn't always going to be what he thought it would be. No matter how much he planned, things could still go awry. No matter how much he holed himself up, someday someone would come along and challenge all of it. And even if he told himself, over and over again, that he'd never learn to understand a guy like Laguna as his father at all, life had a funny way of showing him things weren't quite as complicated or difficult as he thought they were. He just needed to follow his follow his friends' advice and take a chance; to work towards a better future even if the past had hurt him before. Although he wasn't sure quite how to do that, maybe just for once, things could work themselves out.
"Oh, hey, check it out!" Laguna said suddenly. In the distance, he could see the sun just beginning to rise, the soft rays of light spilling over Esthar.
"Pretty neat, huh?" Laguna smiled, and Squall felt his hesitant spirit waver and take flight.
Yes, he thought. Things would definitely work themselves out.
DO NOT ASK ME HOW I DID THIS, I HAVE NO IDEA.
Okay, but for real, I stayed up way too late myself. 90% of this was improv, so I'm super happy with how it came out. I said it last year, and I'll say it again: Squall, Laguna, you're always there for me when I need you. You mean so much to me. Thanks for the memories, and here's to a thousand more.