Sincerity Cowboy









FFVIII, in my opinion, created a bunch of fantastic characters and then left them all in the dust. All of the characters that travel together in the game were abandoned in favor of the love story between Squall and Rinoa - leaving a horrible amount of potential development ...well, undeveloped. The ideas in this story leapt into my head late one night and wouldn't let go until I began writing. It focuses on my current "favorite" character, and if you can't tell who it's about from the title, you probably need to play more video games.



It's more of an introspective piece than an actual tale with a plot-line. I wanted to shed some light into the characters that, in my opinion, Square "missed" in their development (no offense to the game, I guess). Most likely this will end up being horribly romantic as well. Thoughts and memories - those are the focus in this story.



Enjoy.









Chapter One





She had taken his hat.

Irvine lay in the grass outside Balamb Garden, newly replanted in its old foundation after its voyage ended. Squall - Commander Squall, the new official headmaster of Balamb - had recruited a couple of the brains from Fisherman's to reinstall Garden in its place. No need for giant soaring battle-stations in this tenuous time of peace. Galbadia had been rerooted as well. Both of them had been repaired, too. It had been about three weeks since the sorceress had been defeated. A week since their party.

He was leaning into the cusp of a hill, twirling the black hat around on his index finger. He missed the presence of his old shotgun beside him; it was in his room, in its special case, having a well-deserved rest. But the weapon was special to Irvine, and he was experiencing an odd kind of loneliness, the slight sense of missing something important, wanting to touch -

No, it's not the gun at all.

He let his hat come to a rest and stared at it, nonchalantly dangling from his finger as if it were only an innocent hat. It had been a coveted ally, yes, but it was also a sort of a traitor. A traitor to the wall Irvine had built around his heart.

She had taken his hat. Tucked it on her head with that brilliant smile. Struck a pose for everyone to see. And in that instant - oh, that one moment - she had been his and he had been hers, illuminated through the camera lens, perfection and completion. Fate.

He had nearly dropped her camera.

But then she turned to Quistis, sharing that winning smile like she always did; Quistis looked up at Irvine with her knowing eyes, but he had already hidden his face behind the camera, a wall to obstruct her scrutiny. And the moment passed. He had managed to regain his composure, give a wave to some girls on the other side of the room, tease Zell about his hot dogs and his shy librarian. Piece by piece he reconstructed his pierced heart.

And finally he collected enough strength to look at her again.

Selphie. In his hat. So adorable. Her face was shining with the happiness of being surrounded by safety and friends. She tipped it forward in an obvious imitation of his style, giving him a wink. His heart could have stopped; but he merely stood there, giving her his trademark smirk.

She had given the hat back at the end of the night. It smelled of citrus and sunshine.

Irvine sighed and casually placed the hat back on his head, careful to hide his face with the broad rim. With his suede pants and long jacket trimmed in fur, he was unmistakable; but maybe people would think he was sleeping.

People. What people? He was outside the Garden, and it was morning. Everyone was back to business. Things were moving along nicely. Quickly. A little too quickly for Irvine Kinneas.

Beneath the blackness of his hat he heard the sound of tire on gravel; a car screeched to a stop somewhere near him. "Hey, Irvine," a voice called out. Familiar. "Hey, cowboy!"

He tipped up his hat in greeting and gave the speaker - a lovely blonde in a hot red car - a slow smile. "Mornin', Q. Where are you off to?"

Quistis lowered her tinted driving glasses and smiled. "Balamb proper," she offered. "Supplies for Doctor Kadowaki. My shift, I'm afraid. Hop in?"

Irvine stood, brushing the grass from his long coat. Adjusting his hat to the proper angle, he sauntered over to the car and slid into the passenger seat. Quistis revved the engine and took off.

"You looked lonely," she suggested over the sound of the wind in the air.

"Life's empty without the ladies around," Irvine offered. "Finally my day is starting to look up. First thing in the morning and I'm hitchin' a ride with one sexy blonde."

Quistis scoffed, turning the wheel. "I'm sure you're never lonely in that aspect," she said sarcastically. "You've assured us thousands of times about your ...favor."

Irvine leaned back, putting his hands behind his head. "Hey, when you're good, you're good."

"A real ladies' man." Quistis smiled at the road. "I've never really known one of you."

"Your first experience with a charming gentleman?" They made the turn around the road and pulled the car into Balamb's station. Irvine hopped out and watched as Quistis grabbed a sheet of paper and locked the doors.

She shrugged. "Squall was always too cold, and now that he's not cold he's ...taken. And Zell wouldn't know a girl if one struck his over the head with a hot dog." A smile spread across Irvine's face and Quistis crossed her arms. "Not that I'm particularly charmed, Irvine dear. I'm just amused by your efforts."

His eyebrows arched in surprise, but the smile stayed. "Not charmed? I'm going to have to work harder on you, Instructor Trepe." They strolled gently down the road toward the train station, nodding at familiar townsfolk.

Quistis laughed. "No, you won't," she said, a real smile spreading across her face. "It's not going to get you anywhere, Irvy. Your best bet is to concentrate your efforts elsewhere..."

"I can't take defeat, Quisty," Irvine teased. "I can't take no for an answer. Especially from you. Beautiful Quistis..."

"Oh, stop," she said, slugging him in the arm. He feigned injury; she haughtily turned her back on him and handed the sheet to the lady at the counter of the Item Shop. "Supplies on the Kadowaki account," she said briskly, with a smile. The shopkeeper nodded familiarly and headed for the stockroom.

Irvine sauntered up to the counter and leaned on it suavely, giving Quistis that teasing smile again. "Oh, stop it already, Irvine," she said, exasperated. "Save it for Selphie. She appreciates it."

Citrus. He froze, and then casually brushed a piece of hair from his face. "So like, you didn't pick me up in the car to whisk me away to your office and have an affair, then?"

"Was that the best cover-up you could think of?" she said wittily, her eyes fixed on the ocean behind him. Her lips turned upward slightly. "I saw you react. Don't think you guys can hide it from me. I'm smarter than you think."

"I only have eyes for you, Quistis."

"Irvine, I'm her best friend. Stop teasing me and give me a bloody answer."

"I didn't hear a question."

"The question is Selphie."

Irvine sighed. The question has always been Selphie.

Quistis waited, staring at him, and then sighed. "If you're not going to talk to me now, I could beat it out of you," she offered.

"Quistis, there is nothing between Selphie and I that you don't know about," Irvine offered finally, at which Quistis snorted.

"I'm pretty sure that's a lie," she said. "I know some things that I shouldn't."

"Well, then, like I said," Irvine said finally, her scrutiny making him uncomfortable. "You know all there is to know."

"You're a jerk," she said lightly.

"Bossy little Quisty," he said. "Should've been nosy little Quisty."

"Hey," she said, raising her hands against his attack. "I'm looking out for her."

"And I'm not?"

Quistis paused at that, giving Irvine a very funny look, at which point the woman from the Item Shop returned; she was struggling with a large, heavy crate which Irvine quickly took off her hands with a smooth gesture and a tip of his hat. The storekeeper blushed. Quistis reached out to snag the proffered pen and hastily scribbled her signature at the bottom of the bill.

"These go to the Kadowaki account, under Balamb Garden," she reminded the woman.

The shopkeeper gave a brisk nod. "Already done, ma'am. Good morning."

"Good morning," Quistis said with a ready smile, and then turned to take the second box - but Irvine had already grabbed it, balanced it carefully atop the first crate, and left for the car.

Quistis caught up to him easily; he was being cautious with the medical supplies. "A real gentleman," she remarked, eyeing the stack of boxes and flashing Irvine a grin. "So you're not all talk."

"Just trying to impress you, Q," Irvine responded conversationally. "Any chance of it working?"

"If you mean seduce, that's a no," she said, laughter in her eyes. "But impress?" Her gaze rested on the boxes again, and then flicked back to Irvine's face. "Perhaps," she admitted with a smile, and hurried ahead to unlock the trunk.

Quistis dropped him off at the Garden's front gate as she went around to park the car; he gave her a friendly tip of his cowboy hat. Funny how things turned out, it was. Quistis was the last person he had expected to be running errands for the medic wing. She, Zell, and Selphie were taking their Instructor Certifications together later in the week (well, Quistis was about to re-take hers, and they were all sure it would show in the scores) in the hopes that they could be instated as professors at Balamb for the time being. Selphie was toying between Balamb and a new-born Trabia, of course, but she had wanted to take the certification with her friends. Quistis was planning on picking up right where she left off - going back to what she was best at, namely bossing people around. But she knew how to mold a SeeD student, and Squall had made it known that there was a place for all of them.

Funny how things turned out, indeed. Squall had been promoted, of course, and his place as Commander of Balamb Garden remained. Headmaster Cid was still in charge on paper; but the recovery of his Edea was obviously much more attractive to him than the recovery of a giant flying fortress; and so to Edea he went, quite often, to Squall's discontent. Moreover, the Kramers were attempting to form a council involving Garden officials (past and current, though not past in the sense that Ellone would be required) to facilitate moving forward in this time of confusion and need. This of course kept them very busy. Which made Squall Leonheart the acting Headmaster of the new Balamb. And this made Squall very unhappy.

What did make Squall happy, however, was that Rinoa was there. Rinoa was unable to partake in the SeeD exam due to the one small problem that she was, in fact, a sorceress, and SeeD were meant to defeat the sorceress. This did not bode well for her and she was currently up to her ears in research defending the point that there would be no more sorceresses, ever again, and so it didn't really matter and couldn't she just take the exam. What it all boiled down to was that Rinoa Heartilly was residing in Balamb Garden for the time being. And what made her happy was that Squall could finally admit to happiness.

Very funny, perhaps. Irvine himself had been awarded his SeeD certification after the whole ordeal; Cid had gathered with some of his Instructors from Galbadia. Between themselves it was decided that the whole Time-Compression thing had been enough of a field exam. So Irvine was finally a SeeD, with a particularly gracious rank. And this - as Quistis and Selphie liked to remind him - meant he was eligible for other certifications as well, including Instructorship.

But Irvine was a drifter, and he had been putting off the decision for quite some time. He had been putting off any decisions. And it had become increasingly difficult for him to think of anything ever since his faithful cowboy hat had betrayed him for citrus and sunshine.

Squall had offered him a position training a special rifle team if he would take the cert. Balamb was going to welcome him with open arms. He could work with his friends and hope to protect the people he cared about.

He had never thought he cared. But time-compression, among the other events, had proven otherwise. It would seem that he cared all too much.

And what made Irvine happy?

Citrus.

"The dust of the road," he muttered, and headed into the Garden. He would go back inside and - what? Read a book? He could go to the library, flirt around, make waves with Zell's librarian-princess. He could head to the cafeteria, hope his smile could win him something a little better than hot dogs. He could go up and grab his precious gun, head for the TC and blow some steam...

Blow some steam?

Quistis had gotten under his skin again.

Or he could head to the Quad and ...hang out. Yes. Perhaps take a little nap.

Irvine headed into the Garden. With the work the students were putting into it you could never tell that it had been used as a battering ram of an airship. It was shining and new, better than it had ever looked. All over, new students and experienced SeeD had bonded together to rebuild their Balamb Garden into what it once was. With the guidance of the engineers from Fisherman's and the materials supplied from the new trust fund, the work force had turned the Garden over in no time. And the pride could be seen in their faces, easily.

Irvine took a seat in the Quad, giving a smile and a hat-tip to a group of girls, who giggled at him. He was well-known in the Garden; the "Galbadian Cowboy," the "best shooter in Garden," the man who had taken a potshot at the Sorceress. No one knew about his failure; the only story they knew was that the Sorceress had blocked his shot with her magic, forcing a direct confrontation. All they knew was the facade, the ponytail and the silly hat, the cool demeanor. They didn't know anything about the fear that gripped, the sweat and the stress that filled the bones. They didn't really know that the order given had been: Assassinate your mother. Take out the only woman who ever cared for you like her own son. No one had known of those last final moments when he had come to face a truth that Squall did not even remember. And he was glad for that.

He lay down again, stretching across the bench on his back, staring up at the glass ceiling, knees bent. He raised his hand to his face, looking at his long, worn fingers extending from the fingerless gloves he wore. Then he set the cowboy hat over his face and sighed, thinking only of another nap.

He hadn't been sleeping well.





Selphie looked around to make sure no one was around, then had a private moment of desolation and despair.

Burying her head in her hands, she let out a long sigh. Between her Instructor training and certification and the preparations for the next Garden festival, she had been busier than Zell in the cafeteria. No time for her friends, other than Quistis, whom she had studied with. No time for herself. No time for sleep, even.

But the trial was the next day, and then that nightmare would be over. She was pretty sure she would pass, and she knew that no matter her score, Squall had promised her some sort of position here. That in itself made staying at Balamb much more attractive of an option.

Trabia. She should have been more excited to return, but it had only been a place to stay, a place to train. There had been nothing like a home since she was taken from the Kramer's orphanage-home so long ago. She had friends there, yes; but she had friends here, friends she had known since childhood, even if she had forgotten it. She sighed. I guess the entire GF-memory crisis has been very violently proven.

But out of all of them, no one had left yet. Squall, Quistis, Zell. Even Rinoa. They were all lingering in Balamb indefinitely. Shouldn't someone head out? "Share the wealth"? Spread the lessons learned in the second Sorceress War to the other Gardens? Help begin training forces to keep peace instead of breed war?

She just couldn't.

She heard a noise at the door and perked up instantly. Quistis's head poked in, long blond hair falling across her tinted glasses. "Back," she offered. "Need anything?"

Selphie smiled at her friend. Quistis had taken the entire episode as a lesson (being remembered as "bossy little Quisty" by Irvine hadn't helped) and was trying in her own way to open up to people and not seem so forbidding. So far, the only ones she had really opened up to were the gang, the people who had traveled together and fought the Sorceress. But at least she was trying.

"Nah," she said, trying to summon forth her cheerful demeanor. "I'm almost done here."

"Fee, you've been studying forever," Quistis said. "The exam's tomorrow. Take a rest." She walked over and closed the book in front of Selphie. "I, Quistis Trepe, declare you done with studying." Selphie's eyes met hers uncertainly and she sighed. "Really, Fee. Go take a nap or something."

"Can't," Selphie said, standing up and stretching. "I have to go check on the Festival preparations. It's in two weeks, you know."

Quistis brought her hand to her forehead in Squall's familiar gesture. "Selphie, you need to take a break. Promise me after you go check things out you'll go relax somewhere."

"Yes, ma'am," Selphie said tartly as she stuck her books in her bag.

"You're such a bother," Quistis said. "And you should leave that one book here, I want to read it over too."

Selphie stuck her tongue out. "The truth's out, Q - you only want me to leave so you can study again!"

Quistis sighed. "They're going to be harder on me than you," she admitted. "I had this cert once before and they took it away."

"Good thing they did," Selphie said passionately. "We needed you more."

"Why are you still here?" Quistis murmured with a smile as she turned a page. "You should be napping."

"Nah." Selphie took a deep breath and exhaled with a smile matching her friend's. "I should be productive!"

"Twenty minutes," Quistis said. "I'm coming to check on you. I'll put your ass in bed if you don't."

"Oh, so scared," Selphie said, and ducked out of the room as Quistis tossed a pencil at her.

She adjusted the bag on her shoulder and headed down to the Quad. Her compatriots were in the construction room at this very minute; they had excused her for her other obligation, but she didn't want to shirk any of her duties here. But then as she turned the corner she saw a familiar figure lying across a bench. Tawny jacket, trimmed in fur, hanging over the edge. Suede chaps. Black fingerless gloves, crossed over his chest. Tell-tale ponytail dripping off the edge of the bench. Handsome face hidden beneath a black cowboy hat.

Irvine.

More than anything she had ever wanted, Selphie wanted to remember Irvine Kinneas. She couldn't quite put her finger on it. Maybe it was in the way he looked at her. Or it was the way her heart pounded when she looked at him. Bits and pieces had come back, but not everything. She had even secretly un-junctioned all of her GFs, a fact that would have shocked any well-trained SeeD. She still had them - close to her person in case of emergencies - but she was frustrated beyond belief. Memories couldn't - they wouldn't - just vanish, would they?

A smirk spread across her face as she looked at him, lost peacefully in the little dreamworld inside his black hat. So peaceful. With three brisk steps she crossed the courtyard, got a good grip on the hat, and then in one smooth motion, whipped it away from his face.

His eyes were open beneath it, bright blue orbs which fixed on her face.

"It's an angel," he said smoothly, a smile spreading across his face; regaining her composure, she tucked the hat neatly onto her head, returning the smile.

"How long have you been saving that one up?" she asked, a knowing glint coming into her eyes. "I bet the first girl who picked up your hat was gonna get that, no matter what."

"Oh, Selphie, you break my heart," he said, sitting upright. "You know I only have eyes for you."

She giggled. "Sure thing, Irvine." He made a pass for the hat, but she hopped out of the way, tucking it down neatly around her head. "Sure thing."

"What's a lovely lady like you doing down here?" he continued. Selphie couldn't help but smile. Irvine had always laid on the charm, day after day, since the first day they had met - or, really, re-met. The flirtatious gunner. The Galbadian Cowboy. Her childhood friend.

"Oh, thanks for reminding me, I have to go now - thanks for the hat!" She gave him a grin and left, hastily walking toward the staircase.

She heard the clicking of his cowboy boots behind her and suppressed a smile. Wait... At just the right moment, she ducked, and Irvine ended up swinging wildly in the air.

She burst out giggling, unfortunately, for she was then unable to defend against the attack. Irvine settled the black hat on his head again, tilting it at just the right angle. He looked at her and raised an eyebrow, his lips curving upward.

You're gorgeous, she wanted to say, but the words wouldn't come out; "It's crooked," she finally offered. Irvine pursed his lips, curious, as if to say Really? "Here," she offered, "let me fix it." She reached out, tweaked it a little, and then nabbed the hat again.

This time she took off at a run, hearing Irvine's normally slow voice barking out a "Hey! Seff..." and then the sound of his boots again. She was laughing. Without any junctioned speed she knew she had no advantage, but if she could get past the corner -

Strong arms grabbed her from behind and spun her in the air; she reached up to hold the hat firmly to her head, squealing. "Vinny! Put me down!" She heard the sound of his good-natured laughter behind her as he simply picked up the tempo, spinning her in a giant circle.

"Alright, alright!" she shrieked, laughing. "I give up! Vinny, I'm gonna puke!"

Still holding her tight, he slowed the spin, but as he released her she heard his drawl prompting: "Aaaand?"

She turned around and, with a wink, tucked the hat back onto his head at the angle she secretly liked best. "There," she said firmly. "Now I really do have to go."

"No you don't." He gave her his best, most-practiced smile, determined to keep her. Citrus... "You're the sunshine in the room," he said dramatically, reaching out to put his arm around her. "Stay and talk with me."

Selphie sighed. "Irvine, dear, I'd love to, but I have to hit up this Committee meeting first. And then Quistis made me promise to take a nap." She made a face. "I haven't been sleeping much, I guess, but still."

A broad smile spread across Irvine's face. "Well, my nap was interrupted," he said, his eyes sparkling. "You go to your meeting and then we can take a little nap together. My place, perhaps?"

Selphie was caught completely off-guard. "You're teasing me again, Irvine," she said, trying to hide her discomfort with a silly smile. She looked into his eyes and gave her best imitation of a heart-broken sigh. "When will you ever take me seriously?"

"The day you take me seriously, Seff," he said, but the sparkle was still in his eyes. "I'll be in my room if you change your mind." He tipped his hat at her and turned around, jacket flaring. She watched him walk away, tilting his hat at another girl who walked past. The girl flushed, and then noticed Selphie staring; both of them turned red.

Why does he tease me like that? Selphie didn't quite know what to say. Irvine Kinneas, the ladies' man; he was so genuine with what he said that she had to remind herself so many times that this was her friend. Maybe it was just habit for him? She had never had anyone treat her quite like that. But she knew - she knew. He was like that to everyone. He just ...he didn't know that it made her so uncomfortable. He didn't have to practice his lines on her. She just wasn't used to it.

Irvine. She turned around once more, but he was gone, lost in the crowd of students.

What can't I remember about you?