It takes a special kind of person to see the potential relations between people. Fortunately, much better authors than I saw them long before I did.

I'm fairly excited about the idea I came up with here.

Fourth Prompt: Expendable / Expendability
Inspiration: Final Fantasy VIII (With subtle Clouded Horizons references)

"Happy birthday, old friend."

The words distracted Laguna Loire from the jigsaw puzzle he'd chosen to work on the one day that he was off. After all, President's birthday? Ward and Kiros could handle the micro-managing and stamping that his job required 365 days a year. He looked up to the video screen in his living room and grinned.

"Hibrom! What brings you to my side of the woods, friend?" Laguna replied, the laugh in his voice quite apparent from seeing an old friend visiting (via video, of course.) He picked up his glass, and held it up to the screen, toasting the new face on his entertaining (but lonely) day.

Hibrom Caraway's worn features smiled warmly at the man. "I couldn't forget about my friend on his best and worst day." And as if on cue, there was a knock on a door. "Plus, I know you're a fan of Galbadia's finest on this one day."

Laguna's smile widened to extreme levels. "You know me too well," He got up, heading over to the door, to open it… only to meet Hibrom Caraway on the other side. The man in question chuckled at Laguna's expression.

"How'd you…?"

Caraway smirked. "I wasn't promoted to this position for my good looks. I do have a modicum of skill." Within seconds, however, a member of Estharian Presidential Guard had her rifle to Caraway's back. He closed his eyes, shaking his head.

"I must ask you to stand down, General," Hikari Tanaka ordered to the Galbadian General. Caraway nodded slowly, realizing he'd been caught with his proverbial pants around his ankles, and slowly raised his hands. Laguna laughed, looking over at Hikari. "Best present I could've ever gotten, Hikari. Thanks for playin' along."

The woman in question smiled, holstering her rifle. "Of course, Mister President; it was my pleasure. Happy birthday, "she answered before heading off. Caraway put his arms to his sides before following Laguna into his house.

"How long did you know I was here?" Caraway finally asked as he headed out to the spacious living area. Laguna (who'd walked into the kitchen to fetch a glass for his new guest) grinned. "C'mon. I command the most technologically advanced country in the world. Do you think you can get past my borders without me knowing?"

Caraway persisted. "How long?"

Laguna stuck his head out of the kitchen. "Around Fisherman's Horizon."

Caraway's eyes widened. He had known Esthar was advanced… but that far out of their jurisdiction..? "How in the world…?"

Laguna walked out and sat a glass in front of Caraway before answering. "At any given time, there's fifty satellites watching our borders, analyzing every micron, sending data to our military command so they can best decide whether something cross our border is an ant or a militant group who wants my head. Nothing and no one gets by them. It's pretty cool, actually…" He said trailing off as his mind took in the "niftiness" (as his brain called it) that the Estharian defense system was. The, he glanced over at Caraway.

"That, and Galbadian air transports stick out like a sore ankle over the ocean."

Caraway laughed as he opened the bottle that he'd brought for Laguna. "Sore ankle? I think you mean sore thumb."

Laguna rubbed the back of his head self-consciously. "Whatever. Enough about me though. How are you? How's Rinoa?"

It was Caraway's turn to look embarrassed. "I'm all right, all things considered. Galbadia is a rough place to be second in command of. Even after all the years I've served the nation, you'd think that the populace would appreciate it," he started, but then shrugged. "Of course, it doesn't matter. As much as they are loathing admitting it, the people of the Galbadian nation are snobby; even to each other."

Laguna chuckled. "Does that make Kiros, Ward, and us the last good thing to come out of Galbadia?"

Caraway smiled and nodded. "My daughter should be in the group as well. I'd like to think that Rinoa came out all right, despite our personal differences for so many years," he replied, sipping the fine brandy that he'd poured himself just moments before. His eyes closed as he savored it. "Just as good as last year."

Laguna's eyes widened as he swallowed some from his own glass. "You haven't had it since last year?" he questioned, sampling some more of the fine drink. Caraway looked up, opening his eyes. "It takes a year to brew it, so I look forward to your birthday as much as you should," he quietly replied, then continued. "Rinoa's doing fine. She just passed her SeeD exam early this week. Apparently, she passed with one of the best scores they've seen since," he paused, "Since your own son."

Laguna shook his head at the mention of his son, but chose to say nothing on the subject, changing it by saying, "SeeD… I just don't understand, Hibrom. We were expendable, on the front lines. For a while people didn't even want to fight for Galbadia, most were inducted by force. How is it that suddenly expendability is cool?" For just a moment, it seemed like he was alluding to something, but it was brushed away as nothing more than a mere annoyance.

Caraway tipped his glass up, a silent salute to… something.

"Being the expendable ones became cool when the world was saved by teenagers," he answered, looking over at Laguna, almost as if he was looking for some kind of reaction. When none seemed forthcoming, he finally decided to press.

"When are you going to be ready to talk about Squall, old friend?" Caraway finally asked the president sitting across from him. And for the first time, the façade that Caraway had sensed in Laguna Loire started to break. "What's there to talk about?"

Caraway put down his glass, looking over at the man before finally answering. "It's been three years. And for the last two years, I've asked you the same question. I won't push you, but someday I hope you to be ready to answer."

Suddenly, Laguna grabbed the bottle, refilling his glass before downing the entirety of it. Then, he looked over to Caraway, his eyes filled with the most clarity that Caraway had ever seen in him. "Why do you come out here every year?"

Caraway didn't miss a beat. "Because I know that your birthday is also the day you were married. I know your birthday is the last time you saw your wife alive. And I know…" he trailed off, seeming to want to say something else, but it was as if his mouth refused to utter the words. Laguna's eyes filled with fire.

"Why won't you say it? Why won't anyone say it?"

For the first time, the Galbadian general was without words; which was just fine because within seconds Laguna had continued, his voice rising to a level far higher than Caraway had ever heard it. "Why is everyone afraid of saying that I killed my own son?!"

The general's analytical mind kicked into focus at that moment. His friend was talking about what had happened. Only questions that would gently prod would be asked, and only when they were absolutely necessary would be asked. Laguna put his face in his hands and kept talking, oblivious to the inner decisions that his friend was making.

"It was my idea, you know. It was my idea that me and my son go for a walk. I asked the guard to keep a distance; I knew the satellites were watching. There'd been no threats made on my life and I thought that if there was, a SeeD would be the perfect protection. And when it came to SeeD there was none better than Squall, you know!" He was rambling, years of pain starting to bubble out.

"What happened?" Caraway neutrally asked. He didn't ask because he didn't know the result (because he did), he asked because he knew that his friend had finally broken. A bottle of brandy and a skillfully placed word had seen to it. Words themselves were expendable if necessary to facilitate a favorable outcome; he'd heard a Trabian aristocrat say once.

Laguna's eyes lit up, but not with enthusiasm. He lit up as he was reliving the second most painful moment of his life. The voice that came out was calm but quivering.

"Some group didn't like some decision I'd made. I don't even remember what it was. Military funding, less protection for bunnies, a national holiday… who really cares. They heard I was going to be out and about on my birthday, celebrating the life I had with Raine, celebrating the future that I could have with my son... it was supposed to be wonderful… it was never supposed to be like this…"

His head hung showing grief and terror at admitting his terrible crime; the crime of taking the life of his own flesh. "I asked the Guard to stay away…. I asked t… them to stay away… it cost Squall his life! His life, thrown away for a father he barely knew! Why did he leap in front of that bullet, Hibrom?! Why?!" his sorrow-filled voice echoed across the small apartment.

"Why? Because whether or not he was capable of showing it, he loved his father. He knew you were in danger, and his skills as a SeeD kicked into high gear. He was a soldier, just like you and I. And back in the day, we would've taken a bullet for the President. Do you know why?"

Laguna looked over at his friend, his face red and tear-soaked.

"Because even if we thought he was scum, he represented our country. He was in the position that he was in because he earned it. People knew that the Galbadian army was the fist of Deling, and if your fist cannot protect you what good is it?" Caraway replied. Laguna shook his head, not understanding, but Caraway held up his hand.

"SeeD is the military of the world. Their ideals may not always be the highest, but there is no-one that SeeD will not fight to protect. Squall saw the bullet long before you did, I guarantee it. And it was his duty as your son and as a SeeD to protect you with his final breath," Caraway replied.

Laguna sighed, looking into his hands. As much as he was against it, he was right. Squall had been trained for that moment all of his life. He looked slowly up, about to say … something… anything to thank Caraway.

But Hibrom Caraway wasn't there. Squall Leonhart was. "Besides, what kind of son would I be if I couldn't protect my father, the President of the Federated Commonwealth of Esthar?"

Laguna shook his head, trying to shake away the image that was in front of him. His son, his dead son was sitting clear as day where seconds before Caraway had been. His mouth dropped open.

"Yeah, yeah. I know, shock, glee. Do me a favor though, dad?" Squall said. Laguna mutely nodded. "Wake up."

And Laguna Loire's head flew up from the table where he'd fallen asleep. He looked furiously around, the cold sweat his dream had caused still haunting him. Squall… it was a dream…? He growled. Why was it that his birthday always sucked?

As if answering his call, there was a knock on his door. He ran to open it, his dream still fresh and painful in his mind. Hikari Tanaka stood on the other side of the door, standing in front of someone as if blocking their entry. "Mister President, Commander Squall Leonhart from Balamb Garden requests to speak with you. I informed him that-"

Laguna smiled. "Quit it, Hikari. Let my boy in."

Hikari nodded, a smile crossing her face. "Yes sir, Mister President. Happy birthday."

And for the first time in years, Laguna Loire smiled at the phrase.

"Thanks, Hikari. C'mon in Squall. Rinoa locked you out of your office, hm?"