His Second Childhood
Summary: When Squall returned from Time Compression, he wasn't himself anymore. Now he must grow up again, but would having his father in his life the second time make any difference? Squall doubts it, but time has never been on his side.
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VIII. I am not making any profit off this piece of fiction.
Esthar was as pretty now as it had been four years ago. The biggest difference that Rinoa first noticed was a giant dome overhead that blocked out heavy rains. The people walked around the multilevel paths without a care in the world about neither the world around nor the sorceress among them. The brunette would have had it any other way, especially since her being there wouldn't be welcomed as it was in other remote parts of the world. Here she was a foreign face, a prey for the merchants with delicious goodies with high prices.
Fixing the sunhat on her head, Rinoa continued past the crowds, careful to keep her travel bag in front of her to avoid it being stolen. Years of living in Deling City had taught her to trust no one, especially in the crystallized city. If the merchants were eager to suck her wallet dry than certainly someone would think that her extra outfit or possibly the collective model of the Lion Heart gunblade was a fitting prize.
Boarding a sky lift, Rinoa clutched her bag. A soldier gave her a side glance but didn't move from his position, watching the final level of sky walk move away from them. Another passenger, a woman and her child, were talking pleasantly about their day, adding a more homely feel to the transporter. Smiling at the child, Rinoa considered the boy's age. He looked like a five-year-old, just like her old boyfriend would be. He was so cute, chattering to his mother about the moombas he'd seen in town. Would Squall be as excited about the little lions roaming the city too? From what she'd seen he treated them better than he had most humans, often concerned about their wellbeing.
It had been a spur of the moment decision to come to Esthar to surprise Squall for his birthday. She'd felt bad when she left Esthar four years before, completely ostracizing herself from the people she traveled with. She did love each and every one of them but knowing what SeeD did and what she was made it harder to be around them. It was just safer for her to keep herself scarce, working on her own to find a solution for Squall's age problem.
Four years later, she was no closer to an answer. Excusing herself from her duties as leader to the World Freedom Organization, she boarded the first working train to Fisherman Horizon and then walked to Esthar. She had to come clean and tell Squall that she didn't think there was any changing back. She also had to come clean to the man she still loved. If he couldn't be an adult again, she needed to end it. She had to move on, for both of them.
The lift came to a stop at a lower level district and the soldier got off, removing his helmet as he did so. Probably going home, Rinoa noted absently as the lift started moving, taking its passengers back up to the higher districts. The mother and son left at the front service station, taking a hard left to go to the shopping district. Left alone, Rinoa jammed her finger into the launch button, letting the ship move her on to the presidential palace.
The closer she came, the harder her heart started to pound. She doubted she'd be let in, even if she was there to see Squall. She was still and would always be a sorceress which would put the guards around the president at arms. She would need to get past them to get to Squall unless the boy was around to recognize her. She doubted Squall would be. She didn't know much about children but she knew that a child like Squall would never go outside if there were people around.
Climbing off the lift when it came to a jerky stop, Rinoa started towards the wide arch of the presidential palace where another lift would be. Guards stepped in front of her at that moment, stopping her at the gates. "This is a restricted area," one said, never making full eye contact with her. Rinoa felt her sink under the other guard, much taller than his companion. He was keeping an eye on her, probably trying to remember where he'd seen her image from.
She never prayed so hard for Ward or Kiros to step out. They didn't. "I'm here for Squall…Loire's birthday." She had to fight back to say Leonheart. She doubted they'd believe her if she called out the supposed dead heroes name.
"The presidential palace is closed off to all visitors unless otherwise authorized. You can take that lift," he pointed to the one that Rinoa had just ridden, "and return to the business district by taking route three."
Huffing, Rinoa turned, storming off. She knew that fighting these guys wasn't going to help her case. She'd have to stand and wait for Squall to spot her. Hyne, she'd count her blessing if Kiros stepped out and realized it was her. Leaning against the cool blue glass of the rails overlooking the grand city, Rinoa frowned. Maybe she should have called?
A small laugh escaped her. She doubted that would be any more helpful. She was running from SeeD. She knew it would be impossible not to see some SeeD come Squall's birthday, especially the ragtag team he fought with. She just didn't want to draw attention to herself by approaching them. In fact, she prayed that her friends would actually come to this birthday so she could apologize to all of them about what had happened after Squall's initial change.
It wasn't until the red sun started setting on the horizon that she heard a promising sound coming from the landing to the left. Twisting sharply, Rinoa held her breath as she waited for the voice to match the child she longed to see. There, darting forward, was a little brunette with a hand colored mask strapped to his face. If it weren't for his hair, she would have never guessed it.
The child turned on his heels, waving his hands rapidly, "Come on! We gotta get home!"
"I'm coming, I'm coming. You're so fast today."
"That's 'cause I'm a moomba—roar!" The child made a claw like motion to an approaching blond.
For the second time, Rinoa felt the air catch in her throat. She knew that man. She could never forget him. Her first crush, her first enemy… "Seifer…"
She didn't know she said his name loud enough until stunning brown eyes faced her. The man paused for a second, taking in her form before stepping forward, "Rinoa?"
"It's been awhile." She wanted to first ask what he was doing in Esthar. The last she heard Seifer Almasy was a wanted man in the Galbadian Region. With such a price for his head, many nations were quick to give in details about his whereabouts. So far none had guessed right. Said man was standing in front of her now, looking clean cut and rather happy. He had an oversized, reusable shopping bag with him in one arm and a book bag thrown over his other shoulder. "I wasn't expecting to see you…here."
"I could say the same." Seifer chewed on his bottom lip. "Not that it's horrible to see you, I just wasn't expecting you – here, now—Squall, slow down!" His attention returned to the boy, trotting ahead of them now to the guard that had blocked Rinoa's entrance. The man, so distant before, now gave the child his undivided attention with a wide smile as the boy showed off his mask. Rinoa frowned. Squall didn't even greet her.
Was he mad?
"I came for Squall's birthday." Rinoa admitted. "It's been a few years and I wanted to talk with Squall about…us."
The man's face froze. Brown eyes that could stare into her soul disappeared behind lids before the man turned, lighting up a cigarette. His fingers shook as he quickly inhaled the stick before released his breath of dark smoke. He didn't turn around until the fag was halfway burnt before crushing it under his boot. He grunted lowly before twisting again back to Squall, who was now watching him from behind the guard's leg. "Sorry." Seifer finally whispered. "Nervous habit. Squall knows something's wrong now. You should come inside."
"The guards won't let me."
"They will if I lead you in with Squall." Seifer worked his way forward, not even waving his hand for her to follow. "Sorry about that Squall, I'm not mad." The child hid again, something Rinoa noted with confusion especially when Seifer bent to his knee, talking around the guard as if the man wasn't even there. "She's an old friend. No, calm down, nothing's going to happen."
Blue eyes looked past Seifer, towards her and Squall hid again. The guard chuckled, giving the boy a firm push toward to the blonde. "You know the president doesn't want you smoking around his son."
"Shut the hell up, Hugo. I know what I'm doing." Eyes narrowed, Seifer lifted the child into his arms. "Mrs. Heartilly is coming in with me. I'll take full responsibility." That said, Seifer moved into the wide arches of the presidential palace. Rinoa followed around him, pointedly sticking her tongue out at the guard who, in turn, scowled at her. She heard him whisper out sorceress under his breath, like a curse, but she paid no mind to it.
"Squall—" She started when she noticed Squall analyzing her over Seifer's shoulder.
Making a small noise, Squall ducked into the blonde's shoulder, using the jacket the man was wearing as a shield.
"Rinoa," Seifer didn't slow his pace, pushing the buttons rapidly on the lift they would be using. Rinoa clenched her things, waiting to be told off by the man. "Squall's not your Squall anymore. Leonheart is dead."
She had to fight back her gasp at that. She knew he wasn't just talking about the newspapers that had spread like a wildfire after the Second War. There was something in his voice letting her know he meant beyond the realm of physical life. "Then who is it in your arms."
The child shifted, looking again over Seifer's shoulder. "I'm Squall Loire." The boy whispered. "Are you Uncle Seifer's friend?"
Piercing her lips, Rinoa nodded. "I was." She doubted the boy would pick up the past tense in that statement, but it was truth. She and Seifer had stopped being friends when he pushed her into Adel. She still had feelings for the man as a friend, deep down, but on the surface, they could never be as close as they had been then. She was starting to pick up what Seifer meant when the mask that had been shown to everyone reappeared on Squall's face. Apparently thinking the mask as a shield from anyone actually seeing him, Squall started making Moomba growling noises in Seifer's ears, apparently having a good conversation with himself as Seifer made deep noise of affirmation to what was going on. "When did this happen?" She finally asked.
"Maybe you should talk to Laguna about that. I'm just his nanny." Seifer patted the boy's bottom, lightly. "Don't lick me, Squall – that's disgusting."
"I'm not Squall – I'm a Moomba!" The boy curved his hand with that, running the bare knuckles along Seifer's scratchy cheek. "Roar!"
"Well moombas that lick me don't get any dessert after dinner." Seifer slid a keycard into a door they had walked too. The door slid open, opening into the home that Rinoa had only seen in a second years ago. Laguna's condo.
It had changed since the last time she was here, no longer looking like a model home that no one ever lived it. Children toys scattered the floor, overfilling a toy box that had migrated out of a bedroom that was decorated with spaceships, monsters, and swords. Pictures of the child flooded every corner of the room, surrounded by others of Ward, Kiros, Laguna, Ellone, and the SeeD members. Even the refrigerator was decorated with drawings. This was a home overturned by a child.
Struggling out of Seifer's arms, Squall slid to the ground, rushing to the kitchen. "Guess what!" He shouted. Seifer made a hushing movement, but it didn't slow the child don any. "I get to cook dinner tonight! You want some?"
"What are you having?" Rinoa asked carefully.
"Um…" Squall tilted his head back. "Spaghetti!" He pointed at the grocery bag in Seifer's hand. "When do we get to start?"
Putting the food away, Seifer answered smoothly, "later. Do you any home projects for preschool?"
The child bit his lips. "I got to find colors." He pointed up. "The sun's red."
"Nu-uh!" Squall belted out, "it's red! I'll show you!"
"Squall, I'm talking with our visitor, why don't you go play in your room until dinner time."
Puffing his cheeks out, Squall stuck his tongue out at Rinoa before darting to his room, disappearing behind the slide of the door. Taking a seat, Seifer crossed his arms. "Sit." He said to the girl. Rinoa did as instructed, carefully placing her belongings next to her. "What did you come all the way here to talk to Squall about?"
Rinoa pierced her lips. "That's between him and me."
"You might not get the answer you came for. I'm not kidding. Squall Leonheart's dead. That little boy is Squall Loire, in mind and body. He doesn't remember anything about his past and…we actually want to keep it that way." The last part was said so softly Rinoa almost didn't hear.
"Is this what Squall would have wanted? He's a fucking child!" She couldn't hold her own tone. When she left Squall was just fine! Sure, he was embarrassed about his diminutive frame but he wasn't out of his mind, thinking he was actually a Moomba. He didn't talk rapidly or as loud. That wasn't Squall in anyway – not even the younger one, from what she'd pictured through the stories from their orphanage days the group had started to remember.
"He was two." Seifer took a deep breath. "He was three when he stopped being himself. He couldn't fight it, Rinoa. It was only a matter of time before he became a child. It was gradual at first and then bamhe woke up one morning, babbling like a child. Days went by and he didn't revert back. Months soon came and gone and eventually we stopped waiting. He doesn't remember his original childhood or any of us. We've reacquainted ourselves with him as aunts and uncles rather than brothers and sisters. It's cliché, but this is his second childhood and we want to give him everything his first one didn't offer him."
Rinoa folded her hands in her lap. Across from her she could see a picture of Squall, smiling so happily. "Are you trying to force him back into SeeD?" She meant more than that, really. It scared her that they would use this opportunity to perfect a warrior. Train earlier than the Garden had; teach him that the sorceresses were the enemy.
Seifer frowned. "Me? I suggested it. I offered to train him with the gunblade when he's older and he's interested…but only because his hero, Leonheart, wielded one. I don't suggest the Gardens, of course. I would prefer he just learn his weapon again versus being some bureaucratic paper pusher but his personality is so different now. He hasn't lost his only family nor has he had to rely on just himself at an early age. This isn't our Squall and Laguna wants us to know that. He's giving Squall the best education that he can but whatever Squall wants to do, he will allow. We can't mold a dead friend out of this new life." Seifer scowled at the door for a second before breathing heavily.
"I respect Laguna's decision," he continued. "That isn't my puberty boy. That's my charge and I want only the best for him." He paused, letting the room fall into silence. Faintly, Rinoa could hear Squall, talking to himself (or to his toys, it was hard to say). He was giving orders to his imaginary friends, riling up an army in his bedroom. A loud bang was heard but Seifer didn't get up to check what had happened. When no other noise followed, the man shrugged his broad shoulders. "It's a bit of a coincidence you're here though – no one else could show this year for the big party."
"Oh?" Rinoa raised a brow.
Seifer nodded. "Yeah. Selphie's about to pop and her doctor suggested she stay in Trabia—"
Rinoa jumped from her seat. "Selphie's pregnant?"
"Unless she just got fat, then yeah – she's pregnant. Twins takes her up to three now. Ritz is her first, a clone of Irvine."
"He's cool, he's got lots of guns and they go pow, powwhen you pull the trigger and—" Rinoa nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard Squall's voice next to her. The child pulled out a chair to climb in on. He then wiggled it across the floor until he was at the table again; ready to join in on the adult conversation. "Seifer when are we going to start dinner?"
"It's not time, yet. You know Squall; we really ought to have these toys cleaned up. You don't want your daddy to slip on one again, do you?" The child blanched for a second, looking around the room. "Squall…"
"I was going to clean 'em up earlier." The child whispered.
Seifer smiled. "I know you were but we had to leave as soon as daddy went to work. I'll help you clean but why don't you start with the sitting room. I think you still have a war going on in there." Squall stuck out his bottom lip, quivered it for a few seconds before sliding out of his seat and under the table. Rinoa was almost prepared for Squall to start throwing a tantrum about having to clean but the child crawled out towards the living space where his toys were thrown about. After a few seconds of thinking about how to go about the task of cleaning, item after item was picked up and carried to the toy box in the corner.
She wanted to say how well behaved Squall was but the memory of him actually being an adult kept playing in her head. Maybe that was just her Squall. The man was always a neat freak.
"So are you going to join us for dinner?"
Rinoa flushed red. "I really need to be finding a place to stay—"
Seifer smirked. "There's always here, seeing as you're going to Squall's birthday. Sit relax, Laguna will let you stay."
"You really shouldn't."
"Trust me! You're family! Squall would love you to be there for his birthday—just, ah…no magic, please? It makes him nervous."
"I'm a sorceress, not a magician." Rinoa scowled.
"I'm fully aware of that. Just…no spells. It makes Squall cry and I don't like handling him when he's crying."
When Laguna did come back, Squall had erected a fort in the clean living room, slowly dragging all his toys out to it. Rinoa had situated herself outside the open sheet entrance, mindful of the piece of paper taped above the fort that supposedly said (in its colorful squiggly lines) 'No Girls Allowed'. She had tried for the better part of the morning to butter up to the child, asking about his school and his life. Emphasis was placed on the question of how happy he was with Laguna and his ragtag team of friends.
Laguna watched her carefully when he entered and she did the same with him. After her relocation after Time Compression, she was nervous now about how the president would take to her. Esthar wasn't known to take well to sorceresses, especially after Adel. Also against her was the fact that she'd abandoned Squall after the change even though she was the man's best friend (possibly even girlfriend).
"I see one of his friends was able to make it this year." Laguna commented absently. "He was so upset when Zell had to cancel."
Rinoa frowned. She'd asked Seifer earlier about all the other SeeDs and their absence. Even Ellone's disappearance had surprised her. She expected the young woman to rush back to her family in a second but she was wrong. Zell and Quistis, a recent couple, had been overloaded with work. With the Garden extended out for trade work rather than mercenaries, they were arranging contracts with the ever growing City of Balamb and couldn't find the time to leave for Esthar.
Selphie, so far along in her pregnancy, was suggested not to travel. She was more upset about not being able to come than Squall was, considering it was the few days she got to relax on Laguna's dollar. Her first born, Ritz, was a handful and Irvine wasn't making it any easier. Their move to Trabia to help re-establish the Garden post-war had become a full-time job, both as teachers. Irvine didn't want to leave his wife when she was put on bed rest and neither were willing to send Ritz out un-chaperoned. With their best regards, they promised to send Squall a present if he remembered to call them more often.
With retirement, Cid and Edea were hard to find. They had sent a card, a week too early, wishing Squall a happy birthday. Laguna had thrown a fit that had left Kiros ears ringing for days after.
And Ellone…her recent engagement and work at her orphanage in Winhill had kept her too busy to visit. She sent her regards and a hand sewn sweater to Squall.
Left on her own to fend off a friend-starved Squall, Rinoa was tempted to give the boy her gift and flee. "I mostly came here to speak with Squall, his birthday just happened to coincide," She admitted.
"I'm going to be six." Squall peaked out of his fort.
"Such a man." Rinoa chimed on instinct. It caused the child to beam in delight.
"That means I get to stay up an hour later." Nodding his head as if that was absolute, Squall ducked back into his fort before his father could argue him on it, something that had been occur more often around the last few months.
"You won't get the answers you want from him." Laguna sat at the dining room table, brushing his salted hair back behind his ears. "But you're welcome to try. You'll be staying in Ellone's suite, I guess?"
"I set it up for her." Seifer stirred the sauce at the stove. "Squall, do you want to set the dinner table?" The child rolled out his fort, rushing to the kitchen to collect plates and forks. "Kiros not joining us today?"
"He was complaining of a headache for the better half of the evening so I told him to go home, eat some soup." Laguna thanked Squall when the child slid a plate out in front of him. "Will you be joining us for Squall's birthday tomorrow?" Rinoa nodded. "Good, it's not going to be much since all of his friends couldn't show. Some children from his day program, a few adults, a pool, and a few games. Nothing extravagant."
"Sounds like a lot."
Bringing food forward, Seifer smirked. "When Laguna's planning – that's not much."
Rinoa never felt more uncomfortable than she felt right then and there. The party was a small ordeal with the parents of three other children coming, Seifer, and Laguna's friends. Ward brought his wife, who had organized the meal plan for the event. For the most part, parents were together with parents, Laguna and his crew were making pleasantries with each group, and the children were running around hyped up on sugar.
She vowed to never have kids.
It wasn't until she saw Squall fall to the cement did she make a move to pull herself away from the shadows. Waving Seifer and Laguna off, she knelt by Squall's side and helped him up and away from the grounds so she could better check on his knees. Rolling up his pant leg, she brought her hand down barely above his knee, unleashing a soft familial glow of a cure.
She never expected Squall to start screaming. Little arms flailed, his feet coming up and slamming against her chest to push her away, giving him plenty of space to make a run for it. Glancing over her shoulder, she realized the party had gone quiet, many of the guest trying to figure out what had gone wrong with the birthday boy, now cowering as far away from the sorceress as humanly possible. Taking a deep breath, Rinoa finally excused herself, returning to Laguna's apartment where she found solace just the night before.
Seifer's voice plagued the back of her mind. "…No spells. It makes Squall cry…"
How had she forgotten? Squall probably thought she was Ultimecia. She dropped on the leather seat, kicking some of Squall's many toys out of the way.
"What the hell, Rinoa! I told you no magic!" Seifer stormed into the room, his arms crossed over his chest.
"I forgot, okay?" She hissed. She rarely used her magic to begin with but when she did she only used powerful cures to protect people. She hadn't expected the harmless spell to cause such a response. She thought Squall would do what kids did at circuses when they saw clowns – start crying. She hadn't expected the boy to have a panic attack. "I should leave, I'm not going to find time to talk to him. Not my Squall at least."
"I thought I told you…" Seifer grumbled.
"I know but I need closure." She dropped her head back. "I want to know that I can move on, that he will let me move on."
"Squall doesn't care what you do with your life."
"I'm sure there would be a 'whatever' thrown somewhere in that equation." Rinoa grabbed at her ankles, folding herself into a tight ball. "Look, I'll be gone before the party ends, tell Laguna I'll try not to be so scarce in the future/"
"Hm." Seifer shrugged. "Whatever you want, Princess." With a sharp turn, he left the girl in the room, alone with the many pictures of Squall over the past few years.
She nearly jumped out of her skin when a warm hand touched her shoulder. "Miss Heartilly, I'm sorry."
Twisting to look at the child, Rinoa couldn't fight the pleasant smile for taking her face. "I'm sorry for using that magic around you. I forgot that it scared you. Can I ask you a question?" She scooted over, patting the cushion next to her for the child to sit. Squall did. "Why are you afraid of magic?" Her Squall wasn't afraid of anything but feelings.
"'Un't know." The child mumbled. "It's scary and it hurts and…it makes me really scared like something's going to happen to me…again." His voice seemed lost with the response but settled on it at the same time. "Don'cha have anything you're afraid of?"
"My father." Rinoa whispered childishly. It was only the half-truth. She had a better relationship with the man lately but there was still a present fear that he would reject her if he knew what she'd become. "Bugs, too, but they don't rank so high up." Squall giggled at that. Laughing herself, Rinoa fought to control herself. "I missed you," she finally said.
Squall turned his head towards her. "But we just met."
"I felt like I knew you before. Don't you ever get that feeling?"
"Uh-huh." Squall reached pet one of his stuffed toys. "Like when I'm walking around town with daddy or Seifer. Sometimes the people look so familiar, like I've seen them before. The same with Aunty Selphie's Garden and Uncle Zell's Garden. Then I remember that daddy used to take me to those places a lot when I was a baby."
A smile fell on Rinoa's lips. So there was still some of Squall Leonheart left, covered up by a veil of childish persona. "That's true, you might have met them a long time ago, before you could remember."
"You didn't come up here for my birthday," said the child, bluntly.
Rinoa blushed. "No, no I didn't." She came up for her Squall's birthday. She hardly knew the one sitting in front of her. "I came to speak with my boyfriend but now I don't think I should."
"I don't think he could answer me anymore," Rinoa whispered absently.
Squall pierced his lips together. "Like mama? She can't answer me either but I like to ask her all sorts of things: if she's happy wherever she's at, if she still loves daddy, if she still loves Squallie. Daddy says she can't answer us anymore 'cause she's no longer with us but I think she does every time something good happens."
"So smart, are you really only six now?" Rinoa fuzzed his hair. The child cried out angrily, pushing her back.
"I'm a man now! I know lots of stuff!"
"Yes, yes you do." Rinoa giggled. Sighing, she stared at the picture directly in front of her of Squall's last birthday with all his SeeD friends and Laguna's friends. The boy looked so happy and complete.
"Why don't you try your question on me!" Squall bounced in his seat.
"I'll act like your boyfriend so you feel better about asking him later!" Squall clapped his hands excitedly, anxious to help his new friend.
Rinoa shook her head. It wouldn't be the same, but she doubted she'd get any closer of a chance, even if it was all a game of hypothetical. She could live with this Squall's response. "I meet a new man and I want to start dating him but…I already have a boyfriend."
Squall's brows knotted. "Is he like mama?"
"Yes." Rinoa nodded.
The child's bottom lip trembled. His eyes shifted to the floor and his little hands clasped each other. "I…I think…" The child's voice was so hoarse that Rinoa started to tremble herself. "I think he'd want you to move on." The boy looked away. "Does the new boyfriend make you happy?"
"Oh yes." Rinoa giggled.
"Then your old boyfriend is happy." Squall smiled. "I'm sure of it."
The corners of her eyes were wet. Rinoa lowered her head, unable to look at the child. Even though this wasn't coming from her Squall, the words felt authentic. It felt like, for that very second, the whole world had lifted off her shoulders and she no longer felt guilty for moving on.
As she cried, the little child patted her hand, not sure why he too felt like the whole world had lifted off his small shoulders. When Rinoa finally felt better, she let the child lead her back to the party where, for the first time in many years, she finally felt at home.