Title: The Pressure of the Moment
Author: Traxits
Fandom: Final Fantasy VIII
Chapter Rating: T.
Chapter Content: Major angst, assassination.
Chapter Word Count: 2838 words.
Chapter Summary: Irvine, left with Martine and an ailing grandfather, begins to make his own decisions. He meets a young SeeD, Lisa, who takes him under her wing.

[[ … Chapter IV: Letting Go … ]]

It should have been raining.

She would have appreciated the symbolism; the sky ripping open and pouring out the same tears that Irvine fought to keep from spilling over his own face. It would have been easier to bear had it rained. The tears wouldn't have been noticed.

But instead of raining, the sun streamed down, glinting off of the dark wood of the coffin. She lay in the plush white cushions, soft brown hair spilling out over her pillow in beautiful curls. Her green eyes were closed, but she looked as though she'd sit up at any moment and laugh at them all for being so serious. Irvine wished that she would, but he knew better. He knew it wasn't the first time he'd seen those sightless eyes, and he knew, in the pit of his stomach, that it wouldn't be the last.

He clutched his grandfather's hand, closing his own eyes at the sound of the older man's sobbing, and he dipped his shoulder a few times to dislodge Martine's hand from it. Martine gave him a look, but Irvine was beyond caring. It wasn't until Martine's speech over her coffin that the awful truth really sank in: he was being viewed as Martine's son. His back straightened under the weight of everyone's gaze, he could hear whispers starting. She would have turned and waved to one of the cameras with a little giggle before nudging him in the shoulder to do the same, but Irvine couldn't do it.

He felt hollow. There was no gut-wrenching agony, no sharp spears of pain shooting through him at her passing. Numbly, he stood there beside the coffin, waiting for something, anything that would stop the funeral. He watched Martine walk up to her first, felt wetness pricking at the backs of his eyes as Martine leaned down and pressed a kiss to her forehead. Someone started crying in one of the rows.

By the time it was all over, Irvine had the terrible understanding that everything was completely different. Nothing would ever be the same after that. He simply had no idea how right he was.

They drove back to the manor as a family, Martine and Irvine and Grandpa Kinneas, and after they had gotten the old man settled in his suite of rooms, Martine took Irvine by the hand into the study. Irvine had only been in the study once or twice, and his entrance had always been followed by an almost immediate scolding. But this time, Martine simply fell back into his chair, poured himself a glass of something that he had sitting on the desk- the scent of it burned Irvine's nose- and sighed loudly.

"Irvine," he said, and it was clear that he was bracing himself. Irvine couldn't imagine what for, but he supposed that the polite thing to do was to wait it out. He stood near the door, so that he could make a quick escape if he got the chance to. "Irvine, I want to ask you something. Do you really understand what happened today?"

"Mother's dead," Irvine said slowly, his eyes narrowing. There was something wrong here, he just didn't know what it was. She would have known, and she'd have been able to fix it with one of her smiles and a wave of her hand; he was sure of that much.

"Yes... yes, she is." Martine shook the glass in his hand, making the drink slosh around until it coated the sides. "Irvine, I want to adopt you. Become your father. Properly."

Irvine felt everything inside of him tense. It felt like every nerve in his body was screaming at him to run, to get out of that room, to do something, anything but stand there. But Irvine didn't move, only tilted his head slightly and asked, "Why?" His eyes narrowed. He was missing something. There had been a reason she had never let Martine adopt him, he just wasn't sure what it was.

"Because you're like a son to me." Martine studied his drink, and slowly, his eyes lifted to look up at Irvine over the rim of the glass. "Think about it. You don't have to decide now." He waved a hand, a dismissal.

He'd done that to Isobel as well, whenever she had asked him for something he didn't care for.

Irvine stayed exactly where he was, only moving enough to put his hand on the door knob beside him. He swallowed, and then he shook his head. Martine lowered the glass to gaze at him, and Irvine shook his head a little harder. "I-I'm a Kinneas, not your son," he said quietly, and then he slipped out the door before Martine could say anything else to him.

He broke into a run down the hall, but there was no sound of Martine following, so when he rounded the corner, he stopped. He leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor, his knees pressed against his chest. His arms ached as he wrapped them around his knees, and he let his head rest against the wall. Tears finally streamed down his face, incapable of being stopped. They had built up too much over the course of the day.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. He wasn't ready to play these games, wasn't ready to hold his own against Martine yet. His mother was supposed to be there, still protecting him, still teaching him.

The next morning, Irvine woke to find that his bags had already been packed. He was to move into Garden by that evening. The next week was hell. No two ways about it. He had been enrolled as an 'orphan', but not a cadet, so he wasn't officially SeeD material. That meant he was an in-between student, one that the teachers weren't actually certain what to do with. Even worse, he had tested out of all of the lower classes involving guns.

He was in a sniping course, and he was the youngest person in the room by several years. He wasn't even certain of what he was doing in the class, since he didn't understand most of the technical jargon that went along with it. Altitude and wind speed and angles in such a practical application were all well beyond his basic theoretical knowledge. But then they'd done their first field course, and Irvine had discovered that he could do it.

He'd been the first one to fire the gun, and the moment his hands touched it, he felt a peace still over him. He peered through the scope, swallowing and simply breathing. He could actually focus on the task at hand, the first time since his mother's death.

He watched the flag in the wind, and when the teacher nudged him lightly, reminding him that it was a field exercise, not simply a look-see, he took aim toward the target. It was ridiculously huge, a bright red target designed to bolster confidence among the cadets. Irvine's first shot struck center, and he handed off the gun with a sullen frown.

He didn't want to let go of it, wanted to hold on to it, to cling to it. He wanted to take it back to the dormitory and take it apart. But it wasn't his. He couldn't.

For the rest of the semester, he lived for that class, and while he did poorly on almost all of his written tests that accompanied it, he could recite anything they were required to memorize, and he passed his final exam. It was a field exercise, after all.

It wasn't until he was in his second sniping course that he met her. Lisa. She sat beside him in class, offered him a grin and waggled her fingers at him. Shyly, he'd returned the attention, and she had helped him understand the written portion of the class. In return, he'd tried to explain the details of actually firing the gun to her.

He could hardly find words that would describe it, but after the second attempt, she had simply smiled, touched his arm, and thanked him. They'd finished their homework and had lunch together. She was four years older than him, but he didn't care. Everyone in Garden, it seemed, was older than him. The difference was that she was the only one who seemed to care, who really saw him and spoke to him.

"Lisa?" They spoke most often during their lunch breaks, whispering behind the gym since speaking in the hallways caused disciplinary actions. "Why does your notebook say Mrs. Lisa Jaileen?" He frowned, looking up at her. "Your last name is Dorien, isn't it?"

She blushed and snatched her notebook back, her fingers lingering over the doodle. "It's just something I wrote. It doesn't mean anything."

"Instructor Jaileen teaches, doesn't he?" Irvine tilted his head. "Ooh! You're crushing on him!" He grinned widely, and when she squirmed in her chair, he laughed. "You are."

"No! No, it's nothing like that." Her blush darkened though, and she leaned back a little more, drawing the book closer to herself.

Irvine studied her for a minute, and then he leaned forward, asking her, "But Doctor Harade said that Jaileen is a 'bad boy'. Why do you like him?"

Lisa giggled a little. "Because he's a bad boy, Irvine. He... He doesn't play by the same rules as everyone else." She traced a finger over her doodle again. "Girls like that. They like boys that they have to fix. It's exciting. Besides, it doesn't mean anything. He's a teacher; I'm a student. It can't ever go anywhere." She giggled to herself, and that was the end of the conversation.

Except that it was unusual in Irvine's opinion. Bad boys, black hats. It seemed like she was talking about the same kind of man, honestly.

He wondered briefly where his own hat had gotten off to- it hadn't been packed in his things to go to Garden- and then he smiled to himself. Not that it mattered. The white hat his mother had gotten him no longer seemed to fit.

A white hat wouldn't be learning to murder people for a living, after all.

It was only a matter of time before he was called to put theoretical knowledge to the test. He was excited, strange as it was. The entire car ride, with a SeeD sitting on either side of him, he could hardly sit still. The SeeDs had chosen his location, and as soon as he sank down, hands on the gun, he felt his breathing finally even out.

He looked through the scope, watched as the old man he was supposed to shoot settled onto the bench. He set the coffee cup beside him, opened the paper, and then picked it back up. Irvine smiled faintly, wondering for only a moment what sort of man he was. Then he felt the SeeD beside him touch his shoulder, remind him with just a touch what they were there for. Irvine sighed.

A squeeze of the trigger was all that it took to shatter the moment, to break the quiet calm of the park. The old man stayed up right for a moment, but his fingers let go of the coffee cup, and Irvine watched as it bounced across the sidewalk, lid flying off and coffee splattering everywhere. A woman screamed, and the SeeD was pulling on his shoulder, ordering him to wipe down the gun, to leave it where it was.

Irvine felt his breath catch, felt the SeeD pull the weapon away from him in order to do it herself. Then she was pulling him along behind her, and Irvine gasped, struggling to cope with the sudden tightness of his chest. Whatever had happened, he was certain that Isobel wouldn't have approved. He could see it, could hear her stern tone informing him that he was not doing something that would honor the Kinneas name-

And still he let the SeeD drag him behind her. He couldn't stop, couldn't have done anything at all by himself in that moment. Had she not been there, he would have stayed with the gun, incapable of moving. There was a flurry of activity, of people shouting and then the SeeD was falling. Irvine stared for a moment, uncertain of what had happened, and then he saw the blood, saw the guns pointed at him. The soldiers were shouting, yelling at him to put his hands up.

He didn't hesitate, instead pulling out the small pistol that he had refused to leave behind. He emptied the clip into the soldier who had shot his SeeD, shot his protector. He grabbed the front of her shirt, tried to pull her with him, but she was too heavy. A second set of hands snatched him up, and he struggled just until he realized that it was the second SeeD, the one who was supposed to secure the train tickets to get them home.

"She's dead," Irvine whispered, and the SeeD simply nodded as they ran for the train station. They lost the soldiers before the SeeD ducked into the train and opened the SeeD cabin. Irvine hesitated before he entered, well aware that he wasn't supposed to be there. The SeeD pulled out a kit from a small cabinet, and he dug out the cleaning wipes to push into Irvine's hands.

"I will be right back, do you understand?" The SeeD waited for Irvine's slow nod, and then he added, "Whatever happens, don't leave this train car."

Irvine nodded again. The SeeD headed back out the door then, and Irvine tried to clean himself up. There was blood all over him, and he realized belatedly that even his jeans were splattered. He cleaned off his face and hands, feeling his breath beginning to catch, feeling a tightness in his chest that he couldn't name. He couldn't get her face out of his head, eyes wide open and blank. He couldn't stop seeing the coffee cup bouncing across the sidewalk, twisting and turning-

The sound of the train door opening made him jump, and the SeeD dropped the shopping bag by the couch before he helped Irvine peel off his shirt. The SeeD glanced at Irvine's jeans for a minute before he finally sighed and fished out a pair of light brown pants from the bag. Irvine glanced at them, frowning as he realized they weren't pants, not … exactly.

"Chaps," the SeeD explained, even as he helped Irvine pull them on over the blood-stained jeans. "First thing I found in your size." He offered a sheepish smile, and Irvine realized that the SeeD probably hadn't noticed they weren't pants until he'd paid. "They'll get you home without too many questions."

Irvine nodded slowly, and he pulled on the green shirt that the SeeD had bought for him. His eyes widened as he saw the hat in the bottom of the bag, and he pulled it out, raising an eyebrow to the SeeD.

"Came with the pants, apparently," he said, reaching up to rub the back of his neck. "You don't have to wear it if you don't want to."

Irvine's fingers traced over the black brim hesitantly, and he bit his bottom lip for a moment before he pulled it on. He was wearing blood-soaked jeans under the innocuous brown chaps. The black hat seemed oddly fitting.

The SeeD sat on the couch beside Irvine. They were quiet until the train jerked and began to pull away from the station. They both breathed a soft sigh of relief, then exchanged smiles. Irvine considered his options for a moment, and then he reached out and took the SeeD's hand in his own. He offered a little squeeze.

"Did you... know her?" He looked down at the floor. He didn't want to see the expression that the SeeD might have.

"Not well." There was a reassuring squeeze in response. "Classmate. Took our field test in Balamb together. … Is it true you refuse to become a cadet?"

Irvine swallowed before he looked up, pasting the blandest smile possible on his face. "Don't wanna be a SeeD," he said casually. He hadn't wanted to disappoint Isobel, hadn't wanted to make her frown.

"What do you want to be?"

There was a moment of silence, as Irvine really considered the question. He had never asked himself that, had never been asked that. Everyone had assumed that because he was Martine's son he would become a SeeD, take over Garden whenever Martine retired. He had never seen another option.

"Free," he said finally, and he looked across the car at the wall.

When they disembarked, Irvine wondered what the onlookers thought of them; a SeeD, no more than eighteen or nineteen, holding a twelve year old's hand. They couldn't see the blood caking his jeans, couldn't have known that he was already one of the best sharpshooters in Galbadia.

The black hat was all the warning that they would get.