Disclaimer: I don't own anything Final Fantasy related…which kinda sucks. :P I only have this story and numerous plot bunnies~
A/N: Dammit! I was supposed to have this up earlier this week as a Father's Day gift to Laguna, but I got extremely busy. -sigh- Oh well; at least I'm still posting this. Ever since I finished Duodecim back in April, I just knew I had to "play on memories" with some of the characters. And seeing as how both Squall and Laguna are two of my favorites, I decided to do this. :) I'm a little happy with how this turned out, although it does seem a little wordy to me. -shrug- I can't control how I write. XD
I actually have a similar idea with another character, but that is separate from this. :P
In any case, I hope you enjoy the read! And if possible, please review? I'd be a happy panda if you could… Thanks!
"One down!" Zidane cut through an unsuspecting manikin with one of his daggers. He leapt into the air, allowing Bartz to chain an attack using an imitation of Cloud's buster sword.
The mime grinned, slicing the manikin in half. "One more to go!"
As the dying manikin shattered away, Zidane and Bartz stood back to back, weapons in hand, and eyed the last manikin with playful reverie. The manikin, a spitting image of the class-switching Cecil, charged forward towards the duo. Grinning, both Zidane and Bartz sidestepped out of the way and called up, "Do it, Squall!"
The announced brunette was already standing behind the duo once they rolled to opposite sides. Squall's weapon, his beloved gunblade Revolver, rested on his shoulder as he awaited the manikin's charge. He glared, fluidly poised for battle and parried the manikin's swing. Squall then threw the manikin off balance before he spun around, swinging his blade up through the manikin and instantly killing it. He wasn't fazed by the sound of the manikin crumbling to dust as he flicked his blade to his side.
"Great job, Squall!" Bartz praised, running up to the brunette.
Zidane nodded and winked. "You sure showed him who's boss!"
Squall rolled his eyes before looking at the duo in disapproval. "You were treating this like a game. Stop with the nonsense."
"Eh? Not even a little bit of fun?" Zidane pouted. "Come on, Squall! It was nothing we couldn't handle!"
"Zidane's right. Besides, there's three of us. We have each others' backs!" Bartz added.
As far as Squall was concerned, it still didn't matter. Shaking his head, he started to walk past the two and began trudging through the terrain. "Let's go. We need to set up camp."
Bartz sighed and followed after Squall. "Okay, okay. Oh! But let's decide who gets to set up the campfire!"
"Bartz can't do it. You'll set everything on fire." Zidane snickered, hands behind his hand after dismissing his weapons.
"Hey! I do not!"
"Almost set my tail on fire…"
Squall stopped, turning around to glare at them. "Will you two knock it off—"
He heard a crack from above and his reflexes kicked in. The brunette quickly threw his blade in front of him like a shield as a manikin fell down in an attempt to ambush him. Squall hit the ground, the manikin pinning him down for an attack as Zidane and Bartz hurriedly rushed to his aid.
"Squall!" Bartz called out, summoning the Warrior of Light's sword.
Damn you! Squall growled, vainly trying to push the purplish manikin off his torso and struggled to keep Revolver propped between himself and his attacker's weapon. The moonlight bounced off the manikin's glassy figure and Squall faintly burned its silhouette in his mind. When the manikin continued in its attempt to point its weapon at Squall's face, the brunette had enough. Get…OFF!
With a quick push, Squall shoved his gunblade forward, the manikin slightly losing its balance. The next thing the brunette did was instantly headbutt the manikin; even if it did shoot a pain through his skull. Ever so quickly, Squall threw the manikin over his shoulder and rolled so he was kneeling in an attack position.
Squall was ready to run his Revolver through the manikin when he froze on the spot.
"Gotta take the chance to get to know'em."
Why did he stop? Squall never stopped to ever consider a manikin friend or foe; he just attacked. It was an automatic reflex. Except this time, it was different…
The manikin, however, didn't hesitate. After it regained balance, it again pointed its weapon at Squall and fired.
"Move it, Squall!" Zidane was quick to tackle Squall out of the manikin's firing range, but he wasn't fast enough to dodge the attack completely.
Squall felt a rush of pain surge through his right arm and he snapped out of his trance to realize the manikin succeeded in getting a hit. Zidane was just a little bit lucky; his cheek barely grazed by the purple manikin's bullets.
They slid across the terrain and Squall sat up hastily to look at his blond savior. "Zidane!"
The genome pushed himself up, giving the brunette a reassuring grin. "I'm fine…!"
"Tch!" Squall regained his focus, whirling around to do what he was suppose to: kill the manikin. However, when he tried to grab the hilt of his gunblade, his arm protested the movement and he dropped his weapon. Squall cursed, "Dammit!"
With a click of its gun, the manikin prepared for another assault, but Bartz intervened with a taunt, "Hey! I'll be your opponent!"
The manikin didn't stand a chance against Bartz at such a close range with a long ranged weapon. The mime quickly switched weapons to summon a variant gunblade different from Squall's and performed two slashes before dealing the final blow.
Squall didn't know what possessed him to stare as the manikin met its fate. The manikin's face was only programmed with one expression, but Squall could see different faces and he didn't know why. In another quick second, the glassy fraud shattered and Squall once again snapped to the present.
"Hey! You guys okay?" Bartz questioned in concern, running up to his companions.
Zidane lightly brushed his cheeks with a lick of his lips. "I'm good! Squall however…"
They turned to the stoic brunette and Squall simply shook his head. "I'm alright."
"Don't be a tough guy," the blond rolled his eyes and pointed to Squall's arm. "You get struck to the arm and you treat it like nothing? Come on!"
Squall narrowed his eyes. "I'm fine."
Bartz sighed exasperately. "I'm gonna agree with Zidane on that. That manikin got a clean shot of you."
He wanted to argue that he didn't need help, but with these two, that would only result in a headache. Squall felt another throb of pain in his arm and he had to bite the inside of his cheeks to suppress a wince. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to treat the injury site…
Resigning to their concerns, Squall slowly exhaled. "Fine… We'll need shelter."
"I got it covered!" Zidane jumped to his feet and took the lead. "We'll hide out in one of the crevices! Sound good?"
Bartz laughed as he helped Squall up. "Sounds like a plan!"
Still too easygoing, Squall inwardly rolled his eyes. He held onto his arm as they searched for a good resting spot.
The last of the manikins for tonight…
That was all Squall was hoping for, but of course, he could never let his guard down. As long as they shared watch duty, the manikins shouldn't be a problem. He really was lucky to be with Bartz and Zidane when the manikins attacked; they had some semblance of teamwork.
Huh. Bartz was right… For once.
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
The dying flames of the fire flickered and Squall only watched them intently. He was supposed to be sleeping, but couldn't. Zidane and Bartz pestered him to sleep as the manikins wouldn't find their hiding spot and even if they were around, he was injured. Having lost his ability to wield his gunblade (for a while anyway), the outgoing duo forced him to take a break. Bartz and Zidane took it upon themselves to take guard duty so Squall wouldn't have to.
…Look how that turned out.
It was Bartz's turn for watch and he was out like a light. Squall observed as his companion's chest rose and fell in calm breaths. A smile was plastered on his face so Squall was certain he was having a good dream. He rolled his eyes and withheld the need to scoff.
Somehow, Squall knew Bartz and Zidane weren't meant for long periods of guard duty… Which was mainly the reason why he couldn't sleep. He trusted the two, but they took things a little too precariously. Squall was willing to cut them some slack, but just the thought that they could be attacked in their sleep bothered him. Squall didn't want to see misfortune befall them.
"Gotta take the chance to get to know'em."
Squall closed his eyes in an attempt to regain his senses. Ever since that manikin appeared, his focus has been off. He didn't understand what was going on anymore. Squall was sure he's seen similar copies of that particular manikin and it never bothered him to strike them down. It wasn't like they had souls or beings or…whatever. You see a manikin, you extinguish it. That was all he needed to know and do. Why he stopped to consider that manikin, he didn't know why.
Bartz suddenly snorted with a goofy smile. "Boko…"
…Boko? Squall raised a questioning brow. Maybe it was that "partner" Bartz mentioned before… Whatever.
And that got Squall thinking: Bartz remembered something from his homeworld. A simple feather reminded him of his partner. What did Squall have? There was the time witch, but that was a given. Was there anything else? Perhaps that's why he stopped to consider that purple manikin. Maybe it stirred a hidden memory within Squall.
Feeling the need to clear his mind, Squall stood up quietly and decided to scout the area in Bartz's stead. He could survey the area for manikins and he didn't feel like sitting in one spot when he was restless; Squall learned that was a bad thing whenever he felt uneasy.
As he walked a short distance away, Squall started to recall a similar experience of memories during his trek to retrieve his crystal. Bits and pieces of memories linked together in his mind. They were gradual and still very vague, but every time he fought against the manikins, the memories became clearer to some extent.
Squall never shared this revelation with either of his companions since he believed he could deal with this himself. He faintly remembered a promise with someone… He wasn't sure with whom, but in his heart, Squall knew it was something he considered very important. Whatever the case was, that was one memory revealed.
And somehow, his confrontation with Ultimecia only served to increase his memory recovery tenfold. It was like…fighting against her suddenly brought a slew of memories unlocking in his mind. He honestly didn't know if it was a good thing or a bad thing, but after tonight, Squall deemed it a bad thing. He didn't need something like memories to slow him down if they were going to make him sloppy during battle.
That particular manikin bothered him. Its build was that of a lean man and its weapon of choice was a machine gun. Neither Bartz or Zidane had experience with such a weapon, but Squall did; Guns existed on his homeworld. Could that mean the manikin's original persona was someone he knew? But who? Squall was sure he knew the rest of Cosmos's warriors… Was that manikin modeled after a warrior of Chaos…?
Can't be, Squall told himself, It looked too stupid to be of Chaos.
He slowly blinked. What in the world possessed him to think of a silly rationale? "It looked stupid."…That was his reason?
I'm going crazy, Squall ran a hand down his face and decided to concentrate on guard duty.
Nothing was in sight. Good. If all was well, then maybe he wouldn't snap at Bartz and Zidane for not patrolling properly. He let out another tired sigh. Who would've guessed he'd act as babysitter to two of the more troublesome Cosmos warriors? Didn't he want to travel by himself? It used to be a lot easier to decline group invitations for travelling… What changed?
Squall could vaguely remember someone calling him out on his mindset. "How d'you expect to make any friends?"
He made friends now he told himself. Maybe not the closest friends, but Bartz and Zidane were definitely companionable people despite their often mischievous ways. However, Squall still didn't want to get too close to them. They would stick together until the end of this war; that was all. There was no point in making lifetime friendships.
"If it's not forever, there's no point getting close to anyone," a man's voice mocked him.
Squall stood in place and frowned with a furrow of his eyebrows. "That's not what I meant."
Again, he blinked. Where did that come from? Squall was starting to get sick of whatever was happening to him.
Before he could demean his deteriorating mentality (which he hoped was only for tonight), Squall heard sounds off in the distance. The brunette was quick to summon his gunblade, but a short wince escaped him and he gripped his right arm. The bullet was pulled out, but that didn't mean the pain completely went away.
He'd have to deal with it. It was either back out because he couldn't handle a little pain or succumb to the manikins. Squall needed to act as the first line of defense as his companions slept. If at least they were well rested, they'd be fine in the morning when manikins were more active.
Slinking in the darkness, Squall surveyed his area. Further ahead, he spotted three manikins: two of them were a Cosmos and Chaos warrior respectively and the last…
Him again, Squall narrowed his eyes, grip on his gunblade tightening. It was another one of those purple manikins and it was once again stirring a hidden memory within Squall. The brunette felt like destroying it right there and then just because his emotions were being tied in knots. What the hell was up with that particular manikin anyway?
"Listen," a voice echoed in his mind again, "Even if we lived on the same world, there'd come a time when life'd pull us apart."
Squall continued to eye the figure of a man so faintly familiar that it made him angry. The manikins were leaving to wander a different area but Squall didn't let them. He was too determined to figure out who the heck that purple manikin was once and for all. If he defeated this small horde, maybe, just maybe he could final recall a face to the voice he's been hearing.
Taking the first strike, Squall rushed the much larger imitation of the Chaos warrior. He drove his blade across the manikin with such force, it fell into a helpless heap immediately. Its companions, alert at the smell of a Cosmos warrior automatically started up for battle.
Just die, Squall nearly growled. His energy was on a high. He was battling against the mockery that took his face while at the same time dodging the gunfire of that irritable manikin. In this one heat of battle, Squall could already feel the effects of memories being brought to light.
Someone was talking to him so casually it irritated Squall; especially since the idiot had a smile plastered on his face. "Think about it, we'd never've met these people if all this hadn't happened."
Squall pushed back his imitation before vertical swinging his gunblade up its torso. The manikin fell and the brunette only had one more to go. He stood battle ready and narrowed his eyes at the gun-wielding manikin for a passing moment. Just looking at its face was stirring more memories: long dark hair, a blue jacket, and an annoying outlook on life.
"Who are you?" Squall questioned more to himself than the manikin. The answer was in the back of his mind; Squall knew it was there sleeping and this manikin was going to give him the answer.
"Oh please, you can't be serious? For a grown man, that's kind of naïve."
He dodged to the side when the manikin fired its gun and Squall rounded to get behind it. The manikin was smart though and whirled around to toss a grenade in Squall's anticipating direction. The brunette's eyes widened and he quickly fell back before getting caught in the blast.
That man's voice spoke again, "Yeah, he's pretty interesting."
Squall was knocked down and cursed for his arm was acting up again. The manikin slowly stalked towards him and Squall narrowed his eyes. No! He wasn't about to give in! He wouldn't stop! He needed to see through this war to the end if he wanted to get back to his world!
…And it was there that the memory came back in full force.
A machine gun.
Dark hair and a pair of emerald green eyes.
That stupid smile.
The purple manikin readied a final attack, but with Squall's new found anger, the brunette quickly stood on his feet and charged at the gunner. Knocking it to the ground, Squall let out a battle cry and violently sunk Revolver through the heart of the manikin. It squirmed under Squall's blade before finally ceasing all movement and dying, shattering to pieces.
Squall simply sat there; gunblade pinned in the ground, hands tightly gripping the hilt. He was breathing heavily, finally understanding the memory that plagued him earlier tonight. Lowering his head, eyes hiding beneath his bangs, he bitterly whispered, "Laguna…"
The brunette didn't even raise his head to greet his companions. Zidane slid to his side, afraid to touch him, "W…What happened? There was an explosion and you weren't at the campsite!"
"Manikins right?" Bartz panicked, looking around.
"…I told you a patrol was needed," Squall finally spoke, scolding Bartz, "Next time, I take shift."
Bartz chuckled nervously. "Sorry! I didn't mean to…fall asleep."
"Whatever," was all Squall said before he quietly stood up, looking down at his arm after dismissing his blade. He frowned, placing a hand where the pain returned.
Zidane sighed with a smile. "Looks like you need another potion."
Squall shot the blond a deadly look and Zidane froze under his intense stare. The brunette had to bite back from saying anything. Irritated. He was just so irritated with the lack of sleep and the pain…and the memories.
"Uh, hey come on! Let's get back to camp!" Bartz suggested. He patted both Squall and Zidane on the back as a means to move. "This time, I promise to stay awake!"
Shrugging, Squall silently walked back to camp practically hearing Zidane and Bartz sigh in relief.
Squall wouldn't snap at them for something he experienced; it was his memory. A memory of a time Squall didn't know, but at some point during this war, he had encountered that gunner, Laguna. Someone he was connected to for reasons still unclear, but that man was there now; resting in the deepest part of Squall's mind. The brunette would treat him as no one important, but he had to place a comment to a face. Squall decided to attach "forgotten" to Laguna's because not once had he encountered the man at all during his travels. Laguna was simply…gone.
"There's no guarantee you'll even get to say good-bye," Laguna had told him during one of their (many?) conversations.
The brunette frowned almost guiltily as he led the way back to camp, I never did…did I?
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
"All clear!" Zidane called out after looking over the terrain. He jumped down from the cliff and landed on his feet, clapping his hands free of dust. "I think if we stay away from travelling out in the open, we'll get to Sanctuary in no time."
Bartz nodded. "Good job, Zidane!" He turned to face Squall who was rolling his shoulder. Concerned, Bartz furrowed his eyebrows. "Feeling better?"
Squall looked at his worried face with a stoic expression. Sighing, Squall silently nodded and neither Bartz nor Zidane asked anything more of him. They began walking through the rocky terrain again, the troublesome duo chattering away while Squall silently followed behind them. The scarred brunette watched as they joked around, pushing and nudging one another in an attempt to hide the concern they had for him. Heck, Squall even knew they were purposely trying to avoid manikin encounters because of what happened last night; he wasn't stupid.
He was a little thankful for their efforts. Squall didn't want to encounter any manikins for fear of running into a Laguna copy again. Just thinking about it discouraged him strangely enough. Squall never thought he would actually miss Laguna's presence, his directionally challenged attitude and all.
Squall blinked and looked to his right to see Bartz walking beside him. He smiled in a mixture of genuine concern and curiosity. Strange. Squall thought he was with Zidane just now…
Sensing the question hanging above him, Bartz chuckled a little and faced forward. "Zidane went up ahead for a bit because he thought he heard voices. Hey! Maybe we'll be meeting up with the others soon!"
Squall decided to stay silent as he watched Bartz in his animated self-talk. His optimism… It was on par with Laguna's— no, scratch that, it was exactly like Laguna's.
"Yeah?" Bartz gave him his full attention, albeit a little surprised that Squall was calling for him.
He didn't know how to put what he wanted to say in words without sounding awkward, but Squall needed to know. Stopping in his step, Squall looked at the ground before focusing his attention again. "Your miming skills… You use weapons that don't belong to the others. Why?"
Squall was patient as Bartz thought about how to answer. The mime hummed and placed a hand to his chin in the thinking gesture while looking up to the sky. His abilities always did interest Squall; Bartz could pull out the weapons of their comrades at will, but sometimes he'd bring out weapons that weren't familiar to even the mime himself.
Finally figuring out an answer, Bartz nodded to himself before facing Squall again. "Honestly? I don't know."
Silence hung in the air before Squall let out, "…What?"
"I don't know why I have weapons that don't belong to others," Bartz answered again. He walked forward a little bit before looking up at the sky again. "I've probably met the people who had them, but I can't really remember any faces. All I know is that they were definitely friends."
"How can you be so sure?" Squall asked after pausing. He stood beside Bartz again. "Doesn't it bother you that you can't remember?"
"Sometimes, but I don't think it's right to linger on that you know?" Bartz replied with a shrug. "Just knowing those weapons belonged to some of our friends is enough for me. Sure, there's a chance that I've never met these people, but since I can wield their strength in my own hands, I know that they're lending their power to help me fight. They want to protect me; protect the others. Don't you think that's what matters most?"
Squall blinked in surprise. For Bartz, even that was a deep answer… The scarred brunette looked away for a moment to consider the mime's words. What Bartz said held some truth, but still…that nagging question bothered him. "…If you did meet them…do you miss them? What if…you didn't get a chance to say good-bye?"
To this, Bartz chuckled a little. Squall refrained from tilting his head in confusion, but he did feel a little miffed that Bartz was laughing at him. Catching Squall's incoming storm, Bartz shook his head and explained himself, "No harm meant. But you know, why say good-bye?"
Bartz only smiled again. "Why say good-bye to people you may or may not have never met? And if we did, why say 'good-bye' when you can say 'Til next time!' or 'See you later!' right?"
"But what if you can't even say that?" Squall rebutted, tightening a fist. He looked away in frustration. "What if you can't say any of that when they're already gone beyond return?"
He only received silence and Squall honestly thought Bartz wouldn't return him with a proper answer. Squall was on the verge to end the conversation when Bartz spoke up, "Then keep them in your memory."
Squall gaped with a surprised expression.
The mime continued, "Maybe we did miss a chance to say good-bye, but that doesn't mean we can't think about those we've lost. We have memories of the times we spent together. We should cherish that instead of dwelling on good-byes. At least…that's how I see it."
Cherish that…instead of dwelling on good-byes…? Squall looked away momentarily just to think. If Laguna was here, surely he would say the same thing? Well…a little less eloquently, but the same none the less. Besides, Laguna was never a man to place blame on anyone for what's happened.
"Hey Squall?" The brunette glanced at the mime, the latter smiling. He bumped a reassuring fist against Squall's shoulder and said, "No matter what happens, just remember that your friends are always with you; past and present."
"Hey!" They both turned to their left, seeing Zidane waving a hand in the air and grinning. He hollered out loudly, "C'mon! Cloud and the others are just up ahead!"
Bartz pumped a fist into the air and exclaimed, "Alright! People! Let's go, Squall!"
"…You go on ahead. I'll walk," Squall replied calmly. Talk about hyperactive. He noticed then a concerned look on Bartz's face and Squall nodded in reassurance, letting a small smirk appear on his lips. "I'll be fine."
Slowly, Bartz began to lighten up again. Running ahead, he waved. "Okay! See you at the front!"
Squall merely shook his head in slight amusement, watching as Bartz and Zidane began racing down the pathway. Honestly, he didn't know what to think of those two, but they were…nice to have around. Squall threw a look up at the bright sky. He stared a little longer just thinking about his newfound memories.
Laguna… That man was something else and Squall had a feeling that his relationship with him was unique; almost as if they were fated to know each other. Squall was curious to exactly what extent their relationship was deemed, but maybe he would find out in time.
"You gotta forget about the stuff you can't change and enjoy the now!" Laguna explained with a cheery grin. He chuckled a little and began to walk off, dismissing a loose hand. "Guess what I mean is, let's try to get along!"
He couldn't help but let himself smile truthfully, feeling the breeze surround him as he closed his eyes. "…I won't forget…what you said."
Maybe he couldn't say good-bye or tell the emerald-eyed man just how much he hated his cheery demeanor. So what? Dwelling on the past really didn't get Squall anywhere. But as he walked forward and remembered he was still on a mission to finish this war, Squall thought maybe…he wouldn't mind seeing Laguna again.
After all, the man did teach him something and that was to live in the now.