Title: Noblesse Oblige
Fandom: Final Fantasy VIII
Beta: Shara Lunison
Chapters: 1 of 19
Pairings: Seifer/Squall, Irvine/Selphie, Zell/Xu, Quistis/OMC, Fujin/Raijin
Warnings: AU, major canon-buggery, OoC Squall, murder, OC drug use, slash/yaoi (onscreen kissing and hugging, off-screen sex), het (all off-screen, but it's definitely there)
Summary: No one thought to warn Squall against touching his younger self, and he leaves a part of himself behind when he returns to Time Compression.
Disclaim Her: This story uses characters and settings owned by Square Enix. No money is being made from the creation of this fanfic, and no copywrite infringement is intended. Some lines may be taken word-for-word from the game.
A/N: So, there I was, replaying FFVIII again – I've been trying to get to the part where you enter Esthar so I can actually read the OCS explanation, rather than just shitting this stuff out my arse – and I was watching the scene in Trabia where they were talking about how they'd all grown up together, you know? And my brain/muse went, 'Hey! What if Squall bequeathed his memories to his child-self!' My response was something along the lines of, 'HOLY FUCKING SHIT, NOT AGAIN.'
Anyway. Dunno what it is about this fandom... Maybe it's just because I hate canon that much. I dunno.
Shara is working on a FFVIII fic and she had me copy out my notes on the main characters' stats for her, which ended up evolving into a discussion of what signs each of them were, then on to how both Harry and Squall are Leos and isn't that funny?
Long story short, I've got this absolutely ancient baby names book that I stole from my mum back in high school and it's got a little blurb about each sign in the back. The info for Leo made mention of noblesse oblige and it sort of stuck with me. Hence the title.
Squall is going to be quite OoC compared to canon, I warn you now. Thing is, in this fic, he woke up to his need for his friends before he'd really learned to push them away. That's not to say he's particularly open or likes to hug random people on the street, but he does allow a bit more emotion and words of encouragement.
On the other hand, this fic is also rather dark. Squall and Seifer kill people. Sometimes in cold-blood. You don't always get all the grizzly details on-screen, but you generally know what they're doing.
Touch of Memory
Squall trudged back towards the orphanage, feeling like the world was coming to an end. It had been three whole months since Sis left – Quisty had been keeping track of the days that passed on the wall of her bedroom and she translated it into weeks and months for him when he asked – and there was still no sign of her. Squall was about to give up on looking for her, but he couldn't help it, really. Maybe, if he kept on, she'd finally come back and be all smiles again. And she'd apologise for making Squall wait.
Maybe she'd have stories to tell, like Selphie always said. But maybe she'd been kidnapped! Like Irvy was always saying. (Zell would start crying when Irvy started talking about the pirates and child-eaters, but Squall was bigger than Zell and didn't cry. At least, not where Seifer could see, because Seifer would be a big meanie about it.) Squall hoped Sis hadn't been kidnapped. Or, if she had been, it was by somebody nice and friendly. And not child-eaters.
He rubbed furiously at his eyes, insisting to himself that they only stung because of the wind and not because he was gonna cry. Big boys like Squall didn't cry. Only babies like Zell cried. That's what Seifer always said, at least.
He caught sight of Matron ahead and felt his eyes prickling again. He hurried towards her, only to find himself bumping into a man he hadn't noticed before. He was seconds from landing on his behind when hands covered in ripped gloves caught him under his elbows and helped him regain his feet.
"Careful," the man murmured, drawing away, but remaining kneeling in front of Squall.
Squall considered the man, surprised out of his own troubles. It wasn't often adults came to the orphanage, especially not adults covered in ick or with such sad eyes. Squall thought the man looked a little familiar, but he wasn't sure why. Maybe he was a relative of one of the other kids? Squall hoped it wasn't any of his friends; he didn't want to lose anyone else.
Matron's gentle hands came down to rest on Squall's shoulders and he looked up at her, reminded of his own plight. "I can't find Sis," he told her. "Am I...alone...?"
Matron brushed her hand through his hair, smiling but not answering. She glanced past Squall towards the man, who had regained his feet. "Do you know where to go back to?" she asked him, and Squall thought that was an odd question. "Do you know how? Will you be alright by yourself?"
The man's eyes lightened somehow, Squall thought, and he did a really weird salute. And then he sort of... faded away.
Squall turned and buried his face in Matron's dress. 'A ghost! Wait 'til I tell Irvy! But not Zell, 'cause he'd cry. Or Seifer. Meanies don't deserve to hear about cool things.'
"Squall?" Matron said.
Squall looked back up at her. "Was that a ghost?" he asked.
Matron smiled. "Something like that," she agreed.
Squall's eyes widened, then he pulled away and ran for the orphanage. "Irvy! Irvy! I just saw something cool!"
Matron sighed and shook her head as the small child vanished into the building. She glanced back at where the older boy had stood moments before and spared a quick prayer that he would get home safe. Then she turned and started back into the orphanage, intending to start dinner; making food always helped her think, and Squall had left her a great deal to think about.
Squall wasn't sure when the changes started, only that they had. One morning, he woke up and he knew how to wield a gunblade and which of the berries that grew in the garden were edible. He knew, without question, that using a Holy spell against a Jelleye – they came onto the orphanage grounds every once in a while – was the best way to take one out, though an Aero or Tornado spell was also good.
A few afternoons later, he realised he could read the cookbook Matron had left out in the kitchen when one of the babies had started to cry down the hall. He spent a good twenty minutes flipping through it and reading over the ingredients before Matron came back and teased him about how looking at pictures of food was just going to make him hungry.
That night, after the other boys had all gone to sleep, Squall hunted down the paper and pencils one of the older boys kept under his bed and snuck out into the playroom to practice writing. He knew how, but he wasn't practised at it and he wanted to learn to do it really, really well before showing anyone else. Once he was set up, however, he realised he didn't know what to write.
A strange memory of a bunch of older people came to him, then. One of the women was saying they should all keep a diary to help remember things.
Squall considered the poised pencil for a minute, then shrugged. 'Why not? But a diary is something a girl keeps, least, that's what Seifer always says. So, uhm... Journal! I'll keep a journal.'
"My name is Squall and I'm four and three quarters. I live in an orphanage in Centra with a whole bunch'a other kids. There's Irvy and Zell and Selphie and Quisty and Seifer. And a bunch of other kids, but they're all older and they don't like playing with 'little kids'. Seifer used to throw rocks at Johnny when he called us that, but then Matron found out and he got in big trouble. So he doesn't throw rocks no more, but he calls them names back. Fritz almost punched him for that a couple weeks ago, but Zell called for Matron and Fritz got in trouble. Seifer was almost, kinda nice to Zell for the whole rest of the day, after that. Guess he didn't wanna get punched.
"Sis left 105 days ago. Quisty says that's about three and a half months, and Quisty's really smart, so I think she must be right. I really miss Sis, but some weird things have been happening, so I haven't been looking for her so much anymore. I was looking, lots and lots, but then I saw a ghost! It was really awesome and not scary at all! Irvy was reeeaaally jealous when I told him, and Selphie wanted to see him too. Quisty kept telling me to stop making things up. I didn't tell Zell, though, 'cause he woulda cried. And Seifer would tease me for it.
"The ghost was super cool, but a few days ago, Seifer dared me to eat a berry out in the garden and Matron always tells us not to, 'cause we don't know if they're good to eat or anything, right? So I was going to turn Seifer down – Irvy got really sick last time he ate one of the berries – but then I realised I knew exactly which ones were ripe and which ones would make me sick. I even knew I was allergic to one of them. I didn't even know I had allergies, and especially not that it was to strawberries and apples. I've never even seen an apple before, but I know I need to avoid them.
"The day after the Berry Incident – which went fine, by the way, and raspberries are tasty – I saw a Jelleye at the far end of the flower field, where they show up every few months or so. They've always scared me in the past, because I can't do anything about them, right? But I knew that I could take them out easy with a Holy spell, could envision myself doing so. Or that an Aero or Tornado would work, too.
"Today, Matron left her cookbook out in the kitchen and I started reading it. I didn't even know I knew some of those words, but I could read them fine. And now I'm writing them fine, even though I've never even managed my name before.
"It's... I'm a little scared, I think. But, at the same time, this all seems so... normal. Like I'm supposed to know how to swing a gunblade around or how to write a two thousand word paper on the differences between potions and Cure magic. I don't know how I learned all this stuff, but... I feel like this is important. Because there's something coming. Something so much more terrifying than a Jelleye in the flower field.
"I'm getting sleepy, Journal. Writing is helping. I can't tell anyone, 'cause I don't wanna worry Matron, so I'll tell you instead. I hope that's okay."
Three pieces of paper later, Squall felt just a little bit lighter, so he snuck back into the room he shared with most of the other boys and put the unused materials back before slipping his used papers under his thin mattress and climbing in to sleep.
"I had another nightmare. The icicle was scary, and so was the empty place, but this time... There was a really scary woman with white hair and mean eyes. She wanted to kill us and I think she would have, but I woke up before I could find out what happened. Irvy said I was whimpering in my sleep, again. Seifer looked like he was gonna tease me, but I left before he could. I don't like Seifer teasing me after my nightmares. They're scary and sometimes I think I might cry, but then I don't.
"Rianna and Knute both got adopted yesterday. I'm glad they ended up together, especially since Matron and Uncle Cid seem so determined to adopt us all out. We were all a bit scared that they'd get separated since, you know, parents don't usually want two big kids, especially with the problems Rianna's got from watching Estharian soldiers burn her village. Seifer and Irvy always wanted to hear her tell the story and she never would. Seifer would call her really mean names, but I think I might understand why she always refused. I don't wanna talk about my nightmares, either. They're scary and they make me sick.
"I'm running out of paper. Maybe I should try the girls' room. But if Matron or Zell catches me in there, I'll be in big trouble. I dunno. It might be a few days before I can write to you again. Be good while I'm gone.
"That only sounded a little retarded."
"Coy got adopted this afternoon. He must have seen me writing to you or something, back when I still had paper, because he left me with a whole notebook to write in. When I asked him why he'd leave me with such a precious thing, he said it's because someone has to show Quisty up. They've been sort of rivals about who's more clever since before I can remember, so I suppose that makes sense. Even if it's still weird to leave a notebook to a kid who's not supposed to know how to write.
"I'm grateful, really I am, but I'm a little worried about who else has seen me. I mean, it's not really a bad thing for me to be practicing my letters, right? But the skill with which I do so is near impossible for an almost-five-year-old. I mean, I don't even understand it, but I'm kind of used to it.
"But I don't want other people to know. They'll ask why and how and I don't know those answers. I don't think I'd want to tell them, even if I had answers. I don't want anyone reading my entries, either. My thoughts are private, not some study into all the things that are wrong with me. And I'm beginning to think there's more wrong with me than my having been raised an orphan or Sis having left.
"I've been dreaming of murder, the past couple weeks, by the way. Not my attempted murder, this time, but the murders I've committed. The first time I killed someone in my sleep, I got really sick and I really wished I still had paper. But I'm kind of used to it, now. Usually I'm just killing monsters, but these past couple weeks, it's been real people. Galbadian soldiers, for the most part, but I had a dream last night that I was in a dream, killing Estharian soldiers. It was really weird.
"It's a bad thing, I think, to be used to dreaming about killing people. I feel like I should be freaking out more, but I'm really just sort of used to it already. It's like... There's this sense that people are supposed to die by my hand. Like I was born to do terrible things and there's no reason to hate myself for these murders.
"Like I said; definitely something wrong with me."
"They're called 'SeeD'. The people in uniform I keep dreaming about? SeeD. They're trained at Garden as mercenaries for hire. Sounds like they were created to fight some Sorceress or another. Or all of them ever. I don't know.
"If I'm reading things right, the dream me is a SeeD. I suppose it explains him always getting into life and death situations. And, well, if he's me, I suppose it explains my own calmness in viewing these dreams. Memories? Visions of the future? What are they? Where are they from? Why am I suddenly dreaming them?
"Selphie's birthday is in a couple weeks. I don't know what to get her. Irvy's been working on some sort of sculpture that he says is a Tonberry, but I think looks more like a giant lump of clay with green spatters of paint. Seifer's drawing her something and Zell's been sorting through his car collection. Quisty's working on some sort of stuffed animal, which she's been hiding under my bed and working on while Irvy or Zell are distracting Selphie.
"But what can I get her? In my dreams, she wanted a Garden Festival, but that's not really possible, here. All I know is fighting. And writing.
"Fighting? Maybe I could make her some nunchakus. Should be interesting, but I've got some metal-working knowledge, after a fashion. Gotta know how to care for any weapon in the field, after all. I should be able to manage some sort of chain and stick setup. Maybe.
"I should go work on that now."
"Do you have to go?" Selphie asked from where she was hugging Irvine's pillow to her chest. The owner of said pillow was sitting just behind her, looking a bit like he'd have enjoyed his own pillow to hug.
"I get parents," Zell replied through silent tears as he packed his meagre things.
'But you lose us,' Squall silently replied as he held his pillow out to Irvine. He'd half expected Seifer to mock Zell for crying, but the oldest boy looked just as upset to see Zell go as the rest of them. He stood with Quistis by the doorway, glaring down at the floor like it had done him some wrong.
Squall had been waiting for this to happen. He had only the vaguest of memories of his days in the orphanage, but he knew he'd start losing his friends one-by-one to adoption as Matron and Cid prepared to abandon the orphanage for Garden and the White SeeD ship. He had the sense that, after Ellone's disappearance, Zell leaving ended up being the straw that broke the other Squall's back, turning him into a sullen introvert who pushed away all friendly overtures until a group of people he'd once called family and a particularly pretty young woman all pushed back hard enough to break his walls.
'I don't want to be that person again,' Squall thought, heart in his throat as he watched Zell shove the last of his cars in one of the bags the Dinchts had provided him with. 'I don't want to be lonely and bitter like he was. I want to keep my friends, even though we'll be apart for a few years. I don't want Irvy to be the only one to remember us twelve years from now. But the GFs...'
Zell was starting to drag his things towards the door of the room, leaving behind an empty bed, when Squall got an idea: 'Matron's camera! We'll take pictures!' He jumped over his bed and rushed out the door ahead of Zell, calling, "You can't leave yet!"
"Squall!" Quistis shouted, disapproving.
Squall skidded to a stop in front of the bookcase Matron kept the camera on. It was out of his reach, short as he was, but he was also determined and unusually resourceful for a five-year-old. He was working on pulling a chair over from the nearest table when Seifer appeared in the doorway, scowling. "What are you doing, Squally?" he demanded, that old bratty tone in his voice that had made many an older orphan consider socking him.
Squall sighed. "We're going to take pictures," he informed his future-past rival, still tugging on the chair.
Seifer frowned, scowl vanishing behind his confusion. "Take pictures? Of what? And we're not supposed to touch Matron's camera."
"Since when have you cared about what we are and aren't supposed to do?" Squall asked drily as he managed to get the chair into position. He clambered up onto it and stretched towards the camera, only to find he was still a few centimetres short. "Oh, damn it."
"You're gonna get your mouth washed out," Seifer commented as he jumped up onto the chair next to Squall and pulled down the camera. "You better hope Matron doesn't see you with this," he added as he handed it over.
Squall shot him a bright smile and jumped down, carefully cradling the camera against his chest so it didn't come to harm. "I don't think she'll mind," he said as he started from the room, leaving the chair where it was.
"Wait, you're actually going to let Matron see you with her camera?" Seifer demanded, jogging to catch up to the younger boy. "Do you have a death wish?"
Squall considered that for a moment, head cocked to one side, then replied, "No, not a death wish. I think I might be a bit of a closet masochist, though."
"Masochist. Not much of a closeted one, I suppose, since I just told you." Squall shrugged and hurried a bit as Seifer gave him a confused look. "Come on, Seifer! Picture! We have to get there before Zell leaves!"
"Why?" Seifer snapped, deciding to leave the question of what a 'masochist' was for later. Sometimes, Squall said the weirdest things.
"Because photographs last longer than memories, and I don't want to forget you lot again," Squall said with a quiet sort of sincerity that left Seifer unable to ask what he'd meant by 'again'.
"Squall! What are you doing with that?" Matron shouted when she caught sight of the precious bundle in the boy's hands.
Squall gave her a hopeful look. "I wanted to take a picture," he said quietly. "Six of them, one for each of us."
Matron's eyes widened with understanding, but Irvine despondently asked, "Who cares about some picture? Zell's still leaving."
"Yes, but this way, no matter how much time passes, we'll always remember each other, so when we meet again we can pick right back up," Squall replied as he held the camera out to their guardian.
Selphie perked up a bit at that from where she was hugging Zell's arm. "You really think we'll meet again some day, Squally?" she asked hopefully.
Squall nodded with all the conviction of a five-year-old – or a boy with memories of a possible future – and said, "I'm certain of it."
Matron ran a hand through Squall's hair, smiling. "Okay, then. All six of you, gather around. Come on."
"What if we lose the picture?" Seifer wondered, something in his eyes suggesting he would happily do so.
"Little boys who can't keep track of important things shouldn't have them," Quistis informed him with a proper tone.
"I'll remind you," Squall told him as he took the open place at the taller boy's elbow.
Seifer scowled down at Squall just as the shutter clicked and Matron laughed before shooting successive shots, until there were seven instant photos developing on the picnic table she'd been standing next to, one for each child and one for her.
"All right, everyone picks one," Matron told them as the kids all hovered around the table. "Squall, since it was your idea, you can pick first."
Squall looked the photos over, amused by Seifer's scowl, Quistis' prim smile and the way Selphie was curled fondly around both Zell and Irvine's arms. Then he got a good look at the first photo and the shot of himself. The way the wind had tossed his hair, he finally recognised why the ghost had looked so familiar. 'That was me,' he thought, picking up the photo and staring at himself, only partially aware of the others snatching up their own copies around him. 'Did he die? Is that how...?'
"Squall?" Zell said quietly, interrupting Squall's line of thought and he looked up into watery blue eyes. Zell offered him a smile. "Thanks." He held up his photo to show what he meant.
Squall nodded and pulled the younger boy into a hug. "I think you should pick up martial arts," he murmured into Zell's ear.
Zell pulled back, looking confused. "Huh? Why?"
Squall's eyes danced with an evil humour. "So next time you see Seifer, you can punch him in the nose."
Zell's eyes widened, then he grinned. "Oh, yeah. That would be awesome."
"Good luck, Zell. I'm sure the Dinchts will be great parents."
Zell nodded. "I hope so." His expression fell a bit, then, and he whispered, "Hey, Squall?"
Squall cocked his head to one side. "Yeah?"
"Promise...promise you won't forget me?" Zell pleaded, all the innocence of his sheltered childhood colouring his voice.
Squall swallowed against his heart, which had jumped to his throat. "Never," he swore, silently promising himself to write a long entry in his journal that night that was dedicated to Zell.
The others finished their goodbyes, even Seifer offering a polite handshake, and Zell left with the Dinchts on the boat they'd come down in.
They were just heading back into the orphanage when Seifer asked, "Matron, what's a 'masochist'?"
Squall's eyes widened in disbelief and he sped up just the slightest bit, resisting the urge to giggle. 'I cannot believe he just asked that.'
"A mas–! Where did you hear such language? Do I need to wash your mouth out, Seifer?" Matron snapped.
Squall ducked into the orphanage and booked it to hide under a bed before Matron could find out he'd said such a naughty word around Seifer. Maybe she'd forget if he hid for a couple hours...
"What're you doing?" Seifer asked, dropping into the chair across from Squall.
Squall slammed his notebook shut and gave the other boy a disgusted look. "You should be in bed."
"Huh. Imagine that." Seifer leaned back in the child-sized chair. "Who taught you to write, anyway? Every time I ever asked one of the older kids, I got turned down."
"Probably because you're a jerk," Squall muttered under his breath before raising his voice enough so that Seifer could hear and saying, "I taught myself."
"Sure you did."
Squall rolled his eyes and opened his journal again, deciding it hardly mattered if Seifer saw his writing, since it wouldn't make sense to the older boy. "Go back to bed, Seifer."
Seifer dropped back forward on the chair and shook his head. "Can't. Lonny and Damon are having a snoring contest and Gideon's apologising to his mom for surviving. Again."
Squall sighed. 'We are all so very fucked up, aren't we?' he wondered with a touch of bitterness. "So go sleep in the girls' room; it's not like Quisty's using her bed."
"Selphie'll probably go next," Seifer replied, a touch of pain in his voice as he looked down at his hands, then across to Squall's notebook, filled with squiggles. Seifer recognised a few here or there from the reading lessons Quistis had been giving him for the past few months, before Zell or she had been adopted. It irritated him that Squall was clearly so much better at reading and writing, but the only way to solve that would be to get the younger boy to teach him until Seifer caught up. Assuming Seifer's pride would let him ask for help – and it would require asking, because Squall followed orders about as readily as Seifer did.
Squall watched Seifer as the older boy scanned the writing. Occasionally green eyes would light with knowledge at a word and Squall had a faint memory of Seifer already knowing how to read when they first got to Garden. (His writing, on the other hand, had always been abominable.)
Curious, Squall scrawled Seifer's name at the top of the page and smirked faintly at the narrow-eyed look the blond shot him. "Why are you writing my name, Squally?" he wondered in a sharply pleasant voice.
"Working on a theory," Squall allowed. "About how much can you read? One of the kids books on the shelf–" he nodded towards the shelves where all the easy-to-read books were kept, "–or a bit more than that?"
Seifer scowled and leaned back in his chair again. "Whatever Quisty had on hand."
Squall sighed, knowing Quistis' fondness for instruction manuals – she'd known how to read for a couple years yet, though she didn't always understand the words – and figured that Seifer could probably manage a couple of the kids books, but he might get tripped up over some words. Trust their resident genius to use high-level books to teach someone how to read.
Seifer shifted on the back legs of his chair, then ground out, "Will you teach me? To read and write?"
Squall blinked in surprise. "Huh? Sure."
Seifer's chair fell backwards and he let out a startled sound, more surprised than hurt, when he hit the floor.
Squall raised an eyebrow at him when Seifer righted the chair. "There's a reason Matron always yells at you for doing that, you know."
"Shut up, Squally." Seifer huffed a bit and sat back down. "You'll really teach me, though?"
Squall shrugged. "Yeah?" So what if they were future-past rivals and violent enemies? Squall didn't believe in withholding basic knowledge because of something someone hadn't yet done.
Seifer narrowed his eyes. "Without demanding anything in return?"
Squall snorted. "What could you offer me that I couldn't get myself?"
"I could trade the promise that I wouldn't pick on you anymore."
"Seifer, in case you hadn't noticed, I'm not actually scared of you. Or bothered by you, for that matter." Squall shot him a faint smile.
Seifer frowned at that, because Squall had a point. Before Sis Elle left, Squall had always been too hung up on her to pay much attention to Seifer. It had been easier to get a rise out of Squall after Elle left, even with him avoiding everyone, but then Matron and Uncle Cid had started adopting out more kids and Squall had become more... mellow, almost. He didn't wear that same adoring look he'd always worn around Elle, but nor was he that sullen boy who'd spent his days hunting for their missing foster sister. He wasn't as bright and cheerful as Selphie or Zell or Irvine, or as bossy as Quistis, or even as extroverted and rude as Seifer. He was just sort of quiet smiles and occasional bursts of excited energy. They'd become used to the change, just as they'd become used to the sullen Squall and no one had taken much note of it... Honestly, Seifer had just been glad that Squall had stopped trying to ignore him all the time.
"I'll teach you in the evenings, after everyone's gone to bed," Squall offered, flipping to the back of his notebook and beginning to trace out the letters of the alphabet. He, honestly, had no idea how to teach someone to read and write, but at least this should improve Seifer's penmanship. Maybe.
"Why after everyone's gone to bed?" Seifer asked, watching the brunet's steady motions over the page.
"Because I don't feel like teaching you during the day."
Seifer huffed. "You're hiding your abilities," he accused. "Afraid Irvy will ask you for lessons next?"
Squall shrugged, having no good reason for hiding his impossible talents other than the simple reason that others would wonder. Seifer had grown up with Quistis, so he didn't understand how unusual it was for someone not quite six to be able to write and read as well as Squall could. He was probably better than Quistis, honestly, not that she was around to compare it to anymore.
Finished tracing the letters, he ripped out the paper and another one under it before sliding both across the desk with an extra pencil. "Trace and copy those."
"Is there a point to this?" Seifer muttered as he dropped his chair back down to four legs and bowed over the papers.
"Making your handwriting legible," Squall retorted. "I can't judge how well you're learning if I can't read anything." He flipped back to his open journal entry to finish what he'd been writing while Seifer traced and copied for a couple hours.
"Squall!" Seifer called, walking along the beach. Matron had sent him to hunt down the missing brunet, apparently thinking that Seifer would actually be able to find the younger boy. Seifer wasn't sure what she'd been thinking, since he had no clue where his nightly tutor vanished to between breakfast and lunch. "Squall! Where are you?"
After another minute or two of walking, Seifer caught sight of someone moving in the distance. Since Squall was the only kid unaccounted for, it was almost certainly him, and Seifer sped up a bit, desperate to get back to the orphanage before the couple who'd come could pick someone else or leave empty-handed.
He was just about to shout out Squall's name when he saw the flash of metal in the younger boy's hands and Squall suddenly went into a brilliant dance, a dull pipe flashing silver against the blue horizon as it swung through the air, each movement as controlled and easy as the way Squall scratched word after word into his personal notebook during their evenings together. Seifer couldn't help but stare, awed by the simple beauty of Squall's solitary movements.
As Squall slowed to a rest, Seifer gave himself a moment to wonder about the brunet's strange ways before calling out, "Squall!"
Squall spun on the spot, his pipe coming up to a ready position before he recognised the young voice and lowered it. He allowed a moment of irritation – he'd moved so far from the orphanage in hopes that no one would bother hunting him down – then calmly replied, "Seifer. What brings you all the way out here?"
"There are some possible parents at the orphanage," Seifer replied, eyeing the pipe curiously. "You write and read, you use words that throw Matron into an absolute fit, and now you practice fighting on the beach. Squall, what are you?"
Squall snorted. "I'm a boy," he informed Seifer, sliding the pipe back into the hole between a couple rocks where he usually left it. "Come on, before Matron sends someone else."
Seifer fell into step with the younger boy and remained silent for a long while before asking, "Why?"
Squall glanced towards him, then looked back towards the orphanage roof coming into view over the rise. "Can you feel the change in the air?" he wondered quietly. "First Sis leaves, now they're trying to adopt out the rest of us. Uncle Cid's never around anymore and Matron is always distracted."
Seifer stopped, holding out a hand to grab Squall's arm. "What are you saying?" he asked, fear colouring his voice.
Squall shrugged. "I think it might be a good time to learn some self-sufficiency." At Seifer's blank look, he explained, "How to take care of ourselves."
Seifer huffed. "Matron wouldn't throw us out to the monsters," he stated as he started walking again.
"No, she wouldn't," Squall agreed. 'Though Garden's not much better for a couple kids.'
"Because I'm a masochist," Squall retorted.
Seifer shot him a disgusted look, torn between wanting to know what the word meant and some fear at a word that literally sent Matron into a tizzy trying to find Squall to clean his mouth out. It had taken her three hours to find him and Squall had whined about tasting soap suds for almost a week. "Matron's gonna scrub your mouth out again."
They made it back to the orphanage in time to meet the adults, but they'd already picked an orphan: Selphie.
"It won't be so bad, Sefie," Irvine was saying as Squall and Seifer reached the girls' room. "We'll see each other again."
"Of course we will," Squall chimed in.
"You promise?" Selphie asked, looking up hopefully from where she was packing the last of her bags.
"Cross my heart," Squall swore, making an 'X' over his heart with his right index finger.
Selphie smiled and mirrored the action, then returned to her packing, much cheered.
"You almost missed saying goodbye," Irvine quietly chastised them.
"I was failing at skipping rocks down the beach," Squall said with a straight face, ignoring the sharp look Seifer shot him. "It took Seifer a while to find me. Guess I wandered a bit far..." He offered a helpless smile.
"You're a little special sometimes, Squally," Irvine said with a fond smile. "You can't skip rocks in the ocean."
"But if you found a still bit–"
"Okay!" Selphie called, ending the familiar argument between the brunets. "I'm ready. You three are helping me carry my things!" She dropped two bags at their feet.
Seifer and Irvine both took a bag, leaving Squall to escort the girl out of the orphanage. "You'll be fine," he murmured to her with the memories of a bright girl in a yellow dress playing in his mind's eye. "You'll love every moment away, I'm sure."
Selphie looked away. "But you guys won't be there."
Squall shook his head and squeezed her hand. "Not in body, but we'll be there in spirit. And you'll see us again."
Selphie smiled a bit sadly. "I wish I had your certainty, Squally."
"I guess you'll just have to trust me, then."
"I think I can do that," Selphie decided, her smile brighter.
Selphie was handed over to the Tilmitts and the three boys stood back to wave as the boat started away.
"And then," Squall whispered under the cover of the wind, "there were three..."
Some time mid-July, Seifer talked Squall into letting him join him on the beach. Irvine followed them out of curiosity sometimes, but he didn't much care for swordplay, so he'd go back and play by himself in the orphanage. There were a couple older kids still there, but none of them had any interest in playing with the quiet boy. Squall made certain that they spent all their time after lunch playing whatever Irvine wanted, no matter how much Seifer whined, and that seemed to make up for the mornings spent swinging wooden sticks at each other – Squall had hunted wooden ones down as soon as Seifer insisted he join because he didn't trust the older boy with metal quite yet.
Two and a half weeks before Squall's sixth birthday, Irvine was adopted by a stern-faced man in Galbadian uniform. Squall had wanted to refuse, to keep his friend around for just a couple more weeks, but he couldn't deny Irvine the chance for a family and he'd waved the younger boy off with the same friendly smile and assurances that they'd meet again that he'd given to all the others over the past year.
Without Irvine around, Squall stepped up his training, going far beyond Seifer's limited endurance and walking the thin line of exhaustion himself. Nights were spent teaching Seifer how to read and write and Squall patted himself on the back for the improvements to the blond's handwriting. Before finally falling asleep, Squall would pull out his photo of all of them and remember them as they were, then envision them as they would be. He had only his memories of their future faces and he was determined that he'd never forget them anymore than he'd forget that photo of them as children. Before war and the training of murderers darkened their eyes and hardened their hearts.
When Cid came in February to pick up the left over orphans for Garden, Squall almost felt ready to face his destiny.
A/N: I have a terrible time judging how childish kids should be at what age. Hopefully they're not too far off, though I know Squall's probably coming across as too mature. Edea's been a bit too busy to notice the change, and anything she did notice, she brushed off as a part of his destiny.
I know 'masochist' isn't really a 'bad word', but it was fun to give Edea a word to freak out about, and the sexual connotations don't really make it a kid-friendly word.
The scene where Seifer catches Squall on the beach was originally going to be way darker, but then I realised it was showing too much of Squall's hand too early and rewrote the whole scene. Which is sad, 'cause I kinda liked Squall sitting on Seifer and threatening to leave him to the monstrous fishys. XD
Next chapter should cover their time at Garden, including the re-introduction of Quistis and Zell, as well as the entrance of Fujin and Raijin. Chapter three should start canon, but I make no promises, since I might need more room for chapter two's stuff. We'll see how much self-writing the characters do. ^.^"
(Oh, so, having finally got to it, the OCS explanation isn't much of an explanation, though it's kinda pretty. And switching party members around to see what they might say different was kinda amusing... I wrote it down, for anyone who is interested in knowing, without worrying about playing up to that specific spot themselves.)
P.S. This fic is, ah, FINISHED. Again. Erm. Posting twice a week: Tuesdays and Saturdays. The last chapter will be up on January 24th, for your planning purposes. XD
Next Chapter: No One Here to Save