Author's notes: This is a companion to Antique Weapons. You don't have to read the first one to understand this installment, but it wouldn't hurt! Like AW, this is set four years post game. Enjoy! –B
"You want a beer?"
"Laguna, it's only eleven in the morning."
Scratching the back of his neck, Laguna grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess it's a little early for that. Lunch then?"
"Sounds good." Squall followed his father out of the secret weapons room into the sprawling den. The two men had spent over an hour in and among the collection. Squall had been amazed at the massiveness of the whole lot. The two of them shared stories about similarities in their collections, bickered over the proper storage of a Trabian hand grenade, and Laguna had even received an invitation to view Squall's collection, which pleasantly surprised him.
They made their way to Laguna's spacious and suspiciously clean kitchen. "You even use this thing?" Squall asked. "It seems awfully tidy."
Laguna whistled in avoidance and shrugged. That was all the answer Squall needed. Plunging his head into the freezer, Laguna rooted around for something suitable. "Uh, all I got is frozen pizza. That ok?"
Squall shook his head and chuckled quietly. "Sure, as long as there's no green peppers. I hate them."
Emerging from the icebox with pizza in hand, Laguna couldn't help but smile. "Well, what do you know? That's another thing we have in common. I can't stand 'em either."
The president haphazardly tossed the pizza into the oven and set the temperature. "It'll be about thirty minutes. You wanna go into the living room?"
Squall shrugged his shoulders and followed Laguna. The two men sat and were consumed by an awkward silence, not unlike earlier in the morning when Squall had first arrived. Laguna finally spoke up. "Well, I got to ask you tons of questions. Now it's your turn. Fire away!"
Squall thought for a moment. "Do I have grandparents?"
Laguna was surprised by such a personal question being asked of him right off the bat, but he cherished the fact that he was able to answer it. "You've got a grandmother. My dad passed away years ago, even before you were born. Car accident."
"Don't be. It was a long time ago. You two would have butted heads anyway; he never liked soldiers or mercenaries. You should have heard him scream when I joined the army. I thought he was going to blow a gasket."
Squall leaned back into the comfy plush chair. "You said I have a grandmother. I…I'd like to meet her sometime." Squall's awkward tone gave away his discomfort. He knew showing emotion and an interest in people was not easy for his son.
"She's great," Laguna beamed. "We have the same personality!" Squall rolled his eyes and put a hand over his face. "Hey! I'm not that bad!" Laguna whined. "Anyway, she's going to be eighty this year…eighty! She loves to garden, cook, and…"Laguna smiled with pride. "…and she loves to brag about her grandson, 'the hero'."
A bit embarrassed, Squall chuckled nervously. "Any aunts or uncles?"
"Nope. I'm an only child. I guess my parents stopped at perfection."
"Or they were too exhausted to have another one," Squall thought.
"Anything else you want to ask me?" Laguna hoped.
Searching his brain for another question, but not able to come up with a better one, Squall finally said, "You said you got shot once. Where?"
"Oh man, anything but that embarrassing story," Laguna mused, inwardly.
"Well, it's not a very interesting story, "Laguna admitted, with a touch of discomfort in his voice. He hoped Squall wouldn't be interested.
Squall jumped at his father's uncomfortableness and pleaded, "I answered all of your questions. It's only fair that you answer mine." Laguna caught the wicked grin on his son's face, relishing in his father's obvious embarrassment.
"I don't come off very brave in it…"
"Spill it, old man."
Laguna sighed and put his feet up on the coffee table. "Okay, so it was about twenty-five years ago, way before I met your mother…"
XxX XxX XxX XxX XxX
"Laguna, stop being such a baby and let me see. You need medical attention."
Kiros stood over him, with Ward hulking right beside. Laguna lay at both men's feet, moaning and clutching his left bicep. The three had just barely made it out of a battlefield firefight and had taken refuge in an abandoned farmhouse cellar on the Western Galbadian front.
"It really hurts, Kiros," whimpered Laguna, trying to sit himself up without any assistance. He failed miserably, making the two soldiers worry about their friend's lack of strength. Kiros grabbed him under one arm and Ward under the other and they gently lifted him their comrade into a seated position.
Dusk was falling and it was becoming increasingly difficult to see. What little light was streaming in through the basement windows was fading moment by moment as the sun set. Ward took a small flashlight from his pack and shone it on Kiros' hands, which were busy trying to remove Laguna's upper body armor and shirt. He was concerned at the amount of blood that was staining his undershirt. Laguna just sat there; face pale and wincing in pain as his shirt was pulled over his head.
"How bad is it, Kiros?" Ward questioned.
His blade-wielding partner studied Laguna's bloody arm, He scrutinized every inch of it, wiping with a sterile cloth from the medical kit. He abruptly stopped when he reached the top of his bicep.
With a shake of his head and a sigh, he put the cloth down on his leg. "Really, Laguna?"
Laguna opened his eyes and looked down at his arm. "Am I dyin' Kiros? Give it to me straight."
Kiros motioned to Laguna's arm for Ward to inspect closer. "Oh man, we're never gonna let you live this one down," the giant soldier declared.
"What? Oh geez, you're not going to have to amputate, are you?" Laguna began to panic.
Kiros retrieved a small gauze bandage roll and tape from the kit, along with some antiseptic spray. He spritzed it on Laguna's wound without saying a word. Laguna hissed in pain.
"Why are you guys so quiet? Oh Hyne, I'm not gonna make it, am I?"
Kiros and Ward both just looked at each other, dumbfounded. "Well Zabac, are you going to tell him or should I?"
Laguna's eyes widened with fear as he clutched his leg, which had started to cramp, with his good arm. "Oh no! Tell my mom I love her…and that I'm sorry I never got around to fixing her lawnmower!"
The two watched Laguna blubber for a moment before Ward interrupted. "You're not dying, Laguna. In fact, you didn't even get shot. The bullet just grazed you."
"Wh-what? That's impossible! My arm feels like it's going to fall off!"
"That's because you're a wuss," Kiros declared as he taped the bandage in place. "Such a drama queen…"
XxX XxX XxX XxX XxX
"It didn't even leave a scar," Laguna pouted. "Unless you count the one on my ego."
Squall sat silently for a moment before bursting into a hysterical fit of laughter, even going so far as to point at Laguna for emphasis.
"Yeah, yeah…laugh it up, buster."
Wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes, Squall calmed down. "Man, I never pegged you to be such a Nancy!"
"Hey, it really hurt! And for a graze wound, I bled like a stuck pig! I thought I was going to die."
"I bet Kiros and Ward still pick on you for that performance," Squall chuckled.
Laguna rolled his eyes. "Oh yeah, that along with many other embarrassing stories that I'm sure they'd love to regale you with."
Laguna rose and asked, "You want a soda or something?"
"Sure, you got cola?"
"Mmmm-hmmm," Laguna answered. He entered his kitchen, addressing his son as he fetched the two drinks. "So, I bared my soul about my hideously humiliating situation, now it's your turn."
He returned to the living room, handing his son a can of soda. "My turn? For what?"
"I told you about my gunshot wound…or lack thereof. You said you had been shot twice. Where'd you get hit?"
Squall savored the cool, bubbly drink for a moment. "Well, I was hit in the shoulder during a training exercise a few years back, by a cadet with really bad aim. That one was through-and-through. They never even found the bullet."
Laguna noted how Squall's normally serious expression turned even more somber before he continued. "The other one was on a SeeD mission. I was shot in the abdomen."
"And what? You want to see the scar, or something?" Squall asked sarcastically.
"Sure!" Laguna said, perhaps with a little too much enthusiasm.
"Seriously?" Laguna nodded while sipping his soda.
"Whatever," Squall sighed. He rose from his chair and lifted his shirt halfway, revealing a puckered bullet scar along with a jagged line radiating out on one side, about an inch long, on his lower left abdomen.
"That small one's too jagged to be surgical," Laguna commented as Squall lowered his shirt and sat once again.
"That's because it's not."
Laguna knew exactly what that answer meant. In a husky tone he solemnly asked, "A field extraction?"
Squall nodded. "It was either that or bleed out in a back alley in Dollet."
Laguna clasped his hands tightly together in his lap. "You're braver than I ever was."
Squall snorted and took a drink of cola. "It's not bravery. It's will to live. I didn't want to die there."
"You do it yourself?" Another nod came from his son. "Wow. What happened?"
Squall blew a lock of hair from in front of his eyes. "It was two years ago. I was tracking an informant and things got ugly…"
XxX XxX XxX XxX XxX
Squall stumbled down the alley, the tip of his gunblade dragging along the cobblestones. He could feel the strength leaving his body with every beat of his heart, as it pumped more of his lifeblood out onto the ground. The wound in his gut was spewing blood, and he knew he didn't have much time left in which to act.
Tripping over his own feet, he fell forward, scraping his head against the side of a building. His vision blurred as he tried to focus. He fell to his knees, unable to go any further. His breaths were labored—from running away from his attackers and from the ongoing blood loss.
He positioned himself with his back against the wall, legs stretched out in front of him. He knew it was now or never. If the bullet was still in his body, it had to come out. He took off his jacket and lifted the hem of his shirt. The oozing wound stared up at him. He felt around to his back, hoping to find an exit wound. He scowled when his fingers found no such thing. He turned his attention to the hole in his stomach. His vision was becoming cloudy and he knew he had to work fast.
Taking a small flashlight from his pack, he held it in his mouth and shined it on his belly, illuminating the affected area. Pulling the sides of the wound slightly apart, he observed the butt end of the bullet lodged about a half inch into his body. The intense wave of pain accompanying his actions make his head swim. He realized the bullet was too far inside to simply grasp with his fingers. His only chance for survival was to make an incision radiating out from the wound so he could grasp the projectile with a tweezers from his med kit.
Squall closed his eyes for a moment as a wave of nausea washed over him. When it ceased, he detached his combat knife from his belt. He knew it wasn't the most sterile instrument on the planet, but he had nothing to disinfect it with. He removed the knife from its sheath. He realized he would have to quiet himself somehow during the procedure, otherwise his pursuers might find him. He looked down at the leather sheath, understanding it was his best option. He positioned the flashlight on a sack on top of some boxes next to him and pointed it down towards his abdomen. He balanced the tweezers on his knee, readying it for use. Squall then placed the sheath in his mouth lengthwise and bit down once, to see if it would withstand his bite force. Satisfied that it would, he closed his eyes in meditation for just a few seconds, to ready himself for what was to come.
He placed the tip of the knife just inside the bullet hole and without any hesitation, sliced through his own flesh. He moaned in anguish while biting down on the knife sheath. He willed himself to keep going, even though tears were beginning to sting his eyes. He cut a line about an inch long with shaking hands, making the incision uneven. When he was satisfied that it was big enough, he retracted the blade and sat panting for a moment to compose himself. He had never felt pain like this before, and the fact that it was at his own hand made him queasy. Blood was pouring from both the new and old wound at an alarming rate. Squall knew he only had minutes before he lost consciousness.
Using the knife edge as a retractor, he tugged the new cut open, exposing the projectile. His breathing was ragged and he didn't know how much longer he could go without screaming. With the tweezers, he attempted to grasp the bullet. The blood on his hands made his grip on the tweezers difficult, and it squirted out of his hand. Moaning against the sheath between his teeth, his hands beginning to fumble, he grabbed the instrument and jammed it into his wound, making stars appear in front of his eyes. Hoping this try would produce results, he dug around until he could feel a solid object in-between the blades of the tweezers. He squeezed them shut and extracted the bullet, banging his head back against the wall the entire time. He hoped that no one had heard his muffled cries.
He studied the piece with blurring vision, noting that it was a 9mm round. He dropped it into his pack, as it could be used as evidence.
His chest was heaving now with every labored breath and he was starting to feel feverish. Squall knew that he would have to stop the bleeding or he would perish. Bleeding to death was not an option for the stubborn Commander.
He clapped his right hand over his wound and applied as much pressure as he could in his increasingly weakening state. Using his free left hand, he rooted around in his pack, finally producing a lighter. Relinquishing his grip on his wound, he transferred the knife to his left hand. He fumbled the lighter with numb fingers, noting that his grip was faltering. The blood on his hand was gooey, and it took him three tries to get the lighter to function. He held the flame to the tip of the knife, and watched as the fire made the blade red-hot.
Squall knew from survival training that he needed to cauterize his wound if he wanted to survive long enough to get proper medical attention. He realized that it wouldn't stop the bleeding entirely, but it would probably give him a fighting chance.
When he was satisfied that the scorching blade would do its job, he removed it from the flame and dropped the lighter at his side. He inhaled as deep as he could and, with trembling hands, inserted the knife tip into the hole, moving it every second to another side, effectively sealing off the leaking blood vessels. He sobbed as he worked, as the pain was almost too much for him to cope with. He bit down so hard on the sheath that he felt one of his teeth chip. After a minute of cauterizing, the stench of his own singing flesh got the better of him and he had to stop. He removed the quickly-cooling blade and inspected his work. The bleeding seemed to have slowed down but had not abated. He would just have to make do until he got to his rendezvous—he was not going through that torture again. He spit the knife sheath out on to his lap and tasted blood. A small decorative brad on the accessory had cut his lip.
He sat for a moment, with his hand protecting his exposed wound. He fought off nausea and blurring vision. After what seemed like an eternity, but in all actuality had only been two minutes, he took a gauze pad and some tape from his med kit and dressed his still-oozing wound. He pulled his shirt down when he finished and patted his hand over the bandage underneath through the garment.
Not bothering to clean the knife, he returned it to its holder, which was now adorned with deep teeth marks. He didn't think he'd ever be able to use it again anyway, not after what he had to do with it. He leaned his head back against the rough bricks and closed his eyes. His heaving breaths began to subside, but the pain was still intense. With eyes still shut, he fumbled around at his side, searching for his canteen. He took a gulp of the warm, stale water. Replacing at his side after drinking, he looked at his watch, and realized he only had thirty minutes to get to his rendezvous on the other side of the city. He packed his supplies back up and took a cleansing breath. Using his gunblade as a makeshift cane, he hoisted himself up with a grunt and a hiss of pain. He steadied himself with one hand against the building he had been sitting against moments before. He checked to see if his bandages had shifted when he rose, and when he was satisfied that they hadn't, he limped down the alley and disappeared into the darkness…"
XxX XxX XxX XxX XxX
"…I made it to my rendezvous with only minutes to spare."
Laguna was unaware that his hand had migrated to cover his mouth in shock and removed it before speaking. "Would they really have left without you? I mean, you're their Commander."
Squall finished his soda. "Commander or not, if you miss a meet-up, you get left behind. I know it's extreme, but you were a soldier. You understand that you can't risk countless lives…"
"…to save one." Laguna finished his son's sentence with a grave tone. The president knew the seriousness of that type of policy, and had indeed witnessed it firsthand on many occasions during his stint in the army. He internally sighed in relief, thanking Hyne that Squall had been able to save his own life.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Laguna inquired, his voice shaking slightly.
Squall sighed. "We weren't exactly close back then. Besides, I survived. Why scare you unnecessarily?"
Laguna understood where Squall was coming from, but a part of him still felt left out. "Promise me if something like this ever happens again, you'll tell me, okay?"
"You got it."
Laguna smiled and added, "But let's just make sure it never has a chance to happen again!" The two then sat in silence for a minute, as Laguna drained the rest of his beverage. A mischievous grin spread across his face and he released a giant belch.
"That's disgusting. You're just as bad as Zell." Something then caught Squall's attention out of the corner of his eye. "Umm, Dad?"
Laguna burped once again. "Yeah?"
"Did you set a timer for the pizza?"
Laguna looked down at his wrist where his watch should have been, only to find is missing. "Huh. No, I guess not."
"That would explain the smoke coming from the kitchen," Squall calmly commented.
"Holy crap!" Laguna screamed, and ran into the kitchen, wafting smoke away with his hands. Squall just sat in his chair, pulling at the pop-top on his can until it snapped off. He turned his attention to the kitchen door as Laguna emerged, holding a completely scorched pizza with oven mitts. He forced a smile before slouching his shoulders in defeat. "You just want to go somewhere for lunch?"
Squall stood. "Yeah, I could use that beer now."
Laguna tossed the burnt husk that used to be their lunch into a wastebasket. "You and me both, kid."