It was a crisp, clear morning as the sun rose over Balamb Garden. A few of the students and SeeDs were already wandering in the hallways, but most of them were still in their dorm rooms. As a result, there was an aura of quiet surrounding the place that would only gradually morph into the normal, bustling energy once the students and staff had had a chance to visit the cafeteria and prepare to start their daily routines.
One SeeD, however, had not started his day or even stirred from his bed, despite all his best efforts: the commander of Balamb Garden, Squall Leonhart.
His problem had started innocuously enough. A week ago, Squall noticed that he had been feeling a little more tired than usual, but he chalked that up to the last couple of grueling missions and having to spend so many nights dealing with piles of paperwork afterwards. Then there had been a brief mission where he had had to deal with a particularly powerful Behemoth that had invaded a park in Timber. It had only lasted one day, and he had had plenty of support from his teammates, but still Squall felt strangely spent and weak afterwards. This weakness continued to increase and last night he finally gave in to Rinoa and his friends and went to see Doctor Kadowaki about it.
“Sorry Squall, it looks like you have Cerulean fever,” she had told him. “Right now, it doesn’t look too serious, but it’s better to be cautious. You’ll need to stay here at Garden and rest until it’s out of your system.”
Squall was irritated at her diagnosis and tried to insist that he had too much to do to just lie around and do nothing until his illness went away, but Kadowaki sent a report to Cid and Edea, causing them to intervene as well.
“We know it’s frustrating,” Cid had told him. “But it’s for your own good and for the good of Garden that we keep you here until this passes. Besides, we can’t afford to send out a sick SeeD on a mission. What if you were to collapse while on the job? You would be subjecting yourself and your comrades to unnecessary risks.”
“Everyone at Garden needs you to be healthy and strong in order to lead them, Squall,” Edea said. “So please, try to understand why we must insist that you stay here until you are well.”
Squall had not been happy with it, but he reluctantly agreed with their request and tried to use this time when he was confined to Garden to catch up on administrative errands. At first, he was able to work as quickly and efficiently as could be expected with bureaucratic chores, and he thought that perhaps Kadowaki had exaggerated her diagnosis. With each passing day, however, he found it harder and harder to get out of bed let alone try to do office work, leading to this morning when he couldn’t even contemplate moving.
Eventually, Squall had to face the fact that he had been trying to avoid for a week: that he truly was very sick.
A couple hours later, Kadowaki stopped by Squall’s room to examine him at Cid’s request after Squall did not check in as usual with him and Edea. After looking over him for a few minutes, she shook her head.
“You have not been resting as much as you should have and as a result your fever has definitely moved from a mild case to a moderate one,” she said. “And there is a chance now that it could get much worse. You will need to stay in bed and get as much rest as possible so your body can put everything into fighting this illness.”
“Can’t you just give me something for it?” Squall mumbled with a frown.
“I can give you something to make sure that it doesn’t become life-threatening,” Kadowaki said. “But there is no real cure for Cerulean fever. You just have to ride it out.” Squall scowled even more and fidgeted with his blankets.
“Am I going to have to stay in the infirmary?” he asked.
“Ideally, that’s what we would do because cases like yours should be closely monitored so that there are no complications that could lead to long-term consequences,” Kadowaki said. “But right now, there’s no room because of that incident in the Quad.”
Squall sighed and nodded his head. Three days ago, a group of the students and SeeDs had started to do some renovations on the Quad which had never been completely repaired after the fight with Galbadia Garden. It turned out though, the structural damage had been even more severe than previously thought, and thus several students were injured when pieces of the base sank down and collapsed inward while they were working on it. Fortunately, no one was killed and none of the injuries were permanent, but it did make it so that every bed was full in the infirmary and Kadowaki had her hands full taking care of them.
“I guess I could just stay here,” Squall said.
“That would work just fine if we could get someone to take care of you who could notify me if anything changes,” the doctor said. “Is there anyone here right now who you could ask to do this?”
Squall shook his head and shoved his face against his pillow. Last week, Irvine and Selphie had gone off to Trabia Garden to help finalize and then celebrate its rebuild, and they were not due back for another week more at least. Zell and Quistis were currently out on a mission in Dollet to help find ways to prevent any more monster infestations at their communications tower and no one was sure how much longer that would take. Rinoa had offered to take care of him earlier that week, but Squall had encouraged her to go ahead and go back to Timber to spend some time with her old friends in the resistance movements like she had planned a month ago.
The end result was that there was no one at Garden who Squall felt comfortable enough with to let them stay with him for a few days.
“Well, we will work something out,” Kadowaki said as she left the room. “I will discuss it with Cid and Edea and see what they can arrange. In the mean time, you should try to get some sleep.”
Squall grunted and rolled over so he would face the wall. He then pulled his covers back close to him and shut his eyes.
‘Whatever,’ he told himself. ‘I’ve taken care of myself for years, so it’s no big deal for me to do it again. I’ll just get some sleep and stop by the infirmary when I can so Kadowaki can make sure that I’m ok. It’s no problem.’
Satisfied with his plan, Squall shifted about, looking for a cool spot on his pillow. Even as he drifted to sleep, however, something in the back of his mind warned him that it would not be so simple.
“And that is my latest diagnosis,” Kadowaki said as she sat in a chair across from Cid and Edea. “Commander Leonhart’s condition is not critical, but he needs to have someone stay with him just to make sure.”
“I see your point, yes,” Cid said, nodding. “Well I suppose we will have to see if some of the other students will be willing to volunteer their time.”
“But dear, you know that won’t work,” Edea said, touching his arm.
“Why not?” Cid asked. “There are many people here who admire him greatly. That is why I made him the commander of this Garden. I am sure that if they knew the situation there would be plenty of offers to help.”
“That is true, but it still will not work,” Edea said, shaking her head. “You know that Squall has never been the kind of person who lets people into his personal space so easily. If we send a bunch of the other students to tend to him, it will irritate and distress him. He won’t be able to focus on getting well.”
“And it is crucial to avoid stressing him as much as possible,” Kadowaki interjected. “His fever could still rise to dangerous levels, and if that happens and he isn’t getting plenty of rest and care, it could be very serious. We have to find someone who he is comfortable with so he will be able to relax while he convalesces.”
“I understand,” Cid said, thoughtfully. “It is rather troublesome that the boy is so difficult at times, but you are both right, of course. But in that case, who can we ask to do this?”
Cid watched as Kadowaki and Edea looked at each other and then shook their heads. The three of them pondered this question silently for several minutes until a ringing tone from Cid’s computer caught their attention. Cid looked over, and when he saw who it was, he motioned for Edea and Kadowaki to come see it too. They studied the monitor for only a few seconds before they started looking at each other with knowing smiles on their faces.
“I think we have just found an answer to our problem,” Cid said triumphantly.
About four hours later, Squall groaned and shifted about in his bed. He had been able to sleep sporadically for a while, but now he was getting restless and hungry. He thought about trying to see if Kadowaki wanted to see him, but he soon found that he was still too tired and weak to get up.
‘No, no, I have to do this,’ he told himself. ‘If I don’t get up once in a while to go to the infirmary, Kadowaki is going to try to find some way to keep me there, even if it is completely full. That or she’ll ask Cid and Edea to send a bunch of people in here to check on me all the time.’
Squall frowned again and punched at his pillow. Neither one of those options appealed to him in the least, but he was quickly running out of ideas to avoid one of those outcomes. As he desperately tried to formulate some alternate plan of action, Squall felt a vague misery fill him.
‘What is this? It’s not like I’m dying from some horrible disease or will never see my friends or Rinoa again, so why do I feel this way?’
Squall closed his eyes again. He hated losing control over his emotions, but he couldn’t stop himself from feeling depressed and from wishing that someone would keep him company and take care of him.
‘This is why it’s not always such a great thing to start relying on other people,’ he thought gloomily. ‘Because then you get over-dependent and needy. I don’t want to be that way, I can’t be like that. But I….’
Squall let out a huff, frustrated that he kept dwelling on how much he wanted someone to comfort him and irritated that he was too weak to take care of himself. Moments later, he heard the sound of footsteps entering his room.
‘Must be Kadowaki coming here to check on me again,’ he thought. ‘Or worse, it’s one of the students sent here by Cid. Maybe if I just act like I’m asleep, they’ll go away and I can….”
“Squall? Squall, are you awake?”
Squall started a little before letting out a long sigh. He had instantly recognized the voice he had heard, and while it was far from one he had expected to hear, Squall found that he wasn’t totally surprised by it either. He rolled onto his back and opened his eyes to see a familiar face leaning over him, a face with its usual cheery grin and sparkling emerald eyes which now had a tinge of worry in them.
‘Laguna…what are you doing here?’
Squall blinked a couple more times, but each time he re-focused his eyes he was still faced with the image of Laguna Loire standing next to his bed, a duffel bag near his feet and a large paper shopping bag in his hands.
“Laguna,” he said. “Why are you….?”
“Why am I here?” Laguna finished for him. “Isn’t it obvious? The headmaster and his wife told me that you were sick and that you needed someone to keep an eye on you. So I decided to head on over here.”
Squall groaned and closed his eyes again. They had both found out about their relationship as father and son almost two years ago and had managed to keep it a secret while they slowly worked on the tensions and issues that all those years of absence had created between them. Due to an increasing number of inauspicious and distasteful rumors that were spreading about the both of them, however, Laguna and Squall decided a couple months ago that it was time to reveal the truth to the world. There were a couple attempts to create a scandal by less reputable media sources, but a short, honest and straightforward press conference the two of them held in Esthar was enough to squash just about all of the ugly rumors and stories.
Naturally, Squall was aware that Cid and Edea also knew the truth now, but they had never made any direct reference to it or had taken any action to acknowledge it….until now, that is.
Squall reopened his eyes and saw that Laguna was crouching down on the floor and digging through his paper bag. Just then, something his father had said clicked in his brain.
“Just like that?” Squall said, raising an eyebrow.
“Huh?” Laguna replied, looking up. Squall shifted to sit up in his bed.
“The elite Esthar security forces let their president just stroll out of the palace and hop on a transport to Garden on a whim?” Squall added.
“Well ok, it wasn’t quite as simple as all that,” Laguna said. “But I have ways of sneaking out of the palace when I need some time to myself. And, there is this awesome new version of the Ragnarok that was built a few months ago. Granted, I can’t fly the thing, but I found this great pilot who is very loyal and discreet and who….”
“Laguna, are you really trying to tell me that you snuck out of Esthar and flew all the way here just because Cid told you that I wasn’t feeling well?” Squall asked. Laguna let out a short huff and stood up. He then moved to sit at the end of Squall’s bed.
“Yeah, that was part of it,” he said. “Cid acted like you really needed someone to look after you, and he mentioned that all your friends were off doing other things, and well, I guess I hated the idea of you being all alone while you’re sick. I had Cerilian fever too when I was about your age, and believe me, it was awful. I’ll never forget how grateful I was that my mom was there to take care of me, and I…I don’t want you to go through this alone, ok?”
“And the other part?” Squall asked, curious.
“The other part…the other part is…Ok, I was desperate to find an excuse to get away from Esthar,” Laguna said. “Every year, the council has a group of legal scholars go over all of the proposed law changes brought before us over the previous year. Kiros and Ward always insist that I go to these meetings because it’s my ‘official duty’ to be there, and yet they always find some excuse to get out of it themselves. But the reality is, there is absolutely no reason for me to attend. I mean, nothing actually happens other than a bunch of guys reading aloud from these huge files of paper and discussing what they think should have been written instead. And it is easily the most boring thing in the entire world.”
“And so this year, you decided to use my illness as your excuse to get out of it?” Squall said.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t even have to do that,” Laguna said, scratching the back of his head. “After I greet these guys and the meetings get started, they don’t even notice if I am there or not. Seriously, one time I actually left the room and went out for lunch, took a nap in my rooms and played video games for a couple hours. When I finally went back, I found out that they didn’t even realize that I was gone. I’d bet anything that they won’t figure out that I’ve left for at least three days.”
Squall rubbed the bridge of his nose. While he did agree that it sounded like a pointless bit of bureaucracy, he did start to wonder just how often Laguna “disappeared” from official government meetings.
“Anyway, that’s not important,” Laguna said, getting up from the bed. “What’s important is that I’m here to take care of you until you get better.”
“Laguna, I…I appreciate the gesture. I do,” Squall said. “But I don’t have any place for you to sleep and….”
“Ah, don’t worry about that,” Laguna said with a grin and a wave of his hand. “I’ll just sleep on the couch you’ve got in the other room. It looks comfortable enough. Trust me, I’ve slept in far less hospitable conditions than this back when I was still a soldier and when I was traveling. You just relax and let me handle things.”
Squall let out another sigh. He was certain by this point that there was no way to talk his father out of staying with him and besides that; he was marginally grateful that Cid had chosen someone he could at least tolerate to check on him.
Deep down, however, Squall knew that the main reason he stopped arguing with him was because he was secretly glad that he wouldn’t be alone during this and because he had actually been touched by his father’s concern for him. Not that he would ever say any of this out loud….
“Hey let me know if you get hungry,” Laguna said. “I’ve got all the ingredients here for my world-famous Galbadian Noodle Soup. It’s the perfect thing to eat when you’re not feeling well.”
“World-famous?” Squall smirked at him. “Are you sure you don’t mean infamous?”
“Ha ha, you know, Kiros made that same exact joke,” Laguna said. “That is, until he actually tried it. It’s like they always say: he who laughs first won’t be laughing last. Oh but, um, I didn’t see a kitchen anywhere around here.”
“You’ll have to go to the cafeteria,” Squall replied. “None of the dorm rooms have one.”
“Cafeteria, huh,” Laguna said, placing a hand on his chin. “Ok, no problem. I can just whip up something there and bring it back here. And hey, if there’s anything I forgot to bring, I can just get it from the people working there, right? Sounds good to me.”
“Whatever,” Squall said, shrugging his shoulders. He was about to say more, but was cut off when he felt something catch in his throat. He tried to clear it, but soon found it increasingly hard to breathe and a violent coughing fit started instead.
Seconds after it started, Laguna rushed over to the bed and helped him lean forward as Squall tried to force out the congestion that had been slowly filling his lungs. Laguna went back over to the bag and pulled out a box of tissues which he sat next to the bed. He then pulled a couple out and handed them to his son. Squall took them and eventually he was able to cough up some phlegm into them and take some deep breaths. Laguna shook his head and patted Squall’s shoulder.
“Yeah, I remember this part,” Laguna said as he grabbed the tissues and threw them into a nearby trashcan. “And unfortunately, you’ll be doing a lot more of that before this is over. You should try to get some rest now while you can. I’ll go ahead and make the soup so you’ll have something to eat when you wake up.”
“Thank you,” Squall rasped as he laid down. Laguna smiled and helped him with the blankets.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “I mean, that’s what I’m here for, right? Oh and I have something else for you.”
Laguna walked over and pushed stuff around in his bag for a moment before finding what he was looking for. He held it out to Squall, and Squall’s eyes widened slightly in disbelief.
“A stuffed chicobo?” Squall said. “Really?”
“Sure, why not?” Laguna said, his smile growing. “One of the things I remember the most about when I had Cerilian fever was how depressing it was: being too hot or too cold all the time, all the coughing, being too weak and tired all the time to do anything. It’s really miserable. But my mom made sure to keep my spirits up any way she could and it really helped me get through it.”
Laguna placed the doll on the stand beside the bed and made sure to position it so that it was facing Squall.
“I picked this up while I was shopping for supplies,” he said. “I figure that it’s impossible to stay depressed when you’ve got this cute little guy smiling at you all the time, right? So you just get some sleep, and Boko here will keep you company while I’m gone.”
“Boko?” Squall said. “You actually named it?”
“Of course,” Laguna said with a laugh. “You can’t give someone a chicobo and not have a name for him. And besides, he looks like a Boko, don’t you think? Anyway, I’m going to go make that soup now. You try and get some sleep, and I’ll be back in a bit.”
Laguna picked up the bag and walked out of the room. Squall coughed a couple more times before rolling onto his side and staring at the doll’s black button eyes and the wide-open smile sewn into its face.
‘What is he thinking, buying me stuff like this?’ Squall wondered, a frown appearing on his lips.
He frowned for only a moment more, however, before letting out a sigh and settling into his pillow. It was childish and silly, and yet, Squall also found it oddly endearing that Laguna tried to cheer him up this way. He thought back to when he was a child and how being sick meant lonely hours in the infirmary. There were no visitors, no gifts, no small gestures of comfort. There was only what was necessary to tend to his physical needs while he fought to get better. Over the years, he had tried to convince himself that none of those other things mattered, and eventually, he almost believed it.
But the longer he stared at the doll sitting on his nightstand, the more Squall started to realize that a part of him had always longed for tokens of affection like this and that the actual gift meant far less to him than the meaning behind it.
‘Boko,’ he said to himself with a chuckle. ‘It seems like Laguna has had more than a little experience naming stuffed animals. I bet that he was a lot older than he’d be willing to admit when he finally gave them up…that is, if he ever did at all….Maybe I should ask Kiros and Ward about it some time.’
Squall laughed again before closing his eyes and falling into a restless sleep.
A few hours later, Squall woke up and slowly opened his eyes to scan his surroundings. Boko was still smiling at him from his nightstand, but he also noticed that the sun was not as bright as it was when he fell asleep, and he wondered how much time had passed. It was then that he also noticed that his father was nowhere to be found.
“Laguna?” he mumbled as he tried to sit up. “Laguna, are you here?” There was no reply, and Squall crossed his arms over his chest.
‘I don’t know how long it’s been, but it doesn’t take that long to make soup,’ he told himself. ‘He probably got bored sitting around here and went to find something to do.’
Squall frowned. He wasn’t sure which irritated him more: the fact that Laguna wasn’t there or the fact that he felt so disappointed. He quickly pushed those thoughts aside, however, when he realized that a trip to the bathroom was urgently needed. Squall flung his blankets aside and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He carefully stood up and was dismayed when he started to feel dizzy. He held his head and staggered toward the doorway.
Once he was there, he greeted by the sight of Laguna hunched over the desk that was at the side of the front room area, an electronic pen Squall had given him for Father’s Day in his hand. His expression was thoughtful as he dragged the tip along the desk’s surface, leaving faint traces of light as he wrote which faded away seconds later. Squall watched him silently for a few moments before he started to cough again, which caused Laguna to look up.
“Oh hey, you’re awake,” he said as he sat the pen down and stood up. “But you shouldn’t be out of bed.”
“I needed to,” Squall said between coughs, gesturing toward the bathroom. Laguna glanced in the direction Squall had indicated and nodded.
“Oh, I get it,” he said. “Here, let me help you.”
“I don’t need any help,” Squall insisted. “I can take care of….”
Squall was cut off by another coughing fit and his disorientation suddenly became much worse. His legs wobbled and he felt himself starting to fall to the floor. But before he could hit the ground, Laguna had dashed over and caught him.
“I know,” Laguna said and he helped him back up. “Normally, you can take care of yourself just fine, but that’s not the case right now, ok? You’re going to need some help, so stop being so stubborn and let me help you.”
Squall held onto Laguna for a moment until he was able to stop hacking and then reluctantly nodded his head. Laguna then draped one of Squall’s arms over his shoulders and guided him to the bathroom.
“You got it from here?” Laguna asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Squall said, shutting the door behind him. A couple minutes later, he was finished, and Squall opened the door to see Laguna waiting to help him back to bed. Once he was there, Squall leaned back against the wall while Laguna fluffed his pillows.
“Better?” Laguna asked as he put the pillows back on his bed.
“A little,” Squall mumbled. “Kind of hungry though.”
“Well I’ve got just the thing for that,” Laguna said. He exited the room for a moment and then returned with a tray that held a large bowl of soup and a spoon.
“Here you go,” Laguna said as he sat it onto Squall’s lap. “Some Galbadian Noodle soup, just like I promised.” Squall sat up and reached for the spoon. He stirred it around in the bowl a couple times while watching wisps of steam float upward.
“How long ago did you make this?” Squall asked. “It still looks pretty warm.”
“Oh a while ago,” Laguna answered as he sat down on the bed. “I would have brought some back here even sooner than I did, but after a couple of the cafeteria ladies tried the first batch I made, they asked me to show them how to make it. I ended up making a ton of it with them to serve as part of the dinner meal. I guess it was a huge hit. Anyway, I put some of it aside for you, and they gave me this container to keep it in. They said that it would keep it fresh, and you know they were totally right about that. I’ve been back here for hours now, waiting for you to wake up and it’s still as hot as when I put it in here. Technology can be really cool sometimes.”
Squall grunted and looked down into the bowl in front of him. It looked harmless enough and certainly smelled appetizing, but he still was hesitant to try it, especially when he thought about how there was a reason why the cupboards in his father’s kitchen were usually empty.
“Go on,” Laguna insisted. “It’s full of good stuff you’ll need to fight this illness. You’ll like it, I promise.”
Squall swirled his spoon around a couple more times before scooping some of it up and shoving it into his mouth. He did this three more times before finally looking back up at Laguna.
“All right, I’ll admit it,” Squall sighed. “It is good. Really good.”
“See I told you,” Laguna replied, triumphant. “Why is it that so many people have so little faith in my culinary prowess?”
‘Maybe because they still remember the time you decided to try to grill some Balamb fish,’ Squall thought. ‘I know Zell and Irvine won’t forget all those hours spent in the bathroom after they were foolish enough to risk eating any of it.’
Squall smirked for a moment before quickly devouring every last bit of soup in the bowl. Laguna offered him another serving, but Squall shook his head.
“I’m tired again,” he mumbled. “I hate this. I just got done sleeping for hours. I shouldn’t be this tired.”
“Yeah, but I’m sure your body didn’t get much rest, even though you were completely zonked out,” Laguna said. “You’re just going to have to get used to this until this fever runs its course.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Squall grumbled as he laid back down. Laguna moved the tray out of the way and covered Squall with the blankets. He was about to return to the front room when another round of coughing from the bed stopped him.
“Squall? Are you all right, son?” Laguna asked. Squall shook his head, gasping and choking as he struggled to take a breath. Laguna sat down on the bed beside him and patted his back again as the coughing grew even more vigorous, but Squall’s breathing continued to become increasingly labored.
“Squall, hold on,” Laguna said, placing his hand onto his son’s shoulder. “I’m going to go get the doctor, ok?” He started to stand up, but Squall grabbed his wrist before he could get away.
“No,” Squall gasped out. “Don’t go. Just…just give me a minute.”
Laguna nodded his head and gave him some more tissues which Squall clamped over his mouth. After finally managing to clear his lungs of some more mucus, he bunched up the tissues in his hand and collapsed against the mattress. Laguna threw the tissues away and leaned close to him.
“I’m ok,” Squall panted. “But I…my chest hurts.”
“Not surprising, after what you’ve been through today,” Laguna said, sympathetically. Squall squeezed his eyes shut and ground his jaw.
“I’m so tired,” he said. “But I…I can’t sleep…not like this….”
“Listen, I know it’s tough, but you need to relax,” Laguna said. “Hey, I’ve got an idea.”
Laguna got up and went to the front room while Squall turned onto his side to face the doorway. He was about to ask his father what he had in mind when Laguna walked back into the room with a chair in one hand and a large, leather-bound book in the other.
“What are you doing, Laguna?” Squall asked, suspicious. Laguna grinned, placed the chair beside the bed, and sat down.
“What does it look like?” he said. “I’m going to read to you until you fall asleep.”
“Read to me?” Squall said, incredulous. “Just how old do you think I am?”
“I know how old you are,” Laguna said. “But you’re never too old to enjoy a great story. For example, whenever I need to relax, I pull out this awesome collection of classic fantasy yarns and in no time at all, my mind is completely at peace. Yep, reading is one of the best cures out there when you’re stressed.”
“I guess,” Squall shrugged while tugging at his blankets.
“No guessing about it,” Laguna said. “Trust me, it works. Thing is though, you need to be resting, not trying to read a book. So let me handle the reading and you just close your eyes and listen.”
Squall rolled his eyes and let out a sigh. He no longer had the energy to try to reason with Laguna, so he remained quiet. His father flipped through the pages for almost a minute before finally stopping and clearing his throat.
“The world is veiled in darkness,” Laguna read. “The wind stops, the sea is wild, and the earth begins to rot. The people wait, their only hope, a prophecy…When the world is in darkness, four warriors will come. After a long journey, four young warriors arrive, each holding an orb….”
‘Whatever,’ Squall thought to himself as his eyelids slid shut.
“And so, our travelers exited the forest having learned all they could from the residents there,” Laguna said, his eyes scanning the page in front of him. “They were not sure if the advice could be trusted, but they were determined to….”
“Ok, stop,” Squall said. “Just stop.” Laguna looked up from the book and sat it aside on the bed stand.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Did you need me to get the doctor again?”
“No,” Squall said, squirming to push himself up in his bed. “It’s just…what is with this stuff anyway? Who writes these weird things?”
“It’s fantasy,” Laguna said. “It’s going to be a little weird.”
“No, not like this,” Squall said. “It was one thing when you told me that one about the evil clown, the girl who turned into a GF, the kung-fu prince and the kid whose drawings come to life. Oh and the ninja guy who travels around with a huge dog, which, by the way, doesn’t strike me as being all that stealthy.”
“You have to admit though that a clown bent on world domination makes a totally plausible villain,” Laguna countered.
“But then there was that story with the hero who travels around with a fortune-telling stuffed cat and another guy who turns into monsters from horror movies,” Squall said.
“Hey, I thought that guy was cool,” Laguna said. “And besides, I thought the story was a great allegory about the evils of putting corporate interests over people and the need to protect the environment.”
“I might have been able to take it more seriously if this supposedly elite soldier didn’t have to resort to cross-dressing and flirting with that henchman in order to infiltrate his mansion,” Squall replied. “I could have found a dozen ways to get in, none of which include doing something like that.”
“Ok, so it wasn’t perfect,” Laguna said. “But it was still pretty epic overall.”
“That’s what you said about the one with the mouse-woman who searched for her long-lost love and the androgynous creature who wanted to eat all the monsters,” Squall said. “The fact that the hero was a thief who had a tail was actually one of the more semi-normal things in that story.”
“Yeah, but that was kind of interesting though,” Laguna chuckled. “I bet it’d be fun to meet a guy with a tail.”
“I doubt it,” Squall said with a smirk. “You’d probably just yank on it or something to see if it was real.”
“No way,” Laguna insisted, shaking his head. “I’d never do something like that.”
“Still, that was better than the one you told me a couple hours ago about the pro-athlete who was trying to save the world,” Squall said. “I swear that guy never stopped whining. It’s amazing that he didn’t drive his teammates crazy with all the whining. If I had written that story, he would have been dead within minutes of arriving in the future, and that guy who turned out to be dead would have been the hero. And were we really supposed to believe that normal people could hold their breath underwater long enough to participate in those elaborate sports matches?”
“All right, all right, I get it,” Laguna said, holding up his hands. “You want me to take a break from the reading. I can do that.” He got up from his chair and closed the book with a huff while Squall let out a smirk of satisfaction at his father’s annoyance.
Squall then thought back to the previous night and the morning afterward. Laguna had ended up reading to him on and off for hours as he drifted between shallow sleep and misery-filled wakefulness. Even though the stories Laguna was reading to him were exasperating sometimes, Squall found that the comfort he got from his father’s presence made up for having to endure such bizarre tales. By the next morning, his fever had risen again and his chest was sore, but he did feel somewhat rested.
That morning, Kadowaki stopped by to check on Squall and give him something for the congestion. She then handed Laguna a list of instructions on what he should do and watch for, and Squall couldn’t help but notice the nervous way Laguna scratched at the back of his head as he read through the list.
Squall let out another sigh and shifted about in bed, trying to find a more comfortable position. Laguna had left at one point to make him breakfast, but other than that, he hadn’t left Squall’s dorm room all day, and while Squall was glad that Laguna was here when he needed him, that did not change the fact that he was also the type of person who needed some time alone on most days. Laguna’s constant hovering had nullified any chance at solitude, and this was starting to wear on Squall’s nerves. That along with his rapidly worsening health made him more than a little cranky and irritable.
Squall started to close his eyes so he could try to get some more rest, but the sound of Laguna’s footsteps re-entering the room stopped him. He glanced up to see his father heading toward him with a thermometer in his hand.
“Time for me to check your temperature again,” Laguna announced.
“No it isn’t,” Squall scowled.
“Yes it is.”
“No, no it’s not.”
“Look, Squall I need to do this, ok? Doctor K wanted me to keep a close watch on your temperature, just in case things move from moderate to serious.”
“No, what Doctor Kadowaki actually told you was that you were to check my temperature every three hours…and since when did you start calling her ‘Doctor K’?”
“After I told her it was fine to drop the whole ‘Mr. President’ thing…and what are you talking about anyway? It’s been three hours.”
“No, it’s only been two hours and forty-five minutes.”
“Ok, so I’m off by a few minutes. So what?”
“You’re the one who promised multiple times that you would follow the doctor’s orders precisely.”
“You’re really going to make an issue out of this?” Laguna said, pouting.
“A lot can happen in a few minutes,” Squall smirked, crossing his arms over his chest. Laguna groaned, his shoulders slumping in defeat. He then slinked over to the chair and collapsed onto it. He stared at the carpet for almost a minute before finally looking up at Squall, a smile laced with frustration on his face.
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re the worst patient in the world?” Laguna asked. Squall let his arms fall loose and turned his head.
“No,” he said. “It’s not like I ever had anyone take care of me when I was sick…that is unless I had to go to the infirmary. And then I was usually left alone while I recovered.”
“Oh,” Laguna said, his voice soft and unsteady.
Squall let out another sigh and put a hand to his face. Of all the side effects he was experiencing from this fever, the one he was swiftly learning to hate the most was how he emotional he was becoming. Most of the time, it was easy for Squall to remain indifferent to most things and even when he did care, he was never one to put his feelings on display. All the range and intensity of his emotions tended to express themselves within the confines of his mind and heart. Very few people ever saw vast array of feeling behind Squall’s reserved demeanor.
But this fever seemed to open up something inside him, making it far too easy for those normally hidden emotions to spring forth. It was what was fueling the pleasure he got out of irritating Laguna and his own aggravation that flared up with little provocation. It was why he could feel so hurt so easily by even the slightest reminder of the unhappiness of his past…and it was why he kept feeling the need to lash out as a form of retribution for those old wounds.
Squall moved his hand and was about to tell Laguna to forget about what he had just said, but his father had already gotten up from the chair and left the room without a word.
‘Guess I pushed too far,’ he thought to himself. ‘I suppose I should have expected it. He was right in saying that I haven’t exactly been the easiest person to be around for over a day now. Not to mention how I keep throwing the past, a past he had almost no control over, in his face.’
‘I should have expected him lose his patience with me eventually and leave.’
Squall let out a long gust of breath which was punctuated by a short fit of coughing. He felt some delight at the idea that he would finally have some time to himself, but that was eclipsed by his unexpected and unwanted anxiety that Laguna would tire of this and hop on a transport back to Esthar, leaving him to Garden’s care.
He slid down to lie on his back and shoved most of his blankets away. He thought about going with his original plan to try to get some more rest, but he discovered that he felt too hot and achy to give in to his drowsiness. Instead, he found himself wishing that there was some way he could get some relief from this overly-warm feeling.
As if on cue, Squall suddenly felt some soft and cool touch his forehead. He glanced over to see Laguna gently dabbing his face with a wet washcloth, and Squall wondered why he hadn’t heard his father come back in the room.
“Any better?” Laguna asked him as he lightly brushed the cloth against his face. “I noticed that you were looking kind of flushed, so I thought that you could use this.”
Squall didn’t answer and simply closed his eyes and leaned toward the touch. Laguna continued to do this for a couple more minutes before Squall settled back in his pillow and looked back up at his father.
“Thank you,” he mumbled.
“No problem,” Laguna grinned at him. “And now I know it’s been fifteen minutes, so it’s time for me to take your temperature. So hold still.”
Squall frowned but did not move while Laguna carefully placed the thermometer in his ear and held it there. After a few seconds, Laguna removed it and studied the tiny, digital readout screen.
“101.4,” he said. “So not going down, but not any higher than it was earlier today.”
“Feels like it’s gone up,” Squall said.
“Well, thankfully, it hasn’t so far,” Laguna said. “Doctor K acted like it would be really bad if it did, and I don’t want you to go through any of the stuff she was describing.”
Squall nodded and flopped his head against the pillow while Laguna put the thermometer away. His father soon came back and resumed blotting the cloth against his forehead. Squall moaned and groped at the bed stand. Understanding his intentions, Laguna grabbed the glass that was sitting there and filled it with water from the pitcher beside it before handing it to Squall. Squall took a few deep swallows before sitting back down next to Boko and staring up at the ceiling.
“Dad…I…I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “About before….” Laguna laughed and placed the washcloth onto his forehead.
“Forget about it,” he said. “I’m used to it. You might be the absolute worst patient in the world, but Raine was a close second. I remember once when she got the flu and had to stay in bed for three days…well, let’s just say that she is not the kind of person who likes to be confined to any one space for long. By the end of it, I had become an expert at dodging flying pillows.”
“Didn’t that drive you crazy?” Squall asked him.
“Oh sure, a little,” Laguna shrugged. “But I probably drove her a little crazy too when she had to take care of me for all those months while I was bed-ridden. And besides, something about being sick sometimes brings out the worst in us. I knew that that was all it was most of the time, so I made sure not to let it get to me too much.” Laguna then leaned closer and put his hand at the top of Squall’s head.
“Listen, I know that you aren’t always thrilled with my being here, but I’m not leaving you alone, all right?” he said. “Not until you get over this fever. So stop worrying and focus on getting better. Just let me handle everything else, ok?”
Squall nodded, and Laguna ran his fingers through his hair for a moment before moving his hand away and taking the cloth from Squall’s face. Squall thought that he should tell Laguna something to convey how grateful he was that he had someone so patient and attentive taking care of him, but he was certain that any awkward attempts to vocalize what he felt would just ruin the moment, so he remained silent until the feeling passed and a new thought came to mind.
“Yesterday, at one point, you were in the front room, at my desk,” Squall said. “You were writing something with that pen I gave you.”
“Yeah, and hey, thanks again for that,” Laguna said. “I love being able to write whenever I feel like it. I’ve actually got a huge file on my computer now of stuff I’ve written.”
“I was wondering,” Squall said. “What were you writing? Yesterday, I mean.” Laguna leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out in front of him.
“Oh just some thoughts I had in my head,” he said. “That’s often what it is. I know that I’m not any good at speaking my mind and that I often sound like an idiot when I talk. It’s like I know what’s in my heart and I really want to share it, but the words get all tangled up when I open my mouth. But when I write, it all seems so much smoother, clearer somehow. It’s like I can be in my own world and say all the things I really want to say.”
Laguna ran a hand through strands of hair that were hanging near his face. Squall remembered reading some of Laguna’s articles on Selphie’s website and he had to admit that Laguna did have a thoughtful, descriptive, and engaging voice when he wrote about his experiences.
“I think I’d like to write a book someday,” he said. “About my life, and all the things I’ve seen and discovered and learned. I wrote about some it back when Timber Maniacs was still around, but I’d really like to sit down and bring it all together into a book. Maybe after I retire from being president or something, I don’t know. I wonder if anyone would read it.”
“Selphie would,” Squall smirked. “She’d be posting excerpts from it on her website nonstop.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” Laguna said with a chuckle. “She keeps asking me if there are any more Timber Maniacs articles that she’s hasn’t seen yet. I’m half-tempted to make up a couple just so she’ll get distracted by her from her ‘Latest Clues and News’ column. How she got the idea that I have a secret obsession for dressing up as video game characters, I’ll never know.”
“And, um…I’d like to read it,” Squall mumbled.
“You? But you already saw a lot of my past, didn’t you? Because of what Elle did?”
“Yeah, but only pieces of it,” Squall said. “And I may have been inside your head, but what was there wasn’t always coherent. I…I’d like to see more: more of what happened and more about how you actually thought and felt about things.”
“Well then, maybe I will get around to it one of these days,” Laguna smiled at him.
“Plus, I figure that it has to be better than some of the stuff that you’ve been reading to me for the last day or so,” Squall said, the smirk returning.
“Oh come on, it wasn’t all that bad, was it?” Laguna said.
“It wasn’t boring,” Squall replied. “But that’s about all I can say for some of them.”
“Would you rather me just keep quiet while you try to sleep then?”
“No…If you want to keep reading, you can, I guess. Just don’t expect me to always get into it.”
Laguna grinned again and picked up the book from the stand, placing it in his lap.
“Admit it though, this latest one we were on was getting really interesting,” he said. “Sky pirates, king and castles, political intrigue…there’s a lot going on.”
“And there’s a woman with bunny ears who just happens to have a thing for black leather outfits and stiletto boots,” Squall replied. “Are you honestly trying to tell me that the people who wrote that did not have some other kinds of fantasies in mind?”
“O-oh ok, moving on,” Laguna said with a cough, his face scarlet. “I think we were just getting ready to hear about the progress at the Moogle repair shop.”
Squall chuckled and shut his eyes as he listened to his father stammer his way through the latest chapter and fell into a content, restorative sleep.
Laguna yawned and stretched as he sat up on the couch and peered over at the window to see faint rays of sunlight starting to stream in.
He had spent most of the previous night continuing to read to Squall and monitoring his condition, even while his son was asleep. Eventually, exhaustion overtook him, and Laguna decided to take a nap for a couple hours after Squall fell into a deeper sleep in the early hours of the morning.
‘Geez, I can hardly get my eyes open,’ he thought to himself. ‘I guess I can’t stay up all night and then shake it off the next day like I used to. Kiros would probably say that that means that I’m getting old…and he’d laugh about it until I reminded him that he isn’t far behind me, which would earn me a punch to the arm. Man, that guy can hit hard when he wants to.’
Laguna chuckled and yawned a couple more times before hoisting himself to his feet and heading for the bathroom. A couple minutes later, he studied himself in the mirror and ran a hand along his face.
‘I seriously need to shave. I’ve been so busy with Squall I’ve barely had time to shower, let alone shave. Maybe I can do that at some point today while he’s asleep.’
Laguna splashed some water on his face to help him wake up even more and then headed over to Squall’s bedroom and walked up to the bed.
‘Looks like he’s still asleep,’ Laguna thought. ‘Well that’s probably good. He needs rest while he’s fighting this thing. Maybe I can make some breakfast for him before he wakes up. I remember one of the cafeteria ladies saying something about wanting to try my Galbadian Griddle Cakes.’
Laguna started to leave when a groan from the bed stopped him. He crouched down and put a hand on Squall’s arm.
“Squall? Son, are you all right?” he asked. Squall groaned again and turned his face toward him, his eyes glazed.
“Dad?” he said, his voice tiny and a little fearful. “What are you doing here? Where am I?” Laguna sat down on the bed and took one of Squall’s hands into both of his.
“I’m here to take care of you while you’re sick, remember?” he said, trying hard to keep his tone even and calm. “And you’re in your room at Garden.” Squall coughed and let out another moan.
“It’s so hot,” he croaked. “And why is it so dark?” Laguna reached over and began to stroke Squall’s hair.
“It’s ok,” he murmured. “You’re just sick is all, but you’ll be better soon, I promise. Here, let me take your temperature.”
Laguna retrieved the thermometer from a drawer in the stand next to Squall’s bed. He gently placed it in Squall’s ear and went back to holding Squall’s hand while waiting for the readout. Once he saw it, his eyes bulged.
‘104.8! Hyne, it shot up. I’ve got to get Doctor K in here now.’
Laguna dropped the thermometer back into the drawer and stood up to leave, but was stopped when Squall refused to let go of his hand.
“Don’t leave me,” Squall begged. “Dad, please don’t leave me alone.” Laguna felt his heart constrict at the pleading, frightened tone which was nothing like the Squall he had gotten to know. He sat back down on the bed and put one hand on Squall’s shoulder while putting the other one on his son’s chin so he could turn Squall’s face toward him.
“Squall, I’m just going to get the doctor, ok?” he said. “I promise that I’ll be right back.” Squall squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth, trying to bite back another moan.
“It hurts,” Squall gasped, gripping Laguna’s hand even tighter.
“What? What hurts?” Laguna said, panic finally seeping into his voice. “Squall, tell me what hurts.” Squall shook his head violently and thrashed about for a moment before collapsing against the mattress again and opening his eyes.
“My body,” he gasped. “Feels like it’s on fire. Dad, please help me.” Laguna felt his eyes mist over with tears as he carefully extracted his hand from Squall’s fingers and placed it on his son’s forehead.
“Squall, hold on,” he said. “I’m going to get the doctor. She’ll help you and you’ll be better soon, all right? Just hold on for a minute while I go get her and I’ll be right back.”
Squall gave him the tiniest of nods, and Laguna dashed out of the room and over to the communications console on Squall’s desk. He punched a couple of keys and was greeted by the sight of Kadowaki’s face on the screen.
“Laguna, how is Squall?” she asked him. “Is everything all right or do you need me to stop by?”
“I need you here now,” Laguna nearly shouted at her. “Squall’s temperature is almost 105 and he keeps acting like he’s in pain. I don’t think he even knows what’s going on.”
“I’ll be there immediately,” Kadowaki said. “Stay with him until I arrive.” The screen went blank, and Laguna pondered how he couldn’t imagine being anywhere other than with Squall right now.
Laguna rushed back into the bedroom and found Squall struggling to get out of bed. Laguna went over to him and tried to push him back down onto his back.
“Squall, you need to stay in bed, all right?” he said as he helped Squall settle back in. “Doctor K is going to be here in just a little bit.” Squall coughed a couple more times and then wildly grabbed at Laguna, his fingers clutching at the dark-green and yellow Hawaiian print shirt Laguna had on.
“Dad, I, I can’t see you,” he said, his voice trembling. Squall then waved a hand in front of his face. “I can’t see anything. What’s going on? What’s happening to me?”
Laguna swiped at the moisture in his eyes before kneeling down beside the bed. He wasn’t sure which he hated more: the obvious pain and misery Squall’s body was causing him or the fact that his son was clearly confused and scared.
He carefully put one arm around Squall’s shoulders and pulled him close to him and went back to holding his hand.
“Squall, I don’t know what is happening, but I’m here, all right?” Laguna murmured to him. “I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere, so don’t be afraid. Whatever this is, we’ll get through it together.”
Squall closed his eyes and leaned against Laguna, resting his cheek against his father’s chest. Laguna responded by gently rubbing his arm while trying to shut out the muffled cries of pain that continued to emanate from his son’s lips.
After what seemed like an eternity to Laguna, Kadowaki finally arrived and began to examine Squall. She encouraged Laguna to leave until she was done, but he adamantly refused.
“I promised Squall that I wouldn’t leave him,” he said. “He needs me here.”
“All right, you can stay,” Kadowaki said. “But I do ask that you stay out of the way and let me work.”
Laguna relented and contented himself with sitting on the floor near the bed while still holding one of Squall’s hands so he could give Kadowaki plenty of room. He made sure to stay quiet but wasn’t able to stop himself from fidgeting as he anxiously awaited for the doctor’s prognosis. A few minutes later, Kadowaki swabbed Squall’s arm and pulled out a pair of syringes. After giving him two injections, she stood up from the bed and motioned for Laguna to follow her into the other room. Laguna was reluctant to move, but he glanced over to see that Squall had fallen unconscious, so he carefully stood up, placed Squall’s hand back onto the bed and crept out of the room.
“I was afraid of this,” Kadowaki said as soon as Laguna joined her. “It looks as though Squall’s fever has taken a turn for the worse.”
“Doctor K, what is going on?” Laguna said, tense. “I had Cerilian fever when I was younger too, and it was nothing like this.”
“Yours was probably a mild case, as most are,” Kadowaki replied. “But unfortunately, Squall has contracted one of the stronger strains and that comes with more symptoms than what you probably experienced.”
“You mean like how he can’t see?” Laguna asked. “That…that’s not permanent, is it?”
“No,” Kadowaki said with a slight smile, glad to be able to give Laguna some relief. “Blindness sometimes accompanies the rise in temperature with this illness, but it never lasts more than an hour or two at the most. By the time he wakes up, he should be able to see again.”
“Oh thank Hyne,” Laguna breathed.
“But that will still leave him with plenty to deal with,” Kadowaki added. “Not only are there the usual chills and sweats that come with a fever like this and the congestion, there will also be some muscle cramping throughout his body.”
“Is that why he’s in so much pain?” Laguna asked somberly. “Because of these muscle cramps?”
“Yes, they can be very painful,” Kadowaki said. “I gave him a hi-potion variation that should help him relax and ease the pain along with an elixir distillation that’s formulated to reduce that fever. He should feel some relief within an hour.” Kadowaki then crossed her arms and looked down and her coat sleeves.
“What I am worried about is the potential for some interaction between the medicines I’ve been giving him,” she said. “For the most part, the mixture is safe, but there is a high potential for side effects, the chief one being hallucinations. Quite vivid ones at that.” Kadowaki looked back up at Laguna, her expression grave.
“You will need to keep an even closer eye on him and try to keep him as calm as possible,” she said. “These hallucinations will seem very real to him, and he might try to act on them. It’s important that you make sure that he doesn’t hurt himself in the process.”
“I…I’ll do what I can,” Laguna stuttered. “I….”
“Laguna, are you all right?” she asked. Laguna looked down at the floor, his hands clenched.
“Doctor K, please, be honest with me,” he muttered. “Is Squall…is he going to be all right? Are you sure that he isn’t….?” Kadowaki reached over and patted his arm.
“Laguna, Squall will be fine,” she said. “Granted, the next couple of days will be very unpleasant for him, but nothing that will happen will be potentially fatal or permanent. Just keep taking care of him like you have been and he will get better soon.”
“Like I have been?” Laguna repeated, hanging his head even more. “Not that I’ve been doing that great of a job. Squall’s fever went up like that, and I didn’t even notice at first because I was too busy sleeping instead of watching him like I should have.”
“Don’t say that,” Kadowaki chided him. “You’ve done an excellent job taking care of him, Laguna. Every time I’ve stopped by here, you were always ready to give me Squall’s latest vitals and Squall was always as comfortable as he could be with this fever. And I saw how determined he was to hold onto you just now while I was examining him. Trust me, I’ve known Squall since he was a child, and I have never seen him act that way with anyone other than the precious few people in this world who he trusts implicitly.”
Laguna finally raised his head, and Kadowaki made sure to give him a warm smile.
“I know that Squall is not prone to express his feelings openly or with words,” she said. “But I think I, and several of us here, can safely say that he loves you and is glad that you are here taking care of him.” Some cheer finally started to reappear in Laguna’s features, causing Kadowaki to smile even more.
“Thanks, Doctor K,” Laguna said, scratching the back of his head. “I mean that. And you can count on me to keep taking care of Squall.”
“Excellent,” she said. “Now, I will be back in a few hours, but feel free to call me sooner than that if something happens. Oh and I will be sure to send someone here with some food as soon as I get back to my office.”
“Ah, thanks, but I don’t know if Squall’s going to up for eating any time soon,” Laguna said.
“Not for him, for you,” Kadowaki said. “Squall might need you, but you won’t be much good to him if you neglect yourself during this. Make sure to get as much rest as possible whenever you can and do not hesitate to contact myself or Cid if you need anything.”
“Will do,” Laguna assured her. “And say, um, do you think there’s any way you could get me one of those hotdogs from the cafeteria I’ve heard so much about? Zell’s always raving about them, and I’ve been wanting to see what all the fuss is about.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Kadowaki smiled.
Three hours later, Laguna leaned back in his chair next to Squall’s bed and stretched his arms over his head.
True to her word, Kadowaki sent one of the students with a tray of food from the cafeteria a short time after she left, and Laguna was surprised to see not one, but two different varieties of hotdogs on the plate in front of him. After he was finished eating, Laguna decided to go ahead with that shower and shave, and as soon as he was done, he resumed his vigil, refreshed and pleased that Squall had slept the entire time.
‘Those hotdogs were really good. No wonder Zell is always so desperate to snag one of them. I really should get the recipe so I can give it to the guys in the kitchen at the palace in Esthar. I’m sure Ward would love ‘em. Heck, Kiros probably would too.’
Squall began to toss and turn in his sleep, and Laguna tried to keep him covered as best he could. He thought about what Kadowaki said about Squall’s muscles cramping up, and his hand drifted to his right leg. He thought about the numerous leg cramps he had had over the years courtesy of Julia, Raine and now Squall, and he found that he couldn’t imagine Squall having cramps like that throughout his entire body…nor did he want to.
Laguna looked over to see Squall beginning to writhe in his bed again, and he went back to kneeling on the floor next to him.
“Squall, I’m still here,” Laguna assured him.
Squall did not respond and continued to groan and squirm, and Laguna began to wonder if his son had heard him. Suddenly, Squall’s eyes shot open and they darted around the room frantically.
“No…no I have to stop him,” Squall gasped. “I can’t let him hurt them. Selphie?! Zell?!”
“Squall, what is it?” Laguna asked, grabbing his shoulder. Squall turned toward him, his face pale with sweat beading along his forehead.
“Dad…I have to stop him,” he said. “He, he said he wanted me to go first, but now he’s…he’s going to….I can’t let him….”
“Who?” Laguna said.
“Seifer,” Squall said. “He said…he said that he was going to make them talk. He said that they were all here. Rinoa? Rinoa, where are you?”
Laguna felt a spark of anger upon hearing Seifer’s name, but made sure to keep his expression calm and comforting. After the battle with Ultimecia, Kiros had been able to gather up enough information so that Laguna had a good outline of what had happened, including Seifer Almasy’s role in the whole thing. While it was true that Seifer was not wanted in Esthar for any crimes connected with the affair, after learning the basics about what he had done to Squall and his friends, Laguna had felt a strong urge to hunt Seifer down himself. Revenge was not something he would normally even consider, but the fact remained that it was only Squall’s insistence that he forget about Seifer that made it so that Laguna was finally able to abandon the idea.
At this moment, however, Laguna felt that urge return, and he wondered if it would ever go away completely.
“Squall, it’s all right,” Laguna said, patting his son’s hand. “Rinoa and your friends are safe. Seifer can’t hurt them.”
“No, no they’re here,” Squall insisted. “He said they were. After Edea…Galbadian soldiers…They took us here. Dad, please. Please help me get them out before he…before he….”
Squall screwed his eyes shut and wrapped his arms around his abdomen, curling into a tight ball.
“I don’t…I don’t know anything. Why do you keep asking me?” Squall said. “No…no not that again. Stop…it hurts….”
Laguna’s eyes filled with tears again, his hands trembling. He remembered Kiros mentioning that Squall and his team, except for Irvine, had been captured at one point and sent to the D-District prison. He also remembered Ward telling him that one of the reasons why he had been so eager to quit after working there for a while was because of what was done to some of the prisoners, more specifically the techniques that were frequently used during interrogations.
‘He’s a SeeD. That’s part of the job, isn’t it?’ he tried to tell himself. ‘There’s always the risk that he’ll end up in…those kinds of situations. Heck, learning how to cope with stuff like that was probably part of his training.’
Laguna wished that these thoughts could ease the ache he felt in his heart as he watched his son relive these horrendous memories, but he was certain that they never could.
His reverie was broken by Squall grabbing his shirt again.
“I have to save them,” he said. “I can’t let Seifer…I can’t let him….” Laguna put a hand over the one grasping his shirt.
“Squall, you’re friends are fine,” he assured him. “They’re safe now, and so are you.”
“No,” Squall said, shaking his head vigorously. “I can’t…If I make a mistake, they’ll….”
“What?” Laguna asked. “What are you talking about?”
“I have to choose,” Squall said, panting. “Dad, what if I make a mistake? They’ll die…Seifer will hurt them…No, no don’t. Don’t hurt them.”
It was then that Laguna finally understood that it wasn’t just memories of his own torture that were upsetting Squall: it was also the fear that his actions could lead to the people he cared about getting hurt. It was something Laguna could relate to from his years in the army, serving alongside Kiros and Ward. As their commander, Laguna knew that his decisions could have dire consequences for his friends. It was something he carried in his heart every single day and it never really faded, even after moving to Esthar and becoming president because now Kiros and Ward were his bodyguards instead of his comrades-in-arms, and thus, they still faced some of the same risk as they did as soldiers.
Laguna leaned over and guided Squall back closer to him. Squall burrowed against his chest again, and Laguna went back to stroking his hair.
“Squall, I know how hard it is to be responsible for other people, especially when they’re your friends,” he said. “Believe me, I know. But don’t worry. You did everything you could, and it worked out just fine, see? It’s all over now, and your friends are ok. You’re a great leader son, and I’m sure that your friends would agree that they’re in the best possible hands with you in charge.”
Laguna could feel Squall nod and slump against him, and he was relieved that he had managed to get through to him. That relief only lasted a moment, however, and was broken by another cry of pain from Squall and from the shivers that were starting to wrack his son’s body.
“Dad…please, take me back,” Squall whispered.
“Back?” Laguna said, quizzical. “Back where?”
“To Winhill,” Squall answered. “I was there, with you and Sis and Ra—Mom. Kiros had just found you and you were all living there together. Don’t leave me here with Seifer. He keeps asking me…but I don’t know anything….Please, make this stop…Please take me back to that place….”
A tear slid down Laguna’s cheek, and he brushed it away. It didn’t take long for him to figure out that that time must have been one of the times when Ellone had sent Squall into his past. Looking back on it, he vaguely remembered that he sensed the “faeries” around him that day when Kiros met up with him in Winhill, and soon another thought occurred to him.
‘Did Elle send him back to Winhill while they were taking him to that prison? Is that what he had to wake up to when it was over? That…interrogation….?’
Laguna sniffed and closed his eyes. Memories of Raine and his life in Winhill were often bittersweet for him, but right now he could understand completely why Squall would want to go back to that rather than face what Seifer had in store for him.
“So c-cold,” Squall said, his teeth chattering. “Dad, please….”
Unable to listen to Squall plead with him anymore, Laguna decided to take action. He gently nudged Squall to one side of the bed and climbed in with him, tucking him in the blankets and then wrapping his arms around him. Squall nestled closer to him, and Laguna pondered how Squall would probably try to kill him for doing this if he wasn’t so sick and delirious.
“All right, Squall, all right,” he cooed at him. “We’ll go back together. You can play with Elle, your Sis, and your mother will probably scold me for messing up lunch again. Kiros, he’ll be too busy laughing at me to be any help. Not that he usually is in situations like that. And then Raine will laugh and smile at us and we’ll all go for a walk together outside. There’ll be sun and blue sky and flowers scattered in the green grass and you’ll love how quiet it is.”
“Dad….” Squall slurred out. Laguna put a hand on his head.
“Hush, and close your eyes,” Laguna told him. “You’re safe now with me. I won’t let anything happen. Just close your eyes and enjoy the sunshine and those beautiful white flowers your mom has in her hands.”
Squall nodded and let his eyes slide shut as he relaxed in his father’s arms. Laguna continued to paint him a picture of a typical day in Winhill until a soft snore told him that his son had fallen back asleep. Looking down at Squall’s face, Laguna noted the slight smile on his lips and he was grateful that Squall had found some peace at last.
Laguna then adjusted his hold on Squall and closed his own eyes, determined to let his dreams take him back to Winhill as well. He knew that those happy moments would be gone when he woke up, and that there was no way that he could shield Squall from all the evils his son would face in this world.
But, for now, Laguna could be content with the knowledge that his son was secure in his arms and that they would both be spending some time with a family who was only a heart’s memory away from them.
Laguna slowly blinked his eyes and tried to rub the sleep out of them. He was about to let out a boisterous yawn, but then he remembered where he was, and so he made sure to stifle it as much as possible so he wouldn’t wake up the lightly snoring figure beside him.
Most of the previous day had been spent with Laguna staying in this room with Squall close by or cradled in his arms. His son had spent hours trapped in various hallucinations. Some of them were lightly humorous, such as the one where he saw chocobos of various colors fly up to an island in the sky and perform elaborate dances with Boko joining in. Others, however, were far darker and those were the ones that were difficult for Laguna to watch.
One of the worst was when Squall was convinced that a Malboro was devouring him. Laguna watched in horror as his son thrashed and screamed about how his legs were caught in the monster’s jaws.
“Dad! Dad! Help me! No, no it’s ripping me up! That green stuff…it burns….No, my skin…it’s rotting, it’s turning black. Dad, please, please don’t let me die!”
Even though the hallucination was thankfully brief, the sight of Squall staring up at him with terrified, tear-filled eyes and the sound of his voice as he described how his flesh was dissolving and tearing away in those sharp, putrid teeth along with his anguished pleas for his father to help him would haunt Laguna’s dreams for a long time. After he was finally able to calm Squall down enough so he could fall back asleep, Laguna wept for several minutes and silently begged for anyone or anything to take his son’s suffering away.
Laguna heard the sound of someone entering the front room area, and he gingerly moved off the bed. He bent down to tuck Squall back into his blankets and to gently tousle his hair before going to see who was there.
“A meal for you and for Commander Leonhart, Mr. President,” a young woman with a satchel slung over her shoulder said, holding up a tray.
“Thank you,” Laguna smiled at her. “But please, call me Laguna. After all, we’re not in Esthar, and I’m your guys’ guest.”
“I guess so,” the girl said, blushing a little. “Ok…Laguna. Oh and there was a delivery for you at the front gate. I brought it here with me.”
The girl sat the tray on a table nearby and then ran back out into the hallway. She returned with a paper bag in her hands.
“Cool, thanks,” Laguna said, taking the bag away from her. He looked inside and smiled, pleased that the item he ordered was even more adorable than the picture he had seen on the website. He then sat the bag down and looked up to see the girl still staring at him, shuffling back and forth.
“Um…say, what’s your name?” Laguna asked.
“Collene, was there something else?” The girl blushed even more and clasped her hands together while looking at her feet.
“You’re…you’re just like how she described,” Collene mumbled. Laguna raised an eyebrow.
“Who?” he asked. Collene fidgeted even more.
“Selphie Tilmitt,” she said. “You know her, right?” Laguna scratched the back of his head. There was no way he could ever forget Selphie, and he suddenly wondered if this girl would also start calling him “Sir Laguna”.
“Ah yeah, I do,” he said. “Are you a friend of hers? How is she these days?”
“She’s great,” Collene said, looking back up and smiling. “She was so excited to visit her friends at Trabia Garden here recently, and she and Irvine are still together…oh and yes, she’s a great friend.”
“Well that’s good to hear,” Laguna said with a laugh. Collene smiled even more.
“All the students here have heard about how you came here to take care of Commander Leonhart while he’s sick,” she said. “It’s just, it’s so sweet. Like I said, you’re just like how Selphie described. Oh, and I hope Commander Leonhart gets better soon. Everyone here at Garden is thinking about him.”
“Thank you,” he said. “I’ll be sure to let my son know that.” Collene nodded and turned an even brighter shade of scarlet.
“Um, there is one more thing,” she squeaked out.
“Could you…could you sign this?”
Collene opened up the satchel and pulled out a magazine and handed it to Laguna along with a pen. Laguna’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Timber Maniacs?” he said. “Is this….?”
“Yep,” Collene said, beaming. “This is an issue that has one of your travel articles in it. All the serious Loireites have them.”
“Loireites?” Laguna said. He wasn’t sure why, but suddenly he felt the twinges of a leg cramp starting to creep up on him.
“Oh, that’s what we call ourselves,” Collene stammered. “Didn’t you know? Selphie’s website got so popular; she helped organize a fan club.”
“I…I see,” Laguna said. At that moment, he sincerely hoped that Kiros and Ward never visited that website or ever found out about any of this, fearing what they would do.
“Anyway, we’ve all read the articles you wrote for Timber Maniacs on her website, but a couple of us, including Selphie, started to wonder if we could find any more of them,” Collene continued. “All of us keep an eye out for more issues and along the way we found some duplicates to the collection Selphie has, so we started to make collections of our own. Sadly, they are really hard to find. I’ve only got this one. It’s the one where you wrote about meeting the Shumi tribe.”
“Oh yeah,” Laguna said. “That was a lot of fun to write about. So um…where did you want me to sign?” Collene grinned and grabbed the magazine back, flipping through its pages for a few seconds before handing it back to him.
“Right there,” she said, pointing to the space under the photograph of him posing with some Shumi and Moombas and next to his name in the author line. Laguna felt his own cheeks become a little warm as he carefully signed and then handed it back to the girl.
“Thank you,” she said, hugging the magazine for a second before carefully putting it back in her bag. “Oh and, um I have one more thing for you: a gift from everyone in the club.”
Collene rummaged in her bag, took out another issue, and placed it into Laguna’s hands.
“This issue is super hard to find,” she said. “Selphie is the only other person who has a copy. A couple of us found it during a vacation trip to Deling City, and when we showed it to her, she said that it would be the perfect gift for you.”
Laguna flipped through the magazine, wondering what had made Selphie think that when suddenly Raine’s face appeared on one of the pages. He was then very grateful that Selphie had thought to give this to him.
“Thank you,” he managed to whisper.
“You’re welcome,” Collene smiled at him. “Anyway, I should go. Thanks again for the autograph.”
She waved and dashed out the door, and Laguna went back to the bedroom and sat down on the bed, still holding the open magazine in his hands.
Even after all these years, he remembered almost every detail of the day he had written this article. He and Kiros were running low on travel funds, and he was desperate to come up with an article that the editor would like enough to publish. It had been an agonizing decision, but in the end, he decided he would write about Winhill while still doing everything he could to keep its identity a secret. It had been both the easiest and the hardest one for him to write: easy because so many facets of the place were deeply enmeshed in his brain and hard because his desire to return to Raine turned from a dull ache to a throbbing wound inside him as he wrote.
After he was finished, he panicked for a moment when he realized that he didn’t have any pictures of Winhill to accompany the article, but then he remembered that he was carrying some pictures of Raine, including one where she had posed for him at her pub. He hated to part with even one of those precious photographs, but then he told himself that getting the money to find Ellone and return to Raine was far more important than any one picture.
Laguna ran his finger along the picture, tracing out every line of Raine’s face. He had been so busy in his search; he often did not get a chance to see any of the articles he wrote in their final form. He was glad that the editor had managed to make the photograph as clear and detailed as he remembered the original being. He then looked over at Squall’s sleeping face.
‘Raine, our son is hurting so much. The doctor keeps telling me that he’ll get better, but it’s so hard to believe that when he’s like this. I wish you were here with me now with both of us taking care of him.’
Laguna stared at the magazine for one more long moment before closing it and placing it on a box near the bed which also had the pen Squall gave him resting on it.
‘But…I’m sure that you’re here with us now. Somehow you are. So, I’ll just tell you again that I love you and ask that you keep watching over Squall with me.’
Laguna looked down to see that Squall had woken up again and was staring at him. He was elated to see more lucidity in the ice-blue eyes than he had seen in the last twenty-four hours.
“What is it, Squall?” he asked, smiling. Squall scrubbed at his eyes and tried to sit up.
“I, uh, need to get up,” he said. Laguna nodded his head in understanding and leaned over so Squall could wrap his arms around Laguna’s shoulders. Laguna then nearly dragged Squall out of bed and half-walked, half-carried him to the bathroom. It had become part of the routine they had established over the last few days, and while Laguna was sure that Squall hated having to rely on him so much to take care of his basic needs, he was also glad that Squall stopped resisting his efforts to tend to him.
Once they were done and Squall was back in bed, Laguna arranged the pillows so Squall could lie in a more upright position.
“Hey, they brought us some food,” Laguna said. “Are you hungry? You want to try to eat something?”
“Sure,” Squall said, shrugging his shoulders. “I guess I’m kind of hungry.”
“No surprise there,” Laguna said. “You hardly ate anything yesterday. Here, let me get the food.”
Laguna brought the tray over, and they ate in silence with Laguna wolfing down everything in front of him and Squall only eating half of what was on his plate. Laguna thought about encouraging Squall to eat more, but then he remembered Kadowaki mentioning that Squall could feel queasy once in a while from the medications, so he decided that it was probably for the best that Squall only ate what he could stomach.
“Well I will say this: SeeDs certainly eat way better than Galbadian soldiers do,” Laguna said as he sat the tray aside. “At least, they do compared to when I was in the army, though I doubt that things have changed much. I just hope that they got rid of that Roast Meat Special that they used to serve us at every base. To this day, Ward and Kiros are still arguing over what kind of meat that actually was whereas I’m convinced that it wasn’t meat at all.”
The corners of Squall’s mouth turned up slightly, and Laguna grinned back, happy that his son seemed to be in far less pain and thinking more clearly for now.
“Dad, what is that bag on the floor?” Squall asked, suspicion lacing his tone. Laguna grinned even more and pulled the bag up toward him.
“I got you another get well present,” he said. Squall frowned and looked down at his bed sheets.
“You don’t have to keep buying me things,” he said.
“It’s ok,” Laguna assured him. “I’ve got more money than I’ll ever use in my lifetime or even a dozen lifetimes, so it’s not like any of this will break me. Believe me, I’m not trying to ‘buy’ your affection or anything like that. I just….” Laguna leaned closer and pointed at his heart.
“I have so much in here,” he added. “So much I want… no, need…to give you from here that, sometimes, it feels like I could burst. Doing things like this, spending time with you or giving you a gift, gives me a chance to release a little of what’s in there. If this is making you unhappy or uncomfortable, I’ll stop, but please, don’t think I’m doing this because I feel like I have to. I’m doing it because I love you and because I enjoy it.”
Squall looked up at him, his frown gone and a light in his eyes that Laguna had never seen before. He looked as if he was about to say something, but then he coughed and rubbed his eyes again.
“All right,” Squall said. “So what is it?” Laguna grinned again, yanked out the present and sat it down onto Squall’s lap.
“A Moomba doll?” Squall said. “Dad, what is with the stuffed animals?”
“Cute, isn’t he?” Laguna said, ignoring Squall’s question. “He reminds me of a one I met at the Shumi village years ago. Boy, he was cute too, but he was also a fighter. I saw him go after a pair of Mesmerize that were trying to get into the village. You should have seen how he actually caught one of their horns in his paws and threw it back at them. Yep, nothing could get by him.”
“Hey, I thought Boko could use a friend,” Laguna said. “I figured that he was getting lonely sitting there by himself on that stand. Don’t you think?”
“Really, Dad?” Squall said, a trace of a smirk on his lips. “Are you really going to try to tell me that you bought this so that my toy chicobo wouldn’t be lonely?”
“You had a far too active imagination as a child, didn’t you?” Squall said, the smirk growing.
“Hey, imagination is a good thing,” Laguna replied. “It helps people dream. It makes them more creative. It gives people new ideas to explore.”
“It makes a person prone to assigning human qualities to stuffed animals,” Squall added.
“Now you make it sound like I’m crazy or something,” Laguna said with an exaggerated huff.
“No, just a little odd is all,” Squall said with a chuckle. “But seriously, why Dad? If there is one thing I have finally figured out about you it’s that you never do anything, no matter how spontaneous, ridiculous, or innocuous it might seem, without a reason.” Laguna laughed and leaned back in his chair.
“I guess I should have known that I can’t keep things from you,” he said. “Ok, the truth? The truth is, I know you’ve been having a lot of bad dreams here lately and um, I know that you can’t always hear or see me while you’re in the midst of all that. So I, I just wanted to give you a friend, a reminder that the nightmares will end, even if they don’t seem like they will at the time. So whenever you feel those dark shadows creeping up in your mind, hold him close and know that you will get through them.” Squall ran a hand along the plush fur of the toy, his lips parting in surprise.
“How did you know?” he asked.
“Know? Know what, Squall?” Laguna asked.
“About the Moombas,” Squall answered. “About how they appeared after I woke up from….”
“No, never mind,” Squall said, turning his face away and gripping the toy in his lap. “I don’t want to talk about it. I just…thanks for the gift anyway, Dad.” Laguna reached over and patted Squall’s knee.
“You’re welcome,” he said. “Is there anything else you need?”
“No,” Squall said, sliding down into his bed. “Just tired is all.”
“Sure, I understand,” Laguna nodded. “What you’ve been doing can’t really be called sleep. Here, let me adjust these for you.”
Laguna stood up and repositioned the pillows so Squall could lie back down and then pulled his blankets up to Squall’s shoulders.
“Go ahead and rest,” Laguna said. “If you need anything, I’ll be in the next room, ok?”
“Ok,” Squall said, drowsily as he closed his eyes. Laguna watched him fall asleep and then moved the Moomba doll to the side of the bed next to Squall’s head before grabbing his pen and magazine and walking over to the couch. He plopped down and sat the pen onto the coffee table beside him. He then leaned against the cushions and opened the magazine back up to the article he had written and stared at Raine’s picture again.
‘You remember the day I took this one?’ Laguna silently asked his wife. ‘I tried to make you and Elle breakfast and ended up ruining your favorite pan. I didn’t even know that you could burn a hole through metal like that, but you kept acting like you totally saw it coming. Man, facing the monsters seemed like a walk in the parking lot compared to trying to talk my way out of that one.’
Laguna laughed a little and placed the magazine onto his chest while closing his eyes.
‘But then I brought you that flower I found while I was out working. The one I found growing out of that rock. I said that it reminded me of you: pretty and delicate and yet strong and determined. At first I thought you were going to yell at me for not leaving it where it was, but then you put it in a vase and smiled at me. I know that I said I wanted to take a picture so I could have evidence of our truce, but the truth is, I wanted to remember the way you looked in that moment: the warm smile on your face and in your eyes, the way the sunlight made your hair alive with color, the way that everything in your home and your pub seemed to center itself around you.’
Laguna felt himself drifting off to sleep, but then he was startled by the soft sound of muffled tears. He sat up and put the magazine aside before jumping to his feet and heading back into the bedroom.
“Squall?” he said as he approached the bed. “Are you all right?” Squall turned his face toward him and Laguna felt his heart ache at the wetness on his son’s cheeks.
“Dad,” he said, his voice watery. “I saw her.” Laguna sat down on the bed and reached over to brush away Squall’s tears with his thumb.
“Mom,” Squall said. “She was here, just now. I saw her standing there, next to the bed. She, she kept staring at me. I tried to say something to her, but then she disappeared.” Laguna felt his throat tighten, as he finished wiping the tears off his son’s cheeks.
“She probably wanted to see how you were doing,” he said with a wistful smile. “I’m sure she misses you and wishes she could do more than just visit.”
“No, no she doesn’t,” Squall said, hiccupping. “She missed you. She…she hated me.”
“Squall, what in the world makes you think that?” Laguna gasped, horrified. “Raine loved you. She still does, I’m sure of it.”
“No,” Squall said. “I…I killed her. I took her away from you and from Sis. If it hadn’t been for me, you’d still be with her.”
“No son, no,” Laguna said, clasping Squall’s shoulders. “You were just a baby trying to come into this world. What happened after that wasn’t your fault. I know Raine enough to know that she would have never blamed you…and please know that I have never blamed you either.” Squall rolled over onto his side and buried his face into his pillow.
“How can you stand it?” Squall said. “How can you stand to look at me? Everyone says that I look just like her. I know you think I do. Doesn’t it make you miserable to look at me and be reminded of her, of everything you lost? Doesn’t it make you sick? Why would you want to put yourself through that? Don’t you wish that you could run away and never look at me again?”
Squall gripped the edges of his pillow, his breaths still catching, but otherwise he was silent. Laguna worked to contain his own tears for a couple of minutes before gently pulling Squall over so he would face him. At first, Squall resisted, but soon, Laguna was able to guide his son to look at him.
“Squall, listen,” he said. “You do look a lot like your mother, but I don’t I resent you for it. And when I look at you, I don’t think about everything I’ve lost. I think about all the wonderful things I gained.”
“That you gained?” Squall said, confused.
“Sure,” Laguna smiled even as a tear wobbled down his cheek. “When I look at you, I remember all the good times I had in Winhill. I think about Raine and all the amazing facets that made her who she was and about the love we shared. When I see you, I think about how happy and proud she would have been to have you as her son…and how lucky I am that I get to experience all that with you in my life. Squall, when I look at you, I realize how many precious gifts life has given me, and even though I haven’t been able to hold onto all of them, they remain here, in my heart, always.”
Laguna rubbed his face with the heels of his palms and then went back to patting Squall’s shoulders.
“Now, you tell me: why would I ever want to run away from all that?” he added. “Squall, I don’t know how much of this you’ll remember, but if there is one thing I want you to keep in your memory, it’s this: even though we weren’t always able to be with you, you were always loved…by both of us.”
Squall quietly studied him. Laguna wished he could peek into his son’s mind and get an idea of the thought processes he had whenever Squall contemplated his words. He then noticed that his son seemed to keep looking over his shoulder, and Laguna wondered what it was that he was looking at.
“Dad, could you...stay here?” Squall said. “At least until those moogles stop waving at me?” Laguna let out a sigh and nodded his head.
“Sure,” he said. Squall scooted over, and Laguna smiled as he moved onto the bed. As sick as he was, Squall still couldn’t bring himself to put into words what he actually wanted, but Laguna knew better than to expect him to. It was a part of his son’s personality that he had learned to get comfortable with.
“Would you like me to tell you some more about Winhill?” Laguna asked him. Squall nodded and Laguna stretched for a moment before continuing.
“Well, I should tell you about the time Raine asked me to help her with her garden,” he said. “By this point, she knew better than to trust me with anything too important, so she mainly had me carry stuff back and forth and dig holes where she told me to. It was hot, dirty work, but by the end of the day, I started to understand why she was so good with flowers….”
Laguna continued with his tale, even after Squall had fallen asleep again. Eventually, exhaustion from more than one day with little rest caused Laguna to slump down and close his eyes as well.
As they dreamed, both Squall and Laguna sensed a lingering fragrance of flowers, and in that peaceful silence, some might have thought that it was merely some stray gust of wind that caused the blankets on the bed to shift and drape themselves onto their slumbering forms.
The first thing that Squall became aware of when he woke up was that he was not alone in his bed.
After a night filled with peaceful dreams of his friends and of Winhill, Squall awoke feeling more rested than he had in days. He cracked his eyes open slightly and took a deep breath, happy to note that it wasn’t labored or punctuated by a cough.
He was about to take another one when he felt something tickle his nose, and he wrinkled it in response. Once his eyes were fully opened, he could see that he had his toy Moomba tucked under his arm and that it was a tuff of the doll’s red hair that was brushing up against his nostrils.
Squall yawned and frowned. He vaguely remembered Laguna giving him the doll, but he had no memory at all of how he ended up clinging to it while he rested. He suspected that his father had put it there, but even that was not a certainty in his mind.
He then slowly rolled onto his back and came face-to-face with his father who was snoring away. Squall thought about asking Laguna why he was in bed with him when fragments of what had happened over the last couple of days started to float back into his mind. He remembered nightmares about Marlboros, being lost in memories of what happened to him when he was captured by Galbadia and thrown into the D-District prison and poignant dreams of Raine.
The one common thread woven into all these scraps of memory was that Laguna had been there with him the entire time, comforting and reassuring him. Squall pondered how his father’s presence had been the one stable thing he could count on to get through those days when his mind betrayed him and his feelings had spiraled out of control.
Not that any of that made Squall entirely comfortable with the idea of Laguna sharing a bed with him.
Laguna let out a loud snort and mumbled something about Kiros and a soufflé before snuggling his face against his pillow. Squall thought about nudging Laguna awake and asking him to go sleep on the couch, but a glimpse at his father’s face made him pause. There were dark smudges under Laguna’s eyes and patches of silver and black stubble covering his chin and cheeks. His features were drawn, the subtle lines on his face standing out a bit more than usual and something about the look of it told Squall that this weariness was not just pure physical exhaustion.
It was then that Squall realized the significance of his father’s near constant presence in those bits of memory that he had of the last few days. He thought about how, whenever he needed anything like a drink of water, something to eat, or someone to fluff his pillow, Laguna was always there; ready to help however he could. He also thought about how Laguna was there, without fail, whenever the dreams became too real for him to handle on his own. Squall then started to ponder how stressful that had to have been and wondered how much his father had taken care of himself.
‘Probably not much at all,’ he thought. ‘That’s why he looks so tired. Taking care of me was probably a nonstop job that would have given him little time to do basic stuff like get a real meal or even full night’s sleep.’
Squall frowned again and stared at the ceiling. He didn’t like the idea of having been so helpless that Laguna had to help him with practically everything. He had spent years learning how to take care of himself precisely so he could live without relying on other people. But this illness had made him completely dependent on someone else, and it was unsettling, both because he fell into this situation so easily and because of the speed at which he found himself getting used to having someone take care of him.
Still, another part of him wondered if it was such a terrible thing after all. Rinoa had told him more than once about how the connections between people and the love that could blossom from these connections were their own rewards, and that everything else was simply the by-products of that love.
Squall had found it easy to understand that in relation to what he felt about her. There was the love they felt as a couple and there was the bond they had as sorceress and knight. Each of these connections brought different elements to their relationship. But whether it was the little things like how Rinoa held his hand as he fell asleep at night or the more overt things like way she acted intuitively and yet in perfect tune with him in battle, Squall saw all of them as the logical result of their relationship. He had not, however, found it as easy to understand how this worked with his friends, Quistis, Zell, Selphie or Irvine, but over time he believed that he was starting to learn and that knowledge made his friendships with them seem even more meaningful and rich than they did before. As a result of all this, Squall could understand how taking care of someone who was sick was less about dependence and more about a natural expression of love.
But Squall was also aware that things were different yet with Laguna. Unlike any of his other close relationships; his connection with Laguna was not one he had chosen and had been foisted upon him with little warning. Even his relationship with Ellone had been more about choice, having been drawn to her playful yet gentle spirit while at the orphanage. With Laguna, it was a matter of having the bond first and then being forced to learn to deal with it, a situation Squall did not care for at all.
At first, all he could focus on the betrayal he had felt over his father having been alive all those years when Squall had been certain that he was dead. Even after he had moved past that, there was the lingering question of if he would have ever wanted to associate with Laguna had he not been his father. It might have seemed like an inconsequential or even a petty thing to others, but to Squall it was crucial. It was the question that could decide if what he felt toward Laguna was solely about familial duty and expectation or if it was deeper and more organic than that.
Squall carefully got up and after wobbling back and forth on his feet for a moment, he managed to walk around on his own for the first time in days. He headed for the bathroom and after spying his appearance in the mirror, he decided to chance taking a shower and shaving. After he was finished, he felt immensely better, but he was also completely wiped out and was ready for another nap.
As he walked back into his bedroom, Squall heard another snore and saw that Laguna was still fast asleep. Squall sat down on the bed next to him and let out a sigh. He wanted to have his bed to himself and thought again about waking Laguna up so he could move.
“Squall,” Laguna mumbled in his sleep. “I’m here…no, don’t…please…don’t leave me….”
Squall felt in his ache in his chest and this time it wasn’t from his congestion. He figured that he must have gotten the more severe form of Cerilian fever that Kadowaki had warned him about and even though it wasn’t supposed to be fatal, Squall was fairly certain that it would have been frightening to watch someone else endure it. Listening to Laguna worry over him, even while sleeping, made Squall wonder just how much his illness had affected Laguna.
Far more pressing than that though was the sudden and surprisingly strong desire he felt to ease his father’s distress.
“Dad, it’s ok,” he murmured while leaning close to him and putting a hand on Laguna’s shoulder. “I’m fine. I’m going back to sleep, so just rest for now.” This seemed to appease Laguna, and he wriggled about to find a more comfortable position for a moment before drifting back into a deep slumber.
Squall sighed again. It would still be easy to wake Laguna up and ask him to move. Squall knew that Laguna would be willing to leave if he asked him to and would not hold even the slightest grudge over having his sleep interrupted. Squall also knew that he would be more comfortable if he could have the bed to himself. He was confident that his reasoning was sound and fair.
Squall surprised himself, however, when instead of shaking Laguna’s shoulder, he carefully pulled the blankets up so that both he and his father would be covered before laying back down and punching his pillow a couple times to shift it back into shape. At first, he couldn’t fathom why he was doing this, but then his mind returned to his earlier thoughts, and Squall realized that he had finally had an answer to the question of whether his relationship with Laguna was one of obligation or love. It was sudden, but Squall smiled slightly when he realized that it wasn’t really surprising even though the feelings around it were entirely new to him.
He then wondered if this was how it felt to have a parent. He had never felt such a strong sense of security before that wasn’t linked to his romantic feelings for Rinoa. Ordinarily, he had to fight the doubts and fears about what others thought of him. But with Laguna, he had an overwhelming confidence that he would be accepted and cared for no matter what, and Squall was shocked to find it empowering instead of clinging and needy.
‘Maybe…maybe there really is something to this whole “family” thing,’ Squall thought to himself. ‘Maybe Rinoa was right after all about how much I was missing. Still, am I sure that I really want to let myself start investing so much of myself into another person? How sure am I that this whole thing with Laguna will work for the long run?’
Squall frowned and closed his eyes. He was about to try to go back to sleep when he suddenly felt Laguna sling an arm across his shoulders and give him a brief, clumsy hug from behind.
“Don’t be scared,” Laguna slurred out. “Not going anywhere….”
Squall tensed up both at the embrace and at the way Laguna seemed to read his mind. Thankfully Laguna held him for only a few seconds more before shifting away from him. Once it was over, Squall could admit that it hadn’t been entirely unpleasant for him to have his father hug him, but it did concern him that Laguna seemed to be entirely too familiar with the gesture.
‘We’re definitely laying down some ground rules about that once we’re both awake again,’ Squall told himself as he finally fell back asleep.
Almost three hours later, Squall woke up again and found that he was alone in bed this time. He stretched and ran a hand through his hair, grateful to have a few moments alone. He stared out the window for several minutes, letting his mind gather its thoughts while enjoying the silence.
That peaceful reverie was disrupted, however, when more memories of his delirium-filled hours came back to him. Earlier this morning, he had thought that how he had responded to his hallucinations were just another part of those disturbing dreams, but now he was certain that they were not entirely dreams. Instead parts of them were memories, memories of things he had done and said while in the grip of hallucinations. By the time he replayed a few more of these memories in his head, Squall was thoroughly mortified at how he had acted.
‘No wonder Laguna was hovering so much,’ he thought glumly. ‘I was a blubbering, incoherent mess who couldn’t control himself.’
Squall scowled and gripped at the sheets on his bed. He wasn’t sure what he hated more: the fact that he had lost control or that Laguna had been there to witness all of it.
“Squall? Is everything ok, son?”
Squall raised his head to see Laguna standing in the doorway with a large tray of food in his hands. He grunted and pushed himself into an upright position.
“Fine,” he said, inwardly wincing at how terse his tone was. Fortunately, Laguna didn’t seem to notice.
“Good,” he grinned. “And I’m glad that you woke up when you did. The cafeteria ladies gave me all this food and there’s no way I can eat it by myself.”
Squall nodded, and Laguna sat the tray down on the dresser so he could move a chair closer to the bed along setting up a small end table. He then sat the tray down at the foot of the bed and they both helped themselves to generous portions of a full course meal. Looking at all this food, Squall felt a suspicion begin to form at the back of his mind.
“What did you do?” Squall asked him. Laguna gulped the food in his mouth loudly and Squall knew he was on the right track.
“What do you mean?” Laguna asked his tone a little too forced to sound completely innocent.
“I know the people who work in that kitchen and they don’t normally make such an extravagant meal for just two people,” Squall said.
“Maybe they just want to impress the president of Esthar,” Laguna said, fidgeting. “Or maybe they felt like giving me a demonstration of their skill seeing as I’ve done so well at cooking here lately.”
“Or maybe they wanted to bribe you so that you would leave the kitchen,” Squall said. “Come on, Dad, which is it?” Laguna opened his mouth to protest, but ended up shrugging his shoulders dramatically instead.
“Ok, you got me,” Laguna said. “I heard them say that they had recently gotten this new convection oven that was supposed to be lightning-fast, and I thought that this was a perfect time to improve my Balamb fish recipe.”
Squall reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “You didn’t set off the fire alarm, did you?” he asked.
“No, no of course not. They were able to stop it from smoking before that happened.”
“Did it even look like food by the end of it?” Squall asked, morbid curiosity getting the better of him.
“To be honest, not really,” Laguna said, scratching the back of his head. “I mean, who knew that onions could catch fire like that….Anyway, after we finished cleaning it up, they offered to make these awesome meals if I promised to let them handle the cooking from now on.”
Squall nodded and made a mental note to send a thank you message to the cafeteria after Laguna had left, although he suspected that his father would probably do something similar before returning to Esthar. They finished the rest of the meal in silence and Squall let out a huff as he settled back into bed while Laguna cleared everything away.
“Something bothering you, son?” he asked. Squall tugged at a loose thread on a corner of his blanket for several moments before answering.
“Dad, I…about what happened these last couple of days,” he said. Squall scowled again, and Laguna sat back down on the chair beside the bed, waiting patiently for his son to continue.
“I just wanted to say that…I’m sorry about all that,” Squall said. “I…I just want to forget about it and….”
“I totally understand why you’d like to forget about it,” Laguna nodded. “But Squall, don’t feel like you have to apologize to me for any of that. You don’t have anything to be ashamed of. Really.”
“Whatever,” Squall mumbled, keeping his eyes fixed on the blankets in front of him. Laguna let out a low chuckle and shook his head.
“It’s not like you had any control over what happened,” he said. “You were sick, ok? These things happen.”
“Not to me,” Squall nearly whispered, his scowl deepening. Laguna studied him for a moment before nodding again.
“Listen, I know that you really don’t like feeling out of control, but sometimes that can’t be helped,” he said. “And you shouldn’t feel bad about having to rely on the people close to you to help you through it.”
Laguna leaned back in his chair and put his hand to his chin. Squall had recently started to learn that this was a cue that his father was about to share a memory with him, and so he raised his head to watch him.
“Back when I was still in the army, we had to do a stint where we were doing patrols near an outpost in Trabia,” Laguna said.
“They had you doing outdoor patrols in Trabia?” Squall asked. “What exactly did you do to earn that?”
“Never mind,” Laguna said with a wave of his hand. “Anyway, one night, me, Kiros and Ward got caught in a snowstorm and had to spend the night in a forest in the Bika snowfields. I had fallen into a huge snow drift right before we set up our tents and was completely soaked by the snow.”
“You used more than one tent?” Squall asked.
“Ward always got his own,” Laguna said. “Trust me, there was no other way any of us could get any real sleep. So there I was, chilled to the bone and shivering nonstop. At first, Kiros and Ward kept making fun of me because I got buried in that drift, but by the time we had the tents set up and had gone inside, I stopped feeling so cold and was incredibly sleepy and disoriented instead and that’s when Kiros stopped laughing.”
Laguna let out a sigh and ran a hand through his hair, his face unusually somber.
It turned out that my temperature was dropping too fast and I was becoming hypothermic,” he continued. “I don’t remember much else about the rest of the night, but I do remember Kiros wrapping me in a blanket and holding me for hours while he kept nagging at me to stay awake. It wasn’t until a couple days later after I recovered that I realized just how close I could have come to dying and how scared Kiros had been that night. Ward wasn’t really spared either because he had to carry me back to the outpost the next day, and apparently he kept asking Kiros to check on me because I was so still the entire time.”
Laguna paused again, his usual smile finally returning to his features.
“Of course these days, they love to remind me of all the bizarre things I said while I was out of it,” he chuckled. “I don’t think Kiros will ever let me forget about how I was convinced that a chicobo was swinging from the braids in his hair. Anyway, the point of all this is that, even though they use that whole thing to pick on me yet again, they have never made me feel ashamed or guilty over being in that state. In fact, I know that they are actually extremely grateful that I made it out of that situation alive and are glad that they were there to help me. Granted, they have a funny way of showing it at times, but hey….”
Squall chuckled too. He knew Kiros and Ward well enough to know just how much pleasure they got out of ribbing Laguna even though their loyalty to him was both comprehensive and steadfast. Laguna then put a hand on Squall’s shoulder and pointed a finger close to his nose.
“And you shouldn’t ever feel bad about needing my help,” he said. “You are never a burden to me, Squall, and I am just very thankful that you’re going to be all right.”
Laguna patted his shoulder and moved his hands away while Squall worked to stop himself from being overwhelmed by his feelings again.
“Thanks Dad,” he murmured. “For telling your story and…all the rest too.”
“You’re welcome son,” Laguna grinned at him. “Ah, I see you’ve still got Cecil next to your pillow.”
“I take it that’s what you decided to name the Moomba doll,” Squall smirked at him. “Tell me, Dad, did Ellone have to put up with your stuffed animal obsession while you were in Winhill?”
“Hey, I’ll have you know she liked it when I came up with names for her dolls.”
“Sure, because she was only four years old and had to put up with a strange man living in her childhood home. She probably figured that it was best to humor you.”
“Now you’re sounding like Raine again. Did I ever tell you how much you are like her?”
“More than once…and by the way, we need to talk about this whole ‘hugging’ habit you’ve developed.”
“What about it?” Laguna asked, nonchalant despite the mischievous glint in his eyes. “I am your father, after all. It’s normal to want to hug your son.”
“That may be, but we need to set up some rules about where and when you can do that,” Squall replied, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Rules? For hugging?” Laguna gaped. “You can’t be serious.”
“Are you forgetting that I often have an assortment of GFs junctioned?” Squall replied, his smirk growing. “Do you really want to know what it’s like to get hit with one of Diablos’ spells?”
“Ok fine,” Laguna said, raising his hands in defeat. “Just tell me what you want and I’ll go along with it. I don’t want to be blasted into some weird time-space vortex any time soon.”
Squall relaxed into a warmer smile and he noted how Laguna’s eyes lit up with happiness at such a small gesture.
“Don’t worry Dad, it won’t be a complete ban. I mean, it’s ok, I guess, once in a while. It’s just…give me a little warning so I can let you know if I’m good with it right then, all right?”
“No problem,” Laguna said, his grin growing wider. “Anything else?”
“Yeah,” Squall said, leaning back against the headboard his bed. “You think we could move out to the front room? I’m really bored and right now, a movie sounds perfect.”
“Fine by me,” Laguna said, standing back up. “Just as long as I get to pick it this time. Oh and The Sorceress and the Knight is off limits. You’ve had enough fun at my expense.”
“Spoilsport,” Squall said before they both laughed again.
“I can’t believe this,” Laguna groaned, throwing a forearm across his face. “Are you sure?”
“You’ve asked her that five times now,” Squall said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Do you think that the answer will change if you keep asking?”
“But I can’t have Cerilian fever,” Laguna whined. “It’s not possible. I mean, I already had it as a kid, and I know for a fact that it’s not continuous.”
“You mean contagious, right?” Squall smirked at him.
“Continuous, contagious, whatever,” Laguna grumbled. “All I know is that I shouldn’t have it now.”
Doctor Kadowaki sighed and shook her head as she listened to this. Earlier that morning, she had come in to see how Squall was doing and was surprised when Squall immediately asked her to look in on Laguna instead.
“He’s was acting pretty out of it last night,” he had told her. “He was barely able to form a coherent sentence by late evening, and I had to help him get settled to sleep on the couch. Could you please make sure that he is all right first before examining me?”
At first, Kadowaki had thought about checking on Squall first anyway and reassuring him that she would see to his father afterwards, but the anxiety in his voice was enough to convince her to comply with his request.
She had found Laguna curled up on the couch, fast asleep, and noted that he did appear to have an elevated temperature. After waking him and discovering how listless he was and hearing a slight wheeze in his breathing, Kadowaki decided to examine him to rule out anything serious.
She came back a couple hours later to give Laguna her diagnosis and was greeted by a tired and grumpy Laguna sitting on the couch next to an equally tired and even grumpier Squall.
“I’m sorry, Laguna,” she said. “But that is the one downside of having one of the milder strains of Cerilian fever: there is a slim chance that you will contract it again later in life.”
Laguna let his arm flop back down onto the couch and he pouted even more.
“Daaarn it,” he said. “I wanted to get back to Esthar here soon. That law thingy is over by now and I had plans to check out the Centra History Expo this weekend.”
“You were going to go to that?” Squall said, raising an eyebrow. “I didn’t know that you were interested in that kind of thing.”
“Kiros got me into that stuff a few years ago,” Laguna shrugged. “Apparently there is a lot in Centra’s history that is related to the history of his people. And I know that you enjoy it too. I was really hoping that the three of us could go together, but then you got sick. Then I figured that I could take care of you until you got better and still make it back to Esthar in time so that I could get you some stuff from it. You know, so you wouldn’t miss out entirely.”
Squall blinked and nodded, unsure of what to say. He was certain that he would have accepted Laguna’s invitation if his father had gotten the chance to ask. Squall then pondered how it seemed like he was always in Laguna’s thoughts and he wondered why he had never noticed it before.
“I am sorry,” Kadowaki repeated. “But it really wouldn’t be good for you to travel right now. You could get sicker.”
“Doctor,” Squall said. “Laguna’s fever…will it be like mine?” Kadowaki smiled, touched by the strong note of concern in Squall’s voice.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “It will probably be mild and should only last a couple of days. That is if he takes it easy and makes sure to take better care of himself than he has been recently.”
Seconds after she said this, Kadowaki regretted her words when she saw Squall lower his eyes and turn his face away. She was certain that the three of them knew that Laguna had exhausted himself while taking care of his son and that that probably played a role in his current illness.
Laguna looked back and forth between them, immediately sensing the tension, and scratched the side of his head.
“Ah, Kiros and Ward are never going to let me hear the end of this,” he said. “They’ll probably try to say that I got sick because I ate some of that Balamb fish I was trying to make a couple days ago.” Squall looked over at him, incredulous.
“You actually ate some of it?”
“Only a little piece. I made sure that there weren’t any burned parts on it.”
“Dad, in the future, make sure to only eat things that actually resemble food. The last thing I need is an incident between Garden and Esthar just because you got sick from your nightmarish culinary attempts.”
“Nightmarish culinary attempts?” Laguna repeated. “Don’t you think that’s a little unfair?”
“You’re right,” Squall smirked. “Culinary is not an accurate word to describe what you do to Balamb fish.”
“My cooking is not that bad.”
“No, it’s worse.”
“Boys,” Kadowaki interrupted, her hands on her hips. “Neither of you are ready to return to your duties, so accept the fact that you will be confined here for at least two more days.”
Both Laguna and Squall let out a huff and fell back against the couch and it took every ounce of willpower that Kadowaki had to stop herself from laughing.
“Now, I’m going to give the cafeteria a menu that I think would be beneficial to you while you two are recovering,” she continued. “And yes, it will include Laguna’s noodle soup. It is actually a very healthy meal choice.”
Kadowaki noticed how Laguna beamed triumphantly while Squall rolled his eyes, but decided not to comment.
“But I also expect you two to be responsible for each other and make sure that the both of you are getting plenty of rest,” she added. “Ignoring my instructions will only prolong your illness.”
“I don’t even want to think about how much paperwork will be waiting for me by the time this is over,” Squall said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“You think you’ve got paperwork?” Laguna said. “Try being the president of a whole country some time. I’m sure that Kiros is just dying to bury me in budget proposals.”
“I will be back later this evening to check on you,” Kadowaki said as she walked out of the room. “And remember what I said.”
“We will,” Squall muttered. “Thank you, Doctor.”
“Yeah, thanks Doctor K,” Laguna said with a wave.
Kadowaki nodded at them and then left. Once she was gone, Laguna yawned and scooted upright.
“What are you doing, Dad?” Squall asked him.
“I can’t just sit around here,” Laguna replied as he stood up. “I’ve got too much stuff to do. I should at least get a hold of Kiros so we can start that….”
Laguna suddenly stopped and put his hands to his face while starting to sway. He let out a soft moan, his legs crumpling beneath him. Squall immediately jumped up and grabbed him before he fell flat on his face. He helped Laguna sit back down and proceeded to glare at him.
“Sorry about that,” Laguna said. “Just a little dizzy. I’m fine now.”
“You are not fine,” Squall said, scowling. “Didn’t you listen to what the doctor said?”
“Squall, it’s ok. I just got up too fast is all. Don’t worry about it.”
“Listen, I’m responsible for everything that happens at Garden, and that includes ensuring the safety of the president of Esthar during his visit,” Squall said. “So stop trying to work and get some rest like Doctor Kadowaki told you to.”
“Is that an order?” Laguna said, raising an eyebrow while still maintaining a lopsided smile. “You do know that as a president and your father, I outrank you in every sense, right?”
“Not when it comes to Garden affairs, you don’t,” Squall said, his scowl deepening. “And I thought I made it clear before that you don’t have any parental authority over me.” Laguna blinked hard, but then let out a short laugh and bowed his head.
“I suppose you’re right,” he said. “I don’t know what I was thinking there.”
Squall’s frown softened as Laguna said this. There was a tired quality to his voice that Squall couldn’t put his finger on, but it concerned him nevertheless. Especially when Laguna struggled to get up again while still making sure to keep his head down.
“Listen, I’ve been in your hair for almost a week now, and I’m sure you’re tired of it,” Laguna continued. “I think it’d be better if I asked for my own room to stay in while I get over this. And don’t worry; I’ll make sure to follow Doctor K’s orders and get a bunch of sleep.”
Squall was about to say more, but was abruptly cut off when Laguna suddenly collapsed onto the floor. Squall dashed off the couch, coughing as he went. He knelt down beside Laguna and rolled him onto his back.
“Dad? Dad, are you all right?” Squall asked. Laguna put the heel of his hand to the side of his forehead and groaned.
“Geez, the room won’t stop spinning,” he mumbled. “Maybe that Balamb fish didn’t agree with me after all.”
“More like you keep pushing yourself while you’ve got this fever,” Squall said. “Dad, you don’t have to do this.”
“Squall, it’s ok,” Laguna insisted as he sat up. “Really. You need to relax and I know that it’ll be a lot harder for you to do that with me still here.”
Squall let out a sigh and put a hand to his face. A small part of him couldn’t deny that he was looking forward to a chance to spend some time alone, but that was completely overshadowed by the worry he still felt after seeing Laguna fall to the floor.
It was while he was thinking about his concern for his father that Squall suddenly realized that he had misread Laguna’s earlier statement. It was not a matter of Laguna trying to “pull rank” with him on either a professional or personal level. It was of matter of his father trying to act like a parent and feeling uncertain about his son telling him what to do. He then realized that it was entirely possible that Laguna misunderstood his concern for him as well.
Squall moved his hand away and coughed again before taking another deep breath. Over the past couple of years, he had learned that respect was an important part of love, and while he didn’t think it was feasible to have Laguna act as person of authority over him given their roles as the president of Esthar and the commander of Balamb Garden, Squall did concede that he needed to make sure that Laguna knew that he was still respected as a person and a parent.
“Dad,” he said, hesitant. “I’d like you stay here until you get better. It’d be easier for me…to make sure that you are following the doctor’s orders and all. And Cid and Edea would probably send someone else here to watch me if you go, so I would rather….”
Squall looked down, frustrated. This was a lot harder than he wanted it to be. He wished that he could express his feelings as effortlessly as Laguna seemed to, but he knew that was impossible. Fortunately for him though, Laguna tapped a finger on his forearm and when he looked up at him, Squall knew that his father had understood.
“Squall, I can stay if you would like me to,” he said softly. Squall nodded and shrugged his shoulders, and Laguna laughed again, but this time it was full of cheer.
“Hey, could you help me up to the couch?” Laguna said, holding a hand out to him. “I really don’t feel like kissing the carpet again.”
“Sure,” Squall replied as he stood up and pulled Laguna up with him. The two of them plopped back down on the couch, and Laguna laid his head against the armrest.
“I should probably call Doctor Kadowaki,” Squall said.
“No, it’s ok,” Laguna said, his face still pressed against the upholstery. “I’m not nearly as dizzy as I was a minute ago. I just need another moment to clear my head.”
“All right, but the minute it gets worse again, you tell me,” Squall said. “In the meantime, I have something for you.”
“Something for me?” Laguna said, raising his head. Squall nodded again and got up to go to his bedroom. A minute later he returned with a box in his hands which he handed to Laguna.
“Here,” Squall said as he sat down next to him. “Open it.” Laguna grinned and took the box from his hands.
“I wonder what this is,” he said as he lifted the lid. Laguna chuckled when he saw what was inside, and Squall’s cheeks started to turn red.
“Looks like great minds think alike,” Laguna said as he pulled out a toy Moogle. “Hey, does he have a name yet?”
“Yeah,” Squall said, the scarlet tint to his face increasing. “Firion.”
“Firion,” Laguna nodded. “That’s a powerful name for such a little guy, but it fits with you. But wait, when were you able to get this? I don’t remember anything being delivered that I didn’t order myself these last few days.”
“I’ve had it for a while,” Squall mumbled. Laguna looked down at the doll again and noticed that while it was nearly pristine, there were a couple of places where it looked worn.
“Squall?” Squall let out another sigh and made sure to keep his eyes on his lap.
“After Sis…after Ellone left the orphanage, I felt awful,” he said. “Cid and Edea gave this to me a couple days after she left. I suppose they were trying to make me feel better. Not too long after that, I was sent to Garden. And it didn’t seem right, lugging around a stuffed animal while I was here, so I hid it away with my stuff and would only pull it out on occasion. After a while, I actually forgot why I had it, and it wasn’t until recently, when I cut down on my GF usage, that I remembered where it came from.”
“Squall, I…I don’t know what to say,” Laguna said. “Are you sure about this? I don’t want to take something that meant so much to you.”
“Keep it. I want you to have it,” Squall said. “It did mean a lot to me, but part of that was because I needed to feel like I wasn’t alone. But now I know that I’m not alone and I…I want to thank you for your part in helping me realize that.”
Laguna beamed at him, his eyes bright and wet, and for a moment Squall worried that his father would try to override their established hugging guidelines. To his relief, however, Laguna contented himself with squishing the plush Moogle in his arms.
“Thank you, son,” Laguna said, his voice thick with emotion. “This is one of the best gifts I have ever gotten.”
Squall smiled back at him, but also continued to blush. He then coughed again and replaced his smile with another smirk.
“Besides, this makes it so that there are no records of me ordering stuffed animals to my room,” he said. “I do have an image that I’d like to maintain here at Garden.”
“You know, you make it sound like I’ve given my political rivals deadly ammo to use against me,” Laguna said with an exaggerated sigh. “Buying toys is not exactly great fodder for media-generated scandals.”
“It might make people question their leader’s sanity. What would you think of a commander-in-chief who has an obsession with buying and naming dolls?”
“I don’t know,” Laguna replied, tossing his hands up in the air. “That maybe he is a maverick and not so easy to pin down? Maybe that he is a family man who likes to have fun?”
“Or maybe that he is like a kid who never really grew up?” Squall chuckled.
“Hey, I resemble that remark,” Laguna grinned. “Besides, growing up is overrated. I’d rather grow younger and wiser than up any day.”
Squall chuckled again. He thought about telling Laguna that those two attributes were not known to be compatible with each other, but then he realized that if anyone could pull it off, it would probably be his father.
“Hey, you want to do something?” Laguna said. “I’m feeling a little better now, and I’m too wound up to just sleep.”
“Sure, I guess,” Squall said. “I do have this new combat video game that Zell gave me for my birthday that I haven’t gotten around to playing yet.”
“Sounds good,” Laguna said.
Squall nodded and retrieved the game from its box and slipped it into his game system before sitting back down and tossing a controller to Laguna.
“Wow, cool graphics,” Laguna said. “Much better than that dinosaur Ward always makes me play whenever I ask him to join me for a game.”
“You live in the most technologically advanced country in the world and yet you still play archaic video games?” Squall asked.
“You have to admit that the classics never go out of style,” Laguna replied. “Besides, you know how attached some people can be to their favorites.”
“Yeah, I get that,” Squall said. “Ok, here, let’s get started.”
Squall was about to enter in his avatar data when he was surprised by Laguna reaching over and wrapping his arms around him.
“Sorry, I know this is against the rules,” Laguna said as he gave him a firm squeeze. “But I just wanted to thank you again…and let you know how grateful I am for letting me be here these last few days. I know that might seem strange, with you being sick and all, but with all the other stuff that happened…well it meant a whole lot to me.”
Squall frowned and was rigid during the first few seconds of the embrace, but by the end he managed to relax and signaled his assent by patting Laguna’s arm and leaning against him for a moment.
“You’re welcome, Dad,” Squall said quietly as Laguna let him go. Laguna grinned again and turned his attention back toward the game.
“Ok, how about we set the difficulty level to easy?” he asked. “To give us a chance to get familiar with the game.”
“Easy? In your dreams, Dad,” Squall smirked as he adjusted the game levels to maximum difficulty.
“Wait a minute; didn’t you say that you hadn’t played this yet?” Laguna asked.
“I said that I hadn’t gotten around to playing the copy Zell gave me,” Squall replied with a mischievous grin. “I didn’t say anything about how many times I played it on Zell’s system.”
“Hey, no fair,” Laguna whined. “You already have an advantage ‘cause you do this kind of stuff for a living.”
“You used to be a soldier too. A commander, no less.”
“Oh sure, twenty years ago. It’s not like I’m planning military maneuvers every day. And knowing you, you’re probably already an expert at this game by now. I’m gonna get slaughtered.”
“Not my problem,” Squall said, his grin growing. “Especially since you chose to ignore the ground rules we had already agreed to on the whole ‘hugging’ thing.”
“Seriously, you’re going to hold a grudge over that?” Laguna whined again. “I figured that I’d get a free pass or something once in a while.”
“You figured wrong, Dad. Prepare to be annihilated.”
“Ok fine,” Laguna huffed. “But you should know that I’m not going down without a fight…even if it only lasts five seconds.”
Squall laughed and soon Laguna joined in. They then settled in for an afternoon of video games, both of them enjoying and reflecting on the moments that would be remembered long after this week ended and they returned to their normal lives.