It was Selphie's idea. For Irvine's buck's night. I had nothing to do with it.
I could have told them, public karaoke was the wrong way to try and get their Glorious Leader to open up and relax. I mean, this is a guy who chose a lion as a symbol. A lion. A big, magnificent, dangerous, stand-offish, impressive, fascinating... cat. (Remember the whole "cat" bit, it's going to be important later on.) My point is, Squall Leonhart is not the kind of guy who winds down for the weekend by getting up on a stage and making a fool of himself. Not unless the people paying for the open bar have a lot more money than Sefie and Irvy did on this occasion.
What was I doing there? What, you mean after the whole "Sorceress' Knight" gig? Look, there's only so long even I can handle the crushing excitement of sitting on a dock in FH with a rod in the water before it starts stressing me out. After six months I had to head back to B-Garden to ruralise and calm my shaken nerves. Thank the gods for GF and their habit of eating up memories, is all I can say. Most of them had already forgotten the whole Ultimecia business; Irvine (who doesn't junction if he can possibly avoid it) tended to have an attitude of "there, but for fortune" about the whole mess; and Selphie just got on with forgiving me (after threatening me with about fifteen different, and wholly sincere, forms of dismemberment, castration and death should I decide to try and repeat any aspect of the affair. To be carried out consecutively. That girl is scary).
Okay, okay, I'm exaggerating. Basically, the things the GF eat are the emotions attached to the memories, so the memories themselves don't have that same sort of oomph they used to. So while everyone important at B-Garden can remember me having been taken under Ultimecia's wing, so to speak, they don't feel as strongly about it as they once did. Chicken Wuss still dislikes me on principle, but that's because I was an arsehole to him growing up, not because I almost destroyed the world.
(Xu is another one who's still pissed at me, but I suspect in her case it's mainly because I did all that fighting on Ultimecia's behalf, and never once got fucking paid for it. I'm tempted to tell her to leave a bill in the system compounding interest, but I never did learn what pissed Ulti off at SeeD so much in the first place...).
Anyway, the situation is like this: Irvine and Selphie, after about twelve months of being sickeningly sweet at each other and everyone else in range, have finally decided to tie the knot. They've announced an engagement, and they're going to have the actual ceremony in about a year or so. But they want to get the whole "Bucks Night" thing happening good and early (and from the way Selphie was burbling about it, possibly on a monthly basis), so tonight they've grabbed a dozen of their closest friends and dragged us all along to a karaoke bar in Balamb to celebrate their engagement.
I've nothing against karaoke myself. I figure it's an adequate form of punishment - I never turn down a dare, and I can't carry a tune in a bucket, so if someone wants to try and embarrass me, I'm quite willing to get up there and mangle their favourite song into oblivion. Plus, I'm a stage-hog. I love attention. That parade of Ultimecia's back in Galbadia? I was in heaven. It was great! So I'm not going to get all disconcerted by the experience. But that's me.
I'm not Squall.
Squall hates having attention focussed on him. He loathes having to perform in public (in any way, shape or form). He does publicity events very reluctantly, with gritted teeth the whole damn way, and he disappears as soon as there's an opportunity.
So I could have told them ahead of time that dragging Squall up on stage with myself, Zell, Irvine and Rai to sing Hooked on a Feeling was going to go badly.
It could have been worse, I'll admit. They had Irvine doing the lead vocals, and on advice from Rai, they had me firmly stuck on "oogachaka" duty, because there is no way known to mankind I can balls that one up. Zell was doing harmonies, and he did them pretty well. But they'd sandwiched Squall in between myself and Rai on "oogachaka", and he was hating it. (The dance moves Rai and I were adding to our performance may have contributed to this.)
Ellone used to have a cat back when we all lived at the orphanage, a stray which had turned up from nowhere and stuck around because it got fed on a regular basis. Now, this cat used to have an expression it would wear for the few minutes it was press-ganged into Selphie's dolls' tea parties, before performing this ornate topological manoeuvre which got it out of the dress, the bonnet, the pram, the bootees and the vicinity in the blink of an eye. Point is, whenever I got a look at him, Squall was wearing that same expression. So what happened next wasn't really unexpected.
We finished our performance (to thunderous applause, I might add) and made our way down from the stage back to where the drinks and the girls were sitting. Everyone sits down, congratulations are exchanged, and then we get around to doing a headcount.
Oh shit, the Commander is missing. Entirely predictable panic ensues, aided by the fact that most of us have had at least a couple of drinks to wet our whistles and dismantle our inhibitions enough to make getting up on stage and making a fool of oneself seem like riotous good fun. Fortunately, I was still sober, so I offered to go looking for our lost lion.
(Like I said, I enjoy getting up on stage. I don't need a couple of drinks for it to seem like a good idea, so on expeditions like this, I'll have a beer and make it last at least half the night. Plus, that way I get to remember all the stupid things other people did when they were drunk, and bring them up again the next morning while they're trying to deal with the hangover. Hey, I'm an arsehole, and I've had lots of practice so I'm good at it!).
I found him exactly where I'd expected to find him. Outside the club, leaning up against a wall and looking disgusted with the whole boiling.
"Hey," I said, coming over to prop up the wall next to him. Mostly, I'll admit, so I didn't suddenly find myself on the receiving end of either Lionheart or Shiva's Diamond Dust. Squall has a hair-trigger at the best of times. It gets worse when he's in a rotten mood.
He just grunted at me. I was used to this. Squall Leonhart isn't the most verbal person at the best of times, and when he gets pissed off, he cuts the words right the way down. Me being the arsehole I am, I'm adept at putting Squall into grumpy moods, and I've learned over the years how to interpret his various non-verbal utterances. This one was basically, “I cannot believe you made me do that.”
"We got a lot of applause," I said.
He shrugged, and grunted again. In Squall-non-speak, this meant "So?". I swear, Squall Leonhart is the only person I know who can manage to be both monosyllabic and non-verbal at the same time.
"The girls enjoyed it. The other guys had fun."
Another grunt, this time accompanied by a shrug, meaning "Whatever."
"Okay, dragging you up there was stupid."
This got me a Look. Yes, the capital L is deliberate. Translation? "You can say that again, moron."
"So, are you coming back inside?"
This finally got me a response which was interpretable by someone who didn't have my decade-plus of Squall-watching training. He shook his head.
"Right. I'll tell the others, then, and we can head back to Garden."
This got a bit of a shrug and a slight lift of the chin, combined, which I took to mean agreement. I levered myself off the wall, went back inside, and made our apologies. Selphie was disappointed we weren't staying, but even she was willing to admit karaoke wasn't likely to be something which would ever float Squall's boat. Once I was able to break away from the pack, I went back outside, where Squall was still propping up the club.
We decided to walk back to Garden, since it was a nice enough night, and (more importantly) we'd only taken the one car to get here. Usually I was on driving duty, since (as I mentioned earlier) I tended to stay sober at these things, but Rai had agreed to take the job on for me. To be honest, I suspected most of the gang were going to wind up crashing at Ma Dincht's place, but if they wanted to convince themselves they weren't going to drink too much, far be it from me to argue. The walk back from Balamb town to the spot where Garden parks itself tends to take about half an hour or thereabouts, which is nothing for SeeDs. We'd got about halfway home when Squall finally came out with words.
"That has to be the dumbest song on the list," he finally said, out of nowhere.
Well, okay, maybe not quite out of nowhere. I'm used to Squall. He broods, he thinks things over, he over-thinks things at times. So I knew he was probably thinking over the whole damn evening as he was walking. Literary criticism of song lyrics I can deal with. Besides, I'd had a glance over the song list for that karaoke place. There was worse out there. Particularly if you defined "worse" by virtue of lyrics alone.
"I beg to differ," I answered. "There were at least three Jim Steinman songs on the list, including Total Eclipse of the Heart. Hooked on a Feeling is mild by comparison."
That got a twitch out of him. "Okay, but what about the... actions you and Raijin were doing?"
I grinned. "YMCA," I riposted. "And you would have been expected to dance along."
An actual wince. More silence. Then, finally, "It's still a dumb song."
"You won't find me arguing," I told him. "But when you come right down to it, most songs are dumb. I mean, folk songs are warning against perils which don't exist any more, or bewailing an old battle that happened centuries ago. Most pop songs are either about a guy trying to get into a girl's pants, or whingeing about the way the girls won't put out for the singer."
"Even the ones by girls?"
"The ones by girls are still about guys getting into a girl's pants, it's just that singer's offering her pants as the ones the guy can get into. Alternatively, the singer is telling the guy she isn't gonna put out for him, so he can stop bugging her. Or she's all cranky because he isn't taking her up on the hint."
That got the sort of huff Squall uses in place of actually laughing. "You have a point," he agreed.
"Of course I do," I said, smirking. "There might be another type of song, but I've never run across it."