Up until the time of that thing with Ultimecia, I'd never really thought of myself as being particularly unusual. My childhood was unmemorable (or at least, I thought it was; certainly I couldn't remember much of it) and I'd wound up going to Balamb Garden mostly because that was where I'd wound up for some reason I also couldn't remember. I was a loner, with the only person who regularly spoke to me being my gunblade practice partner and rival.
In the space of three months, I went from being a Garden cadet (maybe one of the better ones, but a cadet like all the others none-the-less) to being the Commander of a globe-spanning mercenary force. I went from being a orphaned loner who kept himself away from others to having a father, a sister, a tight group of friends, and a girlfriend. A girlfriend who happened to be a Sorceress – something SeeD were supposed to be working to control. My father just happens to be the President of the most advanced nation in the world. Oh, and the girlfriend's mother once dated my father, something my adopted-half sister made me live through with her Time-Mage gifts in order to try and alter history.
It was a bit of a shock.
I'm still Commander of SeeD, although I've managed to hand off the job of running Balamb Garden's educational side to Quistis, and Xu is more than willing to take on the administrative functions involved. So my job at present mainly consists of keeping track of global politics and economics, deciding whether or not we're capable of supplying the service a client is demanding, and once we've taken a contract, figuring out the best allocation of SeeD resources to complete it. This tends to require more hours work than you'd think.
The work involved was enough to lose me the girlfriend. To be honest, it wasn't much of a loss. We had next to nothing in common, except for that date between her mother and my father, and the whole Thing with Ultimecia.
My father remains the President of the most advanced nation in the world. It's also the most peace-loving nation on the planet. I'm a mercenary commander. There's not much call for professional contact between the two of us (although he keeps telling me he wants to hire us to clear out the Lunar Cry monsters every time we exchange greetings on birthdays and at Midwinter and Midsummer). Ellone still lives with Laguna, having finally got her childhood wish. I'm glad someone did, anyway.
I don't think I'll ever be able to remember much of my childhood (from everything I hear about it from the others, I don't think I really want to) and to be honest, the person who speaks to me most often is still my gunblading practice partner and former rival. I still have the group of friends, but we're starting to drift apart a bit. Zell and I never had much in common anyway; he's okay in small doses, but that constant enthusiasm gets a bit wearing. Irvine spends more time with Selphie than he does with anyone else; Selphie spends lots of time with Irvine (and she's more of the same problem as Zell – constant enthusiasm of the bouncy-cheery type); Quistis is just as busy as I am supervising classes and running the curriculum side of Balamb Garden. So the only time we really see each other is during the events Selphie organises, which happen almost too often for my comfort. Selphie really takes her role as Morale Officer very seriously.
Despite all my denials of interest, I was dragged along with the rest of them to Selphie and Irvine's karaoke night as a celebration of their engagement. Now, I'd been aware they'd become engaged (well, it was either that, or there had been a containment breach in the fuel cells for the engines that drive Garden's flight systems. Selphie in full-blown “squee mode” - her term – sounds a lot like the high-pitched alarm tone that's used for engine problems; something we discovered at one of the early drills in FH back during the war), and yeah, I suppose they had to have some kind of celebration for it.
What I don't understand is why they chose to invite me along. I mean, I'm a friend of theirs, but really, I'm about as social as a rock. Someone like Seifer, yeah, sure; he's a gregarious party type, and he loves the spotlight. I'd even have understood if they'd invited Rinoa back from Timber, where she's apparently taken to the local politics like a duck to water. But no, they dragged me along with the rest of the gang, and Seifer's posse (well, half of Seifer's posse – Fujin is apparently the only person in the whole of Garden who can say no to Selphie Tilmitt and expect to be listened to), and Xu and a few other SeeD from Garden to a karaoke bar.
Karaoke is probably sort of fun for most people if you're in the right frame of mind. But I don't enjoy seeing friends make fools of themselves; I don't like making a fool of myself; and I apparently have a pretty good ear for pitch and tune, so I can tell when a song is being warped, even if I've never heard it before (something I never knew before that night). Plus, I find being around other people in large groups for extended periods to be exhausting. So I was on the verge of giving Selphie my apologies and making my way quietly back to Garden even before It happened.
Then Irvine found That Song, and I got physically hauled up on stage by Seifer and Raijin (I hate being surrounded by entirely-too-tall people who junction for strength sometimes – it makes it easy for the two of them to lift me up by the elbows and carry me from place to place) and told to join in.
I really don't like being up in front of people. Let's leave it at that. I've asked Shiva to work on the rest of my memories of That Night, and particularly That Song, and with any luck, I won't have them insinuating themselves into my nightmares for much longer.
Anyway, on the way back from Balamb, Seifer and I got talking about music, and he said something which sort of intrigued me. He pointed out that popular songs only have a very limited stock of thematic material, and most of that material is about courtship and sex. It wasn't something I'd really thought about much before – generally, if there's music playing, I tend to regard it as background noise. Some songs were good for practice, because they sort of matched up to the rhythm of a gunblade battle, but most of them weren't much use for anything. Occasionally a tune would stick in my head, but a quiet word with Shiva usually sorted that out.
(I figure if I'm going to have a collection of GF giving me amnesia, I may as well get some say in what I'm forgetting about. Since that day back in the ruins of Trabia Garden, I've never had problems with earworms.)
Anyway, after that, I started listening to things a bit more closely. Y'know what? Seifer was right. Most songs are pretty banal, particularly the rather limited range that got played in Balamb Garden by the students. In fact, until I'd started listening in, I didn't realise the musical tastes of the various students there was so limited.
So I handed the problem over to Selphie to deal with – I seem to remember her bitching about the way that nobody in Balamb had “decent tunes” for the various social events. She's the Morale Officer, so she gets to figure out the best and most morale-increasing way of dealing with the problem.
Took her about a week to figure things out. I didn't see any of this directly, of course, I just heard Xu bitching about Selphie demanding a server, and then I heard Quistis and Xu both bitching about the nasty letters coming in from the Galbadian music publishing industry. Then one day Selphie breezed into my office, stuck something under my nose, and demanded I sign it.
(I read it first, trust me. I learned that lesson the first time Zell tried to sneak an order mandating t-boards as appropriate training equipment for SeeD cadets. He had some pretty good arguments about their usefulness in teaching things like spatial awareness and balance, but quite frankly, I had to admit I was on the side of the Shumi staff with that one. Maybe it had something to do with having to constantly duck as he demonstrated this in person. I'm well aware I'm not the tallest person in SeeD. I'm also not the shortest, either. So Zell does his t-boarding at his Ma's place back in Balamb, and the rest of us don't have to dodge cadets on t-boards. For which we are all truly thankful.)
Anyway, that's how Balamb Garden happened to wind up with a state-of-the-art music system providing background music for classes and training sessions. The document I wound up signing was something basically instructing everyone that if there was one copy of an album on the server, there didn't need to be any more.
All of a sudden, we started getting a lot more interesting stuff showing up in the background around Garden. It was still mostly pretty predictable and banal, and occasionally That Song would show up, much to the glee of the student body (I don't know who took the footage, and I don't know who uploaded it to the global network, but when I find out, they're going to be on KP for a year), but aside from that, it was a nice change.
I took to having a look around the less-frequented corners of the archive on occasion.
That's where I found the counter-example song I was looking for.
I suppose I should explain. One of the things which really threw me in the middle of that Thing with Ultimecia was the way Cid suddenly started talking about me as though I was some kind of Destined Leader or something. Of course, I understood it later, but at the time it was the most bewildering thing I'd had happen to me in my life. All of these things were happening, and they'd've been hard enough to deal with at the best of times, but then they all started to revolve around me. And I wasn't anyone special.
Then I learned who my father was, who Rinoa's mother was, and all these complicated mixtures of things which linked the past to the present, and all of a sudden, yeah, I was special. But I didn't feel special. Not even when I got the final piece of the puzzle, stumbling through time compression to watch Ultimecia's death and her power passing on to Matron. Not even when I saw my younger self looking at me, and realised I was trapped in some kind of loop that I'd only just gotten to the other end of. Not even when I saw Matron look at me, and look at younger-me, and put the pieces together.
So yeah, when I heard this song it just spoke to me, and how I'd been feeling ever since then. Like someone had decided I was going to be this Great Hero when I was first born, and ever since I'd been stuck with this Great Destiny that I couldn't escape, complete with all the trappings (entourage, friends, girlfriend, job and so on).
Even now, I'm still trapped in that Great Destiny. I wish I wasn't, sometimes. That I could just be that ordinary SeeD cadet I thought I was back when I was taking the exam. Go back to being the person who didn't really have any grand plans for life beyond the exam, taking missions, being the mercenary I'd been trained to be. Back then, I really thought the only person who gave a damn about whether I passed or failed was me; I didn't know the significance of what was happening around me.
I suppose we all have our moments where we look back at some kind of past innocence and long to head back there.
I sent an email to Seifer, telling him to check out the song.