Author’s Notes: Desperate for feedback!
Chapter 2 - Static of the Mind
"Hey, Irv, what ran over your hat?," Zell asked conversationally around a rather large mouthful of breakfast, crumbs liberally sprinkling the table with each enunciation. "Didja’ get in a fight or somethin’?"
"Something like that," Irvine replied succinctly, sliding into a seat across from Zell. "When did you get back?"
Zell swallowed and cleared his throat, reaching for the orange juice pitcher and pouring himself a tall glass. "This morning." He paused to take a long drink, pulling away to reveal an orange mustache adorning his upper lip. Making a soft sound of satisfaction, he dragged the back of a bare forearm across his mouth, ignoring the napkin in Irvine’s outstretched hand as his eyes lit up with excitement. "But we finished, baby. Ours was the last sector--the only monsters left around here are the ones in the training center," he confided, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair with an air of finality.
Irvine breathed an audible sigh of relief. "Thank Hyne! I wasn’t really looking forward to another expedition today," he said, quickly changing the subject when he noticed Zell about to comment. Somehow he didn’t feel like being forced to recount the tale of his injury, then of his "close-encounter of the violent kind" with Squall the night before. Call it pride. "Where’re the girls?"
Zell blinked. "Oh, they’re, uh," he began, furrowing his brow, "you know, taking care of that thing we talked about the other day." Irvine regarded him with a blank stare. "In Squall’s office…" Zell spoke with measured slowness, making small waving motions with his hands. "Right before we left…"
"Oh, you mean about Seifer?"
Irvine shrugged and took a sip of coffee. "You could have just told me."
"I know but I…" Zell wrinkled his nose, eyeing the contents of the mug with disgust. "Eww, how can you drink that stuff?"
Irvine followed his friend’s incredulous gaze. He jostled the cup a little, watching the inky substance crawl up the sides only to slide back down into the mixture, leaving a light film where it had receded. Looked fine to him.
"That’s gross, man."
"It’s just coffee."
"I’ve never seen coffee look like that before…it’s like, almost a solid."
"Well, it is," Zell confirmed, watching Irvine swallow the last of it. "Maybe you should try chewing it."
"Maybe you should try minding your own business," Irvine remarked lightly.
"Hello?… ‘Friends and family’ plan, huh?…I don’t have any friends. Would you like to be my friend?…We could hang out…Hello?…Hello~oo?" Seifer disconnected the feed, wearing a look of mock-bewilderment. "Huh. That’s funny. Must have been a bad connection." He whistled tunelessly, plucking a beer from the rapidly-diminishing case at his feet and reaching behind him to pull a random magazine from where it had been wedged in the crevice between the couch and a cushion. "Ah," he sighed, propping his feet on the coffee table, upon which was scattered myriad article cut-outs and want-ads, wriggling a bit for comfort before opening to the index. "Hmm…what do we have here… ‘Squall Leonhart—humanitarian award. See page 45.’ Well," Seifer said sardonically, lifting his beer bottle high in the air. "This is cause for celebration! Here’s to my buddy, Squall, savior of the world and all-around good guy. Cheers."
He’d downed half the bottle by the time he’d heard it—light raps issuing from somewhere in the direction of his door. But, who the hell could it be? Fu usually called before she and Raijin dropped by, so that left…just about nobody. Convinced that he was imagining things, Seifer turned his attentions back to the bottle, jumping when another series of knocks intruded on his toast. "Damn it," he sighed, getting to his feet and ambling towards the door, which was now being pummeled rather exuberantly. "I’m coming!"
Having not really expected anyone to be on the other side, he was startled when, upon opening the door, two silhouettes stood framed in the late morning light, silhouettes that looked suspiciously familiar. //Oh, Hyne, let this be a trick of light, anything but--//
"Hi! Can we come in?"
"So, you seen Squall, yet?," Irvine asked innocuously, watching Zell finish his fifth hot dog that morning.
"Yeah, he’s been in his office since really early, I think. I stopped by before breakfast to see if he wanted to train later on."
"Oh." Irvine tried not to sound too disappointed, struggling for something to say before Zell broke the silence.
"…He’s got these dark circles under his eyes," the blonde boy said, voice taking on a reflective tone as he absently shred a napkin in his hands. "He looks like hell, lately, have you noticed?" He tilted his head to peer up at Irvine’s face beneath the rumpled brim.
Irvine nodded solemnly, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. "Yeah…damn, I figured he might have been tired from yesterday and slept in."
"Phht. Not a chance. He’ll be in there all day, too, trust me. I’m lucky I got him to train with me tonight-- I think he just got tired of arguing with me."
"Are you sure that’s a good idea? I mean, he’s worn out, anyway."
"Okay, here’s the deal," Zell whispered conspiratorially, leaning forward in his chair. "There’ll be close to nobody in the training center late, right? So, we’ll kick some ‘Rex ass for a while, you know, to get him loosened up and stuff, then I’m going to corner him and get some answers." Irvine opened his mouth to interrupt. "No, no no," Zell said, raising his hand to silence him. "I know something’s wrong with him. I mean, it’s pretty obvious, right? And you know he always gets more talkative after a good work-out, so that would be the best time."
"Plus, we’ll be alone and he won’t get nervous or anything without a bunch of people around. Now," Zell said, leaning back with a confident smirk, "try and find a fault with that, baby."
Oh, he could. A big one. "Listen, Zell," Irvine began uncertainly, "That’s…a good plan. A really good plan, actually. But, there might be a problem."
Zell furrowed his brow. "What’s that?"
"Well, Squall sort of gets a little…defensive when you try to talk to him about it, and…I’m not sure ‘cornering him’ is the best approach."
"I figured he’d get defensive—I mean, this is Squall we’re talking about--but, I’ve been his best friend for years! We used to be roommates, even!" Irvine rolled his eyes, wondering why Zell had felt the need to add the fact that they had shared a room as cadets to emphasize the ‘best friends for years’ line. He could almost see a younger version of Squall beating his head against the wall as a pre-tattoo, yet just as hyperactive, Zell ran circles around the room; he’d missed out on a lot over in Galbadia. "I’m sure he’ll talk to me," Zell was saying, pulling Irvine back to the present. "With my boyish good looks and ol’ Dincht charm at work, I’ll have Squall spilling his guts in no time at all." He met Irvine’s dubious expression with a toothy grin—all electricity and fangs. "No worries, baby."
Irvine let out a long breath of air through his teeth. "No harm in trying, I suppose." He watched a snow-flake drift in a lazy diagonal across the plane of a window, followed shortly by another, then another in quick succession. " But, I know one thing for certain. It’s gonna be a long fuckin’ winter if we don’t."
It was happening again. Static at the corners of his mind, roaring, buzzing, crashing—it felt like an ocean had been poured into his head. Squall’s vision swam and he fought to retain consciousness, gripping at the sides of his desk for support.
People, all around him, lookingtouchinglaughing. Hurting. He shuddered, folding into himself, rocking back and forth, head buried in his folded arms. And his fingernails…raked down a mirror, a long, reflective strip of glass—no, a window; they could see him, but he couldn’t see them. They were watching, watching him from behind the glass. Turning, he looked frantically about his surroundings—white walls, white floor, ceiling, boxed in, no escape, no place to hide…and someone was saying something, a high, keening wail and then words, a mantra, repeating over and over—"Nononononononono..."
And then it was over, and he was sitting in his office, shaking with his knees hugged to his chest, curled into a ball in his chair and babbling to himself like a child. Squall released a shaky breath, cursing himself as he ran a hand over his face, feeling the rough texture of his scar like a landmark in the middle of smooth skin. The static…it was still reverberating off the walls of his conscious, but receding now, growing fainter with each second until it was only a mute buzz in the back of his brain.
He growled low in his throat, shaking his head in frustration. Twice this week, and today in his office, for Hyne’s sake. Anyone could have walked in and seen him like that. He was…
"Commander Leonhart?" He startled, head shooting up to detect the direction of the sound: Intercom. Secretary. He forced himself to relax, concentrating on measuring his breathing rather than on the direction his mind had been taking. He would control himself.
"Yes?" Only a slight waver, probably undetectable once filtered over the intercom.
"Instructor Trepe and Instructor Tilmitt requesting to see you, sir," the voice buzzed over the static.
"Let them in."
"Yes, sir." The door slid open as he got to his feet, barely a pause before Quistis was striding past it, Selphie in tow. They exchanged salutes, somber greeting slightly undermined by Selphie’s ear-to-ear smile and her habit of bobbing in place. It was endearing, in a way, and served to lift his spirits a little; some things never changed.
All too aware of the analysis underway behind the attentive gaze of one Quistis Trepe, he cut the salute off quickly, ignoring the concern flitting briefly over her features before her programmed sense of duty kicked in. "Sir," she began, stepping forward. Catching his slight wince at the term, she softened her voice, smiling in amusement. "Squall." She looked at him fondly for a moment, eyes warm, ignoring Selphie squirming beside her in barely-concealed excitement. The corner of her mouth lifted in a tilted smirk. "We got him."
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