Authors Notes: Set after the game. According to this story, Irvine acts and dresses like a cowboy because he was adopted by a ranch owner. I can't remember whether he said he was adopted or not, so this might be AU. Squall is a poor widdle depwessed boy, don't you just want to huggle him and make it better?

Pleasantly Depressed

Chapter 2 - Of Advil and Flashbacks

By Skandranon

As the light shone in the window, blinding him and only adding to his building migraine, he frantically searched through the drawer in his desk, shoving aside the unimportant items that had somehow made their way into it. It's got to be in here somewhere; this is where I last left it. Hyne, it's too much, I can't work without them today.

They're bad for you, you know.

Don't lecture me, he muttered as he located the bottle of little miracle pills, a.k.a. Advil, and popped the cap. Dishing out a small handful, he shoved them into his mouth and swallowed them dry. Let's hope that does the trick, otherwise I won't be able to function. As it was, the agony was doing games of hopscotch along his spine, and an invisible imp with a power drill was chipping away at his skull.

You should see Kadowaki about it, Squall. I don't know much about humans, but I do know that it's not normal for them to feel like this all the time.

It is for me. He slouched down in the swivel chair and rubbed his scar, where pain like to congregate from time to time and was doing so now. I can't remember an age when I didn't feel like this. At least I used to be allowed to fight. I can always forget about it for a little while in battle. Now I have this dinky desk job, and Cid won't give me missions unless the objective is "Save the World".

Well, you are a look sharp, Quistis just came in the room.

Whipping his head up, he instantly regretted the movement. Owowowowowowow. "What is it, Quistis?" he barked, trying to look nonchalant. Nope, no people in terrible pain here, you must be mistaken.

He didn't look anything like nonchalant, but he never did, so Quistis wrote it off as him acting normal. "I have the daily reports for you to look over. You have to make decisions on a few of them, but all the others need is your signature. Oh, and there's a package for you."

He made a gesture which he hoped translated as 'Give them here'. It must have, since she did just that, and stood there looking at him with that knowing smirk of hers. She always liked to believe she knew what he was thinking, and it annoyed the hell out of him. You can hear what I'm thinking, huh? Well hear this: you're a fat, ugly, psycho daughter of a hexadragon, and your breath smells funny.

Squall!

Aw, you know I didn't mean it Shiva. I just get tired of her acting all 'cleverer-than-thou' all the time. I mean, how likely is it that she actually knows me?

Not very. If she looked even a millimeter past the surface, she'd have shipped you off to the infirmary for a full checkup.

I am not insane.

I didn't say that. I said you're having physical problems. Learn to read between the lines correctly, dear.

Quistis frowned and stroked her ear, gazing at him intently. "Were you just... talking to yourself?"

Squall didn't let the shock show on his face. You are a freaky woman and you frighten me.

Quistis made as if to say something, then shook her head and walked out the door.

Oh good, the pain pills are kicking in. Sinking into a warm fuzzy cloud of non-pain, Squall set to work on his pile of papers, quickly forgetting about Quistis and her freakiness.

About an hour later he remembered the other thing Quistis had given him. Looking askance at the mysterious package, which was barely the size of a paperback book, Squall read the label and immediately wondered if he should open it at all. What the heck is Seifer doing sending me a package?

Open it. I think I have an idea what it's for.

Oh, do you. Well, might as well. Ripping off the bland brown wrapping, Squall tore diligently at the tiny thing until it revealed its burden. As the last of the paper came off, the light struck the silver object within and bounced into his eyes. Wincing, he shifted it to a shaded position and took a closer look.

It was a photo album, one of the tiny metal kind you can buy at gift stores. Flipping it open, he jaw slid open as he saw the contents. Pictures. Of him. As a kid.

There was a note attached, scrawled in Seifer's impossible handwriting. "Thought you might want these. Matron found them a while back and gave them to me, since I was the only one at the orphanage at the time. You were a sad little bugger."

As he hunted through the pictures, he found that Seifer was correct. Many of the pictures were of the other kids playing with him in the background, but a few were of him alone, usually not looking at the camera. Every single picture of him showed a sad, pale face with haunted eyes, the lips already locked into their future pout that he couldn't get them to stop doing. As hard as he looked, he couldn't find a single picture in which he was smiling.

One picture showed him lying on a bed with a cast, and Squall smirked. You were right, Shiva. Looks broken to me.

Of course I'm right.

He closed the album and picked up the note, rereading the vague message. But why did Seifer send this thing to me in the first place?

Happy birthday, Squall.

What? Oh, right, tomorrow was his birthday. Twenty years old. Odd, that he didn't remember it and Seifer did.

He gazed into the crowded classroom, and 48 mascara-lined eyes gazed back. And all of them were focused on his lips.

Why did he even bother? "Okay class, today we'll be reviewing the elemental monster patterns for the quiz next Wednesday. Before we begin, are there any questions?

15 hands shot up. Sighing miserably, he selected a hand at random. "Mr. Kinneas, do you allow students to schedule private study sessions with you?"

The entire female population of the room, which was everyone but him, perked up at that and eagerly waited for his answer. Mogtrotters, he was engaged, would they ever give him peace? "No, I do not. I'm not a teacher full time, and I've already got enough on my plate as is." He gave her a charming smile to soften whatever blow she might assume.

Any groans or complaints that might have been were crushed under sighs of admiration, as the entire class beamed dreamily back at him. Oh, this was just too much.

On the whole, most of his infamy was accurate, and he had been a real ladies man in his time. But a large portion of the flirting he was assumed to have done was just women jumping to conclusions every time he smiled or held a door for them. Was it his fault he was brought up to be a gentleman? And when the same females started offering him nighttime companionship, who was he to say no?

He couldn't do that now, though, or Selphie would pull a THE END on his ass. Picking up the stack of handouts, he selected a delighted pigtailed redhead to pass them out and returned to musing about his future wife.

He loved her. He really did. But lately, the feelings of misgivings were building up. He didn't know if it was pre-marriage jitters, or what, but it was starting to turn him into a nervous wreck. He had even faked late office work last night to keep from going home to Selphie, just so he wouldn't have to face her in his pitiful state.

And the sex was... okay, the sex was as good as ever. But still, something's wrong if you can start thinking about tax forms in the middle of your partner's orgasm.

Suddenly coming to the knowledge that the entire class was silently watching him think about sex, he blushed and tried to stammer out the first example on the sheet. Luckily, the class didn't notice how terrible he was stammering, since they were all sighing happily at his red complexion.

Watching them watching him, he contracted an intense case of déjà vu. Now where had he seen this before... oh yeah. Galbadia.

Of course, back then it had been him as a student, standing in front of a crowd of bored teenagers, boys mostly, as he stammered through the oral section of his term paper. The few girls in the class, even then, had watched him with longing expressions, licking their lips whenever he licked his dry ones. And one boy had done the same thing.

Ah, yes. Trent.

Trent had been the single most life changing thing that had ever happened to him. At the time Irvine was just another Garden student, working hard to keep from getting sent home in disgrace. It wouldn't have really been disgrace, though, since his adoptive father would've just patted him on the shoulder and asked what he wanted for supper. But still, he had his pride to defend, and he defended it jealously.

He had dated Suzie Binx a few weeks before, and his reputation in the school had gone up because of it. Hyne knows what kind of rumors she put out about him, but apparently those rumors alerted Trent McHenson to his existence.

They had first spoken in the hallway after class, when Trent had spilled his books all over the floor and was desperately trying to retrieve them as the students laughed and mocked. Irvine hadn't even thought about it, bending down to scoop up books to help the person in need. The laughter had faded and the crowd had dispersed, but Trent had kept the grateful admiration in his eyes. Irvine had thought nothing odd of the offer to have lunch sometime, and had agreed offhand. Later, he agreed just as readily to see a movie together, and then a sleepover, and then Trent kissed him.

Now, he had been a young fellow at the time, barely into puberty, but he had heard the whispers and the mocks in the hallway. Queer. Gay. Fag. He knew what they meant, and when he was kissed for the first and last time ever by a guy, he knew what it meant. It meant that Trent was one of those, a pansy, a limp-wristed camper. And it meant that he must be one too, for the feeling of Trent's lips against his was the most sensational thing he had ever experienced in his short life.

Out of fear and desperation he had pushed the boy away, refusing to speak or even look at him at school. Worried that Trent might spread rumors about what had happened, Irvine started hitting on girls more than ever, making himself up to be a smooth-talking devil even before he learned how to be one for real. Trent had gotten the hint and left him alone, though occasionally he caught the boy watching him with sad, wistful eyes.

And that had been that. Later, Irvine had gotten assigned to a sniper mission, met Selphie, and the rest was a 14k ring on her finger and warm nights spent cuddling.

Strange, that he enjoyed snuggling with her more than the hot moments. But it wasn't because he was a fag or anything. He liked girls, and he like Selphie. And that was that.

Sighing again, he continued with the lecture, never realizing that he had just spent 10 minutes standing at the front of a silent classroom with a dreamy look on his face and the students watching him with rapt attention.

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