Chapter 14 - Of Hats and Hoverails
"Three mother burning days."
"'We should take the valley pass,' I said, 'We can stay close to water,' I said. But nooo, 'We have better vantage point from high terrain,' you said."
"Nobody listens to me. I'm just the sniper, what do I know? Only been trained to kill people in cold blood with no remorse and resist the need for therapy for it. I murder for a living and I like my job. But nooo, I couldn't possibly know about wilderness terrain. I couldn't have possibly grown up in the backwoods of Galbadia and learned how to survive outdoors before I could shoot. I can ride a bucking chocobo, I can cook a divine barbecue, and I can leech poison from an anacondaur bite. But does anyone notice this? Of course not. 'He's just a gunman, what does he know about finding magnetic north or tracking game or testing water for purity?' We should all ignore him and do really stupid things and then make him have to rescue us from certain death!"
"Are you even listening to yourself?"
"My feet hurt, Squall. And they've been trained to suffer through a hell of a lot before they hurt. I haven't had anything to drink in a day and a half. My coat is chafing, my hair itches, and if I don't see something female in the next fifteen minutes I'm going to start fondling my gun."
"You already fondle your gun."
"Nooo, that's caressing. Petting, nuzzling. Fondling's more...like this."
"...I did NOT want to see that."
"You're just jealous you don't have a gun to fondle."
"...Squall, you are NEVER to do that to your gunblade in my presence again, do you hear me?"
"Mine's bigger than yours."
"Oookay, we've been in the sun too long. Let's just quit the jabber and get to Esthar."
"...That's it. I'm going to fuck my hat."
"I don't know how I'm going to do it, but by Hyne is my witness, I'll find a way."
"I couldn't get stuck on a mission with Selphie, noooo, that would be too easy. No Selphie play time for Irvine. No kissy face with the love of my life who is currently pissed with me because something, I'm not saying what but it rhymes with fissions, keeps interfering with our fun time. No relief for the poor engaged guy. No, he's got to suffer. The Gods are laughing at me."
"Shiva certainly is."
"You can tell the ice queen she can kiss my shiny perfect backside."
"She has better taste than that."
"How could she? She chooses to live in YOUR head."
"Feeling cramped in there, Shiva? Must be horrible being shoved between the angst half of the brain and the 'grr killit' half, with broody thoughts flying all over the place. Wanna come live in my head? Guarantee you I only have one thing on my mind at all times."
"She prefers more intelligent conversation."
"I can be intelligent. I AM a SeeD Officer, you know, just like you. And despite what some people think, I didn't earn that by riding your coattails."
"No, you spent most of the war chasing Selphie's tail. And Rinoa, and Quistis, and at one point I KNOW I saw you eyeing Zell."
"I did not. He's far too hyper for me."
"You're engaged to Selphie."
"...Point. But I prefer my boys a little more grounded."
"Your boys. You prefer your boys. I KNEW you called me handsome."
"I did no...I'm engaged, okay? To a girl. Subject closed. Moving on."
"Hyne no. You're bi. Admit it."
"Do we seriously have to get into this in the middle of a barren wasteland?"
"That's it. When we get back to Garden, I'm telling Kadowaki."
"I am. I swear. Unless you shut up about it."
"...Thank you. Now, as I was saying, I didn't earn my rank by riding your coattails. No, I was right there beside you fighting my way through the baddies. Who was it that rescued you from that prison? Huh? The one that looked like giant screws?"
"Rinoa had to drag you there by your genitals."
"I was going to come help you guys, I just wanted to form a plan first. But nooo, Rinoa's all 'I wanna save the bishie right now or die trying!' And if it wasn't for me, she would've died trying. And that wasn't the only time I hauled your butts along as I did all the work. Who was they called on when Edea needed assassinating?"
"I didn't miss! I did. Not. Miss! She had a bleeding forcefield! You told me it was okay if I missed! You said it was just a signal!"
"Irvine, your voice is loud enough to echo. Tone it down."
"Yes, oh Commander of the United Gardens! Your mightiness of the Gunblade and the Sorceress Knight and the scar! How dare this lowly sniper attempt to talk back to YOU?"
"How dare he try to-"
"-a little respect from the people he-"
"-from childhood? The same people that-"
"-even remember him when they met him a-"
"For shooting Edea. You knew who she was, and you still shot. Thanks."
"Let's just get to Esthar."
"...Agh dangit, stupid blisters..."
Esthar was a magnificent city. Towering buildings that gleamed smooth metal and sophistication, ringed by bustling walkways and humming hoverails. Everything glowed in one way or another, from the reflected sun or by artificial light. Not a straight edge was to be seen, in the sea of soft curves and delicate arches.
And it was blue. All of it. Blue. Somewhere there was an Estharian architect cult devoted to the destruction of all things not blue. He wondered what their opinion on turquoise was.
It was also very shiny. It hurt his eyes.
After eating close to nothing for half a week, staying upright on a moving hoverail was a close to impossible feat. Squall managed it with the aid of leaning on his gunblade, but Irvine found himself on his back or his front at every stop. And he'd drag himself to his feet and pointedly ignore the pain in his legs and back and pointedly ignore the glares or puzzled looks of the pristine locals as they took in his bedraggled state. Let them gawk. I just want a shower, a bed, some food and some painkillers. Not necessarily in that order.
The guards at the gate to the Palace didn't seem to like them very much. It couldn't possibly have anything to do with how much dirt they were caked in. Or that they toting weapons and wearing very grumpy expressions.
"Look. Just call up Laguna. He'll vouch for us. Tell him it's Squall Leonhart and Irvine Kinneas. You know what, forget that, just say the name Squall to him and see how fast he lets us in."
The younger guard reached for the gate phone, but the older stopped him. "No one enters the palace today except on party business." He even managed to keep the sneer on his face to a minimum, and kept his eyes firmly on their faces and not their filthy clothes. Clearly well trained. "President Loire holds the Annual Liberation Ball tonight, and if you're not on the help list, you don't get in. Sorry."
"Squall. Leonhart. The name doesn't sound familiar to you. Hyne, on any other day he'd be on the guest list."
Squall fended off Irvine when he tried to grab the gunblade and wave it around for proof. "Let's just go."
"Hyne no. I'm tired, I'm hungry, I'm dirty, and we don't have any money for a hotel. Look, just call-"
"Irvine. Let's go."
Irvine would've argued more, except Squall was already walking away from him. He snorted and pointed his finger back at the guards as he followed. "Betcha fifty gil you get a pay dock for this."
But at the edge of the palace wall, as the guards turned to talk to one another, Squall snagged his arm and dragged him into the side alley. "Fuck them. We're getting in."
"How? Don't suppose you have Laguna's cell number. You could just call him and say 'Hey, we're right outside, surprise!'"
"If we had a phone." Squall eyed the wall critically. It rose some fifteen feet above their heads, ending in graceful but sharp spikes.
"Oh no. You're out of your mind."
But Squall was already removing his gloves. "Take out the camera."
"Like faith I'm taking out the camera! You are aware this is your father's palace we're trying to break into?"
"Take out the camera."
"You have a bad habit of doing that. I'm not taking out the camera."
"Fine. Hold this." The gunblade was shoved into his hands, and he could only watch as his friend began to scale the wall.
"You're gonna get us killed..." he groaned, and reluctantly fired a quick ammo at the security camera. The longer they stayed undetected, the more likely they could get to someone who would recognize them before the defense team stuck them full of holes.
Squall quickly reached the top and planted himself between two spikes. "Throw me the weapons."
Wincing at the prospect of tossing sharp objects, Irvine lobbed the gunbade up just as the sirens started blaring. Squall caught it neatly. But there was no way he was throwing his gun. He tucked it into its proper pouch and scrambled up the pale cream stones. Plenty of fingerholds, must remember to point that out to the security once we're not the intruders.
Irvine reached the top, and flinched as shots rang out. They were easy targets up here, visible from all sides. He threw himself over the edge and into the garden beyond.
Directly below were flower bushes of the non-thorn variety, and their soft leaves gave him one of the most comfortable landings of his career. He didn't have much time to appreciate it, though, as his attention focused on the machine gun pressed to his forehead.
"Hi." Laguna stated calmly. "I'd suggest you not move."
Then Squall landed just behind him, and Laguna's face broke in half with a grin. "Squall! You came to visit! You're filthy! You're here! Why didn't you just come in the front door? Neat entry, though. I take it this guy's with you?"
"That's Irvine," Squall wheezed, the air knocked out of him from the fall.
"Irvine! Squall's buddy! Welcome! Sorry, didn't recognize you with all the dirt. Hey guys, it's okay, it's just my son!" The security force clicked the safety onto their guns in unison, and Kiros rolled his eyes and muttered something about 'in the genes'. "Hey, so glad you could make it for the Ball! Though we'll have to clean you up a bit beforehand, no offense or anything, just that some of the people attending are stuffy boring politician types. Soon as I get you settled, though, I'm going to come back out here and try climbing that wall. Dunno why I've never done it before, looks like fun. Are you guys hungry? We could sneak some of the party snacks and Kiros will never know even though he's just standing over there. Actually, Kiros, why don't you sneak the snacks for us and pretend it's me doing it? Then you can complain to Ward about how annoying I can get. You guys want a bath or food first? ....What?" he asked in puzzlement at Irvine's dazed expression.
"You're... not related to any Tilmitts, are you?"
"Tilmitt? Oh, that sweet little brunette friend of yours. Hey, Squall told me you got engaged, congratulations! No, no Tilmitts in the family. Had an aunt Tillany, crazy old coot, liked cats. Why do you ask?"
Author's Note – Irvine stressed is not Irvine friendly. I'm actually basing Laguna off a person I know. Tremble in fear.
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