One of the hardest questions Matron has to answer for young Irvine.
"Take that back!"
"Nuh uh! S'true!"
"S'NOT! Take it BACK, Seifer!"
"No way. I heard Matron say it!"
"Am NOT! S'true!
The sound of the scuffle brought Matron after a few minutes, "Seifer! Squall!" flying automatically from her lips. She was stopped short, however, when she saw Squall sitting quietly by the side, watching the fight with wide eyes. "Squall. Then who...?" She looked, and caught a glimpse of auburn hair in the mess of flailing limbs. "Irvine? Irvine! Seifer! ENOUGH!"
Her voice froze them both, both boys looking up like deer caught in headlights, Irvine sitting on Seifer's chest, twisting his arm, and Seifer trying to push him off with the other arm. The effect was almost comical, and Edea had to fight to keep the smile off her face as she hauled the boys to their feet. "Now, what's this about?"
Irvine glared, and sniffled suspiciously.
Edea sighed. "All right. Seifer, garden. Weeding. Now."
"But Maaatron, he started it!"
"And he's going to have extra chores to do, same as you. Now go."
Still glaring, but knowing better than to argue with that tone of voice, Seifer stomped off around the side of the orphanage, towards the garden.
Edea shook her head, sighing as she turned back to Irvine. "And as for you, young man--" She turned just in time to catch the quiver in Irvine's lip before the tears started falling.
Irvine sniffled, "I'm sorry, Matron."
"Oh, Irvine...come on, let's go for a walk.... Squall, go help Quistis pick up inside." Taking Irvine's hand, she led him off towards the beach, leaving Squall to grumble as he went inside about how come HE for once wasn't the one fighting with Seifer, but he STILL got more chores to do....
"How about a walk in the sand. That sounds nice, doesn't it? Here, let's take off our shoes...."
Irvine sniffled again, and nodded, bending down to take off his battered sneakers and leave them next to Edea's sandals before they reached the white sand. The fact that his hand found hers again without any prompting made Edea hide another smile as they walked along the beach, the breeze blowing through their hair. Finally, she stopped them by the big rock that she'd heard the kids call Matron's Rock. She sat down and patted the warm stone for Irvine to join her. "So. Do you want to tell me what that was about? You don't usually have any problem getting along with Seifer." Though, to be fair, she had to admit that "ignoring" was closer to the truth than "getting along with". Seifer picked on everyone, but Irvine usually seemed to laugh it off. She couldn't remember the last time Irvine'd been in a fight.
Irvine sat, looking down at his sandy toes, and for a moment she wasn't sure if he was going to answer. Then, with a hiccup, he asked in a small voice, "Matron? Are my parents dead?"
The quiet question, with so much innocent pain behind it, wasn't what she'd been expecting.
Irvine continued, digging one foot into the sand. "Seifer said that he'd heard you say that my parents were dead."
"SEIFER shouldn't be listening at doors." Hyne help me, that boy's not going to sit down for a week when I'm through with him. Edea sighed. "I...I don't know, Irvine. Seifer heard wrong. What I said was that your parents...MIGHT be dead. But they might not." She bit her lip, looking out over the waves, wondering just how much a five year old needed to know. "Your parents brought you here, Irvine, because they wanted you to be safe. They were afraid that there were bad people after them, and if they got caught, they didn't want you to be caught with them." She turned back to a pair of blue eyes soaking in every word. "I don't know what happened to them after that, Irvine, I really don't."
"Oh." Irvine pulled his foot up out of the sand he'd buried it in, wet sand breaking in clumps over his toes. "So...they might be ok."
Edea nodded. "They might."
Irvine looked back down at his feet. "Or they might not."
She nodded again. "Or they might not, yes." She took his two hands in hers. "But that doesn't mean that you should stop hoping."
Irvine considered this solemnly. "Matron?"
"Did my parents love me?"
"Oh, Irvine." She pulled the boy close, petting the soft auburn hair, fingers combing through the messy ponytail. "Of course they did. They loved you so much...." She couldn't force anymore words out and had to settle for just rocking the small boy back and forth.
Thin arms clung around her waist, and if they shook a bit, and the waves didn't quite cover up the sobs that he tried to muffle, and if, when he pulled away a few minutes later, the front of her dress was quite a bit damper than the seaspray could account for...Edea certainly didn't mind. She offered him her handkerchief. "Better?"
Irvine nodded, blowing his nose noisily. "Tank yoo."
Irvine kicked his feet in the sand a bit. "It's ok to hope, isn't it? Even if I end up being wrong?"
"Yes." She tucked a lock of his hair behind his ear, out of his eyes. "Sometimes, that's the only thing that you can do."
Irvine sniffed, wiping his nose on the back of the hand still holding her handkerchief. "Ok. I'll do that."
"You do that. And I'll have a word with Seifer about spreading rumors."
Irvine looked up at her, scrubbing his face with his hand, but still his smile was sweet as anything. This boy's going to break hearts when he's older. "That's ok, Matron. I'll just 'gnore Seifer, like you always tell us to." He offered her handkerchief back.
"Good boy." She dusted off the seat of her dress. "Uh...that's ok, why don't you just drop it off in the laundry when you get back."
"Okay." Irvine's hand found hers as they headed back towards the orphanage. "Matron?"
"Could I have a cookie when we get back?"
"You'll ruin your supper."
"No, I won't. Honest."
Edea couldn't help but chuckle. "We'll see." Her heart lightened as he reached down to pick up a shell with a small "ooh", examining the smooth whorls of it with something closer to his characteristic wonder.
She squeezed his hand. "We'll see."