Disclaimer: Yes, there is sex in this story. No, it is not particularly graphic, certainly no worse than anything you'd see in a racy TV movie, and nowhere near close to NC-17. Still, if you hate the idea of sex being mentioned at all, well, you probably don't want to read this.
Somewhere over the waves, a gull was calling.
The plaintive cry received no answer from the bustling wharves of Balamb, where people milled and fished and laughed in the noonday sun. The people did not hear, and if they had heard, they would not have cared. They moved in a world all their own, full of possibility and promise, blind to the pain and sorrow of others.
Is this what we saved the world for? Squall Leonhart asked himself as his eyes drifted across the crowd. Is this who we saved the world for?
They spilled past the seaside cafe in an ocean of humanity that clashed sharply with the waves pounding against the beaches below. Their clothing was bright, garish, a snarl of electric blues and reds and yellows that winked in the sun and scorched the eyes. Their laughter was braying, piercing, shrill.
Squall leaned against the high, narrow table, his elbows resting on its surface, his chin cupped in his hands. He wished she hadn't wanted to meet here. He felt and looked out of place, a dark smudge of oil across a fine watercolor painting. Everything about him clashed with the surrounding atmosphere, from his dark jacket to the expression on his face. But that was all right. He knew instinctively that he didn't belong here, that this wasn't his world. Better to remain apart than to become one of this crowd, happy and vacuous, living in the safety and security provided by Garden without ever giving a word of thanks.
They disgusted him. He thought almost that he hated them, and he could not believe that he and his friends had saved the world for such a group of individuals. Had risked their lives to protect them for nothing but heartbreak and death in return.
Stop thinking like this. You've moved past this kind of attitude, a voice chided in his head, but it was her voice, and he didn't trust her anymore. Should never have trusted her in the first place. She had wormed her way through his defenses, dismantled the walls that had taken him years to build.
And then, when he was at his most defenseless, she had torn him apart from the inside, broken and shattered everything he believed in, and left him more empty than he had been before. It had hurt. It still hurt, and part of him wondered if it always would. He hated her for that. For making him trust her and everyone else just to ruin it all in the end anyway.
The walls were going back up. It wasn't safe outside them. She couldn't be trusted. None of them could be trusted. None of them except- but he couldn't make himself think about that right now, not until he could see her face to face again.
After the last time they'd seen each other, he'd been left with a mind full of conflicting emotions that circled and tore at each other like birds of prey, leaving nothing but confusion in their wake. Shame, hope, and sorrow intermingled, and all he knew for certain was that he could know nothing for certain. He wanted to apologize. He wanted to take it back. He wanted to do it again. He wanted her.
A breeze picked up, ruffling his hair and bringing with it the smell of the sea. That smell reminded him of that night at the Hotel Balamb, where everything started to fall apart.
Later, he would think that he must have known beforehand, that he had to have known, and he would berate himself for being too weak or too dense to realize the truth. It had been right there in front of him for weeks, in the tracery of small fingertip-sized bruises across her pale skin that he knew were not his own, in the way she drew away when they had finished, in the smell that clung about her sometimes, alien and new. Someone else. He had known. He had simply not known he had known.
It had been raining hard that night. Their anniversary, the month after the telegram came. The room at the hotel had been reserved for weeks, and so it had been there that their relationship had come to its sudden, messy end.
The rain lashed against the window so that its tapping sounded like distant, muted applause. Outside the hotel a mercury streetlight burned, bathing the room in bleary pumpkin light. She stood by the window, outlined in this light, crying trails of tears that glimmered a cheap and electric orange. She was crying? She was crying?
"I'm suh- sorry," she said, turning away from him as if unable to meet his gaze. "I sh-should have been honest with you sooner. It's just- it's just after everything, I wasn't sure I could do it. I mean, I tried so hard to win you over, and then I just throw you away? I couldn't- I didn't mean- I just- I couldn't be your emotional crutch for the rest of your life, I wanted something more, and I-"
"Shut up," he said. His legs didn't seem to work anymore, and he dropped to a sitting position at the edge of the bed, burying his face in his hands. He couldn't talk. Everything seemed to be burning - his eyes, his throat, his face. "Just shut up."
"I didn't want you to find out like this," she insisted, "Not tonight. But I just can't pretend anymore." She moved away from the window to stand by the bed. He looked up at her through his fingers and was struck with loathing and adoration. Her hair was wet from the rain and she was wearing the black strapless dress she had picked out in Esthar so long ago, and she smelled good, like rainwater and perfume and Rinoa, his Rinoa, just for him, now and forever. She was beautiful and he loved her and he hated her and he wanted to kiss her and he wanted to hit her and he wanted to scream.
He did none of those things. He simply sat, motionless, until she raised her hand to run it through his hair. She could not have hurt him more had she stabbed him with his own gunblade, and almost unconsciously his hand darted up and grabbed her wrist, forcing it away from him.
"Who is he?" he spat, his grip tightening. He could see the terror in her eyes. "Is it Seifer?" She said nothing, and his grip tightened. She gave a whimper of alarm, but stayed otherwise silent. He pressed on, heedless now, his mind considering things that moments before would have been impossible. "Is it? Or is it more than one? Are you letting them take turns?"
"Squall, stop it," she said, drawing away from him. Mascara streaked her pale face like the rain on the windows. "You're hurting me."
And what are you doing to me? He wanted to scream, but he felt as if there was something in his chest, scratching and clawing, and opening his mouth would release it. You're killing me, why are you doing this what did I do why did you do this to me why why WHY WHY WHY?
Instead, he released her and looked away. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and even, as dead and empty of emotion as it had been on the day they met.
"Get out, and don't come back," he said. With every word, the thing in his chest thrashed harder, but the low brimstone ache it awoke felt almost pleasant. He hoped it hurt her as much as it hurt him. "Take him, whoever he is, and go the hell away. I don't want to see you again."
She left without another word, closing the door softly behind her, and he hadn't seen her since. He sat there in the dark for perhaps an hour, thinking, giving her time to go wherever she wanted, and then he packed up his things, told the concierge that he would be checking out early, and headed out on foot for Balamb Garden in the lashing rain. The rain ran down his cheeks like the tears he could not, would not shed. It was weakness enough that he was capable of tears. He would not give in to the urge. He marched on in stoic silence, soaked to the skin now and not caring.
That was how Selphie had found him, walking down the hallway with sagging shoulders, leaving a trail of rainwater. He moved with mechanical steps, not even looking where he was going, and as she emerged from the stifling confines of her room, she had been astonished by his appearance.
She had never seen him like that before, not even on that fateful night a month earlier, when he had come to her with the telegram telling her the worst news imaginable. The telegram she had wadded up and thrown across the room before she collapsing onto her bed.
That had been the worst night of her life.
The world seesawed, blurred in and out of focus, spun and shifted around her until she thought she would lose her mind. She cried and clenched her fingers against the sheets, struggling to hold on to anything solid, because surely it all must be falling apart. He had become her everything. Surely the world had to be ending now that he was dead. Surely it wasn't cruel enough to grind on without him. Surely there was some mistake.
There had been no mistake. Irvine was gone, killed on assignment, and he was never coming back. And once she had admitted that, she could begin to leave her room again, to go out around other people, to function. But it was all different, all wrong. Inside she was empty except for the steady ache of loss. She felt hollow, and though she talked about moving on she knew the slightest thing - someone who looked or sounded like him, an old letter, a song - could shatter her brittle facade and reveal her devastation to the world.
So she had lived as a porcelain doll for a month, walking about during the day with a painted smile on her face and a note of manic joy in her voice. People told her she was strong, a rock. She heard them whispering in corners that she was amazing, that she bore her loss better than they could ever hope to. Others whispered that there was something wrong with her, that she could never have loved Irvine that much if she didn't mourn him longer.
None of them were there at night, when she wept curled up on her bed, left with only the ghost of his familiar warm presence and wishing it were more. That she'd feel his arms wrap around her from behind as they had so often before, that he'd place his hat on top of her head at a rakish angle, that he'd call her Sefie again. She missed the way he talked, the way he breathed when he was asleep, the way he sometimes whispered her name when it was just the two of them, so soft and tentative and vulnerable. She missed everything he had been and everything they might have been, and it was tearing her to pieces.
Which is why she knew she had to get out of the room that night, if only to escape her sorrow for a few hours. Out there in public, she wouldn't allow herself to show her pain. There would be people to talk to and things to do, and maybe at least the hurting would diminish for a few hours.
The moment she stepped out into the hallway and saw Squall, she knew that something was wrong. His back was turned, but he still looked as bad as she felt. He leaned heavily against the wall, head lowered, his hair and clothing wet and matted with rain that dripped and puddled on the marble floor beneath him.
"Squall?" she asked, taking a few tentative steps toward him until his profile came into view. His features were drawn and frozen, his eyes closed. He didn't even stir at her approach, though her footsteps sounded horribly loud in the empty hall. That wasn't like him at all. "Squall, is something wrong?"
"Yes," he said. His voice, which had begun to thaw in the months since she'd known him, was empty, emotionless. "Go away."
Water trickled from his hairline, over his scar, and down the slope of his nose before beading up and falling to the floor. Selphie felt the sudden, impulsive urge to wipe it away, to comfort him, to do something, anything. It was strange for her to see Squall this way, in need of her help and protection; he had always been the rock they all gathered around, even if they usually found him to be hard and cold. Now he seemed to be crumbling from the inside out, and she wanted desperately to put him back together again.
"Please tell me what it is," she pleaded, moving close enough to rest a hand on his shoulder. His jacket was soaked right through, and she wondered how long he'd been out in the rain. "Isn't this your anniv- oh... it's about that, I guess."
She thought she felt him shiver, though with the rain or something else, she didn't know. He still didn't move.
"Yeah," he said at last. "It's about that."
The automatic doors at the end of the hall hummed open, and Selphie turned to see a group of young female cadets approaching, giggling and laughing with the joy of their all-important secrets. That kind of gossip had appealed to her once, before the world had forced her to grow up. Now that life seemed a distant memory; for better or for worse, she and the others could never go back to it. She couldn't let those girls see this. Squall didn't deserve to be a target of their gossip.
"Come on," she whispered, taking him by the elbow and giving a warning squeeze. "You don't want them to see you like this." Then, louder, "You said you'd go over those assignment schedules for Garden Festival with me, Squall."
He didn't fight her when she led him across the hall and into her room, though she wasn't sure whether to chalk that up to his condition or his good sense. She waited for the girls to walk past, then closed and locked the door behind her, just in case any of them decided to "accidentally" stumble in.
Squall barely seemed to be aware of his surroundings. He was drifting in a sea of confusion and loss, replaying the last few weeks of his relationship over and over again, wondering what he had done wrong, if there had been any moment where a gesture, a word, could have stopped what happened. He wished he could go back and do things right.
Yet at the same time, a spark of white-hot anger burned beneath his sorrow, and he found himself wishing that he had hurt her more, had hurt her every time he got a chance. A part of him wanted to go back not to fix things, but to make things wrong. He wanted to refuse her dance, to call her dull and stupid, to spit in her beautiful face, to make her cry, to hurt her like she had hurt him. But he knew that was impossible, because she wasn't like him. She hadn't been abandoned by her father, hadn't sealed herself off from the world, hadn't only just emerged from a shell years in the making. She would never know what she had done to him, not really. She would never even care to know, and that disgusted him more than anything.
He wanted to forget her and everything she was, forget they ever met, forget her scolding, forget the risks he had taken on her behalf, the stupid words they had shared, the way she felt against him, around him. In retrospect, it all made him feel foolish. How had he not seen? How had he not known?
"Squall, what happened?" Selphie asked again. She leaned against the door, arms crossed, but her tone was gentle. "Please. Tell me. I can see something's bothering you, and you know you're my friend. You can tell me."
If it had been anyone but Selphie, he wouldn't have said anything. But at this moment she was different, somehow. The GFs had done a good job of scrubbing his memory clean, but in the wisps of childhood he had left he could remember what Sefie had been like, excitable and rambunctious, but with an inner core of real gentleness and understanding.
And though he was loathe to admit it, it wouldn't hurt to talk to someone about this right now, and Selphie was a better choice than most. She was his friend. Maybe she could at least give him some kind of advice.
"Rinoa... left," he said, looking down at the floor, where the rain dripping from his clothing was forming an ever-widening stain on the red carpet.
"Oh," Selphie said, raising a hand to her mouth. "Why did she... ?"
Despite himself, he felt his face beginning to grow red with humiliation. He recited a SeeD concentration exercise and the feeling faded. "A lot of reasons, apparently. There was someone else. I didn't listen or pay enough attention to her. She said I was too withdrawn, too secretive. She felt like she didn't even know me, that I wasn't what she wanted, and that she was sorry, but she couldn't take it any more." He trailed off for a moment. "I just wish I knew... what I did that was so wrong."
"It's not your fault," Selphie said, an expression of pity crossing her face. "You were just being you, and Rinoa was being Rinoa. If it's any comfort, she probably doesn't even realize what she's doing. Rinoa..." she trailed off before pushing ahead. "She means well, I think. But... it seems like she just doesn't know why you act the way you do. She just can't deal with it. She doesn't understand."
"And you do?" he asked, anger creeping into his tone. Did she think she understood him? Was she going to go on about how she felt his pain? He didn't want anyone's pity, not for being who he was.
Selphie sighed, but her resolve didn't waver. "Maybe not entirely," she admitted. "But I'm a SeeD just like you. I know what it feels like to hurt. I know what makes you feel the way you do. Rinoa's not a SeeD, she wasn't an orphan, in a lot of ways she just doesn't know what we're like-"
What they were like? He and Selphie were nothing alike. She was always smiling, always in a good mood, always making the best of things. He didn't know if she even knew how to feel sorrow. Even this past month, she'd seemed mostly unchanged. And now, for her to say that she knew what it was like to be him...
"Don't try to pretend you're like me," he said. "You don't think like me. You don't act like me. You don't know what it's like to be me. Rinoa may not understand, but don't pretend that you do either."
He was expecting an apology, or at least an admission of error, but what he got was anger, sharp and sudden. She balled her hands into fists and stepped forward until her face was less than a foot from his own. She began to yell with a force he would never have expected out of her.
"Give me a break! You think you're the only one that knows how to hide your feelings? You think you're the only one who can pretend not to care? You don't think all of us feel that way sometimes, knowing that the next mission could be our last, or that our friends could get hurt, or-" and her anger collapsed a broken sob. "Or that you could wake up one day and find the most important person in the world is dead?"
Irvine, he thought, and guilt struck him like a thunderbolt. He was hardly the one to be lecturing her on lack of understanding. But even as he tried to form an apology, she pushed on.
"You're the one that doesn't understand," Selphie said, drawing back and leaning against the wall. Her tears still flowed, but her voice was steady. "We're not so different. You hide the way you're feeling by acting like you don't care. I pretend to be happy sometimes. It's not exactly the same, but it's close enough that I can see through the way you act sometimes." She wiped the back of her wrist across her eyes. "I didn't mean anything. I was only trying to make you feel better."
"Selphie," Squall began, taking a step towards her and extending his hand uncertainly. "I'm... sorry. I shouldn't have said that, especially not after... everything. I just wasn't thinking. Listen, I better just go."
"You don't have to." Her eyes were still red-rimmed, but she managed a wan smile. "The last thing I need right now is another night alone. So... please, stay and talk a while. Well, if you want to."
Squall didn't say anything, but felt a surge of affection for her run through him. Maybe she did understand a little, after all. And even if she didn't, she was at least willing to try, and as her friend - still a strange concept, even after all these months - he owed it to her to do likewise.
And so, with soaking wet hands stuffed in equally drenched pockets, he began to speak his mind. She listened quietly, not interrupting like
some people would have. He was thankful for that; it was hard enough for him to speak this frankly as it was.
"Rinoa... changed me a lot. And now... now... it's like all that was for nothing. Like I was just some charity case, and she's tired of bothering. I feel like I wasted my time... and I'm not sure now if I wasn't right in the beginning. I mean, I think she made it clear that I can't trust her."
Selphie nodded, and he continued.
"And..." This was the worst, the most painful and the most shameful to admit. It revealed his weakness, the soft spot beneath his armor. The emotions that hurt, the feelings that bled. "I worry that I've lost something I can never get back. That if even she can get tired of me... that no one else will ever even want to try. That wouldn't have bothered me a year ago, but it bothers me now. She's made me... weaker, and I don't know if I should thank her or hate her for it."
"Oh, Squall..." Selphie said, and then she was next to him, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him close in a hug, burying her head in his shoulder. For a moment, neither of them said anything, and then she laughed. "We're both sort of messed up, huh?"
"I guess we are," he said. He allowed himself to hug her back, telling himself it was to avoid hurting her feelings and not because he wanted to. He had, after all, only been this close with Rinoa. But despite his protestations, he couldn't deny that Selphie's touch felt wonderful.
She's only comforting you, he told himself, wrestling with feelings that were suddenly racing out of control. Don't take it as anything else, don't dare, you just broke up with your girlfriend and Irvine is barely a month dead, you can't do anything, just let go would you let go this has gone on long enough she's going to notice if you don't let go-
She smelled of cinnamon and soap and something else he couldn't quite identify. She was close, so close, too close. Even through layers of wet clothing he could feel the rise and fall of her breathing, her heartbeat, the warmth of her skin. The length of her body was pressed against his own; her arms curled around his torso, her fingertips ran across his back, their legs intertwined. He was as hard as he had ever been, and he knew she must feel it there, pressing insistently against her thigh, but she didn't move away.
Selphie raised her head off his shoulder, eased closer. Her breath trailed over his neck in a warm, airy caress, and he shivered against her. When she spoke, her lips brushed the skin beneath his jawline in a series of fairy-kisses that were so soft and delicate that they hardly seemed real.
"You're shivering, Squall," she whispered. She pressed herself even closer, sending another, stronger shiver up his spine.
Then her mouth was moving against his own and their hands were at work, stripping off each other's clothing in a manic rush. There was no time for hesitation or doubt, only their mutual desire, burning hot and fast like a match, driving all other thoughts away. After those first few moments of contact, everything for them became a jumble of images and feelings that neither could later clearly recall.
Tumbling onto the bed, their breath coming in short gasps. Her kisses, long and lingering and soulful, short and sweet, each one special, unique. His hands caressing her, so gentle, so different from when he swung his gunblade. Her skin, as fine as porcelain but warm and silky soft. His hair, wet with the rain, parting under her fingers. Their bodies, intertwining in myriad ways as they came together.
"Yes," she said, once, her breath hot against the hollow of his neck and shoulder. Then again, and again. "Yesyesyesyes. Oh, that's it, that's it, right there, right there."
He didn't hear her words because she was so good, so sweet, and he was intoxicated with the taste and feel of her. Something traitorous in his mind whispered that Rinoa had never been this good, could never be this good. He didn't care. That was then and this was now and he could feel Selphie against him and around him, taste the salt on her skin, bury his face in her silky hair, and it didn't matter, nothing mattered but this, her, them.
Squall gave the briefest of moans and Selphie felt him shudder against her and it was fast, too soon for her, but her frustration melted away before it could even form as she felt his release spread inside her, slow and lazy and warm. It was all right. It was good. And it was only their first time...
Their first time-
She had almost forgotten him, caught up as she had been in the moment. For only the briefest of moments, but it was still damning. She had forgotten him, and he was only a month dead. But she had done worse than simply forget. Far worse. Guilt struck her with sure and sudden force, an icy lance through her heart.
I just - with Squall - oh God, in our bed. Our bed.
Squall saw the expression of dawning horror that flashed across her face and felt cold reality reassert itself. He had slept with his dead friend's girl. He had just trampled two friendships, all for the sake of his own needs.
What would Irvine think, if he knew? What have I done to her? What kind of friend am I?
An eternity of thoughts raced through their minds in that instant as they looked at each other stunned shock, as if neither quite believed the other was there. Each waited for the other to speak, and a thick impenetrable silence fell between them that was as meaningful in its own way as the one that had started all this.
Neither dared to move, out of shame or embarrassment or fear. He remained on top of her, their faces only inches apart. Her arms still encircled his back, but her embrace was passionless now, the grip of a drowning woman clinging to a rock in a storm. He could feel her entire body flinching away from him, her muscles quivering and shifting under her delicate skin, but she was too nervous to pull away and he was too nervous to release her.
"Selphie," he said at last, gazing down into her eyes, where unshed tears glimmered. He found himself wondering why he'd never noticed those eyes before, as green as the wave-tossed seas around Balamb, and as deep. "I'm... sorry-"
"It's okay," she said quickly, but her eyes were brimming over and her voice was thick and choked with restrained sobs. "It's not your fault. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have- we shouldn't have-"
Tears began to course down her face. It was bad enough that she had tainted Irvine's memory with her actions, but to do so with Squall, who she knew was hurting and vulnerable, who had trusted her, made it even worse.
Oh God. Did I use him? I think I used him. I didn't mean to- I - do I even care about him? I couldn't, if I'd do something like this, I-
Squall's expression was as vague as usual, but beneath the surface she could see regret and sorrow, dark things swimming in clouded water. He reached down to cup her face with his hand, wiping away her tears with his thumb, then he slipped out of her wooden grasp and stood up.
"I think I should go." He moved over to their pile of discarded clothing and began to dress with focused precision. He didn't look at her, and she didn't blame him. He had to feel hurt, betrayed, used.
"O-okay," she said. She reached down to pull the covers over herself. Of course that was pointless now, when his hands had already roamed her body, when he was still trickling from between her thighs, but her modesty was all she could control in this situation.
Squall wished he could say something, anything, but there were no words. For him, it seemed like there were never any words, and this was as awkward a situation as he could ever remember being in. He wanted nothing more than to get out of there, but at the same time he wanted to go back to her and hold her again and let her know it would be all right. And, as shameful as it might be, part of him wanted her again, and again, and again, as many more times as she would have him. She was different. She tried to understand.
He wished he could tell her these things, somehow, but that was impossible. Anything anyone said would only hurt her more, and he was always clumsy with words, his sentences sharp-edged, cutting. There was nothing he could say. There was nothing he could do.
You can't just walk out like this, without saying anything. You can't.
But he did.
When she heard the door close behind him, Selphie felt the last of her resolve fall away. She began to weep in earnest, rolling over so that she was no longer facing the door. She was ashamed of what she had done and who she had done it with, but most of all of how good it felt, of the sweet, slumbering ache that still lurked low in her belly, of the way Squall had moaned, all for her, just for her. Part of her wondered what it would be like to make him do it again, to make him whisper her name, to open up his shell and bring him out, to just talk with him.
But how would she ever face Squall again, now that she had used him as a crutch for her own grief? What was she supposed to say to him? Sorry about that whole using you for sex thing, now why don't we talk and this time I won't throw myself at you after? He had trusted her tonight, and she had abused that trust. She wasn't likely to get it back.
But why should she want it back? She shouldn't want something like this. It was wrong. It was a betrayal of everything she and Irvine had ever had. She thought of him as she had last seen him, when he had promised he'd be back, but that memory hurt now more than ever. She couldn't bear to think of him, not like this, not after what she had done. They had both said they were forever, and now, barely a month after he was gone, she had done this. And for what? A short talk? A few moments of fleeting pleasure?
Whore, her conscience accused. You're nothing but a lying whore.
Squall was still awake when the sun's first rays fell on Balamb Garden, burning away the puddled rain and slanting through the blinds in a dozen blood red strips. The next two weeks were no better. Sleep was denied, replaced by guilt and a muddled longing that he couldn't quite understand. He buried his demons under paperwork by day and wrestled with them at night, staring red-eyed at the ceiling as images flashed and circled in his mind. Rinoa and Selphie. Betrayer, betrayed. Lover, friend. He no longer knew which was which, and part of him was afraid to find out.
Yet when he found the note pinned to his door, asking him to meet her at the cafe, he knew at once that he had to come. He and Selphie had avoided each other as much as was possible in a relatively small place like Balamb Garden, but it couldn't last. One way or another, they had to deal with this.
"Hi, Squall," she said, and he looked up to see her standing on the other side of the table, slender and pale in a floral print dress, her hands nervously gripping her purse. "Do you mind if I sit?"
He didn't trust himself to speak yet, so he simply nodded at the chair across from him. She seated herself carefully, as if she was afraid any sudden movement might startle him into flight. Her hands rested on the table in front of her, fingers clenched tightly together as if she were trapping something between her palms. Her nails were bitten, ragged, and he wondered if they had always been like that, or if that was his fault too.
Another silence. She had begun to feel like silence itself was a third partner in all their conversations, one who liked to interrupt regularly. And Squall, being Squall, would usually let it have its way.
"Listen." She stared down at the table, where her pale and distorted reflection sprawled across white tiles. "I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry for what happened. I feel really guilty about it, and I think you do too. And I don't want that. It was my fault. I took advantage of you, even though I didn't mean to and-"
"Don't," he said. "Don't." His hands wrapped themselves around her own, and she felt her heart give a painful lurch. He could be so gentle. Why did she have to find out this way? "It wasn't your fault. It was mine. I wasn't thinking."
Selphie sighed. "Neither of us were. But this isn't the only reason I wanted to talk to you. I've volunteered to work on the founding committee for Esthar Garden and... I'm not coming back after we're finished."
"You don't have to do that." His words came with shocking speed, even to him, and he realized that as bad as he might feel about what had happened, losing her would feel worse. "I- we- don't have to talk about this again. Ever. You can stay."
But she was shaking her head, her eyes filling with tears again. "No. I can't. I can't, because-" She lowered her voice. "Because every time I see you or think about you, I can't stop thinking about how good it was. And I hate myself for feeling this way, Squall, I hate it and I can't stand it and I can't take the guilt I feel when I'm around you."
She rose to leave, but he snared her wrist and held her fast. He remembered sitting in the hotel the hotel room, holding tight to the woman he cared about only to have her leave him. He couldn't let that happen again.
"I want it again too." He steeled himself, closed his eyes, tried to control the beating of his heart. "I want <i>you</i>."
"I know," she whispered. "I want you too. And that's the worst part of all."
But she slipped from his grasp with a smooth grace that Rinoa could never have managed. "I'm so sorry," she said. "For everything." Then she turned and walked away.
Squall looked down at the table, unable to watch her go. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to shout for her, or run after her, but doing so would gain him nothing. She would not be convinced, and part of him didn't want to convince her. How could he even begin to explain the way she made him feel, that mixture of desire and affection and self-loathing? How could he, of all people, tell her what he was truly feeling when he didn't even know?
There were never any words.
It's better this way, he told himself. It would never have worked, not after that.
He almost believed it. In time, he was sure, he could make himself believe it.
He raised his head to look at her, to catch one last glimpse, but there was only seething mass of the crowd. A few moments later, he pushed himself away from the table, stood up, and stepped into the throng. It swallowed him, surrounded him with a press of smiling, laughing, jeering, empty faces. He listened to their babble and felt himself falling away.
There was no one there to catch him.
Author's Notes: WELL NOW. I wrote this because, well, I'm just perverse and I like to torture characters. And I like the idea of the (admittedly bizarre) Squall/Selphie pairing. Whenever I see them paired up elsewhere, though, it always seems like they make nice-nice pretty easily, and with this story I tried to reflect both the unlikelihood of them getting together and the massive sort of screw-up that could (and probably would) result from it.
I've tried to keep people mostly IC for this, but getting the two together did require some manipulation. With Rinoa I suppose it's arguable, but I don't think her actions here are totally outside the scope of what she might do, considering I just don't see her and Squall having a lot in common. But if you do, rah-rah for you, I certainly don't hate her or anything, and now she's free, so YAY. As for Irvine, well, I'll have you know he's perfectly in character, since he's dead and doesn't do anything. Zell spent this fic "swatting flies." I'm not sure what the DC did, but it was probably either angsty or darkly funny. Quistis was off on um... a mission. Laguna was having a facial.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed it! The usual round of thanks to Zachere for generous proofreading, without which Selphie would have "done tainted what she and Irvine had forever."
Till next time.