Fire Petals Chapter 19
There was a hand around his, grasping tightly, almost *too* tightly, but he clung back just the same to what was now his only lifeline, the beckoning blue of sea and sky surrounding him blurred by his pure and utter horror. His shirt collar and heavy chain necklace suddenly tried to tear into his neck, cutting off his air supply and at the same time pulling a choked yelp from his throat. A sharp edge of cement dug into his back and then he fell, thudding sickeningly onto cool enamel, jolted halfway back to reality. His eyes began to focus again, his ears reopening.
"What the *fuck* was that, man??"
Squall only replied with a weak grunt as he tried to push himself to a sitting position with his arms. He necklace was still digging into his throat, helping to pull him up. He leaned against the cool balcony wall as the hand at the back of his collar released its grip. He began to breathe again.
"I *said* what the *fuck* was *that*?!"
Squall looked across the ground, curious as to who was the owner of such an angry voice, to see a pair of boots, up further, finding chaps, a tan trenchcoat, and finally slitted eyes almost hiding behind the brim of a cowboy hat. "I . . . I don't know." Squall lifted a hand to his temple. Another headache. He wasn't surprised. *What ~did~ I just do?* Honestly, he could hardly remember . . . Had he meant to go over the edge? "What happened?"
"All I know is I came up here to see what was up after Rinoa tore past me like a damn *bullet* down the hallway, and you were fuckin' sitting on that damn ledge and then you just, like, fell over . . . What were you tryin' ta do? *Kill* yourself? What the hell *happened* between you two just now?"
Squall didn't reply. *Too many questions.* He could feel tears welling up behind his aching eyes, begging to be released. Again he refused them, not knowing if shock or something deeper was to blame. With his eyes closed, he could sense Irvine kneeling beside him by the shifting of light 'and darkness on his eyelids and the sound of his two clicking steps.
"You were, weren't you." Irvine's voice was quiet now; concerned.
"What?" Squall's voice came out much closer to that of a shivering hummingbird than he had predicted.
"Why do you want to die?" He could feel Irvine's eyes burning into the side of his face and he turned it to the side.
"I *don't,* I . . . I don't know anything."
Irvine ignored Squall's dismissal of the problem. He wouldn't give up that easily. "She doesn't understand a thing, does she?"
"Rinoa. She doesn't get it that you're in as much pain as she is."
"How do you know--"
"I'm very observant, Squall. I see people and I see what they do when nobody's watching me. When I sit, all quiet, in that far corner in any given room, do you think I'm just off in my thoughts somewhere? On another planet?" When Squall didn't reply, he continued, "No. I'm watching you. Not just you. Everyone. It's something I taught myself so I could learn the fastest way to get into a girl's pants, but lately I've realized that there's so many better uses for it. Nobody can hide from me, Squall, not even *you*."
Those last words, Squall knew, would be taken as threatening in any other situation--especially to himself, whose practical goal in life was just that: to hide from everyone. Now, though, he wasn't threatened, but comforted; someone was close to understanding him without him having to admit to or explain a thing. Was this someone he could look to for help? Slutty, sex-crazed Irvine? He turned and stared at the gun-toting cowboy, hard, right in his eyes, searching and allowing him to search as well.
*An offering?* Irvine wondered as he stared back. Those eyes were deep but open, almost begging for help, drowning in unfallen tears. In truth, Irvine was surprised Squall hadn't hit him by now. It seemed that would be such a . . . *Squall-ish* thing to do. *Rinoa has left him . . . he has no-one to open up to now . . . . but me?* "I'm here to help you, man. Me, and Selphie, and Quistis, and Zell--"
Squall interrupted him with a quiet guffaw, close to grinning, as he let his head fall back into the wall, averting his eyes to the sky. "Zell." he mumbled.
"What?" *Oh shit,* he realized, *Zell and Rinoa . . . he knows about that?*
"All I know is that Rinoa slept in his room last night. Zell's there for her, not me."
"And as far as *I* know, sleeping's all that happened. She was afraid, Squall . . . she was confused and she needed someone. Zell was there. What would *you* have done?"
"I wouldn't have slept in Zell's bed, that's for sure."
"And if Selphie was there for *you*? Or Quistis? Wouldn't you have done the same thing she did?"
Squall's head lowered. "No." His voice was adamant. Of course he wouldn't. Rinoa was different from him, in almost every way he could think of. "Just because *you* would have. . . " Irvine was a whore. There was no way to ignore that. It figured he would think this way.
Knowing the attack on him was a sign that Squall *did not want to talk about it,* Irvine discontinued this portion of the conversation. Keeping it going would only make things worse, and all he really wanted right now was to get Squall far away from the ledge, away from the balcony, into the deepest, most secure part of the Garden. To keep him safe from himself. "Has Seifer come back yet?"
"Maybe he won't."
"Don't let your guard down and don't get your hopes up."
"Hey--don't worry. I'll be able to tell it's him the instant he decides to drop in."
"I'm tired." Squall replied, secretly thankful for Irvine's assurance, though he didn't want to talk about that anymore, either. It was an honest statement--he felt he might just collapse into slumber right there on the floor.
Irvine found this to be an excellent window of opportunity. "Alright, then, let's get you the hell back to your room."
Squall stood on shaky legs as he followed Irvine to the door. He tripped and nearly fell down the small flight of stairs, causing Irvine to take hold of his arm and refuse to let go until they got to the first floor.
Zell found Selphie, Quistis, and Ellone standing by a large window in the hallway that lead to the parking lot. He sauntered up to them slowly, eyeing them to see if they were having a "girl talk" that he knew better than to interrupt. As he noticed Selphie turning her gaze from the window to burst out into laughter, he realized this was not the case. "What's uuuuuuuup, guys?" he called, smiling at the trio as they turned their eyes to him.
"Just, um, recalling a few incidents from back in the Orphanage Days." Quistis explained, trying to hide a smile. At seeing Zell, Selphie began to laugh again, her arms wrapped around her stomach.
"The hell's so funny?" he asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
"Oh, nothing. Don't worry about it." Selphie replied.
"Come on, I wanna know!" Zell didn't notice the whine in his voice, but the others did. Unfortunately, none of them got the chance to tell him to be quiet: Rinoa raced by them, and in the few seconds that her face was visible, they saw that she was crying. "Oh great . . . what happened now?" Zell asked, watching as she turned into the parking lot hallway. His heart began to beat faster when he saw her. Despite his discussion with the girl from the library (that it seemed he wouldn't be able to tell anyone about for a while now), he still felt for Rinoa. It was a feeling he couldn't shake, though now he was beginning to want to grow out of it.
"I don't know . . . maybe you should go after her. I know I'd just end up saying the wrong things." Quistis told him, "She'd probably talk to you."
"Alright. . ." Zell began to walk away from the group, hands stuffed into his pockets. He had no clue what to say to her. "I'm no good at this stuff, you guys."
"I'll come too." Selphie said, "In case you need some help." She began to follow him.
"I'm going to look for Squall." Ellone decided thoughtfully, "I really missed him, and I haven't gotten to talk to him yet. He needs to know I didn't mean to abandon him back at the orphanage." She headed towards the elevators, Quistis deciding to follow to see how Squall was doing. If Rinoa was crying, it most likely had something to do with him. Hopefully Seifer hadn't decided to come back while she wasn't around.
Rinoa found herself in the parking lot, breathing heavily from her sprint but not tired in the least. By now she was bawling, heaving choking sobs in a way she hadn't since childhood. She fell to her hands an knees on the ground, exasperated, frustrated, and began to pound the cement floor with the sides of her fists in her anger. Her face burned from the stares she'd received as she ran, past Zell, past Quistis, Ellone, and Selphie, thankful to finally be alone. Unfortunately, this didn't last long.
"Rinoa?" Selphie's scared-sounding voice echoed through the spacious garage. Rinoa stilled, though her sobs were still audible.
"What do you want?"
"Rinoa . . . what's wrong?" Selphie asked, walking up to her to stand behind her. Zell remained at the doorway. He was both confident and relieved that Selphie could take care of this by herself.
"Nothing." Rinoa replied, he voice cracking. "Go away."
"I know that's not true. You should tell us."
*Us? Who else is here?* Rinoa turned around to see Zell leaning on the doorframe. Her eyes narrowed. "Why should I?"
"Because we're your friends." Zell replied simply.
"You're not, Zell . . . " She let out a sob that sounded more like a hiccup, "You used me."
"What?" Zell took a step back. "Rinoa, I didn't--"
"You wanted a damn kiss from me so you took me in your room and you--"
"You did *what* Zell? Selphie interrupted, "I thought . . . "
Zell couldn't reply to that. *Is that what she thinks?* He turned and left, heading back for his room. He couldn't take hearing that from her . . . she had kissed him as much as he had kissed her, and he only did it because he cared for her.
"Never mind." Rinoa replied, "It doesn't matter. I don't care about that. I don't care about anything. Leave me alone."
"Rinoa, please . . . please tell me." Selphie knelt beside her. "I want to be your friend. You can trust me."
"I said I don't want to *fucking* talk about it!" Rinoa suddenly stood up and glared at her, her fists clenched and quivering at her sides. Selphie stepped back, alarmed and a little afraid.
"I'm . . . I'm sorry."
"Go away!" Rinoa continued, "I don't want you to be my friend and I don't want Zell to be my friend. I just want to be left alone!"
"Fine." Selphie's lip quivered, "Fine, have it your way." With that, she turned and stormed out of the parking lot, a scowl on her face.
Rinoa fell back onto her bottom on the ground, pulling her knees to her chest and burying her face in her hands. Guilt overtook her, and her sobs grew. Why did she have to take it out on them?
Zell's footsteps were light, quick, though not quite a run, as he left the parking lot. He couldn't believe Rinoa thought of him this way. He hadn't wanted to hurt her--he'd only wanted to comfort her, and the attraction to her that still lingered within him began to bore a regretful hole within his stomach. He wished with all he had that he hadn't kissed her, though it was something he had longed for for so long, just so that she wouldn't be crying right now. All he was really wishing for was for her to be happy.
And for the possibility that Squall would not disown him when he found out about it. That was, if he hadn't already. He considered Squall a good--if not his best--friend, and looked up to him like an older brother. To do this, especially to Squall, meant certain death, relationship-wise. Rinoa never planned to speak to him again, and he wouldn't be surprised if Squall decided to lop off his head with his gunblade, maybe pulling the trigger in mid-swing for a decent cranial explosion.
Zell winced at the thought and shook his head, doing his best to push the thought from his mind. *At least I have a chance with that girl from the Caf, Lathaina . . .* He opened his eyes, and was surprised to see the Lathaina walking down the hall a ways ahead of him. He smiled at the sight of her, able to recognise her by only the pigtail at the back of her head. He waved and was about to call her name to get her attention when a male student walked up to her, stringing his arm around hers as they continued to walk. Zell lowered his arm and stared at the ground. He wasn't about to say a word now, not when it looked like she already had a boyfriend. *Looks like she wasn't interested. Oh well, Zell,* he told himself, *you shouldn't be disappointed. How could you expect someone as hot as her to be interested in someone like you?* Still, he couldn't help the tears he could feel begging to burst from his eyes. He stopped them from falling, though, as he watched the couple head for the dorms.
Just as he was about to turn around, not knowing *where* he was heading, he noticed Irvine leaving the dorms and tipping his hat at the happy pair before noticing Zell some thirty feet away. Zell ran over to him, forgetting about Lathaina as he waved his arms in the air. "Hey, man, I need your help."
*Oh, great. More people needing my help. Isn't saving one life a day enough? Ugh, and I wanted to go take a nap.* "What's up?" Irvine asked cheerily, contradicting his thoughts.
"Rinoa's throwin' a damn temper-tantrum in the parking lot. It looked like Selphie would get nowhere when I left. I think she might need your help to get Rinoa calmed down." Zell replied. "She wouldn't even say a word to me."
Irvine sighed, "Alright, I guess I'll check it out. I think I know what this is about, anywho." He began to walk again, Zell following close behind. "Uh, Zell?"
"I think I'm gonna need to be alone with the girl before she listens to me."
"Oh, okay . . " Zell slowed his steps and was about to turn around when Irvine beckoned him over with a wave of his hand and whispered,
"Just one thing . . . I need to know how far you two went last night."
"Uh . . ." Zell gulped. "I kissed her."
"That's it? You sure you're tellin' me the truth?"
"What the hell kinda guy d'ya think I am? Geez Irvine . . ."
"Alright, alright, sorry . . . " Irvine turned and headed for the parking lot. He was sure Squall would be pleased to learn of this. It seemed to Irvine that the guy was sure Zell had gotten at least a home run.
"Uh . . . bye Irvine . . ." Zell called uncomfortably. He never quite knew how to act around the guy. Irvine only lifted his hand to give a half-hearted wave, not bothering even to turn his head.
Irvine found Rinoa in the parking lot, sure as Zell had said, alone and chucking stones at the walls. It looked like she'd been doing this for a while--rocks and pebbles alike were scattered all over the ground. Her back to him, Rinoa only realized he was there when he said, "Hey, Rinoa?"
"What do *you* want?" she replied angrily.
"Oh, so you're gonna be like that. What the hell's your problem?" Blunt and to-the-point. Irvine would do no beating-'round-the-bush when it came to figuring out people's problems. Especially people like Rinoa--she was someone who would bathe in the comfort of one who chose to be soft with her, and end up finding some way to use that against them. He'd seen her argue before, and it wasn't pretty. This was the only way he knew of to deal with her. He sighed, knowing it would get quite dirty.
"Nothing." Rinoa replied. Irvine had to stifle a chuckle, wondering if she knew how many Squall-isms she had picked up.
"Then stop frickin' moping in here and get on with your damn life. This is a parking lot, not some place for you to chuck rocks and whine your fool head off." At that remark, Rinoa threw one of her stones back over her shoulder, missing Irvine completely.
"Ha! Missed me by a mile!" he teased, knowing that to get her riled up was to get her to talk. *You get what you give,* he thought, *I'm not about to let you get to me.*
"Shut up!" she replied, about to break into another round of sobs. Why was Irvine being to mean to her? She turned around to throw the next one, and her aim was better, though Irvine neatly sidestepped it.
"Ooooh, Rinoa, you're gettin' better. Might actually hit me with that little baby-throw." Irvine forced a laugh, though he wasn't pleased with himself in the least. He sure hoped this would work. "Not that you could hurt me anyways."
That was it. Rinoa burst out into tears and stood up, whipping her next stone at a nearby car's window, shattering it. Irvine let out a low whistle.
"Damn. That's gonna cost a lot of money to fix. It'll probably have to come out of your pocket, too." He watched as her fists clenched tighter and tighter at her sides. All she wanted was to scare him away with her anger, as she had the others, but he refused to let her plan work. "Though I must say I'm pleased. I was sure your weakling little arms wouldn't be able to break that with a fifty-pound--"
"Go to hell, Irvine!!" He was cut off as Rinoa finally lunged at him, pounding on his arms and chest. He didn't try to stop her, as she was barely causing him any pain, but as she slashed a fingernail across his cheek, managing to draw blood, Irvine grabbed her wrists and forced her to look him in the eye. "What the hell is wrong with you?" He asked.
It was now that she began to talk, as he was practically forcing her, "I can't fucking believe you! Everyone's against me! Can't you damn people see that *I'm* the victim here? That Squall tried to rape *me*, and not the other way around??"
Irvine stared at her in near disbelief. "You think that you're the only person upset by this whole thing?"
"You're hurting me!"
"I don't care!" despite this statement, Irvine loosened his grip, making sure, though, to keep it firm. The last thing he wanted was to make this seem like a recreation of what she'd already gone through. "There are some things you have to fucking understand here!"
"I understand everything! Nobody cares about me! It's all 'Squall, Squall, Squall. Who cares about Rinoa? She's the outsider, and Squall's the commander. Of course we don't care about her'."
"Then why the hell do you think *I'm* here??" Irvine replied, his voice raised. Rinoa became quiet. She stopped fighting and stood there as Irvine let go of her.
"He doesn't understand. None of you understand. I almost got raped. That hurts . . . but none of you can see it . . ."
"Squall did too, Rinoa."
"Seifer took over his mind. Took total control of him. Used him to hurt you. He cares about you, ya know. Doesn't that count as rape, too?"
"Great . . . . great. So you came here to let me know why I should feel sorry for Squall, so I understand why everyone's giving *him* all their attention," Rinoa began to hit him again and he allowed her pounding his chest, emphasizing every word with another punch, "Just . . so . . I can . .feel . . shittier? Damn it, I'm all alone here!"
"No you're not!" Irvine placed a hand on each of her shoulders. He lowered the volume of his voice to a near whisper, so she would quiet as well to listen to him, "We all want to be here for *both* of you. You need to realize that Squall is in as much pain as you are."
"How do you even know he is? I know he wouldn't tell you." Rinoa stared down at her feet.
"He tried to kill himself when you left the balcony."
Rinoa looked up at him, her eyes big and full of honest regret, hoping that Irvine was lying, waiting for him to say it wasn't true. But she only found honesty written on his face, and at the realization that there was no way he was lying to her, her knees buckled and she fell forward onto him.
Of course, Irvine was there to catch her; that was why he had come to find her in the first place. He held her without caring that her mascara-blackened tears were soaking into his jacket collar and would probably put it in need of dry-cleaning, or that the slash on the side of his face might even need stitches. These were mere battle-wounds that he'd have to deal with in exchange for his victory. He had gotten through to her, and was taken over by the pure satisfaction of success.
"Is . . . is he okay?" she managed to choke out.
"Yeah . . . I caught him at the last second and then brought him to his room. He's there now, out like a light."
Rinoa leaned back from him and looked at him, knowing that even if nobody else would tell her the truth, Irvine would, "Did he do it because of how I acted with him?"
"Most likely." Irvine replied, almost feeling Rinoa's wince at the last answer she wanted to hear. "You're the one who affects him most. If you're understanding with him, he will be with you." Irvine paused, "You know, he thinks you're planning to stay with Zell."
"*What?*" Rinoa replied, "Are you serious?"
"That's the impression I got. Look, you need to talk with him when he wakes up. He needs to know what you're thinking."
"I guess. If he'll listen."
"He always listens, even if it seems like he's not. Remember that." Rinoa nodded and turned her head. Irvine looked down at her, "Ready to go?"
Rinoa dropped her arms from his shoulders and took a step backwards. Irvine handed her a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his jacket and she wiped her eyes, then blew her nose loudly. When she tried to hand it back to him, Irvine replied with "You keep it," a little grossed out at the snotty thing. The pair left the parking lot, side-by-side.
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