I guess I'm just tired of not being able to write. It's the thing in my life which is both the most fun and the most difficult. Lots of (real) writers have quotations to do with the strain of creation - I see where they're coming from. It's hard enough trying to write fanfiction. Writing your own characters... in some ways it's easier, and in others the worst thing you can try to do.
So, anyway. To help get over this paralysis, I'm going to try posting a piece of a fic. This is the first thing I ever wrote, ever ever. I've been working on it for... goodness, it's been years. It has endured so many edits and rewrites and long nights of suffering and criticism that it shouldn't be the same fic, anymore. In a way, it isn't. It's a touch more mature, a little closer to reality than any fantasy-based piece should be. I couldn't help it, though, any more than I could help writing it in the first place.
So here it is. My baby. I'll be posting it in various communities, one chapter at a time. My hope is that feedback will help get me past the last roadblocks, to finally reach the end.
I should warn - the writing gets better as you go along, so don't worry.
Fandom: Final Fantasy VIII
Pairing: Seifer/Irvine, Squall/Irvine
Rating: NC-17 (mostly R, though)
Release the safety.
"Hey, I know you’re in here."
Aim. Sight down the barrel.
"Come on, we’ve got to go. The party starts in twenty minutes."
Be calm. Allow the target to come to you. Allow no outside interference to affect your focus.
See the target.
Selphie peeked around a jagged boulder. "Gross, Irvine!"
He blinked at her and stood up, blood-soaked ponytail swinging behind him. "What’s gross, Sefie?"
She smacked her forehead. "You’ve just covered yourself in dinosaur blood – again! Why can't you get it into your skull that T-Rexaurs are best killed from at least five feet away?" She looked him over. The training center's green light was not kind. His hat was starting to turn a deep maroon, the duster was wrecked, and his hair… She took a deep breath – the stench of whiskey carried all the way over to her.
Irvine grinned lopsidedly, his teeth eerily white amongst the splotch and stain of red on his face. "I don't know, Selphie. I like waiting until they're close. But I know you don't like blood… Do you want to help me clean up?" He waggled his eyebrows at her in a mangled stab at flirting. He then attempted to take a step, wobbled, and promptly crashed into the dinosaur's corpse.
Selphie sighed and trotted over, avoiding the thorny undergrowth dotting the simulated landscape. She could already hear Irvine's breathing slowing, becoming deeper. "There's no way I'm ruining this dress to carry you, cowboy." She knelt carefully at his side, placing her fingertips delicately on his brow, and concentrated. She felt the magic welling up inside her, spiraling out from her core. She felt it race through the veins, surging toward her fingers, and whispered, "Cure."
A deep groan came from the man under her. She closed her eyes in relief, and edged further away from the spreading pool of dark blood, across the metal plates that formed the training center's artificial floor. The normally cheerful girl frowned down at her prostrate companion. "Irvine, why did you get drunk? You aren't coming to the party?"
He slowly raised himself on his hands. "Yeah, Selphie, sure. Hey, I could also gouge my eyes out with a spoon." He muttered curses as he settled, cross-legged, to the floor. He peered up at her under his eyebrows, his eyes a weary blue-violet. "Why on earth would you think I'd come?"
She winced. "I'm sorry. I just thought..." She watched in sympathy as he peeled his hair away from his shoulder, the usual auburn turned a deep, sickening red. "Do you want me to stay with you? We could watch a movie or something."
He smiled ruefully. "It's all right. Go to the party." He watched her frown as she stood up. "I'll be fine. But could you do something for me?"
"Hit on Zell for once, will you? We're all sick and tired of him making all the moves."
She grinned brilliantly, though a faint melancholy edge dimmed her natural exuberance. "Thanks, cowboy." Her mobile phone started screaming. "I've got to go – Quisty will be pissed if I'm late." She wheeled around and dashed for the door, calling, "Stay sober 'til you get to your room, okay?"
Irvine smiled. "Will do, babe." The doors hissed shut behind her.
He stood, steadying himself on the T-Rexaur's leg. He felt several tendons pop, crackling back into place. A wave of disgust hit him as he felt a trail of sticky wetness trickle down his spine. Definitely time for a shower.
Squall stalked down the relatively deserted halls to the dormitories. He couldn't believe they were making him take it. His mind seethed around the memory from the meeting he'd just had.
"But, Squall," Quistis reasoned, "The room has been specifically set aside for you. The students got a thousand signatures on the petition. This is their way of saying thank you."
Quistis felt her much-strained patience draining away. "For saving the entire world, you lunkhead," she growled.
"It's not as if I did it by myself! Why aren't we giving you or Zell or Selphie the damn things?"
Quistis snarled. "You're taking the godforsaken apartments, Squall. And I don't want any more arguments about it."
He was supposed to be in charge around here. How could the students, of all people, make him move? He liked his little dorm room. At least he knew where everything was. Quistis had informed him that his 'junk' wasn't good enough for the Master Suites. She'd even taken his magazine collection.
"I'm not even the headmaster! You are!"
Quistis smirked at him. Seifer was rubbing off on her. "You're the Supreme Commander of SeeD. You outrank me by about seven levels." Her eyebrow arched. "And there's no way you're getting out of it. I'll expect you at the housewarming party at seven o'clock sharp."
Squall stood at the end of the dorm hall, glaring furiously at his old room's door. She'd changed the key code. He couldn't even take a shower in his own room. He slammed his fist into the wall, startling a group of girls loitering nearby. That did it.
The door to the room exploded inward.
He didn't turn. "Yes."
"Uh… Do you need anything?"
He transferred his glare to the short cadet. She squeaked, bolted, and slammed straight into Irvine as he turned the corner.
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir, oh –"
"It's all right, sweetheart. Just watch where you're going next time, would you?" Irvine patted her shoulder, grimacing when he left a bloody handprint. "Sorry, sugar. You run along now, all right?"
Irvine passed by Squall. "Have fun at the party, Commander."
Squall whirled. "Thanks a lot, Kinneas –" He stopped. "Oh." Irvine had left a trail of red footprints in his wake. "Irvine –"
"Yeah, not my smoothest move ever. No need to tell me." He reached his door and punched in his password violently. "I'll see you tomorrow, Squall." He was through the door without another word.
Squall frowned. Even with his limited social skills, he could tell that Irvine was not his normal, cheery self. He didn't know what to make of it. 'I'm sure he'll be fine. Probably got turned down by some girl,' he thought, brushing his messy fringe of brown hair out of his eyes.
Problem forgotten, Squall turned to the really distressing issue – he had a party to go to.
Irvine peeled off his clothes with some relief, tossing them towards the already full hamper in the corner of his bathroom. He turned on the shower and sank to the edge of the colorfully tiled tub, waiting for the water to heat. His eyes drifted shut.
("Come on, Sniper. You know you want this – you'd better start cooperating, or things are going to get nasty. Get up, you fucking idiot, or I'll –")
Irvine's head shot up. The spray was now very warm, and he slid into it with a sigh. The water swirling down the drain quickly streaked crimson as he scrubbed the blood from his skin and hair.
'You just can't forget it, can you, Kinneas?' He wiped water from his eyes to find the shampoo. 'Always did have a damned good memory. And now you can't forget the one thing you'd like to lose.' He cleared a clot of blood from his ear. 'It's just that he's here. He's forgotten – why won't you?'
Irvine turned off the shower and efficiently toweled himself dry, returning to the bedroom. He tossed himself facedown on his narrow bed, burrowing his face into the pillow and breathing deeply.
'Because it hurt you a lot more than it hurt him.'
He sat back up abruptly. Ever since he had arrived, his mind wouldn't shut off, wouldn't let him fall asleep. His eyes strayed to the whiskey bottle, half-empty on the nightstand. 'Don't, Kinneas. It'll only get you into more trouble.' He found himself reaching for it despite himself. 'So, this is what you've turned into. A drunk at eighteen.'
He took a large swallow. 'How pathetic.'
Squall slouched against a wall in the corner of his new apartments, clenching a champagne glass nearly hard enough to break and glaring balefully at anyone foolish enough to approach him. Not that that would discourage anyone from the orphanage gang. Zell and Selphie made their weaving way towards him, giggling fiercely.
Selphie poked his arm. "Hiya, Commander! How are you enjoying your new rooms?" She just grinned when he tried to stare her down. "You know that doesn't work on us, does it, Zell?"
"No, ma'am!" He punched Squall's other arm, his broad grin pulling at the large, spiked tattoo covering half his face. "C'mon, man. Can’t you at least pretend to enjoy the party? Quistis went to a bit of trouble to plan it, y'know."
Squall grunted. "Just to make me suffer, I'm sure." Selphie's incessant grins were starting to wear on him. He rolled his eyes as a carousing group of SeeDs stumbled past, knocking into the fine, dark furniture.
"Why do you guys want me to join in so badly, anyway? It's not as if I'm much of a partier, or a –" He sniffed at Zell's breath, wrinkling his nose. "– A drinker. That seems to be the main pastime at this party, aside from leaping about like morons on the dance floor." He frowned in that direction. "Hyne. You can't possibly expect me to dance within a mile of Seifer and Quistis."
Selphie giggled, thumbing the strap of her yellow jumper. "I think they're kind of cute together."
Zell looked doubtful. "I don't think it's possible for Seifer to be cute." He stood on tiptoe to get a better look. "And they are sort of smashing into all the other couples, Sefie."
Selphie elbowed him. "Well, not all of us are naturally gifted dancers, Chicken."
Squall ignored the ensuing scuffle, watching Seifer and Quistis thoughtfully. They had all been understandably shocked when Seifer had presented himself at Garden a few months after the end of the Third Sorceress War. He had claimed no memory of his enslavement to Sorceress Ultimecia, and a psychological exam had proven that he was telling the truth. The memory lapse seemed to extend to the three or four months before their SeeD exams, when several students had attended a seminar at Galbadia Garden. It had been concluded that Ultimecia had found him then, and started to contaminate his mind.
'He's still an asshole, but at least he isn't truly evil.' Squall remembered how confused Seifer had been to see the orphanage gang all together again, and how… happy, in his way. That was the thing that made most people forgive him. Seifer was still an insufferable bastard when he wanted to be, but his laughs and dark humor came more easily now. And after almost six months of living in the Garden, he had found his place in the world – at the side of the Headmistress of Balamb. It had been difficult, but the cadets and SeeDs of the Garden had been given strict orders by their Commander to never taunt or insult Seifer regarding his servitude, and life had continued as normally as was possible.
Now almost a year had gone by, and Seifer was just another SeeD in the Garden. Galbadia was still trying to conquer the world surreptitiously, but Garden's new alliance with Esthar had ensured that nothing untoward happened. President Laguna had been more than happy to agree any of Squall's requests, deliriously glad that he had a son. Kiros had tried ensure that Laguna didn't do anything over-the-top, but SeeD had been outfitted with brand new, technologically advanced equipment nonetheless. Soon, Squall would be taking the Garden to Centra to test out the new –
"Squall! Did you hear what I said?"
Squall focused on Selphie. "What?"
She smacked his arm. "I said where's Rinoa been? I haven't seen her in weeks!"
A wave of discomfort came over Squall. "She's in Deling with her father." Selphie frowned up at him, confused. "I think she's going to stay there."
She gasped, and Zell looked back at them curiously, his crest of blond hair standing ridiculously stiff in the dimly flashing lights. "Why? What happened?"
Squall frowned. "I don't want to talk about it, Selphie."
"Oh, no you don't. You have to talk to us, remember? You have to tell us what's wrong so we can help you!" She punched him again, more seriously. "Don't shut us out again, don't you dare."
Zell bounced over, hearing the last part of the conversation. "What, Selphie, is he hiding things again?"
Squall felt the discomfort receding as he remembered that they were friends. "You know, it isn't as if people don't have secrets. Everyone does. Even you, Selphie. Even Irvine does."
A shadow passed over Selphie's face, gone in an instant. "That doesn't matter," she said sharply, her eyes an accusing green. "You aren't allowed to have big secrets because you end up locking everything away in a little icy box. Now, you have to tell us. What happened with Rinoa?"
He felt his last resistance crumbling away, feeling momentarily touched by their concern for him. "Well…" He bowed his head. "She's been nagging me for months, trying to get me to send a SeeD force into Timber and force out the Galbadian army. I know we could do it, and after a while we could probably get Galbadia to agree to terms, but…" He looked up at them, their faces nonjudgmental. "The Commander of SeeD can't make military decisions because his girlfriend asks him to. I told her I thought it was a good thing that Galbadia had control of Timber, at least for right now. I think she genuinely wants Timber's independence, but it feels like she wants to get back at her father more. We kind of started arguing, and I told her she would be better off trying to save Timber talking to General Caraway, rather than talking to me. I said she shouldn't expect me to do everything for her, that she was acting like a spoiled child. I got really angry at her, and she left."
Selphie sighed. "Well, knowing how she feels about the General, that may have not been your smartest move, but at least she went."
"Yeah, but she wasn't happy about it. She may know intellectually that I had a point, but the rest of her is telling her something else."
"She's a girl, Squall." Zell grinned at Selphie. "That's what they do. Logic isn't a factor when they make decisions." He leapt out of the way as Selphie tried to attack him.
Squall smiled briefly. "That may be, but that doesn’t change the fact that I hurt her." He looked over their heads, out over his new rooms. The music had slowed to a softer beat. Most of the couples had left the floor, but Seifer and Quistis were still swaying together, her head nestled under his chin. Squall felt his throat tighten. "She's always hated being called a kid, and Timber was the most important thing to her. As her Knight, I have to be there to protect her…"
His voice trailed off. Selphie and Zell were staring at him with such sympathy he felt heat prick his eyes. He didn't mention the lonely nights he and Rinoa had wasted in the last two months, both quietly desperate to say something to repair the gap that had formed without warning between them.
"I want her to come back, but mostly I want her happy."
Selphie came up to his side, her head barely at his shoulder. She put her arm around his waist. "Squall. I know Rinoa loves you, and you love her, right?" Squall nodded, not speaking. "You saved her from something worse than death, Commander, and she isn't likely to forget it. And neither will we, okay? Not ever."
Zell shook his head emphatically. "It'll be cool, okay? Don't worry." He touched Squall's shoulder gently. "Even if she didn't come back, you are her Knight. You'll always be able to protect her, ya know? It’s not like it's a job you can only do from short distances."
Squall sighed, only slightly reassured. He hoped everything would work out, but some nagging feeling kept telling him something awful was looming. He tried to squash it, and offered up a half-smile to his two friends. They beamed back, the light glinting oddly off Zell's pointed teeth. "Are you going to go dance? I have some glowering to get back to."
They bounced cheerfully away, happy enough now that a problem had been solved. Squall watched them attack Seifer and Quistis on the floor, and the music sped to a fast enough beat that they could all gyrate together, though Squall noticed that the two short ones stayed away from Seifer and Quistis' elbows. It was surprising how much better Zell and Seifer got along when drunk – especially considering Seifer's willingness to bait the more diminutive martial artist into attacking.
He meditated on his luck in discovering such friends. Selphie, Zell, Quistis, Irvine, and even Seifer, who had almost killed them all. They all loved him, and he trusted them with his life. Selphie was so cheerful, buoyantly happy and loyal to a fault, willing to go through fire for anyone she considered a friend. Zell could have been her twin – all boundless energy and enthusiasm packed into a deadly martial artist with a heart of gold. And Quistis: so calm and collected in a fight, working tirelessly to get all of them through hell alive, who could be so vulnerable you ached with it. There was arrogant, confident Seifer, who was nearly as skilled as Squall with a blade and lacking in any doubts when the time came to protect what he cared about. And of course, Irvine, who could be counted on in a tight spot no matter what, sensitive and strong at once. He had tried so hard to get Squall and Rinoa together, confident that nothing could go wrong if Squall could just admit his feelings.
Squall swallowed. Something had gone wrong. 'Irvine, you damn near had me convinced.' And speaking of Irvine, what had happened to him this afternoon? Why had he been so strange lately, so unlike himself –
"Squall!" Quistis' voice rang across the room, stopping the music. Everyone in the room turned with her, faces looking up at their Commander. He stepped forward, off the wall, the tall blonde woman making her way through the crowd to stand beside him. "Everyone! We are gathered in these apartments to celebrate! It has been two years since our friend Squall was given command over SeeD, and I think he's doing a hell of a job!" A cheer rose from the assembled. "So we've given you these suites as a thank you gift, to thank you for making our Garden and our world a much better place." She grinned at him, but her eyes were serious. "You saved the world, Squall. Thank you."
The crowd murmured with her. "Thank you, Squall. Thank you."
He looked at Quistis for a long moment, finally understanding. He grasped her hand firmly, holding on. A lump rose in his throat.
"Thank you, Squall."
Quistis gently disengaged her hand, blinking rapidly. "Would you like to say something?" she whispered, straightening her salmon top self-consciously.
Squall shook his head, feeling his friends' stares. "I can't," he whispered back. He turned to the gathering – all so young, SeeDs and cadets alike all under the age of twenty-five. So young to have fought such a hard and bloody war. His eyes picked out people in the crowd – Xu, Quistis' second-in-command, Nida, their pilot, Selphie and Zell and Seifer. All so happy and glad for him. He smiled briefly, changing his mind.
"All right, everyone. I'm not any good at this kind of thing, but I'll give it a shot." The crowd was silent. "It was a long, hard struggle, our war. I can only say that I would never have been able to keep going if it hadn't been for all of you. I tried to tell myself I could do everything alone, but I can't." He caught Selphie's eyes. "I know I can't do everything by myself." Zell grinned back at him. "So I have to say thanks to all of you." And there was Seifer, who he couldn't hate anymore. "All of you. Garden is here because of you, and I won't forget it." He turned back to Quistis. "Not ever," he finished, returning her warm, supportive gaze. The crowd waited expectantly. He paused, uncertain of what else he could say to make them understand how grateful he was.
"Well, Commander Leonhart, that was very touching," Seifer drawled, breaking the silence. He sauntered casually through the crowd to their side, green eyes squinting with secret humor. "But now I think it’s time to retire, wouldn’t you say, my dear?" The crowd laughed, the emotional tension broken. Seifer smirked at Squall, who allowed a brief quirk of lips back. "I think it's time you tried out this new place of yours, hmm?" Seifer turned to the partiers. "Let's go, people! The Balamb Hotel bar is open all night, right?"
The crowd cheered, the night's festivities just starting. They poured out of Squall's rooms as Seifer bowed mockingly to his Commander, pulling a laughing Quistis out with him.
Suddenly, it was silent. The last guest waved to him and pulled the door closed, and Squall was finally alone. He checked the clock on the wall – it was after midnight, and he was completely exhausted. He sank into a nearby chair and surveyed his rooms, now that there weren't people on every surface. He was in the living area, a large room painted a dark blue, which was very comfortably furnished with several armchairs and a long, plush couch. There was a large tiled area in the middle of the soft carpet that the partiers had used as a dance floor, presumably put in place for when the Headmaster entertained. Through the four doors, he could see a kitchen, a bedroom, a bath, and an office and briefing room.
Squall felt his head drooping, and he suddenly wanted his old quarters back, so small and familiar. He wanted to collapse on his tiny bed and sleep for a day.
But he couldn't. Not now. He stood wearily, making his way into his new bedroom and settling on the edge of the huge mattress, covered with a plush blue duvet. Squall shrugged out of his jacket and bent down to pull his boots off. 'I can't believe I said that,' he thought, remembering his 'speech'. He felt more than a little foolish. 'Rinoa would have approved of it, though.' He smiled, recalling all of the times she tried to get him to talk about his feelings with her. She had completely and cheerfully demolished his carefully constructed shell, and he couldn't say that he missed it. He was still introspective, and not given to chatting aimlessly for fun, but he didn't shut people out anymore. He had been happy, with her.
Squall paused in the act of pulling his shirt off. 'Had?' he asked himself. 'Have I already given up on her?' He was suddenly very uncertain, trying to think back to Selphie and Zell's reassurances. 'I'm just overreacting – it was just a fight.' He nodded, trying to convince himself, and got into bed. He curled onto his side, closing his eyes, and wondered why it seemed like an end. The bed felt very large and empty.