But I've basically given myself a stern talking-to (with the help of a prodding comment, so thank rebirthified for that) and am now posting Part 10. This is short but important.
Dr. Lee settled into the armchair with a cup of coffee in hand, peering at him kindly. "How did you sleep?"
Irvine rubbed his hand over his mouth. "Pretty well," he replied.
She glanced around Squall's living room. "Do you sleep on the couch?" she asked mildly.
"No. I sleep in the bedroom." Heat rose in his face, and he asked his own question to cover his discomfiture. "So, where are you staying?" He kept his tone polite.
"I'm in the room next to Dr. Kadowaki's," she answered, giving no sign that she had noticed his slip in composure. "I stayed there the last time I visited."
"When was that?"
She smiled, looking pleased that he had taken the trouble to ask. "Eight or nine months ago. I believe you were in Trabia?" She continued at his nod. "I wasn't here for very long. I did meet a lovely young woman named Rinoa Heartilly, whom I believe is a friend of yours."
Irvine nodded again, propping one socked foot on the coffee table. She watched him, still smiling, obviously waiting for him to say something. He glanced at the clock – Squall wouldn't be back for an hour. He brought his own cup to his lips, trying to think what he could say. "Um… Dr. Lee…"
"Call me Anna," she said swiftly.
"Anna, then." He stopped, unable to come up with a suitable topic.
Anna took pity on him. "Why do you stay here, Irvine?"
He blinked. "What?"
"You don't leave these rooms," she clarified. "Why do you think that is?"
Irvine looked away, studying the dark walls of the living room. "I don't know," he said quietly.
"The headmistress – Quistis – told me about what happened in the cave." Anna looked at him calmly, her face set in a comforting expression. "I'd like to hear what you remember about it, if you don't mind."
Irvine leaned back on the couch, tucking his foot under one knee, and tried to settle himself. He played absently with his tail of red hair, taking a deep breath before speaking. "Squall sent me, Zell, and Seifer to Centra," he started, twirling a coppery strand between his fingers. "We were supposed to wipe out a dragon nest, but it was a lot bigger than we thought." He looked unseeing at the doctor, gaze focused inward. "We retreated to this tiny cave in the forest, and called Squall for help. But I had gotten hurt." He recalled the dark fear that had risen in him at the look on Zell's face, and shuddered slightly, holding a hand to his side. "Zell gave me an elixir, so I was unconscious for a long time."
Anna nodded. "What happened that night?" she pried gently.
He shrugged, absently stroking the sharp edge of stubble lining his jaw. "I remember the nightmare," he said slowly, not quite meeting her eyes. "I had been thinking about – about it all day, being so close to Seifer." He suppressed a shiver. "I was dreaming, when someone grabbed me, and –" He glanced apologetically at Anna. "I don't remember much," he warned. She simply nodded. "Seifer said – he told me to get up, just like he did when – you know," Irvine plunged on. "I don't know what happened next, but then I opened my eyes and Squall was there." He swallowed, feeling yet another blush rise. "I felt – safe."
"What is the next thing you remember?" Anna asked, after watching him silently for a moment.
Irvine folded his arms, head bowed. He recalled flashes of light, and a warm presence near him, holding on. His right hand tightened reflexively. "Waking up," he said instead. "Rinoa and Squall were there."
"What did you feel, when you woke?" she asked, cocking her head.
Irvine wrinkled his nose at the effort of recollection. "I was… scared," he said. "I didn't feel safe anymore, and they knew what had happened." He fiddled with his hair again. "I'd tried for so long to forget, pretend – pretend it never happened. But now everyone knows."
"But you stayed here," she stated. "It doesn't make you uncomfortable, staying with someone who knows your secret."
He frowned, thinking. "Not Squall," he said slowly. "He makes you feel… protected."
Anna nodded, looking quietly triumphant. "So that's why you stay," she said, bringing them back to her original question. "Squall is protecting you."
Irvine closed his eyes. I won't let anything happen. A fierce whisper to the top of his head, strong arms around him. I am not going to hurt you. I have never hurt you, and I won't let anyone else hurt you. A gentle touch cradling his face. He swallowed. "Yeah. I guess he is."
Anna blinked as the blond man threw himself into the chair in front of her, looking angry. He crossed his arms, his green glance mutinous. His scar ran the opposite direction of Squall's, between arching pale brows furrowed in annoyance.
"You should know – it wasn't my idea to be here," Seifer said coldly.
Anna raised her own eyebrows. She sat and stared at him for a moment, waiting until he shifted in his chair to start speaking. "Of course. Why don't you tell me about your slavery to the Sorceresses Edea, Adel, and Ultimecia?" S he gained a certain satisfaction at the immediate drain of color and anger from his face, leaving him pale and expressionless. She looked idly out the window of the small, abandoned classroom they were using while she waited for him to speak.
Seifer cleared his throat. "I didn't realize you were going to be so blunt, Dr. Lee." He straightened the sleeves on his long, silvery-grey trench coat, holding her gaze calmly.
She smiled. He had guts, at least. She inclined her head. "Well, I flatter myself that I can give as good as I get," she murmured, allowing her voice to take on its usual good humor.
He nodded back, the corner of his wide mouth twitching slightly. "So I see." He looked at her for a moment, coolly assessing now that the façade of anger had lifted. "What am I expected to do here, then?"
"What do you mean?"
Seifer lifted one shoulder eloquently, resting one booted ankle on his knee. "Am I supposed to pour out my heart and soul, confiding my deepest, darkest thoughts in you? Am I supposed to take you into my confidence?"
"That's the idea," Anna said dryly, making Seifer raise one disbelieving brow. She leaned down to the small table beside her chair and grabbed her large mug, passing it under her nose and inhaling deeply. "Would you care for some coffee?" she asked genially.
He waved his hand in dismissal, faintest hint of a smile tugging at his mouth. She considered him for a moment over the cup, thinking how best to start. "I understand you had a strange dream, the night Irvine collapsed? Would you tell me about that?"
Seifer exhaled slowly. "All right," he said evenly, looking slightly irritated. He paused, appearing to gather his thoughts. "I'm assuming you know that Kinneas was injured that day." He continued without waiting for confirmation, turning to stare out the window. "When Dincht and I tried to hold him down to heal his wounds, he went ballistic. He said –" Seifer broke off, pressing his lips together.
Anna waited for a moment. "He said –?" she prompted.
"He said 'please don't', and 'hurts'," Seifer said, not bothering to soften his tone. He watched a bird circle the air above the Timber forest. "I had a flash of this image – Kinneas was crying, with blood all over his face, looking up at me. I didn't understand it."
Anna sipped her aromatic coffee silently. "I had a dream that night," Seifer continued, still watching the bird. It rose higher. "It was – well, it was pretty horrific," he said, with a hint of a self-mocking smile. "I was hurting Kinneas and he kept screaming and asking me to stop, but…" The bird rose into the sun, blotted out in its brilliance, but suddenly dived, dropping out of sight into the forest canopy below. Seifer sighed, turning back to her. "I couldn't stop myself. It felt like I was outside my body, just watching."
She set her mug down carefully. "And you woke up when Irvine started talking in his sleep. You shook him awake."
Seifer nodded. "I was angry," he said expressionlessly.
He looked into her eyes, blank. "The dream, mostly. I couldn't believe I would think up something like that." He ran his hand roughly through his hair, making it stand up in spikes all along one side. "What kind of person would do that?"
Anna laced her fingers over her knee, watching him. "You've just told me that it felt like it wasn't you doing it."
He twisted his mouth, turning away again. "Anyway – I woke him up, and he screamed." Light glinted off his green eyes, obscuring their expression. "It was just like my dream," he said distantly. "And the things he said – they were the same. It was like that damned dream all over again."
"Did it seem strange to you?" He glanced back at her, one eyebrow cocked. "Beyond the obvious, I mean."
Seifer nodded again, sliding one hand over his hair to slick it back down. "I didn't know what to make of it. Still don't, really." He smiled coolly at her. "I guess that's what you're here for, right?"
"Yes, in part." Anna coiled one of her silvery curls around a finger, watching as the grey strands glinted in the afternoon light. "The commander has also asked me to try to help you recall all that you can – not just the incident in Galbadia, but the entirety of your memory."
"Leonhart wants all the dirt, eh?"
"No," she said, rather sharply. "I will not tell him anything about these sessions. I don't report to him." Anna stood, looking down at Seifer. He blinked. "I ask that you take me into your confidence, Seifer. I will not reveal your secrets to anyone, if I can help it." He started to speak. "I also ask that you trust me."
Seifer shut his mouth abruptly, a disbelieving look on his face. "Trust you. Dr. Lee –"
"Call me Anna."
Seifer frowned. "That's nicely disarming, isn't it? I'm sure it sets many of your patients at ease." He narrowed his eyes. "Listen to me, Anna," he said coldly, putting heavy stress on the name. "I very much doubt you can help me. What I've already told you is more than I've told those closest to me, and I'm rapidly developing misgivings about that."
He stood as well, towering over her. "I have deep skepticism for your profession," Seifer continued cuttingly. "I find psychologists little more than witch-doctors who think idiotically repeating 'how do you feel' an acceptable method of treatment. I loathe the way people like you pretend to be sympathetic and concerned when you're simply waiting for the hour to be over so you'll get your paycheck." He shook his head in disgust, sneering down at her. "I am here because I was ordered to be here, because our dear commander Leonhart might discharge me in disgrace if I don't come at your call like a good dog." He curled his lip. "So thanks, but I don't think I'd trust you if you took a vow with a knife at your throat."
Seifer whirled and strode to the window, bracing his hands on the sill. Anna sank to her chair and watched him.
It was silent.
After several minutes Seifer spoke. "You have nothing to say?"
"Not really, no."
He turned and looked at her, considering. "Why?"
Anna smiled softly. "You're honest, Mr. Almasy – and, if I may say so, much more blunt than I." He pressed his lips together. "You probably really think all those things, and I can't say I blame you if you do. But…" She looked into his eyes, blank green. "I can see your fear. I can see your horror at what you might have done. I can see your guilt. I can see all the nights you haven't slept since you came back from that cave and the worry that your lovely, kind girlfriend won't ever look at you the same way again.
"You don't have to trust me. It's all right if you don't. But you do have to understand this – I won't ever judge you. I can't. Whatever you choose to tell me is taken in strictest confidence. I am here to help you, Seifer, whether you believe it or not."
He turned away from her again. "I don't know, Dr. Lee. I have a hard time believing people's promises anymore." He rubbed the back of his neck, under the high collar of his coat. After a moment he sighed and glanced back. "I'll do what I can. That's the best I can offer."
"That's all I can expect."
He walked slowly over and sat down, leaning his elbows on his knees. He laced his fingers together, and simply looked at her for a moment. There was no trace of mistrust or malice in his green eyes, but Anna knew that behind his calm façade the wheels were turning.
"Shall we try again?"
Seifer straightened, cracking his knuckles. "Very well. Do I call you Anna?" He allowed a small, bland smile.
"If I can call you Seifer."
Squall tapped lightly on the door, peeking around it. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine." Irvine sat cross-legged on the bed, the heavy blue comforter pulled around his shoulders. His hair had come undone at some point, and fell haphazardly in an auburn tangle across his back. He seemed to care less about tending it lately, Squall noted.
The commander sat on the edge of the mattress to pull off his boots. "How do you like Anna?"
"She's nice." Squall nodded, struggling with the laces on one boot. "Come here," Irvine said abruptly.
Squall blinked, but swiveled and propped his foot on the bed. Irvine allowed the comforter to fall from his shoulders as he bent to work at the knot. His hair fell down, hiding his face as he spoke again. "Thanks for letting me stay with you, Squall."
He frowned slightly. "It’s the least I can do."
Irvine glanced up with an unreadable look in his eye before bending to the knot once more. "That's not true. The least you could do is send me back to my room with a handkerchief. The least you could do does not include sending to Deling City for a therapist. The least you could do is not all of – this."
Squall opened his mouth, about to question, but Irvine pulled the laces free and sat back, looking blankly at him. "Thanks," Squall said quietly. He turned a quizzical look on the man in front of him.
Irvine pulled the comforter around his torso again, shoving his hair behind his ears one-handed. "You told me yesterday that you promised to keep me safe," he said, looking down. "Why did you do that?"
"I –" Squall paused. "I'm not sure," he admitted, watching Irvine's down-turned face. "I suppose I felt like I needed to."
"Yes, but why?" Irvine did meet his eyes, then, looking a bit lost. "You don't have to."
"What's the matter?" Squall asked carefully. "Are you okay?"
He shook his head slightly, not speaking. Squall put a cautious hand out, but Irvine ignored it, turning to stare out the window at the setting sun. "I'm not sure what to do," Irvine said quietly. The sun lit his bright hair, highlighting it gold. "I want to stay here, with you. I'm scared of going out again, but I can't hide forever."
He bit his lip, pausing. "I'm worried about what is going to happen when I see them all again. What will I say to Selphie? What are Quistis and Zell going to expect from me? I can't just tell them everything. And what about – Seifer?" he continued, hitching slightly over the name. Squall watched him silently. "I can't expect anything from him, but now that he knows… I don't know how I can face him."
Squall slid closer. "I don't know the answers to all that, Irvine." He ran his free hand through his hair. "Do you want to stay here, still?"
Irvine shrugged slightly, not turning. "I don't feel like I should." He gently pulled away from Squall, folding his arms under the comforter. "I need to be able to handle everything without – well, without you."
Squall sat straight, watching Irvine's bowed head. "If that's what you want," he said steadily. "Will you keep seeing Dr. Lee?" Irvine nodded. Squall watched him for another moment before standing. "Shall I walk you back to your room, then?"
Irvine looked up finally, a hint of a miserable expression on his face. "I think I'll be fine." He scooted to the edge of the bed, allowing the comforter to fall completely, and set his feet on the floor. He took a deep breath before pushing upright. Squall looked on as he fished a tie out of a pocket and restrained his hair neatly.
Squall followed him to the door, feeling uneasy. "Dr. Lee can see you here in the morning, if you feel up to it."
"I'll come." Irvine turned, plucking at the hem of the shirt he wore. "What should I do with your clothes?"
Squall waved a hand in dismissal. "They don't fit anyway. You can keep them if you want." He touched the panel that opened the door. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow."
Irvine took another deep breath. "Thank you, Squall," he said again, holding his eyes. "You've done so much, I –"
Squall caught one of Irvine's hands and shook it firmly. "That's what friends are for," he said calmly. "Talk to you later."
Irvine paled slightly, but nodded. "Yeah. Later." He walked away without another word.
The doors hissed shut, and Squall sagged. "Hyne," he said aloud, wishing he hadn't let the boy go. "I hope you'll be okay."