Now and Always
Author’s notes: A little shorter than my average story. Not a happy one (unless you sincerely enjoy pain and loss), but some nice drama, I think. If you consider yourself an emotional person, you may want to prepare huge buckets of ice cream and chocolate for during and after you read it. I almost had to.
Numbness and disbelief flooded Selphie as soon as she opened her eyes.
She lay perfectly still, moving only her eyes. She looked around the small room, aware of the light outside the window. She had closed her curtains, so the light did not stream inside, but only lent a dull golden glow into the room.
Selphie looked blankly at the opposite wall, where posters of her favorite bands had hung before she had taken them down the day before. White rectangles on the wall marked the places where the posters had been for years.
Now she turned her head slowly, feeling the ache, savoring the deep pain that came with the movement. She looked at the bedside table. Several glasses, randomly empty and half-empty, littered the small table surface. Tattered tissue boxes took up the rest of the space. There, on the corner, was the small dinner she had not been able to eat the night before.
She began to sit up, allowing the ache of many hours of staying still to come over her neck, her sides, her legs.
She sat unsteadily on the bed, head throbbing. She looked vaguely at the damp and crumpled tissues scattered on the floor.
Selphie took a deep breath, and then stood up. It took her thirty seconds to remember the way to the bathroom.
Selphie walked down the corridor to the cafeteria, head down. On the way, she bumped into a student, who cursed and barked something at her. Selphie didn’t hear anything.
Inside the cafeteria, she picked up a tray, got her food, and sat at an empty table. She looked down at the potatoes and hot dogs with a totally neutral expression.
Ten minutes later, Squall, Rinoa, Zell, and Quistis entered the cafeteria and found Selphie looking down at her food. The four looked at each other meaningfully, and then sat quietly down beside Selphie. The latter did not look up.
Rinoa, who was beside Selphie, spoke first.
Selphie’s lip trembled, but she said nothing.
Rinoa looked up at the others. Squall had a firm but not unkind look on his face; he was looking straight at Rinoa. Zell was somber and still, looking down at the table. Quistis’ eyes were red and her mouth twitched.
Rinoa took a deep breath, and then turned back to Selphie. Her eyes were narrowed in sympathy.
“We miss Irvine too.”
At Rinoa’s words, Selphie finally lost her vague expression. The smooth skin of her face crumpled as she gave a little gasp. In a moment tears were running down her face. Each small bead slid to her chin and dropped onto her food.
In a heartbeat the others were on her, embracing her, holding each other in a tight embrace.
Later that day, Rinoa knocked on Squall’s door. She heard soft shuffling inside for a few seconds before the door opened. Squall was there; his blue eyes looked steadily at her. He stepped forward and gave her a quick hug before muttering, “Come in.”
Inside, they sat on his bed and stared quietly at the opposite wall. Their hands played lightly with each other, fingers just barely touching.
“She’s really upset,” Rinoa said, still looking at the far wall.
“I know,” Squall said quietly. To her, his voice was like that of a lion that had lost a member of its pride; it was still deep, still quietly strong, but it no longer exuded an aura of confidence.
“She really loved him,” Rinoa whispered.
“She was absolutely crazy about him,” Squall replied levelly.
Rinoa finally turned to look at Squall. “What are we gonna do?”
Squall lowered his head, and narrowed his eyes so much it looked like he had fallen asleep. “What can we do?” he murmured. “He’s gone.”
“We can’t just leave it at that. Selphie’s in total ruin. I’m…really worried about her, Squall.”
“So am I. I never really knew how strongly she felt about him. I don’t know…I guess we can start by giving her the full story. She has to know how it happened. She’ll never recover until she’s heard it all. When we told her yesterday about the assignment he went on, and how he…was lost…she just ran off and locked herself in her room. She never heard the entire story, the details.”
Rinoa nodded, almost imperceptibly. “All right. I think only one of us should do it, so that she doesn’t get overwhelmed by different viewpoints…or something.” She sighed and looked down at the floor.
“Good idea,” Squall said. “But I think we should all be there. I think it’d mean a lot to her. And to us.”
“Okay. I’ll let everyone know. Um…who should do the talking?”
Squall looked at her. The intensity and significance in his eyes very slightly jerked her mind and soul; she was almost unnerved, and she knew exactly what he meant.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll do it.”
They sat in silence for a minute, and then Rinoa said, “Squall. You…you take care of yourself, all right? One is…bad enough.”
Squall moved closer and, with the gentle suddenness of a gust of wind, kissed her. She closed her eyes and kissed him back.
They broke apart and looked in each other’s eyes. They were holding hands completely now.
Quistis was on the way to her room when she spotted Zell putting up a notice on a bulletin board.
She moved closer. “What is that?”
“Announcement from Cid,” Zell said quietly. “There’s gonna be a short memorial service for…”
“Irvine,” Quistis said gently.
“…tomorrow,” Zell finished. His eyes narrowed, and Quistis had the impression that he was trying to be strong about it. But she was experienced in reading facial expressions, a skill she had learned from years of trying to weed out the students in her classes who would try to suck-up to her, work their way into her good graces. Quistis could see that Zell was really upset.
“Good,” she said. “That’s good.” She had no idea what else to say.
She laid a hand firmly on his shoulder, one soldier transferring strength to a wounded comrade.
Together they read Cid’s announcement.
Selphie stared at herself in the mirror. She was dressed in full SeeD regalia—long-sleeved blouse, short red tie, skirt, and boots. She had secured Headmaster Cid’s permission to go outside Balamb Garden—which was over the Trabia Canyon at the moment—for the day.
She never dressed up this much just for going out. Why was she doing it now?
The answer came to mind at once. She didn’t want to relax. An insane desire occupied her mind completely; a desire to never forget, never get over it, always and forever be in mourning. She had been wearing this uniform yesterday when she had heard about it.
She left her room, knowing exactly where to go.
The moment Rinoa had finished her Garden duties, she went to Selphie’s room.
She stood for several minutes outside Selphie’s door, fidgeting and adjusting her clothes. To be honest, she had not really come up with anything to say besides the full report on Irvine’s death. What could she possibly say, she who was alive, to Selphie, who had lost someone so dear, so close, that it was as if she had died herself?
Rinoa was profoundly grateful that she wouldn’t have to do this alone. She had come to Selphie’s room to ask—to convince—the other girl to come to the library and meet the others. The quiet privacy of the place would allow them to talk things over, and no prying eyes would be able to see Selphie’s grief.
Rinoa knocked on the door. There was no reply.
She knocked again; still nothing.
“Selphie, please come out. We want to talk with you. Please?”
She faltered, not knowing what to do. Their plan was falling apart at minute one.
She waited a few more moments, and then set off at a rapid walk to the library.
“Maybe she’s just not answering,” Quistis said. “She didn’t really look ready to talk about it.”
“I dunno…” Rinoa frowned. “I didn’t even hear anything from inside. Not one sound.”
“Just keeping quiet…?” Zell offered.
“I’ve got a bad feeling,” Squall muttered. He looked at the others. “I think it’s about time we let the Headmaster know.”
“…Know what?” Rinoa said after a short silence.
“That this goes deeper for Selphie than for others at the Garden,” Squall said, getting up. “I’m going. Maybe you three can keep looking. Check everywhere. See if there are any cars missing from the garage.”
Rinoa, Zell, and Quistis went at once. Squall sat at the library table a while longer, face screwed up in concentration and concern. Besides Quistis, Selphie had been the very first person he had met at Balamb Garden who had eventually become his friend. He didn’t want her to destroy herself.
He stood and proceeded to headmaster Cid’s office. First he walked. And then he was running.
Selphie parked the car at the base of Trabia Canyon’s uphill trail. She took the keys with her, and went up the long, snowy trail on foot.
She remembered this canyon from some months ago, when she had seen Sir Laguna here during a dream. She had done her own research, and had found the canyon on the world map. She guessed she was just lucky that the Garden had been over this spot today.
She smiled grimly at herself. Lucky?
The elevator doors opened and Squall was about to rush inside when he saw Rinoa, Zell, and Quistis inside.
“Inside! Quick!” Zell pulled him inside, and the elevator began to descend.
“What’s up?” Squall said as the elevator hummed.
“One car is missing from the garage,” Rinoa panted. “What did—“
“Cid told me that he gave Selphie permission to leave the Garden until tonight,” Squall said in a rush. “But he says that she gave him no reason. She just begged him until he gave in.”
“This isn’t good news, is it?” Quistis said quietly.
“Most likely,” Squall said. “I don’t think we can let her be alone and unwatched while she’s this…unstable. I say we go look for her.”
“Agreed,” Rinoa said. “But where do we start looking? The landscape below the Garden is huge!”
They were quiet for a second, each thinking desperately. And then Quistis said, “Maybe her room…?”
“Right,” Squall said at once. The elevator chimed, and the doors opened to the ground floor. “Let’s go!”
Selphie never thought it would be this cold here.
Squall kicked down Selphie’s door. It flew off the hinges immediately. Squall and the others piled into the room.
They began their frantic search for any clues as to where Selphie had gone. It wasn’t easy to look around. Used tissues, water glasses, clothes, and Selphie’s things were scattered everywhere. Rinoa was simultaneously put off by the mess in the room, and sad at the sight of it. Selphie had never been this messy before. She really was falling apart.
She helped the others look for something—anything.
Selphie, where are you?
It was pretty high up here too.
“Map!” Quistis said, grabbing a large sheet of paper from Selphie’s desk. The others crowded around her instantly.
It wasn’t hard to find something. A small canyon on the map had been encircled in red. Written next to this, in Selphie’s handwriting, was Trabia Canyon! with a big smiley face beside it.
Squall, Rinoa, Zell, and Quistis were outside the room before the paper had fallen to the ground.
It was nice up here, though. Very quiet, with a great view of the plains beyond the canyon.
Selphie sat down on the snowy rock. She looked down at her hands. They were numb with cold, but immaculately white.
How many times had Irvine held these hands and smiled at her?
When had the last time been? Just yesterday?
Selphie smiled, a bittersweet one, and looked up at the sky. The snowfall was becoming a little more intense.
She sighed and stood up.
“Get out of the way!” Squall yelled, shoving the mechanic away from the car. The guy sprawled and fell over.
“Hey, what the hell?—“
“We’ll tell you later,” Zell said as he and the others jumped into the car. “Trust us.”
Squall gunned the engine, then slammed down on the accelerator. The car lurched forward so fast that the roof scraped on the automatic garage door, which had not opened fully yet.
Selphie walked slowly towards the cliff edge, allowing the wind to whip her hair around. She looked down carefully, and recoiled.
She was more than a little high up.
Slowly, she made herself look down.
“FASTER, DAMN IT!” Squall roared at the car, as it raced across the plains towards Trabia Canyon.
“Squall, calm down,” Rinoa said pleadingly. She was still trying to cope with everything, and she would calm Squall down if she had to—because she loved him—but she was feeling the stress herself.
The four of them drove for a few more minutes, the tension increasing with each passing second—who knew what Selphie could be doing even now?
“There!” Quistis choked out, pointing at a small opening in the mountain range, far ahead.
Rinoa felt the car shoot ahead so fast, she was afraid Squall might blow the engine.
Selphie took a tentative step closer to the edge. The fear was slowly vanishing, to be replaced with a numbing sadness.
Squall barely hit the brakes as the car sped into the canyon opening. He opened the door and leapt outside while the car was still doing forty. Rinoa grabbed the handbrake and yanked it. The car screeched down to twenty before slamming into the cliff face with a deafening shredding of metal.
Selphie looked back down the trail. She thought she’d heard something.
Rinoa shook her head, trying to clear the daze. She was dimly aware of smoke coming out of the car’s hood.
She unclipped her seatbelt, opened the door, and tumbled out into the bitter cold. She crawled to the back doors of the car, her mind still reeling with the pressing urgency of time.
She pulled open the back door and gasped. Quistis was there, moaning and bleeding from the head. Zell was on her other side, barely conscious.
Rinoa tried to pull Quistis out of her seat. The older woman groaned and shook her head. “I can’t walk,” she whispered. “You and Squall…it’s up to you.”
Rinoa nodded, horrified at what the gesture implied. She forced herself to move away from Quistis. Still crawling, she looked frantically around for Squall.
She found him lying on the snowy ground, holding his head. He himself looked like he could barely move or even talk. “Where are the others?” was his first question.
“Still in the car,” Rinoa whispered. “I don’t think they can move.”
Squall closed his eyes and held his head more tightly. “I’m sorry…It’s my fault…”
“They’re all right, don’t worry about it,” Rinoa said, standing up slowly, painfully. “But Squall,” she said quietly, helping him up, “you have to stay calm. Please. Don’t pull anything like that again.”
“I’m sorry…It’s my fault…I’m sorry…”
She hugged him, and they began the walk up the trail, holding each other.
They arrived at the top of the trail, and found her there, looking out at the view beyond.
“Selphie!” Rinoa cried.
Selphie turned around to face Rinoa and Squall. Her face carried both a blinding beauty and a terrible, irreversible sadness. “Don’t come any closer,” she said, quite calmly.
“Selphie, step away from the edge—“
“No,” Selphie said, still calm. She took a small step backwards, closer to the void.
“Selphie,” Squall said, in a voice so steady that Rinoa wondered whether his wounds from the crash had healed already, “don’t do this.”
Selphie smiled, sadly. “It’s too late. I’m sorry.” She moved closer to the edge.
“Selphie,” Rinoa almost whispered, starting to cry, “please don’t. Please. Please, please, please don’t.”
“I can’t anymore,” Selphie said quietly. Her face began to tremble. “Please don’t blame yourselves.”
One more step backwards. Very close now.
Selphie looked at Squall, and then Rinoa, in the eyes. She smiled, and somehow it did not seem like a sad one this time.
“I love you guys.”
“Wait!” Squall gasped. “Selphie, wait! You haven’t heard everything. You have to hear everything.”
Selphie shook her head. “There’s nothing more to hear.”
“There is!” Rinoa said. “There is, Selphie. You have to know, so that you can accept it. Please listen to me.”
Selphie was silent and still.
“It was a rescue mission,” Rinoa began, in a steady voice. “He volunteered for it. He was supposed to snipe out a group of monsters that had surrounded another SeeD team, so that they could be rescued.”
“Stop,” Selphie said.
“After his part,” Rinoa went on, “a SeeD resue team would move in and pick up the team in danger. Irvine was a sharpshooter. He played his part well.”
“Be quiet,” Selphie said, more loudly.
“He took out the monsters, one by one. It was perfect. He never missed once, the rescue team said. Once they were all gone, the rescue team moved in, leaving Irvine alone for a moment.”
“That’s when he was ambushed. Another group of monsters moved in from behind. The rescue team said…it was incredible. They saw him fighting a Ruby Dragon by himself.”
“THEY WATCHED HIM! THEY WATCHED HIM DIE AND THEY DID NOTHING!” Selphie screamed.
“No, Selphie. The rescue team actually pulled away from the team in danger—which had wounded members—to run back to Irvine. They ran with everything they had, Selphie. But…you just can’t fight a Ruby Dragon by yourself. Not for long.”
“SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”
“When they reached him…it was too late. They fought the Dragon off, but they couldn’t do anything for Irvine. He was…gone.”
“GET AWAY FROM ME! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!”
“There’s something else, Selphie. An announcement was put up in the Garden today. There will be a memorial service for him tomorrow. They were able to bring his body back, in fine shape.”
Selphie said nothing, but her tear-streaked face flashed shock.
“They found a picture of you in his pocket,” Rinoa said quietly.
Selphie shook her head. “No, I can’t, I don’t want to—“
“Yes you can,” Squall said forcefully. “And you do want to. You want to see him one last time. Please come with us, Selphie.”
More tears leaked out of Selphie’s eyes. “It hurts so much,” she whispered.
“If Irvine had to endure this much pain for you,” Rinoa said quietly, “he would.”
Selphie hesitated. The wind kept blowing her hair in her face, but her eyes were clearly exposed. She took another step back. Her foot caught on a small, rocky protrusion; she tripped backwards and fell over the edge, screaming.
“SELPHIE!” Rinoa screamed.
Squall tore himself away from Rinoa and sprinted towards the edge. Sparing not a second to think, he flung himself headfirst over the edge, after Selphie.
Panicking, Rinoa followed, jumping off into the void.
The freezing wind slapped her cruelly in the face. Below her, as she fell, she saw that Squall had managed to grab hold of Selphie. He looked up at Rinoa, his face full of fear—but also trust.
Rinoa pinned her arms to her side and her legs together. More streamlined now, she fell faster, approaching Squall and Selphie.
In a second she was beside them. She grabbed hold of Squall, under his arms, and then—what? What now? She closed her eyes, focused, and prayed for a miracle.
Through her closed eyelids, she saw a blinding flash of purest white, and felt a jolt of power. Squall, in her grasp, looked up and gasped. Large, graceful, ethereal white wings had sprouted from Rinoa’s back. Squall, Selphie, and Rinoa were slowed down—and then lifted up, slowly but surely. Rinoa’s eyes were still closed, her mouth open. Squall gazed into her face, saw her wind-whipped hair spiraling, and he thought that he had rarely seen her look more beautiful.
In a few moments, they were safely back on the cliff.
Squall gazed at Rinoa, weakly. “What…” he said, voice wavering.
But Rinoa wasn’t listening to him. She grabbed Selphie by the shoulders and shook her violently.
“What were you thinking?” she screamed at Selphie. “What made you even think of doing that?” She slapped Selphie across the face so hard that Selphie was knocked sideways, sobbing, onto the ground. In an instant Rinoa had picked her up and wrapped her in a tight embrace.
“I’m sorry!” Selphie wailed. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”
Squall got to his knees and watched the two women hold each other.
Back at the Garden—they had used Selphie’s car to get back—Squall, Rinoa, and Selphie stood in front of Cid in his office. Zell and Quistis were in the infirmary.
“Sir,” Selphie said in a shaking voice. “Please…I—“
“None of this will be put on record, Miss Tilmitt—Selphie,” Cid said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “All I can say is that I am infinitely grateful that your friends reached you before you could do something—forgive me—incredibly stupid.”
Selphie looked down at her shoes.
“If I were you, Selphie,” Cid said, “I would be happy to have friends like that.”
“Yes, sir,” Selphie whispered.
“There will be no punishment, Selphie. You have quite enough on your mind as it is. But I must ask that you do not allow yourself to be alone for a while. Stay with your friends. Talk with them. You must face your pain in order to conquer it.”
“You may go.”
Selphie turned and left the office. Cid now faced Squall and Rinoa.
“You two impress me yet again,” he said, smiling. Squall averted his eyes. Rinoa blushed.
“Tell Mr. Dincht and Instructor Trepe,” Cid said, “that you must all stay with Miss Tilmitt. Help her accept what has to be accepted. Let her know—and believe—that she is not alone in her grief.”
“Yes sir,” Squall said.
“And Squall…Rinoa…you must keep your own love strong.”
Rinoa looked up, face on fire. “S-sir?”
“Love each other,” Cid said evenly, “unconditionally, without doubt, without end. Show Selphie that her love for Irvine was not a futile emotion.”
“Yes sir,” Squall said quietly.
“You may go.”
Squall and Rinoa left without a word.
Inside the elevator, Squall looked at Rinoa. “What…happened…out there?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I had no idea it was going to happen.”
“Then why did you come after me?” Squall asked gently.
“Squall,” Rinoa said, looking up at his eyes, “there was no way I was going to let you fall and die.”
He looked at her silently.
“Why did you jump?” she asked.
“Two reasons,” he said. “To get Selphie…and because I knew you would catch me.”
He stroked her face with one hand, and then stepped close and kissed her.
She wrapped her arms around his strong torso and pulled him in.
They were all at the memorial service the next day. It was short, but there were no idle moments. Cid talked a little about Irvine’s first entrance into Balamb Garden, his roles in defending the Garden from attack and in defeating Sorceress Ultimecia. His weapon, the Exeter, had been retrieved, and would be set in a place of honor.
Throughout the service, Squall, Rinoa, Zell, and Quistis sat around Selphie, comforting her and hugging her whenever she burst into tears.
When it was over, and the last of the students had moved back to their lives, Selphie approached the casket alone. The others stood a respectful distance away.
Selphie looked down through the glass and saw him there. He was lying on his back, arms at his sides, eyes closed. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but his mouth seemed to still have the same slightly cocky expression he wore all the time. Selphie felt herself let out a wet chuckle.
She touched the glass gently, allowing the memories to course through her. She remembered first meeting him in Galbadia garden; his almost immediate attempts to hit on her; his playfulness in times of peace and seriousness in times of work; her own steadily growing feelings for him, feelings she had not confessed until many weeks later, when they had shared their first kiss.
She looked at his face: calm serenity was all she saw. She wondered (selfishly, perhaps?) if she had been the last thing he had thought of before the end.
And then, she didn’t have to wonder. She just knew.
She pressed her lips against the glass, above his face, knowing for certain that nothing, not glass, not dragons, not death, could destroy what they had shared.
“Goodbye, Irvy,” she said. “I love you.”
A single, small tear slid down her cheek as she smiled gently.
“Now and always.”