Copyright Bella Ragazza 2001
Quick staccato beats tapped out against the slick floorboards as a slight silhouette stalked the barren halls. The night hour was far along, a luminous silvery moon throwing a sliver of light across the figure as it continued on its way. The ballroom, only a mere few hours ago a flurry of joyous commotion, was now silent as tombs. Someone had carelessly left the double doors askew, a chill wind whipping into the expansive area. A slender hand pried the heavy metal slab open with a grunt of distress, slipping out onto the balcony.
It was where heaven met earth here, this secluded niche where one could overlook the Balamb landscape. Lush green trees reached effortlessly toward midnight's canopy, while the gentle sloping hills bloomed a vast rainbow of pink and red hues. Intoxicating aromas wafted upward towards the balcony, filling the air with nature's perfume. A sigh escaped the woman's lips as she leaned against a marble pillar, the ivy twined round it tickling her cheeks.
"Fancy seeing you out here." A deep voice with a bit of a lilt startled her senseless as she clutched a hand to her chest. The lanky silhouette stood unmoving barely ten feet away. She watched as a thin curl of smoke escaped pursed lips, staining the crisp air with a hint of tobacco.
"Past curfew you know." The blonde stated softly, a broken tremor in the dignified soprano betraying the authoritative statement. Snapping his head around the cowboy observed her with a well-trained eye, thick brows furrowed inquisitively. The lanky man stopped nursing his cigarette for a moment.
She frowned, discomforted by his piercing gaze. "Yes?" she hissed, yanking her thin jacket taut around slim shoulders. Clear azure eyes narrowed for an instant before averting back to the scenery. A sharp gust whipped his long suede coat about his ankles noisily, while fiery ash trickled like sand onto the wrought iron railing. She stared after him, irked, face flush with the blatant dismissal. Several moments passed before he abruptly tossed the cigarette stub over the rail and turned sharply on heel to face her distant expression.
"I suppose you were expectin' me to ask you what was wrong?" he stated matter-of-factly in his trademark lazy drawl. Her crimson visage confirmed his previous suspicions as he cleared his throat briefly. "I figured as much. ‘Member my two fields of expertise, missy...guns and women." He paused, a flicker of light enveloping a new cigarette. Twinkling pools of clear sky blue danced in the small circle of firelight. "And I ain't never wrong bout either of ‘em."
Cornflower blues glared back with apparent surprise and hurt. "I did not come out here for your sympathy." She began coolly, walking towards the railing with a panther's stealth and grace. "Can't a person come get a breath of fresh air without being berated by a buffoon such as yourself?" She sighed despairingly, crossing her arms as a defiant child would.
He raised his hands up, as if fending off a blow. "No need to get hostile, Quistis. If you wanna tell me what's on your mind, I ain't stoppin' you." He took a few steps closer, flicking an errant strand of auburn out of his eyes. "But if you don't..." He shrugged noncommittally. "I'm not going to force you." Puffing contentedly on his fresh cigarette, the cowboy leaned against the rail. She welcomed his attitude, a member of the male species not constantly fawning over her like an animal in heat was certainly a refreshing change for the blond beauty.
"Those things are going to kill you, Mr. Kinneas." she smirked, shaking her head at his blissful state.
Irvine laughed, a loud hearty guffaw the blond could not help but smile at. "If what we did today didn't kill me..." He blew smoke rings into the midnight sky, intently watching the white smoke curl and fade into the darkened heavens like a mirage. "...I reckon nothin' will." He motioned her to stand beside him, crooking a long finger.
She inched over, gloved hands grasping the cold iron. "I can't defy the logic of a foolish Galbadian cowboy." she glanced across the landscape idly. "So we did it. We saved the world...now we're heroes." Quistis deadpanned, staring blankly into the sky. Twinkling heavenly bodies winked at her in thousands, tiny dots on a vast and unfamiliar roadmap to the unknown. Once upon a time her life seemed so focused, a brilliant Instructor who had everything going for her. Yet eventually the novelty had worn off, forcing her facade to fray at the edges, exposing the lonesome soul underneath.
"And your thinkin'...now what?" he finished, cocking his head to one side. He grinned at her disbelief.
"Hyne...exactly. Now what?" she threw her hands up to the sky. "I go on, each monotonous day just some more sand in my hourglass. One huge pile of sand filling up into a whole big waste."
Irvine was taken aback, caught off guard by the sudden outburst. Ignoring her yelp of protest her lifted her by the waist, settling her on the top of the rail. Clambering up behind her he steadied her lithe frame. She turned to face him, inches away from his own.
"The hell are you doing?!" she cried, flailing miserably from the tiny perch. The green plains which had looked so appealing a short while ago now glared up at her menacingly from hundreds of feet.
"Just hush!" Irvine chided, supporting her weight easily with broad, able arms. He felt her relax ever so slightly in his firm grasp. "Now, look out there...tell me what you see." his voice rumbled pleasantly in her ear, the amiable Southern twang easing her tense form into a bit of comfort.
Taking a shaky breath, Quistis averted her eyes to the scenery. It was utterly lovely, all of nature's gifts spread out endlessly for her icy blues to savor. Regaining her balance, there was a almost liberating feeling of weightlessness as she took in her surroundings. A twinkling clear sky met the waving grass seamlessly, the carpet of wildflowers in their full summer's bloom tiny bursts of color from her place high above. It was so breathtakingly uncomplicated, this beauty Hyne had created so many years before her time. Tonight was the first night she had ever seen it this way, not taking something so ordinary for granted.
"This is all yours Quisty...don't ever be afraid to enjoy it. When life seems to tough, just come here, where all the riches a man could ever want for are right before your very eyes. Take comfort in nights like these." He lifted her and set her down lightly till her leather boots grazed the smooth floor. Irvine watched in amazement as the slight figure sank heavily to the cold tile, sobbing into her slender hands. The intensity of the noise near frightened him. His own heart wrenched with pity as the din filled his eardrums, the sound of a woman in the depths of heartbreaking despair. In all his life, he had never seen her cry. A real pillar of strength she always was, even when they were kids. Always tending to the other's scraped knees before her own. Who could have known that underneath, she needed that same comfort? He listened as the cries ebbed and faded into the night. A wave of guilt washed over him, for not seeing her agony until now, when it had completely engulfed her.
Quistis hung her head, ashamed. Her face, swollen and red from crying, burned hot with humiliation. He knew now. All the pain she had bottled up tightly for as long as she could remember had flowed down her cheeks in crystalline droplets. She felt naked, vulnerable to the touch. Her silent solider facade cracked apart, leaving the truth in its place. A young woman, scared of failing and scared of falling with no one to catch her.
"Please..." she protested weakly as a pair of sturdy arms enveloped her. Musky suede and lingering tobacco filled her nose as she slowly gave in to the relentless embrace. The touch seared her skin, she could not recall the last time she had felt the warmth of another person beside her. The feeling of being safe smoothed over the ache in her wayward feminine heart, and she felt a step closer to becoming whole for the first time.
"Im sorry...I, hell...anyone, should had given you this along time ago." He pressed his weather-roughened cheek against her smooth one. "Just a hug...something so small and seemingly insignificant, like this beautiful night. This puzzle, this life is so damned simple. People like you are forever fighting, searching desperately for ways to be the best." She clamped her eyes tightly, as the cowboy smoothed the stray gold wisps of her damp brow. He leaned closer, voice dropping to a whisper, as if sharing a confidential secret.
"Just sit back, the pieces will fall into place if you let them. I promise." Shifting slightly, he let her weight fall against his chest. "Your a damned beautiful woman besides, it's a shame to see you cry." He turned her chin to meet his eyes, brushing the fresh tears away with callused thumbs. Sharp blue eyes searched her face intently as he saw a tiny grin creep onto thin rosy lips. He smiled back in his boyish lopsided fashion, drawing the woman close to his chest. Her silken head fell neatly under his chin, and he rested against her golden crown.
Quistis exhaled audibly, chest rising and falling with relief. Her heart thumped low in her chest, content. He had intruded on her soul tonight, read her like an open book.
"So...am I really beautiful?" she smirked coyly, allowing herself to briefly wallow in that guilty pleasure. Irvine chuckled, raising her hand with his towards the glittering bodies that winked down at them so unabashedly.
"See them stars up there?" He waited for a nod of affirmation before continuing. "Thousands n' thousands, more than you could ever count...you shine brighter than them all." Letting their hands lazily drop, he turned her chin to face him. "You're a real prize, lady. Gorgeous on the outside..." His heart thumped wildly as her eyelids fluttered like tiny golden butterflies, lashes gently sweeping fine porcelain cheekbones as he traced the aristocratic features with a steady forefinger. "...And a heart of gold on the inside." Tapping her chest lightly, he pulled them upwards. "Just let that gold show more often."
Irvine held her, too loosely to be called possessive, yet tight enough to let her know he wasn't letting go anytime soon. With nary a protest she leaned into his embrace, peering up at his rugged visage. He looked so innocent, cobalt pools glistening with warmth, a shine that blotted out the mid-night chill. Slender hands reached to stroke the auburn ponytail, the feel of it pure silk under her dainty fingers. Letting out a small cry she wrapped her arms around him, clinging almost as a small child would. A wonderful feeling spread throughout her veins, a feeling of trust and compassion that lit her soul on fire. Her heart was that much closer to freeing itself from the cold shield that had been it's imprisioner. She had searched endlessly for ways to kill the pain to a point where she had almost given up hope, and all it had taken was one act of kindness.
"It's all so simple." she whispered, finally understanding. Irvine grinned widely, tilting her chin upward to meet his gaze. His eyes searched hers desperately, seeking allowance, acceptance. Without thinking she knew she would allow it, not wanting to break the mutual warmth that was flowing so rapidly between them. Raising herself on the tips of her toes, she gasped as lips sought hers almost timidly, waiting for a reaction. A strong hand entwined in her hair softly, giving her the courage to press her own delicate mouth against his. Her heart took flight, soaring to a place where all the feelings she had denied herself where waiting to be enjoyed to the fullest.
It was beautiful.
It was wonderful.
And she was free.