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the hollow
Chapter Eight: Part of a Human Garden
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The Tombs of Angels
Balamb Dormitory Deluxe #37
One and one-quarter years to the present
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The sun slanted across Squall's bare chest, his face set into its mask like slowed
time, his eyes glittering in the late light. The world seemed almost to slow with him.
Irvine swallowed, and felt his lips grow dry and papery in the tension of their locked
stare.

"Squall," Selphie whispered, the words dying in her throat. Squall didn't look at her,
didn't take his eyes from Irvine's for an instant.

"Get out," he said, almost brimming with betrayal. Selphie rose slowly, her usually
smiling face crumpling into a mask of hurt and starting tears, but she left, moving
slowly in a sundress that seemed faded beneath the warm light. Irvine noted her
flight in the corner of his peripheral vision, but kept his focus on Squall.

Squall looked . . . pissed. Angrier than he'd been since the last battle, eyes almost
silver, skin shivering faintly with repressed rage. Homicidal. And so fucking beautiful
that it hurt to look at him. And so thin that Irvine's mind flashed to the soup he'd left
on the counter, helplessly, feeling that need to protect this man well up in him even
above the anger.

"Squall, I . . ." he whispered, tongue flickering out to wet his lips.

Squall shook his head, even his scowl smoothed into the impassive scar; his hand
was trembling with the strain of holding himself up. Irvine's hat dripped from the
crinkling band, loud in the sudden stillness, and Irvine scowled.

"Squall, damn it, go sit down before you fall down," Irvine snapped, rising to his
feet on a sudden rush of pure worry. Squall's eyes flared, and he stepped forward.

"Don't," he said thickly, hand coming up to ward off Irvine's approach when the
cowboy would have steadied him. He brushed past Irvine's outstretched arm,
eyes focused on the tiled floor.

"Squall?" Irvine said, confusion darkening his violet eyes.

"Just don't," Squall said, brushing past Irvine to pad toward the kitchenette. The
light gleamed on his broad shoulders, the fine-grained skin of his back, like silk
or water beneath the slanted sun. Irvine watched him go, waiting for the feeling
in his stomach to solidify into something real. It never felt real.

"Don't what?" Irvine asked, stepping into Squall's wake, their shoulders almost
brushing as they stepped into the ill-lit kitchenette.

"Don't speak to me," Squall said, his voice not changing, his back stiff.

"What?" It felt like rejection. That was the feeling. Rejection.

"How can you?" A flat monotone; Irvine felt fear shiver down his throat. "How can
you stand there and act like things are normal?" Finally Squall turned to face him,
eyes cloudy, skin almost translucent and damp with fever-sweat. "She is gone,
Irvine," and if only his voice would break Irvine knew this growing fear would
dissipate. "We turned her into dust, she is ashes, she is gone." Implacable, like
the tide, like the flat, muddied eyes. All his silver had fled. Irvine swallowed.

"Squall, what are you talking about?" he whispered. Squall turned again, half in
profile, staring at the countertop.

"We burned her on her beach." He smiled faintly, and Irvine felt another shiver curl his
heart. "She is ashes, we burned her to ashes in her blue dress and daisies."

"She did love daisies," Irvine said, his voice faint, distant beneath his shock.
"Squall," he said carefully. "That didn't happen."

Squall didn't answer, and Irvine stepped forward, feeling the movement as from a
great height, the edge of a fucking cliff.

"It's only been three days, Squall. She's still in the Infirmary. We haven't even--"

"No," Squall said, his usual monotone enough to interrupt Irvine's uncertain speech.
"She is gone." And he stepped further into the kitchenette, vanishing into the
shadows of the dark little room.

He'd never been shot before. A funny thing to realize, a sharpshooter who'd never
felt the consequences of his own skill; Squall had his scars to remind him, and
Seifer must have that same knowledge. Irvine had never felt the same, never been
punctured, blasted apart, thrown into the afterlife on a hammer of steel but this---
This *must* be the feeling, he realized, standing there and watching Squall
disappear into a dark that was more metaphor than physical. This was pain, this
was death, this was loss. Squall was there in body, but in soul . . . he was far gone.

Irvine's head lowered, the brim of his hat covering his eyes as he felt despair well
within his heart. It had been an off and on affair, his hope, but it had fled as surely
as Rinoa had fled. Didn't take much. Just a few words. And give up.

He felt a smile form on his lips, crooking them slightly. He shook his head, chuckling
a little as he turned brightened eyes on Squall's still figure; their Commander was
simply standing in the center of his kitchenette as though he'd run out of gasoline,
staring blankly at nothing, and Irvine let his smile widen and grow and form fully.
He was not giving up. Not on this man. Give up? After everything they'd been
through, after everything Squall dragged them through and dragged from them,
the skill and the courage and the heart and fuck it all, he wasn't giving any of that
up! Not in this lifetime.

There was no speaking as he stepped into the shadows to stand beside Squall, no
sound as he gathered the static form in his arms and carried him from the darkened
room. They'd gone beyond the need for speech, at least for now, striding through
shafted light, Squall too thin in Irvine's strong arms, his head nestled trustingly on
Irvine's shoulder, against the crinkled silk vest.

"I'll take care of you," Irvine whispered, breaking the stillness as he lowered Squall
carefully to the rumpled bed. He straightened out the slack limbs with care, ignoring
the staring sea-blue eyes until he'd finished. He smiled at his friend, and nodded
once, firmly. "I'm going to take care of you." And end scene.

"No."

Irvine blinked. He'd thought Squall too weak to even understand what was happening,
but the Commander had raised himself onto his elbows and was glaring up at Irvine
through his ragged fringe.

"No, what?" Irvine asked, sitting on the edge of the bed so that Squall wouldn't have
to strain his neck.

"I don't need you to take care of me," Squall said, snarling the words as though he'd
been insulted. "I can take care of myself."

"Like you have been so far?" Irvine asked incredulously. "Look at yourself! When's
the last time you ate?!"

"I . . ." Squall began, pausing as if for thought. His brows crinkled adorably, but Irvine
felt rage rise in place of his usual amusement at the sight.

"Can't you remember? Hyne, Squall, don't you even see what you're doing to yourself?"

"What, Irvine?" Squall snapped, his eyes beginning to silver over again and Irvine
could only wonder how long he'd be able to sustain the anger this time. "What am
I 'doing' to myself?"

"I found you on the floor of the fucking bathroom," Irvine shouted in return, standing
abruptly and stalking over near the window. "I thought you'd . . . Hyne, damn it," he
continued, turning back to face Squall with real rage bubbling in his breast. "Why
don't you see what this is? Why can't you get the fuck over it?!"

"Get over it?" Squall repeated slowly, staring up at him with narrowed eyes. "Just like
that? Is that how you live your life? Remind me, Kinneas, is it death's okay after we
feel we're done or is it die and then feel complete? Which was it for Rinoa?" he
continued, voice steel-tense and breaking under the strain. "Which should it me for me,
Kinneas? Which should it fucking be?"

"You . . ." Irvine stopped, seeing Squall as if for the first time, a weakened Lion, still
deadly, curled in his lair. He grinned crookedly, his usual mask. "I don't know,
Leonhart, can you follow either order? *Do* you feel?"

"I feel . . ." Squall began hotly; he stopped himself quickly, looking down just as a newer
emotion began to blaze through his eyes.

"*Do* you feel, Squall?" Irvine repeated, his voice sniper-cool but growing angrier with
every word. "Answer me that, Commander. Do you feel?"

Squall stared up at him, eyes gone vague and storm-muddled. Irvine almost wished for
a stopwatch to time Squall's stamina. The silver had fled

"Well?" Irvine demanded, climbing onto the bed to confront Squall. "How do you feel,
Squall? How do you fucking feel?"

"Irvine," Squall said, a soft monotone. "Don't."

"Don't *what*? Ask you to be human?"

"Just . . ." Squall looked away, a slow turn toward the windows, where the sinking sun
barred the room in dusty amber. "Not right now."

"Squall . . ." Irvine sighed, leaning back a little and finally arranging himself in a cross-
legged slouch. "We're worried, okay? This isn't *healthy*, it's not . . . *fuck*!"

"I don't know . . ." Squall's brows came together thoughtfully, his scar wrinkling. "I'm
fine . . ."

"Was that a question?"

"I don't . . . Irvine, just . . ."

"I know you're hurting inside," Irvine said desperately, grabbing Squall's shoulder,
causing the older SeeD to stiffen abruptly. "I don't want you to end up like--"

Irvine stopped himself.

Squall glared up at him from beneath jagged bangs, eyes flat, body tensed in
awareness of the hand on his shoulder.

"Leave it be, Irvine." His voice was cold, his eyes colder.

Irvine's hand spasmed on his shoulder. The cowboy's head fell forward, and suddenly
he ripped the hat from his head and threw it into the far wall.

"Right," he ground out. "Of course you're fine. Nothing touches Leonheartless, right?"
He pinned Squall with angry eyes. "You pulled this routine last time, I'm not letting you
do this to us again!"

"You aren't *letting* me do anything," Squall said, his manner suddenly dangerous.

"Fine!" Irvine spun to face the wall, throwing his arms out in a parody of frustration.
"You want to fight me on this?" He was suddenly facing Squall again, his anger
blazing. "C'mon, Leonhart. Fight me."

Squall met his gaze flatly for a long few moments, then looked away.

"Whatever," he said softly. Irvine snorted.

"That's what I thought," Irvine nodded to himself. "You start letting yourself feel anything,
you come let me know."

And the cowboy spun to the far wall, collected his hat, clapped it to his damp-darkened
auburn hair, and sauntered angrily to the door. His hand hit the OPEN panel, and the
door *shush*ed open, and--

"Damnit, Squall," Irvine said helplessly, letting the door slide shut again.

Squall had apparently decided to ignore him; at least he was speaking, Irvine thought
philosophically. He shuffled back to the bed, folded himself slowly back into his slouch,
and propped his chin on his fist to stare into Squall's eyes.

Said eyes narrowed.

"Get out," Squall growled, apparently no longer in the mood for heart-to-hearts.

"No," Irvine said, feeling a sudden surge of depression. What the fuck was he
supposed to do in this kind of situation? "That isn't going to work this time. I'm not
leaving you. Not this time."

Squall glared at him for a moment.

"You think that's why?" he asked after a while. His tone of voice was no clue, but Irvine
was getting tired of testing the waters anyway.

"Yeah," he said belligerently. "I do. I think you been left once to often. Your father left you,
Rinoa left you, we all left you . . ." Irvine trailed off sadly. "I'm sorry about that, Squall.
Not leaving you again."

Squall blinked at the mention of Rinoa's name.

His eyes squeezed shut.

When they opened, the ice was back.

"I wouldn't know," Squall said tonelessly. "I don't remember."

"Oh, Hyne, don't give me that shit!" Irvine snarled. "I told you, all of you! Everyone else
remembers!"

"Not me," Squall denied implacably. His eyes were shuttered, hidden to the very depths.

///
Why do they all leave?
///

"No," Irvine growled, leaning in to grip Squall's shoulders, peering desperately into his
opaque eyes. "You can't live like this anymore, you- You have to . . . Squall, would you
just fucking let me help you?!"

"Why?" Squall whispered after a moment, letting his head tilt to the side, breaking their
gaze. Irvine made a small, helpless noise deep in his throat, staring at Squall with a
puzzled, lost expression.

"Why what?" he asked.

"Why does everyone leave?" he asked, voice so quiet that Irvine had to strain to hear.
"What did I do?"

"Oh Hyne," Irvine muttered, fingers releasing their grip involuntarily. "I'm sorry, Squall," he
continued, voice cracking. "I am so fucking sorry, I--"

"It's okay," Squall said, his voice very young. "I'm almost used to it."

"No, it's not okay," Irvine said fiercely. "It will *never* be okay. I swear, on anything, on
all that is holy, I swear I won't leave you again, Squall Leonhart. I swear." Tears ran
unchecked down his lean cheeks, unnoticed in his fervor.

Squall met his passion with dead eyes.

"Thank you."

But there was something there, buried so deep it had been assumed dead since around
early adolescence, but it was there, breathing its first choked breaths and blinking up at
the much-changed world. It was there, and Irvine could see it, even beneath the death.

"I'm *not* leaving," he emphasized, shuffling on his knees across the mattress to cradle
Squall down to lie beside him atop the rumpled sheets; it was a mark of the depth of the
Commander's distress that he didn't even mutter an objection to being manhandled.
Irvine curled them into a fetal position, arms wrapped around Squall with the smaller
man's head tucked under his chin, trying to convey every nuance of his devotion to his
wounded companion. "Never leaving."

"Irvine," Squall said, something like desperation almost breaking free. "I . . ."

He couldn't continue; Irvine just tightened his hold.

"I know," he said. "I know."

"You said everything has its time, but . . . Was it her time, Irvine? Ultemecia's dead.
Does that mean its my time, too?"

"No!" Irvine denied immediately. "Defeating that bitch from the future was *not* your
life's work, I don't care *what* anyone else has said, or implied, or even fucking
*thought*, do you hear me? That was *not* all you're here for, Squall."

"Then what?" Squall asked, lips brushing the delicate skin of Irvine's neck. Shiva
stirred within him, a stern reminder. "Then what am I here for?"

Irvine laughed helplessly. "I don't know. That's the fucking point! Rinoa was *wrong*,
Squall, she was *wrong* to end it like that. Who knows what more she would have
done? Who knows what else there could have been for her? And now it's gone. For
what?"

"She's at peace," Squall interjected quietly, worrying at his lower lip.

"Yeah, and you know what peace is? Boring." Irvine hugged Squall a bit tighter, trying
to force the feelings into him. "You've been alone all your life, *safe*, but wasn't that
the illusion? Didn't the final battle prove that friendship is important?"

"Canon fodder," Squall said brokenly.

"We're alive, Squall," Irvine insisted. "We all made it out."

"My fault we were there, my fault she died."

"Squall, we were there to save the *world*, not just for you. And Rinoa . . ." Irvine
sighed, hoping for another sudden burst of inspiration. "I'm sure she had her reasons.
But can't you see that her solution is just too . . .final? Everything passes, Squall, even
heartbreak."

"How can you know that? How can you be so sure?"

"I never tried to run away from my past," Irvine said softly. "I didn't try to forget like the
rest of you. I just let it all flow through me and away. And you know what?"

Squall turned his face aside, eyes flinching shut as he couldn't answer.

"The pain left, eventually. It hurt, and there were a few nights when I thought about
ending the cycle, but it passed. And I kept the memories, Squall. The memory of our
childhood, the good and the bad."

"So . . . let everything go? Don't let anything affect you?"

"Oh, it'll affect you," Irvine said, smiling grimly into the scattered, sweat-soaked hair.
"I told you, Squall, it hurts something awful. But time goes on. The hurt fades, like a
wound scarring over and only aching when it rains."

"I don't . . . I don't want to let her go."

A tear touched heated flesh. Irvine stilled, careful, feeling a breath of awe deep
beneath his heart.

"You have to, Squally-boy," Irvine murmured. "Can't stay a dog with a bone forever."

A sad chuckle pressed into his flesh.

"I just . . ." Squall began, appearing to be at a loss for words. Irvine stroked him gently.

"I know," Irvine said, abandoning logic as Squall's shoulders began to heave with
suppressed sobs. "I know. It'll be okay." Meaningless words. Sometimes it all
comes down to meaningless words, nothing more.

"When?" Squall asked thickly.

"In time," Irvine repeated, using the words as a mantra. "All in its time."

"It hurts," Squall said, softly, like a guilty admission. Irvine hugged him closer for that.

"I know."

"Thank you." Barely a whisper, as though the words were torn from him. Coming from
Squall, this was as good as a declaration of love.

"Told you I'm not going anywhere," Irvine said. "Not leaving. Never again."
***

A/N Whew! If that wasn't an emotional roller coaster and a half! :) Okay, there
was a bit more Hamlet, and apparently Irvine's philosophy bears a great deal
of resemblence to Buddhism. Thanks to Scribblemoose for pointing that out. :)
Both the chapter title and the subtitle were taken from silverchair's Diorama
album, from "Too Much Of Not Enough" and "My Favourite Thing", respectively.