Seifer never would have thought that walking away from Selphie—out her door, out of her life—could be so difficult. Hell, it had been easier leaving Fujin and Raijin nearly ten years ago and sailing off into the sunset. But leaving her had been hard. He wasn't an idiot; he could tell that she'd been avoiding him for the past week, since . . . since Fujin. The rare moments that he did speak to her, she'd been . . . different—a warped version of Selphie that more resembled the Selphie he'd first met, all those weeks ago in Centra. To be fair, he hadn't exactly made the effort to seek her out either.
As soon as her door slid shut behind him, he knew without a doubt he'd made the right decision.
They needed time apart. Selphie needed to come to terms with what had happened with Fujin and Raijin, what she'd done, and Seifer needed to just come to terms with everything in general. He didn't blame Selphie for what she'd done, not in the slightest. He, of all people, knew how difficult it was to hurt the people you cared about, the people you loved. Even during the elevator ride down to the MD level, he'd still been struggling with the weight of the actions he knew would come to pass. She'd done something for him that was far beyond a simple favor, or even a complex one, and he knew he'd never be able to thank her for shouldering that weight on his behalf. Still . . . he needed time. Judging by the way she'd been avoiding him, he figured she did, too.
And so he left.
Without a backward glance in Garden's direction, he stalked out the front gate and down the path toward Balamb proper, Hyperion slung over his shoulder. Before he rounded the bend, he veered off to his right, heading down a smaller, dirt path. After passing under a wrought-iron archway, he stepped into Balamb Garden's formal cemetery. According to Quistis, it had been erected sometime after the war, to honor the SeeDs who had fallen. Knowing that, he was left with a feeling of disquiet as he wove in and out of the headstones, heading for a fresh grave he knew was towards the back.
He had no right to be here, amongst the tombstones of people he'd likely killed, whether inadvertently or intentionally, but he had one final goodbye to make.
Many had protested about her being buried here, in the presence of SeeDs that people considered to be heroes. But at one point in time, she'd been just like them, and Seifer had insisted that she receive, at the very least, that final honor. Whether she deserved it or not was a completely different matter, but it was one he no longer had the energy to try and figure out.
After sticking Hyperion into the soft ground beside her headstone, tip first, he crouched down and brushed a few clumps of dirt away from her grave. He clasped his hands between his legs, tracing the letters on her headstone with his eyes. It was strange. He'd felt such . . . heartbreak, such anger, at seeing her standing opposite from him again, as an enemy and not as a friend. It was something he didn't think he'd experience twice in one lifetime. But now, staring down at the lilies someone had etched into the stone, he was overcome with a sense of . . . peace. This whole business with Sanctus wasn't over, but at least Fujin would get to rest.
A few minutes passed with him simply being there, with her and yet not. Finally, he murmured, "Time for me to go, Fuu," and his words were eaten by the passing wind.
Seifer rose to his feet, yanked Hyperion out of the dirt, and continued on towards town. He had one last stop to make, though it wasn't quite a goodbye, and then he'd head back for home.
Again, he didn't once look behind him. The only way to go from here was forward.
One month later
"Good gracious, child, it's like you didn't even try to keep them alive!"
From across the flower shop, Seifer rolled his eyes and let out a sigh of exasperation. "Yeah, yeah, you keep harpin' me about these Hynedamned flowers! I think they look pretty fuckin' good—"
"Language," Amma harped.
"What-fuckin'-ever. Anyway, as I was sayin', they look pretty good, all things considered." He bent down at the base of a trellis, pulling off errant leaves that were sprouting in the wrong places.
"Hmm. You mean considering you up and abandoned the shop for weeks at a time?"
Again, Seifer sighed, his shoulders drooping ever-so-slightly. "I already told you I was sorry about that. Shit came up that I couldn't—"
"I know, I know," Amma interrupted him, coming up behind him to hand him the watering can. "You had to go and save the world all over again."
Under his breath, he muttered, "I didn't exactly save itthe first time, but all right."
"Oh, and your awful dog keeps barking at the door. Go feed him or something!"
"Ah hell," Seifer cursed, rising to his feet again. "He probably just needs to go outside."
"So take him outside. Be a responsible pet owner."
"Hyne, that's what I'm doing! Will you stop nagging? You've been ten times worse since you got back from Esthar a couple weeks ago."
He never heard Amma's response because he walked away from her and into her living room. Behind the short wooden fence propped inside of the doorframe on the opposite side of the room, Boko was barking at the top of his lungs, trying to get someone, anyone's, attention.
Since Seifer had brought the little mongrel home from Rinoa's shelter, Boko had been glued to his side. When Seifer had first seen him, he'd assumed Boko was at least a couple of years old, judging from his size. Turns out, he'd only been six months old—a puppy still. Seifer couldn't bear to leave him home alone, all day long while he went out for monster patrol and to help Amma with the shop. So, his next best plan had been to bring him to Amma's so she could watch the mutt while Seifer patrolled, and then at least he'd be nearby and get to run around, albeit still in a confined space.
As he walked closer, Boko's barks increased in volume. "Yeah, I see you, I see you." Once he stood in front of the gate, he pulled it out of the frame and moved it aside, propping it up against the wall. "Let's go outside."
Boko circled Seifer, letting out a chain of barks that sounded significantly happier than before. He sat down beside Seifer, waiting for his master's command with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. Seifer chuckled at his dog's expression, patting his thigh as he migrated back into the shop; Boko followed right on his heels.
There was a little stretch of grass right across the dirt road from Amma's which had become Boko's territory. After they crossed the street, Boko stuck his nose to the ground and sniffed along the edge of the grass. A few feet down the way, he finally lifted his leg to pee. Seifer watched him with his arms crossed, shaking his head at Boko slightly.
How would it be to be so easily pleased?
Maybe now would be a good time for a break, anyway. Seifer turned away from Boko and wandered over to the closest tree. He slid down the trunk, and after making sure Boko was still close by, he leaned his head back and let his eyes close. A light breeze drifted past, ruffling the ends of his hair—he'd recently had Amma cut it, and the ends were now grazing the tops of his ears instead of the nape of his neck.
The weather in Winhill was generally pretty nice. On occasion, the nights got a bit chilly, and the mid-summer days were a tad bit too warm at high noon, but it wasn't an everyday occurrence. Still, he sometimes found himself missing the temperate climate of Balamb. He'd never live in Balamb again—there were far too many memories there—but sitting on the beach, heels dug into the sand, would never be unenjoyable.
With his eyes still closed, he scoffed. Never thought I'd say that, even to myself.
In the distance, Boko barked. Stupid mutt, barkin' at birds again. Ah hell, I better take him back inside.
With the slightest sigh, Seifer rose to his feet, eyes trained on the grass below him. After brushing off his pants, he looked up and whistled for Boko. After a second's hesitation, Boko came bounding towards him with another joyful bark. He held out his hand for Boko, but was surprised when Boko barrelled past him and headed down the road instead.
"Hey! Get back here you damn mutt!" Seifer shouted, whirling around.
Just down the way, Boko was running circles around Selphie Tilmitt. She teetered on her heel, laughing as she tried to follow Boko around. Once she got both of her feet back on the ground, she knelt down and fluffed the hair around Boko's neck with a wide smile on her face.
Boko's only answer was another bark of pure glee. Seifer stared at them, equal parts hesitant and glad to see her. After a moment of uncertainty, he made his way over to join them.
His boots scuffed against the dirt, and when he was only a few steps away, Selphie finally straightened and looked right at him with those bright emerald eyes. A tentative smile lifted the corners of her lips, and he returned what felt like a similar smile—though, if he was being honest, his face felt kind of numb. What the hell was the appropriate reaction to seeing her, when he'd expected not to? Ever again?
"Well, he looks familiar," Selphie noted, patting Boko on the head again.
Boko plopped down right beside her, his front paw resting on the top of her boot. He stared up at her with a wide grin, panting with sheer happiness. Little traitor.
"He should," Seifer replied with a shrug.
"You know, I . . . I went back to Rinoa's to actually adopt him."
"Oh?" Hyne, I'm a regular conversationalist today. Get your act together, Almasy.
"Yeah, a couple of days ago."
"And she said?"
"That you'd adopted him, right before leaving town. I said, 'How 'bout that?' and that was that."
Seifer nodded, unsure of what he was supposed to say back to that. As he continued to stare at her, he realized she was wearing the jacket she'd bought him, the one that had cost 4000 gil that he'd said he was lending to her and expected back. He'd told her it had fit him just fine, which was true, but somehow it looked better on her.
A few minutes of silence later, he finally asked, "So . . . what are you doing here?"
Selphie laughed, sounding nervous. She rubbed the back of her neck and said, "Isn't that the million gil question?"
"If you answer, can I have a million gil?" he quipped, deadpan.
This time, her laugh sounded real. "I already told you how much gil I have, Seifer. Definitely not a million. Plus you owe me 4000 gil for this," she retorted, fingering the jacket's lapel.
"It was a gift."
A fond smile spread across her face, and she lowered her gaze. "Yeah, it was."
The silence that filled the air between them seemed less tense this time around, and Selphie looked over at the stretch of grass. "This uh, this yours and Boko's little haunt?"
"How'd you know I kept his name Boko?"
"Because Boko's the name of that one chocobo from the kid's show. The one with the extra fluffy tail feathers? Why would you not?"
Of course that's her logic.
Opting to only answer her first question, Seifer nodded. "Yeah, that's our 'haunt'."
"I'm surprised you're not at home," she noted, switching subjects again.
Under his breath, Seifer chuckled. Selphie Tilmitt was nervous. Before, he never would've guessed that's why having a conversation with her used to be so jarring, but he knew better now—knew her better now.
"Got a job, Tilmitt. I gotta make ends meet somehow."
"You work here?" she asked, looking over at the flower shop.
"Yeah, with an old hag named Amma."
"I'm sure she's not a hag."
"Oh, you just wait."
"Can I meet her?"
Seifer leaned back, surprised. "Uh . . . sure?"
With a confident stride, Selphie walked right past him and into the flower shop—with Boko, no less. He shook his head at her, again, and followed after her. The bell above the door jingled upon his entrance, but neither one of the women looked over at him.
Selphie held her hand out to Amma with a smile, and Amma, looking surprised but a bit confused, took it.
"Hi! It's good to see you again, Amma!"
"Well, I'll be . . . if it isn't the kind young lady from Esthar! What in the world are you doing here in Winhill?" Amma asked, setting her watering can down on the counter.
"Here to visit a friend." Selphie jerked her head at Seifer as Boko let out another bark.
"A friend, hm?" Amma looked over Seifer too, with a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
Here we go. "I'd introduce you two, but it seems like you already know one another," Seifer commented, leaning against the windowsill closest to Selphie.
"You didn't tell me a friend was visiting, Seifer," Amma reprimanded him, the twinkle growing brighter.
"I didn't know a friend was," he said defensively with a shrug.
Selphie faced Seifer with a glare. "Hey, we've gone over this."
Again, he shrugged. When Selphie turned back to Amma, the two women got embroiled in a conversation about the last time they'd seen each other and how Seifer must be the "nice young man" Amma had mentioned to Selphie in Esthar. He scoffed, musing about how Amma would never say that about him and mean it. Who would?
He clucked his tongue, and Boko bounded back to his side. With a nod in Selphie and Amma's direction, he headed outside again. They crossed the mini-field and headed down the slope towards the cliff face. It was close to sunset, and at the end of every day, he liked to come down here and watch the waves, wind down from the heat and the craziness. Small town life was less hectic in some ways, and more so in others, he'd learned.
After he sank down onto the ground and draped his legs over the edge, Boko sidled up to him on the right and stared out over the ocean with him. For a dog who was so young, he didn't seem to have any issues with just sitting still sometimes.
Seifer wasn't sure how much time had passed when he heard someone coming down the slope. Light steps, short stride, slight hop right before another step happened: it was Selphie. When she reached him, she paused for a second before sliding her legs under the metal railing and sitting next to him on the left.
To his surprise, she didn't say anything. The three of them sat there, staring out at the water for a good few minutes in silence.
Finally, she looked over at him. "How've you been?"
He offered a small shrug. "I've . . . been. You?" he asked, looking over at her.
The corner of her lips twitched. "I've been."
"How's the case?"
"I don't know," Selphie admitted with a shake of her head. She started swinging her legs back and forth as she added, "Dr. Kadowaki placed me on a two month recovery watch. I can't join the team until the end of this month."
"Eh," she shrugged. "It is what it is. Last time, I fought against her advice and refused to just sit, you know? I had to go-go-go, and eventually . . . well, you saw. This time, I think it's been for the best."
They fell silent again, and a few seconds later, she leaned over and nudged him. "There is something I wanted to do. Part of the reason I came here."
She reached into her pocket and pulled out four glistening stones of various colors, cradling them in her palm; Ifrit, Carbuncle, Cerberus, and Diablos. "I—It's time to say goodbye, I think . . . for good. I wanted to do what Rinoa did, you know? Just . . . throw them into the water, along with my attachment—my dependance—on them."
"Couldn't you do that in Balamb?"
As if surprised, her eyes shot up to his. "Well . . . yeah, I guess I could've. Not the point, though! I wanted to do it here!"
"Okay, okay. So do it here."
"Will you do it with me?"
Seifer leaned back, inspecting her face. A brief moment of hesitation passed through him, but eventually, he nodded. "Yeah, okay. Leviathan was never really mine to begin with anyway." He reached into the tiny pocket on the front of his jeans and pulled out the semi-translucent, cerulean stone.
Selphie slid backwards, pulling her legs up so she could stand. Seifer followed suit, and they both looked over the railing at the ocean. Curious, Boko too looked up at them with a slight, curious tilt to his head.
"On three?" Selphie asked, winding her hand back over her shoulder.
"Whenever you're ready, Tilmitt."
"Okay! One . . . two . . . three!"
They both launched the summoning stones over the railing and down the cliff face. With a succession of deep plunks, all five stones sank below the surface and into the seemingly bottomless depths. It was strange. He'd never been particularly attached to Leviathan, or even summoning GFs in general, but with the stone gone he felt . . . lighter, freer. Judging by the slight smile on Selphie's face, it was a feeling she shared.
Without a word, she bent over and leaned the side of her head against his upper arm. He moved to lean away, caught off guard, but at the last second, he froze. To his surprise, he didn't want to move away. There was something unexpectedly nice about this whole thing—about her, about being here with her, about . . . everything, really. So instead, he straightened, and looked out over the water again.
After a minute or two had gone by, Seifer asked, "So . . . you just came here to throw those damn stones into the water then, huh?"
"No, dumbass. I came to return your jacket."
"Oh, so now I'm a dumbass?"
Selphie pulled away with a teasing smile, walking backwards up the incline. "When you ask stupid questions . . ." She trailed off, turning away from him as her smile widened.
"Get the hell back here, Tilmitt. I'll show you 'stupid questions'."
Their voices faded into the distance as they made their way back up the hill, leaving behind more than they'd expected to at the cliffs, but also just enough, all at the same time. Boko let out one final bark at the cliff's edge before racing after them.
Seifer had never been one to put much stock in fate. He preferred to follow his own path, dictate his own future. Despite how hard he tried to control every aspect of his life, it seemed like there were certain things he could never pin down. When they were kids, he'd teased Selphie relentlessly, cruelly sometimes, and now it seemed like she was the one who teased him. During the war, he'd hurt her beyond repair, destroyed everything she'd loved, and yet, here she was, repaired and loving again—still. Then this mission had happened, and he'd claimed he'd walk away from her and let her be, let her live her life without him in it, because all he could be was a burden.
And yet, here she still was.
At the end of the day, maybe there were just some things he couldn't ever shake. And maybe, there were some people he just didn't want to.