Disclaimer: I'm only going to say this once. I do not, under any circumstances, own these characters or locations. Though I'm brilliant, I haven't quite figured out a way to buy out Squaresoft yet. When I do, I'll let you know. Furthermore, I don't own the song "Blaze of Glory" that the lyrics are taken from. That would be Bon Jovi. I think I'll let him keep them. For now.

Summary: Just a short introspective piece, in-game. A little darker than I normally go for. After reading so many, I decided it was about time I wrote my one of my own late-night balcony philosophy scenes. Finally join the rest of the FFVIII lot. You all are truly special.

Take it Irvine!

Blaze of Glory

You ask about my conscience
And I offer you my soul
You ask if I'll grow to be a wise man
Well I ask if I'll grow old…

A bullet alone was really such an innocuous thing when one thought about it. The notion that such a small item could cause such misery and fear was startling. It said something about the nature of humankind. It was the little things in life, the things one could pass over without a second glance, which held all the power.

However, it was that second glance, if taken, that all the fear spurted from. For really, a bullet was just a tiny meld, a mixture of silver and lead. That in it self spawned no reason to tremble or doubt. Yet, upon a deeper look one would realize the potential that harmless metal contained within its confines. The potential to injure, poison. Kill. The sound of a bullet, released from its hatch, and blazing through the air caused all to cringe. A bullet was not selective in its destruction. Its power affected everyone. Young, old, weak, strong. No one was immune.

Irvine included. The resonance of the bullet was a tune he had memorized long ago. No matter what weapon he wielded, the reverberation of the final release was always the same. As was the outcome. For when he aimed the barrel and tugged on the trigger, he always aimed to kill.

With a steady hand, he reached into the pocket of his long coat to pull out a cigarette and silver lighter. His hands remained even as he ignited the flame with a quick flicker of the thumb. Smoking was a bad habit, he knew. And one he did not often indulge in. But on a night like this he reckoned he was justified. After all, it wasn't every day one infiltrated his former home and shot his former friends. Not many young males his age had to deal with what he'd gone through just hours before.

Idly, he flicked the cigarette. Coolly, he blew a thin veil of smoke through full lips. Carefully, his eyes scanned the brilliant stars in front of him. However, his thoughts were a million miles away from midnight on Balamb Isle. Now Irvine was focussed on matters of a more onerous nature than the celestial beauty before his unseeing gaze.

How many people had he killed? Not just that day but in his lifetime. A simple question. He found he couldn't remember, couldn't even guess at the number. Seventeen and already he'd ended more lives than he'd lived in years. It was not a thing he often let himself ponder over. As a sharpshooter and student of a military academy, especially one as hard-line as Galbadia, he was trained not to. It was his duty, his obligation. His life. Now that was a thought he didn't wish to dwell on for too long.

But, being a mercenary wasn't that essentially the truth? He killed for a living. Sure one could sugarcoat it, say it was for a just cause and his victims often deserved what he delivered. At the base level, though, that's all he was. A hired gun. A hit man. Whether it was for justice or not did not change the facts. Irvine Kinneas was a teenage assassin.

Perhaps his instructors had been right. Perhaps it was best not to think about it. Most of the time he managed to block it all out. If he didn't he would go insane. Every now and then his thoughts would take over his sturdy control, filter through his collected visage. Each time they grew harder to put aside again. Sometimes next to impossible.

The infiltration of Galbadia Garden had been hell. Necessary, but literally a nightmare. He hadn't expected that when he suggested going in there. He never once thought about his former allies becoming his enemies. For the other members of his team he doubted the mission had much meaning at the start. They were protecting their home. He was destroying his. The events of that day would replay in his mind for years to come. Even the Guardian Forces wouldn't block them out.

It wasn't just the consequences, which were less than ideal. The culminating battle with the sorceress, Edea Kramer, the only mother he had ever known. While it hadn't been anyone's greatest achievement, it had been expected. Necessary. He wouldn't suffer from lack of sleep because of it. The fall of his friend into supreme unconsciousness was also not what plagued his mind. It had been troubling, to be sure, to see the sprightly vixen go from uncertain determination to pale silence. She was in good hands now. Squall would take care of her. No one else could.

Irvine knew they had all been dragged into a much bigger, more intricate plot than they had ever imagined in just a matter of hours. Still, he was confident he and the others could handle whatever they came up against. As a team they could accomplish anything. The rest would be handled by fate. No, the future wasn't what nipped at his senses.

It was the infiltration itself that caused the fear in his heart. The act of war upon his home had struck a deep chord within him. He couldn't go back now. His actions that day ran through his mind. During the heat and velocity of battle their meaning had not registered. Running through the halls with Quistis and Rinoa at his sides there had been little time for self-evaluation. He had not hesitated. Now it was too late.

But now, sitting on the ledge of the shattered quad in Balamb Garden, long legs and booted feet dangling over the side as the warm night breeze ruffled his long auburn hair, there was plenty of time to spare. Time to linger, and dwell, and brood.

Previously, he had never been one for brooding. He mused as he drew from the cigarette in his gloved hand. There had never been the need before. Whatever frustrations he had come across, the hedonistic male had been able to release in other ways. He wasn't one to sit around feeling sorry for himself. Furthermore, Irvine Kinneas was not big on solitude.

On the train to Deling a month ago he'd told the others different. Just a month? God, it felt like years since that fateful day before the war began. Odd wasn't it? Life's little twists and turns, impossible to predict. Back then he'd spouted his lines with a casual air. He was a cowboy, thereby alone. No one understood him. No one ever could. It was for this reason he sought companionship at every turn. There wasn't one person in the world that willingly chose to be alone. Yet, Irvine had sought it out purposefully tonight.

Persona lowered, cavalier image abandoned, tonight he could just be himself. Lazily, he crushed the cigarette against the broken concrete. He leaned back on his elbows to observe the night sky. His hat tipped back on his head. Magnificent, brilliant in all its glory. A glory that might see his ultimate ruin.

A rueful expression took over his smooth features and filled his wide violet eyes. The eyes of a boy, deceptively innocent. Looking into them the casual observer would never detect the horrors he had lived through, perpetrated. If there was a heaven or hell, and Irvine wasn't entirely sure on either point, he knew he'd already damned himself to the latter several times over.

He perceived the soft rhythm of heeled boots on concrete before he was able to prepare himself for company. In one slow movement he sat up, stretching both arms above his head and liberating one long, easy sigh. By all outward appearances he was a man whose biggest concern was sore muscles in his lower back. The one who approached his relaxed form knew better. A whiff of cigarette smoke loitered, palpable in the moist, summer air.

Irvine didn't bother to turn when the intruder stopped just a few centimetres behind him/ The brisk foot falls were ones he had come to recognize in a short time.

Neither spoke. It wasn't required. What could one say in the face of such imposing splendour?

After a few heavy moments another set of legs swung over the sedge of the quad's destroyed floor. Another pair of boots dangled metres over lush grassland. However, these boots were made of soft worn leather and encased well-muscled yet feminine legs to just below the knee. One was given a teasing glimpse of skin before meeting with the obstruction of a vivid pink skirt, the colour almost glowing in the moonlight. Still no words were spoken.

Another sigh was released, softer but just as luxurious, from the newcomer. With lips parted, she leaned back with gloved hands supporting her weight and tilted her head to stare at the moon. Blue eyes focussed on the golden orb, intently traced its aura.

The Harvest Moon. A sign of peace, prosperity, achievement, death. The heady days of summer were coming to an end. Old life faded away to make room for the arrival of the young and vibrant in the next generation. The strong would remain; perhaps last out a few more seasons. But eventually they too would fade. Such was life.

"About a year ago," Quistis began without introduction. Her gaze remained on the lunatic symbol above them. "I was sent on a mission to a small town just outside of Timber." Her voice was quiet, tempo slow, and tone low, reflecting the sombre mood of the setting. Irvine slanted a glance at her without turning his head.

She continued on without waiting for a response. "The mayor's daughter had been abducted by a political faction. She was fourteen years old. The rebel leader had demanded a large ransom for her safe release. His radical left-wing faction needed money for supplies to bomb Deling City. One million gil, to be exact." Quistis adjusted her position, leaned forward so that her elbows rested on her knees, her chin on her interlaced fingers. Her expression was calm, only the tiny line between her eyebrows betrayed any tension.

Irvine kept silent, content to listen to her words rising and falling in the night. His friend rarely took the time to talk about herself and he was willing to oblige her whenever she acted on the urge. Just as he knew she would do for him.

"The townspeople managed to raise half the money but took a vote and decided to out it to use hiring SeeD to save the innocent girl. Because the amount was so little and the benefactors so insignificant, I was the only one sent." New lines creased her brow. She tucked back a lose strand of golden hair that had blown in front of her eyes. "After a little investigation I was able to deduce the identity of the rebel leader." With another sigh she sat back up. "Mush to my surprise he turned out to be a former classmate. A nice guy, a few years older, and someone I had looked up to. He had been everyone's best friend in class, smart but not intimidating. We took the field exam together but he left Garden when his father died. Two years later he was a terrorist." Her mouth quirked at the corners. "I'll never know what caused the change."

Irvine shifted to look at her fully as she sat staring straight ahead. The expression in her eyes was impossible to read. He waited for her to go on.

"I met him at the requested location, hoping to talk him out of it." She shook her head. "He was nothing like I remembered. His hair was longer. His manner was cold, biting. His eyes were flat. When he realized I didn't have the money with me he went ballistic, pulled out a gun and threatened to kill me if I didn't produce it immediately. I said I needed to see the girl first, trying to stall for time. I clung to the hope that I could help him out of the hold he'd sunk into. By this point, though, he was beyond reason."

It was then Irvine noticed her hands had begun to tremble from where they rested in her lap. A startling sight. She gnawed on her bottom lip as she often did when nervous or confused. Her brows lowered, jaw tightened, and her shoulders set straight. The tone of her voice took on a harder edge.

"Eventually he yelled for one of his buddies to drag her into the room of the abandoned cotton mill. When I saw her my heart dropped. Her hands and feet were bound, her mouth gagged. There was a cut on her forehead that had probably been left unattended to for days. Her arms were bruised and clothing torn. Her eyes were wide with fear and desperation. She was just three years younger than I yet she looked at me like I was an angel, a saviour. I'll never forget that moment." Quistis relaxed her shoulders and crossed her arms in front of her chest.

"Then everything fell apart. He started screaming to see the money. When I hesitated he turned his weapon on the girl. Threatened to shoot her. I cried out, took a step forward. He panicked and shifted the gun back to me." She held herself tighter as she completed her tale. Her voice became heavy, sad. Her eyes filled with regret. "I don't really remember what happened next. But suddenly I had my whip around his throat, strangling him. Within seconds he was dead. I had killed him. The gun had yet to go off."

As her speech settled upon her listener's ears Quistis' hands released their grip on her arms and returned to her lap. For the first time, she angled her head to meet his direct gaze.

"For days I went over the scene in my head, wondered if I had been too quick on the draw, too quick to resort to a violent solution. You see, he never pulled the trigger and I wonder now if he ever would have." She pushed her hair back from her face and raised a brow. "Garden certainly thought so. I was promoted to instructor two weeks later. That still didn't help me get over the fact that I had killed him. Heartlessly, mechanically killed with my own hands someone I used to consider a friend and ally."

 Quistis chose that moment to smile, but it was hardly born of joy. "Because I had to, I convinced myself I had no other choice. His behaviour had been desperate, erratic, impossible to predict. He had made his own choices the way I had made mine. His were not my responsibility. Anyone else would have done the same."

Her voice faded and she returned her gaze to the stars. "But I will always wonder…if only I was strong enough I might have been able to stop it. To save both of them."

Quietly, Irvine watched her profile, classic features emphasized by the lunar dust playing over delicate skin. He was grateful for her words, understood what she was trying to tell him.  He could emphasize with the inner-turmoil she had been confronted with as he'd done his share of killing old classmates as well. For as long as he lived Irvine doubted he'd ever forget the look in his former ally's eyes as he shot him in the chest. Death had been near instantaneous for the Galbadian soldier but not quickly enough to block out awareness. Granted, Irvine had not been the first to draw his weapon in the near-empty classroom, but he had been the first to draw blood. In war, that was all that mattered.

The blood of the man who'd sat next to him in battle theory for two years running was shed by his hands.

"Maybe I did it for the glory," Quistis wondered aloud, interrupting his thoughts. "Maybe on some level I knew it would get me a promotion. Such a strong show of mercenary qualities was bound to impress the faculty. Shoot, take the money, don't' ask questions. I don't know what that says about my character." She shrugged one shoulder and glanced back at her friend, one of the few people she felt she could trust in this hard-edged, jaded world. The one she sought to comfort tonight.

"I prefer to think I did it for the girl and for the town. For justice." The lines on her forehead smoothed and she lifted a hand to brush light fingertips over his shoulder. "Who knows? Even though I'll never understand what happened that day, I'm still going to be a SeeD." Quistis now spoke with conviction, eyes searching his face. "I have to believe I can do some good in the world, that what I did that day wasn't for naught. That by fighting I can affect people for the better. I may have shot a former friend but U saved the life of a young girl, any way one looks at it."

Her fingers tightened on his shoulder as she gave it a light squeeze. "Don't give up, Irvine." It came out as a murmur. "Justice and glory go hand in hand. We can only do what can be done now."

She dropped her arm before swinging her legs up and back onto solid ground. Rising, she smirked and bent to tug on his long ponytail. Her tone was flippant now, teasing. "Don't brood too much, cowboy. It causes wrinkles and indigestion."

For the first time that day Irvine let loose with a wide, trademark grin as he twisted his neck to look back up at her. "Now don't you be worrying about me, darlin'. I've got a strong stomach." He gave the aforementioned part of his anatomy a light pat and winked. "And nothing could mar such a gorgeous face."

Quistis lifted a brow but could not smother the few light chuckles that gurgled up in her throat as she took in his cocky expression. "I thought we were talking about you."

Their laughter mingled together, dancing upon the wind and swirling around their disenchanted souls, lightening their burdened hearts for a few precious moments. For an instant they forgot about their friend lying silent in the infirmary and the brutal battles they were facing in the weeks ahead. They just laughed; sounding like the teenagers they were, without a care in the world.

Later, when Irvine lay on the borrowed, narrow, SeeD-issue cot in his makeshift dormitory, he thought about the words Quistis had spoken that night and allowed his mind to let go. Before he gave into the urge to close his eyes and leave the waking world he emitted a soft sigh. This time it included none of the sorrow. Justice and glory go hand in hand. It was human nature to seek out the second along with the first. Human nature to look for the gold in a cave of misery. We can only do what can be done now. He would make his mark on the world. He would fight to the end and stand with his friends. If he were to one-day turn on those friends…it was not important now. When he went down, it was going to be in a blaze of glory.

Lord, I got to ask a favour
And I hope you'll understand
Cause I've lived life to the fullest
Let this boy die like a man
Staring down a bullet
Let me make my final stand…