(Rosebud)

Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!
--
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam


Sunlight gleamed on every marble column, filling the area with the pure, golden glow that only came into being in the moments just before the autumn dusk. There was an air of serene stillness about the place; an air like that of a graveyard lovingly tended, or a patch of wildflowers which no one had ever seen.

It felt as if it had been so long since she had seen this place--really seen it, not just been here and looked around. She had been here and looked around just about a week ago; but she hadn't really seen it since...

...since...

...since too long ago.

Everything was dry and cool, and the wind that passed her way reminded her of ghosts and spirits lost in the calm evening breeze. The marble was crumbling slowly into dust, the grass was uncut, the wooden bench by the weathered wall was slowly coming undone. This place had been left alone and forgotten, passing out of memory and dwindling away.

It wouldn't be long, now.

Matron couldn't take care of this place or rebuild it by herself; no one else could, either. It was going to be abandoned again, and that was going to be it.

And she wasn't going to be coming back here, either--her life was no longer a part of this place, and this place no longer part of her life. She would go away, be swept up in the tumultuous world, and never return.

Somewhere deep inside herself, she knew that she had only come back here to say goodbye.

Matron was inside the main room, chatting with Quistis and Irvine. Squall was out front, sitting on one of the tumbled columns--probably wondering when they were going to leave. And Zell was... somewhere. She imagined that he was climbing a tree. That would be--would have been--like him.

Only the latest flowers were blooming now. The flower field was an expanse of muted pastels and grey-greens, quietly awaiting the first frosts. Selphie had wandered out around the back of the Orphanage, where there was a narrow strip of meadow alongside the stone wall before the ground gave way to broken rocks and shoreline. There was a spot where the cornerstone jutted out from the wall that she remembered had been a comfortable place to sit, as well as affording a good view of the flower fields. And, true to memory, it was still there.

She sat down lightly, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin on her palms. She could still only remember bits of being here--certainly not the full range of memories that her years of life here should have amounted to. She was trying to remember more, but it was a hard process--fragments of memories resurfaced from time to time, but they were all too fleeting for her to make any sense out of them. She wanted to remember everything that she had done here, but it was so hard, sometimes...

SeeD was an uncomfortable enigma, and it weighed on her mind now more than ever. SeeD--simultaneously the thing that kept her with her friends and the thing that took her entire past from her. The thing that had lead her back here, and the thing that was taking her away.

She had mulled upon that for only a few moments before she heard the music.

It drifted across the fields, distracting her. It was an odd quality, somewhere between a flute and a set of pan pipes, with a lilting melody that blended in with the ambient breezes so well that for a moment she had the ludicrous idea that it was a trick of the air. She stood, looking around for the source of the music.

A light breeze teased past her legs, rustling through the bushes. There was a dark form behind them, obscured by the leaves--it looked like a hole in the wall, perhaps a flaw in the construction or something of the sort.

She pushed aside the bushes, placing a hand on the cold stone wall. Kneeling, she looked into the recess--and was startled to find that what she had taken for a missing stone was actually much more than that. A tunnel was carved through the wall, and on the other side the pale light glinted off white rock. The elusive melody was coming from somewhere back there, calling her toward it.

The tunnel was a narrow one--of those present, she doubted that anyone other than herself would be able to fit down it. As it was, she hesitated a moment before deciding to chance it.

On her hands and knees, she began to squeeze through the opening. After a moment she gave that up, lying on her belly in order to crawl through. The passage was a difficult one; she had to maneuver her hands in front of her to push small rocks and assorted detritus out of her way. Her shoulders scraped against the rock as she moved, threatening to wear away the straps of her overalls. Her palms were covered with dust by the time she emerged into the secluded alcove and pulled herself out of the tunnel in order to stand up and look around.

The enclosure was a small one, perhaps three metres square at the most. It shared one wall with the Orphanage proper, and the patterning of stone on that wall suggested that it had been meant at one time to hold a door. It must have been intended as a small, private bower of some sort--but, as so often happened, someone had changed their mind and the area had been closed up instead.

The ground was just as overgrown as everything else in the orphanage, a variety of nameless weeds and wildflowers forming a sparse carpet over the grey dirt. There were a few wiry rosebushes growing along the edges of the wall, branches gleaming in the rising moonlight.

The music seemed only slightly louder here, wafting around the enclosure with no definite point of origin.

Selphie smiled quizzically. "Is anybody here?"

A gust of wind pushed her gently from behind, stirring up the last puffs of white seed from the dandelions. Selphie turned, unsure of where the breeze had come from.

The music swelled slightly, a light, breathy voice joining it and adding words she couldn't make out. It was surreal--like a hundred stories of haunting she had read or been told, except that--in spite of the encroaching winter, in spite of nightfall, in spite of the general disrepair of the place--the atmosphere had an air of cheerful contentment that permeated everything within the four walls that edged the alcove.

"Who's in here?" Selphie giggled slightly, and for a moment it felt as if she were a little girl--playing haunted house in the Orphanage courtyard, where there were places to hide and odd spots where even a child's voice could echo and carry. There was nothing to be afraid of in here.

The music danced around her, riding a small, impossible wind. It tugged at her lightly, the scent of roses filling her nose and the autumn coolness caressing her skin.

"You're a GF, aren't you?"

There was a rustle int he rosebushes that seemed to carry a note of assent.

"What are you doing back here?"

A woman's laughter, faint and faraway. I take care of this place, the breathy music whispered. I make the flowers grow.

"You mean in the spring?" Selphie asked.

Any time. The wind shivered through the bushes. Quietly, one bud began to open, spreading delicate white petals in the night air.

Selphie moved up to look at it, examining the tiny flower. "It's very pretty," she complimented.

I remember you, came the unexpected reply.

Selphie looked up, before remembering that the GF hadn't bothered to manifest itself in any way she could see. "What?"

You used to come here, the GF enlightened her. I gave you flowers.

Selphie looked around, taking in the unfamiliar walls. "I... I don't remember," she admitted.

...in dreams, the GF said. You dreamed. And I listened. And some days I brought you here. But you never remembered, once you woke up.

Selphie thought about that. "I'm sorry."

There was a rustle in the overgrowth behind her. Humans get big, the voice noted. You should stay small. Come back here and look at the flowers. Hideaway.

Selphie giggled at that. "I think that too, sometimes," she said. "But we have to grow up. We don't get a choice."

There was silence for a moment. I like humans better small, came the reply, and there was a note of petulance in the words.

Selphie turned, addressing the garden as a whole. "Are you small?"

The question seemed to confound the GF. I remember you being small.

"What I mean is, are you a child?"

I... There was a pause at that. I stay back here. I make the flowers grow.

"How long have you been in this place?"

Before you. Before all the small humans. I like it here. None of the big humans come to take me away.

Selphie paused on that one, keenly aware of the GF that was sleeping uneasily in the back of her mind. "I won't take you away."

But you're going away. The voice now sounded unmistakably wistful.

"I'm sorry. I have to."

Humans get big and they never have time. No time at all to see the flowers.

Selphie opened her mouth to respond, and then checked herself. "You're right," she said. "It's a lot busier when you're... big."

There was a pause in the conversation. Selphie had the strange feeling that the GF was pouting.

"I'm sorry!" Selphie apologized. "But we have to. There are all sorts of things that we need to do. We have jobs and things."

Don't need them, the GF sulked.

"But we do," Selphie insisted. "It's one of the things that humans have to do. Sometimes we don't want to--but we have to because that's the way the world works."

Out there?

"Yep. Out there."

Stay in here!

Selphie sighed, shaking her head. "I can't," she explained. "Because I'm a human, not a GF like you. So I need to be out there. I'm sorry."

There was another sulking silence. You forgot me last time, the GF accused.

"I know. But I won't again," she said.

No forgetting, it remonstrated as if by way of agreement.

Another lull in the conversation descended, and Selphie noticed suddenly how dark it had become. She jumped. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "I have to go. My friends will probably be waiting for me."

Will you come back? There was a moment's hesitation. Or will you just get bigger?

Selphie giggled. "I'll try," she said. "Now that I remember this place, I'll try to come back." She leaned forward, looking up at the sky. "Are you lonely?"

There was silence for a long moment, and the music quieted. I'll help you remember, the GF said. No more being lonely.

Selphie smiled. "I'd like that," she said.

Another two roses opened, pristinely white and perfectly formed. Take the flowers, the voice urged.

Selphie reached out, looking at the smallest of the three. "I'll take one," she accepted, picking it from its bush carefully. "It's beautiful. Thank you."

It was totally dark now--night had fallen. Selphie guessed that Squall, at least, would be itching to leave and head back to Garden. With a last look around the alcove, Selphie headed back to the passageway.

"Goodbye!" she said simply. "I'll come back and visit sometime, okay?"

Goodbye, came the response. Okay.

Selphie crouched, wriggling her way back into the passageway. For some reason the trip seemed shorter this time--before she had realized it she was emerging just behind the bushes by the Orphanage wall. She dusted herself off, taking care not to damage the small white rose she still held.

On impulse, she knelt down and peered down the passageway through which she had come. The soft music still drifted from the garden at the end, unchanged. She had no idea how long it might go on, undisturbed--or how long it already had.

The GF that lived back there must have been lonely--there had been no children living in the Orphanage for years, now, and it didn't seem as if it had much regard for the "big" humans that came here more frequently. There was no telling how long it would wait here as the Orphanage crumbled around it--perhaps even afterward, watching over that one, isolated patch of land and the rosebushes that ringed it.

With a pang, her heart went out to the GF and its quiet existence. Her hand went out to the passage wall, feeling the rough stone.

"Selphie!"

Selphie jumped.

Standing up quickly, Selphie turned to see Irvine standing behind her. "Where were you?" he asked before she had a chance to say anything. "We were looking for you."

"You wanted to leave?" Selphie asked, making her way out of the bushes.

Irvine smiled. "Well, some of us did. What were you looking at back there?"

Selphie looked down sheepishly to see the bloom in her hands. "...flowers," she said, not quite untruthfully. "There was a rose bush."

Irvine accepted that, ignorant of or ignoring the fact that it was late for roses to be in bloom. "Well, come on. Squall wants to be back at Garden an hour ago, I think."

Stifling a yawn, Irvine turned and began to make his way back to the Ragnarok. Selphie turned back, glancing down at the tunnel. Something occurred to her, and she turned to Irvine. "Wait!" she called. "Do you hear anything?"

Irvine turned, cocking his head. "Crickets," he offered. "Something wrong?"

Selphie watched him carefully. "...no," she said. "Just wondering."

Irvine smiled and turned away again. Selphie looked down, running her fingers over each petal of the GF's rose.

"I'll be back," she whispered to the flowing music. I promise.