(Call Me Quiet)

"Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than sound."

--Martin Farquhar Tupper

-

The day after the battle, he had carefully explained it to her.

She had been silly to ask, any way. She should have known she wouldn't like the answer, and yet she had to ask the question. And anyway, she wondered.

"Before the battle," she said. "Do you remember it?"

He nodded.

"I said that that was it--the fight we had come all that way for." She frowned. "I expected you to have something to say to that."

"What did you want me to say?" He had the strangest non-look on his face, as if he was humoring her.

"I don't know! Reassurances, maybe. Something. Anything." She shook her head. "You don't realize how much it means to some people, just to hear a few words. It doesn't matter what you said. But you could have said something."

He sighed, imperceptibly. The only way she could tell that he had was the pause before he spoke, exactly the right length for a lengthy exhalation. "It's not that easy," he said.

Quistis waited a moment for him to expand on that--foolishly. She should have known better. Squall held onto words like a cactus held on to water; it would take more work than that to get him to give some up. "What do you mean?"

Squall knew all different kinds of dispassion. This one was different, somehow, from the ones he normally displayed. "You wanted to hear me say something. So? I wasn't going to lie. What do you think I would have said?"

"I don't know." This was more frustrating than she had thought it should be. "I was hoping you would say that as long as we tried our best, it would be all right. Or that it had to work out in the end."

"I didn't know it would."

There wasn't any way to argue with that impossibly cool logic. Eventually, reluctantly and perhaps a bit angrily, she had given up. Sometimes there were things to say, and sometimes there weren't--even if one way hurt that much more.

It had been unlike any battle before or since.

Ultimecia didn't have power, she was power. She didn't hate, she was hate. And she didn't fight to kill them, to strike down their bodies and watch their life ebb away--she fought them to destroy their souls.

She had brought them to a dimension beyond their imagining. Time, sense, the world was her plaything--and it had been impossible to fight her, there, because she was something beyond what they could fight. Sticks and stones were hard on bones, but nothing could dim Ultimecia's fire.

She had been convinced, when they woke up in Garden, that they hadn't won. They had escaped, and barely. Even when all the signs pointed to their victory, she didn't believe it. They had lost.

She hadn't seen it. She hadn't been there at the end. She had felt the pain of an Apocalypse spell, and the heady dizziness of dissolution. And then she had opened her eyes to see Garden, Kadowaki, and a perfectly real day.

She had found him, and she hadn't wanted to ask the question. She did anyway.

"Tell me," she had said. "Did we lose?"

She didn't understand why he didn't answer.

She didn't see the look on his face.

In the End...

In the end, she hadn't been there. Absorbed into Time, Irvine had called it. So she didn't understand it when she began to remember, when the words began to resurface in her mind.

"Reflect upon your childhood. Your sensation. Your words. Your emotions."

The choking accent was gone. Ultimecia's voice had risen above it for those few words, becoming... almost gentle.

It crashed back down into cruelty, the next thing she said.

"Time. It will not wait. No matter how hard you hold on, it escapes you."

(And...)

"Apokalypse."

And then there was nothing. (Nothing nothing nothing nothing--)

The world had faded as he charged. Ultimecia was wounded; a deadly Shockwave Pulsar courtesy of Quistis's dark matter had shorn her down to the last of her strength. It was close, so close to being over--

He charged, Protect gone, Shell fading, and the last thing she saw before the drifted away had been the crucial moment--his sword upraised, her and in position to cast, both ready to in a matter of instants annihilate the other. And then everything had frozen--for what seemed like an eternity, the moment danced before her eyes.

And she didn't know what memory she had that pulled her back to the real world.

He had tried to turn and walk away--(Typical of him, so astonishingly typical)--and she had stopped him, laying a hand on his forearm that seemed to surprise him more than it should have. "I have to know," she demanded. "Did we win? Did we lose?"

"We won," he stated.

Her hand tightened. "How?"

That non-look, that damned non-look. "Ultimecia gave up," he explained.

"But how--"

By the time she could think of those two words, he had already left.

It was the strangest thing to remember.

That night, she dreamed of how it had happened. How they had gone in, without reassurance or sound, and how they had faced her. How they had fought her, how they had fallen, and how she--all her power, all her hate--had failed in the end.

"Tell me," she had said. "Say one word, SeeD, one kursed word. Beg for me, and I'll make it kwick. Give me the slightest indikation that you're ready to die, and I'll rip you from heart to soul before you kan skream. I'll even spare those kretins you kall your friends, SeeD. You know how klose you are to falling. You know how I kan hurt you. Say something. I want to hear you in the last moments of your pathetic eksistence..."

And he hadn't said a thing.