A/N: Wow, thanks so much for all the reviews! I'm glad you have liked the story so far. But now it's over, unfortunately. So here's the final part. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Don't own Final Fantasy VIII. It belongs to the omniscient overlords at Square Enix.
Love and Presidents
a Final Fantasy VIII three-shot
"Thanks for your help, Seifer," I say as the tall blond leads me surprisingly skillfully around the dance floor. Zell, my exceptionally capable deejay, is playing something slow and relaxing. "For a second there I thought the whole night was ruined. You really saved the party."
"Forget about it," he replies, dipping me ceremoniously. "You know, I always thought that Irvine was a troublemaker. Well," he corrects himself, "not as much as me, but... Whatever."
I laugh. "You're starting to sound like Squall," I tell him.
At this he winces. "Crap. Let's just keep that between you and me, okay?"
Suddenly a male throat clears itself, surprisingly close, and we stop dancing. To my utter panic, Laguna smiles, bowing formally. "Pardon me, young man," he says politely, his hands behind his back. "But may I be so brazen as to cut in and have a dance with the guest of honor?"
"You absolutely may be so brazen, Mr. Loire," Seifer replies with a grin, handing me off to Laguna. "Congrats again, Sefie," he says, giving my arm a squeeze. "Let's get together some time."
"Sure!" I answer, a little too cheerfully, maybe, but I'm trying to hide my nervousness. And hey, I have a right to be nervous, okay? I've never danced with Sir Laguna before, not even at Squall and Rinoa's wedding. It's one thing to be dancing with Seifer, my childhood friend, because at least it's not weird. But this is a whole different story. I mean, dancing with a man over twice your age, with whom you just came to the belated realization that you're in love? Could it get any more awkward?
Swallowing my apprehension, I allow Laguna to take my hand in his, then nearly yelp in surprise as he slides the other around my waist. Calm down, idiot, I tell myself. It's standard slow-dance procedure. Still, as I hesitantly place my hand on his strong shoulder, I can't ignore the butterflies in my stomach.
After a dozen or so of my graceless attempts at following Laguna's lead, I finally begin to relax. For being such a klutz in his past, he's really made up for it by becoming quite a good dancer. I kind of expected him to be a foot-squisher, but I guess that shows how much I know.
"Good cake," he says after a while, I suspect just to make conversation.
I smile slightly. "Yeah."
Well, that was a scintillating scrap of dialogue. Man, this is like, the most nerve-wracking, terrifying experience of my entire life. Just when I was starting to chill out, he just has to ask me to dance. I almost wish I wasn't totally crazy about this sweet and wonderful man, because at least then, I'd be able to relax. But I can't relax. And I can't change the way I feel about him. So, yeah, I'm pretty much screwed.
But speaking of sweet and wonderful things... "Laguna?" I say quietly.
"Yes, Selphie?" he says instantly.
I clear my throat. Just say it. It doesn't have to be a huge ordeal. "I, um... I wanted to tell you that I really appreciated what you said in your speech, or toast, or whatever." Moron. "Anyway, it was the sweetest thing anyone's ever said about me."
Laguna smiles, and suddenly I realize he's gradually pulled me closer, until now we're dancing cheek-to-cheek. Oh, my Lord. "There you go again," he says with a chuckle, "making me feel special."
I can't help it. I have to say it. "You are special, Laguna," I tell him softly, almost bashfully.
In response, he silently tightens his grasp around my back. The movement causes one of the thin straps of my dress to fall down my shoulder. I blush in embarrassment, then gasp faintly as I feel him slowly slide it back up my shoulder, his fingers lightly skimming my bare skin.
They linger for a moment, then begin tracing my shoulder blade.
"Selphie," he murmurs, his lips moving against my ear.
"I have to go," I find myself blurting as I wrench away from the circle of his arms. "I just remembered, there's something I have to take care of." What a lie.
"Selphie, wait, I'm sorry--" he begins, his face flushed.
"Thanks for coming, Laguna," I manage to tell him, before hurrying off the dance floor and out of the ballroom, eager to get as much distance between him and myself as humanly possible.
Holy crap. Holy crap. I'm not even believing this. It's just too much, I can't deal with it. I need some air.
Nearly tripping over my dress, I rush out to the Garden balcony and close the door behind me. I stand with my back against it for a moment, and then slowly walk to the railing and look out over the fields of Balamb. It's a warm spring night, all the stars are out, and the breeze is gently tousling my gradually relaxed curls. I take a deep breath, trying to get my thoughts in order.
Except I can't quite wrap my head around this. I can't. Because it's Laguna. Laguna, of all people. How can he...? What is he--! Is this really happening, or am I experiencing some kind of preposterous delusion? It can't be real; not if Sir Laguna, the man I've been absolutely nuts over for years, is suddenly interested in me that way. I thought I was just a kid to him! How is this possible?
And also, what the heck? I thought Laguna was supposed to be this tongue-tied, stumble-footed dope around women! He certainly was when he was younger, and I know that for a fact. But you'd never know it from the way he was holding me, or the way he was practically purring into my ear. Or those tender caresses... Geez, I hope no one saw that, especially Squall. He would blow a circuit if he saw his own father playing Lothario with one of his friends.
And yeah, that's pretty much the worst part of all this. It would be different if Laguna was just some guy. But he's Squall's father. Squall. The most uptight, dead-serious guy I've ever known. Sometimes I can't even believe they're related, because Laguna is so fun and carefree, and Squall is so... not. But they are. And despite how boring he is, I love Squall like a brother. And if Laguna and I ever... Oh man, Squall would hate me.
Oh, Sir Laguna, why are you doing this to me?
Aaaghhh, holy monkeys, what was that! Oh, someone's knocking at the door. I swallow my irrational panic and will myself to speak. "Who is it?" I ask calmly, silently praying it isn't Laguna.
"Selphie, it's me."
Crap, it is Laguna. Well, what the heck do I say to him? I don't want to talk to him right now; preferably not ever. There's no way I'll be able to look at that open, honest face and still maintain my composure.
I clear my throat. "Um, can you come back later, please?" I ask in a shaky voice.
"Come on, Selph, open up," he says pleadingly. "I can't apologize like this, talking through a door."
"All right," I give in, rolling my eyes. Geez, no wonder Raine couldn't turn him down; he can't take no for an answer. Not even a 'come back later'.
The big doors open, and Laguna steps slowly out onto the balcony, carefully avoiding my eyes. "Selphie, I..." He takes a deep breath, clearly uncomfortable. Not as uncomfortable as I am. "I can't apologize enough for my behavior out there. I feel like a complete idiot. I don't even know what I was thinking, I'm... I'm so stupid!"
I sigh, shaking my head. "You're not stupid," I tell him. Then I pause as something occurs to me. "Though kind of insulting."
At this he looks up at me, forgetting at the moment that he's supposed to be humiliated. "Insulting?" he echoes. "How?"
I turn away from him and look pointedly out at the dark fields below, outlined silver by the moonlight. "You make it sound like the only way you could ever be interested in me would be if you had been hit over the head with something," I say bitterly.
Oh my God, what have I done!
Well, that's it. It's all over. Laguna's the most wonderful man I've ever known, and probably will ever know, and now I'll never be able to face him again. I've completely blown it.
Slowly, he comes forward, and I can feel his eyes on me. Hey, like the song... "Selphie, what are you talking about?" he says quietly. "You know that's ridiculous, don't you? You're a sweet, incredible girl. I'd have to be crazy not to notice."
My pulse quickens at his high praise. "Yeah, well..." I say lamely. "Then why did you call yourself stupid just now?"
Laguna expels a frustrated breath. "Because I am, that's why!" he exclaims. "I was acting like an absolute lech out there! I know what's appropriate and what's not, and... what I did was... most definitely not." He sighs and shoves his hands in his pockets. "See, this is what you do to me, Selphie."
I look up at him sharply. "Excuse me?"
"You know what I mean," he says in a deadpan voice. "You make me feel like a dirty old man."
"I beg your pardon?" I find myself blurting, glaring daggers at him. "You feel me up at my own party, and you're mad at me? Oh, that's rich! Well, gee, I'm sorry, Sir Laguna, if I make you think naughty thoughts, but that's really something you're going to have to deal with on your own."
"Oh, don't pretend to be so innocent, Selphie," he replies quietly, turning his sea-green eyes on me. "I know how you feel about me. It's pretty obvious."
I feel myself freeze in mortification. I'm fairly sure I've stopped breathing. Try as I might, I can't tear my eyes from his.
"Okay, cheap shot, Laguna," I whisper, my eyes welling up with tears.
Immediately he notices the change in me, and puts his hand quickly on my shoulder. "Oh, no, no, sweetie, it's okay," he says soothingly. "I'm sorry, that wasn't fair. It's just... Sometimes I can't deal with the way you look at me. I know it's wrong, but... you make me feel.." I glance at him through my tears, and watch him bite his lip. "When I was with Raine, God rest her sweet soul, she never let me forget what a big, dumb, dope I am. But with you, it's completely different. You make me feel like I'm the center of the universe or something."
I can't believe what I'm hearing. This must be a dream. "Well, duh, that's because you are," I hear myself say, without resentment. "Why did you never tell me any of this?"
Laguna darts me a glance, as if to say, You really have to ask? "Well, let's see, probably the same reason you never told me," he answers. "I'm over twice your age, I'm the father of one of your best friends, and if he ever found out, he'd pull out his gunblade and chop me into cubes." He snorts. "He already hates me."
"Oh, he does not hate you!" I practically yell at him. He stares at me in mild surprise. "Okay, yeah, he may act like a brat sometimes. But you should hear the way he talks about you. It's my-dad's-the-president-of-this and my-old-man-prevented-the-downfall-of-that. Trust me, he really looks up to you."
This seems to placate Laguna, at least a little. "Well, even if that's true," he says in a low voice, "that just makes... this... even more..."
"Yikes?" I suggest. He nods wryly, looking up at the stars. "Then what are we supposed to do?" I ask flatly. "Just forget that all of this ever happened?" I swallow hard. "Forget everything we've said?"
For a long time Laguna doesn't answer. Then: "We're going to have to."
"But I don't want to!" I burst out frustratedly. "I can't just get over you, Laguna! I'll never meet anyone else like you, ever again!" Oh, Selphie, don't say it. Don't say it. "I love you," I tell him calmly.
He's shaking his head. "No, you don't, Selphie--"
"Yes, I do, I love you, and I've loved you for years," I say, blurting out words with reckless abandon. "Before I even met you, and I was having those crazy-ass flashbacks with you and Kiros and Ward, I loved you. I loved you when I was going out with that idiot Irvine, and the only reason I was with him was because I knew I could never be with you! And even if I do meet someone else, I'll never love them the way I love you, because everyone else will just be second best!"
Suddenly I'm interrupted as Laguna takes me by the arm and presses his mouth to mine.
Ohhh my God. This isn't possible. Laguna Loire is kissing me. He is kissing me, and I am so letting him. I can barely think as I feel him slide his hand around my back and pull me close. Vaguely I'm aware that I'm kissing him back, and wrapping my arms around his neck. I have no control of my fingers as they sink into his long, dark hair, and I'm pretty sure his hands have dropped to my hips, but all I can feel are his lips, so warm and soft, expertly roaming over mine. God, I just knew he would be a good kisser.
Abruptly he pulls away, wincing in pain. "Leg cramp, leg cramp!" he gasps.
I can't help but smile as I give Laguna my shoulder to lean against until the untimely spasm subsides. "I'd have thought you would be over these fits by now," I tell him calmly.
I feel him shake his head against me as he lets out a long sigh. "Once again, you've overestimated me," he says in a low voice.
"No, never," I answer, my voice more firm than I would have expected, considering I've just made out with the president of Esthar. "Happens to the best of us."
Laguna gives a short laugh that sounds more like a snort. His leg cramp seems to have abated, but he's still leaning against me, his hands resting lightly on my shoulders. Slowly, I reach up and cover his hands with mine, then gently bring them back down to his sides. He raises his eyes quickly to mine, those beautiful, soulful eyes, asking a silent question. It's all I can do not to look away.
"This can never happen, can it?" I ask in a whisper.
His hands, still gripped loosely in mine, tighten involuntarily. He takes a deep breath, and it hitches in his throat. Then suddenly he laughs, but it holds no trace of mirth. "No, honey, I don't think it can," he says unsteadily.
I nod, trying my best not to break down in front of him. This is without a doubt the worst feeling I've ever felt. To be in love with someone who doesn't share your feelings is bad enough, but to find out they do feel the same way, and know there's not a damned thing either of you can do about it... How could it get any worse?
Oh, right, I just remembered. This is Laguna.
But there's no use crying about it now. I've got to put on a brave face. "That's okay," I hear myself saying, managing a weak smile. "I honestly didn't think it ever would. But I can live with that. I guess... I'll have to..." My voice breaks, and an embarrassingly ragged sob escapes from my throat.
Danged son of a monkey, I told myself I wouldn't cry! Well, there goes that resolution. I wrench my hands out of Laguna's grasp and cover my face, irritated at my inconveniently feminine display. Why I seem to humiliate myself in front of my hero so frequently and expertly, the world may never know.
To my surprise, though, my moment of weakness doesn't seem to annoy him. In fact, the way he quickly pulls me into his arms and holds me there firmly would suggest just the opposite. I wrap my arms tightly around his waist and press my cheek to his chest, no longer caring about propriety; it's a little too late for that. I'm not sure how long we stay like this. But then, I've been oblivious to the world outside Laguna for quite some time.
After a while of holding each other and wishing for things that can never be, Laguna takes a step back from me and places his hands on both sides of my face. "Now I want you to listen to me, Selphie Tilmitt," he says earnestly, the look in his eyes holding no room for argument. "You have got to get over me. I don't care how much you love me, I won't let you waste your life and your love on something we both know can't happen. You mean too much to me."
I shake my head desperately. "But Laguna, I can't just--"
He quickly shushes me. "Don't argue, just listen. You're a kind, intelligent, talented young woman, Selphie. And, need I remind you, a SeeD instructor?" I sigh impatiently, but he's not finished yet. "Your students are going to need you. How can you be there for them, if you can't get over me?"
"But how can I get over you?" I ask in frustration.
Laguna takes my hands in his and squeezes them urgently. "Find someone else," he says. "Somewhere out there, someone is just waiting for you to come along, Selphie. And when you find him, you'll be so happy, you'll wonder why you ever wasted your time on me."
Impossible, I think to myself. "And what if he doesn't exist?" I demand.
At this Laguna smiles knowingly. "Oh, he exists, all right," he replies. "He's just a little preoccupied with someone else at the moment."
I frown in confusion. Who can he be talking about? Surely not-- "Not Irvine?" I blurt, feeling a sudden urge to gag.
"God, no!" exclaims Laguna indignantly. "No, no," he says more quietly, "didn't you hear his poem?"
Poem? What in the heck-- Abruptly my eyes widen. "Zell?" Laguna nods silently. "But that's... ridiculous. I mean, yeah, Zell's sweet, but... We're just friends. And besides, he's with Meilani."
"And how long do you think it's going to take for him to figure out she's all wrong for him?" I can't really think of anything to say to this. "Take it from a guy who's been there a few times, Selph," he says with a wry smile. "You two are cut from the same cloth. You're made for each other."
"But..." I swallow painfully. "But what about you? Even if I do get over you, I still can't forget you."
"I'm not saying you will," he says gently, cupping my cheek in his hand. "Do you think I've forgotten about Raine? Of course not. I loved her, and to this day I still think about her. And someday, when you're married and have half a dozen kids, and I'm a feeble old man, I'll still think of you." His smile is faintly bittersweet. "I'd be a fool not to."
My vision blurs with tears as I return his smile. "You're still the best, Sir Laguna," I tell him softly.
He waves his hand dismissively. "I know, get out of here, go back to your party," he grumbles with mock-annoyance.
I turn to leave, but my hand pauses over the door handle. I can't just let it end like this. Turning on my heel, I run back to Laguna and crush him in one last embrace. "Thanks for coming, Laguna," I whisper in his ear.
"Thanks for inviting me, Selphie," he whispers back. He presses his hand briefly to the back of my head, and then I let him go.
I have to let him go.
Sitting at my "Guest of Honor" table, surrounded by flowers and balloons and blizzards of confetti, I wonder if this pain will ever go away. I mean, who knew something so pure and wonderful as love could have such a crappy effect on everything? I'd give up on the whole idea of love completely, if it weren't for what Laguna said. "Somewhere out there, someone is just waiting for you to come along." Since when does Laguna know absolutely everything, anyway? If I remember correctly, he got himself, Kiros, and Ward lost about a million times when they were soldiers. Now suddenly he's the Oracle of Esthar?
Okay, I know I'm just being bitter. But how can I not be? How can things possibly get better again?
"Yo, Selphie, where've you been? The night's almost over!"
I look up to see Zell staring down at me, his brow creased in concern. His date is nowhere to be found. I remember the other thing Laguna said, about Zell and me being made for each other. It can't be true, can it?
I shrug slightly. "I just needed some fresh air." Not a total lie.
Zell pulls up a chair and sits down beside me. "How come you're not dancing?" he asks. "Is something wrong? I know that whole mess with Irvine was pretty crazy, but it's taken care of, and--"
"No, that's not it," I tell him, shaking my head. "I don't really want to talk about it. Maybe some other time, but not right now." Zell still looks worried, but he doesn't press me, for which I'm eternally grateful. "Where's Meilani?" I ask him.
At this he rolls his pale blue eyes. "She claimed to have a splitting headache after, like, two songs," he says with a sigh. "Between you and me, she can be kind of a drama queen sometimes." Then he brightens. "But on the plus side, I got one of the younger SeeDs to deejay for me, so now I'm free to dance with any girl who will take me. How 'bout it?"
"Thanks, Zell, but I don't feel much like dancing," I reply quietly.
"But this is your party, Sefie!" he persists. "And it's almost over! Listen-- only one song left, and it's the one you specifically asked me to add. Are you telling me you're gonna sit out your last dance? That ain't the Selphie I know!" I sigh impatiently, but he grabs my hand and tugs at it. "Come on. Dance with me. With Zelly, your best and oldest buddy. Please?"
I look up at him, and his eyes are practically begging me. I guess when he puts it that way, it would be pretty snotty of me not to dance with one of my best friends, especially when he went to all this trouble deejaying for me. And Sir Laguna did say I should be getting over him, and sulking in the shadows here at my table definitely doesn't qualify as getting over him. Maybe he is right. He's never let me down yet.
Before I realize it, I find myself smiling. "Of course I'll dance with you, Zell."
"Great!" And with that he hauls me unceremoniously out of my chair and leads me by the hand onto the dance floor.
By now there are few people left dancing, and the mood is more relaxed and subdued than it was earlier. The atmosphere, combined with the soft piano of the song in the background, somehow manages to ease the aching void in my chest, if only a little.
"Someday, when I'm awfully low,
And the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you,
And the way you look tonight..."
Slowly, my chin sinks to Zell's shoulder, and I yawn, the insanity of the past day catching up with me. I can hardly believe I was in Trabia just a few hours ago. As soon as this song is over, I'm going to bed.
Breaking into my thoughts, Zell suddenly asks, "Do you think Laguna liked the surprise?" I stiffen in his arms. Why did he have to mention Laguna? "You know, that statue?"
I swallow. "Yeah, I'm sure of it."
"Me, too. He seemed kind of freaked out at first, but who wouldn't be? Seein' a nine-foot statue of yourself, and whatnot." I nod absently against him. "He took it pretty well, though. I'm glad about that. I mean, if anyone deserves a statue, it's Laguna Loire."
I look up at him sharply. He stares back at me, blinking in mild surprise. "Thank you, Zell," I say softly, and then I rest my head on his shoulder once more, giving him a squeeze. "I was waiting for someone to say that."
A/N: Sorry it's sad. But you didn't honestly expect it to work out, did you? ...Hmm, I have a feeling I'm in for some flames. Oh well, bring 'em on, I say! I don't expect absolutely everyone to like my stories. But maybe I'll write a sequel someday, and stick Selphie and Zell together. Anyway, I'd welcome any reviews, happy or unhappy. Thanks for reading!