Holding on to the Memory

Chapter 1

Selphie bounced out of the Mini-Ragnarok and into Irvine's arms. Esthar Airstation was full of people arriving and departing in the commercial planes that now connected all of the major cities. None of the other travellers had a private, dragon-shaped, two-seater flying machine, though. Living on the same continent certainly helped their relationship, though she had never fully understood his reasons for leaving Garden and taking up wild-game hunting on the Esthar Plains. If he did not want to work for Galbadia, why not come to Trabia so they could be even closer? It did make the time they spent together even more special, though, so it was not all bad.

'I thought I'd never get here,' she cried, before planting a kiss squarely on his lips. An elderly couple who were passing looked on with amusement. 'The turbulence was dreadful!'

He held out his hand for her bag, but she shook her head. 'There's hardly anything in it,' she stated, slipping her hand through the crook of his arm. 'Now, what's first - lunch or shopping?'

'Who said anything about shopping?' drawled the cowboy, leading her out of the Airstation. 'I thought we'd just head back to my place, have a few beers, make a mess of the sheets...'

'I did not travel down here just to look at the inside of your new flat. I mean, I'm sure it's wonderful, just like you,' giving him a quick peck on the cheek, 'but Rinoa was telling about the new shops that've opened, and...'

He held up his hands. 'OK, OK, I give in! No man can stand against a determined woman and the tales she's heard from her friends about new shops. Do you want to drop your bag off at the flat, though? It'll save you lugging it round the shops - and we can grab a bite to eat before we start.'

'Sounds like a plan! But just a quick bite, right?'

'Oh, Selph! You know I hate to rush...'

Laughing, she punched him playfully on the arm. 'You can take all the time in the world - tonight!'

They soon reached the flat. Irvine rustled up some cheese and tomato sandwiches, while Selphie had a quick look around. The flat was open plan, and set in the corner of the building. There was no outer wall, just a single window that curved right around the two sides. The lift opened directly on to the main seating area, which contained two huge well-worn, tan-coloured leather couches. A little further along was a wooden dining table with six chairs around it and a vase full of yellow tulips in the middle, and beyond that the kitchen with its wooden cupboard doors and modern appliances.

The bedroom and bathroom were on a raised platform, reached by a short flight of steps, which began just before the kitchen. The space underneath contained Irvine's limited collection of films, music and games, and the rather ancient equipment for playing them, but was currently screened off by a heavy curtain. She trotted up the stairs to dump her bag on the bed, and stayed to admire the sunken bath. Promising herself that she would definitely try it out before she went home, she returned to the main floor to enjoy her boyfriend's offering of food.

As she munched on her sandwich, Selphie took a measured look round. 'It's not very cheerful, is it?'

Irving frowned in confusion. 'What do you mean?'

'Your d├ęcor. It's all a bit... brown,' she replied with a shrug.

'I like brown.'

She rolled her eyes at him. 'But it's sooo dull! What you need...'

'Ohhh, no, Selphie! This is my flat. I have to live here when you go back to Trabia. You are not doing anything to it.'

'I'm not going to do anything bad, silly. Just some cushions...'

'No.'

'...and a couple of nice pictures...'

'No!'

'...oh! and you must have...'

He silenced her by placing a hand over her mouth. 'Selphie, baby, listen to me. Watch my lips. I. Do not. Need you. To brighten up. My home. Do you understand?'

Carefully, he removed his hand, and waited for her reaction. She blinked her beautiful green eyes at him and said, 'Yes, Irvy, you do need me to brighten up your home. Trust me. A few little touches, and you won't know the place!'

'That's what I'm afraid of!'

'You'll love it. Just you wait and see.'

He threw up his hands in defeat. 'OK, you win. But nothing permanent! No paint on the walls, or new furniture, or... or anything, right?'

'It's a deal!' she cried, holding out her hand. They shook on it, and she smiled inwardly. He had no idea what he had let himself in for.

They had finished their lunch by now and were ready to go. Selphie was wearing a cute yellow sun-dress with daisies printed all over it; Irvine had long-since ditched the duster coat and chaps in reference to the Esthar heat, but still wore his hat everywhere. They left the building and headed towards Esthar's shopping mall.

The express-ways and walk-ways were busier than she remembered from her visits during their campaign against Ultimecia. There was a greater variety of people, too; stylish Galbadians and provincials from Balamb and Winhill rubbed shoulders with the robed Estharians. Esthar certainly had opened its doors to the rest of the world.

Their first destination was the unimaginatively named Furnishing Touches, a shop that sold everything from toothbrush holders to lava lamps to wall hangings. The shop supplied trolleys for customers to use and Selphie secured one before leading the way towards the cushion department. She was soon in a happy daze trying to choose between chintzes and faux furs. Realising that his presence was almost surplus to requirements, except for when it came to paying, Irvine parked their trolley and settled into a comfortable slouch against a pillar. As he looked around, he saw a number of other men in a similar situation, all clearly waiting for their respective partners to choose their perfect covers and inners before heading off to the next department. One man had just left his overflowing trolley to prevent his wife from scratching another woman's eyes out over a particularly hideous knitted cushion cover.

After the cushions came rugs, lamps and vases. Their final stop was in the picture department. The shop was promoting some new holo-pics that displayed an ever-changing range of pictures of a famous site. Selphie stared at them, tears in her eyes, as she gazed in turn at Dollet Harbour, Winhill Square, the Tomb of the Unknown King, and the rest.

'What's up, Selph?' he asked, gently.

She took a shaky breath and said, 'These pictures make me so sad. I have only horrid memories of all of those places.'

'So, why are you looking at them?'

'I... I can't help it. Just the thought of people hanging these on their walls, watching the pretty pictures of Galbadia change from the Arch, to the Palace, to... It's just too much!'

'How about that one?' He pointed to a holo-pic of the Shumi Village, and she clapped her hands in delight.

'Oh, that's beautiful! I looove the Shumi. We should have a weekend away, there. It's a great place for unwinding. But I don't want a picture of it.' She gave him a light kiss on the cheek. 'It was a nice thought, though. Right, I'm done! Anything you want?'

Answering in the negative, he pushed the laden trolley to a till and got out his credit card. They arranged for everything to be delivered the next day and moved on to the next shop. There were lots of new boutiques and Selphie had great fun trying on clothes that she would never have bought in a million years. She also made some purchases along the lines of make-up and costume jewellery.

After a couple of hours of this, Irvine said he was going to buy some food for their dinner. 'Fine,' she replied. 'I've just got one more shop I want to look at, so I'll meet you back here in half-an-hour, OK?'

'What shop?' he asked, suspiciously.

She grinned back at him. 'It's a surprise! See you later!'

Back at the flat, Selphie settled down to listen to a new CD she had bought while her boyfriend showed off his culinary skills by preparing Mesmerize steaks with his own secret marinade. As the music wafted out of the CD player, she sat on the steps and mentally planned out where all of her purchases would look best. She could not wait to start arranging everything.

'Come and get it!' called the cowboy, carrying two well-laden plates through from the kitchen.

As they ate, he told her about some of the work he was doing. With Esthar now open to visitors, it had become something of a tourist destination. However, nothing was more likely to put tourists off than being attacked by a Chimera or Marlboro. He and his team were employed by the Esthar government to keep down the numbers of dangerous creatures so that tourists could travel from the city to Tear's Gate and the other local attractions in relative safety. Recently, they had wiped out a particularly fertile Marlboro nest.

After the steaks came ice-cream and the subject turned to Laguna's plans to set up a Garden in Esthar. 'It's ridiculous!' Irvine cried, his eyes turned towards his bowl but his mind clearly elsewhere. 'As if there weren't enough bloody Gardens in the world, as it is! You know, Ultimecia had a point. SeeD are "swarming like lokust"!'

Selphie stared at him in disbelief, a horrible sick feeling growing in her stomach. 'Irvy...'

'I'm so glad I got out when I did. I couldn't take any more...'

Somehow, she got the feeling that he was not really talking to her, or was replaying a similar conversation he'd had with someone else. But who?

'Kids with guns, for Hyne's sake! What's all that about? It... it's obscene!'

'I'm SeeD,' she pointed out, quietly.

Blinking, he focussed on her as if surprised to see her. 'What?'

'I'm SeeD.'

'Of course you are! But that's different...'

'How?'

'Well...'

'My work is with the Junior Classmen. I am directly responsible for their welfare. Do you think I don't take that responsibility seriously?'

'Of course...' he passed a hand over his face, as if wishing to erase his earlier outburst. 'I'm sorry, Selphie. It's been a trying couple of weeks, what with eradicating that Marlboro nest and...'

She interrupted with, 'And who else have you been discussing this with?'

'No-one, really...'

She arched an eyebrow at him. 'Irvine!'

'OK, then. It was... Rinoa and Seifer...'

'Rinoa and... When? What were you doing having this conversation with them?! And why am I only just hearing about it?'

'But I told you I'd seen them. When Squall and Quistis were here to talk over the Esthar Garden with Laguna. That was how Rinoa found out about all those bloody shops you made me hike round this afternoon.'

'Oh, right. I just didn't... Well, that explains why you and Rinoa were both so evasive when I asked what you'd talked about. And you never told me you'd had dinner with... him.'

'We couldn't leave him on his own, Selph! You know, you're going to have to accept him one day. If Rinoa can...'

'I know, I know,' she replied wearily. She wondered whether she should pursue this newly discovered problem he seemed to have with Garden, but then decided it was better dealt with in the morning. It would be no fun spending the weekend with him if they were rowing, and she had drunk too much wine to handle the issue sensibly. Instead she grinned at him.

'What is it?' he asked, not sure how to react to her change of mood.

For an answer, she leaned over and licked a little dribble of ice-cream off his chin. 'I love you, Irvine Kinneas,' she told him. 'In fact, I love you so much, I'm going to let you do the washing up while I go and unpack!'

Before he could answer she skipped up the stairs to the bedroom, but she did not unpack her travelling bag. Instead, she pulled out her purchases from earlier, including the surprise she had bought on her own. They finished at the same time, and she appeared at the top of the stairs in her new naughty nurse outfit just as he came through to see if she wanted a cup of coffee.

'Ah, Mr Kinneas! Ready for your examination?'

A/N: So, I hope you like it! Please C&C. The moral implications of what SeeD do has always bothered me, and I thought it was about time I tackled the issue. I'm not sure what the conclusions will be, at this point, though!