Chapter Nine: Feathers

Squall operated Ellone's hover car, trying to ignore the long, unblinking stare that the young siren directed at him. The last thing I need is another stupid romance gone wrong…He thought moodily. But after more than five minutes of staring, not even Squall could stand it anymore.

"Is there something wrong?" he asked, his tone suggesting that he didn't care if there was.

"I guess I just don't understand humans at all." she answered. "You're so willing to throw away something perfectly good, just because you've deluded yourself-"

"I don't care." Squall interrupted her, and she stopped talking. But she didn't stop staring at him.

Squall was surprised to find that he was nervous. Despite what he told himself about Rinoa, there was still a place in his heart for Ellone.

It's okay, Squall. I'm here. Ellone told him in a recent memory. But he could see a memory of himself at the orphanage, too, running around in search of his missing Sis. And in the back of his mind, blurred as if she were standing behind frosted glass, was Rinoa looking on sadly, unable to reach him.

I don't want to think anymore. Squall focused on his driving, not wanting to put up with his fragmented mind.

He parked exactly where Ellone had parked, in front of Deling Hotel. He was sure that she was still there. He wondered if Selene would stay in the car, but she was already out, long legs walking towards the hotel.

"Come on, Squall." She called is if he needed to be told. He followed.

This is it. Squall thought as he ascended the polished staircase. This is the end.

Ellone was waiting for him when he opened the door. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, her eyes red and puffy, and she couldn't help but look relieved when he entered. Her face fell when she saw Selene. He could read it on her face, it was as if all of her nightmares had crashed down on her.

"Who's she?" Ellone asked in an unwelcoming tone. Selene fidgeted, and Squall stepped in front of her.

"It doesn't matter." Squall said. It felt like there was jelly in his chest, it was hard to breathe and focus. "I remember everything." It was a lie, he couldn't remember everything, but he remembered enough. He made sure that his tone left no hope for her, that it was clear that his recollection of their time together changed nothing.

"And?" she asked cautiously, still hoping despite his coldness.

"I can't be with you." he made himself look at her, he would not be so weak as to avoid her gaze. Her eyes spoke visions of isolation, of worry and sorrow. She was crushed, broken, and alone. And a part of her already resented him for it.

"Why?" she forced the word from herself, not wanting to know the answer but needing to all the same.

"Because I still remember Rinoa." he said quietly, and a dull pain hammered against his soul. Rinoa, the girl that no one remembered. Rinoa, who only had Squall to care about her.

"So, you're just going to…" Whatever she suspected, she wasn't able to articulate.

"I'm leaving. I'm going to erase my memories completely, so don't look for me, because I won't know you." He said it slowly, making sure she understood. She sat quietly, letting the meaning sink in.

"You're serious, aren't you?" Ellone asked him, finally letting go of any hope she'd held on to.

"Yes." He whispered. He'd never been more serious. She bowed her head.

"Well, I have something to tell you, too." she said, and thick tears fell from her eyes to the carpet. "I'm going to be frozen. I'm not labeled as malevolent, not yet, but I've caused enough damage, and I'm dangerous enough to be considered a threat." Squall didn't know how to argue with that. She hadn't directly caused trouble, but she'd always be targeted for her abilities.

"I don't think you should." he said, still wanting her to be okay. Why couldn't she just move on?

"You don't have the right to care about me. It's not your business anymore." Ellone said, her voice close to cracking.

"I've been messed up from Time Compression." Squall told her. "I'm messed up more than anyone could imagine. Don't voluntarily mess up your life."

"I'm going, Squall, but I'll do it after you're gone, so you won't care when you hear about the Sorceress being frozen on the news." Ellone said, and her voice did crack. He remembered, then, the promise he'd made to Rinoa.

Even if the whole world is against you…I'll be your knight. He wished that somebody had made the same promise to Ellone, that she'd have somebody to fall back on.

"Don't do this, Ellone." Squall pleaded.

"Then don't leave me." she cried. Squall sighed. He really didn't want to leave, he didn't want her to be frozen. But he didn't love her, and in the end, it would all be a lie. What was he supposed to do?

Selene crossed the room silently, sitting close to Ellone. She tilted the older girl's head up, and, very gently, kissed her on the lips. Ellone gasped, struggled against it, but eventually gave in to the painless state. She slumped over.

"What did you do?!" Squall asked. Selene gently lowered Ellone, fresh tears streaming down her face.

"There," she said, her voice shaky. "now she won't remember you, either." She tried to stand but fell to the floor, trembling with the emotional pain. He pulled her up, and she clung to him, sobbing on his shoulder.

"You're so selfish!" she yelled, and he didn't know if it was Ellone's emotions or her own conclusion. But she didn't let go of him.

"Come on." Squall carried her out of the hotel room, not looking back at the sleeping Ellone. He placed her key on the drawer on his way out.

He wandered through the dark streets of Deling, searching for Selene's house. He was haunted by images of Ellone and Rinoa, both distressed. One had wanted him to stay, the other had wanted him to leave. It hurt to think about them, and he pushed them from his mind.

Just forget it all. He told himself. He walked up the path to Selene's house, opening the unlocked door and putting her in the only room he recognized.

The bright shelves and paintings seemed to leer down at him, mocking him in his desperation. There was a heavy expectancy in the atmosphere, as if something big were about to happen. It all seemed to still, too out of place with his situation. Or was he the one out of place?

"To forget." Squall leaned his head back, and his words lingered in the air, adding to the heaviness of the room. "That's all I want." He crawled onto the bed, his face hovering over Selene's. Her face morphed subtly, and soon is was as if someone had pasted two transparent pictures of Ellone and Rinoa above Selene's face.

Still refusing to close his eyes and hide, he slowly kissed her, and he felt a part of him fade into numbness. He looked up, and all around the room were people he thought knew and people he didn't remember knowing.

Seifer, Quistis, Selphie, Irvine, Zell, Creed, Xaiden, Laguna, Ellone and Rinoa. They all looked down on him, their faces impassive.

"Goodbye." Squall told them, leaning in for another kiss. Another part of him was lost, and when he looked up again, only Ellone and Rinoa remained. He couldn't remember the people who were missing.

He again returned to Selene, kissing her for longer than he had previously dared to. When he glanced over, only Rinoa remained. She held out a hand to him, her eyes hurt. Feathers erupted from around her, twirling gracefully before laying still on the floor. Memories of those he'd forgotten stirred within him, and he knew it was his last chance to turn back. He shook his head, and noticed that the feathers disappeared when he went in for another kiss.

He kissed her again and again, but every time he looked up, Rinoa stood before him, stained into his memory. Tears began clouding his vision, and he finally gave up, laying down next to the siren.

"Enough." he murmured. "Enough is enough." Selene stirred next to him, and struggled to open a golden eye. She nodded slightly, dragging herself to him. She kissed him, slowly but passionately, and during that time, Rinoa faded from the room. A single white feather was left on the floor.

***

"I'll be back later, Uncle Laguna, don't wait up for me!" Ellone called over her shoulder as she grabbed her purse.

"Going to meet Xaiden?" Laguna asked playfully. Ellone blushed, and he spared her the embarrassment of admitting it. "Just have fun." She beamed and rushed out of the door.

The second the door clicked close behind her, Laguna let the smile slip off of his face. Two months ago Ellone had been found alone in her hotel room, dazed, but unharmed. She was convinced that she'd gone to Deling to visit Xaiden, but she couldn't remember any of the last few days.

She also had no recollection of Laguna's son.

Squall had been nowhere in sight, Laguna had men searching the corners of the earth for him. It was as if he'd faded from the world when he'd faded from Ellone's memory.

Somehow he knew that no matter how hard he looked, he would never see his son again. But he was convinced that Squall had been a victim, taken hostage by a Sorceress' cruel tricks. He walked over to his desk and pulled open a drawer, which hid the only picture that existed of himself with Squall. He simply held the picture close, trying to feel comfort from it, before stowing it out of sight again. He would never stop missing his son.

End Story

A/N: Probably the most dissatisfying ending I've ever written. I tried for a long time to angle the story towards a better ending, but I couldn't. I'm sorry.

And I never thought I'd write a girl-on-girl kiss, but I've received only insightful and mature reviews so far, so I don't think I'll get such bad reviews for that. Maybe for this chapter, but that's another story. I almost wrote a scene with Selene and Squall living in Shumi village, with Squall still keeping the feather, but it didn't quite fit. Again, sorry. I hope that this was at the very least interesting, if not well crafted or satisfying.

As a side note, I've posted the first chapter for my sequel to the Quistis Effect, called The S Factor. Thank you for the support.