AN: Written for bottleofshine's Livejournal Kissing Battle of '07. This is what happens when I take crack seriously. Repost.

The High Cost of Living

The first time she met him, she felt revulsion. She had never seen anything like him before, and in the dark, unfamiliar place of the basement, he was a lesson for her wandering habits. But he told her not to be afraid, told her he was sentenced to this deep, deep place because pretty girls like her would be frightened of him in the light. Wasn't he a monster? Wasn't she brave? Her hair reminded him of the sun, which he hadn't seen in so very long. He asked her for her name, then sent her away with a promise to keep her secret.

He had kept his promise—the next day, there were no summons to the headmaster's office for sticking her nose where it didn't belong, as she had feared. So, three nights later, she once again descended to the bottom of Garden, and though the reflex in her throat still protested the sight of the pale, bloated body, the reflex in her heart was to pity him. He was kind to her, elated to see her. When they talked, her ingenuity was praised, not scorned. How could she, in turn, scorn him? She couldn't. He sent her away with a request and a promise to come see him again.

It took her a week to fulfill his request, but he didn't seem to mind. He was delighted that such a charming girl like her would keep her promise. He was such an undeserving creature! As she twirled for him, he told her he just knew she'd look good in pink, and a pretty girl ought to wear a pretty dress more often. Did she mind? Would she wear dresses for him? Of course, she would. Nobody had ever told her such things. When she went away this time, it was with a promise to herself.

She saw him two days later, and when she handed him the box of homemade cookies, she knew she had done the wrong thing. His deep laughter rolled in her ears and lowly parts of her mind, and she felt a familiar stab of loathing. She was always failing someone, wasn't she? But, it wasn't like that, he explained with a smile: he simply didn't share her palate. If she wanted to give him something else, perhaps? Something sweeter, perhaps? A kiss, perhaps? It had been so long, and a kiss from a pretty girl like her might make the basement a little less dark, a little less lonely. He'd give her something in return, a big something—oh, how they would both treasure it! She'd have to think about it, she told him. But as she went away, they both knew she would.

When she returned the next night, her palms were sweaty. The taps of her boots as she crossed the room weren't loud enough to drown out her thudding heart. His grin was large, triumphant. She was even prettier when she was nervous—did she know that? No, she didn't. Nobody had ever told her such things, she whispered. She tucked a stray lock behind an ear and leaned over him. He smelled of wet earth and reminded her of the toadstools that grew so abundantly in the forests of Timber. His skin was like rubber; his tongue was wide but agile. When she left, wiping her face with the back of a hand, she knew a lifetime of showers and toothpaste wouldn't be enough to scour the memory of him from her mouth.

Three days later, when Cid called her into his office to congratulate her on becoming the youngest instructor in the history of Balamb Garden, she pretended to be surprised.