Disclaimer: The FF8 boys have never, and do not belong to me. Will they ever? That depends on how generous Square is to yaoi-loving fangirls. ^-^
Author's Notes: Contains m/m relationships. ONLY read if you are of age and open-minded!!! Prestory: This whole chapter is a flashback sequence.
Squall watched the knife as it rolled over and over in his bare palms, threatening to fall over the side each time, but being caught by his hands before it could. His callused thumb worried over the dirt encrusted onto it, wiping it away to reveal the owner's name etched along the side in crooked, childish lettering. He raised it up to the soft lamplight to get a better look; the blade was as dull as Irvine said it would be, the steel softly curving into it's casing. It was hard to believe that this dull knife was able to pierce anything, let alone the skin of his thumb. He laid it against his left thumb and tried cutting through the roughened skin, knowing the end result. It rubbed harmlessly, and Squall smiled slightly. Of course it wouldn't penetrate his callused thumb. He imagined his skin must have been much softer, more pliable when he was a kid; before he was taught about war, before he was taught how to kill. The thought sobered his expression, silvery eyes clouding back to their usual blue-grey.
Irvine approached the gunblader silently, knowing Squall would sense him. "What are you thinking about?" he asked softly, his voice a quiet companion to the soft night.
Squall turned to him, still clutching the knife, a rueful look upon his face. "Trying to remember..."
Irvine smiled sadly, quirking one eyebrow as he watched himself toe the stone floor. "What it was like before Garden? What it was like to be innocent?"
Squall nodded, his own eyes watching Irvine's boot as it slowly made circles along the rough-hewn stone. "Were we ever really innocent? I mean, we all came together through tragedy, not once but twice. That has to mean something, Irvine. All of us, united and then reunited, always under grim circumstances. I'm starting to believe I was born jaded; that I had no chance at a real childhood."
In response, Irvine drew closer. He took Squall's ungloved hand, held it palm up. He cradled his thumb, angling it to shine in the soft light, searching it. "Right... here. Look, Squall."
Squall peered down to where Irvine's own finger was gently running along the side of his thumb. There was a faint line, faded and marred by a callus, curving gently, a forgotten memory. Squall's mouth quirked up in a genuine smile. "I always thought I had somehow gotten that at Garden."
Irvine answered his smile, carefully watching the gunblade specialist inspect his own hand. "No," he said softly. "That's from your promise to us. To Sefie and me. Here, look at mine." He held his own hand under Squall's gaze.
The thumb, although just as rough as Squall's own, sported a much more prominent scar. The line was shiny and pink; the cut looked like it must have been pretty deep when it happened. It, too, had faded over time.
Squall ran a finger over it, noting how soft the scar tissue felt under his touch. He angled Irvine's hand until his own thumb was pressed next to the sharpshooter's, comparing. They were almost identical, one curving to the left, the other larger and to the right. "Does Selphie still have her scar?" Squall wondered aloud.
Irvine shook his head. "No, hers faded completely away; but she remembers that night... sort of." His voice sounded sad.
Squall looked up into muted lavender eyes for a second before Irvine averted his gaze. He wanted to comfort the cowboy, but hadn't a single clue how to go about it. Instead, he dropped Irvine's hand and sat down on the single bed left in the whole orphanage. He rubbed at the scar on the bridge of his nose and regarded the sniper through his long bangs.
Irvine moved back to lean against what remained of one wall, still huddled in his coat despite the roaring fire warming the slightly renovated stone house. The pair just looked at each other for a long moment, the silence palpable. Finally, Squall cleared his throat.
"I can't believe I had forgotten all of that, but it's coming back to me... in pieces. I remember," he drew his eyebrows together, frowning, "the next day, Ellone left the orphanage."
Irvine slid down until he was sitting on the floor. "Yeah, and a week later, Quistis was adopted and I was sent off to Galbadia Garden. I assume Selphie was sent to Trabia not long after."
"I'm pretty sure she left a few days after you," Squall agreed, remembering. "Zell had been adopted the year before." He shook his head. "Seifer... he was the first to leave for Garden. I followed six months later." He looked over at Irvine. "I was the last to leave," he said, astonished.
Irvine shifted, moving closer to the bed until his chin was resting on the blanket at the foot of it. "I wonder a lot. Y'know," he clarified when Squall look at him quizzically, "about why Selphie and I were sent to different Gardens, but all the rest of you ended up at Balamb G. Doesn't that seem strange?"
Squall considered it for a minute. "I never thought about it before. I don't think it was deliberate, if that's what you mean. Zell and Quistis weren't sent to Garden from here; they were adopted." He shrugged. "No one could predict they'd end up at Balamb."
"Except fate." Irvine's face held a scowl.
Squall looked at Irvine for a long moment, face unreadable. "I thought you didn't believe in fate."
"I..." Irvine hesitated, looking around the room. How many nights had he spent in that very bed as a child, huddling under the covers, waiting for the closet monster or some other imagined fear to attack him? He had always been too much of a coward to leave the bed, and too prideful to call for help. "I'm not sure anymore."
Squall nodded, shifting to lay on his stomach, his arms propping his head up. He looked at the cowboy openly, unguarded for a change. "What's making you change your mind?"
"You," Irvine answered honestly, "and Selphie. And on a completely different level, Zell, Quistis, Ellone, and even Seifer. You've all made me rethink a lot of things I took for granted. Like friendship."
Turning his head to one side, Squall looked out into the star-filled night. "I know what you mean," he murmured. He flicked his gaze back to Irvine when he felt the Galbadian sit down on the other side of the bed.
The commander turned to face Irvine, propping up on one elbow. "Yeah?"
Irvine kept flicking his gaze from Squall's face back to the bed, fingers drawing random patterns along the blanket's surface. Irvine fidgets when he's nervous, apparently, thought Squall. He waited patiently for the Galbadian to continue.
Clearing his throat lightly, Irvine asked, "Have you... thought... about what I said earlier?" He squinted warily at the man next to him, biting his lip.
Squall looked out in front of him, letting out a breath. "I have."
Irvine blinked. "...And?"
Pursing his lips together, Squall sat up slowly on the bed. He swung his legs over and looked at Irvine intently. "Are you being serious?"
"As a heart attack. Look, Squall I'm not asking for a relationship, Hyne I'm not even asking for a date. I just want to know if I've destroyed one of the best friendships I've ever had because of my feelings." The words were rushed, and Irvine's face was flushing, a worried look in his eyes.
"Why did you tell me if you didn't want anything from me?"
Irvine bit his lip, and Squall suspected it was to keep from crying. "That's not it. And I couldn't _not_ tell you, it would've eaten me up inside to have kept it from you any longer." Irvine's voice was getting lower and lower, as he unconsciously hugged himself. "I've screwed everything up, haven't I?"
Squall looked at Irvine, wanting to tell the cowboy what he wanted to hear, to make the pain go away. But he couldn't. "Irvine... I'm with Rinoa." The words were soft, slow, and sounded just a bit regretful.
Irvine took a breath. "I know." His voice caught and he closed his eyes for a moment, swallowing. "I'm not asking anything from you. I'm just telling you how I feel and wanting to know if we can still be friends in spite of it all."
Squall tentatively took one of Irvine's hands in his own. "Of course we can."
Irvine's eyes opened. "Does this change anything?"
Squall sighed. "I don't know," he answered honestly.
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