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The spot always brought on a slew of memories, but not the warm and fuzzy kind.

It reminded her of what she lost and what was never hers at all. A title and a man; slipped through her fingers in a single day, and it was she alone who bared the burden of her torrid emotions as a failure.

Because a wall couldn't offer emotional support.

The midnight sky was alight with salt-like glimmers shattered like ashes, casting a glow upon the blanket of nothingness above. Beyond was a world of never-ending exploration, one she could find herself lost in eternally--she wondered if anyone would be the wiser.

The Garden was mobile again, drifting to its next venture as a brisk breeze washed over her, seeping to the bone despite the knee length coat she adorned. As she stood against the rail of that Secret Area, she knew it was not just the late night chill that brought a glacial frost to her fingertips.

Much had changed, yet stayed utterly the same. The solitude in her heart that night was a continuous reminder of that. The smiles that genuinely graced others faces could not be replicated on her own. Not much more than a shell of a woman that once was, trekking through life without a purpose or goal that brought her any semblance of joy. She was uncertain where her resolve for achievement and gratification was lost, but what she did know is it was all meaningless to her now.

She rolled the ruby fluid within her glass, eyeing the pool as it swirled and swished, bathing the glass in a momentary scarlet sheen until it retreated to the rest of its liquid kin. As if it belonged.

She wanted to belong.

The crunch of boots approached from behind, and she found no desire to seek its keeper. He would come. He always did.

"Night number five of finding you here, Quisty," a familiar voice roused her from her oppressing deliberation.

She smiled, forced and slightly contrite. "Want a prize?"

The figure revealed himself fully to her as he leaned his broad back against the railing, elbows pressing lazily against the cold steel. His raven cowboy hat was placed just so upon auburn hair, his tan coat kept him safe from the arctic bite of metal. "Well that'd be a nice gesture and all, although you don't look like you're in the giving mood."

Quistis frowned, taking a sip from the contents in her wine glass. He had found her there five nights in a row with the same glass of wine, in the same stance and the same coat on her shoulders. A creature of routine if there ever was one. It was the only thing she found any solace in. "I don't know why you torture yourself, coming here."

Irvine tipped his hat, a gesture formed from habit, as he peered at her with a soft smile that could have melted her heart if she let it pass the gate. "It ain't exactly torture to be in the presence of one of my dearest friends. I certainly wish she'd quit torturing herself by closing herself off."

She pressed her lips firmly together, pink tint fading with the pressure as she continued to stare out into the far expanse of the passing ocean. "I like being here."

A scoff. "Hardly. You put on a good front out there, Quisty. No one seems to be the wiser that you aren't quite so happy these days. Can't put one over on me, though."

For quite a while there were no further words exchanged. Simply the rush of the wind through their hair and the delicate hum of the Garden's motor reverberating beneath them.

It occurred to her that he was becoming part of her routine. The conversation was always very similar, as was its end. He would try to pry her open, she would assure him that his efforts were not in vain and a new Quistis would arise, only for more of the same to ensue the following the night.

A creature of routine.

What if the routine was disrupted? What if she took the steps to ripple the waters and change the flow?

The notion was almost preposterous, but it was taking shape.

"What do you want me to say?"

Irvine looked away from his friend, tilting his head to the velvet mass, to the full moon, its heavenly aura cascading to gently touch them with its ethereal fingertips. There was a twinkle in his eye she couldn't see. "It has nothing to do with what you say, but what you do. While I know you're down, I don't know why. And if you won't tell me, I can't exactly help you. So what I want you to do is help yourself."

The answer was sincere, she knew. But things never seemed to come that easy to her, not for her and what she truly craved. As a child, she forced her way into a sisterly role that never seemed to belong to her, and as an Instructor she continued the pattern and inevitably found failure in that as well. What seemed to come naturally always betrayed her, and the control continued to slip piece by fleeting piece until nothing but fibers remained in her open palms. And the bedeviled wind would carry those away as well. "I don't think you could ever understand."

He paused for several beats before nodding solemnly. "Maybe not. But you aren't giving me opportunity to find out either."

She drained the remainder of her beverage, and took a small step in breaking her routine--she dropped the glass over the edge, watching its descent as it crashed and fell away below the cover of the ocean. "Am I pretty?"

Irvine didn't immediately reply, returning his sights to the fair-haired woman beside him. A look of obvious awe appeared to his features. "That's a joke, right?"

Quistis closed her eyes, the saltwater sea filling her nose with its scent as she breathed in, the taste of the spray lingering on her tongue. She wanted to leap in. "I want you to tell me the truth."

"Quistis..." his tone dropped, his silky baritone taking a measure of incredulity. Turning to face her, he pressed his hip to the railing. "You have your own fan club, sweetheart. You're absolutely gorgeous. Any man would be out of his right mind not to have a swing with you if given the chance."

A mirthless chuckle escaped her as she processed his last sentence. "Squall had a chance."

"Now that ain't fair. I don't think Squall's balls dropped when you made your move," he smiled, charming and debonair as ever. "He just didn't know what he was missin'."

She suddenly turned to her friend, pressing the length of her body against his like a leech to flesh. Her arms remained at her sides, but the power with which she gazed into his eyes was enough to keep him still without their aid. "What about you?" Her lips were so dangerously close to his own, the heat of his sharp exhale warming them. "What if I gave you the chance?"

It was clear the turn of events caught Irvine thoroughly off guard. His hands were still as he gazed into her sapphire blues. She no longer concealed her pain, her sorrow, her solitude--it was raw and bleeding before him. She witnessed the wheels behind his eyes turn as if searching for a word to heal the festering wounds he discovered.

Some things were not so easily mended with words alone.

"I'd be a fool not to take it," he replied evenly, and she wondered if the tremble that shook him was the from the cold or anticipation.

What she knew was she needed this. She needed to feel whole, needed a focus for release. A warm body, a slick tongue, and a charming face.

"Are you a fool?" a whisper on her lips as she carefully, cautiously moved her fingers to brush his cheek, a tender caress that left them both burning.

She watched him, the wheels continuing its frantic spin. There was hesitation in his dark blue eyes, and the regret was beginning to creep through her skin and settle at her core. It was a mistake to proposition him, a friend, someone who was simply looking out for her well being. The desperation to shake her routine, to feel anything but misery and detachment left her using his kind-hearted concern against him. If he walked away from her, he'd feel guilty, unable to give her what she desired. And if he stayed, there was the gnawing realization he may simply do so out of guilt as well.

Suddenly, she found herself in a no win situation only the Quistis Trepe could manage to create for herself.

And yet, a warm, firm hand that slid to the small of her back, pressing her into him further still. The other traced a careful path from her hair line to the back of her tender ear. There was no tension in his grip, and when he brought his lips to caress her lobe she thought she'd faint.

It all told another, sweeter story.

"I've never been a fool."

Their lips met, and the breath in her throat was caught indefinitely as her hands reached to grip his sleeves. It was she that pressed more desperately, coaxing his mouth ajar to taste that which is Irvine Kinneas; the Charmer, the Sharpshooter, and her temporary Savior. He would fill the void and brighten the darkness and keep her nightmares of seclusion at bay.

He took to the coaxing, his grip firming on her back while his free hand took to roaming. He was delicate, touching her in a way as if to ask for permission before venturing too far lest she might break.

But Quistis wanted to be broken.

When she reached for his belt, he pulled his lips back, and she found she absolutely ached for their return. Hesitantly, she peered into his eyes that were clouded with lust yet retained some form of rationale. "Quistis...are you sure about this?" he uttered breathlessly, looking down at the pale hands at his waist.

She didn't answer with words, but reclaimed his mouth, fierce and unrelenting. He returned it in kind, his hands feverishly reaching for her skirt, lifting it to tops of her thighs.

It took only moments to free him, her desperation causing her body to quiver. She felt relief in his arms as he pressed her back against the rails, disposing of the undergarment that kept her barred from him and held her up by her bottom. The position was somewhat uncomfortable, but it was quickly forgotten when he buried himself between her legs. The gasp that followed was one of blinding passion, instinctively wrapping a leg around his waist. When she took him to the hilt, he stopped and held her there. He was not a brash, aggressive lover, she could tell. He would take his time with her, even if this was a loveless tryst in the dead of winter; she knew he thought better of her than that.

So when the thrusts began, they were smooth as silk, their bodies joined by more than friendship, but an understanding. The kisses they exchanged told stories of appreciation, of commitment to a friend in need. And the climatic end to their union would forever seal their impenetrable bond.

The routine was broken, and Quistis was no longer alone.