Written 11 February 2007
Talking to Alice was a lesson in patience. She was a nice girl, certainly, there was no doubt about that, and her heart was in the right place, but her attention had the unfortunate tendency to wander away in a conversation.
“No, dear,” Belle smiled at her magnanimously over her teacup, “I was speaking of—Kairi?”
Following the blonde’s line of sight, Belle realized that, indeed, there was a pink-dressed girl standing just outside the gates of Alice’s tea garden. She looked embarrassed to have interrupted, and there were several more women standing behind her looking alternately interested and uncomfortable.
“Kairi,” Belle repeated, this time in greeting as her smile spread and she stood to welcome the new guests. “What a lovely surprise. Please, join us, there’re more than enough place settings.”
“Thank you,” the redhead grinned, giving the older woman a warm hug as the others quietly took places around the long, white-draped table. “Sora, Donald, and Goofy gave us a ride in their Gummi ship, I’m so sorry to intrude—“
“Not at all, dear, not at all,” Belle reassured her. “Alice, do you remember Kairi? She was with Sora, that sweet boy.”
Alice looked at her with large blue eyes, tilting her head a little absently. “Yes. You had a very nice heart. Red and sparkly,” she said to Kairi, who was a little uncertain of what to do.
An amused Belle took pity on her and pulled out a chair, gesturing for the young girl to take a seat. “Now then, what is this all about?”
The other women, who had murmuring among themselves, quieted, and one with vibrant green eyes and soft features was the first one to reply. “I’m Aerith,” she said, and Belle had the impression that this person was the kind who liked to laugh. “I think we all came to…commiserate.”
“Commiserate? What’s happened?” Belle asked worriedly, and Aerith shook her head smilingly.
“Oh, nothing like that, though this does concern Sora, in part.”
“And Riku,” Kairi supplied.
“And the dirty, dirty things they do to each other,” a blonde girl whose hair somewhat resembled antennae added with a mischievous leer, echoed by a young girl in khaki shorts and shuriken, as young as Kairi. Belle blinked.
“Isn’t Riku the name of the friend he was trying so hard to find?” She thought she remembered the adorable boy asking her—on several occasions—if she or Beast had happened to see another boy in a black coat with white hair.
“Yes,” said Aerith. “And he did.”
“Fell on his knees and cried,” said Kairi, cheerfully.
“Probably not the first time,” the young-as-Kairi-girl, named Yuffie, snickered.
“If you count his Other, no, it wasn’t,” said the spiked-hair girl.
“…Ah.” Belle could have sworn Sora was in love with a certain redheaded girl, though…
“I don’t mind so much,” Kairi went on as though she could read Belle’s mind. “I mean, it was always the three of us, you know? And that hasn’t really changed, except now sometimes I walk in on them doing a different sort of sparring. And I know Riku won’t betray him—well, again, at any rate—because as far as he’s concerned, everything Sora says is gospel.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.” Belle was not sure if Kairi was upset at this or not, so she tried to be diplomatic. The only point of worry she could see, from what the girl was saying, was this Riku’s apparent obsessive nature. She knew firsthand that it could be a double-edged sword.
“But it’s not just them,” the woman sitting beside Aerith spoke up. She was beautiful, with startling red-brown eyes and a very curvy body, and she gave off the feeling that she would kick the ass of anyone who dared look at her sideways. “It’s Cloud, too.”
“Summarily, a schizophrenic, amnesiac failed experiment of a SOLDIER who’s been traumatized and abused and carries an unhealthy obsession for the man that massacred his home, and ended up selling his soul to the Darkness until Sora brought him back,” Aerith said in one long breath and a bright smile. “He’s quite lovable, once you get past the madness.”
“Told you he was more fucked up than Squeon,” Yuffie said to a long-haired, blue-dressed brunette.
“His name is Squall, Yuffie,” the brunette sighed.
“What about this Cloud?” Belle wondered what kind of mother he had to have been given such a name.
“Crazier than batshit? Absolutely out of his mind? That’s what makes him so much fun to watch.”
“Tifa,” Aerith said soothingly, laying a gentle hand on the other woman’s forearm.
“Hey, girl, I might be young, but at least I know enough that when my boyfriend starts drooling after half-alien sociopaths to drop him like a hot potato,” Yuffie muttered with raised hands.
Tifa looked ready to kill.
“Cloud sounds like such a lovely person,” Alice murmured into the silence, dropping some sugar cubes into her tea and stirring placidly with a spoon that struggled silently. Belle snorted into her cup, and turned to the women that had been quiet so far.
“What about you?”
The blue-clothed brunette looked on the verge of tears. “Squall, he’s…he left me for his rival.”
“Déjà vu,” Kairi and Tifa both muttered. “Larxene, don’t say a word,” Kairi continued, seeing the spiked-hair girl’s leer widen.
“I wasn’t going to say a word about Roxas and Axel fucking each other like rabbits doped on aphrodisiacs,” she smirked, feigning innocence. She failed at it miserably.
“Roxas and Axel?” Kairi repeated under her breath, shocked.
“It’s all right, Rinoa,” a bespectacled woman said to the brunette in the long blue sweater, who was vainly trying to hide her tears. She had a clinical, no-nonsense voice, and she rolled her eyes where Rinoa could not see her.
“But doesn’t it bother you, Quistis?” she demanded. “Squall—“
“Face it, Rinoa,” Quistis sighed. “Squall is a psycho. He likes killing. You don’t. It’s not exactly something easy to overlook in a marriage, and for Hyne’s sake, he’s as much of a bastard as Seifer. You really know how to pick them,” she added under her breath.
“But I thought you—“
“Yes, I thought I could love him, once upon a time,” Quistis said irritably, adjusting her thin glasses and reaching for the teacup in front of her. She gave a small smile to Alice, who kindly filled it for her. “But I can’t tell you now, looking back, just how grateful I am that I never got tangled up in his emotional quagmire. And I’m a mercenary.”
Larxene looked at her with a glimmering of respect.
“Think of it this way, Rinoa,” Yuffie said optimistically. “Now, Seifer and Squall can take out their anger on each other and have gloriously passionate, animalistic, bloody sex.”
Belle choked on her tea once more to hide her laughter.
“But that can’t be a healthy relationship—“
“Says who?” Larxene asked with a raised brow, stunning Rinoa into silence. “Obviously, someone’s sex life has been a boring lesson in missionary.”
Her own sex life being a bit more interesting than ‘missionary,’ Belle’s faint blush turned tomato-red.
“But that’s just it!” Tifa burst out. “Why would Cloud and Le—Sq—whatever-the-hell-his-name-is-now want that kind of relationship? Haven’t they gone through enough heartache as it is?”
“They’re men, they’ll take anything with a hole.”
“Larxene!” Kairi scolded, torn between laugher and horror.
“Did you know Zack and Cloud used to be lovers?” Aerith said contemplatively out of the blue, and Tifa’s eyes widened.
“Wait, I thought you were dating Zack…?”
“I was. It just made things more interesting. Of course, I didn’t know Cloud at the time, except what Zack told me, so when we met I didn’t realize it was the same Cloud.”
Seeing Tifa’s disgust, Larxene drawled, “Honey, when you have two or more men falling all over themselves for you, you take advantage of it.”
“How many Clouds could there be?” Kairi asked rhetorically. She knew very little about Cloud and why he had such mixed animosity for Sephiroth, or how Aerith and Tifa figured into it all, but ‘Cloud’ was not exactly a common male name.
“Your little Keyblade Master and Xemnas’ blonde boy-toy look like kiddie-porn versions of that fucked-up jailbait.”
No one responded to Larxene.
“I wonder if Cloud would ever do it with Squeon?” Yuffie wondered aloud, propping her chin in a hand thoughtfully.
“Well, they both like leather,” Aerith mused. Larxene perked up, listening more closely.
“And big weapons.”
The Nobody purred happily.
“And men with asshole-personalities. No pun intended.” The ninja-girl and the Cetra-girl snickered together, the latter more sedately, as Yuffie nearly hurt her ribs. Rinoa hid her face behind her hands and moaned despondently, and Belle felt her heart go out to the poor girl.
“It seems to me,” Alice murmured, fastidiously arranging her tea things into neat rows, “that if something is stopping you from finding happiness, you simply need to take a few steps around it.”
“…What?” Several of the women turned to Alice as though she were speaking of talking rabbits and psychedelic mushrooms. Which was, admittedly, usually the case. But Belle understood what the younger Princess was trying to say and interpreted.
“Kairi, Tifa, Rinoa,” she began, “how do you feel about these men? One at a time, please.”
“Well, I can’t say I’m surprised, really,” the redhead started when the other two appeared disinclined. “I mean, Riku and Sora have been friends for forever, and they just…click. Riku grounds Sora, and Sora keeps Riku from going off the deep end. It’s really hard to think of one without thinking of the other.”
“…I guess Cloud’s like that, too,” Tifa admitted softly. “You think of Cloud, and you can’t help but think of Sephiroth as well. But Sephiroth isn’t exactly a healthy influence, and…and…” She paused, managing a thin smile when Aerith took her hand encouragingly. “Cloud’s usually so distant and…crazy, except when he’s talking to or about Sephiroth.”
“Can you imagine that Cloud would ever turn that attention to someone else?” Belle inquired logically.
“I…I guess not. Not because he wouldn’t want to, but…it’s Sephiroth. He’s worshipped that villain since he was old enough to talk.”
The older Princess gave her a motherly smile and moved her gaze to Rinoa, who had uncovered her face.
“Squall’s so cold,” she started without prompting. “I thought…that I had gotten through to him. Gotten him to open up. But then, after Time Compression, and the Heartless invasion…he wasn’t what I had thought he was.”
“Sometimes the reality of something is different from how it looks. You shouldn’t trust a looking glass,” Alice added, pouring more tea for herself and then the others. Belle had known the smaller blonde woman to make some insightful pronouncements, but she was surprised that, once again, it was someone who was touched in the head that managed to find the heart of the problem.
Tifa and Rinoa looked lost, Kairi thoughtful. Quistis and Aerith sipped their tea calmly, not as emotionally entangled in the drama as the other two, and Yuffie had switched to a seat nearer Larxene so the two could whisper under their breath.
“Oh, for Holy’s sake,” Larxene finally muttered, then continued more loudly, “Look. Lockhart. You got tits bigger than Saix’s claymore and you can punch holes in walls. What the hell are you doing waiting for a man that can’t give you what you need?”
“And seriously, Rinoa, you really want a guy as unromantic and clueless as Squeon?” Yuffie took up. “You need to find someone that’s earthy, yeah, but who isn’t hung up on shit that happened a decade ago that he couldn’t have done anything about anyway. Someone who understands the difference between a woman’s heart and her clit.”
“Ooh, nice one,” replied the Nobody.
“Thanks,” beamed the ninja-girl.
“You know the most interesting people, dear,” Belle said in an undertone to Kairi.
Alice idly played with the ribbons on her apron, making them dance like tiny string-puppets. “If things aren’t going right, it’s because they may be going wrong,” she hummed. Larxene rolled her eyes, but Belle and Aerith both nodded.
“You’ll find someone,” Aerith reassured an insecure Tifa.
“Or something. Probably battery-powered at the rate you’re going.”
“Larxene,” Kairi hissed. “You’re not helping.”
“How can you be so optimistic all the time?” Tifa demanded of her friend, red-brown eyes bright. “You died once.”
“Which is how I learned not to get trapped in the past, and to take things as they come,” the Cetra shrugged, before a mischievous smile crossed her face. If Cloud had been present at this gathering of women, he would have recognized that expression as the one that heralded his being dolled up by prostitutes and shoved into a brothel; but as he was not, and seeing as Tifa had been otherwise occupied during that particular event, she did not understand the warning signs.
Aerith held a clueless Tifa’s face gently between her cool, dry hands and kissed her, very gently, on the lips.
Assorted catcalls came from around the table.
“…Guh,” said Tifa intelligently, floored, making Aerith laugh as she pulled away.
Quistis glanced at Rinoa, whose mouth was in an ‘oh’ of surprise and her eyes a bit wide, and idly played with the leather loop at the end of the whip attached to her belt. “What’s the matter?”
“She…just kissed her,” Rinoa murmured quietly, keeping her voice down so that she would not attract attention from the two women at the end of the table.
“Indeed. Perhaps you should try it.”
Everyone turned at her outburst, making Rinoa flush a brilliant red. A smirk played around the mercenary’s expression.
“That’s what Squall said before he and Seifer found a whole new use for their gunblade oil. What else are you going to do, pine away forever? You don’t have anything to lose, and I believe it’s been said that ‘if something is stopping you from finding happiness, you simply need to take a few steps around it’.”
“Do you mercenaries always think of life in terms of winning and losing?” the young Sorceress demanded. Quistis shrugged an elegant shoulder.
Her dark eyes narrowed at the blonde SeeD; then, with the determination that had enabled her to drag a normally antisocial and homicidal Squall onto a dance floor, in public no less, she stood up from her seat and forcefully pulled Quistis’ chair away from the table. Quistis frowned and ordered an explanation—or would have, if the impetuous Sorceress had not been kissing her with daring clumsiness, apparently having decided to prove that she was not going to weep forever, thank you very much.
“Fuck, this is better than Demyx’s soaps,” Larxene whistled. Yuffie howled with laughter and Tifa blinked in incomprehension, while Aeris giggled merrily. The Nobody looked at the embarrassed Kairi, who was only a few centimeters from banging her head against the tabletop. “Hey, Red, join the fucking bandwagon! Your Other was a particularly delicious little thing, let’s see if the carpet matches the curtains!”
Where are Riku and Sora when you need them?
…Probably screwing each other senseless between beating each other up, she concluded with equal parts fondness and exasperation.
“What would Beast say if he could see this?” she muttered to Belle. The older Princess was trying, and failing miserably, to smother her amusement behind her teacup.
“Oh, the same thing I’m sure the other boys would,” she said airily. “’Where’s the video recorder?’”
“Sometimes, things that go wrong aren’t going wrong at all.” Alice was balancing several teacups on top of one another, using sugar cubes and the protesting silver spoon to help. “You just have to look at them upside down and slantways to see it.”
Aeris and Quistis (once Rinoa had released her and flounced back into her seat with an expression daring someone to say anything) shared a conspiratorial wink, and Belle smiled indulgently. She could tell that the Cetra-girl was holding Tifa's hand under the table, and Rinoa was shooting half-embarrassed, half-terrified glances at the highly amused Quistis.
You know the most interesting people, dear.