To redefine oneself is to be reborn.
The first time she sees him he's standing in the fading sunlight, dripping on deck, and there's seaweed dangling off his ear. He's clinging to his cap as if it could save him from drowning and his hair has a life of its own, animated by the salt water.
She laughs at him and his friend, the first laugh she's meant in years.
"Elle?" Lydia asks, standing between her and the men they've just plucked out of the ocean as if the one with decorations is going to come over and choke her with seaweed.
"Maybe we should get them dried off," she suggests, in the voice she reserves for the captain when she thinks he is being extra tenacious just to spite her.
There is movement immediately, orders followed better when she asked them than when the actual captain of the ship did it. Kids too used to orders from a woman, she had decided long ago, with Edea absent. She thinks sometimes they cling to her just because of her gender and the thoughts weren't comforting.
Then some smaller cadets are pressing huge towels into the hands of the men and the one with the mad hair is taking off his shirt and Ellone starts to realize something she missed about her acceptance of the world around her.
After that, he tucks into her life like a missing piece, as if she hasn't been trying to fit the missing pieces back in for weeks now.
For the first time she can remember, she forgets about Squall and Laguna.
The second time she sees him, he's wearing clothes covered in grease and there's a smudge on his nose and his hat is pulled down on his head backwards. He hauls himself out from under a car and turns; their gazes lock.
He smiles at her for a minute until he finally recognizes her and that hurts more than she thought it would, but it follows that after a year he would've forgotten her.
"Hello, Watts," she says, even as the smile is leaving his face to be replaced with a look she doesn't know, didn't have time to learn in their limited time together.
"Ellone?" he asks, and his voice is deeper. Perhaps more pained, she thinks, and that would follow. She nods at him.
"How are you?"
He rubs at his nose again, leaving more black smudges. "I'm cool. It's-well, I haven't seen you since-"
"Since I abandoned ship," she supplies, and is rewarded with a frown instead of the smile she was expecting.
"Yeah, that's right. I guess that turned out okay for you. I heard, from Rinoa." He picks up and rag and wipes off his hands. "I guess-did you want to come in? It's trashed, but I think I have some tea left."
She finds herself seated across his tiny kitchen table, sipping peppermint tea as if he's a society wife in Deling.
"I like tea," he says defensively, covering his cup as if he could protect it from her words.
"So do I," she says, and they sit awkwardly for a moment.
"Listen, this is weird," Watts spits it all out in a hurry. "I didn't think I'd ever see you again. Hell, why are you even here? Don't you have important duties or something?"
"Laguna did fine without me for years," she murmurs. "I don't have much to do, so I travel, now that I can."
He was the only one she had ever told about her gift. He had laughed until she had showed him, and then had been so shaken she had to get him a bag to breathe in. He understood.
"Strange that you come to Winhill," Watts says. "I would think, well, it would be awkward?"
"Not anymore," she says. "I visit Raine's grave." She doesn't say, "I came to see you," because she doesn't want to put him on the spot and she doesn't want to be rejected.
He frowns at her again, the strange feature she doesn't understand at all because she doesn't remember him frowning that much in her memories. Her own memories get confused with the memories of others so much she's not surprised that hers get lost and all she can recall are memories she doesn't want. There are memories of Rinoa and Watts tentatively kissing, younger versions, innocent, and youthful, and she still wants to burn them out of her head.
"Well, I'm not great company," he says. "All I do is mess with engines, eat and sleep."
"I thought you would've returned to Timber," she says, and mentally kicks herself for it immediately because a stricken look crosses his face.
"Yea, well-" He laughs awkwardly and scratches his head, and she's momentarily reminded of Laguna.
"I'm sorry." She looks down at the table with crumbs on it. "That was a silly thing for me to bring up."
"Hey, hey, no," he rushes out. "I mean, it hurts to be reminded, sure, it's been a long time."
They don't say his name, but it's like he's there, all the same. The boy she remembers more through Rinoa's memories, rather than her own; the only one who had ever been aware of her feelings. The one standing between keeping her feelings a secret and telling Watts everything. He was the boy who had been lost in time compression.
"I still apologize," she says and she watches his face relax and things are again normal.
"Well, I guess-I don't know why you would come to see me," he admits. "Even if you do come to Winhill, why visit me?"
"I like you," she says. What she doesn't say is, "you gave me a little of your optimism/." What she doesn't say is, "/I wanted you in my future."
When he responds, his voice is quiet. "I-well, I liked you, too."
She knows it doesn't cross her face, years of carefully hiding her feelings, but her heart beats faster and her palms are suddenly damp.
"Watts-" she starts, but he interrupts her.
"Ellone, don't get me wrong. It's great to see you." He's smiling the fake smiles given to her by so many in the last year, so many people that can't-or won't-be honest with her.
"Please don't say it," she murmurs. He falls quiet and they sit in his tiny, dirty kitchen. An unseen clock ticks away seconds that become minutes.
"I don't have many friends," she explains. "You were the first that really liked me for who I was."
"Are you not that person anymore?" It's another example of how he surprises her, strange insights from a man who outwardly appears so vapid.
"I don't think I am," she says, and it's the first time she's told anyone how she's felt about herself in years.
He smiles at her but her fears are already confirmed.
For the first time ever, she wishes she hadn't helped Squall save her.
The third time she sees him he's in a suit, looking out of place, dark hair curling over his collar and face pale. He doesn't see her and she thinks that he might be better for it. She doesn't know how to compete with first loves, even dead ones; she doesn't want to.
She doesn't attend the funeral because she knows Squall wouldn't want her to, but she watches the small service from the room she's been given. On the beach there's white fluttering around the people and she watches him. He's beautiful and destroyed and tense, and she knows these things even when he is only a speck between the others that are there to mourn the beautiful girl that's dead.
She finds him later that night in the quiet little town, in the bar by himself, staring at his full drink with glassy eyes. She sits across from him at the table, but he doesn't look at her.
"She's gone," he says, and for the first time she feels sad about the loss. She hadn't known Rinoa well, but the girl had never given up trying to mend the bond between her and Squall, had never admitted it couldn't be fixed. Sometimes she thought Squall resented her for that as well, along with everything else.
"You loved her," she says. "She loved you back."
Watts looked at her with wet eyes. There were tears there and on his cheeks, but he wasn't like other men she knew, he wasn't afraid of them.
"I don't think that was enough," he replies, and he takes his eyes back to his still-full glass.
"What will you do now?" she asks, only she doesn't want to know because it doesn't involve her.
"What's there to do?" His hands were clasped together, knuckles white. "There is no more Timber. I'm homeless. This suit belongs to some guy I don't know. I own some clothes and a gun I don't know how to use."
She wants to tell him to come home with her, to Esthar, but it doesn't fit.
"I know Zell has offered you his home until you get back on your feet," she says. "They're nice people, Watts."
"They're sick people," he says, suddenly angry. "I hate them. I hate them all."
"They can't help it," she says soothingly. "They were raised that way."
"It's a shitty way to raise kids," he whispers. "They created monsters."
"SeeD didn't kill Rinoa," she replies, suddenly upset on behalf of people she barely even knows. "Rinoa died saving them. She did what she thought was right, Watts."
"She always felt too much," he says. "I always warned her not to, to control herself so I wouldn't lose her to something stupid." He laughs and it's dry and humorless. "I don't have anyone left. Zone's dead. Rinoa's dead. It's just me, and I'm useless."
"I don't think you're useless," she says. She risks even more of herself by reaching across the table and touching his hand.
When he turns his hand to press their palms together, she is startled, but less so than by what he says next:
"Will you stay with me tonight?"
For the first time ever, she lies to herself and she gives in.
The fourth time she sees him she is in Deling with Kiros. They are in the lobby of the hotel, waiting for Laguna to finish a meeting when she sees him cross in front of the wide window that faces the street.
As she watches him, she smiles, even though she knows she hasn't forgiven herself or him. Beside her, Kiros shifts and she can feel his eyes on her but she doesn't meet his inquiring gaze. She continues watching Watts through the window.
A girl comes up beside him and she is surprised at how angry it makes her, as if the hastily scrawled note and money weeks before hadn't been enough to wring all the hard emotions from her. She watches them together but they don't touch. She studies the girl carefully through the frosted glass, only a few yards away from her.
She wonders if this is the type of girl he could love. Strong, energetic, and classically beautiful: dark hair, bright eyes, smooth skin. Things she couldn't be and roles she would never fit into.
"This is him, then," Kiros states.
Her new life with Laguna is nothing like she had hoped it would be. Her memories don't match the man but her heart had slid neatly against the heart of his friend so long ago.
"Yes," she says.
"You have pined for a long time after the heart of one man. Has this one replaced it?"
"I thought he might have, a long time ago," she replies. She thinks of the dark of the hotel, the slide of skin on silk sheets and skin on skin and the way promises made with hands and lips in the dark could be so easily broken. She thinks of how much of a fool she was to hide the truth from herself so carefully to believe it could have turned out any differently.
The girl leaves Watts standing with his hands in his pockets, as if he is waiting for something. It hurts to watch him but she knows this might be the last time she does so. She knows she has seen the entire world and maybe the Estharian government has their policy on dealing with the outside world correctly defined.
"You never asked him," Kiros says. "Doesn't he deserve that?"
"I knew what I was getting into." She had known, she thinks. She knows now that even though he had choked out her name, squeezed her tightly to him that words meant little.
When he walks away, she feels something between relief and anger.
For the first time, she thinks she might understand how Raine felt.
The fifth time she sees him, he's angry and wet from the sudden rainstorm and dripping on her carpet. His hair is everywhere.
"What do mean, I paid for you?" He sounds confused and she hates that it makes her weak.
"You left money," she says, hating that she wants to cry in front of him, for the first time since her childhood use tears as a weapon.
"I-" he flounders, and she thinks: /I've caught him/.
"See?" She gestures widely. "Why are you even here?"
"I lied to you," he says. "I lied to you before because I was scared."
Minutes pass as they stare at one another. She doesn't know what to think.
"I don't understand," she says and she realizes that maybe for years she hasn't really understood anything.
"I did love her, but I used her," he explains. "I was scared of you, of what you could do. I didn't want to see the things you had seen."
There is no parting of fog in her head, no exploding of anything in her chest; acceptance and understanding is smooth.
"What did the note say?" he asks.
She shakes her head, but she's not sure why. "Have to go. Sorry. I'll see you soon."
"I was dumb," he admits. "That note, the money for you to keep the room so we wouldn't have to leave just yet-it made sense in my head, but I was in a hurry. I didn't know how long I would be gone, so I left it for you. I didn't think-"
"Where did you go?"
"We could've gone together," he says. "It would've made more sense, but Zell was happy for me anyway. I didn't expect for us to have to be alone again, ever."
"I wasn't there when you got back," she says.
"That hurt me," he grates. "You were just gone. I didn't understand. I was so pissed at you. I thought you had used me."
"Similar," she whispers. She wants to touch him, but she's not sure.
"You know how hard you are to get in touch with? There's no way!" He's suddenly angry again, words louder, face flushing. "You went back to Esthar. By the time I figured it out, I got to see that stupid looking ship flying off."
"I'm sorry." She knows that unless someone knows a person already in Esthar, there's no way to send messages, unless through official channels.
"You had to make it so difficult!" He's shouting now, hands flailing. "Squall is such an asshole. I don't care if you love him, if he's your brother, whatever. He's an asshole and wouldn't send you a message, wouldn't even consider it."
"You know why," she says. He does know why, she explained to him before, her knowledge of his father, the secret she had been forced to keep and then kept out of habit. "He doesn't want me to be happy."
"Screw him," he says. Then his palms are cupping her face and despite the rain he is warm. "I had to meet with people everywhere to get in here today. Smallest window of opportunity in the world and I worked at it for a month and bribed people that haven't bathed in years." He shakes her a little and then kisses her, lips gliding over hers carefully, angrily, softly.
"I'm sorry," she says when they part. It feels like she's nothing but sorry and nothing but happy, roiling together inside her like opposing forces of nature.
"I should have never lied to you," he says. "I was so stupid. You told me you weren't the same person. The things in your head scared me. I thought they had changed you, would change me, for the worse."
"They're still there."
"They don't define you, and I let them," he sounds hurt, as if he's been judged his entire life for a gift, a curse. "I knew you saw Rinoa's memories. I knew you would have seen. I exploited it to keep you away. I lied to protect myself and I hurt you."
When she doesn't speak, he rubs a hand behind her head. "Say something."
"I thought I loved you," she says and when he looks stricken, she places a hand on his shoulder. "I was wrong. I didn't know what it meant until you left me."
His confused look amuses her and she laughs so hard until she cries and has to sit down on the sofa behind her.
"Can you love me like this?" she asks, tears on her face. "I'm so broken."
"So am I," he says. "Ellone, so am I."
Hours later in her small bed with her back pressed to his stomach and his hand stroking her hip, she realizes they've tried to reshape themselves to fit each other when it was never needed.
For the first time ever, she believes she deserves this happiness.
Word Count: 2,969
Feedback: All reviews, squees, and concrit are hugged close to Renay's heart.
Author's Notes: Takes place after events of the game. Written for the Phoenix challenge at the Final Fantasy flashfic community on Livejournal.