~* Chapter 10: Twilight *~
*Well since last time I wrote: I won the lottery, bought Squaresoft, and then lost them in a tragic corporate takeover. Alas, they are no longer mine so don’t sue.*
Rinoa could sense the uneasiness in the air, and feeling the need to clarify she offered, "I…um...didn’t mean bad memories like that. Please don't take it wrong. Just, you know, before I lost my sight and all. I wouldn’t have any use, I'd just be another burden placed upon you. I couldn’t stay at Garden and not work. Really, not much I could do around there."
Quistis wasn’t sure how to take Rinoa’s comment, but as far as her working, she had an idea. "Rin you could always teach. Garden would love to have an instructor in Magical History. Nobody could teach the history of sorceresses as well as... a sorceress."
"Thanks, but I can’t. My life is here…in Galbadia now. I don’t exactly know what the future has in store for me. I just know it has to be here."
"Away from you Squall," Rinoa added mentally.
Squall listened to the conversation for the last few minutes, without saying a word.
"What can I say, please come back because I still love you?" Maybe, it might be worth a try, but he had just promised to be friends. Plus, the simple fact that he had never told her in the first place, also weighed heavily on his mind. Getting her to trust him again would take a while. Getting her to love him again may take a lifetime. Maybe by giving Rinoa space and still keeping in contact…just might make her realize his feelings were genuine.
Squall closed his eyes, feeling as alone and confused as ever.
Finally, he spoke up, "Rinoa we’re going to be leaving for Garden tomorrow. The train's departure is at eight in the morning. Please…if you change your mind, I...we would love to have you come home with us."
Rinoa thought for a moment that the word 'home' seemed to have a completely different meaning these days. "I won’t change my mind Squall, but I’d be glad to see my best friends off. Well not see, but I could at least wave to you," she said trying to act cheerfully.
"Great," Irvine replied," Until tomorrow madam." He walked over, brought her hand to his lips, and gently kissed it.
Rinoa smiled holding Irvine’s masculine hand. She then got up on her tiptoes and raised her head towards him. She gave him a small kiss on the cheek, "See Squall, just like old times." Everybody laughed remembering the story that Irvine had told them earlier. This time Squall didn’t get mad, he had a genuine smile on his face.
After her friends headed back to the hotel, Rinoa went upstairs to change out of her wet dress. She dried her hair and changed into a T-shirt and shorts. Walking over to her bed, she recalled the comment Rob had made about the photograph of Squall. Pictures on the wall seemed so irrelevant now, she never thought about such things, but she immediately remembered where that particular picture was hanging. Rinoa went around the side of her bed and ran her hands over the smooth textured walls. She then felt the corkboard and took off the picture in the upper left-hand corner. It was strange, she never had too many pictures of Squall; he simply wasn’t the picture type.
She returned to the bed, and lied down on her back. With the sensitivity her fingers acquired, she could feel the glossy finish of the picture. In her mind, she could see it, plain as anything that ever stood before her. It had been taken six weeks after the defeat of Ultimecia. A party was held for the world heroes at the Estharian Presidential Palace. The picture had been of just the two of them, thanks to Selphie and her quick timing with a camera. Squall had been in his formal dress uniform, just as he had been tonight. Rinoa was in a short black sequin dress. She had been smiling in her usual happy fashion. Squall’s lips were slightly parted, but he held his usual non-emotional face.
That was just fine with her.
She did love to see Squall smile, though it had only happened a handful of times. The expression he wore in the picture is how she'd always remember him, much like the first time they met. Rinoa kept a few more photographs of them together. After returning to Deling, she had stored them in the attic, along with all the other pictures from her childhood…memories of the past. This one was kept up to remind her of trusting someone too much. She told herself, at the time, it was a reminder of why not to fall in love again... Now she admitted to herself, it was up because she still loved him. Rinoa didn’t want to let go of him completely.
There was an unsure knock at the door, yet she was sure who it was. Quickly she tossed the picture under a pillow. The last thing she needed right now was for him to find out that she still… "Still what?" she whispered to the heavy air. "Come in Squall."
"How did you know it was me?" he answered opening the door.
"I'm blind, not stupid. The maid taps three times, and Rob has the same knock as Zell…'let me in here now', and Caraway doesn't knock…so that leaves you and your 'I better knock, but don't want to sound like I'm overdoing it…but need to make it a manly sounding knock.' Trust me, you failed." He looked at her slightly mystified, before once again stepping outside and shutting the door.
This time, he knocked with more self-assurance before opening the door.
"That was better…you only sounded slightly pathetic this time."
"Rinoa what are you doing?"
"Sitting here…in my room…and you?"
He ran a hand through his still dampened hair. "You weren't coming to the station to say goodbye tomorrow, were you?"
Rinoa's spirits fell, no matter how hard she tried to raise them. "Squall…you just don't understand. It's not that simple. Life isn't that simple. Goodbye's aren't that simple."
"What Rinoa? What don't I understand… please explain it to me, so I can try. God, I want to try…"
Standing from her bed, she walked over to him guiding him into her room. She gestured to the bed, and he immediately sat down on the edge watching her intently, as she closed the shades and curtains.
"Plants," she mumbled. "If you wondering why I even open them…the plants need light. And that is your biology lesson for the day…now for your reality lesson." She moved in front of him, looking down into the darkness. "Squall, trust me. Close your eyes." He listened, to her…every word, every breath. He was surprised that even he could tell her rhythmic breathing pattern had changed. "Now answer me truthfully Squall…please." The room was a total void of darkness. The light was switched off, the stormy skies allowed no moonlight to break the material barrier of the curtains, and not one speck of the hallway light streamed under the heavy door.
"When you open your eyes what do you see?" Squall followed her exercise, not sure of what she was expecting from him.
"Darkness?" It wasn't supposed to sound like a question. She just imagined some more elaborated answer. But, the simplicity caught her off guard.
"Why? What am I supposed to see? What do you see?"
"An empty slate, a new beginning, dreams that have yet to come. My life."
"Rinoa…I’m sorry, I just don't see that."
"Of course not Squall, you only see the darkness…because it's what's real. But I see that every minute… I only learned to see other things on faith and hope. Now when I open my eyes…I see the future."
He thought for a moment, closing his eyes once more, just as he allowed himself a second attempt with the knock. This time, it was symbolic more than necessary. He reached one of his hands out, accidentally landing a little too close to her chest. She froze, but was glad when he continued upward to her face. Slowly, he traced his fingers up the nape of her neck, and then over to her jaw line. She had done the same thing earlier at the reception, but now it was his turn. In the dark, he felt her…felt every bump, every imperfection of her skin, every tight muscle in her neck.
"Squall, what are you doing?"
"Ask me again…"
"Ask you what? What you see when you open your eyes?" she hesitated.
"Yes…" He rose to his feet, never repositioning his hands. "Rinoa, I see you."
"When I close my eyes now, or any time, I only see one thing…you."
This wasn’t the right answer. Well okay, it was…but that wasn't the point. He was only supposed to see the nothingness… not make some figurative stand for the first time in his life. He must have sensed her hesitation, her uneasiness.
"Rinoa… Please come back."
It was a statement with many implications. The tenderness, the evening, everything leading up to this one moment. His voice was haunting, everything about him was. Maybe he had changed, maybe this time it could be different. His breath was intoxicating; she tried to fight the feelings, the passion. She leaned forward, as he moved a pace closer to her. His hands were still caressing her face, and her own hands gradually moved up returning the gesture. His damp locks, his jaw…everything was so…perfect.
"Rinoa, may I come in a moment?" The voice was immediately recognized as belonging to her father. Both jumped away, acting as if caught in the most embarrassing of situations, as a light flipped on.
"Damn you for not ever knocking Caraway!" The Commander wanted to shout at the older man.
"Did I catch you at a bad time?" Rinoa pushed Squall away from her, with a surprising amount of force.
"No, it is a perfect time. Squall was just leaving. Right, Squall?"
"Yes, I guess so," he spat as he started walking out. Her mood had again altered the moment her father appeared. She went right back into the defensive, bitter mode. Turning before reaching the exit way, he called back, "Goodbye Rinoa."
"Squall, I'll be there tomorrow…we will say goodbye then."
Closing the door, he rested his head against the frame. Somehow, deep inside he knew she wouldn't come to say farewell; it would be too hard. Hell, it was hard for him, it always was. Losing someone never gets easier.
He mouthed the hurtful word once again, "Goodbye."
Caraway was at a loss for words; never had he expected to walk in on his daughter…and a man. "Guess I should try knocking once and a while."
"Yes, there is that temperament we all love so much."
"Look it's been a hard day. Is there any particular reason you are here?"
He noticed a small glossy corner from under the shadows of the pillow. He flipped on the light nearest her bed, and picked up the picture. His focus turned naturally to his daughter, how happy she looked in the photo, how carefree she used to be. He wasn't good at these relationship issues, he never was. "Rinoa, I know your friends are leaving tomorrow. I heard them asking you tonight to return to Balamb. As much as I can’t believe this is coming out of my mouth, I think you should go with them."
"I can’t!" her reaction a mixture of anger and confusion. "It’s too hard. I will not be hurt again."
"Hurt? They’re your friends, I’m sure none of them would intentionally hurt you." General Caraway traced the outline of the photo with his finger. "Rin, I’m going to tell you something I never told anybody. Not even your mother."
He definitely got Rinoa’s attention with that statement. She moved back to the bed, and pulled her knees up to her chest. Caraway walked over and sat next to his daughter.
"When I first joined the military many years ago, all I thought about was advancing in the ranks. Three years into my career, I was assigned to Dollet, stationed there for several years. I met someone very special there…first person I ever truly loved. We had a lot of fun together, spent an entire summer going to the beach. Eventually, I had to make a choice between my military career and her. I should have chosen the latter. But I couldn't…not someone whose parents expected nothing less than perfection from him."
"I sent her a letter, didn’t even have enough guts to say goodbye in person. Never look back - that was my motto. I could’ve gone back to her, even a couple years later. I still loved her… Finally time marched on, she found someone else. I met your mother a year later and we decided to get married. Rinoa, don't ever get me wrong, I did care about your mother…and yes, even grew to love her. However, when we made the decision to marry it was more of a career opportunity for us both. I did love Julia...in time. The fact was…we were never meant to be soul mates. I do believe in true love. I had it once…so did your mother. Our careers, our stubbornness got in the way for both of us. I just don’t want to see you married to one of these society snobs around here just because it’s convenient."
Rinoa sat listening intently to her father. This was the first time she had heard him talk as an adult to her. Moreover, about anything personal. She slid nearer to him and in the first time she could remember, Rinoa gave her father a hug. "I love you."
He too was returning the embrace and couldn’t believe how much he had missed her. That is, if he ever had her to lose. Maybe she would be going away again, but this time he couldn't be happier. "I love you too, Rin." Breaking the hug, Caraway remained holding her arm. "He might have made mistakes. We all do, but he came back to fight for you…that means something."
The train station was crowded. Weekdays were always busy, especially in the heart of the business district: men with briefcases, women with cell phones, and everyone in a hurry. One would be lucky just to find a place to sit with a cup of coffee. The train to Balamb would be leaving in a few minutes and the group remained on the platform, each trying to spot Rinoa through the overwhelming crowd.
"She’ll be here Squall," Irvine tried to comfort his friend. "You know Rin, probably had to make sure her hair was perfect before she’d show her face in public." Squall continued to stare out into the mass of people, in an unfounded hope she would have the courage to show.
"Maybe it was just too hard for her," explained Selphie trying to remain bouncy. "Saying goodbye isn’t easy. For Rinoa, maybe goodbye was too hard to face right now."
"I’ll be expecting a note in the mail," snapped Squall. "I thought she would change after…damn it, it's been a year."
"Squall," Quistis chimed in, "Rinoa is our friend. She just went through something very difficult last night. Be patient, have faith in her…she won't let you leave without saying goodbye." She noticed a slight eye roll from Squall, another show of emotion usually foreign to the Commander.
Zell was the first to notice a figure running through the crowd. "Hey guys, isn’t that Robert coming this way?"
The dark-haired man was trying to make it through the passengers arriving from the last train. He ended up doing a little more pushing and shoving than expected, but finally made it to the anxious group. "I’m so glad I got to the platform in time," Robert huffed out-of-breath. "Rinoa couldn’t make it this morning. I wanted to come down here and thank everyone personally. Rin’s never done well with goodbyes."
Squall just shook his head and turned around, "Whatever." He started walking toward the train. Part of him wanted to get on and leave this city behind and everyone in it. Still, he wanted to know that she would be okay, no matter how angry he was at the moment. Rinoa was all that was important.
As an afterthought, the commanding SeeD turned back to Robert. "Please take care of her. Rinoa is still one of my friends and no matter what, will always be. Don’t let anyone hurt her." Robert acknowledged Squall’s request with a slight nod. The Commander couldn’t be around the others anymore. "Last night meant nothing to you. I was right. Why now? Why again? Your mind games are so tiring. If this is how you want it, Rinoa Heartilly, so be it. Goodbye and good riddance."
The others said goodbye to Robert and wished him well, save for Quistis. They left the two as they talked quietly among the noisy station. Finally, the instructor boarded the train meeting up with Squall. All stood outside the SeeD luxury cabin, waving to Robert as the train pulled off.
"Open up the door, Squall," cried Selphie.
"Hurry man, before she makes us sing a stirring rendition of ‘Train, Train, Take Us Away, " exclaimed Zell.
Squall searched his jacket pocket for the key. Damn must have left it at the hotel. "Can this morning get any worse?"
There was a very audible scream echoing through the car. "Hurry Squall I gotta pee very badly. I don't think that those last five cups of coffee agreed with me."
"So you wouldn't want me to do this, would you?" Squall heard the sound of Irvine's fist making contact with Zell's bladder.
"It was a rhetorical question," Squall angrily shot back to himself. Now they would be forced to sit on the floor of this uncomfortable car for the trip back to Balamb, seven hours on the floor, what a fucking day. Babysitting Zell and Irvine… "I can’t find it guys, sorry."
Quistis spoke up swiftly, "Here, I carry a spare. I can get us in the SeeD compartment."
Well at least that wouldn’t be quite as bad. "How come I never knew Quistis carried a spare? And why did she never bother to unlock the car?" So many times, she could have saved him from Selphie’s downright-scary happiness. "Great, how will explain to Cid that I lost a SeeD train card key?" It wasn’t like him to misplace things, especially something that important. As they entered the hall to the SeeD compartment, Quistis grabbed Squall’s arm and walked him forward to the door.
"Technically Squall," explained Quistis, "since you are the highest ranking SeeD here, you need to open the door. It would be against regulations for a superior not in command to open said door. The SeeD manual strictly prohibits me from doing so with my pass code, unless you are incapacitated and/or found mentally incapable. Now, if we weren’t on Garden property, or the train car, I wouldn’t care. But, I certainly do not need to have my SeeD ranking go down because I performed a prohibited action."
"Shit man," interjected Zell, "I need a copy of that damn book… right now! It’s not possible to actually be a negative ranking SeeD, is it?"
Quistis just shot Zell a look, one of those 'shut up Mr. Know-it-all things' that Zell had grown quite accustomed to over the last couple of years. Squall grabbed the stupid key out of Quistis’ hands.
"This is fuc…stupid…" low mutters were heard. Nobody dared ask for clarification. He slid the card in the slot and entered his code. "Happy now, Instructor Uptight?" he spat back at her. "Did I slide the card per regulation, or should I refer to the manual under the heading 'who the hell cares'? Whatever to…this…shi..." He heard the lock click on the door and furiously pushed it open.
"Yep, same old damn room, same old damn couch, same old damn Angelo…Angelo?!"
The dog looked at the Commander with head slightly tilted and ears standing up on end. Angelo seeming to have some sort of recollection of him, jumped down and sauntered over. Squall just stared as the dog grew closer, not exactly sure what to think. Lost in a time, when this was very commonplace.
"Angelo's still a little tired," a soft voice said. "Just came in by train from Dollet, it was a very long night… for both of us."
Squall quickly snapped his head around to the voice. "Rinoa?" he exclaimed letting his emotion get the best of him. She sat over on the bed wearing Jean shorts and red T-shirt. Her hair was pulled back into a long ponytail; much like when he first went to her house a few days ago. "What…what are you? How did you? Garden?"
"Easy for you to say," retorted Quistis. "But I guess it’s a step off from the classic 'whatever.' Oh by the way, here is your keycard back. You accidentally lost it when you fell asleep last night. Moreover, I do not have now, or never had for that matter, a keycard to this cabin. Don't you think that I would have loved to avoid a few rounds of the train song too?" She looked to Selphie who was smiling brightly. "No offence, Selph."
"None taken," she replied to the blonde.
Rinoa sat on the lower twin bed as Angelo jumped up lying protectively next to her. "To answer your questions Squall, or what I could make of them. I’m going with you. Quistis. And yes." She giggled for a second, "Guys, please why don’t you sit down? The train is moving. It’s pretty obvious, even to me, I’m not getting off."
Quistis, Zell, and Irvine walked over to the couch and sat down, while Selphie felt just as comfortable plopping herself down on the floor by Irvine’s legs. Squall stood for a moment, not knowing where to sit. Quistis just gave him the instructor/sister look, nodding obviously next to the dark haired girl. Taking the clue, he walked over to the bed and sat next to Rinoa.
Tapping her knee once, Angelo jumped down from the bed, lying next to her feet. Squall couldn’t believe how much he had even missed that stupid mutt. He really wasn’t a dog person, but Angelo was such a part of Rinoa he couldn’t help but care for the darn dog. Now he couldn’t even resist trying to pet Angelo, but surprisingly the dog growled.
Rinoa looked down at her furry companion, "Angelo, okay. Sorry Squall, Angelo thinks she is working. When she’s used as a guide dog, her only job is to protect me. I just have to give her the command to know its fine to relax. Try again, please Squall."
Eyeing the dog curiously for a moment, Squall reached down and gave her a tiny scratch between the ears. Enjoying the newfound attention, Angelo rolled over so she could get an all over belly-rub. "See, Angelo still loves... likes you too Squall. She just needed to be told she’s off duty. Kind of like you, Commander Leonhart."
"So you're implying that I need to be told when I’m off duty?" Squall inquired.
"Well, you certainly used to Squall. Separating work from your private life was never your strong suit."
Squall looked over at her, there was hurt in her eyes. Even he could see that. Maybe he hadn't been there, maybe he just didn't know how. However, he swore this time would be different…"So Rinoa, if I’m off duty, can I roll over on my back and you give me a belly-rub too?"
"Squall!" Rinoa yelled in shock. She still managed to elbow him in the stomach, with perfect aim.
Irvine piped up, "He stole my line, really, and I was going to say that!"
Everyone in the compartment was now laughing. It was so uncharacteristic for Squall to make such a comment. They knew he would only ever say that to Rinoa. Not for the fact that he didn't have a sardonic humor, which was evident only once in a great while, but because in fact it was true. Yet, nobody in the room was going to mention that.
"I got Angelo back last night from Dollet," continued Rinoa, "the trainers will be at Garden next week to work with us some more. I received a crash course last night, or was it early this morning? Everything has been this big blur…I guess I have no clue."
"It was morning Rin," Quistis interrupted, "about five this morning when I picked you up to meet Angelo."
Selphie looked suspiciously at Quistis, "So you brought her here? You knew that whole time we were out on the platform searching for her?"
"Um…well…er, "Quistis just tried to smile. "Well yeah, I received a phone call from Rinoa last night around ten o’clock, said she changed her mind about coming. She made me swear not to tell anyone. So, I kept my promise and didn’t say a darn word. Actually, it surprised me when Robert showed up this morning. What you guys didn’t see was he passed me the key. During the confusion this morning, I had left it in the train car. He waited until the last moment to give it back."
Zell scratched his head, "Okay…now…wait. Let me see if I got this right, Squall didn’t really have to open the cabin door. You just wanted him to be the one to see Rinoa first. So, you really weren’t issued a keycard either…you just had Squall’s?"
"Yes," stated Quistis. "I was supposed to put it back in his jacket before he noticed; only I didn’t get a chance. So I made up some ridiculous story about superiors opening doors, I guess Squall was mad enough he didn’t even question the fake rule."
"I wasn’t mad." Squall said matter-of-factly.
"Oh really Mr. Whatever," exclaimed Selphie, "I think your exact words were I’ll expect a letter in the mail. Trust me…you weren’t a very happy camper, Commander."