~ Chapter Fourteen: A Time to Hate - Part II ~
If you hate a person,
The unsteady and shifting earth moved below her feet. The young sorceress walked through the desolate section of the training area. Believing the weaker monsters were on the left side as in Balamb, she was surprised to find nothing there but greenery and fences. She saw her breath as she walked, the almost smoke-like mist that appeared with every labored gasp. Thankfully, she had still been wearing a sweater, or she would have made a beeline for the warmth by now. It was only fitting that Trabia's training center would reflect their surroundings, bursting with evergreens and stocked with regional monsters.
It was late and she had no idea why she was there, but something was drawing her like a magnet, so she followed its consuming pull. Her steps grew heavy and stumbled over a small root twisting like a serpent from the ground. As she regained her balance, she accidentally brushed her hands together. When she touched her own skin, she recoiled from what she believed to be shock from static electricity. It was fleeting, but still intense, causing her feet to stand firmly in place. Every part of her mind was telling her to turn, to run...but again she was being drawn to that magnetic pole.
There were no enemies in sight, but she could sense the immediate danger surrounding her. The scared woman's breathing quickened and she felt herself on the verge of hyperventilation. A distorted image flashed before her eyes; this was no longer safe, as lost emotions were oozing like crimson rain through her pores. She needed to find Squall immediately. The fear was consuming her and she believed that she was reliving the hellish nightmares again. The sorceress turned quickly, and was greeted by the sight of a knight...just not hers.
“S-Seifer?” She tried not to drop to her knees as the name barely escaped her lips. She didn't know what these emotions were building inside - fear, hatred...pity?
“In the flesh.”
It wasn't as if she knew this moment would go unanswered by the design of fate. It was almost predestined that their paths would cross before this lifetime's end. The only factor remaining in the equation was the reaction forthcoming. She had thought about this reunion more than she cared admit to another soul. They would never understand. She did not understand. On no account did she picture the encounter to be in the wastelands of Trabia, in a vacant room, contained within a Garden itself, and alone... Why in the hell did it have to be alone?
It wasn't as if any romantic feelings still lingered, but there were memories that she had carried with him nobody else could ever share. And to a point, those memories from that summer remained sacred. It was from his actions and support that she chose the eventual path she walked. Stronger than the hate were the questions she had to ask, but out of a thousand questions she could've formed, the words were left just out of her reach.
“I can tell by your silence you're glad to see me Rin.”
Her fingers balled into a tight fist at the sound of his voice. It took all her will just to move a few steps closer. The man's smug look only fed her anger like flames. The tips of her fingernails were slowly breaking a fine layer of skin, but she didn't care. It would be so easy just to let all her anger to manifest into one lethal blow… Or even better, launch her Blaster's Edge at pointblank range into his groin. Or both. It didn't matter, as long as excruciating physical pain resulted at the receiving end.
“D-Don't call me Rin.” It was the first coherent sentence she could form. To hear her name from his lips now made it sound so dirty, so tainted. “Don't you ever call me that!”
“Sorry, do I need signed permission in triplicate from lover boy…correction I mean Commander Lover Boy?”
“Leave Squall out of this - this is between you and me.” Her voice demanded hesitantly as she tried to compose herself. The pain of her fingernails lingered in her palms as she focused her attention on the sight of a fallen tree limb. “Damn it Seifer…I-I can't do this.”
The blond knight stopped his impish grin; it was the reality of seeing the pain in her eyes. The sorrow he caused. Her face was a mixture of hurt and anger. But most of all, it was the same look of betrayal which had attracted him to her that summer. This time it wasn't her father's politics that betrayed her spirit, it was him.
“Rinoa, I'm sorry...listen I'm not here to hurt you.”
He raised his hands slowly demonstrating that he was unarmed. His only intention was an act of surrender. He couldn't believe that he was trembling inside as he took a symbolic step away, allowing her to be the one to move forward. Somehow, he had believed this part of his salvation would be easy. Now he witnessed firsthand the pain that he had caused - not only to faceless students, but also to one he'd once cared genuinely for. It wasn't something simple; what he saw written in her eyes was a deep-seeded betrayal from which he may never be forgiven.
“I've made a few mistakes… I'm just trying to fix some of them.”
“A few?” Her voice never rose above a whisper. “You killed hundreds of innocents, you destroyed a damn Garden, and you have the audacity to call that a few?”
“A few really bad ones, but that is why I am here…to fix what I can.”
“How? How can you fix this?” Her voice remained a whisper in the harsh cold, a soft murmur that would haunt his dreams. It wasn't anger, it wasn't hurt, it just contained the soberness of a hundred funerals. She pointed to the remains a fallen support beam, now used as makeshift monster blockade. Then wordlessly, she tried to point towards the graveyard, but found that she couldn't finish the simple gesture. She brought her arms to her chest. Finally, she gave into the vulnerability and fell to her knees landing on the soft earth.
“D-Did you see the tombstones, Seifer? Did you read any of them? Do you know each one of their names, their ages, or how each one died? Can you tell their family and friends that it was nothing more than a 'bad' mistake? You can pass that one off on everyone else, but I know you Seifer...I-I know the truth.”
“Rinoa, you're right, you do know the truth.” His tone was not forceful, but held a certain conviction. “You know how easy it was to let the facts and the reality to be twisted, manipulated until the only hope of salvation is to surrender. You know how easy that was, don't you? Or should I not bring up the fact that you were the one that actually surrendered your soul to Ultimecia? Hell, I might have given her my allegiance, but I never gave her control over my body.”
She shivered as she remembered the horrendous events. The guilt consumed her, as she looked him directly in the eyes for the first time. Neither of them was faultless in their actions, both felt a moment of weakness and Ultimecia preyed upon it like they were injured quarry. Rinoa had told both Quistis and Selphie months ago she had no idea what emotion she would feel at their reunion. She would never have imagined in a hundred suns to be her own consuming guilt.
Looking down at her own hands, she saw the crimson liquid mixing with brown specks of dirt. Her fingernails leaving eight perfectly sized gashes through her skin. It was only now that the pain of her actions was starting to register. The same hands that had held Squall earlier, were also the same ones that freed Adel. Her hands stained with the blood of all the Estharian soldiers who died righting her wrongs. It was after all from her mouth that Seifer was told to search the oceans for the Lunatic Pandora. It was from her mouth that the Lunar Cry was inevitably born.
She could hear his steps as he moved toward her, and was surprised when he offered a helping hand. There was something familiar about it, something she had once known, but also some thing that had always been foreign. The last time those fingers had held her, was the instant before he offered her as the sacrificial lamb.
The emotions were cycling through her mind like a wheel, and she was hinging on that of bitterness...towards herself, towards him. Shaking her head, she refused his help, remembering the look on Squall's face as she was junctioned to Adel. The hurt, the hatred...the failure. She would be damned if she ever accepted anything from this man again. With a newfound resolve she stood, brushing the dirt off of her clothes.
Her words came out spiteful. “You threw me to Adel.”
“Yeah, and you threw me away for the first SeeD that walked by with a pretty smile.”
“It wasn't like that Seifer.” Why she defended her relationship with Squall, she didn't know. But it was hers, and he wasn't going to taint something so pure. “I never meant to fall in love.”
“Yeah, but you did. From where I'm sitting, it happened amazingly fast.”
“I couldn't help it. I just didn't think-”
“Ha, like that's something new.”
“Shut up, you have no rights!”
“Don't I? This chain of events all started because of you, but I bet you tend to forget that minor detail. Did you ever tell him about the night after the graduation dance? Or did that little thing slip your mind too?”
“I told him that you stood me up before,” she replied vehemently. “Nothing, I repeat nothing, happened between us that night.”
He laughed bitterly. “Yeah, sure. Fine. So, he was some SeeD who was randomly hired to do what I was willing to do for free. Because I believed in Timber, I believed in your damn cause, I believed in you. And because of my beliefs after the graduation dance, I was sent to the Disciplinary Committee room...”
“It wasn't your beliefs that got you thrown in there Seifer! It was your actions!”
He shook his head in resentment. “Your actions, Rinoa, your actions! I was goddamned in charge of the whole committee! Still, even after that, I found out that those Garden bastards only sent three rookie SeeDs. I broke out...because I couldn't stand the idea of anything happening to-”
He fisted his arms to the side, how in the hell could she ever understand? He had believed in her, even if it wasn't love it was a relationship that he had believed in with all his heart... and she couldn't have cared less.
“What Seifer?” It had never dawned on her that it was because of her and her passions he had been at the television station in the first place. She vaguely recalled Quistis saying that he had broken out of some room. At the time, her heart and soul were clouded with a thousand emotions flooding her like a tempest. She involuntary reached out, grabbing the thick material of his trench coat when he refused to continue. When he maintained his silence, choosing to ignore her, she moved in front of him. God, was it because of her betrayals that Seifer turned to Ultimecia? Was it her growing interest in Squall that was his final push into the realm of unspeakable sins?
“Please, Seifer...please. I'm so sorry.” She tried to look into his eyes, unconsciously pulling the fabric even tighter.
He had never meant to hurt her. His life had been a competition since the day he was born. Always someone had been waiting in the shadows to better his accomplishments. Waiting for their chance to strike...even if they didn't mean to, the outcome was no less painful. He knew she had never meant to fall in love with Squall. In some sick, demented way he was almost glad they had found each other. At least she was happy, and that is all he could want for her. Still, couldn't it have been Zell? The chicken-wuss was annoying, but not nearly as annoying as Mr. Depressing was. Shaking his head clear of the thought, he placed his hand on top of hers.
“Rinoa, it's just that--”
“Get the hell away from her you goddamned bastard!”
His feet carried him faster than he ever knew possible down three flights of stairs. The commander tried to convince himself that she'd gone back to her room, but when in the hell did she ever listen to him? If he even slightly comprehended what the headmaster had said, it was something about Rinoa having an emotional connection to someone else. And the thought scared the hell out of him.
In one second, all his worst fears had once again surfaced from the depths of his heart. As he opened the training center doors, he could see two distant figures touching. The one person who tried to destroy any amount of hope he'd ever had, and the person that gave him that hope. The area surrounding him faded into oblivion, his vision tunneled fixated on the two. She was touching him. Rinoa was touching him. Her arm outstretched to his rival, to the person who had caused him torment beyond simple words.
And there she was... touching him.
His legs carried him at the speed of light. It registered in his mind as she moved in front of Seifer's body, trying to gain his attention. That was all he needed, one split second for the blond intruder to be caught unaware.
Eighteen years of emotions boiled down into this one moment. Never in his life had the commander initiated a personal attack on another human being. That is, if you could classify Seifer Almasy as human. For the orphanage, for the years at Garden, for the scar, for the death that followed in his wake, and for trying to kill the only thing that he had ever loved... Squall Leonhart took out his anger in one defining strike.
Squall's words barely had time to register as Rinoa felt Seifer being jerked from her grasp. In one fluid motion, she watched helplessly as the commander turned him around, and took out his anger in one swift blow.
“Squall! No, don't...Please!!!” Rinoa yelled pleadingly as she ran over to her boyfriend. Squall held his lifelong rival by the collar and it appeared Seifer wasn't making an attempt to retaliate. Her weapon fell to the ground, as she had quickly disarmed herself. Reaching out she placed both hands on Squall, silently begging to let the bloodshed end. One hand fisted the leather of his jacket, while the other rested on the fabric of his t-shirt. Her hands trembled with emotion as she tried to calm both herself and her knight.
“Please, Squall, don't hurt him. Please.”
“Rinoa...he...” He managed in between ragged breaths. “He hurt...”
The knight stood watching as the tears streamed down his sorceress' face. As she was beseeching mercy, he'd never felt so torn, or so confused. Glaring back at his mortal enemy, the commander shook his head angrily letting out a heated scream. Their eyes locked in unadulterated hate as years of buildup had quickly reached a peak.
He released him with enough force to knock him backwards. It wasn't worth it. This piece of trash was worth neither the price nor the heartache. Rinoa was all that mattered. Ever. The blood was running from Seifer's nose in a steady stream; the injured man brought his hands up in a vain attempt to stop the flow.
“Nice aim Puberty Boy.” The man maliciously added through his pain.
“Seifer don't.” Rinoa warned, keeping her hand firmly on Squall's chest. His heart was racing, his body covered with a layer of sweat even in the frigid temperatures. She continued to touch him, just so he would know she was there. Then she continued to touch him, so she knew he was still there.
“I have no idea what idiotic notion was going through Cid's head bringing you up here. Stay the hell away from us.”
Reaching up, Squall captured her trembling hand from his chest, never taking his eyes off of his rival. He intertwined their fingers, before reaching down and retrieving her weapon. Without a word of warning, he turned and headed toward the door. Rinoa was caught off guard at his forcefulness and lost her footing. She stumbled over her own feet, practically falling as her body was being practically dragged.
“Squall, wait a second.” She stopped pulling back on his arm. She glanced over her shoulder at Seifer as he stood in utter silence.
“What!?” He hadn't meant to bark at her, but he wanted to get as far away from there as physically possible.
She held her breath. How could she explain? It had been so hard to know where she and Seifer had gone wrong... To know what would make someone she once cared about turn into a bloodthirsty tyrant. Part of her needed to know what happened while she was unconscious - to understand parts of the puzzle that never fit. Ultimecia had somehow manipulated both of them, two people who on the outside seemed as confident and as sure in their beliefs as anybody. Maybe Seifer held on to a portion of her memory that she couldn't unlock; maybe the only way for her to move on was to fully accept the past. All of it. Even the parts that she would rather keep locked within the recesses of her mind.
“Squall,” she tried to soften her tone as much as possible. He would understand, he always did. “I need to talk to Seifer.”
She could feel him involuntarily grasping her hand even tighter, like she was all he had left. Their eyes met, and instead of understanding she found contempt. His face...something in his eyes looked so scared, so unsure, she wanted to reach out and hold him forever. Maybe she would talk to Seifer later. It was evident that right now, Squall needed her more. Even if he was unwilling to admit it. She offered him a soft smile, shaking her head trying to erase the previous hesitation.
“I'm sorry. Never mind-”
“Never mind what, Rinoa? Do you want to stay in here with him?”
“No, no... it's not that. I just-”
“Fine. Whatever.” Letting go of her fingers, he pushed her hand away forcefully. All she could do was look at him in shock, he seemed so cold. “Have fun.” He added with malice as he walked out the door.
In shock, she stood feeling like her legs would give way yet a second time tonight. In a span of only minutes, it felt like the waves came crashing around her world. In that short time, she feared everything they had built was being washed away like sandcastles in the tide.
If there was one comparison to be made about Trabia, it was that all the cadets willingly imposed a curfew. They didn't need the Garden staff yelling at them to return to quarters, nor had students running off to a secret area. The martial artist looked down at his watch as he circled the main entrance. His steps were the only sounds that could be heard in the halls, beside the soft instrumental music being piped through the speakers. He wasn't sure of what to make of anything anymore, it seemed like one horrific joke after another.
But it wasn't.
Zell had stayed with Cid, trying to gather as much information as he could. It was only in some strange twist of irony that the martial artist could be Seifer's greatest ally. Not that he could ever forgive him, or even like him on a personal level, but he understood Cid's dilemma over the situation. If Seifer was forced to work off his punishment, what better way than witnessing the devastation firsthand? It would the coward's way out to sit in a cell and count the hours to freedom. What would be a far worse punishment would to be living among those who suffered. There was no doubt that Ultimecia had brainwashed him, but the final acts came down to free will and even Seifer vowed to that truth.
It was also a realization how close Rinoa and Squall were becoming, that they could feel each other's uncertainty. For the last three days the commander had worried something was wrong, but tried to stay focused on work. Until now, Zell had never fully comprehended that their relationship would be any different from any other couple he knew. Sure, Squall was basically a pain in the ass, and Rinoa could drive him a little crazy, but now the young man had a newfound appreciation of the obstacles in their way.
The halls in the place seemed like a giant labyrinth, compared to the simplistic design of Balamb. The added hazards of the construction made it all that more difficult to navigate. Finally, he found the right corridor and felt a wave of relief as he saw the number on his room. A loud 'thud' echoing down the hall made him look up from his lock. In the distance, he noticed the commander slamming his fist into his door, apparently for the second time. He had never seen the normally detached man lose his temper so obviously. With no signs of Rinoa nearby, he could fairly easily surmise what the source of the outburst was about.
The martial artist mentally chastised himself not to bother his friend, stay the hell away from Squall when he was upset. But part of him also knew that whether the commander knew it or not, he could use a friend. This was all new to him, and adding Seifer on the top of the proverbial cake was more than any sane person could handle alone.
“Yo man, wait up a sec.”
Squall closed his eyes, what did he do in a previous life to deserve this? What deity did he insult at the gates? He was going to beg forgiveness from all of them tonight, and maybe that would stop their relentless cruelty. He continued to ignore the footsteps heading his way, attempting to get the key in the lock without breaking the damn thing off.
“Hey look, I know it's been a long day, and you probably don't want to talk.”
“You're right. I don't.” He bit his tongue, trying to keep his anger from infuriating yet another person tonight.
“I know. Is everything okay with you and Rinoa?” Yes, even Zell realized it was a stupid question, but it just slipped out before he could think.
If looks could kill, Zell would have been lying six feet under.
“Ahh...yeah...sorry. Where is she?” For a moment, his concern focused on his other friend. If this is what unemotional Squall was acting like, he could only imagine what Rinoa was going through.
“Where is she?” He spat out, like he was supposed to know? Damn it, she wasn't his concern now. He had already lost her with his stupidity. “With her boyfriend...ask him.”
“The hell, man?”
“You heard me, she's with Seifer. She wants to be with him. Okay with you?”
For once Zell forgot about his usually evasiveness on advice concerning Squall. Now it was something far more personal. The commander's shortsightedness could not only hurt himself, but also Rinoa who was one of his dearest friends. Seifer's return would be the hardest on Squall. Even Rinoa would show compassion after the first flood of emotion. The commander was just learning how to express emotions, and romantic jealously wasn't one that his friend had experience with.
“You know Squall... I'm not going to say I'm an expert on this knight/sorceress connection, but I do have a basic idea about normal relationships. I'm going to try to explain this the simplest way I can - you're jealous.”
“Of Seifer, never!”
“Yeah, right…” Zell tried to play off the denial. “Listen, whatever happened between them is in the past…you know that, I know that, and most importantly Rinoa knows it.”
“What did she possibly see in him?” He sneered under his breath. Adding the bigger question in his own head, “What does she possibly see in me?”
Zell was positive that this was an apostolic sign of Armageddon, Squall Leonhart was jealous of Seifer Almasy.
“Squall, trust me, I want nothing to do with him, but I'm guessing that in the days they were together, he was different. Rinoa's no idiot; she wouldn't stay with someone who was constantly putting her down, or a condescending jerk - that is the Seifer we knew. She knew another one…one who actually was willing to sacrifice everything to help her in Timber.”
“Great, bring that up.”
“Squall…listen… I'm talking about their entire past. I'm talking about how Rinoa was thrown to Adel by someone she once trusted. As much as you and I want to know his reasons…she needs to know tenfold.”
“Whatever. I don't see how she can trust him again…to be in there alone…like that.”
“Hyne Rinoa, are you okay, I'm sorry. I left you...I just left.”
“Squall, he is her past, and you are her present and future. She might need to deal with this one by herself. She might be physically 'by herself' in there, but she's not alone… She's in a Garden full of people she trusts. But most of all you are still with her. She feels safe enough not to be scared alone anymore…that's because of you man.”
“I could've killed him earlier... If I had grabbed my gunblade... I-I don't know what I would have done.”
He leaned against the wall, letting better judgment return. Slowly the veil of insecurity was lifting, and he felt horrendous culpability for his actions. If he could have crawled into a hole, he would have done just that. Maybe the emotional overload was somehow finding a balanced level, maybe facing the truth was what he needed to return to the person he should have been earlier. Zell's words continued to sink in, and he was glad that somebody was there yet again to tell him what a moronic jerk he was being.
“Stand in line Squall…seriously. You know how many people would agree, try this entire Garden for one. Hey, again, I don't like the guy…but it takes some godly courage to walk into a place where you know you'll be hated. Maybe he really does want to make amends.”
“There isn't enough courage in the world for him to atone for his sins.”
“No, but being here is a start, and I'm guessing facing Rinoa is another.”
“I can't believe you're siding with Cid on this. Of all people, I thought you would understand the most. Hell, you're starting to sound more like Quistis.”
“I'll take that as a compliment.” He chuckled softly. “What I do understand, is that you are using what Seifer did as a shield from what's really bothering you now. If it were any other ex-boyfriend in there with her, would you not feel the same? Squall, at this moment, you are not upset that it is Seifer with her…you are upset that it isn't you. Rinoa led a life for seventeen years before she met you. I'm guessing that this won't be the only time you face things like this…but knowing who the third party is makes it worse.”
“Damn it, I have to go find her.”
“Yeah, you do.” Zell agreed as he offered a knowing smile. It wasn't as if he was surprised when Squall didn't answer anymore. He had far greater fences to mend.
The pain throbbed, constricting with every beat of his heart. He tried to shake of the barraging fire, but somehow it had manifested itself into a full out war being raged in his frontal lobes. He reached in his pant's pocket, finding a small bottle of aspirin. Ha, like that was going to help. It was all he had, and he didn't want to waste the time to make the trip to the infirmary. The resident doctor would just end up giving him a lecture on stress relief, and the notion seemed so archaic right now. When had the young man never felt stress, when had anybody in this place never felt stress?
He didn't even stop for a water fountain, as he shoved a small handful into his mouth. His mouth was parched, but he forced himself to swallow the small capsules. In little less than an hour his whole world seemed to be crumbling, the walls cracking like ancient architecture. This was going to take some time to fix, and no longer was a one-step process. His heart was telling him to run to Rinoa, and beg her forgiveness for yet another one his irrational actions. She was just getting over the Ultimecia memories; let's toss a little more kindling into the raging inferno that was her life.
He rubbed his temples in aggravation as he stood outside the large door. Yes, running to Rinoa was what his heart wanted, but that would be the final, and greatest, obstacle tonight. First, he had to find out exactly what was going on, and hopefully, not run again in some huge emotional firestorm. In honesty, the empathetic connection he'd shared with Rinoa was now gone, and that fact alone scared the hell out of him.
Thirty minutes ago, he had now left her alone with that man a half an hour ago. Hyne, was she still there with him? He trusted her, of course he trusted her. Right? He wanted to scream but that would have been too easy, so instead he just kept it bottled inside as per his norm.
He knocked on the door, not sure of how the headmaster would greet him. Disappointment, anger...betrayal? Earlier tonight he had told Rinoa she couldn't assault a ranking SeeD. Not that Seifer was one, but it was apparent he was now some kind of ward of Garden, and therefore fell under its articles of conduct - which he threw out the window with one large blow to the face. Although, he hated admitting, part of him felt some twisted relevance in the man's agony. But that was the jealousy of a man, not disrespect from the commander.
“Commander Leonhart.” Yes, Cid was being formal, never a good sign.
“May I please have a moment of your time sir?”
The man never looked shocked, or in the least bit surprised to see the commander there. It was like he knew he would eventually return. Why did everyone think they knew him, had he gotten that predictable in the last few months? It only took a second to register there was another person sitting at the desk. He would know that bloody, filth-covered, gut-stained trench coat anywhere. You would think that somewhere along the line, it would have met with the unfortunate accident of being washed. The laws of averages should have been weighing heavily its favor.
“Well Squall, first I must congratulate you for only breaking his nose.”
“I apologize, sir.” The young man said remorsefully. It wasn't that he regretted throwing the punch, more like he regretted the disappointment in his superior's eyes. Not to mention Rinoa's.
“It's not me that you hit.” No it wasn't. But that idea too was really tempting thirty minutes ago.
The headmaster indicated with a half wave motion to step out into the hall. The commander remained silent, waiting for the experienced knight to initiate the conversation.
“Don't for one minute think I don't understand what was rushing through your mind.” Cid closed the door, to keep his words from drifting to the room's other inhabitant. “You have no idea what I go through, what I see every time I look at Seifer. Part of me does admire your restraint for not doing more bodily damage.”
“Why Headmaster? That is all I have to ask you...why bring him back?”
“Because... he was one of our children too. Squall...we knew about you. We didn't know about him... And because of that, Edea and I feel that we let him slip into the cracks.”
“Knew about me? What in the...” He quelled his anger. That highway he'd already driven tonight and didn't exactly take him to the exit ramp of reason. “You're not going to tell me anyhow. It's something that I'm going to have to figure out on my own, or Rinoa is going to have to figure out. And it's just going to end up with her and I miserable and fighting. I get it. I get it.”
“No you don't. All I'm going to say is that there is a reason for everything. That I promise you. If you want to call them tests, go ahead. Or if you want to call them ultimate training, go ahead and do that too. We were young like you two once, and someone stood right before me, giving me almost identical advice. But do you know what - I gave in too easily and he eventually gave me the answers. It's like being able to read the blueprints of this Garden. You can memorize the plans, commit them to memory, you may be even able to go to the construction site and know every centimeter of the building. The only thing is you know nothing of how it is built. It's the nails, the wood, the wires, and every minute piece of material used to create the structure. You know the building, yet you know nothing of it.”
“So what, you want me to be able to theoretically know every plank and every nail in the foundation?”
“Yes, because when the storm comes and the building is left in ruins, it can be rebuilt. Without knowing how to repair it properly... it is just as useless as trying to live in the blueprint itself.”
“Well, let's call him the spackle that surrounds the electric plugs. He's needed to make the building safe and complete, but can be very dangerous if you don't know what you are doing.”
“...And I was electrocuted.”
“Something like that. But you learned, and I bet next time you will be more careful.”
“If you are saying what I think you are... you knew also from my childhood I was destined to be a knight. That's what the last year and a half was... a huge test?” He looked down at the floor as a few things fell into place. “So, if Rinoa could sense that Seifer was around, even though she had no idea what the emotions were... then Edea could sense me...in the past. She had a prior emotional relationship with me as a child.”
It was all making so much sense now. Even Ellone's powers were based on people she had previously met. That had been the difficulty in reaching Rinoa's mind on Lunar Base. Everything had always revolved around emotions, but he just hadn't seen it.
“Yes.” Cid admitted, finally relieved that at least part of his evasiveness could be over. “We had an approximant age, knowing when you appeared to Edea at the orphanage. What we couldn't figure out though was who was going to inherit the powers. By the time Rinoa was in the picture, Edea was...well not herself. I had to put all my trust that she would pass the powers to the right person. I wasn't sure myself...you showed no interest in anyone until the night of the graduation. Even then, it was basically a stab in the dark.”
“She came to you about a mission, and so you accepted it for little money.”
He chucked as he shifted the weight on his legs. “Little money is an overstatement. You know they got you for less than two thousand Gil. I had put in another twenty-three just to get Norg to accept the job, albeit reluctantly. I used my last bit of influence to send you three.”
“Your own money?”
“Squall, I was desperate. I had to take a gamble, and it paid off. What Edea and I didn't know...what we couldn't know...was that there was another of our children who was destined to be a knight.”
Okay, so much about that 'inferno theory' and Rinoa, now his whole life was set ablaze with a few words. His life had never been random, nothing it in was... For a minute he wondered if there was anything in the headmaster's temporary office stronger than aspirin. This was another bombshell he couldn't deal with right now. He had to focus on the present, and then maybe he and Rinoa could sort this out later. So what if his life wasn't arbitrary, or at least what got him to this point? What wasn't up to chance was going to be Rinoa forgiving him.
“Headmaster... I-I can't go into this right now. I just need to talk to Seifer.”
The headmaster didn't offer any more support or wisdom. He didn't even offer a goodbye as he walked away. Maybe it was harder on the man than Squall had realized. He cleared his mind of but only one thought as he turned the doorknob. “Rinoa.”
“Oh look what the cat dragged in - a homicidal mouse bent on taking over the world, one cheese wheel at a time.”
“Glad to see you still have a sense of humor about all of this.” Squall tried not to show any undue emotion. This was just another test, and he was damn well going to pass it without prejudice. “Are you doing okay?”
“Do you really mean that Leonhart?”
“No.” Well, he could at least be honest. “But I'm asking all the same.”
“Yes, I'm fine. Had some issues with a few dominating woman the last year. Then of course, those delusions of grandeur thing reared its ugly head; which by the way looked identical to Adel without makeup. Scary really. I broke my best fishing rod when a large flying building soared over my head. Ran into an old friend today, then I unexpectedly ran into the fist of another. But on the positive side, I do get to wear this stylish white gauze over my nose for awhile. You know how much women love this look. So...how's life been treating you?” The blonde smirked, baiting Squall into the mousetrap. Although, he really didn't know why, guess old habits took longer to grow out of than sixty minutes.
Squall walked around the desk, taking a seat in the leather chair. He looked over an open folder that was scattered about the desk. There wasn't anything the man could say that would break his façade.
“Fine. Life's fine.”
“So hear Rinoa is working at Balamb Garden. Didn't see that one coming.”
The commander's body involuntary flinched as her name left Seifer's mouth. He certainly didn't feel like elaborating on the question. This was supposed to be a time to try to understand his rival's motives. All it appeared to be right then, is the same immature banter they had done all their lives. Okay, that Seifer had done...Squall just listened unit he reached his boiling point. In the past, the words would eventually get him to retaliate. Not this time.
“People change, Seifer.”
“Well, Rinoa isn't all people. Other people might change. She will not.”
“No, she is not all people.” Squall tossed the folder onto the desk and a few papers shifted in the air. “Seems to me that the only change you've ever accomplished has been for the worst. There was a time, even as late as the field exam, that I thought you were a decent fighter. A little passionate, but still a reliable comrade in battle.”
“Oh God, I feel the guilt. I didn't think about offending the great Squall Leonhart before I acted so irrationally.”
“Not to mention you know nothing of Rinoa now. Nothing.”
“Maybe you're right. Because the Rinoa I knew would have never accepted a job at Garden - no matter whom she was trying to impress. She had her beliefs, and certainly wouldn't work for a place where they were sold to the highest bidder. That's us Squall, that's who we are. Not her. You and I were always the same, whether you admit it or not.”
“Same!?” He gritted his teeth as he leaned forward in the chair. First, there was no way he was right about Rinoa. She felt at home at Garden, her earlier protests about 'how sad their lives were' was before she got to know them. Right? And she would never try to 'impress' him. Second, they were not the same, they never had been. “Do enlighten me Seifer, please tell me how you and I could ever be classified as 'the same.' We might have both chosen the gunblade, and been equal on the battlefield. That is where all similarities start and end.”
“You know, cut the crap Leonhart. You can pull this shit on everyone else, but I know you better. We've only ever wanted the same things, just gone about it different ways. And I guess it's pretty obvious who did it better. You can sit there and tell the others that you don't care what people think of you, and you never did. It's a damn lie. You used some back-asswards way of getting what you want. 'Oh look at me...what ever you do, don't care about what I think.' It's like a child purposely pulling away so the parents will drop everything and pay attention to him. It's some reverse physiology that had nearly an entire Garden fooled. You never fooled me.”
“Fooled!? What in the hell do you mean?” As he slammed his fist down on the desk, he realized he wasn't doing as well as he had hoped. Taking a deep breath, he ran his hand through his hair exhaling slowly. If there was an off chance that Seifer had something productive to add, he would begrudgingly listen.
“I'll tell you what I mean. It's always been that way from the orphanage until now. 'Oh no, Sis left...everyone take care of me. I know you all lost her too, but not like I did, because I need constant attention.' Like you waited to the last day to take your fire cavern exam, just so everyone would crowd around you for support. What about Dollet? 'Oh Quistis, save me from the evil spider monster so you can be more dependent on my brooding aloofness,' even though Zell and Selphie made it easily on to the transport without mass theatrics! Or my favorite, 'I can't dance...oh keep me out here against my will...wait is everyone watching yet? Fine yeah, I've taken four years of classes like every other person in this frickin' Garden... look at me, god's gift to the anal retentive loners.”
“Thank you for summing up my life so eloquently, Seifer.” He took a piece of paper, balling it, and threw it forcefully into the trashcan. “I could do yours, but I'm not going to waste my breath. The military, police, and Garden records pretty much do it for me.”
“That is supposed to hurt? I'll tell you who you did hurt today. Hyne forbid Rinoa doesn't follow you for five minutes and needs to face her past. How dare she have a life before you? 'Okay, I will push her away, walking off like a jealous adolescent until she comes back begging my forgiveness.' Squall, I'm certainly in hell not saying I'm innocent, but I'm saying you aren't either.”
“Goddamn you... you have no right to talk about our relationship. Never in a million years would I do what you did to her.”
“Really? That's strange, because you didn't see her after you stormed out. I'm sure that tossing her to Adel would have been far less painful. When I did sacrifice her, I did it just so you wouldn't get what you wanted. How damned self-righteous is that? I put a life...her life...in front of everything, just so the great Mr. Leonhart wouldn't get something he wanted for once. But you did...you always do. Let's keep score here, since that seems to be a big one for your ego: you make SeeD on the first try. You're named the commander at seventeen. You find out you have a mother who loved you, a father who is a President of the largest country in the world. You become a knight, save the world, and you get the girl. Did I miss something in there? In all your greatness I might have left out a pertinent detail of hero worship or something.”
“Stop it! This isn't about me.”
Standing from the chair, Squall refused to speak anymore to this man. Did he really hurt Rinoa that badly? Everything was just becoming a giant blur. He had accomplished nothing since he'd walked in there, besides hearing some demented synopsis of his life. What scared him most was that Seifer wasn't completely off on some of his accusations. It was the first time anyone had ever called him on anything. He knew this was a road he didn't want to go down, but he couldn't help it as the question slipped from his thoughts.
“Upset.” It was a simple, truthful answer that the commander didn't expect.
“Do you know where she went?”
“Her room, I guess.”
“Did she say anything?”
He shook his head. “No, nothing.”
Squall sat back down, placing all the paperwork back into the file. “It's obvious that Cid wants you here. He thinks there's still a chance.”
“You don't want me here. You think I'm a lost cause.”
“No, I don't suppose I want you here, but I'm not exactly saying you're a lost cause either. If not for Rinoa...” he admitted hesitantly. “I don't think this would be much of an issue at all for me. I could avoid you easily. So, as commander of Balamb, I won't stand in your way. But as someone who cares deeply about Rinoa, I will kill you if hurt her.”
“Fair enough. As someone working off their sentence in Trabia, I will respect your authority. But if you treat Rinoa like I saw today, I will not be responsible for my actions.”
Squall nodded in soundless agreement. He too had to admit his actions today were not on the better side of judgment. For the first time, he had seen a crack in Seifer's uncaring exterior. In that fleeting instance, the commander saw a hint of the person Rinoa had two years ago. Maybe it was also an instant quit similar that Rinoa had seen through his own façade.
“You really did care for her.” Squall made sure it wasn't a question; it was a statement.
“Yes.” Seifer looked away, his voice being dictated by a more solemn tone. “Not a lot of people would ever give me the chances she did. Even back then, I knew it wasn't going to be permanent, but I actually found myself wanting to help her. The betrayal I saw in her eyes today sickened me. I had caused that pain to the one person who believed in me. The way she looked at you while she was trying to calm you... I had never seen her look at me like that.”
“You know, it could have been either of us...back at the television station, I mean. If I had walked into the room first, maybe Ultimecia would have tried to sway me.”
“Ha, like the almighty lion would have turned so easily?”
“Look Seifer, I know what Rinoa went through was enough to make her do unthinkable things. I also know that Rinoa is a far more kindhearted person than either you or I could ever dream of being. I understand how Ultimecia could manipulate memories and time itself. And like you said earlier, we have our similarities... maybe her vice grip on me wouldn't have been power, or to be a knight. But she could have found something to turn me, you yourself just brushed on a few. You weren't completely right, but you weren't completely wrong either.”
“Leonhart, there are three knights in this building...and two of us have failed. I'm not saying this for your benefit in the least, but for Rinoa. You're the only one who hasn't screwed up that badly yet. Don't ever lie to her. If there is a problem, don't walk away. It's in that moment of weakness that something can happen, and thirteen years later you are ordering her assassination.”
Squall closed his eyes as Rinoa's saddened image overwhelmed his every thought. Her eyes harbored such distress at his earlier actions. He had to speak to her; he had to hear her voice whisper his forgiveness. He had to know everything was all right between them. His mind needed to know, his heart needed to know…he needed to know.