A Sleepless Night
Squall stretched out on his bunk, his hands behind his head, staring blankly at the white ceiling. He hadn't wanted quarters in the faculty wing, even though he held the title of Commander. All he'd ever wanted was a SeeD's room; a room for one person, with just room enough for one bed, one study desk, one shelf, one chair. Having gained that, he had neither need nor desire for anything more; certainly not the spacious accommodations Garden gave to faculty members.
There was a restlessness in him tonight, but it was coupled with a feeling that careful thinking was needed. Usually when he felt like this he'd head down to the training center and get both feelings out of his system, but not tonight. He had a strong suspicion Quistis and Selphie had given Rinoa an ultimatum - which would mean she, too, would be awake. And if she heard him about, she'd want to join him.
He was not in the mood to share his thoughts, not even with Rinoa. He'd noted her almost-smile when he'd mentioned Sorceress children.
He could just leave the decision up to Rinoa. She could decide to join SeeD, and there wouldn't be any need for him to worry over anything. But he could not, could not, leave something important to his own life up to someone else.
She could decide not to join SeeD. And then he would need to know exactly where he stood, and the sooner the better.
He was raised and trained to fight. SeeD was comprised of the best fighters on the planet. If he left, what could he do? Were there other options? He couldn't see himself as a shopkeeper or...whatever else people in towns did. Ha! How could he be a simple villager when he had absolutely no idea how they spent their days?
Maybe he could do as Laguna had once done, and eliminate monsters that ventured too close to, or into, villages like Winhill. It was at least fighting, something he knew how to do.
But it was also meaningless. Anyone could do the job. And it was endless; there would always be more monsters. He did not have Seifer's need to do something 'big'. But he did need to know that what he was doing filled a need, had a purpose.
He could be a soldier...probably he had the skills to be an officer...in any army of the world.
But he didn't like the idea of using his skills solely against other people. He could, and had, killed soldiers when the need arose, but he just didn't have the faith that soldiers seemed to need. Soldiers needed to believe that their country was the greatest on earth, that they were defending a just and righteous nation. To Squall, no one nation was ever completely in the right, or completely in the wrong. It was always a matter of viewpoint and circumstance.
Perhaps he could work with resistance movements, such as Rinoa's group in Timber.
But could places like Timber ever really be free? It was a small town in an excellent geographical location. He could (and now that he came to think of it, probably should; the contract with Rinoa's group was still unfilled) work to free it from Galbadian control, but what of that? The moment the resistance factions disbanded in victory, Galbadia would just roll right over it again. And if Galbadia did not, Dollet probably would. Ultimately, it was as meaningless as fighting village monsters; Timber probably would always be a vassal state; the question would only ever be which state.
All his options led him back to SeeD, which did at least have a worthy ultimate goal. But that worthy goal was the defeat of evil sorceresses, and Rinoa was a sorceress. Not an evil one, no. But she was a sorceress, and it was difficult to explain to SeeDs outside the small circle who knew Rinoa that the only Sorceress currently alive was not a viable target for their lifetime of training.
SeeD would want to control Rinoa, or at least contain her. Try as he might to think ahead, he knew he would not be able to say with certainty where he would stand on that until the issue came to a head. He could not say in advance, with any certainty, that he would side with Rinoa; neither of them knew whether Rinoa's new powers had side effects that might prove too much for her. Nor could he say that he would definitely side with SeeD; there were enough SeeDs who were willing to kill Rinoa first and then wonder about the justice in doing so, for Squall to be hesitant in declaring his loyalty.
It all came down to a series of ifs;
If Rinoa went mad with the Sorceress' power, he would have to side with SeeDs against her. It hurt even to think about that, but he knew that that would be what he would do. Better to hate himself for killing the one he loved, than to forbear and hate himself for killing the world. It was quite possible that in the end he would not be able to bring himself to kill Rinoa. But he would have to try.
But if she did not go mad, if she kept control of her powers, he would fight the whole of Garden to protect her...and worry afterward about what he would do with his life.
If Rinoa joined SeeD - if she was allowed to join SeeD - his problem was solved. If she did not, at least he would have a basic idea of where he stood. He knew what he would say to Quistis and Selphie, at least on that point.
The other thing they were going to be talking to him about - why he'd revealed so much to Rinoa - that would prove harder.
Why did I do it? he thought to himself. She could've stayed here forever and never noticed; she's a people watcher, but she doesn't watch what they're doing. Was it just to force this situation?
He gave up pretending to sleep; he swung his legs over the side of the bunk and sat up, running a hand through his hair.
SeeD would have asked Rinoa to join, I know they would. She's too good a fighter to lose, she's already here in Garden and friends with SeeDs, and having the only Sorceress in the world right here where everyone can keep an eye on her is a bonus. They don't even have to train her; a good thing since teaching a sorceress how SeeDs kill sorceresses wouldn't be a good idea.
He stood up, and began unconsciously to pace across his room, bare feet making no noise against the mat.
Do I want SeeD to have that kind of hold on her?
Did I hope she would make my own choices easier?
I guess...I guess what I was hoping was that she'd be horrified. Or disgusted. Or angry. I was hoping that by showing her the worst, she wouldn't want to stay, that she would think less of SeeD...less of us...less of me.
Or was I hoping she could love me anyway, even knowing the truth of what goes on?
God, I'm so confused. I can't even tell what I want her to feel.
Do I want her not to love me? Life would be a lot easier if she didn't. But less interesting. And so empty...I don't know if I can go back to that.
He sat back down on the bunk, stretched out again on the mattress.
Well, that's one thing I can think about all night and it won't net me anything. Rinoa will feel how she feels. I...I don't think I can risk showing her anything else. She looked so sad tonight. Let the others tell her the rest, if they want to. I answered her question so that's the end of it. I don't want Rinoa to be sad.
Besides, we've still got that GF to find.
Squall closed his eyes, and quickly fell asleep.
Rinoa stayed in her room only long enough to know that Squall had gone. Then she quietly opened her door and left the Dormitory, grateful as she almost never was that her quarters in the guest wing were on the opposite side of the dormitory from Squall's in the SeeD section.
Another thing she was grateful for was that guest quarters were much nicer than those given to the people who lived here. Guests were possible customers, and Garden treated possible customers very well indeed. But she didn't want to think about Garden and SeeD while surrounded by the things she might have to give up.
Rinoa strolled slowly around the great Ringway that linked all the sections of Balamb Garden. It was well designed, so that a large number of people could get where they were going with a minimum of fuss. As she passed the Cafeteria, the sounds of the celebration appeared to be fading somewhat. She wondered for a moment when Selphie and Quistis would go to bed; it was certain the others wouldn't go to bed until those two did. Irvine certainly wouldn't.
Did she want to become a SeeD? The answer wasn't as simple now as it had been only yesterday. She was the only current guest of Balamb Garden; the guest wing was entirely hers, and at night it echoed in its emptiness. During the day, she could watch any of the cadets' classes, or read in the Library, but she couldn't speak to her friends. SeeDs were not encouraged to be idle; any that were not on a mission were generally assigned some task around Garden, or placed on a committee. She didn't really know the specifics of what SeeD did; even her friends were prone to giving noncommittal, evasive, or incomplete answers when she asked. Zell was a refreshing exception; she knew that he led the Inter-Garden Kickboxing team, and that he taught cadets unarmed combat. He was the only one willing to show her anything she wanted of his work; as a result of six months of relative quiet, she now knew a great deal more of unarmed combat than she used to.
Squall was right; she would have leapt at the chance to become SeeD. To fit in, to have purpose, to belong. She always felt out of place around the others; though she cared for them, she never felt part of them unless she was with Squall. Everything was all right when he was around. The trouble was, as Commander it seemed he had more to do than any of the others. Perhaps now that Quistis and Selphie were working with him, he'd have more time to spend with her.
Selphie was Garden Master; she'd said that meant she controlled where
money came from and what it was spent on.
The only thing left was SeeD. He must command the SeeD. And that would mean that somewhere, something exciting was going on that they weren't telling her about. He'd been very busy lately. Though...perhaps that was only because he'd been doing all three jobs. She mentally filed that away; she'd have to see if he had more free time now, but it would be something she wouldn't be able to know for certain for a few days.
But even so, if Squall's job was to command the SeeD, she had nothing to fear. He would never abuse that power over her.
Would Squall always command the SeeD? She knew he didn't like having other people's problems, though he was very good at dealing with them (or more accurately, having them dealt with). He made an able Commander; she could easily understand Cid's decision to give the job to Squall. It was just that...somehow...she knew Squall didn't actually want the job. And there was a niggling suspicion that he wouldn't put up with a job he didn't want much longer than he had to. She couldn't count on Squall's position to keep SeeD honest.
And that was the real question, wasn't it? Could she trust SeeD? Could she leave it, if things soured? She'd never heard of an ex-SeeD. Failed cadets like Seifer, yes. But nobody who became SeeD ever left it. Quistis and Selphie wouldn't leave their positions, Rinoa was sure. Both had been very happy at their elevation. She didn't know either woman all that well, but her gut told her they were trustworthy and Rinoa had always found that instinct to be accurate.
That gut instinct told her that Quistis, Selphie and the others might like her, but a whole lot of other SeeDs didn't. She saw the looks in the halls sometimes; they knew the purpose of SeeD was to keep the world safe from sorceresses. They couldn't understand why those in charge let a sorceress roam free right in the halls of Balamb Garden. Those at the top might like and trust Rinoa - but people in positions of power who made unpopular decisions could be overthrown. She knew that implicitly; it had been her life's work to overthrow Deling of Galbadia.
Rinoa looked around her; the Library was just coming up on her walk around the Ringway; she'd made more than a full circuit, and still didn't really have an answer. She decided to head in and pick a book; even if she wasn't reading it, she'd attract less attention if she looked like she was.
Just her luck to stumble across a couple of cadets in a state of serious undress in the farther stacks. Apparently late night reading wasn't all that popular an occupation. She left them undisturbed - they were so distracted she doubted they even registered the intrusion - and picked a different corner.
She didn't have to stay here, she knew. Irvine, Zell, and the others were her friends, but so were Watts and Zone. Timber wasn't free yet; she still had a job to do -- though the current state of disarray Galbadia was in meant she could probably take her time. It was only for Squall that she really stayed here in a Garden full of people trained to kill her.
She put a hand to Griever and her mother's wedding band, safe on their chain around her neck. She traced the leonine carving on Griever with her finger. She'd never gotten a copy from Zell; this was Squall's ring. And despite knowing the origin of its name, she could not help but think of it as an unsolved mystery. The lion-like symbol suited Squall's heart if not his style. And he couldn't remember where it had come from. Did that mean he had had it a long time? None of the others could remember how long he'd had it, not even Irvine. But they all made use of guardian forces now, and such a minor thing would easily slip the minds of people who never used GFs at all. Zell could only say that the metal was very hard and the workmanship uncommonly good.
A GF had hidden inside a cursed lamp and Solomon's Ring. What if a GF was hidden right here, in this ring?
Well, if that were the case, her Sorceress powers should be able to detect it, if she looked.
Rinoa unclasped the chain from around her neck and drew Griever off the chain before putting it back on. She weighed the ring in her hand. Yes, it was heavier than other rings she had, but it was a man's ring. They tended to be larger and heavier; men were much rougher on their jewelry than women. She raised Griever so that she could clearly see the carving on the band, and tentatively reached out with her Sorceress' powers. She'd start by trying to identify the metal; that should be safe enough.
Her eyes began to glow as she mentally reached out to the ring in her hand. In the light of her eyes, it almost seemed like the ring glowed too. Gently, carefully - she was still new at this sort of thing - she touched the metal with her gift.
The last thing she saw was bright white light. Then something threw her back, her head hit something very hard, then darkness...