~Chapter 2: Shadows of My Mind~
Final Fantasy and all its characters belong to Squaresoft.
The dew of the morning
So much. So much had happened. Where in hell could she begin?
Quistis opened the doors to the private presidential wing. Measures had been taken to keep this as quiet as possible. Though time was certainly limited in that factor. A world that had begun to adapt to living without a sorceress would soon find one among them once more. She came back from her thoughts as she drew nearer. She would handle this the best way she could. And she would hope for the best. Laguna Loire stood a few feet ahead of her now. His body fashioned into his familiar pose with one hand nervously rubbing the back of his head while the other found solace in his pant’s pocket. He gave her a smile that was both tense and relieved.
“You’re a sight for tired old eyes Quistis Trepe,” he said as he held his arms open to her.
She wrapped her arms around the older man and managed a laugh. “It hasn’t been that long, Sir.”
“Oh just humor me. And please drop the formalities; I hear enough of that from everyone else around here.”
Quistis smiled as she released him. “You’re looking well Laguna.”
“Oh see, now I know you’re just being nice.” He winked. She managed a glance to the thick oak door beside them. “How…how is she?”
“The doctors think she’s doing fairly good considering,” he replied. “She’s been in and out of consciousness most of the night. Hasn’t been fully alert as of yet. She’s extremely weak of course, so they said it would be a while before she was one hundred percent again. They’re giving her lots of fluids. All those damn wires and tubes going in and out of her, she looks like a switchboard.” Laguna rubbed his eyes wearily.
“But…she’s definitely going to make it, right?”
“Well, they say nothing’s guaranteed but she’s getting the best possible care here. Everyone seems to be really positive. So, I’d say it’s hopeful Quistis, its hopeful.”
“Yeah, high time someone up there smiled on her,” he replied.
“So you said you found the documents in Odine’s laboratory?”
“Yeah, after I told you we had countless people go in and search the lab for anything we could find on the sealing process; hell I searched the place myself. Leave it to a cleaning crew to find a hidden room.”
“Yeah, about as long as this hallway,” Laguna said as he pointed. “You wouldn’t believe all the files. Had to be thousands in there. God that man was insane Quistis. Some of the experimental documents he had there…I swear it’d make the hair on the back of your neck stand up for a month. I’m just thankful we don’t have to worry anymore about him carrying any of them out. Anyway, after a whole lot of sorting, we found the preliminary plans for the unsealing process about a week ago. They were very sketchy and hard to read. Took our team of scientists a while to make any sense of them. It was a risk to say the very least. That’s why I hadn’t told you…or anyone…until now. I didn’t want to get any hopes up.”
“Then…you haven’t told Squall.”
The president sighed. “I tried so many times…I’d pick up the phone, start to dial, and then hang it up again. I just…couldn’t. He told me when he started the trust fund that if there was the slightest of chances to bring her out of this, to take it. So I did. He had given me permission. Squall seems so close to having a life now…so close to being happy. He’s come so far…I didn’t want to bring the walls falling down on top of him again. Especially now…when…well, I’m sure you’ve heard.”
“Yeah he told me.”
“Lucky you, I had to find out through a chain of sources. Guess we still aren’t on the best of speaking terms.”
“Don’t be. I’m just thankful he does speak to me a little on occasion. There isn’t a thing he does to me that I don’t deserve.”
“Laguna, don’t beat yourself up.”
“Like father like son. Now you know of something he got honest,” he managed a smile. “Hey, I won’t give up. Hell, maybe if I’m lucky enough, I might get an invitation.”
“You will.” Quistis said. “I’m sure of it.”
“Have you been in to see her yet?”
“Yeah, but she wasn’t awake. Probably a good thing, she doesn’t know me anyway. I’m sure she’d like the first face she sees to be a friendly one. Dear Hyne but she is the spitting image of Julia,” Laguna said with a grin. “I could almost feel those old leg cramps coming back.”
“Well I won’t keep you any longer with my old man ramblings Headmaster Trepe. You go be that friendly face in there. I’ve got some things to take care of for our new sorceress. Namely making sure that the rest of the world will regard her as still frozen.”
“Thank you for everything Laguna.”
He nodded and stared at the ground for a moment in thought. “I just hope everything works out…” He shook his head as if to clear it and then turned to leave. “I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. In the meantime, if you need anything at all just let me know. I didn’t know how long you were planning on staying, but there’s a room waiting for you at the palace if you want it.”
“Oh! Er…yes. Thank you again. Tell you the truth I spent all my hectic moments getting things squared away at Balamb that I didn’t even consider finding a place to stay here.”
“Not to worry,” he said with a backward wave. “We’ll leave the light on for you.”
Quistis watched him leave before taking a breath and turning the steel handle on the door. The sweat of her hand caused it to slide off of the hilt. She didn’t know why she was so nervous. She wouldn’t have to deliver all the earth shattering news all at once. She’d bide the time as long as she could. Right now, she would just be a friendly face. More importantly…a friend.
The door pushed open as she entered the sterile white room. Save for the colors of the wires and monitors there was hardly any other color but white in the room. The girl on the bed was so pale that she almost blended into the sheets completely. Her dark hair helped to outline the features of her face.
Quistis approached the bedside, stepping over equipment and cables. She pulled the chair out of the corner of the room and sat down next to the bedside. It was hard to keep the tears coming. After so long, she was really there…back with them among the world. A world that had changed dramatically, while if it weren’t for the loss of color, Quistis thought Rinoa looked just as she remembered her.
She reached out and brushed a strand of hair away from the girl’s face. Her skin felt cool to the touch. Her thoughts were startled as Rinoa stirred a little. She took the sorceress’s hand in both of her own, gently caressing the tops of her fingers.
“Rinoa…can you hear me?”
Her eyes fluttered open slowly and focused hazily on the ceiling. She heard her name again. She couldn’t decipher the voice…her mind was too busy trying to figure out where she was. It was white…all white…frozen. So cold. She felt the ice around her, spreading through her body. She tried to scream…there was no sound.
Quistis panicked as Rinoa began gasping for breath and shuddering violently. She looked over to see the EKG monitor racing. She was unwittingly putting far too much stress on an undoubtedly weak heart. Quistis grabbed the sides of the young woman’s face, bringing her eyes to her own.
“Rinoa it’s okay, you’re safe now! Just calm down…everything is fine. You’ve just got to breathe sweetie. Relax.”
Her brown eyes darted wildly back and forth.
“It’s alright, just focus, I’m right here…follow the sound of my voice.”
The voice again. It echoed in her head like a roaring cannon. She searched for it desperately wanting nothing more than freedom from this empty solitude. The blur faded a little more and she was able to make out a pair of frightened blue eyes. They seemed very familiar.
“That’s it. Good. Just take it easy.”
Rinoa closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She wanted this to be real. She opened her eyes again. As the face took shape, she tried to smile.
“Hey there you are,” Quistis said with some relief, taking her by the hand. “Welcome back stranger.”
She tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come. She struggled inwardly for a moment before giving out in exhaustion.
“No don’t try to talk right now. It’ll come. Just rest, I’ll be right here.”
The dark haired woman blinked slowly, and Quistis felt a slight pressure on her hand. Relief flooded Rinoa’s senses and she gave in to the dark once more as two solemn tears fell from the corners of her eyes.
After a few moments, her breathing slowed and returned to the rhythmic pattern of sleep. Quistis sighed and allowed herself to relax as well. The door to the room creaked open as one of the doctors stepped in. Concern written on his features as he looked towards the sleeping girl.
“I think she’s alright now,” Quistis said in a quiet voice as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “She just got scared.”
The doctor smiled at the young woman and nodded. Then he silently checked the machines and IV bags and paused as he recorded something on Rinoa’s chart. He was an elderly man with white receding hair and a trimmed moustache to match. He had one of those loveable, round “grandpa” faces Quistis observed, and she immediately felt a sense of security. It was then that she realized the truth in Laguna’s words. Rinoa was getting the best care possible…by people that actually cared. No deranged doctors treating her like some lab rat that they could poke and prod in the name of science.
To think that Odine had intentionally kept the poor girl captive all these years made her physically ill. Yet it was not at all surprising. That man was a cunning and sick bastard. It was the only reason Laguna didn’t throw him out beyond the walls of Esthar, because he knew the doctor would have been an extremely dangerous asset in the wrong hands. And the world was full of wrong hands. He possessed an incredible amount of knowledge of the world, as well as his inventions. And that alone was the only thing that kept Squall Leonhart from killing him. But that didn’t stop him from wishing death upon the man.
His wish had been granted six months ago when Odine was diagnosed with a ravenous form of pancreatic cancer. It consumed him so quickly that he spent the last four months of his life lying in a hospital bed. Telling them the truth about the unsealing process was not in his dying thoughts however. Somehow, again, it was no surprise.
Quistis bitterly hoped he endured at least a fraction of the suffering he had put so many through. She had no idea how Rinoa was going to make it through the rest of her life. She wondered if she would ever be able to sleep again with the fear of not waking up. And then there was the torment of the endless nightmares.
How could you live with nightmares like that?
Quistis realized she must have said her last thought allowed because the doctor answered her with a sorrowful voice. “Between me and you young lady, I wouldn’t want her nightmares for all the gil in the world.”
She shuddered at the thought. “Neither would I.”
The sun scaled the mountains of Trabia as it strove to once again bring warmth to the unwavering frozen land. He stared at the sunrise through the large pane windows. His eyes seemed to meet the same dawn every morning. It never seemed different. It was cold, it was bleached, and it was endlessly boring. Somehow, he felt right at home. As much as he had tried, there was very little color in his life. No matter how many people he had around him, he still felt as solitary as the winds rushing the ice-capped peaks of the mountains.
He took a sip from the mug in his hand and winced. He quickly spat the hot contents back into the cup. Once again, today’s coffee was strong enough to walk on its own. That was Janice for you. He decided that he would tell his secretary that he would start making the damn coffee himself.
The intercom on his desk buzzed and flashed briefly before a voice came through the speaker. “Mr. Leonhart, sir?” Speak of the caffeine devil.
He returned to his chair and pressed the button. “What is it Janice?”
“Dr. Vandermere is here to see you.”
“Send her in.”
“The coffee in my cup should be a liquid, not a solid.”
“Oh shoot…um…sorry sir,” came the sheepish reply.
“Yes I know,” he sighed. “I know.”
“I’ll make some more for you.”
“That’s okay, don’t bother.”
The door slide open as a woman in a white lab coat stepped in. Her dark hair was pulled back neatly with a hair clip. She looked around the office and then over to him with eyes that sparkled like cerulean diamonds.
“Good morning Headmaster.”
Squall leaned back in his chair. “Not really.”
She continued as if she didn’t hear him. “Here are the physicals for next semester’s beginning students.” The doctor placed a thick manila folder onto his desk. “I took the liberty of alphabetizing them by last name for you. The medical staff has carefully examined all of them and none have been finalized without my signature. From my personal opinion, these volunteers are in excellent health and should be fine assets to Trabia Garden. They only await your approval sir.”
Squall rubbed his eyes wearily before giving the young woman a look. “Cut the crap Elise.”
“Cut the crap?” Her expression went from professional to a playful smile in an instant. “My but you’re in a wonderful mood this morning,” she replied coolly. “Someone needs to stop putting so much sugar in their cereal.”
“I can’t function this early without caffeine,” he scowled. “All I ask for is a decent cup of coffee; I don’t think that’s too much of a demand on her secretarial abilities. But no, instead, I get a decent cup of motor oil. I think I should transfer her to the garage.”
Elise stuck her lip out and frowned. “Oh you poor baby.”
“I know, it’s tragic. Now will you please sit down, you’re making me nervous.”
“As you wish oh decaffeinated one.” She pulled up a seat, then turned and instead made a seat for herself on his desk.
“Better?” She leaned over to him seductively.
He came forward in his chair until his lips were but a breath away from her own. The only change in his expression was a slightly raised eyebrow. “Just don’t break my stapler,” he whispered.
“Oh you are so bad!” she chuckled.
The corners of his mouth lifted into a small smile. “Damn right. Now will you tell me what you’re doing here? You could have had one of your assistants bring those files up here. And anyway, you know I don’t need these until next week.”
“You mean you don’t buy that I just wanted to see my charming yet extremely grumpy fiancée this morning in the hopes for a quickie on the desk?” Elise batted her eyelashes at him sweetly.
She received a roll of his eyes as a response.
“Okay, okay, you’re right as usual.”
“Squall…now you know I’ve been really patient about this.” With those words, she watched as the defense shields went up immediately. He shifted back into his seat and looked away from her.
“So am I to take that as a ‘no I haven’t Elise’?”
“I haven’t had a chance to.”
Elise sighed. “Squall Leonhart that is complete bullshit and you know it!”
“Can’t we talk about this later? When I’m not in the process of running an entire military facility?” Squall said as the irritation rose rapidly in his voice.
“No we can not,” she replied with equally growing animosity. “Because then I get the ‘I’m too tired’ excuse. Frankly, this is getting old. I want to talk about it right now. Tell me why you haven’t called him. Why haven’t you told your own father about this?” She finished her questioning by waving the engagement ring on her hand in front of his face.
“Will you please stop calling him that?” He groaned.
“Damn it, will you quit denying him? You’re being so childish!” She shot back. “He has done nothing but try to reach out to you. The least you could do is attempt to make him a part of your life.”
“Well that’s a little hard Elise, considering he was never very interested in being a part of mine until I was legally an adult.”
She threw her hands up in the air. “Oh cut this stubborn bleeding heart shit Squall! You know, sometimes I think there is more to this than you’re telling me.” She slid off of his desk. “Hyne, we’ve all done stupid things in our lives. Things we wish we could take back.”
Elise realized the mistake of her words as he bit his lower lip and looked down at the desk. “I know he wishes back those years with all his heart Squall,” her toned softened. “Please…this will be important for him. It’s important to me. And it should be important to you.”
“Fine,” he said in defeat. “I’ll call him.”
“Soon,” he growled. She was trying his patience to the limits.
He sighed exasperated. “Now…I’ll do it now, is that soon enough to make you happy?”
“Now is good,” she replied.
He picked up the phone and began to dial. Elise reached into her coat pocket as the buzzer on her pager went off. She stared at the screen and exhaled sharply.
“I’ve got to go,” she said as she came around to his side of the desk. “I’ll talk to you tonight. You can do this, I know you can.” She leaned down and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I love you.”
She laughed as she made her way to the door. “I love it when you talk all romantic like that.” She stopped just short of the exit and turned around. The door swished open in waiting. “Squall?”
“What?” He said annoyed. “I’m on hold.”
“Don’t you hang up that phone after I walk out of this room dear,” she sing-songed.
“I won’t, now get the hell out of my office dear,” he sing-songed back.
She smirked and gave him the finger. He clutched at his chest with his free hand and leaned back in the chair as if he had been shot. She laughed and blew on the end of her middle finger as if it were a smoking gun barrel.
Squall watched her retreating figure until the door closed behind her with a resounding swish. He waited a few moments before letting the phone drop from his hand back on to the receiver. He rested his elbows on the hard wooden surface and buried his face into his hands. She had no idea about the significance of this act. No idea at all. It wasn’t just his animosity towards his estranged father. To him this simple phone call was like taking a wrecking ball and throwing it at the last shred of hope that existed in his heart. She didn’t understand. Telling Laguna Loire about his engagement finalized everything. The everything that had held him for the last seven years.
You can’t wait forever on a miracle. You have to live.
Yet he felt like he was giving up on her. Like he was putting the final shovel of dirt onto her grave. It burned like an acid being poured deep within his chest. How selfish of him was it to just move on?
“She would want you to move on. She’d want you to be happy Squall.”
"Squall...You missed out on all the good things in life. You've missed out on so much."
Yes, he was sure she would have wanted it. That was just the way she was. Stubborn and resolved, with a heart big enough to see through the façade and open its doors even to the likes of Squall Leonhart. Something done by only a few.
This was important to her. She had never asked or expected a lot from him. She had helped him. She had been there for him. He owed this to her. If he could do this one thing for her, it would make her happy. Squall wanted her to be happy. He cared for her a great deal.
And he loved her.
With a heavy sigh, he picked up the phone once more and began to dial.