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~ Chapter Twenty-One: Heart of the Matter ~

The human heart feels things the mind cannot see,
and knows what the mind cannot understand.

-Robert Vallett

In the background, the distant sound of thunder rolled through the heavens. Yet the ire from the gods was diluted by the thunderous anger raging within the headmaster. How in the hell could he have been taken in by so many lies? All of it, from the very beginning...none of them cared about him. The idea of friendship was just as much as an illusion as the phantoms haunting his dreams. Lies, fucking lies. His own flesh and blood betrayed him with vindictiveness and malice. Never once looking back at the carnage caused in his wake.

Laguna's voice echoed through his thoughts, “Is that it?” Who the hell did the man think he was? He tells him that he is getting married, and at the other end, his father laughs at the mockery. Was Rinoa there? Were they sitting down to some 'family' dinner where they discussed his engagement over dinner rolls? Did Laguna find some morose pleasure in making Rinoa the, screw that...the child that he never had? Squall Leonhart was not the son of that man. As of today, he officially disowned him - erasing him from any future part of his life. Squall was once again an orphan, and he couldn't have been more pleased.

His mind hissed like a venomous snake as he recalled Quistis' utterance of 'damn.' Another 'friend' who betrayed him, one who shared the same sadistic pleasure in his torment. She knew, damn it, and she was there! She saw Rinoa's final moments; she knew how it affected him. The woman once claimed to know him, to be an expert observer of his character. But she saw nothing...nothing of him at all. Because if she had, she could not have turned on him. The two deceiving voices played like a worn-out record in a lethal melody.

The riled man kicked a rock from his path, sending it flying into nearby townhouse. The impact ricocheted off its side, causing a small clump of stucco to fall to the ground. The chipping paint and sand gave him a macabre idea. The two-story Tudor had a large picture window adorning its front. It would be so easy to break the large window with a single blow. To see the glass shatter into a thousand pieces and let each one impale his skin like the drinking glass had done. To let the blood flow freely and end this wretched existence that he had carved.

It was supposed to get better when she was alive... why, why wasn't it?

The cobblestone street changed to wooden planks as he crossed over a bridge. A large stream flowed through the village, before merging into a lake at the edge of town. He would have stopped to enjoy the beauty, if he could have seen past his own ugliness. The rage boiled and kicking an oversized pebble did not quell his anger.

The headmaster needed to strike out; the nearest object was the railing of the bridge. Without thought, he slammed his already injured hand into the wooden barrier. The whole guardrail shook from the tremendous impact. He looked down to his wound, the blood flowing freely from its source. The bandage was slowly staining a morbid hue, yet it did not hurt, the wound did not sting. It was never the physical pain that hurt. He had learned to deal with that long ago.

His steps grew weaker and more unsure as he continued down the path. Her eyes haunted his mind. It was like watching two separate pictures being exposed on one negative. The set of first eyes - the ones he had seen that night as they danced beneath the stars. The ones that reflected under the soft moonlight at Fisherman's Horizon. The second set of eyes - the ones he saw in the bathroom, ones full of indifference and apathy. Emotions no longer reflected in her eyes, rather they seemed embedded in her normal persona... Ones that were a doppelganger of his younger self, before he let her in his solitary world.

It was like he was watching himself detached from his own body. His spirit a mere actor; his body just a costume in a gruesome play. He felt that some demented puppeteer from beyond this realm controlled every action. From his birth - to this moment - every goddamned step manipulated by invisible strings. It almost made him want to laugh. That was all he had left in him, a sick sense of humor about his entire existence.

It became too much. That primal urge that he had subdued earlier, came back with merciless force. It was a moment of needed release as he yelled in absolute fury. It was a scream that had been years in the making, manifesting itself upon the small, unknowing village.

The cry echoed sharply throughout the town, only being magnified by the water's resonance. In the past, he was never one to draw attention to himself, but right now, he could have cared less. Nearby children playing a game of 'shadow tag' ran quickly into their homes in fear. Young eyes had looked upon him as if he was some hideous two-headed monster tearing flesh with its talons. Maybe he was.

Squall grabbed the sides of his head and fell helplessly onto his knees. The dust clouded as he met the ground. His head felt as if it would implode in pain...but at least he could feel something. Strangely, the outburst had waned a little of his tension, but that wasn't saying much.

He couldn't lose his last grasp on sanity now. He had to regain some facade of stability, before the chains grew tighter, constricting with all the strength of a python, and crushing his windpipe with lethal force. For so long he felt as if he'd been shackled to his illusions. Now they were no longer unseen manacles, they were his reality. He was going to have to face them even if it killed him. At this rate...they just might.

Picking himself off of the ground, he vowed to make it through this for her... even if she wanted nothing to do with him after today. Rinoa deserved so much more than he could ever offer. It sickened him to think that she had once told him that she loved him... Maybe she was just as delusional in that second as he was now.

The path continued passed houses and small retail stores. He relentlessly walked as if his life depended on each step. The flower shop...the place that started this whole surreal encounter. Renee...the old woman had called her Renee. Obviously, she was trying to start over in some futile attempt at normalcy. She could never be normal; he stole that from her years ago.

It was then he saw it, just past the flower shop. A small tavern connected to the inn where he was supposed to be staying. His eyes fixated on the wooden carving of ale foaming over the ridges. That wouldn't help, he needed something much stronger than aged barley could provide. It was a damned bar and they had to keep stronger liquor stored somewhere in the building.

“No, not this time... Don't let her see what a drunken mess you have become.”

“You know, that won't solve anything.” A voice lectured from behind him.

He turned, breaking from the ethical battle waging in his mind. It took everything he had not to lash out at the old woman who was openly judging him. It was after all, not her fault that he found himself facing this moral quandary. However, it was her fault for reading his intentions like an open book. Was he really that transparent?

“Thank you Mrs. McCay,” he barked through gritted teeth. “I'll remember that in my future.”

“Wark!!! Wark!!!”

A horrible shrill pierced his ears, as another party member made his presence known. Tail feathers fanned in dominance and the bird's claws tore through the gravel sheeting the road.

“Now Lucky, I'm sure the man didn't mean to sound so - ungrateful. It's just these city folk aren't used to our way of life.” She scratched the feathers on the bird's neck, and he seemed to calm a notch. “Now, I'm sure Mr. Leonhart here is taking good of Renee. I'm also sure he wouldn't do anything to upset her. So don't worry your handsome feathers over it precious.”

“If you want to address me, please speak to me and not the damn Chocobo.”

Maybe it was the tone, or the bird felt threatened, but it voiced its displeasure aggressively. Turning around and kicking its feet just as it had done just seconds before. Only this time with much more force, causing small pebbles and dirt to shower on the headmaster like rain. It was the final straw; the Chocobo had some kind of death wish. Instinctively Squall lunged forward toward the bird's backside, only to have his advances blocked by Maude. For someone so frail looking, she could sure pack quite a blow. Lucky turned ready to charge at the man with full force. Only the bird wasn't stupid... Even in the animal kingdom, the look of raw anger could quickly make a predator back from its intended prey.

“Okay, okay...neutral corners you two. Geesh, you're worse than the lady's club on Canasta night. Maybe we can work this little misunderstanding out over a meal. You two young'uns are welcome to my place for dinner.”

“I think I'll have to pass unless you're serving fried Chocobo legs.” The man hissed looking at the large yellow bird.

“Don't listen to him Lucky. He's just upset because we're not serving butt steak.”

In some moment of clarity, the realization that he'd just attacked a large bird for no other reason than 'it looked at me funny' sank in. Not to mention the humiliating fact that he was stopped by someone who probably remembered the Jurassic Era firsthand. As of right now, Maude McCay's only faults were trying to stop him from making a huge mistake concerning a drink...and worrying about the well-being of Rinoa, something that had clearly slipped from his grasp hours ago.

“I'm sorry,” he offered trying to do the commendable thing. “It's just been a long morning. I don't see it getting better any time soon.”

“Well, I'm not the one you should be apologizing to.” She spoke with much conviction.

“I can't apologize to a bird.”

“No, I don't suppose you can...but I wasn't talking about Lucky either.”

Okay, did this woman have a death wish along with her Chocobo? This was his battle. To have some stranger interfering with his personal life went well above his tolerance level.

“Mrs. McCay, again I thank you for your advice, but I'm a big boy,” he sarcastically replied. If she pushed him any further, he would not be accountable for his actions.

“Look...” She sighed, changing her demeanor slightly. “I'm sorry. I think we got off on the wrong foot. Really have nothing against you young man. I'm just worried about Renee. She's such a sweetheart and I would hate for her to get hurt.”

“Me too,” he softly admitted, swallowing hard.

“She helped an old woman and her stubborn Chocobo out. Without her, I wouldn't have a leg to stand on with the bank. She's like a guardian angel.”

Maude had not known the young woman long, but she knew a good heart. Her secrets masked behind the veneer of illusion. Deep inside, the older woman could sense her struggle, her bruised and battered spirit manifesting when she thought nobody was watching. The silent tears she tried to conceal while helping at the flower shop. The way she would look into the stars searching for something greater than Winhill could ever offer.

“You know, I've never seen her so worried until she saw you knocked out flatter than a pancake. I thought the poor girl was going to have a breakdown for a moment. For some 'old friend' you two must have quite the history. I remember how it is to be young and feeling that way. Well, not to say I don't feel that way when I see Mr. Finnegan, but come on...sadly the mind isn't always the first thing to go,” she added with a wink and wry smile.

He pushed that last comment out his mind. It already felt like he had an eighteen-wheel truck careening through his head. Now he felt like he had just been run over by it...over and over and over...although something did make it past the grotesque mental image flashing through his mind. Rinoa had showed emotion past the indifference. Was it only a momentary lapse of judgment? Maybe this woman saw something reflected in her eyes that he had missed. Then again, Rinoa could barely stand to look at him.

“She was a friend, nothing more.” He wasn't sure why he was defending his relationship with Rinoa. Was it for Maude to hear or for himself to believe?

“Well, that's none of my business.”

“Finally,” he added under his breath.

“Speaking of business...” The woman paused. Digging into her smock, she pulled out the headmaster's cell phone. “Your doctor called earlier, sounded kind of concerned. Hope everything is all right. Lucky heard your phone ringing in the field this morning. Poor little guy thought the sky was falling. We were just on the way down to return it... Must be fate that we ran into each other.”

“No, fate would be if the sky would actually be falling on the damn Chocobo.”

Taking the phone from Maude's hand, his reality came crashing down. The small mechanical device signified the world he wanted to shut out. The only thing standing between him and the life he had forged in Trabia. Elise. Of course she was worried. He never showed up at the inn, and as usually, he left her completely in the dark. How simple it would be to fall back into her for support. To have her embrace him from his demons, to offer hope that he would irrefutably cling to - no matter the emptiness swelling inside. Elise deserved better. Hell, both women deserved better than being trapped in his self-inflicted prison - steal bars forged from failures and hatred.

“Anyways, I've gotta get back young man. There's a storm rolling in this way, and you know how that can play havoc with the ol' rheumatism. Don't be afraid to show your face around here again, handsome. We can always use something more thrilling to look at than Mr. Alandale's wooden denture collection. And since you're too pig-headed to accept dinner with a very hospitable and extremely sexy host, I'll drop some soup by the house tonight.” She turned to her feathered companion. “Now play nice with the gentleman and say goodbye.”

“Kweh. Kweh.”

If Chocobos could 'squint' their eyes, this one was doing just that. This large over-priced menu item was getting on the headmaster's last nerve, despite the civil attempts by its owner. Plus he was positive that the literal translation of the bird's response was something not appropriate to repeat in mixed company. He turned away, before he'd do something that he would regret. Having the Commander of Trabia Garden arrested for murdering a Chocobo wouldn't help anything right now. Although, it might solidify his insanity plea.


The rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air. Elise emptied the contents of the second sugar packet into the mug. Stirring halfheartedly, she couldn't tear her eyes from the manuscript she held firmly in hand. It was controlling, pulling her like the irresistible force.

And she was no immovable object.

The words were fascinating, yet unnerving. She already knew part of their legend - the horrific battle that the five teenagers faced and the nothingness surrounding the world of compressed time. But then again, she could only read what they had allowed her to read. Garden closely guarded their secrets. That is what made them elite, they were the best for a reason.

During her employment, she'd never questioned their system. She never asked Squall anything that didn't concern her on a medical level; she never asked him about Time Compression or the events leading up to it. She knew what she needed to perform her job and what little he had told her in his sessions or in their bed. What she learned of Rinoa was from the others, from his friends and the people who knew her. Squall guarded his and Rinoa's relationship as closely, if not closer, than any Garden secret.

The abridged version was there in black and white, but it was the blank spaces, more like pages, in between that she needed to understand. The answers were somewhere on the tape, if she could just learn to decipher the code.

That is what brought her to this point. Countless books were scattered on her desk, and several more were stacked in a small pile on the floor. Historical accounts, textbooks, magazines, and even newspaper articles she'd pulled from microfiche cluttered her office. The library was full of data, if one knew how to look for it. The only problem was she really didn't know what she was looking for. Whatever it was…it started with Rinoa, this much she understood.

The information strangely started to fascinate her. The phenomenon of a sorceress had happened in past years, but she had heard of only a select few. Elise was, by all accounts, a scientist. Being of scientific mind, she didn't believe in relying on magic and its attributes for healing. Magic was not always reliable, nor readily available, to the general populous. Garden was another matter. It guarded its magic as well as its secrets.

They had taught Elise. Taught her how to use the Guardians, how to use the healing spells. They had taught her how to heal a seven-year-old so that tomorrow he could go out and learn to kill. To kill the right way, so that her peers from medical school wouldn't even have the opportunity to save their victim's life.

Maybe that is why they feared a sorceress so much; it was a magical force that Garden couldn't control. They didn't like things they couldn't control. That is why she believed in her heart that Squall was still a headmaster, because in all honesty, they could control him. Whether they knew it or not, the faceless board members had controlled his actions since the day they sealed Rinoa's fate. What compassion Garden may have once had, diminished when Cid relinquished majority control. But she bet it was also that empathy which allowed her to hear that tape. Cid wanted her to know, even if he couldn't divulge that openly. Elise believed the compassion didn't stem from his role as founder of the Garden System, but the fact that his wife had once been a sorceress. It could have as easily been Edea entombed in that frozen nightmare.

Sighing, she placed the book down and reached for her coffee. With her free hand, she grabbed a transcription of the classified session tape. It was one of the first, and hardest, things Elise had done in preparation. She was anxiously trying to find a base point for her research. Her eyes focused on the words as she took a sip of coffee. Upon reaching the document's end, something stood out in print, which didn't seem that significant on the tape. Then again, on the tape all she could focus on was the desperation in his voice.

“No, he seemed to be reliving it. I know he claims it was only a dream, but the way he described it made me wonder…”

What? Are you serious? How can… she can do that?”

“How can she do that?” mouthed Elise silently.

Who? Rinoa? How could Rinoa do what? But from Dr. Steven's surprise, what ever 'it' was…she did it. What could a sorceress do, and when could she do it? The dream, it had to be the dream. Could she send him the nightmares? Was it some telepathic hold separating him from his sanity? Maybe it was her way of keeping a mental grasp over him, even in death. But could a sorceress do that to one's mind? Maybe that was what she needed to focus on, not what magic Rinoa could perform, but what telepathic, delusional messages she could send to him during sleep. From her understanding, Ellone had that physic ability, would it be so inconceivable that Rinoa could do something similar?

And if that were true… It really was Rinoa keeping him from moving forward.


The house within in sight, but he just couldn't take those final steps. Approaching the bridge, he found himself unconsciously stopping at its foot. Not to take in the surroundings, not even to slam his fist into, he was just too afraid to take those last steps. It sickened him. He sickened him. His thoughts were transported back to the Sorceress Memorial and his emotional weakness. He again was a teenager sitting on the steps, afraid to go see see the life he ended. At least back then, he had those final three words she managed before her final breath. Now her last words were nothing short of 'get the hell away from me.'

He had been in this spot before, not as himself, but as a passenger in another's vessel. It was like some cruel déjà vu. Laguna Loire also had stood on this bridge facing a crossroad in his life. Squall saw how well that decision turned out. Was this town some kind of curse? What was he supposed to do? Run from this place as his 'father' had done, never looking back? It was a malicious irony, knowing that he was doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Only Raine wanted Laguna by her side, Rinoa wanted him left on the Island Closest to Hell.

The young man closed his eyes as he silently weighed his options. To run, to forget this had ever happened, to go on living the lie he had barely been able to keep aloft. Or to go back and face her, have his still beating heart ripped from his chest. There was no real choice; he knew that... it didn't matter if she loathed him. It was his fault and he deserved every ounce of least from her.

His so-called friends and family were a completely different matter.

He had always felt like a mouse trapped in a maze. When he was a teen, it was the fragments of clues sent to him by his adopted sister, all just pieces to something beyond his grasp. It would have been so easy to tell him the truth, but again, the same people who claimed to care, only used him to view the past. Without warning, without permission, stealing his very mind for their own selfish needs. In eight years, nothing had changed. Laguna, Quistis, and God knows who else, most likely an entire list of people laughing at his naivety. And as hard it was to admit, Rinoa was now a party to that deception. He was still that mouse trapped in the maze, and again, the truth was dangled in the air like cheese - always out of reach. It wasn't his mind they were stealing this time, but his sanity.

Squall looked at the cell phone in his hand. This was his last remaining link to end this before it ever really began. He could run and hide from this, get the comfort he always got from Elise when it came to the demons inside of him. She would hold him until he gave in to the illusion that they were gone. Only this time the demon was a resurrected angel who stood before him with empty eyes. The one thing he had been running towards all this time, he was now considering running away from. He couldn't do it, and he damn well knew it.

This would hurt her deeply, and he was sure she was worried. “I'm sorry.” He muttered audibly as if she could hear him. Perhaps he could call her after this was all over, if there was anything left in him at all. She would understand or she wouldn't. He truly never wanted to hurt her. But Squall Leonhart single handedly ruined everything he touched. And if she didn't know that by now, then she was living in her own illusion. With one last glance he pressed the power button on the phone, turning it off and sealing fates. He steeled his frayed soul and he didn't look back as he began his trek back through the point of no return.


Rinoa slipped her shaking arms through the sleeves of the t-shirt, pulling it over her head. She absolutely hated getting out of the shower. It took her body forever to warm up. The damp strands of hair that hung around her neck caused chills to course over the length of her shoulders and meander down her back. The grey material clung to her body as tried to brush the creases out of the garment. Weeks in boxes and suitcases had given some of her clothes permanent wrinkles…and she didn't know the first thing about ironing. After cursing herself momentarily for never taking home economic classes and giving up on the hopeless cause, she tucked the shirt into her dark denim jeans. She started to walk to the dresser to fish a sweater from one of the drawers when something caught her eye.

Aligned on the nightstand were a set of six small pill bottles. Obviously they were not hers…she'd finished her medications months ago. “What was he doing with all of those prescriptions?” The sorceress wondered quietly to herself, while curiosity led her in their direction. Her reason argued with her and demanded her to stop. She had no business rummaging through Squall's belongings. It wasn't her problem. Yet an undeniable concern compelled her forward. She could deduce that this wasn't some sort of daily vitamin regimen. What if…what if he was sick? Slowly she took hold of one of the smooth containers, rolling it in her hand. The pills jostled noisily as she tried to find the name on the label.

A sudden slam from downstairs quickly turned her thoughts elsewhere. It was unmistakably the sound of the door shutting forcefully. Panic suddenly filled her mind as she dropped the bottle onto the nightstand, grabbed a sweater from the chest of drawers and fled the room. He wouldn't just leave would he? Hyne that was the last thing she wanted.

“You wanted him out of your sight.” Her mind chided. “Wish granted.”

No. Not like this. Deep down she never wanted to hurt him, regardless of the pain his words inflicted. She had to stop him. She couldn't let things be left like this. The young woman descended the steps in an almost flat out run, ignoring the chills that wracked her body. She stopped on the last step as she saw him standing in the living room staring at her with intense eyes. They were hard and penetrating; she found it difficult to meet his gaze directly. The silence overwhelmed the room for a few fleeting but extensive moments until she found her voice to speak.

“I…I thought you left.”

Squall's gaze never faltered. “Is that what you want?”

“No.” Her heart pleaded.

Rinoa refused to answer that question verbally however. She refused to be weak in front of him now. She had to be strong. She had to prove to him that she didn't need him…had to prove it to herself. Even though there wasn't a day that went by when she didn't think of him…not a night that passed when she didn't cry herself to sleep. No, Rinoa Heartilly did not need him. Never mind the fact that all she wanted to do at that moment was run into his arms and thank him for not leaving. He wasn't her life, she had her own. At least…she was trying to make one for herself.

The girl suddenly noticed the bandage on his hand, the white fabric being swallowed up by a bright red stain. She didn't think he had been cut that deep. It seemed like a whole lot of blood…it worried her.

“Did…you hurt your hand again? I can get you some fresh bandages.” She followed her statement with step back up the stairway.

“No!” He said. His voice was harsh and almost shrill. “I want you to answer my question!”

She was taken aback by his sudden outburst, but she refused to let him bully her into a corner. “Squall I…”

“Just answer me damn it!” He demanded with a violent wave of his arm. “Do you want me to leave?”

“What does it matter?!?” She shot back at the same increasing volume. His eyes were so cold and hateful…she just wanted to run. “You'll do it sooner or later…whether I want you to or not.” She muttered almost inaudibly.


“I said it doesn't matter Squall! You're free to do what you want!” Tears stung her eyes. Her inward battle with composure was on the retreat.

Squall groaned in frustration clutching his head with his hand once more. His composure was already long dead, stretched and rotting in the sun on his battlefield. She was just walking circles around his feelings…almost mockingly. Fine. If she wouldn't give him that answer, he would ask a question with a more straightforward answer she couldn't dance around.

“Who knows Rinoa?”

“I can't tell you what to do, you're big enough to make your own decisions…you're the only one who knows what's best for you...”

“No.” He cut her off. “Who knows?

She was unable to suppress the shudder that coursed through her body, and it wasn't entirely from the cold. Rinoa knew this question would come…but that never made her anymore prepared for it. The last thing she wanted was to have any anger pointed at her two closest friends. She wanted every bit of his frustration pointed at her. It was her decision, all they were responsible for was abiding by her wishes. They did not deserve to be brought into this. They did nothing with malice for him. However, she knew enough of Squall to know that he would not take it that way. She could also see by the look in his eyes that he already knew who they were.

“Seems to me you have a pretty good idea already.” She responded coolly, trying to fall back into her façade.

“I want to hear it from you.” He replied with somewhat less intensity. There was almost a pleading undertone to his voice.

She sighed and closed her eyes, lowering her head in silence for a moment. Perhaps contemplating her next words, perhaps praying for her friends' forgiveness at what she was about to do.

“Quistis…and Laguna.”

Squall tried to quell his seething anger at the sound of their names. “And?”

“And…that's all.” She said defensively…why would he think she would lie to him? Okay, granted that was a dumb thought that just passed through her mind, but he was here standing face to face with her, and she would not lie to him now.

“Don't lie to me!” He yelled. “For the love of Hyne I can't take any more of them!” The pain in his head teetered on nuclear meltdown.

“I'm not!” Rinoa wiped at her face furiously trying to prevent the tears that inched ever closer to spilling from her eyes. “Anyway what exactly were you doing while I was up there? Nosing around through my personal things? You think now you're here you can just come in here like you own the place so you can get the low down on your former client?”

There was that word again. Client. What the hell was she talking about? “Rinoa wha-”

“Did you talk to them?” A sudden horrid thought crossed her mind. “Did one of them call? What did you say? So help me Squall if you said anything to hurt them I'll…” Her voice began an unending crescendo.

Every word seemed to drill in his skull…it was like teeth grinding on metal…he couldn't take it. “I heard them on your answering machine!” He interrupted her, silently pleading that her voice could not get any louder. The pain was so immense. “I heard you play Quistis' message…I wanted to confirm it. Because seeing as how so much has been kept from me I doubt that I would ever get a straight answer from you now!”

Anger spread across her features. “You know, when I said make yourself at home I didn't mean help yourself to my privacy. It's one of those courtesy things you're supposed to say…not necessarily meant to be taken literally. But taking things literally is what you do best isn't it?”

The words dripped like acid from her tongue. She wanted to say more, but she knew she couldn't be entirely angry with him for the invasion of privacy…she had every intention earlier of looking at his medicine bottles before the door slammed and interrupted her. God, but this man had some nerve. In her anger she ignored the rising tremor that coursed through her body as it pleaded for more warmth.

“As for who knows about me, neither of them had a choice in the matter. Laguna had to authorize my unsealing and Quistis was in charge of my finances, if you want to look at it in that cold calculating manner of yours. The truth is that they didn't want to see me get hur?,” She stopped herself suddenly. No way in hell was she going to allow him to see her feelings for him. “They didn't want to make your life miserable. They left that choice up to me, and as it turns out, neither did I. I wanted you to live your life happy; not having to worry about an unthawed sorceress…though I guess that is your job.”

The sorceress breathed deeply. This was the last thing she wanted to do. Her heart thudded with agony inside her chest. She didn't want to hurt him…she didn't want to say these things and see the pain in his eyes. She saw it, though she wasn't sure entirely why it was there at all. Perhaps the yelling made his head hurt…maybe he just wanted to go home. Well she certainly wasn't holding him here. Rinoa knew she couldn't back down; she couldn't just roll over while he proceeded to rip her soul apart piece by piece. Deep down there was a primal urge that fought to live. Still, she felt horribly guilty for the next words that came out of her mouth.

“Maybe I just wanted a head start at a new life before the world beat a lynch mob to my door step. Either way Squall Leonhart, this is my life, it has nothing to do with you, and I don't owe you straight answers, I don't owe you a goddamn thing!”

“The hell you don't,” he responded inwardly. “What about all those years of therapy? The ten percent taken out of my check every month that went to the memorial research? The leap of faith I took to get that damn dog program to go through at Galbadia? How about those nightmares that haunt me when I'm asleep…when I'm awake? You owe me because your face is burned onto my corneas so all that I ever see is you! You owe me for these scars on my back, you owe me for my addictions! You owe me because in a few days there is going to be a trial and I'm going to lose my job because my delusions put people in harm's way!”

These words might have found there way passed his lips if he had not grabbed hold of his anger and realized what he was saying.

My addictions”.

My delusions.”

He was blaming her for his mistakes, his faults. The money didn't mean a damn thing, it was the only thing was able to do to help free her from the prison he himself had trapped her in. He should have been putting all of his paycheck in it. He owed her more than anything, a debt he could never pay in a thousand years. And she was right. She owed him nothing. But it pained him to hear it from her like he had come to collect some sort of gambling debt.

“You're right…,” he said finally, a little less anger in his voice. “You don't owe me.”

She stood there shivering, somewhat taken back by his response. The young woman had mentally prepared herself to fire back at his anger. The last thing she expected was for him to actually agree with her. It had been like closing your eyes as you waited for a fist to strike your face only to be dealt a blow with a down filled pillow. At that moment the words totally escaped her. Her hands fidgeted nervously with the sweater. She looked down, finally seeming to notice it. Rinoa proceeded to busy herself with putting on the garment in an attempt to stop the shaking that she had barely noticed.

He watched her through stone eyes that masked an unhealthy amount of guilt. She had no response to his statement…because there wasn't one to give. It was just the honest truth. What had he ever given her in the first place? Nothing. He had only taken. He had taken her life, he had taken her happiness. Apparently the only things he had ever given her were intolerance to cold, and an old silver r-”

Squall's attention suddenly turned to the chain she always wore. Apparently it was now being kept hidden underneath her thick sweaters. She had her arms lifted above her head as she pushed her hands through the sleeves. The chain glimmered against the dark t-shirt along with two rings, her mothers…and a different one.

His ring…was no longer around her neck.