~Chapter 6: Let Me Into Darkness Again~
Final Fantasy and all its characters belong to Squaresoft.
All changes, even the most longed for
have their melancholy,
for what we leave behind us
is a part of ourselves.
We must die to one life
Before we can enter another.
Quistis walked slowly down the hallway towards the hospital cafeteria. It had been a while since she’d eaten anything, but she wasn’t hungry. It was more of an excuse to bide her time at the hospital a while longer. She didn’t feel comfortable leaving Rinoa in the condition she was in. The emptiness she saw in her eyes haunted her. She was at a loss on how to help the poor girl.
She looked up and saw Laguna round the corner of the hallway up ahead. He smiled as he approached and she returned the gesture as best she could. “She finally kicked you out of the room did she?” He said lightly. “It’s about time someone did, you really need to get some rest Quistis, you look exhausted.”
“Yes I know, so everyone keeps saying. I must look horrible,” she laughed before covering her mouth and succumbing to the yawn that she had been fighting since she had seen him coming. She wasn’t the one who needed help now, and she was determined to put up her strong front.
“Not in the least Headmaster Trepe. But even you can’t deny you’re tired my dear.”
“No…no I guess I can’t.”
“Would you like me to escort you back to the palace?”
“No it’s okay. Thank you anyway. I was just on my way to the cafeteria to get something to eat. Care to join me for breakfast?”
“Mmm hospital food, hold me back!” He grimaced and then smiled as she laughed softly. “Of course, I’d be delighted to, as long as you let me buy though. As that is also found in that darn gentlemen ethics handbook. And I am forced to abide.”
“Well I guess I have no argument then.”
“Nope, I’m afraid you don’t. And I hope you don’t mind the tabloid paparazzi, it has been a while since I’ve been seen out in public with a woman.”
She laughed again and looped her arm around his as she led them both down the hall. “Bring them on.”
A few minutes of silence passed as they sat at the small dining table. Quistis idly poked her spoon around in the bowl of oatmeal in front of her. Laguna finally spoke up.
“So…how is she?”
Quistis stopped and looked up at him. It was a mixture of sadness and of guilt. He stared back at her curiously.
“I told her Laguna…about her father and…about Squall.”
His eyes grew wide. “Oh Hyne…”
“She wanted the truth; I didn’t feel I had the right to keep it from her.”
“God this is so much to put on one person,” he rubbed his eyes with one hand. “I’m guessing she didn’t take the news well…who would?”
She shook her head in reply. “That’s what is so strange. There was almost no emotion coming from her. Her eyes, they were so empty. It was frightening.” Quistis’ own eyes began to glisten with newly formed tears. Laguna reached across the table and placed a hand on top of hers in a gesture of comfort.
“She is probably still in shock over all of this. It will take some time before she will be capable of dealing with it. I’m sure she has no idea how to begin. None of this is real to her yet.”
The blonde woman looked up at the older man. He was right. Perhaps this was nothing more than a dream to Rinoa. A hazy nightmare. But when she woke up to reality? What then? Quistis wasn’t sure if the sorceress would be able to recover from that. If she herself were in that situation…Hyne, she had no idea if it would even be possible.
“We are going to help her to get through this,” Laguna said seemingly reading her mind. “She will be rehabilitated physically as well as mentally while she is here. I’m going to see to it that everything that can be done to help her, will be, I promise you that.”
“I know…I know you will Laguna. I just feel so helpless sitting there next to her. I don’t know what to do, how to act, I’m afraid I’m going to say the wrong thing…hell I know I already have.”
“Listen to me, you being here means more to her than you could ever know. That’s all she needs right now, a friend. And I’m sure she’s aware that you’re not here to hurt her Quistis. Things just are the way they are, you can’t be held accountable for any of it. Just be there for her to help her through it.”
Quistis smiled. “I’ll do my best.” She slid the half-eaten bowl of oatmeal out of the way.
“I’m sure you will,” he smiled back. “Hey, you gonna eat that?” He asked pointing to the remaining piece of toast on the small plate.
“No,” she laughed. “Help yourself.”
Elise ran down the white hallway as fast as her feet would carry her. Her mind raced through the million things that could have happened to him. The only words she could understand after the immediate shock were ‘accident’ and ‘training center.’
She saw two disheveled cadets standing outside of the doorway, one of them nursing a bruised ankle. Both their uniforms were covered in blood. She stopped abruptly in front of them. “Oh God, what happened?” She demanded; her professional conduct long abandoned.
“He was attacked by a blue dragon,” One of them replied.
“Yeah we found him while we were busy…er…running from another one,” The other said shakily. “We carried him out of there as best we could; the dragon really got its claws into his back.”
She placed a hand on each of their shoulders as she started to walk past them into the room beyond. “Thank you,” she whispered gratefully. “Hyne thank you both.” They nodded in solemn reply, uncertain what words could be right for the situation.
In the infirmary, she nearly tripped over a garment that had been thrown aside hastily. She looked down to see Squall’s jacket…soaked and ripped to shreds. She cursed herself for leaving him alone. He had needed someone and she hadn’t been there. She shook her head as if to clear it and walked towards the bed where she saw the silhouettes of the doctors and nurses behind the opaque curtains. She would have to wait until later to deal with her guilt.
The nurses were having trouble trying to keep him still. They had him turned onto his side to keep him from injuring the deep gashes that ran diagonally between his shoulder blades. Elise could see the sheen of sweat that covered his exposed torso. His eyes were white-hot and feverish. She tried to hold her composure as she watched him writhe and convulse in agony on the blood stained sheet.
Blue dragons possessed a poison within their talons. It was an excruciatingly painful venom that served the sole purpose of immobilizing its prey. If not treated immediately it would result in paralysis and death. Even the youngest students at Garden were aware of this and no one was even allowed to enter the training center without the appropriate defensive magic and antidotes. It anguished her to see that the most experienced person in the garden, the one that everyone looked up to, had gone in without either. It was as if…he had done it on purpose.
“God Squall…why would you do this to yourself?”
Elise fought back the tears that were threatening to come. She couldn’t allow emotions to overpower her abilities. She would be no help to him then.
“What’s his status?” She asked as she approached the head nurse.
“We’ve nearly got the bleeding under control Doctor Vandermere. Some severe tissue damage, but no apparent organ damage. X-rays show no sign of fractures or damage to the spinal column. Patient has been going in and out of consciousness. Blood pressure is fluctuating below normal. Pulse rate is high. Breathing is shallow and irregular. Pupils are dilated. Patient is incoherent and unresponsive.”
“He’s going into shock,” she replied as she put on a pair of latex gloves and approached the gurney. “We need to administer a sedative to calm him down. Magic treatment will not help him until we can get him to relax. Someone get me an IV bag and some tubing, we need to replace the lost fluids.” The staff complied with her instructions without hesitation as she tried to get Squall to respond.
“Squall, can you hear me?” She bent lower to his face. His eyes fluttered, unable to focus. “Honey…it's me, Elise… listen I need you to come back now okay? Focus.” He closed his eyes as his body was racked with tremors. One of the nurses administered the sedative into his neck with an air gun. It was a mild dosage that was slow to react. He screamed and flailed his arm about wildly as he felt the pressure of the IV needle being placed into his skin. The needle ripped from his arm and fell to the floor. The nurse quickly applied pressure to the vein as a second ran to retrieve another needle, while Elise aided in the difficult task of keeping him still.
She leaned over him, holding down his arm while carefully avoiding putting her hand on top of his injuries. She caressed his damp skin gently. “We’ve got to get an IV tube into you Squall; I need you to relax okay? I know you hate needles, but everything’s going to be alright.” He muttered incoherently and shuddered in her arms. Her tears were no longer able to resist the pull of gravity.
“I’m here Squall…I’m here with you,” she whispered into his ear. “Come back to me.” She felt his eyelid flutter beneath her cheek and she lifted her head to look at him. He stared up at her with wide and glazed eyes.
“Ri…Rinoa?” He managed.
“N…,” she stopped herself. Her heart fell, and a moment of silence past before she regained her composure. If this could help him…that was all that mattered right now.
“Yes, Squall…I’m here.” She squeezed his hand gently. “I’m here.”
“I’m fine. Thanks to you.”
“I…made it this…time.”
“That’s right…you were right on time Squall.” She choked on her tears. This was killing her inside.
A small smile formed across his lips, as his eyelids grew heavy, the sedative was taking effect. “I’m so…glad.”
“Me too baby…me too.” She kissed the top of his forehead gently.
“The IV is in doctor,” the nurse said slowly, uncertain that she should say anything at all during the current situation. Elise felt him relax in her arms; his breathing became slow and steady. She gently guided the rest of his body down to the gurney, resting him on his stomach. She assessed his wounds and wiped the tears from her eyes on the sleeve of her jacket before turning to look at the remaining staff.
“Clean the wounds thoroughly and administer some of the antidote over there to remedy the poison. He’ll need some antibiotics as well. Get a magic specialist in here to close up as much of this as possible. Keep a close eye on his vitals; I’ll be back in a few minutes to help you stitch the rest up.”
She didn’t wait for a reply as she walked briskly out of the door, tossing the latex gloves in the receptacle as she passed. As the door slid open, she was greeted with the site of a hall full of students who had congregated in both concern and curiosity for the headmaster. She sighed; it was impossible for anything to stay confidential in this place.
“The headmaster is going to be fine. I need everyone to clear the hallway and return to their classes immediately. This is a medical facility not an auditorium,” she yelled over the crowd as loudly as she could. There was mumbling among the gathering. “Now people! Move it!” They slowly broke and began to depart. She pushed through the students as she tried to make it up the hallway against the downward current.
Once inside her office she shut the door behind her and collapsed against it, falling to the floor. And she cried bitterly. Not so much for herself as for him. Yes, she couldn’t deny that second place hurt like hell. Especially when second place was to someone who was all but dead to this world. It was Squall, Rinoa,
And yet, she had known it from the beginning. She knew where his heart was, and it wasn’t with her. The memory would fade for him with time she thought, but it would never vanish completely. It was never more apparent than what just happened in the infirmary. But she settled. She settled in hopes that she could give him as much comfort as she could and offer him peace against his inner demons that seemed to consume him a little more each day.
He was an absolute wreck the first time she saw him. But lately, things had seemed better. A lot better. He had deceived her however, and she had deceived herself. It hurt her even more to think that he felt he had no one to turn to, and he turned his anguish and guilt onto himself. And things like this happened. She didn’t know what to do anymore. She loved him with a love that was never fully returned. She wanted him to live, and to have happiness. Elise knew she would give anything for him. She’d go to the ends of the earth. Yet the one thing he wanted was the one thing she couldn’t give him.
She couldn’t bring back Rinoa Heartilly
The soft hum of machinery was the only sound that greeted his ears as he pushed open the door. Laguna tried to adjust his eyes as he scanned the dimly lit room. He swallowed nervously and put one foot through the door. He hoped he wouldn’t wake her if she were asleep. Quistis had asked him to check on her before he left and he obliged. After all, he had wanted to speak with her. Now that he was actually here however, he suddenly became flooded with a sense of uneasiness. The words that he had told Quistis earlier did not work to clear him of any guilt. The responsibility he felt for her past and current situation was overtaking his will. What could he possibly say to her? “Gee, sorry about the whole ‘sealing’ thing, I wasn’t keeping track of my mad scientist as well as I should have been.”
He shook his head. It was wrong, it was so wrong. This could have been prevented. He could have prevented it.
“Forgive me Julia,” He said to himself. He rallied up his courage and moved into the room. He owed her at least a visit…and so much more. He looked to see her sleeping peacefully in the dark corner of the room. The heartache and sorrow that she was being forced to bear were not evident in the serene expression of her face. And then the inevitable question entered his mind. That if things turned out for the worst, if her life would become nothing but an unending struggle with emotional pain…did they do the right thing by unsealing her? Would the absent years leave such a severance in her heart that it would destroy her in the end? Not to mention the other lives that were involved in this.
Laguna ran a hand through his graying hair. He hated thinking. Once he got started, it consumed him. But there were never any right answers, only choices that would lead down one path or another. He wouldn’t feel guilty for giving a person a chance to live. He felt it awful to think otherwise. And though it went against all his prior standings, he swore to himself and to her mother he would do everything in his power to help a sorceress.
Thoughts of Julia Heartilly took him on a trip through time. It brought a smile to his lips as his mind wandered back to those many years ago. He remembered actually getting to meet her for the first time, and how absolutely terrified he had been. He was entranced with everything about her. He had never felt that way in his entire life up until that point, and he would only have that feeling hit him blindsided one more time completely by chance in Winhill. He wondered if Rinoa had enamoured Squall much in the same way when he first set eyes on her. He decided that yeah, it had to run in the family.
“You knew my mother.”
He nearly jumped out of his skin at the voice. He turned around to see Rinoa looking at him. Somehow, he had managed to walk the entirety of the room and absentmindedly stare out the window in his contemplation. He took a minute to collect himself, anxiously scratching the back of his head.
“Oh Hyne, had she been reading my mind all this time?”
Laguna cleared his throat. “Um…yeah that I did Miss Heartilly. How…how’d you know that?”
She offered him a small smile. “Quistis told me.”
“Oh…oh! Right, of course!” He laughed. “Yes, she asked me to stop by and see how you were doing. Hope you don’t mind, I didn’t mean to just barge in here. I saw you were sleeping, didn’t want to wake you. Got lost in my thoughts there for a bit.”
She laughed at his addled reply. “No, it’s quite alright. I wanted to thank you for all you’ve done for me.” Rinoa felt for the small control on her bed and fingered the buttons until she found the one that turned on the light above her head.
“Come closer so I can see you,” she said. He faltered a bit and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to bite, I honestly couldn’t now if I did,” she grinned. He stepped into the light and sat down in the chair beside the bed. He certainly didn’t fit the profile of a president. Instead of the stuffy black suit, this man wore a wrinkled cotton shirt un-tucked from a loose pair of khaki pants. Locks of hair hung loosely around his face while the rest was pulled back unkempt behind him. Instead of the air of ‘strictly business’ surrounding him there was nothing but kindness and warmth coming from his eyes. His eyes. Something about his eyes…struck Rinoa as being very familiar. Somehow, she couldn’t place it. But she liked him already.
“You know you don’t look very much like a president,” she said.
“Oh thank you! That is the nicest possible compliment anyone can ever give me.”
She smiled at him again, but offered no reply. She was still trying to figure out where she had seen those eyes before. This left Laguna in the awkward situation of starting a new conversation.
“So yeah I’m Laguna Loire and um…welcome to Esthar.”
“Esthar huh? I used to hear stories about it. But I thought it didn’t exist anymore.”
“Yeah well, we were out of the ‘public eye’ so to speak for about 17 years. Until the whole ordeal with Ultimecia,” he said careful to tread softly on that subject. “It’s a spectacular city though, I’d be glad to show you around once you’re feeling better.”
“I’d like that,” she replied.
“Yes, we’ve become quite the social bug now, lots of tourists flocking in. They even administered a Garden here. It began operation just last year. We will have our first SeeD graduation in another three months. There’s enough hassle to keep a crazy man sane around this place.” He said as he smiled. And then he remembered he stupidly mentioned SeeD to a sorceress as if it were a topic as common as the weather. “Geez, Laguna can’t you open that big mouth of yours without something wrong and hurtful coming out?” He shook his head.
She continued as if it didn’t seem to bother her. “That’s wonderful. Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” he said still thinking he should sit down in the floor and shove his foot into his mouth.
“So, how did you know my mother? Did you meet her at one of her concerts?”
“Oh no, this was before her singing career, back when she used to play the piano at a hotel in Deling. I was in the Galbadian army then. My friends and I would stop there and have drinks if we were in the area. Well…that is…I would force them to go there with me. As I was infatuated with your mother. No, don’t get me wrong, not one of those psycho infatuations, mind you. I could just sit for hours watching her play that piano of hers. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and she played the most melodious music that I had ever heard. Anyway, one night I got the courage to finally talk to her, and I discovered there was much more to her than just looks and abilities. We talked for hours. I only got to speak with her that one time however, before war dragged me half way across the world. I never forgot her or that night we talked. She was a wonderful woman, your mother.”
Rinoa smiled in kind understanding. “Yes, she certainly was.”
Laguna smiled in return. “You seem to be like her in so many ways.”
“Now that is the nicest compliment I’ve ever received,” she said with a saddened look in her eyes. “I wish it were true.”
“Oh it is, trust me Miss Heartilly, it is.”
He laughed. “Okay…Rinoa.”
Just then, the cell phone on his hip erupted in a loud sequence of rings. He sighed. “It’s just like clockwork. I hate this damn phone. Please excuse me a moment.”
He pressed the receive button on the small phone. “Yes Kimberley.”
“Sorry to bother you sir, Elise Vandermere is on the line for you.”
“Elise? Did she say what this was regarding?” He asked…as if he didn’t know.
“No sir, she just said that it’s urgent business regarding Mr. Leonhart.”
He sighed. He had been expecting this call. “Okay, just a moment.” He turned and looked at Rinoa. “Sorry, I’m going to have to take this. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Sure, no problem at all.”
He nodded and stepped outside into the hallway, making sure that the door shut behind him. He picked up the cell phone again and cleared his throat. “Okay Kim, put her through.” This was going to be difficult.
“Elise, before you say anything…I want you to know that I didn’t mean what I said to Squall yesterday. It came out entirely wrong and he hung up before he gave me a chance to explain. See it's like this…I—”
“That’s going to have to wait Laguna,” she interrupted. “There was an incident in the training center this morning. Squall…he was wounded.”
Laguna’s breath caught in his throat. “Oh God…is…is he all right?”
“Yes, he’ll be okay. He’s resting in the infirmary now.”
“I haven’t got all the details yet. All I know is that he went into the training center without any armor or spells and he was attacked by a blue dragon.”
“What? What the hell was he thinking?”
He heard a sigh on the other end. “I’m not sure that he was. He’s…he’s not been feeling very well lately. I think he may be overworking himself too much.” She lied to him. Elise knew the last thing that Squall would want her to do would be to share his problems with Laguna. He’d never forgive her for that.
“Do you want me to come up there?”
“No, I don’t think it’s a very good time right now. I just wanted you to know from a main source. Before you hear it from someone else. And to know that he’s going to all right.”
“Thank you Elise. It means a lot to me that you would call. I can’t apologize enough to him for the other day, but I don’t know if that will do any good. But know that I’m thrilled with your engagement. He’s lucky to have you.”
“I just want to make him happy Laguna.”
“I know that you will.”
“Well that’s all I wanted to tell you, I’ll let you get back to work. I know you’ve been really busy being a president and helping with the Esthar Garden at the same time. Don’t work yourself too hard now.”
“I’ll do my best,” he offered a small chuckle.
“Oh! There is one more thing. You haven’t by chance seen or heard from Quistis have you? She’s disappeared off to somewhere. Not one soul in Balamb knows where the hell she is.”
“No, I haven’t seen her. But if I happen to cross paths with her, I’ll be sure to let her know she has people trying to track her down.”
“Thanks again Laguna. Take care.”
“I will, give Squall my best wishes for me.”
“Will do. Goodbye.”
Laguna put his head in his hands. It was shaping up to be another one of those days.