To Love the Enemy
Chapter 12 Lessons In Life
The group stood, crestfallen, before a sign laid out on the Dollet shoreline, each reading the message which had hastily been scrawled in white chalk.
“Due to bad weather, there will be no more crossings to Balamb this evening.”
“But this is our only was back,” protested Zell, voicing the frustration that they all held within.
“There must be another way.” Selphie’s voice was full of hope, but even she knew that this was there only chance.
“There’s nothing we can do,” reasoned Quistis. “We’ll just have to stay at the hotel and get the first boat back in the morning.”
“But that might be too late,” pointed out Irvine. “If anything happens to Garden tonight, it’ll be our fault.”
“How can it possibly be our fault?” argued Quistis.
“Because, instead of trying anything we can to warn them, we’ll be holed up in some comfortable hotel room watching TV.” Irvine turned away from her. “If you can live with the guilt, that’s fine. I can’t.”
“What do you want us to do, swim?” She threw up her hands in frustration. “We’re not miracle workers.”
“Look guys, arguing isn’t going to help us,” shouted Selphie. “So why don’t we just calm down and think this through rationally.”
“That sounds like something Squall would say,” joked Irvine. “Hey, speaking of Squall, where is he? They looked around, discovering no sign of him.
“Rinoa’s gone too,” said Zell.
“Now there’s a surprise,” muttered Quistis under her breath.
“Squall, where are we going?”
“To find a way out of here,” came a gruff reply.
“But there aren’t any more boats tonight.”
“That’s just was it says on the sign. It isn’t necessarily the case.” Squall began to check the boats that were grounded on the beach, hoping to find a sign of life on just one of them. He knew that, as a SeeD, he had more than enough money to persuade any boatman to sail tonight.
“You really want to get home, don’t you?” Rinoa asked.
“It’s my duty.”
“No, it’s more than that. I’m pretty sure that searching every boat for someone who is willing to take us to Balamb is above and beyond the call of duty.”
“Not for a SeeD it’s not.”
“Fine, but there’s nobody here. We’ve checked every boat. It’s time to admit defeat.” At this, Squall leapt aboard the nearest boat and made his way through the inside of the ship. When he had found what he was searching for, he ripped off a panel underneath the starting motor. After a few minutes of re-wiring, the engine sputtered into life.
“I never admit defeat. Come on, let’s get the others. Hopefully, they’ll have finished arguing.”
“Squall, this is stealing,” she hissed. “We could get in real trouble for this.”
“It’s necessary. I had hoped there would be another way, but there isn’t.”
“It’s still wrong.” He sighed, moving on to the outside of the ship. He saw that Quistis, Zell, Selphie and Irvine were heading towards the boat, alerted by the sound of the engine running. He also noticed the booth near to the boat, advertising pleasure cruises around the Galbadian coastline. He sighed, pulling a large amount of gil from his pocket and depositing it in the booth. “You happy now?” he asked Rinoa. She smiled at him but offered no reply.
“Hey, why didn’t I think of this?” asked Zell as he boarded the boat.
“Hmm, I wonder,” replied Selphie sarcastically. When everyone was safely on board, Squall studied the map that he had found, and steered the boat in the direction of Balamb.
“Hey, look guys,” screamed Selphie at the top of her voice. “I found some food.” She had started to explore the boat, and had discovered the room where guests would usually eat their meals. Zell and Irvine stampeded towards Selphie, desperate for something to eat.
“Aww, man. They don’t have any hotdogs,” muttered Zell dejectedly.
“Looks like you’ll have to settle for cereal,” suggested Irvine. Within five minutes, Zell, Irvine, Selphie and Quistis, were happily tucking in to whatever food they could find. Rinoa sat with them, not eating.
“Hey, Quistis, I checked out the cabins before and I call top bunk,” screamed Selphie.
“Fine, fine. You feel the movement of the boat less on the bottom bunk anyway.”
Hearing this, Zell and Irvine took one look at each other before shouting, “I call bottom bunk,” in unison.
“They have a history of sea sickness,” Selphie explained to Rinoa, who nodded her head.
“I said that first, didn’t I Quistis?” asked Irvine.
“No, I did,” butted in Zell.
“Just settle this later, you two. I would like to be able to eat in peace,” she replied.
“Erm, have any of you guys seen Squall?” asked Rinoa, breaking her silence.
“Oh, that’s it. Do you have to follow him everywhere?” screamed Quistis at the top of her voice.
“Hey Quistis, take it easy.” Selphie tried to calm her down.
“I had to listen to you all in the back of the van yesterday talking about me and Squall. As if it isn’t bad enough to hear him say that he doesn’t want me, I have to hear you all insinuating that he likes Rinoa. And he doesn’t deny it. How do you think that makes me feel?”
“Sorry, Quistis. We…we had no idea you could hear us,” Selphie apologized.
“Look, this is all our fault,” reasoned Zell. “We brought it up. We were the ones being insensitive. It’s not Rinoa’s fault. She didn’t deserve that outburst.” Quistis seemed to contemplate this for a few moments, before sighing heavily.
“You’re right, Zell. I’m sorry, Rinoa.”
But it was too late. She was gone.
Rinoa fled onto the deck, out into the freezing cold weather, hoping that nobody would follow her out. She was trying her best to hold back the tears that seemed so determined to form, taking in deep breaths of the cool, sea air.
“How dare she say that to me? She had no right.” Feeling the wind whip through her hair and sting her face, calmed her temper a little.
“I guess it was understandable. I mean, she has liked Squall for a long time. But it felt as if she was blaming me for getting in the way. That’s not true. If Squall had feelings for her, they would have been together long before now. That isn’t my fault.” She spun round, hearing somebody behind her, praying that it wasn’t Quistis. To her relief, she found Selphie.
“She wants to apologise you know?”
“Does she?” Rinoa tried her best to make it sound as though she didn’t care.
“She just didn’t know how you would react. This was all my fault for bringing up the subject in the van before. She overheard, and well…I think she’s just jealous of you.”
“What? Jealous of me?” Rinoa aked, obviously astounded. “What for?”
“Well, it’s plain to see that you like him, and he hasn’t given you the cold shoulder yet.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t like him, not in that way. Now, could you please leave me alone?” Selphie complied, seeing that Rinoa was still upset about the incident.
“That wasn’t a lie, right? I mean, I told Selphie the truth, didn’t I?” She began to walk the deck of the ship, enjoying the fresh air and lack of company. “Then why do I feel so guilty? Why does it feel like that isn’t the truth? Do I…no, that’s not possible. Then what is it I feel towards him? I can’t explain it, I’ve never felt this way before, but surely it can’t be that. I mean, he’s cold and a loner. I’m not even sure if he knows how to have fun, or whether he’s even had a chance to. Still, being around him brings me so much comfort. From the first moment I met him, I knew he wouldn’t hurt me, and that makes no sense. I mean, he’s a SeeD. A SeeD sent to kidnap me. How could I fall for him?”
Squall sat on the bow of the ship, his eyes scanning the horizon, watching the sun set over the ocean, making the water below glow crimson. Sunset and sunrise had always been a comfort to him throughout his life. No matter how bad things became, the world would always go on, day would always turn into night, and night would give in to the daylight. It was the eternal cycle, it would never be broken. It had always given him hope. Yet, no matter how many times before he had gazed at the setting sun, he had never truly appreciated its beauty until now. There had never been any beauty in his life before now. His current situation was so foreign to him. For the last few days, he had been protecting someone, fighting to save them. It had replaced the senseless violence and killing that he had been a part of in the past. For once in his life, he could feel good about himself. He was protecting somebody, and in turn, protecting his home. He had been reluctant to tell Rinoa just how much Garden really meant to him. They had taken him in when he had nobody else to turn to, and contrary to what everybody else believed, they had not sucked the humanity out of him. It was merely buried, deep beneath the surface. He wasn’t just the mindless drone that people thought he had become, that Rinoa thought he had become. He had proved them all wrong, he had proved her wrong. He wasn’t doing this because somebody was paying him to. He wasn’t even under orders to do this. He was doing it because he wanted to. He wanted to protect his home, and even if he hadn’t realized it before, he wanted to protect Rinoa.
“After all, it’s partly my fault that she’s in this situation. Maybe Caraway would have gotten to her without my involvement, but nobody can know that for sure. Nobody can predict the future, right? There are no guarantees.”
He sighed, pushing back the stray locks of hair that had fallen into his eyes, and gazed once more out to sea, lost deep within his own thoughts and worries about what would happen when they reached Balamb.
“What if the Headmaster blames us for all this? What if he thinks we didn’t act accordingly? After all, we deliberately disobeyed orders. Who am I kidding? I disobeyed orders. I’ll take the blame for all this myself. It wasn’t their fault. I mean, I am in charge of the mission, they all call me Commander for Hyne’s sake. They were just following my orders. I’ll make sure that Headmaster Cid knows that I acted on my own, and all of this was my idea. I just hope he doesn’t do anything to Rinoa. I hope he doesn’t send her to Caraway. I told her everything would be alright. I told her she could stay in Garden, and that she would be safe. I don’t want that to be a lie.”
Guilt swept through him at the thought that he might have lied to her. It frightened him to think that he might have betrayed her trust.
“Why do I feel like this? She’s just a client. I’ve worked for hundreds of clients before now, what’s so different about her? Maybe it’s just because she’s the first client I’ve worked for that I actually respect. She doesn’t fight for money or political power, she fights for the freedom of her townspeople. It just goes to show how many lies we’re fed about the resistance groups. They aren’t ruthless maniacs with no respect for law and order like I had been told. They were just ordinary people who stood up for their rights which had been taken away from them by force. Maybe she was right when she called SeeD murderers. I just don’t know anymore. I wouldn’t think that way about any of the individuals I know, but as a whole, maybe SeeD are just highly paid murderers.”
He sighed, finally realizing that all of his life, he had never once had a chance to be himself, to follow his own dreams. Sparing Rinoa was the closest he had ever come to being an individual, and to being himself.
“Maybe it wasn’t me who saved her. Maybe she was the one who saved me from myself.”
He sat up suddenly, as a stunning realization hit him full force.
“Am I falling for her?”
“What are you thinking?” Squall snapped out of his trance at the sound of her voice.
“Nothing really. Just watching the sunset.” He turned to look at her, noticing that she seemed upset about something. “Care to join me?”
“Sure.” She sat down next to him. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?”
“Yes. And I never noticed before today?” he muttered. “How many other things have I missed out on?” he thought to himself, wondering what might have been.
“Oh, nothing,” he replied, realizing that he was slipping back into his thoughts again. “Still cold?” he asked, jokingly when he noticed that she still wore his jacket.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” Squall was shocked to find that he wasn’t asking this out of courtesy, or because he thought it would be the right thing to do. He actually cared about her reply.
“It’s nothing really.” She looked into his stormy blue eyes and saw that he was genuinely concerned. “Just something Quistis said.”
“Which was?” He pressed her for the information. He didn’t want anyone on his team to be giving her a hard time.
“Just something about you not wanting her.”
“Why did that make you upset?”
“She turned it back around on to me. Made it out to be my fault.” She sighed, holding her head in her hands. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused.”
“Don’t be. You’re not the cause of any trouble.” To her amazement, Squall grabbed her hand and squeezed it tightly. “It’s not your fault.” She looked up at him, shocked, causing him to become nervous. He quickly retracted his hand. “Erm…sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” She smiled at him, and pulled his hand back, slipping her fingers between his.
“Thank you,” she whispered, almost as if she was afraid to spoil the moment.
“For what?” he asked, gazing down at their linked hands.
“For caring. For making me feel better. For everything.” Noticing his fixation on their hands, she sighed slightly. “What’s the matter Squall? You don’t like this?” To her surprise, he shook his head and smiled.
“Just not used to it, that’s all.” She smiled in return, not knowing what to say to this. Sensing that she was unsure of how to continue, Squall decided to change the subject. “So, how did Quistis make you feel that you were to blame?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he realized how tactless they were. “I’m sorry, you don’t have to…” Before he could finish his apology, Rinoa answered.
“She thinks that you like me.”
“Oh,” was all he could think of to say.
“She overheard the game of truth or dare and got really upset when you said you didn’t have any feelings for her. It just made it worse that they asked you about me and you didn’t answer. I was going to try and explain to her that it was just because you were sick of all the questions that you didn’t want to answer but she was just so angry. Well, there was that and the fact that you were probably too embarrassed to say you didn’t like me when I was sat right next to you.” This was met with silence. “Squall?” More silence. “You’ll tell her the truth won’t you?” She moved closer to him to make sure that he was listening to her. He lifted his head in order to look her in the eye. Their faces were now just inches apart, and he could feel her soft, warm breath against his skin. The feeling was intoxicating. He never knew how it felt to be close to someone and his mind was reeling with all the new sensations. “Squall?” she prompted.
“I don’t think I should tell her the truth. She isn’t going to like it.” He leaned forward slightly, giving Rinoa enough time to move away if she wished, and giving himself enough time to pluck up the courage to move that little bit closer. He found it ironic that he had spent so much of his life plunging himself into battle, watching those around him fall to the ground, dead, and yet it took so much courage for him to do what other men didn’t think twice about. He took a deep breath, and moved closer, letting his lips brush against hers. He shivered at how gentle and soft her lips could be, and longed for more. She obliged, kissing him softly. His was a feeling of ecstasy, one he had never known before.
A few metres away stood the lone figure of Quistis Trepe. She had come to apologise to Rinoa, to tell her that it wasn’t her fault. Quistis had believed that she had misjudged Rinoa, but as she watched the scene that unfolded before her, she found her worst fears coming true.
A lone tear wound its way down her cheek, hitting the deck of the boat as she turned and headed back inside.
Squall had been lost deep inside her eyes, inside her kiss. When the realization finally dawned upon him of what was happening, he pulled away as fast as he could.
“I’m sorry, Rinoa. I can’t do this. I just can’t.” He turned away, not being able to look her in the eye.
“Squall?” She felt herself close to tears, sure that he was going to reject her.
“I can’t put you through this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look.” He held his hands out towards her. See how stained with blood they are. They will never be clean. They will never be fit to touch you, to hold you. Look at who I am? I’ve killed.”
“I don’t care,” she whispered, caressing both of his hands. “In time they will come clean.”
“That can never happen. My past is too tainted with the blood of others.”
“I don’t care.”
“How can you not?”
“We all have our destiny. There are only so many paths in life that we can choose to walk. You took the only available path to you. It was meant to be. And that path led you here. To someone willing to forget about your past, and focus on the future instead. Are you just going to walk away?” She stood up, looking directly at him, waiting for him to answer.
“All I can do is hurt.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“It’s all I’ve ever done.”
“Then it’s time for you to learn something different.” She leaned upwards and kissed him deeply. Unable to resist any longer, he returned her kiss passionately.
Chapter 13 New Beginnings
“Aw, man, I’m gonna hurl.”
Squall and Rinoa quickly broke their kiss, startled by the sudden interruption. Squall stared directly down at his feet, shuffling them uncomfortably. Rinoa looked away in disgust as Zell ran to the railings at the edge of the deck and was promptly sick over the side. He turned around slowly, clutching his stomach as if he was in pain.
“Hey, guys. I didn’t see you out here.” Both Squall and Rinoa breathed a huge sigh of relief when the realised that Zell hadn’t witnessed them kissing.
“Are you alright?” asked Rinoa, trying hard to suppress the giggles that longed to appear.
Yeah, sorry about that,” he cringed. “I think I ate too much.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” muttered Squall under his breath.
“So anyway, what were you guys doing out here?” Zell asked.
“Nothing,” they both immediately replied in unison, causing Zell to eye them suspiciously.
“Oh, come on. Tell me,” he pleaded. “It’s so obvious when you lie, Squall.”
Squall fixed him with a glare, before replying to Zell’s accusation. “I wasn’t lying. What would you know about me?”
“Hey, I’m older and wiser. I know a lot more than you think.”
“You’re older than Squall?” asked Rinoa, not quite believing Zell’s statement.
“Sure. He’s the baby of the bunch. Ain’t that right Squall?” Zell hardly had time to finish his sentence before he found Squall fist connecting with his stomach. “Aww, geez that hurt.” He clutched his stomach even tighter, doubling over in pain.
“Hmph. I only tapped you. Now I see why you’re nickname’s Chicken Wuss.” Zell was about to reply, when he saw the anger in Squall’s eyes and decided that conceding defeat would be the better option. “Okay, I’m sorry. Will you just tell me what was going on?”
“I told you. Nothing was going on,” Squall replied through gritted teeth.
“Hey, were you guys…you know?” asked Zell, a look of realisation dawning his face.
“What?” asked Squall. “Were we what?”
“Were you…you know,” replied Zell, winking. Squall’s blushes at this comment were saved, as Rinoa rescued him from the awkward situation.
“Is that Balamb?” she asked, pointing to a small sliver of land that was gradually emerging from above the horizon, only visible thanks to the dwindling light of the sunset.
“Yes. Zell, go and get the others. Tell them we’re here.”
The walk from Balamb was spent predominantly in an uncomfortable silence. Quistis and Rinoa had not said a word to each other since the incident on the boat, and the hostility between could be sensed by all present. Squall was no stranger to silence, and even he felt slightly awkward. Zell, Selphie and Irvine could usually be relied upon to lighten the mood in any situation, but even they kept quiet, aside from the occasional grumble of protest from Zell’s stomach.
It was a relief for all when the finally arrived at the gates of Balamb Garden, to be greeted by a guard.
“It’s out of hours. Nobody is allowed entry to Garden.”
Squall stepped forward, ready to reply.
“It’s urgent that I meet with Headmaster Cid immediately.”
“Leonhart, Squall. ID number 137385.”
“State your purpose.”
“There may be a danger to Garden. I’m not at liberty to divulge the information to you, I will only talk directly to the Headmaster.”
“Who is accompanying you.”
“Instructor Quistis Trepe, SeeDs Zell Dincht, Irvine Kinneas and Selphie Tilmitt, and Rinoa Heartilly, my client.” Squall thought it would be easier to refer to Rinoa as his client than to try to explain the truth to the guard without revealing any information that should be kept to himself.
“Go right in,” the guard said, satisfied, opening the gate. The group entered, heading straight for the main corridor.
“I’ll go and see the Headmaster now. The rest of you should get some sleep. I’d imagine he’d want to talk to the rest of you in the morning.” Quistis, Zell, Selphie and Irvine nodded, before heading off down the corridor.
“What about me?” asked Rinoa.
“You should probably come with me and speak to the Headmaster.” He led her onto the nearby elevator and pressed the button for the third floor. As he stepped out, he noticed that the secretary was still at her desk. That meant that the Headmaster was still in his office. She looked up from her paperwork and batted her eyelids towards Squall, hitching her skirt up slightly, showing as much leg as she could, prompting a stern glare from Rinoa.
“What can I do for you?” she cooed. Squall sighed. He had been expecting this.
“I need to see the Headmaster right away.”
“Anything for you.” She smiled sweetly, opening the office door for Squall, but letting it swing back into Rinoa’s path.
“Squall? What are you doing back here?” asked the Headmaster as soon as he entered the office. “I hadn’t received word from General Caraway that the package had been delivered.” He pulled out two chairs, indicating that the pair should sit down. “And who’s this?” Squall did not answer the Headmaster’s last question, instead, he concentrated on fully explaining the situation.
“The kidnapping itself went as planned, but soon we found ourselves in difficulty. We were trapped in a storm, which caused the cancellation of all trains from Timber. Our particular train was involved in an accident, meaning that we had to travel on foot to Galbadia Garden. During this time, we were attacked by a number of soldiers working for General Caraway. They were specifically directed to attack us and return Miss Heartilly to General Caraway. In addition to this, Miss Heartilly, who is Caraway’s daughter, has seen documents detailing his desire to eliminate SeeD.”
“Are you suggesting that this whole mission was a set up?”
“Yes, sir. The most logical explanation for this is that Caraway wanted to be rid of SeeD, and painting us as his daughter’s kidnappers would give him an excuse to do so.”
“But why would he want to be rid of SeeD? We have always completed his missions to the best standards possible. He has been one of our best clients and has never had any complaints about us before.”
“May I speak?” asked Rinoa, nervously. The Headmaster nodded, trying to put her at ease. “I didn’t read anything in the documents about his motives, but I have often overheard him talking about the need to eliminate all threats to the Galbadian military. Unfortunately, I know him well enough to understand that his desire for power supersedes any feelings of loyalty that he may have.”
“Sir. He knows very well about the expansion of SeeD forces in the past few years.”
“Yes,” the Headmaster agreed. “And he did seem rather interested in the new Garden at Trabia. It is possible that, in a few years time, our forces will surpass that of Galbadia in both numbers and prowess.”
“Sir. If I may ask, what happens now? His original plan failed, but there may well be a backup plan to contend with.”
“Yes, that is of great concern to me. I will need to consider my actions carefully. We will discuss this fully tomorrow. Show Miss Heartilly to the guest quarters.” He held out a keycard for Squall. “I will call for you when required tomorrow. Dismissed.” Squall could see that Headmaster Cid was worried about the current situation. He wasn’t usually so formal and abrupt when addressing anybody, and his brow was furrowed in a way that Squall had never seen before. Then again, it was to be expected. Squall was aware of the effect that this decision could have. It could mean the difference between the survival of SeeD, and the destruction of it.
“Well, here we are. This is the guest room. You just swipe the keycard through the reader and wait for the light to turn green. That means it unlocked,” Squall explained.
“I know how to work one of these,” she replied. “We had them at the Forest Owls headquarters.”
“Sorry. Most people who stay here don’t have a clue.” They stared at each other awkwardly for a short time. “Well, I’d better get going. My room is just two doors down,” he said, pointing at a nearby dorm. “So, I’ll be there if you need anything.” Usually, Squall hated the fact that his quarters were in such close proximity to the guest rooms, but this time, he felt it was a blessing.
“Night then,” said Rinoa, kissing him gently on the lips.
“Night,” he whispered in reply.
Despite the fact that Squall hadn’t slept properly in days, he found himself lying awake, thinking. Thinking about how his world had been turned upside down in just a few short days, thinking about what was going to happen now, thinking about her. He still felt as if he was shivering from the kiss they had shared earlier, his first. He used to be ridiculed about the fact that he wasn’t particularly interested in girls. Even Zell and Irvine had told him that he shouldn’t be waiting around for someone special.
“The first kiss is always terrible,” Irvine would say. “So why wait for someone you actually like?” Squall laughed a little to himself.
“Irvine was wrong. So very, very wrong.” He smiled, as these thoughts carried him into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Squall awoke to the sound of his alarm clock at the customary time of 6.00am. He sat up, and was about to grab his gunblade from the case by his bed, as he did every morning, when he stopped to think.
“I do this every day. I wake up, already dressed, go to the training centre, come back, have a shower, and be changed ready for 8am when I go to eat breakfast. Is this what I want? The same routine every day. Is this what my life’s going to be like? That isn’t what I want from life.”
It was then that he made his decision. Today was going to be different. Today, he was going to do what he wanted.
However, he was at a loss as to what to do. He found it difficult to break the habit of a lifetime. As he searched around his room for something to do, his thoughts drifted to the conversation he had had with Rinoa when he was driving the van to Dollett. He had told her that her hobby was drawing.
He opened the draws in his bedside table and pulled out a sketch pad and pencil. He began to draw the first thing that came into his mind, the sunset that he had been watching from the boat the previous evening. It was then that he had discovered how unfulfilling his life had been, and he discovered what it was to truly live, and he thought he should capture it.
Once he had finished his drawing, he realised that it was only 6.15. He would have to find something else to do to kill the time.
“What’s the least likely thing I could do?” he thought to himself.
Finding the answer, he lay back down on his bed, and went to sleep.
Squall opened his eyes slowly, sure that he had heard a sound from within his room.
“You look so adorable when you’re sleeping,” Rinoa giggled, as he squinted at her through blurry eyes.
“How did you get in here?” he asked, sleepily.
“Yeah, about that. I think you need a new lock.” She grinned sheepishly. “So, come on then.”
“You have to take me on a tour of this place?”
“Can’t you go by yourself?” he muttered, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
“Don’t be silly. Come on.” She grabbed him by the hand and dragged him out of bed.
Squall led Rinoa down one of the many corridors that ran through Balamb Garden.
“So, where are we?” she asked curiously.
“This is the training centre.”
“Ooh, that’s romantic. Is this where you take all your girlfriends on first dates?” she joked.
“Girl…girlfriend?” he asked, shocked.
“Oh, Squall. I’m sorry…I…”
“No, no. It’s not that. I was just a little surprised to hear it that’s all. Not used to it.” She smiled at him, understanding how nervous he must feel. And besides, I prefer the library for a first date.” She punched him in the arm, playfully.
“Come on, let’s get something to eat.”
“Now that’s more like it. A fancy restaurant, candles on the tables…”
“Actually, I was thinking of the cafeteria.”
“No hot dogs today,” announced the lady behind the counter. “That Dincht boy’s been in already,” she said, shaking her head.
“Now, why doesn’t that surprise me?” asked Rinoa. Squall smiled at her and ordered a pizza for them both. They sat down next to each other, to the surprise of the other SeeDs in the room, who stopped and stared at them. “Why are they looking at me?” she asked.
“Probably because I usually sit on my own in the corner, not talking to anyone.”
“It really creeps me out though. I don’t like people staring at me.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I just feel like they’re talking about me.”
“Actually, I...er, think they’re talking about us.”
“Why? What are they saying?”
“Why do you seem so bothered about it? Does it matter that much what other people think?”
“No, I guess not. But I thought you would be.” Squall smiled.
“Today, really will be different,” he thought.
“What are you smiling about?”
“Nothing. Just the fact that I’m really going to give them something to talk about,” he said, leaning across the table and kissing her.
Quistis stood, nervously, outside the Headmaster’s office.
“Do I really want to go through with this? I mean, I do believe it’s the truth, but maybe I’m just jealous. He wants her, not me. Maybe that’s why I’m doing this? No, I’m not that cruel, I’m not the jealous type. She’s just manipulating him. I saw them kissing. Squall doesn’t do that.”
“The Headmaster is ready to see you now,” the secretary told her, ushering her into the office.
“Thank you,” she replied, confidently striding in.
“Now, you wanted to tell me something Instructor Trepe.”
“Yes, sir. I’m afraid I have some rather disturbing news.”
Chapter 14 Betrayal
“Yes, sir. I’m afraid I have some rather disturbing news.”
She paused, unsure of whether to continue, knowing that if she spoke her mind now, she would be unable to take it back. She drew in a deep breath, gathering her courage.
“Well?” the headmaster prompted.
“I believe that we may have been deceived by Rinoa Heartilly.”
She hung her head, aware now of the consequences that her actions could lead to.
“What?” Headmaster Cid was taken aback by her last statement. “But, what about the troops Caraway sent to retrieve her. I admit that I was very sceptical at first, but after much thought on the subject I cannot think of another explanation for it. He must have betrayed us.”
Quistis did not reply to this. She sat, unnervingly still, wishing that the headmaster would let the issue drop and allow them both to forget all about it. Her mind was awash with doubt.
“Am I really sure about this?” she thought to herself. “What if I’m mistaken? The consequences could be grave for all concerned. Then again, what if I’m right and I don’t tell anyone? I could be putting Garden in danger.” She could find no answers.
“What is it you’re not telling me?” demanded Cid.
“Sir?” Quistis asked, politely, pretending not to understand the question.
“Quistis,” he said, calmly, dropping the formalities that he had previously adopted. He felt more comfortable talking to people when he didn’t address them by rank. “How long have I known you for?”
Quistis recognised that this was a rhetorical question, but she also knew where it was leading.
“I’ve known you longer than anybody else, since you were just a child. You always have your reasons for bringing things to my attention. That is why you are one of my most trusted instructor’s here. I can always rely on you to tell the truth and make good, clear judgements based only upon the facts.”
Those words echoed in her mind.
Only upon the facts.
“Facts?” she thought. “What facts do I have? I have no proof to back up my accusation. Why did I even come here?”
“Tell me what you’re hiding Quistis.”
She knew she had no choice. She was a model SeeD who had never disobeyed an order in her entire career, but at that moment, that almost changed. She doubted her own self-conviction so much that she wanted nothing more than to flee from the office immediately, too afraid of what she was about to say.
“What if he doesn’t believe me? He knows all that goes on in Garden. I’m sure that he’s known about my feelings for Squall for a long time. What if he thinks I’m only doing this to hurt Squall, as some childish form of revenge?”
“Instructor Trepe, I am ordering you to tell me.”
“I…I never saw the soldiers that Squall and Rinoa mentioned. I didn’t see any sign of them.” She finally gave him, almost relieved that the words had finally come out of her mouth.
“Surely one of the others did?” asked Cid, exasperated.
She shook her head, meekly. She had discussed this earlier with Zell, Selphie and Irvine. Although they themselves had no doubt as to Rinoa’s integrity, they thought it a little strange that they did not come into contact with any Galbadian soldiers.
“So, we have nothing but Squall’s word to take on the subject?”
“And Rinoa’s,” Quistis offered, trying to repair the damage that was already done.
“She is an outsider. You know as well as I do that I cannot trust the word of an outsider, especially one that we were ordered to kidnap.”
“However, Squall has been nothing but an exemplary member of SeeD throughout his service. I have no reason to doubt his word.”
Quistis remained silent, refusing to make eye contact with her superior. The headmaster noticed her strange behaviour and was immediately suspicious of it.
“Unless there’s something you’re not telling me?”
She knew that he would not drop the issue until she had given him a satisfactory answer.
“He…he…” She was unsure of how to word her statement. “He appears to be infatuated with her.”
“What?” Cid appeared shocked. This was the last thing he had expected, after all this was Squall Leonhart they were talking about, the notorious lone wolf. He was famed throughout Garden for receiving unrivalled attention from the female cadets, and even more renowned for turning every single one of them down. The thought that he had developed feelings for someone who should have been no more to him than a mission, was nothing less than mind blowing. “You have evidence of this?”
“I saw them kissing on the boat back to Balamb. Prior to that, they had spent a great deal of time alone. At first, I thought that he just wanted to make sure that she was delivered to Caraway safely, but now…”
She let her sentence trail off for effect. Headmaster Cid knew exactly what her implications meant.
“That will be all, Quistis. Thank you.”
She stood up to leave, leaving the headmaster to deal with the problem. As soon as she stepped out of the door, she held her head in her hands and broke down into tears.
“What have I done?”
“No, no, that’s no it. At the point of impact, you want your arm to be completely outstretched.” He grabbed Rinoa’s arm, and guided it in the correct motion. “See? It doesn’t hurt so much that way.”
“Let me try on my own.”
Rinoa stood, feet planted firmly apart, her body turned sideways. She brought her fist back slowly, until it was almost level with her face, before bringing it forward, swiftly, slamming her fist into the punch bag. This time, she remembered to end with her arm straight, feeling satisfied when the sharp, shooting pain that had previously coursed through her, never came.
“That’s it. Told you it wasn’t too difficult.”
“Thanks, Squall,” she said, removing her gloved from her sore, reddened hands, and hugging him. She felt proud of her achievement. Not that is was much compared to the fighting prowess of the SeeDs at Garden, but it was something. And besides, being given a choice between this and taking on the training centre, she felt sure that she had made the correct decision. She had overheard students in the canteen talking about one of their friends who had encountered a T-Rexaur whilst training. From what she could gather, they were going to be alright, but only after extensive surgery. She was sure that she would have been safe with Squall, but these stories alone were enough to put her off the place.
“Hey, are you alright?” he asked, concern showing in his eyes as he noticed how red her hands were.
“I’m fine,” she replied, rubbing them gently.
“I guess I forgot to warn you that it can hurt like hell at first, huh?”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s fine, really.”
“Maybe I should take you to the infirmary, just to make sure.”
Her mind drifted back to the T-Rexaur story.
“No, I’m sure they have much more important things to do than to see to someone who has a sore hand.”
“Fine, but at least let me get you a bandage.”
Rinoa knew that he wouldn’t let this one go, so she agreed to the bandage.
“At least it’s a refreshing change that he cares for me,” she thought, remembering back to when they had first met. It seemed so long ago, so much had happened since then. As he walked into the bathroom to get her a bandage, Rinoa took advantage of the fact that he was out of the room, and began to rifle through his things out of curiosity. She was shocked to find that he had so few possessions, and even more shocked to find that he didn’t have any of the junk that teenagers usually had lurking about their room. All she could find on his desk were mission reports and various files on clients. When she realised there was nothing of interest she moved on to his bedside table which sat next to the case she supposed held his beloved gunblade. She opened the draws and was shocked at what she found. She pulled out the pad of paper to have a closer look and began to admire it.
“Hey, what are you looking at?” he demanded as he re-entered the room.
“When you told me you like to draw, I had no idea that you were that talented,” she said, still staring at the picture.
“I’m not,” he replied, snatching the pad from her grasp.
“Was that the sunset we could see from the boat?”
“You could tell?”
“I’ll never forget that sunset,” she said, smiling.
“Well, I guess you should keep the drawing then. It’s only right that you should have it.”
“Really? You mean that?”
“I don’t know what to say. Nobody’s ever given me a present like that before. It’s…” She paused, searching for the right word. “Perfect.”
He seemed embarrassed at her praise, so instead, he focused on bandaging her hand.
“Hey, you’re pretty good at this. What are you, a nurse too?”
“Basic medical training for use in the field,” he replied.
“And I thought they only taught you how to fight.”
“They teach us lots of things.”
“And would kissing be one of those?” she inquired, flirtatiously.
“Erm…no,” he replied, uncertain of what he should do, having no clue about how to flirt. He silently cursed the fact that they were never taught how to deal with these situations in their classes. Right now, he would have found that expertise much more useful than an extensive knowledge of physics.
She giggled slightly, aware that he was uncertain of what to do, so she took the initiative, leaning forward until their lips were almost touching, at which point they were interrupted by a persistent knocking at the door. Reluctantly, Squall answered, finding a group of four lower ranked SeeDs standing outside.
“Sir, the Headmaster demands that you see him immediately.”
“Why didn’t he just call me over the PA?”
“It is a matter of utmost importance, and he did not want to alert the rest of Garden.”
“Fine. Rinoa, I won’t be long,” he called back at her.
“Excuse me, Miss Heartilly,” ventured a second SeeD. “You must come with us.”
Squall knew immediately that something was wrong.
“Are they going to hand Rinoa over to Caraway anyway to prevent an attack on Garden?” That was just one of the thoughts racing through his mind.
“If you’ll follow me please.”
Squall and Rinoa had no choice but to go their separate ways and follow the soldiers. As they parted, they both looked back on each other, sensing that something would be different about the next time they met.
“Sir, what did you want to see me for?” Squall asked, saluting.
“It has been brought to my attention that you have…feelings…for Miss Heartilly.”
“Yes, sir, what of them?” he replied. He thought it foolish to try and conceal their relationship from the headmaster, after all, he had been almost like a father to Squall over the many years that they had known each other. And soon, it was going to be common knowledge anyway, after the scene in the cafeteria. He began to regret his previous actions, not knowing what he must have been thinking of at the time. He, of all people should have known that public shows of emotion usually end badly. He wondered if he was to be reprimanded for his previous behaviour.
“I fear that they may have clouded your judgement on certain vital matters. These matters are of the utmost importance, not just to yourself, but to everybody in Garden.”
“I understand that there were no other witnesses to the attack by the Galbadians.”
“No, sir. Only Rinoa and I were present at the time.”
“I see. Well, somebody has cast doubt onto these facts and I can understand their reasoning.”
“But, Sir,” Squall protested. “I have told only the truth. I didn’t make any of it up.”
“Do you have any proof?”
Squall sighed, knowing that he could not win.
“Only my word, Sir.”
Cid paused, considering his words very carefully.
“I’m sorry, Squall. But I have no choice but to suspend you from all of your duties as a SeeD indefinitely. This will be effective immediately.” Cid’s eyes betrayed a great deal of sadness at the decision that he had been forced to make. “Dismissed.”
Chapter 15 Rules Are Made to be Broken
“I just can’t get over how great hotdogs are, Irvine.” Zell took one last bite of his hotdog, savouring every moment of it, being sure to inhale as much of the hotdog aroma that was drifting from his lunch as humanly possible.
“You know what, Zell?” asked Irvine. “Hotdogs are just like women.”
“How can you say that? They just don’t compare,” protested Zell, gently picking up the next hotdog of his overflowing dinner plate. “Give me a hotdog any day baby.”
“Now, while hotdogs do have their obvious advantages, you just can’t beat a good woman.”
“Pft. I just don’t see how you can say women are just like hotdogs.”
“Well, think about it, Zell. Hotdogs require time and money, as do most women. Also, you have to queue up for hours waiting for one that you can take home, only to find that there’s none left and you were just that little bit too late.”
“You don’t get women from a canteen though, Irvine,” he said through a mouthful of hotdog.
“I don’t know,” the cowboy replied. “That lady behind the counter’s been giving you the eye for a long time.”
“What!” Zell spluttered, spitting his lunch out all over the table, much to Irvine’s amusement.
“Had you going there, man,” he laughed.
“You made me waste good hotdog dammit!” he screamed at the top of his voice, causing the other students in the cafeteria to stop and stare.
Irvine merely laughed. Suddenly aware of the attention that they were receiving, he tipped his hat towards a nearby table of female students who immediately started giggling amongst themselves, proud that he had thought to acknowledge them.
“See, look at them all. Hunting in packs, giggling, talking amongst themselves, probably about us. Women are scary.”
“You have a lot to learn. You just need to know what they like. When you get used to them, you’ll see they’re not scary at all,” Irvine explained. “You know you have the attitude of a nine year old towards women, they’re not some completely different species or something.”
“Oh, no? Then why do they have all that make-up? Just what in Hyne’s name is it for? Do they really have faces covered in horrible, slimy scales that they don’t want us to know about? And what’s with all the shoes. How many feet do they really have? Do they sprout extra ones at night time when nobody else is around? And why do they have to go to the toilet in groups of two or more? Why does it take so many of them?”
“You’ve thought about this way too much. You need to calm down.”
“You’re right. I’m going to get another hotdog.”
“That’s right, Zell. Go and see your girlfriend.”
“Ok, that’s it,” screamed Zell finally snapping, leaping across the table and grabbing Irvine in a headlock. “You take that back.”
“Hey, man, take it easy. Take it easy.” Luckily for Irvine, he was rescued from the situation by Selphie, who came bounding into the cafeteria at full speed.
“Guys,” she announced, trying desperately to get their attention, tapping them both on the shoulder at the same time.
There was no response from either.
“GUYS!” she shouted at the top of her voice, getting her the attention she requested. When she saw the mass of students staring at her in disbelief, she suddenly became embarrassed. “Just go back to your food everyone.”
“What’s the matter, Selph? You seem tense.”
“I just saw Squall being escorted to the Headmaster’s office by some other SeeDs. It seemed pretty important too. He came out of there looking really angry.” She had lowered her voice to a whisper so that nobody could possibly overhear. “Do any of you guys know what happened?”
“No,” replied Zell. “But I passed Rinoa earlier. She said she was going to see if she could spend the day with him.”
“Was he with Rinoa, Selph?”
“No, there was no sign of her.”
“Maybe we should ask Quistis,” suggested Zell.
“I’m not so sure. I went up to the classrooms to find her, but all I found was a note on the door saying that all her classes this morning had been cancelled.”
“That never happened when we were students,” moaned Irvine. “Some things just aren’t fair.”
“Guys, something’s going on. We have to find out.”
“I thought maybe we could ask Squall.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” Irvine protested. “You said he was angry. Zell, back me up here. Would you want to talk to a very angry Squall.”
“No way, I’d rather face a whole herd of ruby dragons that hadn’t eaten for weeks.”
“Well, this could be your lucky day. I hear there’s an excursion being run to the Island Closest to Hell that’s leaving in about an hour.” Both men could see from the look on Selphie’s face that they weren’t going to get out of this one. They were going to have to speak to Squall.
“Oh look, he’s not here. Let’s leave,” announced Zell. “I’m going to go check for him in the students lounge.”
“No you don’t,” replied Selphie, grabbing him by the arm. “First of all, we haven’t even looked yet, and second of all, when have you ever seen Squall in the student’s lounge?”
“I think that was the point,” said Irvine, who soon found himself on the receiving end of a particularly nasty look.
Selphie ran on ahead, dragging the two men behind her.
“See, I told you he’d be here,” she said proudly as the sound of a dying T-Rexaur greeted their ears. This was quickly followed by the anguished cry of a large number of grats that were under attack. All three SeeDs gulped, knowing what to expect.
“That’s Squall alright. And he’s mad,” pointed out Irvine.
“Erm, Squall?” asked Selphie, quietly, hoping that he would not react badly to the disturbance. “Squall?” she asked, a little louder this time.
“What?” he snapped, obviously irritated at the interruption.
“We…we were just wondering if you were ok.”
“It’s no concern of yours.”
“But, we…we’ve known each other for so long, and…and we always work together,” she stammered, nervously, losing all of her confidence.
“Yeah, well I don’t work with you anymore so you can just leave me alone.”
“What do you mean, Squall?”
“What do you think I mean? Have you suddenly become deaf or something? I said, I don’t work with you anymore.”
“You mean, you’re…leaving SeeD?” she asked, a look of disbelief registering on her features.
“I think being fired is the better term for it,” he growled, stalking past them on his way out the training centre.
“What do you mean?” she shouted after him.
“Why don’t you ask your dear friend Quistis?”
“It had to be her,” he thought to himself as he paced the corridors of what was soon to become his former home. “It had to be somebody that was there otherwise how could they ‘cast doubt’ on the facts. This person was there on the mission.”
“It couldn’t possibly have been Zell. He’s not a bad guy. Sure, he can be a little hyperactive at times but he’s always honest, that’s something I can’t fault him for. If he had have had any doubts, he would have come to me first.”
“And as for Irvine, he was always trying to set me up with Rinoa. If he thought Rinoa was lying and deceiving us then he definitely wouldn’t have done that.”
“I know it can’t be Selphie, either. There’s no way she’s that good of an actress to fool me into thinking she didn’t know anything about this. And what would she have to gain if she asked me about it unless she genuinely had no clue about what was said.”
“That only leaves one person.”
“That’s it. That explains why Quistis’ lessons were cancelled. She’s been to talk with the headmaster,” Selphie explained.
“You don’t think she’d actually tell him to get rid of Squall do you?” asked Irvine in disbelief.
“Not in those words, no. But do you remember how she would always ask us what we thought of Rinoa and if we trusted her.”
“Hey but she was just jealous, Selph. It was obvious that she liked Squall and Quistis didn’t like that.”
“But Squall has loads of girls after him,” Zell pointed out.
“It was also obvious that he liked Rinoa in return though. He always brushed the other girls off so Quistis didn’t feel threatened by them.”
“Yeah, she once told me that what she wanted above all else was for Squall to grow to like her more,” said Selphie.
“See, there’s your answer.”
“Deep down she knew that it was never going to happen, though. I could see it in her eyes. I don’t think this is just jealousy.”
“Well, maybe it’s just clouding her judgement. Maybe she really does think that Rinoa’s bad news, and she can’t see the truth because she’s blinded by her feelings,” offered Zell.
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Should we go and see her?” asked Irvine.
“I’m guessing she’d want to be alone now. I don’t think we should disturb her.”
“Well we have to do something. I don’t want to wait round for Squall to do something stupid.”
“Zell, this is Squall Leonhart we’re talking about. He always plays by the rules.”
He knew exactly where she had been taken.
The detention centre.
Although the name conjured up images of students sitting at desks in a room being forced to do maths in their lunch hour, it was in fact a far more sinister place. In fact, it resembled a prison. This would be where they had taken her if they thought she was deceiving SeeD and could perceivably be a danger to all in Garden. If Caraway found out that Garden was harbouring his daughter, the consequences could be dire for all involved.
This was what Squall wanted to avoid at all costs, even if it meant for once in his life, breaking all of the rules that he lived by.
Chapter 16 Release
“Why are they keeping me here?”
“What have I done?”
Millions of thoughts were buzzing through Rinoa’s head, trying to make sense of the situation she had found herself in.
“Where did they take him? He didn’t even do anything wrong.”
“How could I have done this to him? I’ve brought him nothing but pain and heartache.”
She slumped down against the wall until she was sat on the cold, dirty floor, her head resting in her hands.
“Squall,” she uttered, hoping that by saying his name, everything would miraculously right itself, and she would be reunited with him.
“It’s no use,” the nearby guard told her, a malicious smile spreading across his face. “You won’t be seeing him again.”
“You’re enjoying this aren’t you?” she retorted with as much spite as she could muster, refusing to let her spirit be broken.
“And why shouldn’t I be? It’s about time Leonhart screwed up, and I’m so glad I’m here to see it.”
“What have you got against him?”
“He always got promoted ahead of me, compared to him, everybody thought I was second best, not quite good enough, nowhere near as perfect as the mighty Leonhart,” he screamed, bitterly. “And now, with you here, he’s had his first true taste of happiness, and I get to see it ripped from him.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m under strict orders to keep him well away from you. Hopefully, he’ll be there when we hand you back to Caraway, though. I can’t wait to see the moment when his heart is torn in two.”
Rinoa was about to reply, when another man entered the room, dressed in SeeD uniform.
“The Headmaster wants to see you right away, Sir,” the SeeD announced to the guard.
“Did he say it was urgent?” he asked impatiently.
“”Fine,” he sighed, resigning himself to the fact that he would have to leave. “Do me a favour will you? Watch her for me.” He motioned towards Rinoa. “Don’t let anybody near her, understand?”
Rinoa breathed a sigh of relief as the footsteps of the guard echoed away into nothingness, until she was certain that he was gone.
“Ignore him. He acts too tough.”
“Excuse me?” Rinoa asked the newly arrived SeeD.
“That’s Simmons. He’s always acting as if he’s the boss. I’m guessing by your reaction, he said something to you.”
“Yeah,” she replied, feigning a smile.
“So, what did you do to get put in here?”
“What? He doesn’t know?” she thought.
“You there?” he asked, concerned about the overly long pause in answering his question.
“I’m not really sure, they didn’t tell me.”
“That’s harsh,” he replied. “Well if you don’t know, it can’t be too serious. I’m sure you’ll be out of here soon.”
“Thanks,” she muttered. It was then that she noticed the sound of footsteps coming down the corridor, ever closer.
“Great. He’s back,” she thought, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t have to face Simmons again. To her shock and relief, however, the figure in the doorway was not one that she had expected to see.
“Sir,” announced the SeeD as he rode to his feet, saluting. This reaction seemed to surprise Squall slightly, but did not throw him off guard.
“I believe the prisoner to be in danger. I need to move her to a safe place,” Squall told him.
“But, Sir. I’m under orders not to let anybody near her,” he protested.
“Are you arguing with me?” The look on Squall’s face was enough to strike fear into the heart of any mortal, and this man was obviously no exception. “Of…of course not, Sir,” he stuttered. “You may move her right away.”
“Thank you.” Squall unlocked the door to Rinoa’s cell and led her outside. When they had safely left the detention centre, Rinoa began to question Squall.
“What in Hyne’s name is going on?”
“Quistis told the Headmaster that you were untrustworthy and had made up the story about Caraway wanting to be rid of SeeD.”
“Quistis? You’re sure?”
“I have a very good idea.”
“What happened to you?”
“Basically, I was removed from SeeD.”
“But if you’re not a SeeD anymore, how did you just persuade that guard to let me go?”
“The Headmaster’s trying to keep this as low profile as possible. Most people don’t know about it yet.”
“So what are we going to do, just walk out of here?”
“That’s the plan.”
It had almost been too easy to escape Garden. Headmaster Cid had told so few people that even the gate guard didn’t have a clue about Squall’s demotion. He had just been able to walk through the gate and head towards Balamb. As soon as they were a safe distance from Garden, they had begun to run, seeking shelter in the town. Squall knew that it would only be a matter of time before the alarm was sounded and their disappearance was known. His biggest worry was that they would not make it to Balamb in time, as they were sitting ducks on the path into town, and an easy target for any SeeD search party. He breathed a sigh of relief as they made it to the Balamb Hotel without being found and dragged back to Garden.
“I’d like to book a room please, for tonight,” Squall told the receptionist.
“What name is it, please?”
“Davidson,” he replied without hesitation. “It’s Mr and Mrs Davidson.” Rinoa glanced at him in shock at his last statement, before realising that it was nothing more than a cover story. It didn’t mean anything.
“How will you be paying, Sir?”
“Cash,” Squall replied, handing over a large wad of notes from his back pocket.
“Thank you very much. Here is your room key, Number 33. Enjoy your stay.”
“Are you mad?” asked Rinoa, as soon as they were out of earshot. “We’re hiding in the most obvious place.”
“That’s the whole point,” replied Squall. “Be patient. You’ll see.”
“Where is she?” screamed Simmons, furiously, at the top of his voice.
“I was ordered to release her, Sir, as it was feared that her life was in danger.” His reply was somewhat nervous.
“Who gave that order?”
“It was Commander Leonhart, Sir.”
“Leonhart? It was Leonhart?” Simmons was fuming with anger. “You’ll be demoted so much for this, you’ll soon be addressing the cleaners as Sir.”
“You’re sure Leonhart has her?” asked the Headmaster.
“Yes, sir. He ordered her release from the detention centre.”
“Maybe I should have made more people aware of the situation,” he pondered. “I just didn’t expect Squall to pull a stunt like this.”
“Well, Sir. Maybe you’ll have to admit that your decision to promote him was incorrect.”
“Are you challenging my judgement, Simmons?”
“No, Sir,” he replied.
“Good, because you won’t like what happens to SeeDs that do, have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, Sir,” he muttered.
“Good. Now how long ago did this happen?”
“Over an hour ago, Sir.”
“That means we won’t be able to catch them before they leave Balamb. It’s likely that they’re already half way to Galbadia. Squall would try and get as far away as possible, widen the search area for us and increase the likelihood that they would be able to slip through the net. Yes, that would be the most logical thing to do.”
“We’ll launch Garden then?”
“I’m afraid that that’s not possible at the moment. Critical maintenance is currently underway on the flight systems. We won’t be able to leave for a while. I’ll contact Galbadia Garden, ask them to send out a search team. In the meantime, could you go and inform the maintenance crews that they need to work around the clock. We have to leave as soon as possible.”
Chapter 17 Moonlit Night
“Squall, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for everything,” Rinoa sobbed gently, tears streaming down her cheeks. In reply, Squall softly wiped them away with his thumb, causing Rinoa to shiver at the sudden contact.
“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You’re completely innocent, you just got caught in the middle of all this by mistake. You can’t blame yourself.”
“But, before me, you had everything. You had a home, a life, a good job, lots of money. Now what do you have?”
“I have everything I could ever want right here with me,” he whispered softly before kissing her on the cheek.
“Squall, you can’t mean that. What about your friends…”
“What friends?” he interrupted. “It was one of those so-called friends that did this to me.” Rinoa couldn’t argue with this. Instead she tried to offer him whatever small comfort she could, caressing his hand and rubbing her fingers gently over his rough, callused skin that had arisen from years of extensive training. To her surprise, she noticed that the corners of his mouth had folded up into a slight smile, barely distinguishable from his normal expression.
“Don’t worry about it, Squall. I’ll…I’ll be here for you.” She looked deep into his eyes, seeing the profound effect that her words were having on him, his eyes lighting up in delight. “I promise.”
Zell, Selphie and Irvine stood outside the Headmaster’s office, waiting nervously for their call to go in. All three guessed that this meeting was about Squall, but still, they weren’t quite sure of what they were about to face. Were they to be punished for not voicing any suspicions of their own, or were they merely to be informed of the current situation? They couldn’t be sure.
“The Headmaster will see you now,” the secretary announced, opening the door wide open for them.
“Ah, Zell, Selphie, Irvine, do sit down,” invited Headmaster Cid. He seemed somewhat downcast, despite his attempts to welcome them cheerfully.
“You wanted to see us, Sir?” asked Selphie.
“Yes. I’m afraid I’ve had to remove Squall Leonhart from SeeD pending an investigation into his activities on your recent mission. I was wondering if you could shed any light on that for me. I have already received a report from Instructor Trepe which proved to be very informative indeed.”
“Sir, if you want us to speak up against Squall, then I for one won’t,” spoke Zell. “I know he isn’t the most friendly of guys, but he’s the best Commander I’ve ever served under. He’s saved my life many times since we both became SeeDs, I know he can be trusted.”
“I agree,” chipped in Irvine. “He may be grumpy as hell most of the time, but that’s just because he takes his work so seriously. If you ask me, he’s the last guy on the planet I’d expect to betray anyone.”
“Sir, they’re right,” agreed Selphie. “When Quistis and I were briefed on the mission before we infiltrated the Forest Owls, we were told that Rinoa was highly dangerous, and a threat to the region’s peace. We both thought that seemed really strange. For the most part, the Forest Owls were just organising demonstrations or distributing propaganda. That’s not exactly what I’d consider dangerous. There are resistance groups in Timber that are far more active than that, some are even violent. In my opinion, Rinoa Heartilly didn’t pose a threat to anyone.”
“I see. You’re sure you didn’t find any evidence of danger from the Forest Owls?” asked the Headmaster. “I too was under the impression that they truly were a threat to the Government.”
“They were just a small agency, made up mostly of students, with very little funding. There was nothing that they could really do to threaten anybody. They didn’t even have any links to the more militant resistance factions.”
“You think that I have made a mistake then about Squall?”
There was silence from the three SeeDs, neither of them wanting to offend Headmaster Cid.
“Don’t be afraid to speak your minds. I need to know the truth here.”
Slowly and nervously, they began to nod, confirming the Headmaster’s worst fears.
“Why would she lie to me?” he asked, exasperated. “She’s one of the most trusted instructor’s at Garden, and now she goes and does this. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Sir. I don’t think that she would deliberately mislead you.”
“Well, what other explanation is there?” he demanded.
“You must have known about Quistis’ feelings for Squall,” explained Selphie. “She became jealous of Rinoa even before anything happened between her and Squall. I’ve never seen her as angry as she was on the trip back home, it wasn’t like her at all.”
“You mean that all this was caused by a little jealously?”
“She doesn’t see it as that though. She thinks that she’s doing the best thing for Squall. I’m sure she didn’t mean for him to be removed from SeeD, I know she cares about him too much. She just thinks that he’s be better off without Rinoa and that has been influencing her judgement, making her see things differently from the rest of us.”
“Sir, you’re going to reinstate Squall aren’t you?” asked Zell, voicing the question that plagued everybody’s minds. “It’s not as if he did anything wrong.”
“There may be a problem with that.”
“A problem, Sir?”
“He’s gone. He took Rinoa and left Garden. So far, we’ve had no luck in locating him and Garden cannot leave until the repairs are completed.
“Gone? But, that doesn’t sound like Squall.”
“That’s what worries me.”
“Look at me. Look at what I am. I’m nothing but a traitor to my friends. How can I live with myself?”
Quistis stared deep into the mirror, disgusted at her own tear-stained reflection that glared back at her, her eyes boring deep into her soul, compounding the hurt and pain that coursed throughout her being, allowing her no respite from her grief.
“This…this is all my fault,” she sobbed, burying her face in her hands, no longer able to stomach her own reflection. “Why did I have to do this to them, why did I have to do this to myself?”
She stormed across her room, flinging her curtains shut, wanting to block out every last sliver of pure, blinding light that pounded down upon her, as if they were condemning her past actions. Alone now, in her room, there was nowhere that she could hide from her own inner torment, the guilt that had plagued her being since she made her confession.
“How could I do this to him? How could I do this to her? Thinking about it, she wasn’t that bad was she? She hadn’t done anything wrong and now because of me, she’ll probably be taken back to Caraway. All because of me.”
Quistis gently lifted her framed instructor’s diploma off her wall, where once it had been in pride of place, her crowning achievement.
“Look at who I was,” she thought, sombrely, wishing that she could rewrite history and change the events of the past few days. “And look at who I am now,” she muttered bitterly towards the mirror, before hurling the diploma across the room, causing the glass to shatter into a million pieces and cascade to the floor as it made contact with the wall.
“Quistis?” There was a gentle rapping at the door. “Quistis?”
“Who is it?” she screamed, not wanting to speak to anybody.
“It’s Selphie. Are you going to let me in?”
“No.” Her answer was abrupt and to the point.
“Please, Quistis, I just want to speak to you,” she said, softly, hoping that the instructor would be soothed by her tone.
“I don’t want to hear it,” she snapped in reply.
“We don’t blame you, you know?”
This seemed to have the desired effect. Quistis fell silent, no longer protesting, and almost immediately the lock clicked open, allowing Selphie entry into the room. The sight that met her eyes caused her to freeze in her tracks.
“Quistis? What happened to you?” she asked, her voice full of concern.
“I just faced up to the truth, that’s all.”
“Don’t blame yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, that’s what makes us human.” These words didn’t seem to offer Quistis much comfort.
“What happened to them?”
“Rinoa and Squall?”
Quistis nodded, seemingly apprehensive of what the answer might be.
“Well, Squall was removed from SeeD and then he just left with Rinoa. I heard that he broke her out of the detention centre, but that’s just a rumour.”
“You mean they’re gone?” she enquired, wide-eyed in disbelief. “Oh, Hyne what have I done?”
Squall knew it was a risk to be seen out in the open, but he needed the fresh air. Rolling back the balcony doors, he stepped outside breathing in the crisp night air as deeply as he could. He gazed upwards at the heavens, basking in the golden moonlight that washed over him. Everything was so peaceful, so serene. Even though he had been unable to appreciate the beauty in tranquillity until recently, the silence and the calm welcomed him, bringing him a strange sense of comfort. He glanced back towards his hotel room, gazing upon the sleeping form of Rinoa. There was only one bed, a double, in the room and he had allowed her to have it, saying that he would prefer to sleep on the sofa. She had seemed slightly disappointed, but not surprised at his answer. As he watched her now, he marvelled at how innocent she looked, despairing at the fact that she had been dragged into this horrible situation against her own will.
“But I wouldn’t change a thing,” he thought to himself, smiling. “No, not a thing. She saved me, saved me from myself. She showed me what life was really all about. I owe her so much. I owe it to her to get her out of this and keep her away from Caraway.”
Just as he thought this, he noticed some movement down by the harbour. A boat carrying about twenty people was being rowed toward the shore despite it having a motor.
“Typical stealth tactics,” he thought. “Arrive in the dead of night in total silence.” On many occasions, Squall had used identical tactics on his missions to allow him to get by without being noticed.
The people began to disembark, keeping low to the ground and avoiding the powerful beams thrown across the town by the street lights. Squall could tell that this was some kind of trained military outfit as they had definitely arrived prepared for whatever their mission was.
“Rinoa.” Squall’s first thought was for her safety. Caraway had spies everywhere and it would not be impossible for there to be one in Garden. He might know of his daughter’s disappearance and these men might have been sent to retrieve her. However, Squall was soon able to breathe a small sigh of relief as they passed by the hotel and headed out of the town. The first thing that struck him was the fact that they seemed to know exactly where they were going. The second was that they were fully prepared for battle as all the men were very heavily armed.
He was torn between staying in the hotel with Rinoa and following them. He knew that she might be in danger if he left her, but he just couldn’t shake off the feeling that these men posed some kind of threat to them, even though they were heading out of town.
“But how can I just leave her here? Something might happen to her. But what if those men really are looking for her? It might not be too long before they checked the town and we’d be caught in no time. If that’s the case, the only chance I have is to take them out. There’s no way out of Balamb at this time of night and I can’t travel far on foot with Rinoa. No, if they do pose a threat, I’ll have to dispose of them myself and I don’t like those odds. Maybe twenty of them, heavily armed against me. A surprise attack will even the odds slightly, maybe give me a fighting chance.”
When he had decided upon his course of action, he shook Rinoa awake gently, trying not to alarm her.
“Rinoa, I have to go somewhere. Don’t worry, I won’t be long.”
“No, you can’t just leave me here Squall.”
“Please, Rinoa. Please trust me. You can do that, right?”
She nodded. “You know I trust you.”
“Then believe me when I say that you’ll be safe here. Just try and get some sleep, okay? I’ll be back before you know it.”
With that, he kissed her on the forehead and headed out into the night.
Chapter 18 Redemption
Squall stood, his back firmly pressed against a wall, watching the group of men making their way through the town. Observing the way they moved swiftly as a single unit only heightened his suspicions as to their intentions. It was always a possibility that they were sent by Garden to locate Rinoa and himself. If that was the case, he certainly wasn’t prepared to let them succeed without a fight. He followed them as they moved silently from street to street, making sure that he remained safely within the cover offered by the shadows cast across the road by the full moon. However, as he tracked their every movement, it soon became apparent to Squall that he was not their target. The group clearly had no interest in the town of Balamb, instead, heading directly for the exit to the town and passing into the open countryside.
Squall was stuck in two minds, torn between finding out the truth behind all of this, and returning to Rinoa. On the one hand, he was worried about her being left in the hotel room for too long without him being there to protect her, but on the other hand, his instincts told him not to go back just yet, and he had learned to trust his instincts over the years. On many occasions, they had been all that he had to rely on, all he could trust, and he wasn’t about to abandon them. Against his better judgement, and against the will of his nagging conscience, he decided to continue following the group of men to their destination.
“She’ll be fine without me,” he thought, his mind now set on his course of action.
“He’s gone. He’s really gone, and I drove him away.” Quistis downed the contents of her shot glass, staring at her reflection in the bottom.
“They all hate me, Zell, Selphie, Irvine. They can’t even look me in the eye. And Headmaster Cid, I let him down. He trusted me and I betrayed that. I didn’t mean to, it was an accident, but still, I betrayed that trust. He’s going to take my instructor’s licence away, maybe I’ll even have to leave. But where will I go? This has been my only home. I’ve lost everything and I deserve it. I forced him to leave so why shouldn’t I be punished like this?”
Is this how he was feeling? Lost, alone, unsure of himself? Now I can understand what was going through his head when he found out that he was no longer a SeeD. He must despise me right now, after all, I’m the one to blame. I have to try and redeem myself somehow. I can’t live knowing that he hates me.”
“I have to go and find him and bring him back home.”
“I’m really worried about her, Zell. You know her better than the rest of us, have you ever seen her like this before?” Zell shook his head in reply to the question posed by Selphie.
“No, she’s always been the sensible one. She’s always been in control. In all the years I’ve known her, she’s never cancelled her lessons or locked herself in her room. This is really out of character.”
“I agree,” replied Selphie. “This isn’t like her at all. I may have only been here a year but I know her well enough to be worried. We don’t know what she might do.”
“Hey, aren’t you guys forgetting something?” asked Irvine. “What about Squall and Rinoa? Shouldn’t we be more worried about them? We don’t even know where they are.”
“They’ll be okay. As much as I want him back, I have to admit that as long as Squall’s with Rinoa, he isn’t going to do anything stupid. I know he wouldn’t do anything to endanger her. They’re probably just lying low at the moment, enjoying each other’s company.” This last comment prompted snickers from both Irvine and Zell. “Oh get your minds out of the gutter,” muttered Selphie indignantly.
“Sorry Selph,” they replied in unison, trying to hold back their laughter.
“Guys, this is no joke. This is serious. What do we do about Quistis?”
“She’ll be fine. She always pulls through. Why should this time be any different?”
“She’s never been like this before. I’m terrified in case she does something she might regret,” she replied.
“You don’t think she would do you?”
“We don’t know what she might do.”
Squall was crouched down on the grass, as low to the ground as he could possibly get. Fortunately for him, the men were too involved in their mission to notice the figure that had been silently stalking them in the shadows. It appeared that they had finally reached their destination.
“Why aren’t they looking for us,” he thought, confused. Logic decreed that Garden would have left hours ago in their search for the missing couple. “And what interest do these men have in Garden?” His mind raced, trying to come up with a satisfactory answer to this question. He found none.
“What does it matter? They don’t pose any threat to Rinoa, I can go back to her now. Garden isn’t my responsibility anymore.” He began to leave.
“They turned their back on me, now I’ll turn my back on them.”
He set out back towards the town, but despite himself, he found that he just couldn’t leave. Instead, his conscience was tugging at his mind, telling him to stay.
“I guess I owe the place something. After all, I grew up here. They may have disowned me, but they can’t erase my past.”
In the time he had taken to reach his decision, the group had entered Garden, so Squall wasted no time in following them. He expected his progress to be halted by the gate guards, but found, to his surprise, no resistance.
He opened the door to the room the gate guards occupied, and soon discovered the reason behind their absence. All four of them were lying sprawled across the floor, their throats slit open. Squall felt a tinge of sadness at the sight before him, although he was not shocked by it. He had seen far worse in his time serving as a SeeD. It was clear that these men died quickly, which was more than could be said for some he had known.
He quietly closed the door, making sure that it clicked shut behind him. A quick glance down the corridor betrayed the location of the majority of the enemy squad, although Squall noted that there must be several that he could not see.
He made his way towards the nearest soldier and managed to reach him undetected before swiftly disposing of him. Only seconds later, the man’s radio began to crackle into life.
Squall froze, knowing that he could not impersonate the dead man well enough to fool whoever was on the other end of the radio.
“Anderson, what is your status?”
The voice was becoming more and frantic.
“Men, we’ve lost contact with Anderson. We must assume hostile activity. Proceed to his last known position.”
“Dammit,” Squall cursed under his breath as several of the soldiers had begun to make their way towards his location. He saw no option but to fight his way out of the predicament.
As soon as one of the soldiers came into striking range, he found his heart pierced by a gunblade, and fell to the floor immediately, alerting the surrounding men. Squall had been discovered, but the soldiers were clearly unprepared for a fight. Squall managed to dispose of five more with relative ease before he found himself surrounded. He was undaunted, however. Many times before he had found himself in a similar situation, and he had always emerged victorious in the past.
The enemy appeared restless, obviously not intent on maintaining their position surrounding Squall in the full view of the corridor. If anybody happened to be walking past at this hour, the whole of Garden would soon be alerted to their presence, a fact that they seemed to be acutely aware of. It was not long before one of them broke rank, only to be picked off by Squall’s flashing blade. All chaos promptly broke loose, with the surviving men attacking Squall head on. A further five fell to his superior prowess before he found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
“This all ends now,” the soldier growled at him, before moving to pull the trigger.
Quistis ran blindly through the halls of Garden, determined to bring Squall back. Nothing else mattered to her now, her only thought was of her redemption.
“I don’t care that I don’t even know where to start looking. I’ll search the whole damn planet if I have to. I’ll do whatever it takes to find them.”
She clasped the Save the Queen that hung from her waist, praying that it would give her strength.
“I will bring them back, I won’t fail,” she told herself in an effort to dispel any doubts that still plagued her mind about her upcoming journey.
“I can do this.”
As she rounded the corner near to the main entrance, the sound of clashing swords met her ears.
“What in Hyne’s name?”
She instinctively removed the whip from her waist and prepared for battle. She headed out into the corridor, and was shocked at the sight that met her eyes.
“Squall? He’s here.”
Her initial shock wore of quickly when she saw the gun pointed at his head.
“This all ends now,” she heard the man holding the weapon tell him.
Without thinking, she flung her whip towards him, hoping against hope that she didn’t miss her intended target. As she saw the tendrils of the whip wrap themselves around the gun, flinging it from the man’s hand, she breathed an enormous sigh of relief. Squall was safe and was now able to completely neutralise the attack force, leaving nobody alive. A closer inspection of one of the bodies revealed them to be from the Galbadian Army.
“Rinoa…she was telling the truth.” The realisation that she had been wrong dawned upon Quistis. “This…this is all my fault. If only I’d have kept my mouth shut.” She was not able to ponder this for long, however, as she was interrupted by shouting from across the hallway.
“So, traitor. You actually had the audacity to come crawling back here. I’m really going to enjoy this.” Quistis recognised the voice as belonging to Simmons, and a quick glance towards the pair confirmed this. “I’ve finally got my chance to prove that I’m better than you,” he leered, his sword snaking towards Squall’s throat.
“You’ll regret that,” he replied, clearly not phased by Simmons’ sudden violent behaviour.
“What will you do Leonhart? Run away again?” he taunted.
Quistis could see from the look in Squall’s eyes that Simmons had touched on a nerve, causing his anger to boil.
“Simmons, stand down,” she ordered, knowing that any fight between the two could only result in Squall being victorious and she didn’t want him to get into any more trouble than he was already in with Headmaster Cid.
“But, Instructor Trepe,” he protested. “I’ve found the traitor.”
“I said, stand down, Simmons. That’s an order.”
“Do you want me to report you to the headmaster?” she threatened. Seeing that his situation was impossible, Simmons backed away from Squall, lowering his blade.
“You’ll regret this,” he muttered, causing Squall to raise one eyebrow in amusement.
“I’ll speak to you later about this Simmons,” Quistis admonished firmly. “This isn’t the last you’ll be hearing of this incident.” She fixed him with a glare, causing him to slink away at the first opportunity, leaving her to deal with more important matters.
“This is my chance,” she thought. “I need to tell him just how sorry I am.”
She turned around to talk to Squall, only to find that he was gone.
Chapter 19 Aftermath
“Zell! Zell, wake up now. This is no time to be lying in bed.”
Slowly, Zell opened his eyes, noticing that it was still dark outside, and that the incessant pounding at the door, which had awoken him showed no signs of halting.
“ZELL,” Selphie screamed even louder. “Get out of bed now.”
Perceiving the urgency in her voice, he tried to roll out of bed immediately, ending up in a heap on the floor. He picked himself up and dusted himself down, before quickly throwing on the first set of clothes he could find. Within seconds he was at the door.
“What’s up guys?” he asked Selphie and a very worried looking Irvine, who were both waiting for him outside the door.
“Something’s going on. I passed some guy, who was it Selphie?”
“I think it was Simmons.”
“Yeah that’s the guy, Simmons. I passed him in the hallway. He seemed in a really foul mood and he kept muttering something about Squall and Quistis.”
“And just a few minutes ago there was an urgent call for Headmaster Cid to go to the front gate,” added Selphie.
“Well, this had better turn out to be something. I hate being woken up. Especially at…” He looked down to check his watch. “Four in the morning! You woke me up at four in the morning? I didn’t even know that there was a four in the morning.”
“Zell, calm down. This is serious, okay?” rebuked Selphie. “They might have found Squall. We have to go and check it out.”
She was so lost in thought that she barely heard the myriad of voices calling out for her.
“Quistis?” Their cries were repeated, louder this time, but to the same effect. She simply couldn’t hear them.
“Snap out of it,” Zell shouted, shaking her by the shoulders. This seemed to have the desired effect, as the glazed expression that she had been wearing slowly dissipated.
“What?” She asked, somewhat surprised that there were people here with her.
“Quistis, what’s the matter?” asked Selphie, gently. She was well aware of the state that her friend’s mind was in, and she didn’t want to do anything that might upset her further.
“She…she was right,” Quistis replied, almost breaking down mid-sentence. “She was right dammit, and would I listen?”
“Who was right?”
“No, of course I didn’t listen. When do I ever? I couldn’t stop and see what was right in front of me. How long have been living in my dreams?”
“Quistis, what are you talking about? Who was right? What dreams are you talking about?” Selphie was becoming more and more insistent, trying to discover the method behind her friend’s madness.
“Look. Look around you,” motioned Quistis. It was only then that they saw the utter carnage that was right before them.
“My God,” Irvine whispered. “What happened here? They’re all dead.” Despite the fact that they were no strangers to violence, the scene shocked them deeply. None of them had ever witnessed anything of the kind before.
“I did this.” Quistis was choking back her tears as she said this. “This…this was all my fault.”
“How Quistis? How is it your fault?” asked Selphie.
“I spoke out against her when she was right. I brought this upon us all.” Nothing could now stop the flood of tears that had been threatening to flow for some time.
“You mean Rinoa don’t you?”
She nodded in reply. “He’s really gone you know?”
“Squall will come back soon,” said Zell. “Now that we know the truth the Headmaster’s sure to forgive him. I mean, look at these men, they’re all in Galbadian Army uniform. That means that Caraway really was after SeeD.”
“Squall knows,” Quistis replied. “He knows all of this. If it wasn’t for him we’d all be dead by now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he saved us. We turned our back on him, but he still saved us. Wait…I turned my back on him. You three have done nothing wrong.”
“Quistis, are you saying that he did this? Killed all these people?”
“Yes, don’t you understand? He was here, he saved us.”
“Then why didn’t he stay? He must have known that the whole misunderstanding would be worked out.”
“I don’t know why he didn’t stay. He just looked me straight in the eye and left.”
“Who left?” a voice questioned them. The group turned round to find themselves face to face with Headmaster Cid.
“It’s a long story, Sir,” Selphie replied.
“You’d better come up to my office. I need an explanation for this,” he said, looking forlornly at the sea of dead bodies littering the corridor.
“So let me get this straight. You’re saying that these men attacked Garden, but were stopped by Squall, who simply left?”
“Yes, Sir, that’s correct,” Quistis replied.
“How did he get here? We’ve had people monitoring all the trains to and from Balamb.”
“Well, sir. It seems that there’s only one explanation,” said Zell.
“And that would be what?”
“He’s still here.”
“Do you really think that one of our best and most highly trained SeeDs would simply hide out only a matter of minutes away from us? That doesn’t make sense, Squall’s not foolish.”
“I know, Sir, that’s why it makes sense,” Selphie explained. “You didn’t even order a search of Balamb because you thought he’d already have got on a train to Galbadia, so you ordered the search to begin further away. Squall would have known this, and he also would have known of the danger to Rinoa if he travelled to Galbadia. Think about it, Sir. Squall would have known that the safest place to remain, with the least chance of discovery, is right here in Balamb.”
“You know, Selphie, I think you might be right,” the Headmaster replied, clearly impressed with her reasoning.
“That may be true,” added Zell, “but can we really force him to come back. I mean, he’s not technically a SeeD anymore is he, so you can’t order him back, Sir. And he had every opportunity to stay after he’d killed those soldiers, but he didn’t. This time, it was his choice to leave. Don’t we have to respect that?”
“That may be. But I believe that he will come back.”
“We have to interpret what happened this as an act of war on the part of Caraway. Squall knows that Rinoa won’t be safe until Caraway has been dealt with.”
“But, Sir, how do we know that? For all we know, Caraway only ordered Rinoa kidnapped so that he would have an excuse to attack SeeD. There’s no evidence that he actually wants her back.”
“Then why would he only send a small group of soldiers to attack us? Sure, they could do some damage before they were discovered, but as soon as they were, they’d have every SeeD in Garden onto them and they wouldn’t have a chance. No, that wasn’t their main attack force, this group had more specific orders.”
“You think they came here to take back Rinoa?”
“What other explanation could there be?”
“They might have wanted to kill you, Sir,” offered Zell.
“But that wouldn’t make any sense. If I were killed, somebody would just take my place. They wouldn’t gain anything by it.”
“Maybe they were planting explosives?” asked Selphie. “That would make sense wouldn’t it? A small group could plant bombs and then just leave. They could destroy Garden on their own.”
“I admit that it’s a possibility, but so far there hasn’t been any evidence of explosives found with the bodies. No, I believe that their only goal could be to retrieve Rinoa, though I can’t think why.”
“Maybe if we ask her,” suggested Irvine.
“So we order a search of the town then?”
“No, I’m afraid we can’t do that. As soon as Caraway finds out about this, he will take action. I will be putting everybody onto security duty. We can’t let anything like this happen again. You’ll have to find Squall and Rinoa by yourself. Besides, I think it’s for the best of we make as little fuss about this as possible. Is everything clear?”
“Yes, Sir,” they replied in unison.
When Squall finally made his way back to the hotel, his first thoughts were of Rinoa.
“Is she alright? What on Earth was I thinking, just leaving her here like that? Anything could have happened to her whilst I was away.”
After seeing that it was too late to knock on the door and have the hotelier admit him, he began to climb the trellis that lead up to the balcony outside his room. The task, which would usually have been a simple one for Squall, was made more difficult the more he worried about what he might find inside.
To his relief, he found that nobody had entered the room after he had left, and Rinoa was safe, sleeping soundly in her bed. Quietly, he slid open the balcony door, trying not to make so much noise as to wake her. He shut the door behind him and settled himself on the couch. He wasn’t able to sleep, however, he just couldn’t take his eyes off the sleeping woman. Every breath she took captivated him, and he wished, more than anything that time would just stop and leave them in this place, together.
“For once, I don’t have to worry about anything apart from us. I don’t have to think about missions, promotions, my duty. Now, my duty is to her, and her alone. From now on, everything I do is for us. No more fighting, no more heartache. Just us.”
He didn’t know how long he lay there, just watching her, but daylight was streaming through the curtains by the time she opened her eyes.
“You’re back,” she pointed out sleepily.
He got up off the couch and walked to the edge of the bed. “I’m here,” he whispered, stroking her cheek with the palm of his hand.
“Squall?” she muttered, almost fearfully.
“What is it?” he asked, alarmed by the tone of her voice.
“You…you have blood on you. Look at your hands,” she screamed.
He looked down and cursed himself for not wearing gloves. His hands were indeed stained crimson with blood, a reminder of the lives that he had taken that night.
“What have you done, Squall?”
He hung his head in shame. “It was to protect you. I had to do it.” It was the only explanation he could give.
“I thought this was all over,” she wailed. By now she was in tears, and all Squall wanted was to take her in his arms and comfort her, tell her that everything would be alright now. But he couldn’t. It would be a lie. He knew that this was far from over. As much as he would like to renounce the outside world and care only for her, he knew it would be almost impossible.
“But I’m willing to try,” he thought as he gazed upon the weeping figure of the woman he loved. “I have to for her sake.”
“How much longer must this go on?” she asked, despairingly. “When will I just be able to live the life that I want and be free?”
“Soon, Rinoa, soon.” He tried to comfort her the best he could. “This is it for me now. No more killing, no more bloodshed. Just you and me, alright?”
“How can you mean that?”
“Please, believe me. This isn’t the life I want,” he cried out, pointing to the blood that stained him. “I just want to forget about everything and start all over again with you. As soon as Garden lets down its guard at the train station, we’ll go somewhere, okay?”
“But where will we go?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere far away. Away from Garden, away from Caraway, away from our troubles.”
“You mean it.”
“Of course I do. It’s what I want, Rinoa. I never asked for the life of a mercenary, and now, I’ve found a reason to leave it behind, to leave everything behind.”
“Thank you, Squall. I’m sorry for being upset, it’s just that with being so close to Garden, I’ve been so on nervous and on edge. It just serves as a reminder of all the bad things that have happened to us.”
“Well don’t worry about it anymore. We’re never going back to that place. Never.”