~* Chapter 5: Morning *~
*No, since the last chapter I didn’t win the lottery, therefore, I do not own Final Fantasy or any of the characters*
During the course of the years, the hotel bar had stood frozen in time. Little had changed since the days Julia played the piano there, save for the clientele. It used to be a hot spot for Galbadian Soldiers; now it seemed more commonplace for the 'every-man' to be sitting among the crowd. The SeeD's were all gathered around a table, talking about nothing but Rinoa since the moment they arrived.
"So if there wasn’t another guy, why do you think she left?" inquired Zell. He took another sip of his beer and looked at the other three.
"Maybe because you scared her with your hot dog obsession," snapped Selphie. "Or maybe it was because she was tired of being hit on by Irvine. We all know how quick that gets old."
In his defense Irvine casually retorted, "I didn’t flirt with her that much. You know I’d be scrubbing toilets with a toothbrush if I had. I wouldn’t want to upset our dear Commander. Squall could and would make my life a living hell. He even got mad at me once for calling her darlin' and kissing her innocently on the cheek."
"Really?" Selphie feigned jealousy. "You kissed her?" Selphie wasn’t mad, she just liked giving Irvine a hard time about his ‘old habits’. She knew that he loved her, but it was fun to watch him try to talk his way out of things.
"Yep, the one and only time," the cowboy explained. "You should've heard the lecture Squall gave me about SeeD conduct codes. He was so mad. I know he'd care less, had it been anybody else…however, it wasn't anybody else it was Rin. But giving ‘the Commander’ lecture was easier than saying ‘stay the Hell away from my girlfriend’, cowboy. Or your ass will end up doing hard time in the frozen wasteland of Trabia"
"Hey, wait a minute!" Selphie interjected. "I resent that!"
Irvine started laughing to himself, ignoring his companion's protest. "The funny part was Rin just turned to me, got up on her tip toes, and kissed me back on the cheek. Then turned to Squall, smiled and said, ‘Hey, I’m not a SeeD darlin’. Squall didn’t change his look to the untrained eye, but I could tell he was irritated. He just turned around, saying ‘whatever’ as he stormed away from us. Rin could really get him to show emotion that we never could, even if it was bad."
The others started laughing quietly as they pictured Rinoa kissing Irvine rebelliously. Quistis, who had been relatively quiet during the whole evening, set her wine back on the table making a comment they would have never expected. "Squall was a fool not to tell Rinoa he loved her."
When Rinoa first moved to Garden, close friends of Quistis expected her to be upset; the ironic thing is she never was. The whole 'Quistis liked Squall' rumor was ridiculously blown out of proportion by the Trepies. In fact, she would encourage Rinoa to go to Squall when he needed someone, even though he would never admit he needed someone. Quistis loved Rinoa, she was like a sister, and now two years later, she was more determined than ever to see them back together.
"He never told her you know. I’m sure Rinoa knew in her heart how Squall felt. Sometimes hearing the words can mean more than one thinks. He wouldn’t even refer to her as his ‘girlfriend’, just as one of his good friends. I knew he was having trouble admitting his feelings, even to himself. However, I think this time it will be different. I think he’ll finally admit his feelings to her, and more importantly to himself. Not because she is blind, but because he loves her, no matter what. Time has a strange way of dealing with emotions, but only in her absence did he see what he lost. Who he lost."
Everyone nodded in agreement, as Quistis finished her statement. Since the time of Ultimecia, Squall had been more open and honest with his feelings. It didn’t happen over night, nor did it completely happen. Nevertheless, he was progressing. Hanging out with the group, even talking, but not like he did when Rinoa was still around. Squall was happy then, even if it wasn't obvious to him, all those around him could tell. After Rinoa's swift departure, he was nearly impossible for the first few months. Over time, the Commander improved, but nobody dared mention Rinoa to him; only his closest friends knew how much he was hurting, even after a year had passed.
Selphie noticed Squall walking down the stairs and nonchalantly signaled to the others at the table; they understood and changed the topic of conversation quickly. Zell announced, "Hey my birthday is coming up. I could really use a food processor, the one that turns radishes into roses." Unfortunately, at this comment, Irvine started laughing so hard he almost choked on his beer. Nothing's as scary as a cowboy is, with beer streaming from his nose…not pretty.
"Hello Squall," Quistis said acknowledging the Commanders presence. Selphie was rapidly patting Irvine on the back, as he was still trying to regain breath. "We were just discussing... food processors." By this time, she too couldn’t contain her laughter. "Really, we were."
Squall just looked at the motley crew sitting around the table and in a very Squall-like way replied, "Sure, whatever." Pulling up a chair, he sat down at the table. "Well I talked to her, kind of. It didn’t go very well, but I did tell her I wouldn’t give up, and I mean it. I guess…" The words seemed strange for him to say. He wasn't big on asking anyone for help, especially on something of a personal nature. "I just don’t know what to do next."
By this time, Irvine managed to compose himself, nose still stinging from the ordeal. "Well, guess you should be glad you have the world’s leading expert on women with you."
Squall looked Irvine in the eyes. "Yes, I’m sure glad I do… Zell, what do you suggest?" With the comment of the habitually serious Commander, everyone started laughing again. Even Squall had a tiny smile on his face.
Quistis was so glad to see this behavior emerging from Squall. She hadn’t remembered him teasing anybody since Rinoa left; she was also glad he was asking his friends for help. This was a very big step for him. Rinoa had been back in his life for three days and she could already see a change.
"How about flowers, Squall? I know how much she always loved them. She could still enjoy their smell, and I don’t ever remember a time when you gave her flowers."
"No Quistis I didn’t, but I should have. It’s a first step right? Just don’t be surprised if they end up in the trash."
The five of them spent the next two hours reminiscing about Rinoa, also planning ways to get her to open up again. "It’s remarkable," Squall thought, "this is what everyone must have done two years ago, getting me open up to Rinoa back at Fisherman’s Horizon, now it's our turn to do it for her."
"I held her…for a brief moment in time, she was in my arms. Now the sun is rising on yet another day. I know she wouldn’t want me to feel regret for her, but the colors on the horizon are so vibrant… I only wish she could see them too. Rinoa said she could see them. Can she, can she really see them?"
Squall sat along the sandy ocean shore. He'd woken up early, walking the distance from Deling to the tranquil beach several miles away. It was still dark when he left for the coast, but the time alone was good for him, as it always was. He had brought his gunblade along, just in case he ran into trouble along his brief journey. When reaching the isolated beach, he sat down on the velvety sand. The sun was just beginning to peer over the horizon when he first arrived. Now it was openly greeting the new day. The ginger and burgundy hues merged with the shadowy tones of the night sky.
The water only reflected the beauty of the colors, enhancing them tenfold. Seagulls were flying overhead to get the last remains of what the tide had swept in. Foam-tipped waves gently met the shores, as Squall tried to take in every minuscule detail. He had never seen the beauty within a sunrise, or sunset. That always seemed frivolous, when so much greater things were at risk.
"To feel with your skin, to hear with your ears, to see with your heart."
Those had been Rinoa's words yesterday. Squall inhaled deeply, savoring ever breath of the salty air and closed his eyes. At first the feeling was very unnerving, the uncertainty of not seeing his surroundings was almost overpowering. Not being able to watch a foe approaching made him feel weak and unprepared. A feeling he had spent most of his days at Garden learning to overcome. After a moment, that feeling of insecurity diminished. When he stopped thinking so hard and just started feeling, it was an extraordinary, new phenomenon.
The waves, the gentle waves, were the first sounds he noticed. Each echoed a small crash as it met the terra. In his minds eye, he could see the sapphire-emerald waves soothingly crashing upon the sands. He noticed an almost rhythmic sound to the union. Roughly, it sounded like a strained form of music.
Then Squall focused his hearing to nosiest inhabitants of the beach, the seagulls. Listening carefully one could almost here them talking to each other, a language only known to the others within their breed. One would call out, then the others responded with noticeable vocal tones…they were communicating. Sometimes when one flew over his head, Squall could hear the flap of wings; feel the wind change directions. Wind? Yes, there was a peaceful breeze tenderly blowing in from...the north? Yes, it was definitely a northern wind. He could feel it playing with his long hair, every once in awhile a strand would tickle his nose.
The salty taste of the ocean danced upon his senses. Not only could he smell the ocean, he could literally taste the bitterness. Squall felt the warmth of the sun increasing on his jaded face. The sun was rising swiftly now. Feeling the intensity, he could pinpoint, by sensation alone, where it was in the morning sky. The experience was that only compared to pure magnificence. "Why have I never noticed these little things before?"
No longer could he contain the smile now forming freely upon his face; before he knew it, Squall Leonhart was laughing to himself. He was laughing. "Why have I not seen this beauty before?" The pounding of the waves, the blowing of the wind, the voices of the seagulls; everything that surrounded him, made the most gorgeous lullaby.
That morning Squall Leonhart saw the sunrise, for the first time in his life.
And it was beautiful.
Yesterday had been hard on her. That was a simple fact. The feelings racing through her mind were almost too much to accept. He had held her. As much as Rinoa loathed him for betraying her, she couldn’t shake the feeling of security she felt with him, only ever with him. There was no denying a connection still existed between them; one she would try forever to overcome.
"Will he really not give up on me? Why is he fighting so hard now, after a year? Is it because I am blind, or is it because he really does need me? That's ridiculous…why would he want me? He could have anyone he wants…I would never be more than a burden to him…the Commander of SeeD having to help me around like some kind of child."
She put her brush softly down on the dresser, deciding not to over analyze the moment right now. It was time for breakfast, and she was ravenous. Last night she hadn’t felt like eating any supper, her stomach still in knots from the earlier confrontation. Going home to her room, Rinoa sat on the balcony feeling the wind swirling around her. There was a peace and tranquility within the darkness, which others could never understand. She listened to the distinctive sounds of the night, a melody within its own rights.
She really was missing Angelo at this moment; her faithful companion had been taken to Dollet to go through special training. Caraway had offered to get her a seeing-eye dog, but Rinoa had insisted that Angelo was young and intelligent enough to go through the vigorous training. Angelo would be gone a few months, and then the trainers would bring the skilled dog back to work with her. All this was done in secrecy, to keep suspicion down. Nobody in Deling would give it a second thought if she were walking her dog on the streets. Angelo had been a great friend during everything, a friend who could curl up next to you and give you a kiss on the face if you needed it. She missed that damn dog.
Walking down the stairs Rinoa could hear her father talking in the study. "He is back?" He had gone to Esthar for strictly political motivations. She really didn’t ask her father too much about his occupation, and he didn’t ask her too much about her life. It was a mutual agreement, one that had never been spoken. Reaching the final step, she heard him hang up the phone.
"Rinoa, please come into my study for a few minutes."
Throughout the whole nightmare, he was more than willing to pay for the finest medical treatments money would allow. The top physicians, eye specialists, and medical therapists were at her disposal. Unfortunately, the help was all monetary. He had spent little time with her during hospital recovery, and even less now. The General would come in once in awhile, make a good 'I’m here if you need me' speech, and leave just as abruptly.
Managing around the house had been something achieved with hours of practice. She easily walked into the study and sat on the small settee that was nearest the doorway. It sure was one of the most uncomfortable things she had ever sat on figured it cost an arm and leg, was only meant to look good. This, of course, meant nothing to Rinoa.
"These arrived for you a little while ago." As the General said the words, she could smell the strong aroma of flowers filling the air.
"Roses," she replied almost sorrowfully. "What color are they?"
"Peach, there’s no card with them. Do you know who they might be from?"
"Yes, I have a fairly good idea." Slowly she reached her hand out, grabbing one by the stem. Fortuitously, no thorns pricked her, but truly she wouldn't have cared. Some things were worth the consequences. Deeply inhaling the fragrance, she closed her eyes, although the point was moot. But it allowed her to relax, being captivated by the simple flower. "They are beautiful, aren’t they?"
"Yes, I suppose they are…if one likes that sort of thing," Caraway replied. Moving in front of her, he sat on the coffee table in front of her. Rinoa knew something was amiss, as he never talked to her like this. Ever. There had to be something wrong…or something he needed. She knew him well.
"Rinoa, I need to talk to you about something. After the elections a few months ago, President Mitchell decided to start a new world council. I received a call from him personally, he’d like me to run as the representative of congress, third district, City of Deling. The reason I went to Esthar was to check on the new peace treaties we proposed. If I can get them to sign, I have a great chance of winning the election, running virtually unopposed. Re-establishing a substantial trade agreement with them and several of their allies would guarantee victory. Both Timber and Trabia already have trade agreements with them…and with the new found oil in Trabia, this would be a virtual windfall for Deling."
"That’s great! Trade agreements would really help the entire economy, especially Timber's. Something like this would be terrific for them."
"Yes, it sure would, they would have a substantial amount of financial gain also. This is where you come in, Rinoa. According to the polls, General Alexster and I are neck-and-neck. The president feels that I need something to push the view of the public in my favor. I would like you to go public with your blindness on national television. I would be there, beside you, every step of the way. When the Estharian officials see you, they will be glad to sign the treaties… especially if you are there on the side of Timber."
Rinoa couldn’t believe what she was hearing. "You what!? You want to use the fact I lost my sight to make the public feel sorry for you!? For Timber!? On television with my dear daddy right next to me, going for father of the year, are we? I will be damned if I ever help you win an election on sympathy. The only one, who will pity you, is me!"
"Don't take that tone with me young lady. This is still my house, and you will respect my authority."
"Yes, sir! Anything you want, sir!" she replied maliciously.
Rinoa got off the davenport, as quickly as she could. Heading directly to the patio doors, she slammed the glass frames as physically hard as possible. Following the stone path, she immediately headed to the flower gardens. They had always been a favorite of hers, ever since she was little girl. A place where she felt secure, a place where she felt she belonged. If there was such a place anymore. Rinoa continued her way to the gazebo, sitting herself on the aged wooden swing. As an innocent child, she spent many hours there daydreaming: the perfect life, the perfect husband, and a family that would love her. She would not let anyone make her cry, but now nothing in her life would ever be perfect anymore.
Rinoa could feel someone approaching. "Go away Caraway." Yet, she would not speak aloud to him, not yet. Then she realized it wasn’t her father, as the person sat down on the bench next to her.
"I told you leave me alone, Squall."
Ignoring her last statement he casually replied, "Did you spend a lot of time out here as a child?"
Without the desire to fight or argue anymore, Rinoa timidly answered his question. "Yes, especially after my mother died."
"It’s really beautiful. I can see why."
"Yeah," she whispered quietly.
After a few seconds of not knowing how to react to Squall’s presence, Rinoa turned her head away. Inquisitiveness was beginning to get the better of her, and she wanted to know how everyone at Balamb Garden was doing. Right now, her anger toward her father was greater than that toward Squall. Rinoa was surprised at how easily she opened up to this man, the same one she never wanted to speak to again.
"He wants to use my blindness to win an upcoming election."
Squall was stunned. First, she was actually talking to him…not yelling, but actually talking. Second, it was something about her personal life. The thought of General Caraway using Rinoa bothered him too. "How could a father use his daughter's disability to win public favor?" Answering her statement proved extremely difficult, as one wrong word might set Rinoa's anger off again.
"That’s inexcusable Rinoa, for a father to use his daughter for political gain. It's your decision and yours alone. You will tell people when it’s right."
"What if it is never right? I don’t think there will ever be a perfect time. Hey everybody, look at me, because I sure as hell can’t look at you." No, she promised herself she would not cry anymore, but why are the tears so hard to keep at bay? He didn't answer to her last outburst, she could only hear his rhythmic breathing, a sound that she could never outgrow. "Squall, why are you here?"
"Great," she answered sardonically. "That promise you keep. Please…just go. I can’t handle this right now. Don’t you understand. I don’t want you in my life…today, tomorrow, or ever."
"I don’t believe that."
"What is there to believe Squall? It's simple…leave me alone."
"If you didn’t want me in your life, why did you call for me?"
"I never called for you! You just showed up on my doorstep, like a lost puppy."
"No, not yesterday Rinoa…at the hospital, after the accident?"
"What in Diablo are you talking about?"
"In the hospital, the nurse told Quistis that you were asking for me. Rinoa, you were calling my name. You needed me…I should have been there for you."
All of her instincts told her to stand up and scream at him, "Yes you should have! But I’m sure that slut in your bed might not be happy about you walking out in the middle of…whatever the hell you two do in bed." Deciding that she would never let him know, she remained silent about any part of his betrayal. He would have to tell her the truth, if he was ever strong enough. She doubted he ever would be. "If he really is this 'so called' lion, he'd easily admit that he was a cheating son of a bi… Did I…did I really call his name?" It was all so foggy, the hospital, the people.
So, she opted just to lie. "I survived without you just fine."
"We…I am glad you did. I mean it; I'm very glad you didn’t di... leave us. Also, I'm glad Robert was there for you."
"Well my father sure wasn’t. Robert’s strength saved me." A long, awkward pause then followed. Finally, Rinoa spoke in a very melodious voice, "How are they?"
Squall knew exactly what Rinoa was saying, glad for the chance to talk to her without a slap in his face. He didn’t want to say too much, that always seemed to get him in trouble with her…then and now.
"Quistis regained her teaching credentials, but I think she was working for her license while you were still there. She's teaching an advanced civilization progression class, don't even ask me what that is, glad it was nothing I was forced to take. Personally, I think it's just a fancy word for history, but looks more impressive on a resume." Rinoa chuckled at his comment, although she was sure he wasn't trying to be humorous now.
"Selphie and Irvine are still...well, Selphie and Irvine. Lots of fighting, but in the end they always make up. Just usually, a few scratches end up as war wounds. Trust me, Selphie’s anger isn't pretty, but I think you know that too." Rinoa nodded in agreement, she had witnessed several discrepancies between the two. In the end, Irvine learned he was always wrong…even if he wasn't.
"Ellone actually is going back to school for a medical degree, she wants to help as many people as possible. Laguna, Kiros, and Ward are still the three stooges. I only talk to Laguna when it's necessary, holidays, business, and time-compressing sorceress…that kind of stuff. Zell is still the happiest person I know…ignorance is bliss, I guess. Edea is doing well. Cid, well Cid sent me to the ballet.”
"Cid sent you?" she asked shaking her head at the startling revelation. "I wondered why in the world you would be there. It’s just not a you thing."
His answer was astoundingly serious. "Maybe it was a me thing, I just didn’t know it yet. I never knew that going to the ballet could be so beautiful, in so many ways." He paused again before he answered her first question. "Yes, Rinoa the ballet was Cid’s idea."
In a sarcastic voice, she replied. "Remember to thank Cid for me." Running her fingers on the chain-links that suspended the swing, she could feel herself getting too comfortable. She had to stop this; he had to leave. "Please Squall, I just want to be alone now. I’m asking you...just go away."
Squall could hear the pleading in her raspy voice, but something else in her face told Squall she wanted him to stay. Not wanting to ruin the polite conversation they had, he rose to his feet, and started walking the white gravel road out of the garden. Right before he reached the corner of the house, he stopped in his tracks.
"Rinoa, I watched the sunrise today." Then Squall turned around, walking silently off without saying goodbye.
Rinoa didn’t exactly know what he had meant by the last comment. Nevertheless, she couldn’t help the small smile across her face, "I did too Squall…I did too."
Again, they found themselves at the small café from the other morning. This time all four were smashed into a tiny booth. In-depth, heated, and very imperative conversations were taking place.
"All I’m saying Zell is go to the grocery store! Buy a pack of hot-dogs, and then buy a pack of buns. Cook said hot-dogs, put in said buns. Problem solved." Selphie reasoned while giving Zell a most obnoxious glare. "Really not hard, get pan, boil water, and put hot-dogs in. Simple."
By now, Quistis and Irvine were trying to keep a straight face. Until Irvine added, "You know if that boiling water thing confuses you. You can always use our little friend ‘Mr. Microwave’. Put in, hit button, wait 30 seconds. Wow, hot-dog! It's a magic little box!"
Zell was getting more livid with each word. "Guys, I just said Garden should make more hot-dogs. I just like them. You make it sounds like my world revolves around hot dogs, it doesn’t. I am better than a hot-dog! "
Quistis blurted out, "No, the hot-dog was a little better. I have the test scores right here to prove it!" With that, everyone laughed, even Zell had to smile at his own stupid comment.
Zell spoke up again, "Guys do you realize we haven’t had this much fun for ages. It’s like, though she’s still not with us, we feel like a family again. Even 'Squall-The-Depressing' seems better off. I didn’t realize how much a part of us Rin was…is."
It was true. Although they had gone on just fine with their lives, it still felt like something was missing. Now they knew what, or who, was missing.
"I think we should head back to Garden tomorrow," added Selphie. "I talked to Lauren this morning and the new cadets are arriving in two days. We should probably be there. I think Squall needs to handle the rest himself. There is only so much we can do, and the rest is up to him." They all concurred in absolute agreement. "But tonight, guess what? I got us all tickets to the ballet!"
"All right!" cried Irvine, "another chance to see men in tights!"
"We don’t even have to go to the ballet for that," enlightened Zell. "We can just go to Irvine’s room any night of the week." The others laughed yet again, save for Irvine.
"Three stairs, railing to the right, fourteen steps, left hand out, grab podium," instructed Robert to his tired cousin.
Tripping slightly on the last step, she seemed to get more agitated. "Grab microphone, scream, yell and tell them they are all idiots."
"No Rin, that isn't on the program tonight." Holding up a piece of paper, he shook his hand, letting the sound of the paper echo in the barren hall.
"Yeah, well…pencil it for eight."
She loathed this part, her life had become little more than counting and memorizing. Learning her own house was strenuous enough, but trying to learn on a temporary stage was certainly another.
"Who said I should introduce the President anyhow? What brilliant-minded person came up with this?" Rinoa was definitely in an unpleasant mood.
"I believe it was the ever-elusive, Maude McCay."
"You know I’m still a sorceress…remind me to petrify her later."
"I thought you already did? So you are telling me…that is skin?" Each shared a laugh, as Rinoa walked the distance another time.
Practicing in a fully decorated reception hall, the two had the entire place to themselves. Rinoa hadn't taken the news very well. Receiving a call this afternoon, she was informed the President was going to be at the performance this evening. After the program, he would be giving some kind of inspirational speech. No doubt, this was done only to further her father's career. It wasn't a career, it was his life…and she was just the job he had to take care of once in a while.
Unfortunately, for Rinoa, she answered the phone and couldn’t come up with a lie quick enough to get out of doing this darn thing. Lying wasn't one of her strong suits; she could have mentioned something about food processors again. However, there was a good chance the President's top advisor wasn't going to buy it. Where was Zell when you needed him? She and Robert were on the stage practicing walking to the podium…she memorized the stairs, steps, and location of the microphone from her chair. "How am I going to pull this one off?"
"Got it: three stairs, fourteen steps, and left hand to podium. Yes!" she cheerfully exclaimed. It was the first time she had done it faultlessly. "I just want to go over it again… like fifty more times."