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~ Chapter Ten: A Time to Heal ~

A friend is one who knows you,
and loves you all the same.
--Elbert Hubbard

May 14th

The metallic prongs emitted a high-pitched screech as they collided with the surface. She sighed, pushing the contents of the plate from one side to another with her fork. Why on earth had she decided to order a salad? She needed some type of 'comfort food,' and the foreboding look of the lettuce did little to lift her spirits. Her actions on autopilot, Rinoa managed to place a circular ring of a black olive around one of the fork's prongs. She watched in a hypnotic trance as the vegetable slid its way down the base of the metal instrument.

Squall hated black olives.

Okay, it wasn't the greatest revelation in the world, but somehow every thought right now seemed to drift back to him. Yes, even the simplicity of the spherical vegetable flooded her mind with memories; most of which were watching the painstaking lengths the man would go through to hide his dislike of vegetables.

She bet none of his friends even knew the extents he would undertake, just to avoid eating certain ingredients. It was all a sleight-of-hand, and years of training that kept his 'secret' safe from most of the populous. She giggled softly as a hint of a smile couldn't help but escape her lips.

She had caught him only recently hiding baby carrots in a foil baked potato wrapper. After that, she noticed him passing unwanted vegetables to Angelo… Sadly, unbeknownst to the commander, the canine also shared his dislike for peas, placing them in Rinoa's tennis shoe for safe keeping.

"Earth to Rinoa." The young sorceress jumped slightly as a hand quickly waved in front of her face.

"Sorry Selphie, I'm listening."


"Yeah, just drifted off for a second…go ahead…you were talking about the graduation preparations, right?"

"Yes…five minutes ago. Rin, really it's no problem. We can go home if you don't feel like being out on the town tonight." Selphie offered her friend a sympathetic look.

"No, I really don't want to go back. I just need to get away from Garden for awhile…sorry if I'm not the best company."

"You're always good company, even if your thoughts keep wandering up to Trabia…or should I say someone particular in Trabia."

"How'd you guess?"

"Trust me Rinoa, you're not the best person at hiding your emotions."

She exhaled, stabbing a rouge radish with her fork. "No, never have been good at that. Then when I want to say something important, it usually comes out sounding immature or foolish."

"It's not foolish if it comes from your heart."

"Thank you, Selphie."

After shifting the contents of her plate again, Rinoa finally gave up, laying the fork down in surrender. Placing a hand on her forehead, she looked at her dinner companion trying to figure out the most subtle way of asking this. It had bothered her for sometime, since that evening at Cid and Matron's. Squall had more than once hinted about everything she had witnessed, wanting to know what events Ultimecia had allowed her to observe. Yet somehow, even the morning before he had left, she hadn't found the courage to confront him about it.

"Selphie," Rinoa found herself almost holding her breath as the question escaped her lips. "Do you know if Squall ever had a girlfriend?"

"Girlfriend? Squall?" The brunette couldn't hide the disbelief in her voice. "Our Squall?" Selphie paused a moment realizing that her friend was serious, not that she would joke about such a matter. Obviously, this was something bothering the young sorceress. Selphie wished that she could have given a straight answer. "I sincerely doubt it Rinoa. I mean…I'm not really the right person to ask. I'd just transferred here a short time before you two met, and I wasn't in on the latest. But I've never heard any gossip about anyone other than you…is there a reason you are asking?"

"It's a long story." Rinoa closed her eyes, almost embarrassed that she had actually asked the question. "Really, it doesn't matter if he did… I just wondered why he'd never mentioned it, or why he acted like I was the first person he'd ever kissed."

"Maybe you are, and you're just letting your mind wander. This is Squall after all."

She wished. Unfortunately, it was one of those images etched in her mind from Ultimecia. Even Matron had agreed that the future sorceress didn't have the ability to alter the events of reality, just alter the way in which they were perceived. Honestly, Rinoa didn't care if the images were factual; she just wondered why he hadn't mentioned it to her before. Maybe the memories were too painful, or maybe he just wanted to forget, she didn't care either way. It was the silence that was bothering her.

"You're probably right Selphie." She agreed, wishing just to drop the issue completely. Taking a sip of her iced tea, something Selphie just said dawned on her. Rinoa's tone turned curious as she half-jokingly asked, "You mentioned, 'gossip that didn't involve me?' So you're saying that you've heard something about me…and Squall?"

"Um…can I say no?"

"You can, but I'll make you tell me either way. I have my ways you know."

"I'm scared." Selphie rolled her eyes at her friend's threats.

Rinoa grinned slyly saying four words, "Chocobo feathers and Irvine."

"Oh Hyne! How do you know!?"

"Well, you know I'm not the only one who hears gossip… Plus he came to me when he couldn't find Dr. Kadowaki asking if I knew how to get rid of a skin rash… Apparently he is severely allergic to feathers."


The static on the radio grew more intense, completely overshadowing the music in the background. The martial artist got up from the floor, mumbling about being trapped in a virtual radio 'dead zone.' The only channel they seemed to receive clearly was constantly repeating the skiing conditions in Trabia, which were relatively good thanks to a layer of fresh snow.

"Hey Squall, want to learn how to ski?"

"No." The response was short and to the point.

"Why not? This is the perfect opportunity to learn. It's not like the temperature in Balamb ever falls below freezing, and this way we can impress the girls someday with our awesome abilities."

The commander lifted his head from the blueprints placed before him. He raised an eyebrow repeating, "Awesome abilities?"

"Yeah, well you know, beside those things that just come natural to us. I mean it's like when I first learned the hover board, it took time to master. Now I can impress just about anyone with my mad skills. Think about it, we can all rent a cabin nestled deep in the mountains. During the day we will own the slopes, and at night we drink hot chocolate in front of a roaring fireplace."

Even the commander had to admit the idea of being cuddled up with Rinoa, in front of a fire, was intriguing…but the thought of having the rest of the gang tag along somehow distorted his peaceful image. Somehow the thought of Irvine and Zell playing indoor snowball tag seemed more realistic than the term 'peaceful' was. If it was going to be anyone in a cabin, it was going to be him, Rinoa, and the fireplace.

"Still no Zell…and did you just say mad skills?"

"Geesh Squall…you've been up here for two weeks and you've lost all sense of adventure. I hate to think what you're going to be like after two months without Rinoa."

The knight ran a hand through his hair, wincing inwardly as he heard her name spoken aloud. It wasn't like it should bother him. Just somehow he wasn't ready to admit that he missed her as much as he did. And Hyne did he miss her. But that wasn't the point. This was duty, and not a vacation to learn how to ski. They were rebuilding something that should have never fallen, and his selfish thoughts would accomplish nothing

The residents of Trabia Garden needed the break, so the administration went out of the way to have organized activities. Each student had to live with the guilt and memories for the rest of their being. Having a few short hours that could distract them was sometimes their only salvation from reality.

Again the young man's mind wandered the what-could-have-been aspect - if only he had escaped the D-District Prison sooner. There were a thousand paths that he could have taken…

Squall mentally stopped himself, before he retreated into that dark world that still resided within his mind. It wasn't going to help anyone, and neither would him learning how to ski. The only thing within his power was putting all his efforts into the rebuilding project, leaving his personal life personal for the duration of his stay.

"Zell, I don't know what I'm going to be like after two months. I only hope after that time, Trabia will be a little closer to completion, and I will have been a part of it."

The martial artist didn't reply to Squall's statement. Zell could tell that he was somehow reliving an old struggle that waged within himself. Part of the commander wanted to communicate his feelings, and part wanted to hide behind old barriers.

In the end, Zell believed his friend just didn't know how to handle the emotions stirring within his heart. He silently wished Rinoa was here, if nothing else to keep Squall from completely retreating into that world. Yet he knew the commander was trying, and that was the difference separating him from his former self.


Digging through her purse she tried desperately to find her dorm key. Cursing under her breath, Rinoa finally dropped the shopping bag from her hand, letting it fall to the floor in utter frustration. Stumbling through the contents of her wallet, she finally located the keycard, and slid it with irritation through the reader. Her first attempt only led to a red blinking light, signifying she had inserted it wrong. She felt that technology was somehow mocking her at this moment. She repeated the motion a second time, slower so the machine would clearly register it this time. Hearing the locking mechanism release, she pushed the handle inward, still mentally cursing its existence under her breath. Reaching back for her shopping bag, she was caught off guard when a female cadet stood directly in front.

Placing a hand to her chest, she felt her heartbeat throbbing throughout her body. It seemed as if everything was getting to her, and her stress level reproduced like wild mogs since he had left sixteen days ago. She smiled, trying to gain some semblance of sanity…which right now was ebbing with every passing minute.

"Can I help you?" Her words were as polite as possible, given her level of frustration.

The young student reached down, grabbing the shopping bag still lying on the floor. She smiled politely at Rinoa, tilting her head slightly to the side.

"I was just wondering if you knew exactly when Squall was coming back?"

"Squall?" Okay, it wasn't supposed to sound like a question. It was obvious 'who' the girl had just asked for, and that he, as commander, would be needed among the masses. But why did the 'masses' appear to be mainly female? Why the hell couldn't this girl find someone else to ask? And did she really have to call him by his first name?

"Yes, you know the commander."

Okay, Rinoa couldn't tell if that was stupidity or sarcasm, but it was definitely something radiating from the girl's tone. "That's 'Commander Leonhart' to you…you little…." Her inner voice snapped back. Although on the outside, she tried to remain professional.

"I'm sorry I didn't get your name?"

"Um, that's because you didn't ask."

Rinoa gritted her teeth. Hyne was having a good laugh, wasn't she?

"And your name is…"

"Weiila, I'm a student at Garden."

"Great, she has a keen knack for the obvious." Taking a deep breath, and faking a smile, she finally answered, "Well, the commander is going to be on assignment for another five weeks. I'm sure if it's an emergency, one of the other more than capable Garden staff could assist you." Wonderful…now she sounded like a SeeD recruiting brochure.

"No," answered the cadet finally, surrendering the shopping bag to Rinoa. "That's okay… it's personal. Do you know if he is checking his email regularly?"

"I would assume so." She managed to get out between breaths. "Personal my--" Rinoa cut off her comment, inwardly slapping herself. This girl had done nothing wrong, well beside call him 'Squall' and say it was 'personal,' but that was to be expected given the nature of his rank. She had never been the jealous type. All right, maybe that was because she had never been in love…until now. And what exactly did she have to be jealous of at this moment? Some gorgeous young girl, in a short skirt - make that a very short skirt, and way too many vowels in her name, asking about her boyfriend… This kind of thing happened to him on daily basis.

"Daily basis?" Alright, that mild breakthrough didn't help the uneasiness already surrounding the moment. She really needed to talk with someone…someone to tell her she was just overreacting. This is just what Ultimecia had wanted, and she was starting to feel the same reservations all over again. Maybe if she could just confide in someone, someone that wasn't Squall. If she had been stronger, she would have just confronted him about everything weeks ago. Maybe if he was here…now. But he was thousands of kilometers away, and the phone somehow didn't seem as personal as looking into his eyes.

"I'm sorry," rushed Rinoa tossing the plastic bag into her dorm. "I just remembered something I have to do."


She hurried through the hallways, taking an elevator to the senior staff level. This is where most of the instructors were housed, unlike her section which was comprised mainly of hourly non-SeeDs. She wasn't sure what was leading her up here, but part of her always knew this was inevitable. Although maybe today wasn't the best day, it was all she had right now. Maybe no matter how many times she told Squall she'd accepted the images of the past, part of her inner being still harbored doubts. With his absence, she started to question everything. Not their relationship per se, but the role she played in it.

Knocking softly on the door, part of her hoped that the instructor wouldn't answer. It wasn't as if she was going to pour out every detail of her and Squall's relationship, but there were some things she needed reassurance on. Maybe the only person she could talk with…was the person who had studied his behavior the longest. Against her earlier inner protests, the door opened. The instructor smiled, pushing long strands of hair over her shoulder.

"Hey Rin, surprised to see you."

"Quistis, do you have a minute?"

"Sure, I'll welcome any break from checking these senior thesis papers. There is only so many ways that one can reword the history of GFs in our society, before I feel the need to sacrifice them to the Mega Flare of Bahamut."

"That bad, huh?"


"Come on in? Would you like anything?" Quistis stepped back, allowing Rinoa to enter. "I have a fresh pot of coffee, or I could make some herbal tea."

"No, really that's all right. I won't stay long." Looking into the instructor's eyes the sorceress wondered exactly why she had come here. What did she hope to gain from talking to Quistis anyway? In the end, it may be worse for both of them…maybe it was best just to let some memories fade. "I'm sorry… I don't even really know what I'm doing here. I have to get going… Sorry for bothering you."

"Rinoa wait," beseeched Quistis, reaching for the younger girl's arm. "I think I know why you're here. Please stay and talk to me a minute."

"How can you know, when I don't even know?" Rinoa admitted softly, not sure of how much the instructor was already aware.

"Selphie came to me earlier."

Rinoa placed both hands over her face, hiding in embarrassment. She couldn't believe that Selphie had talked to Quistis… especially about any topic that was discussed during dinner. It didn't seem like her friends to be amongst the gossip, now she was afraid that everyone would know of her doubts.

"Rinoa, before you get mad at Selphie, there is something that you must understand. We think of you as part of our family, and if something is wrong…we want to help. Neither of us would ever betray a confidence, and no, she didn't offer specific details. The six of us have been through so more than any mere mortal could imagine, and I honestly believe we would do anything to help each other. You must believe that…she's worried about you, that's all."

The look in the instructor's eyes gave her some reassurance. Still she could tell that while Quistis was being sincere, part of her still was holding back. Selphie was always Rinoa's friend, from the very beginning they bonded like sisters. In some aspects, their personalities were similar, their passions, and their love for life. Yet with Quistis, even after a year's time, she and Rinoa hadn't truly bonded. It wasn't on purpose, but something that had been silently between them since the beginning; something that both chose to remain dormant...until now.

"When you first met me…you didn't like me much, did you?" Rinoa couldn't believe she had just asked that, and from the expression on the instructor's face, neither could she. It had been a long day, now it was turning into an even longer night. Rinoa had been reaching an emotional peak for several weeks, and somehow it just plunged into a sea of idiocy.

The blonde turned away momentarily, searching for the words that seemed to escape her reach. Maybe too Quistis had been holding some emotional grudge for the last, well, since the beginning. The older woman knew deep inside this day would come to pass, although sometimes she wished it could have been completely forgone. Maybe with Squall stationed in Trabia, the current timing was as good as any.

Finding the strength, she faced Rinoa. Sighing deeply, Quistis answered with something that she hoped the young sorceress could understand, the truth.

"I didn't want to like you. Hyne knows… I didn't want to like you. If we're being honest, when we met I thought your actions seemed well…a little immature. Your whole group appeared slightly um…dysfunctional. But Rinoa, it was your passion that showed through. You're right when you said we were just hired… You held on to a belief so tight that you were willing to risk your life for it. Somewhere along the line, as much as I tried not to…I well… I just couldn't dislike you. I know why Squall fell for you, I always did."

There was an emptiness in the instructor's expression. Her actions and heart remained true, yet something about her only confirmed what the sorceress had always suspected. Rinoa folded her arms over her chest, asking the question they both knew someday would be asked.

"You really did like him. It wasn't just sisterly, was it?"

"I spent a lot of years thinking that I was in love with Squall..." Her words trailed off as she sat down on the couch, avoiding looking directly at Rinoa. If they owed each other something, it was not to be caught up in some complex web of lies.

"First, I want you to know something… Now, I can't imagine him with anybody else but you. But yes…I really did. Part of that is still there, and will never go away. You just don't wake up in the morning and say 'well that's enough of that. I'm going to fall for someone else from today forward.' I can't sit here and say it was completely sisterly, because in my heart I feel it was something more."

"It was easier admitting the feelings to Squall…saying it was sisterly, wasn't it?"

Rinoa followed Quistis' lead, taking a seat on the sofa. She watched the outline of the instructor's reflection in the window. Somehow Rinoa couldn't even find the strength to look at her when she spoke. It wasn't as if she'd come here to discuss whether Quistis did or did not have feelings for Squall… It just seemed as per her norm, Rinoa spoke without taking into account the consequences. She was good at that.

"Yeah, it was. I mean there I am in front of everybody and just blurt it out openly. I know most people already knew…but here we were in this emotional whirlwind and I announce it at the worst possible time. He didn't need that. You didn't need that… Nobody did at that moment."

The two remained still, until Rinoa could feel the shifting of the couch. She could tell the instructor was again looking at her, and she was almost too embarrassed to return the gesture. But she did. Holding her breath and trying to stop her body from shaking, she turned to meet the gaze of the woman sitting beside her.

"Now Rinoa, can I ask you a question?" The instructor inhaled, trying to calm her own nerves. "Sometimes I believe we are more alike than either of us realize. I just want you to be honest with me, okay?" Rinoa nodded, still trying to digest the previous words. "Why did you first take an interest in Squall?"

Now that was the one thing that Rinoa had never really considered. She could have simply answered, "Because he was there." Honestly, she would have asked anyone to dance at the graduation, she really did hate being at social events alone. Even Rinoa had to admit that she enjoyed getting attention from strangers. Not to mention there was that adolescent part of her ego that wanted Seifer to see her dancing with another man. Little did she know at that time how deeply Squall and Seifer's pasts were connected. She shivered thinking of how cold she had acted that first night, and how she'd acted all the times before. Maybe she just needed a wakeup call, even if it was from a sorceress spanning centuries into the future.

"I-I really don't know… I guess at first…" Rinoa whispered, embarrassed that she couldn't come up with a specific answer. "Somewhere along the line he became a challenge I guess… I never honestly thought that I would…and that he would…"

"Fall for you?"


"See Rinoa," Quistis reached her friend's hand, squeezing it as if the elder sister advising the younger. "It was the same reasoning for me. I had all these guys who worshiped me, a damn fan club who would do anything, yet I was scared to death of getting close to anyone. I think that was what drew me to Squall in the first place…there was no possible way he could reciprocate the feelings. I was scared… I am scared of getting hurt…so reach for the impossible."

Rinoa searched her friend's eyes for answers, understanding that she was speaking from her heart. Maybe it was the same for her, she had dated people based on who her father disliked… there was no future with any of them. Rinoa knew that. Even with Seifer, it was as if chasing a wild stallion that couldn't be tamed; it would only lead to heartache in the end. She had accepted that fact, and for that, she had shielded herself from a serious commitment. Maybe with Squall she saw the same lone spirit. But somewhere along the line fate had other plans, placing two adrift souls together. Now she found herself agreeing with Quistis, knowing that they had shared the same fear of getting hurt. Somehow they had traveled the same road to avoid the pain, but along the road Rinoa had unwittingly found her salvation.

"I just never thought he really would like me," Rinoa answered honestly. "How could he?"

"He could, and he does. It is because you are a beautiful person inside. Each of us has grown over the last year, and none more than you."

"That's easy for you to say, you don't know the things that he said...never mind." She paused, remembering the words that Ultimecia had allowed her to hear. It was as if breaking some sacred trust with Squall, one he didn't even knew existed. "I'm sorry I shouldn't have said anything. I'm just afraid that he's going to wake up one day realizing that he could find someone…well better than me."

"Listen Rinoa, in all honesty, Squall could have had any girl at Garden…but he didn't. It was like he was waiting for someone special…for you."

"Me, why? What if he just is going out with me because I was convenient, or because you guys talked him into it?"

"Don't ever think he didn't choose you for being you, or that you're nothing more than timing. You know how much I studied him, I won't deny that…but that night at the dance…he picked you. You might have been the one to ask him to dance, but he didn't turn you down. That night he saw something in you, something special…something that is clear to everyone now."

"So, he never did have another girlfriend?"

Quistis sighed, not sure how to answer. Although Rinoa noticed that she didn't seem as shocked to hear the question as Selphie was. "No…he never had another girlfriend. Although, I'd heard rumors about an exchange student, but I just dismissed it as more brainless gossip. I couldn't allow myself to believe that he would have interest in anyone at that time. I figured it wasn't his nature."

"And now?"

"And now…I don't know. If what I heard was true, it is nothing to get worried or upset over… I'm guessing that there is a reason that you're asking. By your own admission, you'd witnessed parts of both of your pasts. I'm guessing that inside you already know the answer. What I don't understand is why you are here, asking me…" Quistis pushed Rinoa's hair back, exposing her entire face that had been hiding behind the barrier. "I'm sure it's fear, or doubt. But if you've learned one thing, know that he loves you. Don't be afraid to ask him anything."

"He loves you," the phrase seemed to repeat endlessly in her mind. It was the first time anyone had ever ventured saying the words to her. Maybe she was just feeling doubts magnified by the span of separation, or by the unasked questions that still lingered between them. She knew in her heart how she felt, and how he felt…and Quistis was right, fear was still holding her back. She closed her eyes, wiping away a few stray tears that had fallen to her cheeks.

"Thanks Quistis…I think I need to go make a phone call."

"Yeah, I think so too." She replied smiling, pulling her friend into an embrace.


The office was dark, given that he was working well past midnight. Cid had been staying later, tying to get his affairs in order before his trip to Trabia. He took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose; his mind was starting to play tricks on him. Wiping the sleep from his eyes, he looked at the sole manila folder laid on his desk.

In his life he had been so much teacher, father, and knight. While the kids not his blood, the bond couldn't have been any stronger. He had swayed back and forth a thousand times on his decision, wondering what would be the best for all those involved. He had traveled down every path, those taken, and paths of what could have been. Could he have done anything different? Would the end results have been the same?

Maybe this wasn't the best move right now, but maybe it was the only move. As if reading his thoughts, the phone rang echoing through the room like boisterous thunder.

"Headmaster's office."

The voice spoke softly from the other end, calming his doubts, or at least putting them into a clearer perspective.

"Yes, I have decided… I'll agree with a few conditions. I have to be the one to tell them. After what those two have already gone through, I can't imagine the timing being any worse. On the other hand, if we don't do this now… Hyne, how am I supposed to pick one over the other?"

"Yes Edea, I know. I'm going up there in person. I'll bring her with me…they need to hear this together. I'm just afraid… they still haven't gotten over the last hurdle, and I'm afraid throwing something else at them might be too much. But I have to try. I'd like you to come down to talk to the others."

"I know, I know. They're strong…that's what I'm betting on. I'm just not so sure if I can--"

She didn't allow him to finish, knowing where he was headed. "All right, I'll get some sleep."

"I love you too."

He closed the folder, stamping the front with an official seal.

"Forgive me."


He stared almost defiantly at the clock, before looking back out the window. The black sky laid a contrasting backdrop to the white flakes illuminating under the Garden lights. Squall was not much one for the snow or for cold temperatures in general. He wanted to do nothing more than close his eyes and sleep, but even that eluded him tonight. Maybe he shouldn't have had that second pot of coffee today.

Letting his mind wander back to his imaginary 'cabin,' he momentarily wondered if Rinoa knew how to ski. Then at least he would have a valid excuse to get her up to a cabin… All right, not right off, as they hadn't quite gotten into that aspect of their relationship. However, the idea started to seem more intriguing as his imagination progressed. He contemplated calling Zell's room, telling him that he would be willing to take those skiing lessons. There was nothing he could do to bring back those who had perished in Trabia, but he had to go on living… even if that meant careening down a hill on two wooden sticks. He knew that is how the others carried on, by living, and part of it even made sense to him…

On the nightstand, the sound of the phone brought him back to reality. Maybe it was Zell reading his mind…okay another thought he didn't need to contemplate right now. Rolling over, he picked up the receiver.

"Squall Leonhart."

"So official. Can you just answer hello?"


She forced a laugh, "Better."

"How are you?" He wondered if he had sounded overly anxious, but he was just so glad to hear her voice. Plus it was far better than Zell calling…again.

"I'm…" She didn't mean to pause, it just happened naturally. It was all he needed to read between the lines. "I'm fine…I'm here."


"I'm fine Squall, really. It's just… Um… do you remember when you told me to call anytime day or night?"

"What, what's wrong?" Sitting up quickly, he placed his feet on the floor if for no other reason than to steady himself. He could feel the rhythm of his heart soar with the mere thought of something being wrong. It was still in his nature to fear for the worse; ergo it was those thoughts that first crossed his mind.

"Squall stop, don't worry… It really is nothing. I just thought I could deal with something. Honestly, it should be nothing, but I just keep going around in circles about asking you and I-"

"Rinoa, wait…I know what it is..." Placing his hand on his forehead, the commander wished he could hide somewhere among the banks of snow. The whole memory still plagued him, and he tried so hard to pretend that evening had never transpired. Stupid teenage pride almost got him in trouble eighteen months ago. His only consolation was that destiny intervened before there was no reprieve. "I should have said something to you before. I just…wasn't sure how. I promise you Rinoa, it was nothing. She was a mistake I almost made, but by fates will alone, I didn't."

He stopped himself not wanting to go into the whole sordid explanation over the telephone. It was obvious that it was bothering her, not for the fact it had happened, but for the fact he seemed to deny its existence.

"Rin, I'll tell you about it when I come home."

"Squall…why…why was I so scared to ask you?" A slight hesitation in her words, an intonation that he'd never heard, albeit the change ever so slight.

"I don't know. Maybe for the same reason I was afraid to tell you…or ever ask about your history with Seifer."

He wasn't sure where that name had come from, but it had always weighed on his mind. Not that anything would change his feelings for her. Over the last few weeks he had come to understand they had known very little of each others pasts, with exception of the connection to the orphanage, her parents, and his heritage in Winhill.

"When you come home… I'll tell you anything you want to know. Ultimecia, Seifer…just everything. Anything. I don't want there to be any secrets between us. I think that's what Cid and Edea were trying to do…make us talk before any doubts separated us."

"I'm so sorry again…."

"For what? Being you? I'm the one who should say I'm sorry. I mean Ultimecia has been gone for months, but it still seems like her presence is affecting my thinking."

He didn't answer her right away. Maybe they were focusing on knight and sorceress too much, leaving out one important aspect: humanity. "Rin, I don't know if it's all because of her. I think it's also because of our fears…the same fears every person carries in a relationship. You just be you, I'll be me, and together we'll be us."

"Squall Leonhart you sound like a greeting card."

There was a long pause, and he knew enough to let the subject fade for the time being. There was only so much that could be achieved over the line, as some things had to be done in person. His peripheral vision again caught sight of the darkened window. The fluffy clumps of white falling from the sky brought him back to his earlier musings.

"Rinoa, have you ever been skiing?"

"What? Skiing?" she chuckled slightly, sounding more like the person he knew.

The image of him on skis was almost as entertaining as her thoughts of him on Rollerblades - just wearing several more layers of clothes. "Yes, I've gone before. It's a lot of fun…well, the times that I'm actually standing upright that is."

"Maybe I'll learn."

"I think that would be great."

"Anything else new in Balamb?"

She wanted to say something about the 'short-skirted' cadet from earlier, but opted this wasn't the time for that. "I bought a throw rug today." She wished she could take that intelligent statement back. They go from a highly personal discussion to about the least import event of the decade… maybe she should just inform him of her choice of oatmeal toppings this morning. "Also Selphie and I went to dinner tonight in Balamb. I used the gift certificates that Zell and Irvine gave me for my birthday." Okay, nice save…better than oatmeal.


"Yes?" He sounded so serious it almost scared her.

"Don't ever change."

Chapter Eleven

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