~ Chapter Thirteen: A Time to Hate ~
The pain is unrelenting;
one does not abandon, even briefly,
one's bed of nails,
but is attached to it wherever one goes.
The tempo of the music filled the room, and she found herself subconsciously humming along with the melody. Rinoa was grateful that she had accepted Selphie's offer of using her portable CD player, as she too quickly discovered the isolation of Trabia. She was lying on her bed, back resting against the headboard. Well, it wasn't as if there were any other options, as the room was seemingly void of any chairs. Still, the built-in desk remained, and she had her radio sitting there, along with a few scattered essentials.
The pencil's lead met the paper with a featherlike touch. Her journal looked more like a scribble pad, rather than something originally intended for writing. Across its pages were sketches of just about everything imaginable. She wasn't that good at art but found herself fascinated with the process of shading. The way dark and light would contrast, casting numerous degrees of shadows. The shading itself could entirely change the meaning, or the emotion, encompassing an object.
It was a concept she'd discovered during her childhood - when only the comfort of her mother's arms could bring her solace. It happened one night, when her drapes were left partially open and the moonlight filtered in, casting ominous shadows throughout the room. The dolls that filled her room resembled seraphs during the day, but hidden within the nighttime shadows, looked more like replicas of Ultimecia.
It didn't have to be just simplistic objects like dolls, it could be applied on a much grander scale. During the day, the snow-covered Trabian peaks majestically lined the horizon, but at sunset, shade offered an entirely different perspective. Cold, desolate, alone...even deadly. So there Rinoa sat against the headboard, sketching a mountain peak that was outside her window. After the sun disappeared, it too had taken on a more sinister feel, she couldn't see it within the dark, but she knew it was there.
The last two days had been good...almost to the point of 'wonderful,' if that were possible, given the circumstances surrounding their being in Trabia in the first place. She wanted to allow him his space, letting him set the pace of their schedule. Finishing the last pencil stroke of her sketch, she turned the page in a fleeting attempt to actually use the journal for its intended purpose. Writing about nothing particular, more just about things she had seen on her journey up here.
A knock startled her out of the secluded universe she'd created around herself. At least this time she was able to hold onto the pencil, without hurling it upwards like a small dagger. It was surprising that anyone would be there given the hour. Rinoa couldn't say that she wasn't glad for the distraction from...um...yeah from whatever she was doing. Honestly, she hoped to Hyne it was him, but at the same time, tried to guard herself from disappointment.
“Come in, it's unlocked.”
The door opened cautiously, before a figure emerged from the hallway. Her smile intensified when her brown eyes met with azure, and she found herself fighting the impulse to jump helplessly into his arms. With a flick of the wrist he motioned that she didn't need to get up, as he closed the door behind him. Squall gave her one of those 'commanderly' looks, before pointing his thumb back towards the entrance.
She closed her journal, suspicious at his actions, tossing it onto the small desk where it landed with an echoed 'thud.'
His look never faltered, as he moved closer. It wasn't as if it took him more than three strides to reach the bed, seeing that her room was a quarter the size of his. The commander sat down, looking at her with indifference.
She scooted to the end of the mattress, placing both her feet on the floor. Unbeknownst to her, she was smiling... somehow it had become second nature when he was around. Placing both hands on her legs, she leaned closer, somehow expecting some type of romantic greeting from him.
“Yes Squall?” Her tone was as sweet as humanly possible, moving her body even closer.
He inched forward, mirroring her physical movements, while his voice bordered on the seductive, just as hers had on the engaging. “Rinoa, why was your door unlocked? Shouldn't you have at least asked who it was? I could have been anybody and --”
She rolled her eyes in disgust, collapsing back onto the mattress in all-embracing defeat. It was painfully obvious she wasn't going to get a kiss, or a hug, only a lecture. Unfortunately for her, he had decided to go into his awarding wining role of 'Cautious SeeD Commander.' It was going to be a long night. She already accepted this was one battle she'd have to concede, but damn it, she was still going to win the war. Just not tonight.
“Yes…as usual, you're right commander.”
In a momentary lapse of lucidity, she thought of rescinding the white flag. It would be amusing if she could redirect his sermon towards him; she'd barged in his 'unlocked room' more than once before they had officially started dating. But the tired woman figured it wasn't the time or place to bring that fact up. And somehow, as per his norm, he would turn the whole fiasco around on her.
She could mentally hear him lecturing now, “You hardly knew me and walked in my dorm while I was sleeping...twice? Who does that? I wake up and you're looking down at me, and have the nerve to tell me that I talk in my sleep. I can't believe you just walked inside like that - without knocking! It's lucky you didn't end up with a gunblade through your lower intestines.”
Yes, romance, intestines, and Squall Leonhart seemed to go hand in hand. But she hadn't been alone in her escapades, and she could use that vital information in her favor. “Well, yeah, but Quistis and Selphie both said they walked in on you too! Your door...again, not locked! So, that is who else does it! They both have known you for a long time, and didn't end up on the receiving end of your threats.”
“When!?” Of course, he would demand to know specifics...logical mind and all.
“Selphie said you'd left your room open before the graduation dance! Quistis mentioned she'd walked in wanting to play a game of cards...in the middle of the night. Oh, oh, oh! And Zell said he moved the entire contents of your room over, when you weren't around - albeit you had probably less than fifteen items. That is not the point! So don't tell me Mr. Paranoid to make sure that my door is locked and-”
Oh dear Hyne, was she actually having a mental argument with him while he was... yep, he was looking down at her blankly. This one she wasn't even going to try to explain.
“A...yeah Squall, sorry. I'll make sure it's locked from now on, you're right.”
“You might be right, but at least I don't talk in my sleep!” Okay, it was at least a mental leg to stand on right now.
“Just remember that in the future, okay? It's very important.”
“Yes Squall, I'll keep my door locked at all times.” She sat up, raising her right hand in the air. Her left arm draped over one of the nearby pillows, as she pledged her nonofficial oath.
He looked at her dryly, never breaking from his stern demeanor. “Um, not that Rin. The fact, as you just so eloquently stated, that I'm always right.” The blur of a pillow soared by his line-of-sight, before another smacked him across the face… His tone never changed even as the second fell abruptly into his lap, “And should I remind you that it against Garden regulations to assault a ranking SeeD.”
“Oh yeah, and should I remind you, Commander Leonhart, that it is against regulations to be in bed with a staff member.” She covered her mouth, immediately turning her head, “Oh god, oh god, Rinoa why in hell did you just say that? Change the subject quick…”
“Actually, the manual specifically outlines in 'Article 5, Subsection B' that I can't have intimate relations with another SeeD member, instructor, or cadet attending Garden. There is no rule against being with a civilian worker.”
“Did he just say that!? Did he just 'know' that technicality right off!?” Rinoa looked back in disbelief, her mouth open in shock. A strange awkwardness passed between them, neither one really knowing how to deal with the implications.
He sat equally as baffled with his own comment. A fleeting idea crossed his mind, “Would it be physically possible to jump from a third-story window into a mound of Trabian snow, or nearby trash container, without breaking too many limbs?” Trying not to convey his nervousness, he balled his hands, hoping that she couldn't see how goddamned scared he was. He had to change the subject...quick, very, very quick...
Finally, he spoke breaking the tension, albeit not so coherently. “Um…anyway...yeah,” he stammered as he nervously scratched the back of his head. For a moment he thought he was having a 'Laguna flashback,' suddenly realizing the 'moron' in question was him. He just wished he could say things to her, without always thinking about how they would come out. Then again, after his comment moments before, maybe he should have thought a little longer.
“Huh?” She questioned staring back at him in utter confusion. It was almost cute, how mortified he was. Or at least it would have been, had she not been equally as embarrassed.
He raised his arm slightly, motioning to her desk. “You're keeping a journal?”
“Oh.” She reached over grabbing the diary, holding it securely to her chest. Part of her felt like she was protecting the book like a frightened child from their parent. “I've always kept one... since I was younger. I know Selphie wanted people to keep their thoughts online. Some things I wouldn't mind sharing with the world, but some are personal... I don't know...it just doesn't seem like me.”
“It's certainly not me.”
She giggled at his seriousness. “No, not at all you.” She paused, recalling the reason behind Garden's computer entries in the first place. “Are...are your memories coming back at all?” She bit her lip nervously after asking, he still wasn't comfortable broaching some subjects - his parentage, feelings, and past in general topped the list.
“They are. Not all good, not all bad. It's different not to rely on Guardians regularly.” He shrugged apathetically, brushing off the topic of the GFs altogether. “But as long as we can properly maintain high combat training standards, SeeD will continue to achieve their diplomatic objectives.” Did he just sound like a damn brochure again? He had to stop doing that, he was scaring himself. “Rinoa, speaking of 'standards,' I was just on my way to the training center. I thought maybe you'd like to go.”
“Speaking of standards!? Good one, good one... how is she supposed to take that?” He cleared his throat. “I mean training standards, so I can keep up my training standards.”
She laughed at both his correction and her memories. Rinoa recalled the first tour of Balamb Garden he reluctantly gave her. Those early days were such a blur, yet his image remained as vivid as yesterday. He wasn't a happy camper then, not as if one could ever classify Squall Leonhart as a 'happy camper.' Although it was one of the first instances that he allowed himself to show a sense of humor, with Dr. Kadowaki no less. It was always there, just a little off of the mainstream.
In truthfulness, the last thing she thought about doing right now was having a monster's innards trailing down her body. However, it was time together with him, and watching him move in battle held an indescribable fascination. With her new job, it had been awhile since she had trained properly - hitting a computer keyboard didn't take nearly the physical stamina as decapitating a Grat. The only problem she could foresee, was not paying enough attention to the monsters. He's the only one who could make monster's intestines look fashionable.
“Thought you said during our tour that you would never take a girl to the training center on a date?” She joked getting off of the bed and unbuckling the case containing her Blaster's Edge.
“I wouldn't,” he smiled caustically. “I'm taking you.”
“Not funny Leonhart.” She remarked fastening the straps of the weapon around her arm. “Not funny at all.”
“What do you mean?” Rinoa asked as the hydraulic doors opened. Together they stepped out into the hallway, weapons in tow.
“Well, like Balamb, they've divided the training center into two separate areas. The first is going to be lower level enemies, for younger students. The other will be higher level monsters... snow lions, blue dragons and the like. They just don't have the advanced area stocked yet, so the only combat option right now is the weaker enemies.”
“Is that sarcasm?”
“From me, never.”
“Now I know that was... and who said anything about fighting monsters tonight?”
“You did!” She insisted, stopping outside the sealed doors.
“See how little you pay attention Miss Heartilly? I asked if you wanted to come to the training center with me.”
“But we stopped by your room to get your weapon.” She rationalized, squinting her eyes in mock anger and pointing at Lionheart for emphasis.
“Well, yes...had to... you brought yours and I couldn't look suspicious.”
“You already do,” she countered, trying to figure out what was going on in that complex head of his. Sometimes there was more to his words than met the ear, and she would trade his elusiveness for a million Gil. Placing her palm against the swinging doors, she felt a strange sensation shroud her body. The young woman shook it off mentally, figuring it had to be from the temperature variance.
“So if we aren't going to 'fight' things what are we going to do?”
“We are-” He stopped mid-sentence, looking downward. Moving his weapon to his left hand, he reached to his belt with the other, and grabbed a small pager.
“Squall?” She watched with concern, as he seemed to be entranced with the display screen. “Everything okay?”
It was like ice water was rushing through his veins, as his answer seemed to catch in his throat. A text message flashed across the screen, telling him to come directly to the headmaster's office - transmitted by Cid. For the last two days, his superior had mysteriously lost all contact with Garden. More specifically with him, not returning any of his numerous messages. Now the man showed up in Trabia at such a late hour...
“Rinoa... Sorry, I have to go.”
“Yeah, no problem.” She suddenly felt like an outsider in his life, not positive where she fit in. And for the life of her, she couldn't figure out why.
“Rinoa, are you okay?”
Noticing her change in behavior, he couldn't help but feel an overpowering concern. The small black box continued to vibrate in his hand; he acted indifferent toward the page, as all his attention was now focused on her. Adjusting the strap to her weapon, she tried to remain optimistic, but somehow found it hard to do. Honestly, she couldn't understand her unexplainable change in attitude either... It was like something inside her had almost gone numb in one inescapable second.
“Fine Squall. Just tired, I guess. You said that there were only low level enemies in there?”
This time she met his gaze, trying to force a smile through the friction. The last thing she needed was for him to know about some 'paranoid delusional mood swing from hell.' She wondered if this was in the handbook for being a sorceress, it certainly didn't feel like a natural occurrence.
“Yes, Bite Bugs, Geezards, maybe a Glacial Eye or two. Don't think about going in there without a training partner... Rinoa there are strict rules and-”
She put her hand up to silence him, the last thing she needed was another damned SeeD lecture. Somehow her annoyance was growing, and her mind was spinning like an errant carousel. She was trying desperately not to take her baseless frustration out on him. He had nothing to do with her mood, hell, she had no idea of its origins.
“No Commander Leonhart, its fine. I was just wondering. I'm not going in.”
The pager continued to relentlessly vibrate in his hand. Shaking his head in frustration, he glanced at the screen once again. “Rinoa, I've got to go.”
“Of course you do. Don't worry, I'll be a good girl.” She really didn't mean to be so curt, but she really didn't seem to care right that second either.
“Look at me.” It came out more an order than a request.
He didn't think twice about turning off the mechanical distraction, before placing it in his pocket. The knight continued to firmly grasp his gunblade in one hand, balancing it on the ground for support. With the other, he placed his fingers on her cheek, forcing her to look him in the eyes. She smiled briefly, experiencing a fleeting peacefulness with the contact. Still, his touch had seemed to calm her, at least slightly, from the anxiety.
“Are you okay?” He reiterated the question, speaking more forcefully than the first time.
“Fine. I'm fine. Now go before Cid gets angry. It's your job.”
“You're my job too.”
He leaned forward, bringing their lips together. It was just supposed to be a simple kiss, a quick gesture, but he found himself unwilling to break free. His right arm went around her neck, while the other securely held his weapon. It was almost an uncontrollable urge to pull her next to his body, and he fought against his more primal of instincts. Something about this felt...well, almost like necessity, rather than for pleasure. There was something unspoken in their fevered kisses, something practically desperate.
“Would you two get a room?”
The sound of the martial artist's voice caught them off guard, as both knight and sorceress realized what they'd been doing...publicly. It was out of the norm for them to act with such careless zeal, given their stature. As their bodies parted, Rinoa brought her hands up, hiding her face in apologetic shame. The commander tried to keep a composed manner about him, but part of him was fighting back the overpowering urge to pull her inside the training center and continue unremittingly. He had to get away from her now, for more than one reason. Squall looked at his friend, trying to downplay the encounter.
“Rin and I were just headed to the training center, but I'm now on my way up to the headmaster's office. Cid's here.”
“Training center...yeah...okay...right.” The blond said while crossing his arms and shaking his head warily at the two. “I was called by Cid also, he wanted me to look for you on the way up. I could always tell him you had something more pressing.” The last words were said with a hint of mockery.
The commander gritted his teeth, trying to keep his cool. “Let's go Zell.”
Rinoa shook her head as the two SeeDs walked off. He didn't even turn around to say goodbye. It was as if something was throwing them off kilter, it had to be her imagination working overtime again. Or, like she had told Squall, she was just very tired. Sighing in defeat, she looked down at her weapon, and slowly started to undo the harness surrounding her arm. Something deep within felt the irresistible need to go work off some of her anger, energy...whatever this was. The young woman knew if Squall found out he would absolutely go into strict commander mode, or knight mode - whichever liked to give the longer lectures. Again she looked down the hallway, making sure the two had completely faded from sight. Here she was breaking yet another trust that her and Squall forged, but she couldn't just sit here idly by with this newfound energy.
There was something nagging at him, something that had burrowed itself into his brain like a tick and didn't seem to let go. The more he tried to ignore it, the deeper it embedded itself. And what in the hell was that back there? Two days ago he was afraid to hold her hand in public, now he was practically sticking his tongue down her throat in front of an audience. This wasn't him, that wasn't her. At least Zell was still Zell. The commander turned to his friend as the elevator door closed behind them.
“Did you ever have a feeling that things are going to change?”
“You mean after your little bout of teenage normalcy back there?” Zell countered, still in awe of his friend's actions. If it had been anybody but Squall and Rinoa, there wouldn't have been much of an issue. The commander gave the martial artist a goaded stare, as his fingers wrapped tightly around the gunblade's handle. Never a good idea to upset an hormonal man with a very large sword, the fighter quickly realized.
“Sorry, Squall. What do you mean?”
“I don't know…I've just had this feeling for the last few days. And today...well it has only multiplied.”
“Do you mean change - with you and Rinoa?”
“Well man, if you're worried about her don't. You know she cares about you, and I'm guessing after that performance, you care a lot about her too.”
“Yeah.” That was the closest the young man had ever been to admitting his feelings aloud, even though most comprehended it without words. Still, saying 'yeah' was a step above the noncommittal 'whatever.' He still had this feeling clouding the back of his mind that refused to subside.
“Why do you think she's here?”
“I don't know, to work?” The martial artist shrugged as the elevator doors opened. “Maybe to keep you out of trouble, although that seems to have backfired. I dunno... guess it's just to help with Trabia, she was part of this too. Just because she isn't SeeD doesn't make her any less valuable. I certainly wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth or a gift headmaster. Um…not that I'm calling Cid a horse or anything and I-”
Zell shut up as they reached the headmaster's office, even he realized he was aimlessly rambling, maybe he could chalk this one up to the Trabian altitude. He'd always been one to offer guidance, but for obvious reasons, found it rather difficult where Squall was concerned.
“I'm damn glad she's here Zell, but still not sure why… It's like there is some underlying reason that I'm missing. We're missing. Something that seems like it should be right in front of me…one that I haven't figured out yet.”
“Now you're just being paranoid.”
The fighter tried to reassure his friend as he knocked on the office door. Somewhere along the line, Squall's heart started pounding and reasoning seemed to have been covered in Trabian frost.
Cid's voice was muffled through the wooden barrier. They walked and saw the headmaster staring out the darkened window. He didn't even bother turning to face them as they entered.
“Squall...Zell...please take a seat.”
The two exchanged a mutual glance, but obliged the headmaster's request without question. Still carrying his weapon, Squall had placed it on a nearby desktop. Thankfully later for Cid... out of the young man's immediate reach.
“You know...” Cid began staring into the endless abyss, as the words seemed to fail him. They could make out his reflection in the glass, something about him looked scared, unsure...and Squall immediately feared for the worst. Mentally, the commander believed he was prepared for anything the headmaster was going to say... He had to - it was his job. He just prayed to Hyne that whatever it may be was on a professional, not personal, level.
Taking off his eyeglasses, the older man turned to the two teenagers seated before him. “You know, there are many things that I have spent my life questioning. Could I have handled a situation differently? Could I have changed the outcome along the way? Was there some small path where I could have turned, while the highway continued on...”
“Sir,” Squall finally interrupted; his heart was racing with unparalleled anticipation. “If there is something we need to know, just say it.”
“Please nothing about Rinoa, please.”
The headmaster nodded, they did deserve the truth, although he wasn't sure how well they were going to handle it. Shit, he wasn't sure how well he was handling it. “Part of me wishes this could have been under different circumstances. I'm not one who likes throwing surprises on two of my child-” He paused, no, this decision was as a headmaster, not on their past relations. “I do not like throwing surprises on either students and staff. Squall, can you tell me, is there something troubling you.”
“What in the hell!?” He didn't mean to say it so direct, but yes there were about a thousand things troubling him. And as usual, nobody was giving him any answers.
“Off the record.” Cid insisted as he sat down. “How have you been feeling?”
The commander raised both hands in the air in disgust. He swore if there was one more guessing game involved, he was going to lose the tinge of sanity he'd been clinging to the last few minutes. “How have I been feeling? Off the record? Well, I wish for one that somebody would give me straight answers around here. I've left several messages for you. Xu, Quistis, everybody has left messages for you and you've seemed to pull another disappearing act. Rinoa shows up out-of-the-blue and says you were heading to Deling on some unscheduled trip. I'm tired of the guessing games. I think it seems a little irresponsible at best.”
“You're right.” Cid nodded in complete agreement. “It certainly is and I'm sorry for that. Some thing came up quickly, and I had to make a decision. Not only weigh what would be best for Garden, but also what would be the best for the parties involved. I had to place personal feelings aside, and look at the larger picture... Something I'm hoping that eventually I'll have your support on...”
“My support? How am I supposed to give you support when I have no clue in Diablo what you are talking about!? What does this have to do with how I'm feeling?” He fisted his hand trying to calm down, as his emotions appeared to be running independently of his brain. He desperately wished for those days when he had learned to suppress them with so much indifference. Hyne, he wished for those days right now.
“Zell, I do apologize about bringing you into this, but I thought it was better that you two heard this together. Squall, since you are a knight-”
“No!” The commander hadn't meant to yell so loudly, but it slipped as he stood up angrily. “Whatever you say, don't tell me this has to do with being a knight! Whatever this is cannot involve Rinoa, she's gone through too much. Make it a Garden issue, make it a SeeD issue, just don't make it her issue, please...”
“Squall, I'm sorry... it's not on purpose. It really is a Garden issue, unfortunately it just blurs the line between commander and knight, and we need to come to some type of mutual understanding before-” The headmaster stopped, rubbed the bridge of his nose, and placed his palm on his forehead. Why was this so hard to say? Why did he feel like he was sacrificing one of his children for another? How could he tell Squall this went far beyond a military issue, but one forged at an orphanage a lifetime ago and a world away?
“Before what!?” Squall demanded an answer.
“Squall do you know the difference between empathy and sympathy?”
“Yes, headmaster I do, it's physiology 101.” His anger wasn't being masked with his tone.
“A knight can sense some of a sorceress' emotions to a point, just as she can sense some of theirs. When Rinoa relived the nightmares back in Balamb, and started opening up to you, and you her, some of the feelings can get crossed kind of like a supernatural switchboard. It's your job to learn when they are normal, or when they are a warning.”
“Great. Terrific. Whatever. How are Rinoa's feelings a Garden issue? And this 'switchboard' thing...is it going to last forever?”
“No. Just until you get what is causing the problem fixed.”
“We're doing just fine 'thankyouverymuch' for your concern. Is this why you brought her up here, so you could give us yet another obscure test? What does any of this have to do with you being gone in Deling for three days? If you want to help so badly, call a supernatural repairman to fix the damn switchboard.” He inhaled deeply, trying to calm down. This was going nowhere fast, and all he was going to end up doing was prolonging the inevitable. How do some people live with such passionate emotions all the time? “I'm sorry sir, I'm just not feeling like myself right now.”
“Wait,” Zell interrupted. He had been listening to their emotional exchange, especially to what was being said between the lines. Before Rinoa, there was only a few select occasions Squall showed any aggressiveness, and the martial artist had a sickening feeling growing in his stomach. “I'm sorry, but I have to ask something headmaster. Basically you are saying that a sorceress and knight share some kind of empathic connection. It's not mind reading or anything, just basically their concerns, fears, whatever are playing off of each other. Now could Rinoa sense let's say um...your emotions because you were a knight?”
The headmaster closed his eyes, he really had wished that Squall would have made the connection. The martial artist, if anything, had been brought in as an objective third party, but that in and of itself was sardonic. The emotion was too new for the young knight, and adding the extra burden of Rinoa's emotions was proving to be difficult. Although honestly, it was something Cid Kramer had never learned to do completely in his bond. If he had, then maybe they wouldn't be sitting in this situation now.
“No Zell... if I knew her better, probably she could project, but it doesn't work that way. She has to have had a previous emotional connection to the person, such as Squall or...”
Squall's head flipped up looking at the headmaster with defiance, in one second everything made sense to him, whether he wanted it to or not. He looked over to his weapon and thought how simple it could be...all the pain, all the death, avenged in one slice of his blade.
“No!” Cid jumped from his chair, realizing the commander was contemplated reaching for his weapon. “You can't Squall. It's over.”
“Over!? Why, why in the hell can't I? I want to kill him.” He said through barely able to speak through is anger. “Where, where in the hell is he?”
“The training center.” The headmaster said meekly. He prayed to Hyne that one of his children wouldn't hurt the other, for all of their sakes. Squall eyed his weapon one last time before walking out, slamming the door forcefully behind him. The knight knew that if he had grabbed it, there would be only one way their story would end. And he wouldn't do that to Rinoa...
Author's Notes: Don't kill me. *ducks* This might be a little confusing, and its supposed to be. When I sent it to my betas, I did it two parts at the same time, to make sure they could understand it as a whole! Yet it is interesting to see how people interpret it. :) Again, have faith...it is me.