~ Chapter Seven: A Time to Speak – Part I ~
The pain is unrelenting;
one does not abandon, even briefly,
one’s bed of nails,
but is attached to it wherever one goes.
Every so often Edea Kramer sat among the students of Balamb Garden. At times, she would justify her actions to Cid by claiming it brought back a sense of her youth. However, if truth were told, she never had a youth to reclaim. Some days it transported her back to simpler times - before any truths were known, and before the first lies were spoken. Regardless of the reasoning, whether logical or not, Edea found tranquility in the students daily rites of teenage passage.
Inhaling deeply, she took in the scent of the lilac blooms whose aroma draped the walls of the Quad. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a lone figure approaching the bench. To some extent, the movement surprised her, as very few students dared to approach during her sporadic visits back to Balamb Garden. She closed the leather binder of the book she had been trying to read, although her concentration had been diverted long ago.
“Mrs. Kramer?” Rinoa asked hesitantly, feeling slightly uncomfortable about attempting a conversation.
Edea had to laugh at the mere formality sounding of her name. It was rare that she was addressed properly, and even less that she was addressed politely. Placing her hand on the wooden planks of the bench, she offered the space next to her.
“Rinoa, please sit down…and for Pandora’s sake, call me Matron.”
The younger girl obliged, holding what seemed to be a sack containing her lunch. “I’m surprised Cid has let you out of his sight… Word on the street is that you managed to keep his desk clean for several weeks, a feat thought impossible by many.”
“He’s not all that bad,” Rinoa added with a smile. “You just have to keep on him. Trust me, I’ve never met anyone who could lose something so quickly…and I worked with Zone and Watts, which is saying a lot.”
Edea nodded, pushing long strands of hair behind her shoulder. “I’ve heard Selphie recount some of your adventures in Timber… Cid at least has some worthy competition.”
She watched as Rinoa unwrapped a sandwich, observing how the young sorceress avoided direct eye contact. Edea sighed inwardly, she could tell there was so much fear in this girl, but at the same time, she carried so much strength. Although the Edea and Rinoa had talked cordially on several occasions, they had never had a chance to truthfully talk. Edea knew that Rinoa had many questions, especially those revolving around their encounter at Galbadia Garden - events that would forever change both of their lives.
“Rinoa, I’m guessing that you didn’t come out here to talk about the state of Cid’s desk.”
“No…” Rinoa wasn’t even sure why she was there. It wasn’t as if this encounter had been planned… It was just an empty seat at an opportune moment, right?
“I know we have never had a chance to talk,” continued Edea, hoping to relieve some of the pressure stemming from the moment. “If there is anything you ever wanted to ask me, please feel free.”
Rinoa lowered her food, as her appetite suddenly seemed to disappear. She half-heartily wrapped clear plastic over the sandwich, placing it back into the sack. Her original intent had been nothing more than to come out to take in the spring air, enjoying a leisurely meal - never did she think it would lead to any life altering questions. There was something she had wondered for months, but was always too afraid to hear the answer. The question just kind of slipped out, before she even had time comprehend what her mouth was saying.
Closing her eyes, Edea clenched the closed book on her lap, wrapping her fingers around the seam. She had never thought that Rinoa would be so direct. Maybe she was ready to answer any other question about their bond…just not that one. Yet, Rinoa summarized it so eloquently with one simple word. The word was far more devastating to hear than she had thought. How do you answer a question, with no answer? Well, at least no good answer to the one who posed it…
Edea snapped out her trance when Rinoa answered her own question with an eerily truthful answer. “Was it because you knew both Selphie and Quistis…and didn’t want to put them through the torment?”
The older woman stopped mentally preparing the subtle answer she was about to give, simply agreeing, “Yes Rinoa, at the time I didn’t know you. They were like my children – I raised them from as far back as I can remember. I also was aware of the pain, along with the joy, that could come from being a sorceress.”
Rinoa remained silent, nodding as if already expecting that answer. “How? How if Ultimecia controlled you…how could you decide who received the power?”
“Well…it wasn’t as if my consciousness wasn’t there, in fact, she could draw power and knowledge from it…but only what I allowed. The whole thing is more like a hazy memory. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was something from my past, or someone else’s. For all I knew, I could have been experiencing the memories of a play I had seen or a book I had read as a child.”
“So…she could read your mind?”
“Again, only what I allowed. When she was in my shell, she wanted to know, more than anything…what the true meaning of SeeD was. I would not tell her. Since she couldn’t hurt me, she hurt those closest to me…splitting me every way she could with my own body. Eventually betraying every bond…” Edea paused realizing she was going to say too much. Rinoa was not ready to hear that, nor was Squall. There would be a better time, after more secrets had been unlocked. “Not now, it’s too soon for me to go into that. Today is about your question, not my anguish.”
Inhaling the scent of the lilacs Edea continued, “Back to that day in Galbadia Garden…what I do remember amid the fog, was the three of you fighting me. I remember praying that Seifer was alive, and that he would just show some sign of life…anything. I remember feeling weak, as if what sanity I had was ebbing out of my reach… I could hear her…hear Ultimecia wanting to abandon my body. She was leaving my shell…I knew it…I was weak and of no use to her. Then the others came running in to the auditorium… I just remember looking up at you…and allowing her conscious to hear my thought, ‘she is strong, use her.’ It was enough to help Ultimecia decide, but in all honesty, the final decision wasn’t left up to me…now was it?”
Rinoa looked away quickly, almost knocking off the lunch from her lap. Edea could feel the hurt that ran through the younger girl, and the demons she still refused to face. Reaching out, she placed her fingers gently on Rinoa’s shoulder, who still remained turned away hiding embarrassment.
“Please dear…if you can believe only one thing…if I truly had my choice, I wouldn’t have wished this grueling fate upon anyone. Yet, I still believe firmly in my first thought – I saw you fighting equally along side of people who had trained since childhood…you were strong. Yes, all those months ago in a deserted auditorium it was to protect Quistis and Selphie…but if I had to decide again, I would only feel more passionate this time around. Not only because you are strong, but also because you already have someone that would fight valiantly beside you… None of the others could have handled the situation in such a manner as you and Squall. You have not only come out of this situation alive, you have come out of it as far better people. For that reason alone, I will never doubt my decision.”
“I…guess I understand…I’m sorry…sometimes I just feel so…well strange, out-of-place I guess.”
“I imagine so. Honestly, not a lot of eighteen-year-olds can demolish an entire room with a single blow.”
“Oh you heard,” Rinoa looked up at the woman sitting next to her for the first time, trying to mask the embarrassment. Still, she couldn’t help keeping the traces of a smile off her face. “It was really an accident…and thankfully Squall wasn’t all that mad.”
“Well…at least you didn’t blow up a spaghetti dinner while meeting your fiancée’s parents.”
“Cid’s parents? You didn’t!?”
“I most certainly did. I’m still not sure what happened; I was so nervous. Went to grab a piece of garlic toast and the next thing I knew…Cid and his parents were covered in noodles…marinara sauce trailing a path down their foreheads.”
“Well from what I know, dinner with Laguna won’t be happening any time soon.”
“Don’t you dare worry about that child, all things take time.” Edea paused choosing her words wisely, now that the conversation had taken on more of a lighter tone.
“Rinoa, I was wondering…actually Cid and I were wondering…would you and Squall would be able to stop over for dinner before he leaves for Trabia?”
A gruff voice answered from behind them. “I’ll have to check my busy social calendar to see if I can fit you in.”
“Squall!” Rinoa jumped at the sound of his voice. She just hoped that he hadn’t overheard the rest of the conversation, but it wouldn’t be like him to do that. Standing up, she placed both hands on her hips, and set her lunch bag to the side. “Was that an attempt at a joke Mr. Leonhart?”
“How many times do I have to tell you – I don’t joke.”
“How could I forget about that,” she replied sarcastically. “Edea invited us over for dinner before you leave. Think you can fit it in?”
She noticed his change of demeanor, slight at best. There was something on his mind, she had learned that much back in Winhill. She recalled his mentioning a talk the two had some time ago, but aside from a few comments, most of the conversation was left between the shadows. His look drifted over to Matron, and then back to her.
“Squall please, there is so much we have to tell you.” Edea’s voice saddened when he hadn’t accepted the offer right away.
“Fine.” His answer short and to the point. “I was just going to see if you wanted to grab some lunch Rin.” He paused realizing it was the first time he had called her that in front of someone else. A slight blush reddened his cheeks, as Rinoa grinned cocking her head toward him.
“I’d love to.”
“Do you think they will stop by?” The headmaster picked up a magazine from the top of the pile, quickly flipping through the pages.
“Would you stop worrying dear,” countered Edea staring at her husband uncertainly. “Are you really going to read that?”
“Sure, why not?” He stopped at a page before realizing it was a magazine on interior decorating. He smiled nervously covering his mistake, “I was thinking about redecorating the office.”
“Yeah…right.” She shook her head knowing better, as some things never changed. Cid was hardly one to admit when he was wrong, unless it was something earth shattering. “And yes, I do think they will show up. Rinoa told you they would…and she wouldn’t go back on her word. Even if she has to drag Squall up here by one of his belts, they’ll be here.”
He sighed. “I know…but I just wish she wouldn’t have to ‘drag’ him up here in the first place. I just can’t get him to open up to me.”
“Cid, for over twelve years you’ve been his superior, do you think that he is going to be an open book to you? First, and foremost, you are his boss…and that is hard to look past.”
He took off his glasses, surrendering the magazine back onto the coffee table. “I know…but Edea I think he still blames me for how everything transpired. You know, I did leave him alone during his first battle…and his second…and his…”
“I get it, I get it… So you made mistakes, you think he’s holding it against you forever? The last year has been an emotional rollercoaster on him. Right now, you are trying to think of him as a son…more than a bemused teenager.”
“I guess…you’re right. Is it wrong that I am thinking as a father, I don’t want him to make the same mistakes I made? I know all that stands out in his mind are those moments beyond the scope of comprehension… To him, I was just some guy crying in the infirmary.”
“Yes, but if you tell him the truth…he certainly isn’t going to listen. He will understand in time. He doesn’t need a father; he needs a mentor knight. The best thing we can do is show him both paths and let him choose.”
“You sound like advice from a fortune cookie.”
“Thanks dear,” she answered sarcastically.
There was a pause. The headmaster stood, looking out the small window in the door. He wasn’t sure why he was so nervous, as he had done far harder things than this. Yet this was personal, here he might have to live up to his own mistakes. If history is bound to repeat itself, there are either two things you can do – to ignore the faults of others, or to gain the knowledge of all those who came before.
“Has she remembered yet?” The sadness in his voice betrayed his tone.
“No, not that I can tell. I’m sure if she had there would have been some outward signs.”
“Yeah, like the mysterious throwing of a bookcase at Squall.”
“Cid…I said that whole ‘bookshelf thing’ was an accident.” She smiled, pulling back her long hair and placing it over her shoulder.
“Do you know what Ultimecia used against her?”
“Some…” Edea answered hesitantly. “My spirit was weak. I don’t have to see what happened to know the pain it caused…or will cause.”
The headmaster walked over to his wife, sitting on the couch next to her. Pulling her into an embrace, he held her. For just a moment, and then a moment more…sometimes he felt that she would just fade away. Sometimes, he just had to hold her to make sure she was real. They had made their mistakes. But maybe together, he thought, they could save some pain to the next generation.
“Edea, I can’t even begin to imagine. To surrender your body and mind over without much of a fight…it had to be something horrible. But this is the right thing; if she doesn’t address it soon…it will only become a weapon against them.”
The question itself is sometimes the greatest mystery. Something had been bothering her all day, as if a small voice was trying to scream out among the masses. And yet, she was failing to hear it. Maybe it was in the words Edea had used this morning, and the sensation of urgency the young sorceress felt about speaking to the couple.
“It was enough to help Ultimecia decide, but in all honesty the final decision wasn’t left up to me…now was it?”
The words seemed to play like an enigma in her mind. ‘Now was it?’ What did that mean? Of course it was Ultimecia’s decision, who else’s could it have possibly been?
“Hey, Rinoa.” His voice speaking her name snapped her back into the moment.
“Are you listening?”
“Sure, what did you want?”
“Well, I had casually mentioned we’d passed their door two halls ago.”
“Oh, sorry…guess I wasn’t listening.”
“What a shock.” He answered monotone, before asking, “Are you all right, really?”
“I’ll be fine.” She reached for him, linking their arms together. “Promise, I’ll listen this time.”
“I now have a newfound understanding of how annoying it is when I don’t listen to you.”
“You what!?” She said smiling up at him as they walked back.
“Um…I mean…when I am so busy contemplating the words you had already said, that it is hard for me to focus on all the words you are currently speaking.”
He looked down at her trying not to forge a smile. “…You’re not buying that, are you?” She laughed shaking her head, as he reached down giving her a tiny peck on the cheek. “Didn’t think so.”
It felt like an eternity. Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration…but pretty darn close. It seemed that all their conversations appeared to be repeating in one infinite circle. Edea had managed to broach every subject, except for the one she had invited them over for. She and Cid had exchanged glances several times, each waiting on the other’s silent cue.
Yet, she couldn’t do it.
For too long Squall seemed distant, and even though he hadn’t said more than three words tonight, he was there. She had never played favorites. It was that simple, she cared for her children with equal amounts of love. But, there were always those who she worried about more.
And sometimes, just sometimes, she wondered if she had made the right choice. Or was it ever really her choice to make? She cleared her mind. It was too late to have any doubts. She couldn’t. Maybe Cid could sense her hesitation, as it didn’t take a knight to understand her fear…just a person who shared love in his heart.
“Squall…Rinoa….I guess you are wondering why we asked you here.” Cid placed his arm around his wife, whose look drifted from the other couple to the floor. “There is something we need to warn you about.”
“What?” Squall’s answer was almost immediate. He was just glad they were finally getting to the truth.
The headmaster tried to keep his bearing. “When Rinoa accepted her powers…and yes ‘accepted’ is the correct word…there was a certain process that she endured. No sorceress can give her powers away without permission…good or bad. It’s one of those loopholes that tends to get caught between fact and fiction. The problem then lies in how the powers were absorbed. In Edea’s case, she first inherited her powers as a child…and then again several years later.”
Matron stood and moved sitting next to Rinoa; reaching down, she took her hand. The young woman was trembling inside, and Edea could perceive the tremendous fear. In her heart, the new sorceress had to have known the truth. It was only the part that was locked within her memory that scared her…the unknown.
Cid took off his glasses, trying to look at Squall. The commander sat very still, watching only Rinoa. The headmaster didn’t have to read his expression to know the feeling that he was experiencing. It didn’t matter who was upset, both Rinoa and Squall suffered equally.
“It’s all right.” Rinoa squeezed Matron’s hand, before she focused on Squall admitting, “Somehow I knew it. I don’t know how, but I did. Sometimes at night, I wake up out of breath…my pulse racing. I can feel every heartbeat in the back of my throat. At first, I thought I was having nightmares, but they only seemed to grow more vivid. I can recall bits and pieces of the emotions…but I can’t remember the cause. Only the results, the pain and the fear…I should have said something, but I hoped it would pass.”
Holding her hand with firmness, Edea explained, “Rinoa, it is your mind trying to remember. Ultimecia is gone, but the path you took to get here remains the same – you just can’t recall the road.”
“So what does this mean to us?” Squall was not one to play guessing games. Right now, he felt that they were falling into the same trap that got them there in the first place. People in authority only giving fragments of the whole. He never wanted to blame others, but it was hard to overlook mistakes they had made. Or the answers still left within the unanswered void.
“It depends,” confessed Edea a little more solemn than before. “It is the first true test. Whatever she showed her, was enough to convince Rinoa that she would be better off--”
“I’m not listening to this.” Squall stood up offering Rinoa his hand. “If you for one second want me to believe that Rinoa would give up control of her mind and body…it’s not possible. Just because you did it, doesn’t mean she did. Rinoa had no choice. It’s that simple.”
She took his hand standing up with him, yet she couldn’t look him in the eye. “Squall…I know Edea is telling the truth. I let Ultimecia control me.” The words sounded worse coming from her mouth than she thought. It was hard facing the truth, no matter how important it was. “I can’t explain it right now…or I’m not sure if I ever can. I just remember feeling like, for that moment in time, I wanted to die.”
“No Rin--” She cut him off, placing her hand over his mouth.
“Shhh, Squall…please. I’m not saying honestly wanted to die. I’m just saying I remember feeling that every horrible event that ever happened to me, cumulated into that one moment. As I said, I don’t remember what she showed me…but the pain is still hidden inside me.”
“Please sit back down,” the headmaster offered. “If you don’t face this now, it could tear you apart. Not just Rinoa, but the trust and bond that is forming between you. Ultimecia took the past, and played it against her. Time, space, meaning…it’s all irrelevant in her reality. She can take bits and pieces of conversations and memories, turning them into a deadly montage. You can hear the voices, see the faces…but it doesn’t mean it happened that way. It’s like building a quilt from the fabric of time. You can take sections and cut them, fit them into a pattern that you desire.”
Edea tried to simplify, “It’s like getting a ransom note cut from magazine articles. The words are all part of other stories, but if you cut them out, and re-arrange them…you can spell out any story you want.”
Squall looked over at Rinoa, waiting for her reaction. She nodded sitting back onto the couch. He still wasn’t comfortable with the idea, and hesitated obviously before finally giving in.
“So what do we do?” Rinoa’s voice extremely soft and unsure.
“You find out what she used against you, so it could never be used against you again.”
“Rinoa,” Edea offered sympathetically. “You are going to have to relive it again. Your mind will unlock it as a repressed memory…the only thing is, it will feel like she is there with you. You will experience the same sensations as last time, but this time you will remember.”
“I don’t like this.” Squall had to be the voice of reason. Then again, what was reason given the situation? Of course, he didn’t like it, but what was his choice? To let it dwell inside, until it built up and broke an emotional floodgate. If living with the pain now, could help them in the future, he would have to reluctantly agree. Still, that didn’t mean he had to like it.
“I don’t like it either.” She looked at his eyes, trying to hide her fear. “But I have to figure it out – I have to remember.”
He hadn’t seen her lying in a bed since the hospital in Deling. When she slept peacefully, it brought his thoughts back to an earlier time. A metamorphosis that would change both of their lives forever. Now she was going to relive the pain, the nightmare. Squall hadn’t said more than two words to Cid and Edea since Rinoa had agreed. Now he sat in a chair leaning his arms on the bed. Both of his hands carefully wrapped around her left hand, and he tried to veil his concern with a grin.
“That bad huh?” She returned the gesture trying not to show her fear, although her trembling hand revealed her apprehension. He released one of her hands, slowly moving his fingers through her hair. “Squall, I’ll be okay…promise.”
“I know Rinoa. Just don’t know how well I’ll do.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Hey guys.” Edea walked in with a glass of water. She carefully set it down on the nightstand, handing Rinoa two small white pills. “They’re to help you sleep. Just remember you are going to experience the memory, as if it were happening right now.”
“Okay…” She sat up and putting the two capsules in her mouth, followed by a sip of water. “Edea, how come I will remember this time?”
“Because your mind says that your conscience is ready. You had both the key and lock, now you are merely putting them together.” Rinoa nodded in understanding, still a little lost, but trusted the older woman nonetheless. She lay back down, turning to face her knight. Moving one hand under the pillow, the other still remained tightly entwined with Squall’s fingers.
For several minutes, he watched Rinoa. She watched him until her eyes became too heavy, and the laws of gravity could no longer be denied. The hurried breaths of consciousness, turned into the rhythmic pattern found only in sleep. Once and a while her body would twitch. With every movement that passed, he wanted to wake her up, and look into her normally carefree eyes.
And then suddenly, it looked as if she was having and epileptic seizure. Her body convulsed as she thrashed her head from side to side. Squall stood up, grabbing both of her arms. At this point, he almost had his entire body weight resting on her forearms, trying to keep her from hurting herself. He couldn’t believe the amount of strength it was taking to restrain her.
“Get her out of this!”
“No,” Edea spoke in a motherly tone containing equal amounts of love and firmness. “It would be more dangerous not let her finish this out.”
“What exactly is she seeing?” His voiced cracked, as he could hardly keep his calm.
“I don’t know Squall. As I said earlier, it is a combination of the past and her present before she became possessed. Ultimecia will use her thoughts against her, and the thoughts of those around her.”
“What!? You didn’t say anything about the thoughts of others. You mean anything I ever thought…she might hear?”
“Yes Squall, I said that Ultimecia had the ability to play any event recorded on the event horizon of time. I’m sorry, if I didn’t make that clear enough. It wasn’t only her thoughts, it is anybody’s past. Yours included…she could have heard, or seen, anything in your past too. Anyone’s for that matter. But Ultimecia would’ve been selective, and gone for the ones most likely to destroy her will. Sometimes surrendering looks like the only option, you are now forced to feel the burden of pain…everyone’s. Ultimecia will look like the mother figure; tell her what she wants to hear…fill the empty void. She will be the only presence that can bring Rinoa solace…and so, Rinoa will surrender. We know the outcome, but the story goes untold…until now.”
He closed his eyes. How could he tell Matron that Ultimecia wouldn’t have even had to turn some of his thoughts around? How could he tell Rinoa? When they first met, he had so many negative thoughts about her…but it was just how he reacted to everyone. One’s inner thoughts were meant to be their own, and right now, it felt like some sort of mental rape…he honestly felt ill. It wasn’t the time to think about it, but for a brief second, he actually felt remorse for being in Laguna’s thoughts without permission. Either for good or for bad, it was still an intrusion that was gained without permission.
“Hyne Rinoa…please forgive me.”