~Chapter 4: Time’s Scar~
Final Fantasy and all its characters belong to Squaresoft.
Where you came from never existed,
Where you are going never will,
And where you are now doesn't matter,
Unless you can get away from it.
The bothersome alarm clock on the nightstand tolled the hour of dawn. It greeted the new day as it greeted all the yesterdays before it with a high-pitched irritating pulse. It was then again rewarded for its efforts with a hard smack to the head. This ritual shorted most life spans of the alarm clocks that dwelled in the bedroom of Squall Leonhart.
The ceiling was still white. Squall sighed as he realized he’d been staring at the same ceiling for six hours now. He hadn’t slept at all, his mind reeling with the events of the past, the events of the future. His mind was working overtime…yet again. The young man put his hands behind his head when Elise stirred slightly beside him. He had discovered her ability to sleep through most anything the hard way. The alarm clock used to be on her side of the bed.
She rolled over and snuggled closer to him, her hand reaching over and falling onto his chest. He put an arm around her reflexively, even as his thoughts had taken him miles away. A shimmering light brought him back to the earth for an instant as his eyes caught sight of the engagement ring that rested on his chest. He remembered when he had first seen it on his way back from Galbadia Garden…when he had stopped in Timber…Squall tried to shake the memory from his mind but it continued to plague him, playing like an old black and white movie in his mind.
He hadn’t really meant to go to Timber. There were alternate roads…but he was already on the outskirts of the small town before he realized where he was. Perhaps something had lead him here; maybe he was destined to confront old memories here. Or maybe he just couldn’t let go. Whatever the reason, he parked the vehicle on the side of the road and began walking down the cobbled street. It had been in the window of the first store that caught his eye. It just had to be a jewelry store didn’t it? Sure, the thought had crossed his mind and Elise had dropped him subtle hints now and again. But he had never gone far enough into the decision to buy a ring. It was a hurdle he couldn’t seem to get over. Yet now, it was something that suddenly seemed very reachable as he stared through the glass at the shining diamond.
If he could do this, here of all places, then he could prove something to himself. That he was ready to move on, ready to leave the past behind him and start a future for himself. It was what his friends had been telling him to do for years now. Maybe it was time. She had been waiting for him to make a move, he could tell. He could do this for her, he owed her that much. Another thought crossed his mind that sent a chill up his spine. If he didn’t do this, if he didn’t move forward with their relationship, she would grow tired and she would leave him. He didn’t know if he could take losing someone all over again. With a newfound steel resolve, he entered the store and showed the jeweler which ring he wanted. He guessed the size as best he could; he assumed that he’d be forgiven if he chose incorrectly.
“This isn’t as hard as I thought it’d be,” he said to himself. It seemed to get easier by the minute. He actually was beginning to feel excited about giving this to her, to see the expression on her face. Sure, she had been dropping the hints, but it was something that she wouldn’t be expecting him to go through. His lips managed a small smile at the thought of seeing her in a state of complete shock. And happy. Yes, he was ready to spend the rest of his life making her happy.
He handed his cash card to the clerk as he heard a familiar sound. He turned to look out the window. A train was pulling out of the station. He closed his eyes. No, it was nothing to be worked up about; he’d been on plenty of trains…without her. One of the other customers in the store suddenly looked down at a ticket and then looked up in horror.
“Oh Shit!” He exclaimed. “That’s my train!” He flew out of the store in a diehard run screaming at the moving engine while waving his ticket frantically.
“Wait! Stop the train! Don’t leave yet! Wait for me!”
Suddenly the man was replaced with another in his mind as Squall watched the man’s retreating figure.
"WaaaaaaTTTS!!! C'MON! The Galbadian soldiers are comin'!!!” Zone had yelled from the back of the train as it began move.
"Hey...!!!" "Don't leave me, sirrrr!" Watts ran down the tracks in a desperate attempt to catch the locomotive.
He had looked over at her then; she was doubled over with laughter. It was a beautiful and melodic sound that echoed in his mind. And that smile, that smile that held him from the beginning. The smile that was still there in the end…
“Sir? You okay?”
He turned back to the store clerk. “Yeah…yeah I’m fine.”
“Took a little trip did you son?” The man chuckled as he handed the card back to him with a small piece of paper. “Just need your signature here and you can hurry home to that woman you’re thinking about.”
“Okay,” he replied as he began signing the receipt.
“So what’s her name kid? Must be a someone really special for that ring eh?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Yeah her name is Rin—…” He stopped himself before he could finish. A surge of cold ran through him as he tried to shake himself from what he had just done. “Elise,” he corrected in a smaller, more uncertain voice. “Her name is Elise.”
“Whoa pal!” The clerk laughed again. “Better be sure to get her name right when you propose! They’re not too fond of the name slip-ups.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Squall replied as he took the small box from the man and turned to leave. If he didn’t have the expression of a criminal on his face as he exited the jewelry store, he would have run as hard as he could.
Squall rubbed his eyes wearily with his free hand. He didn’t need to be reminded of that memory today. Why was it so hard to let her go? “I barely knew her…” he told himself. He had known Elise much longer…and yet…it still wasn’t the same. One reason he knew…was the guilt. The guilt had consumed him completely. For a long time afterward, it was all he could do to function. It took all he had just to breathe. Had it not been for his friends, or Elise, he would have never been able to pull himself out of it. They had helped him find something to live for again. He would never forget the sacrifices they made for him, ever. Now it was just a day-to-day thing for him. Some were far better than others were. This one was starting to seem like one of the latter.
He had made a decision…he was going to get up.
Carefully, he slid out of Elise’s grasp so not to wake her. He winced as his feet met the cold bite of the stone tile on the floor. This was certainly one thing he was going to see changed while he was headmaster here. Having tile floors in a place with subzero temperatures was absolutely ridiculous. Squall thought that maybe a shower would help him feel better as he made giant steps towards the bathroom on his heels.
Squall closed his eyes and allowed the hot water to beat against his back. He tried to clear his mind of everything; he tried not to think. He stood in that position and tried until the water temperature became lukewarm. Elise was going to kill him. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist before sliding the shower door open and stepping out. One foot had made it out onto the rug before he froze in horror.
The steam from the heat had fogged up the large mirror in front of him completely save for the streaks that ran vertically down the middle. He tried to blink it away, certain it was only his imagination again. Yet when he reopened his eyes, they were still there. He stepped towards the mirror cautiously reaching towards the mirror to the five slender streaks of water that looked unmistakably like…fingers.
“Hyne, I’m losing my mind.” The young man said quietly to himself. He stepped out of the bathroom and looked towards the bed. Elise hadn’t moved. Quickly he threw on a t-shirt and a pair of boxers before he stumbled to the kitchen. He reached into the cabinet and grabbed a bottle of pills along with a half-empty bottle of vodka. He put one of the pills in his hand and fumbled with the cap on the liquor bottle. Squall popped the pill into his mouth and turned the bottle up to wash it down. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be doing this, but he had to do something before he completely lost it. He needed this right now. He wouldn’t lose control of it this time. It was just one drink. Yet he could just hear Elise now in his mind, giving another one of her lectures.
“What have I told you about mixing alcohol and antidepressants Squall?” Came a voice from behind him.
He sat the bottle down and slid it slowly to the middle of the table. “Uh…don’t do it?”
“That’s right,” Elise said angrily as she came around the table and sat in the chair beside of him. “So why am I catching you in the act hmm? Which is definitely a surprise seeing how by this time you’re up and off to…Squall? What’s wrong? God you’re shaking, are you alright?”
“Fine. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine!” Elise said somewhat taken aback by his appearance. He looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. His skin was pale, his eyes were dark circled and bloodshot. But the most striking thing was the absolute terror she could see in them.
“Nothing…just didn’t sleep.”
“Did you have another dream?”
“Squall don’t shut me out like this again, tell me what’s going on. I want to help,” she pleaded.
“I’ll be fine, I just need to get ready and head to the office.”
She pulled him back down into his seat. “No, you aren’t going anywhere like this. Now sit down!”
“Look, there wasn’t anything in the refrigerator…I just needed something so I could swallow my medication, it was the closest thing handy. See? I’m done with it,” Squall said as he pushed the bottle over to her. “Take it.”
Elise sat the bottle aside. “Look at me Squall,” she said firmly. He shifted in his seat and turned away. “Damn it, look at me!” He gazed up at her slowly, the shame and guilt filling his eyes to the point of overflowing.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered.
She slid her chair over and took him into her arms. “It’s okay,” she said as she gently caressed his back. “We all slip up. It’s what we get for being human. I just didn’t know you were hurting this bad. You have this unrelenting wall of defenses that I can’t see past. I can’t read your mind. Then again, maybe I want things to be normal so badly that it clouds my eyes, and I can’t see it. Just please Squall, please come to me before you go to that thing,” she said as she nodded towards the vodka bottle.
“Alright,” he said as he hung limply in her arms. He wanted it to be normal again too, but it had been so long…he had forgotten what normal was. Truth be told, he never thought he knew it at all.
“You want to tell me what’s bothering you?”
“Just…a lot on my mind lately,” he said slowly. “Yesterday really bothered me…the way Laguna acted.”
“I know…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have kept pushing you.”
“No, it's alright, you were right; I had to tell him…better to find out now than later how he feels about me. Then again, I thought I already knew. This shouldn’t have even come as a surprise.”
“Squall you’re going to have to give him the benefit of the doubt. I admit, what you told me did sound strange. But, I’m also sure that his job is very stressful. He probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded. I mean hell, we all know how addle brained you get sometimes,” she laughed softly.
“Ha, ha, very funny,” He said against her shoulder. She could feel him smile a little. It gave her some relief.
“But seriously, I’m sure he has a lot of stuff on his plate right now. What with Esthar Garden’s first graduation being only three months away. I think you should try talking to him again, when you’re ready to. Give him a chance to explain to you, take time and listen to what he has to say. Maybe it won’t change a damn thing, but at least it won’t be left…unresolved like this.”
“I’ll try. But no promises.”
“I didn’t ask for any now did I? Elise said lightly.
“Guess not,” Squall replied. The medications combined with the lack of sleep were beginning to take effect. He felt dizzy and closed his eyes against the spinning of the room.
“I want you to stay in today,” Elise continued in a more serious tone. “I’ll arrange things with the head office, and everything will be fine. You could use a day off anyway, I can’t remember the last time you had one can you? Come by the office later when you feel up to it. I think you could do with another physical just to see how this medicine is working for you and then maybe we could talk more in one of those doctor-patient settings…instead of at the kitchen table,” She ran a hand through his damp hair. “How does that sound?”
There was no response.
Elise became aware of the slow breathing against her neck. He had fallen asleep. She held him tighter as she lost what remaining composer she had. The tears now falling freely from her eyes…she never wanted him to see how much this scared her.
“I love you so much Squall,” she whispered, feeling his heart beat against her own. “I just want you to be happy.”
She looked over at the vodka still sitting on the table. With one hand, she knocked it over. It made a small clank as it met the table. The contents surged out of the open mouth of the bottle. It rolled to a stop as its life-blood spilled across the wooden surface and dripped to the linoleum floor without a sound.
Quistis was roused from sleep by a muffled sob. At first, she thought she was dreaming, until she heard it again. “Rinoa?” She stood up trying to adjust her eyes to the dim light. It was barely dawn. The small light above Rinoa’s hospital bed had been turned on. Her blurred vision focused on the light source as she staggered across the room.
“Rinoa are you okay? What’s wrong?”
Rinoa looked over at the young woman, her eyes full of tears. “God Quistis, what have they done to me?” She had grown tired of staring at the ceiling for the past eternity of hours. She didn’t want to wake Quistis however. So, she fumbled her fingers around until she had found the hand-held control for the bed. She kept pressing buttons until she found the one to elevate herself into a half-sitting position. What she saw had horrified her.
Quistis pulled a chair over and sat beside the young woman. She took hold of one of her hands comfortingly. “They had to hook you up to a lot of machines Rin, to help you out of the unsealing process. Don’t worry though; the doctors said they would take most of these away soon when you improve a little more. They say your recovery is coming along fantastically, much faster than they expected. I’ll bet you’ll be out of here in no time flat.”
“I…won’t always be like this?”
“No sweetie, no of course not.” The blonde haired woman reached over, took the cloth from the nightstand, and used it to wipe the tears from Rinoa’s face. She didn’t have the heart to tell her they had taken several of the wires and tubes out of her yesterday. This was a vast improvement.
“Thank you,” Rinoa managed. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to wake you. I just…Hyne I look like a switchboard.”
Quistis managed a small laugh. “Think you can make a collect call to Fisherman’s Horizon?”
Rinoa laughed softly before her face became solemn again. “He doesn’t know, does he?”
Quistis sighed regretfully; she had been expecting this. “No Rin, he doesn’t know yet.”
“That’s good,” she said. “Don’t tell him.”
“What?” That statement had shocked her.
“I don’t…I don’t want him to see me…like this.”
“I understand, don’t worry, I won’t tell him…there are only a small handful of people that know. And they are all very trustworthy.”
“The man you were talking to?”
“Who? Oh, yes that’s Laguna Loire. He’s S--, he’s the President of Esthar.”
“He sounds a little old for you Quisty,” Rinoa gave her friend a sly look.
“Oh no!” Quistis laughed. “No it’s not like that! He’s an old friend. He helped us during the battle with Ultimecia. He’s also worked very hard the last several years to find a way to get you out of the Sorceress’s Memorial.”
“I owe him a huge debt of gratitude then, will he be coming back?”
“Oh yes, I’m sure he will stop by today. He’s very anxious to talk with you. He knew your mother a long time ago.”
“Really? Oh, I’m sure Caraway would be thrilled to hear that. He would hardly let other men come within fifty feet of her. I guess he knows about all this? I’m not at all surprised that he isn’t here.”
Quistis looked around nervously. “Hey, the doctor told me you could drink a little water if you wanted to. Would you like some?”
The headmaster walked over and poured a small amount of water out of the pitcher into a Styrofoam cup on a nearby table. She placed a straw in the cup and walked back over to the bed. She positioned the cup so that Rinoa could drink from the straw. After a couple of struggled sips, she spat the water back up in a coughing fit.
Quistis panicked. “Are you alright?”
“It’s freezing!” She replied between coughs.
“Hyne, I’m so sorry,” the older woman apologized. She quickly grabbed the cloth and wiped the liquid from Rinoa’s chin and neck.
“It’s okay, just wasn’t expecting Trabian iceberg water.”
Quistis curiously stuck a finger into the cup and pulled it out with a bit of surprise.
“This water is room temperature Rin,” she said hesitantly.
“Really? We must be in the meat locker then,” she said with a small smile. “Guess it’s a side effect or something. It’s okay, I’m not thirsty anyway.”
“Okay,” Quistis replied as she returned to her seat. “Is there anything you need? Do you want to lie back down?”
“Not right now. What I do want is to know what you’re not telling me Quistis. Please, don’t hide things from me.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry…there are some things I need to tell you,” she said softly. “I’m just not sure how to.”
"Hey, just don't tell me that in some ironic turn of events, you and Squall got married while I was away." Rinoa gave her a wink.
“Oh Hyne no!” Quistis couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s nothing that unbelievable!”
She took a moment to collect herself before continuing. “Rinoa, your father…he died a couple of years ago.”
Rinoa said nothing, it was almost impossible to see any emotion in her eyes at all. For many, it would be hard to hold up the barriers against that sort of devastating news. Quistis was aware of some of the feelings the girl had towards her father. She didn’t know the whole story, but there was something dark and deeply buried between them. She figured this would be the easier news to take. She wanted to delay the inevitable as long as possible.
“Was he alone?”
“I…I think he was. One of his lieutenants found him on the floor of the study early that morning.”
Rinoa bowed her head slightly. “I know I should be feeling more for his passing…a part of me hurts that there was so much left unfinished. But, the bitterness is so overpowering Quistis…there’s so much. I don’t know if he even deserves to be mourned. He certainly didn’t spend any time grieving over my mother. I doubt he even grieved for me.”
Quistis looked at her sadly.
Rinoa’s eyes began to shimmer. “He never came did he? To see me?”
“No Rin, I’m sorry…he didn’t, not that I was ever aware of.”
She closed her eyes and tried desperately to bite back the tears that were threatening to fall. She wouldn’t cry because of him. Not anymore.
“He left you the estate in his will. The house and most of the things inside were sold at auction. We were able to get some of your stuff and a few of your mother’s things. But all the money has gone into a trust fund for you. It was to go to the research of the memorial and your unsealing process. When the time came that you would be unsealed, the remaining funds were to go to you.” She felt like she was reading from a textbook. What kind of way was this for anyone to find out about their own father’s death?
“Sounds about right,” Rinoa spat. “The bastard was always trying to win me over with money. Always thought he could buy my cooperation…my silence.”
Her eyelids began to grow heavier, the room began to blur again. “Quistis, can you get me another blanket please? I’m freezing.”
Quistis feared that she might be running a fever. To her, the room was on the verge of being uncomfortably warm. She placed a hand on the girl’s forehead. She definitely wasn’t hot. In fact, she didn’t feel warm at all. The headmaster walked over and grabbed a blanket out of the small closet in the corner of the room. She returned and spread it across the bed, bringing it up to Rinoa’s chin.
“That feel better?” She asked.
“Yes, thank you,” Rinoa replied with closed eyes and a half smile.
“I really think you should rest now,” Quistis said. “We can talk more later, when you’re up to it. You look exhausted.” She took hold of the small control and began to lower the bed back down.
Rinoa grabbed her hand lightly with her fingers. “Wait.”
She stopped and looked at her concernedly. “What is it?”
“Did…did he come? Did he visit me at all?”
Quistis saw the hurt beginning to rise in her eyes. “Yes, Squall did come Rinoa. He came almost every day until it became too hard for him to bear anymore.” She left out the fact that he could never bring up enough strength to go inside the memorial. It wasn’t as important as giving her friend comfort at that moment. But she remembered how he used to bring flowers and sit for hours upon end on the steps of the entranceway.
“What is he doing now?”
“He’s the headmaster at Trabia Garden; he’s been there four years now.”
Rinoa had trouble forming her next words. “He’s…involved with someone isn’t he?”
Quistis turned away, unsure on how to answer the question. She didn’t want to lie to the young woman, yet the truth seemed to hold so much more pain.
“Quistis, please tell me. I can see it in your eyes. He’s either dead or unreachable. Please, I want to know.”
She sighed. Rinoa had a right to know. She had been in love with this man seven years ago, and she could tell from the look in her eyes at that moment, she still did.
“Yes, he is. He’s involved with someone.”
She was silent for a moment. “Is it serious?”
Everything…she should know everything.
“Yes,” Quistis replied with a shuttering sigh. “They’re engaged.”