~Chapter 5: The Voices Within~
Final Fantasy and all its characters belong to Squaresoft.
A wise man has doubts even in his best moments.
Real truth is always accompanied by hesitations.
If I could not hesitate, I could not believe.
- Henry David Thoreau
Elise shuffled through the papers for the nineteenth time in the last five minutes. She put her head against the cool surface of the desk. Answers escaped her; she felt as if she had outstretched her hand as far as possible…and he was still falling away from her. From himself. Nothing seemed to reach him.
She thought that perhaps she should call him to see if he was all right. She hesitantly started to pick up the phone before she stopped herself. He would probably still be asleep. Sleep was probably the best thing for him right now. It would be wrong to deprive him of it just to ease her own mind.
This was so damn frustrating.
She walked over and grabbed his file off the filing shelf. The doctor took out a small set of tapes from the large folder. There had to be something, something that she missed. Something that held answers she didn’t know. She searched the dates until she found what she was looking for. The cassettes that had been recorded before she had come here. She placed one into the cassette player and pushed the play button.
“So Squall, this will be our last session together. I suppose we could start with how you’re feeling today?”
“Well doctor, like I tell you every time you start out with that question…I’m fine.” The other voice replied in a sardonic nature. Elise couldn’t help but smile; she remembered that statement well.
“So what has been going on in your life since our last session, anything new?”
“You live at this Garden too; you know what’s going on as much as I do. I still don’t understand why we have to go through this line of questioning every single time.”
“My apologies, it’s just standard psychological questioning. I’m just trying to start a conversation with you. I’ve been transferred to the new Garden facility in Esthar. My replacement will be meeting you next week. I knew her in medical school; she’s a very charming young lady. Quite the looker too. I think you’ll like her.”
“Oh dear God,” She said with a flush of embarrassment. That remark should go over well.
“Am I supposed to care? All of you are all the same. She can pour on all the charm and looks she wants too. That won’t stop me from not giving a damn about these pointless sessions. Can we change the subject?”
She remembered that first day. Hyne it had been a nightmare.
“Okay, what would you like to talk about then Squall?”
“Whatever. Doesn’t matter.”
The voice of the doctor remained as composed as ever. “Well like I’ve said before, the benefit of these sessions comes from the effort on your part to communicate your problems. Get them out in the open.”
“Well sorry, I can’t really think of anything I need to air out. Except maybe the fact that I am tired of sitting through these things. I wish you would just sign that piece of paper and get me out of this stupid agreement with Garden. I function as normally as I always have.”
“Why are you closing up again?”
“I don’t recall that I’ve ever been open with you.”
“I thought we made significant progress during the last session, I truly think it is the furthest we have come since the beginning. Do you not wish to explore this dream… these new reflections further?”
There was a long pause of silence until Squall muttered something unrecognizable.
“What did you say?”
“I said no. I don’t want to talk about it again.”
Elise stopped the tape and rewound it back to try and decipher what Squall said. Through experience, she had come to understand his garbled muttering. She increased the volume and listened again.
“Do you not wish to explore these new reflections further?”
She was able to make it out. And to hear it broke her heart all over again.
“No…hurts…too much.” She allowed the tape to continue this time.
“What did you say?”
“I said no. I don’t want to talk about it again.”
“Very well. What is on your mind then?”
The doctor hadn’t been able to get any further with him. Squall continued to dodge all of his attempts throughout the remainder of the session. The memories he had talked about earlier were not mentioned again. After the tape ended, she looked through the rest of the tapes for the previous session. It appeared to be missing.
“Figures,” Elise sighed. Apparently, it was on file in Esthar now by mistake. She would have to track it down in their medical records. The fact that Dr. Stevens had transferred Gardens yet again would not make the task any easier. She had a feeling that there was something in it that was significant. Something he had never discussed with her before. It was only a feeling; it could turn out to be nothing. But she felt the need to make sure.
Just then, the door to her office opened as one of her assistants poked her head into the office.
“Elise, Squall is here.”
“Oh really?” She was surprised he had come. “Send him in. You’d think he’d know by now that he doesn’t need an appointment to see me.”
“He’s not in the waiting room,” the young girl said. “He’s in the infirmary.”
The blankets flew as Squall woke with a start. The same dream. He wished it were nothing more than just a dream. It had been plaguing him more and more in the last few days. He sat on the edge of the bed, trying to remember how he got back here. The digital clock read 8:15 on the nightstand. He had not been this late for work since he had become headmaster of Trabia. Balamb was a different story altogether. But surprisingly today, he didn’t care. It wasn’t as if he were reverting back to old habits. He was better now. That was a long time ago. He was fine now. Sure, he slipped a little this morning, but everyone has bad days right?
“Bad days…yes. Living nightmares…no.”
He shook the thought from his mind as he walked across the room in search of a pair of pants. The phone ringing in the other room interrupted his quest. Maybe they would go away. The ringing persisted however as he managed his other leg into one of the pant legs. He buttoned them with a sigh and walked briskly to retrieve the reverberating menace. It was most likely Elise calling to check up on him. Sometimes he had to admit that he missed his solitude.
“Hey Squall! They said you weren’t in the head office today. You feeling alright?”
“Yeah I’m fine, just feeling a little under the weather this morning. It’s nothing.”
“You do know that it’s impossible to lie to me don’t you? I will eventually find out the truth.”
“Yeah, I know Sis, but you have to give me the benefit of trying.”
Ellone laughed. “Yes, I suppose I do. Seriously though, you’re okay?”
“Yes I’m seriously okay Sis, stop worrying so much. God you’re worse than Quistis.”
“Of course, where do you think she learned all her trade skills?”
“Mystery solved,” he said lightly.
“Well that’s one down,” she said good-naturedly. “There’s one more though, the reason I’m calling as a matter of fact. Have you talked to Uncle Laguna lately?”
The name sent fire searing around the edges of his vision. “No,” he lied. “No, I haven’t.”
“I don’t know what’s going on. But he won’t tell me anything. He’s been acting so weird for the past couple of days.”
“Try the past couple of decades,” he said to himself.
“Squall, you still there?”
“Yeah, yeah I’m here. I really don’t know. I’m not sure why you’re asking me about this, I mean you see him much more than I do,” he said a little more sharply than he intended. “Besides he never told me anything, don’t think he would be busting at the seams to start telling me things now.”
“Squall…what’s going on?”
“Nothing. I’m just telling you what I know.”
“You’re lying to me.”
“No I’m not!” He suddenly felt a gray haziness fill his mind. His eyes became heavy as he sank to his knees. “No…no Ellone please,” he pleaded. “Don’t do this…” It continued to consume him. The darkness was rising as he fell. He couldn’t let her in…not now.
“Get out!!!” He screamed. It was so forceful that Ellone dropped the phone on the other end of the line.
“Ellone, I can’t talk to you right now.”
“I only want to help you.”
“Yeah, go right ahead why don’t you? Help yourself to my thoughts like you always do!”
“No…that’s not it at all…”
“Look I have enough problems without you nosing and scratching around in my head. Go screw with someone else’s life Sis!” With that, he slammed the phone down. He wrapped his arms around his knees as he brought them to his chest and rested his head against them. Squall could add yet another person to the list of people he had managed to alienate in the past twenty-four hours.
“Nice job Leonhart. At this rate you’ll be the only one attending your funeral.”
He sighed in frustration. Why didn’t anyone believe he was okay? Why wouldn’t they just accept the fact that he was capable of handling his own problems? Why couldn’t he believe it?
“When did I lose control again?”
No. That wasn’t true. He was always in control. No one had a hold on him. There was nothing holding him back. He was fine. He just needed something to vent his frustrations out on. Squall walked over to the chest of drawers and searched an open drawer for a small flask hidden beneath his folded shirts. He twisted the cap and turned the vessel up. It burned going down his throat and surged like lightning through his body. Setting a spark that started a fire within his soul. He wiped the access liquid from his lips and took his gunblade out of the case on the floor. It was time for something else to feel his pain.
He walked through the halls silently striding past the students and faculty who greeted him. It had been weeks since he had made use of his gunblade. It wasn’t like him to go this long without practice. That wasn’t good; it made him think too much. He needed the feel of battle, the adrenaline rush, and the weight of the gunblade resting in his hands. It was part of who he was. This brought a balance to his being that few things could match especially not the paperwork or politics. Maybe this was the need that he sought for.
The training center was literally a polar opposite to the one he had come to know at Balamb. The tropical environment that the T-Rexaurs and Grats inhabited was not possible to create in the frozen temperatures of Trabia even with the aid of modern technology. So the facility was adapted to house the wildlife of the region while at the same time keeping a temperature warm enough for human occupants. It still presented the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite. And the fact that most of the monsters had ice elemental magic did nothing to reduce the risk. Therefore, no one was ever allowed to enter the training center alone, not even the instructors or SeeDs themselves. Of course, if you make the rules, then you’re also entitled to break them.
The area was vast and white with only a few flares of color underneath the snow-covered branches of the evergreen forest. The ice crunched beneath his feet as Squall walked through the double doors and out into the woodland. The world was still around him as he walked along the trail. He revered in the silence that he had not heard in some time. The rush of air from the cooling vents encircled him, rustling his hair and the fur on his jacket. It seemed to swallow everything around him, engulfing him in a peaceful Eden of solitude. One that was immediately shattered by the laughter that broke out from the two cadets up ahead of him.
He scowled. Damn kids. The training center wasn’t designed for friendly outings. It was a training center. A place to home in on one’s combat abilities. Abilities that included the element of surprise, which they completely shot to hell. Squall wanted to yell at them, but instead decided to let them find out the hard way. At the split in the trail, he turned down the opposite path of the cadets. Even then, he could still hear their loud banter echoing through the trees.
He sighed and continued on. The trees thickened as he advanced. He was moving into the larger monsters’ territory now. The snow lions were the great bushwhackers; they used the bleached fur on their backs to hide themselves in the snow. A person could be practically on top of one of the monsters before they realized it. Then there were the blue dragons. They were limited to a very few number because they were so savagely territorial. A battle with a blue dragon required the utmost patience and concentration. They were cunning and quick, not driven by hunger but with an unrelenting determination to guard their dominion. Only SeeDs and the upperclassmen were allowed to engage in combat with the dragons, the rest were ordered to run.
A loud roar erupted across from the other side of the training center, followed by two surprised shrieks. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly. Sounded like the cadets had stumbled on one of the snow lions. Literally. He sighed. They were on their own, he wasn’t about to go pull them out of what they fell in to. Maybe next time they’d know to pay more attention to their surroundings. He was interrupted from his thoughts as a low growl brought his attention to the set of glowing red eyes in front of him.
A juvenile dragon emerged from the shadows, its body low to the ground in preparation for a strike. Standing at eye-level it would have been about a head taller than Squall himself. He did not take the size for granted however as he removed his gunblade from its sheath and planted his feet firmly in a battle position. The old feeling slowly came back to him. He felt the blood coursing through his veins and the acidic taste in his mouth. The feeling of all his senses coming together and focusing on only one thing. An opponent. He gripped the hilt of his gunblade and licked his dry lips. The dragon advanced cautiously, it to seeming to size up its adversary. Squall smiled as he stomped one of his feet against the ground in a taunting manner. “Let’s dance you and me.”
The dragon roared and charged the young man. He met the dragon’s lunge with a lunge of his own, ducking and slicing at one of the monster’s hindquarters. It howled in rage and hurled down upon him in an attempt to tear into this new threat with its wide jaws. Squall immediately dodged the attack and continued his assault on the beast, parrying each move with flawless accuracy. It wasn’t long before his dominating control had the dragon backing up into a defensive position in a desperate attempt to protect itself. Its instincts told the creature to run from this relentless human, yet its stubborn sense of pride kept it fighting on in the quickly turning battle. The dragon sidestepped and wheeled around on its hind legs searching for an opening. The human countered its every move as if he could foresee the future. All seemed lost until alarmingly the human stopped fighting completely and turned his attention to something else.
Squall froze as a very familiar weapon whizzed through the air and landed in a tree just a few feet away from him. He felt his heart stop as he stared at the shining pinwheel in a mixture of reverence and confusion. He suddenly forgot everything around him.
“Oh Hyne, what the hell are you aiming at?” One of the cadets yelled to the other.
“Nothing! It slipped! Just shut up and run Nicole!”
“I’m running! I’m running!” The girl replied before her foot became entangled in an unseen branch on the ground sending her skidding across the snow. She turned and tried to pry her foot from its entrapment. She panicked as she saw the large blue dragon leap from out of the timber and quickly close in upon her.
“Shit!” She took aim at the monster and fired the blaster edge. The dragon roared as the blade dug into its shoulder. Yet it did very little to slow the creature down. “Kristine! Wait! I’m caught! Help me!”
The other cadet wheeled around and ran back to help her friend. “Hang on I’m coming!”
“Hurry! I…can’t fight this thing alone!”
"I couldn't...I just couldn't."
"I couldn't fight alone..."
Squall heard the words echo in his mind; he saw the blade of her weapon protruding from the tree. His mind suddenly became flooded and overtaken with old images. She was in trouble. Rinoa was in trouble, and he had to help her. He promised. He turned and started to run towards them. The dragon suddenly saw its opportunity and leapt onto him, knocking him into the ground with a forceful blow. It tore at his back with its dagger sharp claws. Squall cried out as pain brought him crashing back into reality again. He tried to force the creature off his back, but it was of no use. It was all he could do to move. His arms flailed desperately trying to locate his gunblade somewhere in the frozen white around him. The dragon clasped the side of the young man’s head and pushed it further into the snow. It lowered its own head closer to its captor who could feel its hot rancid breath on the exposed part of his face. It seemed to be taking time to revel in its victory. It wailed in triumph as it raised its head into the air and prepared to deal its killing blow.
Squall closed his eyes and waited for the end. This was how he was meant to die. Cold and alone, with more pain than he had ever known. It was all the pain of the last seven years, rising up into the moment, where he had failed her.
Kristine was busy trying to pull her friend out of the snagged tree branch as the dragon in front of them howled and clawed at its eyes. She managed to pull Nicole free as they both rose to their feet in a dead run.
“How long will that blind spell last?” Nicole asked with sheer panic in her voice. At the same moment, they both became aware of the quick tremors of the monsters footsteps closing in behind them.
“Not long enough!” Kristine yelled. “Run faster!”
“You don’t have to tell me twice!”
As its vision cleared, the large dragon saw its quarry and quickened its pace to the clearing up ahead. It fled past the two human nuisances and charged the young dragon that had been foolish enough to enter in to its territory. The two cadets stopped baffled in their tracks as they watched the dragon speed past them.
The young dragon stopped in mid lunge and turned just in time to see the other dragon leap into the air and hit his body full force to the ground. The battle before now quickly forgotten as it squealed and clawed frantically at the massive weight that was now bearing down on it. It flapped its wings in a desperate attempt to escape and screamed as it felt the flesh being torn from its body.
“Well that was exciting, eh Kris?” Nicole said casually.
Kristine looked at her incredulously.
The cadet laughed nervously in reply. “Okay you’re right, what say we walk away from this very…very quickly,” she said as she turned and began to jog the other way.
“Wait a minute,” Kristine said looking again to make sure that her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. “Oh my God, there’s someone over there!”
“On the ground, there’s someone on the ground over there!”
The two cadets ran towards the still form in the snow, lying just meters away from where the dragons were locked in battle.
“Oh Hyne, it’s the headmaster!”
“Quick, grab an arm we’ll drag him out of here.”
Squall groaned as the two girls lifted him and put an arm around each of their necks. He opened his eyes slowly to see the ground moving quickly beneath him. He heard voices yelling around him. They sounded so foreign. The pain was so excruciating. Even as the darkness filled his vision, he still could not escape the thought that he had failed her all over again.
Quistis panicked in the absolute silence that descended in the room after the last word fell from her lips. She knew she shouldn’t have told her. It certainly wouldn’t help in her recovery, if anything it would hinder it. But she couldn’t lie to Rinoa, she wouldn’t. It was the last thing the poor girl deserved. And perhaps in the end, telling her now would save her the heartache of having to find out about it later.
Rinoa tried to process the information she had just received. Everything was coming in waves. Her mind had taken in all the realities up until now while her heart refused to accept any of it. It was all so confusing to a girl that had a dark and empty void in the place of the past seven years. The last she remembered when she looked into a mirror, she was seventeen. So with the mindset of a seventeen-year-old, she said the first thought that came to her.
“Well…he’s not married.”
Quistis stared at the girl. That was the last thing she was expecting to hear. She searched her eyes for any sign of emotion. Sadness, anger, anything at all, but there was none to be found. It worried her; she had prepared herself for anything. Screaming, crying, shouting, cursing…everything but the faceless expression she was seeing now. It was the same one she saw when she told her about her father. She hoped her friend wasn’t burying the feelings inside her, only to have them resurface and consume her later. When Rinoa looked back at her, the young headmaster gave her a reassuring smile. “Things are going to be okay, Rin.” Rinoa gave her the smallest of smiles in return.
“Thank you…thank you for being here Quistis,” she said gratefully.
“I…I’m going to try and sleep now. I want you to go get some rest too. I’ll be fine. Now go, that’s an order from the invalid.” She gave her a wink.
“Are you sure? Really I’m fine, I can stay here its not a prob--”
“Quistis,” Rinoa interrupted, looking at her in earnest. “Go.” She wasn’t going to back down from this. And try as she might, Quistis was not able to put up much of a fight…she was so very tired.
“Alright, alright,” the blonde woman sighed. “But I won’t be far, I’ll be back to check on you later okay?”
“I’ll be right here. Not as if I could go anywhere.” She laughed, and yet the humor that was meant to be in the statement was nonexistent.
“See you soon,” Quistis said as she turned the light above the bed off and tucked in the extra blanket around the dark haired woman. Rinoa closed her eyes. The headmaster took one more look at her friend before she turned and hesitantly walked out of the door.
After the soft sound of the door pulling too, she opened her eyes again in the darkness. Seven years of her life had evaporated into oblivion in a frozen chamber. Caraway…no…her father, he was dead. And the man that she loved all those years ago, he had found someone else.
“Things are going to be okay, Rin.”
“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Everything will be fine.”