~Chapter 7: Two Red Roses Across the Moon~
Final Fantasy VIII and all the characters belong to Square.
Moon, worn thin to the width of a quill,
In the dawn clouds flying,
How good to go, light into light, and still
Giving light, dying.
When he awoke, he felt as if he had slept an eternity. He felt the softness of the sheet below him. The only sound that filled his ears was that of his own breathing. The smell of antiseptics filled his nose. He opened his eyes to see an unfamiliar windowpane. But there was no denying that the same moon was staring back at him through the glass.
The moon had always given him a sense of comfort, even when he used to stare up at it on the sandy beaches of his childhood. Even if it was nothing more than a chunk of rock littered with monsters, its light possessed a solace in the darkness of night. A quiet and empty beauty among a billion shimmering stars. But he had never really paid attention to the stars before…until seven years ago.
His mind still dulled by the drugs they had given him, he resumed the task of figuring out where he was. The enigma was solved when he tried to roll over and the pain and the memory came flooding back. It was hazy, but he remembered the dragon. He remembered being shoved into the frozen snow. He remembered being ready to die. Squall felt a pang of emotion fade in to his mind. He wasn’t exactly sure what it was. Guilt, shame…disappointment. He didn’t know.
He tried again to move. It was all he could do to keep from crying out as the pain engulfed his entire body as managed to roll onto his back. He used the rails alongside the bed to pull himself up into a seated position. He grimaced before opening his eyes to survey his surroundings. The first thing he saw was Elise, staring back at him. She was leaning against the wall with her arms folded across her chest.
“Hey,” he croaked.
“Hey,” she replied, her expression remaining unchanged. “How are you feeling?”
“That’s to be expected. The effects of the venom will take another twenty-four hours or so before it runs its course. Until then you will have a lot of muscle discomfort. We were able to repair the majority of the tissue damage you sustained to your back with Curaga spells, but you still needed about two hundred stitches. So there will be some scarring.”
Squalls reached around with a hand and felt the bandages and tape running across his back. “Well, I guess they’ll make a nice addition to the collection,” he said lightly.
Elise raised an eyebrow. “I’m glad you think this is funny.”
He looked into her eyes. They seemed to be burning holes through him. He tried to avoid them. “Have you been here all day?”
“Yes,” she replied as she walked over to the bedside. “I’ve been here since yesterday.”
“That’s right; you’ve been out for nearly twenty-eight hours now.” She took a pin light out of her pocket and shined it into his eyes, interchanging from the right to the left. “Do you feel any dizziness at all?”
“What? No. Wait…you mean you’ve been here this whole time? Hyne Elise you don’t have to stay here with me…go home and get some rest.”
“Oh now you’re concerned about me, that’s nice,” Elise said as she grabbed his wrist and placed two of her fingers over the radial artery. She looked away from him and down to her wristwatch.
“I always care about you Elise,” he replied with a bit more force. “What happened today had nothing to do with you.”
“Yes,” she said while still keeping eyes on her watch. “I’m sure I never crossed your mind once while you were out there.”
He realized unfortunately…she hadn’t.
“Elise,” he sighed. “I don’t know what happened, I just…lost control.”
“You could have lost a lot more than that Squall Leonhart,” she said as she released his arm a little less than gently. Elise reached over and turned his head towards her and began feeling along the sides of his neck.
“I know,” he said slowly. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Your lymph nodes are swollen, some of the bacteria in the wound probably started a little infection. I’ll prescribe some antibiotics for you.” She walked over and wrote something down on his chart. She returned and unwrapped the stethoscope from around her shoulders, placing the ear tips into her ears. Before she could put the other end to his chest, he caught her by the hand.
“I’m sorry,” he said looking at her in earnest. She turned her eyes away from him and jerked her hand from his grasp.
“Damn it look at me! What is it you want me to say?” He said exasperated.
“I’d rather you not say anything and let me do my job!” She resumed placing the diaphragm against his bare chest.
“Ow! Shit!” He yelped. “That’s cold!”
“Yeah?” She replied nonchalantly. “Good. I hung it outside for a while.”
“God, will you stop this and just please talk to me Elise?”
“Shut up and take a deep breath.”
He gave up and complied. He couldn’t reason with her when she was like this. Hell what was there to reason? He didn’t fully understand it himself. How was he supposed to explain it to her?
“Again, and hold it as you exhale this time,” she said as she moved the stethoscope to a different position. He did as he was told as she listened for a few more moments. “Good, all fine,” she said monotonously as she pulled the device from her ears and looped it once more around her shoulders. She returned to the side table where she wrote on his chart again.
“Are we finished now?” He asked while rubbing his eyes.
She slammed the chart down on the counter top. “I don’t know Squall, you tell me!” Her voice dropped its professional tone as it regained an edge of hostility. “Are we?” She was finally looking at him now. Her eyes were full of anger, sadness, and hurt.
“That’s not what I meant—.” He started, before she interrupted him.
“Are you sure? Because I’m sure as hell not anymore! You made a promise to me. I’ve kept up my end of the bargain. I have given everything; done everything I could for you. And I want to know if you’re going to honor your end Squall. Or are we just wasting our time with this?”
“Oh Hyne, now you’re talking to me like you’ve caught me sleeping with someone else Elise. I am committed to you!”
“No! No you’re not! What you’re committed to is the memory of someone you refuse to let go of!”
He was silent.
“I’m right aren’t I?” It was more a statement than a question.
“Yeah,” she laughed bitterly while fighting back the tears. “You’re always sorry. You do know that you could lose your job if the Board of Directors get wind of this. Is that what you’ll say in your defense when they deem you too mentally unstable to run a Garden facility? I’m sorry?”
“I’m not crazy!” He yelled a bit too loudly. She gave him a look in reply. He closed his eyes. “I know I have…some problems…but it doesn’t keep me from doing my job, and it doesn’t stop me from caring about you!”
“So getting yourself killed is all for my benefit then? Well gee honey, how can I ever possibly thank you?” She spat. “Yeah, let’s just throw it all away on a fucking whim! How stupid does a highly trained former SeeD Commander have to be to run blindly out into a battle with nothing but a weapon? I can’t believe I felt guilty earlier today because you did this to yourself! I was feeling guilty for your own stupidity!” Elise said, each word rising in anger. “You lucked out this time. It was only by some miracle of chance those two cadets found you and dragged your ass out! Either the dragon would have killed you or you would have lay there face down in the goddamn snow, and froze to death!”
“Maybe then I would have known how she felt!” He yelled defensively, unaware at the hurt he had just dealt in the statement, until it came cascading down her face.
“Do you care at all how I feel Squall? Do you even know? I’m scared Squall, I’m scared to death! Scared that this won’t be the last time you’ll do something like this. This guilt is going to kill you Squall, and I don’t know what else to do. I’m tired. I’ve tried everything to help you through this.” She took a shuddered breath.
“I can’t fathom the guilt you feel about losing her Squall. But is that all it is? Are you throwing your life away for guilt? It’s bullshit. It isn’t worth it. You may not give a damn about yourself anymore, but there are people that do. I do with all of my heart. And it’s not fair. It’s not fair that one day I may wake up you’d be gone. Are you planning on leaving me a widower before we even get married?”
“If you’re going to choose the guilt over me then I don’t want this,” she said pulling the ring off of her finger and holding it out to him. “I love you Squall. I love you enough to want to help you through this. And I love you enough to stop standing in your way when you don’t need me anymore. But I can’t play second to a memory any longer. I just can’t. I’m sorry. I need more than that.” Finally, the sob she was holding back burst forth from her lips as she became overcome with tears.
“Come here,” he said grabbing her hand and pulling her to him. She didn’t resist as she fell into his embrace, her body wracked with sobs. He stroked the back of her head gently with his hand. Running his fingers along the curls of her dark auburn hair. He felt the dampness of her tears running down his shoulder. His heart ached for her, and that pain overclouded the anger he felt from her words. He hated to see what his actions alone had reduced her to. Everyone and everything he touched seem to shatter in his hands. She deserved so much more.
Squall held onto her more tightly as he whispered in her ear. “I need you Elise, I need you.”
Elise didn’t reply, she just held onto him. In all their time together, he had never told her that he loved her. She had accepted it. What he had just said was the closest he had ever come. Yet now, she felt the overwhelming desire to hear the words fall from his lips. So that she could grasp them in a desperate attempt to believe it. Some part of her knew he never would. She couldn’t make him love her. Yet he needed her, and that was all she had right now. It was enough.
The door opened with an electronic swoosh, she quickly let go of him and wiped the tears from her face. Her face suddenly became stoic and professional. Her poker face never ceased to amaze him. She could be on her knees in a tearful fit and then she could turn around and any trace of emotion would vanish from her features. He guessed it must have been something she learned in medical school. He was admittedly good at hiding his own emotions, but it was hard to tuck them back in once they surfaced themselves.
“I’ve got to go finish my rounds,” she stated simply. “I’ll be back in a little while to check on you again.”
“Alright,” he said in reply. And with that, she turned and walked passed the nurse entering the room through the open doorway. Squall scooted back onto the bed as the nurse pushed a cart along the length of the room. The painkillers were making him light headed. He tried to focus on the figure coming towards him. Without a word, she sat the food tray in front of him and lifted the lid. Soup…nice.
The old woman only scowled in reply and turned as if to walk out the door. Well, he hadn’t been expecting an overwhelming response, but damn it he did write this woman’s paychecks.
She turned and gave him a fierce glare. He was momentarily frightened. “Um…hi.”
“Can I help you with something…sir?”
“Okay that was forced. Since when did I become the oppressing employer?” He thought to himself. “Yeah…could I get a thing…I mean, a spoon…uh…please?”
She sighed and reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a plastic spoon wrapped in cellophane. She set it down none too easy onto the portable table and looked at him expectantly.
She didn’t move.
“Um…that’s all I needed?”
“I’m supposed to stay here and make sure you eat something…sir.”
“Oh…” he said as he unwrapped the spoon. This was irritating. Elise was really going to have to do something about her staff. The thought that she probably had something to do with this also ran through his mind. He dipped the spoon into the bowl and drank the contents. He made a face.
“Something wrong with your soup sir?”
“You’re about two sirs away from a pink slip lady,” he thought viciously. But instead, he replied as politely as he could. “No ma’am, it’s just…well—
“It’s cold,” Rinoa stated as Quistis pulled the spoon away from her mouth.
She swallowed the chicken broth. “See for yourself.”
Quistis took a spoonful and tasted it. She looked at the other woman with a puzzled expression. “Rin, this is really warm.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. Tastes like it just came out of the refrigerator.”
“No, no kidding, it's not scalding hot but it is warm.”
“Yeah it is, I’m going to speak with some of the doctors about this. See if there is something that they can do to help you with this. Probably just has to work out of your system while your body temperature readjusts.”
“Guess so…it’s all right anyway, I’m not hungry.”
“Come on now Rinoa, you’ve got to eat something, you’ve got to build up your strength. I’ll take this to the cafeteria and heat it up for you,” Quistis said as she rose to her feet.
“Wait…please stay. You can go do that later. Stay and talk with me?”
“Alright, alright,” she smiled. “But then you’re going to try to eat something alright?”
Rinoa grinned. “Yes mom.”
“Ha, ha,” she replied as she sat back down. “What would you like to talk about?”
“Where everyone is, what they’re doing,” she paused and Quistis saw an instant of fear glaze over her eyes. Her voice was quieter this time. “Angelo…?”
The older woman smiled reassuringly at her. “Now that is quite an interesting story. Angelo is doing just fine these days. In fact, she’s living the good life in Galbadia now as we speak. She has done wonders for the Garden program.”
“Selphie took care of her after…you left. Took her back to Balamb after the war was over. She kept training and working with her. She saw such potential in Angelo that she decided to start up a program at Garden to train dogs like her for military operations.”
Rinoa smiled. “Oh, wow.”
“Yeah, unfortunately the board refused to fund the project. Told her it was a waste of time. But you know Selphie, she doesn’t give up that easy. After her and Irvine left Balamb for Galbadia Garden, she scraped together all the funds she had to put into the program. Then when Squall became Headmaster in Balamb, he got in on the deal and helped her with the funding. It became a huge undertaking, but a very successful one. Changed all of the Gardens completely. Angelo has children as well as grandchildren dispatched all over the world in the program.”
Rinoa laughed a little. “I always told that dog she would go far. I’m glad to hear she is safe though. I know…I must sound crazy getting all worked up over a dog. But she was my friend back when I didn’t have any. She meant a lot to me.”
“Oh of course you don’t sound crazy. Friends are friends no matter how many legs they have.” She gave her a wink. Though indeed she found it odd that she saw more emotion coming from her over her dog, than the parting of her only father and last living relative. Again, she went with the theory that her father’s death had not become real to her yet. Perhaps it was her mind’s defense that prevented her from being overcome with emotions now. Her body needed all the strength it had to recover.
“I’ll have to thank Selphie for taking care of her…someday.”
Quistis gave her a saddened look. “Rin, I can get on the phone and call them all right now. Selphie, Irvine, Zell…Squall. Just say the word and we can all be here for you.”
Rinoa closed her eyes in pondering for a moment. “No…no. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. And Squall…” She stopped for an instant. “I can’t even walk to the bathroom Quistis. Hell, I can barely wiggle my fingers. I think…I think it’s better this way. I miss them, but I don’t want to bring back all the bad memories of that whole ordeal with Ultimecia. It’s been so long. I’m sure they are leading happy lives now, and I don’t want to take them from it. And I don’t want to take you from your life either—”
“Don’t…don’t say that Rinoa,” she interrupted. “I want to be here. I choose to be here. Don’t ever think otherwise.” She gently took the girl’s hand into her own and looked her in the eyes. “You will get better. I don’t know how long it will take, but it will happen. You’re my friend; you were a friend to all of us. I understand you’re feelings about the others seeing you like this. But I am already here and I want to help you through this. You won’t have to do this alone Rinoa, I promise.”
Rinoa was at a loss for words. “Thank you Quistis…thank you so much. I don’t know how I will ever repay you but…” Her eyes shimmered as she gave her a small smile. “I would hug you right now if I could.”
Quistis patted the top of the young woman’s hand. “You’ll get there, don’t worry. Look how far you’ve come in just a short time. They’ve taken you off most of those machines, you’re already eating food.”
“Yeah, who knows, maybe tomorrow I’ll graduate to Jell-O.” She grinned.
“Oh ha, ha, very funny.”
“Are they still together? Irvine and Selphie? They always had those sparks between them when they were together. I guess they’re probably married by now huh?"
The other woman laughed. “They might as well be married. They definitely fight like a married couple. But no, they aren’t. Just between you and me, I think they are both scared of commitment. They are happy though, and still love each other very much. Even amidst their squabbling. Both of them are in charge of the canine program at Galbadia. Irvine was hesitant at first, but he finally succumbed to Selphie’s persistence and now he enjoys it as much as she does.”
“What about Zell? Wait…let me guess…he’s a martial artist instructor at one of the Gardens?”
She smiled and shook her head. “Close but no. Zell is the one that has certainly done a 360 here in the past few years. It has really shocked us all. But he left Garden, and the military altogether. He settled down in Balamb in a little house near his ‘Ma.’ He is teaching martial arts though, to the kids in the town.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“That’s not even the kicker. He is married Rinoa.”
“Oh my God to who? This is Zell we are talking about right?”
“To the girl that worked in the Balamb Garden library. You remember seeing her don’t you?”
The dark haired girl nodded.
“Yeah,” Quistis continued. “He always had an eye for her, Alex is her name. They have two kids and another on the way. Both girls…four and two…he’s desperately hoping for a son this time around,” She chuckled.
“Dear Hyne, its…I mean its wonderful…I just well, never thought of him as a family man,” Rinoa said dumbfounded.
“Oh don’t worry, you’re certainly not the only one. He’s really changed though from the fiery and energetic Zell we knew before. He’s calmed down a lot, but he’s still the same old Zell in other ways.”
“Well everyone certainly seems to be doing well for themselves.”
“Yes, they are.”
They were silent for a few moments.
“So…you said Squall was a headmaster now…like you?” She said tentatively, apparently nervous about bringing up the subject. Yet she could not keep it from rolling off her tongue any longer.
“That’s right,” Quistis replied. “He has been headmaster at Trabia Garden for about four years now. He was the headmaster at Balamb for a short time before he decided to transfer.”
“Is that where he met…her?” God she didn’t know why she was asking this, she really didn’t want to know.
“…Yes.” Quistis said hesitant herself to talk about him to her. “He met her not long after he moved there.”
“She must be someone special,” Rinoa said slowly. “I would have never thought he would have committed to anyone.”
The room was quiet. Neither of them was sure of what to say.
“She’s…a really nice person,” The headmaster said slowly before she cursed herself inwardly. That was not the right thing to say.
“Is…is he happy?”
Quistis looked at her sadly. “Rinoa, why don’t I go warm this up for you now?” She motioned to the bowl on the table beside the bed. “You really should eat something.”
“I just want to know Quistis…please.”
“I…I don’t know, you know it’s always hard to tell with Squall. It would be easier to read a book in the middle of an eclipse than try to read him at any point during a day. He wasn’t for a long time after you were gone and––”
“But is he happy now?”
“I…yes, I guess he is. Rin let’s not talk about this anymore, I don’t think it will do any good right now.”
Rinoa was looking off into the distance now as if she did not hear her last plea. “Well…if he’s happy,” she said softly. “I guess…that’s all that matters.”