~ Chapter 9: Eternity of Tomorrow ~
Final Fantasy and all its characters belong to Squaresoft.
Such is hope,
heaven's own gift to struggling mortals,
pervading, like some subtle essence from the skies,
all things both good and bad.
Squall awoke to the sounds of someone in kitchen and the smell of bacon. Curious he got out of bed and stumbled through the doorway. He blinked and rubbed his eyes until they became adjusted to the light.
“Morning.” Elise said glancing at him as she stirred the contents in the frying pan on the stove.
He brushed the unruly hair from his eyes with a hand. “You’re up early.”
“I haven’t slept yet,” she replied. “Had to work over my shift. I just got back about an hour ago.”
“Still backed up in the infirmary?”
“Yeah, the Trabian flu caught us off guard this year. It’s gotten in before we were able to give out the annual inoculations. Now it’s spreading like wildfire. Nearly half the staff has come down with it. Which reminds me…did—”
“Two days ago Elise, you gave me one two days ago.”
“That’s right,” she said rubbing her eyes with a free hand. “I’m sorry. I just can’t think right now.”
“Of course you can’t, you’re exhausted. Why haven’t you gone to bed? Don’t give me that stuff about cooking breakfast being a ritual for you. Because frankly my dear, it isn’t.” He gave her a small grin.
“I felt the sarcasm in that Leonhart,” she smiled back at him. “Just for that I will burn your toast. No, I just wasn’t tired after I got here. Still running on fumes I suppose, but I’ll be going to bed shortly so don’t fret your pretty little head darlin’.”
“I’m not even going to ask why you sound like Irvine at 5 a.m.”
“Probably best that you don’t,” the young woman replied. “I sat a plate out for you. Everything is ready, go have a seat and I’ll bring it over.”
Squall complied and sat down at the small kitchen table. Elise walked over and began spooning out scrambled eggs from the pan onto his plate. “You know I could get very used to this,” he said with a raised eyebrow.
Elise chuckled. “Nope sorry, this has very little hope of becoming a habit. Anyway, this is the only meal you’ll be getting from me today, so you’d better enjoy it. You’re on your own tonight for dinner.”
“You have to work the night shift again? Hyne Elise, that’s three nights in a row, they’re going to kill you.” He looked up at her with concern.
“This is the last night I promise,” she said. “The regulars will be back tomorrow and I will be back to the normal hours.” She sat a plate of bacon in the middle of the table and handed him a cup of coffee. “Here, I even made you coffee, how sweet am I?”
“Bless you,” Squall said with a grateful tone as he took a sip. “Finally coffee that doesn’t substitute for a fuel injector.”
His somewhat joking comment aside he continued, “I know you have patients Elise but if you overwork yourself you’re going to be no better off than them.”
She looked across the table with a somber expression. “I love my job Squall. You take risks for those things Squall. It’s what I have wanted to do since I was a little girl. It’s very important to me. Just as yours is important to you.”
A brief image passed through his mind of a person who once told him that a job wasn’t everything. He shook his head slightly to clear it of the thought and took a bite of bacon.
“Have you gone over your recommendations for the pre-trial depositions yet?”
Damn it. Somehow he knew those would be the very next words out of her mouth.
He sighed. “No…I haven’t.”
“All of that documented garbage is one big lie. They want me to omit the truth completely, just to appease all their political bullshit.”
“You can lose your commission over this Squall; I think you need to take the ‘political bullshit’ a little more seriously!”
“I don’t like being dictated on what I should and shouldn’t say Elise! It was only one stupid mistake!”
“One stupid mistake that almost cost you your life. If they figured you would throw your own life around carelessly like that, what is to stop them from considering you might do the same with the students here?”
“I wouldn’t do that!” He said in a raised voice. “I wouldn’t put their lives in jeopardy like that. If you want to see someone who has done that, why don’t you go talk to Cid Kramer? The man who puts a 17-year-old kid in charge of the Garden while he goes running off to God knows where! So excuse me if I see my crime of walking into a training center a little less severe than that. Not to mention he was awarded a Medal of Honor and there was not the slightest mention of a trial. Not that he gave them much of a chance to do so as he took his resignation from Balamb soon after that.”
Squall couldn’t help feeling resentful towards the man. Yes, he had done a lot for him while he was at Balamb. Yet there were also the things he didn’t do. The things he could have stopped. If he had told them the truth from the beginning…If Edea hadn’t passed her powers…If he had never sent him on the mission with the Forest Owls…These things ran circles in his mind on almost a daily basis.
“This isn’t about Cid, no one said any of this was fair. But you’re going to have to take action and fight for your position Squall, you’ve worked too hard to get here just to give it up!”
A small part of him, unbeknown to him at the time, silently wanted to give it up.
“Can we change the subject please?”
“The preliminary hearing is in one week Squall…and the trial is only two months away.”
“Please Elise! I don’t want to talk about this right now!” He said angrily.
The smoldering look in his eyes told her not to push this matter any farther; she realized it would do more harm than good. She sighed heavily. “Fine….fine.”
There was a long chain of minutes that passed between them as they ate their breakfast in silence.
Elise was the first to speak up again. “Are you excited about the graduation in Esthar tomorrow night?”
He shrugged and took another drink of coffee. “Much as anyone can be I guess. It’s a graduation…whoopee. I’ve seen them before.”
She looked back down at her plate. “Well, I thought you might be. You helped establish that Garden, it’s an accomplishment to be proud of.”
Squall merely grunted in reply. “I guess.”
She looked at him, seeing his eyes gazing past her and into the distance. His thoughts obviously so far away they were on a different planet. “Did you call and remind Zell and Alex?”
“Yeah I did. He said they would be there. They’re going to arrive in Esthar on the 9 a.m. flight. He wants to take us to a late lunch somewhere in Esthar. He said it would be a late engagement present.”
“He’s such a sweetheart.”
“Yeah, sweet. You don’t know him like I do. He will conveniently forget to bring his wallet. You wait and see.”
“Oh you’re terrible! Squall you don’t mean that.”
The corners of his lips turned upward slightly. “No. He’s a good guy. An annoying pain in the ass sometimes, but a good guy.”
Elise giggled. “There’s a soft heart underneath that cold exterior Squall Leonhart, and I’m afraid it is becoming harder to hide with age.”
He rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
“It’ll be great to see your friends again, it’s been so long since you’ve all been in the same room together. Speaking of which, have you touched base with Quistis on the ceremony events?”
“No. I’m assuming she knows. I’ve barely spoken to her in two months. Ever since she ran off to see her ‘sick friend’ without telling anyone, she’s rarely been back to Garden. I don’t know what’s going on with her.”
“You don’t think she’s lying do you?”
“Lying…no…it’s more like she isn’t telling the whole truth. She’s just not herself. And since when have any of us had time to make friends out of Garden?”
“Maybe it’s a friend from her childhood.”
“Possibly. But I would think a friend that close that she rushes off in the middle of the night to see about them, she would have mentioned to someone.”
Elise raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Maybe she found herself a man.”
“Now that would be something.”
“Squall…that isn’t nice!”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just her love life is somewhat of an enigma to everyone. Does she talk about her relationships with you?”
“Exactly. She doesn’t. Not even with Selphie or Xu. So apparently none of them have ever been that serious.”
Though in the back of his mind it did make more sense to him than all of this elusiveness, being centered around a sick friend that none of them knew. Suddenly it didn’t seem like such an oddity anymore.
“Well whatever the case,” Elise continued. “Quistis has always been so caring about everyone, to me that isn’t so odd for her. Perhaps her friend or whoever has no one else. It’s hard to overcome an illness when you’re alone.”
“Yeah…I guess you’re right. I was going to try and call her before I left this morning. She may already be in Esthar though. I’ll try to reach her on the cell phone number she gave me.”
“Okay, I’m going to go take a shower and get whatever sleep I can,” Elise said as she got up and walked around the table until she stood behind his chair. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow night you know. I’m going to get you out on that dance floor yet and show you how to dance.”
Squall turned his head and looked up at her over his shoulder. “Yeah good luck with that one,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t need luck. I am relentless,” she laughed and started to walk away. “I’ll try and talk to you later this afternoon sometime. I’ll come by the office if I can.”
“Alright,” he replied with a wave of his hand. “Take care.”
He sighed and stared down at the empty plate in front of him as she vanished through the dark bedroom. He never told her that he couldn’t dance. He just told her that he wouldn’t. And he meant it. No one would get him to dance…ever again.
The streets of Esthar were buzzing with life as the sun sank below the desert, filling the sky with a wide kaleidoscope of colors. Rinoa walked along the sidewalk gazing in fascination at the incredible city and enjoying the company of her walking companion. Her hair was pulled up and tucked underneath a blue cap and a pair of tinted glasses shielded her eyes. Though it was doubtful that anyone here even knew or remembered her name, it was too risky to take chances.
She was dressed in unseasonably warm clothes for the late summer season. The doctors had told her there was nothing they could do for her sensitivity to cold. They had tried everything they could. Now she had to stay out of below freezing temperatures and dress warmly. It was possible in time that her body would regulate itself. Until then it was just something that she would have to adjust to. A small price to pay she considered from being brought back from the dead so to speak. She turned to the man beside her and smiled as she watched him gaze dreamily at the orange and purple sky above them.
“I can’t believe you can just walk around wherever you want without some sort of security stalking your every move and dog piling anyone who looks at you funny.” She smiled.
Laguna laughed. “Well, after you’ve been president of a country for so long…they tend to stop worrying about you. Ward and Kiros used to walk around with me everywhere, but even they got tired of it. So I’m allowed free non-surveillance roaming here in the city. Most everyone living here is a native anyway. And hell if I know why, but they seem to like me.”
“Well I don’t see that as a hard thing at all Laguna. You’ve got one of those likeable personalities.”
“Think so? Odd, considering the term I’ve served, I’m more of a dictator than a president.” He chuckled. “Guess I will be remembered as the nicest dictator in history.”
“So they don’t hold any elections here then?”
His face became a little more serious. “No, these people are afraid of change. And they’ve passed that fear on to their children. They are still too scarred from their first taste of change. The first Sorceress War still clings to their minds like a five o’ clock shadow. I can’t say that I really blame them. It was a bad time.”
Rinoa nodded in silence, a far away look on her face. He decided to move passed that topic quickly as he continued.
“I mean I would gladly step down. God knows I could use a break. They seem intent on me staying though. But to tell you the truth I wouldn’t know what to do if I did get to retire, I’ve been doing this so long.”
She looped her arm around his and smiled. “I think you’re a wonderful president.”
“Ha! Alright who’s paying you to say that?” He winked. “I’ll double it.”
She responded with that child-like laugh that tugged at his soul. He looked down at the girl who was now leaning her head against his shoulder. He could not suppress the smile that rose from the corners of his mouth. During the months he had gotten to know her, he had developed a parental bond to her. He began to think of her as his own daughter. It wasn’t something he intended, it was just something he couldn’t help. It was if the gods had seen fit to give him another chance to be a father. It was a wondrous feeling. And he would be damned before he would screw it up again.
“So you haven’t told me what you think of our city. I’m required to ask you by law, as you have never been here before. Your comments shall be logged into a database viewed by the city council so they may make any necessary improvements…blah, blah, blah.”
Rinoa laughed softly as she shook her head. “So many duties you must have around here Laguna you have to be a president and a tour guide too. But your city is absolutely gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life. I can see why the people here would want to keep it to themselves for so long.” She gazed along at the shimmering walkway ahead of them. “It truly is beautiful. Of course, I’ve got to say, that anywhere is beautiful outside of that hospital room.”
“Yeah. You’re glad to be out of there huh?”
“Ecstatic. God, it feels like it’s been an eternity since I’ve seen the sun from the outside.”
“Yeah. I like to get outside if only for a few minutes every day. Being indoors for hours and hours on end everyday can definitely get to you.”
She nodded and a few minutes of silence passed between them as they both took to taking in the sights and sounds of Esthar. She looked out into the distance at the faint lights that cast a warm glow about a mile away from the city. Rinoa suddenly stopped in her tracks.
“Is that Esthar Garden?”
“Hmm?” Laguna said coming up behind her. “Oh yeah, that’s it. That group of lights out there.”
“Guess everyone is anxious for the first graduation tomorrow.”
“Yeah, I would think so. I’m kind of excited about it myself. The Gardens offer such a broad horizon of opportunities for the kids. They get a sense of direction there. I’m glad to see one of the facilities here now.”
“Are…the celebrations still opened to the public?”
He nodded. “Yes, I’m guessing there will be a big turn out for it.” They continued walking until they reached the palace steps. Laguna had provided accommodations for the young woman after her release from the hospital. He didn’t know what her plans were going to be. She hadn’t mentioned any, so he thought perhaps there were none. And as time passed, he hoped he could help her make a home for herself in Esthar where he knew she could be safe.
“I had a great time Laguna, thank you again for everything,” She smiled and wrapped her arms around him in a hug.
“The pleasure was all mine kiddo,” he replied returning the embrace. “Anytime you need a tour guide, just let me know.”
“Yes sir, Mr. President.” She laughed as she turned to leave. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night. You will save a dance for me won’t you?”
“Of course.” He replied before the bells and whistles started going off in his mind. “Wait…hold on. You…you’re not going to the graduation…are you?”
She stopped and turned. “Maybe.”
“Rinoa no…no that isn’t a good idea. Their will be people there that will recognize you…it would be very dangerous and…”
She walked up to him and touched his shoulder gently. The look in her eyes was sincere and honest. “Laguna, don’t worry okay? I’m not going to hurt him.”
“You know Squall’s really lucky to have you in his life. Whatever the reason you weren’t there before…I’m glad you are there now.” She smiled.
“Well yeah it would be nice if it was like that. But Squall is stubborn as hell and I can’t seem to get through to him no matter…” Then realization hit him…he had never told her he was Squall’s father.
“Oh Hyne, how in the world did you know? Damn, I never was very good at hiding things! Did someone…”
He looked up to question her…but she had already gone inside.
Laguna shook his head. How could she have known? Was he really that transparent? Oh shit…she said she was going to the graduation. He had to reason with her…he had to talk her out of it…
He had to find someone else to do it.
He burst through the entrance and headed in the opposite direction Rinoa had gone. They were going to have to talk some sense into that girl. There was only one person he could think of that might stand a chance.
“Quistis!” He yelled down the hallway. “Quistis! Where are you?”
Quistis stuck her head out of the suite door to see Laguna running frantically down the hallway. “Sorry Squall,” she said into the cell phone. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see you tomorrow night.” She pressed the end button and stepped out into the hallway.
Rinoa stared out the window in a daze of thoughts. Her soul was light and jittery. She had been waiting for this chance, planning it since she learned he was going to be there. The feelings she had for him were as strong now as they were seven years ago. He remained a part of herself. Something she couldn’t just ‘let go’ of without a second thought. She had to see him again. Quistis had told her he was happy, but she wanted to see it with her own eyes…if just for a moment. She was also curious about this woman he was with now. His…fiancée. How could she possibly see what Rinoa saw in him? Did this woman care as she had for him? A care deep enough to see beyond that steel barrier he had raised around his heart. Or maybe she had other intentions with him. It was something she wanted to find out.
She sighed as she looked up at the sky. The problem with Esthar was its lights. The lights of the city were so bright, that they drowned the stars from the sky. She missed seeing the stars. A thought crossed her mind that maybe tomorrow…if the two of them met…by chance, it could be just like the first time. She would walk up to him and ask him to dance. Maybe…they could start all over again. The thought lifted the corners of her mouth into a smile.
A frantic knock on the door jostled her out of her daydream. Rinoa walked over to the door and looked through the keyhole. It was Quistis. She knew exactly why she was here. Laguna had told her and now she was here to talk some sense into her. She hadn’t meant to tell Laguna or anyone for that matter about her plan. But somehow, she felt it would be better if they knew. Quistis was her dearest friend. Laguna was his father. He had become like a father to her in the few months she had known him. She didn’t want to hide anything from them. And maybe it was for the reassurance too. Just incase…something went wrong.
She unlatched the lock and opened the door with a cheery smile. “Hey Quistis!”
Quistis didn’t return the smile, but rather looked at her with a mixture of concern and sadness. “Rinoa…we need to talk.”
“Sure come on in.” Rinoa said opening the door and ignoring the grave tone of the other woman’s voice. “You want something to drink? It’s amazing how much these little brown refrigerators hold isn’t it?” She opened the small room refrigerator and took out a can of soda.
“Is it true Rinoa?”
“Oh yeah, I can get six cans of soda, a bottle of water, and a leftover container of potato salad in this baby, check it out!”
“This is no time for games.” Quistis shook her head. “You know good and well what I’m talking about.”
“Oh don’t make such a fuss over this.” The other woman said as she pulled back the tab on the can of soda. “It’s not that big of a deal. Here have a soda. I can’t drink the ones from the fridge it's way too cold. But I always keep some cold for company. Ahh! Hurry up and take this before I have to drop it!”
She took the drink from her shaking hand and sat it on top of the dresser beside them. “It’s dangerous Rinoa. Someone there might recognize you…someone who is not a friend.”
“Stop worrying, I’m not going to be drawing attention to myself. No one will even know I’m there. Look, I’ve been cooped up in this place for what has felt like an eternity. I just want to get out and do a little socializing. I’m going crazy here. I need to get out into the world again. I’m a social creature Quisty…I require mingling.” Rinoa laughed and hit the other woman playfully on the shoulder. “Relax, I’ll be fine.”
“You’re going to see him, aren’t you?”
She didn’t reply.
“Rin…he’s not the same. Situations aren’t the same. You can’t just walk in and expect to magically turn back the time and make things like they were before.” Or could she? Quistis’ mind was racing. A part of her wanted Rinoa to do this. To go to Squall…let him know she was alive. Maybe it would be the best thing for both of them. But the logical side of her mind won over. There were others involved in this. It was inevitable someone would be hurt in this. And seeing where the other stood now, she feared that someone would be Rinoa.
“I’m afraid you’re going to get hurt Rinoa.” She said voicing her thoughts. “I just don’t think you’re ready for this.”
“I’ll be okay. I will take the greatest care. I need…I need to see him again. Please try to understand. I can’t stop thinking about him. I just want to know if he is okay. I would never take him away from his happiness.”
The instructor’s eyes shimmered in the dimly lit room. She shook her head in defeat. “I can see there isn’t anything I can say to change your mind about this.” She walked over to her, placed her hands on the young woman’s shoulders, and looked into her dark brown eyes. “Just promise me you’ll be careful. Please.”
Rinoa placed a hand on Quistis’ own and smiled reassuringly.
“You have my word.”