~ Chapter Twelve: A Time to Embrace - Afternoon/Evening~
Our greatest glory is not in never falling,
May 18th - Afternoon
“Rinny!” The voice boomed through the headmaster's office as if it were a hallowed canyon. She jumped as the silence was abruptly shattered, accidentally throwing her pencil in shock.
“Dear Hyne, Zell...are you trying to give me a heart attack?”
“Nah, just going for the surprise factor.” He grinned walking into the room.
“You succeeded…and when did you start calling me Rinny?”
“I dunno…just don't call me Zelly.”
She rolled her eyes before standing up, greeting her friend with a warm hug. “Yeah, Zell no problem there.” The sarcasm in her voice was evident.
“I heard you were chillin' up here in the frozen tundra, just had to come up and see ya. Trip alright?”
“Fine, but this continent is certainly colder than I remember. I have a newfound appreciation for sweaters. I don't know how these girls wear short skirts up here.”
“I don't know either, but it impresses the hell out of me.” He winked awaiting her response.
“Zell! You're sounding more like Irvine every day.” She punched him playfully in the side with mock disgust. “Just for that one, you're going to be forced escort me to the cafeteria. I really could use some coffee.”
Extending his hand, he grinned, “Anything for you, Rinny dear.”
Rinoa accepted his gesture, squinting she eyed him suspiciously. “Zell, by any chance have you been around an enormously large amount of paint fumes?”
He winked, opening the door and leading her into the upper foyer. “No, just been trapped in a room with your boyfriend all week.”
“Yeah, that would have been my second guess.” Somehow, she couldn't keep the laughter bottled up anymore. It had been a long trip, and with all the stress she had been already through, even the smallest thing was making her giggle. She tried hard to conceal her mirth, placing a hand over her mouth.
“So Rin, what were you doing up in the headmaster's office anyhow?”
“Oh they put me up there to enter some student information into the computer system. Rebuild the database…that sort of thing”
“Sounds…um…fun. Although you looked good sitting behind the desk. I know if Headmaster Cid looked more like you, I'd be in the office all the time.”
“Uh...huh…right Zell. I'm not even going to touch that one.” They continued down the hall until they reached the elevators. Zell pressed one of the circular buttons without thinking, and the lift opened to the dormitory levels.
“Oops, wrong button,” he admitted sheepishly.
In unison they both attempted to push the 'main' button. Rinoa reached out first, but her advance was blocked immediately by Zell… The two eyed each other in friendly competition, and for some odd reason it became a game of 'I'm pushing the button.' They went through a series of defensive and offence moves respectfully, neither seeming to gain the upper hand.
“You messed up once, I get to push it!”
“It's your fault, you had me thinking about Cid being a hot girl!”
“Oh my gods Zell, I can't believe you said that!”
“You better be good Rinny, or I'm telling Squall.”
She pushed him out of the way knocking him back toward the glass elevator wall. Just as she was going to make contact with the aforementioned button, he managed to regain his fighting stance.
“Well, yeah…tell Squall…who is he going to believe…his girlfriend or Zelly.”
“How about neither.” They both turned from their childish game, looking as he stood there with his arms folded. “Zell, haven't I had this discussion with you before?”
The two were trying to conceal their laughter, as he entered the lift.
“Technically Squall, that discussion was on the 'door open' button, and not the 'main floor' button. See the difference.”
Rinoa stood there biting her lip, trying not to laugh at her boyfriend's befuddled expression. She tilted her head, smiling innocently up at him. “Hi.”
“And you…to think the future of our world could be left in your hands…is something hard to fathom. What is harder to fathom, is that neither of you was able to do this.”
He grabbed Rinoa around the waist, moving her to his left side. With lightening fast reflexes, he dodged under Zell's arm, finally able to step forward and hit the button. As the elevator continued downward, he still held Rinoa around the waist.
“Plus, if I ever hear the words 'Cid is a hot girl' from either of you again…there is going to be mandatory therapy involved.”
It was a door. A rectangular piece of wood that she shouldn't have been afraid of…still it was his door. In Balamb she had been to his room several times, but somehow, after everything, this felt different. She knew that they had left this evening's plans vague, but she really needed to see him. Spending most of the day in the isolated headmaster's office had started her thinking, and that wasn't always a good thing. So here she stood, standing outside…his door.
“Rinoa just knock. It's a goddamn door,” she spoke quietly, although if any one was walking by, they would have probably thought she was just plain nuts. In life she found it was hard to do many things by herself, yet she never believed 'knocking' to be on that list.
Scuffing her tennis shoes a few times on the carpet, she shifted the weight between each leg in nervous energy. The young woman's arms crossed over her chest, trying to calm herself. It was still foreign wearing jeans and sweater, instead of running around in shorts and t-shirts, or the dresses she usually wore to work.
“Alright enough thinking about your wardrobe, just knock on the damn door.”
She held her breath as she moved her hand from its resting place, finally finding the might to knock on the surface. It took a few seconds, but finally the door opened slightly, only enough for him to peer out into the hallway.
“Um…yeah.” Now she wasn't sure how to answer that one.
“I thought I was going to pick you up in your room.”
His tone seemed to imply some concern over her being there, and she wondered if she had made some rookie mistake by going up to the 'commander's dorm' uninvited. Maybe he was following some strict Garden protocol that Balamb usually forwent, given the nature of their relationship. Or worse yet…maybe he just didn't want her there…maybe he didn't want her in Trabia at all. Now her mind was racing with possibilities, all from his curious wording. She knew she had a way of seeming overanxious in the past, and maybe traveling thousands of kilometers to see him crossed the boundaries of their relationship.
Immediately she felt embarrassed, averting her eyes to the floor. She placed her hands behind her back, moving her toe in a semicircle across the carpet - another nervous tendency she'd acquired over the years. “I'm so sorry… I shouldn't have come… I'll talk to you-”
Her words were cut short when she felt the pressure of someone guiding her by the wrist. “What am I going to do with you?” he asked lightheartedly, shaking his head at her behavior.
Opening the door fully, he stepped out, leading her back into his room. At first the action caught her off guard, as her eyes were still intently focused on the paisley design of the carpet. As she moved toward him, she looked up, ready to give him some sort of apologetic answer. But when she saw him, she was truly at a loss for all words. There he stood in his formal SeeD uniform, transporting her back to one night that would forever change her destiny…and that night seemed lifetimes ago. He had always forgone wearing his uniform, even at the parties that he had attended after defeating Ultimecia.
It didn't take her mind a long time to register he wasn't wearing his normal street clothes; it just took her mind a long time to register the basic motor skills of speech. If she could have formed any kind of verbal response she would have, but the young woman found herself in a slight state of shock.
There he was, just like she first remembered. Unruly hair touching the top of his collar, navy and black jacket combined with gold edging - making him look older than his eighteen years, and even his pressed dress pants seemed to bring the memories flooding back. The one thing that had changed was his eyes. They no longer seemed like that stranger standing against a marble pillar, they seemed familiar…they seemed real.
She wasn't sure how long she had been staring at him, or even when he had escorted her inside his room. Somehow she was still completely engulfed in the memory of their first dance together. When she remained silent he started fumbling for an explanation, although he wasn't sure why he found it hard to explain.
“Trabia named a commander today. They wanted formal pictures of everyone…and I… um…had to you know. I was just going to change before I picked you up. I just feel so uncomfortable-”
“No!” It was the first word that escaped her lips, although it unintentionally came out as a demand. “No…not yet.” She shook her head trying to think of anything containing more than one syllable. “Oh wow, Squall…it's just…I can't explain.”
He looked at her bewildered by her actions, “It's a uniform Rinoa, what is there to explain?”
She moved by him, allowing herself the simple pleasure of touching the material on his arm, before she made her way to the bed. Sitting down, a thousand memories flooded her mind like a dam that had broken. How do you explain? It was the beginning…the beginning to everything. He just looked so different, and the images of him at the dance were still fresh from uncovering the repressed memories. Only weeks ago, she had seen themselves dancing on the marble floor, the awkwardness, and then the beauty… But that time she had also heard the thoughts in his mind, those never meant to be heard… Now he was a different person, not because she had changed him, but because he wanted to be. There he stood in the uniform that had started it all…but the person wearing it was different. He was eighteen, the Commander of Balamb, and a knight…her knight. Not just a good-looking kid against the wall.
The bed moved as he sat near her, but he seemed to keep his distance. It was obvious that her behavior was confusing to him… Somehow Rinoa believed that everything went back to that first night, the good, the bad, and the shades of gray that seemed to cloud most of her life right now. Maybe if she hadn't acted so immature back then, the whole evening might have gone a little smoother. Yet maybe if she hadn't been her, they wouldn't be sitting together right now…
“Are you okay?” He was trying to console her, even though he was at a loss of what the problem honestly was… but he was pretty sure it had to do with the uniform. “I can take this off, really I was just about to change.”
It came out unsure, and again, he didn't know how to interpret the comment. “Rinoa, I think we should stay in…I think maybe we need to talk.” The sudden change in behavior worried him, and it felt as if she was retreating as she had done back in Balamb. “If this has anything to do with Ultimecia then…”
“It doesn't.” It was the first time in minutes that she moved her eyes from the wooden floorboards. “That's the thing…I just realized it doesn't have to do with her. I think it has more to do with me.”
“Rinoa, no it doesn't. She manipulated the memories.” It was on instinct alone that he placed his arm around her, his heart reacting before his head could protest. It was all he could do to get her to relax, but she seemed to calm with his touch…and for that he was grateful. She composed herself enough to look him in the eyes…sometimes she found it so hard to look at them. In some light they seemed to have the passion of a wayward storm, other times they were as tranquil as a moonlight evening. There was always so much emotion contained in his eyes…even if it was hidden to those who didn't know how to look.
“It's just, Squall…seeing you wearing this...this is how we started. I have so many mixed emotions about that evening, so many times I just want to go back and right all the wrongs… You know, I watched myself… I saw it from another's perspective. I feel like some kind of idiot now saying, 'you're going to like me.' Then dragging you out onto the dance floor, and leaving without so much as a 'thank you' or 'goodnight.' I didn't even tell you my name… I just left you standing there when I saw Cid.”
“So it was Cid.” He really didn't mean to say it out loud, but right now he just wasn't sure what was going on.
“Who else would it have…oh…”
She looked away, guessing that was something else he was going to learn about that night, even if it was something that she would rather forget. Over the last few weeks, speaking with others and between themselves on the phone, she understood one thing - whatever happened from this point forward was only going to be done in truth and honesty. No hiding, no secrets, she had to admit past mistakes, just as he would inevitable do…their future depended on it.
Her voice faltered, as she admitted, “No, I saw Seifer about halfway through the dance. I think that was part of the reason I tried so hard to keep you out there... Part of me wanted him to be jealous… Squall, I never knew of your history.”
Maybe he knew that already, maybe he had figured things out, but somehow hearing it hit him harder than he thought. He hadn't meant to, but he had subconsciously pulled his arm away after the words registered. Maybe part of his mind would have to accept that she'd had other boyfriends, but there was also part of his ego that wanted to deny Seifer was among them.
“Wait...please.” She begged, placing her left hand on his chest as he moved his gaze away from her.
She was going to continue with some redundant explanation, or offer an apology for something that she couldn't change, but the words were lost to her once again. The material beneath her palm felt almost surreal, transporting her back to the moments she did dance with him… The things that she didn't regret that evening, like meeting him under a shooting star. Her fingers continued to linger on his chest, memorizing every wrinkle in the fabric, every imperfection of the embroidery, but she couldn't stop herself. It was like some irresistible force was leading her hand; before her mind was aware, she was running her fingertips over to the gold edging, as her entire body moved closer to him. The intricate stitching felt like silk, contrasting with the dark coarser material that was covering the majority of his chest. She traced the trim with single finger, following its path to where a chain was fastened connecting the front. It wasn't his usual Griever pendant; she figured was still underneath his jacket. This was a larger decorative chain consisting of about ten links, being held on each end with two diamond shaped clasps.
Placing only the tip of her index finger in a single metallic link, she managed to say aloud the words that were flooding her mind. “Squall, I want us to be honest, I think we've learned that much.”
Finding courage with the truth, she turned her entire body to face him. Gradually she moved her free hand, placing it lightly on his far shoulder. Rinoa was surprised that the navy blue fabric covering his shoulders was crushed velvet, a consistency softer than she believed possible. She moved her attention off of his uniform, searching his face for the courage she so badly needed. She was surprised when she was met with a pair of steely eyes, silently wondering how he could bear to see her right now. It was the first time that they had looked at one another, since she had spoken Seifer's name.
“Squall, I can't change my past either… I've made a lot of mistakes, but at least I did one thing right. I found you.”
“Rinoa…” Her name trailed as he placed both arms firmly around her. There she was feeling so culpable about her past, and Squall knew she was right. There was nothing that either could do to change what transpired before they met. It was only the future that mattered…their future. She buried her face into his chest as her arms encircled him, returning his gesture with greater intensity. She felt his warm breath tickle, as he soothingly kissed the top of her head.
Hearing him swallow, she thought he was about to speak, so she moved only enough to look at him. Before she knew it, he was pulling her into a deep kiss, and her body started to remember the feeling that had been foreign for weeks. One of his hands worked its way up to her neck, while the other continued pulling her waist closer. It felt like ages, it felt like heaven. She wanted to stay this way forever, gasping for what little air the closeness permitted. But right now, more than she needed his touch, she needed to do something else… She needed to atone for her mistakes, all stemming from that evening underneath a shooting star. Reluctantly, she broke from his advances. The young man seemed disappointed by her action, trying desperately to pull her back.
“Wait…” she spoke between hurried kisses. She sure felt like she was telling him to 'wait' a lot this evening… She only hoped that he would understand in due time. Standing on trembling legs, she was unsure if they could maintain even their own weight. Placing a hand on her chest, she closed her eyes, trying to stop her world from spinning uncontrollably.
“Is everything okay?” He immediately thought that he had acted out-of-line. He'd only acted on instinct, or desire, which he was quickly starting to question.
“Perfect.” She answered, as she opened her eyes, reassuring him with a smile. Walking over to a bookcase, she turned on the power to a portable stereo he had placed on a shelf. She pushed the 'play' button, unsure of what CD was in there… In actuality, it didn't matter, she was just trying to find something for the background effect. Within a few seconds, a hip-hop song started playing - it was a slower tempo, although not one that classified anywhere near a ballad. She looked at him strangely for a second, and he answered the question before she could even ask it.
“Zell's… I didn't think of bringing anything.”
The young woman smiled good-naturedly, before responding, “I'm just relieved it's not a boy band.”
He chuckled faintly at her comment, although still completely mystified by her actions. She took a deep breath before stepping in front of him, as he was still resting on the bed. Tilting her head to one side, she smiled, pointing her index finger upward.
“The ceiling?” He answered, before it dawned on him what she trying to do.
“Work with me here.” She insisted, continuing to point skyward.
She watched her knight's expression change from confusion to understanding; his eyes held the emotion that his words sometimes lacked. He grinned slightly, before tilting his head to one side and giving her a look mirroring the one he had the first night. She smiled brightly now, and instinctively reached for the two bands on her necklace… He wondered if she had grabbed her mother's ring that first night. All he could see were her eyes…and then her legs… All right, honestly, the ridiculously short dress was a very close second to the eyes.
Taking a step closer, she kneeled to his level, although the first night he had obviously been standing…not sitting on a bed. She just had to improvise given the circumstance surrounding this 'first' meeting.
“You're the best looking guy in here…dance with me.”
“Um…I'm the only guy in here.” He answered giving her an uncharacteristic wink.
She placed a hand on her hip, giving him a fairly agitated look. “…Squall.”
“…And you know my name.” He leaned forward, continuing to move closer to where she was. He could tell in her eyes, she was honestly starting to get upset, so he decided to play along. Sometimes he couldn't help himself, there was something just so fun about giving her a hard time. Rinoa just looked so…for lack of a better word…cute.
“Sorry.” He answered noncommittally, as he looked away pretending to ignore her this time.
“I know, you will only dance with someone you like. Look me in the eyes…” She stopped. This was the part that had bothered her in the memories…but she was honestly trying to fix past mistakes. So instead of trying to put him in some hypnotic trance… this time when he turned back, she already knew the words she wanted to say. It was just speaking them coherently that would be the challenge.
“Hello… I'm looking for the Headmaster, but I was hoping that you would dance with me at least one time. Honestly, I don't like being at these things alone. I was supposed to meet someone else here but… I waited outside, he seems to have forgotten. I know you don't know me, and probably you wouldn't want to anyhow…” She paused realizing that she was just rambling now. Yet he was still watching her; his eyes were just as incredible as that first night under the ballroom lights. She bit her lip nervously, before stating the next fact, “Hi… I'm Rinoa Caraway.”
He wasn't sure if he'd just heard her right. In fact, he was believing it was his own imagination playing tricks on his ears. He had seen the name at the hospital on her identification bracelet, and in all honesty, he had always question which one was her legal name. Not to mention there had also been that cadet application filled out for a 'Rinoa Caraway' at Galbadia Garden. It was just hearing her say that, instead of 'Heartilly,' seemed so foreign.
She looked away uncomfortably. “I suppose it's hard to start a relationship, when you don't even know who you're going out with.” The young woman admitted, before going back to all the things she had wished she'd had the chance to say…before he had discovered the truth on his own. “My father is a General in the Galbadian military, my mother used her maiden name for the stage…she was a singer.” Her tone softened, as small tears escaped from the corners of her eyes. She didn't know if it was from finally admitting the truth, or just that she was humiliated for concealing her legal name from him for so long. “My mother passed away and…my father and I… Well…when I was older I dropped my last name… 'Heartilly' was a middle name given to me.”
Squall stood from the mattress, outstretching his arm toward her. He badly wanted to stop her, to hold her, but he also understood what she was doing…it was something that she had to do. Her hand was trembling when it met with his, and she turned to look him in the face. “I couldn't legally change it until I was eighteen, unless I had become an emancipated minor… but that was too much trouble. Running away was just easier.”
The sensation of watching her suffer yet again, became too much. Squall had just watched her endure the memories of Ultimecia, and now she was suffering through something that should have been simple. It wasn't. He knew that this was difficult for her to talk about. He couldn't deny his heart any longer, wrapping his arms around her waist almost vigorously. She felt the warmth and security engulf her, and allowed her body to relax at his touch. Again, she laid her head on his jacket, now feeling the soft fabric caress her cheek. He swayed slowly back and forth, as if they were dancing in time with the music.
After a minute, he started to softly confess his remorse. “My name is Squall Leonhart, I just became a SeeD this evening. I can't dance…well.” She couldn't help but giggle at the way he emphasized the word 'well.' Unlike their first meeting, when he left that useful bit of information out completely. He gently kissed her forehead before continuing, “I was forced to take etiquette lessons at Garden, but honestly most of the time I spent daydreaming…about anything but etiquette…usually it involved mass weaponry. I've never honestly danced at one of these, but something in my heart is telling me to do this…even though my head is complaining loudly. Unfortunately, it is my head that also controls my feet. So stick with me, okay?”
He could feel her nodding against his chest, although she didn't answer verbally. It was then that he caught something she had said in her admission. Maybe it was his way of apologizing about an earlier comment, now he could see why she continued dancing with him that evening. “And I can't believe anyone would forget about you, Miss Caraway. It's very cold outside, and I would never make you wait. But you must promise me one thing…you won't just walk away when this dance is over.”
“Not this time.” The young sorceress answered, clasping her arms even tighter around her knight's back. “And never again.”
“Did you want to waltz?”
“No, I just want to stay here…like this, forever.” She looked up at him wanting to see his face, because his eyes always showed the truth. “Squall, is it really okay that I'm up here. You don't think I'm being too clingy or anything, do you?” It didn't come out like she wanted, but right now she wasn't even sure if she was speaking English.
He had to laugh inwardly; she really did think she was doing something wrong. He rolled his eyes at her, reiterating the same question as when he first opened the door. “What am I going to do with you?” He moved one hand from her waist reaching for her cheek. This time, their eyes locked. “Rin, it's more than okay. Now stop worrying about it.”
“Hold on,” she responded, squinting her eyes as they continued moving with the tempo. “I thought I was the one who told you to stop worrying this morning…about us being here. You can't tell me not to worry. That's not fair.”
“I was never worried that you were here. Just concerned about Cid's sudden behavior… but that's okay right now, it's not him I'm dancing with…even if he was a hot girl.”
“Don't even start with me.” She warned.
The song was coming to an end, and he moved his hand to her waist, grabbing her wrist. In one swift movement, he spun her out, before she twirled back to meet him. She laughed as she dipped backwards, still being supported by the strength of his arms.
“We don't have any fireworks.” He managed still holding her in the final pose.
“Who the hell needs them?” she answered pulling him down to her. As their lips met again, she thought to herself, “Hyne, this is a much better ending to the dance.”
He was opening to her, a little more everyday. But they still had the battles, the walls, and he was still a different person outside their rooms. He was fighting between who he wanted to be, and with the person that everyone else believed him to be. Her nightmares weren't going to be stopped with this dance, but it at least would help amend the memories. She had sensed a change since arriving in Trabia, but even she couldn't tell what it meant. If it was them, or the future, or an obstacle that yet wasn't named. They just had to rely on the truth, and believe in each other.
Maybe now, she had fixed their first encounter, or somehow made the memories just a little more right within her mind. Either way, it didn't matter. They were going to get through everything, it would just take time.
And right now, she couldn't think of a better 'time' than with him.
Author's Notes: I'm so sorry about this chapter, it was written on a strange combination of pain killers and listening to 'Air Supply'...need I say more? Just be nice...and we'll finish the next chapter of 'Somewhere in Between.' Kay? Please? Don't hurt me...