I don’t own final fantasy 8’s storyline- characters or locations- Squaresoft owns them if you didn’t know that already so I’m definitely not making money from this.
Worlds change rapidly with time
Time is not slow nor is it fast
But there is no in between
We are all swept through life in tides
With new changes in every wave
-Where can I climb ashore?
The early morning was quiet and undisturbed. Squall preferred it that way. The quad was the closest he could get to an outdoor environment with the airborne Garden flying over the Centran Sea so he chose there. The quad was still damaged; nobody else was allowed there. This explained why there were no other students there and gave a reason as to why Squall was there. He wanted to be alone- to think. It was quiet enough here to do so.
For so long he had been alone. Now he had friends and a girlfriend and everything to live for. So much so he didn’t really know how to deal with it. That was why he was taking time to think. From a life as monotonous and what would be ‘boring’ for the likes of Selphie to one where he had to make new decisions everyday, ever changing- it was a drastic change that he just couldn’t believe or adjust to easily.
He sighed and walked down the decorated steps. As long as he could remember there had been painted patterns on the path. Then again that didn’t say much- he had little to remember since using GFs. But he had stopped using them now and hoped to slowly regain his memories. Even if they weren’t always happy.
Rinoa had taught him that. He smiled; Rinoa was one thing in his life he didn’t want to change. He was glad she was there- one steady person in his life of upheaval. To be honest his feelings for her had knocked him for six when he first realised them- the day when Rinoa had gone into a coma. It was almost re-living the anguish of when Ellone had left. When someone left you began to feel how much impact they made in your lives- and you couldn’t take them for granted anymore.
He tried not to be the same as before but he was not much different from meeting Rinoa. A person couldn’t change all at once. It took a lot of conscious effort to change and Squall realised that. More importantly so did Rinoa. He had entered the relationship blindly and then the fears had set in; would she try to change him? Would a relationship affect his judgement as commander? Was it wise to be dating anyone at all?
The view in Garden regarding relationships was that it was to be avoided. For a while it had puzzled Squall whether he should be in one or not because he wanted to be with Rinoa so much but his duty was strong to Garden. It had been all he had known for most of his life.
He wasn’t actually allowed in the quad. He had decided that being the commander he had the privilege to do so. If he was caught by anyone he could invent some story about surveying the damage as Selphie had been pestering him about where the Garden festival would be taking place this year. He wondered what would be better- moving Selphie’s festival to another area or just fixing the damage that had been sustained in the battle between the Gardens. Selphie was persistent and now had Irvine helping her in her mission; she couldn’t start preparing for the festival until there was somewhere for it to be held.
They would have no missions for a while- it was to give them a break from their last mission, all the better for everyone involved. Quistis was now fighting her dismissal as an Instructor- she had to have done something right because Squall and Selphie had been in her class and made it as SeeDs. Nobody really knew why she was doing this- she didn’t want to be an Instructor again but as she told Squall it was a bad mark on her record so she wanted to change it. Or at least find the reason for her dismissal. She suspected they had been lying to her in regard to why she was now only a SeeD.
Not that Squall cared. What happened to them wasn’t his concern anymore- he would try to resign as commander but if that didn’t work he would know he had tried- Rinoa now knew how he felt about the promotion and was insisting he go and try to get rid of it. There were plenty of people who might actually like the job. Squall was a SeeD not a leader- they were completely different to him.
Behind him someone was catching up with him. He turned around to see who it was and saw Rinoa- she smiled and sped up. Her boots were clicking a little on the floor- that’s how he had heard her despite her best efforts to stay quiet. The weather could reach all areas of the quad and the wind blew her hair as she headed towards him.
It was actually rare to be able to spend time with Rinoa alone. Squall was sick and tired of going around Garden with Rinoa and seeing people staring at them- either with their jaws hanging in surprise or smirks that Squall was actually dating someone. Then there had been the occasional idiot who shouted abuse at Rinoa- usually someone whose life had been affected by Ultimecia. It was amazing in these situations how much Cid had helped. He had spoken to the offender in such a way as to make them ashamed and then dismissed them in disgrace when all squall wanted to do was punch them.
“You’re up early.” She smiled as she finally reached him. The wind had calmed down a bit but she looked cold- he noticed she was shivering a little. He began to pay attention to the temperature- it was cold but he hadn’t really felt it. He wondered how much else he could block out just because he was wrapped up in his own thoughts. Had he ever ignored Rinoa like that? She put up with him; she knew you couldn’t change a person overnight but it concerned him quite a bit.
“So are you.” He wondered something, “What are you doing here?” She smiled and her hand went up to her hair- trying to untangle it. Squall could see it was a waste of time, the wind hadn’t stopped and she hadn’t tied it up.
“I saw you coming here- this place has restricted access you know,” She paused and pretended to look at him sternly, “what makes the commander so special that you can break Cid’s orders?”
“Technically he’s not in charge anymore.” Rinoa frowned. Squall hadn’t kept the bitterness out of his voice; she had tried to persuade him not to be angry about his promotion several times before but he wasn’t happy about the arrangement.
“He is in spirit though.” Squall rolled his eyes- whatever, only Rinoa would say that- except maybe Selphie…or Irvine. “He’s been in charge of Garden so long, most people still look at him as a leader- and he helps with the management side of things.”
“Yeah but when it comes to battle situations he leaves it to me.” Rinoa sighed; she had made her opinion on the subject perfectly clear hundreds of times before and now she would repeat it.
“Squall that’s because he doesn’t normally lead battles-” she cut him off from his well rehearsed argument. “When did he ever need to? Garden was never attacked- he probably thought your grades meant you’d be good in a battle situation.” He looked as though he still didn’t believe her.
“I’m eighteen, I don’t need this.”
“Squall when did your age come into this?” She stared at him until he realised she wouldn’t carry on until he looked at her, he looked up slowly and then she continued. “You’ve never acted like a teenager in the whole time I’ve known you- and from what I hear you never have.” Here he interrupted her, his blue eyes piercing into her own.
“You think I want to be older?”
“I never said that. I’m saying you’re just making excuses.” Squall looked confused. His hand went to his forehead in the same movement as it had when she’d first known him, before they were together. “What?” She asked, curious.
“Do you think I should still be commander then?” He lowered his arm and she realised how much her opinion mattered to him. He would probably stick with the job and be bored stupid with it for the rest of his life as long as she said yes. It was far too much influence to have over someone and it almost made her back off.
“Squall…” She recovered quickly and shook her head, letting more hair grow tangled in the wind, “I don’t think it’s my decision to make. What do you want to do?” He shook his head in response to her question.
“I don’t want to be commander… but I want to do the right thing.” Again, that curiosity.
“Why would being the commander be the right thing?”
“Because Cid obviously thinks I should have the job and I owe Garden a lot,” He ran his hand through his hair, a gesture new to him. She wondered where he had learnt it. “I thought this job would be temporary but when Cid and Edea came back they didn’t say anything about me standing down. I don’t like the attention.” She nodded and let him continue, holding back a comment.
“We go anywhere and they stare at us. In the corridors, the cafeteria, the dormitories- they stop and talk to me when they haven’t once paid attention to me before even when I was in their classes and I hate being noticed.” Rinoa was looking worried. She didn’t realise the emotion showed in her expression and Squall stopped before continuing with the next part of what he had to say. “Rinoa? What’s the matter?”
“Squall, why does my opinion matter so much to you?” She stared at him waiting for a reply. He didn’t understand half of what she was talking about but he sensed the seriousness radiating off of Rinoa and was silent. She wanted an answer though. “Squall?”
“It doesn’t…” He stated uncomfortably, hoping it would be enough. It wasn’t though.
“It does! Don’t pretend it doesn’t- Squall- why?” He was afraid now. Of what a little conversation had started, somehow he had caused a major problem in his relationship judging from Rinoa’s face. He was still trying to figure out what was the matter with his own reasoning. Somehow in all his years of intensive training he hadn’t learnt how to deal with people. He couldn’t interpret what they thought behind false smiles, he didn’t know how to say the right thing.
“I don’t want to make the wrong decision.” What had he said- she looked visibly relieved. Squall was equally so. He wanted to know what he had said to make her afraid. She ran up to him despite the distance between him being very short and ran into his arms for a hug.
She was still for a moment and then smiled. Everything was okay, what she’d been afraid of hadn’t been the case at all. Most of all since she’d inherited her powers was that they would manifest themselves despite her intentions. Squalls reliance on her decisions might have meant she was unconsciously manipulating him.
Having powers she could barely understand terrified her more than anyone could imagine but in times like these she felt fine, Squall always made her feel less afraid because he had saved her several times and knew he would do anything for her. But being directly responsible for that loyalty and strength of feeling was not something she wanted. Not at any cost. Squall’s arms were around her even though he was confused. He couldn’t know though, he couldn’t understand.
The war had bred misery and destruction; and the SeeDs would soon feel the after effects.
Laguna stood in his office. The palace was huge; he still didn’t know much of it very well even after living in it for eighteen years. He had an office- well that was a laugh he decided. He didn’t do anything really. Unless you counted signing forms and the few direct orders he made like sending that ship to pick up Ellone in the war when Galbadia was after her.
He sighed, he hadn’t regretted doing that for Elle but he did regret a lot of things. Raine for one- Squall for another. It was no use trying to be happy that Squall had turned out so well, it hadn’t been his doing and that affected him. If he had just gone back to Winhil then instead of being afraid of Raine’s reaction it would have been okay.
Shortly before being made President he had wanted to stay in Esthar. Even now it still amazed him that he of all people had been made President. It was a great opportunity at the time; it meant that he wouldn’t have to worry about another job or money and he wanted to bring Raine to Esthar but at the time he thought it best he send Ellone to her first so she wouldn’t get upset. But at the last minute he had cowardly backed out of telling her about his plans for his family so he didn’t go with Ellone and the current situation was the result.
As much as he hated thinking about these things they always came back to him and he hated more and more his decisions then. You couldn’t change them as Ellone had proved. What was he doing now? Who was he talking to? Nobody considered answering them. Squall especially wasn’t going to. His reaction had showed that much.
What had been unsettling was that after the initial exclamations that it couldn’t be true he was silent. Absolutely silent, no questions about Raine or why Laguna had left him and Ellone at an orphanage or anything. He was worried Squall would come to the wrong conclusions about the whole affair and they would probably be even worse than the actual truth. But now he had word that Squall was trying to forget everything. As though it hadn’t been worth learning. Laguna had only heard this from Cid and Edea who taken an interest in the matter and Laguna felt jealous- actually jealous of the people who had taken his job of bringing up his children although doubt about his ability to have done so himself was always in his mind.
I guess I don’t know if I would’ve been as good as Raine at bringing them up; she was always telling me off about setting a bad example for Ellone. He tried to think again what his reasons for not fetching them from the orphanage had been. For Ellone it had been easy, he wasn’t too trusting of Odine and didn’t know if he would kidnap Ellone or not and take her away for experiments again. He wouldn’t have been able to go chasing after her if that had happened because as President he had constant security and protection which meant he couldn’t leave if he wanted to.
Now for Squall. What were his reasons in that case? The security for one and the environment for bringing him up in- it was politics and debates and boring stuff what life would that have been for a child? For someone who didn’t have much to do officially he had a lot of papers to sign. How could he have made time for Squall? But he had for Ellone and he felt he should have tried a bit harder to sort out the mess that was his life. It had also taken him years to get over Raine and he couldn’t think clearly in that time. Kiros and Ward had sorted all the political work out for him otherwise he would have been deemed incompetent and been thrown out of office- Squall might possibly have turned out worse if he had been brought up by his father.
Now he was trying to mend all the stupid mistakes and decisions and it wasn’t working. He felt if Squall could forgive him- if they could at least start to talk about the mistakes and correct them he would be happy but Squall didn’t want to know and that hurt more than anything.
Ellone came in- interrupting his thoughts, she looked pleased. He knew why- she had got lost several times since moving into the place because she didn’t know where anything was. He had done exactly the same when he had first started living there but Ellone had the added difficulty having to search for someone. The office had a large window looking over the tall buildings of Esthar. Tall as the average buildings were the palace towered over them easily and he watched the sky that was its original blue again since the lunar cry until Ellone spoke.
“What’s wrong?” He heard what she said and was confused.
“Wrong? I don’t get it- where’d you get that idea?” He smiled trying to give the impression of complaisance but she had seen his troubled face and wasn’t going to let the matter drop.
“Thinking again,” she looked through the window as though seeing something fascinating in the horizon of blue buildings and lights. “Too much- something else you have in common.” Laguna took a defensive response to what she had said.
“We don’t have anything in common. If we did it would be a lot easier but he doesn’t even try.” It sounded almost as though he was insulting his own son and he frowned. “Forget that, I don’t expect him to.”
“He hasn’t been exactly helping…” Ellone admitted, she was torn, she loved her ‘Uncle’ Laguna and she loved her ‘brother’ Squall. She just wanted her family back together but achieving that was another matter.
“I used to be able to stop thinking about it once, before I met him but now it’s all I think about. How things could have been.” He shrugged and shook off his serious air. He still didn’t like serious matters. What am I doing in politics then?
“Don’t stop trying Uncle Laguna,” Ellone said switching her gaze from the buildings of Esthar to Laguna’s face. “He just doesn’t know what to think. He’ll accept it eventually.”
“I don’t know Ellone. It’s been a long time. Maybe we should forget it and move on.”
“I don’t want either of you to forget it- Squall has a family and the sooner he realises that the better.” Ellone’s voice had the finality of tone that Raine’s had when she had been arguing with Laguna all those years ago in Winhil. He looked at her surprised.
And it was final, the door opened before Laguna could think of what to say in reply and Kiros and Ward came in followed by another aide who was clutching a handful of papers in his hands. They entered the room and the papers were put on the desk, the aide looked expressively at Ellone who caught his meaning well before Laguna did and started towards the door.
“Hey!” Laguna was surprised, “Why are you leaving Elle?” She didn’t even bother to turn around.
“Secret political stuff right?” She said before continuing walking, Kiros explained in further detail to the confused President.
“She wouldn’t be every interested in these matters, it’s mainly about the science technicians.” Laguna glanced at the door Ellone had just exited.
“Well what’s wrong then?” Ward pulled a face at his friend’s colloquial language as the aide obviously wasn’t impressed, but the aide obviously had some common sense and picking up a particular sheet of paper started anyway.
“The government are concerned about the activities of a group of scientists who have resigned their jobs and left Esthar.” Laguna had been President long enough to know that a group of scientists leaving Esthar was dangerous. The knowledge of the technicians was highly valuable and would be relentlessly sought after by other nations if it became available.
“And the consequences if Galbadia obtained the technology would be devastating, the only thing that’s preventing a war is the advanced technology Esthar has. If we lose that advantage and Galbadia steals the technology we could be facing a war over power.” Laguna wondered about all the retired scientists and decided to enquire.
“Well, what about the scientists who don’t work anymore- how come these guys are leaving Esthar? Don’t they just retire and stay in the city?” The aide sighed.
“I’m trying to explain President Loire,” He said clearly annoyed at the interruption, Ward and Kiros were struggling not to laugh. Laguna’s formal title was always a source of amusement to them and Laguna scratched the side of his head in embarrassment, muttering, “You don’t have to call me that…”
The aide clearly had little or no patience. He slammed the papers on the table hard, the papers were everywhere and he didn’t bother to pick them up. He looked around at them all, they were silent. Laguna just about managed to keep a straight face. Kiros and Ward were much better at keeping a straight face than him and Kiros addressed the aide calmly with no trace of laughter. “My apologies, please explain.”
The aide still looked aggravated but he sighed picked up the paper with the air of a long suffering servant and explained, “The scientists in question escaped the programme of staying in Esthar. We do feel however that their purpose isn’t to sell the information to other governments.”
“Then what?” Laguna sat down in the chair behind his desk with his arms folded.
“They expressed concern in releasing the Sorceress recently; they felt it would jeopardize the safety of millions to allow her to live a normal life among the people, let alone living in Balamb Garden.”
“Why?” Laguna sat up straight from slouching in the chair. Ellone had been trying to get him to sit properly to improve his posture for ages but he had forgotten.
“Many feel that the Sorceress would not hesitate to manipulate the SeeDs. The general opinion is that she is dangerous, and if she does gain control of the SeeDs who else will fight her?” Kiros intervened; Laguna looked as if he was going to attack the aide. The fact that the Sorceress was none other than his son’s girlfriend biased him and he couldn’t look at the situation in an impartial light.
“Have they any proof for these allegations?” Kiros asked the aide, “Don’t they know her role in defeating Ultimecia?” The aide replied swiftly.
“They believe she will –if not now eventually- become corrupted and revert to the behaviour all Sorceresses. They left we believe because they intend to attempt solving the problem themselves.” Laguna looked concerned. He stood up.
“Thanks, you can go now.” The aide looked surprised.
“But I haven’t described who the missing scientists are.” He indicated the papers.
“I guess I can look at them myself. You can go okay?” The aide looked as though he wanted to object but changed his mind.
“I guess- I mean, yes President Loire.” He looked at Laguna who was already looking at the papers and walked out of the office.
As soon as the aide was gone Laguna spoke. “Who was that guy?” He put down the report he was holding, “I haven’t seen him round here before.”
“He’s a new aide Laguna; you drove one close to a mental breakdown.” Laguna frowned, suddenly remembering who the previous aide in question was.
“That’s not true; if you ask me he looked pretty stressed anyway.” Ward had an amused expression on his face.
“Ward says ‘that stress was you fault and don’t even try to deny it’” Kiros interpreted.
“Hey- I wasn’t anything but my usual self.” Laguna said defensively.
“That was the problem.” Kiros said laughing. Laguna chose to give up the argument; he never was very good at them. He just didn’t really know how to defend himself, Raine he certainly would never have been able to beat in a dispute. She could think up replies to his comments faster than lightning. Again he found himself missing her.
“Are you okay Laguna? You’re quiet, that’s not a good sign.”
“Ah, it’s nothing, just thinking about Raine again.” He was slightly embarrassed as though he expected them to laugh at him.
“And Squall too I’ll bet.” Laguna wondered how Kiros always seemed to know what was bothering him; did Kiros really know him that well?
“Yeah,” He admitted reluctantly. “Its like he’s trying to forget I said anything at all. I don’t get it, I thought he’d be angry, upset or something but trying to forget it? I don’t know…”
“It’s probably an attempt at dealing with it. It’s not going to work though. Just wait a bit longer, he’ll ask questions. I’m sure.” Laguna shrugged, he still didn’t like talking about serious subjects.
“D’you guys know where Elle went?” He asked, Kiros shook his head. “Guess I’ll have to go find her myself then.” He said. He left the office to go and find Ellone and Kiros and Ward turned to the papers Laguna had left carelessly on his desk. Then they started to read them.
Squall knew he had work to do; there were hundreds of papers he had to read and sign but right now he wanted to be able to relax and think in peace without someone interrupting by telling him thinking too much was bad for him. As far as he was concerned it wasn’t a problem, not thinking about something meant you made mistakes. Acting on impulse caused more problems than solved them.
Seeing Rinoa worried earlier that day was not a peaceful start to the day. He wanted to know what was going on in her mind as she seemed to know what was going on in his most of the time. Somehow he had the feeling their relationship was at a precarious point- they had not known each other very long and their relationship was already far more intense than a couple who had been together for years. He had become her knight, which was a deep commitment. It scared him a little sometimes. He was seventeen and knight to the sorceress who had inherited powers from three different sorceresses- Edea, Adel and Ultimecia.
As far as he was concerned there was no question of leaving her. He had known at the time when he had embarked on a relationship with her it would be far more deep and requiring much more commitment than an average teenage relationship normally would. At the time he had blindly fallen in love with her, he still was but her inheritance meant it would be much more serious than he would ever have assumed. But it was times like these when Rinoa was not there to ease his troubles by unconsciously reminding him that he loved her and felt they would be together forever. But he had always been the serious one. He looked at the national statistics when he was alone and knew that most teenage relationships didn’t last- he sometimes adopted a pessimistic air regarding their relationship and realised it would be difficult.
But he loved her to such a degree that he felt the world could go to hell and leave him and Rinoa alone. He remembered that day when he realised he loved Rinoa; it was a feeling totally unique to anything he had ever felt. It was different to his love for his ‘sister’ Ellone, it made him miss her when he had short missions and conferences to go to regarding the funding of Garden. It made him feel completely happy when she was there; he even smiled and forgot to be embarrassed about anyone watching.
The door to the office was knocked, Squall almost jumped but recovered as fast as he could. “What is it?” He never said ‘come in’ or such like as he really would have preferred to be left alone in the office which had once been Headmaster Cid’s. Cid was still officially headmaster; he just never took such an active role in running Garden now.
Squall sighed, right now Cid was running around organising an orphanage facility within Garden so children could grow up to be SeeDs without having to transport orphans from Centra, the old orphanage was destroyed years ago anyway in a storm that shattered the frail building into further ruins. Squall disapproved of raising orphans to be SeeDs anyway. It was something he wanted to bring up with Cid but didn’t want an argument about.
SeeD was his own fault really though, if Squall hadn’t started going on and on about SeeD and Garden when he had accidentally gone back to the wrong time in time compression maybe Matron wouldn’t have thought of it. Maybe things would have turned out different. But then the question of whether he would have met Rinoa came up in his mind and he dismissed all regrets about SeeD.
“It’s Quistis.” Squall held back a sigh; he didn’t really want to see her right now. Whenever she came to his office she would bring a list of missions for him to take part in. Most of the time he managed to get out of taking part in half of them but the ones he was left with were a pain. Boring and ridiculously easy, missions even the lowest level SeeDs could do.
“What is it Quistis?” Quistis took this as a sign to come in and entered the office. Squall tried not to cry out in shock when he saw dozens of files and papers in her arms and tried to think up plausible excuses for not taking part in a third of the missions but he couldn’t think of any. The excuse that he wasn’t used to all of the work he had to do and was behind wouldn’t wash anymore. And that he was still tired after the Ultimecia mission wouldn’t really be a good excuse either.
“Some missions requests for you Commander.” He hated being called Commander and she knew it but Quistis kept the formality in Garden matters and wouldn’t stop calling him Commander.
“How many?” He asked eyeing with a look of dread the papers Quistis was unloading onto his desk.
“Only thirty.” She said smiling at the look on his face. “You have to decide which ones are top priority; a lot of our employers want you on the missions. You have a growing reputation.”
“Is there any way I could turn half of these offers down without offending them?” Squall looked up at Quistis wearily. She shook her head. “Damn.”
“Unless…” Quistis smiled and Squall looked up hoping there was a solution but not wanting to fall into a trap.
“What?” He said cautiously.
“You could attend that conference concerning the treaty between Esthar and Galbadia.” Squall shook his head.
“No, Cid’s been trying to get me to go to that thing for ages, I said no then and I’m not changing my mind. Even if he did send you to try to get me to agree I’m not going.”
“But if you don’t go to it the peace talks will last a lot longer. They need a neutral representative that can vouch for Esthar’s sincerity.”
“I don’t want to go to it Quistis. I hate politics.”
“You’re the Commander! You’re supposed to get involved in politics- if you don’t we could end up being hunted by the governments like we almost were in the war, this is important.” She could see he felt guilty. He was now responsible for hundreds of lives in Garden, the responsibility not being something he asked for but something he couldn’t ignore now. Everyone else involved in running the Garden was taking their duties seriously and only Squall was still adjusting to the changes his position caused.
“What makes you think you can change my mind where everyone else failed?” He said darkly, Quistis almost flinched but didn’t let it show. Instead she tried another tactic- her last resort. If she couldn’t get him to agree on grounds of responsibility then she would resort to blackmail.
“Then I guess you’ll be spending months getting these missions out of the way.” She waited to be dismissed, watching his reaction. He sighed, he had no choice and they both knew it. She knew she had won.
“Let Headmaster Cid know I’ll be going on the trip.” He wasn’t happy but months of boring repetitive missions were not particularly appealing to him. Something Quistis could understand to a degree although she wasn’t anywhere as much in demand for missions as Squall because of his position in Garden as Commander.
She nodded and left, the office becoming more unpleasant in her opinion the longer she stayed in it, its atmosphere was musty and old. Squall unfortunately was left to finish off mountains of paperwork still lying on his desk besides the requests for his involvements in missions which Quistis had left for him to sort out. It was getting too much all of this work.
Squall thought of Rinoa, they’d promised to go to the secret area that night and watch shooting stars together, he hadn’t the heart to tell her that the likelihood of shooting stars occurring tonight were a million to one. Never mind, they could talk, finally. Alone this time without Zell or Irvine laughing and making dirty jokes about him and Rinoa. Rinoa just laughed when she heard them, telling him to laugh it off but Squall felt embarrassed, and he made no decent disguise of it.
And now he had to go to the conference, well the day was really turning out well. Squall had scared his girlfriend and managed to get booked on a conference he had spent the previous six weeks trying to avoid. Cid and Edea had been on at him to go for the whole time. Squall had taken to avoiding them whenever possible.
There was a particular reason he wanted to avoid going to the conference. Laguna would be there. Not straight away because of national security but he would be there later on and knowing Laguna he would probably take the opportunity to talk to him and about his mother. Squall had spent so long trying to forget what he had learned that to be forced to face the truth again would just destroy all his efforts permanently. He just didn’t know how he would react when the barriers he had formed around himself started to collapse.
But he really hated politics, the backstabbing; his lack of expertise in that world worried him, he didn’t want to be cross examined by representatives of different governments, he was a SeeD not a politician.
He sat back, he wondered what he would say to Rinoa- he had to go on a conference and he wasn’t sure when it would end. How did he put that to her? Would she do what she had done before and stay in Garden until he got back? But the longest his missions had ever lasted before were three days. A month at least. It was an entirely different matter. He didn’t want to be away that long anyway.
He pushed aside the feeling of dread that about having communicate this news to her later and started to fill in some of the paperwork he had been working on before Quistis came in. Again he wished he had a secretary.
If he had to name anything more tedious than the evening he had just had it wasn’t possible. He had had to sit through three hours of mindless introductions for representatives of each Government and while he barely had to speak at all the politicians loved talking and took great pains to do so, resulting in the most boring evening of his life. They hadn’t even really got round to talking much about peace treaties, just been discussing the current state of affairs within the governments the real reason for their meeting barely came up at all.
He headed back to his hotel. Rinoa had surprised him, turning up the day after he had arrived in Deling City where the peace talks were to be held. She had booked her own room which was enough to shut up Zell and Irvine and when he wasn’t in the conference room half-listening to the conversation he was with Rinoa- she insisted she would pay him back for the tour he had given her when she first stayed in Garden. She did this by showing him all the boring sights of Deling city.
Not that he would ever tell her that they were boring though. At least she talked when she was guiding him around the places where tourists visited. He could admit that he was no tour guide and Rinoa was much better at the job than him.
The weather was rarely that bad in Galbadia but today it was trying to rain and as a result Squall’s hair was getting quite damp and he would be pestered by Rinoa to wash it when he returned to the hotel. She always bothered about things like that; he didn’t really care either way. It was certainly cold though, and to reach the hotel faster he would take a shortcut through an alley, it was freezing and he wanted to get inside as soon as possible.
The sights of Deling the tourists didn’t see were the dirty alleys and slums that were a feature of every city. They saw the archway and the presidential residence and caught the slow buses. Squall had been offered transport just before he left the conference but as the heavily congested roads meant he would be faster walking than taking a car it didn’t take much intelligence to see which option he chose.
It was ridiculous to travel in a car though, yet for public image the politicians did. A lot of them would be staying in higher class hotels then the one Squall was staying in. They looked down on him he guessed; they certainly didn’t want his opinion in debates.
Leaving the conference hall he wondered about Laguna, when he would turn up. He was scheduled to arrive for the conference in a few days. Squall didn’t want to be there when he arrived but he had no choice. All he would need to do was turn up at the talks and leave as soon as they were over, he didn’t need to stay and socialise. He wouldn’t know how to do that anyway, they were completely different classes and they things that mattered to Squall wouldn’t matter to the politicians.
He jumped when someone addressed him by his name. He looked around in the direction of the voice and saw Rinoa standing behind him. She smiled. “When did you get here?” Squall asked surprised to see her. She usually waited at the hotel, particularly with this weather.
“There wasn’t anything to do at the hotel. It’s no fun waiting for over three hours by myself.” She added a casual tone to her voice, “plus I was sick of drunks trying to chat me up. Are we ready to go now?”
“You should have stayed out of the bar then.”
“What else is there to do?”
Squall followed her as she walked ahead, he wasn’t angry about the drunks; he knew she was capable of defending herself if the need arose. He caught up with her and she started to talk about the phone call she had made that day.
“There wasn’t much to do; I wondered how everyone was doing so I phoned them today.”
“And?” He was trying to keep his mind off the icy temperature made worse by the closed walls of the shortcut they had taken so he spoke more.
“They said things were fine except-,” She laughed, “Quistis is a bit overwhelmed with taking over your workload while you’re away. And after all that time trying to get you to take part in this mission too.” Squall could also see the irony of it, Quistis had been among numerous people who had informed Squall he was behind on his work and now she was experiencing first-hand the difficulties of his job herself. Rinoa at the time of his first receiving a load of work had been annoyed at Quistis for pestering him so much for not making deadlines.
“There was a lot of work though.” Squall admitted reluctantly. Rinoa looked at him, a strange expression on her face.
“Do you feel…sorry for her Squall?” She looked amused, Squall knew why, he had been bitter about Quistis and complained to Rinoa repeatedly during the past few weeks about the pressure she had put on him to attend the conference. Witnessing a change of heart in Squall was strange to say the least. When he formed an opinion about someone she had assumed he stuck with it.
“I’m not feeling sorry for her.” Squall eventually forced himself to say, “Just admitting I left a lot of work behind that’s all.”
“Don’t feel too guilty then.” Squall looked at her, he was confused.
“You feel sorry for her don’t you? Well I know for a fact that she didn’t have half of your workload. I don’t know how she had the nerve to call you lazy when she didn’t have half the amount to do.”
“She probably didn’t realise how much there was to do.” They had reached the alley through which they would take a shortcut to the hotel; Rinoa was talking about their other friends.
“Selphie says Irvine still hasn’t asked her out. I promised her I’d help her when we get back from the conference.” Squall looked around, something was bothering him about the alley, usually he would see a couple of drunks, especially at this time of night when they were kicked out of the pubs for drinking too much but today there weren’t any.
Rinoa was still talking about the phone call, this time about Irvine.
“And Irvine wanted to ask her out but he’s too scared to- those two should stop being scared and just start dating already, Zell’s taking up teaching martial arts to the kids in Garden before they start training to be SeeDs and Cid- Squall are you listening to me?” She finally couldn’t ignore the fact that Squall was looking around for anyone. He obviously wasn’t paying attention to a word she was saying.
“Squall?” She asked, “What are you looking for?”
“It’s too quiet here,” Squall explained, “there’s usually some drunks sleeping in the alley here- wonder where they went.” Rinoa laughed.
“You think that’s a bad thing? You’re paranoid Squall.” She looked around and saw nobody. “See? Nothing suspicious lets go.” Squall sighed.
“I have a weird feeling Rinoa.” Rinoa shook her head and continued forward. She could see the lights of the city through a gap in two buildings ahead. It was strange that the alley was dark and no light shone into there. It wasn’t just an alley though, it was a small area where dustbins were waiting to be emptied, the rubbish inside them generated by customers in the stores of the shops on the main street.
Squall suddenly heard Rinoa scream, he had turned his attention away from her for a second- looking for something unexpected. He ran forward to Rinoa- and saw a shadowy figure had seized her by the waist- she had no magic junctioned but she was a Sorceress for Hyne’s sake, surely she could cast a spell to stop them? Her powers didn’t require GFs to be ready to use. Squall ran forward, his mind filled with fear that the attacker would injure her, and regretting that he hadn’t been paying attention to her.
What would he do if the attacker had a knife however? He wouldn’t be able to help her if he got himself injured and he didn’t have his Gunblade or any spells stocked. He wondered desperately, when is she going to cast a spell? When a blinding light filled his vision and he realised she had cast Ultima.
He ran toward her, Rinoa was crying, she had run away from her attacker who was lying on the floor taken by surprise by the force of the spell, she was obviously scared after what had happened Squall stood helplessly, trying to decide what to do, he was a SeeD and he had to bear in mind his training. He could comfort her or stop the attacker from running away. His SeeD instinct took over and he ran toward the attacker who was now getting up groggily and made a half-hearted attempt to escape. Squall seized him by his shirt and slammed him against the wall. The attacker wasn’t drunk surprisingly, he was sober if a little dazed from the Ultima spell but otherwise he looked perfectly normal if you could count attacking someone for no reason normal.
“What the hell did you do that for?” Squall said trying to control his temper, he was a SeeD which taught him to control his fear in battles and other situations but anger was something that you could never entirely be free of and he wasn’t going to waste his energy calming down for this man. Rinoa was still crying, now sitting on the floor and trying to cry quietly, Squall wanted answers.
“She’s the sorceress!” The man said as though that would explain everything. Squall wanted to comfort Rinoa but what the attacker had said made him curious and even angrier at the same time.
“What does that mean? What did she ever do to you?” The man took a deep breath, staring at him obstinately.
“She is the Sorceress- that fact speaks for itself.”
“What reason do you have for attacking someone who’s done nothing to you?” Another thought occurred to him though, such as how did anyone know the identity of the present sorceress? It had been hushed up shortly after the Ultimecia mission; it was to give Rinoa a chance at living a normal life. She wouldn’t hurt anyone but her reputation would cause others to think she might.
“She’s a sorceress- its second nature to them! If she hasn’t already she will!” Rinoa was standing up now staring straight into the eyes of this man who seemed insane, he had provided no reasons for his actions; he glared at Rinoa, his hatred abundantly clear. She stepped back.
“Let him go Squall.” Rinoa spoke for the first time. Squall was surprised, this man was not particularly strong, he couldn’t escape without the aid of magic and he obviously didn’t have any otherwise he would have used it before now; they should take him to be arrested.
But another realisation was that if he was arrested her identity would be obvious to everyone, it would spread, everyone seemed afraid when a Sorceress was involved.
Squall reluctantly let him go, the man ran off instantly, as fast as he could manage with his injuries. Squall was confused, he turned to Rinoa who shrugged and walked away, her arms folded as though she felt the cold, although it hadn’t bothered her previously. Squall didn’t understand why she had told him to let her go. He followed her, trying to catch her up. They had left the alley now and were in the blinding glare of the main street.
“Rinoa,” Squall called after her. “Rinoa!” He called again as she didn’t turn around. She entered the hotel and he followed her. He made it halfway up the stairs when he saw the door to her room was shut and he guessed locked, he was right he discovered as he tried to open the door.
He looked back to the attack. He had watched it through a wall of thought. He hadn’t moved until he analyzed the situation and that had nearly killed her. Why did he always have to think- it wasn’t always a help.
He tried to talk to her for a bit longer but eventually gave up when she didn’t answer and the receptionist threatened to send for security to throw him out of the hotel if he wasn’t quiet, and then he went to his own room.
Rinoa was sitting on her bed, considerably calmed down. Her eyes were red and she stood in her bathroom trying to clear her face a bit. Squall had waited for her for what seemed like a long time, he had called to her and she had wanted nothing more than to let him in but something stopped her. She wanted to be alone to think; even though Squall didn’t speak much he would be a distraction for her.
Life wasn’t fair. She had lost so much in her life, her mother and even her father although he had been as much to blame over their damaged relationship as herself and she had unfairly been singled out to receive the Sorceress powers.
Since the events of Ultimecia she was different, she was wary constantly of being hated and shunned by society because of the powers. She had never consciously used them except in battle situations like that one, when she had had no choice.
She had let him go because if he had been arrested her identity would have been revealed and all the work Cid and Edea had gone to for her anonymity would have been wasted.
Was this what it would be like? It would come out eventually; the press were relentless and cruel regarding the Sorceress, whether she had actually committed a crime or not. Would Squall be able to stay with her after that? His reputation would be at stake too.
But power was supposed to corrupt people and with the power she held she didn’t know when she might be misusing it. She had been working so hard to conceal them for the months after Ultimecia. She glanced outside following an urge to do so. She saw Squall’s light brown hair, he was leaving the hotel; she fought back her worry and hoped he wouldn’t be doing anything like trying to catch the man who had tried to attack her. She knew in her heart the situation could have been much worse, he could have had magic or a weapon and killed her before Squall had a chance to do anything.
She had never seen him so angry though. She remembered how he had slammed the man against the wall with such force she was surprised he hadn’t broken an arm or something. There were sides to Squall she didn’t know yet.
Curious she decided to follow him to wherever he was going. She checked in the mirror, and made sure she didn’t look as if she had been crying. She wasn’t entirely certain but if she didn’t go now she would lose him.
The night had more surprises yet.
He was angry, not with Rinoa but the man who had treated her like that. That was society now. People hated each sorceress because of a few bad ones and people hated SeeD because they thought their morals were wrong. At least, they said that but in truth most people who said that were Galbadian and didn’t like the idea of SeeD being hired to assist defending countries Galbadia wanted to occupy.
Once again society scared Rinoa, Squall didn’t really want to admit it but he was losing patience over her fear, true he didn’t know what it was like to be in her position and he never would but at the very least she could face her fear and prove she wasn’t like the other Sorceresses, as her Knight he would defend her and if she wanted to keep her identity a secret he wouldn’t divulge it. But he had no respect for her reaction to being a Sorceress and that would eventually have an effect on their relationship, he could feel it weakening already.
It was raining now, he wasn’t really wearing anything that would protect him from the rain and his hair already damp from earlier was soaked through now. He wasn’t even sure where he was going all he knew was the attacker today looked unprofessional and might return to the alley again to try and attack Rinoa again. It was an unofficial rule in SeeD- no it was common sense not to repeat the same tactics in a mission but this man judging from earlier didn’t have any common sense and might do just that.
Hyne it was cold. He didn’t realise just how cold until he started to pay attention to his surroundings and as per usual he drifted back into his thoughtful mode again, the one everyone attributed to his desire to be alone and his seriousness. But really it was a lapse of concentration which had the side effect of causing him to be rude and ignore people most of the time.
At least- that’s my excuse he thought. He looked around, he was a few minutes away from the alley and he wanted to be sure he was fully prepared for an ambush, he had his GF junctioned and healing and combat magic stocked. But he couldn’t guarantee that the man he was searching for wouldn’t have backup by now, he shook away the thought of ten drunken men who- while they shouldn’t be much of a problem alone would be difficult to beat as a group.
Why had he left the hotel? The reason didn’t seem very good now, and earlier that evening he had proudly thought that he was a thinker; someone who considered an idea before carrying it out. Because impulse ideas might go wrong and cause trouble. And what had he just done? So he was like other people after all, he made mistakes like his friends, he remembered his casual response to the news that Rinoa was hanging off the quad in the attack against Garden and then helping her afterwards.
Back then though he was new to leadership, if he was even leader at all just then, damn he couldn’t remember because of the GFs, he could remember things he didn’t want to but when he wanted to forget things he couldn’t, it was always the case. Like all his newfound problems with Rinoa that he previously didn’t know he had.
Why do I have to think too much now? Squall thought knowing that when he did think too deeply about anything other than a mission he would become depressed and worried about things that were happening, or even things that weren’t or wouldn’t. He was happy in his relationship with Rinoa but something made him frustrated about her views on things.
It was cold, he noticed it again and he walked faster so that he could either warm up or finish what he was doing faster searching for Rinoa’s attacker. Rinoa’s locking herself in her room had made him determined to try and set her fears at ease, what he would do he wasn’t sure about yet- looking in the bars was his best idea and it was so vague he didn’t know where to start.
He ran a hand through his hair to see how wet it was, it was soaked, and the rain was falling down so hard that he had to wipe it out of his icy blue eyes repeatedly. The eyes in question scanned the entrance of the alley he was coming close to. It was strange how stark the contrast of the alley was in comparison to the main street. He looked for the familiar discolouring of brick that surrounded the shortcut to the square in front of presidential residence where the conference was usually held.
That was another thing, they had mentioned somewhere of higher security for the next conference, it didn’t matter that he didn’t know where it was, if he got lost he would be glad of the excuse not to attend it, Laguna would be there, that was the reason for all the added security. Squall had actually listened to the conversation about the requests the Estharian aides had insisted on for their president, the reason he had listened was because the politicians had been irritated about the request. They didn’t see why the president had to have extra security the rest of them didn’t have.
Squall entered the alley, it was even worse in the alley with regards to the weather; the rain wasn’t falling so badly in here but the force of the wind seemed ten times magnified, Squall felt even colder and wondered why nature had to choose then to rapidly progress into a storm, especially in an alley littered with newspapers and broken bottles, the newspapers that had been wrapped around cheap fish and chips were becoming soaked and it became a job to avoid them.
The alley was boring and empty as he had had expected; there was absolutely nothing to see besides the rubbish and side doors from the storerooms of shops. He looked around; there should be something, some signs of a struggle. But he looked as around as thoroughly as he could despite the weather affecting his vision and sighed. There had been no reason to come out at all.
Maybe he would have waited normally but he couldn’t be bothered this time. He walked back to the main street where he had come form and began the fifteen minute walk back to the hotel. He saw a bar though, it wasn’t one he usually went to but he had been there once when Irvine had insisted on touring all the bars in Deling city and this had been one of them. He sped his pace, if he could get there and wait until the weather had calmed down a bit it might leave him a little drier by the time he got back to the hotel.
He opened the newly painted door to the bar and walked inside, the few customers who were there already didn’t even turn around. Squall noticed they were mostly soldiers because of the loud conversation about battling and following orders. Squall walked to the bar and silently waited to get the attention of the barman who quickly served him because he was bored and had nothing to do, the soldiers probably hadn’t purchased any new drinks for a long time but as they were trained and in numbers the barman couldn’t threaten to throw them out.
Squall chose a seat at the back of the bar at a small table after receiving his drink and decided that if he had to wait long then he hoped the barman would be as wary of him as he had been with the soldiers because he didn’t want to be disturbed the barman was certainly looking at him a lot until another cry form the soldiers took his attention, Squall had a real chance to think now. And as much as he had previously disliked thinking he now wanted a chance to do so, nobody had left him alone for a while and he was beginning to hate the constant requests for his attention from Selphie, Quistis, Cid, Edea, Xu and Dr. Kadowaki.
When he left Rinoa he had been angry, the incident didn’t shock him as much as it had Rinoa though because he was a SeeD and had grown up to expect sudden attacks and surprises, Rinoa had, it had to be said lived a sheltered life and hadn’t grown up to expect any sudden attacks although her parents might have considering the money Julia must have earned from releasing her song all those years ago- the attention she would get from fans. He remembered when Rinoa had been talking to him about their childhood and mentioned her mother. She had proudly announced her mother had been the writer of ‘eyes on me’ and asked him what he thought of the song.
Good job I didn’t tell her what I really thought. I think she would have killed me if I told her I hated it he thought glad he hadn’t told her the other thoughts associated with the song, that Julia couldn’t sing very well in his opinion and that all versions of the song annoyed him.
He looked around again, his drink didn’t taste very good and there was a smoky atmosphere in the bar which was rather small and rather empty for this time of night- it was quite late. That was another thing, he could lose all track of time, it was slipping away from him and he often didn’t realise it- so today had gone in a flash- excluding the conference, which was a pity.
The soldiers were arguing over a game of cards, maybe they weren’t even meant to be there, he could only assume that if that was the case they were being extremely careful not to get drunk and just wanted to skip part of their shift.
The door swung open, as nothing was really happening Squall turned his attention to the new customer and drew in a breath as he saw Rinoa’s attacker enter the room, he obviously hadn’t seen Squall yet and ordered a drink- announcing to the barman that he needed one after ‘the night he’d had’ and sighed. He turned around, leaning on the bar, he looked tired and then he noticed Squall.
Squall expected him to turn pale, look surprised or scared but certainly not smile. The customer took his drink and walked with it slowly to the table. Squall stared at him, surprised that the man would even dare to come near him after being slammed up against a wall. But he confidently sat down and Squall wondered what the reason was for the action. There were more than enough tables in the bar for him to sit at so there had to be some motive for his sitting there.
After lighting a cigarette he blew the smoke in Squall’s face- he dared to do so because of the Galbadian soldiers who outnumbered Squall easily. He leaned back on the creaking chair he was sitting on.
“You don’t smoke then?” He smirked.
“No.” Squall took another sip of his drink, he could stare at someone for so long but in the end he had to give up, instead he decided to add to his statement. “I didn’t think you would dare to come out so soon.”
“I’m Tehn.” Squall raised an eyebrow, “That’s my name, T E H N. get it?”
“I’m not as stupid as you. Don’t talk to me like that.” He folded his arms and had finished his drink, it wasn’t very strong anyway but he couldn’t drink much and get away with it so he decided against ordering another even though the barman was watching them for- he assumed- not ordering another drink after meeting up again. He must have thought they knew each other.
“What you gonna do? Hurl me against a wall again? In case you hadn’t noticed there are soldiers here who only help Galbadian citizens and you don’t really count.” He sat back smugly in his chair, the man was an idiot Squall decided, he was giving everything away- the fact he was a regular in this bar judging from the casual way he had spoken to the barman and revealing his name and letting Squall see him properly.
“Why did you do that anyway?” Tehn seemed genuinely curious. He obviously didn’t know Squall was dating Rinoa.
“Rinoa’s my girlfriend.” He stated, watching Tehn’s reaction. Tehn seemed pleased, why Squall couldn’t tell but in a second his smirk was gone and replaced by a serious expression.
“Really? A SeeD dating a sorceress- there’s one for the history books.” Something about what he said bothered Squall for a second but he couldn’t think what straight away- then he realised.
“How do you know I’m a SeeD?”
“Your uniform gave me a clue.” Oh great a sarcastic idiot, just what he needed. It was also pretty embarrassing to not have realised the fact himself, he had to wear the uniform as part of the formality for the peace conference.
It was time to get to the point. “Leave Rinoa alone.” Tehn laughed.
“Or else what?” He gestured around the bar, “you’ll attack me in here? At this time, with what? Anyway- commander of Balamb Garden starts a fight in Deling city after peace talks. Not very good publicity is it?” Squall frowned, this man seemed to know an awful lot of information about him, Squall chose his strategy, let the man get drunk and or just wait for him to slip up, and Tehn seemed to like talking.
“You know what I want to know?” He leaned forward drunkenly after finishing his drink which must have been very strong Squall noticed, “What came first? SeeD or the sorceress?” Squall’s face wore a blank look. Tehn repeated the question to no avail. He put it a different way.
“Were you a SeeD before you met her?” Squall nodded. “Oh that’s why- well soon you have to make your mind up.”
“That’s none of your business.” He half-expected Quistis to join him in the finish of the statement but she wasn’t there. It wasn’t as if he knew what Tehn was talking about if that was really his name, make his mind up? Tehn did like talking however, he kept going.
“Yeah it is, if you’re gonna give up as part of your loyalty to her we need to know don’t we? Before we act.”
What Tehn was saying wasn’t completely alien to Squall, he had noticed time after time the impracticalities of a relationship between Rinoa and himself, he was trained to destroy the Sorceress, she was the Sorceress, he was really only buying time for himself. He didn’t know what else he would do with his life even at the start of it. He had so many problems to contend with he didn’t know what to do.
Being in Garden he had had some security, he hadn’t ever doubted that he would make it into SeeD as his marks had always been the best; he had been one of the best in his classes and therefore he didn’t have to worry about his ability to pass. He had a career in front of him.
That was important, as an orphan he needed to know he would have somewhere to go, live sleep and not have to worry about his future. He had pushed away the thought of quitting SeeD away so it no longer became an issue to him. Now he had to face that as knight to the present sorceress he was a member of an organisation trained to kill her if the need arose. He had always countered the fact with ‘well they won’t attack her because she isn’t a bad Sorceress’ but the irony of it made his head ache.
Or maybe it was the drink, his head was spinning and he wanted to go back to the hotel. He stood up groggily and concentrated on stepping one foot in front of the other. But the soldiers had stood up; it suddenly occurred in the remaining sensible part of his mind that though he had been around to hear the soldiers in plain uniform talking about military jobs to be able to tell they were soldiers but Tehn hadn’t.
Two soldiers blocked the door, and two more waited behind him, they walked up to Squall and seized his arms while Tehn prepared a sleep spell. Squall saw the barman out of the corner of his eye, wringing his hands nervously. He had out something in his drink, it was obvious now, and Squall felt the headache from whatever drug it was make him more and more tired and almost drunk. The spell hit him before he hit the floor, his dead weight causing the soldiers to drop him.
“Watch it you idiots! We need him if this is going to work.” The soldiers nodded to Tehn and picked up Squall off the floor. Tehn checked the back entrance was clear, “Make sure nobody sees you. He made this a lot easier for us but we don’t want to get too confident yet.” The door swung open and a few minutes later the old customers were gone and the mess from fallen glasses cleared away. So when the next genuine customers arrived there were no traces of what had happened earlier. The soldiers were gone.
And Rinoa wouldn’t know where else to look.
Quistis put the phone down, not only had Squall been missing for two days there had been no phone calls demanding ransom, they effectively had nowhere to look. There had been a number of suspicions as to why Squall had been taken and none of them came up with any other solution than someone wanted money fast.
She had to admit the workload she had been left had thrown her a bit at first. She had gradually sorted it all out leading her to believe that a system for doing paperwork was all the Commander needed to finish it before the deadlines. She sat down at the chair behind the mercifully clear desk in the office. She really couldn’t do with much work now.
She had received the call a day before. According to Rinoa she had seen him last when he had prevented an attacker from injuring her or as Quistis privately believed, kidnapping her for ransom. Another thing Quistis couldn’t believe was that Squall had gone out to find him afterwards, it was stupid behaviour Quistis could associate with Zell and his high loyalty but not Squall.
But Squall had indeed left the hotel, Rinoa was blaming herself, saying that she had pushed him away when she was upset about the attack and he had gone to find the attacker to set her fears at ease.
Quistis couldn’t believe Rinoa, at first she was unable to get any coherent words out of Rinoa but when she did they were laced with double feelings- guilt and worry being the most evident but underneath there was a kind of pride that her boyfriend would do that for her, it had been a good thing Rinoa had not been in the same room as Quistis otherwise she might have had to shake some sense into Rinoa about the seriousness of what was happening- it wasn’t a case of finding out how much Squall loved Rinoa.
But the conference would be beginning again soon, Garden had would dispatch Quistis to attend it, she now being the highest authority in Garden and the commander missing. The politicians were annoyed about the peace talks being put on hold especially when they weren’t allowed to say what happened to cause the delay. Mostly they wondered what was so special about Squall for him to be captured.
Quistis sighed, she walked into the lift and pressed the ground floor button, wondering how all this mess would be sorted out, they had not long defeated Ultimecia and they were experiencing trouble again, but as a big sister she was worried. She wondered if she could contact Esthar to tell Ellone, but the situation was probably not as bad as it seemed and it wouldn’t require Ellone getting worried.
Quistis felt bad about considering the situation wasn’t as bad as it seemed- Squall was actually missing, he had never just gone off and left without telling anyone- maybe he had a lapse of sanity and tried to find justice and come across trouble. But the fact remained, there was no reason for anyone kidnapping Squall- especially now. If they wanted to end the peace talks because they didn’t want Galbadia and Esthar to be allies they wouldn’t achieve that by capturing the commander of SeeD because there would be plenty of people to vouch for Esthar’s sincerity. She was proof of that.
The lift reached the floor and she left the confined lift- she would never tell anyone but she hated being in the lift after it had nearly crashed when Squall had been sent to the basement not long ago to make Garden mobile, she feared the same happening to herself while she was in it but it was the only way down from the office and she had to live with it.
She was so occupied thinking that she didn’t see Irvine until she walked into him, he turned around and looked down at her- being much taller than she was. “Hey Quisty what’s the rush?”
“Nothing- I was thinking that’s all.”
“Well watch out- we don’t need another Squall.” He smiled but the thought didn’t cheer Quistis up and she carried on, heading to the car park her shoes squeaking on the highly polished floor, Irvine sped his pace to match hers- and didn’t slip as Quistis had done the previous week to her embarrassment, sometimes life wasn’t fair. Her best attempts to get rid of him were failing.
“What’s the matter with you?” He stood in front of her and blocked her path- moving in front of her as she tried to get around him.
“Stop that.” She would have folded her arms if she hadn’t been holding an armload of books and files in her arms- she was still the bossy sister. “I need to leave soon.”
“I want to know what’s up with you are you worried about your new job?” Quistis shook her head.
“I’m just worried Irvine- I’m the big sister- this is my role- Squall isn’t here and I want to get there to find out as soon as possible what’s going on. I can’t get anything out of Rinoa.”
“Yeah well I think I should tell you…” Irvine stated as Quistis drew near to the car park, stopping dead in her tacks when she saw Selphie and Zell waiting at the vehicle she was supposed to be driving to Galbadia. She looked around at Irvine who was right behind her.
“We’re coming too.”
“No you aren’t this isn’t your mission.”
“Yeah but Squall’s our friend too and I really think you could do with us being around. Politicians aren’t easy people to talk to.” Quistis laughed, the idea of Irvine being able to talk to a politician calmly where Quistis couldn’t just hadn’t occurred to her before and seemed unlikely now.
“What’s so funny?” Irvine looked confused. Quistis smiled- something she hadn’t done in ages what with all the work she’d had.
“Nothing- lets go.” She stopped him as he walked up the left hand side of the vehicle. “No, I drive.” Irvine made a gesture of disappointment and headed around to the back as Selphie had already climbed into the passenger seat at the front.
A few minutes later they were on their way to Deling city.
Rinoa waited at the hotel, the room was decorated according to traditional fashion in Galbadia before any sorceress wars had taken place, and somehow the styles had not died out over the centuries. There was a window that looked over into the square, she could see the archway from here, and the presidential residence over there and amid the eternal lights which were always lit- the clock where they had hidden in on their mission to assassinate the sorceress at that time- Edea.
How hard would it have been to fight their matron if they could remember her? Irvine had and his memories had been most vivid, the rest of the orphanage gang couldn’t remember her as their mother figure and so it must have been easier to fight her when the time came. But she had fought that woman without regret except for hoping she wouldn’t be left behind when it all came to an end.
It hadn’t come to an end- she had inherited the powers and she couldn’t see why- there had been other people there and none of them had been given the curse. The powers that would make people hate her before getting to know her if she told them- what did it mean anyway- she had thought long and hard for an answer and none came. She felt like herself for a good and normal but when situations arose she felt different, not just isolated from normal people although that was the biggest part of it but she also felt more powerful, in battles she felt assured and able to cope and help herself. When had she been that independent before- never and it was a feeling she liked- no more demands from her father that she stayed in when she wanted to go out she lived in Garden now.
That was also a welcome amendment to the usual routine- she could travel and see the world it was like a dream that she didn’t want to wake up from, the Sorceress powers were a mixed blessing- she could be made to feel different and separate to society but then she had gained so much independence form her father and her family. Including all the relations- the distant and the not so distant- who visited every birthday and talked for hours about how much she had grown and how quickly children would grow up and then about absent cousins of Rinoa- how well they were doing. The cousins were invariably going to university and doing degrees so Caraway would sit and patiently listen and assume the role of supportive parent- how he always encouraged Rinoa to do well and never forced her into doing anything she didn’t want to. That made her feel sick.
This year- for her eighteenth birthday she had been in Garden and danced with Squall in the ballroom she had persuaded him to sneak into- he had been extremely reluctant to do so- breaking curfew to him was unthinkable but she had spent ages trying to persuade him and finally dedication to her task had succeeded- somehow the ballroom was special to them- or to Rinoa at least. It had been the place where they had first met and she had taught him to dance and she felt an attachment to the place- even when the lights weren’t on and the place was undecorated it had been special- nobody had been there to spoil the moment and Squall couldn’t be embarrassed when there was nobody to keep a reputation for.
They had danced for ages and then she heard something that changed the level of their relationship- as if jumping into space hadn’t been enough or carrying her all the way to Esthar along the unused rail tracks- it was even bigger than that- he had told her he loved her.
Just thinking about it made her feel happy and warm her cheeks flushed and she looked around as though there were somebody in the hotel room with her- she was young and little experience in relationships- if she had ever had any at all. Whatever she had had felt for Seifer he never seemed to reciprocate the same feelings for her.
Rinoa twisted her hair around her hair thinking about the summer she had spent with Seifer- it had been the summer he had taken a break form all the exams of Garden and promised her when he became a SeeD he would come back and take her out of Deling city and she would never have to see her father again. That had made her so happy too- but he never made the grade into SeeD, she had concealed it well but it had been difficult to hide her sorrow that he hadn’t made it when Squall arrived as one of the SeeDs sent to assist with the forest owls. That summer with Seifer had been the one when she finally could take no more of her father and left Deling city to join the forest owls to meet her friends whom she had promised to liberate Timber with.
Timber she didn’t really care about- what it stood for was why she wanted to liberate the country- the ultimate rebellion against her father who was General of the Galbadian army- the highly decorated General, respected and had a lot of contacts could not control his own daughter. Yes she had been proud of that.
That was two years ago now- her relationship with Squall wasn’t all she could have wished for but it was wonderful mostly and he fulfilled the promise Seifer had made without realising it, he had taken her away from Deling city and she was now living in Garden near her boyfriend and happy for the most part.
She glanced across at the door- half expecting Squall to walk in and ask what the reason for all the search parties who had been sent out was. She had followed him after he left- trying to see if she could see where he was going- a small part of her believed that of all people he could find her attacker- she wouldn’t forget for a long time the terrible feeling of fear and helplessness as she fought desperately to free herself from his grip- her newness to the powers meant it took her a while to consider using her them. Squall had been angry about the attack- she had practically felt the anger radiating off him and she had wondered if she could sense any emotions radiating off him when she attempted to follow him.
She had lived in Deling city for almost all of her life. How could she not have known where to go first? Maybe it was her lack of knowledge of the way Squall’s mind worked- she had only realised that when she spent half an hour looking in the most widely known bars- in all of them the drunks leered at her and she had left amid disgusting comments aimed at her- but she had never seen Squall in any of them. Somehow in contradiction of all the thoughts surrounding the issue it was a comfort to know he was not in any of them.
At first she had assumed he was annoyed at her and had gone somewhere to avoid her to get drunk and forget everything he worried about- maybe that was his way of getting away from his work which for the briefest second worried her but as soon as she realised he had been gone for two days she had phoned Quistis and sobbed into the phone word Quistis couldn’t understand. She calmed down a bit- all the pent up emotions of the two days of waiting released and she finally gave a calmer more accurate account about Squall’s disappearance.
All Rinoa had achieved from that call was that Quistis would be attending the conference in Squall’s place- it was as though they didn’t care about Squall’s disappearance and were merely concerned in getting the conference organised. This was probably true considering the political troubles caused by postponing the event already.
She looked out of the window- people were making their way to Deling city to hear the results of the talks- live broadcasts were still rare and unreliable so people wanted to make their way to the city where the talks were taking place to hear whether the treaty had been signed and what exactly were the conditions involved? That was why there was a traffic jam building up; nobody could watch the conference and it had taken a good deal of persuasion for everyone to agree that they should present the results to the public immediately after signing.
A knock on her door prompted her to get off the bed she was sitting on- she looked through the spyglass in her door and saw the distorted face of Quistis Trepe waiting impatiently in front of the door to her room. Sighing- for what she couldn’t guess tell she stood up and unlocked the door- she hadn’t even realised it was locked in the first place and wondered if it was a nervous habit she had picked up since being attacked- she opened the door and Quistis Trepe swept into the room.
She was holding a mountain of reports and papers and she put them down on the bed- nearly dropping them, and rubbing her arms which were aching from holding so many books at once for so long.
“I have my own room- sorry about this,” Quistis explained hastily as though Rinoa was giving her dark looks. Rinoa looked surprised.
“Its okay- I just wondered what you were doing here first of all- is everything alright?” Quistis shook her head.
“I just got back from the conference now.”
“The conference? But you haven’t been in Deling five minutes.”
“I arrived and I had to attend the talks straight away- they don’t want to keep postponing the conference in case anyone decides to back out.” Quistis reached into a folder and looked at some of the notes she had made during the discussion- Rinoa noticed Squall had never made any- he came back empty handed every time.
“Anyway Rinoa- the president of Esthar arrived not long before me and he wanted to know about Squall- I couldn’t tell him much because we don’t know much ourselves but he wants to talk to you.” Rinoa frowned, everyone who was closest to Squall knew about the relationship between Squall and Laguna now- right from that day a few months ago when Squall had casually slipped into the conversation he was having with his friends that they were related- and that he didn’t really want to visit Esthar when they were planning to go and see Ellone. Rinoa was eager to meet Ellone who had sent Squall into her head when she was drifting in space after being possessed by Ultimecia. But she hadn’t yet and she was still waiting for the opportunity.
The news about Squall and Laguna had surprised them all, after he had explained he would answer no more questions- Rinoa secretly felt he couldn’t answer anyway and he headed to the training centre- letting nobody follow him, even her.
Rinoa wondered what had happened when Laguna had told Squall- she could ask herself the questions that Squall couldn’t- bearing in mind some aspects of the matter were probably private and she shouldn’t mention them- but she wanted to know what Squall’s mother had been like- what she looked like- all things she was curious about, anything that might give her some insight into the character of Squall Leonhart.
But maybe he could help her. “Quistis?” She asked, Quistis looked up.” Where is he- where can I talk to him?” Quistis stopped paying attention to Rinoa for a second and pulled a pass out of her pocket. “Show this to the guards and go to the room number on it- Laguna gave it to me to give to you for this. He’ll be staying in the presidential residence.” Rinoa took it out of Quistis’ hand and nodded.
“Um… when you leave, can you lock it behind you?” She pulled a key out of a purse she had carried around with her down town. Quistis nodded and Rinoa shut the door behind her.
Laguna was standing at the window when Rinoa arrived doing what she had done earlier that evening, looking out onto the square filled with traffic, nobody was taking the buses because it was quicker to walk and they were losing business. He smiled wistfully at his old home. He had had a lot of homes- Deling city, Winhil, and then Esthar. He had always liked change whereas Raine had always hated it, well so he gathered from the conversations he’d had with her when she was alive.
Rinoa came in and said nervously, “Mr Loire?” He turned around surprised by the expression- ‘Mr’? He never felt comfortable with the name. “Nah- just call me Laguna, it’ll be okay.” He glanced at Kiros and Ward who were wearing smirks on their faces- making Rinoa feel a little foolish but it was okay, the atmosphere was less tense now. She could feel some of her nervousness disappearing and her curiosity return.
Kiros and Ward left the room; they were still wearing their formal Esthar clothes from the peace talks. Rinoa glanced at Laguna from time to time to search for any resemblance between him and Squall, mostly there was none but sometimes when he turned his head and wore a slightly more serious expression there was one, in the slight smile that made her wonder whether she had seen Squall smile properly or not. They hadn’t been dating long, not long enough to change all the years’ worth of training to hide his emotions she guessed he had taken very seriously.
“Did you want to know about what happened to Squall?” She asked him, “Because I don’t really know…” he looked disappointed but he took a step toward her. Better to get to the point rather than drag it out, at least then they might be able to do something to help Squall.
“Tell me what happened up ‘till the time he vanished. Is there anything that could help us know where to look?”
“I’m sorry Laguna I can’t think- I was attacked in an alley when we were coming back to the hotel from the conference,” Laguna’s eyes suddenly focused on her and knowing now as she did her mother wrote her song about Laguna all those years ago she suddenly understood some of what her mother had written about them. “And- I locked myself in my room and then I looked out the window and I saw him heading into the centre of town,”
“Where?” Laguna cut her off, “What direction?” Rinoa shook her head.
“Its no use trying to find him, we’ve searched and he could have gone anywhere. I followed the same direction myself and I lost him, there were so many places to go to.”
“Yeah- I guess there’s nothing we can do.” It looked as though someone had already told him this already but he had refused to believe it. Rinoa felt sympathy for him, he was worried like she was but he seemed to feel he had no right to be.
“Who would you say he looks like?” She said- her thoughts finally being voiced. He looked at her surprised for a second then he smiled, remembering something that obviously made him happy. His mood changed so quickly Rinoa was surprised. But she was surprised for bringing it up. She had never previously been particularly curious about Squall’s family.
“His mother,” he said- he said that with affection, seeming to forget the current situation. He seemed to have briefly forgotten squall was missing. Another difference between him and Squall. “Her name was Raine- you ever hear anything about her?” Rinoa shook her head, well technically she had from Squall but he had called her Raine and at that time he didn’t know she was his mother. It didn’t really count, and then they had been searching for Ellone. Rinoa wanted to ask more questions but the door flew open suddenly, Kiros and ward were standing in the doorway.
“Laguna,” Kiros began, “Ellone’s gone.” Laguna stood still for a moment and then looked as though he was about to have a fit.
“Gone? What d’you mean gone! Where is she?” He ran past Rinoa up to his friends and Rinoa felt more and more like she was intruding.
“We’ve searched everywhere- there were signs of a struggle in her room, we can’t find her.” Laguna went pale. It was a nightmare come true, both of his children had vanished at once. But what had happened to Ellone was really making the situation more frightening for him.
“We have to find her- if I ever catch whoever did this-” he banged a fist on the nearby wall in frustration.
Rinoa felt it was time to leave, nobody noticed her leaving except Kiros who looked at her to acknowledge her departure and she left the room which was getting noisy as Laguna kept talking and yelling and worrying and complaining about security. Now was a good time to leave.
She set off; back to the hotel, growing more worried herself about everything, Squall was missing and now Ellone, she had to tell Quistis what had happened, she sped up, and then finally broke into a run to reach her destination quicker.