~* Chapter 12: Nightfall *~
*Wow, the new-improved disclaimer…guaranteed to disclaim 20% more than other disclaimers! Accept no substitutes! Final Fantasy, SquareSoft, Microsoft, and Boeing Corporation are not mine, nor will they ever be, except by some freak act of the universe.*
Squall’s transparent figure stood entranced in the emergency room. The doctors and medical technicians swarmed like locusts around her. The dark knight couldn’t hide the tears in the corners of his eyes. He raced forward, reaching down to her blood-covered body. The doctors literally walked through his ghostly figure; he watched every gasp, every movement as she clung to life.
Squall reached down and touched her hand, "Rinoa, I’m here. I won’t ever leave you again." To his surprise, Rinoa opened her eyes and looked at him, directly at him.
She could see him.
"Squall," Rinoa wheezed, "don’t leave me...I’m scared." She feebly smiled at him; it was only a small indication of life. He knew that it was taking every muscle in her body, a simple gesture that used to be so common. As quickly as the smile appeared…it vanished, just to be replaced by a small struggle for breath and the sight of blood trickling from her lips.
The alarms started sounding everywhere. He felt that he was in the middle of a battlefield. In a way it was, for here she was fighting for live and death. He tried to convince himself she would survive. Hell, he knew she did, but that didn't negate any of the pain. As the doctors and nurses started cracking her ribs, Squall could no longer watch the horrifying sight. He fell to his knees and began crying as he thought he never could. It far surpassed anything that happened during time-compression. This terror was far more merciless…watching someone he loved…lost between two planes.
"Squall, why are you crying?" Rinoa's mouse-like voice wondered into his head.
He lifted his eyes, and checked his surroundings. It was a scarcely decorated hospital room. There were monitors hooked-up to her lifeless body and a sleeping nurse lay in a chair next to the bed.
"Rinoa, where are you? How…how can you see me?" Squall stood from his position on the floor.
A translucent figure of his angel stood in front of him, while her physical body still lie in the bed. "Because you want me to see you, silly. Although I’m kind of surprised you want me to see you crying."
"I don’t...I don't want you to see me… How can you, if you’re over in the bed?"
Rinoa laughed, "That is so typically 'Squall' of you, thinking in only physical terms. We have more than that…we are connected on a level that is spiritual, not just physical."
"So are you here or back at Garden? Did Ellone send you back too?"
"No, I’m here resting in bed. In layman's terms, my spirit just woke up to talk to you. I also saw you in the emergency room. You were there for me…thank you."
"I wasn’t." He couldn't look her apparition in the eyes; he collapsed his face into his hands, trying to retain what little calm he had left. "Rinoa…this…it happened to you six months ago. I didn't know. Damn it…I wasn't there for you. Ellone sent me back. A lot has happened. God, so much has happened."
She put a single finger up to his lips, "Squall stop. I can't know my future, only my present. I don’t know what brought you back here, but from my point, you are here for me. Maybe not physically, but emotionally you are here…right now."
"Rinoa…I saw it all, with Mike. I know what happened; I saw how upset you were. Why didn’t you ever tell me this before? Never in my life would I ever want to think that you went through this alone. That you suffered. Please know whatever happens in our lives…" Squall moved his shaking hand over her heart, and she moved her right hand up to join him.
"I'll be here for you…I promise."
"Listen to me carefully," she begged with her eyes, ones he remembered that she wouldn't ever see out of again. Rinoa moved closer and put her arms around Squall’s waist. "I won’t remember this right off. It’s in my subconscious. If something in my current life triggers it, then it will come back. I’m just so sorry for all of this..."
"No," he screamed as a tear traced a path down his stubbed cheek. "I'm sorry…I'm so goddamned sorry for everything."
The image of Rinoa started fading as the sleeping nurse woke up and looked at her patient lying lifeless in the bed. The dark-haired woman smiled sweetly at Squall, "Don't be sorry. I know I’m never alone when I have you."
Squall closed his eyes and leaned toward the transparent figure. He slowly met his lips to hers and kissed them in a way he never imagined. One with such love and passion, that it would haunt him throughout eternity. She opened her eyes, wiping the tears from his face.
"Rinoa, I love you."
She beamed like a child, shaking her head in disbelief. "I never thought you would say that. Squall Leonhart, my knight, I love you too." With that, the image of Rinoa faded completely into an unknown abyss. Squall turned to look back at her one last time, but was surprised to find himself looking at his own person. His transparent figure walked over to his sleeping form, and gently closed his eyes.
He awoke with heart racing and palms sweating. "I said it…Rinoa I love you." The words didn't seem as hard to utter the second time. True, she wasn't in the room. Still the way they rolled of his tongue, the feeling in his soul. He knew it was right, he knew she was right.
Squall finally told Rinoa he loved her, now he just had to get her to remember.
For what had to be an hour, he stared at his ceiling. So much he was trying to recall. Everything he witnessed, everything that ever happened to him. From his childhood until the day Rinoa disappeared. As a child he couldn't help when people left, when they abandoned him. However, as an adult, he could have chosen his own path. His foolish pride kept him from pursuing a dream. A dream of her. But in reality he was only twenty, they had so many lifetimes left, on this plane and on the next. Together they could face whatever life would throw at them. He didn't love her because she was blind…he loved her because she was her. She always had been, and for that, he always loved her.
A soft knock woke him out of his daydreams. Sometimes he didn’t feel like seeing any of his friends, now would defiantly be one of those times.
"Squall," whispered the soft voice coming from behind the door. "Please, I need to talk to you."
There was no need for introduction, as he would know her voice anywhere in this life or next. He slowly sat up and gathered his thoughts before he rose to his feet. He should have answered right away, but hesitation and a spinning head hindered his efforts. After a deep breath, Squall stood and heedlessly walked toward the door. His hand found his hair, as he tried to smooth out the mess that sleeping had caused. A sudden shock went through his body, he realized this was the first time Rinoa had actually come to him. Before he'd been the one to follow her, invade her privacy. Maybe this was a positive sign. He hoped to God.
Squall opened the door and saw Rinoa standing there, looking as striking as ever. Her dark hair flowed long; she wore a button-up white shirt and blue Jean shorts. Even though her outfit was simple, she carried it off just as any formal attire. It was the presence that was around her, the aura of her being. She had matured a lot in the last year, both physically and mentally. Irvine was right about something, he could no longer think of her as a little girl. Not that he really ever did, but she was definitely a woman. Was it the time apart that made him see it, or was it just him? He too had matured a lot in the last year. Some things were inevitable.
"Rin, come on in. Can I get you anything?"
She smiled and shook her head. "Squall I have to talk to you. I laid in bed thinking, which sometimes gets me in trouble, more than you know. I just don’t think I can stay here if...well can we sit down and talk for a while?"
Confused at what she was saying, he wanted nothing more than to understand her, all of her. After all, it would be the first step toward mending their relationship... "Friendship," he mentally adjusted his comment. Even though she was far more than any friend ever could be.
He fumbled with the words to say, although his thoughts came out clearly in his own mind. "Um…here…sit down. Sorry still don’t have a lot of furniture. They moved me to a new room, it’s definitely bigger, but with only me that too is unnecessary. Oh, I have a chair at the desk and two bean bags Zell forced on me during the last holiday season. Said he got tired of sitting on the floor when he came over, I told him not to come over anymore. Unfortunately though, he didn’t get the hint."
"Well guess I could just sit on your bed, might be more comfortable. I'd say how I like your room décor, but I’m sure there are nothing more than four white walls. Quistis walked me up here; it's a far cry from your old room, huh? You've moved to the big time Commander, on the officer level."
"Group picture," Squall countered.
"You said four white walls…well you're about 98.5% accurate. Above my bed, I have a group picture of us in Esthar. The gathering Laguna held, remember? You’re in your black dress, Irvine’s wearing that formal cowboy attire, and the rest of us are in our SeeD uniforms."
Immediately her mind went back to her own bedroom in Deling. She too, had a photograph from that same celebration. Yes, she knew precisely what he was talking about. Rinoa smiled at the satire, "Mr. Leonhart, I can’t believe you have a picture on the wall. Especially one with, um... all of us in it." Squall gently grabbed her arm and walked her toward the bed. She crawled across, leaning against the wall, and brought her knees to her chest. To her surprise, and unspoken delight, Squall sat next right to her.
"Rinoa, do you mean a picture with you in it?" He said, his voice unwavering.
"Yes Squall, I do. I'm surprised you have a picture on the wall, much less, with me in it."
At that instant, he didn’t know what to say or how to react to her statement. Then he thought about telling her the most obvious thing, the truth. "Rinoa, it’s actually my third copy." She looked at him, tilting her head in confusion, but the small smile never faded.
"What do you mean third copy?"
"Well, the first one met a tragic gunblade accident after you left. Selphie gave me a second copy about a month later. That too had an untimely demise during the holiday season…one of those unforeseen events…as in tragically being thrown-out-the-window." He closed his eyes, leaning back onto the headboard. "On Val…damn it, on the very day of your accident, Selph gave me the third copy as a present."
Looking over at her, he saw that the smile started to fade lightly. The mockery of all days…that day that changed her forever. "Rinoa," he moved his hand under her chin, making her look towards him. "Selphie told me it was so I never forgot. She also went out of her way to remark she had an extra ten copies made. It was cheaper to purchase reprints in a group, or so she maintained. Honestly, I didn’t put it out for a while. I kept it in the drawer with my ring. After a few weeks, it just seemed right to have it hanging on the wall. That copy has been there ever since. It’s staying there. Selph’s right, I don’t ever want to forget."
She'd been listening to everything, taking in each word as he spoke them. Somehow, when he mentioned the ring, it echoed in her mind. Something yearned for so long, something she was afraid to ask about its location. "Griever?" she unsteadily asked, "you keep your favorite ring in a drawer?"
Releasing his grasp, Squall pondered the question for a moment, and then realized he hadn’t wanted to mention it. It was a huge mistake on his part. The ring was something he hadn’t looked at for over a year, along with the note. He kept them as a reminder, for all he had lost. Squall knew that whatever they were going to talk about, in the next few minutes, would get very personal. It was both a great relief and a source of great fear. For so long he questioned everything. What if the questions were answered right now and he didn’t like the answers? No, he could handle anything. He had too. This was the first step in fixing whatever had gone wrong.
"Yes, Rinoa, I keep the ring in my dresser. I didn't want to see it anymore. That had been part of me, for as long as I could remember. Honestly, when I gave it to Zell it was more or less to shut him up. We were under attack, and I couldn’t have him whining about a stupid ring during battle. I had no idea he was going to give it to you, and truthfully, I couldn't care at the moment. Garden and its safety were my only responsibility at that time. Although to tell you the truth, had I known the reason…I would have never handed it over."
Squall could see the forlorn look in Rinoa’s face. He hated to see that look, hell, he caused it most of the time, but she was going to hear the truth. He owed her that much after all they shared. Reluctantly he continued, "Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad you had it later. Please, let me explain before you get upset. Rinny…please."
Squall couldn’t help the natural reaction to try to comfort her. Though what he was saying was not earth shaking, the hurt felt none the better. It was feelings that he had never shared with anyone; truths he had never revealed. Hoping she could just understand him a little bit better from the story, he reached his left hand over, placing it on her exposed leg. Rinoa shuddered as he made contact, but this was his moment, and it wasn’t going to be stopped.
"Rinoa, after I rescued you from the side of Garden, you told me you had Griever. I was just so angry with both you and Zell, but of course, I wouldn’t show it. We were under attack; I had more important things to deal with. I could have asked for it back at the entrance to Galbadia Garden. Frankly, I didn’t want to hear you go on about it, just like Zell. So, I just let it go for the time being. Eventually, I began to care less. Even after time-compression, part of me wanted to get it back. I looked at the ring as something special, a never-ending bond. I was no longer irritated you had it, I think I was more upset about the way you received it. It always felt like I had no choice in the matter. The decision was not mine, it just felt wrong."
Rinoa couldn’t help the tears starting to form in her eyes. She had promised no longer to cry about such trivial things in her life, yet she felt the equivalent of being slapped in the face.
"He never wanted to give me Griever? He only let me keep it so…so I wouldn't whine?"
Part of her wanted to weep, if only because he was right. She would have kept bugging him back then, as she always did. Annoying him at every chance. With persistence he would give in, such as he had done at the concert at FH. It was her way, her motive…heck it was what made her…her.
For the first time, she started to throw the guilt of the betrayal back at herself. Maybe she was at fault; maybe he needed an adult relationship that she was not a part of.
"Why did I constantly annoy him? What a damn child I have been." The realization was overpowering her senses. Everything felt numb…everything was a mirrored void that her life seemed to have been for two years. "It's my fault that you cheated on me Squall. How could someone put up with my non-stop pestering? Oh Hyne."
She always used diligence as philosophy, the ability to open him up. Now the only time he was actually emotionally unguarded, was after she'd been gone for over a year. She was the one who caused the whole incident. Yet, she wouldn’t let Squall see her shed tears, not anymore…she desperately fought back.
Rinoa felt Squall’s hand leave her leg as he moved off the bed. "Was it because I'm acting like a child again? He won't see it anymore."
Holding her head up high, she concentrated forcing a minute smile. All she managed to do was involuntarily shudder at the attempt. She felt him return to the bed, as the mattress slowly lowered at his weight. Now was the time to apologize, not as the little girl he once knew, but the woman she was in the present day.
"Squall, I’m sorry. Looking back on the past, I know…I’ve made mistakes. I was bothering you. Don't think that for one second I wasn't aware of my actions. I thought if I played the innocent game, you would like me. I could be different from those around you, I didn't have to follow your orders. It was wrong. I knew you were bothered by my unvarying attempts. Yet, like a child, I continued. I wanted you to open up to me; I wanted to be the one to try to get you to open up," she explained, her voice containing forged self-confidence.
"However, I am not apologizing for wanting you to notice the friends whom surrounded you. I just suppose, I’m sorry for how I went about doing it. Remember I did grow up into a military family, and strategy was an important part of life. Everyone here was so formal…I thought that maybe you would look for something different. I knew what I was doing. I’m sorry. Yes, I knew that you didn’t technically give me the ring. I just wanted to keep it. I wanted people to think we were together. You were right during the battle, mentioning that. Maybe if one hears something long enough, they accept it as being the truth. Maybe if everyone around us thought we were together…well maybe you would believe it also. However, that too is dishonesty. Because the one person who didn't believe in it, was the only person who mattered to me."
Watching Rinoa say these things to him made his heart only want her more. She was going to make him loose all restraint. The Commander had to regain control of the situation quickly, before feelings dictated his actions. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and hold her tightly, forever.
"Friends, just friends," he silently repeated to himself.
"That’s not at all what I meant, Rinoa. Although, yes, it did get a little annoying having you constantly hanging on me. Sometimes I just wanted my space. Then again, who else would have cared so much, only looking after my well-being? I missed it when you left me…I missed it a lot."
There was an awkward moment while Squall regained his equanimity. "When I spoke of the ring, about giving it to you, I mentioned I was unhappy of the way you acquired it. I have always taken the symbol of a ring seriously, something extraordinary. A connection shared between two. The fact that Griever and my gunblade were my only two possessions made the feeling that much greater. It was more a part of me than even I comprehend…until I received it back."
He felt the crushed velvet dance on his fingertips, as he nervously rubbed the container. Maybe he shouldn't be doing this to a friend, but this friend was the only person he wanted to ever have the ring.
"What I’m trying to say…badly, I may add…Is that I should've been the one to give it to you. I would have only wanted to get Griever back so I could present it to you properly, not just because Zell handed it over. I wanted you to have it, wear it, and think of me. When it came back, I never wanted to see it again. Somewhere along the line, Griever stopped being mine and became ours. You should have it. The ring is as much a part of you as it ever was of me."
"Squall, you never gave it to anyone else?" She asked, with the words barely escaping her lips. "What about your girlfriend?"
"Girlfriend?" The statement both scared and sickened him. "I haven’t had a girlfriend since you. I just couldn't say those words before, the term so juvenile and tawdry. You were so much more…I just couldn’t."
Rinoa just shook her head, all she managed to say was the simple word, "what?" Squall took it as a question of 'why he couldn’t call her a girlfriend.' Rinoa on the other hand was still in the shock of hearing that he still denied the other woman. Even after a year, he would not admit his indiscretions to her. This was supposed to be a new start, time for coming clean on the past. That had been her intent.
"When people asked me if you were my girlfriend, I would tell them no. Don't ask me why a part of me was afraid to admit it to myself, let alone the entire world. How I felt about another person, it was too difficult for me to understand. I still wanted to believe I could make it on my own. Guess in a way, I proved I could over the last year. But in the last twelve months I have learned a bigger lesson: I don't want to live alone."
Gently he held Rinoa’s hand, placing a small black velvet box in her palm. "It’s Griever. I know things are different between us now. They will never be the same, but I don’t want this ring, it belongs to you. Please keep it. I don’t care if you wear it anymore or not, it’s yours. Do with it as you wish."
Taking it in both hands, she felt the soft velvet box, it was the same one she had used to send it back. "Did you really never wear it again? God, maybe I was wrong about the girlfriend? Could it possibly have been just a one-night-stand? Damn it Squall, does that make it better or worse? You tell me you care, but then have meaningless sex with someone. Then how much could you have really cared…or were you just scared?"
She continued feeling velvety container, afraid to open it for some undeclared reason. "Would it be like a Pandora’s Box if I dare to open it? Would it be easier to leave it, putting it in a drawer such as you have done?"
Rinoa thought of every word Squall had just spoken, both those said and those implied. He had changed. A year ago, he would have never talked so much. He never spoke of his feelings, only on the rarest of occasions. She wasn’t sure how to handle the change in the man she dared to admit she still loved. Minutes passed without a word between the two.
What was there to say?
The monotonous work of grading papers was starting to weight her down. Quistis sat at her desk in the large dormitory-style apartment. With another flick of the red felt-tip, she was one less test to score before bed. For the life of her, the now frustrated instructor couldn't figure out why Lauren and Selphie had used her room for the almost daily round of gossip. But she supposed with Ellone staying in Selphie's dorm, that their normal girl talk would distract Sis. The instructor tried to make light of the situation. She was trying desperately to concentrate, but found herself more interested in the girl’s gossip than the history of junctioning. Being the constant professional, Quistis always was focused hard on the task at hand.
"Yeah, right." She rolled her eyes.
"Selphie what about you and Irvine, have you?" pestered her best friend.
"None of your damn business Lauren! On a different topic altogether, Irvine isn’t just talk…. Guns and women are something he really knows about," Selphie giggled.
Lauren took another bite of her pizza, "You're so darn lucky! The first person I ever went to bed with left sometime in the night, never to be seen again. Bastard! But, I did get a ten-dollar bill for the taxi. I felt so cheap."
"So, was he like your last?" Selphie couldn’t believe she was talking like this with anyone, especially when Quistis was in the room. "Or has it just been a non-stop party?"
"Gee, now you are making me feel so cheap! There have only been two guys to ever have the pleasure of seeing me naked, taxi boy, and my boyfriend from Trabia." Lauren picked up her beer; it had been her third of the evening. Selphie was only on her first, as she wasn’t much of a drinker. The young girl usually relied on her natural happiness to carry her through. She preferred it that way.
"Well you only got me beat by one, unless you count the doctor at my birth," mused Selphie.
Lauren couldn’t stop laughing, and the alcohol was getting the better of her judgment. "Tell you a secret Selph, but you can never tell another living soul. Swear that to me!"
"Sure Lauren…who am I going to tell? Okay, besides Quistis and Rinoa."
"Oh Hyne, you could never tell Rinoa! She would soooo kill me."
"What possible reason would Rinoa have to kill you? Didn’t you just meet her a few days ago?"
"Yeah, yeah I know, but this involves Squall. I think my SeeD rank is going to go down for thinking about it, let alone tell you. I was promised to secrecy by our dear, embarrassed Commander." Lauren leaned over to Selphie’s ear.
Quistis had only half been paying attention to the two girls. Being trained as a SeeD proved useful in her everyday life and multi-tasking was something she did as second nature. She'd been grading the mid-term reports, but at the mention of Squall’s name, she found herself eavesdropping.
Lauren was trying to calm herself down, as hysterics were slowly taking over her body. Attempts at whispering her secret failed greatly. "Remember when I stayed in Squall’s room, before transferring to Balamb? He was supposed to be on a mission, but ended up coming home early. He thought I was Rinoa…needless to say I woke up naked in bed with Squall!"
"Oh my god, you two didn’t?" Selphie was trying not to lose her poise.
"Hell no! Squall didn’t see it was me when he got into bed! He had come in early, and my dark hair, the shadowy room, along with the lack of sleep…well let's just say it wasn't one of those days that goes into the family photo album. Although, the expression on his face the next morning was priceless. I don’t think he'd ever seen a naked woman, especially a strange, undressed one!"
Quistis digested the information for a moment. Then a sudden queasy sensation came over her, like having your stomach twisted inside out.
"Shit…she came home early!"
The instructor looked at the two girls lying unceremoniously on the floor. "I’ve got to go. I understand now…I get it!" She jumped up from behind her desk and headed swiftly for the door.
"What’s her problem?" Lauren asked as she watched Quistis back as it disappeared.
Selphie just stared as the door was slammed, "I…I have no idea."