~* Chapter 6: Noon *~
*Final Fantasy belongs to those intelligent people at Square, and I am certainly not one of them.*
It was slightly passed noon, when Squall returned to the hotel. Walking down the stairs to the tavern below, he saw his friends were enjoying their lunch. He didn't particularly feel like eating right now, but decided to sit down and order a mineral water anyway. Eating was something he did only when needed; sometimes he would go days before giving into his hunger. A basic survival need that he only considered secondary.
When Rinoa was at Garden, she would make sure he ate three times a day. Even if was only a stick of celery, Rin would always check. Those were some of the little habits that annoyed him most, yet when she left, those were the ones he missed the most.
Somehow, the tension of the last two days was starting to get to him. His mind was swirling with emotions and feelings once lost, hidden deep within shadows of his mind. At Garden, it always seemed easier; he could get away from the students. They would leave him alone based purely on respect. Many knew of his habits, and would go to great lengths to avoid contact. If something bothered him, or he just felt the need to retreat into his own private world, the training center was always an option. No matter the time of day, or night. But here, within the confines of the city, he felt trapped. He needed to get out of Deling, out of this nightmarish dream.
Squall had to fight, challenge himself in any physical way. It had been almost two days now, a record for him, and the emotions were weighting heavily on his perception of clarity. "Hey guys, I’m going outside of town to do a little monster hunting. Just need to clear my head. Anybody who wants to tag along; I’m leaving now."
"Sounds like fun!" exclaimed Zell. "It’s been almost three days since I’ve done any damage. If I don’t do something quick, I may end up killing Irvine."
"You would actually have to hit me first," replied the cowboy, casually eating his salt-drenched fries.
Zell didn’t acknowledge the comment, just continued to look at Squall. He rejoined, "I definitely have to go now. Someone's going to eat his words."
"Yes," added Irvine, "and somebody's going to be eating dirt, like normal. As much fun as Zell dining on soil sounds, I'm going to hang around town for a bit."
Squall rolled his eyes at the two before asking, "Anybody else?"
Quistis tapped Selphie on the leg, pointing under the table to Irvine. Selphie figured out what Quistis was trying to do. Knowing her, she had a plan. So, in a not-so-obvious-attempt-to-hid-her-intent, Selphie elbowed Irvine in the stomach, almost making him choke on his last fry.
Turning to the girl glaring at him, he rubbed his ribs. Overacting was a major flaw in Irvine's character, just ask anyone sitting at the table. "Hey, Squall," Irvine replied in a sarcastic manner, raising a single eyebrow to Selphie. "Seems like I didn’t know it yet, but I’d really like to come along. I was just confused, thought I wanted to stay…but was informed that I was wrong…again."
Zell mumbled something under his breath, which everyone managed to pick up the words ‘accidentally’ and ‘kill’.
After the men left, Selphie turned to the older SeeD, "Okay, what do you have planned? Most importantly, does it involve any weapons of mass destruction?"
Setting her water bottle on the table, Quistis gave the girl a very bewildered, and extremely nervous, look. "Um…no Selphie. Anything that causes mass destruction is not on today's agenda, sorry to disappoint you. However, I wanted to go back to the hospital to re-interview the nurse. Something she said yesterday had me thinking all night. I just want to clear it up. I'm sure it's nothing…but then again, it could be something. I'm not leaving anything to chance anymore."
"Can we stop and look at all the babies? I just love the newborns in the nursery!" Selphie gave her best puppy-dog eyes. "Pleaseeeeee…"
"Yes, we can stop and look at the nursery. That is, if I don’t have to literally drag you out when it’s time to go. Remember two years ago? They still have your picture at nurse's station."
Approving quickly of the answer, Selphie gave a small scream, and then stood up doing a stirring rendition of her 'Garden-famous happy dance.' The scene caused others around her to turn her way, giving her the most malicious glares.
Quistis bit her lip nodding her head at the patrons around her. Finally, she told them, "You should see her when she is really happy. This is nothing."
As the elevator doors opened to the third floor of the hospital, Quistis and Selphie stepped out. Heading to the nursing station, the two walked up hoping to clear a few things up.
"Yes, I’m SeeD Quistis Trepe and this is my associate. We are looking for Nurse Kimberley Hatch. Is she on duty today?"
The senior nurse behind the counter looked at the two women standing in front of her. Slowly she gave them the once over, from their hairstyles to the tips of their shoes. "SeeD’s, huh?" She continued to peer at them through her dark-rimmed reading glasses. "Right…whatever."
Reaching down she scribbled something on her clipboard, showing it to a younger lady. They both shared a spiteful sounding laugh. Before the older one replied, "Wait there." She snapped her fingers and pointed to the waiting area, with a snarl she turned around. "SeeD, now my day is complete."
Selphie couldn’t help but giggle at the woman’s impolite demeanor. "It’s Squall’s long lost Grandmother!" she whispered to Quistis.
Quistis chuckled in return, "No, she spoke way too much. There was also no mention of ‘talking to a wall."
The nurse reappeared from the desk, after hanging up the phone receiver. "Go stand over there. In the area marked 'waiting'. Talking to SeeD…blah…I'd rather talk to that wall."
Selphie looked at her friend "That's just…."
"… scary," finished Quistis. They eyed each other one last time, before hurrying quickly to the seating area. It was like some parallel-universe…and Squall was a sixty-year-old nurse from hell.
They sat down on the uncomfortable vinyl chairs, looking at the odd variety of magazines scattered among the tables. "Look Selphie, fifty fun ways to cook macaroni and cheese. The date on this magazine is older than I am."
Selphie just looked up at her with an enormous grin. "That’s nothing, they have my favorite piece of literature here One Fish Two Fish. It’s a classic."
Around the corner, a young fair-haired nurse walked into the waiting area. "Hello, I’m Kimberley Hatch. May I help you?"
"Yes, I’m Quistis Trepe. I talked with you for a few minutes yesterday morning. I needed to clarify something you mentioned about your patient, Rinoa Heartilly." Quistis reached out her hand in an offer to shake.
The nurse politely smiled and returned the courteous gesture. "Oh sure, I remember. Sorry about that, I'm just getting off working a double shift, just a little tired."
"I’ll bet, here let me introduce you to Selphie Tilmitt,” speaking in her best diplomatic voice. The younger girl held out her hand, in much the same way the instructor had done. "Well, the reason we are here Ms. Hatch, is because yesterday you mentioned that Rinoa had spoken while she was still comatose. I believe you mentioned something about the name ‘Squall.’ From what I gathered from your interview, you implied it was said often... However, you also made the comment that is all she basically said. Do you happen to recall if she said something else? Or, by any chance, do you remember, what else was said? Even if it might not make sense to you, it might hold some importance to us."
"Actually I remember quite well. Through the days, she wouldn’t say much, just muttered in her sleep. Mostly incoherent syllables, as far as that goes… I'm sorry I won't be of much help. What I could understand clearly was the name, always the same. Except for this one time. I'd fallen asleep in the chair beside the bed. Waking up, I could hear Rinoa speaking. I checked for signs she'd come out of the comatose state, but she was still non-responsive. The remarkable thing was she sounded like she was actually talking to someone. I figured it was an imaginary conversation with that ‘Squall’ person."
Raising an eyebrow Quistis inquired, "Do you remember anything she said? This may be very important for Rinoa’s recovery…both physical and mental."
"Yes, it was something along the lines of, 'I’m sorry…I know I’m not alone.' The last understandable sentence was like, 'I never thought you would say that to me, I love you too.' Honestly, I didn't hear the first part of the conversation. I don’t know how long I’d been sleeping. She was just delusional; it’s actually very common in patients under such traumatic circumstances."
Quistis couldn’t help the smile on her face. "I'm sure that is all it is too, thanks for you’re help. All of Rinoa’s friends and family appreciate the time and care you gave her. We only wish we could’ve been here, by her side."
The nurse beamed in sincerity, "I know you do. Well, I must get back to work now." She made a motion with her hand, pointing to the recovery rooms behind her shoulder. "I know I'm technically off the clock, but…there are still people who need me. Just like your friend."
When the nurse left the two SeeD’s alone, Quistis was so ecstatic she ran immediately over grabbing Selphie. Giving her the biggest embrace she almost wept, "I don’t believe it!"
"Um, Quistis, are you alright? Am I missing something here?"
Still holding Selphie in a tight grip, she blissfully replied, "Yes! He did it. He finally did it."
"Okay? Who? Did what?" Selphie couldn’t hide the uncertainty from her voice.
"Squall told Rinoa he loved her!"
Selphie took a step back from her over-energetic cohort. "Huh, that’s not what I heard...I heard that Rinoa was having an imaginary conversation with Squall. So did imaginary Squall tell Rinoa that he imaginarily loved her? Or did our Squall know, at that very moment, Rinoa was unconscious in a hospital bed and she heard him talking hundreds of miles away?"
Quistis only kept nodding, trying to encourage her friend to make the same conclusion she had already drawn. "Right Selphie, but if someone is unconscious nobody knows how their minds hear things. Just like talking to someone in a coma. So..."
"…So, I don’t think the nurse was telling Rinoa she was in love with her. Kimberley was the only one in the room. There is no way she could have heard another voice, unless... someone else was in her head?"
Still holding on the shorter woman, Quistis could barely keep her poise. "When Sis sent us back into Laguna’s memories, he said they could feel it. He just thought the fairies were with him. However, when Ellone sent Squall back into Rinoa's past, Ultimecia sensed his presence. Rin has sorceress' powers, and with the mind being in a comatose state..."
"She could hear him!!!" screamed Selphie. She quickly hugged Quistis in return and noticed the 'evil nurse' at the desk giving them a malicious look, and pointing feverishly to the 'quiet' sign.
"So Selph, if he doesn’t remember this yet. It hasn’t happened. Maybe, the only way to really get these two back together is for Squall to see the past. Her past…and his."
"I have a call to make!” said Selphie gleefully. "I’ll go back to the hotel and call Ellone. Find out if she is available tomorrow, to meet us in Balamb. We can tell her what’s happening then? You think she’ll do it, don’t you?"
"Without a doubt, she’s been worried about Squall this last year. Look, I think I’m going back to Caraway’s and talk to Rinoa. May be there’s something else that can help us."
"Yo Squall, leave some monsters for the rest of us," demanded Zell.
"Sorry guys, I just have a lot on my mind." Squall replied in-between slashes of his gunblade. The meager creature never had a chance.
"Yeah, sure buddy... your mind. I’m sure you’re not thinking about Rinoa tonight with her tight fitting dress, her long legs, her exposed bust line..."
Squall drove the tip of his gunblade deeply into the ground. Irvine knew his words would upset his Commander and friend. That had been his intention. The group had discussed things in-depth, into the late hours of the night. The one thing they unanimously agreed upon, was that Squall never showed much emotion towards Rinoa…good or bad. He hid his true emotions well, but maybe together, in the current circumstances, they could get him to open up.
Therefore, Irvine made a typically-Irvine comment…about one subject that was taboo. Even if it meant pissing Squall off and getting physically injured in the process. The Commander had to discover his own mistakes; ones he had made in the past with Rinoa. She needed to be treated as a woman, a girlfriend, anything but a female friend. That's all he ever told people she was, nothing more. Fears held him at bay last time; Squall’s friends needed him to know he was capable of loving her this time. Rinoa needed someone to love her, to hold her, to be there mentally and physically, not someone to ignore her most of the time.
"Don't you dare talk about Rinoa like that, like some piece of meat! I’ve warned you before…this will be your last warning." His tone grew deeper in anger.
"Squall," answered Irvine, defending his ground. "I don’t think of her as a piece of meat. I think of her as a woman. Not like a little porcelain doll that may get broken, a woman. Even though I might act like womanizer, I have Selphie. Damn it, I love her more than anything in this world. Tell you something about women Commander Leonhart, they like to be noticed, they like to be touched, and every once and a while they might actually like to hear your feelings."
"Irvine’s right Squall," interjected Zell, trying to lighten the seriousness of the conversation. "I think the world may be coming to an end, but Irvine’s right. Did you ever tell her how you feel? Did you ever really show her?"
Squall took a step back, placing his right hand on his gunblade. Not wanting to look at his friends, for he found it challenging to address them. His fingers carefully played with the handle, as his eyes turned mournfully to the ground. "No, suppose I never told her anything." He placed on hand on his forehead, trying to wipe the sweat from his body. Then he casually ran his hand through the locks of his hair, pushing them out of his face. "I guess…everything was still so new to me back then. I thought Rinoa knew how I felt. Looking back now, I never even admitted to myself how I felt toward her. When I never said anything, or did anything to back it up, how was she to know?"
Squall continued talking to the guys with uncertainty hampering his rough voice. "One night she fell asleep in my room, nothing happened. I sat next to her on the bed, just watching the beauty and tranquility of her sleeping. Hyne, it had to have been hours, I just watched her. Every breath, every sound…it was just so magical. Finally, I decided to lie down on the floor, sleep came quickly. Truthfully, it was the best night’s sleep I ever had; the hard floor was nothing compared to having her there. To have her close to me, in the same room, made me feel whole. Why the hell didn’t I ever tell her?"
Irvine snickered, "Guess this means the unbelievably innocent Squall Leonhart has never seen a woman naked!"
Squall just shook his head at the thought, remembering his wake-up call from Lauren. "Well there was this one time, but it’s definitely not like you think Irvine. It was completely an accident. Then of course, I think I saw most of Maude McCay’s cleavage. Something, I’m pretty sure, I’ll need therapy for the rest of my living days." He couldn’t believe what he was saying, the two most embarrassing moments in his life. He'd sworn to himself, never to tell anyone about either unsettling event. Yet somehow, these guys had him talking. Saying things, he never wanted another living soul to know, not in a million years.
Zell scratched his head and smirking at Squall. "So this means you are still a vir..."
"Shut up, Zell!" ordered Squall as he raised his gunblade off the ground, pointing it at the martial artist’s jugular.
"Shutting up, Commander Leonhart…Sir!" bellowed Zell, giving Squall the official SeeD salute.
Quistis strolled along the main boulevard. Somehow, everything appeared brighter today. The flowers where absolutely breathtaking, the trees were the richest colors of jade, and the sky was a deep azure blue with beautiful ashen clouds. Even the gray streets and sidewalks seemed enchanting. The instructor couldn’t even help the slight bounce in her step. "Boy, is this how Selphie feels everyday?" If she did, Quistis could now understand how one person can be so positive. The world just seemed to be a better place. Turning the corner, General Caraway’s mansion was now in sight. A sudden notion entered her head, what if Rinoa didn’t want to see her? That was not an option. She would, Quistis was going to make sure of that.
"Yes, please tell Rinoa that Quistis Trepe is here to see her."
"I will ma’am, but Ms. Heartilly hasn’t been in the best mood today. I'll check to see if she'll accept company," explained the maid as she started to shut the door. "Please wait here."
Quistis thought to herself, "Don’t these people ever ask anyone in?" Figuring it must be some security measure for the General, the thought quickly subsided as Rinoa answered the door.
"Quisty?" inquired a faint, hesitant voice.
"Hey Rin, I just wanted to stop by and talk to you for a minute. Please."
"Sure, you're alone right?"
"Yes, I am."
"Let’s go into the den."
She watched Rinoa go from the door to the large study, completely astonished. If Quistis hadn’t known better, she would think Rinoa could see just perfectly. Not one missed step, not one trip on the oriental rugs. She knew every piece of furniture, and avoided them.
"I know you're probably here to talk about him."
"Not really Rinoa, not if you don’t want to."
Rinoa smiled weakly back at Quistis, "I just don’t know what I want anymore."
"Well not every thing in life is certain, but I’d be willing to bet on you two."
"Please, Quisty don’t." It was said as a plea. "If you bet on us, I’m sure you will lose too. It’s all just a gamble isn’t it? We can’t control anything in life, as much as we want or try. You never know what will happen: becoming a sorceress, falling in love, coming home early, driving a car, losing your sight. Nobody can see the future. I told that to Squall once, it never occurred to me how true that statement would be. I’ll never see the future again."
"Please don't talk like that, Rin." Quistis thought for a second of what Rinoa had just told her. She understood all of what her friend was saying except for coming home early, which must have something to do with her father. The instructor dismissed it to the back of her mind. "Are you really doing all right?"
"Honestly? At first no, the hardest thing in my life was to open my eyes every morning and still only see the night. It was like well... it was happening to someone else. I just kept hoping I'd wake up from this nightmare. Only thing is, I never woke up. Then after a couple of weeks, I started learning all about life again. It was like being a kid, learning how to do the simplest tasks. Robert had come back to Deling to help me. In the end, I learned to use all my senses to make up for the loss of my sight. You know it really is true, your other senses do increase…kind of like magic."
"Can you still use your magic, your sorceress abilities?"
"Actually yes, I can. I remember once being so upset with Robert, thinking he didn’t understand me or what I was going through. I cast a blind spell on him." Rinoa started smiling at the vivid memory. "He was so mad at me, but refused to admit it…he's way too proud. Like Squall would have done, had I blinded him. Unfortunately, Robert didn’t know how to use magic, so he couldn’t cure himself. I left him that way for two days. Now, he truly thanks me, said the experience taught him a lot."
"How does the blind spell differ from your situation?"
"Well, like all para-magic, blind spells aren't what they seem. On a spell, it's the equivalent to a bright flash, or being blinded by the sun. It only affects the outward vision of the cornea…but mine is internal, from the head trauma. It's not an illusion for the brain, the damage lies within the visual cortex. I learned all about it at the hospital…there are so many technical terms; it's classified as cortical blindness. But, I can never use ensuna one day and be cured."
Caught up in the explanation, Quistis almost forgot one of the main reasons for stopping by. "Rinoa, do you remember anything from the hospital or about the accident?"
"I remember looking at the brilliant lights, when they wheeled me in to the emergency room. The rectangular tiles on the ceiling are the last thing I remember, I believe. Far as recovery goes at the hospital, not too much. Squall said earlier that I was calling his name. I don’t remember that at all. Frankly, I don't believe I'd have called for him."
Everything she said up until her last statement had been true, but damn well knew she probably did call for Squall. As much as Rinoa resented him, she was aware of how much she still loved him. "Damn it, did I say love again?" Okay, she corrected herself, "How much I still care for him as a friend. Yeah, that’s it, a friend."
Quistis reached over, giving her friend a tender hug. She could notice the tears in her eyes. By the swollenness of her face, she could tell this wasn't the first time today Rinoa had cried. "Well Rinoa, I've got to get going, for now. Have some plans for this evening that I can’t cancel. Hey seriously, if you ever need anyone, call me. I'll always be there for you, no matter the hour. I know Robert is there, but let's face it, some things you just need to talk about with another woman. Men just don't get it. If you're really feeling daring, come visit me at Garden, everyone would love to see you again. Cid misses your smile in the morning, of course, he also misses someone pestering him to clean his desk. We all miss you."
"I miss you guys too. I just don’t think I’m ready yet." Silently she added, "And I never will be."
"So, why didn’t anyone tell me to bring my SeeD uniform?" inquired Zell.
Squall turned from the full-length mirror in his hotel room, never giving any indication of emotion other than that of complete seriousness. "Regulation 7: section 4: paragraph 21 states: all SeeD members must carry official uniforms with them on any personal, non-related Garden business. In case leave is revoked and official business is required by Balamb Garden or any of its affiliates."
"Shit, man. I’m going have to sit down and read that thing sometime," replied Zell, shaking his head. "Now, I’m forced to rent a tuxedo. First person who calls me a penguin…dies." Slicking back his blonde hair, he shut the hotel room door, leaving the other two inside.
Mercifully, the martial artist couldn't hear Irvine, repeating the phrase, 'waddle, waddle.'
Squall shook his head and smiled, wearing his formal uniform was something he truthfully reviled. Dress attire only reminded him of graduation night. The first time he met her, but now, she was going to be there tonight. Wearing his uniform seemed only fitting.
"Squall, I’ve read the SeeD manual. There's no paragraph 21 in section 4," retorted the cowboy as he looked in the bathroom mirror, straightening his ponytail.
"I know Irvine," said Squall. "Just thought I’d mess with his mind a little. Who actually knows why the girls brought theirs. I packed mine out of habit, but it came in handy for the occasion."
Irvine walked out of the bathroom, strolling over to his Commander. Then in casual style, put his arm around Squall’s shoulder. "Did I ever tell you that I like the evil side of you?"
"Whatever… Now, don’t ever touch me again," said Squall forcefully pushing Irvine’s arm off his body