~* Chapter 7: Afternoon *~
*Final Fantasy and all related characters belong to Square, bet you didn’t know that… Oh you did? Sorry.*
Legitimately, wearing their uniforms was prohibited by regulations, unless it was official Garden business. The exception to the rule was government or military functions. Since President Mitchell would be attending the performance tonight, it was acceptable for the SeeD’s to wear formal attire. Maybe Squall wore it for lack of other clothes, or maybe he wore it to relive a moment that haunted him forever. One so beautiful, that only the stars above could echo its splendor. He needed the reminder; moreover, he needed her to remember that night, that feeling that forever touched his soul.
The two women were getting ready in another hotel room. Both wearing their uniforms, and both excited about the upcoming evening. Not only to see Rinoa dance, but for what possibilities that lie ahead.
Looking her regal self, Quistis stood close to the vanity mirror. Carefully, she applied the last touches of eyeliner. "Sis really said she was coming tomorrow?" Although she had heard the answer before, she felt the unfounded need to ask again.
Selphie was also busy in her attempts to put on pantyhose, the maladroit tries looked more as if she was hopping like a bunny on one foot. Still her attitude never dampened. "She sure is! She will be making other arrangements on her homework for a few days. I can’t believe she’s actually a third year medical student." Selphie was now anxiously jumping up and down, trying to pull the bags out from her ankles. "Oh Hyne, who labels these things!? What do they mean petite? They’re baggy enough for Irvine to wear and still have room to spare."
"It’s his tight fetish again, isn’t it? He secretly walks around in your pantyhose and stretches them out when nobody is watching." Selphie made some type of squealing sound, continuing the war with the evil nylons. Quistis persisted, "Anyway, I can see a medical career for Ellone. She had to play doctor for us too many times, it’s probably second nature to her."
"Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I remember punching a few of the boys a time or two…she was always right there to patch em' up. Tomorrow, her train should be arriving in Balamb sometime in the early evening."
"Selph, did she say if Laguna is coming?"
"She didn’t say, but I kind of hope not. Squall is already going to be... well Squall. I don’t think we need the added tension of having Sir Laguna there."
There was a knock at the door, Selphie walked over and looked in the peek-hole. "Squall warning, all fun must now subside. Beep, Beep, Beep, this is not a drill." Selphie then opened the door, looking directly in Squall’s un-amused eyes.
The Commander stood staring directly back at her, his expression never altering.
Selphie couldn't help but to laugh at his appearance. His expression lay between confusion and anger…. "Repeat this is an actual Squall emergency. Please gather small children, the elderly, beloved family pets, and get to the nearest shelter.”
Quistis snickered, grabbing her purse from the desk. Squall was not amused.
Selphie walked out of the hotel into the sweltering, humid evening air. "Did anybody know it was still like eighty-five degrees out here? These uniforms were not designed for nights like this."
Quistis completely understood, "Remind me to inquire about designing a summer uniform." Her long flaxen hair pulled back into a tight bun. She’d left the jacket off until they reached the auditorium.
"Something in a two piece bikini and high cut," retorted Irvine. "Maybe with a nice SeeD emblem centered directly on the butt." He didn’t have time to duck from the blows of both Selphie and Quistis. "Okay girls, sorry…I didn't mean to offend your good taste…we can leave off the emblem."
Still another round of attacking purses met him.
"Hey, at least you’re not dressed like a penguin. Hey Penguin Boy, shouldn’t you be munching on some fish?"
Squall reached his hand out, grabbing Zell’s jacket without even turning to look, or even missing a step. "Down boy… The penguin suit looks nice on you."
"Well, at least I don’t have that John Wayne meets Alice Cooper look," Zell tauntingly said as he glared across Squall over to Irvine. Squall still held Zell’s shoulder and with the other hand, he reached out and grabbed Irvine’s jacket.
Shaking his head, Squall took a deep breath of the night air. Somehow, he felt more the referee in the game of life than a player. "Irvine, the black leather cowboy-thingy looks good on you. Zell, you wear the penguin look well…take it as a compliment, I guess. Just, please, don’t make me separate you two. We're going to the ballet, not a boxing match."
The referee then dropped his arms down to either side. The two men walked in silence the rest of the distance, save for Irvine, who could be heard whispering, 'waddle, waddle' if one listened close enough.
It was about a ten-minute walk to the center. Again, the reality of the evening was slowly sinking from within his grasp. A few nights ago, he had made this same journey to the same event. Two different perspectives based on one single element. Rinoa. Curious, how one person makes all the difference between heaven and hell. The torturous purgatory he considered last time, in comparison to the magnificent nirvana it now represented. However, for now, he found himself somewhere in between. Not knowing how she would react to them being there, but nevertheless excited about her reactions.
Life truly was a paradox.
One would think that, because of the amount of times she had preformed over the last nine months, it would get easier. Well, technically she had only been on stage for six of those months…the last three without any sight. This had never been her dream; ballet was a far cry from helping a country gain their independence. But this was personal. She had issues to resolve within herself, promises to keep. No matter if it took her fifteen years to honor those promises. After what she had been through, Rinoa knew how important her word was…even to someone no longer on this earth. A promise was a promise, one she would not break.
Since the accident the other dancers thought she had changed, little did they know. No longer did she dress with them; no longer did she practice with the company unless Robert was by her side. Many thought she felt they were responsible for the accident, for the party in which she fled from. Yes, she distanced herself, but only to hide what she had truthfully never completely accepted. Neither the words she spoke, nor the feelings she felt…she only thought that others would pity her, and that was her one shortcoming.
This was the final performance, and for that she was glad. She could move on, but to what she didn't know. There wasn't a huge cry for blind resistance fighters, or for sorceresses who couldn't see their hands in front of their face. Nevertheless, she decided that whatever she did…it would make a difference.
Somehow, she would make a difference.
"Hey Rin, you ready?" Robert's voice cut through the silent darkness.
"Oh…um…yeah. Sorry, just getting lost in my thoughts," she timidly rejoined.
"It's okay really. You have a lot to think about today." He jumped up onto the dressing counter, sitting down causally. "They're ready for you in makeup…when you're ready." Robert paused almost dramatically, before asking the true question he wanted answered. "Hey, I know it's not my business, but did you talk to him anymore?"
"Yeah," she softly replied. "I don't think he gets the hint to go away."
"Well Rinoa, you just have one of those magnetic personalities. And he doesn't seem the type of person to give up easily on something he wants. So, I guess you're stuck with that irresistible force and immovable object thing."
"Right," she laughed. "Yeah, Squall Leonhart is an immovable object, that's the only thing right in that statement…you really know nothing about him. The only thing he cares about in life is SeeD, leather, and gunblades…and I am none of those. What you are seeing is only pity, not caring. Trust me, those are two different things."
"Rinoa, I think he cares…you should see the way he looks at you." He stopped. "Hey, I didn't mean it like that."
"Yeah, whatever…" Her answer abrupt.
"Well when you are ready for an escort, just yell." He jumped off the counter walking out of her dressing room. "You know Rinoa maybe he has changed, if you would ever give him a chance. And maybe, just maybe, he changed because he cares for who you are…not about what you can or cannot do." When he was no longer in sight, she hardly could control the anger rising within.
She slammed her brush down to the table. The last thing Rinoa was in the mood for right now was a lecture from her normally supportive cousin. Who somewhere, along the line, seemed to jump on the Squall-is-great bandwagon.
"Yeah, I'll tell you how great that cheating bastard can be," she muttered under her breath.
"Oh God," she said closing her eyes, desperately hoping he didn't hear that comment. This she didn't need, she was already nervous about dancing…let alone dealing with him and his baseless sympathy. "Why should I not be surprised that you are here!? Look, I don't need this tonight, just one more performance to get through. So I can get away from this hellish nightmare, which you somehow are starring in right now."
"You look very nice." He replied, his voice never faltering nor diverging from sincerity.
She wanted to scream, she wanted to yell. Nothing was getting through to him. Not now, not this afternoon, not yesterday. Somehow, maybe if he admitted his indiscretions this would have been easier. He had his chance. If he had truly felt sorry for the infidelity, he would have come after her a year ago. But he said nothing, not single word, not until he found out she was blind. Then Squall Leonhart wouldn't shut up, an oxymoron within itself.
"Great…will you go now?"
"I didn't think so."
"I wanted to let you know I'm looking forward to watching you this evening."
"Whatever…I can't tell them whom they should or shouldn't sell tickets to. Trust me, if I could, I would."
She seemed scarred. One minute she would be congenial, the next minute she would turn embittered and cross. He couldn't image the accident doing so much damage to her persona, but he hadn't been there. That gave him no rights to speculate on her condition, now or then. Sometimes he saw a longing in her eyes, some thing untold. Sometimes he saw nothing but anger directed solely toward him. He wanted to find out the truth, what made her change, what had made her hold such contempt for him. She was the one who left; she was the one with secrets unspeakable.
Somehow, the courage was trying to manifest itself, to ask the very question that had haunted him over the last year. "Why? Why did you really leave me?" A sudden knock on the door kept him from speaking any further.
"Come in, it's open," she beckoned. Personally, she was glad anyone besides him would be there in her company.
"Hello Ms. Heartilly, it's me Richard Bennett… I promised my two young nieces that they could meet you. When would there be a good time?"
"Now!" She realized her own answer might have been too obviously swift. She really didn't care, as she just wanted Squall out of there. To no longer be alone with that man. "Yes, now Mr. Bennett…any corporate sponsor of the ballet company is always welcome around here. Especially their nieces and nephews, I just love meeting the future of Deling." The words seemed clichéd in her own mind. Nevertheless, he was a major contributor to the repertory, and for that, he deserved the kindness of replies, even if laid on a bit thick.
Squall watched as the older man motioned for two skittish girls to walk forward. Each had a notebook, and seemed slightly in awe of meeting Rinoa. They slowly approached her, each holding a notebook. Rinoa smiled vibrantly, leaning down toward the two. "I'm so glad to meet you. What are your names?"
"I'm Nicky," replied one of them, extremely scared.
"And I’m Krissy," the other responded, mirroring the other's voice.
"Wow, those are beautiful names," Rinoa replied amiably. "You two are sisters? I always wanted a sister. You're just so lucky…and charming."
"So…so are you ma'am."
"Ma'am?" she lightheartedly countered. "I'm only twenty, please call me Rinoa. So I don't feel so old."
"I'm sorry," Krissy replied embarrassedly.
"Oh no honey, don't be sorry. I just like to think of you two as friends…would that be all right with you?"
"Yes!" Nicky ecstatically shouted. "Would you…would you autograph our notebooks?"
"Anything for a friend…or friends," she retorted.
Sitting at a desk nearby, she managed to grab the notebooks and an accompanying ink-pen. Luckily, their uncle was busy speaking to another patron, and didn't notice her minor fumble. She signed her name, along with the simple phrase, 'Follow your dreams' on each of the notepads. Squall watched as she tried to hide her nervousness, but he could sense it within her. He knew her too well, and the feelings carried over into him…as he also felt uneasiness.
Finally, she diminutively smiled at the sisters. "There you go girls. I hope you enjoy the performance tonight." They beamed back with excitement. Until one looked down at her notebook.
"Ma'a…Rinoa? Um…I don't think the pen worked."
A sudden rush of electricity surged throughout her body. She could feel the flow of the pen, but did she feel the flow of the ink? More importantly, did she smell the distinct odor that it possessed? No. She had been too concerned about covering up; she overlooked the obvious. Squall could tell the expression of panic upon her face, and the deepening fear within her soul.
"Hey," he suddenly spoke out, kneeling down to the two girl's level. "Do you see this uniform?" Both nodded as he pointed toward his formal attire. "Do you know what it is?"
"Yes…it's SeeD," confidently answered Krissy. "My uncle taught me all about it!"
"Right," he replied. "And guess what? Well, Rinoa here used to work for SeeD. Do you remember hearing about that?" They concurred again. "Good! Well, right now she is on another secret mission for us in Deling!"
"Wow, that's so cool!" exclaimed Nicky.
"Right, it is cool. But, Ms. Heartilly can't let anyone else know she's working for us…so I am trusting you two with that knowledge. And the last thing Rinoa could do…is actually sign a book, without using secret code." Seeing a pencil positioned next to a close by telephone, he quickly reached over grabbing it. "Here, let me see those." Gently he rubbed the pencil along the note pad, there by showing the indentations the pen left. They two became excited as they saw the covert message form.
"That's great! Real SeeD code and all!"
"Yes," the Commander answered with a small smile. "Now, you know some of our best secrets…I’m hoping we can trust you with this important knowledge? Don't tell anyone, for your country, for SeeD, or for Rinoa. Got that?"
Both girls gave him a salute, before running away. Like a whirlwind, they ran out of the room, almost knocking their uncle off his feet. Bennett nodded toward Rinoa, who still looked completely traumatized. Squall could tell that she was lost; trying to save face, he said the goodbyes for both of them.
"I…I…I can't believe you did that," her answer quiet, almost inaudible.
"It's all right Rinoa, I want to help," He tried to answer sincerely, continuing toward her.
"Help me… Help me? How the hell are you helping me!? You're making me look like a fool." Throwing her hands up in resentment, she could tell he was within a closer proximity. "Get… Get away from me… NOW!"
"Rinoa I just didn't want you to be embarrassed, I was just trying to…."
"Don't try a damn thing. Get away from me before I call security." Rinoa grabbed the brush she had used only minutes before, flinging it toward him at a high rate of speed. He ducked, missing the direct hit. "Get away from me!"
"Fine…whatever," he raised his voice back at her. "What ever you say princess." The remark was subtle, but something left from her Timber Owls days; a nickname she would rather forget. When he called her that, it somehow felt demeaning.
"Don't you dare call me princess!"
"Look Rinoa, we are not going to do this right now. I am not going to do this right now. I just stopped by to let you know, we are all here, supporting you. I don't know exactly what your setback is, but damn it… I care. There you happy? I said it… I care. I'm sorry if I've offended you in any way, shape, or form. I've… I've got to go…"
Never saying goodbye…he never said goodbye. Just walked out the door as quickly as he arrived. She closed her eyes holding back the anguish. Knowing deep down he had saved her from embarrassment. She hated that. For once, Squall Leonhart did something right. If she wanted nothing more to do with him, why was she angry with herself? Why was she so angry for his help? Why was she so angry he left…
…Without saying goodbye?
If every journey begins with one-step, Squall Leonhart had enough steps to start ten thousand journeys. Sometimes he didn't understand. Hell, most of the time he didn't understand, especially something, or someone, as complex as Rinoa Heartilly. Before when he did nothing, she would be there at his side, never questioning his intentions. Now when he did something, she only pushed him out the door, questioning his integrity.
Is life more than a mystery? Are there answers to every question asked? Or is the mockery more bitter than the resolution? When we hear the voice within, are we only telling ourselves the answer, the ones we dare not speak? The fact she didn't want him, no matter how hard he wanted her, was just another incongruity among many.
With every step, his strength grew, as did his resolve. Maybe before he would have walked away from her, but only because of before could he see her desolation. Not only was she in a world full of darkness physically, she was also trapped within the dark recesses of her heart. He had failed before, and why he didn't know. But, this time, this time… he would know.
The ballet, itself, was the same one staged a few nights ago. This time Squall was capable to watch the complete dance, instead of getting lost in his secluded memories. After the recital, the SeeD group was the first to give a standing ovation. Zell and Irvine even whistled; something that did not go unnoticed by the other clientele.
When the auditorium cleared, he stood alone while the others went across to the reception hall. They let him be, as he took in every small nuance of the building. From the golden curtain ties, to the crimson red wooden carving, he made a special place in his memories of this building…and for the beauty he just saw taking the stage.
He ran his ungloved hand over the satin feeling that lay within each seat. He too, committed that into his memory. That feeling was as unique as she was, and forever would he associate the silken similarities of the two. Taking in one last breath, he turned toward the exit knowing what he had just witnessed. The end of a miracle. Rinoa would no longer dance, but her commitment kept her there throughout the season, that was her way. A promise. She made them a promise… just as she made him once. But that one, she opted to break.
The banquet hall was decorated similar to the prior evening, except for the stage that had been added for the President’s address. Squall nervously waited for Rinoa to arrive. Knowing the time it took her before, he would have a good thirty minutes before she arrived. As the pressure grew too much, he decided to order a drink…something strong.
Selphie and Irvine had found a table in the back, but still close to the dance floor.
"Selph, may I have the honor of this dance." He bowed down, offering his hand to her.
"Yes, you may sir." She graciously accepted his hand and guided him to the dance floor. The two held each other, as other couples danced circles around them. "I love you, Irvine. I just wanted to say that. Circumstances have made me realize how lucky we are."
"Selph, I feel the same way. You are the only woman for me. I love you more than anything in this world." The two just continued to dance, content in the presence of one another.