~Chapter 3: Promise of Yesterday~
Final Fantasy and all its characters belong to Squaresoft.
What lies behind us and what lies
ahead of us are tiny matters compared
to what lives within us
-Henry David Thoreau
It's choice - not chance - that
determines your destiny.
- Jean Nidetch
Quistis was roused from a fitful sleep by the drumming of rain against the window. She rose slowly from her slumped position and cringed as she tried to relieve the crick in her neck. Her eyes moved across the room to Rinoa, who seemed to be sleeping peacefully. She was thankful to see that the girl had made it through the first night. That didn’t account for the nights to come. But it offered hope, and she took it for all it was worth. It was all Rinoa had at this point.
She stretched as she stood, pulling the sleep from the rest of her body. Quistis turned around and looked out of the window behind her. The rain beat against the window like an angry lover. Rain was scarce to the plains of Esthar, but when it came, it came with the force of a typhoon. It came so quickly the ground could not absorb all the water at once. The runoff would spread across the red sands and give the landscape a ghastly appearance of an unending lake of blood. She shuddered at the sight beyond the city. A slight rap on the door jostled her from her thoughts as she turned around.
“Who is it?”
Laguna stepped through the door shaking the water from his clothes. “Honestly,” Quistis said as she smiled. “I think you are of that stature where one does not need to knock upon entering a room.”
“Now what kind of a gentleman would I be then? Er…not that the name fits any of my description…but well I’ve learned from the past that you gotta knock before entering rooms occupied by the opposite sex, or you run the risk of being knocked out.”
Quistis chuckled. “Well if it were any other room I would have to agree with your well learned logic.”
“Nope, there are no exceptions whatsoever.” Laguna smiled. “Raine set me straight on a whole lot of ‘the rules’.”
“Looks like she was quite the influence.”
“More than you know,” he laughed. “More than you know.” He scratched the back of his head, his mind drifting to the memories of the past. When he returned from his thoughts, he decided to change the subject before he became lost in them.
“I talked to the doctors this morning. They said she is doing well and actually better than expected. She has improved dramatically since yesterday. Granted none of them have dealt with frozen sorceresses so no one knows what to expect. But I definitely think this is something positive.”
“Absolutely.” Quistis smiled. “I hope she will be able to get on with her life as soon as possible. She’s missed enough of it already.”
“Yeah me too, I just wonder if that time will be before--”
A loud and urgent ringing echoed in the small room. Laguna reached for the cell phone on his belt with a sigh. “Why does duty always call at this hour?” He grumbled.
He glanced at the glowing numbers on the screen before putting the receiver to his ear.
Quistis was taken aback by the sudden fear rising in his eyes.
“Did he say what this was regarding?”
“Well didn’t you ask him!? Well…yes I realize that…that’s true…no, I wasn’t yelling! Okay, okay, I’m sorry. It’s just this is not a good time. No, no I’ll take his call; just give me a minute to get to a more suitable location before you put him through.” He turned the phone off and looked nervously at Quistis.
“Um…it’s Squall…he wants to speak with me.”
“Squall…” The voice was soft and barely audible, yet loud enough to catch the attention of the other two sets of ears in the room.
“Oh dear Hyne…” Quistis said as she brought a hand to her mouth. They both turned to Rinoa who had not moved, her eyes remained closed. Minutes passed before Quistis and Laguna were able to breathe.
“Guess…guess her recovery may take less time than they thought,” Laguna said softly. His phone began ringing impatiently. “I’ll go see what this is about, I’ll be right outside.”
“Alright.” Quistis replied.
Laguna took one last look at the still form lying in the bed before walking swiftly out into the hallway. Once he made a safe distance from the room he pushed the receive button on the phone.
“Sorry sir,” his secretary said. “Mr. Leonhart is insisting on speaking with you immediately. He doesn’t seem to be very happy.”
Laguna swallowed hard. “Go ahead and put him through.” He tried to remain calm. He told himself to relax, there was no way Squall could possibly know this soon; he had taken every possible measure.
“Hey son…er Squall…been awhile.”
“Yeah. I would’ve waited, but this is important.”
“Sure no problem I understand,” the president fought to keep his voice from wavering while his heart was doing hurdles in his chest. “Important things can’t wait.”
“Uh…yeah. Anyway, if I don’t say this now, I don’t think I’ll be able too. You know Elise Vandermere the resident doctor at Trabia, I believe you’ve met her a couple of times.”
“Yes of course.”
“Well we’re…we’re engaged.”
Try as he might, Laguna couldn’t keep the relief at bay, and it slipped out of his lips before he could catch it.
“Is that it?” Oh, that was brilliant Loire, way to bond with your son. He smacked his forehead repeatedly with his free hand.
“What do you mean is that it? I thought this might be of little significance to you. I mean it’s a pretty damn big deal to me!”
“No…Squall, that’s not…”
“I thought you might be interested in this life changing decision for me, because it sure as hell hasn’t been easy. You’re always telling me how much you want to be a part of my life.” Squall’s voice continued to rise in anger. “How we should try harder at this so-called father-son relationship. Well if “that’s it” is all I get for trying then to hell with it! To hell with you!”
“No Squall listen to me. That is not what I meant.” Something inside him wanted to tell him right then about Rinoa. “Look, it’s been a really long night and I haven’t had any sleep, it’s having an affect on me. I apologize with all my being. I’m so happy to hear you’re getting married son. You don’t know how proud of you I am. You don’t know how much I admire your strength, your courage…everything I lack. You don’t know how much I want to be there for you, how much I wish that I was before. There…there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Mr. President sir, Mr. Leonhart is no longer on the line.” His secretary interrupted.
“I know,” he said as he wiped at the stray tear running down his cheek. “I know.”
Squall angrily slammed his fist against the desk. He took another look at the telephone and with one swipe of his arm; he knocked it to the floor. Why would he say something like that? “Is that it?” He thought he might have received some encouragement in this. He felt the need for some outside encouragement to get him through this. Someone to tell him that yes, this is the right thing to do. Squall didn’t know if he would ever be ready to give up on her. He couldn’t depend on himself to know the answers anymore.
“If you would have waited hothead, you might have gotten them.” He argued with himself. He could have given Laguna a chance to say something, perhaps there was something behind his answer. Something he was going to add. “Something you’ll never know, will you?” No, all the tension all the pain he was holding for this one phone call exploded into something hurtful that Laguna did nothing to earn. Not that time. As angry as the young man was, deep in his heart he knew he hadn’t meant those last words that came from his lips before he slammed the phone brutally against the receiver.
He would have to do something about this, but not now. He couldn’t form the words of an apology if his life depended on it at that moment. Squall reached into the side table drawer and pulled out a small white bottle. He twisted the cap and turned the bottle up allowing a few pills to fall into his mouth. He chewed the bitter aspirin hoping that maybe they could ease the pain he felt. Yet knowing in reality they could not.
“Sir, are you alright? I thought I heard a loud crash.” The intercom buzzed.
“Great…he thought to himself, I could have been assassinated and had my body disposed of in the Island Closest To Hell by the time she gets around to asking gee, what was that noise?
“I’m fine Janice, just doing some spring cleaning.”
“Oh, yeah I did that last week; you wouldn’t believe all the junk that was in my desk, it was terrible! I couldn’t believe it! You’ll never guess…”
“Janice is there anything else? I really don’t have time for the chitchat…exhilarating as it is.”
“Oh sorry sir…um…oh yes, Elise called a few minutes ago. Wanted you to call her back when you had a chance.”
“Alright. Now go do something busy, type something, file something, I don’t care. I need some time alone, if I need anything I’ll call you.”
Squall rested his head against the back of the chair and closed his eyes. Elise was the last person he needed to talk to at this moment. Yet he felt compelled to reach out to someone, something that was very un-Squall like. But it couldn’t be just anyone. He picked the telephone off the floor and dialed up someone who might understand or at the very least, listen to him.
“Balamb Garden Military Facility, SeeD Commander Xu speaking.”
“Hey Xu, what’s the sun feel like these days?”
“Squall! How the heck are you? Seems like its been ages! How are things at Trabia?”
“Cold, white, and cold.”
“Can’t say I envy you there!” She laughed. “Quistis told me about your engagement. Congratulations! Don’t worry…I didn’t spread it around or anything…er…well I did tell a few people.”
“Thanks Xu. Listen, is Quistis around? I’d like to speak with her.”
“Oh, no she’s not here Squall, I’m sorry. She left really early this morning, around 0300 hours. Said she had urgent business to attend to.”
“Yeah, she didn’t give me any details on what it was about, just said it was personal, left me in command while she was gone.”
“That’s odd; she didn’t say anything to me about taking leave. It’s standard protocol to inform the other headmasters when one of us leaves the Gardens. ”
“Yeah I know. Must have slipped her mind. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from her though Squall. Tell you the truth she wasn’t quite herself this morning. I don’t have the slightest on what’s up. She didn’t even tell me when she’d be back.”
“Hmm…well, if she gets back any time soon, tell her I called would you?”
“Of course. It was good hearing from you Squall, don’t be a stranger so long!”
“I’ll try not to.”
“You’d better. And you know, I want one of those wedding invitations in my mailbox bucko!”
“Don’t worry, you’ll get one.” Squall chuckled.
An odd sense of unease rose from the pit of his stomach as he hung up the phone. People seemed to be acting stranger and stranger today. First Laguna, then Quistis, one of the most thorough people he knew beside himself, being spontaneous like this. She didn’t even confide in Xu, who was usually aware of every last detail of the happenings of Balamb Garden. Something didn’t feel right. And even as the day wore on and he tried desperately to consume himself in work, Squall Leonhart couldn’t shake that strange feeling from his mind.
She felt as if she was seeing and hearing the world from the inside of a barrel. The view was black and the voices were muddled. She tried to raise her hands out in front of her. They felt restricted. The only reaction she received was the twitch of a couple of fingers. “What’s wrong with me?” Everything seemed to be in slow motion. Her body would not obey any of her commands. “This is so frustrating…why can’t I move?”
Rinoa strained to hear the voices around her, searching desperately for someone she recognized. It was all garbled and distorted. It was as if the human voice had become alien to her. It felt like eons had passed since she had last heard someone speak. One voice she recognized to be female…and familiar. The other, deeper male’s voice. Word by word they seemed to become more clear.
“I really messed up…again.”
“It’s alright, you did as well as you could. Better than I would have been I’m sure; I’d have been petrified. I’m sure he didn’t mean what he said, he has a problem of not thinking before he says something.”
“I don’t know if he’ll ever speak to me again after this.”
“Oh he will, just give him a while to cool off.”
“No…I mean after all this. I almost told him…I swear I would have if he hadn’t hung up. But I was thinking before I came back in here. This…this should be her decision to make. We can’t just force him on her like this. It has to be her choice, hers alone. This is her life. What do you think would happen if I had told him?”
“He’d be on the first flight down here.”
“You’re right. I think this is the best thing we can do…for everyone involved.”
“I hope so, I really do. I’m going to head back to the palace for a while. If anything comes up or if you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.”
“I will. Thank you. And don’t worry Laguna; I’m sure he’ll come around.”
“We’ll see Quistis, we’ll see. I’ll stop by later, take care of yourself.”
She heard the sound of a door pulling shut. The room was silent again…she was alone again. Her eyes opened to the blur of the white ceiling. There was no sound save for the hum of the medical equipment. She had heard a familiar name; she tried to force it out of the depths of her throat.
She tried to move her head to look around her surroundings. It was like it was glued into place. A figure stepped into her view. She blinked to rid the blur from her eyes. The figure looked older than she remembered. The features of her face were more etched and defined. Her hair was shorter. She looked exceedingly tired. But there was no denying who it was.
“Hey there, sleepyhead.” Quistis smiled widely. “Long time no see.”
“Hey…long time.” Rinoa whispered.
“How are you feeling Rin? Are you in any pain?”
“No pain…numb. Can’t move.”
“Don’t worry, that’ll come back in time.” Quistis said as she pulled the chair up to the young woman’s bedside.
“Did we…did we win?” Rinoa winced. Talking felt like someone taking two pieces of sandpaper and rubbing them against the back of her throat.
“We sure did. We fought Ultimecia and we won. Time Compression was stopped.”
“Thank Hyne.” She sighed with relief. Then the other nagging question entered her mind.
“Did everyone make it out okay?”
“Yeah, everyone is just fine. We’ve all just been worried about you.”
Quistis blanched…she couldn’t tell her, not now. “Squall is doing good, as good as Squall can I guess. Still says “whatever” on a daily basis.”
Rinoa laughed quietly her face then changed to one of sorrow. She closed her eyes to fight the tears threatening to fall. “I missed you all so much.”
Quistis took her by the hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “We’ve all missed you too Rinoa. Terribly.”
There were so many questions, she couldn’t think straight. “How long has it been?”
Quistis took a deep breath. “It’s been a little while.”
Rinoa laughed again. “Funny, you look much older than a little while.”
The blonde woman smiled. This was something she definitely wouldn’t be able to hide from her. She took another breath and tried again. “Seven years. It’s been seven years.”
Not the answer she was expecting, but what she was expecting was far worse, so the headmaster took this as a good sign. She stayed quiet, allowing Rinoa to absorb this new information. It was a few minutes until the young sorceress spoke again.
“Is he here?”
Quistis turned her eyes away. This was what she had been dreading more than the former question. She searched her mind for something to tell her, some answer that would suffice for the time being.
“He, um…he’s not here at the moment. He’s in Trabia right now, but he’ll…be here. You know, not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of you. Not one.” She turned her gaze back to Rinoa. “And I’m sure he will be on his way just as soon as he…”
Rinoa’s eyes were now closed, her breathing now slow and steady. She had fallen asleep. A mixture of relief and uncertainty washed over Quistis and she sighed as she finished her statement quietly.
“Just as soon as he finds out.”