~* Chapter 11: Evening *~
*Welcome to happy disclaimerland. Disclaimers are the best thing since sliced bread. I don’t (hold your hats) own Final Fantasy (really) or any of the characters. They (surprise) belong to Square.*
The rhythmic motions of the morning train seemed like gentle waves upon an ocean shore. Such peace and tranquility is rare to find in man-made objects, yet the train seemed magical. All knew it wasn't truly the machine, but the people within it.
"Squall," Rinoa reached over to reassure him that she was actually there. Attempting to grab his shoulder, she missed and landed her hand on his leg. For a second, neither spoke. Somehow, each was afraid the moment, the feeling would end… She wanted to pull her hand away, but for now, she felt like someone put super-glue on her palm. She decided to leave it there, hopefully not to draw attention to her small inaccuracy. "When did his leg get so muscular? When did I actually ever feel his legs like this?" She looked to him; "You will never believe who made me change my mind." Nobody dared to speak. "My father."
"General Caraway?" asked Zell.
"Yes, he made me realize what wonderful friends I have. People who I can... learn to trust again. People who will not treat me different than they did before."
The rest of the train trip was uneventful. Just a lot of reminiscing about old times, talking about ballet, and of course the ever-plentiful 'Irvine in tights jokes.' Somehow, the conversation always remained lighthearted and nobody ventured into uncharted territories. Squall and Rinoa sat next to each other the entire trip, neither moving closer, nor further apart. She eventually moved her hand away, and Squall felt like he lost a small part of him when she removed it.
When the train arrived at Balamb Station, the group decided to rent a car for returning to Garden. Nobody was in the mood to fight monsters; they wanted to stay on their mini-holiday as long as possible. Squall was driving, sitting next to him Rinoa followed by Quistis. In the rear seat, Selphie sat in between Irvine and Zell playing referee… and Angelo was definitely the line judge. If one of the men invaded the canine's space, he was quickly snipped at. The instructor found much humor in the new guard dog.
Halfway home an argument between Irvine and Zell broke out, about who between them was the most ‘manly’. The conversation ended abruptly when Squall slammed on the brakes, pulled over, and Quistis literally kicked the two men out of the car.
"But… Squall," pleaded the martial artist.
"No, buts. It will do you two some good to spend some quality time with each other."
"Yeah," mumbled Irvine. "I'll remember this next Commander's Day."
Quistis looked out the window in confusion. "Irvine there is no such thing as Commander's Day."
"Well yah, but Zell and I were going to propose it as a national holiday. Now we will just stick with Abyss-Worm Day to honor him. So if the worm sees his shadow, it's six more weeks of Squall."
"That hurts," the commander sarcastically replied. Soon after finishing, he stepped on the gas pedal.
"They don't change, do they?" Rinoa started laughing again. It felt so wonderful to be a part of this again. Whatever this was.
"No," answered Quistis as she watched their image shrinking in the passenger side mirror. "You would think that all of us would have grown a little in the last couple of years."
Squall remained silent, but slowly, unsurely lowered his hand down to Rinoa's leg. It was much in the same fashion as she had done on the train, although hers had been entirely accidental. She turned her head toward him, but said nothing. The countryside passed by, but Rinoa never saw it. She only saw what was in her heart.
Selphie leaned against the window, starting to close her eyes. "Did I ever tell you guys that I'm not a morning person? It takes everything I have just to get out bed… who decided to make these trains run so early? What intelligent person made up that schedule?"
Shaking her head the instructor added, "Selphie, eight o'clock isn't that early for a train. I remember plenty of times taking the four am train… that just really ruins your entire day."
"Stop!" Rinoa yelled. Squall almost panicked at her tone.
He stopped the car pulling off to the side of the road. "Rinoa, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. I… I just started feeling claustrophobic all of sudden." She pushed Squall's hand off her bare leg, "Quistis, can you get out a minute? I would prefer to sit in back… where there is more room."
"Sure honey, hang on." Quistis and Squall exchanged looks in utter confusion. The younger girl's mood swings almost seemed violent. Nevertheless, the instructor never argued, and opened the door for Rinoa. It was on the tip of her tongue that she would move in back, yet she felt there was something deeper here. Something that none of them were seeing. Demons that only Rinoa was fighting, until she let her friends help. Right now, the best they could do, was just be there.
Arriving back at Garden was a little less stressful than Rinoa anticipated. Squall walked on her right side, while Quistis on her left. Angelo carefully walked in front, staying clear of obstacles that might materialize along the way. Selphie continued a few steps behind the others, carefully scanning the horizon for Ellone. She'd expected her to arrive before the group had made it back from Deling.
Headmaster Cid was standing in front of the library, motioning Selphie over to him. Breaking from the group, she walked toward her adoptive father.
"Ellone’s waiting in your room," informed Cid. "I received the impression that her coming was to be kept under secrecy… at least for the moment. I issued a temporary pass to your room, hope that is all right with you?"
"That’s perfect. I just have to go and get Quistis away from Rinoa and Squall. I guess those two will just be forced to spend a little time together. I feel so darn bad for that." Selphie couldn’t help hide the sarcasm in her voice.
Looking over to their backs, he watched as Squall and Quistis helped the other girl along. "She decided to come back with you. I'm glad. How… how is she doing?"
"Well… honestly Headmaster, she has her moments. She'll be perfectly charming one minute, then basically something gets to her."
A concerned look took over his face. "Not sorceress related, is it?"
"No," she hesitated talking too much to the man. "I'm guessing it is personal. Her reason for leaving in the first place… well from what we know, that isn't true. There's something hurting her. I only hope we can help."
"Me too," he answered pushing his glasses up to the bridge of his nose. "Selphie, do whatever it takes to get this resolved. There is so much more riding here than one person; I would almost venture to say it's the future of the entire Garden."
Selphie managed to get Quistis away, faking some emergency with the budget on the Garden Festival. Squall didn't exactly buy the excuse, but personally, he was glad the others were leaving.
"Rinoa, can I show you something?"
She laughed at the ironic statement. "Sure Squall… what?"
"Follow me." He grabbed her hand, interlocking their fingers. She was aware that they entered the lift, and could feel the fluid motion of the motors.
"You're taking me up to the classrooms? You're so adventurous Leonhart."
When the elevator stopped, he led her into a large room. She could hear the sound of her heels meeting the wooden floor. "The ballroom Squall? You wanted to show me this?"
He didn’t' answer, but only led her to the balcony. She could feel the vacuum from the doors when he opened them, and the humid air mix with the indoor climate. She almost grew angry. "What could you possible want me to see up here?"
"Everything," he answered quietly. "From the trees to the birds. The sky and the edges of the horizons… everything."
"Who are you?" The tone was irritated.
"What have you done to the man I knew a year ago?"
Turning his back toward her, he closed his eyes. "I don't know," he thought to himself. "Everything I always was or wanted to be… it was nothing. Hyne, what am I saying?" So instead, he opted for the more logical statement. "Why Rinoa, why did you leave?"
She almost choked on her own bile. "Why? Why did I leave? Squall, maybe I never left, maybe you were already gone."
"What? How can you say that? I wasn't the one who left you a note one day!"
Her words began to be filled with anger. "What was I to you a year ago?"
"Rinoa you were my friend… someone I trusted."
"Trust, funny how it always comes back to that isn't it? I was your good friend… what was I supposed to do, wait around for you one day to acknowledge me as more than your good friend? I was the same to you as Irvine, Zell, Quistis or Selphie! The only difference is you might have made three pathetic little attempts to kiss me!"
"Pathetic? You seem to use that word a lot when you talk about me. Oh, and by the way, it was four attempts… don't forget the park a few days ago."
"I'd like to forget!" she screamed. That was the furthest from the truth; those feelings kept her going the last few days. Hell, those feelings are what led her here to Garden. "What was I thinking coming back here? Hyne, get me on the first train to Timber in the morning. This is exactly why I shouldn't listen to Caraway, him and his wonderful ideas. You would think I'd learn by now… but no, you're all the same."
"Who… who is the same?"
"Men… and being lying, pathetic, cheating bastards!"
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Take me to my room… now."
"We're not done he…"
"I said take me back now." Her eyes glazed over, as he had never seen them do, in a combination of hate and anger. One he could have never imagined her capable of. Something had hurt her, something that she may never be able to face.
"Whatever, princess." He grabbed her wrist, not holding too hard, but not being gentle either. He led her back through the corridors as others watched the commander's actions. Finally, he opened up a guest room, as she felt her way through the doorframe.
"Don’t you ever, ever call me princess." Saying nothing more to him, she slammed the door in his face.
The two women had gone back to Selphie’s dorm room, explaining most of the situation to Ellone. Quistis carefully left out the part pertaining to the fact that she already knew the outcome of the visit. She had just decided to give Ellone the exact date of the accident, and let her abilities take over from there.
Selphie went to go check on the two, and was surprised to see them apart. Rinoa mentioned she'd been up all night, and napping was the only thing on her mind. Squall didn't answer the door, but he too mentioned his lack of sleep the previous night in the poetic words, "Selphie, I'm sleeping…tell everyone to stay the hell away."
All three of the girls found that the perfect opportunity to send Squall back to the past. Something was going on, something deeper… all could see that. And all wanted a better outcome than a year ago.
Light, it was so light.
"Who in the world can actually sleep during the daylight hours?" Squall tossed and turned on his bed, unfortunately almost all his thoughts returned to only one subject, Rinoa. The girl he spent so much trying to get over from, was literally just down the hall from him now. "Why? Why, did she come back? Was it to me, or was it really just as friends as we promised the night before? What was up with her behavior, and why did she despise men all of a sudden… pathetic, cheating, bastards… that just doesn't sound like her words."
It was too complicated for him to figure. "How can she say that about men? Has she ever tried understanding women," he almost chuckled to himself. All he knew was she was here, it was a second chance for them both. The anger was only temporary; it would subside.
As he closed his eyes to try to sleep, a sharp pain emanated from the base of his neck. He knew this pain; he knew it well. "Ellone? Why Ellone?" It gradually traced his spinal cord up to his frontal temple. The sting was unbearable, just as it had been before. He tried to open his eyes and only found a surreal darkness enveloping him. The pain subsided; he tried to open his eyes once more.
"A party? Why am I at a party?" It was a living room decorated with hearts and cupids, and fragrant roses filled the air.
A man with dark hair stood over to the side of the lively room, two blond male companions at his side. He took a sip of his… Squall could tell it was definitely something strong. Squall watched from his ghost-like state as the three men eyed almost every woman at the party. Finally the dark headed man spoke up, "She said she would be here tonight. I don’t think the little princess would lie to her friends. She wouldn’t stand up her dear society friends," he spoke with a sharp tongue.
"Mike," spoke one of the others. "You really think you should do this? She is the Caraway's daughter, and I think she is somewhat nice. Can’t you just find someone else for tonight?"
"Look," rejoined Mike. "It’s a holiday. I'd hate to think of her being alone. Moreover, she was worth the most in the wager… fifty points. You guys would have to get three girls for that. Ever since she got back here, well she just hasn’t been the same. It seems spending a little time with SeeDs turned her into... well just damn boring. She hasn’t smiled once, I just want to show her a good time tonight. So consider this community service also."
"Mike, I know. I heard rumors that her ex-boyfriend was a real idiot. He cheated on her, throwing her out after he got what he wanted. I think she really cared for the guy; I just don’t want her hurt again."
"Seifer?" the commander disparately tried to think back. "I thought her and he never…"
"I know that’s she has been hurt. That’s why I have to make my move tonight. I personally couldn't care less about the little bitch, but if I play my cards right, she could be a great political move for me. If I ever want to succeed with the Galbadian Army, I'd need the support of someone important like Caraway. So tonight, his darling daughter will be mine. See, even I can be the greatest actor if the moment calls for it. Tonight, I will win an award for my performance." Mike snickered to himself, "Yes, the princess is the way to power."
Squall tried to figure out what these men were talking about, "Is it Seifer that cheated on her before, or was there really someone else in the letter? Could she really have cared for someone else? Who could, or would have cheated on such a trusting, beautiful person like Rin?"
The thought made him nauseous at the possibilities. Then the realization hit him, "Why am I here? Did Ellone want me to see these three immature brats talking about Rinoa like a monster to defeat? Rinoa wouldn’t fall for such an idiot would she? Never. She would never…" Something snapped in him… "Princess, I called her princess today, Rinoa freaked. This guy Mike… kept calling her the same."
He could barely stand up; the dizziness was taking over all of his senses.
The next thing Squall saw was Rinoa standing alone on a balcony. She was looking over the bright lights of Deling. From her movements she acted as if she could still see. She held a rose in her right hand, and ran the petals through her fingers. After a moment, she said something quietly and threw the flower into the pond below. Watching as the rose gently landed, it caused small ripples to break the even stillness of the water. Squall watched as a man walked on the balcony from the party. It was Mike. Squall wished he could have reached out and choked the guy, "Rinoa will see right through this creep, God Rin you have to."
"Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize anybody else was out here," Mike said with bashfulness in his voice.
Rinoa turned to the man standing in front of her. He was tall and good-looking, if you liked that type, but she only had one type. His blue green eyes caught her attention. They reminded her of someone else, on another night. She finally shook her head out of the memory and replied, "Oh, its okay. I was just going back in."
Mike smiled and walked up to the balcony railing giving her a genuine smile. "Please don’t. It would really be lonely here without you. I just couldn’t stand being by myself on such a beautiful night like tonight, you look like a princess under the moonlight.".
"Wouldn’t like being by yourself…princess," Rinoa snickered. "I guess those are some things I never thought I’d hear from a man."
"What? How could anybody want to be away from somebody as... well… um beautiful as you? Gee, I shouldn’t have said that." He turned to leave. "I guess I’ll just go back inside now."
"No wait," Rinoa grabbed his arm. "Stay. I don’t want to be alone on a night like tonight either, and never in my wildest dreams… am I a princess."
Squall was pissed. He found himself wanting to yell at her, although he knew it wouldn’t help. He prayed that she would soon see through this guy, although the hurt in her voice made him know whom she was talking about, him. He always told her he wanted to be left alone. "Why wouldn’t Rinoa want to hear something different from a man?"
Reluctantly, the commander turned his mind back to the scene.
"…Anyway that is how I joined the army at fifteen. My parents were lost in a car crash, until I was ten an uncle raised me," Mike spoke sympathetically to Rinoa.
"I lost my mom when I was five to a car crash also. My father wasn't the same after the accident. Caraway distanced himself from anything that reminded him of her."
"Rinoa, I don’t think he was doing that on purpose. Sometimes people are just scared of losing someone they love. People react in all different ways. For along time I was a loner. Then I realized… my whole life was ahead of me. I had to take chances."
"What is life without chances," she echoed the sentiment.
"Right, what fun is life if seen from the sidelines? I was young and immature back then. I had to grow up, and never have I looked back on who I was."
In her mind Rinoa was hearing everything she had always wanted. It wasn’t from the person she wanted, but this guy was here and before she knew it, they were kissing on the balcony. In her mind, she wasn’t with Mike; she was with Squall. Every touch of her body, every sensation… it was only Squall. Then something snapped in her mind. "If Squall could do this to me, why the hell can’t I do it back? We're not together anymore, he moved on to someone else’s bed, why shouldn’t I?"
This was going to make him sick. Watching the person he loved more than the whole world being taken in by this guy. He closed his eyes and silently asked Ellone to take him back. Then the cries became more frantic, they were no longer silent, but full-blown screams. This was certainly not helping anything in his life right now.
Unfortunately, when he opened his eyes, his entire life would forever be changed.
It was a bedroom. There was noise below, the vibrations from the speaker bass shook the foundation. Everything in the room was dark, except for the bed. There lay Rinoa and Mike kissing naked, together. "How? How in the Hell did this happen?" He could see Rinoa as Mike lay on top of her, she was crying. This certainly was not what he would have thought. The picture made him so angry; Squall yelled out her name as loudly as he could.
Rinoa jerked her head, "Squall!?"
Mike looked down at her, "I don’t care what you call me."
Rinoa looked at Mike and pushed him off her as fast as she could. "I can’t… I can't do this." The tears streaming down her face. She jumped up from the bed, trying feverishly to gather her belongings. He just stared at Mike. He hated him, and no matter what happened his entire life, Squall Leonhart had never felt hate, until now.
"Wait, did Rinoa hear me? She called out my name when I yelled. Could she hear me?"
The scene faded to black, the next thing Squall saw was Rinoa getting in her car. Mike was running out of the party calling her contemptible names. He noticed the dramatic tears, each one causing him to die a little more. She revved the engine, never looking back to the crowd gathered outside the house.
Rinoa pulled out of the driveway with such force, small pebbles rained down upon the earth as hail. He could hear the stereo in the car; the song was loud and only reflected her disposition. The music irritated her; she reached down to turn the radio down. All of a sudden, she yelled, "I’m so damned sorry." Not to anyone particular, more to the wind, more to herself. She felt so cheap and dirty at that moment, but most of all… hurt. Another slower song came on the radio. She just wanted silence; she wanted the nothingness she felt in her soul. Rinoa reached down to turn the radio off and when she looked up...
She saw darkness.
Heard the sound of twisting metal.
And for one moment, made peace with the inevitable.
Squall watched as a spectator, one he wished could have not been there; the moment was too much for any one person to witness. He felt himself getting sick, he wanted to die next to her. Holding on to her, never letting go. The thought of an accident had been too much before. Now, to witness the wreckage, was excruciating.
The blood, he noticed the blood first. Blood never bothered him during battle; now it was draining the existence from his life. With every drop that fell onto the pavement, he felt part of him slip away. He closed his eyes and wished for the darkness in front of him to end.
Hospital? He was in the hospital. Although, unlike the other times, he could hear her thoughts. Why? Why now?
"The lights are so intense."
She tried to remember exactly what was happening; voices, many voices. She could feel the vehicle's motion with every breath. Why was it so hard to breathe? They were touching her, poking needles into Hyne knows what. She could feel the pressure, but the pain did not register.
Outside, now she was outside, in the frigid night air being wheeled into a building. They seemed to be yelling, in an alarming tone. Who were they? Now she came to an abrupt stop. They were still putting things on her; she just wanted them to stop.
"Female approximately twenty years in age; car accident, head trauma and internal bleeding." A female voice cried out.
"That’s it; I remember portions of the accident. The truck had not seen me; the driver, was the driver all right?" Rinoa opened her eyes, looking at the ceiling. It was white tile with intense lights recessed in a pattern.
She tried to speak. No words came, only the voice within her mind.
"The driver I have to know if he's all right. I'm so exhausted; I will just close my eyes for a moment. The pain, will the pain go away?" Then she heard the alarms of the monitors sounding. "Stop touching me!" Her cries were unheard to all around. A sudden darkness overtook her…
"I will just close my eyes a second... just a second, and then I’ll see what’s going on." Her eyelids fell heavy… before something made her open them for one last time. "Squall, what are you doing here?"