*Nope, I still do not own any of the characters of Final Fantasy*
~* Chapter 2: Sunrise *~
It just didn't seem right; something was missing. As Squall peered out the train window, the entire evening played over in his mind like a movie. A silent movie forever etched on film, one with no words. Her actions spoke louder than words ever could. He mentally played out the scene, her standing, smiling, and never acknowledging. He came to only one conclusion. No, Rinoa wouldn't have just disregarded her past.
But true to form, once a verdict was reached… it was quickly overturned.
"Would she? Of course, not, we did spend over a year together; she was the one who left me. Why would she be angry with me? Rinoa was the one who found someone else, moved on even when I could not. Was that him tonight? Maybe that's why she wouldn't acknowledge me, what a bitch," he thought.
"Seifer was right about her, she is a spoiled little brat… run to another man, then back to daddy when she feels like it."
Now she reached a social level Squall couldn't measure up to, nor did he particular want to. "Let her have her wealth, her recognition, and her male companions… whatever." He closed his eyes in resentment, even as he was thinking the words; he couldn't accept them as true. "Why do I still feel like this?"
Irvine reached over, tapping him lightly on the shoulder. "You could always call her, ask what happened. Maybe it's not the best approach, but at least you'd know the truth; some things just need to be spoken. Not in a note, but in person. Rinoa is still the girl we knew and helped us two years ago. Trust her."
With that final piece of friendly advice, Irvine closed his eyes. The tired cowboy started to fall asleep, as the train gently swayed back and forth on its way back to Balamb.
"Maybe," Squall thought, "but what if I get wounded in the process? Maybe reality will hurt more than pretending I never existed."
With a thousand thoughts crossing his mind, Squall closed his eyes and joined Irvine in the peaceful slumber of the train.
The next day went on as usual; life does go on. Squall sat at his desk and filed through all the papers that lay in his 'in' box. Working was now somehow out of the question. The documents just seemed to never end. Yet, there was no way he could keep concentrating on work. He picked the pile up from his desk, and then cast it down just as hastily.
"I'm out of here." With that, he seized his gunblade, marching directly to the training center.
Slaughtering Grats was just about as entertaining as watching the paint in the Quad dry; but at least it kept him entertained, sort of. There was a class going on in the T-Rex area. As much as Squall wanted to face something more ferocious than an overgrown weed, he just didn't want to face anybody of the human variety right now. Just as he was again getting lost in his innermost thoughts, Quistis and Selphie appeared from around the corner.
"Hey Squall," Selphie chirped in her little sprightly way. "Aren't you supposed to be commanding or something; or is today a national holiday I wasn't aware of?"
The look Squall returned pretty much answered her question.
"Selphie, I want to be alone now, please."
He nodded at the two girls as if to discharge himself, turned away, and walked deeper into the training center.
"Selph, I'm worried about him," Quistis softly spoke with a concerned, motherly tone. "Lauren and Irvine filled me in on what happened last night. Rinoa just seemed too sweet to ignore him; then again, she seemed too sweet to abandon him… especially for another man."
The commander disappeared from view, leaving the girls completely alone. "Selphie… you're still good with computers, right?"
The younger girl nodded.
"Let's go see what we can find out about Rinoa for the last year. If she is performing, there should be some information about her in the press archives. It's a start."
Selphie beamed as the two walked off to Quistis room, eager to see what they could collect on their former comrade.
Zell sprawled out in Irvine's fluffy reclining chair, as the cowboy recalled the events of last evening.
"Really, she just ignored you guys? Not even a hello?"
Irvine tried to explain again, "She said hello and talked to us. Well, only to Lauren, but Rinoa looked right at us, acting as if she didn't know who we were from a hole in the wall. I told Squall to call her today, but we have a better chance getting a ruby dragon to be your new roommate."
Zell thought for a moment. "Maybe she really didn't recognize you guys, maybe somehow she lost all the memories dealing with time compression."
Irvine shook his head again. "No, she mentioned Garden; seemed genuinely emotional about this place. Rin just didn't speak to either of us directly."
Looking at the phone on his desk, Irvine decided on a direct course of action.
"You know what, Zell? I'm going to call her. I know Squall; he'll never do it. Let's just see if we can figure out what's going on in that pretty little head of Rin's."
Irvine reached for the phone, "Hello, operator?"
Rinoa sat on her bed; she was exhausted. Why did she not ask the female SeeD last night about Garden, about Squall?
"Because if he realized you couldn't see, he would just feel nothing but remorse for you Rinoa; that's the last thing that I will ever let happen. That man will never know how much he hurt me; he'll also never know how much I miss him."
The phone rang, wiping away her momentary weakness. Rinoa felt on her nightstand, finally finding the ringing phone. She picked up the receiver; but still lost within her thoughts, she managed to drop the handset onto the floor.
"Crap," she mumbled. Getting down from her bed, she rummaged around for the fallen phone.
"Hello, Rinoa is that you?"
"Um yeah... who is this?"
Rinoa's head started to spin, as the worst thoughts plagued her mind.
"Oh my god is every thing all right, is Squall hurt?"
It was her first reaction. But she would be damned to let Irvine hear her concern. So, she forged a smile, speaking in the sweetest voice she possibly could.
"Wow Irvine! How are you doing? It's been like a year. So how's life at the Garden treating you these days? How's Selphie? You guys still together?"
"Been a year, what is she talking about? It was last night. OK this is getting eerie." Irvine decided to follow the charade.
"Garden's doing well; Selphie and I are as content as ever. Um... speaking of which, Selphie and I were going to be in Deling next week, thought we could get together for lunch."
"Oh Irvine, wish I could. I'll be out of town all next week. Boy, I really wish I could see you two. Unfortunately responsibility calls, work requires me... us... Robert and I, to be out of town next week."
Great now she was lying to one of her best friends. Not only about being out of town next week, but also pretending that Robert was someone else beside her cousin - Ick!
"What am I getting myself into?"
"Oh, that's too bad. What line of employment are you in these days?"
"Think; think what kind of work… out of town?" Just then, in the background she heard the television infomercial. "I'm in sales... food processors. Yeah, they are fantastic! They process all varieties of… of food."
"Oh, I'm going to hell for this." She smacked her forehead with her empty hand, all the time shaking with emotion.
"Food processors, um... yeah… that's nice. Didn't even know you could cook." Irvine didn't swallow this for one minute, but wanted her to keep talking. Maybe she would accidentally give out something informative.
Rinoa held palm to her head; her lies were getting deeper. "Well with the Pross-O-Matic 9000 even I can cook. It slices, it dices, and even makes rose radishes for those very special occasions." She was trying to listen to the television word for word. "If you're interested it's only 4 easy installments of $19.95."
"Well Rin, let me contemplate that one for a bit."
Zell was desperately trying to snatch the phone away from Irvine. From his end, this conversation was strangest thing he'd heard come out of Irvine's mouth in a long time... and that was saying a lot.
"Well yeah, I better go now. Say 'hi' to everyone for me. Tell them I 'miss em' and wish them well in life. Bye." On that note, she hung up the phone. Still on the floor, she curled up and started crying.
"Why did it all turn out like this?"
Irvine was just as confused as ever. "That was the weirdest banter I've ever had with the opposite sex. But, on the optimistic side, think I may end up with a new food processor out of it."
Zell just sat on the over-sized chair and gave Irvine one of his joking smiles. "Food processor... the kind that makes those pretty roses?"
"We need to go talk to the girls, something's not right here. I know it's not any of our concern, but I think those two people need each other more then we could possible understand." They looked at each other in agreement, leaving directly for Quistis' room.
The four 'investigators' sat in the instructor's dorm; determined to figure out the mystery that lay before them.
"…And that was pretty much our whole conversation," Irvine explained. "It was very… odd."
Quistis nodded in accord. She and Selphie had been working on the computer all afternoon, looking for old news-clippings.
"What we've found out so far is that about ten months ago Rinoa joined the ballet company. There are several pictures of her around that time; she looks reasonably content. A few interviews with her, nothing that stands as out-of-the-ordinary."
"Wait!" Selphie cried from behind the large computer monitor. "Come here. I found an article that's about six months old; it mentions an accident. The names of the injured were being withheld, but sources close to the hospital said it was the daughter of a high-ranking bureaucrat! Then the next article about Rinoa is approximately three months after that. It's like she wasn't doing anything in that period."
"She was hurt," Zell spoke up. "She was hurt and couldn't perform; look, this article refers to the current lead as the regular understudy during those months. Rinoa couldn't dance for a couple of months; here is a first picture of her after the accident. She still looks good, but something doesn't seem… well like Rinoa."
"So whatever this was, caused her to pay no attention to us last night. Yet, she remembered me on the phone, very polite, congenial, and almost pleased to hear from me. Not the type to have just ignored me the night before."
Quistis looked like she was hit with a ton of bricks. "Irvine you said Lauren was the only one to actually speak to her, right? You and Squall were never introduced, you two never spoke. What if she didn't talk to you because, she didn't know it was you?"
"Quisty she looked right at Squall, she looked right at me. How could she have not known... unless she didn't 'see' us?"
The silence was deafening, in that moment they figured out the missing piece of the puzzle. The only logical answer.
Irvine stated the obvious. "Shit, that guy that was helping her; that man walked Rinoa through the crowd so she wouldn't run into anyone. She didn't see us."
Quistis and Selphie could barely contain tears. The men, in their own ways, tried to contain emotion.
Zell spoke up, "I don't think we should tell Squall any of this until we find out for sure. The last thing we need to be doing is upsetting him further, or spreading false rumors. We're going to Deling tomorrow."
Squall lay in his bed looking intently at the ordinary white ceiling, over thinking can sometimes get one into trouble. He just had to know about Rinoa's life, he needed to know. As much as he tried to detest her, he couldn't. In fact, it was just the opposite.
"Why didn't I ever go after her?" The thoughts echoed the feelings of his heart. Somehow, everything came back to him; he was always at fault. Always. No matter what happened in his life, he ruined it. However, nothing hurt as much as losing her… nothing. Just then, a pound on the door, waking him out of his daydream… more like the nightmare his life had become.
"Squall, it's just Irvine. Headmaster Cid gave the five us a mission for tomorrow; we'll be heading out at the crack of dawn. You don't have to get up. Just let me know if you're still breathing in there."
"Whatever." The only reply to his annoying friend. At least this might keep my mind focused on work for a while.
The others had stayed up most of the night working on strategy; first, they needed to verify their suspicions. Next, they had to figure out how to inform Squall. If it were true, maybe it would be more convincing if they showed him.
Shortly after arriving in Deling City, Zell and Quistis decided upon heading to Caraway's mansion. After hours of planning the preceding evening, they finally decided on the simple, straightforward approach. Quistis rang the doorbell, after a few moments an elderly maid answered the door.
"Is Rin here?" The plan, albeit a straightforward one, called for them to use her nickname. They figured it might keep the hired help from asking questions. And as according to Zell's idea, it did. The maid asked them to wait there, shutting the door hastily in their faces. About three minutes later, the door unfastened slowly.
"Rinoa!" Quistis ran up and hugged the girl before she had a chance to close the door. Zell and Quistis exchanged looks. Before she continued, "Zell, Selphie, and I just wanted to see you. We miss you so much."
Rinoa stood embracing Quistis, as if she was long lost family. In a way, she was. "I miss you all too, but I got to go. Quisty, I have the flu and couldn't bear for you to catch it. It's really nice to see the three of you again."
Rinoa let go of the affectionate embrace, turning toward her residence. The door almost slammed in the SeeD's face.
"Odd," explained Zell "Isn't it impressive to see Selphie when she's eating breakfast three blocks away?"
"I know Zell, I know."
"Irvy, can you please pass the salt?"
"Anything for you darling. Do you want anything else while I'm at it; Coffee, tea, or me?"
Selphie rolled her eyes at the gunman's comments. "Well now that's imaginative, but no thanks; I'm fine."
Just then, Selphie heard the chimes on the restaurant door sound. Quistis and Zell came walking in the small Deling Cafe. Zell simply nodded to her.
It was understood; it was true.
"Who's going to tell Squall?" The one simple question on all their minds.
Sitting down quietly, Quistis started looking at the menu. She glanced up, making direct eye contact with the others. Each trying to hide the nervousness they felt. Squall noticed the expressions the four were exchanging. Moreover, the group that would never shut up now mysteriously ran out of words.
"Why did you guys bring me here? There is no mission; part of being Commander is always educating oneself on the party who hired us. Guess what? No one did. I just wanted to know what you people were up to. Why back to Deling? Why back here?"
The instructor inhaled; slowly Quistis released air. "Here it goes, now or never."
"Squall, you're like a brother to me." She bit her lip before continuing, not exactly sure how to say this. "Um…after Selphie and I heard the accounts of the other evening, it just didn't make any sense to either of us. So, we had to know the truth. It wasn't like Rinoa to just ignore you."
All were quiet. The background noise of other patrons talking and clinking silverware was the only thing they could hear. The anger in Squall's eyes was evident. They had no right to interfere with his life; the resentment showed. Quistis tried desperately to explain before the commander walked out, and hell knew he would.
"We found clippings in the newspaper. Squall… Rinoa was in a severe car accident about six months ago. Please, you just need to go speak to her yourself."
With the idea of his Rinoa being in some kind of agony, he jumped out of the chair. Wow, his Rinoa, as if she was some kind of possession to him.
"When had I ever considered her a possession?"
She was always more than that, not an item, but someone who brought enjoyment to his monotonous life. "Damn, this is not going to happen again."
Before anyone could say another word, Squall Leonhart was out the door.
Quickly Squall raced down the industrious streets of Deling. It was almost 9:00am and the city was in full swing. Merchants were selling goods on the streets, executives walked with briefcases in hand, and children played outside the schoolyard.
But he saw none of this. To him there was only thing he wanted to see.
Caraway's mansion was quickly approaching. He didn't even remember the journey from the cafe to the manor; now he just stood at the door.
"I have to know."
Squall sounded the doorbell. A thousand fragments of memories ran through his mind. What would she think about him being there? Would she welcome him warmly, would she even speak to him after all this?
A younger servant answered the door this time, smiling and friendly. He couldn't let Rinoa know who it was; she would never agree to see him. Squall would have to act as if he were there on official business.
"I have a telegram for General Caraway's daughter Rinoa... Caraway."
The maid smiled at the striking gentleman before her, "Well right house, wrong last name but close enough, hold on."
Squall wanted to make it look as if he had never met her. A messenger may not know the difference; the wrong last name would help demonstrate it, right? Now he didn't even know what he was doing or saying anymore. All form of intelligence seemed to be slipping away from him. He had felt this way before. Confused, frustrated… unsure.
Anytime he ever looked at her, and the smile that still haunted him.
Minutes later Rinoa opened the door, standing there like an angel. Her hair back in a lose ponytail, blue jeans, white T-shirt, and barefoot. He had never noticed her tiny feet before. They seemed so flawless, diminutive, and perfect. Yet, he could see the stress dancing had placed upon them. But it didn't matter… they were still perfect in his eyes. She looked so different than last time, when he saw her at the reception. Rinoa looked like when she was his girlfriend… no he corrected himself… just like when she lived at Garden.
"I'm General Caraway's daughter; I was told you had a telegram for me."
Squall looked at Rinoa, who was still smiling. After a few moments of silence, her smile began to diminish. She still tried to remain pleasant, as was her way. "Do you have a telegram for me or not, sir?"
Squall realized then what was wrong. The accident, the way she looked at him. Or actually didn't look at him.
"Oh Hyne Rinoa, you can't see me, can you?"
Squall observed her face go from slightly aggravated to complete shock. He knew her too well, she was going to turn and run. Squall had to stop her; he reached out and grabbed the arm of the only person he ever loved.
"I'm not letting you disappear from me right now." His heart raced. So many things he wanted to say, wanted to hear, but words escaped him.
He needed answers.
"Squall." The only thing she could articulate.
Tears were freely coming to her eyes, without restraint. When he first touched her, Rinoa felt emotions that hadn't been felt in over a year. She had to stop these feelings at all costs.
"Get the hell away from me," she gasped between tears. Squall just stood holding her arm. The more she tried to struggle with him the harder his grip became. He could feel her nightmare, her pain. He wanted to reach over and hold her, never letting go.
Abruptly, a younger man opened the door and clutched Squall's chest.
"Robert," Rinoa cried. "Please don't hurt him!"
Her cousin, and now only friend, lunged for Squalls neck. Robert didn't know what kind of business this man at the door could have with Rinoa; he was frightened for his cousin's well-being. Robert managed to grab her by the shirt, pushing her inside, safeguarding her from the lunatic at the door.
"Get the fuck away from here before I call the police, sicko."
With that, the door was slammed Squall's his face. He just stood there before repeating, "You can't see me, can you?"