Somewhere In Between Chapter 22

Calling the Wind

By Ashbear and Wayward Tempest

The meeting of two personalities
is like the contact of two chemical substances: 
if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

-C. G. Jung

For every hero there is a villain, for every lie there was a truth, and for every point of view, there is always another.  Elise felt as if she was running in circles.  One book would state something as fact, while another completely refuted it with evidence.  Scholars, teachers, and even accounts by sorceresses themselves all contradicting one another.  Maybe that is why their existence was feared by many - the truth lied somewhere between fact and fiction.  And now, she was supposed to understand this enigma, when generations before had failed?

She was a doctor, not a historian, but somehow she truly believed that history itself held the key.  If there were a way to save Squall from his dementia, she would move heaven and hell.  This was the reality with the life she chose, the person she had allowed herself to become.  Hours she had remained in the infirmary, telling her assistant to hold all calls.

Except for one – the one that hadn't come.

In the last five hours, she had gathered all she could related to psychic connections and the truth surrounding the Ultimecia conflict.  She had everything that she could find written in documentation - from textbooks to searches on the internet.  She came to one conclusion: the answer she was seeking would not be found in these books.

Then it hit her, maybe some of the answers wouldn't come from Garden, but from the sources that opposed its existence.  Galbadia had a long-standing rivalry with the system, and their press was one not to dismiss such deep-rooted feelings so easily.  She quickly turned to the keyboard, going back on some achieved records of Galbadian media.  She ran a search corresponding to the approximate dates in question.

Finally, she clicked on an article reported by a now defunct publication.  It was considered too political after the events, and was shut down due to public pressure.  She skimmed an editorial piece, noting much of the similarities between this and the official accounts.  A few selective adjectives giving the meaning a completely different spin.

"Early reports stated that four teenagers were found on the shores of the Centra coast.  The fifth was located in a nearby wildflower field twenty-four hours later.  Garden sources then refuted their earlier statement, saying all five were located simultaneously.  When directly asked about the difference, founder Cid Kramer had 'no comment'.  As usual, the public is taking Garden's word verbatim, never searching for the facts themselves."

"It appears to this reporter that Garden is once again covering for their inept ability to handle the situation.  While the world may look at these children as heroes, it is only by the fault of Garden alone this situation was allowed to arise.  These five teenagers should not have been put into this situation in the first place.  It is only by the costly errors of SeeD that Ultimecia was allowed to prosper in her time.  We should not be celebrating these 'heroes' but examining the vast military force behind their 'innocent' faces."

"Oh my God...the interview."  Elise softly spoke to no one in particular.  She remembered Squall's evasiveness at that question about being found a day later.  At the time of the interview, she thought it strange.  So much had happened between now and then, she hadn't thought about it again.

"Some of the first reports stated that you didn't return from Time Compression with the others.  That it was almost a twenty-four hour period before they found you.  Can you tell us what happened in that period?"


It was true.  Squall's short direct answer was his way of covering up the truth.  For some reason the fact that he was found later on was something that they had tried to cover.  Or something that he, himself, had tried to forget.

A thousand theories spread through her mind like wildfire.  Chiding herself on her suspicions, she looked at her wristwatch.  Every minute that ticked into oblivion, seemed to shred her spirit a little more.  The woman who she talked with earlier said that Squall had been injured.  Elise tried not to worry, but her profession left little comfort in the uncertainty.  It was just so frustrating trying to ask 'Chocobo Lady' questions that were never answered.  Nobody could be that indirect, given the situation...could they be?  It was like she would answer every question with another question, or change the subject... almost a textbook case of avoidance.

Avoidance?  Now her paranoia was starting to seep through even the most innocent of situations.  Why in the world would Ms. McCay try to avoid her questions?  It was a ridiculous thought.  Of course, Squall was fine. He was just resting for the time being.

"Where is he?"

"Oh we carted him away."

Maude didn't say a specific until later, when Elise started to lose her composure with the stranger.

"He is fine, he is recovering at my partner's house."

Still the whole conversation felt a little surreal.  Maybe Maude's partner was a sixty-year-old crazed woman holding him captive like some horror movie.  Maybe they would discover the mutilated body of her fiancée with Chocobo scratches disfiguring his body.  Elise had to grab hold of her faculties; she was starting to sound more like one of Zell's infamous hotdog conspiracy theories.

Then a thought dawned upon her, the realization a welcome epiphany...  Zell Dincht was the only one to leave Garden.  The other 'saviors' had all remained within the Garden program, and even Cid and Edea were bound by ongoing responsibility.  While still obliged by loyalty to SeeD, Zell's loyalty to his former commander might outweigh the latter.

She moved over to her computer, opening up her address book, and searching for his phone number.  In all her years with Squall, this was the first time she felt she was betraying his trust.  Not only as a doctor, but more importantly as his fiancée.  There was a deeper bond that went far beyond that of patient and doctor.  With one solitary act, she was risking everything she held dear.  But if she didn't, the results may far outweigh momentary guilt.  Taking a deep breath, she stared at the phone, contemplating her decision one last time.

The speakerphone buzzed and the young woman could feel her heart jump into her throat.  She placed a hand on her chest, convincing herself that she was becoming just as paranoid as Squall.

"Dr. Vandermere?"


"I know you don't want to be bothered, but we have a slight...emergency.  Annette Rachaels was injured returning from the cadet retreat.  She's going to require a few stitches."

Elise closed her eyes...maybe this was some God-given sign that she was about to make the biggest mistake ever.  She might have not been a religious person, but she did believe in fate.  Sometimes the signs were too large that one couldn't ignore.

"Send her on back."

She rubbed her thumb and forefinger against her temple, trying to ease the pain.  But it was something that wouldn't subside, a blinding pain centering between her eyes.   Somehow, it felt like her entire sanity crumbling to ruins, and she was helpless to stop it.

Her soft and gentle fingers wiped away all traces of dirt and blood.  Hands that had never seen battle or worked under labored circumstances, instead they had treated many an illness and saved many a life.  Elise smiled at the girl, while preparing to stitch her wound.

The little girl's eyes darted nervously around the room, trying to avoid looking at the needle about to enter her arm.  She noticed the books stacked on Dr. Vandermere's desk and decided to ask the woman.  If no other reason than to break the silence.

"Is there another sorceress?"

"What?  No..."  Elise answered in confusion as she started to stitch the wound.  The girl tensed as the needle entered her arm. Even with the local anesthetic she could feel the pressure.  "Relax hun...  Tell me Annette, why do you ask about a sorceress?"

"I saw on your desk Dr. Vandermere; you had stuff all about them."

She chuckled trying to cover.  "Oh don't worry I'm just doing some research.  There isn't one around anymore, so don't be scared."

"I'm not."  The child said almost too calmly.

"You're not?  Why is that, because you know you're safe at Garden?"

"Garden doesn't matter.  I like them.  They're not all scary."

"And why do you say that?"  She finished the last stitch cutting the thread, looking at the child with an odd curiosity.  Most of the students here were either afraid, or overly confident in their ability to single-handily annihilate a sorceress with a solitary blow.  She couldn't recall a junior ever 'liking them.'

"My mother," she said softly.

"Your mother was a sorceress?"

"No…but when she was alive, she used to read my sister and me books.  My favorite was about a sorceress."

"They make children stories about sorceresses?"  Elise was mystified at the thought.

"They did."  Annette nodded softly, trying to keep her mind off of the pain in her arm.  "I have one."

"So what was this book?"  Elise asked, trying to keep the youngster talking as she scribbled her signature on her medical records.  The doctor was only really half interested in the little girl's words now, as she stopped believing in fairytales a very long time ago.

"Calling the Wind."

"Sounds ominous."  The doctor looked up, placing the clipboard and pen to the side.  "Now can I clean that other scrape on your leg?"  Annette nodded hesitantly as she lay down on the examining table.

"It's not om-mini-us," the young girl stuttered.  "The sorceress is good and saves her knight."

"File that one right under fiction," thought Elise,not wanting to upset the child.  Gently the doctor blotted cotton over the little girl's wound, and she winced as the alcohol met with the open abrasion.  Elise tried to keep the cadet's mind focused off the momentary pain.  "So how does the sorceress save her knight?"

"She saves him with her bond."


"Yeah, bond… you know um… like they are tied together."

Elise almost dropped the cotton ball, looking at the young girl.  "You mean like a connection… a psychic connection?"

"Ah… yeah, I think so."

Sometimes the answers are found in the simplest of forms, for Elise they would be found in the place she least expected.  From a child who knew nothing of the situation, only knew of the words of an old fairytale.  It wasn't from the scholars, or scientists, nor the teachers, but the ones that the sorceress' were sealed to protect – the future.

The doctor held onto the examining table for support, unsure of her own ability to stand.  "Annette...can you tell me anything about this book?  Please...?"

The little girl seemed slightly confused, but was glad that an adult was finding interest in her words.  It was rare that anybody paid attention to her, so she smiled brightly as she recalled the story that her mother used to read them.

"The knight went off to war to defend the sorceress' kingdom and he's shot in battle.  There was a really, really bad man that left him to die and the other soldiers can't find him."

"But how does she save him?"

"She talks to him.  Because she loves him more than anything in this world, she can go to him in her mind.  She finds out where he the others can save him."

"A knight you said?"

"Yeah you know, a knight.  Every sorceress has to have one."

"They do?"

"Yeah it's in the book."

"Wait, wait… but from what we learned Adel and Ultimecia didn't have a knight."

"I dunno.  I just know what is in my book."

"Four teenagers were found on the shores of the Centra coast.  The fifth was located in a nearby wildflower field twenty-four hours later."

"She saves me only in one dream."

"All I can see are flowers.  So many damn flowers.  I'm choking on them; the smell is too strong.  I can't… I can't breathe…"

"Oh my god, she saved him."  Elise hadn't realized she spoke aloud, backing her self into a nearby chair.  She clasped her hands over her face, breathing heavily as the realization dawned on her.  "She…saved…him."

"Yeah," the little girl answered confused at the elder's concern over the story.  "Um, it's okay really…it's not scary.  And the knight lives...the bullet wound wasn't that bad.  They get married and live happily ever after..."  Now Annette was trying to reassure the doctor, even though she didn't know why.

"Rinoa isn't sending him the nightmares…Squall's reliving them.  She was there.  They knew! They knew damn it!"  She hadn't meant to curse in front of the child, but the revelation was something she hadn't expected.  In her mind Rinoa was the evil one, she was keeping him from life…now she just found out that she wasn't 'keeping him from it,' she gave him the gift of life.  Even in her cryogenic state, she was doing more than Elise ever could.  She fucking saved him from Time Compression.

If what she believed was true... if Rinoa and Squall had a connection that went beyond all time and space... if almost eight years ago, in a six month period, two souls made a connection that would defy all human logic...

Rinoa Heartilly saved her knight.

Squall stared in disbelief. But he gave that ring to her…well…he allowed her to take from him…along with his heart. Did she toss it away like yesterday's garbage? How could she do that? It was a gift…so to speak. He told her to keep it that day in the desert. And he meant that. He meant for her to keep it forever…no matter what happened, no matter what passed between them. It was the only possession he had coming to the orphanage, the only link to his past. He gave that up for her. Didn't she understand the significance? He remembered her clutching it so tightly behind the glass. But it was nothing…he convinced himself that he was nothing now but a trinket to her that could so easily be cast aside. The anger seared back into his mind and he suddenly found that he was no longer in control of his actions.

When she emerged her head from the sweater, she saw to her horror that he was advancing towards her. It wasn't a casual stroll either, he was coming towards her with fury written in his movements…and all over his face. An inner voice urged her to run, to scream, to do anything to stop his advancement. Yet Rinoa found that she could do nothing but stare at him blankly like a muted doll. She watched as his hand reached for her neck in slow motion. She had time to react, to move out of the way, but she remained motionless.

Perhaps he had seen right through her…saw all of the emotional baggage she carried for him…and realized that she stood in the way of his happiness. She was a link to a past he desperately wanted to put behind him. Now, he was going to end it…get it out of the way. And oddly enough, she wasn't afraid anymore. Maybe this way…this way would be the best for both of them. Again she realized that she could never hate him, no matter what he did. Death was something she tried not to think about…after all she had just barely begun to live again. But if it was him…if he dealt it to her, somehow it would be okay. Her only hope was that it would be quick.

He grabbed the silver chain and pulled it from underneath the confines of her sweater. Squall rolled the rings over in his hand confirming what he saw with his sense of touch. Her mother's ring clinked together with its new companion. The headmaster inspected it more closely, staring at the silver band encrusted with garnet colored jewels that shimmered in the overhead light.

Eyes that were full of pain and confusion looked up to meet her bewildered gaze. "My…ring?" He queried softly.

Rinoa took a shaky breath, regaining her composure after her imagined impending death. The look in his eyes broke her heart and she wondered just what kind of idiot she was to think that this man would ever physically harm her. Even though it was his duty…somehow she knew he wouldn't. But inside he was killing her…he insisted on remaining on this path of endless questioning…too many whys, and she was going to break, she could feel it. She thought she was stronger…she wanted so much to be stronger.

"I gave it to Laguna," she stammered, quickly averting her eyes from his piercing stare. She could feel the heat of his anger rising as his hand closed around the rings.

"You…you gave it to Laguna? Why? Why in Diablo's name would you do something like that!?" His voice heightened with resentment. "If you spent so much time with him you should know he is the last person that should have that ring!" He fumbled the other between his fingers. "Did he make a trade with you or something? Give you this for that dented old tarnished one, so you could have something pretty to hang around your neck?"

"I gave it to him so he could give it back to you!" Her voice trembled. "When the time was right…because I sure as hell couldn't do it! And both you and I know that I had no right to keep it!"

How could she think that? "Rinoa, I gave that to you, I meant for you to have it, I wanted...," he stopped in mid sentence and turned to look over his shoulder. "Will you please stop staring at me and take your mangy flea bitten ass somewhere else? I'm not going to hurt her!"

Squall looked down at the dog gazing up at him intently just inches away from his left leg. Esperanza could see his mouth moving and tilted her head slightly. He had entered the 'hazard zone' again, and she wanted to make sure her master was all right with this proximity. The dog could sense her fear, and she was ready at a moments notice to tear into this human should he attack her.

The headmaster figured the dog would turn away at the ferociousness of his voice; instead it continued staring like it hadn't even been acknowledged. This infuriated him more. "I said get lost!" He yelled louder, waving her off with his free arm. Again, nothing.

"Hyne Rinoa is your dog deaf or something?" He said in exasperation.

"Yes." She said matter-of-factly.

He turned back to her with a look of astonishment. Her face was completely serious; there was no undertone of sarcasm in her voice.

"Oh," was all he could manage.

She looked at the dog and began making hand gestures. "Esperanza, go upstairs."

The dog whined as if to ask if she were certain. Her master made the gesture again and then another to confirm her well being.

"Don't worry, I'll be okay." She mouthed, hoping the dog could understand. Esperanza ducked her head and walked passed them, her nails clicking softly against the wood floor.

Squall's cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. "I'm sorry…I didn't know…I."

Rinoa suddenly switched to the offensive position. "Either way you shouldn't be lashing out at my dog like that, whether or not she is deaf! She wasn't doing anything to you!"

"I'm sorry," he said again. "I couldn't stand the staring anymore. It was like she was burning holes in the back of my head."

"She's just looking out for me…I don't exactly have many people who would do that for me anymore. She and Maude are the only friends I've got in Winhill. I'm sure if the rest of the town figured out who I was they would be looking out for a stake to burn me on. In fact, I'm not entirely sure what would happen if Maude knew the truth. But I'm certain Esperanza has sensed it and you know what? She doesn't care. She accepts my disability just like I accept hers!"

Her breaths became quick and ragged as she fought against her emotions. She didn't want him to see…but it was so hard…how did he ever manage to do this? How was he able to bury things so deep?

 Guilt seized his heart causing another wave of pain to surge through him. Did she really consider her powers to be a disability? She thought the powers she possessed that made her superior to the rest of humanity were no different than being paralyzed or blinded. Yet, there was a twisted truth in her words. The disabled of society were treated differently. Her "disability" would not only be met with the prejudice of human nature, but also persecution.

"If you would have looked closer you might have noticed the alignment of the stones on this ring. It's a prototype of the Odine bangle. I keep it close to me because I don't know when my powers might materialize…and yes they told me it would be a 'when' and not an 'if.' But I do know that I won't be able to control them. You should remember that from the Ragnarok. I know about as much of being a sorceress as I did then, which is pretty much next to nothing. I wear it on the chain so I can put it on and lock them if I need to. It's the only thing I have to protect myself…and everyone else." She looked down at his hand so precariously close to her. Why did she feel so compelled just to grab it and hold on to it forever? She wanted to pull away, it didn't seem like a hard thing to do. But it was like this one simple hand had trapped her, holding her like some willing prisoner. She could feel his eyes on her waiting for her to continue. The young woman bit her lip and tried to focus.

"And yes, Laguna did give it to me…for that very reason!" Rinoa trembled as tears she had been battling fell in surrender down her cheeks.

"Please…let me go." She ended in a whisper, closing her eyes. The weight on her chest and the warmth she felt radiating from his hand was becoming more than she could bear. It was warm and enticed something inside her which she also had no control over and she was sure he could feel it. She had to break the contact with him…while she was still able.

For the first time he realized that he still held the rings, his hand resting against the fabric of her sweater. The realization of the connection became intoxicating. He was close to her, touching her without the stealth and blatant hiding he had done that morning. So many years…how he had longed for this closeness. It was an overwhelming feeling of relief and remorse. Relief, that she was opening up to him…that she felt something other than the cold indifference she had shown before. Remorse, to know that he was inflicting the pain he saw in her eyes. She had been so passionate about everything when he met her. Squall was so afraid he had taken that away from her, her ability to feel. But it had been an illusionary wall much like his own. Hadn't it?

He could see now the wall was breaking away; the emotions welling to the surface. Even through the cotton material of the t-shirt and the thick sweater he could feel her heart hammering wildly against the back of his hand. It shook her entire frame as she gasped unsteadily for air. It reminded him all over again that he was standing face to face with a living, breathing, Rinoa Heartilly, more real and alive than ten thousand illusions. He was feeling something that he never thought he would be able to. God, he wanted the moment to last longer…he just wanted to stay like this. But he saw the anguish on her face and what this was doing to her. And with reluctant guilt, he let go.

"I'll tell him you want it back," she said wiping her eyes. "Don't be so hard on him Squall, he's a good man."

The resentment he held for his father suddenly came roaring back. "Yeah that's what he would have you to believe."

She let out a bitter laugh. "You've never given him the time of day, how would you know? He has been the like father I never had. He might be one to you if you give him a chance."

He had been through this so many times with so many different people. He really didn't need this from her. "I gave him chance after chance when I waited for him at the orphanage. And you know when he did finally come…he never even gave me a second glance, just took off with Ellone. I'd watch out if I were you, he doesn't treat his 'family' very well. Maybe I could understand him going after her. But he never came back for me; he just stayed to run that damn country of his. Telling me later basically that he just never got around to having time for me. He loved strangers more than me Rinoa! Now you tell me why he deserves any of my time?!" The young man finished with a snarl.

Rinoa did not realize Laguna hit such a sensitive nerve with him. She knew they had little contact, but she did not fathom the bitterness that Squall held for the man. Laguna had never discussed their relationship much more than saying it was strained and pretty much nonexistent. And that his son never wanted it to go any further than that.

"I don't pretend to know what happened back then, why he didn't come for you. But I know enough about that man to believe that it wasn't because he didn't care about you. Laguna has the biggest heart of any person I know."

"No one with that much power has much of a heart Rinoa. But they are good liars."

She narrowed her eyes, muttering quietly, "Tell me about it."

"What did you say?"

The young woman sighed and shook her head. "If you ever remember anything that I tell you Squall, remember this. You can't live in some illusionary world where you've convinced yourself that your presumptions are the only truth. Because when you finally wake up to the reality you couldn't see, it will hurt more than you can even imagine."

"Like it did to me."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Rinoa groaned and threw up her hands. "I'm just saying you should talk to him about it before unleashing your final judgment on him!"

Squall had heard more of this drivel about 'perfect, can do no wrong Laguna Loire' than he cared to stomach. He was so tired of getting this from everyone. Was there no one who would take his side on this? Blinded by his frustration, he didn't consider the next words out of his mouth until they had already fell from his lips.

"Well gee, thank you doc for the intriguing insight. Would you like to invite him over for some group therapy? Maybe bring your video camera; I'm sure it would be a touching father-son moment for a primetime documentary."

That did it. That word again. He waved that red cape in front of her for the last time. Either he was just too blind to see what he was doing to her or he was subconsciously enjoying stabbing at her with some hot scalding brand of the truth of what he had found. Her feelings could be damned as far as he was concerned. Somehow she guessed he didn't think she read his article, his distortions of the truth.

They were distortions weren't they?

"Squall…are you just here to hurt me? Honestly…just tell me. Because you know, I'm very capable of inflicting enough pain upon myself without your fucking help! But thank you so much for the offer! If all you want from me is that goddamn ring, then suck up your stupid ass pride and go get it from your father!"

If his teeth weren't already clenched, Squall Leonhart's mouth would have dropped three inches lower than it originally did. Not only for her confusing accusation, but for the verbal assault she just bombarded him with. Honestly it never occurred to him that such language existed in her vocabulary. Then again he had never seen her this upset. "Rinoa, how could you think that…how could you think that I would ever in a million years do anything to hurt you?"

"Because I'm a sorceress Squall! I'm dangerous remember? It's better for the rest of the world if I'm dead right? Either finish what you're here to do or get the hell out! Go back to Trabia and let me live my life!"

She swung her arms out for emphasis, and in doing so, she struck his head with the back of her hand.  His breath caught in his throat as he winced at the thundering pain roared with a blaring fanfare through his head again. He clutched at it weakly, determined to fight his physical ailment for the sake of her inner turmoil.

The young woman hadn't meant to hit him. She winced just as he did as soon as she felt her hand come into contact with his skull. Her first instinct again was to run to his aide, to make this wrong right again. But her remaining shreds of pride refused to let her, and in the end she could only stand and stare as he slowly regained his bearings.

"I'm…sorry," she muttered. "Are you okay?"

"Rinoa…" The words sank to the very core of his being. Why would she…it didn't make any sense. He had never given any inclination during their short time spent together that he was out to kill her. He didn't give a damn about his duties when it came to her, because in his heart he knew she was different. He knew she was different the very moment he saw her beneath the stars. How could she not know that? After all, he had promised to protect her.

Didn't he?

"A shame you never told her that when you had the chance, moron."

God she didn't know. She didn't know!

"Please, please listen to me." He pleaded.

Her drying tears began to glisten once more as the printed words formed a barricade of scalding torture around her. "I think you've said enough Squall," she replied a bit more softly.

Without another word Rinoa turned her back on him and stormed into the kitchen. He stood there baffled as the sound of drawers being ripped open and then slammed shut echoed throughout the house. What was she doing, taking her anger out on the cabinets? Perhaps she had enough of him now and was looking for the butcher knife so she could kill him. He would welcome it. He knew he deserved everything she could throw at him now...including cutlery.

The knives clanked together as she pulled the drawer open looking for her quarry. With a glance over the items she shoved the drawer back to its original position. Truth be told she knew exactly where it was, she was stalling. She didn't want to face it. It would nearly kill her to see it again...she hadn't looked at it since she threw the damn thing in there for reasons still unknown to her. The young woman opened the final drawer with a little more caution. The newspaper slid towards her almost tauntingly. She closed her eyes against the bitter tears that now trailed down her cheeks. A small clatter drew her attention. Lying next to the article, she saw a cheese grater. Perhaps she could throw that at him instead.

"Here Squall! Let's save both you and me a lot of trouble! You just go ahead and rip my heart out right now, take it upstairs, and use this thing to grate it over the toilet. Don't forget to flush when you're done...Or hey, how about we just bag up what's left and toss it in the freezer? How's that for poetic justice?"

She shook the thought from her head clenching the paper tightly in her hand. This was so…damn…hard. And she didn't know why. If he needed his memory jogged so be it. He was just trying to cover, she knew it. He was being all nice and regretful so he could move in closer to her. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Her paranoia was starting to descend and loom over her like a dark cloud. Even though she had convinced herself earlier that he would never hurt her. Yes, he could take on the form of any person, he could show her any emotion she wished, he had been trained for it.

Rinoa took a deep breath. She had to regain control of these scattered thoughts. Part of her held the overwhelming desire to run to him, to tell him how she felt, to live the chance she never got. Would it make a difference?

"I'm trained not to feel on a personal level."

Fine. If he wasn't then she would train herself not to feel.

She grabbed the newspaper and walked forcefully back into the living room. Her eyes narrowed as she met his gaze and without so much as a single warning she threw the article at him. He didn't react or move out of the way to miss it. He was still in a mystified daze over her words. The paper smacked hard against his chest before skidding to a halt a foot away from him.

"I know what you feel Squall. I know who you see when you look at me. You don't have to hide it. I know." She spoke harshly, but her voice didn't rise above a slow and steady monotone.

He looked at her; he saw her eyes burning with fueled anger and explosive pain. Glancing at the ground, he saw something that made his heart hit the concrete pavement from a fifteen story drop. The article. That fucking article he had been forced into a month ago.

"Oh God."

In one piercing realization, what stability remained, crumbled to the ground.  Every hope that was rediscovered within the last few hours all seemed a futile attempt at a reality that was always out of his grasp.

Not just now standing with her in Winhill, but also out of grasp eight years ago.

The final grains of sanity that remained were pulverized like dust ancient ruins.  Except this time, he was left alone hanging from the gallows.  The world crumbled into nothingness below, as the source of her anger was the final knot tied in the noose around his neck.

His body felt like a motionless corpse dangling above the reflecting pool of his greatest failure.  He could feel himself dying inside; the nothingness started in his legs and spread like a starving disease.  The sound of his neck snapping would have loudly echoed though the base of his skull had this 'act' been nothing more than the hallucinations he had grown accustomed to.  The phantom ropes severing thin layers of his skin each fiber slicing deeper than the last.  He deserved it.  Not only had he failed her eight years ago, but failed her far greater only a few months ago.

The newspaper could have been a bullet; it couldn't have been more deadly.  The black and white letters exploding off of the page like rapid mortar fire.  Each spelling the words that he said not as punishment to her, but to himself.

She watched the horror spread across his face like a tidal wave crashing ferociously over the break water and hurling into the shore. What kind of horror it was, she wasn't sure. Was it horror because he knew what he said would hurt her? Or was it horror she figured out his true feelings while she was still supposedly frozen. Whatever his torment was, Rinoa didn't say a word…she didn't need to.

The remaining color in his face sifted away with his façade of mental stability. He didn't fight for control, he didn't struggle; there was nothing left in him to do that now. He stripped himself away into nothing. The aching guilt and remorse poured from him now like hot arterial blood gushing from a severed neck. The world closed in and he couldn't breathe. With nothing left, he lunged forward to his only lifeline and grabbed her by the shoulders. She gasped sharply at the unexpected reaction and the forcefulness she felt behind his hands that were wrapped tightly around her arms.

At the moment he couldn't speak, he could barely look at her, but every emotion he held, the barrier he had built around his heart fell tumbling under the earthquake of his shame, his remorse for the nightmare he had given her, the one that became her reality.

If it hadn't been for the look in his eyes she might have given in to that suspicion that he was here to kill her. But he looked so lost and helpless, like she had just hurled a million barbed arrows into his body. Never had she seen so much emotion coming from him at once. It was like an overwhelming force and she could scarcely breathe.

He was sucking enough air through his teeth for the both of them. Every exhaled breath shuddering like a ship's sail caught in a violent maelstrom.

Slowly she reached for his face with trembling fingers. Rinoa didn't know why she saw something so deep and heartbreaking in his eyes that compelled her to reach for him in that moment. Yet she gave in to the desire and it was if everything that happened before, that was happening now, all of the anger seemed to pass from existence.

Squall felt the warm sensation of her hands around his face. She was touching him willingly without hesitation and it comforted him in a way nothing had in eight long years. Not the therapy sessions, not the illusions, not the alcohol...not Elise.

Guilt overrode the sensation again, and he found that he couldn't look at her any longer. Slowly he lowered his head and closed his eyes. And in one swift movement she did something he wouldn't have expected in 1,000 lifetimes after what he had done to her. Her hands moved passed his face and wrapped around the back of his neck. She pulled him to her and held his quaking body against her own, brushing her fingers through his thick hair.  The only thing the headmaster was able to do in that moment was to wrap his arms around her as he tried to remember to breathe.

Chapter 23

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