Somewhere In Between Chapter 23

Whatever I Fear

By Ashbear and Wayward Tempest

When you have eliminated the impossible,
whatever remains, however improbable,
must be the truth.
--Arthur Conan Doyle

Regrets are idle; yet history is one long regret.
Everything might have turned out so differently.

--Charles Dudley Warner

The world had collapsed from beneath him and somehow he knew that if he wasn't holding on to her he would fall into the dark chasm of oblivion that loomed below his feet. His mind screamed at him to wake up, convinced that this could never be real, the illusion had finally snared him and there would be no letting go this time. He shut his eyes tighter; afraid to open them to the reality that she wasn't there, that the only thing he was holding onto was phantom vapor sealed forever in his mind.

But she was real. His heart told him this. He felt the warmth of her body against his. His fingers ran across the gray material of the sweater, feeling the contours of her back beneath the soft fibers. He could feel her arms around him; feel each tremulous breath she took. The sensation became an almost paralyzing force that surged through his nerve endings. She might have been saying something, he didn't know. Squall Leonhart couldn't hear anything over the fierce pounding of his heart.

"You should say something idiot. Look at what you did to her! Look at what your carelessness brought to her this time! You sent her spinning beneath the riptide all over again, taking the ground right out from beneath her feet. All those things you said…she thinks you meant them. Why shouldn't she…that isn't a tabloid lying on the ground. She's not going to get the truth from you this way while you stand here and cling to her. You owe her an explanation."

His mind raced on what he could say to make her understand. His heart was begging him just to forget it and stay like this and hold her until he could no longer stand. He wasn't well…he was certainly aware of this, and so were his doctors and close friends. The headmaster was fairly certain they were seconds away from committing him to an institution on several occasions. But she…she didn't know…at least he didn't think so. It was highly doubtful she would be hugging him at this moment; rather she'd probably be cowering in a corner…and he wouldn't blame her. Perhaps it was this that kept him from telling her everything. Perhaps it was his pride that didn't want to reveal his weaknesses. Perhaps it was because she didn't need any more burdens placed on her. He had given her enough suffering.

Squall took a few more moments to gather his explanation, sorting and cutting out the gruesome details. And with a great reluctance, he gently pushed her away so that he could look into her eyes. Selfishly, he kept his hands on her shoulders in a last ditch effort to keep at least some of the contact he had so desperately desired for so very long.

Up until this point, Rinoa had been in a daze. Her head was spinning with a cyclone of emotions. She had wanted to yell at him some more. She wanted him to know of the pain he had dealt her in the blackest of ink. He had merely looked at her, and just like that…something happened. Something broke through that she couldn't control, and she gave in. The sorceress had reached for the man in front of her without hesitation. There was an overwhelming bliss she found while holding him in her arms. It felt so right…yet it was so wrong. She could feel his arms encircling her, and his hands moving slowly across her back. It was an intoxicating sensation, and no matter how hard her reason tried to surface, to bring her back to her senses, she found herself unable to move.

To her surprise however, he was the first one to pull away. And it shouldn't have been a surprise, damn it, it should not have been. He had every reason to pull away. He knew it was wrong. Hyne, how could she just give into her emotions like that? What made her think it was perfectly alright to just hold him like that? Slowly she looked up to meet his gaze. Rinoa saw the intensity and the sorrow in his eyes. Her face burned bright red and fresh tears stung at her eyes. She wanted to cry. She wanted to run. If his hands had not remained on her shoulders she had no doubt that she would have. He was going to break this to her gently…and she didn't think she was ready.

She knew she wasn't ready.

"Laguna Loire, please."

"Who can I say is calling?"

"Dr. Elise Vandermere from Trabia Garden."

"Please hold, I'll see if the President is available."

Elise tapped her nails rhythmically against the surface. Why did it feel like she was spending most of her recent days with a receiver permanently attached to her ear? But here she was, doing something she knew would place Squall in a state well beyond furious. Honestly, he could just deal with it. He had done plenty to upset her in the last two days; he owed her this much. Hell, she was only trying to help him with his past demons; why was she trying to turn it around on herself?


"Hello, President Loire, I hope I'm not disturbing you."

"Not at all, I'm just surprised you called. Is everything all right?"

All right? Her fiancée was missing in action, supposedly knocked out by a large yellow bird. Her only link to this lucid insight was from an old woman who seemed only this side of sanity…purposely standing in a pile of fertilizer. Squall was going on trial for endangering himself, saving a brunette figment of his imagination, in two days time. The 'figment' in question, may have actually saved him from dying during time compression. Also, right now, the man she whole-heartily believed she was going to spend the rest of her life with, was quite probably a 'knight' to a frozen sorceress. Oh yeah, and the topper, Squall Leonhart finally said he loved somebody…but it sure as hell wasn't her.

What could be wrong?

"Everything is fine, just busy preparing." Elise couldn't even begin to explain the truth; she could barely fathom the reality. "I need to ask you a favor."


"I would like a copy of Rinoa Heartilly's medical records."

Okay, anything but that. Laguna had a feeling that everything was about to change. And he wasn't sure if he was upset or relieved.

"Elise?" He could barely articulate at the moment. Luckily, she continued before he obliged to answer.

"I was doing some research on the possible ramifications of the sealing process. I wanted to examine some of her medical records… Anything would be helpful, from family history, to anything current that Esthar would be willing to share in joint cooperation with Garden. Anything I can learn could only benefit us in the future."

"I would honestly love to give you the documentation, but in respect to Rinoa's privacy, that request would have to be authorized by a family member." At least that came out semi-coherent he hoped, trying desperately to mask his failing nerves on his end.

"Laguna, both you and I know that Rinoa doesn't have any living relatives. I'm sure I could get Squall to authorize the request." She believed he would. The initial thought may not settle too well, but after the anger quelled he would understand. Elise was positive if there was the slimmest chance in hell to help Rinoa that he'd sign the form in a heartbeat.

"Elise, I'm sorry, Squall doesn't even have that authority."

"What? What do you mean…of course he does! He's been executor of her trust for almost eight years. Over fifteen percent of his gross salary goes directly into her trust fund, another percentage goes to programs funded in her name. Why do you think he goes through this every day? How can you tell me that he no longer has authority... he did a month ago. I'm pretty sure he did a week ago!"

"Yes, he did for certain monetary transactions. I'm really sorry. He doesn't have that authority anymore." Laguna didn't know what else to say. It was true, he didn't. His name had been removed by Rinoa herself, giving Quistis Trepe sole rights. Somehow, a simple fax from a bank had fallen through the cracks of bureaucracy.

Elise tried to calm herself, but her tone was firm. "Then tell me who does? Who can I contact about obtaining these records?"

"I can't release that information." Well, there went the wedding if he was going to get one at this point anyhow.

"What do you mean? She's sealed in Esthar, don't you have some authority to get copies of her records. You're the goddamned President! I'm just trying to save your son some agony here for once in his life…please."

That seemed to do it. It was if he knew somehow Elise honestly was doing this for Squall. He had to believe; he had to put his faith in, that no matter what she found; what ever was inevitably discovered was predestined by fate. His own flesh and blood may never speak another word to him, but if Laguna could somehow know that he brought his son some solace from his agony, than his own pain would be worth any price. He deserved anything for his betrayals of the past and of the present; the future honestly didn't matter for him. It mattered only for his son.

"Elise, I'll contact the right party immediately. Hopefully, you will have your answer very shortly."

"Please, do what you can. I promise you that it is important." She wondered how desperate she was beginning to sound, but something about his tone gave her hope. "Laguna, one last thing… Do you know if Sorceress Adel had a knight?"

"I'm sorry?" He hesitated, already disliking the feel of this entire conversation, and rehashing this topic certainly wasn't helping in the least. "From what is printed in the history books, it states she didn't."

The young doctor ran her fingers through her hair in extreme frustration. No matter what Squall said about the man, Laguna made a damn good politician. He had mastered the art of dodging questions, making his answers almost feel natural, if you weren't listening hard enough.

"Laguna… I'm not asking what the books state. I know you were around when she was first entombed. I also know that there is a lot of rumors and gossip that is never substantiated for the books, or omitted. From your recollection, do you remember anything about Sorceress Adel having a knight? I know Esthar as a whole is trying to skip over that chapter of the past. Hell, you guys shut yourself off from the world for seventeen years, who knows what you were doing."

The young woman hadn't meant to snap, especially at the President of a country, not to mention her future father-in-law. It wouldn't exactly make that entire 'family reunion' scene run that much smoother. There was silence from the other end, she wasn't even sure if he was still on the line or not. "Laguna, I'm sorry… I've been up for eighteen hours straight working, I shouldn't have gotten upset. It's not you. I'm just letting that paranoid side of me take over. I'm trying to get everything in order for Squall's trial…and he seems to be missing in Winhill."

"W-What!?" Laguna's composure flew out the window, hitting the pavement with equal velocity as an iron giant falling on his face.

"It's nothing major…just an erroneous bank transaction. Listen, I won't keep you any longer. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have bothered you in the first place. The last thing Squall would want would be me speaking with you."

She placed her hand on her forehead in frustration, now she'd managed to insult the man at least twice in one call. Elise was losing her own identity, unsure of who she truly was anymore. It was as if her sanity was quickly rivaling that of 'Chocobo Lady's.'

"Yes… Adel had a knight..." began Laguna, without any warning.

His voice was strangely detached; Elise had never heard the President speak without his normal vocal interjections. It no longer seemed like the same person on the end of the line. Rather, for the first time, she could hear a seriousness to his words mirroring that of Squall's.

"Her knight ended up helping the rebellion when he realized what Adel was truly planning… For his sake, we kept his connection away from the public. It was only with his cooperation that we succeeded. As one of the conditions of my accepting office, he was granted absolution."

"So she did have a knight…"

"Yes, but not a true knight. The bond was not rooted in love or he would have never swayed back to our side… He would have died to save her. There's a difference. Cid and Edea would be an example of a love-bonded relationship... while Seifer and Ultimecia would be the other. A knight and sorceress bonded only in power may be stronger for a period, but it is fleeting...the struggle for absolute control is too much. They are driven apart by their own selfish desires."

"But Laguna...what if...what if it is the other?"

"That would be a true knight, or a love-bonded relationship. They are rare, you must understand that... I'm not even sure if you can truly classify Cid and Edea in that group, but really, that would not be for us to decide. Basically, it is when the two souls have reached out and become one, through time and space against all odds and would willingly sacrifice their lives for one another without question, without hesitation, without remorse."

There was silence from both sides before Laguna finally questioned, "Elise, why are you asking about knights?"

"Just something a student said to a book...that's all." It wasn't a lie, just not the complete truth.

She had always thought of knights as some fairy tale concept, riding in on a great white steed. Now she was supposed to accept that their soul could be connected to a sorceress? Two parts making a whole? Many of her colleagues at Garden used to say that they felt as if Squall was only half there, little did they know how right they could be.

The Headmistress looked down at the faxed documents once again. It seemed the only thing defining her life these days was an endless torrent of paperwork, but not one document in the last eight years held the significance that these carried. Somehow, Quistis knew an end was drawing near and a proverbial 'checkmate' would be inevitable. The problem was most of the players were unaware that they were participants in a game... let alone, the obstacles, nor the other players, surrounding them.

"Medical release form authorization required of Quistis Trepe for patient #030399 Rinoa Heartilly. Please read, sign, and return the following attached documents."

And just like that, it became her turn in the game of cerebral artistry.

It disgusted her to debase so many relations and friendships as nothing more than a board game. Over the past years, that is what she had been taught, from textbooks, from Garden instructors, and from Cid Kramer. Distance yourself from the reality, think in terms as others becoming dispensable pawns, don't become personally attached. Like hell, she had long broken that objective long before ever adorning a SeeD uniform, let alone one of an Instructor. As a Headmaster, she had learned to mask it to an art, but there were always exceptions to make the rule...and that was those few friends who she valued more than her own existence.

The first player was one often cloaked in black; he accepted that color not as a villain, but as an unwilling champion. On the right side of the board, was the proclaimed savior to the world, the one whose exclusiveness only elevated the stature of his celebrity. But to Quistis Trepe, Squall Leonhart was still that scared little boy she had remembered from childhood. The one who wanted nothing to do with the glory, because he couldn't see beyond the devastation left in its wake, the boy still yearning for absolution. From the time before she could remember, there was always a sadness in Squall's eyes. The question remained deep in Quistis' heart, one that she, more than likely, would never have the ability to answer, could that sorrow ever fade?

The unknowing player on the opposing side knew little of the modern world surrounding her. Yet, Rinoa Heartilly was the one labeled the Evil Queen, the sorceress who would kill without remorse. Again, to Quistis, an obvious distorted portrayal by a society unwilling to know the person behind their lies. In honesty, the Headmistress had not known the young woman long, but could still feel an identical sadness to Squall's, through every forced smile.

How had Quistis come to find herself in such a position? As a SeeD, she had been trained to avoid being cornered - taught by the greatest military force known, by the towering Rook known as Garden. But now she found herself in conflict with people she considered allies. There might have been paths for escape, but right now, Quistis wasn't sure that she wanted to continue in the illusion.

The fax in her hand had originated from Trabia Garden, sent to Esthar's Sorceress Memorial, and then finally forwarded to Balamb Garden by Laguna himself. All it lacked was a simple signature and two sets of initials that Quistis alone had legal power to authorize...well, beside from the signature of Rinoa Heartilly.

Elise Vandermere was requesting the sorceress' medical history. Nothing current, only information concerning the past... but the past never remains buried, it was always whispered secrets to the future. Why now after all these years, after all this time, would Dr. Vandermere want this information? For Hyne's sake, she wasn't even Rinoa's physician, nor did she ever have contact with the girl. Ever.

This was just another move that she would have to counter or sacrifice. It was because the game had been set in motion; fate and reality couldn't just let this tale end in a stalemate.

So now, Quistis sat staring at a piece of paper - feeling as if she was silently marching into perdition. In reality, if her signature was the binding factor, it was by chance and inevitable discovery. It was a matter of time, too much had happened, too many fates had already been decided...this went far beyond them. Elise would find out, if not from this, then from Squall... There was no hiding reality any more. Then again, maybe the doctor already knew...maybe that was what this request was all about.

She looked at the paper again as a feeling slowly overtook her body. Maybe in all of her concern of about the possibilities, was it likely the doctor had sensed something with Rinoa's condition that the others had missed? It seemed illogical, but then again, every moment since a phone call waking her from her dreams seemed slightly illogical.

Would that mean Garden would know that Rinoa was awake? Would Elise report her findings directly to the board? Was there a fine line between professional protocol and personal concern?

And what of Squall? What of his wellbeing? Could even Rinoa save him from whatever prisons he had formed around himself? His confinement went far beyond the last eight years, the wounds went deeper than any one person, one failure, no matter how great could cause. If Quistis fully believed Elise granted him that salvation, why now harbor any doubts? There were too many questions...too many variables that she couldn't answer...

In one radial move, a decision that would affect several lives was played. All the pieces placed on the board, Knight, Queen, Rook, and Pawns...all preparing to collide into a three dimensional nexus of cells and power. But this wasn't a game, and these weren't pieces on a wooden board...these were her friends.

She had to close her eyes to reason and take a step into the unknown. For one last moment, she looked at the papers in hand, distancing herself from all the logic she had been taught by Garden and going on personal feeling alone, signing her name to that paper.

She hoped that someday the ones that lay defeated this round would understand.

Squall swallowed hard, his words seemingly blocked by some intrusion in his throat. His mind briefly considered getting a drink of water, but that would have required letting her go in this one moment. And right now he felt as if he would take on a whole legion of Forbiddens with his arms held tightly around her before he let go again.

"Rinoa…what I said…I…"

She shook her head. "No it's all right, you don't have to explain…I understand. I'm sorry, I should never have…"

"No!" He said forcefully before regaining his composure. "No. I do have to explain. And you have nothing…nothing to be sorry for." His hands loosened their grip ever so slightly. What in the world did she have to apologize for? He was the one who should have been crawling to her on his knees like some half starved animal.

"After we defeated Ultimecia…the world became a whole lot smaller. Since Adel was no longer imprisoned in space, live feed radio and satellites became possible again. I guess…you've seen that by now. But basically it meant that the new media sources exploded back into business, and the first thing they did was to burn a path to our doorsteps. They wanted to know how we all felt…what we had seen. I evaded it for years, declining every interview that was shoved in my face…sometimes by nothing but brute force. I couldn't talk about it…I…couldn't tell them what I'd seen. What it was like to watch someone I…cared for seemingly just…die right in front of me, when all I could do was watch." His breath faltered through his lips as he fought to continue.

"Then, a few months ago, I did something Rinoa. It was my fault, and it should not have happened, but it did. There was no excuse for my actions. But those actions put other people, the students at Garden; it compromised their safety and put them in harm's way. The Board of Trustees found out about it…so the article there…was more or less a plea of sanity from me. I gave them what they wanted to hear, praises to the perfection of their precious military facility and acknowledgement of their mission…and accomplishments."

Rinoa studied his features, still stuck on what he had said before. Was he talking about her? She thought he was. In that case, did he just say that he had cared for her?

"They were constantly watching me, keeping tabs on my actions after the accident to gather information..."

"Information?" She queried. "Why do they need information?"

"I have to appear before the board…soon. They want to make sure I'm …competent enough to handle my position as headmaster." The uncertainty and hurt in her eyes was almost more than he could bear. "So when the opportunity arose for an interview…I took it this time, with the newspaper…it seemed to be the easiest way, but Hyne Rinoa, had I known you would have ever seen it...I would have never…" His voice broke under the emotional strain. "I said those things so it would appear that I wasn't letting emotional attachments hinder my performance."

Squall's gaze fell to the floor as it once again became impossible to look at her. He couldn't stand this. He wanted her to just take a knife and shove it between his ribs right then and there and end it. End her suffering.

"I never said it…to hurt you. You have to know that. I wouldn't ever have considered it in a million years." He ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Garden…its…all I've had, all I've known. The only stability I had left after..."

He stopped himself. He wasn't going to bring back those memories for her. Even though he knew in his heart that her life now was nothing but an endless onslaught of faceless memories. Yet how could he give her the real reason? He had in fact done it forthe woman standing beside him in that picture That woman who had cared for him enough, even when he didn't give a damn about himself, who had put her reputation on the line countless times for him. Squall knew he could never repay Elise, but the least he could do was to hold her name above the water if his was doomed to drown in a sea of his own failures and insanity.

Mentally he shook the thought from his head. "What I mean to say is…it was important to my friends that I did not get thrown out of Garden for questionable actions. They would be guilty by association. I knew they would face needless scrutiny and probably a lot worse. I couldn't do that to them, not after…all they've done for me."

Inadvertently, Rinoa's eyes fell to the newspaper lying between them on the floor. She knew that he wasn't just talking about the friends they had traveled the world with eight years ago. She was torn now. At the time she had first seen it her heart desperately wanted to believe that it wasn't him speaking through that article. Now suddenly, he had verified that truth. It was like a double edged sword.

It relieved her to hear it from his own mouth. That…he didn't hate her, think of her as nothing but a monetary gain. It gave her hope, and hope to her had become a ruthless devouring monster. It held her aloft for a few moments before hurling her into a black void, all the while whispering things to her that could never be.

Somehow things seemed easier to accept when she thought he really did mean the things he had said. That he did hate her. Because somehow it helped to hold back the feelings, the love, she still held for him. Now it fell upon her like a tremendous cloud, so heavy that she could hardly stand. Guilt of her own raged through her because she knew that she shouldn't…she couldn't have feelings for this man who was already promised to another. Another who probably knew him a thousand times better. Someone who could see every facet of his soul and reach beneath every layer of his being.

She had seen the overwhelming guilt in his eyes and heard the conviction in his voice, and she knew that what he was telling her was true. It made sense. It made sense to protect her, his fiancée, from whatever he had done. How could she blame him? She had been, after all, supposedly dead. How could she ever expect him not to move on?

Why was it that all she could seem to do now was stare at the photo and think that something had been robbed away from her, instead of accepting this and seeing clearly that Squall was better off with a person who really knew him. Not someone who never fully saw who he was eight years ago before ceasing to exist. Someone who knew him no better now, though she had desperately tried to believe differently.

He deserved someone who wasn't Rinoa Heartilly.

The sorceress could feel him looking at her, waiting for some sort of response. She tried to think of something she could say without revealing the true feelings of her heart. Her gaze never left the picture. It would probably be easier to control if she just remained focused on them together.

"Squall," she said softly. "I'm…I'm sorry for doubting you. I understand that you had to do what was right to protect your…friends. I shouldn't have put this before the past and everything we had gone through. I should have known you better. I guess I really couldn't know just reading it for what it was, that there was something else behind the ink that I couldn't see. But I could have given you more credit instead of jumping to conclusions. I could have believed in you more."

The headmaster's pained expression turned to one of confusion. Why was she suddenly turning this around making herself the one at fault? She wouldn't look at him. She just continued to stare at the floor. He followed her gaze and saw the newspaper lying menacingly between them. The picture of Elise and himself together face up and staring at the two of them. His heart sank further.

"Rinoa there was no way you could have known. There is no other way to look at that," he said pointing at the article. "No amount of belief could have covered up those words. I wish so much that I could take them back. But I can't. I can only ask for forgiveness that I don't deserve and ask you to believe me when I say that I didn't mean a single word of it. That I never meant for you to see it. That I did it because I didn't want those close to me to have to suffer for my mistake."

She didn't respond, her gaze still fixed on the picture. Only now, he could see more of the emotion, more of the pain seeping from her eyes. He couldn't take it anymore. He bent down and picked up the newspaper. Her eyes involuntarily followed it into his hands. Rinoa finally looked up to meet his eyes, the guilt and struggle to contain her feelings almost overwhelming her completely. Squall took the paper in both hands and held it out in front of her.

"None of this is real Rinoa." He said as he ripped the paper in two. "None of it."

She stared at the torn remnants of the article. How easy it had seemed for him to rip apart his words as thought they were truly nothing. It was a visual affirmation of what he had just told her. Her conflicting emotions of relief and regret continued to envelop her heart. How easy it was for lies to build up over time. One lie on top of another, like an unsteady tower built on a foundation of sinking sand.

Yes, how easy it is to believe the lies you instill in your own mind. No, she didn't blame him, though a part of her wanted to be angry at him for lying anyway. If he truly didn't believe any of what he had said…then why would he go so far as to put it in writing? But she did understand. Perhaps she might have done something like that for the one…the ones she loved. If it meant that they wouldn't have to endure what she had to face. Yes, she would distort the truth as far as it needed to bend. Yet, she wondered. She wondered how far it was truly distorted. More and more she was becoming angry with herself. Angry at the presumed lies she instilled in herself. That there was more between the two of them eight years ago than what was in fact, reality.

But what she had felt…what she still felt for him now. It didn't feel like a lie. It wasn't something she forced herself to believe. It just evolved. If indeed it was a lie she had created for herself, why did a sharp pain resonate through her chest every time she thought about it? No, it was real, it had to be. And now after time passed it had been unthawed, fully intact. She hadn't changed. Time had. And with time, so had he. Or maybe he hadn't. Maybe the feelings hadn't changed at all. Those feelings that perhaps he never really shared with her to begin with.

So many thoughts were running through her mind that she felt she would explode right there in front of him. Rinoa knew she should say something at this point. She just didn't know what that was at the moment. Honestly what was the right thing to say? To him? To herself? With a shuddered sigh she took the coward's way out and walked away from him, pretending to see something interesting just outside a nearby window. Closing her eyes, she could feel the chill emanating from the glass in front of her. She could feel the weight of his stare as it bore a large hole in her back. She couldn't run from this. Not anymore.

"Lies are powerful things," she said in a voice that strained for composure. "You know you can just keep building them up, believing in them so completely that pretty soon you can't even remember what the truth actually was."

Squall swallowed hard at the sound of her voice. Her words adding to the overwhelming ache that spread through his body. "I…I think somewhere beneath all of it you remember the truth." He spoke in a detached voice.

"It's just that you try so damn hard to forget it." He mentally added.

The young woman folded her arms across her chest and looked up at the sky which seemed to grow darker with each passing minute. "I'm not sure," she added softly. "I'm not sure I've ever known what the truth really was...about anything."

He didn't know what he could say…what he could do to ease the pain in the wake of the destruction he caused. He looked down at the torn paper in his hands. The truth was, for him, that he would always end up hurting someone no matter what choices he made. There was so much guilt coursing through him, guilt for the pain he had caused both of them. He saw Elise in the picture, she was smiling there. He wondered what she was probably going through right now…sick with worry. Then he looked back at the woman in front of him. That girl who used to light up the room with her enigmatic smile, a smile that could break through even the darkest of hearts. She seemed all but gone in the remnants before him. He had robbed her of it like a thief in the black of night. How many more lives could he ruin? How much more suffering could he inflict on the people he cared for the most?

She blamed him. She had too. She had to blame him like he blamed himself, if not more. Even though she would probably never come outright and say it. Beneath all of the pain he saw in her eyes, there had to be that blame festering in her spirit and spreading the ache through her like an infection. Living with himself had been an unbearable monstrosity for the past eight years. He knew he couldn't imagine what she must feel now seeing him again. Not only had he failed her at the Sorceress Memorial but he continued to fail her even in her supposed death, lying on public record about the feelings he truly had in his heart. How could he possible expect her to understand something like that? What reason had he ever given her to believe in him? He hardly believed in himself.

"Squall?" She said softly her back still turned to him, her gaze still penetrating through the window. He figured it was most likely traveling a million miles from where they were standing; desperately trying to escape from him mentally, when physically she could not.

Suddenly his thoughts were interrupted as she suddenly turned to look at him, puzzled by his silence. He felt like a child suddenly caught doing something inappropriate. Did she even realize what power she had over him?

"Can…can I ask you something?" She formed every syllable of her question with slow hesitance from her lips. The young woman didn't want to pry into his life more than she already had, it wasn't right. She had no right. But something in her kept repeating his words. Above all, it was the genuine concern she had for him breaking through her ever crumbling façade.

Squall as if seemingly hearing her for the first time nodded dumbly to her second query.

"What…what happened?" God this was hard, he was going to think she was a meddler. But…she had to know. "I mean, are you in a lot of trouble?" She couldn't imagine Squall ever breaking a command or putting the lives of others at risk. She saw enough of the man that he was to know that underneath his cool exterior was a man who would throw himself on a grenade to protect the lives of the soldiers in his platoon, whether he knew them personally or not. That was just his courage. She had seen it countless times fighting alongside of him in battle. To think that now he had committed some irrational act that put others and probably himself in danger, just didn't seem like the Squall she knew.

She wasn't sure how, but there was a nagging feeling burning in the back of her mind that somehow, it was her fault.

"I was chasing your ghost Rinoa. My mind created an illusion I wanted desperately to believe. An illusion that allowed me to come to your rescue again, only that time I wouldn't fail you. That time, I wouldn't be too late. My failure, letting you go, has consumed me for eight long years. I see your face every night in my dreams, I see your face in broad daylight. I think you need to know how seriously fucked up I am. In fact, I'm not entirely sure that you are safe now in the same room with me. Sometimes I wonder why I'm still allowed to wander the streets."

These thoughts ran rampant through his mind. He was ashamed of them, but they were the truth. The truth was what she deserved to hear. But his heart panicked, he wasn't ready to lose her after he had truly found her again. Instead he said the first defensive line that anyone in the military would use.

"I'm sorry. It's classified."

Chapter 24

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