The words resonated through Rinoa Heartilly's mind and for a moment she was thrust back through time, standing in front of her meticulously overbearing father who had rewarded her pleas with that exact same answer, more times than she cared to remember.
The statement caused a stinging rebuttal to automatically rise into her mouth like hot bitter tasting bile. However, she remained in control of it this time, with an understanding she didn't realized she possessed. She wasn't sure why she expected him to fully open up to her. He had been a closed book to her before, to everyone, and it had taken all of her strength then to pry into the yellowed and torn pages, the sharp paper tearing deeper into her fingers with each struggle. Again it wasn't something she should expect, especially now, since she was undoubtedly a stranger to him all over again.
The truth was that she really didn't need to know. It was none of her business. She had no say in his life of course. Yet she felt so far away from him at this point that she didn't think they were on terms where she could offer him friendly advice. No. Not anymore.
She lowered her head slightly in defeat of her own mind. Things reminding her of how it was now, not the farce she wanted to believe in. The one where everything remained untouched and unchained for eight years, it was a ludicrous concept.
"I understand." Her voice quieting as she slowly nodded.
"You're such a goddamned moron Squall Leonhart." He chided himself as he looked at her head bowed before him. Why couldn't he tell her? Was it guilt? Was he ashamed? Was he trying to protect her? Himself? Maybe it was all of it. Maybe he gave more of a damn about Garden and their policies than he thought. But what the hell did he have to lose now that wasn't already lost?
Squall was startled from his thoughts suddenly as she let out a yelp and stumbled, nearly falling into him. His arms shot out involuntarily to catch her only to be left wanting when she regained footing on her own.
She turned to address the assailant who had shoved their muzzle into the back of her knee, causing it to buckle. Esperanza barked with delight in getting her master's attention. Her diligent whining and pacing had gone unanswered for far too long.
The young woman sighed. "What is it girl?"
Though she could not hear the frustration in her voice, the dog could see it in her eyes. However she knew it would only be greater if she were forced to make a stain on the rug. So instead she made a pitiful sound that fell somewhere in between a whine and a howl. She high stepped her fore paws in quick succession for emphasis.
Rinoa saw the urgency in her dog's eyes and turned to look at the clock. It was well passed noon. Had they really been standing here this long? A slight cramp in her right calf sent the affirmation running up her nerve endings.
"I'm so sorry sweetie." She said quickly while walking over to the door to get her coat while the dog danced at her heels.
Turning back to Squall she gave him an apologetic look. "I have to take her out again."
He nodded dumbly for the second time that day. All the words he longed to tell her forcing themselves back down into the depths of his throat, he could only watch her as she buttoned her coat with clumsy fingers and vanished out the door.
Maybe it's unexplainable. That simple. You wake up in the middle of the night and feel an awareness taking over your body - a sensation that grabs hold, refusing to let you fall back into that state of peacefulness. Gradually, its claws descend deeper into your flesh, though you cannot locate their source. Frantically, you try to shake the aggressor, but cannot find it within the darkness. You can only feel its toxin, the sting slowly numbing your body.
Then it hits like the tide surging over the breakwater, the realization that the pain is coming from within yourself. It is not an outside entity - that would be too easy. It is one of those inner demons that you have learned to suppress...only this time, you cannot fight its lingering effects.
The feeling had been with her since last night, waking up alone in bed that was theirs. Her fiancée a world away, chasing his past, a ghost that always haunted him, and because of that, always haunted her. She tried to repress the fear with all the other doubts that so often clouded her mind. This wasn't the time, not to imply... there actually was a right time.
What did she honestly hope to gain by looking through Rinoa Heartilly's medical records? Well, beside scientific evidence that the person she so often felt unfounded resentfulness towards, was actually once a living human being. Not just that romantic ideal she measured herself to each and every day.
What made it worse, and a far greater betrayal of both personal and ethical bounds, was she had brought this work back to her home. Their home. The place where her and Squall lived the past years, had made love, and hell, he had even proposed to her in this very living room. Not the most romantic gesture, but something done with little words and fanfare, much like their entire relationship.
In the last several days she had enough of manila envelopes, confidential files, and red tape to last her through her entire career. She had not gone to medical school for this, but then again, medical school didn't turn out as she once had planned. Carefully she removed the contents that had been delivered via an expressed messenger; Laguna's speed in this entire matter was nothing if not efficient. Maybe that should have been another clue that she was somehow shielded from reality, much like most of her life.
There it was, clinched within her finger's grasp, a lifetime condensed into the contents of a solitary folder. From Rinoa's infancy to sealing doctor's visits, inoculations, it was every detail of her medical history. All the information Elise had requested, and then some she hadn't figured that Esthar would release without a small military conflict. Now within her possession, was the first year of data pertaining to 'the subject Sorceress Heartilly' from after the initial sealing - including the monitoring of her body temperature, to the constant rhythm of her heartbeat.
It felt as if within the blink of an eye, or the shifting sands of the hourglass, that the hands of time had marched forward. How much time had passed, how many minutes had slipped into memory? Elise leafed through the records once again, wondering what in the hell she was supposed to gain from all this. What great mystery was she honestly hoping to unravel? What Rinoa's blood type was? How tall she was at six-years-old? None of the history was relevant...it was just that, history.
She randomly grabbed another sheet from the folder; this one fully detailed the history of all of her immunizations. Wonderful, now Elise was fully aware that Rinoa had been vaccinated against the chicken pox. Put that one down as medical marvel of great insight. She sighed in frustration, what in Hyne's name had she hoped to accomplish by this? Well, unless you count the fact she could safety expose Rinoa to the Trabian strain of measles, Estharitis A and B, Rubella, and Diphtheria.
Even after she saw the report, it took her brain a moment to process the information she had just read. Something about that seemed wrong. Very wrong. She had done enough immunizations within her career, on children no less, to know if something didn't fit into the norm. There definitely had to be a clerical error on this summary report - not that it wasn't implausible to have a mistake, just in a country so secretive and record orientated as Esthar... It just seemed anything involving this particular 'subject' would be treated with the utmost proficiency.
Could such a blatant move of careless record keeping be probable? It seemed improbable, but right now, it was the only lead she had. Even if it was a transcription error, one letter out-of-place, in the otherwise typical file of a seventeen- year-old born into her era. It was such a simplistic mistake - the letter B.
Seven years ago, Estharitis was a common immunization given to school-aged children around the globe. The vaccines were required for decades, encompassing both the sovereign reigns of Vinzer Deling and Sorceress Adel. A second strain was officially recognized after the revitalization of Estharian relations following the defeat of Ultimecia.
It was believed, after the first Lunar Cry, and Esthar's self-imposed isolation, that something caused the strain to mutate. Whether from the prior excavation of the Lunatic Pandora's lingering radiation, the digital security system used to project the country's outer façade or a combination of a thousand variables - something caused the transformation. Very small, very slight, but it was large enough to require medical technicians to reformulate the vaccination of the new strain and to vaccinate all those at risk.
The vaccine, then already distributed worldwide, was thereafter labeled for strain "A." Trivial information relatively useless to the layman, but to Dr. Vandermere, it was the difference that could shatter a lifetime.
Rinoa was seventeen on the date of her sealing, and the vaccination wasn't required globally until two years later... There was a slight possibility Esthar might have had a form of the vaccine, injecting the first shot of the series, before the sealing. But the immunization itself is delivered in three separate stages. At most, the sorceress could have only received the 'first' within the few minutes she had before the process, not the six months required to complete the series of three. Rinoa Heartilly could not be fully inoculated against the secondary form; it would be a medical impossibility.
In her rush to grab a more detailed report, she never even felt as her fingernail collided with the table's surface. The distinct snap of a nail registered, before she felt the pain of it breaking well beyond the cuticle. She pulled it off as it were nothing, and honestly, it wasn't - nothing but a dangling nuisance. She looked down, as the blood started to slowly trace the outline of her thumb. The last thing she wanted to do was leave some crimson imprint on Rinoa's records as if some symbolic oath to her betrayal.
This was just all becoming too much, drops of blood, looking into phantom shots, Elise was reaching for something well beyond her grasp, well beyond anyone's grasp... In that moment, she let the blood spread between her thumb and her forefinger, watching the thickness and color change before her eyes like some type of unholy magic. The darker hues appeared in the crevasses that snaked around to form her distinctive fingerprints. She had seen blood so often, too often...
Blood. That was it...she looked down again on the paper. It was a second typo stated on the more detailed report. One mistake seemed highly unlikely, but two...never... Something as simple as the drug manufacture. It was noted, by the medical staff, which drug company they used for the injections. The shot for Estharitis "B" had been required two years after Rinoa was sealed, but it wasn't until three years after that that vaccine was changed from plasma-derived to a synthetic substitute. Her records only coded with the synthetic version.
Something not produced until five years after she was sealed. Not only had Rinoa received the vaccination, she had the latest medical version.
And that numbness from the night before slowly overtook her body. Yet, somehow, in some strange and morbid way...it all made sense. It seemed as if her existence was like a malicious joke, and she would have laughed, if she could. She would have cried...if she could. She would have done anything, had she just found the strength, but all she could do was look at the darkening blood on her fingertips. Again, she found herself facing the same cerebral demons she always had, and what scared her most about this moment, is that somehow...this time, she already knew.
"Way to go 'Mr. I'm Sorry It's Classified' you've now earned the title in her mind of the biggest jerk on the planet. Couldn't you have done any better than that? Couldn't you have given any more to the only person in existence you could open yourself fully to? At least so you thought right?"
He shook the voice from his mind and cringed as the jostling caused his head to reel back in pain. Squall couldn't believe he had just said that to her to her. She had asked of him calm and nonjudgmental. She wasn't out to hurt him; though at this point after all he had done it was almost surprising she wasn't. She deserved to know something he was obligated by Garden and by his own fears not to reveal everything. He could give her a better answer though. Not some military fallback that he was sure had been delivered many a time in the house of General Fury Caraway.
With his new resolve in mind, he walked out the door to find her. The rhythmic sound of falling water greeted his ears as he shut the door behind him. Standing under the eave of the door he watched as the beginnings of a rain storm fell nonchalantly to the ground. Turning towards the meadow he saw her standing at the edge of the road, her hands in the lined pockets of her coat and the hood drawn upon her head. He watched as Esperanza bounded out of the grass and bumped her master playfully. Rinoa reached down and ruffled the fur on top of the dog's head. Her head turned just enough to where he could see the smile on her face. And suddenly, everything looked so different.
He had seen it descend from the heavens a hundred times before, never once stopping to think about its worth. In his memories, it was always raining. He was always alone...standing on the edge of ruin, too scared to move toward the future, not brave enough to face the past.
As a boy, Squall Leonhart was waiting for 'Sis' to return, finding his solitude forged among the stone pillars. He would stand there alone, letting the freezing raindrops hit his face, sometimes leaving small mark marks on his face, thousands of little scars, each greater than the one left on his forehead now.
They would find him, they always did. Sometimes it would take minutes...sometimes he could be gone for several hours. He didn't want anyone to notice, yet deep inside, with all the apprehension of a five-year-old...hoped that they would. But for those stolen moments of isolation, he wished he too could fall like the rain. To flow freely into the ocean that he looked at every dawn, every sunset, and at the end of every prayer. Maybe then, he could find her, find the person who had left him and find out why. "Why?" Maybe that is what his heart always wanted to know. Maybe the question never changed, only the people from which he was seeking the answers.
In his memories it always rained.
When they sealed Rinoa eight years ago was it hot? Was it cold? It was the goddamned Estharian Desert, but in his memories, the sky lined with threatening clouds, and sheets of rain pounding his face once again. Each carving a scar deeper than any physical wound could ever pierce, one time could not mend. In his life, rain had always embodied all that had been devastating. Every failure, every mistake, every negative moment in his life had been layered by this aquatic tempest within his mind. But this rain...he had never seen rain like this.
It was beautiful.
He could only catch a glimpse of her face, but her posture hadn't changed in all these years...then again, it hadn't been eight years for her. He would have allowed himself to sulk again, mirroring the boy standing against the orphanage pillar, had he not had something so amazing to watch.
This rain was light and beautiful... almost falling as if it was treading on sacred ground. Through breaks in the clouds the rays of sun still shown, giving the moment a surreal aspect...to see a mixture of sun and rain was like catching a glimpse into eternity, and never wanting to be pulled back. Her movements were so free, unlike those he had seen after years of training. Although her coat still restricted her motion, she seemed to enjoy playing with Esperanza.
The dog seemed to be accepting the spring shower with eagerness of young child playing on the first warm day. Or maybe the canine was just glad to capture some of her master's time... or to find out if Rinoa was truly safe from the stranger staying in their home. Maybe the dog had better instincts than he did, hell he was sure the dog had better instincts when it came to something...or someone like Rinoa. All Squall could ever do was hurt, cause pain...maybe they all would have been better off had he found the ability to fall with the rain, to forge with the currents, to bleed into the ocean's tides.
What he would do now to take those words back. To find the strength to tell her everything without that insecurity, that fear of the rejection he had unwillingly befriended as a child. If he could just set all that aside and tell her. Tell her everything. But it was not so simple. In his current state he wasn't sure he could handle her reaction. He couldn't handle watching her recoil from him in fear. He didn't want to see the terror in her eyes as she looked into the eyes of a mad man.
He didn't want her to dismiss his embrace as he tried to comfort her when she realized that he was in fact an entirely different person than the one she'd come to know. But it wasn't what she thought. It wasn't that man in the torn photograph lying on the floor with the plastered look of contentment on his face. No, it was far, far worse. It was a man whose delusional mind had stalked her for eight long years, even in death. But yes, he could tell her something, she deserved that much, even while he didn't.
He watched the initial shock fill and ebb from her eyes as she turned around and saw him standing there watching her for the first time. Suddenly there was awkwardness and he turned his gaze away from her, ashamed of himself. Not like that was a new sensation for Squall Leonhart in the least.
Rinoa was indeed surprised to see him there. But not in the negative way he had taken it. She was partly confused and partly grateful. Confused as to why he was even bothering, and grateful that he wasn't shunning her completely for her idiotic questioning. Though in a way, she guessed that he realized what a moron she was long before now. Apparently being frozen hadn't ridden herself of that trait. Suddenly fearful of her insecurities and assumptions she forced a smile and tried to focus on some lighter topic of conversation.
She looked at him and then noted the black western sky with a glance. "Looks like there's a pretty big storm coming in huh?"
Squall couldn't help but note the fine mist that gathered on her dark hair making it shimmer like a clear night sky. Even the rain that had plagued his mind and his thoughts for so long made her beautiful. Reluctantly he turned his eyes from her and looked to the sky she had acknowledged. "Yeah, it looks pretty severe." Suddenly the military planner part of his mind kicked into gear. "Do you have a flashlight in case the electricity goes out?"
The young woman thought for a moment and was suddenly embarrassed. Here she was proving once again that she was the 'prepared as always' Rinoa Heartilly. The only person he probably knew who would lose her head if it wasn't attached.
"No." She admitted. "I've got some candles in the kitchen. I think they're still in one of the moving boxes."
"Do you want me to go buy you some flashlights down the street?" He offered.
"No, it's okay."
"I don't want you to leave. I don't want to be alone. Not again. Even if it's just this, an awkward semi-friendship where I have to overcome these deep feelings for you, for your sake, for my sake. Please, just don't leave right now. I'm not strong enough. Not yet."
"Really it's okay. I think I have enough candles to light a path if w if I need to. Besides it probably won't be that bad. The worst could still miss us."
The drizzle that had been building up on her started to sink in and the cold suddenly wracked her body with a tremulous shiver. "I guess we should head back in." She said, her teeth chattering slightly. "I mean if if you want to."
He nodded and she turned and waved her arms over her head in an attempt to get Esperanza's attention who had found a very interesting hole in the ground to sniff with a dog's curiosity. She did catch the movement out of the corner of her eye and responded with bounding obedience at the sign from her master to return. Esperanza padded closely behind her friend as the three of them entered the dry confines of the house, where she appeared to rectify the dry indoors with a powerful shake of her damp fur.
The headmaster closed the door behind him and watched as she removed her coat with trembling hands and hung it on the rack beside the door. She was shivering all over.
"Are you okay?" He asked worriedly as her face began to pale slightly.
"Yeah, it's fine." She responded while rubbing her arms vigorously. "I just took a chill that's all. It'll pass."
He suddenly wondered how she could possibly survive a Trabian winter but quickly shook his head of the thought. This was about what he could do now for her. He couldn't allow himself to be sidetracked by idle thoughts or he would never be able to say this to her.
"Rinoa about what I said before "
The sorceress shook her head. "No, no it's fine. You were right to say that, it's none of my business." She tried to hide the sadness in her smile. "It really was 'none of my business' this time, you know, like you used to tell me and everyone else. I'm I'm sorry I don't know what I was thinking."
"No. Rinoa, listen to me. It was my fault. I'm just so used to saying that about this it kind of just fell out before I thought about it."
"I'm ashamed to tell you the truth."
"It's not that I don't want to tell you I do I just... Anyone with knowledge of this outside of Garden is held accountable for receiving the information. I don't want you to get into trouble. And I definitely don't want them finding out you're here."
She nodded slowly. That in fact had been in one of her worse nightmares. However in that particular dream, Squall was leading the charging army that was descending upon her house.
"I will tell you the short version, not because I give a damn about Garden policies I mean I do but not that much "
"Not as much as you mean to me."
" Hell I don't want to bore you with the long version. There was an accident about six months ago in the training center at Trabia. There were a couple of students going into an area where they had no business going alone without supervision from superior classmates or instructors. I happened to be there at the time when they got into trouble. And well there was a miscalculation on my part which put all of us at risk. They got out okay, but errors like I had made are looked at with diligent scrutiny even if everyone gets out alive. They are concerned that the situation may present itself in the future when all of those involved are not so fortunate. Basically they want to see if I'm fit to continue being headmaster."
"Everyone makes mistakes." She replied.
"Hyne knows I've made a few thousand in my lifetime."
"You shouldn't have to be stripped of your job because you made one bad judgment. They're part of being human. And you are only human just like they are. They've got to remember what you have done for them, what you have done for the world before. Surely that has to hold more weight than one incident." She was bewildered that they could hold anything against him after what he'd done for the sake of everyone.
"Garden's not been very tolerable of anything during the last few years. If it wasn't for the support and backing that I had from my friends they probably wouldn't have even bothered with a trial and instead they'd just have proceeded with the 'kick Headmaster Leonhart to the curb' ceremony."
Support he was talking about Elise. His support, his strength, his pillar. The one person who was able to ease his mind, his fears. The one who could make him believe in himself. The one who could make him smile. Rinoa felt like an idiot in that moment. Why was she offering comfort and support when he had all he needed back in Trabia! She was trying to do it again. God, she hated herself. She hated herself for the feelings she harbored that wouldn't just go away. She hated herself for the fleeting moments where she thought Squall Leonhart actually needed her in his life.
"It's good you have that support." She said finally, her inner feelings surfacing slightly in the soft cracks of her voice. "You you always had it but it was hard for you to just accept it. I'm glad you've come to terms with it with your friends; that you've finally learned to accept their support, their help, their comfort. It's like I told you all along Squall. You're not alone. You were never alone." She smiled despite the tears that had begun slowly welling in her eyes.
"You you're the one that showed me that Rinoa." He said with a wavering voice.
"No, I don't think so. I just opened you up to the idea." She chuckled half heartedly. "I was so pushy then. But it was you who found it. Found it within yourself with the help of those people that love you. The ones who could make you laugh; make you smile despite the pain."
He paused, watching as the tremors of her body slowly subside. Wanting nothing more than to hold her and give her warmth, nothing more than to give her comfort. But how could he comfort her when he was the one who caused her the pain to begin with? He knew what rather whom she was talking about. And that was because he didn't have the nerve to explain to her that things weren't the way they appeared. How could they be? How could she think he'd just forget about her? There were people, his friends, Elise all telling him over the past few years that he needed to move on, he needed to let go of her memory. But all this time, despite all his efforts to appear normal, he had done nothing but spin his wheels in reverse.
And he was so racked with guilt for her and Elise. He didn't want to hurt Rinoa anymore. He couldn't. He didn't think he could live with himself. But he didn't want to hurt Elise either. She had been there for him when everyone else would have just considered him a lost cause with no hope of recovery. He didn't know how to begin to explain how things actually were. It almost felt like the doctor was there standing behind him watching with her arms folded, wearing her professional physician's demeanor. She could never begin to understand, no matter how much he had told her before, that no matter how hard he had tried, not a day went by without him thinking of Rinoa Heartilly. What he had done to her was wrong, it was so wrong, but it was wrong of him to do this to Elise as well.
He looked to the picture lying torn in half upon the ground. He had to tell her, he had to try. Maybe somehow, she could understand.
"It's not like you can tell that with a picture, Rinoa. Only much can be captured, only so much can be documented, parts are only half-truths, they're not real... it's a two dimensional plane captured in a thousand shades of gray."
"No, no you can't." She agreed. Her eyes now spilling the emotions she tried in vain to dam up inside. The level of her frustration with herself had risen until at that point she didn't realize what she was saying until it was too late. "When I saw you together I saw you laugh god she made you smile! I I never did I wanted to. And to think that I might have ruined that for you! I could have taken that away! Taken away everything I ever wanted you to have! I was such a fool to think I was such a goddamned fool."
Rinoa covered her mouth and turned away from him, leaving his mind desperately bewildered at her outburst. She had seen them she had seen them together. When in Hyne's name had he ever been smiling with anyone, anywhere since she had been unsealed? And suddenly it hit him with such a force that it nearly knocked him off his feet. Laguna's voice on the answering machine was the first to register in his mind before a chain of memories blinded him with their blaring force.
"I know everything happened so fast after that night."
The suffocating pressure he felt in that room.
The shooting star hurling across the sky that night.
"I know I know. It might help you though, to visit there again. I mean maybe while we're here. I could go with you if you wanted me to. If you wanted some company."
"You you sure you would want to do that?"
"I'd be right there with you."
"Why Squall Leonhart is that a smile I see on your face?"
And then he had kissed her.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing I felt the coldest draft just now." The young man shivered again as if to emphasize his point.
"What? You've got to be kidding me, it has to be 90 degrees in here!"
"I know it was weird."
"You " He gasped with astonishment as the flashes of that night receded back into the depths of his memory leaving his eyes to the back of the woman that stood crumpled before him. "You were there You were there!" He nearly shouted his eyes wide with disbelief.
"Why why didn't you come to me? Why?" His voice became almost childlike and innocent. All of the pain and torment it could have ended it could have ended that night. He He would have seen to it then. She wouldn't have had to do this all alone well, without him. After all he had done did he not even deserve to give back to her? To at least gain some sort of redemption for what he had taken from her? Even though he knew it wasn't possible for him to be fully redeemed even if he lived a thousand lifetimes.
She closed her eyes; it was too late to turn back now. She had unleashed something she had no intention of setting free. "I'm sorry I'm so sorry for what I nearly ruined Squall. I Going to that graduation dance I I had every intention of meeting you there. But I came to my senses. And for once in my life I did something right." Her tears spilled freely in snaking rivulets down her cheeks as she turned to face him.
"You you didn't even try. We could have talked. I could have helped you!"
"You could have helped me."
Wayward Tempest's Fanfiction