He wasnt sure what to do, caught between pride and circumstance. Stepping out of the doorway, and back into the main hall, he leaned against the wall gathering fragmented thoughts. They hadnt seen him; he knew they hadnt... Rinoa and Seifer - they were too busy laughing and catching up on old times. No, he knew it wasnt like that, but it was always easier to simplify the situation, always perceiving it for the worst.
Here he stood, a commander and a knight, yet he was still filled with juvenile doubt. This feeling inside was doubt, wasnt it? He didnt know anymore. Military procedures were outlined in ink, but something as volatile as this was beyond all reason. He would rather have taken a thousand SeeD exams, than have walked in this emotional minefield.
What Squall didknow, however, was as much as he wanted to go in there, as much as he desperately wanted to play that role of overprotective boyfriend, that was not in their best interest right now. Maybe that part of this, for lack of a better term, emotional field exam, he had already taken a few days ago. Seeing that hed broken Seifers nose during their previous encounter, Squall wouldnt say that hed passed with any honors.
The three of them had traveled down the path of bitterness and resentment before, and the commander believed he had learned something... Although it never completely quelled the primal instinct that made him want to run in that room to protect Rinoa. But from what? From who? Seifer? Himself? He wasnt sure anymore. It wasnt in Squalls nature to believe the best in people, let alone put trust in former enemies. Especially with something... someone like Rinoa. But he had to, he just had to.
History, reasoning, years of training, everything that he had ever believed was telling him one thing, but he had to listen to something greater right now, his heart. Clenching his fists tightly, he knew he was left with only one option to leave. He had to get out of there before either Rinoa or Seifer saw him. He had to allow Rinoa her space, just as she had always allowed him to have his.
Taking a deep breath, he started to move away when he heard footsteps echoing from around the corner. The realization it could be Ms. Warm and Fuzzy from the waiting area hit him like a horde of speeding Cactuars. She would be more than willing to announce his presence to Rinoa, to Seifer, or to anybody else in lecturing distance.
He turned to face the wall quickly, remembering a billboard that caught his peripheral vision. Grabbing one of the pinned flyers, he attempted to causally act as if he were reading the printed information. Maybe if he was facing the wall, and seemed preoccupied, the woman would just leave him to his solitary state of confusion.
Luckily, the person continued by without a word. A grateful sigh passed his lips as the figure disappeared into a nearby room. Reaching up, he started tacking the flyer back onto the board. That was when he noticed something for the first time since his arrival they were talking. He could actually hear them, hear their words. They must have remained silent after Rinoa handed him the glass of water, maybe some awkward moments had followed, he knew those all too well. After Rinoas laughter there had been nothing, but he hadnt noticed that, until now.
The acoustics were almost perfect, like he was standing in the same room. It wasnt as if they were speaking loudly, it was just that their voices carried perfectly all the way through the hall. Suddenly, he felt as if he was breaking every rule ever written. Every line that he shouldnt cross was set before him, but it wasnt like he could stop himself from overhearing either... the articulation was too acute. In that moment, it was as if he wasstanding in the room beside them, whether he wanted to hear or not.
Do you remember? Seifer asked, almost tauntingly in Squalls opinion.
Last time we were together in a hospital?
Oh that? she gasped after a slight pause. I wouldnt classify that as the last time. I believe that was the only time. And I think I made you swear never to mention that incident ever again.
No, you made me swear not to tell anybody else, he corrected. Which I havent. Since you were there, Im not breaking any promises... I was only asking if you remembered that night in the Emergency Room?
Yes, of course I remember. I have... Rinoa trailed off, stopping mid sentence. Squall knew he should leave, he wasnt even pretending to read the flyer anymore. It was just... it was so easy... He was right here, they were right there. At times he wanted to know more of her past with Seifer, maybe, or maybe he didnt. Was it human nature not to want to walk away? Would any other man easily dismiss this? Or was this just his weakness on the situation, this part of the exam he was quickly failing.
Rinoa, are you okay?
Yeah, Im fine. They um... just gave me something for the pain. I think its starting to kick in. Anyway, yes, of course I remember.
She paused momentarily, sounding like she didnt want to continue with the questioning, but Seifer didnt seem to want to let the subject drop.
Did you ever?
Did I what?
Oh, no... that? I would feel...
She stopped a second time. Squall knew this was his final chance to leave, the one last grace he would be given. He found the will that had been lacking, or maybe it was the fear of being caught, eavesdropping unintentionally on his girlfriend; either way, he started walking away. He knowingly choose the longer route, so he didnt have to walk directly in front of Seifers room. He rather have chanced running into his new friend at that moment. He was a commander, and yet he was taking an extra corridor just so he could avoid his girlfriend seeing him. What had happened to him? When had he allowed this to happen? Why did there never seem like a right answer?
For the second time, a sudden feeling had overtaken Rinoas body. One identical to that which had happened moments before, the one shed blamed on pain medication. It was something unfamiliar yet she knew it at the same time... a contradiction within itself, but really she couldnt describe it in any other terms. She tried to clear her mind from the sensation, focusing on the discussion in front of her. It was then that something else entered her thoughts, bothering her just the same.
Seifer? What are you trying to do?
Do? I was just wondering if you ever told anybody, thats all.
No...no you werent. She stated more firmly. I didnt tell anybody back then because I was extremely embarrassed. But you arent referring to anybody, are you? You mean Squall.
Seifer leaned back onto the bed, looking a cross between guilty and pleased. She wasnt one for understanding him, but that had been part of the attraction towards him during that summer.
So, never mentioned it to him?
Seifer... No, I havent. It wasnt because I was hiding it. Yes, I am still embarrassed... but that doesnt mean Im keeping some deep, dark secret from Squall. I honestly just hadnt thought about it. She stood from the bed, speaking with complete clarity, defending her relationship with her knight. I dont need you twisting something like that into some sordid secret between us. My relationship with Squall is something I cant describe to you that I wont describe to you. I wouldnt if I could find the words... Just please.
Did I ask you to? So why are you trying?
What? She folded her arms over her chest, making sure to protect her bandage. Still, posturing alone could tell she was upset, trying to keep it together in an emotional situation.
Then dont stand here and describe your relationship. Not to me, not to anybody.
There was so much running through her mind; how dare he even talk of her and Squalls relationship? She could have screamed her feelings for Squall, but that wouldnt help. How do you describe the indescribable, and to Seifer Almasy no less?
Maybe it was for the better that he would never allow her the chance to answer.
Rinoa, if you would just listen to me. The last thing I have any right to do is give you relationship advice. But more than I cant stand Leonhart, I cant stand the idea of putting you through more than I already have.
She walked forward and unfolded her arms, realizing now that the question earlier wasnt just to irritate her... Well, maybe a tad, he was Seifer after all.
Rinoa, you spend too much time worrying how others see you. People are going to talk about the two of you. It doesnt matter what you do or how nice you are to them. I lived with those people at Garden for most of my life. Hell, I wouldve been leading the gossip if I was still at Balamb. Squall has always been different and you are an outsider. Just never defend your relationship, to me, to Garden, or to each other. Your emotions have always been your biggest weakness, but if used right, they can also be your greatest strength.
The strange thing was - he was right. For her, it had always been emotion over logic, and Squall was logic over emotion. Maybe in some way they balanced out, they complemented each other and could grow from their differences. She did worry about what others thought, she always had.
Looking at Seifer again, Rinoa realized maybe in some way this was their goodbye. At least for now, but she was all right with that. Maybe it was the closure that she never had before. Somewhere inside he really did feel remorse for his actions. Maybe he could never make up for what he had done to her, but he could give her the only thing he had left... his knowledge of his mistakes. He never admitted he was wrong, he never said he was sorry. She reached out with her good hand, taking his, and looking down at him. It was strange, to see him like this. This really wasnt the man she remembered. And that was a good thing.
Seifer, I need you to know that I never meant... I never meant for things to turn out like this... I really didnt know... I just...
There you go again. He tried to laugh, not being comfortable in emotional situations. Not listening to me and being going all sentimental. Beside, you dont owe me a single thing. I honestly tried to think you did, I wanted to believe that you did. I wanted to blame you, blame him, blame SeeD, I went through an entire list of people to blame...but eventually the list ran out and only one person was left on it. And here I am.
Seifer, I wish that I could say that Id always be there for you, but thats not the truth. Do know that part of me will always think of you as someone special to me back then. Im going to remember the good, not the bad. I believe I saw the real you that first time in Timber, and I think you can be that person again. But right now, Im struggling to find out who I am, who Ive become... But most importantly, who Squall and I are together. Please know... I never meant for any of this to happen, but for good or bad, I wouldnt change what Ive become for anything. She stopped, realizing that was the first time she had ever admitted something positive about becoming a sorceress to anyone. For the first time not looking at it as some type of curse, but as something she was grateful in sharing with Squall.
I know you wouldnt. He said letting go of her hand. And he wondered if she knew that Squall felt the same, that he wouldnt have changed becoming who he was for anything. Even if the knight had yet to realize it.
Every brush stroke met the surface with precise accuracy. If this had been a military maneuver, it would have been performed with seamless, almost flawless, execution. Each bristle flowed in perfect unison, an accomplishment that had not gone unnoticed by the provisional leader. Zell had noted the change in the commander, it would have been nearly impossible to overlook. Before Squalls participation had only been met with his normal enthusiasm for a mundane task, now he had a focused passion, far too serious for painting.
Looking at his watch, Zell noted how long Rinoa had been gone... not to mention the fact she didnt return with Squall. Whatever had happened during his absence, it was obvious the commander didnt want to discuss. Not that he would discuss anything with the martial artist, but sometimes Squall could do the unexpected. Granted, not a fountain of information, but fragments could sometimes be pieced together, usually leaving the main point unsaid, but somehow Zell understood.
Hope you guys werent too worried.
The familiar voice caught the martial artist a little off guard, but he felt definite relief in Rinoas return. Turning to look behind him, he quietly noted how Squall merely glanced at her, before returning his attention to his work.
Nah, I think you can take care of yourself, teased Zell, trying to ease the situation with humor, it always felt natural to do so in awkward situations. Remember, Ive tried to wake you up. You throw a darn good left hook.
She answered halfheartedly; in all honesty, she couldnt keep her eyes from leaving the one thing she needed to know was truly okay. One simple fact remained, Squall was off in his own thoughts, and that scared her more than she could possible fathom. Rinoa realized that she had stopped talking aloud, along with the martial artist, who was now giving her a curious look. It was more with his eyes, silently asking if everything was all right. God, she wanted to answer with a resounding yes, scream it aloud, but honestly she wasnt sure herself. Still, Rinoa nodded with the hint of a smile, because maybe even then, she knew it would be ...maybe some things are just a matter of time and this was one of them.
Zell, Rinoa whispered under her breath, I think Im going to take you up on that offer now to get a room. Her eyes darted to the commander, before returning to the person standing in front of her. Even though earlier the martial artists comment was said in jest, now it was meant with all seriousness. Zell grinned sheepishly, he couldnt help it, something had just struck him as ironic about the statement, but he motioned across the hallway without another comment. And for that, Rinoa was very grateful.
Now the hard part, getting Squall to follow her; he could be the epitome of stubbornness. That was a lesson she had learned well. Then again, she would have to admit she had a slightly stubborn streak in her as well. Maybe that was yet another thing that made them complementary to one another. Well, on desperations side, if he didnt want to go, she could always ask Zell to order him to follow... But then again, she doubted the commander would actually comply.
As she took a few hesitant steps toward Squall, the logical side of her, cried out wait until he was ready. Let him be the one to come to you. But when would that be? An hour, a day, a week...who knew? Maybe she was being selfish, feeling the overwhelming desire to talk this out right now, she would freely admit that... or partially selfish, or something... But, she also couldnt handle the thought of him thinking God-knows-what in that over analytic mind of his either. Or maybe it was her over analyzing this entire situation. This was just all so... confusing. Sometimes she just felt like screaming in frustration, but doubted that would accomplish anything now, besides draw a whole lot of unwanted attention from the Trabian residents. How did some couples make relationships look so easy, something as inherent as breathing?
She continued walking trying to calm herself, this was simple, very simple. She had to keep reminding herself that. She wasnt going to walk away, she wasnt going to leave... and she honestly believed he was starting to believe that, even if he wouldnt admit it completely. If there was one thing shed learned from her conversation with Seifer it was that she had to find out who she was, to find out who her and Squall were together. To get past the insignificant things, to face them, before they spread like a cancer tearing apart at their foundation... To not let someone like Ultimecia divide them on something that could have been avoided with a few simple words. Okay, maybe she was thinking down the line a little too far, but their foundation for the future was being laid now, that fact couldnt be denied.
Got a minute.
The paint will dry uneven if I stop. He answered not even believing his own excuse as he heard himself say it.
Standing at the bottom of the ladder, she reached out, grabbing it for support. It was more or less something to keep her good hand occupied, as she tightened her fingers around a single rung.
Okay. She didnt want to discredit his reasoning, but she really didnt want to do this here. You were there. It had come out as a fact, a statement, she really hadnt meant to utter quite like that, but it was direct, if that counted for anything right now.
I wasnt... He stopped, God he hated explaining things. I wasnt there to... It had just been awhile, I was just checking.
I know, she answered softly.
Do you? He didnt mean to sound irritated, but somehow that is how it came across.
Well, she paused, as he still wasnt looking directly at her. I would like to take the time to know a little more. I guess if nothing else I would like to talk to you, if your painting could just wait a few minutes. You asked me to go to the infirmary as a favor to you, now I am asking you to come across the hall as a favor to me. Zell said the Disciplinary room has benches we could sit on.
Now he couldnt help but look at her. What kind of comparison was that? She was sitting and laughing with Seifer for goodness sakes! And in return she wanted to drag him across the hall and tell him about him what a great time her and Seifer had? That seemed to be a fair and equal exchange.
Fine. Whatever. Setting his brush down he wondered why he was getting so upset, it was obvious she just wanted to talk. Maybe in a way he needed it also. No, he knew he needed to, and that upset him too. There had been a time in his life where he could hide behind the fighting, behind his sword, now he couldnt, and sometimes that bothered him.
She had never been inside a Disciplinary room, well not one at Garden anyway. In all her time at Balamb, Rinoa had walked by the office often enough, but never had seen the actual room where the students were detained. She wasnt sure what shed been expecting, if anything, but what she found was nothing like she would have imagined.
It was larger than it appeared from the outside, enough for several students if necessary. Sometimes she forgot that Garden was still a military facility, built on military conduct. It was a school designed for training first and foremost. All of her friends were SeeDs, so discipline was rarely required. The holding room was usually used for younger cadets, the unruly students, and they would be treated as such. It was almost like a prison cell, less the bars. Grey concrete walls, ceiling, and cement benches, the only contrasting color was a dark grey door.
Feeling a chill pass through her, she stood fixated in the hollowed room. How horrible it would be to be locked in there for hours, days, weeks, to the countless voids of nothingness. It suddenly reminded her of being at the D-District prison and she involuntarily gasped at the memory.
She had to say something... something as the thoughts of the past were plaguing her mind. The silence was making the room into a greater prison, one from which she longed to escape. Yet he sat on a bench unfazed by his surroundings, it was the life he had grown up into, the one he was accustom to.
Squall, have you ever had to spend time in here before? I mean the room back in Balamb.
A lot? Somehow his response didnt surprise her, although it still stung to hear his answer. She wasnt sure why it bothered her so much, it wasnt as if she could have changed history, maybe part of her only hoped to ease some of the memories. Then again, she chastised herself for being the one to bring it up in the first place.
Never mind. She quickly tried to add, grasping just what she had asked, the history she alone was dredging up. Yet again, she was letting her emotions lead her... not thinking about Squall. She couldnt even look at him, turning to intently stare at the door, as if she could find some consolation in its existence.
I was there enough. He leaned his head against the wall. If were here to talk about my run-ins with the Disciplinary Committee, I can have my file faxed to you, or you could just go talk with Seifer again.
No, no... Its not Seifer that I need to talk to. Im sorry, I shouldnt have asked. Thats the past. I guess the room caught me off guard. I... dont know what I was expecting.
Rinoa, its not camp. He stopped himself; he knew that sometimes Garden was still foreign to her. To him, it was the only life he knew. But she was here by choice, he was here by chance. Although Garden had changed its path over the last few months, and the missions they had accepted, it was still that life she lobbied against on this very playground in Trabia almost a year ago. Sometimes he forgot their differences. Now that she was living there, reality sometimes came in the form of four concrete walls.
That wasnt why they were there; it only served as a reminder of how fragile their relationship could be. Moreover, how much she was becoming an integral part of his daily life, and how he never wanted to go back to where things were just four concrete walls again.
Its all right. He answered, breaking his earlier tone. Im sure the accommodations are not as nice as when Caraway locked you in your room. But Im guessing we each did our fair share in our own cells, whether we deserved it or not.
To some it might have seemed like he was being callous, but she knew better and could see an opening... he was communicating. She finally turned away from the door looking at him, and to her surprise he was now intently looking at her. It was the first time they had made any substantiated eye contact since she came in, and she softly smiled as an involuntary reaction. Somehow, he had a way of making her do that, even in the most trying of times.
Yeah, maybe we were a little more alike than I thought. It came out almost a whisper, but her voice carried perfectly.
The room doesnt always make the prison. He answered with equal compassion.
No... no it doesnt.
There was still one thing she had to clarify before they, well she, continued talking... The fact that she hadnt actually seen him in the infirmary, but how? He was so closed-mouthed when it came to emotions, how could she say what she had felt back there? She could barely describe it herself, let alone to another person, to him. But it was amazing, and he had to know... In the infirmary when shed been sitting on the bed, something had passed through her, a vague sensation of raw emotion... his.
Squall... do you remember the training center? Well, that was vague, maybe she should have been a little more specific, like given the when and where. Im talking about the night you took me down to the training center here in Trabia.
I remember, what about it? Honestly, how could he forget, it had been the day Seifer sauntered back into their lives. Some things are etched in stone.
Her voice caught in the back of her throat as she trailed off, why was this so hard? She averted her gaze from him, carefully folding her arms over her chest. The chill she felt walking into the room was nothing like the sensation she was experiencing now - nerves becoming a tangled mess within her being. She had to say this quickly, to get the words out before she backed down. Squall, its just then, I didnt know exactly why my emotions went slightly...um...askew. In the end, it turned out it was because of Seifers presence, because of our proximity to him. You were the one that came to my room and explained...to help me understand... that I could sense him.
Yes and? ...Oh. He closed his eyes. Maybe it was a good thing she wasnt looking at him at this moment. All his trying to hide in the hall didnt mean a thing because she didnt need her eyes to see him... He almost wanted to laugh at his sheer idiocy.
Yeah, thats how I kinda knew you were there... But Squall, it was so much more than that this time... Her voice was faint, so unsure of how to explain. It was incredible. Well, honestly it was incredible, but she didnt want to say that; she wasnt sure if he would feel the same way. Wondering somehow if Squall would feel that the empathy was an invasion of his thoughts, his feelings...his privacy. Although extremely weak, she could feel them pass through her.
The emotional strain was finally getting the better of her. She had to sit, before her legs collapsed from under her. Taking a seat next to him, she looked down at her own feet, inadvertently kicking them back and forth, like a nervous child waiting to face a parent for discipline.
After a moment of her continued silence, he started to grow restless by her avoidance, Go on.
Squall, with you... I could feel your emotions. It was instantaneous, passing through my body almost like a cold chill. At first, I didnt understand what it was I was experiencing... honestly. Actually... in the beginning I blamed the sensation on the pain medication, thinking it was some side effect... But, by the second time, I just somehow understood... I could sense the turmoil... and I just knew it wasnt mine. The emotions were fleeting. But the truly amazing part is that it wasnt confusing like before, it was all very clear.
Well there was no way she could interpret that response, it was completely monotone, and definitely not the reaction she was expecting. Although, she wasnt really sure what she was expecting. Maybe if she had been looking him in the eyes, or reading the expression written on his face, but it was the unknown that was driving what sanity remained to the point of an emotional breakdown.
And... She repeated quietly not sure how much more she should say on the subject, or wondering if she had already said too much. She knew how it bothered him earlier, to see her sitting there alongside Seifer. Was this feeble explanation the best she could do? She owed him so much more.
...And thank you, Squall, for trusting me.
Youre welcome. Truthfully, the words of gratitude were not what he was expecting to hear from her, not that anything surprised him after what she had just acknowledged... Moreover, that certainly wasnt the reply he had intended to give, but somehow, the words came naturally at that moment.
Youre... youre not upset? I wasnt sure how you would handle it.
Well, if were being honest, he paused looking at her for the first time after her admission, Im not thrilled. But theres a reason for everything, so Im guessing in the end it will make us stronger.
To help us find out who we are together. Her voice was faint, barely audible over the sound of nervous breath.
It was just something that Id mentioned to Seifer... That I couldnt be there in the future for him, because I was struggling to find out who Ive become, to find out who we are together.
He reached down and took her hand, realizing he wasnt still the only one struggling. You are now and always will be Rinoa Heartily. That didnt change because of what you have become. In some way he found solace in her apprehension. To know he wasnt the only one unsure, and fraught with inner demons still trying to claw their way to the surface. And together we will figure it out, as knight and sorceress, as Rinoa and Squall.
She leaned over, brushing the hair from his face with her un-bandaged hand. As they looked into one anothers eyes, she couldnt help from saying what she felt. She had tried so desperately not to abuse the words, afraid somehow she would scare him away. But right now she couldnt stop herself; it was what was truly inside her heart.
I love you.
At that moment, it didnt scare him. Although, he still had a hard time believing the words. Never questioning her feelings, but believing someone would say them to him, that anyone could sincerely love him. He wished that he could have said something, but again he found himself unable to speak. It was always easier to show through action, to draw her into an embrace, to feel her breath on his neck, to feel her heartbeat against his, and to feel that they were both growing stronger each day. Together.