Squall was awake before any indication of dawn was apparent in the horizon. Oddly enough, it was later than when he usually awoke in Trabia. Slowly he moved his gaze about his surroundings. The lamp was left on, providing enough light for him to make out the basic features of the room. Not that there was much to observe. The room was not decorated in any way save for the burgundy curtains that were drawn across the only window in the room. The wood paneling revealed the age of the house with its gnarled and splintered mosaic. He looked at the nightstand across from the bed and saw the bowl with the wash cloth and a half empty glass of water. Lying a few feet away on the floor was the trashcan he had to make use of earlier.
Seeing these objects gave him an indescribable relief, it gave him another affirmation that all of the events up until this point had not been figments of his delusional mind. Either that or fate was giving him the longest most painful dream of his life. He wanted to know he had to see her again. Carefully he brought himself up to a sitting position remembering full well the consequences of moving too quickly. His head still ached miserably though not quite with the intensity of before. He reached for the glass beside him and drank its remaining contents thirstily. The inside of his mouth felt like sandpaper.
The blankets crumpled together as he pushed himself out from underneath them. Squall set his feet upon the hardwood floor and used the table to steady himself. When he made it to a standing position he was met with the same nauseating vertigo of before. He closed his eyes, allowing his body to regain its equilibrium. After a few minutes the dizziness subsided and he began the slow trek around the house, holding on to walls and anything else to help steady himself. A soft glowing light was coming from the room downstairs; it cast enough illumination that he was able to see the outline of the steps. He grabbed onto the railing with both hands and gradually made his way down. His socked feet hit the floor and he padded silently towards the origin of the light.
A lamp sitting on an end table beside a large couch was the culprit. At first he thought there was nothing there but a big pile of blankets. When they shifted slightly, he realized that someone was underneath them. Squall approached the bundle with confusion. When he came around to the front of the sofa he saw Rinoa, her head just barely surfaced above the cover. Why would she need so many blankets? It didnt feel that cold to him and he was wearing a t-shirt.
A sudden deep sigh startled him from his thoughts. He looked down at her sleeping form. His mind still had trouble believing she was actually here in front of him. Part of him wanted to wake her up, feeling uneasy to see her eyes closed like that. He reassured himself that this was different. She was sleeping everyone had to sleep right? He was just being foolish. Several moments past as he continued to watch her, finding himself unable to avert his gaze. Something inside told him to stop it wasnt right he knew it, but he wasnt hearing it.
Her hair billowed out from beneath the blankets like a dark river. Ebony tributaries cascaded like waterfalls across her face. It was longer than he remembered and her strawberry highlights were gone. Squall took in every detail as if he were imprinting her image onto his memory for the very first time. She moved again and his breath caught in his throat. He had to stop this. She was going to wake up, see him standing over her, and think he was completely psychotic. A small voice reminded him that it wasnt so far from the truth.
He looked and saw that her arm had fallen from the covers and hung from the couch in a somewhat awkward position. Slowly he bent down, reaching and taking her hand in his own. His knees popped as his legs came together. The young man paused for a moment, shocked at how cold her skin felt. With great care, he placed it back underneath the blankets, holding it there until he quickly came to his senses.
Hyne what the hell am I doing? Squall withdrew his hand as if it had been burned. Get a grip Leonhart! You cant do this! It had to be the concussion that damn bird had knocked him absolutely out of his mind. He had to back away from this right now.
The words quickly faded away from his mind as his eyes focused on her once again. He was like a moth being drawn to a flame, he couldnt look away. It had just been so long, he had been haunted so many times by his own fevered delusions. Never in a million years did he ever dream he would actually see her or be able to touch her again.
But she was here, so close that he could hear every breath she took. She looked so serene lying there, her features not contorted in any pain or grief. It had been ages since he had been able to sleep like that. God it was beautiful. Squall kneeled before her now, completely helpless from his own desires. He stretched a trembling hand towards her, gently caressing the side of her face, reveling in the silken feel of her cheek beneath his calloused fingers.
Esperanza had been watching him closely from her position at the opposite end of the couch ever since she caught his scent as he descended the stairs. She had been silent and watchful up until this point, knowing that he was not a threat. But there were limits to what she would allow, especially with her master in such a defenseless position. It was a comfort zone that had precise boundaries and the man just crossed them.
A low growl brought the headmaster quickly to his senses. He turned and saw the dog he hadnt noticed before and cursed himself for not paying more attention. It growled again and bared its teeth this time for emphasis. He moved his hands slowly away from the girl and held them up submissively. This did not appease the canine who continued to get louder.
The damn thing was going to wake her up and here he would be sitting here in front of her looking like a complete moron. Squall began crawling backwards on his hands. Years of training had taught him to move cautiously when cornered by an animal that feels threatened. Sudden movements could cause them to attack. Apparently though he wasnt moving fast enough for Esperanza who suddenly rose from her lying position and barked.
It was enough to send him flying backwards in shock across the floor. It was a short flight with an abrupt end in the form of a green armchair. He knocked the back of his head against one of the arms and nearly screamed at the pain.
Son of a... He groaned clutching his skull. He heard the sound of shifting cloth and quickly pulled himself up into the chair. He hastily took his hand away and tried desperately to look normal.
Rinoa yawned rubbing her eyes wearily before focusing them on the ceiling. For the last time Esperanza you are not an alarm clo. She stopped short as she saw a figure sitting across from her out of the corner of her eye. The young woman shot up in surprise.
Yeah...sorry to wake you. He managed.
No, dont be. Its alright. She brought herself out from underneath the layers of blankets into a sitting position. Are you okay?
No, your dog tried to kill me.
Im fine. He said trying his best to mask the pain.
She stood and made her way over to where he was sitting. One look into his eyes told her differently. You dont look fine.
He shrugged in defeat. I have a little headache.
Little huh? She replied skeptically. Let me get you some ice for that.
Squall watched as she retreated around the corner into the kitchen. He felt something hit his knee and looked down to see Esperanza gazing up at him with a soulful expression.
He narrowed his eyes at the dog. Oh sure, now you want to be friends. She grunted and nuzzled his hand. He sighed and scratched behind one of her ears. No hard feelings but if you tell her Ill kill you. Esperanza responded by yawning and then panting happily. When he withdrew his hand, she turned and trotted to the kitchen to join her master.
He heard the sound of the ice shifting and decided she was having to use an ice pick to break it apart. A few of the cubes popped and skidded against the linoleum. He wondered if he should go and help her but decided against it. She wasnt a child; it would probably just insult her if he did.
A few moments later, she returned carrying a towel that was made into a makeshift ice pack. She tossed it from one hand to the other like a hot potato, her face seemingly contorted in great discomfort.
Here, she said hurriedly tossing it into his direction. Squall caught it and looked at her with perplexity. Rinoa cupped her hands around her mouth and began breathing forcefully into them.
The sorceress nodded while continuing to warm her hands. When she was finally able to knock the chill off of them she spoke. My body is intolerant to cold temperatures. It was the one complication I had from being unsealed. I cant be out in below freezing temperatures. And even above it doesnt take much to send me into shivering fits. Thats why I have to dress like Im going ice fishing in the middle of March and sleep under a mountain of quilts, she said pointing to the couch.
You have to live like that for the rest of your life? He was once again overwhelmed with guilt that he was responsible for bringing this on her.
She shrugged. Its a small price to pay. Im getting used to it. She hadnt meant the statement to come out so casual, indifference had become her coping mechanism. He looked at her with a confused and penitent expression.
Its no big deal really.
Squall averted his gaze to the floor and held the towel full of ice against the side of his head. He had no idea what to say, where to begin. The words seemed to come so easy before, when she was just a vision in his nightmares.
Rinoa shuffled her feet in the uncomfortable silence. She was torn on exactly what to tell him. A part of her thrilled beyond measure that he was here, while the other reminded her of his words and the truth that he really didnt give a damn about her. She decided to be safe, and just change the subject altogether. Something safe something harmless.
Are you hungry? I can fix you something. It might help your headache.
He remained lost in his thoughts, trying desperately to uncover them and piece together all of the things he needed to tell her. I guess, he replied halfheartedly. In truth he had no use for food at the moment, but maybe this would give him enough time to think.
Okay, Ill go start something. She was relieved just to get out of the room. There was so much tension in there one could cut it with a knife.
The girl entered the kitchen and looked around in uncertainty. She didnt know the first thing about cooking a large breakfast. Her staples since she had gotten there had been toast and cold cereal. Cooking was one of those things she needed to learn and had bought the supplies to do so. However, she hadnt planned on her first practice run to be so intimidating.
Its okay Rinoa, get a grip. This is just breakfast. Breakfast foods are simple right? Itll be a piece of cake.
She opened the refrigerator door with her small amount of newfound confidence. The groceries stared back at her menacingly. Okay so what the heck does he eat? The confidence suddenly dived into a life boat and abandoned ship. At that moment it occurred to her that she knew absolutely nothing about him. None of his likes or dislikes. She couldnt remember what he ate while they were at Garden. That brief time now felt like eons ago. What exactly had she been thinking that night in Esthar Garden? She felt like such an idiot. A carton of eggs in the refrigerator door caught her eye. Eggs eggs were a start.
Squall? She yelled into the living room.
Do you like eggs?
This was turning out well. Scrambled eggs should be easy enough; she wouldnt have to worry about turning them and breaking the yolks. Rinoa grabbed a nearby mixing bowl and began cracking the eggs and dropping the contents into the container. As she began stirring them, she glanced at the cabinets above her trying to remember where the cookware was stored.
Squall looked around the living area for the first time. It was different than he remembered eight years ago. The bar had been taken out which opened the room considerably. Boxes were stacked in one of the far corners; most of them still taped up and untouched. The room did however have an air of warmth about it despite its size and the disarrayed moving boxes. It was more like a home. He certainly felt a great deal more comfortable than it did the last time he was here. Although in truth, he couldnt tell if it was really the house or her. A collage of color suddenly caught his eye and he turned his attention to the dining table near the kitchen. He stood slowly and walked towards it. The fragrance hit his nose before he reached them. They were flowers familiar flowers.
When they were in the flower shop on their first visit here he remembered...he remembered telling her about irises. He didnt know why he told her, he felt like a fool afterwards. Matron had taken it upon herself to teach all of them about flowers when he lived at the orphanage. Why the hell that memory decided to surface at that point in time he had no idea. She had been so stressed he was just trying to ease her mind a little.
Does she remember? Is that why she has them?
That was just stupid. How could she remember something so pathetic? The sound of something hitting the floor in the kitchen was enough to startle him from his thoughts. Inwardly he cursed himself for staring at the flowers for far too long.
Damn it. Rinoa said aloud as she lost the grip on the frying pan which hit the linoleum with a resonating gong. She tried to steady herself, nearly losing her balance standing on the counter top.
You know, whoever designed this house must have been really tall. She said to no one in particular while she repositioned her footing. The young woman gasped sharply in surprise as a hand closed around her bicep. She looked down and saw Squall gazing back up at her. He helped her off of the counter and onto the floor.
Thanks. She said smiling slightly.
After a few moments he suddenly became aware that he was still holding on to her and released her arm hesitantly. God he had to get a grip on himself.
Do you need some help?
Oh no, its fine I just she sighed in defeat. Learning to cook is still on my to-do list.
Its okay. Squall said as he picked the pan up off the floor and placed it on the stove. I can cook a little.
The slight pressure of someone nuzzling at her leg stopped Rinoa before her mind could muster a reply. The canine rubbed her nose into her masters calves, gently herding her towards the front door. In all her distress about cooking breakfast, she had neglected taking Esperanza out for her morning rituals. There were many commands the dog understood, however wait until after breakfast wasnt among them.
Hold on girl, Ill take you outside. She made a gesture toward the entrance with two fingers. The dog quickly ran over, wagging her tail in delight. The words would go unheard by her deaf companion, but the young woman had brought herself into the habit of speaking to the dog. It was the only form of company she had on a daily basis, and without her, she wasnt sure how much sanity wouldve remained.
Im going to have to take Esperanza for a quick walk.
Ill be right back.
He didnt answer this time, completely awestruck watching her walk to the front door. There was a heavy winter coat hanging on a nearby hook. At first Squall hadnt given it too much thought, but she grabbed it, putting it on, and zipping it up all the way. Without turning his head, the headmaster peered out a small atrium window over the sink. Through the potted plants and assorted ceramic figurines, he could make out a few townspeople outside going about their daily business. They appeared to be wearing either windbreakers or thick sweaters. He returned his gaze towards her, hating to see her bundled up like it was the middle of the winter. The heavily dressed woman was leaning over, scratching the dog affectionately behind the ear. When the canine seemed content with her masters attention, she turned toward the door barking in anticipation of the impeding freedom.
Rinoa said a few words to Esperanza that he couldnt decipher as she finally opened the front door. The dog ran out with the enthusiasm of an eager student at recess. She closed the door behind her without as much as a second glance toward him. He was honestly relieved, because for the third time today, he would have been caught hopelessly staring.
He sighed as he watched her cross the cobblestone street in front, heading toward a small overgrown field. The young mans heart sank again, as the guilt started to once again consume his mind. Maybe it was the reality of seeing her dressed so unseasonably or maybe it was from the fear of taking his eyes off her. Whatever it was would have to wait, because right now, he was burning the toast.
No Leonhart, she repeated, trying not to let the stress take over. Yesterday, he was supposed to check-in yesterday.
Im sorry, but there is nobody here with that name.
Could you just please check the registry again? Maybe you missed him the first, second, or third-
Maam we only have two guests here, and both are female. This isnt exactly a tourist hotspot.
Elise rubbed her temples trying to get any relief from the pounding in her head, not even the aspirin was helping. What about any bed-and-breakfasts in the area, or another place he could have stayed?
No, were it. I mean, if he knows someone here, or has family but theres no public boarding rooms. People here arent exactly open to strangers staying with them.
She sighed in defeat, the worry inevitably seeping through the cracks. Thanks anyway Can I leave a message for him, just in case he does show up?
Just tell him that Elise called, and wanted to make sure that he She stopped herself. Every time it looked as if she were checking up, he would pull away that much further. Just tell him Elise called.
Do you need to leave a number?
He knows it.
Placing the phone down, she had to laugh at the irony if he knew it, why in the hell didnt he call? He had the night before from the hotel, but now, he seemed to have been pulled into a black hole distorting time and space, its event horizon laying somewhere between Timber and Winhill. It always felt as he was being drawn toward the same singularity, the same equation, the same factor Rinoa Heartilly. No matter how hard he tried, gravity wouldnt allow him to escape. It was the worst of her fears being realized, in twenty-four hours he had stumbled once again into old habits. She wouldnt be surprised if he was sleeping somewhere, recovering from his binge the night before.
And all because of her.
The sound of her fingernails tapping the desk filled the room like a rhythmic drum. She tried to retrace his steps, figuring out where he could have traveled from Timber. The possibilities were endless hell, for all she knew he could still be there, passed out cold in an alleyway. What troubled her most was how many times he allowed his cell phone to go unanswered. It wasnt like him to ignore his messages completely, and for so long. He had been good at covering his tracks where his faults were concerned, something she knew all too well.
If this had involved anyone else, she wouldnt have worried so. He could handle any situation with ease, except one This one. This is when his heart ruled over his head, and the consequences usually ended up in more paperwork.
One last time. She would try the cell phone one last time. It was past dawn now in Winhill, and maybe well, just maybe Right now maybe was the only piece of sanity she had within her grasp. She dialed the number one more time, one she had memorized by their second date four years ago.
The rows of flowers moved like small waves within the ocean, as rows upon rows of vibrant shades danced in the wind. The woman looked over to where the earth met the sky, shaking her head at the sight. There was something brewing on the horizon, time and experience had taught her that much folklore was rooted in truth. Her feathered companion was oblivious to the hues, only doing his job, watching for trespassers. Although allowing himself small breaks to search the ground for gyshal greens, which may have unexplainably appeared overnight.
Maude closed her eyes before turning her attention back to the flowers in front of her. Lucky, I dont like the color of that sky one bit. There is never anything good that can come out of a red sky in the morning. And I think were already going to have enough drama around here to make our own soap opera. Squall Leonhart could put Kyle McCarthy to shame then again, if Kyle had walked into the shop
Wark! Wark! The bird interrupted, flapping his wings frantically.
Yeah fine. If that hot chocobo shows up from down the way, dont think Im going to give you fresh straw for your bed.
Lucky moved over to his master, prodding her to get up with his beak. What is it boy? Find another handsome young stud unconscious in the field I was only kidding about Kyle, but hey finders keepers. She followed the bird, finally hearing the sound that was driving him to his momentary panic attack. Reaching down, she picked up a silver cell phone that was sounding. Hello?
Im sorry I must have dialed the wrong number. A female voice responded apologetically.
Wait, are you looking for a handsome man about 5 8, killer rear view, but a bit of a quick temper?
Arent we all sweetheart, but I think yours might be here.
Im sorry who is this?
Maude Maude McCay.
There was silence from the other end, thinking that older woman was going to continue with some relevant information to the conversation. When there was none, the younger woman asked slightly confused, Ms. McCay is Squall Leonhart there?
Here? No hun, Im standing in the middle of a flower field, up to my ankles in sh- I mean fertilizer.
Okay, okay let me start over. Im Elise Dr. Vandermere and Im looking for Squall Leonhart.
A doctor, hey?
Yes, yes a doctor now is he around?
Nah, he must have dropped this phone after the chocobo knocked him out cold. You should have seen it, one good whack and he was flatter than a blobra in extreme gravity. But while I have you on the line, I wanted to ask you about my--
What? Squall? Is he okay?
Mr. Personality? Hell pull through; just will be a bigger headache than he already is
Where is he?
Oh, we carted him away.
Excuse me, you what?
Well, we tied Lucky hes my pet chocobo, although he doesnt like to be referred to as a pet he feels it is demeaning towards him. He prefers feathered business associate. He likes to remind me quite often that he does more than his share of Wait, where was I?
Elise thought the woman had to be kidding. This had to be some morbid joke that Squall was playing, but Squall didnt have this much of an imagination no one in the world would have this much imagination.
Maude, Ms. McCay, I am glad about your chocobo, but could you please just tell me what happened to my fiancée?
Fiancée, huh lucky girl.
Elise wanted to scream. Yes...yes
He is fine, hes recovering at my partners house and dont worry - this one doesnt have feathers.
Is there any way I can talk with him, please?
Sure no problem. Let me just finish this up and Ill run the phone by the house. Im sure hes frantically looking for it.
Thank you. Elise said with a little more conviction.
No problem dear, now dont you worry. Ill keep a good eye on your young man, make sure he feels right at home. The older woman didnt wait for a response as she turned off the phone before placing it in her jacket. She turned to Lucky who was now intently locked in a starting contest with his reflection in a nearby pond. Well boy, guess his fiancée is worried about him. A doctor no less. The chocobo made no attempt to move afraid that his stealthy comrade might win by default.
Maude sighed as she looked up toward the clouds that seemed to be moving in quickly. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning Sorry Elise whatever is on the horizon is going to affect everyone.
The earth sank beneath Rinoas feet as she followed her companion into a small meadow. Why Esperanzas field of choice had to be a short stride away, she couldnt comprehend. The grass outside their backdoor would suit her needs just as reasonably. The young sorceress watched as the dog ran around in circles, and then appeared to be chasing a few butterflies that had been resting in the tall stalks of grass. At least she hoped they were butterflies, Angelo once did the same thing, unfortunately it was a small colony of bite bugs. Who knew one could use calamine lotion on dogs?
She laughed inwardly at the memory, realizing how much she missed her old companion. But she had led a good full life, Selphie made sure of that. Rinoa only wished that she could thank the young woman, but knew that would be out of the question. And it was in moments like this, she could see Angelos mannerisms in Esperanza. Still it was hard to think that Angelo was a great-grandmother by now, and her children were all over the world helping save others lives. That alone brought her incredible consolation.
Rinoa glanced over to the building shed called home for the last months. Part of her wanted to run back in, afraid that he would be gone by the time she had returned. The other part of her wanted to stay out here, this was safe. She had always found a strange serenity while being among nature, even if that meant putting up with the occasional bite bug.
It was then that she looked beyond the horizon of their residence, seeing the bright colors dancing in the sky. It was the most vibrant shades shed ever imagined. The burgundy and ginger hues almost looked like mountaintops and the sweeping wave design seemed to alternate patterns like an oceans current. Or if you looked long enough, you could see the top spikes of a dragon, concealed in the blood-red sea. The scales were lined in shades of auburn and the face was hidden within the waters depths. It was not seeing the face that was the most haunting.
The daybreak was the most stunning, yet most fear-provoking, natural phenomenon she had ever witnessed. She felt a chill run through her body, although this time, it was not brought on by the temperatures surrounding her. The dog must have sensed her masters uneasiness, and Rinoa felt a nose dig into her leg.
Im okay. She answered, patting the canine on the head in affirmation. You ready to go back inside?
The dog tilted her head slightly to one side, not understanding the humans words. Rinoa smiled apologetically at Esperanza, giving her another hand command and the dog took off toward their house. She followed behind, trudging out of the field. Putting her hands in the fur-lined pockets of her coat, Rinoa looked back up to the dragon form guarding the sunrise. The sky didnt sit right with her, and she knew that a storm was approaching. She only hoped that whatever it was would pass as quickly as the serpentine creature no longer visible in the clouds.
A rush of warm air hit her in the face as she opened the door. She tried to shake the apprehension from her mind trying to convince herself that it was just some random cloud cover, or that it would make a detour around Winhill. A storm was the last thing she needed right now. Esperanza trotted in beside her and shook herself from head to tail as if to knock off any foreign invaders that may have tried to catch a free ride. Rinoa knelt down to the dogs level and rubbed her head playfully.
The smell of toast caught her nose and she turned to see Squall raking out the remaining eggs from the pan onto a plate. It didnt feel like she has been gone that long, maybe eight minutes tops. She figured she would be back in time to help him. But here he was putting the food on the table. Needless to say, she was shocked.
Wow Squall, Im impressed. He looked so odd as a cook. It was almost humorous and she tried to control the laugh that threatened to rise from her throat.
He looked up at the sound of her voice and his heart skipped a beat. She was smiling. It was the first time since he had been here that she had smiled like that. That smile that had captivated him from the beginning. Years of memories flashed before his eyes and he saw her at seventeen again, when the world seemed less cruel and hope was not some fleeing creature that existed only in childrens bedtime stories.
Her smile faded and was replaced with a look of concern. You okay?
He broke from his daze quickly and resumed his task. Fine.
Your heads still hurting isnt it? God, here he was injured and she had basically made him cook breakfast well she never asked him but she cursed herself for allowing him. She shouldnt have even permitted him to get out of bed.
His headache yes that was a good cover. Yeah but its better than it was.
Im so sorry.
Dont be, its fine. Everythings ready come sit down. He hoped the burning fire that rushed through his cheeks wasnt a visible one
Rinoa obliged his request and sat in the chair across from him. Quietly she observed the spread of food before her. Eggs, toast, and some sliced fruit that she had completely forgotten about in the refrigerator.
Thank you, she said feeling painfully sheepish at the sound of her voice. It looks wonderful. You really didnt have to do this, I must be the worst host on the planet.
He shook his head as he spread a pat of butter on his toast. I really dont mind. I do it a lot. He didnt add the fact that he also screwed it up a lot. He hoped something would come along and eat that evidence in the form of the burnt toast he had thrown out the window before she returned.
The sorceress stirred the contents of her coffee cup. What are cooking classes part of some SeeD training requirement? She had meant it as a good natured joke.
Later, he would regret the next words out of his mouth. He would hate himself for breaking the short lived dam of blissful peace with a mere handful of words. Unbeknownst to him, Squall Leonhart would say the worst thing he could possibly say.
No, Elise usually leaves for work before I do, so I usually get stuck with the duty of throwing something together. Neither of us have time to get anything at the cafeteria.
The room went dead silent. It was if all the oxygen had been sucked out through an airlock into space. Squall continued as if he had said nothing, taking a sip of his coffee.
It was as if a bombshell had been dropped into her lap all over again. Hell, he might as well have leaned across the table and slit her throat with the butter knife. She didnt think it would feel much different. She closed her eyes, feeling the anger rising, not so much for him but for herself. Angry that for a few brief moments she had forgotten herself, she had forgotten this situation, and for a split second, she actually believed that things could be as they were before.
Wayward Tempest's Fanfiction