Chapter 6- And the Skies Opened Up
Squall wasn't sure how long he stood out in the flower field, alone, staring at the sky. It could have been long hours, or maybe even mere minutes, he wasn't sure. He'd lost track. The clouds rolled by, grey and menacing, suggesting that he might be seeing a storm soon. Squall ignored the cool breeze that swept around him, lifted from the ocean's surface. He could smell the salt in the damp, chilly wind mixed in with the scent of the flowers he was surrounded by.
Squall could've cared less. Let it storm. It was already storming inside of him enough as it was. Maybe if it rained on him, it might wash away a little of his pain and help ease the storm brewing inside of himself. The young SeeD ran a hand through his hair and looked around him, thinking of how differently his whole life would've been had Laguna known about him.
Why couldn't it have been different? If Ellone had told me about Laguna, we could've informed Matron and Cid of this and found him. We could've had an entirely different childhood. Not one built on abandonment and loneliness...
Squall sighed as he walked quietly around the field when we heard a sound of rustling grass behind him. There was a small whine and the Commander turned around to see Rinoa's faithful companion, Angelo, but no sign of Rinoa herself, just her dog. He looked up at Squall with an almost understanding look in her doggy expression and gave another whine. The young man turned to crouch down and pat Angelo on top of the head.
"What do you think?" he asked the dog who wagged her tail nub in response. "Do you think that if I had known I had a father things would've been different? My life would've been different?" He knew it was silly, but Squall still couldn't help but feel robbed of having that sort of experience. Would I have chosen the path I'm on now? Would life not have been so lonely for me and less complicated? Would I have not missed out on all those good things in life that Rinoa and I talked about? Squall sighed and shook his head.
"It's so hard to figure this out," he admitted quietly to the dog. Am I really angry with Laguna, or am I just angry because I never had that opportunity to experience what it was like to even have a parent? My mother, Raine... she died giving birth to me. Did she die to bring me into this world? Why? Why does that have to happen? I understand death can take a person at any time, but why does it have to be so painful and hard? Why do people have to become just a memory or never a memory at all but someone you could have known? Like a parent? Like... a mother?
Angelo nudged at Squall's hand as it had stopped petting her head and gave a breathy whimper. Her chocolatey, puppy eyes stared directly into Squall's. "I just don't know anymore, Angelo," the young SeeD spoke in barely above a whisper, giving Angelo one last scratch behind his ears before standing up once more to look at the sky. He felt a small drop of rain splash on his face. Squall stepped out a little further into the field, trying to piece together his conflicting thoughts.
Get close, though... What if I did? Everyone seems to want me to give Laguna a chance. What if I listen to Rinoa and Ellone, and I do give him a chance? What if we get close and have a real father and son relationship, but then one day Laguna is just taken from me the same way Ellone was? Nobody can predict the future, but there's always the what-ifs, so what if I did that and that happened? I don't think I could handle it. No, I know I couldn't.
What if Laguna gets to know me, the real me, and doesn't like me? What if he decides that he has a disgrace for a son? What if he decided he didn't want me after all, just like those other adults that came to the orphanage didn't want me? Nobody wanted a quiet, introverted, sulky kid, right? I doubt Laguna wouldn't want me either. I just don't know... I just don't know how to do this. I can't handle this. I can't deal with this! It's too much to think about!
Squall gazed down at Angelo, feeling his knees weaken and his resolve waver. "I just can't do this." And without warning, Squall collapsed onto the ground, feeling much like he had felt back when was lost in time before Rinoa had saved him from seemingly inevitable fate. "I don't even know what I'm doing, so how can I do this?" he murmured and Angelo sat in front of him, whining softly, her small puppy head tilting. Squall never noticed Rinoa had been hiding behind a crumbling pillar watching every moment, observing every word Squall had said.
As she stepped out, Squall could hear the sounds of her footsteps on the white pavement before she began rustling through the flowers and grass. He hung his head, listlessly, not bothering to look back in her direction but he knew she was there. He could sense her presence stronger than ever. Rinoa... she's here. She came out here and found me. Just like we promised... Not wanting to admit to himself that he honestly did need Rinoa at a time like this, he was more grateful than anything that she had shown. However, what happened next though, he did not expect.
Rinoa dropped to her knees behind Squall and threw her arms around his neck, holding him tightly, pulling his body back against hers and laid the side of her face against the top of his head. The initial shock wore off, and it reminded him of back on the Ragnarok when they were floating together in space how Rinoa just fell right into his lap and wrapped her arms around him then, cupping the side of his face in her hand. With one arm around him, she did the exact same thing with her other hand, soft and gentle, her thumb gently stroking his chin.
Squall began to tremble slightly, unsure of why, but he leaned into Rinoa's comfort, doing his best to keep control of his emotions. He wasn't sure if he just wanted to be silent, or if he wanted to break into another aggressive action, or if he just wanted to cry. The Commander silently cursed himself for feeling so weak. This wasn't how a Commander was supposed to act, but he couldn't help from it. Too much had been laid onto his shoulders, the anvil baring its weight had finally sent him to the ground. Squall tried hard to swallow back the burning lump rising his throat and took a deep breath, letting out a heavy sigh to try and calm himself; to clear his mind. It was starting to rain now, very lightly, a soft, cool mist of sprinkles falling on him and Rinoa, and despite her hold on him, he shivered.
"Everything will be okay, Squall," Rinoa's tender voice sounded from behind him. She squeezed him just a little harder and he drew his knees up as if trying to hold in all of his pain with just that action alone. Rinoa had probably never seen him so vulnerable, and Squall himself wasn't sure of the last time he felt this way. He lay his head back against her and closing his lightly colored, blue eyes with letting the calmness of her voice soothe him.
"I know it will. It'll get better, but you have to let us help you if you want it to. Let me help you, Squall." She laid her face next to his own, her breath tickling his ear with every word. "As soon as I felt Garden land, I knew you would be out here. I saw you destroy those pillars," she added sheepishly. Squall could feel his cheeks warming, slightly embarrassed that the girl he loved could witness him in such a sight.
"Sorry," was all he barely managed to say, keeping his eyes closed so he wouldn't have to look at anything around him. He was content as he could be like this just for now.
Rinoa shook her raven colored head. "No, don't be sorry. It wasn't something you could keep locked up inside forever, but Squall... going around and destroying things won't make it any less hard. "We can fix this, Squall. We can figure everything out together," the young sorceress encouraged him, soft determination heard in her voice.
"...How?" Squall croaked, cringing at how terribly weak and pathetic his voice sounded. He honestly did want to know how because he wasn't even sure himself how he could go about figuring all of this out. He leaned forward once more, dropping his face into his hand, allowing his fingers to thread through his hair.
"I'm not entirely sure, but anything can be figured out if you just try," she squeezed her knight once more before letting go of him, and Squall felt strangely empty as the warmth of Rinoa's arms left his shoulders. She stood up and walked around to the front of him, crouching down and tilting her head lightly. "Just trust us. We can help you do this."
A bitter laugh escaped Squall's lips, indicating that didn't believe it could happen, and he felt more strongly in his heart than ever that it couldn't. He didn't know how to make it work, how to fix it or how to make it better. There were so many questions he had that begged to be answered, so many feelings he could feel that it felt like it was overtaking his every sense of being.
He couldn't figure out if he were angry at Laguna for not taking responsibility for Ellone and coming to the orphanage to get her, thus discovering he had a baby boy waiting for him. He couldn't figure out if he were still angry at Ellone for keeping something like this from him for all of these years. He couldn't figure out if he was angry at himself, or if he was just scared to try, or scared to get close, because of his fear of abandonment, and fear of having that sense of comfort taken away from him, just like he'd explained to Rinoa once before.
But, Rinoa... She was different. She was the exception. He could protect her and keep her close to him at all times. Rinoa wouldn't go anywhere, she wouldn't leave him all alone in the cold. He could feel Rinoa reach out and grasp his wrist, pulling his hand away from his face. "Squall, please. Please just talk to me. Tell me what you're thinking. Tell me how I can help! I want to help you with this. I want to be there for you like you were for me," she pleaded softly, her grasp on his wrist not relenting. "Let me rescue you this time."
Rescue me...? "I don't want to talk about it, Rinoa. I can't talk about it, and I don't need rescuing," Squall snapped, not really meaning to, but he lifted his scarred face now, locking eyes hard with Rinoa's. He saw her eyes widen, her eyebrows draw upward, and her mouth slightly fall open, and he knew. He knew that Rinoa could see the terrible pain and the anger that was thoroughly visible in his stormy, blue eyes and now he was causing her pain. She drew back, slightly, grasping the rings that hung from the silver chain on her neck, but did not break his stare. "I heard you and Quistis," he began, his voice growing quiet now. "I heard everything you said."
Rinoa hung her dark head in shame. "Squall," she began softly, sounding afraid he'd be extremely angry with her. "Please understand I didn't tell Quistis to betray you because I would never do that. It was just that I needed to talk to someone about this I could trust. Quistis cares about you just as much as I do, and so does everyone else. We just feel bad for you, Squall and this entire situation you're in. You just keep closing us off. All we want to do is help you."
Without warning, Squall stood up, jerking Rinoa's hand away from his arm, and stood tall as the soft rain that had started to fall began to pick up speed and consistency. It was coming down a lot harder than before, soaking the both of them to the bone, but the young Commander did not care. Rinoa stood up as well, facing him, her face filled with surprise and hurt that Squall would act in such a manner toward her after all they had been through. "I don't need your sympathy, or anyone else's," he replied, coldness dripping in his tone, and he turned his back toward her, letting the rain crash into his face as he lifted his head toward the sky and closed his eyes.
Rinoa had had enough. "Why! Why after everything, everything we have been through together, are you shutting me out now!" the young sorceress finally exploded. "Why won't you let me in, Squall! I know you're hurting! I know this is killing you! I can see it! I don't understand why you think you have to put on some big, bad brave, ridiculously stupid farce pretending you're just fine and 'you don't want to talk about it' when I know it's eating you alive!" Rinoa grabbed at his arm, much like Ellone had and tried to pull him around, but he kept firm, not allowing her to get the better of him. She made sniffling sound from behind him and Squall cursed himself once more. Great, now he'd hurt Rinoa. When was he going to just stop screwing up so much?
"I'm here for you, Squall," Rinoa's voice trembled with oncoming tears. "Why won't you let me help you with this? Why won't you let me in? I thought you trusted me. I thought... I thought you loved me," her voice broke off with a hitch of her breath, followed by a sob, and Squall turned around, looking at the sorceress once more, and despite the rain, he could see her dark, chocolate eyes swimming with tears, which within moments, were now spilling down her cheeks in steady streams, mixing with the rain. He hated seeing her cry, and he hated himself even more for being the one to make her cry, but what he didn't realize was that Rinoa wasn't crying for herself, and it took him a moment to realize that she was crying for him. That alone just made him even more furious.
"Dammit, Rinoa!" Squall finally lost control, the dam that he had so carefully constructed inside of himself couldn't hold back the pressure anymore, and it burst. Wide open. "Of course I trust you! Of course, I love you!" He ignored Rinoa's gasp at his words, and he realized to himself that this was the first time he'd ever told his sorceress that he loved her, but he did and he wasn't about to stop now. Even if he tried to maintain his thoughts, they were rising to the surface and being pinned down with words now, and he realized he had no control over what he was saying. His voice was growing louder with every word. "I just don't know how to deal with this! Isn't this my problem anyway and not yours? Why would I want to burden the people I care about with my own, stupid issues. Not only that, but none of you would understand! You wouldn't even begin to understand!" Squall could feel his heart throbbing in his chest, his breaths coming in great, sharp heaves as every ounce of emotion, of anger, of resentment, of rage came billowing out of him like a waterfall.
"Don't you understand this at all? No, you wouldn't because you've never been there! I lived alone for 17 years with no parents at all, and then just one day out of nowhere, I have a father? Is he alive? And Ellone knew about this! She knew Laguna was my dad but never bothered to tell me! On top of that, just say that I do get close to Laguna like everyone wants me to. What if I do give him a chance, and I lose him! Just like that! What if he disappears?" Squall tried to force himself to stop, but he just couldn't. What would Rinoa think after she heard all of this? That he was just a selfish, whiny brat that didn't get his way as a child? He didn't care anymore. Why did it matter anyway?
"What if he decides he doesn't want me for a son, what then? I spent weeks of my childhood watching adults come to this orphanage and adopt the other kids, but not me, never me. Nobody ever wanted me. I watched these kids get lifted into their new mom or dad's arms and be cuddled and loved on. I never got to experience that. I never got to even know what that was like beyond Ellone. She was the only one I had, and when I was just 4 years old, she disappeared and I was left all alone again. I cannot deal with that, Rinoa. I can't. I can't get close to someone else and have them taken away from me, because then what are you left with? Loneliness, and it's so miserable." Squall took a shaky breath, trying to calm himself, while Rinoa walked forward and grabbed his hands into hers.
"But you got close to me, Squall. Doesn't that count for something?" Rinoa paused for a moment, trying to get him to look at her and she gave his hands a careful shake. "What about all of your friends? What about Quistis, Zell, Selphie, and Irvine? You're close with them, aren't you? Don't tell me you're not because I know you care about them, and even though you're not seeing eye to eye, you're close with Ellone too. That's no different than Laguna, Squall."
"It's incredibly different," Squall replied, his voice lowering. "I can protect you, Rinoa. I can keep you safe. My friends are SeeDs. They're strong and they can protect themselves. You won't disappear from me like Ellone did." Squall took another breath, his lips parting slightly. "Rinoa, this isn't just something that can be fixed with a friendly chat. Laguna had no responsibility for his step-daughter. I understand he had a duty to the citizens of Esthar. I even appreciate that fact, but don't people always say that family should come first? Why didn't it come first before Esthar?"
Rinoa just nodded her dark head silently silently, allowing him to speak, eyes never leaving Squall's. "If he would've just came back, Rinoa... If he would've come and found Ellone in the orphanage, he would've discovered that he had a son. He would've found me, like I'm sure Raine would've wanted. M-my mother (he found himself almost struggling to say the word 'mother') would have wanted Laguna to raise Ellone and me together, and he didn't. He just left Ellone here. He left us here. He left me here, Rinoa and I spent 13 years alone as a result." Squall's voice was beginning to lose it's steady tone, and his eyes were becoming disturbed by a burning wetness behind them, prompting Rinoa to reach her hands to his face, cupping it gently.
"Squall, I understand what you're saying. I really do, but you know, we can't predict the future, right? Even if something really bad like that were to happen, would you really want to miss out on the opportunity you have right now?" She questioned gently, rubbing her thumbs softly over his cheeks. "You've missed out on so much, but you're still young and you still have that ability to experience those things. Do you really want to miss out on finding out what it could be like to have a dad?"
Squall's vision became increasingly distorted from the moisture that had began flooding his eyes, and he cursed himself silently, trying to force it all back. He absolutely would not cry over this. What would Seifer say, or everyone else for that matter, if they could see their strong, silent SeeD Commander succumbing to a weakness such as crying? They would probably laugh at him for being pathetic. Squall sniffed, blinking the burning rapidly from his eyes, and pondered Rinoa's words. "I don't know," his voice cracked lightly. "It just-," stopped himself from saying it hurts. He didn't want Rinoa to know he was hurting, even though he was positive that she already knew, it was easier to just not say it out loud.
"I know," Rinoa replied in soft understanding, letting go of Squall's face and taking his hand, pulling him over to sit down on the one of the broken pillars. He followed her willingly and they took a seat together, Squall staring out at the flower field, watching the rain slow it's descent. Rinoa let out a long sigh next to him. "I think you should at least go back to Esthar and give it a try. Try and talk to Laguna. I'm not saying just open your heart to him, Squall. I know that will take some time, but maybe if you guys met up and had dinner or a drink or just sat and talked for a bit, you might be able to start somewhere. Just take baby steps."
Squall just shook his head, looking away from Rinoa. "I honestly don't know if I can," he admitted, and he felt Rinoa's hand on his face once more, pulling it back to look at her.
"Squall, listen. I have a horribly estranged relationship with my father because of certain circumstances that both he and I allowed to tear us apart," she began, her face flickered with pain. "I miss the days where my dad used to hold me and hug me or tell me he loved me. I can't remember the last time he did that with me, and as angry as I am at him, I still miss it and I long for it. Nobody should have to go in their lifetime without knowing what it's like to feel comfort from a parent, Squall." He could see that Rinoa was trying hard, and as much as he hated it, she was getting through to him. She was probably the only person who could.
Rinoa wasn't done though. "You have that opportunity now. I don't want to see you and Laguna become driven apart like me and my father over something like this when this is an issue that can worked out. I'm not saying it'll happen overnight. It will take some time, but it can be fixed," the young sorceress did her best to explain. "It would break my heart to see the same thing happen to you. Laguna isn't even anything like my father. He's not cold and uncaring. He is so full of happiness and cheer and love, something my father hasn't shown in a long time, and you should let him fill your life with what that feels like. I know he wants to, Squall. Just give him that chance."
Without warning, Squall pulled Rinoa close to him, wrapping his arms around her tight and laying his head on her shoulder, face against her neck and he closed his eyes, breathing softly, allowing his lashes to flutter against her skin. Rinoa equally put her arms around Squall, holding him just as tightly while she ran her fingertips lightly through his slightly unkempt hair. Perhaps she was right. There was no harm in trying, right? If it didn't work, he could just move on with his life. As long as he still had Rinoa, Squall knew he'd be okay, and he had to admit, after finally talking to her about this, he did feel a bit better, but there was still that nagging feeling twinging at the back of his neck.
Maybe he did need to go talk to Laguna. He didn't want Rinoa hurting for him, and he knew that he didn't want to hurt like this anymore either. Maybe what he needed was just a new start with Laguna. Start over from the beginning, get to know the guy more than what he knew from when Ellone sent his consciousness back into Laguna's past. Perhaps there was more to the President of Esthar than meets the eye. "I still don't know I feel about this, but I'll give it a try," he finally sighed into her neck before lifting his head and holding her back slightly to take in her beautiful expression that had changed from sadness to hope. "I'll do this for you."
"Don't do it just for me, Squall. Do it for yourself too," she couldn't help but smile at him, and Squall, though still feeling somewhat reluctant about the entire thing, gave her a small smile himself. "You should also go and talk to Ellone too. You guys need to make up. She just needs to understand how you feel too."
Squall nodded his head. That much he could agree too. He had to admit that it frustrated him that Ellone couldn't seem to see how or why Squall was hurting, or that she just seemed mainly focused on how Laguna was feeling, but he also didn't like being at odds with her. He didn't want to fight with his Sis. He reached a gloved hand to brush back some of Rinoa's raven locks. "I'll try." He cupped her chin and lowered his face toward hers.
"That's all I ask," Rinoa breathed softly and lifted her own just as equally. Their lips had barely brushed when Rinoa surprised Squall. "You know," she breathed against his own. "You finally told me you love me."
Squall's lips parted slightly, as they touched Rinoa's. "Yeah, I guess I did, didn't I?" And their lips met in a smooth, tender kiss. It was then that Squall realized he was truly in love with this girl, and how grateful he was to have her in his life, and so he blanketed himself in her, saturating himself in her comfort, her compassion, her warmth, her love.
A little while later, Squall and Rinoa soon found themselves back in Garden's central hub, surrounded by Quistis, Zell, Selphie and Irvine. They were all silent, and seemed as though they were reluctant to say anything to their Commander for fear of setting him off. Squall felt a twinge of guilt for making his friends feel that way as it wasn't his intention, but he had been so caught up in his own swirl of thought and emotion that his actions only spoke for themselves and not actually what he was feeling.
Squall had never been that great at expressing himself, but he had to admit he was getting better at it, thanks to Rinoa. He stood next to her, holding her hand and their fingers intertwined as the others all stood around him, not really looking at him, but trying their best to show their attention was on their leader. The only person, asides from Rinoa, that seemed at ease with Squall was Quistis, and he knew that this was because Quistis knew the truth even though she wasn't letting on that she did. He couldn't fault Rinoa though. Sometimes you just need someone you can trust, and Quistis proved herself to be that person.
"Why don't we all go to the Quad so we can talk?" Rinoa suggested, pointing in the direction of the Quad. "That way we won't have people listening in on us and we can talk privately."
Everyone nodded their heads in agreement and followed Squall and Rinoa out to the Quad. Selphie hurried and rushed over to the stage, hopping up on it and plopping down on her rear, swinging her legs in a childlike manner. Irvine, who always tried to act cool and chill, began to strut her way, while Quistis leaned up against one side of the stage and Zell just remained stationary near Squall.
The young Commander of SeeD cleared his throat. "Listen everyone. I just wanted to apologize for the way I've been acting since we left Esthar," he began and everyone's heads snapped up, staring at Squall in astonishment. He rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. "I had just discovered some serious information that could have a huge impact on my life, not only here at Garden and as a SeeD, but as a whole. I was told that the President of Esthar, Laguna Loire, is my father."
They all gasped, while Selphie broke out in an overzealous squeal. "Oh wow, Squall! Sir Laguna is your dad!? That would be the coolest thing ever! I'd love to have Sir Laguna as my dad! He's just so awesome and fun to be around!"
"Whoa man! How did you find out about that!?" Zell blurted out, his voice sounding just as dumbfounded as the rest, his eyes nearly bugging out of his head.
"Sis told me. That was the main reason why Laguna wanted us to come to Esthar. He had to make up an excuse for seeing me, and that was hiring SeeD to help clean up the monsters and fix the city, but in reality, it was about telling me who he was." Squall explained, attempting to not sound like he was reading from a textbook. It was awkward enough trying to apologize and tell his friends what was happening, but Rinoa stood next to him, giving his hand reassuring squeezes to continue. She gave him a glance, letting him know it would be okay to say what he was thinking, silently reminding him through expression that this is what they wanted. They wanted to know what he was thinking and feeling so they could help him get through the problem.
"I... I wasn't sure how I should handle it, and so I closed up. It was my problem. It wasn't anyone else's," he stammered, sounding somewhat nervous, but did his best to keep telling them. He was making progress. "I didn't want anyone to share the burden."
"Squall, you should know better than that now," Quistis gently scolded him. "We want to share your burden so we can lift some it from your shoulders. You've had a lot put on your plate in just a matter of a day."
"That's right," Irvine drawled, nodding his head in agreement with the former Balamb Garden instructor. "You're tryin' to take on too much by yourself. We want to be able to help you with this stuff."
"Hell yeah!" Zell spoke up, his voice resounding. "Let's us help, Squall! You don't gotta handle all of Garden's operations on your own. We can step in and help you with things when the going gets tough so you can figure out the rest of your own stuff, and if you need to rant about it, we're here to lend an ear." He approached the Commander and clapped a hand gingerly on his shoulder.
Squall felt himself stiffen as Zell's hand made contact him, but it was more out of reflex than anything. It was just something he would tend to do and assumed it was most likely from closing himself off from human contact for so long. Squall relaxed a bit as Zell's hand patted his shoulder a couple of times before he withdrew it.
"Yeah! We're here for you, Squall!" Selphie joined in, hopping down off of the stage in the Quad and approached SeeD's leader with the rest of them. They were now all standing in front of him, their eyes bright with happiness and determination, and Squall felt the chill in his heart warm just a little bit at this gesture.
"Thanks," was all he could manage to respond. "Now that that corny (he ignored Selphie's protests) stuff is out of the way, we need to head back to Esthar. Zell, tomorrow after breakfast, I want you to go up to the bridge and let Nida know we're going back to Fisherman's Horizon. That's under my order. Quistis, we're going to take on this mission for Laguna. I won't be voiding the contract. I want you to go up and re-prepare the propoal for the President so I can give it to him when we get back to Esthar. Selphie and Irvine, you can help Quistis with the proposal if you so wish."
His four fellow SeeD's all saluated Squall and left to go and do as he told them, leaving him and Rinoa alone once more. He couldn't help but wonder and worry somewhat about what might be awaiting him in Esthar. Would Ellone even accept his apology? What about Kiros and Ward? Would they allow him entrance back into the city? Would they even want to talk to him? What about Laguna? He'd been so cold and uncaring toward his own father, for his own selfish purposes, he wasn't sure. Though, it was like Rinoa said. He had to try, right? He took the blue-clad girl in his arms and pulled her close to him, closing his eyes as he breathed in the scent of her shampoo and he felt her small arms tighten around his waist. I'm doing this for you Rinoa, because I know you don't want me to go through this anymore, but I also need to do this for myself, or I don't know if I'll be able to move on.