Chapter Thirty: A Time to be Born
In the darkness of the classroom, everything seemed right. There was no good, no bad, and no shades of gray. She felt veiled within the cover of shadows; she wanted to be able to fade slowly into their depths. In this realm, she would be forgotten, left to the trials of her own imagination. Here she was safe from the ignorance and the falsities of mankind; but, even here, she was not safe from her own judgment. Rinoa felt as if she had reached a silent understanding among her closest friends. They knew who, what, she had become – and they accepted her for it.
Squall accepted her for it.
She tried to forget. God, did she try to forget about that reality most of the time. She wanted to be normal. She just wanted to be regarded as an average teenager among Garden's populous - among the world. Over the last several months, she was slowly beginning to accept the awesome power that she possessed. In fact, once she had even told Squall she was glad for her fate.
But was she?
Sure, Rinoa cherished the connection she shared with her knight. But was it only due to the newness of their relationship, or her inexperience and seeming naivety of the unknown? They were both mentally and physically adolescents, but both forced to age beyond their years. In time, would he grow tired and resentful of his duty? Nothing was honestly keeping them bound together. He could wake up one morning and realize what he had gotten himself into. He could easily say goodbye and never look back, she would never have that option.
Relationships end. It was that simple. And a relationship with Squall Leonhart seemed that much more improbable the longer she thought about it. He had Garden. What did she have? She had a bunch of doubts and broken ties. She had a lot of lofty goals and idealistic dreams. Most of all, she had a world full of people who might want her blood if they learned the truth. She hadn't even the courage to tell her own father yet, how could she face the world?
She seemed to fail helplessly, no matter the circumstance.
"Rinoa," his voice softly cut through the air. It startled her at first; she had not heard anyone enter the room, though through her tears it wasn't impossible. It was pathetic that the sorceress everyone may fear – was sitting in a darkened corner curled up like a feeble child.
"How?" she managed between broken gasps.
Nobody had seen her go this way, at least she didn't believe. She could barely remember navigating through desolate halls, but she was positive that nobody had seen her. Here cloaked in the shadows of Garden, she thought she was invisible to the world, even to him.
"I don't know," he answered moving closer to the sound of her voice. "I wish I could explain. I just – something led me."
"I- I," she started but nothing further came out. She couldn't even form a cohesive statement.
Her last spoken attempt pinpointed her exact position and he made his way over, carefully sidestepping obstacles in his path. As he drew near, he could sense her confusion and fear. The knight made his way to the floor without a second thought, sitting in the space directly to her side. It was as if his senses where heightened at the moment. He could almost smell the salty tears that were falling from her eyes. He sat there with his arms resting on his knees and his back against the wall. He took full responsibility for everything she was feeling.
"Rinoa, I didn't know."
Maybe it wasn't time to question his word, but he knew so much of Garden. He spent countless hours working, training and living on its campus. How could he have not known about the others SeeDs doing the same? The White SeeDs… the ones who would inevitably train until the reign of Ultimecia. The ones that would slay her without hesitation.
He sighed. There was so much he was accountable for, so much he had dealt with over the last fifteen months. He could barely recall half of the crap laid on his desk. If it had crossed his path, if he had read it in passing, he honestly couldn't remember. And if he had glanced at it, he probably wouldn't have thought about the White SeeDs existence in the same context she did. They saw things differently – they always had when it came to Garden. Now, he couldn't blame her. After hearing Weatherly tonight, he actually feared greater for the predigest facing her.
He wouldn't lie, but he didn't know the exact truth. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "I don't think I knew, honestly I don't remember. But God Rinoa, I should have thought about it."
"They hate me," she managed pulling her legs closer and resting her head on her knees. "They want me dead. They actually train… to kill me."
"Rinoa, damn it. Stop."
Letting natural instinct take hold, he pulled her close. She didn't resist, just let herself fall into his grasp. "They don't know you. Rin, they don't hate you, they just don't understand." He didn't know whose doubt he was trying to console, hers or his. He accepted the guilt without question.
"Would you?" Rinoa sobbed no longer concerned about any perceived weakness, real or otherwise. It seemed everything was falling down and she just needed someone to sort among the debris. This was supposed to be a night she would always remember – unfortunately it turned into one she would never forget. "I'm serious Squall... if you didn't know me, would you understand?"
Again, he wasn't going to lie to her. She would expect more of him, she deserved more. "No, I wouldn't understand." With that answer her sobs grew deeper and he could feel her weight increase on his chest. "But I'd try," he said so softly it may not have been heard. He felt so helpless. He couldn't say or do the right thing. He was lost himself. After what had just transpired downstairs, he didn't know how to deal with what everyone wanted from him. Most of the time, he didn't know what he wanted from himself. How could he know about others?
"He called me a vile excuse of life."
"Who did?" Squall questioned.
"Just some… White SeeD."
"A White SeeD knows you're a sorceress?" The knight's mind began to race and a thousand scenarios started to play out in his mind. He didn't even try to conceal the falter in his voice. This was supposed to be done on their terms, he'd be damned if someone else controlled their life.
Rinoa felt his body tense and his heart quicken. She was, after all, using his body for support.
"No," Rinoa clarified. "He didn't know about me specifically, it's just what he referred to sorceresses in general. Apparently, he wasn't aware that I was your girlfriend either."
Squall felt rather embarrassed by his earlier assumption. Though that did lead to the question - what brought up the subject of a sorceress in the first place? Moreover, what did being his girlfriend have to do with anything? Now he was just as aggravated and confused as before.
"Rin, tell me exactly what happened, all right?"
"A White SeeD asked me dance." She sighed, wiping stray tears from her cheeks. "When I saw his uniform… I just… well, I guess you could say I mentally lost it. I guess he took my shock as something – well more along the lines of awe. He told me he'd protect me from the evil, vile sorceresses or something along those lines. Like he took pride in that fact."
"God, whoever thought the idea of killing me would become a pickup line."
The whole situation was almost comical in a morose way. Rinoa might have found humor in it had this not been a discussion about people wanting her blood. She moved to reposition herself as a part of his uniform was starting to leave a permanent imprint on her face. He knew that she couldn't be comfortable, not that he cared about his discomfort, but he didn't want to remain in this classroom either. There was some solace in the darkness; but he just wanted to get further away from everything to do with SeeD – well as far away as possible without leaving the building.
"Come on." He took the opportunity to maneuver into a standing position. Though he noticed she wasn't following his lead, in fact she started to collapse back onto the floor.
"Squall, there's no way I'm going back in there." Rinoa felt so childish staying on the ground, like she was a four-year-old throwing a temper tantrum in a toy store. Dealing with what the world believed, was something she was not prepared to face yet.
"I know. I would never ask you to." He thought of the irony. There was no way he was going back in there. Who knows, maybe if he even tried security would stop him after his public outburst. "Believe me, going back is the last thing on my mind too."
Reaching down again, he helped her to her feet. She was trembling in his arms. "Rinoa, I promise, I would never do that to you. Trust me."
"I do," she whispered softly, but without any hesitation. The simple response reassured him. He would deal with the world and its problems tomorrow; tonight he was oddly at peace with that aspect of his life.
Opening the door a crack, he looked out in the hallway to make sure the coast was clear. Leading her down a hall, both could hear the music's rhythm emanate from the ballroom. If she had lingered on tonight's encounter any longer, she may have been sick. Instead she focused solely on the feeling of his fingers intertwined with hers as he silently led. Before they reached where another corridor intersected, he moved to an emergency access door. Reaching into an inner jacket pocket, he produced a master keycard. If there was one major benefit to being Balamb's Commander, he would definitely say it was the use of that plastic card. So much for the fame, glory, and 'hero worship' most associated with his position. With this simple card he could escape far beyond the reach of the student body.
This change of course didn't negate Rinoa's curiosity; in fact it only piqued it further. He had this way of leading and her following blindly, such as their midnight fieldtrip to the training center in Trabia or the morning adventure to his family's mausoleum in Winhill.
"Squall, where are we going?"
"Can you climb?"
It wasn't an answer; all it did was lead her to more questions. The commander stopped after they'd walked between a set of double fire doors. At least in the stairway he felt more at ease. There was no chance of the general populous finding them without setting off an alarm. Not to mention the lighting was comforting. The only illumination was the security lights, and they pretty much left the stairwell dimmed.
"What?" she questioned. The last thing she was thinking about was climbing. Apparently he didn't have his fill of excitement after scaling a cliff this morning.
"Can you climb in your dress a little bit?"
"You mean climb, as in those?" Rinoa asked motioning to the several flights of stairs beyond the next set of doors.
"Well, yes those too, but I was meaning more like a ladder."
"Ah… yeah, guess I can. May have to take my shoes off." She worried about him sometime. But as she stated earlier, she trusted him. And she would follow without hesitation.
He smiled briefly before again taking the lead, "All right, then we're going up."
He never told her how many flights of stairs she would have to climb and likely for good reason. The sorceress was glad she had decided against counting them individually, it had to have been an overwhelming number, especially in heels. Somewhere mid-flight she had stopped and removed the offending footwear. It was easier walking in bare nylons than those atrocities. Honestly, she wished she had opted for the combat boots.
They were getting near the top, at least Rinoa figured by the length of their adventure. He stopped at a landing and unlocked a small metal door that was about waist high from the ground. Without saying anything, he jumped into the smaller space and turned around offering his hand to her.
"Um… all right."
He grinned an extremely rare smile, one where he truly looked content. She had only seen that look on a handful of occasions. Sure he would give a 'partial smirk' at times, but there was a difference, like that night on the balcony. That was the first time she had seen the beauty contained within his smile.
Lifting her into the smaller area, he managed to fit both of them in before closing the hatch door. He produced a small flashlight from his uniform pocket. Apparently, SeeDs always were prepared for anything, including unforeseen blackouts… and climbing ladders in dark, confined spaces.
"All right you go first, I'll be behind if you fall."
"Squall?" she faltered, "Um, I'm kinda wearing a dress."
He chuckled softly. "Yeah, and I promise not to be looking. I just want to be able to catch you if you start to fall. I'll manage just fine climbing with the light. I've done this several times before."
"I can tell," she responded. Then a strange thought hit her and she blurted out the words before she could truly think about them. "You mean alone, right?"
He sighed as his eyes sparkled in the illumination the flashlight offered. "Yes, Rinoa, of course."
"I'm sorry," she apologized humbly. Honestly she didn't know what possessed her to ask that, she could tell by his expression that he was slightly hurt, but the look passed just as quickly as it came.
"Just go on up, I'll be right behind."
He placed a hand on her back edging her in the direction of a metal ladder. Earlier he had pulled away from contact with her bare skin, now he found himself lingering for just a second too long.
It wasn't easy, she'd admit. Somewhere along the ascent she ripped her dress, the outer chiffon layer tore easily. She didn't care; she already knew it would be covered in soot and grime from this experience. Nothing in the world beside them mattered in this moment. The metal ladder hadn't been that high, only a few stories in distance. Sure, it felt as if it were a sheer mountainside with the effort she had put forth, but she never thought of giving up. It was awkward, not impossible.
As they neared the top there was a second barrier door. She could barely make out a latch due to the low lighting, but figured logically it was the only option. It wasn't locked and easily opened. Climbing the last few rungs, she found a way to make it over the threshold though somewhat lacking in grace.
What she saw was breathtaking, a view of Garden beyond the scope of her imagination. Forget that, it was a view of the entire continent that left her in awe. The lights of the town could be seen to the southwest. She could even make out individual roads by the position of streetlamps and the edge of the breakfront by flashing beacons. Beyond that distance, she could see the lights of freighters and fishing trolleys out at sea. It was like she was seeing her surroundings for the very first time. Balamb was truly spectacular.
Quickly she made her way to the railing. She ignored the pain of the pebbles that poked into her bare feet. Rinoa leaned over and looked downward, forsaking any fear she might have had from the height. From here she could see a few balconies from various parts of Garden. One she even believed to be from the ballroom, as more had been added after the renovation. The shapes, peaks, and rooftops of Garden appeared random from this viewpoint. Up here everything looked so trivial, though she knew that was based only on her perspective. Even the cars that overflowed from the parking garage looked nothing more than children's playthings.
She then made her way to the opposite side. There was not a complete circular view, due to the obstruction of the main turret. However, from this side, she could see the training center and even the secret area. She had to laugh at that – now this was a secret area by clear definition of the word. It was like for a moment in time, she forgot about all her problems. She was transported into another world. If she had a fear of heights, she had shown no outward signs. It was too gorgeous to think about such inconsequential details.
"Do you like it?" A voice whispered almost seductively in her ear. Her skin tingled from his proximity. She was slightly disappointed as he then positioned himself on the railing to her side.
"It's beautiful Squall." She felt the wind softly play with the hair that had escaped from its restraints. Closing her eyes she let her mind make a mental note of this moment, it was nearly perfect.
"I've been rather fond of it."
"Have you… always come up here?"
He shook his head and leaned causally against the railing. "No, not at all."
It was warm in Balamb's coastal climate, though nowhere as hot as today's ordeal in Dollet. Tonight's temperature was bearable, but not ideal for layers of clothing. The outside didn't offer the comfort of air conditioning. Squall began to remove his formal SeeD uniform jacket as he continued, "Before you started working for Cid, I had to bring some of the FH technicians up for routine maintenance. After they were done, I stayed up here for awhile … I just felt like it was a place away from everyone and everything."
She continued watching the horizon; it was nothing less than breathtaking.
"Do you come here a lot?"
"When I need to really get away or when time affords, which isn't often."
"So then," she said understanding his sacrifice, "why did you bring me up here now?"
He didn't answer. He simply didn't answer her. Rinoa realized that the one place that he had allowed himself to escape, she had intruded on just like she did every other aspect. Closing her eyes, she wanted to cry again, but fought desperately against the urge. Maybe they had known better when they were fighting; maybe she was right in wanting to avoid this celebration all together. If she had never attended, she'd be in her room right now watching television with Angelo. She wished back this evening so deeply, tonight's realization would leave scars on her forever. Now even Squall seemed to be suffering because of her.
"What do you want, Rinoa?"
His response caught her off guard, what did his question mean? If she didn't feel bad enough about tonight, now was he in doubt? Maybe Squall had brought her up here just to tell her that he couldn't handle certain aspects of their relationship. She was insecure and juvenile at times. She was aware of her actions – and how sometimes they would be misinterpreted by others. He had his pride and loyalties; he would never openly admit such things to her. She knew this year had drained him emotionally, though he would never let that appear evident. She had seen signs, glimpses into his uncertainties, in those moments that he allowed her (however accidently) to glimpse into that part of his persona. He would never openly show any resentment towards her or his role in their relationship.
Maybe it was still the conflicting emotion running through her, whatever it was manifested itself as a consuming mist which clouded her judgment. She should bow out of this gracefully, before she brought him down. If someone had told her last night she would be even considering this, she would laughed and smiled. Now, it was no joking matter. The severity of who and what she was seemed to be overshadowing her entire focus… A vile sorceress…
"I'm sorry," she apologized. Rinoa kept her eyes downcast embarrassed by some of her childish antics, from the night they met until this very moment. "I won't bother you anymore. I'm sorry if I've caused a problem."
"Rinoa!" He felt anger rise as she apologized and started to move away. "Stop it, my god what are you doing?"
He tossed his jacket onto the ground forcefully. All she ever did was apologize – she would turn around on her, say 'sorry,' and then begin to leave. It was a goddamn pattern with her. Then he would blame himself for whatever he had done, or said, wrong and try to fix the problem. Half of the time, he had no idea in Hell what he had done (or hadn't done) in the first place. They didn't think along the same lines; they never seemed to be on the same page.
"Why do you always do this, instead of just talking to me? I can't guess what you want. I don't understand," demanded Squall taking several steps toward her.
She didn't face him. Her body froze and she felt a sudden irritation by his comments. He was always so vague; she never knew what he was saying. Half of the time she couldn't decipher his moods and she was tired of walking on eggshells whenever he was near. If she said the wrong thing, she was positive he would leave – the problem is - she never seemed to say the right thing. How could she tell him what she wanted, when she wasn't sure what he wanted?
"What's there to understand, Squall? I try to stay out of your way. I try not to be a burden on you. I'm just so afraid that-" she stopped as the words caught in her throat. If he knew, he would be upset with her… or maybe he would feel as if a weight had been lifted.
He despised the feeling of helplessness. He despised not being in control. Most of all, he despised the doubts and confusion. He did not like what did not have a specific regimen and a semblance of order – though he found himself believing in their relationship, which went against everything he was ever taught. It was worth the countless battles to win this war.
"What, Rinoa, what are you afraid of?"
His tone was still authoritative, as it was easier when he could change into something familiar. In this voice he commanded soldiers. They had to listen to him… though he knew she didn't. It was hard for him to switch between roles; it was unnatural and almost forced at times. He spent so many years running away from others and their problems. It was extremely difficult for him to express his emotions. Even when he wished it so. He reached for her, out of a mixture of desperation and confusion. He didn't understand…he just needed to. He needed her.
His contact took her by surprise. She nearly lost her footing as she was quickly turned to face him. "Tell me," he sounded unsure and his eyes conveyed the same uncertainty. "What are you really afraid of here? Them?" He attempted prodding for a response from her. He remembered his own conflicts and his immediate dislike of Weatherly. "Is it really the White SeeDs?"
She looked down and shook her head. She was afraid of them, of course, she had admitted that much downstairs in the classroom. But that was not what brought her so much doubt. She couldn't just gloss over his question with an answer as simple as the 'White SeeDs.' Maybe that was the answer he would have hoped to hear, but it wasn't the complete truth.
"You're afraid of something. I can… I can feel it," he admitted slightly ashamed of leaving himself so emotionally readable.
He doubted that she knew the impact of her thoughts, especially her fears, on his actions. He wasn't sure how he felt about the mental intrusion himself. It was a sensation that he was unaccustomed to, and sometimes he couldn't differentiate her emotions and opinions from his own. That scared him.
The only way to go from here was forward and that began with her telling him the truth. "Rinoa, please tell me. I need to know."
She knew that he would never beg that wasn't in his given nature. But Squall Leonhart had come as close to that as he ever would. It was through silent emotions, his eyes, and even by the unsure tone of his voice. He needed to know the answer and could think of no other way than asking her directly. Maybe she had walked on eggshells since the day she met him. Maybe their fights and disagreements before would seem petty compared to what lay before them. This was the fear that she had tried to repress in her dreams. The fear she held for as long as she had loved the man standing in front of her right now.
"You…," she half choked out. Rinoa had not been able to elaborate; she barely managed the first word. She wasn't crying, but her body felt severely dehydrated. Trembling beneath his grasp, it took all her strength to continue. Her eyes burned from the mere act of keeping them open. "I'm afraid you… that you-"
"Me?" He questioned audibly, not holding back shock and tinge of bitterness. He shook his head in disgust. The most sickening fact was: he could tell she was not deceiving him. He wished that he could sense that he was not the cause of her greatest fear, but he felt nothing beside his own confusion. He instantly withdrew all physical contact, balling his fists by his side. She would not see his hurt, his uncertainty, or the immediate thoughts of betrayal which clouded all others.
"Go," He managed to say, turning his head away.
He couldn't stomach to look at her right now. He cursed himself for ever letting anyone get close to him. He knew it was a mistake; they all turn on you, or leave in the end. He knew that he should allow her more time - explanation, apology, whatever pathetic attempt she had to offer. But after the encounter with Cid tonight, he felt his world falling apart. Whatever wretched attempt he had at making a life, seemed to slipping from his grasp.
She was stunned at his harsh reaction - how he seemed to shut her out so easily after everything they had endured. Maybe it was the accumulation of an emotional avalanche that started with today's SeeD exam and snowballed with tonight's encounter. She knew his pain, though he tried to mask its effects. Even by outward appearances he was calm, save for his knuckles turning white from his balled fist.
"You ask me for the truth, then you tell me to leave? We'll I'm not leaving. Not this time, you're going to hear me out…" she began, though it appeared that her explanation wouldn't be welcome by his posture - stiff, rigid, and military right down to polished shoes that had somehow fallen into an 'attention position.' The only thing not following stereotypical military protocol was that his head was still turned; he still refused to meet her eyes.
"Squall, I'm hoping… I'm praying… that you don't really want me to leave. I'm not going to say that I know you completely, I will never say that. I'm only hoping that everything we share is enough to make me understand a small part of you - the part of you that's afraid…just as much as I am."
She inhaled watching for any reaction, his eyes were still fixed on the horizon.
"You wanted… No Squall, you needed to know the truth," Rinoa began shuddering from the emotional drain. After another deep intake of breath, she knew she had to speak openly about her fear. Even now, she knew this was a moment that would define her future forever, and god, she needed that future to be with him…
"I'm afraid that you… That one day you're going to see how much better you could do. There are so many things, I can't compare to…" All Rinoa's insecurities and doubts were going to be laid on out in the open, he would see her for what she really was…
"God Squall, you're going to realize there's so much more out there. I'm a sorceress – a sorceress. You're going to wake up and realize what the hell what that means. You'll finally see what you've gotten yourself into…. You're going to realize that you don't-"
She stopped abruptly, chastising herself for almost saying, "that you don't love me anymore," but that would be presumptuous to think he even felt that way in the first place. Sure, she knew he cared, she never doubted that, but where do caring and duty overlie? Her arms wrapped around her bare shoulders as she shivered from another phantom breeze. Maybe it wasn't that cold outside, but she felt a chill in the air that tore itself through her very soul.
Her voice was unstable, but she knew that it was now or never. If he truly wanted to know what ate away at her security, she would no longer hide from the truth. Apparently tonight she was going to quit walking on eggshells with her words, and start hitting them with a figurative hammer instead.
"Tomorrow when I wake up, I'm still a sorceress. That's it, that's who I am. It's all I'm ever going to be - it's permanent. A knight can be just a title. You can get out." The last of her words were spoken softly, "I'm not worth the trouble… you'll see."
The words cut him deeply. They'd had disagreements before, but they were always something, he believed, within the scope of normal relationships. They were over personality or stubbornness. They were over past boyfriends or misconstrued jealously. Squall and Rinoa were two separate personalities trying to learn, to deal, and most importantly to blend with one another. They were trying to merely find common ground as a couple. They both were scared of the infinite possibilities laid before them. But this, this revelation was something he couldn't even begin to fathom…
She didn't trust him.
At least, this was his initial response. He forced himself to look at her. He didn't want her to see the effect her words had on him. She had said she loved him… and he had believed her. For once in his life, he had believed someone. He reached out to her shoulders, placing a hand on either side of her. Why even now he felt the need for contact, he didn't understand. His body reacted before his mind, as it so often did where she was concerned. The fact was everyone wanted something from him; in his heart he refused to believe that she was no different. She was different. She had to be.
"Rinoa, is that what you think? You honestly believe I'm going to walk away from this, from us?"
The ire in his voice scared her. Rinoa wished she could turn back time and make this whole evening vanish into the abyss. Unfortunately, a sorceress didn't have that power. And gods help the sorceress who really believed that to be the answer. It might have been a passing fancy, but even she knew the reality was a twisted suggestion. She knew in order to truly appreciate the good, they would have triumph over the bad.
He cast away his humility, leaving his doubts behind. They were still there, never truly going away, only being buried long enough to see what was in front of him. Maybe after of all this time of his fear of being abandoned, she had the same exact fear. She was afraid of being abandoned by him; she was afraid to face her future alone. Maybe they were more similar than first appeared. The knight would be damned if he would let her feel as if she was alone in this.
"I have news for you, Rinoa, we are in this together no matter what. It's not something that's going to leave me – ever! I'm trying to adjust to all these changes. I'm trying to understand who I am. You're not the only one confused here. I may not be the sorceress, but I sure as hell feel the effects."
She knew it wasn't fair to believe he wouldn't suffer some consequences if they separated. But she also knew that in the end, if the worse came to pass, she would suffer alone. The world would look at him as just another one of her helpless victims. It terrified her that one day he might come to believe that too. Or worse, what if she did become corrupted and he went along with her? She would truly be his downfall. Either way, the uncertainty of the future scared her more than she like to admit.
He faltered from his conviction, "I don't know the words to make this right. I can't say what I don't understand…. I only know this uncertainty that's inside of me. And whatever it is… it's because of you. It's because of us. I'm not going to give up. I'm going to grow from it. You're going to grow from it."
It might not have been the most eloquent of words, but he couldn't offer anything else at the moment. They were both scared and freighted of the unknown staring before them. He knew though, that whatever he was feeling, whatever he was going to learn, she was part of it - until the end, they were bound together.
The next word she spoke would haunt him. However, they would be the words that drove them to understand their bond. In the end, they would be the words that would save them.
"What if the White SeeDs are right? Squall, what if I am destined to be evil. I was… I was before."
Her words were soft and he pained to hear her speak like this. But he knew that she needed to get this out, she had to accept her fears. They couldn't face them together, if they didn't know where they were rooted to start. So he just held her shoulders, letting her talk about a subject they hardly broached.
For her part, she needed him to know what she really was - the evil that was lying in wait inside her body. She loved him more than heaven and earth, the best thing she could do was allow him to know this. Never had she admitted these truths to anyone, but they had been part of her nightmares on many occasions. He had to know the revolting power flowing in her veins.
"Do you really want to know what I'm capable of? When I was in space, I was the one that let Adel go from her cell… I was responsible for the Lunatic Pandora. I betrayed all of mankind, I betrayed you."
She leaned forward collapsing onto the ground. Squall immediately supported her with his arms, moving to kneel beside her as she seemed to take the weight of past mistakes on her shoulders.
"Squall, I killed them – I killed all those innocent people in Esthar. I can still hear their screams when I sleep. It doesn't matter that everyone says I was possessed – it was my hands that broke the seal. You know the truth Squall, Ultimecia – she couldn't just take my body, I had to give it to her. I gave in to my weakness… that's what I am Squall…weak."
She finally looked over to where he was and said something she never dreamed, "Don't you get it? I'm afraid that you're going to realize how horrible I really am…"
Then Squall Leonhart understood there were two truths discovered tonight – it wasn't only that she was afraid of being alone, it was that she didn't trust herself. She feared for the power running through her, she feared for the accusations, but above all, she feared that her power would ultimately be corrupted, and she could not face hurting others.
Never had he realized how deeply becoming a sorceress had affected her. Again, there was mention aboard the Ragnarok, that everyone would be mad at her. Now he witnessed firsthand how deeply she blamed herself for the Lunar Cry. Hearing and seeing the White SeeD tonight just validated everything in her mind. They hated her kind – but not as much as she hated herself for what she was. It wasn't simply a fact to be skimmed on or be treated lightly.
"Rinoa…" He finally whispered after it appeared her body didn't have the will to continue. There under the moonlight, he saw something he never had. He saw the fear and the self-loathing still residing in her. He was thankful that he knew her fears, even if they were ones that he vehemently disagreed with. Rinoa was beautiful; she could never be the person she believed. The fact was though, she believed that. It was his job as knight to help her overcome these fears, and see their strength together.
As for the other fear, there was nothing he could do to assure her about his abandonment - that would take time. Ironic, he was the one thinking this way, usually it was the opposite. But he knew the best thing he could do was be there for her, even if he didn't understand her logic. He also knew foremost, that they could no longer brush over the subject of being a sorceress. Although it may be hidden now, in the future that may not be the case. They needed to understand and control her power. In the end it might ease a lot of fears… especially hers.
Moving from his position, Squall reached for the jacket that had been tossed aside earlier. Normally, he would have been extremely mindful of his uniform. Right now it didn't seem that important. He laid it out as much as possible and sat to one side, leaving the majority of the satiny lining free. In a simple gesture, he nodded his head toward the spot. She accepted the silent invitation, still trying to make sense of everything that had transpired.
Offering a wistful smile, she sat down. It was difficult in the dress and the end result again wasn't the most refined. He steadied her, helping her down as she struggled with the binding garment. Funny how their comrades inside were drinking, dancing and having the time of their lives, while they were having a discussion that would inevitable change theirs forever.
They sat slightly apart, only her leg brushing against his due to the size of their makeshift blanket. He rested his arms on his knees, looking upward toward the night sky. After brushing his hands together to remove errant pebbles, he cleared his throat.
"Rinoa, I want to understand this connection between us. I don't like not being able to control my emotions at times. I especially don't like the fact there is little or no warning. I also don't like the fact that I have to attempt to decipher the meaning. Usually when I do figure it out, it's just too late. There are a lot of things I don't like about this situation, but more that I do."
He didn't elaborate on those he liked, he wasn't willing to admit them openly yet. He just hoped that she understood that part would take him time. The fact was there were parts that he liked, and it was those that made the negative seem a lot less intimidating.
He continued, now turning to face her. "I will never accept that you'll be corrupted, it's not even a reality to me. I can never make you change how you feel. But if you can sense how I feel, like I can with you sometimes, you know that I don't believe that for a minute. Maybe that isn't the confirmation you need, but it's all I have to offer."
It was enough for her right now. He was right; her fears wouldn't instantly subside with words. They may never subside completely, but she could learn to overcome the doubts with his help. She wanted to learn how to use her power in balance with his. That is truly where she believed their strength lied. If she could use her abilities to help others, whether by healing magic or supportive, she would be willing to stand by her friends and most importantly her knight.
Rinoa looked him directly in the eyes. The sorceress relied on his inner strength, strength that she had come to depend on over the months. She stated the words as if it was the most common thing in the world, "Squall, I'm a sorceress."
"Yes you are." He nodded understanding the meaning of her declaration.
"Why is that so hard for me to admit out loud?"
Squall didn't have an immediate response. Slowly he reached his arm around her shoulders, gently guiding her near. She leaned on his chest. It was a scene reminiscent of earlier in the classroom and so many times before. It could be absolutely categorized as one of the 'things he liked,' about this relationship, though he didn't offer that information.
"Rinoa, it's not the fact that it's difficult for you to say, the problem is it's hard for others to listen. There's a difference. You say one thing, but they hear another."
"Like that I want to take over the world and kill anyone who opposes me?"
He sighed, "Unfortunately, yes."
"Why do people think with power comes happiness?"
"You're asking me about people?"
He knew it was a rhetorical question. Who knew why anybody did anything in this world? Ultimecia, Adel… actually, it didn't even need to be limited to a sorceress, Norg, Vinzer Deling, and countless others before proved that. What was power anyhow? By definition some thought Squall, himself, was powerful, yet here he was feeling rather helpless on a rooftop hidden away from the rest of society.
If as on cue he felt an unwelcome vibration from his pocket, one that he had learned to despise since his apparent 'ascension to power.' Even up here he couldn't hide from his duties as Balamb's Commander. He knew that she was aware his mobile phone was ringing too; it would have been apparent from her position.
"Squall, they're calling you."
"Yes, they are," he stated the obvious as he silenced the ringer with his free hand.
"Don't you need to get back down there?" She questioned turning her head to face him when he made no attempt to move.
He slowly and deliberately met her gaze. Purposely he moved his arm from her shoulders to her waist and softly whispered, "It seems to me, I'm right where I need to be."
"…What about your duties?"
He scoffed thinking about the earlier events in the ballroom. "I think SeeD will be here tomorrow and all its problems."
The commander debated mentally before saying the next words. However it would inevitably come up and he needed to broach the subject. "Rin, I think I'm going to have a little time off work."
She tilted her head in confusion, pulling away slightly. It was very unlike him to take any personal time, so she was told. He would be granted the occasional weekend leave, such as when they visited Winhill. However, during his tenure at Garden, any substantial time off was unheard of.
"You mean you're going on a vacation?"
"Not exactly. It's more like… required time off."
He turned his head as he admitted that fact. The Commander knew he hadn't come to full terms with what had transpired earlier. In some sense, he felt as if he had betrayed everything he had ever known. Still he knew that it wasn't a betrayal of SeeD, only of some of their archaic notions regarding sorceresses.
"Violated a direct order among other things."
He knew he should elaborate, but right now he just needed her near. When, when did he become this person? At one point he would have relayed his earlier exchange with Cid, not caring who was hurt in the process. Truth was absolute; lies and deceit were for the weak. He would never tell her a lie, but he could easily gloss over the facts. Right now he needed her support, as much as he needed to believe in them. He also feared that she would blame herself. It was almost a given knowing her personality.
He smiled slightly reaching outward, refusing to let her move further from his grasp. Here they were two teenagers thrown into situations far beyond their years, sitting high above the world that elevated them to this stature. Still, they were just after all, just two adolescents unsure of the emotions that faced them. They were not heroes in their own minds, simply Rinoa and Squall.
At times the reality overwhelmed him; he would have sneered at anyone who found themselves in this position a year ago. He found his fingers wandering to the bare skin of her back, instead of searching for fabric. Maybe he could distract her from any further interrogation.
"Hey, did you see that star?" He softly kissed the nape of her neck hoping that would divert her attention. It sure distracted him enough during the course of their relationship and even sometime before.
Rinoa involuntary shivered as she felt his breath tickle the sensitive area of her skin. Still the young sorceress knew what he was doing, or trying to do. Somehow, she knew he was holding something back from his story. As much as she was enjoying the contact, and god she was enjoying it, she needed to know what he could have done to warrant that sort of punishment.
"You're terrible at changing the subject Squall Leonhart. I don't give up that easy. Tell me what happened – or I'm not leaving this spot."
He inwardly chuckled at the irony. Maybe if he never told her what happened, she would stay there forever. "Promise?"
"Huh?" she managed still trying to fight against helplessly falling into the new sensation of his touch. Why would Cid even suggest that he needed to take time off? As far as Rinoa knew, he was a model SeeD, and an even more outstanding commander. Then she suddenly recalled his earlier confession about 'no warning about controlling his emotions.' He had come for her almost immediately after she had left the ballroom; she never had even considered that her emotions had affected him tonight. Earlier she said that 'he could walk away,' now she knew the opposite to be true. Now she felt selfish by her comments, knowing that she had somehow caused this punishment.
"Oh my god, it was because of me!" Rinoa exclaimed as the facts dawned on her. She immediately pulled away and attempted to get to her feet. Maybe she could undo some of the damage she had unconsciously caused, even if she had to march right downstairs and tell everyone the truth. He should not have to suffer because of her. He didn't deserve the punishment, she did.
"Get back down here," he said offering her his hand. He actually tried not to chuckle at her attempt at standing in such a hurry. Rinoa resembled a newborn Chocobo trying to balance on wobbly legs for the first time, though the Chocobo would appear to have the advantage over her. Unfortunately, she caught her toes on the torn part of her dress, falling back down and landing in his lap. He had braced himself for the impact, though this was certainly wasn't the most comfortable position in the world, it was far from the worst. She actually seemed more flustered by their predicament than he did for once.
"Don't even think about it. It wasn't you, it was me. Under the circumstance, I wouldn't change a thing I said or did."
"But your job… I don't want anything to jeopardize it," she admitted hurriedly.
"And that's exactly why I'm here. I don't want anything to jeopardize either of my jobs…"
He scooted forward, positioning himself in front of his jacket. He then lay completely back, as she watched him curious of his actions. His arm had remained loosely around her waist and he gently urged her down to rest with him. Her torso was partially on his body, the other part resting atop the silk lining of his jacket. He bent one arm behind his head; it worked as an awkward pillow. The other arm never let her out of his grasp. She didn't resist, she was somewhat paralyzed by the moment and his forwardness. This was a rare moment and she treasured every second that he allowed her near.
They rarely mentioned how his jobs as both knight and commander could oppose one another. In a single action, he told her more than any words could by just continuing to hold her close. She would never dare ask him to give up SeeD; she would never expect that of him. But for all the nights that they didn't see each other, or the lunch dates he cancelled, it meant the world when she needed him, he was there.
"As for SeeD, like I said, that job will be there tomorrow. I'll get an official reprimand, some required time off to 'reflect on my actions,' and in the end, nothing will change. I can tell you this isn't the first time I've been written up or suspended for a few days. I did have several run-ins with the disciplinary committee, remember."
He moved his fingers through her hair, subconsciously again playing with the tendrils fallen from their hold.
"Weren't your run-ins before because of Seifer? I mean this time you're in trouble because of me."
Rinoa turned her head away from his chest, where it been resting comfortably. She was embarrassed that she had caused him so much trouble. Not to mention the secondary fact that she'd managed to bring up the subject of 'Seifer' yet again at a crucial moment. The last thing either one of them needed was dragging that aspect of their lives up.
"Rinoa, listen to me… not all the past encounters were because of Seifer. Just as tonight's situation was not because of you. My actions are my own – and mine alone. Sometimes, like tonight, there may be mitigating circumstances, but in the end the choice is mine."
He knew it would be hard for her accept that he was at fault; Rinoa would take all the burdens of the world if given the chance. Still, he needed her to understand there was only person in his life that had culpability – him.
"I think it's very important that you understand when I was talking with Cid tonight, I realized that the words and feelings weren't completely my own. I could have decided to stop at any point. The fact was… underneath it all, I agreed. The White SeeDs are wrong, it's that simple. Not every sorceress is evil, that's the narrow-minded thinking that holds us all back."
Rinoa remained abnormally silent. Part of her understood his words; she would feel the same if the situation reversed. If she continued to blame herself that would just hurt him and that was the last thing she wanted to do. So for now she pushed the guilt back, just letting the sound of his breathing lull her into a peaceful state.
When she didn't respond he was grateful. However there was something else he was surprised to want to admit, "Can you keep a secret?" She nodded silently, allowing him this rare opportunity to express himself.
"There was something almost liberating about tonight. I know the situation could have been handled much more…diplomatically. But for once, I felt that I wasn't tied down to any rules or regulations." He chuckled softly moving enough to plant a tentative kiss on her forehead. Then, he let his head rest next to hers closing his eyes. "Believe me, I'm aware my actions were completely out-of-line, but just being up here, right now… it feels almost feeing. I'll deal with the consequences tomorrow. I wouldn't trade sharing this with you for anything."
Rinoa felt if she responded further, she would somehow break the magic surrounding them. It was surprising that it was him who tried to lighten the mood, with an offbeat attempt at humor. "Would it help if I told you that I'll protect you from those vile White SeeDs and their bad pickup lines?"
"A little." She smiled snuggling closer. She knew what he was attempting and loved him for it. She couldn't help but reminisce about their first encounter; his opening line didn't fare much better.
"But Squall, on the grander scale of picking up women, 'I can't dance.' Isn't that much better of a line."
"I resent that. If truth be told, I wasn't trying to pick you up… So as far as that goes, 'You're going to like me,' isn't exactly a proven classic either."
She smiled inwardly, recalling that night with vivid clarity. "Well, apparently it worked. Look where I'm at now."
His fingers continued playing with fallen strands of hair, as his actions where subconscious even to him. "You'd like to think it was your amazing way with words, wouldn't you? Truth is… it was the short skirt."
She gasped audibly, more for dramatic show and effect. "Squall Leonhart, you did not just say that! I mean, I already heard those comments from Irvine, but certainly wouldn't expect them from you!"
"I'm human… and it was a short skirt."
"Whatever," she huffed. Rinoa went through the motions of being upset, though she knew he didn't buy her act for a moment. And it was true, last year she felt she needed the attention in some way, now she didn't. They both had grown and matured through the process, though not completely; they were still just facing these new challenges together.
In the silence of the night, the mood turned from humorous to that more of a serious tone. She watched the blanket of the night scattered with pinholes of light. It all seemed so simple once, even the sky was now laden with questions, "Squall, what do we do from here?"
"Well, I think we can't treat the fact you're a sorceress so casually anymore. We're not going to publically announce it, but we need to be prepared. We need to understand this connection and how to control it."
Her neck strained to look up at him as they both lay on the ground. She smiled when their eyes met, in them she could see the present and the future, she could see a world still unknown to both of them.
She needed him to know how she felt; she needed him to know much he meant to her.
"I love you."
She softly placed her fingers to his lips as she saw him try to mask any apprehension. She wanted nothing in return, but what he offered her at this moment – his acceptance. It was a gift that she treasured more than three single words could ever describe.
"Shhh Squall, don't say anything. Just know that sometimes I need to say it. It's part of who I am."
Rinoa smiled as he relaxed beneath her. She never spoke the phrase without cause, as she always wanted the words to carry their true meaning. Actions spoke volumes with him and tonight meant more than he would ever know.
It was all at once the most uncomfortable night, and the most comforting night they had ever shared. Just them, the silence and the beauty of the stars above. She had fallen asleep first, resting her head on his chest; he could feel her warm breath through the fabric of his shirt. She would shiver involuntarily from the chill of the evening and the lack of covering her dress offered. He knew everything she was capable of and never once even considered turning back.
It was near dawn when they woke again, as the formation of moisture and dew had mixed with the chill of the evening. They had managed to climb down and eventually ended up going their separate ways. Rinoa never bothered changing out of her dress, collapsing onto the bed in the morning's early hours. She barely recalled reaching for the nearest blanket, as she curled up next to the warmth of Angelo. It was near afternoon when she woke up; she was sore and stiff from falling asleep on the roof. The dress was uncomfortable and the fabric was starting to make her itch. At that point, she wasn't even sure how she managed to fall asleep still in it - probably a combination of stress and exhaustion.
She managed to sit up, ignoring the protests of her body. Glancing toward her nightstand, an unfamiliar object caught her eye. It was a single red rose wrapped delicately in tissue paper. She smiled brightly as her fingers fumbled to open the small envelope placed next to the flower.
"Whatever – Forever"
Examining the rose carefully, she looked at every intricate detail. From the pedals that curved outward, to the serrated edges of the leaves.
And it was perfect, just like him.
Author End Notes: Wow, it's done…well, kinda! The first 'four months' are over, and officially, "Dancing in Time" has come to its conclusion. I guess it's good I end this part now, I was running out of "A Time for…" chapter titles. I'd have to start making up my own, which never ends well.
The last few chapters were setting the tone for the next installment, which will also focus on her powers. It will be written in the same format, the short stories with both drama and humor. Of course, the main storyline will be the relationship itself, who would have thought a basic 'plot-less' story would go on for over 180,000 words. But I guess the greatest plot can be life itself sometime. Of course a lot of things were left open on purpose, because I am that evil.
Thank you for all those who helped me edit over the years: Vick330, Robert, Lisa, and of course Nicole, my best friend. Thank you to each of you that has taken the time to read this. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have writing it. I appreciate the support through the years: the good times and the bad. I hope to see you all for the next 'eight months' of the relationship in the continuation, "Endless Waltz."
For now, forever, thank you for the support,
"Just a turn of the cards, a roll of the dice,
I opened my eyes and I'm dancing in time.
Who could have believed that the world would be mine?"
– James P. Dunne (Theme to "Lottery!")