It was a bright morning in early Spring, and Rinoa was coming up the path to balamb Garden for a visit she considered long overdue. She was dressed in a sapphire sun dress of the kind that seemed popular in Deling City at the moment, and her bags were slung over her shoulder as if they weighed much less than they actually did.
Squall was there to meet her at the Garden's entrance, wearing an immaculately-tailored SeeD uniform and hair, begging a haircut, gathered into a short ponytail at the nape of his neck. They exchanged the usual pleasantries as he relieved her of her luggage, leading her back into Garden after him. He mentioned that Edea was back that week for a visit, as well--and told her that Quezacotl sent his regards and would have been there to greet her had it not been for some otherworldly business he had to take care of. They discussed the most recent missions he had been on and touched upon the politics of her home state, and then it seemed that that was to be the extend of their small talk; he escorted her to her room in a comfortable silence, and only when he had put her bags at the foot of her bed did she decide it was time to broach the subject she had wanted to since the Garden first came into her sight above the horizon.
It had been nearly a year since she had been back here--nearly a year since she had had the opportunity to speak with him face-to-face. Although she had been pondering her question for many months now, it seemed too important to trust to their regular correspondences.
...what do you know about Knights?
He seemed almost taken aback. What do you mean?
A Sorceress's Knight, Rinoa said. I've been thinking about it a lot, recently. And... I don't really know anything about it. And... maybe I should, you know?
Squall looked at her evenly. Why do you think I know anything?
Rinoa's eyes widened, as if she had taken it for granted that he would. I don't know, she said. ...I guess it is kinda silly for me to ask. I am the Sorceress, after all--
Squall shook his head. Why do you want to know?
Rinoa clasped her hands. I've been a Sorceress for years now, she said. I know I haven't had to use it much, but... I don't know. Maybe I'm worrying myself for nothing. It's just that the only Sorceresses I know of who didn't have knights were Ultimecia and Adel....
You're worried about corruption, Squall supplied.
She bit her lip. I guess that's part of it, she agreed. But, Squall, it's also--
She looked into his eyes. Those blue eyes had seemed grown-up when she had met him--they didn't seem to gain any age as he did. They were as cool and as dark as they had ever been.
Do you know why I'm asking you this?
He wasn't the kind to smile at that, or to pull her into his arms, or to do any of a thousand gestures that most people would term But it didn't matter--it didn't matter to him, and it didn't matter to her. They were superficial expressions--it meant much more to her that he nodded earnestly, looking steadily back into her eyes. he said simply.
He looked away. ...I don't know, he said. ...I don't know what it entails. But, by now-- He exhaled softly, looking back up. You should know how I feel, about you.
I hope that I do, she said.
The only knights I've ever known were Cid and Seifer, he said. It seemed as if Cid was pretty powerless to do anything. And Seifer.... he let the rest of the sentence hang, eliciting a sympathetic glance from Rinoa. She put a hand on his arm, smiling sadly.
But there must be something to it, she said. It's an ancient custom.
I know. He shook his head. But I don't know anything about it.
Something occurred to Rinoa. ...I never knew Cid was a Knight, she said.
--she's visiting now, isn't she?
Squall considered that. Yes. ...she is.
She looked carefully into his eyes. Shall we ask her? she wondered aloud.
He nodded, thoughtfully. ...maybe we should.
Edea was up in the book room of the Office, as she tended to spend her time upon her visits to Garden. She was just getting herself some tea from the small heating pot plugged into the wall when they came in, and she immediately turned to greet them. Motioning them to the table, she took a seat herself. It's been a while, Rinoa, she said, smiling. You should persuade her to visit more often, Squall. The last was said with a motherly gleam in her eyes.
Squall took a seat across from Edea, pulling out a chair for Rinoa as well. ...matron, we'd... like to ask you something.
Edea raised an eyebrow. The only time anyone ever called her any more was when they were in a nostalgic mood or searching for advice--and both were things she was unaccustomed to expecting from Squall.
...we want to know about Knighting, Rinoa blurted, reaching out and seizing Squall's hand as she said it. She flushed a bit, as if she suspected that Edea might find all this very silly,or tell her to wait until she had grown up, or simply be shocked at her impertinence.
Instead, Edea simply raised her eyebrows the least bit and said Dear. ...I haven't thought about that in such a long time....
I don't know much about it, Rinoa went on, words rushing a bit in anxiety. Really, I don't know what it all means. But--
Edea raised a hand to forestall her, leaning forward. You should go into this knowing what you're doing, she said gravely. Both of you should realize the full implications. Unlike marriage, there's no divorce from a Knighthood... if you do this, you'll be in it, together, until one or both of you dies.
Rinoa probably didn't realize it, but her grip on Squall's hand tightened.
Edea wasn't oblivious to the fact. She gave a small, reassuring smile, and took their clasped hands in hers. A Knighthood is based on trust, she said. There's a very specific ritual you undergo to affirm that trust, and it's that trust which keeps the Knighthood alive. In a lot of ways it's closer than a marriage--a Sorceress and her Knight are partners in everything, and they hold each other's life in their hands. You're more like two halves of a whole, like this; you're still individual beings, but you're inseparable in a way that not many people understand. You'll be each other's right arms.
She looked between them, meeting each of their eyes. Squall seemed to be taking it all rather well--he seemed not quite to be considering, but more to be absorbing the information. Edea had to marvel at his ability to take things at face value--although she worried a bit about what that might entail, here.
Rinoa, on the other hand, was in a not unfamiliar state--Edea immediately recognized the tumult of apprehensions that were passing behind her eyes.
Edea frowned. The ritual isn't terribly complicated at its base, she said, reassured at least that both parties were taking it seriously. But it has tremendous potential to go wrong.
Rinoa nodded. What is it? she asked.
Traditionally, Knights were armed warriors, Edea explained. Knighthoods were made, often as not, on the battlefield. The Knight would come to the Sorceress, kneel, and ask her to Knight him.
First, the Sorceress would draw the Knight's weapon, Edea said carefully, and cut his throat along the side.
Rinoa paled visibly.
Edea motioned her to wait. The Sorceress would then offer up her sorcery for the Knight to draw away, she continued. The Knight would take the sorcery into his own hands, and use it to heal the wound.
Rinoa took a breath to steady herself. That's... that's terrible, she said.
Edea smiled faintly. It's a matter of trust, she said, and her smile faded away. There are historical accounts of Knightings going wrong. The Sorceress has the ability to kill the Knight, by cutting too deep or withholding her powers from him. At the same time, the Knight has the ability to wrest the sorcery from the Sorceress--thereby killing her. She met each of their eyes. Both Knight and Sorceress must trust each other impeccably. If you're not able to trust each other with your lives, without any reservations whatsoever, the Knighting won't work. And, if you're not prepared to devote your entire life afterward to the other person--well, then you've condemned yourself to a living hell.
Rinoa nodded. I see.
Edea patted her hand, letting go. I'm sure you'll want to discuss this, she encouraged gently.
Rinoa agreed, standing up. Yes. Thank you. ...we will.
They were sitting out on the balcony just outside of the Quad, sampling the cool air and reflecting on what Edea had said. She had brought up frightening prospects--neither of them knew how to address them, or even really to think them through.
There was a dove on the balcony railing, preening itself carefully. Rinoa watched it as it dislodged a tiny feather, then stretched out her fingers and coaxed it toward her on the ebb and flow of the breeze. Taking the down gently between her fingers, she smoothed it carefully.
Do you believe in predestination?
He looked up, not having expected the query.
Rinoa bit her lip for a moment. Do you think... that's is possible for things to have been meant to happen? Do you think that there's such a thing as fate? As destiny?
Squall thought about that, hand moving to his forehead to press just between his eyes. he answered at last. ...there have been times when I could have sworn that the GFs were acting on their own timetable, or that they were manipulating things for their own ends. Sometimes I've even wondered if it's possible to change the Future, since the future is a part of our past already. But I don't think that there's nothing we can do. ...I believe in free will.
Rinoa nodded. The choices we've made have brought us this far? she asked.
She looked up, counting back in her mind. It's been... seven years, hasn't it? Since we met.
Squall did the subtraction, and nodded.
It seems like it's been a lot longer. She looked at him, and smiled. It seems as if I've known you forever, she clarified, and... I don't know. Sometimes, it just seems... it seems as if we were meant to be together. The string of chances that brought us here--even with our own choices--it's just too incredible to believe, sometimes. Her hand found its way to his arm, somehow. I think about all the things that have happened, and everything we've gone through, and I think that if we weren't meant to be together--or if we were meant not to be together--it should have been obvious by now. She swallowed. I'm not even in SeeD; we live on opposite sides of the world, and still it's worked out this far. There's something incredible about that.
His hand had dropped away from his face, and now he was watching her earnestly. Rinoa caught her breath--once again, she had to reflect how terribly compelling those blue eyes were, even when he didn't intend them to be. For quite a few moments, he looked as if he was about to say something.
Eventually, Rinoa deemed it necessary to prod him on. What is it?
He shook his head. I don't know, he said simply.
What do you mean?
He frowned. Rinoa could almost see the confused mass of words floating behind his eyes--he was just unsure of which to use.
It became easier to see as his frown deepened, and his frustration began to mount. She knew the mood--he had spent his life conserving words, and when he had to find some way to articulate his feelings it didn't come easily.
I don't know how I feel, he said at last, growling a little to himself. It wasn't exactly true--he knew exactly how he felt--he just had no idea how to communicate that. ...for a long time, after we met, I couldn't stand being around you. He frowned sharply, teeth clenching for a moment. That still wasn't quite right--I resented you being around. I had to put up with you because of my contracts, but I didn't like it. He shook his head. Now, I don't feel like that any more.
That's good to hear, Rinoa commented dryly--with a slight smile, just in case he couldn't tell she was jibing.
Squall paused for a second, watching her--half-afraid of unknowingly offending her. ...it's different now, he continued lamely. I... I think I'm glad when you're here. And I miss you when you're gone. But I don't know. ...is that love?
She was either grimacing or holding back a smile, and try as he might he couldn't tell which. Basically, what you're saying is that you can't tell if you love me or if you're just used to having me around.
He frowned, wrestling with words that had never come easy and were only getting harder. What could you say to that?
...I don't know, he responded, dropping his eyes inadvertently. And this time it was true--he really didn't. How do you know?
If you're in love? Rinoa asked.
Rinoa thought about that one. ...I... don't really know, either, she admitted. I guess it's just something you believe.
You mean by faith? asked Squall.
Rinoa nodded. I guess so.
You mean trust.
The implications hit her, and she froze.
After some time, she deliberately dropped her gaze. She took a deep breath before she felt she could say anything. I'd trust you with my life, she said.
He considered that. It couldn't have been a minute, even, that he thought--but it seemed to be much, much longer. ...I'd trust you with mine, he said.
She looked up, into his eyes, and wondered if that meant what she thought it did. She hardly noticed that his breathing was deeper than usual--as if he was making a valiant effort to keep up the appearance of perfect calm.
I don't think I've felt this way before, he said nigh-inaudibly, ...and I don't think I probably will again. Is it love? He shook his head. I don't know. But... I don't think that I would mind, spending my life with you.
Her heart fluttered, then soared. She took his hand in her. And I would spend my life with you, she said, and trusted the answer she gave.
It seemed as if all of Garden turned out for the ceremony. Ranks of SeeDs stood solemnly at attention, painted in crisp contrast by the sunlight streaming into the Quad. There was a peculiar energy in the atmosphere, a warm glow in the area that gilded the moment with permanence.
They were at the top of the stairs, on opposite sides; Squall had his gunblade--the adamantine Revolver Advanced--at his side, and his uniform was decorated with the medals he had accumulated in his years in SeeD. Edea was with Rinoa, one arm laid carefully on her forearm by way of reassurance. She waited until the moment seemed right and then, with a nod, released the Sorceress.
Squall approached first, kneeling at the center of the landing. She stepped forward, keenly aware of Edea's words and the weight of SeeD's eyes upon her. She knelt down, grasping the gunblade's hilt and feeling the unfamiliar weight. At the same time Squall touched her elbow lightly, startling her.
Don't be afraid, he whispered. She breathed, deeply.
I won't, she whispered back, and pulled the sword from its sheath as she stood.
As she made the cut, willing her hands not to tremble, it seemed as if SeeD and the world held its breath.
His eyes never left hers, and it was from their calm that she drew her confidence. They didn't betray any pain, any unease--they were steady as if she wasn't hurting him at all.
When she pulled the blade from him, she was terrified by the amount of blood that welled from the wound. She didn't know what was a killing strike, or how much blood could be lost--she had no way to gauge the severity of the cut. She concentrated on remaining calm--on trusting him--and offering up her powers as best she knew how.
His eyes had unfocused, now--or, perhaps, just refocused on the abstract. His breathing had slowed, as if he was entering the trance necessary to summon a GF. She could feel a slight tugging at her powers, and her heart leapt.
There was a gasp from the SeeD ranks that she did not hear as a pale blue light glinted in the wound, drawing together the skin and leaving nothing but a silver scar behind it. Even the spilt blood began to dissolve in the light--soon, aside from the scar, there was nothing to suggest the cut had ever been there.
She felt a sudden rush of exhilaration--and then, like an echo, an answering swell of wonder from Squall. She was about to kneel as he rose, and she closed the distance between them in a rush and took him into her arms.
A cheer erupted from the SeeDs. Rinoa, able to feel his cheek against her hair, didn't even need to look up to know that he was smiling.
It was in the last days of waxing up to a full moon, and that night the Ballroom was packed. The Knighting was accorded all the weight of a Garden ceremony--celebrating the union of two of its heroes. And for a while they simply stood on the balcony, looking at the heavens--searching, as Rinoa put it, for falling stars.
It was a night for dreams and memories.
The band in the Ballroom swung into a new song, and Rinoa looked over to meet Squall's eyes. She smiled. Do you remember when we danced to this song?
He nodded. You left me in the middle of the ballroom halfway through, he said, but there was no reproach in his voice. She smiled, holding out her hand. I won't leave you tonight, she promised.
It may have been that he hesitated before reaching out to her. Perhaps it was only the way the night seemed to be extending itself, so that instants seemed like eternities. But he did take her hand, leading her silently onto the ballroom floor.