A Time of No Rain - a Final Fantasy VIII fanfic
by Erika Riggio [Filia]
Disclaimer: All of the characters of FFVIII belong to Squaresoft/SquareEnix.
Rinoa stood behind the counter of the Rainedrop, rubbing a glass that was already quite clean with a worn-out rag. She was not entirely sure why she was even standing there; the pub was not set to open for another three hours. Cleaning glasses that were already clean was useless. But then again, everything was useless.
Since Squall's diagnosis and the confirmation of Rinoa's pregnancy, she had begun to feel increasingly nihilistic. What was the point in having a baby if the baby would never meet its father? What was the point of Squall being in Winhill now when he was just going to get sicker and have to go back to Balamb again? What was the point in living if the only thing guaranteed is death?
The cloth made a squeaking sound on the smooth glass. Rinoa failed to notice. She had begun to fail to notice a lot of things. Moreover, she had begun to fail at a lot of things. She was failing at being a good wife to her dying husband, she was failing at being a good mother to her unborn child, and she was failing at being a good friend to the people of the town who had given her so much out of concern and sympathy, not to mention failing at being a friend to people like Selphie, who was throwing everything aside to be with her.
What was the point of the world if there was no hope for anything?
Selphie came down the stairs just then, rubbing her eyes sleepily. "Up already, Rinoa?" she asked, peering at her friend curiously.
Rinoa didn't say anything; she had not even noticed the other woman had entered. She just continued to rub the glass with the cloth, a little bit harder than before. The squeaking became more intense.
Selphie tilted her head and looked at Rinoa with concern. This was not the first time Rinoa had not noticed her lately, but this time seemed different from usual. There seemed to be almost an aura of hopelessness wafting through the room, and it penetrated Selphie's usually sunny exterior and disturbed her. She felt her stomach churn with nervousness. "Rin?" she said tentatively, moving a step closer.
Nothing. Rinoa's eyes were slightly glazed as she stared into space.
"Rinoa," Selphie repeated, sounding more desperate. She took a few more steps forward and leaned on the tablel, looking up into Rinoa's face. "Rinoa? RINOA!"
There was a shatter as the pressure of Rinoa's hand caused the glass to finally give way. The shards scattered all over the counter, and Selphie jumped back to avoid them. Rinoa blinked in surprise, then looked up, finally noticing Selphie for the first time. She looked from Selphie to the broken glass, confused. "I- I'm sorry, Selphie," she said in a small voice. She looked around helplessly, in search of something with which to clean up the broken glass, but not recalling where anything was.
Selphie came around to the other side of the counter patiently and pulled a small broom and dustpan out from under the table. She swept up the glass without a word, then dumped it into the trash. Rinoa stood in silence the whole time, without moving. She still had the rag in one hand and the unbroken bottom of the glass in the other. A shard of glass had cut her hand, and it was bleeding into the rag, but she had not noticed.
Selphie stepped back and looked at Rinoa. "Here," she said, taking the rest of the glass out of her friend's hand and throwing it into the trash as well. "Rinoa, be more careful," she scolded, taking the rag and pressing it to Rinoa's cut. Rinoa looked down at her hand then, noticing the blood but not feeling pain. She felt the pressure of the cloth on her hand, but that was all.
Selphie looked into Rinoa's face, concern filling her eyes. "Rin, stop it," she said, with a hint of anger in her tone. "This is ridiculous. You come down here every morning, but you don't really do anything. All you can do is hurt yourself and break things. You're so careless."
"It doesn't matter," Rinoa replied in a flat tone. "It doesn't hurt."
Selphie bit her lip. She hated seeing Rinoa like this. "It hurts me, Rin. It hurts Irvine. It hurts Yuki and Lene." She glanced towards the stairs. "It hurts Squall, too."
Rinoa looked away, pulling her hand out of Selphie's. "It doesn't matter," she repeated listlessly.
"But it does!" Selphie exclaimed angrily, stamping her foot on the floor. "It does matter, Rinoa! Everything you do matters to someone, even if you don't think it does! Think about what you're doing to yourself! And even if you don't matter to yourself, think about your baby!" Tears, half angry, half pitiful, ran down Selphie's cheeks.
Rinoa paused. "Squall's going to die, Selphie," she said finally, quietly. "After that, nothing matters." Without looking back at her friend, she walked across the room and out the back door.
Selphie watched Rinoa leave, feeling helpless. She felt sick to her stomach. Was this what hopelessness felt like? Was this how Rinoa felt?
Ellone and Seifer, hand in hand, approached the front door of the Rainedrop. Ellone had to stop and stare up at it for a moment. It looked just the way she had remembered it, save the sign proclaiming its name, which was something Squall and Rinoa had added when they took it over. She felt a flood of memories from her childhood overtake her -- the day she had first come to live with Raine; the day Uncle Laguna had been brought to the pub, nearly dying, the numerous days of cheerful fun she had spent with Uncle Laguna; watching Uncle Laguna and Raine fall in love; the day the two were married; the day that Squall was born; and, above all, the day that Raine had died. Her mind wandered to when she and Squall were sent to Edea's House; Raine was dead, and Laguna was so torn apart that he simply could not care for the children anymore. Thinking about the days at Edea's House always led to thinking about the day she had been forced to leave, and that always made an uncomfortable lump rise in her throat. She always stopped her flow of memories at this point. It was just too painful.
Seifer squeezed her hand gently, trying to call her attention back to the present. "Should we go in?" he asked in a voice that seemed unusually timid for a man who usually seemed so sure of himself.
She looked at him, then swallowed and nodded. She was dreading entering the pub, dreading seeing how much it had changed. She treasured the memories of her childhood, when everything was good, when Raine was still alive. It seemed like all this old building could bring to anyone was death.
Seifer led the way, knowing that it would be impossible for Ellone to enter alone. He reached out and put his hand on the doorknob, then paused and glanced at her before opening it.
The room was dark; for a moment Ellone felt like nothing had changed after all, that somehow she had been transported back in time and that the small human frame she saw behind the counter would be Raine's. She stepped forward quickly, knowing that even though it could not be Raine, it would at least be Rinoa, a familiar face.
It was not the familiar face she had expected. It was Selphie.
Selphie blinked, cocking her head at the pair who had just entered. "Ellone?" she asked, then her eyes brightened. "Ellone!" she exclaimed, running around the counter and embracing the other woman. Ellone, dazed, hugged Selphie in turn. "Oh, I'm so glad you came! Rinoa said she'd written to you, but I wasn't sure if you'd be able to come. Oh, I'm so glad!" She squeezed Ellone's shoulders tightly, then let her go, putting her hands on the taller woman's shoulders and looking at her. "It's been so long," she said with a wide Selphie-smile.
Ellone blinked, then looked at Seifer with confusion. Seifer shrugged. "Where's Rinoa?" Ellone asked, her voice somewhat cold as a result of her bewilderment.
Selphie's face dropped. "Oh," she said, looking down at her feet, dejected. She nodded to the back door. "She's out in the garden." She felt a rush of air as Ellone hurried past her and sighed, looking up just in time to see Seifer walk past. She perked up again; she had not seen him before, as he had been standing in the shadows. "Seifer! Hi!"
"Hi," Seifer said shortly, brushing past her in his haste to follow Ellone.
Selphie pouted, putting her hands on her hips. Seifer never had been the sociable type, but the least he could do was look at her or something. Feeling rather crestfallen, she returned to her assumed position behind the counter, leaning against it.
"Ow!" she exclaimed, jumping back. She looked at her elbow; there was a trickle of blood just beginning. She glanced at the counter and noticed a missed piece of the glass Rinoa had broken earlier, poised just right to slice into her skin. She scowled at it before sweeping it into the garbage.
Rinoa was sitting in the same spot she had inhabited several days ago, the same spot that she inhabited most days. Since Selphie had arrived, Rinoa had completely given up on trying to take care of the pub. She knew Selphie was concerned for her, and was more than happy to run the establishment in her absence. She knew deep down that she was taking advantage of her friend, but for the most part she found that she did not care. It did not matter, after all. Besides, she was not sleeping well, what with caring for Squall, her morning sickness, and general sleepless nights, and she found that she could not force herself to work for long before fatigue set in. She did seem to sleep more than Selphie did, however, so how she had so much less energy than the other woman, even in her condition, confused her slightly.
But what did it matter, after all?
It was cherry blossom time. Under normal circumstances, Rinoa would be filled with joy at the first sign of the cheerful pink flowers coating the trees, but now they just filled her with anger. It was sickening, how life dared to go on while the life of the one she loved, and her own life as a consequence, was ending. She hated the cherry blossoms, and avoided looking at them, as they tended to make her want to break down in tears. Crying made her more tired than anything else, and she tried to avoid it as much as possible.
She was so busy ignoring the cherry blossoms that she also managed to ignore the creaking of the door as Ellone opened it, followed by Seifer. Ellone caught sight of Rinoa and was momentarily taken aback. She looked so pale, so much thinner than the last time Ellone had seen her. Ellone imagined she could see thin, pale streaks of premature gray in Rinoa's hair, but she convinced herself it was a trick of the light. She could not make herself move forward until she felt Seifer's hand on her shoulder, lending her warmth and strength. She reached up and put her hand over his briefly, then stepped forward into the light.
"Rinoa?" Ellone said softly, leaning forward and tilting her head in her familiar way.
Rinoa blinked, and she was unable to focus on the other woman for a moment. She blinked again, trying to get the sunlight out of her eyes; it was enveloping Ellone's form, making it hard for Rinoa to recognize her. Her trademark green shawl managed to give it away. "Ellone," she said softly, flatly, as if the woman's presence was of no consequence to her.
Ellone felt a lump in her throat. This was not the Rinoa she remembered, the Rinoa who Squall had passionately convinced her to help him save. She had to be mistaken; this was a different person. But her aura convinced her otherwise. "I- I'm sorry." It was all she could think of to say.
Rinoa turned away, as if she were already bored with her visitor. "Squall's upstairs, if you want to see him."
Ellone looked back at Seifer, but he did not have anything encouraging to offer. "I wanted to see you first, Rinoa," she insisted finally, biting her lip to quell the urge to run away and cry.
There was a pause, then Rinoa laughed humorlessly. "You feel sorry for me. Just like she does." She glared at the door to the interior of the Raindrop, and there was an air of contempt in her tone. Ellone knew she was talking about Selphie -- but why? The last she remembered, after their respective weddings, Rinoa and Selphie had been the best of friends. What had happened? "I don't want to talk to someone who's just going to tell me she's sorry," Rinoa continued. "Sorry for what? For not being able to do anything? No one can do anything, so it's not like your apology is going to make any difference. Sorry for not coming sooner? It wouldn't have mattered even if you did." Her tone was heartless; she knew she was ripping Ellone to shreds inside and she didn't care.
Ellone made a small noise, as if she were choking on something. Seifer finally stepped out of the shadows and put his hand on her shoulder. "You have no right to talk to milady like that," he snapped, a hint of rage in his voice.
Rinoa looked up and saw Seifer, and her eyes narrowed at him dangerously. "I didn't ask you to come, Seifer," she said in a cold tone. "Squall doesn't want you here."
"You don't want me here," Seifer countered. "And maybe Squall doesn't want me here, either, but I'm here just the same. I have to protect milady." His hand slid down her arm to take hold of her hand, which was trembling. He squeezed it gently.
"When have you ever done what anyone wanted, Seifer?!" Rinoa shouted. Her voice, however, was still as close to emotionless as it could possibly be. "All you care about is yourself! That's all you've ever cared about!"
Ellone could not take it anymore. She closed her eyes, fighting back tears. She hated this. Why had she come at all? She started to turn and run away, back to the airship and to Esthar, but Seifer caught her wrist when she slipped her hand out of his.
Seifer then did the last thing Ellone had expected him to. He shrugged. "What does it matter, right? It doesn't matter whether I'm here or not." He narrowed his eyes at her. "Don't think I don't know how you feel, Rinoa. Don't think that you're the only person who's ever lost someone." He slipped his hand back down from Ellone's wrist to clasp her hand again in comfort. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. "I watched my entire family die when our house caught fire. My mother, my father, my brother and sisters. I think I've got a pretty good idea of what you're feeling. And Ellone does, too. So do Selphie and Irvine and all the rest. So it's useless to sit there and feel sorry for yourself and take your anger out on other people. You might think that everything in the world is useless, but what you're doing to yourself and to everyone else is the most useless thing of all." With that, he turned, gave Ellone a quick kiss on the cheek, and walked back into the Rainedrop without another word.
Ellone stood in shock. She'd never heard Seifer say anything like that before. He had never talked about how his family died, about why he'd had to go and live with the rest of them at Edea's House. It shocked her, and she could not find any words, either for Rinoa or for herself.
Finally, Ellone cautioned a look at Rinoa. She was sitting on the bench, in the same position as when they had entered the garden, but she was sobbing noiselessly, her face hidden from view behind the curtain of her hair.
Ellone's sympathy caused her to sit next to Rinoa without a sound, silently putting her arm around her gently. She felt Rinoa shudder under her touch, but she did not pull away. Ellone slowly used her other arm to gather Rinoa up and pull her closer. And so the two women sat, no words spoken between them, Rinoa curled up in Ellone's arms, sobbing like a child.
Seifer was fuming, to put it lightly. Why had he opened his mouth? He had not even shared those things with Rinoa when they had been dating, before she had met Squall. Why had he brought them up now? Dead memories were better left alone; only he knew how he had wrestled with those demons of his past until they were deep inside him under lock and key. The rest of his emotions had been stored there as well; maybe that had something to do with it?
Seifer did not resent Ellone. That would be saying too much. But sometimes her ability to make his innermost thoughts and feelings rear their ugly heads got to be a bit too much for him.
He stormed through the Rainedrop, past a very shocked Selphie. "What's the big idea, Seifer?" she shouted at him. He stopped for a moment, then finally turned to face her.
Selphie blinked. She had expected him to just keep walking; it's what he would have done in the old days. But, she had to keep reminding herself, this was not the old days. Now she was left with nothing planned to say. "You come in here acting all high and mighty," she stammered, making things up as she went along, "like you're too good to even say hello to me?"
"I did say hello to you," Seifer countered slowly. Even now, he felt like he had to treat Selphie like a retarded child. "Unless a simple 'hi' isn't good enough for you? Well, in that case," he said with a pompous air, kneeling down with a flourish, "a good day to you, Lady Selphie Tilmitt Kinneas. My deepest apologies for insulting your highness." He got up with a smirk. "You never grow up."
Selphie looked deeply offended. She looked up at Seifer, a hurt look in her eyes. "You know that's not what I meant, Seifer," she replied, her voice sounded more confident than she looked. "We used to be on the same team, you know."
"And then we were enemies," Seifer added, resisting the urge to glare at her. "So should I have said 'hello' before I tried to kill you all?" He shrugged. "Look, I shouldn't have come. Tell Ellone I went back to Esthar, okay?" With that, he started for the door.
Selphie bit her lip. "No, wait!" she exclaimed, running after Seifer and grabbing his arm. "C'mon, at least see Squall before you go? It might do him some good to see a fri-" She cut herself off, loathe to call Seifer a friendly face. "To see someone he knows. From the old days."
"I'd really rather not," Seifer snapped, pulling his arm from Selphie's girlish grip and stalking out the door. Selphie stood in the middle of the room for a few minutes, looking sad and dejected.
Seifer walked down the street a little, going at a brisk pace, just trying to let off some steam. He was not watching where he was going, really, but the streets were still rather deserted. "Blasted dead town," Seifer said to himself, voice filled with contempt. "Squall might as well be dying of boredom." He kicked a rock down the street, watching it skip as if on water.
"Hey! That hurt, you know?"
Seifer looked up sharply. He could not believe his eyes. "Raijin? What the hell are you doing here?"
The big man was standing outside of a weapons shop, apparently waiting for the lithe blue-clad figure who was browsing about inside. "Fujin made me come, you know?" He motioned to the shop. "She's in there now. She said she wanted to see Winhill, you know? Well, that's basically what she said, you know?" It was clear that Raijin had no clear conception of why they had really followed Seifer and Ellone to Winhill, which was fine by Seifer.
"You didn't have any right to follow us," Seifer snapped, fully aware that Raijin was not the one with which he should be angry. But he was here, and to be honest, Fujin scared Seifer a little bit. "You should go back to Esthar before the Presidential Guard realizes you're gone."
"Aw, they don't care none, you know?" Raijin kicked the rock that Seifer had kicked at him. It whizzed through the air and out of sight. "Everything kind of falls apart every time you leave anyway, you know?"
Just then, Fujin came out of the weapons shop and approached the two men. "SEIFER," she snapped, her tone reprimanding.
Seifer turned to Fujin, knowing that he would get more information from her one-word answers than from all of Raijin's babbling. "What are you two doing here?" He tried to sound intimidating, but was not entirely sure he was successful.
"FOLLOW," she said, putting her hands on her hips. "SUSPICION." Her grey eyes narrowed.
Seifer looked at the ground. "'Bout what?" he asked lamely, even though he knew full well why Fujin was suspicious. She had every right to be.
"ELLONE," she snapped. Seifer could hear the anger in her tone just as easily as he could see it in her eyes. "RELATIONSHIP," she added in a lower tone, practically spitting out the word to watch it writhe on the ground.
"It's not like that," Seifer said quickly -- too quickly. He saw the disbelief in Fujin's eyes and knew instantly that she was not buying it. "I mean, that's not why we came here, if that's what you're thinking." He could not think of a single way to rectify the situation. If Ellone were here, she would have thought of something. But she was not here.
Fujin paused, pondering for a moment. "EXPLAIN," she said finally, looking a mite more patient than she had at first.
Seifer looked at the ground, unable to look his two friends in the eye. How could he explain? What should he explain? Should he tell them about him and Ellone, how they had been together for months, how he thought he might be in love with her? Or should he just hide the relationship even more and just tell them about Squall, and explain away his presence as Ellone's need for her guardian? Every idea he came up with seemed inadequate somehow. He was silent for a very long time; an unusually long time, which Fujin picked up on. He had to say something -- but what?
Finally, Seifer just sighed. "Can we go somewhere to talk, Fujin?" he said in a low tone, trying to keep Raijin from hearing. The big man was not really paying attention, which was preferable to Seifer. Despite his being a little frightened of her, Seifer always preferred talking to Fujin. Raijin had a tendency to interrupt, misunderstand, and draw false conclusions. Fujin would just listen.
Fujin blinked. She had not expected this. Finally she pointed at a small coffee shop on the corner. "THERE," she said. Then she nodded at Raijin. "LOSE."
Seifer nodded, understanding her meaning. "Raijin, why don't you go fetch us some sandwiches?" he said quickly, not really thinking about what he was saying. He just wanted to get the stupid oaf out of there.
"POTIONS," Fujin added, pointing at the shop down the street.
Raijin looked at Seifer and Fujin in turn, then shrugged. "Sure, I'll get that stuff, you know?" He turned and walked down the street and out of sight.
"HOURS," Fujin said smugly. Raijin really would be occupied with those two tasks for a few hours at least; there were so many types of potions these days, and Raijin would likely stare at the display for some time trying to decide which type Fujin had meant. The sandwich proposition would be equally baffling.
Seifer shot a halfhearted smile at Fujin. He knew she was pleased; any idiot could tell how much she liked him. That was another reason why he wanted to explain this whole thing to Fujin alone; he knew she would hide her feelings no matter where they were, but having Raijin there to make some kind of idiotic comment would make the whole thing worse. Seifer looked over his shoulder to make sure Raijin was safely inside the shop before he led the way into the coffee shop.
He chose a small table in the corner. Neither one ordered anything when pressed by the waitress, which seemed to upset her quite a bit. Both Seifer and Fujin ignored it, however.
"TELL," Fujin said finally, after several minutes had passed in which neither one of them had said anything.
The reason Seifer had not yet said anything was that he had no idea where to start. He opened his mouth after Fujin spoke, but he could not think of anything to say. Several good starts came into his mind, but none of them seemed to lead anywhere constructive.
"Squall's dying," he said finally, at a loss for any way to talk about himself and Ellone. He figured Squall was the next best thing.
Fujin's eyes were wide with shock. "LIE," she insisted.
Seifer shook his head. "I didn't believe it either, until I came here and saw Rinoa. She's in shock, of course. She's pretty much completely lost touch with reality. It's ridiculous." Seifer had not realized just how ridiculous he thought the situation was until he said it. All the events of the past few days had this aura surrounding them, making it all seem unreal. That disconnection with reality was what seemed ridiculous to Seifer. He shrugged, unsure what else to say.
Fujin nodded, as if comprehending the totality of what Seifer had told her. "YOU?" she asked after a moment, her eyes narrowed to slits again.
Seifer swallowed, unsure of what exactly she meant. What about him? Why was he here? How did he feel about the situation? Why was Ellone so important that he had to follow her all the way here? He just picked an answer almost at random. "I'm only here because Ellone asked me to come," he said. It was only partially a lie; that was part of the reason he had come. "I'm pretty sure Squall doesn't want me here. Rinoa seemed upset that I came." His throat constricted as he said those words; why did it hurt so much that Rinoa did not want him around? They had not been together for years. "I was just getting ready to leave when I ran into you," he added in a lower tone. He felt guilty about abandoning Ellone, but what else could he do when he was so clearly unwanted?
Fujin just nodded again. Seifer could almost see her brain working, trying to find any flaws in his story. This would not be the first time he had lied to her. He could not help but wonder what she saw in him after all -- what anyone saw in him, for that matter.
It took a few minutes for Fujin to speak again. Her voice was very quiet and stiff. "LOVE?"
If Seifer had ordered any coffee, he would have choked on it. Even without it, he still managed to choke a little. "What?" he sputtered. He was unnerved both by the sound of Fujin's voice and her forwardness, a quality that should not shock him anymore. But when that forwardness was coupled with that tone, he did not know what to say anymore.
"LOVE," Fujin repeated, more insistent this time. He knew she was serious, he just did not know how to answer her.
Seifer buried his head in his hands. "Maybe," he answered, speaking into his palms.
Fujin leaned back in her chair. This was nothing less than she had expected. So why did it hurt so much? It was not as if she had not been steeling herself against this for years. At a moment, she rose from her chair and nodded at Seifer. "ALL," she said shortly, signifying the end of their conversation. She turned swiftly and went out of the coffee shop, walking down the street in search of Raijin.
Seifer did not even move when he realized she had left. He just sat in the same position for quite some time, feeling his heart tear apart. Even the waitress knew better than to pester him about something so trivial as a cup of coffee.