Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Final Fantasy series, or their characters. I only own these words –sigh-
A/N: I am sorry, truly. Instead of typing excuses, we'll get on with the story. Thank you so much to all who have reviewed. For the reader's convenience, here's a quick summary of last chapter so that you don't have to re-read again.
Last Chapter: Yuna returns to her apartment after hearing Gippal's story and is faced with her own life's tragedy, but Cloud is there to comfort her. Tidus does some musing of his own, living through memories of him and Yuna. Squall decides to visit his mom, but is also confronted by his sister who appears to witness the two of them together in an impromptu family reunion. Yuna receives her father's letter to her and begins reading it in the park where Tidus finds her once again. Rinoa is still where we left her, in Tidus's bedroom.
.: Chapter Fifteen .:
Fragments of Me
'Maybe if I open my eyes one more time…'
The warm chocolate browns of her pupils took in the sight of a rather neat room, thin wisps of the fading evening sun disappearing almost completely behind darkened clouds and thick blue-ish gray curtains. The snuggly, warm comforter she had unconsciously gathered in one fist while asleep was an evergreen colour, most definitely not her pink flower print ones. At the sight of some blitz trophies she sighed resignedly.
'Nope, still not my room…' Rinoa thought with a tinge of guilt and surprise.
She cuddled the warm sheets closer around her shoulders and pressed the side of her face against the downy pillow, half expecting a strong arm to gather her in an embrace she was ashamed to think, still made her heart flutter. She closed her eyes tightly again, as if to welcome any memories of him before she opened them again to face reality.
The messy waves of honeyed blond hair sometimes crashed against his shoulder blades when he moved to hold her during the night. Her lips parted in thought, trying to feel the warmth radiating from the image, the smile floating on her features when he would rest his cheek against her own, each breath ruffling her hair. She felt so secure in those times, a feeling that was vacant in her eyes when she sometimes looked at Squall. Often, she would curl her body to his just to feel his heart beat against hers, but Squall felt uncomfortable in the simplicity of affections, in situations he couldn't control or make sense of.
It wasn't fair to compare the two. After all, they were practically opposites. Tidus being the carefree, arrogant yet sweet boy she had spent her high-school years with, and Squall, the taciturn, indifferent, mysterious man that she spent all of her time thinking about now.
It was a guilty pleasure, the thought of being in Tidus's bed, in his room, in something so familiar and welcoming…something that had changed in her view to a place that was somewhat foreign now.
'And rightfully so' she thought.
She unclasped the bracelet adorning her wrist and fiddled with it in her hands, looking at it longingly.
Pressing the charm of a star on her friendship bracelet, she brought up a memory of the friend that had given it to her long ago.
Yuna, her best friend of nine years, had been the one to change Tidus for the better. Back then; her immature mind had only captured the envy of having a best friend stealing her boyfriend away. She didn't think to blame anyone else but Yuna. Now she knew better, but the friendship they once had was tainted now because of her mistake. She didn't feel worthy of their relationship or the one she had with Tidus.
Rinoa felt a tinge of jealousy that she couldn't be the one to fix his flaws, make him bind to her thoughts and concerns. Yuna had done that innocently, unknowingly and out of the pureness of her heart. She offered something that Rinoa didn't. Love. Even if she resisted it out of awkwardness and brushed it off as misguided feelings, which Rinoa was sure she did, it was still love.
Rinoa had offered care and naïve fondness for him, feelings that tried to convince them both that what they shared was different from the other star-crossed teenagers. But it wasn't real.
She opened her eyes again and twisted so that she lay on her back.
The truth was, she was scared to realize that she felt that way about Squall. She sometimes wondered if he even thought of her like she did him, and not just a passing glimpse of her image running through his mind, but something more serious than that. Did he love her and was maybe too embarrassed to admit it?
The sheets rustled as she got up.
Smiling to herself for figuring out the answer to her question, she bounced on her heels as she fixed the rumpled sheets.
Grabbing a pen and paper, she scribbled down one last letter to Tidus, her boyfriend for four years, one of her best friends now and nothing else.
Her words stole the softness from the fluffy gray of turbulent clouds in the sky as she re-read her cursive.
Nodding firmly, she placed the letter on his dresser and opened his front door ready to exit, but not before looking out the window to assess the dreary weather.
…She loved this time of day, where the morning sky was tinged with darkening shades. This was the time when the day was decided: the sky could clear to a perfect shade of blue and the sun would peak out, or the clouds would darken and everyone would be soaked…
The smile she held didn't abandon her lips yet as she closed the door behind her and said to herself, "There is still some time for my sunny day."
"I had to give her some space…not that you would understand that at all" Squall muttered the last part underneath his breath.
"You just let her leave, like that. You let her walk away with the setting sun in some brotherly way, alone and- and probably lost or scared. It's getting dark too and it's starting to rain."
Cloud stood agitated near the window, trying to catch some glimpse of his best friend walking within a 5-mile radius, the farthest he could see. He folded his arms across his chest and stiffened at the thought of Yuna being alone in the city without someone there with her. He opened his mouth to continue grilling Squall on possible reasons for his relapse in judgment, or foolish and out of character behavior.
Squall intercepted him, "She's old enough to be on her own. You can play 'Mr. Father Figure' as long as I don't have to be the mother."
The blond gawked at him, ignoring the joke and the hidden smirk playing on Squall's lips before he raised his coffee mug to take a sip.
"There are sadistic, pedophile rapists in the city looking for the tender flesh of a youth such as your sister. They are prowling the streets-"
Squall shuddered at Cloud's choice of words and left while his back was turned, leaving him ranting with no audience.
He chuckled to himself victoriously after managing to elude the wrath of his best friend, though he knew afterwards that he would be in imminent danger.
Though he put up a strong front for those who would look at him and never read beyond what was shown, when alone, he was uncomfortable with himself. He hated being alone…it gave his inner voice a chance to speak, and his mind to run away with impossible thoughts. Those were the things that he couldn't control; the real things in his life that he chose to ignore most of the time.
He closed his eyes for a moment and shivered with the memory of what his sister was reliving for him now.
It was a few months before Yuna's seventeenth birthday that his resistance buckled beneath him when the look in her eyes melted the ice from his heart. Her youthful persistence to grow older before her time would always be a step backwards for her. He knew this from the moment she was a little girl with bandaged knees and a messy ponytail.
She would ask the most innocent questions that somehow he still could not answer. Questions about their mother and father. He didn't want to steal the precious gift of a simple childhood from her. Even when she was getting older, finishing school, getting an apprenticeship with a law firm…it scared him to know that he still had no answers for her. She no longer inquired about a past she knew nothing of, instead, she saw the misty look in his eyes when she mentioned something that he found to be memorable and scolded herself for being so reckless with his feelings…even if she didn't know what triggered the memory in the first place.
Somewhere in-between, his resolve faltered. He found out where their mother was, and visited at least once a month since Yuna's seventeenth birthday. The feelings he held for her were still raw from presumed intentions and past mistakes, but still, for her sake he managed to go back each time to talk about Yuna. He had kept the small portion of his life with their mother in it a secret to protect his sister.
Now it would just cause her pain.
Sighing to himself, he thought of the words sifting through his memory banks. The same words Yuna must be reading to herself right now in the only letter their father had given them. Things had become different to him after reading it, but he trusted Yuna to find her own meaning in those words just as he had before.
Walking with a new, measured purpose to his steps, Squall let the cold fingers of worry strip apart his carefully constructed mask to reveal the stranger behind it.
Now traversing through the city, no one would notice who he really was, and for that he was grateful.
The drop of gold trickled and fell beneath a waiting cloud where the sunshine disappeared with it. He was thankful for the drizzle that followed him like a trustworthy companion.
His mind was invaded with thoughts of Rinoa all of a sudden. The change in weather had triggered it, matching his mood with the failing of light and memories of her. He wore the gloom given to him by the sky, wrapping it around him like a cloak.
'Only Rinoa could think that a day like this is beautiful' he thought bitterly.
When she left him, he realized what he had lost and hated himself for feeling as if he needed her. He just couldn't break down his barriers for her solely. He didn't want to make the mistake of getting too close to anyone, it wasn't worth the risk. But now that she was actually gone…
A feminine voice reached his ears and for a moment, he thought that he had been the one to knock her over.
There she was, the devil herself…in the arms of a stranger that she had just bumped into.
"Oh! I am so sorry"
He heard her apologize over and over until the man chuckled and went on his way.
For the briefest of moments, she glanced in his direction and stopped dead in her tracks. Squall mirrored her stance; half turned towards her while the rest of him urged him back to the opposite path.
Breaking the trance, she stumbled into his back after tripping on a crack in the sidewalk.
Her hands clutched desperately to the material of his shirt, not exactly the most dignifying pose, but she reveled at the fact that he hadn't shoved her away…yet.
"You are such a klutz," he murmured, trying to disguise his amusement and conceal the laughter that was trying to bubble out despite his caution.
Watching Rinoa make a fool of herself had made his voice warm and soft, almost completely absent of his usual coldness. The girl had always made a spectacle of herself in public, but she lived through the embarrassment with a smile. It made him want to forget the problems they had for the time being.
"I am not!"
She managed to remain indignant although she still held onto him for much more than physical support.
He moved away from her and started to walk away, finally catching himself and feeling ashamed for it. Her voice stopped him.
"Is this it then?" She chuckled nervously, "Have we been reduced to fleeting glances and awkward conversations less than a sentence long?"
The sound of her words and her voice was disheartening, as if she were trying to clutch the last tendrils of hope to her chest. As much as he wanted to just walk away, he wanted to say something that would last, and perhaps lighten the pain. If only he knew that they were sharing the same hurt.
The feeling of anger returned to him. 'Why should I be worried if my words hurt her when she was the reason for it?'
He turned back to her, "Yes. That is exactly what constitutes the ideal break-up of a couple."
She visibly flinched at his indifference. He looked at her as if she was a stranger.
"I think I deserve more than a muttered insult in my general direction". Her voice faltered even as she said it.
"Believe me, its more than what you deserve"
Silence greeted them like an unwanted visitor as his words lingered in the air. Squall continued with his rampage, determined to get every uncomfortable thought and feeling out of his mind and into the space between them so that she would feel exactly how he had for the past days.
"Cloud told me what he saw that night…you and Tidus."
"Don't you dare try to blame this on him"
"I wouldn't worry about that. I blame everything entirely on you. How did he know that we were together or not, you just showed up on his doorstep. Hopefully you got what you were looking for."
His suggestive remark stung her and for more than a moment, she felt like slapping him. Didn't he know her better than that?
"You don't have the option of assuming you know what went on, you weren't there" she turned to him, her voice edged with anger as he scoffed at her remark.
His expression softened a bit. He could no longer ignore the tears trailing paths across her face and the desperate way she tried to look him in the eye, hoping to find some remorse. Squall had gotten to her very core and was destroying what he saw with his accusations.
"Why do you care about me now when you should've cared before!"
Her question startled him. She thought he was a heartless monster incapable of loving another…Unknowingly she had struck him deeply.
In the haze of his own confusion and heartache, the only thought he had was to prove her wrong and get her back.
He had no response for her question. Squall wanted to say that he always cared about her…even loved her but couldn't force the words out. Instead he grabbed her wrist and pulled her across the street.
" 'Minglehaze Park'" Rinoa murmured as she read the sign. Her heart fluttered for a moment, shaking off the crystallized hurt. Why was he taking her here? She almost smiled foolishly while sifting through the clichéd possibilities of his purpose before realistically disposing them. This was Squall….a furious Squall ontop of that. Still, she couldn't help but wonder.
This place had kept some peaceful memories for them. It was where he had first met her. Squall smiled inside himself.
She was sitting ontop of the children's swirly slide, holding a daisy and ruthlessly plucking each petal one by one.
"Aren't you a bit old for that?" he called to her.
She looked back down at him, scrutinizing and measuring with a bit of a smile on her face. "Aren't you a bit young to have those wrinkles on your forehead?" she returned, not the least bit repentant.
He huffed thoughtfully, thinking he had someone to challenge himself with. "It comes from dealing with wistfully pretentious high school girls such as yourself."
She glared at him and for once in a long while he smiled a true smile.
Now thinking about it, they had more reasons to hate each other than to like each other. Rinoa had proven herself much more than an air-headed cheerleader who moped about a broken nail. She was different. She was a challenge. The tension between them had created love and it only took a couple of accidental occurrences back then for them to become a couple.
"Where are you taking me?"
Her voice startled him into reality. He decided not to answer her just to annoy her further.
It had started to rain now, the drizzle subsiding and surrendering to a more powerful rhythm. The park was vacant except for a few children who were splashing in puddles, trying to capture that last feeling of childish freedom before their mothers' came to get them. The swings swung absently as the wind pulled them along, and the slide where he had first met Rinoa carried a few stray leaves as its passenger.
"What are you doing?"
He moved them both to the edge of the park where some flowers decorated the grass in an intricate, yet artificial pattern where they had been planted a couple of years ago to enhance the view. He let go of her wrist and looked at her fully.
Her dark hair was tangled from the wind and portions of it clung to her face haphazardly. She managed to look haggard yet beautiful in her untidiness.
"Well answer my question, Squall. Did you ever care about me, or did I imagine it? Tell me the truth."
Squall grabbed her shoulders and his voice became harsh again.
"Rinoa, I never liked you, never even cared about you. I was hoping that I never had to see you again after we broke up because I hated being with you. Everything we had was fake."
She bit her lip to stifle a sob, but a choked sound managed to escape. More tears clawed at her eyelashes to be set free, and the sting of it was too much to bear. In her angst, she was frozen stiff and hated to still think that his arms on her shoulder might still give her some warmth.
Squall just smiled. His grip on her became stronger, and he pushed her down.
Although she landed softly on the flowers below, she couldn't help but gape at him hopelessly.
He crouched down to her level and pressed his forehead against hers as if he had just spoken the sweetest words she would ever hear.
"And you should know…" he continued softly, "That everything I just said was a pack of lies."
He kissed her roughly and was surprised to feel her kissing him back.
"Truth is…" he said, still assaulting her lips with his touch, "I was stupid enough…to fall in love with you."
When her hands traveled to his silken mane of dark brown hair he pushed her away again and answered the question in her eyes, trying not to smile.
"Didn't you say something once about how you wanted to be kissed in a field of flowers in the rain, or something equally stupid as that? Well, this is close enough!" he answered gruffly as if embarrassed that he did something she always wished had happened.
He got up and stalked off thinking that he had just won a battle, leaving the love of his life in the middle of a crumpled bed of flowers with a stupid look of shock and amusement on her face.
The remaining children laughed and played and the sound of it followed him as he walked, along with the sweet taste of Rinoa's kiss melting into his mouth with the cool summer rain.
○♥○Before you were even born, I loved you, both of you
Her eyes settled on the words, the pigments of both blue and green melting together, stained with tears. She shrugged her shoulders closer together for warmth before watching the chartreuse of autumn's start beginning to stumble into view. The air was already becoming chill but the feeling didn't penetrate as deeply as it should have. Her heartbeat drummed steadily with each step she took before stopping completely to sit on the park bench.
Always remember that, and don't ever doubt it. Even if you may not believe it when things get tough, take my words for advice because as a father I have promised never to fail you.
Yuna didn't notice the drastic change in weather as her eyes traveled over his words over and over, feeling the warmth from her father's words to her. She noticed a slight tear on the parchment where another page had been attached…Squall's part of the letter. With shaking hands, she brought it closer to her.
It gave her a semblance of comfort to read the letter again.It hurts me to have to leave you so soon
She flinched at his words, wondering for a moment if he knew that he would die without getting to see his family one more time. Recovering slightly, she remembered Gippal's story. This was probably written around that time. He knew that there was a chance he might never see them again.
I had always thought that your mother would be the only girl to steal my heart, but I am not too proud to admit I was wrong. Your eyes always looked at everything with meaning, and it is disconcerting to confess that when you looked at me, it felt as if you already had a grasp on my love.
Yuna smiled faintly at his words.
For a while, I was worried, no, terrified of leaving you especially. There wouldn't be any warm arms to wrap around you when you got scared at night, and I wouldn't be able to answer your call when the time came. I could only hope that as you grew, you wouldn't find a reason from your past to hate me. It hurt to leave you, more than anything.
The words she had read previously were running, melting into each other with droplets of rain and a mixture of the few tears that managed to evade her restraint. They were trailing gray, messy paths on the parchment, leaking into her heart with a happiness that was otherwise absent in the sky above.
But I know that your brother will be the one to answer your call when I can't. And I know, that one day, someone else will hold you.
A strong arm wound around her shoulders and the rain suddenly stopped its barrage.
She leaned in closer to the sudden enveloping warmth of the stranger beside her, knowing in her heart that he was no longer so unfamiliar. Her body knew how it felt to be next to him, to feel the wispy ends of his hair tickle the sides of her neck. Her eyes kept to the words that were gently fading into memory, but her whole being welcomed her beautiful stranger.
In those moments, maybe you will feel a faint glimmer of a memory of you and I together.
The skin of her cheek found the pronounced curve of his neck and shoulder as she leaned completely into him. He breathed her name. She closed her eyes, thinking of the words that were traveling down the page, disappearing from the parchment, but never truly escaping the softened pad of her heart where his message lay engraved.I can't ask you ever to forgive me because that would be a selfish desire on my part. But, know that I love you too much to ever leave you for long, and though you have stolen my heart with your tender, loving innocence from that moment I looked at you, I have pocketed every image and reminiscence of you to stay with me.
She opened her eyes again to the paper in her hands, watching the last lingering words.
If there is only one thing I wish for you to carry with your image of me, it is my advice. Don't ever mind rainy days because every day must be beautiful for you, I swear it. You mustn't ever be afraid to be alone…and most importantly, don't ever be frightened of not being alone.
His breath is coming warmly on her neck, touching her like a kiss. The heat they share makes her incredibly aware all of a sudden of the chill wind coupling with frigid rain, hitting the underside of her calves and the side of one arm. He is holding his jacket over them, providing a small tent of protection but they are both still shivering in their private shelter. The sky has long lost its fight to keep the sun, and the storm is opening like an old wound, scarring it with turmoil.
She opens the page fully to the wrath of the tempest, letting it erase each word willingly, washing the page and herself clean with a new skin.Love you, forever and always
A/N: There it is, and you're probably thinking it took me long enough! Hope you liked the Squall/Rinoa scene. I tried to capture Squall's gruffness with a mix of some sensitivity to make it seem more true to his personality…but maybe I just made it worse. And don't worry, things will get lighter and happier soon enough, I just need to tie up some loose ends. Next chapter will focus on the characters that remain a mystery, like Gippal, Lenne and Shuyin.
You might also be asking, "Where's the fluff?" It's coming, and believe it or not, it does exist in this story!
Ok, well you know what I want to hear…tell me the awful truth because I don't know when I'll be updating again. But have some comfort in knowing that I haven't given up, that I will finish the story
Side note: "Minglehaze" does exist, but the park does not. I don't own it either way, but the reference was made.