A/N: And welcome to the last chapter of Lost Mems :D Please note that I've updated with two chapters, so I suggest you go back to Chapter 40 if you haven't already done so because that's where I left off. And I'd just like to add that seeing as how this is the last chapter, it is exceptionally long, so I would get very comofortable if I were you. Well...here it is:)
Lost Memories of my Love
Chapter 41 – As it Ends
Squall stood at the front of the altar with his hands clasped together so tightly that he felt like his fingers were going to snap. To his right was his best man, Zell, wearing a similar black tux to Squall, but not wearing his usual lively grin. This made him look rather strange.
Squall, however, looked completely normal without any trace of cheerfulness in his face. It might have looked normal, but inside, he was dreading every single moment. His mind wasn't really focused on the present events, but the events prior to the wedding – the trip Ellone had given him to the past, Seifer's surprise visit, and Quistis's strange words. All three had some kind of effect on the way he was feeling. It was almost as if everyone was planning to make him feel awful…
The orchestra began to play and Squall looked up to the back of the church. Down the aisle came some kids from the orphanage dressed up elegantly to play the role of the pageboy and flower girls. Every child looked indubitably happy as they walked down the aisle.
Then came Ashleigh with her arm linked with Laguna's. Laguna, in an elegant suit, held a pleasant smile on his face as usual. Ashleigh, however, held the same empty expression Squall did. It was hard to tell behind her white veil, but Squall saw it very easily. But she did look remarkably beautiful with the pure white wedding dress that made her slender figure stand out. Her red hair was up in a complicated hairstyle and her makeup made her skin look absolutely perfect. In her hands was a large bouquet of white, pink and red roses.
Behind Ashleigh and Laguna came the bridesmaids. Selphie, Quistis and Ellone wore beautiful white dresses and all three of them held weak smiles on their faces.
Squall's eyes darted around the church. In the front seat sat Sera with a very haughty look on her face. Irvine was in the second row with a blank expression as he watched the bride walk up the aisle. Rinoa sat on the other side of the church in the front row, and she looked very pretty. She was wearing a sapphire blue halter neck dress with a sheer blue coat over the top. She wore matching dangly earrings and Squall noticed his Griever ring was still on her finger. However she, too, bore an empty expression.
As Ashleigh and everyone else reached the altar, Squall's legs took him over to his bride and they stood side by side, facing the reverend. If somebody were to look straight at the row of people in front of the church, they would notice that Squall and Ashleigh were the least happy people of the bunch.
The reverend began to speak, but Squall wasn't paying attention. In the corner of his eye, he saw a silver tear roll down Ashleigh's face. He couldn't help but feel sorry for her, because in a way, she was also forced to marry somebody. He wasn't sure whether she wanted to or not, but it appeared to him that she didn't.
Sera … she's not as powerful as you think.
Quistis's words rung in Squall's mind, and he couldn't help but think how incredibly wrong she was…
Before he knew it, it was time for the readings. Squall and Ashleigh walked over to the side stand and Squall stood out of the way as Ashleigh walked onto the stand and adjusted the microphone to speak.
"Today," began Ashleigh monotonously, "Is the day of the wedding of two people, the uniting of two families to form one … the exchange of vows in order to share love for the rest of their lives." She paused with a quiet sigh. "I never knew what love was. And maybe, I still don't know. But something I do know is that nothing ever stands in the way of true love. Nothing. Not even the truth."
At the last sentence, both Squall and Rinoa immediately thought about what Seifer and Quistis had told each of them.
"And … and even if the truth hurts, it's something we all have to accept," continued Ashleigh. "And my truth is … my truth is…"
Rinoa could tell that Ashleigh wanted to say something, but decided against it and said something else.
"My truth is that I'm not really a woman of truth," said Ashleigh finally, "And I believe many people know this."
Ashleigh looked specifically straight at Rinoa, who cringed.
"I also believe," continued Ashleigh, "that everyone deserves true love. And … I happen to know two people who have found it."
Squall thought that Ashleigh was referring to the both of them for a second there, but thought twice. Why was she saying such things? All her words made him feel guilty about his decision to go along with Sera's deal. And what was this obsession that everyone had about 'not being afraid of the truth'? It was too odd to be a coincidence, but it must have been…
"Thank you," finished Ashleigh.
She stepped off the podium carefully and was met with Squall's eyes for the very first time in a very long time for a split second. It was like some kind of electric jolt sent down Squall's body because he had never seen such an empty and cold expression on another human being other than himself.
Their eye contact broke as Squall stepped onto the podium and adjusted the microphone. He looked down at the sea of people in the vast church, all eyes staring at him with keen interest. He sighed, as he hadn't prepared any kind of speech beforehand. But he was rather good at public speaking anyway…
"So … today is my … long awaited wedding day," said Squall slowly. He noticed Rinoa staring up at him with an face mixed of a smile and a grimace. "And … and I guess this is a day to be joyful about. The exchange of…" he paused, wondering what to say, "love. Yes. Love. It's a strange thing. And it's a hard thing, too."
Rinoa cringed, and the expression on her face made Squall melt. So many things were running through Squall's mind … so many things … Rinoa's past and the way Sera treated her, the fact that Seifer was the one who kept the truth from Rinoa, the way Squall blindly proposed to Ashleigh, Quistis and Ellone's words of wisdom … everything…
"I also know that Esthar is a beautiful country," said Squall calmly. In his mind, it was like there was a horrible fire with sirens and scared people everywhere. That's what his thoughts were playing at … it was like an emergency, the outcomes debating on whether the people would be saved or not.
"And even with its rocky past," continued Squall, "with the countless wars and encounters with sorceresses…" He watched as Rinoa quickly tore her eyes away from Squall, "I know that Esthar can look to its future with pride, no matter what the circumstances."
There was a cheery murmur rolling amongst the people in the church.
"And, as Ashleigh said before … everyone deserves true love. And I'm sorry to say…" Squall's mind felt like it was in meltdown mode at that very second. "…That my true love belongs not with Ashleigh."
The cheery murmurs quickly changed into shocked, gossipy ones. Rinoa looked back at Squall with bemusement. She noticed the tiny smile that had only just appeared on Ashleigh's face, but decided to worry more about what Squall was saying.
"And knowing that Esthar is the beautiful nation it is … its people should understand that everyone deserves a chance at true love," said Squall coolly, "And I've always said that true love always returns."
Rinoa's heart raced. What's he playing at?
"And as many of you should already know … my true love belongs to Rinoa Heartilly."
The murmurs were silenced as everyone stared at Squall in the utmost shock. But nobody felt more emotional than Rinoa. She did not know what to do, say, feel or think. Her body was numb with every possible emotion known to man. She began to tremble, her body shaking all over. What was going to happen? This was something she did not expect, but at the same time, she was somewhat glad it did…
Squall noticed Sera in the front seat, her extreme fury wisping across her face. Her fists were clenched into tight balls, and she too was trembling with anger.
Nothing ever stands in the way of true love. Not even the truth.
Ashleigh's words brought courage to Squall. He was confident with what he was doing.
"And most of you should know that there've been so many horrible events," said Squall, "But the truth has been hidden this whole time. The reason why everything is so wrong is because of one person – Sera Caraway."
Sera stood up, a look of outrage all over her face. "That is enough! I warned you, Squall Leonhart, but apparently you did not take my words seriously—"
"No!" cried Ashleigh suddenly. "You're the one behind all this! Everyone is a victim because of you! Everybody, Sera Almassy blackmailed Squall and myself into marrying each other!"
The silence was broken with the gossipy murmurs again. Rinoa's eyes widened at this news. So many emotions were flooding through her ears and into her mind. Squall was blackmailed? But … I thought nothing would stand in our way… She was confused more than anything. But beneath all of that confusion, there was a glint of relief.
"Why you little…!" Sera's eyes widened and she looked like she was losing her sanity. She quickly reached into her purse and pulled out a handgun, her eyes narrowing down at Ashleigh dangerously. She was beginning to perspire with both nervousness and anger. "You will shut that big mouth of yours this minute and get on that altar and marry the bastard!"
There were gasps of horror with Sera's sudden outburst. Ashleigh had the slightest look of panic and she backed up a little with her hands slowly lifting up. She honestly wasn't expecting her mother to crack like this…
"All right, Sera … please, calm down," said Laguna, approaching her slowly.
But all he was met with was Sera's gun pointing right at him. Unarmed, Laguna slowly put his hands up in surrender. Sera then pointed her revolver back at Ashleigh, her eye twitching madly. Rinoa looked very frightened, as she honestly didn't expect any of this to happen. Everything was happening much to quickly for her to grab ... the fact that Squall pronounced his true feelings, Ashleigh's confession, Sera's outburst ... what was happening? What was going to happen?
Rinoa clenched her fist, trying to suppress the endless feelings within herself. In the corner of her eye, she glanced at Squall, who had his eyes narrowed down at Sera in concern. He obviously did not expect this to happen either, and was starting to feel an overwhelming flood of regret...
"This wedding will continue or I will kill the bride," shouted Sera, her arm trembling.
"No!" Ashleigh shouted back, equally as loudly.
There was a loud crash, as stained glass above the altar shattered all over the floor. It seemed that a very smug looking Seifer on a revving motorbike smashed through the window and knocked down all the vases of flowers in the process. There were screams of panic at this sudden interference that only added more fear to the fact that Sera was becoming senile and had just pulled out a gun and was about to shoot her own daughter.
People began getting up and rushing to the side doors to get out of the bike's path, however many didn't leave the church as they were much too curious as to how this wedding was going to end. Rinoa, however, was not one of those people – all she did was get out of her seat and stand against the door. She just didn't have the heart to run away. It felt like her feet were glued to the floor, as well as her eyes being glued to the front.
Seifer sped up towards Ashleigh and grabbed her, pulling her onto the seat behind him. At that very moment, a gunshot was heard as soon as the blonde had appeared. Fortunately the bullet missed and hit another window, causing it to shatter into a million pieces.
Ashleigh tore off her veil and Seifer sped his motorcycle down the aisle, the two of them looking very triumphant. The blonde man shot Rinoa a quick smile before he raced out of the church through the backdoor, leaving Rinoa simply awestruck. There were screams of panic
Sera screamed in rage. "That's it! Loire, you did not take me seriously, did you? Everybody, Rinoa Heartilly is a sorceress!"
These words were like flying daggers at Rinoa. Millions of questions only added to the millions she already had. How did she know I was a sorceress? What does she mean when Squall didn't take her seriously? Then suddenly it hit her. She didn't want to believe it, but as she pieced all the given information together, there was no other answer. She blackmailed Squall into marrying Ashleigh or else she would tell everyone I was a sorceress…?
"All along," spat Sera, "She was right under all of your noses. The last of the sorceress clan – she's evil! She will strike you all like she struck me! She sent me into a coma after her attack!"
Rinoa felt so weak, so helpless, as she fell to her knees onto the floor. Suddenly the hectic events around her were far away – she couldn't hear the horrified conversation amongst the people, she couldn't see the many pairs of eyes that were pasted on her, she couldn't sense the fear in the atmosphere, and she didn't even notice Squall rushing to Rinoa's side … all she could feel was the life being sucked out of her as the world grew faint. Somehow, she felt this was the end for her…
Obviously, nobody knew who to react to first. It was only then that the security teams arrived, and it seemed that Laguna and Irvine's attempts to try and calm Sera down were futile. Both men were unarmed and appeared to have no magic equipped to them. Quistis and Ellone were at the doors, trying to evacuate all the people out of the church. The reverend had fled in fear, and Selphie and Zell were trying to ward off all the media filming everything that was going on.
"Seize her, men!"
Squall thought at first the leader of the security was addressing Sera, but he was wrong. About a dozen men were rushing up to a dazed Rinoa, all armed with heavy artillery. Sera had slowly moved forward to the couple cramped in the corner of the church, her gun pointed precisely at Rinoa.
"Stop!" roared Squall.
The charging men quickly came to a halt, their weapons still firm in their hands.
"B-But sir … she's a sorceress!" said the team leader.
"I said stop," said Squall, in a final kind of way. He bent down next to a huddled Rinoa, whom was silent the whole time. "Rin…"
Rinoa was trembling with fear. Everything she ever feared was beginning. There were people after her, wanting her dead. Sera's announcement of Rinoa's inheritance was recorded by the countless press members and were no doubt going to be distributed it to the world. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people present to hear the very words that were going to condemn her. It was the end…
For a split second, it seemed nothing existed to Squall anymore. He tried to find the words to make things right again, but nothing came to mind. Rinoa's passive state was beginning to scare him, as she was absolutely silent with her head in her arms wrapped around herself tightly and her face buried into her knees. He touched her shoulder softly, wanting her to say something.
"Oh for Hyne's sake," said Sera piercingly, "If you won't kill her … I will!"
Suddenly, it was like everything was happening in slow motion. Squall looked up with a start, not withdrawing his hand from Rinoa's shoulder, and saw the evil gleam in Sera's eyes. Quicker than the speed of light, Squall pushed Rinoa and stood up with his arms wide open in front of the sorceress. Rinoa fell on her back and looked up, her vision hazy. But the events to follow were too horrifying for her senses to handle.
Another gunshot was heard.
Squall fell onto one knee, clutching his chest in pain. Sera's silver bullet penetrated into his left lung, leaving him coughing up blood. Sera was aiming for Rinoa, but she was in too much of a state to notice. Instead, Squall, with his lightning reflexes, pushed Rinoa out of the way and shielded her – only to be met with the piercing bullet.
Rinoa let out a shrill scream as soon as she realised what had happened. "SQUALL!"
It was then that everything felt like it was going back to normal speed.
Rinoa got up and rushed over to Squall, her eyes welling up with tears. She ignored the security team rushing up to Sera and grabbing the senile old woman. All she could concentrate on was Squall and the way he was in front of her. She took him in her arms and felt his oozing crimson blood meeting her cold hands, but she didn't care. All that mattered to her then was Squall. His stormy eyes were staring up at her, and he tried to force a smile.
Laguna abandoned Sera, who was already being taken care of by the security team along with Irvine, and rushed up to the wounded man. It was only soon after that Quistis, Ellone, Selphie and Zell abandoned what they were trying to do and ran up to Squall and Rinoa as well.
"Call an ambulance, quick!" shouted Zell.
Quistis nodded and hastily pulled out her cell phone, dialling the emergency number quickly.
"M-My wedding day … th-the only day that I don't junction myself," murmured Squall light-heartedly, with the greatest difficulty.
Rinoa burst into tears and held Squall even more tightly in her arms. Stupid, stupid Squall … he makes the stupidest jokes at the stupidest times, she thought bitterly.
"Cure!" shouted Zell angrily, as green particles of magic seethed onto Squall's body.
"Cura!" cried Selphie, as she did them same.
"It's … it's no use," said Irvine with a clenched fist, "His wound is too deep for any of our magic to heal up fully!"
Rinoa didn't want to listen to it. Squall was going to survive. He was not going to die. The thought was just ridiculous … Squall dying because of an old woman's bullet? It was simply absurd. Rinoa refused to believe it. But why were there tears falling from her eyes? She couldn't stop it … the look on Squall's face made her want to fall apart…
"The ambulance is on its way," said Quistis, hanging up her phone.
"On its way … that's outrageous," said Laguna angrily, "I'm going outside to see if there's a medic in the crowd. Squall, son … hang on … please…" And with that, he disappeared outside in search for a doctor.
"You can't take me away!" screeched Sera in the background, as the security team cuffed her up and began leading her out of the church.
"You just fucking shot the vice president!" shouted Irvine angrily, "We sure as hell can take you away! …Guys, I'm gonna take care of that hag … you'll make it, pal, I know you will…" He nodded with sincerity and left with a screaming Sera and the security team.
"S-S-Squall," Rinoa found her voice, "P-Please…"
Squall's hand slowly reached up to Rinoa's face and he caressed her cheek softly. "I-I'm sorry, Rin…" His fingers reached the sorceress's tear-stained eyes and weakly wiped away a newly formed tear. "F-For everything … I didn't r-realise … what Ashleigh and S-Sera did t-to you … before I left … I'm…"
Squall coughed up some more blood and more tears fell from Rinoa's eyes. She held the man she loved ever so tightly … she didn't care how Squall knew about her past but she honestly didn't care – all that mattered to her was that he lived…
"Rin…oa … I…l-love—"
Squall choked on his breath and he was out like a light. Everyone present gasped in alarm. Rinoa couldn't tell if he was still breathing or not, because his breathing was so shallow beforehand. But inside, she felt her heart crumbling into tiny pieces. She couldn't feel anything, only numbness.
"S-S…Squall…" Rinoa broke into a fit of hysterical sobs. She couldn't feel Quistis's hand falling on her shoulder in attempt to reassure her. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. Squall's motionless body in her arms was the most frightening thing ever; even more frightening than the idea of everyone knowing she was a sorceress.
Her numbness soon came to disappear as a new brewing emotion took over her body. She had no choice but to succumb to this sensation. Her eyes earthen brown eyes flickered to a vicious fiery red. She lost control of her body and her mind, her body levitating itself into the air. A bright aura surrounded her body and her crimson covered hands curled themselves into tight fists. She let out a bloodcurdling scream, mixed with a terrified cry as her raven hair spread around her face, as if an invisible breeze was blowing against her.
"Oh no … she's going into sorceress mode!" cried Selphie, absolutely horrified.
"What are we gonna do?" yelled Zell in panic, "Squall … her knight's…"
"Rinoa!" shouted Ellone, trying to hide the worry in her voice, "Rinoa, come down!"
"It's no use, she can't hear any of us," murmured Quistis, shaking her head.
Rinoa raised her bloodstained hand, and great forks of lightning simultaneously struck all around the church, shattering many windows and vases, breaking many pews and even striking at Selphie, which caused her to yelp in pain. At that moment, everyone hopped into a defensive stance to avoid getting hit by any more of Rinoa's attacks.
"We … we can't just leave her!" said Selphie, getting up from Rinoa's fierce attack.
"We can't hurt her, either," said Zell, "Besides, none of us are armed…"
"Correction, none of you are armed."
Everyone cautiously turned to find Seifer and Ashleigh, both in messy wedding clothes. Seifer was holding his silver gunblade in hand, Ashleigh close behind him.
"She's still Rinoa!" said Quistis, "If you hurt the sorceress, you hurt Rinoa…"
"Well, what're you gonna do, just stand back and watch her destroy everything?" snapped Seifer.
"We have something from Matron," said Ashleigh quietly. She handed her brother a small bag of what appeared to be bullets, but strangely, there was a silvery aura encircling each bullet.
Seifer loaded his gunblade with the special bullets and aimed for Rinoa.
"What are doing?" exclaimed Zell.
"I know what I'm doing," snarled Seifer, "I was an almost-SeeD after all…"
"Those things are from Matron … I'm sure we can trust him," said Ellone.
Just then, Rinoa cast a fire spell, causing several dancing flames to eat up the wooden seats in the church. Seifer pulled the trigger for his gunblade, and a speeding magical bullet hit Rinoa dead-set in the heart. However, the sorceress did not bleed at all … she looked stunned for a moment and then lapsed to the floor. It looked like she was struggling to move her body, as if some invisible force was pulling her toward the ground.
And to everyone's amazement, she was out like a candle. But that wasn't what amazed everyone … the thing that amazed everyone was the final spell she cast.
She looked around. She couldn't see anything. Everything was pitch black. She didn't know where she was. She felt very light, but still, she couldn't see anything. She tried to move her body, but it was very difficult. She took one step forward, and with that one step, everything came into focus again.
She still didn't know where she was. She waved her hand in
front of her face, and looked down at her body
to find herself in one piece. She looked around. Everything was
still pitch black. It was like she was walking on nothingness, breathing nothingness.
She pivoted on her heel to try and find the voice calling her. It was so familiar … where was it? Who was it?
Squall appeared out of nowhere, looking around with a confused look on his face. But everything was still blackness … all she could see was Squall, as if there was some kind of spotlight over him and him only.
Squall looked up at the sound of her voice. His confused look quickly changed to a great look of relief. He rushed up to her and tried to grab her, but his arms went straight through her as if she were transparent. She gasped, and wondered why this was happening. She tried to touch his face, but to no avail. Her hand went straight through him, the way his hand went straight through her.
Rinoa stared longingly into his eyes. Everything was still black – it seemed that the two of them were the only visible figures in this place.
'Where are we?' asked Squall.
'…Are we … dead…?'
Squall shuddered at the thought. 'No … well, I hope not.'
'The last thing I remember was … was me holding you in my arms…'
Squall gave her a sad smile. 'Is this … a dream?'
Rinoa bit her bottom lip in dismay. 'I … I don't know. I wonder how we're supposed to get out…?'
Squall sighed. 'I'm … I'm so sorry, Rin.'
Rinoa shook her head wildly. 'Why should you be sorry?'
'For not telling you,' replied Squall, looking miserable. 'About what Sera did … I just didn't want to tell you because I knew you'd hate yourself. I knew you'd hate me.'
Rinoa smiled weakly. 'Well, you were right. About the part about me hating myself, I mean. I could never hate you, Squall. Never. But I guess … I'm thankful you never told me.' She sighed. 'And I'm sorry too, Squall. About how I never told you about Ashleigh and Sera … I promised myself I would, but … y'know … fate played us.'
Squall shook his head as if it were nothing. 'I'm just sorry that I never knew what was going on. I was so blind. You didn't deserve any of that…'
Rinoa pursed her lips together. 'It's all right, it's all right. It's the past now. Let's just keep them as memories and nothing more...'
Squall nodded in silent agreement. Suddenly, his feet began to disperse. He looked down at himself and then back up at Rinoa with something she had never seen on him before – fear. The tiny particles made their way up to his knees, making them disappear also.
'Squall … don't leave me,' said Rinoa, distraught.
'I don't know what's happening,' said Squall with a hint of panic in his voice, 'I … I don't want to leave you…'
Squall's body slowly began to vanish. Rinoa thrust her arm forward and tried to grab Squall's extended arm, but only to be met with nothingness as she fell flat on her face. She looked up and saw that only Squall's head was left, with a forced but gentle smile upon it. And with that, he disappeared completely.
Rinoa's eyes flickered open in an instant. Her eyes were met with a bright light and an empty white ceiling above her. She quickly squinted, not being able to handle the brightness. Her joints were stiff as she tried to move her neck to look around.
She found that she was in a hospital environment. All that was heard was the droning of a machine. There were blue curtains closed around her. She looked at her wrists, and to her sheer horror, they were hooked up to some kind of machine. Rinoa forced herself to sit up.
What was that? Rinoa asked herself, thinking back to that vision of herself and Squall in the place of nothingness. A dream? Was it all just a horrible dream?
Rinoa pulled off the soft white blanket on her and found that she was still in the clothes she wore to Squall and Ashleigh's wedding. She didn't seem to be hurt in any way, nor could she feel any pain – except for that aching feeling of realising the events of the wedding weren't a dream.
She ripped off the cords around her wrist that attached herself to the machine and got out of the bed, the cold floor tingling at her bare feet. She noticed that on the bedside table were a clipboard and numerous files and charts. She peered over one of them and it read:
Royal Estharian Private Hospital
Name: Heartilly, Rinoa
Casualty is victim of sorceress attack. No physical damage detected.
She abandoned the files and pulled open the curtains, to find an empty room. There was a sofa up against the wall and a rather large television set, big enough to be a home entertainment system. She noticed that to the right of her little bed was another similar bed with the curtains drawn back. And sitting on that bed with his head in his hands was…
"Squall!" cried Rinoa.
Squall looked up and didn't even have time to react, as Rinoa had run up to him and flung her arms around him. Her heart skipped beats, as this feeling was so real. She sat down on the bed next to Squall, not letting go of him. He appeared to have just woken up from a coma just as Rinoa had. A humming machine was next to his bed, and Squall, too, had torn off the cords attached to him, because he felt absolutely fine. He was still wearing the tux from the wedding, minus the shirt, exposing his bare and masculine chest with a bandage over the wound he received from Sera's bullet.
Squall slowly placed his arms around Rinoa in return with silent gratefulness. At this, Rinoa hugged him tighter towards herself, wondering if this was a dream … because if it was, she certainly didn't want to wake up.
"You're alive," she whispered, "I'm so thankful…"
Squall broke the embrace and looked at Rinoa with the tiniest smile. "So am I. Did you…?"
Rinoa nodded when Squall trailed off, knowing that he was referring to the little hallucination from just a while ago. "Yeah … yeah, I saw it too."
"So it wasn't a dream after all," murmured Squall. He reached over and picked up his white shirt on the corner of his bed, which appeared to have been washed clean of all the blood. He put it on, doing up the buttons carefully.
Rinoa nodded. "It was just after you … you disappeared … that I woke up."
"Same here," said Squall, a slight look of surprise on his face as he buttoned up his shirt, leaving the top two undone.
The two of them exchanged quiet smiles, overly relieved that both of them were alive. This place looked too real to be a dream. Neither of them knew what had happened, or how long they were in the hospital, but it didn't matter. All that mattered to both of them was that they were together, at least in some shape or form.
"Oh my god, you're both alive!"
Squall and Rinoa looked away from each other, only to find an over-joyful Selphie at the door. At the sight of them, she rushed up to the two and pulled them into a fierce hug, almost cutting off both Squall and Rinoa's blood circulation. Almost immediately after Selphie's bright words, another six surprised but happy faces came though the door.
Zell, Irvine, Quistis, Ellone, Laguna and Min rushed into the room with glee and crowded around Squall, Rinoa and Selphie. Each of them looked like they had a million things to say, if it weren't for Selphie's hysteric sobs of joy cutting them off.
"We were so worried," wailed Selphie, "Day in and day out … we'd visit you every day to see how you were…"
"Okay, thanks Selphie," said Rinoa, struggling for air.
"Sefie, let them breathe!" said Irvine, pulling Selphie off the couple.
Rinoa looked up at her friends and grinned. "So. Did you miss us?"
Everyone present couldn't help but laugh at what Rinoa said. The raven-haired woman turned her body to face her friends properly, ready for what news was to come. She didn't care if it was good or bad news, she was just happy that her friends were there for her…
"Yes, Rin, the both of you were out for four days," said Irvine knowingly, "It was pretty hard to not miss you."
Squall smiled. He had to admit, he was also extraordinarily pleased to see his friends. And he hated to admit it, but he was relatively relieved that his father was there too.
"What happened, anyway?" asked Squall.
"Well," said Quistis, opening the curtains of Rinoa's bed and seating herself, "Sera shot you, commander."
Ellone smiled timidly and sat down next to Quistis. "The almighty Squall was shot. That's just horrifying, isn't it?"
Squall rolled his eyes with an embarrassed smirk. "Yes, I admit defeat, Elle."
"And everyone thought you were a goner, man," said Zell, "I mean, you weren't junctioned and you were unarmed, and none of our spells would work."
"Yeah, and then Rinny went berserk!" shrieked Selphie, "She was destroying everything with her sorceress powers ... she destroyed half the church!"
"But then we tamed her, somehow," said Quistis, "with Matron and Cid's special sorceress-taming bullets, courtesy of SeeD."
"We thought you were out," said Ellone, "But before you fell unconscious, you cast a spell. But it wasn't one of your destructive spells … it was a life spell. You cast it on Squall, and the doctors said that was what saved him."
"Yeah, because none of our spells were working," said Zell, "Our magic was much too weak for a wound that deep. You weren't junctioned, after all, and that old woman sure had good aim and a hell of a heap of freaky bullets. But the spell of a sorceress was strong enough to save you, Squall."
Rinoa said nothing, listening intently. She started to think that being a sorceress wasn't so bad after all … but she still had to await for the news about what the world thought about her…
"Matron said it was some kind of reflex that sorceresses had in attempt to save her knight," said Laguna, the first word he said since he came in, "Because as you know, in order for a sorceress to die peacefully, she has to pass her powers onto someone else. But obviously Rinoa didn't pass her powers onto anybody, which meant that she wasn't going to die. So instead, she passed what was left of her power before the special SeeD weapon kicked in – kind of like a kamikaze, final blow kind of thing before she dropped out. And that was the life magic."
Squall stared at his father, flabbergasted. He didn't think that SeeD was capable of such things, or that his father even knew so much about sorceresses. Then again, he was the one who ended the sorceress wars…
Quistis nodded. "And after that, you were both out cold. The paramedics got to you and brought you to this hospital. Rinoa was able to buy you a lot of time with her life spell, Squall. But you were in a coma for so many days. This was really strange, seeing as how your heart and lungs, and all your other vital organs were working perfectly fine … except your mind."
"Yeah, and Rinny was out for days too!" said Selphie, "The doctors here specialise in magical ailments, so sorceress stuff wasn't too hard for them. They said you were suffering from major mental concussions. Your body was absolutely fine, but your mind was just waaay off. And that was the same with Squall."
The first thing that came to both Squall and Rinoa's minds was short little mental meeting they had. It must have been some kind of psychological connection between the two of them, seeing as how they woke up at the exact same time. Was it because of their tie together as sorceress and knight…? It must have been ... there was no other logical explanation.
"So … what news about … my social status?" asked Rinoa uneasily.
Min smiled at Rinoa. "While you were in hospital, we were all pleading your case."
Rinoa looked at Min and was glad to hear her speak.
"Yep," said Irvine, nodding, "It was a tireless trial. We all acted on your behalf to try and excuse your … sorceress-ness. We all collected so much evidence to try and prove that you weren't evil."
"I mean, we've all been friends for so long, and you haven't tried to kill anybody since we knew you," said Zell, "That played a huge role – you had no bad intentions."
"Yeah, and I've known you for heaps long," added Min, "I had no idea you were a sorceress. You never hurt anyone or anything."
"Well, except that time you almost fried Sera to a crisp in the elevator," said Ellone, "But that didn't count. You were provoked … and the court new what kind of condition Sera was in, anyway."
"Where is she now?" asked Rinoa suddenly, steering the conversation topic away from her trial.
"Oh, we took care of her," said Irvine grimly, "Her little outburst in the church earned her a sentence in the nutterhouse. She's been declared 'mentally unstable', seeing as how she was convicted of blackmail, she tried to kill her own daughter, and she damn well almost killed the vice president of Esthar."
"Yes, and that scored us some points too," added Quistis, "The fact that you saved the vice president of Esthar's life because of your sorceress powers. Oh, and Laguna was able to pull a lot of strings too."
Laguna grinned sheepishly. "Nah, it was nothing. I mean, being president can only get you so far."
Selphie giggled and poked Laguna. "Don't try to be modest, you big oaf. Your dad here convinced the people that Rinoa wasn't evil, and his firsthand experience with Adel really helped. I mean, you're nothing like Adel, Rin!"
Squall suddenly felt so grateful to his father. He never thought that Laguna would ever earn his forgiveness … but this…
"And we proved you to be stable with your powers," said Ellone, "As long as you're under the protection of your knight, you are absolutely fine and won't ever have to use your them."
Rinoa smiled weakly. I'm so grateful to have friends like these guys. "So … what does this mean?"
"It means that you're accepted, silly!" said Min, "Nobody cares that you're a sorceress anymore, because you're not evil!"
"And it means you'll have to be around Squall for the rest of your life," said Laguna with a chuckle.
Rinoa grinned and looked at Squall, who was also wearing a broad smile.
"Oh, and it wasn't just us who helped," said Quistis, "We had the help of two other people."
"Who?" asked Squall curiously.
"Well, they're right over there," said Zell, pointing to the door.
Rinoa and Squall looked into the direction Zell was pointing in, and to their surprise, a rather serene looking Ashleigh and Seifer were standing in the doorway. Seifer was leaning on the doorframe with his arms folded, and Ashleigh was standing timidly next to her brother.
"C'mon, let's go, guys," whispered Min.
All six of them left their ground and headed out the door past Seifer and Ashleigh. As the last person left, Seifer closed the door behind them and walked up to Rinoa and Squall confidently with Ashleigh following behind him, looking quite nervous.
Rinoa and Squall followed the duo with their eyes and couldn't help but hold suspicious stares. Seifer and Ashleigh sat down on the other bed and looked back at Rinoa and Squall, without a word.
"So … d'you want us here or not?" asked Seifer at last, breaking the awkward silence. "'Cause we'll just leave if you never wanna see our faces again…"
"No," said Rinoa hastily. She quickly collected herself. "Please stay."
Squall glowered at Seifer. He didn't know what was going on, but couldn't help but keep in mind what he saw when he saw the past. But suddenly, he realised how both Ashleigh and Seifer had 'helped', as Quistis mentioned. He remembered how at the wedding, he felt as if everyone was planning to make him feel awful…
"You … you planned it all, didn't you…?" said Squall in disbelief, his cold glare disappearing quickly.
Rinoa looked at Squall with a confused look on her face, and then back at Seifer, whose smirk only broadened.
"Heh, how'd you guess?" said Seifer.
Squall said nothing, indicating that he wanted to hear Seifer out.
"Yeah," said Seifer, nodding, "We planned it all."
"Most of it," corrected Ashleigh quietly, still uncomfortable with being within thirty feet of either Squall or Rinoa.
"Most of it," said Seifer, nodding again. "Y'see, lil Ashleigh here was feeling bad about everything. And so was I. And Ash was the only one who knew about Sera's blackmailing and was willing to do something about it. So she came to the most creative genius on the planet."
Ashleigh smiled a little. "We were trying to make you feel guilty, Squall. That's why we told Quistis took give you a little talk…"
"You told Quistis?" asked Squall, dazed.
Seifer nodded. "We told all your little friends about the … dilemma. She appeared to be the only one who could understand. Besides, Ashleigh tells me that she knew about Rinoa's past the most…"
Rinoa pursed her lips together, not wanting to bring that up. Then she realised that Seifer had given her a 'little talk' before the wedding as well.
"And that's why we asked Ellone to send you back to the past—"
"You asked Ellone to do that?" exclaimed Squall before Seifer could finish, flabbergasted.
"Yes indeed," said Seifer casually, nodding. "You needed to see the truth so as not to be afraid of it. And that guilt trip led to our master plan." He flicked a mischievous grin. "Ashleigh said another guilt-inflicting speech during the wedding. And it really worked, too."
Ironic, mused Rinoa, Squall is just so hard to figure out sometimes. Yet these two caught on very well with his logic and way of thinking. I can't believe they easily plot out what Squall was going to do. Then again, Seifer is so much like Squall … maybe that's why he knew so much about the way Squall thinks.
"But not well enough," said Ashleigh softly, "We were trying to get you to announce that Rinoa was a sorceress yourself, as well as the fact that you loved her, because we figured the people would rather hear it from the president than from someone like my mother. And if you had, it would've given Sera no reason to blackmail you anymore."
"Well … I was thinking about it," murmured Squall. With Quistis's 'don't hide the truth' and 'don't be afraid of the truth' and all of that … it really got to me…
"Yeah, but I guess Sera beat you to it," said Seifer, shrugging. "And she sure surprised everyone with that weapon of hers. I never thought she even knew how to hold one of those things."
"But what was up with your bike?" asked Rinoa curiously.
Seifer laughed airily and scratched the back of his head. "Well, the bike plan was originally to bust Ashleigh out of there as soon Mister Vice President spilled the beans, because she just couldn't stand being humiliated in front of so many people."
"That's not the reason why!" said Ashleigh snappily.
Seifer laughed again. "Okay, so she was supposed to make a run for it out of the church because we knew Sera was gonna blow somehow. But not like that. I saw what Sera was doing from the TV coverage outside the church for all those unimportant people who were made to stand outside. So … I kinda had to make an entrance to save her and all…"
Ashleigh smiled a small smile. She still couldn't believe that it somehow turned to be like the old days again – the two of them on the same side, watching each other's backs.
"We were supposed to be making a getaway if things went according to plan," said Seifer, looking away, "Y'know … drive to someplace nobody knew us … start again…"
Squall and Rinoa looked at each other for a brief moment, the same thing on their mind. They were glad that the ones who deceived them in the first place were the ones to save them, and there was no doubt about it.
"I'm glad you didn't leave," whispered Rinoa with a smile.
Seifer looked up at Rinoa, with a thankful seriousness in his eyes. The seriousness disappeared almost immediately as he took on a hearty approach to what he was saying again. "Nah. We couldn't leave."
"At least, we couldn't leave without helping your friends in the trial," said Ashleigh.
There was a light air floating around amidst the silence. The four of them kept exchanging glances, not knowing what to say or do.
"Thank you," murmured Squall.
All the other three people in the room looked at him. Rinoa smiled at Squall and looked back to her stepsiblings.
"Yes … thank you so much," said Rinoa quietly.
Ashleigh smiled vaguely at Rinoa. "No. Thank you. It's because of you that Seifer and I made up. It's because of you that I realised how treacherous Sera is. It's because of you … that I realised what an idiot I am." She paused and stood up. "I'm … I'm so sorry, Rinoa-san. I was so awful to you … everything … the way I treated you, and … and how I almost killed you." She tried to hold back tears as she pressed her lips together. "I hope … you find it in your heart to forgive me."
Rinoa's heart soared. She never thought she would see this day. For many years, she wanted so badly to murder Ashleigh. But after all of this … after six years … she couldn't believe that the one who almost killed her was the one who saved her life.
"It's fine," whispered Rinoa, standing up and smiling at her stepsister.
The moment called for it, and the two of them embraced. Rinoa didn't want to think of her as the evil stepsister anymore, but as her friend.
Ashleigh broke their friendly embrace and turned to Squall, still with a bit of shyness in her face. "I'm sorry to you too, Squall-san. I know you never loved me … I was just so blind by my own pride."
Squall stood up and smiled a small smile back at the redhead. "Forget it."
"Argh, what the hell…" Seifer stood up and faced Rinoa. "Rin, I know I apologised to you before … but I'm sorry, all the same."
Rinoa grinned. "It's fine."
Seifer grinned sheepishly. He turned to Squall. "And … uh … I'm sorry for … y'know … what I did."
Squall nodded in understanding. "Forget it."
The two of them shook hands in their own masculine way, indicating some mutual kind of understanding between the two of them which neither Rinoa nor Ashleigh understood.
"It must be a guy thing," whispered Rinoa.
Ashleigh smiled. For the first time ever, she truly felt like she belonged somewhere. Rinoa felt almost the same – her worries were just about wiped clean. Everything turned out well for her, and she was glad. The fact that Sera was gone, Ashleigh and Seifer were getting along with each other, her stepsiblings were fine with her as well as Squall, her feud with her father no longer existed, Squall's feud with his father seemed to have disappeared, and … she and Squall were together at last.
Six months later
"…I now pronounce you man and wife."
Squall looked deep into Rinoa's earthy eyes and smiled a broad, genuine smile. He had been looking forward to this day for so long. She was looking as angelic as ever, with her pure white wedding dress fitting perfectly around her body, her dark hair up neatly with a crown of blue roses - her favourite flower – around her sleek hair, her dangling star earrings and the white veil over her beaming face.
"You may now kiss the bride."
Rinoa smiled back, staring into Squall's stormy eyes, the eyes of the man she loved so much. Her heart was pounding with excitement as Squall lifted her veil and brushed his lips against hers, engaging her into a passionate kiss. Rinoa felt extraordinarily light weighted as she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around Squall's neck, returning the kiss deeply.
Everyone in the church began to applaud madly as the bride and groom broke away from each other. Squall and Rinoa exited the church with the brightest smiles on their faces and it was as soon as they reached outside that everyone was parading on them excitedly.
"That was beautiful!" squealed Selphie, holding up the skirt of her dress as she came running towards the newlyweds. She threw her arms around them both, almost suffocating them again.
"I loved how they were so engaged in each other's tonsils towards the end," said Irvine with a laugh, pulling Selphie off Squall and Rinoa.
"I'm glad we caught that on tape," said Quistis, winking.
Rinoa poked Quistis playfully. "No, you can blackmail us now!"
"Ooh, you two should get married more often," said Zell, his arm linked around Min's arm protectively.
Ashleigh and Seifer came up from behind, looking rather pleased. Ashleigh grabbed Rinoa from behind and hugged her tightly.
"Congratulations!" said Ashleigh, squeezing her 'stepsister' tightly.
Rinoa laughed and turned around, as Ashleigh let go of her. "Thanks. You look wonderful. You too, Seifer."
Seifer nodded with a sheepish smirk. "Congratulations, man."
Seifer extended a hand to Squall and the two men shook hands, with another silent understanding being exchanged. Seifer pulled Squall into a quick manly embrace, hitting him on the back. The two of them exchanged proud smirks. Rinoa grinned at the sight of this.
"Hey, wedding angel," said Caraway, approaching the group of friends with Laguna by his side. "I'm proud of you."
"Indeed," said Laguna with a cheerful nod, "Now, aren't you going to throw the bouquet, Rin?"
Min clapped happily. "Yeah! C'mon, Rin!"
Rinoa grinned. "Okay girls, get back!"
It was then that nearly every woman who attended the wedding crowded around Rinoa and backed away from the couple protectively. All the guys fled in fear of injury from the large crowd of women. Rinoa turned her back to everyone present and threw the bouquet of blue, pink and white roses backward with immense force. All the women leapt in determination in attempt to catch the flowers.
"…Uh … oops!"
Everyone turned around to find who caught the bunch of flowers. Ashleigh stood in the centre of the crowd with the large bouquet in her hands, grinning sheepishly.
Rinoa grinned and turned back to Squall, the two of them exchanging silent thanks of gratitude that this day had finally come. The bride grabbed her husband's hand and the two of them hopped into the backseat of their posh wedding car, which drove away into the horizon, leading them to the beginning of the rest of their lives.
The night was young and silent, the crescent moon sitting merrily in the starry velvet sky. In a certain field of flowers, two lovers sat in the vibrant field of flora, one night after their wedding day. The two of them were sitting on the green grass in silence in each other's arms, starring at the sky together. Different thoughts and feelings were running in each other's minds, but both were thinking about the same thing – and that was the feeling knowing that everything was quiet again, the way it was so long ago.
Four years is a long time, mused Squall, That's what Rinoa told me when I was going to leave her. Four years turned to seven years, but numbers mean nothing. Everything I went through – we went through – added up to almost an eternity of pain. But before seven years ago, when I was still young a cold-blooded killer hunting down sorceresses, was nothing compared to those seven years of never-ending pain. I guess now is a new beginning. I'm now preparing myself for an eternity of happiness, knowing that I will spend my life with the woman I love … Rinoa Heartilly.
After so many years of hardship, thought Rinoa, I can't believe fate actually looked my way. Our way. It all started seven years ago, but it feels like much longer. Then again, it also feels like it all happened yesterday, when Sera Almassy stepped into my house and sent me on a journey of a lifetime. I suppose it's not her fault. Without her, I wouldn't have known how it felt to endure true pain. I've been through it all – falling off the side of Garden, floating around in space, being sacrificed to a sorceress … but that was nothing compared to what Sera put me through. But all of that excess emotion led me very far. I built new friendships and in the end lost nothing. I learnt that I'm not strong and I should learn to depend on others. But everything I went through in those seven years made me a stronger girl – no, a stronger woman.
"Squall," whispered Rinoa.
"…Why do you love me?"
Squall laughed heartily. "Because. You're my strong girl."
Rinoa grinned. That same line that drove her to be what she was. They both knew its significance, but Rinoa was never sick of hearing it.
"I'm glad," murmured Squall, pulling her closer, "that love always returns."
Rinoa's heart lifted as she buried her face in Squall's chest and closed her eyes, eventually falling asleep in his arms as the night faded away. Squall was right. Love always returned. And all those memories that Rinoa held of her life, all those precious memories, were stored in her heart forever. But those awful things she endured … she wanted to keep them memories, and nothing more. In fact, she was going to let go of them. Seifer and Ashleigh were her good friends now, and Sera was locked up somewhere in a mental institution. The memories she lost from the impact of Ashleigh's actions came back to her, just like love.
And it was then that she finally learnt that those memories ... were never truly the lost memories of her love.
A/N: -swoon- So that's the very end. I hope it didn't seem too rushed. But I hope you all enjoyed this fanfic as much as I enjoyed writing it. I want to thank all of you for your wonderful reviews and emails that you've sent me, they've all helped me grow as a writer. I want to acknowledge all my reviewers, as I haven't really done that in the past. So, special thanks to:
Steph, SavannahX, Nerd Reader, -Forest Owl-, KathGriever, Clana-Obsessed, Avian Dincht, Happy Youkai, Leonhartilly, Lady Rinoa, Queen Adreena, K-Tea, Crazycutie2, Rinny Leonheart, Kiwi Froot, Inuyasha is mine forever, Heartillyangel, Ayato, Rinleonhart, Prizz, Random Reno Fangirl 05, Stormy Hopes, Hikari Reika, Serene Angel Wing, Daniel Wesly Rydell,random reader, newbie#, Gurassu Shinzo, Shootski, Rae-rae couz, Floral Black Moon, Fritas-90, Linwe Lossehelin , Wolf Wizard, Carebear Lover, Rinny Heartilly, Pyro-pixiechick, Megs, Dreamcherry66, Rising Phoenix, Lioness Heart, Ms Adrienne, Grieversangel, xxinzane911xx, Beya, Blank , Joey, Tyran-tress, Short Term Memory, Aorta, Shezzen, SummonerG, Mystic Snowfal, Pinklove, Geli, Mystic gal, LadyGriever, Cuteie, 'doesn't matter', Helen, Surferchick, Anonymous, Julia, Lowlander, LilDoroFAN, Majestic Phoenix, Homunculus, Lito Laydee, I suck at reviewing, Angel, MD17, Forever Jen, Virulent Emnity, Unknown, Mia Princess of Eternity, Angie, Emina, aznchicki, Griever, Pink Monkey 99, Grievor of the Souls, Rose, Melomelocat, Renika, Zer0 Touma, Angelo di Desiderio, Vampiric Priestess, Ilidian, Relena55, Ayumi-Hamasaki, Rikku Leonhart, MikoNoYume, Iskander, Spicy Donut185, Rinoa's Star, The Angel Heaven Sent, jumpyliklecat, Evil..evil..evil, Caity, Spede, Charely, Cyberdemon, Aaron, summersakura, Sezza Rikda, Athene Saile, Caite, 4everffgamer, Billie the Kid, Zornoid13, FF8Fangirl, Transnomad, Amy1993881205, Yunie-star-Tidus-cutie, krzyaznkid, vilg oui, Squall
-breath- And anyone else who has been reading without reviewing :) Thank you so much for all your support. I may work on a new Squinoa again some day, but until then, my Rinoa and Squall rule our lives forever! XD