Hey, everyone. It's been a really long time. I'll be brief, so as not to bore you. A lot's been going on for my family, which isn't an excuse, as I've already mentioned in my profile that I'm on a kind of hiatus. That is to say, I'm still writing, but am not promising anything concerning the time it'll take. For me-related things, such as what's going on to make this semi-hiatus happen, read 03-15-12 on my profile.

This chapter was really hard for me to put together. I don't really know why. I started it a long while ago, then stopped for a long time. Then I started on it again a couple weeks ago by reading the whole story over again(which is more than 200 pages) and was able to produce this chapter. It's not the most exciting chapter, but you do get to learn a lot about Squall. The next chapter will be the exciting one, which will be their face off with Ultimecia. Hey, how come you guys kept letting me spell it wrong all this time? I never bothered to look it up and just spelled it however I wanted…till recently, when I was like 'Gee, I should look that up.' And although I could have sworn someone told me that the futuristic city was spelled Ester, it is, in fact, Esthar. Anyway, I can't easily correct it on here, but I corrected it in my original, at least.

This chapter is dedicated to all of you who have been waiting so patiently and also to Squall, crys, and whitecat, who left no way for me to reply to them. Speaking of, review replies will be sent soon(from reviews you guys sent the last time I updated, which was…2009? That's kind of sad…). Maybe tomorrow after work. We'll see.


~!~!~!~

Chapter 36

~!~!~!~

I started off with a firaga, setting at least a dozen of them ablaze. "Oh, what the fuck." I could only stare in amazement as they still slowly came for me, even with chunks of burning flesh falling from their bones. It smelled pretty rancid, and that ruled fire magic out for me. With a flick of my wrist, Hyperion removed several heads and their rotting bodies hit the grimy floor. I figured I'd turn a little and give Squall a head's up-no pun intended. "Hey, apparently, if you sever the…um…"

He was busy not listening to me as he flew through the horde, taking down dozens that did not get back up. It turned out that their being mostly decayed worked out well for ripping them apart.

Seeing that he certainly didn't need my help, I turned back to what I was doing, only to come face to face with one of the female zombies. It opened its mouth, probably preparing to sink its teeth into the pristine meat primly located on my neck and spewing some really foul breath. "Ugh!" I kicked it as hard as I could and it flew backwards, knocking several others down in its wake. "I don't appreciate that kind of close proximity on the first date."

"Will you stop screwing around?" Came an annoyed voice from not-so-far away.

"Oh, relax." I felt a yawn coming on as I decapitated the next one. Why was I getting so sleepy? "It's not like they're exactly swift or anything."

He slit a zombie in half and I looked away as what was left of its intestines fell out. It wasn't exactly the kind of thing you'd like burned into your memory for the next few weeks. "I could say the same for you. You've been slowing down ever since this fight started."

"Yeah…" I agreed, nodding with a yawn. There weren't many left; maybe two dozen. Still, my gunblade felt heavier with each swing. I can…make it… "Yeah…I dunno…what my problem is…"

"Hey!" He whacked the back of my head and I almost fell forward. "Are you seriously falling asleep? What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Woah! What the fuck…" I righted myself as best I could, trying to keep my balance, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. Two more zombies down, just a few more to go, but my vision was getting blurry. "Room's…spinnin'…"

"What?" Squall sounded concerned, though I couldn't see his face very well. He took care of the last of the zombies faster than I thought possible before coming back to my side.

I dropped down to my knees, using Hyperion for support. "Maybe that bitch…cast somethin'…on me…"

"Bitch…?" Then it dawned on him and he spun around. "Shit! Where did she go?" He paused as if in thought. "…she could have tried to finish us while we were distracted, but she escaped…?"

I tried to comprehend it. Escape…? How does that make sense…? Where do you go in a future world so bare and devoid of life? In a world like this, you can run all you want…but you can't hide. "So…she's gone?"

"…looks like it." Squall came back and cast something on me, but nothing happened. "It doesn't seem like she got you with any magic. I don't get it…hey, can you still hear me?"

I sunk to the ground and my eyes slipped closed. They had felt so heavy, it was almost a relief. How much easier was it to just slip into darkness than to struggle to stay aware? "Not really…"

The last thing I heard was a soft voice. "Shit. I'm…kind of dizzy…all of a sudden…"


I awoke in a field of tall grass and sat up in a panic, only to get a rush to my head. I collapsed again and took it all in. The sun was shining, birds were chirping happily, and the warm summer breeze told me that I could relax; that all was right in the world.

Wait one god damn minute! That's not right! We didn't defeat Ultimecia! We didn't make it home! Where's Squall? And where the fuck am I, anyway? I sat up, panicked again. Just as I was about to call out for him, a different voice interrupted me.

"Squaaaall! Squally! Where did you go? Matron sent me to find you…please come out!" A girl in a white summer dress came into view as she climbed up to the hilltop where I now sat. As she approached me, I could swear she was familiar. Oh, duh. "Ellone?" No one else calls Squall 'Squally'. Well, except Rinoa. Which, by the way, is just about the gayest nickname ever. She completely ignored me, looking left, then right and sighing. "C'mon, Squall…I know you're not very happy here, but…can't you just come out? You don't even have to play with us or anything! Just please stop trying to run away and making Matron worry…"

Wait a second…what the hell is going on here, anyway? When she got right up to me, I realized that she was definitely not as tall as I remembered. Or old. What the hell…? My suspicions were confirmed as she passed through me like I didn't even exist. I looked whole to me. Everything else looked whole. I was still me: same age, same killer body and probably the same handsome face. So what was going on? The only thing I could think of was that I had to follow her and find Squall. Would he be the same? The grass moved as I touched it to get up. I plucked a blade and let it go, watching as it drifted off into the sky. Could she see the grass move? Was I like a ghost in this place? Is this the…past? Suddenly, I happened to remember what the adult Ellone had told us before we had gone to the future in the first place.

"…soon enough, you will both find yourselves exploring each other's painful pasts while you were apart."

She wouldn't tell us why or how, but somehow, she said she knew. Could the past be rewritten? What would happen if I became Squall's very own ghost friend while he was at that orphanage? Or could I somehow go even further back and stop Marnia from killing our parents in the first place? What would happen then? I look back on all the shit that's happened to me, and I feel kind of cheated. All these things have happened to us-painful things…and why? Because some psycho bitch sorceress decided to pick on us? Why us? We were just kids…what did we ever do? And that one little event…changed everything. It separated us, made us forget each other and we were both abandoned in one way or another. But even I know that…time is nothing to play with. As much as I wish none of this had ever happened, as much as I wish I could have saved us from all of this pain…I like the way that Squall is now. I like the way that I am now, too. The past is supposed to be past, something that you can't change, only reflect on. It made me pretty sure that this reality wasn't something I could really fix or even impact in any way; I was just here to view it. To witness what Squall had gone through when I wasn't able to be there for him. The only question was: why?

"There you are!" Ellone stopped under a lone tree, snapping me out of my reverie.

"…" There was no answer and I came closer, anxious to see the object of my affections, even if he was at an age where I would be considered a pedophile.

"C'mon…let's go back, okay?" She coaxed.

"I'm not goin' back." A cold voice answered, sounding a little hoarse and unused.

"Why not?"

"I…" Squall sat up, as cute a kid as I remembered him, and turned away from her, rubbing the almost fully healed scar on the bridge of his nose. "…I have ta find someone."

She moved to be in front of him and kneeled down, acting like a big adult trying to solve the problem, but she really wasn't that many years older; maybe five or so. "Who's that?"

"…I don't 'member." He mumbled. Clearly, Marnia's magic had been stronger on me than it had on Squall. At least he knew he was looking for someone. I, on the other hand, didn't know what I was searching for…and I ended up looking for it in all the wrong places. I'd tried just about everything before we met again, but none of it could fill the void left by Marnia's spell; nothing but Squall, himself.

"If you don't remember, then how will you know when you find 'im?"

"I'll just know. Now go away!" Had he known I was familiar when he first saw me? Or was that idea forgotten long before we met again?

"…you do know that your house's somewhere across the ocean, right? That's what Matron told me. Far, far away."

His eyes narrowed dangerously and I half expected the little brat to tell her to fuck off. "Shut up! You don't know nothin' bout my home! I can find it by myself so just shut up!"

Beginning to realize the extent of his stubbornness, she changed tactics. "Fine then. Town's about five miles that way," She pointed off to the right, down a narrow dirt road. "Good luck. I hope you brought water. I'll tell Matron that you won't be back for dinner."

"Good." Squall snapped. "I don't want any stupid dinner!" He didn't have water. Or food. In fact, he had nothing with him at all. Was there any chance that he could make it to town? Did he have any clue how far five miles really was? Without hesitating a moment more, he started down the road she had indicated.

"Bye, Squall…" She just stood there, watching him as he got further and further away.

Shit, is he really not going to give up and come back? Seriously? But if there was one thing I knew about Squall, he was serious in pretty much everything he ever did. Sighing lightly, I jogged to catch up with him, leaving Ellone behind.

Squall kicked a small rock over and over again as he walked. "Hmph! Stupid girl! Like I'd want ta go back…mom's cookin' was way better than that lady's…"

Oh, I get it. This is how he got started with his little monologues…and eventually, you realized you had to make them inner ones, so that no one could hear you. Thus, a near-mute was born.

He kept walking at a slow pace until the sun was setting. Finally, he turned around and looked back for the first time. You could still see the tall, once-functioning lighthouse, meaning that he hadn't gotten far. How long had it been? I couldn't tell if time was flowing normally or not.

"…I don't want ta be…by myself…" He sniffled and looked again to the rolling plains, where town should eventually appear. "I don't know how ta…cross the ocean…" Then his stomach growled loudly and he gave up completely. With a loud, exasperated sigh, he headed back towards the orphanage. It was both his salvation and his prison, much like the gardens had been for me. Is Squall visiting my past right now…? I kind of hoped not. My life before Balamb wasn't something I was exactly proud of. I partied hard and was a super slacker, flirting with every pretty face, failing every test…back then, none of it mattered. Garden was just somewhere to go to get away from my parents. I didn't care about passing anything or becoming a SeeD…at least, not before I met…Rei…

When he had made it back to the tree it was completely dark, but Ellone was waiting there for him with a lantern. "Did you forget something?" Her words snapped me out of my reverie and I crossed my arms in the cooling air. If this is just the past that I'm viewing, why can I feel everything? The grass, the air…

"Just leave me alone…" He trudged on past her, defeated, and she followed silently. She had waited there the entire time, knowing he would eventually give up and return. How many times had he tried it before?

When they entered the orphanage, the only adult, who I assumed to be this 'Matron' they spoke of, shot up from her seat and ran over, dropping to her knees and hugging them both. "Thank goodness! I'm so glad you're both safe! Thank you, Ellone…for bringing Squall back to us…I'm so glad…" She had long, dark hair and pale skin, though she wasn't exceptionally beautiful…still, she certainly could have found a decent husband. She had to be maybe thirty, at the most. What the hell is she doing living out in the middle of no where, by herself, taking care of a bunch of homeless kids?

Squall squirmed out of her grasp. "Lemme go! Leave me alone!" And with that he ran to, what I assumed was, his room.

"Squall Leonhart! You come back here this instant!" When he didn't, I wasn't the least bit surprised. Nice try, lady. She opened the door to another room, probably some kind of play room, and called the children for dinner.

In the meantime, I went to check on Squall. I opened the door and entered his room, but when I went to close it, I found that it was already closed, as if I had never touched it to begin with. Weird. So I'm not actually touching anything? Squall was curled up on his bed in the corner, on the far side of the room. There were six beds total, so I could only figure she had a lot of kids there. He was shaking like a leaf in the darkness, mumbling. I moved in closer so that I could hear him.

"Mommy…come back…please come back! I'll be good…I'll do everythin'…just come back…"

It was heartbreaking to see him suffering so much, and I only wished I could do something to ease his pain. But what? It doesn't seem like I can touch anything… As an experiment, I decided to prey upon an ugly yellow vase containing red wildflowers. I only hesitated a moment before knocking it to the floor. Crash! It shattered into a million pieces, scattering water and flowers everywhere. I quickly looked up to see Squall's reaction…except that he had none. I glanced back down and had to do a double take. What the hell! The vase wasn't smashed at all, but sitting right on the nightstand like nothing had happened to it. …well, that's that, I guess. I can't do anything in this world. With a sigh, I sat down next to him, feeling rather powerless. Being unable to save him, protect him…I didn't like it at all. Why did you have to get stuck here? I don't understand… Although I knew nothing would happen, I reached out to him, wiping away one of his many tears.

"M-Mommy? Is…is that you, mommy?"

What?

"…you're there…right? Please…I don't wanna be here anymore! Can't we just go home…?"

For some reason, the tear did not replace itself and he had felt my touch. Why? After that, I tried a bunch of things: poking, patting, talking…but nothing worked.

"…I guess…we can't go home, huh? Then…then I'm gonna get outta here! I'm gonna be a…a plant thing…at that garden place! And then I'm gonna go home! Then…we can go home…"

Had my trip to the past already technically happened? It seemed pretty clear that I couldn't alter it, yet I had been able to touch him. I already knew that this is where Squall stayed until he was 10. If he had been a couple years older and a little more determined, he could have run away. Something made him stay here…it sounds like he doesn't plan to run anymore. Is that thanks to…me?

Then there was a soft knock on the door and without waiting for an answer, Matron entered. "…are you okay, honey?"

"Don't call me that!" He sniffled, wiping away the rest of his tears so she wouldn't see. "I'm…fine."

Ah, so even back then you were always hiding…saying you're fine when you're clearly not. It's okay to depend on others, even though I know you hate to. What are you afraid of? Being…let down? But I can understand that. I used to think that…there was no one else I could depend on, except myself. And then…I met you.

She didn't question the obvious and, instead, smiled kindly. "You're hungry, right? Why don't you come and eat? I made your favorite…I'd be sad if you missed it."

"…" He seemed to be thinking about it. Clearly, he was hungry. So what was stopping him?

"You know…" She came by the bed and I stood to avoid being sat on as she took my place. "It's okay to be angry. And it's okay to be sad, too. Your mother…was a great person, wasn't she?" At the mere mention of his mother, he burst into tears and she held him, stroking his soft hair gently. "I met her once, you know. Long ago, before you were born…that's why, when I heard what happened, I wanted you to come here. I wanted to take care of you, so your mother can be happy and rest peacefully. You don't want her to worry, do you?"

"N-No…"

"Let's try again, okay? You don't have to play with anyone or even talk to anyone if you don't want to. But please…don't run away anymore. You want to go to Garden, right? Let me take care of you until you're old enough. And then, I promise…I'll send you there. You can get a real gunblade and then become a SeeD…just trust me, okay?"

"…'kay."

I followed them to the dinner table where nearly half a dozen hungry children were chowing down. Wait a second…these kids look awfully familiar… And then time began swirling around me, the seconds passing like days. Squall grew a little taller and still he ignored everyone around him. He would sit out on the beach by himself, having long since grown bored of his life. Then time slowed again, seemingly at random. He appeared to be about seven years old now. Ellone also sat on the beach, a decent distance away from him. If he was seven, she was at least twelve. Then she brought her knees up to her chest and curled her arms around her legs tightly. She stared straight ahead for some time before her eyes slipped closed, as if she had fallen asleep. But somehow, I knew better. I knew…that she must be visiting Squall's past. It made me angry all over again as I plopped down next to Squall in the sand. It's none of your fucking business!

After what seemed like hours, the sun was beginning to set. Ellone suddenly broke out of her trance and fell over, completely exhausted. Still, she crawled her way across the beach to him. "Squall! Squall…I'm…I'm so sorry…"

He stared at her, rather stunned. After all, he left everyone alone and they had learned to leave him alone, too. They never bothered to ask him to play anymore. "…what for?"

"I know that I've…I've said a lot of things to you. And I've always been giving you a hard time. I wanted you to do good here and stay with us! But I didn't know…I didn't think about how you feel, and I'm really sorry."

He furrowed his brows in confusion and looked away. "…whatever."

"Please don't do that!" She latched onto his arm and wouldn't let go. "Please don't push me away! I know that you're sad…I know you miss your mom and your friend, but…please…"

"…let me go." His voice was cold as ice. "You don't know nothin' about me."

At a loss, she let go of the arm she had taken hostage. "…can I ask you something?"

He sighed. "What?"

"What was your mom's name…?"

Squall seemed to think about it for a long while; he probably hadn't even heard it many times before, with no father around to say it. "I think it was…Raine."

"…" She covered her face with her hands. "I knew it…I don't know how I knew her face, but I just knew…"

He tilted his head to the side, confused. "What do you mean?"

"When I was little, my mom disappeared. My daddy…he got really sick after that…and died. Then I came here. But he told me…to find my mom…to find Raine…"

I froze in place. Are you shitting me? They're…siblings? I took back every nasty thought I had ever had about the two of them being a couple. Squall had only called her his friend…did he forget or something? Or did he just…not want me to know?

"…I don't get it."

"It means that…I'm your half sister, Squall."

"Half?" He looked her over as if trying to decide which half of herself she was talking about.

"We have the same mom…just different daddies, I guess…"

If her father had died and their mutual mother had died, then what had happened to Squall's father? I had never seen him, but I was guessing that Ellone had. How else could she have known that their fathers were different? For all I knew, her mother could have left them when she was pregnant with Squall. But Ellone seemed too sure of it. No…she had definitely seen Squall's father and I made a mental note to ask her about it later. Why had the guy left? What a jackass!

"…I still don't get it." He scratched the back of his head. "So now I have to talk to you cause of that?"

She seemed defeated. "You don't…have to. But we're supposed to stick together and help each other. We're…family."

"Family…"

Time sped up again and I watched the seasons change as Squall and Ellone grew closer. He'd even play with the others occasionally, when she insisted. And then, one rainy spring day…

"…why are you packing? Are you running away?" Squall was now probably eight years old and getting to be quite a cute kid. His face had softened somewhat since he had spent less time brooding by himself.

"I've…been adopted, you know? Now I'll…have a mommy and daddy again."

"What?" He frowned. "But…you had a dad…what are you talking about? You're…leaving with them?"

"I have to. I don't think you'll understand but…it's better this way. For you."

"No!" He latched onto her from the side, unwilling to let go. "You can't go…"

She sighed lightly, hugging him. "I know that…it probably doesn't look like it right now, but…this is a good thing. Squall, you have to believe me."

"How? How is this a good thing?" Tears began flowing down his face and he covered them with his hands. "I don't understand…" Then something seemed to dawn on him and he wiped his face with his sleeve. "Take me with you!"

"Squall, I-"

"You can take me with you! We're family, so I can just come with you and-"

"It's not that simple…"

"C'mon, if you just tell them, I bet-"

"They don't want you!"

And then there was complete silence in the room. Time seemed to stand still as he stared at her, trying to process her cruel words. Then she snapped her suitcase shut and ran from the room.

Squall, trembling uncontrollably, slid to the floor and curled up as tightly as he could, sobbing like the day I had found him home alone after his mother's death. When car doors shut somewhere outside, Squall jumped to his feet and sprinted from the house, desperately trying to stop her from leaving him. But it was too late…the car was gone. Everyone just stood there under the awning, watching as he stood stone still on the dirt road in the rain.

Standing there, together, I could finally figure out who they really were. The blonde with glasses was Quistis, the brunette with really short hair was Selphie, the blond with poofy hair was Zell and the brunet with really long, unruly hair was Irvine. What were they all doing there? Were they all in Garden because…they didn't have anyone to go home to, either? It suddenly made sense to me why it had seemed like Squall had so many friends when I was away form him. That was why each of them had come to me on Squall's behalf…they were trying to help their old friend. Even if he had acted like he didn't care, he trusted them.

Zell stepped forward cautiously. "C'mon, Squall…let's go back inside…"

With a scream of rage and agony, the brunet flew at the poor blond, punching him right in the face. Despite his hair style, Zell was no chicken; he fought back hard.

Matron ran out into the rain, trying to stop them. "Squall! Stop this! Zell, please!" Finally, she got a hold of the blond's arm and pulled him away. "Stop!"

Squall laid in the mud, unmoving. "…" He seemed to be thinking, no, maybe he really believed…that she'd left because of something he did.

"We're all going to miss her, but Ellone is gone now. She went to go start a new life, just like you'll do when you go to Garden. You should be happy for her…" With that, she pulled the rest of the kids inside, probably ready to take care of Zell's split lip.

Squall laid there for what seemed like hours, the rain washing away all the blood from the small gash on the side of his face. Thankfully, it had never scarred. I didn't want him to remember this moment of his life like I wanted him to remember our childhood together.

After some time, he climbed to his feet, utterly defeated. "Sis…why?" Squall sniffled quietly. "I'll be okay…by myself…you'll see. I'm gonna go to Garden…and become a SeeD, just like…I promised I would. You said it was…important. And that…my important friend will be there. I wanna see 'im…I don't wanna be…alone…"

But Squall was left alone for many days after that, even by Matron, herself. She eventually forgave him, but the damage had already been done. He spoke to no one from that place again. Flowers bloomed, then summer winds returned before the leaves began to fall. The snow never stuck, always melting before it had a chance. And then spring came again…and Squall was nine years old.

It was easy to forget that Quistis was only a year older than us. She hugged everyone goodbye before turning to Squall, who stood apart from everyone else. She smiled at him. "See ya next year, right, Squall? Just you wait…I'm gonna be a SeeD, too!" He shrugged and she got into the waiting car. Quistis would go on to become a SeeD at only fifteen years old and then get her instructor license at seventeen. And then, when she was 18, I came into her class. She always acts so old and wise, but…she's really not all that different from the rest of us.

I snuck a peek at the driver, who happened to be Cid, himself. Since when do headmasters drive all the way out to boofoo to pick up homeless kids and take them to Gardens? Matron approached the window and he smiled warmly before kissing her. "Next year they'll all be old enough, right? Then you can come home to Garden with me. This'll work."

She merely nodded, but I knew I had just witnessed something important. Cid was married, wasn't he? Still married? Was this Matron person his wife? I couldn't recall if I had seen him wearing a ring or not. I had certainly never met her before. It gave me a bad feeling.

Another year passed by me and Squall hadn't changed one bit. He had withdrawn completely after Ellone left and had no intention of changing that. He had decided long ago that if you couldn't even trust your family…that you couldn't trust anyone at all. No wonder you were so cold to me…

This time, there were three separate cars. Squall and Zell would be going to Balamb Garden, Selphie to Trabia Garden and Irvine to Galbadia Garden. What was the purpose of splitting them up? Matron said that she'd pack her things and meet Cid at Garden…but I have a feeling she never came.

The years blurred as Squall got older, but I never saw the woman called Matron again. At twelve he was praised for his hard work and able to choose his weapon. He chose the gunblade and spent the following week with a master blacksmith, watching as his weapon was formed. He sketched the lion symbol for the blade, encouraged to customize it and make it his own. They used clay to make an impression of the silver lion chain he wore around his neck so they could hang one from the hilt. When it was finished, he thanked the master and swore he'd take perfect care of it. As far as I could tell, he really had. It was always spotless and gleaming. I could understand; I felt the same way about Hyperion.

Time finally slowed again, and by then Squall must have been at least sixteen. He looked just about the same as he had when I'd finally met him a year later. I followed him through the training center and it seemed rather empty, as if all the monsters had been locked up for the night. I recognized the path he took, which lead to the 'Secret Area', where kids hung out after hours to make out or whatever. I had never been there, myself, and it made me panic a little. Was he meeting Rinoa there? I hadn't seen her yet and was wondering when exactly her nasty ass would come into the picture.

Upon entering, Quistis greeted him. "Hey, you came."

Squall crossed his arms impatiently. "Yeah, I did. So what do you want?"

"Well…" She walked to the edge of the platform and rested her elbows on the railing. "I just wanted…to tell you something, before it's too late."

"Too late?"

She nodded. "Sometimes, things like this have a time limit."

"…" I couldn't help but notice that they were the only ones there. Had she chased everyone away? It didn't really seem likely, despite her hatred for delinquents like me. He stepped up beside her and waited a moment before answering. "…well?" For being drop-dead sexy, you're pretty damn clueless. I could see exactly what was going on, but then again, I doubted that he had ever been confessed to before. Well, except by me.

The blonde sighed lightly, as if to say 'Why are you being so difficult?'. "I wanted to tell you that…I like you, Squall. I've cared about you for a very long time…"

It didn't even phase him and he snickered. "And the 'time limit' refers to what? How long before you change your mind?"

"That's not it!" It was the first time I had ever heard Quistis sound so upset. "Ever since back then…why are you so cold?"

Instead of answering her question, he turned his back to her. "Whatever." But he was probably thinking 'Because I don't care.' Squall only took about two steps towards the exit before her words stopped him.

"Tomorrow…"

"…" The brunet rolled his stormy eyes and turned to face her.

"I'm getting my Instructor License tomorrow. So…even if you had accepted my feelings, we couldn't be together. You'll be in my class when the next semester begins, as my student, and teacher-student relationships are forbidden…"

"…then why tell me at all? It's pointless and changes nothing. You may as well have told it to a wall."

"It's not pointless! I…" She hung her head in defeat. "I just wanted you to know…how I feel about you. I just wanted you to know that there is at least one person out there…who cares about you, even though you've stopped caring about anything. That you're not alone, even if you think you are…"

"I want to be alone. I don't need you, or anyone else, to care about me. So stop wasting your time." He turned and walked away, pausing briefly at the exit. "…do yourself a favor and forget about me."

Then he was gone. "I'll never…forget about you…" And Quistis, seemingly always so strong and brave, broke down.

Squall stopped a few feet outside the door, able to hear her muffled sobs. He seemed to be thinking it over, wondering if he should go back and apologize. In a way, I hoped he would. She was an old friend and even if he didn't consider her one, she had been nothing but kind to him. It looked to me like she didn't even expect him to return her feelings since she planned to be an upstanding Instructor. Should he go…or stay? In the end…he walked away slowly, burning that bridge behind him.

In the following blurry days, she avoided him; who wouldn't? Once the new semester began, and every semester after that, she would treat him as she had always treated him: with kindness, as if he hadn't broken her heart that night. I suddenly found myself having a bit more respect for her than I had had before. Anybody else, to be let down so cruelly…hell, I've done it to lots of people and they never spoke to me again. Seeing how it looks from the outside, as I am now…it makes me kind of hate myself. For her to be so hurt by his assholeishness and still be perfectly kind to him in every way, until eventually forgiving him entirely…earned her a lot of points, in my book.

"Alright everyone. Settle down!" Quistis rapped her hand on the desk to get the quiet she was looking for. "This is our new student, Rinoa Heartilly. Please be kind to her and give her any assistance she might need." She looked around the room, scanning for an empty seat. Noting the only one in the room, she tried not to frown. "Why don't you sit next to…Squall. Squall! Raise your hand!"

The unhappy looking boy in the back of the room reluctantly did as he was asked. Rinoa practically skipped to the back of the room and sat beside him.

"I'm Quistis Trepe, the newest Instructor, but don't think that that means you can slack off in my class. My only three rules are that you follow directions, do your work, and remain respectful to everyone at all times. I have high expectations for this class of SeeD candidates. Please open the main menu of your desk panels and go to the textbook section…"

Rinoa seemed confused about the panel and just did as the boy next to her did. "What's your last name, Squall?"

"…Leonhart." I hadn't really expected him to answer such a frivolous question. It couldn't be…that he actually thought she was cute? I doubted it. He had never mentioned being physically attracted to her in any way when he had told me the story. I had to admit, it was weird seeing it happen first hand.

"I was quiet back then…but I wasn't angry."

She smiled at him kindly, in a way I had never actually seen from her before…almost like she was an entirely different person. "That's so great! It fits you perfectly!" When he made no comment, she added, "Because, this is a lion, isn't it?" She moved to touch the pendant around his neck, but he flinched at the contact and scooted away. She tilted her head to the side and watched him, most likely wondering why he acted the way he did. "It's special, huh?"

Squall nodded, and that was the end of that.

"But Rinoa never let anything go."

When lunch came, she easily found the lone figure sitting at the corner table, staring out the window. "Can I sit here?" At his shrug, she took it upon herself to sit across from him. Sadly, it kind of reminded me of the day I first sat across from him. He probably liked her as little as he had liked me. She picked at the food briefly, never actually trying it. "This food isn't very good, is it?" Another shrug from him, and she looked out the window, to see whatever could be so amazingly enticing that he would stare like that. However, all she saw were birds sitting in a tree. Some flew away and she took another stab at conversation. "It would be nice to be a bird, wouldn't it? You could fly away from here, go where ever you wanted to go…"

"Until you get shot down."

And then she said nothing for the rest of the period.

"I thought she was too polite to just get up and leave right then, and that she would leave me alone from then on. But everyday she asked the same stupid questions. I finally got tired of hearing them…"

Many days passed before me and she followed him around for every single one of them. She was persistent, I'd give her that. What bothered me was that she really didn't seem like she had any bad intentions. She was new and happened to get lucky enough to be sitting next to a super hot guy in class, so it didn't seem like she had actually purposely targeted him or anything like that. So…what really happened?

"Will you just shut up?"

She stared at him, looking hurt. "I-I didn't mean…"

"My mother died when I was little and all she left was this chain that, apparently, used to belong to my stupid father-whoever he was. Then I sat in some damn orphanage until I was old enough to be shipped off here, and that's it. So stop asking."

Most people would have been really turned off by his attitude, but she didn't seem angry at all. "It…must have been so lonely. My father and mother are rich, so I can't imagine…"

He scowled, getting annoyed. "I don't need your pity."

"I-I'm not trying to pity you! I'm…just trying to understand you. I want to be friends."

"The rational part of me wanted me to tell her to take her idealistic views of friendship and shove them up her ass, but…she was the first person who ever tried. So the other part of me decided it was stupid to let a could-be friend slip through my fingers, since I may never have found any others…but I still didn't want to open up too much. Problem was, once she got her damn foot in the door, she wedged her way in, little by little. I Ended up telling her…everything."

Months passed and although he seemed to be willing to let her hang around him, he still kept her at arm's length. Or tried. One day, she dragged him down to Balamb's beach. It reminded me of all his time on the shore by the orphanage and although he hadn't protested going there with her, I doubted that he enjoyed it much.

They sat in the sand quietly for some time before she spoke. "You know…you don't have to be afraid, Squall."

He growled, instantly irritated at the insinuation that the great Squall Leonhart could get scared. "I'm not afraid of anything."

She just giggled like he wasn't trying to stab her with his eyes. "Don't be silly. Everyone's afraid of something…and I think you're afraid of being alone. That's why you've been alone all this time, isn't it? If no one is around you, then you can't lose them. Right?" I was rather shocked at her decently intelligent observation. The Rinoa I knew was a complete bimbo. Who the hell is this chick?

"I…" Squall appeared equally surprised and struggled to form words he'd never had to speak before, but she continued before he could say anything at all.

"But you don't have to worry! We'll be friends forever…I'll never leave your side! I promise." She leaned in and kissed him, taking advantage of the romantic scenery. He was too stunned to respond at first, not able to believe that anyone could truly care about him. Then he kissed her back, to my displeasure. Normally, this would be the part where I mock gag and try to throw rocks at her, but…it made something inside of me hurt and I turned away from the sight, willing time to move quickly again.

"Promises are cheap. Just because I let my guard down…just like that, she was my 'girlfriend'. But since I had told her everything there was to know, the mysterious Squall Leonhart was gone, just leaving this…boring idiot. I didn't want to do all those idiotic lovey-dovey bullshit things that you read in 99 cent paperback romance novels, like she did."

And time did move for me; I watched the following weeks with annoyance. She'd try to hold his hand, he'd pull away. She'd ask him on a date, he'd be 'busy'. She'd want to kiss in front of everyone, to show off their relationship, and he'd recoil. Not, unfortunately, because it disgusted him, but because he didn't like people watching him. It made her angry every time. And then I realized…that she may have been persistent, but she wasn't patient. She may have known a lot about him, but she didn't understand him at all. She's female and he doesn't want people to see them together…now I don't feel so bad. It wasn't me that Squall was rejecting these days…it was my attempts at some degree of exhibitionism of our relationship. Squall was amazing and I had no problem letting everyone know that he was mine. But it turns out…that that kind of thing is what he hates most. Why? Then it hit me: fear of total and complete rejection, from everyone. Whether people would actually give a shit about his relationships or not, staying under the radar like he had always done was safe, and that was what he preferred. And I…had never respected that.

Squall was sitting in his dorm, doing a whole lot of nothing. The latest Weapons Monthly(of that time) was spread out on his desk, like he had read it a hundred times over by now. He was relaxing on his bed, brooding as usual. When there was a knock on the door, he shot up but remained silent.

A strange voice came from behind it. "Mail call!"

Squall blinked once. Twice. He glanced upwards and mumbled. "It's not Friday…and I don't get mail…" Everything about it telling him it was a bad idea, he got up and opened the door anyway…and immediately regretted it.

"I knew it!" Rinoa pointed at him accusingly. "You were here the whole time! You didn't go to the dentist…" She shoved him aside and entered, looking around. "You weren't studying, writing, looking at porn…I don't get it! Why did you lie to me?"

"…Rinoa…" He sighed and closed the door before sitting down on the edge of the bed, probably trying to think up an excuse.

She sat beside him after a time. "Squall, how come you never want to do anything with me?"

"I never said-"

"You don't have to. You just never do anything. And to make it worse, you lie to my face every time."

"Well…" It was true and he couldn't deny it.

"Do you love me?"

"I…"

She didn't even wait for him to fully answer, not at all impressed with his hesitation. "I said, do you love me?" I didn't like how she was forcing him to say it, when I had so patiently waited for it. And when I wanted to hear it again, to be sure it was real, I had begged for it pathetically. Still, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe he had kind of done this to himself. Instead of easing into the relationship little by little, rejecting what he wasn't ready for, but trying new things sometimes, he just avoided everything. It was no surprise to me that it had ticked her off.

"Yes…"

"Then love me."

Squall stared for a moment. "…what?"

She produced a little black box and wrapped her octopus arms around him. "Make love to me, Squall. You never say it, I can never feel it…so show me."

It reminded me of how Squall had told me to show him how I felt and that…was our first time. But in the end, he confessed that he was hoping I'd fuck him and be done, that that was all I wanted and then I'd leave him alone. I couldn't help but wonder if he had taken Rinoa's selfish words and used them on me.

As clothes fell to the floor, I turned away, unable to take it. Squall… I never wanted to see him with someone other than myself and I covered my ears as her soft moans began to reach me. I wanted to run far away…but this had already happened. The damage had already been done…and could never be undone.

When it was over, she held onto him under the covers. "Squall…when we're a little older…I want to marry you."

"…what?"

"I want to be with you forever…and make our promises real."

"Okay." His lack of hesitation hurt me and I had to remind myself that she was an evil bitch that he didn't love anymore.

"You want to? Promise?

"I promise." And that's why…you hate promises. They're just words to you, easily broken and twisted into lies.

"After a couple weeks of screwing around with me all the time, she must have gotten bored again. She hired some stupid thug to kiss me. And that thug just happened to be Irvine. He'd do anything for a night with a pretty girl."

I never saw her interaction with Irvine since I was following Squall. I could only guess that he had to be able to remember who the moody brunet was, but probably harbored no feelings of friendship for him anymore. "Squall, wait a minute. I've got a question for ya."

He narrowed grey eyes suspiciously and clearly couldn't remember this person. "What do you want?"

"Well, the thing is…" And then he caught a glimpse of Rinoa and made the move he'd be handsomely repaid for later. He grabbed the shorter teen and kissed him roughly.

Squall's brain was likely in overload, but he managed to push the cowboy away and wipe his mouth with his jacket sleeve. "What the fuck is your problem?"

He smirked and tipped his hat. "Don't shoot the messenger, pretty boy." And with that, he took off.

Squall was about to chase down the perverted douche bag when he spotted Rinoa, staring at him in horror with tears streaming down her face. It was a good act, I'll give her that. She ran and he followed, all the way back to his dorm.

"…I-I can't believe you cheated on me, Squall." She was wiping her fake tears away carefully so as not to smudge her makeup.

He was completely alarmed, in a way that I rarely ever saw. "I didn't! I don't even know who he was. And I pushed him away!"

Rinoa frowned suddenly, her voice cold as ice. "I'm sorry, I'm not buying your lies."

"I'm not lying!"

"Like all the other times you didn't really lie to me? I'm sorry, but this is goodbye, Squall."

"W-What? No…" He attempted to touch her shoulder, his first ever move of contact towards her, and she smacked his hand away.

"Sorry, but it just has to be done." She starting gathering her things into her bag to take back to her own dorm. I hated how she kept saying that she was sorry, when she clearly wasn't. "Your promises to me were all lies…I never should have believed you. This was just…a big mistake." I flinched a little, knowing how badly it can hurt to hear those words from the person you love. Squall had used them on me before and it had made me…so angry.

"Wait-Rin, please…"

"Rin?" She looked at him. "Now isn't the time to be making up pet names to call me, Squall. You never did love me, did you?"

"I did! I…do."

She smiled at him in a way that made your blood run cold. "It's okay…I understand."

"Y-You do…? So that means…" There was the tiniest hint of hope in his eyes, like maybe she believed him.

The smile stayed firmly in place. "I hate you, Squall."

He stared, bewildered; his hope crushed into a million pieces. "…what…?"

"I don't ever want to see you again, Squall. Not if I can help it. You never loved me and you never kept any of your promises. You were using me! And I want nothing to do with you anymore. Never again." She smiled still. "Goodbye, Squall." Having successfully ripped out his heart and stomped all over it, she walked out and shut the door behind her.

Squall slumped against the nearest wall and let the tears flow. I tried to remember a time when I had ever seen him cry harder than he did then…and came up empty handed.

I turned and tried to follow her, to find out exactly where she had gone at that point. But the further I strayed from Squall, the more blurry my vision became until I had to turn back. Clearly, anything other than watching him was off limits.

But what was her deal? Maybe she just got bored. After all, nothing changed by sleeping with him. It didn't make him want to hold hands and cuddle. Was that what she was hoping it would do? Make them into a 'real' couple? And when it didn't work she gave up? It didn't really make sense to me. When most people gave up, they simply broke up. But she wanted it to seem like something else…she wanted to make it seem like it was his fault. She wanted him to blame himself and keep wanting her long after she was gone. Somewhere along the line…you became quite the evil bitch, didn't you? If I had been able to follow her, I may have found out why. But I had to remind myself: the 'why' doesn't matter now. She did what she did, she's doing what she's doing and eventually…she'll pay for it.

"It took a long time to get my shit back together. But by then…I hated everything. I hated everyone. I wanted to die, and didn't care if I did, but couldn't do it to myself…just in case…she came back to me." "

The next day, he had gone to class. Rinoa had apparently requested to be transferred to a different class and gotten her wish. He ignored everything and everyone, just living-no, existing. A week or so passed this way before Irvine approached him one day.

At first, the cowboy kept his distance. "I uh…don't kill me, okay? I just…want to explain…"

Squall scowled at him darkly. "Whatever it is, I don't want to hear it." But he only made it a few steps before Irvine's words stopped him dead in his tracks.

"She was using you!" He blurted out. "I…I mean…look, she paid me to kiss you, alright? Not with money, an'…well, I'm not tellin' you this cause of the orphanage or anythin'…"

"Orphanage…?" Then he could remember it. And, like me, he was probably wondering how exactly Irvine ended up in Balamb when he had been shipped out to Galbadia Garden all those years ago.

"But uh…truth is…well, she wasn't even a good lay. So I just thought that uh…ya know, man to man, I should tell you that she put me up to it so she could get rid of you. Dunno why, though. Didn't ask."

Squall glared at the floor, unbelieving. "…you're lying."

"I am? What the hell for?" He reached into his pocket and pulled out a camera sized tape. "Here, your proof. I like to keep a uh…little memento from each of my girls. I figured you wouldn't want to believe me and, well, you don't have to watch it if you'd like to live in delusion…hell, I'd probably prefer that you didn't. It's…kind of embarrassing…" Why the hell is this guy willing to do this for Squall? I wouldn't be perverted enough to keep sex tapes, but even if I was, I would never be stupid enough to give them to anyone, especially just to earn their forgiveness.

"…why?" Yet Squall took the tape from his hands.

"Suffice it to say that she's a skanky bitch and I feel like something of a dirt bag, myself. And…you shouldn't be hurting over this…you should be pissed. Next time you need me…I doubt you'll want me, but I'll be there. Later."

And Squall was left alone, holding the one thing that could turn everything around. He skipped the second part of class and borrowed a T.V. and tape player from an empty classroom. Returning to his dorm, he locked the door, turned the volume down very low and just sat there, staring at the fuzzy white screen. He was probably wondering…should he push play, or should he forget about it? Was it all a lie?

After a long hesitation, he hit play. The image of another dorm, not unlike his own, came into view. It was empty for a long time before the door opened and Irvine entered, followed by Rinoa.

"Not bad, but you could have left off the messenger part. What if he figures it out?"

"Who cares?"

"I do. I want him to be sad and miserable forever, just silently begging me to return to him."

"So he'll be pissed instead. You don't want him anyway. Now…about my payment…"

"I was going to give you a half hour, but, since you disappointed me, you have fifteen minutes."

"We'd better get started, then…"

The scene that unfolded before me seemed more like a dream than something real that had happened. At first, Squall turned pale, looking like he would be sick. He fisted his hands in his hair, leaning far over and taking uneven, heaving breaths. For a moment, I thought he might pass out.

"I want him to be sad and miserable forever, just silently begging me to return to him."

Instead, he screamed in horrific anger before crushing every breakable object in the room, including the T.V., tape and tape player, which were later reported missing and never found. I had never seen him so angry before in my entire life…and could only pray that I never would again. The closest I had ever gotten was when he almost broke a glass of water on my face, and that was fine by me. I was certain that if anyone had been unlucky enough to be there, right then, he would have blindly ripped them apart with his bare hands. It was kind of…scary.

"But seeing her with everyone else, and Irvine's confession to her buying his help…I finally figured out that she'd made up the whole thing. She'd fucked with me and thrown me away."

There were so many unanswered questions. What was her motive? Why do all this? What was the point in someone she didn't want chasing her forever? When I first came to Balamb, she was acting interested in him. Even now, as a sorceress, she's still after him somehow. What the fuck? But I guess it's pointless to think about.

Months passed and the semester ended. The short midsummer break passed by uneventfully and then, the first day of the new semester arrived. Time slowed unexpectedly and I could only wonder what was left for me to witness. I followed Squall in his usual route to the classroom and my vision began to get blurry. As he turned the corner, I could make out the headmaster's ugly red sweater and…

me.

Like the ending of a video, everything went black.