Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VIII or its characters. Those rights belong to the company Squaresoft/Square-Enix alone.
(Re-edited and slight changes were fixed, also removed lyrics from this chapter)
Clinging to memories
The alarm clock shrilled with a high pitch, shattering the dreams of one disgruntled young woman, who jumped up with a start and was questioning why Hyne seemed to have it in for her this morning. Taking the time to rub her eyes, she then took a glance at the time.
Who in their right mind gets up at this time anyways? Not only that, but she sure as hell was certain she didn't set it that way either. Pursing her lips, she made a mental note to kill the two other occupants that were somewhere downstairs, probably drowning out the rest of the world in their beds.
The damned object that was still ringing, was thrown to the wall with a great amount of force putting an end to its tyranny.
With a satisfied smirk, the young lady decided she might as well get up, even if it was way too early. It's not like she could go back to sleep anyway… not after the night she had.
Although it took some effort, she eventually managed to make her way to the small bathroom, where she splashed some water on her pale, rosy complexion, dried it off with a towel and stared into her reflection in the mirror. Her straight, long dark hair with gold highlights was at the moment in a messy state, giving her the appearance of Frankenstein's wife.
Well, at least something to that extent.
Cringing at her "makeover", she fixed it back into place then proceeded to take a nice, long hot shower.
A few minutes later, the brunette emerged fully dressed, wearing her favorite outfit and looking like her usual self. With nothing else to do at the moment, she sat down on her bed which was covered in a light blue spread, and thought back to her restless state last night and the dreams she had.
Just the reminder of what she had seen and experienced, brought back the misery and the pain that kept growing inside of her. Not to mention, the emptiness that now occupied where her heart used to be.
The woman wrapped her arms around her knees, feeling the rush of melancholy that again swarmed her as she tried to force the tears back. What she longed for the most was the one person she knew who could make her whole… with just a simple touch, a look and the feeling that only he could give when she was near him.
She only wished she could take back her actions and rectify the damage, but it was too late for that.
Just then, a persistent knocking on the door startled her. With the utmost haste, she wiped her tear-stained cheeks and straightened her skirt, not wanting her friends to see her like this and start worrying about her again. A part of her wanted to be left alone in peace so at first, she pretended as if she didn't hear.
The knocking only increased each time as she stood there, refusing to move.
She sighed, feeling weary. All this emotional pain took a toll on her.
"Zone, I... really don't feel like talking right now."
But when it didn't seem like he wouldn't give up, she rolled her eyes in annoyance and marched over to the door, preparing to give that boy a piece of her mind.
"Zone! I said I-"
She didn't get to finish that sentence. She couldn't. Not when she finally had a chance to see who was standing in the doorway. Her eyes widened and shock was written all over her face.
It was a dream, that's what it was. That was the only explanation, right? Because the person in front of her couldn't be...
One day ago...
The gray clouds looming over the horizon in the distance managed to create an eerie atmosphere over the peaceful Balamb. At times, the sound of thunder could be heard from miles away – its deafening crack threatened to disrupt the tranquility. Some could take it as a warning, perhaps a sign of impending doom that catastrophe was about to strike when people seem to least expect it, or others may brush it off as simply a part of nature running its course. Little did the inhabitants know... that a storm was swiftly on the rise...
Rinoa Heartilly perched on Squall's bed in his dorm quarters, thinking of the recent events that had brought her to this point. Sighing, she grasped the two rings on her chain which always gave her a small sense of comfort and strength. With nothing else to do, she took a swift glance of the room where she's spent most of her time lately. It still amazed her how not one book or even an article of clothing was out of place in his neat, yet humble abode. But then again, it shouldn't be surprising by now that Squall was so organized. It almost put her own bedroom back in Deling to shame. Smiling at this, she allowed herself to become distracted by memories of the past so that her real purpose would be forgotten – if only for a little while.
The raven-haired sorceress dreaded the inevitable conversation she was about to have with her lover, but also knew that it couldn't be withheld any longer. Her feelings were about to burst, the pain and loneliness threatened to overwhelm her body, but she had to hold it together.
After all we've been through together, this is what it comes down to.
The familiar 'swish' of the key card a few minutes later, managed to shake her out of her thoughts. Rinoa struggled upward, took a deep breath and walked to the living room.
The complications were only about to start.
Squall Leonhart trudged into his room, after successfully completing another long day's work of SeeD business. His heavy leather-clad boots stomped over to his couch where he was about to remove his black fur-lined jacket and take a much-needed rest, when he looked up and noticed his beautiful girlfriend standing in front of him. He wasn't expecting an appearance from her, especially since his workload increased and he's had to pull several all-nighters. A warm feeling spread within him as he scanned her over, just realizing that this is the first time he's seen her in a while.
Hyne... I've really missed her… Squall realized. All of a sudden, he felt the urge to grab her and lose himself in her sweet, heavenly embrace.
As she watched her lion striding towards her, a peaceful, rare smile on his normally stoic face, Rinoa knew that after he heard what she had to say, it would disappear like it never happened.
Just like before we met... Rinoa realized with a pang. Squall hugged his girlfriend with affection, gathering her into his arms.
"Hey, Rin." He whispered in her ear, ending with a gentle kiss on her forehead.
Holding on to his waist, she managed to croak out, "Hey, Squall..."
He relinquished his grip on her to gaze into her mocha-colored eyes, concern etched onto his handsome features. "Rinoa... what's wrong?"
She stiffened up. Damn it, he's onto me! Rinoa thought with a panic. She averted her eyes and tried to stall.
"U-um... what do you mean?"
Squall cupped her chin with his hand and lifted her face up to his, studying her angelic features close up. It was almost as if he was looking for the truth underneath the surface. It shouldn't be that obvious... right?
Not even Squall Leonhart could be excellent at reading people that well – although, he's changed so much in the past few months following Ultimecia's defeat, and they have gotten a lot closer since then. Ha, who was she fooling? Scrutiny was probably a prerequisite for SeeDs in training anyway, and if that was the case, it would be a cinch for the famed Commander of Balamb Garden.
He frowned all of a sudden. Nervousness and fear were evident in her eyes.
"Rinoa… whatever it is, just tell me."
She sighed in defeat. There would be no turning back now, it had to come out sooner or later and something told Rinoa that even if she faked an excuse at this exact moment, Squall would just question her about it later.
"Okay, fine. We… need to talk."
If there were any four words strung together in a sentence that could strike fear or without a doubt bring chaos into a relationship, it would be that. Squall may not be an expert when it comes to the matters of the heart or even the little conflicts couples go through, but he was aware that from Rinoa's serious disposition, nothing good could come from hearing it. He tried to appear emotionless and calm on the outside, however on the inside, there was another battle, fighting the feelings of panic in his mind and heart.
Squall prayed it wasn't anything too serious. "Alright... what about?"
Rinoa, without a word, took his gloved hand and dragged him over to the plush leather couch at the end of the room, where he lowered himself gingerly. Her unsteady fingers straightened out her blue duster as she looked everywhere around the room except for her boyfriend's face.
Looks like it's now or never...
Another deep breath, then…
"Squall... I just… don't think staying here is a good idea anymore."
It was almost said as a whisper, but somehow it ended up being the loudest sound in the room, reverberating off the walls.
Stormy blue-grayish eyes stared at the pretty brunette in confusion. There was an awkward silence after that, as he waited for her to continue. When she didn't respond right away, he tensed up.
"What do you mean by that, Rinoa?"
"I mean... this isn't working out. I think I need to spend some time away from Garden by myself... for a while at least." She lowered her head and without thinking, held onto her rings.
The SeeD Commander was speechless, his eyes widening even more by the minute. Surely, she didn't mean...? "You're saying that you want a break from me?"
Rinoa managed to look up into his ethereal eyes this time, noting the look of pain and anguish that seemed to overtake his usual, expressionless facade. The words tumbled out of her mouth before she even realized it.
"I'm saying... I want a break from us."
She then turned away from him, knowing that she probably broke his heart and she couldn't stand to see the hurt expression that now covered his features. "I'm sorry..." Rinoa murmured.
Squall stood up, walked over to where she stood and grabbed her arm, forcing her to look at him. "Tell me why, please..." His voice now pleading.
"I haven't been happy these past few weeks, Squall... maybe you'd actually notice if you took the time away from work long enough to realize it." She said, her voice taking on a bitter edge.
Squall sighed, putting his hand on his forehead in his classic 'frustrated pose', his shaggy brown hair covering his eyes.
"Look, if this is about missing dinner again last week, I already told you that an urgent call came in from Esthar and I had to sort it out. That responsibility kind of comes with the job. Hyne, Rinoa.. you know that!" He yelled, with his arm held out.
"It's not just about that, Squall. It's about all those times when you left me stranded on our dates because of urgent missions that come up. It's about the fact that you can't even spend more than fifteen minutes with me without some work-related issues getting in the way. Hell, half the time when I do get to see you is when you're about to pass out on your bed as a result of overworking yourself. As usual! " Rinoa paused, trying her hardest to choke back a sob.
"I-I don't feel like I'm loved anymore. You've taken me for granted… and I can't take it any longer... it hurts too much... " That did it. Somehow the tears managed to spill over her flushed cheeks without warning and she trembled, her small hands covering her face.
Squall was stunned into silence at her words. He couldn't believe she thought that.
He obviously had no idea his constant absences bothered her that much. Sure, he knew Rinoa was upset every time he was called away and of the fact that he's neglected her, but he made the mistake of assuming she'd understand that he took his job seriously. Isn't that what he's supposed to do? He... never wanted to hurt her. That was the last thing he ever wanted.
Rinoa... don't you know how much you mean to me?
Squall searched his mind, trying to think of the right words to say, anything to make her feel better, but found himself paralyzed. His mind was at a blank now… but then again, he always had a problem expressing himself especially heartfelt meanings. Taking a small step, he moved closer to comfort her, but she scooted backward.
"Just don't, Squall. I don't mean anything to you, right? I'm only a second priority after all!" She spat out.
Rage started building up in Squall. "I don't think that at all! How can you even say something like that! Of course you mean something to me, but I can't help that my job is important, Rinoa! I thought you understood my position! Why are you making things so damn complicated!" He yelled in frustration.
Rinoa let out a hollow laugh. "I am, huh? Well, let me "uncomplicate" it for you, Commander. I'm taking myself out of the equation. I'd hate to mess up your life any more than I already have!" She fixed him a glare showing him that she meant every word, but glimpses of hurt were shown in her brown eyes. And without thinking, she added, "You'll never change. It's a wonder why people left you in the first place!" She paused and closed her eyes, regretting that last part.
There was an earsplitting crack of thunder that rumbled through the sky at that moment, temporarily cutting off the lights. Both of them just stood there in the dark, no movement or sound whatsoever. Lightning flashed through the windows, giving the couple a tiny second to see the other's reaction. What Rinoa saw on Squall's face shocked her and she inwardly winced.
Squall glowered at her, his blue eyes cold and devoid of any warmth, with an intense fury. He now looked exactly like he did before she broke the barriers around him, Rinoa realized this with a start. He began to speak again in a low, emotionless tone.
"Fine. You want to leave me so badly, there's the door. Get the hell out and have a nice life. I was getting sick of your whining anyway. It makes me wonder why I thought you were ever worth it."
Rinoa gasped and started to tremble all over, more tears trickled down her cheeks as her hand flew up to her chest. The stricken look on her face tore at Squall's heart, twisting it even more.
He would never forget that look for as long as he lived.
She didn't know how she found the strength but somehow her legs were moving on their own and out the room, picking up a faster pace as she stumbled past several surprised cadets who were strolling through the hallways.
It didn't even fully register to Rinoa when she reached her own dorm. The young sorceress just slid down to the ground, knees pulled up to her chest and sobbed, her heart breaking into a million pieces. Was all that they shared turn out to be a lie? Even from all the times he'd rescued her back then, she knew there would never be another man who could replace him in her life.
'...I didn't know he really felt this way about me.. I guess... maybe he never loved me after all... Squall.. I never wanted it to be like this. And now... he hates me.'
Leaving permanently seemed to be the only option left now. No way in hell could she ever stay after what Squall said to her. Rinoa brushed away the strands of her dark hair and dried her eyes. She knew she'd definitely miss her friends, who all held a special place in her heart, but this decision was for the best. She gathered all the luggage and placed them on her bed before peering out the window, where she noticed that it was now pouring outside.
After packing up all the belongings she'd need, she inspected the room one last time, fiddling with the rings in an afterthought. Rinoa paused, her fingers caught on one of them.
Griever. Squall's precious silver ring engraved with a lion. It held so much meaning for her.
Fragments of that particular conversation floated through her mind...
"...That's my favorite ring. You'd better give it back."
Rinoa broke into a sly smile towards Squall. "I'm sure it is. It's a cool-looking ring. What's this monster on it anyway?"
Squall shot her an irritated glance. "It's not a monster. It's a lion. Lions are known for their great strength and pride."
She contemplated his words and fixed him with her twinkling eyes. "Hmm...great strength... pride... ...Kinda like you, Squall."
Squall shrugged. "I wish..."
Rinoa clasped her hands behind her back. "Hmm... so this L I O N of yours, does it have a name?"
"Of course. Griever."
Rinoa nodded. "So that's what you call it. You know Zell said he'll make me one exactly like it. Who knows, maybe I can become like a lion, too. That'd be crazy, huh? I mean, everyone might, y'know, get the wrong idea about us." She finished with a nervous giggle.
Squall crossed his arms, and raised an eyebrow, watching her. "You sound like you want everyone to get the wrong idea."
Rinoa at once waved her hands in front of her face. "No-no-no-no-no!"
That's all she had now, just the memories. They were too precious to bury and just discard like they were nothing. But for now, they were probably the only thing that can keep her sane, since everything fell apart. It was the same back in her childhood days... where all she had to do was close her eyes and listen for that faint, melodic, haunting voice that cast all her burdens aside and could relax her all at the same time. A voice, that she could only now hear in her dreams as well as in a familiar tune...
The raging thunder outside brought Rinoa back to her senses. A quick glance again convinced her that the storm wouldn't ease up anytime soon. If she was going to leave now, without anyone finding out, the time would have to be now. Without a second thought, she made her decision and rambled out into the hallways.
The lightning flashed through the window once again, highlighting a silver object left forgotten on the floor in the now empty room, while at the same time making a path for the drenched figure who slithered out in the rain, unaware that they were being watched…