Final Fantasy VIII is one of my favorite video games of all time. Sadly for me, though I do own two copies of the game, its title and characters belong to Square-Enix.
Finding Time for Rain
Part III - The Choice
Her eyes slowly opened and were greeted with the gentle light of morning. It seemed dimmer than usual, more gray than she would have liked, but not even she could control the weather. The smell of the pillow and the surrounding air was vaguely familiar, but not at all unpleasant. It didn't smell like a hospital, but rather more like a normal bedroom. Right now, she felt so calm and at peace, especially knowing that he'd been in this same bed just twenty-four hours prior. It was indirect contact; a silly notion, but everybody had their moments like this.
As comfortable as she felt in Aeric's arms, it was Squall's arms that held the most. Even though it'd been a lifetime since she last felt his touch, she could never forget it. The two of them used to be inseparable, just like brothers and sisters should be at that age. They shared everything back then, including each other's pain. Though children, theirs was a love that went deeper than any adults'; mutually unconditional. Sadly, as age sets in, most people forget what that kind of love is like.
She could never.
The room appeared to be empty, but she knew that Aeric couldn't have been far. He was most likely right outside her door, standing vigilant should any harm head her way. The thought brought a smile to her tired face and she began to stretch, now more awake and feeling so much better than the night before.
The doctor had given her something to counter the poison, but as a side effect, it knocked her out pretty fast. She slept so soundly through the night, any dreams she had were no longer present in her memory. And she awoke so gently, it was as if she'd never woken up at all.
But this wasn't a dream.
For a moment, she replayed yesterday's first encounter in her mind. It was the first time she'd seen him in so very long. He was in this room, and she was in the hallway outside. Of course, if she were to turn and look right now, he'd not be there as she was. Still, she rolled over with wide eyes and an even wider smile.
And the hall was vacant.
With a long sigh, she removed the blanket from her body and sat up at the edge of her bed. Her clothing had been changed, but she was not wearing the hospital gown like Squall was. She'd changed herself last night into a gown of her own. The only reason she was still in the infirmary was due to the doctor's insistence; she wanted to keep her under observation for the night. As it turned out, the poison she received was a particularly nasty one and without the proper treatment, she could have died.
Yeah... She was stupid for doing what she did. Then again... Could following one's heart ever truly be considered a stupid thing to do?
Her bare feet hardly made contact with the floor before she sprung them back onto the bed. It was just too cold, and she wasn't that awake yet.
As she looked over her surroundings, a small yawn escaped her. She spotted a clock on the wall which told her the hour was 7:05. So it was still quite early then. For some reason, she felt relieved, as if that might give her a chance. But she already knew... She could sense it... Squall was leaving.
Now her mind was quickly assessing what options she had left, and they were paths she'd tried desperately to avoid. However, it couldn't be helped at this point, she had to do it. Before she could make contact however, she would have to know exactly where he was, and who he was with. It could be very dangerous if she connected with him at a bad time.
For her, the time to face her demons had come. But first... She needed to face the bone-chilling tile floor so she could get dressed. It was probably not the most difficult task ahead of her, but a dreaded one nonetheless.
Aeric could hear her moving around and crooked his head towards the door. "Are you awake?"
"Give me a minute, I'll be right out," she replied through the door.
Aeric stood tall and waited patiently as she dressed herself in the other room. He already knew what was on her agenda for today, and he was determined to be there in support. His only wish, if he could ever be granted such a thing, was for her to fully realize what her goals actually were. He feared it was all going to end in heartache, and possibly worse. But it wasn't his place to tell her this, she'd already embarked on her journey; one that only she could take, and one that only she could finish. Either by reaching the end, or by realizing there is no end, it was for her to discover, not him. He could only offer his support, and be there when she needed him.
And in the end, whatever that end may be, he would still be there.
"Good morning!" she said cheerfully as the door slid open. Draped over her arm was the gown she'd slept in.
He nodded to her with a small smile. "How are you feeling?"
She turned her attention to herself, checking her arms and legs, making sure there were no surprises she'd yet to discover. "Well... Considering I still have all my limbs and can still walk, I guess I'm feeling pretty darn good."
Her cheerfulness almost seemed without context, but Aeric knew it was an attempt to hide the dread she was feeling. And in support, he would allow her to indulge in whatever peace she could find, for it wouldn't be long before it all disappeared completely. "You're the luckiest person I know."
"Luck?" she reiterated quickly. "Most of my luck is actually just you, always there to protect me."
He smiled and looked away. "If I'm your luck, then I must have failed you last night. It wasn't me who protected you."
"I know," she said softly with a nod. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking."
He looked her in the eyes again and took her hand. "I'm the one who is sorry. I was too late."
But Squall saved her... Yet, he didn't recognize her at all, and if he did, he never said anything. Perhaps he just couldn't forgive her after all.
Aeric sensed her change of mood as her thoughts induced a silent stare at their interlocking hands. He released her's, and that seemed to bring her out of it. "Well. The doctor stepped in, but had to leave again for a class lecture. But she told me you've been given a clean bill of health. Are you hungry?"
She nodded with a large grin. "Yes."
The two of them headed off to the cafeteria, arms entwined all the way there. Dressed in his usual white uniform, Aeric was of course drawing attention to them both, but for the time being he felt it was a necessary risk. Besides that, the odds that anyone here had any hint of their identities was well in their favor. They looked like visitors to most people, and it generally ended there.
After passing through the kitchen and ordering breakfast, they sat at a table close to the edge of the eating area. It was nice and quiet at this hour, most students were getting ready for class, and that left most of the cafe empty. Actual breakfast hour started after nine for the cadets. It was quiet enough that they hardly needed to speak above a whisper. It almost made them feel vulnerable.
"So..." she began, avoiding direct eye contact. A playful grin streaked across her face as she stuck her fork into a side dish of soft apple-crisp pastry. "I've made a decision."
Aeric didn't have to ask. "Are you sure that this is what you want?"
"It is. I have to know. There are so many questions. And above all, I need him to... choose a different path." She looked up at Aeric, all traces of her earlier grin gone, replaced by a sorrowful expression.
He thought she was referring to Squall, but could she possibly be referring to someone else? Why hadn't she ever mentioned this to him before? She always kept the darkest parts of her past a secret, only revealing bits and pieces that were impossible to put together.
He knew she wanted to change it all, but the true extent of her wish to do so was unknown to him. In fact, it wasn't even clear to him what exact aspects she wanted to change. It didn't matter though, he knew it couldn't happen the way she wanted it to. He just couldn't tell her this directly. She wouldn't even listen if he did.
"Aeric... I'm sorry for always keeping you in the dark about my feelings. Please, just don't ever think that I..."
He hushed her silent. "Shh. When you're ready, I'll be here to listen."
"Thank you. So much."
The podium clock in the center of the eating area was minutes from striking 7:30. Looking up at the skylights above them, she noticed that the sunshine had diminished considerably. It was beginning to rain, and would probably continue all day long. It was mocking her, for it was also raining in her memories. That day, the storm... Since then, the rain never truly stopped. And today, when she'd finally decided to make contact, reality just had to parallel her feelings.
She went to take another bite of her breakfast, her thoughts quickly spiraling towards a dark center she wasn't quite ready to explore. Despite all her words and conviction, she was wishing as hard as she could to find another way. If there was any, however, they were never found.
"I don't want you doing this," Aeric finally said, trying to stop her from brooding as she was. He didn't want her to suffer like this, but sometimes it was necessary to uncover certain truths. So when he didn't get a reply, he prodded her further. "I know you wish there was another way out, and I could sit here all day telling you that you don't have to do this. But we both know that you do... Even if it's for reasons that neither of us yet understand. I can't stop you, but I just don't believe that you're actually ready. So please... I know it's painful for you, but give it a little more time. I don't want to see you get hurt anymore."
She looked up at him, her expression somewhere between confusion and sadness. As she opened her mouth to speak, she was interrupted by the speakers above them.
A man's voice began to shout on the intercom after a short burst of static. "...need reinforcements! He's broken out of his cell and taken an instructor hostage! I repeat, we need..." the announcement was cut short by the sounds of a struggle and more shouting. Then it went silent again.
Looking around, she and Aeric noticed a couple faculty members and instructors get up and rush towards the hall. "What was that?"
Aeric shook his head. He didn't like the sound of this at all. "I think there's trouble in the detention center. It really doesn't concern us."
She nodded and returned her gaze back to their table. It took a minute for her to gather her thoughts back, but another announcement was made, yet again disturbing their moment here.
"Headmaster Cid! Report to the Detention Center immediately! All SeeD personnel, backup assistance required, he just took out five of our staff!" The voice of a woman this time, young sounding. It was familiar. "Dr. Kadowaki, you and your staff is needed urgently!"
She looked up at the ceiling. "Do you think maybe we should...?" She didn't really know what she was getting at. Did she want to leave and go to her dorm? It wasn't that she didn't feel safe, but somehow... it just seemed that everything was getting in her way now.
Aeric was thinking along similar lines. "I'll take you back to your room." He thought for a moment about checking out the disturbance, but this was not their affair, and it was best that he and the others with him didn't get involved.
They rose to their feet and the two of them began walking side by side.
"If things get too serious, we may need to remove you from this place completely," Aeric told her.
Hearing that sent a wave of anger through her. She was already in a dark place mentally, his comment only pushed her deeper inside. She couldn't leave here, no matter how dangerous things got. She wasn't finished. She hadn't even started. She needed to be here, for when he returned. She'd wait for his return, for as long as it took. "I'm not going back to that ship without at least attempting this!" She broke away from him, and the sudden change in mood surprised him. "I've been putting this off for too long, but the truth is... it can't be avoided any longer. I need to make contact with him. I need to see the past, I need him to see the past!"
Aeric stood in shock. He couldn't allow her to jeopardize her future over this. A lot was at stake, more than she or he could even comprehend. "Wait!" He shouted, but something stopped him in his tracks. "Ah! What... are you..." He suddenly felt a pain in the back of his scull, something he'd experienced once before. He knew what she was doing, and at this point, he was powerless to do anything about it. "Wait... Where... are you sending me?"
She stopped walking and turned around, her eyes locked with his. She didn't appear to be angry, only hurt. "I need to know where he is, who he's with. I'm sorry, but the longer I wait, the worse it becomes. I know how much you worry about me getting hurt by this, but please... Trust me." Her voice softened as tears filled her eyes. "I need this... more than you could possibly understand."
Aeric felt his body hit the floor, and the last thing he saw was her faint figure rushing to his side. When the darkness subsided, he found himself peering through the eyes of another. At first, he was completely disoriented, but then the scenery became recognizable. It was the Garden entrance, not even a full hour ago; the sun was starting to rise, but clouds were already threatening to snuff out its rays.
As the person he was inside turned their head, several people came into view. There was a young woman, a young man with blonde hair, and Headmaster Cid along with a staff member.
Now he understood what she was doing. She wanted to see who Squall was with on his mission today, that way she wouldn't have to worry as much when she made the connection with him.
So now she knew.
"Well then, Squall, you're the Squad Leader. Use your best judgement given the circumstances you are faced with. Whatever the situation, keeping a cool head can mean the difference between success and failure, and... Well, you know what I'm getting at." The Headmaster spoke to him, then began to address the other two young SeeDs beside him. "Zell and Selphie, you two must support Squall and give your best efforts to carry out the faction's plans. Timber can be a hostile place with all the soldiers that are running around over there. Watch each others' backs."
A wash of white, and he was back inside the cafeteria, his head cradled in her arms and lap. He said nothing as her face came into view. Looking passed, he saw the rain through the skylights and confirmed to himself that he was actually sent back in time. He felt violated, and knew that Squall would feel the same way. There was nothing he could tell her however that would change her mind. So he only stared her in the eyes with a look of surrender and slight dismay in his. He finally spoke his only concern. "Be mindful of what you're looking for... You might find something you didn't expect. And it's what you least expect that can have the most severe consequences."
She smiled at him as a single tear fell from her cheek onto his. "Thank you," she whispered softly to him.