Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy VIII.
Chapter One: No One's Waiting
Squall Leonhart panted, searching his inventory for a High Potion. The darkness around him was endless and the far-off stars twinkled ethereally, making a strangely beautiful stage for a fight. He could see every labored breath roll out from his lips, and he knew one more hit would be more than enough to take him down. His gloved fingers searched for the potion. Where was it?
Rinoa took one glance at him and quickly cast a curaga on him. Feeling replenished, he stood proudly, holding his gunblade with a stronger grip. Rinoa's eyes met his and she gave a roguish grin before returning her focus to the battle. Her face shone with the knowledge that victory was almost theirs.
Squall couldn't help but smirk as well. He, too, could see that the Sorceress was losing power. Her weakened stance told him that she didn't have much left in her. So why did she still look so determined even as Zell attacked her with a barrage of punches and kicks?
"You're up, Squall!" Zell called as he bounced into place beside his commander. He flashed a toothy smile before tossing an Aura stone to Squall. It broke over his head, and Squall felt the familiar sensation of warmth spreading throughout his body.
"Right." Squall nodded, taking a deep breath before running towards Ultimecia. His mind played games on him with each frenzied step he took. As he came closer, he noticed that the scowl she'd worn for the entire battle was slowly shifting into a malicious smile, and Squall had to resist the urge to run in the other direction. Zell and Rinoa's cheering faded until there was nothing left of their excited voices. The stars seemed to dim, and Ultimecia's face was so bright, as though she were the light source. His steps became slower and slower, and it took everything to keep going. Soon, his footsteps ceased to fall at all, and Squall found himself trapped in Time. His head thrashed this way and that, willing the rest of his body to follow, but it was in vain. He couldn't budge.
"Commander." Ultimecia purred, walking in slow, elegant strides but still managing to cover distance at an inhuman speed. Her purple lips were stretched in a cold smile as she stretched her long fingers towards his face. He tried to pull away, but his head was frozen. He glared at her spitefully as her hands cupped his face.
"Get your filthy hands off of me." He growled, wishing he could slice her through with the Lionheart. She laughed.
"It's only temporary." She said in that strange, tender voice, so different from her harsh tones at the beginning of their battle. "I have a proposition to make."
"No." He shot. He hated being forced to stare directly at the cruel parody of beauty.
"Don't be so hasty." The words hissed through her lips, pleading for him to consider their meaning. Squall felt a strange sensation spread down his spine, and his heart skipped a beat. He didn't know why. "Do not attack me, attack the small fighter. Rinoa will help you."
"And just why would I do that?" Squall managed to sound fierce through clenched teeth.
"Because, if you attack me, Rinoa vanishes." She leaned in close, and he could taste Winter on her breath. "You see, I made her just for you. Well, I'll admit, it was for my own selfish reasons as well, but you gain more than I do." She gave him a seductive smile.
That was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard. Ultimecia didn't know him, she couldn't just know that creating Rinoa would come in handy. It wasn't like Rinoa had only come into existence when she had approached Squall at the SeeD ball. Squall opened his mouth to protest.
"She's right, Squall." Ultimecia flicked her wrist, and Squall's body turned around to see Rinoa walking out of her frozen stance, her footsteps echoing throughout the vast space surrounding them. Zell still remained frozen and faded behind her. Her head was bent down, her eyes afraid to meet his. He would do anything to wipe the shame off of her face.
"I was made just for you. I'm nothing more than a spell." She'd reached Squall, and she put a hand out to his face, a glum expression on her face. It passed right through him, and she looked ready to cry. "If she dies, I disappear."
Squall was speechless. His knees would have given out on him if he wasn't suspended in Ultimecia's magic. She had to be lying. Ultimecia was playing some sort of trick on him…
"But," Ultimecia told him. "If you attack the fighter, I shall allow you two to stay, to love, forever."
"Please, Squall." Rinoa tried to grab onto Squall, but she kept sliding through. She started to cry. "I don't want to fade. I don't want to be nothing." Her dark eyes locked onto his, pleading for life.
Yes. Of course the answer was yes. How could he let her fade? But he knew yes was the wrong answer. This wasn't the Rinoa he knew. Rinoa wouldn't put her life before Zell's, or before anyone's for that matter. This was just one of Ultimecia's last acts of desperation. He closed his eyes, unable to handle the sobbing Rinoa before him.
"No dice." He said evenly, refusing to look at Rinoa. She'd collapsed to the ground.
"No! Please, Squall, don't!" She screamed. "Please, Squall, please!" But her screams faded into silence. Squall felt Time melting off of his body, and he caught Ultimecia's scandalized face before he blinked, and everything returned to as it was before. He was running at full speed, Rinoa's and Zell's cheers were as loud as ever, and Ultimecia's face was once again a mask of disdain.
Squall lunged at Ultimecia, back arched and gunblade lifted high over his head. He gave it everything he had, forcing all of his skill into each blow he delivered. Blue blood sprayed from the top Ultimecia, Red from the upside down Ultimecia below. It all rained thickly onto Squall, making his leather jacket glisten in the starlight. After his last blow he stumbled, and felt Ultimecia's breath on his ear.
"Your loss." She breathed. Squall slashed her thin throat and turned away from the fresh splash of blue blood. In an instant her body was shrinking and expanding, distorting her features. He ran, using Rinoa's welcoming figure as his goal. His legs were burning, but he kept sprinting, her loving face beckoning him closer.
The darkness gathered around him, swirling in endless currents and spiraling to an abyss below him. He ran through the silky smoothness, blood that wasn't his dripping down his body as he found that he was still in total darkness, all alone.
Scared, he called for his friends. Only his empty echoes called back to him. He closed his eyes, taking a calming breath.
"Rinoa." He said, and he knew he could go on. He wasn't alone.
He opened his eyes and saw that the darkness had been replaced with a barren wasteland that stretched endlessly before his field of vision. The sky hung over him in heavy gray clouds that refused to rain. The air around him seemed to falter, stretching and pulling before falling back into place. Not knowing what else he could do, he began to walk on the cracked, rocky earth.
He must have walked for miles. The sunless sky dried the blood as he journeyed. All around him there was no signs of change, and he began to think the world was infinite. Where were his friends? Where was Rinoa?
Rinoa. If there was anyone worth going to for, it was Rinoa. His breathing became ragged, and he had to envision her sweet face to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
If he hadn't been so tired, his heart would have been racing at the sight of the ledge. It was a change. He slowly forced himself up the gradual slope, hoping his friends were down below.
He stood at the very edge and saw only gray clouds. He was at the edge of the Universe. Tired and dispirited, he collapsed.
So, this is how it ends after all. He thought. In the end, I really am all alone. He wondered how long it would take him to die. Not too long, only a few days, since he'd be going without food or water. He could handle that.
He sensed it before he saw it. A beautiful, solitary white feather fell from the ambivalent clouds. Hardly daring to hope, he slowly lifted his hand to grasp it. As it touched his glove the world around him morphed. The sky cleared into the colorful shades of sunset, and there were patches of grass beneath him.
And there she was, a vision of beauty, her slender figure facing away from him. He stood quickly as though he hadn't been walking for and endless amount of time. Cautiously, he called her name.
She didn't move.
"Rinoa." He repeated, his heart hammering in his chest. Rinoa would never taunt him like this. Something was wrong, but he couldn't move.
Painfully slowly, she turned to face him, and Squall's breath caught in his throat. A ripple crossed her face, and before it could settle back into place, it rippled again. No, this couldn't be happening…
He took a hesitant step forward and flinched back when memories blasted all around him, filling his senses completely.
Squall could never explain it. Each memory threw itself at him one after another, each one sickly twisted into a mockery of what it should have been.
The first thing he heard was the rushed music of the SeeD ball. Rinoa was standing a good distance away, just as she had the night he met her. She raised a finger, and though squall knew she should have been smiling, her face gently waved, making it impossible to see her properly. The sinister music repeated itself over and over again, Rinoa turning her head and pointing in sync with it each time. Her face seemed to loom closer, but her features never became any clearer.
"No!" Squall yelled, but his voice was lost in the memory.
He was floating somewhere outside of his body, aware of his horrified, silent screaming but also of the images that flashed before him.
Quistis. Selphie. Seifer. Zell. Irvine. Rinoa. She kept turning towards him, her silky hair blowing in the breeze. It all rushed at him faster and faster, coming closer until he could only see their eyes.
Her eyes weren't blurred, but they swept past him too quickly for him to take in. They flickered, flashing between Rinoa's soft gaze and Ultimecia's cold glare.
Sometime during the flickering he had landed in his body, and even though his throat was raw with soundless screaming, he couldn't stop. It was silent until Rinoa advanced towards him, her high heels clicking eerily along the ground. Again and again she stepped in his direction, but her face was always distorted and she never got any closer.
Then suddenly every moment he had ever spent with Rinoa was bearing down on him. It all passed too quickly for him to tell if her face was visible or not, until it all slowed down. She was in Space, and he was so far away, trying to catch her. He finally stopped screaming as he couldn't breathe. Rinoa's helmet had shattered, the shards drifting towards him as her necklace floated serenely about her.
A single tear rolled down his cheek and there were no more memories. No more endless earth and no more blackness. Only a pure and blinding light that he fell into. Rinoa was dead. He let himself be swallowed by the light.
He landed with a heavy thud, but he didn't even try to emerge from the back of his mind. Only one thing was echoing in his head. She's gone. Nothing mattered anymore. He would lay there and rot for an eternity, keeping his memories encased in his grief. He was about to accept his fate when he felt the wonderful sensation of someone stroking his hair with soft, gentle hands.
That voice. It couldn't be. A flame stirred inside of him, and Squall fought to reach her. He weakly opened his eyes as Rinoa buried her head into his chest.
I'm so sorry, Squall. She cried into his jacket. I love you so much, please, please just tell me you love me, too.
"Of…course." He spoke around his throbbing throat. "I…love you." He pushed out the last two words with difficulty.
She gave a shuddering breath as she pulled him up tighter in her embrace. Squall finally felt at home, safe in her arms. He lifted his arms to caress her, but the minute he touched her, she began to dissolve.
I love you Squall.
He clutched at her desperately, but she continued to crumble into dust.
She smiled at him before her face fell into a pile of ashes on top of the rest of her body. She slipped through his fingers and blew away into the wind. Squall screamed, and this time he could hear his own bloodcurdling cries.
"Squall, snap out of it!"
"What's wrong with him!?"
Squall was once again left breathless, this time because of Seifer's fist in his gut. He laid there, eyes wide open. For a while he just listened to his cries echo off the Lunatic Pandora's walls, but then he realized he had to search for her.
His friends stood above him, all watching him with worried expressions. Ellone and the President were there, too, along with Seifer, but no Rinoa. Taking a few breaths, he sat up. Blood rolled down his hair, his face, the leather façade of his clothes, mingled with cold sweat. Hadn't it dried on him ages ago?
"Where's Rinoa?" He asked in a hoarse voice.
"What?" Zell asked.
"Where's Rinoa?" He repeated in a stronger voice.
"What are you talking about?" Seifer's brow furrowed.
"Who's Rinoa?" Selphie questioned.
"Don't play dumb!" He snarled, and he searched each and every one of their faces, but thy only looked scared.
"Give him some space, obviously Time Compression took its toll on him." Laguna ordered.
"No, she's real!" Squall took a step towards Quistis, but she backed into a defensive position. "She was here, you told me to save her!"
Quistis was shaking her head, her eyes wide and disbelieving. Squall dashed to her, wanting to shake her until she admitted that Rinoa had existed, that she was alive, but a sleep spell hit him from somewhere to his left. He lost consciousness before he hit the ground.
A/N: Just something that occurred to me, and now felt like the right time to post it. Please review.