Disclaimer: Just so you know, these characters are not mine, they are borrowed from Squaresoft. Kudos, by the way, for a great game.

Dr Kadowaki looked up from her desk toward the room where, just hours before, Squall had placed Rinoa at her direction. In the aftermath of the battle with Edea the Sorceress, Rinoa had somehow fallen into a coma. Squall and the others, battered, bloody and, as far as anyone knew, victorious had come in with her. The utterly stricken look in his eyes still haunted her. She tended to their various wounds; most of them minor, mostly due to them not having time to fully cure themselves, and then looked Rinoa over. Not a scratch on her, breathing and pulse normal, but pale, so pale, and totally unresponsive. She was at a loss. That it was a magic-caused ailment was obvious, but the extent of it was beyond her skills to heal, and when she said so to the rest of the group, the pain that flared in Squall's eyes cracked her heart before he blinked and the cold mask was back. That he shut down so quickly bothered her. And as tired as he was, completely exhausted in fact, he hadn't left her side. Not once.

She sighed and got up. Peering into the little room, she saw a touching sight. Squall, kneeling by Rinoa's bed, holding her hand, was fast asleep, his head resting on the pillow beside hers. She debated waking him and making him go back to his dorm room, but he really was exhausted, and at least he was sleeping. She doubted she could make him leave anyway. When she suggested he get some rest earlier, he just gave her a stubborn look and refused to budge. She turned out the light and left for the night, resolving to check on things in the morning.

Squall woke the next morning feeling worse than he did the night before. Battered muscles that had stiffened overnight from his less than comfortable position screamed in protest as he shifted and opened his eyes. Somehow he found himself studying Rinoa's profile. She was as white as a marble statue; her beautiful doe brown eyes closed, thick dark lashes fanning her cheeks. He reached up, remembered he still had his gloves on, and tugged them off, ignoring the pain from his sore muscles. He touched her cheek with his fingertips, and swallowed a lump as he felt how cold it was. He traced the streak of brown in her ebony hair, feeling its silken texture.

"Rinoa" he whispered, watching for a response. Nothing. Moisture flooded his eyes and he blinked it away.

"Rinoa" he said again, louder. Still nothing.

"Please," he begged, "answer me, " No response. He could hear her breathing, see the pulse fluttering in her neck, but she might as well be a corpse, as still as she lay. He shied away from the thought.

I can't take this; he thought. It's too much. He could feel the pressure of his emotions building up. He couldn't deal with it, had always had trouble with that sort of thing. They whirled in his mind and heart like a maelstrom, melding together until all he could feel was pain. He stood up, ignoring aching muscles and ran his fingers through his hair, grimacing at the tangles. Suddenly, the pain, the frustration, was all too much for him. He had to get out, get away from it, from himself.

I'm sorry Rinoa, he whispered in his mind, I have to get out of here; I can't stay here, not now, not when you're like this. If I stay I'm afraid I'll..

"I'll break, "he whispered. He could feel it; a shaft of pain in his heart, worse than the ice javelin Edea had pierced him with.

Its not fair, he thought. The minute I open my heart to you, this happens. I thought nothing could hurt more than losing Sis, but I was wrong.

Tears flooded his eyes as he lost control of his emotions after all and fled.

He ducked his head and avoided the more populated areas of the garden as he ran. He didn't want anyone to see him like this.

Like what? He snarled to himself. Like someone who actually cares about a fallen comrade? Like someone whose heart is breaking? Can't have that, can we? How very uncharacteristic of you, Squall Leonhart, to show that you care about someone. Truth is, idiot, it's just easier to let everyone see you that way. Relationships take too much time, too much energy to maintain, and you're too chicken-hearted to invest that much of yourself into one. But you did it anyway, didn't you, even knowing what could happen to her if she tagged along like she insisted.

He loped along toward the Training Center, hoping that no one who caught a glimpse of him saw the tears that were now streaming from his eyes. He needed to kill something, preferably a T-rexaur. He needed to vent the emotions battering him from inside, and he needed combat to work it off. He didn't care that it was forbidden to enter the Training Center alone, he didn't care that there was a real danger that if he was off his game, especially with a T-rexaur, he could be killed. He entered the training center and the tropical warmth enveloped him, pressing against him. The greenery and the fresh smell of growing things began to soothe his agitated state, and he took a deep breath and exhaled.

Maybe I'll go to the secret area. He needed to think.

No, you don't NEED to think; you think too much, you need to figure out what to DO.

He started walking toward the middle of the Training Center, noticing as he did so a remarkable lack of monsters. He was almost all the way to the secret area and he hadn't even encountered a bite bug.

That mess with the garden master really depleted the monster population, he mused. Maybe I'll have some of the senior SeeDs go on a trapping expedition to restock it. Gotta have something for the newbies to train on... an earth shaking roar broke into his thoughts and he whirled, coming face to face with the undisputed king of the training center, a T-rexaur. He reached for his gunblade, and realized with a sick feeling that he had left it in the infirmary by Rinoa's bed.

Quistis was worried. She had seen Squall's shattered expression when told him that she couldn't help Rinoa, and she wanted to check to see if they were both okay. She headed for the infirmary when she noticed that he wasn't in his room. When she entered, she asked how they both were doing.

"I haven't looked in on them yet, " she said. "I just got in."

They both looked into the tiny room to see Rinoa still sleeping peacefully, no change there. But Squall was gone. And on the floor by the bed, lay his gunblade.

"Huh," said the doctor, frowning.

"Maybe he went to get some breakfast," offered Quistis helpfully.

"He gave me the impression last night that hell would freeze over before he left her," said .

"And I've never known him to leave his gunblade behind if he was going anywhere far..."Quistis said, frowning.

"Something's wrong." She said. "I have a bad feeling..."

Squall dodged another attack from the monster's tail. He was getting tired, both from dodging the T-rexaur's physical attacks and from summoning his GF's. He liked Shiva, and she was pretty strong, but he preferred to use his gunblade. If nothing else, he could at least parry the monsters attack while waiting for the GF to show up. He gasped for air and cast sleep on the T-rexaur, hoping to get a breathing spell. It missed.

"Damn!" he swore, and dove to the side to avoid being bitten.

"Shiva!" he cried, gathering his energy, and then he flung it out and commanded "Diamond Dust!"

The ice goddess emerged in her crystalline case of ice, formed a ball of ice-magic energy, and blasted the monster with it, freezing it to the bone. The T-rexaur staggered under the onslaught, but shook it off and charged again, this time casting thundara as it came. Squall twisted to avoid the charge, but got caught by the lightening bolts. Energy sizzled up and down his limbs and he screamed in agony as it burned him. He staggered and went down, then struggled to his feet as he saw the monster readying a tail swipe that would most likely either kill him or come close to it.

Quistis worriedly questioned the students in the halls, asking if anyone had seen Squall. She didn't have much luck until she questioned a pair of students playing Triple Triad by the library. One of them, a pretty dark haired girl that had been in one of Quistis's classes, mentioned seeing him running toward the Training Center.

"He looked upset, " she said, concerned. "I don't think he had his gunblade with him either."

Quistis gulped, then asked, through lips that had suddenly gone dry with fear,

"Did you see him go into the Training Center?" Please, please say no, she thought. The girl shook her head, and Quistis let out a breath in relief.

"I did." said the boy that was with her. Quistis's heart froze with fear. Without another word, she made sure she had her whip with her and charged for the Training Center.

Squall staggered to his feet, knowing he was too tired for another dodge. Wouldn't it just figure? He thought wryly, the hero of the battle with the Sorceress, felled by a beast? Well, at least its not a Grat, or worse, a bite bug..He gasped for air and his limbs trembled with fatigue. THINK you idiot! This is just a beast! You've killed dozens of these guys! You've got enough blind spells stocked, use them! He readied himself in the few seconds he had before the monster's tail came at him.

"BLIND!" he shouted, and sagged with relief when the tail swished by overhead, a clear miss. He gathered the last of his energy and summoned Shiva to finish it off. Exhausted and relieved, he sank to his knees, sobbing for breath.

"Squall! Squall!" it was Quistis.

Crap! He groaned to himself. Not her, not now...I feel like enough of an idiot as it is...

She came running up, chain whip ready and asked him, while trying to catch her breath, "Are you ok?" Her eyes snapped with both anger and concern.

"Yeah." He mumbled, "I'm fine."

"What were you thinking?!" She snapped angrily. "You could have been killed!"

"DUH!" He shot back. Then he got up and started walking toward the secret area.

"Where are you going? We need to get out of here!" she said urgently.

"You go ahead. I'll be fine" Squall continued walking.

"You don't even have your gunblade with you!" Quistis exclaimed.

"I can handle anything that's in here now, that was the last T-rexaur we had." he reached the doorway to the secret area and turned to face Quistis, motioning with his hand.

"Aren't you even going to heal yourself?" she asked.

Squall sighed and turned his back on her to enter the room and stopped when he was enveloped in green-blue healing light.

"Just leave me alone." he gritted out and continued into the room, ignoring her. Maybe she'll go away..

"Squall," she said softly

Damn. He walked over to the railing and leaned his elbows on it, like he had the night of the ball, the night he met Rinoa...I lost my heart to her then, he thought painfully, I fought it so hard, but it was already too late, I had fallen for her the minute our eyes met. Wrapped up in his melancholy thoughts, he almost jumped when he felt Quistis put her hand on his shoulder.

"Talk to me, please? We're all worried about Rinoa, okay? Squall?" She sighed. "Look, I know how hard this is for you, but please, don't shut us out, we're all worried about the both of you. I mean, when I had heard you had come in here alone and unarmed, I was really afraid for you. I thought something really horrible would happen to you, and where would we be if it did? And what about Rinoa?" She asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

He glanced over at her and she gasped at the sight of his red-rimmed eyes. They looked raw and watery, and the stark misery in them broke her heart, all over again.

"I can't." he said and turned away. I don't know why, I just can't, don't you understand that? I don't know how, and even when I try, the words just get stuck inside me.

"Squall, its okay, I won't tell anyone, if that's what you're worried about," she said. "Although it wouldn't hurt you for the students to see that their Commander is a human being after all. I know there's a heart under that armor, otherwise you wouldn't love her."

Squall gasped and whirled on her,"How...?"

"It was pretty obvious, " she stated. "You were probably the only one who DIDN"T know...and we all were happy for you, it was about time."

Squall swallowed.

"Ever since Sis went away," he said, his voice choked and rough. "I promised myself never to let myself be hurt like that again. Never to let myself care enough about anyone for it to hurt when I lost them.."

Quistis held her breath, not daring to speak a word for fear he would clam up again.

"It was all an act," he whispered, "I needed friends, like everyone else, I got lonely, like everyone else...but I was too afraid to let myself care, and I felt.... awkward, when I tried."

Quistis blinked, this confession put his usual imperturbable attitude in a new light. Is he telling me he's shy? It makes sense, in a way. she mused. He hasn't had much practice in social situations. He tends to avoid them..And Seifer bullied him unmercifully..He wouldn't have wanted to give him more ammunition to use...of course, Seifer bullied everyone, but he seemed to concentrate on Squall for some reason.

"She saw right through me." He continued. "And she chipped away at me until ...I took a chance. Let her in..." His voice faltered.

"And now this." he choked on a sob. "I have this horrible feeling like I could have somehow prevented it, but I keep going over it in my mind... and I can't see any way I could have..." His shoulders shuddered as he fought back the tears, and suddenly, to Quistis's amazed eyes, the dam broke.

Squall leaned his head down on his hands, still leaning against the railing for support, and let his emotions, his tears, out. He sobbed out seventeen years worth of tears and pain that he'd kept locked away, and he sobbed out his grief over the beautiful girl he loved, whom he was afraid would never smile again.

Quistis gently reached out and lay her arm over his back, giving him a half hug and some much needed support. I never realized how fragile he was..Inside..

"Shhh, it's okay." Quistis whispered, comfortingly. "She isn't dead Squall; she's in a coma. She may yet come out of it, and if she doesn't...we'll find a way to help her come back to you. To all of us. Don't give up on her yet.."

Squall shrugged her arm off and whirled on her, demanding, "Is that what you think I'm doing?! Giving up?!" He stepped back a couple of steps and slashed his hand through the air in emphasis. "NEVER!" he shouted.

"Well that's good to hear," she replied. "Now what are we going to do about it?"

"I..I don't know," he said uncertainly. Quistis noticed that he looked even more battered and exhausted than he did the day before.

"I can't think..."his voice trailed off.

"Have you eaten anything yet?" she asked him. He gave her a blank stare in reply.

"I thought not." she said. "The first thing you need to do Squall, is get something to eat. Then go to bed and rest." He gave her a stubborn look and opened his mouth to reply but she cut him off.

"Rinoa is fine for now, and we will all watch over her and call you the minute anything changes, okay?" she put her hands on his shoulders and squeezed them gently.

"You need the rest or you won't be of much help to anybody. Your brain won't work right if you're too tired and low on energy to think. And that's about where you are right now." Then Quistis smiled. "I gotta say though, for someone who rushed in here a few sandwiches short of a picnic, you did pretty well. It's gonna do your reputation wonders when it gets around that Squall Leonhart took down a T-rexaur without his gunblade."

Squall breathed out a laugh and wiped his eyes.

"That wasn't my intention.." The merest hint of a smile touched his lips and vanished like smoke. Then he turned to make his way out of the room and back into the Training Center. He looked back over his shoulder at Quistis.

"Coming?" he asked.

"Why?" she teased," Need my help with the grats and bite bugs?"

"Nah,"he said."Just thought you wanted to see the master at work. You know, get the rumors right."

Quistis stared at him.

"Did..Was that a…Joke..?" She laughed. "I can't believe it! You actually told a joke! There's hope for you yet!"

He folded his arms and glared at her until she stopped laughing.

"Whatever.." He said. And had to fight back a grin as she started laughing again.

"Lets go, I'll buy breakfast."He said as he turned and walked out.

Quistis shook her head in amazement. He'll buy ME breakfast? Wow! That has to be a first.

She ran to catch up with him and noticed him frowning again.

"What?" she asked.

"We need to get some new monsters."He started.

He shook his head as she started laughing again.