XI: The Face Behind the Mask
Richard took one final look into the mirror at his reflection. Wearing his general uniform, his presence demanded respect and dominion. It would be the first time in a long time in which he had actually set foot outside of Deling City. It was time for an unexpected visit to a certain lieutenant's base. Since hearing the dire news of a hostile takeover occurring in Timber, he felt it time to pay Martine a visit. He might also acquire an explanation as to why the lieutenant's men suffered defeat after defeat.
Leaving his quarters, he marched through the lofty home and into the breakfast room where he found Julia seated with a cup of hot tea in her hands. Upon her husband's rather abrupt entry, she rested her tea cup onto its saucer with a soft tapping of glass against glass. The room was painted yellow, representing peacefulness, contrary to how she had felt on the inside. The walls enclosed in on her the longer he stood in the doorway while staring at her. Finally, she turned her attention to him.
Julia immediately noticed that he had been dressed to leave the facility.
"…Where are you off to this morning?" She had asked him, her voice barely overcoming the silence in the small, but spacious room.
"I've business elsewhere today. I'll come back in the afternoon."
The woman fingered the teacup's handle elegantly, lifting it upward to take a sip. Richard gave her a bewildering stare. There was a certain feeling that he could not shake away about his wife. It had been an ever existing nudge in the pit of his stomach growing larger over the extent of their marriage. Was there something she had been hiding from him all along?
She placed the teacup onto the saucer and grinned, albeit weakly. Ever since finding out about Squall's absence, he had known she had had something to do with it, whether directly or indirectly, it was for her to know and him to find out eventually. It had now been a week since the boy left and Julia hadn't raised a single question as to why he had disappeared. He found it strange. Usually, she was so genuinely concerned about his duties away from home, but now he saw a differently side to her.
"…I'm concerned about Squall," she said unexpectedly, the grin vanishing with her words. It was as if she had been reading the current thoughts on his mind.
He was surprised to hear her mention him, but even still, he knew she had known of his plans in some way as she was closer to Squall than he ever was. "…Now you're concerned?" He cracked a faint grin.
"…I haven't been feeling well, Richard. I needn't stress myself as I have in the past. Wherever our son is…I know—I know he is strong and able to care for himself; therefore, I needn't stress myself out about him," she repeated. "I know he'll be fine…"
"Regardless, you'll have much less to worry about in these coming weeks. I'm confident that Squall will return a stronger, sturdier commander. For now, he has to work through his weakness. I will see to it that he fails completely and on his own. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be leaving."
"Have a good day, dear," Julia whispered from her seat at the table, too weak to stand properly. Richard nodded cordially and then exited the room. She was unsure if he realized her condition had worsened at all. Part of her was scared to know that he couldn't care less about it.
Not before long, he and his personal guards left Deling City in his specially designed traveling jeep. The small base off the outskirts of Deling City became their destination.
Their journey was a short and quiet one, and the lieutenant's men immediately recognized his vehicle upon arrival. A few soldiers ran out to meet the jeep that was now pulling near the base; however, they were stopped by the general's own personal soldiers who were exiting first. They went around to open his door for him and he emerged as stern as ever. He stood to his feet menacingly. The guards looked upon one another and motioned for the one nearest to the camp to run in an alert the lieutenant of the general's abrupt arrival.
Outside the gates, General Caraway looked upon the base and saw the mass of prisoners shackled in their keep. He remained out in the heat, quietly observing the obvious progress Martine had made. The main question running through his mind at the moment was why and how Martine had managed to accumulate so many of the rebels at his base as of now. The general's hands fell down at his sides as he stepped forward into the rocks and dirt of the pathway that would lead him inside. He made his way toward the gates first.
"Good morning, sir," the soldiers standing guard exclaimed concurrently while sporting eager salutes, and then opened the gates for him. He looked ahead, ignoring their greetings altogether. He was quite displeased with Martine's progress and therefore made no efforts to spare a single word to his subordinates. The lieutenant would be the only person receiving his attention and scolding. He made the lieutenant's office his one and only destination.
The pathway into the heart of the base stretched out with the gated camps on both sides of it, both storing a large amount of men shackled men. Just how were they keeping these men alive? Surely the budget was not enough to house so many. Though upon closer observation, it seemed that some of them were starving and yet, none of the men seemed to be dehydrated.
Caraway stepped onto the path and immediately felt the dullness of the stagnant air about the base. The prisoners were very quiet, and were most likely disoriented after having been imprisoned for some time now. Only a handful of the men had noticed the arising activity, possibly because of the sounds of the gates' sharpness resounding in the air. Majority were still unaware of his arrival. It would make no difference whether they noticed him or not, as their fate would remain the same. He would make certain that Martine implemented his order thoroughly.
The general's stride along the pathway was prideful, his head was held high. There was no time for small chatter, and nothing could interfere with his pace. Everyone standing around him, behind him, and around him was completely beneath him. He wanted them to laud him, soldiers and prisoners alike. He would epitomize true strength, power, and mercilessness in war.
General Caraway had about several more yards left before he would be out of their sight, and now the men were silently alerting one another about his presence.
The soldiers standing guard, both true soldiers and converts, made themselves present in numbers along the lines of the tents following the prisoner's gates. Paving the way to the lieutenant's tent with their weapons resting at their sides, the soldiers executed consecutive salutes as the general continued his prideful march. However, these men knew the whole truth about the men being held in captivity, and if any of those said prisoners spoke out of line, they had been given specific orders to fire upon that person relentlessly. They relaxed the moment he was out of the prisoner's sights.
Ahead, Lieutenant Martine emerged from his makeshift office to meet the general. The soldiers relaxed their salutes when the two men met in the center of the path. Caraway immediately noticed that the lieutenant was unusually ecstatic.
"Good to see you, General. I was expecting you to make your presence here sooner or later."
"Is that to say you were expecting to fail? I shouldn't have to make any trip here."
"Indeed it seems that way, but in truth, our battles have become very complicated recently," Martine said.
"I know all about it," Richard took a breath and continued. "You were supposed to provide backup to the soldiers in Timber, not return their bodies to me."
"It was all I was able to do, sir. Between the time we had received word of the attack and once my men arrived there, the city had already been blockaded off. Our soldiers' bodies were left laying out for us to pick up and return to Deling City. It was the most we could do."
"You didn't join them in the field?"
"I was there for a short while, but my men lacked the appropriate numbers to storm the front seeing as I would also need this base guarded at all times. You saw them at the front gate. Those are the rebel soldiers. I was wrong in believing that we had captured most of their soldiers here. It seems they have rejuvenated the numbers and are growing stronger as we speak. It might be any day now that they'll return to square off against my men and me. As you said before, I should not make a move without your approval, and so I've waited for it. Although I've failed to provide the appropriate backup to the fallen men in Timber, I have provided the means to run this makeshift prison."
"You await my orders?" The general asked briskly and sarcastically. He had then turned his back to Martine and strode toward the beginning of the lines where the prisoner's gate came into view again. Some of the men sat on the ground with their backs pressed against the gates, hearing the voices of the two superiors above the stillness surrounding them. Martine approached the general, but remained behind him as he continued to speak.
"…I don't know why you insist on holding them captive when they clearly have no regard for the lives of my men; therefore, kill all of them here. That should free up your men to provide backup for the upcoming fleet."
"…Upcoming fleet, sir?" Martine pretended to be surprised about the new threat, as he had already learned from his unspeakable sources.
"Yes. While you were here playing prison, my men have been fighting a war. I intend to end it once and for all, and I'll end Timber along with it. I suggest you straighten up your act if you would like to keep your job as a lieutenant in my army. I have no problem ordering you to mop floors at the D District Prison. Do you understand?" the general asked him, while folding his arms behind his back and glancing behind at Martine, who was now sporting an amused grin.
"Yes, sir," the younger officer answered, still grinning from ear to ear.
"Good," the general nodded while facing him completely. "I expect to see these rebels in the land of the dead upon my next visit."
Martine motioned his hand upward as if to ask permission to speak, "Will you be deploying more troops here, sir?"
"The commander's men should have been plenty."
"…Understood, sir. I'll make do with the general's plenteous generosity," the lieutenant's voice carried on a certain sarcastic tone which caused the general to lift an eyebrow momentarily.
"Indeed," General Caraway responded as he turned away from Martine, who walked behind him along with his personal guards. With their conversation having finally reached its conclusion, the general made his way back to the outer areas where his vehicle was located. This time, the prisoners were alert and waiting for him. The guards followed after the general and lieutenant, merely steps behind to remind the prisoners to keep their mouths shut. The men in captivity received glares on both sides of the camp. The soldiers dared them to make a sound or they would fire, some reminded them by silently lifting up their weapons.
At General Caraway's last step out of the gates, someone braved the stakes.
"Ge-General!" It took one person to break the floodgates of screams. All at once the men screamed together, calling out to their general for help. Their combined efforts forced the guards to aim the noses of their guns to the sky and fire rounds at the sun.
The general stopped dead in his tracks.
The moment he looked back at them, all the noises, the shouting and the shooting from both sides of the gates, ceased simultaneously. The guards lowered their weapons and stood at attention, awaiting his words.
"…You sound like children!" General Caraway spat. "You should have ended your ways before they ended you. This is a war! Expect to be put to death today by the lieutenant of this base and accept your fate like the fighters you claim to be! That is all."
There was silence at the conclusion of his orders. The general was led to his vehicle and out of their sight. Some of them whimpered out of disbelief. Others stared off in a daze of confusion. After a few moments, the vehicle pulled away and was now on the road back to Deling City. General Caraway had unknowingly sentenced his own soldiers to death.
Lieutenant Martine watched the jeep until it was completely out of sight. With Caraway's absence, a waft of wind poured into the base and comforted the lost souls held in captivity. Martine smiled and took a deep breath while pacing back and forth in the center of the pathway between the gates. Finally he made the men into his audience, addressing them all around as he stood center stage to them.
"I am conflicted by this just as each of you are," Martine began at first. "Notice that our general does not hesitate to put everyone here to death. As you heard from his very mouth, I have been ordered to take your lives. Normally, I am quite diligent in executing the general's orders effectively…however…."
Martine thickened his smirk as he waved his hand into the air, "I am prepared to give you all one more chance if you would just hear. Me. Out…"
Zone, who had been standing as a guard without a gun within the camp, had heard and seen everything. He listened intently to Martine's words, eyebrows wrinkling with confusion at the revelation of the lieutenant's intentions. His stomach began to rumble in a mad fury.
Meanwhile, the general made one more stop before returning home to his mansion in Deling City in the afternoon. He would leave the contents of the second visit at its undisclosed location. For now, he wanted nothing more than to overlook his board game one more time. All the pieces were now in place after having been updated recently; however, there was one piece in particular that stood out among the others: the queen. She seemed rather anxious in her small space, readying to make a move that would shatter a certain stronghold. This woman knew more than she was willing to share with her precious pawns.
Richard immediately left his quarters and headed toward his wife's dayroom. He knocked at first, but the hollow sound of his knock reverberated throughout the walls behind him. The man reached and grabbed the doorknob. He turned it slightly until it opened up all the way. He was surprised to find her room empty, much like Squall's room one week ago.
He took a step inside and searched the vast room with his eyes only, carefully observing every detail and still finding no one.
"Mr. Caraway, sir," the voice of a younger room attendant crept up behind him in the hall. He turned around abruptly.
"What, what is it and where is my wife?" He spoke hastily, rather surprised at her intrusion and his wife's mysterious absence. He could always find her in the dayroom at this time of the afternoon.
"She's no longer here, sir. Your wife has left the premises," the young woman said, and then walked around him to enter the room. Walking across the dayroom's carpeted floor, she made her way toward the table that was adjacent to the window where Julia had left a clean set of dishes after a brief meal. The girl faced him and motioned her hands toward the table. "When I came in earlier, I noticed she left a letter here for you."
"Bring it to me," he insisted, lifting his hand. The girl nodded her head and whisked the letter away from the plate, then made her way toward the general. She handed it to him quickly. Her soft blond strands encased her emerald eyes. Innocently, she locked eyes with him while handing off the letter, fluttering and flushing red with nervousness.
Richard claimed the sealed letter for himself, his face usurped with concern, "Thank you. Please leave me alone."
"Yes, sir," the young maiden said as she left him to his privacy. She turned her back to the door and exited backward while grabbing the handles and pulling them in to close the door of the room. Richard took a deep breath and unlocked the seal to the letter.
It was late in the afternoon out in the fields of Timber when Squall had relieved his class of their training. All week long they had endured vigorous training from the young man, who at first, everyone assumed would be a lightweight in his lessons. They were wrong very mistaken. Squall started at the basics on the first day, breaking the men and some women down with exercises that would help to strengthen their bodies while incorporating fighting skills. His lessons ranged from hand to hand combat, to using a melee weapon, and then he moved on to perfecting their aim and shooting skills with precision. Usually, they practiced drills and attack methods from sun up to sun down. With uncertainty about the general's advance, he wanted to cover as many tactics as seemingly possible in the short amount of time they were blessed with for now.
The fighters in his class showed determination and by the end of the week had made drastic progress. Even those joining later who had had some training in their lives prior to their rebellious acts were able to make noticeable improvement in their all around performance; however, there were some who had never had a lick of training before this time, but showed some signs of great skill and potential. Among them was Rinoa, or the girl in the owl mask, as he tried to remember to address her in public. She had still chosen to wear her mask, as had a few others while in training and had only joined in the middle of the week after her arm showed some signs of improvement. He still hadn't pushed her as hard as the others knowing how her arm had been injured prior to.
Rinoa claimed that the pains were gone, but he knew a sprang wrist or ankle would take about roughly four to six days to heal back to normal, unless it was a severe sprang. However, she was a lot tougher than he previously thought, and he was surprised she hadn't mentioned the level of intensity of the injury. Instead, she pushed herself to learn defensive moves as well as how to operate a rifle properly. By the end of the week, or today, Squall had decided to give them a half day of training. Their homework was to get plenty of rest and practice some of the drills on their own time.
He wanted to be certain the men and women hadn't tired themselves out. He knew the importance of rest in between training and working around the city. Also, giving them the appropriate amount of time to rest would help them to incorporate those skills into their everyday lives and tasks about Timber. Doing so, they would notice the improvement for themselves and then start to look forward to learning more or possibly all that he could teach them in their short classes together.
After Squall had relieved his class, he watched them heading back into the town through its large gates. The sky was just beginning to change into its orange, evening glow and the wind had began to pick up its pace. With his shirt all sweated out, he welcomed the fresh breeze. It was one of those times where he wanted to remove the mask, but couldn't do so because everyone was still visible. Looking back however, he noticed one other person had remained nearby with, probably, the same idea. It was the girl in the owl mask and she was running toward him now.
Squall took a deep breath. By now, their speaking had become a regular thing.
"Hey!" she said, obviously smiling beneath the mask. "I just wanted to say that that was a great session today! You were really incredible out here!"
"Thank you," Squall answered shyly. He was used to people complimenting his skills, but there was something about receiving a compliment from this girl in particular that made him feel unlike himself. He felt jittery. "Um, you did really well, also," the boy responded, clearly embarrassed about her approach. She found it strange and adorable that he seemed to be two different people at times. When his mind was focused on instructing and helping others, he was very stern and concise, but talking to him afterward, she found he was a bit less of a soldier and more human.
"Thanks," the girl muttered as her eyes fell toward the ground. "I know I need to work on my formation, but I'm doing my best. I'm getting stronger, especially when it comes to carrying all this equipment. See? Two days ago, I couldn't even lift it!" She said while motioning to the unloaded automatic rifle at her side, and then briefly picked it up from the ground. Her eyes returned to his ecstatically, "I don't know how you guys do it. It's still awfully heavy."
"…Well, there are other things you can do in a battle. You don't necessarily have to fight," he said while placing a hand on his waist.
"Oh, I know! Sorry, I didn't mean to complain. It's just that I really admire your dedication…" she answered and then looked away from him shyly. Rinoa rested her words and took a soft breath beneath her mask, and then lifted her eyes only to lock with his again. "I respect you…and what you do, or did…" she swallowed a nervous lump and tried to continue, "Um, well, I should be going then. I just wanted you to know that my arm is feeling a lot better now, and I'm looking forward to our future lessons!"
"I'm glad to hear that and so am I," he stated firmly, their eyes still locked together. "You still have to take it easy and let it heal completely."
"...Of course!" the girl giggled. "But I can't sit still while everyone else has fun doing this every day."
Squall laughed too. It was hard to imagine anything being considered as fun in their current situation. One would have to be completely naïve in order to find fun in the weeks or months before any battle. Still, maybe her occasional spastic naivety was why he found a friend in her. For some reason, she seemed to bring out the kid in him, just like his mother. Staring into her brown eyes, he wondered why he constantly found peace within them.
A moment of silence went by between them, but was then engulfed by the sound of the wind whistling through the blades of grass surrounding them.
Rinoa upturned her face to the vast sky, noticing how fast the clouds had been travelling. The sun was not bright enough to hurt her pupils, but it was still that pleasant soft orange that she loved. It was easy to find shelter inside the puffy and pink clouds above. Before she knew it, Rinoa was walking forward, sidestepping around the young man in the wolf mask. She tried to take in as much of nature that surrounded her as she could. Flirting with the freedom of having vast plains beneath her feet, Rinoa tugged the rifle strap around her shoulder and pressed onward.
"Hey," Squall said immediately, trying to bring her back to reality. "Where are you—"
"Shh!"Rinoa snapped her head around while planting a pointer finger upon her lips. "I just wanna see something!"
The boy looked back at Timber, at the people who were gathering the last of their equipment and carrying it into the city. The last of his class had entered into the gates. No one looked back for him. No one called out for her. He figured they had assumed he had already made his way back, along with her. Even so, no one really looked for him if only to ask about a particular move or about the upcoming difficulties they were possibly facing such as the enemy's defenses. He usually stayed to himself anyway unless provoked by her. That was, if they had actually managed to sneak in a couple of words to each other throughout the week during the hours his class was not meeting up outside of town.
Regardless of what it was she wanted to see, reality was ever present on his mind and this was not a good idea.
"You know we shouldn't be out here now," Squall had said in an attempt to change her mind as he looked back only to find that she had already taken off into the wilderness.
"I'll be quick!" She answered him in a mad dash toward freedom and pure bliss.
Oh, great… Squall thought within while debating whether or not he should follower her. He opted to do the same. Besides, someone had to make sure she was going to return safely. "Dammit…" He sighed, and then took off behind her.
Rinoa sprinted ahead of him; of course, she might have been able to go faster if not for carrying all the equipment and even wearing the mask. Squall, however, had grown accustomed to his mask. He was already used to wearing the sheathed gunblade at his waist, and had seen many a battle while wearing it. Before, the mask was the only problem he faced. Now, he was able to maneuver as if wearing nothing. It was probably a good thing, too. He would still need to wear it for as long as his mission was in progress, but he was growing to enjoy being called "Wolf." Consequently, he was losing himself behind it, but then again, maybe he wanted to lose himself behind it. He could pretend that his past never happened. Would they ever accept him knowing the whole truth anyway?
He had once taken the lives of her fellow citizens, but now, here he was, actually enjoying the company of one the rebels who hated and plotted against his father.
He had finally caught up to speed with her, but the masked teens continued to run together in the plains. What started out as a simple chase became a friendly fare race. Squall could not help the huge smile on his face as he ran beside her, occasionally spotting her looking at him with a competitive sparkle in her eyes. She gripped the straps on the rifle tightly and increased her speed, but Squall placed a hand on the handle of his gunblade and ran faster as well. She would not get the best of him. Rinoa changed directions suddenly like a wildfire in the wind, running wildly in the fields.
They were surrounded by the green fields and the occasional Timber oak tree. The grass swayed in the wind, being carried like waves in the sea. It seemed they were running through green, wavy water. Their running was liberating, childlike and free. In some truth, they were still kids even after having endured the hardship in their lives. Both needed an outlet, another person to extend their concerns to, likewise, they needed someone stronger to restore that balance in their lives; otherwise, they would both be caught up in the vanities of worrying.
Suddenly Rinoa slowed her pace as she remembered that a cliff overseeing the ocean was nearby. Squall slowed down to a stop just a few feet behind her as she came to a complete stop also. Rinoa crashed to her knees some yards away from the cliff. She was out of breath and lied down in the grass to rest her body. Squall watched her for a moment, smiling at her innocence. It took him a few moments to realize they were very close to the cliff side. Beyond them was a large body of water, glistening beneath the orange sun. The ocean's waves twinkled like diamonds in the sunlight. Some of the clouds hang low in the air. The sky was just as vast as the ocean in its epic measures and breathtaking to witness. He took light steps toward it, feeling totally insignificant against nature's sheer epic proportions.
It wasn't a view he'd seen too often, if he had ever saw it at all. It was beautiful.
Rinoa dropped her weapon at her side and folded her legs inward. The grass was nice and soft, and easy to find a comfortable seat upon. Her eyes were fixated on this scenery just as much as his. She took a deep breath, taking it all in and closed her eyes to the sound of the water in the distance. It was so peaceful and soothing. It was exactly what she needed to calm her mind down about the recent events, and the people she worried about.
"Isn't it amazing?" she whispered, opening her eyes and looking over at him. Squall approached her side slowly and took a seat beside her at her left.
"Sure is," he answered softly.
They stared forward into the distant sun, taking in the peaceful view.
"…I just wanted to see it again," she began. "I used to come out here with my parents a long time ago. We'd sit down on a blanket out here on days like this. It was nice. We would come out to each lunch that my mom prepared and my dad would tell me stories about how things were when he was a kid. He even told me about how life was in Deling City. But sometimes…sometimes they got so quiet when they were together," the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks below them carried on behind her words. "…And other times, it seemed like they were looking for something…or waiting…waiting for someone."
Squall listened intently.
"…Till this day, they don't really talk much about some of their past," she faced him again. "…It makes me wonder about what happened… and also about what they've been through. They know so much about Deling City…"
"…Maybe you should ask them?" He inquired calmly.
The girl shrugged her shoulders. "I don't think I have the courage to do that," she answered softly.
He couldn't argue with her. Sometimes even when speaking with his own parents, he often choked up on his words. Only recently did he find the courage to actually take a stand against his father. Before then, he found it difficult to even disagree with the man or speak his mind with ease.
"I'm sorry," Rinoa said finally. "…I hope I don't get you into trouble for being out here."
"I'm not worried about that, but I know they'll start to worry about you."
"Yeah, you're right," she nodded her head. Rinoa rested her hand in the cool grass, allowing the blades to slip between her fingers. Squall looked up at the sky and became lost in its vastness. Sure the others might start to worry about their prolonged absence and they might catch hell for returning so late evening, but it didn't mean they couldn't enjoy it while they were out in the natural, ungoverned wind for now. Why not take advantage of the moment?
He fell on his back almost immediately and rested his hands on his chest. He knew they would have to leave soon, but somehow wanted to live in the moment for the time being. He wouldn't push for them to go just yet, and would not speak a word on it unless she said so. She was such a bad influence on him.
Rinoa watched him and smiled. She had silently reached the same conclusion and decided to enjoy their time away from the prison that was Timber.
Who was this man in the wolf mask and why did she find peace in her heart when spending time with him? There was something very peculiar about him. Aside from the much obvious mysteriousness of his face, she was curious about life, the parts of his life that he was not allowed to share. He may have very well been dangerous behind those easy, steel tinted eyes. Even so, as much as they endured some minor spouts together, she genuinely enjoyed his company as well.
Squall lost himself in the moment. He hadn't felt this free in a long time. Though the city of Timber was in dire need of its independence, he also needed his own independence once in a while. He was prepared to take the full blame for their actions tonight, as it was a much needed escape on both parts. He would be free to make that choice. He probably had a lot more freedom now than ever at any point of time in his life. Even living in Deling City where he had been born privileged and into the general's family, he was forced to do what was right in his father's eyes and was given the appropriate discipline that would help him to become a great general as well. He was raised to be the general and was also trained to be the general. He wondered, albeit briefly, about what his life would be if he decided not to follow in his father's footsteps and not become the next general of Galbadia.
"…What about your family?" Rinoa asked suddenly, as if reading the thoughts of his mind.
"…I," he sighed heavily. "I can't talk about them."
Of course, once reality set in of his present circumstance, he realized he wasn't entirely free after all. He still had to abide by their rules for now; at least, until the standoff against the galbadian military was settled.
"That's right," she understood, knowing that he had been sworn in and allowed to keep his identity a secret. "I shouldn't have asked you that… Sorry."
"It's okay," he knew she was sincere about questioning him and also genuine in her apology for it. "…If things were different, I would tell you."
"When things are different, you still can!" She smiled, looking over at him, her eyes shining brightly beneath the mask. He tried to imagine her face behind it, in its youthful presence. She had to have been around his age. The sound of her voice told him that much.
"Yeah," he agreed slowly.
Rinoa lied down beside him and looked up into the sky as well. There were humungous clouds hovering above them, all puffy, and some white and pink. Some clouds were becoming orange with the sun. The wind sent the fibers of their clothing, and the furs of their masks, billowing about their faces. He heard her giggling at first, and when he faced her, she touched the nose of his mask with her fingertips, pointing out that his mask looked like a real wild wolf caught in the wind. Squall made an open mouthed grin that was revealed by the lower mouth opening of his mask.
"You have a cute smile," the girl commented softly, immediately.
"Huh," he closed his mouth straightaway, cheeks blushing red.
"No, don't hide it!" she laughed out loud, sliding her hand down to his chin. "…It's really cute, that's all."
After a moment of struggling to accept the compliment, the grin returned, though a closed grin. She was happy to see him relaxing now. The girl moved her hand from his chin and brought her eyes back to the sky.
She made him feel relaxed and tranquil. He wanted to forget about everything happening around them and concerning them. They were alone now and free from everyone. If there was nothing he was allowed to share with her, what would be the harm in answering at least one of her inquiries, even if she hadn't asked about it?
Squall sat up from the ground and closed his eyes. His mind was made up.
All Rinoa could see was his back. She saw his arms reaching up and toward the back of his mask. He slid his fingers beneath it, toggling around for a bit before finding the appropriate snaps and unbuckling it. Her heart was pounding. What was he doing?
Finally, after the brief struggle, the girl was surprised to find him sliding the mask from his head. Wild and unruly russet hair emerged from the mask as he shook his head and allowed his hair to fall loosely from its smashed down position. It had been forever crushed by the weight of the mask all throughout the day. Some strands were longer than others, but the very back of his hair was cut short. The loose strands were caught within the breeze, ungoverned as the wind. Dark brown and almost red in the sunlight, Rinoa smiled at his unique hair color. This guy, whoever he was, had a great head of hair she thought. Strangely enough, his hair color took on almost the same shade as her mother's hair.
He took a deep breath as he rested the mask in his lap while opening his eyes. Squall had then narrowed them at the glistening ocean ahead and concluded himself out of his mind. Showing his face would compromise all of his progress and would most likely complicate everything between them from now on. He hadn't exactly looked at her, but could tell she was getting to her knees now and preparing for a frontal observation. As much as he had exercised discipline and control in his time becoming a soldier in the military, it seemed he could not escape these sudden impulses to simply share himself with her. What was happening to him? He was having a hard time controlling his behavior.
"I knew you were good looking!" Rinoa smiled. Her voice lacked the muffled sound that usually occurred due to the mask covering her face.
"Rin!?" He snapped his head toward her and was surprised to find that she too had completely removed her mask as well. The sun captured the smoothness of her peach toned skin. Her eye brows were sharp, just as his, and helped to define her feminine features even more. Her lips were cherry pink and perky, and smiling. She already had gorgeous brown eyes, but seeing the entirety of her face just made them ten times more amazing, "…Wow," he uttered, just barely audible. "You…You're…"
"So are you," the girl giggled, assuming she knew what he was going to say.
Squall took a deep breath and allowed himself to smile finally. He released a shaky laugh too, finding his inability to speak funny as well. It was a great relief to see each other's faces. The mystery had finally been revealed; however…
However, the longer they stared at one another, the more something became apparent. They seemed vaguely familiar. Squall knew right away who she resembled; although, saying it out loud probably wasn't a good idea at all. There would be nothing more awkward than telling a girl whom he had a crush on that she looked like and reminded him of his mother. Likewise, Rinoa felt the same way. Would it make him feel less of a male if she had insisted that he looked a lot like her mother? These were the vain thoughts of teenagers.
Though their thoughts were present, the two decided not to mention it. Concern grew in their faces. They were no longer smiling at one another. Now, they wondered why it was so. Instead of feeling glad about having seen each other's faces, both had somewhat regretted it. It brought along nothing but more questions, questions that they would not be able to expose to one another nor to anyone else, questions that might hold terrifying answers. Squall looked down at his mask and stared into the cutout eyes of the wolf. It saw right through him and his dwindling bravery. It was empty. It saw nothing but a lost and curious boy trying desperately to hold dearly to his righteous beliefs spoon fed to him by a woman who called himself her mother. What was he really hiding from, but more importantly, who?
Rinoa brought her hand down onto his mask and slipped her fingers through the fibers of fur at its top, petting it as if the animal was real. She grinned amicably and then looked up at him. Nervously, he lifted his eyes to meet hers again. When he saw her face and the peacefulness encased with her smile, the boy relaxed and reached his hand over to touch her chin.
Squall slid his fingertips to the entirety of her right cheek, staring into her eyes. The girl covered his hand with hers, and blinked softly, enjoying the feeling of his gloved hand pressed against her skin.
Regardless of what her face looked like, she was not his mother. Rinoa had told herself the same thing.
When the girl opened her eyes, he had dropped his hand from her face and taken a deep breath. He looked down the mask and then slipped it back on. Rinoa followed his lead.
"…Well," he said while fastening the buckle in place and clearing his throat. "…I guess we should head back."
"Yeah," she agreed, and then took a deep breath too.
He stood to his feet first and then helped her from the ground. Before he could let go of her hand, however, Rinoa squeezed it and moved closely against him. He hadn't actually been this close to her in a while, save for the night she hugged him, which had been the same night they had met for the first time and briefly when they had been reunited. He never thought he'd be this close to her again.
"Can you promise me something?" Rinoa spoke softly. The boy lifted an eyebrow first as she proceeded, "…Can we do this more often?"
"Well, at least once more!"
He placed his hands on her hips and pulled her in closely with a smile. "…Okay," the boy answered.
"…And one more thing?"
"Shoot for it…" He said confidently.
"…After everything is said and done," she whispered, "…will you tell me your name?"
Squall squeezed her torso gently in his arms, and lowered his face close to her shoulder so that his voice would be hot against her neck, "…Naturally."
Rinoa immediately closed her eyes and wrapped her arms up and around his waist. She wished she had waited to put her mask back on. Though even wearing it, she felt the hardness of his chest and his warmness through it all. He smelled good also.
Although the walk back to Timber was a short one, the sky had grown darker. They had spent too much time away. The two stopped out in the plains and looked at one another one more time before Squall smirked and waved a hand in the air, "…I think you should go first. Everyone would be less suspicious about us if we're not together."
"…Yeah," she grinned. "…The last thing I wanna do is upset my dad."
"Get going then, I'll see you around."
"Mhmm!" she smiled and then waved while taking steps backward. "Bye, Fox!"
"It doesn't matter, they're both adorable!"
He slapped his forehead and looked away with a soft chuckle. Squall eventually returned his eyes to her and waved her off.
"Seeya!" The girl waved back and then turned around all the way. She ran toward the town gates.
Squall remained in place beneath the tree they had stopped at. He would allow her time to get in and settled before making his appearance. Usually, he would go straight to his room after the training session or go out to get lunch from the nearby café, which was still up and running without any galbadian soldiers to spoil any meals. Either way, he didn't mingle much with the others, save for his trainees or Kiros. He hardly ever spoke with Nechku unless someone had thought of an urgent question for him to answer.
He had done his best to remember all the types of weaponry that the newly improved army would be using against them, and had also spent a great deal of his time conjuring up ideas about how to counter their attacks. He realized that during the week, the people had been making trips to the nearby factory for supplies. Some of the materials there could be used for rebuilding. Squall had even shared his idea about reinforcing the walls surrounding the city to withstand some possible vigorous attacks from the military, and they would start to incorporate that idea any day now.
Timber was filled with hardworking and innovative people. He wondered how his father could ever pass such a horrible judgment about them being unintelligent wastes of life. Even the thought of his father branding them with such words offended him.
It especially offended him now because he was falling in love with one of them.
Falling in love…? The brunet repeated within.
He shook his head to rid the thoughts from his mind as if that would work. It was time to push the fairytale to the side. He was already treading dangerous water by extending his friendship with her. Now after having showed her his face, would she forgive him if she knew his true identity? He was the son of the man whom she had openly admitted to wanting to see punished for his crimes against her countrymen. On the other hand, the men at the farm all knew what he had looked like, so it really didn't make too much of a difference whether she'd seen his face or not. Still, why was she so familiar, at least, why was her face so familiar?
Squall yawned a bit. Enough time had passed by. Rinoa should have made it in without finding too much trouble. He walked forward toward the gates. Hopefully no one had noticed either of their absences or reentries.
Just as he stepped through the gates that were still guarded by a few of the faction members who had been chatting amongst themselves, the man in the wolverine mask met him at its front.
Kiros?! If he's here then that could only mean that…
Kiros motioned for him to join him and the two had then walked together in the dark. In the streets, the others busied assembling the newly acquired materials to be used for the reinforced wall. No one bothered to repair the buildings that had suffered attack and destruction due to Galbadia's attacks. It was sure sign of a great defense. They would not bother to rebuild until the main threat was eliminated, or at the least, warned to keep a safe distance away from Timber. It was enough progress for Squall. In the meantime, he wondered why Kiros needed to speak with him now. Had he and Rinoa been found out? The masked brunet remained calm and collected.
"…We're expecting some hostility any day now and not from the fleet that you warned us about," Kiros admitted finally, coming to a stop when they neared the police station.
"Some hostility…?" Squall's eyebrows wrinkled in confusion. "What other hostility?"
The man in maroon pointed ahead at the police station, "The warden's been mouthing off about the buses that he had requested… We're not sure what to expect when they get here, but we expect to find them heavily armored and carrying some fighter troops along for the ride. We're not sure how many, but their intentions were to arrive and pick up all the suspected rebels being kept in jail earlier this week. The trip would probably take them a few days to reach us, but may have been even slower for the buses. Regardless, we expect them to be ready for a battle when they arrive and that time should be soon."
"…Okay," Squall nodded at first. "What do you need me to do?"
"Nothing major," Kiros shook his head. "There's no use in risking your life on something like this if you don't want to, but I think it'd be a great warm up for your men, namely your snipers. What do you say? Can you assist us?"
"...Sure," the boy shrugged his shoulders. "My troops are ready for anything."
He wasn't sure why, but he suddenly had renewed strength and hope in his position. Maybe he had been experiencing some of the remnant high of his well spent evening with Rinoa, but he was in no way of knowing the unseen threat that would arrive with the hostile D-District prison armored units.
Author's little Notepad
Hey, everyone! Glad to be back to this story! I'll be working on the next set of chapters for this story as well as updating DollFace, soon. Between work, coffee, and some of my spare time, I'm on a roll and I'm not quitting. I love each of my stories that are in progress at the moment, and I'm writing every minute that I can. I'm sorry if my responses aren't punctual, but I'll respond to every question or comment you might have.
I was a little nervous about having them see each other's faces, but then again, I'm glad it happened. I felt a little bittersweet while writing that scene, though I guess that's necessary at this point in the story. Don't worry! I'm sure everything will smooth out eventually. I don't want to put a timer on this story, but things will really start to cook up in the next chapter. Thanks, everyone, for reading and stay tuned for the next chapter of Fate,Wild. Please let me know what you think of it all, and thanks again.