Squall had never, in his whole life, given anyone physical comfort; yet, when she'd begun to cry, it was the most natural thing in the world to hold her. It was an urgent instinct. Unquestionable. And so there he was in outer space, wildly confused about absolutely everything except for that single action.
Radio static was buzzing faintly, but the last thing on Squall's mind was leaving her quaking body to flip the communication switch off. So the static continued on fuzzily, adding a sort of surreal shine to the metal walls around the two, who barely noticed the small sound among the mess of their feelings and concerns. Squall could hardly hear anything aside from her muffled sobs and wavering breaths. At that moment, millions of miles from everything he'd ever known, she was all he was interested in hearing.
He had been holding her for quite a while, although time was greatly escaping him. One of his legs was beginning to fall asleep from the position he was in. He'd been kneeling in front of the passenger seat that she sat crumpled upon for Hyne knows how long. But, as with his sense of sound, he could hardly feel anything aside from her shaking body. Squall could hardly feel his own heart beating, but he was painfully aware of the feel of her crying into his chest; of the warm, haphazard breaths that fanned out across the white cotton of his shirt and the small, pale hands clenched in the material. Somewhere he understood that the contact should be making him uneasy, but he was too worried, too wrapped up in the sudden changes, and too determined to fix the awful situation to be bothered about much of anything else. This was, undeniably, the worst situation he'd ever found himself in. He'd been impaled by a meter of ice, came awfully close to falling off a bridge thousands of feet elevated, been chased by a ten ton mechanical spider, and an endless array of other unpleasant encounters; but nothing had ever created so much worry, fear, and anxiety within him as did this. And it wasn't about being millions of miles from civilization and real honest-to-Hyne gravity. Squall fully believed that they would make it home safely within several hours, but he wasn't particularly sure that he ever wanted to reach that home, even if it could offer him all the gravity in the universe. He didn't know what would happen when they got there. He didn't know what would happen to her.
Her shaking was gradually subsiding. He could tell that she was doing her best to reign in her emotions. She'd been holding them in so well, he realized, since they'd entered this ship until she'd abandoned his lap for the passenger seat. He recognized her strength, and was awed by it. The coma had allowed Squall to realize how much he admired her—her passion, her honesty, her. He couldn't understand why someone so alive, passionate, honest, and true could have this kind of misfortune heaped upon them. She had her whole life ahead of her, a life full of that radiance she carried. It wasn't fair that it could be stolen from her so ruthlessly. It made him sick.
Soon, all Squall had left to listen to was the static lazily humming. Rinoa had quieted completely. He wondered what she was thinking and feeling. There was something he desperately needed to do, to say, to something, but he couldn't name it. He dared himself to speak, unable to stomach her silence and moreover, his own notorious silence. Squall was shocked when he found words readily available and burning inside him.
"You don't have to go." Squall was surprised at how quietly he spoke when the feelings that came with the words were of such great magnitude. He was met with silence, and he began to wish he hadn't spoken. Maybe she didn't need words now. Maybe she didn't want them.
"I do. I have to." Her voice was equally small but he could pick up the determination lingering within.
"They can't force you to." Squall wasn't sure where his voice was coming from as he pulled away just enough to glance at her face. Rinoa didn't respond and Squall tried to raise his voice to a regular volume, but couldn't seem to manage it. "I can protect you."
"You don't understand..." There was something dangerous laced into her hushed response, but Squall pushed on.
"Then explain it to me. Why do you-"
"I'm a Sorceress!" Suddenly, Rinoa had no trouble raising her voice. He was gripped with a sudden fear that all he'd do was make this worse for her; that all he ever did was make things worse.
"That doesn't matter." Squall was still clueless as to where he was finding words; as far as he could tell, he wasn't actively thinking. "No one cares about that." Rinoa kept her face cast down, staring just below his ribs.
"I don't need protection. Protection is needed from me. It's everyone's job to...to keep people like me from hurting anyone." Her voice had lowered again. "It's your job."
"That's not..." Squall was suddenly lost. He tried to push through the invisible barrier he had come against. "They all care about you. I know you feel like an outsider sometimes. I'm sure..." Squall paused, wondering where the hell he was. "I'm sure that's even worse now but..." And he hated himself then, for not knowing what to say or how to say it. For his years of solitude. For having nothing to offer her. "but they know, I know, that you're a good person."
"I don't know what they think...or that they care. You're all trained not to." Squall flashed back to under a week ago, when she was comatose in the Garden infirmary. He had felt like no one cared. No one had seemed to. They had all been too preoccupied with their duties. But they had helped him in the end, hadn't they? They'd helped him in his crazy scheme to save her.
"You can't speak for them."
"You know they do."
"Things are different now." Rinoa replied carefully.
"I..." Squall could feel her hands shake slightly against him, her palms now flat against him. "Look at me." He needed to see her. He needed to know if she really felt this way. When she ignored his demand he spoke more firmly, "Rinoa."
"What?" Finally, her face shifted towards him even as her body pulled away. His arms dropped to his sides as her warmth quietly left him. Rinoa sat sideways in the chair, still facing him but somehow incredibly far away. Her face was flushed from crying but her features were set. Squall had to look up to see her face from his kneeling position. It felt foreign and unnerving to be talking up to her.
"Even if you can't take my word for their feelings, I..." Squall found it too difficult to look her in the eyes, so he looked at her knees instead. "...I care." Silence hung between them for a moment. The air between them was heavy but warm with the dull static of the radio. Squall kept his eyes on the pale skin of her legs, busying his mind with their slow curve. He couldn't think anymore. He could feel her eyes on him, and he willed himself to return her gaze but he was too afraid of going backwards or forwards with her. Squall was scared of every possible outcome his current situation had.
Finally, Rinoa's continued silence allowed Squall's curiosity and worry to overcome his inhibition. When his eyes focused on her features, she was looking away, towards the window and the endless space beyond. Squall studied her face. The harshness it had held when she'd been arguing with him had disappeared. He thought that she looked exactly like Rinoa, and then thought that it was a stupid thing to have thought. But it was true. Her features were free and easy and most of all, sincere.
"I-I've already done so much damage." Rinoa's voice was very quiet, but it still caught Squall off guard. "I can't bear to do any more..." Before he'd consciously registered that she'd spoken at all, he was already responding.
"What happened isn't your fault."
"But it is...because I'm weak."
"You're not wea—"
"I am!" The passion that always thrived in her had ignited, her features becoming more animated as she turned her face back to him. "I'm too weak to fight this. That's why I have to let someone else protect the world from me. I'm too weak to protect the world from myself." Her expression was so open, and Squall realized for the first time that his was too. Rinoa, too, seemed to notice his unusual vulnerability because she added more quietly, "You know how bad I am at fighting alone..."
"You don't have to fight it alone." Squall felt as if his stomach was twisted in a knot, but he didn't let himself look away from her. "You have everyone's support."
"They don't know how to deal with this, either." Rinoa looked as though her stomach might be feeling the same as Squall's, but she didn't break contact either. "Besides that, you're all from Garden, your jobs are to...get rid of me. I can't put the pressure of going against Garden on any of them even if they would be willing. It's better to leave it up to Esthar officials, isn't it? They know what to do. They've dealt with this stuff before." Rinoa smiled sadly. Squall once again felt that he was about to say something unbelievably stupid, but couldn't seem to stop himself. It was an out of body experience of sorts.
"You're the one who always lectures me about friendship. I..." Rinoa's brows furrowed slightly. The warning signals blared in Squall's mind, but he was already continuing,"I believe that now. I believe that they will do all they can for you regardless of circumstance. I believe that their support can be enough for you to be able to deal with this."
"And you're the one who says what others do is none of your business." Rinoa replied stubbornly. Squall felt himself standing, his legs immediately beginning to prickle unpleasantly as they awoke. He didn't know where he was going, thinking, feeling, or anything else.
"Fine." Despite his confusion, he turned from her, pausing briefly to switch off the communication radio. The static was gone abruptly, uncomfortably. Before he knew it, Squall was standing just past the pilot's seat, staring out into the blankness of their galaxy.
"I'm sorry." Rinoa said quietly.
"You're right. It's your choice. It's none of my business." Although it was something more like him to say, he hadn't really processed the words before they were out in the air, surely doing some kind of damage. Squall could almost feel Rinoa's disappointment, but she resigned herself to the situation quickly, following Squall's lead and peering into the starry void.
Squall wondered very briefly if the space around them acted as a prison or a shield. He asked himself if his actions might be what answered that. He wished that she was close to him like she'd been earlier. Wished that she was still pestering him and giggling at him, swinging her legs and wrapping her arms around his neck. Squall remembered what he'd said to Ellone, that he had never felt this way before. He knew it was the truth and accepted it as such, but he was afraid of what it meant. For the first time since she'd begun crying, he spoke in a normal tone, "How do you feel about me?"
"What?" Squall's question caught Rinoa completely off-guard.
"Are you serious or do you just have fun playing with me? I can never tell." For the umpteenth time, Squall had no idea where he was coming up with these sentences. His legs were waking up, but his mind was still down for the count.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Rinoa's replied on the defense.
"Since you're going to leave, I'd like to know." Squall replied on the offense.
"Whatever. It doesn't matter." Squall was starting to feel like a jerk. The worst part was that he hadn't meant to be one this time. For a while, Rinoa was quiet, and Squall's insides squirmed as he wondered what the hell he was doing, what the hell she was thinking, and what the hell was going to happen.
"I thought I was going to die. I was positive." Rinoa finally spoke, pulling Squall away from his thoughts. "You know how I spent what I figured would be my final moments of life?"
Squall didn't say anything but he thought: "Saying goodbye to me..."
"I spent them thinking about you." Rinoa answered for him. "I don't know where you get off thinking I don't seriously care about you." Rinoa stared at his back, not sure whether she expected or even wanted a response. After a moment that felt like forever, he spoke.
"I was really afraid." With his words, Squall shifted slightly away from the window and the endless abyss it offered him. Rinoa could only see the furthest corner of his face and the starlight reflected there. "I was afraid that you weren't ever going to open your eyes. I couldn't take it."
"Squall..." Rinoa realized she was standing without any recollection of movement.
"And then out in space...I..." She was slowly walking towards him "I've never felt like this. I've never cared about someone this way..." Rinoa felt the inexplicable need to remain completely silent as she approached him, afraid to startle him out of his rare openness. "I don't understand. I don't know what to do. It isn't any of my business what you do, but you say you care and I said I care so we care and..." Squall closed his eyes. "I can't handle not knowing if you're going to be alright. Safe. Smiling." And then he opened them again, turning around but keeping his gaze directed towards the floor. Rinoa felt more than she could understand. "Not that I'm responsible for much smiling."
"You are." Rinoa was surprised at the sureness in her voice. She was equally surprised that a few more tears found their way beyond the corners of her eyes. She wasn't prepared for Squall to focus his gaze back on her. But he did.
"You're crying." Squall told her.
"I'm smiling too." And she was.
"But you're not okay."
"Why?" Squall asked, genuinely unsure.
"You." Her reply instigated a blush in the stalwart teen. Rinoa's smile grew.
"One word sentences are my specialty, not yours." Suddenly, the air between them had become much lighter.
"Now I'm even laughing."
"You're stronger than you give yourself credit for."
"Maybe." Rinoa began to trace circles on the floor with a pointed foot as her arms met behind her back. Squall was quiet for a minute, watching her curiously, and then sat against the metallic wall of the Ragnarok. The silence that proceeded was somehow very comfortable, despite everything that had happened to and between them in the past week. Squall began to think.
"So I care and you care and we care..." Rinoa began, interrupting any thoughts that had formed amidst the current chaos in Squall's mind.
"Did I really say that?" Rinoa giggled at his reply and watched as his hand came up to his brow.
"Something like it." Squall felt Rinoa sit next to him. He realized he was glad to have her near him once more, although he did his best not to acknowledge it. "How much time do we have left before we get back to our planet?"
"I'm not sure. Probably only a few hours. Maybe you should get some rest." Squall suggested solemnly.
"Definitely not." Her answer was final and decisive. Squall glanced at her questioningly. With less determination, Rinoa continued, "I don't want to waste this time." Squall understood immediately.
"Neither do I..." Squall's reply surprised Rinoa. She looked up to his face was angled towards the ceiling. She wondered if he was thinking far away thoughts, or if he was thinking about her.
Rinoa followed Squall's gaze to the silver paneling of the ceiling and contemplated her current situation. Despite all that had occurred, she felt genuine happiness.
"Happiness because of him..." The thought brought an unexpected giggle, disrupting the silence between them. She felt Squall shift to look at her, silently questioning her outburst. Rinoa smiled coyly at him in return.
"What's so funny?" Squall asked when his wordless question went unanswered. He was vaguely afraid that she was thinking something mischievous and wholly Rinoa.
"You." Rinoa giggled again as he replied with a sigh. She could feel him expelling weeks of frustration in that single breath.
"...Maybe I am." Squall said into the flat air around them as he turned his gaze forwards. Rinoa knew that what he said had a more complicated meaning.
Rinoa could feel more than see all the stress he'd been under. He looked so young but she could feel the worry, disappointment, confusions, fear, and restless energy behind his eyes. Although, it was physically apparent that he hadn't been taking very good care of himself; deprived of food, sleep, or nourishment. Rinoa felt a maternal instinct begin to develop within her. She wanted badly to give him something, anything. She looked straight ahead and slowly put her hand over his own, which rested on the cold floor. When he didn't reject her, she released a small breath and curled her fingers around his palm.
They sat in comfortable quietness, hands joined, and Rinoa realized that this was the closest she had ever felt to someone unrelated to her, and the only time anything like it had happened without carefully chosen words. She wondered if maybe Squall was onto something with this silent protagonist business.
Rinoa was content to sit there with him, reminiscing to herself on how she had got to where she was this night (or day, or whatever it was back home.) From the night she had danced with him to the time she spent floating helpless in space, he had always been on her mind. She felt outrageously fortunate and unfathomably unfortunate. Finally, she was with him, really with him, but now she'd have to leave him.
"Why do things have to happen this way?" Her voice sounded loud and foreign to her.
"They don't." Squall's voice sounded quiet and comfortable to her. "Don't go."
"I have to." Rinoa replied tonelessly.
"You're always stubborn." Squall told her, equally toneless.
"So are you." Rinoa searched to find the expression in his face.
"I know." She couldn't find one, and she felt her earlier concern begin to well up and overflow.
"I don't want to end up hurting you..." Rinoa wondered if she was flattering herself, thinking she had that power but then he turned to her and she found his expression at last. It was significantly less guarded than usual. He was vulnerable. She had to swallow the lump in her throat.
"Don't worry about me. You have enough to worry about." Squall replied carefully, but sincerely.
He had given her so much and she was going to do the worst thing she could possibly do to him: leave. There was something she desperately needed to tell him, to make him understand, but she couldn't figure out what or how.
"What?" She could only answer him with a shrug. Her feelings were beginning to overwhelm her again but she refused to succumb. She felt so selfish to be throwing away what he'd given her; yet, wasn't she losing her entire life? Wasn't that something reasonable to be upset over? She was thinking too much. Like him. Him. Squall.
"What?" Her reply was automatic.
"I think I might do something crazy for once." Rinoa immediately noticed the unusual tone Squall's voice had taken on. It lacked all dryness or sarcasm, and although it was still lethally serious, his words themselves connoted playfulness. Rinoa's spirits lifted exponentially, although she couldn't explain exactly why.
"I doubt that." Rinoa replied with equal amounts of seriousness and playfulness. She was graced with witnessing his blue-gray eyes set stubbornly, as they always did when he was met with challenge. It was something she'd begun to find extremely attractive somewhere along the line. Those eyes closed momentarily, trying to steady the world around them. Rinoa watched him, unsure of what to expect. She didn't expect anything anymore. As much as it could be said that he was eerily predictable, it was equally true that he was wildly unpredictable.
Somehow, Rinoa had forgotten their hands had been intertwined until she felt his hand turn to hold her own more intimately, their fingers lacing together. Her balance was momentarily disrupted due to the change, but the weight of his body leaning towards her steadied her. Slowly but somehow suddenly his free hand was resting besides her pale neck. The sensation of his thumb briefly brushing the lobe of her ear was painfully apparent to her and then her mind was finally registering the fact that his body was leaning towards hers. Rinoa's body knew to close her eyes far before she thought to.
Although the feel of his lips against her own was enough in its own right to have brought her world into complete disorder; the fingers at the back of her slender neck, so gentle that they barely brushed her skin at all, caused shivers to race along her spine, her scalp to tingle pleasantly, a heat to form upon her cheeks and her entire universe to cease to exist outside of him, a singular human being. When he pulled away, the tip of his nose lightly brushed her own and she knew she was helpless to entropy.
The kiss itself was chaste and short, but his hands had shown her a world of feelings that she wanted to share with him more than anything she'd ever wanted in her life. Somehow, despite the fact that she had lost all conscious control of herself, Rinoa managed to speak.
"You call that crazy?" Her words had mere millimeters to travel in order to reach him and each hit him with a slightly different force as her own free hand came to rest atop his shoulder. His eyes traveled from her lips, across the delicate features of her face, to her brightly sparkling eyes.
Rinoa didn't realize that she'd proposed a challenge until she found herself gazing into his determined, steely eyes again. He gave her no worded reply, but she saw that he had accepted her implied challenge. She allowed herself a brief second to congratulate herself for her unplanned genius before he kissed her again.
Squall tugged her body closer to him, their legs unconsciously arranging themselves to facilitate the closeness. His lips were against hers with more pressure than before, although it could have been due to the pressure of her own against his. Rinoa didn't rightly know or care. She was too busy bursting with the magnitude of the situation, easily ridding herself of any thoughts that didn't directly pertain to kissing him. His shy gloved hands were wrecking accidental havoc; cupping the back of her neck and keeping her face turned up to him, skimming across the smooth bare skin of her upper arms and shoulders. Rinoa needed to feel him touch her, with pressure, with skin.
Rinoa's own hands had spent most their time urging him closer to her, but with her incessant need to feel more of him they misted down his upper body and then left him entirely. Squall noticed the loss and the self-consciousness he was doing his best to ignore flared up. He pulled away from her enough to look at her, and received a smile uniquely Rinoa. She pulled his hands from her and although her smile had reassured him, ugly worry had begun to knot inside him.
"I want to actually feel you." Rinoa explained quietly as she pulled one of his gloves off.
"Oh." Squall replied lamely and immediately felt like a moron. "Um."
"Is that okay?" Rinoa asked as she pulled his other glove off and gazed up at him with a smile.
"Yea." Squall wasn't acutely aware of what was going on, but he was definitely aware of the flesh of their hands as she held each of his. She was soft.
Rinoa's hands left his to travel up his arms. When she reached his shoulders, she began to slide his jacket down. Their eyes locked again and the uneasiness Squall harbored subsided somewhat. He helped her shrug the material off of him. When her fingertips ran back up his bare arms, he wasn't sure he could withstand the sensation. Before long, her fingers were playing at the back of his neck and pulling him towards her. She brought him to her and he found her kisses had become more serious.
Squall hadn't spent much of his teenage life fooling around, and was trying hard to keep his confidence level from dropping to drastically low levels as Rinoa continued to surprise him with little tricks and touches. Even as he did his best to relax and just think about the matter at hand—and Rinoa was certainly helping with that—thoughts regarding how much he had absolutely no idea about what he was doing kept rudely interrupting. On the other hand, he was surprised at how accepting and calm he felt about what was happening. It wasn't hard or strange to be with her like this. It was easy to be so close to her body, her mouth, her. It was easy to push her against him as his hands ran across her back or tangled in her dark hair. It was easy to return her advances.
It was easy to trail kisses away from her mouth and down her throat. Rinoa arched her neck against him encouragingly as he kissed and nipped just above her collar bone. The small sounds that she made caused sparks to race through his veins. Her fingers found their way beneath his shirt, nails lightly racking against his sides as he kissed behind her ear and breathed her name.
Squall's warm breath tickled against Rinoa, and caused a surge of passion to course through her. Her anxiousness got the best of her, and she pushed him with little force to the floor, kissing him full on the lips again. Squall was both extremely aware and hardly aware of her straddling him as their kissing became feverish. Her hands had rucked his shirt up and he could feel the smooth material of her shirt and where her breasts pressed against him. Squall's hands groped the soft flesh of her thighs and pressed her against him harder.
"What're we doing?" Squall asked breathlessly, when she gave him the opportunity.
"You don't like this?" Rinoa found it difficult to take him seriously given his flushed and free expression.
"Just not used to it" Squall replied, mirroring his earlier words and causing Rinoa to giggle happily.
"Just feel for a little while. Be spontaneous, okay?"
"I've been doing a lot of spontaneous things lately" Squall told her seriously.
"Are you telling me you're all out of spontaneity?" Rinoa countered playfully. Squall seemed to think about it for a minute.
"Not quite." Squall replied as he rolled Rinoa onto her back, effectively surprising the hell out of her. After a few kisses that left her stunned, he returned to her neck.
"I never thought I'd see the day that I made out with Squall Leonhart, SeeD Commander, stoic antihero, and et-cetera." Rinoa really wasn't sure what brought her to make such a stupid comment. She regretted it as soon as the words came out of her mouth.
Squall paused but made no reply. Rinoa berated herself for her big mouth.
Next to her ear, Squall finally whispered: