The Edge of Realities
A/N: This work is a continuation of Niqsta's 'The Edge of Dreams', posted a week or so before this one. It will make a great deal more sense if you've read that. Plus, it's great. So go read it if you haven't already.
While helping to beta 'The Edge of Dreams', issues were raised concerning certain consequences of Squall and Rinoa's impulsive decision to go skinny-dipping from a high cliff. In the end, Niqsta chose not to elaborate, quite correctly deciding that such a humorous tangent would detract from the almost spiritual nature of the ending she had written.
I mucked around for a while trying to work something out in the brief interim before she posted. And then I finally noticed that I'd written the seed of an epilogue without quite realising. By that point, the idea had gripped me. So I set myself a writing exercise: the task of not only writing a full-blown oneshot sequel to someone else's work (a first for me), and making it romantic fluff (another first for me), but also writing it in a style as close to Niqsta's as I could get it.
I sent it to her, explaining the self-exercise and wondering what she thought of the humour and whether I had succeeded at approximating her writing style. Thankfully she didn't misunderstand the gesture, and not only supplied a quick critique of my efforts, but also judged the fic different enough in subject material from her own that I was given only somewhat begrudging permission to actually post the thing.
So, here you all go. Romcom fluff, anyone?
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy VIII belongs to Squaresoft/Square Enix. 'The Edge of Dreams' excerpt and plot belong to Niqsta, unless and until Squeenix decides it doesn't. And thanks to Niqsta, who has just scored herself a beta credit. Huzzah.
In that moment, they were just two normal people sharing a very hard journey, who just needed this moment to enjoy the reality at the edge of a dream…
Reality always returns, it always intrudes sooner or later; whether falling through dreams or nightmares, the time always comes to wake up. Like the waves which gently lapped at their flushed bodies, reality could definitely become hard to ignore.
Entwined together, at the shallow edge of the river near the thundering base of the waterfall, they still managed to keep reality at bay for several hours. That was not to say that reality had no place at all…
("…er Squall." Rinoa broke from their kiss with a startle.
"Yeah," he replied, unable (not to mention unwilling) to stop his hands from roaming her wet, silken skin as he waited for her to explain the interruption.
"How do we get our clothes back?"
Squall just had to laugh at that. "We go back up and get them," he smiled at her, dipping back down to continue their kiss. "Later…"
"Much later…" she agreed against his lips.)
In fact, reality butted its unwelcome nose in with stubborn resolve…
("Mmm?" Rinoa pulled away maybe an inch, wondering at the fleeting look of discomfort on her husband's face.
Squall blinked, looking away with a hint of apology at the reddened elbow he'd raised to examine. "…Sand."
She could empathise with her knight. Sand was definitely going to be a problem; she'd lost track of the time a while back, but she knew she was going to start chafing too if they didn't do something soon. At that moment a brief change in the breeze dusted them with a fine layer of mist, presenting her with an answer to their problem.
"Waterfall," she replied.
As it fortunately turned out, they were close enough to first roll and then awkwardly tread water until they came to a place at the edge of the waterfall, shallow enough for Squall to stand. At no point did their lips part or her legs release their hold on his waist, something she felt immensely proud of for only a moment before coherent thought fled her once more.)
But the exhilaration and euphoria which their shared jump from the cliff above had brought thundering through their veins, was only heightened with their feverish, passionate embrace. While sheer ecstasy holds its sway over the heart and mind, reality doesn't stand a chance.
Squall sat back on the sand, hands propping up his leaning form, legs resting almost weightlessly in a slight dip in the shallows. Rinoa was curled into his chest, still humming with sheer contentment. For once, he almost felt like he could do the same.
"I've envied that for the longest time, you know…" he murmured.
"Hmm?" Rinoa shifted against him, her drying hair rubbing against his chest. She sounded like she was drifting off into sleep.
"The way you can just, lose yourself in the moment. I've never really been able to do that."
Many hard years devoted to training his body and mind had turned Squall into the spectacularly successful mercenary leader he was today. But that success had come with sacrifices, even if he hadn't always regarded them as sacrifices at the time. The Commander had never really been the type to revel in the moment anyway; he constantly chafed at boredom and often annoyed his wife with his workaholic habits. That was another motive behind coming here; if he was ever going to learn to relax and enjoy the good times, then being alone here with Rinoa was sure a good way to go about it.
"Really? I thought it bothered you?" Rinoa tilted her head back against his shoulder to look up into his face. He looked relaxed, actually more relaxed than she could remember ever seeing him.
"That too." He grinned lazily down at her. "Didn't mean I wasn't a little jealous."
Rinoa decided that she liked that smile. Especially because it didn't come with an impatient hint that she should get up and do something. Though, he really was getting better at that, at least when it came to what counted as 'something'; recently, he had started to develop the habit of interrupting her cherished late mornings by simply kissing her to consciousness. It was certainly a pleasant surprise that he hadn't made any move to snap her out of her moment, but it was probably only a matter of time.
In the end, Squall didn't need to bother. An errant gust of wind from the open ocean made her shiver in his arms for a moment, bringing a reminder of reality into their isolated world. He tried not to look smug as she stirred at last, failing miserably if the mock scowl she gave him was any judge.
"We should get our clothes, shouldn't we?" Rinoa sighed. She reluctantly clambered to her feet, using Squall as a support. "But we should wash this sand off first…"
There was rather a lot of sand to dislodge from their bodies, especially their hair. Having a lot more hair, Rinoa took her time with it while Squall searched for the best way back up to the top of the cliff.
Wringing her long raven locks dry, she approached the path he'd found. It was steep and very rocky, little more than a game trail, but at least it wouldn't require them to actually climb up it. That was some relief; she definitely didn't want to try climbing a cliff naked, and Squall probably wouldn't appreciate scraping certain exposed parts of himself on jagged rocks either. Come to think of it, it was really lucky for them that there was a way back up the cliff; that was just one of many things they had decided to ignore in their impulsive dive. But that didn't mean she regretted it, not in the least.
Of course she was starting to have second thoughts about that by the time they reached the top of the trail. At least it was a little bit cooler now than it had been when they first got to the cliff in the middle of the day, though the odd gusting breeze from the slowly nearing western sea-change which pebbled her bared, sweaty skin and caused the occasional shiver made it something of a mixed blessing. But her poor feet felt like they were cracked and burning from repeated contact with the hot rocky ground beneath them.
"Over there," Squall said, pointing to a completely unfamiliar spot that didn't look any different from the rest of the clumps of shrubbery and copses of evergreen trees that dotted the deserted landscape in front of them. "That's where the path is."
He looked over with some concern at the Sorceress, who was catching her breath with hands on knees while trying to ease her aching feet by shifting her weight off each one in turn. His own feet didn't feel all that bad; he had better stamina than she did, so he had more energy to pay attention to how and where he placed his feet to keep them from absorbing too much heat from the ground or carelessly abrading them on the rough surface. But Rinoa looked like she was in a fair bit of pain, and feeling thoroughly sorry for herself. Hopefully she could hold it together until they reached the cliff and their stash of potions—
At least that's what he was thinking, until a far less cerebral section of his hindbrain instead fixed his eyes without conscious impetus on the rhythmic, hypnotic sway of her full, sweat-slicked breasts as she shifted to and fro before him. The sight derailed his train of thought completely.
"Oh, so you like to watch me suffer do you?" Rinoa indignantly straightened and crossed her arms, inadvertently pushing together the focus of his unwitting attention.
"Uh, w-what, I—" he stuttered, caught off guard.
Her scowl shifted lower. Squall looked down to see what she was scowling at.
He felt a rush of blood to his cheeks. For sure he didn't enjoy watching Rinoa suffer, but given that the result of an earlier rush of blood to his nether regions that he hadn't noticed before was now standing right out in full view, he somehow suspected it would be hard to convince her of that. This was definitely embarrassing…
Rinoa tried to hold the glare in place for as long as she could, enjoying the spectacle of her Knight blushing crimson with mortification. She knew perfectly well what had happened; he had gone silent and still for over a minute, his eyes riveted and twitching minutely from side to side, and she'd had plenty of time to stop herself from laughing and paste on the offended expression before finally snapping him out of it. It wasn't that she was really cross with Squall, but she definitely had a mind to use the situation to her advantage.
"That's it, I'm not walking another step!" Rinoa pointed demandingly at her husband. "You're gonna have to carry me!"
Well, how could he argue with that? And so Rinoa spent the rest of the walk back to the cliff from the enviable vantage point of over Squall's shoulder.
"Why didn't I think of this earlier?" she giggled in his ear as they set off.
And so Squall spent the rest of the walk back to the cliff with the task of trying to keep concentrating on his footing and not dropping his passenger. That task was made all the harder by his cheeky young wife, who gleefully took every opportunity to try distracting him, whether by shifting her posture so that her bare breasts slid against his broad back, or by whispering seductive suggestions and planting feathery kisses on his conveniently located ear and neck and shoulder, or by brushing her fingertips over the tightened muscles of his chest and stomach. It was when she slyly began to rub her foot against an extremely sensitive portion of his anatomy that he finally and inevitably lost the battle.
Suffice to say, a hike that should have taken half an hour ended up taking a great deal longer. Some aspects of reality can be very difficult to argue with. Not to mention counterproductive.
"Because if you had thought of it earlier, we still wouldn't have got there…" he huffed as he set off again, Rinoa's snickering poorly muffled in his hair.
It was verging on sunset by the time they returned to the cliff. Clambering off her lathered ride, Rinoa made a beeline for the potions left in her pack, pausing only long enough to throw on her underwear before plopping to the cool ground with a relieved whoosh to tend to her feet. Squall straightened and gingerly stretched out his hunched back before limping over to attend to his own treatment. The next little while was filled with the rustling and clinking of clothes donned and adjusted, and supplies repacked after their initial rush for healing supplies; ill-equipped for a camping trip, and justifiably balking at the prospect of walking all the way back to Garden's current parking spot, Squall placed a quick call to the Ragnarok for a pick-up while he was at it.
"It's beautiful…" Rinoa murmured for the second time that day.
Squall slipped the radio communicator back into his pocket, joining her at the cliff's edge and wrapping his arms round her waist from behind her.
"You're right," he whispered, pressing his lips to her temple.
Even in Laguna's head, he had never seen this place at day's end. The mist generated by the waterfall's rushing passage off the cliff almost seemed to glow in the refracted rays of the slowly setting sun. That light painted the underside of the gulls soaring overhead, throwing their wheeling shapes into sharp relief against the darkening sky beyond, and rendering the approaching stormclouds beyond the lagoon and off to the west in a brilliant palette of orange and purple hues. The waters far below, clear under the noon sun, were now darkened in the lee of the cliff's shadow; at the lagoon's head, though, the cresting heads of breaking waves flashed and winked in the sunset.
Frequent GF use over the years had made his long-term memory unsure and more than a little nebulous; beyond a small cache of truly precious memories which mostly focused on Rinoa, Squall Leonhart could never quite be sure what would remain and what would drift away.
This sight, and all that it would remind him of, was something that he knew he would never forget.
"You're getting better at that, you know…" Rinoa remarked, still enraptured by the beautiful scene.
"Hmm?" Squall responded, cheek pressed to his wife's temple.
"Losing yourself in the moment," she explained. "Relaxing, just letting yourself go for a while. You're learning, Squall." She let her head loll back to rest on the gentle curve of his clavicle with a contented sigh. "It makes me really happy."
A gentle smile spread across her husband's features at the heartfelt compliment.
Basking in the light of the waning sunset, they enjoyed the gradually cooling air at the head of the cliff as they watched the late change majestically sweep in towards land's edge. Bathed in the warm afterglow of their shared sojourn at the dream's edge, they revelled together in the diminishing moment as reality began to encroach in earnest, in the form of a rapidly approaching glint of reflected light over the inland sky which wasn't a bird or a cloud, but their way back home. And as the sleek lines of the Ragnarok swooped in to land, Rinoa and Squall talked in easy tones about seemingly inconsequential topics of domesticity: how good a warm shower would feel, what they would have for dinner, whether they might enjoy something to drink afterward, where they would head next as their honeymoon continued.
This was nothing like their earlier, impromptu cos-play of Adam and Eve, that ephemeral fantasy of innocence. Creation myths had a place, but they paled in comparison to all the realities of their world: Sorceress and Knight, Commander and Garden – husband and wife. They were just two people sharing a hard journey, who just wanted to savour the closing moments of a peaceful dream at the edge of all their realities.
That didn't stop them from taking a memoir of that wonder, that peace with them as they ambled arm in arm up the waiting airship's ramp.
The deliciously exhausted pair stood looking out the Ragnarok's port window, bidding the beautiful cliff and its waterfall and lagoon a fond farewell. To Squall, the place had been a forgotten footnote in a history of strife, tracked down for the disparate memory of a single, deceptively pivotal turning point which the world would never know and would have no reason to care. To Rinoa, turning away from the shadow-swathed scene below them to bask in the soft smile on his face which had practically made Irvine recoil in shock when he came down to greet the newlyweds, the place had become something far more: the isolated, private place where the son of the man at the centre of that turning point had made one of the biggest steps of his life to letting her in. Where he became her husband in truth.
They shared mischievous grins for a moment, each thinking: We should come back here sometime…
"…er Squall." Something had just occurred to her.
"Yeah," he whispered.
"Why aren't we moving?"
Squall blinked, looking over at the pilot's seat. Selphie sat there transfixed, staring down at that cliff. It occurred to him that he wasn't the only one who had been there at that cliff all those years ago…
"Heeey… I know this place!"
And they watched with amusement and a certain resigned trepidation as Selphie turned in her seat to rest a rather speculative gaze on a very confused Irvine. Rinoa covered her mouth to muffle her giggles. Squall indulged himself in a rueful facepalm.
…Or maybe not.
So, review? And while you're at it, go and look at Niqsta's The Edge of Dreams, and review that?