Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Final Fantasy VIII.
All the wisdom to lead
All the courage that you need
You will find when you see
We are one.
--Simba, Return to Pride Rock
How long can someone moan another's death? How long can someone remember the past and not let go?
How long do your days pass, feeling the same despair you felt yesterday? How long do your tears flow, in regret for mistakes that can never be taken back?
How long does it take for you to forgive yourself? How long does it take for you to move on in your life?
The answer doesn't lie in weeks, months, or ever years. Neither eternity nor time hold the answer.
The answer lies in yourself.
To forgive yourself. And to let go.
It been too long since I came back here. I don't know why I came back. All I know is that I've stayed away for far too long.
Nothing changes up here. The wind still feels cold, the sun still warm and everything still silent. Birds still sing and the grass still grow. Everything I remember is still here. But something has changed. There is a new grave on the hill.
I make my way up the hill slowly, my feet drag against the green floor. With each step I take, my heart grows heavier with dread but yet it feels strangely lighter too. Like I'm leaving a bit of my sorrow behind with every step. How can this be?
Finally I see them. Two graves lying side by side. The granite on one was old and worn, the whiteness of the stone fading. There is a faint brown-red imprint on it which brings back memories I would rather forget. I look away to the other side.
The stone beside the first was new. It had only been there these few years. It wasn't worn out like the first and the white marble on it overshadowed the first with it's reflected light. The new stone was like my heart, I still mourned for his death and my grief for him is larger than my sorrow for her.
I bent down to touch the second stone. It felt cool to the touch. My fingers ran over the simple carvings and traced the inscription on it. Although I had only seen it once, I could remember the words as easily as I could breathe. It was a part of me. In the grave is a part of me. How could I forget it?
I couldn't stay for long. I had to return. My new family, my work, my life still calls to me. I don't belong here. Not yet. But for now, I simply sit here and cherish the memories. Memories that bring a smile to my lips and tears to my eyes.
Memories that I will never forget.
"Where is he?"
"He's upstairs. He doesn't know you're here."
I nodded at the all-too familiar face. This feels so wrong and yet so right. The old Squall would not hesitate to show his dislike for this man. The old Squall would have been engaged in a dueling match of words with this man. The old Squall wouldn't have come at all.
I walked through the corridor, reliving recollections that filtered in through the walls of the building. At every corner and at every turn, I saw another vision of my younger self. It was like watching an old movie of my life in this place.
Then I passed a particular door. My throat tightened and I clenched my fists. I wish I could forget this particular memory. It brought me more misery than I had ever felt in my entire life. I never wanted to feel that way again.
I climbed the stairs and opened the door. I have never seen this sight before except for the cockpit of the Ragnarok. This is my first time on the roof of the Presidential Palace. Esthar looked beautiful in the setting sun.
A person who was leaning over the edge of the roof turned around and looked expectantly at me. I watched as astonishment then pleasure swept across his face.
My little surprise was complete.
Six years ago, I would have rushed over to try and embrace him. Five years ago, I would have cowered away in the shadows like a slinking coward. Now I couldn't move.
"Squall, you didn't tell me you were coming! How did you know I was up here?"
I thought I saw a hint of a smile but it was gone in a minute. His face remained emotionless.
"Kiros told me."
"He knew you were coming?" That sly dog!
"Why are you up here?" He asked suddenly.
I turned around to look back at the view before replying. "I often come up here when I need some peace and quiet. It's a great place for reflecting and the view is lovely. I haven't been up here for a while though. I haven't had the strength."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him shoot a glance at me. A frown came over his face. I turned to face him.
"Squall, I'm fine. I really am all right, no matter what the doctors say. They'll have me believe that I'm even too old to run this country." I laughed. Another shadow of a smile flitted across his features. "If I do decide to retire now, they'll probably be begging me to stay on. My retiring would mean that they lose their best patient."
He grimaced. His opinion of them are the same as mine. That they're nothing but money-sucking vampires.
"You shouldn't be up here. The air is too cold and you might freeze." For a while, I saw him worrying.
"No, I won't. I may not be the same man I was five years ago but I'm still alive and kicking. I can't just sit at my desk all day long or lie on my bed when I'm not working. I'm perfectly fine up here." I can be obstinate if I want to.
"Stubborn idiot." He muttered back.
"As if you aren't." I said mockingly.
He shrugged. "I'm not the one that tried to kill myself by facing a Chimera alone."
"And I'm not the one who was a complete wreck when I finally woke up."
This time, I saw it. The closest which Squall came to smiling. I felt like hollering it to the rooftops of Esthar. They were so rare that I treasured each of them in my heart.
We were silent for a while. I was remembering again the long, long dream that I seemed to be caught in and couldn't be pulled out. I could not remember the physical aching I felt then but I could clearly remember the feeling of drifting and floating around. I was so light, I could almost fly. But the darkness. The never ending darkness. No matter where I ran or floated to, it was always the same. The lost feeling that I only felt when I thought about Raine.
It was a never ending nightmare.
It was a nightmare brought to life.
I remember the whole thing. The sleepless nights, the hours of pleading and tears, the days when I wandered around like a zombie, the evenings when I felt the same urge to let out pent up emotion but couldn't because there was no convenient Training Centre nearby. Most of all the mental anguish I went through. Even today, the pain was still fresh. Perhaps I won't be able to forget it. Sometimes you have to sit back and stop trying to control everything that goes through your mind.
"Squall…I'm sorry for what I put you through."
I blinked and looked at him. He was apologizing for what was actually my fault? I feel so horribly small.
"Laguna, it wasn't your fault. It…it was mine. I put you through hell. I…I didn't even care that you were trying to make it up to me." I only saw the past. I couldn't, wouldn't see the present. It was all my fault.
"I suppose we're both equally to blame. We managed to make each other's lives hell. Ironic, isn't it?" Indeed. "I guess its proof of the link between us." It's more than that. It's proof that we're father and son.
I looked at him, really looked at him. He was only fifty years old but he looked older than that. The poison had ravaged his body and left him everything but dead. Even now, he still suffers from the effects of the poisoning. I wish I had never said those cursed words. I wish I had never wished him to die.
He wasn't the same man he was. He had cheated death to live again but death still left its claim on him. We all knew although we won't admit it that he didn't really have that much time to live. He's only alive today because…he heard me calling him.
I'm still alive but I know that it's not for long. Everyday when I wake up, I feel the pain in my side from the old bite marks. I could have died then. I'm sure of it. Everyone was. I only lived because I wanted to. Because my son wanted me to.
"Yesterday, I went to Winhill." He suddenly said.
I looked at him in wonder. He rarely offered information. But he was still talking.
"I went to visit my mother's grave…and my son's. I wanted to see if it had all been a dream that never happened in real life. Raine died when I was a baby. My son…died shortly after he was born. I never had the chance to know them. I…I think I know how you felt now…about me."
His eyes met mine and I read the sorrow he still carries for three years. He read the sorrow I carried for eighteen years.
Then he tore his eyes away from mine and looked at his wristwatch.
"I almost forgot. There is something I need to show you."
I was curious. What did he want to show me? He was looking at the door expectantly. I followed his gaze.
There was a tiny, nearly inaudible knock on the door. Then it opened and a little face peeped in. My eyes widened as did his.
The little boy ran into my arms and he hugged me tightly. I hugged back. He…how did he get here?
I watched them hug fondly. I smiled inwardly to myself. They had not seen each other in over a year now. Kenneth had talked about nothing else since we were on our way here. He and Laguna had a mysterious bond that I had trouble forging with him. But I still wasn't done yet.
My little boy turned around to look at me, a little embarrassed with his emotions.
"Remember what I have trained you to do?"
He smiled straight up at me. "Of course!"
He turned around and faced Laguna. I drew myself up to my fullest height and looked at Laguna full in the face. He was still watching us in surprise.
"I never told you how much I respected you for what you were willing to do five years ago. Now I want you to know, this is how proud I am of you."
I laid my hand on Kenneth's shoulder and we both saluted in SeeD fashion at him. I felt my face broke out into a real smile as I looked into his face so full of pride.
I watched in bewilderment as both my son and grandson saluted me. Then the meaning behind it all dawned on me. Slowly, I saluted them back.
I want you to know that I'm proud of you too, I said silently in my heart.
Squall's hand dropped to his side and Kenneth relaxed. Squall was still looking at me when he uttered the words I had longed to hear for so long. All time seem to freeze for me in that moment.
I love you, father.
Notes: At last it is finished! I want to thank everyone who has so kindly reviewed my story. Although I didn't receive the feedback I would have liked, I'm really happy with all your support and encouragement. I hope that I haven't disappointed anyone with my story. =)