Disclaimer: I don't own FF8. I just love its characters.
Author's note: I didn't plan to write another story for the WIB challenge, but sometimes I have scenes running through my mind and I just have to write them. This is one of those times, so here's my story.
This has not been betaread, because I wanted it to be a surprise for Ashbear (:D). English is not my first language, so please if you find mistakes feel free to tell me. And I'm a little lazy, so I just used the names from my other story, Lemonade.
The only thing Rinoa wanted that Friday was prepare herself for the nice evening she had planned.
She would dress her three years old son, and ask Selphie to take care of him while she went to Balamb. Then she would go shopping for an hour or so, come back in time to take her son to Doctor Kadowaki, to check on the flu he had gotten, and then go home and wait for her husband. She had already told Quistis that they wouldn't go out for the weekly dinner with the group; Kiran was feeling better, but she wanted to be sure he was perfectly fine before leaving him with Edea for an evening. There was always next week, as she told Quistis, and that left her with a romantic plan to spend the evening with her husband. They hadn't done anything 'romantic' in a while, after all – Squall simply wasn't that kind of man.
Squall entered the kitchen with Kiran in his arms while Rinoa was pouring coffee. She smiled; it was nice to see him with their son – to see the change in him. He didn't want kids, she remembered. She had talked about it for an entire year, before he gave up and accepted the idea. They could try, but he didn't want her to get her hopes too high – she was a sorceress, after all, no one had ever heard of a sorceress having children. But she had found out it could happen just two months after that final discussion. She was pregnant, she was happy, and Squall was scared. Then Kiran was born and everything in Squall's world changed.
She still saw those changes, from the way he watched their son when he thought she couldn't see, to the way he came home from missions with a toy, sometimes. There were also memories resurfacing – she often used something happening to Kiran to encourage her husband to remember. It took effort and sometimes it was useless, but Squall was getting his childhood back from the GF's grasp, one piece at a time.
"Good morning," Squall greeted her. "No fever today."
"Wonderful," she said coming nearer to kiss him and hug her son.
"Do you still want Kadowaki to visit him?"
"Yes, I would feel better if she did," answered Rinoa. "I'll take him to Selphie later so I can go to do some errands in Balamb. I'll call you when I come back and take him to the Infirmary."
"Mmh." Squall took a sip of coffee. "What about tonight?"
"I've already told Quistis that we're staying home with Kiran. I would be uneasy going out for dinner."
"We'll stay with him, there's always next week," said Squall, and Rinoa smiled because she had told the same to Quistis, and because she knew he would feel uneasy too. "See you later, then," he added, kissing her cheek before going to work.
Rinoa watched him exit and then turned to her son. "Guess what? Since you're feeling better, I'll let you stay for a while with aunt Selphie. Mommy has to buy something. Will you be good to your aunt?"
The boy nodded. Aunt Selphie was always funny and he loved spending time with her and uncle Irvine, and he looked forward to it.
Half an hour later, his breakfast eaten and his medicine taken, Kiran waved goodbye to his mother and he pulled at Selphie's arm when they passed in front of the library to go back to the dormitories. "Aunt Seffie, book!"
Rinoa had told her to take him back to the dormitories as soon as possible. He needed warmth, and that day was cold and rainy and she feared he would fall ill again. But Selphie thought a little detour would do no harm, and that boy enjoyed books. They would distract him from being basically confined in his house. There was a good selection of children's books in the Garden's library, so it wouldn't take too much. A few minutes more would do no harm, so she smiled and said yes.
She realized she was wrong only later.
Just a few minutes to find some nice lingerie, thought Rinoa, and she would be done. They deserved it, after all, and she just needed something perfect for her romantic evening.
She had just gotten to her car when her cell phone rang. She balanced the groceries on one hip while she rummaged in her bag with her free hand, and when she saw Selphie's number on the display she felt her heart sink for fear.
She answered with a trembling voice. "Yes?"
"Rinoa, could… can you come home now?" Selphie's voice was trembling too.
"Why? What happened to Kiran?"
"He's in the Infirmary. A group of Grats fled from the Training Center and attacked us… I wasn't junctioned and had no weapon, we got poisoned… Kadowaki is curing him right now. Please, come home."
She had never liked speed – speed had killed her mother – but that day nothing was fast enough.
Rinoa managed to come back safe, although probably breaking every possible speed limit. She entered the Infirmary panting so much that Selphie thought she would need the doctor too.
"How is he?"
"Kadowaki is visiting him. He's in that room," she said pointing to a door.
"Did you call Squall?" asked Rinoa, walking to her son's room.
"He's already in there."
When Rinoa entered the room, she immediately went to her son. Kiran was so small in that bed, but he seemed peaceful. Squall nodded to the doctor and sat down next to her, hugging her for comfort.
"Kadowaki says he'll be fine. Selphie told me that fortunately there were SeeDs in the hall and they managed to kill the monsters. The poison was strong for Kiran, though. He was already weak for the flu, and he's too young… Selphie took him to the Infirmary immediately, but one minute too late and he…"
He fell silent, and Rinoa started crying against his chest.
"It's ok, now. Don't worry, he'll be fine."
"How… how could the monster flee?" asked Rinoa, sobbing.
"Probably a T-Rex broke the security door on the left side. I'm not really sure. Cid is handling that emergency so I can stay here."
"It's my fault," sobbed Rinoa again. "I shouldn't have gone to Balamb. There was no need to."
"What? Rinoa, I don't understand…"
"I was being egoistic," she answered, hugging him tighter. "This week has been… hard. I needed a little vacation, and that's why I asked to be free this week… but Kiran fell ill and everything's gotten even harder. I just wanted to spend a nice evening with you, alone." Rinoa pulled away and watched him when she added, "I mean, a romantic evening. I was in Balamb to buy some groceries for dinner and… something nice to wear for you later. I was thinking about lingerie when my son got attacked. It's all my fault, I should have stayed home with him-"
"Rinoa, stop." Squall put his hands on her shoulders. "You wanted a romantic evening with me. So? You deserved it. You needed rest and your vacation week has been hard because of Kiran's flu. It's ok to think about yourself, once in a while." He gently caressed her cheek to wipe away a tear, and then added, "I would have appreciated. If that means I'm egoistic, so be it."
Rinoa nodded, wiping her tears, and then turned to her son. She gently caressed his head, as not to wake him, and asked, "did you talk to doctor Kadowaki, then?"
"Yes. She says he'll need to stay here for the day because she has to give him the antidote every two hours. We should be able to bring him home in the late afternoon."
"Can we stay here with him?"
"Of course. The doctor said we can use the other bed if we need rest."
"I just… want to hold him, you know?"
"Yeah, I know." Squall moved his arm around her waist and pulled her closer against his chest. "But he needs to rest too. Let him sleep. He should wake up soon, and when he's awake you can hold him, ok?"
"Until then you can hold me," he tried to joke.
Rinoa laughed a little through the tears still falling on her cheeks. "Not exactly the romantic evening I planned."
Selphie opened the door slowly, checking inside the room. She smiled when she spotted Rinoa. "I brought you something for lunch, and hot tea," she said, and entered balancing a tray on her free arm.
"Thanks," answered Rinoa, getting up to help her friend. "Squall has been called by Cid and he should be back in a few minutes. Do you want to stay here?"
"No, I have a lesson immediately after lunch break." The girl seemed a little embarrassed, then, and Rinoa watched her curiously. "I… I wanted to apologize."
"I know you told me to take Kiran home immediately," said Selphie lowering her gaze. "But he wanted a book. I figured a few minutes in the library wouldn't hurt him… turned out to be almost half an hour, though."
Rinoa smiled, a little sadly. "It's ok, I understand. He really loves books, and I assure you he can be very insistent if you don't agree with him immediately on that subject."
"I brought the book too," said her friend, pulling it out of her bag. "I thought he would like it. But I guess this begs the question… how does he know when he's in front on the library?" Selphie tried to look at her friend suspiciously, hoping to make her laugh. "I mean, we all know he's Squall's son and Squall's basically a genius, but he can't read already, can he?"
Rinoa laughed a little. "He recognizes the color. The blue line on the floor. When I thought he could understand, I told him that mummy couldn't always be with him." She turned to look at her son, who was sleeping peacefully, his eyes still puffy for the tears he had cried when the doctor gave him the antidote shot. "I told him that maybe I would need to leave him with his uncles and aunts for a little while when I had to work, and I taught him to follow the colors on the floor to get to safe places, if he'd ever got lost. Then he asked me which color was on the floor of the place with all the books, because he would go there if he got lost."
"He really likes them," smiled Selphie.
"It's really ironic, because I used the colors on the floor too, when I first got to Garden…"
Rinoa turned immediately. "I'm here, honey."
"Ok, I'll leave you then, my lesson's about to start. Can we come to see him tomorrow?"
"Of course. We'll be waiting," answered Rinoa, smiling to her friend while she sat near her son's bed. "So, how do you feel?"
"Tired," answered the boy, and Rinoa pulled another blanket when she saw him shiver. She tried not to worry – it was normal, according to the doctor. "Daddy?"
"He had to go for a while, but he'll come back soon."
She continued to caress him and try to distract him, hoping Squall would really come soon because it seemed that Kiran wanted him near too, until the door opened and her husband entered, carrying a little bag. "See? I told you he would come back soon," smiled Rinoa.
"I went home for this," said Squall, pulling a stuffed chocobo out of the bag, "and this, for mummy."
"Thanks," said Rinoa, taking the cardigan he had brought her and putting it on. Kiran took the stuffed animal and snuggled it closer to him under the covers.
"You should rest," said Squall, when Kiran finally fell asleep after his mother has read for him the book Selphie brought from the library. "You look tired."
"I need to be awake for him."
Squall watched her carefully for a few minutes, before looking around in the room. He found a chair and pulled it next to her, sitting down and snaking an arm around her shoulders. "Come here," he whispered, and pulled her to his chest. "I'll stay awake. You rest."
"No buts. I'm here for Kiran and for you. Now close your eyes and sleep. Be a good girl, or I'll ask the doctor to give you a shot too."
Late in the afternoon, doctor Kadowaki finally let them take Kiran home. Rinoa wrapped the child in his fleece blanket and took him in her arms, and waited patiently for her husband, who seemed trapped in the doctor's office to listen to all her instructions for the night.
When he finally got out of the office, he put an arm around her waist and bent down to kiss his son's head. "We can go. She gave me special food if he gets hungry, and she told me we can call her if we notice something strange during the night. She'll come immediately."
"Good. Let's go home."
Kiran slept during the entire walk home, and moved a little only when Squall turned on the lights in their apartment. He just continued to sleep, though, and Rinoa walked to the couch and sat down, still holding her son.
Squall closed the door and turned to her. "Cuddling won't cure him, you know?"
"Are you kidding? It's the best cure of the world," answered Rinoa, tucking the blanket around Kiran. "When I was a child, I always wanted my mother to hold me when I was ill. Sometimes I thought I liked being ill, just because it meant I could spend all my time with her. She cooked everything I liked the most, and let me sleep in her arms. It was… beautiful."
"And did it make you feel better?" asked Squall, coming nearer and sitting on the couch next to her.
"Not physically." She kissed Kiran's head and seemed so lost in her memories that Squall almost fell when she grabbed his shirt and pulled him almost roughly towards them. "Hug us," she said, and Squall let an arm snake around her waist and the other around their son.
The stayed like that for a while, until Rinoa spoke again. "See? Now he probably doesn't know we're hugging him, but he feels safe. And I want him to feel safe because this morning he must have been so scared, with all those monsters and the poison and not knowing what was happening to him… and me not being there. He called us both every time he woke up today, and every time he sounded so scared I-"
"I got it," he said, although it was more to calm her than because he really understood. "I really got it, Rinoa."
"And we're scared too," she continued, her voice broken. "We're scared and we just want to cuddle our boy, and we'll do it until we all feel better."
There was a long silence, until Squall, gently caressing his son's head, whispered, "I'm glad you didn't gave up."
"Gave up on what?" asked Rinoa curiously.
"On having children. I'm glad you insisted."
Maybe it was a romantic evening after all, she thought, leaning to kiss her husband with all the passion of truth.
"Everything's ok?" asked Squall, stretching his arm so Rinoa could rest her head against it, climbing into bed.
She pulled the covers on them and snuggled closer to her husband. "Yes, he's sleeping. He seems better. He even wanted milk before going to bed."
"Good." He couldn't say he wasn't exhausted – the day has been long and fear certainly hadn't helped. Fortunately Cid had told him to come back to work when his son was better – he usually worked on Saturday mornings, but after that day the idea of sleeping in seemed alluring.
"Who… who took care of you when you were ill, as a child?"
Squall opened his eyes and fixed his stare on the ceiling. He felt Rinoa's hand on his chest, and moved his own to cover it. "I don't really remember."
"Please?" she almost begged. He noticed she did it a lot when it came to Kiran – when something happened to their son, she always tried to urge him on remembering. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not, but he wasn't sure how to feel about it. He thought he was better off without remembering his childhood, anyway.
"I was too young, and I don't remember much of the days I stayed at Edea's," he started. "So I don't really know if I fell ill and if she took care of me, and how. But I do remember staying in the Garden's Infirmary, later."
"Well, of course."
"I'm so sorry," she whispered, and he felt her move to kiss his shoulder, then his cheek, and finally his lips. "I want to give you good memories, Squall."
"You do," he answered, puzzled.
"I mean… as good as me remembering how beautiful it was to sleep in my mother's arms when I was ill. I want to… give you back your childhood, and I know it's impo-"
"You do," he repeated, more firmly. "You gave me Kiran. That's… he's my childhood. I can't have mine back, and you're right, you can't give it back to me. But you gave me Kiran. That's… he's the most amazing thing you could ever give me."
"You're really glad I didn't give up," she said, almost to herself. She realized she hadn't fully understood what he meant until that moment – one of the rare moments Squall was so fragile and defenseless she almost feared to hurt him only by looking into his eyes.
"Yes, I really am." He closed his eyes for a moment, because her stare was so intense. "I didn't want him at the beginning, but now… I really can't imagine our life without him. I was scared, I didn't remember parents and I didn't know how to… treat him. But he's there and he teaches me something about me and about you and about us every day. And sometimes, when I go to bed, I can't wait to wake up and learn from him again. I can't really explain-"
"You do," she whispered, her voice full of promises and love and truth. "I got it. You… gave me Kiran too."
She told him nothing, that night.
Her thoughts were still a little smoky after making love, and her body was still languid. He was warm and naked and he felt like certainty and fragility at the same time. She rested her head against his chest, listened to his heart beating and his body breathing, let herself be surrounded by his life and sighed.
Squall had taught her many things, in those years together. He had taught her that sometimes there's a brutality in life that doesn't involve weapons or battles or blood: it's just the way love and pain sometimes are, brutal and strong and powerful and unstoppable. He had taught her that sometimes there's a sheer power in will and hope we can never fully understand. He had taught her that people don't change, they simply look at things through different perspectives. He had taught her that there's a kind of death we all experience during our lives.
And he had taught her, that night, that romanticism has nothing to with roses and wine and fine dinners and nice lingerie. Sometimes romanticism is just the truth you confide to your love on your pillow. The truth you find in yourself when you have no more defenses, and you feel like you've never been more naked in you life, of a nakedness that has nothing to do with clothes and bodies. The truth you reveal when you've never felt so fragile and so protected in your life.
She stored his confession about Kiran into her heart, cried of a relieved joy on his chest while he slept, and promised to him and to herself she would guard that feeling with all her might. She had woke up that morning with a fantasy in her mind, a vague plan for the evening according to a romanticism that now seemed silly and juvenile, in comparison to what she had just understood. She had a different kind of romanticism, something that maybe many women wouldn't appreciate, but she loved every minute of the maturity born from pain and fear, that day.
It was a different kind of romantic, but after all every couple was a different kind of everything.
Maybe books didn't talk about this, because it was not very interesting and it didn't kindle fantasies like roses and wine and fine dinners, but it was much more prosaic, much more real, and for that it was infinitely more precious.
And her Squall was like that: more prosaic, more real, and for that, infinitely more precious.
Author's note: Rinoa's feeling about staying in her mother's arms are actually my own. A few weeks before dying, my mother came into my room to check on me, because I had a bad headache and went to bed early. It didn't occur me then, and I often thought it was her way to say goodbye. But I understand now. I still don't really understand how much pain she must have endured because of cancer, and I probably never will. But there's something in mothers that makes children feel safe, and that something urged my mother, that night, to come into my room and check on me, and give me the memory I still cherish. I just wanted to write this to let my mother know I understand now. Maybe a little late, but I do. Thank you mum.
As for Squall threatening Rinoa to ask the doctor to give her a shot too, well… it's something I often hear at work (I'm a receptionist in a medical center). Mothers often try to scare their children saying that if they don't behave, the lady who answers the phone will give them a shot (yeah, geez, thanks a lot. Actually I'm more scared of needles than those children, but still).
This is also dedicated to my boyfriend, that probably doesn't even know how to look up the word "romanticism" in the dictionary to save his life, but he's still the precious love of my life.