Where I belong
First of all, I don't own any of the characters, creatures, locations, etc of Final Fantasy 8. They are all the property of Square Enix.
This story was written in response to a challenge at the forum 'Where I belong'. The rules of the challenge are to write a story of at least 2.5k words centering on the relationship between Squall and Rinoa from Final Fantasy 8.
Now, if you've had a little browse around my fic-list, you'll notice that I don't really write Squall and Rinoa, and they've certainly never featured as the central characters in any of my fics. Mostly, this is because I'm contrary - if most writers of FF8 fanfic are writing Squall and Rinoa fics, I'm writing something else! Another reason was that the relationship between Cid and Edea fascinated me far more when I first played the game and it was their story I felt needed to be told when I first started fanficcing. But also, I had about as much as I wanted of living inside Squall's head during the game - I certainly didn't want to live in his head as a writer!
However, my songfic 'Superman' (also written in response to a challenge) taught me that writing a character can give you a whole new perspective on them. In that case it was Irvine, who I had dismissed as a shallow womaniser (even if he did have the coolest ever entrance of any video game character) but who developed into someone with a real heart during the process of writing the story.
A few comments about my personal FF8 Universe. I'm pretty conventional as far as couples go - Squall/Rinoa, Irvine/Selphie, Seifer/Quistis, Zell/Library Girl (who I call Iris). This story isn't a definite sequel to anything I've written up to now but it does belong AFTER everything else (ie, the couples are all established and 'Holding on to the Memory' must have reached a positive conclusion). Feel free to read any of my other pieces but you don't need to in order for this to make sense.
So, here you have it - my offering to the world of Squall and Rinoa fanfics. All of the characters take to the stage but the aim is for Squall and Rinoa's relationship to be at the centre, as seen from the perspective of the others.
It's Squall and Rinoa's wedding day but you know how it is with those two - the course of true love never did run smooth!
Rinoa knew that, somewhere outside the snug, dark world of her duvet, there was a lot of noise going on. Her consciousness considered rising out of the depths of sleep in order to investigate, then dismissed the idea. It was much, much safer down here.
A moment later, something landed on the bed - not only did it land once but it kept on landing, over and over and over reminding her forcefully of a Meteor spell...
Her consciousness gave up the struggle to remain in oblivion and pulled itself sluggishly to the surface. There were voices talking about her and she decided to listen to them to find out if they would explain this rough awakening.
'This will get her up!' squealed Selphie, her super-charged personality at full pitch even first thing in the morning.
'I'm not sure bouncing on the bed like that will do the springs any good...' commented Quistis, her calm voice carrying an edge of amusement presumably because it was Rinoa who was being subjected to the Selphie-Meteor treatment and not her.
'Are... are you sure that's a good idea?' queried Iris, still unsure of her place in this particularly tight-knit clique.
'Abso-lutely!' Selphie cried. 'It's the only...' her comment ended in a cry of surprise as Rinoa sat up, rolling her off the bed in the process.
'You should listen to Iris,' growled Rinoa. 'Remember that I wear this thing through choice,' and she brandished her right arm with its encircling Odine Bangle. 'I can take it off any time I like.'
She scowled so convincingly at Selphie that Iris began edging away from the bed as though being out of physical reach would save her from a Sorceress' fury. Selphie, from her new position on the floor, simply collapsed into giggles.
Before she could follow up her threat, there was a knock at the door. Quistis answered it and returned with a trolley laden with breakfast and, most importantly, coffee. She handed round cups and plates according to the requests put to her by the other girls and there was blessed silence for a few minutes.
During that silence, Rinoa's mind was able to catch up with her body and put together some important pieces of information. Today was her wedding day and the breakfast was a treat from her father who usually insisted on all meals being eaten in the dining room. Quistis, Selphie and Iris were her bridesmaids. She was in her old bed because she had spent the night her old room in Caraway's Mansion in Deling - a room she had shared with Iris who, whilst quiet as a mouse herself, had presumably been responsible for allowing the Selphie-Meteor inside. Selphie and Quistis had the room next door; Squall and his groomsmen were in a different wing.
The wedding itself was due to take place in the afternoon in the Mansion's extensive garden. It had taken a ridiculous amount of time for her and Squall to decide on the venue. He had wanted a small, intimate ceremony somewhere quiet and unknown. She had pointed out that the paparazzi would turn up no matter where they had it. His next suggestion had been Balamb Garden where they had first met but she had argued for Esthar as being far more fashionable. Then, quite suddenly, and just moments before they gave up the whole idea and decided to just live together, they had both realised that Deling City was the only choice - it would score them political points and they could save a fortune by allowing them to use Caraway's Mansion as the venue.
Rinoa drained her cup and set it down on the bedside table. 'OK, I know you've woken me up far earlier than was necessary but just how early is it? And why?'
'It's not that early!' claimed Selphie. 'Quisty and I have been up for hours - haven't we?'
The blonde girl raised an eyebrow but all she said was, 'Oh, yeah - at least one.'
'It's nearer to two, now', her room-mate pouted. 'And there's lots and lots and lots to do before the wedding. You just can't start too early!'
The Sorceress winced. People often dismissed Selphie as scatterbrained. If they were lucky, they learned their mistake at some kind of social event that she had organised where everything ran like clockwork from the ever-flowing drinks to the timed-to-the-second cabaret. If they were unlucky, it was on a hike or during a mission... or on their wedding day.
'OK, let's get the worst over with. What's the schedule?'
'We start with a swim in Daddy's pool to get you properly awake, then a mobile masseuse is coming over to give you a deep tissue massage to get you really relaxed.'
Rinoa groaned. 'I'm already relaxed! Honestly. Can't I have an extra hour in bed, instead?'
'After that, the mobile hairdresser is coming over,' the other girl continued, as if she had not spoken. 'Then back up here to get dressed and do our make-up, so that you look extra-super gorgeous for Squall. If everything goes to plan, we'll have a full half-an-hour to spare before the wedding to allow some wiggle room.'
Before anyone could ask why they might need wiggle room, there was another knock on the door.
Squall's world was dark. And somehow it was restricted to the dimensions of his body. At least, he could not move any part of himself.
He tried to speak and found that he had apparently lost his voice, too.
His head felt as if it was stuffed with cotton-wool, a familiar feeling although not one he had experienced in quite some time - the tell-tale traces of a Sleep spell. So, his lack of sight was probably due to a Blind spell, the loss of voice due to Silence, his immobility due to Stop. The fact that nobody except Rinoa could use magic without Junctioning a GF and Junctioning was outlawed was not something he wanted to spend energy on worrying about at the moment.
He blinked a couple of times and was almost sure that there was a haziness to the edges of his vision. Perhaps the Blind spell was wearing off.
While he waited for the spell to wear off completely, he tried to work out where he might be by making use of his other senses. There was a strong smell of damp in the air and a faint rustling sound from somewhere above him. He was also extremely cold.
Only one place answered those clues - the Tomb of the Unknown King with its dank passages and protective grove of trees. And who could possibly have placed him here? Well, that was easy enough, too...
'Seifer!' he growled inwardly. Perhaps he should have asked his old rival to be best man after all, rather than just a groomsman. But Rinoa was not the only one with a father-child relationship to build. Asking Caraway to give her away had been a surprisingly emotional event; Laguna's teary reaction to Squall's request had been much more predictable.
He wondered if Rinoa was aware that he was missing. If the rest of the wedding party had any sense, they would keep that piece of knowledge to themselves for as long as possible. He loved his bride with every part of himself, both as a man and as a Knight, but even he had to admit that she could be... tempremental.
The Odine Bangle blocked most of their telepathic link to one another, so that they could sense each other's general mood but not share actual thoughts. His current sense was that she was calm and content, which suggested that she was still in ignorance. That meant that he could concentrate on his own situation without having to be concerned about her and any crazy plans she might come up with.
His vision was now almost fully restored and he satisfied himself that his guess about his location was correct. He was lying on the floor of one of the stone passages with shafts of early morning sunshine falling through the leafy roof, dressed in just his boxer shorts. Leaning against the passage wall directly in front of him was Lion Heart with a note stuck on it that said, 'Hello, Daddy'.
His groomsman was so going to pay for this.
Quistis opened the door and saw the last person she had expected.
'Laguna! This is a nice surprise. Would you like some coffee? I think Rin has left a couple of drops.'
'Er, no... no thanks. Could you step out here a moment? I need to talk to you...'
She looked down at herself. She was wearing shortie pyjamas with a Blood Soul printed on the top under the legend 'I need my beauty sleep'.
'I'd rather talk inside the room,' she said.
'I don't want Rinoa to hear,' whispered Laguna, mysteriously.
She rolled her eyes. 'OK, we'll go in to my room, then,' and she led the way to the next door.
Inside the other room, she turned to him. 'So, what are you doing here? As best man, isn't it your job to make sure the groom is up in time for the wedding?'
'Yes, that is exactly my job and that's why I shared a room with him, last night. But when I woke up this morning, he was gone.'
'Gone? What do you mean "gone"? Gone as in "gone for a swim" or gone as in "gone for a ride to the moon"?'
'Well, the good news is that we know where Squall is. But his tux is also missing. And, er...'
Laguna ran a hand nervously through his hair and then gasped in agony as his leg cramped. Fighting her irritation, Quistis helped him to sit on the edge of her bed.
'Thanks, Quis. I keep thinking I'll grow out of the leg-cramps...'
'Don't worry about it. So, what else do I need to know?'
'Oh, yeah... Nearly forgot,' he said with a smile that quickly faded when she did not smile back. 'There's this, too...' and he handed her a note.
She glanced at the direction on the front, which read 'To Dumb, Dumber and Dumberer - I'll let you work out between you who is who' and groaned inwardly as she instantly recognised the handwriting. 'Seifer...' she said, almost to herself. 'He is so dead when I get my hands on him!'
'A sentiment shared by Irvine and Zell,' Laguna noted. 'They have gone in search of the tux, by the way.'
'The tux?! Why in the name of all that's holy would they do that? Squall can get married in a bin bag - the important thing is to have him here to get married!'
'Well, the note suggests that Squall will be able to get himself back in time whereas the tux is doomed to a watery grave if we don't save it quickly. And something tells me Seifer wouldn't actually let him miss the wedding... Maybe you should read the note?'
Quistis opened the note without another word. She could almost hear Seifer's voice inside her head as she read it through.
'Hey there, D, D & D!
'So, have you noticed that someone's missing, yet? I hope so, since I'm leaving this note on his pillow.
'You may also have realised - if you're awake and haven't missed too much of your beauty sleep - that Puberty Boy's costume for today is also missing. I shall give you clues to where each is. You can decide to try to rescue one or the other yourselves, involve the girlies or just leave them to their fate - the choice is yours.
'Puberty Boy can be found by heading for the final resting place of a forgotten monarch. You remember that place, don't you? Don't worry too much about him, though. It'll only take him a couple of hours to walk back to Deling and I'll be keeping a close eye on him. I might even give him a lift.
'His tux, on the other hand, is all alone with the Red Bats and the Creeps. Remember where those nice little critters hang out? Well, the Northern sewer is blocked at the moment but, by the time you read this, some workmen will have been dispatched to clear it. If you use the entrance under Caraway's Mansion, you should be able to rescue the tux in time.
'So, now, the choice is yours. Will you divide your forces, enlist some help... or just do nothing?
'Wishing you luck,
Quistis closed her eyes and prayed that when she reopened them the note would have disappeared. Her prayer was not answered.
'Well, I'd better get back to the bride,' she said. 'I'm not going to mention this to her unless it becomes absolutely necessary. For example, if I have to explain why bits of Seifer are clinging to Squall's gunblade.
'What about you, Laguna?'
The older man gave a slightly bashful smile. 'Actually, I was going to head out to the Tomb of the Unknown King. Maybe there's something I can do...'
'Sounds like a plan,' she replied with a smile, that masked her struggle not to burst into hysterical laughter.
Seifer leaned against the corner of the passage way, ignoring the drips of water that ran down the wall. Squall had not noticed him, yet - all of his energy was focused on fighting the final effects of the Stop spell. Well, it was not really a spell. Someone he knew who knew someone who knew some really dodgy characters had managed to get hold of some experimental Powders that worked on the same lines as the Sleep and Poison Powders they had been issued with as Cadets. Raijin had agreed to test a Blind Powder to make sure that they were not harmful, despite his contact's assurances.
It had cost far more money than he really wanted to pay to purchase the little collection of Sleep, Blind, Silence and Stop Powders. Because the Blind and Stop Powders were still experimental the length of time each Powder's effect lasted was unpredictable, meaning that he had had to buy far more than he actually needed. The results were just about as satisfying as he had hoped, though. Seeing Squall completely at his mercy was the best feeling he had had in a long time.
Of course, there would be a price to pay. In fact, several prices. Squall was going to be mad at him, as would be Quistis. And if anybody made the mistake of telling Rinoa...
Squall had managed to get half-way across the passage by now, half-rolling, half-shuffling in a way that reminded Seifer of a fish struggling to return to the water. He had to bite his lip to prevent himself laughing out loud. No need to give away his presence, just yet.
Part of him was annoyed that Squall and Rinoa were the first of the group to get married. It was probably predictable, though, when he thought about it. But he would have liked to pop the question to Quistis, first; now it would just look like he was copying Puberty Boy.
The romantic in him was pleased for them, though. They had been through more than any couple should have to face and they had done it together. A 'happy-ever-after' was no more than they deserved.
And they had always made a good couple, he had to admit. There was a media frenzy whenever they appeared in public and the smallest detail of their outfits was scrutinised for days. He had heard rumours of them producing their own frangrance and fashion lines but, mercifully, they had never proved to be more than rumour. When their engagement was announced, Rinoa's ring appeared on the front page of just about every newspaper, even the more serious ones.
His focus returned to his captive. The Commander had made it to Lion Heart, now. He tested each of his limbs and found that they all worked properly, so the Stop Powder's effects had finally worn off. In a second, he was on his feet and grasping the hilt of his gunblade.
Seifer decided that it was time to make himself scarce.
Selphie jumped on Quistis the instant she reappeared in Rinoa's room. 'So, what did Sir Laguna want? You were gone for ages!'
'Oh, he thought he'd lost the rings,' the blonde woman replied, rolling her eyes. 'He asked if he'd given them to me for safe keeping and when I said, "No" asked if I'd help him look in his own room. They were exactly where he thought he'd left them, of course.'
She gave a small laugh and Selphie joined in with the others but an alarm was ringing at the back of her head. Laguna had put the rings in the General's safe the night before in front of everyone.
'Well, now that you're back, we can go for that swim! The masseuse is due in less than an hour. Quis, let's go and get into our swimsuits!'
Everything about Quistis' story seemed off, she had to admit. It was a good thing that Rinoa was not a morning person or she would have seen right through it, too. She dragged her room-mate outside and rounded on her immediately.
'So, what did he really want?' she asked.
Quistis sighed. 'OK, OK... but not here...' and she hurried into the other bedroom.
Selphie followed, her curiousity now about the size of a Behemoth. 'So...?' she prompted as she dug her swimsuit out of her luggage.
'Squall is missing,' the other girl admitted, reluctantly.
'What?! Missing? What are you talking about?'
'As far as we can work out, Seifer has taken him off to the Tomb of the Unknown King as some kind of boy-thing. Probably because Squall didn't ask him to be best man.'
'Oh, that is sooo...' Selphie ended with an enormous shrug as words failed her.
'Tell me about it. Anyway, Zell and Irvine have gone after his tux, which is in the sewers about to be doused in water... and worse things. From what Seifer said in his note, he's with Squall and I can't see him making him miss his wedding. But Laguna's gone after him, anyway.'
'Laguna... has gone to the Tomb... That is perhaps the weirdest thing I've ever heard...'
The eyes of the two girls met. After struggling for a second or two, they gave in and collapsed into helpless giggles. 'Oh, Quis...' said Selphie at last, when she had herself under control, 'is that really a good idea?'
'It's too late, now,' was the practical reply. 'We can't go after him, either. I mean, what would we say to Rinoa? Oh, we're just nipping out for something?'
'Oh, of course! You haven't told her... Best idea. She's stressed enough.' Selphie fell silent for a moment or two as she pulled on her swimsuit. Today was supposed to be a celebration of the kind of love that comes along once in a millenium. 'Geez, nothing goes smoothly for them, does it? Even their wedding day!'
'Well, it doesn't help when people who are old enough to know better decide to play pranks...' Quistis observed.
'No... Anyway, we'd better get changed and get Rinoa down to the pool. At least she'll be in good shape for the wedding!'
Zell looked up and down each of the passages leading from the junction they were currently standing at.
'Which way now?' asked Irvine, tipping his cowboy hat back and scratching his head.
'Er... I'm not sure...'
'What?! But you're the one who's been down here before!'
'Yeah, I know but... well, that was different...'
'Different? Different, how?'
'Well, you know... Quistis was kind of in charge that time...'
Irvine opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again. 'Oh, Zelly-boy,' he said at last. 'What am I gonna do with you?'
Zell shrugged and gave a foolish grin.
Shaking his head, the other man took charge. 'Right, then, let's try this way.'
They reached the next junction and had still not found the missing tux. 'This isn't looking good,' observed Irvine. 'The note said that it was near to the entrance under Caraway's place but we've been wandering around for an hour and there's no sign of the bloody thing. And the blockage in the sewers could be cleared at any moment and when that happens we'll find ourselves knee deep in something unpleasant.
'Let's head back to the entrance and try to approach this a little more scientifically.'
Zell agreed to this and led the way back along the sewer, which was wider and, therefore, easier to negotiate than the walkways on either side. Although the thick layer of slime on the sewer floor made their footing slippery, the reminder that it would soon be reflooded made them both walk a little more quickly.
'So, I was thinking of asking Iris to marry me,' Zell commented after a few paces.
'You too, huh? This marriage thing is catching. I've been looking at rings, myself.'
'Really? Never thought of you as the settling-down type, somehow.'
'The days of me running after anything in a skirt are well behind me.'
'Yeah... I know that. I dunno...' Zell decided that he wasn't going to be able to dig his way out and changed the subject, instead. 'So, how much does it matter if we never find this tux? I mean, Rinoa will still marry him, no matter what he's wearing, won't she?'
'I expect so. I'd still rather present her with a fully-dressed groom, though. Apart from anything else, the world and his wife will be there. Don't really think "The groom wore boxers" is the kind of headline the happy couple are looking for.'
The martial artist chuckled a little but then shook his head. 'No, I don't suppose it would go down too well. Maybe they could set a new trend, though? Getting married in their underwear, I mean. I bet if they did it, everyone would be doing it next week.'
'Zell, you have the craziest ideas, you know that? And now you have me thinking of Rinoa in her underwear...'
There was silence for a few moments until Irvine stopped at the foot of the ladder that led back to Caraway's Mansion. 'Right, we're back at the start. Now, let's retrace our steps and really look carefully, this time.'
They began by checking the sewer they had been following. There were piles of what might have been just about anything wherever they looked, all coated with the gunk that lay underfoot. Irvine stared around him in despair. How were they going to know what was tux and what was... something else?
Suddenly Zell gave a shout. 'Hey! I've found it!'
His companion turned towards him a little too quickly and slipped on the treacherous floor of the sewer, windmilling his arms frantically in an attempt to keep his balance. He fell heavily against the wall of the sewer, bruising his arm, but managed to grab the lip and so remained in an almost upright position.
He turned a baleful eye on Zell who was doubled over with laughter. 'I'm so happy to amuse you,' he snarled.
Just then, a new sound reached them... the sound of water. They both scrambled out of the sewer as quickly as they could, just as the first oily trickles began to flow through their part of the sewers. Irvine crouched on all fours breathing hard and then finally turned to Zell. He frowned; something was missing.
'What have you done with it, Zell? Please tell me you haven't dropped it in the bloody water? After all that...'
'No I haven't,' the other man replied, a little sulkily. 'In fact, it was never in any danger of getting in the water at all. Look!' and he pointed at the grill that stretched across the passage.
There, well above the level of the water that was now flowing strongly through the sewer, was Squall's tux, still on its hanger.
The cowboy opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again. With a shrug of resignation, he walked over to the grill, unhooked the hanger from the little loop of rope that it was hanging from, and turned back to Zell.
'Let's get this back, then,' he said.
Iris hummed softly under her breath as she applied Rinoa's make-up. The bride was leaning back in her chair, the picture of relaxed radiance. The day had gone according to Selphie's plan almost to the letter. All that remained was the wedding itself and Iris was certain that would be perfect.
The mobile hairdresser had left only a few minutes ago. Quistis and Selphie had asked to have their hair done first, so that they could get dressed and do their make up in the other room. Rinoa had given the tiniest of worried frowns at this and then appeared to let the matter go. Whatever they needed the extra time for was clearly not worth worrying about.
Iris had to agree with her. All of her focus had to be on preparing herself for her wedding, mentally as well as in terms of her appearance. Whatever it was that had made the other two so twitchy all day, they could deal with it on their own. The bride's focus was clearly where it needed to be.
With the other two bridesmaids gone, Iris was left alone with the Sorceress, which still left her with a few butterflies. She could not quite work out her role in this group of girls who had shared so much together and still felt something of an outsider. Today, however, it was her job to get the bride dressed and help her with her make-up. That was something she could get her head around.
As she applied blusher to Rinoa's cheeks, she pictured to herself how the happy couple would look as they said their vows. They had written their own vows and everybody was excited about what they would actually say to each other. In some ways, it hardly seemed necessary for them to promise their lifelong love and support to each other. After all, life had kept throwing up situations that demanded they demonstrate those qualities over the years.
Whatever they did say, though, was sure to express everything they felt and everything that they had been through.
She gave Rinoa's dark lashes a final lick of mascara and stood back to admire her handy-work.
'I think you're done,' she said, flicking away the towel that had been protecting Rinoa's dress from accidental drips of make-up.
The other girl opened her eyes slowly, as though she had actually drifted off into sleep. She stared at Iris as though unsure who she was or what she was doing there. Suddenly she smiled. 'Iris! Thank you! Let me see the final result,' she said, standing and turning towards the mirror.
Iris felt the butterflies begin to flutter a little more frantically. Something was definitely not right.
Calmly, Rinoa examined herself in the mirror, looking at herself from all angles. As though pleased with the result, she gave Iris a genuine smile. 'Absolutely perfect. There's just one thing spoiling the effect!' As she spoke, her hand moved towards the Odine Bangle.
'No, Rinoa, don't!' cried Iris, darting across the room towards her. A voice at the back of her head told her not to be a fool; if the Sorceress wanted to be a Sorceress on her wedding day, who was she to stop her? Another voice said that a Sorceress at a wedding - even her own - was a bad idea.
'It's OK, Iris, I'll put it back on when I get back.'
'Back? Back from where? You're getting married in less than an hour! Where do you need to go to, now?' She was aware of her own voice rising almost to a squeal of panic, although whether it was caused by the idea of Rinoa's powers being loosed or by the idea of her missing her wedding, she could not have said.
'There won't be a wedding if I don't go,' Rinoa explained, her voice still calm and level. 'I have to go and rescue my groom.'
Now Iris began to doubt the other girl's sanity. Rescue the groom? From where? His room in Caraway's Mansion?!
Before she could think of a way of reasoning with this mad woman, Quistis burst into the room wearing only one shoe; the other was dangling from her hand. 'What's going on?' she demanded. 'I heard shouts...'
'It's Rinoa!' cried Iris, who was almost hysterical by now. 'She's babbling some nonsense about Squall and threatening to take off her Odine Bangle and…'
Quistis turned to the Sorceress with one eyebrow raised. 'Look,' the bride said, 'I know something's up with Squall. I can't do anything here, so I'm going to wherever he is so that I can bring him back and marry him!'
'How do you know something's up? I thought the Bangle suppressed the Sorceress-Knight link?'
'It does, to some extent. I know he's in trouble but I don't know what kind or where he is. At least, I don't at the moment. Once I remove the Bangle, though…'
'No!' Quistis and Iris shouted at the same moment, although for different reasons. The librarian fell silent under the other girl's gaze and Quistis continued alone. 'There's no need for you to go anywhere. Seifer has pulled some prank but Squall is essentially safe. And Laguna has gone after him…'
'Laguna?!' interrupted Rinoa. She stared into her friend's eyes for a moment and then both of them collapsed into giggles.
'I have to stop having that reaction,' Quistis gasped when she could speak again. 'Anyway, everything is under control. There's no need for you to go anywhere. Just sit down and relax…'
Rinoa sighed but settled down in her chair again. 'OK, OK, I'll trust you. By the way; where's Selphie…?'
Laguna's hire car made short work of the journey to the Tomb of the Unknown King. It had become something of a tourist spot recently but was never exactly teeming with visitors. Today, it was deserted except for Seifer's shiny black 4x4.
He climbed out of his own car and headed towards the entrance to the Tomb. The outer courtyard was empty, so he assumed that Seifer was somewhere inside, perhaps keeping an eye on Squall. He hurried over the cracked paving but before he could go inside the Tomb itself, a voice called out, 'Stop there, old man!'
He whirled round and saw Seifer step out of the alcove where he had been hiding. Laguna cursed his lack of attention. Who would ever believe he'd been trained as a soldier? No wonder Quistis had been fighting back laughter when he announced his decision to rescue Squall. His son would probably have managed better without his 'assistance'.
'So, what are you doing here?' the former Knight demanded.
'I've come for Squall,' replied Laguna, as firmly as he could manage.
The other man laughed out loud. 'Oh, that is priceless! So, Dumb and Dumber went after the suit and left you to face unknown dangers all alone?'
Ignoring the implied insult, he straightened his shoulders and said, 'They don't know I've come.' The smirk on the younger man's face began to irk him but he decided to appeal to his better nature, anyway. 'Look, Seifer, just let's get Squall and take him back to Deling so that he can get married. Haven't he and Rinoa been through enough?'
'Oh, yeah, they've been through plenty! Who knows better than me what they've been through? Which is why I should have been the best man! We're brothers, almost; Brother Knights at least. Why did he pass me over for you? Where were you while he was growing up in the orphanage? Where…'
Before Laguna could begin even formulating a response to these accusations – not all without basis, he had to admit – a third voice broke in.
'Seifer, that's enough!' commanded Squall. He was leaning in the doorway into the Tomb, blinking in the sunlight. Both of the others rushed towards him but he waived them away. Standing upright, using Lion Heart to support his weight, he managed to get to the steps on one side of the courtyard and eased himself down on to them.
'That's better,' he said. 'Now, Seifer, before you go rattling off Laguna's crimes-against-Squall, how about we look at you? What were you thinking? Was this supposed to be some joke that we were going to laugh over for years to come?!'
The blonde man looked sulkily down at the ground. 'I was going to rescue you, take you back to your wedding. Then you'd have to ask me to be your best man.'
'Best… man… Oh, Seifer, that's priceless! How were you going to rescue me? You put me in this situation!'
'Well, yeah, but it's too late for you to walk back to Deling, now. You need me to drive you there.'
'So, I make you my best man in gratitude for a lift? You strip me, kidnap me, drug me… but all that's forgotten because you get me to the Mansion on time?'
Still staring at the ground, Seifer replied, 'Well, when you put it like that… But you know I'll ask you, when me and Quistis get hitched.'
'Look, Seifer, I know you will. And you're right – we've experienced things only the other one can fully understand. Leonhart and Almasy – Brother Knights; I get it. But today isn't about me and you, is it? It's about me and Rinoa, and about making our wedding day the best day it can be. We both have parent issues and we're both using today to try to put some of them to rest.'
Laguna listened without interrupting. He did not think he had ever heard his son speak so openly or for so long and he did not want to spoil the moment; and as with Seifer's questions earlier, he had no defence against Squall's 'parent issues'. But he watched the other man, too, trying to gauge his feelings.
Beneath the sulkiness and swagger there was real hurt there, he realised. Being passed over for Squall's long-absent father did not just wound his Knightly pride - it hit far deeper than that. He found himself almost in sympathy and wondered if he should say something, offer the role of best man to Seifer, after all.
But would that show disrespect to Squall? After all, the choice of best man was his son's to make and he had chosen Laguna.
His mind went back to his own wedding day, the way Raine had looked, the way it had felt to kiss the bride. It took a moment or two for him to realise that Squall was speaking to him.
'Dad?! Hey, can I get a ride?'
The sound of his son calling him 'Dad' almost caused his leg to cramp up but he forced himself to stand upright. 'Of course you can… Son,' he replied, almost without hesitation.
He looked across at Seifer trying to decide how the last few minutes of the conversation had gone whilst his attention had been elsewhere. His expression suggested that they had come to a kind of peace - or at least a truce. It seemed that Squall's negotiation skills had improved, which could only bode well for his married life. 'You OK to make your own way, Seifer?'
'Yeah, yeah… I'll be right behind you.'
Nodding, Laguna turned back to Squall, throwing an arm around his waist to support him back to the car.
Irvine felt that Selphie's anxious face peering through the entrance to the secret passage in Caraway's office was perhaps the most welcome sight he had ever seen. Zell had better get a move on with his proposal to Iris or he would beat him to it.
He dropped the plastic-wrapped tux on the couch and sank down next to it, closely followed by the martial artist. Selphie bounced excitedly around them giving quiet cheers of 'Booya!' as she did so.
'Is he back yet?' Irvine asked his girlfriend as she bounced past.
'No,' she admitted, coming to rest in front of him and pulling a face. 'Laguna's gone after him, though. He'll bring him back in time.'
'Laguna?!' chorused Irvine and Zell before collapsing into giggles.
Selphie stamped her foot. 'Stop it, you two! Everyone is so unfair to Sir Laguna. He was a soldier, you know?'
Irvine stood, wiping his eyes as he did so. 'You're quite right, Darlin'. He's the world's greatest hero.' He dropped a kiss on her nose, making her smile. 'Would you be so kind as to close up the passage? Zell and I need to clean ourselves up before the heroes return.'
She nodded and hurried over to the door, closing it with a satisfying click. As she turned away from it, however, there came a sound that turned all of their stomachs to water; the sound of tearing fabric. Frozen in place, Selphie could only whisper, 'How bad is it?'
Irvine took the whole thing in in a glance. A long strip of the skirt of Selphie's bridesmaid's dress was sticking out of the door. What remained of the skirt did a great job of showing off her left leg all the way to the hip.
'I don't think it was the look Rinoa was going for when she picked those dresses,' he commented.
'Oh, no! I can't go to the wedding like this?! Rinoa will just die of embarrassment.'
'How long is your bouquet?' asked Zell, staring thoughtfully at the exposed leg.
Irvine thumped him on the arm, partly for staring at his girlfriend's leg but mostly for being unhelpful. 'Can you stitch it up?' he asked, and was rewarded with a horrified stare.
'Me? Sew?! Oh, I knew something like this would happen. I told Rin that this style of skirt wasn't practical.'
'Practical?' asked her boyfriend, incredulously. 'Who designs a bridesmaid's dress to be practical? Most bridesmaids don't spend the day running around secret passages, you know?'
'I know, but I'm not most bridesmaids. As the current situation shows!'
There really was no answer to that, so he changed tack. 'OK, so you can't sew it up. What about the woman who made the dresses? She's in Deling, right?'
This time, his reward was a huge kiss. 'You're a genius!' she cried. 'Quistis has the number - give her a call.'
Raising Quistis on her mobile proved to be easier said than done, however, and in the end he had to go in search of her, whilst Zell returned the tux to Squall's room and went to get a shower and Selphie cowered in the office. As he had expected, the former instructer was in the bride's room but it was Iris who opened the door. She looked like a frightened rabbit but he had no time to wonder why that might be.
'Er, is Quistis there?' he asked, knowing that she must be because he had searched everywhere else.
'Oh, er... yes... I'll just get her...'
There were a few seconds of conversation inside the room and then the blonde appeared, worry etched across her face. 'What is it? It had better be a life or death situation because I've got my hands full stopping Rinoa from teleporting to the Tomb...'
'I'm not even going to ask,' he replied wearily, 'but I've just heard the front door closing and more than one set of footsteps going up the stairs to our wing, so I think the groom and best man have made it back.'
'Thank Hyne for that! As long as you're right, of course...'
'I'll check in a minute but first, could you dig out the number of the woman who made the dresses?'
'Why in the world...? What's Selphie done... On second thoughts, don't tell me, I'll just get the dressmaker here.'
'Quis, you're brilliant. Selphie's in Caraway's office. I'll try to calm Rinoa down and then get myself ready.'
He knocked on the door of Rinoa's room as Quistis hurried into her own for the number. She was already dialling as she reappeared and hurried off in the direction of Caraway's office. A moment later, Iris-the-rabbit opened the Bride's door.
'Where's Quis going?' she asked, watching the other girl's retreating back.
'Matter of life and death,' replied the cowboy. 'OK if I come in?' he asked, stepping into the room.
Rinoa was sitting in a chair in the centre of the room, twisting the Odine Bangle round and round her wrist.
'Will somebody please tell me what is going on? Squall's in danger but Quistis won't let me help him!'
'Squall's fine, Darlin', honestly he is.'
'I can feel him! Nothing definite but... he's upset, and... and scared! I have to go to him!'
'Rin, please, calm down. He's here in the other wing getting dressed as we speak. Of course he's on edge - he's about to get married, isn't he? Now, you just relax for a few more minutes, OK? And then you can walk down the aisle and see him for yourself.'
'But what's been happening all day? And where's Quis gone...'
He placed a gentle finger on her lips. 'We'll tell you everything, I promise. After the wedding. Everything is going to be fine. OK?'
She nodded a little unhappily but at least she had stopped playing with the Bangle. Leaving Iris in charge, he hurried away to get himself ready.
Rinoa stood in front of the full-length mirror in her room fidgetting with her skirt. 'Is this hanging properly, Iris?' she asked for perhaps the tenth time.
'Yes, Rinoa, it looks beautiful!' came the almost automatic reply.
'How long left?'
'Twenty seconds less than the last time you asked!'
She turned to her bridesmaid, a small frown creasing her forehead.
'Oh, I'm sorry, Rin! I didn't mean to snap. It's just...'
The bride sighed. 'No, Iris, I'm sorry. I'm being a real bridezilla, aren't I?'
'Oh, I wouldn't say that...'
'There's no need for you to say it; I know I'm behaving badly. If Quistis was here... Where is Quis, anyway? And Selphie for that matter. I haven't seen her since she got her hair done.'
'I... I'm sure they'll be here any minute...'
At that moment, the door opened and General Caraway entered closely followed by Quistis and Selphie.
'Don't you ever knock?' snapped the bride, nervousness returning some of her old dislike for her father.
'Oh, er... of course...' the General stuttered.
'I told him it would be OK,' said Quistis, shaking her head. 'You got dressed ages ago, so don't get all prissy, now!'
'Sorry, Dad,' Rinoa mumbled, looking at her feet.
General Caraway laughed. 'Oh, never mind. Let's get this show on the road, shall we? There's a very nervous young man waiting for you in the garden.'
'Well, of course he is. Where'd you expect him to be, today?'
'Oh, never mind! Let's... get this show on the road, then!'
She took his arm and the other three girls arranged themselves behind her, Selphie keeping between the others and out of Rinoa's sight as much as possible so that she would not see the difference in her skirt.
At the French windows that led out to the garden, Rinoa paused to give her skirt one last tweak, to grip her bouquet a little more firmly. She could see her Knight waiting for her at the other end of the aisle. A shaft of sunlight glinted off his cufflinks and for a moment it seemed that he was a Knight from a fairy tale, his armour shining bright. The moment passed but the feeling remained. This was her fairy tale, her happy ever after.
She took a step forward, the first step into the rest of her life.
Squall stood at the front of the congregation fidgetting with his cufflinks. 'How long, now?' he asked his best man.
'We were due to start three minutes ago,' Laguna replied. 'The bride is supposed to be late, you know?'
'Yeah, I know...'
Just then, the pianist began to play the wedding march and everyone stood.
Squall turned to look up the aisle and caught his breath. A vision was floating towards him, a vision so beautiful that for a moment he was certain that he was dreaming. The moment passed but the feeling remained. He might not be a Knight in a fairy tale but he was Knight to the Sorceress who was walking towards him.
He stepped forward to meet her, joining hand and heart to her forever.