Hello, Everyone! This story is a submission for the Where I Belong Challenge. If you haven't already come across the details of this event, please visit the Where I Belong Forum found in the Final Fantasy VIII Forum section here at . I encourage you to check out the other author's marvelous stories (and artwork) that have been posted in the community as well as the message board by following the links provided in the Forum. I've also uploaded an artwork image to accompany this particular work, because I couldn't resist. I will speak more freely about my latest news at the bottom of this introductory chapter, and also leave a brief follow up message at the end of this short story. Thanks for taking a look! Enjoy!

Those Who Dream

I won't lie. Things haven't exactly been a fairytale since Ultimecia's defeat and time was restored. Sure Rinoa and I shared a kiss the night of the celebration party, but it would be the start of something very different in both our lives. Through our efforts as a team, we saw the peace and tranquility returning to our world after Ultimecia's death. Things were slowly beginning to change for the better in our global community.

We were recognized for our efforts, awarded and praised, and was everything but forgotten the first few months following our victory. At the same time, Timber was celebrating its independence and had then proceeded to reestablish its own government. Deling City was now under the counsel of the reinstated General Caraway. Its citizen's felt safer with the ever present general nearby and voted him into office there. The general was even kind enough to reassign the ex-headmaster Martine into his old position as Galbadia Garden's headmaster once again. There were rumors surfacing concerning Laguna speaking with Mayor Dobe about possibly having the railroads connecting FH, Esthar, and Timber restored, but I haven't heard anything further of it. It was still big news to see leaders discussing change and actually trying to come together; ironically, my friends and I were slowly losing touch with one another.

These were the biggest events to occur before people started to forget about our accomplishments, and not long after that, we faded into the shadows of the past. From that time on work continued as usual; however, our missions were no longer missions to assassinate iniquitous sorceresses, but to defeat monsters that had roamed too far into smaller towns. Some cases were more extreme than others depending on the region, and the requests for Balamb's assistance continued to pour in. Missions were handed out more frequently due to the large amount of monsters surfacing the world, and we, SeeDs and cadets alike, helped to clear out as much of the beasts as we could. Honestly, it wasn't a real challenge for me or the others, but we continued to follow orders and downsized the intruders. Needless to say, those same missions eventually became very dull.

Without any major challenges present on the horizon, my life became stagnant and mundane. Boredom began to reflect in various areas of my life, even in my relationship with Rinoa. I started to wonder if Rinoa shared my thoughts of unfulfilling days, because she had never once voiced her concerns about our life together. Had I affected her this much? The girl from the past would have thought it time to pursue something more, something greater than either of us, and would have been very vocal about it. What had I done to her? Eventually, I think Rinoa sensed something had changed about me, about us, and became very distant thereafter. I couldn't blame her for doing so; after all, it's not like I had actually said a word to her about my feelings.

I was surprised one day when Rinoa said she had to talk to me about something.

"Squall…I," she gathered her breath at first. "I don't know how else to say this, but it's only fair to tell you now…" Rinoa lowered her eyes for a second and then returned them to me. "…I'm going to be leaving Balamb Garden. I need to find my purpose again."

"…It's been a year and a half since we went up against Ultimecia," Rinoa continued softly, cautiously, "since I became a sorceress. Everybody we know accepts me as I am and others know that I'm a peaceful and a good sorceress, just like Edea was when she was one. I know I'll be okay on my own. I don't want you to feel dutiful about protecting me anymore. Now that Timber has its independence, our contract is no longer in effect and I don't think Galbadia will come looking for me anymore. I just…I don't know what else there is for me to do here. I want to be with you here, but then…at the end of the day this is your job and also your home. Being here is something that you have to do…and I…I'm starting to feel like I don't belong here, like I'm in the way because I'm not a SeeD. I'm reminded of it every day in more ways than you know. I want to do more, but I can't when I'm here… That's why I have to go."

"Maybe someday," she whispered, eyes watering just a slight, "we can meet up again with smiles and have no hard feelings about this…"

I didn't know how to respond or react. She had made a point after all, and her words meant that she would not be coming back anytime soon. I didn't want to force my lifestyle onto her any more than she would've wanted me to quit my job and leave garden with her. We were coming to the end of the line, the end of our life together so it seemed. I agreed that maybe she wanted to find something to be as passionate about as I was about being a SeeD, anything that would make her happy. If anything, I wanted her to be happy. I still do. But I hated hearing that she felt out of place or in the way and most of all I hated the fact that it was my fault for her feeling so. That was never my intention. I wanted her to know that.

Unfortunately, in that prolonged amount of time, I did and said nothing. I couldn't find the words. Of course my mind replayed all of our memories together, every moment we'd shared. Even our brief closeness that the garden's rules prohibited came back to haunt me… And there I was, regretting not using any of that free time we had acquired to learn more about Rinoa, get closer to her, and enjoy her while we had the time together. In the end, I couldn't give her what she really wanted…and that was more of my time. I hated myself for not saying a word, even though I wanted to. I couldn't tell her to stop because I knew it was my fault she was unhappy. It hurt to watch her go, and so I granted myself the excuse that it probably just wasn't meant to be…

Rinoa left soon after our conversation and I stayed to myself. Gradually, I had regressed back into my past self, that taciturn and aloof individual whom appeared cold and heartless. But now that the others understood me better, they respected what I had been through and just left me alone to my thoughts. Occasionally, they'd try to have little gatherings in between work and classes, but it just wasn't the same without her there. She really was the life of the party. Every day I tried to push her out of my mind, but to no avail. I failed horribly. It was just like before when Rinoa was ready to be frozen, suspended in time at the Sorceress Memorial and I initially failed to stop her from doing so.

Why did I hesitate both times? …It seems like I haven't changed at all. When I think of it that way, maybe that's why she left me…

Rinoa…forgive me.

A few months after she left, I had been assigned a couple of missions with tasks varying from easy to intermediate. While I thought I was up to par with everyone else, apparently I wasn't. The headmaster called me to his office a week later to ask how I was fairing. I knew he had heard of Rinoa's sudden departure a while back and yet I didn't want to bring up our relationship or make it about either of us. He had known we were dating, and at certain times, turned a blind eye to our rule breaking. As long as we weren't doing anything serious, in which case we hadn't, we could continue to see each other. So to avoid the details, I simply told him that Rinoa's contract had expired the day Timber achieved its independence.

Cid is no fool. He saw right through my bluff. He saw that I had been struggling without her there. He reminded me that I was a SeeD, and that I had to remember my priorities first among everything else. He told me he would allow me some time off to recover and remember why I was there in the first place. I had to find my focus again.

I don't know why, but something inside me clicked when he said those words. I hadn't felt a snap like that since the day I decided to take my role as a leader seriously.

"Not just time off," I spoke suddenly. "…I think I may need to revaluate my life. I'm sorry if this is a huge inconvenience to you, sir, but I don't I want to be here if I'm not giving it my all. Being a SeeD is," It was sad. I had no words to spare about my work anymore. Being a SeeD was all that I knew, but it wasn't something I had dreamed of being. It was something I had been raised to be. Like Irvine said before, sometimes there were no other choices in the matter and it was simply the only thing to do. "Balamb is my home…and I'm really grateful for everything. So I hope you can understand why I have to leave."

"…I understand perfectly fine, Squall," Cid smiled. I was surprised by his answer. "…You've reached a point in your life where you need to make your own choices. You need to decide what's best for you from here on out. I would love to see you stay, but I also pledged to never see any of you become machines for war. You may take as much time off as you need. I'll be glad to let you keep your salary here, just to help you get started."

"You don't have to do that, sir. I'll be fine on my own," I said, displaying the strongest SeeD salute I could muster.

Headmaster Cid looked down at his desk as if searching for something, words perhaps, before standing to his feet and recapturing eye contact with me. He saluted me in return, a fine salute, and we both dropped our hands in sync, "If it's your choice to support yourself, then I'll abide." In his heart, I think he knew I was trying to say goodbye.

"You are still a wonderful SeeD, and I'm happy that you're willing to do what is necessary for your team and your mission, but it's very important that you find balance in your life. Being married is rewarding and I cherish my wife more than anything, but with such sentiment comes trial. When you've been tried and tested, you will see what's important. Your priorities will become clear, and it will force you to find balance all on your own. I wish you the best of luck in discovering balance in whatever you decide to do from now on, Squall. Please remember and know that you'll always be welcomed here."

"Also," Cid added on, "If you should decide to come back, I want you to return knowing that this is where you want to be."

Cid Kramer, after all those years, was still the same; the toughest pushover if there ever was one—respectfully speaking. Although he was a rare sight to the others and me as children, Cid was a bigger presence once we joined garden. He was and still is like a father to us, especially to me. Even when the garden faculty was present and tried to regulate his every move for most of our lives, Cid was there, unchanging. No matter what, I will always look up to the headmaster and have great respect for him. He and Edea continue to run Balamb Garden and are refocusing on their very first mission, raising SeeDs for future generations to defeat Ultimecia and any other sorceress to threaten our world again. They're still very passionate about this mission, and I can understand why.

When Cid outstretched his hand toward mine, I caught it in mid air with a firm grip and shook it sternly.

"Good luck, Squall," Cid said proudly, causing me to release a sigh of relief.

"Thank you, sir," I wouldn't dare say it aloud, but I felt my eyes stinging with tears at that particular moment. I didn't know where my life was headed, but I knew, like Rinoa, I wouldn't be back here anytime soon. At the back of my mind I heard her voice from the past asking me a couple of questions, questions that I dreaded to hear, especially back then.

"Do you have any dreams, Squall? …Any goals for the future?"

All I could think of was the look in her eyes that night and on the night of the celebration. I remembered the softness of her body and lips pressed against mine, and her warmth.

God, what I'd give to relive that moment with you again, Rinoa.

Even with the amount of time it's been since we last saw one another, I thought I would have gotten over you in some way, but…that's not the case. It's been forever since I last saw you, since I left Balamb… Even now, I can't forgive myself for letting you go…

I can't face you knowing that I did nothing to stop you from leaving in the first place… To make matters worse, I…I still can't answer your question. I'm sure you've fulfilled your dreams on your own…and you probably are happier given the amount of time it's been—three years…three years without me.

And with every passing day I know that that old saying is true…

There is a difference between [those who dream] dreams, and those who live them.

Author's Little Window:

Hi! Stardust Ray here! As longwinded as I've become over the years, I could not suppress this story into a one shot as much as I tried to. I settled for splitting it into three chapters, well, two if you leave out or combine the introduction with the next chapter. Forgive my terribly late entry! It comes with the territory of living in an area prone to hurricanes and bad weather in general! Shout outs for you if you managed to get through all that angst in one piece.

Traditionally, I am an Alternate Universe writer as I feel strongly about the game's ending being near perfection, but that's just my opinion. So without a doubt this story is a personal challenge as I have never written a multi chaptered post game story. The only thing I've written post game related would be my one shot series, and I do encourage you to take a look. A one shot story is a great way to sample an author's writing without dealing with too much pressure of multi chapters. Anyway, since my one shots don't count, I've resulted to this dramedy, (dramatic comedy, and tragedy for me, lol.) Also note that because I am an AU writer, things might seem to take some AU twists.

Be patient with me as I'm very rusty in the writing department! I've been spending most of my time drawing or working as of late, and no, the story does not carry on in 1st person, though I do love a good first person story once in a while. Currently, I am working on continuing Fate,Wild and Eternal Breath (Albeit scarcely for the former! No one really reads it anymore because I took too long to revive it, and I don't really blame them for not returning.) I've seen major progress in the upcoming chapters for both of these stories. If you're interested, please check those out. I have a few stories that are already finished, so you don't have to put up with my laziness—Did I just say that? I meant my hardworking ass…

I am also going to be taking online courses for artwork and such, and will become increasingly busy as I am already working a fulltime job (and in tourism to boot.) But enough about my personal boredom, I have a feeling I'll be uploading one more story by the time I've finished Fate,Wild, and to be honest, it's more than 75% done. I've left subtle hints of what it'll be about throughout this story, but those hints are very seldom and quite possibly invisible to anyone other than me as I know what to look for and no one else doesn't. I'm so ridiculous, I know.

Anyway! Thanks for reading! Please check out the other WIB stories when you have the time, and also swing by at my oldies. See you at the end of this story!