Author's Note – Sleepy now, beta later. Zzz.
Chapter XXVI – Room at the End of the World
There had never been any doubt in my mind that my father had a plan in mind from the start and all the answers from the moment I laid eyes on him in the driver's seat tonight. He was a rational and cautious man to a fault and so, in my head, tonight came with the built-in assumption that he wouldn't have bothered with this unless if he had some sort of ace up his sleeve and that the risk would undoubtedly be outweighed by the positives of the plan he cooked up.
My assumptions blindly ignored the possibility that his rational side had determined that tonight just so happened to be the last statistically-favorable chance to get me back, that his caution only meant that his lips would remained pursed until he was certain that he would not be overheard by some unwanted, possibly-invisible third party.
I hadn't banked on him acting as my father and instead of the man who donned the 'hard-ass military general' persona like a second skin 99% of the time. Never mind the whole stupid tangent thing with Squall, my father was the one who I'd mistaken for a robot.
…And now I had to pick up the pieces and ask the hard questions now that I knew that my assumptions were rooted in simple-minded fiction.
My brain was like a car's engine that repeatedly refused to turn over, clogged with too much crap to work properly. My mind drifted back to all of the books I'd seen cluttering up the downstairs as I tried formulating questions about my condition, I wondered about my father's need to bring me all the way upstairs. Was there a reason I needed to be separated from everyone else by a whole entire floor when there were rooms on the other side of main floor that would have more than sufficed?
There is no way I'm going to leave that particular blank unfilled when he came here because of my words, my inability to currently string some together be damned.
"-Squall." I sputtered. "…Er, the guy who's with me. Is there a plan for him? He'll be able to leave if he wants to, right? What did Allison tell you about him? How-"
"-Rinoa, stop. One question at a time." The glassiness in his eyes disappeared mid-sentence. "Your companion will be here for the meantime until we can figure out the root of this telepathy. The research texts I have offer a few theories but nothing concrete."
"And what happens if it becomes concrete that we're not co-dependant like the Bored from that tv show you used to watch? Are you going to kick him out?"
He made no effort to stifle the sigh out of his mouth though part of me couldn't help but wonder if it was just because I mangled the name of that show's alien race.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there." he flatly told me. Should have figured I'd end up with a non-answer like that, despite his minor streak of openness. "He had no issues with the possibility of staying here for an indefinite period of time, correct?"
Persistence truly was futile.
I shook my head. "No. He should be fine – he doesn't have any pressing engagements." I said before flippantly adding, "…Most people without transition tattoos usually don't, anyhow."
Apparently possessing Caraway-grey eyes lessened the patented stare's effects on me – whether it owed to the knowledge that I could finally dish it back, the fact that I just didn't care at this point or some combination of both, I couldn't tell. All I knew with any kind of certainty was that he wasn't some animated teddy bear with rainbow lasers coming out of his belly who was shouting, "Galbadian Bear stare!" like the cartoon I used to watch eons ago. That and the possibility that I might have been having a little trouble staving off exhaustion now.
…Just a little.
"Your companion will be rooming in the basement guest room – if he requires any additional supplies beyond what Nurse Bear laid out on the bed there, let her or myself know."
All the random flights of fancy swirling around in my head were immediately grounded.
"Ok, so I know you don't like boys anywhere near me as a general rule of thumb but, Squall can't be in the basement when I'm up here." I began, finding myself wringing my hands. "He's going through a Cloudy-Eye transition instead of a regular one which makes things a million times worse for pain. I know it probably doesn't make sense to you but…our conditions are linked in some way that's making it easier for him symptoms-wise. Just being close to him literally makes him feel better – he doesn't have to be in the same room, just being on the same floor'll be ok."
Instead of answering me, he simply got up from his chair and placed it back to its original spot by the computer desk, down to the exact indentations. He stood there for a good handful of seconds, momentarily engrossed in eying the desk's immaculate and barren oak surface. The wheels in his head were most definitely turning, but in regards to what? I couldn't quite tell – the possibilities were endless and I had good reason to believe that it wasn't on something petty. And despite the way I'd prefaced my sales pitch, I doubted his need for separation owed to some paranoia that I'd suddenly lose all ability to keep my cartoon mog pyjamas bottoms on around the opposite sex. The mere fact that I was talking to my father here with Squall and Allison sitting a floor below us told me that much – the fact that I couldn't bring myself to asking the question outright now, even more so.
"If Nurse Bear can corroborate this claim, I'll consider it." he told the wall, and presumably me as well, his left hand moving to pinch the bridge of his nose this time.
I mumbled a 'thanks,' making the executive decision a few seconds later to head out of the room and quickly hop down two flights of stairs to rejoin those we'd left behind in the living room. Being kept awake long after you wanted to go to bed was bad enough on a normal night, never mind when there's only an uncomfy couch not taken up by mountains of pulp after you've fought against zombies and essentially hatched-slash-carried out an escape.
It seemed as though my manic stair hopping had gone unnoticed considering that I had to poke my head into the living room before Allison had noticed me and Squall had turned around to follow suit once she'd stopped talking mid-sentence. In a bittersweet turn of events, the subject of flying spaghetti monsters was immediately dropped, the creature, or the context he was brought up in for that manner, vanished, never to be seen ever again; I'd probably have to bug Squall about it later as Allison was all too happy to see me to even bother sparing an iota of a moment to explain. Heck, I would be too if it hinted at the possibility of sweet, sweet, sleep.
"All things go well with the General?" she asked.
I almost considered chuckling at the comment. "Glad I'm not the only one who thinks he can pass for one." I lamely replied instead. "But honestly, not really. I kinda need help convincing him that Squall legitimately needs to be on the same floor as me instead of the basement guest room."
"Not surprised." The sigh escaping her mouth was near-deafening. "I'll go see what I can do. In the meantime, if you could channel your inner rebellious teenager and just go downstairs and fall asleep there as I do that, that'd be great."
Tossing a look at Squall, who was currently sporting an eyebrow raised into his hairline, Allison added, "If you could act too tired to care that I'm asking Rinoa to defy her father, that'd be super."
"I already am that tired." he yawned in her general direction.
When he turned towards me again, I took a step back and motioned for him to follow me as I started heading to the front of the house, though going past the door to the foyer.
"I'll save the grand tour for tomorrow but, just so you know, the main floor's a big square circuit." I softly explained as we neared the first bend. "The door straight in front of us gets you into the entertainment room, or as I like to call it, the 'living room for the actually living' and the door just to the left of that is the one to go downstairs. The light switch for the area over the stairs is in between both doors."
"Once you're downstairs," I began again, "you just go around the bend and the guest room's the first to your right. There's also a bathroom too across from that room on the left. Well…the only door to your left so that makes it easier. Just don't go to the storage room at the end of the hall – might attract the unwanted attention of the three headed dog from the underworld who happens to live there. Sir Brrr doesn't exactly take kindly to strangers."
He looked at me skeptically. I coyly grinned. "Just…wanted to see if you were paying attention is all."
The expression on his face sobered some. "I doubt that." he blithely stated. In turn, I tossed a skeptical look back at him, prompting him to expand on that though. "Sounds more like another trite attempt at keeping things light."
I didn't dignify that with a response; it probably would have been just as dull to confirm the apparently ultra-obvious. Instead I walked with long strides, making short work of the distance between where we were and the door to the basement.
But I wasn't the one with my hand on the doorknob first.
'Tell me…what did he say?' he quietly sent after intercepting my grip on the handle.
Barely swallowing the small newly-formed lump in my throat, I struggled to meet his gaze in the dark, never mind maintain the eye contact. He was too close and the realization that I'd probably stoked some fires and nerves with my earlier comments to Allison hit closer.
Drawing a shallow breath, I sent back, 'I'll tell you downstairs.'
His hand remained on the handle. '…You promise?'
'I promise.' Naturally, the reaction I got was a befuddled one when I stuck out my right hand in front of him afterwards. I ended up adding an, 'Handshake on it?'
'That's…not necessary.' he sent back, opening the door. I quickly side stepped behind him to be able to extend my arm and flick on the light for downstairs before he'd take a step in total darkness.
…But he'd remembered what I'd said and I ended up brushing against his fingers. I quickly withdrew my hand and took a step back, only to have his eyes follow me momentarily. Widening the door's arc, he took a step back and stood still. When his stillness spilled over into another moment, I went ahead downstairs first but I had to wonder if it was because he didn't think I'd go and stay in the basement or if he wasn't completely confident in remembering my description of the basement layout.
I went down the first flight of stairs and stopped at the small landing before the stairs curved to the left. Turning around, I watched him come down the stairs until he reached the landing and I had to continue moving again so I wouldn't be tempted to just explain what little there was to explain right then and there to get this over with.
Going down next flight of steps were nothing more than a blur too, much like the flick of my finger I must have used to flip the switch on to illuminate the rest of the basement corridors at the base of the stairs. All that was registering was the soft creak of the cold hardwood flooring Squall's footsteps created behind me – namely because had this been three years ago, I wouldn't have heard him behind me walking on the matted and otherwise non-descript carpet that used to be down here. The walls were still the same cold steel-blue colour but my curiosity had been piqued all the same, my mind tempted to wander.
Tempted, but I tamped down the thoughts, knowing that indulging my curiosity would simply have to wait as I rounded the bend and briskly moved past the laundry room and rec room doors on either side of me. After going around the second bend, I quickly noticed that the spare room's door was opened and the light was already on. That kindness must have been Allison's doing, seeing as meticulous as my father was most of the time, he wasn't the type to think of simple courtesies like this – that and well there was the simple fact that he'd even said she'd laid out stuff for Squall on the bed. So yeah…
I waltzed through the door only to feel Squall collide into my back not even a moment later.
"…The hell?" he groused.
It was because I'd made a sudden full stop one step past the threshold. My thoughts had come back to haunt me in a matter of minutes; the old, beat-up yet comfy couch that I'd been planning to sleep on was replaced by a slick black desk and chair set – only the bed remained in the far right corner between the two small night tables, topped with what looked like some heather grey sweat pants, a plain white tee shirt and some toiletries in a re-sealable plastic bag.
Sighing, I unceremoniously plopped down into the new desk chair and swiveled it to the left. "Sorry…this desk is where a couch used to be." I explained. "I'd been planning to sleep in it tonight to let you have the bed all to yourself since it's just a double. Short of it being moved to the rec room we'd passed, we might have to share the bed unless if Allison pulls through for us fast."
Squall merely shrugged before closing the door behind him. "…Whatever. I don't really care." he answered, the resounding click of the door's lock echoing in my ears soon after. He turned to face me once more, standing perfectly still in front of the door with his arms loosely crossed. "…So?"
I loosely crossed my own arms. "My father's flying by the seat of his pants and if you knew him, that's a huge red flag right there. He doesn't know where the telepathy came from and he doesn't even know the deal is with me even though he definitely knows it came from his side of the family. He suspects that Odine might try to come for us even though there's nothing illegal about leaving this way since it was voluntarily. In short, this was basically a pre-emptive move and we're playing it by ear as far as you staying."
"…So in other words, we're thoroughly fucked." he dryly responded. "I'm not surprised."
"…Pretty much." I reluctantly admitted. "Did…Allison tell you anything?"
He shook his head. "It's nothing important."
Raising my feet up onto the chair, I uncrossed my arms and found myself hugging my legs close to me, my head rested on the tops of my bent knees. "Can I at least be the judge of that?" I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders right before he pulled the badger fleece sweater over his head, placing the sweater on the dresser to the right of the door. Slicking back his static-inflicted hair with the palm of his hand, or attempted to anyway, he turned back around to face me.
"He heavily questioned her about me before even considering bringing me here with you." he explained. "And apparently he's still leery on the idea even after going as far as running some kind of independent background check."
I loosened the hold on my knees slightly. "Hmm. Have a dark and shady past or something?"
"No." he immediately answered without so much as a second thought. "When Allison had asked if there was anything he could have been suspicious of, nothing came to mind so she asked if I could give her a brief run-down of my past before coming to the center instead."
"Nothing there either?"
He shook his head. "Apparently an animated stuffed animal who collects sci-fi memorabilia is more suspect than I am."
I smirked in spite of myself and the situation. "I know it's kinda moot point here but that 'animated stuffed animal' you're talking about is her husband. His name is Theo so you can, y'know, technically call him Teddy Bear if you want to be evil like Allison can be on occasion."
It only took him a split-second to groan; I allowed myself to revel in this trivial victory for a good moment before the realization of what Squall had said truly hit me.
"So…if you have no illegitimate children, nasty additions or a mile-long rap sheet, I guess that means there's more to this since he was open to us being on the same floor if Allison confirmed what I said was true." I sighed. "…On a completely different note, what are the odds that the couch was dragged to the rec room?"
Squall lackadaisically shrugged. "…Does it matter?"
"Eh. You're right. This wouldn't exactly qualify as 'defying' if I were to sleep there." I conceded. "Well, I mean, if you're ok with this."
"Like I said before, I don't care - I'll manage."
"You'll manage, huh?" I parroted, "You make it sound like I'm some kind of obstacle to overcome."
He walked over to the foot of the bed, bending slightly to pick up the bag of toiletries in one hand and the sleep clothes in the other. Shortly after righting himself, he tossed the bag right on top of the badger pullover he'd discarded earlier and bridged the gap between us with a few steps my way to hand me the set of clothes.
"…Is this some kind of peace offering?" I quizzically asked, only to cause him to give me an equally-quizzical look in return.
"No, it's something I don't need." he said. "I'm fine with what I'm wearing."
"…You sure?" It was probably a moot question to ask, but I figured I'd have to play this game to make sure he'd absolutely be ok with wearing those blue pyjama pants he'd had on since day 1 at the centre.
"Positive." he affirmed before heading towards the door. "Open the door when you're done changing so I know when to come back in."
With a click, he exited the room completely and precisely three thoughts popped up in my head.
The first was naturally to kick myself for not trying hard enough to figure out a way to ask about that tattoo on his rib cage now that I was able to see what it was.
The second was to reconsider that first thought, realizing that shoehorning in a question about a quote tattoo in a dead language – I took the liberty in assuming that much since I've never heard anyone say any of the words 'Si vis pacem, para bellum' in my life, never mind string them together in a phrase - might have been seen as a wholly unnecessary and non-vital time waster at god knows what hour this was currently.
Lastly, I wondered about what my father must have found or suspected about Squall even though I was truly running on empty at this point. It was one thing to muse about random things that did not affect my life whatsoever but this just sent an icy chill down my spine that I couldn't keep at bay through distraction.
After setting down the stuff Squall gave me on the desk and getting up from my seat, I removed my badger sweater and removed my stained shirt, leaving both things in an unceremonious heap in the still-warm task chair I'd been sitting in. I slipped on the shirt but kept my original bottoms just like Squall had because I didn't care like I normally would have; I also didn't care about the fact was wearing a black bra underneath this new white shirt, making it fairly noticeable. I was too busy imagining all the grim possibilities until I realized that Squall was probably waiting for me on the other side of the door since a few minutes had passed this way.
I slowly opened the door to let him in and if he'd been annoyed because of the wait, he certainly didn't show it – or at least the fatigue etched on his face hid it well. He walked through and I shut the door behind him, flicking the nearby light off a second later. He needed no guidance to the bed in the dark and neither did I – our bodies' respective cravings for sleep led us there without fail.
With my back facing his, we had a couple of inches between us so it wasn't as uncomfortable as I'd anticipated. Slowly but surely, I let my eyes close. A few more minutes passed and I'd suspected that he'd done the same, not to mention fall asleep altogether, judging by the lack of movement on his end when I heard the door creak open and quietly close a few seconds after that; I knew that much because Allison would have chatted us up about how her talk went down if it hadn't looked as if we'd both fallen sound asleep.
But then the door swung open again.