Ship and Anchor
I chant to myself that I won't get swept away.
I force myself to play along with life.
I just want to stay like this.
I want to go on.
On the vast sea, an aimless ship is bound to drift and a thousand-pound anchor will only plummet to the deepest of oceans.
[Side][My Most Beloved You][?]
Destruction. The city was left in crumble. No sign of survivors, no sign of life. Tall, glamorous skyscrapers were now just mounts of rubbles lying all over the broken avenues. Enormous clouds of smoke coiled their way through the air, up to the crimson sky of daybreak. Though her vision was obscured by those murky curtains, she knew the devastation only spread. She knew because everywhere she had passed was like this also …
Behind her, the Palace, once a prideful work of glass, was now … glass. Blood accumulated, dying the already red earth. Innumerable corpses of old and young lay poorly concealed under the wasted ruins. Who they had been wasn't important; the only thing that mattered was what they were. Humans. Weak, puny humans.
This horrid scene, was she responsible for this? She looked down. Clean, clean hands of milky white skin. Long, slender fingers adorned with … needle-like nails. Of course she was clean, her power had shielded her from any earthly filth. Not even her feet nor her toes were touching the dirty bloodstained ground. These pure wings glowing with white, since when had they materialized on her back? Maybe since that day they attacked, and she retaliated? Wait, wasn't it she who attacked, and they retaliated? Hm, she wasn't really sure. Everything was so blurry, and that was a nice contradiction with the acute senses she now had.
It was so quiet with only the crackling noise of burning fire in the background. No one was left, Esthar had fallen. Where should she go now?
There was a sound of glasses being crushed; another sound, and yet another coming from behind her. With grace that only she could exude, she turned around with the slightest effort from her wings and faced Him. She had spared him, only him. Why would she spare him? Had she even spared him at all? Memories were so hazy.
He was nearly in rags, yet still his valiant aura pervaded the air around him. He was covered with bruises and cuts, one particularly large gash was in his left shoulder, his arm hanging uselessly by his side, yet still he stood tall. He was without his jacket that he had never failed to put on every day. Ah, how she missed rubbing her palms against that white fur … Oh but, without the jacket, his powerful frame showed, with every masculine beauty it held. His white tank top, though dirty, fitted him so well, especially now in his weary state. And the chained necklace that rested with pride on his broad chest, Griever, the mighty lion. That name, how it suited him now.
He stood holding his trusty gunblade high – the weapon glowing with ethereal blue as if resonating with her wings, as it had many times before. She remembered this stance of his, such posture had made her feel safe standing behind. The sight of his broad back had imprinted into her mind, so deep she could image it if given a pen and paper. But now, seeing it from a certain different angle was so foreign.
His mane of smooth unruly brown hair that she had once ran through so lovingly was jagged and burnt along the edge. His face that would have rewarded her with one of his rare smiles was … contorted with anger and apoplectic with fury; his cheeks smeared with blood and tears. Gone were the gentle indigo in his stormy eyes, now he looked at her with an opaque gray gaze that was rimmed red with rage.
Some time back, he had developed a habit of single-handed wielding. He held his massive gunblade with only one hand now, which worked to the favor of his incapacitated arm.
Though he was armed, she wasn't afraid. Not because she knew his weapon was only capable of melee combat, but because she knew he would never pull that trigger even if the weapon ranged kilometers. He seemed to realize her calling his bluff and dropped his stance, hanging his head low. Time heavily dragged by before he suddenly tensed and swung his blade down into a half-destroyed lamppost. A bang rang out, much like the millions of gunshots that had been aimed at her, but she didn't need to block or evade this time. A single bullet shell landed on the ground near her feet. He had pulled the trigger upon slashing the material, blowing it into … smithereens. Now where did that word pop up from?
"Why?" He bellowed hoarsely, still facing the ground. Slowly, he lifted his face to her, his expression a mixture of despair and agony, expecting an answer. "Why?" His voice was nearly a whisper now, but her sharp ears found no hardship in understanding him. "Balamb and now … Esthar … everyone … everyone's … Why did you kill them? … Why … do you kill?"
Well, because they were all trying to kill her, weren't they? Wait, that wasn't really the reason. Not really, actually, no. She just had power so she simply used it. She bent down and picked up the bullet, bringing it up to her eyelevel for a shallow examination. The shell was still warm from the explosion and – she rolled it between her fingers – black with the residue of gunpowder. These bullets had been designed with just enough powder, yet there was still some after discharge. He must not be taking very good care of his ammo.
"Unjunction Eden!" He shouted. "R-Rinoa, please! It's not too late."
But it was. She couldn't remember. Only him, he was the only one she knew, so she spared him. She dropped the shell, letting it clatter into the sea of shards underneath her. Noticing that her fingers had been blackened by gunpowder, she tried to rub it off but the smear only faded a little. Her clean hand, dirtied. So many cities, so many armies. No one was able to penetrate her shapeless shield, and she had stayed stainless, yet he … Only him. No one else.
She looked back to him as he stood in silence. Oh, she hadn't told him why, had she? Well, she didn't really have the answer, so she just smiled at him. If she expressed her cluelessness, maybe he could help her work out this riddle that was herself.
She saw his pupils dilated for a moment before his brows drew together in bitter anger. Why? What had he perceived from her smile? He shook his head violently and activated his GFs, she could feel his physical body strengthening with the rare spells stored within. An act of ascendancy? Impudent. She was the strongest, no one else, no one else but her!
Her wings spread out dangerously, shedding a few feathers of tainted purity. He dragged the tip of his blade through the terrain and charged at her, determination flickered in his eyes. No one but her. She curled her fingers, quenching an invisible entity that only she could see and she pulled, dragged. He slowed, realizing what was happening, and put a hand to his head. With an aggravated groan, he shook and fought to keep the source of his power.
She levitated several bulky objects and hurled them at him. Despite still suffering her torment, he skillfully dodged and jumped, making his way past the obstacles she had raised against him. He swirled and spun with such ease and vigor, almost as if he was dancing. Dancing … ah, she remembered, how gorgeous he had looked on that fateful night. Even now, without any grooming, he was stunning still. But he was showcasing a tad too much of his prowess, threatening her supremacy. Only she had the right to power. Cold heat ran along her face as she raised her hand and crystallized ice out of thin air. With not an ounce of hesitation, the transparent spears headed straight for him. Though caught by surprise, he managed to evade them all.
He glanced once at his limped left arm as if it were a hindrance and invoked the entity residing within him. The limb immediately burst aflame and began moulding into the shape of large beastly claws. Fire illusively protruded from his head, giving him the slightest semblance of the infernal deity.
Though she could simply change her element and end this quickly, she didn't. Arrogance was thick at the front of her mind and she launched another round of ice at him, this time with greater number. With just a swing of his arm, not only did he evaporate all of her attacks, a fireball was simultaneously thrown back at her. She just scoffed and gracefully folded her wing to block it. The weak blast was insignificant, like a pebble tapping on steel door, but … it obstructed her view of him. Realization came too late and she only had time to back-step in haste before golden blades licked over her face. Those fiery claws didn't hurt her but … The shame! She had gotten pushed back. How dare he try to overpower her? Pride ignited her power and she back-slapped him with her wing, hard. He was sent flying down to a lower ground, but instantly propelled himself back up to his feet with little effort.
She gritted her teeth and summoned the ice once more. Every thrust he eluded only fueled her anger further and she kept at him. His time was almost up, he was bound to lose. However, just to be sure, she leisurely raised her hand, Apocalyp- In a split second, he was but a step away from her, with fire looming over his figure. She had underestimated him. Her reflex conjured up a pitiful pole of ice … just when his fire died out. Glee of victory swept through her as the ice pierced right through him with a wet sound, leaving an unsightly hole in his stomach. Shame, she was aiming for his heart … Heart …
Squall's blade will pierce my heart …
Blood poured out from the wound, yet he paid it no heed. As he swung the mighty weapon, the chain of his necklace clanged - a sound that jolted her heart. Metal clanging. Her necklace that was so petite compared to his … she too had Griever.
I guess it's okay if it's you, Squall.
"It's okay …" She muttered softly, raising her hand to find the familiar comfort of her beloved's ring. "If … it's-" Before her hand could touch what it was seeking, she felt a jarring force thrust through her. As she heard the blade grating pass her bones, pain flared out at her chest. She blinked out of the reminiscence to see his shadowed face, his fading scar, so close. He was towering over her, and she craned towards his hot breaths. He was panting both from fighting and from the tears that he was biting back. He had done it. He had done something that both of them thought impossible.
Moist warmth spread out from her chest as she leaned into him. He collapsed, bringing her down to knees with him … or was it the other way around? Nonetheless, she felt a strong arm behind her back, squeezing her. It made the pain worsen, but she didn't want him to stop. She sucked in a breath, taking in as much of his scent as possible. With weak fingers, she clawed at him and relished the feel of his lips and breaths on her neck. He didn't dare take the gunblade out, and she didn't know whether to chide or thank him for that.
Shaking, he mumbled like a broken record into her ear It's going to be fine, love. It's going to be fine. Since when had he become such a liar? But she didn't mind. Her wings endearingly embraced him, trying to protect him from nonexistent dangers, before dispersing into a million spheres of light and disappeared completely.
Squall, if that ever happens …
He hadn't let her finish that. And now, she didn't remember what she had wanted to say then. Would she have known what she had wanted to say had he not stopped her? It didn't matter now. Nothing did. It was getting so hard just to breathe. With blood bubbling from her mouth, she croaked. "Squall …" He became taut, probably from hearing his name voiced by her after so long. True, it felt unfamiliar for her too, but it was also so natural on her tongue. She blocked out the metallic tang in her nostril and scratched his neck lovingly, playing with his swathe of hair.
"… love you …" She crooned shakily as her eyes fought to stay focused. He gently pushed her back with utmost care and shifted her into his lap. She didn't protest, although the sword through her heart was a bit of a discomfort. With every weakening beat, pain would sear over and over inside her. Her heart's own beating was killing her. The only reason she was still conscious right now was because of the monstrous power inside her. Ironically, she was thanking this power she so hated, she thanked it for letting her have these precious final moments with him.
His strong arms cradled her frail form while steadying the gunblade to relief her of as much pain as possible. Not much though, it still hurt so much. She wished he would just pull it out already, this excruciating torture. But she knew he wouldn't. What a selfish man he was.
He stared down at her, freely shedding tears now. The hot drops landed on her cheeks scorched in a way that no fire could. Don't make that pained face. She wanted to raise her hand wipe his tears away. How much she wanted to. But she couldn't, and she could only cry as his rough hand softly caressed her cheek. He bent down to her, careful not to move the blade resting in her chest, and grazed his chapped lips over hers. It was the softest and sweetest thing ever.
"If …" She mumbled into his mouth, her fingers somehow managed to glide their tips over his chin. But in actuality, she only wanted to trace along that beautifully carved scar of his.
"No, don't try to speak, Rinoa." He said, spluttering blood. He was also severely injured, and she was the one who had caused it. Cupping her face in his palms, he pleaded. "Stay with me. We can start again … from the beginning."
"… there's anything … I regret." She carried on – his plea unheard. "It's … not being able … to hold … your child in these … arms."
He watched her in horrified consternation, not because of her but because of what was happening to her. She could feel it too. "No, look at me, Rinoa." He cried powerlessly, his voice on the verge of breaking. Silly man, she could never stop staring at him even if she wanted to. He was the only one to have made her feel this way. Holding her face close to his so that their noses touched, he continued to weep uncharacteristically, and guilt bit at her. She was the one who had caused him such agony, but no matter how much remorse she had, she could never be there to atone for her sin. A wry smile tugged at her lips in reply to his devastated expression. She wanted to look at him some more, to engrave his looks into her memory for eternity. His scar, the proof of his impulsiveness; his eyes, ashy orbs that she so marveled. She clung to his image, clung hard with every last bit of strength she could muster before her consciousness faded into darkness.
Hyne, I beseech you, salvage this poor man.
[Side][Our Lover's Quarrel][A]
-Cycle or Spiral-
"Yes, I'm heading to her room now." He spoke into his phone, appreciating the convenience the device offered. Just years ago, when Adel was still sealed outside the atmosphere and all radio transmission activities had ceased. Now, it was so much easier to communicate. "Please do."
He closed and pocketed the phone, his expression turning grim. Last night hadn't ended on a very good note. He knew she would forgive him if he apologized, but he couldn't help but wonder how she could do so again and again. If it were him … But she wasn't him, hence why he had gotten away with it so many times. It wasn't like he didn't want her to forgive him, but shouldn't there be some kind of challenge? Wasn't it usually like that in movies? The guy made some stupid mistake and the girl was mad at her lover and all hell broke loose with a series of drama and whatnots … Okay, he should probably ban Selphie from force-feeding him anymore of those third-rate dramas. He sighed, looking out through the large window of his Garden to watch the early twilight.
It was just too easy to earn her forgiveness and after repeating this stupid routine over and over, he didn't know if there was any meaning to his words at all.
"Squall, you forgot about our date again!" She had whined, her cheeks flushed with anger. And, Hyne helped him, he had just been back from a tiring negotiation with Dollet; she had interrupted his much needed sleep. He had lashed out at her and so easily sent her away in tears. Now that he had no desire for rest, it all seemed so stupid in his mind. Sleep and Rinoa, which was more important, the choice was so damn obvious. But … the choice had been obvious then too. Last night, he could have very well admitted that he craved sleep. Her voice, normally so lovely, had sounded so damn annoying when she had rudely barged in on him, and nothing could have kept his temper in check.
He hadn't even felt guilty about it … until morning greeted. As soon as his memory had returned to him, he had been filled with dread. Of all the times they fought, this was the, by far, the worst. Hyne, with each time it felt like the worst. It could just be him, but it could also be that their relationship was a stretching rubber band, which got one step closer to snapping every time they fought.
Why were relationships so troublesome? It used to be so simple when he was still a lone wolf. He didn't exactly miss being alone, just … why? He let out yet another sigh and stabbed a hand through his hair. Bringing his gaze towards the direction of his destination, he nervously rubbed his mouth. Why was he idling? He should go to her as soon as possible. It wasn't like she would chase him out without hearing his apology … would she? … Of course she wouldn't.
He snorted to himself and started his pace. Although he needed to make haste, he still walked as to not break the no-running rule in the hallway … Yes, he was only procrastinating. He was the Commander, no one would dare to say a word even if he drove the Garden's car around campus, let alone him violating that stupid excuse of a rule. The truth was that he was afraid of how she would act. He kept telling himself everything was not as serious as it seemed but it didn't work. His mind still conjured up the most bizarre and ridiculous events possible, and every of which ended in their breaking up. He knew everything he had thought of was nigh impossible, but still he feared. What a joke. All of Garden's mental training he'd been through and not one could have prepared him for his overactive imagination.
Stopping at the entrance to the dormitory, he groaned softly. He should stop dilly-dallying. He was wrong to have shouted at her, and he would apologize even if she might blast him out of her room right after.
With determination packed to the brim, he darted into the dorm. Every step he took on filled his confidence. Even if he was always the one to trigger their falling out, every word of his apology was true, and that was all that mattered.
That, however … when he finally arrived at her doorstep and was going to knock on the obstructing object, he became something similar to a trembling kid – whatever determination he might have had had petered away to nothingness. The vacant hole that his confidence left behind now welled with baseless fright. He could have laughed at this situation that so much reminded him of a poorly-written comedy. Getting cold-feet after a three-minute walk, what a nice stroke to his faltering ego.
Maybe he could talk to her tomorrow-
A plaintive scream pierced through the silence of the morning, shaking his entire being. Though muffled, the evidential pain and agony it carried was unmistakable. Fear gripped at him as he slammed his hands at the door shouting her name. "Rinoa?" But there were no response. "Rinoa, answer me." He began to panic, scanning the area for some sort of way to get to her, or at least someone who could help him do so. No one was around – the ultimate privilege he gained from rising early now his woe. Glancing back to the door, he ran his body into it over and over only to experience growing powerlessness. What was this damned blockage made of that his Ultima junctioned strength couldn't even dent?
Anger brewed from his failed attempts and he stepped back, holding out his hand to the door. 'Flare.' He chanted wordlessly with knitted brows, feeling overwhelming hate for the inanimate door that was preventing him from getting to his Rinoa. A swirling ball of energy began to form and grow at the center of the door, seemingly harmless until it erupted with a loud bang. Bright light swallowed up everything for a moment before smoke clouded his vision.
"Rinoa!" He darted through the gradually clearing smoke, shouting for her.
"Squall?" Her beseeching call pulled at his attention. It assured him that she was still there, but also filled him with dread. He directed his gaze to her bedroom door. She was in there, frightened by something. What could it have been? Was it an enemy? Followers of the anti-group who had been targeting her? How did they find the Garden? Questions flooded his mind as he ran towards the sound of her desperate voice. "Squall!" Her desperate voice sounded once more and his heart thundered. Preparing himself for whatever it was he would find on the other side of her bedroom door, he stretched out his hand.
However, before he could get his hand onto the recognition pad, the door swished open and he received a sudden blow to his chest. Taken by surprise, he lost his balance and fell back. For just a moment, dark locks entered his sight and it was instantly registered in his mind: the needed to protect. His arms wrapped around that familiar petite body and drew her to his chest, shielding her from any harm before his back collided painfully with the ground. Air left his lungs in rush, making him cough involuntarily.
Squall didn't give himself the luxury to stay still, immediately getting up on his elbow to look into her room, anticipating any kind of attacks. Inside, he perceived, was slightly shaded with morning light slicing in from behind the window curtain. Her bed was in disorder, with her many pillows scattered all over the floor. And … that was it, no sign of any hostiles.
He glanced back to the girl trembling in his hold. Looking at the state she was in, he was thoroughly convinced that something had freaked her out, it just … wasn't there anymore.
"Rinoa, did something happen?" He asked to be sure, but she just shook her head and buried it further into the crook of his neck. "Was there someone?"
No answer. He took one last look at her bedroom before embracing her quivering form and lay down. With much care, he slowly lowered his shoulder, letting her stay on top of him. It occurred to him that she was crying, and although still very much confused by the pace of events, he knew she was scared. He awkwardly raised a hand to her back, hesitating. But, feeling the hard grip she had on his shirtfront and her sobbing on his skin, every bit of his reluctance disappeared and he began rubbing circles on her back, trying to ease her discomfort.
As long as there was no danger, he guessed they could stay like this for a bit. He sighed, suppressing the adrenaline that still pumped in his system and wrapped his other arm around her also. Reacting to his enfoldment, she clung to his neck and slid her delicate fingers into his hair, stroking his scalp time and time again.
He pivoted his head and indulged himself in her soft scented mass, kissing her ear gently. Appreciating the feel of her body, he bent one of his legs to find a more comfortable position. Although he knew very well this was neither the time nor the place, he couldn't exactly ignore the pressure she was putting on his …
"Commander! Rinoa! Are you two okay?" He heard a voice he recognized and whipped his head towards the door … or what used to be the door, just in time to see his trusted assistant running in. "I heard an explo- … sion …" The brunette trailed off. Shock flashed over her face as she gripped the report she had been planning to give him and back-stepped in a daze. Squall swallowed, his jaw working for words of explanation. However, just as sudden as her arrival, Xu put on a faint understanding smile and placed the documents onto the shelf nearby. Then, she daintily closed her eyes and turned to leave.
Realization dawned on him and hastily said. "No, it's not-" But she was long gone.
"No no no. Back inside now. Off you go. Shoo shoo. Nothing to see here." Xu's mildly ordering voice drifted in from the hallway. "All is fine. Don't mind the mess, just leave. Go."
He could have slapped himself. The position him and Rinoa were in was simply asking for misunderstandings, no thanks to her way of dressing for the night. Her top was a black button-up shirt, which he remembered had gone missing from his wardrobe. The piece of clothing reached halfway over her naked thighs, creating the illusion that she wasn't wearing a bottom-butshewas. A very short pair of … well, shorts that was only enough to conceal her groin from view. She was hugging him, her hips placed quite nicely at a certain place … and she was panting … from crying.
Remind him to give Rinoa a dressing down … No pun.
Just as his mind was in a conflict named delighted misery, Rinoa shifted to get up, gaining his full attention. She lifted her face slightly to look down at him, and he saw that her eyes were swollen. Her necklace hanging from the nape of her neck dangled in the space between them, reminding him of their bond that he had so many times threatened. Guilty was not enough to describe how he felt. She sniffed once and rubbed her eyes, hiding her face in the process. Not wanting her to do anymore damage to her eyes, he quickly, but gently, stopped her. She resisted a little when he pulled at her arms, but gradually complied and let him cup her cheeks in his palms.
He really shouldn't have raised his voice against her no matter how much fatigue he might have suffered. Her hair was in knots, her lips were dry, and her eyes were still brimming with unshed tears; her distraught expression promising to haunt him for nights to come. She seemed so shaken, so pale. Looking at the state she was in only condemned him to greater torment. He lightly ran his gloved thumbs over the puffy bags under her eyes, wishing that he could turn back time and undo the harsh words.
If she was still reproaching him, her expression didn't show it. Instead, she seemed almost … grateful as she traced his jaw with the tips of her fingers, giving him a small smile. "… You're here." She muttered weakly.
"Yeah, I'm here." He assured her, slipping his fingers into her hair to untangle the stubborn knots.
She grabbed his hands, pushing them against her cheek and closed her eyes. Seconds silently ticked pass and she opened her lids to look at him, her brown orbs searching. With a soft whimper, she confessed. "… I had a nightmare." She squeezed at his hands slightly as she said so, drifting her gaze to somewhere far away, probably thinking about her restless sleep.
No more needed to be said. He knew what kind of nightmare it was and why she had it. She had shared with him once, the ominous dreams about her going mad with power.
Rinoa eased off him a bit to let him get up. As soon as he got into a sitting position, she dropped back down, into his lap almost hastily and ensconced herself there. He just quietly snaked his arms around her and rested his chin onto her head. "It's okay now." His husky voice then nearly turned meek. "I'm … sorry."
He didn't really know what to say. What could he say? Being her Knight, his duty was to protect her from anything and anyone that may hurt her, heart and body. But what was he to do when she was the one hurting herself with mere imaginations? Then again, he could never have the confidence to tell her that the nightmares were insignificant, because he was responsible for most of her emotional scars and because … he too had those nightmares.
From time to time, he would wake up, shaking with so many overwhelming emotions. He knew how it felt and he knew she had it worse.
Rinoa sat in utter silence. She didn't want to move, hadn't the strength to. She just wanted to stay like this for a little more, wrapped inside his warm embrace, to let his calming heartbeats assure her of the present, to let the gradual rise and fall of his chest lull the vivid images in her mind to sleep. She needed distraction from her anxiety – these unfounded dark thoughts.
Baseless? It had been so real, the pain, the smell of blood, the sight of his weary body. Too real. Should she just think nothing of it? Could she? Was it premonition? Impossible. Of all the things Ultimecia was capable of with Time magic, the woman had never been able to foretell the future. Having just recently inherited the sorceress' power, there was no way she could develop that kind of ability. Not her, she couldn't even cast a decent spell without losing her consciousness.
But then, she didn't see herself ignoring that nightmare. In that gruesome dream, everything she knew was gone, destroyed by her own hands. So many times she had dreamt of her going insane, but this was the first … She had seen her death and most probably his demise also. She had stabbed Squall without an iota of hesitation. Squall, her Knight, her love, without remorse. It was the worst kind of horror. If that was truly the future she had seen … She couldn't bring herself to believe it. She sank deeper into his embrace, one hand clutching his jacket tightly while the other fondling the two rings on her necklace.
In respond to her movement, Squall also shifted. She heard him taking a deep breath, felt his hand squeezing her shoulder. Gazing up to his throat, she saw him swallowed. He wanted to say something. She found the smallest bit of humor at the situation and managed a weak tug at the corners of her lips. 'One.' He exhaled deeply. 'Two.' He gently rocked her, running his palm along her biceps. 'Three'.
"… I love you." He finally said.
He had no idea how much those three little words meant to her – they were the reason why she smiled. She knew he loved her but hearing him say so had always had a certain effect on her. Maybe she was simple to be asking for so little from him, but that was all she wanted – for him to confirm his feelings again and again.
She quietly laughed at his heart which had gotten a tad faster with its rhythm. How she loved this side of him. He was never the romantic type and much less of a smooth-talker. Hyne, he hardly talked at all. But the way he expressed his love for her, how he was always so awkward, so clumsy with his feelings … she adored them.
Feeling so blissfully secured, she didn't even remember how mad she had been with him last night. With all the godly titles plastered over him, he was still only human, a mortal that she loved. He made mistakes and repented, and she simply forgave. And every time they repeated this silly habit, they grew one step closer to each other.
She detached herself from his strong chest. He noticed her push and complied, loosening his embrace but never letting go. As he looked down to her, she cupped his handsome face and gave his cheek an endearing stroke. "I love you." Taking a lingering look at the scar slicing down on his forehead, she closed the gap between them and placed a soft kiss on his lips. He tensed for a moment, but quickly relaxed and pushed for a deep kiss. He titled his head in a fraction of an inch, rubbing his nose against her – his dizzyingly hot breath landed on her cheek, as did hers on his.
They soon parted, ending the short sweetness. He ran his thumb along her lower lip, the corner of his mouth twitching a little. Really, three years and he was still so reserved. They had a long way to go. But for now, she was contented with just that. She was so happy, any remaining images of the nightmare had been blurred by this little scenario.
Then, Squall attempted to pull away but she was quicker, locking her fingers behind his neck. Smiling at his confused look, she pressed her forehead against his and closed her eyes.
Her lips stretched further, nearly tuning into a grin as she felt him pushing her hair behind her ear. His hand ran though her silken fall and along the back of her neck, raising a comfortable kind of goose bumps on her sensitive skin. She cringed slightly from the ticklish feeling and let out a small giggle, climbing out of his lap in a hurry. He gave her a rare smirk that dewed his expression in smugness. As her eyes fixated on the wonder that was his smile, her bare feet stepped onto a dustily gritty surface. Rudely pulled from her stupor, she spun around to face with … an exaggerated extension of the entrance to her room.
"You screamed …" She heard him coughing awkwardly from behind her. "I thought the worst and just had to get in."
Scanning the floor of her rubble-scattered room, she could tell he had used an obscene amount of power just to break down her door. Rinoa closed her agape mouth and turned back to a very troubled Squall. "Squall," she chimed, her voice so sweet it was almost mellifluous. "I remember giving you a key …" And she let the sentence hang.
Amusement rose from watching him freeze, and she fought hard to keep her Cheshire cat grin inside. Getting up on his feet while avoiding her scrutinizing gaze, he mumbled. "… I don't think I have it with-" He was cut off when she suddenly approached him. Perplexity shot through his normally broody face as he took a defensive stance, but she easily slid her hand into his jacket. As she fished out a card from his inward-pocket – a keycard to be precise, his shoulder slumped in defeat.
He habitually put a hand to his forehead and looked away. She simply smiled. 'One. Two. Three.'
"Whatever." She said along with him, making his tone of finality sounded more like a joke. And he glared at her defensively.
She could have died from laughing. Considering how he was such a mystery when she first saw him, he had become quite very predictable. She wholeheartedly understood why Quistis seemed so proud every time the woman successfully foresaw his reactions.
Squall frowned uncomfortably at her knowing smile, obviously trying to hide his embarrassment. "I panicked." He admitted dryly.
Alright, she wouldn't want to hurt his Leonhart pride more than necessary. "I don't mind the mess." Craning up to his face, she pecked playfully at his cheek. "It shows how much you care for me, Commander."
[Side][Requiem for My Most Beloved You][?]
He had never really known the word agony until now.
Every city, every town she left behind was a bloody graveyard. From active anti factions to unwitting backwater villages, regardless of menace, regardless of hostility, she simply killed. She was addicted to using her power. With only a year's length, she leisurely traveled, wandering without an aim, indiscriminately slaughtered any living being that entered her sight. Everything that he'd known, everything that she'd loved destroyed by her alone. It was as if friends and family meant nothing to her. He meant nothing to her. She didn't know how much that hurt.
He had finally understood how serious the consequence of using GFs was. Had he known, he would never have left that sacrosanct deity with her that day. In hindsight, his idiocy only seemed more prominent. That cold winter night, she had been unstable physically and mentally, and still he had left her alone. The following year was hell.
One by one, he had watched powerlessly as they fell. His loved ones, his allies, people who had depended on him. He had done everything to prevent their deaths, but defending had never been enough to protect. His late father had collapsed onto his knees and begged him to take actions. He never did. And now, he knelt in front of his last family in disbelief. The city had crumbled, just as his home had – a whole civilization perished in one single day. The final stronghold had fallen, it might just be world end tomorrow, and he would be responsible for it.
One bad decision, an array of wrong moves. Still, he refused to accept the fact that he had been wrong. Why would she have to die for the world? To a Knight, his Sorceress's needs overruled all else.
Yet, glancing at the carnage around him, he felt his belief wavering. No, he was not wrong, there had to be some other way. He had to stop this. There had got to be another way.
He wearily rose to his feet, staggering a little. He felt so heavy, so exhausted. He didn't want to move, didn't even want to think, but he did. Dragging his feet through the edgy ground, he made his way forward, with a myriad of thoughts swirling at the front of his mind. He saw his weapon buried under what was left of the magnificent Palace. Slowly, he let go of his limped arm and bent down to grab the worn hilt. Rubbing his forefinger over the trigger, he continued on his trek. He didn't want to use it, had prayed that he wouldn't have to use it. But he knew he had to, sooner or later. Selfishly, he had chosen later and brought on this tragedy to the world.
As long as you don't get your hopes up … You feel less pain.
But he did. He hoped, wishing with every fiber of his being that this was all a very long nightmare. And how much he'd been hurt by his inane wish.
Pulled by the calling of their bond, he climbed over the wreckage of the Ragnarok and landed onto a sea of shards. Before him, just across the street was her, his Sorceress. She was floating with her back to him, empyreal white wings quiescently spread and folded. She seemed so peaceful just standing there, so much like an angel. In a daze, he stepped towards her, eager for her to turn and smile at him like she used to. They could talk; he would tell her everything, from his most inner thoughts to sweet nothingness. He knew how much she loved it when she was the only one he confided in. Then everything would be fine again, they could return to how they used to be.
Her still form twitched in the slightest acknowledgement, and she turned around, spinning on her feet as thought walking on air. What he saw drowned him with disappointment and reality came as a punch to his face.
She was still the same, but had also changed so much. Her hair had grown so long after a year uncut – the smooth fall swaying gently behind her even when there was no wind. Her dyed blond locks had almost faded completely, leaving him reminiscing about how he had once traced his finger along them. Alabaster skin that glowed with an opalescent hue, graceful wings that exuded a supernal aura. She possessed such heavenly features, it was almost unimaginable that she could be capable of killing. Yet … Golden irises like those of a predator, ominous blue tattoos that ran down her cheeks and naked arms, an empty smile thinly veiling menace. He was cruelly reminded that she was not his Rinoa.
On her was still the gorgeous wedding dress she had worn the day he last seen her as … herself. The pearly white dress looked just like it had been before everything went wrong, before blood drenched her stomach and she cried out … not just from pain. And few days later, she was fearfully called the Angel of Death.
Remembering the events of that damned night brought a rush of anger over him and he found strength to heft the massive Lionheart towards her. To be forced to point a blade at someone he was supposed to protect, how could Fate be so cruel? His hand began to shake uncontrollably, making his stance seemed more like joke.
In contrast with his overemotional state, she hovered so calmly, watching him with unreadable eyes. How he missed her gentle brown orbs that would leave her open like a book for him.
He lowered the gunblade to his side and let his head hang, trying to keep his cool. There was no point trying to intimidate her, he still couldn't hurt her even after everything, and somehow, he knew she knew so too. A SeeD was trained to kill Sorceresses, a SeeD was never meant to hesitate. Maybe he had stopped being a true SeeD upon loving her. The path of a mercenary was a path of solitude, it had been so perfect for him until she came along and broke down his walls. Did he regret it? Sometimes, he was convinced he did, feeling so much hatred for the woman he'd loved, but in the end, he only realized he cherished every moment they had spent together.
Thinking of those happy days, he couldn't help but feel bitter about the present and he lashed out at an object nearby. He just had to destroy something.
"Why?" He asked, knowing that there was no valid answer to his question.
She never replied, as he had expected. Instead, she gave him a smile. A maddened smile that told him how clueless she was. As her lips continued to curl mindlessly, he thought he saw a lone tear rolled down from the corner of her eyes. It was then that he truly understood one thing. She never wanted any of this, she was not at fault. It was the world that made her like this. She was only an innocent trying to survive. He would never kill her for the world.
No matter what happens.
With newfound determination, he charged at her. Like a wounded animal, she retaliated.
Even if you become the world's enemy.
He would protect her. So many times he had let her down, had forsaken her, still now, he shamelessly declared, he would protect her. Because it was his duty and because she was everything to him.
I'll be your Knight.
A Knight's duty was to protect his Sorceress. Therefore, he would never kill her for the world.
Ignoring the pain on the side of his stomach, he thrust. In a swift moment, he saw her hesitated, saw her unfocused eyes, saw her reaching for her neck – for Griever, and knew she was returning to him. A GF's influence was never permanent. Still he didn't stop, for once he decided not to hesitate. The sharp blade jutted out from her back and he waited for a scream, but it didn't come. She only looked at him with thankful eyes, and he knew he had finally done right.
He would kill her for … her.
As he knelt in the heart of the purgatory cradling her limp body, dry wind gently flowed. He was once again alone. His tears had stopped, ending the swift selfishness that had swelled inside him to finally let her go in peace. Soon, he would follow her. With care, he took the blade out of her chest, still fearing she would hurt, and discarded it to the side. Lifting her up, he maneuvered his way to the Ragnarok, the nearest shelter, and sat down under it with Rinoa safely on his lap.
He spat out the blood gurgling in his throat and turned back to her, watching her divine beauty. Taking her two rings into his hand, he brought them to his lips.
"Rinoa, you know where to go, right? I'll be waiting."
Believing that he would once again be able to see her, he closed his eyes.
-Ship and Anchor-
"Xu, nothing happened. I request that you kindly stop smiling behind my back." He said, not taking his eyes of the report.
"I assure you sir, I am not smiling." Came the brunette's humorless answer.
"… Wasn't it you who advised everyone to reduce the GFs' usage?" She inquired quite smoothly after fixing her breathing rhythm.
"Did something happen?" The piloting SeeD asked curiously from above them.
"Mind on the road!" Squall snapped back, giving his assistance a warning glare.
"We're offshore, Commander." The SeeD boldly pointed out.
"It's nothing, Nida. He's only a bit disgruntled." Xu said, wearing a brilliant smile that could only be taken as a mean to aggravate him further. But, as if she'd had her fill of fun, the girl quickly shifted into working mode and continued. "All jokes aside, what do you think, Squall? If we sign the deal with Dollet then half of our SeeDs will be dispatched. We'll be quite vulnerable."
"A deal it is. Stall the transportation for two more days and contact the White SeeDs, ask them to hurry to the rendezvous. We're hastening the merging plan." Squall gave his instruction, happy to be treated seriously again. He reached for the pen lying on the table nearby and scratched his signature onto the contract. "… What date is it today?" He asked, looking up from the pad he was holding. Xu seemed to stiffen as she darted her eyes around the room. He tilted his head, his mind trying to crack the logic as to why she wasn't giving him the information he needed like she always did.
"Um … it's …" She trailed, almost fidgeting in place.
"… Never mind, it's the twenty-third, isn't it?" He finally remember and brought his attention back to the paper in his hand, giving no further concern for the sigh of relief the other SeeD was heaving.
"Squall, incoming call from Esthar." He was informed as he was handing Xu the contract.
He could just scream in frustration. The last thing he needed now was a meddlesome parent checking up on him. "Tell them I'm not here." He said with resolution, turning to leave to make his statement true.
"It's Kiros, sir." Nida inputted.
"… Fine, get him on the line." He exhaled, putting a hand onto his hip. He guessed it couldn't be help, Kiros probably had something to propose, or at least something important to say. In fact, anything would be more serious than that man's Hiya, son. Turning to the terminal, he watched wordlessly as the black screen flashed once and displayed the image of a dark skinny man. Kiros smiled nervously at him, raising a questioning brow from him. Before he could voice his confusion, the man cleared his throat.
"Good day, Squall …" Kiros said almost apologetically. "My deepest apologies. I hope this won't affect our future communications."
The situation hit him at the speed of a Cactuar as the skinny man moved away from the camera. Behind him, Xu barely held in a burst of laughter when a long-haired man stepped in front of the camera, even Nida was poorly hiding his snickering.
"Hiya, son!" Laguna happily waved at him, beaming a smile unbecoming of his age. "Xu, how are you? And Nida too, though I can't see you."
Putting a hand to his head, Squall turned away slightly and let out a sigh. "… Whatever." He mumbled, inwardly cringing upon hearing his two subordinates chuckling. He knew everyone had some sort of conditioned reaction to his habit of speech, but he found it very hard to just stop using it.
"I'm just fine, Mr. President." Xu nodded politely. As she said so, the elevator descended and brought the male SeeD down to join them. "I'm doing great, sir." He greeted.
"Aren't you supposed to be flying Garden?"
"Autopilot. Installed it myself, Commander." The SeeD smiled confidently, receiving a death glare from his superior. Seemingly to get that Squall wasn't in the mood to tolerate slacking off, Nida compliantly rode the elevator back up to his position.
Kneading his forehead, Squall turned back to the terminal and growled. "What do you want?"
"Aw, come on." The older man whined, spreading his arms as if waiting for a hug. "You're at this age and I still haven't got to hear the word dad. Now, don't be shy, call me d-"
"Hang up, Nida." He grated out the order, scowling.
"No, waitwaitwait!" Laguna desperately plead, but he paid it no heed.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Don't terminate the line! I wanted to know your location!" His father hastily held out his hands in a useless attempt to stop him. "That's all, your location! Y'know, just a simple coordinate. Better yet, you can even give me half of it and I'll have a Ragnarok scan for you. Or … or even a hint of where you are, I'd love a riddle …" The man eventually faltered, his bright smile waning. "Squall … stop looking at me like that. Geez, HD makes your glare seem really scary over here."
"Why?" Squall asked staidly, crossing his arms. Over the passed few years, Laguna's antics had become less annoying to him, and he feared he was getting used to them. However, that didn't exactly lessen his harshness towards the man.
"W-well …" Laguna stuttered as he connected his fingertips and averted his gaze. "I can't … really … tell ya that."
Did the man have common sense? When people requested something like that, regardless of relationships, they would prepare a plausible reason. At least something like I want to visit my son, not that Squall would ever approve to that kind of reasoning. "Goodbye." He said offhandedly.
"Nonono, I-I just want to visit my son." Laguna hurriedly changed his answer. "T-that's right. Maybe you and I could have a little t-"
Nice try, a kid might have fallen for that. "I decline. We've just met last week." He interjected coolly, refraining from rolling his eyes.
"But that was a meeting. You only stayed for the discussion and left right afterwards!" The older man whined. "Come on, Squall. Why are you so stubborn? What's wrong with me coming?"
True, he himself didn't see the problem either. But he didn't want to change his decision, not with so many people watching, and definitely not when it was to indulge his father's unknown wanting. However, before he could reach out to terminate the line himself, Laguna's attention was drawn by something to the left of the camera.
"Hm? Oh, you've traced their location? Good job, Ward." The man gave his friend a thumb up, and turned back to the screen. "Ah, well. I'll be leaving you to your work now."
Snapping out of his stupor, Squall said with grim menace. "Laguna, if a Ragnarok I don't recognize comes within our range, I'll have it shot down. I swear, it will-"
"Right, Ellone will be with me. See you tonight, son." And the screen went black.
That was low. Resisting the urge to smash the terminal, he sharply turned around to glare at the woman who was doing an obscenely good job at keeping her laughter inside. Her expression didn't even show, but her quickening heartbeats were telltale. Not to mention the snickering SeeD sitting at the pilot seat. Sometimes, he wondered if anyone had any respect left for him. "Take care of things while I'm gone." Sighing to compose himself, he quickly left. He didn't mind seeing Sis again, but with Laguna tagging along … He exhaled. This was not his day.
This was strange. This was very strange.
Everything has been taken care of. From paper works, to overseeing the Garden's maintenance and even controlling monster's population; everything was done and it was only nineteen hundred. Glancing outside through the massive window of his office, he watched the sky once more, hoping to see that the clock was wrong, but it wasn't.
"Oh, come on, Squall." His fiancée breathed out in frustration. "Can't you just accept that you got everything done early for once? Now, let's go."
Still, he picked up the short to-do-list Xu had written for him in the morning to see if he had missed anything. It was just too strange that he was actually free to go. Normally, he could only hope for things to be done around ten, at best. Any sooner would meant that he had made plan to finish up work ahead of time for occasions like dates or outings, but the problem was he hadn't done that. Reluctantly, he gave up to Rinoa's continuous pulling and let her drag him out of his office.
"Hurry, hurry." She urged eagerly, quickening her pace by the seconds.
"Why? Where are we going?" He exhaled, lazily trying to keep up with her. "What's the rush?"
Suddenly, she halted her pace and spun around to him. "Well, Commander. You can rush for whatever work you have, but you can't rush for this little freeloader here?" She asked accusingly, jabbing a finger into his chest.
"Where exactly are you taking the conversation?" He coolly inquired, trying to make his expression neutral lest they fought again. He definite did not want another episode right after what they had just been through in the morning. She didn't deserve horrible nightmares like that.
Seemingly to realize the situation, she pouted and huffed. "Alright, then. Just think that it's compensation for standing me up yesterday. Now no more question. Move!"
A line consisted of a Yes and a Ma'am ran through his mind and he obediently walked along without her having to drag him. Feeling authoritative, Rinoa excitedly pushed him. "What's with this slow pace. Let's go. Run! Run as fast as you can to the Quad!" And she ran ahead of him. A rare mischievous side suddenly popped up inside him, there was no one around so he guessed it should be fine to indulge her. He broke into a run and darted pass her in a flash, making full use of his GF. As he got near the end of the long corridor, he heard her plaintive voice chasing after him hopelessly. Smirking, he stopped and waited for her to catch up.
"Squall! Okay, I'm sorry! Slow down! I-I can't … keep up." She cried as she approached him. Still gasping for breath, she lifted her head and mumbled. "Oh, you're here." She grabbed the sleeve of his jacket as if afraid that he would bolt away again and bent down to find support at her knees. When she had finally steadied herself, Rinoa began hitting his shoulder playfully … but still painfully. Maybe she thought she should hit as hard as she could because he was junctioned, but to his woe, he was currently junctioning only speed. "Geez, you meany!" She fumed, stomping towards the elevator.
Even with his stinging biceps, he couldn't help grinning as he stepped inside the elevator with her, earning more of her mock anger.
As they descended to the lobby, small explosions that sounded booming to his sensitive ears could be heard and he immediately got defensive. Rinoa took his hand in hers and hastily headed towards the Quad. "Come on, it's starting!"
Confused, he opened his mouth to ask. But before he could utter a word, they stepped out into the open evening air and he witnessed an impressive show of fireworks that lit up the whole sky above Garden. The many cadets and SeeDs behind them all poured outside to admire the sight, and he quickly led Rinoa away from the dangerous flow of people. As the crowd wondered aloud his own questioning of the event, Rinoa smiled proudly at him and continued to pull him along, further into the Quad. A small notion began to grow exceedingly fast inside his head as he collected the many confusions he had gotten throughout the day: Xu stuttering when asked the date, Laguna curious insistence about visiting, Zell running away from him even when the guy was only one person away from getting his desired hotdogs, Irvine actually stopping his quest in wooing the younger cadets to excuse himself from Squall's sight, and the fact that Selphie hadn't bugged him once today.
He saw that the ballroom's doors from afar were actually opened and a dreaded premonition banged at him. Suddenly, he had the urge to stop and turn tail, but Rinoa's grip on him was preventing him to do so, and he was led right into the darkness of the wide hall. In a flash, literally, light filled the space and revealed to him a bunch of people, who shouted "Happy birthday!" with an array of poppers aimed at him and Rinoa.
His introverted side screamed for an escape as he had a profound wanting to hide behind Rinoa's back. However, pride kept him on his feet and brought out the greatest aloof attitude he had ever mustered. "Whatever." His voice sounded excruciatingly loud in the quiet ballroom since everyone was anticipating his reaction. And they all burst out laughing. He detachedly turned away, feeling like digging a hole and even burying himself there just to block out the laughter that left his friends staggering and convulsing.
"Happy birthday, Squall!" Still chortling, Rinoa shouted to him over the noise.
"Whatever." He repeated under his breath, happy that it was only for her ears this time.
"You're really unpredictably predictable, Commander!" Irvine wiped the tear from his eye, pulling Squall into the circle of people and away from the security of Rinoa's hand. "Come on, you're the man of the day!"
"Whatever!" A feminine voice said along as he grated out the word, and he turned to Quistis, who was hugging her stomach in another round of laughter. Squall narrowed his eyes dangerously at the woman as everyone else joined her.
"Cheer up, Squall!" Selphie slapped at his shoulder painfully. Did every girl think that that he junctioned his defense? "I gave up the whole week to prepare this secret. Hysh, it was sooo hard to keep this away from you. Why do you have to check up on everything everyday? Believe me, if anyone were to plant a bomb, they would put it in the lobby, not this place where hardly a soul come by."
"Yo man, I lost my chance at the hotdogs because of you. Shove it and enjoy the party!" Came the exclamation from Hyne-knows-who. Yes, that was mockery.
"Commander, I wish you a happy birthday." The library girl said bashfully … What was her name again? He suddenly felt guilty for not remembering that simple thing even after three years.
"It's August the 23rd, sir." Xu said with a smile, making up for the absence of her reply in the morning.
"I hope you don't mind the autopilot function for tonight, Squall." Nida grinned at him.
"Squall, I-I …" Laguna stuttered nervously, connecting the tips of his fingers and darting his gaze around like a girl trying for a love confession. "I can't tell you how much … O-Ow! L-Leg cramps!" And the man began jumping on his healthy leg until he fell down onto the ground. Resisting the urge to slap a hand to his face while everyone else stared at the President in humored sympathy, Squall only rolled his eyes. How could he ever be related to that man?
As Ellone, Kiros and Ward helped him up, Laguna wryly continued. "Twentieth … it's the most beautiful year of a person's life. Enjoy it to the fullest, son." He wiped an invisible tear and sniffed.
"You've grown so much taller. I wonder where's that little boy who used to follow me around the house." Leaving her uncle's side, Ellone exhaled smilingly and spread out her arms, waiting for Squall to bend down to hug him affectionately. He gave a small smile at her words before looking up to the tall burly man.
"…" Ward gave him a pat on the shoulder, which was then translated by Kiros's agreeing tone. "Yeah, you're growing to be a lot like Laguna." Squall suddenly felt his grudge for the two returning.
Looking around, meeting everybody's eyes, the appreciation finally sunk in and he said sincerely. "Thanks … everyone."
"Aaawwww!" Laguna and Selphie drawled loudly, making everyone, minus Squall, broke out laughing again. Squall? He just wanted to jump off Garden. But then, he felt a tug at his hand and turned to a beaming Rinoa. Okay, he guessed could stay, this much embarrassment was nothing.
"Aaallright! People! Let's paaaar-tey!" Selphie broke the serene atmosphere with a howl and gave the orchestra a go signal. A gentle but upbeat melody began and the people in presence began to scatter around in small groups for conversation, leaving him to go off in his own little world that only revolved around his Sorceress and fiancée. But before anything could happen, unexpected guests arrived.
"The little cub has matured." He whipped around to face with his beautiful Matron and her husband. "Excuse us for being late." Edea smiled warmly at him while Cid nodded with his hands behind his back. He could feel his eyes lighting up at the sight of them. It had been two years since Cid resigned from his position to finally return with his wife to stay at the orphanage, leaving Garden without a Headmaster. He didn't know that he could actually miss someone, because he hadn't actually parted with anyone he cared about.
"Sir!" He stood straight and held up his fist in the SeeD salute.
"Oh, please, Squall. I'm no longer your superior, no need for such courtesy." The old man commented, looking around in nostalgia. "I see you're taking good care of Garden. Good job, Commander Leonhart. It's late, but we want to congratulate you two on your engagement."
"Thank you, sir, Matron." He nodded, tightening his hold of Rinoa's hand.
"You both seem healthy, I'm glad." Rinoa said, returning his squeeze.
"Edea! Cid! Omihysh, you two made it!" Selphie bounced her way to them, hugging them both. Following her was Irvine, who was pouting and muttering something like Sheesh, why's she so interested in Squall's dad? Soon, the whole gang was present to greet their caretaker and Headmaster. Quistis and Zell joined in a heated discussion about taking care of the juniors with … randomly inserted subject about the cafeteria's food, specifically hotdogs. Cid was happily talking about Garden with the two assisting SeeDs who had loyally stayed by his side.
Still caught in the emotions of the reunion, it took a while before he noticed Rinoa's tapping on his shoulder. "Squall, let's dance!" She pointed towards the empty dance floor.
An instant No was the automatic answer that popped up in his mind. But he refrained and swept a self-conscious glance around the marbled room. She knew he never liked dancing, why did she always force him to? And this time, there wasn't even anyone dancing!
"Geez, why do you always have to make me force you?" She asked as if reading his mind. "What did you learn to dance for if you're just gonna keep it to yourself? And you're such a good dancer, too. Come on, lead me!"
"I've told you, it's SeeD's requirements." He said with a frown.
"Yeah, sure, but you still know how to, right? So, we're dancing. The song's perfect, too!" She ignored his resistance and pulled him out on the dance floor, which left him regretting unjunctioning his strength. Looking at his sullen face, she gave him a heavenly smile and slapped his cheeks gently. "Indulge me, okay? You're still not off the hook for standing me up. And because of you, I didn't even have the chance to pretty myself up before coming here." And she took his hand up and rested it on her back, knitting their other hand together.
"You are pretty." He closed his mouth right away. That wasn't supposed to come out. Noticing his embarrassment, she giggled, leaning her forehead against his chest.
"You're so cute, Squall." And she tensed. He guessed that wasn't supposed to come out either. "Okay …" She gave a breathless little laugh. "I shall do this. You will happily dance with me. You will happily dance with me." She drew circles in front of his face with a serious expression. "Now did that work? If didn't then too bad. Deal with it, okay?"
His body shook as he tried to hold his laughter inside. He sighed in defeat and prepared his posture for the dance. The music, he now realized, was Waltz for the Moon, the very piece they had danced together for the first time, symbolizing their fated meeting. To hide the tug on the corner of his lips, he started the practiced step. A step to the left, a step to the right, part, hold hands, spin, step, spin, part, circle … The end neared and they collide softly into each other in the final joining. Feeling her body curving against his, he smiled down at her as the light went out. They stopped to see Selphie giggling almost dangerously next to the switch, she was holding something that seemed a lot like a camera, probably had had her fill in filming the couple.
In the slight darkness, he could see everyone had stopped their activities, obviously had seen his dance from start to end. "I feel very self-conscious right now." He confessed truthfully to her ear.
"Well, why do you think I was so insistent on having our date yesterday?" She whispered back accusingly. "I knew there is no getting you all to myself today."
"… What if you can?" He asked innocently after a moment of consideration.
"What have you got in mind, Commander?" She smiled with an expression of mischief.
"Aw, they're leaving!" Selphie whined, turning the lights on again.
Next to her, Irvine lifted his cowboy hat and brought it down onto her head, purposely covering her vision. "Leave the lovebirds." He said suavely and snaked his arms around her shoulder, leading her into the dance floor. "It's our time to shine, babe. Can I have this dance?"
"No." She made a disbelieving face, showing him the lens of her camera. "If you haven't forgotten, I'm the organizer. I can't slack off without some nice footages."
"Hyne, what? Selphie, I'm trying to be romantic here!" He complained, taking the camera from her hand.
"It's to counter the GFs' influence!" She retorted.
Right, and to shatter any chance of anyone blaming the GFs to play dumb about their shameful moments. "Alright, footages?" He smirked, running a hand through his hair, undoing his ponytail in the process. Stepping away from the camera, he made a pose that he considered cool then sauntered around to stand behind a perplexed Selphie. He wrapped a hand around her stomach, pulling her to him and pivoted his head to peck her on the cheek, all recorded by the camera. "We're a happy couple." He stated seriously to the camera and gave it a thumb up.
Then, he swiftly left an agape Selphie and headed straight for Squall's two assistants. "Nida, go film beautiful ladies or something." He shoved the camera into the dark-haired man's hands and sharply turned away. At that time, he passed by Zell, who was stuffing his mouth with the party's food, specifically hotdogs next to his girlfriend – the girl was admiring the guy as if enchanted. Rolling his eyes, Irvine grabbed the blond's collar and dragged him away from the poor girl's sight.
"Yo, what's your problem, Kinneas?" Zell spat after swallow his mouthful of food.
"I should be asking you! What's your deal, eating like a pig next to your woman?"
"Well, she's alright with it." The blond defended.
"No! No, she's not." Irvine heaved a sigh. "She's only pretending to be fine. Look man, stop stuffing yourself and pay attention to her a bit. Y'know, a compliment here, a caring gesture there. Women love that."
"R-really?" Zell mumbled, looking back at the library girl. "Alright …" Wiping his mouth clean, the guy started towards his girlfriend.
Satisfied, he returned to the love of his life. "Now, shall we dance, my lady?" He said smoothly, taking her hand to his lips.
"Okay!" Her mood changed like quicksilver and she jumped at him, hanging onto his neck. She flicked his nose endearingly and said with the sweetest voice he had ever heard. "Now, Kinnepoo … are you sure you're anywhere as good as Squall? I definitely don't want to lose to a performance like theirs."
Really, she'd been doing behind-the-scene work for way too long. "You don't know what you've been missing out on, Ms. Tilmitt."
"Um, didn't he tell you to go film beautiful girls?" Xu inquired, moving her gaze from the dancing couple to stare uncomfortably at the camera.
Nida jumped and lowered the machine away from her. Blushing slightly, he averted his eyes and said in the softest tone possible. "B-But I am …"
And she too, blushed.
The Grat let out a painful roar as her whip cut right through its vines. In a desperate final attempt, its mouth spread wide open and she could hear gurgling noise escaping from the pit of its stomach. If she let it finish spat out that sleeping gas, it could get quite problematic. She summoned a fireball into her hand and waited for the greenish smoke to begin forming inside the Grat's pitcher. This was going to be very messy. Shooting the fire straight into the monster's mouth, she immediately dashed far away, just enough to avoid the rain of plant tissue. Apparently, sleeping gas was flammable. The ground where the Grat had been standing was smoking with distinctive charcoaled roots.
She stepped around the carcass with a sigh. She really hated ending fights like this. 'Should have brought Diablo.' She thought wryly as she proceeded towards her destination: the not-so-secret Secret Area.
Upon entering the small separated section of the Training Center, she spotted a few cadets hanging around the place. She cleared her throat, deliberately gaining the students' attention and crossed her arms. "It's nearing curfew. I believe you kids should be going now?"
"Y-Yes, Instructor!" They all pranced up to their feet after realizing who she was and scuttled pass her in a rush.
"Hey, keep it down!" She shouted after them. "Do not wake the T-Rexaur!"
There were no answers, and she could only hope the Sleep spell she had put onto humongous reptile was still in effect. Turning to the balcony, Quistis stared out into space and recalled the night that she had called her mistaken crush out for confidence. She had also just watched Squall dancing with Rinoa then, and still remembered the disappointment she had felt. He had been so cold then, telling her to talk to a wall. Now that she could look at it lightheartedly, his harsh words had actually had a note of humor.
She hadn't been a good Instructor then, and now … was she? It'd only been a year since she'd gotten her teaching license back, and she had already done something she shouldn't. Correction, some things. What had she done? Well, the first thing was abusing her authority to chase the cadets away; second, she had tampered with Nida's autopilot program a bit to set Garden sailing for its hometown, Balamb. And third, right now, as Garden hovered above the quiescent seaside harbor, she waited for a certain guest unwelcomed by the Garden.
"You know, staring at that boring cement wharf won't make me materialize there." Said a sarcastic voice.
Her gaze locked onto the blond perpetrator, and she smiled.
Looking up to the beautiful moon, he couldn't help but remember that night when she had accepted his proposal, wondering how it would feel if he could hold her again in his arms. But she was gone, leaving him with only memories of the short bliss they had spent together. "I really miss you, Raine." Laguna muttered with a sad smile. Without her, his life had this tiny little hole that nothing could fill up, and it always felt as if he was incomplete. However …
"Uncle Laguna, there you are." He turned to see Ellone approaching. The girl waved at him, smiling brightly and he returned the gesture. Spying his son cuddling his beloved on the slightly hidden balcony, he knew that he would do everything to prevent the same tragedy to befall on them. "Uncle?" Ellone titled her head at his silence. Ah, with these young ones she had left behind, maybe he wasn't that incomplete after all.
"Such a view, eh? We don't get to see the moon this big back at the Palace." He grinned, receiving an agreeing nod from his niece.
"Yeah … Let's go to Winhill after this." She suggested with longing eyes. "I want to visit Auntie."
"Deal! We'll drag Squall along."
Okay, he was going to do this.
Leading his girlfriend away from the party, he brought her to a small bench out in the Squad and they both sat down. Nervous, he kept on fidgeting, replaying what he would do and say. It wasn't that he didn't know what to do. Hell, after spending three years watching Irvine woo the ladies, he knew too much for his comfort. However, the problem was that he didn't know if what he was going to do would be right … So, yeah, he didn't know what to do.
Zell turned to the pigtailed girl who was looking at him concernedly and coughed. "Um, Christy?" He started awkwardly.
"Yes, Zell. Is there something on your mind?" The girl tilted her head at his reluctance. "Why did you stop eating and pull me out here?"
Because the moon is beautiful and what's more romantic than watching it with one's lover. "Er … well, it sure is nice out here, eh?"
"Yeah, it is. But what's wrong? You seem pale." The brunette leaned in close to him and placed a hand on his forehead. "Are you unwell? Do you have a cold?"
"N-no." He stuttered, backing away from her slightly. "Didn't you know, idiots never catch colds …" Great, now he was even calling himself an idiot. As she looked at him weirdly, he suddenly felt ashamed that he was holding back from her. She deserved better. Being a Dincht, he would make his grandfather proud. "Y-Y'know, Christ …" He said and took her hands into his, meeting her big round orbs. "I … I really like you."
"W-What?" She blinked laconically, her cheeks glowing pink.
"I think you're really pretty, so much that … that no moon or sun could compete with you beauty." He rubbed his thumbs over her skin, gaining confidence as he spoke. "I don't want you to ever leave my side, Christ. You're like the stars that-" Unexpectedly, the girl broke away from his hold and grabbed at the collar of his shirt. Before he could even react, she flicked her hips to the side, creating the fulcrum to throw him over her. He landed painfully onto the ground in consternation; his eyes widened as she jumped onto him, skillfully drew out a short blade from under her skirt and pressed it at his neck.
"W-what the hell, Christ?" He exclaimed.
"Who are you and what have you done to Zell Dincht?" She inquired sharply, giving him a cold glare that almost rivaled Squall's.
"Y-yo, it's me!" He hastily stated. "I'm Zell, why would I be anyone else?"
"Lies!" She spat, never loosening her grip. "Zell would never conjure up rubbish sweet-talks like that. Now which organization are you working for? Are you intending to harm Rinoa?"
"R-rubbish …?" That was one perfect straight punch to his ego. "Christ, please. I'm Zell. I was just trying to be romantic. Irvine coerced me into this! Really!" He pleaded, holding out his hands to show her he meant peace.
"Irvine? …" Christine looked like she was giving it a thought before she finally withdrew her weapon. "Geez, Zell. You know better than to listen to him."
"I'll kill that womanizer." He muttered under his breath, frowning. "Sorry … I just thought that maybe I should pay you a little more attention."
"Aw, you're so sweet." She bent down to place a kiss onto his nose. "But don't worry. Just do what you want. I love watching you eat, by the way. It makes me feel very light in here." She tapped at her own chest. And they stayed like that, with her lying on top of him, just smiling at each other, appreciating their closeness.
"Christ, you're the most wonderful thing in my life." Zell wrapped his hand around her lower back, sighing blissfully. "Even more wonderful than hotdogs."
Patting his spiky head endearingly, she smiled. "Now, that's my Zell."
"I know, time sure flies." Kiros contemplatively stood with his hands behind his back. "It feels like just yesterday that the kid was still awkwardly conversing with his father."
"…" His old time friend hummed in agreement, tapping his broad chest with his massive hands.
"Yeah, their relationship is a bit peculiar. But I can say that given the time, they'll become closer." The skinny man paused in realization. "Don't tell him I said that. He might go ballistic."
"…" Ward laughed soundlessly, the large scar on his face twitching.
"True, you can't." Kiros replied with a soft chuckle.
"Edea, you're spacing out." Her husband gently nudged her. "What is on your mind, do tell."
"O-oh, I was?" She blinked, realizing that she actually was. "Ah, it's just about Rinoa and Squall … I feel very responsible. The poor girl had confided me about her ominous nightmares. Although I assured her it's not soothsaying, I'm not exactly sure it's only dreams either. I worry about the potency she holds. I shouldn't have given her the power. But, at that time, there was only her, Quistis and Selphie in the room. I couldn't bring myself to condemn the kids I've once cared for to the same fate as me, so instead, I opted for the girl who I knew nothing of."
"Anyone would have chosen like you. You can't know everything, dear." The senile man said, pulling his chair around to sit down next to hers. "We all learned a very valuable lesson after that journey three years ago. There is no changing the past, and the future isn't decided by Fate, Fate is only the guide. So, we don't drown ourselves in the unchangeable past and definitely shouldn't be too imaginative about the future. Now, what does that leave us with?"
The woman leaned in closer to him, smiling. "Easy, we do our best in the present." She was glad. The older man had regained the confidence he had once lost, reminding her of how she used to admire him as a child. Seeing him like this gave her strength.
"Exactly," Cid nodded encouragingly. "We senior generation must advise and watch over the young ones, make sure history won't happen again."
"That's all we can do, huh?" She sighed lightly. "The most important deciding factor still lies within them."
She stood in the cool night breeze, relishing the warmth of his embrace. It had been a while since they had gotten away from the party and come here, to this memorable balcony where they had shared their first kiss. The moment had been so natural, so right and etching such a deep impression inside her. No matter how many times their lips met, that first time still remained the sweetest, most delicate experience in her life.
He was staying very still, his breathing so soft that she could only feel it from his chest pressed against her back. He looked so serene, looking out to the rippling tides at the horizon, probably reminiscing about his childhood together on this land.
"Should we go back?" She asked, breaking the gentle silence. "Everyone has gathered just for you and we're cooping up out here."
"… I've had enough socialization for today." Squall grumbled almost pitifully. He didn't ever want another birthday like this. Why couldn't they have made it a simple, quiet outing like the last two years? "They're probably scattered all around by now anyway." He reasoned.
And they returned to being quiet.
Hesitantly, he lowered his head down to her neck and snuggled her closer. "Hey … I'm sorry about last night." He started, his heart quickening by a little bit. She just laughed softly, her melodic voice ringing at his sensitive ears. Wriggling out of his hold, she spun around to him and looked straight into his eyes, unflinching.
"Squall, you always let these things eat you up for days." She cupped his face in her hands, admiring the ashy blue specks in his eyes. "I already said I forgive you. Look, we might fight and I might cry, but the most important thing is that we get through it, together. Don't you think so?"
"Together …" He reiterated almost dumbly as he bent down so that their foreheads touched. "You won't leave me, right? No matter what?" He asked with a curious expression as if wanting to get her confirmation.
"I won't." She said firmly.
His expression relaxed significantly, there as a small tug at the corner of his mouth. "I'll keep my promise so …"
"I'll keep mine." Rinoa followed up. "Forever?"
"For eternity." He smiled.
They both closed their eyes and leaned in for a kiss… Boom. A large explosion happened right above them and he instantly covered her with his body, but nothing happened. Rinoa craned to look over his shoulder and informed with a sigh of relief.
"Squall, it's fireworks."
He looked up to the sparks on the sky and shook his head. Somehow, he could imagine Selphie going ballistic at whoever was in charge of the fireworks. Still, they continued to watch until the light faded completely. Suddenly, a white line swept by the night sky.
"A shooting star!" Rinoa exclaimed in a delayed reaction, shaking his shoulder excitedly. "Squall, did you see that? It's our third time seeing it! Must be because I'm such a lucky girl." She proclaimed proudly. In actuality, she wasn't very far from the truth. To have met him, she was the luckiest girl in the whole wide world. Being so close to him, in both body and soul, made her felt surer than ever about the future. She knew that, whatever may happened, she was safe staying here by his side.
As he held her in his arms, contentment filled up his vessels, delighting every cell in his body. Because no one could see, he allowed a smile to crack his mask of composure. He was thanking Hyne for giving him this wonderful gift that was more precious than life itself. She gave him a reason to live, gave his existence a meaning. Come what may, he would protect her.
"I love you." They whispered at the same time.
Rinoa giggled slightly and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Hey Squall … thank you for being born."
He blinked for a moment and bent down to brush his lips over hers. 'And am I glad to have been born.' He thought.
I don't want to change, I'm scared of turning into something I'm not. Even that gentle woman has once given in to this malevolent power, there is no way I could escape from that fate. Yet still, the man who would kill me one day, he is always there for me. My Knight, my love. His presence gives me courage to face that dark future I so dread. I just know everything will be okay. I won't lose my way, I won't stray because he with me, my anchor. So, thank you for being born.
Sometimes, it just feels too tiring to move. So many duties, so many responsibilities weighing down on my shoulders, and I just want to let go. But there she is. My Sorceress, my love. Although the day my blade would pierce through her heart might come, as long as she is by my side, I will have the strength to keep moving forward. I won't sink, because she is there, the ship that brings me to the furthest horizon. I truly am glad to have been born.
[Side][Another: Ship and Anchor][B]
-A Little Fun-
Destruction. The city was left in crumble. No sign of survivors, no sign of life.
It was so quiet with only the crackling noise of burning fire in the background.
"… love you …" She crooned shakily as her eyes fought to stay focused. He gently pushed her back with utmost care and shifted her into his lap. She didn't protest, although the sword through her heart was a bit of a discomfort. With every weakening beat, pain would sear over and over inside her. Her heart's own beating was killing her. The only reason she was still conscious right now was because of the monstrous power inside her. Ironically, she was thanking this power she so hated, she thanked it for letting her have these precious final moments with him.
She stared at the screen, frowning with her mouth slightly agape.
"Squall!" She called him as his half-naked self passed by. "I can't believe they dare to write such tragedies about us! And the literature isn't even that good."
He finished gulping down the bottle of water then bent down to look at the computer. Chuckling, he turned to her and kissed on her lips. "Let them think what they want, what's important is that we are happy together, right?"
"I know," her mood changed like quicksilver and she pecked on his nose. "You're the anchor of my ship, I can't possibly stray now, can I?"
"Yeah, I'll be there with you all the way." He smirked, hugging her close.
Author's Note: Oh my Hyne, it's finally done. I thought there was no end to this. Ahem, since this was created in tribute to a certain event. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALEX! Hope you have a nice day over there! I'm in no position to say the sentence, but I'm sure there are people who have been and will be saying Thank you for being born to you, whether it's out loud or tacitly. So, even if life splash lemon juice into your face, don't let them down and think like Squall. Haha.
And now, a small Q&A for better understanding of Ship&Anchor.
Q: What are those [Side]s?
A: Well, interpret them however you want. Future, dream world, going back in time, a branch of the timeline, parallel universes, what-have-you.
Q: What is that transformation thingy? There was no such thing in the game!
A: It's [Invoking], and yes it's not in the game. Because I think Odine wouldn't stop with just [Summoning], and because [Summoning] takes way too much time and plot-wise, I can't allow that.
Q: In [Side ?], you described that Squall's left arm is limped, how come it became functional again after he stabbed Rinoa?
A: [DON'T READ]-Ah,-that-is,-I-kinda-forgot-about-his-arm-when-I-was-concentrating-on-describing-the-moment-and-only-realized-it-after-I-was-done-with-the-second-part.-And-since-describing-him-holding-Rinoa-with-only-one-hand-was-too-damn-hard-and-awkward,-I-came-up-with-a-convenient-excuse.-[DON'T READ] Ahem, apparently, invoking GFs comes with a slight Regen effect also.
Q: In the 2nd [?], it was said that Rinoa had been shot, so why was her gown 'clean'?
A: Um, I think Sorceresses have a way with manipulating clothes ... I mean, Ultimecia couldn't have actually bought Edea's outfit from a cosplay shop ... could she?
Q: Where did the frustrated Squall go after leaving the Bridge?
A: Oh, pu-lease, like a frustrated Squall would go anywhere else. It starts with a 'T' and ends with a 'raining Center'. (Source: many other fics about a frustrated Squall.)
Q: Do you have something against Quistis? You forgot to mention her 'weird behaviour' along with the others'!
A: No, no, I love her. It's just that I expect her to not make a fool of herself when keeping secrets. So I believe she wouldn't raise any of Squall's suspicion.
Q: Um, Hysh and Ohmihysh?
A: Well, since God = Hyne then I figured Gosh would translate to Hysh. Please pronounce it 'Hai-sh', not 'Hi-sh'. And don't worry, only Selphie uses that since I do realize there is the word Gosh in FF8's world's dictionary.
Q: Who was Quistis waiting for, and why did she have so little of the limelight?
A: Seriously? I'm not gonna answer that first half if anyone is really asking that. I mean, who was the only important character that hadn't been mentioned throughout the story? And limelight? Sorry, I had to control the amount of words. She'll have a small chapter of her own in compensation.
Q: The Library Girl, Christine doesn't suit her.
A: I'm sorry to be saying this but it feels right for me, so you'll have to deal with it. Sorry and … ach, come on! It's just a name!
Q: The Library Girl, why is she so OOC?
A: Touché. Sorry, I have never done Zell's love quest in the game. But I'm sure none of you actually know what she's like. A woman is never really what she seems on the outside.
Q: The Library Girl, she's … strong?
A: Well, we don't have any information concerning her SeeD license, but even if she hadn't graduated as a SeeD, I'm sure she must have had some training.
Q: I can't follow Ward and Kiros's conversation.
A: I'm sorry that you can't. My hands are tied, because I don't want to spoil the fun of imagining what Ward actually said.
Q: Did Selphie really go ballistic at the firework guy?
A: She should have.
Further additions may be … er … added. Haha.
Anyways, thank you for reading, and once again, HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALEX!