Author's Notes:  See chapter one for disclaimer and explanation.

Hidden Feelings, Hidden Fears By Annie-chan Chapter Three:  Confessions and Reconciliations

"You have to rest, Squall."

Squall raised his head, fixing his tired, bloodshot eyes on Rinoa.  It had been a week since the attack, and nearly four days since he had eaten or slept.  Rinoa had convinced him to rest and eat a little about three days after the attack, but he had refused any more.

"Please, Squall," she whispered, taking his hand between her own.  "You're pale, you're shaking, you're getting more and more unaware of your surroundings…you're killing yourself, Squall!"  She touched his cheek as she finished, and he leaned his head into her hand.

"I can't," he groaned.  "I can't bring myself to eat…I can't bring myself to sleep…I can't leave his side…he needs me…"

"Squall…he wouldn't want you—" Rinoa began.

"He's dying, Rinoa!" Squall roared.  "He's dying, and I never let him know I love him!  I kept pushing him away, all because of my god-damned pride!"  He tried to jerk away from her, but only succeeded in slipping out of the chair he had been sitting in for days on end, falling clumsily to the floor.  He curled into a ball like a frightened child, crying weakly.  "He's dying…he's dying…"

"Squall, it's all right," Rinoa soothed, knowing it would do little good.  "You don't know that.  He could get better.  The doctors said he's stabled out.  He'll get better real soon, I promise you."

Squall looked up to her, the dark circles under his eyes making them look huge.  "Do you really think so…?" he murmured, hopeful.  He sounded painfully like a lost little boy, searching for anything to cling to in order to keep his sanity.

"You know I'd never lie to you," she smiled softly, and helped him stand.  He was unsteady on his feet, as his body hadn't any adequate nourishment for almost seven days.  She guided him over to the cot on wheels that a nurse had brought in for them.  The idea was that, as one slept, the other could watch Laguna, and that they would switch off.  So far, though, Squall had used it a grand total of one time.  Laguna's primary physician had seen the lack of sleep Squall had been getting, and had left a small bottle of sleeping pills for him to use.  Squall's not sleeping was more inability than refusal.  Rinoa handed him two of the pills and a cup of water.  She expected protest, but Squall swallowed the pills and water like an obedient child.  Apparently, he was at the end of his rope.

"Please don't let him die," he whispered, lying down.

"I won't," she reassured him, placing a quick, gentle kiss on his lips.  "I promise you."  She had barely uttered these words before he relaxed completely, falling into much-needed morphia.

Rinoa quietly walked over to Laguna's bedside and sat down in the chair Squall had just vacated.  She was the only one who had come on the Ragnarok that was still here.  The others couldn't abandon their Garden duties, thought they had all wanted to stay to provide support to the president's obviously devastated son.  Rinoa, not a SeeD, had the freedom to stay by her lover's side.

Laguna had not moved for nearly ten hours.  Every once in a while, he would groan a bit and twitch, as if dreaming.  For nearly half a day, though, he had been as still as death.  The only signs that he was indeed alive were the steady bleeping of the medical machines that were hooked up to him.  As doctors said, his condition had stabilized, but he was still exceedingly weak.  Any shock to his system, however slight, could send him into a downhill spiral that could ultimately end in his death.  He had no need for the air mask anymore, but doctors were keeping close watch on the readout of the machine monitoring his breathing, to make sure he'd get it back immediately if he needed it.  Several IVs were hooked up to his arms, some delivering medicines that helped promote quicker healing, others delivering much-needed nutrients to his ravaged body.  Even with the IVs delivering exactly the amount of nutrients a metabolism like his needed, he looked underfed, almost starved.  Even though he had lost almost no weight, he seemed almost bony, lying motionless as he was.  His eyes had sunken into their sockets, and he looked much older than he was, but at the same time managed to look young and helpless.

Doctors had said it was a miracle he had survived even the ambulance ride to the hospital.  The bullets had all entered in the chest area, two of them tearing into the lungs, one embedding itself in a spinal bone after it passed dangerously close to his heart, and the fourth ricocheting off the spine slightly higher and tore a gash in his left lung, nicking the heart muscle.  The doctors had said that, even though the initial shock of the bullets entering his body hadn't killed him, he could have easily drowned in his own blood as his lungs filled.  He had since fallen into a coma, and had shown no signs of waking up any time soon.

The police assigned to the crime scene had said they planned not to press charges against Squall Leonhart.  He could have been charged as high as second-degree murder, as he had been acting on a burst of emotions, but had meant full well to kill Andy Rearick.  The intent was there, so he couldn't be charged with manslaughter.  However, police concluded that Squall had been acting completely in the defense of a family member in grave danger, and had done what any individual in his situation would at least try to do.

Rinoa took Laguna's slack hand, squeezing it gently.  "He's really worried about you," she whispered, nodding toward Squall.  "He's so afraid you'll die…so afraid he'll never be able to tell you he loves you as much as you love him."  She swallowed, a stab of fear pricking her chest.  "I don't know what he'll do if he does lose you," she managed, tears suddenly choking her voice.  "Don't you die on us, Laguna Loire!"  She said nothing more, crying quietly in the dimly-lighted room.

Nearly an hour and half later, as Rinoa began to doze in the chair, a sudden noise perked her ears up.  The man on the bed, heretofore so quiet it was hard to say he was alive, had drawn in a sharp breath.  The sudden movement in his chest was apparently painful, as that breath was immediately let out in a low groan, his face tight as if in pain.

Rinoa sat up straight, her hand unconsciously squeezing his.  "Laguna…?" she asked cautiously, placing her other hand on his forehead.  "Oh, Hyne, please let him wake up…"

He turned his head in her direction, apparently responding to the touch on his forehead.  Soft, mew-like sounds were trickling from his throat with every exhalation, and his expression was that of a man exerting himself very hard.  He was trying.  He was doing his all to claw his way out of the blackness that had held him prisoner for seven days too long.

A sharp, violent shiver passed through his body, his eyes flying open a split second later as he let out a hoarse cry.  He began trembling to a lesser degree when the shiver waned.  He looked terrified.

"Wherrrrrre…" he managed, the drugs in his system slurring his speech.  His eyes fell on Rinoa when she squeezed his hand again, and he seemed to relax.  "You…I know you…you're Squall's girl…"  His speech seemed to be getting better with every word, but it was halting, the hoarseness making him difficult to understand.

Rinoa nodded.  "Yes…your son and I love each other very much."

"You…you're Julia's daughter…aren't you…?"

Rinoa nodded again.  "Yes."

It seemed a slight smile graced Laguna's face.  "I was…fortunate enough to…know that dear woman…for a little while.  Every night I could…I went to the bar…she played at to…listen to her play.  She played…so beautifully…"  His eyes fixed on her.  "You look…so much like her…"

"Yes, I do," Rinoa replied.  "I hardly remember her, though.  She died when I was only four or five years old.  I really know her only from photographs anymore."

"That's…a shame…" Laguna whispered, closing his eyes.  Genuine sorrow shown on his face.  When he opened his eyes to look at her, a small flash of light drew his gaze downward.  Something was shining on her left hand…his eyes widened when he realized what it was.  He looked up into her eyes.  "You…Squall…engaged…?"

"Yes, we are," she replied with a smile, squeezing his hand again.  "Squall proposed to me just last month."  She giggled.  "You should have seen Selphie when she heard.  She was so excited when I asked her to be one of my bridesmaids.  Of course, she agreed.  Quistis is one of the others."

Laguna's lips quirked up in a weak smile.  "Squall will…make a good husband for you…I'm sure of it."  His drug-hazed eyes flitted around the room.  "Where…is he…?"  The cot Squall was on was behind Rinoa, and Laguna probably couldn't see it from his rather low vantage point.

"He's resting," Rinoa assured him.  "He's been watching over you day and night.  This is only the second time I've convinced him to rest some.  It's been a week since you were attacked, and he's been finding it so hard to eat or sleep.  He loves you very much."

Laguna had almost no outward reaction to this last statement, but what little reaction he did show told Rinoa exactly the sudden joy he felt at those words.  He drew in a shaky breath and closed his eyes, a single tear slipping down his pale cheek.  His entire body relaxed as he slipped back into unconsciousness, and Rinoa was left alone again.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Two days later…

Squall had slept for nearly thirty hours straight.  Rinoa, knowing he needed the rest, had opted to sleep in the chair by the bedside, though it had to have been as uncomfortable as sin.  Now, she was asleep on the cot, while Squall watched over his father.  Squall had woken up about four hours ago, and had been so relieved when Rinoa told him of Laguna's short period awake, he had nearly started crying right then and there.  Rinoa had taken advantage of this and convinced him to eat some, and though he didn't eat as much as she had liked him to, it was better than nothing.

Squall squeezed his father's hand.  He had not woken up again since he had shortly after Squall had taken the sleeping pills, but a new glimmer of hope had taken up residence in Squall's heart.  He finally had the hope he needed, the hope that his father would survive after all.  Still, he was very afraid his father's condition, however stable, would take a turn for the worse.

He was beginning to lapse into the same half-awake, half-asleep trance he had found himself in the majority of his father's hospital stay, when a tiny sound came from the man on the bed.  A groan…an almost imperceptible shiver…

Squall's heart leapt, then began beating so fast he was sure he would faint.  He unconsciously squeezed Laguna's hand hard as his eyes began to sting from tears born of not even he was sure what emotion.

"Nnnnnnnnnngh…" Laguna drawled, sounding doped-out on drugs.  Considering that he had three or four IVs in each arm, he probably was.  Rinoa had said they hadn't seemed to affect his speech to a great extent, though.  Squall wondered what kinds of drugs were being given to him though those IVs.  The names were on the IV bags suspended from a clothesrack-like stand on either side of the bed, but Squall had never been able to understand Doctorese.

Laguna drew in a deep breath through his nose, then let it out in a soft sigh.  He was showing a marked improvement in his breathing, meaning his chance at survival was getting better.  Squall, however, needed to see his father awake to be able to finally believe that.  Even if he woke up again, he wasn't necessarily going to make it.  Squall was deathly afraid that Laguna was going to be one of those cases that seem to be stable, or even getting better, then suddenly drop dead.  Or, that he'd recover in body, but never emerge from the coma he had fallen into.  Although the doctors and Rinoa had done their all to convince him that either thing happening was extremely unlikely, Squall couldn't shake the nagging fear that constantly stood over him.  He had even told himself a few times that his fears were born of nerves and apprehension, but he couldn't get rid of them even then.

His heart jumped to his throat when he looked up and saw Laguna's eyes cracked open, squinted as if looking into bright light, though the lights in the room had been dim for days.

"F…Fa…ther…?" Squall whispered, swallowing, his throat suddenly dry as an unused sponge.  "You…oh, thank Hyne…you're awake!"

Laguna slowly turned his head toward his son, his expression blank, but his eyes dancing.  Though trapped in his own mind for nearly nine days solid, it was apparent that he had wanted to see his son sitting next to him as much as son had wanted to see him open his eyes.  "Squ…all…" he rasped.  "My…son…"  The corners of his lips twitched upward.

"Yes, it's me," Squall replied, unrestrained joy rushing though his system.  "I'm here.  I'd never leave you at a time like this…not when you need me like this."  The ecstatic grin suddenly left his face as his expression melted into sudden pain, and his next sentence was a wail, hot tears making their way down his face.  "I'm sorry!"

Laguna looked confused.  He squeezed Squall's hand, though very weakly.  "What…are you sorry…for…?  It's not…your fault.  You…did all you could."

"Not that!" Squall cried.  "I'm sorry for pushing you away, for not accepting you as I should!  I kept telling myself that you left my mother, that you didn't want me, anything to convince myself you weren't worthy to be called my father!  The fact was I was scared!  I didn't want to let you close to me!  My damned pride would let me open up to you!"  He began calming down, though tears still flowed from his steel-gray eyes.  "I had walled myself off so much for so long that the thought of felling those walls frightened me!  I had already let Quistis, Zell, Selphie, and Irvine in as my first real friends in my life, and I let Rinoa get so close as to allow myself to admit I love her, but even letting them in scared me!  I was constantly terrified for the first few weeks after the return from Time Compression!  Letting her get so close to me felt as if I was letting a stranger look into my innermost thoughts!  I was so accustomed to being alone, even having the one I love get close was frightening…I didn't want to let another in so soon!  A part of me didn't want to do it ever again.  That part of me…it kept convincing me to push you away, kept writing you off as someone below my interest…"  He broke off, wiping tears away.  "I'm…so…sorry…!" he sobbed.

"Squall…" Laguna whispered, his own emotions welling up.  "It's not your fault…you couldn't help it…be happy you've finally surpassed your fear…the most you can do now is…continue to break down…the walls you say you've built…around yourself over the years…"  He squeezed Squall's hand weakly again.  "I love you, Squall."

"I love you, too!" Squall almost wailed.  "I finally realize that!  I should have realized that the moment you told me I was your son!  I…I probably wouldn't have immediately forgiven or forgotten, but I should have been willing to accept you!  I rejected you without even considering why you never came back for me!  I never admitted to myself that you were held back by things beyond your control!"  He bowed his head.  "I was so stupid!"

"No, Squall," Laguna tried to assure him.  "It's in our nature to assume…the worst.  I probably would…have done the same thing in…your place."

"I still hold myself responsible," Squall replied, his crying tapering down, though his voice was still trembling.  "I should never have let it go on this long…I should have been willing to start over, to let the past be the past, to not dwell on old mistakes."  He placed his free hand over his father's.  "Please…please…forgive me…?"

Laguna smiled, his eyes sparkling.  "You know I can never hold a grudge against anyone, Squall.  Don't you be afraid of me dying.  There's no way I'd let go so soon after receiving what I want most out of life."

The tears in Squall's eyes were now falling out of joy.  "Thank you…thank you…"

Over on the cot, facing away from the two men, Rinoa wiped a happy tear off her cheek.  Finally…finally, Squall seemed ready to leave his lonely, hard past behind him.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Nine months later, mid-June…

The Alcauld Plains around Balamb Garden were full of life, even more so than usual.  The weather was beautiful, and everything was set up for an outdoor wedding.  A couple curious monsters had wandered close a little while ago, but Zell, always one to hate spoilsports, human or not, had taken it upon himself to chase them out of there.  The local monster population was now keeping its distance.

Squall had never felt better in his life.  He was finally going to marry the woman he wanted to devote himself to fully and unquestioningly.  They had been together almost three years, not very long actually, but he felt as if he had been waiting for this day the moment she had grabbed his hand and dragged him across the dance floor at the SeeD ball oh so long ago…

The reception was going to be held in that self-same ballroom.  Squall was looking forward to that, dancing under the glass ceiling for the first time with his wife.  Not his girlfriend, his wife

A gentle hand on his shoulder broke him out of his reverie.  He turned around and faced his father, who was smiling gently at him.  Squall couldn't help but smile back.  Laguna had stunned his doctors and recovered further than they expected.  They thought he would at least need some kind of inhaler to help him breathe, as his lungs had taken the most serious damage, but, by the sixth month after the attack, he was as active and energetic as before, without any breathing aids.  Laguna had said that, even though it sounding like something out of a dime-store novel, it was the power of his son's love that had pulled him through.

"I'm proud of you, Squall," Laguna said, squeezing his son's shoulder.  "I'm glad I can be here for you today."

"I am, too," Squall replied.  He reached out and pulled his father into a tight hug.  "Thank you, Father."

"No problem," Laguna whispered back.

Before anything else could be said or done, a high-pitched squeal sounded from not three feet away from them, followed by three rapid clicks of a camera shutter.  Both their heads whipped around to see who it was, and there stood Selphie, all decked-out to be a bridesmaid, holding her camera.  "You two looked so CUTE!"  She suddenly grabbed Squall's hand and jerked him off toward the altar.  "C'mon!  It'll start in, like, two minutes!"

Squall looked back toward his father for a second, then was forced to bring his eyes to the front as Selphie seemed unaware that she was putting Squall in severe danger of tripping, the way she was dragging him.  She immediately let go of him when they got there and ran off to take her place in the marriage procession.

Squall glanced back toward Laguna once more, but his eyes were drawn down the aisle between the two clumps of chairs as the procession began, his heart beating wildly in his chest as they day he'd been waiting for finally commenced.

Owari

Author's Notes:  Well, there you go.  I didn't kill Laguna, but I still put a healthy dose of my trademark sap/angst in there.  You better be happy, Megan!  Please let me know what you all think of this, either in a review or at mangareader@hotmail.com, onegai shimasu!