Princess



The next day, Timber's National Assembly was opened in a ceremony officiated by the Prime Minister and attended by many visiting dignitaries from Dollet and Garden. The Galbadians had sent their own Speaker of the Congress; President Caraway was not in attendance, as a nod to Timber's autonomy.

As the Assembly immediately began to turn itself to the more mundane process of lawmaking, the cameras began to search elsewhere for their subjects and the dignitaries began to politely excuse themselves. Once she had departed the lawmaking chambers, Rinoa made her way through the crowd of reporters and out onto the streets. The tram hadn't arrived yet, and a fair number of dignitaries had gathered at the station to wait for their ride.

she asked, glancing behind her to make certain the younger man was still with her. When's my next appointment?

He glanced down at his notepad. Not until thirteen-hundred. You have that meeting with Galbadia about aid for replanting the Timber forests.

She nodded; but then a pair of figures at the station caught her eye. Squall and Quistis had apparently been talking about something, but Quistis spotted her almost as soon as she saw them; and Squall was not far behind. The moment she saw his eyes, she knew that he had remembered as well; and she felt herself waver on her feet.

Ma'am, are you all right? asked Watts, looking concerned.

Yes, I'm fine, she said quickly. why don't you find someone in the Records Department and see if they have that information about the refugees yet?

If Watts was at all curious about the sudden request, he didn't show it. Sure thing, ma'am. I'll be right back.

As he hurried back into the building, Rinoa steeled herself and took a moment to shore up her resolve before advancing toward the two SeeDs. Despite the fact that she had hoped to see him again ever since she remembered who he was, she was far from certain as to the wisdom—or the outcome—of such a meeting.

she said lamely, offering an equally weak smile as she reached their location. She opened her mouth to say more, but no words came into her mind.

It was Quistis who replied. Hello, Rinoa, she said, her tone warm but neutral; it seemed as if she was trying to be impersonal. Before Rinoa could decide how to reply, she added, I'm sorry, but I should find Cid to ask him about Zell's peacekeeping mission. Excuse me. With a glance at Squall and an apologetic look at Rinoa, she disappeared into the crowd.

Left alone with each other, Squall and Rinoa both assumed particular expressions of discomfort and repeatedly shifted their weight back and forth. Rinoa began at length, but could not think of a proper way to continue. Soisn't it weird that we were in love six years ago, then forgot all about it?

The years, Rinoa thought, did not seem to have made Squall any more talkative.

Finally, she did come up with something to say. she began hesitantly. Do you rememberhow it ended?

He looked away, glancing down at his feet. Not really.

She nodded. I guessmaybe it's better that way.

This caused him to frown at her. That doesn't seem like something you'd say.

Well, maybe you don't know me as well as you remember, Rinoa snapped. It certainly looks like you've changed a bit over the past six years. She nodded off in the direction Quistis had gone.

Squall frowned at her. What's that supposed to mean?

Oh, come on. I remember how you were back then. Maybe you don't want to remember, because you'll realize that you never really loved her, and she was never more than a convenient rebound who—

Don't you dare talk about my wife like that, Squall growled.

Rinoa was frozen by the harshness in his voice; she had hardly expected such anger, from him or herself. Her balance wavered, and she fell half a step back as she realized how terrible her words had been.

I'm sorry, she said. I don't know why I said those things.

However, something was coming back to her. Not memories; or rather not of events, but of feelings. The feelings that had driven her outburst, despite being nearly six years old.

It wasn't anything you did, she said quietly. It was nobody's fault, really. People didn't quite know what to think of me as a Sorceress. Quistis, Selphie, Zellthey would all act a little strange whenever I was around, even if they were trying to act normal. After a while, I just got so angry at everyone, and I suppose myself, for causing all this discomfort. I thinkI just needed to get away. She shook her head, sighing. It wasn't anything you did.

Squall bowed his head, bringing his hand up to the scar that ran across the bridge of his nose in the gesture that Rinoa now found almost painfully familiar. Just as she knew him well enough now to read the pain in his features. He was not so good at concealing it anymore, she thought.

I don't remember, he said. But I thinkI tried to forget.

She nodded. So did I.

They fell silent again, each taken into their own thoughts and half-recovered memories. For Rinoa, they all came now in emotions; she could not remember what words they had spoken, or know clearly what they had done, but she could recall the way she had felt. First there had been happiness and contentment, then loneliness, rejection, angerthen jealousy, betrayalthen nothing. At the end, she realized, it was Quistis as much as Squall whom the feelings named as their target.

I wanted him to somehow make things better, she thought, not to realize that he could move on without me. I only left him because I wanted his attention. But instead, I lost it, and he found somebody else. She had blamed all of them; Squall, for not being considerate enough of her feelings, herself for pushing him away, Quistis for being there. In the end, she had wanted nothing more than to forget that any of it had happened; and so she almost had.

she spoke at length. I suppose we've already said it all before.

he agreed. And it doesn't look like we liked the memories very much the first time around.

Then maybe we shouldjust trust ourselves to have made the right decision, said Rinoa. No reason to create more bad memories.

Squall nodded silently.

Well, then, Rinoa attempted to make her voice sound formal, Commander, perhaps we'll meet again sometime.

No one can predict the future, Squall replied.

Rinoa paused, and caught a pained look in his eyes that gave her pause. But she knew that he was only feeling regret for whatever it was they'd had; now reduced to scattered fragments of faded memories. No matter what, the past was over.

Without another word to him, she took her leave. Not far away, she spotted Quistis, who was indeed speaking to Cid about something or other. Whatever it had been, she fell silent when she saw Rinoa.

she said, smiling.

Hello again, Rinoa, Cid replied, smiling. Just as he spoke, the tram appeared coming around a bend in the track. Oh! My ride's here. If you'll excuse me?

Of course. Rinoa smiled as he departed to join the group of people waiting to board the vehicle. As Quistis started to move that way as well, Rinoa caught her arm. she said; and she realized that a lump was rising in her throat. I mean, you might be wondering She bowed her head, blinking back the tears that threatened to well up in her eyes. He didhe does love you. Maybe he didn't always, but he does. I think it drove me crazy at first, when I realized. And she let her arm fall, not feeling she had the strength to keep it horizontal in any case.

Quistis bore a very sympathetic expression; Rinoa thought she had once believed it to be pitying, in an almost condescending way, but now it seemed to be more apologetic. I'm sorry, Rinoa,

Don't be, Rinoa said quickly. Nothing that happened was your fault. She forced herself to smile. Besides, it was years ago.

Slowly, Quistis nodded. she said, nodding towards the rail. I don't want to miss the tram.

Rinoa nodded; and the other woman walked away, joining her husband and boarding the tram. She watched as it slid away along the tracks, disappearing into the maze of the Timber skyline and taking Squall along with it. Once again, he was gone.

A moment after the tram had gone, she turned back towards the Assembly building to see Watts returning, along with a very familiar brown-furred dog who barked happily upon reaching her. I found her wandering around in front of the building, ma'am! Watts reported. She must have got away from the walker again.

Rinoa knelt down to scratch the dog behind her ears. Well, did you miss me, then? I'm sorry I had to go away for so long, but they don't want dogs in the Assembly building. And you have to stop being so mean to these poor walkers; they're just doing what's best for you.

Uh, they didn't have that report about the refugees when I asked, ma'am, Watts put in. They say they're still waiting for the files from the Esthar special committee.

That's all right, she said, standing. I suppose I don't need them right away. She looked down at the dog who, panting, stared back up into her eyes. You're getting pretty old, aren't you? she asked, patting her on the head. Well, come on, you don't do yourself any good sitting around our apartment all day. She set off down the road, beckoning the dog to follow. Come on, Angelo. Let's go for a walk.