A Time to Speak
Sometimes we learn more from a man’s errors,
than from his virtues.
--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Every so often Edea Kramer sat among the students of Balamb Garden. At times, she would justify her actions to Cid by claiming it brought back a sense of her youth. However, if truth were told, she never had a youth to reclaim. Some days it transported her back to simpler times - before any truths were known, and before the first lies were spoken. Regardless of the reasoning, whether logical or not, Edea found tranquility in the students daily rites of teenage passage.
Inhaling deeply, she took in the scent of the lilac blooms whose aroma draped the walls of the Quad. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a lone figure approaching the bench. To some extent, the movement surprised her, as very few students dared to approach her during her sporadic visits back to Balamb Garden. She closed the leather binder of the book she had been trying to read, although her concentration had been diverted long ago.
“Mrs. Kramer?” Rinoa asked hesitantly, feeling slightly uncomfortable about attempting a conversation.
Edea had to laugh at the mere formal sounding of her name. It was rare that she was addressed properly, and even less that she was addressed politely. Placing her hand on the wooden planks of the bench, she offered the space next to her.
“Rinoa, please sit down…and for Pandora’s sake, call me Matron.”
The younger girl obliged, holding what seemed to be a bag containing her lunch. “I’m surprised Cid has let you out of his sight… Word on the street is that you managed to keep his desk clean for several weeks, a feat thought impossible by many.”
“He’s not all that bad,” Rinoa added with a smile. “You just have to keep an eye on him. Trust me, I’ve never met anyone who could lose something so quickly…and I worked with Zone and Watts, which is saying a lot.”
Edea nodded, pushing long strands of hair behind her shoulder. “I’ve heard Selphie recount some of your adventures in Timber… Cid at least has some worthy competition.”
She watched as Rinoa unwrapped a sandwich, observing how the young sorceress avoided direct eye contact. Edea sighed inwardly, she could tell there was so much fear in this girl, but at the same time, she carried so much strength. Although the Edea and Rinoa had talked cordially on several occasions, they had never had a chance to truthfully talk. Edea knew that Rinoa had many questions, especially those revolving around their encounter at Galbadia Garden - events that would forever change both of their lives.
“Rinoa, I’m guessing that you didn’t come out here to talk about the state of Cid’s desk.”
“No…” Rinoa wasn’t even sure why she was there. It wasn’t as if this encounter had been planned… It was just an empty seat at an opportune moment, right?
“I know we have never had a chance to talk,” continued Edea, hoping to relieve some of the pressure stemming from the moment. “If there is anything you ever wanted to ask me, please feel free to do so.”
Rinoa lowered her food, as her appetite suddenly seemed to disappear. She half-heartily wrapped clear plastic over the sandwich, placing it back into the bag. Her original intent had been nothing more than to come out to take in the spring air, enjoying a leisurely meal - never did she think it would lead to any life altering questions. There was something she had wondered about for months, but was always too afraid to hear the answer. The question just kind of slipped out, before she even had time to comprehend what her mouth was saying.
Closing her eyes, Edea clenched the closed book on her lap, wrapping her fingers around the seam. She had never thought that Rinoa would be so direct. Maybe she was ready to answer any other question about their bond…just not that one. Yet, Rinoa summarized it so eloquently with one simple word. The word was far more devastating to hear than she had thought. How do you answer a question, one that has no answer? Well, at least no good answer to the one who posed it…
Edea snapped out her trance when Rinoa answered her own question with an eerily truthful answer. “Was it because you knew both Selphie and Quistis…and didn’t want to put them through the torment?”
The older woman paused, mentally preparing the subtle answer she was about to give, simply agreeing, “Yes Rinoa, at the time I didn’t know you. They were like my children – I raised them from as far back as I can remember. I also was aware of the pain, along with the joy, that could come from being a sorceress.”
Rinoa remained silent, nodding as if already expecting that answer. “How? How if Ultimecia controlled you…how could you decide who received the power?”
“Well…it wasn’t as if my consciousness wasn’t there, in fact, she could draw power and knowledge from it…but only what I allowed. The whole thing is more like a hazy memory. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was something from my past, or someone else’s. For all I knew, I could have been experiencing the memories of a play I had seen or a book I had read as a child.”
“So…she could read your mind?”
“Again, only what I allowed. When she was in my shell, she wanted to know, more than anything…what the true meaning of SeeD was. I would not tell her. Since she couldn’t hurt me, she hurt those closest to me…splitting me every way she could with my own body. Eventually betraying every bond…” Edea paused realizing she was going to say too much. Rinoa was not ready to hear that, nor was Squall. There would be a better time, after more secrets had been unlocked. “Not now, it’s too soon for me to go into that. Today is about your question, not my anguish.”
Inhaling the scent of the lilacs Edea continued, “Back to that day in Galbadia Garden…what I do remember amid the fog, was the three of you fighting me. I remember praying that Seifer was alive, and that he would just show some sign of life…anything. I remember feeling weak, as if what sanity I had was ebbing out of my reach… I could hear her…hear Ultimecia wanting to abandon my body. She was leaving my shell…I knew it…I was weak and of no use to her. Then the others came running into the auditorium… I just remember looking up at you…and allowing her consciousness to hear my thought, ‘she is strong, use her.’ It was enough to help Ultimecia decide, but in all honesty, the final decision wasn’t left up to me…now was it?”
Rinoa looked away quickly, almost knocking off the lunch from her lap. Edea could feel the hurt that ran through the younger girl, and the demons she still refused to face. Reaching out, she placed her fingers gently on Rinoa’s shoulder, who still remained turned away hiding her embarrassment.
“Please dear…if you can believe only one thing…if I truly had my choice, I wouldn’t have wished this grueling fate upon anyone. Yet, I still believe firmly in my first thought – I saw you fighting equally alongside people who had trained since childhood…you were strong. Yes, all those months ago in a deserted auditorium it was to protect Quistis and Selphie…but if I had to decide again, I would only feel more passionate this time around. Not only because you are strong, but also because you already have someone that would fight valiantly beside you… None of the others could have handled the situation in such a manner as you and Squall. You have not only come out of this situation alive, you have come out of it as far better people. For that reason alone, I will never doubt my decision.”
“I…guess I understand…I’m sorry…sometimes I just feel so…well strange, out-of-place I guess.”
“I imagine so. Honestly, not a lot of eighteen-year-olds can demolish an entire room with a single blow.”
“Oh you heard,” Rinoa looked up at the woman sitting next to her for the first time, trying to mask the embarrassment. Still, she couldn’t help keeping the traces of a smile off her face. “It was really an accident…and thankfully Squall wasn’t all that mad.”
“Well…at least you didn’t blow up a spaghetti dinner while meeting your fiancée’s parents.”
“Cid’s parents? You didn’t!?”
“I most certainly did. I’m still not sure what happened; I was so nervous. Went to grab a piece of garlic toast and the next thing I knew…Cid and his parents were covered in noodles…marinara sauce trailing a path down their foreheads.”
“Well from what I know, dinner with Laguna won’t be happening any time soon.”
“Don’t you dare worry about that child, all things take time.” Edea paused choosing her words wisely, now that the conversation had taken on more of a lighter tone.
“Rinoa, I was wondering…actually Cid and I were wondering…would you and Squall would be able to stop over for dinner before he leaves for Trabia?”
A gruff voice answered from behind them. “I’ll have to check my busy social calendar to see if I can fit you in.”
“Squall!” Rinoa jumped at the sound of his voice. She just hoped that he hadn’t overheard the rest of the conversation, but it wouldn’t be like him to do that. Standing up, she placed both hands on her hips, and set her lunch bag to the side. “Was that an attempt at a joke Mr. Leonhart?”
“How many times do I have to tell you – I don’t joke.”
“How could I forget about that,” she replied sarcastically. “Edea invited us over for dinner before you leave. Think you can fit it in?”
She noticed his change of demeanor, slight at best. There was something on his mind, she had learned that much back in Winhill. She recalled his mentioning a talk the two had some time ago, but aside from a few comments, most of the conversation was left between the shadows. His look drifted over to Matron, and then back to her.
“Squall please, there is so much we have to tell you.” Edea’s voice saddened when he hadn’t accepted the offer right away.
“Fine.” His answer short and to the point. “I was just going to see if you wanted to grab some lunch Rin.” He paused realizing it was the first time he had called her that in front of someone else. A slight blush reddened his cheeks, as Rinoa grinned cocking her head toward him.
“I’d love to.”
“Do you think they will stop by?” The headmaster picked up a magazine from the top of the pile, quickly flipping through the pages.
“Would you stop worrying dear,” countered Edea staring at her husband uncertainly. “Are you really going to read that?”
“Sure, why not?” He stopped at a page before realizing it was a magazine on interior decorating. He smiled nervously covering his mistake, “I was thinking about redecorating the office.”
“Yeah…right.” She shook her head knowing better, as some things never changed. Cid was hardly one to admit when he was wrong, unless it was something earth shattering. “And yes, I do think they will show up. Rinoa told you they would…and she wouldn’t go back on her word. Even if she has to drag Squall up here by one of his belts, they’ll be here.”
He sighed. “I know…but I just wish she wouldn’t have to ‘drag’ him up here in the first place. I just can’t get him to open up to me.”
“Cid, for over twelve years you’ve been his superior, do you think that he is going to be an open book to you? First, and foremost, you are his boss…and that is hard to look past.”
He took off his glasses, surrendering the magazine back onto the coffee table. “I know…but Edea I think he still blames me for how everything transpired. You know, I did leave him alone during his first battle…and his second…and his…”
“I get it, I get it… So you made mistakes, you think he’ll hold it against you forever? The last year has been an emotional rollercoaster for him. Right now, you are trying to think of him as a son…more than a bemused teenager.”
“I guess…you’re right. Is it wrong for me to think as a father, not wanting him to make the same mistakes I made? I know all that stands out in his mind are those moments beyond the scope of comprehension… To him, I was just some guy crying in the infirmary.”
“Yes, but if you tell him the truth…he certainly isn’t going to listen. He will understand in time. He doesn’t need a father; he needs a mentor knight. The best thing we can do is show him both paths and let him choose.”
“You sound like advice from a fortune cookie.”
“Thanks dear,” she answered sarcastically.
There was a pause. The headmaster stood, looking out the small window in the door. He wasn’t sure why he was so nervous, as he had done far harder things than this. Yet this was personal, here he might have to live up to his own mistakes. If history is bound to repeat itself, there are either two things you can do – to ignore the faults of others, or to gain the knowledge of all those who came before.
“Has she remembered yet?” The sadness in his voice betrayed his tone.
“No, not that I can tell. I’m sure if she had there would have been some outward signs.”
“Yeah, like the mysterious throwing of a bookcase at Squall.”
“Cid…I said that whole ‘bookshelf thing’ was an accident.” She smiled, pulling back her long hair and placing it over her shoulder.
“Do you know what Ultimecia used against her?”
“Some…” Edea answered hesitantly. “My spirit was weak. I don’t have to see what happened to know the pain it caused…or will cause.”
The headmaster walked over to his wife, sitting on the couch next to her. Pulling her into an embrace, he held her. For just a moment, and then a moment more…sometimes he felt that she would just fade away. Sometimes, he just had to hold her to make sure she was real. They had made their mistakes. But maybe together, he thought, they could save some pain to the next generation.
“Edea, I can’t even begin to imagine. To surrender your body and mind over without much of a fight…it had to be something horrible. But this is the right thing; if she doesn’t address it soon…it will only become a weapon against them.”
The question itself is sometimes the greatest mystery. Something had been bothering her all day, as if a small voice was trying to scream out among the masses. And yet, she was failing to hear it. Maybe it was in the words Edea had used this morning, and the sensation of urgency the young sorceress felt about speaking to the couple.
“It was enough to help Ultimecia decide, but in all honesty the final decision wasn’t left up to me…now was it?”
The words seemed to play like an enigma in her mind. ‘Now was it?’ What did that mean? Of course it was Ultimecia’s decision, who else’s could it have possibly been?
“Hey, Rinoa.” His voice speaking her name snapped her back into the moment.
“Are you listening?”
“Sure, what did you want?”
“Well, I had casually mentioned we’d passed their door two halls ago.”
“Oh, sorry…guess I wasn’t listening.”
“What a shock.” He answered in his usual monotone, before asking, “Are you all right, really?”
“I’ll be fine.” She reached for him, linking their arms together. “Promise, I’ll listen this time.”
“I now have a newfound understanding of how annoying it is when I don’t listen to you.”
“You what!?” She said smiling up at him as they walked back.
“Um…I mean…when I am so busy contemplating the words you had already said, that it is hard for me to focus on all the words you are currently speaking.”
He looked down at her trying not to show his amusement. “…You’re not buying that, are you?” She laughed, shaking her head as he reached down giving her a tiny peck on the cheek. “Didn’t think so.”
It felt like an eternity. Okay, maybe that was a slight exaggeration…but pretty darn close. It seemed that all their conversations appeared to be repeating in one infinite circle. Edea had managed to broach every subject, except for the one she had invited them over for. She and Cid had exchanged glances several times, each waiting on the other’s silent cue.
Yet, she couldn’t do it.
For too long Squall seemed distant, and even though he hadn’t said more than three words tonight, he was there. She had never played favorites. It was that simple, she cared for her children with equal amounts of love. But, there were always those who she worried about more.
And sometimes, just sometimes, she wondered if she had made the right choice. Or was it ever really her choice to make? She cleared her mind. It was too late to let doubts intrude. She couldn’t. Maybe Cid could sense her hesitation, as it didn’t take a knight to understand her fear…just a person who shared love in his heart.
“Squall…Rinoa….I guess you are wondering why we asked you here.” Cid placed his arm around his wife, whose look drifted from the other couple to the floor. “There is something we need to warn you about.”
“What?” Squall’s answer was almost immediate. He was just glad they were finally getting to the truth.
The headmaster tried to keep his bearing. “When Rinoa accepted her powers…and yes ‘accepted’ is the correct word…there was a certain process that she endured. No sorceress can give her powers away without permission…good or bad. It’s one of those loopholes that tends to get caught between fact and fiction. The problem then lies in how the powers were absorbed. In Edea’s case, she first inherited her powers as a child…and then again several years later.”
Matron stood and moved sitting next to Rinoa; reaching down, she took her hand. The young woman was trembling inside, and Edea could perceive the tremendous fear. In her heart, the new sorceress had to have known the truth. It was only the part that was locked within her memory that scared her…the unknown.
Cid took off his glasses, trying to look at Squall. The commander sat very still, watching only Rinoa. The headmaster didn’t have to read his expression to know the feeling that he was experiencing. It didn’t matter who was upset, both Rinoa and Squall suffered equally.
“It’s all right.” Rinoa squeezed Matron’s hand, before she focused on Squall admitting, “Somehow I knew it. I don’t know how, but I did. Sometimes at night, I wake up out of breath…my pulse racing. I can feel every heartbeat in the back of my throat. At first, I thought I was having nightmares, but they only seemed to grow more vivid. I can recall bits and pieces of the emotions…but I can’t remember the cause. Only the results, the pain and the fear…I should have said something, but I hoped it would pass.”
Holding her hand with firmness, Edea explained, “Rinoa, it is your mind trying to remember. Ultimecia is gone, but the path you took to get here remains the same – you just can’t recall the road.”
“So what does this mean to us?” Squall was not one to play guessing games. Right now, he felt that they were falling into the same trap that got them there in the first place. People in authority only giving fragments of the whole. He never wanted to blame others, but it was hard to overlook mistakes they had made. Or the answers still left within the unanswered void.
“It depends,” confessed Edea a little more solemn than before. “It is the first true test. Whatever she showed her, was enough to convince Rinoa that she would be better off--”
“I’m not listening to this.” Squall stood up offering Rinoa his hand. “If you for one second want me to believe that Rinoa would give up control of her mind and body…it’s not possible. Just because you did it, doesn’t mean she did. Rinoa had no choice. It’s that simple.”
She took his hand standing up with him, yet she couldn’t look him in the eye. “Squall…I know Edea is telling the truth. I let Ultimecia control me.” The words sounded worse coming from her mouth than she thought. It was hard facing the truth, no matter how important it was. “I can’t explain it right now…or I’m not sure if I ever can. I just remember feeling like, for that moment in time, I wanted to die.”
“No Rin--” She cut him off, placing her hand over his mouth.
“Shhh, Squall…please. I’m not saying ‘honestly wanted to die.’ I’m just saying I remember feeling that every horrible event that ever happened to me, cumulated into that one moment. As I said, I don’t remember what she showed me…but the pain is still hidden inside me.”
“Please sit back down,” the headmaster offered. “If you don’t face this now, it could tear you apart. Not just Rinoa, but the trust and bond that is forming between you. Ultimecia took the past, and played it against her. Time, space, meaning…it’s all irrelevant in her reality. She can take bits and pieces of conversations and memories, turning them into a deadly montage. You can hear the voices, see the faces…but it doesn’t mean it happened that way. It’s like building a quilt from the fabric of time. You can take sections and cut them, fit them into a pattern that you desire.”
Edea tried to simplify, “It’s like getting a ransom note cut from magazine articles. The words are all part of other stories, but if you cut them out, and re-arrange them…you can spell out any story you want.”
Squall looked over at Rinoa, waiting for her reaction. She nodded, sitting back onto the couch. He still wasn’t comfortable with the idea, and hesitated obviously before finally giving in.
“So what do we do?” Rinoa’s voice extremely soft and unsure.
“You find out what she used against you, so it could never be used against you again.”
“Rinoa,” Edea offered sympathetically. “You are going to have to relive it again. Your mind will unlock it as a repressed memory…the only thing is, it will feel like she is there with you. You will experience the same sensations as last time, but this time you will remember.”
“I don’t like this.” Squall felt he had to be the voice of reason. Then again, what was reason given the situation? Of course, he didn’t like it, but what was his choice? To let it dwell inside, until it built up and broke an emotional floodgate. If living with the pain now could help them in the future, he would have to reluctantly agree. Still, that didn’t mean he had to like it.
“I don’t like it either.” She looked at his eyes, trying to hide her fear. “But I have to figure it out – I have to remember.”
He hadn’t seen her lying in a bed since the hospital in Deling. When she slept peacefully, it brought his thoughts back to an earlier time. A metamorphosis that would change both of their lives forever. Now she was going to relive the pain, the nightmare. Squall hadn’t said more than two words to Cid and Edea since Rinoa had agreed. Now he sat in a chair leaning his arms on the bed. Both of his hands carefully wrapped around her left hand, and he tried to veil his concern with a grin.
“That bad huh?” She returned the gesture trying not to show her fear, although her trembling hand revealed her apprehension. He released one of her hands, slowly moving his fingers through her hair. “Squall, I’ll be okay…promise.”
“I know Rinoa. Just don’t know how well I’ll do.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Hey guys.” Edea walked in with a glass of water. She carefully set it down on the nightstand, handing Rinoa two small white pills. “They’re to help you sleep. Just remember you are going to experience the memory, as if it were happening right now.”
“Okay…” She sat up and putting the two capsules in her mouth, followed by a sip of water. “Edea, how come I will remember this time?”
“Because your mind says that your conscience is ready. You had both the key and lock, now you are merely putting them together.” Rinoa nodded in understanding, still a little lost, but trusted the older woman nonetheless. She lay back down, turning to face her knight. Moving one hand under the pillow, the other still remained tightly entwined with Squall’s fingers.
For several minutes, he watched Rinoa. She watched him until her eyes became too heavy, and the laws of nature could no longer be denied. The hurried breaths of consciousness, turned into the rhythmic pattern found only in sleep. Once in a while her body would twitch. With every movement that passed, he wanted to wake her up, and look into her normally carefree eyes.
And then suddenly, it looked as if she was having and epileptic seizure. Her body convulsed as she thrashed her head from side to side. Squall stood up, grabbing both of her arms. At this point, he almost had his entire body weight resting on her forearms, trying to keep her from hurting herself. He couldn’t believe the amount of strength it was taking to restrain her.
“Get her out of this!”
“No,” Edea spoke in a motherly tone containing equal amounts of love and firmness. “It would be more dangerous not let her finish this out.”
“What exactly is she seeing?” His voiced cracked, as he could hardly keep his calm.
“I don’t know Squall. As I said earlier, it is a combination of the past and her present before she became possessed. Ultimecia will use her thoughts against her, and the thoughts of those around her.”
“What!? You didn’t say anything about the thoughts of others. You mean anything I ever thought…she might hear?”
“Yes Squall, I said that Ultimecia had the ability to play any event recorded on the event horizon of time. I’m sorry, if I didn’t make that clear enough. It wasn’t only her thoughts, it is anybody’s past. Yours included…she could have heard, or seen, anything in your past too. Anyone’s for that matter. But Ultimecia would’ve been selective, and gone for the ones most likely to destroy her will. Sometimes surrendering looks like the only option, you are now forced to feel the burden of pain…everyone’s. Ultimecia will look like the mother figure; tell her what she wants to hear…fill the empty void. She will be the only presence that can bring Rinoa solace…and so, Rinoa will surrender. We know the outcome, but the story goes untold…until now.”
He closed his eyes. How could he tell Matron that Ultimecia wouldn’t have even had to turn some of his thoughts around? How could he tell Rinoa? When they first met, he had so many negative thoughts about her…but it was just how he reacted to everyone. One’s inner thoughts were meant to be their own, and right now, it felt like some sort of mental rape…he honestly felt ill. It wasn’t the time to think about it, but for a brief second, he actually felt remorse for being in Laguna’s thoughts without permission. Either for good or for bad, it was still an intrusion that was gained without permission.
“Hyne Rinoa…please forgive me.”
The mist weighed heavily on her skin. It covered her body like a ghostly security blanket. Rinoa opened her eyes to find herself standing amongst a dense sea of fog. The coarse silhouettes of headstones stood on the near horizon, as the fickle moonlight only offered enough illumination to register where she was. She knew this place too well…too damn well.
Rinoa’s lungs quickly reminded her that she had to breathe; she answered their call reluctantly. She crossed her arms over her chest, holding tightly against her body. Anxiety mixed with fear sent a surge of adrenaline to course through her veins. The heel of her shoe sank into the muddy terrain, as an unworldly fear exploded through her veins. She took another hesitant step toward the headstones, fighting against inner turmoil. The air felt unusually stagnant, making her breathing labored and deep. This was reminiscent of the nightmares she had as a child. A small gasp escaped her lips as she read the name on the first headstone. Gravity could no longer be denied, as she found herself collapsing under the pressure of her own weight.
Why…why was she here?
Uncertain hands traced the indentations of her mother’s etched name, each letter more painful than the last. The ruthless November wind picked up, causing an indescribable chill. Dead leaves fell off a nearby oak tree, as foliage trickled to the earth like rain. Rinoa shivered alone in her solitude, and for a moment, she felt her sanity slowly ebbing.
The voice felt so comforting. It seemed to be a beacon in the tempest raging within her own mind. Still kneeling on the ground, body frail and trembling, the young girl turned toward the speaker.
“Where…where am I…who are you?” She questioned through her labored gasps.
The woman walked forward, gently reaching for the girl’s shoulder. She kneeled next to Rinoa, using her free hand to gently smooth her hair. Every word planned and precise, “I’m here to make the pain go away.”
“This isn’t…real. I remember running here one night, but I was only a child. I was five years old! This isn’t right…I’m older now…this isn’t how it…no. What is happening!?”
“Were you really five when you came here? Can you really be sure?”
“Yes…yes, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was so scared. It was so dark…”
“What do you honestly remember, Rinoa? The pain, the guilt, the images that haunt your every waking moment until this very day? Time is nothing, an illusion, one that can be rewritten… You alone can change this. It is the past, it is the future. It is all the same.”
“What are you talking about? Who…what? Please, just quit talking in riddles! Who…who are you?” demanded Rinoa, although not too articulately.
The woman’s human form moved closer, again comforting the distressed girl. “My name is not important. It’s just another useless label placed upon us. It is what we can achieve together that is important. Together, you and I have the ability to change your past, to reshape your future.”
“You’re the…you’re the sorceress,” she said in a tone barely above a whisper. Rinoa pushed Ultimecia away, as she struggled to her feet. No longer wanting any form of comfort from the motherly figure, she took a step back, until her body rested next to her mother’s grave. “You…you look different than back in Deling.”
“That is because that body was not my true form. It belongs to another, just like you, who wants the empty void to cease.”
“No, that woman we just faced…it was the person who took care of Squall and the others… Edea, her name is Edea; she’s the one we fought. It wasn’t you! We won.”
“Child, there are no winners or losers. Did you not see the pain reflected in their eyes, the people you fight beside? They have suffered as much, or even more, than you have. Edea only desired to fix the mistakes of the past, to take their emptiness away.”
Rinoa wanted to scream, wanted to run, but she had no idea where she was. This woman had to be lying. Rinoa knew Squall still carried the pain of the past, and that is why an emptiness in his heart. He would be fine; it was just his nature. Wait…what mistakes was she talking about?
Taking a small step forward, Rinoa realized that she couldn’t even see her feet. She almost seemed to glide across the air, long dark robes hiding most of her form.
“Do you not see the hurt within the eyes of their leader, his pain far outweighing that of the others? He will not live past this. His soul is in torment no matter how emotionless he may act. This is the beginning of his self-destruction. This is what Edea wants to change, which is why I need your help…you alone can save him.”
“No, you are lying!”
“Am I?” Ultimecia’s voice never wavered, the motherly tone always present. No signs of anger or frustration, only a certain confidence projected into each word. “Did you not wonder why all of this is happening at once? Or why the change in the person known as their Matron? The future of those children is dim. She is acting to save their souls. Now you have fought and destroyed her…but in reality, you have destroyed your friends. Their fate has been decided…you condemned them to eternal damnation.”
“No, Edea was slain…they are free.”
“If they are free, why are you here? I am the only one who can help them. They are mere grains of sand in the hourglass of time… Their existence will be in vain, unless… Never mind, you are not strong enough. Your father is right.”
Rinoa started to feel a growing anger. All her life her father thought of her as weak, and she proved him wrong by leaving. She worked for freedom, she worked for honor, and she worked for all those things proving she was strong. This woman in front of her wasn’t going to speak about Caraway.
“Don’t you talk about him! Why did you bring me here, to this place!?”
“I did not bring you anywhere. You are in a place in between reality and fantasy; I can only guide you along this path. I cannot choose it. I think your mind brought you here, to show you what could have been…your deepest regret. You could have saved your mother, you could have saved your friends, and you could still…”
“No! I won’t listen to you. This is not real.”
“Yes, it is. I can show you the past, much as Ellone did for the others. I cannot show you things that didn’t take place…everything is real. I can show you what Squall doesn’t want you to know. I can show you why you came back to this point in your life.”
“I am fighting beside him because he wants me to be there.”
“Foolish child. Do you think he would train all his life for a battle, only to have a stranger fight beside him? No, he has never thought of you as anything but a burden. It is your heritage that he wants around...not you. Caraway is a source of great power. To Leonhart, your father is a great ally.”
Rinoa opened her mouth to speak. Before she could protest, soft mud turned into marble, and gusting wind was replaced by familiar music. She now stood among the dancing couples at the SeeD graduation. She blinked whipping her eyes, this was a dream, it had to be. Why did it feel so real?
The sorceress faded into the ballroom shadows. Thankfully, the familiar scene was more welcomed than the cemetery. A couple was dancing close, and for a moment, she believed they would run into her. She tried to move, but didn’t make it. Their bodies passed through her image as if it was an apparition. A chill from the encounter caught her off guard. It felt as if her spirit had momentarily entered another’s body.
She started scanning the crowd. Frantically, she searched for the person she knew would be there. And there he was, standing against the wall, just as she had remembered. She wanted to run up to Squall and wrap her arms around him. Before for she could act on the idea, another version of herself walked up to him. Was it actually possible to be jealous of yourself? If it was, it was the only way to describe the overwhelming feeling right now.
The music seemed to fade into the background. From behind, the calming voice of the sorceress spoke softly over the crowd’s.
“He has always acted that way…but it is not his true self. You were not the first, nor would you be the last. He is putting on a mask just as you were. Ask any of the others he has danced with. He knows how to dance, nobody learns that quickly my dear. The first words out of his mouth to you were a lie. Does that not speak of his character?”
“What are you…how did you know?” Why had she never realized the first words he spoke to her were a lie? He had known how to dance; he had admitted as much later on. He just wasn’t good unless he focused…there was a difference. Wait, what others?
“Yes, now I have your attention, don’t I? Squall Leonhart is nobody’s fool. He is not the angel you made him out to be, nor his he the troubled teenager who cannot love. In fact, quite the opposite, he has played his game as long as you have played yours. Listen, search for the truth within your own heart. His thoughts are recorded onto the script of the past…”
The music ended and fireworks ignited in the nocturnal sky. Rinoa watched her phantom look toward the main door, before seeing the headmaster socializing with a few partygoers.
“What a bitch.” She could hear his words echo throughout her mind, “Whatever…good riddance.”
“He didn’t say that, did he?” Rinoa tried to desperately remember. Her mind at the time was so focused on speaking with Cid that anything Squall might have muttered went unnoticed. She turned to Ultimecia, quickly defending an action she wasn’t sure even took place.
“He didn’t mean it! Look, I just walked away…what else would he say? He didn’t…he didn’t know me back then…I was the one who was wrong!”
“Oh, but he did know you, didn’t he? It wasn’t as if you hadn’t played that little game before either. Maybe his first impression of you was the most accurate, maybe it is the illusion that he sees before him in the present.”
Ultimecia remained patient. She realized that this girl was still defending his actions; her spirit would need to be broken in another time. In that one fatal moment her victim clung to her in her nightmares. To get Rinoa to give up her future, she would have to turn toward the past. Take her to the moment that her fear was born…
Rinoa felt an odd sensation radiating from her fingertips. Outstretching one arm, she was shocked to see her fingers morphing into those of a child. She looked at her teenage reflection in the darkened glass of the ballroom, as the sky behind the window seemed to radiate brighter. Slowly each star became more lucid, and she was no longer in the ballroom…but standing outside, underneath the heavens. Rinoa couldn’t speak. Again, she strained to fill her lungs with oxygen. Looking around, she gasped aloud in recognition; she remembered this highway…how could she forget?
Her tiny delicate fingers fisted as she had the memories of a five-year-old mixed with those more embittered by the years. She was reliving this horrible night again, the one she tried so desperately to suppress. She heard two men talking, realizing that she actually was still in her own body…just from twelve years ago.
“I’m sorry Major Caraway, I cannot let anyone pass.”
“Dammit, she’s my wife! I have to…I have to see her.”
Caraway pushed the man out of the way, disregarding his daughter’s own fears. He left her standing alone in the cold. She watched the hypnotic flashing of the red lights until she just had to run. It felt like her feet weren’t touching the ground, an urgency she had never known took over.
In the distance, a siren echoed in the background, but the sound went unnoticed by the little girl. Rinoa’s younger form stopped running as childhood eyes fixated on the wreckage. A tiny sliver of what appeared to be the taillights emerged from over the embankment. Pieces of glass and fiberglass were strewn like a lethal blizzard. Her tears ran freely, tracing their own unique path down reddened cheeks. Yet, she could not speak…no words came. She felt the hand of someone behind her. Looking over her shoulder, she saw a uniformed man; he offered her little comfort with a forced smile, before embracing her in a hug.
“It will be all right.”
What an outright lie. Even as her younger self, she knew this soldier was trying to shield her from the reality. Did he not see the carnage, the horror, the blood? The blood…why, why was she forced to witness this again? It had to be another horrific dream, or some sick, cruel joke by fate…it had to be. Again, she was forced to experience the revulsion first hand. Again, her ‘father’ left her alone in the darkness. Again, her only solace was coming from a stranger. Amid the mortally bitter night, Rinoa felt each tear crystallizing eternally on her face…and eternally on her soul.
“I have to see mommy,” she said softly, never telegraphing her intentions to the guard. Ducking underneath his arms, she lowered her head, and ran down the steep incline of the hill. She used every ounce of energy to outrun the man. When Rinoa reached the bottom, she witnessed her father stained with her mother’s blood. He cradled her limp body in his arms.
“Why Julia? Why did it have to be you?”
The young image took a step back, but the spirit of teenage Rinoa remained standing firm on that spot. Finally, she had broken free from the chains that bound her, from the past she had remembered. Behind her, she could hear the sounds of her younger self being physically restrained by the officer. The soldier spoke to her, trying to calm her younger form, but older Rinoa ignored his words. This time she could do what she couldn’t before…go to her mother.
She took a few tentative steps forward, leaving all remnants of her former memories on the hill. All at once, she began running with sudden urgency, afraid that this moment in time would also fade away. The figure of Caraway disappeared into the same nothingness as her younger self, as did everyone else. It left her, the mangled vehicle, and the grotesque remains of her mother.
“Mom…mommy,” she gasped falling to the debris and blood soaked pavement. “No…no…please don’t leave me. I’m scared, I can’t do this alone.”
Rinoa shivered, as a sudden rush ran through her body at the familiarity of the words. Her mother’s hand fell off her stomach and onto the ground lifelessly.
Feeling the branches of a nearby bush scratch her back, she turned. It felt as if the plant had been reaching for her with skeletal hands. The green leaves turned to an earthen shade of brown; it looked like someone hitting the fast-forward button on Mother Nature. A shimmer reflected from within the brush when the red strobe of the ambulance flashed. Her mother’s ring…her wedding band. Rinoa reached through the thicket, retrieving the object. To her surprise, she felt a painful sting on the side of her wrist. She retracted her arm in surprise, and the platinum band fell on to the street.
Between the pain of her heart and the pain on her body, she managed to look down to her wrist. Rinoa saw a large brown spider slowly crawling up her skin like a predator. On adrenaline alone, she shook her arm, tossing the intruder several meters away. She didn’t have time to be frightened. At that moment, something far more important was disappearing.
Grabbing the ring, she pressed it firmly against her palm. Returning to her mother, she saw her eyes staring back vacantly. The once beautiful orbs were replaced by a glassy emptiness. Small streams of blood trickled down from Julia’s mouth. Yet through it all, her mother held indescribable beauty.
Rinoa slowly raised her hand, wiping the thick liquid from her mother’s lips. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the spider creeping over her mother’s corpse. There was this vile creature, laying some kind of demented claim to her mother’s body. Her trembling hand wanted to brush it off, yet all she could do was sit paralyzed as it crawled in her mother’s blood.
A voice sliced through the night, once again coming to her rescue when nobody else dared. Ultimecia reached down, moving her hand across Julia’s face. With one fluid motion, her face returned to normal. Now it just looked as if her mother were sleeping peacefully.
“Now, you remember what it feels like to have paralyzing fear. The images were always there, suppressed in the deepest parts of your mind. You did see your mother that night, not up close…only from afar. You watched your father leave. He walked away from you that evening, forgetting his daughter. You never got over that…you never could.”
“He…he did leave…I remember they tried to find him…but someone had driven him back to the manor.”
“If that is not abandonment of a child, then what is? You cried alone the night of your mother’s death. He forgot you. She never did. This doesn’t have to happen…. He left you for two years, to be watched by relatives you hardly knew. Your own flesh and blood dropped you off like a dog at a kennel. Don’t try to fight it anymore…”
“Mommy…no…” She rasped out between frantic breathes; she wanted to cry out for anyone…anyone who would listen. Anyone who could give her comfort. “Squall…where are you? Please.” It was all becoming too much; she wasn’t sure if this was reality, or if the other was. Could one person possibly have the ability to mend all that fate broke?
At last, her tolerance started to waiver. Ultimecia knew she was getting close, as lines were becoming blurred. The last straw however, would be the one grain of hope she still held on to; the one that was also fighting for her soul…even if Rinoa never knew of the battle taking place…
“You can’t count on him! He lives a wretched existence. His life is full of lies and deceit. His true self isn’t the one you saw fighting next to you. He is the snake, and you are nothing but the mouse he is hunting…slowly, methodically. He wants you for power. Even you know those who are the most quiet, are the most dangerous. They never stop thinking, never stop planning… He doesn’t want you as a person, only as a paycheck.”
The whole thing appeared like a montage. Bits, pieces, and mere clips of images played in her mind. She was watching herself, watching him…it didn’t matter his thoughts were all she could hear.
It was on a train, the second time they met. He pushed her away…
“Get off me…you leach.”
“Seifer’s girlfriend? I’m sure his and about a thousand others.”
“Immature, spoiled brat, why the hell would Almasy even want you?”
“These people are idiots, led by a superficial ditz.”
Next, the scene changed to an evening in Deling. The Sorceress’ coronation Parade had begun. Rinoa was obediently standing behind Edea, lost in a trance. On the street Irvine and Squall, stood…
“Isn’t that…” Irvine trailed.
“It’s Rinoa…do I have to keep a leash on her?”
It was the same night, only minutes after they defeated the Iguions in the palace. Rinoa grabbed his arm as he started walking away.
“I have to shut her up. Her whining is going to destroy this whole mission,” she heard him inwardly say. His vocal answer was one she had come to treasure over the last year, “Just stay close to me.” Now the words seemed irrelevant, knowing the moments leading up to it.
It flipped to three figures sitting on the roof of the clock tower. A carousel filled with jesters and clown figures…
“She doesn’t want Seifer to die…she rather sacrifice me if given the chance.”
The final images were what led her to this moment, the armed conflict that escalated between the two Gardens. Black and white, good and bad, Squall and Seifer….
“I’m going to kill Zell. I’ll never forgive him for this…I liked that ring. I’ll never get it back now.”
“Dammit, I don’t have time to save her, someone else can do it.”
“Why, why does have to be me? So you guys can continue to live in your fantasy world? There are other people here, not just some woman who I have run around saving like a child.”
“Hyne, just go back to Seifer. You two deserve each other.”
The next she saw was a montage of images, words, and thoughts that would finally break her. Her mother, her father, every time she mourned the loss of friend or relative…all rolled into one heart-wrenching minute. Moments of Squall’s life strategically placed to undermine everything she ever believed about him. Moments of her life to undermine who she was, everything she believed about herself.
She tried to dismiss the images, believe them to be some kind of cruel hoax or hallucination. Yet, she knew they were true. She always had a way of getting on people’s nerves, what made her believe Squall would be any different?
“You heard how he truly feels. I worry that you cannot handle more of the truth. Now is the time to turn mouse into mongoose, and kill the snake. Your mother loved you, she was the only one…close your eyes, don’t try to fight the sensation... Just go to sleep, and when you wake up, everything will be just how it should have been. Your pain will end. You can change this path, and save the only person who ever loved you… just close your eyes and sleep.”
Rinoa looked down to see her mother’s face one last time. Every emotion was becoming too much to bear…if her mother hadn’t left that night. Maybe Rinoa could do one thing in her life without screwing it up…maybe everything could change. The past to become the present and start anew. The pain and hurt she felt seemed to be engulfed with a newfound tranquility and peace. Ultimecia reached down and smoothed her hair with a motherly touch, reminding her once more what it was like to be loved.
Lowering her head onto Julia’s chest, Rinoa felt what warmth her mother’s body seemed to emit. The soul was already gone, but the morbid comfort of being near her once more, to see her again with the eyes of the present. Even if she was gone, it had been over twelve years and just to have the chance to be near her again was amazing.
“I love you mommy.” The last words the broken child spoke before surrendering her soul, and what sanity remained, to Ultimecia.
It paralleled a scene written in a horror novel, when the character wakes up from the nightmare after repressing memories of the killer. Yet, this wasn’t a nightmare…it had been her truth. The killer in this book was a demented soul twisting reality for sadistic pleasure. Rinoa’s vision was blurred as her eyes struggled to find a common focus. Sweat drenched her body and her hands clenched the sheets as if clinging to sanity.
She would have screamed if she had contained the energy.
“Rinoa, I’m here. Look at me.” His weight was almost entirely on her, as he had been trying to stop her from injuring herself. Slowly he moved to the side of the bed, knowing that she was once again aware of her surroundings. He reached for her fingers that were tightly gripping the sheets. She immediately withdrew her hand when they touched, acting as if the contact stung like poisonous venom. She looked different…apprehension, hatred and betrayal contained in her normally gentle eyes.
“Don’t you…don’t you dare touch me!” she screamed, not caring who heard her.
“Rinoa…please calm down. Just relax and take a deep breath.” Edea tried to step forward, but Cid placed a hand on her shoulder impeding her advance.
“This is your fault. You wanted her to take me…you wanted me go through this. You couldn’t put anyone you cared about through this. You don’t care about me…no one does.”
There was almost no emotion showing on her face. It was as if her life force had been drained in twenty minutes. Everything was locked hidden deep inside; only the pain in her eyes betrayed the void of emotion.
Squall sat completely at a loss for words. He had no idea of how to approach her right now; she was beyond anything he had ever seen. It reminded him of a prisoner of war who had been interrogated for countless months. She had nothing left to give – her will for life had been stolen…again.
The sheet fell to the floor as she placed both feet over the side of the bed. She was a puppet with someone controlling her strings, each movement precise and meticulous. She was exceedingly careful not to look at him, or the other two within the room.
Her demeanor sent a shiver down his spine. It brought him back to Lunar Base, and for a brief moment, he wondered if someone else was controlling her body. He wondered if some entity that defied the laws of time swallowing her being. He couldn’t endure such pain again.
“Oh Hyne,” he whispered bitterly, his heart racing frantically in his chest. Whatever she had relived had been enough to make her lose her sanity. And if she was going to be like this, his wasn’t that far behind. “Please Rinoa, look at me...say something.”
To his surprise, she willingly obeyed his request. Her words were embittered, yet surprisingly lacking of intonation. “I’m nothing but an immature, spoiled brat that ruined your life. You’re right, I would be much better off with Seifer.”
“Rinoa, what are you talking about?”
“I heard everything…every thought you ever had… Maybe it is better you don’t speak your mind, because I now understand how your mind works.”
“Hyne, Rinoa…please that was long time ago. You were different then, we were different then. You know that isn’t how I feel now.”
“Get away from me. People don’t change, who am I kidding?”
He reached out to grab her. Maybe it was a trained reaction; maybe it was his growing need to comfort her…whatever it was didn’t work. Violently she grabbed his arm, twisting it away from her. Her eyes were swollen, as if she had been crying for hours. It had only been twenty-five minutes… The pain carried far greater than mere minutes, or even hours…it was years layered into one enormous peak that was exploding like a volcano.
She started intensely shaking, and if for the fact she hadn’t been standing, he would have thought her to be experiencing a seizure. All she could do was look at him…beyond hurt. Opening her mouth, she was going to say something, but abruptly stopped just shaking her head.
Then she turned…and ran.
Just like the night at the dance, he stood immobile and confused. This magnified a thousand times over. Now he didn’t stand as a cadet confused with her suddenly disappearing, but a man watching someone he loved running - running away from him.
“Let her be,” warned Cid. “If you go after her, it will only cause more pain.”
Edea couldn’t stand the sight of seeing one her children in such turmoil, and tried to remain strong for all of them. On the inside, she was dying just as much as Squall was. She felt responsible and her guilt could never completely fade. She had to try; maybe someday these two would see the other side of their bond, one not mentioned in textbooks. The amazing sense of being that other couples could only dream of. For all its downsides, the upsides far outweighed them if given time.
This time she walked over to the errant knight, placing her hand on his shoulder. “Give her a few days. Right now, Rinoa is facing every trauma that she ever had to face, multiplied tenfold. To her it wasn’t in the past, but as if everything just happened in the present. What you thought, what you said…it wasn’t a year ago, it was today. Every death, every lie, every word spoken or thought bad about her…”
Squall turned his head to look at Edea, and when their eyes met he could see the sorrow reflected in them. She had gone through it too, it was always the women who suffered the most; their knights just had to make the right choices. Something that up until now, he had never been especially good at.
Maybe it wasn’t in Edea that laid the answers, but in Cid. “Did this happen to you?” The commander demanded walking toward the headmaster, pointing his finger accusingly, “Did you watch your wife go through the same thing?”
“Yes, and I was told to give her a few days to comprehend everything she had just seen.”
Maybe that was it…somewhere along the line Cid and Edea had taken a wrong turn, no matter how good their intentions were. Squall would not let that happen. “Like hell I’m making that mistake.” His words caught the couple off guard or at the very least it was the abruptness in his reasoning. He never said another word, leaving their apartment never even taking the time to close the door.
“Well,” Cid paused for a moment reaching his arms around his wife. “He did it.”
“I know,” she snaked her arm around his back, laying her head on his chest. “I couldn’t have asked for as much.”
“Do you think he knows it is a test between them?”
“No, but my guess is he doesn’t care.”
“He didn’t wait. He didn’t make the first mistake I made…and that is all that matters.”
He never remembered running so fast in his life. It wasn’t some kind of hurried walk or slow jog, it was a full-scale run, and neither heaven nor hell could make him stop. The halls were almost barren, but he didn’t expect them to be occupied at such a late hour. He could’ve been breaking a thousand Garden rules…he didn’t care.
Finally, he reached her room, and began knocking on her door. At first, he wasn’t sure where she might have gone, there were almost endless possibilities. If he knew one thing about her, she’d feel the need to go where she found the most comfort. Where it contained the least amount of memories of him, a neutral zone in her mind.
When there was still no answer, he reached in his jacket pocket for his master key. If ever there was an appropriate time to abuse his authority, he figured this to be it. Sliding the master cardkey in the reader, the door clicked allowing him to enter.
He spoke softly, as if not to frighten her. The only illumination was that of moonlight peering through the closed blinds. Soft muffled cries filled the room, and he could tell she was lying curled up on the bed. Shutting the door behind him, he called her name a second time. It went as unanswered as his first attempt. Suddenly he felt that being there was a horrible invasion of her privacy, but that didn’t stop him. She was hurting, and he would be damned if she had to suffer alone. Even if his stupidity was one of the causes.
Sitting down on the bed, he moved his arm slowly toward her. He flinched when she reacted almost at the speed of light. Even in the dark, she grabbed his wrist with precise accuracy stopping his advance.
“Don’t you dare touch me.”
His heart sank at the pure spitefulness rooted in her words. In one fluid motion, she pushed him away and rolled so her back was toward him.
He gathered a breath before continuing, “Can we talk about this?”
“Oh, now you want to talk – classic.”
“Don’t…Rinoa we have to talk this out.”
“I think you’ve said quiet enough about me in your lifetime…and I’ve seen your idea of ‘talking’ thank you.”
He wanted to scream. If it wouldn’t have alerted the entire faculty wing, he would have given in to the urge.
“Listen, I don’t know what you heard or saw, and I can’t deny some things that I probably did. If you want me to say what you heard was all lies…I can’t give you that satisfaction. But dammit, it’s what you didn’t know that made all the difference. What you didn’t hear was the hundreds of good thoughts mixed with the few negative ones. Or the way I would look at you every time we got into a battle…just to make sure you were all right. I wasn’t ready for what I was feeling, and the easiest things to think, as they so often are, are the negative ones. It was easier to think of you as…Rinoa, I’m so sorry”
She didn’t react after he was done speaking, which he took as a good sign. At least it was better than hitting him over the head with her laptop; he was half expecting the latter. Looking down, he noticed how his hands were trembling. He had faced some of the greatest battles known to man, and yet he had never been so scared in his life. At least up until this point. He thought if he said one wrong word it would all end, and that thought scared him even more. Calming himself, he took a deep breath before continuing.
“Rinoa, why did Ultimecia think it was so important to focus on what I was thinking? Honestly…I think she knew. She could sense a connection, there had to be a reason she focused on just me. Think about it…we hadn’t known each other that long. It wasn’t as if you were hearing things from Zell or Irvine, was it? She drew on whatever feelings we had and used that against you.”
So many things…she had seen far too many images. And as angry as she was, she somehow couldn’t stay ‘really mad’ at him. Okay, she could still stay just ‘mad’ at him. But here he was breaking rules just to be with her, this was not the same person she had seen the in dreams. Maybe back then she could have believed it…all right she did believe it.
“Was I…was I that bad?”
“No, you were you…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
He moved to the top of the bed, leaning his back against the headboard. Knowing it was a gamble, he reached over to her, placing his hand on her shoulder. She shivered, although it wasn’t cold in there. The most important thing was she didn’t push him away.
The bed shifted as she rolled to face him. The fresh tears reflected the moonlight as it drifted through the window. She wanted to look him in the eyes. She had so many questions she wanted to ask about what she heard - what she saw. Yet, right now, she didn’t want to speak to anyone, even him. The look in his eyes told the story, at least what she needed to know right now. There would be time later, right now she just needed solace.
Reaching out, he cradled her closer to his chest, she complied, and laid her head on his chest. His arms encircled her and she felt better, but still upset.
“I’m still mad at you.” She rasped out as she moved her arm around his waist, returning the embrace.
“I know,” he answered honestly holding her tighter. “I know.”