"If your friends are contractual, you don't have any."
<I can't believe I'm doing this. What's the point?> Squall chastised himself as he descended the stairs to the Quad. <What the hell am I going to say, anyway?> He had been arguing in circles with his own mind over the whole point of coming to find her, and told himself repeatedly that it was purely for the sake of rectifying a miscommunication with his client.
As he'd guessed she would be, Rinoa was pouting, sitting on the edge of a multi-leveled water fountain on a path just beyond the drama stage. She pretended not to notice him as he approached, but Squall's caught her glancing at him out the corners of her eyes. He stopped beside the fountain, lingering a few feet away. He watched her silently, as if waiting for her to speak first.
She did, if only because he was quiet for so long; the intensity of the void was beginning to wear on her patience. She muttered darkly, her voice sharp and staccato, "What do you want?" Her words had fangs.
Squall repressed a sigh, figured he might as well sit down. This could take a while, and it wouldn't do the conversation any good if he was standing over her the whole time. He eased himself down to sit next to her, still a little stiff from the day's trials in Fisherman's Horizon, still sore from the beating he'd taken in the battle with Norg.
Still wondering just what good he thought he could do here. She was pissed off at him. What did he care? He had more important things to worry about than Rinoa's bruised feelings. He hadn't done anything. She was the one who had popped off at the so-called "concert"-really a romantic setup for him with Rinoa, orchestrated by Quistis, Irvine, Zell and Selphie. He had no reason to feel guilty. How was he supposed to have acted? He couldn't have known that his silence would have angered Rinoa to such a degree. He didn't have to be sitting here, fumbling with his own thoughts, trying to think of something to say that would clear up the mistake he'd made of going with her to the concert in the first place.
Yet here he was.
He tried to answer her after watching her for a moment. His voice sounded a little constricted, as if it pained him to talk. "Look..." He trailed off. What to say? He wasn't good at this kind of thing. He leaned forward a little, arms resting over his knees, and stared at the ground pensively.
"Not much of an answer," Rinoa observed dryly, sitting up straighter and planting her hands firmly on her knees. She turned her head to glare at him. "Why do you always do that?"
"Act all sulky." She nodded at him, indicating his rather hunched position. "Did you come here to try and look pitiful?"
"No," he said quickly, frowning at her and sitting up. He was serious, but if he'd been very annoyed at her accusation, he didn't say so, nor did he show much beyond his usual scowl. "Actually," he started, then hesitated again. This time he kept his eyes on her, and she waited for him to continue. When he did, he looked away from her, his voice lowered and flattened. "I came to say I'm sorry." He glanced at her again, not surprised at her skeptical expression. "I wasn't trying to get rid of you, I just...just didn't know what to say. I wasn't trying to piss you off."
Her response was a disdainful laugh. "Could have fooled me."
<Why the hell am I wasting my time doing this?> "Well..." He spread his fingers tensely, ended up rowing his hands some in frustration, carefully trying to reel in his response. As it happened, anything smart he'd had in mind before got away from him. "I wasn't," he ended lamely, let his arms drape over his knees again.
Another silence. Squall swore he felt the tension rise in the air, and the odd feeling threatened the back of his neck with goosebumps.
Rinoa's voice nearly made him jump. "I just wanted to talk to you. Everyone was worried about you and thought it would be nice to give you some encouragement." She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs, staring at the toes of her shoes. "I guess you don't know an act of good will when you see it. You couldn't accept a compliment if it punched you in the face."
"Fine. I was being an idiot. I'm admitting it. Are you happy?"
That hadn't exactly been the answer he'd been hoping for. He spread his arms in frustrated entreaty. "What do you want from me? You've been playing this game with my head and I don't know the rules. What am I supposed to do?"
This got a look of cynical confusion that twisted her face into a dubious sneer. She acted as though he was speaking to her in some alien language. "I don't understand. How would I know--"
"You're still hanging around here, and I'm wondering why."
Something odd, some unknown emotion flashed across her face. She inclined her head a little, asserted firmly, "Our contract isn't up."
<That's bull. You don't care about that mission anymore. You haven't said a word about it since we got out of Galbadia.> "Forget the damn contract," he snapped impatiently. "You're using that as an excuse. Why are you still h--"
"Because if I don't stay here, I'll have to go home."
Squall just stared at her blankly.
She continued in a knife-edged hiss, which Squall actually seemed to balk from a little. "And out of everyone else, you're the ONLY person who's really given a crap about what I was trying to do."
<What makes you think that?> Squall waited to see if she would say anything else. When she didn't, he hazarded an assumption. "I thought you got mad at me for not caring." <I thought the others seemed to care more than I did.>
For the first time that night, Rinoa looked away from him in shame. She closed her eyes to the night-lit room around them. "I was just upset. Everything's just so crazy." She glance at him briefly before she continued and once again looked at her shoes. "It's so hard to talk to you," she said quietly, toying mindlessly with one of her shoelaces. "After what happened at Timber and Dollet, and the prison, everything, I just... I've been ready to snap." She rested her head against her knees wearily, her black bangs falling to shield her face from view. The caramel streak that graced her hair seemed duller, less prominent in the brackish light of the Garden's post-curfew illumination. "Back when you said all that, about me not being serious, it just smacked me in the face." She shrugged the comment off before he could say anything. Not that he'd had anything to say in the first place. "But maybe it should have, anyway. Maybe I needed someone to tell me that. At least you gave your honest opinion. That way I won't make the same mistake twice.
"I've seen how things work here. Until the night I came to talk to Cid, I had no idea a place like Garden could exist, and it just makes me realize how puny and stupid our little resistance was...is, I don't know anymore." She waited. She got no response. But she knew he'd heard her. "You know," she added, almost too quietly, "it feels better to talk to you." She sighed at herself, though, blinked sadly. "But you don't like hearing about other people's problems. You're just doing it because it's your job. I understand." No response. She hated silence. "All this stuff is way out of my league. I've just been too stubborn and short-sighted to realize that."
Listening to her, an odd contradiction manifested itself in Squall's mind: he had thought, before, that Rinoa was getting herself involved in matters that would require more than just an internal resistance faction to settle. He had inwardly scoffed at the whole thing. Even now, he knew that Rinoa's attempt at liberating Timber had been ultimately doomed to begin with. On the other hand, something in him was pulling at his conscience, wanting to argue with Rinoa's self-demeaning words. She had made a mistake, yes, but somehow he didn't believe that she was helpless by any means. At least she'd made an attempt at reaching her goal.
"It's late," was what he ended up saying. "You should go get some sleep. We'll be leaving FH tomorrow." He got up to leave, seeing little more that he could do, here. And he was tired...
"Squall?" Her voice stopped him before he could take a step.
"Do you think..." She trailed off, reconsidered her words, and tried again. "Do you believe some things were just meant to be? Like someone out there has already planned our whole lives for us?"
Oddly, he found he had to force himself to answer that one. "No." He sounded certain enough. "I don't."
"What do you believe?"
Squall finally turned to face her, looking a little irritated, but feeling more uneasy than anything else. "Why do you wanna know?"
"I'm just curious."
"I don't really believe anything. I'm not a religious person."
"No no, not religion." She threw the subject over her shoulder. "I just mean everything. Why do you think things happen?"
<What sort of question is that?> He crossed his arms over his chest, stared at the ground thoughtfully. "I think you make your own life. I don't think our lives are dictated to us by some higher power or anything else. If it was like that, I wouldn't have the capacity to think this way." He closed his eyes, frowned. He started to sound a little too adamant to be speaking indifferently on the subject. "No one controls my life, and I think people who look to the sky hoping for an answer to all their problems are just deluding themselves." He sneered, grumbled cynically, "There's no one there to answer them. Things happen because of the choices people make. I do what I can while I have time..." Hesitation. "Because once it's over, it's over." He briefly lifted one hand from his folded arms to cut at the air. "There won't be anything anyone can do about it."
Rinoa had become more and more distressed, listening. Her narrow eyes shrunk to speculative slits. "What do you mean?" She hesitated to translate what his answer had insinuated. "It's not like everything is mechanical and then you're just gone when you die. Something has to happen to you."
He shook his head solemnly. "There are no second chances."
"It sounds like you think this is the only life you've got."
"...Whatever." Again, he turned to leave, seeming much more determined about his departure.
She stood up, took a step after him, inadvertently reaching out toward him as though to pull him back. "Wait," she blurted.
Squall stopped, looked off to the side as though she was standing there beside him. He listened.
"I'm sorry," Rinoa let her arms fall to her sides. What had she intended to do? "It wasn't any of my business anyway. Please... Don't go away mad."
He looked over his shoulder, not quite at her. "I'm not." Then he turned his attention forward, and walked resolutely up the empty steps to the darkened hallways of the Garden's central dome.
Rinoa stood where she was, watched him leave. Yet somehow, she didn't feel like he had left at all. "Good night," she murmured softly, though she wondered seriously if she would have said the same to his pitiless eyes.