author's notes: takes place right after my fic, viv. (that is, vividarium intervigilium viator.) remember how quistis was walking out alone because selphie was doing some mending and rinoa was sleeping fitfully?
edge of time
time cast a spell on you
but you won't forget me
i know i could have loved you
but you would not let me
He shouldn't have been surprised, really. He rubbed at the bridge of his nose, making bright sparks dance in his vision. Almost a headache, that, the way the sparkles seemed always on the brink of converging between his eyes, right along his scar. He closed them briefly, watching the unquiet dark behind his eyelids.
He should have expected this. Why, then, the rush of adrenaline, making his breath come hard and his heartbeat stammer in his chest?
"She was right here," Selphie said again, her voice a little shakier this time. Rinoa's overshirt was spilled across her lap, its tears recently mended, careful stitching in too-dark thread. "I didn't mean to doze off, you know I didn't." Her fingers worked absently in the material; she looked as if she might cry.
Irvine was shaking his head, kneeling next to where she sat, one broad palm resting on her knee. "'S'okay, Sefie. We know." His smile was incongruous against the dim castle corridors, and at his proffered wink Selphie crossed her arms and looked very much like she wanted to stick out her tongue at him.
Quistis shivered and stood, finding her balance with a hand on Irvine's shoulder. "No one should be alone in this place," she whispered, and though she was steady on her feet she did not take her hand away.
Zell was looking over his shoulder at the encroaching shadows, rocking nervously back on his heels. "So we should look for her." He made it sound like a question, with a glance to Squall to confirm it, make it an order.
Squall, swallowing a sigh, nodded. "...Yeah."
Quistis helped Selphie to her feet, with Irvine standing unnecessarily close by, fidgeting with his ponytail. He ventured, "It might be faster if we split into teams again, maybe?"
It was Selphie, Rinoa's shirt clutched unconsciously to her chest, who said what they were all thinking. "Let's not, okay?" Her voice wobbled, at first, but did not break. "We're better off together. Right, Irvy?"
Their laughter was fragile, seeming to shiver and shatter in the stale ominous air. But it was laughter shared, and the five of them drew fractionally nearer one another, as if to ward off the creeping chill merely by the force of their companionship. No one mentioned going separate ways again.
It might have been an hour before they found her, or it might have been only a few minutes. Time was impossible to measure, in that ancient place.
It was Squall's own hunch that brought them to her-- outside, on the clocktower. Sitting carelessly on the stilled minute hand, her legs dangling free over the edge, she rested her head lightly against the clock face behind her, and her eyes were closed.
Nothing between her and the sky.
Zell swayed; Quistis and Irvine on either side of him held his elbows, both looking rather pale themselves. Selphie murmured something that might have been profanity, or a prayer.
Squall's first thought, rationally enough, was of cold, the chill wind and the thunderous sky-- that shouldn't she have been uncomfortable, there in only her tank top, her hair pulled back, her arms bare?
Zell, recovered, hissed in Squall's ear, "Is she sleepwalking?"
And then the vertigo hit him, and he had to dig his fingers into the hilt of his gunblade until he felt grounded again.
It was Selphie who said, "Squall, what are you waiting for? She could fall--"
And, shrugging away the chill and the questioning glances of his companions, he sidled out onto the hour hand after her.
Closer to Rinoa, he realized her eyes weren't quite closed; she was squinting carefully at the sky, quite unsurprised at her surroundings. And humming to herself. He could hear the barest hint of her words over the din of the wind: "This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends..."
I want to hear your voice.
He shook his head, a shiver moving through him. The thought was his own, if oddly displaced. And, he struggled for logic, he was hearing Rinoa's voice. In that much, he had already succeeded-- not that it offered any comfort, that singsong nonsense floating from her half-parted lips.
Surprisingly sure-footed, for all the dizzy ache behind his eyes, he found his way across the hands of halted time, to stand by her side.
"I didn't sleep so well," she was saying, mostly to herself, her voice soft and distant. "My mama used to sing to me, sing to me..."
"Rinoa." His voice was harsher than he meant it to be; he felt as though he hadn't spoken for days.
She looked up at him, as if seeing him for the first time. Her eyes were dark and deep, something fierce and ancient in her smile. "I caught a falling star," she said, lifting a hand to the riotous sky, and her smile was almost dreamy. "It cut my hands to pieces."
Squall felt stupidly claustrophobic, in that place of terrible, wide-open sky. "Rinoa," he said again, shaken, his knuckles white as he caught and held her arm. "Let's get inside."
With a deflated little sigh she stood and leaned against him, and he imagined the touch of his hand was an anchor, keeping her weighted, keeping her from flying away. But still she did not move, watching the sky-framed clock face with unblinking eyes.
And she smiled, though he was only aware of her careless sway, the impossibly balanced grace of her, standing at the edge of time.
"Don't be afraid," she said, and something shook loose from Squall's memories, then, a fleeting image coming unmoored and drifting uneasily across his mind. Maybe it was something in the sweep of her hair, or the tremulous angle of her smile, but Squall thought of his Matron, of the paleness of her hands-- smoothing his hair, soothing away the tears.
Rinoa might have seen the recognition in his eyes; her dark eyes narrowed. "Don't be afraid. That's worse than not remembering."
I'll be waiting. I promise.
Again, his own thoughts-- but was it something he had said before? Or something he had yet to say? He shuddered, and the future was a malleable thing in his hands, liquid like melted steel, and scalding.
All suddenly, she looked away, chewing at her lower lip. There was a heartbeat of owlwing silence, and then she gasped a little, sounding frightened, her hands trembling as she held to him to keep from falling. "Squall?"
"It's all right," he heard his own voice saying. And he closed his eyes and touched her hair, smelling sunlight on her skin and wishing for another world.
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