Two days after Squall arrives in Esthar, the wedding ring is gone. Kiros notices but doesn’t say anything and quietly informs Laguna before he notices and says so before he can stop himself. No one mentions it. No one mentions her. It is ‘she’ and ‘Sorceress’ and he wonders when the last time was that Squall heard Rinoa’s name.
He finds Laguna out on a balcony, staring over the skyline in a rare, quiet moment. It’s strange to see him so grim, with a focus directed sharply inward. Kiros leans next to him, and waits. Laguna is not one for keeping his problems to himself.
It would be nice if Squall were more the same. Kiros found him with Ward earlier, wandering quietly around Esthar, and it was impossible to tell which one of them still had the power to speak. He wondered if Squall even remembered the man was mute.
“I just don’t know what to do. I mean, we had the chance to reconcile... some of it. I mean, I didn’t expect it would all just vanish overnight, but now...”
“You know, whatever you’re going to do, it won’t be enough.” The words are mild, and they have been around each other long enough that Laguna knows what is meant beyond what is said. If Kiros truly judged him so harshly there never would have been a cliff or a friendship or this here, now. “It won’t matter. There’s nothing you can say... you brought him here. It was really all you could do.”
“I know what it’s like to lose a wife, Kiros.” Laguna sighs. “I know what it feels like, how much it hurts... and I can’t even comfort him with that.”
“It’ll be all right.”
Kiros isn’t so worried about Squall, he doesn’t seem the self-destructive type. It will take a long time for him to recover, and probably hurt like hell the entire way through, but with enough time and distance, he will survive.
Of course, there is still no guarantee this is over.
“Has anyone heard anything about her?”
“The Sorceress?” Laguna slowly shook his head. “No. No sign, no hint as to what her plan might be. Caraway doesn’t know either, we thought she might try to contact-” He breaks off, shrugs and sighs, leaning his head against his arms. “At least Squall survived. Now we can keep him safe.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
Ellone’s voice was soft, her eyes wide - afraid. Kiros’ hands slowly flexed on invisible katal.
“He’s going to be fine.”
Kiros never really tired of leaning on the balcony, watching the bustle of Esthar far below. Even if, in his opinion, the city often looks like a very large jellyfish turned upside down. He was the only one watching, he knew, Laguna’s gaze fixed firmly on nothing at all.
“Oh? Yeah. I know.”
Kiros watched Laguna flip the pencil in his hand, eraser to point and back, twining it through his fingers. A reporter’s nervous tic, honed in between the leg cramps. He watched his friend for another moment, then snatched it away as the man unthinkingly started to gnaw on it.
“You should try chewing gum.”
“... can’t stand the taste.” Laguna frowned as the pencil bounced, eraser first, off his head. “I’m not that worried, anyway.”
“Except that you’ve been debating all day, whether to call him or not.”
“Only because someone took my phone.” Laguna muttered grumpily, sinking his head a little further in his hands.
“Do you remember all the things you said you wish you hadn’t done at the beginning? All those awkward first meetings? You’ll just repeat them, if you don’t give yourself some time to breathe.”
“He doesn’t really remember any of it?”
“It doesn’t look like... which I suppose is as much a blessing as a curse.”
Kiros wasn’t so surprised Laguna hadn’t thought about it that way, too busy worrying about his son only as his son, nothing more. He waited a few moments for the other man to finally catch his meaning.
“You don’t think-”
“Ellone isn’t sure. I know she’s worried. It wasn’t so safe back then, either. It was lucky it worked as well as it did, that your son doesn’t remember...”
Kiros sighed. He enjoyed always being the most aware, always knowing as much as possible just for the tactical gains the information brought. He still hated having to break the worst of it to Laguna, watching the dawning awareness as his friend realized just what else might have gone wrong.
“She thinks it was... broken?”
“... not just that. It’s about the Sorceress. Rinoa.”
Kiros stretched out his back, ignoring the creaks and complaints down his spine, just glad whatever Esthar put in the water had kept him from going as gray as he thought he might, being with Laguna all this time. The other man still hadn’t caught his meaning.
“Have you ever thought /why. we haven’t heard anything from her for over twenty years? It’s been a long time, Laguna, for a Sorceress to stay so quiet.”
“Squall.” Laguna frowned. “You think when we did that, that if Rinoa was somewhere else...?”
A different time. A different space. Another plane of existence. Until it was proven otherwise, Kiros was willing to believe a Sorceress could do as she pleased with the ‘immutable’ laws of men.
“Out across time, drifting on her own currents, and she left him to use as the guide, when she wanted to come back. We changed that, and maybe... maybe she’s been left out there. Waiting.”
“Until now.” Laguna turned away from the balcony. “I want my phone. I’m calling my son.”
The sudden cry was sharp and panicked, carrying far from inside the house. Ellone’s voice, and Squall’s name. Kiros sent a quiet prayer to any gods that might be listening, and followed Laguna inside.
Squall is furious, even if it doesn’t show. An enemy, inside /his/ Garden, and he’d never seen it coming. The chill is still on his skin from waking up alone, Rinoa gone and alarm bells blaring. Anger and dread war endlessly inside of him. It isn’t the first time he’s fought with them as allies, he doubts it will be the last.
He’s hearing battles, off in the distance, and strange, dark shadows swoop down on him from nowhere. Squall cuts through them without thinking, all of this is like a bad dream where he knows where he is running but can’t get there. Or does, but it will already be too late.
He furiously tears that thought apart in his mind, pushing more power into already aching legs.
Squall has seen the sadness in Matron’s eyes ever since Ultimecia’s defeat. She has been trying to stay silent, trying to give him some measure of happiness, until that innocent joy was more than she could bear.
//“You’ll never be the most important thing in her life, Squall. No matter how much she loves you.”//
A sorceress first, before anything else. Before him as husband, or even as her knight. An obligation to what she was, no matter what it might do to the world. As if he hasn’t already lived it.
//“I know that.”//
He knew that. He knows that, but he also knows that his gunblade and his love has always been enough to save her. No matter the danger, no matter what enemy tries to defeat them. He has seen Ultimecia at the full of her power, and she has fallen beneath his sword, Zell’s hands, Selphie’s nunchaku.
He cannot see his friends here now, only the shadows, and they mock as they snarl and laugh and boast that he is already too late.
Squall can feel her, calling to him. It is something they both realized long ago, something he promised never to tell anyone. He is her knight, she holds his heart in that dangerous way beyond love and Seifer called it romantic but that isn’t right.
The only words Squall can think to use are much less kind.
He knows Rinoa though, knows that he loves her and that is no spell. Knows that she makes him smile, and that is its own kind of spell. Turning him into a different person, so even Quistis will shake her head, amazed, and smile back when he enters a room.
Squall is moving forward, pushing on, but Rinoa is the one ahead and it is her hands holding the rope, his destiny in that slender thread, not dragging him like she used to but if she lets go...
As if she is waiting for him, she turns, though he doesn’t understand why she chose here. An anonymous hall no different from any other. So many windows broken, but she is uninjured. Many of the lights are broken too but he can see the contrast in the shadows, what is harmless empty space and what is terribly not.
The void is smiling at him and it is only her - always her - that keeps him from backpedaling, turning and running from what is singing in his blood as very wrong.
He still stops. She is already too far out on the edge and if he goes to join her Squall knows he will not find his way back. The floors are still solid and dully colored in the poorly lit hallway. Still stable against the darkness, and he has come this far, she will cross what remains, back to safety.
She will do it for him, for what they have together. Matron does not know how much he loves her, that she knows just how much he needs her with him.
“Rinoa.” Squall holds out a hand. He has saved her before, just like this. He can do it again. “Rinoa, come here.”
She is crying, eyes gleaming in adoration and apology as her shoulders quiver with the sobs and he knows she has already made her choice.
“I’m sorry, Squall. I’m so sorry.”
//No matter how much she loves you...//
He lunges. He can do this. After all he’s faced, all that has tried to separate them - fate and time and distance. Nothing can. Nothing will.
It is so wrong, then, how easily the shadows swallow her up, how his hand slides through nothing, ribbons of cold darkness sluicing around his fingers.
A pale hand comes up, tucking a strand of dark hair behind an ear but it is not Rinoa, it is not Rinoa...
He wants to scream her name but his lungs feel perforated, useless and empty, and nothing will come.
The next thing Squall knows he is in the infirmary looking at shattered windows covered in plastic and tape and the IV on the back of a hand still badly scarred - his hand - and Rinoa is gone, gone, gone.
Cold. Everything was cold. Squall pulled his legs closer to his chest, realized he was curled against the wall. His fingers were digging into the seams in the brick along the floor. Inert, unyielding, it couldn’t warm but it could protect. Rinoa could freeze everything else, all the world around him, but the things that weren’t alive could never change and never abandon him.
Why else had he taken up the gunblade?
He could hear something behind him, barely a whisper, probably the phone - shit, Ellone, shit.
Squall squeezed his eyes shut, using most of his strength to roll over, fumbling blindly until his hand found the receiver.
“Ellone?” Too weak, too weak and she would hear it in his voice. Thank Hyne for the luxury of isolation, for less-than-perfect reception, for the necessary distance between himself and the rest of the world.
“Squall?! Squall, what happened?!” He could hear her say something just out of range - hell, someone else was listening in. Hopefully no one was already calling Quistis, scouring the Garden to find him. He couldn’t deal with it, couldn’t...
He’d left her hanging. Stupid. He needed a lie. Any lie. //Come on, Squall. You’re better than this.//
Never less than perfection. Any flaws were his fault, and all they could do was hurt him.
“I’m fine. I... uh, I tripped. Took a header down one of the smaller staircases. It took me forever just to find the damn phone.”
She could tell that was a lie, he certainly didn’t believe it. Nothing to do but go on and try not to let her hear how deeply he was breathing, taking air in huge gulps as his shivers redoubled.
He remembered enough, now. Remembered seeing her cry and apologize and watching her disappear willingly into a void he could not pull her out of.
Remembered the first blow struck that snapped his head so fast he could taste blood even though she hadn’t made him bleed... yet.
Remembered why he was on the floor now. As much as he ever understood any of it.
He couldn’t stop trembling.
“Squall, talk to me.”
The tender, patient tone in Ellone’s voice filled him with a sudden, blinding fury, an all-encompassing rage that left his head pounding and every word in his mouth a strangled curse. How dare she. How dare she expect him to just open up, as if everything in his life had been inconsequential - everything /she/ had done - how stupid was she?
//Years ago. It was all years ago.//
What did it matter? It felt like yesterday, and it was too much to ask of him either way. Too exhausting, too hard and she had no right. No right to expect him to push and struggle and try when Rinoa had left him despite all that effort and everyone in the damn world knew it was easier just to cover up and deny and go on. It was what everyone wanted, not to be bothered.
Act normal. Stay quiet. Pretend it hadn’t meant anything at all.
“Leave me alone.”
Squall hung up, rolled onto his back. With his eyes closed, the only thing to think about was the slight buzz of one of the lights, far overhead.
//Still on. The lights haven’t stopped. Haven’t stopped, won’t...//
His mind stuttered to silence on the lie he couldn’t make himself believe. Squall tried to crawl inside that noise, tried to let himself think of nothing else. Hoping no one would find him, and waiting until he had the strength to stand.
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