Author's Notes: The `prequel` to `Actions Speak Louder`.
Disclaimer: All the characters, places etc., are the property of Square, not me (::sniffs::). I'm just borrowing them for my own nefarious purposes. I promise they'll be tidied up, and sent home all clean an' sparkling.
Feedback: My first actual uploaded FF.Net fan-fic, so (::clears throat::) YES PLEASE!! I'd really appreciate your thoughts on my work. Read and Review (I'll give you chocolate!). Flame if you feel the need, I can always do with a good laugh
Spoilers, sorta), and an attempt to explain why Squall's personality, and attitude towards Rinoa, changed dramatically - and highly unbelievably - after she became a Sorceress. Yaoi implications, but no mindless Rinoa- bashing.
Out on the balcony, the laughter and music from the party sounded subdued, tempered by the soft rushing of the waves below. By rights, I suppose I should have been celebrating with them, but I didn't want to intrude.
Besides, they would have seen through my hollow smile in a heartbeat, and I didn't particularly feel like explaining myself. At least, not to them. Let them enjoy their victory, without the mistakes I'd made clouding them. And what a sweet victory it was. No-one was completely certain how we'd done it, but we had. We made it. We survived. We won.
And I lost.
I might not have been as smart as them, might not have grown up as dedicated and committed. I might not have shared the same bonded maturity that stemmed from a perceived deprived upbringing. I might be nothing but an over-enthusiastic annoyance to them, but at least I knew a lost cause when I saw one.
When I loved one.
I'd barely seen him since we got back. There could have been a dozen valid reasons for that, not least that when you save the world, the whole world seems to wants a piece of you in return. But he wasn't the type to make excuses, and for that I was glad. He was deliberately avoiding me, and we both knew why.
I knew he'd talk to me when he was ready.
The creak of worn leather, and the jangle of too many belts announced his arrival. Without a word, or even a look in my direction, he walked up to the edge of the balcony, a few feet away from me.
It might have been my imagination, but I could have sworn that the noise of the party hushed the second they realised that he and I were out here. Together. Alone.
Hyne, and people called me a hopeless romantic!
Just looking at him made my heart beat a little faster, ache a little more. I knew better than to try and read his expressions, so I just watched him for its own sake. He was more beautiful than handsome, his unruly chocolate brown hair tousled by the breeze, stormy eyes fixed firmly on the horizon, skin pale and nearly luminous in the moonlight. Impervious and impassive as stone, apart from the elegant, gloveless hands that clutched the balcony railing so tightly it could have cracked, knuckles white, fingers trembling almost imperceptibly. I wondered if that was the reason he always wore his gloves.
I wanted to wait for him to speak first, but I could easily have been waiting forever.
I would have, if I thought I stood a chance.
"Do you hate me?"
He jerked his head up, surprised. As if, of all the things he'd expected me to say, that hadn't been one of them.
"No." He shrugged. "Why should I?"
I just stared at him, until he turned back to stare vacantly at nothing.
We stood in silence for a moment. I watched the canopy of glittering stars while he watched the waves. He didn't speak, barely moved but I could feel the hostility emanating from him. If he was talking to his own head again, I was willing to bet that he was cursing the day he'd met me.
Of course, I had never intended to meet him that night. I hadn't gone to the SeeD ball looking for him after all. If everything had gone to plan that night, things could have turned out very differently. As it did turn out, I had overheard someone speak his name, and my curiosity got the better of me.
I really should learn to keep my nose out of other peoples' lives.
"If I hadn't had someone to focus on during the war, we might not have made it." He finally said, flatly. "Better for everyone that it was you, and not him."
I hadn't expected him to be quite so open. Or so calm. While I'd hardly imagined he'd fly off into an emotionally blinding rage, I'd anticipated more of a reaction than that. After all, I'd deceived him in a grand way, and Squall Leonhart wasn't the kind of man to just forgive and forget something like that.
"You know, you don't have to act all nonchalant with me...You're angry and you have every right to be..."
"So what the hell do you want me to say, huh?" He frowned. "That I risked my life, and the lives of my friends for you, based on nothing but lies, just because you decide that now you're a sorceress you can screw around with people's minds?"
If the circumstances were different, I'd have been delighted at being able to drag - considerably - more than two words out of him.
"You made me turn my back on someone I love, just because you can't stand the thought of not getting your own way," He glared at me, the coldness in his eyes cutting through to my bones, like a winter wind. It was enough to make Shiva shiver. "And now you have the gall to stand there and tell me I've got a right to be angry?"
Then, as suddenly as the rage came, it subsided. He turned back to stare at the ocean, his voice and his eyes as flat as the glassy sea.
I still didn't know how the others had never noticed. Never realised the single common factor in all the times Squall became emotional, or angry, or eloquent. Maybe they just weren't looking...maybe they had no reason to.
"But I don't hate you. I don't see the point."
"It wasn't ever a matter of wanting to get my own way..." I protested. "I just wanted you so much...I didn't know what else to do."
"Leaving me alone didn't occur to you?"
"Not for a second." I laughed softly.
"I'm not that special."
He truly believed it too, which made it all the more amazing. He had the world falling at his feet, and he didn't even understand why. Just another reason to love him. I swiped quickly at the tears that blurred my vision.
"When...when did you realise?" I asked timidly.
"When I was lost in Time Compression. I kept seeing these...visions." He sighed. "Everything, everyone else looked fine...I could see them perfectly. Everything apart from you. I could never see you clearly...sometimes I couldn't see you at all. That's when it just...clicked, I guess. I couldn't see you because..."
He glanced up at me, hesitantly. The anger was gone from his eyes, replaced by a haunted, betrayed sadness that tore me apart. He was waiting for me to finish his sentence, waiting for me to confirm what he already knew.
What I'd known all along.
"Because I was never meant to be there."
He looked a little surprised at the readiness of my confession, but there wasn't much point lying now. I took a deep breath of cool evening air, steadied myself, willed the tears back. It was a relief to admit it, but to do so destroyed any hope I had left. All I could do was try and salvage the remnants of a friendship from the mess I'd made.
"Before I became a sorceress, I knew I didn't stand a chance. I mean, I tried just in case, but I knew your heart belonged to someone else. Even if I hadn't known, it's obvious if you know what to look for. And you were hardly falling at my feet." I smiled, even if the situation wasn't funny. "I'd never known anyone like you... beautiful, strong, smart, loyal... I only wanted to be a part of your life, but you just kept pushing me away... "
"So when you figured you could, you did what? Cast some sort of spell on me?"
"It sounds so calculating when you put it that way."
"Wasn't it?" The accusing chill was back in his voice. He sounded so suspicious.
"It wasn't something I did consciously." I shook my head. "If I'd had the time to think, I would never have done it, you have to believe that. But when Edea passed the sorceress' power onto me...you were all I could think about. I was so worried about you, I wanted you so much, I was so angry that I could never have you as things stood...I think it just manifested itself somehow."
"But you knew how I felt about him? And you still tried to take his place?"
Take his place. I'd been a fool to think anyone could.
"So everything I felt for you since then has been a lie? It hasn't been real, it's just been the effects of...whatever the hell you did to me?"
I couldn't find my voice to answer that question, so I just nodded.
He actually looked relieved as he spoke. I hadn't realised that the thought of caring about me was such a burden.
"I accept that you didn't have much control over how it started...Hell, I know as well as anyone that you can't choose who you fall in love with, but...you could have broken it when you realised what you'd done."
"I know...I should have, I know that, but...to have you look at me that way, to have to care about me..." I turned away from him, watched the moonlight dancing on the dark water below. "And I didn't think I could ever face you, any of you, knowing what I'd done. You're right, I could have gotten any one of you killed, for all the risks you took because of me. Just because the selfish little princess wanted your world to revolve around her... .just a spoilt little girl, who thought it'd be exciting, an adventure, just like leading a pathetic little rebel faction... and you were the prize at the end of it all. I know that's what you're all saying behind my back." I snapped, my growing realisation of the damage I could have done crashing into me like a high-speed train.
"No-one's talking behind your back Rinoa. We're not like that."
"No, you're not are you? But it is what they're thinking, Squall, and you know it. Do you even know that I didn't want to go to this dumb party, that I was so scared I didn't belong?"
"No. And that's stupid. You played as much of a part in defeating Ultimecia as the rest of us..."
"But you don't understand...I'm only a part of it because I was a part of you. You accepted me, and they followed your lead like they always do. When they find out that was all a lie..."
"Who says they have to find out?"
"What?" I whirled around. "But they're going to realise..."
"Just because all we can be is friends, doesn't mean I was wrong about you." He shrugged. "You made a mistake. It happens."
"Does that mean you'll tell them about..?"
"Maybe." He glanced briefly at the party, continuing on its merry way, regardless of us. I saw a tiny flicker of some indefinable emotion cross those troubled eyes, and I knew he was thinking about his friends. Knew he actually thought of the people inside in those terms now. "Doesn't look like I have much choice anymore."
"But you can't live a lie Squall. I tried, trust me...it's not fun."
"Is that why you broke the spell?"
I looked away. I wished I could tell him I'd had some miraculous, magnanimous awakening, realised the terrible error of my ways. In reality, all that had stopped me was my guilty conscience. If it was a little weaker, he'd still be mine.
But he wasn't. I'd been naïve to ever think he could be. Squall was his, and had been all along. Even if I had the heart to keep up the deception, he would have discovered the truth eventually, and when he did, one of them was probably going to kill me.
So I broke the spell to save my own neck. Not because of what it was doing to him.
"When I finally found you in Time Compression..." I blinked, suddenly overwhelmed with the memory of the terror that had gripped me when I stumbled upon his unmoving form, in that awful, desolate place. "I was so afraid I'd lost you...so scared you were dead..." I felt a stray tear slip down my cheek. "I don't know what I'd have done...I know I could never have forgiven myself if you'd died because of me...because my lies had you looking for me, when all along you should have been looking for him. You know what they're saying, that it was love that got you through Time Compression? Well it's true. But it was never your love for me, it was your love for him. And his love for you. If anything had happened to you..."
"Yeah, well...nothing did happen."
"Which is exactly why I had to tell you. You know, the second I broke the spell, it brought us back. Your love brought us both back...and I know it did because it was our second chance."
"No, silly...not a second chance for us as a couple. A chance for me to be honest with you, and a chance for you to be honest with yourself. I've kept you apart long enough, and I'll always be sorry for that."
"What? But, I can't, not after I..."
I couldn't help but laugh softly at his uncharacteristic nervousness. There was only one person who could make him nervous, and unfortunately that wasn't me.
I raised a finger to silence his suddenly flustered rambling.
"There's only one more thing I need to know." I smiled, knowing the answer before I even asked. I just wanted to hear it for myself. "Do you love him?"
Sweet, sincere, utterly breathtaking. More brilliant than all the stars in the heavens, more intense than the relentless waves crashing beneath our feet. It broke my heart a million times over that that beautiful smile wasn't meant for me.
It didn't matter... it couldn't matter. There was someone more worthy of it. I'd tried keeping him from someone who loved him for himself...someone who wasn't hell-bent on changing him.
And ultimately, even when he was under my spell, he hadn't looked at me like that. Never got that dazed, faraway look in his fathomless eyes just at the thought of me.
It hurt more than I knew how to bear, but I knew it was for the best. He would never have been that happy with me...with anyone else.
"Good." He was a little tense when I hugged him, but after a couple of moments I felt him respond to the embrace. A sadness crept slowly over me, as I finally admitted to myself that he had never held me as anything other than a friend.
"Now go and tell him that."
"What?" He stared at me. "Right now?"
"All things considered, you've lost enough time." I forced a smile. "You need to be together now. He's been through the same hell as you have...he needs you." Probably more than I ever had. "Go."
He stared at me for a long moment before turning back for the door.
"I meant what I said. No-one else has to know. They'll probably tell me I'm crazy, but..." He shrugged, a faint grin tugging at the corner of his lips. "Whatever."
"Exactly." I smiled.
"And...if you want to stay at Garden, then you're more than welcome."
"I'd like that..."
"Right..." He nodded. "I'll uh...see you later..."
I watched him vanished through the hushed crowd, before turning back to lean on the balcony railings, my eyes surprisingly dry.
Not for the first time since we met, I marvelled at the strength in that lions' heart of his. If doing the right thing always felt this bad, no wonder he walked around with a permanent frown on his face.
But I had done the right thing. And if there was someone who could erase that frown, even for a moment, then that was where he belonged.
The breeze picked up a few minutes later, as the Garden made a slow turn. In the distance, I could see the glittering lights of Balamb. I decided I'd better return to the party, before they started asking awkward questions. There would be plenty of time for those. I smiled to myself, wondering which one of us would shock them the most.
I took one last glance over my shoulder, as the town crept closer into view.
I'd been waiting on a happily ever after, and in a way I'd found it. Somewhere among those twinkling lights, a dream was going to come true. Maybe it wasn't mine, but that was okay.
Because I hadn't really lost him.
How could I?
He was never mine to lose.
Authors' Notes: AARGH!! I get the feeling that way so way OOC it was ridiculous! Let me know either way. Plus, for someone who loves the use of dialogue as a narrativetool, Squall's being a damned uncooperative bunny!! There could be a sequel in the works if anyone's interested (ONE guess what that's gonna be about? ::smirks::).
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