Rinoa remembers being dead. Looking down through the blackness surrounding her at her planet, her home, and the moment her fear went away, when Squall's voice was suddenly inside her head and she accepted that she had died. His arms around her, the mix of relief and love and terror on his face as he looked at her through the glass, and how much she wanted to tell him it was okay, she was okay. That he could let go. That she wanted to let go. She couldn't understand why she was clinging to life the way she was, why her mind went so far as to conjure a ship, one Squall pulled her into, one with air and gravity.
She remembers him staring at her when she asked for a hug. The curtain closing on the play of emotions on his face, folding into something blank, muted, not even confused, just--closed. Him turning away and awkwardly mumbling about their situation, and she remembers knowing then, in that moment, that she was alive. That he had saved her. That none of it was a dream or her mind's last attempts at giving her hope.
And then she remembers the fear, because since then, it has never gone away. Not when she sat in his lap and his fingers pressed against her with just enough pressure to let her know he didn't mind; not when she fell into his arms amid the steaming pressure tubes and shouts of the scientists; not when the grey sky finally turned blue and they were home. Not when they said goodnight at Garden and he walked away and then there was a knock on her door not five minutes later, and not the next morning when they woke up still half-sitting on the couch because they didn't really know what to do, they just didn't want to be apart.
The fear has never gone away. It has dulled and she doesn't always notice it, but it is always there. When they are in crowds, when she is alone. When she comes to Garden and sees her enemies everywhere, even if they don't realize that is what they are. When she addresses Timber and in her mind she sees flashes of purple and black, and pictures stone monsters coming to life. She is waiting, and even though Squall tells her not to, swears that he isn't, she knows he is waiting too.
Squall remembers being dead. He doesn't know how long he walked along the edge of time, but he is certain that he died there, her name a burning whisper on his lips. He knows it was not the crushing weight of time that killed him, but the knowledge that he had failed, that he made a promise and that he would be leaving her alone. He remembers struggling, and being overcome with what could, what would, happen to her, and how that thought crippled him past the point of fighting.
He remembers that she saved him, as she has always done. As she always will.
He remembers the night they returned as her, only her. He knows, because he has to, that he stumbled through a speech, shook countless hands, posed for thousands of pictures. He knows, because the part of his brain still rooted in reality tells him so, although the memories are like watching himself on TV. What he remembers about that night is scanning the room and looking for a flash of black hair, and hearing her laugh jump above the din to remind him she is here, she isn't lost, he isn't lost.
He lives in fear; that people will find out, that the pressure of what she is will one day become too much and she will need him in a way he can't provide. Her demons dart in and out of his mind, only shadows, he knows, of what she sees and feels at all times, and he would take them all if it would keep her safe.
He can't take her dreams, her demons. But he can restructure, change. He is Commander, but only of the SeeD Army. When they are not in active war he is an A-Rank SeeD. He telecommutes from the office in their home in Timber on the day to day business, takes missions as they arise, and adopts an alias to hire a security detail for her when he is gone. Xu knows it's him and shakes her head and in her eyes he can see the disappointment, the mockery, and he doesn't care. Xu gives him hoops, impossible tests he must pass to prove his ability to live so far and still rank so high. He knows it isn't personal, and he will do whatever it takes to keep his post, because Xu knows, and she will not make allowances.
Her face is glowing, her eyes sparkling with joy and mischief and the slightest bit of disappointment, all of which he pretends he doesn't notice, at least, until he speaks.
"Goodnight." His voice is foreign. Choked, heavy, and anything but resolute. He doesn't want to leave her, and that terrifies him.
"See you tomorrow?" She looks hopeful, but her confidence is not complete. He knows the feeling. They are riding on something too high, too pure, more than he can believe is real. He should be dead. They both should. And that doesn't change the more mundane question of -- will you be there tomorrow?
She is still waiting, and he has taken too long to answer. Her eyes are downcast and she traces something on the floor between the guest room Garden has assigned her and the hallway with her foot. He's seen her do it before, and wonders now if she even realizes she does it.
"Rinoa," he says, and she looks up, the world resting in her eyes. Not long ago they stood, exactly such, on the crumbling rocks of his childhood home, and it broke him to see her so convinced of her own solitude.
Now she doesn't have to be alone. The world is safe. They are safe, and no one knows. Now it's okay to go back to how it was, how he was--or is it? Is it like space, all over again? His sweeping gesture, broken as soon as they hit the Ragnarok and had air? And how many times thereafter was he reminded of what he almost lost?
"I promise," he repeats, and she smiles, not wide, not bright, but honest. A private smile, one nobody but him will ever see. He draws a hand to her cheek and she sighs against it and steps closer, her head folding perfectly between his neck and shoulder. He holds her and for far too long they stand there in her door. They are on each side of the world they must go back to, and Squall is not ready, not yet.
But he tells her, "I have to go," and pulls away, surprised that there are now tears in her eyes. Has he done something wrong? He cautiously reaches a hand up to brush them from her face, and she clasps it firmly against her.
"Tomorrow, then," she says again.
They wait a beat, and he pulls his hand away and towards her door. She takes the smallest step backwards and he closes it, keeping his eyes locked with hers until he can't.
The latch clicks into place and he turns to stand against her wall, his head leaned back to rest against it.
He could stay here all night.
Nobody at Garden knows who wasn't there, except Cid and Xu. Need-to-know basis. Their secret could remain hidden forever, without a reason to talk about it. But will it?
He'll stay here, he thinks. He doubts he'll sleep tonight anyway.
Squall stays there for minutes, five, ten, he doesn't know how long, before he resigns himself to trusting she will be okay. The night patrol will start their rounds soon, and then what excuse will he give for why her safety is so important?
He makes it to the corner before he stops and turns around without a second thought, and has already knocked on her door before his brain finally catches up with his actions.
There is no answer at first, and he thinks she must have gone to sleep. Good, he thinks. She needs it. He turns around and is ready to walk down the hall when her voice catches him. "Squall?"
They look at each other for less than a minute, and then she swings the door open and he walks in and she shuts it behind him.
"I, uh..." He has no words. The guest room is larger than his dorm, but not by much. "I just--"
"Me too," she says, and grins. A perfect, understanding grin. "Have a seat?" She gestures to the small sofa and he sits, not sure if he is the guest or the host, if he is here to keep her safe or the other way around. He feels the tension setting in, and she sits beside him and throws one arm over the couch behind her and leans her head against it.
"I'm kind of tired," she says. "Busy day, you know. Or days. Or years."
A joke. He raises an eyebrow at her and she laughs and says, "Too soon?"
"I'm tired too," he replies. This is wrong, this is wrong. He doesn't know what his job is now, what his rank is, his role in Garden, but he's certain it is not in a guest room with a civilian after hours. But it's right, so right, because he is hers, on a level he doubts he will ever understand. For the first time he can remember he has the choice to put his loyalty somewhere other than Garden, and it isn't a choice. He doesn't know what they will do, but he knows where he stands.
She pulls her arm from behind the couch and scoots over, cradling herself against him. Only now, they aren't in space, and their lives aren't at stake, and maybe it's the exhaustion, or the champagne, or the fact that he has been to the future and past and the end of time itself within a day, but he pulls her closer against him like its the most natural thing in the world.
"Goodnight," he says again, only this time he means it.
"Goodnight." Her words are slurred and she is mostly asleep, her chest rising and falling in his embrace.
He wakes up first, early, the arm he had wrapped around her asleep, and is afraid to move, afraid she will vanish and the dream will end. He spends what he feels must be half the morning just staring at the top of her head, breathing her in, softly drawing lines on her face with his free hand. When she finally stirs (it's only been an hour, he discovers), when she looks at him through sleepy eyes that widen and then soften, he smiles, and knows, there is no better way to start his day.
The waves tickle her ankles, and Rinoa traces patterns in the sand: hearts, stars, moons. She tries to get ambitious and draws a cactuar, with little lines coming out of it pointing towards the sea. She giggles a little when the water washes the needles away, and thinks, how appropriate.
Bored with drawing shapes, Rinoa stands and shakes the water from her ankles, moving a few paces up the shore where a chair and a book are waiting in the sun.
Squall loves the beach in a way that Rinoa still finds surprising on occasion. She attributes it to his childhood, to always living near the ocean, to recovering memories that are not related to battle and discipline. She thinks it may be his favorite place to be, and that's fine with her because she knows it's her favorite place to be.
"My legs itch," she replies, and takes a seat beside him.
There is a slim silver chain around one of her ankles that she knows he hates but she insists on wearing.
She hates it, too. It makes her thoughts slower, and she feels vulnerable. But she feels more vulnerable without it. With the band she is exposed to threats from the outside, but without it, she is at the mercy of whatever is within.
"You should take it off," Squall tells her.
He never brings anything when they come here. He sits in shorts and a t-shirt and a pair of sunglasses, and watches. To Rinoa, he becomes a part of the surroundings, immersing himself entirely in Place, in the only place he feels he can do so.
He feels exposed as well, she knows; trying to learn independence from the GF. He is the first to say they are the only reason for their great victory, but now that the war is over and his contracts are assassinations and body-guarding and quieting (or aiding) civilian uprisings, he is trying not to rely so heavily. Today he has no junctions at all. She wonders, for just a moment, if he doesn't want her to take off the anklet so she can act if they are attacked.
"It's safe here, Squall," she tells him, and lets him take his own meaning from it.
The waves crash and they watch the tide come in, dimly aware of the passing of time. It moves differently, once you have moved through time itself. She reads, and she knows his eyes are closed behind his sunglasses and he is focused. She pictures him trying to shift the movement in the wind, or pull the tide forward and back at will.
It is something she can do without even trying, if she wanted. She can level the beach with a sneeze if she's not careful, or turn the clouds into the most marvelous of shapes. She feels her eyes burn, the vast difference between her and the rest of the world never more apparent than these moments when there is something that separates her so entirely from Squall.
"I love you," Squall says suddenly. She looks at him and he has taken off his sunglasses, his eyes filled with concern. It is the first time he's ever said it, at least directly, the words themselves. Her throat hardens and the burning in her eyes transforms into full tears which spill out against her will.
"I love you," he says it again, and this time he gets up and kneels beside her chair, touching her hands, kissing her fingers, pulling her onto the sand with him even though the tide is up to their chairs now and they are sitting in the edge of the surf. He says it one more time, a whisper, "I love you."
She realizes now his focus this whole time has not been on controlling the elements but on trying to read her through the cottony wall of the chain that keeps her safe, keeps her contained, keeps her isolated.
She reaches down and unlocks it, and gasps at the burst of energy that swells through her veins, and out, onto the sand, onto the water, and a wave crashes over them in response. She feels dangerous and free, and looks at him through a few strings of hair that have fallen over her face.
"I love you, too."
Each night she lays in bed for hours in a line between dreaming and not. Squall holds her close and every time she is almost asleep, he is almost asleep, she cries out and jumps and pulls his arms against her with her eyes shut tight. The sounds of the city are so loud, feel so close. Every time the door creaks open when Angelo pads in there is an intruder, a truck hitting thunder strips on the highway is a global attack, in this hazy half-sleep of hers.
These are better than the visions that won't let her sleep. The room is full of bees, flying around her, landing on them, covering every surface, swarming together as an army. They are together, driving, and the car always crashes. She jumps at the impact, and even after it wakes her, she can hear the crunching of metal, watches it play in slow motion while Squall strokes her thumb and whispers it's alright, I've got you. I've got you.
She is caught in a fire she is certain that she has caused. There are screams all around her but she cannot see anybody, and she is locked in a room with it.
When she finally does fall asleep the dreams are more vivid, and last longer. Full stories of journeys, of peril. Long roads and dark buildings and deep forests. These are better and worse than the visions that keep her from sleeping, because she never wakes from these, no matter how frightening, just stays locked inside a world that is real until it isn't.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I get so scared," she tells Squall one night after she wakes him, almost crying, and he sighs just so, barely waking up when he threads his fingers through hers, his words of comfort almost unintelligible through the sleep in his voice. "I'm sorry."
She knows she wears on him, in ways she cannot help. But he is patient, and assures her it's okay. He doesn't sleep much anyway, catching it when he can whether he is with her or in the field, and he would rather lose sleep keeping her safe than any other reason in the world.
He insists on driving to Esthar when they go, now that the bridge is open again to cars. She doesn't argue, and he suspects she knows his motivations.
He stops the car at a pull-off point somewhere past FH, and takes her hand, leading her west.
"Squall, I don't think it's very safe to walk on the road like this," she tells him, a sly grin in her eyes before she climbs onto the concrete barrier to walk so that she is taller than him. He shakes his head, and stays firmly on the road, his hand brushing now and again against her calf as they walk.
They don't go far, stopping about a hundred yards from the car, at the fifth light post past the pull off. Then, the bridge hosted rail traffic only and the pull offs were for maintenance, but he remembers this spot well, tracing with his eyes the shallow crack down the post shaped like a spray of lightning. He volunteered to oversee the SeeDs hired to help reconstruct the bridge just so he could make sure this spot was left as it was.
He stops, and sits on the barrier. She takes a seat beside him, and they look out at the sunset together, watching the clouds turn from light yellow, to dark orange, until their edges glow bright pink.
"I know why we're here," she tells him. "This is the place, isn't it?"
He nods. He doesn't know how to say what it is that he wants to say, and something about her feels nervous, an energy she gives off when she is trying to find her words.
"I told you a lot while we were here," he finally says. "It felt right."
She doesn't respond, and he's not sure what he was expecting her to say, anyway. Everything he told her that day she already knows by now. At the time they were great secrets, great admissions, but so much time in each other's company and things like that don't need explanation. He suspects now they weren't secrets to her, even then. He is questioning this trip, his plans for openness and honesty shrinking before her uncanny intuition, and he worries he has built up her anticipation for nothing.
"I know," she says, when she responds.
She nods, and he waits for her to explain.
"Well... I could hear you."
He draws in a breath, and is suddenly embarrassed. Telling her now, finding things out together, these things are different than telling her then. He finds it silly--he told her after all, right? Was it really because he didn't think she could hear? Or because they were things he just needed to say?
"Don't be angry," she looks away, and he doesn't know what to make of that.
"I'm not," he responds. He's not. He's just... What, he wonders?
It is like space, he thinks. Once they were safe and he could breathe, and it was okay to put the walls up again, to keep her in a place where he could observe her without getting too close.
But when he did that, he almost lost her again. He locked himself away and put her on the outside, and he still hasn't fully recovered from those days, not yet. He sees her through a window and it takes his breath, being separated by a pane of glass, whether she is moving behind it or not.
Because he carried her over this bridge in the first place so he wouldn't lose her, and she found out anyway how she got to space, his so-called heroism.
"I don't remember a lot, so don't worry," she tells him, a slight laugh in her voice, but just slight. Not enough to protect his secrets, but enough to tell him how much she still hides about that time. "Just little pieces here and there. Most of it is hazy voices and..." She stops.
"It wasn't silent for me, then. I was kind of between things I guess you could say. Your voice stuck out more than the others. It made it easier to block out the other side, so I tried to listen. So, I heard you. Sorry I didn't tell you. I know it was personal... I figured if you had to wait until you thought I was asleep to talk to me, you probably didn't want to know I was kind of awake."
A flash of guilt runs across his mind that she could ever think he wanted to keep anything from her, but she didn't come to that conclusion on her own.
It wasn't that I had to wait until you were asleep, he wants to say, but she is right. He did. He waited until he almost lost her, and then he found her, only to give her away again. He feels he is a cycle of almost-missed chances, and it prompts him to say his next words without hesitation.
"I want to marry you."
She turns and looks at him, her eyes wide, and it catches up to him what he has just said. He forces himself to hold her gaze. The blood rushing in his head is deafening and his stomach turns, but he won't look away. When she continues to say nothing it occurs to him she is waiting for an explanation, for how he got from finding out she knew about his confession to a marriage proposal. His thoughts are so loud to him and she feels so right, so natural, he forgets he still needs to tell her sometimes what he's thinking.
"It's okay that you heard me then Rinoa. I told you after all, didn't I?"
"Maybe. But still you. I--" I love you. I can't be away from you. Remembering how I almost lost you still keeps me up at night, and I would do anything to keep you safe. I need you. "I told you everything I did because you feel like a part of me that's always been missing. I never had a purpose before you. I just did what I was told. But since you... Nothing about us makes sense, I just know it's right. And so, I want to marry you."
His words feel awkward, and he finds it harder and harder not to look away, to pull back. But he forces it out as a question, "So, will... Do you want to marry me too?"
She smiles, a smile so huge and bright, and her eyes are glittering. She throws her arms around him as much as she can seated side-by-side, and kisses him, and tells him, "Yes."
It is strange to sleep without her, no matter where he is. After that first night, after dawn had broken and he spent the day in debriefing sessions, after spending hours apart and finally she was still there, he started to accept that maybe this was real.
He is certain he left some part of himself on that blackened rock of a non-world, or maybe she just picked it up and keeps it with her now.
It's strange to sleep without her, after he went back to his room after that first day, once he could sleep without fearing in the morning she would disappear, or that the rest of Garden would take her away.
His bed was cold, and empty. The room was suffocating, and nothing felt right, and it never has since if she is not with him.
He doesn't sleep much on missions, which he supposes is a good thing. He would prefer to never take one again, but he is Squall Leonhart, and the very wealthy are willing to pay so much more to have his name involved, whether it is a risky mission or not. He can't die, won't die, but that doesn't mean he won't find himself in danger all the time.
At night he can feel her dreams. Stronger when she is there, when she trembles in his arms and shouts out in the night. She apologizes for it, but the only thing he wishes is that she did not have those fears at all. He stays awake until she falls asleep most nights, as he did that first night, tracking her breath, willing her to feel peace.
But the dreams don't always stay with her. He sees what she sees, faded, in pieces, and it unnerves him. He won't tell her, won't worry her, but they steal his sleep in their own turn.
Every night he is hopeful. He falls asleep first sometimes and wonders the next day if he did not leave her alone to face some demon by herself. He thinks she would wake him, but it bothers her so to rely so much on him he knows she will not. He finds himself relieved, tells himself it is because she made it through the night, and shuts out the voice that is just grateful he finally got to fall asleep without her crying.
When he is gone the glimpses and flashes are less frequent and less clear, but still remain. He is always torn in two, half SeeD, half Knight. He knows one day he will only be able to be on one side and he has already made his choice, but until then, he plays his part, and there are lives in his hands.
She is dreaming tonight, and he reaches out to her in every way he can, sitting in a folding chair in an abandoned house while his single teammate naps a few feet away. When it is his turn he lays down and feels the absence beside him. He's never sure what to do with his arms when she isn't there to hold.
She practices control, over that which is uncontrollable.
The first time she came to the orphanage--that she remembers, anyway--it was hazy, dreamlike. It was a sanctuary, a place where she was safe, where she couldn't hurt anyone.
She thinks of that often. Those first moments. She stands on the crumbling rocks, never quite repaired despite everyone's best efforts, and presses play on their conversation from then. From the first time since they met she felt she understood something that he didn't, when he was the one who was naive.
It is something she will not ask herself, no matter how many times the question presses at the edge of her mind, but it is always there. Would he have made that promise, had he understood what it meant?
Rinoa walks from the patio, down the stone steps and out to the lighthouse, and pulls a roll of papers from a bag she has slung over her shoulder. She sits, consumed with news reports and Garden documents, wondering if she won't die of boredom before anything else.
What she wants, is a trigger, Something she can do, or see, or say, that will cause a flare-up, here, in a setting of her choice. Where she knows it is safe, and she can work at manipulating the magic for herself, at retaining herself.
"What are you doing?"
She jumps and looks at Squall sheepishly, surprised he managed to catch her off guard. She tries, foolishly, to hide the papers she knows he has already seen.
"Reading," she says, matter of fact. He frowns at her, and steps close enough for his shadow to fall across her lap. It's later than she thought, the sun a low gold on the horizon.
It is too late to pretend. The Garden letterhead is stamped across more than half of the documents, and it's something Squall doesn't need to see up close to recognize. "Rinoa, why do you have those?"
His voice hooks at the end of the question. He knows why she has them, but he is going to make her tell him anyway.
"Squall," she starts, her voice pathetic.
He sighs heavily and sits beside her, collecting the papers. She does not try and stop him.
"I thought... Maybe I could trigger something," she says, after several minutes of silence. His hands freeze and he looks at her. His eyes are bright, intense, and she wants to look away because it is almost painful to be caught in that stare. "Well, it's safe here. I can...practice."
"And these are supposed to help?" He shakes the papers at her.
"Well, they did make me kind of angry."
His signature is on at least a quarter of the Garden documents, and most of them are full of lies. She has not brought the reports from the war, or any of the hundreds of statements guaranteeing there is no Sorceress threat. Only the founding documents hidden for years on SeeD's true purpose, the monthly updates, signed by her husband, of Garden's continued efforts to train for readiness on how to kill a Sorceress.
She isn't angry with him and he knows it, but it doesn't stop the guilt from crossing his face.
"Did you talk to Edea?"
She pauses. "I didn't tell her I was coming out here for this, if that's what you're asking."
"Did I talk her about control? Lots of times. She always says it gets easier with time."
"But you don't believe her."
"Should I? Time didn't help her, not when it mattered. I can't have that happen."
"But it's already happened, Rin." His eyes widen and he immediately apologizes, which almost makes her laugh.
"Fine, again. That's why I need to practice. Because it's already happened. I don't... I can't..." It's been two years and it haunts her every night, the trapped, helpless feeling as her mind spun around and she watched her body do things, unable to speak or fight.
"She can't come back, Rinoa. Not until it's her time. She's dead in our present. Or she hasn't been born yet." I'm still not sure which, she practically hears him think. The mechanics of the time loop make passing sense to him, and in his very Squall-like way he just accepts what happened without questioning it too much.
Rinoa sees it differently, intrinsically bound to the succession. There is a wave of aether, a channel that carries the voices of her past and future sisters that she can't turn off. The loudest voices are the ones she knows, Edea, Adel, a voice she knows must be the one who comes after her, one she doesn't yet recognize. Ultimecia's voice moves up and down the wave, now in the past, now in the far future. Rinoa does not know where her voice starts and tries to tune her out as much as possible. She has heard enough of that voice to last a lifetime and is not concerned with the particulars. She tried explaining this to Squall, once. He had his very best look of concentration as he tried to understand, and a brief moment of clarity that passed as soon as he started over-thinking it.
He said he's heard them before, usually when she sleeps, but didn't know what he was hearing. That it scares him every time but she always wakes up as herself. He frowned while he was explaining, SeeD logic failing in the face of something so Other.
"They're like the voices of the GF," Rinoa finally told him. "Except I can't un-junction."
It was a good enough analogy at the time.
"We don't know when she is born, Squall. Or if there is another. For all we know, I could be Ultimecia. Maybe I'm turning into her right now, because I'm trying to practice in the place she built her hom--"
"Rinoa, stop it."
"It's just something I think about. We don't know anything about who she really is. And I'm in there somewhere, Squall. Maybe she is my successor. Or my successor's successor."
"She's too far in the future."
"Maybe. But I still lead to her. So, I have to control it, as long as I can. If Edea can lose herself so easily after having her powers for decades..."
Squall doesn't respond this time. Sometimes Rinoa is bothered by this, and now is one of those times. She knows his silence usually means he doesn't know what to say, but sometimes it feels like he is confirming her fears through lack of denial.
"You're worried, too."
"I'm always worried, Rinoa."
"You think I'm not strong enough. That I'm not going to learn how to control it, don't you?" She is baiting him and she knows better, but all she wants is for him to tell her she can fight it, because it's the thing she can never convince herself.
"I never said that."
"But you didn't say otherwise."
"You said you thought you might be Ultimecia, and I disagreed with you."
"But I'm talking about control in general."
Confusion sweeps across his eyes, turning to frustration. "You're talking about two different things."
"They're all the same thing. To me, they're the same. Even if I don't become her, I could become like her. I could go bad. You're worried about that."
"I'm worried the more you try and trigger yourself, the more likely you are to lose control."
"That's the point though, isn't it? To lose control. I can't learn how to fight it otherwise."
He stares at her for a long pause, eyes burning, and finally says, "I think you're teasing it."
What he doesn't say, is "this power is stronger than you, and it will prove it if you try and act otherwise," but she hears it anyway. In his voice, in hers, in the voice that screams in her head whenever she lets down her guard. It's why he'll never tell her what she wants to hear, even now, even when she picks a fight that takes up the better part of the afternoon. He won't lie to her.
"Squall," she whispers, tears in her voice.
He sighs, and sets down the papers. She crawls towards him, climbing into his lap and burying her face against his shoulder. He wraps both arms around her, rocking her slightly and kisses the top of her head. Now his silence in comfort, because now the best thing he can say is nothing at all.
Squall uses every resource he has at Garden to learn as much as possible, and nobody questions it whether they know about Rinoa or not.
He is disgusted by how one-sided the literature Garden keeps in their library is on the study of the Sorceress. (What they call "the issue." His wife is not an issue. She is a person. She is his wife.) So disgusted he turns to Esthar, where at least they have a good reason to be mistrustful.
Laguna trips on himself a lot, enthusiastic over the chance to help his son, but Squall cannot help but see his wariness on the subject. Laguna loves Rinoa, but she is more to him than a daughter-in-law, more than herself. Laguna has led a country, however accidentally, through the tyranny of a Sorceress leader, and had to deal with the fallout of the second war. He loves Rinoa the person, but fears Rinoa the Sorceress, and knows there is a difference between the two.
Squall calls him out on this on his first visit. They are in a sitting room in the residential wing of Esthar's Presidential Palace, drinking coffee because Laguna doesn't keep anything stronger.
"You're too young for that stuff anyway," Laguna tells him.
"I was born in a bar," Squall retorts and Laguna shuts up immediately. For a moment Squall almost feels guilty about bringing it up, about using what he knows is the most shameful part of his father's history as a weapon, but right now he isn't talking to his father. He's talking to the president of the country that almost took Rinoa from him forever, and who has more information than the only other man who's attempted the role of "dad" will give up, and their history (lack of history) is irrelevant.
But he's also talking to the man who found a way to save them, to save her. And it's good coffee, anyway.
"Isn't part of your job knowing about what she is?" Laguna asks, after the small talk is out of the way and Squall has asked to go to the Memorial for the fifth time since he got there.
Squall nods, and says, "I know everything about her I need, to do my job as a SeeD. What I don't know, is how to do my job as..." Her knight. "Her husband." Knight is his, it's theirs. It's what he doesn't fully understand, what he wants to understand by learning from the other side.
"There's no way to learn that, "Laguna tells him, sadly. "And definitely not from me."
Squall regrets his earlier statement even more, and thinks of what Rinoa must be doing right now. It's 10am Timber time, and she is probably standing at the vending machine at work watching it pour acidic coffee into a paper cup and telling herself for the thousandth time she needs to bring their extra single cup brewer to the office one of these days. His lips twitch as though he might smile and he averts his eyes.
Forgiveness has not come easy with Laguna, not for the war, not for abandoning his mother. But Squall stood in the Ragnarok hangar and watched them lead Rinoa away and knew good and well what her fate was going to be. Laguna left to find Elle, without knowing everything he was leaving. Maybe it hasn't come easy because Squall still has not forgiven himself.
"If I ask as SeeD?"
Laguna gives a slight laugh, and pours another cup of coffee. "Do you really want everything here on record?"
Squall gives him a hard look, not sure if he is joking or not, and finally decides he is. His lips twitch again, until he laughs against his will.
"Hey, you need some of your old man's unorthodox ways of doing things."
They talk about other things while they finish their coffee, then Laguna leads him through a tunnel of hallways into a library that looks over the desert. The Memorial is the smallest dot against the horizon, a tease, an omen.
"I'll leave you in here. But if anyone asks, you got lost and found this place on your own."
Squall realizes that the library is Odine's, and is overwhelmed with both gratitude and disgust.
Laguna nods and gives him a grin that is proud and happy and nervous and sad and Squall takes a moment to appreciate how complex a man his father really is before burying himself in decades of literature and research collected by a mad man.
It is easier to accept a degree of hesitation in Laguna than it is in Cid. Squall feels a resentment towards Cid so strong he seldom speaks to him outside of work. Squall would set the world on fire before he would order Rinoa's execution no matter her crime, and they both know that, and conversations are tense. Any piece of information Cid hands over could one day be used against Garden.
He feels he is the only man in existence who wants to keep a Sorceress alive, until it hits him there is one other, one person who knows, who at one point even cared, but he is not quite ready to cross that bridge.
There is a scare one month, and it puts the idea in her head so strongly she finds it hard to think of anything else.
It is a dream she never really had. She lost her mother too young and knows the pain she felt, and doesn't want to put anyone through that. She fears she is going to turn, to abandon everyone she loves, and she doesn't want to add anyone else to that list. It is one thing being a Sorceress has helped her come to terms with, her disinterest in being a mother. As a teenager her dream was to save the world, not be tied down with children. Having the first dream come true did not open any room for the baby dream, despite frequent questions about it from her friends and family. But in all of his research Squall has yet to find evidence of Sorcresses bearing children, and it is a relief to her, one less thing to worry about.
Until she thinks it has. She spends a solid week terrified beyond comprehension, and thinks of everything she has experienced so far and that nothing, not even seeing Squall lying in the dust, comes close to the panic that grips her in those days. She refuses to see a doctor, not even Kadowaki, too afraid of the results to know just yet, going through everything in her head she can find to make the idea more manageable, to make it something she might want.
And then suddenly, the possibility is gone. She is alone, Squall away for the day in a meeting. He gets home late and as soon as he walks through the door she looks at him and bursts into tears. He holds her and she doesn't even bother trying to explain why it hurts so much to lose something she never knew she wanted.
He tries to talk her out of it, at first. He can't say it's anything he ever imagined for himself, either. He worries about what it would mean for her, for them. He doesn't want her getting her hopes up over something that probably can't even happen.
Probably, she tells him.
She spends a year learning a new meaning of the word 'anticipation,' and then finally, they succeed.
He feels buoyed, tossed between waves and rocks, and every day is a struggle not to drown.
It is too much, too much, and he is scared out of his mind.
When he was seventeen, he spent the most painful, agonizing month of his life travelling across the world, across space, completely apart from himself, caught in the suffocating realization that a decade's worth of pushing people away and avoiding attachments had not protected him from finding the core of his existence rooted in someone else's safety.
He has spent years now, living with that. Feeling her pain, dreaming her dreams. Watching helpless as she suffers and furious with his own stifling mortality.
And now, that is going to double.
He knocks on the door of the run down apartment, noting with passing surprise a second set of shoes outside the door and wonders if he isn't making a mistake.
When the door opens, he is greeted by a hulking blond smirk, and the words "I knew you'd coming looking for me one of these days."
Her dreams shift, darker somehow, and cruel. She is standing on the rocks at the lighthouse by Edea's orphanage, and below her the sea is bobbing with the heads of children, tiny faces of all ages that look like her, like Squall, if they have a face at all. She looks down on them and plays with the shifts in the tide, sending them away and bringing them back again. She tires of this game when she looks at her feet and finds a length of chain, thick, long, ready.
She dreams about the war. She has a child with her, and is fighting with a baby in one arm. Everything they face is that much scarier, and she cannot concentrate on anything except keeping the child safe. When the Gardens collide and she falls, she drops the baby and watches as the dirt that hits the rotating under-blades is stained red. She wakes up shaking and immediately leans over the side of the bed to vomit, and is too horrified to even put the dream into words. Squall holds her, strokes her, whispers nonsense into her ear and none of it helps, none of it helps. She is afraid to sleep the next night, and the night after, that image playing over and over and over in her head, an endless loop.
She is at the edge of time and Squall is lying there and he won't wake up. She pushes back his hair as she always does, and his face flakes away, lost to the wind, and he grows hard and black in her arms. She feels like she screams for hours, and clings to him in their bed, sobbing. He cancels a meeting the next day to stay at home and she's afraid of any distance.
She is dizzy and feels lost, and there are dreams that never slow down long enough for her to tell what is happening. She jerks and turns in her sleep and whimpers and cries and sometimes she is in pain, so much pain.
She is certain she is going insane.
He hasn't gotten a full night's sleep since they found out. If her nightmares don't wake him, he still sits watch as long as he can, threading her hair through his fingers, running his hand up and down her arm. He is vigilant to the monsters that attack her during the night, even if he is helpless against them.
She wakes up screaming one morning just as day is breaking and she is covered in blood, and his heart stops in his chest. His skin flashes cold and then he is sweating, and he tries to hold her against him, but he has no words. She thinks she is still dreaming and she is fighting herself, trying to wake herself up. He knows she is not.
He loses track of how long he holds her as she shrieks and thrashes and he can tell the moment it changes, the second she realizes she's awake, this is real. Her cries change, painful screams of "No, No!" until finally she falls silent and spent against his chest.
He is hurt, too. But it's harder to watch how the loss affects her. He swallows his disappointment, everything he feels about it, and does his best to go back to life as usual. She accuses him of being cold, of not really wanting it anyway. He yells, because dammit, can't she see how hard he is trying to be there? Because she is falling apart, has fallen apart, and one of them needs to be left standing, but she doesn't want to hear it. He finally stops arguing and places a hand against her empty belly, which doesn't stop her tears, but they are no longer angry.
She wants to try again. He tells her no, absolutely not. He can't watch her in that much pain again, he just can't. But she wins, like she always wins, because she wants this so badly. And he goes back to watching her spend half the month hopeful, unfocused, and the other half devastated and determined.
She is pregnant again. She dreams again. She miscarries again.
After the third time, he talks her into seeing Kadowaki, the only doctor who knows, who may be able to offer some advice.
"The source magic is in your blood, Rinoa," the doctor tells her sadly, patiently. It's what they suspected, what Squall tried to convince her, but she didn't want to hear it. "You know what it's like for you sometimes, right? The surges? They're just too strong for a growing baby to handle."
He has to stay with Garden for the rest of the week for the SeeD exams, and she returns to Timber. On the third day he feels something snap shut in his mind. He is sitting in a tank in the forests somewhere south of Trabia, monitoring the comm network of a team sent to aide one of the forest tribes against a band of their enemies. The unit he is with consists of four members, all training in espionage. When he feels the channel close, he shuts his eyes, waiting, hoping, but he knows what she has done.
"Take it off," he tells her as soon as he gets home, before hello, before a kiss, before the door is finished closing.
She looks up at him from the kitchen counter where she is putting the finishing touches on lunch, and she has spent the extra money on his favorite beer, the one you can only buy one town over. She doesn't flinch, and holds a defiant gaze.
"Rinoa, we talked about this. You said you wouldn't."
"It could help, Squall. Dr. K said so."
"No. That isn't what she said."
"She said it's the source--"
"I know that. But you know this doesn't make that go away. It's not going to change anything and I..."
"I can't help you if I don't know what you're going through." He has a brief flash of introspection where it occurs to him any other couple in the world going through this does it with this sort of muffler pressed between them all the time, and it can't be that hard, but they aren't any other couple and he thinks the only thing that's gotten him this far is this connection, this bond, because he would never be able to figure anything out without it.
Her eyes shine (dull, though, so dull when she wears that thing, or maybe he's just used to watching them burn), and she looks so sad his anger ebbs.
"Oh, Squall," she says, and runs for him and wraps herself around him. "You always help me. Always. Always." She repeats it as a whisper. "Can we just try it once?"
He sighs, and agrees.
They do. They fail. This time she doesn't even cry, just wordlessly slips off the chain and places it in a box at the back of a dresser drawer and climbs into bed.
This is their reality, and slowly, Rinoa puts it behind her. She is a Sorceress, after all, and it was never her dream in the first place.
Neither was the war, though, or the succession, or a life of hiding who she is, and she has all of those anyway.
But then, she thinks, neither was Squall, and being so reliant on someone. Having someone so reliant on her. She wonders sometimes if it's really a good thing or not, but then she imagines life without him, and the thought swallows her.
She is tired of the monotony of Timber, free for all these years.. She wants to scream when she sees email requests for new carpet in the offices, or post-its stuck to the admin's desk complaining about the vending machines taking someone's money.
Don't you remember where we were, she wants to ask. Are you that worried about a gil?
But they are. And because Timber is still free, and flourishing, Rinoa knows it is a luxury to complain about a gil, and she says nothing.
But she is missing something.
And then, she is missing something, and she stares at the test results in disbelief and gets sick.
No more dreams, she thinks. No more dreams, no more heartache.
She tells Squall while they are eating dinner, and they are both very quiet, wordlessly asking each other what they should do.
Not again. She would rather give up now, say goodbye before they get too attached. She sees in his eyes the same idea, and it is appealing.
"What if," She says, barely a whisper, and looks down.
"Are you sure?" He asks, as scared as she is.
They tiptoe around each other, and whisper, and try not to talk about it, for fear of loss, for fear of making it real. They tell no one, and when she can't hide anymore, she leaves her job. She was tired of it anyway, and it's not like they need the money. They see a regular doctor in Timber, and get regular results, and try and lead a regular life.
She has made it eight and a half months, and they are away for the weekend in Dollet. Squall has been sent to represent Garden at a summit to discuss the building of a bridge to Trabia, and he asks her to go. She is more than happy to, afraid to be away.
She spends time at the hotel pool, reading, enjoying the feeling of being outside where she doesn't have to hide in case she sees somebody she knows. She walks around town, and visits the beach. She smiles at the people who hold doors for her, and politely changes the subject when people ask her about the baby. She is amazed at how many people want to touch her, scared they are going to do some damage in some way, but basks in the attention of something so normal.
She talks to Squall about this in their room and he runs a hand over her stomach, focused on the tiny kicks that respond. "You're very touchable right now," he says, and she raises an eyebrow.
"Mmm." He leans over and kisses her, gently lowering her backwards, her only protest a soft plea to be careful, quickly lost in kisses and his touch.
It is their last day in Dollet, and his final meeting is over early. Squall opens the door of the hotel room to the sound of the shower running, and pokes his head in, tells Rinoa he wants to do an early dinner before they leave. He is dragging out their time before they return to Timber, amazed at the change that has enveloped them in these last days, the comfort of anonymity in a place where nobody knows who they are. If it weren't for his uniform they could literally be anyone, but he will settle for being a random SeeD, walking through the streets with his pregnant wife.
They stop by the train station on their way to dinner and he exchanges their tickets for the last train of the evening, and after they eat they walk through town, hand in hand, absorbing everything they can.
"We should move here," Squall says, smiling at her while she licks at some of the ice cream she bought from a street vendor as it runs down her hand.
"It has been really nice," she responds. "But it's nice knowing there's a place like this we can go, you know? When we need to get away? Oh. Look." She stops and points at a storefront across the street, with a window display full of light pinks and blues and greens, mobiles and stuffed animals. She doesn't try and hide the longing on her face and he grips her hand (now free of ice cream), and leads her across the street.
They walk out with bags and boxes and furniture on order, and when she falls asleep beside him on the train, Squall thinks it is the most peacefully she has slept in years. He debates, as he watches the world outside change from desert to forest, and pulls out his phone, trusting she won't be angry. They wake up the next morning to a house full of their friends, to breakfast in bed, to Ellone promising she will stay, to smiles and tears and squeals of "I can't believe you didn't tell us!"
Five weeks later, Squall nearly gets into a fist fight with a train attendant, ready to jump out before they're finished pulling into the Timber station. He is on the ground the second the doors finally open, forgoing the idea of a cab entirely and taking the two miles to their house at a full run. He slows down at the door and tries to make himself appear calm, together, and thinks he needs a drink.
He opens the door to their bedroom and his heart stops, completely unprepared for the sight that greets him. Rinoa is soaked and sweating on their bed, tears streaming down her face at something squirming in her arms. Ellone stands up and walks over, catches his arm around her shoulders right at the moment he realizes he doesn't think he can stand. She leads him to the bed and he sits on the edge, so full of everything he is almost numb.
He remembers: years ago Rinoa fell into his arms and the rest of the world faded around him, and he knew then he had found the limits of love, because nothing could have been stronger than what he felt in that moment. He remembers the years since, and his amazement as she grew in him daily, showing him there are no limits to love.
Squall looks through his own tears into the red face buried in a pile of blankets, at his spent and glowing wife, and all at once, he believes.