You'd probably never believe me, but this fic was spawned from my disliking of Rinoa. I actually find myself enjoying writing her in this fic, for reasons that will hopefully become more obvious as the series progresses. Oddly enough, she's at the center of all this trouble, though it's not her fault in the slightest...can anyone guess why? There's a rather large hint as to what's going on, right in this chapter...
Aa eien nan de hitsuyo na ikedo
Homoi da ni kimi wo tokikoneta ku nai
Maboroshi nan de ai se nai
Kimi wo dakishimetai no sa
-- Hideaki Matsuoka, Deja Vu
Rinoa Caraway was frightened.
It was hard to tell if it was the sensation itself that caused her nervousness, or the fact that she was going to have to come face to face with that part of herself that she didn't like to consider, but either way she could feel her knees shake and tremble as the lift moved higher and higher up the building, giving her an eagle's eye view of the futuristic city below.
Selphie was spending the afternoon with "Sir Laguna", instinctively understanding that Rinoa felt she had to do this on her own. Rinoa hadn't told her what had happened between Squall and Zell, though Selphie was well aware of Squall's sudden internment in the infirmary. The usually bubbly brunette had hid her curiosity well, leaving Rinoa inwardly thankful that she wasn't buried in questions she wouldn't feel comfortable answering.
With every passing second her heart seemed to pound more rapidly, until she was sure that it would just give out. Slowly going through the exercises she had learned as a child only marginally helped to dam the flood of adrenaline.
Rinoa didn't like feeling this way, she hated to think of losing control of her emotions. Hadn't she graduated at the top of her class in Galbadia? She was a master of weaponry, and had proven her worth in missions many times over!
So why was it that the thought of asking this women for help was so difficult for her to reconcile?
She honestly had nothing against the young woman as a person. Squall had always spoken kindly of her, and Rinoa had found her quite charming from the very first moment they met. She had been in awe of all the hardships the older girl had gone through.
And yet...it had scared her...
She was frightened to see someone so at home with their unusual powers. It brought back all the nights after the whole ordeal in space--when Rinoa would cry into her pillow and attempt to control her shaking with heaps of blankets, as if she had been shivering from nothing more than cold.
It brought back the smiles she had pasted upon her face, a thin veneer that had threatened to shatter into tears and incoherent exclamations of fear at any given moment.
The smile the other girl directed at her--a sort of consprital grin, though it wasn't meant vindictively in the slightest--it just reminded her of her alieness...this power like a horrible serpent coiled tightly in her belly.
When Rinoa was around her, she couldn't pretend that she wasn't a sorceress.
Ellone beckoned the other woman to come in to the small apartment. Room was very scarce in Esthar, and therefore a lot of people squeezed into houses and other living quarters that Rinoa couldn't help but think of as oversized closets.
At the same time, Ellone had worked marvels with the tiny space allotted. Plants unfurled languidly as far as the eye could see, a pleasing carpet of greenery. The color of the walls, when one could see them through the plants, was mellow, an eggshell blue color that seemed to invite someone to relax, throw their cares out the window.
Ellone herself was wearing a white dress that was beautiful in its cotton simplicity. She looked like she would be more at home in a field of flowers than the hustle and bustle of the streets down below.
"Would you care to sit down?" She asked, pointing out a comfortably overstuffed couch off to the side of the room. "I'll get you some tea."
Rinoa took a deep breath, calming down now that she had actually managed to ring the doorbell and step inside. "Would it be possible to use your phone?" She asked Ellone's retreating figure. Then, suddenly embarrassed at what might be rudeness to her hostess, called out. "It's long distance...but I can pay you the normal rate. I just got here a few hours ago, and I completely forgot that I needed to make a call, otherwise I would have used a public channel--do they have public channels in Esthar?--because I really--"
Ellone cut her off with a chuckle. "Here's the phone, Rinoa. Don't worry about the money."
"Thank you." Rinoa said gratefully.
Ellone made herself busy in the kitchen as snatches of conversation followed her every movement. She was hard pressed to keep from grinning over some of the more interesting bursts.
"What do you mean you need me to get home?! Is something wrong?" There was a short pause.
"We're out of laundry?! That's ALL?! You mean YOU'RE out of laundry. Hey, you're a liberated man, you know where the washing machine and detergent is..." A rustling sound from the couch as Rinoa moved to a more comfortable position.
"No, 'you fold clothes better than I do' is not going to get me to come home any faster!"
It was hard to miss the smile in Rinoa's voice as she teased the man on the other line, as warm as an afternoon patch of sunlight streaming through a window. Ellone finished pouring the tea just as the conversation ended, coming in with a tray and settling in a chair opposite the other woman. Ellone regarded her with a friendly expression, trying to put Rinoa at ease.
"You said you needed my assistance? Something concerning Squall?" She prompted, sounding concerned for the first time. Squall had been so important to her...all the orphanage children had been.
Rinoa took a deep breath, and to her surprise, the whole story came tripping off her tongue easily. Ellone listened with growing seriousness, smile on her lips slipping down to a worried frown as the moments passed and Rinoa continued. Finally, after Rinoa finished, she spoke.
"You want me to take Squall back to that time period? Do you think that will help?"
"I don't know what really happened myself." Rinoa admitted. "But from what I gathered when I came back, and what Zell said, it seems to be one of the cruxes of this matter. Also...I think that perhaps you should let him see it from Zell's eyes."
"From Zell's perspective?" Ellone echoed.
"Think of it as a matter of killing two birds with one stone." Rinoa said softly. "Perhaps Squall needs some insight as well as a history lesson...I know you can't change the past, but maybe this will help with the future."
Ellone nodded, giving Rinoa her silent promise.
Squall Leonhart was dreaming.
Squall Leonhart wasn't dreaming...he was experiencing.
He recognized the feeling as it crept softly over his entire body, though it had been a number of years since this sort of thing had last held him in its grip. There was no use fighting it, but he wondered why Ellone would be doing this to him now. Was there something he was missing?
He struggled as a matter of course, sweat breaking out on his face as he writhed on the infirmary cot. Squall gripped the sheets in tense hands, trying to keep himself from slipping away. There was something wrong here...going into a coma would leave himself open.
He had to escape and figure out what had happened to...
A figure watched his attempt from the doorway, shadows darkening his sunlight-spun hair and sea splashed eyes. He gazed upon the other man from a distance, as if the doorway was a barrier he couldn't cross, but couldn't leave.
"Squall. Get some sleep! You're making me tired just watching you! And if Irvine, Selphie and Quistis are gonna be as late as I think they are, then you and me have got to be as rested up as we can." Zell called from his reclining position on the couch, eyes following Squall as he paced back and forth in front of the window.
The view from their hotel room was amazing, as well it should have been considering the Esthar hotel's rates. Signs winked back and forth, lights from other building dancing merrily, without any care of how late it might be.
"What about you?" When Squall spoke, it was a low monotone that was worrisome even as far as "his royal antisocial ness" was concerned.
"I'm not going to sleep until you are, baby!" Came the cheerful reply. A look of irritation might have swept across Squall's features for a second, but it was hard to tell. The only sign one could readily ascertain simply from inspecting Squall's face was "living", and even that was occasionally thrown into doubt.
"Don't you need to eat?" Squall tried again.
"I already ordered something for the two of us from room service. I don't feel like trying to get out and find a restaurant around here...unlike the other three nut cases. So you're not getting rid of me that easily!"
Squall allowed silence to blanket the room once again, stopping his movements to inspect the city lights, as if they held the answers he was so desperately seeking.
"It's not your fault, you know."
Squall jumped at the oddly comforting whisper tickling his ear--at least Zell afforded him some semblance of dignity by ignoring his surprised reaction. He hadn't even heard Zell get up, much less move right behind him. It seemed the butterhead could be quiet when he wanted to...then again, Zell was a martial artist. He sighed before moving to the couch, Zell trailing him silently.
"She shouldn't have been there." Squall finally said, not meeting Zell's steady gaze. "Her mission was over; she should have been dismissed from the beginning."
"Rinoa chose to stay, she knew the risks." Zell maintained stubbornly. "Sometimes I wonder if the only reason you're reacting this way is because of...I don't know...who she is. Would you even care if it had happened to one of us?" There was a strong undercurrent of uncharacteristic bitterness in the blond's words, causing Squall to finally raise his face inspect to Zell's.
"...I would." Squall stated. How could he explain it? It was selfishness, pure and simple. Not so much the fact that Rinoa was comatose after their last battle with Edea--now their ally--but rather everything was out of his control now. He wasn't able to do anything to save her...and if his hands were tied in that, how soon would it be before another of their party fell? Quistis. Irvine. Selphie.
He couldn't imagine the perpetually moving blond so deathly still, cold to the touch. The mere thought evoked emotions he would rather not categorize, too multi-layered and deep to fully explain.
There was a gentle weight on his shoulder, ready to flee at the slightest hint of irritation. Zell had come around the other side of the couch and rested his hand on the commander's shoulder. There was a sense of strangely endearing awkwardness to the gesture, Squall wasn't the type of person you could just touch on a whim.
Quicker than it took for Zell to blink, Squall had grabbed his wrist in an almost rough grip, pulling Zell uncomfortably close to the back of the couch as he inspected the offending limb at his leisure.
"You have nice hands."
The simple comment struck Zell as hilarious, though he couldn't say quite why. It might have been the sudden thought that this was about as close to romantic praise one could wrest from Squall Leonhart. His laughter filled the room, causing Squall to turn and look at him. The corners of his lips curled in a slight smile as he easily flipped the smaller man over the couch.
To hell with it all.
"Shut up, Zell."
One of the beds went unused that night.
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