For His Love

Chapter 20

By Pixie158

Squall hefted the carefully packed box of food into the truck and secured it with the restraints in the back seat. He looked over at Zell and smiled, watching him hug his mother goodbye. She held onto her son tightly, her eyes closed, her lips curved upward in an attempt to hang onto her smile. She rubbed his back slowly and Squall knew she was fighting back tears. No matter that Zell was not even a mile away, she didnít see as much of him as she would like.

And so he stood apart from them, feigning interest in the scenery around him. He was busy watching a little boy run down the street chasing a dog whose leash trailed in his wake. He had a determined look on his small face, his eyebrows drawn together, yelling for the dog in a voice that carried quite well throughout the still sleepy village. Squall grinned, heíd always wanted a dog when he was that age, but heíd never had the opportunity.

Still reflecting on his boyhood, he didnít notice Ma Dinchtís approach. She had him captured tightly against her ample form before he knew what was going on. Startled and more than a little uncomfortable with such close contact, Squall stood stock still for a moment. She held him longer he had expected and he realized that she was waiting for him to participate in the embrace. He raised his arms reluctantly and closed them around her, resulting in her squeezing that much tighter. She hummed softly and patted his back.

"Youíre a good boy, Squall, Iíve always thought it so. My Zell has chosen well and it is pride that I feel towards himÖand you." She said nothing more and released him slowly. He stood staring at her, his eyes darting towards Zell briefly before he looked at her once again and smiled.

"Thank you Mrs. Dincht." He didnít know quite what to say, and as inadequate as his response sounded to his own ears, he simply didnít know what else to say.

"Címon Squall, we need to get moving." Zell was climbing into the truck motioning to Squall to follow.

"Bye Ma! Iíll see you soon, okay?"

"Goodbye Son, and you too Squall. Take care of yourselves! Be careful!" She turned away as Zell and Squall pulled out of Balambís gates and out onto the road. She hoped she could keep her tears in check until she was behind her own door once more.

They pulled the truck into the lot and Zell handed the keys to Squall. Squall glanced up questioningly eliciting a beseeching look from Zell.

"Wanna turn these in for me?" He batted his eyelashes at Squall for good measure. Squall grabbed the keys from him and frowned, his forehead wrinkling up in the way that Zell loved.

"All you had to do was ask, for Hyneís sake."

Zell turned his head, hiding his smile. Squall always delivered exactly what he wanted.

"Hey, wait a minute." Squall paused at the entrance to Garden and looked back at Zell, his hand resting casually on his hip. Zell didnít answer right away, enjoying the image of him there, awash in the light, hip thrust out, looking his most commanding. He almost licked his lips at the sight.

"UhÖwhat?" He cleared his throat, tried again.

"Whatís the problem?"

Squall narrowed his eyes at Zell.

"What are you going to be doing while Iím explaining why we had the truck out all night?" He asked knowingly. Zell couldnít hide his grin that time.

"You're in charge, Squall, you don't need to explain to anyone. I, on the other hand, would rather not get the sharp edge of Xu's tongue."

Squall could easily picture Xu blessing Zell out, so he nodded briefly.

"Okay, but you owe me." He warned. Zell smiled mischievously.

"I hope so." Squall blushed.

"See you upstairs." He muttered, making his escape. Zell chuckled at his wry tone and headed to his own room to do something with all the bags his mother had sent him home with.

Squall dropped his jacket on the chair and sighed. He felt like he hadn't accomplished anything in days, which he hadn't. He tugged his shirt over his head and tossed it into the bathroom. He wanted another shower as soon as possible. He turned on the spray and waited for the temperature to even out. Standing in front of the mirror, he inspected his appearance. His hair was wind-blown and he was surprised to realize how relaxed he looked. ZellÖhe had Zell to thank for it. This kind of peace was new to him. He was only lucky that Zell hadn't allowed him to turn his back on it.

On the end of that thought, the phone rang, pulling back to the present. Howíd they know I was back?

"Hello?"

A pause, and then, "Hi." Her voice was small and breathy and heíd know it anywhere.

"Rin." It was uttered softly. She didnít respond right away and so he waited. She had something to say and he planned to let her talk. She sighed, once, and began to speak.

"How are you?" She asked brightly. A little too brightly in Squallís opinion. He smiled sadly, wanting to say the right thing, not knowing what the right thing was. His heart ached at the sound of her voice and he wondered if it would ever stop.

"Rin, you didnít call to see how I was doing, now did you? Is everything all right? Did your train get in okay?" Hyne, he sounded like her fatherÖShe laughed softly.

"Yes, my train arrived right on time, no mishaps. And yes I am calling to see how youíre doing. I canít stop thinking about you, Squall, and I want to know that youíve made the right decision? Have you?" She was still holding out. Waiting for him. How he hated to break her heart.

"Yeah, I think I have. I mean, I know I have. Iím where Iím supposed to be."

"And who youíre supposed to be with, right?" She sounded so lost. It was his fault. Sweet, Lovable Rinoa who loved too fiercely and too fast had been disillusioned, and Squall knew she would never forget.

"Rinoa, pleaseÖ" He began, but she stopped him.

"I know, Squall, donít make it harder than it has to be."

"No, thatís not what I meant, I justÖ" How to explain?

"Itís all right, Squall, really. I mean, weíve been through this, I know. I have no intention of going over it again. I just wanted to let you know I was okay and that Iíd keep in touch until I can come home." His heart lifted.

"So, you are coming back?" He sounded hopeful and she smiled.

"Of course Iím coming back. I just need some time to deal with this." She gave a rueful chuckle. "You really blindsided me with this one, Squall."

He ducked his head, even though she couldnít see him. Hyne, but this was hard.

"Iím so sorry, Rinoa. I will never be able to tell youÖ"

"No, donít do that. I know what you want to say. I always have, even when you didnít. You and I have been through hell together, Squall. I know that this is just a detour. Weíll be all right eventually and until that day, I wish you all the happiness that youíve given to me over the past year. And I sincerely mean that."

Her words were greeted with silence and she knew that sheíd left Squall Leonhart speechless once again. The thought made her smile.

"I need to get to know myself again. It seems that my happiness has always depended on someone else. Well, for once, Iím going to make my own happiness. Iím going to find the real me somehow."

"I canít tell you how glad I am to hear that. I feel like Iíve ruined your life." His serious tone made her laugh.

"Well, I wonít lie and say Iím not crushed, but I can honestly say that you havenít ruined anything. Maybe you did me a favor. Who knows? All I can say is that I donít want to lose what we have. And Iíve made friends there. Friends that I have you to thank for. So itís all going to be okay in the end." She sounded level, so he didnít worry that she was saying all this for his benefit.

"I will always love you, Rin. You know that. Iíll always be here for you. So, go and find yourself, or whatever it is you need to do, but hurry home. We miss you."

"SquallÖI believe that was the longest speech Iíve ever heard out of you." She laughed. He scowled.

"Youíve said that before." She laughed again.

"Donít worry. Iíll be back soon. I miss that droll manner of yours. Hey, Squall?" Her tone sobered.

"Yeah?"

"Tell Zell itís okay, will you?" Her sweetness was going to be her downfall, he knew, but he couldnít help loving it about her.

"I did, Rin. Iíll tell him again."

"IsÖis he there now?" She sounded hesitant, embarrassed to be asking.

"No, heís not here right now. But Iíll tell him when he gets here." He grew silent. He knew thatís not why she asked, but he didnít want to end the conversation on a bad note.

"Promise me that youíll call me when you decide what youíre going to do, okay?"

"Didnít I already promise that? Donít worry Squall, Iím not as helpless as I look." He laughed at that.

"I never doubted it. Take care of yourself, Rinny. We miss you."

And as she stood in the deserted train station, on her own for the first time in her life, she finally understood that sheíd been relegated to friend status. She and Squall were no more. But she also realized that she was okay with that. She was ready to prove to the world, and to herself, that she could make it. She would make it.

"I will, and you be careful out there. Tell everyone I miss them, too. Iíll call you soon, Squall." She paused, closed her eyes and forced a smile.

"Bye, now." Her voice was faint, but he heard the determination in it. He had to admire her courage.

"Bye, Rin." A faint click, and then she was gone. He lowered the phone back into its cradle and stared down at it. What a tangle. With his mind clear again, he realized that heíd left the shower running. Iíd better get in there before someone else hunts me downÖ

No sooner had he pulled the curtain back and poised to step in than there was a knock at the door.

"Well, dammit!" He jerked a towel off the rack and wrapped it around his hips. No way was he getting dressed until he showered. Theyíd just have to deal with his current state of undress. When he had his hand on the doorknob, there was more pounding from the other side.

"Wait a damn minute!" He pulled the door open and found himself face to face with Seifer. GreatÖjust what he needed. Seifer would never stop talking about this one.

"Well, wellÖthatís a good look for you, Commander." He raised an eyebrow and smirked at Squall. Squall rolled his eyes.

"Címon, give it a rest. What the hell do you want? All I want to do is shower!"

Seiferís expression turned serious.

"Iím not here to torment you this time. Weíve got trouble." Squallís aggravation dissipated in an instant.

"Whatís wrong? Is everyone okay?" An icy panic descended on him. Seifer shook his head.

"No, itís nothing like that. Weíve received a distress signal. Trabiaís being attacked, they need reinforcements immediately."

Squallís eyebrows drew together in consternation. How could that be? Please, not another Sorceress.

"Itís not aÖ" The thought sent a shiver through him. Rinoa was out there, unprotected. She would always be a target for someone hungry for power. Seifer quelled his concern by shaking his head again.

"No, itís not a Sorceress attack. We donít have all the details yet, but theyíve requested our forces ASAP. I think we need to get over there right now and try to get a handle on the situation. We canít let this escalate, whatever it is. You know that Trabia doesnít have the resources to handle it on their own."

Squall nodded, his mind grappling with the possible dangers and repercussions that a full-scale attack could bring.

"Okay, let me get dressed, Iíll be right there." Seifer nodded, turned to go.

"Seifer? Could you find Zell for me? And round up the others? We need to work on a course of action."

"Itís done, everyoneís assembled, theyíre waiting for the order from you and then weíll move." He eyed Squallís towel, amused.

Squall thought a moment. Seifer and Zell could handle the transition. He was confident on that score.

"Okay, Iíll get myself together, you get to the bridge and get things in motion. Do what you think is best until I get there. I shouldnít be long. Actually, go ahead and plan a basic approach. You know the drill." Seifer looked shocked.

"You want me to get things started?" He sounded hesitant. Squall eyed him casually.

"Yes, you wonít have any problems, I trust you." Seifer grinned.

"You got it." He turned to leave but paused instead, studying Squall over his shoulder.

"Thank you." Squall had never heard him sound so sincere. And for the first time since their rivalry had been born, Squall felt a sort of brotherhood with Seifer.

"Maybe I should thank you." Squall could have shaken his hand, but the look in his eyes conveyed his feelings and judging by the look on Seiferís face, the feeling was reciprocated. Seifer headed back down the hall, looking as confident as Squall had ever seen him. Heíd always known Seifer was a leader, it was nice to finally see him act like one.

Zell heard him approach before any of the others and he stood expectantly. Squall entered the room and everyone turned to face him. Seifer was seated at the front panel, going over the chosen route. Xu stood beside him, guiding the Garden slowly out of the water. Nida stood silently in the corner, his face a study of frustration. Squall decided to deal with him now rather than try explaining things to him when he had no time to waste.

"Is there a problem, Nida?"

Nida glanced hesitantly around the room as if seeking an ally. Seeing that none of the others shared his view, he spoke up quickly.

"Actually, I donít see why weíre risking the Garden by responding to Trabiaís call. If you guys wanted to dispatch SeeD, you should have taken the Ragnarok. This just doesnít make any sense to me." He looked to Seifer, half expecting him to draw on him from the way he was glaring. Squall took his place beside Seifer, not bothering to look at Nida as he spoke.

"Well, in the first place, itís really not any concern of mine whether or not you understand my actions. As Commander of this Garden, my decision will stand regardless. And if you must know, I think this is an excellent opportunity for some of the older students to get a taste of what it means to be SeeD."

Quistis smiled at his words. No one could set you down like Squall Leonhart. Zell felt pride suffuse him, but remained quiet. Nida, however, wasnít as wise. He continued his line of what was beginning to sound like an interrogation.

"Yes, but what if the situation is more grave than we expect it to be? Or worse yet, what if itís a trick? It could be a trap. I tell you, I think more planning needs to go into this before someone gets hurt."

Seifer looked up from his work and arched an eyebrow.

"Someone is going to get hurt if they donít shut the hell up." Quistis ducked her head to hide her smile.

Nida glowered at him. "I donít take orders from you, Almasy. I donít even think you should be in this room, much less giving orders like you matter here."

Squall had him by the throat and pinned to the wall before anyone had even seen him take a step.

"You take orders from whomever I leave in command, is that clear, Nida?" When he didnít answer immediately, Squall hefted him off his feet.

"Iíll ask you again, is that clear?" His voice was no more than a growl. Seifer smirked. Nida nodded rapidly, pulling at Squallís iron grip. Squall released his hold and Nida slid down the wall, losing his balance and falling to one knee.

"We have a lot of work to do here, if you canít accept my authority, I suggest you turn in your resignation. I donít have time for this." So saying, Squall turned back to Seifer.

"Did you make the announcement?" At Seiferís nod, he continued, "It looks good, this shouldnít take too long. Xu, whenever youíre ready." She nodded once and the Garden moved effortlessly into place. Zell moved over to stand at Squallís side and mumbled softly.

"So much for laterÖ" Squall grinned at his petulant tone.

"Thereís always later." His voice was soft and intimate. Zell thrilled to it. Heíd thought Squall might not want to reveal any side other than his serious one in this situation. He brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes and turned to discuss Trabiaís situation with Seifer. They hadnít had much of a chance to go over the situation.

Squall looked around the room at his friends one by one and he felt their support. It bolstered him more than he would ever be able to tell them. Although, Selphie was looking a little pale this morning.

"Hey, Selphie, you donít look so good. Are you all right?" Irvineís warning glare didnít come in time and Selphie looked up at Squall and swallowed.

"Actually, Iím not feeling really great. I guess it must be something I ate last night." Seifer grunted, almost a laugh.

"Iíd say it was everything you ate last night. But, for Hynesí sake, Iíd have thought youíd barfed it all up by now." He looked at Squall.

"She canít possibly have anything in her stomach at this point." Irvine lowered his head, hoping Selphie would keep her mouth shut, for once in her life, just keep her mouth shut.

"Oh, Seifer I wish you would just shut up. And that reminds me, Iíve been meaning to tell you and Quistis that I didnít appreciate being dropped off like a stray dog while you sneaked off to fuck each otherísÖOW!!! Irvy! That hurts!"

Quistis, Zell, Seifer, Squall, Xu and even Nida were looking at Irvine with wide eyes. Heíd pulled Selphie up by both arms and was shaking her even as he spoke.

"Now, Iím not gonna yell, Selphie, because Iím a gentleman. But I swear on my Motherís grave that if you donít stop your whining and bitching Iím gonna bind and gag you. And thatíll come after I give you the spanking you so richly deserve! Now sit down and shut the fuck up!"

She sat.

No one moved.

No one spoke.

Irvine looked over at everyone, finally, their shock revealed in their slackjawed expressions. He looked sheepish.

"Iím sure sorry you guys had to see that. I just couldnít take it anymore."

Selphie was looking up at him with something akin to awe shining in her eyes. Heíd finally stood up to her. It was all she could do to keep her giggle to herself.

Seifer clapped slowly.

"I needed that, Irvine. Thank you. And I think I speak for all of us when I say that." He looked at the others for confirmation and smiled at the way everyoneís head began bobbing up and down. Irvine took off his jacket and tossed it on the bench beside Selphie. He looked down at her in challenge, but to her credit, she didnít utter a sound. He grinned. A man could get used to this. She was a cute little thing when she was quiet.

Quistis moved over to Seiferís side and kissed him softly on the cheek. He gripped her hand and smiled warmly at her, making her heart tiltÖagain.

Squall saw the adoration in her eyes and was relieved to see it reflected in Seiferís own gaze. Everyone seemed happy, content. Which reminded himÖ

"Rinoa called today." It was delivered quietly, but they all heard.

"Sheís okay?" This was from Quistis. He nodded.

"Sheís good. She sends her love and says to tell you all that sheíll be home soon. She sounded okay, I think she needs to do this."

Zell eyed Squall cautiously, as if straining to hear that which he didnít say. Squall caught his gaze and grinned. Zell blushed, embarrassed at his transparency.

"She says not to worry." Seifer laughed.

"Iím not worried. That little girl can pack a punch." Everyone laughed for a minute and then silence descended. Squall glanced out of the glass wall and saw Trabia approaching. He took his place in the middle of the room and looked at everyone in turn.

"I donít anticipate any trouble with this mission. I donít think weíll have to resort to fighting. But in case we do, I want you all to exercise extreme caution. I donít want any casualties. Especially among our own. Do your best to protect yourself and each other and weíll be fine." Quistis reached for Zellís hand and caught it securely in her own.

"Weíll be okay. Weíve faced down much worse than this and come out on top."

Seifer bowed his head and she reached out to stroke his face.

"This time we can all count on one another, as weíre meant to." She smiled reassuringly at him Seifer.

Xu pulled back on the left control and looked to Squall.

"Iím preparing to land, Commander." He nodded at her and moved to the door.

"Iíll speak to their headmaster and see whatís going on, you guys stick close until we have all the details." He opened the door with the push of a button as the Garden ceased its movement in the water. Everyone stood at his back, awaiting their orders, but it was Zell who laid his hand on Squallís shoulder and looked into his eyes.

"Iím behind you, Squall, Iíll be watching your back." Squall returned the intense glance with one of his own, and placing his hand on Zellís shoulder, leaned in to whisper into his ear.

"You always wereÖ"

 

~fin~

 

Author's Notes: *Whew! Only took me five months, but I finished it! I hope you all enjoyed this, because I loved writing it. Who knows, a sequel may be in orderÖThanks for all your positive feedback, I appreciate everyoneís encouragement. Until the next oneÖ

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