Setting 09: 1856 DAY 15, Balamb Garden Subsidiary Corridor 2F
"It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
it may be we shall touch the Happy Isles."
-Tennyson, Alfred, Lord
"Shut up!" Rinoa shouted. "I am not pregnant!"
She suppressed the urge to lash out at the group of busty girls in Garden Uniform. Even if she didn't have 100 Death spells junctioned to her blaster edge at the time, it would still feel damn good. But they were part of the majority of Balamb Garden's junior class, the girls in the Anti-Rinoa club, and she had left her Shooting Star in the back of Squall's Garden-furnished vehicle. While Squall was around Rinoa, the most they ever dared was a dirty look aimed at her when his back was turned. However, ever since Squall left to supervise the Nova Trabia reconstruction project, the jealous female group had taken advantage of their dream-date's absence and declared it open season on Rinoa's ass.
If anything, for all I know, I'm almost unkissable, she said to herself miserably. Dammit, Squall, why do you have to be so difficult!
The girls were taunting her again, vilifying her integrity. Rinoa knew that each one of these underclasswomen would willing give themselves to Squall to be ravaged and somatically corrupted, and that accusing her of being a tramp made them feel better about themselves. They had fooled themselves into thinking that being Rinoa was a bad thing, hypocryphally never intending to pass up her place should it ever be vacated.
Rinoa had endured this jeering for two whole weeks, and was on the brink of sending Angelo after her adversaries when she caught herself. This isn't lady-like. Squall would frown at me. Then again, when have I ever been lady-like?
It suddenly occurred to her that if Squall wasn't in Balamb Garden, then she didn't have to behave like a princess, not that she had been, but now she had no excuse to hold back. The club members must have realized this too and quickly disappeared around the corner, shuffling their feet in harmony.
Rinoa sighed, bending down to pat Angelo. And I thought Bahamut's Red Dragons were bad. I can't even make twenty steps without running into one of those club members!
As tiresome as the frequent, discouraging encounters were, she realized how lucky she was not having to deal with the opposite gender's pro-Rinoa fan club. Squall had made it infinitely clear by a speaker announcement, discretely while Headmaster Cid was seeing his wife out the Garden gates after the party, that if anyone so much as looked at Rinoa the wrong way, she would be the last thing they ever saw. Even now all the male SeeDs ducked and ran past her in the halls. Unfortunately, she could make no such ultimatum, and even if she could, it would not manifest the desired effect.
Another male SeeD student had stepped out of one of the classrooms a few steps in front of her. He looked up from his papers and smiled at the scent of her perfume. His pleased expression quickly melted into a gasp as he ducked back into the lecture chamber. Squall's words had been very effective.
She smiled and felt her face burning, just as it had when she heard the announcement from her room. Her smile turned into a frown when she recalled why she ran to her room in the first place.
The least he could do was make that announcement, after what he said that night, Rinoa reasoned caustically. Was he embarrassed to be seen with me, even by his closest friends?
Rinoa didn't like the thought that he wasn't particularly proud of being seen with her. Even if Squall was naturally diffident, it was no excuse to immediately drop her and put on the embarrassed, "Don't get the wrong idea, Zell, we are just friends" look on his face when Zell caught them in the middle of their first kiss. It made her feel insignificant, and on top of it all, he had called that magical moment "nothing important." It made her want to kill him. At this moment, Rinoa wasn't sure who she would tie up in the future, Zell or Squall.
He infuriates me sometimes! she shouted in her head. Everything was perfect. The weather was right, the full moon, the shooting star, and I even had on my lucky socks! How can anyone ruin that? I would have given you the world, Squall. Why did you have to ruin what should have been impossible to ruin? How can you ruin that?
Rinoa's face fell, instantly assuming the look of a cynic. The only way to ruin that is if you're Squall and you say, "It's nothing important."
Rinoa shook her head. After all, didn't he know that she loved him? She resumed the face of the unsurprised cynic. No, he was too groggy to notice the look on my face when I saved him from Time Compression and revived him in the flower field.
Her stomach growled right then, its loudness making her blush.
How embarrassing, she thought, taking a quick look around to make sure no one heard. I'm glad Squall wasn't here to witness that.
She looked down at her stomach crossly.
It murmured in reply, hinting to Rinoa that maybe the routine purges and forced dieting didn't agree with it. She stuck her tongue out and taunted her stomach, daring it to defect. At last it quieted, and she congratulated herself with her victory. At the same time, though, Rinoa became acutely aware that she was quite famished.
Putting her hunger aside, Rinoa tried to catch up with her train of thought that had left her at the station. It took a few seconds to reboot her memory and find the right place to cut in.
...Revived him in the flower field...That's what it was. I was crying my heart out with him in my arms and shaking him because he was alive, but all he did was grunt and tell me to stop because the rocking was hurting his head.
Rinoa sniffled. He didn't even say, "Thank you for finding me. I couldn't have made it out without you."
Squall seemed so ungrateful. She tried to hug him so many times after he saved her from space, and even forced herself onto his lap, just to please him. He gave the same nonchalant response then, and he hadn't changed a bit.
Have I been trying to change him? Rinoa asked herself. Yes, I guess. Maybe it's wrong of me to ask that of him, but he's too rough on the edges for anyone's good.
She leaned back against the wall and brushed her dark hair back. One of the anti-Rinoa girls had just headed out of her class and was walking absent-mindedly past Rinoa. Rinoa wasn't in the best of moods and took this chance to spin off the wall and purposely rough her rival up with her shoulder. As expected, Rinoa's shoulder connected with the girl's arm. Caught off guard, she was inevitably thrown off balance and landed on the ground.
Rinoa pulled out the same "Watch where you're going" look she had dished at the couple that she and Squall had collided with on the dance floor that night at his SeeD inauguration party. I wish my magical hypnosis spell would have worked that night. I should have danced with him longer, she blamed herself.
Before her scapegoat could recover and retaliate from her dazed position on the ground, Rinoa scooted into the nearby elevator and hit the button for the first floor. On the way down, she had to decide between her really nice VIP suite and the cafeteria. The only thing wrong with her room that she could think of was the monotone voice with which Squall had presented it to her, saying that it was "by protocol a standard issue room to all clientele." That indifferent comment alone blasted away all sentiments of either the room or her being special.
Rinoa marveled at how he could still refuse her while they were alone for that one minute before all the others found them in the flower field. He said he was tired, Rinoa recalled spitefully as she stepped off the elevator and made her way back to the dorms.
So again Squall had botched another perfect setting and moment with his insensitivity. It was in the same flower field behind Edea's house where they had all agreed before going into Time Compression that they would meet afterwards. Of course, he had gotten there late, and wouldn't have gotten there at all had it not been for her. Was it really that hard to find that green pasture behind Edea's orphanage? Rinoa asked herself.
At the mention of Edea, she was reminded of how pleasant Cid's wife was at the party. It wasn't hard for Rinoa to forget all about Mrs. Kramer's former identity as the Sorceress. She just showed up in her plain, black gown and looked splendid without any superfluous ornaments that would have over-exaggerated her elegance. She naturally found it hard to believe that Edea was the same woman that everyone had struggled to kill for the past few years. Her disposition was so innocent now, so easily absolvable, unlike Seifer, whose bloodthirsty countenance was retained even after being freed of "mind control" incriminated him, in her eyes at least.
His parole officer had granted him a part-time job in the fishing industry after he stuck to his story about being manipulated by Ultimecia who had lured him into her control using his own dream as bait, but Rinoa would buy none of that. Seifer's aspect betrayed the innate darkness within him, and the abusive language he had used to denigrate her relationship with Squall was unforgivable. The last she heard of him was that he had joined some church group and gone on an archaeological expedition, hoping to find and reform his true self. At least that was the excuse he used to fool his PO.
Rinoa was getting a headache just thinking about the man with whom she had had her summer fling. It just seemed easier to love Edea and place two shares of anger on someone that everyone despised, including herself. Not only had he delayed her from finding Squall, but he had fed her to Adel and inhumanely tortured the man she did love. Rinoa felt the steam coming out of her ears and realized that it was healthier to concentrate on something that would not inspire her to fume. Edea was the sweetest thing she could think of offhand.
How sad it was to see Mrs. Kramer leave Balamb Garden, she thought. Just as sad as it was touching to see the Headmaster leave the party early and accompany her to her ride outside. They still seemed so much in love.
Then again, they did just rediscover each other, in a way, Rinoa reasoned. I wonder how long they had been hoping Squall would come and beat Ultimecia out of her system.
Rinoa smiled dreamily. It was the perfect end to a fairy tale. I'm so glad Quistis came by my room after I left the ball and told me to look out my window. We were both kinda teary-eyed when we saw the Headmaster embrace his wife. Both our faces also flushed when Squall's announcement sounded over the intercom.
She sighed sadly. Edea's story might have ended happily ever after, but my princess story is still a tragedy.
On second thought, she corrected herself after re-evaluating the Edea's situation, I hope I don't end up like that. If every sorceress bride of the highest authority in Garden ends up by herself, watching an empty orphanage and wishing that she had children of her own, I might have to reconsider how far I should push Squall to commit.
Her stomach interrupted her brooding with a lion-like roar this time. It was so loud that it made her jump. She giggled nervously, sighing in relief that no one had walked by and heard. She was sure it would make a delicious addition to the gossip goblet that was passed around and sipped by every loud-mouth anti-Rinoa club member.
She laughed lightly at how a simple thought, such as a flower field, could instigate so much brain-racking. She frowned at another realization at the mention of the agreed upon destination of the field.
Why didn't Squall make it to the flower field? Rinoa wondered. She had asked everyone else what they went through, and just as she had, it was just a matter of walking through some white screen and suddenly appearing in the field. What was so hard about that?
Her expression darkened.
Did he subconsciously not want to make it back?
Rinoa's eyes narrowed.
Was he deliberately trying to avoid me?
She was just outside her suite with a worried look.
Was it something that I did wrong? But I've been eating a meal and a half since Deling City just so he'd find me less chunky and more attractive! Dr. Kadowaki said three weekends ago that I was too underweight to be healthy, but I know he'll like me even less if I start gaining weight. But he couldn't even find his way to a pasture for me, and even decided to blow me off instead of Zell on the balcony! Was it something I did? I must have displeased him somewhere. Why is he distancing himself from me?
Her stomach growled again, and she laughed, dismissing the thought that anyone, even Squall, would want to blow her off or avoid her. All the evidence before her in Garden was that even man would die for her, not die just to avoid her. Coming to this conclusion, and feeling more growls heading up her esophagus, she decided it would be okay to indulge in some of her favorite chocobolates in the cafeteria.
Chocobolates were chocobo-shaped candies made from the milk of a rare mammalian strain of chocobos and chocolate. She hadn't had any for the same reason why she had cut down on her food intake, but she figured there was no reason to fast while Squall was so far away. Besides, the trip she was about to make this afternoon to Trabia would definitely offer enough exercise to put her back into shape. She would just have to remember not to eat too many in the next few minutes, otherwise he would notice how fat she was getting and not want to hug her.
As she made her way to the cafeteria, she felt a bit foolish for doubting herself and questioning Squall's feelings for her.
You're so dumb, Rinoa, she scolded herself. Why am I so dumb, getting caught up about all this? Dumb, dumb, dumb.
A flashback hit her so hard that she nearly lost her footing. It was what her mother had told her when she was a child. Rinoa remembered it clearly, one of the few lessons that she committed to memory because she had always been curious about it. Julia had told her, "There is no such thing as dumb girls. There are only lucky and unlucky girls. The unlucky ones are just dumb more often."
If her mother was right, then Rinoa had been stupid twice already, once on Seifer, the second time on Squall. There was no way she was going to allow herself to be duped a third time, so she had to make the most out of Squall. Her face hardened as she strode past another group of anti-Rinoa members. They were too absorbed in their conversation about Squall to notice her, and she reddened at the realization of how accurately it reflected Squall's own self-infatuation that seemed to take all his attention away from her.
There were no chocobolates in the cafeteria. The matronly serveuse was so used to Rinoa seeing Rinoa come in and go out empty handed that she would not allow the skinny girl to walk away today in the same manner. Rinoa was at last persuaded to sit down and have a sandwich for dinner. The hotdogs, of course, were scarce in supply, but there was an abundance of fresh burgers. She sat down at an empty table by the corner and tried to draw as little attention as possible.
Even if the burger had been prepared by the finest chef in Balamb, it would have still tasted stale to lonely Rinoa as she munched monotonously away. She glanced around the room quickly and envied all the other couples that were dining together, and blamed herself for being so hotheaded on the balcony. After all, it wasn't Squall who imposed the two week hiatus in their relationship, if there was one. During his announcement over the intercom, he hadn't specified that she couldn't tag along. She just assumed it was better to let things cool down by waiting two weeks before visiting the construction site. Rinoa took another tasteless bite, still not sure what kind of meat her sandwich contained. It wasn't crunchy enough to be arachnid, tough enough to be reptilian, nor soft enough to be fish-related. She shrugged and decided that it was better not to know, her appetite being so weak already.
Rinoa missed her mother. If Squall had been there, she would have begun to bawl and tell him what she remembered about her. As chance would have it, he wasn't sitting ride beside her and crying on her own shoulder didn't seem very comely, so she stuffed her emotions back into their hiding place before they had a chance to break out of her restraint. She didn't realize that she had used Squall as a surrogate mother on their trip back from space, even after she directly compared Squall to Julia. They were the ones that she associated with comfort and safety, and having rejected her father figure ever since her mother died, Rinoa could not but feel doubly affectionate towards Squall.
Thinking of her mother and Squall inevitably invited the image of Laguna Loire into her mess of thoughts. How unexpected it was for Laguna to ask Cid to announce his paternal relation to Squall the moment they returned to Balamb Garden after coming out of Time Compression. Upon hearing the news, Squall remained speechless and merely shrugged. However, Rinoa noticed that he locked himself in his room for two hours right before the party. Usually he brooded while lying on his bed, but it was odd that he should lock his door. She only found out because she tried the knob before realizing that he probably needed some time to himself.
So Julia was Laguna's first lover, Rinoa assessed. If he ended up marrying Raine instead of my mother, wouldn't it be a hoot and a half if his son ended up dumping me too for some other Winhill girl?
For a moment Rinoa was glad that the closest thing Raine had to a daughter was Ellone, and there was no way that Squall would run off with her because she was his big "Sis." Besides, if Laguna's son did drop Julia's daughter and run off with Raine's daughter, it would be incest cause Squall would be dating his half-sister to say the least.
Rinoa made a face and tossed the latter half of her soggy sandwich aside. It was too complicated, pointless, and downright disgusting to think about, and plus the more she thought, the less aware she was of how much she was eating. She was actually thankful that this messy, generational love triangle had ruined her meal because had she eaten anymore, she would have definitely put on an extra quarter of a pound, and that would have surely been unacceptable to Squall.
Good job on catching yourself, Rinoa, she encouraged herself. You could have been making the biggest mistake of your life.
Getting up and brushing any stray crumbs that might have found their way onto her clothes, she headed for the door. More specifically, she was headed out the door and to her suite to pack. Two weeks had been longer than expected, and since she was sure that she had missed him more than he missed her, it was about time to pay him a visit. It bothered her that she would have to apologize to him since he never would, but not enough to keep her from planning the trip in her head on the way back to her room.
By the time she got there, she had it all figured out. She wouldn't have to waste time wondering which outfits to pack since she had just bought a spanking new outfit that looked just like the one she usually wore, sitting on top of her hope chest, and all her regular clothes stacked on her bed. She complimented herself for having the foresight to fold her shirts right after the Garden maids returned them from laundry. She also had just enough money to buy a boat ticket to the Trabia coastline, rent a car there, and pay for enough gasoline to get her to Nova Trabia. She was cutting it pretty close on the budget, so more than likely she would have to haggle over the prices, but it would work out in the end, just barely. It had to.
She frowned at the curse of poverty. Being the president of the Timber resistance faction came with the duty of refusing any fiscal aid that the General of the Galbadian army might offer. Since she had rejected her role as her father's little princess, she was the most impoverished person in Squall's company. As she was not a SeeD mercenary, she had regular income flow, a fact that she painfully noticed had sparked Squall's annoyance.
Regardless, she comforted herself, they are all still under my command until we liberate Timber.
By this time she had her two suitcases satisfactorily loaded and was about to call for room service to help her lug it down to the Garden garage when a multitude of things occurred to her, including the fact that she would have a hard time locating a bell boy that was willing to step into her room, that any bell girls would purposely take forever to get there and undoubtedly sabotage her luggage once they were on the move, that she would have similar trouble finding any garage boy willing to give her a ride, and that if it meant that it would be less bothersome to everyone else for her to just lug her own bags all the way to Balamb and fight any Bite Bugs that might attack her on the way, with the added bonus of losing those extra milli-ounces she'd just picked up in the cafeteria and staying in shape for Squall, then she might as well do everything herself.
Or I could just drop by Squall's room and pick up the all-purpose Garden keys that Cid gave him and drive myself to Balamb. It's not like his password "Griever" is that hard to guess.
Subconsciously she resented that he had picked an imaginary GF to be his password instead of her name, which would have made more since because it saved time to have to punch in and it just plain sounded better. Dimly Rinoa noted that she would just leave the Garden's car in Balamb until it accrued enough parking tickets that Garden would be notified and Cid would send someone down to retrieve it. The bill, of course, would go to Squall.
She ruffled her nose and let a sly chuckle escape through her curled lips. Serves him right for not making "Rinoa" his password. Too bad he left Garden's skeleton keys on his desk. Funny how what he thought he wouldn't need at Trabia and so he left here is going to get me there and earn him a scolding followed by a deduction in wages.
Rinoa had been thinking so much that she didn't realize that she had already made her way out of the living quarters and into the atrium of the Garden. She had even walked around the elevator in the middle of the giant chamber and gone down another hall to get to Squall's room before doubling back and circling around the chamber a second time to get to the garage. The raised fish statues in the fountain ring that surrounded elevator platform gawked at her as she walked past. The drops from their lips noisily splashed down on the pool's surface, concealing the sound of Squall's keys, jingling inside her pocket from any nosy SeeD passerby. The stony fish carvings seemed to murmur, "Stupid, stupid, stupid" to her as they continued to spit out water.
I have been stupid, Rinoa conceded at last. There was no reason to deny it. I shouldn't have left him standing out there all alone with Zell. I have to make it up to him.
Every step she took towards the exit added more and more vigor with which she took the next, and she could feel the giddiness taking over her entire body. As she reached, in her opinion, the choicest car of all those in the lot in what seemed like no time at all.
I hope Squall is as eager to see me as I am him, she was thinking.
So exhilarated was Rinoa that she did not notice anything wrong as she walked past her ambusher, stealthily crouching inside the backseat of the car.
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