The Stray

An adaptive continuation of Arian's "Reviresco"

Part One - The Highway

By Jeremy Chapters

Laguna turned back to Raine and shrugged, saying, "Well, what do we do now? You want to leave?"

Raine dipped her head slightly in reply, not quite able to form the words. Yes and no.

She never really considered staying to be an option, and thus whether or not she wanted to leave seemed irrelevant. It was more a question of when she would get to leave.

She sighed and guessed quickly that no one in their right minds would wonder about dying for a second time during their life.

The reason for that, she assumed, is that no one expects to be ripped out of heaven's fields and escorted back down to earth to relive some very difficult emotional movements.

The thought about a second transition into oblivion wasn't so scary because she knew now what to expect. It was tedious really, and hardly necessary that she should have to die again because of some accidental sorcery on Rinoa's part. Raine decided that she would forgive Rinoa for her ill-advised curiosity only after she got to die again.

Right now, all Raine was looking forward to was to actually move forwards. Only a few feet remained between her and Odine's machine that would liberate her forever.

There was one problem.

"She canít," her son cut in. "I wonít let her."

Squall had drawn his gun-blade, a sure sign that he wouldn't give up without a fight.

"Is he still trying this?" Laguna asked no one in particular, evidently surprised.

Now, directing his comment towards his wife, he asked, "What did we do wrong? I thought he was supposed to be the smart one."

"We did everything wrong," Raine confessed, lowering her head slightly, "but he is quite smart. He just doesnít know what to do."

She stepped out of the way, motioning for Laguna to go and talk to Squall.

Oh, dear, she thought. How is this going to end?

Squall was unimpressed by their exchange; if there was one thing that he hated more than being talked about was being talked about like he wasnít there.

"What exactly do you plan to do now, Squall?" Laguna inquired, drawing from his rarely-visited reservoir of wisdom. "There isnít really a lot left you can do."

"Oh, and put that away," Laguna added in afterthought, pointing to the drawn Lionheart.

"What do I plan to do?" Squall repeated, glaring at his father. Plenty! Yeah, plenty!

"Yeah," Laguna replied, "because it's not like you're going to hold your position forever."

Try me, was the message they read from Squall's unbending expression.

"Squall," Rinoa begged, "come away from this one. Let's go home."

"You should be on my side!" Squall insisted. Of all people!

Rinoa didn't know what to say to that, so Laguna spoke for her, "This isn't about taking sides, Squall."

Squall smirked condescendingly and retorted, "Good, I'm glad there's no argument. Raine stays."

"Not quite," Kiros feeling that his arbitration would do more good than Laguna's because the Leonhart-Loire family-feud didn't directly concern him.

The Lionheart glowed menacingly as Squall elevated it to assume a more confrontational stance.

"Are you really going to hack us into pieces if we try to get past you?" Kiros posed to the SeeD commander. "Of course not."

Kiros took a more patronizing tone and proceeded to point out, "Killing your familiars isn't the best way of honoring the memory of the dead, Squall."

"The man has a point," Laguna chirped approvingly.

Kiros scowled at the obsequious President. Shut up, I'm busy.

He turned back to Squall and reproached, "I would have thought that you'd at least picked that up from Trepe's Customs and Ethics manual, which I believe is still standard issue for the Gardens."

Squall furrowed his brow. How does he know about that?

Kiros grinned smugly and straightened his suit.

He continued, "Because, well, I contributed that sweeping chapter about last rites during funerals."

Ward punched Kiros in the back to stop him from nauseating his audience with his exultation.

Squall pointed at the operation console with his free hand.

"You're right, I could never hurt my friends," he indicated, "but if you take another step, I'll destroy the controls to this machine."

You break it, you buy it, Ward communicated through his gestures.

Raine had not looked up during this confrontation, having not yet devised an airtight argument with which to win Squall over. She dully noted that the pain of crying as a ghost was just as hard as had been when she was alive, when the occasion came up.

Laguna tried a new approach, arguing, "Squall, with you being who you are and me being who I am, your actions could be construed as Garden declaring war with Esthar.

"Garden isnít involved; itís just me acting on my own," Squall returned evenly.

His eyes narrowing, he added icily, "You know that."

"The media can be a fickle thing," Laguna remarked, "and they might not see it that way."

"Are you threatening me?" Squall hissed, tightening his grip on his sword.

"Do I even need to?" Laguna quipped. "With your unbounded genius as the commander of the Balamb SeeDs, I'm sure you that you've already figured out that Garden can't stand up to Estharís technology."

"Maybe you're referring to the SeeDs from the years past," Squall replied smoothly, "but they're under new management now- ME."

"Pretty arrogant of you to presume that you can single-handedly take out an army," Laguna noted with a forced laugh, "but wake up, Squall. You're good, but not that good."

"What kind of father threatens to blow up his own son?" Squall rebuked.

"What kind of son holds his parents at the point of his sword?" Laguna parried.

"You've neglected me for 17 years," Squall snapped querulously, "so don't expect me to throw my arms around you now."

Laguna wasn't sure if Squall had intended to direct that comment to just him.

Raine obviously didn't think so, and she sniffled after Squall's words struck her at her heart, shaking the very foundations of her tender soul.

It took the wind out of both men to see Raine cry. Even Squall lowered his Lionheart a few degrees before realizing that he had to stay focussed.

Any minute now, he assured himself.

Squall laid it out plainly and confidently for them, "Raine stays."

Ellone had been biting her fingernails in anxiety for quite some time, but now reached towards him. She wanted to make things right for all of them, she really did. Because of her, the family of three had been separated for nearly a generation.

Sensing movement out of the corner of his eye, Squall inhaled sharply and spun around with his sword raised, ready to strike. He did it as a reflex action just as the years of training at Garden had taught him.

Ellone drew back, taking it personally. Her lips quivered and she drew back like she had been burnt. She hadn't been that far off.

Meanwhile, her face emanated so much sadness and hurt that Squall instantly regretted having moved his blade in her direction. He felt he owed everyone an explanation for his hostility.

To Laguna he said, "You and Sis both had your chances, and youíre both happy now."

Focusing on himself now, he implored, "Why canít I have a chance? I never even knew her! I want her to stay. In fact, I need her to stay."

Raine slightly astonished at his last remark and raised her eyes to meet his.

"Squall," she said softly, "You donít need me. Youíve never needed me. Not even when you were small."

Like hell, he thought bitterly to himself. Is that what you tell yourself at night to make it easier to fall asleep, if ghosts go to sleep that is?

Raine was unaware of both his rejection of her reasoning and the extent to which he had suffered in his childhood, continuing to argue, "Youíve always been so self-sufficient, and not just because youíve had to be. Itís a part of you that would always have been there."

She moved tentatively towards him and made more excuses: "Perhaps I would stay if you were younger, or if you did not have Rinoa to be with you. I would certainly stay if Laguna or Ellone asked me to, but they wonít. They needed me but you never have."

Squall's jaw muscles had tightened. What kind of a mother are you! Do you even have any idea how many times I called for you? You were never there!

He found it difficult to swallow, getting choked up on the recollection of the many rainy evenings when he assumed it was his fault that everyone whom he loved continued to abandon him. His plaintive calls for "Sis" were directed just as much towards the mother he could never meet as the big sibling who left him without so much as a hug or a goodbye.

Raine was missing all of this, so intent on imparting her message and believing that it would help him see her take on his neediness or lack thereof.

"You've done so very well on your own!" she complimented. "Look at all youíve achieved without either of us!"

That has to be the worst excuse I've ever heard, Squall told himself caustically. Is it just more convenient for you to ignore the fact that all of you turned your backs on me?

"Let me go, Squall," Raine begged, "Give me that much."

Wait a minute, Squall silently protested, you owe me, not the other way around!

"You donít really need me to be here," his mother concluded, "and as for knowing me, you do now. Youíve been talking to me and listening to my replies for a while. If you donít know me now, you never will."

Raine paused to sigh heavily and then appealed, "Just let me go. It doesnít cost you anything really. Learn to see that."

Squall just stared at her with a look so disappointed that Raine wondered if she had said something wrong.

"Just listen to yourself!" Squall told her, trying not to shout at his mother's ghost. "How can you say that it doesn't 'cost me anything' when you haven't even acknowledged how much it means to me to have you here for the very first time in my life?"

Raine had no reply ready for so critical a point.

Squall turned to include Laguna among his addressees.

"Your parentage is long overdue, and you seem to be obsessed with the idea of getting out of it as quickly as possible," he censured them.

When the only response was dead silence, he added almost mockingly, "Like you said, mother, since I don't know you now, I guess I never will."

Squall shifted his gun-blade and his attention towards the console.

"I might as well just end this all now," he remarked and prepared to strike it.

"Squall," Rinoa called desperately, "don't!"

Laguna pulled out his machine gun and challenged, "If you're intent on destroying the machine, at least be fair. Let me fight you for it."

Raine whimpered and cried softly to herself. So this is what it had come down to.

Kiros shook his head, thinking, This is in blatant contradiction of the code I set in the SeeD manual.

"You would fight me?" Squall asked his father.

"You're not giving me much choice,"

"You have every choice!" Squall shouted at Laguna. "Just have her stay!"

"Squall," his mother interjected between sobs, "you're taking all of this the wrong way. I don't mean to hurt you."

"You fooled me," Squall retorted.

"Someday you'll understand," Raine replied.

"When faced with the same situation," Laguna pointed out, "you'd probably do the same thing."

Not likely, reflected Squall.

Kiros pulled out his twin katal daggers.

Laguna looked over and asked him what he was doing.

"I'll take your place if you're intent on dueling," Kiros offered, "It just seems wrong for you to fight him."

He looked over at the SeeD who unrelentlessly held his ground.

"How far are you willing to go?" he asked.

"To the death," Squall shot back.

Raine stepped between the two and pleaded, "You don't have to do this! No one here should have to die today except me! Just let me go home, Squall."

"This is your home now," Squall replied. "Home is what you make it with the people whom you call family. Or have you forgotten what it means to be with your family?"

Rinoa looked at Raine's sad expression. She turned her eyes towards Ellone who was sobbing quietly in the corner of the room.

We're not getting anywhere by arguing in circles, Ward noted.

Kiros agreed and spoke, "You do know that it only takes one duel to set off a war, right? Are you ready to bear that on your shoulders, Commander?"

"Leave my SeeDs out of this," Squall replied.

Squall, Ward intimated, this might not be very honorable, but the option of not fighting fair is still open to us.

Squall blinked, realizing that if everyone decided to team up against him, he would not be able to hold his ground.

Laguna raised an eyebrow and lowered his gun.

"How about it, son?" the President asked. "Just concede; you don't have a prayer to win this."

"You have your moral codes all wrong, Laguna," Squall chastised him. "Imminent defeat does not justify surrendering; it's more like the converse."

Laguna sighed heavily and motioned to his two presidential aides and the small escort of guards behind them. Ward drew out his harpoon and the guards cocked their automatic guns.

"This is your last chance to stand down," Laguna warned. "Don't make us do this."

Rinoa withdrew to where Ellone was hiding and hugged her for support. Raine watched in terror as the drama unfolded, wondering what her son would do.

If I were in his shoes, she considered, I probably wouldn't budge.

Confirming her estimation, Squall placed both hands on the Lionheart and prepared himself for the fight.

"Wait up!" a shout rang out from outside the chamber.

The group turned, trying to make out what was causing the commotion. A few Estharian soldiers were shoved out of the way before Zell could squeeze through the door and run to Squall's side.

Had he not been busy wiping the sweat from his forehead and panting for air, he would have noticed a genuine look of gratefulness in Squall's countenance.

"Zell, what are you doing here?" Rinoa asked in surprise, speaking the mind of all of those present.

Before Zell could catch his breath to make a comprehensible answer, Irvine appeared through the crowd of Esthar guards crowding the doorway. Rinoa noticed that he had his Exeter shotgun drawn as he moved to the other side of Squall.

Seeing the new lady whom he found attractive, Irvine tipped his hat at Raine, who blushed.

Squall told him to knock it off.

"That's my mother, moron," he informed Irvine.

Undaunted, though caught off guard, Irvine managed to excuse himself by saying, "I thought it was customary to take off one's hat to the First Lady of Esthar."

"Just make sure that's the only thing that comes off," Squall cautioned him with more seriousness in his tone that Irvine thought was necessary to drive the point home.

There were some more shouts and shoving before Quistis and Selphie made it into the clear and took their places behind Squall.

"What are you doing here?" he whispered to them.

"The portable comlink from the Ragnarok," Quistis murmured back to him, "was never turned off. You also forgot to leave it on the ship."

Saying this, she drew out the microphone from Squall's jacket pocket.

"Messages are relayed to Garden for the logs, but we decided to tune in to make sure everything was alright," she clarified.

Zell grinned and chimed in, "We decided it was best to make it over here as you left the presidential palace."

He added under his breath, "And aren't you lucky too, because things have rapidly escalated beyond your control since then."

"Remind me to lend you my series A-09 motorbike when this is finished," Squall replied.

"What have we here?" Kiros demanded.

Laguna scowled, not having anticipated the actual involvement of more SeeDs in this family affair.

"Five SeeDs with their weapons drawn is pretty suggestive politically," Kiros remarked.

Outlook does not look good, Ward concurred.

Rinoa looked at Quistis in disbelief.

"So you heard everything we've discussed and you're still defending him?" she asked.

"He's the commander," Quistis answered with a shrug.

"Anyway, you're supposed to be his girlfriend," Zell scolded Rinoa. "Come over to this side."

Laguna replied for Rinoa, "We've been through this, and it's not about taking sides."

"Then why are you standing over there?" Irvine posed, highlighting Laguna's hypocrisy.

Laguna frowned but did not answer. I guess that cowboy does have one or two marbles in his head.

Squall snorted and asked his father what he intended to do.

Laguna looked over the newcomers and asked aloud, "Are you all sure that what you are doing is in Garden's best interests?"

Kiros nodded and bolstered Laguna's argument by adding, "None of you have the slightest doubt that what he is doing is wrong and in violation of at least eight clauses that could annul three treaties?"

Zell spit on the ground to show his disdain while Irvine verbalized it, saying, "We're with you all the way, buddy."

Rinoa looked at Selphie who shrugged and answered the look with, "We swore an oath of loyalty to him earlier, and I'm not about to renege on that."

Irvine seized the moment and excused Rinoa's decision because she was not bounded by the oath, not being a SeeD herself.

She glared at him for saying that.

Quistis had nodded after Selphie's statement even though her face betrayed the massive doubt that plagued her. This is very selfish of Squall, but I'm not going to heap error onto his mistake by not deserting him. Unquestioned mutual support was exemplary in Garden ethics.

In the end, she realized, the only thing that set them apart from a group of mercenaries was their loyalty to one another.

"You're all prepared to go down with him?" Kiros asked.

Zell popped his knuckles in response.

"Bring it on," he hooted and began to skip around as he was accustomed to do when he boxed.

Laguna looked Squall squarely in the eye and made sure he had his attention before questioning, "Are you ready to take on yourself the full responsibility for anything that might happen to your companions today?"

Squall could not answer that, realizing that his personal affairs were indeed endangering the lives of his friends.

"Be a leader, Squall," Raine told him. "It doesn't have to happen this way."

Squall looked at her in shock. Mother! I can't believe you're trying to undermine what I have intended for our relationship. Do you not want me?

"I want to leave, Squall," Raine said very slowly. "Please understand."

Laguna pointed at Zell and the others before he advised Squall, "Don't make them do this."

Squall hesitated for a second before lowering his weapon. Alarmed by this, Selphie quickly stepped in front of him and raised her Strange Vision nunchakus more menacingly, compelling a few Estharian guards to back up.

No one is taking cheat shots at him while I'm on watch, she thought.

Behind her, Quistis whispered to Squall, "What's wrong?"

"They don't seem to be appreciating what I'm trying to do for them," he whispered back.

"Maybe that's because they've done all they need to do," she suggested.

Then that just leaves me, Squall concluded sadly, to figure out what I have to do.

"What's it going to be, Squall?" Laguna spoke up. "We won't ask again."

Squall looked deep into Quistis' eyes and said so only she could hear, "Would you do this if you were me?"

Quistis could see that he was hurting on the inside. It was usually impossible to figure him out, but for that one second, she saw right through him, impressed by the amount of desperation and grief that he carried within. He seemed too lost to be not defeated, and to such an extent that he knew that he would not find hope in the answer he was soliciting from her.

She eventually forced herself to answer him.

"No."

Just as she guessed, Squall nodded as if he had expected her to say that and then smiled. There was nothing like a grin to cap his tragedy.

I've never seen him smile before, she realized. Why now?

Squall was sure that Quistis spoke for the rest of the party. Implicitly she had also revealed that they would not be doing this if he weren't Squall Leonhart, their commander. Otherwise, she surely would not have her whip drawn to defend him, seeing that she would not even try to stop her own father from casting away her mother.

The choice was his, as it had always been. Squall wasn't too happy when he realized this because he had just assumed that it was Raine and Laguna's choice to speed her departure.

Perhaps I'm in favor of her staying because this parallels Laguna's abandonment of us, he contemplated.

Squall eventually came to the conclusion that if Raine wanted to leave so badly in the present when they had been given so opportune a second chance, she probably wasn't to reluctant to leave him stranded at the orphanage without the love he deserved the first time around.

It was a fresh idea that struck a tender chord- the thought that he hadn't been wanted then anymore than he was now. Did they perceive him as a disruptive, unanticipated bother? To them, was he just a petulant child who enjoyed meddling with a relationship that they had given up on?

Squall could not reconcile how disinclined his parents were with the nobler ideals that he had always assumed being in a family purported. Was it too much to ask them for just a few days of attention, endearment, and if it wasn't too inconvenient for them, some basic human decency? Having deprived him all of those things to which he felt he was entitled, did they not feel the least bit of guilt? It seemed more like they were encouraged and almost eager to manifest the repeat of an already flawed history.

Squall suddenly wondered if he had been wanted in the first place.

Not likely, Squall rationalized, seeing how Laguna has been basically indifferent to my existence and how Raine is more tormented by our interaction than overjoyed.

Raine looked curiously over at her son, who had obviously withdrawn into the hereditary mode of deep thought. She grew worried, herself familiar with the pitfalls of reasoning when arguments were made and sorted out amidst the confines of the bitter prison of the mind.

So that's it? Squall wondered. Am I just another orphan?

Rinoa was unsure whether to glare at him or sulk. She was also becoming worried because the Estharian guards had taken Squall's silence as rejection of Kiros' offer of truce. When they flipped the safeties off of their guns, she appealed to Edea to put a stop to the entire affair. To her surprise, Mrs. Kramer conceded that it was beyond her sphere of influence.

"Our intervention will solve nothing," she explained to the very anxious Rinoa. "Squall has to figure this out on his own."

"What do you make of it?" Rinoa asked her.

"I don't think there's a right answer," Edea replied.

Rinoa stamped her on the group in frustration and turned to Ellone for comfort.

Not finding Ellone anywhere, Rinoa's eyes quickly scanned the room for the telltale green sash the girl always wrapped around her arms.

It was not until she heard Ellone's voice in the isolated, far corner of the room that she reacquired the girl. What she heard and saw forced her heart to skip a beat.

"Nobody moves or I'll drive this into my throat," Ellone threatened, holding Rinoa's blaster edge up to her neck.

Rinoa looked down at her wrist and realized that Ellone had pulled a sleight of hand on her Shooting Star.

Good one, Rinoa, she chastised herself grimly.

Even though Ellone's entire body was trembling, neither Laguna nor Squall was sure enough about her state of mind to test her threat. Both sides lowered their weapons and settled into an awkward silence. Ellone was trying her best not to shake but it was showing anyway.

Raine felt sick and lightheaded at the same time, immediately realizing that even as a ghost one should not underestimate the prospect of fainting.

From behind Ellone a hidden door slid open with a loud hiss after the automated locks unbolted themselves, startling her nearly to the point of cutting herself. Squall exhaled in harmony with pretty much the rest of the room when they saw that she hadn't. Then the all glared at the newcomer.

One of Dr. Odine's research assistants had stepped through the portal, his nose buried in the flood of notes jammed haphazardly onto his clipboard. He suddenly realized that there were others staring at him.

After spying a girl who was about to lodge the edge of a pronged disc in her throat, the president with his machine gun raised, the two aides ready to pounce, about ten Estharian guards preparing to fire, a ghost, a blonde with a whip, a brunette with some nunchukus, a cowboy with his gun drawn, a boxer, and a kid wielding a huge sword, the man blushed, realized he was intruding, and quickly made his exit. The door sealed itself behind him, melting once again into the cybernetic scenery.

"Ellone," Raine scolded first, "put it down, silly girl. It's not worth it."

Squall's eyes widened when he heard what she said. It's not worth it? Doesn't that mean I'm not worth it? You'd rather watch out for Sis than try to convince me not to spill blood in order to save you and then reproach me for it?

Squall was shaking with anger. Quistis reached over to steady him but thought the better of it.

It's settled then, Squall decided.

"Put it down, Ellone," Squall said to her. "If you wanted to do that you could have done that before Laguna went to look for you."

Irvine whistled in surprise, understanding that Squall had meant to add "and forsake Raine and me."

"I just want all of you to stop," Ellone cried with tears streaming down the sides of her face, "because it's all my fault!"

You're damn right, Zell agreed mentally.

I have to do this, Squall told himself again. Come on, you wuss, just do it.

"This doesn't even concern you now," he informed her. "It's our affair."

His last line was verbalized while he waved his Lionheart at Raine and Laguna.

Yeah, Zell finished the thought for Squall, just butt out.

Quistis sensed that Squall had made up his mind about something.

Just as well, she contemplated, but why do I have a bad feeling about this?

"Hey, gang," Squall told them authoritatively, "stand down."

The SeeDs were confused, but none of them lowered their weapons.

"This isn't your battle," Squall explained.

"Like hell it isn't," Irvine piped up, switching the demolition ammo in his Exeter with fire ammo. "We're not about to let you fight alone."

Selphie shouted her assent, "We're with you, Commander!"

Squall nodded sadly but dismissed them by saying, "Not any more."

He stepped forward and announced his resignation. Ellone was so startled by it that she dropped Rinoa's Shooting Star.

Ignoring his band's questions, he went on and declared, "It has become clear to me that I'm the only one here who wants to give this family a real chance for once."

Laguna began to protest, "Now just wait a second-"

"Shut up," Squall interrupted him, "I'm not finished."

Laguna's jaw dropped but no more words further escaped from his mouth.

Rinoa noted that he looked like he just had the wind knocked out of him.

Seeing that he had the floor, Squall continued, "I'm dismissing my friends and taking the responsibility for this myself."

Raine sniffled. I just hope he knows what he's doing.

Squall looked at his mother's shade and said coldly, "You're right. It's not worth it. I'm done here."

Raine took a step back, cringing from the way he pronounced it.

Squall moved towards the door to leave as his spectators watched in dumbfounded silence.

The guards were disappointed by this unexpected turn, having anticipated a rare opportunity to utilize their combat training in the real-life situation, but were all willing to let him pass.

One of the cockier soldiers grabbed him by the shoulder though and pointed at Squall's gun-blade.

"Since you're now just a regular citizen," the guard notified him, "you need a license to carry that. I have the authority to confiscate and hold this weapon until you produce the proper papers."

That man is so dead, Zell thought and would have smirked at the foolish soldier had he not been so upset about losing Squall. He does not know whom he's messing with.

Quistis blinked in sadness. It means so much to him, it's not fair.

Laguna looked at Raine, not knowing what to say. She reciprocated the worried look, fretting, That's the second thing he's lost today.

Squall's glared at his addresser and slapped the man's hand off of his shoulder. He then raised the Lionheart to man's throat.

"You want this?" he growled. "You want it?"

Kiros moved behind Squall and tapped him on the back with his katal, reminding him that he wasn't the only one who was armed.

Squall ignored him.

"Go fetch!" he challenged the man and raised his Lionheart in a motion to hurl the sword across the room.

For a moment, Laguna and Raine held their breaths, dreading that it would find its way into the machine that they'd hoped would set her free. The flashy blue blade whistled as it whizzed by the heads of a few shocked Estharian soldiers, spiraling past Ellone and finally striking the wall behind her where it remained, fixed securely after cutting through a good four inches of the metal.

The same hidden door slid open with a loud hiss after the automated locks unbolted themselves, revealing Dr. Odine's research assistant again. He had heard the sharp rap from the other side of the wall and decided that a long enough time had passed since his last visit to look in without endangering himself.

As the spectacled assistant poked his head out from the behind the door, he nearly cut himself on Squall's blade, exposed across the doorway. It obviously wasn't safe enough for him to come out yet. The man gulped and disappeared back into the room, closing and locking the door behind him.

Meanwhile, Squall had pushed past the soldier and was a few feet from the door. At Raine's protest, Laguna had stepped in front of Squall to block his exit.

"Squall, you can't just leave-"

Squall shoved Laguna to the side and walked to the door. Just before he left, he turned on his heels and forced himself to release a bitter laugh.

"I'm not going to give any of you three the chance to walk out on me again," he declared, addressing his parents and Ellone.

"Squall!" Rinoa cried in response. "Donít be so selfish."

He gazed at her sadly, but only for a moment before his expression reassumed its usual stolidity.

"You still don't understand Rinoa," he muttered, not that he had expected her to.

At least you got to know your mother enough to hate your father, Rinoa, he reflected. I never had the chance, and I guess I never will.

He sighed. And the rub of it is that even now, when there is a feasible way of rebuilding all that I could have had, they won't even consider it.

Squall scowled, conscious of the fact that the darker his disposition grew, the more it hurt Raine to see it.

Well, I'm over it! he thought triumphantly. It's my turn not to consider them. Ever. Even you, Rinoa.

When he turned back around to face them, the guards there were not sure whether or not to impede his escape, but thought better of it. To Laguna's dismay, they cleared a path for the angry ex-SeeD. Rinoa let out a dispirited cry and ran after him.

"What do I pay you for?" Laguna shouted at them as he got back onto his feet.

The guards shrugged and moved back into their positions in under the entryway, inopportunely blocking Rinoa from reaching and Squall. She tried to fight her way past them, but after Laguna's denunciation, they were set on not budging.

"You're blocking the wrong person!" Raine screamed at them.

Laguna's face had grown extremely red after seeing his men's incompetence. He was beginning to wonder if they really could have defeated the five SeeDs. Staring back at them now, he saw that their eyes were all glued to the spot where he had been when they last encircled him. Selphie then turned and buried her face in Quistis' shoulder and they hugged each other for support. Irvine had taken his hat off and was reversing the inside and the outside and repeating the flipping motion. Zell didn't know how to best to handle the situation so he just leaned against the wall and scratched the side of his head.

Ellone had curled up into a ball and wept uncontrollably in the corner, realizing how great a sister she had turned out to be.

Quistis couldn't exactly blame Raine for everything that had happened, but seeing him leave without the slightest sign of his return was somehow affecting both her judgement and temperament. Turning on Raine, she shouted, "I hope you're happy with yourself."

Embarrassed by her unaccustomed tactlessness, Quistis ran towards the exit, pushed her way through the crowd with the help of Rinoa, and then chased after Squall.

Laguna shook his head and then walked over to the console, shamefaced. He purposely avoided his dead wife's gaze as he flipped through the user's manual sitting on the desk and began typing in the sequence to begin the process by which they had hoped would finally lay Raine to rest.

Having lost Squall, Laguna said to himself, it would be a real kicker if this doesn't end up working.

Zell did not want to stay put any longer than he had to. Quistis' exit had opened a window for him. Thus he sighed and ran after his former instructor, leaving Irvine to his own auspices.

The cowboy coolly replaced the hat on his head and walked over to where Ellone was still huddling on the ground. He really didn't want to help her up, but he wasn't heartless enough to leave her to fight her own demons of guilt and misery.

Stretching out his hand, Irvine Kinneas offered to help the girl up. The blade that Squall had left behind dangled above her head, and on this his eyes lingered. For a brief moment, a wave of apprehension washed over him as he wondered how Squall would fare without his Lionheart.

I wish you well, my friend, as you deserve nothing less than more.

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