“Twelve minutes gone, and I’m still alive.
Who would’ve thought that we would survive?
With all lines repeating, and nothing rehearsed,
I feel so stupid. I feel I’m cursed.
I don’t wanna think anymore.
I don’t wanna think anymore.
No gods could be this cruel to me.”
He watched the reunion silently. The man’s eyes flitted to Aerith’s face briefly, and then back down to the floor again, as if he were ashamed. Perhaps he was. At any rate, the point was moot. She bent down gently, forcing him to look up, catching his eyes and drawing his gaze from the floor. And then she smiled, and in the smile there was forgiveness, and compassion, and understanding. There was a pause, and then the man smiled back.
And so Cloud had found his peace.
Squall Leonhart pushed away from the wall and walked from the room without a word. He was not needed here. Already Yuffie was practically dancing around Cloud in that irritating manner she had.
Squall sighed, dropping the façade. What was the use? His casual, hard-hearted “whatever” attitude was no good if there was no one around to see it. He figured he was guaranteed at least several minutes of time alone. More than enough to have a quiet cry and still be able to show his stony side to the others when they came looking for him. If they came looking for him. Oh, there had been a time when he would not have allowed even himself to see his weaker side. But things had changed since then.
Oh, how they had changed.
And oh, for that matter, how he had changed. How she had changed him.
She had changed everything for him. She had shown him that weakness could be strength, that hatred could be love, that in giving he could receive more than he ever thought possible. She had taught him to cry.
And he cried now, standing outside under the stars, almost in her honour, it seemed. Tears fell silently, though his face remained impassive. He bowed his head and thought of all that he had lost.
It had been a typical day, as days went. They had been married for two years already, and he had hardly been able to believe how perfect his life seemed. That morning they had left early to go to the Garden. He was an instructor there now, and she was in training. Ever since the nightmare with the sorceress, he had insisted that she learn how to defend herself. She insisted that he was being silly, but had agreed readily enough, saying that at least this way she got to see him more often.
It had begun with a rumbling in the sky, which had suddenly become black, as if a terrible storm was approaching. He had been out in the exercise yard working combat skills with some of the younger recruits. Lighting, thunder, the earth trembled, and from the shadows came suddenly creatures from his nightmares. Horrible, black, with gleaming eyes that seemed to bore into his soul. One of them got a hold of a student…there was a terrible sound, like something being torn apart…the child screamed…and suddenly there was silence. He looked into the girl’s eyes and he saw…nothing. It was like death, but she wasn’t dead…
He panicked. Gripping his gunblade tightly in both hands, he ran through the Garden, beating away the creatures only to have more emerge and assault him.
He never found her. There had been a tremendous shudder through the ground beneath his feet, knocking him on his back, and a sound like the world being ripped in two. The last thing he saw was one of the black monsters, a particularly horrible one with leering yellow eyes and wicked fangs, leaping toward him, and then he had fallen unconscious.
He had woken in a bed, here in Traverse Town, with Aerith standing over him. His first words had been about her, but Aerith had no answers for him. She had vanished. It was likely she was dead. They had asked him his name, and he had answered that it was Leon. No one would call him Squall again until she could.
A sob tore itself from his throat. “Rinoa…” he moaned. No longer able to hold it in, he fell to his knees and wept. “What do I have to do to find you? I tried, I did! I found the Keyblade Master, and I helped him as best as I could. Was I supposed to follow him? I couldn’t! I couldn’t!! I did what I could! I stayed here and protected the last haven for those without a home. Why won’t you come back to me!” He looked up at the stars, those infinite stars that hid her somewhere in their depths. “I don’t even know where to begin looking,” he whispered. “Tell me what to do!” he shouted to the great Nothingness, leaping to his feet, his hands balled into fists at his side. “Tell me where to go!”
The heavens of course, were silent. Squall closed his eyes and lowered his head. “I won’t give up,” he whispered, opening deep blue orbs and glaring in defiance at Fate itself. “I will find her, so help me, if I have to search the rest of my life.” Standing, he drew his gunblade and moved it in front of his face, in a silent salute to his vow. Without another word, he turned to walk back to the house, before someone came after him.
The voice came from behind him, and he let out a long suffering sigh. “Dammit, Yuffie, it’s Leon! How many times do I have to…” He trailed off suddenly. That was not Yuffie’s voice. Yuffie’s voice was loud, grating, even. This one was soft, and gentle, and it was…it sounded like…
He turned around suddenly. “No…it can’t be…you’re not…” But despite the protests of his head, his feet carried him towards the sound, and he squinted into the darkness, where he thought he could see a figure…what was this? Was this some kind of cruel trick? It couldn’t really be…and yet, they had purged the worlds of Heartless… “Show…show yourself,” he called, wincing at how weak he sounded, at how he stuttered.
And from the shadows, stepped…
“You…” His fingers went slack where they had moved to the hilt of his gunblade. “Are you…a dream?”
She looked as if she would faint, and her hands reached out to him inefectually. “In the name of all the gods,” she whispered. “I hope not.” And she smiled.
He knew. It was her. He had always been able to see her soul through those ebony eyes, never more than when she smiled. She was here.
He was at her side so quickly that even he was hardly aware of the motion, running his hands through her hair, down her arms, cupping her face, kissing every part of her he could reach.
She began to weep, but she laughed through her tears as she threw her arms around him and buried her face in his neck. “Oh, Squall,” she hitched. “I thought…I couldn’t find you and I thought…”
“I know…I know what you thought. Gods, Rinoa, I searched…I searched everywhere. How…how did you come here?”
“I don’t even know!” she cried, laughing shakily again. “I was trapped for the longest time, somewhere between…Oh, I don’t know, it was like living and not at the same time…like existing, and yet…not existing…but I remembered you, Squall! I remembered you and I never stopped thinking of you! I promised myself…I vowed I would find you.”
He smiled weakly, remembering his own vow of just a few minutes earlier.
“And then I was here,” she continued. “I don’t know how, but I thought of you…I…focused on your face, and then I was here…and you were…just a few feet in front of me, and I thought for certain that I was dreaming…” She trailed off and pressed herself even closer to him, running the fingers of one hand through his hair.
“You’re not dreaming…” He was cut off when she pulled back suddenly with a gasp. “What is it?”
“You…” she leaned to look behind him, squinting in the dim light. “You grew your hair out!” She giggled as she ran her fingers through it again.
“Well,” he said, slightly embarassed, “with all that’s been going on, it’s not like I’ve had time…” He smiled. “But if it makes you happy,” he whispered, “I’ll cut it tonight.”
She looked at him, tiliting her head thoughtfully. “You know,” she said, “I kinda like it. Why don’t we see where it takes us?”
Squall sighed, closing his eyes and reveling in the feel of her in his arms once again. “As long as it takes us there together.”
Rinoa smiled up at him, taking his face in her hands and leaning up to give him a gentle kiss.
“Hey, Squall! Squall, you out here?”
Startled, they jerked back. “Yuffie, for the last time, it’s…” he paused, looked down at Rinoa, and smiled. “Yeah, Yuffie, right over here. Hey, come on over.” He leaned in to give her that kiss. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”