A/N: This is my first FFVIII multi chapter story (and AU, too). I hope I'll do well enough. This was inspired by MonMonCandie's awesome story "Sins Worth Breaking." You'll probably notice that...but maybe not. If you haven't read it already, you really should check it out!
A special thanks to M. L. Ayala (my beta reader), and MonMonCandie, for helping me make up my mind.
~ Love never fails. ~
It was a warm and sunny day, but unlike any other day, today was strangely and uncomfortably quiet at home. Sitting all alone in her bedroom, little Rinoa couldn't help but think that it was almost as if the weather wanted to mock her for how bad she felt right now. The little girl got off her bed and drew the curtains, blocking the sunlight that had invaded the room not too long ago. She went back to her bed again and fell face-first on her pillow. She stayed that way for a few seconds, until she couldn't breathe anymore. Then, she turned her head slightly, facing the bright yellow wall.
How she hated that color now...
It was official now. Rinoa's parents, the famous, successful general Fury Caraway and the beautiful Julia Heartilly were divorced. Just like that. That resulted into a mad, sad and upset Rinoa. She was flat-out furious that her parents didn't believe it would be alright between them again. They couldn't just give up like that! Admittedly, she was only five years old but that didn't mean that she was too young to understand anything at all.
Rinoa had only five people in her class, including her, whose parents weren't divorced (...yet). Well, after today there would be only four left.
It's probably my own fault, she kept thinking, until tears started to form in her dark eyes, spilling over her pillow. I'm the reason they don't want to live together.
She hated feeling this helpless, like all she could do was watch from the sidelines and hope it would be alright some day.
Rinoa heard how her bedroom door opened slowly, but she didn't bother to look up and see who it was. She didn't want to speak any of her parents and since she had no siblings, she was sure that it was either her Mom or her Dad. The door closed softly again and Rinoa guessed that whoever the person was, he or she left again after seeing her in her current state. It was better that way.
It seemed that the opposite was true when someone sat down on the edge of her bed. That person's weight made it sag slightly. The sweet aroma of her mother's (and her) favorite perfume filled Rinoa's nostrils when the woman moved her hand to stroke her daughter's long, black hair. Rinoa still didn't bother to face her. Not with those tears in her eyes.
If her shoulders hadn't been shaking slightly, accompanied by a suppressed, heartbreaking sob every now and then, Julia would have thought that Rinoa was sleeping.
It was silent between them for a while, but when the silence became so awkward that Rinoa couldn't stand it anymore, she asked, "Why does it have to be this way?"
Even though Rinoa's voice was muffled by the pillow, Julia had no problem hearing what she was asking. It was a question she had expected to hear from her.
"Because... I think that I've fooled myself long enough," the woman replied after a while, being very careful on how to phrase that.
The least she could do was making it sound less painful.
"I don't get it. Dad says he still loves you. Don't you love Daddy anymore?" was the immediate reaction.
"I do, dear. Very much. It's just that... everything changed between us at some point, and we couldn't stop it," Julia explained, sounding tired.
Rinoa pondered about these words for a while, before asking, "So you and Daddy fell out of love?"
"I guess you could see it that way... But one day you will understand all this, when you grow up."
Of course. That infamous sentence that every grown-up used to put children in their rightful places. Hearing those words from her mother made her blood boil. It felt as if she was failing her.
"So I don't have a say in this at all?" Rinoa shrieked, suddenly turning around in one swift move. This time she did face her mother, who seemed to be taken aback by her sudden outburst. "Doesn't it matter what I think?" she continued, her voice shrill.
"Sweetheart-" Julia started, only to be interrupted.
"No!" Rinoa yelled immediately, causing the woman to flinch. "You can't leave Daddy just like that! What about us? We were...are a family! You can't just throw that away! Don't you care about keeping this family together at all?"
Julia's hand tried to reach her so she could stroke her beloved daughter's hair again, but Rinoa swiftly moved away from her. A deep sigh escaped the woman's lips as a pained look appeared on her face. She hated seeing Rinoa in this state; her tiny hands clenched into fists, eyes all teary and a furious look on her face. It gave her a sickly feeling in her stomach.
Julia got up and walked to the door, sensing that this was of no use.
Before she left, she turned around and said, "I know that it sounds impossible right now, but someday we will look back at this moment without being sad. I'm sure of that."
Well, at least she was right about one thing: it sure did sound impossible.
"Are you sad?" Rinoa whispered, before Julia closed the door.
"...More than ever."
With that being said, she left soundlessly, deciding that it was better to leave the toddler alone for a while so she could at least cool off a bit.
It was then that Rinoa had noticed how exhausted her mother was looking. Her dark hair seemed to be pinned into a messy ponytail, almost as if she didn't care what it looked like. And then her once warm, dark brown eyes. They had never looked this dull. To make matters worse, there were dark, purple-ish circles under her eyes. At once, she started to feel guilty about yelling at her mother like that. This wasn't her fault.
Rinoa just didn't get it. They said that love never failed. But if it didn't... then why was all of this happening?
~ Three years later ~
"Wait... what? But...but you promised you would spend the whole day with me, and me alone!" Rinoa sputtered, getting mad at the unfairness of it all.
She just couldn't believe that her father, General Fury Caraway and blah blah blah, had sacrificed this special father-daughter day for his work. Again! If she didn't know any better, the eight-year old would think that her father didn't like to be with her...
But why wouldn't he? He was her daddy, right? So he had to love her!
"I am sorry, Rinoa, but this is really important," the man spoke, eyeing his young daughter apologetically.
But did he mean it, too?
"More important than your own daughter?" she bit back.
She narrowed her eyes at him, almost daring him to say yes.
"Of course not," he replied, but not quick enough to convince her. "I mean, it's important for this country and their people because this man might become the president someday. It's important to keep him as a friend, because who knows when it'll be of any use. So why don't you go outside for a while? I'll call you when the man's gone, okay? I'm sure you'll find staying here only boring."
Rinoa sighed, looking at the floor when she replied, "Alrighty, then."
Like she had any other choice. Nobody ever went against the orders of the General. In this mansion, he was a God.
Dad had changed since the divorce. A lot. But maybe the change had been before that. Maybe her mother had noticed that change. Maybe that was why she had fallen out of love with him. Because unfortunately, the change he had went through, wasn't a positive one. He didn't even tell her not to go too far! Mom always told her so because she said she cared about her and didn't want her to get lost.
"Well, I guess it's only you and me now, Mr. Leon," she said to the lion plushy in her arms.
After hugging it tightly, she decided to follow the orders of General Caraway, and she went outside. Who knew, maybe she would even like it.
To be honest, Squall had expected Deling City to be a little bit less... boring. Esthar was so much better than this place, and he wasn't only talking about the technology, or rather the lack thereof.
It seemed that his dad had lied to him once again, in an attempt to take his son with him on one of his many boring political business trips to the capital city of Galbadia. Well, he wouldn't get away with that this time. Sis was so lucky that she had a birthday party of one of her friends...
Okay, he had to admit that the trip with the train had been kinda interesting, if he forgot all about that annoying old lady who seemed to love pinching his cheeks till it hurt (that would certainly leave a bruise). The fact that Laguna had just let her do all that to him still made Squall angry, though. He wouldn't just get away with that one, either.
"Can I stay here outside while you're busy there?" Squall asked.
Busy with Hyne knows what. He wasn't half as busy as now back when he was a journalist. He sure quickly changes from job. First a soldier, then a journalist, and now something in politics...
At least Squall could be sure that nobody would choose him as a president if he ever wanted to be one. If they did, then the Estharians were even more stupid than he thought they were.
"Sure, just don't go too far or you might get lost."
Yeah, yeah. He wasn't stupid, he could take care of himself. Besides, as if he couldn't think of asking someone the way if he got lost.
The sky was cloudless and so blue that it almost looked like it was artificial. That alone made his current mood improve, if slightly. He didn't know if it was just him, but the air seemed to smell differently here. Maybe a tad bit cleaner.
Squall was about to round the corner when he heard a loud voice. Subconsciously, he stopped so nobody would know he was there and listened to what they said.
"No Gil on you, huh? I guess we should take that little monster you've brought with you as a payment, then."
Whoever had said those things sounded really mean for his age.
"No, please give him back!" That last one was a girl's voice and she sounded pretty scared and desperate.
"No way. Now go away! If we ever see you here again..."
Squall decided to put an end to their bullying.
...And that was when he met her. Even though it didn't seem to be of any importance at that moment, he would never forget it and think about it a lot later on.
What he saw was a frightened girl with black hair and two boys, slightly older and much taller than him. The girl was desperately trying to get hold of what seemed to be a teddy bear, but one of the boys, a spiky-haired boy, held it high in the air, just out of her reach. The other boy, who had short silver hair, just laughed at the sight. It didn't take Squall long to get that the teddy bear belonged to the girl.
"You heard her, give it back to her," Squall said through gritted teeth.
Everyone turned their attention on him.
"Who the hell are you? Mind your own business!" the tallest of them said, giving him a glare.
However, Squall wasn't fazed. "Give it back and leave her alone," Squall repeated, now stepping closer to them.
"Or else?" the other boy demanded, defiantly.
"Don't make me say it again..." he threatened.
"If you think you're-"
Squall didn't give the tallest one the chance to finish his sentence and aimed the first punch at his face.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" the victim yelled, as he rubbed his jaw where Squall just had hit him.
"You asked for it," the other bully said in a low, dangerous voice, while the tallest one straightened again.
They both got into a fighting stance, approaching Squall slowly. Surprisingly enough, Squall was stronger than both of them. They didn't stand a chance to him. Squall was able to dodge most blows, whereas the two boys didn't.
The girl watched them fight and yelled an occasional, "Watch out!" or "Behind you!" to aid Squall, but in the last minutes she decided to join her unknown rescuer.
The fight didn't last too long after that, because both boys limped away after a last, "We'll get you next time!"
Squall just snorted. He would like to see them try. He had only scraped his knees and elbows but those bullies were clearly worse off, with their bloody noses and lips. Squall now turned his attention to the girl, who was watching him closely.
"Thanks," she said, breathless, giving him a small smile which he didn't answer.
"Don't mention it- whoa! Easy there!"
The girl had launched herself at him, almost making him fall over from the sheer force, and now she was hugging him tightly. Before Squall could get used to that, she let go of him abruptly. Squall scratched the back of his head, eyeing the girl in a dazed manner.
Well, this was certainly... awkward. Especially now that he was getting a little nervous, too.
"W-what?" Squall asked, blinking several times.
He was getting quite uncomfortable from those insanely curious eyes that never seemed to leave his. Why was she looking at him like that? It made her look like one of those curious little angels from Sis's schoolbooks. The fact that her creamy, yet somewhat pale skin contrasted her chocolate brown eyes and black hair with three light brown streaks on the side, only made Squall think of it more that way.
The girl slowly moved her free hand to brush one of Squall's many stray bangs out of his striking blue eyes. She was very careful, almost as if she was scared to startle Squall.
"You have really nice eyes, you know?" she commented after a short moment. "It's like I'm looking at a stormy sky."
"T-thanks..." He looked away, feeling slightly embarrassed, since nobody had ever said that to him. Not even his Sis. To divert her attention from him again, Squall inspected the "teddy bear" she was holding with her other hand and asked, dumbfounded, "A lion?"
"His name is Mr. Leon, and I happen to like lions!" she told him, defensive at once. Cocking her head to the side, she looked up at him, asking enquiringly, "You don't?"
"...I do, too."
"Yeah. I already thought you would. Aren't they like the cutest things ever? Not as cute as puppies, but still!"
Cute, though, wasn't exactly the first word Squall would use to describe those animals when he thought about them. Dangerous, yes. Scary, a lot. Cute? No way! He decided that this girl was rather peculiar, but not too weird for Squall to be creeped out by her. In fact, it was rather fascinating how carefree she seemed to be.
"...I guess," he finally replied, as a result of not knowing exactly what to say.
The girl hummed. "My name is Rinoa, by the way. Who are you?"
"That's a nice name. I've never heard of it before, but it sounds tough, don't you think? So why are you so quiet? Are you shy?" she asked, a teasing tone evident in her voice.
Squall frowned at that. Honestly, why did this girl want to know so much about him? What did she care that he was so quiet, or even a little shy (which he wasn't!)?
"No, and stop staring at me."
"Sorry..." she said softly, before a gasp escaped her and her dark eyes widened in pure horror.
Now what, Squall wondered, sighing.
"You're bleeding!" she said, pointing at his left knee in shock.
"It's nothing," he swiftly said, looking at his knee as well.
Actually, it kind of hurt and the constant stinging was getting pretty annoying, but this Rinoa didn't need to know that. What if she started hugging him again…
Would I mind if she did so? he wondered.
Wait, this was not the time to ask himself such strange questions. Of course he would mind-
"Nothing? That is not nothing! It needs to be cleaned, otherwise it'll get infected and you could get sick from that. That's what my mom always says when I scrape my knee. C'mon!"
To his great surprise (even though he didn't try to show it), she took his hand and started heading towards the huge mansion. Her hand was soft and warm to the touch, probably much like an angel's.
"Where are we going?" Squall asked, bewildered, even though he didn't try to pull his hand away from her grasp.
"To my Dad's home, of course. It's not too far from here. We'll get it fixed soon," she assured him with another smile.
He trusted her enough to let himself be dragged by her like some rag doll. "Okay."
Hey, this is the mansion Dad had gone to. Does that mean that general Carryway... Care-away... or whatever that guy's name is, is Rinoa's father? Squall thought, looking at the huge garden around them.
The garden was well kept and the grass was mowed. It even had a fountain in the middle of it in which a few birds were bathing at the moment, along with an impressive statue of a woman in a dress that seemed to be playing the piano. It was the latter that caught Squall's attention. He wondered who that woman was and why she was playing the piano. Was it a famous star?
When the front door opened, Squall turned his attention back to the mansion again. In front of him stood a smiling woman with her black hair tied and almost the same chocolate brown eyes as Rinoa's.
"Hey, sweetie. Did you have fun?" Julia greeted her daughter, as she opened the door for them.
"Mom? When did you get here?" Rinoa asked, surprised.
She finally let go of Squall's hand to be able to hug her mother.
"Oh, I just got here." Then, her gaze shifted to Squall and she smiled. "Hello. Are you a friend of Rinoa's?"
Was he? Squall didn't know.
"Yeah, he's my newest friend. He just saved me and Mr. Leon from a bunch of wicked bullies!"
Well, that answered the question pretty much.
Julia chuckled. "Is that so? You do seem like a very brave young man to me."
"He is! You just had to see how he kicked their butts! But now he's hurt. He won't admit that, though, but I know he is. Look, he's even bleeding! Can you help him and fix it, Mommy?"
Squall wondered how the woman could keep up with what Rinoa said. But then again, this was her mother. She was probably used to the bubbly girl.
"Sure, honey. If you'll both follow me..."
Julia turned and walked out of the hallway.
"C'mon, Squall!" Rinoa cried once again, as she took his hand again to lead him to their new destination.
The woman took it upon herself to take care of the little boy. Squall decided then that he liked her. He had never had a mother figure in his life (his mother had died giving birth to him), but now he knew it was nice to have a mother around.
"My, my. You really are a brave boy," Julia noted, when all he did was flinch (if her over-sensitive daughter had been in his place, she probably would have started crying by now and the whole city would have heard about that). "Rin, did you thank him for what he did, already?"
"Oh!" Rinoa shook her head, as she whispered, "Thank you for saving me. I'm glad to have you as a friend."
Squall was about to say that it really was nothing, but when Rinoa gave him a quick peck on his cheek, he was silenced effectively. Julia laughed softly at that but Squall didn't find any of it funny. He felt how his cheeks grew warm already.
"Well, well. What do we have here, Squall? Aren't you going to thank the lovely young lady for that kiss?" Laguna's voice suddenly boomed from out of nowhere.
He stood calmly in the doorway, watching his son with twinkling eyes and an amused expression on his face.
That was just great. Now he knew about it, too. Squall was sure he wouldn't hear the end of it now.
The man's attention then shifted from Squall to Rinoa's mother. Strangely enough his eyes widened in surprise. Squall looked at the woman and it seemed that she was even more surprised than his father.
"Julia?" Laguna whispered, amazed, at the same moment when the woman, Julia, asked him in disbelief, "Laguna? Is that you?"
Wait, they knew each other? How? And since when?
"I can't believe that I'm seeing you here! How are you doing? You look great!" Laguna spoke, approaching her. He took both of her hands in his and said once again, "It's really great to see you again. You still look as young and amazing as last time I saw you..."
Julia laughed, looking flattered. Squall and Rinoa exchanged a glance, the latter looking as perplexed as the first one. Laguna really seemed happy to see her. Squall had honestly no idea why.
"That feeling is entirely mutual," she assured him with a smile. "I see you haven't changed a bit."
"That's a good thing, I hope?"
At the sound of someone else clearing his throat, everyone in the room, including the children, turned around to see who it was.
Squall could tell that he was the only one who didn't recognize this important-looking man.
He had never seen him before, but Rinoa cleared things up when she said, "Dad!"
"Hello, Julia. What a pleasant surprise," was the first thing he said.
He smiled at her but the smile didn't reach his eyes. An awkward silence was what followed. For one reason or another, Laguna didn't dare to look at the man, while Julia looked almost as indifferent as a stone could be.
Eventually, Julia was the one to break the silence, saying, "I am sure it is. I already got Rinoa's stuff, so don't worry about that. Rin sweetheart, are you ready to go?"
"Yeah. Bye Daddy!"
Rinoa ran up to her father, who held her in his arms and patted her back, before she turned to Squall.
"Bye, Squall, and thanks again for saving me!"
After that, both mother and daughter left the building. Julia nodded at her ex-husband when she passed him, with him nodding back, almost as if they were far acquaintances. Squall couldn't help but notice how coolly they were behaving towards each other. Especially when he compared it with how open and heartily she had acted towards his father earlier.
After the front door closed, it was awfully quiet in the house, and everyone was aware of that fact.
"Well, I guess we should go, too. It was nice to speak with you, General."
Maybe it was just Squall, but it really felt like his father didn't know how fast he should get out of that place. And the general didn't stop him, either... What was going on here?
"So," the cheerful man spoke as soon as they were outside and out of earshot. "Rinoa seems like a very nice girl to me. Is she your girlfriend?"
Squall glared at her father in response, but instead of dropping the subject, Laguna laughed and cried, "That seems like a yes to me. My little boy grows up so fast!"
Normally, Squall would have become very mad at him, but now he opted for, "Rinoa's just a friend! There's nothing more to it. The only one who seems to have a girlfriend here is you, Mr. Loire!"
Laguna obviously didn't expect to hear that. He coughed, looking quite uncomfortable, before changing the subject, "I hope Ellone isn't missing us too much. I wonder if she had a good time."
Squall smirked at the uneasiness of his father. Touché. He wouldn't let go of it that easily, though.
"Who was that woman, anyway?"
"Well..." Laguna started.
"What? So that was the mysterious, unknown and handsome soldier you told me about so many times? I thought that was just another bedtime story," Rinoa commented.
"No, he really is the one I sang about in that song. He was the one who listened to my singing every evening."
"Well... I get the handsome and unknown part, but mysterious... I dunno. I think Squall has more mysterious-ness in his pinkie than Mr. Laguana has in his whole body."
"Laguna, dear," Julia corrected her with a laugh. "Aw, why do I suddenly have the feeling that you've got a little crush on Squall?"
Rinoa blushed at that. "Mom! That's not true! I'm just very grateful that he saved me from those meanies. That's all."
"Of course, sweetheart."
Even when it was night and Squall lay in his bed, he couldn't help but think of that little bubbly, raven-haired girl that looked so much like an angel. He had never met someone like her before.
He didn't know if he would ever see her again, but secretly, he fervently hoped he did. Even if it was only once and for a short time.
A/N: Thanks for reading! I hope you liked it so far. I know it seems to go so fast, but that's because I want to focus more on when they're 17. Oh, and I usually write chapters of 3300 words or so (although this one is a little longer), but what chapter length do you prefer? Just wondering.