"Penny for your thoughts?"
Rinoa jumped in surprise at the voice that spoke into her left ear. She was sure she had been alone, whoever had surprised her had given her not the slightest warning they were there, like a cat about to pounce on its prey, or a SeeD, highly skilled in the art of stealth.
"Oh, hi Quistis." She said as she turned to face the voice. "I didn't see you there." She hoped she didn't betray the fact that Quistis had scared her a little, she was sure the other woman would take that as a victory somehow. A victory in what? She didn't know, but she could never shake off the idea that Quistis was constantly judging her.
"I have been standing here for five minutes watching you." Quistis came a step closer, hands at her side, smiling enigmatically at the dark-haired woman sitting on one of the numerous benches that dotted the main circular walkways of Balamb Garden. "I must say Rinoa that when you concentrate you really go for it. I didn't think I would ever get your attention."
"Sorry. I guess I have a lot on my mind."
"It's after curfew you know. You are not a SeeD or a student, but rules are rules."
"Huh? Oh sorry. I guess I forgot. Sorry Quistis, I will go back to my room now, sorry for bothering you." She moved to stand up but Quistis motioned her to stay put.
"Want to know something about rules Rinoa?" Asked Quistis still smiling enigmatically.
"They are meant to be broken." Quistis's enigmatic smile dissolved into one of real warmth. "Can I sit down?"
"Oh. Sure." She moved along the bench to give Quistis room even though the bench was big enough for four people to sit comfortably.
Quistis sat down next to Rinoa, a diplomatically defined space between them, they might have been strangers, not two women who had been living cheek to jowl for weeks. A silence descended on them, not exactly uncomfortable, but there was no warmth in it either, they might as well have been sitting light-years apart.
Why are we like this? Thought Quistis. Why is there this gulf between us? I don't like it, I am sure you don't either. I mean you no harm Rinoa. You, or Squall, I am not your enemy.
"So, you came here to think huh?" She asked. "I do too sometimes, I like to listen to the water flowing and the fountains making their noise. You don't hear it during the day, there are always too many people around. But at night its different, it's…" She trailed off unable to finish.
"Peaceful." Rinoa finished for her.
"Yes!" Agreed Quistis. "Peaceful. That's exactly right!"
Silence descended again, but this time it was silence by choice, at least in part. Both women sat and listened to the burbling of the water as it bubbled and swirled around Garden's interior and the hiss of the fountains, it seemed almost eternal, like it had always been here, and always would. In the distance a door opened and closed, footsteps approached, got closer, then faded away into silence without either woman seeing who was making them. They might have been the only two people awake in all of Garden.
"So, what are you thinking about?" Quistis asked. It felt like the space between them had lessened a little after that brief exchange, still a diplomatic twelve inches, it didn't seem quite as far when measured by light-years.
"Nothing much," Rinoa replied after half a minute. "I wanted to talk to Squall but he was asleep. I didn't want to wake him."
"Are you guys okay?" Quistis asked.
"Me and Squall?" yeah, we are okay. Better than okay. Should something be wrong?" A trace of hostility had crept into Rinoa's voice.
"Well, I hope not Rinoa, not after everything you guys went through to get together." Quistis kept her voice soft, she didn't want Rinoa to walk away, and she definitely didn't want to fight with her.
"Sorry." Rinoa looked at Quistis briefly then switched her gaze down to her knees. "I guess I got a bit defensive there."
"Well, it's good to have someone you can feel so strongly about."
"It is." Rinoa agreed. It's just… I don't know. I don't know whether I belong here or not." She looked ashamed as if she had just admitted an awful sin.
"Here? You mean Balamb Garden?"
"Yeah. I mean everyone is so nice. But I think sometimes they are being too nice like they don't like me at all, and it's all a big act."
"Because you are a sorceress?" Asked Quistis.
"Yes, because I am a sorceress. Do you know the saying Quistis? Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. And here I am living in a building full of people whose entire purpose is to kill sorceress's." Tears welled in her eyes and began to roll down her cheeks.
You poor girl Quistis thought in genuine sympathy, she couldn't imagine how lonely Rinoa felt at times, and all because of something that had happened she'd had no say in or any control over. But she was wrong about SeeD.
"No one here hates you or would ever want to hurt you," Quistis replied gently. She produced a tissue from her tunic pocket and wiped Rinoa's tears away.
"Maybe not now, but what about when I turn evil?" More tears fell.
Maybe it would be better if she did talk to Squall thought Quistis. They share something, a bond, an intimacy that I could never hope to share. She looked around, as if searching for help, there was none to be found. The only person available to talk to Rinoa was her.
"As far as I am aware there have been precisely two evil sorceresses in the world and neither of them was you Rinoa. You are not evil. I don't think you have an evil bone in your body."
"Maybe they didn't either, at first," Rinoa replied in a tone that suggested she had found herself guilty before any crime had been committed.
"Maybe not." Quistis conceded, no one was born bad after all. But people always had choices, somewhere along the line Adel and Ultimecia had chosen to take the path they had ended up walking. And it wasn't just restricted to sorceresses either, anyone could take a wrong turn. I could, she admitted. Seifer did, he burned all his bridges, no one forced him, every choice he made had been his to make. And so it would be with Rinoa too.
"But everything they did was the result of a choice, a bad choice. You don't have to make those mistakes."
"But what if I do? " Rinoa insisted.
"And what if you don't?" Quistis replied reasonably. "Every day people make choices Rinoa, every day, and not just sorceress's. And guess what, most people make it through the day without doing anything evil at all. It doesn't even cross their minds. Name one evil thing you have done today?"
"You can't." Quistis insisted. "Because you haven't. And it's the same for me, for everyone!"
"But I'm a sorceress," Rinoa insisted.
"And so what!" Quistis replied, almost angrily. "Do you think sorceress are the only ones with the power to do evil in this world?" Look at Galbadia. Look at the missiles it fired here and at Trabia."
"But that was the sorceress," Rinoa said, sounding like Quistis had just made the point for her.
"Yes!" Agreed Quistis. "But the sorceress didn't build them did she? The sorceress didn't kidnap children like doctor Odine and keep them locked away. The sorceress didn't make Galbadia invade Timber and hold its population hostage. There is lots of evil in this world Rinoa, too much of it, and it goes on every day. But it's not all down to sorceress's, not even a quarter of it,"
"But nothing!" Quistis felt like she was on a roll. "Murder, rape, corruption. It goes on every day, I am a SeeD, I have seen it all. But do you know what goes on every day too? Kindness, love, hope, charity, faith. All of these things happen every day, and none of them are as big as a missile, or a sorceress, not alone they are not, but when taken together they become much, much bigger."
Without thinking about it she moved close to Rinoa, so close they were touching, no gulf between them at all. She took the younger woman's hand and squeezed it tight. "There is so much good in this world Rinoa. You can be a part of that. You don't have to do anything big, you don't have to save the world, all you have to do is worry about your little corner of it, the rest can take care of itself."
She sighed, she had said enough, she had no idea where it had all come from, all she knew was that she'd meant it all.
"No one here hates you Rinoa. If you think like that you will think people will hate you wherever you go. That is the path Adel and Ultimecia took, please don't let it be yours."
"I think that's the most you have ever said to me in all the time I have known you," Rinoa said with a smile. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it. Are you feeling better?"
"A little, well a lot I suppose. I'm sorry Quistis, I didn't mean to drag you into my self-pity moment. I guess it's just going to take me some time to adjust. But you are right, I do have a choice."
"You do, we all do." Quistis agreed. "And you are only as alone as you chose to be. Lots of people love you. Especially a certain SeeD commander. He will never let you fall into despair. I won't either. That's what friends do."
"Friends huh? I like the sound of that Quistis, Maybe we can talk again sometime?"
"I like the sound of that too. So, are you staying? Here at Garden, I mean."
"Yes, this is where my friends are after all."
"Good." Quistis checked her watch, it was well past midnight, they really should be getting back, but then again. "Have you ever been to the training center?" She asked.
"Once, with Squall."
"Want to go again?"
"Sure now." Quistis stood up. "What do you say."
"But I don't have my weapon, you don't either"
"Well, let's go get them."
"Well, okay." Laughed Rinoa as she stood. "Let's go get them, then we can kick some dinosaur butt."
I am not sure I like this story, it was meant to go in a different direction to the one it ended up going in. But I do like the idea of Rinoa and Quistis become close, well, closer.